All the Books in China

From July 2012-2013 I lived in Zibo, Shandong Province, China. While I was there I read books. A lot of them (42 to be exact.) Here are the micro reviews I wrote at the time! 


I LOVE TO READ. (List In Chronological Order)

1. God's Ear by Jenny Schwartz

This play rocked my world. I couldn't put it down. There was plenty of time on my first plane ride to China to read it over and over. Such unique writing on such a macabre subject.

2. Rider's to the Sea by J.M Synge

An Irish one-act I used for my final project for my Text and Performance class. Really proud of my design work. A captivating tale of love, family, and the sea.

3. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

A gift from one of the best friends I have ever known. A wonderful, hilarious read that had me grinning and giggling like a fool on the plane ride home. I look forward to my next experience with a David Sedaris book. 

4. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

Once my Grandma gave me the first Flavia de Luce novel The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie I was hooked (and not because of my sweet tooth!) A charming murder mystery series narrated by an eleven-year-old chemist. 

5. China: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture by Culture Smart!

A going away present from my family. Great for long car/train rides and fun facts.

6. Life of Pi by Yann Martel 

My mother suggested this book a few years ago but I never got around to it. For some reason I didn't feel like I was ready for it. When I was packing it popped out at me from my shelf. I'm very glad it did. While sometimes gruesome, it really makes you think about your faith, or lack thereof. The movie does it justice, but does not get as deep into religion as the book did (which was my favorite part.)

7. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The first, but not the last, book I will read narrated by a dog. This book is a heart-warmer and a tearjerker, especially for dog lovers. Very predictable, but sometimes that can be comforting. A nice quick read. 

8. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley 

I thought it only appropriate that I start my second time in China continuing the series of the first novel I read whilst in China. Possibly my favorite of the three. 

9. From Mother to Daughter: Advice and Lessons for a Good Life by Sherry Conway Appel

A tearjerker when you're homesick. Full of good advice. A nice coffee table book. 

From this care package. 

10. Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D

The sub heading is "An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in your Work and in Your Life." If moving to China isn't a change, I don't know what is. A very fast, predictable, practical book. Makes you asses your choices and reactions to your world.

From this care package. 

11. Who You Are When No One's Looking by Bill Hybels

I have not read any Christian literature in a long time, and this was a nice way to dip my toes in the water. It was not too preachy and had some great verses. Another quick read.

From this care package. 

12. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

It's no wonder this book was made into a movie; it's fantastic! I gobbled this 350 pager in a week! Sneaking a short passage between classes became an addiction. Movie: The set was right. The costumes were right. The actors could have been right but the characters were wrong. There were a lot of details changed that transformed the tone of the story. It just wasn't what I was expecting. I can't say I was pleased with this interpretation. 

From this care package. 

13. Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison

339 pages in three days? Don't mind if I do. Just combine my favorite things: yoga, skepticism, self discovery, mix them all together and add a big dollop of profanity on top and voila! A cocktail fit for an urban yogini. Every day I practice and study yoga, and it is always nice to be assured that others, however dedicated, can struggle, too. 

14. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Before you freak out: No, I didn't like it. I do, however, think it is important to read books that my students are familiar with to better communicate with them. If that means sucking it up and reading a bad book, I got time. Besides, I'm fresh out of books around my apartment and a Chinese friend bought it for me. Robert Pattinson said it best: "It was like it was a book that wasn't supposed to be published... This woman [Stephanie Meyer]  is mad. She's completely mad and she's in love with her own fictional creation." 

15. A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardner

An inspiring and touching story trapped inside a long and droning book. The story of an autistic boy and his dog told through the eyes of his mother has soul but not much... It's the kind of book you can't say bad things about, but you really can't say good things about. Read this if you are interested in a look at autism or you have a long car/plane/trolly/bus/ferry/train ride as I did in Hong Kong.

16. Paris in Love by Eloisa James

A perfect book for a fanatic of everything Français. A Christmas gift from my grandma that made me yearn for a Parisian holiday. Written in short, journal-esque, entries, it's a delightful story that you can savor, like eating a box of chocolates with a variety of flavors: Fashion, chocolate, family, romance... everything you could hope for in a book to help you escape the Chinese winter blues. 

17. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I need to stop watching the movie version directly after reading the book. Every small detail or change irks me. This book was so quick and exhilarating, I couldn't put it down, not even during meals! It lived up to the hype. The movie did a great job and was extremely close to my imaginary landscape. The main characters were spot on. I can't wait for the next ones! Go read this!

18. The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters With Strangers by Eric Hansen

Only a mildly misleading title, this collection of short stories could be described as a travel log with a hint of eroticism. A wonderful read full of vibrant characters, touching and personal moments, and an exciting look into many different cultures and lifestyles. While the story of The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer may have been one of my favorites, it did not overshadows tales of friendship, adventure, and the sea. This is the kind of book I would love to write.

19. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Yes, groan, I'm back to the in-between book. When I'm back in America I will be sure to stock up on good reads because this was excruciating. Robert Pattinson said his acting style was similar to "extreme discomfort...having a contact in your eye" and "constipation." The book was pretty much the same. As for the movie? Let's just say I'm more entertained by my algebra homework. Avoid this book if you don't want to read about gaping holes of heartache one hundred times a chapter.

20. I Am Half Sick Of Shadows by Alan Bradley

There is nothing like a murder mystery for 18 hours of travel. This holiday installation of the Flavia de Luce series would have been more appropriate around Christmas time (received in my grandmother's Christmas package, even) but I wanted to save it for the plane. Such a refreshing combination of intelligence and morbidity to make me feel right at home. 

21. Weird Things Customers Say In Bookstores By Jen Campbell

Not the most creative title, but definitely intquiguing. It caught my attention sitting on the nightstand of my dear friend, Beth (who just so happens to work at a bookstore). Literature lovers will laugh and cry for humanity when reading (as if we don't already).

22. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James

File under: If a friend gives me a book, I WILL read it. No exceptions (so far). Not the best to read in public unless salacious looks from strangers are something you're into. Also don't read if you dislike repetition. Mention of biting lips, inner goddesses, and feelings "down there" becomes sort of sexual white noise- overused and unappealing. I don't suppose you can expect too much out of reading porn. Read if you like porn.

23. The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

Flying back to China, I found myself escaping to Paris. Through David Lebovitz's humorous tales, cultural insight, and delicious recipies, I really felt the flavor of Paris. Each bite sized chapter was a treat, and I found myself indulging in fantasies of relocation. His recipies ranged from a simple and elegant chocolate mousse to an intimidating braised turkey beaijolais nouveau with prunes. While I am not a chef myself, his writing style and personal taste were an absolute delight. Pure indulgence. 

24. Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi by Brian Leaf

When balancing subjects such as colitis and enlightenment, you can expect Brian Leaf to be not only personable, but hysterical. I felt the honesty in his story without going so far as "TMI." This book, while rich in characters, yogic insight, and a spiritual coming of age, never felt preachy or too fabricated. Wisdom and humor: a match made in Heaven.

25. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

"There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy" -Robert Louis Stevenson. While I appreciated her achievable goals, the fact that she didn't give credit to the bloggers she quoted really got under my skin. Stevenson. This book is full of great advice, stellar quotes, and lists (I LOVE LISTS) but I would probably recommend keeping this on the shelf until you're married. In fact, until after you have had a kid. Perhaps even two. 

26. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L James

Definitely more romantic than the last installment, although with all the hardening, softening, heating, and cooling of eyes, I think these characters are in desperate need of an optometrist. James is obsessed with reminding you why the title is what it is and is fixated on "lips pressing in a hard line" and the athletic capabilities of Ana's "inner goddess." Yawn.

27. The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad

I know what you're thinking: "This is the dude who wrote that awful New York Times article about how Yoga can kill you!" Well, yes and no. Although the author is the same, the sentiment is not. It's called "The Risks and Rewards" for a reason, and is a PHENOMENAL tool for practitioners and teachers alike, very much advocating the practice. Cleared up many misconceptions about what your body is doing. A heavy (but must) read that covers history, physiology, psychology, and the social repercussions of this ancient practice.

28. Paris My Sweet by Amy Thomas

This book is the perfect balance of Parisian delicacies and New York good eats. A marvelous book for foodies, career girls, and those deciding where their home should be. Although I have never been to New York, her passion for the city and its dishes would make anyone <3 NYC. 

29. The Intuitive Heart of Romance by Servet Hasan

"Finding your own path to lasting love" it claims on the cover. Yes, but not unless you are willing to do things like hug trees, cleanse your aura, tune in to chakras, complete with visualization exercises, candle therapy, and lots of journaling. A book about committing to your soul mate, and I couldn't even commit to the tips and tricks to get there. 

30. The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

I did not enjoy the wildly popular "The Lovely Bones" and can say the same for "The Almost Moon." Sebold takes the darkest and most disturbing characteristics about human beings and puts them out there, with no other redeeming qualities. The plot had nowhere to go, and didn't hardly try. I see this only as a disturbed author's cry for help.

31. Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger

Take "Sex and the City" minus the sex, fashion,and wit, then age "Gossip Girl" ten years and steal the main plot and you have "Everyone Worth Knowing." Dull, superficial, predictable, and loooong. A sad sophomoric effort by the author of "The Devil Wears Prada."

32. Open House by Elizabeth Berg

If you weren't afraid of divorce already, you definitely will be after this one. A nitty gritty look at life after "I do" turns into "I don't anymore." Started off very depressing, but I know Oprah's Book Club wouldn't let me down. The big picture story is predictable, but it's the details and dialogue that keep you wanting more. 

33. Slave by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis

I do not read enough nonfiction. What begins as a vibrant, heartfelt story of a young Nuba girl's childhood, turns into a dark and gruesome tale of slavery, politics, and the fight for freedom. To think that things like this still exist in the world makes me want to help. Unfortunately, either it no longer is a website or China has blocked for more information. 

34. Haper's Bazaar: Fabulous at Every Age by Nandini D'souza

A fashion magazine in book form that desperately tries not to date itself. It's moderately successful. Great for quick fashion inspiration, but full of celebrities I don't know and, frankly, don't care about. 

35. Lost on Planet China by J. Marteen Troost

Another nonfiction winner. This story of one man's adventures all across China is not only hysterical but downright inspirational. I find myself nodding on every page, "Yup. That's the China I know and love." In fact, I suggest not reading until you've been here, lest ye be dissuaded. 

36. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

This book is difficult to write a review about for multiple reasons: 1. It is written in question-answer format. While this makes transitions easy and keeps in generally conversational, when he left out questions I had I would get frustrated, not to mention he could be condescending at times. 2. I feel the only way to really digest this book is to talk about it with someone who has read it. Any takers? I highly recommend it, but I'm not saying you're going to enjoy it and Tolle makes it clear that is not the point. Mystic bru-ha-ha for some, spiritual revelations for others. 

37. On The Road by Jack Kerouac

I find the title fairly ironic because it didn't feel like the story was going anywhere. I can see why this is an important piece of literature, but my lack of familiarity with the era made it difficult to picture. I also get overwhelmed by too many names. If you have anything to do with artists or intellectuals, you know these characters. The representation of women also kept me on edge, but read it and let me know if I'm overreacting. 

38. The Grapes of Wrath  by John Steinbeck

Quite possibly the weightiest book I have read in China, in both size and content. The 455 page behemoth clipped by with beautiful prose, natural and enticing dialogue, and a blend of the greed of mankind and the splendor of nature. What could have easily been just a story about a family was instead a passionate and historically accurate novel worthy of its legacy and acclaim.  

39. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The young author, most famous for her poetry, taking her own life, and constant quoting by depressed teen girls, writes a haunting look into the downward spiral of Esther Greenwood. While I enjoyed the change in writing style, mirroring the loss of sanity, the story had a bell jar shape of it's own: beginning with tedious exposition, being the most interesting in the middle, and fading out anticlimactically at the end. However, I do suggest reading this book, if only to observe your own insane tendencies as you do.

40. StrengthsQuest by Donald Clifton, Ph.D

After taking the Gallup StrengthsQuest for a new job, I continued my self discovery by reading the accompanying e-book. While half of it felt like marketing the program by exulting its own usefulness, the other half was a truly helpful and insightful look into talents and their applications to every facet of living. Makes you look at yourself and the world around you differently, and positively.

41. Coming Home Crazy by Bill Holm

I am on the brink of my trip back around the world, and I saved this book for just this occasion all year long. Structured as a collection of essays, the author forcibly pointed at his own intellect, often becoming unrelatable and snobbish, not to the Chinese who were his hosts, but to any weigoiren reading his book. This was increased by the time period in which he wrote this book, a shadow of the China that stands today. While I appreciated most of the people and situations he experienced and documented, I was only motivated to write my own stories of China. A modern version is needed if people will still look to memoirs for their first glimpse into the Red East.

42. The Power of Tai Chi by Master Shao Zhao-Ming

What better place to practice and learn about the ancient Chinese tradition of Tai Chi than in China? A wonderful, simple book full of easy to understand pictures and an accompanying 56 minute DVD. Great for finding peace and grace deep in a moving meditation.