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Archive for the ‘The Mindful Bookshelf’ Category

Romance Novel Readers, It’s A New World!

"His for the Holidays"

Image via Carina Press.

When I posted a link to an article on gay romance novels on my Facebook page, I really expected a more positive response.

Instead, the response I got was somewhere between bored and contemptuous. It’s old news, Salcia, they said. Slash has been around for decades. It’s been on the Internet since the start. There’s the yaoi subculture in Japan, and gay communities have been writing fiction as long as they’ve been around. It’s hardly the first time gay male love stories have been published.

I get that. But I still think the popularity of mainstream romance novels featuring male-on-male love stories is a step in the right direction for a more open vision of human sexuality, and I’m excited about it.

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CanLit Doesn’t Suck

Movie poster for Barney's Version.

Image via Online Movies Hut.

I’m really lucky somebody decided to make a film adaptation of Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler. Otherwise I might never have gotten around to cracking the cover of my husband’s copy, and I’d never have known what I know now.

Mordecai Richler is wonderful.

I’m about two-thirds of the way through Barney’s Version and I’m having a blast. It’s funny. The characters are vivid and believable. The wit is perceptive. That wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Somewhere in my past, I learned to expect CanLit – that’s Canadian Literature – to be pretentious and self-important and not much fun. And that’s a tragedy of missed reading opportunities.

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Not Intended For Children

Glasses-wearing baby reading very serious novel

Image via the Vicky Mathan Blog.

I’ve been meaning to spend some time on this question for quite a while, ever since my good friend told me all about her daughter’s trip to the public library. It was a great experience: the little one (who I’ve christened with the blog-name Berry) got her very own library card and took home some picture books that she really enjoyed. But Mommy told me a story about how Berry kept trying to look at cookbooks, and that got me thinking: what happens when little readers (or not-yet-reading book lovers like Berry) get their hands on material that’s meant for grown-ups?

I encountered another example this morning while I was getting winter tires put on my car. A mom and her daughter were sitting in the waiting room; the child was maybe about six years old. Mom paged through an issue of People magazine, then set it aside, where her little girl picked it up and started flipping through. That’s when I noticed the cover story: TEEN SUICIDE TRAGEDIES.

Now that’s an even m0re serious example, and it highlighted the idea that, for me, there are two separate issues here:

  1. What happens when little children get into reading material that leaves them confronting ideas parents would rather protect them from encountering?
  2. Are there any reasons to keep children away from grown-up books that don’t contain anything controversial or disturbing, but they just aren’t designed for children?

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No Assholes!

Okay, I get that we live in a society that tends to encourage self-centered behaviour. It’s definitely a “me-first” culture. But I still find it pretty incredible that somebody had to write this book.

 

The No Asshole Rule

Image via Mindfulness Matters.

 

Shouldn’t it be something close to second nature to not be an asshole? I mean, isn’t that a main tenet of most  major religions – treat others as you would have them treat you? Granted, lots of people have moved away from organized religion in our society, but even the most hardcore atheist would concede that treating others how you would want to be treated is a pretty reasonable rule of thumb.

This isn’t a spiritual deficit. This is just plain lack of consideration. People aren’t taking the time or the thought-effort to be considerate of others. Emphasis on freedom, living for now, and the pursuit of happiness has led to a mentality that it’s just plain okay not to consider the impact of your choices on somebody else.

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Five (or More) Reasons to Start A Book Journal

A book lover's journal.

Image via The Bookmooch Journals.

It was a suggestion from one of my professors at librarian school, for a class on Reader’s Advisory Services. (That translates from library-speak as “helping people decide what books to check out even if their tastes are different from yours”.)  She said, “I write down the author and title of every book I read, along with a summary in my own words of what they’re about. That way, if somebody wants to know what I’ve read and would recommend, I’ve got it all at my fingertips.” Sometimes, she suggested, library patrons would page through her journal to get ideas for their own reading lists.

What good is a book journal? And how is it different from a regular journal? A book journal is a place to record all the books you’ve read – good, bad, or indifferent – in chronological order, a log of your life as a reader. It can be as simple or as complicated as you like, as long as it tracks your reading history across time. In a way, this blog’s “What Is Your Librarian Reading?” feature functions as a book journal: I write about every book I read. But what you don’t see is that I also keep a paper log of my reading choices that I’ll (hopefully) have on hand long after this blog is lost to cyberspace.

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Enlightenment For Spoiled Rich Ladies

Theatrical poster for "Eat, Pray, Love" featuring Julia Roberts.

Image courtesy of Empire Movies.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love, and I haven’t seen the movie either. I was becoming vaguely interested in it because of the religious angle, and I thought I might check out the book (no pun intended . . . well, maybe just a little) for that reason. I like yoga and meditation and honest spiritual reflection, all of which seem like key ingredients in Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir. It seems like this would be a bandwagon I’d just be dying to hop on.

But I’m not exactly jumping.

And when you think about it, it’s not too hard to understand why I can’t get myself too worked up about Liz Gilbert’s spiritual struggles as depicted in the movie. In a time of recession, when money is a nightmare-inducing stressor for far too many families, it’s hard to feel much more than resentment for somebody who goes into her travel agent’s office and plans a year’s vacation just because she wants to marvel at something.

Hey, lady, I’d marvel at finding a job somewhere other than Burger King. Don’t you realize how good you’ve got it? (Hint: If you can afford to plan a year-long vacation in exotic locales, you’ve got it pretty good. There must be more than a little cash coming in to bankroll that kind of self-exploration.)

Julia Roberts in "Eat, Pray, Love"

If you can't afford your own private Indian swami, then spiritual enlightenment is not for you. Image courtesy of The Moxie Bee.

Caitlin Kelly, a fellow WordPress blogger, complains of the sexism lurking behind bad reviews in a post called “‘Eat, Pray, Love’: Why A Woman Seeking Solo Joy Pisses Everyone Off”. According to her analysis, the sour grapes are all about society’s reaction to a free-spirited woman who decides she doesn’t need a man or a baby to be happy. If men have the freedom to explore the world, she argues, then so should women. And she’s right. If that’s our Lizzie’s path, more power to her.

But, speaking for myself, I’m not pissed off about “a woman seeking solo joy”, as Kelly insists. I’m pissed off because if I want to seek joy, solo or otherwise, I’m limited by my (dwindling, anemic) bank account. If joy isn’t within short driving distance of where I live, I’m not going to find it. Not everyone can jet to Italy, India, and Indonesia for a year-long voyage of self-discovery. And maybe something’s been lost in translation from book to movie, but based on the reviews I’ve read, it seems like the movie doesn’t have much to say about self-discovery for women who can’t afford the kind of big-scale travel Liz Gilbert takes on in Eat, Pray, Love.

Lee Ferguson of CBC.ca diagnoses the movie’s main money-making strategy: “It pays lip service to female empowerment, while using more calculated means — James Franco! Food porn! Exotic locales! — to lure hungry women viewers into multiplex seats.” Andrea Gronvall of the Chicago Reader goes one step further: “only hard-core fans of Oprah’s BFF will be able to stomach this navel-gazing tripe, which posits ‘me-first’ consumerism as the road to happiness.” In other words, what started off looking like an encouraging movie about finding empowerment and knowing thyself rapidly becomes a pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

No wonder it’s not finding the warm reception it undoubtedly expected. Seeing Julia Roberts’ character fly to Italy to have a relationship with her pizza just reminds me that I can’t even responsibly order in Little Caesar’s. And in fact, I should probably be feeling guilty that I bought this movie ticket in the first place, and God help me if I splurged on a Coke and popcorn.

There are those who will argue that it’s not fair for me to comment if I haven’t seen the movie. They’re probably right. I’m relying primarily on the opinions of others, but also on the way I feel when that trailer comes on TV. I see that “go for it!” attitude splashed all over the screen and wonder, would I be enlightened if I had no commitments and no obligations and the financial wherewithal to catch the next plane to Dharamsala? Somehow bailing out on everybody who might possibly rely on your presence doesn’t seem like a reliable path to self-discovery.

But more than that, I resent the implication that finding myself could be just one credit card swipe away . . . and that it doesn’t belong to the people who can’t afford to pay for it.

Enlightenment should be for everybody.

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