The semester ended a few weeks ago, which is when I dig into the books that have been on my “when summer comes” list. Truth be told, reading right now is a productive procrastination strategy – let’s read instead of doing all that pesky writing you’re supposed to be doing, my brain says. But I’m turning over a new leaf, if you’ll pardon the book-related pun: Here in Abu Dhabi, the week begins today – Sunday – and with that, my newly made resolutions will kick into effect. I can’t mention those resolutions out loud for fear of jinxing myself (or sending you into paroxysms of laughter at my unrealistic goals) but suffice it to say, threats have been made,
bribes incentivizing structures have been put into place, and pleasure reading will have to wait until I’m visiting the wilds of Indiana later this summer.
Before I read and wrote about the books listed here, I read Lauren Groff’s wild and wonderful novel about a commune, which I reviewed for The National. You can read that review here, and then do the newspaper a favor, and go all social media on them: twitter, like, recommend, use all those cute buttons at the bottom of the article. Thanks.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming:
Probably you already read Half the Sky, which Sheryl WuDunn wrote with her husband, Nicholas Kristof, and so you already know that the book puts you on a pendulum that swings from outrage to exhilaration, often in the span of a short paragraph. The statistics WuDunn and Kristof present seem impossible, incomprehensible: more girls have been killed in the last fifty years than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century; in sub-Saharan Africa, a woman stands a 1-in-22 chance of dying in childbirth; in India there are 2 to 3 million prostitutes (many of whom are young girls and/or women who are little more than slaves)…the list of horrors is endless.
If the book were just a statistical compilation of the ways in which women are systematically beaten down, however, it would not be so powerful. What WuDunn and Kristof bring equally alive can only be called the triumph of the human spirit: women who have crawled, begged, fought, and screamed their way into better situations – women who have, basically, refused to die. There are women who escape from sexual slavery to start safe houses for other runaways; women who use micro-loans to start tiny businesses that provide enough income that a daughter can go to school; a woman in the US who wrote a letter asking people to donate a dollar to the US Committee for UNFPA, after Bush II cut the funding and eventually raised more than 4 million dollars….The list of triumphs also goes on and on – it’s easy to say that a book is “inspiring,” but there are very few books I’ve read where I actually got chills as I read about what these people have accomplished for themselves and for others.
Half the Sky isn’t all rosy-eyed about NGOs and governmental intervention; WuDunn and Kristof offer a candid assessment of well-intentioned Samaritans. The book offers pragmatic advice – lists, websites, addresses – for anyone who wants to get involved on the ground or for anyone who wants to make donations to worthy causes. You owe it to yourself to spend some time with the women in these pages. Their stories need to be heard.
II. Fiction: dysfunctional families, and a smattering of witches
The Lunatic Parlor brought to mind a joke that I heard from a comedian a long time ago – it’s a perfect joke and for me separates the wheat from the chaff: if you laugh at this joke, we’re probably going to be friends. If you look at me with a slightly furrowed brow and a “wha…?” on your face, then it’s going to take us a while to click. So the joke goes like this: “I just started therapy…” long sigh, head shake, pursed lips. “…because I come from a family.”
Get it? Get it?
Eggzackly. Everyone’s family has something, but the family in this novel has a whole lotta something: two alcoholic parents, termites (a lot of termites), unwanted pregnancy, prescription drugs, OCD, really bad parenting, inappropriate boyfriends, Elvis impersonators, and suicide. And it’s funny, funny, funny. The kind of funny that bubbles up from those dark moments when it’s either laugh or crawl into a hole and block up the exits. Continue Reading →