12 May 2004. Selected Papers on Computer Languages, Donald E. Knuth. It is so easy to imagine Knuth in the 1960's, in this exploding field, keeping track of everything at once. Amazing.
10 May 2004. The Opposite of Fate, Amy Tan. Collected essays over the years, quite engaging, I found. Some repeated anecdotes, as expected. I especially enjoyed the snapshots. I wish more books included pictures.
7 May 2004. The Holland Suggestions, John Dunning. His first novel, published in 1975. Perhaps the hypnosis premise is a bit hokey, and his Janeway novels are a lot more refined, for sure, but it was fun anyway. Ghost towns, gold mining, hitchhikers, all the elements.
5 May 2004. Black Earth, Andrew Meier. Like the subtitle says, a journey through Russia after the fall. I was glad to get some facts from the ground.
4 May 2004. Face of the Assassin, David L. Lindsey. Even when thrillers are complex and unpredictable, I still feel let down at the end. I don't know why.
2 May 2004. Down Here, Andrew Vachss. Burke again. He still writes the hardest, sparest prose I've ever seen.
22 April 2004. Lady, Lady I did It, Ed McBain. Still in 1960, with the cops booking people on "suspicion" and beating up targets (with justification, of course). Good stuff, for all that.
20 April 2004. Something Rising (Light and Swift), Haven Kimmel. Another really good book from her. I would have liked more pool, like Walter Tevis's classics (The Hustler and The Color of Money), but ok, still a winner.
18 April 2004. Out of the Flames, Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone. I liked the Renaissance book information especially, and the capsule biographies of assorted figures of the time, many of whom I'd heard of or knew assorted facts about, but had no clear idea of what their lives were like, such as Gutenberg, Loyola and John Calvin.
13 April 2004. How to be Good, Nick Hornby. Entertaining as before, and I admire him for not just writing the same book again. However, the lack of explanation for the mysterious powers of GoodNews leaves me kind of baffled. Ah well.
12 April 2004. About a Boy, Nick Hornby. We never tried the movie, and in fact I didn't even know it was a book, but I sure am liking this guy. Him and Westlake can both pull off humor, I'm amazed.
10 April 2004. How Town, Michael Nava. Filling in this series from the new library system. I did like it.
9 April 2004. Thieves' Dozen, Donald Westlake. It's been too long since I got some good Dortmunder laughs. Came along just in time.
8 April 2004. The Bookman's Wake, John Dunning. Perhaps not quite as original as the first, but satisfying. I was glad he didn't turn the series into a pastiche of itself, like so many other others.
3 April 2004. See Them Die, Ed McBain. Next in 87th Precinct. I appreciate his willingness to have things change, especially in the earlier books (in this one a detective dies).
2 April 2004. Zero Three Bravo, Mariana Gosnell. I read this book a couple of times before, and enjoyed it just as much this time. Travels around America in a small plane, that's all. It's just too bad she hasn't written anything else.
1 April 2004. I Am Not Jackson Pollock, John Haskell. It's labeled short stories, but they seem more essay than story to me. Yet definitely not really essays, getting in the mind of actors, actresses, Glenn Gould (how I heard about the book), Laika (the Russian dog who went up in Sputnik), etc. Very odd.
31 March 2004. Starmind, Spider & Jeanne Robinson. Less dance, more preaching. Heart is in the right place, but ...
28 March 2004. Booked to Die, John Dunning. Cop turns bookseller. I very much enjoyed all the discussion of modern authors, and the mystery part wasn't bad either. I'll be trying another.
26 March 2004. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby. This was a lot of fun. More laughs than I can remember any time recently, and sharp observations of relationships, who can ask for anything more?
24 March 2004. No Bone Unturned, Jeff Benedict. Biography of David Owsley, a pre-eminent bone scientist at the Smithsonian. Too much a collection of individual stories to be a great book, but it's still a fun (and fast) read. Much of the book is about the Kennewick Man case, a sad tale of sordid politics and political correctness wasting years of time and money.
23 March 2004. Girls in Trouble, Caroline Leavitt. This started well, a novel of a teenager giving up her baby for an open adoption. But after the birth, it just turned into cliches of yuppie adoptive parents who don't want her around, her own parents being blank walls, and her One True Love (the father), who disappeared for a while, was clearly coming back on the scene for some court scene. I gave up, regretfully.
22 March 2004. What Should I Do with My Life?, Po Bronson. Amazing book of people telling the stories of their lives, of all stripes. I got the paperback (after reading the hardcover) because it included a bunch of new stories, and I wasn't disappointed to read it again. Real lives, people struggling, making changes or not, just like you and me. Wow.
21 March 2004. Singular Intimacies, Danielle Ofri. This was good. Stories from Ofri's internship and residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Most of the chapters were originally separate essays, and it shows, but that's ok. A better glimpse inside the white coat than I can remember reading in a while. Not as intense as Walk on Water (Michael Ruhlman's book on pediatric surgery), but that's ok too, it's a different perspective. A doctor's perspective.
20 March 2004. Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby. I picked this up on my uncle's recommendation. It seemed very readable, but unfortunately I just don't know a single thing about English soccer, so all the references to teams and players (not always clear which is which) go right past me. Decided to skip it. I did notice he also wrote High Fidelity, so I'll try that sometime. I've heard of the Beatles.
19 March 2004. The Heckler, Ed McBain. 87th precinct from 1960, and the first about the Deaf Man, whom I never liked, always seemed too overblown. In this one half the waterfront burns with no real repercussions. Hmm.
18 March 2004. Remarkable Reads, edited by J. Peter Zane. A reasonably fun collection of essays by assorted writers on books that were the most "something" to them. Only got a few new books to try out of it, but the essays were pretty good in themselves. Found it through the interview with Haven Kimmel at Powell's.
Also finished the Conglomeroid Cocktail Party, short stories by Robert Silverberg that I bought many years ago through the Science Fiction Book Club. It was fun to reread them, and they were mostly pretty good, but it's going into the Goodwill pile anyway for someone else to enjoy. Gotta lighten the load.
17 March 2004. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri. I don't usually like short stories, and I don't usually like hyphenate-American books, but I sure did like these. Even more than her novel that I read a few days ago.
15 March 2004. Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville, Stephen Jay Gould. Collection of baseball-related essays. Gould was my initiation into evolution and scientific essays in general. The repetition and parentheticals that I found so intriguing at first have worn thin by now, and this final collection was no exception. Still, the guy could write. (For another take on basic every day questions ("why is the sky blue"), see Paul Colinvaux's Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare.)
13 March 2004. Bad Business, Robert Parker. Standard Spenser. Wish he'd do something original.
12 March 2004. Let's All Kill Constance, Ray Bradbury. Mysterious new novel about old-time film stars, as ghosts and otherwise. A quick read.
11 March 2004. Drop City, T.C. Boyle. Long and for me ultimately unsatisfying novel about hippies (set in 1970 or so) who move to Alaska. I enjoyed the and descriptions of Alaska and the subplots about the native Alaskans, but too much cynicism about the hippies for me. A (nonfiction) book about those times which I found much more moving is Sleeping Where I Fall, by Peter Coyote, which perhaps goes too far the other way, but at least takes it seriously.
8 March 2004. Paradise Creek, David Scott. A strange little book about living in the northern Canada wilderness, just for the fun of it. Writing is rough, to say the least, but kind of charming for that very reason.
5 March 2004. Ancestral Truths, Sara Maitland. From Book Lust, a strange romance starting with a mystery on an African mountain, but mostly about an English family. Reasonably interesting, at least I got to the end.
2 March 2004. Legends II, edited by Robert Silverberg. I enjoyed the fantasy-world novellas by Orson Scott Card (Alvin) and Silverberg (Majipoor) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods), but the rest, sorry, just seemed like jumbles of weird names.
29 February 2004. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri. I surprised myself by actually enjoying this novel about an Indian family in the USA, focused on the son, named Gogol (a la the Russian writer). Usually such stories feel like a chore to read, but this was a real pleasure.
23 February 2004. Solace of Leaving Early, Haven Kimmel. Quiet story of people, religious and otherwise, in an Indiana town. I found her memoir quite a bit more readable.
19 February 2004. Another Life, Michael Korda. History/autobiography of the publishing business, from the 50's to 2000. Plenty of fun vignettes of authors, politicians, and celebrities.
17 February 2004. Fried Butter, by Abe Opincar. More food than memoir, yet another unique take on autobiography. What did I know.
13 February 2004. Very much enjoyed A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel, a memoir of growing up (to age 10 or so) in a tiny town in Indiana. Turns out her favorite book is John Crowley's Little, Big!
11 February 2004. The Derailed, by James Siegel. I liked this new suspense novel quite a bit, right up to a crucial plot point where the protagonist gets out of a jam only due to an absurd coincidence. Oh well.
10 February 2004. Give the Boys a Great Big Hand, Ed McBain. The next in my rereading series, also from 1959. Also It Takes a Worried Man, by Brendan Halpin, about his dealing with his wife's cancer, which I liked just as much as his other book (which I read a few days ago). (Sadly, his wife died a few months ago.)
9 February 2004. The Last Juror, John Grisham. I give Grisham credit for not writing the exact same book over and over (like his first few), although the fact is, they just aren't that complex. Always fun, though.
4 February 2004. The Chess Artist, J.C. Hallman. Unusual book interweaving the (long and unclear) history of chess with traveling with a modern master (a very good, but not top, player). Focused on a trip to Kalmykia, a former Soviet republic, where the president is apparently trying to create a chess-based state. Very odd.
3 February 2004. Losing My Faculties, Brendan Halpin. Fun and funny book by a young teacher in the Boston area about his first several jobs. Makes me realize I could never, ever, have cut it as a high school teacher. Recommended by my Mom.
2 February 2004. Swimming to Antarctica, Lynne Cox. I'd never heard of Cox before, and this was amazing. She recounts her distance swims in incredible places (the Bering Strait, for one) in photographic detail. Writing is not exceptional, except about the actual swims, but the events sure are.
1 February 2004. The Naked Mountain, Reinhold Messner. 1970 expedition to Nanga Parbat on which Messner lost his brother. I respect him for writing it, and the climbing sections are good as always, but it's too much expedition politics for me, compared to his other books.
23-28 January 2004. Books read in airports and planes on a trip to visit relatives:
22 January 2004. Firewall, by Henning Mankell. An interesting police procedural set in Sweden. I appreciated the calm and work ethic of the protagonist; unfortunately the denouement seemed quite contrived. Ah well.
21 January 2004. Finished rereading Dreamcatcher, Stephen King's first book after his accident. I was somewhat disappointed on that account when I first read it, and it lacks the emotional intensity of his best (IMHO), but it still hangs together pretty well. And it's fun to visit Derry again. We've also been listening to some of his first stories (from Night Shift).
20 January 2004. Gave up on The Knight, by Gene Wolfe. Wolfe is one of the most literate writers I read, but in this book, as in most of his others recently, I'm afraid I just don't get the point. There always seems to be something going on that isn't stated that will make it all come clear, and I can never figure out what it was. When I was younger, I thought that was cool. Now I just find it frustrating. Also finished (more or less) The Unicode Standard, a technical book about a representation for all the characters in all the world's languages (living and a number of dead ones). Pretty amazing, all in all.
19 January 2004. King's Ransom, the next Ed McBain. Kidnapping in 1959. His latest 87th Precinct (2004) is also a kidnapping story.
18 January 2004. Finished listening to The Memory of Running, written and read by Ron McLarty. The author has a great voice. He's been a narrator for a long time, and is doing Salem's Lot, oh boy. But the main thing is, we really, really liked this book.
17 January 2004. Paged through Ordinary Girl, by Donna Summer. Couldn't actually read it. I was curious since she was part of the music when I was growing up, but it turned out to be a sanitized as-told-to sort of thing. Oh well. Also tried To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis (another Nancy Pearl recommendation, as humor), but sorry to say it made no sense to me. Too British or something, I guess.
16 January 2004. Robota, by Doug Chiang and Orson Scott Card. Chiang was one of the artistic directors of the second Star Wars trilogy, and it shows; over half the book is beautiful drawings of long lean robots and sturdy humans. The other half is a pretty standard story of post-robot-takeover that not even OSC could bring to life for me.
15 January 2004. Love, Loss, and What I Wore, by Ilene Beckerman (a Nancy Pearl recomendation). Another unique method of autobiography: on the left-hand page, a few words about Brownies, proms, marriage, divorce, you name it. On the right, a drawing of her outfit for the occasion. She reported on some mittens knit by her mother early on, but no picture.
14 January 2004. Finished Rag and Bone, Michael Nava's last mystery in his series. It was good. Unique combination of courtroom, investigation, and family. I wonder if he'll keep writing.
12 January 2004. Finished The Frumious Bandersnatch yesterday, Ed McBain's latest 87th precinct novel. No complaints, also no surprises. What was a surprise was Colin Harrison's The Havana Room, which ended up being the best new book I've read in quite a while, with, most amazingly, an ending that was satisfying and yet did not wrap everything up in a nice neat package. Makes me want to go back and reread his earlier novels, which I read, but remember nothing of. Also seems he's the husband of Kathryn Harrison, whose painful memoir I just coincidentally read.
10 January 2004. Went to the library yesterday. Tried Over the Edge, by Suzanne Brockman, another Nancy Pearl recommendation. It is "romantic suspense"; I've occasionally tried romance novels of various types, but never had any luck with them---and this one was no exception. Oh well.
8 January 2004. Finished rereading Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom. I enjoyed it a lot more than the first time. This time, I have to admit that the life lessons seemed a lot more simplistic. I may have been influenced by the jaded view of the book taken in So Many Books, though. Regardless, into the goodwill pile it goes. Load-lightening is always a good life lesson.
6 January 2004. Last night was 'Til Death, by Ed McBain, one of the early books in the 87th Precinct seres. I've been reading them in order, one every couple of weeks (starting not too long ago). I'm enjoying reading about police procedure in the 1950's -- pre-Miranda, for example.
5 January 2004. Finished Burning Plain by Michael Nava yesterday. I like his books, gay lawyer and investigator in Los Angeles. I usually get disappointed by the ending, as with so many books, but lots of good surprises in the middle.
2 January 2004. Finished Closing Arguments and The Kiss. Ok, I can see why they were on Nancy's list, but they just didn't get to me emotionally. Not in the right mood I guess. Also finished Please Don't Kill the Freshman, by Zoe Trope, a Portland (Oregon) high school student. Total journal, no narrative. I remember so much of those same endless horrible thoughts going through my head when I was 15 ...
31 December 2003. Didn't finish anything yesterday, but went to the library and picked up two books from Book Lust that seemed worthwhile when I read their first page in the library: Closing Arguments (Frederick Busch), and The Kiss (Kathryn Harrison). Also passed on several others, no matter how much Nancy liked them.
30 December 2003. Finished The Five People You Meet In Heaven, by Mitch Albom, given to us by Mare's parents. Although the framing story (a maintenance man at an amusement park) is ok, the "point" seemed like pretty much like a bad movie to me. Sorry.
29 December 2003. "Finished" Maxine Hong Kingston's Fifth Book of Peace last night. Heard about it through Powell's, I think. I thought the first section (nonfiction) on her experience at the Berkeley-Oakland fires, was superb. The long fiction section in the middle and the nonfiction at the end, I just couldn't respond to. It seemed to be trying to make a point, not tell a story, and no matter how much I agree with the points she wants to make, I just didn't want to sit there and read it.
28 December 2003. Also finished Beyond Civilization, by Daniel Quinn (author of Ishmael), last night. I've thought a lot about Quinn's books, which are more provoking and with more change-your-life potential than anything else around in my experience.
27 December 2003. Finished Death's Acre. It suffered a bit from the as-told-to syndrome, but Dr. Bass is such an engaging and forthright person it came through ok. Started Don't Kill the Freshman, by Zoe Trope, yesterday, a "memoir" written by a high school freshman. Journal style, with amusing pseudonyms. Not sure if I'll make it through.
26 December 2003. Finished Marge Piercy yesterday. Maybe I'm just dense, but overall, I just didn't see the point. Still pretty decent, though, I guess. Also started a quickie nonfiction book, Death's Acre by Bill Bass, who runs the so-called Body Farm, a research facility for studying decomposition of human bodies. So far I am liking it pretty well. It was another recommendation from Robin, who got onto it through Stiff, by Mary Roach, a really fun (!) book about the various uses of human cadavers.
25 December 2003. No kids in the house, so the morning's reading was more Marge Piercy. No special read for Christmas. Looking at Christmases past, I see I've never done a Christmas book since I started keeping a reading list:
24 December 2003. Finished Book Lust, by Nancy Pearl, yesterday afternoon. Another book of book recommendations, this one just a solid wall-to-wall (I mean, cover-to-cover) book list, no memoir, no autobiography, no fluff. I got about 50 books to try out of it, and that was just scratching the surface. I thought I read a lot ... I heard about this one from Robin, my librarian friend/colleague. (Who was also the source for So Many Books.) I wrote a long letter to Nancy Pearl about some of my all-time favorites, since she (astoundingly) invited recommendations from readers.
23 December 2003. Started The Third Child, by Marge Piercy. I was kind of hoping I wouldn't like this, I haven't been able to get into any of her other books recently. But I liked the couple of chapters. We'll see if it lasts. I think I heard about this from a book of interviews with poets (William Stafford, Mary Oliver, ...), Giving Their Word by Steven Latimer. It was unusual (and short) enough to be interesting, but all in all I found their poetry much more compelling.
22 December 2003. Finished So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson. Breezy is the word that comes to mind. Entertaining enough. I got a few possible recommendations out of it, which is always nice. But all in all I found myself frustrated that she picked and chose the books she wrote about. (She also has New York-publishing-world kind of tastes, for the most part, which I don't.) It was billed as a book a week, so I was expecting, well, a book a week. She ended up reading that much, but she sure didn't write about it. So I thought I would write something about every book I read for a while, and see how it goes. Here we go.