Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Out of the Closet with a Stack of Books

One of the joys of my time here in Puerto Cabezas is the amount of reading I've been able to do. Book after blessed book, I curl up in my hammock and read for hours, or until someone comes to the door or window looking for attention. I've long contemplated writing a blog entry about the reading I've accomplished, but I've been balking for several reasons. First of all, I figure, anyone in the US can read a book, even more easily than I can here in Nicaragua. People want to hear about life in Nicaragua, not about the time I spend engaging in reading, that most un-Nicaraguan of activities. This is an oral culture. People spend time talking about Ruben Dario, not poring over his collected works time and time again. This brings me to my second reason, which is guilt. I feel a bit guilty for the time I spend in my room with my books, or the time I read instead of talk while waiting for dance practice to start. I should be using the time to immerse myself in the local culture, part of which involves NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, SHOULD YOU FIND YOURSELF ALONE.

Then, today, I opened up that gem of a blog written by Peace Corps volunteer Jake Grossman. I found that he had written an entire entry not only reflecting upon the importance of books in his life in Paraguay, but reporting detailed statistical data he had carefully compiled on the books he had read, which is double the number I have read. I thought, "Wow, if this most excellent international blog can extoll the joys of reading, why can't I?" And so the story of my reading hobby is declassified from the top-secret files in my heart. (The story of my romantic life, however, has lost the petition for declassification for the time being. Besides, it may end up being the primary plot thread that ties together Puerto Cabezas: The Book)

I haven't spent free time devouring books this voraciously since grade school. Susan attributes it to the lack of other activities in which to engage, but I think it's more than that. First of all, I burned out a bit on reading after college. I'm finally over it. Secondly, I believe the sheer enormity of reading possibilities I had in the US actually limited the amount of reading I did. I would go into the wonderful, magical downtown Milwaukee Public Library and be so overwhelmed by the options that I would end up leaving with no book in hand. On the chance I did find a book, I would think, "Oh, this isn't SO great. There are so many other choices that I should go find another." And so my reading career faltered.

Here in Puerto Cabezas, I read whatever other ex-pats offer me. Susan and Lee, for sure, but also Deborah, the Canadian pastor of the Moravian church down the street, and Solveig, the Norwegian nurse currently working at a local university. Deborah and her husband Don have been my primary dealer of reading material. My parents have also brought me books. The book that I am reading now, James Michener's memoir entitled "The World is My Home," is one my family and I found in a hotel in Granada, where it had been abandoned after being checked out from the Miami-Dade Public Library (judging by the due date, not so very long ago).

As it turns out (and as Jake mentios), the books I read haven't been so terribly far removed from my experiences here. Diana Gabaldon's Outlander tells of a woman who builds a new community about her after being ripped suddenly from her own place and time. I could relate very much to her sense of being caught between worlds, despite the gentle waft of Harlequin rising from its pages, diminishing my normally robust apetite for reading. I do have to question the wisdom of my pastors who gave me The Sparrow before I left Milwaukee. A book about a missionary expedition that ends in massive bloodshed and the brutal deaths of nearly all involved is not exactly what you want to be reading when starting out on a year of service. Still, it was a lovely theological exploration with compelling characters that reminded me of the long and mixed tradition of overseas service workers and seekers in which I find myself. Jan Wong's excellent memoir Red China Blues was a lovely companion, sharing experience both the allure and the struggle of spending an extended period in another country, especially a poor one. Above all, that's what these books have been; companions, new friends to accompany me on my journey and share their wisdoms. Even Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I venture is about as unremarkable as one would expect from a book that draws its critical acclaim from Julia Roberts and Elle magazine, proved an amiable companion that provided a word of unwavering self-love and care at a time when I needed just such a message.

As my options close, my mind opens. I try out new books I would not otherwise have picked off the shelf, and I have not only made it through most of them, I have enjoyed them vastly. I've rediscovered that feeling I had once in college, when, curled up in bed with a theology book, I heard someone having sex. I smiled to myself and realized I could not be any happier than right there, where I was, with only my book for company.

The Books I Have Read in Nicaragua Thus Far :

1) The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell
2) Shibumi by Trevanian
3) Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
4) The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud by Julia Navarro
5) Red China Blues: From Mao to Now by Jan Wong
5) The Lost Chord by Ian Thomas
6) The Devil in the White City: Murder, Madness and Magic at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
7) The Eight by Katherine Neville
8) White Stone Day by John M. Gray
9) The Doomsday Key by James Rollins
10)Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
11)Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
12)Life of Pi by Yann Martel
13)The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by AJ Jacobs
14)Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia
15)Games for Actors and Non-Actors 2nd Edition by Augusto Boal
16)The Time-Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
17) Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal
Currently Reading:
Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen
Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong
The World is My Home: A Memoir by James Michener

Books that I made a grand effort at and have yet to finish:
Canterbury Papers: A Novel by Judith Healey
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

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