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18 Books and a Dozen Roses' Journal
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Below are the 15 most recent journal entries recorded in 18 Books and a Dozen Roses' LiveJournal:

Monday, November 24th, 2008
8:03 pm
Friday, November 30th, 2007
11:51 pm
I just finished reading an odd little book I borrowed from the library called Two Histories of England. The histories of the title are one written by Jane Austen and an excerpt of one written by Charles Dickens. Austen's is a very short piece, meant to be read for her family, and is amusing and sometimes scathing, but I'm mostly going on tone and the fact that the introduction tells me it's scathing, because I don't know enough about English history or Austen's particular biases to know exactly HOW it is scathing. Dickens' was actually published and used in British schools as the standard history for many years, and while it IS a history, the voice in which it is written is quite amusing at times (though I doubt if I'd have felt the same were I the schoolchild meant to be reading it).

The last paragraph:
    Thus, in the forty-ninth year of his age, falling at the same time of his career as Strafford had fallen in his, perished Charles the First. With all my sorrow for him, I cannot agree with him that he died 'the martyr of the people'; for the people had been martyrs to him, and to his ideas of a King's rights, long before. Indeed I am afraid that he was but a bad judge of martyrs; for he had called that infamous Duke of Buckingham 'the Martyr of his Sovereign.'
The book itself has a cover that on one side is pink (for girls, dontcha know) and the other side is blue (so boys can read it too) each having a silhouetted profile of the author of the appropriate gender. It's probably, as the writer of the introduction posits, very informative in the ways Austen and Dickens viewed their worlds and how that informed their view of English history. Some of it comes through to me, but not enough to feel very enlightened I don't think.

Still, it was an enjoyable read, and they cover about the same time period (I suppose Dickens' was exerpted specifically for that purpose) so you can compare one's portrayal to the other.

I guess that concludes my contributions for non-fiction month. I dunno what I'll try to do next month. I don't really have anything "impossible" on my agenda. I guess I could try for Moby Dick because I started it and never finished it a while back, or maybe something I'd find it difficult to read for ideological purposes like Atlas Shrugged, but we'll just see. Impossible is probably going to be trying to read all of the library books I have out at the moment.
12:54 am
The first few pages
I've started reading Swann's Way, mostly because it was mentioned on The Gilmore Girls. The prose is rich, and I like reading it out loud. Here's to getting past the first twenty pages!!
Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
1:50 pm
I think December should either be Read The Book/Watch the Movie month or Read Something Impossible month, because I've kinda been wanting to try out some Proust.

I am going to go to the library TODAY and pick up a short non-fic so I won't be a total loser. I've been reading A Prayer For Owen Meany which is quite good.
Saturday, November 17th, 2007
12:20 pm
Sadly, there was not a single mention of a sloth.
I've just begun exploring my library's collection, and I think it may leave something to be desired, but I did check out 8 books and I made myself promise to read library books and return them quickly so I can be a "reader" again instead of just a "hoarder."

One of the books I got came through the check-in room while I was working, and I put it aside for myself after I got done checking the rest of the books in.

It's called Fatal Flaws: What Evolutionists Don't Want You To Know by Hank Hanegraaff.

Evolution is one of those things that is part of a debate in this country, and one of those things that I grew up hearing the evils of, and one of those things that I'd like to know more about just because, and this book is a really short (80-page) refresher course for fundamentalists, complete with easily-remembered acronym to help them in the fight against the pro-evolution forces.

The author says proponents of evolution have been Nazis and racists, and that if you're thinking about saying anything about the Crusades, well they don't count because the Crusaders were going against the Bible. (Unlike the Nazis, who are totally supported by modern evolutionary scientists, I guess?)

The acronym F-A-C-E is used to give the evidence against evolution some structure. (Because the face of monkey-men is so prevalent in representing the evil that is evolution, or something.)

F - Fossil Follies: There is no fossil record of any transitional species.

A - Ape-men Fiction, Fraud, and Fantasy: There have been lies and conspiracies supporting the existence of Ape-men, and even though they have been uncovered they are still supported by the scientific establishment.

C - Chance: It is statistically impossible for life to have sprung up on its own. (Note: This is actually an argument that was given to me in High School for fighting the heresy of my future college professors.)

E - Empirical Science: Basic tenets of science like entropy and the laws of thermodynamics support the creation theory, because things get less complex, not more, and energy cannot be created out of nothing. (But if you think this applies to God, you are wrong, because God is eternal whereas the universe is not.)

These things are probably easily shot down by someone not coming from a place where they have to believe evolution is false or their entire worldview comes crashing down, but I don't really know HOW to shoot them down (not that I care so much that I'm going to go chasing after creationists and trying to shake their faith or anything), just so I know.

I've reserved a couple of recent-ish books on evolution from the library, and I hope to receive and read them soon. I may report back.
Friday, November 9th, 2007
10:41 am
So the guy who wrote Fast Food Nation is coming to Speak at UVA-Wise, so I'm going to go borrow it from the
library if they have it, and read it, and go listen to him talk.

Should be fun!
Monday, October 29th, 2007
3:16 pm
OK, this is the second book that I was already halfway through when we switched to general non-fiction, and I'm about to start moving my stuff and my new job so don't worry, I won't be posting this regularly as a rule.

The book: The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier, by Thad Carhart (2001)

The gist: Carhart comes across a mysteriously quiet and dusty piano repair shop in his Parisian neighborhood, and decides to check it out. At first he is rebuffed, but eventually learns that you simply need an introduction from a current customer to gain access, and when he eventually does he finds a back room full of pianos, and plenty of good conversation with Luc, the man who buys, sells, and rebuilds them. During the course of the narrative Carhart buys a piano from the atelier, begins taking lessons, and learns a great deal about the history of pianos. The book itself includes autobiographical information about Carhart's childhood experiences living in Paris (and then moving to America for years before returning) and learning music. It also gives quite a bit of information about the history of pianos and their development, the inner workings of a Parisian neighborhood, piano mechanics, and the lives of professional and amateur musicians and piano-lovers.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. Carhart's words flow very well and though there is a lot of good information the book rarely veers toward the strictly informational. The bits that might seem dry out of context were welcome elements to this story about a world of which I was barely aware. Good book for music lovers, Francophiles, and those who like to see how the world of today is still affected by strings first struck hundreds of years ago.

And actually, since I'm in a period of upheaval, I think I'm going to buy an electric keyboard (probably Carhart's worst nightmare, but we do what we can) and start trying to teach myself the piano again. I took lessons for a little while when I was younger, but I never really committed. Also my fingers are short and pudgy, and I have bad posture, but eff the POlice, I'll do what I want.

EDIT: In case topics for discussion are desired, some points I found worthy of discussion are as follows:

1. What benefits come from a society that is so difficult to break into? Why might a culture have developed in such a way that that newcomers must pass some test or have an "in" to be able to join? Most social groups work that way to some extent, but the formalization of it interests me.

2. I...had another one, but I forgot it.
11:51 am
quick thought
I have been reading A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn for the past day or so, and I can't help but notice a pattern in his depiction of history so far. He's got a habit of pointing out how civilized the peoples of various cultures were when the white man came, declared them savages, and began to burn, pillage, rape and steal. Now, I am sure that he does this just to illustrate that the Europeans weren't sailing in to find these terrible killing machines that were so stupid they just ate people for breakfast and banged on rocks all day.

But it does make me wonder, what if the Europeans did come to find all these incredibly stupid people banging on rocks all day? Would that somehow justify their actions? I don't know why Zinn feels the need to point out that these people weren't 'savages' at all-- unless its just to underline the atrocities the Europeans commited in the name of God, Country and Human progress. But still. If he didn't have these beautiful and complicated societies to point to and say, see, the Europeans distroyed the beautiful Iroquois society, or the beautiful Arawak society, or whatever (the Europeans were on a society destroying streak at the time) would he have found the subject so compelling?

Does any country or culture ever have the "right" to invade a land and force the people there to give up any part of their culture, beautiful or otherwise?

For example, (I know I've pointed this out to Danny several times) westerners over the years have decried many cultural practices such as FGM, chinese footbinding, etc. but still continued to practice corsetry and, until this day, male circumcision. Each of these practices is cultural and has some connection to the definition of what is beautiful or acceptable by a culture. I suppose corsetry, footbinding, fgm, these are all feminist issues. But can I as an American address the feminist issue of the Africans, or Chinese, and tell them what they do is wrong, or must each group of women address their own issues?

When we enter a country, we tend to supplant its culture with our own; thus bringing about a new set of issues. We may stop fgm or footbinding or whatever just to introduce the starvation diet. We may over throw a tyrannical religious government to introduce a corrupt capitalist one. We take away one form of oppression in order to give a new one.

I don't know. Maybe this is a discussion had 1,000 times over in freshman lit. But it still interests me.
Sunday, October 28th, 2007
12:17 am
So I finally finished The Red Pony.  All four stories made me think a lot about empathy (a topic I've been really interested in lately).

In the first story, The Gift, the horse dies because Billy dismisses the concern that Jody has about the pony getting sick.  If Billy had been more empathetic towards Jody and taken his concern seriously in the morning when Jody asks about the weather, then the horse would still be alive.  I'm not sure how to understand Jody's reaction to the buzzard--it's as if when the pony dies, so does a piece of Jody's humanity.
This is the story I remember reading as a child.  I remember talking a lot about symbolism in the story, about the importance of the pig-slaughtering tree and the trickle of water at the edge of the property and how they represented heaven and hell (my teacher was a nun), but somehow that symbolism seems unimportant now.  What seems more important is the way death transforms Jody into it's agent--how instead of talking to his family about what happened, he lashes out violently.  I feel like his parents have underestimated Jody's emotions or are belittling those emotions because Jody is only a child and so he can't be feeling real pain or perhaps because "it's only a pony", but Steinbeck does a great job of showing us how deeply and painfully Jody feels his loss--it seems like he's truly alone in a stone-cold world with that awful buzzard.

In the second story, The Great Mountains, we are presented with the problem of Gitano, a character who emerges from the mountains to die at his birthplace, a now-dissolved adobe hut on the property of Jody's family.  Jody's father, Carl, reveals a shocking lack of empathy for the old man, whom he relates to a useless horse on the property (whom he "should" love as it's served him well for its entire life).  Carl claims that Gitano is "begging" by coming home to his birthplace to die and tells him he can only stay overnight.  The next morning the family discovers that Gitano has taken off with that old horse (named Easter . . . I bet Sister Anne wanted to talk about that too) and journeyed back to the mountains.
When Jody wonders about the mountains, it's clear that he is really wondering not just about the mountains, but about what happens after we die.  The story belongs in the Old Testament; the family is given the opportunity to serve "the least of these" and when they choose not to, Easter is taken away.  REAL SUBTLE.  That being said, I was struck by the way Jody's mom shakes off his curiosity about what happens when "we go over the mountain" by referring to the song "the bear went over the mountain."  I felt like she was completely out of touch with Jody's emotions and I wonder if that's a constant state of motherhood--could anyone maintain any emotional integrity if they really approached the world the tender, raw, innocent way Jody does or does a good mother stay in touch with this vulnerability thus rendering herself vulnerable as well?  I feel like I'm asking this question awkwardly, but it just seems so painful that 1. she ignores the philosophical side of Jody's question and 2. that she is burdened with the responsibility of explaining life and death to someone so unformed.

In the third story, The Promise, Billy Buck and Carl introduce Jody to the facts of life by allowing him to care for a mare and promising him the foal at the end of her pregnancy.  Jody brings home a lunchbox full of bugs and snakes and frogs and other critters at the beginning of the story, (showing no concern for his mother, who has to clean out the box) and by the end, the mare has to be killed in order for the foal to survive.
The death of that mare was incredibly disturbing to me, with my c-section scar still smiling purple-y under the last stretch-marked remnants of my baby belly, but what was more disturbing was the way that as Billy comes of age, his masculinity is related to a demon-stallion.  Steinbeck is great at imbuing disturbing concepts with a sense of marble-carved nobility, but this one maybe hit too close to home for me and seemed so anti-woman that I don't know how to read it.

The fourth and final story, The Leader of the People, includes a visit from Jody's grandfather, a man like Gitano who ultimately seems lost and out-of-place.  Carl is cruel to the old man (Jody's mother's father), talking about the way he repeats the same stories about "westering" like a broken record.  Jody wants to kill mice with his grandfather, who seems heartbroken when he realizes that the family is tired of his stories. 
Moses?  Maybe.  What strikes me about this passage is the excitement Jody seems to be getting about slaughtering all of those mice.  It seems to relate with the way his grandfather fought the Indians in the passage across the west, although I may be reading a little much modern liberal wackiness into that.  Definitely Moses though. 

So I guess I'm ready to hit some non-fiction now:)
Saturday, October 27th, 2007
2:29 pm
Into the Wild
I just today finished Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. (Now a major motion picture!)

The impetus for the book: Krakauer was assigned a feature story for a magazine about a 24-year-old kid who'd been found starved to death in an old bus in the Alaskan wilderness. He found the story so compelling, and the character of Chris McCandless so similar to his own, that he felt compelled to unravel as much of the mystery surrounding his death as possible. He talked to Chris' family as well as all of the people Chris had stayed with, or accepted help or tides from along the road. Chris graduated from Emory University in Atlanata in 1990 and, without telling his family who thought he was entering Harvard Law, gave all of his savings to charity, burned the cash he had on him, abandoned most of his belongings, and hit the road on a grand Aesthetic Voyage that eventually led him to Alaska and his death.

I first learned of the book when I was riding a train from Anchorage to Fairbanks a couple of years ago when my mom and I went to visit my dad. I saw someone reading it, and then later saw the same cover in a bookstore and picked it up to see what it was about. Ever since then I'd been planning to read it, because it seemed to couch the whole thing as something grand and awe-inspiring, but all I saw was stupid and unprepared. Then the movie came out and I saw it, and after I got out of the theater I went to the bookstore in the same mall and bought the book.

Here is a long response to a comment on my own LJ a few days ago, when I was discussing the movie (which I had seen) and the book (which I had just started):
    The problem as I see it is that I would like to separate the philosophies from the actions, but I can't. I like civil disobedience and I like communing with nature and making one's own way in the world (when I say I like these things, I'm talking about the theories, because I'm obviously not actually doing any of them), but this kid's convictions led him to some seriously rash decisions if he did go as unprepared into the Alaskan wilds as I think he did. (I'm working from the movie, not the book at this point.)

    And therefore, how do you read the story? Is he a hero? Is he a madman? Is he both? What lessons does he teach us? And is his tale cautionary or inspiring?

    Is it better to see Chris McCandless as an idealistic guy who only failed because our society is too caught up in material things and therefore drove this young man of such strict principles out into the wilderness?

    Or is it better to see him as an antisocial personality who couldn't deal with society in any productive way, not even in the many ways it could have helped him prepare for a journey like the one he eventually took, and therefore died because of misguided thought processes?

    And of course there are unnecessary value judgements in everything above, but that's the way our language works.

    I dunno. I first saw the book in someone's hands while I was on a train in Alaska, and then recognized the cover in a bookstore later and saw what it was about. And I was all WTF?
After having read the book I can say that it really helped to humanize Chris McCandless, even more than the movie did. The movie focuses a lot on the strained relationship with his parents, indicating to me that he was more of a whiny kid who was angry at the world and was going to get back at it by not talking to it anymore. The book makes it seem a little more balanced, but it also gives more insight into some of Chris' philosophies.

I think the author identified a little too much with Chris to get a really accurate picture of his personality and purpose. A couple of chapters were given to descriptions of the author's own youthful Alaskan adventures, but that's not necessarily a bad thing because most of the people who read the magazine story or just hear the basics, including me, seem to immediately call Chris an idiot who didn't prepare. Balance is good. And in other chapters discussing people who've disappeared in the same way Chris McCandless would have if his body hadn't been found, you get a fairly good feel for the type of character that could lead to someone always striving for adventure and to become one with nature and entirely self-sufficieny.

Of course, the basics still hold. If Chris McCandless had taken advantage of a few more of society's amenities (maps, food, knowledge of the region) he might have survived his ordeal. It may indeed have been, as the author argues, a conscious decision to try and test himself in the wild. And though I think it's ill-advised, it was indeed simply a life choice the guy made, and I don't really have a problem with that.

In the end I think Chris McCandless was an interesting guy, but this excerpt from the quote above is what I feel is the most accurate description:
    Or is it better to see him as an antisocial personality who couldn't deal with society in any productive way, not even in the many ways it could have helped him prepare for a journey like the one he eventually took, and therefore died because of misguided thought processes?
So that's that.
10:27 am
The theme for November is: Non-fiction!
Everyone pick a non-fiction book, read it, and report back here with findings, discussions, questions. It doesn't have to be the same non-fic book. If you are already reading one, great.
Wednesday, October 17th, 2007
1:18 pm
Are we still doing this?
Monday, October 8th, 2007
8:18 am
The Red Pony
Reading this short novel was a review for me; I think I read it in Elementary school when I was picking up anything with horses on the cover. I find it interesting though that this book is usually read in middle school. To me, some of the imagery is disturbing and I'm suprised that parents are o.k. with it. Then again, we read Julie of the Wolves in fourth grade and there is a rape/attempted rape scene in it.

What confuses me is why Steinback dedicated the title of the book to the pony that dies close to the beginning. The story feels like its more about Jody than anyone else.

Did anybody else feel like the last chapter was a little disconnected from the rest of the book?

Also, does the colt survive or not? Its never explicitly stated, but he's not mentioned in the last chapter at all.

I'm going to read the story again, because there were lots of things I wanted to talk about while I was reading it, but I can't quite put my finger on what they are now.
Saturday, October 6th, 2007
10:41 pm

So...what do we want to do re: discussion and/or voting for this month's book?
Wednesday, September 12th, 2007
6:54 pm
How do we want to compile a list for voting?

I'd suggest we focus on shorter books at first, just because we don't want it to turn into a chore, but other than that I have no desire to restrict it by content or genre. Agree or disagree?

Should we each suggest a book and have a list of three, or each suggest 2 or 3 books for a longer list?

Do we want to have re-reads? As in, should we suggest books we ourselves have read previously? Or if we unknowingly submit a book someone else has read previously, should it be disqualified?

Just a few thoughts on organization.
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