12/26/2007

Kite Runner, Tipping Point, The Widow of the South


Kite Runner, Tipping Point, Widow of the South

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

Both of my book clubs read this book, and I loved it so much I have recommended it to everyone I know who reads books. I anticipate the upcoming movie with a bit of anxiety, as movies are rarely as satisfying as the novels that inspired them.
This book has received so much " buzz" that it seems a moot point to merely summarize and recommend. The Kite Runner is the story of two boys growing up in Afganistan in the years before/during the Taliban's arrival . The first half of the story is idyllic and the second half rather jarring as events unfold. Class and ethnic issues make the two boys' experiences very different as political events change their lives forever. This story weaves themes of innocence and the loss of that innocence around the lives of the characters, and is also symbolic of the overall political situation.Somewhat violent at times, I would not recommend this novel for younger teens.
Recently I got to hear the author speak at an event in Fort Worth , and he was fascinating. Soft spoken and educated, he was not at all as I imagined he would be. He was on a book tour to plug his most recent novel, A Thousand Sacred Suns . His voice , ideas, and topics are so fresh and new, I hope he has many more to write.


The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make A Big Differenceand
Blink,The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
both by Malcolm Gladwell

One of my books clubs makes it a point to read at least one non-fiction book each year, and while I sometimes grumble about it, I generally end up enjoying whatever it was we read. (Sort of like in college, where you had to read something for a class not in your major, but realized you ended up learning something useful to you, in a way you had never imagined, later on.) Of the two , I found The Tipping Point to have more profound ideas, better research, and a more persuasive argument. Blink seemed a bit like the author was searching desperately for something new to write about.
The Tipping Point reads like someone's MA in sociology , only in more accessible language. The examples given, about crimes waves, health epidemics, etc, were really fascinating and the book makes many good points applicable to trying to accomplish any goal - from running a city or school to changing the behavior of a large mass of people . I would think this would be useful reading to anyone running any organization, as a how-to manual to evoke change.
Blink , like its predecessor, was a short and quick read. You can basically boil down the author's idea here to the powers of intuition, and at times I felt like I was watching a famous TV show hostess talk about her newly discovered pop psychologist. Can you say "infomercial " ?


The Widow of the South , by Robert Hicks
I enjoy historical fiction, especially on the topics near and dear to my heart (Egyptology, classics, archaeology, ancient and medieval history, American literature or history, some natural sciences, art/artists, travel, etc.), but I was dubious at first when I saw this book on the table of "recommended reads" at my local bookstore. The cover looked like a cheazy bodice ripper , but the "NY Times Best Seller" headliner caught my eye. Other quotes on the back cover, from several prestigious booklists, convinced me to buy it. A long time "GWTW" fan and general Civil War buff, I thought I'd at least give it a try. "GWTW" this is not.
The Widow of the South tells the story of the battle of Franklin, Tenn , a particularly bloody and vicious battle near the end of the war, in north central Tenn. My family and I drive through that area, every summer, on our way to visit relatives on the east coast, and I had never given it a second thought. This novel's storyline focuses on a plantation family and their varying responses to a battle fought near the edge of their land.
The first few chapters were difficult to get into, because this story is one of those trendy constructions that uses multiple character vantage points , and I had trouble initially following along. But once I got deep into the storyline, I was completely engrossed. Yes, one lady rising to the occasion to fight for something she believes in is a bit of a cliche , but in this case it hardly seems so. The mistress of the plantation , who has been a bit "off her rocker" up to this point due to the previous deaths of several of her children , rallies to help deal with the thousands of incoming wounded as her home is turned into a M.A.S.H.-style battlefield hospital. Lots of interesting ancillary characters weave in and out of the action , providing a useful historical presentation of the many diverse attitudes on both sides of the conflict, especially in border states such as Tennessee, where the lines were not as clearly drawn.
This book was beautifully written, and extremely literate. Several passages moved me almost to tears by the beauty of their writing. It compares favorably to Cranes' The Red badge of Courage, but is much more accessible to readers.

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