After spending a good part of last year studying at the University
of Amsterdam, I returned to my home in Philadelphia only long enough to pack
my bags, my hubby, and our kitties for a drive across the US. We had all been
in Philly long enough and decided it was time for a change. So, after weeks
of driving (love that cruise control!), lots of greasy spoons (chicken and
dumplings in Tenessesee = yum) and a long awaited trip to Graceland (uh, it
was closed) we dropped our bags in Portland, Oregon. The cats, Yancy and Dr. Zaius, obviously excited to check out new territory, immediately
went to take a nap.
When I walked into Powell's, I knew right away that that
was the place I wanted to work. Where else would you find a world of ideas
and people and walks of life all in one place? And, since I plan to stay in
Oregon for a while, Powell's is a great place for my mind to travel.
These recommendations come from the vast amount of knowledge
and empowerment I gained from school. My concentration was cultural studies with obvious
roots in a tiny liberal arts school and I would call my picks:
THAT MOVE & BREAK BOUNDARIES
Science Books That Not Only Deal with History, but the Cultural, Social, and
Political Complexities Within It (Whew! Say that five times fast):
Unthinking Eurocentrism by
Ella Shohat and
Edward Said is the leading man in MidEast Studies. Written in the seventies,
Orientalism was the first piece of groundbreaking literature speaking
out against the stereotype and the idea of the "Oriental." Said confronts
the term "Oriental" and its implication of Western superiority: the idea,
made up in the West, of the "Orient" as exotic and different. Said tackles
politics, culture, history, and how the idea of Orientalism permeates, with
subtlety and obviousness, throughout society. This discourse has been at the
forefront, raising awareness and social consciousness. Although the book can
be a bit thorny and challenging, it is certainly a worthwhile read.
Strangers from A Different Shore by
A Different Mirror by
Ever wonder why, in every small town, anywhere in the United States, there's
always a Chinese restaurant? Because it is authentically American! Takaki
is a pioneer of Asian American history. Here, he takes a blend of written
narrative, oral tradition, and personal account to chart out the long history
of Asians in America. He leaves no stone unturned: from the scratchings of
immigrants stuck on Angel Island to the Internment Camps, to the Chinese immigrants
who helped lay the tracks of the transcontinental railroad, to the Filipino
"manong" migrant workers who were co-colaborators with Chavez and the United
Farm Workers Union, to picture brides, the "model minority," and the continuing
waves of Asian immigrants and refugees. Takaki gives us a "panorama" of American
History that is rarely documented.
Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy by
Barrington Moore Jr.
Democracy in America by
The full title of this book is Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy:
Lord and peasant in the making of the modern world. This may sound like
a pretty heavy read, but I assure you it is not. Moore takes us on a journey
through each of the important revolutions in history Russia, China, France,
India, and the U.S., to name a few. He compares government and revolution,
theorizing why countries end up as democracies, fascist, or communist dictatorships.
Taking politics and class into account, Moore examines the roles the peasantry
and upper class had in shaping revolutions and modern society. His writing
style is very accessible, and it's a great read to boot.
of Extremes by Eric
See also: any other books by
Read! Hobsbawm's history of the world from 1914-1991.
Contemplate! each section of this book as Hobsbawm creates a narrative
explanation for the chaos of the 20th century.
Then, Marvel! at his subtle cynicism towards capitalism. What can I
say? He is totally intelligent, holds nothing back, and is one of the leading
historians of our time.
Literature and Culture (with a dash of music):
Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire by
Sonia Shah (Ed.)
Best read with: Iggy and the Stooges, Shonen Knife, Bikini Kill
I picked this up in the wake of Snow
Falling on Cedars and Memoirs
of a Geisha, and I highly recommend it because I feel that hearing an
Asian voice from a uniquely Asian perspective should be given its due. This
series of essays tackles issues immigration, sexuality, domestic violence,
and identity, to name a few by contributors of diverse Asian (and Asian
American) backgrounds. They are academic intellectuals, political analysts,
and activists all deconstructing race, class, and gender. Especially check
out the essay, Yellowdykecore: Queer, Punk and Asian: A round table discussion.
Also, for more Asian lit from an Asian perspective, check out:
American Visa by
Woman Warrior and
Maxine Hong Kingston
The Buddha of Suburbia by
Krak! by Edwidge
Best read with: The Fugees, Guru, McSolaar (or any other French hip-hop
In Haiti, when storytellers in the village cry out Krik!, you shout
Krak! if you want to hear a yarn spun. The nine stories of this novel
are strung together by political unrest, spirituality, love, and a myriad
of other emotions. Danticat writes with dustings of her Haitian language,
proving the transcendence of words to paper. I promise that you won't look
at butterflies the same way again. Just ask her hoards of fans.
Best read with: any score of showtunes performed by famous Filipino and
Filipina pop singers.
Imelda Marcos singing "Feelings" is actually the best suggestion I have, but if
you don't have the
record like I do, Morris Albert's rendition will suffice.
This whirlwind story takes us straight through the everything of the
Philippines: its decadently rich, its extreme poor, its nightlife, its junkies,
its politics...its food... Rio's story is enveloped by the other eccentric
characters, and thrown into the mix are American pop culture, the effect of
hundreds of years of colonialism, and Filipino tradition. Next, throw in a
dash of humor, a pinch of cynicism, then deep fry to get an all-too-real telling
of the modern ravaged Filipino society (always with a bit of gossip).
Pilgrims by Gabriel
Best read when listening to trip hop, ambient, or loading your CD player with
anything by Stereolab and Spiritualized.
He is the master of magical realism! This collection of short stories is one
of my favorite books of all time. Who else can weave a tale of children
swimming in light and a woman whose trade is to sell her dreams? Senior Garcia
Marquez writes tales only he can tell, taking us into a different plane of
reality; reading his stories always leaves me with an eerily odd and contented
feeling much like a watching a David Lynch movie.