Information, Answers & Reviews

Murder in the Stacks

If one single event stands out in the memory of my first semester in State College, Pa., it’s the murder of an English graduate student that happened in the library.  Before reading this book, I would have guessed it occurred just a week or two into term, rather than toward its end—so much did it color life for the rest of my college experience in Happy Valley, Pa.  Yes, this remote mountain valley in almost the exact center of Pa. is actually named that.

Most of my dorm-mates felt absolute terror after the murder.  They literally would not leave the building alone after dark.  I remember big gangs of young women walking together in a phalanx toward the library to study.  I joined them one night, but that was it.  I could not time my departures and arrivals and function in such a timid, emotionally-wrought group.

And though this horrible crime happened decades ago, it still has not been officially “solved.” But the author, a Harrisburg journalist, has come up with some compelling facts that point to a specific fellow grad student. A student in fact that went on to continue his PhD studies and remained on campus for four or five more years.

Without You, There is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite

This well-written memoir about teaching in a college in North Korea the year Kim Jong-il died sent shivers up my spine. The author, Suki Kim, an American writer, who spent part of her childhood in South Korea and is fluent in the language, had visited North Korea several times. Each time she felt divorced from the people and prevented by her “minders” (they were actually called that) from getting a true understanding of what contemporary life was like in the country.

Emotionally, Kim felt connected to the country because part of her family lived there. Kim’s mother had often told her stories about how her eldest brother disappeared and was never seen again when he was taken from a truck during the Korean War.  The family was divided from other aunts and uncles and cousins who lived across the divide.

Kim, primarily a journalist, had taught at a college in the states and sometime around 2010 heard that a Bible college, financed by Americans, was soon to open near Pyongyang. The very idea sounded strange—a culture that scorned religion was allowing westerners to open a bible college by the capital?

The Quiet Man

John Wayne is one of the most famous and beloved actors of all time.  He had an acting style that was uniquely his own.  While he is best known for his westerns and war films, my favorite John Wayne film, The Quiet Man, falls in neither category.  John Wayne plays boxer Sean Thornton returning to his Irish boyhood home from America after retiring from the ring and from fighting altogether after one of his opponents dies from the blows he suffered in their fight.  His desire is to return to the simple life he knew as a boy and the town he grew up in.  It doesn’t take long before he finds love with Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’hara), but it is this love that is going to make his life far from simple.

The Raid 2

If you are looking for an action-packed, extremely violent, two-and-a-half hour movie filled with lots of amazing martial arts acrobatics and weapons used in ways that you would never wish on your worst enemy, you should try this out (in either the provided English dubbed or subtitled Indonesian versions). I wouldn't ever recommend watching a sequel before the original, but you don't really have to see the first one (which is almost half as long, but just as good); This one basically starts over where it left off.

Nostalgia, My Enemy

A great way to explore another culture is through poetry. This book, by one of the best living writers in Arabic, Saadi Youssef, does just that. It also provides beautiful poetry.

Youssef writes about all the traditional topics: love, nature, the changing seasons, and daily activities but he also describes his pain and anger at seeing the damage to his home country. In "A Difficult Variation" he describes his wishes for his native country, "Peace be upon Iraq's hills, its two rivers, the bank and the bend, / upon the palm trees / and the English hamlet gently dragging its clouds."

He writes deeply poignant poems about Iraq. In one he asks, “Is it your fault that once you were born in that country? / Three quarters of a century / and you still pay from your ebbing blood / its tax.”

Stilwater: Finding Wild Mercy in the Outback

De Grenade brings to vivid life a remote cattle range in the far reaches of Australia, just a boat journey away on the Coral Sea from the Indonesian island of Papua New Guinea. Stilwater, this remote ranch bounded by seas on two sides and by the curvy Solomon and Powder Rivers, was until a year before the author’s arrival mostly uncared for, its cows and bulls, unbranded and roaming free. Not only free but feral on this ranch of a thousand square miles.

De Grenade, adventurous and stubborn, and an excellent horsewoman left school at age twelve to cattle ranch in Arizona. There she buffed up her horse and animal skills.  In her young twenties she asked family members for contacts in Australia, and through them found a distant connection who offered her free room and boarding in exchange for work.  At the end of her gig, they gave her an airline ticket and as she wandered around “this island between two oceans” as she calls Australia, she found a notice to work on Stilwater.

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