Adventures in Reading

Nonfiction: Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, 2008

If you’re interested in running, or interested in writing, or interested in Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running* is “a kind of memoir centered on the act of running” that’s both an enjoyable and thoughtful read. Through this collection of essays and comprehensive journal entries, Murakami reflects on his start at running and novel writing, and how running has affected his life as a novelist.

I wouldn’t say What I Talk About… is one of Murakami’s most enlightening or brilliant works and it doesn’t have a mass appeal, but it does offer a curious insight into his life as an author. With the odd philosophical asides, this was a book I enjoyed and that inspired me to run (despite the cold!) and has re-interested me in reading more of Murakami’s works.

*A play on a Raymond Carver’s short story collection entitled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.


Nonfiction: In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed, MD

Sourcebooks, Inc. kindly sent me a copy of the memoir In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed, MD, which was perfect timing as I had just heard Ahmed’s interview on the Diane Rehm Show and was quite curious about the book. Ahmed, “a British Muslim doctor,” is denied a visa to stay within the United States and quickly makes up her mind to accept a position in Saudi Arabia. Her memoir In the Land of Invisible Women offers a unique perspective of a western woman, professional doctor, and Muslim living within the kingdom.

I feel that most of what I know about Saudi Arabia has been my interpretation of evening news’ sound bytes. Via an original and interesting perspective, Ahmed takes the reader through her experience of Saudi Arabia, particularly in Riyadh [1], where she worked as a doctor for two years at the National Guard Hospital. In the Land of Invisible Women reads as a cross between a medical narrative and a memoir, and also manages to pursue two distinctly interesting themes: a western woman’s experience within the Kingdom and a lifelong Muslim’s interaction with more extreme forms of Islam.

My only complaint about the book regard some structural issues as some chapters read as disjointed. Assumedly the format is chronological, though certainly gaps of time are missing, but the reader at times is expected to make shaky leaps between one handful of chapters, for example, that focus on Hajj season to the next handful of chapters detailing Ahmed’s experience with romance in Riyadh. Relatively a minor distraction, but it did force me to wonder if I had managed to skip pages.

What I most appreciated about this book was Ahmed’s divulgence of her opinion and how she avoided becoming dismissive of other’s beliefs. The author is consistently willing to acknowledge the complex traditions and cultures that, for example, produce both negative and positive responses to wearing the abbayah. Nevertheless, Ahmed still beautifully asserts her arguments and confronts the anti-Semitism, the sexism, and the anti-western attitudes she experienced.

In the Land of Invisible Women gave me a lot to think about, and just not about the complexities of Saudi Arabia but also my country’s, the U.S.A., interactions within the Middle East.

[1] I now have a new appreciation for The Girls of Riyadh, a book I previously shrugged off as so-so pop-literature.

Other opinions: Book Addiction.

Conclusion: Available on Bookmooch.

Libros de Español

Previously I posted that I have started yet another semester of Spanish and have also been enjoying Out of the Blue’s Spanish related posts. Though my blog may suggest otherwise, I really don’t spend all of my time reading lots of great and fun books. Really. I also spend an enormous amount of time grappling with Spanish – a language I love but one that certainly kicks my butt. Today I’m going to take a moment to note two very useful books I’ve found for learning Spanish.

English Grammar For Students of Spanish by Emily Spinelli has been an indispensable guide. I am someone that needs some type of direct correlation between English and Spanish grammar (even if this correlation is only hazy, indistinct, or suggested). Though I have never had any formal training in English grammar (thank you public education) and am very much self-taught, Spinelli’s guide helps the student traverse both languages. So once you figure out what you want to say, you can easily find out how to say it, and it also includes some great exercises and, perhaps best of all, some great study tips.

Mastering Spanish Grammar by Pilar Munoz and Mike Thacker is simply brilliant. This was a recent discovery in my continuing expedition of Spanish grammar. Mastering Spanish Grammar works in a somewhat spiraling fashion where, for example, the student is presented with the basic description and uses of all parts of speech. Each of these sections includes a pretty heft list of activities that I have found useful. After this first round, Munoz and Thacker’s book starts again going through all the parts of speech but at a more advanced level. I found the book completely non-threatening, with great explanations, and cute modernist illustrations.