Monday, November 30, 2009

Guest Blog: Rachel Sontag; House Rules

Author Rachel Sontag on her memoir, House Rules.

A compelling, at times horrifying work that is impossible to put down, House Rules cracks open the shell of a desperately dysfunctional family with impressive grace and humor and prose that is both precise and rich.
Rachel Sontag grew up the daughter of a well-liked doctor in an upper middle class suburb of Chicago. The view from outside couldn’t have been more perfect. Well educated, liberal and worldly, the Sontag’s went to synagogue every Friday night. But within the walls of the family home, Rachel’s life was controlled and terrorized by her father’s serious depression. Questioning his authority led to brutal fights; disobedience meant humiliating punishments. When Rachel was twelve, he duct-taped her stereo dial to National Public Radio, measured the length of her hair and fingernails with a ruler, and regulated when she could shower.

A visceral and wrenching exploration of the impact of a damaged psyche on those nearest to him, House Rules will keep you reading even when you wish you could look away.

Thank you, Rachel and please visit her website

Monday, November 16, 2009

Guest Blog: English Professor Jennifer Feller

Three Cups of Tea: one man's mission to fight terrorism and build nations-- one school at a time
by Greg Mortenson , David O. Relin

Compact discs / Read by Patrick Lawlor / 2006.

Recently, Greg Mortenson's story Three Cups of Tea made it into my pile at the public library. I'm a changed person for hearing this tale. While that might seem to be a wild claim, it's literally true. I believe everyone in America should read or listen to this book.

Mortenson is a unique soul, a large man, trained as a nurse, and a mountain climber by vocation. He had two passions for the first three decades of his life: climbing and a desire to cure his younger sister's physical challenges. As a result of his sister's untimely death, Greg became even more determined to explore and celebrate life, to honor hers. In 1993, he joined a group that planned to ascend K2, the highest peak in the world. Characteristically, his trip was cut short by a successful attempt to save a fellow climber. Through a series of chance encounters, Mortenson ended up recovering in small mountain village in Northern Pakistan, where he found his third passion in life.

While he was on the mend, impressed by the compassion, wisdom, and grit of these Himalayans (the Balti), Greg toured the village. When he asked to see their school, he was led to a clearing, where children were practicing their lessons in the dirt. The government allowed the village to share a teacher with a neighboring village, but this was a day the teacher worked in the other. The children studied in the open, as there was nothing to spare for a building or supplies. On the spot, Mortenson vowed to provide a school for these children.

With no training in education, no background in fundraising nor international relations, and no connections who could help him, Mortenson set himself to the task. In fact, Mortenson was computer illiterate and homeless, as he had spent his life studying medicine, stored his belongings in rented space, and travelled constantly to climb. On the other hand, this man is an inspirational archetype of an American: well-travelled, resourceful, strong, honest, tolerant, compassionate, and persistent.

Overcoming all odds and every obstacle, learning from every mistake and gathering friends and supporters along the way, Mortenson succeeded in building that first school. To date, dozens of schools have been built, hundreds of village women have been provided backing for economic development, and, perhaps most important, international and cross-cultural bonds of hope and education have been forged throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson's journey, as perilous and winding as a mountain trek, inspires patience, hope, and diligence. He learned the language, raised money, and risked everything. When approached for background information for this book, he provided a list of his enemies, so that the story could be told honestly. He was kidnapped by insurgents, routinely travelled through war zones, and lived on pennies a day. In fact, he was in Pakistan when the Towers fell in NYC and refused to leave the country until he'd finished the construction he'd planned for that trip.

Mortenson is unique individual, self-taught and determined. To know him is to be involved with his cause. To love him is to be separated from him for months at a time, as he travels and works to build schools and forge peace in the most desolate parts of the Third World. To read this book is to learn, along with Mortenson, more about relationships and humanity that any other I've experienced (in my self-help-soaked life!). The title of the book comes from the first lesson he learned from his hosts, "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die. Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea."