The Book Corner
 
With loads of free time, we do quite a bit of reading. Here's a list of our reads, roughly in the order of our reading.

Carl Hiassen: Sick Puppy - Hiassen is a columnist for the Miami Herald and writes fiction books on Florida, it’s nutty inhabitants and it’s awful politicians and their propensity for paving over the state. His books have great characters, are a constant laugh and are pure brain candy. His books are a riot but expect no nutrition here. Sick Puppy is one of Hiassen’s best. A slightly anti-social watches a lobbyist throw his fast food wrappers onto the FL turnpike and decides to teach him a lesson. Hiassen’s tales always give the bad guys their comeuppance, and coming from Florida, the stories are irresistible.

Carl Hiassen: Basket Case - More brain candy but this one’s not as good. A slightly bipolar mom receives a call from a telemarketer during dinner. The call ends with the telemarketer insulting her badly and the woman vowing to get even. True to his style, Hiassen’s bad guy character gets his due, loses his wife, his girlfriend and his job. 

Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love - A great uplifting story of a woman’s struggle to understand who she is. Her experience in Italy, India and Indonesia is comical, touching and relative. Erik even liked it. It is a fun and feel-good read.

John Krakaur; Into the Wild - A truly frustrating read. My opinion of the main character of this story swings from outcast to misunderstood youth to idiot. By half way into the book I was ready to put it down but couldn’t. I shook my head through nearly the entire read.

Bono: The Interview - Brain candy. When you are on a long bus ride on Cambodia with nothing to ready and a picture of Bono is on the cover....why not. He is not only the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, U2, but also very politically motivated as well as a devote Catholic. He is inspiring and thought provoking....good brain candy for the ride.

Chris Raven: Living the Linger - A story about a young brit who decides to leave work and family and travel the US. Along the way, he buys a beat up car, chases girls, drinks like a fish and pretty much lives on nothing. Fun, fast read if you’ve got nothing better around.

Nick Hornsby: Long Way Down - Hornsby also wrote the more famous stories About a Boy and High Fidelity, both of which have been made into feature films. Long Way Down is a very interesting way of telling a simple story. Four completely different characters wind up atop a building in London on New Year’s Eve, determined to jump to their deaths. They don’t get the job done and team up as a kind of support group to understand why their lives are such crap. Good fun read.

Loung Ung: First They Killed My Father - A heart wrenching but wonderful read about a young girl growing up in war torn Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge take over the country, force families into hard labor in the rice fields and systematically kills anyone who they think might stand in their way of realizing their idea of a true agrarian society.

Paulo Cuelo: The Zahir - How did this book win any awards? Told in the first person, the hero of the book is the most self centered person imaginable. His wife leaves him without a word, he takes a lover, then decides he can’t live without his wife and proceeds on a journey to find her. Very predictable crap. This guys books are in every travel bookstore He must have paid someone well to get him "in" on the traveler circuit 

Khaled Houseini: The Kite Runner - Beautiful story about a boy and his best friend / family servant growing up in Afghanistan as the Taliban take over the country. Very sad but a wonderful read. This book deserves every award it’s won.

Rajagopalochari: Ramayana - One of the most famous plays from India's Hindu religious works. There were 3 writers that attempted to turn this acted story into a book. This version attempts to focus on one but gives the variations of the chapters at the end of each major story.

Andrew Skilton: A Concise History of Bhuddism - Very interesting to see who Bhuddism started then split into different sects only to return to the “middle way” which is what we usually see with the Dali Lama today. Very interesting ready. Like all religions, personal human opinion comes into play to reflect what the teacher is teaching.

James Ramsey Ullman: Man of Everest, Autobiography of Tenzing Norgay - We wanted more. What a great book about an inspirational man. Tenzing Norgay is known for being the sherpa who was with Sir Edmund Hillary on the first summit of Everest. But his life story shows you he was much more than just a luggage carrier up a tall mountain. The book makes you appreciate all that you have and makes you question if you are all that you can be. Perseverance without limits ooze from the pages.

Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things - In her first novel, Indian screenwriter Arundhati Roy tells the story of young twins Rahel and Estha and their family, told from Estha’s point of view. It is the product of a genius child-mind that takes everything in and transforms it in an alchemy of poetry. I found it to be interesting in the way Estha’s mind works but also thought provoking to follow the exotic writing of an Asian Indian author with the influences of her culture and language. It is a serious journey through some if India’s current topics.....value to women, religion, etc. 

Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion - Dawkins, a popular and controversial British author, tries to explain mankind’s tendency towards religion through several theories, the main being a Darwinian model that says our propensity for religion comes as a byproduct of some other evolutionary trait. His analogy is that the moth flies into the flame because over millions of years, moths developed a tendency to fly towards the stars and moon. Those that didn’t were more likely to be eaten by ground or water predators and ultimately died out due to higher predation. It’s a very interesting concept and Dawkins delivers sound scientific theories without getting too textbook. His only problem is that he sometimes goes on a bit of a rant in his presentation. It’s a good, provocative read, although Susan didn’t partake as she thought she might be struck by lightening at any time.

Carl Hiassen; Skin Tight - Another great work by Hiassen. As usual, he plays up the ridiculousness of FL politicians, lawyers, and get-rich-quick shysters. In this one, an inept plastic surgeon screws up and accidentally kills a patient while giving her a nose job. His office covers it up, but one of the nurses has other get-rich-quick ideas. Our hero, a retired FL cop turned PI, gets pulled in to the case when somebody tries to kill him in his retirement. A riotous break from all the serious stuff we've been reading lately.

Robert Harris: Archangel - Typical Ludlum, Clancy type spy story. There’s Russians, a Stalin mystery, a girl, our analyst-thinks-he’s-a-spy hero, loads of car chases and guns. They must’ve made a movie of this one by now.

Edward Luce; In Spite of the Gods - Great work from Luce, who used to run the India desk for The Economist. Luce looks at India’s current struggles to modernize and bring itself into an economic powerhouse. The book discusses how India’s caste system, rural tendencies, rampant government corruption, sexism and a desire to skip the traditional unskilled to skilled labor development path stand in the path of modernity. Luce lays out many challenges the country must overcome to be successful but leaves a sense of hope that India will find it’s way.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: 100 Years of Solitude - Deep! There is a family tree in the front that you must refer to about every other page. This Spanish family has some generational baggage with a few of all kinds. It is the history of the family from the days of simplicity in a quiet remote village to the center of the Spanish revolution. It is a hard read and it will make you sleep well out of utter exhaustion. At times your brain will hurt.

Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - WOW what a powerful account of this life and imprisonment. It’s hard to imagine his dedication and positive hope for a true democracy and freedom for all after all he and many others were put through. It is a testament for tolerance and the idea of moving forward. Why aren’t books like this required reading in our schools?

John Twelve Hawks: The Traveller - I don’t know what was more interesting....the book that reads like a cross between The Divinci Code and The Matrix or the rant at the end from the author about “big brother” and “living off the grid”. It was a good adventure but has a very weak ending in hopes you’ll pick up numbers 2 & 3 in the trilogy. There’s a lot of speculation that Twelve Hawks is an imaginary author, invented by a publisher with a good marketing idea. I tend to agree as Twelve Hawks’ website requires you to enter your email address before you can enter the site. Nobody as adamant about “living off the grid” would ever do something like this.

Jackie Collins: Thrill! - Be careful what you ask for. I told Erik I needed a book for the bus and after he gave a nice British couple directions in Marbella Spain, she hands me this book. WOW! I’m not a cheesy romance novel gal and certainly NOT Jackie Collins. Turns out, she is a good writer, she just choses very shallow characters who unfortunately appeal to a large percentage of the female population. Gets me?! If you want good writing about brainless movie stars, producers and Hollywood big wigs....here it is. The one redeeming quality, she does kill off several of the more brainless but still not enough for my taste.

E.L.Doctorow: Billy Bathgate - Published in 1989, BB is a beautifully written perilous tale of a brazen 15 year old boy who insinuates himself into a notorious NY gang and his unusual apprenticeship with the mob boss and his inner circle. Great writing. 

Christie Dickason: The Dragon Riders - Nina is born to a French socialite mother and a Viet Ming father in the middle of Saigon and Vietnam’s 40 years of turbulence. Her life is dedicated to bringing honor to her father by winning control of the empire he created. It isn’t until she becomes aware of its core, the opium-trade, that she must decide what her future and that of her father’s will hold. It is a great saga but a fun read with great descriptions of Vietnam in its beauty and its struggle.

Toby Green: Inquisition - 1 long run one sentence of tragedy, this recent work tries to compare the atrocities and the “rule by fear” ideology of the 300 year Spanish Inquisition with our current “war on terror” culture. Unfortunately, Green can’t get to the point before both of us put down the book in disgust. Green just goes on and on, portraying many different families’ plights during the Inquisition but never brings these stories back to a central point. Interesting concept but miserably delivered.

Ibrahim al-Koni: Gold Dust - The 2008 English translation of a Libyan author who writes in Arabic. It is the story of a boy and his camel and the lessons of life growing up in a nomadic tribe in the Sahara. It is a classic story of brotherhood, companionship and the fight for survival in a world of limitless and waterless expanse as well as the most dangerous landscape of all: human society. The translation makes it an interesting read but captured the warmth of the kinship and the powerful encounters of everyday life in the Sahara.

Dave Pelzer: A Man Named Dave - A true story of a young man's struggle to make something of his life after being raised by a very abusive mother who called him "it" and an uninvolved father. It is a follow-on to his first book detailing his childhood called A Child Called It. It was amazing to see his determination to survive and his need for forgiveness as he enters adulthood, marries and has a child of his own. Not a light read.

Carl Hiassen; Native Tongue - Yet another Hiassen installment. This time, an ex-mafia, now witness protection program lifer, turns property developer in southern Florida, builds a disney knock-off park, makes up his own endangered species to own up disney and things go downhill from there. A funny romp but I'd place this one in the middle of the pack for Hiassen reads.

Joanne Harris: The Lollipop Shoes - From the writer of Chocolat, Vianne, her main character is back. It is set in Paris and follows the story of Vianne and her 2 daughters running a chocolatier. She has given up witchcraft but as the girls grow, they discover they are different from the other children. While Vianne struggles to life an anonymous yet happy life with her girls the winds of change follow them yet again to this new location.

Joe Simpson: The Beckoning Silence - From the writer of Touching the Void, a fabulous piece about two climbers who experience a bad fall. One searches in vein, then heads down the mountain while the other falls into a crevasse, breaks his leg and miraculously fights to get out of a sure death situation. While Touching the Void was a gripping tale, Simpson's The Beckoning Silence started out as a series of stories of how so many of his friends died climbing or paragliding. After five chapters of pointless death and no point, I laid the book to rest.

Jefferey Archer: A Prisoner of Birth - Billed as "the British John Grisham" Archer spins a perfectly predictable, could be made-for-TV tale of a wrongly accused man, who is sent to prison then swaps identity with his cellmate who conveniently dies just before being paroled. Our hero assumes the role of an English gentlemen (just out of prison), inherits millions, then focuses on revenge. I good enough story but don't expect any surprises out of the British Grisham.

Nick Hornsby: Slam - Writer of Long Way Down (reviewed above) Hornsby's Slam tells the tale of a 15 year old boy who gets his first real girlfriend pregnant, becomes a dad and has to grow up quickly. The thing I like about Hornby's writing is the perspective of the characters. In Slam, you believe it's a 16 year old boy telling his tale and the point of view is that of a classic, half witted teenage boy who doesn't quite know how he's ended up in the predicament he's in. Very funny.