Books In The Time Of Corona

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Books In The Time Of Corona

“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”  Jhumpa Lahiri in The Namesake

I think you are either a person who reads or a person who doesn’t. If you read, you are going to want to do it more. If you don’t, I’m not going to be able to convince you to put down the remote. I decided to use some of this time we have been given to read great books that I had missed. Here are ten of them.

Nostromo Joseph Conrad

At the beginning of the quarantine, I took on the daunting task of reading Nostromo. I was greatly intimidated by the very long prologue to one of Joseph Conrad’s greatest and most complex novels. Once I started, it became a compelling adventure story with profound psychological insights and political implications. Nostromo tells the tumultuous history of the fictional South American country of Costaguana. Written at the time of the development of the Panama Canal, Nostromo is set in the imaginary province of Sulaco, which secedes from the federation of Costaguana in order to protect its natural resource, the silver mine. The parallels with the ‘revolution’ in Panama by the United States in 1903 are striking; just as Panama seceded from Columbia to satisfy the material interests of the canal builders, so the secession of Sulaco serves the material interests of ‘the Gould company. Conrad creates the “perfectly incorruptible”” Nostromo who we don’t get to know until the second half of the novel. He is an Italian immigrant and a heroic symbol within the community. Nostromo, is the only man who can save the silver in the San Tomé mine and secure the independence of the province of Sulaco. The question is whether his morals and integrity are as unassailable as his reputation. Will he stand firmly in his ideals once the fate lies in his hands?

Angle of Repose Walter Stegner

Angle of Repose is a classic of American Literature. Lyman Ward is a recently divorced, wheelchair-bound retired history professor (aged 58) struggling to find his way through the turns life has taken. Determined to write a biography of his beloved and famous artist/author grandmother, he moves into his grandparent’s long-empty home in Grass Valley, California in 1970. Most of the book is about Susan Ward an accomplished writer and illustrator, who found herself an accidental pioneer of the western United States during the 1870s and 1880s.The character development in Angle of Repose is exceptional. Wallace Stegner shows great incite about two groups of people that can be hard to understand – the physically disabled and strong, complex women, of the Victorian era. His words do justice to the great beauty of the American West. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and no wonder because the prose is beautiful.

The Movie Goer Walker Percy

The Movie Goer written in 1961 is about John/Jack/ Binx Bolling, a Louisianan who drifts along. He is in a line of work that he finds interesting, but he has no real purpose in life. Like Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, he finds meaning in movies. Little things he sees remind him of different films or actors—and the films are always more interesting than his routine life. He is single and about to turn thirty. Most of the story is about John drifting through Mardi Gras and his life in New Orleans. It is a nice little tour of New Orleans neighborhoods and some of the nearby coastal bayous and by the end of the book John has matured. It is a coming of age story. You can’t help but draw comparisons to Holden Caulfield with his eye for identifying self deceit and insincerity (though in a much more Southern genteel way).The book remains current because of the alienation and despair that persist in both good and bad times and the power of language and humor to give them meaning.

Americanah Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

On a simple level, Americanah is a love story set in Africa, Europe and America. As you turn the pages, you quickly realize that Adichie uses the novel format as a social commentary about race. Protagonist Ifemelu ironically discovers that she is black as she leaves a politically tormented Nigeria for the United States. There are shrewd observations about repatriation, sizing up and distancing between African blacks and African Americans, the value of dark skin in Caucasian societies, the arrogance of white savior mentality and the fascinating world of African hair. The novel is filled with insightful blog posts by Ifemelu as she experiences America.

The Overstory Richard Powers

The Overstory is a huge novel about trees, cleverly structured around roots, trunk, branches and seeds. Richard Power’s ability to make us see something we take for granted is really special. Blending fiction, historical writing, scientific description and literary prose, he writes a story of climate catastrophe and hope. The plot of The Overstory focuses on people’s various intergenerational connections with trees. It is a human story in the context of environmental loss from climate change. The lonely broken people of Power’s story seek other people to save the trees and ultimately our world. This is a reminder that it is everyone’s problem. It was the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

A Gentleman In Moscow Amor Towles

At the age of 33, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest for life in the elegant Hotel Metropol in Moscow’s Theatre Square. Instead of his familiar suite, his new abode is now a tiny room in the attic.The book covers Russia’s turbulent years from the 1920s to the 1950s. Rostov witnesses the momentous changes in Russia, not Tolstoy-style through the debate of powerful men and the clash on the battlefields, but in the detail of everyday life in the hotel as he quietly observes the changing guests and procedures. We are left to imagine the mentality of the new regime’s leaders and life outside the hotel. I love the character of Alexander Rostov with his old school manners, adaptability, kindness and quiet dignity.The writing is elegant, effortless, beautiful and funny. I really enjoyed this book.

A Long Petal In The Sea Isabel Allende

I am a huge fan of the author and so I was glad to pick up her latest book. The story starts in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. The first part of the book is captivating, and emotional as the reader is introduced to the various characters. After joining half a million refugees walking from Spain to France, the leading characters Victor and Rosa are accepted on the rescue ship M/S Winnipeg chartered by the famous Chilean Nobel-prize winning poet and politician Pablo Neruda bound for Chile. (fact) They have the same problems fleeing refuges have today and they are among the few lucky ones that make it to Chile. They begin a new life and later they are swept up in the Pinochet reign of terror. Victor and Rosa escape to Venezuela who welcomes all refugees fleeing from Chile. They return to Chile and again start a new life as Pinochet dies and Chile slowly returns to democracy. As the book headed towards a heartfelt and compelling conclusion, I found myself reading slower, not wanting to leave the book, its story and characters.This is a stunning historical literary novel and one I cannot recommend highly enough.

The Orphan Master’s Son Adam Johnson

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2013, ‘The Orphan Master’s Son’ tells the story of Pak Jun Do’s journey from life in a North Korean state orphanage to professional kidnapper to a career in Pyongyang at the heart of Kim Jong ll’s regime.  It is an intriguing and sprawling story which explores several aspects of life in one of the most secretive countries in the world. Since there is no way of knowing how authentic it is, the line between fiction and nonfiction is blurred. I found it a carefully crafted, elegantly written, fascinating book to read.

The Assistant  Bernard Malamud

The Assistant was written in 1957 and won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. It is about a Jewish grocery store owner in Brooklyn in the 1950’s and the Italian assistant who works for him. The story is a tragedy about the Jewish immigrant experience in America at that time. It is also about Frank Alpine, a man trying hard to change himself. It’s a fight that each of us might be familiar with. We know what to do to be good yet we often lose ourselves to temptation, to take a shortcut to to have it easy. Malamud can write. The simplicity of the prose and dialogue and the depth and complexity of the plot make the Assistant a special book.

To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee.

Atticus Finch is my number two literary crush and so I reread To Kill A Mockingbird every once in a while.(Howard Roark is my number 1). The book offers so much more than the picture of a small Southern town in the depression era filed with prejudice, injustice and the bond of love between family members and neighbors. So many issues that Scout points out, in the book, are still very real problems today. Lee’s characters define themselves every time they open their mouths and so they stay in your mind long after you finish the book. Atticus is the epitome of the literary hero, quietly dignified, moral, and unpretentious, standing alone, if need be, to do what is right. When you reread the book, you see that Scout, Jem, Boo, Tom, Calpurnia, the judge, the doctor and the neighbors who take care of each other, bring something to the human, heroic response to the world. Because we as a culture have gotten so good at rationalizing our bad behavior, we often forget “to do what’s right”. That’s why so many years after this book takes place, our world is still broken, so I thought it was time to read it again.

Stay safe,

JAZ

No One Reads Anymore

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No One Reads Anymore.

‘The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries. “ Rene Descartes

It’s ironic that you are reading a blog about why no one reads  anymore. Obviously some people read books.

But readers are slowly dying off, easing into extinction as newer and flashier means of grabbing our attention evolve. Why? Because reading is hard, or at least harder than watching TV or movies or playing video games.

Reading books stimulates the brain, forcing us to focus, to remember and to perform various mental gymnastics. It provides enormous benefits. Reading reduces stress, keeps your brain sharp, helps you fall asleep, increases your vocabulary, writing skills and improves your imagination.

There are many other advantages to reading as well, including developing greater discipline and empathy, helping you better understand other cultures, building self-esteem and making you more interesting.

But a great many people still believe they don’t have time to read. Society floods us with sensory input. Our phones, our tablets, our laptops: all offer connectivity to the wider world. So we think that because we’re connected to it electronically, we needn’t pursue such an old-fashioned activity as reading.

I was not allowed to watch TV as a kid and getting lost in a book was a wonderful way to pass the time. But even I have trouble now forcing my brain to focus for that long. I’m using this gift of time to read great books and will you keep you posted on my favorites.

Reading this blog does not count, by the way. 

Stay safe,

JAZ

Fifty Favorite Books That I Have Read On Trips, On The Beach Or At Home

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Fifty Favorite Books That I Have Read On Trips, On The Beach Or At Home

i thought i would reblog this one- since we suddenly have all this time now.

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” Lemony Snicket   

How does a book make the favorites list? I remember it. I have a really bad memory and  if it stays with me, it stays forever. I want a book to take me somewhere I haven’t been before, another time, another place, another pair of eyes.  There are  books that have taught me something and changed  how I see the world. Some  of them I have read more than once – under the covers with a flashlight.  I identify with certain characters.  There is this wonderful moment in reading where you think “You feel that way too? I thought that I was the only one.”

It was very hard to pick only fifty. My favorite books from many different stages of my life are here and in no particular order.  If you missed reading any…..they are good.

The Master And The Margarita   Mikhail Bulgakov  (Russian)

On The Road  Jack Kerouac (American)

Purge  Sofi Oksanen (Finnish)

The Chosen Chaim Potok  (American)

Love In the Time Of Cholera   Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombian)

Gone With the Wind  Margaret Mitchell (American)

Swann’s Way  (In Search Of Lost Time)  Marcel Proust  (French)

To Kill A Mockingbird  Harper Lee (American)

One Hundred Years Of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez  (Colombian)

All Over But The Shoutin’  Rick Bragg (American)

Snow  Orhan Pamuk  (Turkish)

The Fountainhead  Ayn Rand (American)

The Prophet  Kahlil Gibran  (Lebanese American)

Atlas Shrugged  Ayn Rand (American)

Don Quixote  Miguel de Cervantes (Spanish)

The Great Gatsby  F. Scott Fitzgerald  (American)

The Stranger  Albert Camus  (French)

The Giving Tree  Shel Silverstein (American)

Diary  Of A Young Girl  Anne Frank (Dutch)

The Old Man And The Sea  Ernest Hemingway (American)

The Kite Runner  Khalid Hosseini  (Afghan American)

For Whom The Bell Tolls  Ernest Hemingway (American)

The Unbearable Lightness Of Being  Milan Kundera  (Czech)

Middlesex  Jeffrey Eugenides  (American)

Siddhartha  Herman Hesse (German)

The Things They Carried  Tim O Brian (American)

Life Of Pi  Yann Martel (Canadian)

The Sun Also Rises  Ernest Hemingway (American)

Zorba The Greek  Nikos Kazantzakis  (Greek)

A Heart Breaking Work Of Staggering Genius  Dave Eggars (American)

The House of The Spirits  Isabel Allende  (Chilean)

Catcher In The Rye  J.D. Salinger  (American)

The Gulag Archipelago  Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (Russian)

Good Night Moon Margaret Wise Brown  (American)

Wild Swans  Jung Chang (Chinese)

Tuesdays With Morrie  Mitch Albom  (American)

The Painted Bird  Jerzy Kosinski (Polish American)

The Prince Of Tides  Pat Conroy (American)

Man’s Search For Meaning  Viktor Frankl  (Austrian)

Slaughterhouse Five  Kurt Vonnegut  (American)

War And Peace Leo Tolstoy  (Russian)

Metropolitan Life  Fran Liebowitz  (American)

Fly  safe,

JAZ

A Tramp Abroad

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  A Tramp Abroad

“Nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.” Mark Twain in a letter, dated May 18th, 1867

They say that books can take you anywhere. Reading is a great way to visit far away places, without having to move an inch. I always want to go everywhere I read about.

Mark Twain is considered to be one of the great writers of the nineteenth century. I read Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in school. There was way too much class discussion about  youth, naivete, racisim, fence painting and Becky Thatcher for a twelve year old girl to relate to.

What I did not know, was that Mark Twain also wrote non fiction and was one of the first travel writers. In the 1880’s he wrote books about travel: The Innocents Abroad , Roughing It, A Tramp Abroad, Following The Equator and Some Rambling Notes of An Idle Excursion. 

I was told about a Tramp Abroad and wanted to read it.  It was free on Apple Books and Kindle. I did not have high hopes for a book that they were giving away.  

The book is about Mark Twain’s travels through Europe “on foot,” except that he takes  every available opportunity to do anything other than walk. He travels by boat, raft, donkey, carriage, train, etc.  Twain has little patience for the standard requirements of travel literature. He dispatches with Baden-Baden, for instance, in a single sentence: “It is an inane town, filled with sham, and petty fraud, and snobbery, but the baths are good.”

The story  is a bit scattered and there are a few too many wordy passages describing mountain ranges, but it is so funny.  It contains some good information mixed up with many amusing anecdotes that lampoon just about everyone. His sharp commentary on society, culture and American tourists in Europe is still relevant over a century later.

 No traveler, whether today or in Twain’s time, would gain any practical benefit from hauling this not short story on a trip. It is not an essential Twain book but should be because it’s educational, informative, and very entertaining.  I am loving it.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Best Book Stores In The World

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Best Book Stores In The World

“It is clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.” Agatha Christie

I love traveling. Some things I don’t mind skipping out on. Base jumping is always a pass. Art and Architecture is always in. I wish I had more time for fashion. But there are few things more tragic than knowing I strolled through the streets of a far off city and walked right past a book attraction I may never get the chance to see again. This collection of bookstores includes many I have seen and some that got away. I write this blog with a hint of regret as I am moving and once again I have to narrow down my collection of books.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France

This independent bookstore on Paris’s left bank was originally founded in 1919 by Sylvia Beach, and became a popular gathering space for famous writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and James Joyce. It might seem strange for an English-language bookstore to have such an important place in the history of literary Paris, but many notable English-speaking writers gathered in the City of Light during the 1920s to work on their craft. These writers and artists became known as the ‘Lost Generation’ and Shakespeare and Co was at the center of their world.  In the 1920s, this was not only a bookstore, but also a lending library. Another reason Shakespeare and Co is so well-known in literary circles is for its famous sleeping facilities. There are over 10 beds in the bookstore that have offered a place of rest to young writers since the 1950s. The present-day bookshop isn’t the original shop which was shut down by the Nazis during the French Occupation in World War II. It was reopened at its current address in 1951. In 1981 the owners daughter, named Sylvia after Sylvia Beach, runs the bookshop and is a wealth of knowledge about the history of the building and the writers that have passed through this famous door.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Teatro Grand Splendid  was built in 1919 as a theatre for top-tier tango concerts. What a wonderful name for a theatre. Tango legends such as Carlos Gardel, Francisco Canaro, Roberto Firpo, and Ignacio Corsini performed here. In 1929, the theater underwent its first transformation to become a cinema, with the distinction of being the first in Buenos Aires to show sound film. Its latest transformation is the El Ateneo bookstore. The painted ceiling, detailed balconies, and stage are all intact. The private boxes are now small reading rooms. The stage is a café. The shelves fit perfectly around the theater’s original shape. The book collection is pretty standard and mostly in Spanish. It is an amazing place to buy a book or have a coffee on the famous stage.

Livrario Lello, Porto, Portugal

Once upon a time Livraria Lello was an old beautiful book store. The Lello book store was built in 1906 in Porto, Portugal by the Lello Brothers (Antonio and Jose). Their book store is one of the most ornate book stores in the world, mixing Neo-Gothic and Art Deco elements. Carved wood ceilings, a stain-glass roof, an undulating, opulent red staircase, and even a built-in wheel-barrow on rails for moving the store’s 120,000 books all make the Lello seem like a bookstore out of some fantasy-world. One day some lady named J.K. Rowling lived in Porto while working on her first book. You might have heard of it- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Livraria Lello is reputed to have inspired parts of Hogwarts. Since then, it has been inundated with Potter fans from around the world wanting to catch a glimpse and selfie of the bookstore’s interior.

Cook And Book, Brussels, Belgium

A unique restaurant that is also a bookstore… Or a bookstore that’s also a restaurant? The huge bookstore is located on the outskirts of the city. There are different bookstore entrances divided by themes. In the literature themed bookstore, the books are hanging from the ceiling and most of the books for purchase are in French. The cucina themed section has cooks behind the lunch bar and books filled in the salad bar. There are nine different bookstores and two restaurants. Be careful when hunger hits you while you’re caught in the middle of a good book reading. Bringing a book to the table while eating means that you’ll have to pay for the books and whatever else you consumed at the table.

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy

This bookstore is close to St. Mark’s Square and opened in 2004. The name translates to “bookstore of high water” due to the store being plagued by Venice’s rising waters, which regularly flood the floors of the shop each winter. To combat the issue, the bookstore’s owner, Luigi Frizzo, piled all of the books into waterproof bins, bathtubs, canoes, and even gondolas in order to protect the literature. Books are everywhere possible and seem to have taken control of the space.

Selexyz Dominicanen, Maastricht, The Netherlands

This location of the Selexyz chain of bookshops occupies a thirteenth century Dominican church. The glorious interior is massive and includes an eating area.To maintain the integrity of the space, the architects built vertically, which means the three-story bookstore is not only impressively imposing, but also outfitted with neat walkways, staircases and elevators. A Frescoed vaulted ceilings soar over the book browsing activity.

Carturesti Carusel, Bucharest, Romania

Literally translated as the “Carousel of Light” in English, Cărturești Carusel is situated in a restored 19th-century building in the very heart of Bucharest’s Old Town. It has six floors, over ten thousand books and a bistro on the top floor. Built in the 19th Century by the Chrissoveloni family, the impressive columns and spiral staircases were once the headquarters for their banking dynasty. A few decades later, it was transformed into a general store. In the 1990s the structure had become unstable and the building was abandoned. It was later restored and opened as a bookstore.

Barter Books, Ainwick, UK

Barter Books in Alnwick is the most magical place for book lovers. It was opened by Mary Manley in 1991 and is now one of the largest second-hand bookshops in Europe. The store is situated inside a Victorian railway station which is a beautiful building with so much character. Those with a particular interest in the station’s history and architecture can take a walking tour. There are books everywhere and comfortable chairs, sofas, fires and even a train running on tracks above your head. Amazing quotes join bookcase to bookcase and there are beautiful murals to enjoy.

Livraria Da Vila, Sao Paulo, Brazil

The front door of Livraria de Vila is made of revolving bookcases. Once you get inside, you’ll notice books on every surface – on shelves from floor to ceiling, on nooks and crannies, and even on shelves carved into holes between each floor. In fact, this bookstore seems to be made of books.

City Lights,San Francisco, USA

As a reader, City Lights is one of my favorite bookstores. It is heavily associated with the Beat movement and its writers – Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and store co-founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The big story behind the store is the obscenity trial surrounding Ginsberg’s Howl And Other Poems, which City Lights published and sold in 1956. I wasn’t a huge fan of the poem but it was deemed obscene and the poem went on trial. Lawyers were interrogating academics over the literary merit of a graphic work. City Lights grew to occupy all three floors of the building with an outstanding selection of world literature, poetry, and progressive nonfiction that is as significant today as it was in the ‘50s. City Lights gives us a physical reminder that ideas and words will always be challenged because they are powerful. Of course I bought a copy of Howl.

Fly safe,
JAZ

Going To The Library

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Going To The Library

“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein

Towering bookcases. Shelves for miles. That smell I will never forget as long as I live. I spent a ton of time in many beautiful libraries in New York which was odd considering my mother was legally blind. 

There were so many books and worlds on those shelves. I think it is one of the reasons I know how to entertain myself. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV and  beautiful old libraries were our winter or bad weather “family field trips.’ 

My father would go off somewhere and read. My mother went to the record section and listened to something she would always say was amazing. We were left to roam freely around the children’s section by ourselves, picking up books, reading a few pages and putting them back until we found the one that we couldn’t put down.

 The first time I ever walked anywhere without a parent besides school, was to the small neighborhood library. I was ten or eleven years old and I walked with two friends. It was  sixteen blocks.  I felt very scared and very grownup. I didn’t know that my mother was walking several paces behind us.  She let me be so proud of my independence and didn’t tell me till many years later. 

My children always did the summer reading program at the Beverly Hills Library. I wanted them to be as comfortable in a library as I was.  One day, my four year old daughter wanted to stay in the library by herself and work on her project.  I remembered my mom and hid in the back of the children section for an hour so she could have that alone in the library feeling.

 Growing up in the library, you learn to be observant. You also learn there are creeps hanging around the library — like everywhere else (ever been to a Starbucks mid-afternoon?) Through your superhuman power of observation, you know when someone is sketchy and you follow your instincts. You know when to hop over to a more crowded section of stacks, or to let a librarian know someone’s being a weirdo.

The library was  where I could check out as many books as I wanted, so naturally, it was one of my favorite spots in the world. I believe I still have a few overdue ones. 

No matter what was happening at school or at home, I knew once I walked into that place of quiet and organization, my thoughts would calm and my mood would lift. It was a way to leave the real world outside.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Harry Potter and the Livrario Lello, Porto, Portugal

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Harry Potter And The Livrario Lello

“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” J.K. Rowling

Once upon a time Livraria Lello was an old beautiful book store. The Lello book store was built in 1906 in Porto, Portugal by the Lello Brothers (Antonio and Jose).

Their  book store is one of the most ornate book stores in the world, mixing  Neo-Gothic and Art Deco elements.  The book store is visually stunning.

Carved wood ceilings, a stain-glass roof, an undulating, opulent red staircase, and even a built-in wheel-barrow on rails for moving the store’s 120,000 books all make the Lello seem like a bookstore out of some fantasy-world. 

One day some lady named J.K. Rowling lived in Porto while working on her first book. You might have heard of it- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Livraria Lello is reputed to have inspired parts of Hogwarts.

Since then, it has been inundated with Potter fans from around the world wanting to catch a glimpse and selfie of the bookstore’s interior.

What has resulted is a street-long queue of people who pay five euros per person to look at a set of stairs.

There is another longer queue in the ticket office on the corner if you have  failed to buy your ticket online in advance. (That would be me.)

Being a book lover, I wanted to fall in love with this beautiful book store. Unfortunately with all the tourists, the store is so noisy and crowded,

it is hard to even stand and look at the books.

I did manage to buy one. I did also fall in love with a city who’s number one tourist attraction is a book store.

Fly safe,

JAZ

A Heartbreaking Work Of Getting Rid Of Books

A heartbreaking work of getting rid of books.

“A book can wait a thousand years unread until the right reader comes along.” George Steiner

I identify myself as a reader so it is particularly hard to get rid of my books. As a visual learner, reading is the way I make sense of the world. I am at ease with books around me.

There is a special bookcase in my house of books I have read and loved. Books aren’t impersonal objects to me.They carry in their pages the moments of my life. They were in suitcases with me on my trips. I found one from my honeymoon, my college favorites, books I read to my children, books that made the trip from New York to LA so many years ago and books that changed my life. I went through my books one by one. There was a lot of stuff in the pages. I found quotes that I had written down on little pieces of paper, theatre tickets, flower petals, letters and photos.

Inside the books themselves were worlds so much bigger than mine – Hemingway’s Paris, Bulgakov’s Moscow, Kazanzakis’ Zorba and Tolstoys’ Anna Karenina. The list is endless.There were characters that felt like I did about things from authors like  Kerouac, Eggars, Rand, Salinger, Hughes, Frankl, Vonnegut, Potok, Conroy,  Didion, Fitzgerald, Leibowitz and Wolfe. It was authors like Marquez, Llosa, Proust, Allende, Cervantes, Camus, Murakami and Hesse that made me want to see the world they came from. My most tattered book is “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. It is a book I often reread when I need any kind of self-help or understanding about the world.

I would never get rid of books willingly. Paperbacks and fast reads were the easiest to part with, I had a hard time with unread books. I have a lot of them on my night table that I want to read but haven’t gotten to yet. I have to read every book I have ever bought eventually. A book doesn’t have to be read by a certain date.  Whenever I read it is always the right time. Classics, favorites, Pulitzer Prize winners, coffee table art and travel books are still with me. Some will stay in storage for a while because I can’t part with them yet.

Books connect us  and explain things in ways that I often can’t. I asked my kids what they wanted from the house. My son said,”Ill take all your books.“

Fly safe,

JAZ

Ten Children’s Books That Inspired Me To Travel

Ten Children’s Books That Inspired Me To Travel

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.                                                 You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Dr Seuss, Oh The Places You’ll Go

When we are kids, books bring us the world before we have a chance to experience it. We get to see life in our imaginations first. Our books give us perspective and lets us know that there is more than one way to view the world. They expand our universe beyond time and place and inspire us to dream.

I thought about what books I read when I was a child that widened my world and made me want to go out and explore it.

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

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Max’s imagination transforms his bedroom into an extraordinary setting, with a forest and an ocean and a little boat that Max sails in until he comes to a land full of “wild things.” Although they look and sound very fierce, Max is able to tame them with a single glance. They all realize Max is “..the most wild thing of all” and make him their king.

The wild things were modeled after Maurice Sendak’s immigrant relatives who arrived after World War ll. They spoke a foreign language, had wild hair, smelled differently, ate different foods and held him to tight; people who frightened him at first and then he quickly grew to love. Though the theme of the book is dealing with anger at those you love through imagination, to me, it was about having an adventure. The world might look scary but it really wasn’t as long as you knew how to tame the monsters.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

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Pippi is an unconventional super strong nine-year old girl who lives with her monkey and her horse in a house called Villa Villekula in a town in Sweden. She befriends Tommy and Annika next door and the three have many adventures. Pippi is every kid’s fantasy. She can do whatever she wants , eat whatever she wants , say whatever she wants, not go to school and is afraid of no one. Pippi is the daughter of a South Seas ship captain who is believed to be lost at sea. Pippi enjoys sharing memories of sailing around the world with him and believes he is still alive. What kid did not want to be Pippi especially when she went to the South Seas to be with her father who was not a Cannibal king.

 Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

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Madeline has always been one of my favorite children’s books. I can probably still recite it.” In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…’Madeline lived in what appears to be a Catholic boarding school or orphanage who takes a legendary trip to the hospital to have her appendix removed in rhyme. Madeline was the smallest seven-year old in the group. So was I and the illustrations made Paris look like a wonderful place.

 Ferdinand The Bull by Munro Leaf

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Ferdinand would much rather smell the flowers than butt heads with the other cows. When the men come to choose the bull for the fight, Ferdinand accidentally sits on a bumblebee. The men see him dash around madly, so they pick Ferdinand send him to Madrid. At the bullfight all Ferdinand cares about is the bouquet of flowers a woman tossed to the matador so they send him back to the pasture, “where to this day he is still smelling the flowers.”

The book was published in 1936, nine months before the Spanish Civil war and was seen as a pacifist book. Franco banned it in Spain. It was burned in Nazi Germany. Stalin allowed it in Poland as the only non communist children’s book and it was Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite book.

I wanted to see the bullring of Spain that Ferdinand was taken to and weirdly I did. The illustrations in the book are not of Madrid but of the beautiful city of Ronda in Andalusia which has the gorge, the old bridge and the oldest bullring in Spain. They are faithfully reproduced in the drawings in the book. I recognized it when I was there and they told me I was right.

 The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop.

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“Once upon a time there were five Chinese Brothers and they all looked exactly alike.  They lived with their mother in a little house not far from the sea.The first Chinese brother could swallow the sea.  The second Chinese brother had an iron neck.  The third Chinese brother could stretch and stretch and stretch his legs.  The fourth Chinese brother could not be burned.  The fifth Chinese brother could hold his breath indefinitely……”

One brother is punished unfairly and they outwit their executioner by using these abilities. The book was published in 1938 and by today’s standards the artwork is considered to be promoting stereotypes. But as a kid I loved those Chinese pictures and already liked egg rolls.

 The Story Of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

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Babar was a French children’s book published in 1931 and brought to America and Britain in 1933 by AA Milne. Babar is a young elephant living in the jungle. His mother is killed by a hunter and Babar escapes to the city. He returns to the jungle and brings the lessons of civilization with him. Just as he returns the King of the Elephants dies. Because of his travels and civilization, Babar is appointed King of the Elephants and goes on to teach many valuable lessons. I learned early on that travel is always a good thing and there is a lot death in children’s books.

Harold and the Purple Crayon By Crocket Johnson

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One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.” So begins a story that shows just how far your imagination can take you. Armed only with an oversized purple crayon, Harold draws himself a landscape full of beauty and excitement. He conducts his adventure with caution drawing landmarks to make sure he won’t get lost and sketching a boat when he finds himself in deep water. I plan my trips like that as well.

 Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

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How did the camel get his hump? Why won’t cats do as they are told? Who invented reading and writing? How did the elephant get his trunk?

Kipling’s collection of stories brought me to distant lands and jungles and answered questions that all children had. His stories are based on the fables of India and oral traditions of Africa. They are intertwined with little pearls of wisdom about the pitfalls of arrogance and pride and the importance of curiosity, imagination, and inventiveness.

 Stone Soup by Marcia Brown

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Stone Soup is an old folk story in which hungry strangers trick the local self involved people of a village to share their food. It has been told as a lesson in coöperation. There are many versions of this story from different countries. As a kid from New York City, the village thing was fascinating. Even as an adult when traveling I really feel that I’m somewhere different when I’m in a village.

 The Little Prince by Anton St Exupery

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The Little Prince is a book for children written for grown-ups. It is an allegory about human nature. But as a child, it was story about a grownup aviator who’s plane crashes into the Sahara Desert. He meets a little boy from asteroid B-612 where he has left behind three volcanoes and a rose. Before reaching Earth, he has visited other planets and met some very odd people. He learned many important life lessons when traveling through the solar system which he imparts to the aviator and the two develop an interesting friendship. The hardest lesson for me was that sometimes friends part ways. I always wanted to be the little prince telling stories about my visits to the other planets.

Fly Safe,

JAZ

PS. These photos were taken off the internet. I’m not sure who to give credit to but if it gets you to read one of these stories to a child or reread one yourself, I think the author won’t mind.

BYOB Bring Your Own Books

BYOB    Bring Your Own Books

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” Annie  Lamott

I love reading novels that take place in different countries. I like reading them when I travel to the countries. I enjoy getting lost in them at home.

I was fortunate to discover “Traveler’s Bookcase” in Los Angeles. The first thing I do after planning a trip is to go and get their book recommendations.  I’m either traveling somewhere they have been and loved or somewhere they want to go. They are always happy about my trips.  Sometimes when I am ambivalent (why did I pick that place?), I leave there with an armful of travel books and a lot of excitement..  They recommend the best and most recent guide books and their favorite novels .

The Traveler’s Bookcase ( www.travelbooks.com ) is owned by Natalie  Compagno and Greg Freitas . Natalie and Greg look like the cool kids that you wanted to be friends with in high school. They are good-looking, trendy and fun  –they do not look like book store owners. They love travel and books and will help in any way they can. If they don’t know something, they have a friend who does.  This list is based on their recommendations to me –they are always spot on.  If you live in Los Angeles, I strongly urge you to stop in . It is on the same block as Magnolia Cupcakes. You can’t go wrong. The first novel they recommended to me was the Master and the Margarita when I was going to Russia. .It is one of my favorite books and the first one I will recommend to you.

MASTER AND THE MARGARITA  by Mikhail Bulgakov 1937   Russia

This is an allegory based on the premise of a visit by the Devil to  the Soviet  Union. It is beautifully written and there are meanings within meanings. The novel alternates between two settings – 1930’s Moscow and the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate. There is Professor Woland, a mysterious gentlemen of uncertain origin and his group of henchman including a gun happy fast talking cat named Behemoth.  They target the literary élite in Moscow. In the second part we meet the Master, an embittered author  and his lover Margarita. It is considered by many to be the greatest novel of the twentieth century.  (video is the Rolling Stones -Sympathy For The Devil which is based on the book Master And The Margarita, over the Russian miniseries of the book)

THE JUKEBOX QUEEN OF MALTA by Nicholas Rinaldi 1999 Malta

The story is about the Siege of Malta during World War Two. Rocco Raven an American radio operator posted in Malta and working closely with the British Intelligence, falls in love with Melita a Maltese woman who travels around the island repairing jukeboxes. It shows the reactions of the Maltese people and the military defense of the island during the destruction caused by the German bombing .

THE GLASS PALACE by Amitav Ghosh 2000 Burma

The novel is set in Burma  and spans a century from the fall of the Konbaung Dynasty in Mandalay, through the  Second World War to modern times. Focusing mainly on the early 20th Century, it explores a broad range of issues, ranging from the changing economic landscape of Burma and India, to pertinent questions about what makes up a modern society. I took it with me to Burma.

PURGE  by Sofi Oksanen 2008 Estonia

Purge is a story of two women forced to face their own dark pasts, of collusion and resistance, of rape and sexual slavery set against the backdrop of the Soviet occupation of Estonia. Purge was  based upon her original play of the same name, staged at the Finnish National Theatre in 2007.[ As of 2010, Purge is the only one of Oksanen’s novels which has been translated into English. I read it in one night. I could not put it down.

WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga 2008 India

This first novel tells the story of the journey of Bairam Halwai. He is  a boy from a village who goes to Delhi to work as a chauffeur and then to  Banglore where he kills his master.  He becomes a successful entrepreneur  and transcends his caste.The novel examines issues of religion, caste, loyalty, corruption and poverty in India

ELEGANCE OF A HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery 2006 France

This is the story of the events in the life of a concierge, Renée Michel, whose deliberately concealed intelligence is uncovered by an unstable but intellectually precocious girl named Paloma Josse. Paloma lives in the upper class Parisienne apartment building where Renée works.

The book is full of allusions to literary works, music, films, and paintings. It incorporates themes about philosophy, class conscience and personal conflict.

THE BRIDGE ON THE DRINA by Ivo Andric 1945 Bosnia-Herzekovina

The Bridge on the Drina revolves around the town of Visegrad and  the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge over the Drina River. It is written beautifully.  The story spans four centuries during the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian regimes. It describes the lives, destinies and relations of the local villagers with a particular focus on Muslims and Orthodox Christians living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Andric won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his entire literary work but mostly for this novel in 1961.

THE BERLIN STORIES By Christopher Isherwood 1945 Germany

The Berlin Stories is a book consisting of two short novels Goodbye to Berlin and Mr Norris Changes Trains. They are set in Berlin in 1931 just as Hitler was coming in to power. They depict  a life of cafes and quaint avenues, bizarre nightlife, dreamers, mobs and millionaires. It was the basis for the play I Am A Camera which went on to inspire the musical Cabaret.

HELIOPOLIS  by James Scudamore 2009 Brazil

Heliopolis is  set in São Paulo Brazil. It follows the story of Ludo dos Santos – a young man born in  a favela (slum community). He leaves and eventually returns to the favela . It is  a comic, violent, poignant, different kind of rags to riches story.

WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith 2000 England

White teeth focuses on the later lives of two wartime friends – Samad Iqbal and Archie Jones and their families in London. The story mixes pathos and humor .  It describes the immigrant experience In Great Britain and also satirizes the middle and working class British cultures.

There are many more recommendations. I thought we would start with these. Let me know any of your favorite books that take place in a foreign country or your own.

Fly safe,

JAZ