August 2016

Bangladesh and The Good Muslim

So, again, this was definitely a book that I chose because the title grabbed me by the metaphoric balls. The good Muslim? Did they mean “good” in quotes? If so, why? Was this a book preaching that all Muslims are bad? Because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read that book 😩 I had to know what was going on!

And thus: to Bangladesh, and The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam:

This book touches on several big subjects: rape, abortion, religious fanaticism, political freedom, and the struggle to adjust that too many soldiers have when the return home. It’s actually the second in a series, and someday I will read the rest of the series…when I have time… *sighs wistfully*

wistful sigh

So, the first thing you should know is that Bangladesh, like so many other places in the world, has pretty much been ripped apart by war. The main part of this story takes place after the Bangladesh Liberation War that won Bangladesh it’s independence from Pakistan…but also devastated the country in many, many ways. The story focuses on a young doctor, Maya, and her relationship with her brother, Sohail, who fought as a soldier during the war. Sohail has never been the same since the war, and now spends his time as a deeply dedicated Muslim holy man.

What struck me the most about this novel were the similarities between super strict Muslims and super strict Christians. Like, at one point Maya is trying to convince Sohail to let his son go to school. The kid is more than old enough to have learned how to read and write by now, but instead he barely knows how to spell out his own name, and Sohail refuses to send him to school because “he can learn at home.” Ugh! It just reminds me of those hardcore Evangelical Christian parents who home school their kids and then their kids go off to college or to get a job and they’re like “Wtf. I know nothing.” Because parents are NOT better than teachers at teaching! What are you so afraid of your child learning – that you don’t know everything?! Or that there are other ideas out there besides yours?! Grrrrr. End rant.

The book isn’t really talking about the violent kind of fanaticism – more like the very, very frustrating kind. Not the scary, violent kind. Although it comes close sometimes, I admit. For example, at one point Sohail burns all of his books, because they’re “too worldly.” As a librarian, that scares the shit out of me – and it should scare the shit out of you, too! Book burning will lead you nowhere good, guys! Some very famous bad people have burned books! Famous good people do not burn books!

The ending is what really got me, though. There may or may not have been tears. Anam really does a good job of bringing several different characters and events together to form a satisfying ending.

What you have read from Bangladesh?


The Democratic Republic of Congo and Tram 83

So, if I had to sum up the Democratic Republic of Congo in one word, it would be Conflict.

Before reading this book, I would highly encourage you to read this brief timeline of the country. It still make you much less confused as you read the book, trust me.

So: the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila!

To give you an idea of how good this book is, it has already been longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize for 2016, and was the winner of the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature.

This is a super dark novel that, despite its depressing atmosphere, overflows with life – albeit sometimes with forceful desperation. For example, underage prostitutes, dubbed “baby chicks,” are quite common in the novel, as prostitution is often the only way these girls can hope to survive. Despite their dour circumstances, these girls continue to push onward with life; to survive, even through means that most would find degrading and unthinkable.

The novel centers around a nightclub called “Tram 83,” where people from all walks of life can be found: musicians, drug dealers, prostitutes/waitresses, soldiers, miners, businessmen, students, etc. It is here that most of the action takes place, centered around two characters: Lucien, an unemployed historian, and Requiem, whose exact business is unclear, but it is definitely shady. Although Lucien and Requiem are old friends, their differing interests cause conflict between them, which continues to grow as the novel goes on.

When I think of the sheer struggle for survival that everyone in this book faces, I think of stories of lone travelers, injured but still alive, miles from civilization, who somehow still find the will to claw hand-over-hand to find help.

Something kind of like this:


I think ^that about sums it up. Definitely something that I will re-read at some point!

Are there any books that you have read that remind you of a similar struggle for survival? Let me know in the comments!

Philippines and The Gangster of Love

OK, I’ll be honest: it was totally the title of this book that grabbed me.

And yes, it is referencing The Gangster of Love by Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Which totally fits with the theme of this book.



But they’re kind of awesome. So it’s OK.

This book follows the life of a Filipino girl, Rocky, who moves with her mother and brother to the US following the divorce of her parents. The same year they move to the US is the same year that Jimi Hendrix died (1970), which devastates Rocky and her brother.

The plot follows Rocky as she grows up as an immigrant to the US, trying to figure out “how to be,” so to speak, as a daughter, sister, lover, musician, woman, and brand-new American.

I learned quite a bit from this book. For instance, the people from the Philippines are Filipino, not Philippino. And while the Philippines are on super good terms with the US, they are NOT a territory or anything like that of the United States, which I was unclear about when starting this book.

This is a good book. Definitely one of those that you need to re-read to catch all the little references that the author throws in there 🙂

book pages.gif

What have you guys read from the Philippines?

Lebanon and An Unnecessary Woman

OK so I had no idea the Lebanese flag had a tree on it. I looked it up, and it’s supposed to be a cedar tree. UGH. I LOVE IT.

tree hugging


Meet An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine! The Unnecessary Woman in question is Aaliya Saleh, who lives in Beirut following the end of the Lebanese Civil War.

Aaliya is 72 years old, and is self-described as “godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced.” What little family she has left is estranged, and her only friend, Hannah, died years ago. Despite all this, Aaliya does not consider her life boring. Her great passion is translating her favorite books into Arabic – a new book every year. No one has ever read her translations, however. She stores them safely away in closed boxes in her spare room.

This story fluidly fuses past and present Beirut (although the “present” in the book could now easily be seen as the recent past, due to new events in the three years since this book was published). Aaliya explores growing up, her relationship (or lack thereof) with her family, her love of literature, and her fellow tenants in the apartment building she occupies.

This is a really cool book kind of just based on the fact that Aaliya loves books so much. She also loves weird books (she prefers the word obscure, but whatevs), which is awesome and maddening all at once because I didn’t know most of the books that she mentioned, so on the one hand I really really admired her for being so well-read, and on the other hand I kind of felt really really stupid for not knowing at least a few more of the books that he mentioned. The struggle is real!

Alameddine did a really great job at creating a real character – a real likable character. There were times after reading a chapter or two where I really felt like I had just gotten done having a long conversation with a friend, rather than reading about a pretend woman in a country far, far away. Aaliya’s character feels very familiar, and that familiarity is at times welcoming, and at other times a little TOO real, if you get what I mean.

I also really liked her fellow tenants. There’s one woman who sticks out clearly in my mind. During the Siege of Beirut, this woman, wearing her fancy silk bathrobe, bright-red nail polish, and bedhead, this woman managed to single-handedly chase off a couple of unsuspecting looters from the building by standing on her balcony on one of the upper stories and firing her shotgun in the looters’ general direction – not to hit them, but close enough to scare them off. She was like the Lebanese version of a Wild West woman!

Anway. Highly recommended, if you’re into stories that are deeply introspective, and not necessarily high on the excitement scale.

What books have you read from Lebanon?

Laguna Pueblo and Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat

OK, so I REALIZE that Pocahontas was not a Laguna Pueblo Indian. She was, in fact, a member of the Powhatan Nation. However, the author of this book, Dr. Paula Gunn Allen, was indeed of Laguna Pueblo descent. Thus, Laguna Pueblo and Pocahontas.

Moving on.

Pocahontas! Everyone knows her! She saved John Smith from her dad and talked to raccoons and trees and hummingbirds and was really nice to the new white people, even though they weren’t always nice! Right!?

Um, no.

Dr. Gunn Allen’s book Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat, not only serves as a biography to the legendary figure of Pocahontas, but also helps to separate the romantic, mythical story from the facts of Pocahontas’ life and times.

So, most people’s vision of Pocahontas is from the Disney movie, right? OK. I’m going to have to ask you to forget everything from that movie. I know, I know, that’s a lot to ask, but trust me – it’s worth it.

For starters, the part in the Disney movie where Pocahontas saves John Smith is totally relying on John Smith’s account of what happened. Now. John Smith wasn’t lying, per se, but he was…enhancing his experiences bit. You know, for the ladies. Or the money. Or both. Whatever. Anyway, his account can’t ignore the fact that he didn’t understand a word of what the people around him were saying, or that he had never ever been to a religious ceremony held by the Powhatan people, and thus had absolutely no clue what was going on. In Dr. Gunn Allen’s book, she suggests that a more likely scenario was that getting ready to “kill” John Smith may have been entirely symbolic – and completely planned out from the beginning. It may have been a symbolic way to give Smith “rebirth” into their nation, offering him their protection – and in return, he was supposed to offer them his protection.

We see how that played out. But anyway.

If you’re interested in Native American history at all, this is the book for you. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize when it was first published, and it’s very thorough. A word to the wise, though: read this one slowly. When I first read it, I really didn’t like it. I think, though, it’s just because I was on information overload. Dr. Gunn Allen adds a LOT of information about Powhatan religious beliefs and ceremonies, which is AWESOME but is also very different than most religious ceremonies I’ve read about. It just takes a little bit of time to wrap your brain around some of the ideas she suggests, but it’s totally worth it 🙂

Senegal and So Long a Letter

I haven’t posted about a book set in Africa for a while, so let’s fix that! I present to you: So Long a Letter by Mariama BĂą.

Set in Senegal, this short book (only 90 pages, including the notes in the back) is written in the form of a letter from one woman, Ramatoulaye, to another, Aissatou. Ramatoulaye’s husband has recently taken a second wife, and while that is accepted in Islam – which they both practice – it is still a betrayal both of her trust and of the life they had built together.

From the first chapter, we learn that not only did Ramatoulaye’s husband take a (younger) second wife, but he also died shortly thereafter. So not only has Ramatoulaye been betrayed, but there is no way for her to ever vent her frustrations and hurt to her husband, or to hope for reconciliation with him in any way.

Sooooo, this letter from Ramatoulaye to Aissatou is pretty serious. She really needs to vent, basically.

This really is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it. It’s short enough you could finish it in one day. It was originally published in French in 1980, and then translated to English by ModupĂ© BodĂ©-Thomas in 1981.

I don’t want to say too much more about the book, because it’s so short I’m afraid I’d ruin it for you guys! So I think I’ll go ahead and stop here.

What have you read from Senegal?

IFLA 2016 Satellite Meeting Dumbed Down for Dummies

I’d like to take a brief break from talking about books from all over to talking about how we access books from all over.

I’m a catalog librarian. This means that I create the information that goes “behind the scenes” of a library catalog to help you find a book. Things like the author, the title, the summary, the subjects, and the call numbers. If you’re a cataloger or a librarian, you know that assigning subjects and call numbers can sometimes be a tricky business. And basically, in a very broad nutshell, that’s why there is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) 2016 Classification and Indexing Satellite Meeting.

Woohoo! Right!?

OK, you probably have no idea what that is. The IFLA is basically an international association of librarians who share ideas and interests about library stuff. (For those of you scoffing at the word “stuff,” I refer you to the title of this post). So, people from around the world coming together and sharing ideas about library things. Neat!

The main conference is actually being held this entire week, and will be dealing with a whole bunch of different topics, but I only attended the satellite meeting, which pertained mainly to cataloging issues.

There were fourteen different presentations (including the opening and closing keynotes), and I’d like to give a quick, SUPER generalize summary of each presentation. Because, one thing I’ve found in the library world, is that we don’t like to share our cataloging secrets, even with other librarians. It honestly comes off as a little bit snobby. And this isn’t from EVERY SINGLE cataloger – that’s just a general feeling that I think is felt in the library world. Catalogers don’t like to take the time to explain, or dumb down, or whatever, how or why they do what they do. It’s like this weird club that you have to know the secret handshake, the secret password, AND have three different references to get in to. Somehow I managed to fall into this super secret club completely by accident, and I’d like be the mole. So here we go.


(FYI, you can download all the presentations here, if you want more than my tiny summaries. I’d definitely encourage you to do so if you’re interested in any of these topics – some of these were really good!)

Opening Keynote by Marcia Lei Zeng: Subject Access, Smart Data, and Digital Humanities

This basically talked about Big Data vs. Smart Data. Big Data = fast and easy, and Smart Data = trusted and relevant. Big Data is usually not what you want when you’re searching Google…usually you want Smart Data.

ask each other

Subject Access Principles in the New World: Procrustean or Procreative? by Hope A. Olson and Lynne C. Howarth

Searching online can be hard! Usually you get too many hits for whatever you’re looking for! The people who design search engines should work harder to understand the user and work with the user to tailor/narrow results to find what they need! [<—–not sarcasm, I agree, just wondering what exactly librarians are supposed to do about it…the librarians employed by online retailers, like Amazon, often have their suggestions overruled by marketing]


Unlimited Opportunities for Enhanced Access to Resources: the Library of Congress’ Faceted Vocabularies by Janis L. Young

OK, this one was pretty cool. She was talking about some new subject headings that are in the works at LOC that can make searching for and connecting with different works easier. Quick example: you’re looking for works by African American men, because you’ve suddenly realized you’ve only ever read Things Fall Apart because it was mandatory in high school. But simply by looking at an author’s name, you have no idea if they’re black, white, Asian, gay, straight, living in the US, or sometimes, even if they’re male or female (depending on the name for that last one). But with one of the proposed new headings, we could identify what authors are black, white, Asian, gay, straight, etc. Now, there are definitely some problems that still need to be solved with this. What about mixed race people? What about someone’s identity that changes over time? What about someone who is more than one (white + gay + male, etc.). What if someone doesn’t want that identity to be part of their authority file, because they’re afraid of being pigeon-holed as “that type” of author? (Totally realistic fear, guys). But it’s a neat idea. I’m hoping they can work out the kinks.


Defining Usefulness and Facilitating Access Based on Research Applications by Allison Jai O’Dell

Basically, she was suggesting that libraries allow users to tag a library item in the online catalog with how they used it. Example, if they used a particular set of books for biology research, they could tag it as #biology. She got a lot of push-back on this, but I thought it was a neat idea, especially for an academic library, which is where she was coming from. Again, lots of kinks to work out, but I thought it was something that could get there.


Crowdsourcing the Dewey Decimal Classification: When Users Become Contributors by Elise Conradi, Rebecca Green, and Alex Kyrios

Ah, beloved Dewey. So, this one was talking about how they recently built into WebDewey the ability to “build” your own number, if  needed, based on a base number that was already available. So, for example, you had a number for “perception of smells,” but you needed a number for “psychology of smells.” Based on the rules built into Dewey, you can now build your own number based off the base number, and contribute it to Dewey as a whole, and aha! You have a brand-new Dewey number! Yay!

I have issues with this one though. Like, ^that whole thing is fantastic, and I use it ALL the time, but what happens when you don’t have a good base number to start with? What happens then? Do you just settle for a number that covers a broader term? This tends to happen a lot with Native groups, and Dewey has a history of under-representing anything that’s not WASP-ey. I actually asked this question at the conference (and holy shit was that absolutely terrifying), and I was basically told that yeah, just use whatever number  you can use, even if it’s not nearly specific enough. /sigh


‘Mixed Methods’ indexing: Building-up of a multi-level infrastructure for subject indexing by Andreas Oskar Kempf and Tobias Rebholz.

I’m gonna level with you guys. I literally have no idea what this presentation was about 0.o I feel really bad! I tried to follow along, but holy shit was this concept way over my head. I felt even worse when I jokingly said something to the presenter, Andreas Kempf, about how I didn’t really get his presentation, and he thought I meant because his English wasn’t good enough! Guys. It was NOT a language problem (his English was great). This was a me problem. Also, please go read their paper because I literally cannot tell you anything about it.


Aligning Author-Supplied Keywords for ETDs with Domain-Specific Controlled Vocabularies by Myung-Ja (MJ) K. Han, Patrick Harrington, Andrea Black, and Deren Kudeki

So, this one was kind of neat. It talked about how at the University of Illinois, students are required to submit their theses electronically, so they can be stored for future students to access. But how can future students find them? They found that Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) aren’t really familiar to the average user (I mean, duh?), and students were having a hard time accessing the papers that would have really helped them. So they came up with this cool idea to let the authors of these papers provide their own keywords to describe their papers, since they know their work best. This made for better search terms, which meant more people could find and access their work. Cool!


An Empirical Investigation of Change in Subject Metadata in WorldCat by Oksana Zavalina, Shadi Shakeri, and Priya Kizhekkithil

So, this one was a study done on changes that are being made to headings in bibliographical records from WorldCat. Basically, it looked to see if catalogers were adding information, deleting information, or modifying information – and it found that most changes were modifications. This is interesting to me as a cataloger, and I’d love to see a follow-up study on why these modifications were made – were they mostly typos? Subject headings that were just wrong for whatever reason? Or were they updates?


Improving Resource Discoverability for non-Roman Language Collections by Magda El-Sherbini

OK, this one I thought was going to be super boring, but it ended up being AWESOME. So, picture this: you speak a couple different languages; let’s say Arabic, English, and French (because those were her examples). You are looking for a book at the library about ladders (because I turned my head and saw a ladder !). If you search the library catalog for the English word “ladder,” you’re only going to pull up the English results for ladders. But since you speak a couple different languages, that’s not really giving you all the helpful information out there, right? Because you can also use the information in the Arabic and French books on ladders. So, her experiment was to cross-reference each library item with the English, French, and Arabic terms, so you could pull up all three if you wanted – or narrow by language, if you wanted! She was saying this is harder with non-Roman languages like Arabic, because I guess not a lot of research has been done in this area.


The Simplest Approach to Subject Classification by Rick Szostak

So, basically this can be summed up by saying that this guy wants us to be able to search using sentence structure rather than with Boolean searches. Which…I don’t know. Sounds to me like he just wants to reinvent the wheel, as another presenter put it. He got a lot of push-back on this, and I have to say, I was definitely not sold.


Linking FAST and Wikipedia by Rick Bennett, Eric Childress, Kerre Kammerer, and Diane Vizine-Goetz

The title on this one is kind of self-explanatory. They want to link FAST headings with Wikipedia articles. I personally feel as though that may unintentionally result in some chaos. Wiki articles are not exactly known for their reliability and fact-checking, and making something like that more easily accessible might just make more people use inaccurate articles. Which sounds bad, and like teachers everywhere may start sporting random bald patches from ripping their hair out while grading papers.


Leveraging the Dewey Decimal Classification for Online Subject Access: Three Use Cases of WebDewey Search by Harriet Aagaard, Elise Conradi, and Tina Mengel

This one was kind of cool, although it probably won’t mean much unless you often deal with librarians who speak two or three languages. Basically, the national libraries of Germany, Norway, and Sweden all use a translated version of Dewey, with the ability to search in one of those languages (German, Norwegian, or Swedish), or English. However, whenever you’re dealing with a translation, problems (and hilarity) will arise. They gave one example of trying to search for glass, and pulling up results for ice cream, because the Swedish word for ice cream is “glass.” Whoops! But it’s helpful too, because sometimes you need the English term rather than the Swedish term, or whatever.

ice cream

Teaching and Learning of Classification Module: Experiences at University of Limpopo by M.R. Mahlatji, K.M. Maphopha, and M.A. Dikotla

OK, this one may have been one of my favorites. Basically, at the University of Limpopo, which is located in rural South Africa, they have a 6 month session in which they teach their new students how to use the library (a librarian’s wet dream, I KNOW). The presenter was saying that their students had some real difficulty with Dewey, because 1. it’s in English, which is their second language and 2. because the instructions for following Dewey are sometimes a bit more difficult to understand, regardless of language. They found that translating Dewey into their native language was very helpful, and while that has only been experimented with a little bit, they hope to do more with that in the future. She also talked about which styles of teaching worked better with the majority of students, and found that most students preferred lectures over anything else. Interesting!


And that’s it! I didn’t stay for the ending keynote because my brain was completely fried, but I’m sure it was fantastic. I hope this was helpful to anyone interested in cataloging or classification. If you have questions or comments, let me know, and I’ll do my best to answer! This has been the IFLA 2016 Satellite Meeting Dumbed Down for Dummies!

Cuba and The Motorcycle Diaries

So, depending on how old you are, you may have different versions of Cuba in your head.

I grew up with the impression that we should all feel sorry for the poor Cubans trapped with their cruel dictator, who’s only chance of escape was to swim from Cuba to Florida, *hopefully* without drowning.

My parents’ impression was probably something like “holy shit we gotta keep those Cubans UNDER CONTROL before they set up more nukes!!!”

I don’t think my grandma knows where Cuba is. Unfortunately.

I’m hoping my kids’ view of Cuba will be something like “potential vacay spot, beautiful beaches, stuff happened here a long time ago.” That’s the dream, right?

Anyway. I bring to you, from the sunny island of Cuba, The Motorcycle Diaries by the one and only Che Guevara!

The Motorcycle Diaries is actually the travel diary of Guevara’s 5,000 mile journey through South America via motorcycle, while still a medical student. Although he was born to a prominent, middle-class family in Argentina, while exploring South America he was deeply troubled by the deep poverty that he encountered. He came to the conclusion that Communism would help solve the social problems that poverty caused. This book covers the journey that some have said led him to believe in Communism.

Now, Guevara did some things that are…questionable? To say the least? Like, apparently it was his idea to let the Soviet Union bring in their nukes and point them at the US. WHAT he was thinking I have no idea. He also apparently executed about 500 people without a trial. Not cool, Guevara!

But. He cared deeply for the people of Cuba. He cared deeply for the impoverished people he saw all over the world. He wanted to help, and he helped to the best that he knew how. According the History, Guevara’s lasting legacy is actually his work to bring down the illiteracy rate in Cuba. And that’s pretty cool. He wasn’t just another power-hungry political figure, hell-bent on gaining power and wealth and personal comfort. He was willing to go through some shit for his ideals.

He’ll always be a controversial figure, for sure. But in my mind, that just makes him human. Not necessarily forgivable, mind you, but human.

You should probably just read this book to find out for yourself 🙂

Nicaragua and Chorizo and Ripe Plantain Hash

So, since I was so harsh on my book for Nicaragua (Infinity in the Palm of her Hand), I thought I’d follow up with something nice to say about my experience with Nicaraguan food.

Guys. This recipe is the shit.

I give you: Chorizo and Ripe Plantain Hash! I loved it, my husband loved it, my brother loved it when he came to visit, and it’s super easy. What more can you ask for?

Unlike some of the other recipes that I’ve tried out, this one didn’t have hard-to-find ingredients, which was nice. I’m willing to hunt a little for an ingredient or two here and there, but a few of the recipes that I’ve looked at I’m like “I think I’d have to actually live there to find that.” So. Those recipes were not chosen.

This recipe is highly recommended. Pro tip: when you buy your plantains, don’t buy the super hard ones 0.o I definitely thought mine would soften up in a couple days…not so much. And store them on your counter, not in the fridge.

This recipe has already become a staple in our house. Love it!

Check out my Pinterest board for more recipes from around the world!

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