Archive for ‘Essay’

December 19, 2010

December Thoughts from South Asia

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BY KULPREET YADAV

John Lennon – We Imagine you!

The two people who impacted me the most when I was teenager growing up in downtown Pune, a large city in India’s Midwest, were John Lennon and James Hadley Chase. John’s gone for thirty years now.

Why do crazy people spot and erase such geniuses? It’s a question that I have been wondering about recently. Imagine if we had John’s songs for a decade or two more. I can’t imagine, can you? I think only John could tell me how and with his untimely demise our right to vivid imagination has been stolen away. The BBC, in a specially aired show on the eve of the anniversary of his death, showed young college students singing his songs at campuses in America and other places. I guess the songs of John Lennon will continue to live forever – just like him. This I sure can imagine.

 

Publishing ruckus in India

Throughout India, there is a lack of publishers, surely not enough for the appetite of millions who have the aptitude to pen down their stories, poetries or observations. Understandably, many from foreign shores are queuing up, which leads to strong emotion here, but if you are alongside me here in India you will see the point. A recent article in a leading weekly has pegged the publishing industry in India growing at twenty percent, an enthusiasm that is slated to sustain for at least five more years. Recently, U.S.-based publisher Hachette set up their India office and more are rumored to follow.

The traditional Indian publishing industry, if they intend to survive this invasion, need to put their houses in order. Distribution and sieving through each submission that comes their way is the key. While the former might be easy to figure out, it is the latter that is the real problem. A publisher friend says he has time and resources to read only five percent of what he receives.

 

Winters at Port Blair

While my family is braving the chills in Delhi, I am all bandana, shorts and T-shirt clad here at Port Blair, an island city in the middle of the Bay of Bengal. It’s December and here the weather is as good as it can get. There are people – Indian tourists and irregular foreign ones – everywhere you see. It’s good fun to visit bars in the evenings and I do just that on most days. At the bars everyone wants to sing, most men can be heard boasting their stories at the tables with others around the table not necessarily listening, and the girls are their giggly best. But I still miss my family. Anyone who has stayed away from his wife and kids for over two months at a stretch can feel my pain.

 

***
Kulpreet Yadav is a novelist, short fiction writer and a poet from India. You can visit his blog here.

December 17, 2010

Little Librarians or Little Monsters?

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BY LACEY N. DUNHAM

Little Librarian is a DIY kit with the tag line: “Be a real librarian. Just add books!”

Although I think it’s awesome that there’s a toy aimed at turning children onto reading books (the type without batteries or screens) I feel this item should also come with a warning: USE OF THE LITTLE LIBRARIAN PERSONAL LIBRARY KIT COULD TURN YOUR CHILD INTO A LITTLE MONSTER. PURCHASE AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I love librarians. I love libraries. I love librarians and libraries so much that when I was eleven, I geeked out in the stationary supplies aisle of Wal-Mart and purchased a pack of 3 x 5 unlined index cards, a blue plastic index card filebox, a black sharpie, Scotch tape, a rubber date stamp, and a hot pink stamp pad. At home, I took the items to my bedroom and glued an index card into the back of all my books, writing in the neatest handwriting I could manage “RETURN BY” at the top of each one. I reinforced the spines with the Scotch tape and tested the rubber date stamp on sheets of my father’s tax return.

I own a lot of books and at age eleven, this habit was already well on its way to becoming an obsession. Because my middle school had no library, my peers frequently asked to borrow books from me and, always happy to lend them, I was frustrated that many were not returned, or were returned in poor condition. My solution: create a formal lending library.

The next time a classmate asked to borrow a book, I went home and filled out an index card with her name, the title of the book, the date borrowed and due date. I filed the card in my blue filebox and stamped the due date in the book. I was officially in the non-profit business of running a library.

I began to lend out three or four books each day, sometimes to kids in other classrooms whom I didn’t even know. R.L Stine and Christopher Pike were popular authors, so I created waiting lists for especially sought after titles. The American Girl series of books that I’d outgrown a year or two before were frequently requested; less popular were Scott O’Dell and Paula Fox. I lent Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Even The Boxcar Children found new life among my classmates.

Whenever I delivered a book, a single sheet of paper was tucked into its pages: the borrowing rules. Based on the rules of the actual library, I had typed my list of rules on my electronic typewriter and assumed that anyone receiving a sheet with the word “rules” in bold at the top would adhere to them.

Thus began my first lesson as a little librarian: people do not follow the rules.

Books were returned after the due date and were sometimes damaged: covers bent or torn, pages dog-eared, crumbs scattered in the spine. I prided myself on taking excellent care of books and their mishandling at the sticky fingers of my peers angered me. Fortunately, the borrowing rules had delinquents covered.

Per the rules, I was already charging a fine of 10 cents per day for each overdue item. Why not fine people for returning books in a damaged condition? I re-typed the borrowing rules and began to collect payments. Frequent violators had “DO NOT LEND” scrawled across their borrower’s card. Friends were granted clandestine extensions and had their fines forgiven. Boys I liked were secretly moved to the top of waitlists.

At home each night, I sorted through my filebox, checking on upcoming due dates and noting who had outstanding fines. At school, my classmates crowded around my locker as I pulled their book requests from my backpack.

Then it happened. As I would learn two years later from my history teacher Mr. Meiner, absolute power corrupts absolutely. My library was so successful, I doubled the fines. Friends were no longer given amnesty. I spent my lunch period demanding payments. Having learned a thing or two about boys, girl were automatically placed first on all waitlists. Students began fighting over the books as I pulled them from my backpack each morning. My friend Angela had a borrowed a very popular R.L. Stine from me and it was subsequently stolen from her. I still made her pay the late fee and, because book was never found, the $4.99 to replace it.

I can’t recall exactly who or how or why but, eventually, my library was shut down. My rubber date stamp fell to disuse and the stamp pad dried up. The index cards became flashcards for memorizing war battles in social studies class. The blue filebox was tucked into my closet to gather dust. Years later, the R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books were donated to the town library (I kept Nancy Drew, Scott O’Dell, and Paula Fox), where they were sold for twenty-five cents each at the annual library book sale.

December 6, 2010

THIS Reads: Welcome to the Nerd’s House

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BY LACEY N. DUNHAM

That I am a book nerd should not come as a surprise to any of my friends or to anyone who reads this ‘zine’s blog on even the occasional day. I’ve loved and treasured books since I was a little child and I definitely have a pack-rat complex to keeping books: it’s nearly impossible for me to give any away. Library book sales, garage sales and bookstores are my Achilles’ Heel. Doing laundry in my apartment building is dangerous – the giveaway shelf is next to the laundry room and I almost always return to my apartment with a stack of excellent literature cradled in one arm, the detergent and laundry bag dragging from the other. Random House’s The Library of America imprint is for me what Manolo Blahnik was to Carrie Bradshaw.

At least books aren’t cocaine, otherwise, I’d have a very serious problem.

Earlier this summer, I decided to reorganize the bookshelves in my apartment. I pulled all the books from their shelves and separated them by category: novels, short fiction, poetry, plays, young adult and children’s, essays and memoir, biographies, books about writing, gender and sexuality, general history, philosophy, education policy, and miscellany. I reserved one entire bookcase for books signed by the author. Segregating my collection began as a restless summer activity borne from a desire to fit all of my recently acquired books onto the shelves but ended as an peek into my personal interests – and surprised even me.

I knew I owned hundreds of novels (219 when I counted them at the start of this project) and nearly a hundred (98) short fiction collections. What surprised me was how many books on education policy I still own (approximately 50) and, even though I am no longer a teacher, the plethora of children’s and young adult books I kept (somewhere around 150). I own much of Orhan Pamuk and Annie Dillard’s ouvre, both fiction and non-fiction (and for Dillard, poetry), which is something I hadn’t realized prior to my project. I own two copies of Bitch Magazine’s “best of” collection, Bitchfest (oops!). Previously, I never classified myself as a reader of memoirs, biographies, or writers’ letters and journals but my collection includes everything from Guy du Maupassant and Eduardo Galeano’s histories cum memoirs to Antonina Fraser’s letters to her husband, Harold Pinter, to the hilarious memoirs of John Waters and Dan Savage.

I stopped counting individual books after the fiction was shelved. I estimate that my apartment holds about 1,100 books. Many of the books I collected while growing up and later as a college undergraduate are boxed away in the basement of my parent’s house where I estimate there are another 500 or so books tucked beside my father’s weightlifting equipment from high school and my mother’s Singer sewing machine.

While sorting through my beloved treasure, I realized I acquire many more books than I could possibly read in my lifetime. As my two cats jumped between the naked shelves, excited for their temporary playground, I wondered if I should give up my books, donate them to a library or home for the elderly or sell them on e-Bay for a decent sum of money. And why shouldn’t I? Despite the number of books I read each year, I hadn’t read half of the ones I own. Why keep my sprawling collection intact when I could just as easily borrow from the library or download them on an e-reader that takes up a sliver of the space? After all, I live in Washington, DC where rents are high and apartments (at least what I can afford) are tiny. My books crowd bookshelves, the dining room table, the bureau in my bedroom, my desk and both living room end tables.

Shortly after, I ran into a woman who frequently purchases books from the same independent bookstore where I shop. I had once asked her how many books she thought she owned and she gave a shrug when she said, “I don’t know. Four or five thousand, maybe.” She only purchases hardcover first editions. It’s her beloved quirk because, unlike most book collectors, she doesn’t keep them in pristine condition. She lives in an apartment, too, and told me she stacks her books in waist-high piles that she pushes together and covers with un-hemmed fabric to make tables.

I asked her why she doesn’t sell them or give them away. I imagine her apartment as a landscape of colorful spines, books pressed against walls and tumbling into the hallway. “They’re mine,” she said simply. “They’re who I am.”

I returned home that night and looked at the piles of books scattered around my apartment, my project half-completed before my crisis of faith. I opened a grocery bag and dropped in ten books for a donation to a charity that collects books for deployed U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently, there’s a lot of down time for reading in the desert. The rest of my books I tucked lovingly away on my bookshelves. My books are part of me, part of my identity. Walk into my apartment, browse my bookshelves, and you’ll know who I am.

November 23, 2010

From the ‘zine: In the Heart of Dogtown by Sweetman

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Contributing writer Sweetman’s essay “In the Heart of Dogtown” chronicles her experiences in an abandoned colonial settlement in Gloucester, Massachusetts and is a spooky telling of a town no one will talk about.

There were a few references stating Dogtown was a refuge for freed slaves and those who were suspected of witchcraft. One article I came across said its last inhabitants were prostitutes, aging former slaves and a pack of wild dogs. It emptied or died out by 1837. The houses fell to ruin and it’s never been inhabited since—why?

What little I found made me want to know more. I marveled at why such an interesting place in a destination city on the North Shore was barely mentioned. Despite the poverty of information, there was a common theme in every article and trail guide regarding Dogtown: its trails are confusing, it’s easy to get lost and you should never hike alone.

Continue reading Sweetman’s “In the Heart of Dogtown”

November 4, 2010

From the ‘zine: Seeing Through Red

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Seeing Through Red
by Laura Dvorak

A week after I left the heat soared. The roads of Moscow were melting and men were dying, although indirectly and largely in part because they tried swimming the Baltic, bellies filled with vodka. Red vodka was my favorite, the cherry sweetness smooth and cool. The steaming streets of Moscow, becoming stickier in the third week of vindictive temperatures, were sprayed by convoys of water trucks, perhaps the very road-cleaning trucks the taxi crept behind, tires sluicing wet tar early Saturday morning two days before solstice. Maraschino light spilled across blocky buildings along the freeway. As the airport grew taller, I didn’t want to leave.

Continue reading “Seeing Through Red”

October 10, 2010

From the ‘zine: Broke, Cheap, and Collegiate

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YOU ONLY GIVE ME YOUR FUNNY PAPER:
A tale of the broke, cheap and collegiate
by Cailin Barrett-Bressack

My grandfather is known as the “coupon man” in all grocery stores near his home and will argue with any cashier until they accept an expired coupon out of sheer frustration. He discovered the “carpool” EZpass discount for tollbooths, where they’ll knock off a dollar for groups of three or more. He keeps an enormous stuffed gorilla in the back seat of his car, a baseball cap pulled over it’s beady plastic eyes and a blanket wrapped around its shoulders, so that he can get the discount when it’s only he and my grandmother driving. At restaurants, he orders water with lemon and then adds sweet and low from the table to make his own lemonade. I never thought I’d follow in his footsteps.

But now, I’m a college student. I’m living on my own. I pay rent every month. I work. And I’m surrounded by friends who are doing the same. Frugality is not only the norm now: it is revered.

For example, Craigslist.com is a college student’s best friend… continue reading

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