- The Shahnameh is such a part of the culture that it is referenced and quoted by everyone from professors to butchers.
- The Iranian New Year is celebrated on the spring equinox, rather than January 1.
- The original religion of Iran (before Islam) was Zoroastrianism. People who practice Zoroastrianism now make up less than one percent of Iran's population, and they are not allowed to practice their religion.
- The Iranian version of Santa Claus is called Hajji Firuz. He wears red satin and dances in the streets with a trumpet and a tambourine.
- The Persian word "pairi daeza" means walled garden, and it's where the English word "paradise" comes from.
- In the eleventh century, the city of Herat, Afghanistan, grew 120 varieties of grapes.
- The word "Afghans" was originally related to the ancient Persian word for "noisy."
- Aryans were originally a group of people that lived in the area that now includes Iran. The term actually has very little to do with how Hitler co-opted it for Nazism.
Premise of the book: Nicholas Jubber travels through Iran and Afghanistan, as well as some countries of Central Asia, in an effort to see what life is like there today. In looking at the present, however, he discovers how much the past Persian culture is still a part of everyday lives in these countries - especially (and surprisingly) the epic poem Shahnameh written in the eleventh century.
Random Facts Learned By Reading This Book:
General thoughts on the book: It took me a little while to get into this book. To begin with, it seems like Jubber was just interested in the hidden drinking and parties of Iran. But once he began focusing on the Shahnameh and its echoes in modern Iranian culture, I was really drawn into the picture he was creating. This book turned out to be a fascinating look at Iran and Afghanistan, and I applaud his courage in the experiences he had to write it - traveling even into the center of the Taliban region of Afghanistan. If you're looking for insight into both the past and present of this area of the world, then you would find what you're looking for in this book.
I finished my first book for my Circumreading the World project already (mostly because I started before November. . .). One of the reasons I love travel narratives is that I get to learn about the places described. So rather than reviews, I'm going to post a list of fun facts that I learned from each book I read.
The premise of Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford is that he literally walked the path of the Amazon River, through Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. It took him 860 days and was a physically demanding and often dangerous journey. He was the first person to do so.
General thoughts on the book: Ed Stafford completed a remarkable feat. However, I think his book would have been better if it focused less on his day-to-day moods and more on the area he was traveling through.
I am incredibly ignorant of Asian history. This comes home to me every time I read a book set in the Eastern Hemisphere. I remember taking a class in European History in high school, but I don't think there was even one offered for Asian history. How much we are missing out on.
When My Name Was Keoko takes place in Korea during World War 2. Korea is controlled by Japan at this point in time, and has been since 1910. (Fact # 1 out of many that I learned by reading this book.) In an effort to gain more and more control over the Koreans, Japan decrees that every Korean has to change their name to a Japanese name. Sun-hee (who becomes Keoko) and Tae-yul (who becomes Nobuo) take turns narrating this story.
While the battlefields of World War 2 never come to Korea, that doesn't mean their lives are unaffected. The Japanese take their food and metal for resources, and conscript their young men and women into the work force. And always, they suppress Korea's identity and culture. Sun-hee and Tae-yul are both incredibly brave in their own ways as they seek to stay true to who they are.
This is a very powerful book. Being told from the point of view of children makes it even more so. If you are looking to learn something about Korean history or if you are looking for an entirely different perspective on World War 2, you can't do any better than to read When My Name Was Keoko.
Confession: I am a Jeopardy nerd. I love watching Jeopardy and confidently shouting out the answers before anyone can buzz in. I know for a fact, however, that I will never have the courage to actually try out for the show, let alone go on TV to show all my knowledge that I'm certain will fly right out of my head.
Ken Jennings, on the other hand, not only had the courage to try out for Jeopardy, he succeeded on being on the show for a record-breaking 75 episodes in 2004. Brainiac is the story of his time on Jeopardy. The view of Jeopardy behind-the-scenes is fascinating, as well as everything Jennings did to prepare himself for obscure categories and questions. It was also amusing to read about the elaborate stories he had to concoct to hide his weekly trips to Los Angeles (since no one is supposed to know what happens until the episodes air several months later). What really sold me on this book, though, was Jennings' humility. It would be so easy to brag and boast about your knowledge or skill, but Jennings never once falls into that trap. He is always humble about his abilities and grateful for the experiences he had.
In addition to the story of his time on Jeopardy, Brainiac explores the world of trivia in all of its many forms - from Trivial Pursuit to trivia pub nights. Random, mostly useless, facts hold a surprisingly central part in our culture. Maybe it's just my geekiness, but I loved learning about the history of trivia through Jennings' wry style.
I have read Jennings' two other books (Maphead and Because I Said So!) and thoroughly enjoyed them both. Brainiac is just as educational - and just as extraordinarily enjoyable!
Mary Roach is surely a writer with no fear. If she investigates a topic, she goes all the way, even experiencing weightlessness during a parabolic jet flight (something which would have certainly made me sick). If she writes about it, then she wants to experience it as best as she can.
Although, experiences are not the only way she shows no fear. She asks questions. Questions that would make the answerer uncomfortable. Questions that certainly cannot be described as tactful. Questions that would never even have crossed the mind of most people.
It is this quality of fearlessness that makes Mary Roach’s books the wonders that they are. Packing for Mars investigates all sorts of aspects of space travel, everything from donning a space suit to why you may want to avoid going to the bathroom for the duration of your stay in space. I learned things about life in space that I never wanted to know (but found strangely fascinating, nevertheless).
Reading one of Mary Roach’s books is like having a cup of coffee with that girl in school who was never afraid to say what she was thinking. Packing for Mars was informative (perhaps a little too much so) and hilarious. Anyone interested in astronauts or life in space should read this book. Actually, anyone who is interested in laughing out loud at completely random facts should read this book. And isn’t that all of us?
I've read a lot of books lately, but haven't written many reviews. In order to catch up a little, I thought I would challenge myself to put my thoughts succinctly. One sentence of summary, one sentence of review. We'll see how well this works. (I tend to be a wordy person. . .)
How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown
Because I Said So!: The Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings
Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong
The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera
How does Bill Bryson do it? Every time? I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of work and research time that would go into a book like One Summer: America, 1927. What organizational system would you need to keep track of all of the people and facts and connections between them? How would you choose what and who to talk about when? And how would you do so in a manner that remains interesting – fascinating, even – for more than four hundred pages? And not just fascinating, but humorous. I laughed out loud several times when reading this book.
You would certainly need be a talented writer to pull all this off, and Bill Bryson has proven time and again that that is exactly what he is. One Summer: America, 1927 is no exception. It is well-researched, well-written, and extremely memorable. I’m still spouting facts I learned from it weeks after reading it. I had heard of many of these people and events prior to reading this book, but I had no idea how much happened during the summer of 1927 – or how connected these people and events turned out to be.
I was hooked from page one and delighted until the very end. This book is a fascinating look at life in America in the 1920s. You don’t even have to be a history buff to enjoy it. You just have to like a good story. And Bill Bryson has indeed provided us with one of those once again.
Polar bears are my favorite animal, an obsession I think began with the first stuffed animal I received as a baby. I have polar bear calendars and paintings and glass statues. In my opinion, there’s no point in visiting a zoo if they don’t have polar bears. So when I saw the title of this book on the library shelf, I snatched it up immediately.
It was different than I expected, but I wasn’t disappointed in any way. The subtitle is “A family field trip to the Arctic’s Edge in search of adventure, truth, and mini-marshmallows.” The author and his family moved to Churchill, Manitoba for several months one fall (prime polar bear viewing season). So I figured the focus of the book would be on their trials and discoveries as a family. Instead, the focus of the book was on polar bears and the effects of global warming. There are currently two camps of scientists who have rather different opinions of the direness of the situation for polar bears. Unger explores both of these theories in depth, as well as introducing us to the big players in the polar bear tourism industry. It was a more scientific book than I was expecting, but that didn’t make it any less interesting.
That being said, this book probably isn’t for everyone. If you have no interest in polar bears or couldn’t care less about global warming, then you would most likely be bored reading this book. It’s more science than family field trip. But if either of those areas strikes your fancy, you should definitely give Unger’s book a try. It provides insight into this scientific field in an extremely accessible and occasionally humorous way.
It always amazes me how writers of nonfiction can turn one very specific subject into a full-length, fascinating book. I mean, this is a book about one guy – Glenn Gould. And not even his entire career, but one specific part of his career – the search for his ideal piano. That sounds like material for a newspaper or magazine article, not a whole book.
But Katie Hafner makes it work, and brilliantly so. The book obviously does cover more than just that one specific part of Gould’s life. Hafner tells us about Gould’s childhood, his concert career, and his relationships with others. Through it all, she makes him into a very sympathetic and likable man, although many that knew him would have told you differently. Yet the focus never strays too far from Gould’s working relationship with the Steinway company, and his very particular demands for a piano.
That focus also encompasses Gould’s tuner for many years, a man who was almost entirely blind and certainly entirely gifted. I’ve played piano since I was five years old, and I had no idea of everything that could be done to tweak a piano’s sound or feel. It goes way beyond tuning to voicing and other such techniques that take hours upon hours of painstaking work. I found these descriptions as fascinating as anything Hafner had to say about Gould.
Glenn Gould was an eccentric man with unique demands for his perfect piano. Katie Hafner is an author who brings that search – and Gould’s world – to life in the most compelling way possible.
And in case you're curious (as I was), here is a video of Gould playing on his ideal piano.
I visited Italy earlier this summer – Florence, Pisa, Milan, and Venice. Before I go on a big trip like this, I like to find out more about the area I’m going to visit. And what better way to do that than reading? If you’re planning to head to any of these places in the future, or if you've already visited them and want to know more, or if you’re an armchair traveler that loves learning about Italy, then I recommend any of the books below!
My name is Julie, and I own a lot of books. As in, they are stacked on the floor because I've run out of room on the shelves. And those shelves? There are so many books on them that they smile -- not sag; smile. This blog will cover book reviews and all manner of other bookish things.
You can contact me at email@example.com.