After finishing the Namesake, my thoughts were drawn to my last roommate in college, an Indian woman studying for her PHD in Psychology. When I first...moreAfter finishing the Namesake, my thoughts were drawn to my last roommate in college, an Indian woman studying for her PHD in Psychology. When I first moved in, she had just broken up with her white boyfriend. “It never would have worked out anyway…” she had cried. By the end of that same year she was flying of to Houston to be wed to a man she had only seen once, a marriage arranged by their parents. Many nights my other roommate (an exchange student from Berlin) and I would sit out on the balcony smoking cigarettes and marveling at the concept of an arranged marriage in the new millennium. This book made me understand her a little bit better, her choice in marriage and other aspects of our briefly shared lives, like: her putting palm oil in her hair, the massive Dutch oven that was constantly blowing steam, or her mother living with us for 3 months. This is after all the story of an Indian growing up American and the cultural adaptations and clashes that color his life. Perspective shifting from parent to child and back again, it’s an engaging view of an immigrant family in America. Gogol hates his name, and the Bengali traditions that are forced on him since childhood. The reader follows him through adolescence into adulthood where his history and his family affect his relationships with women more than anything else. As much as this book was heralded for its exploration of the immigrant experience, as any truly great piece of literature, its lessons are universal... Anyone who has ever been ashamed of their parents, felt the guilty pull of duty, questioned their own identity, or fallen in love, will identify with these intermingling lives. The pace in which she tells it is exactly equal to looking back on the memories of a life lived. Skimming over the mundane, she punctuates the cherished memories and life changing events that are now somewhat hazy. It is a superb first novel. (less)
Warning: This book is pretty vulgar. I suppose the title could have tipped you off. Oddly, I expected a more academic book. A look at the word its his...moreWarning: This book is pretty vulgar. I suppose the title could have tipped you off. Oddly, I expected a more academic book. A look at the word its history and its affect on our society. Muscio is anything but academic. She is an artist, and the book is filled with personal anecdotes and her thoughts on life. There is no stuffy distance between her and her writing. Her approbation of menstrual blood made me uncomfortable (she enjoys watching it splash to the floor). Her retelling of her 3 abortions, the last of which was a supposed triumph of the power of positive thinking and sisterhood, made me really glad I teach about condom use and birth control on a daily basis. But eventually, around the chapter on rape, she kind of won me over. Women come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. Some smart, some not. Some weak, others extremely strong. All of us are affected by the extremely violent subjugation that is rape. It limits our freedom, our security and our collective sense of self. I’m willing to bet every woman in America has had some experience with rape. Either personal, or a friend, family member or news story has shaken them. What are almost worse than the act itself are the silence and the shame that go with it. The most obvious counter attack, she explains, is noise. As a united front we need to put our foot down. If a rapist is known, gather 30 women on his front lawn and tell him straight out that his action will not be tolerated. Let everyone at his workplace know what he’s done. Same for spousal abuse, or any act of violence against women. If all women united in this, who would be hiding in shame? I never really thought of myself as a feminist. We are all equal. This book helped me see some of the sexism that still lingers in our society. It showed me that there is work yet to be done in order to obtain our god given equality. That’s enough for me to overlook the sloppy writing style. (less)
Amy Webb delivers a poignant, honest portrayal of the modern search for love. I was quickly captured by her first person narrative that managed to eng...moreAmy Webb delivers a poignant, honest portrayal of the modern search for love. I was quickly captured by her first person narrative that managed to engage (and not pander to) her audience in exploring her quest for her perfect match.
Her world of internet dating is as gruesome as the one I remember, but with spreadsheets in hand she decides to "game the system." Early in the book she dates widely, trying to meet her familial obligations as well as play the numbers. If I just date enough men, she rationalized, I will eventually meet my match. Date after horrific date leads her mathematically inclined brain to come up with a rating formula. (I have to wonder how I would have rated some of my online dates... how would the guy who asked if I would like to kiss his butterfly tattoo rate? Not well I'm sure.) She decides to use reason and logic to weed out the men who would never make her happy. With the realization that they would have to like her back, she then tackles the question of what women do right when designing online profiles.
Along with the enjoyable narrative, the reader gets some interesting background on the history of online dating and some helpful hints on how to get over your ego and write a "super profile."
Because of Amy Webb's brutal honesty and charming neuroticism, what could come across as a conceited endeavor to find the "perfect man," instead reads as a modern tribute to the search for love.
Data, A Love Story is a rallying cry for every woman who has been told to settle. While her goal was to find a husband, I think it does criticize the crazy notion that, in this day and age, any mate is better than going alone. (less)
The Poisonwood Bible is incredibly good for many reasons. Advancing through the lives of a family of Georgian missionaries surviving in the Congo, Kin...moreThe Poisonwood Bible is incredibly good for many reasons. Advancing through the lives of a family of Georgian missionaries surviving in the Congo, Kingsolver twines her story with the thoughts and perspectives of each of the women. Rachel, the oldest daughter, a princess no matter her setting. Leah, middle child and twin, who is intelligent and level headed. Adah (Hada), the other twin, lopsided and backwards reading, she is far more intelligent than anyone would guess. Ruth May, youngest at 5, with abundant energy and golden ringlets. And last but not least, Orleana, victim in the way women have always been victims. Through their eyes we see the pain we know all to well. The pain of being the outsider. The pain of adaptation. The pain of being an American abroad. Though the family goes through innumerable hardships, it is the simple things that stuck me most. The peace between the violence, the realization that children’s play is practice for survival, the acceptance and joy at not being included as one of “them,” the beauty of the natural surroundings, are what make this sad novel oddly joyous. It quickly turns from being about a self righteous man, so unwilling to bend that he breaks, to coming of age and disillusionment with the “peace makers of the west.” America likes to intervene. As the women of this story grow and separate, a political reality is playing out in the background. America decides the new president is a communist, and for the good of its people has him taken out. The new leader put in his place is friendly to the U.S. government, ensuring lucrative mining deals and easy trade. All too quickly the people of the Congo begin to suffer the harshness of a tyrant; all too quickly they begin to starve. “There is nothing about the United States I can really explain to this child of another world” (pg 441). That we should have so much and deny others what little they could hope for, is a horror for which I have not the words. A little African boy is brought to an American grocery store and is stunned by the selection. Why would you need so many different toothpastes? It’s unfathomable. I finished this book in a bout of frustrated tears. It seems like every year I learn of another country our government has destroyed, another culture we never took the time to understand. Kingsolver does an amazing job and winding through her story overwhelming feelings of shame and displacement. She takes global politics and makes them painfully intimate, while at the same time recognizing the absurdity in that. But then that is just one of the stories told. It is the viewpoint of just one of the daughters. Through the others you can see innocence, ignorance, and self discovery. She shows that the world is as complicated as a single family and that there is never only one perspective. (less)
This is required reading for all PC health volunteers. Just remember “If Paul is the standard, we are all fucked.” Farmer is a doctor working in rural...moreThis is required reading for all PC health volunteers. Just remember “If Paul is the standard, we are all fucked.” Farmer is a doctor working in rural Haiti, a land that many have forgotten and others are willfully ignoring. Tracy Kidder is a journalist who runs across Farmer while on assignment covering the political turmoil of Haiti in 1994. Kidder unexpectedly finds a man many would call (and have called) a saint. A enigmatic figure in jeans and a black shirt, Paul Farmer has taken on crippling rural poverty, institutionalized racism (or classism), TB and HIV and largely won. By focusing on the individual patient and with a clear understanding that the poor deserve no less than the rich, he has surpassed every expectation of what can be accomplished. A TB patient stops his treatment. Instead of trusting the axiom that the poor believe they are cured once the symptoms stop, he investigates deeper to find their family was starving. TB medication is important, but feeding your children will always be a priority. Faced with a new challenge, he decided to treat the malnutrition by providing food for the families of his patients, and went further to provide a floor and a roof for their homes, potable water systems to avoid water born illnesses, and basically anything any of his patients asked of him. His methods are far from what we like to call sustainable. What would Farmer say to that? “Fuck You.” Paul Farmer did not set out to change the world. He just wanted to help people, and he has, millions of them. He did not design his project for imitation or broad appeal. He just viewed every person individually and tried to picture each one as himself. Using this simple method of human decency he has created one of the best clinics in the world, in a country with no health care to speak of and no governmental support. He has moved on to other projects internationally, in Peru, Mexico, and Russia. Lauded by all who know him personally, and attacked by those whose worldview he disturbs. Tracy Kidder has strong presence in his book. It is the first time, says the reader’s guide, that he has chosen to write in first person narrative. In doing so he allows himself personal bias. He connects us to the characters and gives us a strong sense of how amazing and unique Paul Farmer is. He lets us know its okay to feel annoyed at Farmer for his disregard for the norms. He lets us know its okay to feel guilty for not being able to dedicate our lives so fully to the poor. Despite having spent the last year working in Public Health, I never really understood it and its global implications until I read this book. For Farmer healthcare for all is a moral imperative. It makes me feel a little bit better about the work I’m doing, while at the same time making me feel like I could never quite do enough. (less)
Alice and Howard live on the last family run dairy farm in Prairie Center, WI. Though the cookie cutter subdivisions are fast encroaching, the couple...moreAlice and Howard live on the last family run dairy farm in Prairie Center, WI. Though the cookie cutter subdivisions are fast encroaching, the couple is content in raising their daughters in peace. Only Alice feels the watchful, judgmental stares of the townspeople. The book begins from Alice’s point of view. She is self conscious, always questioning her ability, her patience, and her will to be a mother. About 50 pages in her best friend’ daughter drowns in her pond under Alice’s supervision. What would normally be the main conflict of a story, here is just the beginning. It’s a spark that starts something oddly more traumatic than the death of a 2 year old girl. This is an engaging lesson on how misplaced guilt can destroy innocents, of how families can change over the course of suffering, of how the guilty are not always guilty, the innocent not always innocent, and about the long road of forgiveness. Flipping between perspectives of Alice and Howard, Hamilton creates a couple who are deeply connected, dependent on each other, in Love even, and yet unable to share their feelings and on the brink of loosing their marriage. After reading a slew of romance novels, their relationship seemed painfully realistic. (less)
Overthrow made me realize how poor my education of US history is, and saddly my foreign policy understanding as well. I am shocked that I hadn't learn...moreOverthrow made me realize how poor my education of US history is, and saddly my foreign policy understanding as well. I am shocked that I hadn't learned about some of these coups in, say, my foreign policy to Latin America class in college or any one of my other international relations courses. This is an excellent primer for anyone who wants to understand current world events and why "they" might possibly hate "us."(less)
Who, you may wonder, is the reigning queen of paranormal romance? Why it’s none other than Christian Feehan, a pleasantly plump mother of 11 with a 3r...moreWho, you may wonder, is the reigning queen of paranormal romance? Why it’s none other than Christian Feehan, a pleasantly plump mother of 11 with a 3rd degree black belt in Korean Karate. That little bit of background makes this book all the more funny. This, like all romances, is formulaic. There is a girl and a guy, who love each other, but don’t want to or are held apart by some conflict, fall into lusty sex anyway, realize that good sex/ true love, is the most important thing in the world (they’re always linked), and true love/ good sex triumphs. Sometimes they also solve a crime. Like in this one where 7 sisters with magical powers discover terrorists trying to sneak a dirty bomb into the country through a sleepy beach town in California. Gone are our days of innocence… terrorists have even taken over our romance novels! Other details like, paparazzi, the Russian mafia, the red hat society, and some science on dolphins, help break up the dirty parts. All I can say on the subject is: “She could feel him in her womb,” is not sexy, nor physically possible (I’m pretty sure). It really didn’t need to be repeated 8 times.
Dave Eggers is my favorite author. Witty, insightful, self mocking and disturbingly familiar. Anyone who has read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering G...moreDave Eggers is my favorite author. Witty, insightful, self mocking and disturbingly familiar. Anyone who has read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius knows what I’m talking about. A blurb on the back claims Eggers can “inspire a generation as much as document it,” that seems pretty apt. Maybe we are of the same generation and this feeling of insufferable privileged ennui is a common thread of our time. Given $80,000 for the use of his silhouette on the side of a box of light bulbs, Will decides he can’t live with this undeserved wealth. He convinces his best friend, Hand, that they need to circle the globe, handing out money to the world’s poor. Do to complicated scheduling they set off for one week at a frantic pace, only to wait. Delayed plane, indirect flights, visas, rental cars, money exchanges, assholes, and a hundred other realities of global travel stymie their progress. They only end up hitting 3 countries. Will is obsessed with constant movement. Like the bus on Speed (did I just make that analogy?), he’s afraid slowing down will make him explode. He wants to be like his mentor Winston Churchill. He wants a clear motivation in life. He wants a life task to accomplish so that he knows what the hell he’s here for, and he wants it to be handed to him. Giving away money isn’t as easy as it seems. Like I know we have all done, they don’t want to give it away to anyone who asks for it. They resent people who assume the Americans are rich and there to give them money (even though that’s exactly what they’re there for). Issues of historical imperialism and power come into play. The whole point is to get rid of the money, but they can’t seem to find people truly deserving of it fast enough. So they conspire to tie it to donkeys and hide it with a treasure map as guide. Will is creative and neurotic and seems to be fighting the demons of boredom, isolation and unasked for wealth. What are three reasons to join the Peace Corps? (less)
Growing up in a nerd household, I had often heard of Mercedes Lackey. She is, after all, one of the most prolific science fiction/ Fantasy authors out...moreGrowing up in a nerd household, I had often heard of Mercedes Lackey. She is, after all, one of the most prolific science fiction/ Fantasy authors out there. Phoenix and Ashes was the first book of hers I’d gotten around to reading, and I was overall content with it. Her characters, though magical, were grounded in the pain and sorrow of everyday life. They deal with the injustices of classism and sexism. They deal with the horrors of war. It is a modernized telling of Cinderella, complete with wicked step sisters. Only the handsome prince is of a more moderate nobility, and happens to be a shell shocked veteran of World War I. The setting is rural England in the fictional town of Broom. As the classic tale unfolds, more and more of the town’s men are conscripted to war. Those left are visibly maimed and emotionally scarred. Women, therefore, start to take on new roles, leading the heroine to realize that her dreams (not to marry the prince, but to go to Oxford), may come true. If only it weren’t for those pesky spells entrapping her. The book did break my general rule of Sci Fi: If it makes up more than 10 words, I’m out. But the characters persuaded me to stay. The over hyped magic and alchemy couldn’t kill the interesting history and personal drives of each character. One thing I couldn’t forgive is the editing. I counted no less than 6 times I stumbled across typographical errors. Like running through a field of rocks, I tripped over every error. Adam and Even, us instead of use, words completely out of place, etc. It made me want to hurt the editor, who clearly got lazy and relied on spell check to get them through. That combined with unnecessary repetition, made me feel as though Lackey, while creative, isn’t that good a writer. Maybe she should slow down and focus on quality instead of quantity. Or at the very least fire her editor. (less)
This book brought up so many complex emotions for me...I don't know where to start. It is beautiful and haunting. Like Maus or Palestine, but set in t...moreThis book brought up so many complex emotions for me...I don't know where to start. It is beautiful and haunting. Like Maus or Palestine, but set in the now. This is happening now.
In 2009 Iranian's took to the streets to protest Ahmadinejad's electoral "victory." I remember images on the news of crowds swathed in green; an upheaval I couldn't fully fathom. The scene quickly changed to sports or the Kardashians or the latest political talking points. No depth. No history. No follow up. Zahra's Paradise is a fictional tale based in the reality of what happened next. It takes you into the human heart of conflict and oppression.
Mehdi's family last saw him as he rounded the corner with friends to join the protest. Millions of people had met up in Freedom Square; connected through twitter; smart-phoning a revolution. And like many others, he never came home. Zahra's Paradise follows his mother and brother as they search for him and for answers from the labyrinthine, despotic, bureaucracy that control their fate. Their lives touch others who have suffered greatly. Their stories interweave through fluid verse, mythological allegory and drawings that will make you weep.
Through the suffering there are moments of strength. Perseverance, rebellion, acts of great kindness, honor, the depth of a mother's love. People of faith are crushed by those who claim to speak for their faith. They rise up and yell "Allahu Akbar"- God is Greatest. Man is flawed. God will persevere over the evil of this world. It is a hope, it is a prayer, it is a battle cry against those who would distort God's word.
It would be so easy to read this as a history...as something that happened in a once gruesome past. The images of cell phones, cranes, and modern cars pull the story back to present. This is happening now. There are likely still men and women in prison that were picked up on that day; that are being picked up today. There are still mothers seeking their lost sons.
The last pages of this book are the most heartbreaking. The facade of fiction is cast aside and there are pages, pages, pages of names of those who have been lost. This was and is real and the authors have chosen to remain anonymous to protect their own families. (less)
No, this is not my memoir. I am not an American Israeli recently released from military service. Iris, having served at a military desk post just arou...moreNo, this is not my memoir. I am not an American Israeli recently released from military service. Iris, having served at a military desk post just around the corner from home, wanted to get out and see the world. As is custom for former Isreali soldiers, she took off with a travel buddy for Asia. Her goal? Adventure, magic, exitement? Well kind of. Her goal was to loose her virginity. There had been a questionable run in with a god like specimin, but no real cherry popping. So she sets out on what she hopes will be a sexual adventure through Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal and India, jumping at any chance to inappropriatley fondle a fellow backpacker. The result is as hilarious as it is painful. Her nerotic charm will remind you a little of yourself (the part you never let anyone else see). (less)
I read this before going into High School U.S. History. It made me itch for a fight. Unfortunatley Mrs. Peterson was an amazing teacher and well aware...moreI read this before going into High School U.S. History. It made me itch for a fight. Unfortunatley Mrs. Peterson was an amazing teacher and well aware of the limitations of our history text book. I never got to show off, but I suppose the class was better for it.(less)
This autobiography of the junior Senator from Illinois is as much a study of race relations in America today as of one man’s struggle to find himself....moreThis autobiography of the junior Senator from Illinois is as much a study of race relations in America today as of one man’s struggle to find himself. Born of a Kenyan father and White American mother, Obama found himself caught between worlds. His father gone from early on, he had to find out on his own what it was to be young and Black in America. The pain and anguish of not fitting in… the unnamed hatred for the way things were and the people that perpetuated it. Articulately, poetically, and concisely he describes the division between races. It made me pause every 20 pages or so to reevaluate my notions of class and racism. It made me take another look at the friendships I’ve had, the people I’ve known. Was there the same wariness lurking in their eyes? The knowledge that because of my skin tone and theirs, there would always be a shadow of doubt, a lack of trust? Through his work as a community organizer in Chicago he delves into some of the problems facing the Black community. Mistrust, survivor’s guilt, discord amongst themselves. Later he visits his siblings in Kenya. The trips helps Obama finally understand his place in family history and the world. There is now talk of Obama for President. With his experience in community organizing, State Senate, Harvard Law degree, and an International understanding (he also grew up in Indonesia), not to mention a commitment to Civil Rights and a language of uplifting faith, he is the perfect liberal candidate. But is America ready for a once young angry Black man as President? I hope so, because he just may help heal the wounds of racism on both sides. For African Americans a proof of the possibilities and of change. For Whites, perhaps forgiveness for our sins. (less)