Books about culture

Dear friends,

I love teaching Intercultural Communication.  One of the principles I teach my students is that culture is all around us, and is not limited to race and ethnicity.  We all belong to multiple cultures, each with its own ideas and behaviors.  I like to show my students “popular press” books that give insights into a wide range of cultures, such as these:

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Modern Romance – A humorous look at dating in the internet age.

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Educated – a home-schooled survivalist decides to go to university.

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When Generations Collide – workplace dynamics when the age range is 20-70 and beyond.

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Reading the Romance – who reads romance novels, and why?  (You may be surprised).

Intercultural Communication isn’t some esoteric textbook topic – it’s part of our everyday lives, if we only know where to look.  If you communicate with others across religious or political differences, or if you’ve ever had to explain a “strange” hobby to someone who’s never heard of it – those are forms of intercultural communication.

“Game of Thrones” fans trying to explain the story to non-fans will know what I mean.  The GOT fandom is a strong and fascinating culture!

Keep reading, keep learning,

Winnie and the Professor

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Book review: Tell Me Three Things

Dear friends,

Here’s a cute and fluffy Young-Adult story that will make you smile:

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Tell Me Three Things is the story of Jessie, a high school student.  Her mom has recently passed away, her dad has remarried, and she finds herself living in a new town under the roof of a stepmother she doesn’t understand, and a stepbrother she doesn’t like.  On top of all these life changes, she is trying to get used to a new school with its usual contingent of “mean girls.”

It’s tough being friendless, but one day Jessie receives a message online from someone calling himself “Somebody/Nobody” (thereafter referred to as “S/N.”)  S/N reveals himself to be a boy from her school, but wants to remain anonymous.  He says he’s writing because he knows she’s new and struggling to fit in, and he wanted to reach out and offer friendship and advice – if there’s anything Jessie wants to know about the social landscape at school, S/N would be happy to tell her.

At first Jessie is skeptical (could S/N be one of the “mean girls” playing a trick on her?), but her feelings of loneliness and isolation eventually drive her to respond.  In time, Jessie and S/N begin playing a game of “tell me three things” – you tell me three things about yourself, and I’ll tell you three things about me.  Sometimes these things are trivial (favorite foods or music), and sometimes they’re deeply personal.

Jessie spends most of the story trying to guess the identity of S/N, as there are a number of likely candidates.  Eventually they meet in person, so Jessie (and you, the reader) discover who he really is.

I figured out S/N’s identity pretty early, but it was still fun to see his relationship with Jessie unfold through their back-and-forth messages, and to see her try to solve the mystery.

Cute and fun, recommended for a light and enjoyable read.

Blessings,

Annette

Book review: Matchmaking for Beginners

Dear friends,

This one is light, romantic, and lots of fun!

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Matchmaking for Beginners centers around two women:  Marnie, who at the start of the book is about to marry Noah, and Blix, Noah’s quirky great-aunt.  At the party celebrating Marnie and Noah’s engagement, Marnie gets caught up in a strange and magical bond with Aunt Blix, a bond that will last through many life changes.

Aunt Blix is a self-styled matchmaker, who can see colors and auras around people who are destined to be together, and she gets a “read” on the Marnie/Noah relationship right from the start.  Marnie herself has seen colors and auras around others, but has never understood what they meant.  Through Blix, Marnie learns that perhaps she, too, is meant to be a matchmaker.

With the help of Blix’s odd friends and unusual neighbors, Marnie begins to see that her life could take a new direction, much different from the one she’s planned.  Her life with Noah is destined to be buttoned-up and upper class, whereas Blix’s world is bohemian and strange and very intriguing.  Marnie ultimately finds herself at a crossroads where she must make a choice between the life she’s planned, and the new direction that’s tugging at her heart and imagination.

A great read!

Blessings,

Annette

Book review: I Owe You One

Dear friends,

Here’s a cute book in the “Chick Lit” genre, from the always-entertaining Sophie Kinsella:

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In this story we meet Fixie – so named because she is a serious “Type A” personality who can’t resist meddling, improving, and “fixing” things for everyone around her.  She and her siblings run the family housewares store, Farrs, and Fixie knows exactly how everything should be done – which items to stock, how to display them and decorate the store, and exactly how to interact with customers.

One day, Fixie performs an act of kindness for a handsome stranger, and in return he writes her an “IOU” on the cardboard sleeve of his coffee cup.  This event sets off a chain of back-and-forth paybacks between Fixie and the stranger, whose name is Sebastian.

Sebastian already has a girlfriend, and Fixie is still hung up on her childhood crush Ryan, so it’s not like anything will happen … right?  Let the mishaps ensue.

I loved the story, but I did find Fixie rather hard to take at times.  She is blind to her own faults, and really lacks self-awareness when it comes to her effect on those around her.  As a book character, she’s funny, but in real life I’d find her hard to take in large doses.  I’m sure she’d find lots of things to “fix” in my life!

Because of her obsessive need for control, the other people in her life (her siblings, her crush) know exactly how to push her buttons, at at times I just wanted to shake her and say “Wake up! He’s manipulating you!” or “Wake up! You’re going to lose this friendship if you can’t stop meddling!”  But of course, Fixie has to learn these things in her own time, and in her own way.

If you know a Fixie (or you are one!), you’ll find lots to relate to.  For me, the story got a tad slow in the middle, but was otherwise a page-turner, and a fun, light read.

Happy reading!

Winnie and the Professor

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Book review: One Day in December

Dear friends,

This book surprised me.  At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but in the end, I couldn’t put it down.

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The story begins with the incident pictured on the cover of the book.  One day in December, Laurie is riding a bus home from her London job.  She’s tired, and just wants to get home to the flat she shares with her old college roommate, Sarah, and open a bottle of wine.  Then something amazing happens.  She looks out the window, and sees a man waiting at a bus stop … their eyes meet … it’s love at first sight … but he doesn’t get on the bus, the bus moves on, and Laurie thinks she will never find him again.

She spends the next year looking for “bus boy” in restaurants, bars, on the street – London’s a big city, but surely she’ll run into him somewhere!  Eventually, she does, when he shows up at a house party as somebody else’s date.  He’s a nice guy, but Laurie falls into a spiral of confusion – does he remember her? is he in love with someone else?  Is she recalling a moment that didn’t really happen?

We follow a decade of Laurie’s life, as Jack (“bus boy”) enters her social circle, and their lives become intertwined.  They become close friends, but they’re never single at the same time, and Laurie’s memory of that first sight of Jack is always hanging in the air between them.

I was skeptical in the beginning because I don’t like the “love at first sight” trope, and it seemed like the story was going to be predictable – but it wasn’t.  Laurie’s romantic ideas about Jack come back down to earth once she gets to really know him.

The story vacillates between Laurie’s point of view and Jack’s (each is the narrator of alternating chapters), so the reader becomes familiar with each one’s thought processes.  The author writes men and women equally well, and I could really hear each character’s voice distinctively.

I don’t want to spoil the ending.  It’s what you think – and it’s not.  Jack and Laurie’s story ends up being very real, very complicated, and full of conflicting emotion.  Both characters grow a lot through their time together.

It’s a winner!  Highly recommended.

Happy reading!
Annette

Book review: The Bookseller

Dear friends,

I just finished this one on Kindle:

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I’m a little weird about mysteries … I get so far in, and then I want to know the answer!  I flip ahead to try to learn the secret.  What can I say, I’m one of those rare people who loves “spoilers,” but I’ll do my best not to spoil this one for you.

This book has been compared to the movie “Sliding Doors,” which I haven’t seen, but if you have, it might give you some idea what to expect.

The Bookseller is the story of Kitty (Katharyn), a woman who owns a bookstore with her best friend.  Kitty lives alone with her cat, Aslan (as a Narnia fan, I love the name), and enjoys her life as an independent, single woman.

Except she has another life.

At night, in her dreams, she enters another world where she is a wife and mother to three children, and her days are very different from everything she knows as a bookstore owner.  This life feels very foreign, and she slowly learns the details of this existence – how old the children are, how long she’s been married, and how she spends her days.  The dreams are vivid, but when she awakes, she’s back in her single-girl apartment.

The story alternates between these two “lives,” and as the “wife and mother” life becomes more vivid, the “single bookstore owner” life becomes less so.  Kitty becomes confused, and wonders if she is mentally ill, and whether one of these lives only exists in fantasy (and if so, which one).

I found the book to be a page-turner because I longed for the answer to those questions!

It’s a quick read, and I think you’d enjoy it.

Blessings,

Annette

Book Review: The Best Kind of People

Dear friends:

This book has received a lot of mixed reviews online, and I can understand why, as I have mixed feelings about it myself:

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The Best Kind of People is a family drama (a genre I usually like, which is why I picked it up).  The story surrounds the Woodburys, a wealthy family living in an elite suburb of Connecticut.  The father, George, teaches at the local private prep school, where the daughter, Sophie, is a student.  Sophie has an older brother, Andrew, who is a lawyer in New York.  The mother, Joan, is an emergency room nurse.  The ancestors of this family founded the town, so they are well-known and socially prominent.  They seem to have it all, until one night …

(While this may seem spoiler-y, it happens in the first chapter, and is what the rest of the book is about) …

The police arrive to arrest the father, George, on charges of inappropriate behavior with some of the girls at the school where he teaches (and Sophie attends).  George denies everything, and no one wants to believe he is capable of such things.  For the rest of the book, we are engaged with his wife’s struggle to make sense of the situation (all signs point to his guilt), his daughter being stigmatized at school, and his son trying to sort out the legal angles of the case.

We don’t really get George’s point of view on all this.  The other family members occasionally visit him in prison while he is awaiting trial, and he maintains his innocence, but the reader doesn’t have a deep window into George’s character.  We spend the most time with the daughter, Sadie, and her boyfriend Jimmy – who have a lot of sex and smoke a lot of pot for young teenagers.  Maybe I’m a prude, but I found those plot elements overblown and a bit tiresome.

The further I got into the book, the more of a page-turner it became, primarily because I wanted to see if George would end up being guilty or not (I’ll leave that to you to discover).  But overall, I didn’t find these family members very likeable, and thought that the wife, Joan, was rather gullible at times.

I gave it 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.  Wasn’t great, wasn’t terrible.

Happy reading, as always!

Annette