Archive for July, 2009

This is the week I promised myself I’d read something other than old favourites. With my trusty Kindle collecting books the way black pants collect dog hairs, I’ve been sinking back into familiar loved classics and ignoring the new. So I put aside Jane Eyre to come up for, er, air. I bought two books and read them through. They keep blending together in my mind in interesting ways and so I’m writing about them in one peas-and-carrots post.

Even though I don’t care for non-fiction generally, I had to get Melissa Gilbert’s Prairie Tale. I grew up just enough younger than Gilbert that she was one of my role-models for how to become a teenager. Granted, in my sheltered life I preferred her Laura Ingalls example to her Rob Lowe-screwing example but whatever. She did teach me in a roundabout way that Good Girls don’t have to be ashamed of sex.

And loving fiction, large women and unashamed loud feminists there was no way I was passing up on Jen Weiner’s newest book. I feel a certain connection with her because she’s not only a writer and a fat girl but she’s a ZEVON FAN. After her first book came out we had a brief correspondence about the delicousness of Good In Bed and the extreme deliciousness of Zevon’s music, which was laced like a swirl of honey through that glorious beach read of a book. The current nontroversy about her book readings makes me love her all the more. (A Barnes & Noble asked her not to tell her “wall of cock” story at a 3:00pm reading near their children’s section.)

I expected to be disappointed by Gilbert’s book, in the way celebrity books disappoint and I was both right and wrong. Yes, this person I admired danced with drug and drink and had a hard life in many ways. It always makes me sad to see someone I love in the way we love celebrities hurting. But Gilbert’s book was delightful in the way she was frank about those things but also frankly grateful to have the good things in her life. It wasn’t the self-absorbed pity party I was afraid it would be and was instead a chance to sort-of hang out with someone I’ve always liked from afar. We’ll never be girlfriends but after reading her book I wouldn’t turn my nose up at the prospect.

But Jen Weiner’s book? That book kind of broke my heart a little bit. In this week where I’ve argued with everyone from Freddie O’Connell to my own husband about fat and fat-shaming, to have a pro-fat author who zoomed to fame with pro-fat fiction turn in such a fatshaming performance just made me rethink things a little bit. The heroine in this book is a fatty two by four of the Oprah mold. She’s fat because she sneaks food, gorges on food and loves food while hating herself. It’s the cartoon version of fat women we get from Lifetime movies and Weight Watchers success stories. The deux ex machina through which the heroine becomes Thin! and Finally Lovable! is at least a nod toward the fantastical. Financially secure and in a non-traditional job she is able to devote all her efforts to weight loss, drugging herself with sleeping pills to avoid nighttime binging. I was surprised to see such a sad work from someone I respect so much.

And now after all that new I’m going to sink into a stupor with Susan Isaacs’ Shining Through (which is 200000 times better than the estupido movie with Melanie Griffith.)

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Im in the midst of one of those weeks which are so bad you pray for sleep if only to go to a world that doesn’t have this one in it. Oddly, while I’ve had nightmares galore I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream wherein I’ve had arthritis pain. Sorry. Off topic. The topic today is “books”.

Specifically, how we integrate commercial books into our lives in the post-newspaper age. Say wha? That sounds a bit heavy and college-lecturey for this blog. What is she talking about? Well, me is just talking about how it is now almost impossible to find a book you want to buy using the process of book reviews. I’ve spoken on this before, because I was stunned to hear the book reviewer for the Scene say, almost 5 years ago, that it was considered bad form to give bad reviews to books because the book market was in so much trouble.

So clearly those reviewers–the ones in newspapers–were through with being customer advocates and had started to be publisher/writer advocates.

The new day was supposed to come with the customer reviews at Amazon.com, B&N.com and other wilds of the Internet. You were supposed to be able to look up a book and see what Real People thought of it. In that way you could know if the book was worth your cash and, more importantly, your time. Good idea–until Harriet Klausner. Amazon ranked their reviewers and she was #1, all for reviews that gave every book a top or near-top ranking and a modified jacket blurb. She started to get attention, with writeups in papers and magazines, and characters named for her in novels. The Everyman Reader became an ersatz celebrity and all the honesty in Amazon reviews was out the window. The first review for the book I’m panning went on and on about how the reviewer in question loved to write reviews for this author and her last review of the author’s last book actually got featured on the cover of this book! Look for it! Her name is Fannie McSlavering and she LOVES….etc. Totally unbiased review to follow, of course…

Why am I going into all this right now? Because I spent $9.99 on a book for my Kindle that had bundles of 4- and 5-star reviews but turned out to be the most excruciating waste of my time I’ve ever experienced. Since I’ve read it I don’t feel I can ask for my money back, and since it’s electronic I don’t feel I can get the visceral thrill of letting someone else read my copy and thereby not further line the pockets of the author and publisher. And I want to tell everyone what the book is and why I didn’t like it. But having read numerous websites for numerous authors I’m now more than ever aware of how much they (authors) track what is said about them. As someone who is writing a book she knows is good enough to be published if it is ever finished, I’m also conscious of not wanting to slam a possible co-worker of sorts. I’m guilty of the very thing I’m complaining about.

I’ve got a few options in mind. I could start an anonymous book-review blog, where honest readers could submit honest thoughts under cover. I could just tell the truth on this blog. Or I could just anonymously review things on Amazon. Stay tuned…


The book in question is by an author whose name is Ellyn Hill Dur Brand (but spelled differently.) The book’s title is Those Who Were Cast Away (kind of.) And the book was an excruciating exercise of 8 selfish people acting selfishly for tons of pages until the “mystery” end which felt thrown together and vomited back up during a brief pause in the selfishness. Stay away.

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My husband and I went to a party a few days ago, hosted by people who were friends of his and whom I was meeting for the first time. The party was the end result of two women cooking for 48 hours straight. There were tables laden with food, bottles of wine and a big tub of ice chilling beers, water and my Orange Crush. Both of the hosts were artists and the home was straight out of any one of a dozen decorating magazines, with fragile wall hangings, expensive lamps on pricey tables. The invitation said dogs were welcome but there wasn’t much for kids to do so it was best to leave them at home.

That was a polite, Southern way of saying “NO KIDS”.

Of course that didn’t stop one couple from bringing their baby. Two other attendees had also given birth within the last three months, and brought their babies in spirit if not in flesh.

Now I know I take a lot of flak for being Childfree in this world that worships children. I get that, because being grumpy about most people’s prized possession/chief accomplishment/reason for being alive is not a way to win friends. So I put up with loud babies banging on the tables in restaurants. I put up with children at buffets mixing lettuce and pudding while they inexpertly try to serve themselves in spite of signs everywhere saying they need to be accompanied by an adult.

But when you’ve been invited to a party at a private home AND told to not bring your child…bringing your child is perhaps the rudest possible thing you could do. Even ruder than dropping your pants and crapping in the middle of the table. Especially if your baby cries uncontrollably. And craps ITS pants at the table. And disrupts the conversations of a dozen harried adults trying to unwind after an uberstressfull week.

I was talking with the hostess off to the side, both of us having to repeat ourselves occasionally when our words were drowned out by infant screams. She confessed to desperately wanting even ONE child, but understanding that so far it hadn’t been God’s plan for her life.

Bringing that baby into an infertile woman’s home was like twisting salt-encrusted shards of glass into an infected wound. It was beyond inconsiderate and well into cruel. I was infertile for years before converting to Childfree and the pain of it all was exquisite. Babies and children are everywhere, and often your home is the only oasis you have to get away from the needles of reminder.

I get that babies make you lose sleep. I get that they change your focus. But they shouldn’t rob you of your ability to understand someone else’s pain. Or the English language. No kids means no kids.

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This is kind of a great time to be alive if you’re a voracious reader. I count myself among those with that affliction, so I’m feeling very blessed these days. Amazon has dropped the price of its Kindle to $299. They’ve got egg on their face from last week’s triumph at the gates of the reader over the distributor and right now readers–who are more and more savvy about e-readers every day–are king.

Last Saturday the husband and I journeyed to Barnes & Noble Cool Springs. It was a favourite date spot for us just a few months ago, where our discretionary income got left behind in spilling, swelling chunks in exchange for books about anything and everything. Except Vampires In Love.* Ever since getting my Kindle on April Fool’s Day, I’ve made a fool of the paper book industry. Oh, I’ve purchased 500% more books in the last three months, so publishing-in-general should be in love with me. But since those books have been 89% via the Kindle I can see how places like B&N are mourning my departure.

On Saturday they were pushing their two iPhone apps. Six foot signs in the windows and a banner unfurled over the registers announced that you can get an app to shop-ship from B&N from your phone. You could also get an app to compete with the Kindle on your iPhone. If you downloaded THAT one, you qualify for a free coffee from Starbucks. B&N wants that e-reader market so badly they can taste it. I can’t blame them. Until three months ago I was among their better customers. Now I drive by the place on my way to Costco. I saw the sign and toyed with getting the app, so much so that I was planning on going to the App Store for it once my fingers worked.

Too bad today was the day they sent me the email.

“Download the FREE e-reader” it exclaimed “and receive six FREE books on us!” Now of course I was interested. But the small print did me in, lathered me up and sat me down to write my rant. The six free books are indeed just that. Six books which are free to anyone with any type of computer access. (Last of the Mohicans, Little Women, Dracula and three other things I can’t remember.) They’re all public domain titles and available free from Amazon, Feedbooks, MobiBooks and no doubt elsewhere via Google. Saying those books are “on us” implies that B&N is taking some sort of direct-cost hit to get readers to buy into their version of electronic reading. It’s a lie. A manipulative outright lie that cost them this particular e-reading customer. For awhile at least.

I’ll be honest. I’ll probably download and use their ereader someday. Sooner if they figure out how to market it to savvy ereaders, ireaders and readers alike. I’d love to see the free market drive the costs of ebooks back down a bit, seeing as the publishers appear to be getting a wee greedy over on the Kindle Store. The B&N app could be the first step to changing that. But I don’t want to start another retailer relationship based on dishonesty. Especially after last week and the Orwell Fiasco.

*(I’m so beyond overly tired of that stupid genre twist. Normally I don’t mind what genres I’m not into get up to, but since every face-foward display seems to be given over to these books I resent it. I can’t find anything I’m interested in reading because Love At First Suck has taken over in the bricks and mortar world.)

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A few years ago we had some black folk move in right next door. They smell awful, never clean up after themselves and break into my backyard to steal stuff. Back in April I had some friends over for a party and one of them scared my outside-smoking friend half to death. Just the sight of his black self skulking around the cars in the street made her panic and run screaming back into the house.

I’ve never really minded this family, because they don’t hurt me and I don’t hurt them. As long as we keep to our own lives, I’m fine. I don’t have a daughter for them to marry so there’s no danger there. Although one of them did flirt with my son awhile back. My other son screamed at him incessently. After that dustup we haven’t had much confrontation.

My husband, who keeps an eye on the situation, said that he thought they moved out shortly after the April incident. 149-00001xyy True enough we hadn’t seen them for a long while, and there was a moving truck on our street. But last night the unavoidable truth hit us hard. They’re still here. And they’re kicking up as big a ruckus as they ever have.

I try not to mind, but it is difficult when they keep creating a huge stink right next to my office workspace.

Still and all, I think they’re cute as the dickens and wouldn’t mind if one moved right into the house with me.

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So I woke up this morning from the oddest dream. It was almost like being in the middle of a thrilling novel. Except in this thrilling novel I, along with a handful of other people was flown to an island country under false pretense.

They told me I was chosen as the writer for this nebulous undertaking, based on something I wrote that they had found in my computer at work. A creepy lady quoted back the entire passage to me, and I at once recognized it as my work and also marvelled at her for memorizing the whole thing. She explained that they’d been reading and discussing it for weeks.

There were men there that I’d worked with before. I wasn’t sure of their purpose but they were having fun watching some sport. While they were distracted I nosed around and discovered that we’d all been reported ‘dead’ back in America. That’s when the fleeing started.

I can never read or write in dreams. Ok the few occasions where I have read or written something it has turned out to have some significance. (one time I read a bizarre series of numbers which turned out later to be an income tax amount due.)

In this particular dream I wrote the name of the man in charge of bringing us there on a paper towel with a black Sharpie. So there must be something important about the name ‘Raymond Stuckey’.

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I’m reading through the Dingell, et. al. Health Care reform bill (House 111) because I feel that someone ought to.

Many things are standing out to me, but the part that is ringing through my brain and setting my ire alight right now is found in Subtitle C, Section 1233. Advance Care Planning Consultation (p.425 of PDF)

I would encourage every single one of you to download the PDF and wade through the legalese yourself. Because I don’t want this to be just one long game of telephone where someone says they heard something somewhere and there is nothing to back up their claim. I assure you I’ve read through the legalese three times now and am beyond appalled.

Summing it up as succintly as possible, the ACPC is a mandatory counseling session, required every 5 years for anyone receiving Medicare. This counselling session is for state-sponsored personnel to meet with the elderly and/or infirm. In these meetings they are to discuss living wills, powers of attorney, health care proxies and “the formation of an order regarding life-sustaining treatment.”

That sounds positive, right? “the formation of an order regarding life-sustaining treatment….”

You do understand what that means, yes? In case you don’t, let me clear it up for you.

The government is making sure that everyone who is really old or really sick understands that they would be better off to sign a Do Not Recuscitate order, thus saving the state piles and piles of money that would be wasted keeping their useless body alive.

They’ll advise you of all of your options, “from an indication for full treat-ment to an indication to limit some or all or specified interventions.”

I’ve seen my friends who are pro-choice be up in arms for years against counselling requirements for pregnant women. They seem to believe, among other things (and correct me, folks, if I’ve got it in any way wrong) that those counselling sessions are designed to advance one point of view–that of keeping the baby–and downplaying the other–having an abortion. Every one I’ve ever known to support such a counselling requirement has favoured it for much the same reason. It’s designed to force a desired behaviour. The force may be gentle, but it is a push in one direction.

This counselling session is no different. It’s how we tell our mothers that they should just opt to starve to death when they have a stroke because it saves “their kids” (i.e. the government of we the people) money. It’s how we tell our fathers that if they have multiple heart attacks they should just hang it up and not waste the state’s money on feeding tubes. It’s how we tell parents with seriously ill children that prolonging the life of their child with expensive chemo is too expensive and probably a dumb idea anyway.

It’s eugenics. It’s a society that values money above humanity. And it’s poised to become law, just in time for people my age to watch their parents turned into Soylent Green.

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Last Friday the Tennessean posted an unsigned editorial excoriating the overweight. I refuse to link to the piece, but others have, so if you’d like to read it, feel free to follow the rabbit trail. The shortened version is that people are whining about how bad health care is, but a lot of their problem is caused by themselves because they are lazy and won’t exercise or stop pigging out.

And this right here is why Universal Health Care makes me break out in chills.

Civility exists in only the thinnest of veneers to begin with. Once people who are already stressed and oppressed by their bills and the lack of money to pay those bills start looking for someone to blame for their situation, that veneer vanishes entirely. It’s happened countless times throughout history. When Rome burned, the government looked for someone to blame and a new religion followed by slaves and foreigners seemed as good a target as any. Christians ended up as snack food for lions. Those who didn’t flee from their homes or die in the arena languished in prisons where they were tortured and starved. When Mary, Queen of Scots Tudor reigned over England she blamed her father’s Protestant religion for her parents’ divorce, her mother’s death and the general ill health of England’s economy. Protestants died by the thousands–until she died and her very Protestant half sister Elizabeth took over. During Elizabeth’s day in the sun it was the Catholic folk who hid or died.

There are many other examples throughout history–some overused, some underused–which show how a certain group has been made to blame and subsequently forced to pay for everyone’s problems.

That article in the Tennessean is not unlike the comments I’ve seen all over the internet, on TV talk shows and even dressed up in special reports on news programs. The Overweight are costing society bunches of money. They are only overweight because they can’t control themselves. They eat too much, exercise too little and suffer myriad health problems. In these before times, arguing over federalising health care, the discussions range from patronising to mean-spirited. The costs to others “because of lazy fat bastards” is hard to quantify in arguments padded with anecdata.

But I cannot see how a country where open hatred of the obese is already thriving plans to have Universal Health Care without creating a permanent outgroup of scapegoated overweight folks. I cannot see how the overweight will be allowed the same status of health care when everyone is paying for it. I can hear the arguments now–“Why should I, a healthy thin person, be forced to pay for that lazy fat lardbubble’s diabetes medicine?”

It already isn’t pretty out here for us fat folk, and I can only fear how much more ugly it will be when the rest of the world blames us for their financial woes.

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Yesterday Rachel said she was waiting for my post on this issue. When she said that, I had no idea what she was talking about. She reminded me, and then Rex Hammock Twittered about it and now Aunt B. has written about it as well.

It’s a story where I turn out to be one of the bad guys. Who is really, when you think about it, one of the good guys.

I have a Kindle 2, and have had since early April. As a young woman disabled by arthritis it is my lifeline, facilitating my love of books while making allowances for my crippled hands. Like Erasmus (or whoever it is that’s always on those book totes you buy from B&N), I’ve often gone without food in these last few months, having spent too much money on books in the Kindle store. It’s so darned easy, when you can just turn the thing on, hit ‘buy’ and start reading. Most of the books are cheaper than in a store. Some of them are so much cheaper it made me start to wonder.

Why can you get a copy of Animal Farm on Kindle for $1.25 when in the store its $9? Being a former licensing manager and a current author I can understand a book being a few dollars cheaper–they’re saving on the paper and the shipping costs, but not on paying the author and agent for the content. But a large savings like that made me wonder.

Enter “Mobile Reference Books“, one of the most popular e-book sites on the web. They’ve been converting things for ebooks before ebooks were popular. Like the Guttenberg Project, Mobile Reference is a place where kind souls have undertaken the mission to convert Public Domain Classics into electronic text, enabling the differently-abled and techgeek alike to have things like Plato’s Republic at their fingertips. Many Mobile Reference books (or MobiBooks, as we ebook geeks call them) are free. But occasionally an enterprising fellow will ask a buck or two for his trouble. Like this gentleman, who wants a mere ninety-nine cents recompense for his trouble of converting all of L.FrankBaum’s Oz works. In a tech world accustomed to shareware, it’s no big deal for us to toss the coder a buck for his skills.

And there are a lot of college students who are getting Kindles, because the cost of the Kindle evaporates when you factor in the savings on textbooks and must-have-for-survey-courses fiction.

Enter the University Swashbuckler. This guy, in a former life, sold old term-papers. Every college and university has at least one of these ersatz Reds. They’re the guys in that institution who can get it for you. For a price, of course. And now that any fellow can code a book, upload it to Mobile Reference and ask a buck or two for his trouble, there is new fertile ground for cash. A lot of books out there, like Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 seem like they should be in the Public Domain. They’re really old. The guy who wrote them is dead. You have to read them for a class with other books that ARE in the public domain. So people didn’t quaver about getting them off Mobi and paying the buck or two that the literary pirate was asking.

I check every book I get from Mobi against the public domain. If it isn’t PD, I don’t get it. Not for free and not for a buck or two. And when the Orwell books, which I thought about buying, didn’t check out I didn’t buy them. I might have even dropped a line to Mobile Reference saying “hey, by the way….” And I’m sure others did, too. Because a lot of us love books and love the rules whereby those who write books can sometimes make a living doing so.

I was bothered last night to see the spin turn into “Amazon is Stealing Our Books”. Because Amazon wasn’t stealing anyone’s book. Those people were attempting to steal–perhaps unknowingly, but stealing nonetheless–Orwell’s books.

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Does this ever happen to anyone else? And does anyone else just hate Facebook because of it? There are people–none of whom would ever read this blog, I imagine, who are relics of my past. A past in which I did embarrassing things or behaved in a way that I’d just as soon forget about.

And they’re on Facebook and I see them from time to time because they’re friends of friends. And I just wish I could go back to pretending that they didn’t exist or existed on a planet separate from mine. Because they are like these mirrors reflecting my worst self.

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