Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for October, 2014

The Whispers of Nemesis

Posted by nliakos on October 26, 2014

by Anne Zouroudi (Bloomsbury 2011)

The fifth book in the  Seven Deadly Sins series (in this apparently British edition, called simply The Mysteries of the Greek Detective–how original) focuses on the sin of pride (hubris). Hermes Diaktoros, arriving in the village of Vrisi (“spring”–the watery kind, not the seasonal kind) to visit a dear friend, happens on the exhumation of a body four years after the death–only the bones are those of a pig. The fat man is engaged to solve this conundrum, which is soon complicated by yet another death (ostensibly of the same person). Of course Hermes solves the mystery and everyone gets his (or her) just desserts, which is why I love these books.

By the way, I never managed to track down this one or the last two in the series, so I ended up buying them from Amazon affiliated sellers. This one came all the way from England. I always forget that English editions differ from ours over here in some of the spelling, and in this case, also in the size of the book (and as I mentioned, the name given the series).

Posted in Fiction, Mystery | Leave a Comment »

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

Posted by nliakos on October 25, 2014

by Paula J. Freedman (Amulet Books 2013)

Thirteen-year-old Tara Feinstein narrates the story of preparing for her bat mitzvah. Tara’s mother is from India; she converted to Judaism (presumably) when she fell in love with Tara’s father. Tara’s Indian heritage is as important to her as her Jewish heritage, but managing the culture clashes among her relatives and friends isn’t always easy. And Tara’s best friend Ben-o (who happens to be male and Catholic) complicates matters by suddenly taking a more romantic interest in Tara, who does not feel ready for dating in general and is terrified of losing Ben-o’s friendship if it doesn’t work out. As you might expect, Tara successfully navigates the pitfalls of young love and preparing for her bat mitzvah even though she isn’t sure that she really believes in God.

This is a nice book for those interested in intercultural relationships (like me) and for ESL students.

Posted in Children's and Young Adult, Fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | Leave a Comment »

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Posted by nliakos on October 20, 2014

by Reza Aslan (Random House 2013)

This is the book I have wanted to read for many years: a book that puts the religious narrative(s) into a historical context. Jesus, Paul, James, Masada, the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire, the apostles, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Q material, the Bible, Pilate and Herod, and much, much more, all contextualized and explained clearly. Reza Aslan writes forcefully about what we know, what we can reasonably speculate about, what we might hazard a guess about, and what is pure fabrication. When the gospels contradict each other, he muses as to why that is and what it might mean. He cites numerous sources, some modern and others 2,000 years old, to back up his thesis: that the Jesus Christ worshipped by Christians today has little in common with Jesus of Nazareth–the former a god, the latter a man–an uneducated laborer, a revolutionary, and one of a plethora of failed messiahs that lived and died violent deaths around that time (but the only one, Aslan points out, that “would not be forgotten”). As I have long believed, it was Paul (a Jew who apparently came to hate Jews) who created and spread the Christian religion. (Aslan points out that “more than half of the twenty-seven books that now make up the New Testament are either by or about Paul.” p. 215) What Jesus preached, and what his brother James (the Just) preached after him, is completely different from what Paul preached–but Jesus and James were preaching to other Jews, whereas Paul preached to Gentiles, facilitating the spread of his doctrines among the majority of peoples who knew nothing of the Torah and Jewish laws and customs and so were unable to recognize that much of what Paul was preaching would have been anathema to Jesus.  Aslan also shows how Christian anti-Semitism was born after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and historical events were changed to absolve the Romans of responsibility for Jesus’ death–and cast the blame on the Jews. Aslan shows how absurd these allegations actually are.

I learned so much from reading this book! I am looking forward to reading more of Reza Aslan, like Muslims and Jews in America, Beyond Fundamentalism, and No god but God.

Posted in Biography, History, Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

Posted by nliakos on October 16, 2014

by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb (Little, Brown 2013)

Sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai and her ghostwriter Christina Lamb have written a straightforward autobiography which begins with the well-known attempt on her life and then goes back to describe her birth, her family, her home life, and her education. Along the way, she lovingly describes the Swat Valley where her Pashtun family are from and narrates the political turmoil that has roiled Pakistan since its creation. From all of this, I learned a lot–about the history and geography of Pakistan, and about the Pashtun culture.

You cannot help but admire Malala for her courage, honesty, and sheer goodness, but her father is another extraordinary character in her story: born into a poor family, he pursued his dream of building schools to educate his people despite all odds; he boldly spoke out, again and again, against corrupt politicians and the Taliban when so doing could have meant his life (and one wonders why they didn’t just finish him off, as they did so many others). He obviously was an inspiration to his daughter, who in turn became his hero.

(Of course one could also point out that Mr. Yousafzai’s political activity constantly put his entire family at risk. If he were murdered by the Taliban, how would they survive? His long-suffering wife and children seem to have accepted the risks he took constantly–perhaps because they knew they couldn’t prevent him from taking them.)

Malala describes some obsessive-compulsive anxiety over checking to make sure all the doors were locked at night as she too began to receive death threats, but overall according to her description, she was pretty matter-of-fact about the danger she and her father were in because of their outspokenness. At one point, she writes, “It seemed to me that everyone knows they will die one day. My feeling was nobody can stop death; it doesn’t matter if it comes from a Talib or cancer. So I should do whatever I want to do.” (pg. 313 in the large print edition)  Pretty amazing from a thirteen-year-old, which is her age at the time she is describing. If only everyone could internalize this message!

The book is written in simple language which should be quite accessible to intermediate English language learners.

Posted in Autobiography, Memoir, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | Leave a Comment »

Instant: The Story of Polaroid

Posted by nliakos on October 11, 2014

by Christopher Bonanos (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012; University of Maryland First Year Book 2014 – 2015)

I always read and usually enjoy UMD’s First Year Books, which are selected by a committee each year. Free copies are provided to all freshmen and to anyone else in the university community who wants one, and professors are encouraged to assign them, discuss them, and otherwise encourage their students to read them. This year’s choice, Instant, did not immediately appeal to me (which may explain why I waited until October to read it, though I have had it on my shelf since May). I never had a Polaroid camera, and I think of them as pretty passé (if I think of them at all), along with most other film cameras. Everyone does digital now; do even professional photographers ever use film?

Nevertheless, the book grabbed my attention right away and held it. It turns out that some people still love Polaroid, which was the Apple Computer of its day, and Edwin Land, its Steve Jobs: the visionary genius who could invent almost anything on demand and who insisted on high quality products. People even buy and hoard expensive Polaroid film when they find it. Who knew? Even millenials who have never owned a Polaroid camera or picture apparently know what they are.

The book is replete with with illustrations and photos (of photos, and of people); many of the photos were taken by great photographers like Ansel Adams, who used large-format Polaroid film for some of his Yosemite photographs (who knew?), Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, and Walker Evans. I thought Polaroid pictures were mere gimmicks. Who knew?

The book depicts the unlucky breaks that afflicted the company, the uneasy relationship between Polaroid and Kodak, the disastrous decision not to pursue digital photography, and the inevitable downfall of the once-prestigious (though relatively small) company founded by Edwin Land. Bonanos muses about why an instant (paper) photograph seem (to many people, at least) more exciting that an instant digital one.  It is a peek back into our recent history, but never seems dated.


Posted in History, Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »