Ruby Ramblings


Thursday Thirteen – March Reads

Thirteen Thursday

One of my favorite blogs is my monthly books read column. Here are all the books I read this month (which happens to be thirteen) in the order I read them. Here are my January Reads and February Reads.

1. Seeing Vietnam SEEING VIETNAM ENCOUNTERS OF THE ROAD AND HEART by Susan Brownmiller

2. High Tide in Tucson High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never by Barbara Kingsolver It’s good for me to read a book about my own country now and again (although several of the passages in this book are of Kingsovers’s travels). Fantastic collection of essays. Interview with the author.

3. Milarepa The Life of Milarepa Translated by Lobsang Lhalungpa For a book that is a translation of an ancient text, I couldn’t believe how it is so full of humor that is still relevant. This is a great introduction to the story of Milarepa, the classic folk hero of Tibet. He was able to reach enlightenment after one lifetime, even after killing thirty people in his village by completely dedicating himself to repenting his actions. (It’s like My Name is Earl in orange robes on the Tibetan plain. 😉 )

4. This is Paradise This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood by Hyok Kang
Kang grew up in North Korea where he and his family nearly starved to death. They believed the propaganda the NK was the most prosperous country on earth and thought if they left they would surely starve and be even worse off. Eventually his father, being tried for crimes against the state, decides they need to flee, where they discover the world is not as they’ve been told.

5. Future of Freedom The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (Revised Edition) by Fareed Zakaria I thought this was a great account of how not all democracies around the world work the same. He looks at the success of several, both in terms of political success, and in how their populace is thriving. He makes some pretty scathing remarks about the Arab world and how their wealth is based on selling resources and if they do not make moves to build infrastructure and society, when those resources are gone so will be their tenuous success.

6. The Man Who Loved China The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom by Simon Winchester Interview with the author.

7. Geo of Bliss The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner Besides the fact that I’m a fool for any book with Geography in the title, I loved this book. Full review here.

8. Fever Pitch Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby Okay, I didn’t actually read this book. I loved High Fidelity, and wanted to try another of Hornby’s, but I have no, and I mean no, interest in books about sports. Even though the back jacket said I would like it even if I wasn’t a sports fan. It’s not true.

9. Even After All This Time Even After All This Time: A Story of Love, Revolution, and Leaving Iran by Aschinef Latifi

10. George Orwell Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin
Probably the best book I read this month. A classic travel narrative following the footsteps of George Orwell’s time in Burma and how his travels affecting his writing. Larkin’s vivid descriptions of Burma really make this book.

11. Axis of Evil Literature from the “Axis of Evil”: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Other Enemy Nations Published by Words Without Borders

12. Widow of the South The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
Hicks was working on restoring the old Carnton Plantation, a house that had been taken over by Confederate soldiers and made into a makeshift hospital during the Civil War. He got so wrapped up in the history that this book is the fictionalized account of what he learned about the house. It is a fantastic story about Carrie McGavock, the lady of the house, and a soldier she becomes partial to. One of the interesting things for me about this book is that I live in Nashville, and Franklin, the location of this plot, is very close to here. Interview with the author.

13. Big Boy Rules Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq by Steve Fainaru My review here.

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Geography of Happiness
March 18, 2009, 2:48 pm
Filed under: Books, Peace, Travel | Tags: , ,

12

Twelve Publishing is a Canadian publishing company that has dedicated itself to publishing one book a month. The twelve best books it receives every year.

I’m currently reading one of their choices, which has turned out to be superb.
Geo of bliss The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner.

The NPR correspondent goes around the world, travelling to the places considered the happiest to discover their collective secrets. We often relate our happiness to our geography, and he seeks to find out if this has any truth to it. “With our words, we subconsciously conflate geography and happiness. We speak of searching for happiness, of finding contentment, as if these were locations in an atlas, actual places that we could visit if only we had the proper map and the right navigational skills. Anyone who has taken a vacation to, say, some Caribbean island and had flash through their mind the uninvited thought, ‘I could be happy here’ knows what I mean.”

He travels to the Netherlands where happiness is being researched scientifically, to Switzerland where shear boredom and cleanliness seems to be the answer to the world’s purported happiest people, to Bhutan where happiness is a government goal and mandate. In Qatar he finds folks who think money can buy anything, including happiness, to Iceland – the happiness of failure, and in Thailand where happiness is just plain not thinking about it. In Moldova he finds the concept that happiness is always somewhere else, and in the US where it is in the place you consider home.

I laughed outloud three times while reading just the opening page. Weiner’s descriptions are so good, I was brought back to the places I’ve been, and felt a huge sense of desire for the places I haven’t seen yet. Except for Moldova. Moldova is the one place he visited that isn’t happy. They are described as the unhappiest people in the world. Their reasoning is that they don’t have enough money. But as Weiner viewed in Bhutan, money isn’t as important as a strong sense of culture and belonging. 90% of Bhutanese that have a chance to study in the US or Britain return to their home country, even though there is virtually no economy there. (To which an American tourist commented, “well, why would they do that.”) The real reason Weiner encounters for unhappiness is a lack of trust and true friendships, two qualities that are belittled as weakness in Moldova.

Overall, I just found this to be an intensely enjoyable book.

NPR Review of Geography of Bliss

NPR story on the Happiness Index