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Search tags: memoir-and-biography-around-the-world
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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 2017-03-27 22:20
Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly

I am so glad that I read this after seeing the movie. I loved the movie, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the lifetime of achievement of the women featured in the movie plus there are more women mentioned in the book whose accomplishments aren't evident in the film. It's an amazing story and Shetterly relays it beautifully.

I loved every minute of reading this book and it needs to be in all school libraries. I get that schools don't have the time to devote to each historical topic, but having something like this (there is a Young Readers version available here) for them to read would be great. I wish I had spent more time in the non-fiction section back when I was in school but I'm trying to make up for it now. I love the stories of women throughout history, seeing that we've been contributing to the world in more than 2 ways, and promoting those stories when I see them. Fortunately, this one doesn't exactly need my help. It's been great to see all the notoriety this story has gotten, it's well deserved.

Shetterly goes a long way to giving the reader an understanding of not only the important nature of these women's work, but the sacrifices they made to do the work and the pressures they were under from several sources. The difference in the way they were treated at work and at home, by coworkers and by passersby on the sidewalk, is well delineated and it paints a good picture of what it must have meant to be there, to be breaking down barriers and to be given credit for their incredible intelligence. I appreciate that they all say they were just doing their jobs, which I'm sure is true, but there's always more to it than that. I've known people who "just" do their jobs and there's a difference between them and people who love the work. It's this difference that breaks down the barriers that these women took on, purposefully or not.

I appreciated Shetterly's inclusion of the timeline with the Civil Rights movement. I am familiar with the events from school and other reading, but it helped me out to have it overlaid on the timeline of the events at NACA and NASA, to understand the shifting sands the women found themselves on. She did a great job too of delineating the cultural and workplaces differences with being African American, a woman, or an African American and a woman. The African American men got to come in as engineers and the women had to fight for that too. White women were also given advantages over African American women, which caused the women featured here to deal with twice the problems the others had.

This is a book that everyone should read, but especially if you watched the movie, which really only covers half. The book carries the story of the three central women all the way to the moon landing, while the movie stops at John Glenn's orbit. Shetterly's writing style is impeccable and the story itself is astounding.

 

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review 2017-03-25 22:06
The Woman Who Changed Her Brain
The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: And Other Inspiring Stories of Pioneering Brain Transformation - Barbara Arrowsmith-Young,Norman Doidge

A truly interesting story and program that I had never heard of. It makes me wish this kind of testing and solutions were more prolific.

This is the kind of title that really catches my attention, especially in non-fiction. I'm a huge fan of non-fiction. The whole concept of the Arrowsmith school amazes me. This book not only does a great job of recounting the life of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, in her own words, but also many of the categories of deficits that people can have and that hinder their potential. I found myself thinking about some bright underachievers I know and wondering if the program would suit them.

The idea that you can simply train your brain past learning disorders by finding a way to trigger that part of the brain into action is exciting. The possibilities then seem endless for everyone. I know that there are implementation issues, especially since it doesn't seem feasible that this can be done online for now and because not many schools have this program yet, but I'm hopeful, given the growth the program has had and the countless success stories. Maybe we'll look back one day at all the research and programs done by the Arrowsmith team and see an entirely different world for children and their potential than we do now.

While her own story and the formation of the school were interesting, I was particularly drawn to the stories of the students and the cognitive exercises created to help them past their learning disorders. I was surprised that it sometimes took years after starting a set of exercises to really see progress in normal life, but that students persisted through them. I know far too many people that would have given up in a few weeks if they weren't seeing improvement. I was also impressed with the parents who sent their children to be evaluated and who enrolled them into the school later. I looked up the school and just the evaluation is $2000. But in the words of one person, "You pay it now or you pay it later."

I can't remember if that was a student or a parent, but it remains a good point. The people who benefit from this program are people who are intelligent but have learning disorders that hinder their ability to get a rounded education and then later hinder their ability to get or keep a good job. Many of the adult students had been labeled "bright but lazy" or as underachievers because a deficit, as the book actually calls it, kept them from learning a skill that they needed.

I really did appreciated using "deficit" instead of "disorder". It was a great substitution because deficit implies that a person doesn't have something rather the way disorder makes it seem like something is wrong with that person.  Maybe it's just semantics but I feel like picking up a skill that's hard to get is a lot better of a way to frame it than trying to "fix" someone.

This was a fascinating read, well listen. I listened to the audiobook while I was cleaning the house I was moving out of and then while doing some prep work on the one that I moved into. I would just let it run, set up on a chair, and my husband wandered in after a while to comment on how interesting he was finding it too. It amused me because normally he couldn't care less about whatever book I'm playing. It caught his attention too because of the way it takes great care to describe each deficit, tie it to a personal experience of some student, give a way to relate to it or experience a small part of the decifit and then elaborate on what was done to attain the skill that it blocked. It also went into the coping or compensation methods that the students had prior to being treated, which were fascinating to listen to. We all compensate for things we aren't so good at with things we are good at, but the level of compensations necessary were astounding.

My husband also recently had a concussion and his resulting troubles added a new level of interest for me to the work that had originally drawn Young to her work, Alexander Luria's work with brain trauma. That was an interesting story that I'd like to read one day too.

I did find it a little disappointing that the book didn't go into deeper detail on the exercises that were created to address some of the deficits, but I get the risk that could be imposed in doing so. I wouldn't want any sort of medical book to be detailed enough for someone with half an inclination to try to fix themselves or those around them. It should be left to professionals.

Personally, I think it would be great if everyone who works with children had read the book and if there were many more programs in schools. I am not proposing the system subscribe to this one method but I feel like it could be a good augment to many existing programs that address learning disorders. Schools could potentially do an assessment on students at the beginning of giving them compensations so that they could both get by with what they can do now, but also attain the missing skill when possible. It seems like that would be a win for everyone. But I'm no professional and wouldn't know the reasons for not incorporating something like this in a school system other than cost. I do get how costs of things can be prohibitive in public school systems and, as stated above, the assessment is quite expensive.

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review 2016-10-21 21:28
Until We Are Free
Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran - Shirin Ebadi

This is the first book of my new challenge to read all the women Nobel laureates! It was a great start. While Ebadi does cover her level of involvement in setting up the Nobel Women's IniativeOne Million Signatures, and later the establishment of the Center of the Defenders of Human Rights, this is mostly a memoir of her life during these times. She talks more about big life changes, her fears and her outrages, and the overall state of women in Iran. It's not the book I thought it was, but that's not a bad thing.

This book is mainly about what happened after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. As eluded to above, the government Iran was not pleased with her award and her work and the way it all made them look. She became a target and so did everyone around her, not that it stopped everyone from doing the work that needed to be done. This was a great book about her personal struggles and the rationale behind many of Ebadi's decisions. It also provides an interesting insight into the events that were dubbed the "Arab Spring".

I listened to the audiobook, read by Shohreh Aghdashloo. I didn't recognize her name but Aghdashloo has been in several movies and tv shows. Her voice had been somewhat familiar but I recognized her face right away. The link will take you to her IMDB. She does a great job narrating the book. As always, I appreciate getting to listen to names in other cultures that I would not only butcher but not get a chance to hear how gorgeous they can be.

I would have liked to hear more about Ebadi's work and details on some speaking engagements, but the lack of that information didn't deter from being able to appreciate the book and what she does tell us. She continues to work for Iran through the center mentioned above, visit their site for updates on her work and statements.

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review 2016-09-15 18:03
Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre
Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter - Carmen Aguirre

I think my favorite thing about this book is that Aguirre doesn't pull any punches. She describes the different fears that were a part of her life, the way people looked after beatings, and her belief in what she was doing. She relates what happened around her and what she did and that she wasn't just sitting on the sidelines and hoping that things would get better.

I appreciate that she just gives her opinion without trying to convince the reader of right and wrong. It isn't a plea or an argument and she doesn't justify what she was doing to the reader. She just tells you what it was and what she did on account of it. She also doesn't pretend to be perfect or brave all the time. Showing how hard something, especially something like revolution, is hard and it does everyone a disservice when we pretend it can happen in a day or night.

I listened to audiobook, and I loved both her writing style and that she narrated the book for herself. I loved the inclusion of the epilogue and that she relates what was happening in those countries during the publishing back to the resistance because progress doesn't happen in a vacuum. It was an interesting look into what was happening in South America in the late part of the twentieth century. It's definitely not one that we get in the US often.

I had originally found this book as part of the Diverse Books Tag that I did about memoirs (click here for mine). It was my book for "set in South America. Coincidentally, it's also my first review during Hispanic Heritage month!

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