Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dry Spell on the Water

now finished: Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds by Stephen Kinzer
now reading: oh hell, I have no idea

Well. I think that may have been a record for length of time without posting a blog entry. But I'm back! As you may(?) know, I was out of the country volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Tajikistan for a while during May. I also stopped in Istanbul on the way to and from. This wreaked havoc not only with my frequency of blog posting (oops!) but also my reading. Yikes.

In the end, I had to make some tough decisions, including getting some must-do research reading done for work assignments and putting personal reading projects on hold. I know, Moby, I know. You thought it was just like old times. Just another futile attempt to conquer The Whale. You're wrong, Moby! I'm back with you! I re-launched my re-re-re-reading of Moby Dick over Memorial Day weekend at Brian's family's "cottage" on Lake Michigan. I am on page 297. It is happening, for real.

But first, I will report on the book I read while traveling. I wanted to choose one Istanbul- and/or Turkey-related book. I had thought to read fiction, but a friend recommended the non-fiction Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds by Stephen Kinzer. It was really interesting and the perfect book to be reading while I was there. (I had precious little time for reading in Tajikistan, but it was fine there, too.) Kinzer is a journalist who has reported from many countries and was the New York Times bureau chief in Istanbul during the late 1990s. He does a great job of explaining how and why Turkey is part Asia and part Europe, geographically, historically, politically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

The book is a basic primer to what's up with Turkey, so you can plunge in whether you know anything or not. As I said, it was a real value added to the stuff I learned while there, and I even discussed some of what I learned from it with our Sultanahmet tour guide.

It gives you a lot of hope for Turkey, the modern world, the Islamic world, and stuff like that. It also makes the case for how awesome and important Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is. And yet, do we learn one thing about him in the United States? We do not. I wasn't even sure on his specifics when I was booking my flights into Istanbul's Ataturk airport. What a damn shame! I think I might make it a little research project goal to read up on the people whose names show up in each country's largest airports. Seems like a good way in to at least a little info about the country. I mean, reading about JFK, for example, would be a good intro for someone who knows nothing about the U.S., yes?

Speaking of presidents, yes, I will be posting soon about Martin Van Buren and then William Henry Harrison as I continue my presidential bios quest. But Herman! Moby! I'm ba-a-a-ack!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Book Swaps Everywhere!

Not long ago, the Chicago Reader, this fair city's alternative newsweekly, hosted an amazing event that I knew I would attend the second I learned of it: the Chicago Reader book swap.

It was held in a bar. (I. Know. Books --free books -- and a bar. What more does one need?) The bar turned out to be appropriately gritty and the rules were simple: bring books, take books. Actually, you could do only one of those and not both if you so chose. They simply asked that you take no more than fifteen. It was amazing.

People (and their books) kept coming for three hours. Workers/volunteers did a quick, major-category sorting of the books, which a runner would then take into the other room, between the bar and the stage, to place on the appropriate table ("Fiction," "History," "Religion/Philosophy/Spirituality" etc.) There were good, cheap beers on tap, and the literary classics and fiction tables would be cleared within minutes of a new pile of books appearing upon them.

I was in heaven.

What I gave up:
(the first two all too eagerly)

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

What I got:

Hardcover Fiction
Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
The Liberated Bride by A.B. Yehoshua

Paperback Fiction
The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy
Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo
Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris
Angelica by Arthur Phillips
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
including a couple mass markets
Cuba by Stephen Coonts
Setting Free the Bears by John Irving

Paperback Non-fiction
The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism by Robert Coles
To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski
Captive Audience by Dave Reidy
Among Warriors in Iraq: True Grit, Special Ops, and Raiding in Mosul and Fallujah by Mike Tucker
MacArthur's War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero by Stanley Weintraub