Goodbye Ho Chi Minh City

As my three weeks of TDY (temporary duty, meaning I am still working for State, but at a different post/different country) come to a close in Ho Chi Minh City, I’ve discovered something about myself as a solo-traveler. Yes, I want to see all of the main sights and yes, I will pay to go to the top of a tall building to look out over the city. Yes, I will wander around the museum and try to make sense of awkwardly worded plaques and yes, I will get a little lost in my wanderings as long as I have a card for the hotel to hop in a cab in case I get really lost. I enjoy all of these things and have spent several afternoons and weekends doing all of it in and around HCMC, but one of my favorite pastimes here, on my own, has been finding a great spot to pull out my book and waste away an hour or two reading/people watching. (Is it really wasting? ? Probably not.)

When Thad and I travel together, we are on the move constantly, exploring new places and enjoying the trip together. With your favorite travel-buddy along, there is always something to chat about- whether it is what you saw earlier in the day or what is in the plans for tomorrow’s seeing. Solo though, those conversations all stay in my head (well, mostly- I have been known to talk to myself occasionally, but it is usually while I am on the move, sorting out directions or plans). Instead, I used my downtime from touring to relax in the shade with a book and a cool drink, sometimes on a park bench and others at a café.  (On the same theme, I also sent out spades of postcards as I enjoyed my strawberry smoothies, and sunshine, so for those in the loop, be on the lookout in about a month! I’m guessing that with the local post, that timeline isn’t too much of stretch.)

It was not a bad way to spend a few weeks.

Of course, I still prefer to travel as a couple. We’ve got almost eighteen years of co-traveling under our belts, so we’re pretty good at the divide and conquer aspects of adventure, but when that isn’t in the cards, I apparently do quite well just me, a book and a view.

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2016 Book Challenge- A Book Published this Year

2016 Book Challenge- A Book Published this Year

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Maybe in Idaho March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, but in Malaysia it is more like a steady fire-breathing dragon on both ends of calendar. It has been a scorcher here for the last few weeks, which really just gives me more of an excuse to hide inside with the air conditioning and my book. With that in mind, I should have gotten through more books than I did, but somehow my monthly count only comes to ten, which is the lowest for the year so far, but still not a shabby output. I strangely ended up on a WWII era reading kick, not by any intention, but rather because I was given two books to read that both fell into that time period and then my months-long hold on The Nightingale  finally came through- all in the same week! But, even with my WWII-streak, I’ve opted to go with “a book published this year” for this month’s reading challenge, which means none of these period-pieces, but rather a very recent publication: A Doubter’s Almanac  by Ethan Canin.

I was unsure of this book at first. I saw it pop up in several of the book publication sites I follow, as well as on the cover of BookPage, but wasn’t ready to commit to 588 pages dedicated to mathematics. (Never “math.” The protagonist, a genius in the field refused to give in to the modern, shortened nomenclature.)  Enough of my trusted recommendation sites went with it in February and when I found it was ready for immediate checkout at the library, I was sold.

Milo Andret, our brilliant mathematician, dedicates his life to solving the unsolvable. He works endless hours to keep ahead of his fellow academics who are live for the same mission. After solving a famous mathematical conundrum, he gains fame and is awarded top honors, and yet he struggles to move on from that one moment of glory. His personal life is a mess and his lack of self-censorship causes problems for him with his university. At one point he seems to be on the path to ultimate success, but he sabotages himself at each turn.

The one part of this book that I really struggled with (other than the technical math, but deep understanding of those concepts are not necessary to the narrative, although I am sure it would help!) is the stereotype of a disconnected mathematician that Canin writes Andret to be. Andret is a loner, deeply focused on his work, unable to connect beyond a physical level with women and shows little connection even to his own children. Not having run in the academic circles that Andret does, maybe this stereotype is based on a well-documented personality type in the field, but from the outside it seems a bit like a play on the Asperger- kid who is brilliant in a given area but lacks all social and emotional tools for survival.

Overall though, it was a fascinating read with some narrative/literary twists thrown in the keep readers on their toes. A month ago I would not have guessed a mathematical-based novel would be one of my top picks for the year so far, but it wheedled its way into one of those spots. A bit of a tome, it is a long read and not meant for lounging at the beach, but as winter wraps up for many of you, this might be the last great sit-by-the-fire-and-enjoy book until fall.

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

 

 

Caldwell Perspective Review- Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

As a new side-gig, I am now writing a short monthly book review for The Caldwell Perspective, a hometown newspaper. Here’s February’s review and a link to the online paper:

https://issuu.com/caldwellperspective/docs/february_2016_caldwell_perspective/12

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

Review by Michelle Ross (www.insearchoftheendofthesidewalk.com)

Jenny Lawson’s second book, Furiously Happy, is a hilarious look at life through the eyes of someone struggling with crippling social anxiety and depression. While the topic seems heavy, Lawson does an amazing job of taking her readers on a journey through mental illness, the good times and the bad, letting them peek into her world for a few moments of sheer craziness. Between her obsession with all things taxidermy (she only purchases ones that are proven to have died of natural causes) to her belief that flight attendants should get to bop one passenger, per flight, on the head for their stupidity, this book has something to make everyone smile.

Glibness aside, Lawson doesn’t shy away from the dark side of her mental illness, letting readers in on her own struggles to keep from cutting herself and her desire to lock herself away in her home for days on end. This book takes readers on a roller coaster of emotions, much like Lawson’s illness does in her own life, but in the end, learning to laugh at her own crazy antics is at the core of her tale.

Public reading warning: You will laugh out loud, making yourself look ridiculous. Ignore the stares. This book is worth a bit of public humiliation.

“Sometimes stunned silence is better than applause.”
― Jenny LawsonFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
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2016 Book Challenge- A Book that Was Banned at Some Point

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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

 

 

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

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