Meredith's Challenge 2.0

52 books, one year. Stay tuned for more details.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I'm in the process of deciding whether or not I want to pay for this sort of thing. Right now I have this site and this site. They have the same content, more or less, but the other site allows for pictures and columns and such. However, only people who have Friendster accounts can comment, which sucks. I'm seriously considering opening a real Typepad account, but I need to do more research. Anyone out there who has any advice or horror/love stories that I need to know before I cough up the $40? Leave me a comment or send me an e-mail. Just so y'all know, I've been hearing bad things about Blogger so I'm leaning towards Typepad sans the Friendster-ness.

#6 Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

I picked this up at the Women's Center Library when I forgot to bring Caramelo with me one day. I don't know what I was expecting. It's written beautifully but the story is hard to take. I haven't decided how I feel about it yet. I buzzed through it in a day and thought that I knew what was going to happen but I was very,very, wrong. Silly me, I hoped for the best for the narrator but, of course, the exact opposite happens and the ambiguous finale didn't leave me feeling very hopeful for her. The end was especially hard to take. I'm not ashamed to say that I shed a tear or two.

As a side note, a lot of the books I have read about people of color and/or are poor include some sort of understanding that these people know more about human nature or can sense how people feel/operate just by where they come from, which family they are a part of, how they look, stand etc. I don't know if I like this or not. Is it somehow because these people are assumed to be more connected to nature than people who are white/wealthy? Or that they spend so much time together and in close proximity with others that they are better at understanding people? Is this stereotypical? Or just a literary conceit? Has anyone else noticed this? Any English folk out there who know more about this than I do? Part of me thinks that it would be cool to have that ability but another part feels like it's making a snap judgement from very little information. Especially in this book, I think that "reading" people like that is detrimental to Bone, the narrator. Her family tells her she is bad, because of her grandparents were. She believes them and does bad things because she is "bad". I wonder how she would have acted if she didn't have that label assigned to her.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

#5 Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market by Eric Schlosser

When I first picked this up, I thought that it was just about pot. Surprise! It's not (read a subtitle why doncha, Meredith?). However, I do think that the title essay is the most compelling of the three. The laws on pot use, possession, selling, and growing and the differences between how the states, judges and feds determine how to enforce them is madness, madness I tell you. Yikes. One of the people mentioned was sentenced to LIFE in prision for introducing a grower to a buyer. Both the grower and buyer got considerably less amounts of jail time. Holy crap y'all.

As much as I liked the book, I felt like the last essay about pornography wasn't as interesting as the others. Reuben Sturman isn't a man that encourages sympathy. Yeah, it sucks that the feds were after him and put him in jail but 1) he wasn't paying taxes on millions of dollars of income and 2) what about the people that were used in the making of his porn? Yes, some people do take part in it willingly and eagerly, and Eric (yes, we are on a first name basis) gives us some examples, but what about those who don't have any other choices? or being in porn is the only choice they can think they are capable of doing? I think that is the bigger tragedy, the more human part of this essay. Also, as the boy so aptly put it, "pornography isn't illegal." He said, and I agree with him, that a discussion about prostitution would be more fitting and more interesting.

Eric does a good job of sucking in the reader. I used to not like non-fiction, only reading it when I thought it would be "good" for me. But Eric has taught me the errors of my ways. Fast Food Nation is awesome. If you haven't read it yet, do so. And then go read The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, which also talks about pot and has fascinating insights into apples, tulips and potatoes, I kid you not.

This quote stuck me, "This war is over, if you want it." I think it can be true on many levels. Good job, Eric, good job.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

#4 Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation by Leora Tanenbaum

***Ahem, stepping onto my soap box***
First off, I want to say that I hate, hate, hate this word; not as much as this word but hate nonetheless. The topic of this book is part of what I do most of my free time doing, talking to people about why our sexual double standard is bullshit and how its all wrapped in sexism and how sexual assault is a part of that and I could go on and on about this forever, but luckily for you I won't. If you want to chat about it though, e-mail me and we will have a rollicking good time.

I think that the author missed her chance to say something really powerful. Maybe because I talk about this all the time, I didn't really take anything away with me at the end. Her original conclusion was that abstinence-only education is crap, and that if we teach our youth real sex ed then we wouldn't have these problems. Huh? I agree that is a solution for some of our society's problems but not the one that she focuses on in her book, namely young women being called names to be kept down and not challenge societal norms. I thought that was a bizarre note to end on. Her afterward, which apparently was only published in the paperback edition, was more fitting; essentially it was respect each other and stop calling one another names. It doesn't seem like much of a relevation to me but to others it can be the first step in recognizing that sexism does exist and it affects all of us, regardless of gender.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if we really had open discussions about why we use these words (ie bitch, slut, fag etc.) as weapons, what we get out of them and how their use can be devastating to some and why would be far more satisfactory, at least for me. A laundry list of personal stories without very much analysis just ain't doing it for me. I ought to write my own book. Anyone want to give me a publishing contract?

I got a little excited there. I'm off my soap box, at least for now.

More Details

Kay, y'all, I figured it out. Based on January's and February's poor showing, I need to read five books a month in order to hit fifty. However, due to reasons beyond my control, April is going to be a crazy, crazy, crazy month. So crazy in fact that I know five books ain't gonna happen. Maybe three, if I'm lucky and if they're really, really short. Do novellas count? Does any one know of any good ones?
Moving on... my goal for this month is six, maybe seven. I'm more than halfway through my fourth (update soon) and I think I can squeeze in at least two more. I can't recall ever reading this much, even when I was in uni with three literature courses.
This is good prep for August, when the boy and myself will be going to Finland, yes, Finland. Pretty crazy no? Anyone ever been? I've never even stepped one toe in Europe and I am super duper excited about it. Yay for international travel! And books! Yay books!

Monday, March 07, 2005

#3 Dreaming in Cuban by Christina Garcia

I've had a bit of an interest in all things Cuban since I read Cuban Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana by Isadora Tattlin last fall. That book is eye-opening. I don't know very much about Cuba, but from what I gleaned from Tattlin, it sounds like it's stuck in a crazy time warp. It almost makes me want to visit just to see the strangeness of it all; almost, almost. I also think that seeing the hardness of life there would make me too sad and gawking like a tourist seems a bit tasteless and horribly imperialistic. However, my budding fascination with the country still stands.

Dreaming in Cuban is a gorgegous, gorgegous book. The prose is so lush it made me want to sink into it. I might as well admit now that I am a huge sucker for beautiful, descriptive writing, split narratives, messing with chronology and ambiguous endings. Therefore, as soon as I finished this, I wanted to start it all over again, yet for the sake of the project I held myself back. I devoured Dreaming and at the end, I wish that I savoured it more, took it slower. I feel like I will be coming back to it, that a re-reading might reveal more than I got at first.

This quote in particular stayed with me: "... you have to live in the world to say anything meaningful about it." Like Pilar, I feel like I am waiting for my life to begin.

# 2 Summerland by Michael Chabon

I love, love, love The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, so I picked this up from the sale bin at school. It's a kids' book and I didn't quite know what to expect. It was okay. The story is a crazy combination of baseball and LOTR-like fantasy. It was vaguely interesting with strange creatures, true fairy tales, giants and sasquatches (oh my!). I buzzed through it pretty quickly. I think that Chabon should stick to grown up stories though.
***Edited to add*** I just remembered that Summerland reminded me an awful lot of Harry Potter which I guess is almost inevitable because they're both fantasy children's books but it was too similar for comfort. Perhaps I'm not as hip to literary theory as I ought to be, but with strikingly similar character names and plot points (at least to me), it seemed sort of derivitive.

#1 A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

So, I should have known that this book was a horrible way to begin. First of all, it's a bazillion pages. Second of all, it has almost as many characters, all connected somehow, all with foreign names. Like an Indian Anna Karenina, except, I liked Anna Karenina. I had a really hard time keeping track of everyone and the family trees didn't include the peripheral characters. *sigh* It took two long months for me to finish it and by the end, it was more about conquering the book than the story, which is a pity really. Maybe I don't get it because I'm not British or Indian? Or know that much about India? Anyone who felt differently about it, please enlighten me.

And so it begins...

This year, I decided to use my New Year's Resolutions for good, not evil, and challenge my brain. I've been out of school for a bit and not exercising my English degree as much as I would like. I hit upon 50 books in one year and I'm already behind, no thanks to the behemoth I just finished. So, in following the example from a few other people, I'm going to keep track of my progress via the blog world. I'm probably the only person who's ever going to read this, but if I'm not and anyone out there has any suggestions about good books or comments about what I'm reading, drop me a line.