Currently Reading

In Manchuria

Suzanne is currently reading:

  • Floreana: A Woman’s Pilgrimage to the Galapagos by Margaret Wittmer
  • In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China by Michael Meyer
  • The Clan Of The Cave Bear: Earth’s Children, Book One by Jean M. Auel

Craig is currently reading:

  • The Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delany. I decided to reread the early ‘Chip’ Delany novels after finishing his mid-career books.
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A Body of Work by David Hallberg

Hailed as one of the great American ballet dancers of our time, David Hallberg made history when he achieved the position of principal dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet.  He was the first American to be asked to dance as a member of the world-renowned Russian company, and he did this while also maintaining his position of principal dancer with ABT – arguably the finest ballet company in the United States.

I admit I have been following Hallberg’s career for quite some time.  He grew up in South Dakota (the state just south of mine), and thanks to the support of his parents and a move to Arizona (where top ballet training is more accessible), he was able to rise to a very elite level of this art form.  I remember the day I learned that Hallberg was injured, and beyond that, following his social media posts about his surgery and then, for what seemed an eternity, nothing.

David Hallberg suffered a fracture in his foot that required multiple surgeries, and still, he was unable to dance.  Hallberg details his struggle, his depression and his desperation in the book.  Thankfully, through the help of team of talented PT dance professionals in Australia, he was able to recover and dance again.

I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed this book.  His story is interesting in it’s own right, but I appreciated Hallberg’s honesty about his journey; and I also especially enjoyed his insights into his personal dance growth.  Dancers typically are not satisfied with their own technique.  Hallberg is no exception, but he had a drive to better himself.  This drive allowed him to take risks, like training in Paris and Russia, or seeking roles outside the Princely characters he was known for.  At times I felt sad for him – he was too isolated, and seemed lonely, even as he was so famous.

Ultimately, every dancer knows their career will end before they want it to, but coming face to face with a career-ending injury isn’t welcomed by anyone.  I hope that for David Hallberg, he will dance until he decides, on his own terms, that it’s time to step off the stage.

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2017
432 pages

 

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The Unconquered by Scott Wallace

Subtitled In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes, this memoir details the author’s experiences spending three months in the Amazon in search of the People of the Arrow, an elusive indigenous tribe known for using bow and arrow to hunt and to scare away persons to get too close to them.

Leading this expedition is Brazillian exployer Sydney Posseulo, who lays down the law with his team, instructing them to observe and not actually try to contact the tribe they seek.  Posseulo had been instrumental in securing local laws meant to keep exploitative firms and freelancers out of the rainforest.

I will say many of the adventures were exciting and Wallace’s experiences read like an interesting travel journal at times.  At other times, it was slow, and made me wish the book would end.

Wallace raises some interesting points between Posseulo’s approach and others’ (namely anthropologists) interest in the tribes.  Posseulo is convinced contact with the modern world is harmful to the natives.  Not only are they not protected from modern disease, but even the most well-meaning action can forever alter the culture of the indigenous people.  Ultimately, despite Posseulo’s efforts, observation without contact proves impossible.  Which leads, of course, to the question: “What gives us the right to even observe these people?”  Every good intention has its roots in arrogance.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2011
494 pages

 

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In Manchuria by Michael Meyer

The more I read about China, the more eager I am to learn about this nation, rich in history and culture.  Michael Meyer, becomes an expat living in rural China after a stint in Peace Corps, and enjoys teaching there.  He meets his Chinese wife and decides to rent some land in a small village called Wasteland – the home of his wife’s family.

What follows is a charming and interesting story of Meyer’s personal experiences in an area of China rarely written about, the people, and it’s history.  I especially enjoyed his interviews with the locals and sharing of their past, from the Japanese occupation to Mao’s cultural revolution.  Also noteworthy is the rapid changes that are occurring even in so remote an area.  Meyer talks about the frustration of the villagers who are asked to give up their homes and land for the sake of a rice company, and move into high rise apartments.  Fans of Peter Hessler would enjoy this book.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2015
352 pages

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Floreana by Margaret Wittmer

What a fascinating memoir!  In 1932 Margaret Wittmer, her husband and son settle on the remote island of Floreana in the Galapagos chain, making their first homestead in an old pirate’s cave.  They must literally start from scratch, with few supplies making their way to them from the mainland.  In addition, there are only a few inhabitants as neighbors:  a doctor and his wife, and a strange woman who claims to be a baroness who lives with her two lovers.

From Wittmer’s own dangerous and complicated childbirth experience, to murder, the loss of a loved one, World War II and visits from such prestigious persons as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Wittmer’s memoir is packed with interesting stories and harrowing events.  Definitely a worthwhile read.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1961
240 pages

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Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson

Hokkaido Highway Blues

A near perfect travel memoir, Will Ferguson embarks upon a hitchhiking journey to follow the Cherry Blossom Front 1800 miles –  from the southernmost part of Japan, to it’s northernmost tip at Hokkaido.

Filled with interesting characters, witticisms, commentary and fascinating cultural facts, Hokkaido Highway Blues is a true gem.  Ferguson is a talented writer and his perspective on Japan and it’s culture is a must-read for arm-chair travelers.

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2003
344 pages

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The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

The Falls

In the opening pages of the novel, a young red-headed woman wakes to find her groom missing the morning after their wedding.  Honeymooning in the famous Niagara Falls area, scandal soon erupts as news arrives that a man fitting his description has jumped to his death in the falls.

This is a novel that simply brims with excitement and interesting characters.  Oates reels her reader in with not one story line, but several – one after another – in what becomes a saga of this woman’s life, the community and the lives of her future husband and children.

I had no expectations of this book, but was pleasantly surprised by how quickly it captured my interest and didn’t let go until the final page.  A great read!

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2005
481 pages

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Sihpromatum: I Grew My Boobs in China by Savannah Grace

Sihpromatum

Description according to Goodreads: “SIHPROMATUM (Sip-row-may-tum) is a memoir series of one family’s four-year backpacking adventure around the world. The first installment, I Grew my Boobs in China, is the beginning of an intensely fascinating, sobering, and emotional memoir of Savannah’s introspective and innovative family adventure.”

Ms. Grace was 14 years old when her mother announced they would be selling everything and embarking upon a backpack trip beginning in China.  It was the last thing Savannah wanted and like most teens who are forced to do something they don’t want to do, she struggled to accept this new traveling life.

I love to travel, but quite frankly, I did feel sorry for this girl.  This isn’t normal, safe traveling.  This is bare-bones, we have no money kind of traveling.  Yes, some teenagers do this, but generally when it’s their own decision and also by males who don’t have the same safety issues as females.  But Ms. Grace gradually came around and tried to find some positives about the trip.

Mostly, I enjoyed hearing a reluctant teen’s perspective on life in the poor areas of China.  It’s quite the culture shock.  And a teenager will often comment on things an adult might leave out.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the “sleeper” buses, the food, the bathrooms and her interactions with the locals.  It’s not a great work of literature, but it’s worth reading – especially since armchair traveling of this sort is far more comfortable than the actual experience!

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
376 pages

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