Tag Archives: reading

A Novel Idea in Tanzania

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A Novel Idea in Dar es Salaam.

I’m in Tanzania with the International Reporting Project (IRP). (Learn more about our reporting trips here!)

As I discovered in Zambia, I love visiting local bookstores in new countries. This morning, in between exchanging money and buying SIM cards, I visited this lovely little book nook down the street.

The nice young lady who rather shyly showed me around the store.

The nice young lady who rather shyly showed me around the store.


Although they didn’t have many books from Tanzania (not counting nature and guidebooks), the bookstore had an impressive “African Interest” section.

This was the book the staff recommended. It's set in Tanzania, even if the author lives in Canada.

This was the book the staff recommended. It’s set in Tanzania, even if the author lives in Canada.


Another local pick.


If this book didn’t weigh easily 10 pounds, I would have gotten it. I still might.


Children's book room, complete with a Learning Tree.

Children’s book room, complete with a Learning Tree.


The store was cozy and bright.

I love the books shelved high up--reminds me of Belle's library in "Beauty and the Beast."

I love the books shelved high up–reminds me of Belle’s library in “Beauty and the Beast.”


It’s amazing how many books they were able to fit in one small store.

Planet Books, a Zambian Literature Destination

When I was preparing for this trip to Zambia, I was disappointed by the limited literary selection that I found online. Where was the Zambian Achebe or Adichie? Lusaka’s Coetzee?

I was delighted, then, to pass by Planet Books today on my way to lunch. I ducked in and quickly inquired of the salesmen: Where on earth are the books about Zambia or by Zambian authors? Without a word, they dispersed around the store, returning with book after book. In addition to their personal recommendations, they also have several shelves devoted to local literature. What a relief!

I was particularly impressed with the salesman’s knowledge of and passion for Zambian books. They pressed volume after volume into my hands. When I told one about my struggle to find internationally recognized titles, he nodded his head sympathetically. “Zambia does not have many authors,” he said, before darting off to bring me another recommended read.

It just goes to show: Bookstores always trump online shopping!

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After much deliberation, I purchased this book–my new Planet Books friend recommended it most highly.

Check out Planet Books on Facebook!

Read Like a Writer: Join the Club

I’ve contributed to the wonderful Literature and Libation, which is run by my classmate and good friend Oliver Gray. Check out the post, and don’t forget to subscribe to his blog–he’s got some very solid advice for writers!

So you want to be a writer? Join the club.

The book club, that is.

If you are serious about writing, start reading. Whether you want to write fiction or nonfiction, articles or trilogies, you need to be aware of what else is out there. Keep reading…

Spring Readathon 2012

This is one of my favorite weekends of the year–Spring Readathon! Jack is away for the weekend, and I’ve got a stack of books that I have fallen behind on reading and reviewing.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot more writing and research than reading. I’ve got a list of books I’d promised to review already, and I feel terribly that I haven’t finished them yet. This weekend will change all that.

Today I’ll be finishing a few books I’m already in the middle of, like Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd and Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream. Both of these cover serious topics, which has made it difficult to fly through them, but they are both fascinating for completely different reasons.

Then I’m planning to get through several books on my Spring TBR List:


I’ve got to finish them in order to make room for more!

I’ll be updating my progress every few hours, so stay tuned.

February Reads

Have you heard about FridayReads?

It began on Twitter with the hashtag #fridayreads, and quickly spread to other social networking sites, including Facebook. The idea is delightfully simple: Tell your friends what you are reading each week, whether it’s a book, magazine, newspaper, report–anything!

While the founders recently came under fire for promoting certain authors’ books through the meme, I can’t stay mad at FridayReads for very long. After all, what can be better than encouraging people to read–and to share their opinions with their friends?

That brings me to my February reading plans. This month, I’ve already begun All There Is, a collection of love stories edited by Dave Isay, and War by Sebastian Junger on audiobook. Next, I’m planning to take on The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson and The Taker by Alma Katsu. February is a short month, but I’m hoping to round it out with Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.

In addition, I’m planning to get caught up on my National Geographic Traveler subscription, and begin reading this month’s Esquire–featuring none other than President Bill Clinton.

What about you–what are you reading?

I receive a very small commission when you purchase the book or publication through the above links to Indiebound and Amazon. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

Top Ten Book Club Picks

I’ll admit, I’ve never been good about attending a book group. But I usually follow along, reading each selection in the quiet of my own home. So I’ve never before offered recommendations.

If I did, however, I would look for books that have a lot of complexity, so that there will be many angles to approach a discussion about the book. They also have to be memorable–the kind of books you can’t stop thinking about long after you’ve put them down.

10. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
This is a quintessential D.C. book (my review here); more than simply preserving familiar sights, Mengestu captures the feeling of a D.C. community caught between two worlds, which would in itself make for very interesting discussion. But the main character’s experience—as an immigrant, a man, an American— and his place in society also leaves a lot open to interpretation.

9. Push by Sapphire
Push is not an easy book to read or even talk about. But it’s totally worth it. Sapphire exposes the pain of abuse and neglect, but more importantly, she presents a strong black heroine who takes her own life into her hands. This book came highly recommended from many of my friends, and it is guaranteed to get a reaction from book-group readers.

8. Holy Ghost Girl by Donna M. Johnson
In her memoir (my review here), Donna Johnson offers insight into the complexity of faith and why people choose to follow charismatic leaders, all without without being judgmental—a seemingly Herculean task that Johnson manages without even breaking into a literary sweat. Book group members will enjoy teasing out the complexity of the black-and-white world of big tent revivalists.

7. Faith by Jennifer Haigh
In Faith, Jennifer Haigh reveals an entangled world of secrets and beliefs, pain and joy, identity and desire, and the enduring ties of family and faith. She tackles a difficult topic, but she does so with grace and aplomb (my review here). This is a timely book that is sure to inspire a meaningful conversation.

6. Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
Next to Love is moving and beautiful, rich with the pain and the joys of vivid and believable men and women (my review here). The book delicately handles sweeping topics such as war, love, grief, and equality, which almost certainly lead to a great conversation.

5. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Tatjana Soli paints a vivid picture of 1960s Vietnam in The Lotus Eaters (my review here), and her prose reflects the jarring hardness of war, the allure of obsession, and the tenderness of love in turns. I think Soli’s exploration of the emotional and physical effects of the war on all sides—Vietnamese and American, soldier and civilian—would elicit strong reactions from all ages.

4. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
Brockmeier’s characters are painfully insightful and wonderfully human, and I think readers from all walks of life will identify with some, if not all, of them. (I did.) The journal that passes from person to person makes them greater than they were—a brilliance greater than their loneliness and pain.

3. Camp Nine by Vivienne R. Schiffer
In Camp Nine, Vivienne Schiffer shows readers a hidden side of the Delta, when racial tensions cracked the surface of a small town’s placid surface (my review here). Schiffer expertly teases out various themes of family and history in a world where little is forgotten, and her portrayal of the vast chasms within its society in the forties is fantastic. I think I would’ve enjoyed the novel even more if I’d discussed it in a group; it’s a short book, but there is a lot at play in the story.

2. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls’s account of her less-than-idyllic childhood is a must read, and I would love to get a group together to talk about this engaging memoir. Her story inspires pity and incredulity at some points and joy and optimism at others. This book was highly recommended by several women I know, and after I tore through it, I passed it on to other women, all of whom agree that Walls is a powerful storyteller. I’d love to hear a guy’s perspective, too.

1. The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber
This book covers so much ground–race, class, women’s rights, war—without feeling sluggish or heavy. As I described it in my review, “It’s as though Little House on the Prairie grew up and developed a racially and culturally aware conscience.” Weisgarber offers many topics for discussion while also crafting a thoroughly enjoyable story.

Creating this list makes me wish I were a more active part of a book club. What do you think–should I finally start taking attendance seriously?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

I receive a very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links to Indiebound. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

Subscription Saturday: Poets & Writers

I’ve had a subscription to Poets & Writers for a few months, and I highly recommend a subscription for amateur and professional wordsmiths alike. Each issue is devoted to an important part of being a writer: finding a literary agent, choosing an MFA program, establishing a writing community, staying passionate and inspired.

The November/December 2011 issue–the Community issue–featured a profile of Joan Didion and an excerpt from her recently released memoir, Blue Nights. But there were other goodies tucked in its pages as well: a discussion of the evolving state of literary magazines, a humorous examination of the state of bookstores, a guide to social networks, and lists of upcoming contests and conferences, among others.

Unlike glossy magazines, which seem designed to be leafed through, Poets & Writers pulls me into each article and I end up spending hours on each issue. The magazine has a literary and somewhat academic feel to it. This is a serious publication for serious writers. Each issue is dense with information and advice for new and established word-wranglers.

Surprisingly, the advertisements in the magazine feel like a cohesive part of the publication. Information on MFA programs, fellowships, and independent publishers sprinkle the pages; if you are thinking of studying writing or publishing a work, this is a good resource for you.

Beyond being a source of information, however, the magazine serves a much more important role: community-building. It’s no secret that writing can be a very isolated and isolating activity, but whenever I receive Poets & Writers, I am reminded that I am part of a vibrant community of writers. I’m always encouraged to look at a very familiar and beloved activity in new ways, and I always end up being prompted to write something after reading even a few minutes. Priceless!

The Verdict

Subscribe for a Year | Buy an Issue | Read at the Library

Subscription Saturday is a way for me to keep track of the print and digital publications that I’ve been reading lately.

Interested? Read it for yourself! Buy an issue or subscription to Poets & Writers from Amazon (Kindle version).

I receive a very, very small commission when you purchase a magazine through the above links. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

In My Mailbox: Laura Hillenbrand, Suzanne Collins, and Gift Cards!

Books in This Episode

Bookstores in This Episode

In My Mailbox is a way for book bloggers to discuss all of the books that they come across each week.

Top Ten Books of 2011

You may have noticed that all of the books I’ve been reviewing lately have been really great. If you thought to yourself, “My, it seems like Melody is just reviewing a bunch of books that she read throughout the year and wanted to post before the end of the year because they deserved a spot on her top ten books of 2011 list,” then you are absolutely correct.

This year has been an excellent year in reading for me, and I’m excited to share the list of my favorites with you. (All of the hyperlinked titles lead back to my reviews.) I’ll be keeping my eye on all of these authors for future releases. I hope you enjoy my selections; have a happy new year!

10. Push by Sapphire
Push is not an easy book to read, even though it is short; it deftly exposes the intense pain of abuse and neglect. However, despite the difficult subjects explored in the book, I ultimately found it to be powerful and optimistic. It will keep you up at night thinking about everything Precious, the main character, endured and overcame.

9. Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
Next to Love is moving and beautiful, rich with the pain and the joys of vivid and believable men and women. Ellen Feldman weaves a compelling narrative and delicately handles sweeping topics such as war, love, grief, and equality. This book grew more powerful in my imagination in the weeks and months after finishing it, and even now I find myself thinking about the characters and their stories.

8. The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber
Ann Wesigarber’s first book, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, is a welcome addition to my collection of well-loved pioneer stories. Weisgarber manages to cover race, class, women’s rights, and war in powerful and spare prose without losing sight of her main character’s compelling narrative. Rachel is well-developed, personable, authentic, and powerful, and the book’s layers of complexity unfold with perfect pacing.

7. Holy Ghost Girl by Donna M. Johnson
Donna Johnson’s account of her unusual life with Holy Rollers is surreal but convincing, powerful without seeming overwrought, and insightful without being judgmental. Johnson ably demonstrates the complexity of faith and offers an explanation for why people choose to follow charismatic leaders, teasing out the complexity of a black-and-white world. Though the details of my upbringing were drastically different from Johnson’s, this book hit countless familiar notes for me.

6. The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
One of my regrets in 2011 is that I haven’t yet reviewed three of the best books I read this year. Thankfully, Jack already reviewed the series as a whole. I promise to post my own thoughts of the books next month, but Jack’s observations are pretty spot-on. Abercrombie expertly turns the reader’s understanding of the tropes and expectations he may have about the fantasy genre against him. And the series is fun—Abercrombie’s story balances historical allegory and social commentary with more standard fantasy fare to keep the narrative from getting bogged down. The final book ties it all together for a finish that is both climactic and unexpected.

5. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
In a world where pain is visible, love must also be palpable, and Kevin Brockmeier expertly balances the two. Brockmeier is a skilled storyteller, and he makes each character incredibly endearing, painfully insightful, and wonderfully human. I enjoyed every page of this well-crafted and imaginative book.

4. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis Sittenfeld had her work cut out for her when she began writing a book about the fictional inner world of former First Lady Laura Bush. Luckily, she succeeded. American Wife presents an incredibly empathetic and deeply complex heroine who is fully aware of the contradictions of her own life. It quietly tackles love, grief, compromise, and character with subtly powerful prose. It is masterfully constructed and beautifully written, and it will make you think twice about our controversial president’s spotlight-shy wife.

3. The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst
The Nobodies Album is an unconventional murder mystery whose the slow suspense is accentuated by the unfolding of the characters’ personal tragedies. The bonds between a mother and her child, the pain and power of loss, and the healing power of time are all prominent themes, but Parkhurst succeeds in simultaneously telling an intriguing story that had me questioning the motives of each character and wondering how it will all end. The Nobodies Album is the perfect blend of literary artistry and suspenseful storytelling. Lost and Found, Parkhurst’s second novel, appeared on my Top 5 Books of 2010 list, and with this novel Parkhurst has confirmed her place as one of my favorite authors.

2. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Don’t let Delirium fool you. It may look like a dystopian Young Adult romance, but this book effortlessly transcends those genres and succeeds in telling a fascinating story very well. I was swept into the story, feeling utterly in sync with the heroine as she makes discovery after wrenching discovery. Although Lauren Oliver is a masterful world-builder, it wasn’t just the story that sucked me in; it was also Oliver’s writing. I really enjoyed Before I Fall, but Oliver has truly honed her craft in this, her second book.

1. Bossypants by Tina Fey
Bossypants is one of the funniest books I have ever read. But this book isn’t just about humor. It’s about making it. Fey’s rock-solid work ethic and unbeatable ambition are what vaulted her to the top of the old boys’ club of comedy, and her life story–infused with her signature slapdash humor–is inspiring to anyone pursuing her dreams. But it is also very, very funny. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author, and I laughed for about five hours straight. It’s a must-hear/must-read!

I was surprised to note that all but two on this list are from women writers. I suppose I’m a bigger fan of women’s fiction than I’d thought; next month, I will be celebrating winners of the Orange Prize, which is awarded to women who write fiction. But more on that later!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Books on My Christmas List

This week, I’m listing the top ten books I hope Santa brings. Of course, if Santa has already purchased a book for me that’s not on the list, I’m sure I will be no less joyful on Christmas day.

10. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
According to the Boston Globe, “This graceful memoir describes a true love affair with books.” I love memoirs and reading, so what could be better than a book about one reader’s year of grief and renewal? It’s the book I wished I had written.

9. The Girl Who Circumnavigated​ Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
I discovered this book on NPR’s top five sci fi/fantasy books of the year, and I immediately added it to my wish list. According to NPR, Neil Gaiman dubbed it “a glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian Fairy Tale.” Yes, please!

8. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
This book stayed pretty low on my radar until recently, when it appeared on several “Best Books of 2011″ lists. Promising more than 460 pages of original artwork–which explains why the book looks so long–it seems creative and fun, and Selznick is an author to watch.

7. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
A National Book Award finalist, a top ten book from the New York Review of Books, and winner of the 2011 Orange Prize, this book has scooped up almost every accolade that matters to me. (There’s still time for it to win the National Book Critic’s Circle award, too.) I haven’t wanted to read a book this doused in praise since A Visit From the Goon Squad!

6. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
This slim book went entirely unnoticed by me until it won the 2011 Man Booker Prize. (To be fair, I don’t follow that prize very closely.) Then Carrie at nomadreader gave it 5 out of 5 stars, and it zoomed to the top of my wishlist.

5. Charles Dickens: The Classic Radio Dramas
This collection includes Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, and Hard Times. Admittedly, I’ve already read all but the first and last titles, but man! This collection would look so good on my shelf, and it’s only $24!

4. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Again, this book was highly recommended by Carrie, who goes so far as to say that Tom Perrotta is her favorite author. Others I know have also read and recommended it, and it was a New York Times Notable Book for 2011. The premise is extremely interesting to me: A small town loses a hundred of its citizens in a Rapture-like event. It reminds me of The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier, one of my favorite books of the year.

3. Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
A colleague walked into my office a few months ago and told me I need to read this book, and since then I’ve seen it popping up everywhere. I loved Donia Bijan’s foodie memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie, and this volume seems very similar.

2. Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Millie, my unerring book recommender, had great things to say about Campbell’s first offering, American Salvage, which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. This book is also getting rave reviews, and it seems right up my alley.

1. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Named one of The New York Times‘ Best Book of the Year, nominated for the Orange Prize, this book is my kryptonite in 2011. I’ve been dying to read it, and I’ve even gotten it out from the library, but couldn’t read it in time. Every glowing review I read of it reminds me of how I haven’t finished it yet!

I’m on the library wait-list for most of these books, but it’s only a matter of time before I claim a copy for my own!

So, what about you–what books are you hoping to find under your tree?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!