Monthly Archives: July 2013

Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki (translated by Rande Brown)

Geisha cover

“No woman in the three-hundred year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story. We have been constrained by unwritten rules not to do so, by the robes of tradition, and by the sanctity of our exclusive calling.
But I feel it is time to speak out. I want you to know what it is really like to live the life of a geisha, a life filled with extraordinary professional demands and richly glorious rewards. Many say I was the best geisha of my generation; I was certainly the most successful. And yet, it was a life that I found too constrictive to continue. And one that I ultimately had to leave.
It is a story I have long wanted to tell.”

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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent

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“In 1920 could anyone have believed that the Eighteenth Amendment, ostensibly addressing the single subject of intoxicating beverages, would set off an avalanche of change in areas as diverse as international trade, speedboat design, tourism practices, soft-drink marketing, and the English language itself? Or that it would provoke the establishment of the first nationwide criminal sydicate, the idea of home dinner parties, the deep engagement of women in political issues other than suffrage, and the creation of Las Vegas? As interpreted by the Supreme Court and as understood by Congress, Prohibition would also lead indirectly to the eventual guarantee of the American woman’s right to abortion and simultaneously dash that same woman’s hope for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
Prohibition changed the way we live, and it fundamentally redefined the role of the federal government. How the hell did it happen?

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Alexandra: The Last Tsarina by Carolly Erickson

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When it comes to Russian history, my knowledge base is not so much “spotty” as it is “basically nonexistent.” I read a biography of Catherine the Great last year, which was the first non-fiction Russian history book I had ever read. Alexandra: The Last Tsarina was the second, and before that my only source for information about the Romanovs came from the Royal Diaries series (the Anastasia one was really good, though) and one historic fiction book about them that I read in middle school. Add to that a National Geographic article that I read back when the Romanov remains had been found and identified, and there you have the entire breadth of my Romanov knowledge prior to reading this book.

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Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Diabetes with Owls cover

As part of the promotional tour for this book, David Sedaris made a stop in a Barnes and Noble in my city, and I ended up going sort of by accident (I bought a copy of the book on a whim the day before the event and learned that, by purchasing the book, I had also unknowingly purchased a ticket to the reading the next day). It was a fun event – Sedaris is charming and adorable in person, and was very polite to the requisite crazy people who tend to show up at every author reading I’ve ever attended (I remember one particularly memorable woman at a Margaret Atwood reading who started out asking Atwood’s opinion about Britney Spears and her costumes throughout the years, and ended by shrieking that “What they did to Britney was A SIN! It was A SIN!” and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen). A word of advice for anyone attending a Sedaris event in the future, though: the man is chatty. There were only a few dozen people in line to get their books signed, but he stopped and talked with every single person, sometimes for almost five minutes each. It took a long fucking time, which I wasn’t expecting, so be prepared for that. By the time it was my turn, I was just tired and didn’t have anything fascinating to say, but he was very nice and asked me some polite questions as he drew an owl on my book, and then he offered me one of the chocolates that another fan had apparently made for him. I suggested jokingly that they had been poisoned, because I don’t know how to talk like a normal human being, and he just kind of blinked at me, so I thanked him, grabbed my signed book, and ran. Anyway, add that to the list of Madeline’s Awkward Author Encounters and let’s get to the real review bit. Continue reading

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