Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Her Place In The Sun

Once again, I am straying from this blog's main topic, books.  I do not want to let the day end without commenting on the passing of a true legend, one of the great actresses and humanitarians of our time: Elizabeth Taylor.

Elizabeth Taylor won two Academy Awards as Best Actress, first for Butterfield 8 in 1960, then for her riveting performance in "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" in 1966.  Among her other major roles were "A Place In The Sun," "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," "Suddenly, Last Summer," and the grandiose "Cleopatra."

In later years, Elizabeth became more known for her marriages and various health problems, but no amount of tabloid coverage could ever erase her indelible mark on the history of film.  Although she did not continue to turn in stellar performances in the second half of her life, as Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis did, she is certainly among the most famous actresses of all time, and one who was recognized both commercially (with box office hits) and critically (with a total of five Oscar nominations).  Anyone who doubts her talent need only watch "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf."  And on a more superficial note, Elizabeth Taylor is certainly known as one of the greatest beauties from the history of cinema.

As a person, she was bold and generous, and along with Madonna, one of the few celebrities who called attention to the AIDS crises in its earliest years.  Her tireless efforts to raise awareness of this disease were admirable.

There is no quick way to sum up the career of Elizabeth Taylor, but perhaps these words from the singer Madonna come closest:

"Elizabeth, by sharing your light, you have unconsciously given us permission to do the same.  You are the most golden of stars."

This weekend, I imagine lots of people will watch a classic Liz Taylor movie in honor of a genuine Hollywood legend.  May you rest in peace, Elizabeth.  I hope you have found a beautiful place in the sun.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Quit Facebook, Cold Turkey

I'm taking a break from book reviews and literary commentary to proclaim my freedom from the social networking site known as Facebook.

My on again, off again relationship with Facebook has lasted almost four years.  I've used the site to keep in touch with friends across the country, to reconnect with old college chums, to view family photos, and to play many a fun game of Scramble.  I've posted status updates ranging from song lyrics to where I'm eating lunch to exciting front row reports from concerts I've attended.  Along the way, I've become disenchanted with the site, impatient with its constant image overhauls, and even downright annoyed with the self-importance I feel it fosters in all of us.  I once deleted my page, only to come running back later that night to create a new one, access to which I vowed would be limited to only a select few close friends and family members.  Alas, that page grew into the same elaborate, overcrowded quagmire that the original had been. What's a guy to do?

About a month ago, I wrote a blog on Facebook (well, technically a "Note," as blogs are called on FB) that addressed my annoyance with the site, with the amount of time I spent on the site, and with what I see as the general narcissism and self-indulgence Facebook encourages in us.  I made promises that I would no longer post pointless status updates, and that I would use the "What's on your mind?" feature only to share book news, music news, or the occasional song lyric.  I also swore that I would not change my default picture more than once a month, because that's just silly.

As the month wore on, however, I began to ask myself what I was actually getting from Facebook.  Don't get me wrong: I am not one of those people who is going to quit and suddenly act all holier-than-thou, like I'm too good for the site.  That would make me a huge hypocrite, given the number of hours I've logged on FB over the years!  I see the appeal, the allure, and certainly some very useful attributes of the most powerful social networking site in the world.  Facebook truly allows you to stay in contact with a wide swath of people from your life (although some would argue that this is a problem unto itself: you know, worlds colliding and all of that), to easily post pictures from a vacation, to get news from the bands you love, and yes, to play those wonderful games like Farmville and the aforementioned Scramble.

To each their own.  But as I asked myself what I was personally getting out of Facebook, the answer I came up with was quite clear: not much at all.    First of all, I'm a somewhat private person.  I don't particularly care to have hundreds of people viewing my "likes," "dislikes," and definitely not my political preferences.  I also never quite adapted to the fact that family members, friends, co-workers, former teachers, and even exes are all gathered on the same darn page!  I mean, let's be honest: we don't always act the same way around our parents as we do our friends; we wouldn't necessarily say things to our co-workers that we would say to our siblings.  Yes, there is something to be said for having "an identity," but a great many lives are segmented, and there's something very strange about having individual segments all collide in a great big kaleidoscopic burst of photo comments, status updates, and LIKES!

I also feel that , for me, Facebook siphons away much needed free time.  This, of course, comes down to how you use it.  In a world of jobs, errands, and responsibilities, where free time to enjoy friends and hobbies is precious enough to begin with, even an hour a day on Facebook is arguably too much.  Again, this is just my personal opinion, but when I think of the hours I've whittled away on that site, I cringe.  There are too many books to read, movies to see, concerts to attend, brunches to enjoy, and trails to run.  I don't have nearly enough time to enjoy my many hobbies and interests, but by cutting out Facebook entirely, I'll have at least a little bit more time.

Some people feel that by cutting ties to Facebook, you're cutting yourself off from the world.  I say, quite the opposite: I'm throwing myself full force into my world.  I have a cell phone, two e-mail addresses, a blog, and an account on Good Reads, so I'm certainly reachable.  And in all honesty, when someone I care about gets a new car, lands a new job, or decides to get married, I would rather read a detailed e-mail or receive a personal phone call than read about it on Facebook.

I still have a good hour before I turn in for the night, and rather than check Facebook, I think I'll go read. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Reader's Choice

I come from a family of readers.  I also work in a public library, belong to a book group, and majored in English literature.  Needless to say, I am surrounded by readers on a daily basis, and many of my friends are avid bookworms.  However, every once in a while, I am reminded that, to some, we readers are an odd bunch.

Yes, that's right, there are people who do not read.  And although that is their prerogative, some of them cannot understand the appeal that books have to us bibliophiles.  It is fair to say that there is a certain stigma attached to book lovers in some quarters, perhaps a perception of us as "nerds," "geeks," or "dorks."

Even I become aware of this stigma at times, particularly on a Friday night when many of my friends are about to hit the bars, and I am settling in with a salad (and don't let me fool you, a piece of cake or a cookie will follow) and a good book.  Don't get me wrong: I had my "going out" phase, but it was short-lived and I often felt somewhat out of place.  I mean, I had fun, but always felt I was in a dream, or putting on some sort of act, secretly wishing I could escape to a comfortable chair and a book.

What some non-readers forget is that, for book lovers, reading is a hobby, an activity, a pleasure-provider.  It's not passive, it's active.  It's something we do.  Just as some people have sports, camping, movies, or stamp collecting (people still collect stamps, right?); some people have scrapbooking, bar hopping, automobiles, or golf; we have reading.  Some of us have reading and lots of other hobbies too, but somehow, reading is not always perceived as a legitimate passtime.  In my circles, it certainly is, but trust me, there is a modicum of judgment out there.

I consider myself an avid reader, but there are those who outread me.  Some of the patrons who come in to the library would put me to shame!  They come in with a giant tote bag of books to return, and they don't leave until the bag is full again.  And these are people who come in on a weekly basis!  Yes, I know what you're thinking: do they read all of them?  Yes, they do!  They are serious about their books, and I love them all the more for that fact.

You can tell serious readers by the way they panic at the thought of not having a book, although if their homes are anything like mine, they probably have an arsenal of unread titles at their disposal.  Still, though, they panic.  If there's a storm on the horizon, we will be especially busy at work, as people stock up on books as though they were milk and bread.  Also amusing are the people who are getting ready to go on vacation, and they want to make sure they are not without a book during their trip.  These are my kinds of people.

The perception of readers as lonely individuals with no lives outside of their books is inaccurate.  Sure, there are people like that, and I believe it's wonderful that they have books to turn to.  But readers come in all stripes and varieties, and most have active, fulfilling lives.  What non-readers don't always understand is that we enthusiastically choose to build books and reading into our lives.  It's not that we don't have other stuff to do, it's that we choose to make reading a priority.

And you'll catch us reading just about anywhere: on busses, trains, and planes; in living rooms and on porches; curled up in bed, or sprawled out on the beach; on lunch breaks at work, or the five minutes before a meeting.  Give us an opportunity, and out will come our book (or Nook, or Kindle).

Why we read, well, that's a topic for another day.  But rest assured, we are a large group, and we are passionate.  Reading is of the utmost pleasure, and it's something book lovers proudly claim as a hobby and a central part of our lives.   So the next time you roll your eyes at the friend who chooses to curl up with a book on a Friday night, remember there's a good chance that she/he's having just as much fun as you will be when you drag your drunk self home from the bar.