Saturday, June 30, 2007

LAST TBR Review: Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie

Well, folks, I'm done with the 2007 TBR challenge. I know that I'm supposed to read one book a month, but I'm trying to get done with my other challenges before the challenge I'm hosting, Something About Me, starts on August 1.

Of course I've heard of Salman Rushdie. I remember vaguely the flap about the book Satanic Verses, back when I was in high school. It all sounded so political, so Islamic..? Back then I was ignorant, but I carried with me this idea that his books would be tome-like, too intellectual, above me somehow. So I never read that, or any other of his books.

When Shalimar the Clown came out and I read the reviews, I thought "well, maybe I should try reading Rushdie after all". I'm so glad I did. This is just the type of book that I like. Education and insight into another culture and country (in this case Kashmir) without feeling like you are being educated. In other words, Rushdie is a master at educating the reader about the conflicted region of Kashmir, while weaving it into the storyline in a way that is entertaining and masterful.

This book has it all: love, revenge, politics, culture. Read it, oh do. Here's a sample passage that I like:

For Shalimar the clown the total abnegation of the self was a more problematic requirement, a sticking place. He was, he wanted to be, a part of the holy war, but he also had private matters to attend to, personal oaths to fulfill. At night his wife's face filled his thoughts, her face and behind hers the face of the American. To let go of himself would be to let go of them as well; and he found that he could not order his heart to set his body free.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Two Reviews

NYT Notable Challenge Review: The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. Ugh. That's all I really want to say about this book. Why on earth it made it to the NYT Notable list I don't know. Bookmarks Magazine also gave it a pretty good was already on my to be read list before I signed up for the challenge. Usually I have good luck following Bookmarks' suggestions. This is a book about a guy who gets in a car accident and ends up with Capgras syndrome, which is a rare brain issue. There's a lot of information about brain function in the book, which I generally find interesting but in this novel was utterly boring. Also, there's a lot of information about birds -- the lead in to most chapters is a description of bird life. Also pretty boringly written. I read another book entirely while stalled in the middle of this book, something I rarely ever do. I didn't want to pick up this book to finish it, but I was on vacation and hadn't brought another book to read. So I finished it, grudgingly.
I chose this as one of the books that says something about me for the Something About Me challenge. It was the only book I chose that I hadn't read, but I knew without reading it that it would say something about me! I was an Air Traffic Controller for 11 years before I had kids and my husband still does the job. Almost every book, article, movie, etc. about air traffic control gets it hideously wrong. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed watching the movie Pushing Tin. They got some things right, too, but that's not how it really is. This book is phenomenal in detail, getting almost everything right. I "recognized" the language, the culture and the camaraderie. He goes into a lot of detail about air traffic control and how it works. This was highly interesting to me, but I'm not sure if it would be for the layperson. Still the story is engaging and horrifying (not too sure if I should have picked it to read on a plane, but...) and fast paced. If you like good suspense, I think you'll like it. Not only that, you'll get some education about the politics that go on for air traffic controllers, and you might even do something about it, like visit The Main Bang or write your senator!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Review: And Baby Makes Three by John Gottman, Ph.D.

I've said before how much I love John Gottman. As a couples therapist, I counsel primarily on the concepts that have been studied and proven to work by this brilliant man. He is one of the only marital therapists alive who is actually studying results in scientific studies and can tell us without a doubt what works and what doesn't.

This is his newest book. I have a few couples making the transition to parenthood right now, so I thought I'd read it to see if anything is new. Considering that there is a 67% drop in marital satisfaction after the first child is born, something should be done! In our society, we do all kinds of things to prepare for baby, but no action is usually taken to prevent the marital distress that usually follows the first child into the world.

This book, as expected, is wonderful for new parents to read to normalize what is happening in their relationship and to open up subjects for discussion. Many things, previously taken for granted (like good sex), now have to be renegotiated. The conversation might be easier to start if it can start with "So what did you think about what he said about x?"

If you're having a baby, or if your first child sent your relationship into a tailspin and you can't figure out why, I implore you to read this book.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Blogger Tribute

Natalie Rose
December 15, 1973 - June 7, 2007

Some of you know, from my sidebar, that I am hosting a reading challenge starting in August. The idea is to choose five books that somehow represent you. Then, when everyone has listed their five books, you choose some books you'd like to read - either because of the content of the books, or because you'd like to get to know a certain blogger better.

One of the participants of this challenge was Nattie Rose. I added her blog to my blogroll and she became one of my "blogger friends". She loved to read (she was hosting a Newberry reading challenge on her blog), had two small children, was divorced, and was an online advocate for Christian women.

On May 21st, she reported on her blog that she had been diagnosed with cancer, some kind of rare stomach cancer. Things happened quickly. We found out through her father that her cancer was inoperable, and yesterday he posted the above picture, letting us know that she had died. She was 33.

This is a new world of "friendship" now that we have blogging to connect us. How should one grieve for someone one has never met, or should you even? Does this even qualify as a "friend"? I've not commented on her blog, because I was in a dilemma over what one could say that would sound sincere when you've never even met someone. I've a feeling this issue will only continue to grow as we connect with one another cyber-ly, and the emotional implications are fascinating for me.

All said, I'm sad.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I don't believe it. The man is a genius. I have a hard time believing that there is any book out there that could possibly be better than The Kite Runner, but I think he's done it!!

I read this book in about two days. Slept terrible last night, wondering what on earth would become of Mariam and Laila (both names I LOVE, by the way!) This is a book that could be consumed in one sitting, except for the enormously heavy emotional toll it takes. I, not given to crying over books, cried three times in the course of this book. Last night, lying in bed, I just couldn't believe that in the 1990's, when I was driving around in my convertible with loud music, dating guys and making a lot of money -- women, somewhere in the world, were being treated like this. I'm ashamed of my lighthearted levity concerning my privileges. That's what this book does to you.

Yeah, it's fiction. But don't kid yourself. There's probably a thousand women who could tell Mariam or Laila's exact story, only it's the truth. Khaled Hosseini makes you hold your breath, gasp, cry ... he makes you want to quit your job and go work for the Red Cross or something.

One of the things I loved about the Kite Runner, and can also be said for this book -- it's like getting an education without reading a textbook. Hosseini is great at weaving details about the Afghan region into the narrative in ways that are not cumbersome or preachy.

I know this review is all over the place. It's because I'm stunned. This is truly a masterpiece. And I wouldn't be surprised if Hosseini has more in him. I can hardly wait to find out.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

TBR Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

I've wanted to read this book for a long time. Specifically, since I saw the movie as a teenager. A boyfriend took me to the movie at the time, presumably for it's titillating qualities -- indeed, I'd call the movie 'soft porn'. Anyway, I didn't really understand the characters in the movie. I mean, I was a teenager and all, but even then I couldn't understand their motivations, didn't get what they were about.

I'm so glad I read the book. I'd like to see the movie again now, but from what I remember, the movie is very different than the book. The book goes into more detail. Tereza, who in the movie is a weak, waif like dependent wife, is really an abandoned child looking for someone with strength to take care of her. But also, she understands a lot more than it appears. These things are able to be fleshed out in a book format, but not so much in a movie. So, in the book, you get more of a character study of each character and why they are behaving in such manners.

Having said that, I didn't really like the book all that much. The characters seem unconnected. There isn't really a storyline. You get inside one person's head in one chapter, and another's the next. But it isn't in the context of an ongoing story. In addition, at times Kundera completely steps out of the story altogether and starts talking to the reader about his philosophical ideas which are barely connected to whatever part of the story he has been telling. I really don't like it when authors do this. Tell a story, or write a nonfiction book about your philosophical ideas...but don't try to do both at once. Later in the book, he branches off for entire chapters about his views on religion and politics. By the end, I was skimming over entire pages just to get to the end.

So the final verdict is that I'm glad I read it because of my personal history with the film....but you might not be so glad if you read it. :)