Hey, There’s a Bird in This Mirror!

Diversion Enthusiast Society, est. 2007

Heaven help us if the library caught fire.

with 3 comments

My father loves this story –

He came to visit my sixth grade classroom on Animal Diorama day. As he was the breadwinner, he rarely had the opportunity to be The Parent Representative at these things. He says that when he walked in, the room was in total chaos. Children were running around, you couldn’t hear yourself think, and the teacher had given up on attempting to maintain order. As he tells it, I was the only child seated at my desk, completely silent. I was reading my literature textbook and only put it down to explain the mighty hyrax (closest living relative to the elephant!) to him.

I most often got in trouble in high school for not paying attention in class because I was reading or writing. It was an almost daily event my senior year. My AP English teacher encouraged my indifference to his lectures by leaving books on my desk.

When I moved into my dorm on my first day of college, I brought one small suitcase of clothes and three boxes of books. All the other girls seemed to have the exact opposite set of supplies in tow, a fact that we all noticed (and they delighted in pointing out). When I moved out in May, I had the same suitcase and five boxes of books.

I changed majors my freshman year because I was told that, if I went for an education degree, I’d all but stop taking English classes by my junior year.

In my four years as an undergraduate, I easily spent ten dollars in the used bookstores on State Street for every dollar I spent on alcohol.

When I moved into my first apartment, one of the first things I did was drop money I didn’t have on the overstock tables at my favorite independent bookstore. Even though I had to eat boxes of Betty Crocker hasbrowns for a week, I didn’t regret it. Know why? I got a hardcover copy of Women of the Beat Generation for five bucks. Five bucks!

When people respond to my career choice by saying “you sure must love books,” I can’t really correct them. Even though, generally speaking, librarians work with people more than they work with books, I’ve certainly ended up in this line of work because I am unabashedly obsessed with reading and the physicality of books. This obsession informs the way that I interact with the world, perhaps more than anything else about me.

Unfortunately, graduate school, even the kind of graduate school that you go to because you’re a bookworm and you want some letters after your name to prove it, doesn’t permit a lot of time or brain space for a leisurely backstroke through the stacks. Between my thesis and my work as a research assistant to my professors, my brain hasn’t really been my own for about a year now. I have been dedicated to generating output and haven’t had time to take things in slowly. When I graduated in December, I was horrified to discover that I had forgotten how to read for fun. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t do it. Something about the effort made me miserable and nervous. I felt rattled and wrong. I couldn’t sit still for more than hour, couldn’t hang onto plot lines, and couldn’t get myself to care. I had been spending too much time on the computer and too much time reading quickly, sifting through articles and book chapters for information.

It’s coming back to me, albeit slowly, though I still find having to make an effort unsettling. I’ve had some time the past couple of weekends to just sit and read. Happily, there hasn’t really been a dud in the bunch –


John Wayne in The SeachersThe Terror Dream by Susan Faludi – The title is a reference to a passage from the novel The Searchers, upon which the film of the same name is based. This is one of the best works of nonfiction I’ve read in some time and is, in my mind, up there with A People’s History of the United States for alternate looks at American history. The book is divided into two parts – in the first, Faludi writes about the cultural aftermath of September 11th, focusing on the impact on gender relations, the stories that we told ourselves about that day, and the overlap between these two things. In the second part, she points to the problematic myth of invincibility that runs through American history, a myth dependent upon the strict division of the sexes into helper and helpless, hero and victim, arguing that this myth has its roots in our very early colonial past. Tying these two things together very, very neatly, she writes about the reaction we could have had to 9/11 and about “a people unaware of its myths.”

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather – This is one of those State Street undergraduate purchases that I, for some reason, never took off the shelf until this week. It’s a spare and compelling story of two French Catholic missionaries in New Mexico in the mid and late nineteenth century; a meditation on what it means to serve and a beautiful portrait of the American Southwest. I love Willa Cather, partially because, as a child, I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder and Carol Ryrie Brink. Maybe reading this right after The Terror Dream wasn’t the best move, as it took me until the last part of the book to really understand what it was that she was trying to do. I wasted a lot of time looking for colonial snobbery in her portrayal of native peoples and noting with some small disdain that there were very few women in the narrative. In retrospect, this was just silly, as Cather has always dealt with these groups with a deft and sympathetic hand. If you don’t read this, do read something by Cather. She’s an unbelievably thrifty, careful writer who never fails to please. O Pioneers! is in my “next up” pile.

In Defense of Food coverIn Defense of Food by Michael Pollan – Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma? You should read it. Really. It’ll change the way that you eat and think about food. If you’re looking for a shorter and faster way into Pollan’s fantastic writing, In Defense of Food is a good way to go. He writes once again about the problematic aspects of western food culture (or the lack thereof) and goes into some detail about what we can do about it (hint: the book’s thesis is on the cover – eat food. not too much. mostly plants.). Reading Michael Pollan always makes me go back through my cookbooks and double-check when the farmer’s markets in my area are opening for the spring.



Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert – This is a fun, funny, and fast book by an Assistant Librarian in the L.A. County Public Library System. Having worked in a public library for three years, I can tell you that Borchert does a great job demonstrating why “you sure must like books” is one of the funnier things you can say to a librarian. If you have a librarian friend, you’ve heard all of these stories before, but, if you don’t, pick this book up and learn about the trouble with inviting a drug-sniffing dog to storytime, people who put sex toys in the bookdrop, and why you should never, ever throw your library card at a circulation clerk. Ever.

Prophetic Sisterhood: Liberal Women Ministers of the Frontier by Cynthia Grant Tucker – It should probably be noted that I like pioneer stories. A lot. I forget this about myself sometimes, but there it is. This book probably isn’t for everyone, but if you like Willa Cather, this work of nonfiction about female Unitarian and Universalist ministers is a detailed and interesting story of the ways in which women and liberal religion participated in the opening of the American West. Pairs nicely with Joanne Passet’s Cultural Crusaders: Women Librarians in the American West (no, I’m not making that up).

Barack Obama and SupermanThe Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama – I voted for the man, so I should probably read his book, right? I’m only through the first 80-ish pages, but it’s a great read. He writes about American political history, contemporary issues, and his own political experience with the same plainspoken, frank, slightly self-deprecating voice of his speeches. His perspective on American politics make me want to be a better, more thoughtful citizen. If you’re a supporter, you’ll find this book to be a wonderful affirmation of that choice. Bonus – it’ll make you even angrier at John McCain and Hillary Clinton’s claims that Obama lacks experience and substance. I’m about one more ill-informed supposition away from throwing something through my television set. I look forward to following how Obama comports himself during the general election based on what I have come to understand of his beliefs about politics and civil society.


3 Responses

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  1. Raina, I had plans to write a semi-similar entry in my blog tonight. Despite the fact that I’m going to feel derivative, I’m doing it regardless.

    What interests me about Obama is the fact that I don’t feel like he’s coming up with “talking points” and “stances”. Something intangible about the way he presents his ideas makes me feel like they are the logical progression of a well-considered philosophy that he’s developed. Hearing that his book supports that stance is heartening.

    Also, I just realized that I’m poorly versed in the “Pioneer Women” genre.


    February 21, 2008 at 6:58 pm

  2. The Pioneer Women genre can either be horrifying (see pulpy romance novels) or fantastic (My Antonia). There is, I have found, very little middle ground. There’s a fantastic book of Willa Cather’s short stories out there or a Norton Anthology called American Women Regionalists if you ever want to get a taste.

    I feel the exact same way about Obama. And, you know, I’m sure the same could be said of a lot of politicians, but very few come off like that. So many of them get trapped in that cycle of fund-raising and reelection that they lose sight of their own minds. Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen to him.


    February 22, 2008 at 11:27 am

  3. where do you get your energy? i’m serious.


    February 29, 2008 at 11:28 am

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