Tag Archives: Viet Thanh Nguyen

“YOU ARE JUST TOO WORDY,” I say, to myself.


Being too wordy usually means throwing way too many many unnecessary words into one written piece. Like that. I suppose it could also mean always wanting to write—all those words you’ve absorbed over the years trying to get out? In my case, it appears to be both. Apparently I have too many adjectives and adverbs clogging my system and they escape onto every screen or page whenever there’s an opening. And then there’s the problem of nothing seeming real to me until I’ve written it down. Talking doesn’t help. I am not very articulate. Only writing eases the word bloat.

What to blame for this surfeit of words? Books of course; there are never too many to read or buy or touch or view or ponder or desire.

I have been writing a book. Or rather the first third of a book. Right now it’s being reviewed by my literary friends. Then it will go to a professional reviewer. After that, I’ll weep, edit excessively, and determinedly move on to write new chapters. Writing this seriously has been the most painful and pleasurable thing I’ve ever done. It took me well into my UCLA certificate program to gather the courage to approach this with earnest intent. I’ve finished the program…that old “I’m a writer” rubber is hitting the road. Wish me luck.

Meanwhile it is time to start blogging about my upcoming 2017 trips. From whence I derive the most joy. Blogging is brilliant, especially when fairly casual. Writing about travel, writing about books, sometimes about grandchildren and new recipes! In the future blogging about my history and my age. What could possibly be more fun than the latter? Blogging as I do it is ‘writing lite’, the best of all worlds if one is lazy and wordy.

This post is the first of a series about the reading I’m doing (or sadly, in some cases, just planning to do—but won’t) for my summer/fall 1) Road Trip and 2) Another Big Big Trip to the other side of the world…and farther.

At this point in time I’m in that stage when the outlines of the trips have been determined, and in the case of the international trip, the airline tickets purchased. That’s where my reading list is focused. It makes a great deal of difference to my engagement with and excitement about all of the places along the way if I have some knowledge of the history, geography, culture and customs. So I know the whats and whys and whereofs of all that’s about me. I’m not talking about scholarly research or needing in-depth knowledge—although I always mean to try for a little of that—I’m simply talking about a good history/adventure story/novel/murder mystery or two or three.

The countries to explore through words and in person: New Zealand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, India. Not so many really but of such world-impact that hundreds of books could not cover them. Particularly India, but also Southeast Asia’s Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. Nepal because I can. New Zealand because travel buddy, Teresa, who’ll go adventuring in Vietnam with me, lives there.

The Book Worm Chronicles start here:

I read The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen last year. It is quite possibly the best book I’ve read in a very long time. He has two new books of essays out which I will order the minute I post this. Teresa, who was not born until some years after the Vietnam War ended, is as in love with The Sympathizer as I am—and as it should be. Without some knowledge of what’s gone before how should we consider ourselves responsible citizens? A rhetorical question of course with history nearly banished from all education.

Finished Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh last night. Delightful, especially since I plan to spend much of my 10 or so days in India on trains. It is great fun to read, although naming and riding on 80 trains for one short book got a little heavy on the naming angle, while I would have liked just a few more details about the various stops…still she accomplished a major task, the kind of thing I would like to do, and she’s a good writer and good person with whom to go train-about.

Enough for one post. I’ll return with many more books and my progress reports. If you have suggestions please let me know.





What to read while traveling is not such an easy choice. Completely frivolous versus serious fiction or non-fiction related to regional destinations? For my round-the-world venture last year the central theme was Russia and the trans-Siberian trains so I opted for the serious side, downloading volumes of important Russian literature and Robert Massie’s Peter the Great. Imagine how they bloated the insides of my tiny Nook? And how’d that work out for me…fairly well actually. While the greatest of Russian novels are still tucked unread into that pretty little tablet, I spent quite a few hours on Peter the Great, enough to see him into battles with those dastardly Swedes. Reading and pondering Russia’s rich and formidable history while gazing at the passing taiga was truly a lazily-invigorating intellectual experience. But that was then…. I do fully intend to finish Peter the Great this winter on Albuquerque’s one snowy weekend.

This year in the north, it was mostly a different story.  I started at the very light end of things with Six and a Half Deadly Sins by Colin Cotterill, the latest in a series of light and lively detective novels about a retired Laotian coroner, quite perfect for a small read by the light of the midnight sun on a skimpily-mattressed bunk bed at the end of a long day in Greenland’s rocky hills.

Having begun One of Us: the Story of a Massacre in Norway—and its Aftermath by Asne Seierstad before I left I couldn’t stay away from it too long. Started back again on the flight from Greenland and didn’t put it down until we reached Neset Camping. What a fine and brilliantly-researched and written book about a monster of the first order. Anders Breivik, a psychologically-damaged (possibly with a combination of personality disorders, including narcissistic [just like Trump], borderline and antisocial)  and very smart, with an unstable family life and unlimited time on the internet-of-all-that’s-good-and-bad, slaughtered 77 people, most of them young kids at summer youth camp. Seierstad probes deeply into his life, his character, his upbringing, his place in Norwegian society as well as exploring the social and political world in which this horrendous human being was brought into being. What a thorough and tantalizing character study Seierstad has written—rivals the best of the best of true crime literature and social/psychological non-fiction…think Capote.

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in how mental illness, societal structures and access to weapons and the internet come together to create the kind of mass killings with which we are growing increasingly familiar.

The truth is I stopped reading just as Breivik is heading into Oslo to begin his killing spree. I was in Norway, visiting family, and spending a few days at the most peaceful of all places, Neset Camping, the spot where my dad was born. I could not bear to read of the horror of the day, having come to know a few of the victims through Seierstad’s beautiful and intimate profiles of some who lost their lives that day. I will go back to the book in the next few days as it’s too important and too well-told of a story not to read to the end.

Meanwhile in Oslo, walking by…no I mean into…a bookstore I found a book I had overlooked entirely—The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year. I started it immediately after putting One of Us down and just finished a few nights ago after getting home. It has plenty of killers, fictionalized it’s true, but at least as believable and probably as close to non-fiction as we care to go when probing the inner workings of the Vietnam War. It is a mystery, a comic novel in some ways, and a novel of places and times with which the author has intimate knowledge. I believe this may be as true of an account of the end of the war in Vietnam, the immediate aftermath, and some of the cast of Vietnamese and American characters as I’ll ever read.

I didn’t quite know where to go with The Sympathizer originally. It is immediately obvious it is smartly written and an original. It took me just a little while to accept it as a fine novel with comic interweavings; it took me a little longer to believe it’s a crime novel which some reviewers call it—and I’m not sure I still get that although there’s no shortage of crime of the greatest variety. Actually, contemplating it with just a few days hindsight, I believe it’s a brilliant novel full of truths about war and peace; Southeast Asians in their homeland and in America; the American brand of war-making; and basic human nature. And all the time you’re reading you just know you’re getting a straighter story (underlying the fictional comedy of death and destruction) than any of us would care to admit. I’m going on line right now to order the non-fiction companion, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. For more about the author, go to