Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for February, 2007

Bound Feet and Western Dress: A Memoir

Posted by nliakos on February 18, 2007

by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang, 1997; audiotape narrated by the author

The author if this fascinating little book is a Chinese-American woman who interviewed her great aunt, Chang Yu-i, about her life.   Chang Yu-i was born into a wealthy Shanghai family and was married at age 15 to a man who did not like her.  Trained to be obedient to her husband and his family, she did everything she was supposed to (bore a son, served her in-laws, obeyed her husband’s every wish) but was still despised by him.  He abandoned her in Europe, then divorced her in China’s first Western-style divorce (which did not take place in China).  Nevertheless, she supported herself as a teacher in Europe, eventually returned to China, continued to care for her ex-husband’s parents because his new wife refused to do so, managed a women’s bank, and finally emigrated as the Communists were about to take over Shanghai.  Living through such an interesting part of Chin’s history, she saw the social changes sweeping through China at first hand.

The text, which seems to be a direct transcription (or, perhaps, translation) of Chang Yu-i’s words, is interspersed with the author’s recollections of her own shorter history, as she discovered her family’s history.

Chang Yu-i’s story seems horrific to a “liberated” modern woman–the stuff of some sexist nightmare.  Her patience and strength despite the adversity she faced are hard to believe.

I enjoyed this book a lot.  I think it would be particularly interesting for Chinese students, who would probably find it quite easy to understand.

Click here for the Reading Group review and discussion questions of this book.

Posted in Non-fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | Leave a Comment »

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

Posted by nliakos on February 18, 2007

by James W. Loewen, audio CD narrated by Brian Keeler

Norton 1995

This is a really amazing book!  Loewen, a sociologist, analyzes 12 high school textbooks about U.S. history and finds them both boring and inaccurate.  He points out that although truths about Columbus, the Pilgrims, the plagues that killed Native Americans (leaving an essentially empty land for Europeans to take over), Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, various US-led coups d’etat, Vietnam, etc., are well-known to historians and are routinely taught at the college level, high school texts still present American history as continual progress toward an ideal.  History is presented as a list of political events controlled by (mainly) heroic presidents; Columbus and the Pilgrims make up our “creation myth”.

Although I was already aware of many, if not most, of the ugly facts presented here (such as the ugly history of our relations with Native Americans and the US involvement in the assassination of Salvador Allende and Mohammed Mossadegh), the pattern that is created by all of them considered together is a sad and even frightening one.  Like many college-educated Americans, I never took an American history course after high school.  It is astonishing how distorted a picture of our history is created in books such as the 12 Loewen discusses here.

Lies My Teacher Told Me was originally published over 10 years ago; perhaps there have been changes for the better due to its publication.  My daughter’s 8th-grade history text, Creating America, published in 2005 by McDougall Littell, seems to present the facts fairly objectively  (for example, I’ve noticed that it presents the British side of the “road to revolution” with some sympathy, while making the American colonists seem somewhat shrill in their continual outrage against any form of control exerted by England).  It also emphasizes racial and gender diversity, focusing on Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and women.  So perhaps Loewen’s book has had an impact.

I think every American should read this book.

Click here for James Loewen’s website.

Posted in Education, Non-fiction | 6 Comments »

The Founding Fish

Posted by nliakos on February 4, 2007

by John McPhee (audiobook, read by the author)

I love almost everything written by John McPhee; otherwise, I would probably never have picked up a book about fish and fishing. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of fishing, and I did not enjoy listening to descriptions of fish being caught. Still, I kept listening.

McPhee is an avid shad fisherman (who knew?), and this is the most personal book I have read of his. In his many books, he usually includes himself as accompanying the people he uses as sources for his material, but never before have I seen him focus so directly on himself and what he does. That was kind of interesting.

As he does with all his subjects, from Florida oranges to geologic processes, McPhee has made this subject–the American shad–fascinating. He writes about how shad played a role in American history, how shad fishing differs from other kinds of fishing, and shad biology (for me, the most interesting part). As always, he includes portraits of various people who work in some capacity with shad–fishing for them, studying them….

The biggest surprise for me was the final chapter, “Catch and Release,” where McPhee examines the ideas of PETA–People for the Ehtical Treatment of Animals. I am against medical research on animals and am a partial vegetarian (no meat or poultry); I do not believe that people are superior to other animals, but PETA is way too radical for me. I did not expect McPhee, as a longtime fisherman, to examine PETA’s viewpoints in a fair way. However, that is exactly what he does. He writes, for example, that PETA claims that fishing is cruel because a fish’s nervous system is similar to that of a human, and it feels pain and stress when it is hooked. After consulting his ichthyologist sources and asking how a fish’s nervous system differs from a human nervous system (it doesn’t), he states bluntly, “PETA has a point.” And he gives a careful analysis of the “catch and release” sport fishing that many claim is even more cruel than fishing for supper, because the stressed and injured fish often die soon after being released. (Interestingly, this kind of fishing is illegal in Germany because it is deemed cruel.)

I can’t say this book would attract a wide readership, but for this McPhee fan, it was not a disappointment!

Posted in Non-fiction | 1 Comment »