52 in 52

April 2, 2008

I created a challenge, both for myself and anyone else out there, to read 52 books in 52 weeks. Sadly, reading takes a backseat to many other forms of entertainment these days and to me it is one of my greatest pleasures. I read quite a lot of books in a year covering a wide spectrum of topics and genres but I never kept count or took note. Often people will ask me if I’ve read anything good lately and due to sheer volume I’ll forget about a particular gem, so this new blog will also offer a central point to refer back to and act as an archive. If you are a reader, and even if not, I encourage everyone to set their own goal and I’ll be happy to post your successes and lists as well.

Check it out: http://read52in52.blogspot.com/

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World – Room To Read

November 27, 2007

Reading has had a profound impact on my life. From early on, to when my mother would walk us to the library where we would sit and read and discover for hours on end, to teaching myself about computers, programming, networking, and more. It has formed my foundation, given me escape, allowed me to see places that would have otherwise been dark, laugh, cry, go to college and start a life. It has been one of the most important parts of my life, and me. I still devour technical and computer books weekly and just about any other book I can get my hands on. I also still find an evening at Borders in a leather chair, a terrible cup of tea from Seattle’s Best, and a stack of books to be pretty close to heaven.

I have a “system” where occasionally I’ll buy a totally random book based simply on title, cover art/photo, or some other gravitational pull. Running With Scissors was one of these, and opened me up to Augusten Burroughs’ other work like Magical Thinking. But this one hit on multiple levels. The title: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, which appeals to me and my dislike for the company. And the cover: A man standing next to a heavily burdened yak. Undeniable.

The book is written by a man named John Wood who decides to leave a high paying job in the heady bubble days of technology to start a non-profit organization which builds schools and libraries in poor countries such as Nepal. He’s no professional writer, but the book does a great job of following his trajectory and the high and low points of his journey. One particular part that stuck with me was a piece about one of his initial trips to Nepal where he was taken to a school “library.” The room was barren with an outdated map and a locked cabinet. When the locked cabinet was opened it contained a few castoffs from travelers and hikers like Danielle Steele romance novels and other English literary masterpieces of the same ilk. Totally inappropriate for the children in both reading level and content… not to mention quite an introduction to reading. He then decided, somehow, he would have an impact in these kids lives and give them a chance to succeed.

A great book and certainly a Good Read. The organization is called Room to Read and can be found online at: http://www.roomtoread.org/

The Sex Lives of Cannibals and Getting Stoned with Savages

October 15, 2007

J. Maarten Troost is an odd bird to me. On one hand he leads the life I wish I did, on the other he is a polar opposite. Over his two “travelogues” I have never been able to connect with the author himself but amazingly it hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the books. The novels follow Mr. Troost and his fiance on their journey following college. Neither wants to give up freedom for a cubicle so they hatch a plan to work in paradise. By they he means his fiance though who is left to find gainful employment while he gets a permanent vacation… he claims to be a writer. His actual writing doesn’t start until the events of the second book. These tropical “paradises” in the South Pacific turn out to be anything but and he is ill equipped in both skill and knowledge to do much of anything but survive and blindly hope for the best.

If you were to read only one, make it The Sex Lives of Cannibals. The first book is much more humorous and lively, but as I wind down with the second I can’t say it isn’t worth the read just not up to the standards of the first. In both books his pacing and storytelling can leave a lot to be desired but he does an adequate job of getting his story out. My main gripe is with the author himself. I can’t help but see him as a fake. A total fake. He does such a big job of painting himself as a free spirit complete with a penchant for illicit substances and a slacker attitude… yet the second book begins with him working high up in the World Bank. It’s also clear he was born with quite a sizable silver spoon in his mouth. The fakeness oozes out throughout the books and it is impossible to shake no matter how much you like the tale. A good read, that I’m happy to have stumbled upon, but also happy to be done with.

Seven Years In Tibet

August 24, 2007

No, not the dreamy Brad Pitt film. Seven Years in Tibet is Heinrich Harrer’s real-life epic tale of his fight to stay outside the internment camps during WWII and his determined goal to make it to the mysterious and elusive Tibet. I’ve never watched the film adaptation, but when I was fortunate enough to come across and purchase an original copy of this novel, I jumped on it. I have a real soft spot for old books, but I also have a strong love of true tales of survival in the outdoors. From young adult books like The Sign of the Beaver and Hatchet to more current ones like Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, or even the slightly humorous A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail… I am always a sucker for a good survival story. I love the outdoors, camping, hiking, kayaking, no-match fire-making, ultralight hiking, etc. so they are enjoyable to me. I may have never been running away from imprisonment, but I’ve “accidentally” climbed the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon when a “shortcut” to the trail turned into a thousand+ foot climb with no gear, and in some places beyond vertical… so I can relate as well.

The story itself is fairly raw since Heinrich is not an author (again, sort of like me) but it gets the job done. It skips around sometimes and fails to flesh out some important areas and concepts but on the whole it places you there in his shoes. It lingers in a few spots for far too long, and I grew tired of some of the constantly rehashed themes long before the last page, but I’m glad I read it. I learned some new things about life in Tibet as well as customs and some regular aspects of daily life that never see print in other writings on this land. I had been looking forward to his encounters with “Butter Tea” and I wasn’t disappointed as it comes up fairly frequently, yet it seems he has a pretty decent time of it. I struggled with whether I should place this in the Good Reads section or not since it is kind of like watching a film by a first-time director, but sometimes – especially if you read a ton – that is just what the doctor ordered. It was a nice break from careful prose and storytelling, and if anything makes you appreciate the talents of a real author that much more.

September 2006 Good Reads

September 28, 2006

This months lineup:

Endymion Spring – Sure, it’s a kids book but so is Harry Potter and nothing is stopping me from enjoying that series as well. I think kids books and young adult stories are more enjoyable and captivating because they are much more free and flowing. They make a great break from books that take themselves too seriously, and Endymion Spring is fitting that bill quite well right now for me. It’s a bit like the DaVinci Code for younger readers with a blend of real people and places and fantastical tales. However, the DaVinci Code always seemed lacking and read more like a movie than a novel and Endymion Spring has similar tendencies. I like it though and am currently about half-way through… my feelings could change.

Magical Thinking and Running With Scissors – Both great quick reads from Augusten Burroughs. Running w/Scissors is a true story of the author’s life growing up in one of the most dysfunctional situations imaginable. You’ll laugh, cry, and be disgusted for the most part but it’s one of those books you can’t stop reading. I hear it is set to be turned into a movie, I have no idea how that can be but we’ll see. Magical Thinking is more of a bunch of short stories again mostly true accounts, but is one of those rare books to make me laugh out loud multiple times.

The Book of Tea – I love this book, I’m not sure why but I do. It gives a nice glimpse into the past and of the whole culture and story surrounding tea. It’s available to read for free online at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext97/tboft11.txt

Building My Zen Garden – I read this about 7 years back online at: http://www.educ.sfu.ca/kegan/Japangardenhome.html and I just re-read it due to my own garden building project. The writing and humor is top notch, and there is actually a healthy dose of insight and information inside too… just don’t expect a how-to manual… more like a how-not-to.