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Tea Interview - BookBitch 

Welcome to the Tea Interviews.

I've seldom met an artist, particularly a writer, who didn't tend to gab or spill opinions or offer musings on his/her own work and worldview.  Therefore I'm tapping into this common tendency.  

(Most of the questions are tailored toward the featured interviewee.)

 

 Tea Interview with BookBitch

 

D: Stacy (BookBitch), I'm sure you're often asked "Why the name BookBitch?" until you can yawn and vomit at the same time.  For strangers' sakes, please give us the scoop.

 

BB: Actually, I'm not asked as frequently as you might assume -- perhaps the name scares people off from asking?  And I'm not talented enough to yawn and vomit at the same time anyway.  But the answer, I'm afraid, is rather boring. 

 

I was a bookseller at Borders for several years and was thinking about doing a website as a way to keep track of the books I had read and the books I wanted to read.  It was purely selfish, you see.  I worked the closing shift every Friday and Saturday night and on one particularly hellish night, the name just popped into my head.  When I got home from work in the wee hours of the night I signed up for the email address with Yahoo and at the time, they were providing free web space through Geocities.  I had already put together a website for the store -- a completely unofficial, non-company approved site just for the great people I worked with.  I abandoned the site years ago, but it is still floating around in cyberspace if you'd like to check it out, but it's mostly just pictures of the staff -  http://www.geocities.com/borders13/

 

So I started the [current] BookBitch site with Geocities and then my husband surprised me a few months later and purchased the domain name for me as a gift.  I found a web host, migrated the site, and it just sort of snowballed from a personal site to something much more far reaching. 

 

 

 

 

D: So sayeth the BookBitch:  "I am the eternal optimist; my glass is always half full, my clouds all have silver linings and when life gives me lemons, I make kick ass lemonade!"  But she admits: "I am sorry to say I can also be impatient, opinionated, stubborn and generally too blunt for my own good."

 

Must you be "sorry to say" that you're opinionated?  Strong opinions are commonly discouraged by negative connotation (and tend to be harshly judged by Politically Correct Neo-Puritan standards).  I respect responsible opinions and consider them signs of strong thought rather than social sins.  (There can be/are silly or horrible opinions, of course.)  

 

Thoughts on my take on "opinionation"?  Please elaborate on your self-description.   

 

BB: In my own defense I should add here that my mother -- who hates the BookBitch moniker -- called me when she read that description and said it was right on.  In fact she was surprised that I put it all out there like that.

 

Obviously I don't mind expressing my opinion, but sometimes I wish I was a bit more subtle.  I've stuck my foot in my mouth more times than I care to think about.  Recent example: I work for the public library and was at the check out desk one quiet afternoon.  I was reading an advance reading copy of some book, I don't remember which, when a couple approached me to check out some books.  The woman glanced at the book I had set aside and said, "Oh, do you often read galleys?" I told her that I do, explaining that I write reviews for Library Journal and my website.  Then she glanced at her husband and said, "Are you planning on reading Lauren Weisberger's new book?  The galleys just came out."  Without thinking about it for a second, I said "I hope not."  I continued explaining that I had reviewed The Devil Wears Prada for Library Journal and while it was interesting, I didn't think Weisberger was much of a writer.  The man sort of scowled but the woman said "I guess you didn't notice our name when you were checking out our books.  We're her parents." 

 

So yes, I am occasionally sorry that I'm so opinionated.  I should add that Mrs. Weisberger was actually very gracious about it, saying that she understands that not everyone likes that type of book (poorly written?  Oh, chick-lit!).  I started to say that I do like chick lit, but realized that I would just be digging myself in deeper so I quickly shut my mouth and hoped they hadn't read/remembered my review, which started with this: "This chic read is sure to take the fashion world by storm, although the literary world may find it lacking," and ended with this recommendation: "Despite the pedestrian writing, the prepublication buzz on this novel is big, so buy for demand."  Turns out I was right, the book made a bloody fortune and Weisberger got a million dollar advance for her next book (which I did not have to review and was universally panned).  I'm sure she's crying all the way to the bank.

 

It's been my experience that people say that want to hear honest opinions, that they want honesty, but the truth is most people would rather hear a little white lie or even a whopper than face some truth that they'd rather avoid.  Being blunt has its price, but on the plus side the people who know me do value my opinion because they know they'll get the truth from me.  I try and be as kind as I know how to be, but I'm not always as successful at kindness as I'd like.  I'm still working on the patience thing, and making a tiny bit of progress I think. I hope. As for the rest of my description, the only change is that I've given up on lemonade and learned to make limoncello, a delightful Italian liqueur. 

 

 

 

 

D: Mother Jones (whose speeches were worthy despite some fundamental disagreements I have with her) said in 1915: "No nation can ever grow greater than its women...It is the women who decide the fate of a nation, and that has always been, as history proves."

 

This reminds me of what Pearl Buck wrote: "The basic discovery about any people is the discovery of the relationship between its men and its women."

 

Your thoughts on these statements?

 

BB: I can't say that I necessarily agree with Mother Jones.  I don't believe in sexism, in either direction.  My version of that quote would be "No nation can ever grow greater than its people..."   Buck was probably right on the money with her statement. Just look at what goes on in the Middle East, the male/female relationship speaks volumes about that society, as it does ours.

 

 

 

 

D: You say you prefer fiction books by new authors.  My reading preference for fiction ranges between about 1850 to about 1980 (though some books fall before or after that scale).  My philosophy, essays, and history interests are more broad era-wise.

 

Where do your other reading interests fall on or off my scale - and what "classic" or older authors (Conrad, Faulkner, etc.) do you like?  Are there standard elements that endear you to particular books?  Feel free to mention your favorite books.  Also, tell us about the "tons of erotica" you read.  (Lascivious minds want to know.)

 

BB: I'm a college student majoring in English so I do a good bit of reading in other centuries.  I adore Shakespeare, of course, for he is the foundation of all modern literature and had quite a way with words.  My favorite comedies: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Measure for Measure.  Tragedies: Othello, Hamlet.  And I treasure the Sonnets.  Other favorite Brits of previous centuries include Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens.  More recently yet certainly within your pre-1980 requirements -- Nora Zeale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God is an amazing book. John Cheever. I love his story "The Swimmer".  F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Most of Hemingway.  Carson McCullers.  Harper Lee.  Henry Miller. 

 

On the other hand, I am not a fan of Faulkner.  Hate Pynchon and Stein.  Love the Beat poets: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and my favorite, Charles Bukowski.  Actually I am a complete sucker for poetry.  My favorite contemporary poets are Sharon Olds, who writes my life, and Billy Collins, who makes me laugh.

 

Standard elements. Good question.  I would say good writing, good use of punctuation (I'm sorry, I don't care what anyone says but a sentence that is an entire page long [Faulkner] is a run-on) and a good mix of description and dialogue -- too much of one or the other usually starts to annoy me. 

 

A well turned phrase can take my breath away.  My favorite first line of a book is from The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall: "If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head." 

 

My favorite books, the ones I have read more than once, and some of them many times, the ones that I give as gifts, the ones that I constantly recommend -- Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger, Beginner's Luck by Laura Pedersen, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk, My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, Gone With the Wind  by Margaret Mitchell, Atonement by Ian McEwan, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskus, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, Plainsong by Kent Haruf, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.  I'll stop here although the list is considerably longer.  I haven't even touched my favorite genre, crime fiction, so I'll just mention some of my favorite authors: Lee Child, Michael Connelly, David Ellis, Joseph Finder, Richard North Patterson. Throw in some humor and the list grows even longer: Janet Evanovich, Carl Hiaasen, David Rosenfelt, maybe a few new guys, Bob Morris, Chris Grabenstein and Randall Hicks.

 

Erotica.  Let me tend to all those lascivious minds!  I read everything as long as it's graphic and not "soft-porn" or "women's erotica" (whatever that means). I adore the A. N. Roquelaure/Anne Rice Sleeping Beauty Trilogy and a couple of classics, The Story of O and Candy.  Anais Nin writes pretty erotica.  I love Victorian erotica.  The Black Lace series is terrific, I read tons of those -- they have Victorian and contemporary and everything in between.  Susie Bright does some good collections with her Best American Erotica annual anthologies.  I have a couple of books that are collections of stories but were printed on special paper that is waterproof (for bath time reading) which is very nice, Aqua Erotica & More Aqua Erotica.  I also read a lot online, my favorite site is www.literotica.com.

 

 

 

 

D: Below are three important statements.  Please share your reactions to them.

 

1. D.E. Harding: "How this universe can be so steeped in intention, yet remain merely accidental, we do not explain."

 

BB: Yawn.

  

2. Graham Greene: "To admit that there are no finalities is to put the spirit out of business; to say that finalities are a matter of personal assertion is to make the spirit's business insignificant."

 

BB: This is starting to feel like school.  Not sure what spirit he is referring to here, but mine is completely stifled by finality.  I live, therefore, I hope.  I live, and not insignificantly.

 

3. Dr. Francis Schaeffer: "...we should note this curious mark of our own age: the only absolute allowed is the absolute insistence that there is no absolute."

 

BB: Ah, sounds like Republican right wing Christian doublespeak.  No offense intended. 

 

I didn't much care for your quotes, so I will gift you with quotes I find interesting and meaningful, in hopes that will suffice:

"We need not worry so much about what man descends from; it's what he descends to that shames the human race."  - Mark Twain

 

"A small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  - Margaret Mead

 

"Everywhere I go I am asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher." - Flannery O'Conner

 

"Oh, the comfort - the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person - having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."  - Dinah Maria Mulock Craik 

 

"The curve is more powerful than the sword." - Mae West   

 

 

 

D: If you could have one superhero power, what would it be?

 

Now this is a question I can have some fun with!  Perhaps flying, I tend to get airsick (and seasick) so maybe if I could fly that wouldn't be a problem for me.  But then again, maybe I'd be flying around and turning green while doing it and that wouldn't be any fun.  Being bulletproof seems like a bit of a waste for me, I'm 47 and no one has ever taken a shot at me (thank goodness!).  Don't like the spider web thing, that's yucky, and [I] never really cared about shooting flames or stretching like a rubber-band.  I think I'll pick super vision.  I've recently started wearing glasses for reading which really sucks and I wouldn't mind being able to read without them again.  

 

 

 

D: There's usually one long-winded, grand slam "question" (really a verbose provocation) in each of my interviews.  So here goes...

 

I hear folks worrying about this violent, foolish world and wishing for a hero, someone (usually a leader) who will fix problems, usher in peace, reduce fear and bring prosperity.  Guess what?  I don't WANT a hero!  I don't wish for a human savior/leader to soothe our anxiety and award us with comfort and treats!  The prospect makes my skin crawl.  Minced poison is hardly better than obvious putrescence.  Human heroism is incidental, trustworthy on a small scale.  Utopianism raises my eyebrow, makes me wary, suggests a grinning Big Bad Wolf.

 

Over and over, in different ways, Dostoyevsky stressed that rabbit stew can't be made without a rabbit.  In other words, world fraternity cannot be genuinely achieved by politics or systems alone.  The heart is the key, the element that needs redemption before true brother- and sisterhood can happen.  This tied in with Dostoyevsky's distrust of socialism - which inadvertently foretold the barbarous Bolshevik Revolution in his own land 36 years after his death.

 

Razumihin in Crime and Punishment said: "Everything with them [socialists] is 'the influence of the environment'...if society is normally organized, all crime wil cease at once...and all men will become righteous in one instant.  Human nature is not taken into account, it is excluded, it's not supposed to exist!"  He goes on to say, "The living soul demands life, the soul won't obey the rules of mechanics...you can't skip over nature by logic..." 

 

Comfort becomes the primary goal of mass-men - at the expense of true liberty and humanness.  In The Brothers Karamazov, The Grand Inquisitor explains the fallen Church's global Statism to a captive Jesus, referring to Jesus' refusal of Satan's temptation to turn stones into bread: "Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone...In the end they [humanity] will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, 'Make us your slaves, but feed us.'"

 

The lowly doctrine of strict materialism becomes the dogma of the replacement religion.  And as Stepan Trofimovich cries in Devils (echoing Dostoyevsky's own conviction that disbelief in higher purpose meant the death of the soul and ultimate despair, namely nihilism): "The infinite and the eternal are as essential to man as this small planet where we live...long live the Great Idea!"

 

Conditioning against evil is not the same as the choice against evil, and is hence not moral.  So apparent, primarily coerced cooperation and good behavior misses the point, doesn't take the soul - the rabbit for the stew - into account.  In Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, Alex is put through a new technique to "cure" criminals.  The prison chaplain criticizes the technique: "What does God want?  Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness?"   A doctor later rebuts, "We are not concerned with motive, with the higher ethics.  We are concerned only with cutting down crime."

 

Eventually, grand designs for mass cooperation, "equality," and State providence becomes an insistence on control and the abuse or negation of individuality.  The French Revolution is a prime example of a foolish rush to uproot almost everything considered superfluous or contrary to a fanatical worship of so-called "Reason" (to the point of praising Reason as a Goddess in the streets).  Trying to force "fraternity" and "equality," the misguided masses (stoked by wayward intellectuals) actually produced an entirely other reality: the loss of liberty and the Reign of Terror followed by a dictatorship.  The Bolshevik Rev followed in a quite similar way.  (They both differed greatly from the unique American Revolution.)

 

 

Your thoughts on my spiel?  What are your views on possible or impossible world concord?  Does Dostoyevsky have a decent point or is he off base?  Please let your answer go wherever it tugs.

 

BB: As long as there is man there will be war.  I'm not dissing the male species because I think women can be just as warmongering as men -- by man, I mean mankind.  World peace is boring and carries no reward.  Inconceivable, actually.  There is money to be made in war, and it is money that rules the world.  Not religion.  Not democracy or the lack thereof.  It is a cliché that more wars have been fought in the name of religion and it is thought that clichés become such because they are true.  But not always.  Sometimes the propaganda machine spews forth and clichés are born.  In fact I think that probably happens more often than not. 

 

I read a lot.  And a lot of what I read is historical in nature, be it nonfiction like David McCullough's works or extremely well researched and documented history interwoven into fiction la Diana Gabaldon or David Liss.  I've taken several history classes and done quite a big of reading in that regard as well.  It is my conclusion that war -- all wars -- have been fought over money.  The Reformation?  The Thirty Years War?  The war that divided Ireland?  It's all bullshit.  It's all about the money.  M-O-N-E-Y.  Money can mean land, by the way.  Or diamonds.  Or oil.

 

I don't like what is happening in the world.  I really don't like what is happening in my country.  I think our leaders are thugs at best and all these indictments are just the tip of the iceberg.  I wish the American people -- the majority, the ones who voted to hang themselves in the name of God, would wake up and smarten up.  I'd like to remind people of the words of one of our founding fathers -- who must be spinning in his grave at how our beloved constitution has been trampled on; no worse yet, spat on.  I'm talking about Benjamin Franklin, as well as all his brethren, not that they were perfect either but in the end they did right by this country.  Franklin said: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."  I'd like that incorporated into every history lesson of every child in America.  And their parents.

 

I am not looking for a savior.  I am not looking for a leader to lead us to world concordance.  I'd be happy with a leader who had a modicum of integrity, a smidgen of compassion, and most important of all, the willingness to take responsibility for his or her own actions.  To stop shifting blame.  To turn off the spin machine.  To look me and all American citizens, hell, all world citizens, in the eye and speak the truth.  To put the good of the country, of the planet, ahead of loyalty to the friends that helped him or her get where they are and to stop lining their pockets at the expense of the people who voted them in.  

 

John Lennon said it better than I ever could:  "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.  I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one." 

 

 

 

 

D: Share your favorite music/musicians/albums.

 

BB: My music tastes are as eclectic as my reading tastes.  I listen mostly to classic rock, I am a product of my childhood and upbringing.  I listen to Vivaldi when studying, or occasionally Beethoven or Aaron Copeland.  My mood dictates my music choices.

 

Billy Joel. Rolling Stones.  Louis Prima.  Grateful Dead.  Frank Sinatra.  Moody Blues.  Aretha Franklin.  Beatles.  Aerosmith.  Luciano Pavarotti.  Allman Brothers.  Jethro Tull.  Muddy Waters.  Heart.  Susan Tedeschi.  Janis Joplin.  Crosby, Still, Nash & Young.  Stevie Wonder.  George Thorogood.   Nat King Cole.  Barry Manilow.  Simon & Garfunkel.  James Taylor.  Carly Simon.  Bette Midler.  Tony Bennett.  John Lee Hooker.  Alicia Keyes.  Santana.

 

Meredith Brooks'  "Bitch": my theme song.  Not sure if you can print the lyrics -- but it is all over the web so if you feel comfortable doing so, here you go:

 

"...I'm a little bit of everything / All rolled into one / I'm a bitch, I'm a lover / I'm a child, I'm a mother / I'm a sinner, I'm a saint / I do not feel ashamed / I'm your hell, I'm your dream /I 'm nothing in between / You know you wouldn't want it any other way... / I'm a bitch, I'm a tease / I'm a goddess on my knees / When you hurt, when you suffer / I'm your angel undercover..."

 

 

 

D: Would you ever consider doing a BookBitch Magazine if given the means?

 

BB: Depends what you are providing as "means".  I do not have enough hours in the day to do what I do now and can't imagine doing any more.  And frankly, I think magazines are passé.  If I was going to expand, media-wise, I'd probably start podcasting.

 

 

 

 

D: You aspire "to be the Grandma Moses of writers."   Please explain.

 

BB: You are referring to my dream of writing a novel someday.  I don't know that I ever will, really.  I consider myself more of a reader than a writer, but I do have a story to tell and maybe someday I will tell it.  As I pointed out prior to the Grandma Moses statement, I am lacking what I call the three "D's": drive, determination and discipline, without which one simply cannot write.

 

I had an interesting conversation once with David Morrell.  Morrell is best known as being the creator of Rambo, but he's a prolific writer and former professor at the University of Iowa and is one of the most interesting and brilliant men I've ever met.  What I learned from him is that to be a writer means you have to be obsessed with writing.  There are no days off.  There are no excuses.  You are a writer because you write.  You have to.  Like you have to breathe or eat or fuck. (My words, not his.)  I think to myself, is this writing?  I write reviews.  I write letters.  I write papers for school.  But I'm not really sure any of that counts.

 

In the back of my mind I think that someday I will retire.  Maybe.  I'm really not good at the sitting around and doing nothing thing.  I work full time at the library.  I read and write reviews.  I maintain my website.  I go to school.  I have a family, children, and parents to take care of, I'm a full fledged member of the sandwich generation.  But nonetheless, maybe someday I won't be working full time.  And maybe then I'll put all my photographs into albums, organize and alphabetize the thousands of books that cram every inch of space in my home, and sit down and write the great American novel.  Or a lousy one.  To put together more than a few pages of prose is daunting right now.  I've started and stopped a few times but never seem to get anywhere with it.  Maybe I'm afraid.  I don't like the thought of sending my words out into space, to strangers.  To have them judge me like I judge others.   That is some scary shit.  But maybe someday I'll be brave enough to do it.

 

Grandma Moses didn't start painting until her arthritis made it too painful for her to do her embroidery.  She was in her 70s.  That gives me quite a few years still before I have to worry about it.

 

 

 

 

D: Stacy (BookBitch), I appreciate your clever persona, your humor, and your review work.  I hope your Grandma Moses of books wish comes true.  And I wish you blessings on your path.

 

Any closing comments for readers/fans? 

 

BB: My "persona" is me.  I am exactly what you see, or, rather, what you read.  In person I have this face that cannot hide anything and is extremely expressive.  It often gets me into trouble.

 

I started my site for me, for purely selfish reasons, but it has grown much larger than I am, which is saying quite a bit!  I love being able to provide free books to readers of my site.  I love sharing my opinions on books with readers.  And I love when they share theirs with me.  I admit to being slightly obsessed with books, but I figure there are worse obsessions than reading.

 

David, thank you for giving me this opportunity and this lovely soap box to stand on.  I hope I met your expectations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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