I have recently read two books that I would very much like to recommend. One has been out for a couple of years and the other is newer. Both are stories of immigrant experiences, and both expanded my consciousness. I grew up in a small town in the northern part of Michigan's lower peninsula. Because of the nearby airbase, we had folks from all over the country in our midst, but they were seen as "other." Moving to a college town in southeastern Michigan exposed me to people from all over the world and from many cultures in this country. Over the years, I have tried to consciously seek out experiences and books that would help me to see the world in these ways that are different than my own experience. These books are good continuing education.
First up is Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, stories of Bengali-Americans dealing with issues of modern life. As with most immigrant groups, there is a tension between the culture of origin and the culture around them. The story that I liked best, "Hell-Heaven" was, happily, done as a featured piece on Selected Shorts - a podcast that features contemporary short stories read by actors before a live studio audience. (I listen to a variety of podcasts ranging from "Sticks and String" to the geekfest "Tech Stuff / How Stuff Works" and including the "New Yorker Fiction" podcasts.) Back to the book: The stories are intense, tightly written, and the characters are fully fleshed out. I can't say that "this is a joy to read," because there are some pretty sobering tales here. I will say that by the time I was done, I felt as though I'd been admitted entrance into some very special lives.
Next is the book I practically bullied my book club into reading. A Country Called Amreeka tells the story of the last century of American history through the eyes of Arab-Americans. We see the civil rights movement, the Six-Days' War in 1967, the gay rights movement, the 2000 presidential campaign, and so much else through the lived experiences of real people who were witnesses to or part of the events. The book is well written and reminiscent of Studs Terkel's books. I LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. Drop what you're doing and go get it. Read it. Trust me. You'll start grabbing random friends and shoving this book at them, just I've been doing for the past two weeks.
Finally, just to demonstrate what a dilettante I am, I had a half hour to myself in downtown Ann Arbor yesterday, so I stopped in Busy Hands, with a gift certificate I'd gotten for my birthday. I wandered around, petting yarns, until I got stopped by this little beauty:
Tomorrow, Thursday, I'm driving to Columbus, Ohio, with a couple of friends, and we're going to the National Quilting Association show. I promise I'll take pictures!