Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer reading.

"The world can be a horrible place at times, but we don’t have to participate in this, we don’t have to harden our hearts as we’re taught and told to do, in order to survive or be sexy or attractive lovers or perfect parents or interesting people. We do not have to make ourselves into mysterious gifts, waiting to be chosen or read or understood by those who will earn us, unwrap our secrets, and then what? We can be something more authentic, and speak from a different place, a different planet. This is why I like being a writer, because what it demands is both simple and incredibly hard. To be a human being. Does anyone even know what that means anymore? Why don’t we allow for mess? Why are we so afraid of it? What do we expect from the veils we pull down over our eyes, our minds, our hearts? How can we possibly connect if we never let people see what we truly are and what it would take to make us free? Now, when I can’t fake a single emotion I don’t feel (or at least not for long), I wonder how I’ve lived this long being any other way. Maybe it’s that I haven’t really been living, and that now I am like Adam, like Eve, my feet still wet from being newly created, awkwardly learning how to walk on dry land." 
--Emily Rapp, from Someone to hold me, complete article online at Salon

Where she writes, "This is why I like being a writer...", I feel like you can replace the word 'writer' with  'artist'. To simply be a messy human being is so hard. I know I'm afraid of it, I know that I wrap myself in veils. I also know that art helps me to deal with the mess, helps me to literally make messes, and throw back the barriers. But it's always a work in progress.

Emily Rapp writes powerfully about her experience of having her leg amputated at the age of four due to a congenital defect in her book Poster Child: A Memoir. I actually just recently purged this book from my collection. There are many books I hold on to, but there are some, particularly memoirs, that I think serve a greater purpose than sitting on my shelf and are meant to go back out into the world. This is one of them.

These days she blogs at Little Seal: Ronan's Blog about the inevitable death of her son who was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs. Check it out for some hard, beautiful stuff.

For me, summer reading is not about easy, beachy books, thick water-logged paperbacks with dogeared corners. As a creative writing minor, I tend to take my time spent with books very seriously, summertime or not. That doesn't mean I only read stuff with serious content (I love me some David Sedaris, for example), but for the most part, I only do read "serious" literature, ie: no Hunger Games or Twilight for me, thank you very much (my nose is way, way unapologetically up in the air).

There are two exceptions I can think of: 1) children's books, 2) with N.'s encouragement I am reading A Song of Fire and Ice series, otherwise known as Game of Thrones, popularized by HBO's... Game of Thrones. To say that Nate is obsessed is an understatement. He simultaneously discovered and watched the entire first season one hungover day after law school finals, and from that point on he was hooked. He devoured the entire book series in a matter of months (on top of law school workload), and not only anxiously awaits HBO's Season Three, but the author, George R.R. Martin, is working on the sixth book in the series, which is also highly anticipated in the our little household (mostly on the N. end of things, though :). So I am plodding along through the first book, aptly called, you guessed it, A Game of Thrones.

The book is by no means poorly written. I just have some personal problems that are slowing me down.

1) I know what happens. I've watched all of Season One. Yes, HBO made changes and yes, reading the author's intentions for his characters is a different, more illuminating experience. But HBO put pictures and ideas in my head, so now when I read it's a constant battle with comparison.

2) It's fantasy. I just can't take the genre seriously. I want to, for N.'s benefit, but I just can't.

3) George R.R. Martin's female characters can't escape the male gaze. And here's a picture of Martin to illuminate that thought:

"I know what women, er, my male readers want." --George R.R. Martin
When I'm not trying to get through A Game of Thrones, I am nearly finished with Susan Sontag's book of essays, On Photography. Classic, necessary, timeless text. Photography changed and alters everything for everyone everyday (let me qualify-- for Americans, at least). Your concept of how attractive you are does depend on how you photograph, no? And on and on and on. Reading it makes me feel very responsible on one hand, like I'm a good little art student, but then irresponsible on the other because I didn't do a single photography lesson with my students last year. Sorry, Susan. I'll get on that.

Sorry, Suze.
Next up? Towards the end of the school year someone left a bunch of adult classics in the lounge up for grabs. I'm not one to pass up free books, so of course I dug through the pile. I came up with a few good ones that I had always meant to read. One was The House on Mango Street, which I read shortly after snatching it up. I loved it. Written in a series of vignettes, it's the coming-of-age story of a Latina girl in Chicago. The prose was gorgeous and well-wrought and drifting off with Cisneros' words in my head was a sweet way to greet sleep. I was skeptical because it has been required reading for some English classes in high school, but never for a class I was in. I distinctly remember everyone belly-aching about it, which made me question the text. Should have figured that sixteen year-old mob-mentality might not have had the best taste in literature...

I also pocketed Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which I will begin after I finish with A Game of Thrones and On Photography. The title alone is what has always intrigued me about this book, it's just so good, it stays with you. Goodbye American suburbs, Westeros, urban Chicago... I'll be off to Nigeria!


  1. These look like good reads! I'm currently reading "Learning to Breathe" by Alison Wright- a photojournalist for Nat Geo. Incredibly motivating and interesting to read. Although, I can't say I'm above Twilight (read them all in a week a few years ago). You can go ahead and feel good about skipping Hunger Games, though. Lots of hype, but that's all. =0)

  2. Your post on Hunger Games was hilarious and smart! It sealed the deal for me NOT reading the series so, thanks for the heads up :) And I'll have to check out the Wright piece. Got to read as much as possible this summer!

  3. I would never slam an author that I haven't read.Painting with Brains is one of my blog buddies so I can let her comment slide. On the other hand, Ms. Kristin, you are giving short shrift to Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games trilogy is smart, thought provoking and well written. The next time you turn your nose up at something you've never read, ask yourself what Susan Sontag would say about that. I'm just saying......