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.

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