Tag Archives: books

Books and Marriage

I just finished the book Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s all about her desperation to come to peace with the concept of marriage after her Brazilian boyfriend gets deported. If they wanted to stay in the States, getting married was the only option. Although I loved her previous book – Eat, Pray, Love – I just couldn’t get excited about the topic of marriage. But I gave it a whirl. And it was a fun little ride.
She details the history of marriage, pointing out that the Christian church initially denounced it! Who knew? Lots of other nebulous little tidbits were tucked in every chapter.
Perhaps the most shocking section for me was found on page 128. Gilbert crafted a list of her worst character flaws to ensure her boyfriend entered into the union fully informed. I was lounging on the sofa with Tony at the time I read this page, so when I gasped with horror, he asked, “What?” I read him the list and he nearly went into convulsions with laughter. There was no denying that Gilbert’s most horrible character flaws were also MY most horrible character flaws. I couldn’t have articulated my own faults any more clearly. One of them – #3 – really hit the nail on the head.
Here it is, as written by Gilbert to her fiance:

(3) I have far more enthusiasm in life than I have actual energy. In my excitement, I routinely take on more than I can physically or emotionally handle, which causes me to break down in quite predictable displays of dramatic exhaustion. You will be the one burdened with the job of mopping me up every time I’ve overextended myself and then fallen apart. This will be unbelievably tedious. I apologize in advance.

Yikes! When I read #3 out loud, Tony was in hysterics. As I write this, he is actually across the street getting a massage. I am feeling too stressed out to get a massage.
“Wouldn’t a massage help?” he asked on his way out the door.
Big eyeroll with accompanying sigh. “No,” I said, a bit frantically. “I have to ride my bike 100 kilometers tomorrow! It’s all I can think about.”
Another big eyeroll, from Tony this time.
See what he has to deal with on a regular basis.
Yeah, I do tend to jump on every opportunity that: (a) offers a chance to meet people, (b) makes me aim for a goal, (c) teaches me a new skill or hones existing skills, (d) lets me see a new part of the world, (e) involves friends, wine and music, and well, let’s face it, this list could go on forever.
That’s why I’m training for a 3-day bike ride with Team Dai to raise money for three local charities.
That’s why I’m obsessively reading in all my spare time to meet the 100+ Book Reading Challenge.
That’s why I’m launching and moderating a blog for the fifth grade’s 8-week PYP Exhibition unit.
That’s why I agreed to help out a Lao friend of a friend who has a translation business and needs editing support.
That’s why I’m attending after-school rehearsals each week to prepare for a dramatic reading of “Under Milkwood” by Dylan Thomas.
It all seems ridiculous and overwhelming, and as my doppelganger Gilbert pointed out, I do occasionally go off the deep end. Last night, I actually slept for the first time all week.
And yet, there’s nothing I would give up. I want it all. And I can have it all because I have Tony to prop me back up when my brain and body scream out, “No, you absolutely can NOT have it all, you big dummy!” and I collapse in a sobbing heap on the living room floor.
Which brings me back to marriage, the topic of my latest read. As Gilbert discovered through her research (both scholarly and informal), marriage is no walk in the park. She makes plenty of arguments for NOT doing it. But if you’re lucky enough to find someone who will put up with #3 – not only put up with it, but actually kind of like it – then I guess you’ve got to stick with him.

My 2010 Reading List

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Here are the books I’ve read so far in 2010! Click on the book cover to link to the author’s website.

(1) Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear (completed Jan. 2)
messenger of truth
This is the fourth book in a series about Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator, who solves mysteries in post-World War I London. I am a big fan of the who-dunit genre, historical fiction and quirky mystical characters, and this series covers all three bases!

(2) The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill (completed Jan. 5)
180px-The_Coroner's_Lunch_UK
My friend, Kimbra, recommended this book because it’s set in Vientiane, Laos, where I’m now living. I found it in the Siem Reap, Cambodia, airport, and I devoured it in two days. In some ways, it fits in the same categories as the first book I listed: it’s a historical fiction/detective novel combo with a big dash of mysticism. The main character, Dr. Siri Paiboun, is a feisty and cynical physician who is focused on retirement when the communists appoint him to be State Coroner. I am madly in love with Dr. Siri, and I can not WAIT to get my hands on the other five books in this series.

(3) Misadventure in the Middle East by Henry Hemming (completed Jan. 12)
misadventure in the middle east
I slogged through this nonfiction account of 20-somethings traveling and making art in their quest to shatter Western stereotypes of the “Islamic world.” Some parts were fascinating; the guys did have incredible experiences and encounters with interesting people, and they went through an important psychological transformation. I found it a bit slow, but it’s a bestseller and has been shortlisted for “best travel writing” awards, so what do I know?

(4) Last Orders by Graham Swift (completed Jan. 14)
last orders
(I couldn’t find an author website, so this book cover links to his Wikipedia page.)
This London-based novel is full of complex characters and richly painted settings. It’s a tale of four men, who carry out their friend’s last wish: to scatter his ashes in the sea. Their interconnectedness is revealed during the journey. I generally find books by Booker Prize winners to be engaging and thought-provoking, and this was no exception. Maybe a little too serious for a girl on vacation, though.

(5) The Black Echo by Michael Connelly (completed Jan. 18)
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My reading selections generally alternate between heavier “literature” and mind-candy thrillers. This gritty detective novel was a real page-turner. Compelling characters, insomnia-inducing suspense, and a plot with some Vietnam War history, which is particularly of interest now that I live in that neck of the woods.

(6) Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (completed Jan. 21)
amsterdam
This is my third book by Ian McEwan (after Saturday and Atonement), and I have to say he’s 3 for 3. Winner of the Booker Prize, McEwan is a master of crafting seemingly throw-away lines that capture the essence of the moment. For example: “He concealed a gasp of self-pity behind a loud adult laugh.”

(7) Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai (completed Jan. 26)
fasting feasting
What’s with authors not having their own websites? Click on the book cover to link to Anita Desai’s page at contemporaryauthors.com.
I’m heading to Mumbai in about 10 days for a workshop, so I particularly relished this story set in India and full of references to the clothes, food, religion and traditions. Anita Desai’s style creates a sense of familiarity, taking an exotic setting and making it feel comfortable and almost routine. The American scenes actually felt more foreign to me.

(8) The Coastliners by Joanne Harris (completed Feb. 2)
coastliners
I must have picked up this book at one of our Shanghai book clubs. It sat on my shelf for quite awhile, but I’m running out of options so I decided to give it a whirl. It was great! I didn’t realize she was the same author who wrote Chocolat (I only saw the movie). One thing I liked about this book was that it was so different from everything else I’ve read lately.

(9) Thirty-Three Teeth by Colin Cotteril (completed Feb. 6)
teeth
Well, it’s no secret that I’m nuts for this series about a 70-something coroner in Laos. The author will be the guest speaker at our school’s fund-raising gala next week. Can’t wait to meet him! And can’t wait to read the next book …

(10) Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs (completed Feb. 12)
deja
The main character in this book was the inspiration for the forensic anthropologist in the TV series Bones. I’ve always loved these books, but I’ve been reading them out of order. This one was the first. It scared the pants off me.

(11) The Magicians by Lev Grossman (completed Feb. 21)
the-magicians-by-lev-grossman
Although this book felt like a bubbling brew of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Catcher in the Rye and a big dollop of the Chronicles of Narnia, it also somehow felt fresh and different. It kept me guessing right up till the last few pages. I’ve heard a sequel is on the way. Looking forward to it!

(12) Committed – A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert (completed Feb. 26)
committed-lg
I relished Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love because every page revealed something else we had in common: wanderlust, a quest for meaningful spirituality, a passion for yoga, liberal politics, extreme extrovert tendencies, and so on. I wasn’t sure I would be so pumped about a book on marriage. Parts were a bit repetitive, and sometimes I got bored with her over-the-top fretting (although, I can’t deny it’s another trait we share). However, I thought she deftly wove the history of marriage with her own quirky stories and interesting social research. I appreciated her desire to buck tradition and view marriage as a subversive act. Overall, a good read!

(13) The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman (completed Feb. 28)
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There’s a fantastic little bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, called The Raven. It specializes in mysteries, and one of the staff members, Rochelle, has known me since my college days at KU. Whenever I visit Kansas, I pop in to the Raven, and Rochelle helps me stock up. She knows what I like to read, and she found another winner in this author. Gilman’s protagonist, Mrs. Pollifax, is a trusting older lady who specializes in growing flowers and occasionally serves as a courier for the CIA. This book takes her to Bulgaria and features just the right mix of history, suspense and whimsy.

(14) Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson (completed March 5)
elbow room
I’m very slowly working my way through all the Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction, and this collection of short stories about blacks and whites in America won in 1978. I found some of the stories a bit challenging to muddle through and some truly enchanting. Sometimes I stopped and reread passages in awe.

(15) The Narrows by Michael Connelly (completed March 10)
The_Narrows_MM
Another riveting detective novel by Connelly (see #5). I needed a fun page-turner during my Team Dai ride. My brain couldn’t focus on anything heavier, so this was perfect.

(16) Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (completed March 16)
birdsong
As I’ve mentioned before, historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I think this book is destined to become a classic. It traces the experiences of a young Englishman in the First World War. I always know I’m enthralled by a book when I occasionally pause, set it down, and think about the passage I just read.

(17) In Plain Sight by Barbara Block (completed March 18)
in plain sight
I love a good thriller/mystery/detective novel, but I found this one a bit dull. The amateur sleuth, Robin Light, just wasn’t interesting. Two thumbs down.

(18) The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston (completed March 27)
dreams
I’ve had this book on my shelf for ages, and I kept meaning to read it. It just seemed so heavy. But once I jumped in, I was completely smitten. It now ranks among my all-time favorite reads. So much to love: fantastic description of a completely unfamiliar landscape (Newfoundland), richly drawn multi-layered characters, brilliant irony, and a beautiful story. I’m feeling a bit sad that it had to end.

(19) Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill (completed March 29)
DftD
Another fabulous Dr. Siri mystery by my author crush. And it’s another hit. Like expensive chocolates, these books are a special treat and over all too quickly. I’m trying to space them out so there will always be one waiting for me.

(20) Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (completed April 11)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of nonfiction, but this classic was a real page-turner. I was actually happy to go on a long flight so I’d have time to really settle in with it. Fascinating, horrifying, titillating, sad, but suspenseful even though the ending is no mystery. I’m looking forward to reading Krakauer’s other books.

(21) White Teeth by Zadie Smith (completed April 17)

This book had received lots of press but mixed reviews from my friends, so it’s been sitting on my shelf for a few years. I took it on vacation with me this week and found it hot and cold. The sharp writing and dry sense of humor sucked me right in, but some of the scenarios were just too drawn-out. There were definitely some interesting twists and unexpected weirdness. Overall, I’d recommend it.

(22) A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman (completed April 19)

Mrs. Pollifax mysteries always provide a great escape to some interesting part of the world – this time, it’s Switzerland. The plot is unpredictable, and the main character’s easy-going nature creates a fun juxtaposition with the danger she faces. This is the fourth book in the series.

(23) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (completed April 30)

At times I found the Spanglish completely unintelligible, but the author’s acerbic commentary on the political goings-on in the D.R. were brilliant. This book is a case study in how to give characters a voice. Diaz made such unlikely choices in writing this novel, such as telling the story from the perspective of the sister’s boyfriend, intertwining a multitude of complicated family histories and pulling the reader away from the plot with copious footnotes. Yet it all worked.

(24) Our Game by John Le Carre (completed May 4)

This was my first book by this master of the spy genre. I found it compelling, but a bit of a slog.

(25) Bones by Jan Burke (completed May 8 )

I had been saving this book because I knew it would be good. Holy cow, it was more than good. I could barely function at work over the last couple days because all I wanted to do was get home at read this book.

(26) The Road by Cormac McCarthy (completed May 12)

I just finished this book, but I found I couldn’t step away from it. I reread the back cover and blurbs inside the front cover. I reread the first page and flipped through, rereading passages and reflecting on the language. I actually found myself stroking the book. It was so horrific and yet beautiful at the same time, the most unfathomable tragedy interwoven with the deepest most profound love.

(27) Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill

Another awesome episode in the life of Dr. Siri. Still savoring this series and trying not to read them all too quickly!

(28) Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs

This is another favorite mystery writer, and again, I’m trying to space out her books. Happy to report I’m still enjoying the series.

(29) An Angel for Solomon Singer by Cynthia Rylant

As a teacher, I use Rylant’s books in the classroom a lot, but I had never read this one before. It’s a beautiful story of an older lonely man living in a big city.

(30) Wild Swans by Jung Chan

Having just lived in China for four years, I found this book fascinating. So many of her stories resonated with me as I could see how modern China still reeled from the Mao years. The hardships suffered by three generations of women were shocking, but ultimately hers is an uplifting story of a family that sticks together and supports one another through horrific conditions.

(31) Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen

I’ve always loved Anna Quindlen’s writing style. Everything flows so smoothly, and then BAM – something completely unexpected happens. She captures those emotions and fears that we all keep guarded. This was a beautiful, although sad, tale of an abused wife who makes a break for it with her young son. Loved it.

(32) An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

I continue to love delving in to these historical novels, which are rich with description of a bygone era. Many of the scenes and much of the language is actually indecipherable to me. But her stories are fascinating with unpredictable endings. Can’t wait to buy her next one when I’m home over the summer!

(33) Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill

Another quirky fascinating read about my favorite Lao coroner. It’s such a treat to read this series while I’m living in its setting.

(34) The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

I heard Kiran Desai speak at the Literary Festival in Shanghai one year, so I bought this book. It’s a Man Booker Prize winner, but I found Desai to be uninspiring as a speaker and I was a bit put off by the length of time it took her to write this novel. I expected it to be overworked and dull, and in fact, some parts were. Overall, though, it portrayed a diverse group of characters with rich detail, revealing their histories and peeling away their layers. I often set down the book to ponder the powerlessness experienced by people trapped in a certain place and time (in this story, India and New York) while political events tear away traditions, possessions, and relationships.

(35) The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Since reading this book, I’ve been told that it was overhyped. I’m glad I didn’t hear all the hype because I genuinely enjoyed reading it. The relationships between Southern white families and their domestic help in the 60s were so interesting, albeit awful.

(36) New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

(37) Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

I read these two Twilight books in a row so that I could quickly catch up and go see the Eclipse movie. I have to say I have changed camps: I am totally a fan of Jacob now! Bella is such an idiot not to realize that best friends make the best long-term lovers! Anyway, I’m taking a little break from this genre for awhile…

(38) The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

I read this last night while I was suffering from insomnia. Quick engaging read with a sweet sappy message.

(39) Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I have to admit I scoffed at the idea of this romance/historical novel. Over the summer, my dad was reading it, and I gave him all kinds of crap about it. But I also have to admit it was a fun read. The sexy stuff got a bit stale. Yes, yes, you’re crazy about each other. But the historical stuff was interesting. I look forward to the checking out the next book in the series.

(40) Despite the Falling Snow by Shamim Sarif

This beautiful book, full of twists and turns, bounces between Post-Stalinist Russia and modern-day Boston. A love story. A mystery. A darn good read.

(41) An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

Most of this historical thriller was absolutely riveting, especially the details about health care in the 1600s. A story is told from the perspective of four different characters, each with very different ideas of how the events unfolded. I couldn’t have predicted the ending!

(42) The Twits by Roald Dahl

I read this children’s book to see whether it would be fun to teach in my ESL classes. Unfortunately, I found it a bit weak compared to some of Dahl’s other work.

(43) The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

Another Pulitzer Prize winner, this historical novel appealed to me on so many levels. I cherished the stunningly crafted descriptions of Tsarist Russia. I enjoyed the explorations of spirituality and politics. I felt indignation on behalf of the character, who was wrongly accused of a crime.

(44) 206 Bones by Kathy Reichs

This author never disappoints!

(45) Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

This book was named Best of the Booker; of all the books that have won the Booker Prize, this book was considered the best. I found it to be an incredibly difficult read, mainly because I wanted to savor every word. The intermingling of Indian history with magic and fantasy created a riveting tale full of fully developed characters. So many voices, so much color.

(46) Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

This novel was based on the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress. It was interesting to look at the famous architect through another person’s eyes, but I thought the characters were all a bit too shallow. The ending threw me for a loop!

(47) Fatal Voyage by Kathy Reichs

This is the fourth installment in the series about Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist. Somehow I’d missed this one. Always good fun, although I probably shouldn’t have read this one on a plane!

(48) Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss

After reading so many heart-banging suspense novels and heavy works of literature lately, this book was like a gentle spring breeze. Artfully crafted descriptions and well-developed characters created a lovely – if not action-packed or emotionally challenging – story. As a horse lover, I empathized with the main character, and as a lover of historical fiction, I found the tales of pioneer life quite riveting.

(49) Tinkers by Paul Harding

This thin novel won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I wish I had kept count of how many times I set down the book to call Tony and read passages to him. It’s not hard to find a book that tells a good story, and it’s not hard to find a book full of fresh, creative wordplay, but it is truly rare to find a book that does both without diminishing either goal. Pages-long descriptions of things as banal as a still-life painting were mesmerizing.

(50) The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

This was one of the hardest books I’ve encountered lately. The writing flowed beautifully, and the stories were clear, but the topic was so painful. I’ve read heaps of fiction set in World War I and II, but I can’t recall reading any other Vietnam War novels. I suppose it’s a little too close to home with so many family members in the military, as well as friends and family who served in Vietnam. Still, it was an important book to read. As we ponder a trip to Vietnam in the spring, I will keep the images and events of this book in mind.

(51) Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster

I don’t really know why this book was on my kindle. Did I really purchase it? It’s not at all the type of stuff I usually read. Her writing style is sharp, sarcastic and judgmental – a lot like my own, I think. So why didn’t I love it more? I was quite amused by some of her antics, but I also got a bit bored when stories dragged on too long. Kudos to her, though, for getting off her big ass and getting her book published.

(52) Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin

This book was a loaner, and I kept putting it off in favor of hand-picked goodies on my kindle. I finally gave it a go this weekend, and I read it straight through. I simply cannot praise it enough. I don’t need to dwell on my usual disdain for nonfiction; suffice it to say that I soaked up every word and alternated between wanting more about George Orwell and wanting more about Burma. I never got bored – not once! I never tired of the subject matter. Fascinating, fascinating, fascinating!!

(53) Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

I have to admit I enjoyed the Twilight series. But I also have to admit I’m happy it’s over. This culminating novel was a bit slow and the ending was surprisingly lame. All the other books featured nail-biting suspense and battles that kept me up reading late into the night. This one hinted at a big confrontation for hundreds of pages but ultimately petered out. Entertaining enough, but I’m over it.

(54) Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

The plot summary for this novel sounded bleak: a woman dying from a brain tumor befriends a younger woman with heaps of emotional baggage and a broken heart. However, the story stayed bright, witty and uplifting with a completely fresh premise. Creative, meticulously researched and fun to read!

(55) Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

The characters in this post-WW2 novel personified many prevailing issues and emotions of that era: prejudice, the toll of war, oppression against women, and the American dream. It’s not a happy tale, but it was evocative and artfully written. I was sorry to see it end.

(56) Kaleidoscope by Dorothy Gilman

Gilman’s “Mrs. Pollifax” novels have been a favorite for a long time. When I realized I couldn’t load any of those on to my Kindle, I opted for this one. It didn’t do the trick. The stories seemed trite and the loose ends too easily tied.

(57) Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

2010 Reading Challenge Update

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Before moving on to 2010, I want to offer a short list of my favorite reads from last year … in no particular order (some were published before 2009, I’m sure):
* Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
* Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
* Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
* One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
* The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
* The Other Hand by Chris Cleave (published in the U.S. under the title Little Bee)
* The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
* Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
* Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin
* The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
… and I am not too proud to admit that I LOVED Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Haven’t read New Moon yet!

As for 2010, I’ve been meaning to write about the books as soon as I finish them, but I’ve been traveling with my sister. She flew back to the States yesterday, so back to books …
I’m starting a list of the books I read, and I’ll just keep updating it as I go. (FYI, my blog won’t make italics. As a former editor, that is making me crazy.)
Click HERE for the link to my 2010 book list.

2010 Reading Challenge

100_Reading_Challenge

My friend Colleen blogged about this reading challenge, and I decided it sounded like fun. Then another friend, Tara, jumped on board and blogged about keeping a journal of every book she’s ever read. Another cool idea!

I decided to do both. In my first few months in Laos, I plowed through about 10 books (not much of a social life, new-job stress, rainy season, no car…). I hope I can keep up the pace now that the weather’s gorgeous and I’ve found a few friends. I really have no idea how many books I usually read in a year.

Although I’d love to reminisce about the books I read in 2009, I’m sitting in a cafe drinking fresh coconut milk (they just hack off the top of the coconut and pop in a straw) in Cambodia with my sister Megan. We are taking a little break before heading back out to explore. I’ll have to write a 2009 recap when I get home!