Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Reading Life- Year in Review 2009

I read 44 books in 2009, a good amount considering my goal was at least only 24. Based on my analysis of my books read this year- because it's what I do- I read 3 times as many novels than I did non-fiction books. Of the novels I read, the genre was overwhelmingly mystery and thriller. And I read almost as many books aimed for middle and teen readers than I did adult books. I read only 12 titles in my ever growing reading list. I picked up books by 23 authors I've never read before and read 7 additional titles by them.

After a cursory glance at my list of books read in 2008, I've come to the conclusion my reading habits have been consistent. I was only surprised I read so many memoirs this year. And it's odd my non-fiction reading tend to happen in the first half of the year.

Below are some fun lists and numbers.

Breakdown of Books Read in 2009

Non-fiction- 11
Memoirs- 4
General- 7

Fiction- 33
Mystery/Thrillers- 13
Kids/YA- 14
General- 6

Total- 44

The Best Books I Read in 2009


Three Cups of Tea- Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin*
Letters to a Young Poet- Rainer Maria Rilke*
The Last Lecture- Randy Pausch w/ Jeffrey Zaslow
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly- Jean-Dominique Bauby*
Mindless Eating- Brian Wansink


Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen*
The Book Thief- Markus Zusak*
The Talented Mr. Ripley- Patricia Highsmith*
Q&A- Vikas Swarup
The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins
The Mysterious Benedict Society- Trenton Lee Stewart
The Looking Glass Wars- Frank Beddor
Catching Fire- Suzanne Collins

*Some of My Favorite Books Ever- So Far

In case you were wondering, the worst book I read this year was "The Case of the Missing Books" by Ian Sanson.

Happy Reading!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Greg Mortenson: Stones Into Schools

To say that I was excited to see and hear Greg Mortenson speak would be an understatement. He wrote one of my favorite books ever. "Three Cups of Tea" was just a magnificent and inspiring read that I can't stop recommending to people. He was making his rounds to promote "Stones Into Schools"- a first-person narrative continuing his mission to promote peace through education. The lecture took place at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall- an absolutely beautiful building. I had actually taken a tour of its multiple levels of intricately carved walls before. That night, though, the place just seemed more amazing with a sold out crowd.

In the lobby were booths of the different companies sponsoring the event. Powell's Books were selling "Stones Into Schools". Literary Arts and the Oregon Cultural Trust were handing out information about their organizations. And there were free publications from the Central Asia Institute available as well. CAI is the non-profit co-founded by Greg Mortenson that allows him to do the things he does.

It's always exciting to be around people who share a common interest or passion- in this case, I guess, it would have been the importance of education. I was surrounded mainly by teachers and librarians. To have someone see someone else they knew across the concert hall was a pretty common occurrence. There was an elderly lady who was seated near me. She was decked in red everything- including a feather boa- and she was so in praise of "Stones Into Schools"- she had just bought her fifth copy that day, in fact- that I couldn't wait to get my own copy to read.

The only thing I was worried about was Greg Mortenson's speaking skills. I had heard from others he wasn't that good but I needn't have worried. If that was the case before, it was probably because he was new to it all but he's certainly had much practice since then. I found him to be well-spoken, funny and informative. He did make an error when giving shout-outs to the places he's visited before in Portland. But that certainly could be overlooked considering, just that day, he had given another talk to some high school students before pre-signing copies of his latest book.

Early on in the lecture, Mortenson played a short video of his daughter, Amira, interviewing Tom Brokaw, one of his earlier supporters to his cause. Then, through a PowerPoint presentation his son helped him with, he basically talked about the events that led him to where he was now in his life- a sort of recapping of "Three Cups of Tea" and the opportunities that the book provided after its publication. It was interesting to hear that the hardcover edition had a different subtitle from the paperback. He never liked the original publisher's choice of "One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time" and it was eventually changed to "One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time."

Some recurring themes during his speak were the need of community and relationship building (especially of listening and respecting elders for what they've been through and can offer in terms of advice), the ability of children to change the world when given the chance (because it was schoolkids, and not celebrities or powerful politicians, that funded his earlier missions through the Pennies for Peace program), and the importance of education as an important factor in battling ignorance, hate and many other problems that stem from them. With messages like those, it wasn't that surprising then for me to learn that "Three Cups of Tea" has become required reading for people in Special Services.

He praised some military people he'd spoken to that seem to get that it's not bombs that was going to solve our problems but the empowerment of the people through education. Needless to say, he was critical in President Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan because the decision was made behind closed doors and didn't ask the input of the people there.

Overall, Greg Mortenson gave an inspiring and well-received talk. And, once again, my desire to do good in the world, my call to service, was awakened.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Time, A Man for All Time

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about history. The subject never fascinated me in school. And, as I grew older, it just seemed like a chore to have to learn about it.

When the Central Library decided to hold an exhibit on Abraham Lincoln in the Collins Gallery, I figured it was a good place as any to start educating myself- even if only a little- about some aspect of American history. I was also intrigued because the brochure claimed "more books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other American."

My knowledge of Lincoln was limited to the very basic of facts and the legend, the myth, surrounding the man, which may or may not all be accurate. He was the sixteenth president. He was a tall man who wore a stove-pipe hat and earned the nickname "Honest Abe". He delivered the famous Gettysburg Address. He helped free the slaves and got assassinated while watching a play. He was famous enough to get his image carved into stone and put on our currency, among other accomplishments.

The "Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Time, A Man for All Time" traveling exhibition coincided with the bicentennial anniversary of his birth. On display were old photos, portraits, and reproduction pages of campaign posters. There was one of four marble busts created by Avard T. Fairbanks depicting Lincoln during various stages of his life. Of course, the exhibit also provided background information and examples of how his legacy still lives on today. I didn’t realize that in 2000, Congress created the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Act and in each state a committee was formed to oversee the celebrations and events. One of the many things they did that I liked was create a local connection with “Abraham Lincoln’s Friends in Oregon” and a list of geographical names in honor of and associated with him. They even had an official magazine which they were giving out for free.

I was there for the opening reception. As I walked around to look at everything, “Illinois” Doug Tracy” was warming up on his banjo, in which he would later play a few songs from the 1860's. A trivia contest was held and I was glad there were actually people there, not only for the free food, but genuinely interested and knowledgeable about everything Lincoln. Up for grabs were some 1909 pennies and an original 1864 New York Times copy. It was amusing when Lincoln made an appearance and gave a brief presentation. I liked the fact that despite all the work of re-creating that period of time, he stepped out of an elevator before giving his speech.

Throughout the whole thing, I was taking notes and I happened to run across a lady who asked me why I was doing such a thing. I told her it was for my blog. It turned out she was the wife of the actor portraying Lincoln. Afterwards, she introduced me to him and I got to interview him a little. Steve Holgate didn’t know much about Lincoln but the more he studied about him, the more he became fascinated. After retiring and wanting to perform, he ended up bringing his act all over the world. I complimented him on how he stayed in character throughout his performance, especially during the audience Q&A.

This proved to be an educational yet entertaining event. I ate a lot. I learned a lot. I even got to talk to Lincoln himself. All in all, I had a great time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Words Worth Paying For: Publishing in the Age of Electronic Readers

Panel discussion

Katherine Dunn ("Geek Love")
Vailey Oehlke (Director of Libraries, Multnomah County Library)
Dennis Stovall (Director of publishing, Portland State University; Publisher, Ooligan Press)

More information:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Walking with Ramona

First of all, I wasn't expecting such a large turn out for this event. There must have been at least 150 people taking part in the "Walking with Ramona" tour led by Laura Foster. But, then again, Beverly Cleary is such a big name in children's literature and to walk the same streets some of her more famous characters traveled could have naturally grabbed anyone's interest as it did mine. And it was a Saturday and, although a little chilly at times, the sun was still winning out over the forecasted showers and thunderstorms. And, Laura Foster is a popular local author with her walking guide books. So perhaps it shouldn't have come as a surprise to see such a crowd after all.

The starting point of the 90-minute 2-mile tour was at Hollywood Library. We got some history on Beverly Cleary. She came from a family where reading was encouraged at an early age. However, she really wasn't able to find books she could relate to. Then, a teacher inspired her to not only get back into the habit of reading but to write her own stories- the kind she would have liked to read. Working as a librarian and being surrounded by children would further lead her to become the famous author she is now using the Portland neighborhood she grew up in as background for many of her books.

We then proceeded to see some of these places. Naturally, there were differences in the 1950's landscape described then to what is there now. I loved overhearing people talk about their own memories with Beverly Cleary's books- and children's books in general, in fact. I was more familiar with her Ralph S. Mouse character through the books and movies. It was great how parents were talking to their kids, incorporating what we were hearing to their discussions of what they had been reading.

Imagine how shocked regular passers-by and drivers must have been to see this glob of people walking the streets! The final stop in the tour of Beverly Cleary's former stomping grounds was a house the author lived in. There was a brief Q&A before the crowd dispersed. To me, the whole thing felt like a field trip. We even had a little story time at Grant Park where there were bronze statues of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy. Laura Foster read a passage from "Ramona the Pest"- the incident with her new boots- which just made an already pleasant afternoon so much more enjoyable.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Second Glance Books

Second Glance Books is located in the corner of 45th and Sandy Boulevard in the Hollywood district. It was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon a used bookstore here where new and old buildings and businesses try to find a way to co-exist with one another. Yet, at the same time, it seemed right there should be one in that spot.

Aside from its location there's really nothing that separates Second Glance Books from others of its kind. They don't specialize in anything but there is a good mix of titles in stock. On the left upon entering is fiction, mystery and thriller with a children's section behind the register which is in the center of the store. The other side holds mostly romance, western and sci-fi, as well as non-fiction selections. SGB also does the standard buying, selling and trading of books.

NPR seems to be a favorite radio station being played in used bookstores. Classical music comes a close second. I asked the owner (or, at least, the lady who was working there at the time) a few questions to see if she really knew and enjoyed what she was doing. She did. Of what I can remember, she liked mostly fiction and mentioned William Faulkner and Anne Tyler as a couple of her favorites. She also knew her inventory well and she was able to help other people find what they wanted.

So, while not exactly unique, there's nothing wrong with being a nice, dependable place which Second Glance Books definitely is.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A.J. Jacobs

There's something gimmicky about immersion journalism- trying out something for a certain period of time and writing about the experience. And there have been so many books like it that get published, why didn't I think of it?

Anyway, A.J. Jacobs was at Powell's to promote his latest work "The Guinea Pig Diaries". I was surprised to see that the audience weren't just college frat boys (because for some reason I thought that was the demographic for his books) but a good mix of people young and old, male and female. This also wasn't a reading as I expected. He just talked a little about each of his books and then took questions from the audience before signing copies.

In his first book- "The Know-It-All"- he set out to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. "The Year of Living Biblically" was the follow up and had him living the Bible as literally as he could. With "The Guinea Pig Diaries", he changed his format a bit by tackling on a series of different experiments. As I was already under the wrong impression that his books were just funny without being substantial, I thought listening to him share the lessons he learned during each experiment would sound pretentious. But he came off as genuinely interested in trying different things in order to perhaps improve his life- or at least see things in a new perspective. While not exactly the best public speaker, I found his self-deprecating (and topical) humor quite enjoyable.

During the course of the Q&A, he mentioned his next project would be him trying to be the healthiest person alive. It's weird how when a speaker is considered funny, the people who asks them questions seem to think they have to be funny as well. The whole event (aside from the book signing) lasted about half an hour but it was enough time to get me to want to actually read a book of his. And if there was one thing I learned from him, (and not just because he mentioned it as a life lesson himself), it's this: "Never say 'no' to adventures. Always say 'yes' otherwise you'll lead a very dull life"- Ian Fleming. Well, actually, there's another thing I got: Leave expectations behind.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Review: "Three Cups of Tea"

Published in 2006, "Three Cups of Tea" is the kind of book most likely everyone's heard about because they knew someone who read and recommended it to them. It's the story of Greg Mortenson who had to literally lose his way in order to find his purpose in life. At first, fueled only by the desire to repay the people who saved his life, the building of that one school in the small village of Korphe would be the beginning of something big. It would lead to more schools in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan- where children, especially girls, can get the education they deserve. And by doing so, Mortenson (and the Central Asia Institute, which he co-founded) is helping "promote peace one school at a time"- as the subtitle goes. David Oliver Relin helps tell Mortenson's struggles and adventures. This has definitely inspired me to do my part in creating a much safer, more united world.

Because "Three Cups of Tea" has struck such a chord with everyone who's read the book, it's no surprise there is a Young Reader's Edition and picture book version. The latter (which I also read) is entitled "Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and 'Three Cups of Tea'"- told through the perspective of Korphe's school children. Susan L. Roth shares writing credits and did the collages using "found" materials in her studio- inspired herself by the resourcefulness of the people of that village. The Young Reader's Edition was adapted by Sarah Thomson with a foreword by Jane Goodall, a new introduction by Mortenson, and even an interview with his twelve-year-old daughter, Amira, who is apparently following in her father's footsteps. It also includes new maps and pictures, a timeline, glossary, who's who, and a reading group discussion guide. The audio book has the original song "Three Cups of Tea" sung by Jeni Fleming and Amira Mortenson. What I like about these versions of the original story is that it teaches kids they can contribute to and participate in bringing peace to the world.

I highly recommend "Three Cups of Tea" and encourage others to share it if they feel the same way. Greg Mortenson continues his story in "Stones Into Schools"- available December 1, 2009.

Books I've read in this post:
Three Cups of Tea- Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Listen to the Wind- Greg Mortenson and Susan L. Roth

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

David Sedaris

It's probably a little strange to attend an author reading of someone I hadn't read before. But I've heard so much about David Sedaris' writings, I wanted to check it out- and maybe I'd actually read a book of his afterwards. For such a big name, I was surprised that they held it at such a small venue. Half of Powell's at Cedar Hills Crossing was packed and more overflowed out to the mall proper. And this was only an hour before the event was actually set to start.

Even though I was towards the back of the crowd in the sideline, I caught glimpses of the author. He was quite an entertaining fellow. I laughed out loud more than once as he read a new essay not included in the book he was promoting- "When You are Engulfed in Flames"- about the last presidential election, a short story subtitled "Just a Quick E-mail", entries from his diary, and throughout the Q&A afterwards. When one of the topics discussed was of breast milk, I would say the best way to describe his humor is irreverent. Surely there were a lot of head shaking and jaw dropping in the crowd's reaction to what was being said.

The whole thing was highly enjoyable and I'm definitely going to be reading his books.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


As I hadn't watched a musical before, I didn't know what to expect. I was definitely excited when I learned "Wicked" would be playing again in Portland. The book definitely made me a fan.

The Keller Auditorium was a nice smallish venue. My only complaint was that the seats were too cramped. Any seat though would have provided a good view of the stage. The price was lower than I expected as I was used to paying hundreds of dollars for concert experiences.

There was definitely a shared excitement amongst the audience. The stage was framed with the mechanics of the Time Dragon Clock and a curtain map of Oz (with a green light emanating from the Emerald City) draped over it.

One of the first things that blew me away was the stage production. Everything moved fluidly from one scene to the other so it was like watching a movie but seeing everything change right in front of me.

The acting was superb. It was mind boggling how the voices carried without the telltale signs of microphones. Then the musical numbers! They weren't as cheesy as I thought they would be. I heard snippets of some songs before but they were so much better in real life knowing the context of the story.

What amused me was how yet again this musical was such a different version of everything else it was based on (Baum's original series, the WB movie adaptation, Gregory Maguire's novel even). There was more fun and obvious humor here but it worked. It was interesting what characters and plot points they chose to include here.

"Wicked" was definitely a satisfying experience and I wouldn't mind watching it again- and again!