Editor: Mike O’Mary
Title:Be there now : travel stories from around the world
Publication Info: Dream of Things, 2012
This book collects very brief essays that capture a moment of a travel experience. It’s interesting idea but a lot of the stories come out vapid and are not at all transcendent. It’s a quick read, though, and a handful of stories stand out such as: volunteers helping sea turtles lay their eggs in Costa Rica ( A Trembling Voice by Frank Izaguirr), a blind man visiting mountain gorillas in Rwanda (In the Footsteps of Fossey by Irene Morse), and a writer exploring the world through Google Maps (Virtual Travel by Trendle Ellwood). The book kind of feels the first part of a contest in which the authors of the top stories should be awarded with a chance to publish longer stories of their experiences.
Recommended books: There’s No Toilet Paper on the Road Less Traveled: The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure by Doug Lansky
Narrator: Thomas Frank
Title: Pity the Billionaire
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio, 2012
Previous books read by the same author: What’s the Matter With Kansas?
Thomas Frank explores the ways in which the crash of 2008 and ensuing great recession failed to lead to a populist revolt against capitalists nor for greater government intervention into the economy, as it has in past recessions. In fact, we got the Tea Party instead where the government was blamed for over-regulating business and banking instead. Frank examines the common explanations for the rise of the Tea Party, dismisses them, and proposes the long growing movement that paints capitalists as victims of government overreach drawing from the works of neoliberal economists and Ayn Rand. It’s all very interesting, and well-composed, although nothing I’ve not read before. My favorite part of the book turned out to be the last chapter where Thomas Frank condemns the Democratic Party for failing to have any populist ideology to counter the right, nor drawing on what made them successful in past recessions, while at the same time maintaining cozy relations with Big Business. The Democrats failure to act on the historic principles of their party makes it somewhat plausible that they can be blamed for being affiliated with the banks that bankrupted the country while at the same time too strictly regulating those banks.
Recommended books: The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History by Jill Lepore, and Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston.
Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Honduras
Author: Horacio Castellanos Moya
Translator: Katherine Silver
Publication Info: New York : New Directions, 2008.
This short novel depicts the narrator as a man in exile hired to edit testimonies of indigenous people who’ve survived torture and slaughter at the hands of the military regime. His employer is the local archdiocese of the Catholic church whom he works for despite being an atheist with a particular hatred for the Catholic church. The narrator finds himself haunted by phrases that jump out at him from the testimonies. This is all beautifully-written and haunting.
Unfortunately, this novel has a serious unsympathetic narrator problem. The majority of the text is spent with him attempting to satisfy his sexual longings with a pair of women, and then griping when he’s not sated as desired. The lechery and misogyny page after page is hard to bear. Most disturbing of all, and I may be reading this wrong, the narrator begins to see his “suffering” as equivalent to that he reads about in the testimonies, as he descends into a state of paranoia. Adding to my difficulty in reading this book are long sentences in lengthy paragraphs.
So there you have it, a grim novel about a loathsome protagonist in a world of horror.
Recommended books: I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman In Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchu
Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Croatia
Author: Dubravka Ugrešić
Translator: Ellen Elias-Bursác, Celia Hawkesworth, and Mark Thompson
Title:Baba Yaga Laid an Egg
Publication Info: New York : Canongate, c2009.
This is a novel in three parts. The first part features a narrator’s concerns about dementia in her aging mother, and traveling to her mother’s childhood home in Bulgaria with a young folklore scholar. The second part details the comedy of errors in a journey of three elderly women to a spa resort. The final part is a satirical analysis of the Baba Yaga myth expressed in the first two parts written in the persona of the Dr. Aba Bagay (note the anagram), the young folklorist from part 1. Themes of the novel deal with aging, motherhood, and the Balkan past. It is often funny, but then punctured by moments of stunning tragedy. And one learns an awful lot about Baba Yaga, the legend of Slavic folklore who manifests as an old, evil woman living in a hut on chicken legs.
“It was all too much, too much even for a very bad novel, though Kukla. But, then again, things happened, and, besides, life had never claimed to have refined taste.” p. 210
Recommended books: Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston and Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Uruguay
Author: Carolina de Robertis
Title: The Invisible Mountain
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2009.
This excellent debut novel tells the story of three generations of women – Pajarita, Eva, and Salome – against the backdrop of Uruguayan history of the 20th century. The structure of a multi-generational family story that tells personal stories with an epic sweep is familiar in Latin American literature, but this novel goes more for gritty rather than magical realism. This is a fascinating novel and I enjoyed learning more about each of the women as their story develops, and sad when they are reduced to background characters when the narrative moves on to the next generation. The final section with Salome imprisoned by the brutal Uruguayan dictatorship is particularly gripping.
Recommended books: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields.
Author and Narrator: Bill Bryson
Title: One Summer: America 1927
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2013
Other books read by the same author:
Bill Bryson’s talent is to delve deep into a subject, find all the minute details, and then tie them together into a bigger story. For this work, the title explains it all: one summer in the United States when a remarkable number of historical events occurred, many with unexpected connections.
The main feature of this book is Charles Lindbergh and his historic flight from New York to Paris aboard the Spirit of St. Louis. And then there is the aftermath in which Lindbergh deals with his celebrity, a level of worldwide renown perhaps unprecedented in history. Other aviators who had hoped to contend for the Orteig Prize, are given their due as well, with descriptions of their less-famous flights (if they managed to get off the ground).
The book is balanced by the story of another hero, Babe Ruth. In the 1927, Ruth would break his own remarkable single-season home run record and be joined in a race by teammate Lou Gehrig. In fact, the entire Yankees’ lineup hit so well that they’re forever known as Murderers’ Row and one of the best teams in baseball history. Bryson cheats a lot, leaving the summer of 1927 to fill in the back stories of Lindbergh and Ruth and other figures, and occasionally even peeking ahead. But the meat of this book is stories of events from that summer, including:
- the sensational Snyder-Gray murder trial
- the apogee of Al Capone’s power as a mob boss
- the government poisoning alcohol at the behest of Wayne Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League
- the Federal Reserve makes decisions that sow the seeds of the 1929 stock market crash
- radio comes of age
- The Jazz Singer ushers in the talkie
- television created
- the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti
- carving of Mount Rushmore begins
- massive flooding of the Mississippi River
- the Bath School bombing
- Henry Ford transitions from the Model T to the Model A
- The Long Count fight between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey
The whole book is fascinating and full of interesting details of a transitional time in American history.
Around the World for a Good Book selection for Colombia
Author: Gabriel García Márquez
Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Translator: Gregory Rabassa
Narrator: John Lee
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio (2014) (originally published 1967)
Other books read by the same author: Love in the Time of Cholera
I always find it difficult to review a book that is a recognized classic. What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said before. I enjoyed this book a lot, and I was surprised it was so funny (it was meant to be funny, I hope?), at least parts of it. I also couldn’t keep track of all the characters but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that is not as vital as the story of the town of Macondo itself with its sleepless sickness, civil wars with civil generals (but gruesome executions), and endless rain. There’s also the books style and use of words and imagery that set it apart from your typical novel. This novel is also rich in symbolism encapsulating an alternate history of Colombia.
So there you have it, my very short and very dumb review of a classic work of literature. Here’s all you need to know: read it!
“Fernanda was scandalized that she did not understand the relationship of Catholicism with life but only its relationship with death, as if it were not a religion but a compendium of funeral conventions.”
“Literature was the best plaything that had ever been invented to make fun of people.”
Recommended books: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa