But For the Sky

What We’re Reading

If you have any suggestions, either for country- or region-specific reading, or just good travel reading in general, please let us know! Kindle loans are especially appreciated.


Currently Reading

Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson: pretty out there and experimental, but at least I'm learning how to drop the names of artists well!

Shadows and Wind by Robert Templer: daring and damning view of modern-day Vietnam, its challenges and faults, as well as a lot of hope and positivity about the spirit of a people that has been through a lot in the last hundred yearsl

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham: trying to tackle a classic by an old favorite author.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: still taking advantage of our copious reading time to attack some of the longest books ever written. Not sure I'll make it through this one, though.

Previously Read

Plowing the Dark by Richard Powers: heady and carefully crafted, but a tough one to construct an opinion on. I was fairly confused and disappointed throughout most of it, but held on to see where things were going. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying the ending is quite a curveball. Definitely gives the reader a lot to think about, but I don't think it's worth reading through 350 fairly aimless pages for the "resolution" provided.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: creepy and unsettling, vintage Murakami, but maybe a bit clumsier than his previous efforts.

The Book of Illusions, by Paul Auster: somewhat mediocre and linearly-narrated story by the author I can't seem to avoid reading when I come across him in a book exchange.

In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin: hyper-literate and filled with detailed and fascinating stories. Excellent travel writing.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: sad and touching stories of Indian-Americans. I enjoyed seeing some of the details of Bengali life that the characters look back on fondly as memories of their homeland.

Even Cowgirls get the Blues by Tom Robbins: A+ book exchange find. Funny, profound, and unmistakeably Robbins.

The Shadow of the Sun Ryszard Kapuściński: Simply some of the best travel writing I've ever read. Funny, warm, and full of love for Africa, warts and all.

Leviathan and The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster: Entertaining stories with an interesting philosophical and literary undercurrent.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville: an engrossing story, masterfully told, containing meditations on life, death, exploration, obsession...instantly one of my favorite books

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: A haunting and strange book about madness in Africa. On my map mostly because it was the inspiration for Apocalypse Now.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll: whimsical and imaginative; fun, light reading

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathon Swift: entertaining and imaginative stories of travel, a bit dated, though.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. A fascinating life, and a perfect introduction to South Africa's people, culture, geography, and politics.

Freedom by Jonathon Franzen. Often beautiful, sometimes painful. Imperfect, but impressive.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin (care of the excellent Project Gutenberg). While it's clearly more a work of scientific scholarship than something meant for mass audiences, Darwin's treatise is a captivating read, and a perfect complement to visiting the Galapagos. It was interesting to see such an early form of the ideas that we now take for granted (most of us, anyway), and to think about the facts and observations that led Darwin to these revolutionary ideas. The biggest drawback for me is that there was very little about the Galapagos in particular: I could extend many of the ideas to what I saw on the islands (and it certainly did affect my mindset), but there were few examples of the things Darwin saw on his famous journey on the Beagle.


Currently Reading

Shadows and Wind by Robert Templer: an insight into modern-day Vietnam.

The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson: the third in the trilogy, this one might be the best one yet!

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking: Hard to resist a book with chapter titles such as "Space and Time".

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela: to prepare for our visit to South Africa.

Previously Read

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung: a Cambodian woman's incredibly moving first hand account of how the Pol Pot regime and genocide in the 1970s affected her family.

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins: a story about an all-cowgirl ranch, clockworks, hitchhiking, and whooping cranes. Hilariously well-written and some of the most creative metaphors I've ever seen!

Burmese Days by George Orwell: Orwell randomly lived in Myanmar (then Burma) and worked as a policeman in a small town, and I'm enjoying reading his humorous take on British colonialists.

The Kindness of Strangers: Travelers Tales of Trouble and Salvation Around the Globe, edited by Don George: Right up my alley, this is a compilation of short travel essays all along the same theme: being helped by a stranger in a strange land. It brought a smile to my face that many of the stories took place in locations that Nick and I have visited this year.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: I have loved all her short stories. She is Bengali-American and writes understated and touching stories that take place both in the US and India.

Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald: As everyone says, nothing can prepare you for India, but I thought I would at least try. She's not going to win any awards for her writing anytime soon, but her funny observations and Religion 101 descriptions were entertaining.

The Shadow of the Sun Ryszard Kapuściński: The author, a Polish journalist tells stories from his decades living in Africa. He offers funny and honest insights into African culture and society. So far everything in this book has been 100% spot-on.

Leviathan by Paul Auster - The narrator recounts the life story of his friend, which includes many twists and turns. It's got a lot of 'six degrees of separation' - type of connections which I enjoy.

The Dying Animal by Philip Roth - I picked this one off the book exchange shelf at a hostel because it was short and because Nick likes the author. It reminded me of Disgrace, Love in the Time of Cholera, Lolita, and one section of The Corrections, not in quality of writing, but because it was about an older man, coming to terms with death, looking back on his life of affairs with much younger women, and coping with his unstoppable obsession with one particular affair. I think I need a break from this theme. On the bright side, it was short!

Best American Travel Writing 2006 by Various Authors - I absolutely love travel writing. I especially enjoyed the story about studying Spanish and enjoying food in Ecuador, and the one about trekking in remote parts of central Asia.

The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson - This is the second in the trilogy, and an easy page-turner. It's slightly on the trashy side, but that's okay once in awhile!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford- This book was honestly just not good. Yet I finished it, partly because I paid for it on the Kindle, and partly because it is my Book Club book, and I'm remaining a long-distance member this year. Clearly, I have a lot of free time! However, I don't recommend wasting your precious time. I found myself wondering if the author was a 15-year old girl way too many times-- the "twists and turns" were predictable, the chapters all ended in simple, dramatic rhetorical questions-- I could go on...

The Beach by Alex Garland- Despite my having already seen the movie coupled with my somewhat strong and unfounded dislike for Leonardo DiCaprio, this book was well-written and I could not put it down. I liked the character development and often found myself dreaming about Thailand's islands, which I can't wait to visit in 2012.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer- I stayed up several hours past my bedtime to finish this book, which is about the disastrous summit push up Mt. Everest that lead to the death of several climbers in the spring of 1996. It is fascinating to learn about what drives people to attempt the climb up Everest, and incredibly scary to follow along one climber's account of how it all went down.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez- I love his writing style and found the book genuinely funny and incredibly engaging. I really enjoyed reading it while we were in Colombia and seeing many references to places we visited.