Thursday, October 21, 2010

Book Groupie!

Finally after all these years, I can finally say I have a book group.  Actually, I probably had a book group for a few years, but I never went so it was hard to say they were my book group.  Standing invitation, all are welcome, but I never could quite read the book that they had on the table.  Today marked the second month in a row I read the chosen book and attended the discussion, and I was hugely excited to be able to talk about a book I read (and enjoyed) with a group of thoughtful interesting readers. 

We read and discussed this biography of Paul Farmer, a Christ-like character who has set about to provide health care for the world starting with the most impoverished of nations, Haiti.  Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Kidder wrote this in 2003 after spending many months traveling with Farmer and interviewing his friends and colleagues. 

Paul has almost literally given himself over to the lifetime pursuit of patient care of the world's poorest people and advocating for treatment and prevention of large scale epidemic class diseases like TB and AIDS at the expense of normal family life, comfort, safety, and general ease of living.  Paul Farmer sets his own rules and plays by a set of standards that treats the poorest of the poor as though they were entitled to all the medical care that middle class white people are.  He does not apologize, take no for an answer, or apparently sleep.  He writes individual thank you notes to donors of even $25.    He hikes for 7 hours to bring a patient medication.  He understands that the cultures and traditions of a country help you treat their sick people. 

This story is a remarkable tale about a very unique and inspiring man.  I encourage you to read it in your book group. 

"As you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Phone Book

 "This is a volume of wishes, lies and dreams, each and every 
page containing the makings of a story untrammeled 
by anything except your willingness to invest in it."

Ammon Shea has written a quirky homage to the book that everyone uses but no one reads.  I heard him interviewed on NPR last week and I picked The Phone Book up at the library as it sounded well..quirky and fun.

 The first 50 pages or so are dedicated almost exclusively to the history of the telephone and communication systems as we began to enter the 20th century.  Questions of how people started to acquire phones have always fascinated me.  Why should I get a phone? Who would I call?  No one else has one. Of course once people started to subscribe to this new device called the telephone, people began publishing lists of who subscribed.  This seemed funny to me.  Picking up your phone directory list, lets see, who can I call? Who else has a phone?  But this is probably precisely what happened.

After an early history of the book itself, Shea discusses all manner of odd tidbits about the phonebook, and its uses in our lives.  He meets phone book collectors and investigates whether or not Strom Thurmond really read the phone book as part of a filibuster on civil rights legislation.  He investigates the phenomenon of phone book ripping and has a marvelous anecdote about John Dewey and the phone book.  He clearly is fascinated by this odd book. Shea's love of the white pages and endearing words about the place of the phone books in our culture made me a little wistful.  Could I too, sit down and read the phone book?

But it does not matter.  All sorts of plans are afoot to rid our planet of this scourge called the phone directory.  It is really highly unnecessary in this day and age.  Will it or won't it dissappear?  We shall see Mr. Shea concludes.

"I'm not dead yet!" says our friend the phone book.

Monday, October 4, 2010

red cross book fair

Fun book I found
This past weekend was the Monroe County Red Cross Book Fair.  I used to turn up my nose at used books, but several years ago I discovered that you can really find some fabulous treasures in the vast tables filled with books. The trick is to come with a few hours to spare, don't bring your kids unless they are book nuts too, and just tune out the madness and focus.  I found some books by Chinese authors for Catherine, a book that is about to be read by my book club (I returned the library copy so that someone else could read it), several copies of books I have loved and loaned and never gotten back, and several books that I might like to give out as well.

Perfect copy
I am always amazed by how many pristine copies of books ones finds on the tables.  Did someone buy the book and never get a chance to read it.  Was it a gift that the receiver was never interested in?  I love also getting a book that has been inscribed by someone else or has notes in it.  It adds to the story and mystery of the book.  I am always interested in what there seems to be an abundance of.  This year there were a lot of copies of Eat, Pray, Love and Anita Shreve books.  I wanted to find some Alexander McCall Smith books as my mother is always raving about them, but I could not find a single one. I also wanted to find some books on writing to help me generate ideas for some writing workshops that I am running this fall.  I also found some interesting little gems and fiction that I might get to someday. 

Inscribed by the giver.  Remember to Laugh!
I tend to stick mostly to fiction, biography, poetry and reference sections.  The friend I brought came away with some treasures from the travel and language sections.  Another friend I ran into loves the old books that show women in aprons cooking entire meals from scratch and another likes cookbooks and cooking magazines. There are a fair number of children's books, puzzles and games which I stay away from.  We have plenty of our own which would make a good donation for next years book fair.

Remember diagramming sentences?
Another interesting thing I noted was that I saw several books that I own and thought to myself, "oh, I can part with that."  I made a note to start emptying some of my own bookshelves.  I will make an unwritten rule that I must get rid of (donate to next years book fair) at least as many books that I took in this year.  Shouldn't be too hard.    If you missed this years book fair, you can always head to the Friends of Library book sale which takes place every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  You can find lots of gems there as well.  In general I try to stay away.  I am pretty overwhelemd with book as it is.  Find any treasures?  I'd love to hear about them.