Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This beautiful haunting book about the unlikely friendship of two women brought together by war, loss and fate, is compelling and unforgettable.  Bestselling author Khaled Hosseini is a powerful writer with the lyricism to pull off this wrenching story about the power of love and the heroic and self sacrificing acts that result from it.

The two central characters of the book, Mariam and Laila, are both born in Afghanistan--but a generation apart. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a well to do man.  Because she is illegitimate, she cannot live with him and instead lives on the outskirts of Herat with her mother.  Her father then visits her every week.  On her fifteenth birthday when she wants her father to take her to see Pinocchio at his movie theater, and he stands her up, she ends up going to his house and sleeping on his porch while waiting to see him.  When he refuses to see her, she returns home only to find that her mother has hanged herself in fear that her daughter has deserted her.  Mariam is then taken to live in her father's house, which doesn't go over very well with the rest of his family.  They hastily arrange a marriage for Mariam to a man in Kabul who is thirty years her senior, a shoemaker named Rasheed.  Mariam lives with this man and suffers repeated miscarriages and ever increasing abuse.

While Mariam is in Kabul, a neighborhood girl, Laila, is taken into their household after she loses her parents and becomes a second wife to Rasheed.  Laila is able to bear children to term and at first there is great animosity between the two.  But eventually Mariam and Leila become confidantes and friends and eventually survivors of the abuse Rasheed liberally doles out.  I don't want to give away too much about what happens to these two women within this basic framework, but suffice it to say that Khaled Hosseini weaves a powerful tale of the strength of these two women juxtaposed against the brutality directed toward women by the Taliban.  Under their rule women were expected to stay inside at all times, if they did have to go out they had to be accompanied by a male relative.  If you were caught alone on the street you were beaten and sent home.  You could not show your face under any circumstances.  They had to be covered by a burqa when outside, if not, they were again severely beaten.  Cosmetics were forbidden.  Jewelry was forbidden.  You did not speak unless spoken to.  You didn't make eye contact with men.  You did not laugh in public, if you did, you were again beaten.  If you dared to paint your nails you would lose a finger.  Girls could not attend school.  Women did not work.  If you were found guilty of adultery, you would be stoned to death.

The title of the book comes from a line in the poem "Kabul" by Saib-e-Tabrizi..."One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, and the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls."  If you are a woman, this book will sear itself into your heart and break it too.  Guaranteed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Libraries are Great Good Places

I love the ideas expressed in this film. Some of them come from a book called "The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community" by Ray Oldenburg. At a time when independent bookstores everywhere are under siege it is a timely read indeed. He talks about the importance to society at large and to individuals of that "greeting and meeting" place, where to quote Cheers "everybody knows your name". Although the Darien Library is a small town New England library, I think it should be the template for our new local library, in terms of it being the focal point of the community and that it is completely people oriented.

Darien Library: The Great Good Place from Darien Library on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Field Museum Library

When I worked at the University of Chicago, I had many good friends at Chicago's Field Museum. One of them even gave me a behind the scenes tour of the place that was fascinating. If you haven't been there, it's a marvelous place full of wondrous things and well worth a few hours of your time to explore. I did not know about their library, so found this short film piece very interesting.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Householder's Guide to the Universe by Harriet Fasenfest

I love the very idea of this book.  Check it out!

Small Presses: 'Closest Equivalent to Your Local Farmer's Market'

Adam Roberts, a poet, educator, and post-graduate fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is doing a five part series about the value of verse in the 21st Century that is appearing in the Atlantic.  In the fourth part of that series he makes a wonderful statement comparing small presses to your local farmer's market.  He also ties that together with the Slow Food movement and the broader Slow Culture movement saying that all these things are a part of restoring to us a sense of time that our current world system strips away from us.  It's a wonderful series.  Here's the link to part four of the series, which contains links to the first three installments. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adopt an Obsolete Word

This is just too cool.

5 Reasons You Don't Need an E-book Reader

According to PC World, with technology changing so quickly and tablet computers cropping up in businesses (with color or not), the e-reader is a superfluous purchase...because

1.  There's an App for That

2.  It's Not Cheap Enough

3.  Less Functionality for Work or Play

4.  E-books Are Not More Eco-friendly Than Paper Books

5.  Most Business Materials Aren't Available on an E-reader

Monday, November 1, 2010

High Water Mark by David Shumate

I love my Writer's Almanac newsletter and have found some interesting new poetry books recommended by them.  This one by David Shumate caught my fancy.

I found his poems to be simple and easy to read, yet funny and literate and thoroughly enjoyable.  Here's one:

The Buddha of Arithmetic

He spends eternity counting the contents of the universe.  How many of these...How many of those...He arranges them in groups of tens.  Hundreds.  Thousands.  He prefers round numbers.  That way when someone picks an apple or an opossum sacrifices itself under the tire of a car, he just traces his way back to the nearest ten.  In this expanding universe, it's an unending task.  But he never complains.  It's all the same to him.  If he weren't keeping track of the numbers he would be listening to prayers or granting boons or performing a miracle from time to time to keep us intrigued.  His hours are regular.  His work routine.  He could just make up the numbers and spend his days out on a southern planet where the weather is pleasant all year long.  But he knows he needs to provide a model for all of us.  This is the 42,718th poem written on this planet today.  And it's not yet noon.

Here's one of the more serious entries:

Shooting the Horse

I unlatch the stall door, step inside, and stroke the silky neck of the old mare like a lover about to leave.  I take an ear in hand, fold it over, and run my fingers across her muzzle.  I coax her head up so I can blow into those nostrils.  All part of the routine we taught each other long ago.  I turn a half turn, pull a pistol from my coat, raise it to that long brow with the white blaze and place it between her sleepy eyes.  I clear my throat.  A sound much louder than it should be.  I squeeze the trigger and the horse's feet fly out from under her as gravitry gives way to a force even more austere, which we have named mercy.

Overall, I found it to be a sweet little book.

Book Laptop Cover

The perfect way to hide your laptop.  No one wants to read a musty old book.  Books are for nerds.  [Courtesy Derek L; Buzzfeed]
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