Sunday Salon: the Two-for-One
First I read The Knife Of Never Letting Go in one sitting-I got stuck in the library during a flash thunder storm (…darn…) and settled down in a comfy chair to read. I’m not reviewing it yet, though, since there’s a big group review in the works! ;)
In a fantasy mood, I picked up my first read for the Canadian challenge: Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint. I’ve been making my way through his Newford series in the order recommended on his website, and I was excited to get to this one after two he’d originally published under a different name (that were more horror). Oddly enough, I didn’t love this one the way I expected. While I thought the idea of characters in paintings coming to life was really neat, reading the book felt a bit like deja vu. I found myself rolling my eyes at meeting more woman characters who were described as tiny, with lots of wild hair, expressive eyes, and bohemian dress. I know that sounds mean, and since I consider de Lint one of my new fave authors (I read him for the first time in 2007), I was taken aback by my own reaction. Perhaps it just wasn’t the right time for de Lint? I’ll definitely be reading the next in the Newford series to see how I react again.
I turned next to Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity. I must say, I absolutely adored it. Brog is a progressive Christian, and I can completely envision myself as a progressive Christian as well. Like me, he argues that myths can still be true, a higher truth than any historical fact, and that therefore the Bible doesn’t need to be read literally to still affect us. Oh, and that there’s no need to believe that Christianity is the only ‘true’ religion in order to have a relationship with Jesus. And that’s just two examples of how he argues (quite elegantly-much more so than my little synopsis implies) for the relevancy of Christianity to twenty-first century life. I can’t wait to read the rest of his books, and I only wish that he included a list of recommended churches in the back! (I’ve found a gorup of progressive churches in Denver, but I think they’re hiding here.)
Then I finished the book-on-CD I’d been listening to: Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris. I chose this randomly off the library shelf because it was a mystery set in Saudi Arabia. I love mysteries and I love international settings, so it seemed like a good match. ;) It turns out Ferraris is an American who was married to a Saudi-Palestinian and used to live in that community. I thought this book got better as it progressed; at first, the choppiness of Ferraris’ writing was quite jarring. And I wasn’t sure how authentic her main male character, a Saudi Palestinian was (that’s when I began to do a bit of research on her background!). But once I adjusted to Ferraris’ style, I enjoyed the peek into Saudi life. I think my favourite thing about the book was that Ferraris doesn’t pretend Suadi women have a ton of rights. At my college, there were several older male professors who were focussed on the Middle East, and after visiting Saudi they gave a panel talk about it. And they actually tried to imply that women are happy there. Or that wearing black robes and head scarves over all of your usual clothes in the middle of a desert wasn’t ridicuously hot. And that it didn’t matter that it’s illegal for women to drive, because they can hire drivers. You can imagine how I felt hearing this crap from men who couldn’t possibly know what it’s like. So I loved that Ferraris brought a woman’s perspective to the issue. Anyway, if I talk anymore about it, I’m going to end up with my post about it. But for me, the drawbacks in the book (writing style, somewhat muddle mystery in the first half of the book) were more than made up for by the rare setting and characters. If you too are always interested in reading books set in new places, give it a try! Ferraris has another book, City of Veils, coming out next year and I’ll be excited to see how she grows as a writer!
From Saudi Arabia, I moved on to South Africa with my first Spice of Life selection: A Time of Angels by Patricia Schonstein. I adored this book so much. It’s a fable-like story of Jewish emigres and their children in Cape Town post-World War Two. At the heart of it are two friends, Primo (a professional magician and psychic) and Pasquale (who can make the most marvelous fruit cakes and salami ever). They’ve always been inseperable, until Primo’s wife Beatrice leaves him for Pasquale. This sets off a chain of magical realist events-among other things, the Devil becomes Primo’s new roommate! And it turns out he has a love of embroidery. This is a slim book, almost a novella since it’s barely over 200 pages, but so much is packing into it! Schonstein provides the backstory of various relatives of Primo and Pasquale, from a woman who runs a bordello to Pasquale’s father learning the marvelous recipes for salami and fruitcake while locked in a small closet as a young boy with two Italian brothers hiding through WWII (this story was the most beautiful, and I think everyone should read the book simply for it). The book is about love and lust, survival and death, friendship and revenge. It’s about life, and how people react to tragedy and joy, but it’s never heavy-handed. When I saw fable-like, I mean in the lightest sense possible. Stories are left open-ended, Schonstein doesn’t force any life philosophies down your throat. But I know I’ll remember these characters forever, and I can’t wait for her other books to be released over here.
Then I turned to Half of the Sky, the new book about the rights of women in the developing world by the husband-and-wife, Pulitzer-prize-winning team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Heather has agreed to do an interview review of this one once she’s read it (since she’s always reading marvelous feminist books!), so I’ll hold off on discussing it until then. ;)
Which brings me to The London Scene, five essays by Virginia Woolf. (Apparently, there’s another edition published with a bonus essay, so now I feel like I’ve been cheated out of my Woolf!) This is a tiny book, significantly less than 100 pages, and the essays were originally published in Good Housekeeping. Basically, Woolf walks around various parts of London and writes her impressions. It’s beautiful. I’ll leave it at that, since everyone should go read these now. And for those of you who arne’t big fans of her fiction, her essays aren’t stream-of-conscious style, so you should give them a chance! The whole collection only took me an hour to read, but it’s one I’ll definitely visit again in the future.
Next up I read The House You Pass on the Way, my second experience with Jacuqline Woodson. This is another tiny book (while I was reading A Suitable Boy I wanted small books to keep me occupied), but it packs a big punch. The main character is a girl on the cusp of puberty, who doesn’t have any close friends because her mother is white and her black father’s parents were famously killed during the Civil Rights movement. Thus, kids her age tend to assume she’s a snob. Anyway, her cousin comes to stay for the summer, and the two immediately bond. I read this for the GLBT Challenge, because among other things they bond over both liking girls more than boys. What I love about Woodson is that while her book’s plot summaries might make them sound ‘issue’ based, they never are. The characters feel real and human, like friends you haven’t met yet. I’m excited to read more of Woodson’s backlist! And if you haven’t tried her yet, I highly recommend remedying that. ;)
Are you still with me? Because then I turned to my sixth and final book for the Classics Challenge: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. A couple of years ago I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and loved it! So I wanted to read Anne’s other book. :) I can’t say that I’ve read The Nanny Diaries, or even seen the movie, but I imagine Agnes Grey is like the nineteenth century version of it. Due to her father’s unfortunate business skills, Agnes goes into service as a governess to help her family. Through two situations, she dishes on the horrible temperment of her charges, the immorality of her employers, and in general how awful it is to be a governess. ;) Agnes is a clergyman’s daughter, and she’s pretty judgemental (although against herself as well). But I still liked her, and when romance begins to hint around the edges, I was excited to see how it would turn out. This book has definitely confirmed that Anne is my favourite Bronte! I’ve never gotten along well with Charlotte (don’t get me started on Jane Eyre-I know a lot of book bloggers love it, but I’m not one of them). And while Emily amuses me (and I plan on rereading Wuthering Heights soon), she’s a bit unstable to get close to. Anne’s the one for me! :)
I finally finished Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy-it will be getting its own post (1400 pages! it deserves it!), so we’ll jump right to You’d be So Pretty If… by Dara Chadwick. This is a book about body image among women, especially how mothers can pass along issues to their daughters. In theory, the main audience is women with daughters, since the book includes advice on how to give your daughters a strong body image even if you don’t have one yourself. But I think any women would profit from it; I certainly enjoyed reading it! It was more like a sleep-over with a bunch of intelligent women, from all different backgrounds, dishing about being a girl and our bodies. If that sounds interesting, I recommend picking this one up! Also, don’t you love that cover?! Chadwick also has a blog if you’re curious.
Another nonfiction read I really enjoyed was Creating a World Without Poverty by Muhummad Yunus. Yunus basically invented microcredit with his Grameen Bank in Bangaldesh, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because it’s made such strides in eliminating poverty. I love microcredit, and I’ve already read Yunus’ memoir of how it came into being, Banker of the Poor. This book outlines one of Yunus’ new ideas: social businesses. It’s really fascinating; the idea of creating businesses whose goal isn’t to make a profit but to improve the world. It’s quite inspiring, and even though I don’t usually care at all about business-y stuff (I’m more of a macro-economics girl), Yunus made me care! The only reason this didn’t get five stars is because there’s a large chunk in the middle that basically summarises Banker to the Poor that made me quite bored. Still, this was a marvelous pick for the World Citizen Challenge, and if you want to believe it is possible to change the world, go ahead and get it!
Then I got another fibro flare-up, and pretty much spent the whole day listening to the audio version of Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely. This was my second time reading the book, and I loved it just as much (this was also my final reread for the Summer Lovin’ Challenge)! I’m planning on doing a post about rereads soon, so I’ll expand on it then. ;)
Once I felt better and could read again, I picked up Leaving Atalanta by Tayari Jones. I originally put this in my R.I.P. pool, but I don’t think it really works for that challenge (which doesn’t worry me, since I’ve already technically completed it!). Nevertheless, it’s a marvelous book-I was taken aback at how wonderful a writer Jones is. It’s set in Atlanta in the 70s, when someone was abducint and murdering black children, and is told in three parts, each narrated by a different fifth grader at the same elementary school. Jones perfectly captured what it felt like to be that age, and each of the children had a very distinct voice. The plot isn’t really the point of the book; it’s very much a character study. I loved how Jones brought me into the children’s world; each has a different background and family life, and I feel like my worldview was broadened. But mainly, I just adored living in a child’s world again…elementary school was definitely the highlight of my school years (until maybe college), and it was neat to revisit it through other eyes. Recommended for those who enjoy character- and writing-centric books!
We’re almost there guys! Just two more to go. ;) It took me forever to read the next book, Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog, which was my ‘body part’ selection for the What’s in a Name? 2 Challenge. Krog is an Afrikaaner journalist who covered the Truth and Reconciliation trials for radio. She’s also a poet. This book is, in my opinion, quite experimental nonfiction, in which she attempts to capture as the subtitle says “guilt, sorrow, and the limits of forgiveness in the new South Africa.” I’m glad I read this book-Krog includes a lot of word-for-word testimony from the trials which helped bring home to me the horrors of apartheid. But at the same time, there were many sections that seemed random and unjustified, the book didn’t provide a lot of context for non-South African readers, and I was often bored. So I wouldn’t recommend this. Also if anyone has any suggestions for South African history, please share them!
And finally, I read A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong. When I asked for suggestions for Christian authors, her name came up again and again. Then when I looked her up in my library catalog, I was shocked at all of the books she’s written! I was a bit paralysed with indecision, until I saw the title of this book. I love mythology-I started reading about it in high school and I considered majoring in it in college. I haven’t read as much about it in the past few years as I used to, but it still holds a special place in my heart. And I’m happy to say I’d recommend this book to everyone! It’s a short, concise, but very intelligent examination of how humans have viewed mythology (and God) throughout history. It ends with a plea for the importance of mythology in modern times. While none of the ideas were new to me, Armstrong’s ability to present them simply while not dumbing them down definitely impressed me. I will certainly be reading more of her impressive selection of books in the future!
And there you have it: one of the longer Sunday Salons I’ve done in awhile. :) Thanks so much for reading, and I hope at least one book sounded interesting to you! I’m off to visit my fellow Sunday Saloners!