Three books from my to-read list.

There was a time not so long ago when I thought the only books I liked were sci-fi books and fantasy books. I was convinced — utterly convinced! — that there was nothing for me in any other genre out there. Why would I want to read about real life, or even fictitious real life, when I could read about, I dunno, dragons or space ships? This was a fact of the universe that could not be changed, until I had a supervisor several years ago recommend a fiction book to me (The One-in-a-Million Boy actually). I read it in like two days, and boy did it ever broaden my literary horizons.

Today I have a to-read list on Goodreads that’s 253 items long and growing almost daily. It’s become more of a shortlist I pick from when I need something to read more than a list I have a feasible chance of working through in my lifetime. I’ve got a little bit of everything featured on this shortlist, fiction and nonfiction alike. Topics are all over the board, as I quickly discovered that even mundane sounding topics can be super interesting with the right writer.

I thought maybe I’d do a feature once a month (or twice a month?) where I take three random books off my to-read list and talk about what got them there. Maybe I’ll even sell you on some of these books too.

The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan & Pierre Rigoulot

I discovered last year that I have a particular fascination with North Korean memoirs, nonfiction accounts, and other stories from this reclusive country. It’s tragic what the government has done to its people and its country in its blind isolationism. I’ve read five other memoirs from escapees and other perspectives into North Korea, and I’m always struck by how mistreated its citizens are, through abject poverty, terrible living conditions, starvation, work camps, the list goes on. It’s really sad. When I read those other five books last year, I read them one after the other and needed to take a break from the topic when I was done. This one will be my return to it, eventually.

The Diary of Lady Murasaki by Murasaki Shikibu

This one is an interesting inclusion on my list. Way back in the way back of 2017 I read an adaptation of Journey to the West (where the Monkey King character you see in many other books, movies, anime, and video games these days originates). I liked it well enough, but one of the suggestions Goodreads offered up when I was done with it was this interesting person. Murasaki Shikibu was the author of The Tale of Genji, commonly thought to be the world’s first novel, and written sometime before 1021 AD. Murasaki is not her real name as her real name is unknown. This diary was written by her before she completed The Tale of Genji and covers the period of time she spent at the imperial court. She sounds like a fascinating person, as she was fluent at reading and writing, unheard of for women in that time period.

Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall

Nautical adventure! I’m not sure there’s much more that needs to be said. I’m a big fan of the water, of boats, and of adventures, so it seems only natural to include this on my list of things to read. We had a discussion about nautical books in the Book Lover’s Club Discord server I’m in last month, and this was one of the (many) that I added that night. Other books added that night include Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian, and Richiard Bolitho – Midshipman by Alexander Kent and Douglas Reeman. Some of these are heavier on the lingo and the details than others, but I don’t mind. Adventure books are cool.

So there you go, three books off my to-read list! I’m sure I have stories for all 200+ on the list, so I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic again!

Why I’m interested in The Pavement Bookworm, and you should be too.

In my quest for more blog material, I stumbled on an Instagram photo posted by @thediaryofaclassteacher with a guy sitting on a curb in South Africa, a stack of books at his side, and the caption claiming that he reviews books for anyone passing by who’s interested. I, a born-and-bred internet skeptic, thought to myself, “nahhhh this photo’s either staged or misrepresented or something“. You should always be wary of something you read on the internet, but maybe not in this case.

Meet Philani Dladla, resident of Johannesburg, South Africa. Formerly homeless, formerly addicted to drugs, and survivor of an extremely difficult life on the streets, he decided he needed to save himself and make something of himself — and he did that through books. Refusing to beg and with a book collection he had been carefully creating and reading since the age of 12, Philani created a mobile library. Not only lending books, he started reading and reviewing his books, using those reviews to entice motorists along Empire Road in Johannesburg.

Philani’s story made it out of Johnnesburg thanks to a documentary filmmaker Tebogo Malope, who interviewed Philani and posted the interview video online. Viral videos being what they are, his story about surviving a life of homelessness and drug addiction through his love of books spread quickly.

He published an autobiography in 2015 called “The Pavement Bookworm”, and many people call it extremely inspiring. I’ve added it to my To Read list and hope to get to it soon. He also has a charity page up where he lists some of his book reviews, and raises money and book donations to help pay it forward to other struggling adults and children in South Africa.

Noteworthy links:

SA People News: The unlikely story of The Pavement Bookworm

Pavement Bookworm: Official Site

Philani Dladla TED Talk, 2014 Johannesburg

How interesting the places not here.

I’m fascinated with other cultures. My list of books read about places other than America spans across so many different countries and time periods that I’m not sure I could list them all right now. Historical fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, I don’t discriminate.

In particular, a lot of my bookish cultural wanderings take me to places in Asia. I’m not sure why, but each of the distinct countries in Asia feel so especially exotic to me. I’ve read many non-fiction and memoir books from North Korean refugees. I love Haruki Murakami’s fiction. I have a ton of Chinese historical fiction read and yet to read on my Goodreads shelf. Something about the extremely varied culture of the region really interests me in a way I can’t pin down.

In any case, while browsing the Goodreads Giveaways for this week, Lori Qian’s How Sweet the Bitter Soup leaped out at me as something I should keep on my to read radar. The cover is very appealing to my minimilistic preferences, and the short summary on Goodreads really hits all the right notes for me. From the short information available, it sounds like a memoir about an American taking care of her parents ends up transplanted in China through a teaching position. It sounds like the author learns a lot about herself through the journey, which I can appreciate.

Now if only my wallet kept up with my literary travels, I’d have a whole lot more to write about.