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12 August 2016

Around The World In 80 Books | Update #9


I've just finished up another month of the Around the World in 80 Books challenge. The idea of the challenge is to read books set in 80 different countries, effectively exploring the world from the comfort of your armchair. Since my last update, I've read books set in five more countries – Finland, the Republic of Kiribati, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vanuatu.

That makes a total of 45 books since I started the challenge - only 35 more to go!

You can read more about the challenge here, as well as check out Update #1, Update #2, Update #3, Update #4, Update #5, Update #6, Update #7 and Update #8.

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ALMOST NEARLY PERFECT PEOPLE: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE NORDIC MIRACLE by Michael Booth | Finland

Scott is Norwegian-American from North Dakota, so I have an interest in understanding the Nordic psyche. To date, pretty much all I knew about Norwegians came from the movie Fargo and time spent with Scott's family. So, I decided to read up and find out more about these "nearly perfect people."

Booth focuses on the five Nordic counties in his book - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland - which are often depicted quite positively as European success stories, and presents his views on their imperfections, such as the Icelandic financial crisis, the rise of neo-Nazis in Norway and Swedish conformity. I'm not usually a big reader of non-fiction, but I liked the way Booth interspersed humorous anecdotes in the midst of all of the facts and figures.

Since I had already crossed Noway, Sweden and Iceland off of the "Around the World in 80 Books" list, I decided to use Booth's book to tick off Finland. My sister spent a year living in Finland, so I was curious to see how Booth presented this country which lies between Russia and the rest of Scandinavia. One of the things I found fascinating was his description of the Finnish language, particularly all of the cases, which I remember my sister telling me about.
Finnish nouns have no gender, and, in fact, people have no gender – the word for “he” and “she” is the same, the masculine hän. A Finnish friend tells me that, increasingly, the Finns are just using “it” to refer to everything: “It is getting married in the morning,” “It has been drinking since breakfast,” and so on. There are no prepositions in Finnish and neither are their definite or indefinite articles, “a book,” “the book,” and “book” are all just “book” or kirja. (That said, Finnish does apparently have fourteen case-endings, so perhaps it is not all that straightforward.)

You can find out more about Almost Nearly Perfect People on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon.

THE SEX LIVES OF CANNIBALS: ADRIFT IN THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC by J. Maarten Troost | Republic of Kiribati (2004)

This book was a perfect choice for this challenge - not only did it have me laughing out loud, but I also learned a thing or two about the Republic of Kiribati, an equatorial Pacific island nation, a place I knew nothing about before this challenge. Troost lived on the island of Tarawa in Kiribati for two years with his partner who was working for an aid organization. He's written a hysterical travel memoir about what it's like to live on an island in the middle of nowhere which is as far from a tropical paradise as you can get. Between dealing with toxic fish, stifling heat, beer shortages and the relentless playing of the song La Macarena by his neighbors, Troost keeps his sense of humor and almost makes you want to visit Tarawa for yourself to see if it could all possibly be true.

I'm a bit of a Crazy Cat Lady, so here's a quote about a Kiribatian cat. Cats are all the same, no matter where you go.
Sam the cat also wandered out to the reef at low tide. He liked to go fishing. Hovering over a tidal pool, he deftly scooped out a fish, which he could bring back to the house and play with until it died, and then he would find an ingenious hiding place for it. It was the same with geckos. Whenever he heard the soft plop of a gecko losing its grip, Sam darted with astonishing speed, clasped the gecko firmly in its mouth, no longer fooled by that devious lose-the-tail trick, and brought it back inside the house, where he mercilessly taunted it until it also died. Then he would find an obscure nook somewhere and hide the gecko. Decomposition occurs swiftly on the equator. Hours later, we would follow our noses in an exciting game of Where's the Dead Animal? Sam enjoyed this immensely.

 You can find out more about The Sex Lives of Cannibals on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon.


THE CITY OF VEILS by Zoe Ferraris | Saudi Arabia (2010) 

I do like my murder mysteries and I thoroughly enjoyed The City of Veils, not only because it was well written, but also because it was set in Saudi Arabia, a country I don't really know much about. The author is married to a Saudi and spent time living there, so she has an interesting perspective on the country. One of the characters is an American ex-pat, whose husband is working in Saudi in a security job. It was fascinating to get a feel for what life in Saudi is like from the eyes of an ex-pat:
On the street, she felt safe and terrified by turns. Some days she could wander freely, going where she liked as long as she wore her cloak and headscarf, and kept her burqa at the ready in case she started to feel too exposed. Sometimes people stared blatantly, even occasionally stopping to gawk at her. Sometimes women would greet her politely. But on other days she would encounter resistance. Men would notice that she was out alone, and they would stop her by whistling and even standing in front of her, blocking her passage. They would tell her to go home. They warned her that it wasn't safe to be out. She believed them. Even though she was never arrested as her neighbors had promised, she felt more and more unsafe as the weeks went by. She began to think it was only a matter of time before something horrible happened.

You can find out more about The City of Veils on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon.


GRANDAD, THERE'S A HEAD ON THE BEACH by Colin Cotterill | Thailand

I was really into reading murder mysteries last month, including Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach, which is set in Thailand. And, yes, there was a head on the beach. Every good murder mystery needs a body, or, in this case, a head, to set the stage. This was a fun and easy read, which I probably found more interesting as Scott and I have traveled in Thailand. It's full of some very quirky characters and funny scenarios, but it also provides some insights into real issues the country faces, like the status of illegal immigrants from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). I could see some parallels with the issue of illegal immigration in the States. 

One of the things I found interesting was the description of the Thai language. It's tonal, which means that the same word (to us at least) has different meanings depending upon whether you use a high or low pitch. Say something in the wrong pitch and you could have a very embarrassing situation on your hands.
We doubted their names were real. They certainly lacked imagination. They insisted that we call them Noy, the mother, high-tone, and Noy, the daughter, low tone. Thai is a wonderful language that leaves many a foreigner ripping out chunks of hair. It has the ability to change a dog into a horse, a skein of silk into a bush fire, an entire town into an irrigation ditch. And all at the mere drop of a tone. For a Thai, when speaking, Noy and Noy were two completely different words.

You can find out more about Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon.


GETTING STONED WITH THE SAVAGES: A TRIP THROUGH THE ISLANDS OF FIJI AND VANUATU by J. Maarten Troost | Vanuatu
 
I enjoyed The Sex Lives of Cannibals so much that I read another one of Troost's memoirs. Getting Stoned with the Savages picks up where the last book left off. After living and working in Washington DC for a while, Troost and his now wife decided to escape city living and return to the islands. They first found themselves in Vanuatu (which is what country I'm using this book to tick off), before ending up in Fiji. "Getting stoned" refers to Troost's fondness for drinking kava, which makes one very relaxed, and he relates several hysterical stories about his kava fueled episodes in his memoir. I also enjoyed his descriptions of the challenges around daily life in Vanuatau, such as dealing with the heat. I can relate to the following quote as we've also had small creatures find their way into our air conditioner, die and create a horrible stench.

Over the next few days, the weather had become unbearably sticky and humid, a sure precursor to a storm. There wasn't a cloud anywhere, and yet everything was damp and soppy. The heat and humidity were such that we even considered turning on the window unit air conditioner in our bedroom. This required considerable fortitude on our part. Since our arrival, three geckoes had somehow managed to dive deep within its bowels. I had disassembled as much of the unit as I dared and scraped out what I could of the lizards' carcasses. But much remained, slowly, ever so slowly, decomposing beside our bed.

You can find out more about Getting Stoned with the Savages on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon.
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If you're participating in the challenge too, I'd love to hear what you've been reading. Even if you're not doing the challenge, let us know what books you've been enjoying lately.

COUNTRIES READ TO DATE: Algeria, Australia, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Djibouti, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Republic of Kiribati, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia,  Scotland, Slovenia, Sweden, Thailand, United States, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

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21 comments:

  1. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I haven't taken any time out to read for over a month (the last book was "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed -- much better than the movie, by the way). But, more importantly, I'm a quarter Finnish which is great news considering they're nearly perfect people.

    Cheers,
    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

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    1. I haven't read Wild or seen the movie, but everyone seems to rave about it, so I'll have to put it on my to read list. I can see why you haven't had a chance to read. You guys must be so busy with getting the boat ready for sale and you've been doing all those wonderful sketches.

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    2. I listened to the audiobook, Wild, while I was painting the deck. It was interesting, I have also read AWOL on the Appalachian Trail which was a fun read too. It's great to read about other's adventures, but I really don't feel the need to hurt myself everyday like these hikers do.

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    3. I'm with you - hiking should be fun, not painful :-)

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  2. Wow, this sounds like a great round of books! I'm going to have to add them to my overly long list. I've been regional reading and struggling to keep out. Did you know Nicolas Sparks has written dozens of novels set in North Carolina and you don't want to read chick lit but you can't stop?! Then there's the pirate books, and Wright brothers books. It's too much! And now we are in Virginia and should be reading about the first settlers, but I still have Blackbeard and a few more Sparks novels to get through. Are Fred and Mary going to get together, or do they face too many obstacles?

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    1. This was a really good month. I think you'd really like the Troost books given the fact that you have a great sense of humor. I don't know anything about Sparks, but I'll check him out.

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    2. Both Troost books are available as e-books from the library - and I just checked them out over marina wifi that I can access from the anchorage here in Deltaville. Good thing too - since all we are currently doing is laying in our cabin, trying to survive triple digit temps! Now Im excited about being trapped below. (The cabin is the only room we can cool with our AC - running on our Honda generator)

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  3. What an interesting book challenge, I will try to join you in (or on? the prepositions are a hard one ;)) this one.
    It's always interesting to read "outsiders" depictions of your own nationality. Or is it just a thing with us Finns? We're always thinking about what others think about us, when the fact is hardly anyone knows we exist. Anyway, few Finns see themselves as perfect. The Norwegians, however - they are perfect!

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    1. Prepositions are tricky in another language - but you got it right, "join in." You might find it an interesting read - it is always fascinating to see how others perceive you. He does talk about the self-effacing nature of Nordic peoples which I found really interesting. You should definitely join in the challenge. It'd be fun to see what books you pick to read.

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  4. What a fun challenge!

    I just finished SALT TO THE SEA (YA historical fiction) by Ruta Sepetys and so loved it. Her previous novel, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, was also fantastic, and I've got another of hers waiting on my bookshelf.

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    1. Someone else mentioned Shades of Gray on our Facebook page. I wonder if it's the same one that you're talking about. If so, that would be a bit spooky :-) Thanks for the book tips!

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  5. I read daily and so enjoy my reading time. I call it me time. I've not read any of these books though.

    Have a fabulous day and weekend. ☺

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    1. I'm just like you - I read every day. Sometimes all day long :-)

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  6. I'm reading A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble. It's a true story set in the early 1900's in the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific. A fascinating account of this mans observations of the culture of this country and his interactions with the people. I'm really enjoying it! I'll look up your books too and add them to my kindle! :)

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    1. Oh that does sound interesting! I'll check it out.

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  7. There's a definite theme of decomposition, isn't there? Hmmmm.....

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  8. That anecdote about the cat is hilarious! I'm glad you've found so many entertaining books to read! :)

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    1. That one made me laugh out loud when I read it :-)

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  9. That's a great overview, Ellen. Thanks for the summaries. I'm especially grateful for your take on J. Maarten Troost's books, since he comes up often as a fantastic memoirist in the books I am reading about writing. I should definitely read "The Sex Lives of Cannibals", which has been recommended to me before as a great example of travel memoir. Other than "writing" books, I recently (finally) read "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson.

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    1. I love Bill Bryson's books. I haven't read that one - I'll have to put it on the very long list of books to read at some point :-)

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