31 December 2008

Alias Grace

Alias Grace: A NovelI read this one for my local book group and I enjoyed it, although I doubt I would have spent the time on it that I did if I hadn't been reading it for a book group. But I was on vacation and didn't have as much time to read, so it took longer than it should have.

It's well-written and interesting to read. I did rather like Grace. And I think it'll be a good and different discussion at this book group than I've heard there so far.

30 December 2008

I thought I was completely wiped out after we got home yesterday from Utah, but then I saw someone with a U-Haul outside and I decided I wasn't really so very tired.

I think this visit to Utah was probably the best one we've ever had.

22 December 2008

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall DownJulie has been raving about this book everywhere for months and months now and I finally had a chance to read it last week and I'd have to agree that this is one of the best books I've ever read. There was so much in here that I'd love to discuss with a book group and I hope to do so someday.

I think this book affected me so much partly because I have a niece who had some bad experiences getting her epilepsy treated, and because I've seen so many times how difficult cultural misunderstandings are. I kept thinking of so many people, including me, that I've known as I was reading this.

Highly recommended.

17 December 2008

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the WorldThis is another book group book. I didn't need it read it till February, but I put it on hold because there were about 50 people ahead of me. I don't know what happened, but it came in the next week and now I have to return it on Friday because someone else wants it. Hopefully I'll remember enough to make a contribution to the discussion.

Anyway, I can't say I was very impressed with this book. I got nervous about this book when I read Po Bronson's recommendation on the back cover because I didn't much like the only Bronson book I've read. It was also too long; I was tired of it by page 200 out of over 300 pages. Wiener has a very readable style, but a little goes a long way.

I don't see why Weiner thought he could jet off to all these countries for a couple of weeks at a time and find out why they were happy or not when he didn't even speak the languages of many of them. Iceland and the UK were fine, obviously, but I felt that Qatar and Moldova especially were simplified and over-generalized. And I think he dismissed differences within countries much too easily.

Why did he choose Qatar for his super-wealthy example? Yes, it's wealthy, but it's all new wealth, and new changes don't often make people really happy. Countries with older wealth would have been more interesting.

As for Moldova, I absolutely do not think you can travel to many post-Soviet country without speaking the languages there and not spending much time there and come away with a positive feeling about the country. I thought Kyrgyzstan was pretty depressing until I got to know some people and visit them in their homes and speak Russian to them, and then I saw that there were many happy people in Kyrgyzstan. But two weeks in Kyrgyzstan just brushing over the surface of the country? No thanks. Even though the fruits and vegetables are very fresh.

I also thought it was interesting how much emphasis he placed on culture. I disagree that Qatar and Moldova are without culture; instead, they have undergone huge changes in the last 20 years and it's hardly fair to expect those countries to have worked things out yet. And what about cultures that cross borders or immigrate to other places? Like the Hmong? Part of that culture is in China known as the Miao and many Hmong have emigrated. If culture is so important, are they as happy wherever they are? That would have been interesting.

Weiner also LOVES statistics. I was so tired of all his studies by the end of the book.

Weiner travels to 5 European countries and 4 Asian. A little more geographpic diversity would have been nice, although Europe was obviously easier to get to since Weiner doesn't speak any other languages, apparently.

The chapters about Bhutan and Iceland were the best out of the book. His writing about Iceland gave me a new look at the word naive.

A couple of interesting though obvious ideas:

Trust and tolerance are necessary for democracy
Happiness is a choice and relative
Ambition and money might not bring happiness
Some money is necessary for happiness for most people, but it's a different amount in different places

There were some good quotes, but, as usual, I can't find them now.

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas CarolNo, I'd never read this book before. I hardly needed to, since it's so popular. But I'd always thought it was rather dark and not what I wanted to read for Christmas. And reading it didn't change my mind. I know many, many people love it, and that's fine, so just let me not like it much. I don't think there are any specifically Christmas books that I do really like.

Land of Yesterday, Land of Tomorrow: Discovering Chinese Central Asia

I had high hopes for this book, based on the title and the fact that it's a book for children on an ignored part of the world. But, I can't recommend it. The pictures were good, but no better than they are in lots of other Central Asia books. And the text was boring or inaccurate. Someday I will put a list together of good children's books to read about Central Asia.

15 December 2008

It's amusing to live in a city where any temperature below freezing is considered "very cold weather." I'm used to living in cities where any temperature above freezing in the winter feels pretty warm. I hope we all survive the 20s tonight.

10 December 2008

Interpreter of Maladies

I thoroghly enjoyed Interpreter of Maladies. I liked The Namesake, but this one was excellent. Recommended.

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo is yet another travel book where the authors are trying to recreate someone else's journey. The biggest difference with this one is that the book is beautiful and the pictures are wonderful (except I would have preferred more pictures of the people they met, instead of so many group shots with the authors in the mix). I expect many people would love this book and it really is a good book if you haven't read lots of travel books about the region, or haven't been there yourself. So in general, it's recommended, even highly, as an interesting and painless way to learn a bit more about Asia. And it's lovely to read a Marco Polo book where they actually go everywhere and don't fly.

I still prefer Ella Maillart's books though. I think she writes better and is more interesting. I thought it was strange that Belliveau kept trying to make their 20th-century Asia mirror Marco Polo's 13th-century Asia. I am also not very impressed to read about people who risk others' lives to follow some former traveler's footsteps. You can risk your own life if you want to, but don't ask others to escort you.

I couldn't believe some of the things they tried though- crossing into eastern Tajikistan from Afghanistan in 1993? And thinking that just because you have a Tajik visa that the crossing wouldn't be a problem? I was impressed they made it along the southern Silk Road in China. You can do that now, but it took some doing then.

Someday I'd love to read a book from the perspective of a guide employed by intrepid Western travelers of Asia.
Eid Mubarak

09 December 2008

The Wednesday Wars

What a great book! I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Wednesday Warsis recommended for any reader.

Here's Melissa's longer review.

05 December 2008

Children of God

This is the sequel to The Sparrow. I didn't like Children of God anywhere near as much as The Sparrow, although it's still a decent book. But it's too long and almost boring in parts. I skimmed the last 150 pages because there are other books calling me from the shelf.

Art of the Loom

I've been reading a lot of books about textiles recently and Art of the Loom: Weaving, Spinning And Dyeing Across the World was a good one about the looms used and textiles created by a variety of people around the world.

04 December 2008

Yes, I am now the proud owner of a dutch oven. We shall see if this improves our camping experience by testing it next week at the ocean. Because camping has been a bit of a flop in our family. The yurt should help too.

02 December 2008

It's hard to keep the baby out of the toilet and keep the bathroom door open so it doesn't completely moulder away. Fortunately we only have one bathroom. I don't know what I'd do if there were 3 toilets to guard.

01 December 2008

A House in Fez

A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco was an amazing and frustrating book. It's the story of an Australian couple who buys an home in the old city of Fez and restores it. The book mostly details that restoration and what the author learns about living in Morocco. It really was fascinating.

But it also was boring in parts- too much detail about the cost of building materials and things like that. And what was up with all the promotion of their blog? I would have been interested in hearing more about the people Clarke knows now in Morocco. We only heard about the workers, one former neighbor, and a seriously flaky 23-year-old woman. A woman who managed to get Clarke to write papers for her in English so she could graduate and continue living off her parents and hope to live off a husband someday.

But it's definitely recommended, even though it could have been better. I can't tell you how much my husband and I would love to do something like this.

Christmas Jars

Christmas JarsBook group selection. It's short. It's typical Christmas stuff. It's done.

Little Leap Forward

I read Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing yesterday while the baby was sleeping in the car during church. It's definitely different from other books about the Cultural Revolution in China, and certainly more appropriate for children. This will be a good read-aloud when we're learning about the Cultural Revolution.

The Queen

The British royal family isn't our usual movie-watching fare, but my husband heard this one was good, so we watched it last week and we both enjoyed it. We thought it was well-acted and interesting. I thought the character development through the film was good too. If you're concerned about the PG-13 rating, my husband and I missed whatever it was that gave it that rating.