Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

This novel is the story of two couples living in Kabul during the reign of the Taliban. It has many interesting details (especially regarding the changing roles of women) after this political change. Like all the Middle-Eastern novels that I've read this year, it's depressing as hell, but it's kind of philosophical, which is interesting. Also, it has a somewhat-surprise ending. It wasn't one of my favorites, but it's worth checking out if you're not a picky English teacher like I am.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian

This was an interesting historical novel about the Armenian genocide that took place in Turkey during WWI. The Turkish were persecuting Christian armenians and basically obliterated 1/3 of the population. The book is dark and violen (as most books about genocide are wont to be) but it's definitely an eye-opener. You will definitely learn something. It's an easy read and kind of hard to put down - mostly because you just want the pain to be over.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

I started reading this book at 8:00 A.M. and didn't stop until 1:00 A.M. the same day. It was a positively captivating memoir. Elizabeth Gilbert divorced in her early 30s and (like many of us) was confused about her destiny and purpose in life. So, she took a year to travel and divided her time between Italy, India, and Indonesia. In Italy she learns the power of "pleasure," which turns out to be food and friendship. In India she explores spiritual dedication and focus, and in Indonesia she kind of combines the two pieces of understanding. She writes character well. She's authentic about emotions. She's brutally honest even if it means casting a negative light on herself. She's funny, even when she cries. Favorite Quote: "To know God, you need only to renounce one thing: your sense of division from God."

Kiss the Dust by Elizabeth Laird

(Young Adult) This is one of the novels on our roster for the adolescent lit. classs I'm teaching for teachers this year. It's about Kurdish refugees. (All of the books we're reading are part of a Middle Eastern text set.) Honestly, I did not care for this one. The writing style was kind of base, even for adolescent lit., and there wasn't enough of a historical background to understand the relationship between the Kurds and the Iraqis. In the end, it was the kind of story you could have placed in any war-torn country. I guess I was just hoping to learn more about the Kurds than I did.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi

This is one of the most amazing memoirs I've ever read. Farah Ahmedi was born in 1987 and spent most of her early childhood in war-torn Afghanistan. She stepped on a land mine when she was seven years old, which crippled her for life. But that was the least of her worries. Eventually, she lost almost her entire family - two sisters, two brothers, and her father - and it was with tremendous courage that she and her mother escaped to Pakistan and later to the United States. I could not put this book down. It was amazing.

Articles Of War by Nick Arvin

I honestly did not care for this book. It was the typical soldier's story: blood, guts, loneliness. Only this time it was about people who go AWOL and then get shot. It was based on a true story, but I forget the real soldier's name. It didn't teach me anything new about WWII, which is something I expect out of historical fiction. The other teachers that I read it with loved it, so you don't necessarily have to take my word for it. It's short enough that, if you don't like it, you will have only wasted a few hours of your life.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

If uncontrollable sobbing is the order of the day, then this book is the perfect companion. Didion’s memoir traces her thought process during the year following her husband’s sudden death due to a heart attack. Their grown daughter was also in the hospital at the time, fighting death. This is an insightful glance into the grief process, and it is an honest account of the irrational but necessary progress of one’s thoughts after such a loss. Moreover, I found that Didion explored the way we think about the universe – the way we believe (or disbelieve) in ourselves, in God. This book definitely made an impression on me. Favorite Quote: “The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself.”

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Evening by Susan Minot

I’m a little bit indecisive about this book. Sometimes it has the strength of an Olympic runner. Other times it plods along with the sap-laden jog of a paperback romance. It’s basically the story of Ann Lord, who in the present time is dying of cancer. The narrative jumps back and forth between different time periods of her life, the most consistent being a wedding she attended in her 20s when she met Harris, the only man she ever really loved. The story sets you up with a secret that you’re hoping the author will reveal. And it’s a pretty good one. But, despite Minot’s artistry in the first two-thirds of the book, sometimes it was just too high in sugar content. The main sex scene, for instance, was so drawn out and predictable that I took a break in the middle of it and baked a chicken. But I accomplished my goal of reading the book before the movie came out and that’s what really counts. Favorite Quote: “It was important that someone always be talking otherwise the silence took hold like a Virginia creeper invading a garden and darkened the air with what was going on in the room, the battle with pain, the downhill journey. It was not discussed that they were all here to see her off. They brought in bits of the world and when there was silence the absurdity of conversation was too apparent.”

Saturday, June 16, 2007

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

This was required reading for the Denver Writing Project’s summer institute (which starts on Monday). With humor and poignancy, King describes some of the life experiences that led to his becoming a writer. In the second half of the book he offers sort of a laundry list of advice for budding writers who want to revise and publish. Though I have never read any of King’s fiction (nor do I care to), this piece of non-fiction was amusing and informative. However, if asked, I would recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird above this book for people who want a guide for writing and/or advice about teaching writing. Favorite Quote: “The key to writing good dialogue is honesty. And if you are honest about the words coming out of your characters’ mouths, you’ll find that you’ve let yourself in for a fair amount of criticism . . . Some people don’t want to hear the truth, of course, but that’s not your problem. What would be is wanting to be a writer without wanting to shoot straight.”