Thursday, September 30, 2010

Recent Reading

An eclectic group of books I have attempted recently, so I thought I would present some thoughts about them. Kind of like a mini-review. Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea is an excellent and well-written account of an American mountaineer’s obsession with providing schools and community development projects for the mountainous, isolated northern portions of Pakistan. It is a good introduction to life in this region, and sheds light on many of the diverse customs and attitudes of the tribal peoples. It should be taken as a manual of how charitable (and even governmental) assistance should be provided to needy areas, as well as a primer on how to temper that anti-Western anger. We need more Mortensons. In honor of my friend Cheryl, trapped in Wyoming, and who is the baseline by which I have come to judge Canadians, generally (and favorably, cause she is a really nice person), I read Will Ferguson’s Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw, a delightful collection of short accounts of his many trips to different parts of Canada, humorously told. I like Ferguson’s work, in addition to the comedy, for its emphasis on history. Milton Murayama’s Five Years on a Rock was an interesting fictionalized account of a Japanese picture bride in early twentieth-century Hawaii. Lewis Owens’ Bone Game and Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster novellas were a quick change of pace. In Bone Game we have a murder mystery wrapped in Native American academic culture; in Lobster, we follow the thoughts and actions of a manager as he closes down for the last time the Red Lobster he has been employed at while dealing with a semi-mutinous crew and a former girlfriend on the staff. Kinsella’s Dance Me Outside was a small collection of funny stories about Canadian Native Americans, though I was troubled with the voice, as it seemed to present a skewed and somewhat negative portrayal of the culture. Ok, I’ll admit it. . .I read Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, which was a nice bit of caramel corn. If you have children in third to fourth, you may want to add How To Scratch a Wombat, a followup to the children’s favorite, Diary of a Wombat, which I found delightful.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


If it were not for the fact that the great Joseph Heller didn’t die until just before the turn of the century, I would swear that he (or some portion of him) was reincarnated into Iranian-born writer Shariar Mandanipour, because his Censoring an Iranian Love Story was as weirdly enjoyable to me as was Catch-22. Mandanipour tells a story of a writer trying to craft a romance while having to deal with the oppressive censorship of a fundamentalist Islamic bureaucrat. The writing is witty, funny, critical, sarcastic, and ironic. The author frequently becomes part of the story itself, revealing a little of the troubles experienced by all writers who become intimately connected to their characters, but he mostly uses the love story as a baseline in which to critique modern Iranian society. I frequently laughed out loud at his jabs, but the book also tells an underlying chilling tale, and reveals for readers the high level of hypocrisy, idiocy, misogyny, and oppression currently rampant in Iran (a country he may not feel comfortable living in, but one that he clearly loves). For anyone interested in Iran, I heartily recommend this book. He criticizes the deporable treatment of women, the atomic program, censorship, social restrictions, brutality, stalinistic watchdogs, and other aspects of life there. “Every day became days groups of people were killed for freedom.” One wonders how many people in Iran have disappeared or been incarcerated. But many of Mandanipour’s comments are universal as well: “my father was absolutely right, and that is why I disagreed with him.”
The author does, however, seem to fall into the trap many foreign-born literature majors who become writers seem to: he wants to show the readers just how widely read he is, by dropping illusions at almost every turn to well-known (and lesser known) works. Some of this is ok, but at times it seemed a bit of a stretch.

Friday, September 10, 2010


It is amazing (and also frustratingly angering) that recent actions of the clearly crazy Terry Jones, pastor of a miniscule evangelical Florida church (who was out to garner attention), set off worldwide protests and absorbed so much domestic attention (all the way up to the White House and amongst the presidential-wannabes). If a kook chooses to do idiotic things, is it absolutely necessary that reporters cover it? If all the media types decided not to pay attention to this ridiculous representative of religion, would his actions have resulted in anything other than a small pile of ashes and nary a ripple of impact on the world stage? Here again we have a situation where a small segment of society has pushed the (hopefully) more-sane majority into a reaction (can we say Tea Party?). Jones does not represent most evangelicals, and certainly not most Christians (although, yes, there is much anti-Islamic sentiment in American society), no more than does Al Qaida represent most Muslims. When are people going to accept that Christianity, Islam, Judiasm, Buddhism and every other religion (as well as national, racial, and cultural classifications) seldom are monolithic in belief and teaching (seems to me they argue among themselves all the time)? I know it is human to classify, often in simplistic terms, but I wish people would think more clearly, especially those whose reactions and statements can set off violence and discord. Can I get an "Amen" on that?