stuff I read · Women Unbound Challenge

Little Women, read by Barbara Caruso

I picked up Little Women in an unabridged audio recording because I really wanted to read it again for the Women Unbound Challenge (the audio recording was pretty good, although I couldn’t decide if the narrator (Barbara Caruso) was going for a subdued English accent or subdued New England accent; her German accent for Professor Bhaer was pretty good).  It’s a good place to start because everyone gets their knickers in a twist over Jo’s choice to give up writing and become a mommy with her Professor.

There are five major female characters in Mrs. March and her four daughters and each of them demonstrates some aspect of feminism, in a way (I’ve been reading Elaine Showalter’s A Jury of Her Peers and American suffragism wasn’t quite in full swing when Alcott wrote her most-famous novel).  Mrs. March always tries to be a good, upstanding citizen, helping with veteran’s organizations and providing food and clothing to those in far more dire straights than the Marches; she is never “idle” in the lazy sense.  Meg realizes she doesn’t need a huge house and piles of money to have a happy home (compared to the rich and priviledged Sally Moffat/Gardiner whose house is not filled with the sounds of family or husband; Sally’s mercenary marriage did not bring her happiness or comfort); Meg is kind of devoid of personality and seems quite conventional as a character who is pretty much made to be wife and mother from the start with no other aspirations.  Over the years, and many times I’ve read Little Women, Beth has come to symbolize the idea that dying with dignity and acceptance is important; I had to skip the two tracks where Beth dies – it always makes me sob, sentimental writing or not, and sobbing while driving isn’t the best idea.  Amy has never been my favorite March sister, too prissy, too willing to play the society game, but she does come round in the end and marries for love (although I’ve always wondered if she would’ve married Laurie if he were less rich).

Which brings me to Jo.  Jo is always my favorite March sister, impetuous, hot-tempered (totally guilty of the same on my part), passionate, and creative.  Jo does change quite a bit over the course of the novel, learns to bite her tongue and mind her temper (she doesn’t morph into a compete doormat but at least learns to think before she speaks, which is a hard lesson for any of us), writes “rubbish” and then learns to write better things (which can be seen as having her creative juices squelched but since I like well-written stuff better than sensationalistic crap I tend to see that as a growth of the artist within Jo, rather than pumping out schlock for the money), and ends up with an appropriate companion in Professor Bhaer.  I’m pretty partial to Professor Bhaer (must be those German genes that make up 80% of my DNA) and he is pretty progressive in that he does tutor women (Jo included) so he gets a plus in my book; I suppose Alcott could have had Jo running Plumfield school by herself, as a dignified spinster-writer-headmistress, but then there would be no Professorin (as someone who is on the verge of despairing of finding any sort of companionship I identify with Jo’s despair after losing Beth).  I always read about how people complain that Jo quits writing but I think she actually does continue writing (after Aunt March leaves her Plumfield and Jo decides to turn it into a school there is mention that Jo keeps publishing; maybe – I don’t have a copy of the book at hand – plus she writes the lyrics for the song sung during the last chapter).

A favorite part of Little Women is the early section on “Playing Pilgrims” – using the sections of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress to comment on the Marches’ burdens and solutions to their problems.  The girls all have problems we can identify with – materialism, envy, idleness, conceit, short-tempers – and try to overcome those burdens using the allegory of Christian.  It is overtly Christian in tone but there are good lessons to learn (Jo’s lesson of learning to think before she speaks comes at the cost of losing her opportunity to travel Europe) and most of the girls’ lessons are worth learning for both men and women.  No one likes a gossip or flirt (even now, when “flirt” translates into “player”), saying hurtful things can come with a price, money and material possessions don’t buy happiness, and continual idleness leads to problems.

Little Women isn’t a corset-burning feminst tract (the most recent movie adaptation tried to dial up the feminism by adding scenes: Meg doesn’t wear a corset and Professor Bhaer takes Jo to a suffragist meeting) but Alcott doesn’t have a novel full of doormat female characters, either (Meg starts heading to doormat status but she doesn’t have that much personality to start).  Home and family are the central aspects of the novel and Alcott does emphasize loving relationships, rather than mercenary ones, so that is a step in the right direction, even if her women aren’t of the career variety.

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stuff I read

A Christmas Carol, read by Patrick Stewart

I got an audiobook of A Christmas Carol so I could “read” a different book while driving and I found the version performed by Patrick Stewart.  I can’t comment much on the actual story of A Christmas Carol; the message has become pervasive in our society and I’d be surprised if I ever ran into someone who didn’t at least know where Ebenezer Scrooge came from.  I’ve read the story at least once a year in some form since high school (or watched it, heelllooo, Muppet’s Christmas Carol) so the fact that this audio set is abridged didn’t really bother me; I already know the story.  What I was interested in was Patrick Stewart’s performance – and it was AMAZING.  He uses so many different accents – the RSC one for narration, a clipped, staccato one for Scrooge, a more nasal London accent for Bob Crachit – that it is easy to keep the many characters straight.  I really enjoyed this reading and will definitely listen to it next Christmas season.

customers

‘Tis the Season: Part 4 and Happy Holidays

I didn’t work this last Saturday (it was the weekend before Christmas and the “powers that be” decided it would be so-much-better-for-desperate-customers to staff the customer service desk with people who have less than one months’ experience rather than have the experienced booksellers even working at all; Merry Christmas and ho-ho-ho).  On to the funnies (or not so funny as you’ll see):

  • A customer kept exclaiming “Epic!” at the end of every sentence while I was explaining how store orders work; it got so bad I started wondering whether he had Tourette’s or a drug problem (maybe he just gets really excited about the little things, who knows)
  • Some lady complained that we didn’t have enough staff working (lemme explain some basic economics to ya…)
  • A toddler was having a completely serious half-English/half-gibberish conversation with a plush Cookie Monster in the midst of the chaos that is the children’s section during Christmas; outside of my own nieces, that’s probably the cutest thing I’ve seen in a very long time
  • At an author signing, someone asked the author’s publisher (publicist? didn’t quite catch who that guy was) if the book had any vampires in it; the publisher/publicist said “No” and the author jumped right in and said “Yes, tell them yes! It can have anything they want in it!” (the book is a novel about a father-son relationship; the author was being completely sarcastic but the publisher/publicist didn’t look terribly amused)
  • A mom had a long list of classics her English-major daughter wanted for Christmas (Jane Eyre, Northanger Abbey, Adam Bede, Barchester Towers, Mrs. Dalloway, Sons and Lovers, etc); I had everything in the store but two titles (out of about 14, she bought nine of them); she was so happy I found everything for her in under 5 minutes, without having to look it all up on the computer, that she asked me to recommend a book for her to read for fun “just for myself” – I had her buy The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (having a happy customer ask for a personal recommendation is as good as a gushing “thank you” in my book)
  • “I need a book that tells you how to use those sticks” – dead serious, that’s an exact quote; so I’m like sticks….chopsticks? um, I-ching? camping?….  Nope, knitting needles; his wife wanted to learn to knit (oh boy, do I have a lot of knitting books and, BTW, here’s a card for my favorite LYS, the owner loves to teach new knitters)
  • Someone was looking for books to take to a friend living in a foreign country and read me off a list of “banned” authors she found online but didn’t know anything about: Khalil Gibran, Chinua Achebe, Milan Kundera, Iris Chang, JD Salinger, and Salman Rushdie; I didn’t even have to type anything to find books for those authors in the store because, well, I know who all of them are and at least one of them has a notorious literary history (you guessed it, I went straight for The Satanic Verses because the customer had no idea Rushdie had a fatwa issued against his life in the 1980s…and that’s like OMG, HUGE…and then she asked me what a fatwa is/was so I explained…and then she told me she grew up in a Muslim country…and now I’m thinking “What the hell?”  I recommended a few other titles – Midnight’s Children, The Prophet, Things Fall Apart, The Unbearable Lightness of Being – but she went with The Satanic Verses; never underestimate the power of banning a book/threatening the life of an author on the ability to attract attention like a black hole)
  • two days before Christmas a customer complained that we had nothing he wanted to buy as gifts; he wanted all the popular stuff we sold out of over the weekend and are waiting on a re-stock to arrive (it’s not my fault you saved your Christmas-gift shopping until the last minute and you want the hot items your fellow humans beat you to because they were smart and went shopping over the weekend; you need to shut up and buy some gift cards)
  • I don’t know what’s in the water lately but customers keep asking about my “I read banned books” button attached to my name tag (I wear it all the time; no one asked me about it during Banned Books Week); best question came from an older man who asked me what banned book had I read most recently (I’m still reading The Satanic Verses and finished American Psycho in September)
  • also had a customer get snotty with me because I refused to sell her a copy of a book we were holding for another customer (lemme explain the concept of first-come-first-served: we take holds over the phone and Internet so next time call ahead before you drive two hours to buy something we can’t sell you because another customer asked for it before you did; PS: I am impervious to whining, complaining, and bribery)
  • a very lovely specimen of the human race smeared feces all over a stall in the women’s room (we didn’t find it until after close because no one told us about it and I can guarantee it happened after 930pm because that was the last time I checked the bathroom for messes; none of us are paid enough to clean up dried-on shit)

And a little creep factor, just because it’s Christmas:

  • A man who was previously observed “pleasuring” himself in the children’s section of the store, and who got away before we could confront him (or have him arrested), was observed AGAIN in kids reading pornographic magazines and watching the little kids play with Thomas trains; a customer pointed him out but he got away before our kids’ bookseller confronted him (consider this a PSA: we can’t do much about this creeper/pedophile until we can get a good description/picture to the police – he disappears before we get a good look at him and the general description of “old white dude with a ball cap” isn’t very specific – so please don’t leave your children unattended in our store or in any store, period; we’re not babysitters and there are some seriously bad people hanging around)

That’s it until after the holidays.  Merry Christmas everyone!

stuff I read · Women Unbound Challenge

The Help

Kathryn Stockett has been tearing up the bestseller lists with her debut novel The Help so I decided I would make it my first-ever book to read on my nook.  Stockett deserves all the praise heaped on her book; I loved the way the narrators rotated the story between the three of them (Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter), I loved how there was just enough dialect to hear the voice in my head but not so much as to make it unreadable, and I loved how much I cared for Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter (and how much I really hated Miss Hilly – hag).  This was such an enjoyable book – even though it was terrifying at times because of the time period and characters – and I was sorry to see it end (although it ended on a perfect note and a little cliffhanger).

The Help shows me my niavete; dead serious, as much as I know how poorly people of color were treated (and in many places still are no matter how many laws protecting their rights) it still blows my socks off that one person would treat another as sub-human just because of skin color.  I’m from Iowa and my high school was pretty evenly split among white-kids-with-money and poor-white-trash; our minority students were nearly all Asian, all fairly well-off, so I just never saw anyone mistreated because of race.  I actually witnessed hatred based on homophobia before I witnessed hatred based on race.  Reading through The Help I just wanted to step into the book and tell “Miss” Hilly (she really is a horrible person) that all that crap about catching diseases from black people is the biggest lie I’ve ever heard in my life; ooh, just makes my hair stand on end.  I would like to think that, placed in the same 1960s South, I would at least take Miss Skeeter’s position and not toe-the-party-line of racist ideology.

There is a feminist thread running through The Help and the burgeoning feminist wave does come to bear in the novel.  WASP-y Miss Skeeter has graduated with a college degree…but no husband or fiance (gasp, shock and horror, because you have to get married and sprog; look what it did to Miss Leefolt who is lurching around in some odd post-partum depression fog).  She is given the opportunity to get her toe in the door in the world of journalism and to come through she must do something that is monumentally unpopular and she must convince the black maids (the “help” of the title) to tell her their stories, both bad and good.  She also must confront her own passive racism, that she has taken advantage of “the help” for so many years without thought to how hard the women work, for how little take-home pay, and how tenuous their employment remains. 

I wish I read The Help earlier in the year – now I must amend my “best-of” lists!

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesday: The Help

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
– Grab your current read
– Open to a random page
– Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
– BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
– Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

I drive my mama’s Cadillac fast on the gravel road, headed home.  Patsy Cline can’t even be heard on the radio anymore, for all the rocks banging on the side of the car.  Mother would be furious, but I just drive faster.
~ Chapter 5, The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help is my first nook purchase – not only is the book very enjoyable it was a smooth purchase and download.

customers

‘Tis the season: Part Three

Now we come upon that part of the Christmas shopping season where it becomes impossible to have any sort of real conversation with a customer without being interrupted by some other “customer” who “just has one question” (usually about the location of some other store in the mall or the store/mall hours).  Come on, people, kindergarten rules apply at all times, and unless your “question” is a medical emergency/lost child you need to wait your turn.

  • I had a pair of very nice grandmas in (separately) buying books for their graddaughters (who are probably college-age judging by the wish lists); the first needed books by that “Gerald Lewis” guy who wrote the “Chronicles of Nautica” but not those books…there was one on divorce (errr, yeah, we’ve got all of CS Lewis’s theological works); the second was looking for some “Chuck Pontiac” books but not the diary one (she bought a gift card instead once I summarized the plots of a few of Chuck Palahniuk’s books, I tried to get her to buy Fight Club)
  • some girl was sprawled out on the floor smack in the middle of our fiction section reading an ancient mass market – completely oblivious to the customers trying to shop around her; I finally had to tell her to find a chair after the customers complained she was blocking their access to the shelves and aisles (which she was – I had to step over her three times and she didn’t take the hint)
  • someone was looking for books on DIY taxidermy as a gift (I’ve got books on how to field dress and use all of your deer, but no taxidermy)
  • this was the weekend before finals and the STUDENTS (grrr) were out in force hogging the tables and asking if we had their course textbooks in stock (which we don’t for this reason); one girl even plugged her laptop into an outlet in some random corner of the store and left it there for at least three hours (I have never in my life been so tempted to take a customer’s “abandoned” belongings and lock them in the office just to teach her a lesson)
  • A lady about my age showed me the Twilight-themed Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights editions and asked if I knew anything about the books (only that they’re like my favorite books ever, sheesh); I talked her out of those editions and into ones that were slightly cheaper and annotated (important when trying to decipher Joseph’s ramblings in WH)

And, once again, I have an “I am not even remotely responsible for your homework” entry:

  • a ninth-grader (maybe, she looked kind of young) showed me a copy of a teen paranormal fantasy/romance book and asked if it counted as science fiction (not really) because she has to write a book report about an SF novel; so I went and showed her all sorts of SF things (Ender’s Game, Leviathan, Boneshaker, etc; I was pretty partial to Phillip K. Dick about her age) and then she says “But my teacher said we could use Twilight” in a snotty-pouty way (grrr, you know what, you asked me a question and I gave you an answer; if your teacher is willing to let you use Twilight then you’re going to have to take up the question of appropriate choice of project with him/her; I don’t think Twilight is SF at all, I’m completely not responsible for your homework, and I have more paying customers than I can shake a stick at right now; stop wasting my time)

PS: I probably logged 8-10 miles running up and down the store for 8 hours.  We got slammed.

random · Reading Matters · unboxing

My nook came (yippee!!)

I have always loved new toys.  Now that I’m a grown-up my “toys” are more of the techie kind.  Which means I decided to be a first-adopter for the first time and pre-ordered a nook.  It came on December 10 – just after we’d had a nasty snowstorm so I had a little early-Christmas-present fun.  I scampered home between the two jobs to rescue my precious package from my front door.

The nook, cover, and scratch kit were all very neatly packed into the box.  My pretty cover arrived (looking exactly like it’s picture on the website) and to keep it from being crushed it came with a nook-sized insert:
The nook itself is very tightly packed into it’s box:
There are instructions for getting nook out of the box but I’m glad it’s packed so securely.  The nook itself is packed into a plastic case and then that case is taped onto a cardboard backing that holds it still in the box and then surrounded by bubble wrap.  Short of actually running over the box with a truck that’s a pretty secure package.
That’s nook still snapped to it’s plastic backing after I managed to pry the plastic case apart (the hardest part of getting nook out but it didn’t take very long.  It only took about 5 minutes to go from box to:
All ready to register and charge.  I called my nook “Borges” in honor of his short story The Library of Babel.  I’d been trying to find a good “library” name since nook is basically a repository of ebooks…and couldn’t think of a better example than Borges.  The scratch kit went on without (much of) a hitch beyond my inability to actually put one of those films on something sans bubbles (oy) and the registration process was simple because it just logged right in with my BN.com account/password.  I’ve yet to do a purchase because I need to load a gift card into the ebook system but that should be pretty easy.

I just wish the outside of the nook box was as pretty as the inside of the box:

stuff I read

The Book of Air and Shadows

This is technically a DNF (did not finish).

I’ve been sitting on the hard cover of The Book of Air and Shadows for a while (since May 2007, actually) and the story seemed interesting to start. A lost Shakespeare manuscript (’tis the vogue for mysteries these days it seems), mobsters, creepy lawyers, paleography…seemed interesting.  So I thought.

Well, I forced myself to read the first 100 pages (through chapter 5) then did something I never do – I read the very last chapter. It was really more like an epilogue and I was completely unimpressed. There are two narrators (Jake-the-IP-lawyer narrates in the first person and there’s a third-person narration for every scene not involving Jake) as well as the Bracegirdle “letters” which supposedly point toward the existence of a missing Shakespeare MS about Mary Queen of Scots. The story ping-pongs around and doesn’t really go anywhere in those first 5 chapters to make me want to read more.

Also, those Bracegirdle letters don’t seem very real to me. I’ve had to read letters from the English Civil War/Restoration period – those of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, John Dryden, Samuel Pepys – as well as the work of Robert Boyle and John Milton and when I compare the letters to what I’ve read the “made-up” ones strike a false note (a sore point with me, if you’re going to have made-up sources they better look real which takes more than just atrocious spelling).

I’m not sure what the deal is with me and Shakespeare mysteries because I loathed Interred With Their Bones as well.