Africa’s Child by Maria Nhambu

africa's childMaria Nhambu’s memoir of growing up in an orphanage tucked remotely in the Usambara mountains of Tanzania is not for the faint of heart.  She is not shy about sharing candid details of what she remembers from her childhood as a half-caste girl (a descendant of an African mother and a European father) with no parents to claim as her own.

Though the story was hard for me to read at times, it was also impossible for me to put down. I found it painful to read about the emotional, physical, and sexual abuses rained down on her and her contemporaries. Yet, Nhambu’s indomitable spirit and unwavering focus on her goal of getting an education makes hers one of the most uplifting books I have read in a long time.

Though Nhambu now has over seventy years of experience in this world and has earned every bit of wisdom she possesses, the child self she shares with her readers was one bearing a wisdom way beyond her years. Her story reflects her heart: rare, strong, lovable…compelling. Please read Nhambu’s memoir and if you feel, like I did, that Africa’s Child will forever be a part of you then perhaps this world will become a better place to live, one heart at a time.

 

Cruising Through the Louvre by David Prudhomme

cruisingthroughthelouvreAre you someone who enjoys art? Or maybe you are one of those who feels like you don’t know much about art, but would be interested to learn more if your interest was piqued in just the right way. Consider yourself piqued.

I think you may enjoy taking a vicarious walk through one of the world’s most famous museums. Notwithstanding the hour of the day (past museum hours? no problem!) or the number of miles between you right now and the Louvre in Paris, you can do just that by reading the book Cruising Through the Louvre by David Prudhomme.

The book is a vehicle that, while telling a brief but entertaining story about human behavior in relation to art in graphic novel form, highlights just some of the 70,000 works of art in the Louvre. You can even catch your glimpse of them without having to pay admission (library cards are free, after all!) or navigate through any of the 8.8 million annual visitors. Although, if you like people-watching that may be the best part of all. Fortunately, Prudhomme recognizes that and manages to create characters arguably as interesting as the works of art they visit.

Sound like a good deal? Then I implore you to check this book out! When you read it please tell me what you think of the ending. It has a strange twist that I think lends itself to multiple interpretations.

Why Knot? by Philippe Petit

whyknotDid you hear about the high-wire artist named Philippe Petit who walked between the twin towers in New York City in 1974? A documentary, a movie and several stories have been written about him, including the Caldecott award-winning children’s book by Mordecai Gerstein entitled The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. All of these are fascinating and captivating and I recommend them to you wholeheartedly.

This book is different in that it is written by him. It is called Why Knot? How to Tie More Than Sixty Ingenious, Useful, Beautiful, Lifesaving, and Secure Knots! It isn’t about Petit’s high wire walk between the World Trade Center towers – or any other of his wire walks, for that matter – though he does mention them. Petit reveres the two hundred knots he has mastered (of the four thousand purported to be in existence) as his “guardian angels.” And as the subtitle suggests, he teaches his readers a knot for every occasion. Have an upcoming wedding to attend? There’s a knot for that!

His enthusiasm for the topic is contagious. Whether you are into boating, rock climbing, quilting, animal husbandry or you don’t have time to engage in any of these pastimes because you find yourself constantly chasing around children whose shoelaces always seem to come untied, this book will be useful to you!

 

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Yellow wallpaperIt isn’t a new book by any means, but I found the themes and the writing of the short stories in The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings so timeless that it could be.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her stories about a hundred years ago. If you think of authors who lived at the turn of the 20th century to be stodgy, you may be as surprised as I was by Gilman’s candor and (sometimes) humor about gender identity, mental health and social norms. These themes are very much hot-button issues today.

“Herland” is the story that most made me want to check out the book, but I enjoyed all of them. In this utopian fantasy, a group of three male explorers set out to find a secret, all-female civilization rumored to exist in the seclusion of the forest. Their tantalizing visions of what they hope to encounter is not exactly what they actually find!

For a different -but no less interesting- take on the all-female society theme, you may want to check out the graphic novel Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan.

Untangled by Lisa Damour

untangledIf you are raising a teenage daughter, no doubt you could use some support. You will find it in Lisa Damour’s Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through The Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.

In this book Damour, who also directs Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls in Shaker Heights, OH and writes a column for the New York Times’ Well Family Report, outlines seven transitions that adolescent girls must navigate on the way to adulthood. Identifying such transitions helps prepare us for their arrival so that we don’t feel so bewildered once they arrive. It helps prepare us for the reality that, just as we get used to a new “normal” everything can change all over again. It also helps us take care to experience each stage of development without getting stuck somewhere along the way.

If the idea of identifying stages of human psychological growth appeals to you, but you don’t have teenage daughters, you may be interested in Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World by Bill Plotkin, which identifies 8 stages spanning the entire human lifespan.

Reading such books helps us better know ourselves and our relationship to the world, to better understand where we’ve been and how it has shaped us. If the ancient Greek adage “know thyself” has any relevance, then I think it naturally follows that “know thy offspring” would, too. After all, whether we want to see it or not, they often provide a reflection of some aspect of ourselves.

 

The Thing Explainer : Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe

thing explainerThe Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe is an unusual book. I have never seen one quite like it. Its full-page diagrams contain details of complex things using only the most common 1000 words (which are listed alphabetically at the back of the book.) Topics range from the human torso (“bags of stuff inside you”), to a helicopter (“sky boat with turning wings”),  oil rigs (“stuff in Earth we can burn”), and washing machines (“boxes that make stuff smell better”), to name just a few. It is hilarious and educational at the same time.

Munroe’s elevator is a “lifting room.” He doesn’t neglect to inform that riding one while facing the back wall is likely to make others think you are strange. He still manages to provide a thorough explanation of its mechanical workings.

I suppose some parts of the book could be construed as bringing too much irreverence to what are usually regarded as important and serious topics. For instance, according to Munroe, nuclear bombs are “machines for burning cities.” If you have a certain sense of humor and are even a little bit interested in science, however, you are more likely to find this fresh, almost child-like approach endearing.

The book’s temporary residence on our kitchen table at home sparked some delightful conversations among all ages.

Randall Munroe is the author responsible for the xkcd webcomic.

Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder by Claudia Kalb

Andy WarholWhen I first heard the title of the book Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder : Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities I was intrigued. I wish I could say it drew me in because I am a cultured art lover. But, no. It was more due to the fact that I have -on multiple occasions- looked around my house and asked, “Is this hoarding?”

It was the perfect book for me at the perfect time. Not only did each self-contained chapter work nicely with my catch-as-catch-can reading schedule, but it also  more than satisfactorily answered this question that had been nagging at me recently.

In this book, author Claudia Kalb examines some of the most interesting personalities throughout history with an angle toward how their unique foibles might be regarded today. For example, according to the prevailing cultural thought on mental and emotional development Albert Einstein would be what we call “on the autism spectrum.”

If the musical genius George Gershwin were growing up today, he likely would have been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin. I can’t help but ask: if that happened, would he still have written a composition as wonderful as Rhapsody in Blue?

Charles Darwin was so wracked with anxiety that I think if he could have known the impact his work would have on science and religion today, he might have reconsidered publishing it. Today’s 24 hour news pundits would have terrified him.

Not so Frank Lloyd Wright. The famous architect had such grand ideas about himself and his work that he was said to be out of touch with reality and often flouted laws of physics (a rather important thing for an architect to consider!) Kalb qualifies him as a candidate for Narcissistic Personality Disorder if there ever was one.

Abraham Lincoln suffered from bouts of depression. If he had access to the same kind of antidepressants that we have today, would he have taken them and if so, would he have been remembered as the same great president?

Marilyn Monroe. Princess Diana. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Christine Jorgensen. Howard Hughes. Betty Ford. All famous and influential in their own time, their own ways and probably lived with conditions defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Commonly referred to as the DSM, it is the go-to reference book used by mental health professionals in identifying and diagnosing mental disorders. First published in 1952, it did not even exist when many of these personalities arrived on the scene.

If you would like to read more about these fascinating people and their interesting ways, check out The book Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder : Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities by Claudia Kalb.

Oh, and in case you are wondering: I decided that I am not a hoarder. I just happen to be in the season of life where I share a household with some enthusiastic young collectors of “treasures.” I suppose I will have to find another excuse if the house is still a disaster when the kids move out!

 

 

We Have to Talk : Healing Dialogues Between Women and Men

We have to talkHave you ever thought it would be fun to be a fly on the wall during an interesting conversation? Reading the book We Have to Talk : Healing Dialogues Between Women and Men by Janet Surrey and Samuel Shem is like being a fly on the wall during couples therapy. I find it fascinating how our cultural differences are shaped by gender. Understanding between women and men is often lacking (sometimes comedically, sometimes painfully so). The authors of this book hope to change that.

Surrey and Shem are psychologists who are also married to one another. They have been conducting workshops for married men and women for over 30 years.  Their method, put simply, went like this: first, they invited couples to gather together for a weekend workshop. Fifteen people showed up to the first one: 9 women and 6 men. This included four couples and seven individuals whose partners chose to stay home. First, they gathered as a group to talk. Then, Samuel took the men to a different room while Janet stayed with the women. This is when things started to get real. The group participants shared the honest truth about their relationships among their same-sex peers, where they didn’t have to worry about hurting their partners’ feelings. Finally, they re-convened in the larger group.

What happened next was life-changing. The workshops led the psychologists and the participants to some valuable discoveries about themselves and each other.

They came to the conclusion that even though men and women generally want the same outcome from the relationship (connection), they tend to go about achieving it in vastly different ways. Not only that, but the way in which women prefer to connect (talking to their partners) has the exact opposite of the intended effect.

Women: have you ever been talking to a man and get the sense that he isn’t really listening? Men: have you ever found yourself at the mercy of a seemingly never-ending conversation, getting more and more anxious and trying to figure out some way to get out of it? The authors call this “male relational dread.” According to the authors, men often feel threatened and want out of a conversation with their partners about the relationship as quickly as possible. This often has the effect of leaving the woman feeling abandoned, then angry. Her male partner feels ashamed that his actions have upset his partner. When he tries to reconnect, his active attempts to do so (often in the form of physical touch) are received with- you guessed it- the opposite of the intended effect. The woman feels like she is being taken advantage of and wants out of the situation as quickly as possible.

How are couples to find a way to connect when their attempts to do so are by vastly different methods? Surrey and Shem attempt to answer that question. The key seems to be giving the relationship it’s own identity. It is almost like giving it an anthropomorphic quality. That is to say, whether or not the couple has children, it is helpful to think of the well-being of a third entity – the “we” – in the relationship.  When problems arise, approach it by asking the question “What does the “We” need right now?” rather than from a first-person perspective (“Here is what I need…”) The authors refer to this as “mutuality” and they have found it can make all the difference.

To learn more, check out We Have to Talk : Healing Dialogues Between Women and Men by Janet Surrey and Samuel Shem.

Books About Bands

Everyone has a story to tell. I enjoy reading biographies in general, but I find the life stories of musicians especially captivating. The wild and crazy lifestyles of some musicians (especially rock n’ rollers) can make very interesting stories. You’ve probably heard the expression about truth sometimes being stranger than fiction. Nowhere can this idiom be more true than between the pages of a book about a musician.

Reading autobiographies (books written by the subject) and biographies (books about people written by someone else) can be illuminating. I encourage you to read both kinds and see if you have a preference. You might even take a walk on the wild side and read about musicians whose genre of music you don’t typically enjoy. Who knows? It might motivate you to expand your repertoire and start listening to a new genre of music once in a while. I find that the better I understand the motivations and perspectives of the people behind the music, the more I tend to enjoy the music.

One such autobiography I especially enjoyed is Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis. You may not have known that this lead singer of The Red Hot Chili Peppers started his career as an actor before he was a musician. He landed his first major role in the 1978 film F.I.S.T. as Sylvester Stallone’s son. He went on to enjoy roles ranging from television (ABC Afterschool Specials, The Simpsons) to movies (Jokes My Folks Never Told Me, Point Break, The Chase). He has also been a writer and producer. His literary and musical influences include Charles Bukowski, Neil Young, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Prince.

Kiedis grew up in Grand Rapids, MI where he lived with his mother, stepfather and two stepsisters. He spent two weeks every summer visiting his father in Hollywood. At twelve years old he moved in with his father and began a struggle with addiction to drugs. While attending Fairfax High School in L.A. he met Michael Peter Balzary (better known today under the stage name Flea). Despite a rocky start these two became close friends who enjoyed making mischief at every opportunity, including jumping off rooftops. Once, Kiedis attempted jumping into a pool from five stories up. He missed. Fortunately, he lived to tell his story. Read more about it in Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis.

“What doesn’t kill you only makes your book longer.”  -Anthony Kiedis

Here are some more books about musicians that you can check out through the Davenport Public Library.

u2Girl in a band    hunger makes me a modern girl    stevie nicksM trainelvis costello

 

 

 

 

 

 

100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces

100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces“Just in case I get hungry, I have a cache of maraschino cherries and cumin-seasoned almonds in a conch near the chaise longue.”

If I said this to you in conversation one day, besides calling into question my taste in snack foods or the wisdom of my food storage choices, you might accuse me of mispronouncing at least one of those words. The above sentence contains seven of the 100 most mispronounced words, according to the book by the same name from the editors of American Heritage Dictionaries.

Cache : Properly pronounced just like the word cash; defined by American Heritage Dictionary as “a supply of goods or store of valuables, especially when concealed in a hiding place.” Not to be confused with the word “cachet” which is “a mark of distinction, prestige.”

 

Maraschino: This word is derived from the Italian language, therefore the proper pronunciation uses the (sk) sound for the letters -sch-, as in school, scheme, or bruschetta. Have you been pronouncing bruschetta with the (sh) sound? If so, you’re not alone – I have been mispronouncing that one for years.  I could try to blame my tendency to use the “sh” sound on my being a librarian, but I don’t like playing into the stereotype so I won’t! Maraschino is so often pronounced with the (sh) sound that many dictionaries now recognize that pronunciation as acceptable. The good folks at American Heritage advise, however, that if you want to be recognized as a gourmet, you should stick with the (sk).

 

Cumin: This is a tricky one. For centuries, lexicographers have preferred the pronunciation with a short (u) sound, rather like “come in” with the emphasis on the first syllable. This is based on earlier spellings of the spice name, which include comyn, commen, cummin, and commin, among others. However, in recent years this pronunciation has given way to kyoo’min and koo’min, each used with about equal frequency. For a while, I was hoping there would be a different name for the fresh herb than there is for the seed. That is the case with cilantro and its seed coriander. Alas, no such luck. The herb from which cumin seeds grow is called Cuminum cyminum, which is rather fun -though not necessarily easy- to say. It might be a good band name, though. There is a precedent for bands named after spices and foods in general. (Which one is your favorite? I rather like Red Hot Chili Peppers. I really enjoyed reading the biography Scar Tissue by lead singer Anthony Kiedis. But I digress…that may be a blog topic for another day.)

 

Almond: Good news for all – there are many accepted ways to pronounce this word. Whether you pronounce it with the (l) sound or without,  with the (d) at the end or not, you have plenty of company so don’t let anyone tell you that you are nuts (about that, at least). The British tendency is to leave the “l” sound out and pronounce the “d” at the end. The American tendency is the opposite. Personally, I pronounce all the letters in almond. I am a real rebel, folks. You might use the word as an icebreaker: “How do YOU pronounce almond?” It might be a good way to make a new friend.

 

Conch: I remember encountering this word for the first time when I read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. If you haven’t read the story go do so now. I’ll wait. If you have read the story but it’s been a while, let me refresh your memory. British schoolboys become stranded on an island and develop their own system of self-governing (a term I use loosely). They find a conch and it becomes a symbol of who gets to speak at their meetings. Spoiler alert: entropy eventually wins (as usual). As for how to pronounce the word “conch”, do so at your own risk. Conch is one of those words that begs to be pronounced as it is spelled. This explains why many of us have a tendency to want to pronounce it as if it ends with the same sound as “lunch.” Those who live in climates warm enough to actually find this tropical marine mollusk and eat it for lunch will pronounce it with a hard (k) sound, as if it rhymes with “bonk” (which is exactly what they might be tempted to do to your head if you mispronounce this word!)

 

Chaise longue: Derived from the French for “long chair.” I have bad news for you if you pronounce it “chase lounge.” The proper pronunciation is like (shayz) with a long “a” as if it rhymes with days; longue is pronounced “long” and not the commonly mistaken “lounge.” I think next time I go poolside, I will just sit on my towel.

Even though language may not be your forte, use words correctly often enough and you may become known as the epitome of sophistication; no one can harass you for your use of language being a debacle! Check out 100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces to learn the proper pronunciation of the words I have italicized!

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