My good friend Liz has a recurring books of Senegal post on her blog. As I recently finished my 100th book in this country, I figured this was a good time to shamelessly copy her idea. Enjoy!
1. Aaron, Chester. Garlic is Life
a. Read if you want to hear a garlic snob wax poetic about subtle bouquets of delicate flavors in different varieties of garlic
b. The 25 CFA boutique garlic is fine by me
c. Is there anyone named Chester who is not pretentious?
2. Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger
a. An indian man goes crazy, kills his employer, and becomes an entrepreneur
b. The story is told through letters said crazy man writes to a stranger (the President, if I remember right.)
c. Not terrible, but not worth your time to read. There are many better books.
3. Albom, Mitch. The Five People You Meet in Heaven
a. My college roommate Sam read this and said it was good. I've had it on my mental "to-read" list for the last six years.
b. It was good.
c. If there is a heaven, I hope to meet thousands of people there, not just five.
4. Alford, Henry. How to Live.
a. Alford asked old people for their accumulated life wisdom and advice, sorted it, and put it in a book that is entertaining and wise without being preachy or fatalistic.
b. I think I’m doing OK at life.
c. Grandma Michel is the best old person and if I end up half as amazing as her I’ll be delighted.
5. Ambrose, Stephen E. Undaunted Courage
a. Lewis and Clark travel across America
b. Indians save their asses many, many times
c. Sacagawea’s a badass bitch
6. Atwood, Margaret. The Blind Assassin.
a. Beautiful story beautifully told.
b. Probably my favorite Atwood book.
c. "Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence. Time and distance blur the edges; then suddenly the beloved has arrived, and it's noon with its merciless light, and every spot and pore and wrinkle and bristle stands clear."
d. That quote perfectly sums up why it’s scary to return home after Peace Corps.
e. Five stars.
7. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice
a. I wish the main characters would just talk about their feelings like grown-ups
b. Cute, but I’m still not a card-carrying Austen fan.
8. Ba, Mariama. Scarlet Song
a. A cautionary tale of a failed forbidden romance between two Dakar university students, one French and one Senegalese
b. Made me aware of even more reasons I’m absolutely not interested in Senegalese men
c. Fast-paced and interesting, with very accurate descriptions of people and customs here.
d. Five stars.
9. Bishop, Holley. Robbing the Bees
a. A history of beekeeping and honey production
b. Not as good as I would expect, because usually well-researched science journalism is my jam.
c. Three stars.
10. Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code
a. I can sort of see what all the hype was about a few years ago when all the copies of this were flying off the supermarket shelves.
b. I don’t necessarily think we should blame the Catholic Church for keeping women down.
c. But hey, let’s let bygones be bygones and make women equal in all ways already. #leanin
11. Brown-Waite, Eve. First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria
a. A woman starts dating her Peace Corps recruiter, ET’s, then marries him and moves to Africa to be a housewife when he gets a job with a non-profit.
b. I thought it was cute, but the friends I recommended it to hated her.
c. I concede that perhaps there are stronger female role models out there.
12. Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods
a. Bill Bryson decides to walk the entire Appalachian trail.
b. Spoiler alert – he didn’t finish.
c. Still funny and well-written. I would love to have dinner with the Brysons, they seem delightful.
13. Bryson, Bill. I’m a Stranger Here Myself.
a. Essays on returning to America after 20 years away.
b. Some were good, some were OK.
c. America’s pretty great.
d. Okay, but not the best Bryson book you could read.
e. The best Bryson book you could read is A Short History of Nearly Everything.
14. Bunch, Roland. Two Ears of Corn
a. A guide to sustainable agriculture development work
b. Very, very relevant to my time here
c. A must-read for PCVs.
15. Cadbury, Deborah. The Dinosaur Hunters
a. Started promisingly, about early eccentric fossil hunters, but then became a boring law story about who owns what where when.
16. Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
a. Comic book writers in New York in the 1950s
b. Cute and well-done.
c. Only one female character, and the only interesting thing she did was get pregnant.
17. Colbert, Stephen. I am America and So Can You.
a. Silly fun.
b. Lots of pictures.
c. I don’t know if it qualifies as a book.
d. I need it to get to 100, it’s a book.
18. Coyne, John. Living on the Edge
a. A short story collection of Peace Corps writers.
b. I favored the stories from Africa, but could relate to all.
c. We Peace Corps writers are a fun bunch. I should probably write more about my crazy life here.
19. Desowitz, Robert. The Malaria Capers
a. This is oddly named. I would not call it "caper." It is mostly hard science about malaria.
b. Did you know that human malaria transmission was figured out by studying sparrow malaria?
c. Many species have a malaria specific to them.
e. I read this whole damn thing while stuck at the Gambia river crossing for 12 hours when the ferry was broken.
20. Ebershoff, David. The 19th Wife
a. Morman polygamists.
b. Weird blend of vaguely accurate history, completely fabricated history, and completely fabricated present-day events.
c. Followed the lives of about ten characters and I only liked one of them. Jordan, ICYWW
21. Eggers, Dave. A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius
a. A boring work of overinflated drivel. Two stars.
b. Man’s parents die so he raises his brother. They eat pizza and verbally spar together like a bad movie.
22. Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkana
a. A Peace Corps memoir.
b. Bitch helped with a village birth before going back to IST
c. Bitch spoke fluent French, and so did all her coworkers, so there were no language barriers
d. Bitch had effortlessly successful projects and integrated seamlessly with her host family
e. This bitch is jealous of that bitch.
23. Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
a. A Hmong family and their American doctors disagree about the best course of treatment for a little girl with epilepsy.
b. Very well written, one of my favorite books ever. Handled with great cultural sensitivity.
c. Made me wonder what traditional Pulaar medicinal beliefs are and how I’m stomping all over them by promoting western beliefs instead.
d. Highly recommended for anyone working with a foreign culture.
e. Five stars.
24. Fiffer, Steve. Tyrannosaurus Sue
a. Mostly about legal battles over who owns Sue, the famous T Rex discovered in South Dakota.
b. The only legal battles I love are the dramatic 5 minute courtroom blowouts at the end of SVU episodes.
c. I do not recommend this book.
25. Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl
a. Made me literally shout "holy shit!" at the twist in the middle.
b. Five stars.
26. Folett, Ken. Fall of Giants
a. Beware : it is a series, so nothing gets resolved at the end of the hefty 1000 pages.
b. Folett is very good at introducing then killing off or sending away characters, so there’s always a lot of action.
c. I don’t think I actually learned about World War One, which is why I decided to read this.
27. French, Tana. In the Woods
a. A detective duo solves the case of a murdered girl.
b. Loved the story, ambivalent towards the ending. I would read the rest of the series if I were to find them at regional houses but I would not seek them out.
c. Psychopaths are terrifying.
d. I think I once dated a psychopath.
28. Friedman, Thomas. Hot, Flat, and Crowded
a. Western lifestyles are killing everything.
b. The Pulaar village lifestyle, growing food and then eating it, is certainly more sustainable
c. But I wouldn’t want to be here forever.
29. Gately, Iain. Tobacco
a. Made me want to start smoking. Tobacco has such a rich, fascinating history.
b. Don’t worry, I won’t actually start smoking.
30. Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love
a. I was on board with "Eat", then "Pray" was bad, and by the time I got to "Love" it was hard to keep reading because I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes
b. "Soft, buttery kisses that taste like soft, buttery potatoes."
c. Gag me with a spoon.
d. It is an unlikeable trait to prattle on about how much everyone that meets you likes you.
e. She bought a $40,000 house for a woman she’d only known three months.
f. That’s not kindness, that’s madness. I hope there are no development workers in Bali dealing with the gimme-gimme aftereffects of that.
g. She said she was at peace being single and that men only complicated her existence, then slept with one the next night. Way to take a stand, Liz!
h. Totally overhyped. A hate-read.
31. Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers
a. The only thing that matters for success is that 1) you practice something enough to get real, real good at it, and then 2) a market demand arises for people that are real, real good at that thing.
b. If you practice something for two solid hours, every single day, no exceptions, it would take you about fifteen years to be an expert.
c. I don’t think I’ve put 10,000 hours into anything exceptional.
d. Maybe that’s why I don’t have many marketable skills.
32. Goldberg, Myla. Bee Season.
a. I liked the beginning a lot, when it was just about spelling, but shit got weird with Hare Krishnas and kleptomania. Still a good read, but I’d like it more if it were cuter and lighter.
b. A must read if you like Hare Krishnas and kleptomania
33. Green, John. The Fault In Our Stars
a. Quick read; I got through it in one village day
b. Did tend to use big words seemingly just for the pretentious sake of doing so.
c. Very cute story that lent itself perfectly to a very cute movie.
34. Green, Toby. Meeting the Invisible Man: Secrets and Magic in West Africa
a. A guy spends tons of money on gris-gris (traditional charms used to ward off evil), then claims that they actually work somewhat well.
b. Eye-roll inducing.
c. I don’t believe in magic in any country.
d. Killing a cat to use its hair in gris-gris is cruel.
e. Several months ago a Senegalese person offered to pay my red-haired friend exorbitant sums of money for strands of her pubic hair to use in gris-gris.
f. I’m OK with ginger PCVs using their genetic recessiveness as a salary supplement.
35. Heath, Chip and Dan. Switch
a. Behavior change is hard.
b. I wonder if people would wash their hands in village if they all had western-style porcelain bathroom setups.
37. Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's Ghost.
a. The true story of belgians fucking up the Congo
b. Good/bad story to read in Africa. A downer, but a very important downer. Made me feel more globally aware.
c. Five stars.
38. Holmes, Hannah. The Secret Life of Dust
a. Do you know what dust is made out of?
b. I don’t remember. But the book explains it, and it’s interesting!
c. Five stars.
39. Huchu, Tendai. The Hairdresser of Harare
a. A swaggy rich man becomes the new hairdresser at a salon in Harare, Zimbabwe, and strikes up a weird "are we friends or more than that" relationship with another hairdresser.
b. Spoiler: They’re just friends. Because he’s gay.
c. He’s a hairdresser.
d. Of course he’s gay.
e. This is for some reason a huge bombshell.
40. Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted.
a. Made me want to watch the movie
b. Made me want to spend some time in an institution, just because it sounds fascinating.
c. How do you know if you’re crazy?
41. Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal Dreams.
a. A woman returns to her hometown to work as a teacher and figure her life out.
b. Loyd Peregrina is my biggest literary crush since Marco from Animorphs.
c. Five stars.
42. Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior
a. Monarchs are nesting in Appalachia instead of in Mexico.
b. I loved every character. Kingsolver is real good at creating people that you feel like you’re hanging out with.
c. Five stars.
43. Kingsolver, Barbara. Pigs in Heaven
a. A sequel to "The Bean Trees"
b. I like the first book better after reading this one. It straightens out legal difficulties Taylor’s clandestine adoption doubtless would have brought on.
c. I was satisfied by how neatly and cleanly everything got tied up at the end.
44. Kingsolver, Barbara. Prodigal Summer.
a. Three interweaving stories of love and family, set in Appalachia.
b. Deanna reminded me of me.
c. I was narcissistic enough to enjoy this immensely.
d. I wish I would have written this. Five Stars.
e. This book told me that when exposed to enough natural moonlight, women will start to cycle with the moon, so they’re ovulating during the full moon.
f. An informal survey of female PCVs showed that most of us do not.
g. I do.
45. Kingsolver, Barbara. The Bean Tree
a. White girl unintentionally kidnaps Indian child, names her Turtle, keeps her, loves her.
b. I wish I could do that with 85% of the kids in my village.
46. Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible
a. A very good book.
b. A missionary family with four kids moves to the Congo. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. Each character is believably, fallibly human, with flawed, authentic personalities.
c. Inspired me to text a friend only in anagrams for awhile.
d. We have a lot of free time here.
47. Kirino, Natsuo. Out
a. Japanese woman commits Murder Most Foul, asks coworkers at the box lunch factory to help her cover it up
b. I liked two of the women, hated one, and revered one as a personal hero. Read it and try to choose which is which.
c. Four stars.
48. Klosterman, Chuck. Killing Yourself to Live.
a. Chuck Klosterman has a high opinion of himself.
b. It was good but not as good as Chuck Klosterman probably thinks it is.
49. Kolata, Gina. Rethinking Thin
a. A claim that diets don’t work.
b. I claim that healthy lifestyles do work (ie, lead to permanent weight loss).
c. If you want to lose weight start walking/kayaking/biking/skiing/rock climbing/playing outside.
50. Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World
a. Five stars.
b. Cod are fucking fascinating.
51. Lamb, Wally. I Know This Much is True
a. A man tries to come to terms with his twin brother’s schizophrenia.
b. Five stars.
52. Lamb, Wally. She's Come Undone
a. Girl deals with a troubled past by stress-eating, lying, acting out, and being a terrible person. Gets mental help. Loses weight. Continues being a terrible person until she figures some stuff out.
b. Very good, but also my least favorite Wally Lamb book.
53. Lamb, Wally. We Are Water
a. One of those books you stay up reading until 4am just to see what happens
b. Wonderfully developed characters.
c. Full of rape, incest, traumatic experiences, and pain...will make you feel some feelings.
d. Five stars.
54. Lee, Chang-rae. Aloft.
a. A middle-aged man struggles to figure his life out. He has kids and they’re also figuring their lives out. One of those stories where the plot itself is sorta mundane but told so well that you love it anyway.
55. Lee, Chang-rae. Native Speaker
a. Gave me a qualifier I now use to describe myself, "B+ student of life. "
b. I wanted to hug all of the emotionally fragile men in this story.
c. Beautifully written.
56. Levi, Primo. The Periodic Table
a. This book was a gift from Mark M when I was home for vacation.
b. Short stories written by a chemist, each inspired or involving a different element.
c. My favorite element is carbon.
d. This is not related to the book, just a fun fact.
57. Maguire, Gregory. Wicked
a. You’ve probably seen the play. I haven’t, so I thought the story was interesting, original, and engrossing.
b. I wanna hug ephelba.
58. Margulis, Lynn. Symbiotic Planet
a. Did you know she was married to Carl Sagan for awhile?
b. Why did she tell me about him and other lovers in what I thought was a science book?
c. Oddly, bafflingly personal. Two stars.
59. Martel, Yann. Life of Pi
a. Boy travels in boat with tiger.
b. Detailed descriptions of what it’s like to poo after months of dehydration and starvation.
c. Somehow beautiful story anyway. Five stars.
d. I thought the ending was invocative and original. I have heard hateful reviews of the ending. Read it and tell me what you think.
60. Martin, George R.R. Storm of Swords
61. Martin, George RR. A Dance with Dragons.
62. Martin, George RR. Feast for Crows
63. Martin, George RR. Game of Thrones
a. Lives up to the hype.
b. Well-rounded and developed characters that are believable and demand respect, even if they’re unlikeable.
c. I think most of the changes the show made were for the better.
d. I haven't read A Clash of Kings because I haven't been able to find it at any regional houses.
e. My friends say it's the worst book anyway, too Stannis-heavy.
64. Max, Tucker. Assholes Finish First.
a. Skeevy man tells skeevy stories about doing skeevy things with his skeevy friends
b. It certainly seems like Mr. Max is enjoying his life, I’ll give him that
65. Meyer, Kathleen. How to Shit in the Woods.
a. BURY it, for pete’s sakes.
b. This book taught me that traditional female vs. male garb was probably traditionally chosen based on ease of urination in different garments.
c. I confirm: it’s easier to pee in a skirt than pants.
66. Miller, Alan. Gaia Connections
a. This book was published in the 1960s and hard to get through. Very hippy-ish.
67. Moalem, Sharon. Survival of the Sickest
a. Being heterozygous for many genetic traits is good, but homozygous can kill you.
b. Two copies of sickle cell = sickle cell disease = likely death. One copy = your blood cells are completely functional, but also you can’t get malaria = likely survival = gene stays in the population.
c. Several other examples of this.
e. Five stars.
68. Montgomery, David. King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon.
a. Man finds resource. Man overexploits resource. Resource runs out. Man is indignant.
b. Interesting read. I wish the planet had fewer humans to muck stuff up.
69. Munro, Alice. The View from Castle Rock.
a. Fabricated stories loosely based on truth.
b. Not good enough to be worth your time as fiction – not true enough to be valuable as non-fiction.
c. Two stars.
70. Murray, John. A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies
a. A short story collection. I usually don’t like short stories, but every one of these was gorgeously written, in the type of way that you just sigh, relax, and mentally swim through the pages. Beautiful. Five stars.
b. I don’t recall there actually being anything about butterflies in the book.
71. Niffenegger, Audrey. The Time Traveler's Wife
a. A man sometimes travels through time. He can’t control where or when he ends up, and he can’t control when he takes his trips. A lot of times he visits his future wife throughout her girlhood (before they "meet"). It is a silly concept, but not a silly book.
b. Hauntingly beautiful. The kind of book you think about for weeks after finishing it.
c. Five stars.
d. I did not care for the movie. I don't think this book could ever make a good movie.
72. Palahniuk, Chuck. Choke
a. I don’t care for Palahniuk.
b. I suppose if you like him this is pretty standard writing by him.
73. Pollan, Michael. Second Nature: A Gardener's Education
a. I don’t remember reading this. Take that for what it’s worth.
74. Priven, Joshua. The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook
a. I have forgotten everything in here since reading it.
b. But I’ve been surviving pretty well anyway
75. Rachman, Tom. The Imperfectionists
a. A bunch of overlapping stories of people that work together in a Rome newspaper.
b. I remember I liked it, but I honestly don’t remember any other details.
c. So, clearly, it was enjoyable but forgettable.
76. Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged
a. I’m slightly ashamed to admit how much I loved this. I wish it were just a story, not a political allegory.
b. But I skipped the 40 page John Galt rant. Jesus Christ, Rand, hold it in a bit.
77. Rivoli, Pietra. The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy
a. An economics professor traces the life of a Florida souvenir t-shirt she got at a big box store.
b. Lots of technical talk about economics, subsidies, global trade, written easily enough that a novice like me could understand it.
d. Maybe without subsidies my Senegalese host family could sell their cotton for more money
e. Maybe without subsidies cotton clothing would be crazy expensive.
78. Roach, Mary. Packing for Mars
a. A true story about past and potential future space travel.
b. Lots of poop jokes.
c. Silly, well-researched, scientifically accurate fun.
d. Five stars.
79. Robbins, Tom. Jitterbug Perfume
a. Every sentence was poetry.
b. Weird and wonderful.
c. I want to read everything else he’s written but so far the regional house library gods have not answered that prayer.
80. Rowling, JK. The Casual Vacancy
a. It’s weird that Rowling wrote a book with so much profanity
b. I cried at the end.
c. Five stars.
d. Apparently they made a BBC miniseries about it, it's on my to-watch list when I return to America unemployed with ample free time and abundant internet.
81. Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In
a. Did you know that men apply for jobs if they have 60% of the qualifications, but women tend not to apply unless they have 100%?
b. Change the world! Men as partners! Reach for the stars! Lean in! Get it, girls!
c. Just after finishing the book, I heard Ms. Sandberg’s wonderfully supportive husband died recently in a freak treadmill accident. I almost cried.
82. Sedaris, David. Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim
83. Sedaris, David. When You Are Engulfed in Flames
84. Sedaris, David. Naked
a. David Sedaris is delightful.
b. He somehow makes common things sound fascinating and exciting.
c. I would like David Sedaris to narrate my life.
85. Shaffer, Mary Ann. The Guernsey Literary and Sweet Potato Pie Society
a. Adorable. The fluffy white baby bunny of novels. I recommend this to anyone, no reservations. It’s an overload of cute.
b. Neighbors bond together over a book club. The novel is written entirely in the form of letters they send to each other.
86. Shah, Sonia. The Fever
a. A history of malaria and discussion of why it’s so hard to stop worldwide
b. Occasional segments were grossly untrue to my experience here
c. Overall very informative. Read it, then call me so we can talk about it more.
87. Shteyngart, Gary. Super Sad True Love Story
a. A weird futuristic older man/young Korean girl relationship is the love story in question
b. It was sad, but not super sad, and definitely not true.
c. False advertising.
88. Stein, Garth. The Art of Racing in the Rain
a. A dog/human companionship story told from the point of view of the dog.
b. Did you know when dogs shit all over the rug they’re doing so purposefully and vindictively, because you or your girlfriend has wronged them?
c. I want a dog despite this.
89. Stephenson, Neal. Anathem
a. This story is only about 80% English, the rest is made-up vocabulary and concepts.
b. Made me feel like I’m not even fluent in English, there’s no hope for my Pulaar.
90. Stephenson, Neal. Cryptonomicon
a. About codebreakers, both human and machine.
b. Every character in this book is smarter than me.
c. Except the one token woman, who is of normal intelligence.
d. I disliked this.
91. Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash
a. Hackers and computers and futuristic skateboard girls
b. Skateboarding tethered to the back of semi-trucks sounds fun.
92. Stevens, Stuart. Malaria Dreams
a. Delightful story of trying to drive a car from the Congo to Egypt.
b. I’m thankful I don’t have a car here.
c. Mechanical skills would be far more valuable in a PCV than any attribute I bring to the table.
93. Stokes, Penelope. Circle of Grace
a. A supermarket ‘mom book,’ mindless but cute.
b. Minimal character development
94. Styron, William. Sophie's Choice
a. Two stars.
b. I think the movie was probably better because it was edited.
c. I wish the book would have been edited.
95. Taylor, Justin. The Apocalypse Reader
a. The worst thing I have read in this country.
b. I read it early on, when I was trying to not quit any books.
c. Since reading this I have quit roughly ten books that were all better than this one.
d. One star.
96-98. Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace.
a. Tolstoy said War and Peace was three books, so I do too.
b. I don’t care if this is cheating.
c. It’s motherfucking War and Peace
d. It was a bitch to get through, I earned it.
99. Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves.
a. The title of this one is hard to write as it's intended because I love the oxford comma.
b. I tend to overuse commas in general.
c. Ms. Truss says this is not incorrect, merely annoying.
d. I’ll probably keep doing it.
100. Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle
a. A memoir of growing up with vagabond parents.
b. Made me feel some feelings.
c. Amazing story. A must-read. Five stars.