I’ve read three books lately that have all had “staying power” in one way or another. I find myself thinking back to all of them now and then. They’ve also all become the kind of books that get mentioned in conversation, as in “I read something in a book once…”
Honeymoon In Purdah – There wasn’t much about this book that would have made me want to snatch it off the bookstore shelves. It’s not particularly well named, nor does the cover design draw me in. Good thing it was referred to me by a friend whose opinion I trust, or I probably never would have read it. I didn’t expect to, but I LOVE this book. I devoured it like candy. It’s a memoir of a woman who travels across Iran “just because it’s the only country that scares her, and she doesn’t believe in fear.” Alison Wearing is a seasoned traveler and free spirit. Though she normally travels alone, she takes along her “husband” (who’s really her gay roommate with a fake marriage license) on this trip because it’s the one country she thinks it’s best to travel with a male companion.
Wearing has the most amazing experiences in Iran because she is completely open to them. She lets strangers take her places she would never find if she were merely a tourist. She spends time in people’s homes, and embraces the culture of Iran. In return, she is embraced by almost everyone she meets. Though there are many frustrations with traveling in a country where there are so many restrictions, she learns to embrace even the wearing of the hejab as it allows her a certain freedom to blend in with the locals.
This is the kind of book that should be assigned reading in our high schools. It opens your mind to the humanity that is behind the media stories that taint our views of certain cultures and countries. It shows the many shades of brilliant colour behind what is too often painted as black and white.
Of This Earth – Reading this book felt a lot like spending a relaxed Sunday afternoon at my parents’ kitchen table in the old farm house, listening to my Dad tell stories of his childhood. It’s the story of author Rudy Wiebe’s Mennonite boyhood in the Boreal Forest in Saskatchewan. He grew up in much the same environment as my dad – a place and time where hard work, honesty, and a good singing voice (to belt out the hymns) were the highest virtues.
His retelling is poetic though not romanticized. He paints a stark picture of the harshness of life in those early days on the farm, yet his memory of it is not one of bitterness or judgment. He was clearly molded by the values he was taught by the good, honest people who raised him and watched over him. Though the adult version of him doesn’t necessarily understand all of their choices, he honours them for the place they held in his life.
He slips in occasional low German phrases that wouldn’t mean much to the average reader, but were fun for me to try to translate before reading the English. (My low German is weak at best, and since it’s not a written language, his capturing of it was purely phonetic.)
This book has found a warm spot in my heart. I only wish that I could pass it on to my dad.
Running With Scissors – It was rather surreal reading this book after reading Of This Earth. Both are boyhood memoirs, but that’s where the similarities end. While Rudy Wiebe’s upbringing can be defined by the “virtues” that molded him, there is not much in Augusten Burrough’s upbringing that can even loosely be defined as “virtuous”. Augusten Burroughs is quite possibly the most shockingly honest and bold memoirist I have ever read. I’d read one of his later books, and was rather intrigued by it, so when I spotted this one at a thrift store in Toronto, I didn’t hesitate to fork out $1.25 for it.
Most of you are probably already familiar with this one, since it made a fairly big splash when it came out and has already been made into a movie. It’s the story of how Burrough’s mother gave him up to live with her eccentric, free spirited, and morally bankrupt psychologist. Anything goes in this household. Children are allowed to make their own “rules”, even when that includes cutting holes in the kitchen roof to put in a sunroom, or having sex with the psychologist’s adult patients.
Reading this book makes you feel rather voyeuristic, as you peer into the life of the most unusual “family” you can ever imagine meeting. Much of it even borders on the offensive, as Burroughs goes into great detail describing his encounters with the pedophile who lives in the shed behind the house. Despite that, however, it is absolutely intriguing reading what I would consider rather brilliant retelling of a twisted, perverse childhood. Burroughs has a masterful way with words.