I am an occasional blogger for NHPR’s Word of Mouth, and a big fan of the show. Virginia Prescott, their talented host, stopped by Gibson’s last week and asked me to send her my picks for overlooked books of 2009. Here they are:
If I Had a Hammer: Building Homes and Hope with Habitat for Humanity, by David Rubel
David has absolutely nailed the essence of Habitat’s work and why it is changing lives all over the world. The book is for young people, but it’s not dumbed down — David explains what poverty housing is, and why eliminating it improves so many other aspects of a new Habitat homeowner’s life. He also gives one of the most compelling inside looks at volunteering I’ve ever read. If I Had a Hammer reminds us that in a world where we hear nonstop about all the ways we don’t get along, Habitat has been quietly bringing people together for decades — people of different family and educational backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, religions, political beliefs, and skin colors. I dare you to read this and not come down with a severe case of Habitatitis! A great read, full of photos, great for all ages.
The Gift of An Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir, by Katrina Kenison
Katrina writes so beautifully, she can make even an argument with an adolescent about what he’s wearing sing on the page. She shares the good, the bad, and the ugly in this memoir about parenting teens, losing a longtime and fulfilling job, moving, and other mid-life upheavals. Her honest and searing assessment of the college application process for her highly talented son will resonate with others who are facing that process, but the quiet beauty of her writing about simply being open to life’s changes, and able to not just accept them but thrive in new ways, makes this book one to revisit and reflect on long after you’ve finished reading.
All That Work and Still No Boys by Kathryn Ma
Winner of the Iowa Short Fiction award but not well known, at least not on the East coast, Ma writes about the Chinese American immigrant experience and manages to take the reader on an emotional ride from humor to suspense to grim determination in this collection of ten stories. Ma’s writing is strong, original, and detailed. Her stories are tight, complex, and well drawn. My favorites were “Second Child,” “The Scottish Play,” “For Sale By Owner,” and “Mrs. Zhao and Mrs. Wu.”