Fire Shut Up in My Bones is an often tragic memoir of an African-American man growing up in Louisiana, with an overwhelmed mother stuck in a bad marriage and later struggling financially as a single mother with few work opportunities, despite her college degree, in a racist town. He talks about his abuse at the end of a relative, the crazy hazing at his fraternity, and finally his chance to work as a New York Times journalist. It’s an inspiring, if grim story.
Another weird book! Plain Simple Useful: The Essence of Conran Style awkwardly combines fervent sales pitches for Conran-designed products, embarrassing boasts of his possessions (reminiscent of Martha Stewart, “in my farm with the 1000-square foot kitchen…”), dumbed-down decorating advice (sample: for children’s rooms, focus on safety, no trailing wires), and… very beautiful photographs of lovely spaces, with lovely objects, arranged in lovely ways.
My advice: pretend you cannot read!
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch is a very strange book, since its aim is to provide a compendium of what humanity would need to know if some cataclysm was to wipe off most of the work population, forcing us to rebuild civilization with a handful of people. Weird, right? And weirder yet, that it should be a particular kind of cataclysm, one that wipes out people but not things — after all, as the author points out, one supermarket could feed one of us for over 50 years (longer if we are willing to eat cat food). And in this new world, it seems to me that my first concern may not be weaving cloth. If I can live off the supermarket for 50 years, imagine what I can do with a Nordstrom (or Walmart) nearby!
In any case, in the new world I want to be close to a mechanical engineer, who would be able, presumably, to build the various machines (including a steel mill!) presented in the book. And I want a chemist to help me make soap without blowing up, and a biologist to re-invent penicillin. Sweet, my three kids are all accounted for.
(And of course, we will all have out this book in the bunker where we will be hiding, waiting for the end. And no word on how to rebuild the more important part of society like peacekeeping, education, and the like. Technology will be enough, presumably.)
What happens in a society where women count for so little that daughters are seem as essentially worthless? Well, some of these daughters may be brought up as boys. The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan follows several of these girls, whose “secret”, interestingly, is not much of it, as most of the adults and children around them know that they are girls even if they are dressed as boys and, most important, allowed to act as boys. The normal expectation is that, at puberty, they will revert to their birth gender, although it’s not always easy to return to second-class citizen after having tasted the first-class life.
The author relies on a precious few examples, so this is far from a magisterial narrative, and she occasionally lapses into infelicitous general explorations of gender or politics — but the stories of these girls, and the society they live in, are haunting.