Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 134

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Things on Cowboy’s Head: Orange flowers.

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day six years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal – Amy Krause Rosenthal (2016)

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Having read and totally enjoyed (nay, adored) Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s early book title, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life , I knew that the odds were that her new pub was also going to be of the same vein: experimental, drily funny, and wonderful – and so it was.

Goodreads describes it thus: “a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human”, and I would argue that it’s that and a lot more. It’s really truly one of my favorite books so far this year. (Admittedly, the year is still young, but still….)

If you’ve read any of Krouse Rosenthal’s work, you’ll know that she is an artist who is comfortable pushing the edges of literature and the idea of books. Her work is not difficult to read, but there’s little linearity and very little of the traditional format that a reader would expect in a more traditional publication. And it’s this experimentation and playing with the format that makes Krouse Rosenthal’s work so much to read (at least it is for me). I really admire Krouse Rosenthal, and I just know that if we knew each other, we’d be close friends (in a completely non-weird non-freaky manner).

(Maybe I’ll call Krouse Rosenthal “AKR” in future paragraphs. It’s shorter. Besides, we’re friends…)

One of the first things that I noticed when I picked up this title is that it’s a very interactive experience. AKR encourages readers to text (as in phone text) her number and join in the reading experience that way, so it’s not just you sitting down and reading a book. It’s you reading a book, joining hundreds of other people at the same time in a social experience that is happening real-time. (It sounds like a pain, but it’s not at all as you can see if you visit her accompanying website right here.

The title, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, refers to a number of different things (which you’ll learn about if you read this), but it’s structured in a similar manner as a timetable in middle school with chapter headings titled “Social Sciences”, “History”, “Music” etc., just as a middle school student would face during his or her typical day. Under each chapter heading are pages and topics that relate to that theme in some way. For example, under “Music”, one comment is “You don’t see very many chubby orchestra conductors.” (It’s much much better than that example portrays. I promise.)

There is loads of white space, but it’s more of a space to breathe than negative space. The paragraphs can be short and interestingly formatted, and it’s not chronological at all as subjects are grouped by topic rather than a strict timeline. It’s as though you are inside AKR’s head as she remembers things – very similar to perhaps you (and certainly I) remember things. Just jumping around from one thing to the next with perhaps only a tenuous connection (if anything at all) between each separate thought.

I’m not at all certain that I’m doing this work justice, but if there is only one thing that you extract from this paltry review, it’s that you should go ahead and read it. Honestly. It’s that good.

Great Speeches by African-Americans – edited by James Daley (2006)

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It’s African-American History Month here in the U.S., and although the month is almost half over now and I’ve been tardy, I have been making an effort to read some work by POC (specifically people of African descent). As part of that, I happened to drop by one of the library branches (I know, shocking, right?), and they had a display of interesting looking titles that were themed with this. As I am a sucker for library displays, I picked a couple of titles, one of which happened to be a slim Dover Thrift edition of a collection of speeches by African-Americans over the years.

Obviously, being an edited collection means that someone will choose and miss pieces, but I thought that this book had such a good selection – at least to a neophyte such as me. There were a variety of speeches, long and short, from both male and female speechmakers (more men since historically men were more likely to be in such a position), and this was so interesting for me.

I have a smattering of African-American history having immersed myself in it on and off over the past few years, and it was so interesting to read some of the words that reflected (and in some cases changed) the course of history in the U.S. for people of color.

As historical background, here are the large markers that illustrate the hideous history of slavery in the U.S. and the U.K.:

Brief run-down on the early history of U.S. history:

  • 1542 – Spain enacts first European law abolishing slavery
  • 1807 – UK Slave Trade Act makes slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire/colonies. (You could still own slaves – just not sell them.)
  • 1833 – UK Slavery Abolition Act – abolition of all slavery within the British Empire/colonies
  • 1863 – US Emancipation Proclamation (which meant slaves were now free in the Southern/Confederate States)
  • 1865 – US 13th Amendment ended slavery in all the states of the US

There was quite a list of speeches in this title, and so thought I’d spotlight a few of my favorites for you:

  • Ain’t I a Woman? by Sojourner Truth (1851).  A short but powerful speech delivered at the 1851 Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, its brevity adds to its power and this is a fire-cracker speech not to be missed. Seriously.
  • What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July? – Frederick Douglass (1852)  Given on July 05, 1852, this is an inspiring speech given by freedman Frederick Douglass to show the hypocrisy evident when Americans were celebrating Independence Day from England, and yet a large percentage of their population were still not free. It’s powerful, it’s long, and I would have loved to have heard this speech in real life. I’m not sure how many people would have stuck it out to the end – brevity is not in this work – but it’s a powerful indictment of the hypocrisy of the time. Frederick Douglass has an amazing story and I reviewed his diary earlier a few years back. See here for the link. )
  • Black Woman in Contemporary America – Shirley Chisholm (1974). Chisholm was the first AfAm woman elected to the U.S. Congress and in 1972, she was the first black woman to seek a major party nomination for the U.S. Presidency. (How brave is that??) She served in Congress until 1982, and gave this speech in 1974 at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.
  • The Ballot or the Bullet – Malcolm X (1964). Like Malcolm X or not, he was a pivotal influencer on the civil rights movement in the U.S., and in this speech, he argues that if America can send black men overseas to fight in the Korean War, surely that gives AfAm people the right to stand up for themselves and each other. It’s a fiery speech, no doubt about it, and his passion shines through. Interestingly (and frustratingly), many of the same issues that Malcolm raises are still social justice issues of today. Have a looksee.

This was not an easy read – quite a few of the speeches are really dense and last for more than a few pages – but they are worth reading to see their speech-writing skills and the passion that each presenter demonstrates. A really good read about an important battle that continues, I’m sad to say, to this day in some parts of the country.

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Shirley Chisholm in 1972.

Well, well, well…

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I must apologize for that unintended and longer-than-hoped-for absence.

The flu has now flown, but it seems to be hitting a lot of people all over the country, so hopefully you’re not one of those afflicted. Just remember – wash your hands. And then wash them again. 🙂

Work got a bit haywire for a few days, but I think that things have calmed down enough where I can get a few blog posts written up and completed. I’ve been reading (admittedly not in huge quantities), and so I’ll have some posts coming up.

The weather here in Texas is odd. It’s always odd when it’s in the Spring months, starting off in the morning rather cold (for around here) and then ending up usually rather warm by the end of the day. I call the Spring fashion “ski jackets and shorts” season, bc you’ll probably be using both of them by the end of the day!

For example, we had 90’s at the end of last week. (That’s really high even for here so early in the year). And then today is a high of 38 degrees or so with possible snow tonight and tomorrow. See? – ski jackets and shorts! 🙂

The last few weeks have been off in that I have just been milling around doing not much of anything, productively speaking. (Or not productively speaking, which would be more accurate.) I think I was having a block of some kind, but things seem to be moving along more smoothly now, thank goodness.

It’s African-American History Month in the U.S., a month that I usually mark with gusto and with themed reading, but my eye has been bothering me more than usual and so I’ve not been reading quite so much as would typically be the case.

However, the book that I have been reading is a selection of Great Speeches by African-Americans (edited by James Daley and in a Dover Thrift edition). It’s been fascinating, but slow going as the material can be very dense at times. (Those nineteenth century speakers were not very brief…) But it has been very interesting, and I’ve been enjoying it tremendously. Now that I’m a little more familiar with some of the main players of the time, the speakers mean more to me and I can place their perspectives in the historical moments of the time.

More to come on that, I’m sure.

I’m also deep in Hardy country with Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and then, to balance things out with a more modern read, I picked up Amy Krause Rosenthal’s latest book offering which was excellent. (Again, more deets to come, but suffice to say, I loved it.)

So I’m back. Thank you for your patience. What’s been going in your world?

Words New to Me…

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It’s been a while since we’ve had a “Words New to Me…” post, but I’m reading Thomas Hardy and his vocabulary is enormous!! Here are some words new to me lately…

  • Madder – red color (in this case, related to stains from plants)
  • Apple-blooth – not sure. Linked with apple blossom perhaps as a lot of refs are to nature…?
  • Logy – dull, sluggish
  • Uz – reference to one of biblical Abraham’s sons (?)
  • Niaiserie – silly or foolish talk or behavior
  • Rozums – not sure, but was in reference to an intelligent person… Any ideas?
  • Pummy (something has been “churned into a pummy”) – dialect word for “pomace” which refers to solid remains of grapes and other fruit after pressing for juice or oil
  • Paltered – to act in an insincere way or to lie
  • Thermidorean – ref. to a coup d’état within the French Revolution against its leaders (late 1700’s). Uncertain how this connects to text though…
  • Ethiopic – refers to ancient language of Ethiopa
  • Antionomianism – one who rejects society-established morality in favor of biblical ideas
  • dapes inemptae – (Latin) homegrown produce or unbought feast

(From Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – 1891.)

 

The Tortilla Curtain – T. C. Boyle (1995)

book377A reread from a few years back, this was actually just as good a read (if not better) the second time around. Boyle is an American writer who takes contemporary news issues (in this case, the issue of immigration) and then writes a narrative around that issue, usually raising a dilemma where there is no clear right and wrong. His plot lines are also unpredictable so I can never really guess the endings and that I love. That, combined with excellent writing skills and a large vocabulary, make Boyle a joy to read most of the time, so if you haven’t picked up one of his many novels or short stories, I highly recommend them. They’re almost a guaranteed good read.

This novel, The Tortilla Curtain, tells the story of two couples whose lives accidentally overlap with each other leading to a long chain of events which completely disrupt their lives. A young liberal California couple live in a mostly white community up in the hills just outside LA. Their lives are mostly smoothly run without any major hiccups until one day, the husband is driving his car and accidentally smashes into a Mexican immigrant who is here (along with his wife) as an undocumented citizen and who has no choice but to live in a rudimentary campsite down in the canyon that butts up against the backyard of the white couple. Such a collision leads to serious ramifications for both families, but Boyle writes the story in such a way that there is no obvious right or wrong. No one really does anything morally wrong, and both the couples just want similar goals: to live in a nice home and go to work.

It’s an intriguing premise that compares the Haves and the Have-Nots in today’s world. Through no fault of their own, the Mexican undocumented couple are striving for the same things that the privileged white couple are looking for, but when you are at rock bottom with few resources, how can you ever get out of your circumstances (especially if you can only live in the shadows)?

I could say more, but to tell you would be to ruin the plot and I don’t want to do that for you. Just know that this contemporary novel is a riveting read wherever you may stand on the touchy issue of immigration. It’s especially poignant when you realize how closely the two couples live, geographically speaking, and yet they are in worlds far away from each other. Boyle’s characters represent both sides of the immigration issue, and they are both written with equal parts compassion and criticism, both complicated with no clear solutions. It’s a fascinating read, especially in the light of the political chatter of building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. (ridiculous).

By showing the reader the rationale behind the actions of the characters, you can see the slippery slope that people may be on with regard to how they feel about things, especially when events are not theoretical but happen in your own backyard. Does that change how you view things?

An excellent read from T. C. Boyle and highly recommended.

General Catch-Up…

catch_upEvery now and then, I like to do a general round-up post about what’s going on in my life. It’s a nice break to write about something else other than books and reading, and it helps me keep my life on track when I can see it as an overview. So – this post is one of those posts.

The weekend was so RAINY. I know, rain may be more common in your part of the world, but I happen to live in a semi-arid environment (almost a desert/scrub-land sort of world), and so rain does not come often. It tends to be rainy in May, but apart from that month, there’s not much precipitation coming from the sky.

So, guess what? It rained for almost a full two days over the weekend. It must have been a couple of inches, and it was pretty steady throughout, with occasional minutes of heavier rain. Normally, I love and adore rain, but since we have brought Nova (a young German Shepherd) home, we’ve learned that she is one of the biggest fans of rain and mud in the entire canine world. If there’s mud or filthy water or puddles, you can almost double-dog* guarantee that she will be in with all four paws for most of the time. I’m all for having a good time, but Nova? You need to wipe your paws when you come in the house. Muddy footprints *everywhere* and on our clothes from when she jumps up to say hi, and so the house has been FILTHY. Sigh.

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This isn’t Nova, but it well could be.

This rainy weather also meant that there were some good reading moments at my usual hangouts, and this was great. Got to get some reading and writing done (no ‘rithmatic though :-)), and I found this to be really satisfying. The past weekend had been spent completely re-organizing my bathroom cabinets and some of my bedroom drawers which has meant that some of this weekend was spent walking around admiring my now really tidy storage. (Am I the only person who does this?) The reorganization was one of the more satisfying ways to spend my time, and I managed to get rid of two shopping bags of bathroom junk which has freed up a ton of space now. Aaaah. Bliss to open the cabinets and see lots of empty space and what has remained now corralled in storage containers…

(One thing I’ve learned about organizing is that those canvas over-the-door shoe hangers are magnificent for storing bits and pieces apart from shoes.)

Reading has been happening as well. I finished Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain the other day. Incredible read and highly recommend any of Boyle’s work. (He is one of the more prolific writers so quality can vary, but most of his stuff is great.) That’s led to me prowling the TBR shelves (as you do) to find my next read which ended up being Mary Norris’ wonderful memoir/grammatical manifesto called From Me to You. Norris has worked at The New Yorker for years and is known as the Comma Queen (gotta love that title), and this is a fun read to experience. It’s good to hang with your own tribe every now and then.

Then I’ve been missing reading a classic of some kind, so I’ve picked up Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Love it completely, but Hardy is so good anyway.

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Watching: We’re riveted to the new Masterpiece show about Queen Victoria, and now I’m curious just how accurate the narrative is. (Cue reading Victorian biography I have sitting in my shelves…  In a minute…)

Saw a French movie called Elle which took some awards at the recent Golden Globes. (My recommendation is that you don’t pay money and time to see this film. So much violence against women that didn’t contribute to the forward movement of the plot…) One movie that more than makes up for that yucky experience is Hidden Figures which spotlights the contributions that a small group of African-American female mathematicians made to NASA’s early space flight program. (Really good film.)

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And then we’re in the process of researching new furniture for the living room and now narrowing down the choices to “really comfortable” combined with “not bad looking”… It’s not as easy as it sounds, let me tell you, but I think we have it narrowed down to a manageable number of pieces. The next step is to measure… We’re looking for a settee/couch set-up which sort of “hugs” you when you sit in it (as opposed to “bouncing you out” when you first sit down). It’s a lot of sitting down in furniture shops right now, but as I mentioned, we’re getting there. Hopefully something by the end of the month, which means that we’ll also need to sell the current furniture to make room for the new purchase!….

Know anyone? 🙂

  • See what I did there?…