Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

Now that I can again get on and post reviews after an unexpected hiatus (due to log-on problems) I will report on this book that I read much earlier this year. As the title suggests, it is about a beauty school that the author was a significant factor in helping open and run. She is a US citizen, hair stylist by training, with a dismal marriage (lived in Michigan for part of it) who decides to do something bold and different. It is a true story. I was touched by the descriptions of the lives of Afghan women and once again became aware of how different my life as an American woman is from women in many other parts of the world. In learning skills at the beauty school, Afghan women are then able to support their families and themselves, which then opens a whole other door on the consequences of that in a country where women are not valued. Just trying to physically get around Kabul is a challenge, as is trying to do business as a woman who does not speak much of the language in a male-dominated country. I felt dangling at the end and wanted more of a conclusion one way or the other, which did not occur. I gave this book to my hairdresser (who says she never reads any books) who couldn't put it down and is passing it on to her friends.

Marley and Me

I read this book way before any hype about the movie came along. As you all probably know by now, it is a funny, touching book about a newlywed couple who gets a lab puppy who is full of personality, headstrong, loyal, with fears of thunderstorms (not good living in Florida as they do in the beginning). I laughed out loud many times. I cannot imagine having an animal like Marley for my pet, but the bonds with him swing emotions around like he enjoys swinging some pleasurable toy. The author is a professional writer (newspapers) and is an easy read. You learn about his family and their ups and downs (some very deep downs) as they all entwine themselves as a family. This is more like summertime beach reading, but if you want something to make you laugh and touch your heart, this is a good one.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Jackie read this years ago and recommended it. The story involves a German boy of 15 being seduced by an older woman and a quasi reunion years later. There is much more but it would take away from the reading to reveal the remaining plot.

You know I take literary characters to heart and like a story more if I like the main character. In this case both Jackie and I are uncertain of how we feel about either the boy or the woman. They are both flawed. Although the woman's seduction of the boy and also actions she took prior to meeting the boy are worse on the surface than those of the boy, I found myself more sympathetic to the woman. There is a court scene where she asks a judge in her trial what he would have done in her situation. She didn't ask the question as a calculated move; she truly could not see other options that may have been available to her. The boy was cold in his relationships after parting from the woman and perhaps it was due to the affair or is just how he is. Regardless, he had the power to make a number of relationships better and did not.

The book is a sparely written 218 pages that could be finished in one day. If you are thinking of seeing the movie that is just arriving in theaters, read the book first. I can't tell if any of our bloggers will love this, hate this, or be in between. I think I'm in between.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

I've read two of Vowell's previous books: "Assasination Vacation" and "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" and LOVED them, so I was really looking forward to this one. And it didn't disappoint. This one is a little less funny, though, what with all the Native American slaughter and such.

Relying heavily on John Winthrop's journals and famous sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" as a worldview lens, Vowell takes the reader on an eye-opening tale of the founding of the Massachussetts Bay colony. She interweaves Winthrop's story with those of John Cotton, Anne Hutchinson, and John Williams, among others.

What I found most interesting about this history was the contradiction between our Puritan founders' ideals and those of most modern Americans. In fact, evangelical Christians, who seem to stake a claim as the voice of "our nation's Christian founders", probably diverge from the Puritans ideals most of all (although many might agree with the "eye for an eye" justice meted out in Puritan courts!) Vowell dives to the depths of Puritan theology and how that worldview shaped everything in their lives, encompassing both their charity (sharing with one another) and ruthlessness (burning Indian women and children alive.) It's a complex, brutal, and ultimately, enlightening story about some of the founders of this complex, brutal, and enlightening nation. A must read.