Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Books of the Year

I thought it would be fun to come up with a list of my top five books that I read this year. I was not entirely surprised to find that all of my top five are non-fiction books, even though I read far more fiction books this year than non.

I am notoriously hard on fiction books. I find most of them pretentious, like the authors spent too much time learning tricks in writing class rather than just writing what they feel. Because of this, I mostly read books in the chick-lit fiction genre. Which are, you know, not exactly works of art, but they make me feel good.

So here are my top 5. I would highly recommend that anyone read all of these books:

5. The American Plague by Molly Caldwell.

About the little-known yellow fever epidemics in the U.S. and the men who discovered how the disease was spread and how to cure it.

4. The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran

Written by two men who raced each other around the world without the use of airplanes. Both laugh-out-loud funny and touching.

3. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Cheesy, I know, but I do love this book about a man who reconnects with an old friend during the last few months of his life. Very inspiring for me.

2. A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz

A history of the men who explored the Americas prior to the arrival of the Puritans, coupled with a travelogue of the places those men visited. Very fun and interesting.

1. Columbine by Dave Cullen

Topic self explanatory; this book is both gripping and devastating. I don't have enough words to express how moved I was by it. Simply one of the best books I've read EVER.

And if I absolutely had to pick one fiction book that I read that topped all the others this year, I'd have to go with The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark, a clever and engaging book about a young chef's apprentice in 14th century Venice.

Happy reading, everyone! I'm looking forward to more great books in 2010.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tales from the Bookstore: Found Picture

We find stuff stuck inside books all the time at the used bookstore where I volunteer. Most of the time, it's forgotten notes or other pieces of paper. I find lots of business cards from all over the world. The older ladies tell me that they sometimes find money (once a $100 bill), although I've never been so lucky.

By far, my favorite thing to find (barring that magical day I ever find money) is pictures.

Once I found this fantastic 1980s prom picture. It was very 80s-rific and I loved it. I grabbed the book I found it in (Pride and Prejudice) and took it home with me. However, on my way home, with all the windows rolled down on the car, a particularly strong wind blew through, ripped open the pages of the book, and my lovely 1980s prom picture flew out the window. I was sad.

At any rate, one of my fellow volunteers found this particular picture in a book yesterday and I brought it home with me. I have a real fondness for other peoples' photos:

This photo is great. It begs all kind of questions. Who is this man? Why is he holding two pineapples? Did he sell pineapples? What's up with his hat? What has happened to this man - what has his life been like?

I told the ladies at the bookstore, someday I'll die and someone will be going through my things and they'll wonder how I'm related to all these strange people that I have pictures of. But I like to keep the pictures that I find randomly discarded. I feel like I'm honoring these people in some way.

A Sad Little Library Book

A month or so ago, I read online somewhere that they were planning on making a couple of movies out of Terry Brooks's fantasy epic Shannara series. I read the first three books of this series as a teenager and loved them (I have particularly vivid memories of reading the first book, The Sword of Shannara, while on a family trip through Pennsylvania one summer).

Even though I kept copies of the books throughout most of my life, I never really read them all the way through again. So when I read that the books might be turned into movies, I decided that it would be fun to read the books again. I logged onto the library's website to see if I could order a copy.

To my surprise, the whole entire Hawaii state library had just one copy of the first book. Two other copies had been lost - one, the website said, all the way back in 1986. The only copy was checked in, although on another island, so I requested it. I was the only person on the wait list.

Still, it took more than a month for the book to find its way to my local library, which isn't necessarily uncommon when you order books here, I've noticed. But it finally came in this week, so I dutifully went down to pick it up. And this is the book that I found waiting for me:

The name of the book is written on the spine in pen ink. The book is held together by packing tape. On the inside, the binding is slightly broken. The book is also water damaged.

I've thrown away nicer copies of books than this at the bookstore where I volunteer. Heck, I've seen way nicer copies of this particular book at the bookstore than this. I'm kind of tempted to buy one (for just 10 cents) and donate it to the library.

Honestly, I may sound mad, but I'm more amused than anything. I really kind of can't believe that this is the only copy of this book that the library owns. In a way, though, it does make me a little sad. There aren't many fantasy fiction fans in the world, I know, but I am one of them. And it makes me sad that fantasy books get so little "love" from bookstores and libraries.

I have to admit, after ordering the book, while I waited for it to come in, I wasn't sure that I wanted to read it again after all. But now that this sad little book has found its way to my hands, I feel compelled to give it a good turn.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tales from the Bookstore: Proud Parent

I volunteer every Saturday at a used bookstore whose proceeds benefit the local library system. This has got to be one of my all-time favorite volunteer gigs. I love books. I love talking about books. The other volunteers are great, and I like talking to the customers, especially the "regulars" who come back every few weeks; sometimes every week.

Today I was talking to a lady at the counter who bragged that her son was in one of the books she was purchasing (it was a locally-made book). I expressed interest, so she opened the book to the page he was on. "Here's his picture," she said. "He's not credited, but he's so excited to have his picture in a book."

The picture was of a disheveled-looking man (likely homeless), rummaging through a dumpster. "It says he's a homeless man on Oahu, but that's not accurate. This picture is obviously taken at Iao," she said. I was a bit taken-aback, I have to admit. I don't think I've ever heard anyone brag about their homeless child before. "Is he all right?" I asked. "Oh yes," she replied. "He's autistic, but he started his own business collecting cans for money."

She beamed with so much pride. And I was incredibly touched.

It made me think of all the children in the world - both those that are still children and those that are all grown up - who have worked so hard in their lives to make their parents proud, only to be disappointed because their achievements are never enough. Some parents just aren't proud of anything their kids do, unless it's exactly what they wanted them to do. It's very sad.

But here was this woman, so proud of her son, no matter how small his achievements have been. As the child of a father who couldn't give a flip about her achievements one way or the other, it touched me down to my soul.

I wish that more parents were this accepting of their children, and vice versa.