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Showing posts from May, 2012

The Victorian Celebration

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It's time for Allie's Victorian Celebration at A Literary Odyssey!   I've been looking forward to her event, but then I inspected my book pile and realized that there's not a whole lot of Victorian literature on it at the moment.  I've got medieval, I've got Greek, I've got American Gilded Age and 50's Russian, but not so much of the Victorian.  So I went to the library and checked out some books and here is my list of possibilities: Framley Parsonage , by Anthony Trollope.  The next Barsetshire novel (#4) Bleak House , by Charles Dickens. The Last of the Mohicans , by James Fenimore Cooper.  American. Quo Vadis , by Henryk Sienkiewicz.  Polish. Madame Bovary , by Gustave Flaubert, but I'm planning on doing a read-along with this one and am not sure when it starts.  Probably soon.  French. I also have several sensation novels and some Hawthorne on my ereader, so we'll see how it goes.  I do not plan to actually read all of these title

Greek Classics: May Wrapup

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Welcome to summer, fellow Greek-readers!  I know May has been a crazy month for me, and I expect it has been for many of you too.  Still, I hope you got something read (Greek or not!).  I didn't get nearly as much of Herodotus read as I had hoped--I'm currently halfway through Book V and taking a break--but I've read two plays of Aristophanes and I have a pile of Euripides and poetry that I'm looking forward to reading this summer.  I think that puts me at nearly halfway through my goal for the year, so I'm pretty happy at the moment. The Theater of Dionysus at Athens--but it was built of wood when Sophocles was writing plays May your summer be full of fun, relaxation, and good books!  If you've got anything to link up to for this month, you know what to do.

The Birds

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The Birds , by Aristophanes The Birds is quite a long comedy, so it took me a few days to read.  It was written several years after The Peace ; Athens has recovered nicely from the last episode of the Peloponnesian War and is now eagerly preparing for a new one--which is going to end in disaster for the Athenians, but let's not worry about that right now.  The Birds does not directly address the war, which is unusual for Aristophanes, but I certainly get the impression that he was responding to the general atmosphere with his story. Pisthetaerus and his buddy are wandering around the countryside near Athens.  They're tired of life in the city, where people argue about law all the time and you have to pay your debts, so they're looking for Tereus (a king changed to a hoopoe) in hopes that he'll direct them to some city where life is good and the living is easy.  Once they find the kingdom of birds, Pisthetaerus has a bright idea; he convinces them all that they sho

Midnight in Austenland

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Midnight in Austenland , by Shannon Hale This one is a really fun light read.  I'm not a big fan of the Jane Austen spin-off industry, but I do love Shannon Hale and her Austenland books, which features a sort of theme park where you can go and live the Regency lifestyle for a couple of weeks.  Romance guaranteed! This is the second book and is a takeoff on Northanger Abbey (a favorite of mine).  Charlotte, age about 39, was blindsided by her husband's infidelity and desertion.  She has spent the past year or so numbing herself with work.  Now she's spending two weeks at Pembroke Park, and they're playing a Gothic mystery game--but some of the clues might be real.  Charlotte spends her time wondering what is real and what is pretend. The book is really very funny as well as a bit scary.  I love some of the lines: His profile was significant, as if it belonged on legal tender.  His jaw was delightful to contemplate, and his long hair pulled back beneath that to

Warbreaker Read-Along

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I've read the first 12 chapters of Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker , and here are the discussion questions so far.  Don't bother with this post if you haven't read the book--skip right on to some other post, or meditate on the works of Plato, or something. I'm enjoying the book quite a lot so far.  I just started it Saturday and read the whole assigned section that day.  I've had the paperback on my TBR pile for a long time--I think the goofy cover kind of put me off.  The concept of a magic system that works through color and sound is a little weird, but if anyone can pull it off Sanderson can.  It does make for a difficult cover art concept, though. 1. All right, let's start easy - how are you liking the book so far? We've been introduced to a lot of characters and started several stories now. Any in particular catch your attention? Anything intrigue you? I want more Vasher as soon as possible.  I'm hoping Lightsong will do something!  Siri&

Manning Up

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Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys , by Kay Hymowitz I really liked Kay Hymowitz's last book on marriage in America, so I grabbed this new book as soon as I saw it and read it right away.  Hymowitz correlates a lot of current statistics and societal trends for her thesis that men in modern America haven't got a clear life plan and aren't all that happy about it.  Some of Hymowitz's data:  women are now a majority on college campuses worldwide (and would be more so, if the colleges weren't quietly letting male students in with lower scores because people don't want to attend colleges with a strong imbalance).  In cities, the younger women out-earn their brothers, even when they choose less remunerative types of jobs.  Popular culture portrays men as overgrown children, not too bright and mostly interested in beer, pizza, fart jokes, and hot women--and they're constantly told that they're not needed as husbands or fathers, since

Nervous Conditions

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Nervous Conditions , by Tsitsi Dangarembga The Classics Club led me to this semi-autobiographical novel by Tsitsi Dangarembga.  Tambudzai tells the story of her early life in the later days of colonial Rhodesia, hooking you in with the rather shocking opening statement, "I was not sorry when my brother died."  The story of why this is so is the story of Tambu's childhood (try putting the book down after that opening!).  At 14, Tambu leaves her homestead out in the country and goes to live at the mission with her uncle so that she can go to school; her world is wider, but far more complex and difficult to understand. On the surface, the story reads like a memoir, but themes recur and develop as Tambu observes the lives of her closest female relatives.  Dangarembga explores the far-reaching effects of colonialism and what it means to rebel against authority (familial and colonial).  Tambu's cousin Nyasha is the most vocally rebellious and the most sensitive victim o

The Invisible Man

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The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells I've read most of Wells' short SF novels--even The Food of the Gods --but I missed The Invisible Man.   Griffin, a brilliant physicist and an albino (that's important), discovers a way to make himself completely invisible!  He thinks it's going to be great.  He'll be able to find out anything, take anything he likes.  The entire story is about how wrong he is; being invisible is terrible.  Griffin is an utter outcast from humanity.  His hold on sanity was probably not too strong in the first place, and invisibility makes him completely selfish and full of rage.  He is more of an angry ghost than anything else, and all he can do is terrify people. This is the final title for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge!  I'm done!  It's been fun, and I never would have read and enjoyed The Phantom of the Opera without it.

The Peace

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The Peace, by Aristophanes It's time for some summer fun with Aristophanes!  I am reading three plays in a Loeb edition I found at my friendly neighborhood public library.  I have always wanted to own Loeb editions because they are so cool, even though I can't actually read Greek or Latin. Almost nothing is really known about Aristophanes, so scholars have made a hobby out of extracting information from his plays.  This is a little tricky since it's hard to know what is a joke and what isn't, but they are pretty sure that he went bald early (the portrait is a total lie).  Aristophanes survived the Peloponnesian War and probably served once on the city council, and that's about all anyone can really figure out.  The Peace is not one of the comedies that I had heard of before.  It was staged in 421 BC, just days before the Peace of Nicias, which was supposed to end the Peloponnesian War.  The play combines silly antics with a genuine longing for peace and recrim

The Old Curiosity Shop

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The Old Curiosity Shop , by Charles Dickens I finally did it!  I've been reading this book for months, but my problem was that it was on my tablet and e-reading just wasn't doing it for me with this book.  I checked a paper copy (with illustrations by Phiz!) out of the library last week and finished the second half of the book in about 3 days.  It's much better on paper. Here we have the saga of Little Nell and her dotty old grandfather, horrible Quilp with his confederates, and trusty Kit Nubbins with his good friends.   There are virtuous folks, who go through trials and are rewarded, and baddies who come to a sorry end.  And there are some funny ones with a story nearly all their own, who turn out good in the end--I liked them quite a lot. Quilp's manipulations made me think of him as a DM, running his own evil D&D game, which is not very classically-minded of me. Really, I think I liked the Kit sections best.  Nell was angelic and all, and I did care what

Dracula

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Dracula , by Bram Stoker When I put Dracula on my list of classics to read this year, I was kind of excited to finally get around to reading such a famous story.  I am clueless enough that I had no idea who Van Helsing was supposed to be, much less Mina Harker, who doesn't get a movie named after her.  After carefully examining the movie poster just now, I much prefer the literary Dr. Van Helsing.   I may have to watch the movie though, because it looks terrible , and I kind of like terrible movies.   (Although it makes me very sad that Kate Beckinsale, who started off adorable and fun to watch and a favorite of mine, has turned into a generic pseudo-Victoria Beckham.) Anyway.  The novel.  It's all documentary!  The whole book is comprised of journal entries and letters, meant to give the story that authentically-reported atmosphere that was so popular in the Victorian era.  There is a sort of ensemble cast of men, plus two lovely, pure, and virtuous women--one traditiona

V is for Vengeance

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V is for Vengeance , by Sue Grafton I always read the latest Kinsey Millhone book as soon as I can; I think it's a requirement for former Central Coast residents.  (Millhone mysteries are set in a pseudonymed Santa Barbara, so sometimes Kinsey visits my hometown of Santa Maria.  It's SB's much less posh neighbor.) I almost didn't stay with this one, though.  The first chapter is all about a kid trying to win money at poker, and there is nothing more boring than a game of poker!  Luckily the kid gets thrown off a parking garage by page 20, so I kept going.  It's a complicated mystery, with mafia guys, rich lawyers, respectable-looking thieves, and all sorts of people.  Definitely worth the read.

The Western Lit Survival Kit

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The Western Lit Survival Kit: an Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner, by Sandra Newman I'm a sucker for guides to great literature, and also Sandra Newman is hilarious.  I didn't quite mean to actually read this book instead of Dracula (which I am reading, and it's good, but less easy to carry around), but it's so funny that I zipped right through it.  Almost every page had something that gave me the giggles and made me look around for someone to collar and read a bit aloud to. This guide to the Western Canon is what you should give to your friend who has to learn something about the classics and doesn't want to.  I would give it to my husband if he suddenly found himself in that situation.  Or you can give it to your literary friend with a sense of humor.  Newman is pretty caustic much of the time, and reverent never.  Like Western lit itself, things are not always squeaky-clean. A sample bit, on Balzac: "As a writer, Balzac start

Warbreaker Group Read

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Amanda at Ramblings and Naithin at Once Upon a Time   are co-hosting a group read of Brandon Sanderson's fantasy novel Warbreaker .  I'm a Sanderson fan, but for some reason Warbreaker has been sitting on my TBR pile for over a year.  So here's my chance!  It starts next week: Section One : Prologue – Chapter 12. Reading: Monday, May 21st; Questions Out: Saturday, May 26th; Posts: Tuesday May 29th Section Two : Chapter 13 – Chapter 23. Reading: Tuesday, May 29th; Questions Out: Saturday, June 2nd; Posts: Tuesday, June 5th Section Three : Chapter 24 – Chapter 34. Reading: Tuesday, June 5th; Questions Out: Saturday, June 9th; Posts: Tuesday, June 12th Section Four : Chapter 35 – Chapter 49. Reading: Tuesday, June 12th; Questions Out: Saturday, June 16th; Posts: Tuesday, June 19th  Section Five : Chapter 50 – End. Reading: Tuesday, June 19th; Questions Out: Saturday, June 23rd; Posts: Tuesday, June 26th If you'd like to join in, sign up at Naithin&

I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

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I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced , by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui This has been on my wishlist for a couple of years now, but inexplicably, none of the local libraries bought a copy until recently.  I found it on the New Books shelf at work yesterday and promptly took it home. Nujood Ali was an ordinary little girl living with her poverty-stricken Yemeni family until she became the victim of a common crime--her father sold her, at age 10, as a bride to an acquaintance in his 30s.  The next several months were a nightmare, but Nujood waited for her chance, gathered up her courage, and went to the city courthouse where she had heard someone could help her.  She told the judge she wanted a divorce, and so set off a media storm that helped other girls come forward to ask for divorces. Child brides are not at all uncommon in Yemen. The age of consent was 15 until a couple of years ago, and even so, about half of Yemeni brides were underage.  No young girl had ever come forward and

Of This and Other Worlds

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Of This and Other Worlds , by C. S. Lewis Last week Scribacchina wrote about non-fiction about fairy tales , which prompted me to go through my mom's bookshelves to see what she had.  I snagged four or five books, because I really need more books on my pile, and of course the one I read right away was a book of essays on stories by C. S. Lewis.  I am pretty sure that will surprise no one. It's just a collection of various pieces on one theme; some of them were never published or even finished.   A couple are only a page or so long and were written for book blurbs or similar.  I had fun reading them.

Jane-Emily

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Jane-Emily , by Patricia Clapp A homeschooling cyber-friend of mine recommended Jane-Emily to me a few weeks ago.  I missed out on this book as a kid, but I would have loved it!  OK, I did enjoy it as an old grownup too.  I gave it to my daughter and she thought it was great. Louisa takes her young orphaned cousin Jane to spend the summer in the country at grandmother's house, but Jane becomes unnaturally preoccupied with Emily, a young girl who died years ago.  Emily was both frighteningly demanding and spoiled by her over-fond father, and she still wants what she wants.  It's a good spooky ghost story that is just the right level of scary. One particular element of the story caught my attention; none of the characters really keep secrets from each other.  At no point does anyone think "I'm not going to tell the others about this because [insert silly reason here]."  Keeping secrets for no reason other than to keep the plot going is so endemic to thrillers

From Newbury With Love

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From Newbury With Love , edited by Anna Horsbrugh-Porter and Marina Aidova It's about time I came up with a book that is a little more substantial than popular dystopias or mysteries.  So here is my new book that I love.  Petya at the Migrant Bookclub blog recommended it very highly, and then some wonderful mystery person from the WTM book club sent it to me as a present! Only I don't know who it was. The book is a collection of letters (I love collections of letters) that starts in the early 1970's, between an elderly English bookseller and a young family in the Soviet Union, in what is now Moldova.  Harold, in England, wrote letters of friendship and encouragement to Marina, a little girl whose father had been sentenced to several years in a gulag.  The families corresponded for years, and although many of the letters are missing, you can see the friendships developing and Marina growing up. The letters and photos, together with notes from Marina explaining circums

Divergent

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Divergent , by Veronica Roth I am really late to the party with this book--everyone else is already reading the sequel!  I put it on hold at the library a while back, and then when I got it I wasn't sure if I really wanted to read it.  It turned out to be pretty good though. Probably everyone already knows the plot of this YA dystopian story.  Set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, society is divided into 5 factions based on character traits, all that good stuff.  I didn't actually find the set-up to be terribly plausible, but that's OK.  I hardly put it down and I had fun reading it in one day. If you're wondering whether you can give it to your kid, it's pretty violent and most of the people the protagonist cares about are killed before her eyes.  While there is a heartening lack of teenage sex, there's some mention of it.  I didn't give it to my own almost-teen. I'm betting this will be the next movie deal, since it seems to be the next in popularit

An Impartial Witness

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An Impartial Witness , by Charles Todd The second Bess Crawford mystery is very good!  It's the third one I've read, because I got them in the wrong order, but they're quite self-contained and it didn't matter at all.  Bess spends more time out at the front this time, which was nice, and the mystery is intriguing but very sad.  She is awfully brazen about butting into people's lives and introducing herself to useful folks, but I guess you have to do that if you're going to detect murders. I didn't realize before that "Charles Todd" is a mother and son writing team--and they live in different states!  How on earth it is possible to write a mystery that way is beyond me, but they sure do a good job.  Now that I'm out of Bess Crawford stories, I'll have to give their Ian Rutledge series a try.

Clouds of Witness

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Clouds of Witness , by Dorothy Sayers I picked this one up for a re-read when I saw it at work, because it's one I haven't read for some time.  It's an early Wimsey mystery and not one of my favorites, but that still puts it very high on the list as far as mysteries in general go.  (I forget now what I was actually looking for on the PR 6000 neighborhood--it wasn't Sayers.) In Clouds of Witness we meet most of Lord Peter's family: Gerald, Duke of Denver, who is accused of murder, the Dowager Duchess--one of the best characters in the Wimsey world!--and as a bonus sister Mary meets her future husband too.  There is fun with underground Socialists and one of the most horrible husbands around. A very well-written mystery.

The Foolish Gentlewoman

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The Foolish Gentlewoman, by Margery Sharp I think this must be one of my oldest TBR books.  I got it from my grandmother's bookshelves in, I think, 1996.  She gave me a whole lot of books right around then, some of them quite old and fun--titles like What Can A Woman Do? or Collier's Cyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information and instructional sewing books from the 1920's.  There were also several new books of history.  And this is the one I never got around to reading! Margery Sharp lives in my head as the author of the Miss Bianca books about the mice of the Prisoners' Aid Society, which I read over and over as a kid (my favorite was the one in the salt mines).  But she was also a very popular novelist!  Cluny Brown must be the best-known title, and it was made into a movie.  The Foolish Gentlewoman is set just after World War II in a large old house in a London suburb.  Isabel, the owner, is an affectionate and wooly-headed woman (I love her) who has g

Inventing the Victorians

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Inventing the Victorians , by Matthew Sweet This title has been sitting on my wishlist for a long time, so I made it my last ILL of the semester.  Even though I have piles of books to read, it just doesn't seem right to neglect the ILL privilege.  As any dedicated reader of Victorian literature knows, the Victorians have been unfairly defamed for a good hundred years now.  Vilified as stodgy, prudish, conservative, and no fun whatsoever, they serve as a convenient foil to us, enlightened moderns that we are (but just wait--our turn is coming). Anyway, Matthew Sweet set out to re-habilitate the Victorians' image.  He piles up the evidence that Victorians invented most of the fun stuff we enjoy, like movies and amusement parks and thrills and chills.  Oh, and feminism and DIY and the forerunners to email and spam (telegraphic junk mail!). Sweet also points out that many of our most enduring ideas about Victorians are based on false images that we have misinterpreted.  T

Herodotus' Histories: Book IV

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I really finished the last 14 pages of this several days ago, but I've been lazy about blogging lately.  There is a pile of four other books here on my desk too. Book IV is mostly about the Scythians, the semi-nomadic people (of Iranian descent apparently) living in what is now mostly Ukraine.  There is quite a lot of geography here--the land, the rivers, the various peoples and their customs are all described carefully.  Then there's a little digression on world geography, which is important because Herodotus passes on a story he does not really quite believe in himself, about some Phoenicians who traveled all the way around Africa (which is called Libya here): The Phoenicians sailed from the Arabian gulf into the southern ocean, and every autumn put in at some convenient spot on the Libyan coast, sowed a patch of ground, and waited for next year's harvest. Then, having got in their grain, they put to sea again, and after two full years rounded the Pillars of Heracles

A Tale of Time City

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A Tale of Time City , by Diana Wynne Jones Last Saturday I went to the bookstore and found the new editions of Fire & Hemlock , Dosgbody , and Tale of Time City that have just come out.  My copies of those books are quite old and fragile, so I got new ones, yay!    Then, of course, I had to read at least one of them. I do love this story.  It's a funny one, but serious too.  Vivian is living in 1939 and is evacuating to the country, when she is kidnapped by two boys in a case of mistaken identity.  She winds up in Time City, a separate tiny world that keeps tabs on history and makes sure it goes how it ought to, but the City itself is coming to the end of its lifetime, and nobody really knows what to do about that. These new covers are very nice; this is by far the nicest cover Time City has ever had, though that's not saying much really.  Up to now the covers have always been terrible. Now, if only I could get new copies of The Ogre Downstairs and Spellcoats -

Thank You, Jeeves

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Thank You, Jeeves , by P. G. Wodehouse I'd been wanting to read a Jeeves and Wooster story aloud to my kids for a while, but I had also lent several of my own copies to friends.  The one Jeeves book I had in the house is the one where Bertie spends the entire time in blackface.  So that gave us a lovely opportunity to discuss how times have changed and how some things that were once considered funny are no longer thought to be so.  In fact Jeeves stories are wonderful to read aloud to your kids, if you wish to teach some vocabulary and some history and some of everything else--they are so foreign to the experience of any average modern American kid that you might as well be reading science fiction.  And they're very funny too! We had a great time reading this aloud.  P. G. Wodehouse was just a comic genius, that's all there is to it.

Boomerang

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Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World , by Michael Lewis I could hardly put this book down! In this collection of articles originally written for Vanity Fair , Michael Lewis tackles certain aspects of the global financial meltdown, especially how it developed and played out in selected countries. It's a discouraging topic, but he's a witty writer and manages to make the enormous muddle somewhat clear as well. His focus is on how the sudden expansion in investment and credit affected certain countries: "Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers. The Greeks wanted to turn their country into a piƱata stuffed with cash and allow as many citizens as possible to take a whack at it. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish." And Americans wanted to buy really big houses they couldn't actually afford! Each section in a different country is just fascinating, with general commentary and specific stories.

Greek Classics: April Wrapup

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I don't know about you lovely folks, but I have been slumping in the Greek department this month.  I have only managed to read Book III of the Histories , and I only have 14 more pages to go in Book IV but I haven't quite gotten to it!  I'm thinking maybe I should tuck a few Euripides plays in for variety--and ease, since my Histories book weighs about 20 pounds.  It's not very convenient for reading on the go. On the whole, though, I'm not inclined to feel bad about my reading this month; as we wind down the school year, we are all feeling a little frazzled and wanting more brain candy than ancient Greek history.   Our local schools, for reasons no one seems to fathom, end in mid-May and begin in mid-August, so at work we're gearing up for finals, and at home I'm resolved to finish the 3rd-grader's math book even if it means an extra week of math lessons.  I plan to do a lot more reading once summer gets going--and oh, how we are looking forward

China in Ten Words

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China in Ten Words , by Yu Hua I've really been looking forward to reading this one, and it did not disappoint.  Yu Hua grew up during the Cultural Revolution in China, under Mao, and in ten chapters he tells about ten different ideas and what they have meant to him and to Chinese culture.  Each chapter's idea takes a logical step along a path, and also moves the story forward in time. Some of Hua's stories are very funny; I could just see him and his friends as young boys getting up to mischief.  Others are really horrifying--sometimes for the same reason.  Altogether it's a great portrait of life in China, mostly during Mao's regime, but taking us right up to the present day.  I'd recommend this title highly. I love the cover design, by the way.  The words look like rubber stamps, just a little off-kilter. Lately I've been trying to get through my giant pile of library books, often by the simple expedient of skimming a book and deciding not to re

Journey from the Land of No

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Journey from the Land of No: a Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran , by Roya Hakakian This memoir of the Iranian revolution particularly caught my eye because the author is Jewish.  Roya Hakakian grew up as part of the ancient and closely-knit community of Persian Jews, which dated back over 2000 years.  Her whole book is filled with love for her homeland, now lost. Like many Iranians, Roya was at first thrilled by the revolution in 1979, as life seemed to become freer, full of exciting possibilities.  Even though her older brothers had had to flee to America, her father could not imagine leaving.  But as the Ayatollah Khomeini's regime became more and more restrictive, Roya's life became more difficult, and before long she was seeing old friends crushed under the revolution they had longed for. I found this to be a fascinating account of the Iranian revolution from a  different viewpoint than one normally gets.  Hakakian is an eloquent writer and writes vividly about e