Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | August 23, 2011

Confessions of a Book-aholic…. and a Top 10 List

Hi.  My name is Dana and I’m addicted to buying books.  I can’t get enough.  Amazon and I are like BFFs.  I love books, and I mean “real” books, not e-books.  Holding a hard, plastic/metal gadget in my hand is no where near as satisfying as flipping through a newly purchased book and feeling the swish of the wind the pages make!  Finding the book for $0.01 on Amazon makes it just that much better!  (No matter that the shipping is $3.99!!  I just bought a book for a penny!)  And for some reason, I tend to read books that reference other books, so of course I have to go see how much those books are on Amazon, and when they’re a penny, it’s way too hard to say no!  I rarely buy anything that is reviewed as less than “very good” or “like new” and have never been disappointed.  I do, sometimes, tend to forget what I’ve ordered and 7 to 10 days later, when it arrives, I’m pleasantly surprised by the package that just “showed up” at my door.

A recent "surprise" on my doorstep

Like every addiction, mine comes with a unique set of consequences.  First, and least important, is that my inbox is constantly flooded with requests for me to leave feedback for sellers.  But more of an issue is that I run out of places to store the books, and my “next up” pile starts to become overwhelming.  So, I end up stashing the books in drawers, on shelves, in the office, the garage, the closets.  You get the picture.  I rationalize this hoarding of books by telling myself that someday I’ll take them to the library in Haiti.  (Nevermind that my books tend to be mostly in English and the collection in Haiti needs to be mostly in French or Creole….).

Drawer next to my bed, full of recently read or "next up" books

Yet another problem, and one that is a little distressful to me, is that I am currently in the middle of reading about half a dozen books, which may not sound like a true problem, but I am beginning to suspect that reading more than one book at a time ends up costing me time in the long run.  I say this because the older I get, the less able I am to retain what I’ve read, so when I pick up a book to read a few pages after having read a few pages in another book, I have to back track a little to remember where I left off.  And the back tracking becomes longer and longer to get me caught up, unfortunately.  I really have to stop reading an entire pile and stick to one book, cover to cover without any other books in between.

Evidence of how long I've been hoarding books, notice the "Golden Books" to the right, from my childhood!

For today’s post, with the hopes that you all enjoy reading as much as I do, I thought I’d share my Top 10 of books about Haiti, some fiction, some fact.  I’ve not read all of these books, yet.  A couple of them are on my “next up” pile that I hope to get to soon.

1.  The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer – referred to in another book I read recently, this book, I suspect will be my favorite by Paul Farmer.  If you haven’t read any books about him or by him, you definitely should.  Particularly if you’re interested in Haiti and other developing countries.  You might want to start with Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.  Farmer also wrote Haiti After the Earthquake which I haven’t read yet, but imagine it’s phenomenal.

2.  Taste of Salt by Frances Temple – this is a “youth” book that I read many years ago but is on my “next up” pile to re-read.  The book is written in the Duvalier era, but Jean-Bertrande Aristide is a prominent character, though still a priest in the book and not yet president.

3.  The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales by Diane Wolkstein – Another book I need to re-read, this book is full of short stories that are popular tales recounted out loud, especially at night like bedtime stories.  The book is a great way to get a feel for Haitian culture, and the stories are authentic.

4.  Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat – This book is just beautifully written, about culture and family.  It depicts a story that is at least partially true for many Haitians in that it takes the reader through the departure of the main character’s beloved Haiti and transports her to the U.S. where her mother is in search of a better life.  I won’t bother putting other books by Edwidge Danticat on the list because they would fill the list and then some.  I love all of her books.  Try Krik? Krak! for sure!  And, of course, The Farming of Bones, which requires more work to read than Breath, Eyes, Memory, but is an excellent book.  (The image below was borrowed from http://wisb.blogspot.com/2010_05_01_archive.html)

Edwidge Danticat books

5.  Tap Tap by Karen Lynn Williams – I first came across this book purely by chance.  I happened to walk into a bookstore with my oldest daughter, who at the time was about two years old, and found that there was an author signing books.  I stopped at the display only to find the cover of the book had a picture of a Haitian Tap Tap (“public” transportation) on it.  So I waited to meet the author and found out she had spent time in Haiti.  Needless to say I bought the book (a children’s book), got it signed, and have since read it to all three of my own children, and to many classes of public school children.  It’s a must-have!  Gorgeous illustrations and a story about a girl who goes to town with her mother to sell oranges.  Another by the same author, also a good book is Painted Dreams.

6.  Taste of Haiti by Mirta Yurnet-Thomas – A cookbook, this isn’t exactly a book to just sit down and read leisurely for pleasure.  This is definitely meant for the reader to use in the kitchen.  Every recipe I’ve tried has been good, although I have a hard time following a recipe because I refuse to measure (a post for another day, perhaps).  My only complaint is that I wish it had photos.  Another cookbook I highly recommend is Le Gout d’Haiti by Stephanie Renauld Armand.   Highly authentic but written in French and Creole, this book has gorgeous artwork throughout.

LOVE these cookbooks!

7.  On That Day Everybody Ate by Margaret Trost – In my “next up” pile, this book seems like it will be among my favorites, and seems remotely like Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, as it was written by a woman who was struggling emotionally and decided to go abroad.  Trost, however, went purposefully in search of a way to give of herself in the service of others, unlike Gilbert who went away more in search of herself and to regroup after a failed marriage.

8.  Restavec by Jean-Robert Cadet – Also in my “next up” pile, this book I’m sure will be hard to read as the stories of the Restaveks are horrible stories of hardship and abuse.  Restaveks live in the home of someone who either paid money for them or who promised to “care for” them (often times, a relative who is “helping” out a family who cannot care for the child).  They are, in the very best of conditions, servants of the home who are not paid but receive room and board, and in the worst conditions, treated brutally and given the bare minimum needed to survive while working under inhumane conditions, sometimes suffering sexual assault.  The author indicates that those who are not mistreated are really referred to in Haiti as “timoun ki rete kay mounand not “restavek.” “Restavek” translates to “one who rests with” while “timoun ki rete kay moun” translates to “child who stays in someone’s home,” perhaps a slight difference in language but apparently a significant difference in meaning.   In Creole, the word is spelled with a “k” at the end, not a “c.”  On a side note, a few years ago, there was a “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” episode that involved a female Restavek.

9.  Selavi by Youme Landowne – A children’s book, this book tells a story of a homeless boy’s trials and misfortunes, but is a story of hope and inspiration.  The reviews indicate that the book is uplifting while portraying painful, scary situations, and does a decent job of not over-simplifying the situation in Haiti.  This will be in one of the “surprise” packages that shows up on my doorstep soon.

10.  The Comediens by Graham Green – This should be considered a classic.  It is set during the time Duvalier and the Ton Ton Macoutes ruled the country.  The book is set in the “Hotel Trianon” which is based on real-life hotel, Hotel Oloffson, which still exists and actually survived the 2010 earthquake despite being located in Port-au-Prince.  Their website is http://hoteloloffson.com/.  The book revolves around three main characters who experience everything from political turmoil to love affairs in the course of the story.  Duvalier himself was said to have reacted by calling Greene, “A liar, a cretin, a stool-pigeon… unbalanced, sadistic, perverted… a perfect ignoramus… lying to his heart’s content… the shame of proud and noble England… a spy… a drug addict… a torturer.”  If it got such a wild reaction from the dictator, I’m guessing it really hit a nerve!

I certainly hope you enjoy the list, and I apologize, in advance, if I’ve just contributed to your own book fetish.  Maybe if we join forces and ask nicely, Amazon will give us a “preferred customer” discount!!  And for those of you who have never bought used books online or do not wish to, I also highly recommend Half Price Bookstores, or your own local used book shop.  Give those books a second life rather than a trip to the dump!!

$1 books from Half Price Bookstore (yes, those are poodle paws sticking out to the right of the books)

What’s in your “next up” pile?

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Responses

  1. What a great post, Dana! Obvioulsly I can relate to your addiction, as well as your decreased ability to remember what you read. I too love Paul Farmer, but there are a couple of books on your list I haven’t read, and I thought I had covered the bases. Thanks for these recommendations!
    Kathy

  2. love this one!

  3. hi there,
    Happy to read that you like my book Le gout d’Haiti… and have to tell you that it exist in english… A taste for HAITI. Hope you can find it on the Haitan book center website…
    stephanie

    • Wow! What a huge surprise to see your comment! I love the book!! Had no idea it existed in English! Will have to buy it as gifts for non Creole speaking friends who have asked me for Haitian recipes!

      Are you from Haiti? If so, what part? We will be in Ouanaminthe in June to open our 2nd library (the first is in Pilate) . Would love to have you stop by to see it an so we could meet you!

      Thanks so much for commenting!! By the way, do you have other books?


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