Reading Plan 2010 & Book Giveaway

Tell me the landscape
in which you live
and I will tell you who you are.

~ José Ortega y Gasset

One of the first and finest lessons I learned from blogging (thank you, Janie) was to read with a plan.  It’s not that I needed a Reading Challenge to read more, but it kept my reading focused, gave it form.

For years my reading choices have been oriented to time, cataloged by chronology.  As I homeschooled, I read about the Greeks, the Romans, Medieval times, the Renaissance, colonization, etc.  Literature was linked with history.
But, now I’m ready for a different focus. Wendell Berry has made me think more about place.  I would like to orient my reading for 2010 (& ’11?) to geography, land, cultures.  I explored my bookshelves and, ladies and gentlemen, we have a plan: to read around the world from my home.  All the titles on this list reside in our house.  A few I have begun, but not completed; none are re-reads.  And because I like to read across time as well as across continents, I’ve included the year of publication.  The short descriptions are the publisher’s blurbs found on back covers and dust jackets or notes from the author’s introductions.

I don’t promise to read every book on this list in 2010.  Undoubtedly I will discover some not worth reading.  I don’t promise to read only books on this list. But this will be my core curriculum this year (and next?). 

These aren’t the *best* books to read on each country.  They are just the ones that happen to be on my shelf.  I want to read them, release the one-time-through-is-enough books and keep and love the others.  If you have recommendations on other titles, I’d love to hear them.  Just know that it’s close to giving a drunkard a bottle of wine.

This post is ridiculously long.  I have librarian DNA in me; formatting this was fun!  Connections (like a quote from Thubron on Fisher’s book…immediately after posting Thubron’s book) abound. I’m really revved up. 

If you scroll to the bottom, there are two books to be given away. 


An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan Jason Elliot (1999) In his skillful illumination of an ancient and noble history long obscured by war, Elliot has done service to a country rarely written about. But it’s his lyrical culling of beauty from despair that will resonate long after the last page has been turned.


Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness, Jeffrey Tayler (2000) Faced with an identity crisis in his work and his life, seasoned traveler and journalist Jeffrey Tayler made a bold decision.  He would leave behind his mundane existence in Moscow to re-create the legendary British explorer Henry Stanley’s trip down the Congo in a dugout canoe, stocked with food, medicine, and even a gun-toting guide.

Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass Isak Dinesen (1937, 1960) At the age of twenty-seven, Isak Dinesen (née Karen Blixen) left Denmark and sailed for East Africa to marry her Swedish cousin, Baron Bror Blixen. Together they bought a four-thousand-acre coffee plantation in Kenya.  From 1914 to 1931 she managed the plantation, even after she and her husband separated. Her account of those years is transformed by the magic of her prose and her supreme gift as a storyteller into a vibrant re-creation of Africa, filled with her affection for and understanding of the land and its people.

  Out of My Life and Thought Albert Schweitzer (1933) A brilliant organist, musicologist, theologian and philosopher, Albert Schweitzer, at the age of thirty, turned his back on the dazzling rewards the world offered him in order to serve his fellow men as a medical missionary in Africa.  It is a thrilling account of a monumental personal quest, enormous self-sacrifice and extraordinary achievement, told with simplicity, modesty, and humor.
 The Heart of the Hunter: Customs and Myths of the African Bushman Laurens van der Post (1961) Traveling out of the Kalahari’s Central Desert, van der Post traverses the splendid terrain of southwestern Africa and finally encounters the Bushmen.  It is only at the end of this physical trek that the real journey can begin; once van der Post has found the tribe, he looks deep into the Bushmen’s customs and mythological life.  The true odyssey of The Heart of the Hunter is into the mind and culture of a legendary people.

Arrow of God Chinua Achebe (1969) It is a measure of Achebe’s creative gift that he has no need whatever for prose fireworks to light the flame of his intense drama.  Worthy of particular attention are the characters.  Achebe doesn’t create his people with fastidiously detailed line drawings: instead, he relies on a few short strokes that highlight whatever prominent features will bring the total personality into three-dimensional life.

The Reader’s Companion to South Africa edited Alan Ryan  Gathering nineteen eyewitness accounts of travelers to the world’s diamond capital, this book illuminates the complex culture and racial politics of a country well on its way to becoming one of history’s great success stories. As visitors, the authors bring a stranger’s questions and curiosity, not a native’s assumptions, to their observations. No standard guidebook can offer this intensely personal perspective.

Skeletons on the Zahara Dean King (2004)  Everywhere hailed as a masterpiece of historical adventure, this enthralling narrative recounts the experiences of twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815, captured by desert nomads, sold into slavery, and subjected to a hellish two-month journey through the bone-dry heart of the Sahara.  The ordeal of these men–who found themselves tested by barbarism, murder, starvation, death, dehydration, and hostile tribes that roamed the desert on camelback–is made indelibly vivid in this gripping account of courage, brotherhood, and survival.

Too Late The Phalarope Alan Paton (1953)  After violating his country’s ironclad law governing relationships between the races, a young white South African police lieutenant must struggle alone against the censure of an inflexible society, his family, and himself. / A great and enduring novel, written in exquisitely balanced prose.

West with the Night Beryl Markham (1942) She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I [Ernest Hemingway] was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers.


The Reader’s Companion to Alaska Edited Alan Ryan  (1997) Inspiring and unforgiving, Alaska is vividly revealed in this collection of twenty-eight eyewitness reports from intrepid travelers to America’s last great frontier.  An enraptured John Muir first glimpses Glacier Bay in 1879.  John McPhee encounters kamikaze bush pilots, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh is amazed simply at the sight of a road after a long flight over the trackless wastes of the North Slope.  / Covers the majesty and terror of the great frontier.

American Midwest

Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie O.E. Rölvaag (1925) A classic story of a Norwegian pioneer family’s struggle with the land and the elements of the Dakota territory as they try to make a new life in America. / A fiercely woven tapestry of harsh texture wrought by a master sure in his choice of strong fiber and of color, telling with heroic gesture and intricate design its legend of simple people struggling in the eternal coil of unwitting life.

American  South

A Wake for the Living Andrew Nelson Lytle (1975) “Now that I have come to live in the sense of eternity” are the words with which Tennessean Andrew Lytle opens his lively family chronicle, A Wake for the Living, and it is perhaps the author’s detachment from time that allows him to invest these stories with such freshness and immediacy.  With his own often boisterous family as the focus, Lytle turns the narrative into a meditation on the meaning of American history, “the carnal serach for Eden.”

Penhally Caroline Gordon (1931)  A dynamic narrative of how a powerful Southern family came to lose its way, it is a tale of dynastic complications and self-dispossession, stewardship and the failure of the proprietary spirit. Penhally treats the Southerner’s relationship to the land, his rooted-ness to place, and the consequences of its loss.

Stomping The Blues Albert Murray (1976) Stomping the Blues is one of the three best books ever written on music. / Murray is possessed of the poet’s language, the novelist’s sensibility, the essayist’s clarity, the jazzman’s imagination, the gospel singer’s depth of feeling.

American West

A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains Isabella L. Bird (1873) Women were scarce enough in the West of the late nineteenth century, and a middle-aged English lady traveling alone, by horseback, was a real phenomenon. It was during the autumn and early winter of 1873 that Isabella Bird made this extended tour of the Rocky Mountain area of Colorado, when she was on her way back to England from the Sandwich Islands.  / Delightful letters by an English spinster who recorded a considerable portion of the real West.

Hole in the Sky William Kittredge (1992) This is the story of a grandfather whose single-minded hunger for property won him a ranch the size of Delaware but estranged him from his family; of a father who farmed with tractors and drainage ditches but consorted with movie stars; and of Kittredge himself, who was raised by cowboys and saw them become obsolete, who floundered through three marriages, hard drinking, and madness before becoming a writer.

   It Happened in Oregon and It Happened in Washington James A. Crutchfield (1994, 1999) Here you’ll read about the volcanic eruption that formed Crater Lake, the haphazard deal that led to the founding of Portland, and the reckless decision that resulted in the Great Tillamook Burn. / You will uncover the avalanche at Ozette, follow a massive manhunt from Tacoma to the wheat fields of eastern WA, and witness the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.
Journals of Lewis and Clark (1809) From 1804 to 1806 Captain Lewis and Captain Clark led their intrepid expeditionary crew on an 8,000-mile trek–from the mouth of the Missouri to the Pacific outlet of the Columbia River.  Paddling in canoes and riding on Indian horses, the “Corps of Discovery” confronted breathtaking mountains, white-water rapids, charging buffalo…a natural world never before seen by white men: Edenic landscapes, mysterious native peoples, and the first descriptions of hundreds of plants and animals (coyotes, bighorns, prairie dogs, jackrabbits, kit foxes, and Ursus horribilis, the grizzly bear).

Mountain Man Vardis Fisher (1965) Strange, that people can find so strong and fascinating a charm in this rude, nomadic, and hazardous mode of life, as to be estranged themselves from home, country, friends, and all the comforts, elegances, and privileges of civilization; but so it is, the toil, the danger, the loneliness, the deprivation of this condition of being, fraught with all its disadvantages, and replete with peril, is, they think, more than compensated by the lawless freedom, and the stirring excitement, incident to their situation and pursuits. 

The Mountains of California John Muir (1894)  This book reflects three aspects of John Muir’s remarkable life: first, as one of the leading figures in the fight for land and forest conservation; second, as a practicing geologist who saw in pre-historic glaciation one of the vital forces in land formation; and third, as an eloquent essayist who celebrated the beauties of the mountains of California for millions of readers.  Muir describes here the glacier meadows, the incomparable Sierra terrain, the exhilaration of mountain climbing.

My Oregon Bob Welch (2005) My Oregon is Bob Welch at his finest.  It is a literary journal to the soul of a state, reminding us that the virtues of a place are found not only in trees and mountains and beaches, but in people.  Full of heart and humor, this collection of essays belongs on the shelf of everyone who calls Oregon home.

Of Men and Mountains William O. Douglas (1950)  In 1949, after a fall from a horse broke all but one of his ribs, the busy 51-year-old Douglas had time to write about the profound influence nature had on his life. “These pages contain what I, as a boy, saw, felt, smelled, tasted, and heard in the mountains,” he begins.  What follows are evocative, compelling tales of the grandeur of the mountains and the solitude of the individual. “I learned that the richness of life is found in adventure,” Douglas writes. “It develops self-reliance and independence.  Life teems with excitement.  This book may help others to use the mountains to prepare for adventure.”
Rising From The Plains John McPhee (1986) If you like to read about geology, you will find good reading here. If, on the other hand, you are not much engaged by the spatial complexities of the science, you could miss a richness of human history that has its place among the strata described.  This is the story of an isolated ranch, soon after the turn of the century, and of the geologist who grew up there, at home with the composition of the high country in the way that someone growing up in a coastal harbor would be at home with the vagaries of the sea.

Tough Trip Through Paradise, 1878-1879 Andrew Garcia    Throughout the long nights, by lantern light, on this little mountain ranch, Garcia wrote a story that took place in a land so vast and varied that it is almost impossible to comprehend. / Tough Trip Through Paradise grew out of a manuscript left by Andrew Garcia on his death in 1942 after a long and colorful life in Montana. It tells Garcia’s story of the 1877 war between the U.S. government and the Nez Perce people, the end of the buffalo herds, and other historic events in Western life.


A Walk in the Woods Bill Bryson (1998) Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine.  The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes–and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.


In a Sunburned Country Bill Bryson (2000) Australia is a country that exists on a vast scale.  It is the only island that is also a continent and the only continent that is also a country.  Despite being the most desiccated, infertile, and climatically aggressive of all inhabited continents, it teems with life. In fact, Australia has more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else: sharks, crocodiles, the ten most deadly poisonous snakes on the planet, seashells that actually attack you, and the unbelievable box jellyfish.  It’s one tough country


The Bridge on the Drina  Ivo Andric (1945)   A great stone bridge built three centuries ago in the heart of the Balkans by a Grand Vezir of the Ottoman Empire dominates the setting of Ivo Andric’s novel.  Spanning generations, nationalities, and creeds, the bridge stands witness to the countless lives played out upon it…War finally destroys the span, and with it the last descendant of that family to which the Grand Vezir confided the care of his pious bequest–the bridge.


Roughing it in the Bush Susanna Moodie (1852)   When Roughing It in the Bush was published in 1852, it created an international sensation, not only for Susanna Moodie’s glowing narrative of personal incident, but also for her firm determination to puncture the illusions European land-agents were circulating about life in Canada. This frank and fascinating chronicle details her harsh–and humorous–experiences in homesteading with her family in the woods of Upper Canada.


Dubrovnick (2004)  The town of a perfect harmony reveals itself.  The man is the measure of living in the town which changes its face every day, sings, keeps silent, grieves, which is melancholy and mysterious, but permanent in its beauty.  It is built in stone in which it inscribed the motto of its existence: Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro (You do not sell freedom for all the gold!).


The Reader’s Companion to Cuba Edited by Alan Ryan (1859-1992) The Reader’s Companion to Cuba offers nearly two dozen captivating eye-witness “reports” from visitors to Cuba’s shores, among them Anais Nin’s introduction to the “Fairyland” of Havana, Langston Hughes’s surprising rumba party, an excursion around town with Fidel behind the wheel, Tommy Lasorda’s baseball interview with pistol presiding, and Thomas Merton’s pilgrimage to Our Lady of Cobre–a trip “nine-tenths vacation and one-tenth pilgrimage.”                                                        


Country Bunch: A Collection by ‘Miss Read’ (1963) Drawn from diaries, memoirs, poems, novels, recipes, spells and even curses, Country Bunch is a rich anthology that evokes all these things and more.  In it Miss Read shares her astonishing breadth of reading with us, taking us on a wonderful journey through the countryside with the help of, among others, Dorothy Wordsworth, Laurie Lee, Flora Thompson, Chaucer and Shakespeare. The writings included range from Anglo-Saxon times to the present day and cannot fail to delight all who read them, even the most jaded city-dweller.

In Search of England H.V. Morton (1927)  Currently in its 40th printing with its original publisher in the UK, this is the book that one British newspaper has called “travel writing at its best. Bill Bryson must weep when he reads it.” Whether describing ruined gothic arches at Glastonbury or hilarious encounters with the inhabitants of Norfolk, Morton recalls a way of life far from gone even at the beginning of a new century.

Small Island Andrea Levy (2004) Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer’s daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve.


1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler’s Life List Patricia Schultz (2003) Around the world, continent by continent, here is the best the world has to offer: 1,000 places guaranteed to give travelers the shivers. Sacred ruins, grand hotels, wildlife preserves, hilltop villages, snack shacks, castles, festivals, reefs, restaurants, cathedrals, hidden islands, opera houses, museums, and more.  Each entry tells exactly why it’s essential to visit.  Stop dreaming and get going.

A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller Frances Mayes (2006) Spain, Portugal, France, British Isles, Turkey, Greece, North Africa…Weaving together personal perceptions and informed commentary on art, architecture, history, landscape, and social and culinary traditions of each area, Mayes brings the immediacy of life in her temporary homes to the reader. Will be savored by all who loved Under the Tuscan Sun.

Locations Jan Morris (1992) For the most part, the pieces in Locations are not meant to tell readers how somewhere looks, or feels, or sounds, as most travel writings used to be, but simply present an individual response to a place–a wanderer’s response, offering no advice, expecting no emulations, and (whatever the intentions of some of my patrons) certainly not hoping to contribute to the leisure industry.  I gave the book its title partly because I liked the filmic sound of it, but partly because it did not sound like the title of a travel book, but just of a book about places here and there, seen by somebody who happened to be around.

My World of Islands Leslie Thomas (1983) This is Leslie Thomas’s vivid and personal account of his odyssey around some of the most fascinating islands of the globe.  Descriptive, evocative and liberally sprinkled with anecdotes, Leslie Thomas’s narrative, accompanied by his own color photographs, enables the reader to feel the unique mystery and character of each island as he himself has experienced it.

Places Hilaire Belloc (1942) The old security is gone. It does not follow that we ought to attempt an understanding of foreign people today.  Probably if we tried to do that things would get even worse; because they would become more perilous.  And yet one can’t help wishing, at least I can’t help wishing, that people in this country knew more about other people.  The great bond woudl be religion; but of that bond people today know nothing.  A secondary and much feebler bond is travel.



The Book of the City of Ladies Christine de Pizan (1405) Written in 1405, The Book of the City of Ladies is a history of Western civilization from the point of view of women.  Christine de Pizan, the author of this remarkable volume, is considered France’s first woman of letters.  She wrote more than twenty distinguished works, nearly all concerned with two themes: the political life of her country and the defense of her sex. 

France the Beautiful Cookbook  Scotto Sisters (1989) France, the Beautiful Cookbook gives a rare insight into the less-publicized side of French cooking: a cuisine which, for centuries, has been passed down through families by word of mouth. It explains the vital link between each region’s history, geography and culinary traditions, and the people who make the food so unique. Without the abundance of oysters, without cassoulet, without hochepot, without bourride, without the wines and beers that go with them, France would not be France.

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank Thad Carhart (2000)  Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood.  Intrigued by its simple sign–Desforges Pianos–he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing.

The Story of San Michele  Axel Munthe (1929) This is the story of a remarkable life filled with fabulous experiences and ambitions. Axel Munthe was a fashionable physician in Paris who built one of the best-loved houses in the world–San Michele–on the Isle of Capri, on the site of the villa of Tiberius.

Two Towns in Provence  M.F.K. Fisher  (1964)  Here she not only celebrates, in her uniquely perceptive, evocative fashion, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille, but also gives us ‘my picture, my map, of a place and therefore of myself’. Weaving together topography, history, folklore and personal memoirs with the looks, the sounds, the smells and the tastes of her chosen cities, M.F.K. Fisher provides the traveler, the gourmet and the lover of France and fine writing with unforgettable portraits of two remarkable and highly individual towns.


Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment  James R. Gaines (2005)  [Frederick] worked hard and long to draw “old Bach” into his celebrity menagerie. The king had prepared a cruel practical joke for his honored guest, asking him to improvise a six-figure fugue on a theme so fiendishly difficult some believe only Bach’s son could have devised it.  In a fever of composition, [Bach] used the coded, alchemical language of counterpoint to write A Musical Offering in response.  A stirring declaration of everything Bach had stood for all his life, it represented “as stark a rebuke of his beliefs and worldview as an absolute monarch has ever received.” It is also one of the great works of art in the history of music.


The Book of Ebenezer Le Page G.B. Edwards (1981) Ebenezer Le Page, a man of the Channel Islands tells his story, and from the moment we meet him, in mid-sentence, we are spellbound: he is funny and contrary with a furious loving attachment to the past and an old man’s querulousness towards the new. / Imagine a weekend spent in deep conversation with a superb old man, a crusty, intelligent, passionate and individualistic character at the peak of his powers as a raconteur, and you will have a very good idea of the impact of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page…Extraordinary.


A Passage to India E. M. Forster (1924) Ranked among the greatest novels of the twentieth century, A Passage to India is the classic account of the clash of cultures in British India after the turn of the century.  With careful crafting, exquisite prose, and a well-developed sense of irony, Forster reveals the menace lurking just beneath the surface of ordinary life, as a common misunderstanding erupts into a devastating affair.  Mr. Forster possesses the secret of all poets, which is intensity of perception.

Clear Light of Day Anita Desai (1980) A wonderful novel about silence and music, about the partition of a family as well as a nation. / Set in India’s Old Delhi, Clear Light of Day is Anita Desai’s tender, warm, and compassionate novel about family scars, the ability to forgive and forget, and the trials and tribulations of familial love. / This is a wonderful book, a book where passages must be read and reread so that you savor their imagery, their language, and their wisdom.

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India Madhur Jaffrey (2005) This memoir is both an enormously appealing account of an unusual childhood and a testament to the power of food to prompt memory, vividly bringing to life a lost time and place. Included here are recipes for more than thirty delicious dishes recovered from Jaffrey’s childhood.


Ireland: A Novel Frank Delaney (2005) Ireland travels through the centuries, interweaving Ronan’s quest for the Storyteller with a richly evocative unfolding of the great moments of Irish history, ranging from the savage grip of the Ice Age to the green and troubled land of tourist brochures and political unrest.  Along the way, we meet foolish kings and innocent monks, fabled saints and great works of art, shrewd Norman raiders, strong tribal leaders, poets, politicians, and lovers.  Each illuminates the magic of Ireland and the eternal connection of its people to the land.

Twenty Years A-Growing Maurice O’Sullivan  (1933)   Maurice O’Sullivan was born in 1904 on a remote island off the Atlantic coast of Ireland–the Great Blasket.  In this classic book he tells the story of his youth, and of a way of life which belongs to the past.
If the reader laughs at the schoolmistress and the matrons, and is moved by the dream of a butterfly inside the horse’s skull–then he is assured of amusement and emotion to come.  He is ready to go to Ventry Races, and to make the great journey from Dingle East…This book is unique…for here is the egg of the sea-bird–lovely, perfect, and laid this very morning.
Warrenpoint Denis Donoghue (1990) Warrenpoint takes its title from the seaside town in Northern Ireland whose police barracks served as the residence for the Catholic Donoghue family…a love story bearing on the severe relations between Donoghue and his policeman father–“not,” by the master critic’s own admission, “a well-rounded character,” but instead one who might seem “partial and brittle.”…Here is that rarest of books, a necessary book–for everyone concerned with the life of the mind and with the hard business of living with the family romance.


Italy – The Beautiful Cookbook Lorenza De’ Medici (1996)  For those who imagine Italian food to consist of pizza, pasta and tomato sauce, this book will be a revelation.  It encompasses the culinary traditions of the whole of Italy – a country diverse in landscape, climate and traditions, but blessed with a wonderful array of ingredients and a people imaginative enough to make the most of them. The food is uncontrived but delicious, fresh and full-flavored.

Lavinia Ursula K. LeGuin (2008)  In The Aeneid, Vergil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire.  Lavinia herself never speaks a word.  Now, Ursula K. LeGuin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills. / An elegant echo chamber for a canonical work, a reading of an epic poem, and a rewriting of that poem.

The Path to Rome Hilaire Belloc (1902)  ‘The only book I wrote for love.’ So Hilaire Belloc described this fusion of anecdote, humour and reflection, all grouped around the story of his pilgrimage to Rome.  Meet the Commercial Traveler, the Hungry Student, the Man in the Fur Coat and many more; taste the local wines and ales from the Moselle to central Italy, and view the scenery, laboriously traversed but exquisitely described.  Included also are dialogues with a pompous reader, the author’s sketches and a preface to end all prefaces!

Playing for Pizza John Grisham (2007)  Yes, Italians do play American football, to one degree or another, and the Parma Panthers desperately want a former NFL player–any former NFL player–at their helm.  So Rick reluctantly agrees to play for the Panthers–at least until a better offer comes along–and heads off to Italy. He knows nothing about Parma (not even where it is), has never been to Europe, and doesn’t speak or understand a word of Italian.  To say that Italy–the land of opera, fine wines, extremely small cars, romance, and football americano--holds a few surprises for Rick Dockery would be something of an understatement.

New York City

How the Other Half Lives Jacob A. Riis (1890)  In 1890, when the book was published, the Lower East Side was a landscape of teeming streets and filthy tenements crowded with immigrants living in dreadful conditions.  How the Other Half Lives brings them to life–the Italians, Jews, Bohemians (Czechs and Slovaks), Blacks, and Chinese–in precise descriptions of their habits and traditions, jobs and wages, rents paid and meals eaten, and explores the effects of crime, poverty, alchohol, and lack of education and opportunity on adults and children.

North Pole

Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape Barry Lopez (1986) It is a celebration of the artic landscape and of the animals that live there…of the Eskimo…a story of movement…a story of light–solar and lunar rings, halos, and coronas; the pale green and soft rose of the aurora borealis; the distant mountain that is actually a looming, and entirely convincing, mirage.  Unique in its vision, it is a book that asks what it means to live well.  In the integrity of that land one finds an answer.

My Attainment of the Pole Frederick A. Cook  (1913) Cook, allegedly the first man to reach the North Pole, recounts his adventures at the top of the world, his meetings with Eskimos and his hunting of musk ox, plus his subsequent debates with Robert Peary after he had returned to his homeland.  /  Cook must be considered an extraordinary personality in Polar history…he was a Bonaparte on the ice to his rival…


The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape James Howard Kunstler (1993) In elegant and often hilarious prose, Kunstler depicts our nation’s evolution from the Pilgrim settlements to the modern auto suburb in all its ghastliness.  The Geography of Nowhere tallies up the huge economic, social, and spiritual costs that America is paying for its car-crazed lifestyle.  It is also a wake-up call for citizens to reinvent the places where we live and work, to build communities that are once again worthy of our affection.
Pacific Ocean

Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft Thor Heyerdahl (1950) Kon-Tiki is the record of an astonishing adventure — a journey of 4,300 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean by raft. Intrigued by Polynesian folklore, biologist Thor Heyerdahl suspected that the South Sea Islands had been settled by an ancient race from thousands of miles to the east, led by a mythical hero, Kon-Tiki. He decided to prove his theory by duplicating the legendary voyage.

Racing Through Paradise: A Pacific Passage William F. Buckley, Jr.  (1987)  Each Buckley voyage is distinctive, yet each is an enhancement of earlier journeys.  And a journey with Buckley is inevitably an expedition into oddly assorted experiences and comedy, into observation and illumination–into wit and reflection, and into friendships that overcome friction.  Here the irrepressible, eloquent, enjoyable Buckley guides us through his beloved Azores, and the the Galapagos (“the Bronx Zoo at the Equator”), about which he inclines more to Melville’s view than to Darwin’s…


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1962)  First published in 1962, it is considered one of the most significant works ever to emerge from Soviet Russia.  Illuminating a dark chapter in Russian history, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is at once a graphic picture of work camp life and a moving tribute to man’s will to prevail over relentless dehumanization, told by “a literary genius whose talent matches that of Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy [and] Gorky.”

Tevye the Dairyman and The Railroad Stories Sholem Aleichem (1883) Of all the characters in modern Jewish fiction, the most beloved is Tevye, the buoyant, compassionate, philosophical, Bible-quoting dairy-man whose life story formed the basis for the musical Fiddler on the Roof.  And no Yiddish writer was more beloved than Tevye’s creator, Sholem Rbinovich [1859-1916] who wrote under the pen name of Sholem Aleichem [Yiddish for “hello there”].

Where Nights Are Longest: Travels by Car Through Western Russia Colin Thubron  (1983)  Everywhere he went he struck up fascinating acquaintances, and clearly possesses a deep talent for inspiring confidence and eliciting those views and experiences which can illuminate a whole life in a few paragraphs..A book to warmly recommend to anyone with the slightest interest in Russia and her people.  / Colin Thubron is an ideal guide. Well informed about icons, architecture, and history, he is also wonderfully articulate…especially in descriptive passages, the language becomes a grave and stately music.


In Search of Scotland H.V. Morton (1929) There is, I think, something to be said for books written by an explorer who admits frankly, as I do, that he knew nothing about Scotland when he set out, because then commonplace knowledge comes freshly with an air of discovery, and those readers who are also ignorant are possibly stimulated to go forth and perform the same trick of progressive absorption.

Men of the Covenant Alexander Smellie (1903) This book is not a dull history but a series of brilliant sketches. It has the breathless excitement of a historical novel, but it is all true. / Alexander Smellie was indeed the very man to write this book.  One of the best expository preachers of his day, an exceptionally well-read man, and endowed with a rare, happy saintliness, he penetrated deeply into the inner significance of Covenanting times…


The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail Wallace Stegner (1964)  Wallace Stegner has written the best single volume to appear on the Mormon migration westward…His sensitivity to human beings and his ability to understand the spirit motivating the oft-persecuted Latter Day Saints allow him insights missed by earlier writers. Stegner draws on scores of printed and unprinted diaries kept by the Saints, and has used these very personal documents to pinpoint events that take on new meaning when viewed through the eyes of commonplace mortals.


The Burning : Sheridan’s Devastation of the Shenandoah Valley John Heatwole (1998) The Burning captures the tragedy of two weeks in the Shenandoah Valley in the autumn of 1864.  It is the story that…reminds modern readers how the Civil War visited with man-made flame and fury the granery of the Confederacy.  Rich in detail, incidents, and drama, The Burning is a gripping story and a fine book.


Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery George Borrow (1901) Wales signifies a land of mountains, of vales, of dingles, chasms, and springs.  It is connected with the Cumbric bal, a protuberance, a springing forth; with the Celtic beul or beal, a mouth; with the old English welle, a fountain; with the original name of Italy, still called by the Germans Welshland; with Balkan and Vulcan, both of which signify a casting out, an eruption…

Give Away

I have a copy of 1,000 Places To See Before You Die
and an ex-library (but charming if you like old textbooks)
1929 edition of How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis.
Riis was a photojournalist; his photos are compelling.
[Leave a comment either here or on Facebook.
Please mark your preference. Thanks!]
I will draw names on January 12th.


29 thoughts on “Reading Plan 2010 & Book Giveaway

  1. Hmm.  I have only heard of four of those books.  Let me know when you start Out of Africa, I will read mine at the same time.  I read Kon Tiki when I was in high school.  It was pretty interesting as I remember.  I listened to Playing for Pizza last summer, Grisholm has changed, and not for the worse, it is a fluffy book though.  I had also heard of A Passage to India.  I plan to organize my reading this year as well, I need to get on that soon.  I would be happy with either book.

  2. No need to enter me, but had to comment – I love this idea! And I can’t wait to hear what you think of the It Happened in Oregon and It Happened in Washington books – I need to pick up the Washington one; it would be a good companion read when Natalie studies Washington State History next year. Oh, and Ireland is one of my favorite novels ever. Happy New Year, Carol!Carrie

  3. Wow. Happy reading! I’m eager to hear your recommendations on Irish books. Kon-Tiki was just in the news – the last living member of that expedition just died last week. Apparently he was also one of the members of the “Heroes of Telemark”, the Norweigan saboteurs who blew up the German heavy water plant in WWII. The Alaska book looks interesting, but I would first recommend Muir’s “Travels In Alaska”. My first McPhee book was “Coming Into The Country” and it sounds like there might be excerpts. Then there is Krakauer’s “Into The Wild”. Incredible guy flick, haven’t read the book yet. “Arctic Dreams” was so-so.And Happy New Year to all the Bakkers!

  4. No need to enter me into the draw, and anyway my place is a bit inaccessible (as the person giving directions might say “You wouldn’t start from where you are to get here.”  šŸ™‚  Such an interesting list! Thank you for that, and for recent entries.There is an obituary to Knut Haugland, the last surviving member of the Kon-Tiki expedition, here: died on Christmas day.Happy New Year, and good reading in 2010!

  5. What a daunting list. I have only read a couple of the books listed: Penahally and A Walk in the Woods maybe a couple of others. It sounds like a fun plan. I may join you in a few hundred years.   I decided to start the new year by returning to WWI and reading all the books I missed. 2009 was a slow reading year for me. Lots of good excuses. Blessings to you in 2010, Cindy

  6. Wow, what a list.  Glad to see you’ve included India…I hadn’t seen the new Jaffrey book and I’m pretty sure I need to check that one out. We just had a pastor friend from India in our home for 2 1/2 weeks and he definitely broadened my horizons in Indian cooking! 

  7. Interesting that you chose “place” as a theme.  Have you read The meadow by James Galvin?  It’s the only book I can think of where the location is the “main character” of the book.  

  8. Wow that sounds like a lot of fun – I really need to focus my reading too. I would love to be considered for your giveaway. I think my choice would be “How the Other Half Lives”.Thanks,Mrs. H

  9. What an interesting focus and list!I wish you the best in this endeavor and will enjoy watching you fill in the details on this landscape. I only wish I could join you. I’m kind of stuck in my limited few pages before sleep o’er takes me. But I did start Hannah Coulter last night. At my current rate, I might be finished by Easter! On your list, you will love(!) A Walk in the Woods. That’s one where the audio supersedes the print version, imo! An author that came to mind as I started reading your post was Peter Jenkins. His easy-going Walk Across books have fascinated me. Btw, do you FB? I’d love to friend you, so I’ll look you up. If you’re “hidden,” will you e-mail me. I didn’t see a link to FB here, but might have missed it.Bon voyage, Carol!

  10. Wonderful list, thank you!Last year was my first not at least partially homeschooling so I didn’t plan my reading as I usually did.  While I enjoyed reading what came along, this year I am going back to a plan.My “main” reading is going to be a series of books all by the same author for each month with devotional and books I am reviewing thrown in.

  11. That is an amazing list! Do you know what? (Of course you don’t because I haven’t told you yet!)  I was totally paralyzed by the “Read a Dozen Worthwhile Books” challenge and read very little other than read-alouds for the children’s school!  So, I’m back to the reading without a plan which seems to work for me…when I’m done one book, I will look for another one that catches my fancy.  Terribly undisciplined, I know, but I am learning to know myself.The places to see book has been one I’ve wanted to give to son number one (after I read it myself, of course!) So that will be my choice.Happy reading!andHappy New Year!

  12. 1,000 Places to See for me, please  Maybe I’ll have a little more time to read now that I’m “free.” And BTW, you should go to Muir Woods and John Muir’s home the next time you come down here. It’s really quite beautiful! They show you a film about John Muir and then you can go (self-guided) wherever you want afterwards…

  13. Dear TeacherMom,I’m visiting from Featured Grownups.I must admit. I didn’t read all the descriptions, but I did read all of the titles,and some of the descriptions of books which intrigued me. I always admire bloggers who read so many books. I can’t seem to make the time for a 50 hour a week job, writing a website and blog, reading my reader’s blogs, and enjoying my vast film library (I’m a bit of  a movie buff) and fit books into the mix. And that’s incredibly weird because I majored in English Literature back in college (albeit a long long time ago) and before the advent of my internetting would regularly read three or four books at a time.Even back then, though, a lot of those books were what could politely be termed as “pulp fiction”, none of which shows up on this estimable list of yours.I’m still reeling from the fact that these are books in your home which you haven’t yet read. You must have a bit of a library in your house! Are they arranged simply alphabetically, by country of origin, or by the Dewey decimal system. LOL?I must admit, I just went over your list again, and I think I’m going to make a note of some of these, which look immensely interesting. Michael F. Nyiri, poet, philosopher, fool

  14. Hi Carol,One of my favorite authors who writes about places is Tim Cahill.  He has several books, most of which have funny titles like “A Wolverine Is Eating My Leg” and “Pass the Butterworms”.  Most of his books are collections of essays and cover a wide variety of locations.  However, he has one book in which he chronicles a road trip from the southernmost drivable point in South America to the northernmost drivable point in Alaska, called “Road Fever”.  More recently he’s written a book about Yellowstone called “Lost in My Own Backyard”.Another book that you might consider while exploring places is “How to Lie with Maps” by Mark Monmonier.  While it isn’t about a particular place, it explores how abstractions printed onto maps can cause types of bias in understanding parts of the world.

  15. Didn’t I already put my name in the hat?  Maybe I dreamed it (-:Love your list, Carol, and look forward to looking it over more carefully.  You’re, once again, my inspiration.Love,Di

  16. Oh My! What a feast for the book lover!  I have not heard of most of those books.  I’m sure I will be adding several to my TBR list.  Out of Africa is one of my favorite books ever, though.  I hope you enjoy that one (if you haven’t already read it).I love that you have chosen a theme for this year’s reading.  I’m still rather eclectic about reading.  oh, if it isn’t too late, I’d love to read How the Other Half Lives… that one sounds interesting.

  17. Thanks so much for participating this month.  I have had so much fun reading all of these wonderful entries.  I hope you have had a chance to visit the other participants  Get your thinking cap ready… there’s a new topic ready to post on 1/15 at 8am sharp.  Drop by FG later on today for a big hint

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