Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Books

So, it's the end of January and time to tally up my books read during the month.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
A collection of stories set in Pakistan, this is one of the notable books of 2009. The stories all deal with various manifestations of love, in a less harsh manner than in "Maps for Lost Lovers" (about Pakistanis in London), though so many of the stories are tragic.

Brasyl by Ian MacDonald (on my TBR alternative list)
Science fiction novel set in the near future, 2006 and the 18th century. A bit confusing at first but once I settled into the world, it was an incredible book which meshes together history, culture and a mind-bending plot.

Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver. I also read Cathedral, another collection of stories, though half of them are also in 'Where I'm Calling From.'
Carver is one of America's greatest short story writers. His style is spare, able to evoke feelings with the minimum amount of words. He writes about ordinary people, trying to find an elusive something through externals - through alcohol, marrying someone new, abstaining from alcohol, divorcing someone, trying to stay married (though this is often by accident). My favorite story is "Cathedral", about how the unnamed character transcends jealousy when his wife invites her former employer, a blind man, into their home.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (on my TBR list)
I just finished this today - Atwood is such a master. In this story, she weaves together the life stories of four characters, tied together to someone who is truly evil.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
This book has an idea-driven plot, with interesting foundations: 1. All the oil in the world has run out so a greatly diminished population has to do with renewable power sources - such as mainsprings in cars, guns, etc. Much of the work previously done in the golden age of oil, is now done by human or animal labor. 2. Plagues have run through the world - developed by scientists, they have wiped out much of the crop production. Other genetically modified insects have wiped out the forests by goggling them up. There are any number of diseases that kill humans, or by killing crops have killed humans by starvation. GM companies in the US have both developed these plagues and genetically modified, sterile crops that resist them. Evil.

In order to deal with manual labor issues, genetically modified animals called 'Windups' have been developed. The plot revolves around a foreigner, a windup girl, various ministries in Thailand and refugees.

The writing is OK, repetitive in many places. Where I kinda get left off is the violence in the last third of the book. I'm a peacenik; I don't think the physical violence at the end really needed to advance the plot. However, I think the book is worth reading because of the ideas, and the near-futureness of it. It really could happen.

Wanting by Richard Flanagan
Historical fiction with three main components - 'civilizing' aborigines in Tasmania, where whole groups of people are relocated into villages. One of the children is picked out by the Governor's wife, Lady Jane Franklin to be the subject of her grand experiment to see if a Christian veneer can take. The second component is Sir John Franklin's exploration in the artic. And the third revolves around Charles Dickens and the staging of a play based on John Franklin's tragic end.

This book is very intense, sad and wonderful and maybe packed too tightly into its slim volume. But there are thoughtful and beautiful passages. Because of the complexity of the three stories, I think that it really could be three times as long.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Winter in Thailand

christmas display in bkk

Although the calendar says, "Winter," we never see snow in SE Asia. There was rumor of snowfall in Xieng Khouang in 1984 but the blizzard that drop 1 cm. on Phonsavanh, left quickly and all the snow melted by the afternoon. There are periodic sightings of 'snow' which turn out to be early morning frost. Yes, it does get cold enough to freeze water in some places and make you put on several layers of coats - but not enough to get your feet wet.

There are displays of snow men and Santa Claus in the shopping malls. Maybe it's cold enough to snow wads of money during the shopping season.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

That's My World!

line of trees

These old trees line the road in front of Hor Pra Keo, a former Buddhist temple which is now a museum. I took this picture on Tuesday while walking to the bank. Along with the tree-lined streets and the history of the roads and the old French buildings, Vientiane has a distinct feel!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Best Conference

Continuing the suggestion from Gwen Bell's blog: "Best Conference of 2009."

Living in a Developing Country, I don't often get a chance to attend conferences. When a conference does happen in-country, I'm often in the field and usually don't hear about it until I return and I hear how good the conference was. There are conference offerings in Thailand - if I get a chance to go to Khon Kaen which has the main university hospital for NE Thailand, I see posters for very interesting medical conferences on the walls of the elevators and on bulletin boards but usually for the previous week or the next week. Nothing seems to happen in the present.

So, this past year I went to the University of Washington 'Advances in Family Practice Conference.' I think this is the fifth time I've attended. All the topics are interesting and practical, reflecting the current practice standards for assessment, diagnosis and treatment of common problems that medical providers see in their clinics. It's a great chance to review and meet other primary care physicians and physician assistants.

Monday, January 04, 2010

My list of 'Best of Books read in 2009'

Looks like I read 74 books this year. Thought I read more, but I think I forgot to list them on Goodreads. Well, that's the way it goes.

Books I liked the best:

1. Year of the Flood by Marget Atwood
2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
3. Cats Eye by Margaret Atwood (you can tell I'm a fan of this great writer)
4. Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips
5. The Thing around Your Neck by Chimanada Ngozi Adichie
6. Tinkers by Paul Harding
7. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
8. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
9. A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
10. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

I also read A Wild Sheep Chase, which I thought I had read several years ago, but it didn't seem familiar in a Murakami kind of way. So after I read Dance, Dance, Dance I read A Wild Sheep Chase. Love Murakami's writing. Also re-read Norwegian Wood. I kinda put these separate, as any list that I compose, which includes Murakami, would mean that the books by Murakami would come out on top, as far as I'm concerned.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

2010 recommendations: Just be the Best I can be!

At this time of the year, blog posts focus on the best and worst of the past year. Even more amazing, there are many articles on the best and worst of the decade. I can't believe that we've gotten through the first ten years of the millennium. And I've spent them all in Laos.

Along with looking back over the year or decade, everyone posts their resolutions for the new year, or why they don't believe in resolutions and won't post any resolutions. At a new year's party last night, I asked some of my Lao staff if they had resolutions. At first, they were confused because the word 'resolution' is translated as mat-tii , meaning 'law' or 'decree.' So I explained that in this context, it was like a personal law or decree for what they would like to change or try out in the new year. They all laughed and told me that they always want to do the best they can so why do they need to make their own laws?

Well, I was hoping that one of them would say something like, "I'd like to write better quarterly reports and get them in on time." Sigh. I just know that they will continue to do the best possible...

For myself, I really don't make resolutions. My situation is always changing so if I say, "I resolve to write 2,000 words/ day" or "I resolve to run 5 miles/ day," if I don't do it, then I feel bad. So I prefer to make recommendations for myself, such as:

Writing 500,000 words this year. Three years ago, I tracked my writing. I felt my writing was improving and I had the time and energy to keep at it. I discovered that if I wrote a lot, it became easier and my writing grew better. At the end of 2006, I had written about 370,000 words. So, I recommend to myself to write 500,000 words and see what happens.

Train for a half-marathon, whether I end up running in one or not. I always think a lot while I'm running and it frees my mind.

Read as much as possible this year. I always try to read one hundred books/ year which includes lighter reading as well as massive books which have won Booker or other literary awards. I still have a backlog of books, so I'm participating in the 'TBR challenge'.

Try to be patient and be a better boss. That also means handing over more work to my staff so I'm not left with it, which makes me feel crabby and uncreative.

Travel more in the region. I recently found out that I have frequent flier miles on Thai Airways that I have to use. It looks like I'll be doing some work in Nepal in February/ March so I'm going to travel a bit there (someplace safe as the political situation there is always changing).

Strive for quality and not quantity in these recommendations and don't get upset if I don't always live up to them. Just live a good and meaningful life, that's my main resolution.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Worst Books of the Decade!

Well, if there's going to be a list for the best, there should also be a list for the worst. Actually, it's weird - the Davinci Code is on both the best and the worst lists! I haven't read any of these books, though I did try to start Vernon God Little. Although it did win the Booker Award in 2003, I found it hard to get through because the main character is just so unlikable.

Anyway, about this list - I can you can say that it's the 'best of the worst of the decade.'

The post is rising to the challenge of National Blog Posting Month. This month's challenge at NaBloPoMo is to post daily about "The Best of...."

Friday, January 01, 2010

Sky Watch Friday - 01/01/10


Happy New Year everyone! I managed to fall asleep early in the evening after returning from one party. The sound of firecrackers in the neighborhood and the lower booms of fireworks in downtown Vientiane woke me just for a moment at midnight but didn’t keep me awake.

So this morning I felt very energetic and took a six mile walk in the afternoon. The day ended a large cloud over Thailand, with the sun peeking out of the upper layers.

sunrays 1 jan 10

It’s unusual to have much rain during this time of the year. There are some showers during January and February, called the “Mango Rains,” necessary for the fruit to get juicy and sweet.

In general, the skies are clear in the afternoons. I like the view in the mountains, where the high grasses dry out and refract the sunlight. This view is along Rt. 13 going north toward Louang Prabang, before the turnoff on Rt. 7 to Xieng Khouang.

dramatic grasses

And a couple of views of the sky through my backyard. I tried a bit of High def on this plum blossom:


Unfortunately, the wind was blowing which is why it looks like it should be viewed through 3D glasses.

And my papaya tree. I wonder how many will be ripe by the time I return to Xieng Khouang. I brought a few green ones back with me to Vientiane - once they ripened, they were delicious.

papaya tree

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

The best Books of the Decade!

I've been reading all sorts of "Best of Lists". No only do we have to go through our memories for the best of 2009 but also the best of the decade.

The Times of London list of the best 100 books of the decade is fun. I've read 25 of the 100 books, which includes the last Harry Potter book (although I've read only one of the previous books).

The books I have read on the list were:

1 The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
7 Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2002)
9 Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
14 Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi (2003) - I was so impressed with this book when I read it the first time, as part of a group read in the old Barnes and Noble Book Groups. The discussion was led by Azar Nafisi herself. I really felt I got to know the author. I read and re-read some of the books they had discussed such as the Great Gatsby and Lolita.
17 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (2007)
19 The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
20 White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
24 Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005) - speculative fiction at its finest.
25 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (2003)
29 The Accidental by Ali Smith (2005)
30 The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
32 Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2002)
46 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
55 Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (2007) - This is the real story in Iraq. I plan to re-read it some time and review articles on the some of the events he discusses.
56 If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor (2002)
60 Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond (2005)
62 Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002) - loved this book - incredible descriptions and plot twists.
66 Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004) - one of my favorite books. I've read it twice already.
72 True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2001)
73 Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (2005) - Great collection of Murakami's stories.
80 The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008)
84 Unless by Carol Shields (2002)
96 The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda's Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (2006)
97 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)
98 Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie(2007) - another one of my favorites.

Books I have but haven't read but promise to read this year:
2 Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2003)
5 Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (2006)
6 The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
12 A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (2000)
13 Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald (2001)
15 The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006)
21 The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (2004)
28 The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross (2007)
39 Runaway by Alice Munro (2005)
41 The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (2008)
44 Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (2005)
48 A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2003)
54 Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss (2003)
61The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
69 My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (2001)
94 Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta (2005)
83 This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (2008)

This month is NaBloPoMo's challenge - "The Best of...."