Paradise is finished. What started as a mellow, dreamy account of a confused boy being taken from his family as repayment for debt, turned into an adventure as he grows and proves himself to be a savvy and lucky young man. As a sub-plot, the book also looks at the growth in popularity of organized religion as the merchants travel from village to village and have to navigate a new set of customs and beliefs at each one.
Information on the author, an expat himself, whose books explore ideas of displacement and desire.
A quote I found interesting, a reminder that perspective is everything. When I was doing archaeology work, rain was the bane of our existence. It ruined sites and brought everyone’s moral down. In this case, it has quite the opposite effect,
“A light rain sped them on, making the men break into song as their bodies cooled. Even the ones who were ailing from the wear and tear of the journey found their old strength returning.”
I am back in my pjs and back in bed with books. The gig was great, after a less than ideal start of a missing bass player and a strange partition that was blocking the crowd from seeing the stage, but all was remedied.
I had left Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club: A Memoir open on my bed, but I think I’m going to move on to Paradise, which I’m halfway through and really need to finish. Although the Lairs’ Club was considered the cutting edge of confessional autobiography where you get to lambaste your family and tell all your secrets, I think I’m reading it ten years too late. Now this kind of thing is common place, and it even seems to pale a little compared to The Glass Castle: A Memoir.
Paradise is a subtle story of a boy sold to his “uncle” Aziz when his dad can’t pay outstanding debts in colonial Africa. Short-listed for the Booker prize, it thankfully is not full of the expected violence, but is more of a coming of age story as Yusuf adapts to his new traveling merchant lifestyle and realization that he may never see his parents again.
Current book: dabbling, but will probably take a chunk out of Paradise.
Pages read since start of read-a-thon: 9 (but I’ve got coffee in hand and am about to remedy that.
Current page in Paradise: 93
I have to run out the door to play an hour long at a fall festival, and got woefully little reading done after responding to an e-mail for a request to play, reading through ten read-a-thoners blogs, and reheating Indian fair.
The e-mail I was a little conflicted about. People seem to think that musicians are hankering to play at every opportunity that calls. This isn’t true. I’m eager to work, as it were, but the hours of writing, practicing, rehearsing, not to mention the cost of equipment, gear, gas, and the like, mean that I expect to be compensated for my work. Regardless of the fact that the work in question is also art. “Exposure” is, largely, bullshit. It doesn’t pay my rent, or buy me groceries. To be asked by a successful national chain to play at their annual event for free, is a good exercise in asking for what I’m worth and potentially saying no and walking away.
Current Book: The Liar’s Club
Pages read since start of read-a-thon: 2 (go ahead laugh)
And yet another thing that is not actually reading: A Book Puzzle!
What do you think this title is?
I turned on the computer this morning to make my morning rounds, and discovered that I had completely missed the fact that one of my favorite geek-out activities starts today. Dewey’s Read-a-thon is a twenty-four hour catch up on reading, read new blogs, literary-word-fest.
My friend Susan in Korea, who writes a fantastic book blog: Naked Without Books, got me hooked in the first place.
Luckily for me, the only thing I have to do today is play a short gig at the Munjoy Hill Association Fall Festival, but first I’m going to read a little while eating some leftover Indian food from the new best Indian restaurant in Portland, Maine, Haggarty’s. I know, I know, doesn’t sound very Indian does it? It’s Brit-Indi owned by a couple of Scotsmen, and it’s great.
I actually have a purpose for this read-a-thon. I uploaded a bunch of books to paperbackwap and bookmooch, but haven’t had time to read them before (confession) marking them mailed. I know I’m terrible, but they are my books, and this is my method for getting through my monster To-Be-Read pile. So I need to quickly get through:
And for my obligations on Bookobsessed Yankee Book Swaps, I may dabble in:
And just because the opening chapter is really fun, it has pictures, and it’s by two local authors:
I have a wide range of relatively short things to choose from, and tons of leftover Indian and Thai food from the last two days musicians meetings.
For people who are used to seeing my posts on international and national travel, you are about to see a level of book geekdom that you may not have known existed in me. You can choose to follow along, or ignore and wait for more pictures of pretty places to pop up in the future. Although, the limbo my life has been in lately hasn’t been very inspiring for travel blogging. I’ve been in Maine much longer than I intended, and I’ve been in denial about how much I’m actually enjoying being home.
And on to the Read-a-Thon’s official questions:
1) I am reading from Portland, ME today. (My hometown, which I’ve inadvertently returned to after seven years of jaunting around the world.)
2. Three random facts: Well, I’ve already admitted that I post books to bookswapping sites before I’ve read them so that I’ll read them faster. I’m on a diabolical plan to be the best female honky-tonk guitar player. Cambodia and Chile are the two places I’ve never been to that are top of my wish list. Oooo, and one more, my mother recently informed me that I’m a sapiosexual.
3. Goals for the read-a-thon: see above.
4. Advice to new read-a-thoners: don’t feel guilty about sleep.
This week’s shows
Sat., 6/4, Common Grounds Coffeehouse, Lexington, KY, 9pm
Sun., 6/5, The Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV, 1-3pm
Monday, 6/6, Club Cafe’s Open Stage, 7pm, Pittsburgh
Friday, 6/10, Caz Cafe Coffee, 7pm, Buffalo, NY
It’s been an interesting string of (bad?) luck this week. I’ve had a great time hanging out with geographers and one of my longest running friends Chris. Every time I come to Lexington, I usually end up at the UK geographers happy hour, where a group of very cool, extremely educated folks inspire me to think about grad school again – just not for geography. Human Geographers are some of the most creative, and serially unemployed thinkers out there. I am seriously looking at TEFL/TESOL masters programs, and found a great one today at American University in DC, which includes a stint in the peace corps as part of the degree program.
But back to the music. Berea is a cute little town about an hour south of Lexington. Actually, it’s not that far south, but Lexington’s traffic is so horrendously bad for such a tiny city, that it takes that long to get there from here. Even though the really nice man who owns Main St. Cafe had done a lot of advertisement – no one was at the show. He said it was the worst day the restaurant had had since the day after New Years. That worked out fine for me, I did make some tips from the few people that were there, including a four year old girl who came up to me and said, “you sing REAL good.” It was a good chance to get the jitters out of some new songs.
Tonight I’m at Common Grounds Coffeehouse in downtown Lexington – and just found out there is a huge outdoor festival happening down the street. This could go two ways – either no one will be in the coffeehouse because they’ll be outside boogieing to jam bands, or it will force a few folks in for beverages out of the crowds and the heat.
Tomorrow I get up at 5am to make it to WV for the afternoon show. My friend Chris is coming with me as far as Pittsburgh. We just picked up a copy of Mark Kurlansky Cod on audio for the drive at my favorite used book store in the world – The Friends of the Library in downtown Lex. It looks like tomorrow will be thunderstorms through-out NE WV, so that might keep folks away too. Sigh.
*All photos are Chris’; I forgot my camera this time, but that means for once, I’m actually in some of them.
Filed under: Books, Mexico, Travel, USA | Tags: Born in Blod and Fire, Driving Mr. Albert, Mexico, The City in Mind, Travel, US
While I was in Guanajuato I was reading Born in Blood & Fire: A Concise History of Latin America. The publishing house at University of N. Carolina at Chapel Hill is enough to make me want to go to that school. They publish unusual and sometimes controversial things written by the professors and local scholars there. (Another favorite of mine from them is Che’s Chevrolet, Fidel’s Oldsmobile: On the Road in Cuba) Blood and Fire is a great overview for someone who knows little about the general scope of Latin American history, told largely from the vantage point of indigenous folks and women of the time.
One such woman that stood out was Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, who taught herself to read by three, taught herself Latin by ten, and was famous for her poetry by her late teens.
“finjamos que soy feliz
triste pensamiento, un rato
quiza podreis persuadirme
aunque yo se lo contrario”
pretend I’m happy
sad thought ()
maybe you can persuade me.
Even so, she was denied admission to University of Mexico (which opened 100 years before Harvard), in the mid 1600s. She was given two options, becoming a demure, respectable, doting wife, or become a nun. She choose the latter and became famous in Europe for her poetry, until at one point her superiors became worried about her fame and demanded she repent and act more like a woman. She had to sell her library, her instruments, and her writing tools, and repent for the sin of curiosity in the body of a woman.
It makes me wonder about how still, hundreds of years later women are subject to much more strict gender roles in most parts of the world. Many Korean women smoke, but won’t do it in public in their hometowns because it’s still seen as unladylike and unseemly. I’ve flustered many an Asian man when describing how I’ve travelled Asia, largely alone, just because I wanted to. In Guanajuato the matron of the guest house I was staying at loved looking through my camera at pictures of China and Mongolia. She commended my solo travels and said she wished she were my age now.
I was thinking about these things while having dinner alone in Guanajuato my first night there at a lovely place called Trunca 7 (I’m assuming this is named after Trunca – or the absurdly short street it is on.) I should have known that a place that made it into the tourist guide book for Mexico would be filled with just that. It felt a little less “decent” to be dining alone with a room full of foreigners than in a local hole in the wall place.
Guanajuato has been the seat of many political and social uprisings in Mexican history. The main street (as are most main streets in Mexico) is named after Benito Juarez, the first liberal, and highly revered president of Mexico. He was indigenous Zapotec and didn’t learn Spanish until he was a teenager. A friend and contemporary of Abraham Lincoln and also famous for using dye to lighten his skin and to hide the fact that he was one of the few indigenous people to ever rise the ranks of Mexican politics.
There is something about the way the city is nestled in the mountains that creates an entire city filled with inspiration. Thinkers. Artists. Phenomenal architecture, but also a small touch of the haughty that pervades places frequented by tourists, especially those originally built by the wealthy. There are rumors of a town near here where the colonial French lived, and never mixed with the locals. There are apparently still to this day family lines without mixed blood, although they’ve lost French for Spanish and eat the current standard Mexican food. Every once in a while I see a Mexican man who could 100% pass for a tall, blond European, and I have to wonder if he didn’t wander down off that mountain.
After finishing Born in Blood and Fire, I started The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, a fantastic, if immensely negative look at some of the world’s most important cities and their urban development. There is a chapter on Mexico City and how it’s current incarnation isn’t the first time this area has risen to epic proportions of population and density, and also musing about if it will meet the same fate of disappearing for mysterious reasons. It is impossible to write an essay about Mexico city without talking about the slums, the pollution, and the utterly corrupt nature of the politicians and police that allow those two things to exist. Kunstler quotes a Mexican geographer to sum up Mexico city in one sentence, “The city is an urban disaster: the physical pollution is a product of the moral pollution of the Mexican political system.”
My favorite chapters in the book are his writings of the American cities: Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Boston. He rails on Atlanta as a failed attempt at creating an Edge City, where everything important moves away from the center into hubs of suburbia that absolutely require personal transportation. The result is a city that has no downtown to speak of, almost no walking streets, and ten hours of horrible traffic every day.
In a time when the bookstores are filled with books of positive messages, “ a year in the life of (fill in the blank with something probably completely useless)”, and mediocre novels that turn into bestsellers only because they can be read by anyone with a third grade education, I delved into this extremely well-written, unabashedly snarky and critical look at how some of the world’s biggest cities are failing to provide any semblance of quality of living.
My favorite chapter was on Las Vegas. Now, I need to preface that I’ve never been to Las Vegas, and although I have many friends who profess their love of it, and make a gambling run at least once a year, I have absolutely no desire to go there. Actually, the only person I know who has actually lived there is Mexican man who looks like he could be from that aforementioned French mountain. He enjoyed living there, but he had steady work of tearing down and rebuilding hotels until his work visa ran out, and said the place is just one giant, never-ending party. What’s not to like?
According to Kunslter, a lot:
“They say that Antarctica is the worst place on earth, but I believe that distinction belongs to Las Vegas….I’ve heard it touted as the American city of the future the prototype habitat for a society in which the old boundaries between work, leisure, entertainment, information, production, service, and acquisition dissolve, and a new exciting, colorful, pleasure-laden human meta-existence finds material expression in any wishful form the imagination might conjure out of an ever mutating blend of history, fantasy, electrosilicon alchemy and unfettered desire….As a tourist trap, it’s a metajoke. As a theosophical matter, it presents proof that we are a wicked people who deserve to be punished. In the historical context, it is the place where America’s spirit crawled off to die.”
It sounds like the second Back to the Future movie brought to life.
But it brings up the question of what American cities are trying to achieve outside of pure unfettered expansion, and what all capitalists are trying to ignore, that expansion for expansions sake can’t continue indefinitely without eventual failure (and huge amounts of unnecessary waste and use of resources). It also brings to mind another fact that I encounter every time I go home: America is no longer the top of the world in most anything. The standard of living hasn’t had any major changes, and health care has declined, education levels are slipping, technology lost it’s foothold to Asia long ago, and the architecture and infrastructure that make it so grand and appealing is crumbling due to lack of maintenance and funding. I am not the only one of my generation who makes a far better living as an ex-pat with visitation rights than as a full-time citizen. Gone are the days when Europe and the US were the only places to live to have access to a certain standard of living and modern technology.
Which brings me to the last book of note I’ve read recently, and one thing that I always pine for where ever I am – the great American road trip. The US would not be what it is today with Eisenhower and the highway system that allows anyone to get anywhere in the personal vehicle of their choice, status, and personality. I long for my electric blue Insight, even as the poor thing is on it’s very last legs and falling apart at the seams. I could go on about how the American landscape has been ruined by the chains of box stores that lie at the outskirts of every medium to major city – to the point where you could completely forget which state, never mind which city, you are on the outskirts of.
Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain was a great, quick read. I read it this afternoon. Both because it is the quintessential American adventure, and had the added quirkiness of being the roadtrip of a regular guy with the doctor that (Preserved? Stole? Confiscated? Rescued?) Einstein’s Brain, and decides at the age of 84 that he wants to return it to the Einstein family.
For all of my travels across Asia, I have never made a complete road trip across the US. I’d love to, but of course, time and money are the essence of all travelling. And I’ve always said that the US is something I can see when I’m older and too tired to deal with the trials of travelling in places like Cambodia. But this book hit home with me, largely because the author lives in my home town of Portland, Maine. There have been a lot of these books popping up lately. Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff, which was a great adventure story of a woman rowing the Nile alone, was written by a woman who lived in Maine. I’ve always associated Maine with a place where things can’t be done. It’s too small; too far away from everything else going on in the country. Too isolated. Way too expensive to save money for future travels. But apparently people are doing big, successful things from my state.
I’m going home for the summer. Something I haven’t done for a long time. I don’t have any money. I’m not even sure how I’m going to get there. But I do have gigs lined up. A massive pile of books waiting for me at my mom’s house, and a few friends who are at least feigning happiness to see me. It’s time for at least the eastern half of that American road trip.
Notes from my travels, and help funding future ones: Fieldnotes From a Caravan
Filed under: Books
Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Fantastic follow-up to Oryx and Crake. A book about two friends, one who devises a way to destroy the world, and the one who doesn’t believe he’ll really do it. This is the aftermath, and actually runs concurrently with the events in O&C.
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
Heaven’s Keep by William Krueger
Probably the weakest of the month. A simple mystery about a plane that goes missing in Heaven’s Keep mountain pass. It’s a good little mystery, but nothing groundbreaking.
Evolution of Shadows by Jason Quinn
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
A brilliant and really sad child’s tale about kittens that loose their mother, and each other, and are trying to find their way back to whatever it is they could possibly call home.
The Secret Speech by Tom Robb Smith
Sequel to Child 44. Good, but not outstanding. More violence, less plot than the first.
Nanjing 1937 by Ye Zhaoyan
Life of PI by Yann Martel
This is the second time I’ve read this amazing little tale. It was this months choice for the literature class I’m teaching to a brilliant bunch of middle school girls. I got so much more out of it this time than the first time, and we had a great time hashing it up and finding symbolism in class.
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
The Skull Mantra by Elliot Pattison
This is a fantastic cultural thriller set in Tibet.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Pursuit by Luiz Garcia-Rosa
With no concrete plans for a weekend in the fist time in ages, I set out to do what ruby does best. Pick a subway stop or two and explore. On Saturday, I barely made it out of the front door before the first adventure began. There is a particularly seedy looking building in our neighborhood that, although it appears to have a Buddhist temple on top, I was a little hesitant to explore. The building itself is one of the more ranshackle in our area. There is a billiards hall on the second floor, and on my walk home from work, it’s one of the places that always has particularly drunk men loitering around outside.
But since I was in exploring mode, camera in hand, daring wits about me, I decided to brave it past the filthy stairwell to see what it really is.
On the third floor is a beautiful shrine room. Even though part of the reason I came to back to Asia was to re-immerse myself in Buddhist culture, it doesn’t feel like part of everyday life here. Consumerism and an extreme materialism to the point of being disgusting has taken over, leaving the less than a third of the population that still even considers itself Buddhist on a shelf somewhere behind last years’ cellphones. There are still some great cultural holidays, and the occasional monk on the subway, but it doesn’t “feel” like a Buddhist country the way other places I’ve travelled do.
With no one around I did a few prostrations and sat for a few minutes, and then nosed around trying to find the rooftop shrine that I was pretty sure existed. On my way through the door to the rooftop I literally ran into a monk. He was at first shocked, and then pretty happy to see me. He even gave me a zucchini from their rooftop garden. I speak almost no Korean, and he speaks almost no English, but I did glean that he was in the Korean war from pictures he showed me and was quite happy to meet a young American.
We had tea together and a gorgeous little girl full of smiles came in. As far as I could tell, she said the monk is her uncle, and it seems like she almost lives at the temple. I got to thinking how different my life in Korea would be if I had become involved with these people earlier in the year.
The rest of my subway hopping weekend paled in comparison to hanging out with the monk and his niece. Even with such promising names as Imhak, Beagun, and Dong Incheon, it’s a little bit of a disappointment to get off at any subway station and just see more of the same. I know this is going to happen already, but still, there’s usually one little gem that was worth finding. The Mexican restaurant in Songnea for example, or the acupuncturist I want to try again when they are open in Imhak.
After a second day of rambling and going to the grocery store, I was on the final stretch home carrying a bag full of exotic cheeses from Home Plus, when a little tiny hand grabbed my arm. It was the girl from the temple. It appears what I’ve been looking for in Korea has been on my street all along.
Filed under: Books
This might be my favorite of the month, and not just because the author has the same name as one of my favorite friends. Teen discomfort mixes with geography as a boy is taken on the ride of his life by the neighbor girl that he’s been in love with since elementary school. She takes advantage of his loyalty and drags him on a trip to get revenge on everyone she believes has ever crossed her from spray painting cars, leaving dead fish in dresser drawers, and shaving the football stars eyebrows off while he sleeps in his own house. The best thing about this book was the vivid geographical references to Florida, and the term “paper towns” fake places put on maps to trip up would be cartographic thieves.
I made it through this 1,000 page monstrosity in record time. Once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. It’s not earth shattering, or mind blowing, but it is an intensely rendered, realistic world. And it’s getting turned into a mini-series.
This was supposed to be the second book for the masters literature class I’m teaching, but the classes got cancelled due to exams. I read the book anyway. It was good, but would have been really difficult for the students. There was a lot of implied meaning. Although the book was really engaging, the ending was just plain bizarre. Then again, it is translated from French.
Filed under: Books
A Bookleaves bookclub selection. We tore it to pieces. Although I think everyone enjoyed the quick nature, and it was a good suspense, crime mystery, we really couldn’t see what the hoopla was. Also, at least to this quick witted group of feisty ladies, it seemed like the author was on a self-aggrandizing male-fantasy.
Anyone who has taught in Korea will understand why I found this title irresistible. Rock, Paper, Scissors is the ubiquitous problem solver for any conflict between students.
This was a delightful journey through remodeling a house in an unlikely location. Tuesday Teaser Post
This was a yet another fantastic historical fiction by Ghosh. Outlandish play with language, people bucking the chains of society way ahead of their time, and the chains people purposefully put on to get out of their current situation.
I loved this book. I read it in one sitting at my favorite tea shop in Bupyeong, which I hadn’t gone to in ages. Chinese Pour tea, nice scenery, and a novel that couldn’t be more about the elusive nature of communication.
Another Bookleaves choice. Another surprising winner.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
I’m teaching a fantastic reading class for our advanced students. This was book #1, and I was estatic to revisit the book version of a cartoon I loved as a kid.