Sunday, February 27, 2011

Composed A Memoir

Motivation for Reading:
I became a Rosanne Cash fan the day I listened to this interview on NPR where Rosanne talks about the songs she wrote for her album Black Cadillac. When I heard she had written Composed: A Memoir I knew I had to read it.

What this book is not:
If you are looking for a tell-all memoir in which Rosanne Cash spills the dirt on the Cash family or her fellow musicians this is not the book for you.

What this book is:
The book, which began as a series of essays Rosanne wrote after she temporarily lost her voice to polyps, is an inspiring look into Rosanne’s transformation into the artist and person she is today.

My Thoughts:
Despite being the daughter of a music icon, Rosanne seems ordinary and down to earth. While reading I felt as if I was having coffee with a friend. She describes her girlhood foibles, her crushes, and her insecurities. I could relate to her vulnerability. She writes of coming to terms with her appearance and her thoughts on having it all.

On her decision to quit acting school:
I recognized that I could not bring myself to go on auditions, and the idea of drawing so much attention to my physical appearance, a significant part of getting a job, was absolutely horrifying. I was already obsessed with the worry I had the wrong kind of nose to be a great actress. After comparing my ski-slope nose with that of every actress I could think of I found that not a single one shared my exact shape, which I interpreted as a fundamental indication of my acting ability. (Pg. 66)
On having it all:
After I had my first baby, Caitlin Rivers Crowell I felt a constant slow burn of panic; I just didn’t know how to manage it all. Was I really supposed to quit being a musician now and be a mother? Is that what the anxiety was trying to tell me - that I had to give up something? I didn’t want to end my career, but how did a person do both? (Pg. 88)
Although her essays on her childhood, her marriages, her children and the death of her loved ones are interesting my favorite is her essay on the dream that inspired her artistic growth:

It began with a dream:
Carl Jung said that a person might have five “big” dreams in her life – dreams that promote a shift in consciousness.

She had read an interview with Linda Ronstadt in which Linda said that in committing to artistic growth, you had to "refine your skills to support your instincts."

Shortly after reading this interview Rosanne had a dream where she was at a party sitting on a sofa with Linda and an elderly man.

The man turned his head slowly from Linda to me and looked me up and down with obvious disdain and an undisguised lack of interest. "We don't respect dilettantes" he spat out. From the moment I changed the way I approached songwriting, I changed how I sang, I changed my work ethic, and I changed my life. (Pg. 112)
She signed up for voice training.

Instead of toying with ideas I examined them, and tested the authenticity of my instincts musically. I stretched my attention span consciously. I read books on writing by Natalie Goldberg and Carolyn Heilbrun and began to self-edit and refine more and went deeper into every process involved with writing and musicianship.

I started painting so I could learn about the absence of words and sound and why I needed them and what I actually wanted to say with them. (Pg. 113)
The interview on NPR that I mentioned above was not my first encounter with Rosanne Cash. I had seen her perform earlier in her career on Austin City Limits; I had been curious to see if she looked and sounded like her father. I have to admit I wasn’t overly impressed. Her voice was pretty, but didn’t have the range and depth of her later music. Last night, I watched a more recent Rosanne Cash performance also on Austin City Limits where she performs songs from her album The List. After this viewing I must say Rosanne Cash has truly been transformed.

Rosanne was only 55 when she completed Composed: A Memoir. Imagine how much more is in store for Rosanne and how many more hurdles she may have to endure. She has recently announced on twitter @rosannecash that throat polyps have reappeared and once again doctors have restricted her from using her voice.

In closing, this book is a great selection for my Making Women Count Project. Rosanne is a strong woman willing to do the work required to transform her life into the best it can be.  She provides us with the inspiration to compile a road map for our own journey.

She offers hope for us all:
Maybe some of the other burdens I had carried from the past into my adult life had also been based on equally false assumptions, and maybe I could review some of them now, find a fatal flaw in my logic, revise my prospects for the future, make my way through my personal mazes and put away some of my regrets and obsessions. It was never too late to undo who you had become. (Pg. 157)

See also:
TJ's Top Songs Discovered in 2010

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Life in France

Motivation for reading:
I added Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme's book My Life in France to my reading list after a friend recommended it. He found Julia’s story fascinating and was convinced her husband Paul worked as a spy while they were in Europe. The book is also included on the list of 50 Books Every Young Woman Should Read.

What is the book about?
The book was written by Julia Child in the last few years of her life with the assistance of her grand-nephew, writer Alex Prud'Homme. It is based on the letters Julia and her husband Paul wrote to family and friends while living in Europe most notably the letters Paul sent to his twin brother Charles. The book begins when Julia moves to France in 1948 and covers her life while emphasizing her passion for French cooking.

My thoughts:
This book is a delightful read; there is so much to learn and enjoy from Julia's story:

First, I have come to the conclusion there is not a woman out there who has not suffered from imposter syndrome at some point during their lives.

When Julia and Paul first arrive in France:

Paul strode ahead, full of anticipation, but I hung back, concerned that I didn't look chic enough, that I wouldn't be able to communicate, and that the waiters would look down their long Gallic noses at us Yankee tourists. (Pg. 16)
My biggest problem was my continuing lack of worldliness. Maybe if you concentrate on the fact that you are 41 years old. I scolded my reflection; you'd remember to be more worldly. (Pg. 177)

Maybe there is hope for me yet ~ Julia was a late bloomer:
Julia married Paul Child, the love of her life, when she was 34. Upon arriving in France, she didn’t know a word of French, nothing about the country or French cooking. She was 37 when she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu cooking school:

Upon reflection, I decided I had three main weaknesses: I was confused (evidenced by a lack of facts, an inability to coordinate my thoughts, and an inability to verbalize my ideas); I had a lack of confidence, which caused me to back down from forcefully stated positions; and I was overly emotional at the expense of careful, “scientific” thought. I was thirty-seven years old and still discovering who I was. (Pg. 67)

Julia's success has to be attributed to her perfectionism and her uncompromising work ethic:
While working on her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which took her almost eight years to complete, she tested, and re-tested the recipes, sometimes dozens of times. All of this was done with no guarantee that the book would ever be published.

I had to iron out all those questions of how and why and for what reason: otherwise we'd end up with just an ordinary recipe- which was not the point of the book. I felt we should show our readers how to make everything top notch, and explain, if possible,, why things work one way and not another. There should be no compromise. (Pg, 133)
Her cooking advice ~ don’t make excuses:
I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one's hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as "Oh, I don't know how to cook...," or "Poor little me...," or "This may taste awful...," it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one's shortcomings (or perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, "Yes, you're right, this really is an awful meal!" (Pg. 71)

And have fun:
My hope was that readers would use From Julia Child's Kitchen as if it were a private cooking school. I tried to structure each recipe as a class. And the great lesson embedded in the book is that no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing. This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun! (Pg. 297)
On why she never opened a restaurant ~ she knew herself:

I had long ago decided not to go into the restaurant trade myself, because it required total commitment; furthermore, in a restaurant one is restricted to cooking what’s on the menu, and I preferred to experiment with many different dishes. (Pg. 294)

A lesson on moving on ~ giving up La Pitchoune her beloved home in France:
People seemed surprised when I told them that it wasn’t an especially difficult or emotional decision. But I have never been very sentimental. La Pitchoune was a special place, but the heart had gone out of it for me now. It was the people I shared it with, more than the physical property, that I would miss. (Pg. 300)

In closing:
Julia’s success in a male-dominated field came at a time when few American middle-class women worked out of the home. There are many business and life lessons to attain from her story, for example how Julia used her network to get Mastering the Art of French Cooking published, how she managed working with her two partners and her graduation from Le Cordon Bleu despite initially failing the final exam. In addition to her incredible work ethic, Julia was gracious and had fun. Read her book to learn how she did it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Muslim Women Reformers

Motivation for reading: I came across Ida Lichter’s book Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression on Lisa’s Online Publicist blog. Thinking it would be a great read for my Make Women Count Project I requested a review copy. Thanks Lisa for providing me with this opportunity.

Summary (from the press release): In a world where the strident demands of Islamic extremists capture the media’s attention, the courageous protests of Muslim reformers barely receive any notice. These include a surprising number of women who are prepared to challenge institutionalized persecution, risking derision, arrest, physical harm, and even death.

In this inspiring compilation of Muslim women’s stories from around the world, the voices of these long-oppressed women ring loud and clear as they question ideology and culture, patriarchal and religious beliefs, and demand the social and political rights women lack in many Muslim countries. The reformers speak out with passion, humanity, and sometimes humor in these compact and often poignant biographies, bringing alive the harsh realities for women in many parts of the world.

By surveying a wide range of Muslim reformers, not only in the Middle East but also in Europe and North America, author Ida Lichter uncovers some significant emerging trends. For example, she notes that the majority of Muslim feminists would like to see reform contained within Islam. Many criticize their patriarchal culture for suppressing egalitarian views that they believe the Koran expresses and so they advocate a reinterpretation of the holy text. Some demand changes to discriminatory Sharia-based laws. Others campaign openly for political and educational reforms.

Complete with a glossary and a list of helpful Web sites, this vibrant anthology makes use of reliable translations from original languages to demonstrate the groundswell of grassroots change that promises eventually to bring even the most conservative sectors of Islam into the twenty-first century.

My Thoughts: My first thought was the stories of the courageous women detailed in this book were both eye-opening and disturbing; I’ve since come to the conclusion that that was an understatement. I’ve read other books covering the lack of women’s rights in Muslim countries, but I had no idea how widespread the problem is or how horrific. Women working for reform in the Muslim world are imprisoned, tortured, burnt, attacked with acid and even murdered if caught educating other women or speaking out against their government. Not to mention the honor killings, polygamy, genital mutilation, child rape, gang rape, and stonings that appear to be common occurrences in some Muslim countries.

Why do these women risk their lives and security to reform Islamic restrictions on women’s freedom?
They have everything to lose if the extremists take over and everything to gain if they succeed. In the current social structure women are considered third class citizens at best and have no avenues for recourse open to them to seek justice for the atrocities committed against them:

In Afghanistan rape is not an offense under the criminal code (Pg. 50)

In some countries women have even lost ground. Reforms that were previously put in place were lost when extremist governments came into power.

Is there anything those of us in the western world can do to help?
According to Algerian feminist Khalida Messaoudi:

We are dealing with an influential fundamentalist international that has a clear strategy. In order to secure women’s rights, we need a democratic international of women- otherwise we have absolutely no chance of conquering this beast. Not only Algerian, but Sudanese Iranian and Afghani women know what I am talking about. They know the horror of “God’s state” all too well. But alone, without your support, without the women’s and human rights movement of the countries of the West, we are losing this battle of life and death.” (Pg. 70)
In my opinion, true reform will not occur without the assistance of global human rights groups. It is important for westerners to know of these Muslim women reformers and help spread their message.

A caveat:
Although this book is an important read and the stories of these women have to be told this book is not an easy read. It is organized like an encyclopedic reference book and reads like one as well. I attempted to glean the important messages from each country and story, but the more I read the more difficult it became.  The stories began to blend together. I came to the conclusion it would be best to read this book in small doses preferably one country at a time.

For example:
Last week, I read the stories of the women of Egypt with interest particularly the story of Nonie Darwish adding her book Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror to my TBR list.

If you enjoyed this review you may also like:

"In the Name of Honor" is an important book that deserves to be read

Was opening the "Kabul Beauty School" A truly unselfish act?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Talkin’ Books Tuesdays

Quite some time ago, I came to the conclusion I don’t read enough books in a year to become a full-time book blogger, but I’ve always envisioned writing more posts where I discuss books and reading in general. So I’ve come up with a new feature where I will do just that: “Talkin’ books Tuesdays.”

In this week’s Talkin’ Books Tuesday post I am featuring books I’ve recently added to my TBR list:

Prisoners in the Palace: How Princess Victoria became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel by Micheala MacColl.
I've always enjoyed historical fiction, but it was Heather's review at Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books that convinced me I have to read this book. She liked the book so much that she had to learn more about Queen Victoria so she rented the movie The Young Victoria. After the book and the movie she was STILL interested in learning more so she went to the library and got a DVD called Empires: Queen Victoria's Empire. She writes:
So, when a book inspires me to learn more (and more) I feel quite good about that book.  I've already recommended it to a friend who teaches high school - I think her students would be attracted to the cover and would really enjoy the book as well.
How can I pass up a book that has provided so much inspiration?

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
I discovered this book on Rick Librarian's blog. He writes:
While most of the book focuses on the 1860s and 1870s, it retains its relevance, as the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have never gone away.

This is the line that convinced me I need to read this book:
Young readers may have difficulty believing that the shocking events described are true. How could our country ever been like this? This is precisely why having such books in school and public library is so important.
I recently came across Must-read Economics a list of favorite economics books provided by Planet Money on NPR. I enjoy a good book list as well as reading books about economics. Naturally, I want to read all of the books on the list, but I've narrowed my choices down to two both written by a woman author:

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx
Here is the recommendation by Alex:
One of the best books I read about economics, is a book which on the surface has nothing to do with economics. It's the true story of two girls coming of age in the South Bronx. It's riveting and devastating, and lays out better than anything else I've seen or read how the circumstances into which you're born affect your economic future. I think about it all the time.

And lastly:
Pietra Rivoli’s The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade
Chana says:
The book was a huge inspiration for the t-shirt project but also for economic storytelling in general. It’s a completely honest, curious exploration of globalization carried along by a very specific search for the origin of our clothes.