Friday, February 29, 2008

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters

Title: Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters

Author: John Steptoe (also the illustrator)
Country: USA
Year: 1987
Rating: 5 out of 5

Just take a look, it's in a book - reading rainbow!

I had a little rush of excitement when I picked up this book and saw the reading rainbow sign. I haven't read a Reading Rainbow book in years!! And this one certainly does not disappoint.

First sentence: A long time ago, in a certain place in Africa, a small village lay across a river and half a day's journey from a city where a great king lived.

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters is based on an African folk tale first published in 1895; the illustrations were inspired by the ruins of an ancient city found in Zimbabwe. Both of Mufaro's daughters are beautiful on the outside. However, while Nyasha treats both the animal and human kingdom with love and kindness, her sister Manyara is a tad, prideful. When the king starts looking for a woman to be his queen, both sisters start out on a journey to the king's city to appear before him.

Both the story and illustrations are beautiful. You could spend all day with a young child pointing out all of the interesting tidbits found in the illustrations on each page (of course, what young child has that kind of attention span!). This picture book would be a great way to introduce your kids to folk talks from other cultures, as this one has a universal theme (a moral lesson on pride), and bears some similarity to the Western fairy tale Cinderella.

Friday Fill-In February 29

Woohoo to an extra day this year!

1. I'm looking forward to celebrating my birthday next week.
2. I don't handle things involving patience very well.
3. Fresh, organic, just picked strawberries are something I could eat every day. 
4. Warmth and sunlight are just around the corner. Come on Spring! 
5. Ready or not, here I come!
6. I like tattoo(s), but was too chicken to have any. After 24 hours of unmedicated labor, I've come to realize I could probably handle the pain of one tattoo.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to when I see my husband tomorrow (he left on Wednesday for an interview in Pasadena, CA, came back at 2am last night and started his 30 hour on-call shift at 5am), tomorrow my plans include taking Maya to baby story time at the library and Sunday, I want to have a nice lunch out with my hubby and daughter!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

BTT - February 28

Who is your favorite female lead character? And why? (And yes, of course, you can name more than one . . . I always have trouble narrowing down these things to one name, why should I force you to?)

Many of the books I read have strong, admirable, and likable female characters. Here are my top five:

Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights- That girl is smart. She was faced with a seemingly impossible situation, and found an ingenious way to overcome it. Plus, she's a great storyteller.

Offred from The Handmaid's Tale - This is one of my all-time favorite books, and Offred is one of the reasons why. She lives in a society that is severely oppressive, but it does not break her. She is a courageous woman who is determined to survive. I also love the fact that she steals pats of butter to use as lotion - to me, a sign that she remains hopeful that someday someone will want to touch her face with a loving touch.

Morgaine from Mists of Avalon - Finally we see her portrayed as something other than evil. Morgaine fights for what she believes, carrying the burden of her responsibilities with poise.

Jane from Jane Eyre - How can you not love Jane? She's honest, compassionate, an all-around sweet, loving girl.

Miss Marple - A genius in an understated way, this "old maid" defies the stereotype. She seemingly goes about her business in an unassuming way, but her keen sense of observation never misses much. She is an amazing judge of character. Thank you, Dame Agatha, for creating such a lovely character!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Country: Australia
Year: 2005
Pages: 552
Rating: 5 out of 5

First sentence: First the colors.

From the back cover: It is 1939, Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left there by accident, adn it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.

What I thought: I can not come up with the words to describe this book that would do it justice. It is that good. It is written from the unique perspective of Death, a wry, frank, and compassionate character who sees moments in shades of color: The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness. (p.12). We learn how Death comes to know the book thief and her story. It is an emotionally draining read. 

Towards the end, I was reading parts out loud to my daughter when she was fussy, so that I could calm her down and try to finish the book at the same time. I had to stop, I literally could not read the story out loud without crying. 

There is plenty of foreshadow. I know what is going to happen. I know how it is going to end. And I still sobbed through the last few chapters. Yet, a narrative filled with death and despair, one of the overarching themes is that of hope and love. There is so much love in this story, and overflows from the pages to the reader. 

And, always a favorite for bibliophiles, it is very much a story about words: 

She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half. 
Then a chapter.
Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn't be any of this. Without words, the F├╝hrer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better. 
What good were the words?
She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. "What good are the words?"(p.521)

I was particularly captured by the story within a story - the writings and illustrations of Max, the Jew hidden in the basement. His short story, The Word Shaker, could easily be a stand alone children's book. The book is marketed as young adult fiction, but is just as enjoyable and meaningful for adults.

Favorite quotes:

For now, Rudy and Liesel made their way onto Himmel Street in the rain.
He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. 
She was the book thief without the words.
Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain. (p. 80)

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. (p.528)

I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it's cold.
And I don't have those skull-like
facial features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
want to know what I truly look like?
I'll help you out. Find yourself
a mirror while I continue.
(p. 307)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Reading Across Borders - Africa


Countries Completed are highlighted in purple.
Books read are highlighted in red.
Reviewed books are followed by link to the review.

1. Algeria

2. Angora
3. Benin
4. Botswana
5. Burkina Faso
6. Burundi
7. Cameroon
8. Central African Republic
9. Chad
10. Comoros
11. Congo

12. Congo, Democratic Republic of
13. Cote d'Ivoire/Ivory Coast
14. Djibouti
15. Egypt
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany (finished 28 June 2008)
16. Equatoria Guinea
17. Eritrea
18. Ethiopia
19. Gabon
20. Gambia
21. Ghana
22. Guinea
23. Guinea-Bissau
24. Kenya
25. Lesotho
26. Liberia
27. Libya
28. Madagascar
29. Malawi
30. Mali
31. Mauritania
32. Mauritius
33. Morocco
34. Mozambique
35. Namibia
36. Niger

Half of A Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (finished 28 February 2007)
Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (finished 5 June 2007)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (finished 6 January 2007)
38. Rwanda
39. Sao Tome and Principe

40. Senegal

41. Seychelles

42. Sierra Leone
43. Somalia
Links, by Nuruddin Farah (finished 9 January 2008)
44. South Africa
Life and Times of Michael K, by J.M. Coetzee
Cry The Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
45. Sudan
The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari (finished 19 February 2008)
46. Swaziland
47. Tanzania

48. Togo

49. Tunisia

50. Uganda

51. Zambia

52. Zimbabwe

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Sunday Salon - February 24

The Sunday

To join in the Sunday Salon, go here.

I am always a bit hesitant to start a book that everyone gushes over. And The Book Thief by Markus Zusak certainly falls into this category. The blog world certainly loves it:

"Overall, what can I say. WOW and again WOW. I don't keep many books - I pass them along for others to read. This is going to be one of the few that I put my name in because I want my daughter to read it when she's old enough." Books, Memes, and Musings

"But what I found so fitting in this novel, so perfect, was that it is about words. The power of words and what we are with them—and without them." Trish's Reading Nook

"Markus Zusak makes the words right. His novel will resonate with book lovers. It is a story larger than life; one that touches the reader's heart and never lets go." Caribousmom

And that is just a smidgen of all the wonderful reviews I have read in the past year. So, it was almost with relief that I started reading it a few days ago, and found that I absolutely love it. If it weren't for the fact that the Oscars are on tonight, I would probably stay up after Maya is asleep to finish the book. I had 150 pages to go this morning; now it's closer to 100, but I probably won't have the chance to read that much more today.

Book Acquisitions: Today was also a day of book acquisitions. Long-time readers of my blog will be familiar with my trips to The Book Thing, a non-profit organization that gives books away to city school libraries, senior centers, homeless shelters - anywhere that needs a book. On the weekend, they open their doors for the general public to browse and take as many books as you want for free. So we took a family trip today to donate a few books, and pick up a few for our home library.

Here is what I came away with:

A bunch of Agatha Christie's:

    • What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw!;
    • Murder in Mesopotamia;
    • Ten Little Indians;
    • The Witness for the Prosecution, and other stories
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  • Brick Lane by Monica Ali
  • Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
  • When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle
  • The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (not pictured)
  • Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner (not pictured)
All in all, a great day for a bibliophile! And Maya had a pretty happy day too:

Happy Sunday, folks!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Fill-In February 22


1. Meeting new people and experiencing new cultures and new places is the best thing about traveling.

2. I love a good hot apple cider, chai, or herbal tea when I'm cold.

3. I often use a toothbrush

4. I'm reading The Book Thief right now; I love it as much as those who have already raved about it. 

5. Economics is something I dislike talking about.

6. When I visited South Africa I most looked forward to seeing Desmund Tutu. And I did! He came and spoke to us when we first arrived. 

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to watching the rest of Season 1 of The Wire, tomorrow my plans include grocery shopping and Sunday, I want to get outdoors if the weather permits!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Non-fiction meme

I accepted Maggie's tag on everybody for guatami's Non-fiction meme.

What issues/topic interests you most in non-fiction, i.e, cooking, knitting, stitching, there are infinite topics that has nothing to do with novels? I try to read a whole range of non-fiction. There are some genres that pop up frequently: international relations, especially those relating to human rights and refugees and/or immigration; "social commentary" books; and armchair travel reading . Others appear less frequently, and can be a bit more diverse: cooking, art books, books about various women in history, books about historical events, parenting books (last year it was pregnancy and breastfeeding books), adventure books, and books ab0ut world religions.

B) Would you like to review books concerning those? I review all the books I read, non-fiction included.

C) Would you like to be paid or do it as interest or hobby? Tell reasons for whatever you choose. I do occasionally reveiw ARC copies of forthcoming publications. Payment is usually in the form of a free copy of the book and sometimes an Amazon gift card. It would be kind of neat to really get paid, but then things such as deadlines come into play. Not really interested in that kind of pressure at the moment!

D) Would you recommend those to your friends and how? Yes, and I do. Whenever I read a book (fiction or non-fiction), if someone comes to mind whom I think would enjoy it, I always recommend it if it is good.

E) If you have already done something like this, link it to your post. My most recent non-fiction reviews are The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur; The Sky Isn't Visible From Here; Living A Jewish Life; and Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. The next non-fiction book I plan on reading is Barabara Kingsolver's Animal. Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

F) Please don’t forget to link back here or whoever tags you. See the beginning of the post.

If you haven't done this one yet and would like to, you're it!

Booking Through Thursday - February 21

All other things (like price and storage space) being equal, given a choice in a perfect world, would you rather have paperbacks in your library? Or hardcovers? And why?

I would prefer paperbacks. I usually carry my books everywhere I go - and paperbacks (not mass market - I am not a fan of those) are much easier to lug around. However, in a perfect world, I would also like to have one or two book cases of signed, first editions. These would be hardback.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Translator - Daoud Hari

Title: The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur
Author: Daoud Hari (as told to Dennis Burke and Megan McKenna)
Country: Sudan/USA
Year: 2008
Pages: 200
Rating: 5 out of 5

In 2003, fighting broke out in Darfur as a result of the government's systematic campaign to move non-Arab Sudanese in Darfur off of the oil-rich land. Sudanese government forces and armed militia (known as "Janjaweed") began attacking civilians who are members of the same ethnic groups as the rebels. Countless villages have been destroyed. The rape of women and young girls is used as a tool of war. Hundreds of thousands have died, and over two million people have fled to refugee or IDP (internally-displaced) camps.

Much to my delight, I recently received an ARC of The Translator--a memoir by Daoud Hari, a Sudanese refugee--from one of the marketing managers at Random House.

Daoud Hari, a Zaghawa tribesmen from Darfur, had recently returned to his village after living abroad when his village was attacked by the Janjaweed. He lost his beloved brother, Ahmed, in the attack, but helped his family and many of his relatives and fellow villager cross the desert to reach the relative safety of a border refugee camp.

Daoud Hari is not a person to stand around and do nothing. Despite the danger, he felt compelled to put his English skills to use as a translator for genocide investigators and reporters, in an attempt to get the word out about the genocide, to bring the ethnic cleansing of his people into your living room, so their voices could be heard. His memoir largely follows his work from 2003 until 2006, when he received protection as a refugee in the United States. It is a remarkable story of one man's determination to help his people, risking his life over and over again to fight the injustice that he has witnessed.

Daoud's story is the story of his people. It is also the story of millions of refugees living in border refugee camps around the world. They encounter many of the same problems that Hari witnesses: inadequate shelter, women and girls raped when they have to leave the camp to gather firewood for fuel, and people unable to earn any income when their host country forbids them from working. It is a story that must be read, and that needs to be heard. I believe one of Hari's goals in writing this memoir is to encourage people to take action. It is a lesson I took to heart. Since leaving my work in the refugee field to become a stay-at-home parent, I have wondered how to fill that void. Reading Hari's memoir gave me the impetus I needed to seek out volunteer work with the Stop Genocide Now organization. Thank you, Daoud.

The Darfur genocide is still taking place today. It may come and go in the news, on the whim of large media outlets, but it has not gone away. Ineffective peace agreements often make the situation worse. As Hari points out, as long as the Sudanese government attacks villages or provokes others to do so, there will be more people that join the rebel groups and fight back. In recent months, as predicted, is threatening to create a broader regional instability. In the beginning of this month, fighting broke out on the border regions of Chad and Sudan, threatening refugee camps, as well as the city N'Djamena.

Darfur links:

Recent news:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sunday Salon - February 17

The Sunday
Yesterday, Maya did not do very much of this:

Which meant that there was a lot of this:

and none of this:

Therefore, there was no reading time for mommy. :)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Lean Mean Thirteen

Title: Lean Mean Thirteen

Author: Janet Evanovich
Country: USA
Year: 2007
Pages: 320
Rating: 3 out of 5

First sentence: For the last five minutes, I'd been parked outside my cousin Vinnie's bail bonds office in my crapola car, debating whether to continue with my day, or return to my apartment and crawl back into bed.

I read the latest in the Stephanie Plum series for both the Themed Reading Challenge and the Series challenge. Some of the latest books in the series haven't been the best, and this one would fall under that category, but is still gave me a few laughs. I particularly enjoyed the comedic takes on the problems of getting the cable company to come out and fix anything. That is something I can completely relate to.

What is really starting to bother me about this series is it is becoming way too predictable, and there is no longer any progression forward in the over-arching story line or further character development. I am quickly becoming tired of the love triangle between Stephanie/Morelli/Ranger. Stephanie keeps getting into the same situations, makes the same mistakes, and plays the same games with the two men in her life. It's getting a bit old; it might be time for this series to start to wrap up.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Fill-In - February 15

1. Snowdrops are one of my favorite things. But I don't like the cold temperatures that come with them.
2. I'm going to start reading my ARC of The Translator this afternoon.
3. Cheek to Cheek sung by Frank Sinatra (among others) is a song whose lyrics have meaning to me.
4. Just one sip and my body is warmed by the hot cup of tea.
5. Travelling with my husband is where I'm happiest.
6. I believe that doing your taxes is a necessary part of life.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to making salmon papillote, tomorrow my plans include meeting my parents for lunch and Sunday, I want to watch more of Season One of The Wire that I have from Netflix.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Two Booking Through Thursdays

I had a post ready for today, but I liked this suggestion from Chris even better, so … thanks, Chris!

Here’s something for Valentine’s Day.

Have you ever fallen out of love with a favorite author? Was the last book you read by the author so bad, you broke up with them and haven’t read their work since? Could they ever lure you back?

It's pretty rare that I don't stick with an author once I fall in love with them. The only one I can think of in recent years is Zadie Smith. I read White Teeth and adored it. I couldn't wait to see what she came out with next. Then On Beauty was published. After I read it, I thought "What was that??". It was an extremely disappointing follow-up book, and I haven't been able to go back to her since.

And, here is last week's BTT, since I forgot all about it:

Okay, even I can’t read ALL the time, so I’m guessing that you folks might voluntarily shut the covers from time to time as well… What else do you do with your leisure to pass the time? Walk the dog? Knit? Run marathons? Construct grandfather clocks? Collect eggshells?

Well, taking care of a baby takes up most of my time, so at the moment I have very little free time. But, let's pretend I had more of it, this is what else amuses me:
  • Hiking: I am a three seasons hiker. I also used to love going out in the winter, but after living in Australia for 4 years, I learned that I HATE the cold. I would rather hibernate. I'm really looking forward to taking Maya out on some trails in a few months, once I figure out how to change a diaper in the middle of the woods.
  • Travelling: I love to travel. Before we started saving for a house, this is where all of our extra money went. We're tentatively planning a trip to Romania and Hungary in early fall.
  • Cooking: One of my greatest joys is cooking a huge meal for my friends and families. This is how I socialize. :) I love to cook all sorts of ethnic cuisines I have learned from various friends and past refugee clients. My favorites are Ethiopian and Nigerian stews, Indian and Sri Lankan curries, and various dishes from Central and South America. I have recently been playing around with the Pennsylvania Dutch recipes I grew up with - but giving them a bit more pizazz. I have also been on a bit of a Jewish kick since my husband bought me this cookbook (haha - I still managed to mention a book in a non-book related BTT!)
  • Sewing. This is a brand new hobby. Well, actually it's a re-discovered one. I liked to sew in my pre-teen years. I just got a new sewing machine, and I am hoping to get back into it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison

Title: The Bluest Eye
Author: Toni Morrison
Country: USA
Year: 1970
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pages: 216

First sentence: Quiet as it's kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941.

The Bluest Eye embodies why I usually give an author a second chance if I did not like the first of their books I pick up. I read Song of Solomon a few years ago, and was not very impressed. Something about Toni Morrison stuck with me, however, and I vowed to give her another chance someday. With this, her first novel, she has completely won me over.

Told mainly from the perspective of Claudia and her sister Frieda, The Bluest Eye is a story about their friend Pecola, a young black girl growing up in Lorain, Ohio in 1941. By the second sentence of the novel, the reader has a glimpse of the direction the novel is set to go: 

We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father's baby that the marigolds did not grow. (p. 1) 

What follows is a heart-breaking story about the slow destruction of one girl's hope in life.

What Pecola hopes for, wishes for more than anything, is blue eyes. Immersed in a culture that placed a higher value on lighter skin--even amongst the African-American community--Pecola's poverty, unruly hair, and dark skin leave her open to ridicule by her peers:

It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds--cooled--and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path. (p. 65)

Pecola is ignored by teachers in the classroom. On the playground and in the streets she is taunted and spat upon by other young children. When she encounters that "higher class" of black person (lighter skin, educated, polished), she is viewed as follows:

She had seen this little girl all of  her life. Hanging out of windows over saloons in Mobile, crawling over the porches of shotgun houses on the edge of town, sitting in bus stations holding paper bags and crying to mothers who kept saying "Shet up!" Hair uncombed, dresses falling apart, shoes untied and caked with dirt. They had stared at her with great uncomprehending eyes. Eyes that questioned nothing and asked everything. Unblinking and unabashed, they stared up at her. The end of the world lay in their eyes, and the beginning, and all the waste in between. (p.92)

This is a story about many things. Race relations in the 1940's. Child abuse. Bullying. The theme that struck the most resonant chord with me the treatise on beauty; why and how a young, innocent child can be considered ugly by her whole community. The last paragraph of the novel--I won't share it here, after all, it is the last paragraph--will haunt my mind for a long time to come.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

10 Signs A Book Is By Me Meme

Do I have a book lurking inside? I'd like to think so. Years ago, I made a list of 100 things I would like to accomplish in my life, and writing a book was listed amongst them. In fact, I plan on applying for grants to begin a non-fiction book in the somewhat near future. That book will be about the experiences of refugee women who have resettled in America. But, I'd rather not play along with this meme--thanks for tagging me Gautami!--with a non-fiction book in mind. Therefore, here are the top ten signs that a novel is written by me:

1. The lead character is a young woman, recently graduated from college.
2. The novel has an international setting, as it follows the young woman on her travels around the world when she has a difficult time finding a job after graduation.
3. There will be a hilarious scene involving the young woman and one of these high-tech washlet toilets in Japan (be warned, the man in this youtube video likes to swear):

4. Our young woman will visit Australia, China, Vietnam, Kenya, South Africa, India, Brazil, and Cuba. Countries I just happen to have visited myself.
5. There are scenes of quirky bar experiences in various countries.
6. During the course of the novel, she will pick up a few travel companions that will join her in her many adventures.
7. My novel is light-hearted, but explores some issues I find important, particularly poverty in developing countries.
8. My novel has a good editor to catch all of my grammatical mistakes.
9. It will not be a romantic novel. If made into a movie, it would be PG-13.
10. It will not have a sappy ending, and may leave the option open for subsequent books.

I now tag the following people:
Tag, you're it!

The Sky Isn't Visible From Here - Felicia C. Sullivan

Title: The Sky Isn't Visible from Here
Author: Felicia C. Sullivan
Country: USA
Year: 2008
Rating: 4 out of 5
First sentence: In the spring of 1997, a few weeks before my college graduation, my mother disappeared.

The Sky Isn't Visible From Here is a mixture of stories from Felicia's childhood and adult life, interwoven together in a series of vignettes. We follow Felicia through her memories of living with her mother's addiction and emotional abuse, her escape to college, and her own struggles with addiction. Felicia's memories of childhood provide the reader with a glimpse into what drove her to addiction, and how she made it on the path to recovery from alcohol and cocaine abuse.

Felicia does not take the easy way out by blaming her mother for all of her problems in life, although she has more than enough reason to do so. Pages are laced with the pain and angst caused by her mother, which is heart-breaking to read:

"I could faint and no one would catch me. The fall would be bottomless, never-ending, and my mother will always be there, pushing me further down." (pg. 182)

With all this ammunition, Felicia could easily take a narcissistic view point prevalent in many other memoirs of this genre. Fortunately, she does not. Instead, the reader is given a realistic glimpse into a relationship between a mother and daughter.

Yes, this is a book about overcoming addiction. But even more so, Felicia's story highlights the importance and impact of a parent's role in their child's life. As a new mother to a two-month old daughter, her book provides a powerful, emotive reminder of just how much my actions, and my relationship with my husband, will influence her as she grows and develops.

I'd like to share this poignant memoir with other readers, so I will be posting it on my Paperback Swap bookshelf. If you have a PBS account (if you don't, you should create one!), and are interested in reading this book, go check it out!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Neustadt Award Winner - Giuseppe Ungaretti

In the weeks leading up to the start of the Neustadt Challenge, I plan highlighting many of the winners. First up is Giuseppe Ungaretti.

To learn more and/or join the Neustadt Challenge, which runs from May 1 - August 31, check out my post here.

Giuseppe Ungaretti (b. 1888, d. 1970)is the first person to receive the Neustadt Award. One of the foremost Italian poets of the 20th century, Giuseppe is best known for his work of poetry, L'allegria (Joy). This collection of poetry was influenced by the traumatic events he experienced as a soldier in World War I, of which the follow
ing is one example:

Hill Four, the 23rd of December 1915

An entire night
pinned down near
a companion
his mouth
of broken teeth
facing the full moon
his bloated hands
my silence

I have written letters full of love

I have never been
attached to life

Giuseppe is said to be the founder of modernist hermeticism, an artistic trend that concentrated on extreme precision and intensity of language. His style was spare; he employed unconventional syntax, stressing the musical properties of the individual word and illuminating the power of a single striking image.

An English translation of his work, Selected Poems: A Bilingual edition, is available on Amazon, translated by Andrew Frisardi. The most respected translation of his work is Life of A Man, translated by Allen Mandelbaum (out of print).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday Salon - February 10

The Sunday

My reading thoughts today are a reflection of the types of books I have been reading lately, all of which are good, but depressing. First there was The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (linked to my review), a post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son...well, just surviving. This morning I just finished The Sky Isn't Visible From Here by Felicia C. Sullivan. I will be reviewing this book on Tuesday as part of the MotherTalk's blog tour. It is a memoir of Felicia's childhood living with a mother addicted to cocaine, and her own personal struggle to overcome addiction. Not the cheeriest of topics. And now, I have just started The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison for the My Year of Reading Dangerously challenge. Morrison is an amazing author, but not quite known for an upbeat story.

After I stopped and thought about it for bit, I realized that many of the books I read and love are downright heart-wrenching. One of my favorites of 2007 was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, about the disintegration of African culture due to colonialism. A Woman in Jerusalem by A.B. Yehoshua, another favorite of 2007, revolved around a woman killed in a suicide bombing...and no one even noticed she was gone for days.

So why do I spend countless hours reading about horrible, awful events? Why do I frequently emerge from a book that I read for pleasure and thoroughly enjoyed, saying, "Whew, I need to read some light fluff now! That was hard!" 

To answer that question, I must look at the reasons why I read. Yes, I'm a voracious reader, but why? One reason goes back to my early experiences as a budding reader. As a child I devoured books. I loved exploring new world's through someone else's imagination, it helped to stimulate my own. This still holds true. Imagination is a wonderful thing, and I love reading what other people come up with.

But, that's not the only reason. Books also call attention to perspectives and people that are different from myself. They highlight aspects of society often overlooked, truths that are hidden from most. Even if it is fiction, these are stories that need to be told. And, more importantly, they need to be heard. 

I don't want to read a book that sounds like it is about myself. I like to explore different view points. And, books that tackle serious, difficult subjects are not just sad...they are often inspiring. They challenge my own way of thinking, and that is what I love about them.

To end on a lighter note, here is my
Book Coveting Around the Blogisphere:

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Castle on Hester Street - Linda Heller

Title: The Castle on Hester Street
Author: Linda Heller (illustrated by Boris Kulikov)
Country: America
Year: 1982
Rating: 5 of 5

First sentence: One day while Julie was visiting her grandparents, her grandfather said, "Did I ever tell you about my good friend Moishe?"

This a cute story about a grandfather's tall tales of the family's immigration from Russia to America. By countering grandpa's stories of castles and moons made of matzoh, with grandma's explanations of how things really were, Linda Heller has created a gem of a book in teaching kids about the experience of immigration. It's an endearing story that all ages could enjoy.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Friday Fill-In - February 8

1. I'm looking forward to eating some blueberry and cheese blintzes for dessert and finishing the memoir I'm currently reading.
2. Macchu Picchu is a place I always wanted to visit and haven't made it there yet.
3. I've fallen in love with my daughter.
4. Six of one, the number of cookies I could easily eat in a sitting.
5. Addiction, also known as bibliophilia.
6. The Daily Show cracks me up!
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to sleeping, tomorrow my plans include shopping for a baby shower gift and Sunday, I want to have some time to read!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

February's Bookworms Carnival

If you haven't already discovered the
Bookworms Carnival, now is a great time to do so! This month's host, Renay, has prepared a post so very informative that you’ll feel as confident as a veteran carnival participant!

The deadline to submit one of your posts is this Friday. You can send submissions to Renay at thebookninja at gmail dot com.
The theme is The Geography of Make-Believe: a fantastic voyage through the magical, mythical, and mystical. If you click the theme link, you’ll be brought to an informative page prepared by Renay.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Rating: 4 out of 5
Pages: 287

First sentence: When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.

I meant to read this book for the NYT Notable Challenge last year. I was even fortunate enough to win a copy in the October giveaway at Estella's Revenge. Yet I never got around to it, partially because of the bleak subject matter, and in part because of its selection as an Oprah book. I picked it up on a whim last week, and plunged right in.

The Road is a bleak, dismal novel. A father and son are travelling south on a road in a world utterly destroyed by a cataclysmic event that occurred years prior to the novel's setting, possibly caused by nuclear warfare. The plot consists of a few basic activities: walk, forage, starve, rain, sleep, starve, and walk some more. The whole world has been reduced to ash and gray snow; the only sustenance that remains are canned goods hidden away in long-abandoned homes. The narrative is simple; it is as if the father and son do not have enough energy to utter more words than the practical and essential.

They looked at each other.
One more.
I dont want you to get sick.
I wont get sick.
You havent eaten in a long time.
I know.
Okay. (p.141)

In this world, negative contractions are laid bare without their apostrophe's, and quotation marks are extinct. I wonder if the apocalypse burned all of the punctuation, or if this style is consistent in McCarthy's novels? 

One theme that particularly stood out was the reference to the father and son "carrying the fire".

We wouldnt ever eat anybody, would we?
No. Of course not.
Even if we were starving?
We're starving now.
You said we werent.
I said we werent dying. I didnt say we werent starving.
But we wouldnt.
No. We wouldnt.
No matter what.
No. No matter what.
Because we're the good guys.
And we're carrying the fire.
And we're carrying the fire, yes.


You cant. You have to carry the fire.
I dont know how to.
Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I dont know where it is.
Yes you do. It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it.

What is McCarthy's meaning? At first, I thought it meant that the young boy was a symbol of the continuation of the human race. After finishing the whole novel, I'm more inclined to think that "carrying the fire" refers to never losing hope. If you always carry hope, you will survive. I like this interpretation, it creates a positive note in one very depressing book.
The Road also introduced some vocabulary unfamiliar to me. McCarthy must be a walking dictionary. Here are a few examples:
Gryke (p.11) - a deep cleft in a bare limestone rock surface.
Gambreled (p.17) - A grambrel is a two-sided roof, usually symmetric, with two slopes on each side.
Laved (p.38) - to wash or flow against.
Soffits (p.106) - the exposed undersides of any overhead component of a building.
Gelid (p.136) - Very cold; icy.
Bivouack[ed] (p. 168) - temporary encampment under little or no shelter

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sarah, Plain and Tall - Patricia MacLachlan

Title: Sarah, Plain and Tall
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Country: USA
Year: 1985
Rating: 3.5 of 5
Pages: 64

First sentence: "Did Mama sing every day?" asked Caleb.

In the late 19th century, a farmer and his two children on the great Plains puts in an advertisement for a wife. When Sarah replies, and arrives from Maine, Anna and Caleb do everything they can to convince her to stay, despite her homesickness for her family and the sea.

This is the premise of Sarah, Plain and Tall, a story about acceptance, loss and love. The story did not capture my emotions in the same way that other Newbery winners have in the past. I found the characters to be a bit one-dimensional and flat. It was hard to get past the "mail-order bride" vibe that ranckled my inner feminist. However, the story is not that simple, and is sweetly seen from the eyes of Anna and Caleb. To them, their whole world is resting on Sarah's decision whether to leave or stay. It is a nice story for young kids.

You Make My Day

It was a surprise and a delight to come back to my blog after a brief interlude to discover that Eva at A Striped Armchair gave me the You Make My Day Award!
Thank you!

Now it's my turn to choose ten bloggers that make my day, whose words inspire me, and make it a pleasure to be a part of the blogging community.

Melissa: I was first introduced to her blog when she started the Expanding Your Horizons challenge. I have since discovered that all of her posts are a delight to read.
Jeane: I don't comment on her blog as much as I should, but I always take pleasure in reading her latest reviews.
Wendy: Wendy (of caribuosmom) was the first person to comment on my blog. Her book selections are eerily similar to my reading tastes, and her reviews are so well-thought out, they always stimulate that somewhat neglected intellect portion of my brain!
Wendy (Literary Feline): Wendy's posts are always so much fun to read. Plus, she shares my love for friendly felines, you can't beat that!
Kristina: I only recently discovered Kristina's blog, after realizing that we were both expecting our first child within months of each other (which turned into weeks, when her son arrived very early, and my daughter arrived late). I love reading about her journey into motherhood, and the books she still makes time to read.
Lotus Reads: One of the first blogs I started visiting regularly. I love her cultural and anthropological perspective on the books that she reads.
Laura: Laura reads a lot of prize winners and international authors, and I always enjoy reading her perspective.
Dewey: Her blog is wonderful in every way.
Tukopamoja: Another blog I recently discovered, he is the host of the African reading challenge. I always enjoy reading his thoughts on African current events.
Becky: Her blog has been a blessing in helping to discover (and re-discover) wonderful books to read to my daughter.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Hours Giveaway winner!

Using the handy-dandy random number generator, Myrthe from The Book Reader or the Armenian Odar Reads is the winner of The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

Congrats Myrthe!!

I know my blog has been a bit silent this past week. Our family has been in town for Maya's baby naming ceremony, which was earlier today. I thought I was crazy to host a ceremony in brunch for 30 people in our small 2 bedroom apartment with a 2-month old baby, but it was a spectacular success!

More blog updates to come soon!

Sunday Salon - February 3

The Sunday
**This is post was actually intended for last Sunday, but I didn't get a chance to finish it until today!**

Today was the first day in a long time that felt, well, relaxing. My hubby just started his two-week vacation, which we kicked off with a Sunday morning trip to our neighborhood markets at Belvedere Square for a coffee, and to stock up on milk, veggies, and meat. Maya had a very enjoyable time looking at all the colorful foods, and then falling right to sleep.

Hubby is now reading to Maya from one of my favorite chidlhood stories, The Velveteen Rabbit. Therefore, it is a rested soul that now sits down to type her Sunday Salon thoughts. Whether or not I will be able to finish this post in one sitting, is highly unlikely (**rather funny, considering I didn't finish it until a week later!), but here we go.

I started to read The Road a few days ago, which I won in Estella's Revenge October giveaway. I am starting to wish I had read it last year, when it was reviewed and discussed by many of the bloggers I know. Its premise - a post-apocalyptic America in which a father and son travel south down a road trying to survive - is heart-wrenching and difficult to read. The reader is constantly confronted by devastation and disaster, with little hope. As I sat there reading it, I wonder how I can finish such a depressing book.

Cormac McCarthy writes in a style reminescent of Nobel-winning Jose Saramago in Blindness. I wonder at his choice of punctuation, and lack of. Negative contractions are missing apostrophes: the can't, don't, wouldn't, and couldn'ts. I am still pondering on the importance of his punctuation choices to the purpose and themes of the book.