July Reading Roundup

July was… quite a month. What else can I say? At the beginning of July I was with my parents and cousins exploring Berlin and by the end I had accepted a (great, amazing, awesome!) job offer and mentally preparing for life in Pittsburgh again. I’m still a little shell-shocked my all of the changes my life is still going through, which might account for some of the radio silence on the blog, and it seems like all I could do in July was just ride the wave of turmoil for a while until it settled down. Heck, it’s the middle of August and I’m still riding that wave.

But I did get a few books read in the between. Hopefully I’ll be able to say the same about August, which is not turning out to be much calmer. In due time, which I should hypothetically have a lot of, right? Right.

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende

Fiction / Recommended

I can’t say that this story really influenced me very much, but it was an enjoyable read and it… flowed. I loved that the story revolved largely around identity (or lack thereof) and that there was so much variety of lifestyles described; it made for a good read.

Thanks Colleen from Colleen Brynn Travels for recommending this to me!

A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

Nonfiction / Recommended (with trigger warnings)

If you’re easily disturbed by descriptions of torture or rape, then I don’t recommend this book for you. Others who can stomach it, this is an honest and heartbreaking account of a woman kidnapped in Somalia for ransom. It broke my heart in the way hearts sometimes need to be broken, to remember what the rest of the world can be like.

Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

Nonfiction / Recommended

Me and German history get along really well, so no surprise that I recommend this. The accounts of Stasi men and the interrogated were not just intriguing but also disturbing, plus disturbingly timely. I’d advise anyone who lives in the USA to check out this book and keep an eye out for parallels with the current NSA and privacy situation.

I can tell you now that August’s reading roundup will very likely be sad. But I’m doing my best over here, and once my schedule is a bit more solid and consistent, then I’m sure my reading schedule will come back to life. Until then, read a book or two for me!

squiggle3

If you’ve got book recommendations, I want to hear them, as always!

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

June Reading Roundup

Most of June was spent sunbathing in Albania, followed by swimming in Albania’s sea (the Adriatic), accompanied by work and cleaning at the hostel, and all of those lovely moments sprinkled with time to read some of those 130+ books on my Amazon Wishlist. A kind of heaven. During the last week of June, I spent a few days in Italy and finally ended the month in Germany, with my parents. So suffice it to say that June was a pretty fantastic month, and it would be nice if all of my life could be spent in the water, in books and in a sunny place like Saranda. But, alas, life. I soaked it up while I could. (PUN ALERT!)

In addition to these books, I also started a gradual swing back into poetry. I’ve dipped into Maya Angelou and back into some of the German poets, like Bertholt Brecht, which I’ve always liked. It’s been nice to get back into a little rhyme and verse.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Fiction / Meh

After reading the first book and being underwhelmed, I had higher hopes for the sequel. And while I did enjoy this book better and I could get into the story quite easily, I still feel underwhelmed overall. I’m sorry, fantasy genre, The Wheel of Time has ruined me, nothing will ever compare!

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Nonfiction / Recommended

In celebration of Maya Angelou’s inspirational life, I cracked open a book I hadn’t read since high school and wasn’t disappointed in the least. Absolutely recommended to all, not just for the fantastic writing, but for the reminder of what African Americans endured for far too long in the “land of the free”.

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

Nonfiction / Recommended

I’ll admit that while I was reading this, I had trouble coming back to it. It didn’t pull me in. But as soon as I’d finished the book, I couldn’t shut up about it to everyone I knew. It inspired in me a lot more interest in art history and integrated extremely well into travel; it reads half like a history of inks/dies/paints and half like a travel diary through fascinating regions such as Iran and aboriginal Australia.

This month, July, I’m back in Pittsburgh (home) for some time. And I’m not gonna lie: one of the things I’ve most been looking forward to is access to my local library once again and reading a book or two the old-fashioned way. I actually went to my old bookshelf yesterday and started running my hand over some of my favorite books; I missed them that much. But let’s keep that embarrassing/nerdy fact to ourselves, shall we? Try not to tell anyone about my weird love-on-my-books moment. Unless you’re telling me that you totally do the same, sometimes. I can’t be the only one who hugs their books, right?

Right?

squiggle3

Have you read any of these titles? Thoughts? I’m always on the lookout for new, good books, so send any recommendations my way.

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page, or subscribe to the email list for updates, if you fancy.

May Reading Roundup

On May 1st I was in Switzerland and since then, I’ve made my way through Austria, Croatia, Montenegro and now Albania where I’m settled in for another three weeks, working at a hostel on the beach. (Can you say paradise?) It’s been busy, to say the least. But the reading continued and I’m quite pleased with how much I’ve managed to finish in this past month. And of all of them, Shantaram really stood out as a book for the ages, so if you’re thinking about reading it, then do so!

This was also a strange month because I read exclusively stories, memoirs and fiction, and no informational nonfiction at all. Surprisingly, though, I feel as though I’ve learned just as much (if not more) than any of the other more “intellectual reading” months. Shantaram and The White Tiger gave me an in depth view of what India’s culture is like, The Book Thief updated my knowledge of WWII and Wild taught me a lot more about long distance hiking than I thought it would. Ask me about what you should pack for a hike and I can tell you that a fold-able saw is not necessary, but a ski pole just might come in handy!

Special thanks to Steve (who has been linked to below) for recommending several of the books I read this month!

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Nonfiction / Meh

While the description of the hiking trail and all the people she met along the way was fascinating (and made me want to get my hike on!), for some reason I don’t think this will be a book that’ll stay with me. But props to the author for being a wilderness bad ass nonetheless!

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

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Fiction / Recommended

Writing a book from death’s perspective is already a challenge, and the author did a fantastic job of it. The details of World War II were an education and the main character quite lovable (and pitiable).

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

Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts

Fiction / Recommended

There’s a lot of debate about how much of this “novel” is based in the author’s actual experiences, but really it doesn’t matter. It’s a masterpiece of philosophy, wanderlust-inducing descriptions of India and one that’s really left me thinking about morality and how we define it.

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

The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga

Fiction / Recommended

This novel, while also about India, was so totally different from Shantaram in every way and I almost gave it a “meh”, probably because every book would be overshadowed by such an epic tale. But The White Tiger was pretty funny and not so long, so it’s worth the time to read, for the laughs at least.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Fiction / Meh

I have really mixed feelings about this book; on one hand, I couldn’t put it down but on the other, I find the premises a bit childish and impossible to really believe, the same way I believed in The Wheel of Time and other fantasy novels. But, still, I couldn’t stop reading, so that must say something, right?

 

As for next month, I’ve got time on my hands and books on my Kindle, including a collection of Maya Angelou’s works that I’d like to get into, in memory of her fantastic, inspirational life. I’m looking forward to it!

Have you read any of these? What were your thoughts? And as always, send your recommendations my way too!

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

January Reading Roundup

It’s the first reading roundup of the new year! And boy, did I start off on a sleepy, sleepy foot. I feel like I’ve barely been reading, but free time definitely hasn’t been the issue. Or maybe free time is the problem, namely too much of it. No momentum, no motivation, and you know how it goes. Thankfully, though, knowing that I would be writing this post kicked my butt into gear this past week. If it weren’t for this series of posts, I’d probably have only one book on this list. Thank goodness for blogs and accountability to strangers!

Still, I’ve got a lot of room for improvement, come February. (And a long list of books given as Christmas gifts that are just begging to be read!) So let’s check out my January reads.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant

Nonfiction / Recommended

I really loved this book. Maybe it was the optimist in me, maybe it was the science backing up his claims, maybe it reminded me of myself over and over. Whatever it was, I finished this book inspired and ready to take on the world with my generosity!

Thank you Rebe from Rebe With a Clause for the recommendation!

How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silvia

Nonfiction / Meh

This book was pretty small, so I’m kind of cheating, but deal with it. I did get one extremely helpful piece of advice / magic tip: make a schedule and don’t compromise your writing time for anyone, ever. A seriously good tip, and now you don’t even have to read the book to get it! Also the last chapter is focused solely on academic writing and I ended up just skipping that completely.

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Nonfiction / Recommended

I almost didn’t recommend this book, but I do find her story to be incredible and the inside look at what happens when the Taliban takes over a city to be really interesting and educational. However, you won’t find any life lessons or spectacular writing in here, nor will you remember this book forever. (Probably.) Still, a quick and interesting read.

February, I will do better. Just let this depressing, cold and a little boring January end, already!

Did you have a slow January too? What were your favorite books from this holiday season? What do you have to recommend for me? (I’m always looking for suggestions!)

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

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.

-~-

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.

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.

-~-

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

Find ABOFA on Facebook or subscribe for email updates, if you’d like.

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.

1111600
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!

squiggle3

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

A Critique: Benny the Irish Polyglot’s Language Learning Method

[Note: this critique was spurred when I re-read this article from Benny about how studying doesn’t help when learning a language.]

I’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to language learning and the pursuit of fluency. When I was twelve, I began taking German classes in middle school. At 17, I stepped into a life in Austria and soon learned the difference between “learning” and “speaking” German. At 21, I decided to learn Spanish via complete immersion, and left after a semester both conversational and a little wiser as to how I learn languages in general. Now, I’m working on my third foreign language, Korean, and testing out the learning theories that I’ve formulated. I don’t speak a hundred languages and I don’t have a PhD, but I’ve learned a thing or two through these experiences. Continue reading A Critique: Benny the Irish Polyglot’s Language Learning Method