One of my personal Peace Corps goals is to read 100 books during my 27 months of service. After ten, almost eleven, months I'm at 49 books. I was going to wait to post this entry until I had 50 books but I'm in Huaraz right now and book number 50 (The Rider by Tim Krabbe) will not be making either of these lists. Because, in honor of this momentous occasion, I’ve decided to recap and review the Top Five and Bottom Five books that I've read.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis (finished 9.21) – I sped read the first six books in the Chronicles of Narnia series and by far my favorite was this one. Perhaps it’s because I’m enthralled by travel literature and this book is a grand adventure. In general, I enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia series because CS Lewis is able to expertly boil down huge concepts into understandable terms.
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (10.6) – I read this whole book in a day, it’s that good. I just want to say that I hate running (unless it’s on a treadmill which I know is weird). But despite the fact that my body yells at me whenever I try to go on a run I loved this book, a true and remarkable story, and would recommend it to runners and non-runners alike.
On the Water: Discovering America in a Row Boat by Nathaniel Stone (1.5) – My first finished book of 2011. This book is the true story of a guy who decides to row around the eastern seaboard of the United States, starting in NYC, going through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi River, around Florida, and back up the Atlantic coast. It inspired me to Facebook my Uncle Kendal and request a kayaking lesson for when I returned home in 2012.
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larson (4.5) – I held out on reading this series for a long time. I’m not sure why because the first two books definitely lived up to all of the hype and I would even argue that the second book is better than the first one. I’m now impatiently waiting for Kyle’s family to arrive next month and bring the third book in the series.
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara (4.28) – I recently paid an arm and a leg to purchase a copy of this book while in Trujillo because I was out of reading material and didn’t want to face a long bus ride without the company of a good book. So I broke one of my quintessential book buying rules and bought a copy that advertised that this was “now a major motion picture”. Regardless, The Motorcycle Diaries is famous for a reason, beautifully written and full of observations about South America that are as true today as they were in the 1950s. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who has, or plans to, travel through South America, especially Peru. I feel like it’s a book that should be passed among friends, with notes in the margin and duct tape on the spine. So, if you would like to borrow my copy and write your own thoughts on the pages, just let me know.
Honorary Mentions: The Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club, South Pole 2000, Almost French, The Autobiography of Vivian, and Ascending the Dream.
Dress My Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (7.21) – People love David Seadaris. I was unimpressed. Perhaps the audiobook is better. I wouldn’t know.
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (9.9) – I now know a lot about Australia. I have a stronger desire to visit Australia. But Bill Bryson is a wordy fellow and the book was a bit of a struggle at times.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (9.28) – I had heard a lot about this book before I read it and, once again, I was unimpressed. In retrospect it has an interesting point of view and some good information… perhaps it’s just not my type of book. Oddly enough, I would recommend it to people, I just have no desire to read it, or anything by Malcolm Gladwell, ever gain.
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman (10.19) – Okay, this book had so much potential. It’s the true story of a family living in Poland during World War II who hid persecuted people in the zoo that they managed. It talks about German bombings, Nazis visiting the zoo and almost finding the hidden people, and escaping from Poland. It should have been so interesting but it was so mind-numbingly boring…
Honorary Mention: Cutting for Stone (never finished) – If you ever want to see John William and me fight bring up Cutting for Stone. I tried to read it but couldn’t get past the first chapter; he claims that the week he read it was his best week at site. If you have read this book or ever attempt to read this book and fail (understandable) send me an e-mail and let me know what side of the debate you fall down on.
So there you have it, my Top and Bottom Five books from the first fifty books I read in the Peace Corps. Let me know if you agree or disagree. And, as always, let me know if you have any book recommendations.