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review 2017-05-19 02:04
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi

This is one of those books that comes along and turns everything you thought you knew upside down. I loved every minute of it and can't wait to read more from Nafisi.

She manages to do so much in this book. It just amazes me. She makes me want to read everything over again (except Lolita which I read for the first time in tandem with this and am so grateful that I did. Here's the review for Lolita), and to teach literature, and to have my own group where we can dive into all these books together. Unfortunately, all these things are incredibly difficult to come by or create and I can't imagine how she managed to do it in Tehran, of all places.

Okay, to be fair, I don't have to imagine, she details it in the book. Other than Pride and Prejudice, I wasn't a fan of any of the books they so loved in their courses and most I had already read for my own English degree, again the exception is Lolita. That said, I really have to go back and reread them and appreciate all these things that I didn't see on the first pass. I absolutely loved the Gatsby trial because it also made clear for me the things that are amazing about the book and made sense of it all. A problem that I have had with classics like that one and Great Expectations was that the women were so unreal to me. I had never met nor knew of a woman in real life like any of them. It had not occurred to me that these are only the impressions of the male protagonist of what these women were like. Even when it was once pointed out to me, I was horrified and couldn't bring myself to really believe it. Surely, men don't actually view women the way that Pip viewed Estella, but I was assured that many do. This did not help me like that particular novel, but it helped me understand Daisy in The Great Gatsby when that same thought process was pointed out here.

I think the difference is the timing and the impression that was left. Like with Madame Bovary, I remembered the highlights of the The Great Gatsby and the feel of the book but not an excess of details. I could remember that Daisy was always seen as the embodiment of everything desirable and wonderful by Gatsby but not why. It helped my impression of her that she loved him, though it left me confused when she chose to leave him at the end. Nafisi does help clarify this when she supports the idea that Daisy in the book isn't always interpreted adequately by Nick, the narrator, which is why her actions can be confusing. The same would have been true for Lolita, who is seen entirely through the eyes of HH, had I not read the section about Lolita here prior to getting into the meat of the audiobook. I could see through HH's interpretation and make my own interpretations of the same actions, something I couldn't manage with Daisy or Estella. I mentioned in the Lolita review that it really makes me want to do a reread of both and I'd throw Daisy Miller into the mix now that I've read her section in this book as well.

Madame Bovary I had already learned to appreciate shortly after starting this blog because it prompted me to think a little more about the context than the story and that she is such an unlikeable character for me. Once I got over the idea of judging her for her actions, I remembered to appreciate that she is a fully developed character, written like a real woman with reasoning for her actions that I can understand and even empathize with while disagreeing with them and that she was written by a man over a hundred years ago. She was written in a way that see beyond all the delicacy that we are attributed into the people that women are and that we can have our own ambitions and desires. She's a precursor to all the amazing women in Game of Thrones who finally got me to like fantasy because there were real women going through stuff and messing everything up and making mistakes and getting it done. Because of this, I could just nod and agree on Madame Bovary though I didn't think she was discussed quite as much as some of the others.

I knew going in that this was a book about other books and that it took place in Iran, but I had managed to ignore when this class took place. Thus, I was not prepared for how much the book was going to be about the war between Iraq and Iran. The amazing interpretations that this time and place give to the interpretations of these books are reason alone to read this, and probably the primary reason to do so, but Nafisi also does the reverse and interprets the world through the books, adding a depth to her memoir that I hadn't expected. The timing of the class gives Nafisi and her students certain insights into these books but the books also give them other insights into their time and place.

Each book made them see something different in their world the same way their world made them see things in the book that I overlooked. Something as simple as Daisy Miller and her actions are taken entirely differently when one also lives the heavier restrictions that are placed upon women in some parts of the world. It's easy as a reader in the US now to just see Daisy as being a little slutty and forget that she is lashing out at society. I certainly missed it. I also missed how such simple actions work to begin the breakdown of societal restraints on our lives and free us just a little more. It's girls like Daisy that get us from where she was to where I am and I never paid enough attention to appreciate that about her.

So I've gone a really long way to say that this book revolutionized the way I think of the books mentioned and, in certain respects, the way to even read a book. That said, it is a wonderful memoir of a woman who lived through a historical period in Iran that absolutely needed documented from a woman's perspective. I am grateful to her for that as well. It is a look into the lives of women in a time and place that we often overlook women and their experiences. We fall into a mindset that women aren't doing anything because they aren't the people on the screens and given the higher priority bylines. The more I make an effort to read about women, the more I'm a believer in the hidden history of women getting it done and then having credit taken from them or their contributions covered up. We absolutely must make a better effort to know our own herstories and make them louder, make them as inescapable as the men in history are.

Women were there, women were contributing, women need to be remembered for it all.

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review 2017-05-15 00:33
Salt to the Sea



I selected Salt to the Sea for the first of my Dewey’s Readathon Bonus rolls New Orleans 21   Salt to the Sea has a picture of the sea on the cover.


 Salt to the Sea - Ruta Sepetys 



I’ve made no secret of being Jewish, and I’m of an age that many of my Hebrew School teacher were Survivors of Hitler’s quest to annihilate the Jews.  So I was steeped in the Shoah narrative from an early age.


As she did for Between Shades of Grey, Ruta Sepetys has mined her family history to remind us of how many other tragedies occurred during the Second World War. The chaotic events that culminate in the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff are told by the closely interwoven stories of 4 young adults


  • Joana – a Lithuanian refugee with some medical training
  • Friedrich – a German civilian boy struggling to hide his identity and purpose
  • Emelia – a pregnant Polish girl
  • Albert – an odious German soldier


The extremely short chapters should be choppy, but instead the weave together into a dischordant whole.  I don’t know whether I enjoyed Salt to the Sea, but I was compelled, almost driven to keep reading until the tragic conclusion.  



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review 2017-05-06 02:50
As They Went Marching, Marching
March (Book One) - Andrew Aydin,Nate Powell,John Robert Lewis
March: Book Two - Andrew Aydin,Nate Powell,John Robert Lewis
March: Book Three - Andrew Aydin,Nate Powell,John Lewis Gaddis

 On the 100th day of Mr. Trump’s Presidency, I finished March Book 3


Starting with his childhood in segregated Alabama and ending with the 1963 March on Washington, the three volume graphic novel biography March chronicles the early life of Representative John Lewis of Georgia and the role he played in the Civil Rights Movement as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  Nate Powell's strong black and white line drawings bring the determination, blood, and success of the Civil Rights movement to life.


I found these books a timely, painful read.  And the parts that had me heartbroken were not the spare depictions of the atrocities and hardships of the past, but the interwoven scenes of the 2009 Inauguration of President Barak Obama and my fears that the years of the Obama presidency are in hindsight going to be the best years of my life.  Reading March, it’s easy to see how far we’ve come, how much more there is to do, and also how much we could lose.  



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review 2017-05-05 20:53
How to Make a French Family: A Memoir of... How to Make a French Family: A Memoir of Love, Food, and Faux Pas - Samantha Verant

The previews for this sounded pretty good. Divorced woman finds old flame, reconnects and then moves to France after getting married. She must adjust to being an expat, being part of a family (as well as becoming a step-mother to two children who lost their mother to cancer), learn the French language and more. 


Overall I think the title is misleading. It's less about making of a family but really more about author Verant coming to terms with rebuilding after her divorced/rebuilding in a new country. I had thought there might be more about family, raising the children/how they feel their way to this new family, the adjustment to being married to a Frenchman, etc. And there is quite a bit of that, but it's really how the author adjusts to all of this rather than how it's about building a family.


Her writing style is fairly breezy to read though but the subject matter tended to bore me. Unsurprisingly she and her husband tried to have a child of their own and once it began to move into her saga of having a baby I was just bored. I respect and understand why and how she chose to write about this but again, this was less about the family-building and more about how she adjusts to France and this family.


To be fair, there were certainly many interesting bits. She takes a shot (maybe not meant to be seen as such) at stuff like 'French Kids Eat Everything' by showing how her own step-children are not unlike children in the US that I've seen and heard of. They have their likes and dislikes. One sibling likes one food that the other doesn't. Max prefers a certain type of food and won't accept what the rest of the family will eat. Definitely sounds very familiar and shatters that concept that French children and their behavior are so very different or alien or "trainable". 


Overall it wasn't a terrible read but it wasn't quite what the book purported to be and really the only thing that makes this book stand out is that the author is in France rather than the US. It might be a good book for a Francophile or if you're someone who has to adjust to being in a new family as a step-parent (although perhaps soon to be stepchildren might find this interesting too). But I didn't find the food descriptions that fascinating or a that much of a draw in a book like this (recipes are included though).


I had been tempted to buy it but am glad I waited for the library.

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review 2017-05-05 15:25
What a Wonderful Legacy
My Life, My Love, My Legacy - Coretta Scott King

I have to say that this book was very eye-opening to me. I did not know about half the things that Mrs. King goes into with this memoir. I say it was very much like reading a history book in which you already know the names, places, and people, but it feels like you were there. I will say that the shifting timelines through me a bit here and there though. I like to read memoirs in a linear format since jumping around back and forth can be confusing. Also, some parts of this memoir at times felt unfinished. I wanted to go back and ask a question which of course I can't do.


"My Life, My Love, My Legacy" is Coretta Scott King's memoir. It talks about her childhood, her marriage to Martin Luther King, Jr., and all of her efforts to keep preaching his beliefs about non-violence being the way forward for African Americans in the United States. She also provides details into her friendships with some very powerful leaders in their own right (Indira Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Betty Shabazz, and Myrlie Evers-Williams). 


I think the book is a bit slow to start. When Coretta Scott King begins her tale of her childhood and her parents it definitely holds your attention. But I think that it ended up a bit garbled here and there just because of the time-line jumping. I also wish that we had heard more about her family throughout the book. We hear about her parents earlier on, but don't go back to them much until the very end of the book. 


From there we go into Mrs. King's affinity for music. I honestly had no idea that she was an accomplished singer and had gone to school to train to become a classical singer. I also have to say it was eye-opening to read about her thoughts and feelings about the Civil Rights movement. It seems even now many of us don't know much about the women involved with the movement beyond Rosa Parks. I was surprised to see how heavily Coretta Scott King and other women were involved. 

I also have to applaud her candor talking about how chauvinistic the Baptists were with regards to women leaders. She is upfront about it and also upfront about the sad fact that other countries in the world had elected women to the highest levels of government, yet the United States was (and still is) lacking in the regard. 


I also love her for confronting the rumors of her husband's infidelity. I had heard a little here and there about J. Edgar Hoover's hatred of Dr. King, but when you read this book and read all of the things he got up to. Yeah...I am good with still not being a fan of that man. 


Though the book jumps around, it does hit upon some dates of importance in the civil rights movement in the United States. We get to her Mrs. King's thoughts on women and African American men and women running for office, apartheid, and even her comments on whether James Earl Ray acted alone. Can I say though, I had no idea there was even a trial looking into the government's involvement in the assassination of Martin Luther King. When you read what Mrs. King presents I just shook my head. I can sadly believe it. 


I also loved reading about her thoughts and opinions about other leaders she met like President Johnson, Carter, Nixon, Bush Sr., Kennedy, etc. I also felt for her for having to learn a lesson about publicly endorsing a presidential candidate at all due to some people taking it the wrong way and or being angry that she wasn't doing what they thought she should do.

And reading about the struggles to get the King Center up and running and the break that she had with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and her thoughts on Reverend Jesse Jackson.


I loved reading this book since it reminded me of listening to an older aunt that just wants to give you some hard lessons about life and how one must go on even when you don't know if in the end you are going to be able to get to where you need to go.


The book then ends a bit abruptly and then goes into afterwords written by close friends of Mrs. King such as Maya Angelou, her daughter, and others. Some of these I found to be quite moving. She definitely touched a lot of people and I can't imagine the strength she had to go on and keep doing what she believed while also raising her children and dealing with being the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King. She astutely points out that she and the widows of other famous civil rights leaders at the time (Betty Shabazz and Myrlie Evers-Williams) had to deal with so many people's opinions about what they should do and how to act. 


I do have to say that reading this book showed me definitely how far the United States has come as a country that seemed apathetic to the concept of civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. However, it definitely shows me how much further we still have to go. 

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