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Happy almost weekend, everyone! I don’t know about you, but this week has flown by for me, and I see a necessary slumber into late morning tomorrow… followed by mimosas.

In case you all need an excuse/reason/want to smile, I highly recommend indulging in the following book trailer for our recent release, THE BOOK OF AWESOME.

And the crazy/cool thing is, a fan created that video!  Someday, I hope to have evangelical fans like that… but since I don’t do anything as cool as 1000 Awesome Things, it may be rather creepy.

I was inspired to think of some simply awesome things that I don’t appreciate enough, and came up with the following:

  • When my roommate changes the hair catcher in our shower – sorry, maybe TMI, but with one shower and two girls with lots of hair, it’s a necessary plastic piece that keeps our landlord from kicking us out due to constant shower blockage.  Not to say she’s usually lazy, but this task typically falls to me.  Luckily we both have light colored hair, so it’s not the really gross long, dark strands (I love dark hair, but on one’s head…).
  • Recognizing the bug I discovered in my bedroom was of the simple flying insect type that came in through my patio door, and not a bedbug.  This is a really AWESOME thing.  Though I had nightmares for two days after my extensive google image searching to make sure…
  • Realizing yesterday when texting with my friend out in LA that really, there is no better place to be living and working at this point in my life than NYC!

A snippet of my little pieces of happy have been shared – I’d love for you to share your awesome things!

It appears I need to change my gmail signature from “Visit my digital book nook, obsessed over & updated regularly: http://www.novelwhore.wordpress.com”; to read more along the lines of:

“Visit my digital book nook, obsessed over regularly, but rarely updated, though every time I write I really enjoy it, so keep on visiting until it  gets more exciting.”

And, like the headline suggests, I am going to re-post my article from http://www.beneaththecover.com right now, since not only does it take  minimal effort since it’s already written, but I’m able to justify to myself that my blog is now updated!  So, for all you readers that I really do appreciate, here’s my latest column:

HANDLE WITH CARE

What are books, exactly—treasured artifacts to be displayed behind glass, or objects to be enjoyed and devoured, like a good meal?

I know that no book I actually enjoy leaves the experience unscathed. For the lucky few that I enjoy, I’ll refer back to the content often, dog-eared pages in my wake. While stories offer escape within the language, for the books I reread I get taken back to where I was the first time, whether it be via the stains of soy sauce from unsuccessfully trying to read while enjoying sushi, or the sand that spills out as remnants of a long-forgotten vacation.

Obviously, with that description in mind, you can see that the books on my shelf may never make it into a museum exhibition of classics preserved in immaculate conditions. But what are books for if not to be loved, smelled, handled, and passed around? To me, the print medium is so important—though after lugging home a complete manuscript to read this evening (even with double-sided printing, 204 sheets is heavy!), my shoulder disagrees and would prefer a Kindle copy.

I admit that so much of my fervor for print comes from its history. I didn’t stay up past my bedtime with a computer screen under my bedspread, but a flashlight, as I stealthily flipped pages. I get a special thrill from going back to my parents’ house and seeing the children’s books I wrote my name in, using my “best hand writing” in 4th grade. While it took me a while to get to this rather obvious realization, it came with the help of journalist and author Allison Hoover Bartlett.

Her upcoming book (available from Riverhead Books next month, September 2009), The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, tracks an unrepentant book thief and the “bibliodick” determined to take him down. It’s a story of passion and addiction, and has made me compulsively check all the books sold out of boxes on the streets of NYC for rare 1st editions awaiting discovery.

In this true tale about catching a wily 1st edition book thief, books are believed to be treasures, investments, or a drug, pacifying a need. While I admit it would be nice to have that 1st edition of Gone with the Wind standing proudly on my shelf (actually, it would be behind glass, it’s so rare!), I don’t need an intact dust jacket to accompany it that’s worth far beyond the cover price. The content and history between the pages is enough for me.

And the stuff within the pages may be enough for you, too. On the publishing blog GalleyCat.com, Ron Hogan thoughtfully deciphered a recent survey from the Pepsi Optimism Project citing the “optimism booster” cited by more respondents than any other—88 percent—was “books.”

As Bartlett notes towards the end of her book, “[Books] root us in something larger than ourselves, something real. For this reason, I am sure that hardbound books will survive, even long after e-books have become popular . . . I can’t help think that our connection to books is still, after all these centuries, as important as it is intangible.

So while I may want that Kindle for the sake of my poor shoulders, I don’t think I’ll give up my search for the elusive and meaningful hardcover finds, including a Margaret Mitchell 1st edition.

When I think of a jungle, I imagine a happy place with abundant greenery, tigers roaming the underbrush and monkeys swinging through the massive trees on leafy vines.  Obviously I’ve totally bought into the Disney jungle vision depicted in “Tarzan”.

jungle3I had thought all my imaginings of jungles to be far away from Chicago, thinking I would have to travel by land and sea before reaching one.  Until, that is, I devoured Upton Sinclair’s groundbreaking novel The Jungle.  I hate to even use the word “devour” when discussing this novel, since so much of it deals with contaminated meat, blue milk and inhumane conditions that completely quell any appetite.

The year is 1905, and immigrants scramble to Chicago to begin a new, better life with the promises of secure jobs and wealth within the Stockyards.  Following Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis as he strives to support his new wife, son and her family, it is a true tale of survival that is hard to digest.  From the gruesome work conditions to the utter squalor at home, this is a story based on a truth that was debilitating and deathly to many.

Jurgis begins as an optimistic young man, newly married and naive, yet physically and mentally strong.  In the beginning he embraces his demanding life at the Stockyards, ignorant to the politics and corruption.   As his awareness is raised, his life becomes harder.  Through injury and circumstance, the family’s situation at home worsens, and food and heat are both harder to come by.  While I’m not a fan of Chicago Winters (you should all know how desperately I’m waiting for spring!), I’ve never had to worry about freezing to death stuck in a snowdrift, literally having my ears break off from the cold (poor little Stansilova) or freezing in my sleep.

More than just a bleak story of one poor family, it is a political piece looking at work conditions and the quality of meat packaged for the United States.  Sinclair actually went undercover in Packingtown as the Stockyards were called, so experienced the conditions of the workers and the meat first hand.

“It seemed that they must have agencies all over the country, to hunt out old and crippled and diseased cattle to be canned.  (they would come in) Covered with boils.  It was a nasty job killing these, for when you plunged the knife into them they would burst and splash foul-smelling stuff into your face… It was stuff such as this that made the ‘embalmed beef’ that had killed several times as many United States soldiers as all the bullets of the Spaniards…”

In addition to the spoiled meat, Sinclair tells about workers falling into vats, and when they were discovered all that was left of the human is a pile of bones, since every other body part had gone out packaged as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard (as in, human parts consumed by other people).  Minor injuries often meant death, directly or indirectly through blood disease or no money to buy food.  Never have I appreciated health insurance so much.

As I read this book I questioned if I would have been strong enough to have survived in this time period.  The life depicted is so tough I was depressed while reading it.  It seemed to me the people had very little to live for.  There was no end in sight to their squalor; they weren’t working to get ahead and have time to relax and enjoy their effort, they were working to stay alive.  There as no real home life to speak of, as they were so exhausted from working so long with little nourishment people climbed right into bed upon walking in the door.  As a parent, it’s hard to feel right about sending your child to work the streets or in the factories, knowing they don’t have a future but you need their meager contributions to keep the family alive.  My mom says hope springs eternal, and throughout this book I’m inclined to agree.

I think everyone should read this book.  I wouldn’t even say it’s inspirational exactly, but more a realistic view at how life could be, and how it has been for people in the past and how far we’ve come.  It also may make you chuckle at how germaphobic a society we’ve become, since people survived (of course, many did not) on spoiled milk and infected meat.  I made a point to eat my asparagus that fell off the side of my plate onto the coffee table today, telling myself it will only toughen me up!

jungle-coverMy main complaint is the Socialist rally cry that takes up the last few chapters of this novel.  I understand Sinclair considered himself a Socialist, but I thought the political propaganda could have been discarded and a very strong novel would have remained without any stated biases. Just be sure to not eat canned meat when reading!  Good news though: this book inspired the Pure Food Act passed in 1906, shortly after the book became a success after it’s book publication in February of the same year.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A-
  • Title: The Jungle
  • Author: Upton Sinclair
  • Publisher: Doubleday in 1906, originally run as segments in “Appeal to Reason” magazine 1905

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