My mind was already geared to the hills and hollows of the Appalachians (I'd just read The Midwife of Hope River) when I opened this book and moved fo...moreMy mind was already geared to the hills and hollows of the Appalachians (I'd just read The Midwife of Hope River) when I opened this book and moved forward several decades to the near present. The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is about a couple who act upon their dream of running a bookstore (surely a dream only slightly less impractical than the dream of owning a vineyard or sailing around the world on a small sailboat!). They stock the shelves with books from their own oversized library and get more from garage sales. They do not find financial success, to put it gently, but they persevere, and learn that bookstores are more about community than books. Heck, books are easy - it's community that their patrons crave.
Author Wendy Welch and her husband, a musician, listen to people's stories and organize events like a St. Patrick's Day dance and a Celtic Christmas night. Oh - and they sell books. Welch shares the story with quiet humor and palpable affection for her community and for books. Definitely an enjoyable read.
Thanks to Firstreads for the chance to read this sweet little book.
The author's parents, Cora and Albert Henderson, were Baptist missionaries to Burma (now usually known as Myanmar) in the late 1800s. It might as well...moreThe author's parents, Cora and Albert Henderson, were Baptist missionaries to Burma (now usually known as Myanmar) in the late 1800s. It might as well have been a different planet. There was clean water, tigers and leopards traveling along the footpaths, hundreds of languages, kings, a lack of trash, and a perfectly innocent view of what the missionaries were up to - her father was a doctor, who believed that healing people, as Christ healed, was part of the deal, but they were also spreading the Good News, and certainly saw themselves as Baptist saints - and did their best to live up to that image of themselves.
The young missionary couple could distinguish the various tribes by their costumes. There are so many passages here that are quotable.
This would be a good book to read alongside the marvelous Poisonwood Bible, which shows missionaries at their worst. That was an image I grew up believing. I didn't even think about the other side of the equation until meeting a number of missionaries (Catholic Relief Services, Caritas, the Maryknollers and Jesuits) in the Philippines and Cambodia who really were out just to help people, mostly with clinics, workshops, micro-loans, and orphanages. It's missionaries in Africa who have done the most in changing cultural attitudes about female genital mutilation.
The author shares the prejudices of an earlier era - like here:
"Always the Indian women seemed frightened and shrinking, in contrast with their carefree and gay Burmese sisters. These, in white jackets, with gold or silver buttons, colorful skirts, brightly colored silk scarves, and showy silver and gold bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, moved in the crowds among the men with easy confidence, fruit of the freedom and equality with men which the women have enjoyed for centuries. There was little difference between the Burmese men and women in dress, for both wore loongyis (skirts) and jewelry."
Sounds pretty good, right? Not quite right for the Hendersons. Here's a later description.
"The Burmese women strolled happily about the bazaar mingling and talking freely with the men. Their long black hair was piled high and gleamed with coconut oil, or was coiled neatly in a bun at the nape of the neck; their dainty sheer white jackets, their silk skirts of many colors, with silk scarves to match, gave them a sleek, well-groomed appearance. If the sun was hot, paper or silk parasols added gayety to their dress, large ones for the mothers and smaller ones for the little girls, who were small replicas of the women, save that their hairdo changed from year to year according to an established pattern, and so was an infallible index of age. Here and there a tiny child, naked save for an amulet hung about the neck with a gold chain, and sometimes wearing gold or silver bracelets and anklets, mingled with the crowd, or, if too small, was carried on the mother's lap. "In contrast with the Burmese, the heavily veiled Indian women with their gracefully draped saris, followed their stalwart husbands silently and at a respectful distance. If there were children the boys walked ahead with their fathers, the girls, often wearing nose gems or rings, followed with their mothers. "In many ways the most appealing groups were the Chinese families. Among them, as among the East Indians, the men walked ahead, as befits the dignity of the male, with the women, if they were of "good families," hobbling along behind on tiny feet which had been bound in infancy. But friendly conversation was flung back and forth between them, and when it came to the actual point of considered purchase it was always the women who practiced with infinite skill the fine art of bargaining, demonstrating the old saying that among the Chinese, though the head of the family is the man, the woman is the neck."
However, the Hendersons' Christianity is feminism itself in comparison with the Buddhism of that time and place, where women worried that if they didn't behave they might be born again into a form even lower than a woman. Other unpleasant traditions include killing the babies of mothers who die, the rationale being that the babies have been taken over by an evil spirit. One of the Hendersons' projects is an orphanage, to house all the little possessed babies. When their compound isn't ravaged with bad luck, the people conclude that their god must be a very powerful one indeed.
This is one of the best memoirs ever written, and certainly the best book I've ever read about Cambodia. I know that reveals some Euro-centric bias on...moreThis is one of the best memoirs ever written, and certainly the best book I've ever read about Cambodia. I know that reveals some Euro-centric bias on my part; I agree that some of the memoirs of the Killing Fields written by Cambodians are just as eloquent and perhaps show an even clearer picture of Cambodia during the awful ascendency and throttling years of Pol Pot.
Still. Bizot was the only Westerner taken and released instead of killed by the early Khmer Rouge squads. In his case, his captor was no less a monster than Duch himself, murderer of hundreds of his countrymen and women.
Bizot was heroic during his days in Cambodia. The genocide going on there wasn't really his war; he was just an anthropologist, he could have gone home. Except it was his war - he was human. And he loved the people, the country, and its history. For me, his insights into what happened and his descriptions of how it happened are brilliant - and the book is a page-turner. It's amazing that he survived, and amazing how many people he saved. (Not many, considering the numbers who died, but considering the circumstances, many indeed.) It's as if the Raoul Wallenberg of Cambodia were also a gifted writer. (less)
I'd thought that Kurdistan was relatively free and its people living under a more just social system than the rest of Iraq during the Saddam years.
Wro...moreI'd thought that Kurdistan was relatively free and its people living under a more just social system than the rest of Iraq during the Saddam years.
Latifa Ali's memoir shows a degraded and corrupt society. Absolute power corrupts not only governments but people in their own homes. Latifa Ali was a slave in Kurdistan, simply because she was a woman and because "honor killings" are accepted there. Her own mother betrayed her when she wouldn't marry a man who raped her, leading to her imprisonment in her father's house in Kurdistan. Tradition gave her father the right to kill her - and comes very close. She will certainly die if her father forces her to marry, for her bridegroom will discover she's not a virgin.
A distant cousin's death haunts her - the woman, in her 20s, had been the victim of malicious gossip, and her husband's family, shamed, took her to a field, drenched her in gasoline, and set her on fire. That dead woman's children, at the time Ali was writing, were the despised servants of their paternal grandmother, convicted by the rumor of their mother's guilt.
Ali takes pains to disassociate Islam from this despicable and brutal culture. It's the new "Not Without My Daughter." (less)
I've been going back and forth between three stars and four for this very funny book - three stars for me, because while I liked Don't I didn't really...moreI've been going back and forth between three stars and four for this very funny book - three stars for me, because while I liked Don't I didn't really like it, which is the criterion for four stars. However, that's me, a woman who NEVER watches basketball and am beyond Titus's demographic as well.
I gave it four stars because I realized just how many people I'd recommend it to - I can't figure out which of several basketball-loving family and friends to pass it along to. It's hilarious, a great behind-the-curtains look at sports; and a welcome relief from the zeitgeist of over-the-top admiration, respect, and pay for entertainers -- and their tedious books on why they deserved to reach the top.
Titus writes that although he does have a competitive side, basically he "just want[ed] to be good enough to make it consistently fun."
What comes through is a smart, smart-ass guy who must have been the catch of his high school (he was the quarterback of the football team and the best basketball player on the school team). His dad was a coach, and he was also in club basketball in middle school, a 6 foot 2 kid playing on the best AAU team ever assembled. He was the only white boy on that team, and gets into race issues just a bit, again with humor, and he also talks about coming to grips with the fact that he wasn't going to play pro basketball.
Now think of the time in your life when you realized that what you had always wanted to be was an impossibility. Maybe it was when you figured out that you'd almost certainly never get to be the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire because it sadly doesn't exist anymore. Or maybe it was when you decided that being a doctor involved way too much school for your liking and/or you weren't smart enough. Or, more likely, you realized that you couldn't be a carnie because you didn't smell like a combination of meth and stale cotton candy, you didn't have a balding mullet, and you weren't missing over half of your teeth...
After my sophomore year at Ohio State, I had my realization. No matter how much I had wanted to be a Big Ten basketball star, it was never going to happen. Some would say this made me a failure, but that's an incorrect assessment because before my career was over and my window of opportunity closed, I changed my goal so I wouldn't technically fail. (It's a very popular strategy among us underachievers.) Out was my dream of being a star college basketball player and in its place was my new dream of simply making the most of the cards I was dealt and having as much fun as I possibly could for my last two years of college...
This is definitely not the book to offer up to an idealistic sixth grader who has his or her whole life ahead of them. It's rather a book for the rest of us, who have a lot of our life behind us, and are never going to be star basketball players, ballerinas, or even president. Titus shows how to get over it. Funny, funny stuff unless you're too liable to cringe at adolescent grossness.
This was a firstreads win for me -- and also either for Danny, Kira, Josh or Jack, one of whom will get it soon.(less)
I love to read historical novels - often the fictionalized stories of women engaging with power and wealth. While a few of the best writers can take c...moreI love to read historical novels - often the fictionalized stories of women engaging with power and wealth. While a few of the best writers can take commoners and produce gripping tales, most writers tell the dramatic stories of princesses, or perhaps the beautiful but impoverished aristocrat or actress who catches the king's eye.
(As a liberal with absolute belief in the goodness of fairness, solidarity, and the importance of the middle class and safety nets, I can't explain why I and so many like me love the royalty so much!)
Joanne King Herring is the modern-day equivalent of those princesses and impoverished aristocrats. She caught the eye of several kings - and counts, dukes, CEOs, presidents - and she impacted world history. Julia Roberts played Herring in Charlie Wilson's War, and a better title for that might have been Joanne Herring's War. Herring was the impetus behind that story, just as Helen was the impetus behind the Trojan war - except far better, because Herring was master of her own fate; she believed in arming the Afghans, and made it happen.
She's not only smart but also beautiful, caring, and able to pass along some of her values and tactics. She's savvy enough to have written her memoir with a co-writer, probably part of why it's so well done. Diplomacy and Diamonds and Herring are both winners - this reader was left thinking how great it would be to be counted among her friends and fantasizing about living her life - despite disagreeing with much of what she did politically (I disagree with arming the Afghan rebels back during the 1980s) and knowing that my values wouldn't play with either the high society or the Texas oil Republicans she hobnobs with. That hasn't taken away one whit from my enjoying this book. Her story is worth reading.(less)