Monday, January 3, 2011

Kingslover, Irving, and Steinbeck, Oh My!

As is well known, Peace Corps Volunteers have a lot of time to read. I didn't keep good track of my pre-evacuation reading (though I can assure you, it was more than will be represented here as I was much less stimulated at my first site), but I've kept track of every book I read since returning to Madagascar in November 2009.

November - 0
I didn't read any books in November. Oops. I was busy with the reinstatement conference, site installation, etc. I can't believe I didn't even read anything on the plane. Maybe I did, and I just didn't write it down.
December - 7
Twilight - Stephine Meyer
New Moon - Stephine Meyer
Eclipse - Stephine Meyer
Breaking Dawn - Stephine Meyer
The Lost Continent - Bill Bryson
Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex
Pigs in Heaven - Barbra Kingslover
January - 12
The Bean Trees - Barbra Kingslover
This Is Not Civilization - Robert Rosenberg
Into the Wild - John Kracaur
The Bottom Billion - Collier
The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
July's People - Nadine Gordimer
Bitter Fruit - Achamat Dangor
Giving Up America - Pearl Abraham
High Tide in Tuscon - Barbra Kingslover
Harry Potter 1 - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter 2 - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter 5 - J.K. Rowling
February - 7
A Farewell To Arms - Hemingway
Twilight - Stephine Meyer
Hard Times - Charles Dickens
Piratittude - Pirate Guys
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue - John
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
The Stranger - Albert Camus
March - 6
The Electric Kool-Aide Acid Test - Tom Wolfe
Bridget Jones' Diary - Helen Fielding
Beloved - Toni Morrison
Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
Last Chance to See - Douglas Adams
Harry Potter 6 - J.K. Rowling
April - 9
Harry Potter 7 - J.K. Rowling
In a Sunburned Country - Bill Bryson
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris
Native Tongue - Carl Hiaasen
What Uncle Sam Really Wants - Noam Chomsky
A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh
The Winter of Our Discontent - John Steinbeck
On the Road - Jack Keroauc
The Bonesetter's Daughter - Amy Tan
May - 8
Perloo the Bold - Avi
A Million Little Pieces - James Frey
Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving
The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards
Tender is the Night - F Scott Fitzgerald
Sick Puppy - Carl Hiaasen
A Rose Without a Thorn - Jean Plaidy
Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
June - 7
The Constant Princess - Philippa Greggory
A Hope in the Unseen - Ron Suskind
All Creatures Great and Small - James Herroit
A History of the World in 10.5 Chapters - Julian Barnes
A Chronicle of a Death Foretold - Garcia Marquez
The Bridge Over the River Kwai - Pierre Boulle
East of Eden - John Steinbeck
July - 4
The Red Pony - John Steinbeck
Outliers - Malcom Gladwell
Coyote Blue - Christopher Moore
Getting Stoned with Savages - Maarten Troost
August - 2
The Bitch - Jackie Collins
Dark Star Safari - Paul Theroux
September - 1
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner - Stephine Meyer
October - 3
Appointment in Samarra - John O'hara
The Islamist - Ed Husain
Darkness at Noon - Arthur Koestler
November - 5
Animal Dreams - Barbra Kingslover
The World According to Garp - John Irving
Island of the Sequined Love Nun - Christopher Moore
The Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The No1 Ladies Detective Agency - Alexander Macall Smith
December - 5
The Beauty Myth - Naomi Wolf
The Other Boleyn Girl - Phillipa Greggory
Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes
The Sixth Wife - Suzannah Dunn
Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
January - 1 (so far)
As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner

Let us analyze the data.
You'll notice a sharp decrease in quantity of books after June. I moved to Diego on July 3rd. There is a connection there. The antapex of reading was September. I was in Tana for the first half of the month training the new volunteers and spending a lot of time with my PCV friends. When I returned to Diego I was busy, busy, busy, teaching, and then I returned to Tana at the end of the month for COS conference. It is still strange that I only read one book (at a novella by Stephine Meyer at that) the whole month. I read more books than that in America as a full time student with multiple jobs.
While the number of books goes up and down from month to month, I'd say the density of the reading evens it out. Take January, the most readingest month indeed at 12 books; however, 3 of them are Harry Potter and some very short. Compare it to March with only a total of 6 books, but some of them quite dense and lengthy.
Of course, living is a big town like Diego, busy teaching at the university, living with Kinsey, and hanging out with other PCVs whenever they come through, I read a lot less than when I was in Ambanja.

So what are the best books I read?
If I Had to pick a few, I'd go with:
The Electric Kool-Aide Acid Test - Tom Wolfe (So good)
A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh (Amazing, not what you'd expect when you start)
Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky (beautiful)
East of Eden - John Steinbeck (One of my favorite books that I've ever read)
Getting Stoned with Savages - Maarten Troost (Funny, interesting, good read)
Dark Star Safari - Paul Theroux (Good read)
Animal Dreams - Barbra Kingslover (Typical Kingslover - very good)
A Million Little Pieces - James Frey (He's a liar, but it's good)

I really enjoyed all of the John Irving books that I read. I would not, however, suggest reading more than two Irving books in a single year. Dude is crazy.

So what books are not so great?
The Sixth Wife - Suzannah Dunn (seriously? give me a break)
On the Road - Jack Keroauc (oh poor rich beatnik, why don't you wire some money from your family so you can keep loafing around and doing nothing)
Bridget Jones' Diary - Helen Feilding (awful crap, I only managed to finish the rubbish because I was sick a fever at the time)

I didn't finish two books because I... couldn't
What Maisie Knew - Henry James (zzzz....)
White Man's Burden - ? (same old crap... zzz...)

I should have waited and done this in a few weeks since I will read a few more before I COS on the 24th (woo!), but I have a lot to do, and it's going to keep piling up, so I wanted to get this blog done (while my house packs itself?) I still have to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce, When the Emperor Was Divine - Julie Otsuka, and No Exit and Other Plays - John-Paul Sartre. I need to find something good but not too dense, but not too light as that I can read it in a few hours to get me through all of the time I will be spending in airports in the nearing future.

So, I hope that my list will inspire you to turn off the TV and pick up a good book. And inspire me to remember that reading is better than TV when I get back to America.

Thanks to everyone who sent me books (Francis, Mom, Shannon)!

P.S. There was some debate here in the Peace Corps house over my use of the word "antapex." I asked a couple of other PCVs what the opposite of apex is, and no one knew, so I looked it up. They said that I shouldn't use this word because no one knows what it is, but it is the correct word, so I'm sticking with it.

P.P.S. Yes, I read Twilight twice. Shut up.

P.P.P.S. Blogger spellcheck said that "antapex" isn't a word.

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