21. The Catcher in the Rye

by J.D. Salinger

What great book. Re-reading this novel was deeply rewarding. Through a tremendously flawed protagonist, Salinger explores in detail the mind of a unmentored, grieving adolescent. There are many lenses with which one can read this novel, but this is the one that works best for me. Obviously the story depicts a young man in the later stages of a mental breakdown, but I believe the loss of his brother, Allie, is reason enough for it. I don't think Holden is going crazy, as many academics do. There are literary "treatments" of this novel based on any number of faddish psycho crapola (such as oppositional defiant disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and the like), but I think Holden Caulfield's "downward spiral" is the result of a simple combination of grief and loneliness during the chaos of adolesence.

That is not to diminish the danger Holden is in- obsessing about death and loss, contemplating suicide, alienating himself from significant others in his life, not going home, punching out the garage windows... To be sure, Holden is not your average adolescent. It's just that I think that in this culture we are quick to diagnose and very slow to listen to what truth such a character is telling. By classifying him as some type of nut or other, we render ourselves unable to learn from his voice. The book has so much soul, dripping from every page. And yet it's so hard for us to shake mind-numbing phrases like, "psychoanalysis" (as in trying to decode the mind of the author) and "loss of/preserving innocence" that have been fed to us by nervous teachers. We are taught that this is a simple matter of "coming of age." What we don't hear often enough is that Holden, "the most terrific liar you'll ever meet," might be telling the truth. It's an emotional truth, and doesn't have much in the way of facts for our lazy intellects to gnaw upon, but it's goddam good.

It's no wonder Salinger got pissed and split.

We are all victims of academia's mandates on how to interpret this book. I recommend everyone read it again when your minds are less clouded than usual. Perhaps it would be best read right after One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, or some other mind liberating stuff. Perhaps just after you lose a loved one.

20. Cooperative Learning in the Classroom

by David W. Johnson, et. al.

Yawn. A seating chart conducive to collaboration. Effectgive groups. Ineffective groups. Assigning students to groups. Christ, every semester I find that there is yet another book on the same damned subject.


I recommend that teachers read ONE good book on the subject. Not six or seven.

19. Spit in the Ocean, vol #2, "Getting There From Here!"

edited by Ken Kesey.

This has been my honest reading for the past year. Ken Kesey founded the literary journal Spit in the Ocean in 1974. As planned, there was to be only 7 volumes. Six were produced during Kesey's life, between 1974 and 1981. These slobs nevr got around to the seventh, what with having lots of exploring and pot smoking to do. Kesey had created a weird travelling theater and most other contributors were either dead or lost or hobos or drunk somewhere pissing on the side of a building. The seventh was produced in 2002, after Kesey's death, and was devoted to the king nutter himself. It's a truly great dedication to him.

As might be obvious, there weren't many copies produced. But, alas, Sandy found me an entire set of the first six journals by calling the Kesey farm and asking his son, Zane. He sold them to her for fitty bucks, god bless him.

These journals, written by the literary bunch within that loosely connected crowd called The Merry Pranksters. Some are poets hiding in the various literary hills around the country, producing some of the most honest, original works out there. Others are thinkers who have figured it out, whatever it is. As a collection, they capture the intelligence and spirit of a group of kick-ass, enlightened Americans.

But few will read this stuff. Few are interested in being disturbed or ungrounded. Even if the trade-off is freedom of mind, of joy.

This stuff is great. They are frickin nuts, but absolutely truthful and telling us what they see from the happy outside.

18. Monster

by Walter Dean Myers

What an interesting novel. Monster, is about a 15 year old on trial for felony murder. He was allegedly the lookout for some older guys who planned to rob a local convenience store. The robbery went bad and the store owner was shot and killed with his own gun. In New York State, causing the death of another while in the act of committing a felony amounts to murder, even if the death was an accident.

The novel is Steve Harmon's voice, which is delivered in the form of excerpts form his diary entries and a film script he has made of his own trial. He writes his story as a film in order to cope with the reality he finds himself in (being seen as a monster). The effect is a combination of his very human, emotional side as depicted in his diary entries, and a very singular, focussed account of his trial proceedings.

Most interesting is the structure of the novel, the contrasts amde by the two modes of writing. It sort of reminds me of how The Sopranos is structured: the weepy, emotional therapy sessions contrasted with the cold-bloodedness of mafia life. Monster was very effective in revealing what court proceedings fail to reveal in the argument over "facts": the person who is the accused.

Overall, this is a young adult book and a very good one.

17. Joan fo Arc: In Her Own Words

In fact, it's not in her words at all, but what can we do about that. Actually, this was a very good read.

Normally I'd say people who claim to recipients of visions from God with clear instructions to go to war are right fucking nutters. But Joan's claims are somehow credible.

15th century. England has all but taken France. Seventeen year old Joan receives clear instructions from God (via St. Michael, the warrior angel) to go to the dauphin and ask him for permission to command his armies. He gives her said permission and command of 10,000 soldiers. She leads them into umpteen battels and swiftly kicks ass in most places. And the rest you all surely know. Captured. Trial. Witch. Burned. This is what we do to our great leaders.

16. The Pearl

by John Steinbeck

Bleak outlook. Sort of like Heart of Darkness except a baby dies because if it all.

Oh, shite, that's a spoiler.

15. When Things Fall Apart

by Pema Chodron

Like the late great Zen master D.T. Suzuki, Pema Chodron is gifted with the ability to make Buddhism meaningful to Westerners without watering it down or misrepresenting it for the sake of our ease.

Pema Chodron is a Buddhist nun living at the Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her dharma talks and essays are challenging, to say the least. At the center of this book (which is a collection of "talks" she gave in the mid-90s) is the notion that the goal of Buddhist meditation practices is first to make friends with ourselves, to know ourselves, including all the so-called bad feelings and emotions we so often run away from or try to drug out of existence.

Hope and fear, she argues, occupy attention that should be devoted to the moment in which we are actually living. In Buddhist thought, the greatest teacher is the present moment. Hope and fear are merely our imagined future, and despite the fact that they are not real beyond the imagination, they preoccupy us in the present reality. The effect is that we are never really living. Our minds are not awake to the present reality because we are busy about the imagined future (or the remembered past).

Thsi is not to say that we should admonish ourselves for fearing, or avoid experiences that cause fear. Instead, Chodron says, we are to face our fear, without judging it, and accept it as part of who we are. She argues that when we encounter fear, we should "lean toward it," not to eradicate it, but to embrace it and try to understand it just as we should with our perceived qualities.

She tells a story of her teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, whom she often witnessed do remarkable things. She, Rinpoche and four other monks were walking into a monastary when they passed an large, angry, snarling guard dog on a chain. They walked past warily while the dog grew increasing angry and determined to eat them. Just as they got some twenty yards into the monastary, the dog broke the chain and came tearing after them. All the monks cried out and/or ran away in fright except for Trungpa Rinpoche, who ran directly toward the dog. Needless to say, at the sight of this monk running toward him, the dog stopped in its tracks and decided to run elsewhere instead.

Later in the book, on a slightly different subject, she tells another story. During the horrible campaign by the Chinese to occupy and control Tibet, the leaders of a local monastery decided that it was too dangerous for them to stay any longer. They joined other refugees and fled for the hills and surrounding countries. All except a monk (whose name I can't remember) who said good-bye to them at the monastery's front gates and walked toward China.

Your fear. Lean toward it. Face first. Eyes open. What is it, really? Whatever it is, embrace that part of you with loving kindness. And do nothing else about it. Just keep loving yourself until it radiates outward.

Well, my review of this book is slanted. It is actually a very useful manual for Buddhist practice, especially meditation (which is really where we should be facing our fears).

I'll be revisiting the chapters in this book for a long time. I'd be crazy not to.

14. Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

This was my first time reading Brave New World. I will save you the unnecessary plot description and just tell you what I think:

It was a very good book but I often found myself reading just to get through it to the end... and move on to something else. This is a great read if one imagines being a 1930s American reader. It's a good read if you don't.

Drugs. Lot's of drugs. I enjoyed reading Huxley's exploration of why humans use drugs. In the Brave New World, drugs are used to ease existential pain, to dicourage the imagination, to escape, to control behavior. In the Brave New World, Soma's got, "All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects." Basically, even ancient mind-expanding "drugs" such as soma (and ancient Indian and Iranian psychotropic substance used for spiritual exploration and mind opening) is reduced to the equivalent of Prozac or Xanex, albeit a far more powerful one. In a liberty-less society such as Huxley's BNW, it would have to be very poweful indeed! For instnace:

"I don't understand anything," she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. "Nothing. Least of all," she continued in another tone "why you don't take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You'd forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you'd be jolly. So jolly."

Of course, BNW is primarily a warning cry about the society's movement toward totalitarianism, or a one world totalitarian state. It's an important one. But for me the most fascinating aspect of the novel is that in 1932, Huxley was engaging in a discussion about society, the mind and psychotropic substances.

One and a half thumbs up.

13. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

by the billionaire author J.K. Rowling

Once again Rowling works out a masterful story in this 6th book in the Harry Potter series. She knows how to tell a story.

What can I say, these books are just great. I find myself happily along for an extraordinary ride with readers of all ages. That's pretty amazing. Me and my 11 year-old godson, Josh, talking passionately about events and characters in a book. And I am as taken, engaged, and spellbound as he is!

The Pope and one of his purple hatted lackeys recently spoke out against this book. Sounds a lot like their own clunky death knell to me.

12. Spiritual Midwifery

by Ina May Gaskin

This is Jerome at birth:

I know this book is an odd pick for me, but I found it very interesting and worthwhile. Ina May Gaskin pretty much revived "natural child birth" in this country. This book is an account of one of the most successful communes in America, which is still thriving today, and their experiences as people disconnected from much of trappings the modern world. Like many San Fran/Berkeley intellectuals in the late 1960s, this crowd sought a way of life on the periferal of society. Basically, these were people looking for a more natural (organic), self-sufficient lifestyle. Of course, this is all chiche today, but these folks were pioneers. And still are- with their eco-friendly architecture, cummunal economics, vegitarianism, gender roles, etc.

It all started in 1971 as a caravan of converted school busses carrying 300 people from California to a 1,000 acre plot of land in Tennessee purchased with resources pooled from the founders. Of course, Tennessee land was cheap nearly 40 years ago. From the mid 70s to mid 80s, their numerical heyday, the population maintained around 1,200 (they are now at 200). Many of them were born on The Farm.

But this is a book primarily about giving birth outside of hospitals, institutions that increasingly rely on drugs and ignore human needs beyond the purely physical, births that occur in homes, outdoors, and in meaningful places, and include the participation of family and friends in the event. Sometimes very graphic. Sometimes very intimate. Always spiritual. Always very human. Pretty cool stuff.

The best part of the book is the collection of two dozen personal accounts of births in The Farms by mothers, fathers and their midwives. Some pretty amazing stories.

I admire these people.

11. Earth Abides

by George R. Stewart

Based upon a fine review of this book at Mount Benson Report, I picked up a copy of this one. It was an excellent read, capturing my imagination and carrying it all the way through.

First, one small point: the first part (of three) makes for a very unique and facinating travel novel. A post-apocalypse travel novel. I want more of this!

I really appreciate that the novel didn't turn into the usual good/evil battle, or a hard-to-swallow communist manifesto/uprising. No, this one was mostly free of the the usual politics and battles that are too often only smaller versions of pre-apocalyptic problems. That's usually boring to me. (Makes me wonder if this type of novel is not a device for "leveling the playing field" so that it's believable when the underdogs of society actually win).

Instead, Stewart writes a far more physical, or organic, story. The protagonist is constantly concerned with learning to become self-reliant instead of living as merely scavengers of stuff from a dead civilization, which will obviously come to an end. Eventually edible food in the supermarkets and convenience stores will run out. Water will not come from the tap forever.

I enjoyed Stewart's deep understanding of human nature and his positive view of people. As a reader who has spent a great deal of his life dreaming about the death of civilization, I found Earth Abides to be a hopeful vision and a thought-provoking instruction manual.

This is a brilliant book. A big thanks to the folks of at Mount Benson.

10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

I picked up this 1997 edition because Random House got its hands on a pile of Twain's manuscript pages that he had edited out to make the book similar in length to Tom Sawyer. Apparently this was done so that Twain's publisher could sell them for the same price and as a "collection." Ah, how to make more money.

Interestingly, with the manuscript pages included, the book sheds more (of the same) light on Huck's thoughts and the attitudes of the people in his life. Missing from the widely known version is a long section where Huck reveals his thoughts about a hypocritical "civilized" society, one that would try to civilize him through schooling but not lift a finger to save him from a viscously abusive father, or one that is built on the slave trade. This, of course, is at the center of the originally published version, as well, so I'm not sure what so ground breaking about Random House's "find" here.

In the end, the version we've been reading all these years is the version Twain signed off on. The many scholars out there who claim this version is Earth-shattering, or "darkly revealing," or whatever, are are full of shit. There is nothing "missing" that would have made it better, or that would help us understand the mind of the writer, or his "process." Many scholars are exaggerating the import of the discovered manuscript pages. Others are outright lying in that aged academic way about their so-called revelations. Perhaps this is because many of them are intellectual leeches without their own imaginations.

Anyway, Huck Finn needs little discussion these days. It's frickin' great.

9. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

by Anne Lamott

One of the professors here at work recommended this book to me after I was complaining a bit about how little I am writing these past few weeks. She brought in her copy for me the next day. So I obliged.

Well, this is the type fo book that starts by telling fellow writer/readers that they must tell the truth in their writing. Actually, that's exactly what it said: "...good writing is about telling the truth."

As far as useful advice, that's pretty much as useful as it gets. As is usual, the advice often seems to be for someone else. Too often these books are more self serving than giving, even in the desseminating of advice.

Generally, I don't like reading such books by other authors but occasionally when I am finding it hard to focus, when I'm not producing much of anything, I find this type of book to be a useful catalyst. I guess it's a simple matter of "hearing" someone talk about that which I am trying to focus on.

But I did find her "write in you own voice" section - which is another staple of this type of book- very useful. She is carrying on about her characters and how she must tell "their" stories and be fair to them... Anyway, reading this stuff made me realize what my problem is with my novel Soren's Funeral, which has been on the shelf for a while. I've been thinking about scrapping it.

I realized that the problem with Soren's Funeral is how I've laid it out plotwise. The characters- Soren, Sill and Carry- are lives worth writing about. The problem is that I have put them in a situation that is all wrong. Perhaps the very fundamental fact that there is a funeral is the problem...

This has freed me up a great deal. I am now re-thinking what "happens" by exploring the characters more deeply. In a way, I'm trying to let them decide what happens. Of course I know it's still me deciding, but a change of approach to what happens has been making all the difference.

Anyway, for that spark alone, I am glad I read the cheezey little book, Bird by Bird.

8. Why Reading Literature in School Still Matters

by Dennis Sumara (yet another Canadian)

I don't recommend this book wholeheartedly, but it's the only one of five academic books I've read in the last 4 months worth writing about.

Sumara is mainly interested in his ideas about reading and re-reading literary texts as means to developing deep insight into the text itself and, more importantly, into self-identity. By making the familiar strange, Sumara argues, readers of imaginative literature facilitate events that can help maintain a sense of personal coherence and expand their imagined world of possibilities. He believes an important goal of education is to push the boundaries of what is considered true about the world. I agree emphatically, although I don't believe this is currently a true goal of education-- assisting in the development of imaginary thinkers and change agents-- as opposed to the more obvious goal of creating well-behaved, obedient workers and shoppers. This is perhaps partly why progressive thinkers see teaching as a subversive act.

Sumara is interested in the growth of imaginary thought, which leads to insight. “A sense of self,” he demonstrates, “emerges as much from what is imagined as it does from what is real.”

Sumara got me thinking. The exposure to and memorization of facts about the world around us are important, but imaginative literature performs a very different function. After all, what good are facts to a person denied the chances to develop an identity with which to engage and give those facts meaning? Reading literature requires one to re-examine and re-interpret ones life and create meaning.

That is all.

7. Hell's Angels

5. by Hunter S. Thompson

While most people pick this book, and other Thompson works, expecting more Fear and Loathing, I knew better. It does have Thompson's strong, vivid langauge, but the Fear and Loathing fans will find themselves reading the language of a maverick journalist more than a drug saturated edge runner. Basically, Thompson runs with the California Hell's Angels for nearly a year until one day they stomp him.

Hell's Angels is a very good read, that is if you have an iterest in American 1960s misfit outlaw culture, violence, and Thompson's acute sense of cultural movement. And of course Thompson's langauge is superb. I really liked it.

6. Holler if You Hear Me

by Gregory Michie

Yet another self-congratuatory book written by a teacher who highlights how he "got through to" urban youth and maybe changed a few of their lives. I am reading it for one of my grad classes in education.

I'm tired of the "If I could just change one life, then my whole career would be worth it" claim. That's bullshit. I am suspicious of what aspects of "their" lives these teachers think need changing and wonder why if all their lives need changing it's considered a success to do so for only one of them.

5. Bone Dance

by Martha Brooks

"Life is full of surprises, and sometimes the good and the bad get all bunched up together." says Alexandra's grandfather.

Yet another book I've read that is written by a Canadian. This one is an out-of-print coming of age young adult novel . It's a good one. It's got all the stuff young adults seek in these novels, but it is more challenging than the average.

One note of worthiness: most young adult novels are exclusively written for one gender, but Bone Dance has two protaginists, one male and one female, both Native American, whose paths cross as they follow their youthful concerns. And it's not a romance. It's more about coming to an understanding of the meaning of the land (burial ground of ancestors, other living and non-living things having lives and will s of their own, etc.), of the nature of history and memory.

The novel begs the question: do objects in nature literally contain our ancestors, or is this a matter of perception, acts of memory and imagination on the part of the beholder of the object? Are the ancients buried on the land still there, still communicating, or is the land artifacts containing history that triggers memory.

It seems to me that the land, much like a literary text, is a catalyst for the imagination. "Ghosts" or remnants of ancestors, of the Ancients, linger on the land for a very long time. Objects such as a dug up skull prove that the Anceints are still present, but WHY they are present, WHAT they're presence is trying to communicate is a matter for interpretation for which memory of the Ancients (passed on culturally) plays a big role.

The Romantics thought this way, as well. Objects don't convey meaning. It's our perception of those objects that give them meaning. A Romantic would argue that if the suffering adolescent Lonny looks closely enough, if he peers deeply and honestly enough into these objects (ghosts, the land) that haunt him, he'll witness himself, his own guilt, regret, fear, hope, etc. It just so happens that maturity corresponds with this kind of seeking.

I think Martha Brooks sees things similarly, although she gives "the other" more credit that the Romantics did. On page 51, the narrator says, "When Lonny turned twelve, the ghosts went away. He wasn't exactly sure what mad ethem do that... The shadowy figures left the house. He imagined them floating back to Medicine Bluff." This is a sort of combination of the "non human-made world" and the imagination. Lonny's reality is comprised of Lonny's contribution and those of his peers, as well as those came before them (i.e. ghosts). But the question ultimately is what meaning Lonny decides to give to his reality. This is a good coming-of-age novel.

Nice read. Much better than the typical male-oriented YA nnovel about cheesey test sof strength and courage or teh felame counterpart about emotions and being understood. Thsi one is very different.

Too bad it's out of print...

4. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by C.S. Lewis

[I read this a couple of weeks ago as a part of an ongoing project on the experience of re-reading texts, but didn't get to posting about it here until today. This is an exerpt from my journal.]

What an interesting experience I had reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a second time. Some twenty-two years later I still find myself moved by events in Lewis’s Narnia. I found myself once again longing for a world where good and evil are as easily discernable as they are in that other world. I suppose one difference, though, is that during the first read of the text I didn’t know just how morally complicated people are. I still thought it was possible to choose good and be good in a complete sort of way.

Lewis’s characters are very black and white and for good reason. By its nature, Christianity must polarize good and evil to tell its story. And Lewis ain't tryin' to change things here. He is telling the Christian story: the world will be enslaved or destroyed unless God comes back to save it and somewhere in there is an ambiguous role for humans. The latter point is where Lewis allows himself to be creative.

Here's an example of what I mean: Despite the vast array of living, sentient creatures that live in Narnia, they cannot manage their world without “the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve” who arrive to find it in near chaos and run by an evil witch. Of course nothing will change without Aslan, the Christ figure, but it is the human children that must come and re-establish their rule over Narnia. There they establish and maintain justice and peace. This is a typical (and faulty, in my opinion) Judeo-Christian view of man as caretaker of nature. I found it difficult to ignore as I read this time around.

But knowing the plot I found myself able to focus on other aspects of the text. What most intrigued me this time was how Lewis manages time in the two worlds (while decades elapse in Narnia, they return through the wardrobe into the very same moment after they’d entered) and the passages between them. This aspect of the plot is quite elaborate and philosophical in nature.

I still enjoy entertaining the notion of other realities existing amidst or alongside ours, which could be accessed by opening a door or stumbling into a shed. Reading LWW a second time, I found myself drawing parallels between the this text and Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf where the Steppenwolf passes a strange door with an inscription above it saying, “Madmen Only.” Through the door, which keeps making itself available to him in other manifestations, is an entirely other world of possibilities.

In fact, I found myself recognizing in Lewis’s work many myths incorporated into his tale, which is one of the reasons why it was such a profound experience for me as an adolescent. I certainly had knowledge of myth, but lacked the language. I think Lewis was one of the first to provide me with the language of myths. In fact, the very best part of the experience of re-reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was that the text, or should I say my transaction with the text, contained memories of myself during the first read. As I read, I remembered where I was while reading it the first time and how the text affected me. As I once again read of the “resurrection” of Aslan and his run through Narnia with two kids on his back, I remembered the joyful tears welling up that kept me from reading until I blinked them away. So this reading was not only a re-exploration of the text, but an exploration of my adolescent beliefs and feelings as a read. To be clear, I saw a younger me while reading the text. And I found myself assessing where I am now and how far I’ve come as a spiritual person, as a socially conscious person, as a skeptical seeker.

Overall, it was a bittersweet read but a rewarding one.

3. Fugitive Pieces

by Anne Michaels

Wow, what a deep, meditative read on loss and memory and art. It's basically about a 7 year old boy who witnesses his parents killed by Nazis, who survives the Holocaust by burying himself in the ground during the day and sneaking around in terror at night looking for food and dealing with his truama and loss. That is, until a Greek archeologist finds him and takes him to Greece (once he realizes the mud-caked whailing boy is actually human!). The book follows the boy over the span of his life as he lives out a transformation from a half-crazy homeless boy to an artist who extracts powerful meaning from his experience.

Anne Michaels is first and foremost a poet in the way that Faulkner is (but not quite as extraordinary, if you know what I mean). A tough read, but very rewarding.

As I write this, I realize that this book has had a strong emotional impact on me as a writer.

"Write to save yourself and someday you'll write because you've been saved."

2. Lying Awake

by Mark Salzman

This one is about a cloistered nun who after 20 years of quiet, uneventful waiting (for God's presence) begins to experience episodes of overwhelming rapture. When the episodes first occur she finds herself suffering from migraines that eventually bring here to a state of peace and clarity. As time goes on the migraines get worse but they lead to truly transcendent experiences where all is left behind, including the self, nothing left but an extraordinary clarity. There she finds God. It is truly a gift to be able to leave the world, commune with the creator, sustainer and redeemer of life, and come back to hang out with the nuns. Pretty cool spot to be in.

During this time, she also discovers that she is a gifted writer. She's been writing volumes and the words keep coming.

Turns out she's developed a mild form of epilepsy caused by a small growth on her brain. It will grow and she will get worse/better, depending on your persective on her new-found gifts. A rountine surgery (w/90% success rate) would correct the problem and eliminate the seisures/raptures. This poses a dilemma for her: should she get the surgery? If these seisures are truly a gift from God, should she put an end to them? If the growth is going to continue to tax her fellow nuns and eventually kill her, should she put an end to them?

The novel explores some deep questions of faith and spirituality, some of which are universal.

Overall, I found it fairly boring, but how does a writer make life in a cloister otherwise? Salzman explores the inner life of his protagonist in great detail, but tends to avoid description of her rapturous, transcendent states, which is what I was most interested in reading about. For that reason it fell short of my expectations.

1. The Kite Runner

by Khaled Hosseini

Here is why I chose the book:

"A wonderful work... This is one of those unforgettable stories that stay with you for years. All the great themes of literature and of life are the fabric of this extraordinary novel: love, honor, guilt, fear redemption...It is so powerful that for a long time everything I read after seemed bland." -Isabel Allende

That strong endorsement from a trusted writer and the need to know what a "kite runner" is led me to take a chance on a NYT best seller. I don't usually reach for best sellers. Generally they sell because they don't disturb, because they affirm or way of life, because they allow readers to believe what they already believe. In other words, they are popular for all the reasons not to spend hours on something.

But this novel rocked my foundation. It moved me deeply. I read in awe, in fear, in sorrow and a sort of desperate hope. A fierce work of literature about huge mistakes, the danger of damnation, the difficulty of redemption.

The novel begins with an old man calling the 30-something Afghan refugee protagonist from half way across the world and saying, "There's a way to be good again" and imploring him to come to Pakistan.

Here's what Hosseini says of his protagonist in the San Fran Chronicle:
"He went back to Afghanistan, then ruled by the Taliban, to settle an old score. He went back after a 20-year absence to atone for a sin he had committed as a boy. He went back to... rescue himself from damnation. The journey almost cost him his life. The thing is, I was the one who sent him. It was easy.”

Hosseini is an Afghan refugee living in San Fran today. He's a doctor. And an extraordinary writer. Kind of makes me think of Checkov.