31 March 2009

three cups of tea - greg mortenson and david oliver relin

greg mortenson and david oliver relin || three cups of tea || 4.5/5.0

i know i'm pretty late to this party, but it was worth the wait! three cups of tea is a current affairs/biography, detailing the efforts of greg mortenson in building schools in central asia. most of his work described in the book is in pakistan, though the book ends with an introduction to his recent (2004) efforts in afghanistan.

really well written, the book is a page-turner, and sheds a very human light on a region of the world largely portrayed as a wild and dangerous unknown. individuals, geography, and cultures are painted beautifully, and i felt i was receiving a lesson from an insider.

the biography side of the work is a testament to the power of incredible people. mortenson's drive is truly remarkable, and reminds me of my public health hero paul farmer.

this is a definite read for anyone. if you haven't, i implore you to check it out. as an added incentive, i'd be happy to give you my copy of the audio version - a great recording of a great book.

29 March 2009

never let me go - kazuo ishiguro

kazuo ishiguro || never let me go || 4.5/5.0

i enjoy starting a book with no concept at all about its content. it keeps me from having preconceptions, and adds a bit of surprise to the story development.

this was a great surprise book! set in an alternate future, never let me go creates a world very similar to our own, with the simple addition of a class of human clones. this subset of the population, which includes our narrator and main characters, is a group contentedly destined for organ harvesting.

the narrator expresses no anger about their situation in life, and though she describes some ethical discontent in others, its not the focus of the work. i loved the perspective the author gives us and the fact that we never hear from the "human" point of view. clearly there's an ethical crisis here, but the book breezes past it - adding greatly to the novel's realism for me.

the writing is engaging and page-turning, and the descriptions of her childhood enjoyable to read. i'm eager to try another of his books. definitely recommend this one!

22 March 2009

"call from the future"

don't make fun of me, but i happen to have a free subscription to oprah's magazine. ok, go ahead and laugh, but she's got a good zine going, and i've become a fan.

this month features some short articles on global warming and the like by a swath of authors. most i enjoyed, but i particularly appreciated a piece by barry lopez entitled call from the future.

i recommend checking it out as a quick read, but some highlights:

instead of the numbing rhetoric of "us" and "them," we will have to invent a new kind of "we." it's the "we" already welling up in many of us, born out of empathy, out of genuine love for each other and the Earth, and out of sober assessments about our predicament. it's a grittier, less jingoistic "we," born of hard work.

what we need is uncommonly mature people. a kind of courage is required we've not seen before, that "we" in us that wants to make a simple bow of recognition, without judgment, toward all other people caught in the same travail, and then simply to start the work.

theoretical and philosophical, yes, but that's how i do things.

18 March 2009

the murder of roger ackroyd - agatha christie

agatha christie || the murder of roger ackroyd || 3.5/5.0

i'm not normally much of a mystery person. in fact, i think this book brings my total of mystery books read up to two. but, such is the beauty of book clubs! they give that extra motivation to step outside of one's normal authors and genres.

christie is a quick read, which is a fun bonus, and i did enjoy the story quite a bit. unfortunately, i decided to read the back of the book mid-way through, and learned that the novel is considered "one of the most controversial" detective novels of all time. this of course made me start considering what kinds of wild endings might be in store, and i guessed the conclusion.

now that i've spoiled it the same for you (its not a real spoiler if its on the cover, right?), i'll give it a thumbs-up. if you're a mystery fan, check it out. if you'd like to try out a mystery, its a good pick. but if you're an apathetic mystery reader such as myself, this one won't change your mind.

moby dick - herman melville

herman melville || moby dick || 4.0/5.0

its been a while since i've posted a book review, and here's my excuse... moby dick is a freaking long book. i can't believe people read this in high school! we read a melville poem once (i had to do a presentation on it), but that was 20 lines. major points to anyone who made it through this tome as a high school student.

that said, i really enjoyed it! melville is amazing with words, and i'll add him to my shortlist of favorite classic authors. i actually found myself mid-read remarking on his use of alliteration, and that's saying something.

its pretty tough to get through, though, and i can definitely see why people skip the long didactic sections on whale phylogeny. i absolutely recommend it (if nothing, you'll get a strong sense of accomplishment!), but give yourself some time to slog through the dry parts.

09 March 2009

nation's health - march

the march '09 edition of the nation's health had a lot of really great articles this month. some of the highlights for me:

-a really interesting article criticized the free antibiotic programs currently being offered by grocery stores (such as giant in the dc area), for their contribution to antibiotic resistance. they point to the temptation for individuals to stockpile medication and self-prescribe later on. given the growing threat of resistance, their suggestion that chains instead offer free flu shots and vaccines is especially timely and inspired.

-estimates are that for every 1% rise in unemployment, approximately 1 million more americans will join the ranks of the unemployed.

-2010 is likely to be the year in which cancer overtakes heart disease as the world's top killer. given the massive number of smokers in china alone, and a growing adoption of the american lifestyle worldwide, i can't see cancer losing the title anytime soon.

-san francisco has a new sexual health service available via texting. i enjoyed this article, except for the examples of "B2 if u think ur pregnant". the use of "u" and "ur" still makes my skin crawl. does this make me old?

-reference to a neat service by the EPA, where consumers can calculate the energy impact of various applicances, and compare energy stats by geographic region: www.epa.gov/powerprofiler

abba - take a chance on me

07 March 2009

god's politics - jim wallis

jim wallis || god's politics || 4.0/5.0

this book comes to us from my "bought a long time ago and never actually read" list, a list that is tragically overpopulated.

i really enjoy jim wallis and his work in sojourners, a progressive christian magazine. this book was no different - lots of really great theological points on our political system.

unfortunately, the book was written in 2004 and so lots of his arguments are terribly out of date. i definitely should have read it when i bought it!

his main points are that the religious right is off-base in focusing efforts on individual morality and ignoring societal issues, and that the secular left is foolishly neglecting the value of spirituality. viva progressive community building!

lots of margin notes for me, which is always a good sign. i'm hopeful that he'll consider a new version, though its more likely we'll see a new book entirely.

my favorite line:
"...until all the children who died from hunger on september 11 are as important to us as those who died in the terrorist attacks, we will not be safe or secure." (198)

04 March 2009

the devil in the white city - erik larson

erik larson || the devil in the white city || 5.0/5.0

i really can't think of anything negative to say about this book! larson's most popular, he combines the story of building the chicago world's fair and a serial killer of the time.

i've always wondered why the world's fair made such an impact on history - it seems like the world's fair was always and inexplicably on history book timelines.

well, if nothing else, i have a better understanding of the sheer miracle that was the fair, and of the wild circumstance by which it was surrounded. plus, i learned the fair spawned all sorts of things - besides the ferris wheel, you've got your shredded wheat, your bisquick, your pabst blue ribbon, and the list goes on!

the murder story was also quite good - though i was more of a fan of the architecture storyline myself. the book was quite reminiscent of thunderstruck, larson's second book i read last year. i'm a fan! can't wait to see what he comes out with next.