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Hello friends,

Please check out this story and others like it online: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10217715-93.html
Twitter’s #amazonfail is also worth checking out.

Long story short, it appears that Amazon has created a filtering system for “adult titles” that effectively pulls them from sales results listed on their website, as well as removing many of them from search results. Unfortunately, many of these books that have been found too “objectionable” to receive visibility are largely queer-focused. Lists abound, but titles like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Ellen Degeneres’s biography and Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain have been deemed objectionable, while books with explicit heterosexual content and other gems like The Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality and Mein Kampf maintain their rank and searchability. (fuller list here: http://jezebel.com/5209088/why-is-amazon-removing-the-sales-rankings-from-gay-lesbian-books)

Amazon claims this is a technological glitch while owning up to its adult filtering system. I’m all for protecting the kidlets, but from what? This sounds like straight-up censorship to me. Books that are visible are books that sell (NYT bestseller list anyone?); things that sell continue to get published. Hide all the “problematic” books and sooner or later, no one’s going to be willing to publish them (save small presses, which rarely get face time anywhere other than independent bookstores).

I won’t stay on my soapbox for long, but I have to say that, for me, this further drives home the importance of independent booksellers — if Amazon becomes the singular source of books, it also becomes the singular source of an important form of knowledge. Independent booksellers are committed to selling books from marginalized authors, topics, presses, what have you, because they understand that there’s a bigger issue at stake. Books are not just objects, and we get into dangerous territory when we forget that they are capable of transmitting knowledge and structuring the way we relate to our world (this goes for fiction as well as non-fiction!).

Anyway, read, and if you find it as repulsive as I do, please forward widely. Oh yeah, and let Amazon know that this is unacceptable.

I’m hopeful for a media field day with this one.

ETA: It appears that this may be the result of hacking or an outside party. The fact remains that there is a function on Amazon for removing “objectionable” content, and that the books being removed were not checked. It seems like the next few days will hopefully reveal what “really” happened; I’m hoping it stimulates conversation about the problems of trusting large sprawling corporations with our knowledge distribution practices…

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…is a giant stack of books:

– The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 3 (Advance Reading Copy)
Moral Disorder and Other Stories, Margaret Atwood
Journal of a Novel, John Steinbeck (for when I re-read East of Eden)
2666, Roberto Bolano (almost finished book 1; books 2 and 3 taunt me)
Letter to My Daughter, Maya Angelou
The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Patchett
Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
Self-Help, Lorrie Moore

And that’s only on my bedside table. I have about that many on hold to buy, and three times that many on my dresser (including a reading copy of Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, which just won the Tournament of Books!).

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I recently finished Anagrams, by Lorrie Moore, at the recommendation of my excellent friend. She’d lent me her copy a long time ago, and I finally got around to reading it. If you want my short and sweet summary, it’s something along the lines of a sigh of relief and “At last! A book that honors the multiplicity and contingency of identity instead of pathologizing it.”

anagrams lorrie moore

Anagrams is a collection of short stories. Kind of. It starts out as a series of short stories about two people, and various permutations of their relationship — sometimes platonic, sometimes romantic, sometimes toxic. Things then move into the bulk of the work, a longer narrative where reality seems to settle down a bit. Amidst all this, there are a lot of excellent puns, and an emphasis on what happens when things are rearranged.

I want to tell you all about the “what happens” of this novel, and how it fits in with the title, and the wordplay, but I’m not one to ruin endings, and I hate that some of the reviews out there reveal what was, for me, the most mind-tickling part of the narrative (so be careful if you seek out other reviews). I guess I’ll just vaguely say that your trust in this novel will be handsomely rewarded.

While I know some people criticize the choices Moore made with constructing this narrative, I see her moves in this novel as an opportunity to be interested — interested in how we construct our identity, which parts of our experiences we decide are “real” enough to form who we are, which we present to other people, and which we bury and disregard. How do we decide what constitutes my “I” that I hold with such force? Is it what happened to me? what I did? what I didn’t do? who I did not become? the thoughts that never saw the light of day?

Anagrams takes incredible risks that kept my mind buzzing for days after I finished. Between that and Moore’s incredible writing that had me laughing out loud (a rare experience for me when I read), I am so glad that Zoe recommended this to me, and that I finally read it. This novel is absolutely worth your time if you want to be challenged, pushed, amused, and surprised. Isn’t that why we read in the first place?

(As always, show your local bookstores some love. They need it right now. As this is a slightly older work, they may not have it on hand, but they can probably get if for you faster than Amazon. Soapbox relinquished.)

P.S. I’ve totally been knitting. In fact, I’ve finished two things since we talked last. However, we’re finally getting some season-appropriate weather in Northern California, which means few photo opportunities. I’m excited to show my latest accomplishments to you, and hope that can happen soon!

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I propose that you all embark with me on a mission: McCarthy March.

No, we’re not going to accuse everyone we know of being a dirty commie for the month of March.

Instead! I plan to read as many books by Cormac McCarthy in the month of March as I can. What do you all think? Fun? Crazy? A little of both?

This won’t include The Road, because I’ve already read it, and so has almost everyone else.

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bel-canto I just finished reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. What a thoroughly¬† enjoyable book. I’m a sucker for writing that pays attention to details, specifically details of material objects and the way we experience things; Bel Canto thoroughly satisfied that desire.

Patchett’s story starts with an extravagant party centered around a renowned opera singer and foreign dignitaries and businessmen. Terrorists crash the party and take the party guests hostage. Patchett uses the scenario to play out improbable connections and affections within the party guests, terrorists, and between the parties that began in opposition.

I experienced Bel Canto as a narrative of compassion — the characters and their boundaries soften as the plot unfolds, as time and identity pass away and the individual is allowed to step forward. Patchett moves flawlessly between characters’ voices — literally translating over languages, and using her opera singer’s voice as a unifying thread for all the characters. Bel Canto gives the reader an opportunity to consider what kinds of love might surface if we were lucky enough to be forced out of our comfort zones and confront ourselves and others as people joined by a desire to experience beauty, pleasure, comfort, and love.

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Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book won the Newbery today. Yay! Tonight is devoted to finally reading it.

Read Gaiman’s Coraline yesterday, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s geared towards early teens, but really, it’s an anybody and everybody book. Just creepy and surreal enough, well done, and an awesome girl protagonist. What’s not to love? I wanted to make sure I got to it before the movie came out, and I thoroughly loved it. Iexpect to be sending it off to a few younger readers I know.

Anyway, time to bury my nose in a book.

…do I need to remind you to get this from your local independent bookstore? I didn’t think so. I’ll also remind you, except not, that if you have no local independent bookstore, powells.com is a good choice.

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Read a Fucking Book

and get it from an independent bookstore while you’re at it.

My new favorite website.

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list

List made last night to remind me why I shouldn’t spend crazy amounts of time doing stupid stuff online. Granted, I don’t have TV, and a therapist I once had recommended a half hour of mindless TV everyday — apparently it gets your mind to unravel — and internets are the closest thing I have. BUT. Now that I’m working longer weeks, I don’t want to be spending my time doing stupid stuff online.

real-book

Happy book that will get read! Good old-fashioned books. Hooray.

And my favorite detail:

going-for-a-walk

I basically live in a giant redwood forest. It’s a sin to not walk in it regularly.

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My latest book obsession:

make-books
I love love love this book — and it makes me love books even more. I’ve tried a few “instant books” and I’m looking forward to serious book-making.

You can get it from Purgatory Pie Press: http://www.purgatorypiepress.com/
(Oh my god, want want want that date book!)
Or get it from your — you got it — local independent bookstore.

I like that this book emphasizes the importance of just being creative (much like Lynda Barry’s What It Is), and breaks down the line between art and knowledge production, as the best books are wont to do. The instructions are clear and make you really really want to sit down and just make books.

This is probably the last book I’ll finish reading before 2008 ends (you know, tomorrow), and I’m glad it’s such a good one. I’ve been sitting in bed at night reading it. Mmmmm coptic binding.

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Great Books 2008

Why, hello.

My one big resolution this year — beyond flossing, which always fails, but I figure one month of flossing before failing is better than nothing — was to read one book a week. I was doing really well for a long time, until summer rolled around. Between travel and moving, I fell a little behind. I’m on number 45 right now, give or take.

I’m tempted to feel like I failed at my goal. And then I think, “Wait. I read something like 45 books this year. That’s pretty impressive — especially when I’ve met many people who don’t remember the last book they read.” That’s the kind of resolution I like: a resolution where even failure means success.

So, here’s my list of books I read this year. Stars indicate ones I especially enjoyed. I intend over the next few days to go through the ones I really enjoyed, as a means of recommending them to all y’all. Some of these are standards I never had a chance to read. There are some books I started reading and never got very far in for various reasons — those are not on the list.

Without further ado, my books of 2008:

1. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
2. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
3. Fahrenheit 451*, Ray Bradbury
4. The Book Thief*, Marcus Zusak
5. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
6. Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
7. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
8. The Marvelous Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum
9. East of Eden***, John Steinbeck
10. The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
11. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
12. Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
13. Map of Ireland, Stephanie Grant
14. The Road*, Cormac McCarthy
15. Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
16. Maus I, Art Spiegelman
17. Maus II, Art Spiegelman
18.You Grow Girl, Gayla Trail
19. The Omnivore’s Dilemma*, Michael Pollan
20. Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks
21. In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
22. Persepolis I, Marjane Satrapi
23. Persepolis II, Marjane Satrapi
24. No one belongs here more than you, Miranda July
25. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
26. Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction*, ed. Sabrina Chapadjiev
27. Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck
28. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon
29. The Jew in the Lotus, Rodger Kamenetz
30. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
31. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
32. Animal Vegetable Miracle*, Barbara Kingsolver
33. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Helen Fielding
34. Knitting for Good, Betsy Greer
35. Super Natural Cooking*, Heidi Swanson
36. Time Traveler’s Wife*, Audrey Niffenegger
37. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close*, Jonathan Safran Foer
38. Flower Confidential, Amy Stewart
39. What It Is*, Lynda Barry
40. Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue
41. When the Past is Present* (right now), David Richo
42. Passionate Marriage* (right now), David Schnarch
43. Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris
44. Living Dead in Dallas (right now), Charlaine Harris
45. The Maytrees (right now), Annie Dillard

Don’t know how I ended up in four books right now. Oh right. I’ve been working on the two non-fiction for a while and the vampire one is too creepy to read at night. Anyway! Look them up. Also, if you do decide to purchase, please check out your local independent bookstore. Hooray!

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