Saturday, January 1, 2011

I have a problem

The first step is admitting it, right?

If there's one thing I learned from "All Quiet on the Western Front," it's that a man has to have at least one vice. To be honest, I'm largely a failure in that area. I don't drink, smoke, do drugs, have sex or gamble ... yes, I'm a disgrace to journalism. Unless changing jobs every other year is suddenly on the list, I think my biggest vice is buying entirely too many books. Harmless? Sure, right up until you have to pack up your life again and schlep it all to yet another country.

My collection of books got trimmed roughly in half when I moved from Nebraska to Oregon, and halved again between Oregon and Hawaii. Moving overseas saw that amount shrink still more, to the point where it all fit in one box (a box that took 14 months to get to Indonesia from Hawaii, but that's a whole other story). After two years in Jakarta, though, the pile is starting to get unwieldy again. Personally, I blame finding the big Kinokuniya store in Plaza Senayan and multiple trips to Singapore (and the Borders on Orchard Road).

I recently polished off "How to Survive a Horror Movie," a fun little how-to guide by Seth Grahame-Smith. It's in the same vein as similar books on how to survive alien invasions and robot uprisings (they all pale in comparison to the Zombie Survival Guide, of course), and it had the depth and style one might expect from an author whose first book was "The Big Book of Porn." Chapters include Slasher Survival School, What to Do When an Evil Vehicle Wants You Did, etc. This one is a keeper, if only for the horror movie viewing list in the appendix. I also picked up Anthony Bourdain's "Medium Raw" in the same trip (which is odd since it's not supposed to be in paperback until May), but I'm saving that until I finish his previous book, "The Nasty Bits."

More economic stimulus -- oh, so much more -- after the break.

On top of the two boxes of books I reclaimed since returning to Jakarta, I also have two bags from separate shopping excursions. Kinokuniya is probably my new favorite place to shop, especially with a Mos Burger not far from the entrance and more good restaurants across the street at Arcadia. From my last trip there:
  • "The Fabric of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene: The author's follow-up to "The Elegant Universe," which I own but am a third of the way through. It covers concepts like string theory, inflation, the uncertainty principle, etc. but is aimed at a non-specialist audience.
  • "Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan" by Giles Milton: It tells the story of William Adams, an Englishman who arrived in Japan in 1600 and became part of the court of the Ieyasu shogunate. A more personal approach to the story of the West trying to pry open ancient Japan -- I'm looking forward to this one.
  • "The Rum Diary" by Hunter S. Thompson: I have a number of HST books, but all of them are non-fiction. Hopefully this will give me a different view of the man. Plus, who doesn't love a loosely supervised journalistic stint in the tropics?
  • "The Rape of Nanking" by Iris Chang: I like Japan and Japanese culture as much as the next person -- probably more so, in fact. That doesn't mean I'm blind to the country's faults, though, or the brutal periods in its past. This has been on my to-read list for a while.
  • "Into Thin Air" by John Krakauer: Another one off the list -- hopefully no one bought it off my Christmas wish list. I've seen Krakauer's works pop up on multiple lists of Books You Should Read, so hopefully this is a good jumping-off point. It has more than 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, so the odds are good it is.
  • "Don Quixote" by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra: Because man cannot survive on non-fiction alone.
As if that mound of pulp wasn't enough, I spent Wednesday in Singapore on a visa run. That also meant a Borders run, not to mention eating better than I have in weeks.
  • "Physics of the Impossible" by Michio Kaku: Maybe the subject matter in this one isn't as hard science as Greene's books or Kaku's "Parallel Worlds," which I also own. Still, there's no rule saying fun reads can't come out of the science section, and anything that helps popularize science beyond the realm of nerds and lab coats can only be a good thing.
  • "Sumo" by David Benjamin: The author of "The Joy of Sumo" is back again, helping peel back the pomp and ceremony of Japan's ancient sport. I do love me some sumo, and hopefully I can catch my first basho in person soon (though it won't be the same without Jack Edwards' commentary -- sigh). Benjamin breaks down the names, moves, culture and more behind a fascinating, if esoteric, sport.
  • "Embracing Defeat" by John W. Dower: I don't know how or when it will happen, but I have a feeling journalism and I won't be together forever. When the breakup does happen, I'd like to go back to school and get into Asian studies. Reading books like this one -- a Pulitzer Prize winner that details Japan's recovery under American occupation immediately after World War II -- will hopefully give me a head start.
  • "A Season on the Brink" by John Feinstein: The best-selling sports book of all time. I've heard Feinstein make regular appearances on the Tony Kornheiser Show but, despite his prolific output, have yet to read anything of his other than his work in the Washington Post. The author received remarkable access to Indiana and men's basketball coach Bob Knight during the 1985-86 season, and if "Season on the Brink" is anywhere near as enlightening as Joe McGinniss' "Miracle of Castel di Sangro," it should be a fun ride.
  • "Bonk" by Mary Roach: With her quirky, curious and scientific approach, Roach is fast moving up my list of favorite authors. She has tackled death (Stiff), the afterlife (Spook) and space (Packing for Mars), and in "Bonk" she explores sex and what science is doing to make the bedroom a more satisfying place.
  • "Match Fixer" by Neil Humphreys: A fictional but all-too-believable tale of gambling draining the life out of the Beautiful Game in Asia. Chris Osborne, a young, English striker trying desperately to get his career back on track after washing out in England and Australia, winds up playing in Singapore's S-League and receiving far more of an education than he expected.
I also picked up a copy of Le Canard Enchaine, a satirical journal out of France, for Madame Cronin and Volume 12 of School Rumble. Manga really isn't my thing, but I did include Sukura and Ai Yori Aoshi in the travel squad for good measure.

Once I find a more permanent place to stay, I'm going to put together a full roster of which books I have, if only to remind me how many I haven't read should I get the itch to start buying books again.

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