(not so) recent reading

I am so behind with this post, but if I have to look at the stack of books on my desk any longer (which are there to remind me that I should blog about them), my inner slightly obsessive-compulsive neat freak may just explode. So, here we are.

I’ve read a few books over the past several months (see, I told you this was not the timeliest of posts) that are worthy of sharing with others. Unfortunately the details of my reviews will be less than specific, since I’ve pretty much forgotten most of what I read. I suppose that’s where posting a review right after finishing a book would really come in handy.

Let’s start with the most recent completion: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

My book club read this work of fiction for our March meeting. This book has been very positively reviewed and many people I know had suggested I read it, since it is set in Ethiopia. I really enjoyed this novel. I liked the story and the characters, but of course I loved everything Ethiopian about it.

Here is a brief synopsis and review from Publisher’s Weekly (taken from the Amazon page):

Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brothers long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Vergheses weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel.

It was my turn to host our book club for the discussion of the book. We usually try to tie in the food for our meetings to the theme of whatever book we’re discussing, so of course I jumped on the opportunity to provide an Ethiopian meal for my friends. Originally my personal chef (Craig) was lined up to do the cooking, but he ended up having to work in DC that day, which meant that he wouldn’t be home until late. So I dusted off my very basic cooking skills and managed to prepare the entire meal – five dishes! – on my own. I was a bit nervous that it wouldn’t come out right, but judging by the fact that I had to reload the various dishes on the injera a few times, I think it is safe to say it was a success. I enjoyed the opportunity to share some of what we have learned about Ethiopian food and culture with my friends, many of whom hadn’t had Ethiopian food before.

Another book I read over the winter was Held at a Distance: A Rediscovery of Ethiopia by Rebecca G. Haile.

This is a memoir of a woman who was born in Ethiopia and was forced to flee with her family in the 1970s during a time of political unrest. The book tells the story of her return to Ethiopia 25 years later. She connects with family members she hasn’t seen since she left, and sees how her life growing up in the U.S. differed from growing up in Ethiopia. This is another interesting read for anyone wanting to learn more about life in Ethiopia. The themes of loss of culture and country were not lost on me, either, as a future adoptive parent of a child who will be removed from his or her birth culture. I also appreciated the discussion of the political turmoil that Ethiopia has faced off and on over the past several decades, and learning how it affected this particular family. Both this book and Cutting for Stone helped me understand more of recent Ethiopian history (although with Cutting for Stone I had to do some research to know what was real and what was fiction).

And finally, a book I finished way back at the beginning of the year: I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World by Marguerite Wright.

I have been trying to figure out what to say about this book ever since I finished it five months ago, and I still haven’t quite found the words. The book is a guide for parents, educators, and other adults to helping children of various ages understand and embrace issues about race. Obviously we will have a special circumstance as white parents of a black child, and we want to learn what we can in terms of helping our child embrace his or her race and background, so that’s why I chose to read this book.

I found the book to be enlightening and interesting. I will admit to having a hard time staying focused on this book, and I read it over the course of several months and kept picking up other things to read to keep me entertained. (I tend to most enjoy reading fiction.) The book had some helpful guidance in terms of assisting children in understanding, for example, the difference between race and skin color.  Some of this discussion was pretty interesting to me because I don’t recall ever having conversations about race with my family or in school. Perhaps I just don’t remember, or perhaps it was because I grew up in a 99% white area.

On the other hand, I also felt that parts of the book were just so blatantly obvious, I sort of found myself saying, “Well, duh!” while reading some of the advice. I know that authors probably have to write with the lowest common denominator of potential reader in mind, so I suppose that’s why some of the guidance was just beyond simplistic in nature.

I really should have written more about this book when it was fresh in my mind, because I don’t feel like I have much to say about it here. Kristin posted about this book a couple of months ago, so you should check out her review for something a bit more comprehensive and helpful!

And, with that, I am going to put those books on the bookshelf immediately. Ah, now I can sleep at ease tonight, worry-free because my three books have been put away. 😉

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7 Responses to (not so) recent reading

  1. What a lovely post. Thank you so much for sharing. Family and friends are just a great part of life. I couldn’t imagine life without them.

    Check out these Fun Family Activities

  2. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the book reviews…my “to read” list is getting short, so I’m book shopping. I tried reading “Cutting for Stone.” Beautifully written, but I just couldn’t finish it. Something to do with the pacing, I think. That food looks amazing. I wish you were in MY book club 🙂

  3. Zoe says:

    That food looks great! And thanks for the book recommendations/reviews — I am especially looking forward to the first two.

  4. kwatkinsinfl says:

    Whoo-hoo! Called out in a post! I feel famous! You’ve inspired me to get back on track with my book review plan. With all the drama, I kind of set it aside, but I have several saved up on to write about (two of which are also mentioned in this post). I loved Cutting for Stone.

  5. Janet says:

    I’m almost finished with CUTTING FOR STONE and I have LOVED it. Seriously…one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

  6. Christine says:

    Cutting for Stone has been on my list forever. If I had the promise of food like that at the end though, I’d be inspired to actually start – and finish- it!

  7. Kelly says:

    Woohoo – good post! I really loved Cutting for Stone. I learned so much about Ethiopia, of course, but also the story itself was so compelling and he’s a fantastic writer. I do wish I was in your book club, though, because discussing the book with others while eating Ethiopian food would have been the cherry on top. Btw, I’m pretty sure you also read There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Faye Greene, right? Well, she has a new one out called No Biking in the House Without a Helmet, which I have reserved at the library.

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