Destiny Disrupted: a history of the world through Islamic eyes

One of the first things you learn as a history student is how one sided history can be. I know I can say with certainty that I never spent more than a chapter or two learning anything of note from the Eastern World while I was in high school in America; in fact it took a burning curiosity with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia that led to me learning anything at all about the region. And after visiting the area several times and interacting with a lot of locals, I was curious to learn more.

I initially picked up this book after reading a couple historical fiction novels set around the time that Islam was founded. I was really intrigued with reading a history book from a perspective different from my own. The book was written by an Afghan man born and raised in Afghanistan and who eventually moved to the US. Working in the history textbook industry, he noticed that textbooks in the Western world glossed over huge portions of history and that eventually led him to write this book.

The book covers over 1000 years of history but spends a lot of time centered around the hundred or so years surrounding the life and death of the prophet Muhammad. And I have to say that I liked where this book took me.

I really enjoyed this book for several reasons. First I enjoyed the the narrative style of the book. This book was written in such a way that someone who is not a history person could pick it up and gain some value from it. Secondly, I really admire how he was able to keep a narrative, almost conversational style while not sacrificing historical value. I have suffered through so many history books as a history major that this was a nice change.

But what I enjoyed most about this book was being able to view historical events not as how they affect the US or Europe, but how world events shaped those countries in the Middle East. It was also fascinating to get a glimpse into the eastern perspective on current events that eventually led to some of the tensions between east and west that still exist today.

I read this book through a combination of audiobook (The audiobook is narrated by the author so that was nice) and paperback and if I had to offer any complaint, it would be how as the book made its way towards the modern day, I felt like less time was spent on things. One day I was driving to work listening and my attention wandered for a minute (damn San Diego traffic) and suddenly the Russians and Germans had entered the scene and the world was approaching WWII. I ended up going back to reread that whole section.

In a nutshell, I can’t recommend this book enough. If you have any interest in current events or history, I think this is a great read.

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Book Buying Ban: A loose interpretation

Back in December I decided I needed to formulate my New Years resolution and I went on a book buying ban. It went great until January 7th when I went to the teacher supply store, which just so happens to be next door to Barnes and Noble. One book I said to myself… just to tide me over till the ban ends. Then I laughed with glee as I skipped out of the store with three books. Now it’s for real I said to myself. A week later as I’m walking down the aisles of Barnes and Noble sipping my venti iced vanilla latte with coconut milk, BELLA NEEDED A REPLACEMENT COPY OF THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR DONT JUDGE ME, I spotted a paperback version of the audiobook I was listening to. Ok so I didn’t so much spot it as ask if they had a copy but I NEEDED it. It’s a history book. Non fiction doesn’t count right?

The next two weeks went well. Then for Valentine’s Day my husband offered me a trip to the bookstore to buy one book in lieu of a gift and I’m like YESSS PLEASE. I mean it had been almost 3 weeks, AGES since I’d been in the bookstore. I chose a Dungeons and Dragons player’s handbook since my husband and I were starting a campaign.

Is it my fault that on the way out they had a beautiful special edition illustrated copy of Game of Thrones, just in time for the new season to come out?

The rest of February went well and as we approached March 2nd (Read Across America day and Dr. Seuss’ birthday) Bella and I had an event to go to (at the bookstore, don’t judge me cause I’m promoting early literacy in my little one 🙃) I managed to walk out of the bookstore with only children’s books. Yes, I walked out with three middle grade books in addition to the picture books and yes Bella was still only two at the time and can’t read middle grade fiction… but she will one day. So the ban went well from there until the middle of March when both mine and Bella’s birthdays fall and my mom and mother in law sent Barnes and Noble gift cards. I was going to save them but since I was going to be going away for some work duties (where I’m literally away from civilization) I decided to spend them.  Two more for me and two more for Bella.  So I went away for work and read a bunch in my spare time.  When I came home, it was time to buy Bella a new “big girl bed” so we went to Ikea, which just so happens to be on the same street as Barnes and Noble and naturally I was thrilled when my now three year old asked me to take her to the bookstore. So of course we went, and I managed to walk out with no books for myself (two for Bella) so yay me. The next day, after stopping at Chick Fil A for some food, I realized it’s right next to the Indie book store I’ve been wanting to check out since I saw their booth at the Festival of books back in September, so I went in.  They had gorgeous displays and they had book merchandise and they were so friendly and awesome.  I bought myself one book and another for Bella. 

At this point, I’m starting to feel the faint stirrings of guilt. Is it something I ate? Something mean I said to someone? The amount of times I’ve purchased a book or two (Couldn’t be)? Then I asked myself who’s fucking idea was it to go on a book buying ban in the first place? This is stupid. So if I want a book, I’m going to buy it.

The Epic of Gilgamesh… and how it was boring the sh*t outta me.

After putting it off since, oh I dunno, like FOREVER, I finally purchased a copy and decided to tackle this. One of my reading projects is reading chronologically through the ages (more about that in another post) and what better way to start than with the oldest known epic.

If you are unfamiliar with what this is about, here is a brief synopsis:

*contains some spoilers if you’ve never heard of the story*

The city of Uruk is the self proclaimed most badass city in the world ruled by the handsomest, strongest, bravest guy in the world… Gilgamesh. He’s two thirds divine and also a bit of a douche so the citizens cry out to the gods for relief who respond by creating a rival for Gilgamesh. This rival, called Enkidu, is a wild man who lives out in the wilderness with the animals. Stuff happens and so a temple prostitute is sent out to the wilderness to civilize this guy. We then get an account of how Enkidu is such a man that he has sex with this woman for 7 days and 6 nights straight and suddenly he’s civilized and goes back to the city with her. He decides to fight Gilgamesh and the two decide they should become besties (obviously). They then decide to go wreck shit up in the Cedar forests of Lebanon. Later they get into a shouting match with the goddess Ishtar which culminates with Enkidu launching the thigh of the bull of heaven into Ishtar’s face (yes you read that correctly). Obviously Enkidu needs to die for that disrespect and Gilgamesh is inconsolable. He decides to go on yet more adventures to try and find a way around death and seeks out Utnapishtim, the Noah character of the Sumerian flood story. This ends up not working how he planned and eventually Gilgamesh learns that death is inevitable and so he decides to go back and rule his city that he abandoned.

My thoughts:

I have to point out that I didn’t do a lot of research before beginning this and so I picked up a copy without verifying the version (total rookie mistake). Being such an old story, there are many different versions of it recorded on stone tablets in languages ranging from Akkadian to Babylonian. I knew a little background of the story before reading so I was somewhat bewildered when I started reading and whole sections of the text were missing. Not only is it an ancient text with nothing I can relate to, it was also missing large chunks of the story (see below) and there were long sections where I wasn’t sure what was happening. Needless to say I started getting bored and put it away for days at a time.

Determined to get through it, I bought the audiobook… and LOVED it. Because I purchased the audiobook of the ancient Babylonian version there were fewer gaps and it flowed so smoothly and George Guidall as a narrator is on point. I was able to follow along for the most part with my paperback and the experience went from boring to thoroughly entertaining.

The story itself is difficult to critique. This is a piece of literature that is thousands of years old, so while I cannot stand Gilgamesh, I understand that to an ancient he probably had impressive qualities. I also realize that I probably do not appreciate it for the reasons I should. I was amused and entertained when a contemporary of the work would have been awed and impressed. There were adventures galore but I found myself giggling a lot because Gilgamesh was super extra and a lot of the dialogue amused me.

All in all, I do think the book ended on a serious note and focusing on a solemn theme and I do think there were a lot of adventures but I could not stand any of the characters. I am glad I’ve read this and I would love to hear other people’s opinions of it so please tell me if you loved or hated this.

Reading with toddlers: rereading the same book over and over… and over again

Recently, we’ve been obsessing over the original Very Hungry Caterpillar book. Like, I’m not even exaggerating when I say we read it ten times last Sunday. We even got to the point where I was so sick of reading it over and over that day, that I let Bella watch YouTube videos of caterpillars turning into butterflies for an hour. Oh and guess what? Thanks to YouTube showing related videos, my toddler found… that’s right, you guessed it… a video of someone reading the Hungry Hungry Caterpillar! Yay! As if I hadn’t had enough already. And instead of me reading it ten more times I got to hear someone else read it 5 more times. At which point I was caterpillar’d out and it was bedtime for Bella. The resulting toddler meltdown was almost comical with her sobs of “I want paterpiller (caterpillar)”.

Now of course, this is not a new thing. Our trusty standby and all time favorite, The Cat in the Hat, is read so often that we’ve literally memorized it. And we’ve read The Little Red Hen so many times that the last page fell out.

But the funny thing is, I’m not even mad. Yea it may get mind numbing after a while, but toddlers learn a lot through repetition and I couldn’t be happier that story time is one of her favorite daily activities… and that she wants to spend time with ME. Just to see her wide grin when I sit and listen to her “reading” the same book back to me is worth it.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s abc

Happy Sunday! Or happy whatever-day-you-are-Reading-this! So, my daughter Bella immediately spotted this book at Barnes and Noble the other day because she’s a huge fan of the original Very Hungry Caterpillar Book and even though we have several other abc books, I bought it because I typically have a rule that I never say no to buying a book (within reason). Well we brought it home and have been going through it everyday for the last couple weeks and I have to say that I didn’t expect to like it this much.

Bella’s thoughts:

She likes the paterpiller (Caterpillar) and the letters. “It’s so funny”.

My thoughts:

I love the bright colors because it instantly draws the eye to the page and Makes it easy for a two and three year old to focus as you read through the letters. Since the book features the same Caterpillar and art work from the original book, it makes it easily recognizable and I appreciate that for Bella who loves the original book. Another thing that I love is the fact that each letter takes up most of the page. I was getting really tired of books that feature the letter and then a picture of some sort and some words because often it distracts a small child from the main point, which is the letter. But what I love most about this book is that it is all lower case letters. Most of what they read is in lower case and it is often recommended to begin there. Of course, the kids are going to learn all their letters regardless, but if I can help my daughter become a confident reader in any way, I will try.

The one thing I didn’t like about this book was the height of the letters. In trying to make the letters cute and chubby, some of the letters are not tall enough. As an example, Bella is constantly confusing d and a because the tall part of the lower case d is not that tall so it looks a bit like an a and I can easily see why she keeps making that mistake.

All in all it’s adorable and engaging for a little one who’s interested in “doing letters” and learning to read.

Once Upon a River: my thoughts

Hey, fellow readers! Unrelated to the review, but totally related to the cover of this book: this book had been on my shelf for over two weeks and I was probably a good 100 pages in before I realized that the river on the cover is actually a swan. 😆 See, what had happened was with the lighting being dim and all and with my eyesight… ok fine, I just didn’t notice.

A brief synopsis: On a cold winter’s night, Mid Winter’s night in fact, a group of regulars are gathered at their favorite inn on the river, drinking and telling stories when a severely injured man bursts into the inn with a drowned little girl in his arms. When the little girl, who is clearly dead, awakens several hours later, it sets off a chain of events and the reader is left to guess whether something supernatural is at work here or whether there is a rational explanation.

My thoughts:

I really loved the characters in this book. They were so fleshed out and complex and with the amount of main characters, that was no small feat. I think Robert Armstrong is my favorite character I’ve come across in years. Rita Sunday was also a favorite of mine. I love how Ms. Setterfield managed to make a strong female character without trying to make her “edgy” and unpleasant. I was so invested in everything that was happening to all of these characters that I even shed a few tears when they encountered certain situations. I also thought it clever how she incorporated a black main character in a book that takes place in Victorian England. She managed to make me hate the antagonist(s) and love the rest of the characters so I’d say she nailed the characters.

As far as plot is concerned, I could not put this down once I picked it up. The atmosphere was perfect and I love how the different character’s paths intertwined to create a real suspenseful read. The whole book was incredibly mysterious and for most of the book I was wondering whether something paranormal was going on or whether there was some rational explanation for everything that happened. There were also a lot of difficult themes in this book that could potentially trigger some people but I really felt it was worth it. I found the parts dealing with the loss of a child to be especially difficult but the end result was so worth it.

The book was also very beautifully written. It came across like literary fiction without being to flowery and over the top so I really think people who shy away from LitFic would enjoy it if they like a good mystery.

It may only be February but I can tell this is going to be one of my favorite books this year and I will be recommending this book to everyone I know.

My Best and Worst Books of 2018

I was pretty fortunate in my reading life in 2018. Out of 87 books read, there were none I absolutely hated. At worst, there were a couple I mildly disliked and a couple I had such conflicted feelings about that I couldn’t decide how I felt about them. However, I finally realized that if I don’t hurry up and get this posted, I’d be posting my best and worst of 2018 in the beginning of 2020. So without further ado here are my favorite and not so favorite books of 2018.

Favorite Books:

  • North and South -Elizabeth Gaskell
  • War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
  • The Shuttle – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Language of Thorns – Leigh Bardugo
  • The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

Not So Favorite Books:

  • The City of Brass – S. A. Chakraborty
  • The Fair Barbarian – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  • The Hazelwood – Melissa Albert
  • The Dumbhouse – John Burnside

I’d say I had a pretty successful year. I could only come up with 5 ish books out of 87 that I really didn’t care for. But thanks for joining me. Let me know if you agree or disagree on any of these books I listed!