The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders

Book cover: The Photographer by Emmanuel GuibertIn 1986, photographer Didier Lefèvre was hired to join Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) on a mission into Afghanistan, which was in the middle of a war with the Soviet Union. MSF had roots in the country but had been forced to leave because of escalating violence that had resulted in the deaths of some of their aid workers. With the country now at war, the need for medical care was imperative, and MSF intended to go back into the heart of the country to establish a hospital.

Getting to their destination was a very dangerous journey that required the help of the Mujahideen. They left Pakistan in the middle of the night and traveled by foot across the border and higher into the rugged mountain terrain of Afghanistan. It was Lefèvre’s job to photograph the journey entire journey, and unlike the others in the MSF team, he didn’t know anything about the culture or speak the language. The team was led by a woman named Juliette, and it is through Lefèvre’s eyes that we see Juliette negotiate with everyone along the way, from humble nomads to wealthy landowners and Mujahideen fighters; it’s a rare sight, considering she’s a petite white woman dealing with leaders from a male-dominated culture. Lefèvre is equally shocked when he sees their final destination: the war-zone hospital they establish in Afghanistan looks nothing like the Western hospitals he’s accustomed to. It’s a life-changing and physically taxing experience for him, and the treacherous journey back is equally formative.

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Second Position

Book cover: Second Position by Katherine LockeFour years ago, Zedekiah (Zed) Harrow and Alyona (Aly) Miller were rising stars in the Philadelphia Ballet. A near-fatal car accident changed their lives. Zed lost his leg, effectively ending his dancing career. The two lost touch and haven’t seen each other since that day.

Four years later, Aly is the principal dancer of the Philadelphia Ballet, but she’s on leave following a violent breakdown in practice. She had been struggling with depression and an eating disorder for a long time before her breakdown, so she’s staying with her mother in Washington, D.C. while she tries to get better. A chance encounter at a cafe brings her back to Zed, who moved to D.C. after the accident and found work as a theater teacher. He’s also had to deal with his own demons over the past few years; in addition to coping with his new disability, he’s a recovering alcoholic. There’s a lot of unspoken hurt and anger between them, but it’s also as if no time at all has passed.

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Whisper Hollow

Book cover: Whisper Hollow by Chris CanderVerra, West Virginia is a small town comprised mostly of first- and second-generation immigrants. Many of the town’s inhabitants work hard for meager wages, and a lot of sons follow in in their father’s footsteps and become coal miners. Spanning from 1916 to 1969, Whisper Hollow follows the lives of two women who have lived in the town all their lives and whose fates are intertwined.

At the beginning of the book, Myrthen Bergmann’s twin sister dies in an accident. Myrthen blames herself and spends the rest of her life in mourning. She devotes her life to Catholicism, and when she finds what nuns are, her sole goal in life is to enter the sisterhood as soon as she’s able to. Meanwhile, Alta Krol daydreams of becoming an artist and seeing the world. When her glamorous aunt and uncle come for a visit from New York City, Alta can’t stop thinking of what life must be like outside Verra. But since her mother died young, Alta is now the one in charge of taking care of her brothers and her father. Both women are pushed into marriage under very different circumstances, but while Alta reluctantly accepts her fate, Myrthen makes a number of decisions that wreak havoc on Alta’s life.

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Bon Appétempt: A Coming-of-Age Story (with Recipes!)

Book cover: Bon Appetempt by Amelia MorrisGrowing up, Amelia Morris was never a foodie, and it wasn’t until she was in her twenties that she decided to test her cooking skills. Despite never having made a cake from scratch — or having much of any kitchen experience whatsoever — she was dazzled by a beautiful chocolate-peppermint cake in Bon Appétit magazine and decided to try the recipe for a Christmas brunch that she was hosting.

Instead of creating a magazine cover-worthy cake to dazzle her friends with, the end result was a confection that had to be scooped out of a serving bowl, “unequivocal proof that if you work hard and follow the rules to a tee, your cake may still fall over and need to be scraped into a bowl on Christmas Day.” She took lots of pictures, was at peace with her epic failure, and ended up creating Bon Appétempt, a blog that’s charted her culinary journey over the past five years.

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Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not to Have Kids

Book cover: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed ed. by Meghan DaumA few years ago, before I hit the big 3-0, one of my older students asked if I had kids. I told her no, and she immediately started scolding me, saying that time was running out and that I needed to start trying to get pregnant so that I wouldn’t be too old to enjoy my hypothetical children or run into problems down the line. When I politely told her I didn’t want kids, she doubled down on trying to convince me of the error of my ways.

I am now at that age — my early 30s — when my friends are being told by their OB/GYNs to start wrapping things up in the baby department. Their eggs, apparently, are dying, and they’re reaching the end of their reproductive lives. Or something. (That sounds really extreme for early-to-mid thirtysomethings, no?). If they wait any longer, it could be too late. So my friends are doing it (no pun intended): they’re working on that second or third baby to complete their family.

Me? I’m daydreaming of my next big travel adventure. I’ve been blatantly called selfish for my childfree by choice stance (maybe I like spending entire days on my couch, living off popcorn and beer while reading multiple books). Shallow? Whatever. Self-absorbed? Yeah, sometimes. But what’s it to you?

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