Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mission Accomplished

I think most people have a love-hate relationship with holidays. Everyone has their favorite, but we all have the one or two "special" days that we could actually do without. For some, it's their own birthday. For others, nothing is worse than taking the day off in honor of good 'ol Christopher Colombus. Personally, my favorite holiday has long been Thanksgiving, mostly because it marks the last day of sanity before the official start of the Christmas (read: shopping) season. Unfortunately, in the last decade the unofficial start date of the spending season seems to have been moved up to the day after Halloween. 

While Thanksgiving remains a bastion of unadulterated family values (history aside), I have to admit that New Year's Day has slowly crept into second place for me, overtaking my birthday and April 20th along the way. Before you correct me, let me reiterate that I did mean New Year´s Daynot New Year's Eve. I do like champagne, chicken wangs and pretty thangs, but I've always liked a fresh start better than a big finish.

With that in mind, I look forward to the New Year, just as I look back with satisfaction on the one that we are wrapping up. I say "satisfaction" because in more ways than one, I did what I set out to do. The obvious one was finagling my way into the Peace Corps after a two year application and training process that can only be described as two-steps forward and 1.95 steps back. 

Beyond that, I actually nailed my only official New Year's resolution: to read one book per week over the course of the year. After falling a couple books short of the same goal in 2010, I re-pledged myself to the challenge at the beginning of this year. While I don't feel particularly smarter, I promise you that all that personal time with my books was great for my sanity, and probably saved at least one of you from getting cussed out or flashed on at some point during the year.

I still have a few days left to finalize my resolutions for 2012, but one thing is for sure: the book-a-week program is still in effect. While I have no trouble finding (making) time to read, getting my hands on good books has been a challenge at times. Unfortunately, after a strong run across several continents in less-than ideal climates, my Kindle went kaput a few months back. Luckily, my roommate lets me use his Nook. When I'm desperate, I can read digital books right off my laptop, but that can cause a headache quicker than Fox News. Besides, I think our Peace Corps Safety and Security Guidelines recommend against breaking out the MacBook Pro on the bus on my way back from soccer practice at night.

Fortunately, I've always been an analog boy in a digital world—my vinyl collection dwarfs my drawer-full of scratched CD's in cracked cases. Therefore, it's no surprise that I would take a paperback book over any e-reader, any day. So, to get my fix, I've had to be a bit resourceful. There is a livreria* close to where I work, but the books are dumb expensive, and I tend to be dumb broke. Back in October I got my Municipal Library Card, but it was disheartening to find that the entire Portuguese language collection lacked a single book by Paulo Coelho. In their defense, they do have the complete works of José Saramago, which I plan to dig into next year.

The library at the Peace Corps Office in Praia was more promising. Before shipping out for São Vicente in September, I raided the shelf for some good titles, including one very special one that I had to check out just on principle, even though I've already read it. There's nothing like a library with good taste in American historical fiction!

Beyond finding her book (again!) halfway around the world, I've been lucky to have Lita present in my life of literature this year.  Recently, she was gracious enough to stand in as my editor, offering some golden tips to refine my first short story. More importantly, my windowsill is now crammed full of books that she's shipped over from the states. Muito Obrigado!

So, for those of you that are interested, here's what I was getting into during all those times when I was nowhere to be found:
  • Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen R. Covey (1989)
  • American Gods - Neil Gaiman (2002)
  • A General Theory of Love - Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini & Richard Lennan (2000)
  • Palace Walk (Between the Two Palaces) - Naguib Mahfouz (1956)
  • Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand (2002)
  • Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley (1990)
  • Meant to Be: The Story of a Son Who Discovers He is his Mother’s Deepest Secret - Walter Anderson (2004)
  • The Known World - Edward P. Jones (2003)
  • The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century - Thomas Friedman (2003)
  • Martyr’s Crossing - Amy Wilentz (2002)
  • New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance - Charlayne Hunter-Gault (2007)
  • The Bondmaid - Catherine Lim (1995)
  • My Wild Irish Rogues - Vivian Moore Hallinan (1952)
  • The Fortune Catcher - Susanne Pari (2002)
  • The Bonesetter’s Daughter - Amy Tan (2001)
  • Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power - Gary Willis (2005)
  • Women of the Silk - Gail Sukiyama (1993)
  • Soul on Ice - Eldridge Cleaver (1965)
  • Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause - Tom Gjelten (2008)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone - J.K. Rowling (1997)
  • Motherless Brooklyn - Jonathan Lethem (1999)
  • The Ugly American - Eugene Burdict & William Lederer (1958)
  • Small Business in the Third World - Malcolm Harper (1984)
  • Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town - Paul Theroux (2003)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five (or The Children's Crusade) - Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
  • War Talk - Arundhati Roy (2003)
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot (2010)
  • Anthem - Ayn Rand (1938)
  • The Manifesto of the Communist Party - Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels (1848)
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (1865)
  • George Washington - William Roscoe Thayer (1922)
  • Blindness - José Saramago (1995)
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; An Inquiry into Values - Robert Pirsig (1974)
  • The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver (2009)
  • The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good - William Easterly (2006)
  • The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001)
  • Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkeyand Even IraqAre Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport - Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski (2009)
  • Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen (2006)
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World - Tracy Kidder (2004)
  • Bel Canto - Ann Patchett (2001)
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine - Michael Lewis (2010)
  • 1984 - George Orwell (1949)
  • Outliers: The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell (2008)
  • Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk (1996)
  • The Control of Nature - John McPhee (1989)
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith (1955)
  • Born to RunA Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen - Christopher McDougall (2009)
  • The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James (1881)
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books - Azar Nafisi (2003)
  • Starship Troopers - Robert A. Heinlein (1959)
  • Bound Feet and Western Dress: A Memoir - Pang-Mei Natasha Chang (1997)

Stay tuned for my thoughts on the best and worst from the list above, which will be posted soon on the "2011 Reading List" page.

Pura Vida,


*livreria = bookstore

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting the book list- a lot of great stuff there. Born to Run is certainly an inspiration, though one wonders if its a little too simple and perfect to actually be fully true (a la 3 Cups of Tea). Another journalist who's writing falls along those lines is Ryszard Kapuściński- "The Shadow of the Sun" was memorably good. Id also be interesting on your thoughts regarding Robert Kaplan's "Surrender or Starve".