"But have I ever been anywhere, anywhere in the world where people didn't think I was weird?" (196)
I'm reluctant to do a full review of this, because...more"But have I ever been anywhere, anywhere in the world where people didn't think I was weird?" (196)
I'm reluctant to do a full review of this, because a lot of my reactions have less to do with the writing than with the author's perspective/thought processes, which is not necessarily fair. So, quick notes:
-Definitely another one for my hypothetical list of jobs I never knew I didn't want.
-Some really interesting material, if you can get past the author's impatience with everyone who isn't Harvard-educated and/or an expert in snakes and other cold-blooded creatures. She obviously loves her work.
-It was hard to get used to how little regard the author expresses for villagers, village life, etc. Had to keep reminding myself that I shouldn't expect her to take an anthropological viewpoint; her interest seems to be more in the what than in the why.
-Even with that in mind, geesh, a little basic respect...?
-Interesting that the grad students on the second trip had taken a "Village 101" course (205); given how much Jackson seems to struggle with the idea that things are not done the same way / as quickly / as directly / etc. as she's used to in the U.S. and Canada, I wonder whether she might've benefited from a cultural competency course as well.
-The travails described in the book aren't the end of it: it's worth checking out this article.(less)
I'd love to know how much direction the authors were given for this series. Was the directive just study-abroad in China, or was it Chinese-American s...moreI'd love to know how much direction the authors were given for this series. Was the directive just study-abroad in China, or was it Chinese-American studies abroad in China and tries to reconnect with her biological parents?
I'm curious in part because -- and this is commentary on the series, not on this book specifically -- I find the whole thing rather whitewashed. Yes, it's probably true that white students make up the bulk of study-abroad participants from the U.S. But...it's disappointing to look at the series list and note that 1) 9 of the 14 books take place in Europe (plus one in Australia and one on a pretty white-bread semester at sea), 2) 12 of the 14 heroines appear to be white, and 3) the two Asian protagonists (and only the two Asian protagonists) are doing a semester abroad in part as a way to get in touch with their heritage.
It's possible -- even likely -- that the individual authors didn't have much forewarning about the other authors' books, but it seems like a lapse on the part of the publisher.
Anyway. Back to the book at hand: Cece is spending a semester in China, where she hopes to learn a lot about anthropology -- her passion -- maybe break out of her work-hard persona a bit...and of course see if she can find out who her biological parents are and why they gave her up for adoption.
A number of things work here: Cece's interest in anthropology, and the intensity of her programme, means that we get a lot of tidbits about Chinese history and culture. Unlike certain S.A.S.S. heroines I could mention, Cece spends a fair amount of time with people from China, not just other exchange students. She manages to figure out a lot about herself over the course of the book, as do some of the other characters.
The stereotyping was weird, though. It was a little like the book was throwing out a stereotype, shouting Aha! A stereotype!, chuckling indulgently at the reader, and...carrying on. I don't know what to make of it, really. And the resolution with Cece's search was way too good to be true.
But hey. Expect fluff, get fluff. These books don't claim to be anything else.(less)
I don't have much by way of a review for this (mixed bag, as one might expect) -- but a bit of a surprise to get most of the way through a book and re...moreI don't have much by way of a review for this (mixed bag, as one might expect) -- but a bit of a surprise to get most of the way through a book and realise that you know one of the contributors!(less)
Interesting enough in some respects (reminds me in places of the way cadets choose assignments at West Point...), but it's rather devoid of tension, n...moreInteresting enough in some respects (reminds me in places of the way cadets choose assignments at West Point...), but it's rather devoid of tension, no? Eule brings in some interesting statistics and anecdotes, but his book is structured mostly around three women who are first waiting to be matched with residencies and then undergoing their intern year. They are subjects of convenience -- Eule's then-girlfriend and two friends -- rather than subjects selected because they are particularly interesting, unique, etc.
That the book focuses specifically on female doctors is a potentially interesting spin, but I'm not convinced that it goes far enough. While Eule acknowledges that female doctors/residents can have it harder than male, he doesn't really make any attempt to probe deeper. (Among other things, when one of the people he follows does get pregnant, there's no discussion of any difficulties along the way.) Also...he's not in medicine himself, which might be the reason the book doesn't feel as substantial as it might. A huge portion of it relies on stories from the women involved (and, in the case of the two friends, their significant others), which are all secondhand. Many, many journalistic books rely on secondhand information, of course, but...I'm not sure. Perhaps he just didn't have the access necessary to take this deeper. (And he was probably hampered somewhat by wanting to paint flattering pictures, since these are his friends/partner.)
In terms of tension...well, what tension there is is pretty much over before the book hits page 100, because by then they've all made their matches. I'm not sure if Eule decided to carry the story through the first year of residency because there wasn't enough material otherwise, because he didn't really start on the book idea until close to match day, because he wanted to show his relationship progression, or for other reasons, but honestly, I was more interested in the drama (or 'drama') of matching, the algorithm used, etc., than in the very minor dramas of the ensuing year. Another place where it might have helped to have more subjects.
So in theory engaging, but in practice, I'd much rather read either a memoir by someone who did undergo residency, or something journalistic with more depth and nuance.
Oh -- other than West Point, the other thing the matching process reminds me of? Sororities.(less)
Ski jumping! It's too bad this didn't come out closer to the 2014 Olympics, because it might have gotten some extra attention because of that -- given...moreSki jumping! It's too bad this didn't come out closer to the 2014 Olympics, because it might have gotten some extra attention because of that -- given that women's ski jumping was for the first time introduced to the Olympic stage. Here, Mo is a ski jumper with aspirations of greatness, but she knows her options are limited because it's not a high-profile sport, especially for women.
In Finland, though, she can hopefully push through to a new level, and get out from her parents' overprotectiveness while she's at it. Mo's an appealing character -- she makes mistakes, and does some dumb things, but she's also pretty self-aware and willing to admit when she's wrong. There's romance, but it's not her focus -- and, hurray, the author managed to impart some info about Finland over the course of Mo's stay without being textbook about it.
There are a number of loose ends here (parental problems in particular -- for multiple characters), but it's a cute, fun read...which is just as well, since (on top of the two others I've read) there are another eleven books in the series.(less)
I think I've figured it out: There are change-the-world memoirs that just blowyouaway...and then there are those that don't. What separates them is...moreI think I've figured it out: There are change-the-world memoirs that just blowyouaway...and then there are those that don't. What separates them is simple: the holy-moly-that-was-good books are the ones that focus on the people the author, or subject, was reaching out to. The others -- like this one -- focus on the author.
Which is to say that I have absolutely nothing against the author, or against Pencils of Promise. Would I want to do some independent research before endorsing the latter? Yeah, of course. But it sounds like they're doing good work. That said, this book is not about that good work -- it's not about the schools PoP builds or about the children and communities who might benefit from those schools. It's about Braun, his journey to get Pencils of Promise up and running, and his decisions to turn down lucrative job offers so as to apply himself entirely to PoP.
It's admirable. It really is. It's just not very interesting to read about when you want to know more about the communities who are potentially impacted by this. I shouldn't learn more about Justin Bieber from this book than I do about kids like Nuth, you know?
If I had a 'business' shelf, this book might go there; as it is, it doesn't fit on 'travel' or 'Asia' or 'Africa' or 'education' because even though Braun spends time travelling to Africa and Asia to build schools, that's skimmed over at best -- there is a far, far stronger focus on things like fundraising, donors, and meetings with bigwigs. Crucial parts of building a successful organisation, I am sure, but not the parts that this lay reader wants to read about.(less)
If there was ever an argument for vetting a book on Goodreads rather than picking it up on a whim at the library...
Here's what the book description do...moreIf there was ever an argument for vetting a book on Goodreads rather than picking it up on a whim at the library...
Here's what the book description doesn't tell you: The Hardings are part of the Quiverfull movement, devoted to having as many children as possible -- good Christian children who will go forth and spawn more good Christian children. They turned to homeschooling in part for 'religious reasons', which I suspect translates to 'the school didn't teach Creationism'.
Now, my point here is not to criticise their belief system. Considering that I'm a queer-unmarried-living-in-sin-non-Christian-liberal feminist, it kind of goes without saying that we're not on the same page. My point, rather, is that this is a fairly useless book if you are simply curious about homeschooling. I don't have strong feelings about homeschooling, one way or the other (it seems to have pros and cons, and to work better for some families/students than others), but...well, if I'm going to read an argument for it, I'd rather read something with actual research. Facts! Statistics! Not just anecdotes and Bible verses.
They seem happy with their methods and outcomes, and I won't quibble with that. I will point to a few things, though: first, the Hardings complain about some universities requiring higher ACT/SAT scores from homeschooled students. On one level, it makes sense that homeschooled students should be held to the same standards as traditionally schooled students. On another level, though, universities have fewer (quantitative) metrics for homeschoolers. Even if you can trust that those students earned their 4.0, that doesn't mean they're set for university learning. The Hardings' argument is that their children earn A grades because they stay on a given topic until they understand it completely -- and while that seems reasonable (and in many respects a good way to learn), it's also true that most university classes don't operate that way. You don't get infinite do-overs in college. Of course admissions offices want to have a reasonable assurance that incoming students can do college-level work at college pacing.
I don't have a great sense of the value of the educations these kids are getting, either in the home or out of it (though, frankly, I do think it devalues the older kids' accomplishments to name jobs, rather than aspirations, for the younger kids on the front cover). In terms of the value of the book, though...well, let's just say that any insightful nuggest are lost in a sea of poor structure and religious proselytising.(less)
As the book opens, sixteen-year-old Amy is in the midst of a legal fight for emancipation from her parents. She's not always certain what that will me...moreAs the book opens, sixteen-year-old Amy is in the midst of a legal fight for emancipation from her parents. She's not always certain what that will mean -- she doesn't have anywhere else to go or a way of supporting herself -- but she knows she wants out.
Amy's always had an interest in the sixties, so it seems like kismet when the local theme park opens up an attraction that allows visitors to look back into 1963 -- and talk with people who are living in 1963. There Amy meets a teenage boy, Clifford, who seems like everything she's looking for...but he's in 1963, and she's fifty years in his future.
Add to the mix a sort of alternate-universe science-fiction twist, with human-animal crossbreeding a fact of life in Amy's world -- oh, and don't forget that by communicating with Clifford in 1963, Amy has the potential to change the past, and thus the present -- and there's a lot going on here.
Now, like Amy, I am guilty of romanticising the 60s (and 70s) somewhat, although in my case I know exactly what to blame -- and also, I know I'm romanticising those decades, and I'm not sure Amy knows that she is. I want to vacation there, in the political activism and free love and crackling energy and peculiar fashion, but I want to come home to better women's rights and queer rights and technological advances. Amy just...wants her family to be a prototypical television family, I think. For a self-professed politically aware sixties lover, she doesn't have a great sense of the problems of the decade -- not even enough to be concerned when Clifford, in 1963, becomes eligible for the draft.
Clifford...I don't have a great sense of him, honestly. I guess it's hard to show a relationship building when that relationship is limited to what two people can say through the television every few days or every week. But it comes off as a bit flat (and the big reveal at the end more than a little creepy). Not really sure where Amy's interest comes from, either; she leaps straight from 'what a dweeb!' to 'I think I love him!'
I suspect that one of the reasons I really didn't connect with this book is that it feels quite young -- while I'm still (obviously) happy to get sucked into YA, this feels almost middle grade. It's more plot-driven than character-driven, I think; although Amy is sixteen, her dialogue often feels oddly formal, and I'd put her attitude/maturity level closer to fourteen. (Is it odd to think that Amy might actually get along with April?) Especially since, oh gosh, she really never learns her lesson, does she? Not really with her family, and definitely not in terms of concerns about influencing the past.
The emancipation plotline is one of the most potentially interesting parts of the book, so I was disappointed to find that it was fairly thin. Partly that's just a matter of length, I think (a lot to cover in not very many pages); I also wonder whether there was more leading up to this in books one and two, which I haven't read. As it is, for all that Amy talks about what an obvious case hers is, all I see is...well, a couple of passable, if not always engaged, parents (her parents don't feature much, and the one legitimately cruel thing her mother says is late in the book. It doesn't come out of nowhere, but it also seems very out of character) and an extremely bratty teenager whose primary complaint seems to be that her family's standard of living has improved. Again, this might make more sense if I'd read the preceding books, and it might not bother me as much if I hadn't been hoping for some character development. Perhaps a more enticing read for a younger reader than I am; it just wasn't my cup of tea.
I received a free copy of this book via a Goodreads giveaway.(less)
Much like Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, I appreciate the concept, but the execution falls flat. Bruno set out to limit his consumerism, but (as in Not Buying It) the project lacked clear boundaries. I understand some of the boundaries and exceptions that he did set out -- I imagine it would be much, much harder to reduce a household's number of things to 100 than to reduce a singleton's, and I can't blame his family for not leaping wholeheartedly on board. (I also respect, for the most part, the choice to count 'one library' rather than individual books; if I sought to do this sort of project and had to pare down my books to a very, very few, the project would be a nonstarter.)
But, well. The book gets off to a slow, rambling start, one full of brand-name items that makes me seriously question the author's claim to anti-consumerism. It's quite repetitive (perhaps it was too much to ask that the 100 Thing Project result in a 100 Page Book?). And I really, really want to know about all the things that didn't count. Bruno brags about the few things he used on a daily basis, and how little he needed...but he pretty much writes off the infrastructure of a fully furnished family home. As with the library example, I do understand the choice to keep the project to personal items, but...it's definitely not a challenge of the sort The Moneyless Man describes.
One other point of contention: Bruno argues that this is not a project for children, a conclusion he came to after telling his daughters to pare down their American Girl collection. But that seems like a hasty conclusion -- first of all, there are millions and millions of children living without a hundred personal items; yes, in middle-class American culture, it would take some adjustment, but it's certainly possible to raise healthy, well-balanced children without a plethora of stuff. Second, starting with the American Girls dolls sounds (based on the very, very little we learn about Bruno's family) like asking me to start by paring down my library to a handful of books. As far as I can tell, those dolls were more or less their prize possessions, so...again: nonstarter. Bruno realises this -- and drops the idea of involving his family at all. Maybe if they had tackled this as a family (with, I expect, very different rules, parameters, and exceptions), this would have been an interesting book.(less)
My Facebook profile picture was, for some time, a photograph of me crawling through a mudpit. I'm drenched, shoulders-deep in brown water, glancing up...moreMy Facebook profile picture was, for some time, a photograph of me crawling through a mudpit. I'm drenched, shoulders-deep in brown water, glancing up at the barbed wire above me. I look very determined. (Also filthy.) As far as profile pictures go it was, if I do say so myself, pretty damn awesome.
It was also taken at the exact sort of race Beresini is writing about here: the kind where you run a bit, and then climb over a wall, and run up and down a few very muddy hills, and crawl under wire, and climb over another wall, and...
Beresini found herself in obstacle-course racing (OCR) after she more or less burned out on more conventional racing (I suppose triathlons can be considered conventional by now?). She was reluctant at first, but it only took a 5K for her to realise that she'd met her new obsession -- and to promptly sign herself up for the most challenging OCR she could find, a freaking marathon-length terror.
She's insane. But that's beside the point: Along the way, Beresini started researching OCR. As a sports journalist, she was more than up to the task...but what she found was a mess of competing companies, lawsuits, and an uncertain future for OCR. The resulting book is a back-and-forth between OCR history, legal matters, stories from OCR's (unofficial) hall of fame, and Beresini's own limping progress to whip her protesting body into a place to take her rightful place as an Ultra Beast finisher.
To be perfectly honest, I am less interested in all the background of Spartan and Tough Mudder races and their competition with each other (reminds me of nothing so much as a pissing contest between grown men; makes me reluctant to support either company) than I am in individual stories of obstacle-course races. It's brilliant fun to read through Beresini's racing experience, and I would have loved to see more in the same vein -- either more stories of others racing (those are present here, but usually in the context of big names within the sport) of more races that Beresini ran. She had the athletic background and creds to pull off the marathon version (perish the thought!), but most of us are...not there...so it would have been nice to see more from people who just do it for fun, not to be crazy insane burpee-happy Ultra Beasts.
That said, that's really my only beef with the book, other than that -- completely unrelated to the written content, the author, or my rating -- my ARC came complete with a very large, very squashed fly on page 144. To whoever squashed that fly: I accept flies, dead or alive, as a normal part of OCR, regular racing, and life outdoors in general. I do not accept them as part of my shiny new books! Shame!
I received a free copy of this book via a Goodreads giveaway.(less)
During his winter training on the treadmill, Danis discovered audiobooks -- and then audiobook summaries, his preference for which strikes me as a pri...moreDuring his winter training on the treadmill, Danis discovered audiobooks -- and then audiobook summaries, his preference for which strikes me as a prime example of both the book and his background. Danis is a businessman -- he works in corporate headhunting -- and you can see that influence over and over again in his writing, from his use of lists and charts to the sense that he's built PowerPoint presentations about his ultramarathon experience.
The story itself gets off to a bit of a slow start, with lots of background about the author's decision to take on this sort of challenge, and although it picks up a bit after he starts training, it doesn't really hit full steam until he gets into the actual weeklong Gobi race. That said, he keeps the book fairly tightly focused -- ultramarathon with a side of business/financial troubles -- which works in the book's favour.
Wouldn't really recommend this one unless you're obsessed with all things ultramarathon (and have run through the better-known options), but I admire the author's drive.(less)
Although Rawlence set out in search of a particular Congolese town -- Manono, once a luxurious colonial outpost, now an impossibly remote ghost town -...moreAlthough Rawlence set out in search of a particular Congolese town -- Manono, once a luxurious colonial outpost, now an impossibly remote ghost town -- this is not a book about that town. Rawlence gets there, eventually, but first he walks and boats and is chauffeured on motorbikes most of the way across the fractured country.
He notes, as he goes, how isolated these towns and villages are; the inhabitants are wary after years of war, and often their only external news comes by radio. Outgoing radio reports, meanwhile, often have short reaches. News from Manono, then, is hard to come by.
I'm not actually convinced that Rawlence met his objective. He made it to Manono, yes; he witnessed the changes since its colonial heyday. But it sounds like Manono's news, at least when he was there, might best have been encapsulated in the stories of individual lives there -- small news; daily-life news. There are some of those stories from Manono, but there are far more from elsewhere across Congo. This is not a criticism; those little moments add up to a lot of interesting, localised images. He conveys a lot about the way the country is put together and the way things work on the ground level. But I bet it also would have been interesting if he'd spent (as I originally expected) far more time in Manono, getting to know people there.(less)
I ran across this series on Goodreads and am now determined to Read It All, but it's probably just as well that this...moreHow do you say doormat in French?
I ran across this series on Goodreads and am now determined to Read It All, but it's probably just as well that this was not the first one I picked up.
Nicole, poor thing, has been banished to Paris for a semester by her heartless, unloving parents. The horror! I mean, what teenager would possibly want to spend a semester in Paris? Nicole just can't bear the thought of rude Parisians and culture and gross foods like gelato and Nutella crêpes, whatever they are.
Nicole should really meet up with Becca. I think they'd get along.
The real problem, of course, is that Nicole's douchebro of a boyfriend is back in the States, and she just can't bear to be separated from him. After all, he's just so far above her socially that she can't ever let him go, and if she lets down her guard even a little bit, oh god, he might lose interest...and anyway, they're Meant to Be. They're seniors in high school, and their college plans aren't even a matter of them planning to apply to the same places -- their college plans are that Nate will decide where he wants to apply, and then Nicole will apply to all the same schools.
Anyway, Nicole's in Paris, so you'd think that once she stops whining about not knowing the language (although that's the one thing I have some sympathy about -- if she takes Spanish in school, why didn't her parents suggest, say, Spain?) and starts making friends, albeit very flimsily fleshed-out friends, we'd get a bit of a break from her constant Nate obsession. But no. Nicole does end up seeing things in Paris, and meeting people (very few of whom, oddly enough, are actually French)...but never before she moans about Nate, and how she'd rather be sitting at home thinking about Nate than touring Versailles(!), and Nate would say this if he were here...and Nate would hate that...and Nate...and Nate...
Now, because Nate is a douchebro, obviously the relationship does not survive the semester. (I will give the book props, by the way, for not giving Nicole a (view spoiler)[relationship with Luc beyond flirtation and a kiss or two (hide spoiler)].) But because it takes Nicole so long to figure out that she can do better than him, there's no space left in which for her to develop a discernible personality, or interests, of her own. We leave her on her way home, thinking excitedly that maybe she'll take a gap year to travel, but when she did that growth from I don't wannnnnna have cultural experiences!, I have no idea.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Cute enough. Marina's off to sea to study on a boat for a semester, and while she's sorry to leave her loverboy behind, she's also relieved to have a...moreCute enough. Marina's off to sea to study on a boat for a semester, and while she's sorry to leave her loverboy behind, she's also relieved to have a bit of space to think about their future. This one gets bonus points for 1) Marina and her boyfriend being able to make a reasonably mature decision about their future and their own needs and 2) putting emphasis on the things they study at sea -- no lack of dolphins and whale sharks and sea turtles here. Might have been nice to see more of the ports they stop in, but my (admittedly limited) understanding of that sort of semester is that most of students' time isn't spent exploring and so on.
Aaaand that's all I have. Total fluff; very convenient to have in my bag on a slow Friday afternoon at work.(less)
As with any collection of essays, the pieces in here range in quality and tone, from a bit wooden to quite poignant. Two things that stood out:
1) The...moreAs with any collection of essays, the pieces in here range in quality and tone, from a bit wooden to quite poignant. Two things that stood out:
1) The theme of the book (and the title) is based on something Celeste Corcoran said after the fact -- that it was thanks to perfect strangers that her daughter survived. What's striking, though, at least in the first few sections, is that the theme could just as easily be I'm not a hero. Whether professionals or bystanders, the people who leapt into the fray are all more comfortable saying 'I wish I could have done more' than saying 'yes, I helped'.
2) I'm curious about the editorial decision to structure the book as it is -- the higher-impact essays are all right up front, the stories of injuries and capital-C Crisis and mayhem (and perfect strangers). The later portions of the book are by runners stopped on the course, or stranded after the race, to whom strangers reached out to lend a phone or a jacket or a shoulder. Not that the essays or feelings are less heartfelt, mind -- one of the most reassuring things after the bombing was how readily people reached out in big and small ways -- but as a book, it slows down somewhat partway through.
Oh, and 3) The focus is right where it should be -- on the people who gave help, not on those who caused pain.(less)
Reading this made me think a lot about luck. Mock makes some explicit points about luck and success -- one, that while it is good for her that she can...moreReading this made me think a lot about luck. Mock makes some explicit points about luck and success -- one, that while it is good for her that she can be viewed as a 'success story', there are a lot of people left behind; two, that it's problematic to say that she's lucky to 'pass' (and that that terminology is problematic in the first place) because she wouldn't be any less of a woman if she didn't look so conventionally feminine.
She's right, of course, and I want to extend those thoughts: I did come away with the impression of Mock as lucky -- lucky that her family accepted her (if not without reservation), lucky that hormonal treatment worked so well, and yes, lucky that, away from her hometown, she could 'pass' as cisgender.
The problem with all of that is twofold. First, it shouldn't be considered a matter of fortune for your family to embrace you; that should be a given. Ditto access to quality health care, and passing as cisgender shouldn't be lucky, because one should be able to expect the same amount of respect and the same acceptance and the same treatment no matter how well one fit's into society's expectations of gender presentation.
Second...there's a lot in here that's not lucky. Sexual abuse. Taunting. Prostitution. Pornography. Those things are only lucky in that Mock got through them and got out, and in the case of prostitution (and pornography) that she had very few violent experiences and managed to use them to, as she says, survive.
I guess what I'm saying is that luck is a complicated concept, and whatever good luck one finds in a situation is relative to the situation.
The writing: Mock's a writer by trade -- a well-educated writer -- and while this isn't my favourite memoir ever, she draws a nice balance between storytelling and analysis; she takes the book beyond her story and into broader cultural ideas. She challenged assumptions and made me think, and what more can I really ask for?(less)
The look of the Himba and their lands has duly become a resource. Tourists negotiate a price with the women to photograph them in their Himba costumes, and with Himba families to photograph them at their fires, beside their mud-covered huts, dancing. That which is tribal (and therefore deemed to be "ancient" and "traditional") has monetary value. So this pressure to be the version of themselves that appears to exist outside modernity comes from modernity. (8)
What started as two journalists' exploration into Himba culture, and the impact a dam would have on that culture, turned very quickly into an exploration into how Himba culture has already been affected by the 'outside world'. Beautiful photographs in the book, but it's ultimately a very sad view -- not because Himba culture has changed and continues to change (I'm certainly not in a position to say whether/how it should change) but because of the way it has changed.
Some Himba have turned outsiders' fascination with their look into a moneymaking venture; as Shields tells us, prices are negotiated for permission to take photographs. There's a very striking photograph of a group of Himba in discussion with one another, doing their own thing, while a very few feet away a group of white tourists stands, cameras in hand, staring.
Tourists often took pictures without saying a word to their subjects; the only eye contact came through the viewfinder, the only physical connection the coins in outstretched hands. I wondered how it had come to be that getting pictures of these people was more important than actually meeting them. It seemed tourists came to take their own versions of the photographs they had seen in tour brochures and travel magazines. (143)
I wonder, though. Shields and Campion did make an effort to communicate with their subjects, to spend time with them -- and they were there with a different purpose than your average tourist. But I do question whether that's a distinction that the Himba saw, and whether that distinction would make a difference to them. (I will note that I think seeking money from something that's going to happen anyway -- i.e., tourists taking photos -- seems rational; what saddens me is that it seems that so little of the 'good' that can come from modernisation, such as better medical access and opportunities for education, seems to have come through.)
Shields seeks a neutral perspective -- falling neither on the side of yes, bring in the dam, bring in change nor on the side of keep this culture untouched -- but my impression is that the more she sees the less she likes the idea of the culture changing. She makes an interesting point about education, that the low level of education that is sometimes available to Himba youth is enough to give them a thirst for more but not enough to give them the skills to really succeed in the 'modern' world...but I guess I'd say that the real question is why that's the only level of education available.
Interesting book with wonderful photos; although I have reservations about a number of non-conclusions drawn, it made me think quite a bit, and that's never a bad thing.(less)
1) Kevin's death. Kevin Graham died of suicide following ill-managed depression -- depression that was poorly managed in l...moreSeveral things at play here:
1) Kevin's death. Kevin Graham died of suicide following ill-managed depression -- depression that was poorly managed in large part because he didn't have the resources he needed or the assurance that he would be able to follow through on his military goals if he could access those resources. His loss was absolutely colossal to the family, of course, but some of the reactions they got -- implications that they should be ashamed, for example -- are far harder to understand than grief.
2) Jeff's death. Jeff Graham died on patrol in Iraq, another impossibly large tragedy for his family. Because he died at war, though, his death was treated as, for lack of a better word, 'legitimate'. The support the Grahams got this time was unreserved, and made the (sometimes) hesitant support after Kevin's death stand out in even starker relief.
3) That either of them were doing what they were: Kevin was in the ROTC, and at university in Kentucky, because he thought he should be, because the military was viewed in his family as such an honourable thing to go into and because being in the ROTC made paying for university easier. Being in the ROTC also meant repercussions if it came out that he was on Prozac or struggled with depression. Jeff was in a particularly dangerous area in Iraq, performing a role that, really, he wasn't meant to do. Two very flawed situations.
4) There are many, many other anecdotal stories in the book, of soldiers who faced PTSD or depression, who killed or tried to kill themselves, who killed or tried to kill others, who were injured at war or at home. Many stories of trauma being (at best) ignored and (at worst) exploited and used as a reason for abuse. This is not the first I've heard of the often skeptical approach the military takes to PTSD and mental illness, but it's heartbreaking to hear about. So many people putting their lives on the line and ending up in terrible situations with no support.
On that note, it's wonderfully researched (although my copy is an ARC and doesn't have a bibliography at the end -- woe!); it strikes me as tremendously good for the book that the author is a journalist rather than, say, a family member. He's compassionate in his writing but able to work with the broader picture. It's a really hard read in places (impossible not to feel for the Graham family; flabbergasting situations and reactions and policies in places), but also a very good one.
I received a free copy of this book via a Goodreads giveaway.(less)
As we traveled through the path, I got to see the real African society. With the exception of them running around naked, I found it exactly as I imagi...moreAs we traveled through the path, I got to see the real African society. With the exception of them running around naked, I found it exactly as I imagined it and similar to what was displayed on television. (23)
I was poking through the Africa section of the library, feeling guilty because I already had an unwieldy armful of books, I hadn't made it all the way through my library list yet (read: I'd be adding more books to that armful), and I had quite a long walk home with a heavy bag ahead of me. And yet...I cannot resist the siren call of books...so I picked this one up, figuring that it was short and light and wouldn't add much to my load. It's about a medical volunteer in Ghana, I reasoned; it might be interesting.
You'd think I would have learned my lesson by now, but let's face it: Some lessons I am just not interested in learning.
So. This book.
Look, I understand that Ghana today is very different than it was even twenty years ago. The world is very different than it was twenty years ago. But yeesh. The author comes off as deeply, painfully naive at times. The writing's not very good, which doesn't help -- a mishmash of poorly fleshed out anecdotes and history lessons that remind me of a report I wrote on Sudan...when I was ten. But he also has this very strong perception of Africa in general, and Ghana in particular, as Other: What other African country is less known than Ghana? I don't mean any disrespect of Ghana, but it isn't widely known like other countries in Africa. (3)
I know the Internet has made it a lot easier, since this book was published, to find out about other cultures, but come on.
So off he goes to Africa -- having picked Ghana because it was less developed than, say, Egypt or South Africa, but feeling at the end that he knows what village life is anywhere in Africa -- as a volunteer. He comments that the villagers didn't want him to take photographs in the village (of their houses, etc.); he interprets that as an expression of shame that they live as they do, and reassures them that there's nothing shameful about it, but he also takes every chance to comment on the inadequacy of his quarters, of hospital resources, of village housing, of food. (And he wonders why they're wary of Americans taking photos?)
To his credit, he's aware that he's not the perfect choice of volunteer: His training amounts to a year of dental school, and there are no doctors in the hospital he's placed in. He ends up providing little treatment that the nurses wouldn't provide on their own (though he is able to correct some misunderstandings). That's not his fault, of course, but it struck me, when he was asked to deliver a baby, that he was probably the least equipped person around to do so: He had the fancy textbooks, but chances are excellent that there were plenty of women in the vicinity who had given birth, or assisted at a birthing, or learned from their female relatives.
One thing that did strike me as very interesting, and a lost opportunity for more detail: He mentions at one point that he has arthrogryposis and spent some time talking with youth in Ghana about disability and explaining that yes, people with disabilities could succeed and so on and so forth (which, good for him). I wonder, though, whether he'd have been able to say the same had he not been adopted from Korea to the U.S.? I don't know enough about the way disability is treated in South Korea (the only thing I can think of is Emily Rapp's experience there) to really have a grasp on the answer there, but, well, feels very much like a matter of circumstance.
I wish he'd talked more about that; more visibility seems particularly useful. But generally the book was just...unexceptional and expected.
If my experiences were mondane [sic], then you wouldn't be reading and I wouldn't have written this book, right? (xvii)
Well, I did read it. And he did write it. But that's as far as I can agree.(less)
The author has previously written nonfiction about college admissions, running, and pets. So naturally her first foray into fiction involves the after...moreThe author has previously written nonfiction about college admissions, running, and pets. So naturally her first foray into fiction involves the aftermath of the admissions process, a protagonist who cares more about her pet rat than she does about her family and friend, and a lesson about how running is a way of life.
It's a better book than I'm making it sound -- I appreciated, for one thing, that the romance (while obvious) wasn't the be all and end all of the book; it was one part of Alice's journey, and not the most important one. Alice is a reasonably complex character, with flaws aplenty, and it takes her most of the book to gain a bit of self-awareness (not to mention awareness of the people around her). She's never terribly likable (spoiled and thinks it's okay to be a brat because she doesn't care that much about some of the specific things that make her spoiled), but she's realistic.
Walter: Walter, and rats in general, is a big enough deal in this book that I almost shelved it as 'animals' (I didn't largely because Alice's preference for Walter over just about every human in the book drove me nuts). Don't have much more to say about him.
Alice and the Tao of running: It's funny -- I haven't actually read that many YA books with protagonists who run (and in which running is a big part of the story). There are some out there, of course, but I'd like to read more. It gets a little preachy here at times, but it's nice to see Alice improve gradually, over the course of the book, and not be into it for competition or better times or weight loss. Really nice to see that, actually. Although Alice is way more negative about her appearance than I think it warranted for someone who disses other girls for self-deprecating comments, little is made of her appearance throughout the book, which is less common to YA lit than I wish it were -- her journey's more internal than external.
I would have liked more surprises to the book, but that's often true of YA for me. So I'll leave it with this: sounds like Alice's factoid about the Vanderbilt room may be inaccurate?(less)
When her husband died unexpectedly, Smith had to create a new normal for herself and her children. This would be a daunting challenge under any circum...moreWhen her husband died unexpectedly, Smith had to create a new normal for herself and her children. This would be a daunting challenge under any circumstances, but when Christmas rolled around, the struggle intensified; her children needed stability, but all she wanted was for Christmas, for celebration, to disappear.
A mysterious gift arrived on the front porch -- and Smith wanted nothing more than to throw it away. Hard. Now. But gifts kept coming. Small things, just enough to remind them that somebody knew they were struggling, somebody knew the family could use that little nudge of extra support. And gradually, over the course of the next two weeks, Smith began to be able to look beyond her grief -- enough to figure out how to make Christmas happen for her children, enough to enter the room where her husband died, enough to reach out to strangers herself and learn some of their stories.
One of the best choices made in putting this book together, I think, was to keep the timeline very focused -- this is a story of the twelve days of Christmas, not the story of the author's marriage or her husband's death or everything that came after. It's about grief, and about surfacing from grief, but really only a very small part of that. We do see bits and pieces of their relationship, of the before, in the form of flashbacks, but they're meant more to provide context than to give the whole history.
I was a little sorry, in the end, to have the mystery solved -- I suspect that if it hadn't been, I would still be desperately curious, but...how lovely that this remained anonymous for so long. It feels as though (in some ways) the family got a great deal more out of it because it was anonymous than they might have otherwise -- which may or may not be the case, but it's nice to think what an impact such a small effort can make.
I received a free copy of this book via a Goodreads giveaway.(less)