30 November 2009

Baking Cakes in Kigali

Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel
This is another of those way-popular books that is a lot of fun to read, but ends up being a little disappointing because there really isn't much there. I liked it, it was worth reading, but it won't stick with me. It did skirt around some difficult topics, like female circumcision and AIDS and suicide and genocide, but didn't really tackle any of those topics. And there really was too much about cake and clothes, both of which I can do without.

29 November 2009

Pressed Tofu

I'm completely hooked on this stuff. Here's a simple way to prepare it that I have to write down before I forget it. Cut up some pressed tofu into small cubes and brush with a bit of vegetable oil, a little sesame oil, some salt and cayenne, and some black vinegar. Stir fry till it's starting to get crispy and serve with rice.

Lazy Reading

I've been reading a bunch of things recently, but not finishing anything new. I was working on a memoir and a biography, but, as so often happens, I fizzled out on both before the end of the book. That type of book isn't the best for me to check out of the library because I don't always read straight through them. The memoir was Dragon Fighter, about Rebiya Kadeer, a Uyghur activist. I got bogged down in her myriad business dealings, and even though her political activities picked up farther into the book, I just didn't keep going. The biography was Through the Land of Extremes about the Littledales, a husband and wife team who travelled extensively in Central Asia more than 100 years ago. Again, it was interesting, and I'd like to read more sometime, but not right now.

I also reread (again) The Girl of the Limberlost. I can't figure out why I like that book so much- the writing is overdone, it's preachy, some of the characters are terribly predictable, all good reasons to not like it. It's a lot like Little Women, though. I just can't help loving it.

25 November 2009

Too Bad the Pilgrims Weren't Afghan

Every year I think about being a little creative with Thanksgiving dinner, only to have any idea that's outside the norm shot down by the rest of the family. And I suppose it's fair, since they have to eat weird things all the rest of the year. So tomorrow we'll be having everything American-style, from the turkey to the rolls to the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie (I do sneak a little coconut milk into the pies though).

If I got to make a Thanksgiving dinner for myself, we'd have flatbread, chicken kebabs, some kind of basmati rice, a yogurt-vegetable salad, and we could still eat the American pies. Or we could have tamales, red rice, salsa, black beans, and the pies.

The cranberries are ready, and the pumpkin and chocolate pie, the bread cubes are dry, and the roll dough is in the fridge. Tomorrow we'll roast the turkey, heat the ham, make potatoes and gravy, stuffing, rolls, and bake the store-bought raspberry pie (cheating, yes, but I can't buy raspberries for less than the pie cost). That still sounds pretty good, even if the tamales sound better.

18 November 2009

Uncertain Roads: Searching for the Gypsies

Uncertain Roads: Searching for the Gypsies
I got this book about the Rom for the boys, but ended up reading it myself. There just doesn't seem to be a lot written about the Rom, but I was pleased to read this one. It's not long, and it has lots of pictures, so you don't get a lot from it, but it's always interesting to learn about people in their own words.

The book's almost 20 years old, and things have changed a lot in Eastern Europe since then. Yale Strom met most of the Rom he talks to just after the breakup of the Soviet Union. It would be fascinating to go back and see where these people are now, especially those who were teenagers then.

Disappointingly, my local library doesn't have much else about the Rom.

The Potato Peel book

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader's Circle)
I finally got around to reading The Guernsey Literary...Potato Peel... book. And honestly, I thought the book was a lot like the title. Charming, even cute, but really not much there. Yes, it was fun to read, and yes, I learned a little about the German occupation of the Channel Islands. The characters were lovely. The setting was beautiful. The book was quick to read. But I can't say there was much that would stay with you, and the whole thing was rather predictable. I didn't really expect anything different though, and it certainly wasn't a waste of time. I just hope none of my book groups choose it, although it's exactly the sort of book a lot of groups would choose.

Suite Francaise and 84, Charing Cross Road are both more worthwhile, on similar topics.

12 November 2009

The Diddakoi

I found this one while searching for books about the Romany. It turned out to be a nice little children's book, which wasn't clear from the library catalogue. It reminded me a bit of The Hundred Dresses and Understood Betsy and Mandy. It's a bit dated, but still certainly worth reading.

11 November 2009

Fifth Business

Fifth Business (Penguin Classics)
I read this one last week for a book group and enjoyed it. It's a little mysterious, a little different, and always well written. I think it'll be a fun one to discuss and I'm glad I read it- I don't know I would have other wise.

This is the first book in a trilogy. I think I might pick up the next one, although I don't feel compelled to.

Adam of the Road

Adam of the Road (Puffin Modern Classics)
This was a Newbery winner a long time ago. And like a lot of Newbery winners from a long time ago, it's a nice little book, but I can't say it was anything amazing. My eight-year-old would probably like it, but my ten-year-old would think it was boring.

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
I wasn't much impressed with this short book by Valerie Zenatti. It was all a little too predictable, or if it wasn't predictable, it was a bit unbelievable. I also thought it a bit unfair, in a book that says it shows both sides, to have the Israeli point of view so much better written and described. The Israeli main character has so much more happen to her and writes about it well, but the Palestinian character just trots out the same old Palestinian grievances. I can't really see how anyone would come away feeling much sympathy for the Palestinian side.

03 November 2009

Sweetness in the Belly

Sweetness in the Belly
I picked this one up on Melissa's recommendation a few weeks ago and enjoyed it as much as she did. In fact, I'd have to say this is one of the better books I've ever read. The characterization was perfect, the writing was so pleasant to read, the plot was simple but interesting, and it was different in so many ways.

I'm always interested in the way Islam and Muslims are portrayed in books, and Camilla Gibb does an excellent job of writing from a Muslim perspective. I thought Lilly's thoughts on Islam in the West in the last few pages were especially good, in addition to her experiences as a Muslim in two very different Muslim countries. This is a great book about Islam and its diversity.

The only thing that would have made this book better was for me to have a better understanding of Ethiopia's recent history. I have only the barest outline in my head of the last thirty years and the ethnic and religious differences in the country. But Gibb, who has a PhD in social anthropology and did fieldwork in Ethiopia, doesn't assume that the reader knows anything about Ethiopia and expertly weaves history into the plot- often novels that jump around in time seem a bit forced to me, but Sweetness does it well.

02 November 2009

Abou and the Angel Cohen

Abou and the Angel Cohen: A Novel
This was one of those books that ended up being pretty good, but that you hoped would have been great after reading the first chapter. Some first chapters are just really good, but the rest of the book doesn't manage to keep it up. I felt like I was just getting preached at by about halfway through the book, and I couldn't quite see the point of all the preaching (even though I agreed with most of what was said). Still, it was a fun little book in a lot of parts, and different (although I'd like to see something like this done from the Israeli side too, to balance things out a bit).