27 February 2009

Hanna's Daughters

Hanna's Daughters: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle)A friend in Sweden mentioned this book a couple of weeks ago, so I found an English translation here to read and I enjoyed it. It's probably not the sort of book I would have picked up (mother-daughter relationships), but it was worth the time to read it. I'm hoping my Swedish friend and another friend finish it soon because there are a few things worth discussing from it.


We found this old Soviet-era guidebook for Bishkek at the university library the other day and it's been lots of fun to read. Reading the Soviet version of Kyrgyz history is always interesting, and I also like seeing what has changed in Bishkek in the last 30 years. It's easier to imagine that the author was exaggerating than that Bishkek ever was a "City of Smiles," at least for tourists.

26 February 2009

More Proof That Winter is Better Than Summer

July and August- 5 new books in two months

January and February- 22 new books in two months

That's the average of the last three years' reading in the winter and the summer. Proof that summer kills brain cells.

24 February 2009

The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

The Reindeer People: Living With Animals and Spirits in SiberiaYes, I've read this one before, and blogged about it too, but it's such a good book it's worth writing about again. It's too rare a combination to have a scholar like Piers Vitebsky who can write an engaging book for the general public. Not that this book is unique in that way, but it's unusual.

This really is the book to read if you're going to read something about Siberia. Highly recommended.

And I'm going to link it on Melissa's challenge, because it's just that good.

23 February 2009

I've done geography games like this before, but this one has some new places to find. I did great on the UNESCO sites up to level 12, and then I missed almost every one. I would also like to point out the Namangan was spelled wrong on the Asia challenge. But world capitals is doable.

20 February 2009

I dug out the spinning and crocheting and quilting stuff this week. All I've done since the baby was born is read and cook, and I'm ready to branch out a bit. I'm hoping to start weaving soon too, but since I've been saying that for years, I don't know that it will really happen. It looks like we could be here for another year, so it's worth getting some boxes out again. Two years in one place would be new.

I should get going on a language again. Farsi would make sense, or Uzbek since my husband is studying that. I could whip my Russian into shape, but I won't since I don't really like Russian. It's a language of necessity for me, unlike Arabic. I would like to work on Arabic again. Unfortunately, all my friends here either speak English or Korean.

Blah blah blah. I want to go to Asia. At least we're having something good for dinner (this link makes it look way more complicated than it actually is, since you don't have to do everything there). Honestly, if I didn't cook Asian food, I'd probably go crazy.

17 February 2009

North and South

North and South (Norton Critical Editions)I never thought I'd have a reason to say this but...

The movie was better.

15 February 2009

Al-Haram al-Sharif Walking Tour

I finally sat down today and went through Saudi Aramco World's walking tour of the Haram al-Sharif. It's not to be missed.

Someday I'm going to make a series of quilts based on designs from the Haram.

14 February 2009

Banker to the Poor

Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World PovertyI read this book by Muhammad Yunus for a book group and enjoyed it very much. Yunus writes and interesting and readable book. He has good and important ideas. The book is recommended, although it didn't really clear up any of the controversy over microcredit, for me.

International development is something my husband and I talk about a lot, especially now that he's taking development classes. We both feel strongly that groups often overlooked by aid agencies, like women and the very poor, are where more efforts need to be targeted. We both think education is a huge part of the solution, although it's certainly not the only part. Some people think Grameen is an excellent tool to help end poverty, others are much less certain.

So which is it- does Grameen help people get out of poverty, or is it a debt trap? Is it financially sustainable? A lot of the criticism of Grameen comes from World Bank, which isn't exactly my favorite institution. And certainly there are predatory microcredit institutions out there.

If anyone can point me to a balanced article about Grameen and the conflicting claims about it, I'd appreciate it. And I recommend the book.

12 February 2009

Love in the Driest Season

Love in the Driest Season: A Family MemoirI read Love in the Driest Season for my local book group. I thought it was an good book, and well told. It’s the story of an American couple who adopts a baby from Zimbabwe in 1999 and 2000. It does follow Neely Tucker’s trips around Africa some, as a foreign correspondent, and can be graphic in those sections, but mostly, it focuses on the adoption.

Not surprisingly, I was rather invested in this story after volunteering in an orphanage in Kyrgyzstan. There were details that reminded me so clearly of my orphanage, even though the situation in Bishkek is relatively so much better than in Zimbabwe. Orphanage life is never great anywhere.

Just to be clear, I am a supporter of adoption, including international, as one of the ways to help children anywhere in the world. However, it’s not a perfect solution, or even the best solution. It’s one tool that, if used wisely, can help reduce the number of street children and children living in orphanages and foster homes.

As the story is told, Neely and Vita Tucker choose international adoption for all the right reasons, and they go about it in the right way. They follow the laws of Zimbabwe, they don’t pay bribes. They live in Zimbabwe and hope to be able to stay there longer, but aren’t able to because of the political situation. They continue to work with the orphanage their daughter was at. Before reading this book I’d read some misleading reviews that criticized the Tuckers, but I have to heartily disagree.

My biggest concern with this book is that it’s a bit limited. Even though it wasn’t meant to be a primer on international adoption, I do think that at least an afterword or something about international adoption would have been appropriate. A brief explanation of why there are concerns about international adoption (you can make a good case for its being the worst kind of colonialism, and there are worse places in the world for a child to be than an orphanage) and why Zimbabwe was, at the time, so reluctant to allow international adoption would have been helpful. Even some book suggestions would have been good, because I’d imagine that more than one person who reads this book might want to adopt, and this book says not a word about the time after the adoption is completed, which can be harder than the adoption itself.

But that's a small limitation. It's a book well worth reading.

The Birth House

The Birth House: A Novel (P.S.)I rather enjoyed this book by Ami McKay despite its flaws. It was a quick read. Dora's evolution from a conservative and rather simple girl to a dynamic woman was interesting to read, although most of the other characters could have been better developed- fewer characters might have been better (and Dora was dumped into too many historical events). I would think this book would be well received right now with the increasing interest in midwifery and homebirth. But the whole midwife/wisewoman and young female apprentice is pretty familiar.

I did think the end was a bit too smooth and the part in Boston was almost weird because it didn't fit with the rest of the book. But I suppose it was necessary to help explain why Dora changed so much. Still, it seemed that Max had a bigger impact on her life than the occasional knitters, and I think the opposite would have been more realistic.

11 February 2009

Current Food Project

I'm finished looking for fish recipes and have moved on to stuff to put on rice. On plain, cooked rice. About once a week I like to cook a big pot of rice and have lots of different things to put on it. The boys like a basic red curry. I do too, but I also really like buttermilk curry and nam jeem and spicy peanut sauces and more. There's always some sort of homemade chile paste in the fridge. And of course there's soy sauce and fish sauce and black vinegar and rice vinegar and all that. I need to go through my cookbooks more carefully, since there really isn't a big sauce section. But there are sauces in most every cookbook that can go on rice.

Any more suggestions?

09 February 2009

Mornings on Horseback

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore RooseveltI liked this biography of Theodore Roosevelt's early years. I did skim the last bit, since I rarely make it through biographies with a strong finish, but McCullough has a knack for writing about what I'm interested in. And it helped that this book stopped (rather abruptly) when Roosevelt was about 25.

08 February 2009

French Milk

French MilkI wasn't going to read travel and food books for a while, but I picked this one up at the bookstore while I was there today with middle son. This one was quick to read, like his graphic novel, so we both finished our books at the bookstore. Two less things on hold.

Anyway, I didn't really enjoy this book. I think you need to relate somewhat to the author, or at least be interested in what she's doing, to enjoy this book since the writing isn't anything amazing. And I neither related nor cared about what she was doing. Her Paris wouldn't be my Paris. Of course, if I could spend 5 weeks in another country, I wouldn't even consider Paris. If you love all things Paris, I would think you'd love this book, but I can't recommend it.

07 February 2009

Books to Discuss or Books to Read

Something else I've noticed about book groups is that there seems to be two types of choosers: people who want to read a good book, and people who want to discuss a good book.

Obviously, you want a book that's good to read and good to discuss, and there are plenty out there that fit both categories. But I can't think of a time that I've recommended or chosen a book for a book group that I haven't read because I want to be sure anything I chose would be a good discussion. The discussion is the focus for me.

But many people choose books they want to read- that's the focus. And I can see why- if you aren't reading a lot more than what your book group chooses, why would you choose something you've already read? Even if you do read a lot, you might not want to reread books very often because there's so much out there you still want to get to. But if you haven't read the book already, how do you know it would be a good fit for your group? Or if you'll even like it? The worst sort of discussions are when the chooser and the leader of the discussion didn't even finish it.

I can't help feeling that the focus on reading might make the discussions overall a little less worthwhile. Or do you think any good book is worth discussing?

06 February 2009

Tender at the Bone

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the TableSometimes you stumble on a book that's wonderful. A pleasure to read and interesting. One that you're not in any hurry to get through because every time you pick it up you know you'll be reading something you like. I don't remember where I found this recommendation, but I really enjoyed Tender at the Bone. It wasn't perfect (memoirs almost never are), and the food isn't necessarily my style, but Ruth Reichl's writing makes it all worth it. I'll be reading more of her books.

I think this will pretty much be the end of reading books that fit into Melissa's challenge. I've mostly gotten over January's food and travel fetish.

05 February 2009

Foreign Correspondence

Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All OverI think I've now read all of Geraldine Brooks' books, both fiction and non-fiction. This one is a memoir of her growing up in Australia and especially her pen pals. Like all of Brooks' writing, this book is interesting and well written, which I really think is too a unique combination in a journalist. However, it wasn't really what the back of the book said it would be. Most of the book focused on Brooks' letters to and from her American pen pal, with only short mentions of her other pen pals. At the end Brooks manages to track down the old penpals, but that's hardly the focus of the book.

Brooks' mentions Jill Ker Conway a couple of times, which was nice since I've read Conway's memoir of Australia too. Interesting comparisons there.

I was thinking this book would certainly count for Melissa's challenge, but since it turned out to be rather different that I was expecting, it's a little less sure. But I think it does.


MarchI'm debating why I can't say that I loved this book. I thought it was a good story and very well written. It explored interesting ideas. The characters didn't seem to be entirely modern, although they were a little. But I didn't like it as much as Geraldine Brooks' other novels I've read, People of the Book and Year of Wonders. I'm wondering if it's because March is so opposite of Little Women and maybe I'm more attached to Little Women than I thought I was.