"I was thirty years old, an age at which people either choose to grow up or remain stuck in the exploratory and idle phase of late-late youth."
Hansen, after the September 11th terrorist attack and the subsequent invasion of Iraq, moved to Istanbul in an effort to understand the Middle East, and complete research in Turkey. While living there, Hansen traveled through Greece, Egypt, Iran, and other countries in order to better understand the world that the rest of us were watching through alarming news casts, and those among us courageous enough to serve, were doing just that.
Notes on a Foreign Country is an eye-opening book about Turkey's history, the role America played in shaping the country today, and a fundamental misunderstanding in regards to how far the US really reaches. She balances political and historical research with personal experiences from her time abroad, her time at home, and the juxtaposition between the two. In part, the book reads like an incredible investigative journey into a misunderstood section of the world, while in other sections it has a flowing autobiographical feel. Hansen balances these two points-of-view and never leaves the reader with a stale taste in their mouth.
"We cannot go abroad as Americans in the twenty-first century and not realize that the main thing that has been terrorizing us for the last sixteen years is our own ignorance--our blindness and subsequent discovery of all the people on whom the empire-that-was-not-an-empire had been constructed without our attention or concern."
As an American, there were parts of Hansen's book that were hard to swallow, both retrospectively at events that have occurred that in turn shaped the current global landscape, and introspectively at any potential part I could have played or continue to play when I myself go abroad. While Notes focuses on the Middle East, an area of the world that has been plagued with turmoil both self-inflicted, and imposed upon, the lessons within can be transferred with ease.
When you travel, be respectful. When you travel, be curious. When you travel, be kind and know that your way of life doesn't apply to everyone else. Above all else, when you travel, have fun. Enjoy the world.
It's been raining almost every day in my corner of New England, and leaving work tonight, the parking lot slick with drizzle, street lights creating a reflective shine, I was reminded how much I love when it rains. The sound of it against the leaves. The smell of wet dirt. It's calming, and in some weird way, makes the world a little quieter. So, keep it coming Mother Nature, because we could all use a little more quiet.
Speaking of, it's been almost two months (or maybe it has been two months, I don't even know anymore) since I've been on social media, and while I appreciate the platforms for what good they can do, it's been beyond restful to be out of the shouting match. Though, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure this post is still setup to auto-feed to Twitter or Facebook or both, I don't know. I haven't disabled my accounts, I'm sure I'll be back at some point, but for now I'm enjoying the time spent not getting enraged by hyper political posts, or sucked into endless voids of whatever.
And the result? New fiction!
Fortunately, I've had some decent picks thus far, several of which are vying for the coveted number-one-best-read-of-the-year spot. And, while I've enjoyed most every book I've read this year, there are three that happen to be light years ahead of the rest. Before I kill the suspense, I was talking with a friend of mine, a bookstore owner, about what it takes for me to really, really love a book, and here's the secret:
I judge books on two major criteria: how good the book is while I'm reading it (plot, character, dialogue, etc.), and then how long it stays with me after I've finished it. In my opinion, both are essential to the overall impact of a novel, and while I've had books this year that have mastered one or the other, blown me away with lyrical language, or buried itself inside my brain and refused to let go, I have yet to read one this year that has pointed both guns and fired.
So where do the readings stand so far?
Milkman had both startling, unrelentingly beautiful prose, and a semi-lasting impact. It truly was a great novel and one that I've talked about over and over this year. Karen Thompson Walker's The Dreamers was one of the most beautifully written novels I have ever read. Ever. A subtle toe into the water of speculative fiction, I can't think of any reader who wouldn't enjoy this novel. And that leaves Kazuo Ishiguro's "Best book of the decade - Time"... Never Let Me Go.
While the previous two offerings were both new within the last two years, I'm over fourteen years behind the eight ball with Never Let Me Go. And after reading it, I couldn't care less. While I have a little qualm with the first 40 or so pages, and the novel's starting pace (it is just a little slow), I haven't had a book stay with me the way this one has since I read The Amber Spyglass over a decade ago. Never Let Me Go isn't a novel, it's a knife, and it will gut you.
But, once you've picked yourself up off the floor, I'm sure there are other books out there that will leave a lasting impression, that will give new spins on life, love, and loss. And I intend to find them. Until next time fellow readers.
Cheers and all the best.