Monday, April 28, 2008
A memoir of Barbara Kingsolver and her family's attempt of eat food produced by themselves or in their own Virgina neighborhood for a year. This is my first book of Kingsolver's, and she is intelligible, funny, and educational in this book. I learned quite a lot about gardening, industrial and rural farming, and turkey sex among other things. Self-sufficiency in food has always interested me, so the idea of raising animals for one's own consumption, making cheese, or having a fertile garden greatly appeals to me. I would highly recommend the book for people interested in changing their lifestyle and food choices to one that is more local and organic. The book has recipes, but it is not a diet book, nor is it preachy. They do provide information about the food industry and the world markets as result which can make you a better consumer in regards to food. This is a food memoir of a family, and there details of family dynamics, travels, and experiences in their new farm life. I particularly enjoyed Kingsolver's attempts at turkey raising and her daughter's Lily's entrepreneurial venture into the egg business. Another enjoyable nonfiction book on food.
Crossposted from Aquatique.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
“That Felicia Sullivan survived her early life would be miracle enough. That she has painstakingly assembled the shards of her past into the glittering architecture of this extraordinary memoir strikes me as a considerable moral, human, and artistic achievement.” – Dani Shapiro, author of Family History
This book wasn’t exactly what I was imagining it to be. With a title of Dog Years and a genre of memoir, it was obvious it would be about someone’s life with dogs. However it’s more than that. It delves into the author’s life more than the average memoir and in fact, it’s labelled with a biography sticker at my library. The first 4 chapters I found quite dry and hard to follow. The antedotes about the dogs were interesting but he seemed to ramble on about his life and his view of life. From chapter 5 on however it got better. The stories got more interesting and I could tell there was a shift in style so that the story flowed easier. Speaking of style, Doty’s writing style is quite sophisticated, probably because he’s a poet. Being a poet also influenced his choice of quotes. Emily Dickinson is quote many times throughout the book. This book is also a vocabulary booster with such words as inchoate, concomitant and hegemony. Here are some quotes that show his unusual style: “…, and cannot say just how it mattered so,…." - p.2
“…until the tongue tires.” – p.3 Also the first 2 words of each group of paragraphs is bolded. I found this odd but not bothersome.Two things the potential reader should know about:
The book contains some adult language.
Mark Doty is gay and since this is also a biography of sorts, his being gay comes up throughout the book. Personally I would hope this wouldn’t make a difference whatsoever in your reading but unfortunately it is the case with some. I found it refreshing to read a book by a Gay person that wasn’t actually ABOUT being gay. I read a Large Print edition from Harper Luxe and while I don’t know about other printing’s, this one had quite a few typos like periods in the middle of words. There is also a small part where it seems to me as if the wrong word was used but I’m no English major so if it’s correct as is, please someone let me know! “…it is hard to apprehend five thousand deaths;” – p.6
Overall the book was a pretty good read. If I had read Doty’s poetry and enjoyed poetry, I probably would have enjoyed it a little more.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
By John Grogan
Completed April 26, 2008
I think everyone knows this tale of a man, his family and their dog, Marley. This book chronicles the Grogans and life with their mischievous Marley, who behind the chewed shoes and hyperactivity, was a beloved member of the family until his death at age 13.
John Grogan did a good job showing how animals become a part of your life - and indeed your family. For many families, pets are their only "babies" while others mix children with animals with room in their hearts for all. As a member of the latter, I could not imagine life without my pets. If you feel this way too, then Marley and Me is the book for you.
Personally, I found many parts of this book to be boring. I also found many of the adults' (aka the masters') decisions to be questionable. Marley was depicted as a knucklehead, but I think he was way smarter than his owners, totally wrapping them around his paw. Perhaps that was the point of it all.
Moreover, I think you have to be a dog owner to fully appreciate this story. If you are, then check out this cute book about a cute dog. For cat owners like me, this book may remind you why you chose a life with whiskers, purrs and kitty litter. =) ( )
(cross-posted from my blog)
I first heard about this book through Dewey for the graphic novel challenge. Thanks so much, Dewey, for introducing me to this astounding work.
Highly recommended to all.
1986, 161 pp.
The continuation of Maus, and subtitled And Here My Troubles Began (From Mauschwitz to the Catskills and Beyond), Maus II is every bit as outstanding as Maus, and the two books really should be read together. In this book we learn more about the end of Vladek's life, and one of the questions that is posed from the book is:
They were survivors, but did they really and truly survive?
Art's struggles with his father's personality -- made so because of the war -- are clearly shown. He is very honest in his portrayal, even to the point of demonstrating his father's own prejudices -- something you would think would be non-existent in someone who had been persecuted himself.
Again, I highly recommend both books to all.
Serialized from 1973 to 1991, 127 pp.
Similar to the plight of the Kurds, the people of Darfur have had their lives shattered due to boundaries set by people not of their region. This brief, engaging book will not only enlighten you to the situation in Darfur, but will also make you question the wisdom of meddling in other countries' affairs at all.
2008, 189 pp.
Friday, April 25, 2008
No matter how much on the outside his parents and his family seemed integrated into the American lifestyle, inside their house some things were very different. The role of food, for example. Where all Peter's friends were served instant and deep-frozen dinners that were eaten in five minutes, dinner at the Balakian's was a family affair that took time and consisted of several homemade dishes. And then there were the Sunday gatherings of relatives at the Balakian's or Peter's aunts. These gatherings lasted for hours and Armenian food was an important part of them.
Then there was Peter's grandmother who doted on him, her eldest grandson. From time to time, out of the blue, she would tell Peter a snippet of her memories, a story, things that remained unconnected and that Peter didn't understood at all throughout his youth.
This first part of the book goes above and beyond being specifically a memoir of an Armenian youth in the US. It can in many ways be read as the history of an immigrant childhood in the US, maneuvering between being American and keeping one's ethnic heritage.
In his twenties Peter becomes aware of his heritage, of what happened to Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I and of how his own relatives escaped the Genocide and ended up in the US. His family's history forms the second storyline in the book. The third is a more general history of the Armenian Genocide mixed with Balakian's raising awareness of it. It also covers Turkish continuous attempts at denying the Genocide.
Read the full post on my blog here.
Stanley's story is one that I never want to experience and he does a great job of explaining the details of all that happened to him. However, maybe I have a distorted view because I read a lot of suspense novels, but I found it to be lacking in oomph. Just the thought of being kidnapped arouses anxiety in me and I didn't feel any major fear from him throughout the whole episode. Yes, thankfully for his sake, he remained calm, which contributed to his survival, but for a written memoir I would have thought he would have chosen words that would instill a sense of fear or make it more suspenseful. He literally just wrote what happened. By no means am I suggesting that he embellish his story, but I think the manner in which it was told could have been more exciting.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Bitton-Jackson, Livia. 1999. My Bridges of Hope.
My Bridges of Hope is the sequel to I Have Lived A Thousand Years. It is the middle book in a trilogy of the author's memoirs. (Though each book can and does stand alone just fine.) The book opens with Elli Friedmann and her mother and brother returning to their home town of Samorin after they were liberated by the Russian soldiers. Unlike some of the other returning Jews, they did find their home relatively intact. Stripped of furniture, yes, but still standing. The neighbors are shocked, extremely shocked to see them again. Shocked that they're living skeletons. But most of their closest neighbors are helpful. They give what they can, do what they can to make the Friedmann's home habitable again. This doesn't mean that every neighbor is this nice. And it doesn't mean that the family's possessions are returned from the neighbors who took them for safekeeping at the beginning of the war. But a few are ethical enough to return and restore.
"Out of Samorin's more than five hundred Jewis citizens, only thirty-six returned, mostly young men and women. Those who did not--our children, parents, grandparents, siblings, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and lovers--have been replaced by an abyss." (18)
Imagine that if you will. Really think about it. My Bridges of Hope tells the stories of those in between years. Those years between 1945 and 1951 when Elli was growing up in such a strange and foreign environment. It looked a bit like her old home, her old town. But so many people missing, so many new people in their place, so many strangers--the Russians, the Communists coming to town and taking over. Nothing is ever the same, nothing could ever be the same.
In these years, Elli dreams of going to Israel. At the beginning of the book, it isn't even a state or nation yet. But the dreams, the Zionist dreams, are there both in Elli and in her friends. But it is decided that America will be their destination, if they can get in.
These are years of waiting and years of growing. A turbulent time of changing for Elli as she matures from a fourteen year old girl into a young woman of nineteen or twenty. The book records her hopes, her dreams, her loves, her losses, her disappointments.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Thursday, April 17, 2008
I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust is the memoir of Elli L. Friedmann. Born in Czechoslovakia, Elli along with her family were taken to Auschwitz when the ghettos were liquidated in 1944. The book covers the years 1944-1945, although it hints at what came before and what comes after. The book concludes with Elli and her remaining family members arriving in America in 1951.
Her prose is concise and powerful. As a child, she loved to write poems. And this is evident in her memoir. The imagery is strong; there is power in her words. The emotions resonate. When our story opens she is around the age of 13. Here is her description of when the Nazis came and her school was closed, "I weep and weep. I weep for my classroom, which is no longer my classroom. For the school that will never be my school again. I weep for my life, which will never be the same." A bit further on we read her description of what it was like to be shown where the family's treasure was buried. The unspoken words being that she may be the only one to survive. "I don't want to know the spot! I don't want to be the one to survive! I don't want to survive alone! Alone, I don't want to live. Oh God, I don't want to live if you don't! I don't want to know about anything! I don't want to know!"
Her descriptions are so powerful, so real. The way they are written, so straight-forward, so concise, instantly put me in her shoes. The people aren't just numbers, aren't just statistics, aren't just nameless, faceless strangers. They're real; they matter; their stories, their lives count.
This was a very powerful book for me. Elli's determination to survive, to ensure her mother's survival is so courageous, so incredible. The fact that hope and strength and courage and dignity can survive in the midst of such horror is amazing to me. Wonderfully amazing to me.
This book is definitely a must read.
The title of the book comes from the liberation scene. Elli and her brother and mother are all together. They are trying to survive until they can be liberated. Freedom is within their grasp, yet there is still danger and fear on the prowl. When they are liberated, Elli is taken for an old woman. They think she is a woman who is in her sixties, they're flabbergasted to learn that she is just fourteen years old. She says, "I am fourteen years old, and I have lived a thousand years." What great imagery.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
This was one of the most inspiring books I've read in a long time. In this memoir, Barbara Kingsolver describes the year that she and her family spent living on locally-grown livestock and produce, much of which they raised and grew on their own farm. Acknowledging the fast-paced and urban nature of modern American society, Kingsolver noted, "Most people of my grandparents' generation had an intuitive sense of agricultural basics: when various fruits and vegetables come into season, which ones keep through the winter, how to preserve the others." (p. 9) Yet today, most of our food is shipped over long distances and often from other countries, in order to be available to American consumers year-round. All this transportation requires fuel -- a waste and yes, a danger, given the threat of climate change.
This book is organized chronologically through the family's "year of eating locally," beginning in April with the first asparagus and the arrival of laying hens. In addition to their own food production, Kingsolver describes experiences with local food on a family vacation, as well as on a trip to Italy with her husband. Her husband and older daughter contribute essays, recipes, and sidebar topics that enrich the book and provide resources for the reader to conduct their own research on the subject.
I came to this book already interested in gardening, and in supporting our local farming community. I've now identified some initial steps I can take to increase the amount of local food on my own table. I'm not quite ready to raise (and yes, slaughter) my own livestock, nor am I going to swear off the supermarket altogether. But I'd like to think my actions will result in a healthier, tastier diet and make a small dent in fossil fuel consumption. ( )
My original review can be found here.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
In an Instant is a two part memoir, one about how the Woodruffs met and the other about Bob's recovery from the injuries he received when an IED exploded under the vehicle he was riding in. For the most part, Lee's memoir covers Bob's recovery. Bob's memoir in turn covers their courtship and marriage.
As Lee explains in the "About this Book" section, the process of writing was therapy for her during those tough weeks while Bob was in the medically induced coma. Bob's contribution to the book was also therapy and served as a way for him to recover. He had to relearn how to speak, write, walk and all the other things most adults take for granted.
For the gruesome details of Bob Woodruff's injuries, In an Instant is a fairly easy book to read. Lee's passages are by far the more interesting half of the book. Her descriptions of what happens to the body when it is hit by an IED are frank, raw and unglamorous. Bob's memories of his marriage and early career may be of interest to his fans but for me it interrupted the flow of an otherwise interesting book.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I feel rather split-brained about Burnt Bread and Chutney the memoir by Carmit Delman. Her book is both a biography (that of her maternal grandmother's life as a Bene Israel (Indian Jew) and a memoir of growing up poor in the United States and Israel. I enjoyed the bits about the grandmother but was bored by the rest of the book.
Carmit Delman tries to show how exotic her own life was growing up in the United States being not quite Indian-American and not quite Jewish-American but her descriptions of life here are banal and ordinary.
Her choice of subjects are universal: conflict between older and younger generations, blending of cultures between families and between country of birth and adopted country, the embarrassment of being poorer than friends, and so forth. Whenever the memoir seems to be stalling in one of these ever so ordinary passages, Delman would throw in a reminder that her life was fundamentally different because of her Indian ties and that by itself was not enough to make this memoir interesting or all that memorable.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Personal Rating 5/5
From the back cover:
Soon after the fall of the Taliban, in 2001, Deborah Rodriguez went to Afghanistan as part of a group offering humanitarian aid to this war-torn nation. Surrounded by men and women whose skills–as doctors, nurses, and therapists–seemed eminently more practical than her own, Rodriguez, a hairdresser and mother of two from Michigan, despaired of being of any real use. Yet she soon found she had a gift for befriending Afghans, and once her profession became known she was eagerly sought out by Westerners desperate for a good haircut and by Afghan women, who have a long and proud tradition of running their own beauty salons. Thus an idea was born.
With the help of corporate and international sponsors, the Kabul Beauty School welcomed its first class in 2003. Well meaning but sometimes brazen, Rodriguez stumbled through language barriers, overstepped cultural customs, and constantly juggled the challenges of a postwar nation even as she learned how to empower her students to become their families’ breadwinners by learning the fundamentals of coloring techniques, haircutting, and makeup.
Yet within the small haven of the beauty school, the line between teacher and student quickly blurred as these vibrant women shared with Rodriguez their stories and their hearts: the newlywed who faked her virginity on her wedding night, the twelve-year-old bride sold into marriage to pay her family’s debts, the Taliban member’s wife who pursued her training despite her husband’s constant beatings. Through these and other stories, Rodriguez found the strength to leave her own unhealthy marriage and allow herself to love again, Afghan style.
With warmth and humor,Rodriguez details the lushness of a seemingly desolate region and reveals the magnificence behind the burqa. Kabul Beauty School is a remarkable tale of an extraordinary community of women who come together and learn the arts of perms, friendship, and freedom.
Yep, a fiver! You know when a book has you scavenging the Internet for places to volunteer overseas that it has made an impact on you. I loved this book for two main reasons. Or I guess i should say for the two glimpses it gives you. The first is the glimpse it gives you into the life of Afghan women and the second is the glimpse it gives you into the life of the woman Debbie Rodriguez. Her dedication of the book tells you a lot about her "style"but leaves a lot of her "style"to be discovered
"This book is dedicated to my father, Junior Turner, who passed away June 5, 2002, while I was on my first trip to Afghanistan. Dad, I never got a chance to tell you about Afghanistan and the school. You left me too soon. I know you would love Sam, my husband--he is just like you, but Afghan style. I know you would be worried, but also very happy that I am following my dream. I miss you."Debbie Rodriguez is an spirited, tough, inspirational woman who just doesn't quit. She ends up in Afghanistan as part of a group of humanitarian workers and feels very out of place with the doctors, nurses, teachers, and engineers. She feels like she has no place there. She is just a lowly hair dresser. But when she is introduced with her group for the evening her job title brings down the house and she is instantly surrounded by women (& men) who just want a little pampering! She is needed just as much as the doctors, just in a different way.
Rodriguez comes to learn that her skills are actually very valuable because men cannot enter beauty salons (since women take off their veils and their hair can be seen). If she can teach women how to run their own salons they would ultimately be in control of their own money. Their husbands would never see how much they were actually making since they couldn't enter the salons. The women would for once have some small control over their own lives. They of course would have to turn their money over to their husbands but since he wouldn't know how much they were actually making...
So the book follows Debbie from the beginning of her quest for free donations and her joining of forces with Vogue and Clairol who had already begun to start a Kabul Beauty School, to her marriage to Sam (an Afghan) up until 2006 when her salon and the beauty school are locked up and Kabul is locked down due to political unrest.
I just kept reading and reading this book. I found it very inspirational and moving. I think anyone would enjoy this even if you do not normally enjoy non-fiction. It is just so eye opening to show us how another culture lives.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Frank, Anne. 1952. The Diary of A Young Girl.
"You're reading that again?" That's what my mother said as she caught me reading Anne Frank. Like I haven't read anything but this one book in all these years. She's right. I have read Anne Frank's Diary of A Young Girl before. But some things are worth repeating. Diary of A Young Girl is one of them. The first time I read this book, I would have been in high school. Close enough to Anne's age to feel it--the drama of adolescence on top of extreme political and social upheaval. The Diary of A Young Girl captures both. The war. The threat of death. The threat of captivity. The threat of starvation and disease. But it also captures youth. What it means to be young, to be at that ever-awkward stage in life, in development. Always a me-in-the-making, never quite done finding out who you are and what you believe and what you want out of life. Anne could be any girl in any place and time. But because she was born a Jew. Because Hitler came to power. Her life--her perfectly ordinary life--was cut short.
The book begins in June of 1942. The last entry is in August of 1944. In these two years, these two turbulent years, Anne and her family and several other people as well all go into hiding in the Secret Annexe. Mr. and Mrs. Frank. Margot, the older sister. Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan. Their son Peter. And Mr. Dussel. Eight people. Cramped living conditions. This isn't reality tv. This is life and death. Yes, every person gets super-cranky and super-sensitive. But wouldn't you?
The reader gets a glimpse into the lives of real people through the eyes of one very young sometimes-mature, sometimes-immature girl. Anne Frank. Very famous now because of her diary. But just then--at the moment--one very ordinary girl with a natural desire to write a diary. I think most kids (or teens) at one time or another try their hand at keeping journals. Though perhaps now, blogging has replaced all that. Diaries are intimate, personal, private. Each entry is a snapshot into that one day, that one hour, that one moment. When you're young, (and even when you're older and supposedly all grown up) your mood, your outlook changes moment by moment, day by day. Happy one minute, miserable the next. Such is the case with Anne. Personally, I'm surprised that Anne had as many happy moments, contented moments, grateful moment in the Annexe as she did. I think it would only be natural to be unhappy, scared, miserable, depressed. Living in cramped quarters with people you dislike, people you disagree with, not being able to go outside, to go anywhere you want. Not having the freedom to move, to make noise when you want. To always be on alert. To always worry about the threat of discovery, the threat of capture, the threat of bombs blowing you to bits. High stress. Very high stress.
But this isn't just a book about war, about being Jewish, about being a victim. This book is so much more than that. It's a book about growing up. A book about changing from a girl into a young woman with hopes and dreams and fears and desires. It's a book about being that age. That extremely awkward stage of life. My mom thought all people of that age should be shipped off to junior high island until they grew out of it. That moody, I-hate-you, you-don't-understand-me stage. Anne was a work-in-progress. There's no doubt about it. When we first meet her, she's entering that phase of life. She doesn't get along with her mother. At all. She feels completely disconnected from her. Misunderstood. Unloved. Unwanted. Unappreciated. And her relationship with her father is better, but not perfect. Sometimes she feels the disconnect with him too. And her sister. She feels that her parents love her sister more. That her sister gets all the praise, the love, the positive attention. And she feels that she gets attacked, bombarded with negative attention--lectures, lectures, more lectures. Everyone is always out-to-get-her. But though this does seem to be Anne's story, Anne's predicament, by the second half of the book, Anne is growing, changing, maturing. She looks back over past entries and realizes that things are different, things have changed. And she realizes that most of the changes were in her. She is beginning to build, to establish a better relationship with her family. She is beginning to get comfortable in her own skin.
Anne is someone I think we all can relate to in a way. Anne was just a girl. A girl with interests and hobbies. Likes and dislikes. She could be anybody.
The Diary of A Young Girl was originally published in Holland in 1947. It was soon translated into other languages, including English, and printed in the United States. 1952 is the first publication date for the United States. Almost from the very beginning, it was recognized as a good book, a powerful book, a book worthy of time and attention and respect. But it's not without its enemies.
Though I'll never in a million years understand the mindset of those that challenge books, I'll never ever ever understand why Diary of A Young Girl is one of their targets. I just don't understand it. Can't understand it. One challenge brought against the book stated that it was pornographic. How??? Why??? Fortunately, the challenge failed, and the book stayed on the shelves. I suppose pornography is subjective. But a young girl writing about her period is so not pornographic! A young girl writing about her breasts developing? Not pornographic. A young girl writing about her first kiss? Not pornographic. There is no talk, no hint of sex in the book. Though Anne spends the last part of the book making out with Peter, the son of the Van Daans. But it's not pornographic in the slightest. Not unless it's the mention of Anne reading a book where there is mention of a woman selling her body. Or perhaps it is the conversation about the cat's male organs that is so offensive to folks? Whether the cat is a tom cat.
I could go on for hours about all the suffering the war has brought, but then I would only make myself more dejected. There is nothing we can do but wait as calmly as we can till the misery comes to an end. Jews and Christians wait, the whole earth waits, and there are many who wait for death. (64)
I see the eight of us with our "Secret Annexe" as if we were a little piece of blue heaven, surrounded by heavy black rain clouds. The round, clearly defined spot where we stand is still safe, but the clouds gather more closely about us and the circle which separates us from the approaching danger closes more and more tightly. (115)
But seriously, it would seem quite funny ten years after the war if we Jews were to tell how we lived and what we ate and talked about here. Although I tell you [the diary] a lot, still even so, you only know very little of our lives. (192)
And if I haven't any talent for writing books or newspaper articles, well, then I can always write for myself. . . I want to go on living after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me. I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer? I hope so, oh, I hope so very much. (197)
Friday, April 4, 2008
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
One hundred thirty-two years before Linda Moore set out for Texas on her bike "Beastie", Isabella Bell set out by ship, train and finally horse for Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains. Like Linda, Isabella wrote about her entire journey in a series of seven letters which were later published in book form, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. Linda blogged about the experience and later published her experience as A Little Twist of Texas.
When I read through the first letter I was afraid I wouldn't enjoy the book because it was one long diatribe about how she regretted leaving Hawaii and how awful the train ride was. Rather than set it aside unfinished at the first letter, I read on to the second. By this second letter I was madly in love with the book. Isabella's letters reflect her mood as well as record the places and people she met along the way. When she is tired she grumbles. When she's well rested, she thrills at her adventure. She even includes passages about the history of the areas she visits and all I could think was: "She's snarfing!"
If you like travelogues and you like history, get yourself a copy A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. Then read A Little Twist of Texas and enjoy a modern version of the adventure.
Take a Stand, Rosa Parks! is one in a series of chapter book biographies Peter and Connie Roop have done for Scholastic. I have also read their book A Letter for Lincoln which I will be reviewing later in the month
Rosa Parks is best known for her refusal to give up her seat on James Blake's bus. Take a Stand explains the circumstances of Rosa's life that lead her to take on James Blake. Although the book is written for elementary school readers it is written well enough to hold an adult's attention too. The book is also illustrated. While 59 pages isn't long enough to fully understand Rosa Parks, it is a good introduction to this remarkable woman and the role she played in the Civil Rights movement.