Sunday, October 30, 2005

Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead by Christine Wicker

I was reading this book on Halloween weekend, on a plane to New York at 7pm. I'd not bothered to put on any makeup, I'd been at work that day since 6:30 a.m., my hair was pulled up on top of my head, messy, an upside down ponytail of sorts. My nails were painted black, my pentagram ring in its usual location on my left ring finger, and I was wearing a t-shirt advertising a "Transylvanian blood drive." The woman sitting next to me glanced at me uneasily and I became aware of how frightening I must have looked. I never think about my appearance until I see myself through the eyes of others. And I suspect reading about talking to dead people didn't make the sight of me any less disturbing. I felt obligated to say something, make clear that I was somewhat normal and not a complete goth freak. Once we started talking to trip went fine, we talked travel and guys and makeup and hair (she's a beautician). We exchanged phone numbers at the Newark airport.

Back to the book...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I liked the way in which it was written. This is written by a former journalist who is basically reporting what she sees, without bias. She points out the discrepancies, the possible hoaxes. But she also points out the unexplainable events, the things that might be a result of a spiritual presences, messages from the dead. During the summer, Lily Dale is the home to registered mediums and people travel there to communicate with the dead with the assistance of these mediums.

The tone of the writing was consistent with my own beliefs regarding spirituality. I often have a difficult time trying to reconcile my uncomfortably, sometimes painfully, rational, practical tendencies with my desire to believe in a realm of this world we can=t understand. I need to believe that there is more than this. I need to believe that we have some control over our destiny, that we can generate good will and fend off negativity. I need to believe that there are forces in this world that can assist in such actions. But I can't accept what is presented to me in the traditional books, the stories of the Bible seem as valid to me as Greek mythology. Stories created to scare people into good behavior and obedience, stories created to explain things that people didn't understand. So I seek out less traditional ideas, more basic, older ideas that can provide results and work with nature and the here and now, ideas that can produce results that I can see or feel, not ideas accepted on blind faith.

I would readily recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the spiritual world and the work of mediums. And now that I've read it, I want very much to visit Lily Dale.

Read: Oct. 30, 2005

Sunday, October 02, 2005

From Pieces to Weight: Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens by 50 Cent

I’m a big 50 Cent fan. I know, I know, very irresponsible of me. I’m supposed to be this hardcore militant feminist, but I listen to rap music. Shame on me. I’m also old enough to know that just because I like listening to someone sing about doing drugs or shooting people doesn’t mean I have to go out and do those things. For the record, I listened to some fairly unsavory stuff when I was a teenager too, and I didn’t turn into a promiscuous, drug user. So I’m thinking if kids are so weak minded that they do everything they hear about they had problems long before they listened to “bad” music.

Anyway, point being I like 50 Cent’s music quite a bit. Don’t know much else about him, so I was eager to read this autobiography. For the most part, this is an interesting book.

I realize that he probably had someone else write it, he tells his story, someone else crafts it into readable form maybe. I also know that famous people don’t always tell the truth. (Big secret here – non-famous people also tell lies.)

Basically this book is about 50’s drug dealing. He’s pretty detailed about the dealing. Preparing the product, marketing the product, the various means of working a corner. At first it was intriguing, after a while it became a bit repetitive. Not being all that versed in the drug world, some of it was a bit over my head. Also, being that some of the information is so detailed and delivered in such a matter of fact, non apologetic way, I began to feel a little dirty reading this – and not the good kind of dirty, it was as if by reading about this I was somehow agreeing that it was okay that he was selling drugs. It’s not, 50, drug dealing is bad.

50 seems like a smart, clever guy. Like I said, I don’t know if some of those statements are from him or he had a good writer, who is credited (I believe his name is Kris Ex, or Kris X). But, just so you know, it isn’t like 50 is claiming he wrote this all by himself.

A few things bothered me though, such as the suggestion that he had no option other than to deal drugs because he couldn’t ask his grandmother for money. It isn’t like he needed this money to survive. I got the impression that his grandparents provided him with a decent home and put food on the table. He wasn’t lacking in essentials. He dealt drugs so that he could own 9 pairs of $100 sneakers and wear super expensive clothes and jewelry and have a dirt bike and some kind of fancy motorcycle. As a teenager he was driving SUVs that he paid for in cash, but had to park around the corner so his grandmother wouldn’t find out. I guess dealing is the easy way to get this stuff, but it isn’t necessary stuff, it is, in fact, quite excessive stuff. Stuff that a lot of us are never going to own, at least not through legal means, unless we want to drown in debt, and there are plenty of people okay with doing that. Seems to be a values issue more than a poverty issue.

Also, he refers to a girlfriend of his as a ho because she sleeps with someone else. But a paragraph before that, he admits that he was seeing other people on the side. So technically, wouldn’t that make him a ho also? Okay for him to mess around, but not his girl? Then there is the bit where he’s so annoyed about being sent to a drug rehab facility and keeps saying, “I don’t use drugs, I sell them.” Um, dude, maybe you should keep that info to yourself because wouldn’t the punishment for dealing be worse than using? Should be, if it isn’t. And while he’s ticked off about getting caught, he does seem to acknowledge that what goes around comes around. He knows he broke the law and I think he knows that he got away with quite a bit and got off fairly easy.

And the other thing that upset me -- again, this would have to do with his relationships with women. He’s always buying his girlfriends stuff – expensive stuff and letting them drive his expensive cars. As a woman, I’m going to say right now, if you have to buy a woman something to keep her happy, then she’s really no better than a prostitute. Women like that give the rest of us a bad name. He mentions one woman who he seems to have some respect for, probably because she eventually becomes the mother of his first son. When he meets her she’s working, going to school, acting like she intends to support herself and you get the impression that he’s attracted to her independence. But then he mentions that things are good between them when he’s got money and not so much when the money is running low. He seems to accept this and feels like things would have worked out if only he’d had the money to keep things going. I am no expert on relationships, but if she lost interest because the money was running out, then you’re better off without her. You shouldn’t have to pay to keep a relationship healthy – that’s not healthy. But what do I know about this stuff? I don’t let people buy me stuff, and I’m also what you might call chronically single. Maybe guys like paying for women… maybe this is why I don't like guys.

Overall, it was interesting read.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I heard so much about this book before I read it. All glowing reviews – "DaVinci Code for intellectuals", or something like that. I was so excited about this book because I love vampires. Pale and bloody and cold and absurdly intense. Just can't get enough of a good vampire story. But alas, a good vampire story is hard to find. And I didn't find one here.

Maybe it was partially my fault. I started reading the book the same week school started back up and haven't been able to devote any long periods of time to reading. But usually, if a book is interesting enough, I figure out a way to fit it in to my schedule, regardless of how busy I might be. This book though, I never reached a point where I just couldn't put it down. I kept waiting for action, and it never happened. So maybe I'm just too accustomed to flying through books. But these days I just feel like there are so many books I want to read, I don't want to waste too much time on one. I need to dive into my books to escape my reality, and believe me, I've been in dire need of an escape lately, and I was never able to immerse myself in this book. If a book is interesting enough, it doesn't take that long to read, irrelevant of the number of pages it contains. However, I will say that if I'd picked this up in the middle of summer and had long Saturdays to do nothing other than lay out in the sun and read, maybe I'd feel differently about it. Maybe, on the other hand, vampires in 100 degree heat, I don't know about that…

Basically, I just didn't find the story very interesting. I was worried that maybe there was something wrong with me. Maybe I'm not the intellectual I think I am. But after finally finishing this, I read through some reviews on amazon, and am glad to see I'm not the only one who had difficulty with this book. I did finish it, granted, I skimmed through the last two hundred pages and I don't feel like I missed all that much. There are so many documents and so much research and I'm not sure that it was all necessary.

There are two separate storylines going on, the narrator is performing her own quest and while doing so, she's reading about what her father did many years before. But I was bothered by all the coincidences, which I assumed were supposed to reflect Dracula's omnipotent power, but it was never fully explained, or maybe I skimmed over that part.

At one point I walked into my office and someone asked how the book was going and I said "I think I've figured out the big twist, and it isn't that big of a twist. Sure enough, a hundred or so pages later, the revelation was made and I didn't find it all that shocking. I'm not giving it away in case you're planning to read it.

I wanted something more exciting, I wanted something a bit more intense and sexy, I guess. I wanted more Dracula. I wanted more danger. Oh there was plenty of danger I suppose, but it was so bogged down by the words, I never felt the chill or the suspense. Also, I suspect the form in which it was written sort of eliminated any suspense from the get go. She's reading old documents written by her father, so you know he's going to live through the danger he's describing. You know her mother is going to stick around for a while, because well, she's her mother so she's not dying immediately.

I think the book had potential. I think maybe it needed a better editor. Maybe some of those long rambling documents and letters could have been summarized in more of a conversational mode.

Overall, I was quite disappointed. I wanted more out of this book. It didn't deliver on all the hype it received. I feel like I got scammed. At some point I'm going to learn that I never like the books that the entire world claims are wonderful.