I used to have a complete list of everything I'd read for the last 7 years.
The file was so big that it took minutes to load in my browser, though there
were no graphics. Then it got destroyed, and by the time I noticed the problem
several weeks later, all the backups at my ISP were zero-length, too.
Ah, well. Impermanence, as the Buddhists would say. I'll take this as a
lesson in non-attachment, losing those reviews of hundreds of books.
It was my favorite web page...
Later: A friendly soul sent me a link to the wayback machine, and I
retrieved the old list. You can find it HERE
In the interest of full disclosure, and on the off-chance that anyone actually cares,
the reading list here is incomplete. Sometimes I forget to record what I read.
Also, I didn't finish every book listed here. So don't take this too seriously.
Also, when I remember a book I once read, I sometimes add it here.
I've started adding dates, to remind me when I finished a book.
Absolutely American. A Rolling Stone reporter spends four years following
West Pointers through the U. S. Military Academy.
Adrift: seventy-six days lost at sea. Steven Callahan.
Sailing solo round the world, his ship is rammed by a while in the middle of the night
and he ends up drifting clear across the Atlantic on an inflatable raft. No one else had
ever survived more than a month alone in these circumstances.
The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus. Jean-Denis Bredin. Didn't get much of this
read, but what I did get through was top-notch storytelling and research. Well worth it, if I
didn't have a dozen other books to get through, and too many other projects already going on...
Afghanistan's Endless War. Larry P. Goodson. The title sums it up, though it
was written before we invaded the place. Pity the people of Afghanistan; their suffering goes
on and on. For an earlier and different view, read "Under A Sickle Moon", though it's dated now.
Also "Taliban: militant Islam, oil, and fundamentalism in Central Asia" (see below).
Alex and Me. Irene Pepperberg. Scientist's life and work with her famous
African Grey parrot, subject of many TV shows and newspaper and magazine articles.
Almost A Family. John Darnton. By the brother of Robert Darnton, whose Great Cat
Massacre I enjoyed. The story of their father's death in WWII, their mother's subsequent
disintegration, and so on. I got bored halfway through and skipped back to the part I was interested
in (because I'd read it before) -- the discovery that a ship had been named after their father,
had wrecked on a Scottish island, and had been preserved in the name of a pub in that remote place.
There's a lot of interesting stuff in this book, but it's buried in trivia and pedestrian writing.
Did manage to finish the book, and the brief section on his career as a foreign correspondent, much
of it spent among world-changing events, was interesting. Too bad it wasn't longer.
American Chestnut. Susan Freinkel. Subtitled "The life, death, and rebirth
of a perfect tree".
American Shaolin. Matthew Polly. Yale student drops out, goes to China
to study kung-fu fighting. Charming memoir.
American Dynasty. Kevin Phillips. Family biography of the Bushes.
The Anglo Files. Sarah Lyall. Funny, perceptive, and well-written analysis of
the English, by an American woman who married one of them.
And Here's the Kicker. Mike Sacks. Interviews with 21 comedy writers.
Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream. Sam Quinones. Subtitled "True Stories of
Mexican Immigration" -- and all of them engrossing.
Appetite for America. Stephen Fried. An interesting story, about Fred Harvey, who
founded the first restaurant chain, was nearly the first to employ women in a non-traditional job,
whose innovations were substantial and many. But I would have enjoyed the book more if it hadn't
been so filled with simple, egregious errors of geography. For instance, downtown Kansas City is
not east of the Union Station, but north of it, and you don't get to Denver from the east by train
through mining towns. This book was not fact-checked.
Arsenals of Folly. Richard Rhodes. A friend of mine who knew Rhodes once remarked
that he threw in everything he could. This book is proof that she was right. Purportedly about
the nuclear arms race, it wanders far afield, beginning with Chernobyl.
The Art of Deception. Kevin Mitnick. Highly repetitive stories about social
engineering, badly written. The guy has a huge ego, too.
Argumentation, Parts I and II. 12 CDs containing 24 lectures a little more than
half an hour each. "The study of effective reasoning", and it's partly that, but it's also the
art of effective disputation.
Ataturk. Patrick Kinross. Didn't get past the career in the Army prior to WWI.
At the Fights. Dozens of stories about boxing, all of them good, many of them superb.
Attention All Passengers. William J. McGee. Expose of the airlines.
Autobiography of a Face. Lucy Grealy. Memoir by a woman who had cancer of the
jaw as a young girl, and her struggles medical and personal.
Bad Mother. Ayelet Waldman. Thoughts on motherhood, a bit too confessional for
my taste, but with enough insight to justify reading it. See Manhood for Amateurs, below.
Bad Things Happen. Harry Dolan. Recommended to me by my local bookseller (of whom
few are left). Intelligently written, but the resolution is way too complex.
Baghdad Burning. Riverbend. If I didn't have to wade through too many ham-fisted
asides, I'd finish the book, because it's full of interesting details about the struggle to live
through the occupation and the insurgency. But it's too much work sorting the wheat from the chaff.
Bailout. Neil Barofsky. This guy is your archetypal Tough New York Jew With a Law Degree.
He was a prosecutor, and still has the attitude. In this book he's out to settle scores with guys like
Timothy Geithner. And settle them he does, though the book is clearly self-aggrandizing. Nearly every page touts
Barofsky's opinion of his own competence and integrity, and tears down someone else's. Not that there isn't a great
deal of truth to what he says, given the scams and incompetence we all know riddled the TARP program...
I think were I ever have dealings with Barofsky, I'd take care not to piss him off. His knives are sharp and long.
The Barn at the End of the World. Mary Rose O'Reilley. Ex-Catholic Quaker Buddhist shepherd.
Recommended by a friend because I'm an ex-Catholic Buddhist who belongs to a Quaker Meeting. But this was not for me --
there's an annoying emphasis on the "spiritual", a word I've never understood.
But the stuff about the sheep was interesting. They're a lot of work,
and a lot of weird, interesting things go wrong with them... I read every word, and I was glad
to be done with it at the end.
Before the Dawn. Nicholas Wade. As with much other writing about evolution, most of
this is unfounded speculation (writers on evolution often remind me of medieval theologians arguing
about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, because there's no way of testing their speculations
to find out whether they're accurate, and other hypotheses would be just as good). Regardless, though,
there's lots of interesting info here. If you read it, skip the treatment of religion. Like much of the
rest of the book, it's reductionist.
Beyond Belief. V. S. Naipaul. In 1995 the author returns to Indonesia, Iran, and Pakistan,
countries he'd visited 15 years earlier, trying to understand the effects of Islam on nations it conquered long ago.
Kitchen sink is included, and Naipaul has the irritating habit of reading people's minds. At least he thinks so.
Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. Atul Gawande. Chapters on polio outbreaks,
the treatment of wounded soldiers in Iraq, cystic fibrosis patients, and so on. Thoughtful,
practical, and accessible.
The Big Thirst. Charles Fishman. Why the world faces a water crisis, what can be done to mitigate
the crisis, and a lot of interesting material about water itself and how this essential resource is managed.
The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer. Eric Hansen. Short pieces, less essays than mini-memoirs.
Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green. Johnny Rico. 26-year-old with 2 masters' degrees signs
up for the infantry and goes to Afghanistan. Whatever you expect, this book will differ.
The Black Swan. Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Badly organized, often unclear, pompous, repetitive,
score-settling, but interesting. Taleb has a good idea and overblows it. Taleb has done extensive reading,
but he hasn't learned how to summarize clearly what he's learned. There are a lot of annoying solecisms --
snide, jarring editorial asides in the middle of a sentence; committing the same sins he accuses others of
(especially "epistemic arrogance" and ad hominems). He should have let his ideas speak for themselves.
He also sounds at times as if he's writing to himself, in a private language, solipsistically -- as if he
expects everyone to understand him without the need to revise those sentences to make them clearer.
His editor fell down on the job, or they felt they had to rush the book to market... I'm glad someone
has finally got the attention of the public on this subject, but it seems to me that even what he
calls "Mandelbrotian" randomness is too optimistic. The world strikes me in many ways as altogether anarchic.
The Bloody White Baron. James Palmer. Bio of a German-Russian sadist who terrorized
Mongolians and Russians alike with his private army, fighting the Bolsheviks. He liked to go into battle
bare-chested, wearing bones on his chest. That's the least of it. If you enjoy stories about freaks,
this book may be for you. The most similar historical character I can think of is Lope de Aguirre.
The Blue Tattoo -- the Life of Olive Oatman. Margot Mifflin. Olive Oatman is one of
those characters in our national story who was a sensation in her own day and is largely forgotten now.
Travelling west with her family, most of them were slaughtered by the Apache. She and her sister were
taken as slaves until they were ransomed and freed by the Mojaves, with whom they lived. The sister
died and Oatman became a Mojave. The author contends, I think with good reason, that Oatman liked
living as a Mojave and would have preferred to remain one, that she loved her new family and had adapted
entirely to their way of life. She even had an Indian name that meant "sore vagina", which implied that
she was sexually free, as the Mojaves tended to be. Frankly, the Mojave way of life as described by Mifflin
sounds appealing to me, too, not because of the sex, but because of the freedom and joy that seemed to
characterize it. Oatman was more or less forced to return to "civilization" (a word I've never quite
understood or believed in, and which seems to me to be propaganda), where she was seen as a
freak, given the blue ink that ran from her lower lip to her chin, and was exploited by a minister who
wrote a mendacious book about her time with the Indians. It was a huge bestseller. At that point I
found the story too depressing, and quit reading.
The Book that Changed My Life. Edited by Diane Osen. Short pieces by good writers.
Born On a Blue Day. Daniel Tammet. Memoir by a man who memorized pi to tens of
thousands of digits, and has learned 10 languages. Naturally he's autistic.
The Boys' Crusade. Paul Fussell. A much-needed corrective to the romantic view of WW II
that is now currently popular.
Breasts. Florence Williams. Heavy going in places, with an alphabet soup of chemicals
(BPA, PCBs, etc.) and a lot of detailed but inconclusive research. But fascinating. I had no idea that
American women have 10 to 100 times the flame retardants in their bodies that European women do, or that
mothers dump half their load of that crap into each baby they nurse. That's frightening. Perhaps the
most interesting thing is that only human females have breasts that protrude even when they aren't nursing.
The Brendan Voyage. Tim Severin. A handful of men cross the Atlantic from Ireland to
Newfoundland, in a leather boat (!), to demonstrate that the Irish may have beaten the Norse to
the new world by centuries. A great adventure, with some hair-raising escapes.
Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women. Alexa Albert. Medical student goes to Nevada to
investigate condom breakage, becomes friends with the prostitutes, and ends by spending a total of
seven months in the whorehouse.
The Bush Dyslexicon. Mark Crispin Miller. Just what it sounds like.
By the Sword. Richard Cohen. Interesting book, but I have to wonder how accurate it is.
Though I know nothing about European-style fencing, I found simple mistakes unrelated to it: the implication
that Harry Truman was from Saint Louis, rather than the opposite side of Missouri; the Nazi Heydrich's
name given as Reinhold on page 359 (though the index reference to that page correctly uses Reinhard);
a photograph of a German duel supposedly resulting in a beheading, which to my eye is clearly fake.
It's always a bother to read a book from which I think I'm learning new material, only to find these
little warning signs scattered around. I have to wonder how accurate the rest of the book is.
Candyfreak. Steve Almond. The story of American candy bars, especially the regional
and family-made ones that are vanishing. He also writes good short stories.
The Captive Mind. Czeslaw Milosz. Minds held captive by Communism.
Catching Fire. Richard Wrangham. Heard the author lecture on this subject, and he
was very persuasive. His central idea is that cooking improves the digestibility of food, and that
when our ancestors learned to cook we could support bigger brains, smaller guts, and other, related
physiological changes. He adduces evidence of all sorts -- anthrolopological, historical, archeological,
paleontological, physical, and so on. He's thoroughly persuasive. This is one of those books like
Guns, Germs, and Steel, or Origin of Species that, after reading, seems so obvious
that one wonders why no one ever made the case before.
The Case Against Perfection. Michael Sandel. Harvard professor argues against genetic
engineering and the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Cheerful Money. Tad Friend. Subtitled "Me, my family, and the last days of Wasp splendor".
An explanation of what it's like to come from old money and privilege, but that's only part of it.
Friend is a New Yorker writer; the grace of his prose and the skill of his stories attests to it.
The Children's Blizzard. David Laskin? The great blizzard of 1888, still a subject of conversation
in the northern Plains of the U.S. The temperature dropped 18 degrees in three minutes, you couldn't
see your hand in front of your face, during the afternoon. People would be a stone's throw from their
houses and couldn't find their way back. Good on the human interest stories, but the explanation of the
weather is indecipherable, and there are too many characters to keep straight. If you read this, write
the names and identifying characteristics of the people so you don't get confused when the writer
begins jumping from one to another.
Choices and Consequences. Dick Schaefer. Advice for parents on housebreaking (training?
civilizing?) your children.
The Circus at the End of the World.
The City of Falling Angels. John Berendt. Don't make us wait so long for your next one, John.
Love those characters and stories.
The Civil War: a Narrative. Shelby Foote. A master stylist. He writes with a dip pen (the steel version
of a quill pen), probably to force himself to think through his sentences carefully before he commits them to paper.
But the volume I read took me a long time, and I've never wanted to take the time for the other two. This is one
of those trilogies to read when you've retired, or you're taking a peaceful vacation.
The Clash of Civilizations. Samuel P. Huntington. A great book (literally great), but one
that took a long time to get through. Important, fundamental insights, but he should probably pay more
attention to the effects contemporary cultures have on the inner dynamics of other cultures (e.g., the
changes provoked in one culture through media -- one minor example is teenagers in Tehran using cell phones
to flirt, since they can't flirt in person). Huntington's view of history and civilizations is sophisticated,
and springs from long, deep study and experience. But he treats the cultures of the world as insufficiently
dynamic. Also, his disagreements with multiculturalism in the United States at the end of the book come
out of left field... The end of the book, in which he conjectures a world war that starts with conflict
between China and the U.S., and which widens to draw in Japan, India, Pakistan, Iran, the Mideast, Europe,
and Russia, is frightening because it's plausible.
Collected Writings. Thomas Paine. Barely read any of it, but record her for completeness' sake.
Common As Air. Lewis Hyde. I don't remember reading this, but it's on my library fine list,
so I must as least have checked it out.
Common sense on mutual funds : new imperatives for the intelligent investor. John C. Bogle.
Market baskets, reduce fees by buying and holding, etc.
Concrete Planet. Robert Courland. The history of concrete, with side excursions
into ancient Rome, Mesoamerica, the England of the Industrial Revolution, Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright,
and the great San Francisco earthquake, among other things. I found the book engrossing, but sometimes had
trouble understanding some of the technicalities. A little background in engineering would have helped...
After reading this, if I ever build with concrete, I'll specify GFRP and aluminum bronze rebar for certain.
Confidence. Rosabeth Moss Kanter. I tried, once again, to read a business book.
As always, I failed, though this time at least I got more than halfway through. This is typical
of the sort of gibberish this book, like the others, is filled with: "Rather than continually reorganize,
which is disruptive, turnaround leaders augment the organization chart with flexible, sometimes temporary,
groups that open relationships in multiple directions." I'm sure this is useful for someone, but every
business book I've ever read confirms my observation that business people write without
substance, think in cliches, and confuse slogans and jargon with ideas.
Confront and Conceal. David Sanger. If I had any doubts that Obama is not a liberal,
the description in this book of his actions has removed it. He's more secretive than Bush, for one thing.
The Corporation. Joel Bakan. Book on which the eponymous movie was based. The notion is that
corporations have the psychological profile of psychopaths. Rather obvious, really. Though short,
the book had little beyond this to say. Would have been stronger at essay length.
Courtesans. Katie Hickman. The lives of five famous kept women of the 19th century.
They were the movie stars of their day -- the subjects of endless fascination, gossip, and imitation.
Courtroom 302. Steve Bogira. In the first chapter, the death of a prisoner through
the deliberate indifference of jailers to his obvious medical distress is mentioned in passing;
it's scarcely a ripple. The judge says his job is to keep things moving. And so on. Of course,
most Americans don't care to hear about this sort of thing; they want it to take place out of
sight, so it will be out of mind. Which is why our prison system is out of its mind.
Those who believe that our legal system dispenses justice should read this book and be disabused:
innocent defendants railroaded to guilty pleas simply to cover the asses of the police and D.A.;
convictions sought for purposes of public relations; police torture denied by a judge in the face
of clear and consistent evidence, when even the police admit that it's occurred. It it any wonder
that we now have Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo?
The Critique of Pure Reason. Immanuel Kant. I've forged through the translators'
introductions and Kant's introduction and got up to Transcendental Doctrine, Second Part (Transcendental
Logic), First Division (Transcendental Analytic), Book I, Chapter I, Section I (Of the Logical Use of
the Understanding in General). Having renewed it 7 times, I think I'm done. I just can't run this
ultramarathon. I actually found it interesting, though, incredible as that may seem.
The Cuckoo's Egg. Clifford Stoll. I re-read this on June 5 - 6, 2005.
The Dark Side. Jane Mayer. Proof, if any were needed, that many of the Bush administration
were the kind who would do any dirty work, no matter how illegal and brutal. The orders came from the
rogues at the very top. This is the sort of thing we always profess horror at, when we talk about the
old Germany, the old Soviet Union, or Cambodia. The scale was smaller here, because they only had seven
years to try to disassemble the protections our founders were wise enough to put in place, and which
have been strengthened through our history. It's happened once, and it could happen again, but Obama's
too afraid of setting a precedent and won't prosecute the lawbreakers. They got away scot free with
torture, the breaking of treaties, and perjury. If there were any justice, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld
and all their minions would be in prison for the rest of their lives.
Database Nation. Simson Garfinkel. A bit out of date (things change fast in the arena of computers
and privacy), but still useful, and still scary. Privacy? Forget it.
Daydream Believers. Kaplan. How the delusions of the neocons got us in trouble.
Deaf in America.
Descartes' Bones. Russell Shorto. The strange history of Descartes's skull (and, to a
lesser extent, his bones), the influence of the philosopher on our modern world, and how the two correlate.
A staggering amount of research seems to have gone into this book.
Doubt. Jennifer Michael Hecht. Not much about doubt here -- it's all about disbelief.
And there's a great deal about that, probably several times as much as there should have been, every
word of which I slogged through, despite knowing it was largely a waste of time. The author would have
done better to spend less effort on being comprehensive and more on the clarity and depth of her
ideas, such as they were. I can't criticize the accuracy of the text
(the writers covered I mostly haven't read), except to note that her treatment of
one thing I do know about (Zen) is superficial and inaccurate;
for instance, in a footnote she attributes the authorship of Zen Mind, Beginner's
Mind to D. T. Suzuki. The correct name was the other Suzuki: Shunryu.
Eavesdropping on Hell. This book can't be bought over the counter. I sent an e-mail
to the fellow at the National Security Agency who wrote it and he sent me a copy. The subject is
Allied eavesdropping/spying/cryptology on the Axis during WWII, especially as it concerns the
extermination of the Jews. Would be worth the money, even if it weren't free, which it is,
though for all I know my name is on some list at the NoSuchAgency now. Things have really changed
since the days when they wouldn't even admit they existed; now they hand out free books!
The Elegant Solution. Matthew May. I should have known better than to expect a business
book to be readable. I have yet to find one. This one's the usual puff piece, hyperbole, and gibberish.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes. Ann Vanderhoof. Author and her husband leave a high-pressure
life in Toronto for two years; they sail from Canada to the Carribean. Vanderhoof writes like the magazine writer
she is, not realizing that full-length books require a different touch -- that the saturated colors of small
pieces are simply too much when they're carried on for hundreds of pages. She indulges in that one extra sentence
at the end of the paragraph telling us what she felt, when the reader already knew from the sentences before it.
She punches up her language with too many colorful adjectives. She tries too hard. She's merciless in
her interminable descriptions of food. Worst of all, she loves hyphenated strings of nouns serving as
adjectives: "close-to-our-own-age Trinis", "melt-your-heart [voice]", "ginger-lime-rum-butter sauce",
"front-of-house sister". And she never met a standard hyphenated phrase she disliked, either, from "high-test"
to "small-sized" to "middle-class", even when she's the only one who thinks they should be hyphenated,
or the extra word (wouldn't "small" have sufficed?) is necessary. She reads like a bad writer who's trying for
vivid writing. In short, her annoying style gets in the way of what she's trying to say, none of which shows an
original sensibility, or any original ideas. No, she got rid of all the interesting stuff years ago,
writing for the magazines. Not one fresh phrase or idea in this entire book, though she tried.
Yes, she tried on every page. I can picture her with her thesaurus, and her word processor, endlessly
revising. Instead of relying on stale technique, though, she should have engaged her mind.
Too bad; I generally love nonfiction about authors' sailing adventures.
An End to Suffering. Pankaj Mishra. Ostensibly about Buddhism, this book is equally
a personal memoir, travelogue, and cultural history. Much of the material (Nietzsche, for instance)
shouldn't fit, but somehow the book works anyway.
Endgame : Bobby Fischer's remarkable rise and fall -- from America's brightest prodigy to
the edge of madness. Frank Brady. The man was psychotically egocentric, and the psychosis spread
to the rest of himself.
English Hours. Henry James. Exquisite vignettes of the English countryside, without
that prolixity of the late James that someone once compared to a hippopotamus picking up a pea.
Extreme Weather. Christopher C. Burt
An Eye at the Top of the World. Pete Takeda. The CIA and the Indian government put
plutonium-powered spying devices on two Himalayan mountains. One device melts into the snow, but
is recovered. The other one is avalanched off and melts its way to the bottom of a glacier, where
it now sits, waiting to break open and spill its four pounds of plutonium into the headwaters
of the Ganges river. Takeda gets interested in the subject, researches it, and organizes an expedition
to one of the mountains. The book, which begins as a piece of investigative journalism, ends as a
climbing epic (Takeda and his partners are repeatedly buried in avalanches, for instance).
Warning: the book is full of typos and especially of egregious errors of punctuation.
Nearly every paragraph has a sentence with a superfluous comma.
The Face of Battle. John Keegan. Rigorous examination of three famous battles
by a leading military historian. Written with an emphasis on what the foot soldiers experienced.
Factory Girls. Leslie T. Chang. Sizeable book about Chinese girls who leave their remote, primitive
villages to work in factories in the cities. Raised in the U.S., Chang inserts the story of her own family as well,
and it's even more interesting.
Fast Company. David Gross. Memoir of an American's life in Italy, working as an executive
in a motorcycle factory (Ducati, probably).
Fast Food Nation. Eric Schlosser.
He does a thorough job of making the food, and the process of getting it into
American bellies, frightening and disgusting. The book is not a jeremiad --
it seems to be an honest description of what crawled out when he turned over the rock.
A modern equivalent, in a way, of Sinclair Lewis's The Jungle.
Feel This Book. Janeane Garofalo and Ben Stiller. 2/2/2012 Humor, at least in theory.
Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Growth of Raunch Culture. Ariel Levy.
The author pretty much tips her hand with the title: she's agin it. I read it through because
I've been trying to figure out why, these days, even the good girls dress (and sometimes
act) like tarts. While there were some worthwhile insights, in the end the book failed to
give me those one or two crucial ideas I'd been looking for -- but maybe that's just me.
There's a lot between these covers that's worth learning, buried though it is in dross.
First Encounters. Edward and Nancy Sorel. I re-read this periodically.
Quirky anecdotes about first meetings -- Pascal and Descartes,
Mary McCarthy and Edmund Wilson, Marat and Charlotte Corday (also their last meeting!),
Wittgenstein and Russell, Roosevelt and De Gaulle, Cassatt and Degas, Sartre and Beauvoir,
Howard Hughes and Ingrid Bergman, Byron and Shelley, and so on. A great source for dinner conversation.
The little stories seemed a bit touched up (sometimes veering into speculation), but
they're entertaining. And the drawings are fun, too. If your book club is getting burned out
on long, heavy books, try this one; it's guaranteed to light the spark again.
Food in Medieval Times. Melitta Weiss Adamson. The few recipes are annoyingly vague
to the modern eye, but we have to remember that they had no thermometers and no accurate way to measure time.
Weiss does a good job of explaining all the differences, even including such matters as sumptuary laws.
Foreign Babes in Beijing. Rachel DeWoskin. Girl goes to China to work as a PR flack
and becomes a TV star and more.
Founding Faith. Steven Waldman. Careful examination of the roots of the tradition of separation
of church and state in this country, and of the religious beliefs and practices of Washington, Jefferson,
Franklin, Adams, and most of all Madison.
Freakonomics. [I forget the authors' names.] Interesting, but riddled with error -- for instance,
the authors perform thought experiments, then draw conclusions based on them, without showing that their imaginings
match reality. They speculate endlessly. They conflate ideas, insert new notions into the middle of an argument
without laying the groundwork for them, and fail to support their assertions. There's a lot of entertainment here,
but the arguments are not rigorous, and the book is not groundbreaking.
The Full Burn. Kevin Conley. Stunt men and their stunts.
Gaviotas: a Village to Re-Invent the World. Alan Weisman(?) Story of a remarkable village in Colombia.
Geisha, A Life. Mineko Iwasaki.
The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by R. Crumb. Text on the cover reads "Adult supervision
recommended for minors". I'll say. I've tried to read the book of Genesis on more than one occasion in the
past, and always failed until now. Genesis disgusts me. It's incoherent and perverted. Abraham's wife was his
half sister, and he was the founder of Judaism? Lot's daughters got their father drunk so they could have sex
with him and get pregnant? God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Abraham obeys, until stopped at the last
moment from this cold-blood murder of his own offspring. God is usually incoherent, can't make up His mind,
can't think things through, has absolutely no sense of justice, and is little more than a powerful spoiled child.
How can this be a holy book? I omit the betrayals, murders, and injustices, which are throughout the book.
The only other books I've tried to read that seem equally psychotic are
Mein Kampf and the Quran -- both of which, by the way, are worse. Why is it that people let themselves
be deluded into believing this nonsense? It's poisonous.
Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world. Jack Weatherford. Trying to correct the smears we
Westerners have heard since childhood, Weatherford goes too far the other direction.
god Is Not Great. Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens indulges himself as usual, hurling vitriol
at those he disagrees with (in this case, anyone religious). He's a master of invective. But his usual set
of rhetorical tropes is here: exaggeration, sweeping statements, unsupported assertions, factual errors,
insults, and mistakes of reasoning, among others. He never restrains himself, and his only goal seems to be
to cover his foe with spittle, and so, as usual, he's unconvincing. If you want to read an atheist's manifesto,
Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation is much better, and Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth
Great Battles of the Ancient World. Garrett Fagan. 4 DVDs. Skipped around; watched Alexander
the Great, Marathon, Thermopylae, Cannae, Teutoburg Forest and a few others. Good stuff, but it needs more
visual aids and less talking head.
The Great Divergence. Timothy Noah. Subtitled "America's growing inequality crisis and
what we can do about it". This was a delight to read -- thoroughly researched, thought through, and
nicely written. Conservatives will label this book liberal (but haven't they taken to doing that to
everything and everyone they disagree with, even each other?), and maybe there's some bias that way,
but the writer backs up all his claims, over and over. Seems to me we have a problem, and we need an
honest debate on what we should do about it.
The Great Human Diasporas. Luigi Cavalli-Sforza.
The Grid. Philip Schewe. Interesting enough book, but for at least the first half of this
tome I felt I was being lectured to, somewhat de haut en bas. Check out these two examples of the
writer's usage, on successive pages: "cerebral circuitry" for "brains", and "diurnal period" for "day".
This was a weak effort. I expected a man with a Ph.D. in physics, who's written more than one
play produced in Washington and New York, to know what he wanted to say, and how to organize it.
Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. Jacqueline Kennedy, with Arthur Schlesinger.
Nearly half a century later, this woman seems astonishingly dated. Of course things were different then -- women
wore white gloves, and the First Lady's position was less important than today. Still, she takes it all a
bit too far. She calls herself a "Japanese" wife at one point (one who lets her husband control everything --
she even mentions being sent off to bed!), and that this is the best kind of wife; and she remarks that
she got her opinions from her husband (noting that where else would a good wife get them?). Her loyalty to her husband
verges on idolatry, and it seems to me that she's trying to whitewash his actions -- e.g., by suggesting or implying
that he had nothing to do with the coup that overthrew Diem. This is baloney. The book reads like a
hagiography, and can't be trusted. Nor, probably, can her opinions of the people she disliked (Martin Luther King,
LBJ, Clare Boothe Luce, etc.). In the last interview she even claims to dislike all the French except one or two,
although she's been an admitted Francophile all her life. Nor can she keep the facts and dates straight --
Schlesinger repeatedly has to step in and correct her, or fill in some background. The book's more than a
disappointment. It's almost a train wreck, by a woman who comes off as clueless.
A History of Warfare. John Keegan. Stone, metal, and fire.
A History of the Islamic World. Fed James Hill and Nicholas Awde. A bit slipshod, with
typos and grammatical errors, and not well organized. They don't even footnote their quotes, and the
index is so incomplete it might almost have been omitted. Still, I learned from it, though the focus
is more on history and politics than on religion -- but with Islam, of course, those distinctions are
Homage to Catalonia. George Orwell. Well worth reading, though the chapters on the politics
of the Spanish Civil War are difficult to get through. Orwell is unique, in his honesty and integrity.
I can think of no other writer quite like him.
How Doctors Think. Jerome Groopman. Confirms what I thought about the difficulty of
being a doctor: the vast amount of material to be mastered, and then remembered and used -- a tremendous
intellectual (and even emotional) feat.
How to Tell When You're Tired. Reg Theriault. An intelligent commentary on work,
especially the labor that longshoremen do. Sort of a cross between Eric Hoffer and Studs Terkel.
This kind of take on life usually flies below the literary radar; we rarely hear from guys like
Theriault, and when we do, and they're this articulate, the book is a delight.
Human Sexual Response. Masters and Johnson. Heavy sledding -- overloaded with jargon,
even when jargon isn't called for. I did learn a few things, despite their attempts to disguise it all.
Ideas and Opinions. Albert Einstein. Essays and journalism by, yes, that Einstein.
Idols of Perversity. Bram Dijkstra. The author, through massive research, makes his case.
(The subtitle is "Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture.") He's read everything,
and looked at every painting. The scholarship is overwhelming. (What's also overwhelming is the leakage
of sensitive-new-age-guy PC feminism that seeps out between the lines.) I suspect that his case is
oversimplified, but the only way to refute him would be to undertake massive research of one's own.
I lost heart less than halfway through. Also, it didn't help that some asshole had cut out pages
and illustrations -- from a library book, no less. But at least the book, with its interminable
jargon (the sort so often found among academics) was a reliable soporific.
I'm Feeling Lucky. The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59. Douglas Edwards.
He drank the Kool-Aid. Still, though he's a true believer, I think the reader can get an accurate
picture of what the place was like. It was a medieval fiefdom run by a couple of autocrats, who
overruled their serfs whenever they wanter, at the promptings of whatever whims they felt. They exploited their
employees without mercy. They created a culture like IBM used to have and Microsoft still has --
"we can do no wrong because we are [fill in the blank: IBM, MS, Google]". Trust us. We're Google.
We won't screw you. As for me, I don't buy it. I've heard that mantra, and been burned by the true
believers, too many times. Google's nothing special, just this year's model. Besides, any company run
by a guy who took the power switches off his servers because "why would you ever want to turn off a
server?" is run by a Goddamn fool. I may not have an advanced degree from Stanford, but I know better
than that... As for the content, the author's a wordsmith, but he spends too much time on internal
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Rebecca Skloot. Bio of the woman whose cells
provided the first immortal line for medical research, and (more) of her children, and of the
questions raised by research on human cell lines. I'd have liked to see more of the latter, and
less of the middle.
Imperial Hubris. Anonymous. There's some score-settling going on here -- Scheuer has
foes he's disputing. And he's gone native to some extent, even so far as to exaggerate the truth in the
same fashion as our foes. Despite its faults, though, the thesis is persuasive.
In the Freud Archives. Janet Malcolm. The controversy between Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson,
the keepers of the Freudian flame, and even some third parties. It reminded me of the theological
struggles of the Catholic church, but back then they killed you. We've learned now to merely
discredit each other and take away livelihoods. I suppose that's progress. But since I can't
take Freud seriously, and Malcolm does, I have to conclude she was the wrong person to write
In Pursuit of Silence. George Prochnik. More consistent than Foy's book Zero Decibels,
but very disappointing. Prochnik focuses on finding silence at will. I have no problem doing that.
My problem is avoiding the noise that's damaging my hearing, and has caused me to have permanent tinnitus.
Instructive though this book is, it's useless for me.
The Innocents Abroad. Mark Twain. Prolix.
I Feel Bad About My Neck. Nora Ephron. Humorous personal anecdotes by the
writer and director of Sleepless in Seattle.
Inside the Kingdom. Carmen bin Ladin. (Note spelling of last name.) A get-even book
by a woman who was married to one of Osama bin Laden's brothers.
An Introduction to Old Norse. E. V. Gordon. Why does he call this an introduction when,
except the discussion at the beginning, the book consists of excerpts of old Norse, with no translation,
no grammar, and no vocabulary? Useless, unless you already know the language.
Iowa. Various authors. Various books by this title, many of them books for children.
Is there a right to remain silent? : coercive interrogation and the Fifth Amendment after 9/11.
Alan M. Dershowitz. Starts out readable and deteriorates into legalese; not always clear.
Jarhead. Tony Swofford. Read part of the book in the Atlantic, then went to hear the
guy at Rockhurst, then went drinking with him afterward. A burly, lively, likeable guy.
John Brown's Trial.Brian McGinty. "John Brown's trial has been called the 'first modern
courtoom event' and 'a milestone in the development of American journalism'." The trial was as important
in widening the North/South split as were the events at Brown's Ferry.
Journey of the Jihadist. Fawaz Gerges. The author, a Christian Arab who grew up in a
Lebanese village, is thoroughly familiar with his subject. He's ready everything and interviewed
Islamists in half a dozen countries. His treatment is even-handed. This book has helped me understand
Arab attitudes more than any other I've read.
Keynes Hayek. Nicholas Wapshott. Dual biography of the two economists, their
disagreements, and their influence on later economists and policy.
Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched. Amy Sutherland. A year in the life at the top
exotic animal training program in the world. Great topic, which is the only reason to read the
book, since the writer should find another line of work. Too bad John McPhee didn't get to the
Kon-Tiki. Thor Heyerdahl. 2/8/2012. One of those books I've re-read every once in a while
since I was a kid. I had a big coffee-table edition that belonged to me when I was about 11. I wonder where
it went to, and I miss that version -- all the wonderful photographs -- but even the little ones I've been able to
find since then, lacking photos, are wonderful. God what I'd give to go on an adventure like that.
I once met the man who organized and led the second raft trip across the Pacific. He knew Heyerdahl
personally, and made a movie and wrote the score to the movie. Gave me a ride, out West, and when we
shook hands goodbye, though he was old his hand felt like a slab of granite.
Last of the Tribe. A shifting cast of Brazilians, in the attempt to preserve indigenous tribes and
their lands, try to contact an Indian living alone in the rain forest. He's the only survivor of his tribe.
No one knows what tribe it was, or what language he speaks, or anything about him.
Every time they find him, he abandons his hut and his garden and flees.
Any novelist would have ended this differently, and yet this true story ends more perfectly than fiction writers
would have done. An extraordinary story.
Lectures on Russian Literature. Vladimir Nabokov. I've always found Nabokov intelligent
and insufferably in love with his intelligence -- a sort of intellectual narcissist.
Letter to a Christian Nation. Sam Harris. Sometimes I find I dislike people I mostly
agree with; the author of this book is such a case. Though he indulges himself in a lot of black-and-white
thinking, and a lot of sweeping assertions, I agree with most of what he says, having thought it myself
at one time or another. But Sam, baby, this atheistic rant isn't going to convince anyone who isn't
already on your side. You'd catch more flies with honey.
Lexapros and Cons. Arron Karo. Mildly humorous novel about a high-school student with
OCD, and the more-or-less predictable adventures his ailment causes him. Has the happiest ending I
can remember reading, but that may only be because my memory is getting spotty.
Little Heathens. Mildred Armstrong Kalish. Memoir of growing up on an Iowa farm during
the Depression. Remarkably loaded with detail.
Living on the Wind. Scott Weidensaul. Migratory birds, especially the threats they face. A bit
alarmist, but a wonderfully knowledgeable book.
Look Me in the Eye. John Elder Robison. 3/4/2012. Memoir of Asberger's. Curiously, this
man is Augusten Burroughs' brother.
The Lost Continent. Bill Bryson. I usually like Bryson, but this is a snotty book,
probably because it's pitched to a European market. Read it without ever having been to the U.S.
and you'd conclude that a trip to the U.S. would be full of encounters with the small-minded and
The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard. Constant J. Mews. Rambles too much; padded.
Love, poverty, and war: journeys and essays. Christopher Hitchens. Brilliant as usual,
but too combative and deliberately iconoclastic. But always useful.
Making the Perfect Pitch. Katharine Sands. Getting the attention of agents and editors.
Odd, I just found a rejection letter from Sands (a literary agent) the other day -- quite a complimentary
one, actually. But it is strange that I should be reading her book, and have forgotten the rejection.
The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair. George Plimpton.
Man of War. Charlie Schroeder. NPR producer gets into re-enactments in a big way -- becomes a
Roman legionnaire, a solder in the French and Indian war, in the Civil War, and 'Nam. And not just wars:
he rows a bateau on the Hudson and trudges in friar's costume from one mission to another in California.
The Man Who Sold the World. William Kleinknecht. Savage attack on Reagan's policies,
ideology, and legacy.
Manhood for Amateurs. Michael Chabon. Memoir of fatherhood, comparable to that his wife wrote
(Bad Mother). Chabon is the ultimate Sensitive New Age Guy every feminist hopes to find.
The Mapmaker's Wife. Robert Whitaker. About the time of the American Revolution, an
upper-class Peruvian woman crosses South America to join her French husband whom she hasn't seen in 20 years.
Readable, especially where she's lost in the jungle alone and very nearly dies.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. John Berendt. Eccentrics and a murder.
The Modern Corporation and Private Property. Berle and Means. The seminal study of
how corporations have changed since the 19th century, especially in size, influence, and the
separation of ownership and control. Massively researched and thoroughly thought through, with no
concessions to the reader's fatigue, this book is very heavy sledding indeed, and I don't claim to have
read it all, at all, only enough to get the gist of it, which is discouraging to those like me
whose values include self-determination. But that's by the way. There's a lot of useful knowledge
here, and it hasn't dated much.
The Multi-Orgasmic Man. Mantak Chia. Didn't get very far into this. Seemed like a lot of work,
so I lost interest. At my age, one orgasm is enough.
Music theory. George Thaddeus Jones. Starts off readable, then becomes unintelligible, as if the reader
already had mastered the subject.
My Friend Maigret. Georges Simenon. He must have cranked this one out in a few days,
the narrative and plotting are so weak.
Naked. David Sedaris. Not one of his better efforts.
Nanosystems. K. Eric Drexler.
A Natural History of Love. Dianne Ackerman. She throws in everything, including the kitchen
sink (I still fail to see what the Indy 500 has to do with love -- except that, like so much else, she had the
piece sitting around and threw it into the book). She's mistress of the sweeping statement, the jumped-to
conclusion, the personal extrapolated to the universal, and the mixed metaphor. She should restrain herself.
But sometimes her exuberance is appealing, and occasionally she comes up with gorgeous, unexpected analogies.
Not to mention the abundance of interesting detail.
A Natural History of the Senses. Dianne Ackerman.
The Nature and Logic of Capitalism. Robert Heilbroner. A favorite writer of my father,
and I inherited the taste. Heilbroner may not be fashionable, but he's honest, and he has a conscience.
Neither Victim Nor Executioner. Albert Camus. This essay has been published in abbreviated form,
and at full length. If you read it, try to find the full-length version. It's a masterpiece.
The New Religious Intolerance. Martha C. Nussbaum. Not a word in this book about fatwas or
terrorism -- only the minor-league stuff that happens in the U.S. and Europe. Rationalization, nothing more.
Certainly, it's unacceptable from anyone -- and the key word here is anyone. To read this book,
you'd think that religious intolerance was a monopoly of the West.
The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. Elna Baker. Honest, naive,
eccentric memoir by a young Mormon woman living in New York City. As conflicted as your would expect,
but charming nevertheless.
No More Aching Back. Leon Root, M.D. How to fix and prevent problems.
On Liberty. John Stuart Mill. Given to me by a philosophy professor friend, in response
to a remark I made. That'll teach me to open my mouth. (As the Zennists say: "Open your mouth. First mistake.")
Brilliant, but I keep thinking, "Only an Englishman, or maybe an American, could have written this."
Well-argued though it is, it's strongly formed (and informed) by the author's native culture; to me,
that narrows its usefulness.
Offshore. William Brittain-Catlin. By the middle, this book had been too muddled for too long,
and I abandoned it. I yearned for the simple virtue of Anglo-Saxon clarity, instead of a business writer who
seems to aspire to be a French philosopher. Obfuscation (unconscious or not), and grasping for profundity
where inappropriate are not virtues.
The Old Way. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. Life with the Bushmen. Thomas and her family went
to live with them when she was only 19, at a time when the Ju/Wasi still were hunter-gatherers.
On Boxing. Joyce Carol Oates. A short and very knowledgeable book. Who would have guessed
that a doe-eyed, swan-necked, pensive and frail woman writer like Oates is a boxing fan, and extremely
well-versed in the subject? I've read this, I think, four times.
On Deep History and the Brain. Daniel Lord Smail. My God this is a tedious book,
a series of invocations of other scholars and their writings, with no structure and no ideas around
which to cohere, only a random walk through the history of history, the theory of evolution, etc.
A baffling stew of miscellany.
One Man's Wilderness. Dick Proenneke. Actually, someone else wrote the book from
Proenneke's diaries, but I think the man deserves the credit. He built himself a cabin in the wild
Alaskan back of beyond, so far out of reach that the only way in and out was by airplane, and lived
there all alone, but his days were never boring. He always had something to do, and he did it well,
whether it was building, or repairing, or anything else. This man came closer to true self-sufficiency
in every respect than anyone else I've ever heard of.
One Well. The Story of Water on Earth. Rochelle Strauss and Rosemary Woods. Children's
book about water. Contrary to the Big Thirst, it omits any mention of the water locked in the earth's crust,
but there are other interesting facts -- e.g., "[t]he average white cloud weighs about twice as much as
a blue whale", the largest creature that has ever existed on this planet.
One World. Peter Singer. The best-known ethics philosopher of our day considers
the ethics of globalization, including mistreatment of the atmosphere, handling of war crimes,
and the WTO. Mostly characterized by his trademark consistency and willingness to follow his reasoning
where it takes him, despite what some other philosophers see as extreme, he nevertheless falls into
rationalization near the end, in considering personal obligations versus wider ones.
The Open Society and Its Enemies. Volume 1: The Spell of Plato. Karl R. Popper.
Brilliantly reasoned, researched, and argued. I've always felt that the standard interpretation of
Plato's Republic was clearly at odds with what is actually in it, and Popper shows
conclusively that Plato was an early totalitarian.
On the Nature of Things. Lucretius. De Rerum Naturam. Another one I skipped
The Open Society and Its Enemies. Volume 2: Hegel and Marx. Karl R. Popper. Got halfway
through this, and it was apparent that Popper let his biases against Hegel get out of hand. The first volume
was a masterpiece, but the Hegel section of the second was full of invective and character assassination --
not that I'm willing to carry water for Hegel, whom I detest, but I prefer to see those I disagree with
demolished with honest arguments. As for what I read of the section on Marx, Popper seems much more rational,
and has much praise for the man's ideas, though he naturally concludes that Marx's historicism is unworkable.
As for me, the objection to Marx is much simpler: no one has a crystal ball, least of all him, and
his treatment of the future, self-contradictory as it was (and well dealt with by Popper), is irrelevant,
because his economic analysis gave predictions that turned out to be false. There are many other objections,
though, and Hopper lays them out with diligence.
Our Molecular Future. Douglas Mulhall. I thought I'd seen every sin of writing, but
apparently not -- the content of this book has less to do with the title than any other book I've
ever read. A slapdash, muddled, haphazard, grandiose, self-important project. One of many flaws is
that the type on the first page of every chapter is set as a truncated pyramid. Was this supposed to
enhance my reading somehow? Since I don't read "Wired" magazine and that sort of rubbish,
this pointless little trick only served to distract and annoy. I'd actually hoped to get useful
information for some research I'd doing, but it wasn't worth the effort, even to read the chapter
Paris to the Moon. Adam Gopnik. Memoir of life in Paris with the writer's family.
The Paris Review Interviews. Volumes 1 and 2. Wonderful interviews with various writers,
by various interviewers.
Parkinson's Law. C. Northcote Parkinson. Witty, wry, whimsical essays on subjects
like "work expands to fill time", and how to tell the important functionaries at a cocktail party.
The Path Between the Seas. David McCullough. Writing about an engineering
project is difficult. Even more difficult is to make it authoritative and objective.
Most difficult of all is to produce a compelling page-turner.
Patriotic Gore. Edmund Wilson. I always find that Wilson wanders from the subject
at hand. To the Finland Station was another case in point. He covers bits and pieces of his
subject matter in depth, omitting areas that he should have treated. Still, his insights are
sometimes startling in their freshness and depth.
The Places In Between. Rory Stewart. The author walked across Afghanistan, from Herat
to Kabul, a few months after the fall of the Taliban. He encountered stone-throwing children, attack
dogs, uncooperative officials, dysentery, fatigue, bitter cold, and (at the end) Pashtun Taliban. Ballsy.
Planet Drum. Mickey Hart. Drumming, by the Grateful Dead drummer.
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. Alain de Botton. Listened to this as a book on CD,
and even heard, rather than read, the writer's thoughtfulness and exquisite style come through.
He covers a series of oddball occupations and offers up a few insights on them, and on the nature
of work in general, and on how work today has failed us.
Pornified. Pamela Paul. The woman has an agenda, and hammers at it all through the
book, as if piling on personal testimony and quoting survey results would prove her point, but she
doesn't reason with her evidence, and constantly exposes her bias. As William Penn said,
"Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than from the arguments of its opposers."
Maybe she, or someone close to her, was
hurt because of a lover's use of porn; there's no telling (or maybe she admits this in the few
dozen pages I didn't get through). But she does herself no favors by calling Maxim porn,
or those underwear commercials for Victoria's Secret. (Maxim is stupid, but the women are clothed,
so it's not porn. I enjoy those Victoria's Secret models, however lame and fatuous the commercials are --
and they are. Those women are babes, but they aren't even naked, either.
Does that make me a pornophile? But I digress. 'Scuse me.) Pamela Paul ruins her credibility
by stretching her definition of porn until it snaps.
This is one of those cases where I was prepared ahead of time to agree with a writer,
and disappointed that I couldn't. The case she'd constructed because it was lopsided and fallacious.
If she'd been more honest, I would have been happy to join her side.
Postwar. Tony Judt. History of Europe since WW II. All-inclusive, knowledgeable,
well-reasoned, insightful, nicely written, engrossing. Can't praise it too highly.
Privacy. Garrett Keizer.
Promiscuities. Naomi Wolf. The author understands herself quite well, other women not quite
so well, and men scarcely at all. Insightful in places, the book is fruitless in the end, its fatuousness
summed up in the subtitle "The Secret Struggle for Womanhood". Her solution to the Madonna/whore dichotomy
is that women should be worshiped, or at least revered, as goddesses of sex. This is supposed to
solve the problems between women and men? Replacing patriarchy with its opposite? Swapping one oppression
for another? Frankly, I don't plan to worship women. The notion is ridiculous, and Wolf is self-absorbed.
The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism. Bertrand Russell. As Bohr once said, "Prediction is
very difficult, especially when it involves the future." Russell's analysis of Russia (written in 1920) is
shrewd; his predictions are less so. Still, the book is startling in some of its insights.
The man was smart.
The Professor and the Madman. Simon Winchester. How a sex criminal helped write
the Oxford English Dictionary.
Public Enemies. Michel Houellebecq and Bernard-Henri Levy. Exchange of letters
between the two French intellectuals, much of which is pretentious in exactly the ways we've come
to expect from such people (by which I mean French intellectuals), but some of which is worth reading.
The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout. 2/3/2012 Jill Abramson. Some good advice here.
The Quest. Daniel Yergin. Wonderful research and organization, and nice sentences, too.
Great job, Daniel.
Report of the Joint Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001. House Permanent
Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Not the one that was
just published (July 2004) and in the bookstores, but the earlier one (Dec. 2002).
About the size of a phone book, with redactions on nearly every page.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Robert Kiyosaki. I didn't entirely trust this book, though some of the
advice is good. The author seems to be a bit of a snake-oil salesman. Maybe he wrote this book to get rich.
Rock Bottom.Pamela Des Barres. Portraits of self-destructive rockers. There's something for everyone here:
the usual drug overdoses, suicides, and car and plane crashes, but also people who did things that even I'm unwilling to
describe here, as well as those who committed lesser sins like killing their mothers. (There were two such gentlemen.)
Des Barres, the legendary groupie, knows the territory. She had affairs with Jim Morrison and Jimmy Page, among others.
The Roman Way. Edith Hamilton. I tried, but couldn't get through this. Too much
irrelevancy, and pompous as well.
Same-Sex Marriage, Pro and Con. Andrew Sullivan. A balanced collection of essays, some of
them quite good, on both sides of the issue.
Satchel Sez. Sterry and Eckstut. Mercilessly padded, without enough Satchel quotes.
Satchel. Larry Tye. Detailed, heavily researched bio of the pitcher. The main flaw
is that the author likes Paige so much that he goes easy on him in places, and repeats the excuses
he makes for him far too often. Like everyone else, he's been charmed by the guy.
Save the Males. Kathleen Parker. The central idea here seems to be that men should not
be forced to be something they're not (i.e., women), and that simply by being male they aren't guilty
of rape, child molesting, or other perversions. It's easy to agree with Parker's ideas, but she overreaches
rhetorically -- but that's what many conservatives do, isn't it?
Securing the City. Christopher Dickey. Uncritical adulation of the NYPD's anti-terrorism efforts.
Self-Consciousness. John Updike. Memoir.
Self-Made Man. Norah Vincent. Lesbian disguised herself as a man to find out
what it's like to be one of the opposite sex. Uneven, but in places very interesting.
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. Chuck Klosterman. There's a lot of crap in this book --
what I sometimes call wallpaper, or filler -- and the author indulges himself way too much in sweeping
generalizations, but occasionally he's capable of penetrating insight. The chapter on how newspaper
articles are written is well worth reading, among others. And if you're obsessive about music or
television or movies, you'll love his obscure references. His knowledge of popular culture
The Shallows. Nicholas Carr. Though he rambles far afield at times (probably padding the
book to full length), Carr is persuasive that the Internet is changing the way our minds work -- that
we're learning to skitter about on the surface on things. This is going to piss off a lot of technophiles.
In most cases, their minds will be closed on the subject. It's probably too late for Carr to make a
difference, anyway: the new technologies are so seductive that their triumph is inevitable.
Shop Class as Soulcraft. Matthew B. Crawford. A reasoned argument for the importance
of manual labor, by a Ph.D. in political philosophy who is now working as a motorcycle mechanic.
Silence and Noise. Ivan Richmond. The subtitle nails it: "Growing up Zen in America".
He was raised on Green Gulch Farm, and he's had a lot of trouble adapting to life outside. He misses
a lot of cultural references, and doesn't like the loud music in bars. I feel a rapport with much
of what he says. The main problem with the book is that he has a few simple ideas that he repeats,
trying to explain everything with them.
Silicon Snake Oil. Clifford Stoll. A bit dated (e.g., the modem speeds he refers to),
but even more timely than when written. The first anecdote, about his caving trip and the conclusions
to be drawn from it, pretty much sums things up: the real world is much more interesting than
the virtual world of monitors and keyboards.
Sleepwalk With Me. Mike Birbiglia. Same stuff as the CD, expanded a bit. I've seen the
movie, too, and seen him in person. He's funny, but he's in danger of exhausting his material and
he desperately needs something new.
A Social History of Ottoman Istanbul. Boyar and Fleet. Read maybe 10%, had too
many other books in line waiting to be read. Good, but too tangential to my concerns.
Step by Step to Stand-Up Comedy. Greg Dean. Various good advice for aspiring comics.
Steaming to Bamboola. Christopher Buckley. Well played, Christopher! Reporting
about the lives and misdoings of the scum of the earth: merchant seamen on a tramp freighter.
Spychips. Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre. This has to be the clumsiest, most
heavy-handed, paranoid book I've read in years. They would have been convincing if they hadn't
gone so far off the deep end. They needed a good editor and a major publishing house, who would
have steered them away from their ham-handed attempts to savage the opposition; the book reminds me
of the political writing that passionately ideological students produce. Too bad, since the subject
is important and timely, and the research thorough.
Stick Figure. Lori Gottlieb. A memoir of teenage anorexia. Authentic and insightful,
so that for the first time I actually understood something of what anorexia is, and the way that an
anorexic perceives herself and other people -- which I've never had a clue about, before now.
Stiffed. Susan Faludi. After a great start, Faludi wanders. Overlong, disorganized,
the book nevertheless shows that the author understands men better than most women, and even
than many men themselves. I often felt like she was explaining me to myself; it was like listening
to a great psychoanalyst telling me things that had always been just below the surface of my consciousness.
Strange Piece of Paradise. Terri Jentz. Memoir by one of the women who was run over by a
truck and attacked with a hatchet in Oregon in 1977. I've had to conclude that introspection is usually
a mistake. Few writers can carry it off.
Supercrunchers. Ian Ayres. Hype for a supposedly new way of making decisions,
based on numerical data and statistics.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. Stephen Greenblatt. A eulogy to Lucretius's
De Rerum Natura, and the story of its rediscovery in 1417, but that book doesn't carry the weight that
Greenblatt loads onto it, and Greenblatt fails to make his point (though he knows better then ever
to do more than imply) that it was the source of our modern sensibility and a trigger for
the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Greenblatt doesn't even try very hard. Yes, he loves the
poem, but it's a puppy love -- he idealizes and attributes to his love object qualities that it lacks.
Takedown. Tsutomu Shimomura and someone else. Something of a ho-hum, but I read it
a second time for purposes of research, along with re-reading "The Cuckoo's Egg", a vastly better book.
The book is also marred by Shimomura's obvious ego involvement. The guy has a real problem with arrogance,
and Mitnick's ability to penetrate his machines stung him. This is mostly the story of a vendetta.
Taliban: militant Islam, oil, and fundamentalism in Central Asia. Ahmed Rashid. The story of these guys,
and their success through bribery
and the inability of their foes to get together against the Taliban's incompetence, is a real oddity.
It reads like a description of something that might have happened centuries ago -- but, then, Afghanistan
has yet to make it out of the medieval period, so perhaps it was to be expected that even their wars
aren't like the rest of the planet. Their policies certainly weren't.
Tales of a Dalai Lama. Pierre Delattre. Short stories about a fictionalized Dalai Lama,
ranging from the silly to the breathtakingly visionary.
Talk of the Devil. Riccardo Orizio. The 2004 edition, with a new afterword.
Interviews with Ida Amin, "Baby Doc" Duvalier, and their like. Since Milosevic was in prison
and Enver Hoxha dead, he talked to their wives in lieu of the men themselves; he claims that
these women were the power behind the men. Convenient, eh? Some of the other chapters are
similarly padded out -- e.g., there's little with Amin himself, and most of the chapter
is about Orizio trying to track him down in Saudi Arabia. Sometimes he fails to confront his subjects
with tough questions. But an engrossing read nevertheless.
"There are things I want you to know" about Stieg Larsson and me. Eva Gabrielsson.
"There's a lot of score settling going on here, and less about Stieg than my own personal grudges,
and also a lot of bad writing." Why the quotes, Eva?
They Call Me Naughty Lola. David Rose, ed. Hilarious personal ads from the London
Review of Books. Much better than the ones in equivalent U.S. publications.
This I Believe. NPR. Excerpts from the regular series.
This Is America? Rusty Monhollond. Lawrence, Kansas in the late 1960s.
Cops shot two kids dead on the streets, and people were shooting back at the cops afterward.
Twenty (?) arsons in one summer. Bombings on the K.U. campus. The governor replaced the police
department with the Highway Patrol, matters were so desperate. I was there. I didn't know the
half of it. "Bleeding Kansas" all over again, a century later.
This Life Is In Your Hands. Melissa Coleman. Either this woman has the best memory
for childhood of anyone who's ever lived, or she took things from her mother and father. This is
the memoir of growing up on an organic farm in Maine. Life was primitive, and in the end, tragic.
This Is Water. David Foster Wallace. The famous commencement speech he gave,
which deserves its reputation, being both simple and true. This sort of advice is rare and valuable.
The Torture Papers. (I don't remember the editors' names). Collection of memos
from the Bush administration, justifying the use of torture and other illegal operations.
These are taken straight from government documents. The best description is Hannah Arendt's comment
on the Nazis: "the banality of evil". The bureaucrats who wrote these made the treatment so
boring that even writing this way about Satan would put the reader to sleep. Needless to say,
I didn't get much read, it was so soporific. What I did read scared me: they bury their disregard
for humans, and for the law, under endless words, while ignoring ethics and the consequences of
their rationalizations. Come the revolution, these people will be lined up against the wall.
Traffic. Tom Vanderbilt. Traffic, roads, cars, and drivers, in their endless complexity.
Trawler. Redmond O'Hanlon. A departure from the other books of his I've read,
since this one takes place in the North Sea, instead of in a jungle. But he's as fun as always.
Others of his I've read: Into the Heart of Borneo, and In Trouble Again.
The True Believer. Eric Hoffer. A book that needs no introduction or explanation.
Truth and Beauty. Ann Patchett. Story of her friendship with Lucy Grealy (see above).
The Ultimate Book of Lighthouses. Crompton and Rhein. I love lighthouses, and I love
looking at big coffee-table picture books. The buildings always look well-kept, in wild, beautiful places.
The Unabomber Manifesto. Ted Kaczynski. Poorly written and more poorly reasoned.
Undaunted Courage. Stephen Ambrose. The usual over-adulatory but highly
readable Ambrose product.
Under a Sickle Moon. Peregrine Hodson. Adventures with the mujahedin, back in the 80s
(when they were still our friends).
Until the Final Hour.Traudl Junge. Portrait of Hitler, by his secretary, further
confirming my impression of the man's bizarre nature. No, that's insufficient; he was a freak.
He wasn't human.
The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want.Garret Keizer. This is the third book
I've read in recent weeks on the subject of silence and noise, and quite different from
In Pursuit of Silence and Zero Decibels. It casts a broader net, and seems less
preoccupied with the subject as a concrete problem. Keizer rambles hither, rambles yon, and is
at times strangely even-handed, but there's something odd about his disinterestedness, something
I can't quite put my finger on. Usually that's either the sign of a writer who's being honest,
or who's trying to be honest. In Keizer's case, it's almost a lack of interest, as if he's not
really attached to his own feelings. Otherwise, though, his sensibility matches up with mine more
closely than the other two books did, which may be why I found the book unsatisfactory. I didn't
want to read a long cud-chew, masticating the facts and theories and feelings. Much of the book is
only tenuously related to sound, and some of his theoretical musings are unintelligible. I'm trying to find
a way to deal with the tinnitus I've developed recently -- rather, I'm trying to come to grips with
an auditory environment that oppresses, and has damaged, me, and this book didn't help me one bit.
Video night in Kathmandu : and other reports from the not-so-far East. Pico Iyer.
Waging Nonviolent Struggle. Gene Sharp. Some extraordinarily interesting stories in here.
The next time someone tells you that civil disobedience wouldn't have worked against the Nazis, give them
the two examples from this book when it actually did: the Norwegian teacher's union in 1942, and the
thousands of non-Jewish women married to Jewish men in Berlin who, in 1943, managed to get their husbands back --
including the ones who had already been shipped to Auschwitz.
The Waning of the Middle Ages.J. Huizinga. I read this many years ago and was impressed.
Now it seems inaccurate, vague, and contradictory, all the while somehow conveying the sort of
emotional nakedness, spontaneity, cruelty and innocence we no longer have.
We Meant Well. Peter van Buren. 1/21/2012. By a State Department employee assigned
to Iraq, this is the personal story of how it really was: incompetence, inconsistency, waste,
fraud and corruption, and all the havoc we have perpetrated on those poor people. Already disillusioned
with Bush's idiocy, this took away any last shred of respect I might have felt for anyone involved.
Wealth and Democracy: a Political History of the American Rich. Kevin Phillips.
Supposedly a conservative, Phillips
is in fact very difficult to characterize. Many of his ideas most of us would classify as liberal
or populist; he goes where his thinking and his research lead him -- and research he does. This is
a book packed full of statistics and wide and deep reading. It's very slow going, and even though
I read it on the train to Chicago and renewed it, I still only got through about 2/3 of it. I do
know now, though, that we appear to be following the same path the Dutch, Spanish, and English (the
imperial powers) followed, and that led to their downfalls. His argument is as persuasive as such
a broad argument can be, mostly because of the scope of his research.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Haruki Murakami. Memoir of running,
by the famous Japanese novelist.
What Evolution Is. Ernst Mayer. A very clear explanation of evolution (though I read
slightly less than half the book). Its chief flaw is the overuse of unexplained jargon.
When you Ride Alone, You Ride with bin Laden. Bill Maher. Too many exclamation points,
too overheated, and sometimes naive and simply incorrect. But full of candid observations of the sort
no one else has the brains or guts to make.
Why Americans Hate Politics. E. J. Dionne. Brilliant, thorough, well-researched,
well-reasoned parsing of the state of U.S. politics as of 1991. But very slow reading; couldn't
find the time to finish it, renewed it three times, and finally had to give it back to the library.
Why I Climb. Famous climbers talk about their pastime, many of them boringly.
Why Most Things Fail. Paul Ormerod. Unconventional economics. The basic argument,
that the econonomy, like the ecology, is too complex to predict, seems sound to me. But the conclusions
drawn from manipulating oversimplified models -- actually, most of the conclusions in the last few
chapters -- need much more justification than he gives. Like most economists, he has a theory,
and not enough facts and reasoning to support it, but that doesn't slow him down.
Wild Coast. John Gimlette. The writer travels to those three tiny countries on
the northern coast of South America. Not what I expected, and fun, but repetitive by the end.
Wired for War. P. W. Singer. Robotics in war.
Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature. Lucien Malson. Incoherent, in that
peculiarly trying-too-hard-to-be-deep French way.
The World Without Us. What would happen if the human race died out.
Worse than Watergate. John Dean. Why we should fear Bush -- and if anyone should know,
Dean should: having worked for Nixon, he knows skulduggery when he sees it.
The Writing Life. Annie Dillard. Sometimes she overdoes it, but when she's on,
her prose is pyrotechnic.
The Year of Magical Thinking. Joan Didion. I've always thought Didion is a lousy writer,
and have never understood her critical acceptance. In this book, about the death of her husband and
her daughter's comas, Didion commits her usual writing sins: the dwelling on irrelevancies, the
references to things known only to her as if everyone knew what she's talking about, the obsession
with small details, the anxiety, and above all the fragmented writing. The worst of it is her attempt
to give everything more significance than it has by using one-sentence (and even one-word) paragraphs.
They teach you not to do this in high school English. She never learned.
A Year Without "Made in China". Sara Bongiorni. Family boycotts Chinese goods
for a year. With small children, the toughest part was finding toys.
Zero Decibels. George Michelson Foy. How noise destroys.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. Patton Oswalt. A miscellany of short pieces by a comedian.
Many are amusing and edifying. Most are self-indulgent. In other words, the book is much like his
standup comedy routines. If you're patient, or you're a reader who doesn't mind skipping over the
parts you don't like, go ahead and check it out of the library, but don't bother buying it.
A book on the Japanese keiretsus (conglomerates, though the word is inadequate),
the name of which escapes me.
The 13 Clocks. James Thurber. Whimsical re-imagining of the fairy tale genre. Utterly captivating.
1Q84. Haruki Murakami. There's an endless list of problems with this novel and its translation --
jarring, inappropriate analogies; endless, irrelevant details that don't advance the story; bizarre descriptions
of his characters; vague, unconvincing assertions meant to establish credibility; phrases like "they walked
with erect posture, their gait strong and precise", or "big hard raindrops ... like bullets slamming into
a deer"; weak translation of the first two sections (the third section having been translated by someone else);
an obsession with the breast sizes of all the female characters.
Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata and Junichiro Tanizaki are much more polished. And yet, as I said to a
friend, "No one else writes like Murakami. I can't stop reading." I had exactly the same reaction to The
Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I've spent nearly a week reading this massive novel, and in the end, it was probably
worth the time. Call it Japanese magic realism, but without the enchantment of Garcia Marquez.
About a Boy. Bruce Hornsby? Whatever.
Aesop's Fables. Aesop.
The Abortionist's Daughter. Elisabeth Hyde. Nicely plotted and paced, with good
characters. The only problem was that about a quarter of the way into the book I knew who the
murderer was -- but that didn't really matter, the book was so engrossing.
Aiding and Abetting. Muriel Sparks. Fictionalization of two famous criminals -- an
aristocratic murderer, and a woman who masqueraded as a psychiatrist.
America the Beautiful. Moon Unit Zappa. Weirdly readable, if girlish and inconsequential,
novel about a breakup and the recovery afterwards. The protagonist bears certain resamblances to the
author: daughter of a famous artist who cheated on his wife; sister of a would-be rock musician;
has a weird name (America Ludmilla Odin Throne). I read it mostly because the clever details,
the ways of describing people and situations, kept reeling me in.
Anna Karenina. Leo Tolstoy.
Arctic Chill. Arnaldur Indriđason. The solution comes out of left field. If you're
looking for a mystery that doesn't cheat on the resolution of the clues, stay away from this one.
If you like depressed Nordic types and sunless landscapes, though, this might be for you.
An Arsonist's Guide to the Writer's Homes in New England. Brock Clarke. One of the
first things they tell you in writing class is to have an appealing protagonist. While this is not
a hard-and-fast rule, Clarke would have been wise in this case to heed it.
The Art of Fielding. Chad Harbach. I told my wife I wasn't going to read this, and
then I made the mistake of reading a couple of sentences and I was hooked. I didn't even want to go
back to the start of the book, just keep reading from where I was. This writer has the whole toolkit --
in addition to the good sentences, the plot and characters are top-notch, too. A word of advice:
don't start this book when you're busy. At 500+ pages, it's a good vacation novel.
The Assassin. Stephen Coonts. Right-wing screed disguised as a thriller. Plotting
is adequate, pacing is consistent, writing is considerably better than most books in this genre,
but there are problems with point of view, and it's not as engrossing as, say, the Reacher novels.
The Assignment.Friedrich Durenmatt. A book like this would never be published in
the U.S. nowadays; publishing has become too commercial. Even though each chapter is a single
sentence, and the story is a bit experimental, it's very readable.
Atonement. Ian McEwan. Gorgeous prose.
Back Story. Robert P. Parker. The Spenser novels can usually be relied on for good brain candy.
Bel Canto. Ann Patchett. Exquisite is the only word. I couldn't stop reading.
It was like a Swiss watch, or a perfect piece of cabinetry: superb craftsmanship.
The Big, Bad City. Ed McBain. Nun gets strangled in the park and his father's
killer tracks Detective Carella, intending to kill him too. The usual reliable 87th precinct story.
Bitten. Kelley Armstrong. Great twist on the werewolf genre: story of the only female
werewolf on the planet. Well written, and a fun read.
Blue Angel. Francine Prose. Also have read her Lives of the Muses, and her
A Changed Man, both of them superb.
The Blood Countess. Andrei Codrescu. Of course a novel about Countess Bathory would
be written by a Transylvanian. Accomplished writing, but a bit overheated for me. I quit 3 chapters in.
Borderlines. Archer Mayor. Police procedural, reminiscent of Ed McBain or the Maigret books.
Break It Down. Lydia Davis. Short stories, many of them very short, and most of them very odd,
but sometimes spellbinding, especially the title story, which I heard on "This American Life", and which
inspired me to check out and read the original.
Broken. Kelley Armstrong. This series has gone downhill. The book reads as if the
author slapped it together on deadline: incoherent and jumbled. Bitten was skillful and clever,
Stolen much less so. With this third one, Armstrong's taking her audience for granted. I'm outta here.
Breath and Bones. Susann Cokal. Highly literary novel, like her first (Mirabilis);
also like her first, has an unconventional heroine in an historical context. Much of the writing is highly
accomplished, and her re-creation of the American West feels authentic. There may be a few too many
twists in the plot, and the narrative is less compelling in places than fascinating, and at the end
the writing feels as if she's simply tying it all up -- but it's a great read... Cokal is only the
second writer I've contacted (the other being James Salter). I sent her a congratulatory e-mail when
she was at Cal Poly, telling her how much I'd enjoyed her first book, and she replied with one
line, something like "Thanks, you made my day."
Catcher in the Rye. J. D. Salinger. Holden Caulfield is an insufferable, egotistical
little prick, and I'm not surprised he got beaten up twice in two days. And Salinger's overrated
as a writer, too.
A Changed Man. Francine Prose.
The Cat-Nappers. P. G. Wodehouse. Hilarious book about kidnapping a cat (or not).
I'd like to figure out how he manages to be so funny without any actual content; nothing happens
except the sound of the reader's laughter.
The Corrections. Jonathan Franzen. Re-invents the contemporary novel. I read the book
with astonishment -- on almost every page Franzen does things I've never seen fiction writers do.
Supreme mastery of his craft.
The Count of Monte Cristo. Alexandre Dumas. Only got 41 pages into this, and was too
overwhelmed by the staggering size and bleakness of this tale of revenge that I let it go.
Counting Numbers in the Dark. Italo Calvino. Hadn't read any Calvino in years, and talked
to someone in a bookstore about him, so checked this one out. The title story is a masterpiece, with that
unique Calvino sensibility. Once in a great while I read a short story that leaves a permanent impression --
"The Swimmer", by John Cheever, or "Girls in Their Summer Dresses", by Irwin Shaw. "Counting Numbers in
the Dark" is another.
Cousin Bette. Long, and the plot never stops changing. But great; Balzac was certainly
a brilliant writer. Had he lived a hundred years later, he'd have won a Nobel, for sure.
The Crimson Petal and the White. Michel Faber. Remarkable heroine, engrossing story.
The DaVinci Code. Dan Brown. Sticklers unite. Brown has the incredibly irritating habit of
dropping into first-person internal monologue for a sentence or two on nearly every page.
His editor -- and Brown, too -- should be sent back to school.
Devil May Care. Sebastian Faulks. The new James Bond novel. He did a good job of bringing
it up to date -- but it's so old and tired that even a perfect job would probably have been inadequate.
The Bond genre appears to be used up.
Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl. Tracy Quan. A professionialized version of Sex and the City.
These Manhattanites always seem utterly unconnected to anything I recognize as real. They're preoccupied
with clothes and brand names and the latest trendy drinks and restaurants. They've got a little world,
it's smaller than your hand. The word that describes them is insular. Or provincial,
though it's technically incorrect when applied to them. Whatever the case, they're boring.
Still, the book was a reasonably good read. The woman can plot, and her writing is smooth.
Die Twice. Andrew Grant. Huge disappointment; is first book (Even) was a gripper.
This one is monotonous, and I spotted the twist on which the plot hinges almost immediately.
The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia. Ursula K. LeGuin. Wrong subtitle;
should have been "An Ambivalent Utopia".
Driving Lessons. Ed McBain. This was so short it shouldn't have been between hardcovers,
but in a collection of short stories. Nevertheless, it's the usual compelling story from the master
of police procedurals.
Dumped. collected by B. Delores Max. A collection of stories, many of them by great writers,
about getting dumped. Dorothy Parker, Saul Bellow, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Roal Dahl and Steve Almond
are here, and more just as good.
East Bay Grease. Eric Miles Williamson. A sordid novel of growing up in Oakland.
Makes Charles Bukowski seem like Pollyana by comparison.
The Elementary Particles. Michel Houellebecq. This would be a novel of ideas, if the author
knew what he was talking about. The math, and the references to computers, are nonsensical. The biology
and physics are inaccurate, too, though I'm less familiar with them. The social theory I'm not up on, not
having read the French on this... Houellebecq has some worthwhile insights (which annoyed me, since
several of them are ideas I've been thinking about for years), but he doesn't manage to tie them
together. He asserts a theory, but without filling in the details, and with neither evidence nor logic
to back it up. In fact, this book isn't a novel at all, but a collage. There's no artistry to it -- the
scenes and the characters are thrown together, and don't fit. Worse, his big ideas are unworkable.
The man is a fascist (and I mean that literally, not rhetorically) in the making, and perhaps already
in fact. And the idea he introduces at the end would lead to the extinction not only of our species,
but of its successor. (I'd go into this further, but I don't want to give anything away.) This is
the most dystopian utopian novel I've ever read, not only because it takes place in the present, and
the characters are miserably depressed, but more so because Houellebecq himself seems to be a depressive who
simply doesn't like human beings, and his book reflects it. His weltschmerz permeates the book. If he
could only look at and love a single human being, he'd be able to produce a human work of art, instead
of this artifact masquerading as a book... This is a creepy novel by a creepy misanthrope.
The Emperor's Children. Claire Messud. Amazing, the way she limns her characters.
Like a modern Henry James.
The English Major. Jim Harrison. Farmer drives around the West after his wife divorces him.
Envy the Night. Michael Koryta. Son of a U.S. Marshall / hit man finds out that
not all is as he thought it was, when he wants to kill his father's betrayer.
Ethan Frome. Edith Wharton. Wish I'd read Wharton sooner; pity and terror.
The pure storytelling skill of this novella is astonishing.
Even. Andrew Grant. This guy is Lee Child's brother, but he writes better, and he
only has one hole in the plot -- damn good for a book this complicated. Topnotch, overall.
Evening in Byzantium. Irwin Shaw. Shaw wrote a story that was one of the few that
ever made a lasting impression on me: "Girls in their Summer Dresses". (Others were Cheever's "The
Swimmer", and Chekhov's "Lady with Lap Dog".) But I don't like the storytelling in Shaw's novels.
His usual obsessions are in evidence here: booze, money, women and travel. But I read him anyway, for
the pure perfection of many of his sentences (though his dialogue was dated even when he wrote it).
Exit Music. Ian Rankin. Inspector John Rebus retires at the end of this book, which I take
to mean there won't be any more books with him as protagonist, dammit.
The Family Fang. Kevin Wilson. A fun literary read. Dysfunctional family of performance
artists. Parents love what they do, but the kids hate it. Everything goes sideways for the entire
Fade to Blonde. Max Phillips. Raymond Chandler crossed with Mickey Spillane.
Noir L.A. crime novel.
Fear of the Dark. Walter Mosley. Another Fearless Jones -- what? -- more like crime than mystery.
Mosley isn't as convincing as Elmore Leonard; there's a lot in his books that almost caricatures itself.
But he keeps me up late, reading to get to the end.
The Fencing Master. Arturo Perez-Reverte. Written recently, this reads like
a 19th-century novel.
Fifty Shades Darker. E. L. James. I hate myself for reading this book, it was such a
ghastly piece of crap. Still, there are some things I just can't look away from -- a writer has something
that's weirdly compelling, amateurish though the writing is, and repetitive (the same shit happens every
few pages through the novel, and the same tired character flags are trotted out over and over and over again).
Maybe I'll redeem myself and burn this fucking book. It certainly deserves it.
Find Me. Carol O'Connell. This book has the same noir, exaggerated writing that novels
by Andrew Vachss do. The plot steams right along -- in fact, the book is hard to set down -- but all
the time I was unable to achieve suspension of disbelief. There are a lot of contrivances, especially
characters who don't behave consistently or credibly, only in service to the plot; and right from the
start there's a huge problem because the two major threads of the story have nothing to do with each
other but happen simultaneously: Mallory following her father's trail down old Route 66, and the serial
murders along old Route 66. This is a major piece of literary cheating, which O'Connell never so much
as attempts to explain away. There are also a lot of loose ends. The plot ran away with her.
Fleshmarket Alley. Ian Rankin. The book jacket claims that Rankin is the top-selling
crime novelist in the U.K. I don't think he deserves to be. Three crimes -- two buried skeletons,
a rape/suicide/disappearance/murder, and another murder -- all turn out to be neatly related,
tieing together characters who should have had nothing to do with each other (and, in the
real world, wouldn't have had). Suspension of disbelief shouldn't be stretched this far.
Free Food for Millionaires. Sun Min Lee. Novel about Korean Americans set in
New York City.
Friday. Michel Tournier. Retelling of Robinson Crusoe, with twists.
Gates of Fire. Steven Pressfield. You'd think the man had lived in ancient Sparta and been
through the battle of Thermopylae, the feel of this book is so authentic.
Ghost World. Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff. Screenplay of the eponymous movie.
The Giant's House. Elizabeth McCracken. Touching, well-written story about a
librarian and a giant.
Gilead. Marilynne Robinson. Amazing novel. Gorgeous simplicity, full of the
wonder and beauty of human life. I've never read another novel quite like it. It certainly
deserved the Pulitzer it got.
The Giver. Lois Lowry. Maybe the best, and saddest, children's novel I've ever read.
The Girl Who Played With Fire. Stieg Larsson. As compulsively page-turning as the first book.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsson. Starts slow, gathers steam. Great
characters, solid plot, and original to boot.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Stieg Larsson. The further (I should say
"final") adventures of Kalle Fucking Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. There's some score settling
going on here by the author, and a subtext that intrudes so much -- irrupts into the plot -- that
it damages the story.
The Glass Bead Game. Hermann Hesse. Book on CD -- 17 CDs, in fact. I read this book
maybe 30 years ago, and admired it. I admire it still, even on CD. Sometimes I've found myself sitting
in the car for half an hour listening to it, instead of getting out of the car and tending to whatever
I should really be doing.
A Good Year. Peter Mayle. The same all his other books. Mayle can be relied on to
produce light, charming, consistent fiction. Something like what his personality seems to be.
He never fails to turn out a fun, if predictable, read.
The Grave and the Gutter. Ed McBain. Noir detective novel originally published under
a different pen name in the late 1950s. McBain got better later, but if you like crime novels,
this one's plenty good, though a bit stylized in the manner of Raymond Chandler crossed with
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. J. K. Rowling. She made a billion bucks
off this series. That's about a hundred times more than she merits... I read one of the other
books in the series, too -- goblet of fire? The woman can write (her sentences never jar me,
which is rare for a popular writer), and she has an unequalled imagination. Imagination is
her strongest suit, I think. She has an interesting brain, and I'd like to meet her someday
and have a long talk with her. The day would be colored differently afterward.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Alice Munro. The equal of any
short-story writer today (too bad Cheever isn't still alive).
Henry's War. Jeremy Brooks. I re-read this every once in a while.
Story about a man who refuses his military call-up because he can't kill.
The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. J. T. Leroy. Think how discouraging Hubert Selby, Jr.
is, then triple that. You'll need a strong stomach to read these linked stories, about a boy who, from the
age of four, is mentally and physically tortured, and then begins to do the same to himself. Abduction,
abandonment, beating, scalding, anal rape, and more.
The Highest Tide. Jim Lynch. Novel about the annus mirabilis of a thirteen-year-old boy
with an obsessive interest in marine biology. Reads like a textbook in places...
Kim Witherspoon, Inkwell Management; Published by Bloomsbury
His Illegal Self. Peter Carey. This man is a phenomenal writer, which is exactly why
I stopped reading halfway through -- the story was depressing me more than I could handle. Another
book I had this reaction to was Atonement.
The Host. Stephenie Meyer. The author wrote a huge-selling vampire series, which (though
I read a lot of vampire novels) I couldn't get more than a few pages into, it was so lame, but this
book is different. The premise, which is highly original, is a vampire story disguised as a horror /
science-fiction novel. It's thoroughly thought-through and even if the writing is pedestrian much
of the time, it's so convincing that I stayed up very late on a work night reading it.
The Huntsman. Whitney Terrell. Whitney's a local boy (Kansas City), an acquaintance,
not just a good writer, but a decent man as well.
I Curse the River of Time. Per Petterson. Introspective Norwegian novel about a man
brooding over the dissolution of his marriage, and his troubled relationship with his difficult mother.
If you're looking for plot, you'll have to go elsewhere.
I Love You, Beth Cooper. Larry Doyle. Comic novel about a nerd on graduation night, who
declares his love for the head cheerleader in his valedictory speech. He spends the next 24 hours
running from the beatings her boyfriend administers.
Illegal Action. Stella Rimington. That's it. I've been reading too many mediocre
novels lately. After this one, I'm ready to quit for a while.
In His Own Write. John Lennon. Read this many years ago, but this time didn't get far.
Forgot that underneath the charm and quirkiness, you glimpse a very disturbed mind.
In Our Strange Gardens. Michel Quint. Shouldn't work, but works very well indeed.
In the Fold. Rachel Cusk. Have to admit I don't understand the dialogue, which mostly
seems like non sequiturs to me. But Cusk is tops at finding fresh ways to limn the interior life
of the main character, and his insights into the other characters.
Independent People. Haldor Laxness. A novel about a shepherd in Iceland a century ago,
by the Nobel prize winner. I really don't quite know how to describe this book -- an unrelentingly grim
story of poverty, constant work, and death? Peasant life was no picnic.
Jade Palace Vendetta. Dale Furutani. A not-exactly-crime novel set in medieval Japan.
Jar City. Arnaldur Indridason. Superb mystery set in Iceland.
Kill the Shogun. Dale Furutani. Another novel with same protagonist as Jade Palace Vendetta.
The Jane Austen Book Club. Karen Joy Fowler. Novel as pastiche. It inspired the book club
a friend and I founded. After we'd read the six Austen novels, we changed from the JABC to the ABC
(alphabetic book club -- we're working from A (Austen) to Z; currently we're reading a Balzac novel.)
The Japanese Corpse. JanWillem van de Wettering. Another Grijpstra/de Gier mystery.
I quit reading when I realized I'd read it years ago. He sticks too much trivia into his books,
and too much editorializing, and too many characters reciting history and sociology.
Julian. Gore Vidal. Novel about the eponymous Roman emperor. Massive research, flawless writing.
King and Joker. Peter Dickinson. It's pretty obvious that Dickinson painted himself
into a corner with his plot and had to cobble together a solution to the problems he'd set himself.
But the writing is so interesting, and the main characters so sympathetic, that it doesn't matter.
An enjoyable, and original, read.
The King of King's County. Whitney Terrell. This second novel was written by an
acquaintance of mine. His first book was good, but this is an enormous leap in skill. Read it.
If there's any justice in the world of books, this deserves to be a best-seller.
Kiss. Ed McBain. Master of the police procedural. The craftsmanship of this book is unbeatable.
The plot twist of the betrayal is particularly good.
Lake Wobegon, Summer 1956.Garrison Keillor.
The lamentable journey of Omaha Bigelow into the impenetrable loisaida jungle. Edgardo Vega Yunque.
This book has a labored, forced feeling. Yunque is trying to blend
magical realism and metafiction, and he doesn't have the chops
to pull off either one, much less both together. Every page reads as if he suffered from a
lack of inspiration, or pure laziness, and quite possibly both.
Even the places that work are spoiled by being set in so much junk.
The Laments. George Hagen. Good writer, and very approachable in person.
Letters from the Earth. Mark Twain. Persuasive blasphemy. Convincing enough
to make even a believer an atheist.
Little Children. Tom Perotta. I'd never heard of this guy until he was interviewed on
the radio one day. Then I read this book. Perotta has the novelist's full toolkit: great characterization,
interesting plotting, good pacing, an adequate, if sketchy, setting, and style that stays out of the way
while being clear and clean. His reversals are superb, and he can leave you hanging so that you'll
hurry back to the book the moment you get home from work. Even the final sentence of the book is
clever (don't look, now, or you'll spoil it for yourself).
Loop Group. Larry McMurtry. The man is writing by rote; there's a certain indifferent
(in both senses of the word) quality here. Pedestrian details, uninspired writing -- the narrative
doesn't involve the reader, which McMurtry always used to be able to do.
Lost Girls and Love Hotels. Catherine Hanrahan. Had no reason to get this book
except that I spent some time in Japan and stumbled across the title. For a book read at random,
I expected it would disappoint, but it didn't. Not the sort of literary or genre book that will
set the world afire, but a solid first outing. I'll read Hanrahan if I she publishes any more novels.
The Lovely Bones. Alice Sebold. By the end, I hated this book; I can only describe
the story as dishonest.
Lullaby. Ed McBain. Another involving effort by McBain, but next time, Ed, cut
back on the number of characters, please. The story didn't require half of these dozens of people.
Magical Thinking. Augusten Burroughs. Not so much essays as personal mini-memoirs.
This guy reminds me of David Sedaris: faggy, funny, and with a deep mean streak. Sure, he's had a
tough life, but does he have to be vicious?
The Magician's Assistant. Ann Patchett. Clear, detailed, touching description of grief in
the first part of the book. After the main character leaves L.A., the novel loses credibility.
Man Walks Into a Room. Nicole Kraus. This is quite an extraordinary novel, especially
because it's Kraus's first. There's a distinct falling off as the novel progresses, but Kraus set herself
a very difficult task, examining the implications of amnesia. The relationship between the protagonist
and the wife is one of the most deeply, truly imagined I've ever read in fiction.
McTeague, a story of San Francisco. Frank Norris. Famous novel, much admired.
Felt obliged to try it, but couldn't see what the fuss was about.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores. Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The Memory of Running. Ron McLarty. Unpretentious picaresque novel of a man's grief
and change. I disliked this novel well into it, but kept reading, I'm not sure why, and was
increasingly engrossed. The end finishes the novel perfectly.
Middlemarch. George Eliot. A remarkable feat, weaving this many characters' personalities
and motivations into such a large social portrait. Eliot is in the vein of the other great 19th-century
writers like Balzac, Dickens, and Tolstoy, who could write about characters from any walk of life.
Though I admire the book (it's the most masterful large-canvas novel I've ever read, with the possible
exception of Anna Karenina), I have to admit that it's a mind-numbingly long read. In fact, it's so
long that it broke up my book club. Four of the six members quit.... Later: Listening to
the book on CD and it's still wonderful.
Millard Fillmore, Mon Amour. Mildly amusing novel about a reclusive eccentric, his
parents, wives, and so on. Not bad if nothing else is to hand.
Mirabilis. Susann Cokal. Astonishing.
A Multitude of Sins. Richard Ford. This writer is a virtuoso. My chief criticism
is that he tends to cover the same territory in every story.
Music Through the Floor. Eric Puchner. There are people who tell stories naturally,
the way they breathe, who convince because what they write simply seems to emerge and to exist on
its own. Then there are those, like Puchner, who teach themselves to tell stories, maybe because
they want to think of themselves as writers. The stories in this book are meaningless.
My Life in Heavy Metal. Steve Almond. Accomplished short stories about the man-woman thing.
No enlightenment here, but there isn't any to be had, is there? Or is it just me? Anyone who can give
me some clues, I'll be glad to listen to -- and Almond has more than a few between these covers.
My New American Life. Francine Prose. A workmanlike job, good by the standards of
most writers, but not up to Prose's usual mark. I gave up halfway through. Story of an Albanian
woman, an immigrant, who pretty much doesn't have to do anything but oversee a teenage American boy
in New Jersey while his father works. This certainly isn't Blue Angel, or even A Changed Man.
Naked Came the Manatee. A joint effort by a group of Florida writers, each of whom
wrote a chapter. Considerably better than Naked Came the Stranger, which I read about 30 years
ago, and which was a similar effort, but by Newsday writers. Not a great book, but it's hard to go
completely wrong with writers of the caliber of Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen.
Nixon under the Bodhi Tree, and other works of Buddhist Fiction. Edited by Katie Wheeler.
There's some very bad fiction between these covers.
No One Belongs Here More than You. Miranda July. Short stories, some of them verging
on disgusting, by the performance artist who made the movie "You, Me, and Everyone We Know".
The Odyssey. Homer, trans. Stanley Lombardo. Stan is a classics professor and Zen master
acquaintance of mine, as well as Homer's translator. Besides (part of) Stan's translation, I've read Fagles',
and the styles couldn't be more different. It's curious, how translations can end up so strangely divergent.
Odd Hours. Dean Koontz. Lame brain candy, but it kept me turning the pages, so I
supposed I can't complain too much.
One Hundred Years of Solitude. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. My son read this, and though he
had trouble getting into it, he read it a second time, which charmed me: I used to read this every
year or so. By now, reading it again, I find that it's pretty much used up for me. Still, it has the
most perfect opening sentence I've ever read: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad,
Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that long-ago day when his father took him to discover ice".
Ottoman Cage. Barbara Nadel. Crime novel set in Istanbul, with a cast of eccentric
characters. A bit draggy, too much dialogue, and the crime itself seems to serve mostly as an
excuse to write about a place that apparently fascinates the author.
Out. Natsuo Kirino. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation -- but in Japan,
for the women, desperation is an inadequate word. Crime novel by a Japanese woman; full of the
perverse preoccupations of that country: torture, sex with a dying woman, pedophilia, and so on.
Paranormalcy. Kiersten White. Young adult novel about a teen who's been raised by
an international agency responsible for neutralizing vampires, werewolves, ghouls, hags, and the like.
She's the only human who can see through their "glamors". Amusing brain candy.
Petropolis. Susanne Santoro Whayne. Children's book by a friend's sister-in-law,
about a dog who goes through a magic pet door, finds himself in a city populated by pets,
and spends the day going to the art gallery, eating ice cream, etc.
Plain Language. Barbara Wright. Local writer. Story of a Quaker woman struggling with
her husband to make a ranch in eastern Colorado go, during the dust bowl years. Barbara is one of
the politest, best-mannered people I've ever met.
Platero and I. Juan Ramon Jimenez. My first girlfriend loaned me this book, many
years ago, and it's still probably the single most beautiful book I've ever read. Jimenez deserved
his Nobel prize for this book alone. In my reading, only Light Years comes close, and even
it, my all-time favorite, falls short.
Playing for Pizza. John Grisham. Football novel set mostly in Italy.
Plum Spooky. Janet Evanovich. The author's usual offering: clumsy writing, a plot with
the seams showing, loads of inane trivialities, but somehow fun brain candy anyway. I've read a couple
of others by this writer about this character, and they were much the same.
Prep. Curtis Sittenfeld. Wonderful detail of the inner wrestlings of an alienated
teen, though it gets a bit claustrophobic near the end. A sympathetic unsympathetic character...
The author is the daughter of a graduate of my high school (he was one year ahead of me).
The Price of Malice. Archer Mayor. Book on CD. Either Mayor's gotten better, or
this book works better on CD than the one I read between hard covers.
Pulp. Charles Bukowski. Hilarious sendup of the tough-guy L.A. private-eye genre.
A River Runs Through It. Norman MacLean. Spectacular beginning and ending.
The Rainbow Fairy Book. Fairy tales -- a collection of stories from the red book,
the brown book, the yellow book, etc.
The Razor's Edge. W. Somerset Maugham.
Roxana. Daniel Defoe. A whore's life.
Rumpole Misbehaves. John Mortimer.
The Russian Debutante's Handbook. Gary Shteyngart. A fun read -- witty.
Sea Change. Robert B. Parker. The man knows how to write page turners. I guess
he got tired of his P.I., and decided to switch to writing about a cop, but I don't care.
His books are still compulsively readable.
Serenade. James M. Cain. Incredibly annoying, because the writer apparently thinks
he's being worldly and hardbitten when in fact he's jejeune and naive.
Sharp Teeth. Toby somebody-or-other. Modernization of the werewolf novel. Would be
something like Already Dead, except that it pretends to be in verse.
The Shotgun Rule. Charlie Huston. Nowhere near as good as his Already Dead.
Sleepless. Charlie Huston. The premise is that a new prion (a lifeless bit of protein,
similar to the agents that cause mad cow disease or fatal familial insomnia) is infecting an increasing
per centage of the population. Social order has broken down. The sleepless go mad and suffer excruciatingly
in their last days. The only palliative is a drug called Dreamer. Our hero, an LAPD cop with a Ph.D.
in philosophy, who comes from old East-coast money, is trying to crack the black market in the drug.
In the meantime, a scary killer is on his heels. This gives no idea of the complexity of the plot.
I've read four of Huston's other novels, and the man is a whiz at plotting his books. His style leaves
a lot to be desired, but I overlook it for the pure interest of reading to find out what happens next.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Marisha Pessl. At 500 pages, most novels like this one
(are there any novels like this one?) would feel far too long, but this one doesn't. The plot,
which is complex, doesn't really get rolling until halfway through the book, but that doesn't matter,
because the writing is compelling. There are many kinds of believability in fiction, and this book
is definitely convincing -- this reader gave it his trust, and read it compulsively. For a first novel,
the plotting is skillful, the twists plentiful, and everything coheres. Most books with this many
reversals have gaping holes in them. More than that, though, the damn thing is just engrossing.
Star Maker. Olaf Stapledon. Far more visionary than most science fiction (a genre I
generally loathe). The book is marred by hasty writing and a hurried narrative, but is otherwise
The Stars My Destination. Alfred Bester. Despite the heavy-handed and melodramatic
overwriting, this book is compulsively readable because of the story; it's one of the best plotted,
perhaps the best plotted book I've ever read.
Stolen. Kelley Armstrong. Not quite up to the first novel with the female werewolf
character (Bitten), but still an entertaining way to while away a few hours.
The Stories of John Cheever. John Cheever. Keepers, every one -- and there are lots.
The stories of Paul Bowles. Paul Bowles. Probably the most compelling writer I've ever read.
If I start a story, I'm seized from the first sentence, and can't stop until I finish it. And yet, I can't
explain why. A typical Bowles story might be: man goes out for a walk, gets murdered. There's something
timeless about these tales, something that could have been written centuries ago, on another continent.
Something impersonal and cold. In one of his best, a thief falls in with several merchants taking their
goods by camel across the Sahara. One after another he kills them. He takes the goods to a city and makes
his living selling them. A month or two later, friends of the men he killed recognize the goods. They
report him to the French authorities, who investigate. With a wink and a nod, the French let the merchants
know that they're free to do with the man what they want, so they take him out into the desert and bury
him up to his neck. A day passes, the sun on his unprotected head, and he goes mad and begins to sing,
while the wind kicks up and blows dust into his mouth. In another story, a woman kidnaps local children
and feeds them to her crocodile. She cuts out the croc's heart and feeds it to a man, has sex with him,
and gloatingly tells her sister that the child will have the strength of 47.
The Sure Hand of God. Erskine Caldwell. This book sucked.
Surrender the Pink. Carrie Fisher. Written in aphorisms.
The Tale of the Body Thief. Ann Rice. Her usual literary sins are here in particularly
egregious form. Not one of her better books. Of all her books that I've read, I liked her soft-porn
novel Belinda best.
Tarzan and the Madman. Edgar Rice Burroughs. The usual Tarzan formula.
I have to hand it to Burroughs -- he wasn't much on characterization or plausibility,
but he can plot like no one else.
Terrorist. John Updike. Good old reliable Updike -- he just keeps knocking them out,
though this one isn't up to his usual standards.
Testimonies. Patrick O'Brian. Early novel, before O'Brian turned to writing the
Aubrey-Maturin series. I re-read it because my memory of it was so extraordinary. The man had a
shining talent; the book leaves an indelible impression.
The Time Traveller's Wife. Audrey Niffenegger. First-person novel (in alternating points
of view: his and hers). Too sweet, too rarefied, too bookish and ethereal, and yet a magnificent story
that I couldn't stop reading, over and over, for a couple of weeks.
This Beautiful Life. Helen Schulman. I only got 40 pages into this, because it's too
well crafted and I knew I couldn't bear what was to come. The same thing happened to me with the books
His Illegal Self and Atonement. This is only to say that I've reached a point where I can't
bear well-imagined, painful fiction. It's too much like reading nonfiction. I know that this book would
more than repay the time spent on it, but I'm simply unwilling to suffer through it, enjoyable (exquisite)
though the reading is. It's a sort of squeamishness, I suppose: I can't bear to look.
Totally Dead. Michael Stone. Don't bother; this is second-rate Elmore Leonard.
Train. Pete Dexter. I saw this guy at Rainy Day Books, and he's just as compelling
a storyteller in person as he is in this book.
Tricky Business. Dave Barry. Predictably Dave Barryish.
Uncle Silas. J. S. Le Fanu. Extreme Victorian Gothic. This book has two of the
creepiest characters I've ever encountered. Mme. de la Rougierre, in particular, is about as
bizarre and repulsive as I can imagine a fictional character being -- more repellent than
any of Elmore Leonard's characters, even. And Uncle Silas is no slouch, either -- he's evil
incarnate. My worst gripe with the book is the near-total passivity of the heroine.
In typical Victorian fashion, she gets hysterical, faints, or at most defends herself by screaming.
Times have changed -- and for the better, I say. I like strong female characters.
Nevertheless, the book was weirdly readable. Despite the holes in the plot, it's a compelling read.
Ulysses. James Joyce. I detested this book, until recently, when I had the
opposite reaction. But it was such slow going that I only got a third of the way through,
despite renewing it at the library. This is one of those books that demands to be read slowly,
so it can be properly enjoyed and understood.
Vanilla Bright like Eminem. Michael Faber. Short stories by the author of
The Crimson Petal and the White, but very contemporary; about as different from that
Victorian novel as possible.
Vertical Run. Joseph Garber. Thriller, and not bad.
War and Peace. Leo Tolstoy.
Whitethorn Woods. Maeve Binchy. Not a novel, but short stories, sketchily linked.
The Waitress Was New. Dominique Fabre. Beautifully imagined first-person novel about a
brief period in the life of a middle-aged barman in a suburb of Paris. Nothing much happens, but I
couldn't stop reading because of the authenticity and thoroughness with which this character and
his thoughts and feelings were imagined and written. This is one of the most accurate novels I've ever read.
The Wife of Martin Guerre. Janet Lewis. Perfect novella about a true event in medieval France.
An exquisite little read.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Haruki Murakami. A long and odd novel, not quite like anything
else I've read. Not much story, much of the time, but compelling reading nonetheless.
Wives and Daughters. Elizabeth Gaskell. 600-page novel by a Victorian lady novelist,
and damn good. A lot like Jane Austen's novels. Gaskell died while writing the book. At a guess,
she probably had another 50 or 75 pages to go. Those Victorians were nothing if not exhaustive --
and exhausting to modern readers. But the woman could write, that's for damn sure.
Linguistics and language.
Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin. Nicholas Ostler. Extremely boring -- so boring
that I quit less than a quarter of the way through it.
Doing our Own Thing. John McWhorter. How language and music are becoming
increasingly informal and unskilled.
Don't Sleep. There are Snakes. Daniel Everett. Story of the linguist's life with
the Piraha, an Amazonian tribe with a very unusual language.
Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. Nicholas Ostler.
Masterful, though long, discussion of the great languages, how they spread and how they die.
Combination of history and linguistics.
Ethnologue. SIL. No one actually reads this book; it's a reference to all the
languages known on the planet. Great browsing, though.
Going nucular. Geoffrey Nunberg. Yes, that's the real title. Another collection of
Nunberg's careful parsings of what our words really mean.
The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. Geoffrey K. Pullum. Columns from a linguistics periodical.
Handbook of the International Phonetics Association. Heavy going.
How to Learn a Foreign Language. Arthur H. Charles, Jr.
How Language Works. David Crystal.
Introducing Phonetics and Phonology. Davenport and Hannahs. Loved this book, but it was
so dense it took forever to get through it, so I didn't -- only a bit more than halfway.
Ishi's Tale of Lizard. Trans. Leanne Hinton. A story by Ishi, last of his tribe.
Language Death. David Crystal.
The Language Instinct. Steven Pinker. Subtitled "How the brain creates language", which
is a better summary than I could come up with. Interesting, though too long and too unfocused.
Last Speakers. K. David Harrison. Followup to his earlier book about dying languages.
The tone is again a bit hysterical and repetitive, but there are interesting parts when he drops
into specifics, esp. his personal contacts and experiences.
The Mouton Interactive Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology.
The Power of Babel. John McWhorter. Subtitled A Natural History of Language; many's
the time I've tried to look up that phrase "natural history", and failed. I still don't know what it means.
Book covers material like evidential markers, alienable possession, and inherent reflexiveness, as well
as articles and gender, which vary substantially from language to language. All of these things are
lacking in many. Our own lacks the first three.
The Rise and Fall of Languages. R. M. W. Dixon. Short book, long read. Author doesn't
support his punctuated equilibrium hypothesis very well, but he's an enormously experienced linguist,
and the rest of the material is interesting and useful.
Schools of Linguistics. Geoffrey Sampson. Read several parts, esp. the Sapir/Whorf thesis
(which strikes me as half-baked), and the part on the Chomskyans (with whom I have deep disagreements,
and I've discovered a wonderful proof to refute them, but I have no space to write it in the margin).
The Science Times Book of Language and Linguistics. Nicholas Wade, ed. A bit lightweight.
The Story of Human Language. John McWhorter. 18 hours of lectures on DVD, every one of
which I watched, though I did fall asleep a few times and have to replay sections.
Spellbound. James Essinger. The book is padded with a lot of stuff that has
nothing whatever to do with English spelling; where he finally gets on topic, he's good.
But the book would work better at half its length, though then it wouldn't have found a publisher.
Spoken Here. Mark Abley. A study of languages that are threatened with extinction.
McWhorter's lectures also address this problem, near the end of the series.
Talking Right. Geoffrey Nunberg. How the right has hijacked political language.
Turkish. Language/30. Mostly just phrases.
The Way We Talk Now. Geoffrey Nunberg. Nunberg always has something interesting,
perceptive, and unexpected to say about language.
Through the Language Glass. Guy Deutscher. The author rejects Sapir-Whorf, but winkles
out ways in which our native tongues influence our worldviews. Thoroughly researched, clear, and
nicely-reasoned presentation of how language affects our inner treatment of space, gender, and color.
When Languages Die. K. David Harrison. He's passionate about the subject of language
death (as I am). Turns out there's only a degree of separation between us: he was the academic
adviser to a young woman of my acquaintance.
Words, Words, Words. David Crystal. A book about words, by a word maven.
The World's Major Languages. Bernard Comrie, ed. I dip into this occasionally.
Misc. stuff downloaded from the web.
Algebraic Topology. Allen Hatcher. I know I'll never read this, but I just like to
have these things. It's an interesting subject, though I lack the discipline to get through
500 pages of math.
Boost-phase intercept systems for National Missile Defense. American Physical Society.
Just reading the 50 or so pages of executive summary and introduction, one thing is crystal clear: the
whole notion is hare-brained because the problems are insuperable. It won't work. This should be
immediately apparent to anyone with an IQ above 100.
Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District. The judicial decision on the famous
Pennsylvania case (teaching of intelligent design in the public schools). To download it yourself,
go here and click "click here
for details" under "Decision handed down". Or go straight
here to get the PDF of the
court's ruling. For the viewpoint of the proponents of intelligent design (disclaimer: I am not
on of them; I agree with the idea that "intelligent design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo"),
Vampire novels and Books.
Books by Anne Rice are not listed because I read them years ago, before I started keeping this list.
13 Bullets. David Wellington. The first book in the series about Laura Caxton, vampire hunter
and Pennsylvania state patrolwoman. In this one, she learns the ropes, and barely survives.
23 Hours. David Wellington. Caxton is imprisoned -- and so is her nemesis Justinia Malvern,
who feeds off the entire prison population. This series gets weirder with every book.
99 Coffins. David Wellington. Caxton, police, and National Guard have a pitched battle with 100
vampires in Gettysburg. Help comes from a strange person.
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Seth Grahame-Smith. A disappointment, because nowhere near
as amusing and clever as his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Already Dead. Charlie Huston. Whoa! Now here's something original -- a tale that
combines vampires with gang struggles, a detective story of sorts, a dash of romance, and some really
twisted plot turns. Best vampire novel I've read since Dracula.
Anno Dracula. Kim Newman. Dracula marries Queen Victoria and institutes a reign of terror
in England, but that's scarcely the half of it. Characterization, plotting, and a smooth writing style
kept me turning the pages. Even the dialogue is good. There are clever Victorian touches on every page.
And there's a sense of fun about this book, of a writer enjoying himself. The book is full of references
to the period -- all the characters from Bram Stoker's Dracula, Stoker's wife Florence, Jack the
Ripper, Dr. Jekyll, and many others. Even the elephant man makes an appearance near the end -- and he's
a spy who's infiltrated Dracula's court. This book is an entertaining read.
Blood Noir. Don't remember who wrote this. The premise is that the President has a personal
vampire to fight creatures from the Other Side. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff.
Blood Noir. Laurell K. Hamilton. Soft-porn novel about a vampire killer / necromancer.
Some novels are well imagined. This one is not.
Blood Memories. Barb Hendee. Not bad -- the woman knows how to plot and characterize.
Not up to Already Dead, or Empire of Fear, but well above average in this genre.
First-person narrative of a reluctant vampire, how she's affected by her relationships with
other vampires, and how she discovers some very unexpected lost vampire knowledge.
I've already reserved the next novel in the series at my local library.
Blood Thirst. Leonard Wolf. Short vampire fiction.
Bloody Valentine. Melissa de la Cruz. After I read this, I wondered why I'd bothered.
Blue Bloods. Melissa de la Cruz. I read a lot of vampire novels.
This one's in the young-adult genre, so it's full of brand names and teen angst.
Borne in the Blood. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Another book in the series about the
vampire Count Saint-Germain -- the kindest, most patient, unflappable, urbane, suave vampire you could
ever hope to encounter, and ever will read about. As with Hotel Transylvania, the research
is exhaustive and the period convincingly limned, although once again I lost patience with the
endless descriptions of clothing and (to a lesser extent) food.
Bullet. Laurell K. Hamilton. The writer's style is a bit more polished now,
but her storytelling ability has gone completely down the tubes. I lack the patience for a novel
this boring, so I quit in disgust halfway through. Besides, I object to vampire novels that mix
in were-creatures (a crutch for writers who lack the imagination to sustain a pure vampire story),
the occult (ditto, and which never works in novels anyway), and lots of sex where people
talk endlessly about their feelings. Feelings? Fuggedaboudit. I want creepy.
Vampire novels should be about creatures that lack any feelings except the thirst.
Carmilla. Sheridan Le Fanu. Way too creepy, so I gave up halfway through. I just
don't have the balls necessary to read this book.
Dracula, My Love. Syrie James. A re-imagining of Bram Stoker's original. In this version of
the story, Mina Harker's journals show that she has a passionate affair with Dracula, who's a hero,
not a monster. The book is pitched to contemporary women, and it's a bit too romance-novel, but the male
reader (at least this one) can enjoy it, too. The jarring note is the ubiquity of speech anachronisms.
I doubt that Victorians said things like, "Not a problem".
Dracula's Brood. Vampire stories. Read two, and gave the book to my son.
Dracula's Guest. Collection of Victorian vampire stories. Lord Byron is among the writers.
Dead to Worse. Charlaine Harris. Mediocre novel about vampires and werewolves; like
Jim Butcher's book Small Favor, it has every kind of supernatural being the author can cram in.
The Empire of Fear. Brian Stableford. Alternate history of the world, with vampires
as the rulers of Europe, and in different roles elsewhere. A startlingly accomplished literary and imaginative
Every Last Drop. Charlie Huston. More Joe Pitt.
Fangs for the Mammaries. Vampire short stories set in suburbia. Don't waste your time on this.
A Flame in Byzantium. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. I checked this out of the library thinking it
was one of the St. Germain series, and it turned out to be one of a series about another vampire, a
woman of ancient Rome. Olivia is an appealing heroine, though not as much as St. Germain. The book
is of course nicely written, as one would expect of this writer. But it moves slowly, and there are
the same writerly tics as in the other series: the constant description of clothing, the reliance
on plotting (not the writer's, but that of characters conspiring against the protagonist) to move
the story, and so on. The book is nicely put together, but not compelling. The writer is more
interested in ancient history, I think, than in her characters. If you want to learn about the
Eastern Roman Empire in the middle of the first millenium, and what it was like to live in that
era, read this book. If you're expecting fast movement and lots of bloodshed, read something else.
Ghosts of Memories. Barb Hendee. The fifth in the series about a telepathic vampire
and her little family of friends -- and it feels like it may be the last. Matters have sort of
reached their culmination here, it appears.
Half the Blood of Brooklyn. Charlie Huston. More Joe Pitt.
The Historian. Elizabeth Kostova. Long, engrossing, and very well written, though
not entirely convincing in places, especially the climactic scene at the end and the ensuing explanation.
Still and all, a book that deserved its worldwide best-sellerdom.
Hotel Transylvania. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. First of a series about the vampire Saint-Germain.
Nicely recreates the manners and mores of 18th-century France. Saint-Germain is probably the most appealing
and sophisticated vampire hero I've encountered, and his opponent the most appalling.
Hunting Memories. Barb Hendee. Book 2 in the series. Eleisha continues to battle the monstrous Julian.
In Memories We Fear. Barb Hendee. Eleisha and her crew find a feral vamp in London. Julian uses
his ghost to home in and there's a climactic battle in a graveyard. It's the usual -- the same, only slightly different.
Insatiable. Meg Cabot. This book is unintentionally humorous much of the time, it's so girly.
But, then, the author did write "The Princess Diaries". Still, it works, because the pacing is so good.
Let the Right One In. John Ajvide Lindqvist. I've always thought of Sweden as a sort of
socialist paradise, where everyone is tall, blond, healthy, and speaks better English than I do, with only
the trace of an accent, and gets three months of vacation and never has money trouble. Maybe there's
some of that, but Swedish stories seem to be full of a sort of existential disgust that's rare in the
literature of other countries. This novel is especially that way,
and because the characters are so deeply explored and convincing, the environment so clear, and the
plot so compelling, it's perhaps the most disturbing vampire novel I've ever read. When I understand
and sympathize with a 200-year-old vampire, a 12-year-old boy filled with hatred, and a middle-aged
pedophile, and the beauty of the bizarre friendships among these characters, my hat is off to the writer.
This is one of the best vampire novels I've ever read, right up there with
The Historian, The Empire of Fear, the original Dracula, and the Joe Pitt novels.
Lunatic Cafe. Yet another example of the modern trend of mixing vampires with werewolves, always
an indication of lack of authorial ability to generate a straightforward story. They run out of inspiration,
so they drag in every sort of supernatural creature.
The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories by Women. Collection of vampire stories.
Marked. P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast. Teen vampire novel set in Tulsa, OK. First of a series.
Memories of Envy. Barb Hendee. Third in the series about Eleisha and her friends and enemies.
Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. Amanda Grace. The premise is in the title of the book. Elizabeth Bennett
finds out that her husband is an Old One. Anno Dracula. this ain't, but it's readable. I can't help
but wonder, though, at the unceasing popularity of Mr. Darcy. That dude pops up everywhere.
My Dead Body. Charlie Huston. Another novel in the Joe Pitt series. Style is way too choppy,
but the action is so intense and inventive that I had to keep reading. This books feels like the last.
Given the mutilations Pitt has undergone, and the fate of the New York vampires, I don't see where it can go
from here. Huston seems to have wanted to bring the series to an end.
No Dominion. Charlie Huston. Second book in the Joe Pitt series. The first was about a zombie
infestation plaguing the New York vampire community, genetic engineering, and incest, among other things.
This one is about bad blood -- baaaad blood -- called Anathema.
The Passage. Justin Cronin. Post-apocalyptic vampire novel, a bit reminiscent of I Am Legend,
but the scope of this story is an order or magnitude greater than that one. Too long by half, but it
gets more involving as it goes. Emotional affect fluctuates, especially at the end, and the
author spends too much time describing scenes and places that don't advance the story line
(I think he just likes to write), but otherwise skillfully executed.
The Revenants. Geoffrey Farrington. A re-read. Unconventional vampire novel. Has its
flaws, but two great virtues: consistency of tone (19th-century, though published in 1983), and deep
working out of the narrator's internal struggles and attitudes.
Rosario + Vampire. Akihisa Akada. Japanese comic. Read backwards (right-left).
Like most Japanese comics, it features long-legged girls in very short skirts. I felt a little
kinky, reading this, as if some inner pedophile was waking from a vampire sleep.
Salem's Lot. Stephen King. One of two vampire novels I've ever been unable to finish
because it scared me too much. The other was Carmilla.
Small Favor. Jim Butcher. I never read sword-and-sorcery sci-fi. This novel is the
first such in years that I have, and it will be the last for many more. Author would have been wiser
to stick with the vampires and leave the other stuff for other books.
Sunshine. Robin McKinley. Although the book includes magic and demons and all the sort
of kitchen-sink crap that's trendy these days, the story has a fairly strong beginning. In the middle
it deteriorates. Either the author had a deadline to meet, or she was in a hurry, or she lost her way.
The irritating use of her private personal lingo ("thor", "glangy unease", "flash ideal", and other
private language, much of it only once and without context, so the reader has no idea what it means)
gets out of control. And nothing happens. Talk about a sagging middle -- this book has a collapsed middle.
This is a case of a writer trying too hard to finish a story that fizzled out. The tipoff
is the arch, silly, hyperbolic, sometimes incoherent writing. Worst of all, the writer increasingly
telegraphs what she wants the reader to think, and the voice she uses is affectedly familiar and
colloquial, like a junior-high student trying to make up witty new slang. This breaks the wall between
the reader and outer reality, and we get yanked out and realize we're reading, instead of
simply reading. There's little that will destroy the narrative dream more effectively.
The Twelve. Justin Cronin. Book 2 in the trilogy. Way too many characters and
subplots, which occasionally confused me.
The Vampire Tapestry. Suzy McKee Charnas. A re-imagining of the vampire genre.
For one thing, there's only one of them, and every so often he goes into suspended animation.
The Vampire. John Polidori. One of the most repellent vampire stories I've ever read --
and I mean that as a compliment.
The vampire gallery: a who's who of the undead.J. Gordon Melton. Slapdash, incomplete
overview of vampires in movies and TV.
Vampire A Go-Go. Victor Gischler. There's a tendency for contemporary writers of vampire novels
to throw in a lot of extraneous stuff like warlocks, wizards, and werewolves. They're all here, as well as
alchemists, a golem, Battle Jesuits (!), the Holy Roman Emperor and more. This shows an inability to write a
straightforward story -- when out of inspiration and unable to advance the narrative, dig another gimmick out
of the bag of tricks. There are also crippling problems with point of view and narrative continuity, not to
mention over-reliance on sentence fragments and comma splices. Still and all, as vampire novels go these days,
this one is middling. It's actually better than some very popular ones, like the crap Charlaine Harris knocks out.
Vampire Zero. David Wellington. Something of an alternate contemporary history,
in which vampires are admitted by everyone to exist. After a climactic battle, there are only
a few left, and one professional vampire hunter who's trying to exterminate the race.
A "Vampire Zero" is a vampire who can start the race by making other vampires,
much like a "patient zero" in medicine who can kick off a plague.
Third book in the series about Laura Caxton.
Vampires. The Recent Undead. Edited by Paula Guran. A real mixed bag this -- everything
from the horrible crap that Charlaine Harris cranks out to a great story by Kelley Armstrong. Women are
heavily over-represented in this collection, which leads me to wonder whether there wasn't some sort of
PC subtext in the selection process.
Vintage Vampire Stories. Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Richard Dalby. A collection of oldies,
including a Chinese story from the 17th century.
Vlad. Carlos Fuentes. Being that Fuentes wrote this, I expected more. If anyone else had
written it, I would have been deeply impressed. This is creepy and disturbing in ways I've seen in no
other vampire novel. I wish it had been longer, but I think he wrote it with his left hand in a few spare minutes.
But do read it -- it won't take long, and it enlarges the vampire genre. Where else will you read about little
girls putting squirrels in their panties, or Dracula's house being built with drains in every room, and
a tunnel to the ravine out back? And this version of Dracula harkens back to the truly evil Victorian nosferatu.
I wanted to rip out Vlad's heart and burn it in front of his eyes, and then really hurt him.
X-Rated Bloodsuckers. Mario Acevedo. In which our hero, the vampire private eye Felix Gomez,
after much derring-do, many hairbreadth escapes, and considerable mayhem, finally fulfills his mission and finds
the killer of porn stars Roxy Bronze and Katz Meow. Other plot elements include Los Angeles real estate development,
a vampire porn producer, a corrupt and walleyed city councilwoman, an ancient Mayan vampire with a pickup truck that
won't start, scary cops, the difference between human and vampire auras, a sexy human love interest,
a wealthy televangelist, secret vampire organizations, human "chalices", and an annoyingly persistent crow.
The Year of Disappearances. Susan Hubbard. The plot doesn't live up to its promises;
a lot of threads are dropped without much attempt to tie them together, or even simply to tie
them in. But it's a pleasant little literary read, about a 14-year-old girl who's a vampire
(as are her parents). People she knows start to disappear or die. The pleasure of this book
is in the character, and the writing, not in the plot or genre.
You Suck. Christopher Moore. Other people think this is funnier than I do -- I think I only
lauged out loud twice -- but I admit it has a lot of clever turns of plot and characterization.
Vampire Novels I'd like to read, but haven't found yet.
There's reputedly a vampire novel by Lord Byron ("Giaour"?); I haven't found it,
but if I do, how can I resist?
The Judas Glass. Michael Cadnum.
The Golden. Lucius Shepard.
The Secret Life of Laszlo, Count Dracula. Robert Anscombe.
Mina. Marie Kiraly.
The Dracula Tape. Fred Saberhagen.
Children of the Night. Dan Simmons.
Dracula Unborn. Peter Tremayne.
Child of the Night. Nancy Kilpatrick.
I, Vampire. Michael Romkey.
I Am Legend. Richard Mathes.
Fevre Dream. George R. R. Martin.
The Hunger. Whitley Streiber.
Bloodlist. P. N. Elrod. First of a series.
Vampire$ John Steakley.
Vampire Junction. S. P. Somtow.
Lost Souls. Poppy Z. Brite.
Those Who Hunt the Night. Barbara Hambley.
The Black Castle. Les Daniels. First of a series.
For more, see http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123115545 .
Also see http://chronicle.com/article/All-the-Dead-Are-Vampires/65829 .
Books by my friends.
Almost American. Catherine Browder. Unpublished young adult novel about two
Korean-American boys, which I helped her edit.
Goat Boy of the Ozarks. John Mort. Unpublished novel about an orphan taking
care of himself in the Ozarks, which I helped him edit.
An Uncommon Enemy. Michelle Black. White woman is captured by Cheyenne, lives with
them; years later, recaptured by the Army, is reluctant to become white again. First of a trilogy.
Secret Lives. Catherine Browder. A collection of short stories.
Woyzeck. Georg Buchner.
The ThreePenny Opera. Bertoldt Brecht, or whichever girlfriend wrote this one for him.
Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney.
The Cradle Place. Thomas Lux.
Collected Poems. Philip Larkin.
The Duino Elegies. Rainer Maria Rilke.
Collected Poems. Wallace Stevens.
Gilgamesh. Translated by Stephen Mitchell.
Braided Creek. Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser.
Walking About. Reva Griffith. Posthumous poems by a Friend/friend.
The essential haiku: versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa. Robert Hass. More than a book of poetry --
also criticism and biography.
The Poetry of Rilke. Rainer Maria Rilke. I still haven't got all the way through the Duino Elegies.
They're too dense. I have to re-read and re-read, and never get to the end.
Best American Essays 2000. ed. Stephen Jay Gould. And 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004; I read this nearly every year.
Against Joie de Vivre. Philip Lopate.
The Art of the Personal Essay. Philip Lopate.
Consider the Lobster. David Foster Wallace.
Essayists On the Essay. Carl Hiklaus, ed.
Essays. George Orwell.
Ideas and Opinions. Albert Einstein. A genius not only in science.
Starbeams. Bill Vaughan. A collection of one- and two-sentence observations by the last and
best of the paragraphers. (He was also a friend of my father.)
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. David Foster Wallace.
Quakerism, Buddhism, and religion in general
Buddhism. Malcolm David Eckel. 24 half-hour lectures on Buddhism. A long march, but probably worth it,
at least for me.
The Quaker Family in Colonial America. J. William Frost. Didn't get through much
of this book, though it was far more interesting and readable than the title implies.
A Quaker Book of Wisdom. Robert Lawrence Smith. Memoir of ex-headmaster of Sidwell
Friends School (attended by Chelsea Clinton).
A Colonial Quaker Girl. The diary of Sally Wister, 1777 - 1778. Perspectives on
the Revolution. Short, children's book.
At the Crossroads: Disarmament of Re-Nuclearization. FCNL pamphlet.
Jesus, Interrupted. Bart D. Ehrman. If it wasn't obvious to you that the Bible cannot possibly
be the literal word of God, it should be after you read this book.
On War. Jonathan Dymond. The actual title, much longer, I can't remember ("An Inquiry into ....").
The most powerful antiwar essay I've ever read. I read the 1892 edition. This will be very difficult
to find; we happen to have a copy at my Meeting house, and that's the only reason it was available to me.
The Dhammapada. Translated Thomas Cleary. Worst translation of the Dhammapada that I've ever read.
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Shunryu Suzuki.
The Mindful Quaker. Pendle Hill pamphlet.
The Quiet Rebels.
The Quaker Reader. Edited by Jessamyn West?
Quaker in the Zendo. Pendle Hill pamphlet.
Quaker in Vietnam. Pendle Hill pamphlet, about a former member of my Meeting who
turned in his draft card and then went to Vietnam to make prostheses for Vietnamese who had lost
limbs in the war.
Toward a Quaker View of Sex. A collective essay. Pendle Hill pamphlet.
Turnaround. Pendle Hill pamphlet.
The World We Have. Thich Nhat Hanh. 2/3/2012 (That's "Tick, Not Hahn".) A very Buddhist
take on our current ecological and economic problems.
Buddhism. Malcolm David Eckel.
Math, logic, puzzles, etc.
Here's Looking at Euclid. Alex Bettos. A ramble through various fields of math.
Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity. David Foster Wallace.
Wallace commits his usual sins -- the sweeping, dogmatic statements, the pretentious writing,
the unnecessary footnotes, and so on. Instead of using the word "infinity" in the subtitle,
he uses the symbol; librarians must love that. Better known for fiction and essays, Wallace
here writes a history of the notion of infinity (including infinitesimals) in mathematics. The work is
comprehensive, but the writing is pompous and irritatingly informal, often at the same time. Still, he has
a handle on the subject, and it's a good introduction, however dogmatic he can be (for instance, his
repeated claim that Cantor was the most important mathematician of the 19th century, which is merely silly).
2 biographies of Paul Erdos:
The Man who Loved Only Numbers Paul Hoffman
My Brain is Open Bruce Schechter
3 books about the Riemann Hypothesis:
The Music of the Primes Marcus du Sautoy
Prime Obsession John Derbyshire
The Riemann Hypothesis Karl Sabbagh
Books by or about Godel and/or his famous proof:
On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica.
Kurt Godel. This is a translation of the original proof, which wasn't easy to find. I probably shouldn't
have bothered. The proof is so far over my head, I can't even see the contrail. I felt like a dog watching
someone program a computer. It's not very long, either: just a few dozen pages.
Godel's Proof. Nagel and Newman. Mostly the math.
Godel. Casti and DePauli. Mostly a bio.
Another book (I forgot to write down the name and author), which was a
technical, detailed explication of the proof; I got lost about page 97. I clearly remember a diagram,
maybe of the diagonal lemma, which isn't in either of the books on my shelf.
Incompleteness. Rebecca Goldstein. Bio, philosophy, and math.
Goldstein is a philosopher and novelist. (I re-read this in May, 2011.)
Books about Fermat's so-called last theorem:
Fermat's Enigma. Simon Singh. A rambling tour of the history behind
Fermat's Last Theorem. Amir D. Aczel. Apparently unedited, this book
is rife with simple mistakes -- e.g., Evariste Galois is referred to as a 21-year-old, then, a few hundred words on,
as 20 at a later date. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton is referred to the "Institute
of Advanced Study" in at least one place.
The copy I read was a library book, and an earlier reader underlined a date that was off by a century.
The frequency of errors makes me wonder how accurate the mathematical details are.
Innumeracy. John Allen Paulos. Short, but I only made it a fraction of the way,
because the author's too cranky, and the presentation in What the Numbers Say. was better.
Logic Made Easy. Deborah J. Bennett. Haven't made much progress here.
Concepts of Modern Mathematics. Ian Stewart. Haven't made...
Mathematical Fallacies and Paradoxes. Bryan Bunch. HMMPH.
Maps, tracks, and the bridges of Konigsberg : a book about networks. Holt, Michael..
Children's math book. Can't figure out how I got it. Took about 15 minutes to read.
What the Numbers Say. Niederman and Boyum. Quantitative Thinking 101.
Sudoki. Will Shortz. Not math, but puzzles that are the arithmetic
equivalent of crossword puzzles.
The Most Beautiful Mathematical Formulas. Salem, Testard, Salem.
Dumbed-down math -- but did you know that president Garfield devised an original proof
of the Pythagorean theorem?
Applied Finite Mathematics. Anton and Kolman. Checked this out thinking I hadn't
had any finite math -- but discovered that matrices, set theory, probability and statistics were
covered, all of which I'd had and didn't want to read about. I was looking for stuff like graph
theory, but didn't find any. Browsed it.
Group Theory in the Bedroom, and Other Mathematical Diversions. Brian Hayes.
The Strasbourg clock, economic theory, randomness, DNA, gear ratios, weather forecasting, and war
and international relations.
Natural History, science, etc.
The Beak of the Finch. Jonathan Weiner. Report on a decades-long project by a pair of biologists,
the Grants, who have been observing finches in the Galapagos. For them as for Darwin, these islands are a
laboratory on evolution -- only evolution apparently works more quickly than we'd thought. Which leads
me to wonder whether natural selection isn't supplemented by some other mechanism we don't understand yet.
I simply don't see how the beaks could evolve that quickly in response to selective pressure -- it's a
fundamental tenet of evolutionary theory that changes occur because of natural selection, the weeding
out of the less fit. One year isn't long enough for this to occur.
Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2000. ed. David Quammen (see comment on Quammen, below).
Birds, a Visual Guide. Joanna Burger. Almost a coffee-table book. Lots of beautiful
photos of beautiful birds.
Establishment and Management of Native Prairie. Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The Fabric of the Cosmos. Brian Greene. Well-written and well-reasoned, not too heavy
at the same time it's not too watered down.
Monster of God. David Quammen. Definitely one of the best natural-history writers around,
and despite his love of and commitment to the natural world, very even-handed.
Sahara. Marq de Villiers. I didn't expect that a book about a desert, its history,
topography and people, could be so interesting.
The Speckled Monster. Jennifer Lee Carrell. The story of smallpox vaccination, though the book
reads more like fiction in spots (sorry about the pun; couldn't resist).
The Wild Trees. Richard Preston. People who climb giant redwoods. I read his book
The Hot Zone years ago, and remember it as similar: compulsively readable at first,
steadily losing momentum as the book progressed. Lots of good stuff, mixed with lost-focus filler.
To See Every Bird on Earth. Dan Koeppel. This might better be listed under biography.
The author writes about his father, his father's life list of bird species seen (over 7,000), and himself.
Both repetitive and speculative, because Koeppel never gets to know his dad.
Symbiotic Planet. Lynn Margulis. A slapdash effort if ever there was one. It reads as if
every other sentence were cut -- transitions are missing. I couldn't follow what she was trying to say,
she jumped around so.
What Evolution Is. Ernst Mayr. Good introduction to current thinking about evolution.
Erotomania. Francis Levy. Amusing and hectic, if histrionic and wildly overwritten, novel about
a sexual relationship, unlike any other porn you'll ever read.
Something about Workmen. Alison Tyler. Cat Harrington, bored with her boyfriend, takes up SM with a stranger.
Tokyo Story. Akahige Namban.
Blue Tango. Anonymous. Best pornographic novel I've ever read. The style reminds me
of James Salter; I wouldn't be surprised if he'd secretly written it.
Curious Wine. Katherine V. Forrest. Famous lesbian novel. Very different from most porn,
because more romantic than sexy.
Gettin' Buck Wild. Zane.
The Heat Seekers. Zane. Unreadable.
Seductions. Edited by Lonnie Barbach. Man, this book is a turkey.
Roman Orgy. Marcus van Heller. Spartacus, told dirty.
The Devil's Advocate. Marcus van Heller.
Macho Sluts. Pat Califia. Stopping at a local bookstore I saw that Califia (who in recent
years has called herself "Patrick") has a new vampire novel out. The author's bio mentions "punishing
deserving masochists" as a favorite activity. Her (his? its?) writing is, as you would expect, heavy
on the sadism. Though I never find this erotic, Califia is so good at it that this book is the exception;
it actually is sexy, the way she tells it. But I still don't understand the pleasure of pain.
It's a contradiction in terms.
Venus in Furs. Sader-Masoch. The man who loaned his name to the world, giving us the
word "masochism". One seriously bent fellow. I've read that this is almost a factual description of
an affair he had. I find such a statement hard to credit.
The Olympia Reader. Excerpts from their many arty dirty books.
Delta of Venus. Anais Nin.
Several pornographic novels and many stories on the web.
The Sagas and all things Icelandic.
The Sagas of the Icelanders.
The Icelandic Saga.
Viking Age Life in Iceland.
Colloquial Icelandic. Since the language has changed almost not at all in nearly a millenium,
and I couldn't find a book to teach me the written language (so I could read the sagas in the original),
I bought this. Wasn't very useful, really. Another of my incomplete projects, I suppose.
Books connected to each other in some fashion or other
Truth and Beauty. Ann Patchett. Her friendship with Lucy Grealy.
Autobiography of a Face. Lucy Grealy.
The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken over the Ship. Charles Bukowski. Memoir or journal.
Lest I forget, it's illustrated by Robert Crumb. Isn't that appropriate?
The Buk Book. Jim Christy. Not sure whether this is the book I read, but I did read some
strange obscure little bio of Bukowski. I remember that the book had photographs of Bukowski fingering the vagina of
the woman whose husband was taking the photographs. The photos had been torn in half by Bukowski's girlfriend,
then taped back together and printed in this book. Somehow this seems typical of Bukowski, even after death.
Curious fact: Bukowski's books may be the most heavily stolen from bookstores; if not, they're right up there
at the top.
See main body of reading list above for other Bukowski books.
Multiple books by same writer
Bangkok 8. Raymond Chandler goes postmodern Far Eastern. Noir detective
story set in Thailand; the narrator is a half-Caucasian police detective. I've never read a book quite like
this. Too bad the author slowly loses control of the narrative.
Bangkok Tattoo. Much like the first novel -- do we detect a crime series, all
of them titled with the word "Bangkok"? Another inventive plot, same sensibility as the first one, but the
shock of the new has worn off, so the effect isn't as strong. And there's too much "Dear Reader" breaking
of the fourth wall, though here the reader is insultingly and repetitively addressed as "farang", italicized.
Bangkok Haunts. Damrong stars in a snuff movie and comes back to
haunt her ex-lovers. That's the least of it. Burdett has a perverted imagination.
The Godfather of Kathmandu. Sonchai Jitpleecheep goes to the Himalaya and gets himself in
trouble with a shipment of heroin and $40 million. Even though the book wanders outside the immediate vicinity
of Thailand this time, there are certain similarities to the earlier books: the constant second-person
references to the reader (farang), the emphasis on the occult and Buddhism, the rivalry between
Colonel Vikorn and General Zinna, and a murder that is not at all what it seems (hint: it's the same,
and diametrically the opposite, of Damrong's self-snuff film).
All of this is seasoned with vajrayana and a dash of tantric sex, which sounds ambiguously appealing --
as in "I really want to try that, or maybe not". Too bad he doesn't give the mantra.
Vulture Peak. Sonchai gets involved with a ultra-sexy, scary Chinese twins. What man
in his right mind wouldn't go for that, even if they do deal in spare body parts and masturbate
with severed penises?
Scaramouche. I love this book; I'll probably re-read the parts
I like every few years. It's the print version of an Errol Flynn movie, but more thoughtful.
Sabatini was enormously popular in his day, and it's easy to see why. This book is fun to read.
Swordplay, revenge, romance, undisclosed family secrets, the French Revolution. Something along the line
of those great 19th-century novels The Count of Monte Cristo or The Man in the Iron
Mask or The Prisoner of Zenda.
Captain Blood. A classic swashbuckler. The hero is much like
the protagonist of Scaramouche -- forced by circumstances to engage in battles he doesn't want
to undertake, an ironic view of the world and especially of the human race, tough, sophisticated, fearless.
The Sea Hawk. Another swashbuckler, and probably a considerably
earlier book than the other two. All the elements are here: the ruthless, tough hero who hides a heart
of gold, the fast-paced plot. But the writing is mannered and self-consciously archaic. This may not have
annoyed readers back between the wars, but it annoys this reader now.
Light Years. Portrait of a marriage. A novel about time. I've read this,
at a guess, twenty or more times. It was my favorite novel for about that many years.
Solo Faces. Novel about a climber, loosely based on the life of
Cassada. Re-write of The Arm of Flesh.
The Hunters. Korean fighter pilot novel.
The Arm of Flesh. Fighter pilots in Germany. Borrowed from a friend.
Forgettable -- Salter re-wrote this as Cassada.
A Sport and a Pastime. Erotic novel set in France.
Almost hallucinatory in the way it evokes sensory detail.
Dusk. Short stories.
Burning the Days. Memoir.
Gods of Tin. Memoir about flying.
Last Night. Short stories.
There & Then. Travel writing.
See also below, in biography.
Albert Camus which I'm dipping around in:
Resistance, Rebellion, and Death The piece on the guillotine is good.
Lyrical and Critical Essays
Notebooks, 1942 - 1951
Pride and Prejudice.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. About half the book is the
original, and half is new. "Now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem." Amusing. The zombie interpolations
are by Seth Grahame-Smith. Jane is spinning in her grave, or maybe not. She seems to have had a
sense of humor.
Sense and Sensibility.
Lee Child (not in order read, so thumbnail reviews may be confusing,
unless read without regard to each other).
The Affair. The usual hokum: holes in the plot, explanations that
defy reality, ridiculous exaggeration. I don't know why I read all this guy's books. It's embarrassing to
admit to reading Reacher novels -- especially all of them.
Bad Luck and Trouble.
The Hard Way. Jack Reacher, professional loner
and drifter, saves the worthy by wasting the scum.
Nothing to Lose. Fewer plot holes than usual.
One Shot. Child seems to be getting better. The style, though,
remains choppy: simple sentences mixed with sentence fragments, never a complex or compound/complex
sentence, and the rare compound sentences always so straightforward they may as well be simple sentences.
(Were I to hazard a guess, I'd say that this style, like the book's content, is shrewdly
calculated to the writer's audience.)
Running Blind. The plot is as full of holes as a colander.
Without Fail. Most of the books in this macho thriller
genre are much worse. The protagonist is especially interesting, because he's out of the norm.
Die Trying. As usual, full of inaccuracies, plot contradictions,
wild improbabilities, and downright errors of fact. Why can't I resist this idiot's books?
61 Hours. Child's merciless padding, pomposity, and utterly stupid
assertions (an oak door a .50-caliber machine gun couldn't pierce? ice as hard as steel in a parking lot? --
and more crap like this in every chapter) have worn me out. The guy can tell a story, but he's a Goddamned
lousy writer. This is the last one I'm going to read. I quit. These books aren't worth the irritation.
Worth Dying For. Yes, I said I wouldn't read any more of these
after 61 Hours, but this one may be the best of the lot. It's certainly far better than its
Lives of the Muses.
Nine women who inspired male writers and artists. Alma Mahler, Nancy Cunard, and Sheri Martinelli are gaping omissions.
A Changed Man.
My New American Life. Half.
Reading Like a Writer.
Maigret and the Apparition. Gotta hand it to Simenon: he sure can plot.
Maigret and the Bum.
My Friend Maigret.
Monsieur Monde vanishes. Got well into this, and realized I'd read
it years ago, in high school or college.
The Collected Stories. If you like pessimists who write flawlessly, Trevor's your man.
A Bit on the Side.
Legends of the Fall.
The Woman Lit by Fireflies.
The Year He Didn't Die. Much as I love Harrison's novellas,
and glad as I am to read about Brown Dog again, this book may have finally cured me of my taste for these books.
His sentences are getting worse; he's gone lazy on us.
See also below, in biography.
See also above, in poetry.
Lost Japan. Interesting observations by an intelligent expatriate.
Much better writer and observer than, say, Lafcadio Hearn, or, for that matter, anyone else I've read.
Kerr is head and shoulders above them all.
Dogs and Demons. How the powerful of Japan are destroying their country.
Alexander McCall Smith:
The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency.
The Tears of the Giraffe.
Morality for Beautiful Girls.
The Kalahari Typing School for Men.
The Full Cupboard of Life.
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies.
Blue Shoes and Happiness.
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive.
The Miracle at Speedy Motors.
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.
The Double Comfort Safari Club.
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party.
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection.
The Sunday Philosophy Club. Scottish equivalent of Precious, but more privileged.
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate.
The Right Attitude to Rain.
The Careful Use of Compliments.
The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday.
The Lost Art of Gratitude.
The Charming Quirks of Others. This one is so much like the others that I kept
wondering whether I hadn't already read it already. Smith certainly turns out a consistent product.
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth.
Portuguese Irregular Verbs. Hilarious deadpan sendup of fusty academics.
Heavenly Date and other Flirtations. Short stories about dates.
44 Scotland Street.
44 Scotland Street.
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones.
The Dog Who Came in from the Cold.
Elmore Leonard (and many more, but these are the ones I remember):
Up In Honey's Room.
The Hot Kid.
52 Pick Up.
When the Women Come Out to Dance. The title story has one of
the best plot turns I've ever seen.
Last Stand at Saber River.
Out of Sight.
Be Cool. Have read this three times now, I think.
Lucky You. (not sure)
Paul Bowles (the most underrated, or at least under-read, writer I know of):
Their Heads are Green and their Hands are Blue.
Collected Short Stories. See above, for a review.
Paul and Jane Bowles. Jane sucked. She was as bad as Paul was good.
The Sheltering Sky. Another bleak one from Bowles, this one in novel length.
He was much better at short stories.
Thomas Paine (skimmed or read in part):
Rights of Man
Zora Neale Hurston:
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Moses, Old Man of the Mountain
H. Rider Haggard:
She. Great pulp.
King Solomon's Mines.
Begin to Exit Here.
Night of the Avenging Blowfish.
Philip Lopate -- see above, in essays.
Choice of Evil.
The Mind's Eye.
Writing, and the English and American languages
Bird by Bird. Ann Lamott. This is a pretentious, repetitive book, full of irrelevancies
(the "spiritual" benefits of writing and that sort of nonsense), and with little practical advice.
Also, it's egocentric almost to the point of solipsism.
Self-editing for Fiction Writers. Renni Browne and Dave King.
The Sell-Your-Novel Toolkit. Elizabeth Lyon.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Lynne Truss. Vastly enjoyable. Strunk and White for punctuation.
"Sticklers unite. You have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion, and arguably
you didn't have a lot of that to begin with."
For proof that we need more like Truss, see the first page of
this link I stumbled across.
It's past time someone ranted about this subject, and Truss is a master at ranting.
Her own punctuation, though, tends to be a bit erratic:
see this link.
The Elements of Style. Strunk and White.
2001 Guide to Literary Agents. Edited by Donya Dickerson.
Chicago Manual of Style. No, I didn't read it; I browsed it.
Reading Like a Writer. Francine Prose.
Biography, Autobiography, and Memoirs
About Alice. Calvin Trillin. The most loving, touching, perfectly written tribute
to a dead mate that you will ever read.
Been There, Done That. Eddie Fisher. Or, as his daughter Carrie describes the book,
"Been There, Done Them". Tell-all memoir by a cynical has-been, with the focus on the women he did.
Almost the only one he shows any respect to is Marlene Dietrich.
The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon. Donald Hall. Domestic life in a
house of two famous poets. Disappointing; one expects a famous poet to write well.
Burning the Days. James Salter. See also above, for more by Salter.
The Bride of the Wind. Susanne Keegan. Biography of Alma Mahler, wife of Gustav Mahler,
Walter Gropius, Franz Werfel, lover of Oskar Kokoschka, loved by Gustav Klimt, etc., etc., etc.
Cheever: A Life.Blake Bailey. "John was two people," his wife (and others) said, and this
is certainly apparent: charming and rude, sunny and despairing, kind and vicious, bisexual.
The man portrayed here is at odds the manly patrician I'd always imagined him to be (the manly
patrician image he'd put about). I couldn't stop reading.
Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All. Christina Thompson. From her photo on
the inside cover, this woman is as blond as it´s possible to be, short of albinism. Further, she's a
Bostonian with a mother who grew up in a socially prominent Minneapolis family, and a professor father.
And she edits the Harvard Review. In New Zealand she meets a dark-skinned Maori, a manual laborer
with no education to speak of, and ends up marrying him (20+ years to date). She's a scholar of Pacifica,
and the book is as much about Maori history and colonialism as it is about her personal life.
The woman has a large spot of coldness in her -- she's the only writer I can recall who describes her
relationship with her spouse in utterly objective, affectless fashion. A good read.
Dark Harbor. Ved Mehta. Story of building a house on an island off the coast of Maine.
Dark Hero of the Information Age. Conway & Siegelman. Bio of Norbert Wiener. Didn't
read much of it. An odd guy, Wiener, with an odd life and a very odd marriage. A Jew, he was married
to an anti-Semite who mistreated him in the most underhanded of ways.
Dead Lucky. Lincoln Hall. Though his name sounds like a dormitory at a black college,
the author is actually a white Australian who climbs Himalayan peaks. That's a bit like being a
scuba diver from Chad, since Australia is the flattest continent and doesn't have any high peaks.
In this tome, he dies on Everest, comes back to life, and then has to deal with the consequences
of severe frostbite. Personally, I suspect that his pulse was simply undetectable and he wasn't
The Diary of Petr Ginz. Journal of a prodigy, a Jewish boy in Central Europe, written
during the Nazi occupation. For a brilliant boy living in extraordinary circumstances he certainly
kept a boring journal.
The Discomfort Zone. Jonathan Franzen. Essays/memoirs by the author of The Corrections.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Jean-Dominique Bauby. The book that inspired the movie.
Incredible, to think that he wrote this little masterpiece by blinking his left eye.
Dog Man. Martha Sherrill. (Purportedly) eccentric Japanese salaryman raises Akita
dogs in the mountains. Nicely written, but the writer tries to make more of this story than is there.
Edie. Jean Stein. I think this was the biography of Edie Sedgwick I read some years ago,
and finally gave away, not long before the current Edie craze took off.
The Education of Henry Adams. Henry Adams. Read between and third and a half of this,
all the time wondering why so many critics think so highly of it: repetitive, tendentious, at times
affected, and full of trivia.
The Eiger Obsession. John Harlin III, son of the legendary John Harlin II, works himself
up to climb the Eiger, the mountain on which his father died. Interesting only if you're a climber yourself.
Elvis and Me. Priscilla Presley. Judging by this book, Elvis was more of a freak than Michael Jackson.
Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries. Jim Carroll.
Growing Up. Russell Baker. Prose that's perfect without calling attention to itself,
superb storytelling, in an unusually selfless autobiography.
Hello, Vodka, Are You There? It's Me, Chelsea. Chelsea Handler. Not as good as her first book.
Almost no sex, either. Not that I equate goodness with sex, though now that I think of it, the idea is reasonable...
High Exposure. David Breashears. Mountaineering memoir by the Everest junkie and IMAX photographer.
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. Crystal Zevon. Bio of my second-favorite musician, Warren Zevon.
I usually don't like books that are cut-and-paste quotes from third parties and diaries, but this one
was gripping. The man's life was a train wreck, and he made the lives of everyone around him the same.
You have to read the book to believe the extent of it; there's no point in relating the anecdotes here.
Of all the rockers who've ever lived, his was probably the most messed-up life. Way more fucked up than
Elvis's, say, or Jim Morrison's.
I'm a Stranger Here Myself. Bill Bryson. Bryson's always fun to read: doesn't take
himself seriously, great sense of humor, interesting, quirky observations. After 20 years living in
England, married to an Englishwoman, he returns to the U.S. You'll see our country anew when you read this.
Infidel. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Autobiography of the famous, and controversial, Somali Dutch
woman. She grew up a Muslim in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, but eventually became a
secularized Westerner. As a child, her clitoris was cut off with a pair of scissors and her Quran
teacher broke her skull. That's not all of what she went through by a long shot. Her criticism of Islam,
especially its treatment of women, has drawn repeated death threats. Theo Van Gogh, whom she made
the movie "Submission" with, was killed for making that movie. The book is consistently interesting,
though it becomes a recitation toward the end. Even then, it remains engrossing, though perhaps
a bit self-serving. Certainly, I think, she has swung from being a true believer (in the Eric
Hoffer sense) in one thing to being a true believer in its opposite -- and a provocateur: the book
tones down or fails to mention many of her most inflammatory statements. I admire her guts. I agree
with many of her opinions. I'd hate to be her enemy, her tongue is so sharp.
An Italian Affair. Laura Fraser. A charming book, and a gracious woman (she signed a copy for me).
See also above, in math: biographies of Paul Erdos.
Life on the Color Line. Gregory Howard Williams. A white boy with a drop of black blood,
this is his memoir of finding out that he was mixed, and growing up in a ghetto. The black people treated
him a damn sight better, though he looks completely white, than the white people did. Marred by clumsy
writing, it's worth reading for the story.
Life with Picasso. Francois Gilot. Pablo comes across as possibly the world's most egocentric jerk.
Gilot, on the other hand, is consistently appealing. After she dumped Picasso for being an asshole, she ended
up marrying Jonas Salk (of Salk vaccine fame); interesting, that she should have been the muse of two such
accomplished men, so different from each other.
Living to Tell the Tale. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. At first I was charmed.
By the end of the book I was irritated. Marquez has a mental disorder. He claims, in all seriousness, to have
seen a faun on the streetcar one day, to have met a man with a "satanic" beast growing in his belly, and to
have lived in a village in the middle of which there was a magic land ruled by a sorceress who had all magical
powers but one (which was reserved to God).
The Lone Samurai. William Scott Wilson. Bio of Miyamoto Musashi, the medieval Japanese
swordsman; reads like adolescent hero worship.
Manhood for Amateurs. Michael Chabon. Some shrewd insights, wittily put, and some tiresome
prototypical SNAG (sensitive-new-age-guy) stuff as well.
The Mistress's Daughter. A. M. Homes. In her early thirties, Homes is tracked down by
the birth mother who gave her up at the age of three days. The woman, and the birth father, and the
story, are creepy. Homes is no paragon of sanity, either.
Monturiol's Dream. Matthew Stewart. Biography of the Catalan who invented the first
My Sense of Silence. Lennard J. Davis. Growing up the hearing child of deaf parents.
No Shortcuts to the Top. Ed Viesturs with David Roberts. I enjoyed this book, but with increasing
irritation. Many mountaineering books are like this: the writers don't have the patience to do the job properly.
They can't wrestle with ghosts, the way they wrestle with concrete problems in the Himalayas. The result, in
this case, is distinctly slapdash, haphazard, disorganized and informally conversational, as if much of it
were recorded over the fourth beer in a sports bar. I expect better when David Roberts is co-writer.
Still, you'll get a clearer idea of what's involved (on a pragmatic level) in big-mountain expeditioneering
than from most other comparable books -- if you can stand the sloppiness of the writing.
One Degree West. Julene Bair. Memoir of a western Kansas farm girl.
Off to the Side. Jim Harrison. Starts great, then deteriorates into name-dropping.
Patches from Life's Crazy Quilt. Marvin Arnett. Memoir of a black woman's childhood in
Detroit during the Depression and WW II.
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. Ulysses S. Grant. A masterpiece. His friend Mark Twain
must have helped him with it. There was a time when this book was almost as ubiquitous on middle-class
bookshelves in this country as was the Bible. Grant was too trusting, and for that reason his administration
was ridden with scandal, and he was defrauded by men he trusted. To provide for his wife, he wrote this
book as he was dying of throat cancer. He managed to finish the task a week before he died. A great man,
a great warrior, and a great writer, he was nevertheless utterly incompetent in the Presidency.
Rimbaud. Graham Robb. Robb draws too many conclusions from inadequate evidence -- but
that's the nature of any Rimbaud biography. This was a consistently interesting read, and much better
than a hagiography of Rimbaud I read many years ago. Writers always have strong, well-defined positions
on the man. This is probably one of the most balanced bios.
The Spiral Staircase. Karen Armstrong. Quite an extraordinary career: nun, academic, teacher,
filmmaker, writer. And extraordinary writing, too, until the last third of the book, which becomes a dull
chronological narration lacking in style and texture. The book is most interesting when her life was most
troublesome, and loses force after she overcomes her problem.
Stuart: A Life Backwards. Alexander Masters. Bio of an English street person, who ran
away dozens of times, sniffed glue, had gang fights, spent years in jail, etc. -- but has kept his
This I Cannot Forget. Anna Larina. Memoir of Nikolai Bukhharin's widow; about what you'd
expect, but more so. One more book that makes me thankful I was born here, and not in a totalitarian society.
Touching the Void. Joe Simpson.
Since I used to be a climber, epic stories of disasters in the mountains always appeal to me.
I've been through a few epics myself. But this one is on a scale that almost passes belief.
Simpson's a real hard guy: he never quits, gives it his all, takes it as it comes,
without self-pity; he shrugs off the pain and struggle. His attitude was "I'm better, and I'm
going to show that this mountain can be done, and build my career". He paid the price,
but he doesn't complain; I've heard him interviewed on the radio, where he's equally matter-of-fact.
He reminds me a lot of some of the guys I used to know in Yosemite.
A Tuscan Childhood. Kinta Beevor. Memoir of growing up in a castle in Italy
between the world wars, with walls so thick they grew trees on top of the ramparts. In the evening, they would
drive the chickens into the dungeon to protect them from the foxes. There was a waterfall inside
the castle. A magical read.
The Virgin of Bennington. Katherine Norris. Her essays are better.
Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. Larry McMurtry. Who knew that he's an even better
essayist than a writer of fiction?
West of the Thirties. Edward T. Hall. Memoir by the famous anthropologist of living
and working among the Hopi and Navajo during the Depression. The first half is interesting, but then
he seems to have run out of steam, and his tendency to switch subjects in the middle of a paragraph
gets much worse, not to mention the profundities he writes about the Indians. It's often difficult
to get any idea what he's talking about, his sentences are so full of vague generalities.
What It Used to Be Like. Maryann Burk Carver. A truly discouraging memoir of her
marriage to the writer Raymond Carver, starting with teen love, pregnancy and marriage at 16,
unending economic desperation, constant moves from place to place, alcoholism, marital violence
(some of it life-threatening), multiple bankruptcies, and infidelities. This description is
actually an understatement. The word "egocentric" is inadequate for Raymond Carver; "solipsistic"
is closer to the mark, though still short of it.
Woman of Rome. Lily Tuck. Life of Elsa Morante, perhaps best known as the wife of
Alberto Moravia, but an important writer herself.
Zappa. Barry Miles. Zappa comes across as a heavyhanded, overbearing, pompous ass --
something that's evident in his music, come to think of it. He always thought he was smarter than
his listeners, and wrote his music that way -- he'd write twenty bars of something fantastic and
then abruptly change it into something else completely unrelated. It pisses me off every time,
and this book limns the personality that drove that sort of mangled creativity.
Subcategory: Sexual Memoirs (also see above, under "pornography").
100 Strokes of the Brush before Bed. Melissa P. Sexual memoir of a 16-year-old Sicilian girl.
Jejeune, sordid, and egotistical. And not at all erotic. How can anyone have such varied and plentiful
sex and make it come across so unsexy? Especially an Italian?
Bare. Elisabeth Eaves. One incredibly sexy woman's memoir of working as a nude dancer.
The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker. Suzanne Portnoy. Supposedly an erotic
memoir, but obviously fictionalized. I mean, how many superlong penises are there in London?
Fewer than she claims to have had. Either that, or the woman lives in some kind of porn hallucination.
Callgirl. Jeannette Angell. She protests too much: near the start of the book, she asserts,
in italics, It's only a job, and goes on at great length about the hypocrisy with which we treat
prostitution; then, all the way through, she's snobbish toward and fearful of her streetwalking sisters;
increasingly, and especially at the end, she talks about the disgust she comes to feel for the work.
She has multiple degrees, including a Ph.D., but her education hasn't helped her writing. This is a mediocre book.
Candy Girl. This is a good read, about stripping, working at a peep show, and phone sex work,
though it tries a bit too hard sometimes, with the machine-gun humor and the obscure references,
especially brand names and music. If she were wound a little less tight,
the book would be much better, though it's plenty good as is. Proof that not all women
who do this kind of work were sexually abused, nor exploited.
Love Sick. Sue William Silverman. Hackneyed, inauthentic, and unconvincing.
Memoirs of a Beatnik. Diane di Prima. After reading this, I wish I'd been a beatnik.
My Horizontal Life. Chelsea Handler. Comic sexual memoir. In places, it's hilarious,
but she's reminiscent of Warren Zevon's line "I'm looking for a woman with low self-esteem". Handler does
that Jewish thing of picking at herself as if she were a scab she wants to pull off and get rid of.
Still, even if the book is depressing, it's also howlingly funny. Read the chapter in which her father comes
home and catches her in bed with an extremely well-endowed black man; then tell me she's not a brilliant comic...
If anyone doubts that women in the U.S. have achieved sexual parity with men, this book should dispel that illusion.
A Round-Heeled Woman. Jane Juska. Woman who hasn't had sex in decades places an ad
in the New York Review of Books that goes like this: "Before I turn 67 -- next March -- I would
like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me."
This book is about the responses she got, and what she did with them. ("Round-heeled" is definitely
an exaggeration.) There's also a lot of her history in it; something of a pity party.
Also, if one believes, as I do, that "anything too good to be true, isn't", then the character
Graham is obviously made up from whole cloth.
My Secret Life. "Walter". A depraved man; when he wasn't whoring, he was raping. The subtext seems
to be that since women enjoy sex, it's okay to force them to have it. Still, it's an interesting look at
Victorian attitudes toward sex, which were considerably more complicated than most of us realize.
The Sexual Life of Catherine M. Catherine Millet. Caused a sensation in France -- and for
good reason. Who could have imagined a sex life like hers?
The Surrender. Toni Bentley. The author's sexual history. Once both a famous ballerina
and a famous writer (a tough double to pull off), Bentley is off her game here. This is the funniest
sexual autobiography I've ever read, but unintentionally so. All the hallmarks of bad writing, fuzzy thinking,
and self-delusion are present: extreme hyperbole, unsupported generalizations and fallacious reasoning,
the overuse of strong adjectives, sentence fragments, and (on nearly every page) the worst puns
I can remember ever seeing on the printed page. Read it for laughs. That's all it's good for.
Anyone who tries to convince me that anal sex is the path to God should at least make an effort to be
convincing. Instead, this book reads like de Sade channeling the ecstatic drivel in a teen girl's diary.
See this withering review for more detail.
The Tricky Part. Martin Moran. Memoir of sexual abuse from the ages of 12 to 15,
which led him to compulsively seek sex as an adult.
Unaccompanied Women.Jane Juska. The sequel to A Round-Heeled Woman. There are so
many discrepancies in this book, and between it and the prior book, that I think much of what she writes
is untrue -- especially Graham, whom I'm convinced is imaginary (see above).
Whip Smart.Melissa Febos. Memoir by a woman who worked as a dominatrix while in college,
and for a few years afterward. She was also a cocaine and heroin addict. In the end, she says, the truth
made her free. Highly introspective, a good writer, obviously very intelligent, yet I couldn't connect
with the person behind the page. And the claim that she recovered her innocence flies in the face of
everything I've ever seen. I wish her well, though, and I'm happy for her.
Algorithms. Robert Sedgewick.
Writing Solid Code.
The C Programming Language. Known to all; the original, the one and only.
C/C++ Programmer's Reference.
C++: An Introduction for Experienced C Programmers.
C++: How to Program.
Thinking in C++.
Learning the Korn Shell.
HTML: The Definitive Guide.
Java in a Nutshell.
Another book on Java, the name of which escapes me.
Mac OS X In a Nutshell. Jason McIntosh. Can you believe the author's name?
File System Forensic Analysis.
The Pragmatic Programmer.
Structured Programming in PL/1. Read maybe 10%.
Various technical manuals -- Hammer, Genesys, and whatever, all of them soporific and most in need of editing.
Books I want to get around to reading.
Understanding the Linux Kernel. O'Reilly Books.
Linux Kernel Development. Robert Love.
Asterisk. The new open-source PBX application, running on Linux.
All of Luigi Cavalli-Sforza's books.
Science and Civilization in China
3rd edition of Make (GNUMake?) from O'Reilly
19 Deadly Sins of Software Security, by Howard, LeBlanc, and Viega
The Fragility of Goodness, by Martha Nussbaum?
The Oxford Encylopedia of Language
The Genius of China Robert Temple. Didn't get around to reading this, though
I had a copy (library due date, you know), so will
put it at the bottom here to remind myself to read it someday, particularly if I
can't find a copy of Joseph Needham's Science and Civilization in China.
High-Tech Trash. Elizabeth Grossman.
Unconventional success : a fundamental approach to personal investment. David Swensen. Turgid.
The author is the guy who's had such staggering success running the investments for the Yale endowment.
I read about a third of this; for some reason, I seem to think that reading the rest will help me
personally with my investments. Ha! If I had money to invest.
The Way We Eat. Peter Singer
The Foreign Correspondent. Alan Furst
Miyamoto Musashi. Kenji Tokitsu. Already have read one bio of this guy.
Between the Lines. Parisi and Young. A history of Poetry in letters, 1962 - 2002.
Birth. Tina Cassidy.
The Oxford History of Islam. John L. Esposito.
Things I Didn't Know. Robert Hughes.
Overthrow. Steven Kinzer. A century of regime change by the U.S., from Hawaii to Iraq.
Life in Arabia with a Saudi Princess. Teresa McCown. Assistant to an Arab princess.
Godel's Incompleteness Theorems. Smullyan
Language and Linguistics. John Lyons.
Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American Writers. Edward Hemingway and Mark Bailey.
Described by the N.Y. Times are a "field guide to the hard-drinking subspecies of the American author".
The Art of Mingling. Jeanne Martinet. (What a last name, eh?) How to make chitchat with
total strangers: no jokes, no help from friends, how to listen, what not to ask, don't mingle more than
15 minutes before moving on, and don't argue with drunks.
Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System. Stephen Kiernan.
The Flute Book. Nancy Toff. Explanation of split E keys and such. I play the flute.
The Development of the Modern Flute. Nancy Toff.
The Greek Way. Edith Hamilton. I'm hoping this is better than The Roman Way.
The Blind Side. Michael Lewis. I read the article in the N. Y. Times Sunday magazine
about the kid who's the center of this book. A fairy tale story, of someone who grows up in utterly
hopeless conditions and because of luck, the generosity of people around him, and his physical talents,
State of War. James Risen. The subtitle describes it: "The secret history of the CIA
and the Bush administration".
Princess. Jean Sasson. The subtitle: "A true story of life behind the veil in Saudi Arabia".
Interpreter of Maladies. Jhumpa Lahiri. The little I've seen of these stories, they
seem quite compelling.
Heat. Bill Buford. "An amateur's adventures as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker
and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany."
The Science Times Book of Language and Linguistics. N. Y. Times, edited by Nicholas Wade.
The Hidden Life of Dogs. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. Author of The Old Way.
The Definitive Book of Body Language. Allan and Barbara Pease. I read a fair chunk
of this, and much seemed wrong, but I'd like to read more.
Stone Age Economics. Marshall Sahlins.
Everything you know about sex is wrong.Edited by Russell Kick. Contains such interesting topics as:
How circumcision hurts your sex life.
The world's largest erotic archive (287,000 movies!) that no one is allowed to see.
FAA reports about people screwing on commercial flights.
What you need to know about orgies.
Life Is Meals. James Salter -- need I say more?
Lost Girls. The nasty adventures of Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy
(yes, you read that right -- the little girls all grown up).
Alphabets of the World. F. Ballhorn
The nature and growth of modern mathematics. Kramer and Kramer.
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11. Lawrence Wright.
The Family that Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery. D. T. Max.
Strip City: a stripper's farewell journey across America. Lily Burana.
The Lusty Lady. Erika Langley.
Lapdancer. Juliana Beasley
Thank you for arguing: what Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson can teach us about the art of persuasion.
Birding on Borrowed Time. Phoebe Snetsinger.
Warm Springs: Traces of a childhood at FDR's polio haven. Susan Richards Shreve.
Book on polio and Roosevelt by a woman who had polio.
On South Mountain David Cruise and Alison Griffiths.
Atheist Manifesto. Herman Philips.
Brian Greene's books.
Technics and Civilization. Lewis Mumford.
Normal Accidents. Charles Perrow.
Fear Up Harsh. Tony Lagouranis. He tortured in Iraq.
Prime Green. Robert Stone
Living in a Foreign Language. Michael Tucker.
The Cult of the Amateur. Andrew Keen.
Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon: A Journey through Bhutan. Katie Hickman.
So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas. Barbara Crossette.
Persian Fire. Tom Holland.
Spoken Here. Mark Abley.
Intensive Care: A Doctor's Journal. John F. Murray.
Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. Michael Perry.
The Devil Came on Horseback. Brian Steidle. Eyewitness to Darfur.
Microsoft Windows Internals. Mark Russinovich.
Religion of Peace? Why Islam isn't one.
Wanderer. Sterling Hayden. And maybe his novel Voyage.
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. Letters from Mother Teresa to her spiritual guides,
lamenting 50 years lacking in the presence of Jesus. Spiritual dryness and barrenness. Who would
The Assault on Reason. Al Gore.
The Unheard: a memoir of deafness and Africa. Josh Swiller. Regained his hearing, I think,
then lost most of it again.
On Growth and Form. D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson.
An Unexpected Light. Jason Elliot. Book on Afghanistan by a Westerner who fought with the mujahedin.
American Plastic. Jeffrey Meikle. A history of plastic.
The World. Travels 1950 - 2000. Jan Morris.
The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World. Adam Jacot de Boinod.
Birth : the surprising history of how we are born. Tina Cassidy.
What it Takes. Richard Ben Cramer. Deep analysis of Democratic and Republican candidates in
1988 -- Hart, Bush, etc.
Human Universals. Donald E. Brown.
How to Learn a Foreign Language. Arthur H. Charles, Jr.
The "Language Instinct" Debate. Geoffrey Sampson. Alternative title: "Educating Eve".
A Claim in the Hills. James Wickenden. This is a novel about diamond hunting
with the Patamona Indians, which I read when I was young.
The Symbolic Species: the co-evolution of language and the brain. Terrence W. Deacon.
What It Takes. Richard Ben Cramer. Massive tome analyzing the Presidential candidates in '88.
The Anti-Chomsky Reader. Collier and Horowitz.
Too Close to Call. Jeffrey Toobin. The 2000 election.
Truth, knowledge, or just plain bull. Bernard M. Patten.
The Linguistics Wars. Randy Allen Harris.
A History of Pirates. Nigel Cawthorne.
To the Summit. Joseph Poindexter. Coffee table book of big mountains.
Florida's Living Beaches; A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber. Blair and Dawn Witherington.
Borzoi Book of French Folk Tales. Wherein is found the insuperable "Father Big Nose".
How to Keep Your Language Alive. Leanne Hinton.
The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice.
Turkish, A Guide to the Spoken Language. United States Department of the Army; U.S. Gov't Printing Office.
A Linguistic History of English. Robert A. Peters.
Turkish Grammar. Robert Underhill.
The Adventure of English; the Biography of a Language. Melvyn Bragg.
African Voices: An Introduction to the Languages and Linguistics of Africa. Vic Webb and Kembo-Sure, editors.
Turkey, A Country Study. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. Edited by Helen Chapin Metz.
How Language Works. David Crystal. Have only read half -- to chapter 30.
An areal-typological study of American Indian languages north of Mexico. Sherzer, Joel. (1976).
Tragic Sense of Life. Miguel de Unamuno.
The Pig that Wants to be Eaten. Julian Baggini. Philosophical thought experiments.
Narrow Road to a Far Province. Basho.
The State of Minority Languages. William Foss et al.
Language Endangerment and Language Revitalization. Tasoku Tsunoda.
Condemned Without a Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education. Stephen Krashen.
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. John Perkins.
The Emperor of Scent: a story of perfume, obsession, and the last mystery of the senses. Chandler Burr.
Uncharted Course. Anthony Duke. Memoir of one of the Duke family.
Computer Power and Human Reason. Joseph Weizenbaum.
Heloise: Hints for a Healthy Planet.
Against the American Grain. Dwight MacDonald.
Taxi to the Dark Side.
Standard Operating Procedure.
The Fog of War.
A Small Death in Lisbon.
Dust. Martha Grimes.
Fatal Remedies. Donna Leon.
The Costa Rica Reader. Palmer and Molina.
The Golden Ratio. Mario Livio.
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
Philosophy 101. Stanley Rosen.
Kansas City Jazz. Driggs and Haddix.
The Greatest Story Ever Sold. Frank Rich.
The American Way of War.
Unpacking the Boxes. Donald Hall. Memoir by a poet.
The Dead Travel Fast. Eric Nuzum. Analysis of vampire novels and movies.
Oxherding Tale. Charles Johnson.
The Middle Passage. Charles Johnson.
Condemned Without Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education. Stephen Krashen?
Babylon by Bus. Ray LeMoine, Jeff Neumann, Donovan Webster.
The Well-Dressed Ape.
Tales of Uncle Tsompa. Bawdy Tibetan stories.
James Salter. William Dowie.
One Man's Mountains. Tom Patey.
Tracings. Paul Horgan.
Leadings. Irene Lape, who was “a Roman Catholic who went through Catholicism into Quakerism
and back into Catholicism over a period of many years”.
740 Park. Michael Gross.
Math and the City. Steven Strogatz.
The Twin. Gebrand Brekker. From Archipelago Press.
Probability Angels. Joseph Devon.
Mighty Giants. Chris Bolgiano. Collection of writings about the American Chestnut.
The Jew in the Lotus. Rodger Kamenetz. Jews get together with the Dalai Lama,
who wants to know how they've kept their culture alive in exile for millenia.
Also, unexpected linguistic similarities turn up.
Satchel Paige's America. William Price Fox.
Bad Money. Kevin Phillips.
The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. C. K. Scott Moncrief.
Elsewhere, U.S.A. Dalton Conley.
Meaning from Data: Statistics Made Clear. Michael Starbird. DVD, The Great Courses.
Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft. Brooks Landon. DVD, The Great Courses.
Great Battles of the Ancient World. Garrett Fagan. DVD, The Great Courses.
Economics. Timothy Taylor. DVD, The Great Courses.
On the Life and Death of Languages. Claude Hagege (?).
Masquerade. Penelope de la Cruz. Follow up to "Blue Bloods".
Vanishing Voices. Suzanne Romaine and Daniel Nettle. Language death and preservation, and urbanization.
Understanding Linguistics. John McWhorter.
This I Cannot Forget. Anna Larina. (Widow of Nikolai Bukharin.)
Lydia and Maynard. Letters between J. M. Keynes and his wife Lydia Lopokova. Lydia's endearments
to her lover are endlessly charming.
Books I checked out of the library but didn't have time to read.
Suburban Nation. Duany, Zyberk, and Speck.
The Penguin Guide to Medieval Europe. Richard Barber.
Medieval Europe, A Short History. Bennett and Hollister.
Life in a Medieval Village. Gwyneth Morgan.
Clothing in the Middle Ages. Lynne Elliott.
LIfe in the Middle Ages. Robert Delort.
The Swerve. Stephen Greenblatt. Thoughts on Lucretius's poem "On the nature of things".
The Voyage of the Rose City. John Moynihan. College student (son of a Senator) joins
the merchant marine.