Maira's Books

In January of 2005 I started this blog as a record of books I’ve read as I was afraid I would forget what I have read. I have often referred back to my own blog to remember a book's contents or see what I have read by an author. I have enjoyed passing my books on to friends or recommending books to read. I know I have missed recording some, but in general I try to keep up with what I have read or listened to.

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Location: Kalamazoo, MI, United States

I am a librarian at Waldo Library at Western Michigan University.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

On Killing by Dave Grossman (2009)

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.

This book was suggested to me by the audio book store owner, after I told him I liked Rachael Maddow's Drift. This was a tough book to listen to, so I would do whole other books in between CD's of this. Some editing to take out some of the repetition would have made this book even better, but it was very important to read this. Grossman comes from the military, so he doesn't question the reasons for war as I would, but once there, he gives a deeply researched view of how people act in wars and without. He starts out with our reluctance to talk about death and to research the act of killing. Luckily, he and other researchers have been interviewing veterans of the wars of the past and looking at diaries, letters and other forms of personal revelations from soldiers of previous wars.

First of all, it restored my faith in humanity, that as a rule we are very loathe to kill another human being. Grossman had statistics from the various wars and it turns out that up until VietNam, most soldiers would not actually aim at another person in combat. And if they did, it was traumatic for them. It was easier to kill at a distance, when one did not have to see the victim, so that bombers, men on navy ships, even snipers were much less likely to feel remorse. But, the army learned that soldiers need to be desensitized to actually shoot at the enemy, so the training for VietNam included this and there was a much greater rate of shooting at the enemy. This resulted in more trauma for the soldiers afterwards, compounded by the fact that when they returned, they were not treated like heroes, but often reviled and they did not become a part of the support system offered by veterans organizations.

I wish I had the time to do this book justice here, as it got me thinking about so many things, but this is a busy time for me. I will just list a few more topics Grossman addressed - women in war, sex and killing, atrocities, and one of the most disconcerting, his last chapter on how we are desensitizing whole generations with violent TV, movies, video games and other media. He had some realistic suggestions, but I was disappointed that though he acknowledged ready availability of guns as one of the factors on the senseless killings happening in the US population, he said that they have always been available and made no statement that limitations to the availability of guns could help the current situation.

Iraq by Rebecca Rowell (2012)

To continue my edification on Iraq I am reading an adult book, but these picture books meant for kids sometimes give me more of what I need. This is recent, so it mentions not only the history, but the current problems the Iraqis are dealing with to get their lives and country back on track after Saddam Hussein's destructive reign and of course, the war.

This book helped clarify and reinforce what my international student from Iraq has been telling me, whether it is about the draining of the marshes in the south, the Kurds in the north, the role of religion, the status of women, etc. A really nice overview.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Alia's Mission by Mark Alan Stamaty (2004)

This is the second children's book I found about a librarian in Iraq - actually the same librarian. Her story is worth telling. Alia Mohammed Baker, the chief librarian at Basra Central Library sees the war coming in 2003, asks for help officially to protect the library collection, but when she gets no support, takes it upon herself to move as many books as she can to her home and when the fighting begins, to a restaurant next door. The library was destroyed, but she had saved 30,000 books, 70% of the collection. She did have a stroke afterwards, but when she recovered, led the way to reestablish the library. According to the Wikipedia, it was rebuilt in 2004 and she was again chief librarian.

This had more text than The Librarian of Basra and was black and white comic book style with more facts at the end. It is amazing the Iraq is the place where writing was invented, where cuneiform was first used by Sumerians on clay tablets. In 1980 an Italian archeologist found 2,000 of these old clay tablets - because they did not burn like the papyrus of Alexandria.

The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter (2005)

While looking to see what we had in our children's collection on Iraq, I found two books about a librarian. This first one was a simple children's picture book that tells the true tale of Alia Mohammed Baker, who was the chief librarian at Basra Central Library. In 2003, when she saw the war coming, she asked government officials for help to protect the library collection, but when she was refused support, took it upon herself to move as many books as she could to her home and when the fighting began, to a restaurant next door to the library from which the books were dispersed to homes of friends. The library was destroyed, but she had saved 70% of the collection.

Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (2012)

I wasn't going to admit that I finished the series, but I did. Yes the writing is bad, and the story got worse as the books progressed, but I was too curious to see where the writer would take it. So in this book they are married and Ana finishes "freeing" Christian from most of his demons and he becomes a semi-normal human being and family guy. I kinda liked what the author did in the end - giving us a glimpse into Christian's childhood and then the first two times he meets Ana from his point of view. So you see he has come a long way.

Forever by Nora Roberts (2009)

These reprints just do a siren call on me when I go to a department store. Nothing else really catches my eye in the book section. My biggest concern is that I will pick up something I have already read by Roberts, as I don't carry my list around. I have plenty of "better" unread books on my shelf, but just my guilty little pleasure. These two are 1980's Sihouette books with the usual strong women in some profession who meet or have known some gorgeous guy. Why do these guys have to be independently wealthy? Do money issues get in the way of romance?

Rules of the Game (1984)
Brooke Gordon is one of Roberts' usual strong, very competent women, who has worked her way up from a hard childhood to be a great director of TV commercials that everyone respects, maybe even fears. She is assigned to direct Parks Jones, a cocky baseball star, in some clothing commercials. She knows nothing about baseball (I can relate, though I had a friend who took the time to explain that it is a nuanced game), but learns. I liked the way she can evaluate him from the standpoint of what is going to look good on camera - and that this causes him discomfort. He is again a too perfect man, but I liked that the book doesn't end with a proposal or wedding, but with issues that have to be worked out post wedding. I also liked the subplot of the middle-age romance of her boss. 

The Heart's Victory (1982)
Cynthia "Foxy" Fox has been assigned to photograph the race car circuit, an environment in which she grew up. Her older brother and race car driver Kirk raised her there when her parents died. She has been away at college, but is now a free lance photographer and has been assigned to accompany Pam, a writer. I didn't quite get how the two of them worked, and who footed the bill for them to travel with the circuit for a whole season. Did they submit regular articles and photos? Because it sounded like Foxy only developed her photos after the season. Oh, and the guy - Lance Matthews, Kirk's best friend and rich sponsor/car designer, whom Foxy has know since she was a child. The race car world is one I have glimpsed, having dated a guy who worked on race cars and who took me to Watkins Glen and one other race. I was wondering if Roberts would pick up on the noise and smell, which is what remains in my memory, and I think she did. It is also a hard working, hard partying crowd, so I felt she got that too. Other details I can't attest to. But otherwise, I liked this story less than most of Roberts' tales. Something about the way the relationship played out, though it made more sense in the end. This one too had a quick wedding and even more issues to work out post wedding.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Boy Who Painted Dragons by Demi (2007)

This time Demi takes us into the mythical world of the Chinese dragons with lots of dragons on each page, many gilded and very impressive. A boy starts painting dragons because he is afraid of them, but he learns to face his fears and grows strong and wise and good.

I knew Chinese had all these dragon images everywhere, but did not really know their symbolism. They have power of the forces of nature, especially those related to water, such as rain, hurricanes, and floods. Obviously, when you think about it, they are also a symbol of power and strength.

I liked the wisdom the dragons gave the boy. The first pearls of wisdom were: Seek your truth, Find your truth, and Dare to be true. The dragons of water, fire, earth, and wind gave him the Wisdom of Goodness, Purity, Acceptance, and Clarity. These all resonate with me, as I fell they were the things I used to seek in my youth, but someplace along the way life happened and all got muddied.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Hungry Coat by Demi (2004)

This Tale from Turkey is the next Demi book I read. She was visiting her son in Istanbul and was inspired to write and illustrate this tale about an actual historical figure - Nasrettin Hoca, who lived in the 13th century and is described in the afterword as a folk philosopher and humorist. Stories about his adventures have become true folktales and part of the folk wisdom. A festival is held in his name every year in July. Again, beautifully illustrated.

The funny, little wise man named Nasrettin Hoca wears a huge white turban and a worn-out coat and helps people. One day he helps catch a goat, which makes him late for a banquet, so he doesn't go home to change. No one will talk to him, so he goes home, washes up and puts on a fine new coat. He goes back to the banquet and now he is popular. So he starts feeding his coat. It must have been the coat that was invited to the banquet, not him.

One Grain of Rice by Demi (1997)

Subtitle: A Mathematical Folktale.

I ran across this author when working with ESL students at the library and watching them be fascinated by a children's book on the Prophet Mohammed by this author. That book was checked out, but I realized this author has written a lot of children's books about other cultures, mostly from the Middle-East and southern Asia. Though she lives in the state of Washington, she lived in India for two years and fell in love with Indian art, which she captures beautifully in this richly illustrated book, even with gold.

This book is about India and a raja who gathered rice from all his peasants for times of famine, but when famine came, he did not redistribute the rice. A young girl does him a favor and he promises her anything. She ask for just one grain of rice. When pressured, she asks for one grain today, and each day for thirty days double the rice he gave the day before. You do the math.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard (2004)

This was on the favorites shelf of one of the employees at the audio book store. It was about Michigan, so I picked it up. I didn't care for the rough voice reading the book or the cop banter, though I watch enough cop TV shows. But I always give a book at least one CD of a chance. And by the end of the first CD I was hooked.

Mr. Paradise of the title is Tony Paradiso, a rich old guy , who likes his high end hooker Chloe to do cheers in a Michigan cheerleader uniform, while watching tapes of U of M football games. He likes it if she brings a companion, so she talks her Victoria Secret model roommate Kelly in joining her. They are driven to the house by Montez and the evening does not end well with Mr. Paradiso and one of the girls dead.

Frank Delsa is the detective sent to solve this murder, a likable guy who lost his wife a year ago. There are all sorts of interesting characters in the book - the hit men Carl and Art, a crooked lawyer, Lloyd the cook, Triple J, and more. There is a side plot of three dead bodies in the basement of a drug dealer's house, and they sorta have something to do with each other in the end, but maybe this was just to show the complexity of cop and detective work.

As I often do, I had to look some things up about this book and author and it turns out that Elmore Leonard is a well know crime fighter author with 45 books to his name. He has been called the "Dickens of Detroit" and the TV series Justified is based on one of his characters. So maybe I can look in a few more of his books sometime.