Monthly Archives: May 2008

Have I Got A Guy For You – Review

This entertaining collection of blind date war stories reads like a mix of Sex and The City meets Because I Said So. Have I Got A Guy For You, edited by Alix Strauss is a fun summer read, that tailgates the Sex and The City feel of big city dating frustrations, but throw into the equation moms who can’t distinguish decent from dorky and are desperate to see their daughters married off. There are 26 stories written by 26 intelligent published authors, recounting the days of dating disasters.

Each story follows the basic formula of:
1. Phone call from mother
2. Vague, yet overly enthusiastic description of unknown male
3. The date
4. The disaster

Although the formula is repetitive and predictable, each story is funny in its own right. However, this is not a collection that I recommend sitting down to read in one session. I couldn’t relate much to the stories since I’ve been in a long-term relationship for 5 years, and my mom has no intentions of setting me or my sister up on blind dates, but the hilarity of nosy and clueless mothers had me laughing with each story. The stories ranged from ethnicities (Jewish girls, to Indian girls, to Persian girls) to age groups and different decades of the first dates. It is universal and timeless that moms always think that they know best, no matter what language you speak, or what decade you live in, be it the 60’s or 2000’s. Each chapter title gives you a sneak preview to the rest of the story, for example: “Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana” is the story of a mom with a crush on the man soon to be dating her daughter, take note that this man thinks that funny is puns and knock-knock jokes.
“Letters to Gelman” is a sage of a mother sending countless emails to Gelman, the producer of the Regis and Kathy Lee show. Each e-mail pleading with Gelman to call her daughter.

At the end of the book are brief biographies of each of the 26 contributers to this collection, highlighting their literary accomplishments, some even provide e-mail address and website address.

Find this book at your local library

What Really Happens When Mom Fixes You Up
Have I Got A Guy For You
Edited by Alix Strauss
Published 2008 by Polka Dot Press
ISBN: 1598694332
232 pages
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Death in the Andes – Review

Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa, and translated by Edith Grossman, is an exquitisely written book.

The brief summary: In a desolate and hidden away Andean village, three men disappear. 2 civil guards are sent up there to investigate the disappearances.

Sounds normal enough, right? From the first page, you realize that this novel is not so cut and dry. There are multiple stories being told at once from multiple perspectives. This book is a challenge to those who cannot keep a storyline straight. The days are devoted to investigating the disappearances of the three men. During this investigation, you hear brutal stories of murder and politics of local residents and foreign tourists. The nights are devoted to Tomas, who spends each night talking about his love affair with the girlfriend (prostitute) of a mafia boss in Peru.

The violence is graphic, but mostly because you have an inkling that it isn’t just fiction that is taking place in this book. Peru’s government is volitile, and paranoid. All the characters in this book are paranoid and on their guard.

You’re a decent Civil Guard,” Dionisio asserted. “Everybody in camp says so. You never abuse your authority. There aren’t too many like you. Take it from somebody who knows the sierra like the palm of his hand. I’ve traveled every inch of it.”
“You mean the laborers think I’m okay? How would it be if they didn’t?” Lituma said mockingly. “So far, I haven’t made a single friend in camp.”
“The proof is that you and your adjutant are still alive,” Dioniso declared as casually as if he were saying that water is liquid or that its dark at night.

This book is not a quick read. There are many intricate areas that I had to reread, and pages I had to bookmark to refer back to for clarification. But it is a worthwhile read. I’m keeping this author on my To-Read list.

Find this book at your local library

Death in the Andes
by Mario Vargas Llosa
translated by Edith Grossman
ISBN 0140262156
276 pages

Strangers in Paradise – Review

I feel as if I am the last person to read Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore. My best friend Carmen gifted me this graphic novel a couple of years ago. She’s been my underground railroad of literature, since my entire family, boyfriend and other best friend started enforcing a book buying ban. Carmen would smuggle me books on holidays, birthdays and graduations. Its a fun little loop hole that I looked forward to every time. Family and friends have since given up trying to prevent me from acquiring books so long as I get rid of some to make room for the new additions.

Well, onto the review.
Katchoo, an independent, intelligent and pretty girl, in love with her roommate Francine, was living a pretty typical life, until quiet yet brooding David enters the scene at an Art Museum one day. In a graphic novel filled with love polygons, this book does not cease to entertain. Being a graphic novel, the writing is sharp, hilarious and wonderfully matched with descriptive illustrations. We are taken into Katchoo’s world, and are brought into her vulnerabilities, her strengths and her courage. Set in a blur of money embezzlement and crime bosses; Katchoo, Francine and David live in a typical world, filled with typical emotions of heartbreak and the tight bonds of friendship.

This is a pretty short review, I’m not sure what else to say. If you haven’t read it yet, then I don’t know what you are waiting for, if you like comic books and graphic novels that is. Its a fun read, the characters and storyline are well developed and the storyline progresses at a steady pace. There wasn’t a dull moment, but then again, I was trapped in an airplane for 3 hours, so this read was a pleasant way to pass the time.

Find this book at your local library

Strangers in Paradise
by Terry Moore
ISBN 1892597268
344 pages

Bookstores

One of my favorite things to look up when I travel is used bookstores. These bookstores are what give a city its individual flavor, encapture its originality and gives a sneak preview of what locals read, as opposed to mass market appeals of chain bookstores like Barnes & Nobel and Borders.

I try to avoid B&N and Borders as much as possible, opting for local Mom & Pop bookstores that, in my opinion, tend to put more thought and care into the presentation of the bookstore and the overall atmosphere.

I haven’t traveled to many places, but I have come across a few notable Used Bookstores that I think require at least poking your head through the door, if not actually purchasing a few books.

In no particular order:
After-Words Books
23 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL
(312) 464-1110

This place is comfy, a little hole in the wall bookstore that is about 3 blocks off the Magnificent Mile, and can be easily missed…Don’t miss it!!

They had a great selection of materials, cleverly named sections (Spring Training for sports books, Sandstorms for books on the Middle East). The staff is friendly, its a two-story building, with a reading area downstairs complete with sink and 4 computers for internet access. Prices are moderate, but there is a special rack for autographed books and advanced reading copies.

Eliot Bay Book Company
101 S Main St, Seattle, WA
(206) 624-6600

I’m pretty sure this has been my favorite bookstore to date. Its a few blocks away from the Waterfront in Seattle’s downtown Financial District. It feels old and rickety due to the wooden interior, but its in very stable condition. The books are unique and range from various topics and prices. There is a strong selections of zine’s and the staff recommendations are some of the best books I have read. They also host author readings, from local and well known authors.

Seattle Mystery? Bookshop
117 Cherry St, Seattle, WA
(206) 587-5737

Now, this bookstore was really hidden and tucked away in a lonely little street also in downtown Seattle. This bookstore caught my eye, just by the sign hanging outside the door. Seattle Mystery? Bookshop. The entire bookstore is all mystery books. I’m not a big mystery reader, but I do appreciate that there is a huge population of mystery readers out there in the world. I even picked up 3 complimentary bookmarks that have quotes, which are taken from some of the worst written mystery books out there. Hilarious quotes.

Recycle Bookstore
1066 The Alameda, San Jose, CA
(408 ) 286-6275

This is a good local, for me, bookstore that I like to frequent. Its a pretty large bookstore, with really good staff recommendations as well as a friendly in-house kitty that comes across your way every once in a while. Great selection, great prices, great location as well. Its walking distance from Peets and Starbucks (which are also right across the street from each other).

and…

I should mention Powell’s bookstore, but its so well known, that I don’t want to say too much about it. There are 3 Powell cousin used bookstores in Chicago, but I only went to one on Lincoln St. Even though they had a good selection and it was in a two story building, the bottom floor was so crammed with books, that I almost passed out from lack of air to breath.

I’ll try to add more to list as I go along. I’m always glad to take recommendations also.

Laughing Without an Accent – Review

Firoozeh’s follow-up to her freshman bestseller Funny in Farsi, is not quite as funny. Laughing Without an Accent is a more mature book, filled with stories of Firoozeh’s adulthood, instead of her childhood.

If read this book expecting it to be as funny as her first book, you’ll be disappointed. If you read this book trying to understand how a Persian woman, married to a French man is trying to raise their children and live in a diverse population, then you’ll be satisfied. A few of her stories get repetitive, especially when you see the same exact sentence in 2 or more chapters. But, even the repetitions add a different spin and fill in some gaps to a previously told story. One chapter I loved included a monkey jumping on Firoozeh’s balcony when she was five years old, and also a lesson to be learned from the story about experimenting with new foods in different countries.

Its not laugh out loud writing, its more shake your head and wonder. Mostly at the people around Firoozeh, racist teachers and difficult Iranian governments.

The book is a quick read, but with a good chunk of political and social commentary. It will probably hit home for a lot of Persian-Americans, and other Middle East cultures, since many of the cultural, filial sentiments are the same (ie. Middle Easterns love to feed people. Its our number one hobby in my opinion). It is also a more toned down way for other cultures to read and learn that not all Middle Eastern people are terrorists. There is a large number out there are hard-working, good, decent human beings.

Find this book at your local library

Laughing Without an Accent
by: Firoozeh Dumas
ISBN 9780345499561
226 pages

Travel’s and reads

I’ve managed to finish 3 books in a 3 day span (2 on a 4 hour plane ride). I’ll be finishing my fourth sometime today, and I still have a couple more books to browse through on my flight back home tomorrow. That’s what happens when you go to a used bookstore and find too many books that are too hard to pass up.

Upcoming reviews include: Laughing Without an Accent (Firoozeh Dumas), Strangers in Paradise (Terry Moore) and The Haunted Hillbilly (Derek McCormack)

What I love about travelling to new cities and going to the unique and often cleverly named idependent bookstores is finding new reads and new recommendations. Its also fun finding popular authors native to the area.

Job offer

I was offered a part-time librarian position, which I have gladly accepted. I’ll be starting in a couple of weeks, working some nights and Saturdays. I’m very excited to get started. I’ll be working more with actual patrons and less behind the office doors in front of a computer. That will be a nice change of pace/environment. I’ll work with some programming and even some lesson plans to teach groups of people about library resources. I think this is my favorite graduation present. I’m going to be flying out to Chicago with my boyfriend for the holiday weekend, so this will be a nice treat.

Men in the Sun & Other Palestinian Stories – Review

“You know these feelings, Mustafa, becasue you’ve really experienced them. What is this ill-defined tie we had with Gaza that blunted our enthusiasm for flight? Why didn’t we analyze the matter in such a way as to give it a clear meaning? Why didn’t we leave this defeat with its wounds behind us and move on to a brighter future that would give us deeper consolation! Why? We didn’t exactly know.”

Ghassan Kanafani’s short stories Men in the Sun & Other Palestinian Stories is based on many autobiographical events in Kanafani’s life. He was born in 1936 in Acre, Palestine. In 1948, he and his family fled to Damascus where he began work as a journalist. He was also a major spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He has written five novels, two plays, and two studies of Palestinian literature. The ironic part is that he died in 1972 with his niece in the explosion of his booby-trapped car, but his written work is still as powerful now as it was in his lifetime.

The stories in this collection share the common elements of isolation, disorientation and tragedy. When the Jewish community moved into Israel and Palestine after WWII, it was the Palestinians that became displaced and geographically orphaned. These stories emphasis their desire to be home and their struggles, and ultimate failure, to survive. The longest of the stories is Men in the Sun. I read that story for my Middle Eastern Studies class and I remember crying for a good half hour after putting the book down. It follows the tale of four men trying to escape into Kuwait with the help of an military man, hiding them in his lorry. Kanafani gives us four individual lives, stories and strengths brought together, united to escape the terror in Palestine and build a new life for themselves.

It is odd reading this so soon after reading a moving memoir about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Humanity is strange the way it engulfs, embraces and dislocates each other. My sympathies go to both sides of this constant waging battle. Kanafani’s prophetic words, although written more than twenty years earlier, ring true with the situation in the Middle East today. It is harder to ignore injustice, when there are names, faces and stories involved. The only question though, is who is the injustice against, not only in Palestine/Israel, but all over the world.

Find this book at your local library

Men in the Sun & Other Palestinian Stories
by: Ghassan Kanafani
0894108573
117 pages.

Library experiences…

Although I have a world of managerial experience through my student internship, it doesn’t really help me much when I go into an interview room and am posed with the questions “so what experience do you have with leading story time?”

So, I am making this summer a “say yes to anything library-related” summer. So far, I have a few fun projects that will keep me busy. I am doing an all day archiving session up in Oakland and I will be doing volunteer story-time for my local library group. I was even accepted as a voluntary Goodreads Librarian, which gives me the power to monitor all the material in the database, and make changes as necessary, to make sure titles/authors/etc. are accurate. I figure any experience is good experience.
Plus, it is a fun scavenger hunt trying to find a missing author, or publishing group.

The Nazi Office’s Wife – Review

“Silence. These were the habits that I wore as I lived what survivors of the Holocaust now call a U-boat, a Jewish fugitive from the Nazi death machine, hiding right in heat of the Third Reich”

These words from Edith Hahn Beer in her memoir, The Nazi Officer’s Wife lay the foundation for her captivating memoir about growing up during the Nazi regime. The memoir traces back to Edith’s memories of going to school in 1920’s with the constant prejudice against Jews already apparent. She traces the details of the change from prejudice to overnight hatred, deportment and work camps. At the age of 27, and only one test away from achieving her law degree, Edith was turned away from her University due to the ridiculous rules set up by Hilter and the Reich. Edith and her mom are trapped in the slow and agonizing decline of Jewish civil rights as they lose their ability to sustain themselves. Edith is sent to work in various work camps for years, under the promise that while she works, her family will be kept safe from the concentration camps. Her boyfriend Pepi, is often a detached source of hope and optimism for her, keeping her grounded and self-aware throughout her ordeals.

In keeping with the title of the memoir, on her way to Poland, Edith departs the train at Vienna, minus one gold star armband. Through the help of various friends, she manages to obtain papers of a German girl, taking the name of a German girl and becoming Grete Denner, a mild mannered, obediant women, instead of the starry-eyed, hopeful and intelligent Edith Hahn that she was. To further go into hiding and blend in with her new identity, Edith moved to Munich were she met the Nazi officer, Werner Vetter.

I won’t expand on any more of the story. Its an amazing read, I started yesterday and stayed up until 1am to finish the book. Edith’s storytelling is seamless, told through the eyes of a naive girl, living in daily terror of being found. I thought of the Diary of Anne Frank as I read this memoir. Both girls, trapped in worlds they did not create, victim to seething hatred that attacked their lives like an atom bomb during their youth. Anne Frank hid in a small attic in Amsterdam for almost 3 years, and Edith Hahn lived in the lion’s nest, married to a Nazi officer, living among Nazis. In Edith’s recanting of the tale, we do see the softer side of humanity, as she stresses that while the Third Reich movement spawned a deep hatred for Jews, not all Nazi’s were cruel. In a lawless society, individual’s set their own morality meter, allowing some to be more friendly and compassionate than others.

Edith’s work has since been turned into an A&E Presentation which would be worth looking up at a local video store.

Find this book at your local library

The Nazi Officer’s Wife.
How One Jewish Woman survived the Holocaust.
by: Edith Hahn with Susan Dworkin
ISBN: 068817776x
305 pages