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From The Great Beyond October 27, 2009

Posted by A. Robinson in Bus Songs, Crazy Magnet, Life, Lovin'.
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Hey everyone!  Remember me?  You know, that Mexican girl you talk to sometimes?  Yeah, I’m not dead…yet.  Just totally, completely swamped.  It’s been non-stop work for me lately, so much so that I haven’t been able to type up a single little blog post.  Intolerable, I know.

Anyway, in the interval, why don’t you check out my new favorite website: People of Walmart. I, of course, live in the Walmart (not Wal-Mart, they’ve changed their branding!) capital of the world, which means I pretty much swing by a Supercenter every other day.  I mean, the convenience!  The affordability!  The PEOPLE.

Of course, you’ve read about one of my encounters with a Walmart employee whether you realize it or not.  But really, I can vouch for the People of Walmart website single handedly.  I mean, seriously.  I cannot begin to tell you how many nutjobs I’ve seen trolling the aisles of the Middle Class Retail Mecca of the World.  For example, one night John and I went to Walmart around 2:00 am, I can’t remember why, probably for unmentionable naughty things Cheez-its.  We noticed a man walking around the store with a giant 42″ flat screen plasma television in a cart; we mainly noticed because the man was rocking the longest mullet I have ever in my life seen.  Throw in the dirty camo pants, and he definitely looks like he doesn’t have indoor plumbing, let alone the wall space for such a honker of a boob-tube.  Anyway, the guy happens to be lapping the store, and as we make our way to the front we watch him try to walk out the front door with the television, even though John and I both know he hasn’t paid for it.  He presents the greeter with a reciept, which is promptly denied.  He then gets angry and walks back to the electronic department like he’s going to put the television back, only to try to exit through ANOTHER Walmart entrance/exit, despite the fact that it’s closed.  John and I hang out to watch this guy, who tries to exit the store not once, but three different times.

I mean seriously.  Why try and steal such a huge television?  Why get greedy?  Steal some small expensive things, like cell phones, curtains, etc. and sell those in order to get the cash to buy the television.  Tisk tisk.

Anyway, enjoy the website.  I sure do.

BookLust: The Devil’s Highway October 16, 2009

Posted by A. Robinson in BookLust.
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Tough read.  Important read.  Must read.

Tough read. Important read. Must read.

I’m going to post this separately from a recap about Luis Alberto Urrea’s visit to campus, just for posterity’s sake.  Oh, and also, then I have TWO blog entries.

I don’t read a whole lot of non-fiction.  Unless it’s a cookbook, craft anthology, or magazine, I tend to gravitate towards fiction.  When I’ve got a down moment, I’m much more likely to pick up Lorrie Moore than I am Jon Krakauer, in other words.  When we were told that we had to teach this in class, I didn’t quite know what to expect, not only from the book but from my students.  I have to admit, I thought the book would be a series of redundancies for me–after all, who better to know the border than a girl who grew up there?  The fact that the book had been a finalist for a Pulitzer didn’t really sway me one way or the other; I expected a dull read full of outdated statistics, gross over-generalizations, and liberal propaganda (honestly).

What I found was an absolutely riveting piece of creative non-fiction.  Urrea writes beautifully.  He carefully picks his language and metaphors so that they are honest but impactful.  The story itself focuses on the Yuma 14/Wellton 26, a group of illegal Mexican immigrants who lose their lives in the middle of the Arizona desert.  Instead of starting from the group’s first step into Arizona, Urrea begins at the beginning, and the book’s success and readability hinges on this move.  He sets up the book by giving the reader an in-depth look at the border patrol and the Devil’s Highway, and explains key terminology which factors into the rest of the text.  I have to admit, the first part of the book is slow going and a little schizophrenic; Urrea frontloads The Devil’s Highway with information, and hops around substantially while he delivers it.

If you can stick with the book, it skyrockets in parts two and three.  Urrea is incredibly careful with the story he has been given. Urrea’s compassion for the men and their families colors the text as he paints the “walkers” in vivid detail.  The reader is immediately taken by the dramatic irony in the book, for Urrea never lets us forget that as we meet these “real” people, we are doomed to powerlessly follow them to their deaths.  We walk with the illegals step for step as Urrea painstakingly pieces together their story from survivor testimonials.  In terms of perspective, I felt like I was reading a first-person account of the tragedy rather than investigative journalism.

The real beauty of this book lies in its humanistic take on illegal immigration.  From the border patrol to the gang that organizes the death march, Urrea portrays each person as an actual person, not just a “group.”  For example, the reader gets to know many of the Yuma 14 along with their motives for running the border, and we realize that these people are more than just “Mexicans who steal our jobs,” but are fathers, sons,and providers.  The border patrol agents do their job and do it well, but The Devil’s Highway shows them as “missionaries” of a sort, a kind of cavalry dedicated to saving the lives of immigrants just as they protect the American people.  Though the book is tangibly biased, Urrea’s opinion is fairly hard to pin down: he seems to sympathize wholly with the immigrants, but he’s understanding of the American fear that surrounds the immigration issue in general.

Not only did I learn a ton from the book itself, I could not help but be moved by the Yuma 14’s story.  It’s tragic from beginning to end, and I honestly had to set the book aside more than once because the horror had become too acute.  Urrea pulls no punches and tells it like it is, even in death.  He forces us to count the steps to one man’s final resting place, watch as the men go insane from hyperthermia, and experience the tragedy of rescue.  The work is beautifully done, and I think that it should be a must read for all American citizens.  Though he sometimes downplays the complexity of the immigration situation–who truly understands it?–the work he does to make immigrants more than just a group is astounding.

The scope of this book is undeniable.  Regardless of your stance on immigration (and regardless of your citizenship!), you will learn something about yourself after you close the back cover of The Devil’s Highway.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5 (a gripping and critical text)

October 11, 2009

Posted by A. Robinson in Life.
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John and I are finally feeling better!  He’s kicked his strep throat completely, and once my allergic reaction to my antibiotic goes away (I’ll save you the gory details), I’ll be just peachy.  This week is already looking up!

So I’ve had a few posts floating around in the ether recently. At some point I hope to comment on both the Polanski fiasco and the Nobel committee. I’m also working on a review of Black Boy (American Hunger) by Richard Wright–a book, an autobiography actually, that I think is really important. Next week look for a discussion of Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea’s visit to campus.

But tonight? I think perhaps I’ll begin with another GO HOGS!  The handed victory over Auburn on Saturday was a blast, and it was nice having a win at home.  Did you know that most SEC teams call Fayetteville “Fayettenam?”  According to this Sports Illustrated article, they sure do.  It’s where winning seasons go to die.

On another note, Joel’s having his first boy/girl party, AND it’s a Halloween shindig.  I cannot emphasize enough: I LOVE Halloween.  I went ahead and whipped up these Martha Stewart Halloween invitations:

The joints are connected with small scrapbooking brads, so the arms move.

The joints are connected with small scrapbooking brads, so the arms move.

I so wish I had taken pictures of our invitations–they were absolutely phenomenal.  We used red envelopes instead of black, which made the contrast–and the skeletons inside–that much more sublime.  I wish I could help coordinate the party from start to finish, but maybe I’ll be able to send over some other goodies in the coming weeks.

I love Halloween!

BookLust: Jane Eyre October 7, 2009

Posted by A. Robinson in BookLust, Life List.
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Jane: Just Plain Wonderful

Jane: Just Plain Wonderful

When Jane Eyre popped up on my Victorian Novel syllabus, I had two immediate reactions:  a) it is on the BBC 100 list I’m working on and b) ugh.  I’d like to say that I had no expectations when I began the book, but that would be a lie.  I seriously thought it would be awful.  No, I mean, a “pulling teeth” kind of terrible.  Many of my friends had been forced to read the book in high school, and when I asked them about it, they stared off into the distance like a Vietnam vet and told their horror stories.  My hopes?  Not high, to say the least.
However, dear readers:  I.  Loved.  It.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Jane.  She was saucy and strong-willed without being one of those characters that just has to make life difficult for herself.  Her charm is subtle but present; it’s easy to like Jane, which makes it easy to like Jane’s story.  The book is written in first person, so as the reader you walk in Jane’s shoes.  I can’t say what this would be like as a male reader, but as a girl it was just so natural to follow through with Jane’s narrative.
And a narrative it is.  For a book that’s just shy of 600 pages, Jane Eyre was a book I couldn’t put down.  Unlike Les Miserables, there are no random, boring interludes.  Bronte sticks to what she knows–Jane–and adeptly skips chunks of time to keep the story engaging and relevant.  In addition, Bronte paints gorgeous, Gothic pictures of the English countryside as Jane moves from Gateshead to Rochester’s estate.
All said, Jane Eyre is still a sweeping romance (despite its fascinating commentary on the position of women).  Rochester is a poor substitute for the Mr. Darcy I wanted this narrative to have.  As a reader, I didn’t like him one whit.  As a reader walking in Jane’s shoes, her love for him was totally understandable.  For me, Rochester was one hiccup in the plot.  The best way to describe him is “House-ian”: he does just enough to make you like him but is pretty much detestable through the rest of the narrative.  Let me just say, he gets exactly what he deserves at the end.
There’s so much to say about the book, but I think I’m going to leave it there.  It’s delightful but not for everyone, and if you’re looking for another Austen-esque jaunty romance, this isn’t it.  Regardless, there is certainly a reason that Jane Eyre remains on syllabi everywhere.
5 out of 5 stars (a winter month classic)
P.S:  I have no idea what’s up with the paragraph spacing.  I can’t seem to fix it.  Sad day.

Go Hogs October 3, 2009

Posted by A. Robinson in Life.
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So, I don’t know what football game you were watching, but the Razorbacks definitely handed it to the Texas A&M Aggies last night. I feel like bragging mainly because I think we’ll now lose 3 back to back.

Oh, also? A girl I loathe went to A&M. This gives me some serious satisfaction.

This just reaffirms what I have espoused for years: the worst SEC team is still better than most other teams in the country.  The Southeastern Conference is just such a tough environment to play in.  The quality of football is reflected in the national standings, of course–3 of the top 5 teams in the nation are SEC schools, and 5 SEC teams continue to float around in the top 25.  That’s amazing.  John and I were discussing whether the Hogs should move to the Big 12 after our previous performances, but tonight’s game proves it.  The Razorbacks are in another building season, but we are certainly SEC quality.

Now, if only Oklahoma will lose to Miami, we can call this a five-star weekend.

EDIT:  Oklahoma DID lose.  It’s like Christmas, only BETTER.  I hate Bob Stoops.

EDIT AGAIN:  Holy moly, UTEP beat #12 Houston 58-41.  This was the best football weekend ever.