Thursday, July 02, 2009

Books again

I'm flying through books these days.
I guess because I gave myself a break from the ridiculously intense non-fiction I had out from the library. It really was a bit much!

I finished The Julie/Julia Project. I am in awe of Julie Powell and her commitment to "the project." If only I had known about her blog when it was happening! Of course those were the days filled with piping plover monitoring and sanctuary keeping, and I was stuck in my only little world of intense happiness and intense reverse-homesickness, so it probably wouldn't have been as striking as reading the book now.

When I got to the end, the part where Julie talks about getting a phone call from her mom, telling her Julia Child passed away, I sort of had the same reaction. Julie says something to the effect of "I didn't know her personally, etc" and then "I sat down at my desk and cried" I read that sentence and thought "well of course, you had lived with this woman's recipes for a whole year, of course there would be an emotional pull." I sat on the green line and contemplated for a second, then felt myself filling up (what is up with the emotions these days? Someone said "Dude you're pregnant." Not to overshare or anything, but I said "Dude, not humanly possible, lady business happening right now." LOL. Nevermind the lack of sexytime in my life!) ANYWHO I felt myself filling up because at that moment I realized I DID have a sort of loose connection to Julia. I'd met her! Plus Rachel and I had lived in one alleged, maybe even TWO of her dorm rooms at Hubbard House, via my calculation based upon the old room numbers listed on the circuit breaker box (which I opened with a knife stolen from the kitchen) and the various archives/historical presentations on Smith's website. Of course anything historically Smith seems embedded in rumor (ie location of Sylvia Plath's dorm room, why Helen Hills Hills Chapel has two she didn't marry her cousin, it was random and weird coincidence she married another Hills). But we do know she lived in Hubbard for sure. Oh and the time I met her, I waited in long line in the President's garden, with nothing for her to sign. All I wanted to do was to tell her I lived in her old room at the Hub. I waited with a fellow member of the improv comedy group the SIKOS and just as it was our turn to greet the much-celebrated alum, she grumbled "no more, I have to go." I think we all sank a little. Then as she stood, leaning heavily on a cane, she reached out and touched my friend's shirt, right on the boob and said "Oh. Your shrit says Liberty Cafe. Is that still in Philadelphia?!" How Alyson managed to close her mouth and reopen it to give a coherent answer with Julia Child's hand resting on her left bosom is BEYOND me, but it is something I will never EVER forget. As Julia walked one way (towards King-Scales no doubt, where she always ate on campus, shafting her Hubbard roots, which I can't understand, since I once saw our cook grease a cookie sheet for chicken with an entire pound of butter, very Julia-esque) and we departed towards center campus, we were all silent, until Alyson shrieked "JULIA CHILD TOUCHED MY BOOB! AHHHH!" "That was awesome," I concluded. Oh it was.

Next up in book discussions is Life List, a fantastic biography of Phoebe Snetsinger. Snetsinger, at the time of her death, had seen more birds than any person in the world. It was an obsession for her, and one that, in my personal opinion (well and factually I think) led her to encounter some terribly dangerous situations - the death of her birding friend due to altitude sickness, her attack and rape in Papua New Guinea, and ultimately her death in Madagascar. I thought I would complete this book and think "what a crazy insane lady" but I finished it feeling much much more sympathetic and understanding. Would it be my choice? No, absolutely not. But do I love birds enough to understand her drive? Yes, I really do. Were I a single lady, or say, in her situation, a 50's housewife, highly educated and intelligent yet expected to stay home with 4 kids, would I have pursued a similar path? Maybe. Maybe that's why I turned out sympathetic instead of judgey.

I don't keep a life list, like Phoebe. And I don't go to places hell-bent on seeing certain birds. I do buy field guides to any new destination though. I do read through them ahead of time and try and learn as many birds as I can. I did go to Kenya hoping to see a turaco, and lord knows however many other birds. I probably missed some (though the turaco erases the ones I missed with its shear awesomeness). I did go to Costa Rica praying, quite literally, to see a quetzal, a mot-mot, and a trogon. I saw only the quetzal, but did that sighting, as well as a hummingbird sitting on my hand to feed completely undo the failed other sightings? Hells yes. So in that I am very un-Phoebe, though I still can't sufficiently express my admiration for her drive and determination, and also, her efforts in conservation. Sort of in her honor, I am going to start a life list. Luckily I mark all the birds I've seen, with dates and locations, in my field guides, so that won't be too hard. I don't know whether I've seen 200 birds or 500 birds in my lifetime, but I know that when I leave this world, I won't be leaving with the regret of never having seen a shoebill. I realized that in my reading of Life List, and I have to admit that coming to that realization was only a good thing.

Finally Commencement. Oh where do I start. I tried to go into this with no expectations. Now this is the book written by a Smith alum, set in part on the Smith campus. Hmmm. I noticed an error on the first page, and that seemed an ominous sign. The Alumnae Quarterly never ever ever ever publishes engagements and never announces births or weddings until AFTER they've taken place, for reasons you can well imagine. I thought "really, this big of a flaw, on the first page?" Then I had to tell myself to let it the f*ck go because 99% of the people reading the book did not go to Smith and out of the 1% of people who did .99 of them do not give a crackling sh*t about stuff like that. So I shook it off and read on. I love love LOVE the connection J. Courtney Sullivan creates between her characters, the close bond they feel as students. I hate hate HATE the stereotypes she creates and emphasizes in the book. I'm guessing the author was a delicate "Quad Bunny" when she refers to Green Street as the "vegan/lesbian/armpit hair" area of campus. I kind of freaked the f*ck out when I read that....I'm not sure why I felt the level of anger I did, because usually I'm great at shaking off Smith stereotypes (ie tons of lesbians, gay for four years, never meet a guy, no one shaves, everyone is "radical" blah blah blah). I guess coming from an internal source it pissed me the hell off. Why? Because I knew people who were none, one, two, or all three of those things, and that was just in my house. And I knew people who were none, one, two or three of those things who lived all over campus. I am none, and out of my three closest Hubbard friends, the other two are none, and one is one of those things. So where the f*ck does she get off perpetuating that stereotype? Furthermore, there was and is something super-catty about some of the stereotypes she talks about. I think the author does a great job with some of the issues, such as the character who comes to Smith engaged and graduates with a girlfriend, she measures the reactions of friends and family and deals with what it's like on "the outside" but some of her snarky reference annoy me. Not because they're not true (ok except the vegan/lesbian/armpit hair thing. I know I'm dwelling but that went riiight up my butt) but it's the snide way they're delivered like "she didn't want to become one of those girls watching TV with their pant unbuttoned oblivious to the rolls of fat..." and referring the the house president as a girl that looked like a middle-aged man with her belly hanging over her pants, sticking out from her white undershirt. Snark snark snark. Sorry Quad Bunny, your book was almost fantastic....

oh snap! lol. some lines are utterly perfect though and I'll share later, when I'm not at work!

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