I was all over the place this summer in books — Africa, Pakistan, Peru, Chile, colonial America and perhaps the most frightening land of all — adolescence. I didn’t have a summer reading list and I’m not facing a quiz. I can’t figure out if this is an advantage to being out of school or a loss because I only read what I want to.
A Long Way Gone, Memoir of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah — This is an amazing account of a boy recruited into the army in Sierra Leone and his subsequent return to civilization after UNICEF bought him out at 15. The imagery is so strong and the writing poetic — it’s hard to believe it was written by a second language speaker. They kept the boys fighting by getting them addicted to blood and speed. Asked in an interview on the Daily Show if it was harder for him to become a killer or harder to rejoin society and he said the rejoining. Several books I read this summer served as reminders of the violence that lurks under the skin of us all.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini — This is by the same author who wrote The Kite Runner and is just as spell binding, visual and haunting. It is a girl’s story this time. Two young Afghan women overcoming cruelty and death to find friendship. Last year I read three or four books about Afghanistan and finally had to take a break — the situation there is so desperate, particularly for women and children. What made this novel memorable for me is the intricate descriptions of the places and cultural detail.
Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza Did not like this book. I’m afraid to say that as it is about the Rowandan genocide and the author’s survival. By saying I didn’t like it I run the risk of sounding pro-genocide. Maybe it was the endorsement by Wayne Dyer. He has this industry of books and tapes which all say “visualize it, pray for it, and it happens.” When heartless “other” publishers didn’t pick up her story, he did. And he provided her with a translator (whose work was horrendous, putting her story into American slang) who saw to it to inject his “visualize,pray and it happens” philosophy throughout. Frankly, I just saw the book as a vehicle for him to promote his own stuff.
Twisted by Laurie Halsey Anderson I liked this one okay, but I wanted to love it as I did Speak and that didn’t happen. This is a young adult novel in a boy’s voice and I never quite suspended by disbelief that this was really a guy talking and not Anderson talking like a guy. There are plenty of positive reviews floating around and it wasn’t awful, I was just disappointed. I thought it was a little too neat how the protagonist snaps at his abusive dad, dad says “oh sorry I was such a dick for your entire life,” and then they are immediately okay. Where are the years of therapy?
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathanial Philbrick Why wasn’t my history book in school as engaging as this guy? I don’t usually read heavy non-fiction like this — and this book is heavy in detail, but what a lot to learn about the stubborn souls who chose to venture and stick it out in a brutal environment. This book didn’t help my cynicism about human nature one bit. The settlers had arrogance and modern weaponry on their side (along with small pox). Not very appealing to claim as relatives. But the native americans had some ego problems too — leaders who sold each other out with designs on one another’s territories. This book has more detail than you can imagine — did you know there were two dogs on the Mayflower? A spaniel and a “slobbering mastif.” Since Michael’s mom raises mastifs, this descriptor made me laugh. That was about the only laugh in the book, but it was a muddy, bloody, sad but glorious read. It makes you wonder what like could have been like for all if alliances were kept and the native people honored, faiths and spirits united to bring community wealth instead of wealth to a few.
Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples This is also a young adult novel, but one of those that should not just be relegated to school libraries. It follows a young desert girl in Pakistan whose love of freedom, the desert and her camels must be tempered as she learns to obey. There is no neat ending to this one, she is tamed and forced to marry the older man her family has chosen for her. I loved Fisher Staples book Under the Persimmon Tree and this one did not disappoint. Although Shabanu has been out for almost 20 years, it increases in relavancy due to political situations. Now I need to quickly read the sequel Haveli so that I am ready when the third book in the trilogy comes out next month.
Ines of my Soul by Isabel Allende I just love Allende. I love plunging into the mystery and spirit world of her stories. What a story teller she is. But this book really charts new ground for her as she follows the true story of a woman who helped to establish the first spanish settlements in Chile. It begins in Spain, moves to Peru and then across the desert and mountains into Chile. The cruelty to the indigenous peoples is documented in horrific detail right along with the intimate details of her relationships with serial lovers. I remember hearing Allende speak one time in Chicago where she said as she advance in years she has come to regret every man or desert that she passed up. In this book, she passes up nothing. It is fantastic.
Cesar’s Way, The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Millan. This is really a spring book that I bought to help in house training Suzi. It didn’t help with that, but I loved this book and think that every teacher should read it to help with classroom management. He notes that only humans will follow a neurotic, unstable leader. In the dog world such a leader would be deposed immediately and probably killed. Lesson there. I love the way he describes the “calm, assertive” leader. Every pack needs a leader or they go a little nuts, the idea is to establish yourself as the leader and take the anxiety out of the pack. Now, what teacher couldn’t benefit from a reminder on that score? Loved it.