The Bookseller of Kabul

In this work Asne Seierstad managed to lift me out of my own reality and into Afghanistan and a reality so very different from what I know. A world where many different ruling factions have made selling books a crime and yet a man, Sultan, persists in doing so- because he feels strongly the need for books and history in his society. He is a free thinker and a modern man, but in his home he rules with an intensity that makes me shudder. It is so hard for me to grasp a place where as a woman you have no options, as I think of them now, no freedom to follow your heart or to walk your own path. A place where it is tantamount to adultery to accept letters from a boy and where a woman is most honorable if she expresses no will of her own.

Don’t misunderstand me- this is a slice of life from Kabul and does not represent the whole, a whole that I have very little understanding of… but this slice is mesmerizing. Seierstad artfully creates a space for you to sit with her as she observes this Afghani family trying to survive and thrive in the impossible seeming world that they live in.

Simply put this work is amazing.

Some Memories of a Long Life

Some Memories of a Long Life

Harlan, Malvina Shanklin. Some Memories of a Long Life, 1854-1911. New York: Mondern Day Library, 2001.

This volume was unearthed by Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the Library of Congress amoung the papers concerning the life of Chief Justice Harlan. In this book Mrs. Harlan discusses the time that she lived with her husband. They married and took up house, initially with his family, in 1854 and she and her husband lived together until his death in 1911. She wrote this account of their life after the fact- looking back on their time together. There are some exceptions where she referenced early diary entries, letters and various reports made on events that affected them.
To me this was a lovely book that gave an interesting account of the day to day life of the wife of a Supreme Court Justice. She addresses many things that you would simply have no way of knowing about the time period. She does not get very personal in her account, but I think that is true to form for the time period. You hear nothing of her children when they are young except to point out when they were present for certain events. Some of the details of daily life I assume were too intimate to discuss.
She offers an interesting perspective of courtship for a woman of her time and also an interesting perspective of the expansion of women’s rights. She views herself as an old fashined woman with little ability of her own when honors are bestowed upon her. For instance in 1908 she was invited to represent Kentucky, her husband’s home state, for the International Child’s Welfare Convention. She accepts the appointment and replys this way:
Ye’d scarce accept on of my age
to speak in public on the stage;
But while I think ye’d better wait
And make a “New Woman” your diligate,
I’ll try to be there, my Governor dear,–
Though for Kentucky t’will not seem quite clear
She’ll be ripresented at all to her mind,
The choice of your old friend is considered kind;
And she’ll do her best (of that ye’ll be sure)
And signs herself, “Yours till death.”

Mrs. Harlan lead an interesting life. In her time she witnessed the Civil War and the beginnings of World War I. She was an intimate witness to many historic cases heard by the Supreme Court. Mrs. Harlan had an extremly interesting perspective because of  her husband’s public life. This was a very interesting book to read; it offers a window through which to peer at this long life of Mrs. Malvina Shanklin Harlan, a very interesting woman indeed.

…on Madame Bovary

I sat in the sun today and finished reading Madame Bovary– I don’t feel forever changed- the way that Doctor McClaughlin said I would be, but oh well, it was a good story. Is that a sort of blasphemy, for an English major- to call Madame Bovary a good story? Perhaps…
I get it… I just don’t particularly care- She was bored. She thought love and life should be more. So, she created turmoil… it became too much- she expired (after eating way too much arsenic). C’est le vie.

Oct 23: I like studying literature…

western canon

I forgot that I truly enjoy the study of literature. It seems obvious, but for quite some time it has not been to me. As I finished my BA in English- I did not love the study… I wanted to finish; I wanted my piece of paper. Then when I went on to teach English Lit to adoring teenagers I remembered for a bit, but that was quickly subsumed by trying to figure out how to teach literature to teens. I got lost in all of this for quite some time.

Now, I find myself with a bit of a break and what I rediscovered is that I like this- I want to do this more. So I am reading from Harold Bloom’s book, The Western Canon, and enjoying it immensely.

At Least I believe in fairies….

You’re Siddhartha!
by Hermann Hesse
You simply don’t know what to believe, but you’re willing to try
anything once. Western values, Eastern values, hedonism and minimalism, you’ve spent
some time in every camp. But you still don’t have any idea what camp you belong in.
This makes you an individualist of the highest order, but also really lonely. It’s
time to chill out under a tree. And realize that at least you believe in

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.