Friday, April 25, 2008

Anonymous was a woman -

Virginia Woolf commented on this fact -- "For most of history, Anonymous was a woman" and Mirra Bank wrote a book about it, and now a new book also outlines the history of anonymity in publishing. John Mullan's Anonymity: A Secret History Of English Literature in this review by Rutgh Wajnryb, outlines some of the reasons women have published anonymously.

But Joanna Russ's classic 1983 How to Suppress Women's Writing, (from the University of Texas press) dealt with the challenges facing women authors quite a while ago. Here's what Adrienne Rich said of Russ's book: (from the Google Books Link)
By the author of The Female Man [(Russ's science fiction novel of the 1970's) -- How to Suppress Women's Writing is] a provocative survey of the forces that work against women who dare to write. "Joanna Russ is a brilliant writer, a writer of real moral passion and high wit." -- Adrienne Rich "
Think PD James?

It's, not my, fault, it's the, epidemic, of commas!

Although, we think it's, the recent rain, really, commas, are springing up, like, tulips, everywhere! Check out this, credible (incredible!), report!
If I can, find, the great Peanuts cartoon, about commas, I will add a link! Happy Comma Day!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Everything I've Never Read" - On Thursday

UPDATE: I've been meaning to add this image of the "Whithersoever" art exhibit by Lauren Grossman from OSU's Fairbanks Gallery that was up at the time of the book reading performance piece described below. The sheep are on wheels as is each of the mini lawns. Very cool.

Last Thursday, my friend Mary B and I went to OSU's Fairbanks West Gallery to see/participate in an art performance piece by OSU art student Kathryn Cellerini called "Everything I've Never Read." Coming in out of the misty rain, Mary and I found the artist sitting on cushions on the floor amid lovely braided rugs (sorry, I didn't' get the artist's name on the rugs) and strewn with books, some library and some of her own.

We introduced ourselves, chatted with her, and picked out some books to read. Mary found herself on a floor cushion with Dante's Divine Comedy, an 1920's version. Kathryn was reading from an elegant volume of Moby Dick with gilt edges and pale blue satin ribbon bookmark. I settled into a velvet armchair and picked up a paperback reprint of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, with excellent introduction by Lionel Trilling (1952 edition), while holding a 1943 volume of Wuthering Heights with excellent wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg.

This project is great fun because we all have stacks of books waiting to be read - mine piled on bedside table and coffee table. Sadly, one could never read everything! And as a writing instructor, I do feel that I "ought to" have read more. But when?

According to her artist statement, Cellerini sets out her reasons and goal:
Though culturally relative, there is a standard set of literary works that a person is expected to have read. Given my love and admiration for books, sadly I do not read as much as I would like. And the books that I choose to read on my free time are either in the subjects of history, science or art because those are passionate interests of mine. Yet my cultural understanding of what it is to be well-read is based on the opinions of laureates, family, and peers. Even basic literacy works that elementary students might read are only titles to me, not experiences.

The intention during this week-long performance is to not only become familiar with literature that is otherwise foreign, but also to designate time every day to include such a task. My place will be in this space as much as possible..The personal ramification of this project will be life-long as I will be able to engage in a literary dialogue that I couldn't have otherwise. However, this project is of interest to me even more so because it invites the viewer to take an initiative and enter a space of curiosity, vulnerability, and comfort.
Thank you, Kathryn, for helping all of us to reach out to books we have never read.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Happy National Poetry Month

I can't believe it's April already - National Poetry Month - being celebrated all around Oregon by the Oregon State Poetry Association (OSPA) with their spring conference in nearby Salem and other events around the Willamette Valley. It's a time to read and enjoy poems - well, we should do that all year around, of course.

And what better time to read works by Oregon's own poet laureate Lawson Inada. Inada is a retired professor from Southern Oregon University, who is the subject of a documentary What It Means to Be Free: A Video about Poetry and Japanese-American Internment which I show to my writing classes every term. The video works especially well as an argument of definition, so I plan to show it Friday in WR 222, to go along with their essay #1. For information on getting a copy of this video, check this link for where you can also sample the video and read some of Inada's commentary on the poems.

According to the Inada biography link above, he is also the subject of "an award-winning animated film of Legends from Camp made in collaboration with his son, artist Miles Inada" which I would like to see. I will look into ways to find that.

Meanwhile, to actually sample his poems check out Modern American Poetry and these three poems. And celebrate poetry!

Photo by Tom Peck from Modern American Poetry
6 April 2008

Friday, April 04, 2008

True Believer

After having enjoyed Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, I took up the recommendation by my friend and colleague Paula (with whom I totally agree that anyone can enjoy "children's books" - after all, consider the success of Harry Potter or Ursula Le Guin's Earth Sea books -- and now I am now reading the sequel True Believer, which is a sequel in the life of LaVaughn, a teen living with a single working mom, struggling to believe that she could even consider going to college. One thing I love about this book is the voice of LaVaughn and how it makes the story sing.

In reading a review online (WARNING - spoiler alert!), I now wonder if I have read this book already, but that doesn't matter. In fact, one measure of a book's success is whether you would happily read it twice. This is supposedly part of a trilogy, but so far, I have not been able to tell what the third book is. Maybe it hasn't been written yet. This weekend, I hope to spend some time with LaVaughn in the pages of this book.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What are you reading?

Apparently, one is what one reads - or the assumptions are that whether one should be in a relationship depends on what one reads as a sign warrant of one's character, intelligence, status, potential as a date /mate - in Rachel Donadio's New York Times Book Review essay"It’s Not You, It’s Your Books." Donadio quotes many people about problems in their relationship due to apparent incompatibility from their reading. Donadio starts with a great lead:
Some years ago, I was awakened early one morning by a phone call from a friend. She had just broken up with a boyfriend she still loved and was desperate to justify her decision. “Can you believe it!” she shouted into the phone. “He hadn’t even heard of Pushkin!”
This definitely drew me in. She continues:
Anyone who cares about books has at some point confronted the Pushkin problem: when a missed — or misguided — literary reference makes it chillingly clear that a romance is going nowhere fast. At least since Dante’s Paolo and Francesca fell in love over tales of Lancelot, literary taste has been a good shorthand for gauging compatibility.
According to one source, Anna Fels,
reading habits can be a rough indicator of other qualities. “It tells something about ... their level of intellectual curiosity, what their style is,” Fels said. “It speaks to class, educational level.”
And here's another aspect:
Naming a favorite book or author can be fraught. Go too low, and you risk looking dumb. Go too high, and you risk looking like a bore — or a phony.
I know I have faced this. When I read books that I suspect might not sound literary enough, I wonder how I will be judged. Friends often apologize for reading mystery novels, thinking that won't sound sufficiently intellectual. My dad, even while reading The New Yorker, claimed he was "no intellectual." I'm always proud of friends who are very open about their reading list, such as Claire or Paula.

However, Donadio's conclusion seems to say that we (or I) needn't worry so much:
For most people, love conquers literary taste. “Most of my friends are indeed quite shallow, but not so shallow as to break up with someone over a literary difference,” said Ben Karlin, a former executive producer of “The Daily Show” and the editor of the new anthology “Things I’ve Learned From Women Who’ve Dumped Me.”
So, it's good to know that unconditional love can extend past the stack on the night stand!