Category Archives: Books

Review: Girls of Riyadh

Girls of Riyadh caused a stir when it was published in Lebanon in 2005 in the original Arabic. Through a series of emails, released weekly, Rajaa Alsanea chronicles the stories of her narrator’s four friends Sadeem, Gamrah, Michelle, and Lamees. These women are well educated and well traveled, but they live in the Saudi Arabian society where marriages are arranged by families. They have little to no say in whom they will marry, but that does not stop them from falling in love, often with someone whom they cannot have. Throughout the novel, the girls try to love in the context of their society, some with success and others with heartbreaking failure.

The culture of this story is so far removed from my American understandings, and that makes this book all the more fascinating and all the more heart-wrenching. I take for granted my abilities to make my own decisions and not be ostracized by family or society. One of the most fascinating things about Girls of Riyadh was the lack of direct commentary from the author. Alsanea does not pass judgment and say this way of life and this culture are good or bad; instead, she shows the effects of this culture on these girls and lets the reader judge. Though it is fairly clear the narrator does not like seeing her friends hurt by their families, their lovers, or their society, she also comes to the defense of the culture at times and acknowledges instances when things have turned out for the better because of this system in which they live.

Unfortunately, the English is only a translation, and both author and translator mention the difficulties involved in carrying the dialects over to the English version. With even my limited knowledge of Arabic, I know this would be a challenge, so I think there is some level of information that is lost on the reader in the English version. Despite that, it is a beautifully written book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

If you’d like to purchase Girls of Riyadh, click here.

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If you haven’t heard of Goodreads, you’re missing out. You can keep track of all the books you’ve read, see what your friends are reading and how they like it, and get recommendations based on what you’ve liked.

I have fallen in love with this site and with the iPhone app. Nick and I went to the book store this weekend and we could just scan the barcodes and easily add to our list of books we want to read. It’s also really cool to see what your friends are reading and what they liked. If you know you have similar tastes to another reader, you’ll never be without a good book suggestion. I would love to see what more people are reading, so if you’re already a member or decide to sign up, find me!

We’ve been using the Nashville Public Library like fiends, so be on the lookout for book reviews!

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Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

It feels like Donald Miller has been a big presence in my life for a while, even though A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is the first of his books I’ve read. I say this because I feel like the only person in my group of friends and acquaintances who hasn’t read Blue Like Jazz. I own a Spanish copy and have heard nothing but praise for it, but I haven’t gotten around to it. I also attended and now work at a university where Miller himself has spoken about “living a better story,” the theme of A Million Miles. Having finally broken out of my Donald Miller ignorance, I would like to read more.

A Million Miles is a memoir that focuses on Miller’s personal experiences all the while urging the reader to think about his own story. He asks us to consider our own lives and where we’re going. Are we creating memorable scenes in our stories? Would anyone want to watch our movie? He talks about the moments that matter and why, and he looks at life as a progression of events, describing how and why some events stick out to us. His big question is, how do we take control of our stories and write them to be interesting, engaging, and meaningful?

The book is relevant on a number of levels. At minimum it’s an interesting read for a writer who is concerned with story, how we write, or why we connect with the retelling of a series of events. But more importantly, the book is something for all humans to consider. We as authors get to decide what kind of story we are writing and whether and how we will be remembered.

In honor of A Million Miles, I present to you a story. This Big Nasty Couch from Craigslist is living its own story. You can be the critic to decide what kind of story it’s living.

And if you’re interested in purchasing A Million Miles in a Thousand Years you can do so here.

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Review: The Career Journey

Ram Iyer’s The Career Journey offers practical advice for entry level employees to advance in their careers. It isn’t a formula for success, and Iyer makes no guarantees anything will come of his advice, but he attempts to teach things the entry level employee will learn on her own before the employee has to learn those things the hard way. Ultimately, the book should be taken as an overview for someone starting his career of things to consider and how to go about getting what he wants.

The advice in the book is solid if the reader’s goals align with the destination of The Career Journey. If what you’re looking for is career success–defined by a higher position in some form of business and in an organization you like–Iyer’s plan is as good as any. He offers personal experiences, case studies, and advice from other writers to show how scenarios can play out and what can be gained by making some important career moves and decisions. Iyer discusses the importance of finding the job that fits what you’re good at and like to do, personal branding and perception, continued education, and the fundamentals of how businesses work. By laying out the fundamentals, he gives the readers a chance to create a strategy to get where they want to be.

For my own purposes, a lot of what I read sounded awful–not the writing, just the subject. I think what I learned is that I don’t like reading about business. I don’t want my job to be my life and I’m not overly concerned with making more than enough money to be comfortable; however, even with my own aversion to business-y writing there was some useful advice in the book. Perhaps most helpful was Iyer’s “C-Zone,” where a person’s talents, passions, and the organization for which he works come together. This is the optimal place for an employee to be, and it is where she will be most effective. The first step in Iyer’s plan is figuring out where your C-Zone is, how to get there, and how to advance within it. Even I can wrap my head around that and recognize its importance.

Completely unrelated to the subject matter, but important to note: this book could have been edited better. If you’re like me and get distracted by lack of continuity, the occasional typo, or poor phrasing that should have been caught you’ll notice some of that in this book. But if you read my writing you’ll notice I make the same mistakes, and if you can handle it, go for it. If you’re an editor, please know the importance of what you do is recognized and appreciated.

Ultimately, if you’re like me and you don’t know what you want to do with your life this book is worth a read. If you do know what you want to do with your life but don’t know exactly how you want to go about it, you might like it as well. If you’re interested in buying it, you can find the Amazon link here.

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An Overdue Book Club Recap and Review

Book club was a lovely evening, so my soap box of expectation management will remain occupied. There were three attendees besides myself, and 75% of those in attendance had read the book. Originally I had envisioned more people showing up to book club, but the discussion was not impacted by the numbers as much as I thought it might be. The book was well-received, and it made my heart happy to talk about a book in a group of people. Which brings me to . . .

The Review:

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This is such a beautiful book with characters you can’t help but fall in love with. You hurt with them and for them, and then you experience their happiness, which is even sweeter for all the sadness before. Renee, a concierge in a French hotel, has lived her life putting up the facade of the uneducated concierge; however, the reader learns she is an immensely intelligent autodidact who has become convinced that hiding herself from the world and maintaining her place in the class structure is the most effective way to avoid being hurt. Meanwhile, living in the hotel is a little girl named Paloma, also very smart, who has plans to commit suicide on her birthday unless she can find something beautiful enough to make life worth living.

These two characters exist in their own worlds, unaware of each other’s secrets, until Kakuro Ozu moves into the building. He brings them together and shows them that friends and art and beauty go so far beyond the small existences they’ve tried to maintain for themselves, making life something to be enjoyed rather than endured.

Barbery’s writing is beautiful, and the novel is well-constructed. This was the second time I read the book, and just as the first time I was mesmerized. I found myself smiling and crying, even though I knew what was going to happen. I was still deeply affected. It’s a reminder of the beautiful people and things in life and how enjoyable they are. The vulnerability each character feels when she allows herself to love someone is a recognizable feeling for the reader, and the payoff for loving and being loved in return is evident in the life that comes to the characters when they open up. Barbery also reminds us to enjoy this life before it’s too late. There is so much beauty to see, and there are so many people to love.

I am convinced everyone should read this book. There is something for every extrovert and introvert, the well-educated person and the one who has a minimal background in formal education. It will make you think about the way you treat other people and the beauty all around you that you might take for granted. The book club enjoyed it, and my guess is you will too.

If you’d like to buy it, click here.

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