Archive for September, 2008

The Abstinence Teacher

September 25, 2008

The Abstinence Teacher was disappointing, which sucks because I was really looking forward to this book.  It has all the workings of a great book – a single mom who teaches pro-birth control high school sex ed, and a cute ex-druggie, ex-rockstar born again Christian dude meet on an a suburban soccer field and its lust at first sight.  It could have been so good!  I really enjoyed Perrotta’s other novels, Joe College, Election, and Little ChildrenI love how he builds subtle tensions between his characters and introduces atypical situations in his novels, which are usually about typical, normal, everyday people who live in the burbs.  But nothing really happens in this book.  The sex ed teacher, Ruth, meets Tim, the ex-druggie born again and that’s it.  Instead of moving forward, the rest of the book consists of flashbacks about their pasts and how they got to where they are when we first meet them.  Then it ends.  Bummer. 


Lush Life

September 18, 2008

I usually don’t read crime novels, but like so many other things in my no-so-lush life, I heard about this book on WNYC.  Here’s something about my job – it looks interesting on paper, but it is mind-blowingly boring 95% of the time.  So I listen to WNYC while I’m working so my brain doesn’t turn into complete mush.  Leonard Lopate usually has authors I’ve never heard of on his show, and Richard Price was one of them.  Price, who was also a writer for The Wire, was talking about the transformation of the Lower East Side.  He finds kind of crazy that young rich white people spend the same amount of money in one night partying in this neighborhood than people who life there earn in a week.  Lush Life centers around this tension between the new residents of LES: the young, rich and privileged – and the older residents of LES: the poor, the immigrants, and the residents of the housing projects that surround the neighborhood.  And in the middle of all these tensions is the main character, Eric Cash, who is not young, rich, privileged, poor, or an immigrant.  And he just witnessed a murder.

One of my favorite things in novels, TV, and movies is when there are no straight up good guys and bad guys.  I like when writers/directors can make you sympathize with their bad guys and when they show the crooked side of their good guys.  In Lush Life (as in real life) the police are flawed.  You see them patrolling the streets, trying to solve a murder, comforting the victim’s family; but you also see them making inside deals, harrassing people on the streets for no reason, and playing favorites.  Price is successful in making you respect and hate the police.

Overall, this novel isn’t really about the gentrification of the LES.  The neighborhood only provides a setting and backdrop for Price to show off his skill for writing gritty police murder mysteries.  When I first started reading the book, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.  But then I got tired because it reads like a episode of Law and Order that just goes on for way too long.  I was glad to finish it.

Yesterday I read this interesting article in the Times about a playwright named Arthur Nersesian, who’s love affair with The Power Broker inspired him to write a series of fictional novels about Robert Moses.  A kid from the old LES, Nersesian says:

You know, there was a war fought here, a strange economic, cultural battle that went on, and I saw so many wonderful people lost among the casualties.

This post may or may not make any sense

September 11, 2008

9/11, we meet again.  Because of you, my dad lost his best friends and was messed up in the head for a long time.  Because of you, my parents split up, my dad quit his job, and moved to Washington DC.  Because of you, my brother went through 3 years of counseling.  But because of you, I had something to write about for my undergraduate thesis.  And because of this, I was able to present my thesis at an international public health conference.  Because of you, I have a job.  Because of you, thousands of people are sick and suffering, I know this because I talk to them everyday at work.  You ruined so many lives and broke up so many families.  Most of time I wish you never happened.  But then what would my life be like?  What in the world would I be doing?  I cannot get away from you, so I have learned to make you part of my everyday life.  Sometimes, I regret this.

Sometimes, especially today, I want to quit this job and work on something else.  I need space from this.  I get unreasonably annoyed with people and politicians when they say their “never forget!” speeches.  What are we, idiots?  How on earth can someone forget what happened?  Are they serious?  Some wish they could forget.

So before The Bookmill, I kept a Livejournal.  I think I wrote an entry on every 9/11 anniversary.  I didn’t want to break that tradition today.  I really liked what I wrote last year.  So I want to post most of it here:

Here we are on the morning of 9/11.  I sit by my window on the 26th floor, which I always leave cracked open for some fresh air, and listen to the downtown churches toll their bells to mark 4 moments of silence.  For the first time in 6 years today I am not at any kind of memorial service, which feels good.  My dad also is not attending a memorial service for the first time in 6 years.  When I asked him if he was coming home to NYC for today, he smiled and said “hell no, I’m going no where near there.”   I hope he is enjoying a somewhat normal day at work in Washington DC.  Last night I ended up in Battery Park next to the WTC site.  I sat with Manny and we watched work crews setting up for the memorial service, wiring up generators, lights, and cameras.  Rats scurried around in the bushes next to us and ran across the sidewalks.  The Tribute in Light  beams were lit for about 20 minutes, I guess as a practice run for tonight.  The two beams lit up clouds in the overcast sky.  I’m glad I got to see them last night and have a moment to myself.  I have to say that these light beams are my favorite 9/11 memorial/tribute ever, their effect is so simple, poignant, understated and beautiful, which are not words I would use to describe other 9/11 memorial events, which have become political forums for congress members, presidential hopefuls (begins with R and ends with –udy), and city council members to make empty promises and superficial attempts at empathy. 


Speaking of politics, yesterday the city launched the “one-stop shopping” website for all information on 9/11 health programs and information: . 


The website has a lot of information, which is good, but somehow I cannot help but feel unimpressed, like this website is one big sugarcoating.  The programs that city likes to call its 9/11 treatment “centers of excellence” were not started by city government, but started by community organizations and doctors who worked long hours of unpaid overtime.  People saw a need for services and did what they could to address it with little help from government funding.  Once the programs were established and organized, the government gave them some money and took all the credit.  Maybe some can see this as “partnerships” but I do not.  In the least, this 9/11 health info website could have a page of links to community partners and organizations that set up their centers of excellence. 


And why did it take so long for this website?  Better late than never, but still – 6 years?  The centers of excellence were started right after 9/11 and it took the city 6 years just to admit people where suffering because of 9/11.  Then again, when has the governmental ever really stood up to fully address the pressing needs of people who are suffering?  I think people have learned that they need to take matters into their own hands.  So on this anniversary; let’s recognize those who did just that.


Show and Tell

September 10, 2008

I present to you a show and tell of the week’s events, in pictures. 

So a few days ago I went over to my local library and got one of these:

 then I got these:

 Yeah that’s right.  Two big, fat, new, HARDCOVER NOVELS for me to enjoy.  After weeks of reading 99 cent Strand paperback specials and books swiped from friends and family, I finally have a permanent address which means I am finally a card carrying member of the Brooklyn Public Library.  Sweet.

Also?  Two weeks ago I adopted this kitty:

And I named him Oliver after Oliver Twist, because he’s an orphan boy with no mommy who was found alone and starving, along with his brother and sister in the parking lot of a New Jersey sex offender rehab prison where my friend works as an inmate counselor.  But one trip to the ER and 4 new asthma prescriptions later, we’ve come to the conclusion that he makes Manny really sick, so now we have to find him a new home.  We are really sad about this situation, but Oliver remains oblivious and is content to sleep in a shoebox surrounded by all of his toys:

And occasionally taking a swipe at the camera from his toy-filled shoebox lair:

Dominican-American Gothic

September 9, 2008

There was an interesting interview with Junot Diaz on WNYC this morning.  This guy is awesome.  A caller asked him a question about including some sort of Spanglish dictionary in the back of his book to help readers who are not familiar with the culture understand some of the language that is used.  Diaz explains that doing this would destroy the beauty of books; because they are not meant to be viewed the same way by everyone.  If a reader doesn’t understand something in the book, well, that’s the point.  Go out and ask someone, start a conversation about it, realize you’re not perfect and learn something from the book.  Listen to the interview it here.

Work and Other Sins

September 3, 2008

New York is a glamorous city, constituted mostly of nobodies.  They crave the lights, and if they tell you differently, they’re lying.  Only dreamers come to New York.  As a matter of course, few people have control over their lives.  You live at the whim of your boss, your landlord, your grocer, the stranger, the judge, the bus driver, the mayor who won’t let you smoke.  On the other hand, you live at the whim of your whims, and that is most exciting thing there is.

And so begins Charlie LeDuff’s book of character sketches of the nobodies that inhabit the city.  I love reading stuff like this, real stories about ordinary people.  I also love reading blogs of strangers and getting a glimpse of the day to day lives of people.  Everyone has a story worth telling.  LeDuff shows that the nobodies of the city are somebodies.  Profiled in this book are local drunks hanging out in the bar, circus midgets, freaks from the Coney Island side shows, transgendered prostitutes, firefighters, aging fishermen from Sheepshead Bay, Russian showgirls from the Brighton Beach nightclubs, Polish maids from Greenpoint, homeless bums, used car salesmen, and old guys who spend too much time at the Aqueduct race track.  I love it.  These are the people who make New York the special place it is. 

This being a book profiling the lives of working nobodies, race is often a topic of conversation.  There are tensions between hispanic and white, hispanic and black, black and white, American Indian and everyone else.  But more often than not, people try to be understanding to their fellow workingman or woman, in spite of racial differences:

Two Hispanic men come in [to the bar] for a shot and two burgers to go.  They leave without saying hello.  ‘You figure these guys come to this country and can at least learn the language,’ says one road worker to the bar, lined with blacks and whites.  ‘Take it easy, bud,’ Jimmy Williams tells him.  ‘Didn’t you see their hands?  They were working men.  One of us.’

This book was reminiscent of Studs Terkel’s Working, which also celebrated the lives of ordinary working men and women, which I wrote about here and here.  This type of anthropological writing really gives value in what “ordinary” people have to say about issues more typically discussed in general media by professors and researchers.  Race, class, gender, politics; all that good stuff are in these books.  This type of writing lets people speak for themselves and allows their words stand on their own.  There is something so valuable about having the opinions, thoughts and stories of the people written down on paper (or blogged online).