November 8 2013
Because this blog site is dedicated to “the love of all things books,” you might be wondering why we choose to dedicate this week’s post to the topic of poverty? (“Oh bummer” you might be thinking right about now, but please… read on.) Since we are all fed news about economic downturns, unemployment rates, companies that are going bust and poor people struggles all over the world every day of the week, it’s not too hard to understand why we have become somewhat indifferent to the subject of poverty and poor people. Indifference in a world that we are all working to survive in is understandable, but mean spiritedness? That is a whole other ball of wax…. Or is it?
Poverty as a blog topic is really not such a stretch for an Owl Canyon Hoots. Novelists after all, have been producing great works of fiction on the subject for centuries. We all know that well-written stories and great works of literature help us flesh out our own individual ideas about life, and in many cases, well written stories help to shape the way we look at a particular subject. Great books have undoubtedly influenced how we look at the world. (Just look at the undeniable influence of Charles Dickens’ works on child labor reform during the industrial revolution, for example.) There are however, lots of romantic notions and misnomers about poverty floating around, and a lot of misconceptions about how people end of being poor… often, we are led to believe that people choose their lot in life….We are not going to get into all of that. Instead, we are staying where we feel comfortable… in the realm of books.
Interestingly, American aphorist Mason Cooley once pointed out on the subject of being poor that “literary tradition is full of lies about poverty—the jolly beggar, the poor but happy milkmaid, the wholesome diet of porridge, etc.” So perhaps this is where we have fashioned at least some of our false ideas and indifferences towards poverty? Maybe… but back to the current trend of mean spiritedness towards the poor.
Many of us spend at least a few minutes of our daily lives using social media in some form or another. Facebook and other social media sites are in essence, quirky little environments where instantaneous outbursts on any given subject are the norm. (We’ve all seen the hot-button political squabbles and may have even taken a mean-spirited jab or two when we ourselves have posted opposing opinions). Perhaps then, some of you have also noticed as of late, that the topic of poverty is no exception when it comes to mean-spirited jabs. What is troublesome in the world of social media is the way we are all quietly seduced into thinking that poor people are fair game for poking fun at. Since when did it become a sport to make fun of those we may perceive as less fortunate? And so, in response to Facebook pages like “You Must Say Something Nice,” a tongue-in-cheek- site ( boasting 69, 522 likes and counting), in which viewers are encouraged to post a comment under photographs of obviously unwitting participants who are often poorly clad street folk, or just ill-dressed “poor” looking shoppers at discount stores like Walmart -all depicted in a truly unflattering light for which we are invited to put our two-cents in…. we instead turn our attention back to literature and some beautiful quotes from some of history’s finest authors to meditate if you will, on the subject of poverty…
“A man thinks that by mouthing hard words he understands hard things. ”
― Herman Melville
“Do not presume, well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed, to criticize the poor”
― Herman Melville
“Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”
“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves…. It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
“How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
“You say you care about the poor? Tell me their names.”
― Craig Greenfield
“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I cant change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.”
― Charles de Lint
Poverty is a veil that obscures the face of greatness. An appeal is a mask covering the face of tribulation.
What will you be reading this weekend?
Gulp, sigh some of us haven’t even taken off our Halloween make-up off completely and we are already looking at posts for getting a jump on holiday shopping……sigh, Oh yeah, almost forgot…November 1st marks the unstoppable march towards the holidays … It’s supposed to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ but the truth of the matter is that for may American families, the holiday season is one big giant stress fest.
And rest assured, we will all start seeing the well-meaning posts online about how to keep it simple and let’s all go back to basics this year…blah blah blah, but the truth of the matter is, the majority of Americans will not be able to avoid the temptation to rush out (no matter what their bank accounts say) and buy the latest electronics, gadgets, and gift-wares. Even if you do sit this holiday season out and side step the mindless consumerism, chances are you will be caught in at least one, if not many traffic jams due to the holiday shoppers. Holiday stress is unavoidable. It’s a fact.
Some Owls are going to sit it out this year- and truthfully, probably in part, not so much out of principle, but because many just can’t afford to run out and buy everything in sight this holiday season. And that’s ok. It’s still all good, so as trite as it sounds, keep it simple. And if you are one of the few who prefers to curl up with a good book on the weekend instead of joining the crazed throngs at the mall- you are not alone.
We missed you all last week on Owl Canyon Hoots, but think this review of Owl Canyon Press author Timothy Jay Smith’s “A Vision of Angels” is worth revisiting!
“I’d never encourage anyone to be a writer. It’s too hard…” Eudora Welty
A little over a decade ago, a world-renowned author gave a much-anticipated lecture on his best seller at our local college. It was (for this owl at least) a thrilling event. The lecture was brilliant and the author did not disappoint. And… just as this charming god-of-the-written word was wrapping his lecture up, he announced from the podium that he would be heading over to the local bar directly after the book signing session and anyone who cared to, could join him there for a beer. Of course, being a huge admirer of his works, I was more than thrilled by the idea and was immediately chomping at the bit for an opportunity to meet him. (The whole time I imagined the brilliant and raw conversation he and I would have about his works never minding the fact that there were 700 people in the audience that had also been invited to join him.) I immediately envisioned how he and I would exchange email addresses and stay in touch with one another from that point on because in my minds’ eye we were now and forever “friends.” It didn’t turn out that way. Something very different happened. When I turned to convince a fellow owl (who is not only a voracious reader of all things books, but who had also very much admired this author’s works) that we needed to go hang out with this celebrity, he flat out declined. The reason? My fellow owl simply said he didn’t like his authors to be “so accessible.” My disappointment at the time was tinged with a bit of resentment towards my fellow owl, but the truth in the matter is, I never forgot the reason for why he declined this once-in-a-lifetime invitation.
I’ve thought about it a lot since, and the older I get in this world of instant accessibility, the more I appreciate my fellow owls’ insight. You see, we all like an air of mystery. Not the mystery of the whodunit variety, but rather the sense of the unknown and the unexplained. We are intrigued by what is not said and by what is yet to be discovered and yet to be explored. That, in my humble opinion is what keeps us all going. And when it comes to authors, celebrities, and our collective love of mystery… J.D. Salinger, as one of the most compelling examples I can think of, springs immediately to mind. Protected during his lifetime by his own code of silence even years after his death, Salinger remains as famous for creating one of literature’s most beloved characters, Holden Caulfield, as he is for recoiling from the public eye. We are still to this day intrigued by the mystery behind the man. Documentary filmmaker Shane Salerno’s new documentary, “Salinger,” tracks the writer’s monumental literary success as well as his abrupt retreat from it. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3445_162-57600883/lifting-the-veil-of-mystery-from-j.d-salinger/
“Catcher in the Rye “ has sold well over 60 million copies and counting. This enigmatic man and über-talented author declined interviews and avoided photographers for nearly half a century. He kept us guessing (often incorrectly), and he most definitely kept us interested.
I for one loved “Catcher in the Rye.” I first read it in my teens and I can honestly say the character of Holden Caulfield changed my life. Salinger’s novel opened my pathetic little teen world to bold new possibilities and through the snarky and bright Holden Caulfield, Salinger demonstrated the power of independent thinking and voice, and that oh yes!…even a snarky adolescent voice could have its rightful place in this world. I will always be indebted to Salinger for his creativity, and I don’t want it destroyed for me by foolishly bridging the distance between the man and the author.
Creativity is, (I think we can all we all agree,) a truly mystical thing. The ancient Greeks believed in the Daemons, the Romans believed in the Genius- and these days …well these days it seems, we’ve gone and reduced ourselves into believing in “celebrity” rather than believing in the mystical nature of creativity. We’ve lost our safe distance. In fact, celebrity culture is one of the hallmarks of twenty-first century America. We “know” so much about celebrities now-a-days (even things we might not want to know about them) that we are lulled into thinking we are on a first name basis with them. We create nicknames for them: we hear about their romances, their escapades and of course their failures. (Sadly, we loooove to hear about their failures.) And heck, why not? Celebrity status does not necessarily require any unique skill or talent and in fact, often has very little to do with creative genius. So how did we confuse the two? Here is an interesting TED talk on the subject by author Elizabeth Gilbert: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html
So what in God’s name has happened to what was once the expected air of mystique that surrounded our favorite authors? Can we blame the internet age for making everything about everybody accessible to the touch of our fingertips? Or do we need to take a little more responsibility in an age where everyone is clamoring for validation.
Is it because many of us are so desperate for validation because we’ve lost our sense of mystique? Does it even mean anything to be a writer anymore? I think so. And this is why: when I stumble on to a new book that I love, I can be okay with not needing to devour everything in the cult of celebrity. I’m going to take the advice of my fellow owl and do my best to let an author’s work be all the mental architecture I need to understand them. The world we live is a big and mysterious place… and so, when I am curled up later this weekend and enjoying Brice Austin’s “The Afterlife Road and other stories”…shhh don’t tell me…just let me dwell in the mystery.
As predominantly visual creatures, we all do it. How many times have you looked at the stranger sitting across from you on the train or bus and thought (perhaps even with a degree of superiority or maybe even disdain) that you already “knew” that stranger’s whole story just based on how they looked? Then, just by chance, if you were fortunate enough to strike up a conversation, even a short one in passing, you were pleasantly surprised to learn that although you thought you were sitting next to an average schmo,’ you came to find that you had actually been sharing space the whole time with one of the most interesting people you’ve ever met? Better yet, wasn’t it a cosmic experience to learn that you and the stranger had more in common than you could have ever imagined? Don’t you just love when that happens? Discovery by serendipity not only makes us as individuals feel more interesting, but it also takes the monotony out of our daily routines.
Finding a great new book has the same effect as meeting an interesting stranger on the train. Books have the power to transform our existence sometimes temporarily and sometimes for a whole life time. When searching for a new and engaging novel to curl up with, or when looking to find a new writer to fall in love with once you’ve exhausted the works of an already beloved author, the cover of a book often serves to powerfully affect our level of interest. For better or worse, book covers greatly influence how we react to the contents we find inside. The glossy jackets coyly draw our attention in and suggest a certain quality of writing we can expect. However, judging a book by its cover can ultimately satisfy or disappoint when the truth is laid bare once we start reading. Some covers, with their sexy graphics and pithy jacket blurbs can be very deceiving and don’t you just hate when that happens?
If you are looking for new reads, or a new author who you’ve never been exposed to before, we strongly suggest that you don’t just go by the image on the cover or the blurb on the back of the jacket. Blurbs are usually written by editors who more often than not are trying to convince you that what you are about to read is similar to some other book that’s been hugely successful with the reading public, (personally, that’s a turn off for this book loving owl.)
Bearing in mind the number one way to discover a new book seems to be by word-of-mouth, there is much to be said for perusing the stacks in a bookstore or a library to come upon new reads. The experience of browsing a bookstore or library is incredibly different than the experience of online browsing. While we love the convenience of the one-click-shopping experience that giants like Amazon have taught us to expect when it comes to web puchases, let’s face it, web-browsing is a matter of convenience. This is because as it turns out, it’s a much more targeted shopping experience. Perusing the shelves of a bookstore or a library is really more of a leisure activity, one that almost always leads to serendipitous discovery; kind of like talking to that interesting stranger on a train.
In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, (2006) author Lewis Buzbee, a former bookseller and sales representative, celebrates the unique experience of the bookstore—the smell and touch of books, getting lost in the deep canyons of shelves, and the silent community of readers. He shares his passion for books, which began with ordering through The Weekly Reader in grade school. Interwoven throughout is a fascinating historical account of the bookseller trade—from the great Alexandria library with an estimated one million papyrus scrolls to Sylvia Beach’s famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., that led to the extraordinary effort to publish and sell James Joyce’s Ulysses during the 1920s. Buzbee’s memoir is a beautiful tribute to bookstores.
And yes, despite the common perception that the age of digital has all but brought about the demise of print, bookstores are still in existence. In fact, independent bookshops are a great place to discover new books as they are very much governed by the taste of the owner. Independent bookstore owners are passionate about books and thus they a great resource for recommendations. Ultimately, the only real way to find out if you like a book is to stand in the shop and read a couple of pages. That’s why bookstores and libraries are so brilliant; you can go and sample everything. You need to be happy with your choice, because it takes the average person about two and a half weeks to get through a book, which can feel like a long time with the wrong book.
Book festivals are yet another truly wonderful way to discover new books. They are generally free-admission events. You can walk away from a book festival not only with some great new books to read, a full belly from all the wonderful food stands that are often there, but also a ton of free schwag- like hip canvas tote bags, unique bookmarks, cool pens, earbuds, flashlights, treats, etc etc. Book festivals are also a family affair. One of the premier book festivals is right around the corner. On September 22nd 2013 the Brooklyn Book Festival promises everything from kid friendly readings, free writers work shops, author signings, free lectures, killer foods, and lots of really really great free schwag. So head on out to the Brooklyn Book Festival if you can, and be sure to tell all of your friends. Hop a train, maybe even talk to the stranger next to you on your way there, because free admission, creative inspiration and a ton of wonderful BOOKS await you! Owl Canyon Press will be at the Brooklyn Book Festival- here is a link about what we will be doing there: http://www.owlcanyonpress.com/news.htmg
Owl be there on September 22nd, will you?
Several weeks ago after a much-needed-healthy visit to the Colorado Rockies, I came back home and made a conscious decision to have my television turned off. It was time to give up my rather mindless addiction to vacuous fluff, time to unplug from morning noon and night screens and get back in touch with the left side of my brain. Time to simplify and start living my life again, I thought! (And yes, it’s almost embarrassing to admit just how many hours of my life I have in the recent past, wasted watching trash TV, but I will never ever judge anyone else who loves the way I do, all those junky TV shows… trust me, I get it.) It was hard to give up the T.V. My H.D. 34″ flat screen TV now sits unplugged. It’s still situated on the credenza across from the couch, but now sits silenced like a darkened shrine, or a quiet ode to the countless evenings of the past that I lost to the likes of Pat Sajak, Alex Trebek, Nancy Grace, the King of Queens, Andy Cohen, and Jon Stewart to name a few in between. But like many of us, I still have a “screen addiction,” so what next? I turned to my laptop! To heck with the TV, I still have a screen I can turn to. Facebook, CNN News online, Candy Crush Saga, You Tube, and Stumbleupon.com here I come!
But wait, what about my promise to read more and reheat the imaginative fires of my left brain? And then…. I remembered the Kindle my sister gave me as a gift last year that has been sitting idle in the kitchen drawer? Ah, with it’s sweet little 7″ screen… and so, with a click of a button I began ordering and immediately receiving all the books I’ve been meaning to read. Instant gratification! Then, every night for the next week, I curled up with my cute little Kindle and began reading. Since then, my dreams have been more vivid and I sleep much better than I have in years.
Now… I promise I’m not going to take on the whole argument on a real book vs. a book on a tablet, because most of you already know the pros and cons of that story, but suffice to say, a good book in any format is a good thing when you are weaning off of a serious television addiction. And so, comfortable with my Kindle, I began to read and read and read. In my imagination, through the books I’ve been devouring, I have been transported everywhere from the California Coast to the Andes mountains in South America, from Cherokee Lake Tennessee to the Palestine desert, from Frankfurt to Amsterdam, and all with the help of a tiny little 7″ screen.
Then, early one morning last week I got out of bed to reach for my iPhone as it buzzed and vibrated from across the room with an incoming call, flashing an unknown number on my “life-line to the outside world” screen. In a pre-first cup of coffee haze, I leapt for that sexy little gadget and accidentally stepped on my Kindle, which I had apparently dropped on the floor next to the bed as I read myself to sleep the night before. The crunching sound that the weight of my foot made as it crushed the life out of that poor little tablet told me I had, in an instant, killed my Kindle. Ah, my beloved Kindle. Drat! and I was in the middle of a really good read! Now what, I thought? I’m just not ready to go totally screen free. And so, with a heavy sigh, I called Amazon. ( The early morning call I was reaching for when I stepped on the Kindle, was, it turns out, a wrong number.) Such injustice in the world! Not to worry, the customer service person at Amazon was great. He immediately offered me a discount on a replacement Kindle. So true to my screen addiction, I took up his offer and even upgraded to the Kindle Fire HD. Being too cheap to pay for Amazon Prime, I waited 4 long days days for my new discounted upgraded Kindle to arrive in the mail. In the interim, since I was not in possession of ” hard copy” of the book I was reading on that fateful morning, I finished it on the Amazon cloud on my laptop. Reading on the cloud is okay in a pinch, but it’s all too easy to mistakenly tap the cursor and jump pages and lose your place. There is something about a real book, with a real cover, real pages and whatever I am using for a bookmark at the time ( I don’t dog-ear books), that I find makes my reading experience much more tactile and intimate. I don’t really even need the bookmark because with a real book I have more visual cues that remind me where I left off.
I now have my new Kindle Fire HD sitting next to the bed on top of a stack of real books that I plan on reading over this labor day weekend. It looks impressive and I’ve already downloaded my email and FB accounts to it, and I have several new books queued up on the device waiting to be read. For some reason however, my attention is now turned to the stack of real books that my new Kindle is resting on top of. It’s a three-day weekend, I’ve got a collection of short stories, The Afterlife Road by Brice Austin, which I am already half way through, a copy of Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (with an introduction by William Carlos Williams that I’ve been for some time meaning to reread), and Helen Schulman’s This Beautiful Life. I can’t say it will be an entirely screen-free weekend, but it’s Labor Day weekend, time for all of us to unplug. The kind of weekend when you tell yourself, sometimes you just have to go acoustic!
Owl Canyon Hoots wishes you a splendid holiday and wants to know WHO and what will you be reading on this glorious Labor Day weekend?
PS:Seamus Heaney, the 1995 Nobel laureate in Literature who was often described as the greatest Irish poet since Yeats, died on Friday in Dublin. He was 74. Rest in Peace Mr. Heaney.