Thursday, May 26, 2011

Three Cups of Deceit - John Krakauer

As I've gushed previously on this blog, I have been enamored and inspired by Greg Mortenson and his work starting schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His two books made me think about life in a different way - and strive for the idea of volunteer work as a whole way of life rather than something that is just done on the side. While I clearly knew that he wrote the books himself, the nature of his work just seemed so pure. Well, in this book, John Krakauer blows the lid right off the idea of Mortenson as selfless humanitarian. Three Cups of Deceit is a picking apart of Mortenson's book and an exposure of the lies and exaggerations contained within. So many of the stories seem as if they were created out of whole cloth and they undermind completely the work Mortenson claims to have done in the area. Krakauer talks about the ghost schools that have been built but unhoused by teachers and students. He questions where all the large donations have gone. Krakauer normally crafts his in-depth investigations into books that are compelling and almost suspenseful in their telling. This one, on the other hand, picks apart passage after passage of Mortenson's book, seemingly in an attempt to thoroughly embarrass Mortenson. For anyone who was inspired by Mortenson's books to go out and do great works of their own, I wouldn't recommend this book - it's too cynical and negative. But, for anyone thinking of donating their own money to Mortenson's organization, I would definitely suggest reading this so you truly understand where your money is going.

Where You Once Belonged - Kent Haruf

Kent Haruf always managed to tell a great big story in a short succinct way. This one is a take on the old saying - you can't go home again. Jack Burdette was a small town football hero who fled under suspicious circumstances. His return brings back old memories and unearths long simmering animosity. Told by a narrator who stayed behind and married Burdette's ex-wife, this is a story about redemption and revenge. While I didn't find the actual end particularly satisfying, the characters and storytelling are typical Haruf fantastic.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Bad Beginning - Lemony Snickett (Series of Unfortunate Events #1)

Reading this series of 13 books is just my attempt to get to my 75 book goal for the year as quickly as possible...perhaps I need to have a rule about what kind of books actually count toward my goal. After all, I did read Goodnight Moon to my son five times yesterday...But, I do think that childrens' literature counts, if the books are in chapter form. So here I go with Lemony Snickett's tales about the three Baudelaire children who lost their parents in a fire. Finding themselves orphaned, they are shipped off to Count Olaf, an unknown relative, whose only desire is to somehow cheat the children out of their inherited fortune. These books are filled with the dark and negative, and Snickett gives fair warning. Though they don't inspire smiles and laughter (except of the cynical kind), I think I would have loved these books when I was a child. Looking forward to more mishaps in the adventures of these unfortunate children.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother - Amy Chu

This book has received so much press, of course I had to read it. Amy Chua is presented in the media as a somewhat abusive and overly driven mother. While the examples she gives for how she raised her children (not allowing sleepovers for one) seem harsh, there are some fundamental principles in her "Chinese" parenting techniques that I was raised with, and that I definitely agree with. This book, however, was very difficult to read. While Chua seems to have some reflection on what her parenting did to her two daughters, she seems to revel in the meanness of it all. While I applaud the general notion that parents are there to push their children and set boundaries, not to be their best friends, she seems entirely deaf to her childrens' wishes and their need to have friends of their own and to be happy. Chua has definitely sacrificed for her children - spending hours upon hours standing over them while they practice the piano and violin and driving them to all kinds of auditions. But, I fear that all that sacrifice has only served to make them all truly miserable. Chua's oldest daughter was just admitted to Harvard. While many see this as a ringing endorsement that her methods "work," I'm still not sure that achieving this type of "success" is really for every one. People joke about Tiger Moms now, but I do think they have a lot to teach other parents - who these days seem overly indulgent with children who take advantage of them, or are too lazy to ever truly work for anything. At the same time, I think Chua could take a lesson or two from the Western parents she criticizes, and listen to her children instead of always thinking she knows what is best. This book sparked a lot of positive discussion in my home about how I hope to raise my son, and I think there is great value in this book if you look beyond the crazy and get to the heart of the Tiger Mom's philosophy.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Getting to Happy - Terry McMillan

Getting to Happy is McMillan's perhaps long-awaited sequel to her bestselling novel Waiting to Exhale. I read the first book back in college and really enjoyed the story of four African-American women trying to make it in the world leaning on each other through the hard times. While it was a fast beach-type read, I thought it said a lot about the value and power of female friendships. Getting to Happy, however, is a lot more fluff, and not too much insight. The four women are back, and while it could be my slee-deprivation, I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters. They each have an ex-husband or boyfriend, a child or two, and several random friends. For me, it was sa bit distracting. I did appreciate the idea that each woman went on to have her own separate life, but that the foud remainder true friends. Yet, every time the four of them came together in a scene, the dialogue was irritating, and they didn't ever really seem to actually like each other. McMillan has some strong novels, including my favorite from her, Disappearing Acts, but this one seems to hope to rely on the success of Waiting to Exhale, and left me a long way from happy.