Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lindsay's book meme

Le Boy has been blogging lately and being very deep and insightful about topics as varied as movies, campaign finance reform, and rugby and I'm feeling more than a bit shallow. It seemed as good a time as any to work on the book meme that Lindsay tagged me with...oh, in December?

1. One book that changed your life?

Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World, Walter Russell Mead.

This one’s probably a bit obscure unless you happened to be taking Doug’s National Public Policy class with me in the spring of 2004. Mead talks about four major categories of foreign policy thinking, each named for a president: Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian, and Jacksonian. I recognized myself as a firm Wilsonian, but he only explains the origin of the school in religious terms (basically, missionary work). This book raised questions about the origins of my own strong beliefs in the importance of human rights (and revealed to me that I had them), even as I rebelled, as a bit of an agnostic and a person who’s a bit wary of proselytizing religions in general, against the idea that this tradition could ONLY be rooted in Christianity and religion.

This book coincided with the semester that I spent driving back and forth from Indianapolis twice a week for an absolutely crap internship (lots of thinking time) and it was the semester that I really and truly realized that my true calling was not to be a employee for ye olde state of Indiana, but somewhere out there in the world. The idea that I had bigger questions to answer about human rights comes out of reading this book and it’s what ultimately led me to the LSE. I also realized that I needed answers because I wanted to “do” human rights with my life.

2. One book that you've read more than once?

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village, Sarah Erdman.

Yes, it's a Peace Corps memoir. My friend Libby suggested that I read it, just as a group of her friends did, to get somewhat of a better understanding of what life would be like for their West African volunteer. And because I was really starting to do some serious thinking about joining the Peace Corps myself.

I obviously haven't been a volunteer myself, but I really did get a sense of the extreme emotions that can come into play from absolute elation to frightening depression and frustration (even if I think she does focus more on the positives). It's an incredibly vivid set of memories for Erdman and she does a fantastic job of painting a picture of her villagers and village life for someone with absolutely no real life experience with which to interpret her images. It also gave me fuzzy feelings about the work that Peace Corps volunteers can do and sad feelings about the way in which her country disintegrated very shortly after she left.

I read this at two very different times. The first one was during the trip to Kenya and Tanzania. I have really distinct memories of sitting in our tank, wizzing past people and villages and reading about this woman who spent two whole years getting to know a tiny, tiny corner of that huge continent. I was jealous and disappointed with my inability to do the same (at least on that trip). I read it again after I got back from Niger and suddenly understood words and had my own vivid pictures with which to compare to hers. I also understood how much of a Peace Corps volunteer's life she left out and knew new things, like how important the interaction with other volunteers can be in the life of a PCV. It was sort of a way of cementing my Niger memories, showing myself that it really happened, if that makes any sense.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island?

Hmmm. I think I'll take one of my LSE coursepacks. I think the one that I purchased for Human Rights of Women (can I have both volumes?), the class that I could never take because the amazing Christine Chinkin was on sabbatical last year. It would be absolutely lovely to be able to sit down and digest a whole coursepack and to think about how all of those things fit together. In other words, I'd like to relive my LSE education, but at a much, much slower pace (I assume I'm going to be on this island for awhile) and without any other pressures or distractions.

4. One book that made you laugh?

Recently? Then, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

So, Juliana's been bugging me forever about the brilliance of Neil Gaiman and the Boy put the first of Pratchett's Discworld series in my hand, so this is sort of because of both of them. I adore Pratchett's satire and this book didn't let me down. I was giggling a lot with images of overloaded scooters, angels who had drifted downwards, the four horsepersons of the apocalypse, and so on. It's times like these that I wish I caught more bible references, as it would probably have been even better! Yay for English people's incredibly dry wit.

5. One book that made you cry?

26a, Diana Evans.

Oh, god, I was a huge mess after this book. It's about twins who grow up in north London, in my adopted constituency (see also: Zadie Smith's books) and who are incredibly insightful and promising. Then, there's event in thier childhood that drives them apart and just throws everything off the rails. It ends tragically and I was so utterly heartbroken. I think I saw a lot of myself in those twins, their cozy hideaway in the attic reminding me of the nests I used to make for myself at home, the innocence and blind enthusiasm with which I used to approach the world (and frankly, try to still), the way that one moment can shatter that innocence forever and change the course of your life. I still wonder what my life would be like if my parents were still alive and I think that Georgia and Bessi reminded me of those questions. Utter and complete mess. Huge tears.

Right. I'm only halfway done, but it's late! Off to bed and to be continued some time soon, I hope.


John said... Reply to comment

Joyce, you might like to know that Sarah is married and living in Dublin. Her new husband is a foreign service officer for the US.