2016 Book Challenge- A Book Published Before You Were Born

2016 Book Challenge- A Book Published Before You Were Born


Ten little soldier boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were Nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were Eight.

Eight little soldier boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.

Seven little soldier boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.

Six little soldier boys playing with a hive;
A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.

Five little soldier boys going in for law;
One got into chancery and then there were Four.

Four little soldier boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

Three little soldier boys walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.

Two little soldier boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was One.

One little soldier boy left all alone;
He went and hanged himself

And then there were None.

—Frank Green, 1869

May is nearly gone, which means another strike-through on the book challenge list. I was late on figuring out which topic to cover this month, as I got sucked into a few different readings (11 books this month, my favorite being The Sympathizer by Nguyen Viet Thanh), none of which covered the topics I had left, but luckily, with a little over a week left in the month, I got an email from my oldest niece that pointed me in the right direction. She is going to be in sophomore honor’s English at Caldwell High School in the fall (Go Cougars!) and received her reading list for the upcoming year and wanted to know if I would use my Amazon Prime account (a near necessity of the Foreign Service lifestyle) to buy her books. On it were both the books she will be reading during her sophomore semesters, as well as the two she needs to read over the summer.

As a side note, I love that this teacher is suggesting that her students buy their own copies, as it sounds like she is going to teach them to annotate and hopefully do close readings of literature. I wish we had covered those skills when I was in high school! I would have found the much more useful to my future life than divining the difference between sine, cosine and tangents or learning to draw economic supply and demand curves. (I say that in semi-jest. It is true I don’t employ those skills on a daily or weekly or possibly even annual basis, but I am grateful for the way they helped me learn to think and to study. I get it. I get it. Learning to think is key. But, literature. That is where it is really at!)

Back to the reading list. Over the summer, Kels has to read And Then There Were None, the Agatha Christie classic, and then another mystery novel of her choice. My favorite part of this email was when she asked if I would pick her mystery novel, making it a true mystery! There is little I enjoy more than recommending books to people. I am ecstatic when I offer up a book suggestion or two and then hear back that it was a perfect fit. This may be what I miss most about teaching. (As a side note, if anyone knows how I can become a personal book shopper, let me know. I would be in heaven!) It took me an hour or two of browsing my GoodReads history and a few lists of best mystery novels of the last couple of centuries before I made a final choice. Mystery is not my go-to genre and I honestly don’t find a lot of literary merit in many of the current options, so I decided to throw Kels back to the beginning, the heart of the mystery novel and hook her up with some Sherlock Holmes. (I must admit this may also have been slightly influenced by my current Netflix binge: Elementary.) With The Hounds of Baskerville headed her way, she’s going to have a seriously fantastic time with her summer reading.

This is made a rather short story long, but the point is that my niece’s email last week pushed me to go back and reread And Then There Were None. I had not read it since I was a sophomore in high school, so it was a great opportunity to reread a true classic and bring me up to speed so we can go to coffee when I am home this summer and talk about her comparison/contrast paper that is due when the new school year kicks off in August. Plus, it was a perfect fit for the “a book published before you were born” category, as Christie’s masterpiece first came out in 1939 under a title that would now be considered highly offensive. (Look it up if you don’t know this history.)

If you haven’t read this foundation of the mystery genre and you’re playing along with the 2016 book challenge, mark it down for June and as “a book you should have read in high school.” It isn’t long and you’ll be sucked in from the epigraph. Plan a day with no distractions and follow along as the soldiers drop, one by one.

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

_____ A book published this year– (A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin)

_____A book you can finish in a day-  (When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi)

_____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 (And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie)

_____ A book that was banned at some point  (A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess)

_____ 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   (I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced  by Nujood Ali)



Goodbye to an Old Pal

This poor blog has been sorely neglected over the last handful of weeks. As I look back, I don’t have a great excuse, other than a bit of laziness, but I think I am going to blame it on my recent laptop conversion. Late last year, my trusty pink Vaio laptop began to fail. I would be working away on a project and suddenly I would hear a small popping sound and then everything would go black. Nothing. No power. No charge. Everything not saved, gone. (This was right as I was working on my graduate thesis, so I quickly became an obsessive saver, as little is more painful than having pages upon pages of ideas disappear. Yes, they were still rattling around in my head, but sometimes it is nearly impossible to recreate that perfect sentence that you cobble together, reconstruct and then rework one more time.)

With my faithful laptop looking at an imminent demise, back in late February I finally broke down and bought a new one. I was really hoping to make the current machine last until summer when I would be home in the US to do some in-person shopping, but once it started to blink out three or four times a day, I knew the end was near. A DNR had been issued.

Not wanting to buy local, but also not wanting to buy online without seeing the product, it was time to do a little KL recon. (I am a stickler for a good keyboard. I want something with a bit of a click to it. I adore the sound of typing and want just the right background noise as I write away for this blog and other projects.) Looking at computers in Kuala Lumpur means a trip to Low Yat, possibly my least favorite shopping area in town. It very much reminds me of the computer city buildings in Chengdu- large edifices crammed full of legitimate brand name stores, flanked by less than reputable kiosks and shops selling anything with a battery or electrical connection. The whole place makes me both claustrophobic (something I am not) and uneasy. Am I going to get ripped off? Pickpocketed? Shived? All seem like possibilities.

One quiet Sunday afternoon, Thad and I made the trip to Low Yat where the main test of the day was keyboard clickiness. Once I determined that Hewlett-Packard machines, as whole, had the best sound, it was time to go home and narrow down my options. In the stores (“stores”?) I did see a few other brands of a 360-degree style that I really liked and the internet quickly told me that HP not only has this style, but it was highly ranked among its peers. I love the laptop/tablet combo idea.

Horrified by the price of laptops in general (I really thought they had gone down more than they had over the last five years), I finally settled on the HP Spectre, realized it was pretty much a set price at all stores, so made my purchase. Knowing that it had to be shipped to Kuala Lumpur through the diplomatic pouch, the fact that the Spectre had a built in battery was a huge selling point, as that fits within the regulations of pouch mail. Before buying, I even checked with the embassy mail room staff, who assured me that shipping with an installed lithium battery should be no problem.

Apparently, it was a problem.

As I excitedly watched the shipping progress from Best Buy to the pouch facility, I was horrified one morning to see that the box had been rejected by the pouch and returned to the warehouse. Best Buy refunded my credit card, but what I really wanted was my new computer. Ol’ Trusty was on life support and the prognosis wasn’t good.

Back to the internet I went, reordering the exact same item, but this time shipping it to my brother in Idaho, who then had to rebox it and ship it again (there’s an extra $30) with a customs label indicating that the battery had been removed. Ugh. (The second round of shipping did mean that when it finally came, treats from home and drawings from the niece and nephew were bonus gifts.) Two weeks estimated shipping time on the original purchase ended up being over six weeks, with the new laptop arriving just days after I left KL for a three-week stint at Consulate Ho Chi Minh City.

Now, I’m in the painful process of converting from the dying, cracked, pink laptop to the shiny, new, black and bronze beauty. But, the changeover is fraught. All of my life is on that other machine. It knows my links. It knows my passwords. It has Word. It has everything.

Plus, I feel a strange loyalty to it. (I tend to be loyal to a fault. I remember as a kid feeling guilty when I switched from regularly listening to my parents’ favorite oldies radio station to the current pop station. Strange loyalties, I tell you.)

Last night, I finally downloaded Word onto this new machine, so the replacement process is nearly complete. I am not sure what will become of the old machine as we face packing out in just a few short weeks, but I’m hoping by July to be fully dependent on this fancy new table/laptop, as it is much small and much lighter, a huge benefit as a summer of travel is headed our way. It is time to say goodbye to my old pal, my trusty buddy who has traveled all over Asia and back to American multiple times. It served me well, adding years of postings to my blog, sticking out a graduate degree in literature and giving me hours of wasted time on internet pic-dump sites.

The transition means it is time to get back to regular blogging; no more excuses. Blogs and Wordless Wednesdays are headed your way. Be prepared.