50 Books a Year Update

Goal- read 50 books a year. This year, I’m off to a decent start, but to make 50 I’m going to have to mix in a couple kiddie books. Maybe my friend the Roster will let me read a few to him.

Started the year burning through three William Kent Kruger books; Iron Lake, Boundary Waters and Copper River. These are decent murder mysteries set in Northern Minnesota, and in the case of Copper River, up on the Upper Peninsula. Enjoyable reads they’re well written with good characters and strong interesting plots. I especially like the main protagonist in the series, Cork O’Conner.  Cork is part Anishinaabe, and his connection to the local band is a big part of all of the books I’ve read so far and makes the Minnesota connection even beter.

They’re a nice way to pass the time, but they’re not challenging if you know what I mean. I like to mix in something that stretches my mind every coupl’a three books or so. Otherwise I’d just watch CSI.

Somewhere in there I mixed in Saul Bellow’s Henderson The Rain King. Technically it’s literature since Saul won a Nobel or something. I came across this one listening too, and fooling around with (on the guitar) the Counting Crows song “the Rain King”. It’s a great song but the lyrics are weird so I did a little digging to learn more about the source of the song. Turns out the song is based on the book.

This turned out to be a book that I wanted to like a lot more than I actually liked it. The story is about a middle aged millionaire who, unsatisfied with his life heads to Africa in an attempt to answer a question yearning in his soul “I want I want I want”. Problem is he has everything and doesn’t know quite what it is he wants. In Africa he seeks wisdom and at the same time attempts to help the some of the folks he comes across, and basically screws up everything he touches. The book ends with his inheriting the throne of a tribe, a job he wants no part off and he has to beg off and head back home wiser and happier.

This is a book that I wish I’d written; the wit and irony are certainly right up my alley. I’m a middle-aged guy who has no idea what he wants, I only knows that I’m never satisfied with what I have. Except when I’m at the lake, there for some reason I fell pretty content about all things except the dread I start to feel about leaving. And since that happens every time I’m there, that being that I leave and come back home to my usual avocation, I’m going to chock it up as a mid-life crisis thing and call it a day.

Which doesn’t help explain why I like/don’t like Henderson The Rain King, but the thought came to me and I was typing at the time so the two of you who read this have a little more insight in my insanity.

The plot in the book moves kinda slow to be honest, that’s the “don’t like” part. It is however peppered with philosophical insights and great quotes. I love me a great quote. One of my favorites:

I often looked into books to see whether I could find some helpful words, and one day I read, “The forgiveness of sins is perpetual and righteousness first is not required.” This impressed me so deeply that I went around saying it to myself. But then I forgot which book it was.”

Kinda the story of my life. I forget more great ideas and thoughts than I’ve ever had and at the end of the day I forget them all and have to start from scratch.

But for some reason I can remember the names of a pair of twins I played with and last saw in 1969. Weird.

My voice is not “I want” it’s “I don’t know what I want”. Hmm.

From the trash novel department, The Temple Mount Code by Charles Brokaw. Not that Charles Brokaw, at least I don’t think it was that Charles Brokaw. Not so good. One of those international thrillers that has bad guys chasing good guys across the globe. There’s so many daring escapes in this one that it’s ridiculous. I think it’s a supposed to be a kind of modern Indiana Jones deal, but even Indy doesn’t have this many escapes in a day. When the Iranian bad guys and the hero/Cassa Nova/Archaeologist burrow under the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and no one notices.. then I’m kinda done. The ending is awful, anti-climatic and lose ends.. blah.

From here I moved on to Margery Kemps autobiography. Thankfully edited and re-written by Louise Collins. The Kemp memoirs are the very first autobiography written in English. It dates to the late 1300’s early 1400’s. Mrs. Kemp could best be described as “bat-shit” crazy. She had a habit of breaking into tears and convulsions whenever she entered a church. At the time the general opinion was that she was either completely nuts, which seemed to the more popular opinion, or that she was some sort of aesthetic, the view held by some of the clergy.

Margery was remarkable in that after having 14 children with her long suffering husband she departed on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where the wrote about her visits to Jerusalem and the various Christian shrines there. Pretty amazing when you think about, not like you could board an El Al flight out of London and touch down in the Holy Land 4 hours later. This trip took a couple years and involved crossing the channel, making her way across Europe to Venice. Booking a Pilgrim Package, literally an all inclusive trip from Venice to Joppa, overland to Jerusalem and back, meals, guides and lodging all included. I had no idea they had such things. After the trip she goes to Rome and then back home.

One thing that comes out loud and clear, the woman was a pain in the ass. She gets kicked out of every group she hooks up with, in those days traveling with a group was mandatory to avoid the dangers of 14th century brigands and robbers. And it seems that just as soon as the crowd she’s with kicks her out, they feel guilty and bring her back. With the stipulation that she not preach, wail, cry, or talk. Marjory interprets this as God looking after her and blessing the groups she’s with.

There’s actually a hilarious part where she separates from her group in Joppa, only to be reunited with them in Venice a year later, and they all decide to kill themselves instead of traveling with her one more day. Not really but pretty close. Even the hired guide she employs to take her from Venice to Rome abandons here half way, deciding that money isn’t worth the trouble of hanging out with this broad.

Bottom line I love me some history, especially the first person accounts. This was a good one. You do however want someone to interpret English from that era. This was before there were standards about grammar and spelling so trying to figure out what they’re saying is difficult. My only beef with this version was the editor, Louise Collins… she made a lot of mistakes about the time and places. Her history wasn’t quite right and that always bugs the shit out of me. Good news is there are lot of other sources for this work including one called “Diary of a Crazy Woman”. Might be a better one for me. Some of you might like “Story of a Woman of God” if you want to go that route.

OK Anyone still with me here?

The Worm

I can’t even being to tell you how offended I was by Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea. His comments about his new little buddy and great leadership.. Dennis should move to North Korea and to live for a few years at Yodak Concentration camp. Which is where Kang Chol-Hwan the author of Aquariums of Pyongyang spent 10 years of his youth. He is from a family of Koreans living in Japan. His family was enticed to move to the Socialist Paradise in North Korea in late 1970’s by the local North Korean benevolent society. His father became a fairly high level bureaucrat in the party and the family lived relatively well in Pyongyang for a few years before things went horribly bad.

His grandfather was accused of disloyalty to the regime and, as happens in the Socialist Paradise, the entire extended family including 9 year old Chol were sent to a concentration camp. 10 years of near starvation, watching beatings and public executions and summary punishments Chol was released and deemed “rehabilitated”. Realizing that he was going to be arrested again he was able to escape to China across the Yalu river and make his way to Seoul South Korea where he became a journalist.

This is a really gripping book about life in North Korea that reads like a realty show based on George Orwell’s 1984. Loyalty to the Party and the Kim’s is ingrained in every aspect of life. Kang writes that as bad as Yodak was, it was by no means the worst camp in North Korea. There were others where no one left alive. This is the family that Dennis Rodman has decided to embrace. This is his “Friend for life”. These are the people that Dennis calls “great leaders”. 3 Million starved to death in the last 10 years. People eating rats and cockroaches. Summary executions of 10’s of thousands.

I’m sorry, fuck you Dennis Rodman, you deserve to live with your new friends and see what life is really like in Hermit Kingdom. I think digging coal with you hands in a forced labor camp eathing 500 grams of corn a day would do you well.

Soo, I’ve read a bunch of stuff lately because I’m avoiding my next one. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I’ve been avoiding this one because I’m intimidated by the length of it. It’s a tome and a half. Might need to augment reading time to get through in 2013. BUT, from everything I’ve read it’s right up my alley. If found it because I submitted my blog to a “Who do you write like” site and Wallace was the guy that came up. Snarky and smart I’m supposed to write a lot like he does. We’ll see.


Filed under Life

6 responses to “50 Books a Year Update

  1. JeffPR

    I’ve got some recomendations. How about anything by Friedrich Hayek. i’d specifically recomend, “The road to Surfdom.”

  2. Ken in Northfield

    Okay, your reading list makes mine look pretty superficial.

    I was right with you on Krueger. I’ve liked his books.

    Then you brought up Bellow. I tried reading something by him decades ago. The only thing I remember is that I didn’t get it. Sort of like I remember Swann’s Way. Maybe if I sort of know the theme, based on your description, I could enjoy Henderson…

    Okay, Margery Kemp. Sounds intriguing. Travel story to go with Chaucer? Or Marco Polo? Ibn Battuta? I’ve really liked the old stories told by Arabic travelers about visiting distant lands. And Polo is also great. Chaucer is a bit parochial, but funny. Now Kemp seems to have potential.

    I think I’ll add Dennis Rodman, North Korea, and concentration camps to my list of stuff I’ll avoid whenever possible. The list includes opera, grand and soap, professional pretend wrestling/fighting, people who are famous for being famous (however, Charlie Sheen’s offer to help Lindsay Lohan has to be a movie idea), and preppers.

    I will have to look up Henderson and Kemp. Thanks.

  3. I commend you! And envy you. My working years consisted of so much intense, critical reading that reading ceased to be something I did for pleasure. I simply cannot stop mentally editing anything I read.

  4. Why do you think they call him the worm? He feeds off the detritus of the world and he belongs with the garbage.

    I do not read nearly the volume you do, but I enjoyed The Book Thief recently, by Markus Zusak. I know, I know, another book about Nazis Germany. I had just put down a different book with the same subject. It was even a good book with a good author, but it was the same old story. My wife handed me The Book Thief and told me to read it. The narrator of the book is unexpected and the author looks at things from a different angle. Characters I hated turned into characters that I liked. A heroine that is a thief. A young German boy that wants to be Jessie Owens. I had very low expectations of the book, but will likely read it again.

    • RAH

      I’ve read Krueger and liked the books. I will have to check out some of the others you mentioned. I was not a fan of the Book Thief, my unexpected Nazi book I read was Maus – one of the few “comic” books I’ve really enjoyed. I’ll need to step it up to get to 50 books, I have 10 done through today for 2013. I think my favorite thus far was “The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Frye”.

  5. Tim

    I tried the “I Write Like” thing with five different samples (3-7 paragraphs each) and got Dan Brown twice along with DFW, Cory Doctorow, and H.P. Lovecraft once each. I’ve only ever read anything by Doctorow and Lovecraft; I’d try DFW but don’t have much interest in Dan Brown.

Lemmie know what you think..

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