Three Cups of Tea

Climber fails to climb K-2, gets lost on his way down the mountain and wanders into a remote village where the people treat him well. Climber vows to return and build a school for the village, returns to US, raises money through various letters and phone calls, discovers that computers are more efficient than typewriters, couch-surfs and picks up night shifts at the hospital to earn money for the school. Climber returns to Pakistan with funds for school, buys all supplies to build school then shows up with fully laden truck at a remote village on the way to his school village, gets waylaid, loses some of the supplies, has to go back home to raise funds to build a bridge to get the supplies to the village. Upon arrival in the US, his girlfriend breaks up with him, sending him into a downward spiral. Fast forward another year, and he’s happily married, has a kid, builds the first school and then many more, and becomes a hero of sorts.
Supposedly written by both Mortenson (the climber) and Relin (the journalist), their use of 3rd person for Greg rubbed me the wrong way. If instead Mortenson had written this as first person, it would have had much more weight and less effect of “ego-boosting”. He’s depicted as this hero figure, which seems very self-aggrandizing. This, combined with cheesy writing, dooms the book for the recycling bin for me.

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Night Train to Lisbon

Breathtakingly beautiful, simply amazing, read it, read it, read it! I am exhausted right now and will likely not do it justice, but this is the best book I’ve read in months. Story is of an ancient languages (Greek, Latin) teacher who simply gets up and walks out of his life after 30 years of teaching. He has a chance encounter with a Portuguese woman who writes a phone number on his forehead, which sets him on this new path. Picking up a random book, he begins his quest to find out more of the life of Amadeu Prado, a doctor in Lisbon who was a fantastic writer. Gregorius (the ancient text teacher), hops on a train to Lisbon, and begins his search. Yes, yes, yes.
p 77: There were the people who read and there were the others. Whether you were a reader or a nonreader – it was quickly noted. There was no greater distinction between people. People were amazed when he asserted that and many shook their head at such crankiness. But that’s how it was. Gregorius knew it. He knew it.

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Autobiographical stories from the author’s youth growing up in the Dominican Republic, migrating to the US at age 9. The complexity of his father’s abandonment and eventual return (and eventual re-abandonment). The stories show a real side of immigration, never a false note ringing. Good writing, evocative.
Diaz won a Pulitzer for his novel last year.

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The Rider

I’m becoming a bit of an armchair bicycle racer, soaking up the Tours, ogling the speedy and sleek riders. This book feeds right into that desire to get up close and personal with the racers, without having to expend any sweat or feel the cracking pain. Krabbe does a fantastic job painting in the color of what riders are thinking as they grind out those kilometers, anywhere from blank thoughts just pedaling to thinking of friends and family, imagining the riders as brains stuck in jars in a farmhouse.
The burning pain, the self-questioning (why am I doing this?!), the strategy of not breaking too early, the sucking of a leader’s tire, everyone taking their pull at front except the bastard who wins the race, it’s all in here.
Reco’d by Heidi

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Not Buying It

I’m overdosing on these “giving up material things” books; a recent post in one of my favorite financial blogs pointed me in this direction, and Levine’s book was a welcome addition, more serious than the woman who gave up stuff for a month, then moved on. Basic premise was that she and her husband would not buy anything nonessential for a year.
Sometime around midnight, as I’m deep into the middle of the book, I start to put things together and realize that I’m reading a book by my friend’s aunt– and my friend is mentioned throughout the book. Both she and her brother Jacob make appearances, and by adding up the clues I have an AHA! moment deep in the woods of North Carolina that I’m reading a book about someone I know. That’s never happened to me before, and is proof of the small, interconnected world we live in.

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To the desperate hobo who stole my bike seat

I guess you really needed my bike seat and tube for your own hobo bike. I wonder if your bike is made of stolen parts and if it keeps you as warm at night as my nice cozy apartment. It’s not that comfortable to lay your head on, as I’ve done several times in Dolores Park while enjoying sunny days with my showered, intelligible and amusing friends.
Desperate Hobo, I’d like to apologize to you for my life being so freaking awesome while yours is smellly, sweaty, and hungry. Next time I’ll buy a bike seat made of beef jerky so you can gnaw on it after being unable to hawk it in the black market of bike seats that I’m now aware of.
Originally posted on Craigslist, preserving the rant here for posterity

After Dark

I’m not sure why I haven’t burned through the Murakami canon yet, considering how much I loved The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
After Dark is a collection of stories all occurring between midnight and dawn. Quick snippets of life, fragments, and they move on to the next character. Nothing is wrapped up at the end, just a lingering sense of daylight coming in through the cracks.
Mari the 19 year old who knows Chinese, helps out at the love hotel when the Chinese prostitute is beaten. Takahashi the older boy who sits down at her table in Denny’s and who sends her to the love ho, then meets up with her later that evening during his all night band practice (he plays trombone). Mari’s sister Eri is asleep, as she has been for months. There’s some nonsense with the Man Without a Face in Eri’s room, and her sleeping body moving from the room into the TV and back.

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Give It Up

Interesting concept- the author gives up one of her essentials for a month, picking a different item to eliminate each month of the year. Obvious ones like alcohol, coffee, chocolate, television, dining out and cellphones. Not so obvious choices like elevators, shopping, newspapers, taxis, cursing, and multitasking. By the end of each month, she’s learned a bit more about herself, and takes those lessons with her into the next month.
For example, after the ban on alcohol, she found she could stand up to peer pressure and only drink when she wanted to, not because she felt obligated to. After the ban on elevators, she knew the stairwell in her building quite well, and relied on it during 9/11.
Overall, not terribly enlightening.

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I, Claudius

Everywhere you turn, people are comparing what’s happening in the US with the fall of the Roman Empire. And that got me thinking about a book I read long ago, which gave a portrait of those decadent times in an extremely readable format. I decided to read this one again, and enjoyed the effort.
Written from the perspective of Tiberius Claudius, the stammering and lame uncle of Caligula, we witness events of great interest during the Jesus years (the transition between BC and AD). Claudius’s grandfather, Augustus, is Emperor when the story begins. Livia is his evil, scheming wife who poisons off any contenders to the throne besides her son. Eventually, her son Tiberius becomes Emperor, and things start to go downhill for the Roman populace.
Caligula gains power after Tiberius is smothered, and lets his madness reign over the Senate and the people. He declares himself a god, and Claudius wisely humors him. After incest, prostituting his sisters, and other unspeakable acts, some of his Army plot to kill him, and do so. Claudius takes control, and his first thought is that now that he’s Emperor, people will have to read his books.

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Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?

Crisp and brilliant short stories by Raymond Carver. What remains unsaid brims below the surface, creating tensions and setting the mood. The title comes from the final story, where a man finds that his perfect marriage is marred by his wife’s infidelity one night four years ago. The book is jammed full of other great stories, one a letter written by a mother describing her violent son who became governor and who was now looking for her; one a couple who fled San Francisco as seen and narrated by their mail carrier. Too many good stories to capture in summary.
Good writing, and my attention deficit disorder is assuaged by the shortness and compactness and perfection of the stories.

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