Summer Reading for the Geographer (and Journalist!)

This is part two to my summer reading list thanks to some wonderful books I found at the library.  Not only are these great books for geographers but also for journalists since each one of these is written by a journalist!  This is how geo-journalism should be.

1. The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Image from Eric Weiner's website.

Image from Eric Weiner’s website.

It has “geography” in the title so of course I had to pick this one up.  I’m still reading this one but so far so good.  Weiner is a former foreign correspondent for NPR(!!!!) and former reporter for the New York Times.  For this book he traveled around the world trying to find the happiest places on earth (no, Disneyland does not count).  He also  plans to write another “geography of” book called The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places From Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley.”  Unfortunately that one does not come out until January of next year.

2. Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? by Andrew Lawler

Image from Andrew Lawler's website.

Image from Andrew Lawler’s website.

This book was both fascinating and somewhat disturbing.  It traces the history of the chicken from its origins as the wild red jungle fowl found in South Asia to the modern day industrial chicken.  You will learn a lot from this book and if you’re sensitive to animal mistreatment, you’ll also be sometimes disgusted by the practices of cockfighting in the Philippines and global factory farming.  Lawler has written for the National Geographic, New York Times and Washington Post among many others.

3. Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah

Image from Ann Mah's website.

Image from Ann Mah’s website.

I absolutely LOVED this book!  I instantly related to the protagonist Isabelle Lee who struggles with cultural and ethnic identity issues as she lives abroad in China.  This book is perfect for anyone who deals with multiple cultures, such as being ABC or biracial (like me) and who has endured the experiences of living in a foreign country where you don’t even speak the language.

Isabelle is ethnically Chinese but is also an American.  She barely speaks Chinese and after getting fired from her job, moves to China to live with her sister and try to start over.  She struggles with living in a place where she can’t fully communicate with people yet is unnoticed by the natives because of her physical appearance.  Everyone sees her as Chinese while she sees herself as American.

These struggles are the same ones I experienced when living both in Florida and Japan.  In Florida I was the “Chinese girl” who people would “ching chong” at (I lived in a very racist part of Florida), while in Japan I was the white American with the “big nose”.  Now that I live in Southern California, a place filled with cultural diversity, for the first time in my life I don’t stick out as being the only one who is “different”.

This book, as the title suggests, also focuses on the relationship between cultures and food , so if you love reading delicious descriptions of food then I also recommend this book for that.  There are even recipes at the end of the book!

This book is loosely based on Mah’s own experiences of being an ABC living in China.  Mah worked in book publishing before getting married to an American diplomat whose job then sent Mah and her husband all over the world.  She now works as a journalist writing travel articles for the New York Times among others.

4. Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah

Image from Ann Mah's website.

Image from Ann Mah’s website.

This book is Mah’s second and is a memoir of her life in Paris, the place she and her husband moved to after living in Beijing for four years.  This book was just as good as her first and is perfect for Francophile foodies.  Mah herself is a confessed Francophile who loves Julia Child (hence the title).  Unfortunately the first year in Paris was spent without Mah’s husband who accepted a post in Iraq.  So while her husband performed diplomatic duties there, she decided to explore France and discovery the history behind the top 10 French foods.

My only warning when reading this book is don’t do so on an empty stomach.  Mah’s descriptions of steak frites, cassoulet and many others will have you drooling.  Fortunately there are recipes for each at the end of each chapter, though some ingredients might be hard to find depending on where you live.

Like her first book, this one also discusses the difficulties of living in another country, but it also explores the realities involved in going through immigration, trying to make friends, living alone, maintaining a long distance relationship, dealing with loneliness and insomnia and the fear and uncertainty of always moving, never having a permanent home.

All things I can relate to when I lived in Japan.  I have never lived anywhere for more than about 6-7 years.  While Mah had a stable childhood, growing up in Southern California, ironically where I live now, she will spend her adult life constantly flitting from place to place while missing out on so much of her friend’s and family’s lives.  For me, I have so far spent my whole childhood moving from place to place.  I moved 3 times before I started college and am currently living in my fourth home.  I don’t expect it to end here.  With a dad who grew up as a military brat (even living in Germany for 3 years) and a first generation immigrant for a mother, it appears to be in the blood.

Where I’ll end up next, like Mah, I have no idea but I suspect that while both she and I dislike some facts about always moving, we both also like the adventure.  After all, without the adventure, what would we have to write about?


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