Monday, August 13, 2012

New Feature: Book Reports And Reviews

One of many used book seller stalls at the Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok. They're full of undiscovered treasures, if you're willing to dig for them

Somewhere back near the Paleozoic era when I was in elementary school I remember how a collective groan would rise from my classmates whenever the teacher would assign us the task of writing a book report of one form or another. Myself and a couple of others already read on a regular basis, anyway, so it wasn't anywhere near the task it was for those who were unfamiliar with the joys of the printed word.

Once "Real Life" took over, an afternoon with a new book became an almost guilty pleasure; sneaking away from what I ought to have been doing with a book from the stack of new titles waiting by my nightstand became a delicious diversion.  Still is, if I'm to be honest here.

To this day, one of my biggest complaints is not being graced with time often enough to sit with a good book and let my mind wander, be entertained, or soak up something new to activate what's left of my grey matter.  Granted, as the years pass that complaint has lost serious ground to the desire for a nap, but that has a lot to do with my own loss of inertia overall, and we can't really gripe about that, can we?  Well, OK, I do, but I don't put much heart and soul into it.

Before my first trip to Thailand I dutifully did my research about the culture, customs, history and places, afraid I'd be lost in a strange land on my first day, unable to get back to my hotel and at the mercy of strangers I couldn't communicate with.  I soon learned that that apprehension and fear was a complete waste of time.

I've since learned a lot about this country I've become so fond of; nowhere near an expert, of course, and still admittedly ignorant about some aspects of life and ways there, but that's just part of what keeps it interesting, wouldn't you agree?  Frankly, there are some things I'm quite happy to remain ignorant about. There are plenty of other sources if you feel a need to try to illuminate the darker things of Thailand.

That said, I was pulling a guidebook off of my shelves the other day for someone who was planning to venture there next Spring. They may be coming along with me, but if not they'd be going with another friend, so all they were looking for was something that would be a reference with the least amount of bulk to carry along with them.  That got me to thinking of an idea I'd had about two years ago: doing some simple write-ups here about books I've read that are related to Thailand.  This is the introduction to that new series.

As an aside: at this point I don't intend to publicize titles that are unwelcome in Thailand. I have a few of  them that have been shunned in the Kingdom, and I see no need to write about them here - for now, anyway.

However, if you, too, found (or find) yourself early on in your first visit saying to yourself "I'm going to come back here!" - for whatever reason - there are all sorts of places in Thailand selling new and used books to look around in and pick up a book or three to take back home with you. I'll list a few of them that I've found useful as we go along.

Let's start out with a recommendation: the guidebook I purchased before my first trip - the compact Lonely Planet Thai Phrasebook...

1999 4th edition on the left; the very newest, on the right, is due out in October of this year

The version I bought was the (then new) 1999 4th edition, pictured on the left, above. There have been some changes since then, but nothing earthshaking. If you can find the older version, save some money. The edition on the right is the current offering, going for $9 USD on Amazon. You can get a copy of the earlier edition for half that, including shipping. The book is 2/3 the size of a regular paperback, and small enough to slip into your pocket.

With a modicum of practice the pronunciation guide will allow you to make yourself understood (more or less), and provide some entertainment for the locals as you try. It also lists things in Thai, so you can point to a word or phrase to get something across if you aren't comfortable being the cause of raucous laughter. 

There are more than a few other books like this one, but this is the reference I find myself bringing trip after trip, while the others - especially the larger/heavier ones - wait on the shelf for my return.

So, there's your simple start. In the interest of time I lifted the book cover images for today off of the internet, but I expect as we go along I'll need to scan some unusual titles to give the adventurous folks something to look for if they wander into a used book seller like the Jatujak stall up top.

If there's a title you're curious about, leave a comment or send me an email. If I've got it - and I have several shelves of appropriate books to cover - I'll bump it up the list.


Anonymous said...

Writing about books is a good idea, I love books! I have the Lonelyplanet Thai phrasebook and dictionary on my desk right now, 6th edition 2008 second hand for 150 Baht for Dasa Book Cafe. And I agree that there are surprises at Jatujak market.


khunbaobao said...

Thanks, Christian. I hope this series can help as a reference. I hit a couple of bookstores (at least) each visit and am often pleasantly surprised at what I find.