Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Cover of the Week: Banned Books Week - by Louise Tripp

As I am writing this post, we are smack in the middle of Banned Books Week, which began September 26th and ends October 3rd. For this week's Book Cover of the Week, I thought it might be nice to revisit some of the many covers of the controversial, the challenged and the outright banned books of the last decade. 

Like many fantasy novels for children and adolescents, The Golden Compass was challenged for being anti-religious. Magic in books has long been frowned upon by the religious community, especially when the books in question are aimed at youngsters. The Harry Potter series and A Wrinkle In Time, for instance, have received many challenges over the years. 

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was banned for various reasons, among them: graphic sex and violence, profanity and depictions of torture and war. 

Lauren Myracle's teen book Ttyl joined the list of challenged books when parents in a Texas school district complained about the book being available in the school library, citing "references to sex, drugs, pornography, and an inappropriate teacher-student relationship" among their reasons. 

And last but not least in today's line-up of Banned Book covers, a cute picture book about a couple of male penguins who partner up to hatch an egg:  And Tango Makes Three. You can probably guess why this was banned, right? 

Challenge: Recreate a book cover in photographs and I'll post it here next week. Or  got an idea for a Book Cover of the Week?

Louise Tripp grew up in North Carolina. She currently lives in Chicago, where she is revising her first YA novel and working in a public library. You can read her regular blog at

Friday, September 17, 2010

Books On Board: Those We Take On Our Journeys - by Ammie Brod

Whenever I tell people I’m leaving town for some sort of extended period of time, they always ask me if I’ve packed yet.  I spent a month in Europe this summer, playing insane contemporary classical music at a festival just outside of Frankfurt, and I started getting that question weeks before my departure date.  I wanted to say, “Well, yes!  Actually, this is the only shirt I’ll be wearing for the next month!  Thanks for asking.”

I pack the night before, always.  The only thing I really put a lot of thought into, really, is this: what books am I bringing?  Weeks beforehand—right about when everybody’s asking about clothes, actually—there’s already a small stack of books on my desk waiting to be considered.  There are so many factors: How long is it?  How small is the type?  What kind of mood would I have to be in to read this book, and what kind of mood do I think I’m likely to be in during my travels?  Is it engaging yet simple enough to read during a single flight, or would I want to break it up and read it over the course of multiple days?  How much does it weigh?

I’m cautious in part because I’ve made mistakes in the past.  I once read Adrienne Rich’s book of essays, Blood, Bread and Poetry, on a single transatlantic flight; I arrived in Warsaw disoriented and full of feminist verve, but I don’t remember a single detail from my reading.  On the flipside, in a move completely unlike me I read all of The Devil Wears Prada on a trip from Chicago to Phoenix and had a stress-and-irritability headache for days.  The lesson was that some books should be read in good time instead of in a single jetlagged chunk, and that some books are just sort of dumb.  Live and learn.

But the main reason I’m so careful with my travel books is that I want my reading to enhance my travels, to augment them, not to distract from or diminish them.  I want them to help me cut through the haze of unreality and chaos that comes with being somewhere unfamiliar and allow me to connect with my surroundings. This doesn’t mean I read about where I am; it’s more subtle than that, and figuring out just the right book in advance gets tricky.  It comes down, I think, to a sense of perspective.

The initial forty-eight hours of my trip to Europe this past July ended up being the most hellish travel experience I’ve ever had, bar none.  In the course of those two days—and this is a very, very brief summary—I lost my wallet, my luggage (albeit briefly), and then missed a flight through no fault of my own and had a total breakdown at the ticket desk before being forced to pay a horrendous rebooking fee.  This resulted in my arrival ten hours late, at which point I camped out with my suitcase and instrument on the front porch of what I could only hope was my apartment building and contemplated the fact that I was going to have to sleep outside unless somebody showed up to let me in.  All of this while jetlagged.  Oy.

Through all of this, on the plane and in the airport and on the porch by the fitful light of the hookah bar next door, I read nearly all of Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a look at the collision between the American medical community and the family of Lia Lee, a Hmong child with severe epilepsy living in Merced, California.  When I wrote that last sentence, it felt clinical: here is what this story is about.  But the book itself is so lovely and insightful and multifaceted that it can’t be so neatly summed up.  It’s a look at cross-cultural communication, how language (both in its linguistic sense and as a cultural, religious, and ethical concept) divides and sometimes conquers us.  It’s the story of Lia and the tragedy that befell her, in part because of these slippages; it’s also the story of the Hmong culture, which has withstood horrendous mistreatment for much of its existence and still persists, refusing to bow and assimilate into any other.  It is all of these things, but in a very large way it’s more than simply the story of what happened, or why.  It asks us, point blank, what we can learn from our mistakes.  It’s beautiful.

It would have been a heartbreaking and mesmerizing book at any time but for me, sitting in an airport in England in a haze of temporal dislocation and emotional turmoil, it resonated in such a powerful way that I was nearly reduced to tears over and over again.  Who cared if I missed my flight? There are cultures which we have torn apart in unjust wars; there are children whose lives have been forfeit because of ignorance.  And even though I know those things, always, in those moments it struck me right on the breastbone with fresh force.  

I made it to Germany, and then I made it home.  On the way back I had run out of reading material and went back to revisit The Spirit Catches You.  Sitting quietly, relaxed and under ten times less pressure than I’d felt on the way over, I still absolutely loved it.  I’d made the right choice.

Ammie Brod spent most of her childhood trying to come up with a profession that would allow her to do nothing but read all day, but when that failed to pan out she became a classical musician and florist instead. Her fifteen minutes of fame, now passed, involved a google image search for the phrase "naked girls and me." You can read more of her writing at

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book Cover of the Week - by Louise Tripp

Sometimes a book cover just speaks for itself. Or rather, sometimes a book cover - or perhaps the book's title alone - just leaves me speechless. 

I just know there must be some kind of S&M theme underlying the stories in this book. I'm almost curious enough to locate a copy and find out. 

Challenge: Recreate a book cover in photographs and I'll post it here next week. Or  got an idea for a Book Cover of the Week?

Louise Tripp grew up in North Carolina. She currently lives in Chicago, where she is revising her first YA novel and working in a public library. You can read her regular blog at

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Favorites: Blake Nelson's Girl - by Louise Tripp

What can I say about the 1994 fictional chronicle of a girl named Andrea Marr in grunge-era Portland, Oregon? There's so much to Andrea's story that it would be hard to tell you everything about it (and the 1998 movie based on it is a bit of a mockery of the whole thing, not doing the very wide-eyed, honest teen tale justice). After ten years of creative writing classes, workshops, lectures and advice books, it's a book that does everything “wrong” that still feels so right for me. Blake Nelson spins the story in the first-person voice of Andrea (which is so authentically female that it's hard to believe a guy wrote it), with the details of her high school life tumbling out in what feels like a breathless rush (mostly because of all the run-on sentences).

I discovered Girl via a review in the gone-but-not-forgotten magazine Sassy, which often introduced me to unusual new literary charms in my adolescence (you may have heard me reference it before). To say I've re-read the book quite a few times is an understatement – at one point, I could quote portions of it and it rivaled Pam Conrad's Taking The Ferry Home in the number of times I'd visited its pages. And I've recommended it to many friends, with mixed results: one, for instance, was enamored with the young protagonist's use of the word “fuck” to differentiate between two kinds of sex (slightly T.M.I? Perhaps, but you're curious now aren't you?) while another loathed Nelson-as-Andrea's sometimes Valley Girl-esque stream-of-consciousness storytelling, unable to make it to the end.

But of course, this is about my own connection to the book – a tricky subject. I'm not entirely sure what it is about it that fuels my adoration for the novel. On the one hand, like I said, it does so much that some would consider “wrong”: it “tells” more than it “shows,” and it introduces scores of characters and yet only expands on a dozen or so. On the other hand, however, it's about (in as succinct a summary as one can manage) an introspective girl who rocks out to local bands, shops for funky vintage rags at thrift stores, has a lesbian best friend and eventually travels far from home for college. In other words, she's a lot like me in my twenties (sans the lesbian best friend – mine was a gay guy) and a little bit like that girl I always wished I could be. I couldn't help but love her – and the book – flaws and all. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book Cover of the Week: A Day Late - by Louise Tripp

Bonsoir mes amis. It's been a full week and as you can see, I got a little sidetracked – and completely forgot to post Wednesday's Book Cover of the Week. Ah well...better late than never? This week's post features multiple book covers and is my current top ten “to-read” list done in photos (in no particular order):

1. Girlbomb by Janice Erlbaum – A former friend gifted me with this book several years ago and it's just another one of those I have never gotten around to reading. Erlbaum was a columnist for one of my favorite magazines, Bust at the time she wrote this about a time in her life when she fled her home to live on the streets because her mother let her abusive stepfather come back.

2. February House by Sherill Tippins – This is a little nonfiction book about a little house in Brooklyn that, during WWII, housed W.H. Auden, Carson Mccullers and Gypsy Rose Lee, to name a few. I've heard so many terrific things about this book (and considering my deep and endless love for all things Carson Mccullers, it had to make my to-read list, no?), but it's been on my shelf since 2006 without a single crack to the spine.

3. The Whole World Was Watching by Romaine Patterson – A memoir by the best friend of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student killed in Wyoming 12 years ago next Saturday.

4. Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie – I was excited to find this, an Alexie novel I haven't read, among a stack of book donations at the library where I work.

5. Everybody Into The Pool by Beth Lisick – My girlfriend and I picked up Lisick's “creative nonfiction” at a Sister Spit reading earlier this year because the writer was so funny and charismatic when she read her work. I'm looking forward to finally getting around to this book.

6. Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford – A biography of one of my all-time favorite poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay. Poetry and the Jazz era – what could be more intriguing?

7. A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz – I discovered this book when I signed up for the Goodreads book giveaway, but unfortunately didn't win. I'd like to read it anyway, though. I love a good fairy tale retelling.

8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Oh, how many times have I tried (and failed miserably) to read this much-beloved Tolstoy novel. Maybe the third time is the charm.

9. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama – I actually attained my copy of the president's memoir by accident. I'd ordered a different book, this was sent by mistake and the seller sent the correct book along after I messaged her, telling me I could also keep this one for my inconvenience. Kind of a happy accident if you ask me.

10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – While I am not fond of her sister Emily's most famous novel and have not read her sister, Anne's books in years, I thought I'd finally get around to giving Charlotte a try. 

Challenge: Recreate a book cover in photographs and I'll post it here next week. Or  got an idea for a Book Cover of the Week?

Louise Tripp grew up in North Carolina. She currently lives in Chicago, where she is revising her first YA novel and working in a public library. You can read her regular blog at

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nickel and Dimed: On Being a Pretentious Bitch in America - by Ryl

I read this book hoping to find an interesting sociological experiment in which a woman from the upper middle class disguises herself as a woman from the working class to learn first-hand the struggles those people encounter each day. What I found was "prissy bitch goes slumming and whines about it for two hundred and thirty pages." This is one of the books that I hate more each time I think about it. Here's a partial list of how it pissed me off:

1. Her "experiment" was not at all valid. She did not live like working class people live. She had to have a car. Had to. No public transportation for Ms. Ehrenreich, no siree bobaroony! In fact, she didn't even look for work in places that had public transportation. Honey, I work with the working class you tried so hard to think you emulated. They take the bus. They get friends and family to drive them to work. When they really have no other way into work, they walk. She also had to have her very own place. She didn't even think to look for shared housing, which would have saved her a lot of money. Instead she looked for pricey run-down trailer parks and rent-by-the-week hotels. As a reviewer on GoodReads put it, " the only folks I know in my town who chose the roach motel route were also doing meth or had lousy rental references from too many parties or property damage." Way to do your research, Babs.

2. Her attitude was slightly snotty in the beginning and then descended to positively grating as the "experiment" progressed. She is shocked--SHOCKED!--to discover that the working class is populated by actual human beings who take pride in their work and work very hard every day. I nearly threw the book across the room during the maid chapter when one of her co-workers twists her ankle on the job and then is angry at being sent home the next day to let the injury heal a bit more. "But why," Ms. Ehrenreich pontificates, "would she be upset about this opportunity to rest and recuperate when she has been injured?" "Because she won't get paid to sit at home waiting for her ankle to heal, bitch!" I responded. "She only gets paid for the hours she works and since she just found out she's pregnant, she wants and needs to accumulate as many hours as possible before she has the baby and has to pay for the birth!" Simple logic escapes Ms. Ehrenreich at the most obvious times.

3. Her relentless ivory-tower liberalism. I say this as someone who leans towards the left side of the political spectrum. She tries in each of her jobs to bring power to the workers, subtly at first and ending up with her preaching the gospel of union at Wal-Mart. I do agree that maybe a union would do Wal-Mart and its workers some good. However, she went about it in the most annoying and least likely to succeed way. I suspect Ms. Ehrenriech was getting bored with her slumming and decided to stir the soup to entertain herself. It never occurs to her that the working class is too busy working to worry about empowerment, and/or they don't want to risk getting labeled as a troublemaker and losing their job/good references for their next one. Going without work means going without pay and there's not much to save when you're making $7.50 an hour and have bills to pay. This leads me to the most irritating thing about this book:

4. Ms. Ehrenreich never really immersed herself in the culture she was studying. She always had an "out." When she got a rash, she called a doctor friend who prescribed a cream to take it away. When she smoked pot before a drug test (really?), she wasted money on patent medicine cures before her appointment. When she got bored or was about to get into trouble, she suddenly revealed, ta-dah! I have a Ph.D. and you were all guinea pigs in my little experiment! (And then she was shocked--SHOCKED--to find out that no one really cared about that. What they were worried about was getting through the next day with one less person on the team. Little things like two weeks notice apparently have no meaning for slumming Ph.Ds.) I kept hearing Pulp's "Common People" in my head as I read this book, especially this part: 

Rent a flat above a shop,
cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool,
pretend you never went to school.
But still you'll never get it right,
'cause when you're laid in bed at night,
watching roaches climb the wall,
if you call your Dad he could stop it all.

You'll never live like common people,
you'll never do what common people do,
you'll never fail like common people,
you'll never watch your life slide out of view,
and dance and drink and screw,
because there's nothing else to do.

I highly recommend the William Shatner version of this song. Seriously, he really gets the feeling of the narrator down.

There is one thing I liked about this book, though: her revelations on how the rent-a-maid services really work. They're not cleaning, they're just shining things up a bit so they look clean.

Ryl is a professional desk monkey who must reserve her vast array of sarcasm for the internet. She enjoys unleashing it on bad movies and books that irritate her more than they should. Her hobbies include playing way too much Oblivion, putting off her cross-stitch project, and wondering how she screwed up her latest crochet project. Her blog can be found at

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Favorites: Childhood Revisited - Louise Tripp

There are days that I feel sad and that sadness leads to nostalgia. I get nostalgic for a childhood where I was free to balance between tree branches, run after ice cream trucks, get so high on the swings that I felt like I'd touch the sun and play with my imaginary friends - one of which came in the form of a to-the-hip tall plastic doll named Sara. At six years old, you could not tell me that Sara was a doll, though. Sara was real. She had black braids, pouty red lips and eyes that opened and closed. My parents had to set a place at the table for her, too, or I wouldn't eat. It just wouldn't have been fair to Sara. 

I guess that's part of the reason that, to this day, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams remains one of my favorite picture books of all time. If I ever had children, it would be an essential part of their personal childhood library. For now, it's an essential part of mine - one that I do revisit from time to time. And it still makes me cry. 

My copy has beautiful pictures in it. The book itself is about a child who loves his velveteen rabbit so much that he thinks of the rabbit as "real." But when the boy becomes ill, the little rabbit doll must be parted from him. It's a classic tale of unconditional love and what a gift it can be. 

If you've never read it, you're never too old. 

Louise Tripp grew up in North Carolina. She currently lives in Chicago, where she is revising her first YA novel and working in a public library. You can read her regular blog at

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book Cover of the Week: Eat Your Vegetables - by Louise Tripp

I realized it's already Wednesday night and I haven't posted a book cover! It's been a rushed week with little slowing in sight - that's my only excuse - which makes it seem as if, instead of exclaiming "it's already Wednesday" I should be lamenting "it's only Wednesday?" Yes, indeed it is. Ah, well. Onward we shall go.

What I've been thinking about a lot lately is food. Yummy, healthy food to be exact. I am having guests over in a couple of weeks and some are vegetarian while others are weight-conscious. However, I wanted our snacks to be fun and comforting, accompanying our movie night and general socializing the same way a giant bowl of buttered popcorn might. I've actually been a vegetarian myself for over eleven years, but that doesn't mean I always eat healthy food. And honestly, I don't think I could ever be vegan - I love honey and cheese too much. Nevertheless, when I decided that this week's cover should be from a cookbook, it was a vegan one that I chose. 

Sarah Kramer's line of vegan cookbooks (which are also sometimes manuals on switching to a vegan diet and how to incorporate being vegan into various aspects of your life) are a marvelous addition to any cookbook library, whether you're vegan, vegetarian, "flexitarian" or just entertaining guests of the veggie-only ilk.

What I like about the covers of Kramer's recipe bibles are the bright pastels and the pictures, often of the tattooed author surrounded by or holding up some kind of food. On the cover of her calendar, she even poses as Rosie the Riveter with an apple in the crook of her elbow. 

Challenge: Recreate a book cover in photographs and I'll post it here next week. Or  got an idea for a Book Cover of the Week?

Louise Tripp grew up in North Carolina. She currently lives in Chicago, where she is revising her first YA novel and working in a public library. You can read her regular blog at