Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More On Books
(Not to be confused with Moron Books)

Banned Books Week: Sept 24-Oct 1
Village Books, my favorite (former) local bookstore, sent me their current e-newsletter today. Along with new reads and upcoming author visits, they brought to my attention another significant news item: "Every year during the last week of September, bookstores and libraries throughout the country join together to observe Banned Books Week. The week celebrates the freedom to read what one chooses and the privacy to protect those choices."

Following is a link to the list of the top 100 banned books for 1990-2000. If you're like me, you might have fun glancing over the list to see which ones once moved, disturbed or inspired you as you read them; you might also see books you've been wanting to (re)read for a while. Consider picking one up to read in the next month (and let me know if you do!).


My Summer Reading
  • Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, Sarah and Elizabeth Delany; also On My Own at 107: Reflections on My Life without Bessie, Sarah Delany. These books were a quick but meaningful read. African American centenarian sisters reflect on a hundred years of political, environmental and social changes as well as the significance of knowing another person intimately for that same unfathomable amount of time. Although their stories are told with the help of a journalist, I could hear their witty, bright, funny, kind voices (and the differences between the two!) on every page.
  • Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson. In many ways I can see how this book has recently been canonized: female (anti?)heroine, motherlessness, exploration (explanation?) of transience, generally poetic writing.
  • The Bookseller of Kabul, Asne Seierstad. A journalist lives with an Afghani family and tells their story. Seierstad doesn't candy-coat anything (attitudes toward women, children working, war-torn families) but makes clear this is only one story of many and not to be read as every family. Excellent reading.
  • Straight Man, Richard Russo. Takes academia and the institution to task through the voice of a punchy, middle-aged, quirky narrator. By the author of Empire Falls (Pulitzer Prize winner) and Nobody's Fool, the writing is smart and thought-provoking. I loved this book.
  • Wild Life, Molly Gloss. I enjoyed the wild ride of this one, and although it felt a little bit forced at times, I was swept away by the exploration of one woman's reflection on her independence and her relationship to the supernatural and the natural. It was an added bonus that the story addresses regional lore and takes place in turn of the (20th) century Columbia River Oregon/Washington (including Astoria, Kai and Dana!).
  • A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris. Perhaps I just wasn't up for another abandoned-girl-in-search-of-identity book, but I wasn't completely sold on this one. The writing was excellent though and the story was compelling; I have a feeling it just might not have been the right book for the right time for me.
More Summer Reads (Young Adult literature)
  • The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman. Couldn't put this book down. Can't wait until Dane and Aubrey read this in a few years (maybe at age 10?). This one' s up there with Harry Potter and Narnia in terms of character, plot, ingenuity and adventure.
  • Persepolis and Persopolis 2, Marjane Satrapi. Set in 1970s-80s Iran, Satrapi tries to come to terms with her childhood in light of political and social unrest (disaster, despair). Similar to Maus, this book tells a story through comic strip smoothly and powerfully. I think this is thought-provoking teen reading. (I'm still waiting to get Persepolis 3 from the library.)
  • Redwall, Brian Jacques. Warrior mouse; rat villain; animal battles. Good stuff. I remember learning of this book when I was teaching English 101: in an essay one of my male students wrote that this book had been the first book he read that took him to another world. Prior to reading this book, he didn't readly "get" reading; after he read this book at age ten, though, he "got" it: he'd race home from school to read it, his mom couldn't get his attention to look up from it for a snack, and he'd read it by flashlight late into the night. I didn't have this experience, but I can see why a ten-year-old might.
  • Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson. Argh, matey--thrilling adventure on the high seas and on a deserted island for any lad or lassie. Stevenson tells a great tale through his young and innocent narrator.
As always, I'm open for suggestions/recommendations, curious to hear what you're reading,

Monday, August 22, 2005

Aubrey and Mom in Japantown
Leaving Dane and Mick at the dental school, Aubrey and I spent the morning in the city. We walked down to Fillmore to get hot chocolate and then on down to Japantown. On the way, we "shopped" in boutiques. In her "black clackin' shoes" and new sundress from Grammy, Aubrey shopped for silk scarves, ceramic dishes, specialty soaps--basically anything that looked like she needed to be especially careful with them.

In Japantown, we spent most of our time watching the West Coast Lion Dance Troupe. The first dance was a group of eight lions (two dancers per lion) who danced in a giant circle to drumbeat. Most of the lions were adult, but there were a couple of young lions (cubs?) that Aubrey kept her eye on. In the second dance, a great big red lion kept us in suspense, rearing up on his hind legs (which means the front dancer was on the legs or shoulders of the hind dancer), taking several approaches to the platforms ahead, and finally jumping catlike (arching, slinking) up onto one table and then onto the table atop that. The audience seemed to hold a collective breath as the lion eventually stood up on hind legs on that final, rickety platform.

Dane to Pacific with Dad
Dane was ready for Mick to take him to school on Saturday at 7 a.m. Mick wasn't quite ready though until 9, perhaps needless to say. Even prior to dental school, Mick hasn't been one for getting up at the crack of dawn voluntarily, but especially since dental school, this is the case. Weekdays, he's up until midnight-2 a.m. and then sets his alarm for anywhere between 5 and 6:30 the next morning. I try to stay up late or get up early with him, but that's very hard to do without the compelling fear of an exam hanging over one's head. In light of that schedule, on weekends it only seems appropriate for him to sleep in until at least 8 (especially since he's been studying late on weekends as well).

While Dane waited for Mick to get up, we packed their lunch (pb&j's as we knew he'd want to do, fruit, and string cheese) into Mick's lunch bag. Next, he picked out the exact shirt he wanted to wear (a green plaid one), shorts, socks and shoes. He also tried to put together some sort of badge and chain to wear around his neck.

His two hours at the school itself were spent in the lab working with play-doh next to Mick, watching a few dental tasks, and then eating lunch in the cafeteria. He was a very happy aspiring dentist when Aubrey and I came back to get him.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Tuesday night the kids and I crossed the Golden Gate bridge and ventured into the city to bring dinner to Mick at school. He had to work on preps (whatever that entails--I'm still figuring this all out so pardon the inexact language and terms). Both kids fell asleep in the car. Dane woke up when we got there, but Aubrey slept against my shoulder for the first 25 minutes of our pre-dining mini-tour.

Mick immediately took us to the sim lab. Picture a white room with a wall of huge windows plopped down in the middle of the tall buildings and blue sky of downtown San Francisco. Next, picture twelve rows of mini-cubicles (they only come up about waist high and seat about four to a station--three or four stations to a row?) the length and width of a basketball court. It seemed Mick and his 140 peers were all there in their blue scrubs bent over flimsy rubber "faces," poking and scraping and drilling (I know that's not the word I'm supposed to use) around a mouth full of fake teeth at 6 o'clock on a Tuesday night.

His fellow students were warm and friendly. Most of them had heard of us (kids, wife) and seemed really pleased to meet us. They admired the kids' blonde hair, Aubrey sleeping (drooling) on my shoulder, and Dane's complete fascination with the joint. It was pretty standard too for me to hear comments about Mick like "Is he this funny at home?" or "This guy keeps us cracking up" or "Mick helps keep things light around here."

While Aubrey slept and Mick and I talked with some of his new friends, Dane "worked" at Jordan West's station. Together they made a red play-doh man with "DAD" poked into his stomach with some dental tool. Jordan also showed Dane how to pull his arm inside his t-shirt and let his sleeve get sucked into a dental vacuum to make it look as if it had sucked his arm off. Dane thought that was hilarious. The kids love Jordan; maybe he should abandon any thoughts of endodontistry (the path his brother Jason and his dad took) and consider being a pediodontist instead! I know two kids who'd sit in his operatory any day of the week.

After our homemade-soup-in-a-thermos dinner, where we shared the dining hall with just one other dental student and his wife and their eight-month-old daughter, we headed back to the sim lab for a few more minutes. Dane and Aubrey leaned in close to look into Mick's practice mouth. I think they could've stayed there for an hour, fascinated by the tools, the teeth, the sounds (the vacuum of course), but we needed to leave Mick to practice.

On the way home, Dane was already planning to pack his Superman lunchbox with a PB&J sandwich for the next day so he could go to school with Mick; he also said he knew his favorite t-shirt that he was going to wear. He was sad when I told him he'd have to wait until a weekend, but Mick plans to bring Dane to the sim lab this Saturday for a couple of hours. Dane will definitely be prepared.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Book Sense

I got a quarter of the way through Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses before deciding to take a step back from it for a while. For those of you who might not know, it's simply a novel--not really a book of *evil verses*. (I can see you all shaking your heads and feeling sorry for me in my ignorance.) Perhaps you're not as naive or oblivious as me, but I pretty much had no clue as to the real focus of the book. I knew that Rushdie became a marked man after he wrote it--the Ayatollah put a bounty on his head that hasn't been lifted--because of Rushdie's supposed disrespect for Islam and Allah. As far as I can tell, though, Rushdie's supposed disrespect seems more like a critical inquiry into the nature of faith and love and life.

Rushdie's writing is superior. He is a gifted poet and storyteller. The tricky part for me, though, is that I don't have enough knowledge of Islam or of Indian culture to understand the nuances of the writing in this book--his references, his jokes, the ironies, etc. So, I have to admit, I put it on the back burner until I look up more about these things--or until I've spent my time reading every other novel I'm turned on to!

(And War and Peace? That sucker just looks too fat to look any good right now.)

Instead, I've read Molly Gloss's Wild Life, Asne Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and about a hundred million books about princesses, dragons, mice, and billy goats.

In the queue? Heller's Catch-22 and bell hooks' remembered rapture.

Feel free to email me the name of a book you think is a must-read.