Monthly Archives: June 2010

Bookshelves at war: enter the combat zone

My husband is in a PhD program in history, and right now he has the summer “off”.  Being “off” in PhD-speak apparently means “doing a number of research trips to various and sundry archives”—just thought I’d clarify that. This week, he has gallivanted off to St Paul and Ann Arbor to do research for his massive paper, leaving me forlorn and forsaken to watch as many chick flicks as possible and try to resist the pull of a certain Chinese take-out place which I will tell you all about when the time is ripe. Believe me—you’re not ready to hear that story today. You may never be.

My husband and I met our first week of college during Freshman Orientation week. He majored in English and Philosophy, I majored in English and French. The whole “English” thing was a point of great bonding: we were both avid readers [insert: dorky/nerdy/geeky]. To this day, one of our ideas of a fun-filled and relaxing time is to curl up on the couch together with some good books. I even talked him into reading me to sleep most nights–we’re currently working through “The Horse and His Boy”, #5 in the Chronicles of Narnia.

As much as it seemed that we were of one mind on the subject of books, as the years have progressed and he has gone deeper and deeper into academics, our reading interests have violently split. As for me, I like fiction. It takes me to a rosy fantasy place where I can float off on downy clouds of imagination. . . unless I’m reading “The Jungle”, in which case it takes me to a horrifying meat-packing plant where peoples’ feet fall off , immigrants’ hopes are dashed, and everyone wants to kill themselves. But the point I’m trying to make is this: besides our night-time readings (which I have been selecting), I can’t remember the last work of fiction that my husband read. He seems to gravitate towards books with titles like “The Landscape of America: Workers versus Conglomerates and How They Shaped the Modernization of the Midwest”, or “The Industrious Wife: the Socio-Political Role of the Gendered Domestic Space in American Foreign Relations from December 1958 to March 1959”. Not just that, but he grabs these off the shelf for his pleasure reading!

If we had really dug deep in our pre-marital counseling sessions, we would have found that these reading habits actually started at a young age:

A young Jenna calmly reading her fiction

A small boy jealously guards a bookshelf chock-full of non-fiction. He is willing to use violence if necessary.

 Unfortunately, our pastor focused on questions about our conflict resolution style, family backgrounds, and our financial plan. Little did we all know, the point of divergence would turn out to be my unparalleled love of “Anne of Green Gables” vs. his matchless devotion to all things factual. If only we had worked through this early on! Beware young couples: try to discuss your feelings on “Anne of Green Gables” during your first premarital counseling session.

I like to describe our bookshelves as a war zone between fiction and non-fiction. It doesn’t help that my husband has divided them into two clear, separately alphabetized camps (really). You can tell that the fiction part is my territory because of all the girly colors on the spines–his side has the huge row of Kierkegaard’s collected works. Sometimes in the night there are thunderous explosions and flashes of light, and we know our books are at it again. C’mon guys, we’re trying to sleep! I reason with them. But they are natural-born enemies, and I frequently have to hightail it outta there so as not to get caught in the crossfire. After all, who wants a bullet in the buns at 2am?

Plus, the non-fiction camp has the Emperor from Star Wars on its side: he’s a tiny plastic figurine by day, but who knows what by night. And frankly, he’s a messed up guy and I wouldn’t put anything past him.

There is so much good fiction that I think my husband would enjoy—but it’s like “fiction” has become a bad word. What hope is there for his future? Will he ever settle in with a good novel again? Can our marriage survive such disparate views on “a good literary time”?

And then I picture him curled up on the couch reading things that I enjoy—like the Little House books. Or the Christy Miller books.

Enjoying some Christy Miller circa 2004

And then I quickly realize–wait, I don’t want him to read the Christy Miller books! In fact, the more I think about it, non-fiction is kind of . . . mmmm, manly. I guess you could say that my husband is working out his mental muscles—and that’s kind of hot. I’ve tried to read some of the books he enjoys, and my brain is sweating and panting by the 2nd paragraph. Whereas my reading experience is akin to sinking into a down comforter of decadent softness, his reading is like lifting barbells of facts. Really heavy barbells with dates and political concepts and timelines and … lots of frigging history.

A young boy already showing the signs of enjoying "lots of frigging history". The pipe says it all.

So this is a shout out to my husband: I respect your choice of non-fiction over fiction: it’s hot. Come home soon. End of story.

The Spy Wore Red: Nazis, bullfights, and sequins oh my!

WARNING: This is a fun read. If you don’t like to have fun while you read*, stay far far away. It’s so awesomely fun that Erica is taking this book on her upcoming honeymoon–and we all know that it’s got to be major league entertainment for her to actually pay attention to a book when there are bound to be so many distractions about.

“The Spy Wore Red” is the first of three autobiographical books by Aline, Countess of Romanones in which she chronicles her adventures as an American woman who worked as a spy in Spain in the aftermath of the 2nd World War, rooting out Nazis from their hiding places in high-society Madrid. I wish I could remember who introduced me to these books, because they are fantastic and this person deserves a firm spank on the butt a nice pat on the head. There is an added fascination for me, having grown up in Spain, to see the country in such a different light, as it was under Franco’s regime. It’s kind of familiar … and also not. The balance does swing more towards the exotic side since she navigated the elite society, which was full of dangerous, classy folks with hidden agendas. The only hidden agenda in my life during the Spain years belonged to my brain-damaged cat Foca–we could never quite fathom the mystery that was her knocked-about little cerebellum. Oh, and boys. They were, like, super confusing.

Aline writes in the first person. She is elegant, smart, gutsy, and has tons of perilous capers—and she never sounds stuck up about her mad spy skills, which is an added plus. Because if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s feeling down about my underpar spy skills. I mean, who doesn’t want to be the girl that surprises the bad guys with the gun that was perfectly concealed in a smokin’ hot holster/garter belt which in turn was perfectly concealed under a skin-tight red-sequined gown? I count it as #1 on the list of the many, many disappointments in my life. If you’re with me on this, you don’t have to worry–Aline totally doesn’t rub it in.

And in case I’m projecting the wrong image, these books aren’t just for girls. My dad loves them, and my husband would really like them if I could get him off the historical stuff–more on this disturbing preference of non-fiction over fiction tomorrow. Anyway, I’m sure there are many more men out there who are confident enough to read a paperback with a woman in a sparkly evening gown on the front! It’s all about the confidence.

But the cherry on the pie for these books is: it’s all true! Read “The Spy Wore Red”. It gets off to a rip-roaring start with the whole “going through spy school” thing. Once you’ve finished, read the other two: The Spy Went Dancing, and The Spy Wore Silk. There’s also a 4th book fictional book written by her called “The Well-Mannered Assassin”; not quite as good, but worth it for the fans.

You can buy these books used online for cheap. I checked. Or you can probably find ’em at your library. Either way, be thou boy or girl or beast or alien, get your mitts/paws/claws/tentacles on a copy.

*Return tomorrow for an in-depth report on my husband’s chronic non-fiction loving preference disease. Parental guidance definitely required, as this will shock many young novel lovers and possibly drive them to read alarming things such as Kierkegaard or Nietzsche.