Saturday, August 4, 2012

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I watched a graduation speech that Neil Gaiman gave this year, which left me wanting to read some of his writing. I have never read a book like this one, and it amazes me that Gaiman was able to think up such an intricate and ultimately fulfilling plot. He takes as an underlying assumption that individuals brought their gods with them when they came to America. These immigrants then forgot about their gods, leaving them on the fringes of society, trying to survive on whatever scraps of belief they can get. Odin is a swindler; the Egyptian gods run a funeral parlor in Cairo, Illinois; djinns drive taxis in New York. When these old gods come up against the new American gods, such as television and interstates, an ex-prisoner named Shadow gets caught up in the drama.

This book is certainly good art.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

This book was a $1 acquisition and was a dollar well spent. Vowell is funny, and I agree with her politics, which makes for a good combination. Her descriptions of her life and love of history made me smile, and her explanation of what it felt like to be at Bush II's inauguration made me laugh. For this fairly middle-of-the-road liberal, this made for good commentary.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Apartment Gardening: Plants, Projects, and Recipes for Growing Food in Your Urban Home by Amy Pennington

A good friend of mine gave my husband and I this book (and a composting pail) for a wedding present. Pennington gives some great advice on making the most of any size space. She helped me figure out what size pots to buy and also led me to the conclusion that my plants died last year due to lack of water and not because of unrelenting sun.

I have 5 basil plants...I also make a lot of pesto.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Homeward Bound

This is the second time I have read this book. The first time I read it I was an undergrad, and I thoroughly hated it. This time around, I have a much better grounding in the historiography and can appreciate what a notable book this is. May takes an interesting approach to the Cold War by largely ignoring international relations in favor of examining the effect of the war on nuclear families. Her chapters on sexuality are especially interesting. As a bonus, the class discussion had a tenancy to turn to riotous laughter and some interesting discussions about pornography.

Get it? The people on the bus are "homeward bound."Admittedly, not one of my finer ones.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750 by Marcus Rediker

Pirates! Merchant seamen! The Royal Navy! And also commodities trading, a lot of commodities trading. This book was another read for my Atlantic World seminar. What better way to talk about the Atlantic than by discussing the men who made the transnational exchanges possible? Admittedly, this book has a Eurocentric orientation, but the English/European perspective is an important one to consider, even if it is not the only one.

The chapters on maritime culture are particularly fascinating; if you are interested in what seamen did and how they viewed themselves, then this book will give you a good (scholarly) understanding. If you are looking for swashbuckling adventure, read Captain Blood instead. Also, go to the Pirate Museum in Key West, FL.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Love Story by Erich Segal

I finished this book in an afternoon, and it is exactly what the title says. I hope my love story has a happier ending.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In the Woods by Tana French

I'm a bit late jumping on the Tana French bandwagon, but, man, I'm glad I finally caught up. My best friend lent me this book about 8 months ago, and it has been sitting next to my bed just waiting for me to finish my graduate program and have time for it. I do not usually read mystery novels, but French's twisting, psychological work kept me entertained from the beginning. Read it, pay attention to the details, and prepare to be enthralled.

Elusive Empires: Constructing Colonialism in the Ohio Valley, 1673-1800 by Eric Hinderaker

French and British trading and colonialism made the Ohio Valley a site of intercultural exchange, and Native Americans influenced and negotiated the process. Trading transformed Indian towns, politics, and culture, but these towns were often outside of imperial French and British control because trade “served local interests much more effectively than metropolitan imperial ones” (xii). In post-Revolution America, the pursuit of creating “an expansive, open-ended nation” undermined the idea of Native American sovereignty (236).

This photo is from a mural at Camp Marymount in Fairview, TN.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

I guess most people read The House on Mango Street in high school, but I did not pick it up until a trip to Nashville a couple of months ago. I had brought along a thrilling (read: dense and boring) book for one of my seminars and found that, unsurprisingly, it was more fun to read Cisneros. She gives the reader a chance to look at the world from the perspective of a Chicana girl. In the process, she writes about difficult topics while also managing to show that despite her narrator's desire to leave Mango Street, there is an element of beauty there. She can never really leave, no matter how much she may try.

The book got me thinking about living in Memphis. There are definitely problems to this city, but there is a certain beauty that is also unique to this place. I see it when I walk around my neighborhood at twilight and when I sit with friends on patios. It sneaks in the cracks on the sidewalks and the way people smile when you pass by. It is a place you can leave, but not without leaving a bit of yourself behind. I get the sense that my roots are here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

I remember being in sixth grade when I happened to read a fictional book about an interned Japanese-American girl. It was the first time that I learned about Japanese internment during World War II. It wasn't until high school that I learned much more about it, and even then, it was not a topic that we talked about in much detail. It still amazes me that there are people who never talk about these events in school or have no idea that this chapter of our nation's history even happened.

Otsuka writes beautiful fiction about one of the darkest and most blatantly undemocratic actions in our country's recent past. It is a good reminder that we should always remember where we as a nation have been. The photo is of chains of origami cranes at the 9/11 memorial in NYC.