Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Stranger Than Fiction

When I was a child, I read books but I wouldn't really have called it my number one hobby. While I was convinced I could dig my own hole for a swimming pool in the backyard, my sister was more of the bookworm, reading her Babysitter's Club books. However, as I grew older, I found reading to be a more enjoyable and satisfying activity. A lot of people prefer to watch films to get the story faster but with a book, you feel more involved. And the best thing about a book is that you can be alone (say, relaxing in your house in rural Mozambique or on a fairly isolated island in the East China Sea) and never feel lonely.

Since arriving in Japan, I have made it my goal to surpass the number of books I read while in the Peace Corps and attempt to read a book a week. This leads to a grand total of 105 books that I have to reach by July 25th. Challenge. Accepted. It hasn't been easy because some books just aren't quick reads and sometimes, I have zero attention span and go watch some TV. But I have been on a real nonfiction kick. There was an interesting article on NPR entitled "Why Women Read More Than Men" and it raises some good points, with the author discussing why women tend to gravitate more toward fiction. (Another article to read about the subject of gender and reading is the article "How to Talk to Little Boys" by Lisa Bloom. She talks about how girls have surpassed boys in education and how reading is now generally frowned on as a male activity, when it used to be that reading was a more masculine pastime.)

Anyhoosies, here is my list of great books that I recommend and have read in the past year and a half or so! (Also, forgive me for my sometimes depressing taste - they are just subjects that I find interesting.)

1. The Zookeeper's Wife (Diane Ackerman) - This book tells the story of the zookeepers of the Warsaw Zoo who helped save hundreds of people during World War II.

2. Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way - (Jon Krakauer) - Krakauer wrote this short Kindle e-book about the author of Three Cups of Tea and discusses how parts of the original story were fictionalized and how funds were mismanaged - a sad and common trait among some "charitable" organizations.

3. Girls Like Us: Fighting For a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale (Rachel Lloyd) - This is a book about a British woman who helps young girls and women leave a life of prostitution and abuse to try to start a new life.

4. Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq (Kirsten Holmstedt) - A great book about women who serve in the United States armed forced and how they fit in among a dominantly male military culture.

5. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berline (Erik Larson) - I love Erik Larson`s books. This book is about the family of the American Ambassador to Germany during the rise of Hitler`s regime in the early to mid-1930`s.

6. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Laura Hillenbrand) - This is the well-told story of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic athlete and POW. It`s really well-written and this guy's life and story of survival are pretty amazing.

7. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (David Simon) - This is a book about detectives in Baltimore, Maryland and how they go about solving crimes and murders. The stories of the detectives also served as the inspiration for the TV series Homicide and The Wire.

8. Cool, Calm & Contentious (Merrill Markoe) - This is just a funny, well-written book by a former writer for several comedy TV shows. The parts where she writes about her mother are hilarious.

9. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (Mary Roach) - Okay, this book can be a little gross at times but it`s still an interesting read about where our bodies end up after we donate them to science.

10. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling ) - This is a just a funny book with great opinions and thoughts about society by Kaling, a writer and cast member of the American version of The Office.

11. The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America (Erik Larson) - Like I said, I love Larson`s books. This is the story of the set-up and planning leading up to the 1893 World's Fair, set alongside the story of the serial killer H.H. Holmes, who operated in Chicago and found his victims during the hustle and bustle of that period.

12. Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men (Mara Hvistendahl) - No matter how you feel over the controversial subject of abortion, this is an interesting read that discusses sex-selective abortion and what the world has already and could become like if more and more people use technology to choose the gender of their children.

13. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Robert K. Massie) - A biography of Catherine the Great. The court life of Imperial Russia reads like a soap opera. Sometimes it can be a dry read with all the historical details but for the most part, she was a very interesting and intelligent woman.

14. Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell) - I really, really loved this book. Gladwell talks about how people often define success as something we have worked hard for and deserve more than others. However, he believes that, in reality, our success is often a result of being born in fortunate time periods, being given opportunities, and special circumstance and coincidences.

I haven't really read much for fiction lately and although I love fiction, sometimes the truth truly is stranger and more interesting than fiction.

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