April Book Log

April 30, 2009

Fun Note: I’ve been getting a lot of reading done. My goal is to read 50 books this year, and, after four months, I’m already at 27, so, yeah, kudos to me, or something.

1. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (5.0/5): Pretty much everyone knows the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, but I hadn’t ever read the books. We, of course, have a child coming and have been on a Pooh kick lately, so I picked it up. They are wonderful little stories. Not much happens, but it doesn’t happen so gently and with such humor. It’s impossible not to like these.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (5.0/5): Taught this to my sophomores. They struggled with it a bit (my students don’t take to homework), but I, as always, loved it. I am beginning to find that this book improves substantially with additional readings. This says something as it starts out so fantastic it is a wonder that it could seem any better. Every father should strive to be Atticus Finch.

3. Drown by Junot Diaz (3.5/5): This book gets a lot of hype, and when he is writing from the perspective of boys, I buy it. However, once his characters hit puberty, they become so loathsome that I find it almost impossible to care about them at all. His best stories are tender and brutal at the sometime. His worst are brutal only and in a way that seems gratuitous.

4. Girl in Landscape by Jonathan Lethem (4.5/5): Very, very good. There’s just a tiny something missing that keeps it from being fantastic. I don’t even know what it is, but that’s not the point. When he decides to do it, Jonathan Lethem is a very good genre writer. He does what the best genre writers do, I think, which is to use the bizarre to enhance the story rather than having the story for the sake of the strange setting. It’s a wonderful book and I’d recommend it heartily to anyone with even a mild interest in good writing or science fiction.

5. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (5.0/5): I love Margaret Atwood, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared to death about this enormous volume about a 19th century Canadian murder. I could easily imagine myself hating this book, but I loved it. The research was so thorough and there were tons of wonderful details. I’ve yet to read any Atwood that wasn’t fantastic (though she’s written a lot, so who knows), and this novel did something extra-special. It was ambiguous without being dissatisfying. That is all I will say (I don’t want to give it away).

6. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (5.0/5): This is my favorite Sedaris now. The writing is tight and mature and funny and rarely self-indulgent. I laughed out loud often while reading this, and I hardly ever laugh out loud while reading. As I said elsewhere, Sedaris is like a delicate French dessert: satisfying and delicious without being obtrusive and there’s no aftertaste.

7. The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin (3.5/5): Totally fine. i did not read this for entertainment but because my wife will be giving birth soon. A little new-agey for my taste and poorly organized in places. Good information, though.

8. Night Train by William Loran Smith (4.0/5): I go this a long time ago at a reading at a coffee shop. Smith read, and I told him I liked it and he gave me a book. And then it sat on my shelf. I don’t know what the hell is the matter with me. I’m glad I finally read it though. It’s very dark and sad and trippy in places. I really enjoyed even if it did creep me out in a few places.

Book Queue Update:
Note: I hope to finish up this queue in the next month or so and then create a new one. Also, I’m counting Girl in Landscape for Gun with Occasional Music because I can’t find the latter anywhere.

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
The World According to Garp by John Irving
Drown by Junot Diaz
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
Girl in Landscape by Jonathan Lethem
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

I feel like I’ve had a lot of cranky posts lately, so I thought it might be nice to shift into a non-cranky gear for a moment and write about something the makes me feel really good.

I had a hamburger for dinner tonight. It was not bad for me.

Right about the time I met Cate, I was starting to try and figure out the whole food conundrum. I am a tree hugger, and the environmental implications of industrialized food were starting to bother me. It was hard to figure out, though. I started buying organic at the store, but, you know that didn’t really feel like much.

Okay, none of that last paragraph is really the point. The point is the hamburger I had for dinner tonight and how it was delicious and good for me.

Every week (or nearly so) Cate and I go to the farmer’s market. We get our meat almost exclusively from this one place. The man we buy our beef and pork and eggs from recognizes us. He knows me by name. We chat every time we pick something up. I know him, even if it’s just a little bit. I like eating his animals. They are fed the kinds of things they should be fed. The kinds of things that they were evolved to eat.

I evolved to eat these animals. And I evolved to eat them after they had eaten what they are supposed to eat (grass). If a cow eats grass, and I eat the cow, this is good. It even lowers my cholesterol. There are studies that are starting to show that cows that eat grass make better food than farm raised salmon that are fed corn. I like eating both of those things, but isn’t it surprising that beef grown the right way can be as good as salmon grown the wrong way?

These cows and pigs and chickens lead happy lives, doing what they’re supposed to do. That matters to me. It makes me feel better when I eat them. I don’t have moral issues with eating meat, and I wouldn’t mind killing it is it came down to it. But I have moral issues with torturing animals. It makes me feel good to know that these animals weren’t mistreated.

And the tomatoes and onions and greens and fruit and even the potatoes. It’s all so good. You know how tomatoes don’t really have much taste and blueberries can be kind of mealy? That’s why we try to eat as little grocery store produce as possible. Food grown in a local farm almost always tastes so much better. I like eating that food. I look forward to it. And OOOOOOOHHHHHHH the peaches.

I’ve started to lose my taste for processed food. Things like twinkies and anything made by Little Debbie. Cheese that isn’t really cheese. I can taste the chemicals. I like that I can taste the chemicals. I like knowing what I put in my body.

I like that I can eat a hamburger with fries or a spinach salad or whatever and follow it up with fruit-cream pie (blueberry or peach or blackberry or strawberry) and not even think “is it okay for me to eat this?”

I like that when I buy something at the farmers market, I know exactly who is getting the money. I like knowing that I am getting something that is food. Something that will not harm my body.

My dad has high cholesterol. He has for years. So did his parents. I’ve already gone longer than he had without having problems. I think the food is part of it. That makes me feel good.

I’m not preaching. I’m not telling you to go to the farmer’s market (though, really, it’s the best bacon you’ve ever tasted). I’m just saying it makes me feel good to give my money to those people and get food that tastes good (you should try Cate’s tomato soup made from market tomatoes). It’s all so different than what I was raised on. When my dad has it, he says it reminds him of the food they had when he was very young. That makes me feel good.

I like that I don’t worry about food now. That I realize fat isn’t bad if it’s the right kind of fat. I like that I’m not ignoring nature. I like that I just eat the food that really feels and tastes right. That leaves me satisfied. That I look forward to eating again. That I savor. That I take more than ten minutes to eat. I like that this is the food I’ll be feeding my daughter soon (and that Cate is already indirectly feeding her.) It makes me feel good.

Okay, before you read this I need to make something clear: This is not me talking to any individual. This is a very abstract post about the differences between two generations, one of which I happen to be a part of and one of which my parents happen to be a part of. I love my parents. They have been wonderful and supportive. If all Baby Boomers were like them, I think the world would be a lot less screwed up right now. So, just to be clear: THIS IS NOT TARGETED AT INDIVIDUALS. That is, unless you are guilty of griping about some of this stuff, in which case, you need to stop it. Alright, let’s get on with it.

Today, I heard yet another in a long line of media rants about how baby boomers have it tough, what with the economy collapsing, and how my spoiled-ass generation needs to step up. I think it is hilarious that baby boomers have the nerve to call anyone spoiled. Let’s take a look and do a few comparisons.

College: A lot of the talk I here revolves around how everyone my age and younger should take out loans or whatever to foot the bill for their education. Fun fact: when you adjust for inflation, college today is three times as expensive as it was in the 70s when baby boomers went to college, and they had a lot more grant money than we did. How many baby boomers are remotely aware of what an education really costs today compared to when they were going to school?

Work: And then there’s this: when my parents were graduating from high school, you could get a factory job making the equivalent of $20 or $25 dollars an hour. I had to go to school for six years before I could make that kind of money. And I’m glad I got out when I did as it’s only getting harder even though the economy has pretty much been in the toilet since my senior year of college (thanks GWB!). Also, Boomers have stayed in the work place longer than any generation before them. This, of course, means that opportunities that were open to them because people retired or died are not open to us.

Health Care: I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but health care is pretty damn expensive right now. Way, way, way more expensive than it was twenty or thirty years ago. Why, you ask. Well, without getting into a long post about the health care industry, it has a lot to do with the quest for profit by compaines like Humana and a fucked up food industry (also, all about profit) that encourages obesity and other health problems. All of these changes were instituted (of course!) by the Baby Boomer generation. Also, it can be argued that the cost of providing health care to employees is depressing wages (because it’s so damn expensive) and discouraging companies from hiring full time employees (hello contract labor!).

Tax Policy: For all the cries about socialism, our current tax structure does an excellent job of redistributing money to the top of the economic ladder. Go here to see just exactly how much easier rich people have it today than they did when baby boomers were growing up and enjoying all that cheap education and whatnot. Baby boomers want to hold on to their money, though. They earned it, why should they have to look out for future generations?

Economy: Look, things are a total, utter, unbelievable clusterfuck right now. I’m not placing all the blame on Baby Boomers. I do, though, want to point out just briefly that, generally speaking, they were the ones making ridiculous sums of money and instituting ridiculous monetary policy.

Look, I’m not saying my generation doesn’t have its shortcomings. It does. But my god, our parents and grandparents have gone and left us with the biggest mess since the Great Depression and all they can do is look down their noses at us and say, “Hey, pick yourself up, buster” when they, as a generation NEVER, EVER, EVER had to deal with anything like this. So this is what I want the Baby Boomers to do: Stop YOUR whining and griping about how entitled we are. We’ll be just fine, but don’t blame us for being pissed that because you screwed things up so much, we’ll likely never have it as good as you did.

Why? I don’t know. Sometimes you just have to be unproductive and write a silly list.

1. Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings – Nothing says rainy day like Robert Johnson. You can practically hear the rain dripping from the roof.

2. Robert Cray: Sweet Potato Pie – I’ve probably listened to this on rainy days more than anything else. Everything about it feels just the right kind of melancholy.

3. The Band: The Band – They always sound muddy; like the music itself was dragged through the mud and across a pine floor with nails sticking up out of it.

4. Dire Straits: Dire Straits – I think British people probably no more about rainy days than anyone else. This is a, “fuck, I have to put on my coat and go out in this,” album.

5. Miles Davis: Kind of Blue – This for after the sun goes down when it’s still raining and your just glad its all over.

Starting tomorrow, my students will be reading Julius Caesar in class. Today, we did a little warm up where I give them a sheet with some statements that will be themes in whatever we’re about to read and they tell me how they feel about those statements. One of them was: Everything that happens is meant to happen; no one really has any control over it. Now, here’s why I’m writing this blog post: Almost everyone of my students agreed with this statement. Why? God. And frankly, I can’t really argue with them.

(Note: For the rest of this blog I’ll be focusing on Christianity because basically all of my students are Christian, but the sentiments apply to most religions.)

If you are Christian you take for granted that God is all knowing and all powerful. You cannot have freewill and an all powerful, all knowing God. Those two things are not compatible. This is one of the most bothersome things about Christianity. It gets even worse when you bring heaven and hell into the equation.

If you believe God is all knowing and all powerful, then you must believe one of the following things:

1. You are basically a preprogrammed robot with no free will. God knew exactly what you were going to do back when he created the universe. If he wanted, he could have made you do different things. He made the choices, you did not. This is rather depressing, isn’t it?

2. Everything in #1, plus you are either going to heaven or hell based on your actions while you are on earth. It should be noted that you have NO CONTROL over these actions. This is unjust.

3. God is all knowing, all powerful, and yet, somehow you still have freewill. Of course, God created you and you are never doing something that he doesn’t want you to do because God controls everything, but, you know, you totally have the choice to do whatever you want. This is illogical.

I can see a lot of people arguing for #3, but frankly, that seems the weakest of the three possibilities to me. The others are at least logically possible, even if they are much more depressing.

What I’m writing about here is one of the big reasons I am not Christian (or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or whatever); it doesn’t make any sense at all if you really think about it. The whole thing is one big contradiction and, predictably, a lot of my students use the notion that things are pretty much out of their hands to not do ANYTHING. If they’re right, and I’m wrong about this whole God thing, then I can’t blame them (of course, if they are right, then God is making me type this right now).

Amendment: I know what I wrote is obvious, and I normally stay away from actively criticizing fundamental religious principles here, but this really bothered me today, so you’re just going to have to humor me this one time.

Potential (Unrealized?)

April 10, 2009

I will not, it seems, be going to graduate school. I got the last rejection letter today. Of course, I did get wait-listed, but it’s probably safe to assume that won’t work out. I’m still processing my feelings about this.

About seven years ago, when I first realized that writing felt like something I could do, I’ve had nothing but encouragement from all the individuals I’ve shown my work to (including teachers who most always seemed to think I had some pretty good potential). It’s only the graduate schools that have rejected me.

I’ve had things published here and there, often what I consider to be my weaker work.

Some people genuinely seem to love what I write.

I trust my friends, and I assume that, if I was awful or even just not quite good enough, someone would have spoken up by now and said, “Jason, you know, writing probably shouldn’t be your thing.”

So, I must be doing something right. I wonder about the graduate school stuff though. Why always wait lists? But never admission? I wonder if it has something to do with my voice.

I have had two separate writing teachers in different states describe my voice as like having an old man you don’t really know tell you a story. In one case it was a compliment, but in the other, I’m not sure. Anyway, I think it’s a pretty apt description of my writing. Nothing jumps out at you, normally, but I like to think that when it’s over you find you’ve enjoyed the experience.

I like that about my writing. I don’t want to be flashy. I want to be (much as it pains me to use this over-used word) true. I hope I am most of the time.

I suppose I’ll keep at it. I have too many ideas to stop. A little acceptance would have been nice, though. Maybe that will come later in a different form.

Spring Break Hodgepodge

April 5, 2009

I am at the tail end of the tail end of spring break now, and I feel much better than I did going in. I only have eight weeks of school to go and this is most releaving. I may end up taking the last week of school off though as the pushing back of the end of the year due to our various natural disasters at put it awfully near Cate’s due date. I have enjoyed teaching much more this year than last year, but I will be very glad for the eight or nine weeks of summer I stand to get.

It was my goal to finish the second draft of the Charles Burden book this week, and, well, I failed at that, but I did finish the editing process. Now, it’s just a matter of going through and making all the changes, which shouldn’t take that long if I make myself work on it several nights a week. I’m very pleased with the book over all. I think it’s much better than Looking for Elysium. I suppose this makes sense as second novels are supposed to be better than first novels. I will be interested to here what people have to say about it when I distribute copies to my handful of trusted readers. The only part I’m not looking forward to is making the copies as Kinko’s is freaking expensive.

Baseball season starts tomorrow. I am not optimistic as the Reds’ management seems intent on continually making asinine decisions. I am looking forward to going to games though. We may make it to a Bats game as early as this weekend if the weather is nice enough and Cate and I will be going to Cincy for a few games early next month. It’s our last little getaway before Simone arrives and we spend the next several years with no free time.

I am still waiting to here from some graduate programs. It’s getting late in the game and they really need to let me know. The process always drags out like this though, and it will resolve soon enough.