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.
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)
I received this book through first giveaways and was charmed almost immediately. It's the memoir of a mother of two young...moreOr perhaps even five stars.
I received this book through first giveaways and was charmed almost immediately. It's the memoir of a mother of two young sons who agreed to go to China with her husband, and is diagnosed with breast cancer while she's there.
Conley's stepping out into a new culture bump up against her fears, and the resulting insights and story is absolutely unlike any of the other books about "my visit to China" on the market. (There are a bunch right now.) Conley's elegant writing left me lingering over passages... try:
I'm sitting in the small, windowless office and Dr. Holland's face begins to spin. This is the sneaky thing cancer does -- it displaces me. I believe it's ten in the morning on a Tuesday in Boston, but then I'm cast adrift on some roiling swell of mortality. I close my eyes. Thinking of my kids helps. Last night when I tucked Aidan into bed, he reached for me and announced, 'This hug will be for ten minutes.'
And then this:
Rose has sent me to Maine with a tiny brass charm in a green silk pouch. I carry it with me everywhere. On the small card inside he bag she's written:
Susan Conley will be okay! Susan Conley will be fine! Susan Conley will be all right!
I found myself thinking I knew Susan Conley, and absolutely rooting for her to "be all right!"
I received this book through the firstreads program, and it sat on my shelf for a while. Once I finally opened it and got into the first chapter, on t...moreI received this book through the firstreads program, and it sat on my shelf for a while. Once I finally opened it and got into the first chapter, on the Court's first twelve chief justices, I quickly needed to call a lawyer friend for a better explanation of the Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) case, which established - or actually didn't establish - U.S. law on sovereign immunity.
My putting the book aside for a while wasn't a judgment on its style - because Stevens writes beautifully. It was more my feeling not quite up to not understanding the cases that he breezily refers to. I don't depend upon Da Vinci Code's short chapters to boost my smarts self-esteem, but Five Chiefs was an uncomfortable stretch.
When I got back to the book, I decided to just plow through. I wouldn't call Jack or endlessly google the references, I'd just get what I could from the book. That actually turned out to be quite a bit.
* There have been great chief justices (including John Jay, John Marshall, William Howard Taft, Charles Evans Hughes, and Harlan F. Stone), adequate chief justices, and inadequate ones (including Roger Taney - author of Dred Scott - and William Rehnquist). * The justices disagree without being disagreeable. Stevens truly believes this. His harsher criticisms of the judges he served with - Rehnquist and Thomas in particular - are still couched in friendly disappointment. * You're more likely to become a justice if your name is Marshall, Rutledge, Chase, Harlan, Jackson, Johnson, Lamar, or White. * Most of the Court's decisions are in no way cut and dried, obviously right or wrong. And yet the justices clearly think about them within a legalistic/constitutional framework that often seems arbitrary.
For instance, Stevens writes about the Court's decision in Standard Oil Co. v. United States and United States v. American Tobacco Co., saying that the 1911 Court found that those companies had violated the Sherman antitrust law. "In reaching that result, [then Chief Justice] White discussed at length the so-called rule of reason — the rule stating that only acts that unreasonably restrain trade violate federal antitrust laws."
As I explained in an opinion written shortly after I joined the Court, it was necessary to adopt such a rule because a literal reading of the text of the Sherman Act would have outlawed the entire body of private contract law.
OK. But how can that possibly not end up being arbitrary?
Stevens, by the way, was appointed by President Ford, a Republican, and voted with conservatives until conservatives out-conservatived themselves into radicalism. He ended up escaping being boxed. He's kind of an old-school Republican libertarian moderate. Of the justices he's served with, he had the most good to say about Thurgood Marshall and the least good to say about the man who took Marshall's seat, Clarence Thomas.
I think that the very best insight Stevens offers comes on page 187, in relation to those two men.
While Thurgood's jurisprudence reflected an understanding that the Constitution was drafted "to form a more perfect union" - and thus to accommodate unforeseen changes in society - Justice Thomas's repeated emphasis on historical analysis seems to assume that we should view the Union as perfect at the beginning and subject to improvements only by following the cumbersome process of amending the Constitution.
Another important takeaway is Stevens's old-fashioned emphasis on etiquette and tradition, possibly part of the foundation of the justices' ability to work together despite sharp and momentous disagreements. Shaking hands. No stripes on the Chief Justice's robes (as Rehnquist initiated and Roberts declined to continue).
About those stripes:
Like the gold stripes on his robes, Chief Justice Rehnquist's writing about sovereignty was ostentatious and more reflective of the ancient British monarchy than our modern republic. I am hopeful that his writings in this area will not be long remembered.
Readers read and writers write for a variety of reasons (and actually, most of us read and write for more than one reason). Sven Birkerts's happiest r...moreReaders read and writers write for a variety of reasons (and actually, most of us read and write for more than one reason). Sven Birkerts's happiest readers will be those with the souls of poets, readers who linger over word choices, and who enjoy small observations, ones that would never be found in a thriller or love story or even a typical memoir.
Consider the beginning of his essay, "Brown Loafers":
Some years ago, before the big operations for heart and cancer that undermined him, long before he took his life, my great sad friend discovered the obsessive pleasures of fine clothing. Shirts, jackets, ties, accessories, shoes... They were his midlife capering, his solace, his way of contending with what all of us at this stage contend with—the profound gut feeling of the ebb. He didn't restrict himself completely to fashion. There was a sporty car, too—he drove it top-down like a pasha, not at all concerned that doing this fulfilled so exactly the cartoon cliché of the male animal's last stand...
This essay, like the rest of the essays that make up the chapters of this book, are the opposite of cliché. They aren't tied up in neat packages for the reader—harsher critics might even question whether they have a point.
They do have a point. But like most of life, they don't have ah-hah conclusions. They are, rather, more humble. Like life.
It's a book for patient readers, who can savor the fineness of the author's saying, "midlife capering" rather than skimming over "midlife crisis." I enjoyed it, in the same way I enjoy letters from my family - letters that give me insight into another person's life. That said, I am a reader who typically expects to be entertained a bit more than this collection of essays entertained. It will never be widely read, for that reason—just like poetry doesn't make the best-seller lists.
Recommended for those readers who don't demand vampires, magic, werewolves, nuclear disaster, or other popular thrills of the day.(less)
Although this book is fiction, you sense, reading it, that so much is based on the author's memories and his life that I also categorized it as memoir...moreAlthough this book is fiction, you sense, reading it, that so much is based on the author's memories and his life that I also categorized it as memoir.
The Wandering Falcon is an astonishing book, with an astonishing history. It's written in straightforward prose: here is what happened. And yet the stories are so exotic and at the same time somehow familiar that the book gathers an air of mystery and truth about itself.
Its author, Jamil Ahmad, is an 80-year-old man, who wrote it decades ago. Rebuffed by publishers, he put it away in a drawer. At last a relative asked him did he still have the manuscript, and perhaps the publishers would be more interested now, after 9/11.
It makes you wonder how many other masterpieces are in drawers.
The Wandering Falcon is made up of nine interlocking stories, which all include the book's title character. He's born in the first story, and perhaps marries, perhaps, in the last. In between he's a guide, saved by rebels, adopted by the family of a murdered boy, and so on - his life is a wheel of fortune of fate. It's a fate that would have turned out less happily had he been a girl, for the stories are set in the triangle of tribal lands across Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan.
The cultures are not appealing, and yet Ahmad tells the stories in ways that show how once these cultures might have been more appealing; certainly they included more kindness and were more sustainable.
His writing also shows how people find happiness despite hunger, loneliness, cold, and injustice; and find beauty in any wild landscape. Although I read an uncorrected proof, coming through a Goodreads giveaway, the language is so lovely it seems wrong not to at least give just a taste: "[Their land] offered them a thousand shades of gray and brown, with which it tinted its hills, its sands, and its earth. There were subtle changes of color in the blackness of the nights and the brightness of the days, and the vigorous colors of the tiny desert flowers hidden in the dusty bushes, and of the gliding snakes and scurrying lizards as they buried themselves in the sand. To the men, beauty and color were rampant around them..."
The Wandering Falcon shows that you don't need to read science fiction in order to slip into existence on what might as well be another planet.(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)
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)