December has been a good month for reading. Since last post I have read some great books. December book club was lovely with a Christmas theme - bubbly and delicious home made mince pies and other treats. Books being read are much the same as last month, the most popular and up for most discussion being The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Can't wait to read it myself. The sequels to this first novel have also been put in, so now the whole series is there for us. The Blue Notebook, about child prostitution in India also provoked a lot of talk. Far too depressing and awful for me to read, especially since my year living there. Well and truly over exposed to this underbelly.
Book club books I have read are as follows :
BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin
I loved this beautifully written and thoughtful story of a young girl's easing into the adult world. Eilish is born and bred in a small Irish town, in the 1950s, the town not having much to offer young people. The expectation is that she will get married and have children just like all the other young women in the town have done for decades. Even if there are few eligible and attractive men around. There is a sense that she has no control over her life. Quite by chance and quite fortuitously the decision is made for her by her mother and the priest that she move to New York and begin a life there. And she does. Although it does take a while, as one would expect, for her to find her feet with a job, the boarding house she lives in with good Catholic girls, and a social life. Slowly the quiet, shy country girl blossoms into a confident, interesting and interested young lady. Until she is called back to Ireland following a tragedy. There she finds that the ties that bind are indeed very strong and some serious decision making is required.
The style of writing is a little detached and some of the others in our group who have read this book did not like it for this reason. I think that is what makes such a mundane, ordinary life so fascinating and such a great read. We come to care very much about Eilish and the decision she has to make. In fact, for me it became a page turner. I have read The Blackwater Lightship and just could not get excited about it at all. This however is a completely different book, it feels to me that he loved writing it, that he loves and cares for all his characters and this comes through in his writing. As in real life there are plenty of oddities about all the characters in the story, but that just makes it more real and endearing to the reader.
We also learn quite a bit about New York City at this time, and I think Mr Toibin also has a great affection for this city as well as the variety of people that live in it.
THE CARPET WARS by Christoper Kremmer
This is not the first book I have read about this deeply troubled area of the world. It would appear the conflict of the last fifty years or so is nothing new, we just know more about it now, and the impact on the rest of the world is more profound. The first book I read was in the 12 months or so after 9/11 when places we had never heard of were in the daily news all the time. In An Unexpected Light Briton Jason Elliot recounts his time in Afghanistan in the early 1980s disguised as a fighter for the anti-Soviet mujheddin resistance movement. Scary enough. English foreign correspondent Christina Lamb details her involvement in most of the world's conflicts of the last 25 years in Small Wars Permitting, one of her favourite countries being Afghanistan.
Australian journalist Christopher Kremmer uses his passion for Oriental carpets as his device to take him from country to country and regions within the Middle East prior to 9/11. Afghanistan features heavily of course, but the chapters on Iran and Kashmir are particularly interesting. He also travels to Iraq, Pakistan, and the various -kistan countries north of Iraq/Afghanistan and west of China. Plenty of history, right back to Alexander the Great, plenty of war and horror, both past and present, and the sheer indestructibility of the peoples who live in these areas of the world. They have seen it all before, it seems there is no longer horror, but simply inevitability that things never change.
My only criticism of the book is that I would have liked an introductory chapter on Oriental carpets that summarised all the information distributed through the book into some logical organised form. I wish too the photos of the carpets were in colour! I became so interested in all this that I went to the local public library and looked at books there.
This is a book to expand and open the mind about an area much maligned by the West. We can learn from Mr Kremmer's travels and observations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq prior to 2001.
OUTLIERS:THE STORY OF SUCCESS by Malcolm Gladwell
This would have to be one of the most thought provoking, interesting and fascinating books I have read in a very long time. In a society infatuated with the concept of success, beginning right from when a child is born, this book is a revelation. We obsess over our children's academic achievement, the best school to go to, their class mates, the calibre of the teachers, league and result tables and so on. Whereas in fact it seems that these are not the only factors that influence a person's final success. In a lot of cases it is the well-worn adage '20% talent, 80% effort' (the 10,000 hours scenario), or what time of the year you happen to be born (early in the year for Canadian ice hockey or the under 20 All Blacks if you play rugby in New Zealand), or what culture you belong to (Asians and maths). I found this last example particularly interesting as at the local high school about 1/3 of the school roll is of Chinese or Korean birth, or 1st generation born. The academic achievement from this school is very high, as is the very high representation of academic prizes going to these students. This is at the expense of the WASP students,
who excel in the sports and cultural (except music) areas. Again Asian students take out the music prizes. Virtually all these Asian students have out-of-school tuition, and as Mr Gladwell points out, these high achievers don't necessarily have the highest IQs, but through sheer hard work, effort and constant practice at subjects like maths they beat the pants off everyone else.
The other section of the book I found very interesting was the culture differences between an airline such as Korean Air which traditionally is very hierarchical and a Western airline which is more egalitarian. These are of course direct reflections of the overall cultures the airlines operate in, the cockpit being a very focussed and intense example. My husband flies for a Western airline and spent 20 months flying for an Indian airline which was also very hierarchical. He related very easily to the behaviour in the cockpit of the Korean Air airplane.
For Christmas I was given Blink and The Tipping Point. From reading other book blogs these sound better than Outliers and I am very much looking forward to reading them.
POMEGRANATE SOUP by Marsha Mehran
A most interesting mixture between small town Ireland complete with all the personalities such a community could throw up, and the exotica of three beautiful Iranian exiles and their culinary traditions. Very similar to Joanne Harris' Chocolat in terms of plot, protagonists, eccentrics and baddies. Uncannily so. Nevertheless with a Middle Eastern leaning to it rather than chocolate and gypsies, this is also a light hearted and heart warming read, good for summer holidays or evenings by the fire. I don't think it is nearly as well written as Chocolat, being far more syrupy and too touchy-feely for my liking. The food thing and the recipes however sounded beautiful and I could imagine the aromas and tastes from how they were described. Maybe Ms Mehran should be a food writer.