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!