Reads For The Road: "Escape From Camp 14" by Blaine Harden

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

North Korea is a fascinating country because there is so little that we know about it. Most of the information that we have is either propaganda fed to us from the country itself or hearsay from people who have heard stories from someone who has heard a story.

That's what makes Blaine Harden's book Escape From Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West so fascinating. A veteran reporter, Harden wrote the original book (and this updated version with new information) after meeting and interviewing the only known person who was born and raised in a North Korean prison camp to escape — Shin Dong-hyuk. 

Like Nazi concentration camps, labor camps in North Korea use confinement, hunger, and fear to create a kind of Skinner box, a closed, closely regulated chamber in which guards assert absolute control over prisoners. Yet, while Auschwitz existed for only three years, Camp 14 is a fifty-year-old Skinner box, an ongoing longitudinal experiment in repression and mind control in which guards breed prisoners whom they control, isolate, and pit against one another from birth.
— page 107 of "Escape From Camp 14"

We know that prison camps in North Korea exist because they can be clearly seen in satellite photos — though the North Korean government denies their existence.  But little is known about the conditions inside the camps and what the people who live in them go through,

That is, until Shin told his story. 

Imagine being raised by parents who, when they are around, look at you as competition for food and basic needs. Or, not being able to confide in a single human being because anything you say may be used against you and lead to brutal beatings, or worse. How would you feel if you only had one set of clothing that you had to wear until it literally fell off of you, and you had no soap — or time — to wash it. 

This, and much worse, was Shin's reality. But, because it was something that he was born into — a world where being suspicious, hating others, and having zero loyalty to another human being — he had no idea that there was a different way to live. 

The book is a heartbreaking, eyeopening, and shocking true story about a mysterious part of the world that is told through the eyes of someone who lived immersed in it, and is now slowly trying to come to terms with who he is now that he has been removed from it. 

If you have any interest at all in North Korea and the conditions of the people who live there, I highly recommend it. It's a riveting, quick read, and I guarantee you won'r be able to put it down. 

Reads For The Road: "Wilful Disregard" by Lena Andersson

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

This novel by Swedish writer Lena Andersson is a whirlwind of intense and all-to-real emotions. Though I am not usually a fan of novels, this book — translated from Swedish — jumped out at me (literally, it fell off the bookshelf as I walked by) when I walked into a bookstore while travelling in Sweden this past summer. 

I decided to give it a go, and found that I couldn't put it down. Funny, raw and completely engrossing, the story follows Ester, a rational intellectual from Stolkholm, who completely (and irrationally) falls for Hugo, a man who, it turns out, is a complete asshole (not that she would ever admit that). 

Hugo never followed up with anything Ester said. Ester always followed up with what Hugo said. Neither of them were really interested in her. But they were both interested in him.
Ester made a mental note of his lack of curiosity and generosity, but did not let it influence the reverence she felt.
— from page 33 of "Wilful Disregard" by Lena Andersson

What results is an incredibly well-written, intimate look at what it is like to completely overthink every look, touch, word, and text in this modern and confusing age of dating, sex, and intimacy. Raw, hilarious at times, and way too relatable, Wilful Disregard is a book I (and you if you decide to read it) will never forget. 

It's small size and short chapters make this is the perfect book to have for trips on the train, metro, or to polish off on a flight. 

The "Book Flood" Hits Iceland: The beautiful Icelandic tradition of giving books as gifts during the holidays

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

I recently learned about a beautiful Icelandic gift-giving tradition that takes place every Christmas. During the holiday season, the country celebrates Jólabókaflóðið (meaning "the book flood of Christmas"), when publishers release new books. And, there are A LOT of them. 

According to an article on BBC News, there are "more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, [in Iceland] than anywhere else in the world". One out of every 10 Icelanders will publish one book in their lifetime! 

There is a phrase in Icelandic, “ad ganga med bok I maganum”, everyone gives birth to a book.

The "Christmas Book Flood" or "Icelandic Book Holiday" begins when every household receives the Bokatidindi — a catalog  listing all of the new titles that is printed and distributed for free by the Iceland Publishers Association. Icelanders scour the catalogue picking out selections for themselves and to give to family and friends. 

As someone who will never give up buying and reading physical, printed books, I was happy to read in an article on TreeHugger, that there "is more value placed on physical, paper books [in Iceland] than in North America, where e-books have grown in popularity." Icelanders take pride in their authors, and in the stories that are produced, and books are a valued gift. 

The books are usually exchanged on Christmas Eve and then families will stay cozied up on couches or in bed reading and eating delicious food. 

What a delightful tradition!

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Reads For The Road: "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafron

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

I started reading this book because it was recommended to me by a friend that I met while travelling. He pulled it off his bookshelf and told me that it was one of his favourite books in the world. When someone goes to the trouble to tell me about a book that matters to them and recommend that I read it, I do. I find that reading things that people that I know have loved helps me to get to know them better, and the fact that they want to share that with me is pretty darn cool.

Though I don't usually read a lot of fiction, I have not been disappointed by Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of The Wind. The book completely transfixed me from the beginning.

Reading it is like looking at a sprawling gothic painting — the author's rich language carries you through the streets of 1945 Barcelona as if you were there and helps you peer into the faces that the main character interacts with. 

Complex, dark, and fascinating, Zafon tells the story of Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer's son, who has no idea how his life will change when he discovers a mysterious book by Julian Carax in a hidden library in the depths of the city. When he tries to find more titles by the author, he stumbles upon a real-life tale of lost love, murder, and dark secrets that may put his own life, and his friends, at risk.

This is exactly the kind of book that you would want to have with you for a long train ride or lazy days at the beach — the perfect read to take with you on your next adventure!  

Reads For The Road: "The Social Life of Ink" by Ted Bishop

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

I don't know about you, but I am one of those people who always has at least one pen rolling around in the bottom of my bag. Even though I rarely take notes during interviews anymore (thinks voice recorder), and use the note function on my phone when needing to jot things down quickly, I still hold out hope that I'm going to have time to actually sit down, pull out a notebook, and put pen to paper.

Despite the fact that I don't use it that often, the pen in my bag seems to change regularly depending on where I am when I've thrown it in the bag, who I've lent it to, where I've picked up a new one, and where I've left the old one behind. It is a cheap, simple tool that I don't really think about much.

That is, I didn't think about it much until I started reading Ted Bishop's The Social Life of Ink

An English and Film Studies Professor at the University of Alberta (I was lucky enough to have him as a teacher when I attended the University as an undergrad), Bishop became inspired to write this ink explainer when he went in search of a comprehensive history on the subject and found that none existed. What was meant to be a dry, academic work that laid out the facts, turned into a love affair with the medium that took Bishop on adventures across the globe, and made him a self-proclaimed obsessed expert on the subject. (I have attended one of his book readings, and to say he is passionate about ink would be an understatement.) 

But how can ink be so fascinating, you ask? 

Think about it this way. The development of ink and the tools we use to write with it is why we have histories, great works of art, literature, the ends of wars, the beginning of them, and more. So much of the development of human civilization is based on this seemingly simple substance that now exists in disposable pens that roll around in the bottom of our bags. 

Ink binds us. We are surrounded by ink, immersed in ink, a substance so common it is invisible. From cave walls to quill pens to laser printers, ink has traced the line of our culture.
— page ix of the Introduction to "The Social Life of Ink"

In his book, Bishop takes readers from the historic cutthroat world of pen patents to the social rankings of ink stones in China to bloodstained texts in the Middle East. It is a fascinating read that is as much a travel memoir as it is educational. 

And trust me, you will never look at a pen the same way again. 

Reads For The Road: "The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F#CK" by Sarah Knight

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

If the title of this book — The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F#ck — sounds vaguely familiar, that's because it is a hilarious parody of the bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The concept of this book is to teach you "how to stop spending time you don't have with people you don't like doing things you don't want to do" aka STOP PEOPLE PLEASING!! 

The idea is to stop caring about things that don't really matter in order to spend time doing things that you love.

Stop obsessing about having a "bikini body" and eat the ice cream if it is going to make you happy. Want to save up for a two-week vacation? Stop chipping into the office Friday lunch pool and bring your own lunch. In the long run, no one will care. 

We spend so much time worrying about how our family, friends, colleagues, and even complete strangers think about us and our actions, that sometimes we forget to actually live the life that we want.

Knight is a fantastic writer, and her observations and no holds barred attitude will have you laughing out loud. 

How Important Is The First Line of A Book?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

One thing I hear a lot in the publishing world is how important the first line is to a story.

Whether it is a short article or a 600-page novel, everything seems to rest on hooking the reader in that first sentence, that first thought, that should (in theory) set the tone for the rest of the piece.

But, how much does the first line really matter? And should it be suspenseful or sexy, long or short, shocking or descriptive?

The following are first lines from some new works, old-favorite, and obscure stories.

Would that single sentence entice you to read more? Or would you just pass it by?

Scroll to the bottom to see the list of books that each line is from. You might be surprised! 

1. "He sat before the mirror of the second-floor bedroom sketching his lean cheeks with their high bone ridges, the flat broad forehead, and ears too far back on the head, the dark hair curling forward in thatches, the amber-colored eyes wide-set but heavy-lidded." 

2. "Off the coast of Kamchatka, Siberia, bundled up and standing on the deck of a German ship, I gripped the railing with oil-stained gloves to avoid being pitched into a heaving ocean the color of a wet gravestone."

3. "The boy's name was Santiago."

4. "Straddling the top of the world, one foot in China and the other in Nepal, I cleared the ice from my oxygen mask, hunched a shoulder against the wind, and stared absently down at the vastness of Tibet."

5. "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

6. "As the man dressed head to toe in khaki turned the corner and began race walking uphill in my direction, I had to wonder: had we met before?"

7. "Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."

8. "OH SHIT!"

9. "Catherine Tekakwitha who are you?"

10. "The clock read midnight when the hundred-foot wave hit the ship, rising from the North Atlantic out of the darkness."

11. "When you are traveling in India — especially through holy sites and Ashrams — you see a lot of people wearing beads around their necks."

12. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

13. "We named the houses they put us in."

14. "A few summers ago I visited two dairy farms, Huls Farm and Gardar Farm, which despite being located thousands of miles apart were still remarkably similar in their strengths and vulnerabilities."

15. "I first noticed it several weeks ago."

1. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
2. The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely & Vali Chandrasekaran
3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
4. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
8. Knocked Up by Rebecca Eckler
9. Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen
10. The Wave by Susan Casey
11. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
12. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
13. A House In The Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett
14. Collapse by Jared Diamond
15. Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy