The Bookshelf: Memoir, Afghanistan, and Alaska

books afghanistan alaska memoir

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: Books or Movies?

The book versus the Movie

I recently (finally) watched Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. I loved the book. Loved it. Can’t read enough articles about Laura Hillenbrand. The way she tells the truth with vivid detail and no commentary or judgment is stunning.

I didn’t love the movie. I know I’m way behind the times here and most people warned me that I would be disappointed. I wasn’t really disappointed, I hadn’t expected to enjoy the movie. I don’t  enjoy most movies, I’m not a movie person. While my family watches movies, I read. So, my expectations were low and the film met those low expectations. It felt like just another movie about war and POWs and trauma. It was well done with that in mind but to me, it didn’t stand out from others in the same genre. Not the way the book did.

What I loved about the book were the redemptive elements and learning about the aftermath of the war. How did these men move on? How did they heal, or not? How did they continue to relate to one another, or not? How on earth did the main character, Louie Zamperini, make it out of the war and into the rest of his life with hope? The movie left all of that out.

So read the book. Again. Forget the movie.

What about other books vs. movies? I have already made it pretty clear that I will always love the book more than the movie. Also, these are mostly fiction and I’m not a big fiction connoisseur, so no expertise here. But are there any that are reasonably decent?

I’m going to say not really. And if you disagree, please post a comment. Keep in mind here that we have no movie theater in the country. That’s right. No movie theater. So I am way, way behind. I sort of catch up on airplane rides to the US which come once every year or two so yeah, way behind.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Book, lovely, sad, surprising and a light read. Movie? Totally wrong. Got it all wrong and so messed up the ending that I couldn’t even believe it. Changed it from a unique and surprising story to a run-of-the-mill story.





Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. I enjoy this movie fine enough but it just can’t capture the humor and richness of the characters the book. The pride and the prejudice just don’t come through as vividly. Plus, in the most recent version with Keira Knightley I find Darcy a bit creepy and the kissing scene sort of weirds me out. Read it.




Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Another summer read that I flew through but the movie simply can’t capture the depth of wrongness in the character’s relationship and the horrible ways they treat each other and manipulate each other.






Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden. At least in the book you learn a little bit about Somalia. In the movie you pretty much only learn about blood and shooting and see Somalis (who mostly aren’t even Somalis) popping up and getting shot down like characters in that state fair game where you have to knock down the moles that pop up.





The list could go on and on. Basically my point is this: read the book. Unless you are on an airplane.


What I’m reading this week

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (listening)



The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen Can’t recommend this highly enough. Listen to this Ted Talk and then read the book. It is about the powerful and overlooked impact of violence on the poor.


The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe by David I. Kertzer, National Book Award winner this year and fascinating.

African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa (Publications in Ethnography, Vol. 37) by David Maranz for organizational meetings and discussion.

The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide: A light-hearted but authoritative manual for anyone accompanying their partner on an overseas assignment by Clara Wiggins

 What are you reading (or watching)?

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The Bookshelf: Laura Hillenbrand

hillenbrandI am jealous of everyone who lives in a country with a movie theater. I don’t really like movies but this is one I want to see in the theater. Alas. Unbroken will remain in book form only for me, at least for the foreseeable future. I’m mostly okay with that. Movies almost always ruin the book. But still. When you love a book as much as I love Unbroken, you want to see the movie.

In place of watching the movie, I’ve been reading interviews with and profiles of the author, Laura Hillenbrand. And I’m even more amazed by what she has managed to do with both Unbroken and with Seabiscuit.

Laura suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and it is so serious she rarely leaves her house. She sometimes never leaves her room or her bed. She suffers debilitating dizzy spells and struggles to both read and type. She conducted much of her research for both these books via phone calls, emails, and people visiting her. For Unbroken, one man brought a World War II Norden bombsight and set it up in her kitchen so she could see how planes viewed their targets.

Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic sprinter-turned World War II fighter. His plane goes down over the Pacific and he miraculously survives on a life raft only to come to shore on a Japanese-controlled island. He is interred as a POW and endures unimaginable suffering. One aspect I enjoyed the most about this book was that Hillenbrand doesn’t end the story when Zamperini is released. She follows him and his fellow POWs back to the United States and chronicles the devastating aftershocks of what they experienced. But she still doesn’t end the story there. She takes the reader to the depths of human misery and brokenness and then, through Zamperini, she shines light on hope and redemption.

Seabiscuit was a race horse, tearing up tracks and getting injured and winning hearts, in the 1930s. An underdog champion, ridden by an underdog jockey, owned by an underdog businessman, trained by an underdog coach. It is an epic story of America and captures our love for the underdog. But the book doesn’t capitalize on the American sense of individualism. The way these men and women work together to overcome impossible odds is by doing together, drawing on the strengths of the others and remaining faithful when weaker ties would have shattered. In the middle of the Depression, when people needed something to cheer for, these unlikely heroes emerge and steal the heart of a nation.

What I’m reading this week:

Mighty Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee. How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. Christian and Muslim women came together in Liberia to end a brutal conflict.


Brain Child Magazine Am rereading an older teen issue, thinking about my own teens. One article talked about the status update on Facebook and when she first saw her daughter change it. Another is about the use of ADHD pills by non-ADHD diagnosed teens to use for studying enhancements. Excellent fiction pieces. Love it all.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver, second in the Delirium series (confession, I am super-skimming to keep up with my daughter). The premise is that love is a disease and so at age 18 everyone gets ‘cured.’ Except, big surprise, the main character falls in love pre-cure and must find a way to both love and live. *for parents: there are swear words

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin. Ashamed to say it has taken me this long to read this book but I’m so glad I finally started. Seems like an especially fitting week and time in our nation’s history.



Other Hillenbrand fans out there? What did you think of the movie? What are you reading this week?

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