Peace Corps service is known for coming with a strong helping of free time. Nowadays, we do have things to keep us occupied, like computers, movies, and- in some cases- decent internet. Fortunately for me, I also had a spouse to keep me entertained with thoughtful conversations, crazy schemes, and silly antics.
The traditional way for PCVs to stave off boredom, however, is hitting the books! I’ve seen some impressive reading lists (like Matt in Zambia or Sarah in Indonesia), which put mine to shame. But here’s what I’ve been reading, including my top recommendations. If you have recommendations for me, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section (below this post).
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Top Book Recommendations
Ender’s Game Series I’m not a big sci-fi person but you don’t have to be to love these books by Orson Scott Card. The first in the series, Ender’s Game, was recently made into a movie that just scratched the surface of this powerful story about young geniuses trained to strategically battle a hostile alien species. To me, the value in these books are found in their philosophical/sociological side – each book in the series seems to address another aspect of human nature – as well as the intelligent twists in storyline.
Cutting for Stone Though long (over 600 pages) and intense at times, I found this to be a really fascinating and moving story. It’s almost magical and yet very real. You need a stomach for medical/surgical descriptions- in fact, I think doctors would really appreciate this book.
The Irresistible Revolution I re-read this while here, as it is one of my all-time favorite, life-changing books. For those wary of judgmental, out-of-touch, going-through-the-motions Christianity, Shane Claiborne shares what following Christ should really look like. From visiting communities in Iraq during the war to revitalizing a pocket of Philadelphia’s inner-city, he shares real life stories and ideas of what it means to truly love our neighbors and become the answer to our prayers.
the curious incident of the dog in the night-time I found this book on the shelves of the PCV library and it turned out to be a winner. It is a fictional comedy but written from the perspective of a young boy with autism who is trying to solve the mystery of the death of a neighbor’s dog. The way he experiences the world is fascinating, making for a story that is endearing, hilarious, and moving.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking As an introvert myself and someone who loves psychology, this book was both eye-opening and affirming. And it’s not just for those of us on the quieter side. I think everyone should read it, to learn more about how we all relate to each other and how we can work better together.
The Glass Castle It’s sometimes hard to believe that these are true memoirs of a reporter’s childhood. Her parents’ eccentricities and unconventional values are sometimes mind-boggling and other times almost rational- but never normal. Extremely well-written and absolutely fascinating.
How Much is Enough: Hunger for God in an Affluent Culture A good read for reflecting on the disparity in our world. “The contrast between American abundance and the poverty I saw gave me anguish, because I sensed a connection between empty stomachs on one continent and empty lives on another.” “Money and its uses are matters of the soul, because they cannot be separated from the question of where our ultimate commitment lies.”
The Rosie Project If you get a kick out of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, you will love this fictional story of a scientist with aspergers who is using the scientific method to find a wife. The characters are fantastic. This is a quick, entertaining read.
Other Worthy Reads
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – psych/sociology on how to make anything memorable
The Help – moving and entertaining, you probably know the movie
What Is The What – a novel based on the true, epic journey of one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan and his challenging resettlement in the U.S.
How To Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie, still practical and relevant to this day
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – back story and scandal around the true origin of HeLa cells
Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle – happiness, consumerism, and sustainability
The Red Tent: A Novel imagined account of Dinah (from the Bible) and the lives of women in the time of Jacob
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Dover Thrift Editions) – short mysteries, classics
Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World – thorough guide for crafting worthwhile social media
Beautiful Ruins – endearing, small town Italian falls in love with an ailing Hollywood actress
Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery (The Chet and Bernie Mystery Series) – cute, told from perspective of the detective’s dog
The Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) – intense and eye-opening fiction about one man’s crazy life in North Korea
The Joy Luck Club – fiction, perspectives of past and present from Chinese women who immigrated to the States, and their daughters
Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel – a little cooky and mysterious, set in Seattle
Catch Me If You Can – story (also a movie) of a young, genius con artist
Every Fixed Star – fiction about a Native American woman and her family in the time of traders and trappers
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith – non-fiction about extreme Latter Day Saints
The Violence of Love – powerful sayings about social justice by martyred Archbishop, Oscar Romero
Water for Elephants: A Novel – circus fiction
Unaccustomed Earth – eight stories of family (by author of The Namesake)
The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist – Dorothy Day
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking – Malcolm Gladwell
Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) – Agatha Christie
“A” is for Alibi (The Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries) I read several until they started getting too repetitive
One for the Money / Two for the Dough / Three to Get Deadly (Stephanie Plum Novels) I also read several of these until they got too repetitive
Things Fall Apart – African, a new classic
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel – Chinese and Japanese friendship in Seattle during the internment camps
Brave New World – a classic, when people are engineered by machines in the future
Mini-missions for Simplicity – e-book with practical ideas for making life simpler
The Book Thief – now a movie, a young girl in Nazi Germany who steals books written from the perspective of “death”
Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World – e-book
The Pursuit of God – theology by Tozer
Gathering Blueand The Messenger – companion books to The Giver
So I left out a couple that weren’t really worth mentioning. But all in all, I think I’ve read 71 books during my service so far. At least half of those I had on an e-reader. So what have you been reading lately? Please share your stellar book recommendations in the comments below.
7 thoughts on “Books That Kept Me Page-Turning in Peace Corps”
I have read SO MANY books here. I’ll probably beat your 71 by the time I’m done. Here are some of my favorites:
Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Cathrynne Valente
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
I’m trying to read some classics too. I’m ever so thankful for my ereader, I’ve been PLOWING through books as a result. 🙂
Looking back, I definitely could have read more. I kind of went in spurts. I’ll see if I kind find some of your recommendations to put on my reading list. Thanks and happy reading!
I LOVE getting book recommendations so thanks for sharing yours! I see some familiar titles so you too must have been mining the Peace Corps library in Kingston.
Something Bob and I always wished we’d done was keep a list of books read and two years in PCJ gave us just the excuse. During our 26 months, Bob read 94 books; I read 85. A few books we rated 9+/10 include:
Waiting for Snow in Havana – Carlos Eire
Sex Lives of Cannibals – J. Maarten Troost
The Water In Between – Kevin Patterson
Impossible Journey – Michael Asher
Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller
The Book of Ruth – Jane Hamilton
Naked – David Sedaris
The City of Falling Angels – John Berendt
Night Swimming – Peter Fromm
A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
East Along the Equator – Helen Winternitz
About this Life – Barry Lopez
People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks (also her book, March)
What is the What – Dave Eggers (also, HeartBreaking Work of Staggering Genius)
A House for Mr. Biswas – V.S. Naipaul
Monster of God – David Quaamen
Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
Thanks for the recommendations! I’ll see if I have any of these in our e-reader files yet…
I forgot to add the obnoxious item that Bob’s page count was 31,000 and mine was 23K !
Some of my favorites, “Cutting For Stone” is just amazing.
Cutting for Stone was really an incredible book! Thanks for sharing.