Monday, November 17, 2014

Literary Tourism

     I invite you to consider this a Part 2 to last week's blog post, which was inspired by my yearning to fast forward two years so that I can backpack through Southeast Asia.  But whereas in that post I listed books to enjoy in lieu of travel, in this one I will list destinations for people who enjoy books. 

1. London, England - I have heard great things about this city's bookshops.  Plus many great writers, such as John Keats, David Bowie, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens were born, inspired by, or resided here.  Plus the cold and rainy weather is ideal for reading (according to every Pinterest user ever, at least). 
2. Writers' houses-turned-museums - There are bajillions of them, but the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut sounds especially beautiful.
3. Walden Pond Reservation, Concord, Massachusetts - THIS IS THE NATURAL HAVEN IMMORTALIZED IN WALDEN BY DAVID HENRY THOREAU!  You can actually visit it! There's a replica of his shack!  You can look for the pond where he bathed!  You can find the exact view of Walden Pond that he so beautifully described!
4. Dublin, Ireland - James Joyce's books Ulysses and The Dubliners take place in this city, and the James Joyce Center offers walking tours that takes you to locations featured in both books.
5. Santiago, Chile - The Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda lived here.  His poems are so simple, warm, and musical - I'd love to see La Chascona, the colorful house where he wrote them. Today, the city brims with secondhand bookstores and outposts of the Cafe Literario, a library/coffee shop.  
I feel you, Thoreau.
     Next time my family and I drive through Massachusetts, I will force them to make a detour to Walden Pond Reservation.  I will literally grab the steering wheel if I have to :P

     -Carly

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Book Substitutes for Travel

Dalat Central Market, Dalat, Vietnam. When I was last in this beautiful city, it was 1966 and my day there was a welcome rest from the war raging most everywhere else in country.
Dalat Central Market in Vietnam
     I have recently fallen in love with the idea of taking a gap year after I graduate from high school.  I think knowing that there is a spectacular backpacking trip to Southeast Asia at the end of the nightmarish, sleepless tunnel of high school will make it easier to endure :D  But while I am still trapped in the United States, I intend to travel vicariously through books instead.  

1. Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell - An unspontaneous, bookish 16-year-old girl (ohmigod, that's me!) is "kidnapped" by her bohemian grandmother and dragged through Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.  
2. City of Beasts by Isabel Allende - The story of another uptight young person - male, in this case - whose eccentric grandmother takes him adventuring - in the Amazon, in this case.  Allende tackles environmental issues and the persecution of native peoples by Westerners, all the while describing the jungle in ethereal detail and telling a great story.
3. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin - This memoir about Greg Mortenson's mission to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to educate girls in particular, is beautiful and inspiring.  I hear that Greg Mortenson has fallen into disgrace recently, though, so I may be wrong to include it in this list - what do you guys think?  I don't know the details.  
4. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke - VENICE!  I envy the pack of close-knit homeless children that this book revolves around because they live in VENICE. 
5. Walden by Henry David Thoreau - It's not a book about travel.  But reading it does make me long for a change of scenery, so long as that new scenery is an isolated shack in the countryside.
6.  1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz - I love flipping through this book.  It's organized by country and region, and is so thorough that I doubt you'll be able to read its entirety before you die.
7. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor - You know, I actually didn't love this book - it was too romantic for me.  But I loved the first half, when the writer is introducing the setting, Prague, and its fascinating nooks, such as the Poison Kitchen Cafe and the main character's art school.  
8. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux - I want to read this book!  It's a classic, and all about trains from all over the world.  Read this: 

“The trains [in a country] contain the essential paraphernalia of the culture: Thai trains have the shower jar with the glazed dragon on its side, Ceylonese ones the car reserved for Buddhist monks, Indian ones a vegetarian kitchen and six classes, Iranian ones prayer mats, Malaysian ones a noodle stall, Vietnamese ones bulletproof glass on the locomotive, and on every carriage of a Russian train there is a samovar.” 
― Paul TherouxThe Great Railway Bazaar


Now tell me you're not desperate to hop on a sleeper train to anywhere.
10.  A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - AHAHA if only I could spend my gap year in space!  I guess that's what slackers of the next millennium will do.  

     - Carly

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book Review: Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Book + Feet
     The title of this book may sound vaguely familiar to you, even if you're pretty sure you haven't read it, and that's probably because its companion, Ender's Game, was recently turned into a mediocre movie.   Neither book is anywhere near mediocre, however.  Science fiction gets a bad rep because it is often described as cheesy and solely for geeks, but Orson Scott Card's novels are good stories by any standards.  Sure, they play into some stereotypes of the genre: both books are set in the future, at an outer space Battle School where children are trained to be soldiers in an impending war with a hostile alien race.  But all of this is merely a backdrop for Card to work out the answers to his questions about war, mercy, selflessness, community, humanity, success, and genius.
     Ender's Shadow is written from the perspective of Bean, previously an enigmatic secondary character in Ender's Game, which was centered around the flashier Ender Wiggin.  Both boys are accepted very young, at only six years old, to Battle School, and both are in the running to be Commander-in-Chief of the human fleet during the Bugger war.  But where Ender is a charismatic, empathetic leader, Bean is detached, calculating, and brilliant.  Where Ender was brought up by a wealthy military family, Bean was born under mysterious circumstances and forced to survive on the streets of Rotterdam, Holland from a very young age.  Bean has incredible memory, powers of deduction, and strategic ability, but his brilliance also cuts him off from connecting with others.  He never becomes a lauded hero.  Bean's story is the story of the people who work behind the scenes to ensure that the "real" hero saves the day.  
     No other writer that I know of can tackle so many topics and so many questions - What makes a hero?  What is victory worth?  What makes us human?  Is fame a game of chance? - and still write a story this engrossing and unpretentious.  Even 1984 by George Orwell has its dull bits, including a seemingly endless "excerpt" from a book about totalitarianism that the main character reads. Orwell uses this excerpt to clearly lay down how he thought such a nightmarish government might arise, and in the long run, this explanation is crucial to the reader's understanding.  But Card manages not to interrupt his plot and burden his readers with such drivel, and still manages to communicate his ideas.  
     That, my friends, is genius.

     - Carly