stardust

title: Stardust

author: Neil Gaiman

genre: Fiction, fantasy, falling stars

dates read: May 28th – May 30th

review: 5 of 5 stars

summary: Tristran Thorn lives an unremarkable life in the small town of Wall, so named for the wall that separates the town from Faerie land on the other side.  Lovestruck and wanting to prove himself, he goes on a journey into Faerie land to find a fallen star, which he promised to bring back to the woman he loves.  On this journey he finds that the star is actually a person name Yvaine.  Together they begin the journey (she less willingly) back to Wall.  Unbeknownst to them, Tristran was not the only one seeking her out. . .

personal thoughts: Beautiful, imaginative, and witty.  I love the movie and feel like it followed the book quite well.  Of course, the books are often better than their movie counterparts and this was no different.  I loved the different characters and the intertwining stories.  The world of fantasy that Gaiman created is dynamic, a place that I would want to visit, maybe even live.  Well done, sir.

favorite quotes:
“It was chilly that April, with the awkward changeability of English spring.” p. 8

“Tristran Thorn. . .was half the way between a boy and a man, and was equally uncomfortable in either role. . .” p. 37

“Tristran could smell the distant winter on the air – a mixture of night-mist and crisp darkness and the tang of fallen leaves.” p. 41

the spirit catches you and you fall down

title: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

author: Anne Fadiman

genre: Non-fiction, Hmong and American cultures, refugees, epilepsy

dates read: May 17th – May 28th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Lia Lee, born to Hmong refugee parents Nao Kao and Foua Yang, started having seizures at three months old.  Born in the States, her American doctors attempted to treat her with their western tools and medicine, while her parents wanted to use their Hmong traditions and techniques.  With no knowledge of the English language, and illiterate in both languages, Lia’s parents were unable to follow the strict and confusing regimen of prescribed medicines.  Fadiman gives detailed cultural context for the Lee family and Hmong culture, and meticulously explains the medical procedures that Lia’s doctors follow.  What is best for Lia and could the cultural misunderstandings been better handled?

personal thoughts: I had a difficult time with this.  It was difficult to see how each side didn’t really communicate with the other, not for lack of trying.  I can’t imagine the frustration of living in a foreign country and all that entails, or of trying to do the best thing for a sick child and feel that the parents are being non-compliant and endangering her life.  Fadiman does an excellent job honoring both cultures and shows compassion for all involved.  This highlights the importance of cultural sensitivity and trying to find a compromise when there are conflicting beliefs.   Of course, this is easier said than done, but as someone who works with people with very different perspectives and cultural contexts, this is something that I need to keep in mind too.

favorite quotes:
“I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things but where edges meet.  I like shorelines, weather fronts, international borders.  There are interesting frictions and incongruities in these places, and often, if you stand at the point of tangency, you can see both sides better than if you were in the middle of either one.” x

“Because the Hmong have historically been so resistant to authority, they are especially confused and enraged when they are stripped of their power in a country to which they have fled because of its reputation for freedom.” p. 84

“For the Hmong in America – where not only the social mores but also the sound of every birdsong, the shape of every tree and flower, the smell of the air, and the very texture of the earth are unfamiliar – the ache of homesickness can be incapacitating.” p. 204

the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy

title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

author: Douglas Adams

genre: Science fiction, galactic travel, the meaning of life

dates read: May 13th – May 16th

review: 4.5 out of 5

summary: Arthur Dent is just a regular guy trying to keep his house from being demolished.  His friend Ford Prefect is an alien from Betelgeuse (though Arthur doesn’t know it at first) who came to Earth for a quick visit to update The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, but has been stranded on Earth for 15 years.  Ford knows that the Earth is about to be destroyed by another alien race and he and Arthur escape their own impending doom.  And so beings their adventures into the Final Frontier.

personal thoughts: This was really weird.  But also really hilarious.  Because it was science fiction, I didn’t get everything that happened/was said, but that didn’t take away from the hilarity of the story.  I wasn’t thrilled when the chapters would jump from one character to another but it did make sense in the end.  All the characters were quirky and unique.  The vastness of the universe (both actual, and the one in the story) is really mind-blowing and I like Adams’ perspective on it.  The particular edition of the book that we own is five novels in one, this one being the first and nicely kicks off the story.  I will be returning to it later.

favorite quotes: “He would have felt safe if alongside the Dentrassis’ underwear, the piles of Sqornshellous mattresses and the man from Betelgeuse holding up a small yellow fish and offering to put it in his ear he had been able to see just a small packet of cornflakes.  But he couldn’t, and he didn’t feel safe.” p. 39, 40

“At that moment the bottom fell out of Arthur’s mind.  His eyes turned inside out.  His feel began to leak out of the top of his head.  The room folded flat around him, spun around, shifted out of existence and left him sliding into his own navel.  They were passing through hyperspace.” p. 42

“The planet’s surface was blurred by time, by the slow movement of the thin stagnant air that had crept across it for century upon century.” p. 81

rita hayworth and shawshank redemption

title: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption

author: Stephen King

genre: Fiction, inmates, escape

dates read: May 8th – May 12th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Red is an inmate at Shawshank state prison.  He recounts his story, mostly in context to Andy Dufresne, a fellow inmate who was in the prison for more than twenty years.  Red himself is in there for close to forty years.  He describes their lives on the inside and the friendship that blossoms as Andy proves himself to the powers that be.  In his former life he was a banker and ends up helping the guards and administrative staff at the prison do their taxes, file for loans, invest their money, and addresses whatever other financial needs they might have.  But he is carefully planning his escape, something that takes extreme patience and even more luck.

personal thoughts: I love the movie adaptation and found that it followed the book quite closely. While this is a pretty short story, King has developed strong characters in Andy and Red. Andy’s persistence and quiet nature is admirable. I love how Red tells his story, his unassuming way. Together these characters create a wonderful story that was compelling and rich.

favorite quotes:
“If the weather bureau says the hurricane just changed course, this guy assumes it’ll change back in order to put his house on ground-zero again.  This second type of guy knows there’s no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.” p. 67

“Writing about yourself seems to be a lot like sticking a branch into clear river-water and roiling up the muddy bottom.” p. 94

the art of racing in the rain

title: The Art of Racing in the Rain

author: Garth Stein

genre: Fiction, dog-perspective, loyal love

suggested by: Pam R.

date read: May 8th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Enzo is a lab terrier mix adopted by Dennis “Denny” Swift as a puppy.  Denny is a racecar driver making his way towards the top.  When Enzo is still a puppy, Denny meets Eve and they get pregnant with Zoë.  They marry, and Denny’s dreams continue, hardly slowed down by his settling down.  The Swift family has good times and bad, and through it all, Enzo remains their faithful companion and protector.

personal thoughts:  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  Another story written in the perspective of a dog, though Enzo was much more philosophical and deep, with a very strong desire to be human so he could verbalize all that he’s observed and thinks (and have opposable thumbs).  His love for his family is touching and very much reflective of the loyalty many dogs are known for.  His fierce desire to protect his family is endearing and almost makes me want a dog.  I love my cats way too much to torture them so. This is another highly recommended read.

favorite quotes:
“my tongue was designed long and flat and loose, and therefore, is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around my mouth while chewing, and an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences.” p. 1

“memory is time folding back on itself. To remember is to disengage from the present.” p.13

“dogs and women. . . connect to pain directly from its source, and so it is at once brilliant and brutal and clear, like white-hot metal spraying out of a fire hose, we can appreciate the aesthetic, while taking the worst of it straight in the face.” p. 62, 63

“What matters is not how precisely we can explain the event, but the event itself and its consequences.” p. 90

wild

title: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

author: Cheryl Strayed

genre: Non-fiction, memoir, loss, personal journey

suggested by: BuzzFeed

dates read: May 6th – May 7th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Cheryl Strayed is newly divorced, still mourning the death of her beloved mother, and searching for herself.  She decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a more than 2,000 mile hike that goes from the Mexico/California border to Canada.  Feeling like she’s lost not only her family and her marriage but also herself, she embarks on the journey hoping to find herself again.  She writes of her adventure, the people she meets, and the many thrilling, scary, and mundane things she experiences along the way.

personal thoughts: Another one that had my attention from the beginning.  She is (in my opinion) a phenomenal writer and her journey is inspiring.  There are some laugh-out-loud parts, and parts that made me tear up.  The loss of her mother, and the way she describes her emotions through the whole experience was especially poignant to me.  It is inspiring (and by her description, hilarious) to see someone who was woefully unprepared finish such a physically exhausting  trek.  I will mention that the book is not entirely PG but I think I’ll be adding this to the short list of books I want to own.

favorite quotes:
“My solo three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail has many beginnings. There was the first, flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it.” p. 9

“She’d been so transparent and effusive and I so inquisitive that we’d already covered everything. I knew that her loved for me was vaster than the ten thousand things and also the ten thousand things beyond that.” p. 19

“each day was an eternity, one stacked up on the other, a cold clarity inside a deep haze.” p. 21

“Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.” p. 119

“Her death. . . cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d let off.” p. 267

half the sky

title: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

authors: Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

genre: Non-fiction, gender equality, violence against women

dates read: May 2nd – May 6th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Kristof & WuDunn are a married couple that seek to discuss the issues of inequality that women worldwide are facing, primarily women in third world or developing countries.  They discuss violence against women, lack of basic freedoms (leaving the house, education, medical attention, etc.), and the general attitude of a woman’s role in her society.  They seek to show how the negative ideals impact not just the individual woman but her surrounding community and society as a whole.  Using personal stories gathered from their travels, and showing the impact of sometimes very small changes, they support their claims that changes in a woman’s status and role can have a ripple affect and do a world of good.

personal thoughts: What powerful testimonies and sometimes gut-wrenching stories!  I know I’m so blessed to live in a country that allows me to get a higher education, let alone an elementary one, but this just highlights even more what I have.  I loved how many success stories they had from around the world, and how many wonderful organizations are out there to support the awesome work these women are doing.  This book was mentioned in my first read and I’m really glad I picked it up.  The last section of the last chapter highlighted some ways to get involved and I would definitely like to do so.  I highly recommend this book.

favorite quotes:
“Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.” xviii

“promoting gender equality is crucial to combat global poverty.” xx

“When India feels that the West cares as much about slavery as it does about pirated DVDs, it will dispatch people to the borders to stop traffickers.” Chapter Two – Prohibition and Prostitution

“The best role for Americans who want to help Muslim women isn’t holding the microphone at the front of the rally but writing the checks and carrying the bags in the back.” Chapter Nine – Is Islam Misogynistic?

the maze runner

title: The Maze Runner

author: James Dashner

genre: Fiction, futuristic, survival

suggested by: BuzzFeed

dates read: April 29th – May 2nd

review: 4 out of 5 stars

summary: Thomas wakes up only remembering his name.  He find himself in a small community of boys who seem to be surviving on their own.  Like him, they can’t remember what their life was before The Glade, what they call their current place of residence.   Surrounding the Glade is a giant maze that is explored by the Runners of the community, who daily try to find a way out.  As he acclimates to his surroundings, he finds out the different roles in the community and is inexplicably drawn to the role of the Runner, which is known to be dangerous, sometimes to the point of death.  But soon it is clear that Thomas’ appearance has triggered many changes, not all of them good.

personal thoughts: I felt that the writing of the story was weak.  I did have to remind myself that this is a Young Adult novel.  (However, I have read some YA that was not “dumbed down” for the intended audience.)  Despite that, I thought the story was very intriguing and I was drawn in.  Apparently I’m interested in dystopian novels.  I am drawn in enough to want to read the other books in the series at some point.  I would like to see the movie so I can get a better grasp on some of the descriptions of this world Dashner created.

favorite quotes:
“He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.” p. 1

“A thread of unease stitched along Thomas’ skin.” p. 30

“‘You get lazy, you get sad.  Start givin’ up.  Plain and simple.'” p. 77