7.27.2009

Finished Three Cups of Tea

Now I need something about coffee! It has been kind of interesting to be reading this book during my month-long fast from coffee which has lead me to a morning tea instead.

Much more than that little coincidence, though, I have enjoyed this book thoroughly. I really do admire the courage and tenacity and do-something-ness of Mortenson, even as I mourn the loss of him for his children. They will probably always know their daddy is a great man, but they won't really know him as much as they would like, I'm sure. What a woman his wife must be.

The best thing I took from this work was exactly what it wanted me to take from it - that education of the innocents is the best way to beat the fundamental extremists. And, of course, that Islam is not evil, and all Muslims are not terrorists. I knew this fact intellectually, but it was nice to have some semi-personal encounters with that culture and those communities to better understand it.

I love this moment of realization that Mortenson had during his ritual cleaning and prayer moment at the gas station:
For years, Mortenson had known, intellectually, that the word "Muslim" means, literally, "to submit." And like many Americans, who worshipped at the temple of rugged individualism, he had found the idea dehumanizing. But for the first time, kneeling among one hundred strangers, watching them wash away not only impurities, but also, obviously, the aches and cares of their daily lives, he glimpsed the pleasure to be found in submission to a ritualized fellowship of prayer. (68)

I was also disturbed by the knowledge that we have not done enough to restore normalcy to the people of Afghanistan and that the Taliban continues to grown in strength and numbers despite our best efforts to eliminate their strongholds.

I went to the website for the CAI, but was unbelievably moved by the video on www.thegirleffect.org. I don't want to forget what I've learned.

7.14.2009

Finished Rich in Love; Starting Three Cups of Tea

Last night, I finished Rich in Love to little fanfare. I had unfortunately read an amazon review that revealed part of the ending to me in advance, but it wasn't really a surprise anyway, so no big loss there. I liked that the climax was emotionally complex, and I didn't like the way Humphreys tried to simplify it at the very end. I don't like all the strings to be tied up so nicely. Outside of the few gems, I didn't feel like the book added much to the world. It was a little thin throughout despite its efforts to be deep and thoughtful. I will likely add it to the pile to go back to McKay's.

Later I will start Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, the book that made the birthday rounds this year. I bought it for Dodd (in Dec) who read it and gave it to Andrea (in Jan) who read it and gave it to me (in May). I like that cyclical, shared quality so much. I am also looking forward to getting into this book and learning more about a people and a place I know little about.

7.11.2009

More Royal Reading . . . and Rich In Love

Some people read the paper, some read comic books, I occasionally read The Best American Essays of 2004 when I visit my bathroom. I am continually amazed at the way the brain manages to save its place in an essay even when I might not pick it up for several days at a time. All it takes is a little sentence or word back up to remind me of what I was engaged in, and I'm back in it fully.

Here's a segment from the essay "Arrow and Wound" by Mark Slouka. The essay is contrasting Dostoevsky's near-death experience with Seifert's.

To see Dostoevsky's experience as essentially truthful, and Seifert's as some form of artifice, is to limit the dominion of fiction, which, from the moment we wake to the power of language, rules our lives with czarist authority and reach. It is also to forget a more intriguing and complicated truth: that we in some measure shape the events that befall us just as surely as we are shaped by them. (262-263)

Even though I only read about 6 paragraphs at time, I am loving this collection.


After finishing French Lessons, I started Josephine Humphreys' Rich In Love. It is an easy read with an engaging narrator, Lucille. Lucille reminds me of me at times, but despite her familiarity (or perhaps because of it), she is also off-putting in ways. I'm not sure if we are supposed to trust her narrative voice (I don't always) or question it for its youthful ignorance and self-centeredness (I do at times). At other times, she clearly expresses a wisdom beyond her years that makes for a decidedly and interestingly complex character.

Some bits I like:

In explaining the importance of memory as it pertains to childbirth particularly, Lucille's mother (who was given "Twilight Sleep" drugs with her first and merely "a whiff of gas" with Lucille) says,
"Nothing hurts as bad as they say it does, Lucille," she told me later. "And clear, pure memory doesn't hurt at all. What hurts is forgetting. They buried the pain of Rae so deep inside me there is no conscious record of it, but it makes its presence known. It moves at night, or at unexpected moments on an otherwise unclouded day, and I shiver and say, what was that? Remember everything," she advised me. (52)

Librarians, nuns, ladies who write poetry, are all spinsterly; they like a quiet place, they like to think, they don't mind being alone. That's what appealed to me.(33)

Lucille's father in explaining why he wants to buy books after his wife has left him:
"One thing is sure. It's never too late. Am I right?"
"Right." But it is always too late, once you get to the point where you have occasion to say it is never too late.
(89)

7.08.2009

Finished French Lessons . . . next?

I finished French Lessons by Alice Kaplan this afternoon, and it was an interesting read. I'm not sure it would appeal to a very broad audience as I think you have to have some connection with the french language to appreciate it at all. I don't believe I will keep it because I can't imagine needing or wanting to return to it, but it was a fairly good piece of writing that made me think about some things I hadn't considered before.

Here's another little segment I appreciated:
De Man made literature matter more than anything in the world and then said it was only literature. He had put us all in a bind. (167)

7.02.2009

French Lessons by Alice Kaplan

I started this one last night after a long moment in front of the to-be-read shelf. I wanted to find just the right thing to follow The Book Thief.

I actually bought French Lessons at an estate sale, plucked it from the stack that probably included Reader's Digest collections and a biography of George Bush. Why was it there? I was surprised when I read more about this memoir during my decision-making last night. I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting, but there was more political/intellectual meat here than I had anticipated.

So far, I am really enjoying the way this book is floating me through it. I'm glad I'm reading so much of it alone, though, because the french makes me want to read it out loud, so I do.

Here's something I particularly liked:

She entered the poem she was teaching. She showed us around. She was baffled by literature, amused by it, suspicious of it. Literature is essential to survival and impossible to understand. Literature lies and tells the truth about lying. (75)

7.01.2009

Tears Upon Completion

Oh, The Book Thief. You've completed the cycle now. You've impressed me and moved me to tears and made me not want to finish, not want to let go of these incredible characters. Markus Zusak has moved to the top of my favorite list of the moment. Thank you, Zusak, for offering us such a wealth of ideas, images, and feelings.

A few more dog-eared moments:

Her feet scolded the floor.
Air breathed up her pajama sleeves.
She walked through the corridor darkness in the direction of silence that had once been noisy, toward the thread of moonlight standing in the living room. She stopped, feeling the bareness of her ankles and toes. She watched.
(428)

From the fable/fairy tale, "The Word Shaker"
There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life:
1. He would part his hair from the opposite side to everyone else.
2. He would make himself a small, strange mustache.
3. He would one day rule the world.
(445)

It is so cliched, but this book makes me want to start over and read it again. Right now. It is so fine; it nearly stops me completely.