Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Long plane trips have really become uncomfortable for me. The lack of leg room is claustrophobic and it seems like the seats have become shallower (probably so it doesn't look like the leg room is so tight) and the edge of the seat hits the back of my legs just right to press on a nerve or something. Anyway, I get the twitching heebie-jeebies before very long. The only effective escape I have been able to figure out is a really good book, so I stock up when I am flying any distance.

On our recent trip to Ecuador I read three books that I liked a lot.

The first was "I Capture the Castle" by Dodie Smith. This is something of a modern classic, but I had never read it. It was written in 1948 and has the feel of that era--gentle and a little whimsical. It is written as the diary of 17-year-old Cassandra, who wants to be a writer. Her family lives in a ruined castle in England and is interesting and unconventional to say the least. I think I would have adored this book when I was about 12 and I actually liked it quite a lot now.

Next I read "Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World" by Tracy Kidder. I have liked other non-fiction by Tracy Kidder, especially "House". He has a great ability to make ordinary people and events fascinating, with plain-spoken writing that focuses on the odd detail and the little things that define an individual. The story of Paul Farmer and his medical work, in Haiti mostly, and his successful efforts in treating drug-resistant strains of TB, under the most adverse conditions, is inspiring and humbling. The character studies of Farmer and his associates and his patients, and the life story of Dr. Farmer himself are as involving and riveting as any work of fiction. This is a VERY good book.

"The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini got me through the flight home, which included a long delay in the Miami airport and two babies that cried almost non-stop between Dallas and Portland. It is a story that takes place in Afghanistan and while it is about Afghanistan and the Taliban, it is first and foremost a really good story, well-told. It is about two boys, growing up together in Afghanistan--one the son of a wealthy businessman and one the son of their servant. Without going into detail, a shocking event changes the course of both lives and becomes a story of guilt and atonement. I found this book hard to put down. It is one of those kind of stories. While the plot depends on a couple of rather unlikely coincidences, it is, on the whole, so well told that I was able to suspend disbelief. When the plane landed, I was still engrossed in the book and finally made myself close it up and stow it in my backpack. As I was getting ready to get off the plane a young man across the aisle leaned over and said, "what do you think of that book, you're reading?" I told him I was really liking it, so far. He said, "I couldn't put it down. It's the best book I've read in a long time." It was pretty good, all right. Really good.

How's that for an eclectic reading list? Anybody have any other recommendations? I have another flight coming up in a few weeks.


  1. I've read "I Captured the Castle" and "The Kite Runner" and liked both very much.

    Other Possibilities:

    "The Samurai's Garden" - Gail Tsukiyama
    "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time" - Mark Haddon
    "Peace Like a River" - Leif Enger
    "Bel Canto" - Ann Patchett

  2. "Bel Canto" and "The Curious Incident...." were excellent books. I've also really enjoyed "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides, "The Hungry Tide" by Amitav Ghosh, "Vanishing Acts" by Jodi Picoult, "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd, "The Rosewood Casket" by Sharyn McCrumb, "The Lighthouse" by P.D. James, and "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell, "The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman, "Gods in Alabama" by Joshilyn Jackson, and "Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson

  3. Anonymous1:39 PM

    I just read another book by Jodi Picoult "My sister´s keeper", which I really enjoyed as well. I am glad mom liked the kite runner as much as I did. I just read a book called "The Swallows of Kabul" and I didn´t really like it, so I hope my next book is better. Especially if you are in rainy Portland be careful about that book, one review says that it plunges you straight into hell, which I rather agree with.