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.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Human Evolution: A Very Short Introduction by Bernard Wood

I love the Very Short Introduction series. Experts in fields, such as evolution, write short books that make their very complex subjects simple. I have read one on globalization, and I hope that more will pass through my hands in the future.

Humans did not evolve from present day monkeys, but I just love this old picture.

Whiteness of a Different Color by Matthew Fry Jacobson

It's a standard thing in all of my graduate seminars to discuss the ways in which race (and gender) are social constructions. Jacobson tries to understand how European ethnics went from being Celts, Slavs, Italians, etc. to being white in the eventual racial bifurcation of the country along a black/white axis. It was difficult as a reader in modern America to reorient the way I think about race/ethnicity in order to understand Jacobson's argument. The book is mostly effective, but the middle section seems out of place.

I consider myself white, but I suppose at one point I would have been considered Irish? Maybe?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

The title makes me giggle, and the researchers make me scratch my head a little.

I honestly have no idea how to take a photo for this enjoy the light painting.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

I read this book on my honeymoon in Costa Rica, so my memories of it are a bit obstructed by thoughts of zip lining and sitting on the beach.

Like Potok's other novels, this one gripped me from the beginning and did not let go. My heart broke for Asher like it did for Danny two years ago. If you have never read Potok, do it now; you won't regret it.

On The Beach by Nevil Shute

This book was delivered to my work mailbox after my boss thoughtful acquired it for me. We were talking about scifi books, and I mentioned that I had never heard of this one when it came up. It deals with how humans might handle knowing that they would certainly die from the fallout of a nuclear world war. It is incredible and most definitely a product of the late 1950s. So good on so many levels.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I think Tina Fey is hilarious, and hearing her take on her life was awesome. There is no question in my mind that she deserved the Mark Twain Prize .

I get to boss my puppy around. His name is Zeb, and he is a lovable poop machine with a bladder the size of a peanut.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in Its First Age of Terror by Beverly Gage

Gage examines why the first decades of the twentieth century was an anxious time when “the entire structure of American institutions…seemed up for grabs, poised to be reshaped by new movements and ideas” (8). She argues that the rise of corporations and Wall Street were coupled with intense economic discontent that led to the activities of revolutionaries who were dedicated to overthrowing the capitalist system through terrorism.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

I read this for my Atlantic World seminar as an example of literature that can illuminate the complexities of the Atlantic world and its multidirectional networks of exchange. Additionally, it gives a lot of insight into the economic thought of the period. Also, it freaking rocked to read some literature for a graduate seminar. Novels, I have missed you.

In the United States of Africa by Abdourahman A. Waberi

In thinking back over the books that I have read, I realized that I have a predictable tendency to gravitate towards American and English authors. Due to this revelation, I decided that I needed to broaden my literary choices. I have no idea how I discovered Waberi's book since Djiboutian authors are not normally on my radar, but I decided that reading fiction written from an African perspective could only be a positive thing.

This work is essentially a thought experiment. What would happen if Africa had been the colonizer instead of the colonized? It is the most complex 80 page book I have ever read.

The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon

Simon has some interesting ideas about museums. She wants museums to become places where people actively participate and connect over creating and sharing content. I agree with some of her ideas and think that, when implemented cautiously and with great consideration on the part of the institution, they have the potential to help people have more fulfilling museum experiences. That being said, I think that sometimes she goes too far in abandoning all institutional authority and that her vision for a fully participatory museum does not really seem to resemble a museum at all.

If you would like to check it out, you can read the full text of the book online here.

Waiting by Ha Jin

I had been wanting to read something else by Ha Jin since I read The Bridegroom in my freshman Intro to World Lit class. ("After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town" is still one of my favorite short stories.) He tells the story of a man who married a good women that he can only see for a few weeks every year because of his job as a medical officer. Over the years, he falls in love with a nurse at his base and tries to work up the courage to ask for a divorce. The years of waiting and what it does to each of the characters makes for a compelling story.

Bicycles are part of the story; it's not that much of a stretch.

Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World by Marcy Norton

Norton argues that through chocolate and tobacco, Amerindians influenced European society. Both of these goods are cultural artifacts that are bound with “knowledge and techniques” that were transmitted back to Spain along with the material goods (4). Colonists became acquainted with tobacco and chocolate as they made allies in the America. Some of them took their tastes back to Spain where they continued to use both goods in many of the same ways that Amerindians did, which is related to Norton’s central theme of syncretism (9).