Saturday, November 10, 2007

Literary Interlude: I Go Back to May 1937

This is one is by one of my favorite poets: Sharon Olds

I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks,
the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips aglow in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it- she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
Her hungry pretty face turning to me,
his arrogant handsome face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

Read: Havana: Autobiography of a City

In honor of the amazing book fair taking place in Miami this week, let’s look at one of the staggering number of offerings. If I were there this weekend, I would not miss Carlos Eire who is scheduled for 2:30 today. His Waiting for Snow in Havana is one I’ve never really written about because I can’t look at it with a critical eye. I just love it, accept that I do, and send copies to the relatives. Until now, I was limited to those who could speak English; but recent publication of the Spanish translation removed that obstacle.

On Sunday, I would go see Alfredo Jose Estrada for a very different reason. His Havana: An Autobiography of a City attempts to convey that fabled city as a living, breathing entity. Inevitably, “autobiography” of a Capital city is the history of a country, and much of the book is devoted to the tumultuous history of Cuba. It is a book, however, I would not normally have finished. Sadly, I would have been the poorer for it.

He starts out well enough remarking that writing about Havana is like navigating a treacherous course “between political extremes.” Fair enough, I think. Within a few chapters, I am angered when he deviates from his stated intent and inserts a critical subtext, like describing the effects of Hurricane Wilma and contrasting the lack of looting and rescue by authorities to our own Katrina, an unfair comparison all around. Unsettling is the comment about “another lost opportunity to better U.S.-Cuba relations.” Also disaffecting was the almost slavish admiration of Eusabio Leal’s restoration efforts at restoring Habana Vieja, leaving the reader with the impression that the current crumbling infrastructure was the pre-Revolutionary norm. I fact-checked with Mom: she did confirm it was seedy but to me that’s a far cry from the current citywide demolition derby. Now I have to check out the author. That’s it. He’s a Harvard graduate. Says it all to me.

Occurring early on in the book, just as it launches into the driest parts- geographic description and colonial history- it could easily sound the death knell for the whole thing. But it would be a shame. For much of the book Estrada’s blend of easy narrative and exhaustive research makes for interesting and enlightening reading. He is strongest recounting the cultural past. In addition to learning the derivations of phrases like “vete para el carajo”- the “carajo” was the crows nest of Spanish ships- and “la hora de los mameyes”- the “mameyes” here denotes the red coats of the invading British- I had to laugh when he describes a cartoon during the last days of the Machado regime: “El Bobo consoles his young son, who is tired of eating only bananas, by saying: “Pues no llores, hijito, que ya esta llegando la hora de los mameyes.”

I have to say that I really enjoyed Estrada’s book. He hits the right notes later on and makes a tentative stab a correcting some mainstream and academic misconceptions. His history, though, remains suspect to me. For instance, his treatment of Che does make the point that the dimwits wearing Che wear have no idea whom they’re flaunting. I suspect, however, that Humberto Fontova would differ with his rather lukewarm portrayal of Che’s homicidal tendencies. So I’d like to see him, tell him the book is quite an achievement, and point out that the early editorial jabs risk alienating fairly reasonable readers like me.

This one is recommended for those who enjoy nonfiction and can suppress an emotional response.

Cross-published at Babalublog

Friday, November 9, 2007

Mississippi Red Tide, They Say

Again in yesterday's paper, an interesting article. For many, many years, I was blissfully unaware of Red Tide. And my first few exposures resulted in a few dry coughs, easily handled by leaving the beach. For the blessedly uninitiated, Red Tide is what we call an algal bloom that drifts into the beach releasing an airborne toxin, a neurotoxin, I might add.

Usually, it lasts like a week, and the most common signs are coughing and dead fish washing up on the beach. But then there was the year Red Tide wouldn't go away. I was working, just up from the bay, and every afternoon like clockwork my nose would stuff up and my teeth would hurt. So far, they haven't really done studies of how prolonged exposure affects healthy individuals. But when they finally get around to it, I suspect it will be a lot worse than has been considered the case. This stuff kills manatees.

Anyway, you might say I'm interested in the topic. The article described the results of a NOAA study which pegs run-off from the nutrient laden Mississippi River as the culprit in outbreaks. A Florida official thinks the causes are closer to home. And I think, they need to figure this out soon, before I have to break out the dust mask again. Read it here.

Signs of the Times

On the same page of my newspaper which devotes less than half a column to the protests and killing in Venezuela is a complete half-page above the fold article on...Costa Rican house numbers. To those of us that have been to Costa Rica, this is not as frivolous as it seems.

Bad enough you have to address letters, "the blue house 200 meters from the former home of the President," which house is no longer extant, by the way. As one mailman characterizes it,
"You've got to be a mind reader...a historian and a detective to do this job." When you actually go there, forget renting a car. On foot, my husband and my daughter were lost for hours one Christmas eve in the environs of the capital, this after his boast to our hosts that he had been all around the world and never gotten lost. Famous last words.

It's no surprise then that the government has decided to number houses, name streets, etc...
Still, it will be a bittersweet thing for the Ticos who will get their mail but lose some of their quirkiness. The original article is from the LA Times. Read it here.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Who is Cuban?

Identity seems to be the theme of the day. See my previous post.

It is a theme that has been sounded on some blogs before. Today, it started with a letter to Claudia 4 Libertad where Ana writes that she was told by a woman in Miami that she is not “Cuban.” Ana was born in Cuba but came to the United States when she was young. With the death of her mother, she has lost her last connection to Cuba. She is interested in contacting other Cubans, but curiously not from Miami.

To me, the ever suspicious, her letter carries certain presuppositions. She doesn’t “look Cuban” or “speak with a Spanish accent.” She has “hazel eyes.” Lesson: Cubans come in all shapes and sizes and colors. My grandmother and my daughter have blue eyes. The Indian blood of his forbears was obvious in my grandfather’s appearance. I have brown eyes and brown hair but am pretty much interchangeable in looks with any number of nationalities. My mother is olive-skinned. Her mother was fair. And as to the language, the only Cubans I knew who spoke with a Spanish accent were those of my parents’ generation who came to the US as adults.

With our great big Cuban hearts, a number of people reached out to her. The situation was picked up on Babalublog by Alberto, who like me was born in this country to Cuban parents. Of course, the comments proved interesting. Abajofidel was of the opinion that your nationality is determined by your place of birth. Of course, my sister-in-law was born in France to Eastern European parents. She doesn’t consider herself French, and the French government certainly doesn’t call her one of their own.

The discussion naturally gravitated to whether maintaining your Cuban heritage is a reflection on your American citizenship. All of which reminded me of something I read today in Havana: An Autobiography of a City: “Neither Cuban nor American, I was trapped in the hyphen between them, more impassible than the Straits of Florida.” Although I disagree with much the author says, this is a terrain with which I am familiar.

I start thinking… Carajo! I wish they had told all the people who taunted me, and the greater public which discriminated against me that I was not Cuban. Ño! Just think of how much grief I would have saved. Just think of all the “sanksgeeveens” without turkey accompanied by rice and beans. Think of all the freedom I could have had in adolescence. But what then of that sudden rush when I discovered another Cuban in my Cuban-challenged hometown? What of that feeling upon landing in Miami and hearing Cuban Spanish, that feeling of having arrived in my native country? Or getting out of the car last spring at Cuba Nostalgia and walking through the parking lot with all of those families converging on the building and feeling such inordinate pride? I know the sights, the sounds, the smells. These are my people. They know me in a way that no one else does. I belong

Conversely, I could turn to those not born in this country and say they are less American than I am. But that would not be true. They may not have grown up with Chatty Cathy or Mr. Potato Head or Hot Wheels or Transformers, but they are no less American. That is the greatness of this country: we are all equal. It is a timely lesson. Rather than get mixed up in discussions of who is really Cuban, we would do well to put up a very big tent. I may not know what it is to grow up with privation and repression, but I do know that the privation and repression are wrong. Almost alone among Americans, we Cuban Americans give a shit what happens to the Cuban people. I know there are some that doubt this. The regime has done a most excellent job of casting our objections to their abominations as that of “resentidos.” What can we expect of people who labeled our parents “Gusanos”? And true, our hatred of castro and his lot is a blood feud, but what we want is for our Cuban brothers and sisters to experience freedom and prosperity. We know the world of our parents and grandparents is gone, that it exists only in the cartoon version trotted out for fat German lechers.

At the same time, I would hazard to guess (not much of one) that we are successfully American, which is to say that we are to be found in all socioeconomic levels, all occupations. We speak the same English as most. We speak not only the language, but the nuance. We are attuned to American sensibilities. Why in the world, would anyone spurn us?

I keep reprinting one of Biscet’s letters where he addresses Cubans on the island and in exile, as well as the children of Cubans in foreign parts. We may differ in methods, he tells us, but our aim is the same. Viva Cuba libre!

Is it Xenophobia?

Made the mistake of reading the comments section under an article in The Miami Herald, never a good thing. All the usual bigots were there. I confess, I couldn't resist. Thought I'd share my response:

Not one person commenting here is not at the very least a descendant of immigrants to this country. Further, thankfully, our constitution guarantees that we are all equal. So to all of those who would send us back to Cuba, I would respectfully submit that I would gladly return when you go back to digging potatos, picking olives, pickling herring, or whatever it is your forbears did to eke out a living in the old country. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

More Biscet Coverage

MSNBC producer Mary Murray has posted on Biscet's award on their World Blog. And she doesn't call him a "Cuban Doctor," either. She covers most of the usual bases with one exception:

While this [previous international attention] has done nothing to free her husband, Morejón believes international awareness has led to an improvement of his prison conditions.

Once confined to a small cell with little light or ventilation in a rural prison hours from his family, Biscet has been transferred to Havana’s Combinado del Este Penitentiary, where he has a desk, a chair and a locker for his personal belongings.
Morejón said Biscet has managed to regain some of the 40 pounds he lost since his initial incarceration.

He is still in bad shape, but at least the notice has done something. God watch over them all.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Fools Rush In

Don't these people realize how preposterous their arguments are? Clemons is at it again at The Huffington Post. In an opinion piece, rife with inaccuracy, he argues for opening ties to Cuba. Shall we try some of his more interesting assertions?

When castro dies, "People will learn about Batista and the fact that the pre-Castro Cuba was a playground for gambling, drugs, prostitution, and organized crime." Mr. Clemons' source for this one has to be The Godfather. Has to be because there is no basis in historical fact to describe conditions in the entire country this way. And here is something puzzling, while we are rewriting history, and your average teenager doesn't know Hoover the President from Hoover the vacuum cleaner, an awful lot of people seem to know the name Batista. One might almost think it was being fed into the discussion.

"Today, Cuba exports doctors and not arms." he tells us with nary a thought that he is equating human beings with pork bellies. Do those doctors have a choice? How much are they being paid, Mr. Clemons? Do you know they are being sent into parts of the various countries where native doctors won't go, that if they refuse to go they cannot practice medicine in Cuba, that they are kept isolated and surveilled, that they are paid pennies on the dollar from the salaries paid to the Cuban government, that host countries have to promise to keep them from freedom? Are you aware of any of that? Or, is it irrelevant to you?

And then, there is the vitriol. It is patently fantastic that people who were stripped of all of their belongings, had to flee their native country when a totalitarian regime took over, a regime that was NEVER a friend to the United States are repeatedly vilified. You have forgotten who was sinned upon and who is still sinning today. The money quote:

And then they will learn how a small cabal of Miami-based Cuban-Americans manipulated laws and our institutions to wage a personal war against Castro and sacrificed core American interests in doing so.

Not a "cabal," Mr. Clemons, lots and lots of people, not all of whom reside in Miami. These are people who have done nothing more than exercise their constitutional rights to voice their opinions and to vote for one of a number of candidates. They are rights, along with the right to voice dissent, that you would not have in Cuba. It seems there are those who would take away those rights.

Frankly, I don't think there are answers at the moment. I do know that if you seek to dictate government policy, your answers should be grounded in fact, not the cool person's talking points.

Proverbial Snippets

These are some nuggets from the recent news that I've been saving up for just such a beautiful morning.

Like is attracted to like, they say. It must be, because the latest to enter the embargo fray is Serbia with its own stellar record of observing human rights. The resolution calling for an end to the embargo was carried by the party that ruled Serbia with Milosevic. Need I say more? Well, I will. Apparently they're peeved we're supporting Kosovo's bid for independence. Read it here.

A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse probably covers the comments of U.N. Special Rapporteur Jean Ziegler, who claims "communist-run Cuba had the best record among developing countries in ensuring no one went hungry." Of course, that's probably because Cuba is the only one of these countries working backward in time. Things have got to be pretty bad when even this apologist for the cause sees the need for reform. Oh, that puts him right in line with Raul's line. Gee.

When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. Heard this morning that Yahoo Ceo Yang is going to be grilled by Congress. Yahoo turned over customer files to the Chinese government, landing a dissident in jail for ten years. Apparently, it has hurt Yang personally, not as much as it has hurt the dissident, I'd venture. Lawsuit pending. An article for some background here.

The truth is stranger than fiction. You're driving down the road when all of a sudden, BAM! What is it? No, it's not a chunk of concrete thrown from an overpass by teenage hooligans. It's.... a cow? That's exactly what happened to Charles and Linda Everson. Having experienced a similar incident with an 8 ounce Cuban (I'm not lying) tree frog leaping onto my windshield in the dark, I can empathize with Mr. Everson, whose response to the encounter with the 600lb cow was reported to be "I don't believe this." Get the details here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Best TV Nights or I Like Stupid Shows

Time for some lightness of being, despite the writers' strike coming just as I settled into my fall TV schedule. Best nights, hands down, Monday, Tues, and Thursday.

On Monday, we have Chuck, the sweet erstwhile geek, who inadvertently becomes involved in international espionage. Following is Heroes, which is getting a bit tiresome with its "have to save the world" plot line, but still has some oompf. Finally, at ten is the stylish CSI Miami. While it's true I've never seen it so dark or so many people wearing long sleeves in Miami , the writing is good and has stood up to a few years.

Tuesday, my non big three night, starts with the quirky Bones. I confess I read all the Kathy Reichs, as well as Patricia Cornwell, novels. Good sexual tension and graveyard humor in this one. It's followed by the air guitar-playing, Vicodin-addicted misanthropic doctor in House. I was a little worried when he lost his three sidekicks, but that seems to have been handled well. Nothing like the value of good writing. Oops! At ten, I confess to watching Cane, which has gotten a tad better. Of course, the problem is that it conflicts with Law and Order: SVU.

Finally, Thursday night kicks off with a bigger dilemma. How can I watch Ugly Betty and Earl at the same time? I admit I resisted Betty for a while, thinking it was a nasty premise. Then I watched and realized that despite the superficial nature of the show, Betty's character embodies some good, solid values. I especially like the warmth of her Mexican American family life, particularly in contrast to those much richer and way more stylish. Earl, I discovered last year. Like the premise: love the characters. After that, there's a gap until ten when the recently relocated Law and Order: Criminal Intent comes on.

It's a good thing commercial TV has come through because the usual documentary channels, unlike me, seem to be transfixed with astronomy and lions in Africa, which makes for some dissension when my favorite packrat is awake.
Rumor is that Rosie of "terrorists are people, too" fame will join NBC "News." That title is rapidly becoming a misnomer. That a news organization would hire a person, of whatever political persuasion, who has made a habit of publicly issuing sweeping untrue statements, is the height of irresponsibility. You know some ditz is going to believe what she says. And, yes, Rosie, fire will melt steel. You haven't been watching your documentaries.

Which is True? Journalism at its Best

Here's AP's take:
Cuba: Trade Fair Shows Embargo Failing
Cuba pledged to sign nearly $450 million in contracts with hundreds of U.S. and international firms, kicking off the island's largest annual trade event despite decades of economic...

Now compare it to Reuters:
U.S. food exports to Cuba dwindle under Bush
Cuba will close deals for Canadian wheat and Vietnamese rice at the annual trade fair in Havana that opened on Monday, while U.S. food sales dwindle.

So is it up or down?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Anti Americanism?

The wearer of this Che bikini, seen earlier on Michelle Malkin and Babalublog, refuses to be paid in American dollars. It seems that Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen, billed by Bloomberg as "the richest model in the world" doesn't quite trust the currency.

Read the article, which is surreptitiously about the state of the dollar, the economy, etc. here. By the time you finish, you'll come to the correct conclusion, namely, the economy is so complex that who the heck knows what's good or bad.

For my own two cents, I just got back from Home Depot where they were empty and hungry. For once I didn't have to search three aisles to find someone who works in that department. For what it's worth.

Cable's Response to Biscet's Medal: Yaaawn!

Haven't been able to watch TV today, so I decided to comb the cable news websites to see the response to the ceremony today. Naive me, I thought it would make a good news story. Apparently the cable outlets didn't.

The ceremony and/or Biscet didn't make the cut at CNN and Fox news. I couldn't find it. Amazingly enough, it did make the home page at MSNBC, their reporters even got off their lounge chairs long enough to interview Biscet's wife. Overall, though, the tone was factual, exactly the tone they should take to their other reports on Cuba. I guess that since they couldn't inject how the embargo is starving Cubans, it was "just the facts, Ma'am."

AP has a report out and did its best to bury the real story, Biscet's name and brief description appears in the list of five winners in a straight report about the ceremony. That's more than Reuters which devoted the thrust of its article to Harper Lee and reduced Biscet to a half sentence also-won. However, there was an entire story on how Bush has singlehandedly diminished the food trade to Cuba. Seems everyone is waiting for a regime the United States, that is.

Sometimes they disgust me. We'll see what the morrow brings. Hopefully, something different.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Price of Dissent

An excellent column in the Boston Globe. Jeff Jacoby is another one who gets it.

For decades, various American journalists and celebrities have rhapsodized about Castro's supposed island paradise, resolutely ignoring the mountains of evidence that it is in reality a tropical dungeon. Intent on seeing Castro as a revolutionary hero and Cuba as Shangri-la, they avert their gaze from the island's genuine heroes – the prisoners of conscience like Biscet, who pay a fearful price for their insistence on telling the truth.

He uses the occasion of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award ceremony to write a withering expose on the treatment of dissidents in Cuba. The descriptions are harrowing.

From Peter Kirsanow, a member of the US Commission on Civil Rights:
"windowless and suffocating, with wretched sanitary conditions. The stench seeping from the pit in the ground that serves as a toilet is intensified by being compressed into an unventilated cell only as wide as a broom closet. . . . Biscet reportedly suffers from osteoarthritis, ulcers, and hypertension. His teeth, those that haven't fallen out, are rotted and infected."

From a new novel, based on a true story, Fighting Castro: A Love Story:
"A screaming mass of soldiers swarming over the circular, stabbing with bayonets, crushing limbs with truncheons and rubber-wrapped chains. The panic of no place to hide, knowing you'll be beaten harder for trying to protect yourself, stomped on for clinging to a pillar or rail, thrown down the stairs for daring to hesitate. . . . The indignity of men whining, begging, whimpering before a skull is cracked, a shoulder yanked from its socket, genitals smashed with the gun butt."

Cross posted at Babalublog

Quote of the Day

Carlos Santana, not quite beloved by the Cuban American community over his sartorial faux pas, is being divorced by his wife of 34 years. She had previously written a memoir which included, among other things, tales of infidelity. His response at the time:

"I sincerely apologized to her and to my kids when I wasn't in my right mind and did something hurtful,"

My Petition: Support Freedom for Cuba!

Commie/pinkos aren't the only ones who can write letters. So I wrote my own. If you like any part, please feel free to cut and paste. If there's interest and I have time (not always a given), I'll post some addresses. Here goes:

On October 24th, President Bush with great compassion and wisdom very ably described the totalitarian nightmare that is Cuba. He highlighted a trail of broken promises of freedom and prosperity that dates back to 1959. He put a human face on the tragedy as he stood in solidarity with the family members of just a very few of those yet languishing in Castro’s jails for the simple desire live free. He addressed the Cuban military, asking them to refrain from killing their fellow countrymen. He spoke to the children of Cuba, reassuring them that our only aim is to see them free.

Immediately, the relativists and apologists for the regime were at work. Bush was trying to interfere in Cuban politics. He was impinging on their sovereignty. The prisoners of conscience were labeled “mercenaries” in the finest Granma tradition. We have to ask in response, “Since when is it a crime to ask that the people of a sovereign nation, your fellow men, be set free? Since when is it immoral to ask that Cubans be allowed the same rights of self-determination enjoyed by hundreds of millions of others around the globe?” There were no threats of invasion in the speech. The speech made very clear that the future of Cuba is the rightful prerogative of the Cuban people. Foreign intervention amounted to the assistance offered the people now and later to a fledgling new government.

We have a long history of intervening in other countries, not always for the good. But was it not intervention when we went to war with Germany? After all, it was Japan that attacked us. And yet who could argue with the results? Mayhap, the South Koreans would want to live in greater North Korea? Was it not intervening in South Africa’s domestic politics when sanctions were put in place over apartheid? Have not voices been raised in dismay over the situation in Darfur? Are there not those who argue for sanctions against the regime in Myanmar? So why should the daily injustice perpetrated on Cubans go unanswered or, worse yet, ignored in a headlong rush for profit or stimulation?

President Bush reaffirmed the embargo, an embargo that was first put into place when the regime confiscated- without payment- the property of American citizens and companies, a debt which unlike China’s has yet to be repaid. Despite propaganda to the contrary, food and medicine are not restricted, neither is humanitarian aid. We are at the same time their major food supplier and substantial source of cash (through remittances to relatives). Any further lifting of restrictions must be tied to the release of political prisoners and the easing of the yoke of political repression. It is no more than we did to South Africa where only a portion of the populace was oppressed, as opposed to an entire population enslaved.

We ask that you support President Bush’s position in demanding the freedom of the beleaguered people of Cuba. Tomorrow Oscar Elias Biscet’s children will accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his behalf, a medal he will not be able to accept because he is a prisoner of conscience in the regime’s jails. Let his plea inform our policy:

…to the leaders of the democratic states of the world, to the American
people, and in particular to the President of the United States, George W. Bush,
we ask only one simple commitment: do not support or promote any solution or
accord regarding the future of the Cuban nation that you would not consider
acceptable for your own country.

Reading: Cause for Hope

This shady little corner of a huge tent for the gift books, i.e. every child under 18 got to pick a free book, was home to the Spanish and bilingual books. I spent the day on the other end, promoting the young adult books.

I've worked the gift book tent at the fair for a number of years, and this time I witnessed something that gives me hope. For the first time, there was a run on books for children over the age of 7. Parents bring the younger ones around, so those are mainly gone by the end of the day. Usually, however, we have to do a sales job worthy of a used car salesman to get the teens interested in a book that isn't going to cost them anything. And every year, there are leftovers, later used in literacy programs.

I ascribe the increased business to a few factors. First and foremost is the effort of county libraries to grow readers from birth on. Quite a few of the preteen and teen faces were those of children who have grown up at the library. I cannot tell you how vital and important it is to get the children to library for books and programs. You would be amazed at what is probably offered within your library system. It is disheartening that libraries are the first cut in response to reduced budgets. Penny wise and pound foolish, I say.

Second, the generosity of sponsors allows the gift of a book to each child. Some of the younger children, not necessarily the poorer ones either, have never owned a book. The book is a treat; the treat becomes associated with reading. Then there is the selection, designed to appeal to a range of tastes and abilities. It does more harm than good to force classics down the throat of a reluctant reader. A high interest book of whatever level often serves as a gateway, leading to further and with time more challenging reading. As proof, even the considerably more difficult classics were a hot commodity.

With the holiday season approaching, I though I'd share some hot trends. The younger teen girls made a bee line for the chick-lit, relatively light books about young girls in social settings, their traumas and their heartbreaks. Suspense and teen spies were a hit with the boys, a particularly difficult group to please. Just about all the teens were drawn to the more challenging vampire books. There are quite a few out. Also popular were what I call the "substance abuse," books. Go Ask Alice* has been resurrected, and new titles like Crack and The Beast demonstrate the downward spiral of drug use. And I can't forget the Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul.

So this holiday season, give a book instead of reindeer socks. If you're not sure what to pick, ask a professional for guidance, at the library, the bookstore. If you want to eliminate the chance of duplicating something the child might already have, buy a new release. Finally, be careful. Many of the young adult titles contain pretty controversial situations and themes, so you really want to know what's in it.

*In the thoroughly depressing department, I was chatting about this one with some of the teens manning the tent. Not only had they never heard the song, they had never heard of the Jefferson Airplane. I didn't even try Grace Slick.
"I grow old... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."