Thursday, March 29, 2007

Updates - Further Thoughts From My Review

While I did enjoy the memoir, I often was frustrated at reading about the suppression of the women. I used to be a member of the Feminist Majority Leadership Allianace (FMLA) at Hunter College, which is part of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF). I had joined this group as an undergrad about a year and a half before 9-11. The first thing I had learned via the group was about the atrocities that was occurring to women due to the Taliban. To raise money for awareness, we sold pieces of burqa with the net. I remember students stopping by the table, putting the net to their eyes, and being in shock over the situation occurring. What I learned has affected me to this day. My hope is that women who are fighting to build a better life can do so that they will be able to attain peace and gain back what was taken from them.

In the memoir, Ms. Rodriguez is able to connect with the women, and in doing so, we learn that some of them had your average life - a working family, a nice home, and most of all, a reason to smile. Imagine if everything you knew was taken away from you because one group decided that they knew what was best for society. Imagine if these same people who had promised a better life instead took away a child's laughter, art, the basic beauty of life, and instead murdered and caused havoc. The Taliban promised to make things better, but instead stole husbands, wives, sons, daughters....

My family was also affected by the actions of those who wanted to destroy just to prove a point. I was still living in NYC when the attack occurred. Just writing this makes me shake. So much to remember. What I can say right now is that my father was one of those who went downtown to help with the recovery. He was a Correction Officer at the time and his department was asked for volunteers to help. I remember him coming home with such a stench that I cannot describe, his face drawn, weakened by what he saw. There are things he saw, he recovered, that will haunt him for life. Of course now he is suffering from the aftereffects. He has some sort of mass growing behind his eyes. He had to get an operation on both his eyes because one day they just swelled shut. He has just been sick since that time. One of his fellow volunteers died because his health rapidly deteriorated. The attack not only killed thousands but also destroyed families, and the repercussions to this day are unfathomable. Every time I hear a plane that sounds too close for comfort, I freak out inside. My husband saw one of the towers collapse. He does not talk about it.

Sometimes I get so stressed over the most mundane things, such as running out of butter or not being able to buy a book. Then I open my eyes and realize how lucky I am to be able to just live. It may not be perfect, but I can smile, I can dance, and I speak my voice. I reflect and I understand that what I take for granted is another's treasure. And a treasure is worth keeping.

Ten Books I Can't Live Without

Kailana has asked us bloggers to post the Ten Books You Cannot Live Without. I have been thinking about my list for days. It's just so hard to narrow it down to ten. I kind of tweaked my list to include series and short stories. I hope that is okay. Here goes.....

1. Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - I heart this short story big time. I can read it over and over again, which I do. I think it's just so beautifully written (as well as many of his other works). Pure perfection.

2. A Book of Dwarfs by Ruth Manning-Sanders - My favorite short story collection as a child. Each story is about mythical dwarfs, good and bad. I love the illustrations that accompany each story. I used to get lost in my imagination each time I cracked it open. I still have my copy, although it seems that I pilfered it from my elementary school library (I really don't think that I intentionally kept it). Shame on me!

3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - My mother bought me a beautifully illustrated unabridged edition when I was around 8 or 9 years old. I remember how excited she was to have me unwrap it. I also remember not being as eager to read it, but once I finally decided to I just fell in love.

4. Bruno the Pretzel Man by Edward E. Davis - This book was given to me by my "aunt" when I was in the single digits (I believe around 6 y.o.). I remember salivating over the description on how perfect pretzels were made and tasted. I think this was my first cozy read. I also remember it making me feel all gooey inside.

5. The Birth House by Ami McKay - I heart Ami McKay. I heart The Birth House. Read my review here. And go out and buy a copy RIGHT NOW!

6. Archie Comics - I know, they're not books. But how can I not mention them! I love Archie comics. To this day, whenever I see a new digest out, I buy it. I love the fact that my local supermarket stocks them. Yes, I get the occasional weird "are you kidding me??" look, but I really don't care what people think. They're fun. Here's another embarrassing confession - I had a crush on Jughead. I kid you not. I also had a crush on Lion-O from Thundercats. There is no shame in my game! ;)

7. The Casteel Series by V.C. Andrews - I've read this series three times. V.C. Andrews just does it for me.

8. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer - I gulped this one down in a few days (in between work and school). Read my reviews here and here.

9. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor - Amber is a naughty, naughty girl. This book is huge in size and yet I wished it went on a bit more.

10. Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue - Another naughty, naughty girl. If you haven't read this, then what are you waiting for?

Okay.....that was really hard. I have so many more that I can't live without, such as Yo! , When I Was Puerto Rican, An O.Henry Reader, Fruits Basket, High Maintenance, Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl, Something Borrowed, The Ramona Series, anything by Judy Blume, The Crimson Petal and The White and, of course, the Harry Potter Series. They're probably going to get mad at me and disappear deeper into my piles for a couple of years :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

I am so grateful that Kabul Beauty School was one of the non-fiction books sent to me by Elle Magazine for my June Juror reviews. The following is the book description that can be found on the Random House website:

Soon after the fall of the Taliban, in 2001, Deborah Rodriguez went to Afghanistan as part of a group offering humanitarian aid to this war-torn nation. Surrounded by men and women whose skills–as doctors, nurses, and therapists–seemed eminently more practical than her own, Rodriguez, a hairdresser and mother of two from Michigan, despaired of being of any real use. Yet she soon found she had a gift for befriending Afghans, and once her profession became known she was eagerly sought out by Westerners desperate for a good haircut and by Afghan women, who have a long and proud tradition of running their own beauty salons. Thus the idea for the Kabul Beauty School was born. With the help of corporate and international sponsors, Rodriguez founded the Kabul Beauty School and welcomed the first class in 2003. Well meaning but sometimes brazen, she stumbled through language barriers, overstepped cultural customs, and constantly juggled the challenges of a postwar nation even as she learned how to empower her students to become their families’ breadwinners by learning the fundamentals of coloring techniques, haircutting, and makeup.Yet within the small haven of the beauty school, the line between teacher and student quickly blurred as these vibrant women shared with Rodriguez their stories and their hearts: the newlywed who faked her virginity on her wedding night, the twelve-year-old bride sold into marriage to pay her family’s debts, the Taliban member’s wife who pursued her training despite her husband’s constant beatings. Through these and other stories, Rodriguez found the strength to leave her own unhealthy marriage and allow herself to love again, Afghan style.With warmth and humor, Rodriguez details the lushness of a seemingly desolate region and reveals the magnificence behind the burqa. Kabul Beauty School is a remarkable tale of an extraordinary community of women who come together and learn the arts of perms, friendship, and freedom.

Here are my thoughts:

At first glance, I made the very poor assumption that this was probably a self-congratulatory memoir, one that was focused on a woman humbled by her surroundings and whom thereby becomes the heroine of the group. What an ill assumption on my part. Ms. Deborah Rodriguez, an American woman, finds herself in Afghanistan after reaching a crossroad in her life, built by the demands of a domineering husband and her need for fulfillment beyond what her present life could never provide. We the readers follow Ms. Rodriguez as she works to open a beauty school in Kabul, which will allow the women to make money, to learn and practice new and safe beauty techniques as well as how to successfully run a beauty shop. Alongside Ms. Rodriguez, we learn about the culture, the lifestyle, the emotions, the mindset, and the beauty of the heart-warming women of Kabul. While Ms. Rodriguez finds her inner peace and accomplishes her main objective of meaningfulness and therefore fulfillment and happiness, she also learns valuable lessons in the women’s struggle to maintain a good life amidst the turmoil of a feuding nation. Ms. Rodriguez never comes across as self-congratulatory but rather as the woman one wishes she/he had as a friend, a confidante of great strength and hope through good times and through bad. I only wish that the memoir was longer so that I could learn what became of the beauty school at present time as well as the women who made it happen. I hope that Ms. Rodriguez continues sharing her stories and particularly those of the women of Kabul. And I do hope that there is the intention to follow-up with the women of Kabul who shared their stories for this memoir.
Overall, this was a fantastic read! I am so grateful that this was sent to me. I definitely recommend it!
To learn more about the Kabul Beauty School, please click here.

The Great American Book Give-Away

I learned about The Great American Book Giveaway via Nancy's site. I entered and won The New Yorker Book of Teacher Cartoons for my brother, who recently started teaching. They also sent me an extra book that they thought I might like! The concept of this giveway is cool. Click on the image above and check it out for yourself. Yummy, books!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Currently Reading.......

R.O.D. by Hideyuki Kurata

What's better than a manga series filled with book lovers?! The story revolves around three sisters who run a a detective company for books named Paper Sisters Detective Company. Their motto is "Protectors of books and all those who love books!" Michelle is the romantic sister and a bookworm, Maggie is quiet and completely shuts the world out when she is immersed in her reading, and Anita does not like to read. So far, Maggie is my favorite.

Here's a quote from Michelle, who spent their food money on books much to Anita's chagrin: "...But...but books are nutrients for the soul". I love it!

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

This is my first venture with this author. Although I've heard much praise about We Need To Talk About Kevin, I haven't felt the urge to read it just yet. Not to say that I don't think it would be good.

From what I learned, the premise revolves around the "what if" scenario. Who hasn't wondered this? What if you made that fateful decision? What would your life be like now? The main character, Irina, makes that fateful decision, and thus the author provides us with two different scenarios for this one character. I think this will be an intriguing read.

Oh Persephone! Persephone! How Do I Love Thee?

I love thee so much that I must buy you ALL!!!!

As you can see, I have found a new obsession - Persephone books. My first two books arrived today and I am in love. I had been reading about Persephone books all over the place, from BookGirl's Nightstand, Random Jottings of an Opera and Book Lover, Too Many Books and A Work in Progress. After going through the catalogue for a month, I finally placed my order for Someone At A Distance, They Knew Mr. Knight and Mariana last week. Despite my choosing the least expensive shipping available, two out of the three came pretty quick.

The jackets are so simple yet elegant. Really. I love the endpaper for They Knew Mr. Knight. After touching them, smelling them, petting them.....I decided that I must purchase the whole set! That's right! I don't know how I am going to to do it, but I will. I can just picture a chocolate-brown bookcase filled with all 70 Persephones......delicious.

I perused through Mariana to get a sense of what I have to look forward to. Here is what I opened up to:

' I live at Sheen. My father's a doctor there, you know.' Mary thought it was a pity he didn't do something about his daughter's breath. (96).

Ha ha! That's funny! I can't wait to read this one. I'm seriously tempted to put aside what I'm reading to start this one, but patience is a virtue.

Oh Fairy BookMother - please buy me the whole set! Won't you? :)