A Week of Reading 3-25

In the average week, I read a considerably larger number of books than I usually get posts out of. Most of them are actually pretty nifty, but either what I’m getting from them is too concise for a full post or just doesn’t strike a nerve immediately. So I’m going to try to use my Thursday nights to talk about what I’m reading, why, and what I’m getting out of it.

This was one of those weeks in which the nonfiction section was calling my name. Given that they’re right under my nose, they win out over the fiction books that are on my pull list nine times out of ten; something shows up on a display and I pounce, while with fiction I often have to actively intend to read it for it to stand a chance.

A girl who wants to stand out on a trip with her husband and his family breaks a necklace with great sentimental value for her, and nobody sees when she goes to pick up the pieces, until the manner in which she returns causes a scandal and another relative’s response to the scandal creates a family feud that ultimately turns into a long and very bloody conflict between two religious sects. Yes, this is nonfiction. The book is After the Prophet by Lesley Hazelton, an exploration of the factors leading up to the Sunni/Shia split in Islam; I considered it because of the Arabic flavor of my Almagest project, read a few pages from the sixth chapter or so, and decided that this one was coming home with me. The politics were fascinating, the little asides about Arabic terms laden with meaning made a neat bonus for the linguist in me, and there’s something just inherently fascinating about how a few preexisting grudges and a couple of bad choices could turn into such a history-shaping issue. (I did, however, think Ms. Hazelton might have been a bit biased; there are a number of points where the history really is pretty he-said-she-said but the fledgling Sunnis still come out looking like the bad guys.

My other main pull this week was Escape from the Land of Snows by Stephan Talty, a biography of the 14th Dalai Lama focusing primarily on his escape from Tibet during the Chinese invasion. I’d reserved this one when one of our other patrons requested it; it was a bit delayed in getting back, but it’s been worth the wait. I particularly like the way it spends time in other people’s perspectives, to get an overall view of the situations.

I’d been listening to The Scarlet Pimpernel on Playaway during the walking parts of my commute for a while, and finally finished this week. I can’t tell you whether it was what I was expecting, but then again, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to begin with. My main disappointment was that Marguerite’s wit seemed to me to be an informed attribute; I’ll grant that she was distraught right the way through the story, but when I got two of the major plot twists pretty much as soon as they were introduced, if not before, and this lady who was repeatedly described as having “the greatest wits in Europe” was completely missing them and spending most of the interim being anything but witty… well, I was having a bit of trouble buying it. On the other hand, I’m a sucker for mad plans against known-impossible odds as much for the sport of it as for compassion’s sake.

Happy reading!

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