Posts tagged ‘books’

January 3, 2018

2017 in Books

Continuing the tradition of documenting the books I have read, here is the list from 2017. I didn’t read as much this year because of my second job with E4C and then studying for the ExACs. Hopefully I can do better next year!

Books read in 2017:

  • Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  • The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afganistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  • The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
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February 4, 2017

2016 in Books

Now that I’m finished school, I have grown a new love for reading! It’s not like I wasn’t reading (in fact university helped make me into a reader), it’s just that all my time was taken reading either required material or material for my thesis. Here are the books that I read this past year. I would recommend all of them, but the books with stars by them are the ones that had the greatest impact on me and I eventually want to write reviews of them.

Books read in 2016:

  • Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre
  • Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis*
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  • The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
  • The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • Prayer by Timothy Keller
  • Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison: Piper Kerman
  • The Unquiet Dead: A Novel by Ausma Zehanat Khan
  • A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand*
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer*
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March 18, 2015

Paper Towns

Here is a clip from John Green (vlogbrothers) talking about where the term “paper towns” comes from. It actually relates to the practice of mapping and how the map often informs the space instead of the other way around.

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July 5, 2014

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters

Book Review 4: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns

I just recently finished reading this book in preparation for my trip back to the Congo this fall. I had previously read King Leopold’s Ghost, another great read that describes the history of Belgian colonialism, but had yet to read a book about Mobutu’s dictatorship and the two Congo Wars of more recent history. I was recommended this book by an architecture alumni from U of T who did her thesis in the Eastern Congo, and I equally recommend it to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the wars and modern Congolese politics. Before I read the book I didn’t even know what the motivations were for the war and was probably guilty of making generalizations. What this book reveals is an extremely complex conflict that offers no easy answers. The book is extremely well researched, following narratives from people on all sides of the conflict and from all walks of life. It demonstrates that there is no completely good or bad side because most people had reasonable motivations in response to their circumstances. The book was also very difficult to read because it doesn’t shy from the brutalities that occurred.

I don’t think that many people know about the two Congo wars even though they are a part of very recent history and occurred following the Rwandan genocide that is more well known. The first war was in 1996 to 1997 and the next from 1998 to 2003, although tension still exists with the presence of rebel armies in the Eastern provinces. It is estimated that close to five million people died. The majority of deaths were not from combat, but rather from the absolute poverty and disease that ensued. Although the country was ready for a shift in government, and almost welcomed the Rwandan invaders, it could be argued that very little has changed in the country since the time of Mobutu. What I learned about Congolese politics is that those in power have never been able to represent the public interest. Recent leaders have spent the majority of resources protecting their position than sticking their head out to set in place the necessary political reform. The culture of corruption has developed to such an extent that people have no choice but to act corruptly in order to survive or get ahead. It has become business as usual and will be something that might take generations to lift. The future appears dull after reading such a heavy book, but the author comments at the end that he saw the same thing that I saw when I was in the Congo: there is a lot of joy in everyday life and hope for a brighter future.

 

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July 1, 2014

Three Cups of Tea

Book Review 3: Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

I recently finished reading Three Cups of Tea, a book recommended by my sister. I think that she read it in school in one of her peace and conflict studies courses. It is a good read for anyone interested in international development projects and cross-cultural experience. The book shares the memoir of Greg Mortenson who over the last decade has been an advocate of education for children, particularly girls, in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Greg Mortenson originally came to Pakistan to climb K2, the second highest mountain on earth. He failed to summit after losing energy from carrying out a mission to save the life of a fellow climber. On the way back down the mountain he was very weak and lost the path, accidentally stumbling across a small village called Korphe. It was his experience in this village and the kindness they showed him that changed the direction of his life. While he was there he noticed that the village really needed a school, and before he left the village he promised that he would be back to build them one. One thing I like about this book is that it demonstrates that anything is possible with stubborn endurance. Instead of getting bogged down with the almost impossible task of raising money, he wrote hundreds of letters. He knew that he only needed one person to care and that would be enough.

That person was Jean Hoerni, a fellow climber and one of the founders of the transistor in Silicon Valley. He donated the first 12 000 that was needed to build the first school in Korphe and he would go on to found the Central Asia Institute (CAI), of which he placed Mortenson as director. The book describes how the scope of work grew in response to the overwhelming need for schools, as well as the challenges they met along the way. Lastly I enjoyed the cross-cultural relationships in the story that demonstrate that the same human desires exist across all cultural divides. All in all I found the book inspiring by the way that it encourages people to act and fight for a cause by peaceful and collaborative means.

I was dragged back to reality after reading the book. I was warned that there was a lot of criticism but decided to wait until after I had finished the book to research it. There have been allegations that parts of the memoir are made up and that the CAI’s finances are spotty. The book has also received criticism for being ignorant and having a too simple perspective of life in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is true that the story is very one-sided (although I suppose that’s generally the case for a memoir) and that Mortenson is tagged as a real hero. I am sure the schools sometimes had a negative impact on some peoples lives; that’s real life. That doesn’t mean that we should stand by and not do anything, but to see and acknowledge the other side is important because nothing is perfect and ideology can be as dangerous as it can be motivating. If he hadn’t painted himself as such a saint, I think that the allegations would have been less stark and therefore wouldn’t have taken hold like they did.

Despite all of that, it was still a worthwhile read. Here are some great quotes:

“Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities, but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they’ve learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.”

“If we try to resolve terrorism with military might and nothing else, then we will be no safer than we were before 9/11. If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs.”

“Haji Ali spoke. ‘If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways. The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die. Doctor Greg, you must take time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated but we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time.’ That day, Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my life. We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly…Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.”

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March 9, 2014

The Count of Monte Cristo

Book Review 2: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

I recently finished reading the Count of Monte Cristo. I only ever knew the plot of the first few chapters of the book, and was happy to find that even the story beyond the imprisonment and famous escape is very interesting. I was intrigued by the lengths that Monte Cristo takes to know his rivals and to awaken the ghosts from their past. He strives equally to bless the benefactors of his past as curse his betrayers and his actions are like a strategic game of chess. He attempts to play God, but in the end realizes that his heart can’t sustain it. And although his humanity comes apparent as occasional glimpses, he seems most deserving of the divine role by the patience and wisdom obtained from reaching and returning from a place of no hope. Similar to the the previous book I read, Speaker for the Dead, I enjoyed the subtleties of the characters as expressed in their comportments and conversation. It was by pale face or hidden meaning in his words that the true Dante would occasionally be revealed. I think the lesson that I got from the book is that we can have great impact on the lives of those around us by our actions, be it for the worse or for the better. It is another book that awakens the realities of the human condition. Here are some of my favourite quotes:

“He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness… Live, then and be happy beloved children of my heart and never forget that until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words – wait and hope.”

“Those born to wealth, and who have the means of gratifying every wish, know not what is the real happiness of life, just as those who have been tossed on the stormy waters of the ocean on a few frail planks can alone realize the blessings of fair weather.”

“Often we pass beside happiness without seeing it, without looking at it, or even if we have seen and looked at it, without recognizing it.”

“Life is a storm. One minute you will bathe under the sun and the next you will be shattered upon the rocks. That’s when you shout, “Do your worst, for I will do mine!” and you will be remembered forever.”
“On what slender threads do life and fortune hang.”
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February 23, 2014

Speaker for the Dead

Book Review 1: Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card

In this new year I have the goal to read more books. I have also decided to write about what I think of them, especially since I have a poor memory of most books that I read, and writing for me is a way of remembering. I really enjoyed the first book that I read in the new year called Speaker for the Dead. It is actually the sequel to the book Ender’s Game, the more well known of the author’s books that was recently made into a movie. What is curious is that Scott Card wrote Ender’s Game for the main reason of setting the stage for this, the book he really wanted to write. The book takes place thousands of years in the future, on a planet shared with another intelligent species. It describes the interactions between these two species as they learn about one another, but also the more subtle human relationships that evolve with the story. In this way there are almost two different plots that are tied together and carry related themes. I think this book would be much more difficult to do justice as a motion picture, because of the level of concealed emotion. The book is almost void of action except for exploring the nature of relationships in all its forms, be it between lovers, parent and child, siblings, enemies, a person and their community, and two cultures and “beings” altogether different. The conflict from the story arises from a secret that is kept in love to protect, but weaves together a life of lies that inevitably causes even more harm. The Speaker for the Dead is a man who has more life experience across time and space then anyone in the world, and because of this he is the most capable of compassion and has profound understanding of a person in all her complexity. He is called to speak for the dead and therefore comes to the planet and touches the very soul of the entire community, laying bare the secret but by doing so offering immeasurable healing. When I read the book I definitely saw a metaphor of Christ in the Speaker just because I imagine Jesus having the same wisdom from the fact that he was God in the flesh and had incredible interactions with people that still permeate today.

Here are some quotes I liked:

Oh Pip, I’d be glad for you to try. But do believe me, my dear friend, touching her heart is like bathing in ice.  I imagine. I imagine it feels like bathing in ice to the person touching her. But how does it feel to her? Cold as she is, it must surely burn like fire.”

“But when it comes to human beings, the only type of cause that matters is final cause, the purpose. What a person had in mind. Once you understand what people really want, you can’t hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can’t hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart.”

“A strange thing happened then. The Speaker agreed with her that she had made a mistake that night, and she knew when he said the words that it was true, that his judgment was correct. And yet she felt strangely healed, as if simply saying her mistake were enough to purge some of the pain of it. For the first time, then, she caught a glimpse of what the power of speaking might be. It wasn’t a matter of confession, penance, and absolution, like the priests offered. It was something else entirely. Telling the story of who she was, and then realizing that she was no longer the same person. That she had made a mistake, and the mistake had changed her, and now she would not make the mistake again because she had become someone else, someone less afraid, someone more compassionate.”

“Ender was a destroyer, but what he destroyed was illusion, and the illusion had to die…the truth about ourselves. Somehow this ancient man is able to see the truth and it doesn’t blind his eyes or drive him mad. I must listen to this voice and let its power come to me so I, too, can stare at the light and not die.”

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