Book Smackdown 2010

I do not wish to brag, but when I was little, I was kind of legendary in my family for being a total book nerd. It was so bad that if I was in the middle of a really great book when I had friends over, I would just sit in the corner and read and let them fend for themselves. Luckily for me, I had really understanding friends and a younger sister who was kind enough to pick up my social slack and entertain for me. Whatever, we had a lot of toys; I’m sure they were fine!

Clearly I was not into fashion.

The point is, I love to read. My goal in 2009 was to read 100 books; I think I made it to 90. I was lucky to live in a place where I had access to a really amazing library system because clearly I could not afford to buy 90 books in a year.

My goal in 2010 was much…broader. My goal in 2010 was to quit my job, pack up my classroom after 3 years, pack up my apartment after 5 years, drive halfway across the United States with my dad and my stuff, move to Thailand, find a place to live, make new friends, try to understand a new culture, start to learn a new language, survive the heat, and not have a serious mental breakdown. I achieved all but possibly the last goal! Hooray for me!

Notice that my goal did not include the number of books I was going to read. I will still have managed to read about 64 books by the end of 2010. I know that seems like a lot, but I’m still kind of disappointed in myself. I was hindered by a few months of no library access (until December! WOOOOOOOT!!!!), and while I have a Kindle, there is no way I could afford to buy all the books I wanted, despite generous Amazon gift cards from friends and family for going-away and Christmas presents.

Anyway, I think this will be of interest to a few of my friends out there, especially those who are like-minded about books. It’s not about Thailand, it’s not about traveling, there’s not much of a smackdown, and it’s a list, which I’ve been kind of annoyed by recently because I’ve seen so many of them (Top 10 Tips for Cutting Your Toenails While Traveling! Top 5 Things You Shouldn’t Do While Holding a Hair Dryer in the Bathtub While Traveling!), but whatever!

If I were really awesome, I would probably include a summary of what I was doing every month as a retrospective of 2010, but frankly, I’m not that awesome. Plus, seriously, I can barely remember what I was doing yesterday (sitting around ALL DAY LONG, mostly in my pj’s), let alone a year ago.

2010: My Year in Books

**This list doesn’t include books just written in 2010. It only means that I’ve read them in 2010.


  • Columbine by Dave Cullen Tears, tears, tears, and lots of things I didn’t know about the Columbine tragedy because so much, as I found out, was either not reported or was misreported by the media. Amazing reporting and research on the events of the day itself, as well as character studies of the two shooters. Broke my heart. No jokes here–I highly recommend this book.
  • Born to Run by Christopher McDougall Thoughts before I read this book: Running is stupid. I will only run if somebody is chasing after me with a gun, and even then, I probably wouldn’t bother because I can’t outrun a bullet.Thoughts while reading this book: OH MY GOD! I am totally going to become a super-ultra-long-distance marathon runner and run 100 miles a day while I’m hallucinating and running through deserts! I’ll be like the wind! THE WIND! Or a rabbit! YES! A RABBIT IS CUTER! Thoughts almost a year after reading this book: Um, good thing nobody’s chased after me with a gun or anything. And does walking to the 7-11 and back for emergency snack supplies count as a super-ultra-long-distance marathon? I think it does if it’s in the Bangkok heat and humidity. Hooray for me!

New Year's 2010 in Denver. Rockin' it out on Guitar Hero with my sister.


  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers People hate on Dave Eggers, but I happened to love A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius because I thought it was, in fact, pretty heartbreaking and pretty genius. When he takes himself totally out of his stories, he is definitely even better; one of the great writers of my generation(ish). This non-fiction book follows one man, Zeitoun, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Made me extremely angry and appalled at the U.S. government, but was also a beautiful portrait of a man whose whole life was changed by Katrina.



  • Bonk by Mary Roach The science of sex with Mary Roach, who can also make cadavers interesting (ever read Stiff?). Really great read, and not pornographic or dirty. Mostly.


  • The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band by Motley Crue Good. God. The thing is, I’d heard about this book on NPR, of all places, so I figured it had to be good. And I’m not sure that “good” is the word to describe this, but maybe…amazing? Horrifying? Permanently psychologically scarring? All of the above? I knew that Motley Crue had some badass stuff going, but…wow. The vomit, drugs, alcohol and sex cycle can get a little old to read about (I mean, it was like looking in a mirror! If it’s opposite day!), but then you’re like–Ohmagaaawd, Tommy Lee just had an overdose and went to the hospital and woke up in the morning and took out all of the IVs and and walked out and took more drugs and drank, like, 15 gallons of vodka, and had sex with, like, 20 women, then played a show that night? And did it again the next day? Say what? And then you’re like–Wow, NPR, you recommended quite a crazy book here. Thanks for that! WARNING: Read at your own risk, because there are some scenes that will be burned into my brain for the rest of my entire life. Give me a couple of drinks and I might describe them to you. If you’re unlucky.


  • NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson If you work with children, have children, or ever even think about children, you should read this book. Absolutely amazing new and different ways of talking to and about kids that really helped me as a middle school teacher. Included: Why are teenagers always bored to tears? Seriously, isn’t it annoying? Like, I’m really sorry I can’t entertain you at all moments of the day, kiddo. Anyway, this book explains why that happens. Hint: something to do with the fact that teenagers have effed up brains. For reals. And if you’ve worked with teenagers, or have one, or you were one, then you know that’s 100% the truth!


  • Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy Following my own arbitrary rules, I had to include something for June, and this was my best option. Lucy Grealy had a rare form of cancer that left her face all sorts of messed up. This is her memoir of how she dealt with the cancer itself, the reconstructive surgeries, and her life in general. Short and a pretty good read.


  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Steig Larson Predictable, yes, to include this series on a list, since about 90% of the world’s population has read these, but they are still a great mystery/suspense series with one of the best main characters ever, in my opinion. Lisbeth kicks some serious ass!


  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. The first few pages were enough to make me a cliche who felt like laughing, crying, cheering, and punching somebody in the face. That kind of continued through the whole book. It’s a science-y book, but in a way that even non-science people who are still somehow nerds, like myself (we’re the kind who don’t make any money because we just love the fine arts SO MUCH. English majors UNITE!), can understand.

Bangkok. Heat to make your grandmother curse like a sailor.


  • Poke Rafferty novels by Timothy Hallinan Set in Bangkok, these books made me want to be a detective like Poke Rafferty with a former-bargirl-wife and a former-street-kid-adopted-daughter. That sounds odd. Hmmm…still, these are great, fast reads. I even paid full Kindle price for them, which I never do for mystery/suspense novels because that’s a total waste of money.

The Three Musketeers take on Malaysia. Hilarity ensues.


  • Room by Emma Donoghue This is on all sorts of lists this year. It’s the story of a mother and son who have been held captive in a single room for years, and the mother creates a whole world for the little boy so neither of them will go crazy. Kind of like what I do for myself when I’m stuck in line somewhere! The story sounds creepy because it is, but it was almost impossible to put down.
  • Sleepwalk with Me by Mike Birbiglia Hello, Mike Birbiglia, I know you have a Google alert set up for your name because I read your book and I thought it was hilarious! Probably the best book I’ve ever read ever! Now be my friend on Twitter! I first heard the title story from this book on This American Life, and I almost peed my pants because it was so funny (that’s actually totally true, besides that I just laughed really hard and didn’t actually almost pee my pants). The book is a great collection of short, funny essays. (Kind of like what I would do if I had a book deal. JUST SAYING.)

Bring me some cheap and delicious coffee and cheese and bread! I miss you, Vietnam! Call me!


  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle I read a lot of crap in December, but this was awesome. I’d read stories here and there of Sherlock Holmes, but never the full collection. It was pretty great. And free for the Kindle!

New Year's Eve. Rockin' it out this year in Bangkok with the incomparable Dani and some very sparkly sparklers.

Now that I have a a library card to the Neilson-Hayes library in Bangkok (cost me about $100 for a year, yo), I’ll be taking full advantage of their selection. Mostly I’m just excited that I’m going to be able to check out books without caring how much they cost. That means I can read crappy mystery novels and not have to pay for them, which is all sorts of great news for me. I don’t have a goal for number of books for 2011. 100 was a big goal–that requires pretty much constant reading. Maybe 75?

Final Score:

Books 2010: 1   Megan: 1/2

It’s my first half-win. I feel silly saying I won because I didn’t read enough to really make myself happy, but I also know that I read a considerable number of books, so I also feel silly saying I lost. So it’s a half-win, people. It’s MY smackdown and MY completely arbitrary point system, so I can do whatever I want!


Filed under Daily Challenge

28 responses to “Book Smackdown 2010

  1. GREAT idea for a post. I too read the dragon series (a friend from Australia sent the series as a MUST READ). “New Thinking About Children” sounds good, I’ll send it to my son (by the time his little ones are teens he might get around to it). And I see they have “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” for Kindle, so I’ll grab that on your fabulous recommendation. “Bonk” also looks good (I have a thing for sex – who doesn’t? – and there are a few questions in the review I’d like answered ;-)

    Hmmm. What books read in 2010 won’t be tedious hearing about… I’m a speed reader so Danny at DCO has been a blessing (he delivers) – and what I gobble is not always mainstream.

    I’ve reviewed some of the Thai books on my site.

    Thailand themed…

    Bangkok Found: Reflections on the City
    Reviewed on my site. Even if you don’t live in BKK, this book adds more to the story… when you read it, you’ll see what I mean. I wrote a post back in 2008, “Top Books on Thailand and Thai Culture”, and this one belongs there for sure.

    Christopher G Moore
    Another Thai blogger, writer, twitterer. Chris has a series mostly situated in Bangkok. I will review it, eventually. During my Xmas holidays of 09-10, to prepare for the review I polished off everything written by Chris… yeah… I’m late… but I can’t tell you which ones were in 2010 as I’m too lazy to get off the sofa.

    Thai Sex Talk
    Reviewed on my site. It’s written by fellow blogger/twitter lass Kaewmala. A must read if you are learning Thai.

    And Then One Morning
    Reviewed in memory of the Tsunami this December. The book is about Aaron’s experience during the Tsunami (Thailand). Heartbreaking, but a good read. Strong people like Aaron blow me away.

    During the Thai crisis last year I purchased a heap of books about Thailand. Some I finished. Some not. But unless you are into politics, they won’t be your cup of tea. I can dig them out if anyone is interested (heh).


    The Book of General Ignorance
    If you like facts, then you’ll love this book. It even comes on Kindle (I have both – don’t ask).

    I’ll stop there as I’m sure all things learning languages and linguistics will bore you to bejesus and back.

    • Oh good, I’m going to check out your recommendations, too. Thanks! I think I have a book from Christopher G Moore on my Kindle right now, so I’ll have to get to it soon, as well. There’s also a series of books set in 1970’s Laos that are fantastic–Colin Cotterill (spelling?) is the author’s name. Amazing.

      I’m excited to read more about Thailand, too. :)

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  3. I didn’t know incomparable meant “the most drunk ever”…

    Let me know how you get on with Coupland. I might try and hit Bookcrossers this evening and swap loads of chick-lit for, well, anything over than chick-lit.

  4. carrie

    You ALWAYS win on book smackdowns. I don’t know what I would do if you weren’t my goodreads friend, b/c I think half the books I end up listing come from you!

    I didn’t realize you had read Henrietta Lacks…that’s definitely on my list. I’m glad to hear it was so good. Same with Sherlock Holmes now, thanks!

  5. Colin’s books are difficult to track down in BKK. I could only locate four (and I hit all the big bookstores) so if you can find a new stash, please please let me know and I’d love to finish the series. Btw – as his Thai is great, I interviewed him last year.

    • I read them before I came here, although the Neilson-Hayes library had a couple of the books on the shelf. I didn’t check to see if they had the full series, as I’d read all but the very newest one.

      I just read the interview–great advice from him about the visual way he learns languages!

  6. Phil

    The Neilson Hayes library is how I survived/got my English fix while living in Thailand. It’s totally worth the membership fees. And it’s partly how I read 70 books during that ten-month period.

    You should check out the set of mysteries set in Laos by Colin Cotterell–they are an interesting read.

  7. Phil

    Oops. Clearly I should have read through the comments before I posted. My bad.

    Hopefully, you enjoyed the series…

  8. Jess

    Megan – did you know the writer of Doctor Who did a short series that is a modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes (set in present-day London, with stories that riff on Conan Doyle’s originals)? It’s called Sherlock and I think they are on DVD now. From the BBC. I think you would like them.

    I’m so impressed and happy that you care about reading books. :) I haven’t counted my year’s total, but I am certain I added about three times as many books to Goodreads as I read….

    • Oooh, thanks for the tips about the Sherlock series. I’m going to try to check it out!

      You know you influence my reading so much. I have almost 200 books in my Goodreads to-read queue. Somebody I’ll get to them!

  9. I didn’t realise that the Neilson-Hayes library had a set of Colin’s books. I’m a member of the BC so I wander through there every so many years, but I haven’t checked anything out yet. I’m not exactly a good library person… I love the idea of checking out books, but sometimes I fail when it comes to checking them back in again. Whereas buying is guilt free!

    • I don’t mind returning books a little bit late, but for me buying is fraught with guilt!

      • Monica

        I grew up living next door to the public library. Seriously, the parking lot was 15 feet from my front door. And I STILL always had overdue books.

        The library system here revoked my card after I built up a whopping $12 in fines.

        The shame.

        • I grew up with a library that didn’t charge overdue fines, so I’ve never gotten used to them. I know; I don’t know how they did it.

          And, oh dear, the shame of having your card revoked! But that makes me laugh quite a bit…

  10. Mike Birbiglia is THE BEST. Have you ever heard him live? I have – like a bazillion times – so even though I read a lot of stories I had already heard, it was like an audiobook in my brain.

    Saw his Sleepwalk Show live and rumor is he’s working on another off-Broadway show. Oh, random aside – my uncle has the same sleep disorder which I have renamed “Mike Birbiglia disorder.”

    A lot of those other books are on my wishlist on Paperback Swap but I’m so far behind I’m willing to wait rather than just buy them.

    (Yes, I bought the Birbiglia book but I also regifted it at Christmas time, so yeah for me.)

  11. Yea Megan!!!!!!!!

    Woo-woo ~ I’m envious that you can devour books like that! And such a talented writer and lovely lady too.

    Big hugs, you are awesome, xxoo

  12. Jay

    Hey Megan – Happy New Year. I read Paul Garrigan’s book during my trip home. Couldn’t put the book down for 2 days and enjoyed it immensely. Also have 2 bags of chips for you from Canada. Jay

    ps – you can email me at:

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