Matthew White’s The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Attrocities needs to win some kind of award. It bravely goes where other history books fear to tread, and it may be the best book I will read this year. I have had my head in it off and on for the past three months, and I have been constantly amazed at how deftly the author has pulled off this gargantuan task.
Instead of just telling history via the traditional route—the rise and fall of nations and empires, the victors of battles, the ideological struggles, and the court intrigues of kings and queens—White also keeps his eye on the millions upon millions of people who have lost their lives due to human violence and indifference.
Author Steven Pinker writes in his Foreword to the book:
[White's] scorn is directed at the stupidity and callousness of history’s great leaders, at the statistical innumeracy and historical ignorance of various ideologues and propagandists, and at the indifference of traditional history to the magnitude of human suffering behind momentous events.”
If ever there was a book to appeal to the better angels of our nature, this is it.
White, a librarian in Virginia by day, is a self-described atrocitologist. Until the publication of this book, he has been best known as the creator of the online Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century. Data from this web resource has been cited by 377 published books and 183 scholarly articles according to the book jacket. (Insert Ask a Librarian commercial here.)
White loves statistics, and he knows the numbers people want to argue about the most are death tolls. He also knows that people will argue over his death toll estimates in this book. The important thing is, he didn’t let this stop him from producing this important work.
White covers the 100 deadliest multicides beginning with the Second Persian War (480-479 BC, death toll: 300,000) to the Second Congo War (1998-2002, death toll: 3.8 million). For each entry, he gives us good historical background, lists the type of multicide involved (i.e. civil war, failed state, ethnic cleansing, religious conflict, etc.), names the major players and any secondary participants, and tells us who usually gets the most blame.
Following the individual entries, White provides an analysis, gives us a look at the raw numbers, discusses runner-up and disqualified events, and provides a note on perspective: future historians, he writes, may view 20th century events—from the First World War to the deaths of Hitler, Stalin and Mao—as “a single massive upheaval…which took the lives of some 150 million people.”
Real students of history may disagree, but for this dabbler in history, there were dozens of fascinating revelations. I’ll just share a few:
• I would have assumed that Europe would have been the site of the most destructive war related to Christian ideology. I would be wrong. It happened in China (Taiping Rebellion, 1850-64, death toll: 20 million), when Christian-convert Hong Xiuquan came to believe he was the new Son of God, the younger brother of Jesus.
• If you think the Twentieth Century was the deadliest in history, you’re right. Some of the very worst atrocities take place in that century: Second World War, death toll: 66 million; Mao Zedong’s rein, death toll: 40 million; Joseph Stalin’s rein, death toll: 20 million; First World War, death toll: 15 million; Russian Civil War, death toll: 9 million; Chinese Civil War, death toll: 7 million. Plus, two multicides stretched into the Twentieth Century: Famines in British India (18th-20th centuries, death toll: 27 million) and Congo Free State (1885-1908, death toll: 10 million).
• I was surprised to see those Famines in British India ranked as the fourth worst atrocity in history. Typically, we think famines are caused by nature, the departure of the rains. But White shows how famines are often caused by human conflict or greed. In this particular case, the famines in India were caused by commercial exploitation, and an inept and uncaring Britain that worried more about profit.
• War kills more civilians than soldiers. Turns out, “the army is usually the safest place to be during a war.”
• Some of the entries you would expect to find under their own big headings are part of larger narratives. For example, the Holocaust toll is part of the Second World War toll. Likewise, the Trail of Tears is part of a larger entry: The Conquest of the Americas after 1492, death toll: 15 million.
I could go on and on, but you need to experience this book for yourself. Every library needs a copy. Everyone who cares about the future of our world needs to give it a look.
Oh, and the next time you hear someone advocating a little revisionist history—you know, like the Holocaust didn’t happen, or the Atlantic Slave Trade (1452-1807; death toll: 16 million) should just be called the Trans-Atlantic Trade, do me a favor: throw this book at them. It’s big and heavy and should knock some sense into them.
Hey! Got a library card? Then you can flash it and get free admission to the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Nature History this Saturday, June 30. What a great way to start the Summer!
If you haven’t explored this state treasure on the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus, now’s the time to do it. A visit would make a most perfect day trip for you and your family. Take a gander below at what you can discover, and explore more at the museum’s website.
On, and this is also your Library YouTube Break!
I remember a friend telling me years ago that romantic love was an illusion. Of course, it also has a lot to do with our biology. Musician Joni Mitchell has called romance a “trick of nature, fueled by anxiety and insecurity… to get us to procreate.” In order for romantic love to be successful, both parties must be under the influence of this biological trick; or as my friend would put it, both people have to buy into the illusion.
All of that sounds pretty darn cynical. After all, romantic love is powerful stuff—so powerful that the creative among us often devote their artistic lives to consider it, analyze it, and dissect it in paintings, sculpture, song, plays and film. And in books.
I finished Haruki Murakami‘s 1Q84 six weeks ago. I’ve been reading like a house on fire, but I just haven’t set aside time to blog about my recent reads. The space between finishing Murakami’s latest and this blog post has given me a chance to consider just what this book says to me, and I think I can put it into words now.
1Q84 is about the magical, mystical and illusory journey that romantic love inspires, and about the biological, sexual, and emotional journey that nature demands. It’s also about the danger of falling in love, whether because we put ourselves in an overwhelmingly vulnerable position, or because the path to our loved one is fraught with antagonistic obstacles and trap doors. So powerful is this love, we can put our very life on the line to achieve both the ecstasy and the contentment promised by the union with our loved one.
It’s a Barnum and Baily world, just as phony as it can be, but it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me.”—It’s Only a Paper Moon by Billy Rose and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg
Our protagonists, Aomame and Tengo, could not seem more different when the novel begins. She is the product of parents who practice an unforgiving fundamentalist religion, while Tengo is the son of an obsessively insistent television-fee collector. In the present (1984 Japan), Aomame is a physical fitness trainer and self-defense instructor who sidelines as a serial killer, offing men who have cruelly presided over the destruction of the women in their lives. Tengo is a math instructor and aspiring writer.
Through their memories of growing up, we discover that both have little if any love from their family. We also discover that they knew of each other as children, and that they shared a magical moment of connection when they were ten years old. The memory of this connection eventually propels them to try to find each other, as they both realize that they have entered an alternate reality—a world that has two moons in the sky, and a world that is being influenced by an other-worldly force that is intent on taking control. (Aomame refers to this world as 1Q84, with “Q” for “question mark.” In my mind, I pronounced it q-teen-eighty-four.)
They each take different paths to the alternate reality—Aomame through an unconventional exit from a highway, and Tengo through the editing and polishing of a fantastical tale that introduces the “little people,” the outside force that is attempting to emerge into our world—but they ultimately find themselves at the same intersection, a point where they have come to believe in themselves and each other and in the power of love.
I could go into more of the story, for there is much to this story: the religious cult that provides an opening for the little people, Aomame’s path to vengeance, Tengo’s mysterious memory of his mother, the confounding teenage girl Fuka-Eri, the short story “Town of Cats,” the surprising pregnancy, and the ugly-beyond-ugly private investigator. I suppose literary critics could have a lot of fun discussing how the various elements relate to Aomame’s and Tengo’s great love story. But I’ll leave that to experts more adept at literary analysis.
Instead, I’ll leave you with this: Murakami’s story is not over when the two lovers find each other. Now they must find out if they can escape 1Q84 and return to their 1984. Just like lovers in real life, who have entered the emotional and spiritual place where romance is born and cemented, they must now incorporate their union into everyday life. Can Aomame retrace her steps along the highway to return herself and Tengo to the world they remember, or does another reality await them?
When I finished the novel, I wondered if Murakami really needed 925 pages to tell his story. Now I’m wondering if that’s a metaphor as well: It may take a long time to get there, but the journey may be fun, and the destination may be worth it.
Kitty and I have been crazed by all of the activity at work, and we are so behind in our Okie Reads postings. We beg your patience as we try to return to some state of normality. (Although our colleague Rebecca reminds us that “normal” is just a setting on the dryer.)
The 23rd Annual Oklahoma Book Awards were held on April 14 in OKC, and the meteorologists’ dire predictions didn’t keep some 200 or so folks from gathering to celebrate Oklahoma authors and the best of Oklahoma books. During the evening, a theme for the night developed as presenters and medalists ascended to the podium.
“Storytellers” at the Oklahoma Book Awards: Wilkinson, Gensler, Galvan, Squires and Myers
It started when Master of Ceremonies Jay Wilkinson told stories about his father, Bud Wilkinson. (Jay’s new book revolves around 47 letters that his father sent him while the young Wilkinson was away at college and graduate school.) This prompted presenters Glenda Carlile and Revere Young to tell their own stories about the legendary OU football coach. (Carlile’s funny story was about accidentally disconnecting a call between Wilkinson and President Kennedy when she was a switchboard operator at OU.)
Sonia Gensler, Book Award Medalist in the Young Adult Category for The Revenant, talked about the culture and history of Oklahoma being a fertile ground for storytelling. Children’s Medalist Glenda Galvan was honored for her book on traditional Chickasaw stories. Constance Squires, Fiction Medalist for Along the Watchtower, told a story about the first time she attended an Oklahoma Book Award dinner—as a worker for the catering company servicing the event. And now, here she was at the same event, in very different circumstances.
Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.” — Robert McKee
When 2011 Poetry medalist Ben Myers introduced 2012 Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award winner Anna Myers (his mom), the theme of story was front and center. Anna is an award-winning author of historical fiction for children and young adults, and she excels at making history relatable to young readers by telling her tales through the eyes of young protagonists. Anna knows that history is really made up of the stories of people who were alive to experience and play a part in the monumental events of our nation and our world.
In her acceptance speech, Anna cemented the theme of the evening by telling a story. When the author was discussing her book Assassin (about the conspiracy to kill President Abraham Lincoln) during a school visit, she noticed a girl who seemed to want to ask a question, but who held back. When the girl found a moment to speak to Anna one-on-one, she said, “I knew Lincoln had to die, but I kept hoping for a way out.” That, said Anna, is the power of story.
It’s easy to believe writer Robert McKee’s assertion that stories “are the currency of human contact.” Think of the stories we tell each other in day to day conversation, the family stories we each own that tell a history of events both odd and grand about our particular little tribe.
We are all storytellers; but when art meets storytelling, either through performance or the written word, whether fictional or historical, it has the power to transform us and our vision of the world. It can even make a little girl wonder if there is any way for Mr. Lincoln to survive.
The Book Awards inspire the Journal Record’s Ted Streuli to create an impromptu book week
It’s that time again! The Oklahoma Center for the Book will be honoring the best of 2011 Oklahoma books and authors on Saturday, April 14 at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and Jim Thorpe Museum.
We’ll be honoring Young Adult author Anna Myers with the Center’s Arrell Gibson Award for Lifetime Achievement, and we’ll also present an award to Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma for their Oklahoma Literary Landmarks project. And, of course, we’ll have the medalists in our five book categories. Gonna be a fun night!
Here’s the official press release…
Finalists Announced for 2012
Oklahoma Book Awards
Chandler Author Anna Myers is Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
Thirty-five books have been chosen as finalists in the 23rd annual Oklahoma Book Award competition. Winners in the categories of fiction, poetry, design/illustration, children/young adult and non-fiction will be announced at the Oklahoma Book Awards banquet on Saturday, April 14, at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and Jim Thorpe Museum in Oklahoma City. Author Jay Wilkinson, son of the University of Oklahoma’s legendary football coach, Bud Wilkinson, will serve as master of ceremonies.
Sponsored by the Friends of the Oklahoma Center for the Book, the awards recognize books written the previous year by Oklahomans or about Oklahoma. Of the 35 book finalists, 25 are by authors, designers or illustrators who reside in Oklahoma. This year some 121 books were submitted in the competition.
In addition to the literary awards, Chandler resident and children’s book author Anna Myers will be presented with the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is named for Norman historian Arrell Gibson, who served as the first president of the Oklahoma Center for the Book.
Myers is the author of 19 novels for young people, all published by Walker Books of New York. Most of her books are historical fiction. The recipient of countless honors over the years, Myers’ awards include four Oklahoma Book Awards, New York Public Library’s Best Books for the Teenaged, New York Public Library’s Best 100 Books to Read and Share, Bank Street College’s Best Children’s Books, Parent Choice Awards, the Crown Award by Christian Schools, the American Library Association’s Quick Pick List, Independent Book Sellers Pick of the List and being included more than 20 times on children’s choice lists for various states.
Born in White Face, Texas, Myers was the sixth child of an Oklahoma oilfield-worker father who had been temporarily transferred to west Texas. When Myers was only a few months old, the family moved back to Oklahoma.
Myers attended what is now the University of Central Oklahoma and became an English teacher, but always dreamed of being a writer. In 1969, she married Paul Myers, a poet whom she credits with having a great influence on her writing. The couple had three children, all born within four years, which Myers acknowledges somewhat slowed her journey to becoming a published author.
It took Myers seven years to sell her first book, which was published in 1992. Since then, she has produced a book a year.
In 1999, after 30 years of marriage, her husband Paul died of cancer.
But with the encouragement of her family, which now includes seven grandchildren, the resilient Myers has continued her writing. In 2002, she married John Calvin, a man with whom she had gone to high school. The couple now lives in a house, built in 1925, in Chandler.
The following books are finalists for the 2012 awards:
“Stealing Kevin’s Heart,” by M. Scott Carter of Oklahoma City, and published by The RoadRunner Press, Oklahoma City.
“Chikasha Stories, Volume 1: Shared Spirit,” by Glenda Galvan of Sulphur, and published by Chickasaw Press, Ada.
“The Revenant,” by Sonia Gensler of Norman, and published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York City.
“Hereafter,” by Tara Hudson of Choctaw, and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, New York, N.Y.
“The Grave Robber’s Secret,” by Anna Myers of Chandler, and published by Walker & Co., New York, N.Y.
“The Snow Blew Inn,” by Dian Curtis Regan of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and published by Holiday House, New York, N.Y
“Mr. Duck Means Business,” by Tammi Sauer of Edmond, and published by Simon & Schuster, New York City.
“The Eugene B. Adkins Collection,” designed by Eric Anderson of Norman, and published by the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
“Shooting from the Hip: Photographs and Essays by J. Don Cook,” designed by Julie Rushing and Tony Roberts, both of Norman, and published by OU Press, Norman.
“Route 66 Sightings,” photographed and designed by Shellee Graham, Jerry McClanahan, and Jim Ross, all of Arcadia; and published by Ghost Town Press, Arcadia.
“Forging a Nation: The American History Collection of Gilcrease Museum,” designed by Carol Haralson of Sedona, Ariz., photography by Robert S. Cross of Tulsa, and published by the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa.
“To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama,” designed by Carol Haralson of Sedona, Ariz., photography by Robert S. Cross of Tulsa, and published by the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa.
“Ilimpa’chi’ (We’re Gonna Eat!): A Chickasaw Cookbook,” with photography by Sanford Mauldin of Norman; designed by Aaron Long of Sulphur and Skip McKinstry of Oklahoma City, and published by Chickasaw Press, Ada.
“Cold Glory,” by B. Kent Anderson of Oklahoma City, and published by Forge Books, New York, N.Y.
“Crying Blood,” by Donis Casey of Tempe, Ariz., and published by Poisoned Pen Press, Scottsdale, Ariz..
“The American Café,” by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and published by the University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Ariz.
“Along The Watchtower,” by Constance Squires of Edmond, and published by Penguin Group, New York N.Y.
“Broken Wings,” by Carla Stewart of Tulsa, and published by Faith Words, Nashville, Tenn.
“Strangers & Exiles,” by Marlene Reed Wetzel of Tulsa, and published by Out on a Limb Publishing, Tulsa.
“Dandelion Summer,” by Lisa Wingate of Clifton, Texas, and published by Penguin Group, New York, N.Y.
“The Oklahoma State Capitol: A History of Our Seat of Government,” by Bob Burke of Oklahoma City and Charles Ford of Tulsa, and published by Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund Inc. and Oklahoma Heritage Association, Oklahoma City.
“The Cherokee Syllabary: Writing the People’s Perseverance,” by Ellen Cushman of Okemos, Mich., and published by OU Press, Norman.
“Stories of Old-Time Oklahoma,” by David Dary of Norman, and published by OU Press, Norman.
“Forging a Nation: The American History Collection at Gilcrease Museum,” by Amanda Lett, Randy Ramer, Kimberly Roblin, and Eric Singleton, all of Tulsa, and published by the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa.
“Dynamic Chickasaw Women,” by Judy Goforth Parker and Phillip Carroll Morgan, both of Sulphur, and published by Chickasaw Press, Ada.
“An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears,” by Daniel Blake Smith of St. Louis, Mo., and published by Henry Holt & Co., New York City.
“David Crockett: The Lion of the West,” by Michael Wallis of Tulsa, and published by W.W. Norton & Co., New York City.
“The Wild West 365,” by Michael Wallis of Tulsa, and published by Abrams Books, New York, N.Y.
“Will Rogers: A Political Life,” by Richard D. White Jr. of Baton Rouge, La., and published by Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, Texas
“The River White: A Confluence of Brush & Quill,” by Ken Hada of Ada, and published by Mongrel Empire Press, Norman.
“Depending on the Weather,” by Abigail Keegan of Oklahoma City, and published by Village Books Press, Cheyenne.
Leaving Holes & Selected New Writings,” by Joe Dale Tate Nevaquaya of Norman, and published by Mongrel Empire Press, Norman.
“Hail Mary, On Two,” by Jim Spurr of Shawnee, and published by Village Books Press, Cheyenne.
“Dreaming Sam Peckinpah,” by W.K. Stratton of Round Rock, Texas, and published by Ink Brush Press, Temple, Texas.
“In the Shadow of Asclepius: Poems from American Medicine,” by Howard F. Stein of Oklahoma City, and published by Dog Ear Publishing, Indianapolis, Ind.
OK, technically, this is not from YouTube. But I figure YouTube is to video as Kleenex is to facial tissue. Anyway… that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!
I had to throw this up because 1) it features a bona-fide Okie; and, 2) it relates to a previous post on Okie Reads.
So enjoy you hump-day video break!
My friend M. Scott Carter can now add “published author” to his impressive resume. Scott is a journalist who has lead several lives—at the Oklahoma State Senate, in the advertising industry, as director of marketing for the Metropolitan Library System, as reporter for the Norman Transcript, and now as a political reporter for the Journal Record.
Although I had some interaction with him while he was in the advertising world, I really came to know him while he worked for the library system. It’s obvious Scott has a passion for libraries and reading, and he’s particularly interested in promoting reading for pleasure to boys and young men. So I really wasn’t surprised to find that Scott’s first novel was aimed at young adults. (And, it’s a romance!)
Stealing Kevin’s Heart is the story of sixteen-year-old Alex Anderson, a young man who witnesses the death of his best friend Kevin, descends into depression, and ultimately finds the guidance—and the girl—to help him retrieve his life.
I was anxious to talk to Scott when the book came out. So… this edition of Talking About Books is really an author interview with my friend, M. Scott Carter.
Q: Scott, because you have an interest in marketing reading to boys, tell us a little bit about your relationship with books and reading while you were growing up.
A: I grew up in a very small town. However, the librarian at the public library was a genius. Every time I came in (and it was a lot) she would hand me a book and ask me “have you read this?” Usually I hadn’t and, almost always, I checked out what she handed me. I also racked up a million dollars in library fines (thankfully, my mom paid those). Seriously, though, it was at the library where I discovered the joy of reading and a deep long-lasting love for books.
Q: The saying goes, “Everyone wants to have written a book, but nobody wants to actually write one.” Have you always wanted to write a book? When did the desire translate into action?
A: Yes. I’ve wanted to write a book since I was in grade school. My mother bought me an old Underwood typewriter and I started my own newspaper (it covered our house and a couple of the neighbor’s) and even though that project was short-lived, I discovered just how much I enjoyed writing. I think that’s why I embraced journalism so strongly; it offered me the opportunity to write every day.
Q: This is ultimately a life-affirming book, but readers have to confront a lot of darkness first: death, potential suicide, a life-threatening medical condition, and an outrageously abusive character. Would you address this darkness and its role in the book?
A: Life is difficult and just because you’re writing about kids doesn’t mean it’s not difficult for them, too. There were several of these elements that I experienced when I was younger and they had a deep and lasting impact on me. I remember being chased home and beaten as a kid. I think it’s because of those events that I can identify with the underdog. Many times the underdog has to face the darkest obstacles. I wanted my characters to do that, but I wanted them to survive with their humanity intact. That’s a big part of Stealing Kevin’s Heart, showing how you can survive the darkest times and still remain human.
Q: I laughed at the “announcer” in Alex’s head who occasionally comments on his situation. (See Alex Anderson get arrested, tried, and convicted for trying to stop a crime. Only in America!) It’s like a promo for a TV show, or something you would hear before going into a commercial. Do you have an announcer in your head?
A: Yeah I do. That was straight out of my own life. There are so many times during the day that I hear a voice in my head broadcasting my latest screw-up that I’d swear I’ve been picked up by all three networks. Seriously, though, I added that to show that Alex was always thinking. He’s a modern kid, so he has that primary television experience and it’s manifested in his brain as his own personal television announcer. Still I would not recommend this for everyone.
Q: There are spiritual—even paranormal—dimensions in the final pages. Without giving anything away, would you talk about this aspect of Stealing Kevin’s Heart?
A: The spiritual component is just an example of one young man trying to discover his humanity. The paranormal aspect was written to show that sometimes, once in a while, there are things that happen in the world you just cannot explain. I like the idea that there is something bigger out there. And I like the idea that a real, honest-to-goodness friendship doesn’t end when one person dies. I was trying to show that, too.
Q: A little birdie (a Facebook post, actually) tells me you have another book in the works. Want to give us a preview?
A: Yes. My second novel for RoadRunner Press is The Immortal Van B. It’s the story of a young woman who “accidentally” clones a teenage Ludwig Van Beethoven, teaches him how to play the electric guitar and falls in love with him. It’s different but I think it’s really fun. I just finished writing it this week. I’m editing it right now and I really hope people like it.
Q: Being a sci-fi geek, that certainly sounds like it’s up my alley! Finally, because I’ve never known: what does the “M” stand for?
A: Marvelous. Most fun. Martian. Okay, okay, it actually stands for Matthew. When I was in college I worked at the campus radio station, and the news director there dubbed me “M. Scott” because there was another Scott on the air. The name stuck and I’ve used it as my pen name since then.
Well, Matthew Scott, thanks for taking the time to visit with us about your new book, and congratulations on its publication. I found my copy of Stealing Kevin’s Heart at Full Circle Books, but you can find it at other stores or online. Of course, you can also check with your local public library.
Read an excerpt from Stealing Kevin’s Heart.
When the culture wars returned a couple of weeks ago, I was in the middle of Sheri S. Tepper’s 1998 novel Six Moon Dance. My brain blew a fuse. It was one of those serendipitous moments when what you’re reading informs the news of the day—and vice versa.
Whether you believe the current culture war is about women’s health and access to contraception, or about religious freedom, or both, there’s no denying that reproductive and sexual politics have come into play. Just turn on any cable news station.
When it comes to literary commentary on gender issues, Tepper is a master in the science fiction/fantasy genre. Her novel The Gate to Women’s Country is a landmark in feminist sci-fi. (And a darn good read, too!)
In this Tepper novel, the author turns gender stereotypes on their head. On the human-colonized planet Newholme, a matriarchal society has evolved. A virus that attaches itself to the double-x chromosome means fewer births of live females. Women become treasured, and the families of young men pay dowries to the families of young women to forge families. As in pre-modern times, the marriage arrangements are not romantic but economic. Once a woman has given birth to children—done her “duty”—she can buy the services of a consort, a man who has been trained in the art of pleasuring women.
This is where protagonist Mouche comes in. He is the son of parents who have been unable to produce daughters. These families are unable to pay dowries for their sons because they have been unable to collect dowries for daughters. Their options are few. One option is for the family to sell a son to a Madame who grooms young men to become consorts. And so Mouche finds himself in the house of Madame Genevois, the most prestigious consort house on the planet.
In this house, Mouche will rediscover the “Timmys”—another life form on the planet to which human children are intimately connected. But as children grow older, they are told the Timmys are illusions and must be ignored. But Mouche can’t ignore them. And increasingly, it appears the other residents of Newholme can’t ignore them either. For the Timmys once held the key to protecting this volcanically-active planet, an activity that reaches dire proportions when Newholme’s six moons align.
The above description of Six Moon Dance doesn’t even begin to touch upon this almost-epic work. Suffice it to say there are many more characters, many secrets, and a million-year-old back story that only adds richness and intrigue to Tepper’s commentary on gender, sex and mysogyny. And once the big questions are answered, and you feel you have just finished a great book, there is the most delightful of payoffs.
There are a number of interviews with Tepper out on the web, but this is my favorite one!
We humans are a curious lot. We like to see ourselves above nature—higher than the animals, but lower than the angels. We often fool ourselves, believing we are in control of the natural world that surrounds our homes, schools and businesses. Well, at least until the next tornado, earthquake, flood, famine or disease comes along.
Even people who know full well how interconnected we are to the natural world can experience eureka moments of understanding. It happened to journalist and food author Michael Pollan one day while he was watching a bee move from flower to flower. He marveled that the bee really had no understanding of its role in the plant’s reproductive cycle.
And then Pollan was struck by the fact that he was in the middle of planting potatoes in his garden. Potatoes! He was servicing a tuberous root that was domesticated thousands of years ago by the Incas in South America. Human beings have spent centuries helping the potato spread across the planet. That’s when Pollan’s 2001 book, Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World was conceived.
Pollan looks at four plants in Botany of Desire, and explains how a particular attraction humans have for each of the plants has led us to move heaven and earth to cultivate them across the world. Because of our desires, we have made them four of the most successful plants in history.
Our pursuit of sweetness has made the Apple the most popular fruit on earth. Our love of beauty has made the Tulip a star. Our desire to get high has made Cannibis one of the most modified plants in the world. Finally, our history with the Potato is a compelling reflection of our desire for control in a chaotic world.
Pollan’s book is filled with histories and stories that will make you look at our relationship with these plants in a whole new way. You’ll see Johnny Appleseed in a completely different light. If you think the Housing Bubble is bad, wait until you read about the Tulip Bubble. You’ll see how we’ve changed Cannibis from a tall, ugly weed into a compact beauty that can be grown indoors (so as not to alert the authorities). And you’ll discover the dangers of monocultures (think Irish Potato Famine) as you follow the potato from its Inca origins to the french fries you buy at McDonald’s. (We’ve even grown potatoes in space!)
PBS was so impressed with Pollan’s groundbreaking 2001 book that it commissioned a documentary based on it. You can explore for yourself online, but don’t deny yourself the pleasure of the printed version. After all, the book is always better.
Out of Nowhere: Images of Oklahoma
Opens 3:30 pm, Monday, February 20
Edmon Low Library, OSU-Stillwater
The State of the Novel: Constance Squires and Rilla Askew
7:00 pm, Tuesday, February 21
Joseph Gierek Fine Art, 1512 E. 15th Street, Tulsa
Yep! Two literary events comin’ up next week. The first is a gallery showing of the photography of Kelly Kerr, featuring images from his Centennial book Oklahoma Revisited. Books will be available for purchase and signing at the reception after the event.
Kerr is an award-winning photographer, filmmaker and visual communications faculty member at OSU Institute of Technology. Michael Wallis, best-selling author, speaker and storyteller will introduce Kerr.
Born and raised in Ada, Okla., Kerr discovered his passion as an OSU student shooting for the school newspaper, The Daily O’Collegian.
Kerr graduated from the business college in 1989 and was hired at the Tulsa World in 1994. He covered breaking news, features, entertainment and sports. He was named the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photographer of the Year and twice the Associated Press Sweepstakes Award winner.
In December 2007 Kerr became a faculty member at OSU-IT teaching photography and film in the visual communications program. Kerr has received two teaching awards: the 2011 National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development Excellence in Teaching and Leadership Award and the 2010 OSU-IT Outstanding Faculty Award.
The OSU Library houses two oral history interviews with Kerr. The first interview focuses on his experiences as an OSU student. The second highlights his photography and creativity. Both interviews are available online.
Event partners include Friends of the OSU Library, OSU Institute for Creativity and Innovation, OSU School of Media and Strategic Communications, Center for Oklahoma Studies, Oklahoma Oral History Research Program, the Tulsa World and OSU Research and Technology Transfer. This event is free and open to the public. For event questions, call 405-744-7331.
Squires’ debut novel, Along the Watchtower has been called “smart, funny, and beautifully written.” Askew is one of our greatest Oklahoma writers, having won the American Book Award (Fire in Beulah), three Oklahoma Book Awards (Strange Business, The Mercy Seat, and Harpsong), and nominated for the Pen/Faulkner Award (The Mercy Seat.)
Squires will read from her novel, while Askew will debut an exclusive preview from her forthcoming book, Kind of Kin. A dialogue will follow about the current state and future of the novel. Sponsor of the event is Book Smart Tulsa. Don’t miss it!