Monday, June 27, 2011

When was Frank born again?

Hello loyal Old Firehouse compatriots, this is Justin. I recently started working at the bookstore, and now I will also begin adding posts to this wonderful blog alongside my fellow coworkers. Today, on June 27, I would like to bring attention to the "birthday" of one of the twentieth centuries greatest writers, Frank O'Hara. It was widely believed for a long time (even by O'Hara himself) that Frank was born on the fateful day of June 27, 1926. However, this eventually was revealed to be a lie. Frank was actually born on March 27, 1926. His parents lied about the date of his birth because he had been conceived out of wedlock, and they attempted for many years to hide the shame this act had brought them. Can you imagine finding out that you had never actually known your real birthday? Anyway, despite O'Hara's true birthday, I would still like to celebrate today as Frank O'Hara's "birthday," and call attention to the great work he did for the literary world. O'Hara was a lead figure in the New York School of poetry, a style of writing that attempted to capture aspects of Surrealism and avant-garde art movements A piece of particular importance that he wrote is called "Personism: A Manifesto." In this mock manifesto, O'Hara calls for an end to structure and form in poetry. This work received mixed reviews as several took it far too literally, but it merely allowed for a type of writing that was loose and emotion based. Several collections of poems were produced by O'Hara, but a great book to start with is "Lunch Poems." If you aren't much of a poetry reader, then maybe today, on O'Hara's infamous "birthday," you can pick up just any poem and give it quick read to commemorate O'Hara and his craft. Thank you all for taking the time to remember an important writer with me today, and don't forget to come down to Old Firehouse to see what's in stock if you haven't been around for awhile. We love seeing you. For now, I bid you ado, and take care brave readers.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The "F" Word Part 2

Feminist has become a dirty word. Somewhere along the line the popular connotation switched from a civil rights activist to a man-hating bra-burner. I resent this transition. While we have come a long way from our feminist ancestors of the 1960s and before (see my earlier post "The 'F' Word") there is still quite a lot to be done for gender equality as a whole.

Women are given more opportunities than ever before in American history, but the death of some issues has only given birth to others. Tina Fey addresses these new issues (albeit indirectly) in her memoir Bossypants. The book goes into her issues with being "fat" and "unattractive" in show business (this was the only topic I semi-resented, since her standards are obviously the unrealistic criterion of Hollywood, and even there she seems to do alright.) Bossypants talks about the jerks who claim women can't be funny, and the attitude of Fey's early improv troupe that no one would want to see a skit with two women in it. Throughout these anecdotes, however, she never uses the word "feminist," being the dirty word that it is.

There is only one chapter where Fey directly mentions feminism: in relation to her memories of portraying Sarah Palin on the now infamous Saturday Night Live sketch. In the sketch, Fey (as Palin) and Amy Poehler (as Hilary Clinton) confront the press for their sexist representation of women in politics. While the sketch exaggerated the characteristics of either woman, in reality both Clinton and Palin had been diminished in the media through descriptions of them physically, something unheard of among male candidates. In retrospect, the feminist themes are obvious, but the first time I watched it I was only laughing. Fey puts it best in Bossypants: "You all watched a sketch about feminism and you didn't even realize it because of all the jokes. It's like when Jessica Seinfeld put spinach in kids' brownies. Suckers!" Feminism has become so scorned-- among both men and women-- that if the skit were to directly reference it, the popularity would've dropped tremendously.

Bossypants works the same way as the Palin/Clinton sketch. Fey puts the feminist spinach in the comedy book brownies and you'll eat it up just the same.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Cover Problem

I’m new to the Old Firehouse staff, so to everyone reading, HELLO!! I haven’t blogged before, but I feel its past time to start, especially since there is something that is seriously bothering me.

I recently read The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. It’ll be coming out in September, and it was a fantastic read. It follows a young woman who is being married off for the sake of two kingdoms to form a military alliance against a forming threat. She also is the bearer of something called the Godstone, which shows that she will do something in service of their God.

The story was fantastic; I loved the evolution of Elisa and of her world view. She became a much stronger character as the story went on, and her strength was needed badly in order to save herself and the countries from the approaching army.

Nothing inside of the covers bothered me; it was the cover itself that infuriated me. The cover features a fit white girl, which in itself wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that not a single character in the book fits that distinction, least of all the main character Elisa.

Rae Carson based her fictional culture off Spanish/Mexican cultures (as far as I can tell), and most of her characters are darker skinned because that fits her culture. The only light skinned people are in the attacking magical army. Another problem with the cover is that Elisa starts off the book rather overweight. She had lived a sheltered life, and she sought comfort in food, as a result, she was fat. This is a less serious issue I had with the cover, because as the story went on, Elisa lost weight as a result of a rather rushed, and forced, trip across a desert and through mountains.

This cover issue is not new. Justine Larbalestier, author of Liar, had the same issue with the American version of her book. Her main character was black, and yet the cover originally designed for it featured a white girl. Understandably there was quite a lot of outrage, from the author and from her fans, and under all of this heat, the publishers did the right thing and redesigned the cover to feature a black girl. (Here's the full story here: and here:

Publishers defend this process in a rather twisted way. They say that since most books with people of different ethnicity on their covers are typically about overcoming racial prejudices, it prevents books in other genres with people who aren't white on their covers from selling, since most people will assume the book is about overcoming stereotypes, which means that only books about that issue will have those covers. Talk about a catch-22.

Publishers have the power to change this, and they should, like Larbalestier’s publishers did, so that the book industry can overcome the catch-22 it created and set an example for other entertainment industries to do the same.

Books and your Brain

I've been reluctant to take a side in the e-books wars. I don't own an e-reader myself, but I can see the purpose of one. Wouldn't it be nice to leave for a vacation without my suitcase's weight allowance being half taken up by the books in my bag?

However, there's been something about books being read on a screen that niggles at me. Here's a piece that expresses my incoherent feelings beautifully.

I love reading for some of the same reasons I love cooking, and playing hockey. Cooking gets me to slow down and concentrate on the step by step process. You can't rush baking a cake. It takes as long as it takes. When I play hockey, I'm wholly present. I'm not multi-tasking or thinking about the list of things I've got to do.

When I read, I am wholly involved in my book. I'm not distracted ( I hope) by what's going on around me. That concentration and ability to submerge myself in print is something I value, and I want to keep that quality. I've been reading studies recently that say that doing internet work or watching TV right before you go to bed hinders your brain's ability to relax and allow you to sleep. I'm certainly guilty of doing both of those things. Maybe I need to return to my old habit of reading just before bed. My only problem there will be gathering the willpower to put my book down!

So, read a book. It's good for your brain.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


So I just finished March, the current Fort Collins Reads pick. I have to confess, I wasn't sure I would like it. I had heard that it was epistolary, and I don't like books that are a series of letters. I hadn't especially liked Year of Wonders (I know; I'm the only one) and wasn't sure about basing a book on a character from a classic like Little Women.
Well, I have now changed my opinion. What a great book! There are some letters to introduce chapters, but the entire book isn't written that way, which was my fear. Mr. March comes across as a real person, with morals, weaknesses, wisdom, and errors in judgement. I think the book might have been fine on its own, without referencing Little Women, since there are some differences in character, for Marmee especially. Much of the book is based on Louisa May Alcott's own family, which was vegetarian and part of the Trancendentalist movement. So there is a bit of blurring between the March family and the Alcott family.
The writing is beautiful. The look at war and slavery unflinching and appalling. I highly recommend this book for book clubs- there will be no shortage of things to discuss. It will be a real treat to see Geraldine Brooks in November. And now I'm excited to read her newest historical novel, Caleb's Crossing! Its subject is the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, in the 17th century.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Kevin Hearne is Cool!

We recently had the fantastic fantasy author Kevin Hearne stop by the store to do a signing for his new books Hounded and Hexed (which you should read!) It was an excellent experience! He even gave us a shout-out on his blog: (which you should also read!)
And a good time was had by all!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The "F" Word

A couple weeks ago I decided to pick up a copy of Gail Collins' When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. This is a somewhat unusual choice for me, as I tend to stay away from nonfiction for the most part. I was inspired to grab this one, though, after reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Being just barely 22, I was shocked to find the racist and sexist attitudes that were so prevalent in the United States only fifty years ago. While The Help is a work of fiction, it is set in a world that was very much real not too long ago. There is so much that I, and my entire generation, take for granted that our forefathers (and foremothers) have paved the way for.

This brings me to the big fat F word. That's right: FEMINIST. Growing up, my mother taught me to see feminism as a good thing, even giving my sister and me non-gender specific names in order to avoid preconceived notions about our sex. This was why I was so shocked recently to hear a co-worker (from a different job-- no one from the bookstore!) say "I HATE feminists." This did not compute. How could a civilized person possibly hate feminists? Didn't everyone support equality? When did "feminist" become a dirty word?

Somehow, many people (including my co-worker) have begun to see feminism as an extremist idea where men are inferior to women. While there are some feminist movements like this (they're called Radical Feminists-- and covered in Gail Collins' book,) they DO NOT make up the majority of feminists. Many people also see feminism as a finished battle. When I questioned the feminist-hater's motives, he claimed: "Feminism is done. You can wear pants and get equal pay, what else do you want?" Well, first of all, pay isn't all that equal yet, but I'll spare you that rant. And second, I acknowledge that feminism has come a long way. That's what When Everything Changed is all about. The book begins with the backlash from Rosie the Riveter, in a time when women needed their husbands' permission to get a credit card. It ends with Hillary Rodham Clinton running for president. This massive change should not be taken for granted, and reading When Everything Changed has connected me with the sacrifices made before my lifetime that have allowed me so many opportunities.

Gail Collins' book is about studying and appreciating those who have come before us, yet it never claims that the battle has been won. Pay is still not quite equal, small minded people exist all over the world, and inequalities still run rampant. Social equality is a generational process; it cannot happen overnight. If we so soon forget the steps taken by those who fought for us before, we fail in the pursuit of a more accepting future.