Saturday, May 27, 2023

Find What You Love, Only More So

Ta-da, book-cover covering!
Yesterday I started to cover the raw end of the display bookshelf with old paperback covers. I got the idea from indie booksellers Magers & Quinn, whose bathroom wall is covered with covers (under plexiglass).

Closer up...

The selection was fairly random--I wanted older, worn paperbacks but of course was limited by what we happened to have on hand.

I tried to choose a range of voices.
Night Mare, however, I chose just for the horse coming through a bookcase. I don't know Piers Anthony. When I got home, I looked him up and he sounds smarmy...
(The feeling I get is that sci-fi attracted a lot of male writers partly because off-planet they could have sex with all the tentacled females they wanted.)
or my purpose it's a great cover though--bookshelves on a bookshelf––and I expect most people won't know the author any more than I did.

I also double-checked that Island of the Blue Dolphins has not dated in an unfortunate way--my memory of loving it as a child 50+ years ago NOT being enough to go on.
Overall it still gets good reviews as an adventure story about a girl surviving on her own, and more about personal resilience than anything else.

I liked the perspective of this 2016 article in Slate--author Laura Miller says that applying diversity standards to this novel, pro (applauding it as feminist) or con, is a stretch:

"It isn’t really a novel about being Nicoleño or Native American because those identities have little meaning for [protaganist] Karana once she gets left behind.
Above all, Island of the Blue Dolphins is a novel about being alone..." [my bf]

Kids, including the child I was, love the Orphan trope, from Oliver Twist to Pippi Longstocking and the Boxcar Children to Harry Potter.

“We are orphans.”

In Heart of Darkness, is Marlowe kinda like an orphan? That is, a person alone in a world that is beyond their capability to fully understand, certainly to control. 

HoD has come in for criticism, but then... 

"The act of self-criticism is one of the highest goals and a fulfillment of Western education itself.
"[Hod] is an essential starting point for discussions of . . . the hypocrisies and glories of the West, and the ambiguities of 'civilization'."

--"The Trouble with Heart of Darkness", David Denby, New Yorker, October 29, 1995.
That article ^ is juicy and includes this parody of Conrad's over-freighted English--I laughed out loud, only more so:
“Silence, the silence murmurous and unquiet of a tropical night, brooded over the hut that, baked through by the sun, sweated a vapour beneath the cynical light of the stars. . . . Within the hut the form of the white man, corpulent and pale, was covered with a mosquito-net that was itself illusory like everything else, only more so.”

After 20 pages, Denby says, the reader submits, and anyway, you get to read "perhaps the most famous death scene written since Shakespeare".

As well as reminding me I want to reread Heart of Darkness, this article reminds me that I need to read for the first time  Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, who deplored HoD.

Denby loves Things Fall Apart, but he rejects Achebe's criticism of HoD:

"One has to wonder if blaming writers for what they fail to write about is not an extraordinarily wrongheaded way of reading them.
. . . Proust? Indifferent to French exploitation of North African native workers.
However, "to pretend that literature has no political component whatsoever is an equal folly."

And that's why I am pondering the covers I put up.
I'm fine with leaving up problematic stuff. Jim Morrison was a jerk, and Janis Joplin hit him over the head with a bottle. But that's a riveting photo on his bio, and I remember my father singing along to the car radio one Saturday morning, "Come on baby light my fire".

Still, as I get more choices, I intend to balance the books better--add The Autobiography of Malcolm X when it comes in---possibly even use it to cover over Black Boy. That cover is okay for now, but most people coming into the back room are not readers and won't know the book, and Mr Furniture has shown me that for Black men the word "boy" remains a sharp stick in a soft place.

Art volunteer (white guy) greeted Mr Furniture on his birthday one year, "There's the birthday boy!"
Mr F objected, "Don't call me 'boy'."
Art argued, "I call all my friends that on their birthday."

I understand and have even shared Art's defensive reaction––"Geez, it's just a birthday greeting, not a racial slur"––but that is missing the point.
If someone doesn't like what you call them, don't call them that.

Self-criticism is a mature act.
Orphans don't have to do that: they are still wild children, one shoe off and one shoe on.