Ban My Ass

I adore Banned Book Week- it amuses me to no end that people still attempt to ban books in our country (I supposed you're going to start telling me wear a burka, too). Last year, some of the most commonly nominated books to be banned included And Tango Makes Three (damn those homosexual penguins), To Kill a Mockingbird (yeah, because high schoolers have no idea what rape is and have never heard the "n" word), My Sister's Keeper (supposedly for a whole list of reasons, but I think people are just scared of growing human donors), and Twilight (very difficult for me to defend this one). My internal liberal democrat is starting to surface, as I've had to delete several sentences about conservatives making people stupider, so I'll move on.

I've always been insistent about reading what I've w
anted. As a first grader I convinced the cranky school librarian to let me check out novels instead of picture books (hello Boxcar Children), in second grade I was loading up on The Babysitter's Club, and by third grade I was reading Sweet Valley High under my desk so my teacher wouldn't see. By sixth grade I was knee deep into Steven King and remember falling asleep that Christmas Eve reading A Time to Kill. Not long after, I picked up a trashy book called Shank and learned way to early about things that go on between desperate men in prison. Oh, and not to mention Danielle Steel in seventh grade- so that's what boys are for!

I know most of you are wondering where my parents were in all this (the rest of you either finally "get" why I am the way I am or have similar stories). My mom had four kids and left the literary supervision to my dad, who was a reader himself. Back in those days he was a total softy and was just psyched his kid shared an interest with him
, so off I went to take advantage!

Luckily, this freedom to read did not scar me for life. I read a lot of crap, which I think in the end helped me become an extremely discriminatory, critical reader. While this may not be the right route for all families, I greatly appreciate what I assume to be my parents' intentional ignorance about my early literary endeavors. Now we'll see what tune I'll be singing when my future nine year old wants to read Valley of the Dolls...

And the Rivalry Continues

Today's news that the LA Times Festival of Books is moving from the UCLA to the USC campus did not make my gloomy Wednesday any brighter. As a proud Bruin, I look to the Festival as an excuse to make a weekend trek back to the alma mater to immerse myself in what I love most. Unfortunately, event programmers have decided to make the change based on ridiculous claims such as "more bathrooms," "additional space," "diversity opportunities," and "freeway access." Had they had put, "this private institution has agreed to pony of the cash," I would have at least retained some respect for them.

As I perused the Facebook discussions regarding the change I saw a lot of USC bashing, some being true (parking will be horrible, as will the traffic), while some not (the Bloods and Crypts are not going to choose a literary festival as the site of their next turf war, people). What depresses me most is this death of a tradition; in my mind the Festival has always been a partnership between the University and the LA Times (I usually refer to it as "The UCLA Festival of Books"). Having the event at a public institution adds to the idea of literacy, and higher education, being attainable to everyone. Several UCLA professors make invaluable contributions to the panels and interview sessions, while some authors, such as Carolyn See and her daughter Lisa, are closely affiliated with the University.

I'm really on the fence about attending next year, and know I will definitely not be volunteering, as I had planned to. I love books and the opportunity to attend great discussions and readings, but I am very disappointed in this obvious decision that was based purely on money and the need to be viewed as "multicultural."

Oprah, Shut the Hell Up (Part 1)

I hate Oprah. I wish I could put it eloquently, but I think she's a fake, obnoxious, greedy person and I think she needs to shut her mouth. Especially about books.

I received an email today from Borders, telling me to "save now" on her newest pick. Curious about what she's telling her sheep to read, I clicked on the link, only to find that she hasn't even revealed the next pick! What? People are supposed to blindly trust Oprah and click "add to cart?" Seriously? Oprah Winfrey? Really? And what irks my more than anything is that people will. I'd bet that as soon as she releases the title on Friday it will jump to the number one selling position on Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble.

I'm not saying the book will necessarily be bad- she's had plenty of quality reads on her list, such as The Road, Middlesex, and Anna Karenina. What irritates me is that people blindly follow her recommendations, forgetting the fact that the decision is really based on whatever author is willing to cater to Oprah's show schedule, whore himself/herself out to Harpo, and agree to allow that god-awful "O" sticker on future reprints. Granted I'm happy for legitimate, talented, authors who are able to reap financial rewards, but must wonder if the price is worth selling out. Interestingly, a lot of the more talented authors on her list are dead- after hearing the news that his book was a selection, Tolstoy concluded he'd gone to hell. On that note, Jeffrey Eugenides, we need to talk.

I went through a period where I almost approved of her club- it got people to read things other than the paperback crap at the supermarket checkout. That was short lived as I had to seriously ask myself if the demographic that watches her show are going to understand Tolstoy, McCullers, and Faulkner. The answer- probably not (I cracked up at the "Faulkner 101" section on her website... it's going to take a lot more than a few helpful hints to help Harriet Housewife from Ohio understand William "I like to ramble" Faulkner's prose).

Hey, Oprah, by the way, how's your buddy James Frey doing?

Stay tuned- part 2 of my rant will surely continue this weekend after we see what Oprah tells her flock to go buy.

An Exception

I hate corny things- baby showers, Hallmark cards, tearful wedding toasts, and Delilah's evening dedication show make me want to vomit. The "inspirational genre" of books is no exception. I'm sorry, you've had to get through some shit in your life, but, as shocking as it is, most of have (we've just haven't opted to capitalize on it). When life hands you lemons, write a book and find a publisher, I guess.

There are always exceptions, though, as I found while reading Matt Long's The Long Run. I started it last week while gearing up for the Disneyland Half Marathon, figuring the story of a man who runs a marathon after being nearly destroyed by a bus would be a nice kick in the ass. While I was too busy training and working to finish it before the race, I still found Long's picture on the cover enough to remind me that if he could run 26.2 miles (and later complete an Iron Man competition) after weeks in a coma and 40 operations, I could finish 13.1. After finishing the book last night I felt like an absolute wimp, but, more than ever, was dedicated to the idea that being healthy and in shape should always be a priority (stop making excuses, people). Doctors attributed Long's ability to make it through his accident to the fact that he was very active prior to it- his heart and the rest of his body were strong enough to survive what would have killed most people.

Long's story isn't corny- he's a NYC fire fighter, marathon veteran, bar owner, triathlete, and Iron Man, for Christ's sake. Sentimental occasionally, yeah, but not in a way that makes you want to reach for the bucket. More than anything, it's honest, reflective, and motivational. Shit happens- you either decide to make the best out of it and keep living, or you curl up in the fetal position and drink whiskey.

Am I a convert? Am I going to rush out and buy every renewed person's book? Definitely not. But, every once in awhile there is someone, like Matt Long, who actually earns the right to tell their story (and make money off it).

Amazon Vine aka People Who Won't Shut Up

As soon as I'm done reading a book I want to talk about it- unfortunately, I can rarely find another person who has read what I've finished. A few years ago I started reviewing my reads on, unabashedly enjoying the fact that I was gracing the public with my opinions and conclusions. A year or so ago, Amazon sent me an email inviting me to join Amazon Vine, a select group that are given free books to review. Twice a month I receive a list of books to choose from, many of which are newer authors, although I have gotten books from more well-known writers as well. Usually the books haven't been released yet, so sometimes the copies are just the semi-corrected galleys, which is actually pretty neat. So, for those interested in my reviews (I'm up to 101 now), check out:

My reviews consist of those from Vine and those that I've purchased; the more obscure ones are probably from Vine (sometimes I get a little overzealous with the free book idea).

The True Danger

In a world where zombies and vampires are all the rage, people forget about a more domestic danger: lawn gnomes. They're sneaky little creatures that lurk around holding pick-axes, for Christ's sake.

All joking aside, Amazon's Vine Program sent me (okay, after I requested it to review... for free) Chuck Sambuchino's How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack the other day and I just spent the last twenty minutes flipping through it and am really reconsidering my adoration of these mischievous little creatures. At first I was concerned about spending the time away from grading papers, but I feel so much more informed now. Sambuchino lays it all out for the reader- the gnomes are determined to take over and we have to stop them. He provides several chapters on defending your property, protecting yourself, and the best ways to destroy and dispose of these supposed "statues." For example, did you know that the best defense is creating holes in your yard and then pouring cement over the gnomes once they fall in? Having a dog is also extremely helpful, as is constructing a moat (as long as you don't live somewhere too cold). As far as weapons go, avoid guns and flame throwers, sticking to shovels, rakes, and hockey sticks.

You can never be too careful- make sure to watch for sawdust, rearranged items on shelves, and circular dents in your lawn. Don't be scared. You can get through this.

Moment of Weakness

I think I've clearly established the fact that the last thing I currently need is more books, especially since my reading has slowed down since work has started again. I must confess, last week, there was a moment of weakness.

I have a lot going on right now and am a bit stressed. A nice quick distraction is this awesome website- you may have heard of it - Nowhere else can I find my very own personalized recommendations, the lists of all award winners, bestseller's lists, and editor's monthly picks. Usually I can get by with window shopping and adding things to my wish list on the site, but, as I mentioned, it wasn't a happy day.

Here were my picks:

1-3: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest- Stieg Larsson So, I'm slightly on the fence about this purchase. I'm interested but a little concerned it might be too "pulpy" for my liking. Plus, the three have spent way too much time on the top of the bestseller's lists, which makes me very suspicious. But, all three were bundled for a good price, and I'm sure I'll end up seeing the movies, so I figured I'd go for it now. I love a good mystery- we'll see if they're done well.

4: The House of Tomorrow- Peter Bognanni Supposed to be a witty, intellectually humorous book about young love, music, and the whole notion of home.

5: Cook This, Not That- David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding I love cookbooks and frequently leave restaurants trying to "health-ify" meals I've just eaten to make at home. I've glanced through it and it seems pretty good.

When they arrived yesterday I felt absolutely no guilt, as it was an equally, if not more so, shitty day than one the books were bought on. Today, as I try to make room I'm feeling a little buyer's remorse. Just a little.