Books: I Am Malala

October 1, 2016

The 2016 Reading Challenge I have been working on includes reading a political memoir. Several times I browsed the Biography shelves at the library, trying to find one that looked at least half-way interesting – and preferably fairly short. But all the volumes I saw with names I recognized from the political area looked quite hefty, and I found it unlikely that they had that much to say that would interest me. Looking through some online book reviews confirmed my suspicion that books of this genre tend to have little value or lasting appeal.

Fortunately I discovered that the same website that lists the Reading Challenge also lists books to read to meet the challenge. And in the political memoir category, the recommendation was I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. I vaguely remember news reports from 2012 when she was shot, and later in 2014 when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but I had not really followed the stories much at that time.

This sounded much more interesting than reading about some politician taking advantage of temporary fame to publish a book, perhaps in the hope of not being forgotten quite as quickly as most. Besides, I always enjoy learning about other countries and their culture and history, and learning a different perspective on the world and life in general.

Malala’s story is very interesting. Some reviews criticize the quality of the writing, but all agree that the story makes the book well worth reading. We learn about Malala’s childhood, her family, and her father’s commitment to education for both boys and girls. We learn about the beauty of her homeland and about various traditions that shape the people’s lives. And of course, we learn about the coming of the Taliban and the way most people were too afraid to speak out against them, even while realizing that they were not the champions of righteousness that they initially appeared to be. Read the rest of this entry »


Books: Dear Committee Members

March 20, 2016

The “What We’re Reading Now” section of a recent library newsletter listed library director Pam’s most recent read, Dear Committee Members, as “a hysterical novel told through meandering letters of recommendation written by an academic who has passed his prime in every way.” I don’t always enjoy the same books Pam does, but it sounded worth checking out.

It is indeed a funny book. I didn’t find it laughing-out-loud funny, but then there is little that really makes me laugh out loud. (Humorous lists like this and this, as well as more than a few minutes of reading Damn You Autocorrect, do sometimes actually accomplish that.) What I find laugh-out-loud funny, though, rarely has any purpose beyond making me laugh.

Julie Schumacher’s novel, however, does have a serious side to it. Jason Fitger, the cranky professor of creative writing and literature who pens the dozens of letters of recommendation that make up this novel, voices the frustrations of many professors at real-world colleges.

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Inductive vs deductive Bible study

July 25, 2015

Note: This post is written by my husband. An ordained Presbyterian pastor, he has plenty of experience both studying the Bible and leading Bible studies.

Inductive versus Deductive: Does there need to be a conflict?

I lead a couple of Bible Studies. Recently, as we finished one of them, and the group looked at what would be next (I decided to let them choose), they came across the terms “Deductive Bible Study/Reasoning” and “Inductive Bible Study/Reasoning”. When researched, articles promoting one were always very dismissive of the other. And the members of the study still didn’t really get what the point was. So, I am writing this article to try to give MY take on it.

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Books: Wonder

July 19, 2015

This was our book club selection this past month. There seems to be general agreement that books to read during the summer should be fairly undemanding, both in terms of being quick and easy to read, and not dealing with difficult or painful themes.

It hadn’t actually been the intended selection, but whatever that was, there was some problem with the book order and thus the need to come up with another idea quickly. Wonder was recommended by the children’s librarian (it is marketed to middle school children), and it turned out to be a good choice.

One could argue, of course, about whether the topic is in fact difficult or painful. The main character, Auggie, is a ten-year-old with a facial deformity so bad that even people who want to be accepting of his differences may flinch when they first see it.

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Books: Nineteen Minutes

June 17, 2015

A good friend of mine told me that her favorite author lately is Jodi Picoult. I’d never read anything by Picoult but decided to give her books a try. So I checked out Nineteen Minutes on audiobook from the local library.

It’s a thought-provoking book, exploring the circumstances and motivation of a school shooting by a boy who had been bullied since he was in kindergarten. It is told primarily from the perspective of the boy, the girl who was once his best friend but who rejected him in order to be accepted by the popular group at school, and their parents.

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Books: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

December 27, 2014

I suppose since one of my primary criteria in selecting this audiobook was its (short) length, I can’t complain that it didn’t fulfill my expectations. I had four days of work left before Christmas break, so rather than start a new audiobook that would take the usual three weeks or so of weekday commuting, I wanted something only about 4 CD’s long. I browsed through the library’s list of historical fiction on audiobook, and discovered that Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress contained exactly four CD’s.

The novel is mildly interesting, but I really couldn’t get all that interested in the two main characters. Teenage boys, sons of doctors who have been identified as “class enemies” during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, they are sent to a remote mountain village for “re-education” by living and working among the peasants. They meet the daughter of a tailor in another village, and fall in love with this “little seamstress.”

They also meet another young man sent to another mountain village for re-education, and discover that he has a suitcase full of Western books. In other words, forbidden books. They manage to steal the suitcase (and the other young man can’t very well report to the authorities the theft of something he should not have had to begin with). They read the books secretly and are enthralled by visions of a world that had been unknown to them. Then they tell the stories to the little seamstress.

Part of this is about the power of books. The boys are supposed to be getting “re-educated” by the peasants, but instead their horizons are expanded by reading books by Balzac, Dumas, and others. And they in turn fill the mind of the little seamstress with Western ideals. Yet her education doesn’t have the results they wanted for her, either.

The boys’ escapades also remind me of Tom Sawyer’s adventures. Like Tom, they learn how to get out of work when possible, and out of trouble. They take the opportunity to take a sort of revenge on the man responsible for their re-education. They come up with an elaborate ruse to trick an old miller, they conspire to steal a treasure (the books), and of course they sneak away to visit the little seamstress whenever possible.

Since I never cared much for Tom Sawyer, I suppose it’s not surprising I don’t care all that much for this duo. The historical information is interesting, but other reviews point out that this novel seems to trivialize the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution. I had thought the book might interest me in reading Balzac for myself, but it didn’t.

Still, some things turn out right. I finished the last CD with only two miles to go on my way home, on my last day of work before Christmas break.


Books: Caleb’s Crossing

November 10, 2014

Having enjoyed Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book so much, I decided to listen to the audiobook version of Caleb’s Crossing. It has a lot of features that appeal to me – it’s historical fiction, and it deals with themes related to cross-cultural communication, religious faith, and education.

I was fascinated by the depiction of life in the 1660’s, told by a minister’s daughter named Bethia. The language uses a variety of words unfamiliar to the modern reader, but never difficult to understand in context. This archaic phrasing helps reinforce the sense of the story being solidly set in the past, in a cultural context very different from ours.

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