Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Small World, Big Reading List

My friend Alan just sent an email to readers whom he knows, asking what their summer reading choices were going to be. I read it with my first cup of coffee and was immediately lost in longing, in memories, in the feeling of wonder that the thought of something good to read always brings to me.

The idea of summer reading is strange to me now because I live in endless summer--but in Bangkok we have the rainy season, which seems to get longer every year. Since a rainstorm hits my part of the city the minute I decide to leave my apartment, my rainy season survival kit includes a stack of books near my armchair and emergency rations in my pantry.

This year I will have both the rainy season in Bangkok and summer in Seattle--and different reading requirements for each. Then comes winter...

Summer reading lists are a very different selection of books from winter reading, or rainy season survival therapy. As I thought about books that have sparkled for me in the rare and treasured sunlight of the Pacific Northwest, I longed to browse the shelves of my favorite bookstore in the world, the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. With a certain degree of Luddite skepticism, I typed the store's website into my browser and went to the page for staff recommendations. There waiting for me were old friends, people I've yet to meet, and hundreds of titles chosen because someone loved each and every one of them.

And my list began:

1. The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley--a memoir chosen by a woman I've known for decades, the account of an American who moves with her family to Beijing and learns to live there--and then discovers she has cancer. As Beijing becomes more familiar to her, her own body becomes unknown terrain--and I cannot wait to read her story. (Thank you, Tracy.)

2. Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James--a first novel written by a writer I do not know, recommended by a woman I've never met, the story of two sisters in Kerala who are separated when one of them goes to school in New York City. Since I am one of a tribe of sisters, am in love with both South Asia and NYC, and was separated from my family while I went to school in Manhattan, this is a book that calls to me. (Hilary, thank you for spotlighting this so I could become tempted.)

3. Japanese Hot Pots by Tadashi Ono--yes this is a summer reading list but summer in Seattle is the equivalent to the cold season in Bangkok--and the food stalls that feed me here are nowhere to be found in the Northwest. I am going to have to relearn the art of cooking what I want to eat and this book, recommended by a good friend with the taste of MFK Fisher, is exactly what I am going to need--as soon as I get a kitchen. (Come for dinner, Karen?)

4. Vietnamerica: A Family's Journey by GB Tran--graphic novels are not my reading matter of choice but this one is too tempting to pass up. It's big and fat and colorful and visually enticing and it's here. My friend Chris lent it to me, along with The Windup Girl (which kept me up long past my bedtime for two nights in a row); it will be my first book of the summer--and quite possibly my favorite book of the rainy season.

5. And now eat your heart out, Yanks. Before I leave Bangkok, on my shelves will be River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh. Yes, the next volume in the Sea of Poppies trilogy will be out in the UK on June 6th, in India by June 17th and so it's safe to assume that it will be in Bangkok before I leave in July/August. (Tracy, Hilary, and Karen--I'll bring it with me so you can enjoy it too. It's only fair, after all...)


Tokyo Ern said...

Ah, I was planning on reviewing "The Windup Girl" for ABTB as I read that last month. BTW, it is a science-fiction title which doesn't seem to be one of the types of books you would read. I have no doubts there will be a sequel or two.

janet brown said...

Do by all means! It's haunting stuff.
And you're right--I looked st it probably 20 times thinking hmm, scifi. Then two people I know recommended it as speculative fiction and I gave it a chance. The rest is insomniac history...There is a precursor to it called The Calorie Man which looks as though it's a free download, and a novella.

Lani said...

Hello! Dr. Will recommended that I read your blog.

I like the idea of asking for a reading list, via email and then I thought it could almost become chain letter-like, and then everyone would benefit from new ideas.

I too have spent some considerable time in the NW - PDX - and yeah, missin' a Powell's bookstore but the expat community here in CM is pretty groovin' for good reads and passing books along.

Looking forward to reading more of your blog. But sad to hear you are leaving? Will you be returning?

janet brown said...

Lani, I enjoy your blog too--and have recommended it to my friend the Bangkok Glutton.
I like the idea of the book rec chain letter--let's do it.

Janet Brown said...

I'm in Seattle now and have read the books I had on my list. None of them are ones I recommend but the joy is that I was able to find that out for myself.