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11-19-14: David Greene Catches 'Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia'

The Character(s) of a Country

David Greene's 'Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia' is a subtle triumph of showing, not telling, on two levels. The characters he crafts in his engaging and entertaining travelogue arrive early and often. We're right there with him, from page to person without a hint of his writerly skills. He simply puts us in his shoes and theirs with fewest, smartest, craftiest words he can find. And what a cast! This is people watching at its finest.

But all the while something else is happening as well. As we get to know "Aunt Nina," Sergei, his translator, the son of the creator of the AK47, singers, a kid hawking space rocks from a meteor strike, Greene's episodes craft for readers another character; Russia itself.

By showing us the country from the ground up – he took that train for a reason – Greene builds for his readers a new Russia. Forget the headlines and the celebrity (there's really only one). Greene makes it clear to his readers that Russia is not simply a country of threats, bluster and crackdowns. Greene's talent for showing us character quickly begins to reveal the character of the country.

At every turn, Greene is there with us, for us. He lets his characters speak for themselves, and in so doing create a rather different vision of Russia than one might presume. Few of us can afford to travel as Greene does; his experience as a reporter for NPR gives him an easy air of access. He already knew the country he sought to portray, and happily as he did so, he clearly learned a lot more. His ability to put us there easily is a triumph of the quiet, thoughtful observer. 'Midnight in Siberia' is about much more than a single moment in a single place. Our world hangs in the balance.




11-17-14: Azar Nafisi Resides In 'The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books'

Choose Your World

Reading is an artistic experience, one that requires a real, learned skill on the part of the reader. Anyone can quickly become a master reader. It's a learn-by-doing skill. Better still, as readers we are all collaborating on our art with the writers we read. Azar Nafisi is a superb writer and reader. In her new book, 'The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books,' Nafisi makes use of both skills to give her readers a leg up. It's learn-by-doing squared.

The book is divided into five sections. The introduction is a rabble-rousing call-to-arms for readers, the sort of thing that will have you toting the book into the presence of the nearest human so that you can read it aloud. If humans are unavailable, pets or the Internet may suffice. What Nafisi does is to expertly frame her personal experiences in the context of larger questions. She begins the book with an anecdote from a book tour, and spiral out from that kernel to craft truly uplifting prose about import and necessity of the reading experience.

Mark Twain's 'Huck Finn' was the impetus for starting the book in the first place, but she found that she had to bin her critical exegesis for something more personal. In the segment of the book covering Twain's masterpiece, she brings readers into her life and the life of a close friend from Iran. Their experiences in democracy and theocracy are refracted in the themes and language of Twain's novel. It'd a moving, intense, moody essay on the import of free speech and how closely freedom of thought and freedom of reading – and imagination – are bound.

She next examines 'Babbitt' by Sinclair Lewis. As with any book she mentions, whether you've read it or not, Nafisi will have you grabbing a copy pronto – and one trusts that you'll be purchasing any new copy from an independent bookstore. 'Babbitt' becomes a stepping-stone for a discussion on the necessity for the so-called "liberal" education, as opposed to the vocational model that's being foisted on a populace trapped in a seemingly permanent economic downturn.

Carson McCullers' 'The Heart is A Lonely Hunter' inspires the story of a friend of hers who lost his way. Nafisi comes to edge of breaking the reader's heart while e3xploring the human heart and the need for connection that McCullers captures with such power and precision. This leads to an epilogue about James Baldwin that evokes his presence in the world of our imaginations.

Nafisi never misses a step in 'The Republic of Imagination.' She makes sure that the writing and the stories she tells are engaging, but she does so while telling a bigger story about readers and reading to those reading the book. There's more than a bit of literary recursion to be found here. Readers will find themselves lost in her stories only to find themselves part of those stories. Reading, which is so often portrayed as a solitary experience becomes, in Nafisi's vision, a very public experience. We all belong to a country that has no borders beyond those we allow. Everyone can open a book and create their own Republic of Imagination. Set your eyes to the page and let the language take you where you desire to go.



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11-19-14: Commentary : David Greene Catches 'Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia' : The Character(s) of a Country

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with David Greene : "It was very easy to literally just tell their stories..."

11-17-14: Commentary : Azar Nafisi Resides In 'The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books' : Choose Your World

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Azar Nafisi : "I wanted to show how close reality and fiction are..."

11-15-14: Commentary : Cary Elwes Delivers 'As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride' : Re-Reading and Re-Viewing

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Cary Elwes : "...an unwise decision on my part..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 183: Azar Nafisi : Republic of the Imagination: America in Three Books

11-10-14: Commentary : Dana Cowin 'Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen' : Learning to Cook — and Live

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Dana Cowin : "...so I add a little more citrus..."

11-09-14:Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 182: Dana Cowin : Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook with 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes

11-06-14: Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Paolo Bacigalupi and A. S. King : "You're handing us all the problems..." Paolo Bacigalupi "That gray area is so important for readers..." A. S. King

11-05-14: Commentary : A. S. King Foresees 'Glory O'Brien's History of the Future' : Halls of Mirrorsr

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with A. S. King : "How much do we really change?"

11-04-14: Commentary : Paolo Bacigalupi Believes In 'The Doubt Factory' : Thrills Matter

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Paolo Bacigalupi : "...these are perfectly nice people..."

10-30-14: Commentary : Brian J. Showers Opens 'The Green Book, Issue 4' : 200 Years of Le Fanu

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 181: Paolo Bacigalupi : The Doubt Factory

10-27-14: Commentary : Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers Recall 'Dreams of Shadow and Smoke: Stories for J. S. Le Fanu' : New Stories for an Antiquary

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Brian J. Showers : "I have a lot reference materials on my desk..."

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