31 December 2007

2007 in Books

It looks like I reviewed about 80 new-to-me books this year which isn't too bad considering I read almost nothing new all summer. I don't know how people can do challenges like the 888 challenge where you pick 56 books you're going to read for 2008. How can you possibly know what you're going to want to read for an entire year? The whole thing would seem like a job, and that wouldn't make reading very interesting.

Anyway. There were some great finds this year. Elizabeth Wayland Barber's books were all fascinating (here, here, here, and here) and I wish there were more. I finally read The Great Game and liked it more than I thought I would. Some of the books I read for the Reading Across Borders challenge were excellent, like Suite Francaise and Ancestor Stones (and Forna's other book I read, The Devil that Danced on the Water). And there were some great travel books, like From Heaven Lake, News from Tartary, Forbidden Journey, and A Women's Asia. And I loved Guests of the Sheik and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. And So Many Enemies, So Little Time was a lucky find.

It's nice to have a record of what I've read.
I may not get around to posting every day, but I am thoroughly enjoying all the reading I can do right now as a breastfeeding mother. I honestly can't think of anything more pleasant than having to curl up with a book and my baby 10 times a day (well, I guess I skip the book at 4 in the morning). It makes it all worth it for me.

I did read an article once that said that nursing mothers shouldn't be reading and such while feeding their babies; instead, they should pay attention to the baby. Lovely idea, but it gives me a seriously sore neck to look down at my baby while he's eating. I'll pay attention to him when he's in a better position.

It will be nice in a few more weeks when we're ready to take on the world again. But for now, it's nice to just do the basics. And babies have a way of making you remember the basics.

Dreams from My Father

My husband got this book for me for Christmas. This is Barack Obama's first book, published 12 years ago before he was elected to any political office. It's basically a memoir of being raised by white parents and grandparents, but also the influence of his Kenyan family and also the years he spent as an organizer in Chicago. There really are three separate parts to the book and in the end they all tie together.

Hillary might not have been impressed with his international experience consisting mostly of a few years as a child in Indonesia, but I'm a lot more interested in a president who obviously has had a wider variety of influences than your typical white born-in-America candidate. And so I particularly enjoyed reading about Obama's years in Indonesia and also his family in Kenya. Obama writes very little about his mother, something he says he regrets in introduction to the new edition.

Overall I very much enjoyed this book and will see if I can check out The Audacity of Hope from the library. Both my husband and I are very interested in a candidate that will clearly send a message to the rest of the world that America has elected someone different. I am interested to see who will come out ahead in the primaries over the next 5 weeks.

Serving Crazy with Curry

I don't know why I didn't just wait a couple of days to read this book for Melissa's challenge, but I didn't. This book is Amulya Malladi and is set in California. The Veturi family from India has lived in the US for 30 years and has two grown daughters. The book is basically the story of those two daughters (and also their parents and grandmother) working through some hard times. It has some difficult parts, but it's overall an uplifting sort of book- like one of the reviewers writes, it's life-affirming. And if you're interested in Indian cooking, this is the book for you.

Which Witch

This is another unique book by Eva Ibbotson and I rather enjoyed this one too. As usual, Ibbotson is quite creative and even though the book has some rather dark parts (particularly the Symphony of Death; I skipped that part, thank you) it's a cheerful and lighthearted little book.

Beshkempir

I stumbled on this film at the library a few days ago. It's a very simple story set in Kyrgyzstan, mostly shot in Bar-Boulak. It's quite short with little talking, and it's mostly black and white with a few shots or scenes in color. I particularly liked how it showed a lot of details of traditional Kyrgyz life from birth to death.

23 December 2007

Goodness, I didn't expect to disappear for so long. The baby is still happy, but we had a little trouble on the healthy part this week and I didn't even have time to read most days, much less do anything else. He's doing better now and is probably going to be totally fine, so there's nothing to worry about. And there never was a huge concern, but I'm not exactly at my mental best after giving birth. I never want to go through a week like that again, except for the holding the baby part.

And I didn't have a lot of library books that I wanted to read. I have a huge stack of fiction, but I am recalling that contemporary fiction is not my thing when I have little children. So I found my copy of Islam after Communism and am happily reading that. We'll see what happens with Melissa's reading challenge as a result. Of course, there doesn't seem to be anything banning non-fiction in the rules.

Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times

I think this is the last book on my list by Elizabeth Wayland Barber (see here, here, and here for her other books) and it probably has the broadest appeal. There's a lot in it that's the same as what was covered in several of her other books, especially Prehistoric Textiles, but on a more general level and with the goal of learning more specifically about the lives of women in ancient times. The focus is on textiles, which have almost always been produced by women because their production is possible while caring for children. (I discovered this after our first son was born when textile arts like quilting, crocheting, and spinning became the most practical way for me to keep my sanity.)

Barber uses archaeological and linguistic evidence to detail a variety of aspects of women's work in ancient times. The types of materials they used, where they got them and how they benefited from them, and why they created what they did are all discussed. Objects like loom weights appearing in new areas show women's (not just men's) migrations. Barber interprets some myths using archaeological and textile information. If you're just going to read one of her books, this is the one to read. Her final paragraph sums up the goal of the book:
We women do not need to conjure a history for ourselves. Facts about women, their work, and their place in society in early times have survived in considerable quantity, if we know how to look for them. Far from being dull and in need of fanciful paint to make it more interesting, this truth is sometimes (as the saying goes) stranger than fiction, a fascinating tale in itself.

17 December 2007

We Have a New Baby!

Our third son was born last Thursday afternoon. He is happy and healthy and about the most loved baby ever born.

We have waited for a very long time for this little boy to join our family and we are so happy he's here safely.

Watching TV during labor was nice. When the contractions were bad enough to keep my mind off my book (reviewed in the next post, and you should read it) I told my husband I wanted to watch football and he found a thing about the 2001 college season and then the Democrat debate. Good thing for sports and politics. :)

No pictures or name (for a boy who didn't have a name for a while, he ended up with a lot of names and I love them all) here, but for those of you who are interested, you can email me or leave a comment and I'll send you those details.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

I finished this one in the hospital last week, and it was lovely to have a good book to read while I was in labor.

The book is set in what is now Jiangyong County in Hunan, China, in the 19th century among the Yao. What makes it so excellent is that it accurately portrays the lives of women at the time, regular women. Lily, the narrator, and Snow Flower fit their times. I don't know why it is so rare for authors to write about women in this way, especially if the book is set earlier than the 20th century, but since it is, books like this are a real find.

But because of this, the book is quite difficult in some parts. The description of foot binding was certainly the most detailed and graphic I've ever read. Awful things happen to these women that they can't control, but when Lily responds in the conventional way, as would be expected, it contributes to Snow Flower's destruction.

There are so many fascinating topics in this book- the treatment of women, education (the whole idea of nu shu is amazing), conventionality, social class, and more. I would love to read this with a group of women and discuss it.

I didn't think the title quite captured what the book was really about, but it is a catchy title. I also wished it was clearer that the book was about the Yao. It was mentioned fairly often that the characters were Yao, I would hope that readers would be interested enough to learn more about the Yao and nu shu and its use among some of the Yao.

But these are very minor complaints about an excellent book.

11 December 2007

It seems like I missed reviewing a book or two in the last few weeks, but I'm not going to try to sort that out today. I did poke through Frances Wood's Did Marco Polo Go to China? which I rather liked, although it hardly matters whether he did or not at this point.

There are lots of historical records like that though, like whether 123 British prisoners really die in the Black Hole of Calcutta. It doesn't matter anymore if they did; what matters is that enough people in Britain believed that they did and it contributed to changing the course of Indian history. And it doesn't matter if Marco Polo actually went to China because enough people believed he did. (George Bush and company used this tactic nicely in 2003, didn't they?)

Anyway. Check out the link on the sidebar about grayness and dreams.

10 December 2007

The Secret of Platform 13

This was another great little book by Eva Ibbotson. This one is a children's fantasy set in London, and magical places that can only be reached from London. It feels very British- Americans just don't tell fairy tales in the same way. Recommended.

The Star of Kazan

I rather liked this book by Eva Ibbotson. I probably mostly picked it up for the title, but even though it had nothing to do with Kazan, it was a worthwhile story. It's children's historical fiction set in early 20th-century Vienna. Recommended.

Honey

I had a nasty sore throat (complete with inflammation and white spots) last week that, as usual, wasn't strep throat so the doctor couldn't do anything about it. When my throat gets inflamed, ibuprofen is the only thing that helps with the inflammation (except suffering with it for about a week; throat lozenges don't touch inflammation), but my doctor didn't want me to take that (she didn't have any other suggestions though) since I'm pregnant. So I had to figure out something else.

And for the first time ever, something besides ibuprofen helped. I'd read before and again early last week that honey is good for coughs and the throat. So I tried swallowing a spoonful of honey when my throat was keeping me awake at night. I was able to get to sleep and in the morning the inflammation was gone.

Don't think this is a particularly pleasant solution. Swallowing a spoonful of honey is worse than swallowing two ibuprofen. And just putting the honey in hot water didn't seem to be enough. But it's always on hand and you can take it when you need it. Of course, it might have just been a coincidence, but I'm grateful for anything that lets me sleep right now.

03 December 2007





I guess that cold, gray weather reminds me of China and makes me want to go back. It happened last winter and I just figured it was because I naturally wanted to go back, but the last few days of real winter weather have brought China back to mind, especially Xi'an.