musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia


I had extended my stay in Shan State’s Nyaungshwe for an extra two days in order to attend a pagoda festival in Hat Ein village. The festival was being held on a full moon day, which I was told, would guarantee a most festive festival. My only problem was that I was about to finish the paperback book I brought with me, The Secret Soldier by Alex Berenson (a great read by the way, part of his intriguing John Wells espionage series), and I needed another book to read until I could return to Mandalay where I had another book tucked away in an extra bag. I’m one of those people who believe that a day without books is like a day without sunshine, so I had to solve this predicament quickly.



Luckily, there is a small shop in Nyaungshwe, Golden Bowl Travel, that stocks books. They are located on Yon Gyi Road between the main market and Golden Kite Restaurant. It’s run by Ma Ma Aye and her darling daughter who goes by the nickname of Tina. They are truly sweet and very helpful people. I browsed their selection of English language titles (they also have books in French, German, Swedish, Italian, and Dutch), pondering several titles. There was a 2-for-1 Ed McBain edition, but I’d already read both novels, so I continued perusing the shelves. I pondered a John Cheever short story collection, but the book looked too heavy for my needs, both the size and weight of the book (I need something relatively small to stick in the shoulder bag that I always travel with) and perhaps too serious in tone for my carefree travel mood. In the end, I opted for a Stuart Woods novel, Orchid Blues. I had read one Stuart Woods book about a decade ago (don’t even ask me to remember the title!), recommended by a friend who is also a big mystery buff, but I don’t recall being that thrilled with that book. In any event, I figured I would try Woods again and see if I liked him better this time around.


Well, that didn’t happen. In fact, I can truly say that I hated this book, a reaction that I rarely have when reading mystery novels. But this book was so trite and lame that I gave up after about 100 pages. I’m amazed that I even made it that far, but it wasn’t like reading that many pages was a particular challenging task; the dialogue was so simplistic and ridiculous that a child could have breezed through it. In fact, I wonder if this was indeed aimed a “young reader” market. It certainly will insult the intelligence of anyone that reads reasonably well-written crime fiction. Honestly, I can’t heap enough scorn upon this book. Total rubbish.


So, I took it back, along with the Berenson book that I had finished, and resumed the task of picking out another novel. I looked at both the McBain and Cheever books again, but opted not to get either one. Then I noticed a Daniel Silva book on the wall. I think I’ve read all the books in his Gabriel Allon series, but this particular novel, The Mark of the Assassin, was a one-off effort that I hadn’t read yet. Say no more, I’ll take it! And, predictably, it was a very good read, although it struck me as a paint-by-numbers spy story with relatively few surprises. Nevertheless, it held my interest and lasted me until I reached Mandalay.


I know; experienced travelers who read would advise me to get a Kindle or some other sort of e-reader for when I’m on the road, but having such a device doesn’t even remotely appeal to my reading tastes. Give me a real book with that magical paper smell and the familiar comfort of turning the pages. I’m a holdout and proud of it!



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