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Update June 2017

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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
Book Review

Update June 24, 2017

‘Daring to Drive’ illuminates Saudi woman’s life

Kevin Begos

“Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening” (Simon & Schuster)), by Manal Al-Sharif

Beset by traffic, smog and other distractions, it’s easy to forget that driving a car is an act of free will, in theory transcending race, class and gender.

Then imagine what life would be like if women weren’t allowed to drive.  Need to go to the hospital?  No.  Pick up kids after work?  No.  Visit family or friends?  No.  The only options are call a driver or wait for a male relative.

Manal Al-Sharif illuminates the insidious nature of that reality in Saudi Arabia.  “Daring to Drive” is a brave, extraordinary, heartbreakingly personal story of one woman’s battle for equal rights, told through the minute details of an everyday life that boiled over after years of frustrations.

The book provides a rare glimpse into Saudi society, and especially into the lives and emotions of women.  Rules — especially for women — are everywhere, and so are the punishments for breaking them.  “Every public and most private spaces were saturated with radical books, brochures, and cassette sermons ... (and) these pieces of religious propaganda were overwhelmingly intended to enforce the compliance of women,” she writes.

Al-Sharif’s father and mother beat her; teachers beat students; her husband beat her; and other men beat their wives, usually with few consequences.  Those passages are searingly painful to read, but Al-Sharif has the rare ability to put her suffering in context.

The book ends with a blow-by-blow account of her arrest in May 2011 as part of a larger protest against a driving ban.  That November she filed a lawsuit challenging the government refusal to give licenses to women.  Soon afterward leading religious scholars warned that doing so would lead to a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce.  The experts proclaimed that “within ten years there would be no more virgins” in the country if women were allowed to drive.

Al-Sharif presents a valuable and honest look into the hearts and minds of people who live in a society that is mostly off-limits to Westerners.  Her literary achievement is that despite the huge cultural differences, “Daring to Drive” shows that Saudi women and men have dreams and fears much like our own. (AP)

Update June 17, 2017

Maum suggests we put down our digital screens in ‘Touch’

Lincee Ray

“Touch” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), by Courtney Maum

We live in a generation where we view the world through a screen.  Most of our professional and social lives are dominated by a laptop, smartphone, digital tablet, or high-definition television.  In her novel “Touch,” Courtney Maum considers a time in the not-so-distance future where communicating through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth takes a backseat to the physical need for human contact.

Sloane Jacobsen is the reason people “swipe.”  She forecast the digital wave of non-stop communication well before the world caught on.  As a global trendsetter, a wide array of companies often hire Sloane to help them navigate the next big thing.  Whether it’s fashion, lifestyle, or gadgets, Sloane’s curious premonitions help her to correctly target which direction the market is going to swing.

When Sloane predicts that having children will soon be considered an indulgence, global tech giant Mammoth hires her to help market their products to a “childless” community.  Sloane attacks the project from all angles with several in-house brainstorming sessions.  She even implements an anonymous idea box.

Sloane soon realizes that even though employees appear to be enthusiastic about technology, many long for something more personal.  Something as simple as a hug.  She must make a decision.  Will her boss be angry at her sudden flipped strategy that forecasts the merchandise his company produces will be trumped by compassion?  To make matters worse, Sloane’s boyfriend, who was also hired by her boss, is about to publish an op-ed piece directly contradicting her informal findings.  Which direction will the campaign go?

“Touch” is an interesting take on what life would be like if we just put down our phones and stepped away from the computer.  Maum reminds us to not forget about those who are living and breathing right around us.  Because a loving hug, tight squeeze, or simple touch is so much more fulfilling than a text. (AP)

Update June 10, 2017

‘Apollo 8’ tells thrilling story of moon mission

Jeff Ayers

“Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon” (Henry Holt), by Jeffrey Kluger

In “Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon,” author Jeffrey Kluger takes readers inside the capsule of the Apollo 8 mission, the first one to journey to the moon and back, which paved the way for the Apollo 11 mission less than seven months later.

Kluger takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to the beginning of the American space race, showcasing the various men who would become astronauts.  With the end of the 1960s rapidly approaching, the deadline unveiled by President John F. Kennedy to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade seemed a lost cause.  Bold and dangerous decisions had to be made.

Apollo 1 ended in tragedy when the three men inside the capsule perished in a fire during a test on the ground.  That put off missions for a while, but when they resumed, the astronauts did nothing more than work in Earth’s orbit.  When it came time for Apollo 8, the heads of NASA realized that if they were going to achieve Kennedy’s dream, they had to make a bold move.

It was decided that Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders would make the first journey to the moon, orbiting it several times and photographing potential landing sites on the lunar surface.

Every agonizing moment both prior to the mission and the mission itself unfolds in fascinating detail, and Kluger makes the reader more than just an observer while events transpire.

Those familiar with the early history of NASA and the Apollo missions will love “Apollo 8,” and those who were born in later years will discover a full understanding of a tumultuous time and the fascinating people who helped make a dream a reality. (AP)



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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

‘Daring to Drive’ illuminates Saudi woman’s life

Maum suggests we put down our digital screens in ‘Touch’

‘Apollo 8’ tells thrilling story of moon mission


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