Go Go Goths.

In high school I hung around with a group I now recognize as goths, although they never called themselves that. They were just kids who dressed all in black, some wore the classic white makeup and heavy black eyeliner, and they were mostly focused on art classes. I hung around with them, but never became one myself. Instead I listened in fascination to their stories of being arrested at the mall, going to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and leaving halfway through to go have sex in the parking lot, playing keyboard for a local band at a local club, or just hanging out. One of my goth friends (I think I can call them friends) was also named Chris. The name Chris, in my generation, was so common he liked to joke that going down the halls of the school and yelling, “Hey Chris!” was like going to local goth hangout Elliston Place on Saturday and yelling, “Hey, you in the black!” He never adopted another, more goth name, but perhaps being goth was, for him, a way of separating himself from the pack. 

As reviewer Mikita Brottman explains in Goth’s Wan Stamina, her review of Contemporary Gothic by Catherine Spooner (Reaktion Books), and Goth: Undead Subculture, edited by Lauren M.E. Goodlad and Michael Bibby (Duke University Press) goth culture has been around at least since the 1970’s, although “goth” dates back to, well, the Visigoths, those barbarian hordes who gave the Romans headaches.

Why did I never go goth? I don’t know. I could blame my parents, especially my mother who never allowed me to buy my own clothes, but there was more to it than that. I understood nihilism before I knew the term, and I understood that it wasn’t for me. I was literary and brooding and shy, like most goths, but didn’t understand the fixation on vampires. I hung around with outsiders but kept to myself, a fringe element to a fringe element. However, in her article, Brottman says, “Although they may look scary, goths tend to be unusually tolerant and peace loving…Goth’s consistent popularity does not mean, as some curmudgeons assume, that young people today are becoming increasingly nihilistic and alienated. Anyone who feels that way doesn’t understand the essence of goth, which is really all about self-acceptance, self-expression, and creativity.”

Maybe that’s it: I already had what goth culture could offer without having to put on black and wear makeup. Actually Brottman doesn’t say so, but her description of goths makes them sound, well, pretty ordinary, and when you’re a rebellious teenager, an outsider, a loner, the last thing you want is to be like everybody else.


Out, But Not About.

Independent publications across the country are having a hard enough time as it is, but in Nashville one, called Out & About, is having distribution difficulties of its own. After setting up a distribution deal to have the free newspaper made available in local Kroger and Harris Teeter stores, the publisher was told that Kroger would not allow the publication to be distributed in any of their Middle Tennessee stores, even after it had been distributed in the stores for three weeks. According to Kroger spokesperson Melissa Eads, the chain has a policy of not allowing distribution of any publications “that promote political, religious or other specific agendas.”

sparks.jpgWhile Out & About is aimed primarily at the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community, it doesn’t promote a “specific agenda”, and there’s no explicit material. In fact, you’ll find more explicit articles in the magazines next to the grocery store cash register. Each issue of Out & About has serious reporting on local government, civil rights, and general articles that could be of interest to the entire community regardless of sexual orientation. The most recent issue of Out & About has a front-page article about actor Hal Sparks, and Kroger stores in Atlanta allow the distribution of a similar publication called Southern Voice. So what’s the problem? Kroger’s spokeswoman wouldn’t answer questions. While this may not technically be discrimination, there are serious questions about how Kroger stores apply their policies, and they deserve honest answers.

It’s probably unrelated, but ironically this is also occurring at the same time that serious questions are being raised about the nomination of Dr. James Holsinger for the position of Surgeon General. Holsinger has misused his position as a physician to claim a scientific basis for his moral opposition to homosexuality, going so far as to write a paper for the United Methodist Church about the supposed inferiority of homosexual relationships that was intentionally misleading and pulled evidence out of context. In the kind of political spin that’ll make your head spin, defenders of Holsinger are claiming he’s a victim of discrimination. This also comes at a time that some ministers and churches are repeating false statements made by the American Family Association, claiming that a new hate crimes bill before Congress would limit their freedom of speech. Even if it were true it smacks of hypocrisy: anyone who insists on silencing others has no right to complain when their own rights are attacked. (In fact the American Family Association’s claims are so far from the truth that they’ve attracted the attention of the urban legend site Snopes.com.)

Back to Kroger, though, if the store decided to pull the publication because of customer complaints they should admit that rather than hiding behind a vague and, if that’s the case, inconsistently applied policy.

The Nashville Scene, which was my original source for this story, is distributed in Kroger stores, and includes, among other things, the unabashedly liberal This Modern World and (to some) the unabashedly offensive Ask A Mexican, as well as articles that are both critical of and supportive of government at the local and national levels. A few years ago grocery stores also decided to use partly opaque plastic covers on magazine display racks because magazines like Cosmopolitan, with their minus-sized cover girls barely wearing low-cut gowns and articles on how to drive your husband wild in bed, were, understandably, offensive to some shoppers. The stores didn’t pull the publications; they just covered the covers.

Of course I’m not saying that any store should be forced to distribute or sell any publication if it doesn’t want to. Is it too much to ask, though, that they be honest about their reasons? If Kroger is going to claim that they’re kicking a local publication out into the street–and even going so far as to refuse to allow distribution boxes to be placed on the sidewalk outside, which, technically, belongs to the city and its citizens, not the store–because it’s their policy they should make their policy clear. Or they should have the nerve to admit that they really are responding to customer complaints. If they did that, though, then they have to listen to the complaints of some of their other customers who are out and about and, from now on, doing their grocery shopping somewhere else.

Book ‘Em: The Circus Comes To Town.

Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love (Knopf, 1989), may be one of the best books about the circus ever written. Clearly taking some inspiration from Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks, Dunn’s novel makes a family of circus freaks the sympathetic characters while it’s the “normal” people who seem weird. The story follows a family of circus freaks, bred purposely to save Binewski’s Fabulon, a traveling circus. Mother Crystal Lil ingests, or is injected with, toxic chemicals to produce special children, including Siamese twins and a boy with flippers instead of arms and legs. The narrator, Olympia, is a hunch-backed dwarf, not special enough to be a circus attraction, but she makes herself useful working as an assistant. After the circus collapses, destroyed by “aqua-boy” Arturo’s formation of a cult around himself, Olympia finds herself having to save the daughter she abandoned.


Tragic, complex, horrifying, Geek Love is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is an amazing piece of work. One can’t help wondering what Dunn ingested to produce such a strange and special child.

Who Reads This?

I work in a library. Lately I’ve been processing a lot of gifts, donations to the library which is interesting because there’s even more variety than usual. These books aren’t new; they’re almost all old. Some are very old, and they cover everything from a collection of panoramic photos to the Kennedy assassination to a 19th Century Colombian writer you’ve never heard of. Or maybe you’ve heard of Miguel Antonio Caro (1843-1909).

If you have dreams of being a writer working in a library can really get you down. There are so many books on so many topics, so many authors, so many stories. Or you can look at the bright side. In a library they will be saved, stored, preserved. It’s not like a bookstore where if it doesn’t sell it goes to the remainder table, and if it doesn’t sell on the remainder table it goes back to the publisher where it might be pulped to make other, possibly more profitable books. In theory a book will live in a library forever.

Some of the really old books have a variety of problems: the paper is deteriorating, there’s foxing, which is caused when the iron in the paper rusts and discolors the pages, and in some book-worms have made perfect little holes in the covers, spines, and pages. There really is such a creature. Book-worms are larval forms of a species of the genus anobium, a kind of beetle. Other beetles, as well as silverfish, cockroaches, and even moths also destroy books. We’ve also been warned to watch for mold, which can be incredibly toxic. Some librarians have been sent to the hospital after mold exposure, so don’t let anyone tell you library work is for wimps.

One morning I processed a handful of catalogs of new books published by the World Health Organization. It seemed strange to add a catalog, a document of what was published in the Summer or Autumn of a particular year and how much it cost, but any time I look at something and ask, “Who reads this?” a voice in the back of my head says, Someone, hopefully. The catalogs were from 1986. If they were people they could legally drink now.

I’m not crazy enough to really think of the books as people, but if they were I’d say, “This way please, we have a spot reserved just for you.” If I were shelving the books I’d be tempted to say, “Someone will be with you shortly,” but I wouldn’t want to get their hopes up.

I’m just a cog in a system that’s like an assembly line, but we’re not putting anything together. I’m just ushering things along. The House of Usher would be a good name for my department, especially since books occasionally come back from the mausoleum of the stacks we’ve sent them to, usually because someone did something wrong. Unlike Roderick, though, I’m not shocked when a book comes back. Occasionally I could, if the books were people, say, “Hey, I remember you!”

Sexy Librarians.

I have a confession to make: I once had an overdue book. I know you’re shocked to hear this, but it’s true. I was in third grade and had checked out The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater from my school library and, not only did I keep the book so long I had to pay an overdue fine, my mother ended up having to pay for the book because, and this is the really unbelievable part, I misplaced it. In fact the book turned up a couple of weeks after school ended: I’d returned it to the public library.On a few occasions since then I’ve had overdue books and even misplaced a book or two. Heck, everybody has, right? Fortunately most of us understand library etiquette, but if you’re not sure, check out this video, although you might be tempted to break a few rules just as an excuse to spend time with these librarians:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ne_WXP7lUWM" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

For more librarian videos, be sure to check out The Best of Library Videos blog.

Book ‘Em: Don’t Know Much About Art…

Scandals, vandals, and Da Vincis : a gallery of remarkable art tales
By Harvey Rachlin
(Penguin Books, 2007)

Sometimes as you’re walking through a museum you probably often think, “What makes this picture interesting or special? What’s the story behind it?” Harvey Rachlin’s book Scandals, vandals, and Da Vincis : a gallery of remarkable art tales takes a number of famous art works and does exactly that. The author of Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, & Einstein’s Brain and its sequel Jumbo’s hide, Elvis’s ride, & the tooth of Buddha Rachlin writes engaging stories about both the origins of paintings and, in many cases, things that happened to the paintings. John Ruskin, for instance, received a painting he loved and had written about, Turner’s Slave Ship as a gift from his father, but would find himself liking the painting less and less because it was a reminder of the horrors of the slave trade. And of course he writes about the history of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, including the 1911 theft of the painting. Each chapter is devoted to a specific painting, and most begin with a brief introductory paragraph, such as the one for A Convalescent by James Tissot, which begins, “Like astrology or the Tarot or other methods of augury, art can sometimes be eerily prescient.” The book does have a couple of disadvantages. For one thing the paintings in question are scattered throughout the world, so while it’s broad in its scope, you couldn’t, unfortunately, use it as a guide in any specific museum. In fact it would be nice if museum curators would get authors like Rachlin to write similar guidebooks for visitors. Also, all the reproductions are in black and white, so more than a little of the detail of some works is lost (particularly works by Caravaggio and Whistler). And finally the artists are all male. This may seem like political correctness, but there are fascinating stories behind the paintings of artists such as Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, and Dorothea Tanning. The book is seriously entertaining, though, so hopefully Rachlin will write a sequel that will cover even more artists and their works.

We Are The Martians.

He was, in Roman mythology, the bringer of war. Known as Ares to the ancient Greeks, Mars gave us the name of the month March, when wars were often started or renewed in ancient times.

Continue Reading

Killing Independence.

As has been reported and discussed in various places the United States Postal Service recently announced a draconian and bizarre rate hike that would mainly affect small, independent publishers. Suffering from declining readership, the new rate hike, which would force small publishers to pay between 30-40% more for mailing, could be the final nail in their coffins. At the same time large conglomerate publishers, such as Time Warner, would see their own postal rates increase by only 12%, and some of the largest publications will actually see their postal rates decrease.

As reported in the June issue of Z Magazine the supposedly independent Postal Regulatory Committee was charged last year with a plan to increase revenue. The United States Postal Service recommended its own plan for raising costs for all publishers by around 12%. Time Warner submitted a proposal of its own, offering various incentives that only large publishers could provide. The Postal Regulatory Committee decided to adopt a plan very similar to Time Warner’s. The plan is so complex that, even though it was originally scheduled to go into effect in May, and is still supposed to take effect July 15th, some small publishers still haven’t managed to get through the 758-page plan to figure out how much their rates are supposed to go up.

This change endangers small, independent publishers, who survive mainly through their subscribers because they can’t, or don’t want to, command the big advertising bucks that nation-wide glossies lap up in exchange for publishing business-friendly articles, or steering clear of anything even remotely controversial no matter how newsworthy.

Print is not dead. The fact that Time Warner considered postage rates important enough to manipulate them in their favor proves that. And while political publications such as Mother Jones and The Nation are the ones who have mainly spoken out against the new rates, literary magazines such as Granta, TriQuarterly, The American Poetry Review, and Ploughshares will also be affected, if not driven out of business, by the new rate hikes.

Ironically the Internet, which has contributed to the decline of small and independent publishers is also coming to their rescue. Here’s a small number of places with more information and resources for fighting the new stamp act. Do what you can.

Take Action

The Nation

Blue Lyon

Book ‘Em: Shiver Me Timbers!

Maybe this weekend you checked out a pirate movie, or maybe you’ll be checking it out soon, or maybe you live under a rock and have never heard of it. The important thing is, if you like pirates and you like books, you should probably check out So You Wanna Be A Pirate? Here’s How! by John “Ol’ Chumbucket” Baur and Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers, the brains (or would it be more appropriate to say scallywags?) behind International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

With an introduction by Dave Barry, the book will tell you everything you need to know about being a pirate, and probably a lot more you don’t need to know.

Deadline Extended.

Because of the amazingly underwhelming response to the Just-Write Summer Reading Contest I’m extending the deadline to June 30th, 2007. Maybe you’re wondering what it is, or why I’m doing it. Well, here are some answers:

What is it? Do you have a particular favorite summer book–a book you like to take to the beach, or wherever you go for the summer? Are you reading anything interesting this summer? Share it with the rest of us!

Why are you doing this? Reading is a solitary activity, while blogs (like this one) seek to create a community and correspondence between writers and readers. I’d like to help foster this particular community by finding out who’s reading this and what else they’re reading. Reviews, advertisements, and just browsing are all great ways to find something interesting to read, but word of mouth (or word of blog) is also a great way to find new books that might interest you.

I don’t want to win the free book. That’s understandable. You can opt out of the contest part and simply share what you’re reading. Or if you do win the book, hand it on to someone else.

E-mail your Summer reading book to justwrite@contentquake.com.