December Reading Roundup + Giveaway

December was a busy life month and a slow reading month. It was also my final month before I headed off to new adventures, so you can probably understand that things have been a bit hectic. Alright, more than hectic. Extremely insane. I’ve packed up a life in rural Korea, relocated back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a month’s rest and preparation, had a big birthday party, dealt with over a week of nonstop family events and showed a visitor around my hometown, making sure he was absolutely convinced that Pittsburgh is the best. (Mission successful!) But now that it’s January and most of the circus has ended, I’m ready for some downtime.

So while I hope that January’s reading list will be a stronger showing, here’s what I managed to read this past insane December.

Korea: The Impossible Country by Daniel Tudor

korea impossible country

Nonfiction / Recommended

Written for those who know little to nothing about Korea, I still learned a ton while reading through sections on history, religion, pop music and even drinking culture. It’s thorough, it’s not biased and it’s overwhelmingly positive in its tone. Reading this book made me step back and appreciate just how incredible the economic story of Korea is and that there are a lot of amazing things about this tiny, kimchi-obsessed country.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

nelson mandela long walk to freedom

Nonfiction / Recommended

I read this book in honor of Mandela’s passing this past December, and reading his story, told in his own words, was an impressive and heart-wrenching experience. What else can I say, except what a man.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

haruki murakami norwegian wood

Fiction / Recommended

This is the first fiction novel I’ve read by Murakami and it was just as complex and fascinating as I’d imagined and heard about. This also came at a time when I needed literary escapes from the stress of moving across the world. This book didn’t change my life, but it was good.

Giveaway

This is my first ever giveaway, but it’s the holiday season (or at least it was) and there’s something I would love to pass on to one lucky reader. This past November, I read a book that I would put on a required reading list for the entire world, if I could. The book is called Woman: An Intimate Geography and was written by Natalie Angier. It was beautifully written, extremely scientific and informative, but able to hold the reader’s attention the entire way through. If you are a woman, you need to read this book, and if you are a man, you still should. Anyways, I have an extra (used) copy with very little wear, and I want to give a copy to one of you! I’ll also include a set of 4 notecards with some of my photographs printed on the front as a little bonus.

How do you win?

First, you need to comment on this post and answer a question for me: What was the best gift you gave this holiday season?

Second, I want you to tweet a link to any of my posts. Make sure to include @sallybsayz, my twitter handle, so I see it! Anything I’ve written on this blog is fine, so pick whatever you’d like.

That’s it! The giveaway will end in one week, at 11:45pm on January 8th, 2014. I’ll then choose a winner with a random number generator and notify you via email if you’re the lucky one! If you don’t win, I’d still recommend you take a look at that book and give it to yourself. It’s that good, in my opinion.

Anyways, I hope your holidays were merry and bright, that disassembling any Christmas trees goes off without a hitch and that you have a very happy new year! I can’t wait to read your answers.

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The question again: What is the best gift you gave this holiday season?

And if you have book suggestions, I want to hear about them!

As always, you can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

November Reading Roundup

I started this November out with some gung-ho reading habits.

Then I slowed down (way down, one book in two weeks down) and acted much more like a normal person; seeing friends, running errands and cleaning my house. Part of the reason I read so much, so quickly, is because I rented several library books all at once, and then realized I needed to read them all within two weeks. The thing about rented eBooks is that they return themselves when the time is up… both great and terrible. Needless to say, I learned my lesson, I will only be renting one eBook at a time from here on out. (Okay, maybe two. But never again four!)

November was full of nonfiction, but the reading was far from dry. I learned a lot about a huge variety of subjects (as I like to do), so I’m pretty happy with this month’s mental exercise. If I had to pick a favorite for November, then I’d choose Woman: An Intimate Geography. It’s a book that I can feel will stay with me for a while.

Ready to see the list? Take a look:

Throw Them All Out by Peter Schweizer

Nonfiction / Recommended

The topic is a fiery one: political corruption. The author does an excellent job of using both Republican and Democratic examples of corruption. I think we all know there are shady dealings at the top, but he spells out exactly how they happen, how they’re legal and why it’s not okay. At times, reading this made me sick to my stomach.

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Fiction / Recommended

There were tears, smiles and vigorous page turns while I read this book. It’s fascinating because of its descriptions of Africa and it’s captivating in the way good fiction should be. Oh, and profound, quotable life lessons galore.

Lovely Quote: “In all things, especially when it cost little and did no harm to others, Ghosh was his own man.”

Thank you Steve from Twenty First Century Nomad for the recommendation!

Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier

Nonfiction / Recommended

This was one of those rare books that really made a noticeable impact on my soul, I just feel different having read it. On my required reading list for every human on the planet, especially women, this book would be front and center. A top Amazon reviewer described the book perfectly: “scientific poetry”. Indeed.

Zen Under Fire: How I Found Peace in the Midst of War by Marianne Elliot

November reading roundup review zen under fire

Nonfiction / Recommended

Amazon says this book was over 300 pages, but it felt like a lot less. The memoir was interesting, emotional and a much-needed window into Afghanistan’s humanity and culture. And if you wanted someone to convince you of the benefits of yoga and meditation, I think you’ve found your book.

Tent Life in Siberia by George Kennan

Nonfiction / Neutral

Kennan recounts two years spent exploring Siberian Russia, living in tents, traveling on dog sleighs and spending time with indigenous populations. It’s an adventure book, with tidbits of fascinating information about what he saw, written in the late 1800s. I’m neutral on recommending it, just because adventure books aren’t really up my alley and I didn’t love it, but if you like this genre, then you’ll enjoy this book.

P.S. It’s free!

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Have book suggestions? I want to hear about them!

As always, you can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

October Reading Roundup

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I don’t use that word lightly. As a child, I’d stay up way past bedtime with a book and flashlight under the covers, so I could finish whatever Boxcar Children story I was reading. In middle school, my dad bribed me and my siblings (yes, with real money!) to read the Lord of the Rings series before watching the movies, and I breezed through it in less than a month while my brothers never did finish the books. Slackers.

During my time living abroad in Argentina, Austria or now South Korea, I looked for used books, English book stores or other means for getting physical books. When my stints were just half a year and I wasn’t particularly successful, it wasn’t as much of a big deal. I’d get home, go on a reading binge and all was well again. Living, really living in South Korea for over a year now has been a bit harder. I took books from a local book exchange that a friend maintains, but little of it was really my style. I bought some books from the English bookstore in Seoul, but to do that regularly? My wallet says ouch. I did manage to finish an epic 15 book series, reading it all on my iPhone, but that’s just eyeball suicide in the long run. I needed a better solution.

So this October, I finally “caved” and got an e-reader. I put caved in quotations, because what I really mean is I stopped being a nostalgic-for-paper-for-no-good-reason idiot. Yeah, I said it, people! If you’re living or traveling abroad, you love to read and you don’t have an e-reader… you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. Go buy one. Combined with my not-so-local-anymore library back home and a library card number, I’ve been able to access books I’ve been wanting to read for months on end, finally, and for free. Success.

So, I’ve decided to begin a series. This is both to share my literary endeavors with you and hopefully inspire you to pick up one of these books, as well as a way to keep myself reading consistently. If you’re not into books, first I beg you to reconsider, and if you’re still not interested in what I have to say about books, then ignore this post and its sequels. On the other hand, if you love you some words and books and stories, then boy, do I have some good content for you! Let’s go!

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones
The Lovely Bones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fiction / Recommended

This book isn’t life changing by any means, but it was well written, interesting and based off a cool story concept. If you like fiction and want to breeze through something that will make you smile at the end, then you’ll enjoy this one.

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nonfiction / Recommended

North Korea is depressing and fascinating. Sadly, though this book was published five years ago, the narratives from North Korean defectors haven’t changed. Quite an eye opening book.

The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

Nonfiction / Recommended

If you’re pro-life (no exceptions) or staunchly Christian, then I’m going to be upfront and tell you that you’re not going to like this book. But regardless of your beliefs, if you have an open mind and want to take a dive into some feminism, then this is a good, interesting book about the concept of virginity and its negative effect on young women.

What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam

Nonfiction / Not Recommended

I’m going to save you the trouble of reading this mini-book. (Yes, it’s a mini book and it’s not even worth the read.) Summary: successful people consistently get up very early in the morning (6am and earlier), and most of them exercise. You’re welcome!

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Fiction / Recommended

The story is original, captivating and interesting, and it will make you cry big, ugly tears right before you’re supposed to go on a date. I didn’t get any memorable life lessons out of this book, but after some of my nonfiction pursuits, that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, either.

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Have recommendations for me? I would love to hear them. Pass them on!

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Reading Roundup: The Wheel of Time Series Marathon

At the end of March 2013, I got my hands on fifteen e-books. These weren’t just any e-books, but a series of e-books. Not just any series, but a series that I’ve been reading on and off again for years, my childhood companion, characters and adventures that I grew up with. The Wheel of Time Series.

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Eight out of fifteen books total.

A little history: Robert Jordan published the first book of the series in 1990, and planned to make it six books long. That plan went out the window at some point, and he worked his life away, for another 17 years, to finish what would be a twelve book series. In a too-dramatic-to-believe fashion, he died with the last book unfinished. It was a disaster. But, since his sickness was slow and predictable, he readied notes and plans for the last book so that it could be completed by someone else after his death. His wife chose Brandon Sanderson to complete book twelve, who looked at Robert’s notes and (presumably) snorted loudly at the thought of all that storyline fitting into one book. So the series became fourteen books long, as book number twelve was split into three.

(If you’re wonder why I said fifteen books earlier, it’s because there is also a prequel that’s kind of part of the series but technically not.)

Book twelve and thirteen were published while I was still in University, so I was able to read them. I’ve been dying to finish the series ever since. But it took until 2013 for Sanderson to finish the final book, the epic ending. Feeling like I needed to do the series justice and really immerse myself into the story, to make the last book as meaningful and emotional as possible, I decided to do a complete re-read. All fifteen books, including the prequel.

So at the end of March 2013, it was time. Wheel of Time time. March 22nd, 2013: It began.

Update from March 25th, 2013 (read the original Tumblr post here):

“Recently, I’ve been a little antisocial…

Not just with the internet, but with everyone. Unanswered text messages sit on my phone. My friends have been asking when I’m free to Skype, when I’m free for dinner, what my plans are for the weekend. My initiative has been weak, my follow-ups non-existent. My heart isn’t in it.”

“Is there an end in sight? Yes… in thirteen books. So, let’s be honest, I’m a lost cause. My tiny apartment in the countryside has effectively become my cabin in the woods. Real life is so dull without epic good versus evil battles and crazy superhuman abilities that happen to these everyday characters. My brain wants to live in my books, not in reality.

To those who are trying to get in contact with me and failing… I apologize. But my head (and my heart) seem to be stuck in books, until further notice. Real life, I’ll see you later.”

Update from April 5th, 2013 (original Tumblr post here):

“Although this blog is about my life abroad, my current life is kind of swallowed up by the books I’ve been reading during nearly every hour I can spare. I wrote about my sudden obsessive onset, but I thought I’d let you know just how far I’ve gotten through the series so far. You can estimate for yourself how much more time I’ll need to finish, and get back to my normal, see-my-friends-and-the-daylight-occasionally life.” (Sally’s note in hindsight: HAH! Like I have friends to see.)

0. New Spring (prequel)
1. The Eye of the World
2. The Great Hunt
3. The Dragon Reborn
4. The Shadow Rising
5. The Fires of Heaven
6. Lord of Chaos
7. A Crown of Swords
8. The Path of Daggers
9. Winter’s Heart
10. Crossroads of Twilight
11. Knife of Dreams
12. The Gathering Storm
13. Towers of Midnight
14. A Memory of Light

The entire series has a total of 11,916 pages (thanks Wikipedia!) and over 4 million words. Epic, indeed. Since I started reading, I’ve gotten through five books and a little more than half of the sixth. Clearly, you can see why my social life has been suffering. Based on page count, I’m about 1/3 through the entire series.

And I’m still going strong. Let’s just say that the last book is going to be a serious affair for me. If anyone bothers me while I’m reading book #15… it won’t be a pretty sight.”

Completed on May 5th, 2013:

Finally, I finished. You read those dates correctly; in 44 days, I read 11,916 words. That’s 271 words per day, or one book every three days, on average. That, my friends, is definitely a sub-definition of insanity. Or maybe your average day at law school. Either way, I’ll need a little rest before I undertake something like this again.

The last book was the newest, and the only book I hadn’t read previously. It definitely lived up to my expectations, and then exceeded them and then kicked them on the floor and danced away. That’s how good the conclusion was. The only thing I’m sad about is that my favorite character didn’t make it to the end, and died (obviously in an incredible act of heroism). I guess that’s just how the cookie crumbles, though.

Time to remind all my friends that I am, indeed, still alive!

Update from October 2013:

Since finishing these books, I’ve since shared the love with other expats in my area. It’s started an infection. At least two of my friends are so hooked, they’re getting to the very end of the series in a relatively short amount of time, like me. Another two friends have at least begun the series and find it lovely. I can only imagine the books will continue to circulate and the WOT love will become an epidemic. Even if you don’t typically like fantasy books, you should give Book One, The Eye of the World, a try, because these books are phenomenal! The details, the story, the plot twists, the immaculately evolved character development: you won’t be disappointed, except by the fact that you can’t stop time and get lost in these books forever and ever. Happy reading!

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