On the nightstand

I really don’t miss cable TV at all; I’ve been pretty engrossed in reading. I spend most of my lunches at San Carlos Library, which has an excellent browsing section.

In the last three weeks, I’ve read:

The Places in Between (A Walk through Afghanistan), by Rory Stewart – This was a question at last week’s trivia contest (We won bags of peanut M&M’s). I happened to see it on the shelf at San Carlos Library. Finished it in one sitting. Sort of like William Dalrymple’s In Xanadu with a more solitary feel. What is it about these British and their penchant for obscure history . . . and their doggedness for seeing those places today.

What Would Dewey Do
Library Mascot Cage Match
Book Club are all by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum. It’s a four volume compilation of an internet based comic strip about a library started in 2002. I saw Unshelved at the SC Library, picked it up, and simply had to get the whole set. It’s interesting to see how the drawing style evolves over time. (Even in Asterix and Dr. Slump series, you see this happening.)

Kleptomania by Manjula Padmanabhan
I picked up this collection of short stories in Chennai, including a couple of sci-fi ones. I had picked up her earlier book, a compilation of her comic strip This is Suki, on a previous trip to Dehli. I will now have to go check out the rest of her books from the UC Berkeley library. She also attended my alma mater, ye old ‘Scola Brittanica’ in Bangkok, as did S.P. Somtow (a sci-fi writer).

Butter Chicken in Ludhiana (Travels in small town India) by Pankaj Mishra
Incidentally, he’s a vegetarian! This book was mentioned in a magazine article about food specialities in small towns across India. For a foreigner, it provides insight on how Indians perceive their own country as they travel around in it; but the most interesting part for me was the explanation of eve-teasing (sexual harassment) of foreign women in Varanasi, the pilgrimage city.

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
Someone had left this on Caltrain, presumably for the next lucky person to pick it up, me! There was an inscription “Read and enjoyed in Istanbul and Germany”. How ironic, I read this on my flight to Berlin, where there is a sizeable Turkish immigrant population today (The Turks’ presence there reminds me of the Mexicans’ presence here. Donner kebab places are as common there as taqueria here.) Pamuk’s nostalgia for his childhood Istanbul that no longer exists matches mine for the Bangkok I no longer recognize. Now that he’s won a Nobel prize, I guess I should go read the rest of his books.

Along the same lines, read Martin Booth’s Golden Boy for an account of bygone Hong Kong, albeit from my dad’s time.

Two Lives by Vikram Seth.
Comparisons with Pico Iyer are almost inevitable, based on their background. Iyer is the one to read for travel, but Seth writes better fiction (I have never liked any of Iyer’s novels!) This book is a touching account of his uncle (Indian) and aunt (German) and their experiences before, during and after WWII, when they settled in England.

Someone had left this book in the little library of the Berlin flat we stayed at; and coincidentally we were headed for Chennai afterwards. I was so struck by this book, that I actually bought myself a copy when I came back home.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson and Dave Barry are two of my favourite contemporary writers; they are the funniest! Both are Americans. Yet Bryson is very English, subtle and understated; while Barry is very American-in-your face. My impression of Bryson was of someone sedate and proper; it’s a slight shock and relief to know he was once a crude, hormonal teenager.

Bizarro Among the Savages
Bizarro and Other Strange Manifestations of the Art of Dan Piraro
both by Dan Piraro
I like Bizarro’s cartoons a lot. The first book is an account of his book tour in which he depended on the kindness of strangers for lodging and transportation. The second book is about his views on politics, etc.

Maybe Later by (Philippe) Dupuy and (Charles) Berberian
Get a Life by Dupuy and Berberian.
I like a lot of the titles put out by Drawn and Quarterly based in Montreal (graphic novels). I like alot of graphic novels that are based in foreign countries/cultures.

Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi
All her graphic novels have a absis in her roots in Iran.

On-deck, in the hole and in the bullpen
Anna Karenina by Tolstoy: My cousin Viv and I went to see the Eifman ballet performance of Anna Karenina. I’ve heard of the book, but never knew what it was about, much less read it (it’s pretty darn weighty!). Now after the ballet, I’m intrigued.

Shenzhen by Guy Delisle. I bought his graphic novel Pyongyang because of my curiousity about the Hermit(ically sealed) Kingdom. Now he’s come out with one about the SEZ near Hong Kong. The attraction is that it’s set in 1997, when China was midway between its evolution from rigid Communism to today’s full-blown capitalism. I visited China a couple of times around this period (My cousin T taught English in Guangdong that year). It’s sort of a throwback nostalgia thing; most travelers who have only been to China in the recent years would have no idea of how quirky it was to deal with retrieving hotel room keys from your floor lady fuwuyuan!

From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame by Mark Monmonier
I like maps almost as much as I like traveling (two sides of the same coin). This one talks about the un-pc ness of place names in North America. A browse-shelf library find.

Aya by Abouet and Obrerie
Life in the Ivory Coast, a 19 year old girl, 1978. Optimistic, something we need reminding of, that it isn’t all gloom and doom in Africa. Also from Drawn and Quarterly.

I read so much, I tend to forget what I’ve read. But some that have really popped out in the last few months:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Joe started reading it, and we didn’t finish it before we had to return it to the library. I may wait til it comes out in paperback.

American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
I usually check out books from the library, because I’m too cheap to spend much money, and I am desperately runing out of bookshelf space. My colleague was telling me about this graphic novel which he had heard about, but hadn’t gotten around to reading. “It sounds familiar,” I said.

When I got home that night, I found I had bought a copy of it, and had forgotten! (Not that it was bad, but I read so much, I forget what I’ve read.) I loaned it to him. Haplessly he spilled coffee on it and bought me a replacement copy.

Ines of my Soul by Isbel Allende
Allende is rolling along prolifically with her novels combining history, romance, engagingly strong heroines, and quirk & humor. Other books by her like this are Zorro, Daughter of Fortune and Portrait in Sepia. More ‘contemporary’ are Of Love and Shadows, Stories of Eva Luna, and of course the one launched it all: House of the Sprits

The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain
Like his TV shows, his earlier books were better. Nowadays, he seems to be cruising on his laurels. Buy A Cook’s Tour and even Kitchen Confidental. Nasty Bits should merely be checked out from the library.

The King Never Smiles by Paul Handley
I checked it out from the UC berkeley library. Of course it’s banned in Thailand. Thailand has very draconian lese majeste laws regarding the royal family; and the King is genuinely revered by his people. This book is an interesting read on how the Chakri’s have evolved and developed their image and role to what it is today. (Read also The Revolutionary King by William Stevenson as a counterpoint if you like.)

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
I liked this better than The Autograph Man, and maybe more than White Teeth

The World is Flat by Thomas Freidman
He could have done a better job of editing this more tightly. Maybe I got the expanded version by mistake from the library. I was reading this in the delivery room when we were waiting for Joshua to be born.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
I liked this better than Tipping Point


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