2016 Book Challenge- A Book that Was Banned at Some Point


A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

January has flown by, filled with all sorts of fun. In the first month of the year, I spent time in the United States, Malaysia (of course!) and Thailand, and have booked a trip to Australia for next week. My passport definitely loves that start to the year, but it isn’t the only book that’s gotten a bit of wear and tear in the last thirty-one days. Kicking off In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Book Challenge, I hit the ground running, finishing eleven books, including A Clockwork Orange, this month’s challenge book. A Clockwork Orange could have checked off several of the boxes on this year’s list, including “a book you can finish in a day” as it is only 150 pages long, and “a book you’ve been meaning to read” as I’ve been obsessed with it for a while now, and yet never seemed to get to it. “A book you should have read in school” would also have been a fitting category, as I somehow made it through high school without being assigned it in class (not surprising, as we didn’t read much that would be considered controversial), through an undergraduate degree in literature (at BYU, so also not surprising) and a graduate degree in literature (focused mainly on travelogues, so I guess, again not out of the realm of likelihood). How have books been such a part of my life for so long and this one didn’t pop up on the radar though?

Nevertheless, this year’s reading challenge finally pushed me into buying a copy and burying myself it in over the course of a day or two. I was hooked instantly, intrigued both by the slang and the narrative itself. Mostly, I was amazed at how Burgess was able to cloak such ultra-violence in language less recognizable to readers. Had he used common English to describe the brutal scenes that make up a good deal of the narrative, his book wouldn’t have been banned in some libraries, but all of them. It is startlingly violent, and yet the viciousness is softened by argot that dampens the blows of such brutality. I found this aspect of the novel fascinating, how word choice makes all the difference.

The other fascinating part about this novella was the final chapter. When the book was first published in the US, the American publishers made Burgess drop the last chapter, believing it ended better for the American audience after the twentieth chapter. When the book was republished later on, this final chapter was once again included, as it had always been in British copies. Once I realized this, there was nothing to do but go back and read the final few chapters, stopping before that last one, giving a new “ending” to the book. The last chapter does incredibly change the whole feel of the narrative. Without it, the book ends with Alex still living a life fueled by ultra-violence and without many thoughts beyond his own entertainment, whereas the ending, as intended by Burgess, puts Alex in a different place in his life. (No spoilers!) I’m not sure which I prefer, but suppose deferring to the author and his vision is the best call, even though it radically changes Alex as a character.

A Clockwork Orange is definitely not for everyone and won’t be one of the books I widely gift at birthdays throughout the year, but I enjoyed it and loved the idea of language and how it impacts a reader. (I tend to find a favorite and send it to multiple people each year. Last year lots of folks got Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and the year before was The Martian by Andy Weir- pre-movie, of course.) This was a great start to In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Book Challenge!

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge

_____ A book published this year

_____A book you can finish in a day

_____A book you’ve been meaning to read

_____ A book recommended to you by a librarian

_____ A book you should have read in school

_____ A book chosen for you by your spouse/partner, best friend, child or sibling

_____ A book published before you were born

_____ A book that was banned at some point

_____ A book you abandoned previously

_____ A book you own but have never read

_____ A book that intimidates you

_____ A book you’ve read at least once



Mahout for a Day

Picture this: Me, in over-sized, heavy cotton pajamas (jean blue), hair in two braids, sunglasses perched on the top of my head, barefoot and dirtier than I’ve been since I was probably eight years old. My face is caked in dried mud; my shirt has streaks of dirt running from collar to hem and my pants look like I’ve spent the afternoon riding a large mud-covered animal. But wait. One more detail. Beneath that dried on muck covering my face is a smile that goes from muddy ear to muddy ear. Why so happy about looking like Peanuts’ Pig-Pen? Because I just spent the entire day riding and tending to TJ, a lovely 35-year old elephant who became my pal for the day.

My day started with a 6:30AM alarm, which is normally much too early on a vacation, but it was no problem, as I’d been up for an hour already, lying in bed quietly, trying not to squirm too much as I looked forward to my day as a mahout. As soon as it was not ridiculous to be up and dressed, I hopped down to the restaurant of our adorable boutique hotel, settled nicely within the old city walls, and had some cornflakes, partially because I can’t start my day without breakfast and partially because I needed something to do until our 8AM excursion pickup arrived.

Thai Elephant Home, our destination for the day, is about an hour outside of Chiang Mai. The trip out was fascinating. I always love just driving through new places and I had to giggle to myself as I watched people bundled up in winter coats, beanies and scarves to brave the early morning 55 degree weather that cools the city in January and February. (We loved the weather! It was a perfect break from the constant heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpur.) Upon reaching TEH, we were handled bundles of clothes to change into, knapsacks to take along on the trip and bottles of water to keep us hydrated as we headed into the mountains.

Elephant assignments followed. Thad was given one of the largest, which frankly I was glad went to him. Even my “average” sized critter was enormous once I was mounted. The world looks different from atop an elephant head! I was assigned TJ, who brought up the rear of the line (we were a group of five, so awesomely small!) , which meant she wore a bell that tinkled all the way up the mountain and back down the other side, reminding me a bit of a horse-trek we took in Songpan, China, where the horse bell about drove us all nuts! Luckily, TJ’s bell was quieter and more soothing, plus I liked that it meant someone always knew where we were at!

With TEH, guests don’t ride elephants in baskets or with a trainer. Each visitor gets their own elephant for the day- solo. Of course, there are trainers who go along for safety (we learned command words, but TJ did whatever the heck she wanted and who was I to tell the elephant which way to go?! She knew the route better than I did!) TJ obediently bent down, allowing me to step on her front leg, at which point she stood, shooting me onto her back, and off we went. There was a rope behind me that I could hold onto going down hills, but otherwise, it was bareback all the way.

I have to say, there is no sensation in the world like having your bare feet pushed up against the skin of an elephant. To sit up there and just imagine how much muscle and power is beneath you, knowing that in the end, you have no control, is a few parts terrifying and a few parts exhilarating.

At the top of the mountain, we dismounted and had some lunch (banana leaf for the humans, grass/trees for the elephants) and then it was time to hit the spa. In the US, you’d excpect to pay $100 for a mud-mask and massage day at the spa, but we enjoyed it right out of the mountain with our elephants. TJ loved her mud-bath, getting coated from trunk to tail in a gooey mess, which made remounting her a bit petrifying. I was getting well-versed in her boosting me onto her back, but with both of us packed in slippery slime, I hit her back and kept going! Thank goodness for that one rope, which I clung to with all my might!

At the bottom of the mountain we forded a stream, dropping all sunglasses, cameras and phones on the far bank, and then headed back into the middle of the idle flow for bath time, much needed my animals and humans alike! Rolling off TJ into the river, I had my work cut out for me, trying to clean mud off an elephant! Luckily, she helped by provided extra rinse water from her trunk! It felt like something out of a cartoon, where the elephant serves as a shower.

As we headed back to camp, it had been a long day, which I loved, but I was honestly ready to be off TJ’s back. Horse saddle—soreness is one thing, but imagine that times about three, to factor in the width of an elephant. I was sore- everywhere! We did swing by an elephant drive-thru on the way back to buy sugar cane as a treat for the last kilometer of the journey. I held the bundles on my lap and TJ would lift her trunk up to get one each time she ran out. I only wish I had had more! An elephant can go through a bundle of sugar cane like a fat kid with a bag of Cheetos.

Animal-travel. Fauna-frolicking. Creature-trips.

I don’t know what the best clever name for my favorite kind of travel is, but whenever we are looking at new places to visit, one of the first things I do is figure out what animals are native to there and how I might possibly hold, cuddle, ride or basically fondle (in a good way!) whatever adorableness the country has to offer. Thailand, and specifically Chiang Mai, has a corner on the elephant business, so while we did visit our share of beautiful, gold-leafed temples and wandered night markets until we could no longer see straight, the highlight of my latest trip to Thailand was Thai Elephant Home, the small elephant camp (the camp is small, not the elephants) that allows visitors to be a mahout for a day- riding and tending to their own creature from sun-up until saddle-soreness makes one ready to call it a day.

“The very things that held you down are gonna carry you up and up and up.”
― Timothy Mouse, Dumbo


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In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge

Book challenges are not normally my thing, not because I don’t read enough or because I don’t like the variety they provide, but rather it is an issue of self-control. Several times a week I spend a few hours perusing critical reviews of new releases, scrolling through best seller lists in an array of categories and jumping around to a few book blogs. In these virtual travels, I always end up with a list of “must read” books and because I have no will power to resist buying them as soon as they are published or as soon as they pop up on my radar, whatever “challenge” list I had flies right out the window.

But, a few weeks ago, a reading challenge list started circulating and ended up on my Facebook wall at least three separate times. (I am not sure where it originated for credit to be given.) I figured I ought to give it a look. What I instantly liked about it is that it is twelve books long- a perfect fit for 2016. As I continue to expand the literary parts of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk , I’ve decided to use this book challenge as a guide for at least one “Book Musings” post each month. Between now and December, I will read through the book challenge, writing a few thoughts/review on each one as I go. I’ll not be going down the list in order, but will hit all twelve by the end of the year. (They will count towards my other goal of reading 100 books this year, so it’s a double win!)

I’d love for you to join me in along the way!

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge


Not a Pioneer

If you are of a certain age (not to give anything away, but let’s say 30-something), you probably remember eagerly awaiting your turn on the one classroom computer to take your chances on Oregon Trail. (Actually, when I was in first grade, I remember having to go to the hallway to use the computer, which was on a rolling cart and had a Puff the Magic Dragon on the screen when it booted up. I have no recollection about whether that was part of a particular program or had to do with the operating system, but I loved that giant green dragon with smoke billowing from his nose. Computer time!)

I remember rushing through my phonics workbook so that I could get my name on the computer-user list early, as nothing was more exciting than taking chances on a virtual trek across the United States in search of the bountiful land promised by the Oregon territory.  (To be fair, I always rushed through my phonics workbook. It was utterly boring. And worse than the phonics pages themselves was the fact that the teacher then told me to color in all of the pictures when I was done. I remember being extremely annoyed by this request, as even at the young age of six I could detect busy work when it came my way. Coloring in the socks, fox and clocks in no way taught me that “cks” and “x” had the same sounds, but it did keep me from being first to the pillow pile with my library book!)

But I digress.

Oregon Trail.

I loved that game, green screen and all. Hunting was a huge part of surviving to the end of the game and I was an ace at taking down a bison or two (big and slow, no skills needed), but the squirrels and rabbits alluded my slowly typed “POW”s and “BANG”s. Wild game may have kept virtual-me alive long enough to fall victim to typhoid, dysentery and snakebites, but I’ve recently been reminded IRL (you know, gamer code for “in real life”—I’m hip like that!) that I was never cut out to be a pioneer.

I just don’t have a tough bone in my body.

A few weeks ago, I was home in Idaho for the holidays (the first time in years!) and was greeted by falling snow the very first morning. Luckily, I brought home my one pair of pants and my one hoodie so that I had something to wear to Target where I could pick up another sweater or two. (Right there you can realize how un-tough I am. My first stop Stateside was Target.) That beautiful snow that covered the ground through Christmas morning set the perfect scene for a winter wonderland holiday season, but it also dropped several feet of wet, sticky frozen mess on the deck/roof of my parent’s cabin in central Idaho. Not long after the wrapping paper had been bundled into the recycling bin and the last of the holiday treats were consumed, we headed north to do a bit of snow shoveling. I’ve never loved winter, but after spending nearly two years acclimatizing to a low of 75 degrees, when the thermometer in the car hit -7, I knew I was going to be in trouble! As soon as we got to the cabin, folks geared up for the cold weather, heading outside to shovel and snow blow, taking weight off the deck and making room for the roof snow to come off in sheets. Realizing I was in no way prepared to face the freezing temperatures, not in terms of clothing or mental toughness, I quickly volunteered to tend the home fires.


With flames raging in the fireplace, I made it my task to make indoors nice and cozy so when the shovel-bearing folks came in, they’d be able to thaw their fingers and dry their layers. I also spent the morning entertaining the young ones who quickly got tired of the cold. (Snow is fun when it is above freezing, but below that mark, it doesn’t take long for a little body to chill all the way through, even with sleds calling their names.) Plus, on top of fire tending and child entertaining, I made lunch for the entire work crew. (Alright, those of you who know me well are starting to think this must all be a dream. That is more domestic duty than I’ve done in my entire life! But I promise, those options were far more enticing than facing the cold, wet snow in jeans and a hoodie.)

So, I am not tough when it comes to cold. Fact established. I would have died from exposure on the Oregon Trail.

(After complaining about being frozen for a few weeks, my vacation was over and it was time to head back to Kuala Lumpur, work and my “real” life. I was looking forward to some warm weather and eating on patios once again, but it seems my complaining bit me in the butt. Let’s call it temperature karma. An embassy near the equator with no air conditioner. That is what I found on Monday morning.  The details are long and uninteresting, but basically there were generator problems, which meant AC problems, which meant our office was 96 degrees on Monday. [Not an exaggeration.] Tuesday was not better. )

Temperature isn’t the only thing that would have prevented me from being a hardy pioneer. The first major obstacle to my successful reincarnation as an outdoorsy survivalist? Food. As a matter of fact, I would most surely have died of starvation before the elements got to me. I may have made it through the virtual continent crossing on wild game and my wits, but on a day to day basis, I’m more likely to starve than eat something strange.

Case in point: Today I ordered a chicken quesa from the food truck parked outside the embassy. (Chicken quesa= chicken meat and cheese in a soft taco shell, folded over like a taco.) I ordered it plain, figuring that minus the onions and sauce, it would be an acceptable lunch and get me through the afternoon. I was wrong. I am not sure how much actual chicken meat made it into my quesa (quesa is not a thing!), but I can tell you that I must have had close to half a chicken’s worth of chicken skin in that thing. I tried to discreetly pick it out, but when I pulled on a huge, slimy chunk, I almost lost what I had already eaten. Enough of that. I pulled the tortilla off and ate that and then supplemented today’s lunch with some chocolate. Not an option for pioneers!

In the end, it appears that I was just never meant for the life of crossing the continent in a covered wagon. If the food that was entirely “meat on the bone” didn’t cause me to starve to death, the inclement weather over the passes would definitely have done me in. (And don’t even think of the possibility of the two combining in a macabre Donner party-esque manner.) As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I survived the virtual trek too many times, even as I was sitting in a warm classroom, avoiding the busy work of phonics sheets. I’ll stick to my white-meat boneless chicken breasts, my humid Malaysian climate with the comforts of AC a few steps away, claiming the giant beanbag/pillow as my own personal reading corner.

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