Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Five Senses of Nepal - Sight (Sort of)

It has been one year and one day since I landed in Kathmandu, Nepal, and I’m not sure I can believe how much time has passed. It has been three months since the earthquake, and I can’t quite believe that either. For a while, I intended to write one final post—the last in the “five senses of Nepal” series. It was supposed to be sight. 

The appearance of Nepal has changed since I left, and yet, I am sure that much remains the same. It is still a land of color, especially now that the monsoon rains are washing away the dust and rubble. Women still walk around in jewel-toned saris and kurtas and their children still run to school and back in fading navy blue uniforms. Men still wear topis in varying patterns of red and orange and green. The paddies are verdant, the jungles are emerald, and in the early morning, sharp white peaks rise above slate-colored clouds racing to swallow them from view. 

I remember reading in the blog of a previous ETA that Nepal is like a bouquet of wildflowers. It is vibrant and ragged and messy and organic and tenacious. It is an indescribable conglomeration of different ethnicities, beliefs, and customs. In some homes, shelves proudly bear statues of Buddha, Jesus, and Ganesh. Monks hog the Wi-Fi in internet cafes that serve traditional Nepali dhal bhat alongside pepperoni pizza. It is not a country that will ever or should ever make sense, and it is beautiful in its chaos. 

I intended this to be the final post of this blog, but I have changed my mind, and here’s why: I’m going to write a book.  A book about Nepal. The purpose is twofold. One, to raise money for my village and school, and two, to tell the stories that I never had time to tell on this blog. So over the course of the next few months (or however long it takes me), I will post updates, photographs, and passages for your perusal. Thank you, my readers, for having stayed on this journey so far. I hope that you enjoyed the adventure. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The End is Nigh

Not the end of the world, I hope, although it has certainly felt like it these past few weeks. I mean the end of this blog. This blog was started to record my time in Nepal--my year with the yeti, if you will--but now that time is finished. Some day within the next two week I will write my final posts and upload my final photographs.

But today is not that day.

Today is the day when I ask you (yet again) for money. Sort of. By now, most of you have probably heard about the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal, just two weeks after the big 'un. According to my research, it looks like the epicenter was very close to Namche Bazaar: one of the towns I stopped in during my Everest trek. And also according to my research, scientists think that more earthquakes may be on the horizon (you can read about it here). 

In any case, Nepal needs our help. In my last post, I listed several charities that seemed like good recipients for your donations. If big charities aren't your thing, here's another, more personal cause:

Relief for Ramche - Waaaaaaay back in November, the Fulbright ETAs had the pleasure of sharing our apartment with the two Fulbright-Clinton scholars, Rebekah and Amanda, for the Thanksgiving holiday. They are both awesome, brilliant, compassionate people who let me sleep on their couch several times (oh, and who are aides/advisers to the Nepali, government). Amanda has organized a relief effort for one of the villages flattened by the earthquake on April 25. 

Why do I recommend this? First of all, you can totally trust Amanda. 100% of the donated money is being used for supplies and transport. She's doing this because, as I mentioned above, she's an awesome, brilliant, compassionate person. Secondly, a little money goes a long way, and all of the money is going directly where it's needed without being held up by red tape. 

So consider helping out Ramche. To donate, click here.

Saarathi - This is an awareness initiative started by my friend Anuradha from Kathalaya Publishing (you can read about my experiences with them here and here). She is trying to raise awareness children's trauma, especially connected to these earthquakes. Emotional problems in children are horribly ignored in Nepali society, and Anuradha is hoping that by speaking out and writing books about this issue, we might be able to help these children before the trauma turns into something worse. 

Literally all you have to do is like this page on Facebook. Easy-peasy. If you're feeling especially kind, share it, and get your friends to like it and share it. 

Getting off my soapbox for today. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What You Should Know and Can Do in the Aftermath of Nepal's Massive Earthquake

If you are interested in how you can help Nepal, skip to the end of this article. This is one of my longer and more preachy posts, and I'd rather you spend your precious time aiding the beautiful country that I called home for so many months. 

First off: I'm okay! For my loyal readers who might not realize it, I had been back in the United States for three weeks when the earthquake struck. However, I have family and friends who are there right now - some sleeping in US Embassy eating MREs, and others sleeping in hastily constructed tents.

My mom woke me up Saturday morning with news of the 7.8-magnitude quake. It hit me like a bullet to the heart. My dad had some Vonage credit left on his phone and after a few crossed lines, I was able to reach my aamaa, who assured me that my host family is safe. I don't know anything about the state of their house or village, but safe was the only word that mattered.

I haven't had contact with my aamaa since Saturday, so unfortunately, the answer to many of the questions many of you may have in your heads is "I don't know." I don't know anything about my students. I don't know anything about my school. I don't know anything about the teachers. What I do know is that Nepal is going to need a lot of help- but that it will pull through.

The people of Nepal are not worriers. When something bad happens, they simply say: "Ke garne?" "What can you do?" It's their version of "So it goes" or "Sh*t happens." When misfortune strikes, they look forward rather than backward. Change occurs through deliberate action, not wishful thinking. Where this philosophy came from, I don't know. It may be religious. It may come from Nepal's long history of independence and self-sufficiency. Whatever it is, it's engraved in the heart of the people.

There is a paradox here, however, which the earthquake has exploited. Much of Nepal's identity comes from its sense of past history. The destroyed, ancient temples that you have no doubt seen photographs of were sites of current and active worship until 11:59am Nepal time. Nepal is a country built on tradition and faith. Births, weddings, funerals...all adhere to very specific customs. For example, after the death of a parent, the body is cremated next to a river. The son is then expected to fast for 10 days, and to wear mourning white for one year. With the sheer number of deaths, and probable destruction of the funeral ghats, these rituals have been disrupted. You can imagine how distressing this must be for the Nepali people. Money can't fix their emotional and spiritual pain. We can only hope that prayers will help with that.

It is also worth mentioning that the media has been primarily showing the earthquake's effects on Kathmandu. This is not meant to downplay the tragedy in Nepal's capital, but elsewhere, the destruction is even more horrific. As you know, three of the other Fulbrighters were stationed in Gorkha district - the epicenter of the quake. Emily's host father told her that a friend ran out to her host grandmother's village. It was gone, and every one of its citizens was dead.

Your brain will try to numb itself as you read that last sentence. Our brain has a defense mechanism against such distressing events (read about it here). For one minute, fight your neurochemistry. Imagine not just the death of a distant loved one, but the deaths of their entire community in one terrible instant. Reports are just starting to come in about villages where over 90% of buildings have collapsed, leaving any survivors without shelter. I cannot easily convey to you how remote most places and villages are in Nepal once you move away from Kathmandu. There are few or no paved roads, and the ones that are there may have been blocked by landslides. The only way to reach survivors is by foot or by helicopter.

And speaking of remote, think also of everyone trapped at Everest Base Camp. EBC is located 39 miles from the nearest airport, and is inaccessible by any vehicle other than helicopter. I walked to Base Camp with people who are still there now (although dead or alive, I don't know). This is the worst possible time for a massive avalanche to sweep Everest, due to it being the peak of trekking and climbing season. Please don't join the school of: "They knew it was risky, so it's not as sad." Many people don't visit Sagarmatha (the Nepali name for Everest) for the thrill of it. It's a celebration of life, a journey of learning, a victory over physical and mental obstacles, a tribute to nature...or for some, the best job for supporting their families. No one visits Everest to die.

Nepal's last major earthquake hit in 1934, which was 16 years before the country opened its borders to the rest of the world. Even though over 10,000 people died and Kathmandu was effectively flattened, Nepal survived. Eighty years later, Nepal now has a web of loving global neighbors and the benefit of modern medicine and technology. It will survive again.

You should know, though, that Nepal is on the fourth and lowest tier of the Human Development Index. It is a poor, poor country, which my many photos from around Kathmandu Valley fail to convey. Please, if you have done me the service of reading my blog over the last nine months, consider donating to one of the following charities. It sounds like a cliche, but in Nepal, even a small sum goes a long, long way. Dherai dhanyabad. 

Catholic Relief Services - I have a special place in my heart for CRS. You see, they have a relationship with Mahaguthi, the fair trade company from which I bought most of the gifts I brought back to America.
Donate here.

Save the Children - I think my reasons for this are obvious.
Donate here.

Seva - At my school, I had the opportunity to work with a blind teacher that I adored. Seva normally benefits people living with blindness in Nepal, but they have set up a fund aiding victims of the earthquake.
Donate here.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I'm on Top of the World

You've been waiting for this for awhile now.* The tale of harrowing adventure, bravery in the face of terrifying odds, courage against the most dire of nature's foes...or at least, a story of Alanna being miserably cold, sick, and tired. 

This is Everest Base Camp day.

I began the day, as one does, by crying. Then I stopped because my tears froze my eyelashes together. Why did I weep? Because as soon as I stepped out of the door in Lobuche, I failed to find solid purchase with the ground, which was iced over from the snowstorm the night before. We had 3 hours to go (well, it was supposed to be 2, but it became 3) up and down icy hills, and I was miserable. My boots were made for walking on dirt and stone, not Elsa's playground. By the time we made it to Gorakshep (the last "village" before EBC), I was ready for a long nap, but instead I got an hour-long lunch break and a metaphorical slap on the rear end to keep going. 

When we left the lodge on our way to Base Camp, the trouble began. Some of you have heard of AMS, or Acute Mountain Sickness, which is better known as altitude sickness. It is a rather mysterious illness that can start affecting the human body once it crosses 8,000 feet. Gorakshep's elevation is about 16,950 feet, and EBC is a little under 17,600--both are over twice the threshold for altitude sickness. The first sign of AMS is almost always a headache.

And boy, did I have a headache. While the ice had melted with the noonday sun, the roughly two and a half hours it took to get to Base Camp were pretty tough. The trail wasn't easy: there was more rock-scrambling and bouldering than we had done before, and the last few parts took us over glacial ice covered in a light camouflage of gravel, and through areas of active rock slides. (By the way, avalanches? Terrifying to hear, even from far away.)

We made it. I'd like to say that it was a relief, but I knew we had three more days of trekking back down ahead of us. This isn't to say that I wasn't super freaking excited. I mean, we reached our goal without dying or breaking legs or stuff. Now, Everest Base Camp is located on the Khumbu Glacier, right at the edge of the Khumbu Ice Fall (the deadly first part of the ascent for folks climbing Everest itself). The valley is filled with boulders, great chunks of blue ice, and alien green glacial pools. It is a desolate place of otherworldly beauty. I stopped at the outer edges of the camp where hundreds of other trekkers have strung up prayer flags in thanks for safe journeys. I added my own strand to the collection. A little further on, I could see the orange and yellow tents of the teams preparing for their two-month stay in the shadow of the world's tallest mountain. After some awesome photos, we turned back.

A porter carrying plastic chairs to the camp (the yellow blotches on the left).
The official sign, I think.
Jeff and Alanna, fearless explorers. You can see the terrifying Khumbu Icefall, where 16 Sherpas died in an avalanche last April.
It took literally all of my energy to lift my arms that high.
Nothing but rock and snow and sky.
The Yeti!
Good thing we did. The return journey was littered with stops as I tried to keep myself from vomiting over the cliff side. There were plenty of other hikers who were not so lucky in their gastric control. Jeff and our guide Rishi were uber-close to sending me back down to Kathmandu in a helicopter, which I resisted. Over the course of the next three days, there were times that I would wish that I had listened, but as I sit here comfortably and healthily in America, I'm glad I finished the trek with my own two feet.

*Anyone get the song reference? Anyone?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Mountain and the Sea

Nepal may currently be done with me, but I am not done with Nepal. There are a few more things that I would like to chronicle for y'all - the result of my Everest adventure, for example, and the end of my "5 Senses of Nepal" set.

A few updates as to my current whereabouts, however. Several months ago I made a plan with my father: to surprise the rest of my family by being home for Easter Sunday. I told my mother that I would be home a week after my actual touchdown date, and gleefully anticipated the look of joy (hopefully) or horror (hopefully not) on everyone's faces. 

On the morning of April 3, Jeff and I bid each other farewell, and I headed off to Kathmandu's Tribhuvan Airport (where I had to empty my entire backpack to prove that my Irish tin whistle was not a deadly blade). I jumped on the Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Halfway into the flight, I realized that there would be only a 20 minute gap between my reaching the terminal and the door closing on my next flight. I quickly made friends with a group of British volunteers who had to catch the same plane. I think we all made it.

My first flight was a little over 5 hours; the one to London was closer to 7 and a half. But I had a whole row to myself. That was a plus. 

And then I got to Heathrow. Seat of my 12-hour nighttime layover. Now might be the time to mention that I had no money with me. Alright, I had 250 Nepali rupees, but I had no globally accepted currency...or credit cards. Nothin'. So when I was told I had to find some place other than the terminal to sleep, I knew I needed to find a comfy chair rather than a comfy hotel room. I was actually required to enter the UK, so I got a shiny new stamp in my passport, and I found a squashy armchair in a Costa Coffee.

I was violently ill for most of the night.

The last flight, from Heathrom to JFK, also lasted about 7 and a half hours, but three seats to myself made a nicer bed than I had for the previous evening. Flying into the city, I saw the ocean for the first time in the nine months since I had left for the mountains. This was only the first major occurrence of saltwater to come. After landing, waiting for my luggage seemed to take forever - especially knowing that my dad was outside waiting for me. Finally, loaded with close to 30 kilograms (that's over 60 pounds) of bags, I staggered to US soil. I would like to say that I didn't weep when I saw my dad, but that would be a lie. Then I went to the restroom. When I came out, and saw my mom standing there, well... was like one of those homecoming videos you see on Youtube. I have no shame. 

But speaking of tears, after we arrived home (and after I devoured Burger King fries and a shake), and I actually did surprise my sister (because my dad turned the tables on me surprising my mom), it was tearfest to the max. All happy tears. And then my grandparents were there, and there were gifts to be given, and it was just the perfect way to come home.

We ordered Chinese food for dinner. Of course I didn't eat the rice. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

16,000 Is a Big Number

Tomorrow is the big day...or so we hope. Jeff and I are currently sitting in the dining hall of our teahouse in Lobuche, located at 4910 meters, or about 16000 feet. Both of us have been handling the altitude fairly well - only shortness of breath. We're handling the cold well too. We just complain about it a lot.

After Namche, our rooms shrank to consisting of two beds, clothes hooks, and if we were lucky, a closing window. No more private bathrooms and no more showers. The menu is the same everywhere we go, but the prices seem to increase faster than the altitude. At least tea stays affordable.

I have plenty of stories to tell, but seeing as my fingers are frozen, most will have to wait until I get back to Kathmandu. Not that I'm in a rush. This is a desolate and beautiful land we are in. The paths are spotted with mani stones, stupas, and prayer flags. We often have to give way to yak trains, which announce their presence with soft bronze bells that, other than the river and the wind, are the only sounds.

It's snowing right now. Snow and ice make for tricky and treacherous trekking. In fact, today, our guide had to drag me behind him like a sled because my boots could gain no traction on the snow-topped stone. The other day, rather than risk falling on my face while going down an icy path in a shady pine forest, I chose to slide down on my butt - much to the amusement of the Indian Everest summit party hiking behind us.

No sign of the yeti so far, though.

Monday, March 23, 2015

11,000 Feet and Counting

I really, really wish I had some pictures for your entertainment, but I don't. You'll have to wait until I get back to Kathmandu in 9 or so days. For those of you who are wondering, I am on my way to Everest Base Camp with my Providence College buddy, Jeff. We are currently sitting in a cafe in Namche Bazaar, located at about 3440 meters, which is almost 11,000 feet. Our highest destination is at 5550 meters, so we still have quite a ways to go.

I am disinclined to write too many details because I hate writing on my tablet. It's like asking for typos. Here are some highlights though:

March 19 - I arrive safely back in Kathmandu from Pokhara. Jeff shows up safely at our hotel around 11:30 pm.

March 20 - After breakfast, we take a city tour, followed by a thrilling trip to the airport to retrieve Jeff's lost bag. We kind of wander in upstream, and no one seems to care. Great security.

March 21 - An early flight on a 14-seat prop plane brings us to Lukla (the gate to Everest). We trek for almost 3 hours. Jeff spends the rest of the day teaching me to play poker.

March 22 - Within a 7 hour trekking day, we ascend 600 meters in about 3 hours. One word: brutal. Jeff eventually admits to having been violently ill with food poisoning the night before. He's a trooper. The trail includes several suspension bridges, including one a little over 100 meters (330 feet) above the rushing rapids below. Eventually, we catch our first view of Everest.

Namche is the most welcome sight in the world.

March 23 - After 12 hours of sleep, Jeff is much better. We take a short acclimatization hike to the Sherpa Museum overlooking Namche, and spend the balance of the day resting.
So yeah. Our guide is excellent, our porter is excellent. This may be the most beautiful place in the world, at least to my sense of what constitutes natural beauty.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Your Weekend Update

I apologize for the lack of activity recently. I have many stories and many pictures, but little time for posting any of them. I left my host family one week ago, and haven't had a moment to relax since. There has been much packing and unpacking and repacking and such - especially when I brought three cardboard boxes to a shipping company that combined them into a 65 pound super-package that arrived in America about two days after they shipped it.

I miss my kids and host family and village, and I have stories about my final week there, but I've been too busy preparing for my trek and spending time with the other girls to be sad. Today I arrived back in Katmandu from an extra short trip to Pokhara (where we spent Christmas) and transported all of my stuff to a hotel in Thamel to await my friend Jeff. I'm happy to report that he's arrived safely, minus a bag. I'm so happy that my ex-flight attendant mother trained me to always pack a super efficient/emergency ready carry-on.

Tomorrow I'll be storing my laptop at the Fulbright office, so unless I have time to post some pictures in the morning, you'll be getting text-only blog posts for the next two weeks - provided I have access to any Wi-Fi on my Everest expedition!

Also, only one person bothered to guess what I read for my 50th book of Nepal. Congratulations to my dad, Timothy, for correctly guessing J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit! The book's subtitle is "There and Back Again," and I promise I will be back again soon.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Meet the Students

Have you wondered who my students are? What they sound like? How freaking adorable they are? Well, this is a post for you!

Class 1

Class 2

Class 3

Alanna and the Very Rangi-Changi (Colorful) Day

Last Thursday was Holi, the Hindu festival of color. In India, people take to the streets wearing white, carrying bags of rainbow-hued powders that they throw at everyone they encounter. In Nepal, the color is applied more like tika: people come up to you, wish you a happy Holi, and smear their hands across your forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. 

No, in Nepal, it’s not a good idea to wear white on Holi. Because in Nepal, Holi is an excuse for a country-wide water balloon fight.  

My host family elected to barricade themselves in the house, because of fears of everything that could go wrong with the holiday: allergic reactions to the powder, balloons filled with cow urine or worse, acid attacks. They didn’t want me to go out, but I insisted. Dressed in ratty clothes, I made my way to Elsie’s village, which is about a two or three mile walk east-ish of my village. When I got there, I was mostly color-free, due to the old “see crowds of young people coming and dodge into a group of old women” technique. 

Elsie had a full schedule of Holi house visits with many of her students. As we walked, we got squirted with tiny water pistols and bombarded with makeshift balloons, and her students’ mothers decorated our faces with red powder. However, the real fun was yet to come.

Our big destination for “playing Holi” was an ashram (in this sense, an orphanage) where many of her students live. We got there and were greeted with big smiles by children and adults alike. They patiently waited for us to put down our bags and cameras before the carnage began. 

Everything became kind of a blur after that. I remember getting pulled into the muddy lake of the vegetable garden by a horde of laughing kids, but I went water-blind after that when someone dumped a brass water jug over my head. There were cups and bottles, too, and water balloons (some of which didn’t break, if the bruises on my arms can be believed), and of course, that old classic—the hose. 

After two minutes, I was more soaking wet than I had been since Lisa and I jumped into the river in Gorkha (in October). And if Elsie was any way of judging, my face was bright red, with streaks of black and silver. We got our revenge, though, grabbing stainless steel tea cups and diving into the fray. 

Eventually, the water ran out, and the kids and adults formed a song and dance circle. Even though the sun was bright, a balmy breeze ensured that everyone was freezing in their sopping cotton clothes. Despite clapping along, my hands were numb for a good 45 minutes after we stopped playing. 

I followed Elsie on a few more house visits. They were up the side of a hill, which helped us warm up very quickly. We finished up our day with a snack of fried egg, chiurra (beaten rice), and dal mat (a kind of snack food made from spiced fried lentils and other salty crunchy things) that her aamaa prepared for us. We tried to wash our faces, but the thing about Holi colors is that they’re made to be pretty water-proof. My hairline stayed red for a few days. But all in all, we had a blast, and the kids did too. As did the adults: an innocent-looking granny threw a bucket of water on me as I walked back to my village. 

But I made it home with only one ruined outfit, a few bruises, no urine-soaked clothing, no acid burns, and most importantly, no allergic reactions.  

A few colorful Nepalis.
A cold and colorful Nepali.
Cold and colorful Americans disguised as Nepalis.
Dance party time!

  The carnage.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

49 Down, 1 to Go: A Literary Journey

          I love to read. This might come as a surprise to…none of you. Within my first week of being in Nepal, I formed a mental challenge for myself: to read 50 books within the eight-month span of my grant. Well, my grant ends in a little less than two weeks, and I have read 49 books. 
          “Why are you writing this now instead of waiting until you’ve finished?” you might be wondering. My answer? No idea. I just felt like writing a blog post. Within a few moments, you will be reading (maybe, unless it bores you) a list of all 49 books I have read, in the order that I read them. Each entry will have title and author, of course, along with an “entertainment rating”—nothing to do with literary merit—and a little blurb about how the book made me feel. A special shout-out to my dearest mother, who lent me her Kindle for the journey (I have been forced to revise my strong opinions on eBook readers, but that’s a discussion for another time).
          Without further ado, let us begin!
1.      Epic, Conor Kostick – This is the only book on this list that I had read previously; A-
2.      Himalaya, Michael Palin – I had not known that my favorite Monty Python member was a famed travel-documenter, and I felt rather cheated. Also, this book made me laugh like an idiot; A+
3.      The Palace Job, Patrick Weekes – I think this one only cost me a dollar or two on Amazon, but it was a solid read; A
4.      Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson – The first of many “classic adventure novels” on this list. I love the Muppets movie, but had not read the book before; B+
5.      Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne – Another classic that I had somehow overlooked; B+
6.      Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen – I learned to love Pride & Prejudice at Providence, so I was excited to try more Austen (and disappointed to learn she only wrote six complete novels); B+
7.      Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs – The inspiration of my third favorite Disney movie (although in the book, he’s raised by apes, not gorillas); A-
8.      The Return of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs – Better than the first, in my opinion; A+
9.      The Beasts of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs – Probably the weakest of all the Tarzan books I read (Tarzan leads an army of apes and one leopard on a revenge mission); B-
10.  Son of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs – Tarzan’s son is a boring version of his dad; B-
11.  Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs – As you can imagine, Tarzan was a unique child; B
12.  The Fault in Our Stars, John Green – I had a dream I should read this book, so I did, and I cried; A-
13.  Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, Edgar Rice Burroughs – I think this is the one where Tarzan lost his memory? B
14.  Tarzan the Untamed, Edgar Rice Burroughs – Can’t really remember this one, because after a point they all blend together; B
15.  Tarzan the Terrible, Edgar Rice Burroughs – I know this one was good because it has a little star next to it in my journal, but I don’t remember why. There might have been dinosaurs; A
16.  Skin Game, Jim Butcher – The 15th (?) book in one of my favorite series. They’re about a private detective in Chicago who’s also a wizard. This one had a heist plot, which was lots of fun; A+
17.  Unnatural Creatures, edited by Neil Gaiman – A collection of short stories, all dealing with “unnatural creatures.” Some of the stories were quite touching; A+
18.  King Solomon’s Mines, Henry Rider Haggard – Yet another adventure classic! B+
19.  Joyland, Stephen King – Low on gore but high on nostalgia and a solid eerie mystery, this joins a short list of King’s books that have brought tears to my eyes (for things other than terror); A+
20.  The Ocean at the end of the Lane, Neil Gaiman – I’ve never read a bad book by Neil Gaiman, and this continues that trend. In unrelated news, many of my friends have met this guy in the time I’ve been away, and I’m rather jealous; A
21.  She, Henry Rider Haggard – A novel about moral relativism in the guise of an adventure novel; B
22.  A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin – Finally jumped on the bandwagon, and was immediately hooked. Too bad I knew the ending; A+
23.  A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin – A+
24.  A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin – A+
25.  A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin – I actually can’t remember anything that happened in this one; B+
26.  A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin – A few shockers, but still not as engaging as the first three; A-
27.  The Famous Five: Secret of the Caves, Enid Blyton – One of my host brother’s books. Reminded me a bit of “The Boxcar Children.” I read it in 45 minutes; B+
28.  Full Circle, Michael Palin – Once again, I enjoyed Palin’s writing, and I learned a lot about the world, but I only felt like I got snippets. The part about camel-wrangling was great, though; A-
29.  Saga, Conor Kostick – The sequel to #1 on this list; B
30.  Edda, Conor Kostick – The very weak trequel to #1 and #29 on this list; C+
31.  The Black Echo, Michael Connelly Entertainment Weekly, which I read religiously, has recently started a “Binge!” section. One week they focused on Michael Connelly’s works, and I’m glad they did. He’s a crime/mystery writer who doesn’t resort to clich├ęd plots, characters, or writing style; A
32.  Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey – I know this is one of the most famous Sci-Fi/Fantasy series ever, but this first book just didn’t capture me. I didn’t feel like we got enough time to know the characters, which left them frankly unlikeable. There are many other books, though, which I’ll check out in the US; B-
33.  The Mythical Creatures Bible, Brenda Rosen – B+
34.  NPCs, Drew Hayes – Only 99 cents on Amazon, and a very fun take on the D&D (that’s Dungeons & Dragons for you normal folks) culture; B+
35.  Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss – Yes, it’s a children’s book, but it packs a punch; A+
36.  Spook, Mary Roach – I wanted to like this non-fiction book on the afterlife, but the writer’s snobbish view of India in the first chapter (and her obnoxious attempts at sarcastic humor in the rest of the book) turned me off; C
37.  The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan – Another of the world’s most famous fantasy novels to make an appearance. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it’s rigid adherence to the “hero’s trail” made it predictable; A
38.  Tiger for Breakfast, Michel Peissel – Looked a bit dry from the outside, but the inside told one of the most fascinating life stories I’d ever heard: Boris Lisanevitch, the guy who basically made tourism a thing in Nepal; A+
39.  The Great Hunt, Robert Jordan – Didn’t excite me as much as the first; A-
40.  Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater – I got this for free from my tablet, and I felt obligated to finish it, painfully boring and plotless and character-developmentless as it was; D
41.  Revival, Stephen King – You’ve got winners and losers, Mr. King, and this felt like one of the latter. It started out promising, but the ending was just…off. And deeply unsettling. At least IT (a book about a clown that eats children) had a happy ending; C+
42.  The Martian, Andy Weir – Another Entertainment Weekly recommendation. It’s basically Robinson Crusoe set on Mars, but more technical; A-
43.  Mansfield Park, Jane Austen – I’m sorry, Ms. Austen, I just can’t get behind first cousins getting married (200 year-old spoiler alert); B
44.  “The Crystal Crypt,” Philip K. Dick – Okay, okay, so this was actually like a novelette, but I’m counting it; B+
45.  Persuasion, Jane Austen – B+
46.  Emma, Jane Austen – I liked parts of this one more than P&P; A
47.  The Concrete Blonde, Michael Connelly – I’ve never read a courtroom drama before, but if they’re anything like this, I’m missing out. The second Harry Bosch book I’ve read, which makes me anxious to see the AmazonTV (or whatever it’s called) adaptation of this character; A+
48.  The Land that Time Forgot, Edgar Rice Burroughs – Apparently this is a trilogy, so I need to find and read the next two; B
49.  The Ascent of Rum Doodle, W.E. Bowman – I refuse to ruin anything about this gem of a book, but I will tell you it’s about mountain climbing, it's hilarious, and it's quite British; A+

And those are the 49! I know what #50 will be, but I won’t tell you until I finish it. If anyone has any guesses, feel free to share them with me. If you guess right, you’ll get a shout-out on the blog! Also, if you actually read the whole list, congratulations! I successfully wasted your time.

Special thanks to: my mom, for her Kindle; Amazon, for having so many free public domain books for the Kindle; Grinnell Library, for granting me access to an online eBook library.