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Choosing a Book is Sometimes Hard To Do...

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After reading a book, I often have a hard time getting into a new one right away. I usually have to "try on" about 5 or 6 before I pick one that I stick with until the end. Which is why I can tell you about just the first 10 pages of quite a lot of books! I tend to get really invested in the books that I read and attached to the characters, so I usually feel very emotionally drained after I finish them. I remember one summer when I read the books in the Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, and when I finished them, I felt alone, like all my friends had gone off on vacation without me. (Don't knock the books until you try them - they're actually really good!) I think this has something to do with the fact that when I was a kid, we lived in a rural area and didn't have many kids to play with. So when my sister and I ran out of ways to cause trouble entertain ourselves, I was left with my "friends" in books. As I grew up and made more friends at school and college and in the Peace Corps, I never got out of the habit of getting emotionally involved in my books.

Sometimes it happens in this process, that I get kind of superficially involved in two books, and take turns reading them until I flesh out which one I actually want to take to the finish line. This is where I am at right now. I've started both Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan and There Was A Country by Chinua Achebe, and can't quite decide which one I will actually get into.

I was really excited about finding Saving Fish 996-95b.jpg From Drowning. I've adored Amy Tan since I read a book of essays that she wrote about writing, and while the book is a technically a departure from her usual mother-daughter sagas, the subject matter intrigued me. It's the story of a group of 11 Americans who travel to Burma and something goes wrong during their trip and they disappear. But the story is told from the perspective of the ghost of their would-be tour guide, a spunky, eccentric Asian woman, who died mysteriously a week before the trip and shadows their journey. Unlike some reviews that I've read, I'm not having trouble getting started. From the prologue, in which Amy Tan described the "circumstances' in which she came to write the story of Bibi Chen (the tour guide). She talks about getting caught in a downpour and happening upon the office of the Society for Psychic Research  in San Francisco, and when looking through their archives, she finds the "automatic writings" of a medium who was in contact with Bibi Chen and described the events of this trip. (Apparently, Amy Tan later admitted that she made this story up. I'm not very far into the book and I'm excited to keep reading it, mostly because I really enjoy the main character and her snarky narration style. Although outside of the character of Bibi, it's hard to related to individual characters in among such a large group (11) tourists.

la-ca-jc-chinua-achebe-20121111-001.jpgI was equally excited about There Was A Country, especially in light of Chinua Achebe's recent passing. In college, between my Economic Development and African Studies classes, I'm pretty sure I read Things Fall Apart at least once a school year, if not every semester. So I was interested to read the memoir of the man who created such a powerful story. I'm also not very far into this book, but so far it's a bit disappointing. While Achebe's accomplishments and passion for writing are impressive, it reads like a superficial list of achievements dating back to elementary school. Because he's trying to talk about so much, he doesn't get a chance to analyze or reflect on any of these events. It's also interesting to see an African's support of some of colonization's impact on Nigeria, at least during the time when Achebe was coming of age. He praises the British methods of governing as extremely effective and competent, though he prefaces the comments by saying they are a bit of "heresy." I'm interested to see where the story goes and how he integrates the history of the Biafran War into his personal narrative.

Like I said, I'm still torn between these two books, but I know I will definitely be finishing both of them!


Books, reading, and libraries relevant to Africa by Michael Kevane, co-Director of FAVL and economist at Santa Clara University.

Other contributors include Kate Parry, FAVL-East Africa director, Peace Corps volunteer Emilie Crofton, Krystle Austin, Elisee Sare, and Monique Nadembega.

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