Monthly Archives: March 2008

The Bookseller of Kabul – Review

I finished the Bookseller of Kabul a few minutes ago. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it. I feel like a spy on the wall of an Afghani home, watching the lives of a single family deteriorating under strict moral codes and ethics. There are extreme levels of sexism and so much ignorance for basic freedoms that so many Americans take for granted. Leila was the person my heart ached for the most, the Cinderella without a Price Charming. Her nephew Mansur was one I came to hate reading about with his arrogant ignorance, and selfishness.

I am eternally grateful for my family for leaving Iran when I was only five years old. I can’t imagine what my life would have been life growing up in a stunted environment where so much is expected, but so little is given. It would have been doubly hard, being Christian, in a Muslim country, as well as a woman.

The men in this book are infuriating, the women deserve pity, but on a whole, its the entire country that suffers. Reading this, seeing Stop-Loss, it makes a person feel very small in this world. It makes all my complaints seem null in void, compared to what could have been, what my life could have been.

Find this book at your local library

All the world’s a stage

I like to sit front row, center to watch all the action. I’m going to see my friend’s performance in Bus Stop today, a play written by William Inge. It was also turned into a movie staring Marilyn Monroe in 1956.

IMDB gives the plot summary as:

Innocent rodeo cowboy Bo falls in love with cafe singer Cherie in Phoenix. She tries to run away to Los Angeles but he finds her and forces her to board the bus to his home in Montana. When the bus stops at Grace’s Diner the passengers learn that the road ahead is blocked. By now everyone knows of the kidnaping, but Bo is determined to have Cherie.

My friend plays a waitress in the diner.

In other news, two books I put on hold at the library are ready to be picked up. I’m about 90% done with my graduation project, so I feel no guilt whatsoever in devoting my free time to reading.

I’m currently reading The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte.

Next up are The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood.

Its interesting with reading the Bookseller of Kabul, in the midst of the fall of the Taliban and the Middle East drama. The book is disturbingly objective, even though its told through stories of one atypical family. The book discusses many things, primarily the history of Afghanistan, the oppression of women, and the life before and after the Taliban. The family being traced is not the typical family because this family is literate and wealthy, unlike the majority of people in that country. Its a good read, well written and very insightful into the Afghani culture.

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte falls somewhere inbetween the writing styles of her two sisters. She seems to be a good compromise for anyone who thought Emily’s Wuthering Heights was too dramatic and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre was too dull. Agnes Grey comes from a middling to poor family, seeking out governess positions to help support her family. The children she encounters are incredibly spoiled and rude. I’m about halfway through the book, and there has been no mention of any kind of love-story for Agnes. I hope something comes up soon.

Stop-Loss

I had the chance to go see an early screening of Stop-Loss last night. It doesn’t hit theaters until Friday. It was an amazingly strong movie, especially for being an MTV production. I think people of all ages will like the movie, not just the MTV age-group.
Up to this point, I have been avoiding watching any of the movies about the Iraq war, but I can’t give an honest reason why.  What I liked about this movie, was that it wasn’t biased one way or another. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, since the movie isn’t even out yet.

The cast was amazing, I didn’t know Ryan Phillipe had that kind of talent in him.  Each character represented a different aspect of the war, their interactions were really captivating to watch.

The movie starts very fast-paced (set in Iraq) and is very MTV mode with music blaring in the background. But at some point, the movie steers off course and gets very serious, very quickly. Its disturbing how many Americans shrug off the war because we don’t agree with it. We’ve collectively washed our hands of the blood-loss in Iraq because its the president’s war, not ours. That doesn’t excuse our behavior.

I’m not normally a political person. I’m not a devout religious person either. I believe in being a good person. I believe in helping those less fortunate, Not for profit and not for recognition.

What I find interesting, is that most of the people that will go see this movie, are the MTV generation of 16-30 something, and most of those people will already by anti-war to begin with. What I want to know is if John McCain will sit down and watch this movie and think to himself “what have I put these kids though? what am I asking them to sacrifice?” I don’t think he will.

I admire the people who have been protesting this war from the very beginning. It takes a lot of strength to keep voicing your opinions even though it seems as though no one is listening.

Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller by Henry James

Age: Adult

Henry James is an interesting author. He seems like he has fun with his stories. He’s an American author who has written 20 novels, 112 short stories and a few plays, I believe. I’ve only read The Turn of the Screw, and I’m currently reading Daisy Miller. The Turn of the Screw was semi Science-Fictionesque filled with ghost stories and creepy children in a giant mansion.

Daisy Miller is nothing like The Turn of the Screw. Its a more playful story. Mr. Winterbourne courting a young “common” lady named Daisy Miller in Geneva, Switzerland. Daisy with her timid and morally lax mother. Daisy with her hyperactive younger brother with an immense sweet tooth.

If one didn’t know Henry James was American before picking up this book, then they certainly would within the first few pages with the dialog consisting of “American boys are the best” “American candy is the best” etc.

Its funny that Daisy Miller was written about 50 some-odd year after Mansfield Park, by an American male, and still refers to the same standards of morality and social stigmas that plagued Mansfield Park.

I wonder what Jane Austen would think of Daisy Miller?

Find this book at your local library

7 Deadly Words of Book Reviewing…via NY Times

This blog post from Papercuts, the NY Times book blog was hilarious. I thought I’d share it here, since there are many book reviewers around on wordpress.

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The good book curse

It happens to everyone. You read one book, that’s so exciting, so well written that it ends up spoiling every other book you lay a finger on.

It happens to every avid reader. You’re plugging along, happily reading your books, when you come across one book that takes the wind out of you. Its the kind of book that grips you by the heart and pulls you into the story head-first. You’re not just reading about the characters, you’re living with them, experiencing their joys and crying their tears.

I will be the first to admit that I am overly-critical of most fiction. Its just frustrating when you’re reading a book and you know the author has the potential to make the work more entertaining that what it is. Its frustrating when you know that with just a little bit more editing, and little bit more focus, this book could be extraordinary.

I’m not a writer,  I’ve tried and failed. I know writing isn’t easy, crafting a new world and creating lives that strangers should care about isn’t easy. Most books that I don’t enjoy are usually that author’s first novel.

That being said, I returned the Friday Night Knitting Club back to the library today. Publisher’s Weekly had given this book a decent review, and so far, their reviews have been pretty on target. There wasn’t any real story or character development. The entire book just felt passive to me. It felt as if these characters were just being paraded around as New York caricatures.  The book was Kate Jacob’s first novel, and again, it just didn’t meet its potential. I think the writing was jumpy, w/o good transitions. There were many sentences and explainations that could have been left out, that did not benefit the story in any way.

I want to read The Knitting Circle,  which sounds like the story that The Friday Night Knitting Club tried to be, but wasn’t.

*** Publisher’s Weekly reviews***

From Publishers Weekly (The Knitting Circle)
While mourning the death of her daughter, Hood (An Ornithologist’s Guide to Life) learned to knit. In her comeback novel, Mary Baxter, living in Hood’s own Providence, R.I., loses her five-year-old daughter to meningitis. Mary and her husband, Dylan, struggle to preserve their marriage, but the memories are too painful, and the healing too difficult. Mary can’t focus on her job as a writer for a local newspaper, and she bitterly resents her emotionally and geographically distant mother, who relocated to Mexico years earlier. Still, it’s at her mother’s urging that Mary joins a knitting circle and discovers that knitting soothes without distracting. The structure of the story quickly becomes obvious: each knitter has a tragedy that she’ll reveal to Mary, and if there’s pleasure to be had in reading a novel about grief, it’s in guessing what each woman’s misfortune is and in what order it will be exposed. The strength of the writing is in the painfully realistic portrayal of the stages of mourning, and though there’s a lot of knitting, both actual and metaphorical, the terminology’s simple enough for nonknitters to follow and doesn’t distract from the quick pace of the narrative. (Jan.)

From Publishers Weekly (The Friday Night Knitting Club)
Between running her Manhattan yarn shop, Walker & Daughter, and raising her 12-year-old biracial daughter, Dakota, Georgia Walker has plenty on her plate in Jacobs’s debut novel. But when Dakota’s father reappears and a former friend contacts Georgia, Georgia’s orderly existence begins to unravel. Her support system is her staff and the knitting club that meets at her store every Friday night, though each person has dramas of her own brewing. Jacobs surveys the knitters’ histories, and the novel’s pace crawls as the novel lurches between past and present, the latter largely occupied by munching on baked goods, sipping coffee and watching the knitters size each other up. Club members’ troubles don’t intersect so much as build on common themes of domestic woes and betrayal. It takes a while, but when Jacobs, who worked at Redbook and Working Woman, hits her storytelling stride, poignant twists propel the plot and help the pacing find a pleasant rhythm. (Jan.)

Mansfield Park

I finished Mansfield Park today, and I really wish I could reclaim those hours of my life spent reading this book.

As Jane Austen’s third book, I had higher expectations for it. Written in 1814, I’m sure there are many aspects of English countryside lifestyles that I am unfamiliar with, and hence, couldn’t connect with any of the characters. Mary Crawford was the most colorful and delightful character in the book, but I don’t think Jane Austen meant for her to be the most approachable character.

Edmund is very uppity, and very oblivious to anything relating to emotions.
Fanny is so meek and timid, it drives a modern woman up the wall.

Henry Crawford is another manifestation of Mr. Wickham, although I did find Henry Crawford more charming than Mr. Wickham overall.

The book could have been more successful without the entire volume 2. So much of nothing happened, I was more shocked at the levels of boredom and tediousness of life back in the early 19th century then anything else. I can see why so many movie representations of the novel stray so far from the actual storyline. The entire slave-trade incident in Antigua that Sir Thomas Betram is involved in gets only slightly mentioned in one sentence in the book, when it was given a much higher significance in the movies. I really did hope that Henry Crawford and Fanny would marry. I liked the Crawfords, for all their faults and selfishness, at least their characters had some life to them.

This book was such a let down compared to the life, the wit and the amazing characters of Pride and Prejudice.

I do still want to read Northanger Abbey, but I have no desire to read Emma or Sense and Sensability.

I guess I can start the Friday Night Knitting Club this week.

Find this book at your local library

Bookshelf Etiquette

This was an interesting blog post from the New York Times book blog, Papercuts, about bookshelf etiquette. Its not a topic I’ve ever given serious thought to, but the idea behind it is pretty interesting. What does your bookshelf say about you? What should it say about you? Who you are, what you want to be, or what you want others to think you are?

I also posted the original blog post from Time.com that started this discussion.

Book Etiquette
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Knitting for Peace

I don’t really like to buy books, especially knitting books because I can most of those same patterns online for free. But at Barnes and Nobel last night, this book caught my eye. Knitting for Peace.

Knitting for Peace

So, its basically a guide to knitting charities across the US. I’ve been wanting to donate a lot of the stuff I knit, and knit items specifically to donate for a while now. But other than the major groups like Project Linus, there are really too many charity groups to choose from. This book, will at least be a good starting off point. The patterns are pretty basic, mostly the essentials: scarves, hats, blankets, socks. The charities range from Afghans for Afghans (blankets for people in Afghanistan), blankets for animal shelters, Chemo hats, and slippers and beanies for soldiers in Iraq.

One love triangle to another

I watched the movie “The Jane Austen Book Club” a couple weeks ago, and as much as I enjoyed the movie, I think it would have liked it more if I had read more of Jane Austen’s works than just Pride and Prejudice.

So, having watched that movie and  in keeping with my new reading routine (1 book off my bookshelf, 1 book from somewhere else), I decided to give Mansfield Park a try. I am pleasantly surprised at how much I am enjoying this book.

So, in reading this book, I feel like I need to make some kind of chart to keep all the characters and their stories straight. The book certainly does not lack Jane’s wit, sarcasm and commentary of the social hierarchies on morality and social status, all told through amusingly intricate love stories.

As far as I can tell, in the first 150 pages, there are two love triangles, the unfair and overbearing aunt, the absentee father figures, and the reckless youth.

Fanny Price, the heroine, is kind of dull. Miss Crawford is more interesting but seems superficial, and the Miss Bertrams are just plain annoying. I enjoy all the sections with Edmund Bertram, and all the tension that surrounds him, Fanny and Miss Crawford.

I saw the movie Mansfield Park back in high school in 2000, I think, and so I have flashes of the movie running through my head as I’m reading the book, but the movie images and the book storyline are not in sync, so its really frustrating. I haven’t seen the movie in over 5 years, but I can’t get out of my mind as I read this book. Well, I’ll just keep reading and hopefully the book will erase my memories of the movie. =) One can only hope.

The next book on my list is The Friday Night Knitting Club. I’ve heard some good things about this book, so I hope it won’t let me down.

On a side note, I don’t read mystery novels all too frequently, but I did read some very fun Knitting Mysteries a couple years ago. Needled to Death and A Deadly Yarn Both books by Maggie Sefton. I would recommend those two to any knitter interested in a quick and fun read, plus there are a couple of free patterns at the end of each book!