Fall Blog Clean Up

I haven’t posted in a while because I’m faced with the question: just what is this blog all about anyway? It started about six years ago as a way to remember the books I’ve read. I’ve always thought of myself as an avid reader, but I kept finding that I couldn’t remember the details of the books I had read. Also, there were some mean women at work (book snobs) who seemed to have read everything. I couldn’t stand for that!

But as the years went by, (yes years!) the blog became a rumination. I was searching for something, pouring my heart out to the blogosphere, basking in the anonymity and community it provides.

This blogging thing was kind of fun. But what was I doing here? Was I saying too much? Did I want to talk about books? Writing? Editing? Travel? Odd news items related to science? My own personal problems?

And—What was interesting to my readers?

That was perplexing too.

My most popular posts had to do with poetry, writing, the history Latin Alphabet, Lost in Shangra-La, passive voice (of all things), and the Soviet author Dovlatov. Where is the commonality in all that?

Also, a credit to my readers, it seemed that the posts that I worked on the hardest were appreciated and read, such as Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina, Those Who Walk Away From Omelas, and The Treason of the Artist.

Writing on a regular basis also became great practice in simply finding words, in my head. It was a regular workout for my brain.

And me. I should write what I’m passionate about, right? A continued exploration of writing techniques and literature seems consistent with my interests and what my readers have come to expect.

And my life now? By some miracle, I have successfully escaped from Eastern Washington. Back in Portland, Oregon, I can’t imagine why I left. How could I have been so unappreciative? Yes, I originally left Portland for a job. No, a career. And that little part of my plan was a success, if nothing else was. But now, creativity is still lacking. And I nag myself: how is it that I’m making a difference? Wouldn’t helping people speak English bring a greater impact? Or is “saving the world from bad grammar” enough of a reward, and am I truly doing that? Am I capable of that? Is that something worth caring about? And why?

As a first step, I’m going to edit my blog. I’ll be tagging each book review to indicate whether or not I liked the book. I’ll also be revising my About page, once I figure out what I’m about. I still feel like I need to read more literature. There are still some very important books I’ve never laid eyes on. Still thoughts to think and things to ponder. And I need to fix up my travel posts. What really happened on my extraordinary 9-week vacation this summer? What did I learn?

As always and especially now, I welcome your feedback. What works and what doesn’t?

As I reflect on it, I realize that the most fun I’ve had writing this blog has been when I’ve wandered upon a book that made me think critically and deeply. And it’s been quite thrilling when others have clearly read my posts and gotten something out of them. I hope I can continue along that path. It isn’t the path to riches or popularity, but it is the path of integrity. My audience will surely shrink as I pursue my side interests of Latin American and Russian literature. I’ll sure bore some of you as I delve into lesson planning and proofreading tips. I’ll probably nerd out in a variety of directions. I only hope my passion will carry you along and somehow provide some entertainment.

This also isn’t all about me. There are several bloggers I have “met” over the years, who have inspired me and kept me thinking. People who are true to their pursuits and passionate about their interests and who think critically and independently. Fascinating people who have reminded remind me that I always need to read more.

Happy blogging to all of you and thanks for following!

Slaughterhouse Five

Or The Children’s Crusade
A Duty-Dance With Death
By Kurt Vonnegut
275 pages
Dial Press Trade Paperback
@ 1969

Ok, well I’ll try this again. It’s bad when a book review blog takes a several month break from reading books and goes traveling. I’m back now. Seat firmly planted in chair.

I’ve said it before: I like Vonnegut. But, he gets a bit too vulgar for my tastes. I suppose it could be argued that war is vulgar, so a book about war must be vulgar. I suppose.

Vonnegut’s main character, Billy Pilgrim, has gotten unstuck in time and has traveled to another planet where he has learned not to fear death. Because death is only one moment of many moments and the other moments were for the most part happy. So you may die in one moment but there are plenty more when you are alive.

I like Vonnegut’s big ideas. Sort of like Robert Heinlein’s big ideas. Fleshing them out is tricky.

Vonnegut fought in World War II and much of what happened in the book really happened. The big moment in this book is the fire bombing of Dresden. Airplanes flew over that city and dropped incendiary material on the whole city. People burned alive. Everything burned. All the buildings were destroyed. Only those who were able to shelter underground survived. Not many people survived.

“The irony is so great. A whole city gets burned down, and thousands of people are killed. And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in the ruins for taking a teapot. And he’s given a regular trial, and then he’s shot by a firing squad.”

I like the way Vonnegut describes himself as a writer:

“A trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations…”

World War II was bad. Shockingly bad. But people have been doing bad things for ages. Vonnegut subtitles his book the Children’s Crusade. The Children’s Crusade started in 1213, “when two monks got the idea of raising armies of children in Germany and France and selling them in North Africa as slaves. Thirty thousand children volunteered…about half of them drowned in shipwrecks…”

The book is jumbled and jangled. Vonnegut explains this:

“…there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.”

“I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.”

People are not supposed to look back, says Vonnegut:

“…Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.”

I’ve almost stopped myself from looking back. I can see there’s no point to it. Time marches forward. The past is gone. There all kinds of songs about it.

“Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.”

I feel spastic in time too. I don’t know what to make of it. I feel like I’ve been asleep and have woken myself up. I am home now, I keep telling myself. Home.

Dresden, fire bombings, Children’s Crusades, birds.

I’ve gotta read something less depressing.

A book review on Slaughterhouse Five that turned into a political rant. Sorry!

By Kurt Vonnegut

X pages

@ 19XX

I think from now on when someone asks me who my favorite authors are, I’ll have to include Kurt Vonnegut. At least this is my thought after reading the first chapter of Slaughterhouse Five. I’ve read other books by Vonnegut: Breakfast of Champions, Bluebeard, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, Cat’s Cradle and except for the vulgarity, I’ve liked him pretty well. A self-described science fiction writer, Vonnegut was a World War II veteran and a progressive, and Slaughter House 5 is an antiwar novel. I think maybe we need more of these types of books, novels that proclaim the horrors of war.

I had never really wanted to read this book before. Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions were more interesting to me when I was younger. But lately after listening to Dan Carlin’s series of podcasts about World War I and anxiously awaiting him to begin a series on World War II, these wars have become fascinating to me, as have all wars.

How can it be? How can war be? And how completely sheltered have I been and I suppose others have been too. Until listening to Dan Carlin, I had a rather academic view of war. It seemed cleaner, more heroic, more purposeful. And now, well now that’s all been shattered. Do we have to defend ourselves? Well, yes of course. But peace is sort of like green energy. The stuff has been around, well, forever, but until recently we’ve chosen not to do the hard research necessary and to throw the dollars at it that are needed to establish viable ways to harness it and all the while we exclaim about how it’s impossible to use it. The wind is too erratic. The sun is veiled by clouds. It’s undependable. Batteries to store the abundance of electricity created on windy days for use later will never work.

And yet, as we are finding now after government subsidies have been in place for several years, the viability of green energy is on the rise. After putting money into it, after putting the best minds on it, we are discovering ways to get it to work for us. And batteries are being developed that work. And once that really gets rolling, we’ll jump onto that money train and walk away from guzzling oil, and funding war. But not before we destroy a few more things, like the Arctic, or pollute a few more rivers, or use up a little more fresh water. After all, who cares what our grandkids will be drinking. So what if their glistening glasses of ice water started out yellow? We’ll be dead in the ground by then. And the richest of us will still have the best water supplies at our disposal.

But I digress.

What point was I making about peace? Just that we should put the kind of effort into it that we put into war. We should match dollar for dollar and neuron for neuron the effort we spend on war and spend it on peace, as well.

Trump. The guy is everywhere and here in my post too. All the liberals hate him. My tap on right wing republican minds isn’t as strong as it used to be, but I’m guessing they’re liking him. And why? Because he isn’t scripted. Because the media’s constant attacks on him and unwillingness to see him as legitimate, makes him sympathetic. Because he appears strong, especially when put up against his competition. He’s not a real politician they say? Really? How uninformed is that? Of course he is. Anyone who rises to such power, plays politics like a pro. Business is all politics.

But where is the surprise? Look at the field of Republican candidates. Those guys are all the Republican party has to offer us? Really? Does no one else in the Republican party have enough money to rise to the top? Of course, the democrats aren’t looking much better. I’m sorry. Yes, Hillary is a woman. I’m a woman. Uh, hmm, sorry. I’m gonna need a little more. There are a lot of women out there that I really don’t like. And Hillary comes off like she could be one of them.

Lecturing the representatives from Black Lives Matter instead of listening to them was a mistake. Listen is what our politicians need to do, not lecture. In fact the sound bite that keeps getting replayed makes her sound closed minded and arrogant. I don’t like arrogant.

But Trump is arrogant. Why is his arrogance less offensive? How is he getting away with it? I think it’s because he’s aware of it. He knows he’s arrogant and he likes himself. His body language communicates that clearly. The Donald reeks of genuineness and in today’s world genuineness could cross party lines.

Hillary is stiff in her movements. Her face is tight and angry. (Understandable given the life she’s led, but unappealing.) Hillary would like us to believe she’s not arrogant. And in that we sense a deception and because of this effort to deceive, she’s unlikable. Why can’t the women of this country have someone like Elizabeth Warren for president?

What about Bernie Sanders?

He’s too good for us.

And his name is Bernie. President Bernie. Is the guy going to wear jeans?

This is what Hillary needs to do, and it wouldn’t hurt Trump either. They should both put a freeze on all of their assets for a complete year. And, no one is allowed to give them any money. Then they need to get jobs at some place like WalMart or Burger King or even in a nursing home or even better in a sewing factory for about $8 an hour. If they can live their lives like that for a full year with NO help from any of their rich friends, family ,or relatives. If they can, like monks, venture into the world of those whom they hope to rule over—live the life they are claiming to know so much about and survive to tell the tale, then and only then should either of them be considered for president. It should be a law. Anyone running for president should have to live like a pauper for a year to know what that’s like. No safety net. Your only safety net is that time will eventually pass. As for Don and Hil, I don’t think either of them has what it takes.

Do I like The Donald’s politics? Well, let me put it this way. Whenever I’m tempted by Trump, I think about his opposition to the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. A Trump presidency, my friends, could be the last nail in the coffin of the middle class.— Any way you look at it, the idea of the next four years scares the hell out of me.

But the book! You came here for a book review and I’m yammering on about politics, which in polite society should never be done.

Female authors reading list

I recently read an article lamenting the absence of female authors on reading lists. The woman who wrote the article cited two lists by prominent men of our day (I won’t say who), but these men had not included any women authors on their suggested reading lists. That prompted me to think about my own list of female authors, and there are many.

Here’s my list. I am sure I have made some embarrassing omissions.

Rachel Carson

Daphne du Maurier

Susan Sontag

J. K. Rowling

Harper Lee

Amy Tan

Toni Morrison

Ursula LeGuin

George Elliott

Isabel Allende

Agatha Christi

Jane Austen

Pearl S. Buck

Virginia Woolf

Louise Erdrich

Kathleen Alcala

Doris Lessing

Ahunrati Roy

Emily Bronte

Joan Didion

Flannery O’Connor

Charlotte Bronte

Octavia E Butler

Jhumpa Lahiri

Margaret Atwood

Edith Wharton

Iris Murdoch

Nichole Krauss

Nein Cheng

Zora Neale Hurston

Barbara Tuckman

Barbara Kinsolver

Ayn Rand

Christina Rosetti

Donna Tartt

Chimamanda Adichie

Eleanor Catton

Edwidge Danticat

Emma Donoghue

Sheila Heti

A M Holmes

Gillian Flynn

Elliott Holt

Rachel Kushner

Claire Messud

Margaret Wrinkle

Lorrie Moore

Zadie Smith

Alice Munroe

Karen Russell

Taiye Selasi

Jeanette Walls

Maya Angelou

Louisa May Alcott

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Marion Zimmer Bradley

Sara Gruen

Veronica Roth

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada 

An amazing find. I wish I had time to hike all of these trails!

Calico Hills:

Icebox Canyon: 
Tips: Go early in the morning in summer. The park gates open at 6 am. The entrance fee per vehicle is $7. Take water. A camel pack is good. Take additional water in your vehicle, such as a 5 gallon Collman storage can. Wear a hat. Remember to drink your water. The desert heat can sneak up on you and heat exhaustion can come on quickly. Protect yourself from the sun. I prefer clothing that covers my legs and a T shirt. Eat a low fat meal before going. Watch for desert wildlife and be aware that snakes often hide under rocks. Wear good hiking shoes and watch out for cacti. With these precautions, I find this area euphoric!