"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
Wendell Berry

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Readers are winners."

This feels appropriate to post today, because today is my mom's birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom! Bobbie D is, hands down, the most voracious reader I know--an appropriate adjective as she seems to devour the things, and is never without a paperback in her purse. "No one understood when I started panicking because I forgot my book for the weekend up north!" she recently lamented. But I understand, because Mom also instilled in me this great love, and it's a love I've sadly neglected in recent years.

Now, because I no longer read and edit manuscripts for a living and have been spending a disproportionate amount of time on planes, I’ve had a chance to read quite a few published books. Seeing as how, in the not-so-distant past, I found it impossible to tackle even a book a month for lack of time, this is a serious novelty. Since I left in December, I have read 17 books, actually (excluding guidebooks, etc). I don’t really have an update for my last two weeks in Greece except to remark that I’ve been writing a lot on Naxos Island, so I thought I’d take a minute to give my quick thoughts on those books (and where I read them):

ON THE ROAD (New Zealand): fittingly read for the first time on the start of an epic journey, and still stirs the wanderer’s spirit 60 years after it was written.

TRAVELERS' TALES THAILAND (New Zealand): a valuable collection for its introduction to the country and some very intriguing essays—(notably the one on collecting birds’ nests for the expensive soup)—though others felt misleading in their insistence on the two-facedness of Thai hospitality.

THE BLIND ASSASSIN (Thailand): part noir, part sci-fi, part historical love story, all Atwood in top form.

STRANGE THINGS (Thailand): reliably smart, feminist essays on literature of the Canadian North, featuring wendigos, "Grey Owl Syndrome," isolation, and insanity.

CAT’S EYE (Thailand—yes, more Atwood!): with cruel accuracy , brings you alarmingly back to those moments in childhood in which you were bullied at the hands of so-evil-they-weren’t-even-aware-of-it ten-year-olds—even if this doesn’t explicitly parallel your life.

[There is another book in here read upon arrival in India that I can’t for the life of me recall.]

GRACELING (India): an exciting dystopian YA page-turner about Katsa, a kick-ass, morally-conflicted heroine with a killing grace—yes, there’s a hot boy in it, too.

TOUCHING THE VOID (Nepal): Joe Simpson's 'tude is at times a bit hard to abide, but his first-hand account of against-all-odds survival while mountain climbing in the Peruvian Andes in indeed terrifying and immensely readable.

THE BOOK THIEF (Nepal): set during the Holocaust and narrated by death, this is an exquisitely-rendered old favorite about love, life, and wonder through books—better and more heartbreaking with each read.

THE FEAST OF LOVE (Nepal): U of M prof Charlie Baxter's charming and honest stories of love from several first-person narratives, along with a nostalgic glimpse into Ann Arbor neighborhoods.

SOLD (Nepal): McCormick’s succinct and cutting first person narrative of a thirteen-year-old girl taken from a hilltop village in Nepal’s Himalayas with promises of a job as a maid, only to be sold into child sex slavery in Delhi’s brutal underworld.

THE KITE RUNNER (Nepal): disappointing after the hype; true, it pulls at the heartstrings and yes, it gives a window into a culture ground underfoot, but read after A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, it feels a bit contrived and verbose.

WARM BODIES (Israel): angsty yet believable teen zombie love in an unfeeling world; funny and well-done, though puzzling that it was released as an adult novel.

WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING (Greece): though at times Murakami’s brisk, candid voice feels almost anti-social, the account is most valuable for the glimpse into his writing process, and for both the admiration and intense desire to put on a pair of running shoes it inspires.

WOLF HALL (Greece): a fascinating, engrossing, often gruesome fictionalized but seemingly historically-accurate look at Thomas Cromwell’s life during his rise to power under Henry VIII.

THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH (Greece): thankfully more Fitzgeraldian than Caulfieldian; the language crackles, the dialogue smirks, and you both love and hate every so-real-they-could-spit character Art Bechstein comes across.

DREAMS FROM MY FATHER (Greece): through an early memoir about his absent father, pre-president Obama opines on race and inheritance, and in the inspiring voice and intelligent, strikingly well-crafted sentences, it’s impossible not to glimpse the seed of what was to come.

*These are my opinions only, and do not reflect those of my publisher, Hachette Book Group, or of James Patterson.

** I kind of miss the days of Book It, where you used to get a free personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut each time you passed a level. I dominated that competition, because it combined my two favorite things of all time: books and greasy food.

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