Tuesday, December 22, 2009

good reads

Thanks for the all the Hanukah greetings! We had a lovely busy holiday but it's now over. Also, the professor's brother and his wife came for a visit. Now they are back home in New York. We've had lots of excitement and are now settling in for some quiet time. Most everyone else will be busy this time of year with other holidays...we're prepared to do some home repairs, organizing, reading, and movie watching. (not to mention spinning, knitting,and petting dogs...)

For months now I've been meaning to write about books I've enjoyed, especially during the last six months of this year. A while back I scored a secondhand copy of Vikram Seth's book, A Suitable Boy. It sat on the shelf for nearly 2 years while I waited for the right time to read it. "The right time" ended up being while undertaking this big move across North America. I read each night in a different hotel room. I read it when we arrived here and had no furniture. I continued reading it until I finally finished it on our vacation in Crete. It was a stunning piece of literature...a family epic, a story of the early days of Indian Independence and most importantly, a very sweet focus on what it takes for one young woman to find a good life partner. My only regret is that I didn't have this reader's guide along for the ride: Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy: A Reader's Guide,which I think would have helped me understand a lot more about Indian culture and politics.

Talking about culture and politics...when I was visiting my family back in October, I happened to go to Second Story Books, a remarkable used bookstore in DC. I often buy books there that I wouldn't ever have chosen while browsing online. I ended up with at least two books I can recommend.

One is called Next Year in Jerusalem: Everyday Life in a Divided Land, written by Daphna Golan-Agnon. The author is a brave Israeli woman who wrote a heartfelt defense of human rights for all people--and particularly--Palestinians. She's from a distinguished family and married into a famous literary family, which makes her work all the more important as a leader in Israeli society. It's also a very intelligent and worthwhile book with lots of interesting details about daily life in that part of the world. Even before I'd read the book, I respected its contents because Rabbi Forman endorsed it. He's the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights. He's also the father of one of my childhood friends. I slept at his house when I visited Jerusalem as a teenager and he impressed me enormously at 16. I don't imagine (for me) there is a better endorsement!

The other book I found, A Flannel Shirt and Liberty: British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West 1880-1914, by Susan Jackel, was also about brave women. This book collected narratives describing the experience of these women as they ventured to Winnipeg (gateway to the Canadian West) and beyond. I enjoyed the Canadian social history, the details of life on a new frontier. I also tried hard to understand the mindset of these women immigrants, who also carried forth the notion of British imperialism to the prairies and beyond. This book was a good counterpoint to all the information I've been learning about First Nations people in Manitoba, and the many immigrant communities (Ukrainian, Polish, Polish and Russian Jewish, Italian, Greek, Filipino,etc.) that have moved to Manitoba since.

In the food department, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the joy I've gotten out of reading a few of Claudia Roden's books this year. (and of course cooking and eating from them...) I majored in Near Eastern Studies and Comparative Literature as an undergraduate and I don't think my interests have strayed too far when you read these!
They are:
The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon
The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York

Many times, I write something but the end result (an article, essay, or book review) never gets published. One such book review this year was for Anita Diamant's novel, Day After Night. While I won't "publish" the review here, I can sum it up. Holocaust literature is a hard field these days; many important works have already been published. Diamant's novel fills in the gaps in explaining what happened next. After the war, when some survivors made it to Palestine, what were their lives like? How did they cope? This novel is compelling, inspiring, and hard to put down. Worth reading, full stop.

Finally, in the category of beach book read, I've been listening to these fun Greek-American adventure novels by Tori Carrington. The first one is called Sofie Metropolis - A Sofie Metropolis Novel (#1). These are great while knitting or spinning, and it feels like I have company while I'm drinking a Greek coffee at home by myself! (I like the reader for the first two books especially.)

It seems to me that it's a writer's job to read a lot. That's one of the ways I "feed" myself, get excited about new places and ideas, and stay inspired. 2009 was a big year for me--I moved to another country and both Fiber Gathering and Knit Green came out--but I wrote (and rewrote and reread) those books a while back. For me, every day is a chance to read new things!

Hope I boosted your "to be read" list for 2010! Please leave me comments about books, especially if you have additional books to add to my list. :)

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Blogger PghCathy said...

Thanks for the book titles. This is where I read about Susan Tweit's book (title eludes me at this moment) that I enjoyed. I now follow her on her blog.

I agree with you about Diamant's book. I enjoyed it. The only other book I've read about life in Palestine after the Holocaust is Leon Uris's Exodux...loved it.

I've just finished reading Lisa Scottoline's book of her newspaper columns for the Philadelphia Inquire called Why My Next Husband Will Be a Dog. It is not a man-bashing book...I'm not quite sure why that's the title. It was a perfect read for this time of year because each article is only a couple pages & I felt I finished something.

Another book I finished was a juvenile fiction: Extra Credit by Andrew Clements. Its about an American girl writing to a school child in Afghanistan. The Afghan tribal council wants their best student to represent them, but felt it very inappropriate for a boy to write to a girl. What happens & how it transpires makes for a fast, but interesting read.

The other 2 books I have going are about empowering women: Half the Sky & Leading with CARE...I don't have the authors handy.

December 23, 2009 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger Joanne said...

Thanks for all those suggestions, PghCathy! I appreciate it and will check them out! One comment about titles--writers don't usually get to choose their titles, or if they do, it's not usually their first choice. So, Lisa Scottoline's publisher might have chosen that title for her book and that's why it might not make sense!

December 24, 2009 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Thank you for those. I need to go read them.

Rachel Remen's "My Grandfather's Blessings" and "Kitchen Table Wisdom" are two of the most important books I've ever read. Her grandfather had been a rabbi in Russia who had a recurring dream of a black eagle snuffing out the lights in all the synagogues across Europe, and fled with his entire congregation to the US just ahead of WWII.

His granddaughter is the best of the best. I've met her. She is exactly the person you would expect from her books: the person I want to be like when I grow up.

--AlisonH at spindyeknit.com

December 25, 2009 at 5:01 PM  

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