Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Where is my America?

Let me begin by saying that I am a cynic, especially where politics and politicians are concerned. Still, for a while now, I have been feeling like the America I have always believed in has been hijacked and not by the terrorists who attacked this country on 9/11.

Tuesday morning, listening to NPR, as I got dressed for work, I heard a report about the Supreme Court taking up the issue of the constitutionality of the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. From the beginning, I have not been comfortable with the whole situation of holding people there indefinitely. So I wasn't surprised that I don't agree with the president's argument in this case, and those who know me in real life won't be surprised either. However, as I sat listening to the reporter talk about how the Justice Dept. was defending the president's position as judge, jury, executioner, and oversight manager (I can't think of a better term here), I just started saying to myself--and probably out loud--Where is my America? The America that sets the example for other countries.

Apparently the president believes that because these people are considered terrorists, they have no rights, and in dealing with them, we don't have to obey the rules of the Geneva convention . My America would say that even though others don't play by the rules, we will because we have integrity. How can we be a country that prides itself on the ideal of a fair trial for everyone? Hearsay evidence, secret evidence, accuser who don't have to face the accused--none of this sounds American. An even bigger concern of mine is that few Americans even see the hypocrisy in the situation. Few Americans even care that our president has a domestic wiretapping program. I'm not naive. I'm very worried about the future of this country as a republic/democracy.

When I have these feelings, it's nice to know that I'm not alone. Others see the things I do and feel as concerned. If you are one of the few like me, you should read Anne Lamott's "Let's have a revolution! Does July 14 work for you?" at It says exactly what I have tried to say but in a much more interesting and entertaining way. If you decide to join her revolution, let me know. Maybe we can carpool. :-)

Now it's late and I have to get some sleep.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Updike and Reading Memories

A few weeks ago, Valerie and I saw John Updike read two of his early short stories. I had fully intended to write a detailed account of his reading, but I didn’t do it that night, didn’t take any notes, and have slept too much since then (read procrastinated as usual).

Here are a few memories of the reading. Updike is an old man, tall, angular, and rather stiff. However, his voice is not angular or stiff. I felt like I could listen to him read to me every night. After he read his two short stories, he was interviewed onstage by an English professor from Rice University. During the interview, Updike seldom made eye contact with the professor. He only made eye contact with the audience or something just above our heads. The professor’s interview was a waste of time for the most part.

The questions that he asked were the kind of questions that a literature scholar might ask, not the kind of questions that reading fans might ask. Even when he did ask good questions, the professor tried to put answers in Updike's mouth. I can remember only one of them right now (maybe Valerie will read this and remind of one or two more). He asked what authors Updike read. Before Updike could name even one, the professor offered John Barth and at least two other authors, but I can't recall the others. I do remember thinking that Updike tried to be cooperative, but the authors' names didn't seem to be the ones that Updike might have listed. I do remember another question now.

The first question was something like who Updike thought of as contemporaries. Before he could even name one author, the professor offered Saul Bellow and another as being in an earlier generation, then the professor asked about Phillip Roth. Updike said that Roth would be his contemporary but didn't seem to be about to elaborate on their relationship, professional or personal. The professor spent the next few minutes trying to get Updike to talk about Roth's work--completely irrelevant and a bit rude if you ask me. Then he tried to get Updike to talk about Joyce Carol Oates. It was obvious from Updike's replies that he isn't a huge fan of Oates' work. He said something like she was persistent. The interview was only interesting and so much livelier when the professor picked up the stack of audience questions. Although the questions were typical, they gave Updike the opportunity to offer some genuine answers. After the reading, Updike signed books, and he was friendly in doing so.

Before seeing Updike, combing my bookshelf to find the two books (the limit) that I would have him sign, I found my copy of The Witches of Eastwick. It is just an old, pulp fiction copy, so I chose not to take it. I did, however, spend some time considering the purchase of a new copy to get him to sign. I think it's the first novel of his that I ever read. I remember that my mother read it first and told me how good it was. (I'm sure the movie was coming out around that time.) I read it before I saw the movie, and I liked it as much as my mother did. Since then, I have been a fan of Updike's work.

When my mother passed away four years ago, I lost a book club. Since the Updike reading, I have been thinking about her and our shared reading experiences. When I took graduate literature classes, she would be as interested as I was in the novels for my courses. Often, she would read them before I did. If she didn't read them first, she read them when I finished the book or the course. When I visited her or she visited me, she always wanted to know what I was reading. Many times, I have purchased a book and loaned it to her to read before I found the time to read it. After I had finished the book, we would discuss it at length the next time we were together. I miss sharing books with my mother. I miss our book sharing almost as much as I miss her presence.

I will stop now before I become maudlin. I think I will go to bed and read for a while. Good night all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Time for Bed

So, I worked my ass off all day, until almost 7:00p.m., and only did about three things on my very lengthy to do list. Argh!!! Where does the time go?

I was going to do two things when I got home tonight--after 9:00--but I didn't complete either of those things. One site that I wanted to access is going to be down until 10:30 PST, and I'm not staying for two more hours (I think that's the time difference). Now, it's too late to finish the other thing. I guess I will go to bed and read.

Before I go, I have to say something about the most recent book that I have read, The Final Solution by Michael Chabon. I read this book in only two days! Yes, I can't believe I read a book that fast either. Okay, the book was very short, about 130 pages including illustrations. Still, I read that book fast, for me. After being called in to assist the police, an elderly beekeeper, Sherlock Holmes (unnamed) solves the mystery. For the most part, the book was an entertaining, little mystery novel. However, the next to last chapter, which is narrated from perspective of the stolen parrot Bruno is just stupid. All the preceding chapters and the last one are written in third-person (limited) omniscient point of view -- it's late and I'm sleepy, but I think I'm correct here; I'll check later. Anyway, the parrot's pov just seemed absurd to me and not necessary. It's like Chabon was trying to make sure his novel fit into some postmodern category or something. I usually like the postmodern, but it didn't work for me this time. Sometimes writers try to be too clever, and this is one of those times.

Okay, I'm off to bed now. I hope everyone has a good Wednesday and the rest of the week. If you find any extra time any where, send some my way.

Good night.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Some Friday Fun

I got this from Brooklyn Kid (formerly South Austin). I think it's a pretty accurate description of me--especially the part about thinking I'm the best. I would probably replace best with smartest though. ;-)

You Are Boston
Both modern and old school, you never forget your roots.
Well educated and a little snobby, you demand the best.
And quite frankly, you think you are the best.
Famous people from the Boston area: Conan O'Brien, Ben Affleck, New Kids on the Block

What American City Are You?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Two Great Books

I LOVE Spring Break! I spent all day finishing Oryx and Crake, no guilt even though I do have grading to do and my own class work to do. I got up this morning, turned the TV on for a while--reading during commercials, of course. When I realized that I had less than 100 pages to go, I turned the TV off and settled in for a day of reading. I finished about an hour ago. What a great day!

If you haven't read Oryx and Crake, I highly recommend it, especially if you like futuristic/apocalyptic stories. In this novel, Atwood has much to say about Western civilization. She takes on our desire for perpetual youth, our need for cure-alls, especially those that come in the form of drugs, our greed, our consumerism, the Internet, and a myriad of other things, good and bad. I am a big fan of all of Atwood's work. I am always amazed by her use of language, and in this novel, she doesn't disappoint. Her choices for the names of companies and products are perfect. I wish I could articulate how I feel about this book, but I think I have to let my ideas percolate for a while.

Last week, I finished reading Frankenstein for the first time, the reading of which put off my reading of O&C. Yes, my students couldn't believe that I had never read it or taught it. I think my reading of Frankenstein, which I really enjoyed, added to my enjoyment of Oryx and Crake. Both novels concern the creation of life as well as the creator's responsibility for the life created. They both also speak to the time in which they were written, and they both speak to a contemporary audience. I'm really glad that I decided to teach Frankenstein this year. Maybe I will pull my copy out of my work bag later and write about some specific passages, but for now, I'm off to enjoy a Spring Break evening and not thinking about work--the best part. :-)