27 September 2009

Catching Fire

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)
My library finally managed to get this book processed and out to the people who've been waiting on hold. As expected, it was a great and quick read. I thought it could have been better, but it seemed like a typical second book in a trilogy, so I'll just wait till next year when I can read the end.

I did like Peeta so much more in the this book. I never did like him much in The Hunger Games. I'm still not sure if I like Katniss.

The Power of Babel

The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language
I enjoyed this book about language by John McWhorter. I didn't like everything about it, but it's an easy-to-read overview of how languages change and evolve. It's pretty basic, since I was familiar with a lot of what he said, but what I liked best were the interesting examples from languages all around the world he has throughout the book to help explain what he's getting at. Too many books I've read about language are heavy on examples from familiar languages, or just briefly mention the "exotic" ones.

Unfortunately, the book feels a little dated already, and it was only published in the early 2000s. There are many, many references to popular American culture, which can make it more enjoyable to read in some ways, but I think overall, it was a little much.

The best thing about this book is that it neatly clears up a lot of myths and misunderstandings about how language changes- things like dialects, non-standard forms of a language, etc. I also thought the chapter on language death and the practical realities surrounding it were good. It's a great book for people who aren't linguists to understand. And since too many linguists seem to have a problem making themselves understood by the general population, that's a good thing.

23 September 2009

The Year My Son and I Were Born

The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery
I took a break from lots of interesting reading about language and languages to read this book by Kathryn Lynard Sloper. I wanted to read it because I like anything she writes, but this book turned out to be so much more than a well-written memoir about the year after her son, Thomas, was born. There are lots of reviews about the book, so you can go read one of them (this one is my favorite and what finally gave me the idea to check at my library for it) if you want that.

This isn't just a book about Down Syndrome, or post-partum depression, although those are two major parts of the book, and I can see why it's often been described as a book about those things. But it's so much more than that. Kathryn has the ability to write about motherhood in a way that can make anyone understand it better.

She also isn't writing a book where everything is all better in the end. It's clear that there are still going to be plenty of challenges ahead, but it's always nice to see how someone deals with something- whatever it is- that knocks them flat on their face.

I also was interested to read about her and her husband's decisions about hearing aids and other various intervention. It seems to me that there is such a push now to provide as many opportunities as possible for disabled children, which is wonderful, but maybe not what every single disabled child needs. I'm glad they were able to make decisions they felt were right for Thomas even though others disagreed with them.

All in all, an excellent read for so many reasons. Do see if it's at your library. Or buy it.

15 September 2009

The Big Rock Candy Mountain

The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Contemporary American Fiction)
I've been wanting to read this for a while, so I was pleased when it came up for a book group. And I liked it, although not as much as I liked Angle of Repose last year. When the book was all over, I just didn't like Bo. Usually I sympathize with the main character of a book, even when he or she isn't all that great of a person, because I've learned a lot about the character and understands them better. But I just couldn't sympathize with Bo. I was hoping for something to happen, but he just annoyed me the entire time. And Elsa's understanding of him bugged me even more.

It was still very worth reading for many reasons. A friend of mine who read this recently said there was a lot of big rock mountain, but not much candy. It isn't a very cheerful book. But I love to read Stegner because he writes about the West in a way I relate to. This book in particular talked about so many places I've lived or spent a lot of time. He gets the West. I think I'll try Crossing to Safety too.

12 September 2009

Mixing Up the Spices

I finally sorted out the spices last weekend because I'd started throwing the wrong thing from the wrong unmarked plastic bag into dinner. But it turns out that black cumin is excellent in stuffing. That's a combination I never would have tried.

11 September 2009

Back to School, Whether It's Good for the Family or Not

I always get a little happy and sad at this time of the year, seeing all the children in the neighborhood going back to school. Happy for them, because they're excited and (usually) ready for a new year. But sad for the loss of so many things too.

Learning new things is about the most important thing any child can do. And public schools are a great way to do that. I wish they didn't control so much of a family's time though. Sometimes it's just little things, like when you go on vacation, or setting a daily routine. But school often dictates big things, like where a family lives or even the jobs the parents can have.

One of our neighbors recently moved because their child was assigned (our public school system apparently has some sort of lottery and is happy to send kids to a school an hour from home) to a school on the south side of the city. Since they, logically, value living near their kindergarten's school, they moved. There are countless other families who have moved to get into a better school, or to be closer to school, or who have bought a house that was too expensive so their children could be in a good school. It can force people to make really hard decisions.

I get especially worked up about this when I talk to or read about international/nomad type families. One in particular was in the most recent issue of Steppe magazine. In 2003, Alex and Eleanor Duncan and their young children (4 by 2008) moved to the Wakhan in Afghanistan. The Wakhan is one of the most isolated areas of an already very isolated country. Alex Duncan is a doctor and practiced medicine there. They rented a Wakhi house and settled in into their one room place. But in 2008, they returned to the UK because their oldest child was ready for school. Now, maybe there were other reasons why they returned to the UK, but if the motivating factor really was school for their children, I wish that some other education system could have been used. There are no Wakhi doctors. Alex Duncan was it, and the family was happy there. Infant mortality was cut in half while they were there. This is an incredible family that (in my opinion) should be in Afghanistan, not in the UK.

I wish there were more options, or more widely-accepted and affordable options for children to get a good education.

09 September 2009

Another Library Meme

From Melissa

1.If you don’t frequent your local library, why not?
There have been times that I haven't used the local library much, usually because there's a better university library available. Or because the local library is pathetic and didn't allow requests from other libraries.

2. If you do visit the library, how often do you go?
Once a week, every week.

3. Do you have a favorite section that you always head to first, or do you just randomly peruse the shelves?
No randomness. I'd rather browse on Amazon. I head for the hold section, check out my books, and leave. This city has lots of small branches which makes picking up books I want off the shelf unlikely, but there have been few books I want that I couldn't request, so I just need the hold section.

4. How many books are you allowed to check out at one time? Do you take advantage of this?
I think it's been 100, but the limit is changing. Since I go every week and I don't check out music and I'm on foot, I don't push the limit.

5. How long are you allowed to have the books checked out?
3 weeks.

6. How many times are you allowed to renew your check-outs, if at all?
Twice, if no one else has it on hold.

7. What do you love best about your particular library?
The holds.

8. What is one thing you wish your library did differently?
I agree with Melissa about the processing. Catching Fire isn't ready here yet either (but no one has been there to process it; they were really slow with The Last Olympian too).

9. Do you request your books via an online catalogue, or through the librarian at your branch?
Online every time. Why would I want to have to talk to anyone?

10. Have you ever chosen a book on impulse (from the online catalogue OR the shelves) and had it turn out to be totally amazing? If so, what book was it, and why did you love it?
Rarely. But one that I did find on the shelves was The Reindeer People. And if you know me at all, you know I'm a bit fanatic about that book. You should read it. I can't even link to one post about it, because I've blogged about it a lot.

08 September 2009


The library is back.

05 September 2009

Central Asian Bone Games and Bone Stories

I'm still interested in finding games, stories, and traditions about the sheep bones in Central Asia. I have a couple of stories, but not very many, and there's not much about the bones online, and most of what is online is about the games. Since they're called by so many different names, and not necessarily spelled the same on every website, they can be hard to track down online. But here are some new things:

One new tradition I found recently is that the groom at a Kazakh wedding might be given these bones from the sheep slaughtered for the meal to represent the hope that the couple would have a son who would play with the bones.

Here's a picture of a Kazakh boy's drawing of children playing with the bones.

There are a couple of traditions here from Mongolia about exchanging bones as a sign of friendship (I got my first 4 bones from one of my husband's students in Idaho when he saw how interested I was in them and some people in Kyrgyzstan were a bit surprised that their neighbors sold us bones instead of giving them to us- that was fine with me, because I wanted a lot) and about how the bones might be used in fortune telling.

"Shagai is also used in fortune telling. Four Shagai are rolled and depending on which sides they land on, a person will have a question answered. The sides with the convex humps are considered lucky to roll, with Horse being more lucky than Sheep, while the sides with the concave indents, goat and camel, are considered unlucky to roll. All four landing on the four different sides is considered very lucky."

And a mention in Manas:

The original meaning of the word "ordo" comes from the Kyrgyz traditional game called ordo (from "orto" i.e., "center, middle"). The game is played only by men who use sheep and horse knuckle bones. They draw a big circle on the even ground and place the "khan" in the center of the circle and also place his soldiers around the khan. By using different tactics, the players or "attackers" try to hit the khan and his soldiers with a tompoy (horse knuckle bone) with the aim of driving them out of the circle. This circle is compared to the kingdom of a khan and his army. In Manas, the game is mentioned several times. In the earliest episode of Manas, the young Manas is attacked by enemies while he was playing the ordo game with his friends.

The Devil's Highway

The Devil's Highway: A True Story
A neighbor loaned me this one and it was another interesting, although about a sad topic, read (I still have Urrea's The Hummingbird's Daughter on my list to read). It's also an important book to read about immigration over the US-Mexican border. Urrea presents all sides fairly and you sympathize with most everyone.

Boring Food Stuff

brown sugar
powdered sugar
black beans
pinto beans
white beans
fava beans
brown rice
quick oats
sesame seeds
chocolate chips
brown lentils
red lentils
whole wheat pasta
whole wheat macaroni
parboiled rice
whole wheat lasagne noodles
plain old rice
powdered milk
baking powder
baking soda
hard wheat
soft wheat

whole black pepper
maple flavoring
stick cinnamon
garlic powder
onion powder
crushed red pepper
montreal seasoning
chicken base
beef base
ground cloves
whole cloves
Old Bay
poultry seasoning
green cardamom
ground coriander
Thai red peppers
star anise
black mustard seed
Sichuan pepper
bay leaves
dried mint
poppy seed
seasoned salt
ground nutmeg
black cumin
curry powder

balsamic vinegar
tomato paste
lemon juice
vegetable oil
olive oil
peanut butter

frozen corn
frozen fruit
chicken breasts
ground pork
ground beef

yogurt starter

fish sauce
soy sauce
black rice vinegar
rice vinegar
rice noodles
black rice
broken rice
sticky rice
sesame oil
soybean paste
egg noodles
coconut milk
red curry paste
shrimp powder
tofu sticks

04 September 2009

So the entire library system for the entire city is closed this week. Everything. I planned ahead and have plenty of books checked out, both for me, the boys, and school, but I didn't know the website would be down too. No putting interesting books on hold, no checking to see what's available, no looking for something to read about the Old Kingdom of Egypt, no downloading audiobooks. Apparently I almost like the website better than the library itself, because that's what I'm really missing.

02 September 2009

The Chosen

I reread this one because I love it, and to decide for sure if I want to do it for a book group. I don't know how many times I've read it, but based on the state of my paperback, it's been more than a few times.

If I do decide to go with this one, I want to do something from a Palestinian perspective the next month. Not that The Chosen is overly pro-Israeli, but it obviously is written from a Jewish perspective, and I think it would be interesting to discuss a different view the next month. But I can't think of quite the right book. It must be well-written, and I think preferably fiction, although it doesn't have to be. It also needs to be readily available at my library, and not brashly political or about Palestine (since The Chosen certainly isn't brash). The point here is to read good literature and learn something along the way. A book that is Muslim in the way this one is Jewish would be good too.

You'd think I'd have read something that would be perfect, but nothing is coming to mind.