Can it really be that I haven’t written anything worth sharing since December?  This is actually a good sign because it means I am not lonely enough to sit in front of the computer for hours and think and write.

There are new blogs on the way.  Tomorrow I begin farming again and I have somet stuff to say about that.  I’ve had a lot on my mind lately and I hope to find the time to get it all down while it’s fresh.

First I want to apologize for my sloppy writing lately.  I don’t get to have very many real conversations, and my brain feels sort of cloudy.  Possibly this is due to hypothyroidism, which I will be tested for the moment I have health insurance again.  For now I’m doing a lot of stream of consciousness stuff and peppering my blogs with phrases that are verging on cliche, because I feel like my personal thesaurus is stored in a part of my brain that is currently deteriorating.  In short, I get dumber every day.

On to my list.  I guarantee it will be better than America’s Favorite Books.  I’m not going to offer any real critique or anything, just introduce you to some amazing novels and revisit some I’m sure you’re familiar with.

  1. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal  Christopher Moore
  2. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again  J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn  Betty Smith
  4. The Things They Carried  Tim O’Brien
  5. The Red Tent Anita Diamant
  6. Chronicles of Tao: The Secret Life of a Taoist Master  Ming-dao Deng
  7. The Giver Lois Lowry
  8. Dandelion Wine Ray Bradbury
  9. The Best Short Stories of O. Henry O. Henry
  10. Roughing It Mark Twain

Aside from Lamb, they are in no particular order.  Maybe some of them are favorites only because I read them at the right moment, when I could relate to a character or a situation.  Most of these novels left me wanting more, or at the very least wanting to read them over again right away.  I haven’t read most of them for quite a few years but whatever it was I gained from the experience has stayed with me.

I’m the first to admit that on the surface they aren’t all the most deep or intellectual works but your life will be enhanced by reading them.  Books are the closest thing I have to drugs, the only effective way I know of escaping reality for an extended period.   I read for pleasure to the fullest extent of the word, but unfortunately for you I am leaving all erotica off the list.  I like a good story, lots of dialogue, and to not have to think too hard.  It’s a plus if I actually have to look up some words. 

I know most of my friends are familiar with Lamb.  My copy is well-worn and has been borrowed by many.  This is without a doubt the funniest thing I have ever read.  The story of Christ’s childhood and teenage years from the point of view of his smartass best friend.  I’ve read it four times so far and I’m sure there will be many more- it’s my literary substitute for watching The Holy Grail.  People claim Christopher Moore is a genius- all I know is he makes me laugh.  He also has a Myspace and blogs occasionally.  It’s clear he didn’t have to try too hard to become Biff and make snarky remarks to and about Joshua.

The Hobbit was the first book that I remember calling a favorite.  I’m not sure when I first read it, but I know I got it for Christmas in elementary school and was really sad when it was finished.  As far as I know my mom bought it for me not because she had read it, but because everyone else had.  Probably the most common introduction to the fantasy genre.  As a teenager I learned of the Lord of the Rings, but I was unsatisfied by the extensive descriptions of epic battles.

If you haven’t read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, you’re not an American woman.  One of those “coming-of-age” stories, it takes you from Francie Nolan’s childhood to just before her wedding.  I related to Francie at the time because she was a reader, Irish, and her dad drank.  Her slutty aunt was my favorite character, and I thought the idea of her mom and dad working together as school janitors was sort of romantic.  Two decades later, both of my parents have been school janitors.  My aunts aren’t promiscuous, though.  Read this one as a substitute for Gone with the Wind– it’s kind of lengthy.

The Things They Carried is considered a work of fiction.  It’s stories told by a platoon of soldiers on active duty in Vietnam.  My Contemporary American Lit teacher assigned it to us my junior or senior year, but I had read it in eight grade.  In class, we discussed whether the book was a product of O’Brien’s imagination and loosely based on his own war experiences, or real stories disguised as fiction.  To me, it was an introduction to the reality of war, the first narrative of a soldier I had been exposed to.

Jo lent me The Red Tent, and I always like the books she recommends and this was one of her favorites, too.  The story follows a woman’s life starting before she was conceived.  The woman, Dinah, happens to be the sister of Joseph- you know, the guy with the coat of many colors.  I had never considered the Bible beyond the ridiculous idea of God creating all the animals at once, but this book definitely sparked an interest in the other stories.  The idea of all the tribal women menstruating at the same time each  in accordance with the phases of the moon, and spending those days together lounging and snacking in a tent, put a new spin on what so many women consider a curse.  I can definitely say I love this book because it acknowledges the fact that women bleed and doesn’t treat it as an affliction.

Chronicles of Tao was suggested by a friend who read about spirituality a lot more than he practiced it.  Please skip The Tao of Pooh and set some real time aside for this one.  The stories are amazing and possibly true, if you believe in those sort of mystical experiences.  This one even managed to get me a little interested in martial arts.  I actually highlighted sections of this book but only read it once before I had to return it.

The Giver is a young adult novel that has been both banned and added to the list of 100 Best Books for Children.  I was already a little old for it when it was released, and by the time I discovered the book I immediately recognized it as sort of a warning, as Fahrenheit 451, 1984, or Brave New World… but less scary, because it is written for kids, after all.  I couldn’t remember the title of a fourth novel it reminded me of, but in searching I discovered they are all part of a genre called dystopian literature.  I also learned that it’s part of a trilogy, so I guess I have some more young adult reading to do.  As the government (and Microsoft… *ahem*) gain more and more control over our lives and minds, the story becomes that much more frightening.  Vote libertarian.

I love almost everything Ray Bradbury has written.  Dandelion Wine is my favorite because it portrays the innocence and nostalgia of childhood without sugar-coating everything.  It’s one of Bradbury’s least fantastic works and like The Hobbit acts as a stepping stone into fantasy and science fiction.  The main character, Douglas, both relishes life and broods over death.  Nobody writes about little boys like Bradbury, and this novel is considered autobiographical.  This book contains my single favorite quote: “Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I’m one of them.”

O. Henry is amazing.  Any of his stories will do, but this collection in particular came to me at just the right time.  Until last winter, I had only read him in other short story collections, and I was thrilled to find this cheap volume at Borders to buy with my yearly gift card.  I remember realizing that each story ended with a sentence that made me smile- either because it was funny, ironic, or supported my firm belief that everything will turn out OK.

What’s a Mary Kate book list without some Mark Twain?  My idol.  Roughing It is my favorite because he makes fun of Mormons and Lake Tahoe.  Enough said…  Alright, here’s a little more- it’s another semi-autobiographical book that makes me laugh.

As I reread this blog, I finally see how some people may view me as an alarmist, feminist, religious, uuuuuuuuuuugggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… hippie.  NOT THE CASE.  I’m many-faceted, you jerk, and some of these books are part of what made me realize that.  Some helped me form ideas, some just gave me the words I needed to express them, and some were just a story to get lost in.  I know people believe I share everything I think, which just isn’t true.  I just prefer not to discuss my political or moral views with the man on the street, as most people are looking for an argument or an opportunity to push their own beliefs on you.  But hey, anytime you want to talk about periods, I’m here.

Note:  I did not edit this blog for spelling or grammar yet.  If you notice anything weird feel free to let me know. 🙂

About once a day, one of the Yahoo headlines grabs my attention.  On April 9th the top featured headline was “America’s favorite books.”  The article is no longer available but here is a link to the survey results: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=892

I knew right away that The Bible would be #1, it always is and it probably always will be.  Many people read only this one book, so I don’t believe it’s fair to include it in the survey at all, but hey, I’m a godless heathen after all.

 

2008

The Bible

1

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

2

Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien

3

Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling

4

The Stand, by Stephen King

5

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

6

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

7

Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown

8

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

9

Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

10

I’m going to criticize this list from the bottom up.

Catcher in the Rye?  Seriously?  Have we read anything since high school?  I won’t argue that it’s a good book, but how many people have actually read it more than once?  Not exactly the sort of thing that you pick up to revisit your favorite characters, to escape your worries, or to pass the time waiting for the dentist.

Atlas Shrugged.  Oh.  My.  God.  This is actually my least favorite book ever.  I really don’t even want to get myself started on it, but it took me two years’ worth of reading a couple pages at a time on lunch breaks.  My distaste for Ayn Rand is so strong that I would not allow myself to use up any more of my free time to finish this book, but I was determined to get through it so I could advocate against it.  Sadly, spreading it out over two years didn’t help me to form my argument so as of now all I can really say is, “Screw you, Ayn Rand.”  Who seriously gives a shit about her philosophy?  (Shaun.) 

Angels and Demons, and The  DaVinci.  I liked Angels and Demons better, but they were both good books.  That’s it, though.  Good.  I read The DaVinci Code twice, I would read Angels and Demons again, but not if I had anything else handy.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the better books on the list, but again, have these people picked up any other novels since they were teenagers?  We read it in junior high, I revisited it again a few years ago and got a little more out of it.  This is one that I can understand wanting to read over and over.  I remember wishing it were longer because I really liked the characters.

The Stand?  Come on!  You know who reads Stephen King?  Most men.  Men who don’t read anything else.  You wouldn’t believe how many guys I have asked about their preference in books and they tell me they ONLY read Stephen King.  I like him a lot.  I’ve read many many many of his short stories, and sixteen of these novels:

  • Carrie (1974)
  • ‘Salem’s Lot (1975)
  • Shining, the (1977)
  • Stand, the (1978)
  • Dead Zone, the (1979)
  • Firestarter (1980)
  • Cujo (1981)
  • Gunslinger, the (1982)
  • Running Man, the (1982)
  • Pet Sematary (1983)
  • Christine (1983)
  • Cycle of the Werewolf (1983)
  • Talisman, the (1984)
  • Eyes of the Dragon, the (1986)
  • It (1986)
  • Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three, the (1987)
  • Misery (1987)
  • Tommyknockers, the (1988)
  • Dark Half, the (1989)
  • Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands, the (1991)
  • Needful Things (1991)
  • Gerald’s Game (1992)
  • Dolores Claiborne (1993)
  • Insomnia (1994)
  • Rose Madder (1995)
  • Desperation (1996)
  • Green Mile, the (1996)
  • Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass, the (1997)
  • Bag of Bones (1998)
  • Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, the (1999)
  • Black House (2001)
  • Dreamcatcher (2001)
  • From a Buick 8 (2002)
  • Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla, the (2003)
  • Dark Tower VI: The Song of Susannah, the (2004)
  • Dark Tower VII: Dark Tower, the (2004)
  • Colorado Kid, the (2005)
  • Cell (2006)
  • Lisey’s Story (2006)
  • Blaze (2007)
  • Duma Key (2008)
  • I also read the Green Mile series as they were released.  I would even go so far as to claim to be a fan of Stephen King, but to claim The Stand as your favorite book indicates that you have not read a lot of books.

    Harry Potter, as expected, was the favorite among Echo Boomers, which is apparently the name they have given to the generation most of us belong to.  People between the ages of 18 and 31.  Many of whom were teenagers when the books were released.  I really love the series and especially the fact that it opened up a world of reading to kids who otherwise may never have discovered that joy.  I imagine they will remain favorites for years to come because for so many people, The Sorcerer’s Stone was the first book they ever enjoyed.  This is another one I can’t really argue with because like so many people, I could read them over and over again and truly looked forward to each new installment in the series.

    Of course the Lord of the Rings series is on this list.  Anybody who has ever read a book in English has probably opened at least one of the three.  Personally, I liked the first one but barely got through The Two Towers and The Return of the King.  Mostly because I can’t read about fighting, I find it incredibly boring and there isn’t much of the dialogue I like so much.  Give me The Hobbit any day.

    I’m a little puzzled about Gone With the Wind.  Another book I have read twice, because by the time I finished I had forgotten how it began.  I was in high school the first time, and I actually read it because when older people find out that a teenager likes to read they are quick to recommend their favorites.  Not surprisingly, Gone With the Wind was not a favorite among people in the eastern US, black people, those under 43 years old, or those who have at least some college education.  As time goes by I am sure it will drop lower and lower on the list, as fewer people are able to relate to the concept of the Old South.

    Now, I don’t think I have to point out what most of these books have in common, but for those of you unfamiliar with popular culture, all except three have been made into very high-budget, well-publicized movies.  Having a cheap copy of a paperback with a glossy cover featuring a popular actor available at every pharmacy and grocery store certainly can’t hurt sales.  And as for those other three, well, we know Salinger would never allow his masterpiece to be exploited in such a way.  It’s common knowledge that Angels and Demons has been in production for a couple years now, and guess what?  Atlas Shrugged… in production… starring ANGELINA JOLIE.  It’s like a dump truck of $1,000,000,000 bills pouring into the bank account of a production company that almost nobody has even heard of.

    The idea for this blog came from the comments on a friend’s Facebook photo.  It shows her holding the first-place trophy for our fifth grade spelling bee.  Of course this brought up all kinds of (repressed?) feelings about competition, failure, spelling, etc.  It seems we all remember the word that we misspelled.  Mine was bouquet,which I maintain is not a fair word because it’s not even English.  I struggled and struggled over whether there was a U before and after the Q.  It knew that second one was there, definitely.  If only I could remember whether they pronounced it as “boo-kay” or “bo-kay.”  Then I might have someone else to blame…

    Now I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but the winner of this particular spelling bee was someone with whom I had competed throughout my elementary school career and even though I loved her as a friend, there was a very strong resentment there.  Day after day she earned A+ on almost every quiz, test, book report, diorama, etc.  I remember partnering up for some sort of project that may have been centered around simple machines, in which we build a desalinization plant out of Legos.  Even though I knew what I was doing, who knows what kind of grade I would have received if I had worked with someone else?

    Anyway, not only did she always get the highest grade in the class, but she was a good dancer where I failed to ever really catch on.  Not sure if that contributed to my feelings of inadequacy and possibly jealousy, but to this day I refuse to dance in public.

    More than once, when her grade was only an A or even, God forbid, an A-, she cried.  Since I didn’t learn compassion until I was 25, instead of feeling bad for my friend who became so worked up over a measly eight points or so, I felt satisfaction.  My grade was probably even lower, but at least a) I wasn’t crying in school and b) she was not always perfect.  I’m pretty sure she had kind of a freakout over a 98 once, but that may have just been something mean we thought up to tease her about.  On the rare occasion that one of us got a higher score than she did, we definitely gloated and rubbed it in her face.  I think we were just so frustrated that our best was never going to be The Best.  Even though we knew we were smart kids, we weren’t going to be the smartest. 

    It couldn’t have been much later than second or third grade when I started to get really annoyed.  There is always a measure of competition, I think, especially when we are so young and haven’t yet figured out what our own personal talents are.  Basically all we have to demonstrate our abilities are spelling and math scores- but what if our best abilities were not spelling or math?  Incidentally, I am awesome at both spelling AND math. 

    Now this was back before they invented ADD, and to punish me for not paying attention I would just be kept inside at recess.  Once I was alone in the classroom I had no problem finishing my work and doing it well, but I was sort of losing momentum.  I know I am not the only one who started to give up.  Nobody ever really bothered to mention to me how important it was to persevere, although I did get a lot of “Just do your best.”  Oh, only my best?  Sure thing…  When she reads this, I hope she understands that she didn’t make us feel that way, we let ourselves slack off.  It was really just practice for when we became jobless adults.  I imagine that we were destined to be lazy people and just choose to blame her and her stupid 100s.  Two of us, in particular, may also have been affected by the fact that we were younger than most of our class.  I could definitely have waited another year, as I really struggled with learning to read, and something got lost in translation when Mr. Costello taught addition.  This meant I had to do flash cards for a few months until I just memorized the sums of every number under 100.  Don’t worry, by the end of the year someone had properly explained the concept and I can now add two-digit numbers on paper, and sometimes even in my head.

    By fifth grade our hierarchy had been established.  It actually turned out she wasn’t necessarily The Smartest- that could be Colin.  Maybe he didn’t get the A+ all the time, but his thinking outside the box and interest in more adult topics (even if it was for the sake of making us feel stupid and immature) were always things I admired.  It was accepted that they would get the best grades, we would get great or good grades and be happy with that.  Until the spelling bee.

    I remember that there was some sort of preliminary test conducted over the intercom.  It was probably our principal, the man who pronounced mature as “ma-toor,” who read the short list of words.  Later, possibly at the end of the day, the correct spellings were announced.  I was infuriated when I was told that theatre was spelled t-h-e-a-t-e-r.  Already an avid reader, I knew I was spelling it right, and it turns out I wasn’t the only one.  To this day I wonder why they would have chosen a word that can be spelled two ways, but it’s not important because we were allowed to enter the bee.

    It’s really unlikely that I studied any words for the competition.  I didn’t study for the SATs so I doubt I studied for the spelling bee.  I’m sure my reading level was already far beyond fifth grade, so chances are I thought I didn’t need to know any more words.

    I don’t remember a single thing about the bee itself, except the word that I spelled wrong.  Here had been my chance to show how smart I really was, and I blew it.  This was the moment in time where I really did stop trying, because I was never going to have a trophy to show that I was the best at something.  I continued to get mostly As and a few Bs, and in 8th grade I actually got a C+ in History, which was devastating at first but sort of lowered the bar for me as far as social studies were concerned, thank God.  Spelling scores were the most important, though, and mine were always very high if not perfect.  We all have words that we misspell.  Every time I type weird, I go back and change it a few times, before spell-check tells me I’m wrong.  Also, for some reason, nobody ever taught me that the possessive of it did not have an apostrophe until I was in college, but let’s save that for the punctuation blog.

    As far as being the best or the smartest, well, we are mature enough to know that there is always someone better.  I hope that friend came to grips with it before college, because as far as I know she was not the valedictorian of her class at Princeton.  Hopefully she didn’t cry. 😉

    Meanwhile, I went to Franklin Pierce, which was more along the lines of a summer camp than a university.  No, not valedictorian there either, but I graduated with honors and had the highest GPA in my major.  So what if there were only six graduates in my major?  They were all great scientists, dedicated to the environment and intelligent.  Being better than five other people is good enough for me. I am consistently underestimated to this day, but sometimes it works out better when not a lot is expected of you.  More than one respected mentor has referred to me as “brilliant” and their opinions mean a lot more to me than spelling bouquet onstage in front of all our parents.

    OK, I still harbor the resentment, because I am just that immature.  How would my life have been different if I had won the bee?  Would I have been more motivated, put pressure on myself to succeed?  You can bet your ass that I would be displaying that trophy on my Facebook page!

    I would love to hear other people’s accounts of their elementary school spelling bees.  I want to know what word you went out on and how it made you feel.  If you won, where is the trophy now?

    The freedom of not working!

    “Catch-22” is totally cliche and overused but I find it appropriate.  Here I am again, practically jobless.  Ahhh, staying up late, misbehaving, sleeping half the day…  Lots of time to crochet, sleep, reflect.  Since leaving Crap Island I’ve felt wonderfully unattached, with only a student loan payment to tie me down.  As long as I’m making $250 a month and about $50 toward car insurance, I’m good.  In theory.

    The burden of being poor!

    In reality, I have a lot of time in which to spend money that I am not making.  Today, a guy I am dating offered me “a few hundred bucks.”  He was serious.  It made me really uncomfortable.  He could tell, and said, “I know you want to be all independent, but…”

    Yeah.  But, you can’t be independent working 16 hours a week.  Then he said, “I just don’t want you living out of your car again.”  If only he were someone terrible that I could take advantage of!  Not to complain that I am seeing a great guy who wants to take care of me.

    I want my freedom back.

    They closed the vineyard.  I mean the island’s only winery, Chicama Vineyards, has closed.  It was a family-run operation that had been open almost 40 years, and the only commercial vineyard here.

    OH, the IRONY!

    How to get people to visit your blog: simply insult their favorite musician!

    Michael McDonald was the only bad part of The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, and he has no business sounding so black.  Discuss.