I was recommended this book by my uncle, and stumbled upon a copy for very cheap. It doesn't sound like the type of book I'd usually like, and the sum...moreI was recommended this book by my uncle, and stumbled upon a copy for very cheap. It doesn't sound like the type of book I'd usually like, and the summary as given on GoodReads is pretty much exactly it. I read the entire book in one sitting.
It is a quiet story. One man, doing work. It is not a sad story, despite the presence of sad things. Rather for me, it was inspiring. A friend of mine, quoting some famous person or another, has a line about "If you're ever trying as hard as you can, you can't try any harder. That is just as hard as you can." In this book, Stoner lives as hard as he can, and no harder. He becomes a English professor and a teacher. No more, no less.
The story is written in a very spare style, a bit like a more modest Cormac McCarthy. It's incredibly effective in bringing forth the humility of Stoner himself.
For me, the book was incredibly comforting. I'm at the age where my future looks incredibly daunting and my past looks like just a waste. Reading Stoner made me realize that it's okay. It's very reassuring in a way that I'm really not conveying to have a guy like Stoner as the protagonist, not as a Greek or Byronic hero but as a more normal type of hero. I have this very big fear of being shuffled to co-star status in my own life, or not fulfilling what I think I ought to. This book did a great job reassuring me on that front, in a lot of ways that I was told books like Sam Lipsyte's The Ask was supposed to do.
Then I started dealing with law school again, and got depressed and hopeless. welp.(less)
It seemed interesting that Gavrilis used Central Asia and Ottoman Balkans for his case studies, but ultimately there's just too much noise to prove hi...moreIt seemed interesting that Gavrilis used Central Asia and Ottoman Balkans for his case studies, but ultimately there's just too much noise to prove his thesis on how interstate boundaries should be and commonly are treated. The concept of a "Border mixing zone" instead of a thin line is interesting, and I'd love to see it developed further, but this book seemed a bit too hazardly researched and not very well written either. It could develop into something truly fascinating, but it ain't there yet.(less)
There's a pretty rad book exchange off a side street in Asmali Mescit neighborhood here in Istanbul. Full of old folks who tell awesome stories and le...moreThere's a pretty rad book exchange off a side street in Asmali Mescit neighborhood here in Istanbul. Full of old folks who tell awesome stories and let you take books from 'em for free...yeah, it's a good deal.
And I was sitting there, trying to find some more books, when I stumbled upon The History of Danish Dreams. Considering I have Danish friends and turn into a deaf mute whenever talk gets going about their homeland, I figure it would be a good introduction. And the author apparently is an ex-mountaineer, ex-fencer, and ex-ballet dancer, so he seems like the kind of dude I'd patronize.
So the book follows 4 generations or so of a family tree from Denmark's medieval feudalism into the 1970's. Apparently most of that change happens in the 20th century, and the book could be better called "Denmark in the 1900's: a novel"
There's some likable characters and some fun quotes. The 1920's were an awesome time to be rich, apparently. And lawyers and the law make for terrible people, but if you ran in my circles, you'd know this already.
And honestly, I finished this book a few weeks ago and it didn't make that much of an impression on me. Maybe it was a mediocre translation, who knows? But let's just move on and start talking about Central Asia again sometime soon.(less)
I'm usually pretty hestitant to give wholehearted "Read This Book" recommendation to anything. But read this book. Giustozzzi has taken time away from...moreI'm usually pretty hestitant to give wholehearted "Read This Book" recommendation to anything. But read this book. Giustozzzi has taken time away from writing two books to edit this collection. I really like what he did. He got 12 writers (plus himself) to come together and have everyone write 15-40 pages about their focus in Afghanistan. Most writers chose to look at a province or a region, while others looked at something a bit more systemic. Overall, you get many readable articles that are dense with information. Some I agreed with, some I thought were coming out of left field, but by putting them all togehter, Giustozzi lets you see everyone's opinions and form your own. In such a politically loaded topic, there's something to be said for that.
The writers range from Gretchen Peters (who Joshua Foust has already written a lot about and I pretty much agree) to an Afghan in Zabul writing under a pseudonym. There is lots and lots of food for thought, too. Joanna Nathan's piece on the Taliban's branding was right up my alley, and others may like Graeme Smith's notes on the structure of the Taliban. There's really something for everyone in the book, and you can be pretty well-served by reading the whole thing. It's great for plane trips (and starting fun conversations on plane trips). It's also interesting to see who writers' audiences are. David Kilcullen has a chapter, and its very obvious that he's writing with the military in mind. Martine van Biljert sounds like a politician. There are blurbs on everyone at the back of the book, so it's fun to reference that back and forth.
My personal MVPs of the book are Mohammad Osman Tariq Elias on Kabul, Logar, & Wardak and Sippi Azerbaijani Moghaddam on the north. Both were incredibly informative in very short articles, and both raised lots of questions as well as good answers. I didn't read either of them all that much beforehand, but now my eyes are going to be peeled for them from hereon out.
I've already raised a fuss about one footnote in this book, but there was another one that was also weird. Moghaddam references a 2005 paper that says the following: Thanks to the CIA’s 51 million US dollar grant to the University of Nebraska to produce pictorial textbooks glorifying jihad, killing, maiming and bombing other human beings was made sufficiently entertaining. Sadism could now be cultivated as a virtue. That was when madrasa doors were opened to the mass of the poor. The new “education” they received was to hate the Russians, later generalised to include any non-Muslim. Jews, Hindus and Christians figured prominently and out of it came the expression of a Yahud-Hunud-Nasara conspiracy against Islam. That sounds a bit extreme, and a rough google search of that dug up a lot of the sort of frayed edges of internet that I'd prefer not to link to. It's more weird than inherently wrong, I suppose, but it's still pretty darn weird. Occam's Razor makes a hashing out of that.
I think any overarching theme of the book is that of the Neo-Taliban's governing capabilities. Decoding the New Taliban shows many different sides of the Taliban's structure, and when put together, one can see that while the Taliban likes to think of itself as a state and conduct itself as a state, the Afghanistan under the Taliban did not even approach fulfilling government functions. And nowadays, as it purports to be more of a revolution than a simple insurrection, it still has not been able to provide a government. I'm talking about a very objective "can they tax their citizens, provide services, and maintain a monopoly on violence" sort of way. Decoding the New Taliban shows the many ways they are attempting this, but also how and why they are falling short. I would estimate that a plurality of the book focuses on their capabilities of violence, but there is certianly much more to the Neo-Taliban then that. I, personally, find it interesting to see how the many parts of it come together to form this inchoate version of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
So it is absolutely something worth reading, and the book should be in most university libraries for your borrowing enjoyment. I'm pretty sure that newbies and experts can all get something out of it, and once again, it was great to read something about Afghanistan that wasn't overtly political nor acutely academic (by which I mean taking great difficulties to avoid getting into politics, which can often just obfuscate a book about current events).(less)
WW2-era Kyrgyzstan is a pretty interesting place. With all the healthy men at the front, the farm work is done by the wives and the younger brothers....moreWW2-era Kyrgyzstan is a pretty interesting place. With all the healthy men at the front, the farm work is done by the wives and the younger brothers. The story is told from a younger brother's perspective of a trip taken with his sister-in-law. The landscape is the true protagonist; rural Kyrgyzstan is a beauty to behold.
It's a short story, and it can be found online, for free, pretty easily. I read it in a there-back ride on the metro. You should, too.(less)
So this is, I think, my third Rushdie book I've read. I think my favorite part of reading multiple books by the same guy is that you get a sense of wh...moreSo this is, I think, my third Rushdie book I've read. I think my favorite part of reading multiple books by the same guy is that you get a sense of what characters he likes and what gets set aside for another book. I found about three side characters in this book that made their way into Enchantress of Florence. It's funny that way. There's like a little Rushdie universe that gets deconstructed and remade in a new image every book, where the same personalities get recast and put into new relationships. It's fun to read, you can almost see it as an experiment where he sees who clashes with who, who falls in love, and who gets to be the hero.
In The Moor's Last Sigh, though there is no hero. I mean, sure, there's a protagonist, but Moraes Zogoiby is noone's hero. Least of all his own. He's hardly even the focus of the story. One would argue that the entire da Gama side of his family, three generations of women so strong and beautiful they could only exist in book form, are the heroes. Except for the family drama that intercepts their family business (spices!) and the proof that all of the da Gamas (and Zogoibys, and any other family mentioned) are all hideously morally corrupt. In many ways its a Follett novel in India.
And that is the other argument, I suppose. That this book isn't about family, its about India. There's lots of inside jokes...wordplay, codeswitching, and the like, which require some background on India to get. And for those that don't know India that much? There's wikipedia. I love the wordplay, though, it makes it fun and lighthearted to read, even when we're talking about the illegal labor market of Bombay. The lightheartedness of it even can serve to emphasize how awful some of these things are.
In my personal opinion, Moor's Last Sigh isn't as good as the other two I've read, Enchantress of Florence and Shalimar the Clown. Again, this is just me. Moor's Last Sigh was up for some pretty awesome awards, so I may very well be in the wrong here. But I just felt that it wasn't as tightly written or as detailed, because of the family issue and the fact that there are so many "main characters" to focus on. And as much as Rushdie focuses on and raphsodizes about Bombay, I never really had a Feeling of Bombay. It isn't an ode to the city, as much as it talks about how wonderful the city is. I've never been to Bombay. I have no more, or less, desire to go after reading this book. Bombay is almost a non-place in this book, like something out of BLDGBlog. Though I suppose that could be on purpose, because Moraes never truly "lived" in Bombay, or anywhere else for that matter. But for all of these huge questions and sketchinesses in the book, somehow, because he says so, everything falls in its right place.(less)
Taken from the memories of Ms. Freely's youth in Istanbul, its about a bunch of college kids trying to foment revolution against the heavy-handed (and...moreTaken from the memories of Ms. Freely's youth in Istanbul, its about a bunch of college kids trying to foment revolution against the heavy-handed (and nefariously Deep) State in '60s Turkey. Its a solid backdrop for a story...true love, lust, the delta between the two, all taking place with Daddy Issues and evading state security. Because when you're 13-20, everything that happens to you is The Most Important Thing Ever. So why not write a book where it actually, in some small way, is like where you staying with your boyfriend has international implications?
I'm obviously a target audience, what with going to Istanbul at a young point in my life. So even though I read reviews where folks complained about not "getting" the locale, I actually do, sorta. And fighting imperialism, rebelling against parents, all that sort of thing is all my sort of thing to. So yeah, if you studied abroad and have an overinflated sense of yourself, you're the target audience too.
Freely is famous for being Orhan Pamuk's translator first and foremost, and this is, I believe her first novel. And it is a bit uneven, and some characters are a bit wooden, and things are generally not absolutely fantastic, or even on Pamuk's level. But it's a fun, taut, pageturner. Its a good mystery/romance novel for twenty-somethings. So its a fun book. I won't necessarily recommend it to all of my friends, but I'd give it to a girl who just came back from studying in Istanbul or something. Its full of coasties, privileged diplomats' kids, and hard-boiled journalists, and everyone in the book is super-fantastic. So its a fun read...just more like Grisham than Pamuk. Not that there's anything wrong with that.(less)
Thomas Barfield is probably one of the foremost American scholars of Afghanistan, and he's been doing it for long before it was politically relevant....moreThomas Barfield is probably one of the foremost American scholars of Afghanistan, and he's been doing it for long before it was politically relevant. And his book really shows this, cutting through 500 years of history in 350 pages. Barfield is concise when he needs to be, chatty when he needs to be, and does a good job connecting threads and generally making things logical and readable. For an intro to Afghanistan -- or if you're going to read one book about Afghanistan -- this is probably it.
At the same time, I think it's somewhat obvious that there are ellidations to bring the book to a conversational level and there are some clear editorial nudgings towards "Hey Tom! Make this about Terrorism!" that he accepts begrudgingly. I'd rather he have had 600 pages then to try and crush everything down into a book you can easily be seen carrying.
Some of the historiography, especially, seems rushed. He keeps on mentioning ibn Khaldun without mentioning any of the historians that come from his tree of theory. This really flies in the face of "Islam is an always-changing religion with an always-changing story", which is one of his biggest points. The constant references back to Khaldun come at the expense of constantly updating Khaldun and adjusting how Afghans saw themselves in the world order. It makes things too black and white when he's spending many of his words impressing upon the many shades of gray.
So it's a great introduction. Barfield knows this stuff way better than I do, and is certainly one of the few people you can lean back and trust in a book about Afghanistan. There are quibbles, of course, but goodness, there are quibbles about everything. Don't let that stop you.(less)
Oh wow. It's a small collection of short stories, and it's probably the only short story collection I've read. At least since high school. (EDIT: Besi...moreOh wow. It's a small collection of short stories, and it's probably the only short story collection I've read. At least since high school. (EDIT: Besides Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned) I have friends who love short stories, but I always thought I'd rather have something long to really chew on.
With that skepticism in hand, I bought this as an e-book based solely off an Aaron Bady reference to "a kid in 19th century Ohio who has visions of 9/11" which is about as perfect an elevator pitch as I thought you could have. But there are better ones in the book: a high schooler with a dead dad who discovers that he is the antichrist, a child inhabited by the spirits of those killed on 9/11, and that sort of thing. There is an awful lot of "the same" in the books: lots of sick children, lots of 9/11, but those are pretty ripe areas for exploration so it's hard to get too surprised or upset by that.
And they're all pretty incredible stories. In every story, the first few paragraphs are things of wonder. I usually read them and sighed, angry that I can't write like that. And then I would read them again and again, before I even got to the story.
But the stories are fantastic. Lots of kids in there that I could really empathize with, lots of adults that I hoped I'd never become. They are all quite spellbinding in their use of the surreal and dark in otherwise "normal" settings. And yeah, I suppose it's all a bit gringo and suburban, but considering that's the element I grew up in, I can't get too worked up about it.
The amount of darkness and genuine occult stuff was pretty fascinating. I've never had to read a book with the lights on before. This was worth it. (less)