Monday, March 26, 2007

Spring Break!

My spring break officially ended yesterday, and today was back to the kids. Ah, it was so nice to have a week to see people, read books... to have more of what feels like a 'life' than when I'm teaching! (I know that's a life too, it's just not as fun) :-)
I don't have a lot of time right now, but here are thumbnail reviews of several books I read over break:

Uglies, by Scott Westerfield. A decent young-adult sci-fi story. It's well-written, though you can see where the plot is going. It's about a future society in which everyone gets an operation at age 16 to look like a supermodel. Of course, evil lurks behind this seemingly great idea... The main character is well-written and believable, as a girl who wants the operation but makes friends with a girl who wants to run away to the wild. I also read the sequel, Pretties. It's a trilogy, and I'm looking forward to reading the 3rd part, Specials, when it comes out in paperback.

A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah. This is the current 'Starbucks book', a memoir of a man who grew up in Sierra Leone during its civil war and became a child soldier. Besides being a mournful account of a country torn apart and a childhood destroyed, it's a good example of how quickly and evilly people's morals break down when they're involved in a group that's acting in their own self-interest. The two 'sides' in the conflict, the government soldiers (and child recruits) versus the rebels (and child recruits), do unspeakable things and justify it to themselves. It really made me want to stay more aware of civil wars, especially in Africa, and find some reputable aid organizations to support. One of the best things about the book is his description of his rehabilitation and the people who worked with these murderous, drugged-out teenagers and children.

A Three-Dog Life, Abigail Thomas. Continuing my fascination with sad and melancholy books, this one is a memoir of a woman whose husband was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He had absolutely no memory and barely any present sense, almost like an Alzheimer's patient. She had to put him in long-term care because he was too hard to care for at home. I liked this book a lot because while this could easily become an exercise in self-pity, it's a realistic look at what it feels to go through grief and then acceptance. It's a strange in-between place, her husband not being dead, but their relationship completely changed. Like some other books I've read in this genre (The Year of Magical Thinking, etc), she makes no mention of God, and its doubtful that she has a relationship with Him. That makes me simultanously admire her, and draw back in horror- the idea of facing such a horrible circumstance entirely under her own strength, and without any hope of eternity.

The Gates of November, Chaim Potok. One of my favorite authors of all time, in fiction, here writes about a Russian Jewish family and their experiences under Communism. This true-to-life telling gives me great admiration for the Russian people, for surviving for 70 years under communism. It seems like the communists kept their power intact partly by a strategy of sheer confusion- things that were permitted one year were banned the next; people who had done a certain activity for years were suddenly arrested for it; that teetering way of life seems to have been purposeful, in order to keep people afraid. The book contrasts between a father, a dedicated orginial Old Bolshevik, and his son, a 'refusenik' who tried for years to emigrate to Israel. To see the son's eventual success at the end of the book, after decades of futility, is a great ending. It's the happy ending of fiction, played out in fact.

If I manage to finish any more of the, oh, 10 or so that I'm working on currently, I'll update with more later. :-)

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