Category Archives: Books I enjoy!

Saturday’s Book: “Farewell Anatolia” by Dido Sotiriou

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

This is another one of those books that I read because of a chance discovery at the library.  Many times (like today!) I get frustrated by the list of books the library doesn’t carry, books recommended to me. But books like this one remind me of what I would be missing if I only read the books people are talking about.

It’s not an easy read. Not at all. The tale of the tragic end of the Greek communities in Asia minor is certainly not a happy one. I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about the expulsion of the Greeks from Turkey. Years ago I read “The 40 days on Musa Dagh” by Werfel, so I knew something about the Armenian population in the region, but not about the Greeks.

It is a testimony to the skill of the writer that at no point did I want to give up on the book. The descriptions of farmers’ and merchants’ lives there before the calamity are vivid. By having the main character meet a wide variety of people you realize the writer has been cleverly giving you many perspectives of the unfolding events.

But I think the most arresting thing about the book is while it is a story of a specific place and time in history (fiction yet based closely on true events), it is a universal tale. Much too relevant to today’s world, which is sort of scary to admit. This is what happens when hatred is inflamed, stereotypes are rampant and scapegoats are needed. Blaming one religion /ethnic group for all possible evils is, sadly, not something one finds only in history books.  Reading about the background that lead to the outbreak of horrific violence from all sides involved is not comforting.  It’s so easy nowadays to imagine the refugees in the book..

While I’m glad to be moving on to lighter fare now I’m glad I read the book.  A lot to think about.

Saturday’s Book: “Oracle Bones” by Peter Hessler

Different perspectives! Photo by Iddo Epstein
Different perspectives!
Photo by Iddo Epstein

I’ve been enjoying Peter Hessler’s articles in the New Yorker magazine for years, so was understandably delighted to find his book “Oracle Bones” at the free readers-for-readers corner at our library*.

It’s not a travel book about China. It is a great many things. Peter Hessler lived in China for many years and his conversations / interactions with people were direct, without the filters of interpreters.  Yet he doesn’t seem to be trying to claim “I KNOW China and am an absolute authority of this diverse country”. Hessler gives us a long-term  personal view of what it was like to be a foreigner living in China in general, and during global events such as 9/11. He also follows the lives of certain people over the span of quite a few years, such as former students of his and people he met. These are not just descriptions, but quotes from conversations and correspondence.

But that’s just one part of the book. The framework of explaining the significance of the ancient oracle bones (earliest forms of local writing!), how archaeology in China is a whole different ball game from what I’m familiar with in this archaeological rich area, adds a whole new dimension to all that I have ever read about the country. Sadly, it seems that everywhere study of the past and politics cannot be separated…

In short, the style is very readable and easy to get into it, though quite long. I took my time reading it but am very glad I did.

*Note: A while I found a treasure trove of three books the library took out of its collection and added to the “free for readers to take” corner. I guess the library decided these books aren’t being borrowed enough, hence not worth keeping. But I’m having a great time with them! This is the second of the three (The Hare with the Amber Eyes was the first). I have now begun the third: “Farewell Anatolia” by Dido Sotiriou.

 

(Almost) Saturday’s Book: The Hare with Amber Eyes by de Waal

A genealogy research journey that absolutely brings the past to life. And what a past it is!
The book begins in a very unexpected location for a tale following Jewish roots. In Tokyo! The author inherits 264 Japanese Netsuke (one first learns what they are) from his great-uncle in Tokyo. An inheritance from the author’s grandmother’s great-uncle (read that again to let it sink in) who was busy being a patron to such  impressionist artists as Renoir in Paris. By following the trail of the Netsuke the story takes the reader on a journey with a unusal family from Odessa to Paris, Vienna, Britain and Tokyo. These places are vividly brought to life at the different time periods as well as the characters.
The author is a ceramic artist and there is a great deal of emphasis on art, particularly in the first part . The first part reads slower but then the pace picks up (with richer details) when the tale moves to Vienna. I knew very little about Vienna, particularly before and during  WWI and now I feel I can picture so much.  Historical facts are intertwined so cleverly with the family’s personal history that everything is in an understandable context.
I’m blown away by the research he conducted – this is a family that left a huge paper trail.
Of course, it all boils down to what you do with all that information and I found the writing skillful and the language rich.
Enjoy!

Saturday’s Book: “Blue” by Lou Aronica

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

How do I tell you about this book without spoiling it for you? I want you to enjoy it too!

I started it in the best possible way – I read the first few pages, got totally hooked and didn’t want to stop. I knew nothing about the book and that worked out really well. Reviews I have seen since completing the book include spoilers! Don’t read the plot online!

I can say that its a young adult book (you can tell) . I generally like young adult books but am usually good at predicting events in them. In this book I was often surprised.

The author thanks Ray Bradbury in the forward. I actually think the book has elements that remind me of “The Never Ending Story” & “The Fault in our Stars”. And yes, there is a part where you will probably be glad if a tissue box is nearby.

The color blue is important here.

There are some bits in the beginning which are slightly confusing but otherwise its a very engaging read, a really moving story with parts that I simply could not stop reading. I finished it quite quickly! I just had to know how it would turn out.

I really would like to believe in the ending…

Saturday’s Book: “Measuring the World” by Kehlmann

Two on the go Naomi's Photos
Two on the go
Naomi’s Photos

This is one of those books I had never heard of (translated from German), that I stumbled upon in the library and quite enjoyed. Wikipedia says that a movie was based on the book, never encountered that either.

The author really brings to life two scientists that devoted their lives to figuring out the world’s secrets, Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander Von Humboldt. The early 19th century comes to life as well. The tale is told skillfully, with understatement and humor. The author manages a winning combination of explaining information while presenting the human side.  Frankly, I’m glad I never met either of them – it was no simple matter to be around either one of them!

Here’s to trying books one has never heard of!

Saturday’s Book: “The Nowhere City” by Alison Lurie

 (Naomi's photos)
(Naomi’s photos)

 

I’m aware of the fact that I have lately become more critical when it comes to books, but this time my problem is a bit different.

I found the writing to be skillful and rich, the characters well-built and they develop as the story progresses. The first chapters were engaging and drew me in quickly.  In fact I would be willing to try reading another book by this author. The back cover mentions a Pulitzer Prize for one of the author’s other books.

However, after reading half the book I simply felt bored.

Perhaps it is because the story feels so dated ( it was published in 1965). The young couple who , in the 1950s, leaves New England to go to California. As far as their friends are concerned they have disappeared into oblivion. There they encounter people who are supposedly free of the constraints of the straight-laced life in New England, people with minimal clothing and different values & morals. Many seem to be living in messy homes with lots of pot but they are, supposedly, somehow, more real. Lurie uses terms like Beatniks and Starlets and seems trying to explain to a reader, who hasn’t yet met the sixties, a thing or two.

I just really couldn’t work up an interest in what happens to this couple any further and abandoned the book…

Update on “The Coincidence Makers” by Yoav Blum

The local scene - yellow everywhere!
The local scene – yellow everywhere!

Sometimes it’s great to be wrong!

When I enjoy a book I like to write it about it on my blog, as you know. I also like to tell the author, if possible.

Well, in this case it was possible.

And the author, Yoav Blum, was kind enough to write me back.

With good news.

The book has been translated into English and is available as a Kindle Edition. See the link here.

I had no idea.

It also turns out that the bio information on the cover of the book isn’t updated. The author no longer lives in the same city I do!  But he stayed really close, so he can still feel the local magic…

As I said, delighted to be wrong!

 

 

Saturday’s Book: The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

Peeking at the sunset over the entrance to Kiryat Ono
Peeking at the sunset over the entrance to Kiryat Ono

What a fun book!

My apologies to those of you who don’t read Hebrew, I sincerely hope this book will be translated soon!

This book takes a novel and humorous approach to the romantic tale. The main characters are “Coincidence Makers” – beings who look like people but are in fact in charge of creating the situations we call coincidences. It takes meticulous research and careful planning to create a perfect “coincidence”. Coincidences that cause two people to cross paths, some that lead to major discoveries in medicine or even getting someone fired so as to get him/her to move on to do what he/she always wanted but was too afraid to try.

But the best part of it all, for me, was how Blum treats it like a serious profession and gives excerpts from the Coincidence Makers’ textbooks and exams (you have to study to be certified) which clearly poke fun at familiar things from college entrance exams and course material.

There are also official Imaginary Friends…

I also enjoyed the way he described situations, supposedly seriously but then with a twist of phrase that made me chuckle.

As I said – a fun read!

P.S. It turns out the author lives in Kiryat Ono, just like I do! If you’ve forgotten the wonders that can be found in our little corner of the world, see here.

 

 

It’s Saturday: So the Brain is like an Attic, Sherlock?

Not sure they have attics... (Naomi's Photos)
Not sure they have attics… (Naomi’s Photos)

The past year has been an extremely hectic one for me (good things, no worries!). Large quantities of new information of different types landed on my brain’s “doorstep” and moved in.

Their arrival seems to have displaced information I used to have at my disposal and I seem to have less room for taking in new information (I forget things I was recently told!).

One memory has surfaced quite clearly though. In fact, it is demanding my attention quite frequently. There is a question to be answered:

Was Sherlock Holmes (or rather Conan Doyle) right about the brain being like an attic after all? 

The claim was made, in “A Study in Scarlet” which I believe was the very first story about Holmes, published in 1887. Dr. Watson had just expressed shock that Holmes didn’t know something about the solar system, possibly that the earth rotates around the sun. I read the story years ago yet Holmes’ reaction stuck in my mind more than the actual plot of the story.

Here’s the quote. What do you think?

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

 

 

Saturday’s Triple Book Post

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Once again, I have been reading, but haven’t kept up with the posting.

In the Kingdom of Ice by Sides – part two

In my first post about this book I promised I would update when I finished it.

UN-BE-LIEVABLE!

I had thought I might quit when the going gets rough (as indicated by the subtitle, it’s not a spoiler), but who could quit? Especially as I was dying to know how the author had such detailed information about the different stages of their polar journey. Also, the crew seemed to have a knack for overcoming impossible odds until…

Now THAT would be a spoiler.  Read the book!

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes, by Backman

The beginning of the book requires patience, but afterwards I found the book to be very engaging and enjoyed it. The book begins with rather too many details from the stories Elsa (almost 8 and gifted) is told by her “crazy” grandmother. While it is obvious that the stories are important to the plot, at that stage I found it hard to be interested in all their details.

However, once the plot really got going, I was really drawn in. Elsa’s family and neighbors, her feminist-trail blazing-unorthodox grandmother and Elsa herself are all rich and interesting characters.

Good!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Not for me at all.

After enjoying the lovely concept in the first chapter of assigning books to cure people like a prescription for medicine, I lost patience with the book fairly quickly and abandoned ship.

I truly dislike platitudes about “what women want” or “what men are like”. And that’s just for starters…