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Amazingly accessible insight to help calm your breath and mind.

(Lodro Rinzler, 2012)

Buddha Walks into a Bar

*Project Recap: For one year, I will read one book per month that I know nothing about that was recommended to me by a stranger; friend; family member, or co-worker; and I will write about that experience.  God help us all.

Tales of the City & Michael Tolliver Lives Michael Tolliver Lives Tales of the City
by Armistead Maupin
Books #8 & #9, read during June and July, 2015

When I found out that I would be traveling to San Francisco for the 2015 American Library Association Conference, I naturally referred to my librarian coworkers to recommend books that take place within the city limits.  When I travel, I love to read fiction for a particular locale because beforehand, it warms you up to the culture and when you return, it helps to bubble all of those sense memories to the surface again.  One of my most well-read and hippest coworkers recommended Tales of the City (TOC) by Armistead Maupin.  For her, it had special meaning because she traveled to Frisco* during the 1970s, coincidentally when the first of the series takes place.  Flash forward to 2015, two copies of the book on the shelf (not just one), which is indicative of its steadfast popularity.

The experience of reading TOC was an interesting one because of its unexpected results (the best kind!).  As I began reading, I was slightly put off by the very 1970s language, almost to the point where I wondered if the vernacular of the era and locale was written in jest.  You know, a lot of far outs, dudes, doobies, don’t you come here oftens? and of the like.  In the end, the language came to enhance the experience of the novel; if you weren’t alive during the 1970s, you’ve been given the gift of a genuine cultural artifact, and if you were alive during the 1970s, then here’s your passport back in time.  The content of the book details the interwoven lives of a variety characters who all live, love and smoke together in an apartment on Barbary Lane in San Francisco under the protective wing of landlady Anna Madrigal.  Like many of the TOC characters, Anna has a beautiful soul, is whip smart, wise (and can I be her when I grow up?) and possesses the ability to corral a family together for herself, or as she puts it, her “logical family.”  As the novel came to a close, I realized that my skepticism turned into a love affair and I felt such sadness as I closed the book.  Maupin artfully describes the personalities, pasts and current dramas of each character but does so with an amazingly skillful hand that the stories are finely handed to us in the most believable of ways, as if you’re sitting in a friend’s living room having a conversation over cocktails.

Since writing TOC, Maupin has written a plethora of other novels about the specific lives of some of the Barbary Lane characters and luckily, my new addiction was satiated by Michael Tolliver Lives (MTL).  As MTL takes place in current day (late 2000s), we fast forward from when we met him nearly three decades ago.  In TOC, he was a sensitive, fun, sweet guy and in the years has only become the wonderful, concentrated version of himself.  I don’t know if MTL is based on Maupin’s real life, but I truly hope it is because Michael’s life: his partner, his job, his friendships, and his character (his essence) are perfection in their purity, because Michael is a gentle, pure soul.  And can I also say that I really enjoyed the relationship, including the sexual life of Michael and his partner?  They are in touch and honest about their needs and express them openly with each other, and I loved Michael’s accepting yet insecure inner monologues regarding his partner’s consensual extramarital relations.  Maupin shines a light on the universal truth of long-term relationships; self-doubt always rears its ugly head, no matter how long you’ve been together.  It was also refreshing to read about a healthy sex life from a gay male’s point of view because on a personal level, I feel that I am constantly inundated with a white hetero male’s point of view of sex, which is fairly homogenous.

In MTL, Maupin also catches us up on the lives of our other beloved characters and in true Maupin style, he threads in details of their lives because he knows that even though the book is about Michael, the friends’ lives and well-being, who by now are our friends, are just as important to us.  As I closed Michael Tolliver Lives, I was struck with a similar feeling of de ja vu; I was heartbroken that the tale was over, akin to saying goodbye to a good friend at the airport when you don’t know when you’ll see them again.

What makes Maupin such an impressive storyteller is that his content is ahead of its time, tapping into issues that are just below the surface of the mainstream cultural consciousness.  In TOC (again 1970s) Maupin introduces us to an array of transgender characters and mind you, we were still in the thick of the fight for gay rights, and Maupin dares to write about not only trans individuals, but shockingly, trans characters in love!  With friends!  As people!  In MTL, he delves further into the thoughts and emotions of some oldie and newer trans characters and really does a service, especially to the straight (and oftentimes clueless) world by breathing life into the intricacies of the lives of these trans individuals.  What Maupin does for trans people is groundbreaking because humanizes them, thereby taking away their otherness.  This is especially pertinent to this specific time in our history with the increased visibility of such trans figures as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner (there’s even an Armistead quote during the first episode).  Way before the dialogue even began on a larger, world scale via social media, Maupin understood the importance of visibility.

Maupin’s books are the great equalizer: Catholic, gay, straight, trans, queer, and all along the spectrum of personhood, there’s really something for everyone, and something with which you can become newly acquainted.  If you need a good book(s), if you need to feel, to armchair travel to San Fran, to fall in love with a new friend, I cannot stress enough that you read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series.

*I thought Frisco was a city in the south.  In Merle Haggard’s song “Here in Frisco” I actually thought he was thinking about “Frisco,” a southern city that he missed because he was visiting some big city.  No comment needed.  Thank you to my own spouse for enlightening me.

 

While at the ALA Conference in San Francisco, learning about all that is shiny, sticky and new in librarianship, I started my day with Gloria Steinem.  She spoke for less than an hour but completely blew my hair back.  The woman is brilliant, modest, quick on her feet, and all of the other things that you’d expect of a woman who has dedicated her life to equal rights.

A few paraphrases from GS:

-Men can be feminists.

-If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.

-Every year on Columbus Day I forget to put a note on that statue in Columbus Park that says “murderer.”

-Women are kept down by men controlling by their reproduction. It all starts there.

-We’ll boost the economy by giving women equal pay. It would put millions back into the economy.

She left me in an incredible headspace, feeling empowered to be better, to connect as humans, to learn and impart, to question what is being said to you, and to be the kind of librarian that I want to be, rather than what I think is expected of me by my peers.  It’s easy to forget these basics in the day-to-day, and we all need a little nudge back to the inner light once in a while.  Mine just happened to be from Gloria Steinem.

Best conference ever.

*Project Recap: For one year, I will read one book per month that I know nothing about that was recommended to me by a stranger; friend; family member, or co-worker; and I will write about that experience.  God help us all.

Bad FeministBad Feminist
by Roxane Gay
Book #7, read during May, 2015

My experience of reading this book was wonderful.  Let me begin with a quote from the preface, page xiii, “I hear many young women say they can’t find well-known feminists with whom they identify.  That can be disheartening, but I say, let us (try to) become the feminists we would like to see moving through the world.”  I was riding the red line train, full of people during rush hour and I cried when I read this.  Though I may not be the youngest feminist woman, this quote is applicable to all women of any age and this simple yet so powerful statement foreshadows the most awesome of insight to come.  Since this book is comprised of essays, including discussions of teaching, American education, women and the media, the TV show Girlfriends, et al, mentioning them all would essentially be rewriting the book, so I’ll pull out a few of my favorites.

Gay’s essays range from the more hardcore, we’re going to dissect these issues right here, right now, including a critique of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be Woman and an analysis of women’s likeability in the media to her love of Sweet Valley High and Scrabble.  Let’s talk about the latter.  I am horrible at Scrabble; just awful.  So much so, that I don’t want to even talk about the game on an average day.  But, Ms. Roxane Gay is great at Scrabble and as of May 2015, she is ranked 870 out of over 2,200, or to put it more plainly, she’s 870 out of everyone ever as of May.  Roxane also manages to talk about Scrabble in a way that left me with an unbelievable sense of urgency to get to the next page, or should I say, she left me “scrabbling” through the pages (thank you, Ms. Gay).  She turned me into her own personal cheerleader, gasping and shaking my head when her opponents challenged and mocked her.  Gay has the amazing gift to bring you into her stories so that you are on her side, and you want to punch her “Scrabble nemesis,” Henry, right in his smug face.  Gay transports us to the silent, tension filled world of competitive Scrabble where shockingly, a game face and swagger are geekily paramount.

Gay does this wonderful thing that I’ve mentioned in other book reviews by the Tina Feys, Julia Sweeneys and Mindy Kalings of the world where she makes our thoughts tangible.  Much like Bossypants, I kept thinking, yes! this is what I think, too!  Roxane, I think that, too, but couldn’t verbalize it.  Gay also talks about things that are scary, like privilege and race.  I’m scared to talk about white privilege.  Oftentimes, I look at black people and want to apologize for slavery, the state of the their world now and tell them that I feel awful and that I don’t know how to make it better, but that I want to.  As a white girl, for me, Gay was like the privilege whisperer.  She told me that it was okay to recognize it and admit it, and that it was okay for me to own up to the fact that some parts of my life are better than others’ lives because of my skin color and how much money my parents had when I was born (I grew up in Villa Park, Illinois, so you can imagine, it wasn’t much, but it was so much more than lots of other people).  And you know what?  There’s something liberating in that confession because you feel like you can now work with people; you’ve released your own baggage that was keeping you choked and gagged.  But she also told me that some people are more privileged than me, so I shouldn’t feel like total shit, and some people love to be the “privilege police,” (we all know them) and dig this, “We would live in a world of silence if the only people who were allowed to write or speak from experience or about difference were those absolutely without privilege (18).”  How great is that?

Have you ever read a story where you feel tickled?  As if little bubbles of delight dancing throughout every part of your brain?  That’s how I felt while reading “How to Be Friends with Another Woman.”  She gives us 13 rules, many with sub-points for further clarification on how to be not only friends, but a good friend.  Here are a few of my favorites:

3A. If you feel like it’s hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren’t the problem.  Maybe it’s just you.

6. Tell your friends the hard truths they need to hear.

6A. Don’t be totally rude about truth telling…finesse goes a long way.

6B. These conversations are more fun when preceded by an emphatic “GIRL.”

7. Surround yourself with women you can get sloppy drunk with…

12. If a friend sends a crazy e-mail needing reassurance about love, life family, or work, respond accordingly and in a timely manner even if it is just to say, “GIRL, I hear you.”

Trust me, all 13+ points are 100% valid and I recommend you read them all.  I could not have been more amused when I read 3A  because I have been the awful woman who said that, and you know what, it probably was indeed me.

Early on in the book, Gay tells us to be wary of “professional feminists,” women who are held on a pedestal in the media as the truth speakers of feminism.  They can be flawed, thereby complicating matters of feminism in mainstream culture all the more.  Being a published and hugely popular writer, Gay inadvertently dips her toe into this group but does so with humility.  She’s speaking her truth, and this truth is vulnerable, smart, and so fucking insightful.  GIRL, seriously, run out get your hands on this book.

*Project Recap: For one year, I will read one book per month that I know nothing about that was recommended to me by a stranger; friend; family member, or co-worker; and I will write about that experience.  God help us all.

Mrs. CalibanMrs. Caliban
by Rachel Ingalls
Book #6, read during April, 2015

Recommended by my spouse, Mrs. Caliban was the first book that I knew absolutely nothing about.  In all honesty, reading a book that was less than 150 pages with a pile of books on my “to-read” desk was extremely appealing, so here we go book number six.

Mrs. Caliban is at first glance a love story between a lonely housewife and an over six foot amphibious fish/man named Larry.  It’s a simply written and understated story that tugs at any heartstrings susceptible to loneliness, infidelity, love, and childlessness.  This book is said to be science fiction, but for those who clam up in disgust at the mention of the genre, there is a fish/man present, but beyond that you’re safe from conventional sci-fi.

Here’s a little plot rehash: Dorothy Caliban, due to the loss of two children is engaged in a loveless marriage where she and her husband are “too unhappy to get divorced.”  In the first few pages, while rushing around at the demand of her husband to spontaneously make dinner for his business partner, the gigantic amphibious man/creature Larry shows up at her door, recently escaped from an institution where he was tortured by scientists.  Having no idea where this would go, I immediately became immersed in Dorothy’s life and couldn’t wait to know what would happen to Dorothy and Larry, which is a hilarious name for the frog man.  An immediate bond is forged between the two as each one fills the gaps in the others’ life.  The overarching theme of this book is relationships and we are given a more thorough glimpse into Dorothy’s life through her conversations with not only Larry, but with her physically and emotionally absent husband, Fred and with her best friend Estelle, whose 180 degree personality acts as an interesting juxtaposition.  By the end, Ingalls expresses themes of marital love, tenderness, loneliness, betrayal and complacency all through the vehicle of a creature.

The amphibious Larry’s presence in Dorothy’s life can be taken literally or figuratively and can change your interpretation of the ending drastically, though the aforementioned themes remain relatively the same.  If you’re a realist, then the story becomes about coping mechanisms and grief, if you are drawn to more flights of fancy, then Larry the fish/man’s presence facilitates discovery and comfort.  Though published in the early 1980s, the thrust of the story reminded me of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and The Awakening, by Kate Chopin.  All three stories illustrate that not much has changed in the past 100 plus years concerning such issues as the social stigma concerning women and childbirth and your everyday, plain old gender norms where women are cast as causalities of so many inequities due to socially constructed ideas of what men and women should be, and how that construct keeps women down.

Lucky number six!  This was by far the best book as of yet, and on a personal note, it’s nice to know that my spouse knows me so well after nearly eight years, and that thankfully, we have something else in common besides our love of Indian food and gin.  Ingalls has written a novella with few words, but they’re all the right ones.  Her deft story-writing skills, delivered in the most hard-hitting but simplistic of ways are a breath of fresh air in a time where we are saturated with the concept that more is more in art.  Ingalls reminds us that even with the presence of a nearly seven foot green monster, that sometimes less is indeed more.

*Project Recap: For one year, I will read one book per month that I know nothing about that was recommended to me by a stranger; friend; family member, or co-worker; and I will write about that experience.  God help us all.

Dark Currents: Agent of Hel     Dark Currents
by Jacqueline Carey
Book #5, read during March, 2015

The fifth month of reading books that someone else recommended to me was the most difficult month.  It was a chore and the first time that I actually considered quitting the year-long project of reading unknown books.  I kept looking through the list of books and when I broke my rule and read their descriptions, every one sounded like pulling teeth.  This is also why I am not part of a book club; I hate to read books that I don’t want to read.  I’ve dropped out of three clubs without even finishing the first books.  With so many wonderful books in the world, why read anything that you don’t want to read?!

I decided to settle on Dark Currents: Agent of Hel (the Norse Goddess, not Hell), sitting in the adult fiction section of the library.  My first impression was that the cover is awful.  It looks like a cheesy teen fantasy book with a toe-headed girl wielding a knife.  One day on the Red Line el I dropped the book and as the person across from me handed it back, I felt completely embarrassed to be seen with it.  The main character’s dialogue often touts such juvenile sentences of the like: “…he’s so hot!” and other very 20-something year old-isms about the plethora of guys turning her on.

After page five, I could not put this book down.  It’s silly, light, and lucky for me, features my love of other worlds, mythological creatures, gods and goddesses and all other sorts of supernatural ilk.  Carey’s construction of this world is akin to Neil Gaiman’s novels (American Gods, Neverwhere, Anansi Boys), where gods and goddesses live amongst humans in hidden form, but from the perspective of a hormone-crazed young woman.

Carey has constructed a book with a well-written, fleshed out story with a good balance of dialogue and description, filling in the holes without being Stephen King wordy (where you know how many calories were in the lunch of a secondary character on a random Tuesday) that makes for an entertaining read without asking too much of your time and concentration.  It’s about 20-something Daisy, who is half human, half succubus aka demon.  She works part-time for the local police department in the small town in which she lives.  This small town, in addition to your random humans, is inhabited by (and somewhat grudgingly tolerated by the the townspeople) a supernatural counter-culture due to the presence of an active underworld, located otherwise in only the select big cities. In this story, a young frat boy goes winds up dead and Daisy is brought in to help investigate as supernatural forces become suspect, including water nymphs, mermaids and Ghouls, creatures who breath and look like humans, ride motorcycles and but feed on human emotions.

Besides the varied other-worldly creatures’ descriptions hooking me, I also, against my will, was drawn in by the tangental love interests.  Werewolf and police officer Cody has been Daisy’s crush since high school, but this new European Ghoul is alluring, and so is this new guy from Jamaica who can see auras!  What’s a girl to do?!  I know, it’s awful and I’m ashamed, but I was blind-sided by these silly sub-plots and I can’t wait to dive into book two (there are three as of this month).

Reading Dark Currents is exactly what I hoped would happen for this project-that I would read a book, completely unknown to me, and love it, which I did. Whenever I had a free moment, I couldn’t wait to get back and find out what was going to happen next, and it made me realize how much of a struggle some of the previous books have been.  I have hated none, struggled throughout many, but always learned something, whether about story or style.  Thankfully, this novel was a breath of fresh air and gave me an airy, romance filled March.

I’m a big believer in purchase power.  If you spend your money at Walmart, for example, then you support Walmart and all its practices regarding employees, the environment, its political stance, et al.  If you participate in a CSA (a local produce share box), then you support small farmers in your community and you’re saying yes to organic food.  When you support Kickstarter Campaigns like these, you are using your purchase power to support a cleaner earth, small business, and help to fight against big business and their own campaigns to capitalize off of the sexualization of women’s bodies.

~

New York based gals Alexis and Jess, creators of the website Beauty Lies Truth are working to get the word (and the products) out about safe and healthy beauty products that are actually good for you and the environment.  It may come as a shock but the U.S. government isn’t doing the greatest job at protecting the public, and these gals are helping us to become better informed about what we purchase and put in and on our bodies.

Their Kickstart Campaign, titled #TRUTHBEAUTY is raising funds to purchase environmentally safe beauty products that you’ll be sent in the mail.

It is our mission to find the most conscious companies making safe, effective products, and then make those products affordable and accessible.

 Visit their website for DIY beauty tips and great articles on the whats and whos about the beauty products that you use everyday.

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Based in the UK, designer Hayat Rachi has created her feminist lingerie brand, Neon Moon, which is made by a woman, for real women in our varied sizes and shapes, and is raising funds to bring the brand to fruition.  Want to know what feminist lingerie could look like?  Check out the video here and to donate.  Made from from highly renewable bamboo, the lingerie is said to be comfortable, antibacterial, and just from the sight of it, really cute and stylish.

Bra

Personally, I am in love with this bra.

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