Browsing Archives for Books & Letters

Last year, I gave my first loan via Kiva to a woman in Cambodia named Phea Nopp.  Phea wanted to purchase a water buffalo to expand her agricultural endeavors.  If she borrowed money in her own country, the interest rates would have been astronomical and Phea would have struggled to keep up with the payments, but through Kiva, Phea was able to secure a no-interest loan.   The money that I gave to Phea via Kiva joined the funds from several other people and together we all helped Phea to buy her water buffalo and increase her business productivity in Cambodia. Phea paid me back in full about ten months after she received my loan.

This year I doubled down.  I loaned money to two groups of women in Pakistan who were hoping to increase their agricultural endeavors as well.  Ultimately, I don’t care if I ever see that money again, but I think for the person on the receiving end, it is nice to try and pay their lenders back.  I know that I feel good when I pay back my loans.

I also donated money to Heifer this year.  Some of you might remember when myself and a few other folks from my town took a group of kids to the Heifer Ranch in Arkansas. Through that experience, we learned a lot about how people in developing countries live because we lived it ourselves for a twenty four hour period.  Visiting the Heifer Ranch enabled me to see exactly what Heifer is doing to help relieve poverty all over the world and they do it my favorite way.  They teach the people to help themselves.  They improve farming methods in often very environmentally friendly/low tech ways.  They mandate that the ‘gift goes on’ so that recipients of a Heifer animal must give a portion of their eventual herd or flock or crop away to other needy people.   I was extremely moved and impressed by the work of Heifer.

Both of these charities are set up to give gift cards to the people on your list and both are entirely secular in nature.  A gift card of $25.00 at Kiva enables a person to explore the Kiva site and choose a person to whom to give a loan.  Once the loan is repaid, you can either reclaim your cash or re-lend your cash.  It’s a gift that can keep right on giving.  Heifer also offers some great options for gift giving from flocks of geese, to honeybees to a gardener’s gift basket.

I know that a lot of people are struggling just to make ends meet this Christmas, not to mention buy a few gifts for the kids, but for those of you who are doing okay, or are casting around for a way to give something back, might I recommend these two great charities?  I can personally testify that they do great work.

Check Kiva out.

Check Heifer out.

Holy shit!  Have you seen these books?

I have been actively avoiding Amy Sedaris for years!

It was a weird David Sedaris loyalty thing.

I was protecting David!

I was keeping David holy and unsullied by not paying any attention to his sister Amy.

La la la la la la la la la la la la I can’t hear you Amy!

But about a month ago, I broke the chastity belt that kept me pure and sanctified to David and David alone and I furtively peeked inside of an Amy Sedaris book.

David Sedaris who?

I now wear an Amy Sedaris chastity belt.

I can only handle one comic genius sibling at a time.

And I plan to stay in Amy’s camp forever!

Or at least until David gets a new book out.

Must. Have. Felt. Fruit!

I recommend Amy’s books for anyone on your shopping list, but the more uptight the better. 

Perhaps your boss? 

Your pastor’s wife?

Because Amy will help them.

Even though this book was marked ‘buy one get one 50% off’ enabling me to feel less guilt for buying more books AND was clearly marketed to atheists or to people buying presents for atheists, I severely hesitated over purchasing it.  Why?  Let me just list the reasons…

1.  In general, I don’t like collections of short stories.  I just don’t.  I prefer my stories to come in the form of long narratives written under the vision of one mind.  I guess I like to get fully immersed in my books as opposed to taking a series of short showers.  I don’t even like the short stories in my favorite magazines like the New Yorker.  I love the articles and I live for the cartoons, but the short stories?  Meh.

2.  It features Richard Dawkins on the cover.  Don’t get me wrong – I love Richard Dawkins.  I love him with my whole heart, the same way I used to love Jesus, except that I don’t lie awake at night terrified that a glowing white robed Richard is going to show up in my bedroom declaring that I should GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL THE NATIONS!  I especially love to watch videos and films that feature Dawkins.  I find him to be a wonderful speaker and I enjoy listening to him talk to people because he is so dang smart and he is so dang nice and he has that rare ability to laugh at himself even though he is so smart.  These three qualities make me a huge fan of Dawkins in video format, but I am sorry to say that his books utterly confound me.  I have tried to get through two of them now and have had to put them down long before I finished.  Even though my favorite atheist story came out of one of his books (the one where Winston Churchills’ son reads the bible for the first time and keeps saying ‘God – God is such a shit’) I still struggle greatly with the prose of Dawkins.  He tends to write about sciencey stuff and he doesn’t exactly ‘dumb it down’ enough to make it accessible to weak and shaky minds like mine.  So when I saw that Dawkins was a featured writer on the cover, I thought, “Oh No! I will never be able to get through this book!”

3.  It seemed gimmicky.  I mean how much more gimmicky can you get?  I guess you could give this book a black leather cover, gild the pages and put those little thumb tabs on the side with each author’s name abbreviated in a manner that only the faithful atheist would comprehend.  This book is obviously packaged to sell to people like me and I resent that!  I want to stumble upon my books mysteriously!  I want them to call to me from the back of the book store as if we have a telepathic connection!  I want to search, to sort, to seek them like the wise-men sought out the infant Jesus!  I want my books to rise from the ether, to appear out of the mist, I want to be involved in the supremely sexy act of discovery!  I DON’T WANT MY BOOKS TO SHOUT AT ME FROM THE HOLIDAY SALE SHELF IN THE FRONT OF BORDER’S BOOKS AT THE MANHATTAN KANSAS MALL!

And yet, even with all these things stacked against it, I bought the book anyway.  And I enjoyed it very much.  I will say that Dawkins’ essay once again failed to capture my attention and I was not able to finish it.  I feel kind of bad about it though and may sit down and read it this afternoon.  I don’t even think his essay had anything to do with science.  I think it was more of a satirical look at the holiday season, but don’t quote me on that.  However, most of the other essays in this book were highly readable.  Several of them were laugh out loud hilarious and almost every one of them were positive and upbeat about how much the various authors love the Christmas season despite the multitude of reasons that they felt they should despise it.  I think anyone who loves Christmas and good storytelling would enjoy this book and the nice thing about a collection of writings from several authors is – you discover a whole truckload of new people to read!

Oh!  And one other thing – all the authors in this book are giving their advances and their royalties to the Terrence Higgins Trust an organization devoted to fighting HIV and educating the public about the disease.