Sandy's 56 for 2006

She doesn't want to make a big stink about her own private participation in the 50 books challenge, but I have to make one here. Not only did she read 56 books, but many of them are very impressive books, including The Iliad and The Odyssey! Check it out!

Instead of writing a review of each book, she has created a simple rating system:
F=how did this even get published?
D=not recommended
A=this book rocks

1. Until I find you by John Irving (A: maybe my second favorite Irving book)
2. The God of Small Things by Arundati Roy (B: this book is too sad)
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (A)
4. Finbar's Hotel by a consortium of Irish writer (C)
5. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle (A: a repeat)
6. How to Practice by The Dalai Lama (C)
7. More Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg (B)
8. Morning, Noon and Night by Spalding Grey (B)
9. Border Passages by Leila Ahmed (B-I learned a lot)
10. Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire (D: good idea, bad writing)
11. Persepolis by Marjan Satrapi (C)
12. Monster by Walter Dean Myers (C)
13. Interpreter of Maladies by J. Lahiri (B)
14. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (A: best book ever. a repeat)
15. The Known World by E. Jones (B)
16. Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic (B)
17. Jarhead by A. Swofford (C)
18. A Parrot in the Oven by V. Martinez (C)
19. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan (B: I learned a lot)
20. Don't Play in the Sun by M. Golden (B)
21. Chickamagua by S. Foote (C)
22. Ladies Night at Finbar Hotel (C)
23. The Bluest eye by Toni Morrison (B: a repeat)
24. Sundiata by D. T. Niane (D)
25. Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoff Canada (A: an inspiration)
26. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Natisi (C: writing is too academic)
27. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (B: it's growing on me. a repeat.)
28. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (C)
29. The Iliad by Homer (A)
30. Fires in the Mirror by Anna Devear Smith (C)
31. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (B: a repeat)
32. Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah (B)
33. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (B)
34. Snakes and Earrings by H. Kanehara (D)
35. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (A)
36. The Giant's House by E. McCracken (C)
37. I Capture the Castle by D. Smith (B)
38. Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol (B: this one is too sad)
39. Flying with the Eagle, Racing with the Great Bear by J. Bruchac (A-)
40. Chronicles of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (A-)
41. Doctors Cry Too by F. Boehm (D: kind of corny)
42. Farewell to Manzanar by J. Wakatsuki-Houston (B+)
43. The Odyssey by Homer (A)
44. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (B+)
45. In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck (C)
46. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (B)
47. Lord of the Rings I (B)
48. Lord of the Rings II (B)
49. Lord of the Rings III by J.R.R. Tolkein (B)
50. 'Tis by Frank McCourt (B-)
51. Animal Farm by George Orwell (C)
52. The Miner by N. Soseki (A-)
53. Wholly Communion by assorted poets (B)
54. Satanic Verses by Salaman Rushdie (B+)
55. The Crucible by Arthur Miller (C)
56. Rabbit Proof Fence by D. Pilkinton (C-)


18. The Crucible

by Arthur Miller

This reading was inspired by the folks at June23rd.

Our nation had bizarre and violent beginnings. In a way, we are born from moral panic. We haven't stopped hunting witches, in their many forms, since.

The Crucible is really good play. I just taught it to my tenth grade. We read the whole thing in class over the course of two weeks. They loved it. I loved it. It really came to life over the days. We traded off parts each day so everyone read minor and major parts.

A great reading experience that turned into somewhat of a performance. I am looking forward to the next time they play comes around.

This will be a bit cryptic (to minimize spoilers) I am amazed by what happens to Salem when damn near all its leaders are in jail. And why is not cause for the men to rethink. Just the fact that no one in the region put a stop to this is mind boggling.

Crowfoot and Hagakure

Two great quotes I encountered this year:

"What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the Sunset."
-Crowfoot, Blackfoot Indian

"There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and
run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you
are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding
extends to everything."
- Hagakure, The Book of the Samurai

The latter quote is (finally) a good definition for the Japanese expression "shoganai," which is too often assumed to mean the same as the Western defeatist shrugging of the shoulders. I love this expression, shoganai, and am happy I've finally found a way to define it.

The first one, by Crowfoot, is really beautiful. Especially the second sentence, "It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time." That is certainly not nothing! But it is a momentary flash, or force, in the grand scheme of things. And the fact that such a breath is beautiful, or stinks like rotting grass, doesn't matter so much.


I haven't been doing a lot of reading outside of student wok, but that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of words going in. Here are a few songs that have affected me lately:

I See a Darkness - Johnny Cash and Will Oldham (Oldham's song)
The Curtain/With - Phish (Brooklyn Cyclones Stadium, August, 2004)
No One Knows My Name and Lover's Prayer - Gillian Welch (in fact the whole album, Soul Journey is excellent)
Ole Slew Foot - James McMurtry
I'm a Long Way from Home - Shooter Jennings (singing one of his dad's songs)
Falafel - Pierre Bensusan
Willin' - Little Feat

Still can't get enough of Richard Shindell's album, Vuelta, that I bought a year ago.

I have also been purusing the brand new Who album wherever I can hear it for free. It's pretty good. Townsend sings a lot and, in their old age, he sounds much better than Daltry. The album is a poppy and operatic at the same time, which is how Townsend has always been. But the rock opera section of this one is about a pop band that does something-or-other so it makes sense. Some great Townsend vocals.

17. 6 Poems

by Margaux Delotte-Bennett

Ordinarily I'd say this book was too short to count but I must make an exception. This is my dear friend's book and she published it herself. In fact she made them herself. And the poetry, as usual, is deeply personal, asking the reader to read closely and be moved. I did and I was.

Her poetry is richly rewarding. I highly recommend you find one of these rare copies! In fact, if you ask I might send you mine.

16. Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

This probably won't shock you but I have read this book before. This time was better. It's strange, we often consider these books optimal for adolescents (that is when we are forced to read them) when in fact it takes a mature mind to fully realize this little book's power. I was stricken this time by a troubling difference between the world in Orwell's 1984 (often considered F 451's "other") and this one. In 1984, the problem is a totalitarian government forcing its will on the people and, of course, the control of language. Bradbury, on the other hand, creates a world where it is not the government that begins things by burning books- it's ordinary people who turn away from reading and the habits of thought and reflection in encourages. When the governemtn starts actively censoring information, most people don't even bat an eye.

Bradbury's world is a utopia of sorts. Everyone is happily distracted by life's pain and suffering. Instead, people live lives of convenience, pleasure and a trouble free "happiness" brought on by some great technological advances in TV (wouldn't we all like an interactive TV that runs from floor to ceiling on all four walls of a room?), "sea shell" earpieces that whisper sweet nothings 24 hours a day, and drugs. It's interesting to read this in a time of hundreds of channels of TV avaiable 24 hours, including an array of challengeless reality shows, Walkmans, iPods, and literally thousands of pain-reducing drugs to choose from, all of which serve their specific purposes... and isolate us from humanity. Oh, it's that last part that is the downer.

Some lines that were cause for pause this time around:

"You are intuitively right, that's what counts."

"Good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies."

"You can't guarantee things like that! After all, when we had all the books we needed, we still insisted on finding the highest cliff to jump off. But we do need a breather. We do need knowledge. And perhaps in a thousand years we might pick smaller cliffs to jump off. The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are."

"Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge."

"The blowing of a single autumn leaf."

"Shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass."

Anyway, everyone has read this book so there is little sense in reviewing it at length. I liked it even more the second time around. Pick up a copy. Give it another read.

By the way, I just discovered that this book had a special edition of 200 copies printed in 1953 with an asbestos cover! What they didn't know about asbestos! There's one copy going for $13,000.

from The Curtain

As he saw his life run away from him
Thousands ran along
Chanting words from a song:

Please we have no regrets
Please we have no regrets

15. Fires in the Mirror

by Anna Deavere Smith

This is a eye-opening series of monologues performed live by Anna Deavere Smith in 1993. Like most New Yorkers, the 1991 Crown Heights riots both shocked and perpexed her. In these 20 or so monologues, all of which she performs herself, she manages to channel a diversity of voices of both sides of this conflict. It is not only important social commentary but a creative look at the culture gap between Black and Hassidic neighbors in Crown Heights.

I have ordered the live performance on video, which is certainly the best way to experience this thing.

14. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Nabokov (who bought the rights to Jekyll and Hyde) implores to readers, "Please completely forget, disremember, obliterate, unlearn, consign to oblivion any notion you may have had that Jekyll and Hyde is some kind of mystery story, a detective story or a movie." Of course I found that impossible being that this story had been retold hundreds of times in my own lifetime. It has become a staple of Halloween. Certain aspects of the novel are frequently credited as being a prominient ancestor to our modern mystery and detective stories. How does one erase such lore from one's consciousness and go on reading the thing?

Well, the answer is to just relax knowing it is not necessary. The answer is to skip right past the pretencious literary introductions added to books way after the fact and read the thing itself. I admire Nabokov greatly but for his own fiction, not his haughty justifications others'.

Anyway, despite the high Victorian style and language, I really dug this novel. It is a remarkably strange 72 pages. Well worth the trouble. Here is a copy in hypertext:

While you are at it, you might want to browse the other texts that the University of Virginia has been converting to hypertext.

Happy Birthday Jerry Garcia

That's it. Just happy birthday.

13. In Dubious Battle

by John Steinbeck

This is one of Steinbeck's novels about migrant labor strife. And an awesome one. Apporoximately 1,500 workers arrive at California apple orchards to find that the orchard owners had decided to cut their pay. With the help of the protagonists, two labor organizers, better knows as reds or radicals, they strike and all hell breaks loose. The rapacious landowners will stop at nothing to get their apples to market (besides paying a decent wage; they'd rather kill) and the starving, angry migrant workers have absolutely nothing left to lose. The violence- and there is a great deal of it throughout- was nothing short of apocalyptic.

A gripping, tense novel. I'd go on about Steinbeck's extraordinary social vision and perfectly natural voice but we all know about it. Still, this being my foourth Steinbeck novel I am beginning to think he's a friggin' Shakepeare.

12. Honky

by Dalton Conley

This one is a memoir written by a white dude who grew up in the projects of the lower East Side, in Manhattan. In fact, he and his sister where the only white kids to grow up there. Conley, now a sociologist, draws on his experiences being the "other" in an environment where race and class as social determinants are impossible to ignore. As he argues, if Whitey wants to witness the gap between white priviledge and black and latino social obstruction, he/she move to the projects.

The book is a fairly interesting look at identity development in terms of race and class, two undeniable factors when brought up amidst members of underclasses. I liked it as a memoir but a not sure it holds much water as a sociological study. After all, the very act of writing one's memoir is the act of constructing a reality, not observing one. But I even like the problems this poses him as a sociologist. How does such a person tell the "truth" when he is so damned close to it?

A good read and a great catalyist for many inevitably heated discussions.

Sandy's 50 (so far)

Sandy doesn't want to start a blog but she has been quitely rocking the 50 book challenge. Here is what she has read since January 1:

1. Until I find you by John Irving
2. The God of Small Things by Arundati Roy
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4. Finbar's Hotel by a consortium of Irish writer
5. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
6. How to Practice by The Dalai Lama
7. More Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg
8. Morning, Noon and Night by Spalding Grey
9. Border Passages by Leila Ahmed
10. Pegagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
11. Persepolis by Marjan Satrapi
12. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
13. Interpreter of Maladies by J. Lahiri
14. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
15. The Known World by E. Jones
16. Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic
17. Jarhead by A. Swofford
18. A Parrot in the Oven by V. Martinez
19. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan
20. Don't Play in the Sun by M. Golden
21. Chickamagua by S. Foote
22. Ladies Night at Finbar Hotel
23. The Bluest eye by Toni Morrison
24. Sundiata by D. T. Niane
25. Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoff Canada
26. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Natisi
27. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
28. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

11. In Cold Blood

by Truman Capote

Wow. This was quite a compelling read. Like most readers I knew the story beforehand but it didn't matter. Capote has written an outstanding piece of non-fiction, or "creative non-fiction" as he called it. He writes about a real life multiple murder in rural Kansas but in a style that explores the humanity of it. Yes, the goodness and usefulness of the family that was slaughtered but also the humanness of the killers. It is compelling because Capote is able to bring all characters to life. One effect is that the murderers are not the usual distant cardboard monsters. They are also not the product of a slack-jawed liberal writer striving to make excuses for them. Instead, In Cold Blood explores their lives- and everyone they have crossed paths with- in extraordinary human detail.

Never have I come to know so many characters so intimately: each member of the Clutter family, the local sheriff, the killers, the Clutter family's friends and loved ones, state investigators, etc. It's written so well that I feel like I met them during that aweful time.

Here is an example of Capote's ability to combine the results of extensive interviews with the people involved in the case and his creative abilities. In this part, the two killers, Perry and Dick, are chatting. Perry is telling Dick of a dream he had the night before. In it Perry is being attacked by a snake. Perry cuts the story short whe he realized Dick was uninterested and would likely not understand the rest.

"Dick said, 'So? The snake swallows you? Or what?"

"'Never mind. It's not important.' (But it was! The finale was of great importance, a source of private joy. He'd once told it to his friend Willie-Jay; he had described to him the towering bird, the yellow 'sort of parrot.' Of course, Willie-Jay was different- delicate minded, 'a saint.' He'd understood. But Dick? Dick might laugh. And that Perry could not abide: anyone's ridiculing the parrot, which had first flown into his dreams when he was seven years old, a hated, hating half-breed child living in a California orphanage run by nuns- shrouded disciplinarians who whipped him for wetting his bed. It was after one of these beatings, one he could never forget ('She woke me up. She had a flashlight, and she hit me with it. Hit me and hit me. And when the flashlight broke, she went on hitting me in the dark.'), that the parrot appeared, arrived while he slept, a bird 'taller than Jesus yellow like a sunflower,' a warrior angel who blinded the nuns with its beak, fed upon her eyes, slaughtered them as they 'pleaded for mercy,' then so gently lifted him, enfolded him, winged him away to 'paradise.'

"As the years went by, the particular torments from which the bird delivered him altered; other- older children, his father, a faithless girl, a sergeant he'd known in the Army- replaced the nuns, but the parrot remained, a hovering avenger...")

I think this is a good example of Capote's mode of "creative non-fiction." He sat with Perry Smith- the real Perry Smith- for hours upon hours each visit for years. In fact, Capote sat with everyone involved in this case and nearly everyone in Holcolm, Kansas and the surrounding towns. The result is a writer (who was already a sucessful novelist and journalist) who knew all parties so intimately that it was nearly impossible to write without compassion for and understanding of the humanity revealed in this single event. What we have in In Cold Blood is not simply a re-telling of a heinous crime, but a very deep exploration of the lives of those effected by the event: victims and murderers, their families and friends, a confounded and eventually triumphant law enforcent, the local postal worker... You name it.

Of course, the book does pose problems for those who tend to cling to factual truth. But there are other kinds of truth that artists try to reveal.

I highly recommend this book.

10. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America

by Barbara Ehrenriech

A good read. Sort of what you might expect from of a now privileged prolific political writer who cares deeply about struggling people. She reports on her passable job of trying to exist economically working some of the more low end jobs. Her gift is her sensitivity and willngness to write about her very personal struggles trying to cover the costs of rent and food while working as a house cleaner, hotel room service worker and a resaraunt waitress. Turns out that it can't be done for very long.

Problem is that she approaches it half-heartedly. What I mean is that that she allots herself a rental car, health care and a certain distance from her "subjects." These amenities render her incapable of experiencing the most critical aspects of these people's lives: the falling. What happens when the car breaks down? What happens when you really can't make the rent? What happens when you don't have health insurance for a long period of time? These are the concerns that drive this class of people. The fact that there is no safety net. The fact that economic as well as emotional crisis are imminent, a guarantee.

I think the book is a good report from one member of the upper middle class to others of the same class but I'm not sure of its effectiveness as a catalyst for change.

But she does criticize Wal-Mart, although even that is a soft punch.


Check out our friend's new boat.


I finally graduated. I am relieved. Tired and relieved.

9. If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home

by Tim O'Brien

This is a kick-ass memoir of a foot soldier's 1-year stint in Vietnam. It is O'Brien's first book, written soon after the war ended. My first exposure to his writing was a short story called "The Sweetheart of the Song Tro Bong," which was a powerful read as well.

I don't know. There is something about writing that tries to tell the truth that rings clearer, that stands out above the mountains of published bullshit. Sort of like Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, another author's attempt to write about the most painful experience of his life. Some things must be written.

I enjoyed O'Brien's style, which is a shifting back and forth between a frank, matter-of-fact voice and a contemplative, heartfelt one. The latter gave the effect of being in the guy's head while he trapsed through mine fields, seeing the incredible natural beauty about him that was also blowing his friends to bits each day. It is the inner discourse of a man who morally objected to the war but didn't have to will to run to Canada or the riches to buy a get-out-of-Nam-free card.

It is a good philosophical read. The more I learn about Vietnam, the more obviously insane the whole thing was.

8. Art Works! Interdisciplinary Learning Powered by the Arts

Edited by Dunnie Palmer Wolf ad Dana Balick

The itle of this book pretty much tells the whole story. The theory is pretty straightforward stuff. But this book was valuable in that it provided a collection of in-depth case studies of teacher incorporating multiple disciplines into broad themed projects. Often, the results were interesting school wide projects.

Most notable was a project headed by a Humanities teacher in Massachusetts. She had chosen the topic of "The Middle East" and knew she wanted her students to explore the many cultures and conflicts that exist in that region today, especially the issues surrounding Israel. She and many colleagues from the other disciplines (Math, History, Science, Art, etc.) developed what they called The Jerusalem Project. In short, students were challenged to create designs for a community center in Jerusalem that would meet the needs of the diverse groups now living in conflict in the region. The idea was to create a facility that would express, architecturally, the values of all groups and would bring the sides together. You get the idea.

Anyway, on to the next novel...

Good advice for avid news watchers

"It would be better not to know so many things than to know so many things that are not so." - Felix Okoye

7. Born on the Fouth of July

by Ron Kovic

Wow. What a powerful, heartwrenching memoir. I am somehwat speechless. What our warroirs live through, what we ask them to do, is just plain wrong.

The Wheel

The wheel is turning and you can't slow down,
you can't let go and you can't hold on,
you can't go back and you can't stand still,
if the thunder don't get you then the lightning will.

-Grateful Dead

6. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

by Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi is an Iranian and this is her autobiography in comic book form. Capturing her life from ages ten through fourteen in a country rought with uprisings, revolution and social turmoil. It is a forceful coming-of-age story. Amidst a world of turmoil and opression, Satrapi emerges. She tells of her family's everyday existence in touching, disarming detail while simultaneously illustrating the history of a short, violent period of Iran's history. The graphics are at once enlightening and very disturbing. Even the most terrible moments are conveyed with an unflinching matter-of-fact tone that seems to simply pass any appropriate angst on to the reader.

I picked this up from my cooperating teacher's desk while the students watched a movie clip and finished it by the end of the day. What a good read. I highly recommend it.

Apparently, Satrapi has written Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. I'm certainly going to read it.

Kite Runner stuff

Hey, did you read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini? If so, this BBC News article might interest you. Why they would ban such and important sport is beyond me...

If you haven't read this novel, I highly recommend it. I have a review in my archives.

5. Is This English?: Race, Language and Culture in the Classroom

by Bob Fecho

Another self-congratulatory teaching book written by a white guy teaching bloack kids. Oddly, after having read the book I am not sure why he chose that particular title.

I think the most useful thing I've gotten from Fecho's book is a clearer idea of what is meant by "learning across borders" and his well articulated discussion of the discomfort we experience in dialogue when situated outside our comfort zone. I am encouraged by his insistance that we cross boundaries, take risks, interrogate eachother and "share the discomfort," and to learn about that.

I appreciate Fecho’s argument about making inquiry not just an occasional component to classroom teaching, but the center of it. Inquiry is not something students can turn on and off depending on the demands of our lessons. Rather it is a habit of the critical mind, to be cultivated daily. It is the process of learning. Not only that, an inquiry based classroom gives itself permission to take the risks we "experts" fear will reveal how little we know about eachother and our differences.


Are you still reading this?

Thoreau's Walking

In Thoreau's essay Walking he says that man should be so free that he can go for a walk he have no reason to return. The essay is on the necessity and art of walking, but I was once again struck by his extreme position on freedom.

4. Pedagogy of the Oppressed

by Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire was a radical theorist and educator of poor, oppressed populations in Brazil. That is until he was exiled.

I won't go about explaining all of Freire's contributions to radical and progressive education. Instead I'll just go on a riff about how this book has helped me figure out a few of my own teacher/student problems.

For instance, Friere's ideas have helped to explain the causes of student resistance. Many students who resist are doing so because their (our) natural and constant drive to "become fully human" in classrooms that more often than not frustrate their persuits. More specifically, they are being frustrated in the teacher-centered classroom, where they are required to be spectators instead of active seekers and learners. Too often, school is made up of teachers acting as if they are merely one-way transmitters and filters of compartmentalized bits of information. In what Freire calls a "banking approach" to teaching (one that assumes students come to the classroom empty of knowledge, needing the deposits made by a teacher in order to grow), students are fed information and are required to store it in memory despite the fact that the information is not made relevant. Having not experienced the information in any real sense, having little other reason to memorize the information, students often find themselves just doing what they are told. If you do it well, you are an "achiever." One affect of this kind of education is the production of an obedient population who do what they're told (whether it's intentional on the teacher's part or not). But this is incompatible with students' natural drive to experience things and to create meaning themselves. As Freire argues, people should be seen as "re-creators" of knowledge that they are, not spectators watching someone else talk about it.

Freire's definition of "dialogue" holds the key to fostering the kind of exploration and learning we've been talking and reading about. To Freire, dialogue is not simply the Q & A type conversation (that inevitabley leads to the teacher's ideas) we've all experienced as students. Nor is dialogue merely a conversation between teacher and students. Rather it is open-ended exploratoration created and driven by the students and teacher in a given moment. What inevitably will be discovered cannot be planned by the teacher ahead of time. Such dialogue will take on character of it's own, which will be born of the contributions of students and teacher equally in a given time and place. True dialogue cannot happen in a vaccum, as we imagine when we write lesson plans ruled by method, content or authoritative teacher expectations.

In short, Freire is talking about democratizing the classroom. But this little blurb is selfish and hasn't done much to explain Freire's larger goal, which is to liberate the oppressed by means of an education that provides a practice ground for inquiry, critical thinking, and action. I suppose, though, I have highlighted some of his ideas.

A Wendell Berry poem

This poem was published this answer to war in The Progressive in 2005.

Look Out

Come to the window, look out, and see
the valley turning green in remembrance
of all springs past and to come, the woods
perfecting with immortal patience
the leaves that are the work of all of time,
the sycamore whose white limbs shed
the history of a man's life with their old bark,
the river quivering under the morning's breath
like the touched skin of a horse, and you will see
also the shadow cast upon it by fire, the war
that lights its way by burning the earth.

Come to your windows, people of the world,
look out at whatever you see wherever you are,
and you will see dancing upon it that shadow.
You will see that your place, wherever it is,
your house, your garden, your shop, your forest, your farm,
bears the shadow of its destruction by war
which is the economy of greed which is plunder
which is the economy of wrath which is fire.
The Lords of War sell the earth to buy fire,
they sell the water and air of life to buy fire.
They are little men grown great by willingness
to drive whatever exists into its perfect absence.
Their intention to destroy any place is solidly founded
upon their willingness to destroy every place.

Every household of the world is at their mercy,
the households of the farmer and the otter and the owl
are at their mercy. They have no mercy.
Having hate, they can have no mercy.
Their greed is the hatred of mercy.
Their pockets jingle with the small change of the poor.
Their power is the willingness to destroy
everything for knowledge which is money
which is power which is victory
which is ashes sown by the wind.

Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.

3. Spit in the Ocean, vol #1, "Old In The Streets"

edited by Ken Kesey.

This is the very first volume in Kesey's (and friends) 7 volume literary journal. This one, volume 1, came out in the winter of 1974. As I mentioned last year in a short review of volume 2, my significant other, Sandy, called the Kesey farm and asked how she could find these rare documents for me. Zane Kesey (son) took the phone from his mom and said, "I think I've got them laying around." Low and behold, I've got them all!

These are extremely rare and have never been reproduced, which is a shame because there is some great art in these pages.

Of course, Kesey contributes a 20 pager called "Tranny Man," that captures his love for the folks, the voices, along the way, whichever way that is. Other contributors are Nella Novak, Margo St. James, Ray Andrews, Wendell Berry, Laurance Gonzales, Ken Babbs, Henry Crow Dog, Paul Sawyer, Paul Krassner, and others.

All of them turning life's stuff upside down to see what's under there.

2. Interview with the Vampire

by Anne Rice

This is not what I typically reach for in a novel, but it was somewhat interesting. The novel has flashes of brilliance-- discourse on the morality of the necessity and pleasure of feeding on humans-- but also tends to resemble the quality of a romance novel in parts. And although Interview with the Vampire was written in the late 70s, before the days of Grisham and King, whose books eventually stunk like screenplays, it begs for a movie to be made. And one was.

But back to the questions of morality. According to Rice, when one is transformed into a vampire, one is no longer human. Vampires are immortal but must feed on the blood of living animals. Is this immoral? Is it immoral if a vampire chooses to feed on a human as opposed to farm animals when humans are far more "nutritious"? Are vampires, in fact, evil? Why is it that we humans eat any species we like (except perhaps for those on the endangered species list and our pets), and it's seen as "natural," but our potential predators are viewed and evil or unnatural beings?

Another interesting aspect to the novel is the psychological transition the characters go through during their transformation from human to vampire. They become instantly immortal, but must reconcile with a mortal's memory, ethics, morality, sexuality, etc. It takes the main character over 100 years to come to terms with his vampire-ness, and he's still a psychological mess. But he's got time.

Oh, and there's quite a bit of rampant vampire homosexuality just for fun.

Overall, the novel reads fairly well. I was not blown away. The only crowd I'd heartily recommend it to is the teen goth crowd looking for style and the proper gait for their life of darkness and gloom. Or if, for whatever reason, you are looking for coffin design ideas.

Rumi said something

Out there
Beyond all ideas
Of right and wrong
There is a field.
I'll meet you there.

Ken Babbs, bless his soul

This is Ken Babbs, a principal Merry Prankster, on something he recalled Ken Kesey telling him.

"When he was working at the VA nuthouse in Menlo Park California and working on the novel he would sit at the window looking out over the sprawling lawn and on a particularly lovely sunny day the doors would open and out came the nuts each one pushing an old reel type manual lawnmower and they would take off in all directions, crisscrossing each other's paths, following one another, going in circles and hours later the doors would open again and they would go tearing inside with the mowers and, Kesey said, it was a glorious thing, to look out there and see every blade of grass had been mown."

I don't know. Sometimes crazy ain't so crazy.

1. The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

[This one squeezed in before Interview with the Vampire because I am teaching it]

This book is a series of 35, or so, vignettes richly describing and young woman's struggle for self-knowledge and the power to realize her own identity. Initially, what is contructed through the vignettes is the identity of her neighborhood, family, and what those aspects of her life are not. But, despite there being virtually no plot, what slowly emerges, one vignette into another, is the identity of a young woman who is shedding the roles assigned to her and wrestling for the power to define her own damned self, thank you very much.

I am not a fan of vignettes, but Cisneros has shown me their power in numbers. Actually, Gabriel Garcia Marquez has got some very potent vignettes. Maybe I am a fan.

I recommend it to anyone seeking a way to develop character without a plot. It's also good for anyone interested in adolescent identity development, emergence of self, individuation, self-actualization, etc. Whatever you like to call it.

I especially like the below vignette, so I pecked it out for you:

Bums in the Attic

I want a house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works. We go on Sundays, Papa's day off. I used to go. I don't anymore. You don't like to go out with us, Pap says. Getting too old? Getting too stuck-up, says Nenny. I don't tell them I am ashamed--all of us staring out the window like the hungry. I am tired of looking at what we can't have. When we win the lottery... Mama begins, and then I stop listening.

People who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they foget those of us who live too much on earth. They don't look down at all except to be content to live on hills. They have nothing to do with last week's garbage or fear of rats. Night comes. Nothing wakes them but the wind.

One day I'll own my own house, but I won't foget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I'll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, becasue I know how it is to be without a house.

Some days after dinner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumble.

Rats? they'll ask.

Bums, I'll say, and I'll be happy.


Well, I didn't quite get to 50 books in 2005. Who cares, though. It's all in the past.

Out with the old. In with the new.

My first book, which I will finish within a day or two, is Interview with the Vampire. Stay tuned.