Friday, February 29, 2008

In Which I Don't Know Why I Finished A Book

Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed by H Anthony Medley, revised and everything, is a natural choice for me, the job seeker. I found it at the library, immediately thought it would be something to read as I begin my job search, borrowed it, brought it home, and started to read.

There is so much to dislike about this book that I don’t even know where to begin and it is a shame because there are some things to like as well. Unfortunately, the negative far outweighs the positive and although this book is revised I am absolutely certain that there are other more relevant and appropriate books on the interview process available. What frustrated me the most is that even though this volume is revised the content is clearly dated. I don’t know where being allergic to cigarette smoke would be a concern and to even defend such an offensive interview practice as baiting an interviewee by using the terms “black bitch” or “nigger” is reprehensible. How the hell did anyone revise this book and not remove something like this? And where is there a company that would still do something like this and not expect a lawsuit?

Less offensive but no less annoying is the author’s need to keep reminding the reader how useful other people have found his book. I can understand using testimonials in the first chapter or even having a collection of them at the end of the book. However, if you are still justifying why anyone should read this book by using these things by chapter six then I, as the reader, am left to assume that you are not nearly as confident in your information as you claim to be.

So I am not going to recommend this book. To anyone. For any reason. Go online and read articles about interviewing or, if you are like me and really prefer to read a book you can hold in your hands then, go to the bookstore and buy anything but this book. Because, frankly, the gold nuggets of good information that you might dredge up after reading the rest are easily available elsewhere.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Which I Finish a Book of Poetry

There are two types of poems which seem to be ubiquitous—love poems and angry poems. And each type is as difficult to write, even more difficult for their very familiarity. Everyone knows what it means to fall in love and to feel angry. How to communicate these common emotions in a way that is new and relevant is difficult.

From the Pyramids to the Projects: Poems of Genocide and Resistance! By Askia M Touré is ambitious in that the author is exploring common feelings of anger and understandable rage. He manages to toe the delicate line of not falling from righteous anger to self-righteous anger. As Touré writes about racism, listing the names of great Afrikan [sic] men and women, past and present.

Anger is not easily read. Righteous or not, anger is exhausting. I would not recommend this collection of poems to most readers. I honestly think that most Caucasians would be defensive and offended and, frankly, without reason. Wrongs have not been redressed and there are historical truths which have not and are not being taught or remembered.

This is what I love most of the poems. Forget the cadence, which is fascinating, or the choices made throughout from metaphor to meaning, but the litany of names and brief explanations. Never forget is an underlying mantra throughout these poems. And as I read I found myself frustrated by the seemingly unnecessary footnoted explanations. Why, I kept wondering, is Tourmé wasting my time telling me what I already know about Upsouth and Tarharqa (Taharqa) and Palmares in these damn footnotes?

Because not everyone knows. Oh yeah. I forget. I forget sometimes that while student teaching I explained to my students how children in Soweto had died fighting for an education and how I had to get in the face of a belligerent and incredibly intelligent young man who was throwing his education away because apathy was cooler than achievement.

I forget that these children did not know that there were roots that ran far deeper than Roots had ever tried to explore!

How does one “Never Forget” what has never been taught? These poems are dense with teaching and everyone should read them but most will find them too honest to be freed by the truth. Easier to deny than to ask forgiveness.

So I forgive Tourmé for having no choice but to explain his choices. I do not forgive the silencing of truth that should be known. I cannot forgive these things so easily.

The Frontier of Rage

The frontier of rage that exists
between Black men and women
is an open wound slowly
dripping through the years,
causing us to miss each other, dismembered
by our needs and self-righteous vindication
of our egoes: Sister/Brother raw with
wounded love, pride and submerged anger
masks of smiles and hip postures:
games we play to polish our survival
while the wound
bleeds raw, flesh turning rotten
like a half-charred boy, dangling
from a lynch-tree, bowing
to the savage wind.

Aries Horoscope for week of February 28, 2008

What's the opposite of a freak out? Let's call it a freak in. I suspect you're about to enter into this state. That means you will have at your disposal all the intensity of a hysterical fit, but you'll be able to express it artfully as you accomplish acts of amazing grace. Time may even seem to expand for you as you slip into a wildly relaxed perspective that unleashes exuberant insights with practical applications.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In Which I Was Tagged

"One Book" Survey

One book that changed your life: My Journal by Satia This is the book that has most changed my life. Other books give me ideas on the direction in which I want my life to go but only through writing in my journal can I ever find the way to get from here to there.

One book that you’ve read more than once: There are so many but the book I've probably read the most is The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) and of those books The Book of Hebrews is the one I've read most often.

 One book you’d want on a desert island: A blank book so long as I had a pen with which to write. Eventually I could figure out how to make fire and blend inks using resin and such but I'd probably go crazy without a book in which to write my thoughts. And to be clear, college ruled or blank would be preferred over wide lined pages.

One book that made you laugh: Any book by Terry Pratchett could be listed but the last one I read by him was The Truth which is not one of his most recent but that doesn't matter. Like Tom Robbins, Pratchett makes me consistently laugh out loud and I am forever indebted to Craig (aka Yukk) for introducing me to this delightful writer.

One book that made you cry: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J K Rowling which I know sounds a lot like what Saila said but this is truly the answer where I was bawling. I had to close the book one time when I started crying so hard I couldn't read and when I reached the end of the book I literally walked into Rob's open arms and thanked him for making me read Harry Potter to begin with.

 One book that you wish had been written: The one I haven't written yet.

 One book that you wish had never been written: Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler.  If I had to choose a second book it would be The Bible because too many complications have arisen since the introduction of the printing press. It is interesting that many of the great spiritual teachers never actually wrote anything themselves. Muhammed. Jesus. Buddha. All spoke profoundly but none left a written record of what they taught.

 One book you’re currently reading: The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche Of all the books I am currently reading, I am adoring this one the most. I have to read it slowly because I keep being blown away but what he is saying, nodding in agreement, sighing in contentment, and marking yet another passage I want to save for future reference.

One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Qu'ran. I've read The Bible and The Tao Te Ching. I would also like to read The Rig Veda, several of the Sutras (Heart, Diamond, and Lotus most especially), and more more more. I want to make a priority of sacred texts. And yes, I appreciate the irony of this given my previous response to what books I wish had never been written but I never said I was not confusing. And here is where I am supposed to tag specific readers but I honestly never know who is reading. That said, I'll do what Saila did and just say that you should consider yourself tagged. There. That was easy!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

In Which I Finish a Novel

The Challenge: Write a novel that is interesting and intriguing, set it in a fascinating and politically impacting era, and then invite a reader who is dead familiar with this time period, who knew a lot about the throne in England during Henry the VIII's lifetime and make that reader write a less than lukewarm book review.

The Winner: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

Surprise! If you aren't surprised by my less than lukewarm response then let me tell you that I surely am! But then the strangest things surprise me. For instance, did you know that people were unaware that Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife to King Henry VIII, had a sister who was mistress to the king before her sister came and swept him off his feet? Apparently this is not common knowledge. Seriously, this surprised me.

Then again, I read my first biography about Elizabeth I when I was less than nine years old. The author's last name was Jenkins and I remember reading about the rumors and manipulations behind the scenes of the young girl's life before she became the Queen of England.

Gregory does a good job of writing a story that is interesting even if it is unsurprising. After all, everyone knows that Anne is beheaded, right? Okay. Maybe not. Telling the story through her sister Mary's eyes, including Mary's own affair with the vigorous if not potent ruler. It is fun, in that Hollywood gossip way, to read of the political machinations that occurred, very often using young girls as pawns in a complicated game of control. And yes, there is a lovely romance in the book as well. How else could it have become such a popular reading group book otherwise?

So where's the negative? Isn't there something I didn't like? Why of course there is! Through Mary's narrative voice, Anne is a completely unsympathetic character. Anne has absolutely no layers. Neither does Queen Catherine nor King Henry. Not even the brother George and, let's be honest, Mary herself. While Mary does ponder the situation of women in a patriarchal society, she thwarts her family by running off and marrying a man who promises to take care of her and eventually rescues her and her children. (Spoilers? C'mon. You could have read this if you looked Mary Boleyn up in wikipedia!)

All of the characters are painted in the unsurprising strokes of historical context, I suppose, but since history is written by the winners it would have been interesting to see Gregory at least give Anne a few sympathetic qualities or make Henry a little less macho. Yes, he was a wonderful horseman, huntsman, etc. He also wrote poetry and read extensively. The man clearly had an aesthetic and none of these things are explored. And every bit of slander and gossip is not only used but accepted making Anne even less likeable and impossibly unsympathetic.  Especially given that Gregory seems to present every bit of slander fired at Anne and her family as though the accusations were true in spite of the fact that history has long believed that Anne was a victim of politic machinations that went above and beyond to destroy her and her family utterly.

Finally, the editing in this book is unforgivable. On one page Anne removes her french hood. Long paragraph follows and then in the very next paragraph Anne is removing her hood yet again. If this were the only example of poorly edited writing, I would have overlooked it but this was the last example in a long line of incorrect details. However, I commend either Gregory or her editor for alluding to The Field of the Cloth of Gold without giving any expository explanation about what it was and its significance. The reader who doesn't already know won't really care and the reader who already knows will appreciate the genuine tone of a narrator alluding to something significant and believing her listener knows whereof she speaks for ultimately this is Mary Boleyn's voice, sharing a fabulous slice of England's history.  Too bad what is fabulous has been cut down with falsity.  Shame on Gregory for not honoring history with facts, especially when the facts are so delicious as they were during this time in England's history.