One of the reasons I love books and believe reading is so important is that books give you the opportunity to live other people’s lives, at least for a short while. After reading "The Kite Runner" by Kahlid Hosseini and with the world situation as it is, I have recently been fascinated with the lives of ordinary Muslims. Particularly, what it is like for women to live under the veil.

There are some wonderful books that give insight into their lives."Reading Lolita in Tehran" is the memoir of Azar Nafisi, a bold and inspired teacher in the Islamic Republic of Iran who gathered seven of her most dedicated female students to read forbidden Western classics.

While Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids and fundamentalists seized control of universities, the girls risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the novels of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James and Vladimir Nabokov.

This is the story of their lives, their resilience and their commitment to literature despite the efforts and risks in just getting the books, let alone reading and discussing them.

In "Nine Parts of Desire," Geraldine Brooks (who just won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for her most recent novel, "March") explores the often contradictory lives of Islamic women and the feminism that has flowered for these women. Brooks has journeyed from Saudi Arabia, to Iran, to Nigeria to research this powerful examination of how the fastest growing religion in the world has been distorted to justify the repression of women and how some are attempting to resist this.

Carmen Bin Ladin was married to one of Osama Bin Laden’s many brothers. "Inside the Kingdom" is her story of the controlled life even a wealthy woman from a privileged family must live. A woman must have permission from her husband to do anything. She tells of the time she simply wanted to go to the grocery store and shop for herself. In order to do that, she had to go in the middle of the night with her husband. As they arrived at the store, she passed a dozen men, all with their backs facing her. All employees had to be cleared from the store so she would not be seen by a man. Not wanting her daughters to live such a life, she was able to escape to the West.

Without the availability of books, we might never have the opportunity to see how these women must live and the desire of many of them for change. Nor could we appreciate as much our fortune at having the freedoms we do.


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