Saturday, February 13, 2010

Recently read (February 2010)

I haven't been too good when it comes to tackling the large number of unread books that are strewn all over my room. I did however read three of them in the recent months that I'd briefly like to talk about here:

I originally stumbled across "Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures" by Heidi Postlewait, Kenneth Cain and Andrew Thomson while wandering through a small bookstore in Kathmandu's Thamel area during my first week in Nepal last summer. Not being quite sure what to make of the title and the cover (see below) I forgot about it again until the book came up during a discussion with some Australian friends a couple of days later. Hearing that it was supposed to be an interesting read I put it on my Amazon wishlist and ordered it upon my return to Austria.

The book is basically a collective memoir by the three authors who met as recently joined and idealistic United Nations employees in Cambodia in the 1990s. Their accounts detail their involvement in various UN missions from Cambodia to Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti and Bosnia. The mood of the book changes dramatically as they describe their experiences ranging from the good life they often had in Cambodia, to personal losses and the nerve-wrecking experience of excavating the victims of massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia. Some of the descriptions, especially the ones related to the massacres, are indeed haunting. Overall the book provides an interesting insight into the lives and experiences of three dedicated individuals who each in their own way tries to make the world a better place. It was really hard for me to put the book down and so I finished it within two or three days.

I can't recall where or how I originally heard about Thomas Pynchon's "Inherent Vice". However when I was hanging out at the Thalia book store in Hamburg on my way home from Stockholm I saw the cover and remembered that the book was on my "to-be-read" list. After diving into the book for 30min I knew that it would make for a great holiday read. Turns out I was right because I really had a great time reading this novel which one comment on Amazon perfectly describes as:

"A hilarious cross between The Big Lebowski and Illuminatus! (the trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea -- not to be confused with the similarly-titled bestseller), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Raymond Chandler novels."

BTW, this book isn't recommend for people who get annoyed by the word "groovy"!

Last but not least, the book that kept me up until 4AM last Monday was "The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders" by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre and Frederic Lemercier. The book is a beautifully designed mixture of a graphic novel and photos taken by Didier Lefevre when he accompanied a team from Médecins sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) into northern Afghanistan in 1986. To say that the book is powerful would be quite the understatement. Its content and visual presentation combined with Lefevre's great photos are literally mind-blowing. For me this was also the first time I've seen such a mixture of illustrated and photographed panels and this makes it all the more memorable an experience. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who even has the faintest interest in travel photography, the work of MSF, Afghanistan and/or the account of a traveler on the journey of his life.

Next up on my reading list are Junot Díaz's "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" and "The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World" by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan. I had started reading both books last year but never got around to finishing them.

Mmm, on the other hand William Gibson’s “Spook Country” and the famous “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have also been on my list for quite some time…

1 comment:

BryanWB said...

I don't recommend spook country. Gibson hasn't really written anything good since Neuromancer.

I strongly recommend LA Confidential or The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy, probably his best works. as you know, I am quite the ellroy fan