Always be Reading

TWO years ago I asked y’all for book recommendations, and I JUST finished reading all the recs! You can check out my reviews on GoodReads.

  • Enchantress of Florence!
  • the final testament of the holy bible by James Frey. It’s a little intense but i love it!
  • I’m reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth right now. It’s about 1400 pages but pretty good so far.
  • The Alchemist
  • The Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson. (One of my favourites in recent years; takes you into the strange world of North Korea)
  • The Last Lion: Winston S. Churchill (1940-1965). LONG but brilliant.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
  • Are you into classic lit? If you haven’t read Dickens or Steinbeck in awhile, get to it. And I’d be remiss to not suggest Austen.
  • if you like historical fiction, cutting for stone is a great read. narrative journalism – love thy neighbor by peter mass is excellent.
  • Reading “Bird by Bird” and loving it…
  • Depending on what you’re up for — Fiction: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Narrative nonfiction: Devil in the White City. Biography: Mountains Beyond Mountains. YA lit: Eleanor and Park … and as we get closer to the end of the year, Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris is always a good standby.
  • Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Think of it as “300” only much more historically accurate
  • Fall of Giants by Ken Follett is really well done. It is a historical fiction that takes you through WWI from the perspectives of some great characters living in the various countries involved…If you have any interest in science fiction check out Old Man War’s by John Scalzi…I know the title leaves something to be desired but it is truly epic…also maybe try rereading the Giver….Way better as an adult.
  • Mad Magazine.
  • You still need to read Ajax Penumbra 1969! It’s a quickie:…/18657790-ajax-penumbra-1969
  • The Great Gatsby. Midnight’s Children.
  • Wanna read this together?
  • Try Pedro Paramo, or one hundred years of solitude.
  • The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Catch-22
  • Can’t argue with Cryptonomicon, Old Man’s War or any Philip Roth. Here are a few more:
    • In non-fiction: Griftopia by Matt Taibbi; Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explains the World We Live in Now, by David Sirota;
    • In historical semi-fiction: The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You’ll Never Read, by Stuart Kelly;
    • In urban fantasy: Storm Front, by Jim Butcher; Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan;
    • In space opera: Consider Phlebas, by Iain M. Banks;
    • In ‘hard’ SF: Permanence, by Karl Schroeder;
    • In British Satirical Fantasy: Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman;
    • In light (if high) literary: Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O’Nan;
    • In ‘modern cyberpunk/steampunk’ re-imaginings: Cinder, by Marissa Meyer;
    • In literary: Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell;
    • In high-concept SF: The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi;
    • In disaster fiction: Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle;
    • In modern cyberpunk: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline;
    • In post-apocalyptic novels with huge self-publishing success: Wool, by Hugh Howey;
    • The Snakehead by Patrick Radden Keefe
    • A thousand splendid sun by Khaled Hosseini (on Afghanistan), The white tiger by Aravind Adiga (on India). Or for something more Science fiction/fantasy, China Mieville is an author I’d recommend, especially Perdido Street Station, The City and The City or Un-lun-dun
    • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (also taking notes from other recommendations)
    • Anything written by Philippa Gregory (Other Boleyn Girl etc)
    • On Khaled Hosseini’s note, The Kite Runner is unbeatable. If you want a good mix of fiction and science but not your stereotypical sci fi, read No Time to Die by Kira Peikoff. She just did a story for us and she writes medical thrillers. It was an awesome read.
    • I’ll second The Orphan Master’s Son. Also, of course David Mitchell if you haven’t read him. For older, more “classic” fiction I LOVED loved loved The Magus, by John Fowles. It’s so trippy and beautifully written.
    • Oooh yeah, I second Eloise Awure-Nsoh on The White Tiger. IF you like that, try City of Thieves too. You might like it.
    • Pride and Prejudice
    • White Teeth by Zadie Smith is my fave!
    • Here are some really excellent books I’ve enjoyed reading this year: The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood); Till We Have Faces (Lewis); The Eye (Nabokov); Kafka on the Shore (Murakami); and Invisible Cities (Calvino). All are interesting and worth reading.
    • I absolutely love the Dresden Files series. It’s complete escapism fiction about a Wizard in Chicago. He’s the only entry you can find in the phone book under Wizard.
    • A tree grows in brooklyn, Life of Pi, Unbroken, Growing Up
    • The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco; Foundation, by Isaac Asimov; The Catcher In The Rye, JD Salinger; all of the Game of Thrones books…
    • 1. Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (science fiction focused on genetic engineering with an apocalyptic flair. Soon to be a TV series, I believe). 2. Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction (anthology of short stories by established and emerging women writers). 3. Good Omens. I think someone already mentioned this one, but seriously read it. Hilarious. Wonderful. 4. Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (book within a book within a book. One of my most favorites. Just got it en espanol so I can reread as I progress).
    • Also, also, C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen (another of my favorite science fiction writers. Cloning and nature vs. nuture). Okay, stopping now or else I’ll go on forever.
    • Gone Girl, a sweet story about Nick and Amy, a young married couple who lose their journalist jobs in the recession, and about how their marriage is affected by this setback…
    • OK, seriously. I second Catcher In The Rye. Read it yesterday if you haven’t yet. The Hunger Games trilogy, A Walk to Remember- Nicholas Sparks (don’t judge), Hillary Clinton’s first bio “Living History”, The Racketeer- John Grisham. And two non-fiction reads by great journalists: Nickel and Dimed- Barbara Ehrenreich on living poor in the US and Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater- Michael Sokolove. That last one is one of my recent favorites.
    • Ooooh, KITE RUNNER, good one, Lina! And one of my favorite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro, wrote two books that touched me deeply: Remains of the day and Never let me go.
    • Still thinking about this. Quick read -> The Giver by Lois Lowry. The first dystopian fiction I ever read – it made a big impression on me.
    • Boss by Mike Royko.. This is mandatory
    • Or America: The Book by the Daily Show for a light read
    • Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. It has the best reading-effort-to-wow ratio of any book I’ve read.



Things to Do (and Eat) in Lima, Peru

Here are some ideas for things to do. Let me know if one piques your interest, and I’ll give you more concrete tips. NOTE: Lima is basically all about eating as you’ll see…
  • Get famous Peruvian sandwiches (pavo con criollo) and fries (papas) from a local chain called La Lucha and eat them in Bosque Olivar, which is a really beautiful old park in San Isidro. You can then get coffee/tea and Peruvian cookies (alfajores) at my favorite bakery next door to the park called Casa Alfajores.
  • Go to Madame Tusan for modern Peruvian-Chinese fusion, known as chifa. There are tons of regular chifas, but they’re very similar to the U.S. version of Chinese food.
  • There are also Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurants called Nikkei. Our favorite is Ache. Maido is also very good.
  • Try traditional Peruvian dishes. Those are ceviche, lomo saltado, aji de gallina, causa limena, arroz con pollo, ocopa. There’s also the famous pisco sour and lesser known maracuya sour. As for fruits, lucuma is Peruvian staple and we really enjoy desserts with chirimoya.
  • The Plaza de Armas is the heart of the historic downtown. It’s worth a short stop and perhaps a meal. I’d suggest going around sunset.
  • The best sight we’ve seen downtown is the San Francisco monastery because it has catacombs with a ton of bones.
  • The main art museum is downtown and called MALI. I’m not sure what’s showing now, but I’d say you can skip it. The contemporary art museum (MAC) in Barranco is more interesting.
  • Night tour of South America’s second oldest cemetery.
  • Dinner overlooking Lima’s old ruins at Huaca Pucllana. This is the best food the Significant Other and I have had in Lima!
  • Dinner at Astrid y Gaston. You need to make a reservation. It’s one of the top 50 restaurants in the world.
  • Make sure to order ceviche (Peru’s national dish) and a pisco sour (Peru’s national drink) at Punto Azul
  • Cultural event like dance or opera or a musical (in English or Italian)
  • Futbol game (our team isn’t great, but it’s fun to watch!)
  • Going to Parque Kennedy, the main square, and eating picarones (a very Peruvian dessert), and getting juice (it’s a BIG thing here, going for juice!)
  • Lima’s Magic Water Show (google it) is gorgeous, especially during the hot summer months
  • Walking along the Malecon, Lima’s version of a boardwalk overlooking the ocean, and getting lunch at a bungalow (beware: don’t go during rush hour)
  • Day trips to go see the Peruvian pyramids, sand boarding or the Nasca lines


Stop Calling it an Adventure

I just moved back to the United States after living and reporting from Lima, Peru. Reacclimating has been tough. I miss reporting on topics I know are important. I miss the challenge of navigating Latin America. But, most of all, I miss my old world. It’s just weird to be on U.S. soil.

People rarely ask me about Peru, but when they do it’s mostly to reference Machu Picchu and rattle off some platitude about the joys of traveling. And that’s cool. Small talk is small talk. But it kind of wears on a gal, you know?

In the future, when you meet someone who’s just moved “home” after time away, keep the following tips in mind. It’ll make their (very stressful) transition oh-so much easier.

Stop calling it a journey, an adventure, a gap year, a fellowship or a “year off.” 

This isn’t some “Eat, Pray, Love” bullshit. I didn’t run away from the first world so I could gofindmyself or embracemybody or discoverthemeaningoflife.

Also, an adventure is what little kids go on after their mothers have sufficiently smothered them in sunscreen and checked the backyard for snakes. Take note.

No, my parents didn’t fork over the big bucks so I could galavant across a continent.

No, I didn’t have an institution backing my work or paying my way.

No, I didn’t take a year off, but I did work my ass off.

Stop telling me, “Oh, I could never do that.”


You definitely can’t do it. You can’t do it, but not for the reasons you’re implying. You sigh and say, “Not everybody has as much spare income as you.” “Not everyone has so much time.” “Not everyone has so few responsibilities.”

I would like to point out that I am white, and my parents are proud members of the U.S. middle class, which means I have WAY more opportunities than most people in the world. But you, naysayer, aren’t referring to that.

Stop implying that I have money to burn—I’m a freelance reporter. Stop suggesting I spent a year in the lap of luxury—see this post. Stop insinuating that I had no one to answer to—I have personal goals, financial demands, editors, family and face societal pressures just like everyone else.

Maybe you can’t do it because you’re not willing to throw yourself into the unknown without a safety net. Maybe you’re not a fan of literally chasing down sources? Maybe you want to avoid tear gas? Or, maybe international reporting just isn’t your thing. And that’s fine, but please stop with the nudges and winks already.

Stop saying, “Oh, that must have been so much fun!”

angry birds

Because, most of the time, it wasn’t.

Most of the time the simple act of eating was a battle because everything that went into my mouth came out. Most of the time I was fighting people who wanted to screw me over. Most of the time I was grappling with the cultural barrier. Most of the time I was cold or sick or scared or a lovely combo of all three.

<rant>Do you know how difficult it is to pitch stories about Latin America? GOOD stories? Stories that take history into account, that don’t whitewash, that don’t gloss over culture? Do you know how much mansplaining I had to endure with editors back home? how much ignorance and apathy there was in regard to anything that wasn’t U.S.- or Europe-related?</rant>

Yes, you went to Machu Picchu. Yes, you went on a reporting trip to the Amazon. No, it is not the same thing as living and reporting in the country. That is called “parachuting in.”

So, yeah, I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.




The Jealousy Test

I was born in December, and it’s a cumpleaños I find stressful. The fact that people are gonna shout “HAPEE BURTHDAY!!!11″ this week, wish me “MURRY CHRISSMAS” in two weeks and then just days later exclaim “HAPEE NEW YEARZ!” induces all kinds of anxiety.* There’s too much going on. Too many people expect too many smiles and too many heart-to-hearts and too much happiness and…

December is just toomanyfeels.

Christmas ignites a fierce longing for my hometown—the simplicity of the countryside, the beauty that is California, the comfort that is family. It’s an emotion that’s raw and all-consuming, but because ImnotmovingbackMOM, I don’t like to admit it. Christmas forces me to concede that home life isn’t all that bad and, WORSE, wonder if I’m missing out. So I bah humbug holiday movies and glare at the produce when our local grocery store blasts carols.

Hey, the best defense is a good offense.

Then there’s New Year’s Eve. Whoever invented New Year’s resolutions is right up on my mierda list with adult acne, expensive haircuts, and that dude who decided women should wear high heels. The end of another year means everyone reassesses their life choices, and introspection isn’t exactly easy without your favorite ice cream on hand. (Who can afford the calories? Resolution No. 1 is to eat healthier. BLARGH.)

I think my birthday is really what tips things over the edge. Like every person, ever, I’ve started to consider my own mortality. Plus, I recently found a gray hair. #nocomment

This year, in a brave attempt to stave off whatever emotional rollercoaster December has in store, I took the jealousy test. During the jealousy test you think about all the successful people you know. If you feel pangs of jealousy when you conjure up their achievements, you should consider making those your own goals. And, lord knows, I love setting goals. It makes me feel immensely better—a simple, yet effective way to get through the holidays. Eyes on the prize.

So I thought about my friends who have won awards for their hard work, and how amazing that must’ve felt and how talented they all are.

I considered the brilliant people I know at the WaPo, ProPublica and Scientific American and the important work they’re doing.

Then I let my mind wander, and a woman I’ve only chatted with two times randomly popped into my head. She’s barely 30 and has already been to 37 countries. Maldito, that’s amazing!! I want to be this woman.

If this were a BuzzFeed quiz, I’d hit “enter” and a sensational headline with way too many cat photos would pop up. If it were an actual test, I’d get it back with an A+ (’cause that’s how I roll). But since it’s a very light and non-scary form of contemplation, I can be excited. I can make lofty goals and then plan out my daysweeksmonths to meet my objectives.

That is, if I survive December.

*I guess most people I know are soused for these events.


The information about (not) buying La Información

Browsing through a local chain bookstore, I found one of my favorite pieces of non-fiction: The Information by James Gleick.

La Información por James Gleick
Photo by Greg

Although I already own hardcover and Kindle editions in English, I contemplated purchasing the Spanish-language edition. The cover’s simple yet clever design and elegant typography drew me. I’m a sucker for a good cover, especially on a book I’ve re-read portions of multiple times.

I also heaped its praise on to a friend browsing along with me. He sounded interested. Then we checked the price: s./140.

That’s $48. Oof.

I know many books — especially by U.S. authors that have been translated and nicely produced like this copy — are pricey here, but for a no-so-obscure book (maybe I’m wrong on that one) it seemed weird. This wasn’t some limited-run, small academic publishing house tome.

The chain’s page for the book listed it at s./130 ($45).


I then went to the publisher’s site, but couldn’t find it. Seeing other books there priced in euros, I remembered the store copy also included the price in euros (I think it was €29.90, or about $38) on the back cover. The price in soles was on a sticker.

Digging a little further into the publisher’s site, I saw their address listed as Barcelona.

A-ha! The book must have been imported from Spain. That would help explain the price.

For a country with such a notable pirated book problem, why don’t bookstores don’t try to price their books more competitively?

A 2005 report commissioned by the Cámara Peruana del Libro (CPL), a national consortium of publishing houses, distributors and booksellers, came to even more alarming conclusions: pirates were employing more people than formal publishers and booksellers, and their combined economic impact was estimated to be 52 million US dollars – or roughly equivalent to one hundred per cent of the legal industry’s total earnings. [source: Granta]

Also, with so much book piracy, how the heck are there even so many legit bookstores in the first place? They must be profitable or supported another way. Maybe it’s just that those who can afford to buy legit books do — and do so enough to keep so many bookstores in business.

If only there were a freelance journalist based in Lima who could investigate (cough, Mollie, cough)…


The Pilot’s Food Stamps

My conversation with a pilot in the Atlanta airport:


Me: Is it difficult to remember the strings of letters and numbers that the air controllers throw at you?

Pilot: Ah, jeeze, not really. I mean, I’ve been flying since I was 15. That’s 22 years now. I guess you just learn after years of practice.

Me: Wow! Since you were 15? So you’re living the dream? That’s impressive. Not many people actualize their dreams.

Pilot: In the beginning, things were really rough. The pay is nothing. I had friends who were on food stamps.

Me: A pilot on food stamps?! That seems wrong.

Pilot: Times are tough. There’s just no money. And when you’re at the bottom of the totem pole you don’t make enough to live.