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Author Archive: "Rhianna Walton"

And So It Goes: Revisiting Iraq

Reading the newspaper these days feels a little like time traveling. After eight years of war in Iraq and (let's be honest) at least three years of societal amnesia, it's startling to wake up to headlines about sectarian violence and the president's requests for resources to fight ISIS, the radical Islamic organization conquering vast swathes of western Iraq, with devastating humanitarian consequences. Haven't we been here before? Didn't we win? And didn't we leave?

The reports remind me of a college class I taught on war literature a few years ago. One of the things that intrigued me was my students' disinterest in learning about Iraq. For them the war was their growing up, just part of the din of the adult world that has no meaning in childhood, like mortgage payments or tax reform. Sure, they had political opinions about the country — what American doesn't? — but no real knowledge of Iraq or the second Gulf War. And, in trying to refute their apathy, I realized to my embarrassment that I didn't either.

Many excellent books have been written on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ...

Unruly Places

Unruly Places is The Chronicles of Narnia for grown-ups, made real. Sorted into chapters like "Dead Cities" and "No Man's Lands," which are further divided into vignettes about specific locations (complete with the global coordinates!), Bonnett takes the reader on lively expeditions into both natural and man-made spaces, far flung and domestic.

Hard Choices

It's 2014 and Hillary Clinton's at the top of her game: polling high and openly contemplating a run for the White House. Her latest memoir is a must-read for Clinton fans and foes wanting the dirt on her time in the Obama administration and clues about where she's headed next.

Beyond the Headlines: North Korea — Paradise or Purgatory?

Satellite image of North and
South Korea at night

Given North Korea's isolation from the rest of the world, it's surprising how many scholarly books have been published on the country's economy, politics, history, and culture. The growing number of refugee memoirs depicting North Korea's cradle-to-grave propaganda machine and its oppression of civilians is perhaps less surprising but more tantalizing for presenting an insider's account. Bestsellers like Escape from Camp 14 satisfy what Christopher Hitchens called our "[preoccupation with the] imposing and exotic forms of totalitarianism" ( 2/1/10). More fascinating, however, than the salacious details divvied out in North Korean histories and memoirs, is that the genre is as contradictory and elusive as the country itself: while everyone agrees that a certain level of brutality and deprivation exists in North Korea, there's virtually no consensus regarding the strength of the Kim dynasty, the threat North Korea poses to the world, or even what the daily life of the average civilian is like. The best a curious reader can do is read a bit (or a lot) of everything, seeking commonalities and making meaning of the mystery that is the Hermit Kingdom.

Here's a list of brilliant titles to get you started.

Beyond the Headlines: Reading Russia, Ukraine, and the West

If you're a news junkie like me, there are times when even the cornucopia of journalism available isn't enough to sate your curiosity or answer all of your questions. It's just too hard to fit the history of the Cold War or the shifting boundaries of Eastern Europe into a six-minute news segment on NPR, or even into the more lavish spread of a newspaper or magazine article. The escalating tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and the West are haunted by the complex specters of the Tsarist Empire and Soviet Russia, with their attendant histories of annexation, persecution, and battling ideologies both within their borders and with the West. If you're feeling lost in the news, or simply want to learn more, try one of the excellent books below.

The Plover

From the author of Mink River, a jaunty, modernist take on the seafaring yarn, complete with a grizzled boat captain, resident gull, and prose that sparkles and leaps like the ocean waves it travels.

Blood Will Out

A riveting blend of true crime and memoir, Blood Will Out recounts Kirn's unsuspecting friendship with serial con man and brutal murderer Clark Rockefeller. Sensational storyline aside, what makes this book a standout is Kirn's exploration of why he was drawn into Rockefeller's world and how we all can be susceptible to malign fantasy.

The Last Days of California

This brief, candid novel about an evangelical girl's sexual and intellectual awakenings is one of my favorite books for 2014. Miller deftly conveys teenage angst and self-absorption while creating an equally compelling portrait of the religious and cultural trappings of the modern American South.

Whole Grains for a New Generation

I bought this book earlier this year, and now I turn to it constantly for clean, wildly inspired whole-grain recipes that appeal to everyone (even my toddler!). Krissoff's roots are southern, and her recipes run the gamut from pimiento cheese and catfish larb to brown rice "krispy treats" made with tahini and dark chocolate. Many of the recipes are gluten-free, and Krissoff provides a comprehensive guide to cooking and swapping grains to accommodate dietary needs and limited pantries. If you've ever wondered what to do with Forbidden Black Rice, or just want to perk up your morning bowl of oatmeal, Whole Grains for a New Generation is the best resource available.

One Summer: America, 1927

Trust Bill Bryson to make the summer of 1927 as immediate and thrilling to the reader as it was to the Americans who lived through it. Written with Bryson's characteristic combination of wit, irony, and genuine fondness for his subject matter, One Summer is a joyful read by a master of narrative nonfiction.

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