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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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.
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…
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.
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I will draw names on January 12th.
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.
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
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!
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.” 🙂 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: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/knut-haugland-a-reallife-adventure-story-1851472.htmlHe died on Christmas day.Happy New Year, and good reading in 2010!
@nnjmom – Carrie, I will send WA state one to you when I’ve read it.
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
@magistramater – Thanks, Carol – that’s so kind of you!
Great list, Carol! I’ll be interested in what you think of John Muir’s book. He’s been on my mental “books to read someday” list for some time.
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!
oooh, fun! and i’m exhausted just reading your list!! 🙂 if i could pick, I’d pick the ‘how the other half lives’. fascinating. you inspire me just by doing what you do. yippee!!
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.
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
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!
eating with a plan (Julia & Julie), gardening with a plan (Monty Don – The Complete Gardener) – well, why not reading with a plan (Carol Bakker)
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.
1,000 Places To See Before You Die, please! :o)Mark
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!
@carol97 – I haven’t read it (nor heard of it) but I just ordered it from Paperbackswap. Thanks!
@MargaretinVa – Knowing yourself trumps all sorts of plans and devices. Happy New Year to you, too!
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…
@godsfarmgirl – I’m eager to know what you think of Hannah Coulter. @LimboLady – We’ve been to Muir Woods in the past. Dan and Val always talked about it and I always thought they were saying Mirror Woods, heh heh.
Cool plan. Thanks for participating
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
Good luck on reading this books
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.
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
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.
Oh, hope I’m not too late, Carol. Fun, fun. How the Other Half Lives sounds truly wonderful. Hope this finds your new year off to a great start.
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