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Treasure Hunt


A man was deplaned after he got angry at all the Christmas greetings at New York LaGuardia Airport. Though I’m not that extreme, I could understand his frustration. I have avoided all the Christmas madness. The only holiday thing I did was to get together with my “orphan” friends for a meal. Malls and shops I had nixed. Yesterday I spent all day at the used bookstore treasure-hunting.

The beauty of used bookstore is that you can find books that are long have been out-of-print. It’s a tunnel to the past—to books that were read before I was born, to when there was a war going on. Other than this little list of great books written in the 20th century, I was browsing with the liberty of having no engagement for the day. All the fiction is against one wall. Many times stare at me: Drury, Dickey, Cain, Amis, Murdoch, Rhys, McCarthy, … At the end of the day I picked out the ones I have always meant to read but have not had the luck to find.

I don’t mind used books as long as they are not completely brittle and tattered. Sometimes I am left with no choice if the little pocket paperback that’s been taped three times over is the only copy of the book I’m looking for. A lot of great books by unheard-of authors are only available used, and some have cracked spine and loose pages. A book is book, it’s meant to be riffled, turned, and read. The sorry condition of these books make me happy that at least they were once read. They were things of the past.


25 Mysteries to Die For

That The Name of the Rose makes this list makes it all the more important to me. I’m not a big mystery reader, so help me with these: which ones do you recommend?

1. Rumpole of the Bailey by John Mortimer (1978)
2. A Coat of Varnish by C.P. Snow (1979)
3. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1983)
4. A Dime to Dance By by Walter Walker (1983)
5. Always a Body to Trade by K.C. Constantine (1983)
6. Hindsight by Peter Dickinson (1983)
7. Duplicate Keys by Jane Smiley (1984)
8. A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman (1988)
9. Time’s Witness by Michael Malone (1989)
10. Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George (1990)
11. The Bootlegger’s Daughter by Margaret Maron (1992)
12. Original Sin by P.D. James (1994)
13. Mallory’s Oracle by Carol O’Connell (1994)
14. The Daughters of Cain by Colin Dexter (1994)
15. Coyote Wind by Peter Bowen (1994)
16. The Dark Room by Minette Walters (1996)
17. Going Local by Jamie Harrison (1996)
18. Aqua Alta by Donna Leon (1996)
19. Beat Not the Bones by Charlotte Jay (1996)
20. Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosely (1997)
21. Blind Date by Francis Fyfield (1998)
22. In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson (1999)
23. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (1999)
24. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane (2001)
25. Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes (2004)

“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
― Oscar Wilde

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle

Slight in Size, Wickedly Funny

The King’s English Bookshop is a obviously a bookstore, in Utah, but it’s also the title of a coffee table book. I have been constructively influenced by the many lists taken out of this book. It is from this interesting category I have culled Le Divorce by Diane Johnson, a book judging by its title, cover, and popularity I would never have otherwise picked up. This list seems ideal for reading on-the-go, for in-flight reading, and for beach read.

25 Slight in Size, Sometimes Wicked, But Funny

1. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
2. Simon’s Night by Jon Hassler
3. Like Water for Chocolate by Laurel Esquivel
4. Household Saints by Francine Prose
5. Loop’s Progress by Chuck Rosenthal
6. Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton
7. The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
8. Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher
9. A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark
10. Nice Work by David Lodge
11. Someone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe by Nan Lyons, Ivan Lyons
12. Goodbye without Leaving by Laurie Colwin
13. The Tenured Professor by John Kenneth Galraith
14. Buster Midnight’s Cafe by Sandra Dallas
15. The Queen and I by Sue Townsend
16. The Treatment by Daniel Menaker
17. Red Eye by Clyde Edgerton
18. High Fidelity by Nicholas Hornby
19. Le Divorce by Diane Johnson
20. The Traveling Horn-Player by Barbara Trapido
21. Chocolat by Joanne Harris
22. Headlong by Michael Frayn
23. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
24. The Clothes They Stood Up In by Allan Bennett
25. The Finishing School by Muriel Spark

I have not heard of most of the titles except High Fidelity and Like Water for Chocolate. Many of the authors, however, are familiar names, especially Muriel Spark, who has two books on the list. Judging by the title and its connotation, some of the appealing ones are Simon’s Night, A Far Cry from Kensington, The Tenured Professor, and Red Eye.

Vacation List?

I always strive to find the perfect books for vacation—something that is not impossibly difficult, but at the same time not trashy fluffy. I tried authors whose works I have previously enjoyed, but there’s always a demand for beach read (I never vacation in cold climate) that is not the league of James Patterson. This list, per The King’s English Bookshop again, might answer my call.

25 Novels That Are Easy to Read and Hard to Put Down

1. Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson, 1978
2. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty, 1985
3. Rich in Love by Josephine Humphries, 1987
4. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, 1988
5. A Short History of a Small Place by T.R. Pearson, 1985
6. Chinchilla Farm by Judith Freeman, 1989
7. A Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Haily, 1989
8. Daddy by Loup Durand, 1988
9. China Boy by Gus Lee, 1991
10. Brothers K by James Duncan, 1992
11. I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots by Susan Straight, 1992
12. Ruin Creek by David Payne, 1993
13. A Big Storm Knocked It Over by Laurie Colwin, 1993
14. Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons, 1993
15. Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin, 1991
16. Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler, 1995
17. Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, 1989
18. Range of Motion by Elizabeth Berg, 1995
19. Hanging Tree David Lambkin, 1996
20. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, (Reissue) 1998
21. Armadillo by William Boyd, 1998
22. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire, 1999
23. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, 2001
24. Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, 2002
25. Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos, 2004

A whole new realm of authors and books that I haven’t read or heard of. Elizabeth Berg, Anne Tyler, Gregory Macguire and Sue Monk Kidd—authors I have heard of but never read. Which ones have you read? What do you recommend?

25 Novels That Stood the Test of Time and Stand Out Still

One of the great finds from my pilgrimage to Half Price Books is Dallas that is not fiction is The King’s English by Betsy Burton. Betsy is the owner of the monumental The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. In the beautiful coffee-table book Betsy reflects the recent story of independent bookselling. Burton and her first partner, Ann Berman, opened the shop in 1977, fueled by an enthusiasm for good literature and a dream of creating a hangout for book lovers in Salt Lake City. Neither partner knew much about running a business, but over time they learn how to negotiate with sales reps, stock inventories, assess and shape the reading tastes of their customers, and thwart the pilfering hands of larcenous employees. The most entertaining parts of the book are anecdotes about famous and not-yet-famous authors who stop by the King’s English on their book tours. Isabel Allende is as colorful and passionate in person as her novels suggest, even during Utah’s winters, and British mystery writer John Mortimer endures a series of miscalculations with the aplomb of his defining literary character, barrister Horace Rumpole. There are even author signings where nobody shows up.

The King’s English caught my eye because of its polished packaging and good page design, and anyone passionate about independent bookstores should read this story. This book also comes with lists of great reading ideas, which I will from now on blog about:

25 Novels That Stood the Test of Time and Stand Out Still

1. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
2. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
3. Shosha by Issac Bashevis Singer
4. The Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer
5. The Second Coming by Walker Percy
6. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
8. Smiley’s People by John Le Carre
9. A Chain of Voices by Andre Brink
10. Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera
11. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
12. World’s Fair by E.L. Doctorow
13. The All of It by Jeannette Haien
14. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
15. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
16. Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig
17. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
18. Possession by A.S. Byatt
19. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
20. Consider This, Senora by Harriet Doerr
21. The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies
22. Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
23. The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie
24. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
25. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

I read 8 out of 25 books that have stood the test of time. The last one I just finished is The Blind Assassin. Crossing to Safety has become a huge favorite. Possession never made a deep impression in me, just meh. After The Satanic Verses, I had no desire to further pursue Salman Rushdie. There are so many names on this list that I would like to read: Murdoch, Gordimer, Brink, Hazzard, Doig, and Allende. This seems to be a great reading as most of these books are hardcore literature. That said, I will use this list, along with a few others from The King’s English, as blueprint to my reading this year.

The Reading Room at Mandalay Bay


Thriving in silence and offering a refuge for readers from the gaming scene is The Reading Room in Mandalay Bay Hotel. It’s probably the only bookstore that stocks a sizable selection of books on the Strip. It’s a bit odd that an enormous hotel casino would house a little bookstore that have best-sellers and obscure tomes. A small shelf displays some of the latest movie tie-is like Charlie Wilson’s War, Running with Scissors, and Atonement. The rack is graced with comments and recommendation from staff, rendering the close atmosphere of a neighborhood bookstore. Their picks are always on the mark. My friend is looking for the latest of Mark Haddon, who has written The Curious Incident of a Dog at Midnight, which is unfortunately not in stock. But we have a good time browsing the first bookshop in a Vegas casino.

This reading oasis from the sin cit, to my surprise, always have the latest Penguin Great Love series: Diary of a Seductress, Virgin Soil, The Kreutzer Sonata, and Giovanni’s Room, etc. The classy and “woody” decor of the store bespeaks the owners’ love for books and reading. Flyers announce the Socrates Café Discussion Group that meets every Tuesday night, right here at the casino in Vegas! In addition to the book I’m currently reading, Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner, they thoughtful list a number of books that are of interest to hotels:

Hotel, Arthur Hailey
Hotel de Dream, Edmund White
Hotel Honolulu, Paul Theroux
A Room with a View, E.M. Forster

A cafe is located next door to the The Reading Room. Those who are fed up with the loudness of the casino can have a coffee and get lost in a book here.