I used to be very linear when it came to reading. I would never start a new book until I’d finished the one I was on. Lately, I find myself engrossed in several books simultaneously; all seemingly distinct and yet, for me, inextricably linked. Here’s what’s stacked on my nightstand:
Out of Africa by Isak Dinessen
“Out of Africa” is my all-time favorite movie. I could watch Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in their romantic flight over the pristine landscapes of Kenya a million times and never tire of it. I can hum the soundtrack for that sequence without a moment’s hesitation. But I’d never read the memoir by Isak Dinessen that inspired the movie. My husband, who knows how much I love the movie — and how interested I’ve become in all things Africa since my trip to Ethiopia last summer — bought the book for me at Christmas. I love that the author’s real first name is Karen and that she was born on April 17 (our wedding date) in 1885 (exactly 100 years before my son Andy was born).
The Best American Magazine Writing 2010
It was Andy who gave me the next book I’m enjoying. As a writer himself (he works for POLITICO in Washington, D.C.), he knows how valuable inspiration from the great writing of others can be. Former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham wrote the introduction to this volume of what has become an annual collection of the country’s best, as selected by the American Society of Magazine Editors. I love the way he describes his fervent belief that, regardless of where the magazine industry is headed in this fast-changing technological world, “the love of story is what endures through the storms and crises.”
INFIDEL, by Ayaan Hirshi Ali
This one is a loaner from my mom, with whom I often swap great books. She knew I would be interested in it, partly because the author spent some of her early life in Ethiopia. Her description of what it was like to undergo female circumcision (at her grandmother’s insistence!) made my skin crawl. Her escape from a forced marriage and the stifling roles facing women in her strict Muslin community is inspiring.
Lanie and Lanie’s Real Adventures by Jane Kurtz
I became a fan of author Jane Kurtz last summer, when she stumbled upon a blog I’d written about getting shots for my trip to Ethiopia and responded to let me know she’d grown up there. I immediately subscribed to her blog, “The Power of One Writer,” then purchased (and read) all of her children’s books that are based in Ethiopia.
I discovered that Jane also has authored two books in the American Girl series. Her character Lanie was the “Girl of the Year 2010” and is a naturally curious adventurer amid the wonders of her own backyard.
I never had a daughter, so I missed the whole American Girl experience. Jane’s books are giving me a taste of it. And her blog posts, many of which focus on her continuing efforts to provide books to the children of Ethiopia, inspired me to make the first of many modest but heartfelt contributions to the Ethiopia Reads program.
The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Maia Szalavitz
The full title of this formidable book is The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing.
Sounds like kind of a downer, right? The author, who has treated children who have undergone all sorts of horrific experiences, describes what happens to the brain when children undergo extreme stress — and how innovative treatments are helping them overcome early trauma to live happy, healthy adult lives.
I ordered this book after seeing it mentioned in one of the many international adoption newsletters I am following as I continue my research for a book about the deGuzman family’s Ethiopian adoption story.
It showed up in my mailbox the same day I talked to a man about the son he and his wife adopted from China two years ago — a child who proceeded to scream nonstop all the way home on the airplane and for the next four or five weeks afterward. The toddler, who had been left in a crib, basically untouched, for the first 18 months of his life, was developmentally delayed. He couldn’t walk. He was hypersensitive to stimulation — unexpected touch, sights or sounds. With the loving support of his determined parents, and the intervention of physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy, he is now doing well.
I’m eager to read about others who were that lucky.