Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reading Update

Book #59 was Baking Cakes in Kigali, by Gaile Parkin. As the title suggests, this book is about a woman who lives in Kigali and bakes cakes. The woman, Angel Tungaraza, is from Tanzania. She gets involved in people's lives when they come to tell her of their celebrations and order cakes from her. A blurb on the back of the book compares Angel to Precious Ramotswe, of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, and I think the comparison is apt. Like the Precious Ramotswe books, this one is light, with undertones of more serious issues. It is such a pleasure to read something about Africa that is not all dark and miserable. I enjoyed this book immensely. The author, Gaile Parkin, does a great job of writing conversation among her African characters; I could hear the voices in my head as I read. My only small complaint is that occasionally it is a little too obvious that those conversations are intended to teach us, the readers, about Rwanda.

Book #60 was brought to me by a friend who just visited Haiti. ("Would you like me to bring you a book?" "Would I like it? Are you kidding me?") This book was Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman who Bound them Together. This was a quick, touching, and very entertaining read about - well, read the subtitle and you'll know what it's about. Thanks so much, Sheila!

Book #61 was Tracy Kidder's Among Schoolchildren. This is the fourth Kidder book I've read. The others were Mountains Beyond Mountains, House, and Strength in What Remains. Kidder is an amazing writer; I love the way he burrows deep into his subject and makes you know it. This one follows a teacher and her class of fifth graders for a year. It is twenty years old, but still terribly compelling reading. I always enjoy reading about teachers, and this is wonderful on how Mrs. Zajac deals with her students, her emotions about them, the preparation she does, even grading. Where was Kidder through all of this? Was he actually sitting in the classroom? He must have been for much of it, like the excruciating scenes with the student teacher, to whom I could unfortunately completely relate as she struggled to control the behavior of the students. He also must have talked to other teachers, administrators, students, and their families. I can't even imagine what a huge job it was to research this book, and I'm awed by the result, a lucid account of a whole year in the classroom. Highly recommended.

This post is linked to the October 23rd Saturday Review of Books.

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