Friday, November 28, 2008

Recent Readings 11/08

Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity by Kerry Cohen - Tragic autobiographical account of a young girl's descent into promiscuity and her recovery. Unfortunately this 210 page book devotes 205 pages to the promiscuious part of her life, so the reader is not really sure the recovery actually happened.

New Geographies of the American West: Land use and the Changing Patterns of Place by William R. Travis - A scientific look at the changing demographics of the 11 western states in the continental US. Valuable for anyone interested in the growing cities of the west, the environment surrounding them, as well as water and land use issues.

The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe - Refreshing collection of poetry including brief poem "stories," and lots of questions.

The Great Awakening by Jim Wallis - This is the first book I've read by Wallis, one of the founders and leaders of the Sojourners Community in Washington DC, since "Agenda for Biblical People." ("God's Politics " has been sitting on my book shelf unopened for a couple years). Wallis looks at the current changing religious and political climate in the US emphasizes his interpretation of Christian teachings (which is similar to mine), and accents his mostly positive and upbeat report with quotes from scores of other people, including his two young sons. Nice overview, but no really new or eye-opening revelations.

In the World, But Not Of It: One Family's Militant Faith and the History of Fundamentalism in America by Brett Grainger - Grainger, formerly a part of the Sojourners Community, presents a concise history of fundamentalism enriched by his own first-hand experiences growing up in a fundamentalist family, church, and community in Canada.

One Secret Thing by Sharon Olds - Worthwhile collection of provocative, edgy poems by the award-winning former Poet Laureate of New York State.

Falling into Manholes: The Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl by Wendy Merrill - A largely unsuccessful attempt at a humorous telling of the author's attempts to overcome kleptomania, buliema, anorexia, alcoholism, co-dependancy, pot smoking, as well as sex and cocaine addiction on the path to becoming a "normal" adult. More sad than funny, but it's nice to see that the author still has a sense of well as her life.

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram - The Diary of a North Vietnamese doctor, working under horrid conditions to provide health care for her fellow Vietnamese. Killed by the Americans before she reached the age of 28. Highly recommended and very moving. More information is available at and at

Dear Darkness by Kevin Young - Another worthy collection of poems from this prolific poet. Better than his previous collection "For the Confederate Dead" and almost as good as "Jelly Roll."

Saving the Queen by William F. Buckley Jr. - His first novel, published in 1976, about a CIA agent. Written by the conservative guru and founder of the National Review. Mildly interesting.

Learning to Breathe: One Woman's Journey of Spirit and Survival by Alison Wright - The very inspiring and unbelievable story of photojournalist Wright's nearly fatal accident in Laos and how she, against all odds, recovered to scale the highest peak in Africa, told against a backdrop of her travels and exciting experiences in Asia and other parts of the world. Enriched with touches of culture, religion, politics, and relationships. Easy, fast, and very worthwhile reading.

60 Poems by Charles Simic - This is the third time I've read this compact collection of bizarre, mysterious, and offbeat poems by the US Poet Laureate which is exactly the kind of excellent poetry we've learned to expect from him. These poems are taken from previous collections by Simic and they have a magnetic nature and keep drawing me back, like someone returning to a location where he once had an amazing experience, an experience that he still doesn't entirely understand.

Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson. A scholarly and heavily researched account of how many, perhaps most, people today in our culture are distracted and unfocused, and tells us how to regain "our ability to connect, reflect, and relax." It took me about 100 pages to really get into this book, and then it became really interesting for only a short while, but I gradually lost interest again the last couple chapters. I guess it was about me!

How Does it Feel to Be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America, by Moustafa Bayoumi. Excellent and very readable account of the lives of seven people and the hassles they and their families had to put up with as a result of profiling and fear in the aftermath of 9/11. Reminds us that still in the United States some productive, law-abiding people are not as free as others. If you're going to read only one of the fifteen books on this post, this is the one to read.

The White Mary by Kira Salak - Average adventure novel with interesting descriptions of sloshing through the jungles of New Guinea and coping with war and other dangers in third world countries, but weak and predictable on relationships and interactions with other people. Fast, easy reading, but not much to think about afterwards.

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