Monthly Archives: January 2013

Scuze me while I kiss half the sky

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Raping women as an act of war is a popular strategy in certain parts of the world, such as Sudan. It lets the male soldiers get their jollies, and it destroys not just lives but whole communities. If you additionally violate the woman with an implement such as a stick, you can cause fistulas, or holes — not just in her vagina, but in any nearby organs. Rape by stick is not precision surgery.

Fistulas mean that urine and feces can leak out uncontrollably for the rest of the woman’s life. Lots of women wind up killing themselves, particularly since not many people want to share a roof with a permanently incontinent person. 

Fistulas don’t always happen as a result of savage sexual violence. You can get them if you don’t have access to medical care during a pregnancy or childbirth.

ImageI’m getting this information from Half the Sky, a 2009 book that is likely to become the next title that I force down everyone’s throat, whether or not they have any interest in reading it. That’s not very professional librarian behavior, but I’m not employed as a librarian so I can’t say as I care. The authors are husband-and-wife team Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I’ve never heard of her, but I’ve read his columns in the New York Times. He rubs me the wrong way in his columns — he comes across as so damn pious, and I am a petty person who feels threatened when other people are obviously living a morally superior lifestyle. But the book was a superb read. About half of it is horrible, drawing attention to the brutal violence done to women across the world. The other half is inspiring. 

Reading this book was part of my haphazard approach to studying for the Foreign Service test, which I’ll be taking on February 6th. But it also turned out to be part of the larger conversation I’m having (chiefly with myself) about what to do when I grow up.

I’ve had two job interviews lately, a welcome change after seven months of nothing. The first interview was for a part-time social work job with no benefits and lousy pay at the homeless shelter where I’m volunteering. That interview was two weeks ago, so I’m assuming that no job offer will be forthcoming. The second interview was for a temporary admin assistant job with no benefits and lousy pay at the local university. That was earlier today. 

Either one of these positions would provide some financial relief, but neither pays a living wage. They are not permanent solutions. And even if they did pay adequate money, I don’t know that they’d provide a permanent solution for personal happiness.

Reading about human rights violations makes me want to do something radical. Human rights actually come in second on my list of priorities — the ecological health of the planet comes in first — but either way, I feel like I should be doing something more meaningful. I feel like I should be shielding baby seals from clubbing or helping teenagers escape from sexual slavery.

Kristoff and WuDunn observed that most Western aid tends to be concentrated in cities, while the most pressing needs are in rural settings. Practically the only foreigners in the villages of the neediest countries are missionaries. I don’t quite see that as a viable career path for myself. I could conceivably align myself with certain faith programs, but I wouldn’t be able to handle the evangelizing part.

Also, the women discussed in Half the Sky all live in really hot countries. I am fairly certain that baby seals live in cold climates, so that trajectory seems promising, but I’m hoping there are human rights violations in cold countries. Well, that’s not quite what I meant to say.

In my last post I had promised to talk more about reading, along with its importance to me, and the various forces that conspire to prevent me from reading as much as I want. Instead I’ve gone and talked about intense violence. That was unkind of me. It’s on the agenda for next week’s post.


Book Rundown, 2012

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Seven hundred and fourteen books. Seven hundred and fourteen books read in their entirety, plus  an additional thirty-seven re-reads, for a grand total of seven hundred and fifty-one books consumed in seven years, along with mega-bonus points for writing a book during that span.

That sounds way more impressive than the paltry 55 books I read this year.

This is not the place to make excuses for my low tally. I will make those excuses at length in my next post. For now, perhaps I can distract you with links to the more robust reading accomplishments of years past:

I’m not the kind to go in for New Year’s resolutions, but for this I’ll make an exception. In 2013 my numbers will return to the low-to-mid hundreds where they belong. I say this not as a point of pride — though of course that’s at stake — but because I get grumpy when I can’t read as much as I’d like.

Painful though it will be, let’s take a look at the specifics:

Total books read, cover-to-cover: 55

Age levels:

  • Adult: 45
  • YA: 9
  • Children’s: 1

Books read that were published in 2012: approximately 18.

Nonfiction: 18

Fiction: 37

Genres: (as some books have more than one genre, total exceeds 55)


  • Adventure: 2
  • Economics: 1
  • History: 2
  • How-to: 1
  • Language: 1
  • Memoir: 3
  • Nature: 1
  • Science: 5
  • Social Science: 2


  • Canonical/Classic: 1 or 2. Depends if you count Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
  • Crime, i.e., Mystery, Suspense, and Thriller: 5
  • Erotica: 1. (So that’s what they mean by “graphic novel.”)
  • Fantasy: 15 — as always, I read more in fantasy than in any other genre
  • Horror: 5
  • Humor: 1
  • Literary Fiction: 4
  • Popular/Mainstream/No particular genre: 5
  • Science Fiction: 2


  • Audiobooks: I’m reluctant to listen to books while driving, because I pay too little attention to either the book or to the traffic lights. Unemployment handily eliminates the need to drive much, though, and nowadays my commute involves walking to a homeless shelter to volunteer. The pay sucks, but I get to listen to books as I walk — and if I get distracted, nobody dies. This year I listened to fifteen books, all adult nonfiction.
  • Graphic novels: Five, of which one was nonfiction. Now that I don’t have access to a good library, my reading in general has suffered, and my reading of graphic novels has plummeted.


  • Annual fat Russian novel: The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  The same man who wrote the best book ever, The Brothers Karamazov, is also responsible for Notes from Underground, in which he forgot to include a plot, and The Idiot, in which the few moments of insight were overshadowed by weak prose and horrible characters. The protagonist is supposed to be a Christ figure, but I wanted to beat him up after class and stuff him in a locker.
  • Re-reads: 3.
  • Annual language book: The Secret Life of Pronouns, by James W. Pennebaker

Authors: 46

New (to me) authors: 27

Best book of the year: Columbine, by David Cullen. This was published a few years ago, but I regret to report that it has not lost its relevance.  And, collectively, the books of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. I’d read the first entry years ago, and then sworn continue till he’d finished writing the books, but after a disappointing experience with Guy Gavriel Kay, I wanted some really excellent fantasy books and I lost my resolve.

Honorable mentions: 

  • Broken Harbor, by Tana French
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole, by Stephen King
  • Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
  • 1493, by Charles C. Mann
  • A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
  • In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
  • Second Nature, by Michael Pollan
  • Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
  • Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt
  • Monkey Mind, by Daniel B. Smith
  • Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammet
  • Breasts, by Florence Williams


A Land More Kind Than Home, by Wiley Cash, was well-received by critics, who seem to think that exaggerated stereotypes and shallow observations constitute quality southern literature.

For your obsessive pleasure: Every single book I read! Sorted by author!

Author Title
Bechdel, Alison Are You My Mother?
Borgenicht, David and Joshua Priven Worst Case Scenario Handbook: Travel
Broad, William The Science of Yoga
Butcher, Jim Cold Days
Butcher, Jim Ghost Story
Cash, Wiley A Land More Kind Than Home
Coben, Harlan Stay Close
Cowen, Tyler An Economist Gets Lunch
Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class As Soulcraft
Cullen, David Columbine
Deaver, Jeffery XO
Dostoevsky, Fyodor The Idiot
Duncan, Glen Talullah Rising
Flynn, Gillian Gone Girl
French, Tana Broken Harbor
Grandin, Temple Animals in Translation
Green, John The Fault in Our Stars
Hansen, Mykle Help! A Bear is Eating Me
Hinton, S.E. The Outsiders
Horowitz, Alexandra Inside of a Dog
Jackson, Shirley We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Kay, Guy Gavriel The Summer Tree
Kay, Guy Gavriel The Wandering Fire
Kay, Guy Gavriel The Darkest Road
King, Stephen The Wind Through the Keyhole
Krakauer, Jon Into the Wild
Kurson, Robert Shadow Divers
Mann, Charles C. 1493
Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones
Martin, George R. R. A Clash of Kings
Martin, George R. R. A Storm of Swords
Martin, George R. R. A Feast for Crows
McKean, Dave Celluloid
Mulligan, Andy Trash
Ness, Patrick A Monster Calls
Parker, K. J. Let Maps to Others
Parker, K. J. Sharps
Pennebaker, James W. The Secret Life of Pronouns
Plum-Ucci, Carol The Body of Christopher Creed
Plum-Ucci, Carol Following Christopher Creed
Pollan, Michael In Defense of Food
Pollan, Michael Second Nature
Roberson, Chris iZOMBIE
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone
Scalzi, John Old Man’s War
Schmidt, Gary D. Okay for Now
Smith, Daniel B. Monkey Mind
Spencer, Nick Morning Glories v.1
Spencer, Nick Morning Glories v.2
Stout, Martha The Sociopath Next Door
Tammet, Daniel Born on a Blue Day
Walker, Karen Thompson The Age of Miracles
Walter, Jess Beautiful Ruins
Whitehead, Colson Zone One
Williams, Florence Breasts