Monday, July 30, 2007


On Sunday, I went on a library adventure, seeking out the Itinerant Librarian to become a member of her traveling library. Despite my initial confusion regarding the location (the bookstore where she was set up is at 8 NE Killingsworth, not NE 8th and Killingsworth, and I drove around the latter a few times), I was successful, and am now an official, card-carrying member of the library (luckily, my hairstyle was deemed inoffensive). I also got to read some wonderful poetry, including books by bill bissett and Suzanne Stein.

Most importantly, though, I remembered how much I like libraries. When I was a kid, I spent hours at the library every week, and when I was in college, I spent hours there every day. Now, I rarely venture into one, but visiting this briefcase-sized library reminded me that I should visit those more permanent institutions with more frequency. There's something rather magical about the presence of books that you absolutely cannot own, and about a space policed by a librarian (whether s/he rules with bylaws or bye-bye laws). Yes, the whole thing made me very happy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


sometimes xkcd is too dorky for me, but other times it's just right.

binge and purge

If you've ever been to my room, you've probably said it. Everyone does. They open the door, their eyes widen, and they say "Oh, you've got a lot of books." Usually, if they're someone I'm fond of, they say it with a reverence in their voice, a kind of delighted awe that trails off into an excited perusal of the shelves, a quiet inspection of just which ones I do have. Sometimes, and this is rare, they're surprised, even a little bit taken aback. Those people aren't generally invited back.

Those people, though, may have a point. At the moment, I have five bookcases in my room, all overfull, all tightly packed and stacked and some of them with even more books on top. I also have several piles of books on my reading chair, and a few more books on the floor. In an attempt to reduce clutter and keep all of the books contained in shelves, I'm trying to get rid of a few. It's hard.

My current rule is that I have to get rid of something every day. It doesn't have to be a book (because I have lots of other clutter, too), but it's good if it is. I'm not sure I'll ever do quite as well as this anonymous academic, though.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


We sat in a tree, all arms and legs and branches, your hand on my ankle and my hands on the slowly peeling bark. Everything you said to me was cruel, but that didn't stop me from listening intently, absorbing every word carefully, inhaling the smell of the hardening sap along with an intense feeling that I would never be old enough to understand all the things you knew so instinctively. Not only were you older, but your mother was sick, a fact which lent you an unimaginable authority over the rest of us. Your mother was sick and your father was dead, while the best the rest of us could boast were a few assorted parental divorces, a dead pet here or there. We knew nothing of suffering.

[I'm not ever sure why I write so much in the second person. I'm sure your average armchair psychologist could make something out of it, but for now, I'll just assume I like the way it sounds. There's something delightfully intimate about the direct address, and I hate making up names for characters.]

Friday, July 6, 2007

speak, memory

Wednesday morning, I finished Mauve Desert [verdict: awesome; now I want to read it in French], and started Reading Lolita in Tehran. It seemed like a good palate cleanser between bouts of the avant-garde, and certainly appropriate to read on the fourth of July. I had also recently been reminded of it by M. Bérubé's summary of some of the controversy surrounding the book, and was intrigued enough to pull it off the shelf.

It was given to me as a gift some time ago (Christmas? My last birthday? I'm not sure.), and it seems, on the surface of it, like a book I'd like a lot. It's literary, feminist, and political, a memoir about the personal and political implications of the ways in which women can relate not just to each other, but also to books. But my disinterest in the book hinges on one single word in that sentence: memoir. It is not a scholarly text, and those who criticize it for its simplicity, readability, or careful plotting miss the point. This is pop politics, pop literature, pop feminism; it's not a carefully disguised attempt to provoke or calm anti-Iran sentiment, rather it is the story of one woman's life in Iran.

When memoirs succeed, it is because they describe lives that are unlike the readers', lives that intrigue, challenge, and surprise. A memoir should leave the reader with more questions than answers, more impetus than satisfaction. Nafisi's book is lovely, interesting, and it details a life full of literature, subversion, and unrest. It raises important questions, and whatever its agenda, I think that's valuable. That said, it has made me think more about the nature of the memoir than about anything else, and I can't help but wonder why a woman who has invested so much of herself into fiction has chosen to write not a novel, but a memoir.

She seems to be attempting to situate this book somewhere between fiction and a persuasive and personal essay, and I end up wishing she'd written either one or the other. Certainly I'm oversimplifying the above, and perhaps this is simply because I'm someone who doesn't understand the essential truthiness of the genre, but memoirs just don't do it for me. The exceptions to the rule are few, but they do, of course, include the book from which this post steals its title.