Archive for May, 2008

Things That Make Me Happy

May 30, 2008

Lately I’ve been stressed and worried about everything, for no apparent reason.  Here are things I’m focusing on that make me happy:

  1. The 3rd season of Weeds is coming out on June 3rd.  Best show in the history of TV.  I have been waiting for what seems like years to finally see the 3rd season.
  2. The World Science Festival is this weekend.  I won’t be able to attend any of the presentations, but it makes me happy knowing that it is happening.  If I could, I would attend “Future Cities: Sustainable Solutions, Radical Designs“, “What it Means to Be Human“, “Faith & Science” and “The Sixth Extinction
  3. Listening to a wonderful conversation called “How America Can Take the Lead in Science and Technology” on WNYC yesterday morning
  4.  My BFF lets Manny and I sleep over her place whenever we want, no questions asked
  5. Seeing my ex-coworker and fellow science geek friend this weekend before she leaves me for grad school in Michigan
  6. The South by Southwest music player, perfect for doing mindless data entry at work(Click on “SXSW Player” on the lower left corner for listening enjoyment)

Oh yeah, this is a book blog.  I Finished A Gift from the Sea last week.  It was actually a really thoughtful, well written book.  Nothing too life changing, but it probably was really radical when it was first published in 1955.  The book was basically about how women need to balance out their lives and the needs of people who depend on them by finding solitude – time for themselves.  I can relate because I start to loose my mind a little if I don’t have some alone time.  A nice, peaceful, meditative read. 

Then I finished Saving the World, my first Julia Alvarez book.  It was just OK.  I think the main reason I finished it was because I was at my uncle’s house in the mountains with nothing else to do.  But that’s for another blog post, because this one is about happy things.

Eat Your Veggies

May 26, 2008

I spent this Memorial Day weekend at my aunt and uncle’s house in upstate New York. Lots of family, small house, one bathroom, lots of laughs, and lots of reading. I’ll write about the reading later.

I love my extended family, but they think I’m some strange hippie child and they don’t really know what to say to me. For the past 10 years or so they have all convinced themselves that I am a vegetarian. I am not a vegetarian, I have never been a vegetarian, and never wanted to be a vegetarian. But I don’t like red meat, so to my carnivorous family, this automatically makes me a vegetarian freak-child. Every time we go to my aunt and uncle’s, my aunt makes sure she goes out of her way to buy me an appropriate meat substitute for our barbecue dinners. “Don’t worry, Tree-Tree! I got you veggie burgers for the grill,” she yells at me with such enthusiasm that I don’t have a heart to tell her I would be just fine with chicken. So we sit down to dinner, I eat a nice juicy piece of grilled chicken and choke down at least half of the gross patty of squashed unidentifiable veggies, and everyone is happy.

Here’s a scene that happened this weekend. I’m in the kitchen making a turkey sandwich for lunch. My cousin, he’s about 8 years older than me, comes over to me.

Him: Theresa! I just saw the perfect bumper sticker for you.

Me, stacking pieces of turkey on my sandwich: Oh yeah, what did say?

Him: “Veg-et-ar-rian = Indian word meaning poor hunter”

Me, thinking that’s a terrible bumper sticker: Oh

Him, looking down at my turkey sandwich, then up to me, gets confused: Wait! You’re eating turkey! I thought you were a vegetarian?

Me: No, I’m actually not a vegetarian.

[Pause]

Him: Wow, you’re not as weird as I thought.

Me: Thanks.

Book Bloggers and Book Thoughts

May 21, 2008

I have been sick with some evil cold/sore throat/sinus virus for the past 5 days.  So I stayed home from work and finished reading Grayson and started A Gift from the Sea, two of the books my mother gave me for my birthday.  Grayson is a memoir of open water swimmer Lynne  Cox.  During her swimming exercises, Lynne finds a lost baby gray whale who was separated from his mother off the coast of Seal Beach California.  Lynne and the gray whale, Grayson, swim together looking for his mother.  A really nice story with a happy ending, but had a lot of unnecessary writing and wordy descriptions.  This book would have worked better as a children’s story with pictures, because Lynne also swims with tuna, common dolphins, green sea turtles, giant sunfish, pacific white sided dolphins and bat rays.  Those illustrations could be so neat in a children’s book. 

I just started reading Gift From The Sea this morning.  So far I’m not really digging it.  My mom is a fan of self help/inspirational books, but myself – not so much.  But apparently its a classic (its the 50th anniversary edition) so I’ll give it a chance. 

I’ve been looking through other book blogs on wordpress and blogspot and found the Ravenous Reader to be really well-written and thought provoking.  The Ravenous Reader asked,

Are we drawn to the books we need to read?  Have I been shunning my favorite mysteries and biographies in favor of novels about motherhood and family relationships?  Is my subconscious mind attracting me toward books that might reveal some insight I need to hear?

Interesting questions.  I’ve never really viewed in reading like this.  I think that I read mostly to learn.   One summer during college I was spending a lot of time with some radical anarchists and I was disillusioned with the whole U.S. mainstream system and plowed through Howard Zinn’s A People’s History in a few days.  My boyfriend is Mexican and I am not, so I find myself interested in a lot of Latin American literature and history, in an effort to learn about a culture that I know little about.  Books I read reflect my interests and issues that are important to me: public health, nature, environment, urban planning, history, etc.  But is my subconscious mind attracting me towards books that will reveal something I need to hear?  I’m not sure.  I think my conscious and subconscious mind are on the same page most of the time.   I know that avoid certain books on heavy subjects when I’m not in the mood.  For example, I cannot read Invisible Man after reading James Baldwin.  I have to read some chick lit after reading In Cold Blood.  I need to have a balance in what I read.  When sucky things are happening I want to read fun entertaining books.  When my grandmother died in November, I didn’t want to read at all. 

These two books that my mother gave me I would have never picked myself.  I know I would never read them if she had not given them to me.  Will they reveal something to me, something I would not have realized if she didn’t pick them for me?  We’ll see. 

Birthday Love

May 14, 2008

I turned 24 today and I had a great birthday.  I love birthdays and they should be celebrated and you should be allowed to do whatever you want for the day.  I took the day off of work.  Manny and I went to Pelham Bay Park and thanks to the maps in The Field Guide to the Natural World of NYC, we found a nature trail that went along the shore by Orchard Beach.  We saw the following birds:

double crested cormorant:

snowy egret:

great egret:

black-crowned night heron, which was exciting because i’ve never seen one before:

We also saw lots of canadian geese, mallad ducks, mute swans, woodpeckers, robins, and american goldfinches.  After walking around the park all day Manny and I went to my house.  My mom made eggplant parmesan and my sister, brother in law and my two closest friends joined us for dinner.  Everyone told embarrassing stories about me – about how I always fall while trying to rollerblade and how I walk into poles and parking meters while on my cell phone and we all had a good laugh.  My mom bought me the books Grayson and Gift from the Sea which I’ll be able to start reading tomorrow since I’ll be finished with All the Pretty Horses. 

I am really good judge of character.  As soon as I meet a person I can tell whether or not I can be good friends with them.  If I don’t think I’m going to get along with someone, I just don’t talk to them, I don’t bother or waste my time.  Of course, this attitude did not serve me well in high school.  While my peers were busy forming superficial friendships with each other in order to advance their social status, I was sitting in the alone in cafeteria listening to my walkman reading a book because I didn’t get along with most of my classmates and didn’t want to pretend like I did.  It is my judge of character that has kept my social life virtually drama-free and kept me safe from backstabbing friendships most girls go through.  And I have a few solid friends who I love like family.  I’m so glad I saw them today.  Quality over quanitity – always.

All The Pretty Horses

May 13, 2008

I’m almost done this book.  It was a challenging read.  I’ve never read anything by Cormac McCarthy so I didn’t know what to expect.  McCarthy doesn’t use any punctuation marks except for periods.  He refers to his characters by pronouns (he, she) rather than their names.  There are sentences that go on forever.  Who knows why he does this, but it does make the book difficult to read.  I usually read really fast but that’s impossible with this book.  At one point I think I read an entire page over 4 times before I knew what character was saying what.  I had to slow down and read this book aloud to myself in order to understand what the hell was going on.   And once I did that, I realized that this book is amazing.  I’m tired and I will write more later, but this was one of my favorite passages, maybe just because its about science:

When I was in school I studied biology.  I learned that in making their experiments scientists will take some group – bacteria, mice, people – and subject that group to certain conditions.  They compare the results with a second group which has not been distrubed.  This second group is called the control group.  It is the control group which enables the scientist to gauge the effect of his experiment.  To judge the significance of what has occurred.  In history there are no control groups.  There is no one to tell us what might have been.  We weep over the might have been but there is no might have been.  There never was.  It is supposed to be true that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.  I dont believe knowing can save us.  What is constant in history is greed and foolishness and a love of blood and this is a thing that even God – who knows all that can be known – seems powerless to change.

this is what happens when there’s nothing to do at work

May 12, 2008

My coworkers and I decided to start a book club.  Introducing – BOSS: Books of Substance Salon.  We are going to read a lot of books, books of substance, books that we can learn from. 

I’m not sure how I’ll manage my book club books and my book blog here.  I could just post the same entries on both blogs.  I could make this one a bit more personal.  I think for now I’ll try and keep them separate.  I usually can’t manage to read more than one book at a time, but I’ve grown attached to my little blog nook here –  my Book Mill – and my personal book choices.  So I’ll try reading a book club pick which I’ll talk about mostly in BOSS and I’ll read a book that I’ve pick up for myself, which I’ll talk about here at the Book Mill.  We’ll see how it goes, hopefully our book club works out.

 

Mother of Exiles

May 6, 2008

Manny and I went on a Circle Line cruise around lower Manhattan yesterday to celebrate his birthday.  We had a tour guide named David.  We weren’t expecting much, just your typical touristy stuff, i.e. “And on your right is the Empire State Building” etc.  But no, David turned out to be insightful and knowledgeable, pointing out things even Manny didn’t know about NYC.  We were impressed.  As we cruised past the industrial Brooklyn waterfront, David repeated himself over and over: “this building used be _____ [fill in the blank with any warehouse or factory name] and now is being converted in luxury condos.”  He talked about the loss of low and middle-income housing in the city.  The loss of working class jobs.  The city used to rely on industry – factories, warehouses, importing/exporting seaports, now the biggest source of revenue is Wall Street and tourism. 

We cruised around the Statue of Liberty.  I had never seen the Statue up close before, it was really beautiful.  David gave us the basic history of the statue, but then also gave an eloquent little speech about how the waves of immigrants shaped the city, the the rest of the country, into what it is today.  And how ironic it is that today even the most outspoken anti-immigrant critics are the children of immigrants who passed through this city.  Immigrants who came through Ellis Island had answer a few questions and pass a physical exam to get into the U.S.  2% of immigrants who came to Ellis Island were not allowed into the country and were forced to return to their home countries.  25% of immigrants who entered at Ellis Island stayed in the city.  The other 75% went to New Jersey to board trains that took them elsewhere.  Trains at this terminal left every 4 minutes, all day.  In the searchable database at the Ellis Island museum under the last name Gilfeather, there is someone named Thomas J. who came from County Sligo, Ireland which is near the border of Northern Ireland.  He is my great grandfather.  He was one of the 25% of immigrants who stayed in the city, and our family hasn’t left New York since then.

David read aloud the poem by Emma Lazarus that is engraved in the Statue as we cruised past Ellis Island.  It was a really poignant moment – the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the skyline all surrounded in orange light as the sun set, and listening to the words of the poem.  I felt foolish because I had never heard entire thing, only the last four lines.  Here’s the entire poem, sort of in honor of Mother’s Day:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus, 1883

The Hummingbird’s Daughter

May 1, 2008

Just finished the book this morning on the train.  Urrea is quickly becoming my favorite authors, and this book did not disappoint.  The Hummingbird’s Daughter is like a grown up’s version of Bless Me UltimaUltima is a coming of age story of a young Mexican-American boy who learns life lessons from Ultima, the local curandera who moves into his house in her old age.  In Hummingbird, the old curandera is named Huila, and she is definitely no Ultima.  Huila is a crass old lady.  She drinks and curses like a sailor, she walks around the ranch with a shot gun across her chest and keeps her herbs in a dead man’s ball sack.  She’s great.  But anyway, the hummingbird’s daughter is actually Teresita Urrea, born out of wedlock to an Indian ranch worker and the ranch patron, Tomas Urrea.  Under the teaching of Huila and a desert medicine man named Manuelito, Teresita becomes a skilled healer and political and spiritual leader for local Indian tribes.  Indians from all over make pilgrimages to see her and be healed by her.  She tells the pilgrims that since their land is given to them by God, only God can take away that land, and not the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz.  She is considered a saint by the Indians, and a dangerous political enemy by the government.   

I said this about The Devil’s Highway and I’ll say it again here.  The reason why I enjoy Urrea’s writing is all the details.  He does not hold back in describing the sad state of poor Indians pilgrims seeking out Teresita’s help (lice, fleas, open wounds covered in worms and maggots, open sores leaking out pus, diarrhea from bad food and water, etc.)  Urrea takes about a paragraph to describe what the characters are eating for breakfast and dinner and it makes me crave Mexican food so badly.  The details that he adds never weights the story down, they’re part of this story.  This is not like a Steinbeck novel where an entire chapter is about the geography of the Salinas Valley.  (Don’t get me wrong, East of Eden is one of my favorite books, but you know what I mean)

This book was a joy to read because of dialogue.  It is witty, sharp, and just fun to read.  Urrea uses profanity quite a bit in this book, but is never overused.  All of his characters, even the minor ones, are well developed and memorable.  I really liked Tomas’ relationship with his friends, the educated engineer Lauro and the top ranch hand Segundo.  I think I had a smile on my face the entire time I read this novel.    It is that good.

The coolest thing about this book is that Teresita Urrea was a real person and her story is documented in Mexican and U.S. newspapers.  She is a distant relative of the author and he spent 20 years researching this novel.  He offers more Teresita details on his website.

I don’t know what to read next, if anyone has recommendations, let me know.