26 July 2016

Lazy, bored, tired, old?

It's been nearly a year since I wrote here about anything I read.

Partly that's because reading got interrupted. I bought a book for my "Nook" to take on a family vacation to Wyoming. I figured I wouldn't have much time to read while in Jackson Hole and Yellowstone with children and grandchildren along. That was correct, but then about two-thirds of the way through a now-forgotten book, the reader stopped working. It turned out that the "book" I had was corrupted, but I never got to finish it. The Nook has been sitting on a shelf since.

A year before the vacation, I bought a used copy of a recommended Jo Nesbø book. Following the Scandinavian democratic socialist rules for mystery/thrillers, Nesbø was telling several stories at once. Set in different times and places with few overlapping characters (at least at the beginning), I found it very hard to keep track of things. I started the book several times. The last time I started it I tried taking notes inside the front cover so I could keep track of people and stories. It wasn't much help.

After vacation, I didn't go near it. [However, last fall we got hooked on a Norwegian television mini-series titled Okkupert (Occupied in English). While written by Karianne Lund and Erik Skjoldbjaerg, the story was outlined by Jo Nesbø. Good for him. The series was intriguing and well done. It was available on Netflix and popular enough (in spite of the need for sub-titles) to get Norwegian television to order a second season (without subtitles for Norwegians). It's a cautionary tale about how a Western democracy could lose its democracy, that Americans should pay close attention to. (And the defenders of the democracy in the script are not the 2nd Amendment purist, anti-government backwoodsmen envisioned by the Tea Party or by Kevin Reynolds in Red Dawn.)]

When I did pick up a book to read, I did so in response to seeing an interview of Aasif Mandvion TV. He's best known as the Senior Muslim Correspondent for Jon Stewart's Daily Show. Some things he said in the interview (now forgotten by me) made this serious actor sound intriguing, so I bought his book: No Land's Man.

The title is apt. The book is about Mandvi's search for identity. He is culturally a Muslim, born in northern India. His family moved to Bradford, England when he was a child. Bradford is a West Yorkshire city that offered lots of jobs in its 19th century mills. Not so much any more. It's one of those areas that voted heavily for Brexit. Mandvi went to grammar school and then to a residential boy's school. Mandvi didn't fit in. He didn't know where he might fit in.

The search didn't get any easier in Tampa, Florida where his family moved when he was 16. It was his mother, sensing his unease, who suggested he take an acting class. That was how he found a "place" in a large suburban American high school dominated by jocks and white kids. He wrote, "I had been blown this way and that my entire life, wearing whatever identity I could in order to be accepted. Perhaps this was why I had chosen to become an actor. Seeking invisibility and notoriety at the same time is something actors understand. I was always jealous of those people that knew who they were."

From stories about his well-received one-man show on Broadway to his hiring by Jon Stewart to Brooke Shield's New Year's Eve party, Mandvi tells stories well. There's a sense of humor in them, but this is serious reflection. Some of us white natives wonder where we fit it, too. Not to the degree a dark skinned immigrant wonders, but the questions exist for me too.  I enjoyed this little book.

Have you read No Land's Man? How did you react to it? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you think.

Aasif Mandvi On Life As A 'No Land's Man' from Fresh Air

Thrity Umrigar's review in the Boston Globe

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