Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tuesday Intros No. 2: Why We Can't Wait, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Welcome to First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros,
hosted by Diane @

Every Tuesday, each participant
shares the first paragraph 
(sometimes two) from a book
they're reading,
or thinking about reading.

The book I've picked this week is....

Why We Can't Wait
Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Trade Paperback, 182 pages
Beacon Press
January 11, 2011
African-American Studies,  American History,  Classics, Civil Rights Movement,  
Nonfiction, Politics, Social Justice 


About the Book
Dr. King’s best-selling account of the civil rights movement in Birmingham during the spring and summer of 1963

Often applauded as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most incisive and eloquent book, Why We Can’t Wait recounts the Birmingham campaign in vivid detail, while underscoring why 1963 was such a crucial year for the civil rights movement. During this time, Birmingham, Alabama, was perhaps the most racially segregated city in the United States, but the campaign launched by Fred Shuttlesworth, King, and others demonstrated to the world the power of nonviolent direct action. King examines the history of the civil rights struggle and the tasks that future generations must accomplish to bring about full equality. The book also includes the extraordinary “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which King wrote in April of 1963.


It is the beginning of the year of our Lord 1963.

I see a young Negro boy. He is sitting on a stoop in front of a vermin-infested apartment house in Harlem. The stench of garbage is in the halls. The drunks, the jobless, the junkies are shadow figures of his everyday world. The boy goes to a school attended mostly by Negro students with a scattering of Puerto Ricans. His father is one of the jobless. His mother is a sleep-in domestic, working for a family on Long Island.

I see a young Negro girl. She is sitting on the stoop of a rickety wooden one-family house in Birmingham. Some visitors would call it a shack. It needs paint badly and the patched-up roof appears in danger of caving in. Half a dozen small children, in various stages of undress, are scampering about the house. The girl is forced to play the role of their mother.She can no longer attend the all-Negro school in her neighborhood because her mother died only recently after a car accident. Neighbors say if the ambulance hadn't come so late to take her to the all-Negro hospital the mother might still be alive. 


I have just finished reading this powerful,
moving book, which is one that every
American, whatever their race or
ethnic group, should read. Dr. King writes 
in a sober, eloquent manner about the
horrible injustices of segregation in
the society of his time. Reading this book  
reminds us all that we  still
have a ways to go to achieve full equality.    

Have you ever read this classic?
If so, what did you think?
If not, has the selection above
enticed you to do so?
I would love to know!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday Intros, No. 1: Walden and Other Writings, by Henry David Thoreau

Welcome to First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros,
hosted by Diane @

Every Tuesday, each participant
shares the first paragraph 
(sometimes two) from a book
they're reading,
or thinking about reading.

The book I've picked this week is....

Walden and Other Writings
Henry David Thoreau
Hardcover, 368 pages
Barnes & Noble
November 1, 2000
Classics, Memoir, Philosophy, Nonfiction



When I wrote the following pages, or rather, the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, miles from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. i lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.


I remember reading a couple of selections from
this book in high school. It was part
of an assignment on the Transcendentalists,
of which Thoreau was one.
I would certainly like to read the entire
book sometime this year! 

Have you ever read this classic?
If so, what did you think?
If not, has the selection above
enticed you to do so?
I would love to know!

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Cozy Book Corner No. 2: The Lure of the Fantastic

Welcome to my Friday feature!

In each bi-weekly post, I will 
explore my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.

There are many reading genres, but certain people will gravitate toward fantasy and science fiction time and time again, to the exclusion of all others.  Although I am an eclectic reader, I do tend to read mostly these genres, as well as paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  I especially enjoy reading YA paranormal romances. However, this blog is dedicated to literary fiction, as well as nonfiction, so I don't review this genre here, but at my YA blog, A NIGHT'S DREAM OF BOOKS, which is totally dedicated to Young Adult Fiction.

I do review adult fantasy novels here, though. I intend to post reviews of such books as The Lord of the Rings at some future point, for instance. And, of course, I will also be reviewing adult science fiction.  

So what is it about fantasy and science fiction that so appeals to many people, although not all?  Is it merely the curiosity factor?  Is it the wish to escape?  But if so, escape from what?

It’s both of these things, and much more.  It’s the desire to tap into the deepest recesses of our minds, where symbols thrive, living in a world of their own, a world that our waking, rational minds find to be weird, incomprehensible.  Fantasy, science fiction, paranormal romance, and urban fantasy access this world that lies beyond consciousness.  It is the world of the archetypes, those eternal realities first described by Carl Jung as the denizens of what he termed “the collective unconscious”.  He differentiated this level of the mind from the personal unconscious, which is that belonging to the individual person.  The collective unconscious is the heritage of the entire human race. 

I believe we long to experience this level of the mind. However, since our waking consciousness finds it nearly impossible to communicate with it, we rely on symbols, mythology, fairy tales, and stories of alien worlds.  We even yearn to experience, at least vicariously, all the strange, wonderful adventures that are impossible to find in our waking reality. 

Why do we want to live in the world of the collective unconscious?  Perhaps because we feel the need to compensate somehow for the monotony of so-called ‘reality’, with its daily, boring routines -– the morning commute, the gossip at the office, the bills in the mail…  For those still in school, there are the piles of homework, being bullied by classmates (although co-workers and bosses can also be bullies), not being asked to go to the prom….  There has to be more to life than these mundane things!  

So it is that we dream, each and every night, and enter that alien, unconscious world.  So it is that we seek it when awake, through the works of such authors as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. LeGuin, L.J. Smith, Madeleine L'Engle, George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and so many others that transport us into strange alternate realities, thus helping us to live as heroes and heroines, rather than ordinary people.  So it is that we become part of a world deep within us, while at the same time, part of the very cosmos itself.

Of course, my interest in these literary genres began in childhood. I read books such as Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Tales of Andersen, and The Tales of Hoffman. i also read collections of the stories of the brothers Grimm, and tales from other countries, as well. Like many children born with "the reading gene", I became totally absorbed by these stories, and frequently had to be pulled back to Earth by parental demands to "finish your homework", "come and eat dinner before it gets cold", and the like. 

As I grew, I discovered that these wonderful stories were "just make-believe".....much to my disappointment. My parents, although readers themselves, did not share my love of the fantastic and unusual, preferring to read realistic fiction, nonfiction, or biographies. I was not at all interested in such books at the time (early adolescence), although I do remember reading a book about an expedition to Annapurna, which I greatly enjoyed, when I was around 8 or so. I did read a lot of horse books, as well; I devoured the Black Stallion books, Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, Man O'War, and many others. These books do fall under the heading of realistic fiction. I never stopped reading and liking fantasy, however.

When I was around 12, a classmate -- a very imaginative girl named Sylvia -- introduced me to science fiction. She drew wonderfully detailed spaceships, much to my fascination. She also claimed to be from another planet, and solemnly told me that her real name was "Chel-al Burr". I was delighted, and began feverishly reading such books as the Lucky Starr series, which Isaac Asimov wrote, using the pen name Paul French.

In my twenties, I first encountered the enchanting world of Middle Earth, and fell headlong into it..... I did walk around and functioned in "the real world", but in my mind, I LIVED in Middle Earth; the hobbits and Gandalf were almost as real to me as people I encountered in daily living. 

Years later, the same thing would happen to me when I first met Harry Potter, and yearned to be a student at Hogwarts Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry.....

Of course, there was also "Star Trek" (the original series). That universe also took me in, enveloping my mind in the wonders of space travel. While this was initially only a TV show, it soon spawned novels derived from it, which I promptly began to collect. I have read some of these, although by no means all, something I hope to remedy this year!

It was The Twilight Saga that got me hooked on paranormal romance and urban fantasy, as well as Young Adult Fiction. Although I had been reading vampire romances for some time, I soon found out that the Twilight novels were totally different, and I just couldn't get enough of them! Another PNR/UF/YA series that totally fascinates me is The Night World series, by L.J. Smith, which also departs from more traditional vampire tales.

I do read realistic fiction from time to time, but there's nothing like a fantasy element to reel me in! And so I dive into Jung's collective unconscious, where I feel most at home, where things are usually not what they seem, where wonders never cease to delight and stun me, where i can find out what unicorns think, where I can grok boys from Mars, where I can play Quidditch with Harry Potter and listen to the lilting melodies of the elves at Rivendell, or yearn for the happiness that Bella can find in Edward's arms....

And so I dream, even as I am awake. i am not alone in this, for there are many of us in the world. We live life, not as it is, but as it really should be. We yearn for dragons to combat the falling threads on Pern, for daring princess warriors who also want to be swept off their feet by equally daring prince warriors, for flying unicorns and elves and space federations and lovelorn ghosts and sweet vampires and werewolves and.....

It's a never-ending story. The story of the imagination. The story of the ever intertwining threads of archetypes in the long-ago mists of Time, still living in the pages of books, to be eagerly devoured by 21st century seekers on the Quest.....

For Further Information

What are your thoughts on
 this topic?
Please leave me a comment
and let me know!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Review: Through The Flower, by Judy Chicago

Through The Flower: My Struggle As A Woman Artist
Judy Chicago
(introduction by Anaïs Nin)
Trade Paperback, 226 pages
Penguin Books, Oct. 1, 1993
Art, Feminism, Memoir, Nonfiction

Book Synopsis:
Through the Flower was my first book (I've since published nine others). I was inspired to write it by the writer and diarist, Anaïs Nin, who was a mentor to me in the early seventies. My hope was that it would aid young women artists in their development and that reading about my struggles might help them avoid some of the pitfalls that were so painful to me. I also hoped to spare them the anguish of reinventing the wheel , which my studies in women's history had taught me was done again and again by women, specifically because we have not had access to our foremothers' experience and achievements -- one consequence of the fact that we still learn both history and art history from a male-centered bias with insufficient inclusion of women's achievements.

My Review

I first came across Judy Chicago's Through The Flower several years ago, while still an art student, and read a bit of it, skimming the rest. I recently decided to revisit it, reading it thoroughly this time. 

This book, a manifesto of sorts, has made it crystal clear why many women do not become professional artists. I can synthesize the answer in one phrase: "societal conditioning".

Art is all about creating something new and original. It demands boldness and daring, the willingness to try something that has never been done before, and/or to infuse a work with one's personal vision. 

In short, art is an inner quest that eventually culminates in an outer statement of how an individual artist perceives the world, as well as, implicitly, him/herself.

Most of us women have traditionally not been brought up to question the status quo, to take risks, to dare, to experiment, to bring to birth art that comes from the deepest core of our beings, and then promote that art out in the world. We are instead brought up to always put others first, whether it's parents, siblings, husbands, children, other  relatives, and even our friends.

I am not against altruism, of course, but it must be balanced by self-interest. Women are almost exclusively steered in the direction of altruism, to the exclusion of their own interests. It's only in relatively recent times that this conditioning has been questioned, in the several waves of feminism that have arisen since the 19th-century.

The pursuit of an aesthetic vision is usually also a solitary one. The artist must courageously endure the loneliness of creation, at times even facing ridicule and disdain from friends and relatives. 

So I can readily identify with Chicago as she recounts her experiences with male artist friends, teachers, gallery owners, and museum curators. That she was able to confront and rebel against the stereotypical view that women are unable to create Art with a capital "A" is due to her own upbringing. Her parents were extreme left-wingers, and always encouraged her intellectual growth -- especially her father. Judy Chicago has always had good self-esteem because of her childhood background. She was taught, from a very early age, that she could do anything she put her mind to. At the age of eight, she was already attending art school. Her mother was the one who encouraged her artistic talents, as her father stimulated her intellectual growth. She was thus never brought up as a stereotypical female. 

I found it very interesting that, during her student years, Chicago was told by male art students that she was "different" from the other female art students in the Art Department. She felt proud of this at the time, and tried to be "one of the boys" by acting more self-sufficient and "tough". It's really sad that a woman is praised for not being "a typical female", and even tries to fit into the prevailing male culture.  Chicago even started smoking cigars, at one point.

The artist/writer finally came to the conclusion that we women artists have to affirm, instead of deny, our identities as female artists. Thus, art made by women has to reflect female experience. Here is where I began to have a problem with the author's aesthetic philosophy. Her art ended up becoming a political statement. Injecting politics into art always makes it less about what it should be -- the expression of the beauty of line and form. Art does not need anything beyond itself, beyond its own concepts and methods of execution. Chicago defines this view, however, as the "male standards" in art. She actually criticizes Modernism for being more concerned with form than content. I believe she is thereby defining herself as a Post-Modernist. I would add that she's gone to the opposite extreme -- sometimes emphasizing content at the expense of form. 

Furthermore, and even more problematic, Chicago has made her political statements through the depiction of female body parts, primarily the female genitalia. This, in my honest opinion, cancels out her whole point, because she is continuing the very same sexual objectification long perpetuated by male artists, and in a far more intimate, and thus, far more invasive, manner.

I have no problem with what Chicago terms "core imagery"; this is the concept behind mandalas, for example. It's the idea of having a center around which the entire artistic composition revolves. It appears, then, that this is really nothing new, although Chicago has used the concept in her own way, and for her own purposes. She has some gorgeous pieces -- very abstract -- in which core imagery is the primary design element. I love them precisely because they are abstract; they take the image of the female genitalia and transform it into a powerful -- but again, I emphasize -- abstract -- image of radiating power. 

It's when Chicago makes these images more overtly similar to the real thing that I have a problem. There is such a thing as phallic art, but the greatest male artists in history have not made such art their primary concern. Artists like Michelangelo, Raphael, Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Degas have instead chosen subject matter that would enable them to explore  such things as light and shadow, balanced composition, the function of color, and so forth. Making art based on realistically-depicted human genitalia (whether male or female) can border on pornography, and thus, voyeurism, not to mention, again, that it involves sexual objectification.

For instance, I fail to see the effectiveness of a work like "Red Flag" (1971), which you can view HERE. I find this work to be totally disgusting, of no aesthetic merit whatsoever. Paradoxically, Chicago intended it as a statement of female power, but in my honest opinion, it's anything but. Instead, it represents something which is an intimate part of every woman's life, and should remain thus.

In contrast, her 2012 piece, "The Return of the Butterfly", is indeed a powerful work, using that same core imagery, but in an abstract way that does indeed honor women. You can view it HERE.

I do agree with Chicago that women artists have been marginalized throughout art history, and have even been omitted from that history. However, I do not therefore agree with her concomitant conclusion that creating vulvic art is necessarily a way for a woman to reflect the female experience in her art, unless, as I have already stated, such images are abstract.

In one part of the book, Chicago  mentions that she pioneered the creation of feminist art with her Fresno art program, which she designed to be exclusively for female artists. This was a very valuable experience, as the students were actually pushed to achieve their highest potential, and were also taught to use tools and techniques women have not traditionally learned to use  in art school. Again, I can agree with her aims, if not totally with her choice of imagery. Her students also began producing art that referred to the female body.

The creation of Womanhouse, a collaboration of Chicago with her students, as well as artist Miriam Schapiro, was an important feminist statement, a psychological stepping stone toward a woman's achievement of a strong self-image, toward a woman's assertiveness as an  artist.  Although this project was also a political staement, I feel it had  aesthetic value, as well. However, I found the incorporation of menstruation imagery in one of the installations to be totally repugnant

I must admit to very mixed feelings regarding this artist's work, as well as this book. While I do think that she has helped women to be taken more seriously as artists in some ways, in others, she has not. Instead, she has made it seem as if women cannot go beyond their own sexuality in the creation of art.

Male artists have always focused on the objective and universal, which applies to all human beings. Chicago herself has stated that she wants other women to understand her art, and indeed, she feels that only women will totally empathize with her viewpoint. She is therefore contradicting her own rationale for making art. Great art must be objective and universal, not subjective and particular. By creating art that appeals primarily to women, Chicago seems to be implying that objectivity and universality are also "male standards". I vehemently disagree.

Chicago has not only worked as a painter and sculptor, but has also done performance art, as have her students. Needless to say, this type of art lends itself perfectly to political statements. Chicago and her students thus wrote and performed feminist pieces as part of the Womanhouse project. I have never liked performance art, so this didn't appeal to me much, either. The Penguin edition of the book includes some of these performance art scripts. 

This book is very well-written, and it captured my attention throughout. Chicago articulates her views in a very compelling manner, although there are parts of the book that struck me as redundant; she does tend to belabor her point. 

To be honest, I have had a very hard time discussing and rating this memoir/manifesto. At times I've felt it deserved five stars, while at others, I really thought I couldn't give it more than three. Although I don't agree completely with the author's viewpoint, I do think it's very important reading that's still relevant to women artists working today. I have therefore finally decided to give it 4 stars. 

About The Author

(From the book's back cover)

Artist, author, teacher, feminist, and organizer, Judy Chicago is best known for The Dinner Party, the Birth Project, and the Holocaust Project, monumental works of art that combine an intense intimacy with an unabashed willingness to address larger issues of gender, power, and history. Those same qualities have made her autobiography a classic in the literature of women and the arts. Through the Flower details with charm and candor how Chicago survived personal tragedy and professional ostracism to become an influential and controversial artist, as well as a trail-blazing advocate for an art that not only speaks to other women but enlists them in its creation. Her story will provoke, inspire, and exhilarate any woman who has tried to find "a room of her own" in a world dominated by men.