what i have been reading


“A Thousand Splendid Suns” is Hosseini’s second novel.  His first, “The Kite Runner,” was a melancholy tale focused on the father-son relationship.  You can read my mini-review of “The Kite Runner” in a past blog post.  “A Thousand Splendid Suns” is a story about the sacrifices of motherhood.  Two Afghan women, from very different backgrounds, end up as wives of the same tyrannical husband.  Hosseini begins by giving us deep background on the two women, going back and forth between their separate lives until they eventually become intertwined.

Although these two novels seem to follow the same theme, one about fatherhood and the other about motherhood, they are quite different.  Hosseini’s latest is as much about the setting as it is the personal relationships of the characters.  That is to say, the characters are so shaped by the context of the setting that they become one in the same.  So important is the time and place that the novel has the aftertaste of historical fiction.  After reading both, Khaled Hosseini’s greatest strength seems to be his ability to make readers feel deep empathy for his characters.  This should be the next fiction writer you read.


Empathy (here comes the segue) is one of the main themes of the other book I recently finished, “The Political Mind.”  The author, George Lakoff, is a cognitive scientist interested in ushering in a New Enlightenment based on what we now know about brain function.  He compares the stark differences between conservative and progressive modes of thought, referring to them as strict and nurturing respectively, and then explores how these modes get baked into our unconscious.  The text gets technical and dry at times but overall fascinates and amazes.  Lakoff clearly favors the progressive mode of thought and states that it is based on empathy.

The idea that stood out for me was that there is no such thing as a “moderate” on any one subject.  People use conservative modes of thought about certain issues and progressive modes of thought about others.  Self-described conservatives use the conservative mode of thought for most issues and self-described progressives use the progressive mode of thought for most issues.  This is something I’ve been saying for a long time.  So-called moderates are politically schizophrenic and hinder progress in any direction.  Lakoff, as it happens, does not go that far.  ; )

I discovered George Lakoff when he was interviewed on one of my favorite radio shows, “Radio Open Source.”  I highly recommend giving this episode a listen!  Christopher Lydon is such an engaged and well spoken interviewer.  Listen to the episode, aired on July 11, at the link below:



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