Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Tasteless humor

Last night Brian said to me, "You heard that Michael Jackson got off?"

I nodded, and waited a beat for the obvious joke to follow. When Brian didn't say anything more, I couldn't help myself, and I stole the punchline that I had been expecting from him:

"And the jury didn't convict him."

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Judging books by their covers

Who was it that decided one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday, and I find judging a book by its cover very useful. A certain kind of small, thick book with block letters on the cover and little art is clearly a mystery novel. Add a little art and it’s some kind of popular fiction. Some cover art just says “I am literature, not just fiction.” Pink covers with curly fonts with pictures of high heels and martini glasses scream “chick-lit.” I recognize the covers of books from certain publishers—the orange spines of Penguin books, for instance, or the small Signet Classics—and treat them with varying levels of trust.

Other books are less clear. Most science fiction is easy to recognize—by the title, the font, the cover art. Yesterday I picked up a copy of Flowers for Algernon. It didn’t look like science fiction, but the back cover proclaimed that it was a winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, which I thought had something to do with sci-fi. I took it over to Brian, who knows more about that genre than I do. He confirmed that it was science fiction, but the kind that I like—I’m resistant to strange names and different planets, but I can handle time travel and futuristic laboratory science. When I was reading The Time Traveler’s Wife and described it to Brian, he said, “You’re reading science fiction?” I was reluctant to describe it as such. “No,” I told him, “it’s just sort of…magic. But treated as real.”

I should admit that I am a book snob. Where a book is in the store and what its cover looks like matters to me. Flowers for Algernon looked interesting. I don’t read much sci-fi, but since it wasn’t in that section (although maybe it was just misfiled, since it didn’t have a black cover with futuristic looking people or creatures on it), I thought it might be worth my attention. But those books with the bright pink or green covers? The one where a cartoonish woman with a high ponytail and high heels holds a martini glass or a shopping bag? That’s chick-lit, and I’m not even going to pick it up to read the back cover. But if a book has a blurry, artsy photo, that’s my book. Blurb from the New Yorker? I’ll take it. A sticker indicating that it’s got Oprah’s approval? Oohh, that’s tough. Some of those books are a little too…Oprah, for my tastes. But then she goes and picks Anna Karenina or The Corrections. What then? And of this is to say that I only read books that are (or aspire to be) “literary fiction.” I look forward to new Patricia Cornwell mysteries. I buy some of those small, fat popular novels. But somehow those aren’t the same for me as the classic books or the new authors I read.

I’m such a snob, that I’m even a bit embarrassed to admit that I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday. I love to look through the books recommended by Booksense. I’d rather say I was in an independent bookstore—Kramerbooks or Chapters. It makes me miss Santa Cruz, where Bookshop Santa Cruz is as big and as comfortable for browsing as Barnes and Noble is. I go to Barnes and Noble, and I buy books on Amazon.com, but I would rather admit to lurking in few, long, narrow aisles of Kulturas, my favorite used book store. That is truly a store for people who love to read—it’s hard to find a specific title, as they don’t know precisely what they have in stock; alphabetical order in approximate (if you are looking for Toni Morrison, start when you first see authors whose names begin with K, and continue until you run into someone whose last name starts with R); and books are two or three deep on the shelves, with more on their sides, stacked on top of those that are lined up neatly. That even makes digging through the mysteries fun, although in my pretentiousness, I tend to wander through the genre-less fiction, picking out books that have been noted by Booksense, or that have those artsy, literary covers. I go there because I like picking up books I've never heard of and those I have, so I can touch them, read the covers or the first chapters, put them back on the shelf, and lose them among other classics and best sellers and obscure titles, while I move on to something else.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Walking for the Cure

I remember when one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in college, and she sent me an email to tell me. When I went home at Thanksgiving a few weeks later, I tried to make her promise that she would come to my graduation in June. I thought that if I made her promise to be there, she would have to be okay. She wouldn't promise, but she was there (although without much hair) when I received my diploma. And this month she celebrates 5 years since she completed her treatment.

About a month ago I signed up for the Race for the Cure. I was excited about it at the time, and eventually sent out a fundraising email to friends and family. But that was last month, before I went to Italy (photos coming soon) and came back jetlagged.

So last night a sleepy little devil sat on one of my shoulders telling me, "No one will know if you don't go. Just stay home and sleep in."

But a little angel in walking shoes scolded me from my other shoulder, "You said you would do it. People donated $300."

"It's probably going to be raining. You don't want to go downtown at 8 am in the rain," the devil in slippers said.

"Walking 5K in the rain at 8 am is nothing compared to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation."

How could I argue with that? So this morning I woke up early, headed downtown, and walked 5K, along with thousands of others, included many cancer survivors. And it didn't rain.

Thanks to those of you who gave me donations. That money goes to support valuable research, as well as treatment for those who cannot afford care. And it means a lot to me.