The Numbers

DATE: 4/27/15 Titles Finished Total

  • Books: 875
  • Poetry: 74
  • Short stories: 32

Total for 2015: 38 titles Titles left to go (all combined): 4,748 Next count: 5/25/2015

*Note: The real number of books left to read in the challenge is actually 4,739. why the discrepancy? there are nine books with alternate titles. both titles are indexed. yes, it took me this long to figure that out.

Murder in Amsterdam

Buruma, Ian. Murder in Amsterdam: the Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance. London: Atlantic Books, 2006.

Reason read: the big Holland tulip festival is in May…although this has nothing to do with flowers.

Mohammed Bouyeri was 26 years old when he not only shot Theo van Gogh several times but slashed his throat with a machete as well. He ended his assault by stabbing a note into Van Gogh’s lifeless body – however the final insult was kicking the corpse before calmly walking away. The note, oddly enough, wasn’t addressed to Van Gogh (rightly so since the dead man couldn’t read it) but to anti-Islam politician Hirsi Ali who claimed the Koran was the source of abuse against women. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of folks in Holland who wished Van Gogh dead. He thrived on being controversial to the point of revolting. Buruma knew Van Gogh in certain circles so I can only imagine what it was like to write about his death as an acquaintance. But, the actual crime is only the centerpiece for the much wider topic of controversies surrounding what happens when nonconformist immigrant populations with differing religions and cultural politics clash against other stringent societies.

As an aside, whenever I thought about the subtitle of Murder in Amsterdam (The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance) I had Natalie Merchant’s lyrics from “This House is On Fire” in my head, “You go passing wrong for right and right for wrong people only stand for that for just so long”. She is not asking what is the limit of tolerance. She is telling you there IS a limit.

Lines that lingered, “When smugness is challenged, panic sets in” (p 15), “Unsure of where he belonged, he lost himself in a murderous cause” (p 23), “Part walking penis, part phony aristocrat, Fortyn became a presence, in TV studios, on radio programs, and at public debates that could not be ignored” (p 59), and (last one), “The sense of being “disappeared” can lead to aggression, as well as self-hatred; dreams of omnipotence blend with the desire for self-destruction” (p 140).

Author fact: Buruma also wrote a book called Voltaire’s Coconuts. With his sense of humor (and not having read the book) I wonder what coconuts he’s referring to….

Book trivia: there are no pictures of Theo van Gogh nor maps of the area in which he was murdered.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hollandays” (p 96).

Flash for Freedom

Fraser, George MacDonald. Flash for Freedom! New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972.

Reason read: to continue the series started in April (George MacDonald Fraser’s birth month).

If you are keeping track, this is the third installment of the Flashman papers “owned” by Mr. Paget Morrison. To recap the first two packets of papers (published in 1969 & 1970): Flashman has been expelled from Rugby School, served in the British army and survived a skirmish with Otto von Bismark. The third packet picks up in the year 1848 and seems to be initially edited by Flashman’s sister-in-law, Grizel de Rothchild as the swearwords are heavily edited and the sex is practically nonexistent (unheard of for our Harry, but don’t worry – it picks up!). This time Harry’s adventure focuses on a trip to America (Washington and New Orleans) where he meets Abraham Lincoln, gets caught up in the slave trade (with the underground railroad and as a salve runner), and par for the course, nearly loses his life several times over. Once again, it’s a woman who saves his bacon.

The more I read the Flashman series, the more I like Flashy’s humor. I can’t help it. When he called his mother-in-law a “Medusa-in-law” I giggled.

Author fact: I’m leaving off the author fact from here on out because I’ve already ready four Fraser books and there is only so much I can say about him. If something interesting pops up I’ll share on the next book.

Book trivia: The cover of Flash for Freedom is really odd.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “George MacDonald Fraser: Too Good To Miss” (p 93).

From Beirut to Jerusalem

Friedman, Thomas. From Beirut to Jerusalem New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1989.

Reason read: Iran is beautiful in May…or so I’ve heard.

This book follows a chronology of the Middle East that begins in 1882 and ends in 1988. It could be seen as a love story, a biography about a region Friedman knows intimately and loves dearly despite its many contradictions. In spite of the ever-roiling Arab-Israeli conflict Friedman is right in the thick of it and writes as if he is at home. While he has a reporters flair for the detail there is a cavalier nonchalance when it comes to the dangers. He has grown used to the gunfire, the bombings and the kidnappings. His ambivalence in the face of such violence could almost be comical if it was not so conflicted.

Quotes that grabbed me, “Death had no echo in Beirut” (p 29). That spoke volumes to me. Here’s another, “Levin’s kidnapping, and the dozens that would follow, taught me a valuable lesson about journalism that one could learn only in a place like Beirut – to pay attention to toe silence” (p 74).

Book trivia: From Beirut to Jerusalem in the winner of the National Book Award of 1989.

Author fact: According to the dust jacket of From Beirut to Jerusalem Friedman had won five different awards by the time this book was published.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter simply called “The Middle East” (p 154).


Auge, Christian and Jean-Marie Dentzer. Petra: Lost City of the Ancient World. New York: Discoveries: Henry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 2000.

Reason read: Speaking of lost cities, the first Indiana Jones movie was released in May.

When you think of the word ‘extinct’ most likely you think of dinosaurs, the woolly mammoth, maybe even the dodo bird. Cities don’t readily come to mind. Petra is one such extinct city hidden deep in the landscape of Jordan. What is so unique about Petra is that all of its structures were carved out of the towering rocks around it, creating a unique fortress. For centuries a civilization lived and breathed within Petra until the Crusaders bullied it into ruin and ultimate desolation. Petra was abandoned and forgotten until 1812 when explorer Johann Burckhardt stumbled across it’s shadowy beauty. Auge and Dentzer bring Petra’s art and architecture into the light in a mere 125+ pages. Before you even delve into the text of Petra you are treated to seven pages of glossy gorgeous photos, giving you a sense of why, since 1985, the city has been on the UNESCO list of world-heritage sites.
The only drawback to the tiny book is that text and absolutely stunning photographs are crammed together on the page. Every photograph has a lengthy description definitely worth reading. Because of the cramped space the flow of reading was at time, choppy. I decided it was better to read the text and then go back to study the photographs and read the descriptions.

Author(s) fact: Auge is a specialist in ancient coins and Dentzer is a professor.

Book trivia: this is my first experience with the Discoveries series and I’d like to think all of their books are like this, but Petra has gorgeous illustrations.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called simply “Jordan” (p 120).

Cutting for Stone

Verghese, Abraham. Cutting for Stone. Read by Sunil Malhotra. New York: Random House Audio, 2009.

Reason read: May 28th is National Derg Downfall Day in Ethiopia.

On LibraryThing alone there are nearly 400 reviews for this book (and that’s not counting the people who insisted on publishing the same review five times in a row for whatever reason). It’s almost as if there is nothing more insightful to be said about Cutting for Stone. What new spin can I put on an already fabulous and amazing book? Everything everyone else said is absolutely true. It’s lyrical in its language. It’s descriptively alluring. Vivid landscapes. Intriguing characters. The mix of true historical events (like the attempted coup on Emperor Selassie) is seamless and works well within the fiction.

What I missed (and wished there was more of) was Marion interacting with his brother. There is barely any dialogue between the two brothers while they are growing up. Shiva is always on the periphery of Marion’s telling. By the time of the betrayal I didn’t get the full scope of how devastating it was to Marion because the closeness of the twins was not fully emphasized throughout the story.

Edited to add my favorite line, “No blade can puncture the human heart like the well-chosen words of a spiteful son” (p 821).

Author fact: Verghese is also a physician which is why his medical terminology in Cutting for Stone is more technical and exacting. When I checked out his website (here) I found his views on the patient-physician relationship compelling.

Book trivia: Cutting for Stone is Verghese’s first novel. He’s a doctor AND a best selling author!

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ethiopia, Or As We Used To Say, Abyssinia!” (p 80). As an aside, Pearl wanted to travel to Addis Ababa after reading Cutting for Stone – Verghese “brought the city alive” (p 80). Someone else said Verghese made her homesick for Addis Ababa and they’ve never been there. Huge compliments.


Karnazes, Dean. Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss. New York: Rodale, 2011.

Reason read: Toronto half marathon.

I think Dean summed it up best when he said in his forward (called ‘Warmup’, “There is magic in misery” (p xi). Every time I came back from a run with chafing in odd places my husband would shake his head. Why would anyone subject themselves to such pain just for the fun of it? I’m really not sure, but Dean is right: there is magic in misery.

Within the pages of Run! there are 26.2 stories all related to running in one way or another, one for every mile of a marathon. Sometimes a chapter was simply to express the joy of running. Sometimes it allowed Karnazes’s wife or friends try to explain what makes him tick. Other times it was just to tell a funny story if only to reiterate Karnazes is human and can fail from time to time. There is a wicked sense of humor threaded through every mile/story.

My favorite element of the book was the idea Karnazes talked into a tape recorder while running; essentially telling the tales while doing what he does best – running for miles and miles and miles. My second favorite element of the Run! was the curiosity it sparked in me. I immediately needed to research the Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei and the art of “vanduzzi” or cupping.

Best quotes, “Running has a way of possessing your soul, infiltrating your psyche, and quietly becoming your central life force” (42). Amen to that. Here’s another good quote, “Adventure happens within” (p 115).

Never Wipe Your…

Robillard, Jason. Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel: a Trail Running, Ultramarathon, and Wilderness Survival Guide for Weird Folks. Barefoot Running Press, 2013.

This has got to be the strangest guide to running I have ever come across. Okay, to be fair it is chock full of useful information and thensome. Hey, you even learn the names of clouds…as in cirrostratus and stratocumulus. I kid you not. That’s the tame stuff. Azz wiping is even more informative. But. But! But, it’s all organized in a bizzarro way. Here’s an example: you are reading all about wilderness dangers (because nature can kill). Robillard is covering what to do in cases of ticks, snakes, even cougars. Then all of a sudden he jumps to information about foam rollers and stretching. Just when you think he’s moved on from the hazards of nature he returns to tripping on tree roots and the importance of learning to fall correctly. More safety information. The stick/roller information seems really out of place. Having said all that, one look at the table of contents and you know this isn’t your typical runners’ guide. I would say beginner runners shouldn’t attempt to use this book as a serious guide. Serious ultrarunners will know everything he’s talking about and I would say, the more experienced the runner, the funnier Robillard gets.

Can’t quote anything from the book, even for a review…mostly because I’m too lazy to seek permission. Pretend I inserted funny examples of why you should read this book here -> “—-“(p).

Reason: okay, I admit it. The title caught my attention.

Author fact: Robillard likens himself to Tucker Max. I would say Robillard is just as funny except his writing is more interesting.

Book trivia: Oodles of typos. Not sure what to make of that.


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