Book Bits: Sherman Alexie, Smoky Zeidel, ‘Freshwater,’ book covers, Amy Tan

According to the social media, people are impatient for Spring. Booker Talk (Item 2), one of my favorite blogs, wishes all of us Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus i chi! (Happy St. David’s Day to You All) with a fine list of Welsh books to consider during inclement weather. It’s raining hard here in Northwest Georgia, so in between furtive trips into the yard to see what the bulbs are doing, I’m doing a lot of reading. If you’ve got stormy weather and don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky, here are a few links to help you wait for Spring.

  1. Wikipedia Photo

    News: Sherman Alexie’s Response to Harassment Accusations – “After a month of online charges that he has been abusive to many women, particularly Native American women, author Sherman Alexie issued a statement yesterday. It’s a mix of admission and denial and, as with to much of the matter, it’s somewhat vague.” Shelf Awareness

  2. Lists: Books to mark Wales’ special day – March 1 is St David’s Day in Wales — “St David being our patron saint — so usually a day for celebration of all things Welsh. The celebrations will be very muted this year however with schools closed and concerts cancelled because of Storm Emma, so I thought I would mark the occasion by highlighting some new books from authors and publishers based in Wales.” BookerTalk
  3. New Title: Garden Metamorphosis: New and Collected Poems of Change and Growth, by Smoky Zeidel (Thomas-Jacob, March 1) – “In the midst of a confusing and frightening world, Smoky Zeidel remains true to form with her poetry, gently reminding us to close out the superfluous and remember that which is sacred. Garden Metamorphosis is both a love song to Mother Earth, and a celebration of the cycle of life Read the complete poems, plus Zeidel’s short story, ‘Transformed.'” Thomas-Jacob Publishing
  4. Ursu

    Feature: Sexual Harassment in the Children’s Book Industry, by Anne Ursu – “These are the sort of events we’re told to brush off — they’re jokes, they’re flattering, no big deal. But when you believe you are a professional and someone informs you they see you as a sex object, it can shatter your sense of self and your sense of safety.” Medium

  5. Quotation: “The future of publishing lies with the small and medium-sized presses, because the big publishers in New York are all part of huge conglomerates.” Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  6. Review: Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi, reviewed by Tariro Mzezewa – “In her remarkable and daring debut novel, “Freshwater,” Akwaeke Emezi draws in part from her own life to tell the story of Ada, a young Igbo and Tamil woman haunted by the ogbanje — the ‘godly parasite with many heads, roaring inside the marble room of her mind.’” New York Times
  7. Feature: Meet the Designers behind Your Favorite Book Covers, by Alexxa Gotthardt – “We talk with five designers whose book jackets are routinely hailed as crowd favorites. Their designs blanket young adult bestsellers like John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down (2017), literary classics like Vladimir Nabokov’s The Eye (1930), and tomes that rethink the form of a book (one comes with a remote control, and drives like a toy car).” Artsy
  8. Interview Amy Tan on Writing and the Secrets of Her Past, with Nicole Chung – “In ‘Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir,’ Amy Tan recalls the time a relative told her mother that she shouldn’t fill her daughter’s head with ‘all these useless stories.’ Why should Amy know so much, visit her mother’s painful memories, when it was beyond her power to change the past? Her mother replied: ‘I tell her so she can tell everyone, tell the whole world . . . That’s how it can be changed.’ As she writes in her memoir, ‘My mother gave me permission to tell the truth.’” Shondaland

Book Bits is compiled randomly by author Malcolm R. Campbell.

Me, Too – New York City, June 1967

“I’d like to scrape up some sense of triumph over the fact that many courageous women have raised their voices. But I don’t feel triumphant. I feel humiliated and angry. They hate us. That’s my immediate thought, with each new revelation: They hate us. And then, a more sick-making suspicion: They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.” – Gillian Flynn in “A Howl”

What I have to say after fifty years of silence is relatively insignificant when contrasted with what many courageous women have lived with and finally come forward as the true silence breakers–as Time Magazine calls them–to tell us about the verbal and physical sexual harassment they suffered through.

Grand Central Station – Wikipedia Photo.

Some women have been asked why they didn’t speak out sooner. Quite often, they feared for their safety, their careers, and for the blame and condemnation that society would bestow upon them as insult on top of injury. Many, I think, can echo Gillian Flynn’s statement, “I feel humiliated and angry.” That’s how felt after a smaller event in 1967.

During my summer break at Syracuse University, I took the New York Central train from Syracuse to New York City’s Grand Central Station. I’d been at the midtown Manhattan station before, knew my way around, and understood that it’s best in big cities to walk with a sense of purpose rather than standing around like a greenhorn who doesn’t know where he is or where he’s going. I was headed for Europe for volunteer work and planned to have breakfast and then grab a cab to the National Council of Churches office on Riverside Drive.

When I got off the train with my suitcase, an African American man in his late 30s appeared, grabbed by suitcase, and said, “I’ll help you figure out where you are.” I assumed he was a thief or a tout from a nearby hotel. I’ve always had fast reflexes. Before he could take a step, I grabbed the suitcase handle. He didn’t remove his hand, choosing to continue the side-by-side contact of our hands and looked me in the eye in a way I didn’t like.

“What are you seeking?” he asked.

“Breakfast,” I said.

He let go of the suitcase, saying, “Follow me out on the street and I’ll point out a place with the second best eggs and bacon in the city.”

I was surprised when he simply pointed to a restaurant a half a block away and disappeared into the crowd.  The encounter seemed odd, but I put it out of my mind as I went inside the place–I no longer remember the name–and saw that it was typical New York, efficient, brusque, and carried the aroma of great food. I found a booth so I’d have a place to stash my suitcase, glanced at the menu for a nanosecond before a waitress appeared and said, “Yeah?” I have no idea what I ordered: bacon, eggs and hash browns, probably, because before the food arrived, the guy from the train station showed up, slid into my side of the booth like we were together, and asked what I’d ordered. When I told him, he said that wasn’t bad, but that he could fix me something better at his apartment a few blocks away.

Had my coffee arrived, I would have done a spit take and showered him with coffee.

“Why would I do that?” I asked.

“Because I want to make love to you?”

“My girl wouldn’t approve. I wouldn’t either.”

He laughed the way people laugh when they think they’ve heard a falsehood.

“Why didn’t this girl of yours meet your train?”

“She’s at work.”

“Where?”

“Riverside Drive.”

“High class girl. What’s she look like?”

The waitress set down my meal and fled the scene with a frown that gave me little confidence she’d kill the guy while I escaped out the backdoor.

“Catherine Deneuve,” I said, because I had a crush on the actress.

“Can’t compete with that,” he said, fetching a piece of bacon off my plate. He was sitting closer than necessary. In fact, there was no space between us and his arm was behind me on the back of the booth.

“Nobody can. Go find an easier mark at the train station.”

He acted like I’d plunged a knife into his heart, a thought that crossed my mind, and then we argued as I tried to eat my breakfast while he became a lawyer, so to speak, claiming that a guy like me couldn’t possibly have a girl who looked like Catherine Deneuve.

Finally, he said, “I say it’s because I’m black and have a bigger dick than you’ve ever seen in your life. You want to run but you don’t.”

“I have no interest in men.”

“Ever tried one?”

“I don’t need to try a collie dog to know that there’s no future for Lassie and me.”

He put his hand on my thigh. “You need it bad. Here you are in the big city with a fake girl friend on Riverside drive and no place to lie down. I bet you don’t even have a hotel reservation.”

“The Woodstock,” I said, mentioning a reasonable place that had apparently gone down hill since my family stayed there some ten years earlier.

He seemed surprised to hear the name of an actual hotel. “That dump? Don’t make me laugh.”

“Get your hand off me.”

“You want it there. I can see that.”

I shoved the remains of my breakfast away, caught the waitress’ eye, and handed her enough to cover the meal and the tip. When he didn’t leave the booth, I pushed him away, got my suitcase and left the restaurant. I went to the first cab in the queue and when the driver came out and put my suitcase in the trunk, he asked, “where we headed?”

“475 Riverside Drive,” I said.

There he was, hovering next to line of taxis. “I guess you weren’t shitting me about Riverside,” he said. “Your loss.”

I ignored him even though he was holding on to the frame of the open window. I felt like telling the driver something out of the movies, “We’re being followed. Can you do something about it?” But I just let him drive away at his own speed because I was already wondering what I could have possibly done to attract this guy in the first place and how I could have gotten rid of him sooner.

Well, he was soon going to be a world away from me and out of mind. I sailed for Europe on an Italian ship the following day, happy to see he hadn’t come aboard. The summer in Europe captured my thoughts, but he remained in the background as a  haunting specter whom I still wonder about from a day I felt humiliated and vulnerable.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

What’s love got to do with it?

When it comes to most sex, apparently nothing.

Rape and other forms of abuse are crimes of hate and have nothing to do with consensual recreational sex, much less love.

Now that James Toback’s and Harvey Weinstein’s names have become nearly synonymous with physical and verbal sexual harassment, people are asking how this has happened.

Wikipedia photo

There’s no need to ask. Most men were brought up to believe that the purpose of women is sex, free or for pay. I’ll stipulate that in many families–such as mine–young men were taught that sex is appropriate only when it’s a component of love and marriage: the times have changed about that as, to varying extents, both men and woman believe consensual sex is simply recreation–like, say, bowling or jogging or tennis.

As for men’s belief that the purpose of women is sex. that has not changed. I heard that on the playground and the middle school and high school locker rooms during P.E. class fifty years ago, and knew it was the basic attitude of varsity and junior varsity high school and college teams. Certainly, I heard this view in the military.

What I did not hear was talk of rape. Culturally, men were encouraged to develop excessive masculine traits, including being and acting as macho as possible, focus on rugged sports like wrestling/boxing  and football rather than baseball and tennis, going hunting for sport rather than any need for food, to generally avoid courses/hobbies/activities relating to liberal arts, to approach everything in life with an over-the-top (and often mindless) pack mentality bravado, and to seek out “the kind of woman” who enjoyed consensual sex.

Now society is asking why any man would have an entitlement attitude about sex and women as sex objects. The answer isn’t new: Men are brought up to believe this. While women are not at fault for this–other than the pretense that it’s okay for their husbands to bring up their sons with this mindset–they have contributed to the women as sex objects mindset by wearing more and more provocative clothing. However, this clothing does not justify rape. It does cloud the issue.

Wikipedia photo

Women have asked for the right to do what men have always done: wear what they want, walk alone where they want, and generally to feel safe and be safe wherever they are. While I was not brought up to see such rights as provocative behavior, men in general have been trained/brainwashed to believe that a woman alone was “an opportunity.”

So now, as I read in the news, many men in Hollywood don’t know what to say about Toback, Weinstein and others. If they admit they were aware of non-consensual sex, groping, and verbal abuse/innuendo, they are asked why they didn’t protest this behavior. If they claim they didn’t know it was happening, they’re assumed to be naive or to be lying.

I don’t feel their pain. I have no sympathy for them. Even though men have been (and are still being) brought up to see woman as sex objects, we were also brought up to see rape and other physical/verbal abuse as crimes. Yes, there have been numerous examples of groups of men becoming silent to shield a member who is accused of rape. Yet, rape is a crime and men know that it is. Hollywood has been complicit for years. In many ways, we all have been complicit because even the best of men know how men have been brought up and I have a strong feeling that very few of us stood up in a locker room and said “you guys are assholes” when teammates said “we’re gonna get drunk and find some free pussy tonight.”

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. In eight out of ten cases of rape, the victim knew the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them.” No wonder most women can say “Me, too” whether it’s rape, groping, or verbal abuse/harassment.

Who is doing this? The male animal we have all created and nurtured.

–Malcolm

Two of Campbell’s novels, “Sarabande” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat” focus on rape, the first from the victim’s viewpoint and the second from a relative’s viewpoint.