What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng by Dave Eggers is a book based on the experiences of one of The Lost Boys of Sudan named Valentino Achak Deng and his experience of being separated from his family and his home, living in refugee camps, and eventually coming to live in Atlanta, Georgia. The book’s a bizarre contrast between his old life in Sudan, his strenuous life as a refugee, and his life in Atlanta where he works at Best Buy and his apartment gets robbed. He remains so positive through it all. Many boys didn’t make it out of Sudan or even into a refugee camp because they were hungry and tired and deliriously fell asleep along the way, not continuing with the rest of the group. (Considering how I almost started crying yesterday because I couldn’t properly translate how I wanted the Chinese salon to cut my hair, I’m not sure I could’ve made it.) One of his experiences that sticks in my mind is when his group had been walking for days with no food when they came across another group who’d just killed an elephant. Some of the boys were so hungry that they ran and ripped the skin off the elephant, eating the meat raw. Achak cooked his. I can’t imagine being that hungry.
“…it keeps my spirit alive to struggle. To struggle is to strengthen my faith, my hope and my belief in humanity.”
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter is Novella’s story of regularly dumpster-diving to feed her pigs, raising chickens, living in the hood, keeping bees, taking over a vacant lot with uncertain permission, eating only foods she’s grown/raised herself/or bartered for, getting free lessons from a local chef, and feeling frustration when some of her poultry dies. She’s funny. It’s an easy read. She makes you want to farm.
My old roomate Michelle let me borrow and then keep Steinbeck’s East of Eden before she left Shanghai. I read it on a beach in Hainan Province over the July holiday surrounded by lots of Chinese tourists with things like “Honesty is the Best Apple” written on their shirts. It’s a book about lies. Steinbeck understands and articulates through narrative the lies we tell ourselves about each other and ourselves, the ones that people see through and the ones that they don’t.
Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding: Community Action in the War on Poverty by Daniel P. Moynihan: So I didn’t even know the U.S. had had a “War on Poverty” until training for a community service position at a college two years ago. This book’s a little technical, but I still enjoyed it. Some think this book’s too biased to be taken seriously.
“Men need a sense of community. It is because that sense had eroded that the QUEST for it had become ‘the dominant social tendency of the 20th century.’ Having no other institutions at hand, men have unavoidably turned to the state to provide this sense, and this has repeatedly and probably necessarily ended in totalitarianism. -Nisbet”
Hannah Coulture by Wendell Berry’s a book about Hannah–her growing up, taking care of and protecting her family and farm, and her love for those closest to her. I love Wendell Berry. A lot of his fiction’s based in a little town called Port William, Kentucky. His stories tell about farming, family, place, and what people are for. It’s a little dreamy and best read with a cup of something warm like ginger tea, green tea, or coffee.
Fidelity: 5 Stories contains 5 of Wendell Berry’s short stories, some containing the same characters as Hannah Coulture. My favorite one here is “Are You Alright”.
Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love (that movie that Julia Roberts is in), walks you through Gilbert’s exploration of how different cultures view and do marriage, a thing she was purposefully avoiding in her own life until faced with either marrying or being indefinitely separated from her love because of Visa issues with their differing nationalities. So many cultures do marriage differently than the West. The notion of and ability to choose ‘the one’ is actually a luxury in many places. Marriage often comes out of necessity and survival with love being an afterthought or just something that forms and grows overtime. One cultural practice I found interesting was one Gilbert came across in Southern Asia. When a couple gets married, they keep record of the amount of money each wedding guest gives. This record is then consulted each time the couple is invited to a wedding. They will then gift the amount that the new couple’s family gave them when they got married plus some extra. At first this seems rather shallow—gifts with many strings attached, but it’s actually a way for this community to keep the wealth local and return others’ gifts with interest in a region where investments aren’t secure and banks can’t be trusted. It’s an easy book to interrupt and start again. Good for reading on short trips consisting of logistical plane ride, bus ride, and pedicab ride interruptions.
2001 A Space Odyssey: Okay, so I haven’t read this book. Just watched the movie for the first time. Recently I told my mom and two visiting friends to “Watch 2001 A Space Odyssey! It’s Life Changing.” When they inquired as to “How?” I had no answer for them. Just know that I will never again see a security camera without thinking “Just what do you think you’re doing Dave?”