Best Books of 2016!

Like I do every year, I signed up for Goodreads’ 2016 Reading Challenge and failed miserably. My plan was to read 52 books and just yesterday, as I read the final chapter of Paulina Chiziane‘s Niketche – a novel  in Portuguese language novel about polygamy in Mozambique – I closed the page on my 39th book of the year. Thirteen books behind, I could feel guilty, but why? I discovered audible and listened to 3.5 books (not counted), saved so many life minutes that I would have spent listening to garbage music or actually reading Mindy Kaling’s horrible book. I would say that’s a victory. And so, I will only feel, but so guilty before I share with you my annual book review…

First, I have to say that my reading heavily focused on the two areas – productivity and my PhD. So, while both may seem boring as hell to you, they were fascinating to me and really pushed me to my professional limits. Second, you can imagine why this year is extremely difficult for me to judge – naming favorites across vastly different genres is really hard to do. Third, I apologize in advance because many of the books I read are not readily available. Last, if anybody is particularly interested in reading in Portuguese, I suggest you get very familiar with wook.pt and their global shipping rates.

So, let the fun begin…

My top five are as follows:

978-0-8223-4191-8_pr.jpgLiving with Bad Surroundings by Sverker Finnstrom

You can read the book if you want to know what it’s about, but I particuarly enjoyed it for its excellent writing. As a PhD student struggling to contextualize and explain how everyday violence affects individuals and their life choices, I plan to fully mimic Finnstrom’s writing techniques and adapt them to my own study.

African Workers and Colonial Racism by Jeanne Marie Penvenne51ZX1QEahZL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

As I wrote in my amazon.com review: “I found this study to be utterly fascinating and eerily relevant to the contemporary labor constraints in the capital of Mozambique. Anyone looking for a serious text about Mozambican economic and social realities should read this closely. It is not about the countries beaches and it doesn’t wax prophetic about the Portuguese colonial system, which I’m sure damages some people’s idyllic view of Mozambique as a country and Portugal as a racially proximate colonial master. But, with Portuguese colonialism lasting well into the 1970s, anyone living, studying or working in the country could well benefit from reading this text and understanding how it affects present day realities.”

514B-YWWBmL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOur Black Year by Maggie Anderson

While every year I have tried to become a more mindful consumer, this book taught me how hard that can be. For those of us who live in food deserts, it’s hard. For those looking to support small businesses it’s hard. But, this family’s quest to try to exclusively patronize Black owned businesses while living in a predominantly Black neighborhood really showed me that the economics of poverty and patronage in the U.S. context are more complicated than I thought. I, for one, am taking a second to check the owners and competitors of businesses and products that I buy regularly. Entrepreneurship is to be praised and supported. Now, many years after this book was written, it’s even easier to support – no excuses. Your funds fund corporate ideologies and empires, the choice is always yours, consumer.

This Present Darkness by Stephen Ellis* 41y5BdSQ5sL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

This book was written by a dead man. Really! He died while doing the research, but the study was so valuable and fascinating that his team continued his work. The study focuses on Nigeria’s black market scams and underworld. If you know anything about my interests, you know that mob movies and illegal activity are my schtick, so this story strikes a chord in my intellectual and entertainment soul. You’ve got to read it!

Essentialism by Greg McKeown514M9KlQKQL._AC_US218_.jpg

I have become a productivity addict and while listening to Asian Efficiency’s Productivity Podcast, I heard Mr. McKeown speak. Basically, he takes a 100 years after your death approach to prioritizing what you should do daily. By his definition, you can throw away half the stuff on your current to do list and never look back. It’s very freeing to pay attention to your legacy rather than your inbox, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. Once you figure out what you want your contribution to humanity to be, there’s really no looking back.

The bottom dwellers:

The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read by Daniel R. Solin

The 7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Retig

The Americanization of Goans by Ladis da Silva

Actually, all of these books suck, so I won’t waste more time on them than is necessary. They all have great premises and are about really riveting subjects, but they are poorly executed in my opinion. So, read them if you must, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

I look forward to a 2017 without a goodreads challenge, but still with a lengthy reading list…

I welcome your suggestions. Leave ‘em in the comments.

Sleep with Confidence

Jodhpur - Water Habitat Retreat View

When I was in Jodhpur last month, I ended up staying in a resort hotel that just so happened to have a last-minute room available.  I tried to book at the Taj and the Oberoi, and I even tried a local Haveli.  But they were booked up and my flights were already paid for, so I had to scrounge up something and fast! So with little more than the promise of a clean bed and a good ranking on http://www.tripadvisor.com, I reserved a 3 night stay in the Water Habitat Retreat. And whoa, what a treat! This got me thinking about some of my most pleasant, surprise room stays around the world. When you travel, your room is your castle. Here are just four unsung heroes I recommend with confidence:

As the NGO expansion of a Maharaja’s summer home, the Water Habitat Retreat is a 28 room boutique hotel that offers vistas from Jodhpur’s Marwar desert.  Just about 20 minutes from the city center, this hotel is truly an oasis of stunning man-made lakes, hill-top temples, and quiet serenity. The rooms do not have TVs, but I was given a USB MBlaze to get internet reception free of charge.  What’s the catch? Well, the hotel is built aside a water catchment plant and reservoir.  The Aravalli hills are known for desert and drought, but in this NGO run hotel 70% of the hotel booking costs go directly to water harvesting. So, this nice hideaway also doubles as an opportunity for philanthropy. Hard to top that.

When a friend came to India shortly after I first arrived, we scrambled to find a hotel in Goa. We combed http://www.tripadvisor.com for a reasonably priced guesthouse near Candolim or Sinquerim beach. We tried to book to the #1 ranked Bougainvillea Goa, but they were full. They offered a room in their sister guest house just a 3 minute walk away. For $30 USD a night, we booked at Victoria Village Guest House. The room was clean and the owners were very sweet. The wife came to the door carrying her pudgy cheeked doll of a daughter and the husband told us about his sister’s restaurant down the road – which was not a tourist trap! Just a five-minute walk away from the Fort Aguada Taj hotel, I can’t imagine why anyone would choose NOT to stay at Victoria Village.

Not all surprises are cheap. And in San Francisco, you can bet that any good surprise costs a premium. But, a few years back I booked 3 nights at the Orchard Hotel and never once regretted it. I especially appreciated it when I got so sick that I couldn’t leave the hotel on the night before I was set to depart. I still remember the fish stew I ordered from room service, and I have yet to try fish stew that competes. The cleaning crew came multiple times a day and only when they knew we were out of the hotel – so no annoying knocks in the morning. Well worth the spend, if I’m ever back in San Fran I’ll be trying to relive my fish stew dream.

Germany Valley

One of my very favorite places in all of the U.S. is Germany Valley, West Virginia. Trying to unplug from Washington, D.C. life, I searched for a fall foliage locale that wouldn’t break the bank. While once on a stay in the Appalachian-Cabins in Seneca Rocks, I drove a ways and discovered the Germany Valley cabins. I decided that the next year, I would have to come back and stay in one. I had to book almost a year in advance to ensure I had an October weekend, but it was well worth it. Some of my fondest memories with my best friends and their kids were had right there in those hills. These cabins are a hidden gem, well worth the 5 hour drive from DC.

Here are a few other lodging options worth checking out:

Jaipur, India

New Delhi, India

Udaipur, India

Bangkok, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand