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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.

Falling Reading List Update

I posted this list on Aug 20. How am I doing? Here is an update.

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind (Finished Sep 11)
I see You Everywhere by Julia Glass (Finished Sep 15)
Asylum by Paul McGrath

Trauma by Paul McGrath
The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery (Finished Oct 13)
David and Jonathan by Cynthia Voight
The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
Fahrenheit 451: A Novel by Ray Bradbury
Middlemarch by George Eliot [Chunkster Challenge selection] (Ongiong)
Coming Storm by Paul Russells
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards (Ongoing)
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood [Man Booker Challenge selection]
The Debut by Anita Brookner

The Sea by John Banville [Man Booker Challenge selection]

What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn
Landing by Emma Donoghue (Finished Sep 29)
Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones
The Birds Fall Down by Rebecca West (Finished Oct 7)
Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris (Finished Sep 26)
Old School by Tobias Wolff (Finished Sep 19)

I think I have a good idea of what my top 10 books for this year might be.

Melaka Pictures + Reading Update

The second installment of pictures from Malaysia is now available. They are snapshots of beautiful and serene Melaka, once an important port along the strait but now is striving in silence. It was thrice colonized, by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Brits. You may see the highlights from this slide-show:

[rockyou id=100106135&w=426&h=320]

A bit of a reading update. I have cleared the vacation pile except for one book, Contempt by Alberto Moravia, which I’ll get into eventually. The Russian Reading Challenge is moving along fairly well with two books down: Le Bal and The Kreutzer. Many of you have read and plan to read The Master and Margarita, which I have mentioned in yesterday’s post on Booking Through Thursday. The class for which I serve as a GSI (graduate student instructor) this term will also read Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, which will be my next Russian novel. Acquired from abroad is a novel translated from Thai called The Judgment, by Chart Korbjitti. It revolves around a young man who, less than a month after his father died, has taken his stepmother as his wife. Rumor has it that the two of them have cuckolded the old man before he even laid in the coffin.

I’ve been keeping a list of books that some of you mention. A partial list has been drawn from ideas of the last BTT post on bloggers’ favorite books that are unheard of. Someone mentions Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West, a favorite author of mine. Another blogger shares about A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. A while back Gentle Reader recommended Black Swan Green: A Novel by David Mitchell to me, an author I have never read. The same title surfaced again in Danielle’s post yesterday. On the same list of hers is Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran, which sounds very comforting for the rainy, cold weather that we’ve been having lately. A recently-found literary blog of great staying power has led me to authors and titles that I’m not familiar with. Two books he has pointed out are Black Dirt by Nell Leyshon and Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones. This last book especially intrigues me with the hero’s opening lines:

“I’m not sure I can claim to have taken my place in the human alphabet… I’m more like an optional accent or specialised piece of punctuation, a cedilla, umlaut or pilcrow, hard to track down on the keyboard of computer or typewriter. Pilcrow is the prettiest of the bunch, assessed purely as a word. And at least it stands on its own. It doesn’t perch or dangle. Pilcrow it is.”

So there you have it, my line-up of books for the rest of this month and February. Happy reading and happy Friday.

Hand Carry-Friendly Pile of Books

I’ve been resting up from the demands of the last few weeks–completing the dissertation, which explores the underlying similarity and correlation between 19th century Russian literature and 20th century Chinese literature, from the perspective of religion, social repression and persecution, in order to make sense of what is good and evil, and why the division between these two might not be useful to humanity.

With that settled, I have to research after Malaysia and inculcate minute details to the the trip, of which the most difficult and variable factor is accommodation. Between Kuala Lumpur and Penang is 15 days of nothingness, uncertainty. I wish to take a more off-the-beaten-path journey through the highland and forest where accommodation is scarce and usually does not have booking request, let alone online reservation. So I’ve been flipping through different websites to make the best of my money for some decent hotels. The most interesting and anticipated part of the trip will be four days in Cameron Highlands, at 6000 feet above sea level, with temperature being considerably lower than the rest of the country. This is where Malaysia’s major flower nurseries and tea plantations are located, with also a strawberry park and butterfly farm. I’m looking forward to quiet stroll through the lush green ribbons of valley and read on balcony of the Tudor-style inn.

For books, in addition to my previous list, I have come up with a few more “hand carry-friendly” slim volumes that would not incur shoulder pain. New additions are in red. So here is my updated reading list:

1. The Gentleman in the Parlour, W. Somerset Maugham
A travelogue of Maugham’s 1923 trip through Burma, Siam, and Indochina (the peninsula that nowadays consist of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia). I’ll save this one for afternoon tea up at the Cameron Highlands.

2. Peace Breaks Out, John Knowles
This will be the third selection of my Books on War list. The book follows the story of Pete Hallam as he returns to the school and becomes a history teacher as well as a coach. It is a story of the aftermath of World War II and the loss of innocence of young men. This will keep my company on during the flight. I might even finish it at the gate!

3. Heart of a Dog, Mikhail Bulgakov
Kickoff title for the Russian Reading Challenge. Another “shorty.” It features a professor Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky (his name is derived from the Russian word for “transfiguration”) who implants human testicles and pituitary gland into a stray dog named Sharik. Sharik then proceeds to become more and more human as time passes, picks himself the name Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov, makes himself a career with the “Moscow Cleansing Department responsible for eliminating vagrant quadrupeds (cats, etc.)”, and turns the life in the professor’s house into a nightmare until the professor reverses the procedure. This will most likely to be read over dim sum with my father!

4. Mrs. Craddock, W. Somerset Maugham
Another Maugham of course. This is a penetrating study of an unequal marriage, between Edward Craddock and his wife. He lacks his wife’s education, but he is good-humored, handsome and popular with everyone. Not only does it satisfy my whim for Maugham, this will be another Outmoded Author Challenge. I just read about his being Eileen Chang’s favorite author!

5. Slammerkin, Emma Donoghue

6. The Journal of Dora Damage, Belinda Starling.
This book about the bookbinder in 18th century London intrigues me. How can a book lover miss a book on this subject? This will be the only hardback I’m bringing.

7. The Shawl, Cynthia Ozick
In Ozick’s book she presents a truly phenomenal treatise on the life of a retired holocaust survivor. Ozick paints an incredible graphic picture of what Miami looks like to one who has survived a stint in a Nazi concentration camp. The story starts with a classic example of Nazi savagery, showing how the protagonist had a daughter in the camp, and how that daughter was treated with gratuitous violence and horror.

8. Why I Write, George Orwell
“Why I Write” offers the reader a look into one great writer’s motivations for writing, as Orwell lays out the only real reasons anyone writes. “The Lion and the Unicorn” is fascinating, not only for its often humorous descriptions of the British national character, but for the political ideas expressed in it and the knowledge, made clear by Orwell at the beginning, that this was written in the midst of the Blitz. “Politics and the English Language” is a brief guide to the fatal flaws of modern writing–all of which have lasted beyond Orwell–and how to mend them. “A Hanging” is reminiscent of another of Orwell’s famous short stories, “Shooting the Elephant,” as it describes an otherwise mundane action in ominous, metaphoric terms.

Sticky Post | Vacation Reading List Winter 2007

Those of you who have followed this blog for over a year know that my annual trip to visit my family in Asia is right around the corner (Nov 28). As early as two months ago, I have been thinking about what books I’ll bring with me over the pond. Although books are not the most traveler-friendly items to bring in terms of the weight, I have learned the lesson of never taking the overseas bookstores for granted. Maybe my reading taste is a bit eclectic, I haven’t had any luck with finding what I wanted.

Like Dark Orpheus has shared, I am not a hundred percent sure what might end up in my backpack until moments before I head out to the airport. But I have a good idea of the reading materials and they are most likely drawn from this pool:

1. The Gentleman in the Parlour, W. Somerset Maugham

A travelogue of Maugham’s 1923 trip through Burma, Siam, and Indochina (the peninsula that nowadays consist of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia). How can I leave this one at home when I’m traveling to the same region Maugham did? This will be my last Armchair Traveler Challenge book.

2. Peace Breaks Out, John Knowles

This will be the third selection of my Books on War list. The book follows the story of Pete Hallam as he returns to the school and becomes a history teacher as well as a coach. It is a story of the aftermath of World War II and the loss of innocence of young men. I have a feeling I’ll finish this one in one sitting on the plane.

3. Heart of a Dog, Mikhail Bulgakov

It features a professor Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky (his name is derived from the Russian word for “transfiguration”) who implants human testicles and pituitary gland into a stray dog named Sharik. Sharik then proceeds to become more and more human as time passes, picks himself the name Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov, makes himself a career with the “Moscow Cleansing Department responsible for eliminating vagrant quadrupeds (cats, etc.)”, and turns the life in the professor’s house into a nightmare until the professor reverses the procedure. Kickoff title for the Russian Reading Challenge.

4. Mrs. Craddock, W. Somerset Maugham

Another Maugham of course. This is a penetrating study of an unequal marriage, between Edward Craddock and his wife. He lacks his wife’s education, but he is good-humored, handsome and popular with everyone. Not only does it satisfy my whim for Maugham, this will be another Outmoded Author Challenge.

5. Slammerkin, Emma Donoghue

6. The Journal of Dora Damage, Belinda Starling.

This book about the bookbinder in 18th century London intrigues me. How can a book lover miss a book on this subject?

    Last but not the least, the navigator Lonely Planet: Malaysia, Singapore, & Brunei. I need to figure exactly where my accommodation is, a boutique guesthouse in Bukit Bintang of Kuala Lumpur. In addition to these designated titles, I might pick up a few books when I go bookstore hopping.