Twenty Great Books To Read
This is a list of twenty great books that I recommend. I am always surprised by people who say they have never read a book since they finished school, and it just boggles the mind. Reading helps us learn more about the world, and is a fabulous way to entertain yourself on a budget. Each of these books was very interesting and fascinating in its own way. Books about Pacific history and literature are among my favorites because this is a topic that has interested me since the age of twelve. The book on women in the Middle East are pertinent to the current events of the world in which we live. By reading about the experience of women in the Middle East we are able to see many of the social and political injustices that these women grapple with every single day. Even if you just find one book on this list interesting I suggest you go to the local library and check it out. The library is free and a great place to hang out for summer reading.
Genre: Literature of the Pacific
I have an intense interest in Pacific history, literature, and fiction, so this genre includes some of my favorite books of all time.
1. The Bounty-Caroline Alexander
This is a historic primer for those who are just beginning to explore the true story behind Mutiny on the Bounty. Alexander does a good job investigating the historical record and showing that Lieutenant William Bligh was not the tyrant Hollywood films have portrayed him to be. However, Bligh did have his flaws and these shortcomings lead to the mutiny itself. If you have watched any films about the Bounty I recommend you read this book so you can learn the true story behind Hollywood fiction.
2. Mutiny on The Bounty-Charles Nordhoff and James Norman
This is the book that first introduced me to story of the mutiny aboard the Bounty. This fictional account is a classic and the inspiration for the 1935 and 1962 versions of the film Mutiny on the Bounty. In this book Lieutenant William Bligh is a tyrant and Master's Mate Fletcher Christian is the noble young man who delivers the crew from tyranny via mutiny. This book is highly romanticized regarding the mutiny because Christian was not exactly a knight in shining armor and Bligh was not completely a villain, but this is the first and classic retelling of this story. It still has great deal of historical accuracy despite this major oversight, so do not rule it out just because it does not do Bligh justice. Trivia: someone once recommended I go take a picture the co-author Nordhoff's grave because he is buried here in Southern California and put it on my Myspace page educating people about the history behind the Bounty. Maybe I am a wet blanket, but I do not want to take to visit a grave and take a picture of a tombstone.
3. Men Against The Sea-Charles Nordhoff and James Norman
Fictional account of Bligh's epic two month open boat voyage from Tofoua, the location of the mutiny, to Timor in what was the called the Dutch East Indies at the time. Bligh's navigation skills helped him bring all his men, except one who was killed by natives, safely to Timor. Unfortunately, many of his men died of malaria once they reached Timor because the Dutch canal system was a breeding ground for insects in the tropics.
3. Pitcairn's Island-Charles Nordhoff and James Norman
The fictional account of the mutineers settlement on Pitcairn Island, which is the place where they hid from the British law for eighteen years. Can you imagine hiding on an island of approximately four square miles for eighteen years? Well I cannot, which is one of the reasons I am intrigued by the history behind the Bounty. Once again it is not one hundred percent historically accurate, but it does make for a good read and would have made an interesting movie. There was talk in the 70's of making a slightly more historically accurate version of the the story from the time of the mutiny up to the mutineers settlement on Pitcairn. Sting was considered for the role of Fletcher Christian, but the plans for this epic two part film never came to be. In its place we have the shorter 1984 film called The Bounty, which stars Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. However, none of these films show what happened on Pitcairn Island, so reading this book is about as close as we can get to experiencing this this part of history that is still very hazy because only one mutineer lived to say what happened. By the way, all the mutineers killed each other off and John Adam (aka Alexander Smith) was the ruling patriarch by the time the American whaler Captain Fulger landed on Pitcairn Island in 1808. The British thought Folger was making up his encounter with the mutineers and it would take a few more years before they learned on their own he was telling the truth.
4. Fragile Paradise-Glynn Christian
A superb and historically accurate account of the life of Fletcher Christian leading up to and following the mutiny. Glynn is a descendant of Fletcher and his insights about this subject are fascinating because he is writing about his own family tree. This is one of the few books that discusses what happened to the women that went with the mutineers to Pitcairn Island.
5. Tales of the South Pacific-Jame A. Michener
The first and by far my favorite of all of his books, which is basically a collection of short stories about soldiers serving in the Pacific during World War II. Both of my grandpas served in the Pacific during World War II, so when I read this book I think of them. The musical South Pacific is loosely based on this book by Michener.
6. Hawaii-James A. Michener
An epic classic that covers several generations of people living in Hawaii. I read part of this when I was thirteen and then finished a few years later because it is very long. I love Michener's writing style, but you might want to skip the first few hundred pages if details are not your cup of tea.
7. Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before-Tony Horwitz
The ultimate travel essay that is very long, but can be read in chapters with full benefit. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a witty and candid look at the life and travels of Captain Cook. Horwitz visits all the major locations that Captain Cook did and he offers many insights along the way.
8. Breadfruit: A Novel-Celestine Vaite
The heartwarming novel about the Tahitian housekeeper Matarena Mahi is a professional housekeeper that has one wish: to marry her domestic partner Pito. This book revolves around her wedding plans, her children, and her numerous other relatives. Have you ever heard of the coconut radio? Tell a cousin a juicy piece of gossip and it will be around the island faster than any news on the radio could be delivered.
9. Fragipani-Celestine Vaite
This is the second novel in the Matarena series and it focuses on her relationship with her bookwormish daughter Leilani. This is a great book for anyone interested in reading about the relationships between mothers and daughters.
10. Tiare in Bloom-Celestine Vaite
Matarena is becoming disenchanted with Pito's lack of sympathy and his jealousy towards her new found success as a radio talk show host. She is considering divorcing Pito until a dramatic event changes his behavior. Tiare is their granddaughter and she is left for them to raise and Pito decides to be in charge of this. I cried reading about how Pito changed from a self-absorbed lump into a man who cared and took responsibility for a young person. Pito was never bad to begin with, but he truly redeems himself in this third and final novel of the Matarena series. This book I think even men would enjoy because it is mostly told from Pito's perspective.
Genre: Women of the Middle East
I am a quarter Syrian and I have always had an interest in books about the experiences of women living or women from the Middle East. Here are a few books I recommend about women and the Middle East.
11. Not Without My Daughter- Betty Mahmoody
I read this book when I was fifteen and after I watched the movie Not Without My Daughter. Some people took offense to the book and thought it portrayed all Middle Eastern people in a bad light, but this is simply not the case. This book is shedding light on the issue of men who hold women and children against their will in foreign countries. Betty married Sayyed Bozorg Mahmoody, but failed to watch the warning signs that there were problems with their marriage. Sayyed grew up in the Iranian provinces, which are more fanatical than Tehran. When Sayed studied medicine and eventually became a doctor in a America he suppressed his yearning for his homeland because he was busy working and raising a family. His true belief was that he should be raising his daughter in Iran as a Muslim, so he tricks Betty into taking their daughter Mahtob on a two week trip that ends in entrapment. In the movie it appears as Betty is shocked by her husband dramatic transformation from an All-American dad to an Iranian patriot, but there were signs he was slowly making this transformation over time. He had heated conversations on the phone with other relatives and one summer a relative visited, but Betty felt uneasy about it. Betty notes Sayyed would do things such as dump out their entire wet bar behind her back and did not want to have the checking account in her name, but it was not until her entrapment in Iran that she realized Sayyed was much more controlling than she believed. Eventually Betty learns not all Iranians share her husband's views and she meets a group of people that are kind enough to help her escape. This is a must read for anyone who wants to learn more about day to day life in Iran following the 1979 Revolution. Today the Islamic state is highly unpopular with the people of Iran because the majority are under the age of 35 and would like to have more freedoms.
12. For The Love of A Child-Betty Mahmoody
In this sequel Betty discusses how Mahtob and herself readjust to life in the US after two years in Iran. Also, this book contains several riveting short stories of men and women who come home to find their children have been kidnapped by the other spouse kidnap children and flee to their home countries. One woman married a Pakistani man who abducts their children when she is gone from the house. In another account a Lebanese man married a South African woman and they decided to settle in the United States. One day his wife takes the children to live with her parents in South Africa and he was never able to see them again. He continues the futile fight to regain partial custody of his daughters, but as the years go by he is saddened because he only see his children a few times. The most intriguing account is about an American soldier stationed in Germany and how he falls in love with a German woman. She was very talented and had mastered a perfect American accent by the time the couple moved to the United States. One day he comes home to find she has taken both of their daughters back with her to Germany. How he gets his daughters back is both interesting and riveting, so I would recommend checking it out if you want to see what happens. Actually that particular story was probably the most interesting out of the entire book, which is good because it gives the option of picking and choosing which short stories you would like to read.
13. Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia -Jean P. Sasson
This is a factual account of the life of a Saudi princess who is known by the alias Sultana. Of course the facts have been changed because she does not want anyone to find out who she really is, but I believe this is a true account and not fiction as many have accused Sasson of writing. Sultana and her family basically live the Saudi version of spoiled girls in Hollywood because most of their lives revolve around movies, shopping, and eating. However, this book is not completely fluff and they do talk about the double standards of Saudi society. Sultana's brothers and male friends are allowed to sleep around and look at porn, even though this is against the strict Islamic religious laws of the Saudi kingdom. However, the men who do this never get in trouble and it is almost seems as if it is encouraged. Sultana speaks of two women that were severely punished when is was discovered they were doing similar things and one girl was drowned her family pool as punishment. This is a very interesting book to read and it comes highly recommended.
14. Princess Sultana's Daughters-Jean P. Sasson
The books takes place around and after the time of the Gulf War in 1991. Sultana talks about the brief freedom women experiences, such as her daughter being able to work in a hospital and women driving in Saudi Arabia. One day Sultana is troubled to find out her eldest daughter was having a romantic affair with a friend, which she attributes to the lack of freedom women have with dating in Saudi Arabia. Sultana discusses how since women and men are segregated that they often form romantic relationships with people of the same gender because they do not have the freedom to date. Sultana may just have been upset that was her daughter's romantic choices, but this event does show the lengths people will go to in a repressive culture. This book is an interesting look at the lives of Sultana's children.
15. Princess Sultana's Circle-Jean P. Sasson
This is the third book in the trilogy about Princess Sultana and her family. This time we learn about Sultana's struggles with not fasting during Ramadan and her family's annual trip to Mecca. This book has some humorous moments, such as her husband's Ali's obsessive fears about being squashed as by a crowd at Mecca. However, it still deals with many of the social injustices towards women and how Sultana hopes for a better future for her daughters.
16. Reading Lolita in Tehran-Azar Nafisi
Nafisi is a highly intelligent woman who wrote this very interesting book about what it was like to teach and live as a woman in Iran. She had went to college in the United States, but came back to Iran because she had hopes for democracy when talk of Revolution began. However, this hopes were quickly squashed and hopes for democracy were replaced with a strict dictatorship. At first Nafisi had to start wearing the veil and then eventually she was forced to stop teaching classes on Western literature. She began to hold secret classes for female students in her own home. One of their favorite books to discuss was Lolita, hence the name of the book. What I love about this book is how Nafisi and her students escape from the trials of the world by reading good books.
17. Pomegranate Soup-Marsha Mehran
Marjan, Bahar, and Layla are three orphaned sisters that have escaped the Iranian Revolution of 1979 to live only to live an impoverished lifestyle in England. Marjan is a skilled cook of Iranian dishes, so with the help of a friend she moves her little family to Ireland where they open the Babylon Cafe. This book is an inspiring jaunt in the world of three women who are looking forward and bettering their lives and the lives of those around them. A very charming book with great recipes and descriptions of the Irish people and countryside.
18. Rosewater and Soda Bread-Marsha Mehran
In this sequel Marjan is learning to let go and allow her sisters Bahar and Layla to grow up and find their own path in life. Will Marjan find love or will the cafe be her only love? In this sequel the three sister learn many things without forgetting who they are and where they came from.
Genre: Novels Set In Australia
I have always been interested in Australia and I enjoy that way Colleen McCullough writes about it in her novels.
19. The Thornbirds-Colleen McCullough
One of my favorite novels of all time. This story covers many topics of a human nature such as lust, creed, desire, and jealousy. Much of this novel takes place in Australia, but there are parts of it that take place in Rome as well. Ralph is the "perfect" priest who struggles his entire life against his true love for Maggie. This may sound like a romance novel, but I can guarantee is much more than that. It is basically the story about yearning for the things we cannot have and not always appreciating the things we do have.
20. The Touch-Coleen McCullough
Alex is a man's man and who is successful at everything he does. He becomes rich in the California Gold Rush and then precedes to go on a world tour before settling in Australia. Once in Australia he multiplies his wealth by starting his own mining business, but he refuses to consider marrying the lady he loves and opts for an arranged marriage. His new wife Elizabeth will never love him, and Alex finds he is not successful in one area of his life for the first time. The couple have two daughters and live the ideal life from an outsider's perspective, but there are many tensions on the inside. McCullough once again does an excellent job of describing the Australian countryside and the struggles within a family.
I can guarantee each of these books are unique and great reads, even if it is not something you would usually consider reading. Sometimes I have read a book I thought I would completely hate, such as for a college class, and I ended up learning something I would not have known if I only were to read certain types of books. Happy reading! Please feel free to offer over book suggestions in the comments if you so desire.
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