Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring Reading Thing 2007

What a fun way to serenade in spring! This challenge is hosted by Katrina, over at Callapidder Days.

Overlapping slightly with some other challenges, here are my spring picks:
1. Digging to America by Anne Tyler
2. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
3. Red Earth and Pouring Rain - Vikram Chandra (Chunkster Challenge)
4. I, Rigoberta Menchu by Rigoberta Menchu (TBR Challenge)
5. The Bone People - Keri Hulme (Reading Across Borders)

Bee Season - Myla Goldberg

I have been MIA for a little while, but it has been for a very good reason. Recently, we saw two little lines-on a pregnancy test! We have a little one on the way (our first)! Needless to say, our home has been filled with oodles of excitement recently, and my attention span is practically nil. Now that things are calming down somewhat, life is coming back to normal. Except for the multiple trips to the bathroom. And very tender breasts. And an amazingly strong sense of smell. And extreme fatigue...

On to the book review.Title: Bee Season
Author: Myla Goldberg
Year: 2000
Pages: 275pgs Rating: C-
Book From: Personal library (acquired from a colleague)

Eliza Naumann has always lived in the shadow of her multi-talented family. When she wins the school spelling bee, and quickly progresses to the nationals, she finally catches the attention of her father, her sees in her an untapped gift, as his Jewish scholar prodigee. What starts out as a story of a spelling bee whiz quickly descends to a hodgepodge of family dramas: a brother that foregoes his strong religous beliefs in Judaism (he was on the path to becoming a rabbi) to convert to Hare Krishna; a lawyer mom whose hidden secret is ultimately her undoing; and a scholar father who brings Eliza into the world of Kabbalism and Jewish mysticism.

Meh. Bee Season had a promising premise, but was ultimately boring and predictable. The numerous metaphors felt forced, and were overused. Despite the complexity of the multiple story lines, most of the characters were flat, particularly Miriam, the mother. There were only two parts I enjoyed about the novel: learning a bit more about Kabbalism, although I would definitely have to do further research to weed out fiction from fact; and the description of the "place" that Miriam was obsessed with (to say more would be giving away a large spoiler).

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Moon is Down - John Steinbeck

“My whole work drive has been aimed at making people understand each other.”
- John Steinbeck

Title: The Moon is Down
Author: John Steinbeck
Year: 1942
Pages: 144 pgs Rating: A-
Book From: Personal library (I commandeered my father's Steinbeck collection)

I love John Steinbeck. I have read a large portion of everything he has written. And I always enjoy reading one of his novels for the first time. This definitely holds true for The Moon is Down.

Continuing on with my March Madness’ John Steinbeck theme read, I just finished this short novel. It is a departure from many of his other novels. First of all, it does not take place in North America, but is located in Europe during a thinly veiled World War II. Written in 1942 at the height of the Second World War, Steinbeck was criticized and attacked for his humanistic portrayal of the German invaders. Was he daring to suggest that Nazi soldiers could be a human being? Well, yes. He does not forgive or condone their actions, but simply tells a story in the way that he does best, portraying people that want to be understood. In this case, that just happens to be occupying soldiers who are part of a larger force that commits horrendous atrocities.

The story has two sides. On one is the courageous story of a small, close-knit community (probably located in Norway), that is occupied by an un-named invader (Germany). It is a story about villagers that do not accept defeat, but silently and diligently continue their fight for freedom. On the other side are the occupying soldiers, mostly young men who have never engaged in any form of combat. As time passes, and their continued presence is abhorred, you witness the soldier’s growing yearning to return home, to be able to walk the streets without fear of reprisals, to eat at a restaurant in which their food is not purposely over salted or spit in. They long for human companionship, kindness and understanding. They strive to escape from the inevitable terror of war-time occupation. It is solely the reader that has the privilege of understanding both sides, as they are destined to never understand each other.

On the inability to fully and completely occupy a village, a person:
Lanser looked at him and smiled a little sadly. “We have taken on a job, haven’t we?”
“Yes,” said the Mayor, “the one impossible job in the world, the one thing that can’t be done.”
“And that is?”
“To break man’s spirit permanently.”
“All invaded people want to resist.”

On remembering the horrors of war, and understanding:
Orden said quietly, “A man of certain memories.”
Lanser stopped in the middle of an order. He looked over slowly at the Mayor and for a moment they understood each other. And then Lanser straightened his shoulders. “A man of no memories!” he said sharply.

I will be taking a mini-break from Steinbeck to head back to the much-neglected TBR challenge, and have just started reading Bee Season by Myla Goldberg.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Grapes of Wrath

Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Year: 1939 Pages: 473pgs
Rating: A
Book From:
Personal collection (originally my father's)

Grapes of Wrath is a story about ordinary people stuck in hard times. They strive to preserve their humanity in the face of overwhelming odds, and people who view them as little more than wild beasts: “Well, you and me got sense. Them goddamn Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain’t human. A human being wouldn’t live like they do. A human being couldn’t stand it to be so dirty and miserable. They ain’t a hell of a a lot better than gorillas.” Steinbeck’s epic novel personifies the nature of (in)equality and (in)justice in Depression-era America.
The migration west during the Dust Bowl involved hundreds of thousands of people. John Steinbeck’s style incorporates the plight of one family, the Joads, while interspersing chapters that chronicle the struggle that is taking place on a much larger level. It is stark, real, and extremely powerful.

The Grapes of Wrath is one of the great masterpieces of American Literature. You feel the bitterness and loss as the Joad family looks upon Uncle John’s home for the last time; taste the cherished coffee that quickly becomes a luxury; and feel the confusion and hurt the first time Ma Joad is called an Okie. It is a story that depresses me. But, more than anything, and I believe is true to Steinbeck’s purpose in writing this book, it is a story that makes me angry. It makes me angry to know that so many Americans starved because people were afraid, disgusted, and in denial. It makes me angry because, more than 60 years later, many things have not changed. Only the face of migrant labor has changed, from downtrodden Americans, to downtrodden Mexicans and other immigrants. I first read this book in 10th grade, and at the time it had a profound impact on me, stirring both my love for John Steinbeck and a desire to help those in need. Ten years after I first read it, and it still has a powerful affect on me.

The feeling that there is no possibility for starting over:
“You’re not buying only junk, you’re buying junked lives.”

On religious difference in the labor camps:
The string band took a reel tune-up and played loudly, for they were not practicing anymore. In front of their tents the Jesus-lovers sat and watched, their faces hard and contemptuous. They did not speak to one another, they watched for sin, and their faces condemned the whole proceeding.
"Wisht I knowed what all the sins was, so I could do ‘em."

The sound of dissent being stirred:
There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates--died of malnutrition--because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.
The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Themed Reading

While I procrastinate a bit on getting back to Grapes of Wrath (I love the book, it's just so disheartening), I revert to a favorite procrastinating activity: list-making. So, my lists today relate to some theme-reading posts going around at the moment.

If I were to be denied book-buying, and the library, here are some theme-reads from my bookshelf in which I could occupy myself (all books I have not yet read):

- Australia: The New World, pub. By Granta
- Oscar and Lucinda: Peter Carey
- Living with Crazy Buttocks – Kaz Cooke

Classics by Male Authors:
- Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe
- Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
- The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot
- Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
- Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
- Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
- The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Politics/Current Events:
- Standing Alone – Asra Q. Nomani
- Jihad vs McWorld by Benjamin Barber
- Hidden Agendas – John Pilger
- The Algebra of Infinite Justice – Arundhati Roy
- International Human Rights in Context – Steiner

- A Doll’s House – Henrik Ibsen
- Phaedra – Jean Racine
- Andromache – Jean Racine
- No Exit – Jean Paul Sartre
- The Misanthrope – Moliere
- Twenty Seven Wagons Full of Cotton - Tennessee Williams

Books By Barbara Pym:
- A Glass of Blessings
- Some Tame Gazelle
- An Unsuitable Attachment
- Sweet Dove Died

That would keep me going for a good six months, I believe!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Desert Flower

Title: Desert Flower
Author: Waris Dirie
Year: 1998
Rating: C
Pages: 228 pgs
Book is from: Public Library

Desert Flower is the autobiography of Waris Dirie, a fashion model and human rights activist. Waris was raised in a nomadic Somali family. Until the approximate age of 13, she slept out under the stars every night, had never used a toilet, and subsisted mainly on camel's milk. When confronted with marrying a 60-year old man, she fled her home, leaving behind her beloved mother and siblings, and walked across hundreds of miles of desert to a new life. The story follows her through her time in Mogadishu, living in London as a maid for the Somali ambassador, and her discovery and catapult into the world of modelling.

I was really disappointed with this book, but it was very interesting to read it with the story of Aman so fresh in my mind. There are numerous discrepancies between both books, with each claiming certain traditions/lifestyles as the "Somali way of life". Yet, unlike Aman, Waris makes very little acknowledgement of separate ways of life in Somalia between city/bush and different tribes and minority groups. There are also some gaps in her story that seem to have been left out.

Another of my gripes? The language. Now, I am a VERY liberal person, and also the first to admit I can spew some unwarranted obscenities when angry. But the foul language in this book felt very artificial and vulgar to me. It completely detracted from the story. A small redemption? The breath that brings this book to life is the descriptions of how FGM has affected Waris' life, and her shift in becoming a strong and passionate advocate for women's rights in both Africa and Muslim cultures.

On seeing white people for the first time:
While I unwrapped and devoured my candy, I examined the white people around me. They looked cold and sickly to me. "You need sun," I would have said to them if I had known English; I assumed this problem was a temporary condition. They couldn't always look like that, could they? These people must have turned white because they'd been out of the sun too long.

On returning to Africa:
I ran and touched the ground and rubbed the earth between my fingers. I touched the trees. They were dusty and dry, but I knew it was time for the rains soon, then everything would blossom. I sucked the air into my lungs. It held the scents of my childhood memories, all those years when I lived outside and these desert plants and this red sand were my home. Oh, God, this was my place.

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday

  1. How many books would you say you read in an average month?
    Last year, I averaged about 6 books/mo. Since Jan, I've been reading about 8/mo.

  2. In a year?
    2005: 64 books
    2006: 68 books
    2007: 16 and counting

  3. Over the last five years?
    See above, that's as far back as I've kept track.

  4. The last 10?
    My pleasure reading increased significantly in 2003, after I completed my Master's. Before that, academic reading took up pretty much all of my reading time.