Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Books of 2011: 21-25

21. Outcasts United by Warren St. John
(church book group selection)

While the first part of this book seemed like it was going to be dry and difficult to get into, it turned into an interesting narrative of the soccer team formed in a traditional Southern town from the children of refugee immigrants. Since the refugees came from all different countries, and the coach was an immigrant herself, from an Arabic speaking country, it was interesting to read about how the soccer team helped people find a place of belonging. There was also some insight into the cultural changes of the town -- I liked the story of the grocer who saved his fading independent business from the chains' competition by listening to an employee from one of the refugee groups who helped him start stocking some of the specialized foods people were having to go out of their way to buy. Also, quite a bit of discussion about how the refugees did not share a monolithic experience; in fact, some of them may have been resettled in an area with refugees from an ethnic or other group who were their enemies and/or persecutors in their homeland.

22. Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene: Followers of Jesus in History and Legend by Bart D. Ehrman  
(from 2008 book list; read during Lent)

You have to love the concept for the title. And, while the author does bring in the folk group in his introductory and concluding remarks, the focus of the book is on the New Testament Biblical people of the names Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene. He shares what is actually known about these people through historical, archeological, etc. research into their times and their documents, as well as the legends that accrued about them in later years and their influence. I find this fascinating stuff -- even though, every time I read a book like this, I have to once again force my brain around understanding the concept of what gnosticism is (I don't seem to be able to retain it between readings).

23. Chasing Spring by Bruce Stutz
(from 2008 book list)

The author takes a cross-country road trip to various areas, from the desert to the Pacific Northwest, in search of natural signs of spring during the months of March through June. He is a naturalist, and it's interesting to hear his takes on various placess, plants and more -- although I don't think the book ever quite reached the level of appeal of Edwin Way Teale's writing for me. (So far, I've only read EWT's Wandering Through Winter, but I do want to read his approaches to the rest of the seasons.) He picks mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest (a section that reminded me of David Guterson's follow-up to Snow Falling On Cedars, Our Lady of the Forest), hikes with a friend in the desert, goes to rural Mardi Gras celebrations in Louisiana, and flies into the Arctic with bush pilots. A lot of his discussions about climate change and its impact are depressing, but overall, I felt it was a good read.

24. The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
(women's group book group selection)

This book is getting attention in the Minneapolis area because it's by a local author, a young woman who emigrated to the Twin Cities as a young child to become part of the large Hmong community in the area. The book tells the story of her family pre-immigrantion, while living in and being hunted in Laos (the Hmong, who fought for the U.S. during the Vietnam War, have no actual home "land" of their own and were forced into hiding after the war), their escape across the river into Thailand, their time in a refugee camp there and her grandmother's making a living for the extended family through sales of traditional plants, their trip across the ocean, and the years of settling in and making adjustments in Minnesota. It's a valuable glimpse into the Hmong people's experience and culture, especially for those of us living in areas with sizable Hmong populations.

25. Do-Over by Robin Hemley

It's probably supposed to spark some more introspection - what in your life woud you do over? what continues to haunt you? what can you do about it? questions like that -- but I mainly thought this was a fun read. The author is a forty-something-year-old man living in Iowa City who "does over" things that he feels went wrong the first time he experienced them: things like kindergarten, being in a school play, his prom, etc. Part of the fun for me came from having lived in Iowa City and still having family there, so that I recognized some references to places and such in the book -- his "repeat" kindergarten experience takes place in the school my mom attended -- but, overall, it's a fun memoir type book.

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