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The Bookshelf: Memoir, Afghanistan, and Alaska

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This week I devoured The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. Devoured. Anyone who is thinking of writing memoir or who does write memoir should read this book. Or any of her other books.

Last week I was reading The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. I finished it this week. Amazing. Jenny Norberg did incredible research and reporting, she also has clear, well-thought out discussions of gender and women’s rights. Don’t miss this one.

I restarted Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption this week, too. This time I’m reading it as research. Not into the story but into the author, the writing, the ‘how the heck did she do this?’

And I started reading Looking for Alaska by John Greene. My kids read it this summer and I was stuck at the grocery store for over an hour because the battery died on our car. So while he worked on that, sweating and all, I sat at the cafe in the air-conditioned grocery store and read a novel. A bit rougher around the edges than I was anticipating, but I’m intrigued because the main setting is a boarding school.

Still reading Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown. Might be reading it for a while, it isn’t really a fly-through-it kind of book, though I do really like it and am finding it useful for parenting teens.

The Bookshelf: Somalia, Afghanistan, Savannah, Study Habits, and the Body

The Bookshelf Image

A few weeks ago I sat down with a friend and we each scanned our Kindle libraries on our iPhones. Every time we came to a book we either loved or hated, we called out, “Oh, you’ve got to read this one, you’ll love it.” Or, “You’ll hate this one. Some parts were okay, but you’ll still hate it.”

I left with a list of about fifteen new books to look up.

Now that my family is back in Djibouti after five weeks in Minnesota, I wanted to get back into talking about books and recommending books or un-recommending books.

So, here’s what I’m reading this week:

Me Against My Brother by Scott Peterson

I’ve read this before, read it when we lived in Kenya after evacuating from Somaliland. The tagline is: At war in Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda. I’m reading this time as research for another project and probably won’t read the Sudan and Rwanda parts again. It isn’t by any means a happy book, as you can probably guess by the skulls on the cover. But it is an immensely important book, relevant both to the countries and times it is specifically about but also to our current age of ongoing war and conflict. Peterson pinpoints some of the major US policy errors and calls for the value of understanding the local contexts before storming in with weapons and big ideas. For anyone interested in American foreign policy or in the historical events of war in these three countries, I highly recommend this book.

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown

I’m reading this as a recommendation by a high school teacher who is a good friend of our family. I’m only on chapter three right now but so far it is excellent. A well-researched look at what kinds of study habits work well and what kind don’t. Unfortunately, the ones that don’t work as well are the most commonly employed by students, teachers, and parents. Learning is supposed to be hard work, when it is hard, we learn better. But many of us take the easy way out and fool ourselves into thinking we’ve learned something. With two teenagers studying far away from me and as I’m trying to figure out how to motivate them and help them develop good, quality study habits, this book is really helpful.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt

I hate to say it but I am not loving this book. I feel like I’m ‘supposed’ to love it but I’m not even sure I will finish it. One friend said she hated it because she just doesn’t enjoy books about the south. I don’t think that’s my issue with it and I’m trying to figure out what really is bugging me. There is kind of a murder story but it doesn’t show up until the middle of the book. It reads more like a series of New Yorker profiles, pasted together in chapter after chapter, linked only because the people live in the same town of Savannah. The writing is, of course, beautiful, the characters richly drawn. But even after the murder, I’m just not convinced of why I’m supposed to care about these people or be interested in their personal foibles.

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Norberg

A journalists stumbles upon the hidden (to the outside world) world of girls who have been dressed up and passed off as boys by their families in Afghanistan. This means the girls can go to school, play football (soccer), and that families who maybe only had daughters now have the honor of being the parents of ‘sons.’ Fascinating. So far, I love this book. Of course, it hits on several topics that I already am interested in like girls in Muslim countries, Afghanistan, gender topics, a journalist learning about a world long unknown to outsiders…There are huge topics raised in here of human rights, women’s rights, gender appropriation…I highly recommend this.

The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman by Tim Ferriss

Is this really a mega best seller? Why, oh why? I heard a Longform podcast interview with Ferriss and thought I’d at least check out one of his books. Hated it. Sorry to say, but he sounds kind of pompous. The writing isn’t great, the suggestions quite ridiculous. He says he poo-poos gluten free diets or any kind of ‘diet’ and then essentially lists out a gluten free and carb free diet. Sure, he says he only exercises four hours per month but he spends hours organizing his sleep, food, ice baths…it seems like a life of obsessive compulsive disorder ramped up like ten notches. He seems to think he can cover exercise, diet, and sex in one book and has all the solutions to everything, including how to reach a 15-minute female orgasm. I pretty much tossed the book aside after a few chapters. Though, I will say that he has me wanting to buy a kettle ball. So. There’s that.

What are you reading?

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