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January 10, 2011

A common saying is: “You are what you eat.” That’s probably true, but I think even more true is: “You are what you read.”

I keep a reading journal and have gotten into the habit of beginning a new year by analyzing the books read in the year just past. Looking over my 2010 entries, I’m struck by how appropriate is the phrase “Armchair Traveler”.

In 2010, I spent a lot of time in China, much of it with Pearl S. Buck as a guide. I read four of her books during the year. If I had to choose a favorite Buck book, it would be Pavilion of Women. I was still in school when I discovered this gem. I had just finished The Good Earth for a class and enjoyed it so much that I didn’t want it to end. In an attempt to prolong the experience, I reached for another book by the same author. I had another good experience but, as so often happens, not the one I had anticipated. Reading The Good Earth, I became part of a family of Chinese peasants. Pavilion of Women is the story of a wealthy, aristocratic Chinese household and the remarkable woman who guides their lives with an implacable will and a gentle, steely hand. I fell in love with this book on the first page and remember staying up all night, reading parts of it with tears in my eyes. The second time around, while I still loved the book, the experience was more intellectual than emotional. I was awed by how artfully Ms. Buck had constructed her plot and how she had chosen exactly the right details to make her setting come alive. The other Buck books I read in 2010 were Dragon Seed and The Three Daughters of Madame Liang. It was the first time around for these two, so my focus was on seeing what happened next as the characters lived through periods of unrest and revolution. Still on my China kick, I read Anchee Min’s Pearl of China, a work of fiction based on Pearl Buck’s life. And I have to mention Lisa See; Shanghai Girls follows two Chinese-born sisters to America and shows how they learned to balance the old and new cultures.

Where else did I go in 2010? I spent time in England, guided by Jacqueline Winspear, Dick Francis, Elizabeth George, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, P. D. James, G. M. Malliet and Catherine Aird. Tana French and Maeve Binchy showed me two different faces of Ireland. I went on a Louise Penny kick and had some good times (and a few scary moments) in a tiny village in Canada. I fled Paris with Irene Nimirosky. Cutting for Stone and Infidel were vivid and sometimes grim explorations of Africa. Thrity Umrigar’s The Weight of Heaven was a heartbreaking trip to India. And I could never let a whole year go by without at least one book by Alexander McCall Smith. Then, after I left Scotland, I spent some unforgettable, terrifying time in Sweden, as portrayed in Stieg Larsson’s books. Talk about pageturners! Please say that the dispute will be settled and there will be more about The Girl …

What about my own country? Yes, I spent anple time in the U. S. and am proud of many of the books written by my countrymen, but I’ll leave that to another time, another blog.

What am I reading now? Another Jacqueline Winspear The Mapping of Love and Death. Would I recommend it? Oh, yes! Maisie Dobbs never disappoints.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2011 1:41 PM

    Hi Sandy,
    Loved your blog! I’ve been to India with Ellis Peters (fascinating) and to Egypt with Elizabeth Peters (The Amanda Peabody mysteries). Loved both countries, at least at the times when we were there, decades ago 😉 . . . Still have to manage it in real life!

  2. January 10, 2011 3:36 PM

    Thanks, Beate, for checking us out. You chose your guides wisely. Isn’t it nice that not only can we go to different countries, but we can visit them in different centuries?

  3. January 10, 2011 5:42 PM

    Sandy, I’ve traveled to Ceylon with Rosemary Rogers’ novels, to England and Ireland with Virgina Henley and Nora Roberts, to Africa with Barbara Kingsolver (The Poison Wood Bible); I’ve raced accross the Sahara Desert with John Fusco (Hidalgo). Like you, I’ve traveled to China with Pearl Buck, I’ve been on safari with Ernest Hemingway ( Mt. Kilamanjiro), and I’ve even caught a shark with Hemingway in (The Old Man and the Sea). Arm-chair traveling is wonderful. I don’t have to pack a suitcase, go thru airport security, or board an plane with possible terrorist. Oh, and lest I forget, it wasn’t a book, but a television series–I’ve traveled the world with “McGyver” and helped him get out of a ton of jams. It’s all been an exciting adventure. Thanks for this thought provoking article.

  4. January 11, 2011 11:08 AM

    Love your travels, Loretta. Some of them prompted memories of similar trips taken. You’re right; sometimes TV takes us to intersting places too. Sunday night I spent a delightful hour and half in England (Downton Abbey), inhabiting a world that has disappeared. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. January 12, 2011 8:15 AM

    Cathy Pickens took me to wild South Carolina in “Can’t Never Tell”. Her southern take on life is engaging.

    • January 12, 2011 9:09 AM

      I love books set in the south. My series is set in a fictional county that hugs the Miss. River just north Memphis, TN. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. January 12, 2011 10:10 AM

    I really enjoyed your blog! I love reading books that take place in interesting locations. I fondly recall reading THE GOOD EARTH many years ago. Right now, I am reading THE HAJ by Leon Uris. When I do actually travel, which isn’t nearly as often as I would like, I enjoy reading a book that takes place in the country I have traveled to. I read THE NAME OF THE ROSE in Italy this past summer, and that was pretty cool!

    • January 12, 2011 11:51 AM

      Nina, I SO agree that it’s fun to travel to places where books that I’ve enjoyed have been set. And, like you, I don’t get to travel nearly as much as I would like. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. Thanks for the good words.

  7. January 12, 2011 3:31 PM

    I’m going to try to be more organized about my reading this year. (Oh no, was that a resolution?) I tend to throw the books I’ve read either into a pile or back onto the shelf. I belong to Goodreads but never post there–just race on to the next book when I finish one.

    I love that you know what your read in 2010! I’m going to try to emulate you this year.

    • January 12, 2011 4:19 PM

      If only I were as organized about other things as I am about my precious reading journal. I, too, belong to Goodreads and never post. My little pink notebook is where I keep my list. In the end, you don’t need to worry about a list; it’s all in your head somewhere.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. January 17, 2011 8:25 PM

    You have a great reading list. I used to love Pearl Buck and Isaak Dinesen, Beryl Markham . . . those wonderful women who took me to new places and ways of life. Another one is Elspeth Huxley. I’m so glad you reminded me of these books–I think. I believe I’ll go check my shelves for some old favorites now.

    • January 17, 2011 8:52 PM

      Beryl Markham is one I don’t know. I’ll look her up. Books are truly like old friends; it’s great to revisit them after an absence.

  9. Sharen Ford permalink*
    January 18, 2011 5:32 PM

    Sandy, you must treat yourself to Beryl Markham’s sublime autobiography WEST WITH THE NIGHT. It’s one of my favorite books, and it knocked Hemingway’s socks off.

  10. Gretchen Haertsch permalink
    February 6, 2011 9:30 AM

    Sandy, so glad you mentioned Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs. You introduced me to her and I’ve been head-over-heels every since. Can’t wait for her next book in March. And…we have an interview scheduled with Ms. Winspere for this blog sometime soon. Stay tuned! I love your book-roundups. Keep them coming!

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