Books Read – 2011
1. Walking the World, Memories and Adventures by Alan Cook. Oh, dear! This book was not a good way to start the New Year. Adventure, hiking, travel books are some of my favorites, but this one was just not enjoyable. The author details many of his walking adventures, along with almost anything else you would want to know about walking (is it really that complicated?). His trips were interesting, but the book suffers from a lack of editing. It read like it was transcribed directly from his personal journal with a lot of irrelevant, uninteresting things that detracted from the focus of the book.
2. Daily Candy A-Z by Daily Candy. A piece of fluff book with charming watercolor illustrations. Easily read while eating lunch, so can be quickly returned to the library. It mostly consists of “how to” advice that anyone over the age of 20 should already know, including which advice should be ignored.
3. The Secret Gift : How One Man’s Kindness–and a Trove of Letters–Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression by Ted Gup. When I first started reading this book, I thought, “Oh, no! Not 3 books in a row that aren’t great.” The story was interesting enough, but the way it is written didn’t appeal to me at first. Ted Gup is the grandson of an immigrant merchant with a troubled history whose success enabled him to offer assistance to people during the Great Depression. He put an ad in the paper under a pseudonym and promised to not reveal who wrote him and said he would give $5 to the 75 most needy people. The author is given a suitcase with the newspaper clipping and the original letters along with some thank yous from the recipients. He tells the story of not only his grandfather, but also of the recipients of his grandfather’s gifts. These were people in truly desperate situations with no food, no clothes, no heat, children dying of malnutrition, etc. When I hear ads on tv today saying “Feed the hungry” in America and see overweight people coming through the food line, it is a little maddening. I will bet none of the recipients who said they were hungry in this book were overweight and they probably didn’t have cable tv, cell phones, cars, etc. We don’t know what it is to suffer and most of us are extremely ungrateful.
4. Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering by Melanie Thernstrom. I think I found this book in a WSJ book review. The author suffers from chronic pain (albeit not enough to stop her from having medical procedures to become pregnant with twins). The book details her journey with pain and the struggle to find relief, especially as more and more medicines are pulled off the market and doctors hesitate to treat pain. She observes treatments throughout the world to try to understand how people get relief from and deal with pain. The stories of the pain victims and those who are trying to help are written well and are interesting. This book contains no real help for pain sufferers, but was relatively interesting.
5. Unbroken, a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. I don’t even know where to begin to describe this intense book. Louie Zamperini was a strong-willed child who grew to find an outlet in running at a level that sent him to the Olympics and had him planning to go again. WWII intervened. This book is largely the story of his experience in WWII from his plane crashing into the Pacific forcing him to spend weeks in a life raft to his years in a Japanese POW camp where the treatment was so inhumane and degrading that it is astonishing that he survived. What is even more astonishing is how few people are probably even aware of these stories or others like the Rape of Nanking. This was an absolutely gripping book of about 400 pages that I couldn’t put down until I finished it.
6. Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Gildiner. This is the story of an unusual childhood – one in which a small child was allowed a great deal of freedom and thus had a mixture of maturity and naivety. She was a child who was adored by her parents, but raised with a hands-off approach. A child like Cathy now, would have been forced into a desk for hours a day, and force-fed Ritalin to keep her still. The book is at times funny, touching, sad, and most of all interesting to read.
7. To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism by Chuck Thompson. I love adventure and travel books and started this book with a great deal of excitement. The first stop on the itinerary was the Congo and the author’s navigation of it was well-written and interesting since it isn’t a place that is covered in a great deal of travel literature these days. The book deteriorated after that. It was a slow deterioration at first and was full-force by the end. The cause of the deterioration was that it turned into a political diatribe as it went on and the author’s leftist views were attached to everything by the end. The other stops in his itinerary were India, Mexico City, and Disney World. I feel rather sorry for someone whose approach to Disney World is the following: ”Which leads to another reason I’ve avoided WDW like a rectal exam. Even though I grew up in small-town, flag-waving America, I’ve come to the realization that the recent mouth-breathing stupidity of small-town, flag-waving America has soiled the country’s reputation abroad, made possible the plunder of the public treasury for jingoistic corporate wars, and worst of all, created a career for Ann Coulter.” It deteriorates from there into a diatribe against Christians, conservatives, traditional American values, and a sense of disgust for America. In the epilogue, he rants about all the problems in America and equates them with problems elsewhere, eg saying that he wasn’t shocked by the beggars in India because he experiences that every 3 blocks in America. I’m sorry to have spent money on a book whose author can’t see the difference between America and the other places he went. I suspect if he spent more than a couple of weeks in those places (armed with a wad of American dollars to get him where he wanted to go), and if he actually had to live there, he might grow to value what makes America unique and special and great.
8. Queen of the Road, the True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own by Doreen Orion. I found this book on a table at Barnes and Noble and picked it up because we are new RVers and there aren’t that many books written about that lifestyle. A year of travel in an RV should have loads of adventure to write about, but unfortunately, the book is more about the author and her occasionally humorous, but frequently annoying self. One the one hand, she is a highly educated successful woman. On the other, she acts totally incompetent. Each chapter has an accompanying martini recipe that doesn’t add anything to the book. If this book had been edited much more heavily to showcase the adventure instead of the author, I would have enjoyed it more.
9. What the Dog Saw and other adventures by Malcolm Gladwell. I have read most of Malcolm Gladwell’s books and find him to be a fascinating writer. This book is a collection of essays on topics from Enron to mammograms. They are written very well and one is left knowing quite a bit more about the subjects without them being tedious.
10. Leaving the Saints, How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith by Martha Beck. My neighbor loaned this book to me. I had never heard of Martha Beck before. I have mixed feelings about this book. Her descriptions of Mormonism and the denial of its members and leaders to look honestly at it are familiar to anyone who has been raised in a similar type religion and is very believable, although footnotes would have done a lot to corroborate her statements. I believe her about many of them and also believe that abuse is hidden by the Mormon church and other churches. I did not particularly like her writing style as she wrote about the camel phase of searching for spiritual meaning and then the lion phase. She got a PhD in Sociology from Harvard and had therapy from what seems to be a destructive therapist at one point in the book and these things seem to have influenced her a great deal, although she did leave the therapist. It is not clear what faith she found, except for something nebulous. For as much criticism of the Mormon religion as she shared, it seems that she jumped from that ditch clearly into another one as it appears that she has become a “life coach” involved with Oprah and apparently a lesbian/feminist/etc. Much of the book is taken up with her confronting her 94 year old father in a hotel room about abuse she accuses him of and that she discovered in therapy. Whether the abuse happened or not, the confrontation when he was in no position to respond and writing a public book about it after his death are not signs that her new found “faith” have helped her become wise. She should hope her children didn’t learn by her example.
11. Modoc, the True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer. This was an at times fascinating and at other times very disturbing story of a boy and an elephant and their journey from being circus performers in Germany to being shipwrecked to being abused and chained to a tree, etc. Putting “true” in the title doesn’t make it so and the story is so unbelievable that it can not be true. It was a pretty depressing book in the end.
12. Country Driving, a Chinese Road Trip by Peter Hessler. The author knows China and ventures on a road trip into the unreported areas to show what life is like there. The relationships he builds are the most interesting parts of the book, but the travel sagas in his rental car are fascinating, too. At 428 pages, it was a little tedious at times and probably could have been more fascinating with about 100 pages cut out, but the good parts made it worth it.
13. Working in the Shadows, a Year of Doing the Jobs [Most} American’s Won’t Do by Gabriel Thompson. This was a fascinating book with the author taking on various jobs such as lettuce picker and working in a chicken processing plant. It was tricky for him to even land the jobs without disclosing that he was writing about them, but being bilingual helped. The utter physical exertion that many of the jobs led to is unbelievable. In the lettuce fields, there was a great deal of camaraderie and support for each other. Other jobs such as the chicken plant, had conditions that were so grueling and gruesome that there was a high rate of turnover among employees. I’m not sure that his sub-title is fully accurate, but the book was a great read.
14. Gone to New York, Adventures in the City by Ian Frazier. One of the problems when I don’t keep this updated immediately after I read the books is that I forget a lot about them because I read fast and for pleasure, but have horrid retention. This book is full of short essays about life in New York City. It was a fast and easy read and pleasurable for the most part. The essay I remember the most was about the typewriter repairman.
15. The Ridiculous Race, 26,000 Miles, 2 Guys, 1 Globe, No Airplanes by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran. I loved this book because it contained adventure and humor. The authors are friends who wagered an expensive bottle of Scotch that each would beat the other in an around the world race without using airplanes. The story of how they accomplished this was entertaining and their writing was witty.
16. Inside Gitmo, The True Story Behind the Myths of Guantanamo Bay by Lt. Gordon Cucullu. In the war on terror, there are two sides. Those who believe that there are people who are out to hurt us and those who don’t. Irrespective of which side you are on, this book outlines the kind of people being held at Gitmo and the conditions in which they are being kept. The guards at Gitmo are working in a dangerous situation. Their lives are threatened constantly. Feces and urine are thrown on them at frequent intervals. Female guards have been grabbed and had their faces bashed in, etc. And yet, these prisoners are given treatment that I would suspect 98% of everyday American prisoners would love to get. They are accommodated to extreme lengths and at great cost.
17. Born to Run, a Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. I got started running after reading Ultramarathon Man, so this seemed like a good follow-up. The author seeks out the Tarahumara tribe of cliff dwellers who are known for their ability to run far, fast, and into old age and without injury. Just finding them is a challenge and adventure. The tribe members run in homemade sandals and eat chia seeds and corn meal for sustenance. As roads are built into their dwelling areas, the members are losing the talent they had for running that they learned as youngsters. In this age of athletes always looking for the newest shoe, the newest nutritional supplement, etc., this makes you think if it is really necessary.
18. How Starbucks Saved My Life, a Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else by Michael Gates Gill. Michael Gill is the son of Brendan Gill of the New Yorker. He grew up with wealth and connections and was a star at an advertising agency until he got fired. He hit rock bottom until he was offered a job at Starbucks. The story of him learning how to work at Starbucks was interesting, but too much of that story was interspersed with how he offended Queen Elizabeth by reaching for a cucumber sandwich, how Ernest Hemingway told him to run with the bulls, etc. Too much name dropping for me.
19. Half-Marathon You Can Do It by Jeff Galloway. This book has an almost unbelievably easy-sounding approach to training for a half marathon. No daily long runs. No special diet. Just 3 days a week of his run-walk-run method with incremental increases in mileage. I will let you know if works in a couple of months.
20. Running on Empty, An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America by Marshall Ulrich. I am fascinated with ultramarathoners. I envy their mental stamina and ability to ignore discomfort to keep running. That said, this book didn’t move me in quite the same was as Ultramarathon Man. Mostly because Ultramarathon Man was presented as the author doing his running more on his own. This run across America was done with the assistance of a doctor, masseuses, route planners, etc. all on board. What was left was just running which is plenty! But, there is just something appealing about the vision of a person out running long distances without a team following him.
21. How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. I wanted to like this book because I really enjoyed The Ridiculous Race, but I found this tedious and not humorous.
22. It’s Not That I’m Bitter, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World by Gina Barreca. Two in a row . . . this was not humorous, not interesting, and I wonder at the reviews that describe this as hysterical. It was boring.
23-45. There have been a plethora of books I read that aren’t ending up on the list this year.