Book Review: The Game From Where I Stand by Doug Glanville


Author: Doug Glanville
Title: The game from where I stand : a ballplayer’s inside view
Publication Info: New York : Times Books, c2010.
ISBN: 9780805091595

Summary/Review: Doug Glanville always stood out as one of baseball’s friendliest and most intelligent players (even if he did play most of his career with the Phillies) and in his retirement has taken up a second career as an insightful sports writer.  I was eager to read this book about his life in baseball which I received through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Glanville breaks up several aspects of baseball  – on and of the field — into different sections to give the insider perspective on the mundane details of a ballplayer’s life.  While this has some interesting insights at times, unfortunately the mundane detail makes for a mundane book.  I’m also disappointed that when it comes to performance enhancing drugs, Glanville condemns them but really holds back on saying anything the might be even slightly controversial. Still, I appreciate Glanville’s effort to try to do something different and make a thoughtful effort at letting the fan in on the behind-the-scenes part of the game.

If you’re looking at a detailed look at the life of a baseball player this may be the book for you.  On the other hand there are plenty of more entertaining books about baseball.

Recommended books: Why Time Begins on Opening Day by Thomas Boswell, In the Ballpark: The Working Lives of Baseball People by George Gmelch, and Out of My League by George Plimpton.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Geography of Bliss


Author: Eric Weiner
Title: The Geography of Bliss
Publication Info: New York : Hachette Auio, p2008.
ISBN: 1600242588

Summary/Review:

This is a travel book with a mission.  Weiner seeks out the happiest places on Earth testing out data from happiness research as well as trying to find his own bliss.

Will he find happiness in:

  • Netherlands, land of permissiveness
  • Switzerland, boring but content
  • Bhutan, where they add up the gross national happiness
  • Qatar, does money by happiness?
  • Iceland, where people enjoy how failure encourages their creativity
  • Moldova, the unhappiest nation on Earth
  • Thailand, permissiveness without Dutch order
  • Great Britain, where a reality tv show works on making Slough happy
  • United States, not so happy as it is wealthy

Weiner visits all these places, makes some interesting observations, and has fascinating conversations with citizens and expatriates alike.  The irksome thing about Weiner is that he tries too hard to be funny and often fails.  The book is redeemed though by when he plays it straight and simply reports what he sees, which is often hilarious.

A interesting twist on the travel memoir and a good resource if you’re wondering where to move – or where not to move – in search of happiness.

Recommended books: Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson and The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
Rating: ***

Book Review: An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie


Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Togo

Author: Tété-Michel Kpomassie
Title: An African in Greenland
Publication Info: New York : New York Review Books, [2001] (Originally published in 1981)
ISBN: 9780940322882

Summary/Review:

Kpomassie, who grew up in a traditional society in Togo, writes a charming, insightful and very human account about his year living among the traditional societies of Greenland.  The story begins when Kpomassie is a boy and is injured in a fall from a tree.   In his convalescence he comes across a book about the Eskimos and finds himself obsessed with the idea of visiting Greenland.  After 10 years working his way across Africa and Europe, earning money and travel visas, Kpomassie finally arrives by ship on the shores of Greenland.

Kpomassie seeks out the most remote and traditional Inuit villages he can reach and enjoys the hospitality of many villages, forms friendships, and by the end of the book expresses the desire to live out his days in Greenland.  There are some great scenes of hunting for seal, fishing, community gatherings, and a ride across the ice by dogsled (and the embarrassment of falling off).  There’s also a dark side to Greenland as Kpomassie observes the loss of traditional culture to Danish colonialism, widespread underemployment and the ensuing poverty and alcoholism.  The sunless winter in the most remote village Kpomassie visits is especially depressing.

I broke my rule of focusing on fiction for my Around The World For a Good Book project because I could not resist the cross-cultural premise of a man from an African traditional society visiting the traditional cultures of Greenland.  Part travelogue, part memoir, and part anthropology, this is one of my favorite books I’ve read thus far this year.

Recommended books: The Silent Traveler series by Chiang Yee shares a similar warm, humanist style of observation and interaction of people from different cultures.
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi


Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003) is a memoir about life and Iran and reading English language books by  Azar Nafisi.  My alumni chapter book club selected this book appropriately about a book club Nafisi started to read Western literature with young women she had taught at the university in Tehran.  The book is divided into four sections loosely draping Nafisi’s story over the works of four authors:  Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the works of Henry James (particularly Daisy Miller), and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The first section focuses mainly on the reading group and the conversations therein, while the reamaining three sections are more of a straight-forward memoir.  Nafisi is educated in America (in Oklahoma, no less, which she makes sound like a hotbed of Iranian revolutionaries), returns to teach in Tehran right at the time of the revolution, loses her positions due to her liberal ways, returns to teaching (albeit compromising some of her principles), and then starts the reading group.  Finally, Nafisi departs Iran for good for the United States where she teaches and writes to this day.

This is horribly judgmental of me, especially to say of someone who lived under a totalitarian regime, but I found that Nafisi comes across as whiny, at least in the first chapter.  Marjane Satrapi (who is roughly the age of one of Nafisi’s “girls”) writes much more eloquently about the Iranian Revolution and the oppression of the Islamic regime, especially for women. The discussion of the books and life issues by the women of the reading group is supposed to be central to this work, but I never get the sense of individuality of the women in the group as if they’re only there to fill a role for Nafisi’s thesis. I warmed up to this book in the second section when Nafisi’s class puts the novel The Great Gatsby on trial, a clever way of discussing the book and the clash of cultures of the students in reading it.  Nafisi is at her best when discussing the books and I found her observations quite illuminating.  Especially for Lolita which I read many years ago but didn’t really follow it all to well.  I think Nafisi must be an excellent teacher and her passion for the novels comes across well in this work.  Ultimately this is a pretty good book, especially for its literary sections as well as a glimpse into life in modern Iran.

Favorite Passages

In class, we were discussing the concept of the villain in the novel.  I had mentioned that Humbert was a villain because he lacked curiousity about other poeple and their lives, even about the person he loved most, Lolita.  Humbert, like most dictators, was interested only in his own vision of other people.  He had created the Lolita he desired, and would not budge from that image.  I reminded them of Humbert’s statement that he wished to stop time and keep Lolita forever on “an islnd of entranced time,” a task undertaken only by Gods and poets. – p. 48-49

The worst crime committed by totalitarian mind-sets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. – p. 76

This respect for others, empathy, lies at the heart of the novel.  It is the quality that links Austen to Flaubert and James to Nabakov and Bellow.  This, I believe, is how the villain in modern fiction is born: a creature without compassion, without empathy.  The personalized version of good and evil usurps and individualizes the more archetypal concepts, such as courage or heroism, that shaped the epic or romance.  A hero becomes one who safeguards his or her individual integrity at almost any cost. – p. 224

Authors: Nafisi, Azar.
Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books / Azar Nafisi.
Edition: 1st ed.
Published: New York : Random House, c2003.
Description: 347 p. ; 22 cm.

Book Review: Facing the Lion by Joseph Lekuton


Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna (2003) by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton is a memoir written by a man who grew up in a nomadic herding community living in the traditional ways in Kenya.  By fate he becomes the child who gets to go to the local mission school and finds that he likes education and eventually dedicates his life to reconciling these two different lifestyles.  There are a lot of fascinating episodes including a chapter on a ceremony where he and several other young men are circumcised.  Lekuton is excellent at describing the signifigance of this ceremony to him and his culture in a way that gets a reader like me past an initial revulsion.

The book also offers many details of Maasai life like a pinching man who keeps the children in line, the way cows are cared for and valued, and the roles of men and women in society.  Lekuton’s school life is equally detailed with humorous episodes about him playing soccer before the President of Kenya and going to America for the first time to study at (brrr) St. Lawrence University.  At the time Lekuton published this book he was teaching at school in Virginia and spending the rest of the year with his tribe in Kenya.  As of 2007, Lekuton is serving in the Kenyan Parliament.

I first learned about this book from an Unshelved comic.  It is written with children in mind but definitely entertaining and informative for an adult as well.

The author mentions two charitable organizations he supports at the end of the book: Nomadic Kenyan Children’s Educational Fund and Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition.

Facing the lion : growing up Maasai on the African savanna / by Joseph Lekuton and Herman J. Viola.
Publisher: Washington, D.C. : National Geographic, 2003.
ISBN: 0792251253 (Hard Cover)
Description: 127 p., [4] col. leaves of plates : col. ill., col. map ; 22 cm.