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Miel's Picks


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:


Social Science Books That Not Only Deal with History, but the Cultural, Social, and Political Complexities Within It (Whew! Say that five times fast):

Orientalism Orientalism by Edward Said
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.

See also: Unthinking Eurocentrism by Ella Shohat and Robert Stam

Strangers from A Different Shore by Ron Takaki
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.

See also: A Different Mirror by Ron Takaki

Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy by Barrington Moore Jr.
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.

See also: Democracy in America by Alexis DeTocqueville

Age of Extremes Age of Extremes by Eric Hobsbawm
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.

See also: any other books by him!

Literature and Culture (with a dash of music):

Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire by Sonia Shah (Ed.)
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.

Best read with: Iggy and the Stooges, Shonen Knife, Bikini Kill
Also, for more Asian lit from an Asian perspective, check out:
American Visa by Wang Ping
Woman Warrior and Chinamen by Maxine Hong Kingston
The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

Krik! Krak! Krik! Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
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: The Fugees, Guru, McSolaar (or any other French hip-hop artist)

Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn
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).

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.

Strange Pilgrims Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
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.

Best read when listening to trip hop, ambient, or loading your CD player with anything by Stereolab and Spiritualized.

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