#42. Something Bad Happen, Please! (Tom and Hedy Valledolmo)

Book: Something Bad Happen, Please! The fine art of turning life’s little glitches into a bounty of riches, by Tom and Hedy Valledolmo

Genre and Year of Publication: hard to categorize – Self-help? Travel? How to be a Jerk? Published 2014

Where I got it: Free Kindle download (read in August; reviewed in October)

Length: 142 pages

Briefly, it’s about how to claim compensation for anything that goes wrong on your travels.

Comments: When I downloaded the book, I thought that the subtitle meant “interior riches”, that the book is about having a positive attitude and finding happiness in situations of adversity.  How wrong I was!  It’s about getting every possible penny, or something else material, in compensation from every possible mishap.  The authors must be the customers from hell.  Hotels, restaurants, airlines… watch out, because if the slightest thing is not altogether to their liking and pleasure, they’ll screw you for it.

I really don’t know how anyone could go through life with this attitude and be happy.

Challenges: ebook reading challenge; non-fiction challenge

Short Story #28. Passion (Doreen Baingana)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the queen of diamonds.

Story: Passion, by Doreen Baingana (from The Granta Book of the African Short Story)

Comments: This is perhaps the best story I’ve read in this collection so far.  It is told in the person of Rosa, a seventeen-year-old high school student in boarding school in Uganda, who decides to conduct a juju experiment on her (male) English literature teacher – ostensibly because she is rebelling against the anti-juju teaching that is being hammered into the students, but in reality because she is a seventeen-year-old girl/woman fascinated with sex, men, passion.  How the teacher deals with her not-very-subtle [except to her] attempt to seduce him, encouraging her, in a slightly clumsy but effective way, to channel her passion elsewhere, via literature, makes this a classic rite-of-passage or coming-of-age story.

The author captures the voice of a seventeen year old girl excellently, with just the right mixture of alleged boredom with school and disdain for her so uncool teachers (admitting, nevertheless, a certain amount of respect for them), rebelliousness, fascination with sex and sexuality, and independent thoughtfulness.  The dialogue with her classmates is as authentic as the passages which take place in Rosa’s head.

I had no idea when reading the story that it is from a collection of interlocking stories, Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe, involving three sisters (Christine, Rosa, and Patti) and their experience of growing up in Uganda in the years immediately after the rule of Idi Amin.  The story certainly stands very well on its own.  But I’m now interested in reading the whole collection.

Short Story #27. The Fugitive (Alain Mabanckou)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the King of diamonds.

Story: The Fugitive, by Alain Mabanckou (from The Granta Book of the African Short Story) (read in October; review posted

Comments: This is included as a short story in a book of short stories, but it reads more like an extract from a biographical essay.  The author was born in Congo and went to France as a young student.  In this “story” he recounts how he was one day chased by three inspectors at the Montparnasse-Bienvenue Station in Paris, who suspected – rightly – that he did not have a ticket.  Mabanckou describes the chase in some detail, and the events which led up to it.  The two white inspectors eventually give up the chase, feeling that it’s not worth it, but the black inspector pursues and eventually apprehends him.  The inspector is West Indian.  Mabanckou goes on

“…it’s seventeen years later, and I’m remembering the day I was taken to a police station for the first time in my life.  The day I realized that some of my writing would tackle the complexity of racism between people of the same colour.  When I was writing my first novel, Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, I was haunted by that marathon sprint through the corridors of Montparnasse-Bienvenue…

And many years after that, as I was writing another novel, Black Bazar, I was haunted by the face of that black West Indian as he chased me.  I could see him caricaturing me and complaining about the fraudulent activities of the ‘African gangs’ of Chateau Rouge…

And he continues with some more reflections on the impact of that incident on his writing, and on the questions he raises in his writing.  So it sounds to me more like an extract from an interview than a short story.

As chase stories go, it’s hard to beat Jeffrey Archer’s “Never Stop on the Motorway”.  I challenge anyone to read that and not have their heart pounding and blood racing at the end.  “The Fugitive” is not like that at all.

#41. Acts of Faith (Philip Caputo)

Book: Acts of Faith, by Philip Caputo

Genre and Year of Publication: War fiction; 2006

Where I got it: The Open Door used book shop (read between January and August; reviewed in October)

Length: 688 pages

Briefly, it’s a novel set in Sudan (now South Sudan) during the 1990s, about the ambiguity of foreign (particularly American) aid to the civilian victims of the civil war.

Comments: This book got rave reviews in the press (Caputo was compared to Graham Greene, inter alia), but the reviews from regular readers on Goodreads are more nuanced.  I’m with the latter.  At almost 700 pages this is a giant book – dare I suggest that a more skilled writer might have been able to convey the story and the message in 500?  That the author felt the need to include a two page character list indicates complexity.  I frequently wasn’t sure, especially at the beginning, who was who.  The themes are fascinating, but I was frequently bored, putting the book down for long periods at a time.  The love affairs in particular are unconvincing, and I found the very last scene in the book particularly unconvincing.  There’s violence, sex, mixed motives, death, unforeseen consequences, politics, religion, love, hate, heat and more in this book.  I’m glad I read it, but more for the feeling of accomplishment at having finished it that for actual enjoyment of the reading itself.

Challenges: Full House Challenge for the category “Published before 2013”

#40. Leadership is Hell: How to Manage Well – And Escape with your Soul (Rob Ashgar)

Book: Leadership is Hell: How to Manage Well – And Escape with your Soul, by Rob Ashgar

Genre and Year of Publication: Self-help, 2014

Where I got it: Free Kindle download (read in August; reviewed in October)

Length: 168 pages

Briefly, it’s a book that aims to explode the contemporary myth that being successful means being a leader, replacing it with the saner doctrine that “most talented people would be happier as freelancers, independent contractors or followers, liberated from the burdens of overseeing others” (a quote from the author, from a Forbes piece, here).

Comments: This book was very well worth MY while reading.  Here’s part of the blurb, which says it better than I can:

[The book] explores how to identify and overcome the blind spots that may be hurting your career; whether you have the right mindset for the kind of success that you’re seeking; how to develop just the right amount of “healthy ego” to make an impact; and how to make an impact on the world in a way that’s true to who you are (be forewarned, this might involve a completely different path than your current one).

This book will take you on a journey, showing you famous figures from history and the present—some who got it right, and some who didn’t. You’ll look at seven roads to hell within the world of leadership, and seven roads out of hell, to guide you safely to a meaningful legacy.

As a result of reading and reflecting on the wisdom of this book, I think I’ve let go – to a considerable degree, probably not completely – of my dream of being “a leader” within my professional career path, and I’ll concentrate instead on being successful according to the pattern that suits my particular personality and gifts.  It has been one of the elements contributing to my decision to seek a “sideways move” at work which will make me less likely to become a leader (of other people), and more likely to make me happy.  Hurrah for that.

It’s a book I need to read again, if only because it goes against the climate of the profession in which I operate, and where I do not get much support for my choices.  So the more I can interiorize of this, the better.  I’m so glad I chose to read it.

Challenges: Full House Challenge for the “Free Choice” category; ebook reading challenge; non-fiction challenge.

#39. The Murder at Sissingham Hall (Clara Benson)

Book: The Murder at Sissingham Hall, by Clara Benson (Angela Marchmont Mystery #1)

Genre and Year of Publication: Cozy Murder Mystery, written prior to 1965 but not published till 2013 (it seems?)

Where I got it: Free Kindle download (read in August; reviewed in October)

Length: 212 pages

Briefly, it’s a traditional English country house whodunnit.

Comments: Clara Benson, the author, lived from 1890 to 1965.  She wrote several books, but considered writing to be a hobby so did not have them published (according to Goodreads.  I wonder if there’s a deeper story there?)  After her death, her family had the books published. 

The Murder at Sissingham Hall  is the first in a series featuring Angela Marchmont, a woman who just happens to find herself in circumstances which cause her to play the role of detective.  Here, she is one of the guests at the country weekend when the rich owner of the house is murdered… Everyone has a motive… things are not what they seem… her powers of deduction and observation lead to the truth being unveiled at the end…

If you like this genre, you’ll like this.  Personally I will be looking out for more Angela Marchmont books.

Challenges: Full House Challenge for the category “Book from a series”; ebook reading challenge

Adding it Up: My Reading in July

Month: July 2014; being added up at the end of October 2014.

Books completed this month: 8 (6 ebooks; 1 paperback bought secondhand; 1 paperback received as a gift).
Books completed year to date: 38 (26 ebooks; 7 hard copy; 2 audio; 1 part hard copy, part ebook; 2 pdf download)

Abandoned this month: nothing
Abandoned year to date: 2 books; 1 short story

Short stories completed this month: 2
Short stories completed year to date: 26

Best read this month: Castles, Follies and Four-Leaf Clovers: Adventures Along Ireland’s St. Declan’s Way – a pilgrimage journal.

Completed this month for the various challenges:
Reading round Munster – 1, but for a category already completed (Total year to date 5 + 1/6 – runs from Nov 2013 to Sept 2014)
Full House Challenge – 2 (Total year to date 16/25)
Back to the Classics – 0 (Total year to date 2/10-and-a-movie)
Read Scotland – 0 (Total year to date 2/1-4)
Africa Reading Challenge – 1 (Total year to date 2/5)
Deal Me In [Short stories]: 2 (Total year to date 26/52)
Non-Fiction: 3 (Total year to date 16/16-20)
I Love Library Books: 0 (Total year to date 3/6)
Audio Books: 0 (Total year to date 2/1-5)
Ebooks: 2 (Total year to date 26/25)
[Non-challenge books: 1 (Total year to date, 1)]

Comments: I’m writing this at the end of October; I want to post about my reading in August, September and October before taking a look at where I am with the challenges.