Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wild Books in Public Places

A couple of posts ago I started writing about books and in the course of researching links for that entry, I found a website called BookCrossing. BookCrossing's main objective is book recycling or sharing; they define it as "the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise." Because the books are registered before being released into the wild, their journeys all over the world can be tracked and one of my favorite features of the BookCrossing site is the "catch/release map", a global map that updates constantly to show the titles and locations of books recently caught or released.

The person who captures the wild book is encouraged to go to the website, enter the location where the book was found and write a comment if desired. The person who releases the book gets to follow up on the book by reading the comments from subsequent readers. It's a strange sort of international, anonymous book club.

My family and I have planned to release some books into the wild this morning. Part of the fun is strategically planning where we are going to leave our books. My daughter will be leaving some of her pet care books on benches in front of the local pet store. I might leave some crafting books near the entrance of Joann's. My philosophy and theology books are being released in or around churches. My husband plans on sneaking his copy of Fast Food Nation into McDonald's and leaving it in a booth.

I have been hoarding books for a long time and always hoped that someday I'd have a large personal library with tall bookcases and a window seat where I could in the sit in the sunlight and read for hours. My goals have changed over the years. My family and I are really embracing a nomadic existence these days and hope to do some traveling over the next few years. That means keeping personal belongings to a minimum. I've come to a point in my life where I feel that I have to choose between gathering experiences and gathering material possessions. Somehow, I'd managed to exempt records and books from these periodic purges, but I think I'm ready to part with many of them. I don't have many expensive things, nor do I want them. Records, books and photos are my most precious material possessions, but of those, only the photos are irreplaceable. So I'm saying goodbye to some of my old friends, a few at a time. I hope they make new friends out there and make others as happy as they've made me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Tree Grows in Jena

The White Tree in Jena, LA.

I am pissed off again. Have you heard of the Jena 6? I hadn’t until yesterday, when a friend sent me an email telling me about a legal battle raging in Louisiana. Ironically, it all began with a tree on a high school campus in a small town called Jena, nicknamed the "White Tree" because only white students sat under it during lunch and breaks. One day a black student asked the school principal during assembly if blacks were allowed to sit under the tree. The next day three hangman's nooses appeared, dangling from the tree. If you want to find out what happened next, click on some of the following links:

Jena Six Wikipedia

If you have heard of the Jena 6, then I hope you’re as angry as I am that this sort of insidious, institutionalized racism is still happening. No, I'm not surprised that racism is still around but I am surprised by what short memories our elected officials have. I was in Los Angeles in 1992 after the Rodney King verdict and I remember the feelings of unease and anger that brewed during that trial and then exploded in the L.A. Riots/Rodney King uprising - whatever you want to call that insurrection doesn't make a difference here. What matters is that Los Angeles proved that it would not tolerate institutionalized racism in that instance without a fight and Jena, Louisiana will do the same. Oh yeah, I am pissed and I am not alone. Newsweek quotes a man named Ray Hodges who claims to have planted the tree (which has since been cut down) 20 years ago: "I watched that tree grow...It was planted as a tree of knowledge. But guess what it became? It became a tree of ignorance."

There is a peaceful march planned for tomorrow morning in Louisiana. Let’s hope that peaceful measures work. I signed the online petition and am doing my bit to spread the word but I’m too old and crotchety to be satisfied with that. When the charges against those kids are dropped (and I know we will make that happen), we must make sure to write down the names of the politicians who showed support, the celebrities who showed their support, the businesses that showed support. Clip their names to your bulletin board, get a magnet and put them on your fridge, but do not forget them. We must vote at the ballot box and with our dollars because these 6 kids are just the tip of a giant iceberg. When this is all over and the marchers and media go home there will still be other kids at that high school who will still have to contend with hostile conditions. We need to make sure that we set those kids up for success. All children, regardless of color, deserve leaders who teach them about justice and equality with their actions. Inaction sends a message of cowardice and who needs cowardly leaders?

I hope you will join me in spreading the word, signing the petition, and calling for our leaders to step up and tell us where they stand on this! It's disgusting that in 2007 we are still dealing with the strange and bitter fruit wrought by America's economic roots in the slave trade, but it does us no good to look the other way. When racism rears its ugly head we must kick it in the face.

Billie Holiday sums up my emotions at this moment much better than I can express in words. Here's Ms. Holiday singing her great song, Strange Fruit courtesy of YouTube.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Books Are Good Food

If books are good food, then this guy is starving.

A few days ago, my dear friend Teresa asked me to recommend some good books by Latina novelists. I'm embarrassed to say that I could think of very few. Isabel Allende's The House of The Spirits and Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo... after that my mind went blank. I had to go to my online book club Books are Good Food to get some tips from them. I was comforted by Sara, the group moderator, who reminded me that the literary world is still dominated by white males. Sure enough, I started to jot down a few of my favorite books and I realized that most of the authors are white males. I don't want to apologize for my choices. I love the books that I picked out as my Baker's Dozen (see below). I'm just saddened by the fact that women are still published much less frequently than men, especially Latina writers. I've also started to understand that I have to take a proactive stance. I have to seek out Latina authors and buy their books if I want to vote with my dollars.

I've been doing this for years with my music selections. I love new music and I appreciate creativity regardless of race or gender but I go out of my way to support bands with women in them because I want to see the playing field leveled. I'd like to see the same thing happen in the world of literature. If you have a favorite Latina writer, let me know so I can check out their work.

I've added a list of some books to the side panel of my blog along with links to pages that will tell you more about them. I call it my Baker's Dozen because I couldn't stop at just twelve. It's difficult to explain in a sentence everything I like about these books; suffice it to say that they all gave me plenty to think about and I regard them so highly that I would list each of them among my all time favorites. I've listed them in alphabetical order.
  • A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway The internal dialogue of the main character is fascinating to me and I found echoes of it in Bukowski's writing. A timeless love story that avoids romantic cliche and expresses something true about human needs.
  • Adolf Series - Osamu Tezuka Historical thriller about the rise of Nazi Germany and anti-semitism told in graphic novel form by the God of Manga.
  • Aztec - Gary Jennings A fascinating glimpse into the hitherto unknown world of the Aztecs.
  • Buddha Series - Osamu Tezuka An epic series of graphic novels that captures the important concepts of Buddhism with Tezuka's unique blend of humor and humanism.
  • Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole Brilliantly funny and scabrous satire.
  • Frida A Biography of Frida Kahlo - Hayden Herrera This book introduced me to the life and work of Frida Kahlo. It's hard to imagine a time when Frida was not a household name. This book remains my favorite biography of this amazing artist.
  • Ham on Rye - Charles Bukowski One of my favorite modern writers, this was the first book I read by Bukowski. Even when writing about the most painful or ugly memories, there is a sweetness that makes his stories compelling. I also like the way he gives me a man's eye view every time an attractive woman enters one of his scenes.
  • Hardcore Zen - Brad Warner I studied Eastern Religion in college but I don't think I ever really got Zen. It's nonsensical riddles were usually the butt of my jokes. Warner writes about the subject clearly and with a sense of humor. This is the first book I've read that gave me a clearer idea of what Zen is about. I especially like the bit about questioning authority.
  • Love In The Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez A beautiful, romantic tale of obsession told by a master.
  • Post Office - Charles Bukowski Sums up every crappy, clock watching job you've had in your life. Bukowski as the hero of the working stiff.
  • The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky An obvious choice but well deserving of its classic status. I love the way the characters slowly reveal themselves, seeming to evolve as the story progresses.
  • The House of The Spirits - Isabel Allende I love the atmosphere and magic of this book. Social commentary, politics, feminism and generational change all come together in the framework of this marvelously written story of a family and a country in turmoil.
  • Tipping The Velvet - Sarah Waters The author captures the turn of the (20th) century milieu in this tale of forbidden love. An absorbing tale of a woman's struggle to express her sexuality and find love in a society dead opposed to homosexuality.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Craftivism, Viral Marketing and Grizzly Adams

An interesting topic came up on our Destroyers of Mass Production MySpace group. Someone brought up the desire to really destroy the establishment in more sweeping ways than just crafting. The thing is that crafting is a part of it. As much as it may seem that sewing your own clothes is just a means of self expression, it also sends a message to the clothing manufacturers.

Let me back up. I recently went with my family to see the 11th Hour, a movie about global warming produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. One of the women interviewed reminded us that one way to achieve change is to vote; not just by casting a ballot she said, but with our purchases or lack thereof. I agree with her. It was partly the decrease in revenue that made the boycotts of the ‘60s so effective and brought about the changes that were being sought (although many would argue that it was also the threat of a militant, armed alternative which forced the establishment towards reform) and it is the decrease in revenue that would ensue in a crafting revolution that could create real change today.

Grannies by Banksy

I’m not talking about macrame plant holders or crocheted doilies. I’m talking about the kind of crafting that uses recycled materials, transforming them into utilitarian goods that don’t create waste. I’m talking about learning skills that provide us with the ability to meet our own needs. Sewing, cooking, building, gardening - all these and many other skills used to be part of everyday life. Learning to do some of them doesn’t make us cuckoo extremists, it allows us the freedom to choose not to be completely dependent on mass produced clothes, furniture, food, etc.

It’s true that crafting is a drop in the bucket and that’s why I wanted to start a crafting group online - because lots of drops fill the bucket faster. Using the internet and especially the corporate owned and ad-filled MySpace to spread the idea of destroying mass production is delicious irony and, to use corporation-speak, viral marketing at its finest. Turn the tools of mass consumerism towards a new purpose. Even technophobe (and Unabomber) Ted Kaczynski wrote in his manifesto,

"It would be hopeless for revolutionaries to try to attack the system without using SOME modern technology. If nothing else they must use the communications media to spread their message."

This movement has even got a name and a Wikipedia entry - it's called Craftivism.

Few people want to build a log cabin in the wilderness, drop out of society and eat bark and berries. It’s fine if you do - it’s just not for me or for most people I know, but having a group of friends that teach each other new skills, discuss politics, art and music, inspire and challenge each other can produce meaningful change, even if it’s only one person at a time.

Here are just a few links I've found to other like minded crafters: