I think that when Peace Corps recruits for jobs, they should also emphasize the sheer volume of printed word that you will devour over your service. You will read books you have always wanted to. You'll re-read old favorites that will take on new and significant meaning to you. You'll even find yourself reading books that you never imagined or wanted to read. You'll come to, after a two-day bender of book reading, to find your kindle open to a book on theoretical physics or a biography of Macchiavelli, and spend the rest of your day blinking wide-eyed and bewildered in the African sun. Oh, the places you'll go and the books you'll read! That should be the catch line of the Peace Corps. For those of you who know me, you'll realize how often I am in heaven here. I can spend many a day curled up inside or on my hammock reading away. Sure, this can often be the sign of idleness or unhappiness with work, but really, it's just a sign of being a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural village.
This post is a celebration of my passing the 100 book mark! My friend Liz inspired me by doing a similar post awhile back. Up to this date, I have read 103 books. And, I only started reading books about 3 months into my time here in Uganda. I actually think that, if I were unsupervised and isolated, I would have read 200 by now, but because I'm so often with Tom, I've been a bit more moderate with book-eating.
So, the best or most impressionable books from my list:
The Power of One by Bruce Courtney. This one was set in mid-century South Africa and is the dramatic tale of a young white boy during a tumultuous time period.
The Ishmael Series: The Story of B, Ishmael, and My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. These three books are interrelated and all are getting at the same thing, idea, or philosophy. Whatever you want to call it. It's as if the author had an INCREDIBLY important message (which he does) and wanted to make sure that every reader would be able to receive it, so he wrote three books that used different methods and styles to carry across the same message. The most well-known of the series is the first; Ishmael. I can't possibly describe these books to you, but you must know that these books, and this philosophy, have come to exemplify and colour my experiences here in Uganda, and entirely challenge my way of thinking. One author said something to the effect of, 'there are the books I read before Ishmael, and all the books I've read after', meaning that reading these books has forever altered his way of thinking and his view of the world. I liked these books, not because of great writing, but because they present a direct challenge to the reader's perception of the world and way of thinking. It was unlike anything I'd ever read or thought of before.
Game of Thrones Series: A Game of Thrones, a Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, a Feast for Crows, a Dance with Dragons: by George R. Marten. Duh. I read all of these books straight through in a feverish few months of adventure, lust, adultery, sabotage, plotting, murder, intrigue, and magic. I could never remember which book I was on or what they were called, so I merely referred to them as "Dragon Porn." Which they are. So awesome. Marten totally captures the need and lust for human drama.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Have you ever noticed that when you have read a book that really stays with you, you happen to find similar threads or connections to books you read after? That's what happened to me after I read the Ishmael books. This is a dark book about the lost gods of the world, and it somehow related to one of the main ideas in Ishmael; that is, before our predominant 'taker' culture we would place our lives and fate in the 'hands of the gods' but now we live in a society where we have become the gods ourselves.
The Passage by Justin Cronin. Ah, such a good vampire/zombie book. Please sir, can I have another?
The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth. This book reminded me of my brother Neil, because he writes in a similar way and seems to really enjoy this type of book. It was written in a satirical Dickensian style and was absolutely dry, goofy, and long-winded with bizarre plot-twists and constant uncomfortable fumbling and gaffes executed by the clueless protagonist. It was hilarious and I haven't read anything like it since my Dickens class in college.
1984 by George Orwell. This was one of the books I have always meant to read, and finally had the time to do. It was so much more engaging and terrifying than I thought it would be.
11/22/63 by Stephen King. I guess you are either a Stephen King fan or you're not. I grew up reading his books and freaking myself out. I loved this book because it demonstrated how versatile he is. There is nothing stale about this book and it was completely engrossing.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. So good! I love reading a biblical-age story from the perspective of a woman. I love the traditions the women had together. We have lost that.
Suicide by Edouard Leve'. Thanks Neil for this suggestion! Not exactly uplifting but all the same, I really liked the writing style.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I felt like I had climbed Everest after reading this. I thought this would be a huge struggle but I enjoyed almost every part of it, and couldn't put it down. I thought it would be the sort of pretentious book that gets joy out of being difficult to read, but it was some damn good storytelling and I loved all the different interlinked stories and characters.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Timely read as I am a foreigner in Africa. Just another book to challenge me and make me question why I am here.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This was also the best opportunity to read this book. I live 2k from the Congo, and the images and scenes painted in this book definitely echoed with my experience.
Rabbit, Run. Rabbit Redux. Rabbit is rich. Rabbit at Rest by John Updike. I got pretty attached to these books, even though I disliked almost all of the characters. That's some good storytellin'.
2666 by Roberto Bolano. Hmmm. I think I'm just putting this one up for bragging-rights. I can't say I understood the big picture (or the small picture) but it was an interesting read.
Cloud Atlast by David Mitchell. What a lovely and bewitching tapestry of stories. I think I'm a sucker for books that have montages or quiltpieces of different stories.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore. Wanna hear the story of the bible and Jesus through the eyes of his annoying, unflattering frat-brother friend? Yes please.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I love young adult books and this one was creepy and wonderful.
Warlord 1: The Winter King, Warlord 2: Enemy of God, Warlord 3: Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell. I believe these series are called the "Excalibur series." Cornwell is a mediocre writer but a damn good storyteller. I think I'm starting to realize the value of good storytelling over esoteric prose. His books are historical fiction, based off Arthurian legend. So, you know, druids, Merlin, Arthur, swords, England. Pretty awesome. YOu learn a lot about pagan England and it provides a GREAT escape from christian Africa.
I think that's a good snapshot of some of the great Peace Corps reads thus far.
Love and Lard,