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.