Some will say that there are technical considerations—the quality of rendering, the beauty of the language, or the composition of the scene make a difference between obscene and not, porn and art.
Personally, whether it's prize-winning literature, a cheesy film, or a fashion spread, my impulse to name the obscene, to pick up a black marker or start scribbling protests in the margins, depends a lot on who wrote, or painted, or filmed it. After all, you don't want your vision of the world hijacked by just anyone, even for a moment or an hour or a few hundred pages. Do you?
Claude Monet called Herman Bang's wartime Tine "the world's first Impressionist novel," floating as it does between characters, events, and chronology. Alexandra Harris' short, delightful book Virginia Woolf, published last fall, is a similarly Impressionist biography. The move to present Woolf—a writer who has been explored, revealed, questioned, adored, criticized, and lionized, over thousands and thousands of pages in the 70 years since her death—in just 192 pages and 10 chapters, is a bold one, to say the least.
When I found out that Starhawk, famed Earth Activist, spiritual feminist, Witch and permaculturist, had written a children's book, I bought it before I knew I was ever going to be pregnant. The pictures, done by artist Lindy Kehoe, are beautiful paintings. The story centers on an herbalist (or witch), and introduces children to a woman healer making healing decoctions with herbs, emphasizing how important it is to keep wilderness, healthy plants, and wild spirits within alive, as well as being appreciative of the women (and men) who take care of the natural world. The herbalist witch in the book knows the natural world intimately, and knows how to respectfully and ethically use plants to make strong teas, brews and "soups." She not only uses the natural world, she is part of it, intertwined seamlessly in its tree branches, helping give health to it just as it gives it back to her.
As a Portland native and book lover, I've spent my whole life obsessed with Beverly Cleary. I wore the spines out of all of her books, my mom took us to Grant Park when they unveiled the Beverly Cleary statue garden (and Madame Cleary herself was there!), my cousin works at Beverly Cleary Middle School, I watched the crap out of my taped-from-TV copies of that late '80s Ramona series, etc. If you've found as much to love about her and her work as I have (and I bet many of you have), join me in celebrating her 96th birthday today!
I've always felt poetry to be above me, something I could not connect with or fully understand. Or that poetry by women was always sappy (I've since realized that learning about poetry through a white male canonic lens brainwashed me into thinking that way). After hearing my friend Lisa Wells read from her new chapbook Beast I knew there was something incredibly deep and moving to be gained from not only reading more poetry but actually being able to listen to it. In honor of National Poetry Month I asked Lisa to compile a list of her top five recommended poetry collections for me (with a special tribute added for Adrienne Rich), and asked if I could record her reading some of the work so I could listen more closely. Here's what she had to say.
The Vanishers is four-time novelist and Believer founding editor Heidi Julavits's new work, and it has a really, really bright cover. It's a good book, for the most part, and an interesting book, and I promise I'll talk about it in an interesting way for the rest of this post, but first I have to talk about the cover. Remember folks, never judge a book by its cover! Except I feel like this one, with its masses of blinding and hyperdetailed flowers crowding the dust jacket and threatening to take over the text of the title itself, captures pretty well what's going on between those pieces of cardboard, which is: a LOT.
Although she has some great comebacks for street harassers, our hero Aya is otherwise as problematic as your typical Disney heroine. Luckily, the graphic novel "Aya of Yopougon" is really about Aya's lying, fighting, partying friends: Bintou and Adjoua. They're not role models; they're just teens in the Cote d'Ivoire, where virginity is paramount, but so is being "saved" by a man. A beautifully illustrated, happily skeptical story.