‘The Magnificent Seven’ Continents: a Reading Tale

Many literature lovers have reading goals: Try a particular author for the first time. Finally pick up a classic that’s been on your list forever. Polish off 50 novels a year. Etc.

Me? I recently reached a goal I didn’t even know I was aiming for — just realizing that, since mid-2017, I’ve read fictional works set or partly set on all seven continents. That and a dollar will buy me something at Dollar Tree…

I completed my double-trifecta-and-a-half a couple weeks ago with Ha Jin’s Waiting, which is set in Asia — China to be exact. That absorbing novel is about a doctor, stuck in an unhappy arranged marriage to a traditional woman, who falls in love with a more modern woman — after which things get quite complicated, emotionally and logistically. The author lives in the U.S., but spent his childhood and young adulthood in China, so he knows his native country well.

Obviously, a major appeal of reading literature not set in one’s home nation is learning about other cultures, even while realizing that human emotions are usually not that different from place to place. Of course, one can learn even more about other countries by visiting them (I did get to France for a couple of weeks this spring), but reading certainly costs less — and living-room chairs are roomier than airline seats in coach. ๐Ÿ™‚

I also “traveled” to Africa this past year via Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, a compelling novel partly set in Nigeria. Ambitious/resilient protagonist Adah strives for an education and a better life despite sexism, racism, a problematic husband, and other obstacles.

Australia? I’ve recently read several novels by Liane Moriarty, one of my very favorite contemporary authors. Books such as Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret expertly mix three-dimensional characters, mystery, social issues, humor, and other elements to create a page-turning brew.

There was a South America “sojourn,” too, when I read Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. That Brazil-set novel stars the smart and congenial Dona Flor, her charismatic but irresponsible first hubby, her responsible but rather boring second hubby, and a sort of ghost of that deceased first spouse. Quite a threesome, or foursome.

The vast majority of fictional works I read are set in North America or Europe, so I’ll mention just four of my recently perused ones among the dozens I’ve gotten to since mid-2017.

I just finished Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice, which unfolds in England and Scotland (both of which sound like Europe to me ๐Ÿ™‚ ). That novel — which is almost as good as Pilcher’s fabulous The Shell Seekers — features related and unrelated people, ranging in age from 14 to 67, who come together around Christmas time amid tragedy and hope. (On top of this blog, my cat Misty poses with the novel.)

This past week, I also read Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Viy,” set in the Ukraine. A masterful horror tale with a lot to say about religion and more.

North America? My favorites of recent months include Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel, The Midnight Line, which addresses matters such as drugs amid interesting character depictions and visceral action sequences; and the always-reliable Fannie Flagg’s touching novel The Whole Town’s Talking. Both books are set in the U.S.

You’re probably wondering how I managed to read a fictional work set in Antarctica. Well, part of Maria Semple’s quirky seriocomic novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette takes us to that icy continent — and memorably so.

Have you ever done the seven-continent reading thing? Do you have other reading goals you’ve knowingly or unknowingly achieved?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which offers a fake history of my town in this era of alleged “fake news” — is here.

57 thoughts on “‘The Magnificent Seven’ Continents: a Reading Tale

    • Hmm…I think Herman Melville’s sea novels — “Moby-Dick,” “Redburn,” “White-Jacket,” “Typee,” etc. — cover at least three oceans. And a book about the A&P supermarket would take care of the Atlantic & Pacific… ๐Ÿ™‚

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  1. I’m just about certain I’ve read no Antarctic fiction, though in a way, I have, in that Admiral Byrd (to whom I am distantly related) appears to have falsified diary entries in order to claim his ‘discovery’.

    Arctic fiction? I’m going to count Jack London, and move on, shivering a little when I remember “To Build A Fire”.

    I have read an Australian novel, written by an Australian, but it’s been 30 years, and having searched through the plotlines of Australia’s 50 best I found on the interwebs, I don’t see it. There was an adolescent boy in it who shaved all the hair off his body and in the end everything in the family business and compound blows up burningly, but evidently that’s not enough detail to identify the thing, so….

    The rest of the continents are comparatively easy-peasy!

    My personal goal of the mo is to read or reread all of Ross Mac Donald’s Archer novels, and so far, I’ve read sevenish over the last few weeks, and would have read more, only I ran into a loop of digital frustration at alibris, the used book site where I usually buy books on-line. Repeated attempts to purchase a raft of these books caused me to become acquainted with the fraud division of Mastercard by phone, resulting in many minutes of telephonic frustration. I have not built up my courage enough to try again, but I am comforted for the moment by a Jo Nesbo I forgot I had lying around. It’s taken me quite a while to become comfortable with a character named Harry Hole, though I keep in mind that the surname has two syllables.

    In between 2 MacDonalds, I also read Joseph Roth’s “What I Saw”, a compilation of insightful, heartfelt, even visionary articles he wrote in Berlin during the 1920’s, where he moved after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, before having to move to Paris, after Hilter’s rise, in the mid-30s. He carried his own dissolution wherever he went.

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    • Thank you, jhNY!

      Jack London definitely got far north, including in his classic dog novels “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang.” I loved both books.

      In addition to Liane Moriarty’s wonderful work, other Australian novels I’ve read include Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach” and Frank Moorhouse’s “Grand Days,” among others. Then there’s New Zealand’s Eleanor Catton (“The Luminaries”) and Janet Frame, to name a couple of writers there.

      Impressive amount of recent Ross Macdonald reading! Sorry about the Alibris issues.

      And thanks for mentioning Joseph Roth! I know you think highly of his work.

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      • jhNY, you’ve got me on a mission to reread or read all of the Ross MacDonald Lew Archer novels. I have only 5 on my shelves that I can find, but I got a new gift card from Barnes & Noble the other day, so I’ve ordered two more: “The Doomsters” and “The Barbarous Coast.” I don’t remember reading either of the two before. However I’ve read so many mysteries by so many authors that I can’t keep track of all of them. I know I had a flood in my basement back in the early 1980’s (Dave, do you sense I’ve got a penchant for floods in my homes?), where I lost most of my mass market paperback collection, so I’ve been replacing them little by little through the years, and I’ve had to replace them with trade paperbacks, especially when I get gift cards. I also love Jo Nesbo, but I’ve stuck with the Harry Hole novels. It took me at least five novels to realize he was Harry Ho-lay rather than Hole. Thank goodness!

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        • “Dave, do you sense Iโ€™ve got a penchant for floods in my homes?” — so unfortunate when they happen, Kat Lib, but with climate change-influenced weather extremes, water-heater leaks, and so on, they happen more often than we’d like… ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

          Just last month, the water heater in my late mother’s Florida condo broke and flooded a good deal of the place — causing lots of damage. I was in New Jersey at the time, of course. Given that a couple more trips to Florida might have been enough to get the condo ready to sell, this has been quite an annoying and expensive setback.

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          • Dave, so sorry about the water-heater related leaks and flood damage in your late mother’s condo, as if you didn’t have enough to deal with already.

            I just wanted to mention the death of John McCain, and I know we’ve discussed before about having mixed feelings about him throughout his life. I’ll choose to remember 3 things about him: 1) his time spent as a POW in Vietnam; 2) his standing up to a woman at a campaign event and shutting her down when she wanted to bash Obama; and 3) his no vote for repealing Obamacare. And then there is of course Trump’s disdain for him, when one knows he is a far better man than Trump will ever be!

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            • Thank you, Kat Lib! That leak has not been the highlight of the summer. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

              John McCain was indeed mixed — but his better words and actions were impressive indeed. As exemplified by the third thing you mentioned, McCain was one of the very, very few national Republicans to at least occasionally push back against Trump and Trumpism. Most other GOP ghouls have been sickeningly supportive, silent, and spineless.

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  2. I’m going to take another stab at my reading list, and the good news is that it’s one of my collections of comic strips. Yay! I could use a good laugh just about now. I’m getting so tired of hearing that there are facts, but alternative facts, and there are truths but not truths. I really feel we’re living in a bizarro world or is it just our country now!

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    • Which comic strip collection? I really enjoy those, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yes, “Bizarro World” and an Orwellian world. I recently saw an editorial cartoon by the great Gary Huck that asked people to fill in the last two letters of “Tru- -” to make it either “Trump” or “Truth” because “you can’t have both.”

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      • Well, for now I’d like to stick to those I know best: Calvin & Hobbes (in fact I have the entire series in paperback form), Pogo; which I have in two big hardback covers and one paperback that came from my best friend’s mother; Peanuts (just a few compilations that I bought I few years ago), Foxtrot, which for some reason I find very funny, and of course, Archie, but mostly Betty & Veronica. My girlfriend, Louise, loves some of the Doonesbury cartoons, mostly those that have to do with the wars (she is a psychologist who deals mainly with Vietnam vets or any other group that has dealt in wars). I suppose that’s why I choose to deal in childlike cartoons. Do you have any that you’d recommend, thanks, Dave!

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        • Those are some excellent comics! I own collections of all of them myself, except for Archie — though I read the occasional Archie comic book as a kid.

          Other than the ones you mentioned, some of my favorite comics when I covered that field included “The Far Side,” “Mutts,” and “For Better or For Worse,” among others. And, going way back, “Krazy Kat” — which ran from 1913 to 1944.

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          • I can see getting “The Far Side” and “For Better or Worse,” which I used to read back in the days when I got the Inquirer. I’m not sure about “Mutts,” When we lived in Kennett, I got a subscription for the Inquirer, because Bill really loves reading the paper, especially doing the puzzles every day. Wouldn’t you know they don’t deliver the Inquirer, way up here in the mountains. If he wants to read it, he has to drive to the Wawa, not all that far away, but still…
            Sometimes they are already sold out.

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            • A shame the Inquirer is so hard to get; newspapers these days can’t afford to lose a single reader. Still, I’m sure they do a cost analysis about where it’s financially feasible to deliver and not. It would be nice if that Wawa could reserve a copy for Bill…

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            • I was interested to read that there is apparently a series of Archie comics, in which all the main characters finally grow up. I knew there was one that had Archie marry Veronica and one where he marries Betty. But the strangest one was the final one (I think), in which the gay character is running for some political office. When doing so, Archie saves the life of his friend by taking a bullet for him and dies! Yikes! I don’t think I could handle this. I think I’d much prefer to have Archie and his friends stay in Riverside High for the rest of their lives!

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                • I guess that’s why they keep all of the main characters alive for the rest of their lives! I think the only one I remember well that characters grow up was “For Better or Worse.” Which is fine for some folks, but for me, it was just annoying. And I hope when I finally dig into Pogo’s season two, it will just be more of the same from season #1.

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                  • You’re right that the characters aged in “For Better or For Worse”; I think I remember cartoonist Lynn Johnston telling me that her characters got one year older for every three years that passed in the real world. And of course Farley the dog died. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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            • Howdy, Kat Lib!

              โ€” When we lived in Kennett, I got a subscription for the Inquirer, because Bill really loves reading the paper, especially doing the puzzles every day. Wouldnโ€™t you know they donโ€™t deliver the Inquirer, way up here in the mountains. โ€”

              Please be advised โ€œThe Inkyโ€™sโ€ Philly.com has a Games microsite that encompasses multiple crossword and other puzzles, which is nice for those of us with broadband access to the Net: http://bit.ly/2MAEz9R. (Spoiler Alert! โ€œACREโ€ is the correct entry for 1 Across on the Daily Crossword today.)

              J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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          • Too lazy, I confess, to find them, I nonetheless would like to report that, in the 2000’s, a wonderfully well-produced series of Krazy Kat books, hardbound and everything, came out, which feature the best reproductions of Herriman’s strips I have seen, drawn from collector’s copies of the published strips( because Hearst in its infinite corporate wisdom, destroyed all the original artwork way back when). Unbeknownst to me, my father bought one in the series, which I happily discovered on my last visit home.

            A few of Mutts’ Sunday colored funnies have paid loving homage to the beautiful Sunday Krazies, earning them, until time yellowed them into flakes, a place on the old Kelvinator that has kept things cool for me lo these 40 years.

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            • That “Krazy Kat” book series was great, jhNY! And George Herriman’s timeless comic was so quirky and unique. Nice that your father purchased one of the books!

              Yes, “back in the day,” newspaper syndicates (not only Hearst’s King Features) destroyed a lot of original art to create new space in file cabinets. So stupid and shortsighted.

              “Mutts” cartoonist Patrick McDonnell is indeed a “Krazy Kat” fan, and I believe did a book about that classic comic.

              Crumbling comics on the fridge: I definitely know about that phenomenon!

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      • I love the picture of your kitty Misty above. Although I’ve become more of a dog person than a cat person, I still love them all. My best friend spends half of the sleeping time with her two cats, then goes into another room to sleep with her two dogs, which is true dedication! Anyway, I meant to comment on your latest blog. There’s the continent I’ve read many books by Liane Moriarty (Australia). Then I agree with you about Antarctica (“Where did you go, Bernadette?”). I’ve read many books about Africa, mostly memoirs rather than fiction. The two continents I’ve not read a lot about, are South America, and Asia. I used to call myself an Anglophile, because I loved all the mysteries set in Great Britain, as well as novels by Jane Austen!

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          • Thank you, Kat Lib! That’s one of Misty’s better photos; he usually looks way too solemn despite being a very content cat. I also love dogs, but I guess I’m more of a cat person — having lived with seven in my life (in groups of two, then three, then one, and then one).

            Your friend truly IS dedicated with her with-pets sleeping arrangement! I think it’s great! Though probably disruptive to her rest quotient.

            I could also read more novels from South America and Asia, and would like to. So far I’ve gotten to Jorge Amado, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende (though she ended up living in the U.S.), Haruki Murakami, Murasaki Shikibu, and a few others.

            Farley’s death outraged MANY “For Better or For Worse” fans; Lynn Johnston received thousands of letters from upset readers. And I’ve heard insider gossip that Lynn’s friend Charles Schulz, when hearing in advance about the contemplated fate of Farley, was so angry that he threatened to also kill off Snoopy if Farley died. Snoopy survived, of course.

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            • Before I even made it down to your last paragraph, my thoughts immediately went to Snoopy, and I thought you can’t kill off Snoopy! So glad to know Schulz didn’t follow through on his threats! It’s amazing how we get so attached to comic characters, like Farley, Snoopy and Woodstock. I’m so attached to Hobbes who in reality is only a stuffed tiger. I had the opportunity to buy a very cute stuffed tiger when I donated money to the WWF. I took advantage of doing so a few months ago in order to get the stuffed tiger, who I called Hobbes, of course, and thought my big dog would love him — however, she’s not into toys at all, but my little dog loves him so much! Who can figure this out?

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              • I’m also glad Schulz didn’t follow through; I suppose he never really planned to. ๐Ÿ™‚

                I guess getting attached to cartoon characters is sort of a version of getting attached to literary characters…

                Great that your little dog loves the stuffed tiger! Yes, animals (like people) can be hard to figure. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Wow you’ve been all over the world in books! ๐Ÿ™‚ Good for you. I’d say between all my nonfiction and fiction reading I’ve been to a lot of Europe, some places in Africa, and the South Pacific, with a few other scattered locations in between. That would be a fun exercise someday to sit down and figure out all the places “visited” through books. Someday I hope to visit a lot more of those places in person as well. As for goal-setting, I’m kind more of the “just do what I can manage” person when it comes to reading. I put to much pressure on myself otherwise!

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  4. It seems like all I’ve been doing the past 4 years or so have been dealing with a flood in my condo, then selling it and moving to a house in Kennett Square, where I had two floods, then moving last May to a home in the Poconos, where I’m happy to report that there have been no floods, yet… :). So that’s a lot of work in buying, selling, packing, and unpacking. I once moved from PA to Florida and had a major moving company do the move, though I did the packing up. One of the movers said to me, “Lady, you really know how to pack a box,” which I should put as my epitaph on my grave, if I was going to have one.

    What I want to do is go back to a system I had for most of a year, when I lived in my condo and had more time. I had 4 major categories of books, which I’d read in order: Contemporary Fiction; Classic Fiction; Non-fiction; and Mysteries. I was fairly good about keeping to this schedule, and I’d record them all on an Excel spreadsheet. I felt it was a good way to motivate myself to keep to it going.

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    • Thank you, Kat Lib! All the moves, packing/unpacking, floods, etc. — exhausting. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ But your epitaph quip was hilarious!

      Your when-you-have-enough-time reading system sounds great to me! Nice to rotate among those four categories — and to keep track! My reading system is more haphazard — each month, I usually borrow four or five novels from my local library that are on my to-read list and that happen to be in the library at the time. So I might read, say, three contemporary novels in a row before ending up with a different genre. Hence the accidental nature of my seven-continent thing. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • I agree with you about your system of reading. I feel I need more discipline to read different things rather than more books about mysteries and memoirs than anything else. Though, there’s nothing wrong about that approach, especially since I’ve read so much of the other two categories through the years, mostly in school and college. Well, this is a work in progress right now, and perhaps I should even add comic books to my list, and have science fiction on the list! My list of things to read keeps growing, but that’s a good thing. right?

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        • Additional categories sound good, Kat Lib! I’d also like to read more sci-fi; somehow I don’t think of that genre often enough. (The sci-fi novel I read most recently was Octavia Butler’s interesting “Parable of the Sower,” about six months ago.) Many comic books and graphic novels are well worth the time, too.

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          • Well, I added a few more genres to my list as I discussed above, comics and science fiction. But I just added another one: children’s/young adult literature. I have plenty of all of them already on my shelves. I figure that I’ll get through a lot of books, especially when it gets cold/snowy/icy here in the mountains, mainly since there is not much right around the corner. We’re planning to bulk up before winter starts.

            I don’t believe that things are meant to be, but I
            do believe in coincidences, I had to have 10-12 big trees cut down, dead from some sort of blight. During the 4 days this was all happening, I got a letter from the Arbor Day Foundation, requesting a donation, in which I could receive 10 new trees (very small), 2 crape myrtles, along with a book, a calendar, and perhaps a year of coffee. So, of course I had to donate money (which I usually do anyway) when it comes to animals or the environment.

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            • YA can be a great category! I guess a novel you love — John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” — is one example of that genre. I also love “Anne of Green Gables,” “The Hunger Games,” “Holes,” and various other YA books. An excellent winter activity you have planned.

              That’s an amazing tree coincidence! And so nice of you to help animals and the environment — which need all the help they can get, especially at a time when we have a White House occupant who cares about neither.

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  5. I have a goal to read more fiction, since I had gotten away from it in recent years. In so doing, I did โ€˜travelโ€™ to four continents this summer. Europe when I read the fabulous The Shell Seekers (and now I must check out Winter Solstice), Asia when I read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini, and Australia when I got hooked on Liane Moriarty. Iโ€™m still trying to get Big Little Lies from the library but loved The Husbandโ€™s Secret and The Hypnotistโ€™s Love Story. I stayed in New England when I read Chris Bohjalianโ€™s Midwives but that counts as my fourth continent. Iโ€™ve never read all seven in one year but since it is only August, I still have time. Youโ€™ve given me all the suggestions I need to get the job done, Dave. And youโ€™ve helped me on my quest to read more fiction, with your intriguing weekly blog!

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    • Thank you, Molly, for the great comment and kind words! “Traveling” to four continents in one summer is impressive! It took me twelve months to “visit” seven. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I imagine “Big Little Lies” is very popular at MANY libraries; luckily my local one had multiple copies stocked when I wanted to take out that terrific novel. But I’m still waiting for Liane Moriarty’s “What Alice Forgot” to be there. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Continued good luck with your fiction reading!

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  6. I am in awe of you! I’m doing well if I finish the two books per month for reading groups that I attend. That being said, I guess that I HAVE met a goal by expanding my reading horizons, somewhat, through the wider variety of novels read for the library-based group, which was my main reason for joining.

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    • Thank you, Becky! We can only read what we have time to read. ๐Ÿ™‚ There have been many times in my life when I was lucky to read two books a month. And reading a wider variety of novels is a very good thing! Reading groups can be so wonderful.

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    • You’re welcome, Dave. I enjoyed your literary trip around the world, and I agree that reading is a great alternative for actual traveling. I rarely have reading goals, but I did plan to read more Finnish literature, now that I have moved to Finland. Also I have never read Around the World in Eighty Days ๐Ÿ˜‰

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      • Thank you, Elisabeth! As you might know, there’s an old Moody Blues song called “(Thinking Is) The Best Way to Travel.” I guess “Reading” could easily substitute for “Thinking.” ๐Ÿ™‚

        A great goal to read more Finnish literature now that you’re in Finland! The best of luck with that enjoyable task.

        I loved “Around the World in Eighty Days”!

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        • Reading often equals thinking ๐Ÿ˜Š

          So far I’m enjoying my Finnish literary experiences, especially Tove Jansson!

          I’ll take your recommendation for “Around the World in Eighty Days”, and if I remember correctly, you also enjoyed “The Casual Vacancy”, which is waiting to be taken along to Italy next month ๐Ÿ˜€

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          • “Reading often equals thinking” — so true!

            Nice that you’re enjoying Finnish literature so far! I plan to look for something by Tove Jansson during my next library visit. ๐Ÿ™‚

            I was definitely impressed with “The Casual Vacancy.” Not a compulsive page-turner like the “Harry Potter” books, and all rather depressing, but I was kind of riveted by the dramatic political and emotional goings-on in a small English town.

            Hope you have a great stay in Italy! I was last there too long ago (Venice in 2004).

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            • Thank you, Dave! I love Italy and luckily my partner does too, so we try to go every September, but we haven’t been to Venice yet. Speaking of Italy, have you read Elena Ferrante? I read her Troubling Love a while ago, quite interesting.

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              • A yearly visit to Italy sounds wonderful!

                I’ve read one Elena Ferrante novel, “The Lost Daughter.” Had mixed-to-negative feelings about it. I imagine “Troubling Love” is much better!

                My favorite novels by Italian authors would probably include Elsa Morante’s “History” and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard.”

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                • I loved some of the art that was suspended in Italy when I was there back in 1969 or so. One of the funnier moments that happened was that we went to the Uffizi Museum in Florence, and found ourselves involved in a mix of Uffizi Museum exbibits that lived in the area, as well as a mix of some of the other museum exhibits, who were demonstrating against the US/NATO. We wandered into a group who were into Communism, who were nice enough to us and in fact found us a way out for us without running into the more angry couples, but giving us a small red flag to wear on the way out.

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                • There’s still a lot to read out there, thanks for the recommendations.

                  I imagine it’s like with traveling: there’s a lot still to discover, but it’s also very nice to go back to the same place that you know you love ๐Ÿ˜‰

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