Don Hosek - Past reading

This is the archive of my reading. Soon, I'll put in the subject subindexes.

What I've been read in the past
DateAuthorTitle
Shirt of Flame: A Year with St Therese of Lisieux by Heather King
[Finished 26 June 2017] I actually had crossed paths with King back in the 90s when we both were semi-regulars at the Wednesday evening liturgy at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and that was what inspired me to get this book. Fortunately, there’s more depth to it than that and I had to check myself and slow down as I read it because this is a book meant to be consumed in small pieces and re-chewed repeatedly. What King has created is a sort of modern Spiritual Exercises, taking events from the life of St Therese as well as King’s own experiences (with an implicit invitation to the reader to bring her own experiences to the table). I think I might return to this book again spending a whole month praying with each chapter in the manner that is implicitly suggested in the book’s structure.

Stories of Rebbe Nachman
[Finished 20 June 2017] I hoped to get a feel for the language and style of Jewish folktales from this and I suppose I did, but at least stylistically, this is not something I can use for the writing project I wanted to employ it in.

Walk in Darkness by Hans Habe
[Finished 19 June 2017] A pulp-y novel written just after the war with a rather heavy-handed message about racism in America and Europe.

J. D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski
[Finished 15 June 2017] As a biographer Slawenski’s contribution is to attempt to fill in the gaps of Salinger’s military service employing the experiences of others to provide some sense of what Salinger experienced between his landing as part of the D-Day invasion until his arrival in Munich. The greater contribution though is in the reading of Salinger’s published work, where Slawenski shows himself as a talented and sympathetic reader. Slawenski spends little time on the uncollected stories, although he does highlight some of the more significant works, but it’s the collected stories especially where Slawenski shows himself to be a superb guide.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
[Finished 27 May 2017] I think I would have liked Mandel to have been a little more commercial in some aspects of her storytelling (there are some distressing loose ends in the story that I would have liked to have seen tied up, especially given Mandel’s reliance on coincidence in other aspects of her plotting), but in many ways this is the book that I wish The Stand would have been. The looks back at the life of Arthur Leander provided a depth to the characters that made the book especially enjoyable.

A Separation by Katie Kitamura
[Finished 27 May 2017] I was not especially impressed.

Functional Programming in JavaScript by Luis Atencio
[Finished 26 May 2017] Employing functional idioms in JavaScript has been a growing trend and here Atencio does a good job of showing how best to exploit the benefits of FP in JS while also providing a good introduction to the benefits of FP in general.

Functional Programming in Scala by Paul Chiusano and Rúnar Bjarnason
[Finished 26 May 2017] Another good introduction to FP, here Chiusano and Bjarnason dedicate most of the book to re-implementing basic library functionality as a means of explaining the benefits of functional programming and showing how these things can be implemented in Scala. There’s an assumption of some familiarity with Scala programming in the book which makes some of the examples a bit inscrutable at times, but this is otherwise an excellent book.

Las Puertas Retorcidas by Kathie Dior
[Finished 18 May 2017] See my review at dahosek.com

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
[Finished 16 May 2017] Freeman sets us up for one story, about a family who are recruited to teach sign language to a chimpanzee, then throws a curveball in moving to a historical narrative that begins to explore the racial undertones of the study. She doesn’t completely manage to connect the dots in a satisfactory way (although I wonder how much of that might be a blind spot on my part as a white male reader). Even so, I enjoyed reading this and look forward to the possibility of more books from Greenidge in the future.

Summer of the Red Wolf by Morris West
[Finished 15 May 2017] I’m most familiar with West’s religiously-oriented fiction, his novels about the papacy and other institutional aspects of the Catholic Church, so it’s a bit of a change to read something like this which is largely secular in its subject matter although even as such, West’s Catholic sensibilities manage to make themselves known in his writing. The story was pretty compelling although West takes a bit of a cheat in his story’s conclusion,

Suicide and Attempted Suicide by Erwin Stengel
[Finished 2 May 2017] Aside from being several decades out of date and occasionally racist (it attributes violence in suicides to an inherent attribute among black people), this is still an interesting read, if only for its snapshot of perspectives on suicide in the mid-1960s.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
[Finished May 2017] I had high hopes for this book after reading The Small Backs of Children, but I found myself not especially thrilled with this one. The whole skin grafts thing felt forced and none of the characters really lived in my mind.

The One-Eyed Man by Ron Currie Jr
[Finished 28 April 2017] This book started out strong with the narrator, K. (I assume an unsubtle reference to Kafka) demonstrating himself caught up in literal interpretation of nearly everything he encounters, presumably as the consequence of the trauma surrounding his wife’s death. I was curious to see how Currie would spin this character out into a novel-length work of fiction and sadly, I found myself disappointed with the result. I suspect that there might not be a way for there to be a satisfying conclusion. What we end up with is K. becoming the star of a reality show whose literalistic view of the world tends to result in K.’s being subjected to violence, culminating with K. coming up against a group of gun fanatics.

We’re Alive and Life Goes On: A Theresienstadt Diary by Eva Roubičková
[Finished 26 April 2017] A nice ground-level view of life in the Terezín ghetto.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett
[Finished 25 April 2017] I found Bennett’s frame for the story, a first-person plural narrative told by the members of the prayer circle at a San Diego-area African-American church to be underused overall, but the story as told, about two friends and the challenges that they face around sex and pregnancy was plenty to keep me hooked.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
[Finished 24 April 2017] I feel like there was a much better book that Hosseini was afraid to write. I really wanted this book to focus on the pain surrounding the giving up of Pari in the first chapter. Instead, Hosseini takes himself into exploring all sorts of tangential matters and really only directly faces the question at the end of the book. That said, it’s far from fair to judge a book for not being the book that was written, and what Hossein did write has a lot to commend it, just not enough for me to completely love the book.

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier
[Finished 23 April 2017] There’s something about this novel that felt exactly like what I needed to read right now. After a chance encounter, Raimund Gregorius, a middle-aged teacher of Latin and Greek finds himself compelled into a fascination with Portuguese language and culture and discovers a book of brief essays by Amadeu Prado which leads him on an impromptu trip to Portugal where he spends his time trying to uncover Prado’s life and understand who he was, largely by managing to find Prado’s surviving friends and family. Beautifully written and hard to put down.

Americanah by Chimimandah Ngozi Adichie
[Finished 12 April 2017] At times brilliant, but too often just dull. It felt like Adichie wasn’t quite up to fully facing the issues that she writes about in this novel. Add in a flat lifeless ending after a dull final section and what could have been a great book came out as merely average.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
[Finished 8 April 2017] Beautifully written. Tinti does character like no one else and her characters live on the page in ways that other authors (myself included) can only aspire to.

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit
[Finished 4 April 2017] I put in a hold request for this book in December. It wasn’t until the end of March that a copy finally became available. I’m not the only one looking for hope in the dark, it seems.

Written in the midst of the second Bush administration (after the Iraq war and before the 2004 election), things seemed grim for progressives. Republican control over congress had increased and there were no apparent consequences for the illegitimate invasion of Iraq. What Solnit endeavors to do is reinforce that “the dark” means the unknown and not the terrible and that while progress may be slower than we like, it is inevitable. I had hoped for some concrete plans of action to come from reading the book, but solace was an acceptable consolation.

The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise by Georges Perec
[Finished 2 April 2017] Absolutely brilliant. Written without any sort of pauses, Perec starts with a flowchart and explores all the possible paths through the flowchart with humor and style and where it could have grown repetitive, instead this remains compellingly readable all the way through.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
[Finished 1 April 2017] Saunders has increasingly become a writer invested in language. I noticed it reading Tenth of December and in this book, he quite masterfully writes using nineteenth century American diction. Unfortunately, his characters never quite come alive in this book (which can only be partly attributed to the fact that most of his characters are dead), and that ended up leaving this as less of a book than it could have been.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
[Finished 26 March 2017] A fascinating account of missionary life in Congo around the time of Congolese independence. Kingsolver lost me a bit as she followed her characters after the family left the village where they had their mission—while I agree with her politics, she doesn’t quite have the knack of making the political into compelling fiction—but the first part of the book which treats of the family’s attempts to deal with the realities of Africa and how the idealistic vision of how the mission would work were plenty fascinating.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
[Finished 10 March 2017] A largely plotless book, but with beautiful prose, so I suppose that goes a long way towards making up for it.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 27: The Whisperer War by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Stegano Gaudiano and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 10 March 2017] A number of big reveals in plot and character along with a nearly non-stop plot make for a pretty good installment in the saga.

Momma: A Start on All the Untold Stories by Alta
[Finished 8 March 2017] An interesting mix of memoir and poetry with Alta adopting her own idiosyncratic spelling and punctuation rules which keeps it from being too formal. As a view into the challenges of motherhood, even with almost fifty years past since the writing of the book, it’s remarkably insightful.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
[Finished 1 March 2017] I suppose there’s a bit of significance in the titular character’s absence from so much of the book (although it could be argued that her physical absence causes a stronger psychological presence in the barriers between her father and mother and her father and her brother, I suppose).

The book itself was not especially notable, the prose serviceable but not fantastic and the plot interesting but not overly so. And none of this was enough to keep me from getting annoyed every time Edwards wrote “Down’s Syndrome” when she meant “Down Syndrome.”

The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust by Michael Hirsh
[Finished 24 February 2017] As I continue to research the current novel, I wanted to get some sense of what happened at the time that the camps were first liberated. This book fit the bill perfectly. There’s a bit of rah-rah patriotism in the book, but not distractingly so.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
[Finished 20 February 2017] I suspect that the editing that was done on the manuscript was more than claimed by the editor in the preface (although some cursory internet research indicates perhaps not). No matter, while the language is high-Victorian in style, the story itself is fascinating, providing an often grueling account of the life of a “privileged” slave who, while never flogged, faced a life of continual sexual harassment by her owner and a desire to be owned by no one. She ultimately escapes to the north (after spending seven years(!) cramped in the secret attic of a storage shed), and even once she has custody of her children, finds that she is still not safe once the fugitive slave act is passed.

Perhaps most startling is how much of the book feels relevant to modern race relations with so many white people’s views of blacks being not much changed between the nineteenth century and the twenty-first. It’s books like this that make my decision to strive to have at least 15% of my reading be by non-white authors feel like a wise choice.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction by J. D. Salinger
[Finished 19 February 2017] See my commentary at dahosek.com

The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich by Gonda Redlich
[Finished 14 February 2017] Redlich was a member of the Altensrat at Terezin and had a sort of high-level view of what happened at what was originally to be a model ghetto and instead was largely a transit camp where Jews were sent before being sent to the death camps in Poland, a fate that Redlich himself eventually shared with the other inmates. Copious footnotes throughout give a good deal of helpful background. Overall a useful reference for getting a sense of day to day life in Terezin.

After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany by Michael Brenner
[Finished 10 February 2017] Another look at the DP-period (and beyond) of Jewish life in Germany after World War II. Brenner provides a fair amount of information, but the section with the interviews was perhaps a bit disturbing in that the only woman interviewed is interviewed to give her husband’s story. Women’s stories are completely excluded.

Among the Survivors of the Holocaust, 1945: The Landsberg DP Camp Letters by Irving Heymont
[Finished 9 February 2017] A look from the army side at the running of the biggest DP camp in the American zone. This is easily one of the most important primary source documents available from the period.

The Wild Place by Kathryn Hulme
[Finished 4 February 2017] Hulme was part of the UNRRA (later IRO and currently UNHCR), the organization charged with caring for and placing the thousands of displaced persons in the wake of World War II.

The account here covers from the beginning of her time, part of a multinational group of people who were going to end up responsible for thousands of refugees in their one camp alone through her moves to other camps as the UNRRA resources were spread increasingly thin and ending with the repatriation efforts which were frustratingly slow and bureaucratic for those hoping to emigrate. While Hulme is determined to put a bright face on things and sees the humor in many of the incidents including a case where a group of DPs managed to sneak a stolen cow into the DP camp by putting special boots on the animal’s feet, there is still a sense of some of the tragedy surrounding the fate of the DPs.

Hulme had little contact with Jewish DPs and it seems that when she did finally have to deal with one such group as they moved into a new camp in Bavaria, she found herself positively impressed by their organization and state of being. I’m not sure how much of this was her inborn optimism and how much was that she met them late in their journey when they had had time to recover from the problems they faced in the concentration camps. It’s also likely that a great deal of those she met were not concentration camp victims, but rather Jews smuggled from Eastern Europe by Brichah who used the Jewish DP camps as a way station in the emigration path to Israel.

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016 edited by Laura Furman
[Finished 31 January 2017] I didn’t use to get the O. Henry anthology because the overlap with Best American was so high that it felt redundant. This year, there is no overlap at all. As always, there’s a mixed bag as the anthology attempts to be all things for all readers. For me, my favorite stories were the more speculative in the batch. A sort of magical realist account of specimen collection and delivery by envelope by Geetha Iyer, “The Mongerji Letters,” was my favorite. Elizabeth Tallent’s “Narrator” seemed simultaneously brilliant and sterile. Ron Carlson’s “Happiness” was my least favorite in the bunch, but Carlson seems to be a taste that I am unable to acquire.

All But My Life: A Memoir by Gerda Weissmann Klein
[Finished 28 January 2017] One of the sad things that I hear agents say is when they have to reject people’s memoirs is that their story just isn’t interesting or different enough. Sure, you recovered from cancer, but so did thousands of other people. What makes you special? Weissmann Klein has something special in her story but doesn’t seem to have really fully understood it herself. The interesting part of her story is less her experience under the Nazis (although that has a lot to commend it regardless), but instead her anti-love story: As a young woman, there was a young man who fell in love with her just as the Nazi restrictions on Jews were falling into place. Unfortunately, she could not bring herself to return his affections, a situation which did not deter him in the least. He spent a great deal of time attempting to woo her and engaged his family in trying to help her, help which she found a way to decline in order to not encourage him unfairly. Ultimately, he has himself transferred to a harder more dangerous work assignment in order to be closer to her, and it’s then that he finally realizes that she will never return his affection. If Weissmann Klein had centered her memoir more fully on this tragic story, this would have been a five-star book.

Female SS Guards and Workaday Violence: The Majdanek Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 by Elissa Mailänder
[Finished 24 January 2017] I’m pretty sure that this book began as someone’s graduate thesis. It has that advanced-student academic vibe to it. That said, the book doesn’t fully live up to its promise, of giving details on the work and lives of female SS guards at Majdanek. Part of this is due to the lack of reliable records and testimony. Much of the necessary documentation was destroyed by the Nazis at the end of World War II and the guards themselves were generally not terribly forthcoming with their roles, doing their best to dissemble, disguise or simply lie about what they did. Mailänder does her best with the materials she does have, supplementing her information with information about the better documented Ravensbrück camp as well as information about the male guards and some general information. For my own needs, the book was adequate, giving some of the vital information that I need for my work in progress, such as information about the guards’ uniforms and how they were to be addressed by inmates and what interactions looked like.

Sex, Class & Culture by Lillian S. Robinson
[Finished 13 January 2017] I first encountered Robinson in an anthology of post-structuralist theory I read for one of my undergrad theory classes. I don’t remember why I decided that this book was going to be essential reading for me, but I kept my eyes open for it and managed to stumble upon a used copy at my local used bookshop.

And then the book sat unread on my shelves for 26 years.

Robinson’s writing is clear and beautifully argued. The key essay here is probably “Who’s Afraid of a Room of One’s Own” which is a seminal work in Marxist-feminist criticism, but other pieces are also brilliant, including “The Critical Task” and “The Keen Eye… Watching: Poetry and the Feminist Movement.”

While some portions feel a bit dated (the world, particularly for women, has changed a great deal since the late 60s/early 70s), there is still a lot that is relevant in today’s world. It’s a pity this book has gone out of print.

Jewish Stories of Prague by V. V. Tomek
[Finished 11 January 2017] My disappointment with this book stems perhaps at least in part because I was expecting something that was more voice-driven, sort of a Jewish Brothers Grimm. But it turns out that Tomek wasn’t Jewish (and there are occasional parts of the book where Tomek seems at pains to make it clear that as the author of the book, he is a Christian even if his subject is not). The anonymous translator is also not Jewish and has minimal understanding of Jewish customs as he makes clear in his brief preface where in the first paragraph, he relates an encounter with an Orthodox Jew in tones on par with someone relating an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster.

Aside from telling the stories in a rather sterile style (frequently engaging in bits of irrelevant history), the choice of stories is very much those of someone on the outside looking in, with many of the stories involving Jews only tangentially or as the bogeymen of the gentile imagination.

On top of all that, the translator on at least one occasion interjected his own prose into the text (making a reference to the Holocaust which wasn’t to happen until a decade after Tomek’s death) which leaves me wondering how much of the other defects also belong to the translator.

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski
[Finished 5 January 2017] Absolutely brilliant. I had hesitated about this because I had hoped to read Borowski’s World of Stone which is exclusively about his experiences in DP camps, but it appears that Borowski has only been selectively translated. The writing here is incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking and gives a valuable perspective with a dose of satyric humor on life inside Auschwitz.

Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson
[Finished 1 January 2017] One thing about requesting library books online is that sometimes I get something that I didn’t quite expect. In this instance, I ended up with the only book about Terezin that my library system had and it was a children’s book. It was still helpful for my research and there was the shocking moment when I saw my own last name appear attached to one of the bits of survivor testimony.

La Fiesta del Chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa
[Finished 30 December 2016] Qué me gustó más de este libro fue como Vargas Llosa mezcló el presente y el préterito para hacer el pasado presente in unos escenas de la historia. Quiero tratar haver esto en mi proprio escribiendo.

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron
[Finished 29 December 2016] Another of the books from my brother’s haul from the SFWA conference. My previous experiences had been underwhelming but this was a pleasant surprise. The pacing was well-established and the central conceit, of everyone forgetting everything that they know every twelve years, was managed in a surprisingly good manner. The reveal of the setting was similarly handled in a nicely subtle manner.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Álvarez
[Finished 27 December 2016] It’s a bit of a coincidence that I read this book at the same time that I was finishing La Fiesta del Chivo . Getting two perspectives on the Trujillo administration at the same time was an interesting experience. Álvarez’s perspective is considerably closer to ground level with Trujillo largely an offstage menace while she focuses on the travails of the Mirabal sisters. The whole thing was beautifully written and a joy to read.

Doña Barbara by Rómulo Gallegos
[Finished 18 December 2016] Well, first off, this is a dreadful translation with a number of cases of the translator picking the wrong word in his translation (translating, e.g., rodeo as rodeo rather than round-up, for example, creates a new meaning for the former word that I don’t think has ever existed before). The novel itself, notable for historical significance, doesn’t really hold up very well. The titular character ends up as a two-dimensional caricature and the better-drawn characters seem only mildly better with the motivations for many of the characters being hard to grasp.

Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
[Finished 4 December 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps by Robert H. Abzug
[Finished 27 November 2016] A somewhat narrow but useful account of the end of World War II. Abzug’s mission is to focus specifically on how the Americans dealt with the reality of the Nazi Concentration Camps they discovered as they pressed into Germany, finding atrocities such as barracks full of the charred corpses of prisoners burnt alive (in one instance, a prisoner had managed to flee the burning building only to be electrocuted upon running into the electrified fence surrounding the compound). For my own needs, the chapters on the army’s handling of DPs and the setting up of DP camps in the American zone were especially helpful. Even better, the writing was of a surprisingly high quality given how much historical writing falls into being dryly academic.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
[Finished 23 November 2016] Although it feels a bit as if Whitehead loses steam somewhat as his story moves northwards, this is still a genius bit of work. The idea that the underground railroad was an actual railroad, under the ground, is almost certainly a near-universal misconception/misimagination (I can remember my brothers relaying a classmate asking how they kept the underground railroad from caving in and I, as the younger brother who had not yet learned that aspect of American history was surprised to learn that the underground railroad was neither underground nor a railroad). But to a certain extent, the literal underground railroad of Whitehead’s story exists primarily to give him the freedom to approach the rest of his story with the freedom to engage in the necessary anachronisms to make his broader points about American society and race. Given the rise of Orange Hitler, Whitehead’s novel takes on added gravitas, although I’m sure he would have been happy to avoid that.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 26: Call to Arms by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Stefano Gaudiano
[Finished 20 November 2016] I’m really enjoying what Kirkman has done with the Whisperers in the series. The dead themselves have receded quite a bit as the menace in the series. They’re omnipresent and dangerous, but it’s a manageable danger. What has become instead the principle danger is other people, both within and without the community with the Whisperers acting as a catalyst to bring these conflicts to the fore. The conclusion of this TP provides an especially strong and shocking progression to the story.

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr
[Finished 17 November 2016] I desperately needed this book after the mess that was the 2016 presidential election. I’d managed to forget to take a book with my to my Sunday workout at the Y, so I stopped by the local indie bookshop and found something off my wishlist to read. I kept this at a slow pace because it was just so comforting to me (I’ve had the good fortune to have met Fr Rohr a couple times when he came to visit the L.A. Catholic Worker and I’ve read several of his other books so I had a good idea of what was coming down for me). Definitely a book to savor and likely to re-read.

Sixteen Self Sketches by George Bernard Shaw
[Finished 14 November 2016] In lieu of an autobiography, Shaw collected seventeen short pieces of writing that are largely autobiographical (the first is actually his father’s view of the young GBS which accounts for the discrepancy between the title and the contents). The contents are occasionally redundant since the pieces were written at different times and for different purposes, but Shaw’s charm shows throughout the book and reminds me of why I loved his writing so much.

The Dead Run by Adam Mansbach
[Finished 14 November 2016] A weird book mixing some borderline offensive stereotypes of indigenous Mexican religion with supernatural horror elements and bonus action/thriller tropes. It was good enough to keep my attention while it lasted, but it felt like there were too many deus ex machina moments (both for the side of the good guys and the bad) throughout for it to be a credible story. The conclusion, apparently setting up a new series, felt weak and rushed.

The Journal of Hélène Berr by Hélène Berr
[Finished 8 November 2016] I’ve been pleased to discover that diaries of Jews in the forties do not begin and end with Ann Frank. This is an interesting account from a young woman in Paris who had been studying English literature before that avenue was cut off to her under the German occupation. Her candid views on the occupation, whether her own involvement with the Jewish agency in France was perhaps a form of collaboration and the question of Palestine make for fascinating reading.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
[Finished 3 November 2016] It’s Ann Patchett, of course it’s good. I really was impressed with Patchett’s handling of temporal shifts in the novel.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
[Finished 26 October 2016] A fun bit of historical fantasy with the titular golem and jinni finding their way to turn-of-the-century New York and doing their best to fit in to human society. Wecker does a great job of providing lively detail of her setting and allowing the coincidences that are central to her plot unfold in a natural way.

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
[Finished 25 October 2016] While I was reading this book, someone asked me what it was about. At the point in the novel that I was at, it was hard to say. Dennis-Benn has woven a complicated story of a Jamaican family, a mother and her two daughters, and the things that they’ve done to survive and attempt to pursue their dreams.

The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War by Ben Shephard
[Finished 20 October 2016] Shephard has become my favorite World War II historian. This is exactly the book on displaced persons that I’ve been looking for for a while now.

Rising up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago by Ann Durkin Keating
[Finished 1 October 2016] One of these books that I might never have picked up on my own but having done so, I’m glad of the experience. I ended up learning a lot more about Chicago (pre-)history and the poor treatment of Native Americans in the Northwest Territories as the American settlers pushed into territories that the Native Americans had been promised. It was hard not to have a certain amount of sympathy for the Native Americans as they fought their last-ditch battles to preserve their rights to their lands and way of life.

Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger
[Finished 25 September 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

The Memory Room by Mary Rakow
[Finished 19 September 2016] Rakow is very much a treasure. This novel, which reads at time like poetry, is a stunning account of a woman’s coming to grips with her abuse as a child at the hands of her parents and the struggle to reconcile pain and beauty. I could only aspire to attempt at writing prose this beautiful.

Between Two Streams: A Diary from Bergen-Belsen by Abel J. Herzberg
[Finished 14 September 2016] A secretly kept diary from one of the Bergen-Belsen inmates. Herzberg served as a member of the committee which was involved with maintaining discipline among the Jewish inmates at Belzen, handing own punishments for the various infractions against camp life. While not exactly a luxurious life, the inmates for most of the time of this diary were in better shape than many other Jews in camps further east who were being worked to death or exhaustion (and thence execution as their usefulness was gone), a fate that Herzberg and his compatriots in the camp were well aware of. A useful look into one aspect of Jewish life under the Holocaust.

The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Fayette
[Finished 13 September 2016] A book perhaps more interesting for its historical position (it’s considered by some as beginning the modern tradition of the psychological novel and it’s also an early novel by a woman) than for its contents. I found the story a bit boring at times which suited me well as it was my bedtime reading.

The Peerless Four by Victoria Patterson
[Finished 6 September 2016] A lingering title from the Nervous Breakdown book club. This tells a fictionalized version of the first Canadian female athletes to participate in the Olympics. The sexism of the 1920s is stunning to encounter, although perhaps even more stunning is how much that sexism has managed to survive nearly a century later.

The Magic of Murder by Susan Lynn Solomon
[Finished 23 August 2016] My brother picked this up at the SFWA conference and I have to say it’s painfully badly written. It was a tough slog to make it to the end.

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asmiov
[Finished 22 August 2016] Reading this, I found myself really keying in to what makes an Asimov plot an Asimov plot: He creates little puzzle boxes (or in the case of Foundation big puzzle boxes) of plot which are then unwound in an inevitable fashion. The conceit of the Foundation Trilogy, with its psychohistory as its basis is a perfect playground for Asimov’s imagination and it’s fascinating to see how it all fits together.

Vampires: The Recent Undead edited by Paula Guran
[Finished 22 August 2016] A mixed bag although a lot of it leans towards the banal. Vampires as a topic apparently inspire bad writing.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
[Finished 14 August 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

Letters to J. D. Salinger edited by Chris Kubica and Will Hochman
[Finished 2 August 2016] Certainly an odd bird, and yet it inspired me to revisit Salinger for the first time in a couple of decades, giving me a chance to remember just why I loved Salinger so much.

DPs: Europe’s Displaced Persons, 1945–51 by Mark Wyman
[Finished 31 July 2016] I had high hopes for this book, but found that it’s goals and my own were incompatible. For Mark Wyman, the story of the DPs is the story of the opening of the cold war. He is far more interested in how the DP camps acted as bases for anti-Communist forces to organize (and ultimately emigrate to the west) and spends very little time on Jewish DPs. His willingness to forgive Nazi collaboration in the name of battling Communism was perhaps even more disturbing.

Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty by Vikram Chandra
[Finished 27 July 2016] I heard about Chandra on his birthday from The Writer’s Almanac and as a writer and programmer, I thought I’d take a look at this book. There was a great deal of potential here, but it felt, in the end, like Chandra fell short of his goals and ultimately wrote a failed book.

This Is Why I Came by Mary Rakow
[Finished 24 July 2016] A great book consisting of retellings and reimaginings of familiar stories from the Bible. Mary Rakow is a writer to watch.

After Daybreak: The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, 1945 by Ben Shephard
[Finished 21 July 2016] A meticulously researched and amazingly written book. Great details for my research.

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
[Finished 19 July 2016] A collection of stories written by a Jesuit priest from Africa set in different countries throughout Africa. The stories run long, almost to novella length, and provide a fascinating look into the lives of the marginalized in that continent.

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle
[Finished 17 July 2016] A fascinating story which straddles the line between the realistic and the fantastic, especially given the fact that the story is set in a psychiatric facility with is protagonist enduring heavy medication that leaves him uncertain about his own perceptions. Outstanding.

The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein
[Finished 15 July 2016] An attempt at writing a novel about the conflict between faith and science although there’s too much implausible characterization for it to be really worthwhile.

Point of No Return by Martha Gellhorn
[Finished 13 July 2016] A fascinating novel about the final days of World War II. While the Jewish protagonist sometimes falls a bit flat, it’s still a worthwhile read.

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee
[Finished 7 July 2016] A story that does weird for the sake of weird and fails miserably at a lot of it. There are multiple first-person narrators but no signals to the reader who is narrating at any given time which just adds to the general incoherence of the book. I think that there might have been a good book lurking in Bee’s mind, but it didn’t make it on to the page.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
[Finished 6 July 2016] This feels very much like the book that Karen Russell was trying to write in Swamplandia! but with the key difference that it feels much more successful in its examination of the weird and odd.

Merde Encore!: More of the Real French You Were Never Taught at School by Genevieve
[Finished 28 June 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion by Michael Wex
[Finished 19 June 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

The Swift Programming Language
[Finished 18 June 2016] A sufficiently comprehensive and clear introduction to the language. It appears to be a viable successor to Objective C for Apple programming.

Free Within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons for Black Authors by Jewell Parker Rhodes
[Finished 17 June 2016] When I first heard of this book, I was curious about what would distinguish a book of fiction lessons for black authors from fiction lessons for any authors and whether I, as a non-black author, would have anything to gain from the book. It turned out to be a mix of the informative and the banal. To a certain extent the latter is because there are certain basics of instruction that are part of any writing text.

Where things get interesting is in two aspects of the text that are interconnected: First the choice of African-American authors for the example texts throughout the book alongside talking about how some aspects of the African-American literary tradition can uniquely inform the writer.

Por Amor Al Arte by Lourdes Miquel and Neus Sans
[Finished 12 June 2016] An assignment for a language class. An amusing enough story although the lack of linguistic variety forced upon the book for pedagogical reasons grew a bit grating with time.

The Complete Poetry of John Donne by John Donne
[Finished 11 June 2016] As an undergraduate, sixteenth and seventeenth century poetry was my specialty, so it was a bit of a delight to return to the poems from this collection I’d read previously and to read the ones I hadn’t.

Aula Internacional 2 by Jaime Corpas, Agustín Garmendia y Carmen Soriano
[Finished 9 June 2016] Este libro es más útil como un libro para usar en la aula que para aprender solo. Lo usé en unos clases de espańol al Instutito Cervantes y estaba muy práctico. Todo el texto es en español, y es necesario tiene un diccionario para usarlo. Creo que un libro similar pero con la intención para faciliatar aprender solo sería muy buen en verdad.

How Happy Became Homosexual: and Other Mysterious Semantic Shifts by Howard Richler
[Finished 8 June 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann
[Finished 7 June 2016] A comprehensive history of the camps. There’s a tendency to conflate the Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust, and while there’s a fair amount of overlap between the two, it’s worth remembering the camps held more than just Jews and that the camp killing machine was directed not only at Jews but at other groups (the first prisoners murdered at Auschwitz were actually Russian POWs). Overall, this provided a great deal of information that I can use as background in the writing project I’m beginning to put together.

Hall of Small Mammals: Stories by Thomas Pierce
[Finished 25 May 2016] I’d read one of these stories previously, in The Missouri Review if I recall correctly. That was the least impressive of the lot. My favorite, “Videos of People Falling Down” was not published previously. There’s some brilliant handling of unfolding plot in these stories (“Ba Babboon” would make a good case study for a creative writing class, I think).

The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter
[Finished 20 May 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote your Child’s Language Development by Kimberly Scanlon
[Finished 19 May 2016] Some useful information, although the bulk of the book, the games and activities, could be condensed to about two pages of general principles. I suppose some people might find them helpful though.

The Danish Way of Parenting: A Guide to Raising the Happiest Kids in the World by Jessica Alexander
[Finished 10 May 2016] I’ve reached the point where I’m realizing that pretty much every parenting book is saying more or less the same thing. I guess that means either that I’m choosing (or more accurately, my wife is choosing) titles wisely, or I’ve fallen into a self-reinforcing silo of epistemic closure. Fortunately, even if the latter is true, it all seems to be working quite well with my kids.

The Death of Superman by Dan Jurgens et al.
[Finished 4 May 2016] After seeing Batman v Superman, I thought I’d take a look at the comic book sequence that was one source for the film. I found Apocalypse, though, to be a completely uninspired and uninteresting creation who existed solely to cause the death Superman. The movie, at least, provided a better mechanism for the mutual death of monster and man of steel, which was sadly lacking here.

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
[Finished 3 May 2016] I really enjoyed Flournoy’s use of POV in this piece. While some of the narrative threads don’t fully pay off, the writing is sharp and captivating on its own.

The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages by David K. Harrison
[Finished 30 April 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

History of the Breast by Marilyn Yalom
[Finished 25 April 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
[Finished 23 April 2016] I have a vague recollection of reading this in elementary school, returning it to an adult, there are the occasional familiar points in the story, but also some unfamiliar aspects as well. It’s fascinating to see how, in some ways, the lives of the families in the back house were often rather mundane (aside from being essentially trapped inside for several years). Overall, the book had more to say about the psychology of Anne Frank than it did about the holocaust, but is still valuable for that as an object lesson in just how human the victims of the Nazis were.

The War by Marguerite Duras
[Finished 19 April 2016] A collection of diary, memoir and fiction about the end of World War II. Duras does a great job of describing the day to day lives of people making the change from being the resistance to being citizens of the restored republic and all the moral challenges that underpin that transformation.

All That Is by James Salter
[Finished 19 April 2016] My first Salter, I found the book frustrating and fascinating at the same time in how Salter managed shifts in perspective and distance in his narrative. I can see the appeal of Salter, but I’m not sure I’m likely to read much more of him.

Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption by Laura J. Miller
[Finished 9 April 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

The Walking Dead, Vol. 25: No Turning Back by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 8 April 2016] The Walking Dead has gone firmly into attempting to rebuild civilization mode in its storyline and it’s fascinating to see how Kirkman has played with the components he had to make the story still compelling. I’m eagerly awaiting the next trade paperback in the series.

Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich by Walter Kempkowski
[Finished 7 April 2016] Incredibly dense, perhaps too much so. I was hoping to get some sense of what was happening on the ground at the end of the second world war, but found this was a bit too broad in its scope, making it hard to keep the various narrative threads in mind.

The Bully, The Bullied and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso
[Finished 4 April 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

Small Victory by Zelda Popkin
[Finished 2 April 2016] One of the first (if not the first) novels to touch on the Holocaust. Popkin, who was in Europe after the war as a journalist drew on her experiences in telling this story about the American reconstruction effort and the moral failures therein.

I Did Not Interview the Dead by David P. Boder
[Finished 30 March 2016] A challenging read, this is a collection of interviews with people in D.P. camps after the end of World War II. The majority of those interviewed were Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, but there was one woman who had ended up in the D.P. camps after fleeing the Soviets and who expressed an inversion of the expected views about the Germans. This is a difficult to locate book, but one well-worth reading.

Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
[Finished 25 March 2016] An interesting selection of Vonnegut’s short works with things ranging from science fiction to straight commercial fiction. I couldn’t help thinking as I read some of this that he was writing for a market that no longer exists.

In His Sights: A True Story of Love and Obsession by Kate Brennan
[Finished 23 March 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
[Finished 20 March 2016] I’m not entirely sure what to think of this book. It has a problem in that it doesn’t seem to be clear what exactly the book is meant to be about. Its protagonist, Harrison Shepherd seems more passive observer than actor in his life, which makes him not especially interesting in many ways. The various parts of the book each have a fair amount to recommend them, but it doesn’t feel like they really connect together as a novel.

Displaced Persons: The Liberation and Abuse of Holocaust Survivors by Ted Gottfried
[Finished 13 March 2016] An interesting choice of topic for a book targeted at young readers (this was the only book on displaced persons that turned up in a library catalog search). The material is presented in short sections, but without oversimplifying the matters. Even the question of Zionism is handled in a subtle and nuanced way, less black-and-white than I might have expected with perhaps an intentional irony in the choice of one chapter title, “Birth of a Nation.”

The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s by Werner Sollors
[Finished 3 March 2016] Ultimately, a collection of critical essays on various artifacts of post-WWII Germany, I came to this as part of my research for a new novel (I had promised myself while writing my last novel I wasn’t going to go historical again, and I wasn’t going to set something in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and now I’m stuck in 1940s Germany). While not all of it is directly relevant to my project, I can see how it’s going to inform the background of what I’m writing, even if the background is off the page.

Amerika: The Missing Person by Franz Kafka
[Finished 23 February 2016] Kafka’s first novel, and most distressingly incomplete. The situations run far more overtly comic than in his other work and the surrealism that informs so much of his later work is present in a primarily embryonic state. But it’s such a joyful and entertaining work to read, that even in its incomplete state, it’s a delight to read.

Flight and Rescue: Brichah; the Organized Escape of the Jewish Survivors of Eastern Europe, 1944–1948 by Yehuda Bauer
[Finished 20 February 2016] A rather functional book. It was interesting to note that the survivors of the holocaust were actually a marginal aspect of the Brichah with the bulk of the emigres to Palestine coming from Russia and Eastern Europe.

The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic by Chalmers Johnson
[Finished 18 February 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
[Finished 14 February 2016] I have mixed feelings about this book. The exuberance of the voice is hard to resist, I feel like this was, in a lot of ways, what Philip Roth was trying to do in The Great American Novel and ultimately failed. Rushdie doesn’t entirely succeed himself with his narrative falling off the rails at times, and some of the elements of magical realism fail to justify themselves all the time, but he succeeds enough to make this a book worth reading.

English Grammar for Students of Spanish by Emily Spinelli
[Finished 5 February 2016] Having found the Latin book in this series immensely helpful, I thought this would be similarly useful. Alas, Spinelli is too quick to defer to the reader’s textbook for the details of grammar in a way that makes this book far less useful as a standalone volume.

The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men by Eric Lichtblau
[Finished 4 February 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
[Finished 3 February 2016] This book kept turning up in the best of 2015 lists, so I decided to give it a look. Macdonald does a great job of braiding several narrative threads, her loss of her father, her training of a goshawk and the life of the writer T. H. White. At times the threads fray, but even then, the elegance of Macdonald’s prose keeps the reader bound to the text.

Red Chicago: American Communism at its Grassroots, 1928–35 by Randi Storch
[Finished 26 January 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
[Finished 19 January 2016] After I saw the film based on this novel, I stopped at a nearby bookstore and bought this along with a Dover edition of The Overcoat. Years later, I finally got around to reading it.

I found myself put off by the voice of the novel. The use of a third-person present-tense narrative seemed to leave the story feeling emotionally flat and the thematic material a bit overdone. There was a lot to admire, and I’ve enjoyed Lahiri’s short fiction a great deal, but this failed to do much for me.

Hannah Arendt by Julia Kristeva
[Finished 13 January 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
[Finished 12 January 2016] One of the essentials of the comics renaissance of the late twentieth century. It’s interesting to see how Moore takes the mythology of the Joker and turns it into something inherently psychological.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson
[Finished 5 January 2016] Damn, this is fantastic. Lila was a bit of a cipher in the other two books Robinson has published set in her fictional town of Gilead, but this book not only makes her live and breathe, but gives her reason to be a cipher in those other works. I found myself really wanting to go back and read Home and Gilead to see how Lila illuminates them.

Unlocking the Census with GIS by Alan Peters and Heather MacDonald
[Finished 3 January 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

A Short History of Fingers (and other state papers) by H. Allen Smith
[Finished 1 January 2016] My dad told me about discovering this book while browsing the library at work when he was younger. The writing here is of a sort that doesn’t really exist any more (although I suppose blog posts might be a close analog). These are generally humorous pieces, although at times the humor misses the mark and some of the attitudes towards women expressed in the essays seem positively neanderthal.

Speedboat by Renata Adler
[Finished 31 December 2015] I learned about this book from the Bookfight podcast when they read and discussed it. It’s an odd but wonderful book, essentially plotless with the story, such as it is, told through often comic vignettes in a voice that made me wish the book were longer than it is.

Siblings without Rivalry: How to Help your Children Live together so You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
[Finished 30 December 2015] Having two kids, there’s the whole issue of how to deal with the potential of sibling rivalry and conflict. There are portions of the book that are not relevant to me since we have twins so there was never a time that there was an only child with a second on the way, but other aspects do seem helpful. What’s interesting is how much overlap there is between this and the RIE stuff I’ve read along with the discipline book reviewed earlier.

Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror edited by Ellen Datlow
[Finished 19 December 2015] A rather uneven collection. What I found most interesting while reading this was wondering how, exactly, is horror defined for this collection. I assumed that there would have to be supernatural elements or at least mass murderers, but in some instances the stories lived in the realm of the realistic focusing on things I wouldn’t have thought qualified as horror (in the genre definition of the term, not in the sense of being horrific), such as child sexual abuse. There were some bright spots in the collection, but they were overshadowed by the less interesting stories that outnumbered them.

Living with Saints by Mary O’Connell
[Finished 2 December 2015] An amazing collection of short stories with each one in some way employing a saint’s intervention in some way or other, often in entertainingly unorthodox fashion. This is the sort of grown-up fiction about religion that I really love to read. I really want to track down more of O’Connell’s writing after reading these stories.

Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan
[Finished 18 November 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich
[Finished 18 November 2015] Obviously, I picked this up because Alexievich won the Nobel prize for literature. An amazing, but harrowing, read. The losses that so many of these people suffered in the wake of the accident at Chernobyl are staggering. I found it difficult to read this for extended stretches because of the power of the work.

No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
[Finished 18 November 2015] There’s not a whole lot to the discipline strategy in this book, which is not to say that it’s ineffective, just that the principles are simple and straightforward. The use of specific instances to consider how best to react to a child’s misbehavior was an effective way of delving into exactly how the principles that Siegel and Bryson lay out. It seems that this is a book useful for more than just dealing with child discipline but for keeping any interpersonal conflict from going awry.

The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka
[Finished 9 November 2015] Mostly complete works along with a handful of fragments. The better-known stories are obviously the best of the lot, but most of the other work seems strictly optional. Only obsessives need anything more than a selected stories volume. Others need not worry about missing some underappreciated work of genius.

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury
[Finished 1 November 2015] The bulk, if not the entirety of this book, is available on Lansbury’s website, so this is one of those books that exist primarily to provide a more convenient way to read the site’s contents.

This book provide a pretty good overview of RIE parenting, a philosophy that tends to be child-centered, allowing children to do things when they’re ready for them while providing them with the rules, boundaries and limitations necessary for a sense of security in their lives. Definitely recommended.

Life after Life by Jill McCorkle
[Finished 30 October 2015] In 2013, two major books appeared with the same title. This is one of them. I started reading it thinking that it was the other (I intend to read them both, I just didn’t remember which was which), but as I realized that I was not going to get the story of a woman who keeps living the same life with different choices over and over again, I was brought into this story. McCorkle tells the story of a small southern town through a variety of different characters, allowing herself to drop into each for varying amounts of time, including periodic reports of the last moments of some characters both from the perspective of the main protagonist, a woman who does hospice work, staying with people as they die and the internal monologues of the dying themselves.

Cults by Karen Zeinert
[Finished 28 October 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son by Peter Manseau
[Finished 22 October 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib
[Finished 15 October 2015] An intriguing story about an immigrant family of Egyptian Muslims and the weeks leading up to the first anniversary of the date that there oldest son killed his ex-girlfriend and then himself. Overall, it’s well-drawn, with a masterful use of shifting perspectives, although Hassib plays too coy about the murder-suicide at first. It really felt like nothing was gained by being so reticent about what happened in the earlier chapters.

The Witch of Portabello by Paolo Coelho
[Finished 10 October 2015] A bunch of new-age nonsense. It is interesting to see how the new-age nonsense is sold. I was a bit of a fan of Richard Bach as a youth and fell for his own new-age nonsense. It’s rather tempting to do something similar (writing under a pseudonym, for heaven forbid someone think I actually believe in such folderol), proposing some simple counterintuitive set of actions that will unlock the untapped potential of the mind. Throw in a dose of ersatz mysticism and boom, people are beating a path to the bookstore to fill their minds with the intellectual junk food on offer.

After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley
[Finished 8 October 2015] I suspect I’m not alone among contemporary readers in having picked this up after reading about it in Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man. The book is an interesting account of pre-war Los Angeles mixed with some discussions of philosophy and history and a bonus round of science fiction. Having just read Salman Rushdie’s latest novel which was also a novel of ideas, I found that Huxley managed to do a better job of it than Rushdie. And for an added bonus, there’s a literary version of Forest Lawn Cemetery in this book to rival Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One.

When the Church was Young by Marcellino D’Ambrosio
[Finished 5 October 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont
[Finished 4 October 2015] I picked this up courtesy of a rapturous review on NPR. When I actually read it, I found a book that was well-written and had some intriguing devices in its narrative (particularly the two chapters of telescoped future action, one in the middle and one at the end), but in the end, it didn’t seem like Pierpont had enough there there to make this a satisfying read.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 24: Life and Death by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 1 October 2015] We’re getting into some of the more interesting aspects of the post-zombie apocalypse world in this volume, particularly the problems of rebuilding civilization (and the question of whether civilization is something that should be rebuilt at all). Throw in what appears to be the beginnings of an intriguing storyline with Negan (who I have to believe is going to play an important role in volume 25) and the story of surviving the zombie apocalypse has grown new legs.

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
[Finished 28 September 2015] In the end I was disappointed. Perhaps it was the flood of rapturous praise that greeted Rushdie’s new novel on its publication, but I was left feeling disappointed in what Rushdie produced. He has a clear ideological goal in the novel, advocating atheism, but I found his efforts in that direction incoherent at best, as is bound to happen when one attempts to employ the supernatural in an effort to destroy the supernatural. Perhaps, there is an intentional irony in that failure. On the plus side, Rushdie does have moments of rapturous prose and there is a sense that he enjoyed himself writing the book even if the reader may not be able to enjoy the same raptures.

Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession by John-Peter Pham
[Finished 17 September 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Best American Poetry 2015 edited by Sherman Alexie
[Finished 16 September 2015] A great collection of poems, overshadowed by the Yi-fen Chou controversy. Alexie does a great job of seeking out new voices, bringing in a number of poets new to the series through aggressively choosing to dig deeper. He is not only willing, but eager, to investigate, for example, the outpouring of new online venues for poetry.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
[Finished 2 September 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

Priests in Love: Roman Catholic Clergy and their Intimate Relationships by Jane Anderson
[Finished 27 August 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
[Finished 21 August 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotl by Gretchen Rubin
[Finished 21 August 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch by Tony Campolo
[Finished 19 August 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch
[Finished 17 August 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

The Collar by Jonathan Englert
[Finished 11 August 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood
[Finished 5 August 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
[Finished 5 August 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

The March by E. L. Doctorow
[Finished 29 July 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald
[Finished 28 July 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus by Michael F. Bird
[Finished 22 July 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell
[Finished 15 July 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz
[Finished 10 July 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

The Case for God by Karen Armstrong
[Finished 9 July 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
[Finished 6 July 2015] Watchmen deals with a lot of the same issues raised by The Dark Knight Returns, but in a more nuanced way. Moore recognizes the problems with superheroes and deals with them face on in his story and while Rorschach is in many ways the star of the book, his right-wing leanings are presented as distasteful, even to his fellow costumed vigilantes.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
[Finished 2 July 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter
[Finished 30 June 2015] A complex story with a vast cast looking at attitudes towards Jews in the years before the beginning of the holocaust.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
[Finished 27 June 2015] Maybe I know too much about Frank Miller to enjoy this. Miller points out the fascistic tendency of the superhero ethos but then chooses to revel in it, extolling the virtues of fascism over his squeaky-kneed caricature of liberalism.

God by Alexander Waugh
[Finished 22 June 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat: The Science Behind Revulsion by Valerie Curtis
[Finished 17 June 2015] I’m always skeptical about the claims of evolutionary psychology. There’s a certain quality of mythology around these claims that feel not much different from Phaeton scorching Africa with the chariot of the sun. Here, Curtis does a decent job of justifying her theory (that disgust comes from parasite avoidance), but still falls into the mythology trap. Perhaps most notable about the book is how much Curtis acknowledges areas in which additional research is needed.

Narratology by Mieke Bal
[Finished 16 June 2015] A simply outstanding introduction to the theory of narratives. Ball writes in a clear style, making clear from the outset the meaning of any jargon she employs (perhaps most subtle being the distinction between the narrative text, story and fabula. There are times when Bal’s theory causes her to reject categories of narrative (most notably she dismisses second-person as little more than a gimmick, ignoring the possibilities that are available in the second person which are not possible in first or third and is quick to accept uncritically Jonathan Culler’s dismissal of omniscience). Even with these limitations, however, this book is essential reading for both scholars and writers alike.

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
[Finished 12 June 2015] A wonderfully detailed historical piece played out by Hungarian Jewish protagonists against the times just before and after the second world war (apparently at least partially inspired by Orringer’s own family history). I realized while I was reading this that I knew little of Hungary’s involvement in World War II so I read the wikipedia article and when I read about how roughly 70% of the Jewish population of Hungary was killed during the war, I was left with a feeling of deep dread as the war began and continued.

Unfortunately, the book fails somewhat in its final chapters, perhaps because Orringer was conscious of the already sizable length of what she had written and she engaged in a great deal of compression to the story as it reached its conclusion, to the detriment of the narrative. It seems strange to say about a book so long, but it could have stood to have been a fair bit longer.

A Void by Georges Perec
[Finished 4 June 2015] A re-read. Coming back to the book, it was possible to catch more of Perec’s humor and the esprits joyeux of his use of language. Still an amazing work of literature.

The Parables of Kierkegaard by Søren Kierkegaard
[Finished 2 June 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Zombies: The Recent Dead edited by Paula Guran
[Finished 2 June 2015] A mixed bag of stories. Some are relatively strong, more or pretty weak, with a wide variety of conceptions of zombies, from the traditional Haitian zombie to Romero zombies to any other sort of revenant as zombie. It was worth getting as part of a Humble bundle, but not something that I would have otherwise read.

Superman: Earth One, Vol. 3 by J. Michael Straczynski and Ardian Syaf
[Finished 28 May 2015] Zod. A new girlfriend for Superman (and one who even knows the Clark Kent/Superman connection). Plus Lex Luthor comes to the fore. Again, with the new universe, there are possibilities to upend the expectations, although there needs to be more of this, perhaps earlier on in the stories to allow for the usual course of events to not always be the expectation.

Batman: Earth One, Vol. 2 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank
[Finished 27 May 2015] One of the benefits and also drawbacks of established mythologies like with mainstream comic book characters is that there’s an understanding of the characters that is present regardless of how the story gets presented. We know that if we meet District Attorney Harvey Dent, then Two-Face is waiting in the wings. The Earth One series has the advantage that it’s creating its mythos from scratch and can play with these expectations in different ways, like the transforming of Alfred from butler to bodyguard and the surprise of just how Two-Face comes about.

An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy by Karyn L. Lai
[Finished 26 May 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Best American Essays 2014 edited by John Jeremiah Sullivan
[Finished 22 May 2015] By far, to me the star of the volume was Lawrence Jackson’s “Slickheads,” which does a lot to work with language. Wells Tower’s piece on Burning Man was an intriguing look at a subculture from a “norm” perspective. John H. Culver’s essay about his wife’s death while on a trip to Rome was another dramatically memorable piece as was Ariel Levy’s account of her miscarriage in Mongolia.

Eric Gill by Fiona McCarthy
[Finished 18 May 2015] Aside from the revelations about the sexuality, which seemed more prurient than anything else, there was little to make this biography noteworthy. At times, the narrative seemed rather choppy with people suddenly appearing from nowhere with no warning. I had hoped for a bit more about Gill’s relationship with Stanley Morison and Beatrice Warde, but they were almost relegated to little more than passing mentions.

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel
[Finished 18 May 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Walking Dead vol. 23: Whispers into Screams by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard
[Finished 15 May 2015] The big mystery of the previous volume, the strangers camouflaging themselves in the skins of the dead is unveiled and Kirkman does a good job of maintaining the tension as we encounter new characters and new dilemmas. The changing nature of the threat has become abundantly clear.

Logic Made Easy: How to Know when Language Deceives You by Deborah J. Bennett
[Finished 13 May 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis by Jacques Lacan
[Finished 4 May 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Gutshot: Stories by Amelia Gray
[Finished 1 May 2015] The opening story was pure brilliance, but as I read deeper, I found the inconsistency of Gray’s work maddening. She writes in a surrealist style with most of her stories running to the very short end of the spectrum.

My Lunches with Orson by Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles
[Finished 30 April 2015] When I was younger, I knew Orson Welles primarily from his commercial appearances. Even at that point of his decline, his charisma was undeniable. I’ve later come to become a fan of his works, as inconsistent and maddening as everything after Kane can be. It’s very easy to hear Welle’s voice through these transcripts of lunch conversations. It would have been nice to have a bit more commentary and context about the conversations (it’s easy for me to forget that Welles lived into the 1980s as his television presence had dissipated before that time) but it’s a great account of the people and personalities of twentieth-century film.

Miracle Girls by M. B. Caschetta
[Finished 28 April 2015] I was curious to read this having been an occasional visitor to Caschetta’s blog. The premise, of a girl who has mystic visions and the Catholic setting seemed like something would appeal to me, and it might if it weren’t for the overly elliptical prose. The two threads of the story, the nuns running a sort of underground railroad for abused girls and the visionary who is the main character also failed to come together.

Recusant Poets, with a Selection from their Work, Volume I: St Thomas More to Ben Jonson edited by Louise Imogen Guiney
[Finished 27 April 2015] A great collection of often unknown works. There is a tendency towards the lyric in this anthology and perhaps more disturbing to transform into the lyric. Few long poems are printed in their entirety, although comprehensive source information is provided. Some separation of textual notes from the source information would be welcome, though, given the choice of Guiney to reproduce all poems with the original spelling.

The book dates from a period of some renaissance of English Catholic sentiment and there’s a great deal of effort made to provide as strongly a pro-Catholic view as possible which is complicated in some cases by the biographies of some of the poets included who later converted from Catholicism, often after a conversion to Catholicism earlier in their lives and the consequent determination of precisely which of the poet’s works qualify as “recusant.”

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
[Finished 21 April 2015] Calvino’s surrealist and often absurdist takes on ideas from science in these short stories make for wonderful reading. I had to occasionally pull myself out of a scientific mindset (the misconceptions of gravity in “The Distance of the Moon” were a bit distracting) to fully appreciate the work, but that’s my weakness, not Calvino’s. I really wanted to write some of my own stories in this vein after reading this book.

Economics for Humans by Julie A. Nelson
[Finished 20 April 2015] I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the claims of capitalism, especially having seen how the single-minded pursuit of maximized profit results in poorer products. Nelson strives to provide an alternate model for economics that moves from the purely mechanical ideas that predominate contemporary economics which seems geared towards a deterministic view of how economic relations work. There have been some signs of this sort of thing beginning to happen in the real world, between criticisms of the idea that a corporation’s sole duty is to maximize shareholder value to Tim Cook’s telling people who think that Apple shouldn’t be investing in eco-friendly practices to invest their money elsewhere since profit isn’t everything.

Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz
[Finished 16 April 2015] Sadly, the only good thing about this book is the Peanuts cartoons interspersed throughout (which comprise pretty much all the best Peanuts cartoons on writing and literature). The short essays that make up the prose of the book are generally rather anodyne and uninteresting. Elmore Leonard’s commentary on his process is really the only gem in the book.

In Defense of Lost Causes by Slavoj Žižek
[Finished 16 April 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson
[Finished 14 April 2015] A dry and academic account, although that’s not the biggest failure of this book. Instead, it’s the fact that, even though it’s nominally about cuisine, there is very little writing about actual food. How did the meals of the ancien regime become the haute cuisine of post-revolutionary France? Beyond the move from banquet-style service to service a la Russe, there’s no real description of this.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
[Finished 9 April 2015] A bit of a forgotten work, and I kind of feel like some of the forgetting might be justified. There is a bit of a science-fiction element to the story (it’s set a decade into the future from when it was written and features a handful of technological advancements) that’s completely irrelevant, passages of pastiche are marked with asterisks which strikes me as being an indication of a failure of the writing to do its job. The humor of the story is uneven, although when it works, it works wonderfully.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
[Finished 2 April 2015] This is just an amazing fucking book. Rankine writes about both the major public racism African-Americans face (whether it’s racially motivated killings by civilians and police) and the casual everyday insults that are part of the fabric of ordinary life, such as the waitress returning Rankine’s credit card to her white companion even though that same waitress accepted the card directly from Rankine earlier in the meal. The every day racism accounts are the most powerful, I think, with an incredibly effective use of the second person to transform these events from being the singular account of Rankine’s experiences into something that the reader experiences directly.

Your Neighborhood Gives me the Creeps by Adam Selzer
[Finished 30 March 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Antología de Cuentos Mexicanos II edited by Ma. del Carmen Millán
[Finished 24 March 2015] Largely composed of stories from the sixties and seventies, this second volume in the series gets into a lot more experimental work with stories pushing the boundaries of the form. I especially enjoyed the two Carlos Fuentes stories in the book, along with contributions from Amparo Dávila, Rosario Castellanos, Jose de la Colina and José Emilio Pacheco.

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief by Lewis Wolpert
[Finished 19 March 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: The Dark Watch Vol. 2 by Clive Barker, Brandon Seifert, Tom Garcia and Korkut Öztekin
[Finished 18 March 2015] I continue to be unimpressed with this comic. It apparently continues for one more volume, which I’m not going to bother to find and read.

The Reprisal by Laudmia Bonanni
[Finished 16 March 2015] A strange book, about a period of Italian history that I know nearly nothing about, when Italy had surrendered, but Germany was still fighting World War II: among the Italians there were divided loyalties that served as the catalyst for the plot of this story with a group of fascists waiting for a woman who may or may not have been a partisan to give birth so they can execute her. The narrator, who often seems to vanish from his own story, serves as an ambiguous character himself, a witness, if not a participant to all the sins that take place.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
[Finished 13 March 2015] The book opens with a seemingly endless list of characters and their biographies. This nearly made me give up on the book, which would have been a pity as it’s a truly amazing work. Even being only a portion of a multi-volume account, I found this to be a compelling and hard to put down read, impressive for literary fiction, particularly fiction which seemed to frequently be rather static in its storytelling.

What Number is God? by Sarah Voss
[Finished 10 March 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: The Dark Watch, Vol. 1 by Clive Barker, Brandon Seifert and Tom Garcia
[Finished 2 March 2015] Comic book time. Revisiting the Hellraiser universe, although I found myself only experiencing the dread of the original film more by associative memory than by anything on the page. This actually was less horrifying than the movies, which given the freedom the graphic format gives, should have been the opposite.

Angel’s Ink by Jocelynn Drake
[Finished 28 February 2015] A high-concept book. Assorted supernatural beings and a somewhat noir setting. It kind of comes to nothing in the end and feels like it’s more a way of establishing characters for a series than a proper novel. Clearly I’m not the target audience for this.

Socrates Café by Christopher Phillips
[Finished 24 February 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
[Finished 17 February 2015] Another one of these high-concept books, here a large part of humanity is wiped out by a genetically modified tomato and as a result, supernatural beings (“inderlanders”) come out of the shadows. We get the full complement of creatures, some interesting characters and a completely incoherent plot. Perhaps it gets better as the series progresses, but I’m unlikely to find out.

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
[Finished 16 February 2015] My first Pollock, and I’m impressed by his rural gothic fiction. At times it seems as if there might not be any connection between some of the incidents portrayed, but eventually everything manages to come crashing back together with a brutal inevitability. Gives hope to us oldsters who have yet to publish our first novels.

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball
[Finished 6 February 2015] A gorgeous book, written as an investigation by a journalist named Jesse Ball who, in response to his wife’s stopping speaking, investigates a mysterious murder case in Japan. The whole thing is simply gorgeous.

Trauma and Recovery by Judith Lewis Herman
[Finished 3 February 2015] Herman, in this book, is doing a lot of the work to establish PTSD as a genuine disorder, tracing its origins from the “hysteria” of Freud and his contemporaries to contemporary survivors of trauma whether in war or through abuse. Her orientation is very much psychodynamic and feminist and this seems at times to adversely affect her focus and perspective, but even with those limitations, this is a brilliant and well-written book on the subject.

English Grammar for Students of Latin by Norma Goldman and Ladislas Szymanski
[Finished 2 February 2015] Almost a good book, Goldman and Szymanski take readers on a tour of English grammar and its parallel constructions in Latin. Meant more as a reference than a book to be read straight through, each section is headed by a title asking a question about some grammatical point, e.g., “What is a reflexive pronoun?” Where the book fails is in its frequent choices to direct the reader to her Latin textbook rather than simply presenting, e.g., a complete declension or conjugation as appropriate.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
[Finished 2 February 2015] The pacing of the novel is a bit slow in the beginning and while Bujold is steadily building up plot elements and character traits that will become important in the later part of the book. What sets it apart, though, is the beautifully realized theology of the world that she created, one in which the artificial gods of her world are able to act as a sort of illumination into questions of theodicy and divine intervention in our contemporary world.

I Do Not Come to You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
[Finished 19 January 2015] A wonderful story about the Nigerian side of those scam e-mails that come in and the protagonist’s moral journey from being poor and naïve to his involvement in 419 scamming. It was also an interesting examination of a number of quotidian aspects of life in modern Nigeria, helping me learn more about a region in which I’ve become quite interested of late.

5 Survivors: Personal Stories of Healing from PTSD and Traumatic Events by Tracy Stecker, Ph.D.
[Finished 19 January 2015] This was not the book I was hoping for. What I was interested in reading were first-person accounts that described what it was like to live with PTSD. Instead we had five peoples’ autobiographies, focusing on what led up to their traumatic event and then a shorter passage about their healing process, but little about the actual experience of having PTSD.

The Taken by Vicki Pettersson
[Finished 16 January 2015] An amusing enough story with a novel concept, although the story line feels a bit over-improvised and too convoluted for its own good.

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov
[Finished 8 January 2015] Oh my, this is wonderful. I don’t know how Nabokov was capable of writing so beautifully in a foreign language when my own efforts in my native language are so clumsy and ugly in comparison. Post-modern in its structure, the novel tells the story of the narrator attempting to write the biography of his brother (and claiming along the way that he is omitting himself from the story while doing precisely the opposite). There are cases of people claiming to be others, of continual missed connections and mistaken identities. There are numerous possible readings of the text, including a literal sense that what’s happening is what’s claimed to be and then the possibilities that Sebastian Knight might be a creation of the narrator or have been a creation of his previous biographer or been no relation to the narrator despite the narrator’s claims… The whole question of what happened is left deliciously open. This has left me ready to go back to Pale Fire and see more.

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
[Finished 2 January 2015] A very short novel that’s as much objet d’art as story. Reportedly the text was given to designer Chip Kidd with the instructions to illustrate it somehow. This is one of four extent editions of the book at this time (the British, German and original Japanese were all designed and illustrated independently). The illustrations live as reflections on the text more than illuminations of it. Kidd’s illustrations, with the exception of two photographs, are all original and manage a mix of pop-art and Japanesque style. Even the binding does something different with the front cover (if that’s what you’d identify it as), folding up from the back cover with another protective tab folding down from the back to reveal the first page of text. The text itself is set in a typewriter-esque font giving the feeling like one is reading the writer’s original transcript.

The story itself has the feel and logic of a dream, with a labyrinthine set of corridors leading form the mysterious room 107 to the reading room which turns out to be a prison cell. The characters include a sheepman and a girl who is nearly incorporeal and transforms into/from a bird (perhaps?). Everyone has their own fears and their own concerns, whether it’s the old man’s willow switch with which he torments the sheepman or the memory of being bitten by a large black dog which torments our nameless narrator.

Conclave by Greg Tobin
[Finished 31 December 2014] One of these days, I need to write the definitive critical survey of the genre of “pope novels”. Having read a wide sprectrum of these, it seems that these are continually a sort of wish fulfilment fantasy: “This is what I would do given the power of the papacy.” Here, our protagonist, a liberal New Jersey cardinal stands in for the author, a liberal New Jersey journalist writing largely on Vatican and Catholic topics. The Evangelium Christi group of the novel seems pretty clearly a stand-in for the real-life Opus Dei, although more specific identifications become harder to make. It is interesting to note the many parallels between the pope that Tobin’s cardinal becomes and the pope that Cardinal Bergoglio became, although I think that even Tobin would be surprised at how much more humble Francis is than his own Celestine.

It was a bit disconcerting to see the references to terrorism as a concern in this book published in the first half of 2001. I’d be curious to see how the post-9/11 world would fit into a pope novel written in the time between 9/11 and the death of John Paul II.

The Stand by Stephen King
[Finished 29 December 2014] I read the full “restored” edition which adds a whole novel’s worth of filler to an already long novel as well as incompletely updates the date of the novel by a decade. My overall impression of the book is that while some of what King had to cut in the initial release of the novel was a loss, other parts were far from essential and could have just as easily remained cut from the text.

The novel itself aspires to theological depths but fails miserably at reaching them. It seems to me that King lacks the necessary theological background and/or intuition to be able to really tackle the question. Perhaps it’s a consequence of a shallow protestantism in his background but his great theological insight comes down to “apparently God sometimes demands a sacrifice for no apparent reason.” Among the characters, the growth of Larry Underwood is a missed opportunity and Mother Abagail is literally a magic negro. There are handfuls of literary references sprinkled through the text with no apparent purpose other than to show off that King has read T. S. Eliot. In one instance, he goes too far, I think, taking the image of “Strange Fruit” and applying it not to lynched black men but to flyers blowing from someone’s trunk.

Thoughts of Sorts by Georges Perec
[Finished 22 December 2014] Thirteen essays from one of the key members of the Oulipo. The most Oulipan of the works here was “Eighty-One Easy Cook Recipes” which works through a full panoply of permutations of ingredients and techniques, leaving a piece of writing that is more to be counted than read.

Stupid Children by Lenore Zion
[Finished 20 December 2014] I wasn’t really left with much sense of there being anything of depth in this book. The author’s psychological training didn’t seem to have provided her with the ability to create a compelling psychological portrait of her characters.

Best American Poetry 2014 edited by Terrance Hayes
[Finished 17 December 2014] Not a whole lot to say. The Best American Poetry series depends heavily on the tastes of the guest editor and while there are some really fantastic poems in this volume. I’m also left with a sense that Hayes was making an effort to include a lot of friends and colleagues in this collection.

Painted Cities by Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski
[Finished 17 December 2014] Galaviz-Budziszewski is trodding much the same ground that Stuart Dybek did before him, albeit a couple miles further east. This is no longer the West side of my father’s youth but the west side of my own. The stories here vary from the purely realistic to occasional journeys into magic realism with seamless mixing of the two given the tendency for boys to want to believe the impossible, even with evidence to the contrary given to them. There’s a subtle hat tip given to Dybek in one of the stories and it should have been no surprise to me when near the end of the book I glanced at the back cover and saw that Dybek had given the book a blurb. Galaviz-Budziszewski is a writer to watch.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
[Finished 15 December 2014] Normally when I’m reading commercial fiction, it takes me a while to accept the narrative voice—most commercial authors write poorly, it seems, and it takes me a few chapters to get used to their clumsy style. Here, Roth managed to hook me at first and it wasn’t until halfway into the novel that I started to feel the prose turning clunky.

Appeal Of One Half Of The Human Race, Women, Against The Pretensions Of The Other Half, Men, To Retain Them In Political by William Thompson
[Finished 11 December 2014] A landmark text, but alas, it’s written in a rather archaic and poorly-aged prose style.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
[Finished 10 December 2014] A disappointment. The narrative voice was weak and the main character shows no development over the course of the story (and is, in fact, disturbingly psychopathic). I remember reading a review of a film that said that a pop culture reference is not the same thing as a joke. I’d add that a collection of pop culture references does not a novel make either.

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
[Finished 6 December 2014] The conclusion to the saga begun in Oryx and Crake. Atwood doesn’t provide the conventional closure to the story and what I believe is the case (that Zeb and Adam were the real masterminds of the near-extinction of humanity) is left unspoken. The narrative techniques used in telling Zeb’s story were the highlight of the novel.

The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim
[Finished 5 December 2014] Just simply amazing. Blasim writes in a disarming style blending brutal realism with the fantastic and the surreal.

Our Secret Life in Movies by Michael McGriff and J. M. Tyree
[Finished 5 December 2014] I really just didn’t get into this collection of short experimental works. Only a few hit home with me but most just seemed meh.

Rudolf Koch: Letterer, Type Designer, Teacher by Gerald Cinamon
[Finished 2 December 2014] My big complaint: Not enough illustrations and insufficient connections with the illustrations and the text.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
[Finished 28 November 2014] An interesting look at other aspects of the world Atwood created in Oryx and Crake. Atwood relies perhaps too much on coincidence (it seemed that nearly every female character under a certain age was at some time Jimmy (Snowman)’s lover in the past). At the same time, we’re left with some unspoken hints as to the origins of Crake’s humanity-destroying plague.

Cognitive Therapy of Depression by Aaron T. Beck, A. John Rush, Brian F Shaw and Gary Emery
[Finished 25 November 2014] A re-read, it feels rather short on specifics and is substantially geared towards practitioners, but insufficiently so to be a practical handbook. I looked at my original review from 1999 and found that my opinion then was pretty much the same.

What's Wrong with You? by Omar Yamini
[Finished 21 November 2014] If this were a work of fiction, I think every reader would immediately leap to point at the narrator as being unreliable. That’s not to say that Yamini is a bad person or that he outright lies, but there does seem to be a vein of self-justification running through the work that makes it unintentionally interesting from the reader’s perspective. Useful for getting a sense of the quotidian details of prison life, I don’t think it works in the “scared straight” manner that Yamini apparently intended given the book’s subtitle.

Literary Hoaxes by Melissa Katsoulis
[Finished 20 November 2014] See my review at dahosek.com

On Immunity: An Innoculation by Eula Bliss
[Finished 17 November 2014] This was an odd book. At one point Bliss really nails the oddity of the book when she talks about how she was surprised to consider herself “press” when denied an interview with a doctor. The subject matter is the sort of thing that might call for a journalistic investigation but instead we get something that lives firmly in creative non-fiction land. There’s a wonderful examination of the cultural and scientific aura that surrounds vaccination (Bliss, thankfully, is not an anti-vaxer or I would never have made it to the end of the book) showing how the two have been intertwined for as long as the subject of immunity has been understood (or just half-understood). Plus, I learned that etymologically, vaccine comes from the Latin vaca, cow.

The Life and Works of Eric Gill by Cecil Gill, Beatrice Warde and David Kindersley
[Finished 16 November 2014] A close and personal look at Gill’s life and works. Beatrice Warde’s contribution is by far the best of the lot, and it feels at times like there’s a lot of responding to unspoken rumors (many of which were doubtless fleshed out in Fiona McCarthy’s Gill biography).

Requiem for a Paper Bag edited by Davy Rothbart
[Finished 12 November 2014] See my review at dahosek.com

Leviathan by Ian Edgington and D'Israeli
[Finished 9 November 2014] A damned good near miss. This could have been something truly amazing here, but it felt like Edgington was too eager to wrap up the main story with a conclusion that felt overly rushed. The additional stories set in the Leviathan universe are entertaining but not enough so to make up for the weaknesses of the main story.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 22: A New Beginning by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard
[Finished 8 November 2014] It is indeed a new beginning in these pages with new characters introduced and familiar ones placed into new and sometimes uncomfortable situations. The introduction of the “whispering zombies” was especially stunning. Add in a new set of point of view characters approaching Rick and the others with skepticism and suspicion and I’m eagerly awaiting the next TPB more than ever.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
[Finished 7 November 2014] Brilliantly written, with the illustrations taking as important a role in the story as the words, this is exactly what graphic narrative should be.

The Secret Museum by Molly Oldfield
[Finished 5 November 2014] See my review at dahosek.com

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
[Finished 4 November 2014] A close to perfect book. Eugenides manages the first person plural expertly in the first half of the book, but then when he becomes too conscious of the story telling and begins making reference to artifacts and research techniques, the voice falters. The last quarter of the book, thankfully, abandons a lot of what mars the book, but it’s still an astonishing first novel.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
[Finished 3 November 2014] A wonderfully comic novel. Anyone who doesn’t laugh while reading this needs to slow down and realize that Austen writes comedy, not drama.

French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon
[Finished 2 November 2014] Part memoir, part manifesto for feeding kids. As a memoir, it was often frustrating (as in “woman, how could you possibly not get it already?”), but as a manifesto it’s both encouraging and depressing (the latter when we discover the challenges that Le Billon faced upon returning to Canada, which apparently has acquired the bad eating habits of its fat neighbor to the south). Some of her challenges in Canada are resolved when she realizes that she should serve food that’s more indigenous to Canada, shopping at the local farmer’s market rather than trying to replicate the foods she made in France, but it still represents a challenge when the peer pressure her kids face moves from eat this fish to eat this McFish.

Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
[Finished 23 October 2014] A charming little noir-ish tale. It is a bit marred by the sketchy nature of Feiffer’s art which made a number of blonde female characters difficult to distinguish, a vagueness which is, in places, important to the plot, but in other places only serves to confuse.

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
[Finished 21 October 2014] Absolutely brilliant stories from Atwood. The first three stories form a linked trilogy with characters from each reappearing in the others, bringing us deeper and deeper into their overlapping lives and the worlds they created. There are really no clunkers here.

The Receptionist by Lauren Groth
[Finished 21 October 2014] See my review at dahosek.com

Loserpalooza by Darby Conley's
[Finished 15 October 2014] Cartoons from ca 2002 here, I remember the odd coincidence of B. D.’s return from Iraq happening the same time as Rob Wilco’s cousin, with even the same injury making me wonder if they were perhaps the same character. They weren’t.

A Different Bed Every Time by Jac Jemc
[Finished 14 October 2014] The poetic impulse that drove My Only Wife comes out even more strongly in this collection of short short stories. Many of the stories are more prose poem than fiction and Jemc does a great job of really pushing the boundaries of the short story form here. “Let Me Be Your Tugboat King” is more an author at play with language than anything else. Elsewhere the stories take on surreal and almost gothic tones like “The Wrong Sister,” a bizarre tale of a twin taking her sister’s place when she rightly suspects the brother-in-law of murderous intent.

The Concise Guide to Sounding Smart at Parties by David Matalon and Chris Woolsey
[Finished 8 October 2014] See review at dahosek.com

A Bouquet by Karel Jaromir Erben
[Finished 2 October 2014] A collection of Czech folk tales told in verse, the translation here is (presumably—I don’t know the original) good and the use of slant rhyme and mostly regular meter works well with the material which tends towards the gothic and grotesque. I’d really like to read more of Erben’s work as well as more of Czech folklore and fairytales in general.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
[Finished 1 October 2014] See review at dahosek.com

Introducing Screen Printing by Anthony Kinsey
[Finished 30 September 2014] A practical classroom-oriented introduction to screen printing. Kinsey encourages those who would begin to attempt screen printing to experiment with technique and to make their own tools and supplies insofar as practical.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
[Finished 27 September 2014] I haven’t read this since high school and that was a re-read as well. It’s amazing how much of the story was deeply ingrained in my mind and also how much I had completely forgotten (e.g., the feud between the two families or the Duke and the King pretending to be the brothers of a recently deceased man). Perhaps most interesting to me was how Twain allowed seemingly unrelated story lines to impinge on the novel and yet they became part of the built-up meaning of the novel.

Friday was the Bomb by Nathan Deuel
[Finished 25 September 2014] Disclaimer: I’m friends with Nathan from our MFA program. Having said that, I can still recommend this collection. It’s a bit uneven at times reflecting its origins as a collection of shorter personal essays. The chronological arrangement means that some of the strongest essays (the title essay and “Flood-tide Below Me”) end up near the end of the book. Still, Deuel manages to convey the anxieties of being the stay-at-home dad in a marriage where his wife’s job represents a continual threat to their life while they live in a city where the violence of the region grows ever closer until finally they decide to leave the Middle East for the Midwest (they’ve since settled in Los Angeles, ruining the delightful symmetry of that move).

Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity by David Foster Wallace
[Finished 19 September 2014] Wallace’s “compact” history is actually fairly involved. It’s engagingly written, although oddly targeted, apparently at math-English double majors or somesuch. I found a lot of the discussion elucidating although I continue to be unclear on what keeps the rational line from being a continuous space or the reason why c is not equal to א1 (and his distinction between “number line” and “real line” seems to be unique to this work).

Read to Me by Gloria Rolton
[Finished 19 September 2014] See my review at dahosek.com

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
[Finished 18 September 2014] Vandermeer’s trilogy has gotten a fair amount of press for its unusual fact of being published over the course of a single year. I was curious to try it, but I found the narrative voice of the unnamed biologist to be grating as I read. It became better (or perhaps I grew accustomed to it) as the novel wore on, but I was put off enough by it that I’m uncertain about reading the remaining two volumes of the trilogy.

Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us and How to Know When Not to Trust Them by David H. Freedman
[Finished 9 September 2014] See review at dahosek.com

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
[Finished 4 September 2014] At first, the setting and protagonist of the novel, a young white woman in 1950s America seems that it would be an odd milieu for Oyeyemi, an African-born English writer. But as the story unfolds, background elements like the occasional intrusion of news from the early civil rights struggles in the south begin to move to the forefront and the novel becomes more clearly a novel of people living their lives as someone they’re not, right down to the name of the protagonist, a girl named Boy.

The Year of What Now: Poems by Brian Russell
[Finished 3 September 2014] Russell’s poems form a loose narrative of his wife’s treatment for cancer, with occasional flashbacks to the time that preceded it. Russell’s command of his language and the rhythm of his poetry is wonderful, with the emotions of this traumatic period expertly preserved in the lines of his poems.

Perhaps most impressive of all: It’s fiction.

Maybe the Saddest Thing by Marcus Wicker
[Finished 29 August 2014] I had the good fortune to meet Marcus during my final residency in my MFA program. I enjoyed his reading and managed to buy the last copy of his book in the campus bookstore the next morning. He covers a wide range of subjects in this collection: pop culture is everpresent and racial issues lurk just below the surface when they’re not on plain view. There’s a wonderful mix of the humorous and poignant in these poems. Definitely a collection to return to.

Collected Stories and Other Writings by John Cheever
[Finished 27 August 2014] Given the surfeit of Cheever-related seminars scheduled for my final residency in my MFA program, it seemed appropriate to dig into Cheever. Having made it through all 1000 pages of this collection, I’m left feeling a bit empty. There were some good stories in here, and some fine sentences, but overall it was not as rewarding an experience for me as, say, reading the Library of America Carver collection. I was part of a discussion about Cheever with some of the faculty at lunch during the residency and there was some debate about why Cheever has fallen out of favor (or whether, in fact, he has). Was it because the WASPish middle-class world that he depicts no longer exists in any meaningful way? The more I think about it, the more I think that might be the case. One essay at the back of the collection, about Cheever’s departure from Manhattan for the suburbs as the middle class was priced off the island seems especially apropos, in that the pressures that drove Cheever and his family and his neighbors out of the city have only accelerated and increasd, now driving their world out of existence. As a depicter of the manners of this dying breed, it seems likely that his writing has become a window into a world that has only limited appeal to readers of today. Perhaps in another generation, as the last survivors of this world have died, the fascination with this society may increase and lead to a revival of Cheever’s fortunes.

El Amor en los Tiempos del Colera by Gabriel García Márquez
[Finished 26 August 2014] This whole book is a masterclass in transitions in time and space in an extended narrative. There’s an infinitude for a writer to learn from García Márquez.

My Only Wife by Jac Jemc
[Finished 22 August 2014] Jemc does a great job here of mixing the poetic and the prosaic in her writing. This is a book which is ultimately about the voice rather than the story such as it is. The resolution of the central mystery insofar as it’s resolved (and that its a mystery) is almost a disappointment as the character of the wife in the story feels more powerful without the revelation the novel provides, but then the monster behind the door is never as scary once the door is open.

The Three by Sarah Lotz
[Finished 17 August 2014] I sometimes wonder whether it’s unfair to judge a genre book by the standards of literary fiction. Should i be concerned about the fact that Lotz fails at her ambition to present the bulk of her story as if it were an oral history? Or should I allow her story to overwhelm it? And then there’s the coda which in answering the unanswered questions ends up feeling instead like a too-neat wrap-up which makes the book far worse than it might have been otherwise. But presumably, the readers of a book like this would not tolerate ambiguity in the ending: suppose we never knew for sure what the children were or why? Does having the question answered really improve the story? Add in that a great deal of the first third of the book feel like padding and it’s not really a book that I can recommend. It’s a great concept but the execution is poor.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins: A Step-by-Step Program for Sleep-Training Your Multiples by Marc Weissbluth
[Finished 13 August 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

The Walkind Dead, Vol. 21: All Out War, Part 2 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard
[Finished 13 August 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
[Finished 8 August 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Weekends at Bellevue by Julie Holland
[Finished 6 August 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
[Finished 27 July 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 20: All-Out War by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard
[Finished 24 July 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
[Finished 18 July 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
[Finished 16 July 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
[Finished 15 July 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark
[Finished 8 July 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott
[Finished 6 July 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
[Finished 27 June 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

The Revolutions by Felix Gilman
[Finished 18 June 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Tlooth by Harry Mathews
[Finished 31 May 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Mlik & Filth by Carmen Gimenez Smith
[Finished 30 May 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
[Finished 27 May 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Dune by Frank Herbert
[Finished 21 May 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Demonology by Rick Moody
[Finished 11 May 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Killian Plunett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong
[Finished 10 May 2014] A perfectly executed alternate history Superman story. Absolutely brilliant.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
[Finished 5 May 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Superman: Earth One, Volume Two by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis
[Finished 4 May 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert
[Finished 27 April 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

The Instructions by Adam Levin
[Finished 26 April 2014] An absolute masterpiece. When I finished the book, I immediately turned back to the beginning and started re-reading it.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
[Finished 25 April 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Lying Awake by Mark Salzman
[Finished 1 April 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
[Finished 30 March 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Paris Trout by Pete Dexter
[Finished 26 March 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
[Finished 21 March 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff with Sharon Mazel
[Finished 19 March 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
[Finished 11 March 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Wood Nymph Seeks Centaur by Francesca Lia Block
[Finished 7 March 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

iZombie Resurrection by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred
[Finished 27 February 2014] And in a sudden burst of activity, the storyline is brought to a sudden and unsatisfying conclusion. Perhaps, given more time to develop the mythology and characters of the story, it would have been a more successful series, but with this conclusion, it ends up being ultimately unsatisfying.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
[Finished 27 February 2014] An interesting concept: the aged of Earth are sent into space to be soldiers in interstellar warfare. Along the way, Scalzi raises a number of metaphysical questions and then proceeds to completely ignore them. The characters are given new cloned bodies and their consciousnesses are copied into them, but do the bodies still retain any consciousness? Scalzi is apparently uninterested.

iZombie: Six Feet Under and Rising by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred
[Finished 20 February 2014] I think this is just around the point where the creators of the series discover that cancellation is imminent. Additional characters and story elements appear in the comic just in time for it to suddenly become a burden.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinnney
[Finished 19 February 2014] Kinney plays around with a wonderfully underregarding narrator in this book. A nice mixture of prose and comic book.

Pirate Cinema by Corey Doctorow
[Finished 16 February 2014] A ridiculously bad book. Where to start? There’s the whole propaganda aspect of the book. Everything and everyone in the book exists to serve Doctorow’s ideological argument. Then there are the incredibly two-dimensional characters, especially the narrator who is an almost archetypal “Mary Sue” character. Even the “flaws” that Doctorow gives him in an attempt to make him less of a caricature only highlight the ridiculousness of the character. And then of course, there’s the painful overuse of British slang. It’s like the unpronounceable alien names in bad sci fi but worse because Doctorow apparently thinks this gives his book dimension. Instead, it just calls attention to the fact that this is a book about a British teen written by an American. The discourse about how the House of Lords works is the biggest case of this. Seriously? We’re going to take a break from the narrative to correct the sort of misimpression about Lords that an American would have in a story narrated by a British kid who we can only assume is speaking to a British audience? A friend said that there was a good book hiding somewhere in the pages, but I really don’t think so.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
[Finished 11 February 2014] The first time I read this, I didn’t care for it. I don’t know what the hell was wrong with me. This is hilarious and wonderfully written. I owe Brock Clarke and apology for not accepting his whole-hearted recommendation of Muriel Spark.

iZombie: uVampire by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred
[Finished 9 February 2014] After a strong start in the first volume of the series, I felt like the writers were treading water in this volume. Yes, a new antagonist is introduced (or maybe she appeared at the end of the first volume—I don’t remember), but overall there was not much to make me too excited about where things were going. I gather it gets better in the last two TPs of the series.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
[Finished 8 February 2014] This is apparently one of the “big” books of 2013. Certainly big in terms of page count. I’m less persuaded about big in terms of importance. The narrative voice felt a bit grating to me, not really someone that I cared to spend 771 pages with.

The Mindful Way through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn
[Finished 6 February 2014] While there’s some good ideas here, I felt like a lot of this was marred by a rather western sensibility of goal-orientedness. The presentation of ideas through “case studies” in particular struck me as rather irritating.

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
[Finished 5 February 2014] Fitzgerald does some interesting things with voice, veering from a close third-person perspective to a rather detached narration which would be appropriate in a pure non-fiction history. There’s a lot to learn about technique here, but I wasn’t really taken by the experience of reading the book.

Vacation by Deb Olin Unferth
[Finished February 2014] No review: I’m declaring behind-on-this-list amnesty.

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn
[Finished 29 January 2014] The good: The book is lyrically written and doesn’t oversimplify mindfulness like some other books on the subject does. The bad: there seems to be a confusion of being attentive towards a child and being indulgent towards a child. There’s a fair amount in here which seems like a recipe for disaster in childrearing.

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
[Finished 29 January 2014] A curiously structured story. Two chess players, Czentovic and Dr B are each introduced with lengthy backstories and the story culminates with the two broken men facing off at the chess table with Czentovic’s brokenness ultimately defeating Dr B’s brokenness at the chess table, but revealing Dr B to be the more humane and more human of the two men in the end.

Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman
[Finished 22 January 2014] Part of my project to learn everything there is to know about parenting before the babies are born. My wife and I both read this; she went first. As she told me about the book and raised some objections about how it all seemed common sense to her (she’s Mexican), I told her that reading the book was likely to be a different experience for us. For me it would be about how the French parent, for her it would be about how Americans parent. With that insight she realized that this was precisely the case.

The book presents its insights in a memoir format, letting us discover the French parenting ideas through her eyes. At times, she seems to get the clue a little slowly.

Druckerman is clearly an aficionado of the French parenting style, and I can see why. There’s a lot to be learned from the French cadre. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Cesar Millan’s techniques in dog behavior management. A lot comes down to rules, boundaries and limitations, but with the added bonus that given that we’re working with human beings rather than animals, it’s possible to actually communicate rationally with children.

My wife says that there are a number of bad reviews of the book on amazon from people who mistake discipline for cruelty. That’s a pity. My experience is that children are pretty resilient, even the most spoiled children can grow up to be good adults. The big difference really is how pleasant the journey there will be for those around them.

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen
[Finished 19 January 2014] The first of my reading for the last term of my MFA. Hansen is one of these authors that I should have known sooner than I have. Hansen is what seems like a rarity in contemporary literature: someone who takes religion seriously without becoming overly pious or sentimental. There are some wonderful sentences in this book, and intriguing uses of mixed chronology (the bulk of the narrative comes in paired streams: a present-tense narrative of Mariette along with conversations relating observations about the events of the present-tense narrative given in past tense within the conversation).

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
[Finished 16 January 2014] A re-read. I last read this about twenty-five years ago, so I only had some vague memories about the book other than that I loved it on first reading. On returning to it, I still love it. This is a book which rewards in-depth study; there’s so much to be learned from how Ford handles his use of flashback in the novel, the unreliability of the narrator (of course) and what I had forgotten most was how funny the novel is.

Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
[Finished 11 January 2014] Some reading for my MFA residency. The genesis of the novel is interesting: Tom found a literary agent as a result of a short story he wrote. The literary agent liked the violence in Tom’s work and thus was born this story of violence and redemption in rural Mississippi. Franklin does a good job of evoking the terrain and people of his setting and tells a page-turning story, although some of the characters end up a bit two-dimensional in the end. I did like that there were multiple mysteries within the text, not always about the two main murders, but also about the characters and how they ended up who they were. I did somewhat wish that things were less cleanly wrapped up in the end of the story.

Minimalist Parenting by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest
[Finished 9 January 2014] There’s a fair amount here which seems to be common sense and a disturbing assumption that parent is the same as mother. But even with that, this is a useful resource it seems.

Unmentionables by Beth Ann Fennelly
[Finished 6 January 2014] A great collection of poems. Fennelly writes largely in a confessional mode. There is one delightful sestina here, “To JC and DL on the Opening of the Sestina Bar” while other poems tend to be more free in their form including a few prose poems in the mix.

Demon Camp by Jennifer Percy
[Finished 5 January 2014] A book from my book club, narrative nonfiction I would not have otherwise read. Percy tells a compelling story, intermixing the suicidal reaction of many soldiers to PTSD to their evangelical demon-haunted response to the condition.

From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler
[Finished 4 January 2014] There are a handful of good things here, but it gets overwhelmed early on when Butler declares that writing that doesn’t follow his process is not—cannot be—art. Read the chapters on cinema and dialog, ignore most of the rest.

The Book of Men edited by Colum McCann
[Finished 31 December 2013] Eighty very short pieces, some fiction, some essays. A handful are especially good but some end up being little more than an impression.

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
[Finished 26 December 2013] Not just a turd of a book, but a 752-page turd of a book. Supposedly, Wolfe had his college-age kids vet the depiction of college life, but I’m guessing they looked at the massive pile of manuscript and just said, “sure, Dad, it’s great.” The book reads like a long jeremiad directed at Jocks, frat boys, and nearly everyone else at the university. Wolfe goes to great lengths to justify in his narrator’s mind that his title character is in some way to blame for her inevitable date rape. His ideas of college slang and culture are laughably inaccurate. I kept expecting the narrator to, at any moment, break into a chorus of “Kids” from Bye Bye Birdie while I was reading it. That said, I think it will work well as fodder for an essay I’m working on about unreliable third-person narration, even though Wolfe almost certainly did not intend this novel to be an instance of this.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
[Finished 18 December 2013] A difficult book, but one which largely rewards the reader for raising to its challenge. I found Morrison’s use of achronology especially interesting.

Best American Stories 2013 edited by Elizabeth Strout
[Finished 16 December 2013] Some good stories here. I especially liked Antonya Nelson’s “Chapter Two.” Enough so that I sent her a fan e-mail.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
[Finished 1 December 2013] Graeber opens his book with a provocative statement: The idea of an age of barter is a myth. As an anthropologist, he’s able to make a persuasive argument on this case. The title of the book is a bit misleading, however, in that the first two-thirds of the book are more an anthropological survey of debt, slavery and interpersonal relationships. Still, more than anything else, Graeber manages to come up with a compelling explanation of just what money is (and along the way, without explicitly saying anything about it, gives justification for a mildly inflationary fiat currency and shows why Bitcoin will likely fail as currency.

Best American Essays 2013 edited by Cheryl Strayed
[Finished 30 November 2013] This is only the second volume in the BAE series that I’ve read. My first observation is that the guest editor makes a huge difference from one year to the next. David Brooks’s selections left me unimpressed, but I really loved the essays that Cheryl Strayed picked for this volume—digging deep into the world of independent publications makes a world of difference. Another thing she’s done differently to great effect is abandoning the usual alphabetical order of the essays (the only other case of this I’ve seen in Best American was when Ann Patchett opted for reverse-alphabetical order for her volume of BASS). Instead, essays are arranged in such a way that they form a sort of internal dialog with each other.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 19: March to War by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard
[Finished 23 November 2013] Finally, things are happening.

Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko
[Finished 13 November 2013] This book reminded me, more than anything, of Kathy Acker. There are some great structural things happening here, like the shifts between first, second and third-person narration, although overall the book felt a bit light to me. I suspect this came to me at the wrong time.

& Sons by David Gilbert
[Finished 12 November 2013] When I read Beautiful Ruins, the whole time I was worried that Jess Walter was going to fuck up the delicate house of cards he had constructed in his wonderful work. Thankfully, he didn’t. Reading & Sons, I felt safe that David Gilbert wouldn’t—couldn’t even—fuck up his work. Sadly, I think he did, with a plot twist that is neither earned nor justified roughly mid-book. After this element of plot is brought in, I kept waiting for the justification of it and never had it given to me. That said, there is still some great language here, wonderful use of an omniscient first-person narrator and a book that is compelling to read even if it fails on some levels.

Best American Short Stories 2012 edited by Tom Perotta
[Finished 6 November 2013] The perils of delayed reviewing of books: I don’t remember specifics of this volume.

Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
[Finished 1 November 2013] Another “historical” recommended by MFA faculty. I’ve found Ackroyd to be a bit hit-and-miss and this book was, for me, mostly miss. The whole time-travel occult thing seemed to be a bit of a jumble and the archaic language of the seventeenth-century segments was more hindrance than help for establishing mood; I think it was perhaps a little overdone (having written a piece using the English equivalent of tutiendo, I can understand the temptations, but I also can’t excuse the succumbing to those same temptations).

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
[Finished November 2013] I first read Roy when she made her debut on the pages of Granta just before this, her first and only novel, was published. Reading this, I really wish that Roy were still writing fiction. The use of time in the novel, moving forwards and backwards without effort and mingling the consciousnesses of the twins at the center of the story makes for a compelling read.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
[Finished 25 October 2013] A recommendation from one of the faculty members from my MFA program for historical fiction. There’s some interesting use of varying narrators here, although interestingly, Winterson is willing to use nearly identical voices for the two main narrators, as well as placing some of their statements into other characters’ mouths. As I think back on it, this was a bit of genius really.

Strangers at the Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes
[Finished 25 October 2013] A novel by one of the new faculty at my MFA program. The novel is told using multiple close third-person perspectives with some interesting uses of flashback to establish backstory within the framework of the narrative as well as the occasional flashforward to hint at the looming disaster in the story. A rather interestingly structured piece of fiction.

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem
[Finished 20 October 2013] Lethem is doing some interesting things with his structure, veering from linear storytelling, at times unpredictably, in his account of how Rose and her family lived the second half of the twentieth century and the beginnings of this one. The descriptions are evocative and the characters are for the most part well-composed, but in the end there doesn’t seem to be a lot of there there in the book and the chronological variations don’t seem to have much real payoff in the novel.

The Passport by Herta Müller
[Finished 10 October 2013] I’d had high hopes for this given how highly-recommended it had been by classmates in my MFA program, but I found it overall to be a not terribly exciting work. Apparently I’m missing something.

The Diviners by Rick Moody
[Finished 6 October 2013] A sprawling novel which had its moments of poetry but I felt that some of the experimentation, particularly the movement from one POV character to another throughout the novel, was underdeveloped and the whole intertwining of the movie-within-the-novel and the novel itself was forced at best.

Atonement by Ian McEwan
[Finished 30 September 2013] The first time I read this novel, I hated it. I felt like the brilliance of the opening section was not met by the remainder of the book. Coming back to it knowing the twist of the final section and how everything fit together, however, it made a lot more sense. If it weren’t for the shift into first person in the final section, this would be a perfect instance of a novel written with an unreliable third-person narrator. The commentary on Briony Tallis’s attempts to tell the story behind the first section served as a great case of the novel becoming reflexive and self-aware of its story-telling.

Selected Poems and Letters by John Keats
[Finished 30 September 2013] I didn’t particularly care for Keats when I was originally assigned selections from this book back in 1986. Returning to him now, I can appreciate him somewhat more, although I still find the Victorian verse to not be all that appealing, but I do have at least some appreciation for his skills.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
[Finished 28 September 2013] An early piece of science fiction, telling of a dystopian future. The fascinating thing for me was Zamyatin’s use of language, employing science and mathematics as a source of metaphorical language for the narrator. One thing the novel most definitely was not, however, was a first person plural narrative as Brian Richardson implied it would be in Unnatural voices.

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
[Finished 23 September 2013] Very much the book that I needed to read when I needed to read it. I’d previously only known Tinti as an editor (One Story), and finally getting a chance to read her fiction, there are some things which should have been obvious (e.g., with a name like Tinti, of course she was raised Catholic and will be writing from a Catholic worldview), but the bigger thing was just getting the opportunity to see how she developed her characters, paradoxical in their mix of morality and lack thereof. Absolutely brilliant.

The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison
[Finished 18 September 2013] A disturbing account of a consensual incestuous affair between a father and daughter. Harrison employs dissociative language in an attempt to diminish her own complicity with the affair, but the fact of the complicity is still hard to avoid.

Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction by Meir Sternberg
[Finished 17 September 2013] Of all the criticism that I’ve read this year, this has had the most lasting impact on my thinking. Sternberg’s book is deservedly an important work in narrative theory and goes well beyond the topics suggested by the title. The chapter on omniscience was one of the best critical looks at the subject I’ve seen.

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticatt
[Finished 9 September 2013] Danticatt give a glimpse into life in rural Haiti in what’s billed as a novel but is really a collection of linked short stories. The format works well for Danticatt with the opportunity to get insight into events of the preceding stories from the stories which follow.

Among Murderers: Life After Prison by Sabine Heinlein
[Finished 7 September 2013] Sadly superficial. I was hopig for a deeper sense of what was happening in the lives of the men profiled in this book, but we rarely get much beyond Heinlein’s surface perceptions.

Living to Tell About It: A Rhetoric and Ethics of Character Narration by James Phelan
[Finished 4 September 2013] The key word in the title here is “ethics,” a concept that Phelan at times abuses in his effort to create a coherent theme through his criticism here. There are some interesting thoughts on unreliability in the novel but not much to make it worthwhile.

Narrative Discourse: An Essay on Method by Gérard Genette
[Finished 29 August 2013] I was looking forward to this after the lest Genette that I read, and this should have been a more satisfying read, yet I found it to be less interesting to me than FIgures of Literary Discourse. It did make me more eager to revisit Proust, though, and that’s a worthwhile thing in itself.

Vox by Nicholson Baker
[Finished 29 August 2013] An amazing technical feat. The whole book is a single conversation on a phone sex line. I can see this as a useful resource for some of my own writing which explores similar structural ideas (although very different topics).

The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim
[Finished 27 August 2013] A strange and bizarre book. The titular brothers gather in a library in a state of dilapidation and while at first it seems as if this will be some special gathering, it’s gradually revealed that they apparently all live together in a house gradually collapsing (the library is part of the house whose extent is unclear although it’s apparently large enough to house and feed the hundred brothers). Things devolve quickly into a state of chaos and remain there. I was not especially impressed.

Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts by William H. Gass
[Finished 26 August 2013] At one of my MFA seminars, the lecturer presented a number of quotes from this book that made it seem like it might be interesting, so not knowing anything more than title and author and a vague recollection of some sentences, I requested it from the library. It ended up being a bit of a mixed bag. There were a few essays that I found beautifully written, a few where Gass’s prejudices hindered my enjoyment of the work (and while it might be my own opposing prejudices at work, I believe his interjections did little to improve his argument).

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee
[Finished 20 August 2013] The opening chapter and a half of the novel are brilliant, leaving the reader unmoored at each step of the way. I was almost hoping for a Calvino-esque story where each chapter left me starting over from the beginning with a new set of characters and situations. Instead, things devolve into a fairly straightforward narrative, very plot driven with not a whole lot to make it artistically interesting. I found the pushing of the themes of forgiveness and redemption in the story to be a bit heavy-handed in its execution.

The Half-Known World by Robert Boswell
[Finished 14 August 2013] A remarkable book on writing craft. Boswell takes on a series of aspects of craft, varying from incorporating the political into fiction to omniscient viewpoint to those aspects of the writing process that surprise the author (he is very much of the school of thought that the writer shouldn’t try to shoehorn his characters into a too-preplanned plot). Boswell doesn’t hesitate to be prescriptive in his writing, choosing to focus on his own technique more than attempting to provide a more encyclopedic account of writing craft, but within these boundaries he creates something new and vital.

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacifalupi
[Finished 14 August 2013] More cheap science fiction from an on-line promo. In this case Bacifalupi writes stories of a dystopian future from outside the standard Western viewpoint, even when he sets his stories in the remnants of the United States. Two stories explore different aspects of a post-fossil fuel world in which calories are the supreme currency and the production of food is controlled by a handful of global conglomerates who, it is implied, have engineered a series of diseases to destroy competition from natural food sources. The mood here is overwhelmingly bleak and Bacifalupi falls prey to the temptation of so many science fiction writers to lade his prose with nonsensical names and terminology leaving me with a sour feeling after reading these stories despite the originality of so much of the writing.

Unnatural Voices: Extreme Narration in Modern and Contemporary Fiction by Brian Richardson
[Finished 10 August 2013] I had hoped for more discussion of omniscience in this book, but even so, reading the theoretical constructs surrounding a lot of unconventional narratives (particularly second-person and first-person plural) was illuminating and helpful for my own writing. I was particularly surprised to discover the long history of the first-person plural narrator, something which I had assumed was a recent innovation

The Collected Stories by Katherine Mansfield
[Finished 8 August 2013] Pretty much every story Mansfield ever wrote (a few minor fragments were published elsewhere along with her journals). The inclusion of the unfinished and suppressed, however, only works to the detriment of the collection, especially given that they take up the majority of the pages. I would recommend to the reader to stick with The Garden Party and perhaps Bliss but skip the rest. I suppose, with sufficient devotion, one might also read In a German Pension, but the two collections of unpublished and unfinished stories are completely skippable.

Figures of Literary Discourse by Gérard Genette
[Finished 5 August 2013] Reading French structuralists can be challenging, but I found Genette, at least in the early esays in this collection, to be an engaging read. The selection here, taken from a number of Genette’s works in French, is selected thematically, on the study of the concept of “figure” (related to, but not confined to, the English idea of the figure of speech) which the translator relates to the Roman rhetoricians figura and the Greek schema. Most of this is not related to my research for my MFA essay, but I can see this being fertile ground to mine for further critical and craft essays.

The Best American Essays 2012 edited by David Brooks
[Finished 3 August 2013] I’m not really a non-fiction person. It’s always surprised me how little the fiction section comprises of most bookstores. So this is the first time I’ve given the Best American Essays series a go. I have to admit it hasn’t really changed my mind. The pieces that I enjoyed the most were those that formally could have been short stories rather than essays, such as David J. Lawless’s “My Father/My Husband” about his wife’s Alzheimer’s-related dementia, while those that veered into polemic, like Marcia Angell’s “The Crazy State of Psychiatry,” were difficult to get through (I almost wonder, given the tone of Angell’s piece whether she might be connected to the Scientologists).

A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler
[Finished 1 August 2013] After hearing an interview with Butler about this novel, I was curious to see what he was doing with his omniscient point of view. There are a number of places where he manages a seamless transition in perspective from one character to another and he does a good job of transitioning between impersonal narrative and a stream-of-consciousness narrative which shifts between the present of the novel and the main characters’ remembrances of their history together. Where Butler fails, however, is in his characterization of the husband. It seemed that he needed a Hemingway or Gordon Lish to excise some of his over-explanation of the husband’s motives. I felt like passages such as, “Nearer to them, in the sweet smell of them, he would only become clumsy, would only feel the need for words and gestures he could never adequately give.” This sort of explicit characterization not only takes away from the narrative (Butler would have been better served, I think, depicting this through actions rather than thoughts), but makes the denouement of the novel that much weaker for the sudden shift in the husband’s character.

Our Own: Adopting and Parenting the Older Child by Trish Maskew
[Finished 29 July 2013] At times humorous, this is mostly a sobering account of what’s involved in older child adoption. While Maskew talks about the benefits, she also believes that an honest appraisal of the challenges is also essential for parents to be successful in the adoption (or to realize that the challenges are beyond their abilities to cope).

A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik
[Finished 23 July 2013] Maksik writes beautiful prose, describing his character, Jacqueline, with enough detail and emotion that I was willing to read for pages knowing little of who she was or even where she was as she sought out food and shelter. Faced with the difficult problem of how to make a narrative of a person who has few interactions with other people and whose primary concern is daily survival, Maksik rises to the challenge admirably. Unfortunately, this is not enough and after a while, I began to feel that Maksik had belabored his point too long until the point where the final revelation comes, of the final details of how Jacqueline found herself homeless and hungry in Greece, feels almost anti-climactic. Enough of the back story had been dribbled out earlier that there was insufficient payoff for the novel’s conclusion. Still, even its failure, A Marker to Measure Drift is an interesting read with much to teach about its central narrative challenge through Maksik’s solution to the problem.

Image, Music, Text by Roland Barthes
[Finished 19 July 2013] With this collection, I find myself returned to the paths of my undergraduate education, the late 1980s academic war around literary theory. In those days I enjoyed Barthes a great deal. Coming back to him now, I find myself thinking that there’s a great deal of authoritative statements about things which Barthes actually knows nothing about (whether photography or Hebrew grammar: I am an expert in neither subject, but I know enough to be able to be distracted by claims that are untrue and detract from Barthes’s central argument). When things grow closer to Barthes’s core competency, writing about linguistics and literature, however, he is able to write more cogently.the essays, “An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives” and “The Death of the Author” (I clearly remember reading the latter in one or more of my theory classes with its opening analysis of Balzac, although memory has conflated Balzac’s description of the castrato with Jung’s description of a priest in his writing). In these, I find a handful of ideas that are useful in developing a stronger reading of narrative for my own work.

The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel by James Wood
[Finished 17 July 2013] If only this book had existed (and I’d read it) as an undergrad, I might not have had my crisis of faith in criticism that led to the collapse of my academic career (I reached a point where I could justify creating literature, and creating literary theory, but literary criticism stopped making sense to me; unfortunately, I still had to write a fair amount of it to complete my coursework).

Wood, in theory, is focusing on humor in the novel in the essays here, although in practice, his nominal thematic thread frays by the end of the first third of the book. That said, the essays remain lucid and Wood is not afraid to be judgmental in his evaluations of the books and authors he writes about. More than that, his essays provide models not just for how to write literary criticism, but a guide for the writer of literature in shaping his own craft.

I do feel that Wood let his own prejudices work to his detriment in his essay on J. F. Powers, Wood’s confessed anti-clericalism causing him to misinterpret Powers to fit his own beliefs.

Juego de Soledades by Sergio Galindo
[Finished 17 July 2013] I first encountered Galindo in Antología de Cuentos Mexicanos, an anthology of mid-to-late twentieth-century authors. I enjoyed the Galindo stories in that book enough to seek out more Galindo. Very little of Galindo’s work is available in English and, as far as I know, none of his stories. This anthology takes selections from throughout Galindo’s career, beginning with selections from his first published collection and concluding with a handful of previously uncollected stories.

Galindo is perhaps little appreciated outside of Mexico for failing to be one of the followers of Pedro Páramo, the founding work of Latin American magical realism. His fiction has a more European feel to it (three stories take place either in Europe or en route to it, while another is about Europeans living and visiting Mexico). He would best be classified as being one of the followers of the followers of Kafka, bringing in some of the tangled situations of Kafka’s work while remaining firmly grounded in realistic subject matter, for example in “Tio Quintín” (Uncle Quintin) centers around the narrator’s attempt to find any member of his family who can help him remember his uncle Quintin, an uncle who it seems few if any of his family will even acknowledge the existence of. “Retrato de Anabella” (Portrait of Annabella) focuses on a semi-retired Italian opera singer living in squalor in Mexico visited by her niece and her niece’s husband, a day earlier than expected. They help her clean her apartment while learning of her life and the husband who left her on their wedding day to accept a fellowship in Europe, telling Anabella that he didn’t think she’d want to leave Mexico, and so Anabella stayed in Mexico descending into alcoholism and squalor.

The Years by Virginia Woolf
[Finished 14 July 2013] As dense as you’d expect from Virginia Woolf. Telling the story of an upper class English family on decline from the 1880s through the 1930s, it has the feel of a book which was meant to be much longer but ran out of energy before it could reach that point. There were some interesting uses of narrative technique throughout, although it was not quite the exemplar of omniscient narrative I had been led to believe.

The Novel Today: Contemporary Writers on Modern Fiction edited by Malcolm Bradbury
[Finished 8 July 2013] I picked up this anthology primarily for John Fowles’s “Notes on an Unfinished Novel” although I found all of the essays to be fairly interesting. Philip Roth wrote in an instantly recognizable voice about the problems of writing fiction in the face of a world already quite strange (and this in 1963 speaking primarily of figures from the ’50s!), there was a great deal of discussion about the impact of postmodernism on the novel and whether a postmodern approach would displace the “traditional” narrative form (as a few decades of history have shown, it has not), some mention of the impact of cinema on novel-writing, and a fair bit more. There were a few writers that I was unfamiliar with introduced to me and overall a great sense overview of how the novel was viewed in the ’60s and early ’70s.

Pilgrimage, Volume 1: Pointed Roofs, Backwater, Honeycomb by Dorothy M. Richardson
[Finished 3 July 2013] Notable as the first novel in the language to employ stream of consciousness (and the first work to have that term applied to it), this is the beginning of what ultimately spans fourteen novels, staying within the mind of the protagonist Miriam Henderson the whole time. It’s been interesting to use Google books and Project Gutenberg e-texts to examine works by Fielding and Dickens to discover the lack of any sort of internal monologue in the third person (and nothing quite like what marked it in the twentieth century first person narrative). As the novels progress, Richardson grows increasingly daring with her narrative style, employing ellipses and fragmentary narration with greater frequency. I think this was enough of a taste of Richardson’s style for my needs, but I could see the interested reader reading the whole of the work.

Further Interpretations of Real-life Events by Kevin Moffett
[Finished 2 July 2013] The title story from this collection is one of my favorite short stories. I first read it when it appeared in Best American Short Stories and it more than stands up for a re-reading. The collection as a whole generally meets the challenge of quality set by that first story with Moffett exploring slightly off-kilter versions of the world and using humor to push against harder truths to acknowledge.

Terrorist by John Updike
[Finished 1 July 2013] This is the first novel of Updike’s that I’ve read (I’ve only read a couple of his short stories previously). The protagonist of Updike’s novel, Ahmad Ashmawy, ends up being a flat character with little life. The second main character, Ahmad’s high school guidance counselor, Jack Levy, is a little more two-dimensional, but really the most alive character ends up being Ahmad’s boss/coworker after graduation. The imam of the mosque which Ahmad attended had some moments of dimensionality, but being only seen through Ahmad’s eyes, Updike was limited in his ability to make the character live.

I read this book in particular because it was mentioned in an article on omniscient narrative, but other than a few moments in early chapters, this is less an omniscient narrative as one told largely in close third with occasional abrupt changes in the POV character. The choice of present tense in the narrative does provide a sense of omniscience through the grammar of the novel.

Oulipo Compendium edited by Hary Mathews and Alastair Brotchie
[Finished July 2013] A wonderful book. Presented in encyclopedic format, it ends up being not really a book to read but one to dip into, presenting references on the people, works and ideas of the Oulipo and its related movements. If I were to do a PhD in Lit these days, this would be my dissertation topic.

My Escapee by Corinna Vallianatos
[Finished 26 June 2013] Not entirely to my taste, there were some sublime moments in this collection, but a lot of times when I felt that I must be missing something. The first and last stories in the collection, both of which tell the stories of old women, were easily the best in the collection.

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
[Finished 24 June 2013] My first Palahniuk. There’s a lot that I would expect from my experiences from the films of his books: the gratuitously transgressive characters (among other things, the narrator runs a fake suicide hotline with which he encourages the despondent to end their lives), the country-spanning crimes, the nihilism. There are some truly wonderful details amidst the story here and a good narrative voice. I’ve noted that some people have found this to be not so good, which makes me all the more interested in reading more Palahniuk.

Five Hundred Years of Printing by S. H. Steinberg, revised by John Trevitt
[Finished 21 June 2013] A wonderfully readable account, not just of printing but also of publishing and to a lesser extent book design. At times Steinberg’s text frustrates because he fails to provide illustrations of some of the typefaces or designs that he describes, but overall it was a fun read. John Trevitt’s updates in the body of the text are cleanly done and noticeable only because of the occasional reference to events beyond Steinberg’s death. Sadly the final chapter added by Trevitt doesn’t measure up to the rest of the book. There are a number of careless errors (“Adobe’s Apple-Macintosh,” being the most glaring of these) and an occasional misunderstanding of the state of the art of printing at the time of the update.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
[Finished 20 June 2013] A wonderfully rich story. The second part occasionally runs a little off the rails with the jarring first-person narration of the interrogator, but the overall mystery is handled with perfection leaving the reader uncertain exactly how the story will end.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Vol. 8: Last Gleaming by Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty and Scott Allie
[Finished 18 June 2013] And the season arc comes to an end with an almost endless sequence of mind-numbing violence. Big chunks of plot turn out to be just not justified well or at all and overall I was left feeling a bit disappointed with how everything played out, not just because of the fate of characters but because it seemed like the overall season 8 arc was poorly conceived in the first place. I’m not entirely sure I’ll do season 9. (Oh who am I kidding, the note at the end of the book with some bits of explanation about dealing with the translation from television to comics and a touch of apology plus the fact that it’s Joss Whedon means I’ll give him another shot at doing it better).

Project Physics by Harvard Project Physics
[Finished 18 June 2013] Written as a high school textbook to teach physics without requiring calculus, this ends up being a bit of an odd bird. The chapters on mechanics end up being a bit vague since it’s hard to really talk about acceleration without a concept of the derivative (and anti-derivative). Curiously, the chapters on nuclear physics and relativity don’t suffer as much from a lack of higher mathematics. The title seems a bit misleading as there are no projects actually on offer in the textbook (although there were apparently supplementary materials with said projects). The organization around the history of Physics does make for a good read, although there is perhaps a bit too much time dedicated to incorrect theories for my tastes. My overall reaction is that physics is a subject that can only be covered superficially without calculus at the ready.

The Complete Poems by Thomas Hardy
[Finished 17 June 2013] As a poet, Thomas Hardy is a pretty good novelist. There are some (rare) moments of poetic brilliance here, but most of the volume is rather forgettable. Hardy is most inclined towards narrative poems telling tales that verge on the gothic. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of reading Hardy’s poetry is realizing how far into the twentieth century Hardy lived. He gave up novel writing at the end of the nineteenth century but was writing poems write up to his death in 1928, with poems touching on subjects such as the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and most surprisingly Albert Einstein’s theories.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 18: What Comes After by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 15 June 2013] We’re moving to a point in the story now where the zombies have become more of a background threat with the real danger being the other humans and the struggle to rebuild civilization. Negan’s character is developing as an interesting villain, although it seems difficult to understand exactly why the people in his community follow him given his somewhat capricious nature.

The Practice of Creative Writing: A Guide for Students by Heather Sellers
[Finished 13 June 2013] I found this book to be a bit dull and prescriptive. I think a big part of it is that it’s really geared towards the beginning writer and having never taken a beginning creative writing class, I can’t really place this into my own context. Other people seem to like it a lot more.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Vol. 7. Twilight by Bred Meltzer, Georges Jeanty and Joss Whedon
[Finished 11 June 2013] The story picks up a bit building towards the final act, but the art continues to mar things. There were more than a few occasions when I had to turn back a few pages matching outfits to figure out who some of the characters were supposed to be.

The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore
[Finished 10 June 2013] After hearing Gilmore interviewed on Fresh Air, I thought that this would be an interesting read. And there are times when Gilmore manages to convey well the emotions surrounding infertility and adoption, but it seems like there’s a wide swath of the novel which is dedicated to some poorly crafted characterization exercises and the actual experiences with the birth mothers felt rushed as Gilmore consigned these to the last fifth of the book. Add on what felt like some generally lazy writing and poor proofreading and overall I felt like I got more from her interview than from her novel.

The Throne of the Heaven of the Nations Third Millenium General Assembly by Denis Johnson
[Finished 6 June 2013] Reading for my MFA program, I found this book, unlike Johnson’s fiction, to be a bit offputting. There were occasional flashes of brilliance, but most of it felt rather mundane.

It Chooses You by Miranda July
[Finished 5 June 2013] A book about more than its ostensible topic, the stories and people behind for sale listings from The Pennysaver. It’s also about July’s own creative process both in the writing of this book and in the writing of the movie she was working on at the same time. Unlike the short story collection that I read, there seemed to be an undercurrent of honesty and courage that her fiction lacked. It does make me more interested to see The Future having read the book.

Life: A Users Manual by Georges Perec
[Finished 4 June 2013] Just absolutely amazing. I’d previously read Perec’s A Void which was written without the use of the letter E (and perhaps more impressively, then translated into English without the use of the letter E). But Perec is no one-trick pony. Here he tells the story of an entire building, going off on delightful digressions based on the contents or previous residents of the building’s apartments, while simultaneously playing with the concept of an artist who painted watercolors which were made into jigsaw puzzles, re-assembled, restored to being watercolors then returned to the place of their creation where the paint was removed returning the paper on which the paintings were made to their original blank states. Everything in the building is detailed from lists of things found on the staircases to the furnishings of the apartments to the detritus abandoned in the cellars. Seriously, just go and read this book. You’ll love it.

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
[Finished 3 June 2013] An occasionally beautiful, occasionally frustrating collection of stories. There’s an undercurrent of loneliness throughout July’s work here which when it comes a little closer to the surface enjances her prose, but too often gets pushed away as more a joke than anything else.

Collected Stories by Raymond Carver
[Finished 21 May 2013] An amazingly comprehensive collection of Carver’s fiction. The inclusion of both What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Beginners provides an interesting opportunity for seeing Gordon Lish’s editing process at work.

There’s the cliché among writers of “killing your darlings.” Comparing the Lish and Carver versions of the stories, Lish not only killed Carver’s darlings, but he burned down their houses, and tracked down and slaughtered all of the darlings’ friends and relatives. In many cases, the Lish version of the story was half the length (if not less) of the original Carver version and the excisions almost always improved the story, allowing the central Truth to shine without so much unnecessary explaining (“Tell the Women We’re Going” is a notable example of this with Lish eliminating a lot of unnecessary explanation behind the motivation for the murder of the girls—as well as having Jerry kill both girls and not just one as was the case in the original story). There are some bizarre emendations made by Lish though. I can’t help but wonder what made him change the room number in “Gazebo” or the name of the cardiologist in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

The small selection of Carver’s essays is another nice bonus, providing a chance to get some insight into Carver’s own view of his writing process. I entered this volume having never read a Carver short story and I left it a huge Carver fan.

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
[Finished 20 May 2013] A wonderful surprise in the ebooks that were part of the humble ebook bundle. This is less science fiction and more in the realm of magical realism. Link lets her imagination take her to any place she likes in the stories in this collection and her imagination manages to choose some delightful destinations for its travels. It’s not perfect writing by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s among the best in the humble bundle so far.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
[Finished 17 May 2013] When I first read “Free Fruit for Young Windows” in Best American Short Stories, I wasn’t very impressed. But when I read it again at the end of this collection, it almost seemed a different story. Englander manages to write in many tones in the stories in this collection, opening with the Carveresque “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” which is able to be referential to the Carver story without descending into pastiche. Some of the stories are published for the first time in this collection including some of my favorites.

Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczinski and Shane Davis
[Finished 12 May 2013] A delightful re-imagining of the Superman origin story, establishing a new villain with another new villain behind that one and making Superman a bit less of the universally admired figure he was in his original incarnation. The graphic novel format of the Earth One series allows for an expansive story and a higher level of artwork, all to the book’s benefit.

My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman
[Finished 11 May 2013] If there is any doubt that the language of faith is poetry, this book (and also Mary Karr’s Lit) should put those doubts to rest. Wiman creates a compelling picture of the dialog between faith and disbelief, the struggles that are at the heart of faith for the modern soul. Wiman manages to convey what his relationship with God is about without becoming saccharine, superficial or dogmatic.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger
[Finished 11 May 2013] In the local authors area at the Chicago Cultural Center, they have some pages from The Night Bookmobile on display. They’re a good reminder that Niffenegger was an artist before she was an author. The illustrations and text combine to create a wonderful experience, something surreal and a little horrific (the plot evoked a similar emotional response in me that Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry did).

Homer & Langley by E. L. Doctorow
[Finished 4 May 2013] A surprisingly bland take on what should have been fascinating subject matter. I first learned about the Collyer brothers from a play I saw with my wife at one of the little theatres that dot Chicago’s north side. That play treated the brothers as, ultimately, an enigma, only understandable through guesses and speculations based on occasional sightings from without. Doctorow takes the opposite approach, putting himself squarely in the mind of Homer, the blind Collyer brother. He takes significant liberties with chronology and character, creating events and interactions that existed only in the pages of the novel as a means of making his novel a commentary on the whole of the twentieth century. It fails at this and fails at producing any illumination into the Collyer brothers as well, resulting in a book which is ultimately flat and lifeless.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Vol. 6. Retreat by Jane Espenson, Georges Jeanty and Joss Wheadon
[Finished 1 May 2013] A fairly action-packed and well in-character sequence of comics. There are a couple of returning characters, but two big reveals in this section are harmed by the fact that I really didn’t realize who the characters were meant to be (I had to flip back a few pages to know who the girl in the purple shirt was and Oz was completely unrecognizable to me). Still, despite these shortcomings in the art (and the cast of many interchangeable and disposable extra slayers who don’t really do much for me), it was an interesting sequence and made me eager to continue with season 8.

iZombie: Dead to the World by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred
[Finished 25 April 2013] A wonderfully written and drawn comic. I’ve taken up reading comics relatively lately and this is one of three series that I’m buying (the others being the Buffy comics and Walking Dead). By far, this has the best artwork of the three, and the writing is crisp and entertaining, without descending into camp. We get all the standard movie monsters: ghosts, zombies, vampires, werewolves (sorry, wereterriers), but not Frankenstein monster (yet) plus a secret clan of monster hunters. There’s been a set of interesting turns with the division into good guys and bad guys not being entirely clear and plenty of hints that not everything is what it seems. With that, I’m happy to keep reading this series because I need to know what comes next.

A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia by Victor Pelevin
[Finished 25 April 2013] I enjoyed Pelevin’s magical realist stories in this volume, tales that blurred the boundaries between dreams and realities (although I thought that “Bulldozer Driver’s Day” perhaps went too far in the direction of attempting to write a dream as a story). There’s a sense of surrealism and absurdity in these stories which really appealed to me. I wish I could write like this, but any attempts I’ve made have ended in dismal failure.

Tenth of December by George Saunders
[Finished 25 April 2013] Saunders is a writer who is a master of narrative voice and this collection continues to demonstrate his skill in that arena. There does appear to be some limitations in Saunders’s thematic imagination with two stories depending on the impact of psychopharmacological drugs with trademarked names. But other stores manage to be great additions to the canon of surreal Saunders stories.

The Empire of Death by Paul Koudounaris
[Finished 23 April 2013] A lavishly illustrated book, with monochrome pictures on every text page and more than enough color plates to satisfy the visual appetite. As a picture book, it’s wonderful. As a book of text, on the other hand, it falls short on a few points. First, the choice of small type and light ink makes the book near-impossible to read in anything but ideal lighting conditions. As for the text itself, Koudounaris displays a good historical understanding of his subject, but fails at anything relating to Catholic religion. There are numbers of mistakes (e.g., confusing limbo and purgatory) that mar Koudounaris’s account.

Airships by Barry Hannah
[Finished 17 April 2013] Hannah writes with an incredibly strong voice in these stories. His use of language and vernacular dialect is astonishing (as well as a complete lack of fear surrounding the use of the “N-word”). There’s a level of alienation I feel encountering him, the difference between a southern writer and a boy from Chicago reading his words, but his characters, plots and voice manage to bridge the gap, even when he’s writing about Confederate soldiers or southern good ol’ boys.

Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson
[Finished 16 April 2013] Darkly comic. The obvious comparison is Catch-22, but I found this book to be far more entertaining and more successful in its aims. Robinson manages to make the erratic and misanthropic Woolley, his central character, an ultimately tragic and likeable character against all odds.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
[Finished 15 April 2013] The problem with the post-apocalyptic novel is figuring out what the end-game should be. Do we conclude with a nihilistic we all die in the end resolution, or try to come up with some sort of hope for the story and if so, what form does that hope take. And then there’s also the problem of having a story which is able to rise above the post-apocalyptic setting. Heller occasionally reaches that point, particularly in his depiction of the relationship between Hig and his dog Jasper, but most of the time, the story stays distressingly static and fails to live up to its potential.

Mount Analogue by René Daumal
[Finished 9 April 2013] I suppose had I read this when I was the young man who could read Richard Bach with a straight face I would have loved this book. Instead, I read this when I’m older and wiser. There are some moments of hilarity in Daumal’s narrative, but they’re overshadowed by clumsy allegory and absurd metaphysics.

White Man's Grave by Richard Dooling
[Finished 9 April 2013] I’m somewhat surprised that this book has fallen out of print. I like how Dooling manages the portrayal of African culture through the eyes of his American protagonists, keeping close his own views on whether the events of the novel are natural or supernatural (with the exception of the appearance of the bat in Randall’s bedroom). The accounting of American culture in the early 90s is exceptionally well-drawn, especially the dashed dreams of recent college grads facing the disconnect between their education and real life.

The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics and the Heart of the Catholic Chu by John Thavis
[Finished 9 April 2013] Essential reading for anyone interested in the contemporary Vatican. Thavis managed to hit the luck jackpot for his book, having his book come out a week and a half after Benedict announced his resignation, guaranteeing him far greater sales than might have otherwise been possible. A paperback edition was rushed into production before the conclave.

Thavis presents his information in thematic chapters covering the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. One unfortunate aspect of this is a tendency to jump around in time, leaving the reader uncertain when the events described are taking place or who is pope at the time. It might have behooved Thavis to focus his writing on the papacy of Benedict. A final chapter on the “Real Benedict” was sadly less informative than Thavis was in his Fresh Air interview on the papacy.

In some ways, Thavis’s depiction of the Vatican press was more illuminating than his coverage of the Vatican itself. It was startling to see how little the Vatican is able to control its own message and how much the press gets things distorted or just plain wrong.

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
[Finished 5 April 2013] I first encountered Groff through her short stories, so it was interesting to see what she does in the long form. Here she writes in a stream of consciousness style, redolent of Cormac McCarthy. The first part, with her protagonist Bit as a young child raised in an upstate New York commune, is hard going because of this, the perspective fragmented and incomplete, but as her character ages, the voice becomes more grounded and drives the reader to revisit those earlier pages as a means of understanding the later parts of the novel. There’s a great depth to the subject matter as Groff explores questions of human excess in the collapse of the commune as well as the last section, set in a near future where climate change and pandemic viruses threaten human existence, all without losing touch with the central narrative of the life of Bit. There are times when the huge cast of characters gets distracting, trying to keep track of the assorted characters from the commune who drop in and out of the narrative as the novel progresses, but the novel ends up being a satisfying read in the end.

The Rebels by Sándor Márai
[Finished 28 March 2013] I found Sándor Márai’s The Rebels to be an interesting work. It starts off feeling almost directionless, but then in the last two chapters as things disintegrate for the four boys at the center of the book, it becomes hard to put down. There were a number of wonderful sentences scattered throughout the book, writing about ideas in a way that’s become uncommon in a lot of contemporary literary fiction. The use of a sort of composite third-person point of view in many portions of the novel was especially interesting to me.

Antología de Cuentos Mexicanos edited by María del Carmen Millán
[Finished 27 March 2013] For me, reading in Spanish can be a slow and challenging process. I can read newspapers without too much effort, but literary fiction, like the stories in this volume, requires a careful word-by-word reading as my vocabulary slowly expands. But slow reading has its own benefits, finding wonderful turns of phrase (many of which I fully intend to shamelessly pilfer) and intriguing idioms (pueblo rabón, meaning a run-down village, translates literally as bob-tail village). The authors in this collection are largely unfamiliar to me, and few if any have been translated into English. I may correct that.

Kiku's Prayer by Shusakū Endō
[Finished 21 March 2013] I first encountered Shusakū Endō in an article somewhere which described him as the “Japanese Graham Greene.” As a dedicated Greene fan who’d run out of Greene to read (I’ve also made my way through Evelyn Waugh’s œuvre), I decided to read what was considered Endō’s most characteristic novel, Silence. Like Silence, Kiku’s Prayer is centered around the persecution of Japanese Catholics, although the focus has shifted from the beginning of the persecution in Silence to the end of it in Kiku’s Prayer. There’s also a shift in Endō’s focus here. In Silence, the title referred to the silence of God to the suffering of the Catholics and the ultimate apostasy of the European missionary priest in the face of his torture by the Japanese authorities. But here, Endō writes about the end of the persecution and as a reader, we know that there is hope for these characters, the only question is whether Endō will end the novel before the ban on Christianity is lifted. I find myself thinking that in some ways the comparison with Greene is not completely justified. Greene’s characters are ones who, in many ways, are fleeing from God’s grace, most explicitly in The End of the Affair, but also in his other “religious” novels. With Endō, the characters are actively seeking God and are greeted with only silence. Except here, the notes of hope actually manifest themselves in some strange ways: The sinful Itō who has the job of persecuting the prisoners and who exploits Kiku and is indirectly responsible for her death and directly responsible for her despair, becomes a “Kirishitan” although he remains very much the sinner. And Kiku, who, despite her love for the Kirishitan Seikichu, never becomes Kirishitan and retains a hostility towards the faith because it is keeping the man she loves away from her for reasons she cannot fathom, is given a vision of the Virgin Mary just before her death on the floor of the Nagasaki Christian Church. The depth of the comparison between Greene and Endō lies really in the fact that both authors treat religion as something of complexity and death rather than as a purely inspirational topic.

Miami Blues by Charles Willeford
[Finished 12 March 2013] One of those pure entertainment books which is hard to put down. I’m intended to write annotations on this book, for my MFA program, but I kept forgetting to take notes as I read. Just great writing and a gripping plot, who could ask for anything more? Even the grotesque coincidences weren’t problematic for me.

Force Majeure by Bruce Wagner
[Finished 10 March 2013] The opening of Force Majeure left me predisposed to dislike the book. I just found the writing in the first paragraphs to be forced and unappealing. Going back to it now, I’m realizing it’s as much a problem with the narrative voice. As a whole, the book felt disappointingly episodic with no real overarching plot (Wagner flirted with Bud’s relationship with the Doctor being an important driver of the story, but too often just let that fall apart while he departed on yet another fanciful adventure, but even the episodes were uninspiring as they seemed to lack any meaningful beginnings or endings. The character of Bud’s mother felt like Wagner might have ripped her off wholesale from the character of Jonathan Price’s mother in Brazil.

Penny Arcade: Attack of the Bacon Robots by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik
[Finished 10 March 2013] Apparently, this is the most popular webcomic. Personally, I found it tedious and incomprehensible. Apparently, between not being a gamer and reading topical humor over a decade old, this ends up being completely uninteresting.

The Narrow Corner by W. Somerset Maugham
[Finished 28 February 2013] I’ve been a Maugham fan ever since I discovered him through his short stories purchased at a mall bookstore in St Louis, back in the days when malls had bookstores. It’s a somewhat languid tale told mostly from the point of view of Dr Saunders, a skilled eye doctor and opium addict who is uprooted from his comfortable existence to treat a patient on a somewhat remote island where he ends up hitching a ride back towards home with a mysterious pair of men: a crooked captain and a young man of mysterious background. As a pure adventure and mystery story it’s enjoyable, but where it really shines is in its exploration of the relationship between ugly old age and youthful beauty. Truly a wonderful piece of writing.

Little Black Book of Stories by A. S. Byatt
[Finished 20 February 2013] Once again, Byatt doesn’t fail to please. This is some amazing stuff here, with Byatt in great control of her language and able to create great imagery, for example, I loved her use of increasingly vivid and unlikely adjectives in the following sentence: “His creased face and his arthritic fingers and his cobbled teeth and his no doubt graveyard breath had nothing to do with anything so alive and lovely.”

A Farewell to Arms: The Hemingway Library Edition by Ernest Hemingway
[Finished 19 February 2013] A well-drawn account, as much about love as about war. I found myself finding all manner of wonderful things to note within the body of the text, but even more interesting were the appendices which gave some insight into the composition and revision process of writing the novel. Seeing the edits that Hemingway made is a writing seminar in itself, well worth the price of admission on its own.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
[Finished 13 February 2013] This is a book that’s all plot. OK, not all plot, but man, the plot the plot the plot. I have some qualms about the characterization in the book (the depiction of Amy, in particular, if this book had been written by a man, would be seen as disturbingly misogynistic), and when Flynn stops the diary entries, it feels less like two different narrative voices in the Amy and Nick chapters, but the storytelling and pacing are top notch and her use of asynchrony between the two narratives is handled amazingly well.

Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose
[Finished 12 February 2013] When I first saw this in the bookstore, I read the first chapter and realized that this was effectively an English major in a book. I really wish this book had existed when I was an undergrad, it could have prevented my crisis of faith in the value of literary criticism and interpretation. This is clearly an essential book for any writer to own and also for most readers to own as well. If I have any quibble, it’s in the labelling of the bibliography as “To Be Read Immediately.” Alas, what I had hoped would be a curriculum is really merely a list of all the books quoted and most of the books mentioned in the text.

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
[Finished 12 February 2013] After reading Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty, I thought that I should read Lucy Grealy’s account of things. There’s not much overlap in the two accounts (although both recount Lucy’s losing her virginity at the beginning of her time at the University of Iowa). What surprised me was how prosaic the book felt. Having recently read Mary Karr’s Lit, I was expecting a stronger writing style, but instead it seemed rather pedestrian. Patchett’s book felt more poetic to me than the book by the actual poet.

Touch by Elmore Leonard
[Finished 8 February 2013] Part of my MFA reading, I found the premise a bit interesting: What would happen to a person who is a saint in the modern world, but the execution was a bit flawed. Most of the characters felt two-dimensional and wooden to me, especially August, the Catholic traditionalist. Juvenal, the novel’s protagonist, at least was well-drawn. I think I would have liked if Leonard had stuck with a single point of view character throughout the novel and let some of his pop culture references slide. The ending was a bit of a disaster, but it seems that this is a problem endemic with Elmore Leonard novels.

Venus Drive by Sam Lipsyte
[Finished 8 February 2013] Lipsyte creates amazing characters, people who are broken by life and love, unable to fit in to society, but unwilling to be apart from it. I’ve read a handful of his stories in other contexts, but this is the first time facing one of his collections head on and I approve. This is good stuff.

Live By Night by Dennis Lehane
[Finished 6 February 2013] My second Lehane novel, and while it’s not quite the artistic triumph that Mystic River was, it’s still a good read. Lehane does a great job of making his characters and locations feel real and I found myself seeing so much of Tampa clearly just from reading the novel.

Fight Song by Joshua Mohr
[Finished 6 February 2013] I really enjoyed the technical artistry in Mohr’s last book, Damascus, and was hoping to see something similar here. It was well-written, certainly, and he creates a world where we learn not to be surprised by anything that happens because anything really can happen. The story itself is a delight, but in the end it’s more entertainment than literature

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea
[Finished 30 January 2013] Shea, sadly, does not have the kind of engaging voice that made A. J. Jacob’s similar book about the Encyclopedia Brittanica so engaging. It’s a similar format, but Shea does little to make sharing his experience pleasant. In fact, I find it somewhat surprising that his girlfriend tolerates his dictionary habit. Perhaps it’s because Shea is a self-described lifelong reader of dictionaries, but he just isn’t an interesting enough person to sustain the memoir portions of the book while the entries are occasionally enjoyable, they’re more often just there.

Rabbit Punches by Jason Ockert
[Finished 27 January 2013] I really wanted to enjoy this collection as Jason himself is a wonderful person, but I found the stories to be a bit uneven. Where Ockert allows himself to be less focused on attempting some sort of Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness, he’s more enjoyable, but the opening stories left me feeling a bit cold. The best of his writing, I think, were the stories which had some connection to other stories in the volume: an off-hand reference to an event central in another story, characters and even narrators in common, this is where Ockert is his strongest. He has a novel coming out this spring which I think should draw on his strengths more fully.

XKCD, Volume 0 by Randall Munroe
[Finished 27 January 2013] I’ve read all of them, and I wouldn’t have bought the book, but I got the PDF for free from the Humble Bundle, so what the heck. Some of the humor is badly dated, but much is still excellent. And of course I was nerdy enough to take the binary-coded ASCII and decipher it (from memory) and get one of the many hidden jokes. I also did all the integrals. Oh God, I need help.

Lit by Mary Karr
[Finished 27 January 2013] I continue to not think of myself as a memoir reader all while continuing to read memoirs. I was drawn to this by the passing reference to Karr’s conversion to Catholicism in one review of the book. But what made the book worth reading, more than anything was Karr’s facility with language. She can wield a metaphor like a skilled chef wields a carving knife. And like a skilled chef, she knows when to use embellishments and when to let the text speak for itself, making the appearance of a beautiful metaphor that much more wonderful. In fact, I only found one passage that felt like over-writing to me, a sin often committed by those who compose beautiful prose. The account drags a bit when Karr gets into writing about writing her first memoir (writing about writing is seldom interesting which is part of why, I think, the first volume of Graham Greene’s autobiography, about the period before he finally achieved success as a novelist, is so much more compelling than the second volume which encompasses the time when he wrote his most familiar novels). I was sad to see the book come to an end and I’m rather curious to encounter some of Karr’s poetry now.

The Major Plays by Anton Chekhov
[Finished 24 January 2013] Reading Chekhov plays has never been an especially enjoyable experience for me. I cam back to this volume from which I had read excerpt s as an undergrad and gave it another try. Only those plays which I had previously seen staged left much impression on me. Unlike some other playwrights (Shaw, I’m looking at you), Chekhov simply does not live on the page.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo
[Finished 23 January 2013] An amazingly badly written book. Puzo has a great story (and Coppola perfected it in the first two Godfather movies), but the craft here is awful. There is frequent overexplaining, needless shifts in point of view and overall wordiness and disorganization.

The Judges by Elie Wiesel
[Finished 23 January 2013] A bit of confused mess, really. I expected a better handling of omniscient point of view from Wiesel, but there were times that it was difficult to know in whose head we were. That said, the language was still beautiful, as one might expect, although the story tips its hand in a way, at one point talking about how one of the characters might have read too much Kafka or Borges.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
[Finished 23 January 2013] An amazing book. Faulkner does the near-impossible, writing from multiple points of view with each voice distinct. This alone makes it an artistic tour de force, but then throw in the layers of the narration, the hidden streams of character that are revealed only indirectly and it’s easy to see why this is one of the top novels of the twentieth century.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
[Finished 19 January 2013] A wonderful collection of short stories. Lahiri has a great way with language, although there is also a uniformity of voice that works against her in the trio of linked stories which close the book—there, the voice being identical in the first person narratives of two different characters (along with a third-person final narrative).

Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye
[Finished 19 January 2013] Gothic horror. There’s a somewhat outside of time nature to the stories, an odd mix of the medieval and the modern. On occasion, the supernatural turns into the natural and vice versa, and when the ghost that haunts contemporary Germany—the holocaust—appears towards the end of the collection, it brings an even greater level of horror to the proceedings than all the assorted murders, rapes and executions that preceded.

The Spy's Bedside Book edited by Graham Greene and Hugh Greene
[Finished 17 January 2013] It makes me happy to see this book re-issued as it was one of the few bits of Greene’s oeuvre that I didn’t own, and hadn’t read. The preface, with its disclaimer of real-world espionage experience, is especially entertaining given what we now know of Greene’s continued involvement with the British intelligence services. Just another sign of Greene’s famous sense of humor showing through.

The contents of the book itself tend from the banal to the fascinating with selections drawn from a wide variety of sources, both fiction and non-fiction. Greene’s own contribution, a brief passage from The Basement Room marks an interesting choice given so many other more directly relevant choices Greene could have made from his own work—perhaps more of Greene’s humor at play here, possibly revealing some of how his espionage work and writing intersected.

Geek Dad's Guide to Weekend Fun by Ken Denmead
[Finished 11 January 2013] Maybe it’s because of my lack of kids, but I didn’t really find most of the ideas in this book that interesting or worthy of doing. Maybe in a later version of myself my attitude will change, but for now I can see why this was on the hyper-discounted shelves of our local Border’s when they were closing down

Batman Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank
[Finished 9 January 2013] An interesting re-imagining of Batman, and perhaps even moreso, of Alfred the butler. Gotham has always been a darker take on the superhero’s city, especially compared to Superman’s Metropolis, but it’s conceived even darker here, with even Gordon starting out as a morally compromised character. By the end of the book, the characters have been set on their paths towards a recognizable version of the Batman mythos, but one that seems quite worth continuing.

The Lost City of Z by David Gann
[Finished 8 January 2013] A mix of personal narrative, history and geography, focusing on the explorer Percy Fawcett’s quest for the remnants of a lost civilization in the Amazon. Intermingling elements of the author’s own research (including journeying to the Amazon himself), we’re given a fairly compelling account of Fawcett’s exploration with the added bonus of an archaeologist’s account of the true story of the lost Amazonian civilization.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
[Finished 8 January 2013] I read this stuff and I find myself thinking how much I would have liked to have known DFW. It’s like spending an evening talking with a super-smart hyperliterate friend about everything in society. The final essay in the collection, “Host,” takes the non-linear footnoted style of DFW’s writing to its logical conclusion by breaking the prose up with arrows and boxes to carry the reader through various levels of digression. It’s not to some people’s taste, but then some people have no taste.

Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? by John R. Powers
[Finished 28 December 2012] Labelled as a novel, it really felt more like a collection of linked stories. Each chapter could have easily stood on its own. The tone and subject matter reminded me of Ring Lardner and early Salinger, with stories tending to end on what might be called a punch line. There were a lot of laugh-out-loud moments although the tendency towards hyperbole transformed the stories into something less than they could have been.

Embassytown by China Miéville
[Finished 28 December 2012] A science fiction novel primarily about language. A lot more satisfying to me than was Kraken, although Miéville still can’t give up on the science fiction writer’s crutch of invented vocabulary, which makes the book weaker on that score. The overall philosophy of the meaning of language though is handled well.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 17: Something to Fear by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard
[Finished 28 December 2012] Things have gotten brutal here. The title of this trade paperback does not disappoint, there truly is something to fear in this set of six issues. This time around the story is told as one continuous novel without the individual issue’s covers and letters sections, a choice I’m not too crazy about. I had rather enjoyed those elements as well as having the opportunity to catch one’s breath with each issue.

Looking Closer 2 edited by Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, Steven Heller and D. K. Holland
[Finished 26 December 2012] Compiled at a period of crossroads in graphic design, with the profession under assault from various directions: the rise of grunge typography and the assault on communication from the deconstructionist design community; the advent of desktop publishing, putting the tools of graphic design into the hands of the laity for the first time, as well as requiring the professional designer to deal with a greater portion of the production life cycle than had perviously been the case; and the rise of the internet and electronic publishing, inventions that were still not fully understood and that still had the possibility of being stillborn for decades to come. Looking back the decade and a half at what the concerns were, it’s fascinating to read these essays, knowing what was to come, that graphic design as a profession would become commoditized with graphic design scoring higher than English as a major bad for your career, that grunge typography, already on the decline when this anthology was compiled, would become irrelevant with the dawn of the new millennium, the aesthetic superseded by the German neo-modernist school of design, driven, to a large extent by the pixel-based restrictions of the internet and e-book publishing, arenas where good design has yet to have made a full impact, in some cases as a result of technological limitations beyond the power of the publisher to control. But even given its historical nature, this is an essay worth reading, if only for the discussion of questions that can be understood to still have relevancy.

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
[Finished 23 December 2012] A masterpiece of handling shifting close third person narratives. And a damned good story. I’m thinking that Lehane would be a good model for me to focus on in my own writing.

Forty Stories by Donald Barthelme
[Finished 19 December 2012] I’d not quite enjoyed Barthelme’s Sixty Stories, but this collection just knocked me off my feet. This was just an incredibly beautiful collection of stories, with almost every one a diamond. Barthelme’s subversion of form works especially well in these stories.

One of our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
[Finished 16 December 2012] A wonderfully bizarre book, filled with literary and writerly in-jokes. There are times when Fforde gets a little repetitive but these are outweighed by the delightful strangeness of the whole endeavor.

Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
[Finished 13 December 2012] The Oulipo works tend to be more about language than anything else which makes the fact that I was reading this in translation all the more magical (although the translator effectively wrote a few new exercises in English as part of her work). As a self-contained work, this would not necessarily be very satisfying, but as an exploration of the possibilities of language it’s brilliant.

Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic
[Finished 12 December 2012] An interesting book, a sort of reproduction of Cornell’s artistic project as a collection of one page quotations, essays and prose poems.

The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets by Diana Wagman
[Finished 10 December 2012] I have a bit of an obsession about omniscient third-person narrative and in this book, I’ve found a great example of how not to handle it. Wagman, whose Bump I enjoyed, is not a bad writer, but the craft here seems to have failed her on this novel.

Familiar by J. Robert Lennon
[Finished 7 December 2012] A story which begins as a domestic drama then takes an interesting turn with the central character feeling that everything is not as she expects it to be. Everything is different, her car, her self, and most importantly, her son who had died in a van crash as a teenager is now alive. Lennon does a good job of conveying the ambiguity about whether Elisa’s world has in fact changed or if she has had some sort of mental disturbance and explores the consequences of everything reasonably well, but things fall apart in the ending of the book which descends into incoherence.

The Bohemian Girl by Willa Cather
[Finished 6 December 2012] After reading Therese Svoboda’s Bohemian Girl, it only seemed logical to go back to Willa Cather and read this book. A collection of short stories, I was struck with the beauty of Cather’s prose from the first page. She does a great job of conveying the lives and landscapes of the nineteenth century prairie west.

The Most Dangerous Game by Zach Weiner
[Finished 5 December 2012] The second Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal collection seemed a bit less entertaining than the first. I wonder whether Weiner’s responses to what drew people to the comic are responsible for this. If so, it seems to be a cautionary tale of the dangers to art of striving for page views.

Mean Free Path by Ben Lerner
[Finished 4 December 2012] Really amazing poetry. I had been a bit afraid when I started this collection that I might not “get it,” but I found the work to be both accessible and deep. There’s a certain random collage aesthetic to the work, with each line not necessarily following from the previous and occasional repetitions of phrase in separate stanzas to catch the reader’s attention.

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
[Finished 3 December 2012] Rushdie’s memoir of his time under protection, spanning roughly from the moment that the fatwa was declared until the aftermath of September 11th, gives an interesting look into the mind of the writer. While he seems sometimes to try to make himself look better, particularly over points of public criticism that he suffered while he was under protection, Rushdie is unflinching in being willing to admit his private failures (during the course of the memoir, Rushdie has two marriages fail and a third on the road to failure with his first marriage already dead). At times his anti-religious stance gets a bit tiresome, but his views on religion are hard-earned and worth forgiving.

Save Yourself, Mammal!: A Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Collection by Zach Weinersmith
[Finished 30 November 2012] Oh my goodness, there’s some really funny stuff in this book. There’s a fair amount of obsessing over recurring themes, superheroes, bad parenting, God, Hitler, all the standard comic strip stuff, but it’s all really well done. There was one strip I still don’t get, even after obsessing over it for days, and I solved the math problem tattoo, although I had a sign error on my first attempt at solving it.

Loving • Living • Party Going by Henry Green
[Finished 27 November 2012] Green is an author that I learned about from reading Graham Greene’s autobiography when he mentioned the other Green as being a great writer. I had read the other Penguin omnibus of Nothing • Doting • Blindness some twenty years ago, and remember just getting lost (in a bad way) in Green’s prose. His plots tend to be not especially grand or expansive, focusing on rather uninteresting aspects of life, but in great detail. The blandness of his subject matter is reflected in his titles (which are mostly single words) and even in his name (Green is a pseudonym for Henry Yorke).

All this is by way of prologue. I came at this trio of novels focusing much more on Green’s craft. This is really the most rewarding way to read Green. He’s a writer for writers more than for readers, providing incredible management of scene character and narrative voice. I may actually come back to Party Going when I write my critical paper for my MFA, his handling of POV is so masterful and well-handled in that book.

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
[Finished 20 November 2012] This is a book which is really all about the narrative voice and use of language. The stories, such as they are, tend to be a bit slight and often meander without going anywhere in particular (the last story being a grand exception), but as a reader, it’s hard to object because the writing is so amazing.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
[Finished 14 November 2012] A really amazing and fun book. The standard one-line description is that it’s Harry Potter for adults, but it’s more than that. Yes, there is the opening of a seemingly ordinary boy who is invited into a school for magic, but things seldom follow the expected path, including our hero Quentin, who doesn’t end up being much of a hero. He’s not the bravest or the smartest or even the one who defeats the big bad of the story. Instead he’s a guy who screws up over and over and has to live with the consequences of his mistakes. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Grossman’s planned trilogy.

I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal
[Finished 29 October 2012] I started this with some trepidation. I hadn’t really cared for Closely Watched Trains, but I found this book to be far more enjoyable. The narrative style reminded me of Louis Adamic’s Laughing in the Jungle, all big voice with minimal scenework.

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda
[Finished 29 October 2012] I really had little idea what to expect from this book. I certainly didn’t expect a western. But once I got over the shock of setting, I enjoyed Svoboda’s use of a stream-of-consciousness narrative (although there are a couple mostly unexplained departures into conversations between a pair of Indians who are nowhere near the narrator).

The Douai-Rheims Bible
[Finished 26 October 2012] A surprisingly readable translation. That it’s a translation of the Latin is its main failing. The Challoner revisions remove some of the more awkward Latinisms of the original edition.

vN by Madeleine Ashby
[Finished 25 October 2012] Rather average science fiction. I need to stop listening to Cory Doctorow’s recommendations. We apparently have very different taste in fiction. I found the craft to be somewhat amateurish and the existential questions raised were shied away from. Plus the ending felt like a complete non-sequitur.

The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek
[Finished 21 October 2012] I’d only read three Dybek stories before beginning this collection, but I continue to be amazed at the man’s talent. This is a brilliant exploration of the culture of the lower west side of Chicago in the 50s and 60s.

Home by Marilynne Robinson
[Finished 19 October 2012] Marilynne Robinson has yet to disappoint me with her writing. Home is a sort of sequel to Gilead, although it, in fact, takes place roughly simultaneously with the earlier novel and like the earlier novel is at its heart concerned with the character of Jack Boughton, a notorious sinner. The Rashomon-style approach taken in these two books (Gilead is told from the perspective of John Ames, a friend of Jack’s father, while Home is told from point of view of Glory, Jack’s baby sister), manages to give us some hints of insight into Jack’s character while still leaving him enigmatic in the end. I can only hope for further exploration of Jack Boughton perhaps in Robinson’s next novel.

Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman and David McKean
[Finished 15 October 2012] My first Gaiman (not counting movies based on his writing). It’s very much a post-modern sort of graphic novel, with the images and text interplaying in some interesting ways.

The Convalescent by Jessica Anthony
[Finished 14 October 2012] An amusing tale. I can see some elements of Gunther Grass in this book, and there’s a call-out to J. D. Salinger in the dedication.

The Great Tradition by F. R. Leavis
[Finished 12 October 2012] A masterful work of criticism, Leavis examines what he considers to be the thread of the best English novels, focusing on works by George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad. There are some occasions of absolutism in Leavis’s judgment of the quality of the works that he examines, which I sometimes disagreed with (although not always). Perhaps the most important aspect of the book is not the specific evaluations of the works within it, but the framework that Leavis establishes which enables him to show exactly what makes a book good or bad in his eyes. It’s been a while since I’ve read like a scholar and Leavis provides a good model for doing so in this book. I do find myself wanting to reread James now.

The Little Book by Selden Edwards
[Finished 9 October 2012] Time travel stories can be broadly divided into two groups: History-is-fluid, exemplified by the Back to the Future movies, and History-is-fixed, exemplified by The Time Traveler’s Wife. The Little Book falls into the latter category, although the characters discover this long after the reader does. The unfortunate predictability of the plot, however, is overcome by a compelling storytelling voice which also helps the reader ignore some of the repetitive aspects of the storytelling and the hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-hammer parallelisms of some aspects of the plot.

I was rather intrigued by the use of omniscient POV in the novel. Edwards manages it quite well by using the idea of the narrator as an unnamed and invisible character (possibly the protagonist’s mother as the note at the beginning of the novel would seem to imply). Further, by employing devices such as referring to the protagonist’s journal as a source of information, it provides a frame that allows the reader to accept the incredibly broad knowledge the narrator has of the characters and events. I had read this book hoping to learn a bit about fin-de-siécle Vienna and I came away having learned a fair amount of one way to manage omniscient viewpoint.

Everyman by Philip Roth
[Finished 4 October 2012] Philip Roth’s primary thematic obsession in his novels is the body, whether it’s the sexual obsessions of Alexander Portnoy or the emaciated frame of Merry Levov in American Pastoral, some of his most enduring images in the mind of the reader are of his descriptions of the human body and its relation to the mind of the human in that body. In Everyman, the obsession is on the decay of the body, beginning at the funeral of its nameless protagonist (a choice which reinforces the “Everyman” conceit of the title) and then looks back on the course of the protagonist’s life, focusing on the decay of the body in old age.

Overall, it’s an incredible piece of writing, something which really does live up to the aspirations that the title gives it as being a sort of modern morality tale. Even the difficulty of telling a third-person novel with an unnamed protagonist is handled well, although at times, the lack of ability to call the protagonist by name makes for some awkward bits of prose.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr
[Finished 4 October 2012] I first learned of this book during one of the seminars in my MFA program so I added it to my reading list, thinking (correctly) that it would offer me some useful historical insights (although I’m writing a continent away) and provide a useful voice to listen to in the reading of it. The story is essentially a police procedural, notable for its locus in time with many modern techniques of detection unknown or unaccepted. This justifies perhaps a bit too much expository dialogue, but it was interesting to see the characters attempt to employ some distinctly non-scientific methods along the way.

Basic Typography by H. F. Lock
[Finished 29 September 2012] An oddly planned book, there’s a strange mix of the specific and the general in frequently impractical ways. Especially interesting is that this book was published a year into the second world war when paper shortages were the norm in England. How this book ended up being published at all is a bit of a mystery.

Best American Poetry 2012 edited by Mark Doty
[Finished 27 September 2012] My first entry into the poetry version of the Best American series and I have to say, “wow.” I’ve not read much contemporary verse, beyond what comes my way between the stories and essays of literary magazines (in fact, one of the poems in this volume I remembered from its original appearance in The New England Review), and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the reading of this volume. I will definitely be continuing with this series.

Against Deconstruction by John M. Ellis
[Finished 23 September 2012] Not surprisingly, given the title, this is a polemical work. Ellis makes a compelling argument throughout, but I’m left wondering whether he has accurately characterized deconstruction in his book. It’s been quite a while since I read Derrida, Culler or DeMan, but I remember there being a greater depth to their ideas than Ellis is willing to admit. I suppose I need to revisit the deconstructionists to regain my understanding of that vein of thought.

The Marquise of O and Other Stories by Heinrich von Kleist
[Finished 23 September 2012] Foreshadowing of some of the themes that would later resurface in Gissing and even more so in the existentialists of the twentieth century. Kleist’s examination of the ways in which the twin promises of Christian theology and enlightenment philosophy fail in the world, witha rational well-ordered universe failing to manifest itself upon an investigation of reality. Interestingly, “The Duel,” which marks the last of the stories to be written has moved from the grim injustice of “An Earthquake in Santiago” to a clear intervention of the divine to bring about a just conclusion to the story.

The Free World by David Bezmogis
[Finished 19 September 2012] I first learned about this novel in an interview on Writers on Writing and was intrigued to get some of the story of the Lativan emigrants and their attitudes towards the Soviet Union. Alas, the character whose views I was most interested in, the true-believing communist Samuil, was at best a tertiary character. The novel as a whole felt rather episodic and while there are some beautiful bits of writing, as a story it didn’t offer much to compel the reader.

Laughing in the Jungle by Louis Adamic
[Finished 18 September 2012] Sort of a novel, mostly a memoir, this book tells the story of Adamic’s life from his origins in Slovenia to his establishment in America, ending in 1928, just before the beginning of the great depression. The tone is light and breezy and enjoyable to read. It was interesting to learn that Adamic was more of a Menckenite than a socialist, although in retrospect, it seems obvious.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
[Finished 13 September 2012] A re-read for my MFA program. I can still remember discussing this book in a Dickens seminar I was auditing at Scripps College with Richard Fadem. During a discussion of the opening paragraph, there was some debate about whether the receded flood waters were those of creation or the great flood. I offered, authoritatively, that they had to be the waters of creation “because dinosaurs are antediluvian.” The combination of revealing esoteric knowledge of archaic natural history plus using the latinate word left me more than a little embarrassed.

Coming back to the book, I was interested in teasing out how Dickens managed his dual narration and I found it interesting although a bit clumsy at times. Few of the characters came across as living breathing people rather than as types, although as types they were remarkably strong. I’m not sure that I felt a lot of connection with Esther Summerson despite her being the protagonist of the novel, but Richard Carstairs felt a strong character, despite some aspects of him being more caricature than character.

Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey
[Finished 8 September 2012] Serviceable commercial fiction, this felt in a lot of ways like two different books, both in tone and content, with Stark/Lucifer first dealing with running hell and then solving what seems like an unrelated mystery upon returning to Earth. There’s a lot that was confusing having jumped into this series (although Kadrey did a good job of providing enough information for a neophyte to the series) in the middle of things, but I liked the book enough that I’m willing to go back and give the first book of the series a chance and see what it’s like.

ABBA ABBA by Anthony Burgess
[Finished 4 September 2012] ’ve not encountered anything quite like this before. The book divides neatly into three parts: The first is a novella about a hypothesized meeting between John Keats and Giuseppe Giacchomo Belli, the last third is a selection of Belli’s sonnets translated into English and the middle third is a sort of essay tying the two parts together. There is a sly fiction about the sonnets being translated by one “J. J. Wilson” who is, in fact, a fictionalized version of Burgess, and some wonderful commentary on the sonnet form where the meaning of the title is revealed as both the rhyme scheme of the octet of the Petrarchan sonnet as well as the name Jesus used to refer to the father, Abba.

The book, ultimately, is about the sonnets, I think, with the first two sections providing an essential introduction to their context and content, giving us some grounding in what Belli was trying to do in writing them as we well as what Burgess was trying to do in translating them.

Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme
[Finished 29 August 2012] I’d encountered a few of Barthelme’s stories previous to this, then with some recommendations from students and faculty in my MFA program, I decided to pick up the two large-ish anthologies of Barthelme stories. There’s a flood of story here, coming in chaotic confusion. Stories told as dialogues, as jumbles of unattributed speech, those verging on the surreal. This is clearly the wellspring of so much happening in contemporary fiction, filtering and amplifying the most bizarre aspects of Kafka and Joyce into something completely new. I like it.

The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov
[Finished 29 August 2012] A pretty good account of a man’s descent into madness as a consequence of his obsession with chess. I’m not sure what I was expecting from the book, but I found it dry and not entirely to my tastes, although there were a few passages of great style within.

Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster
[Finished 24 August 2012] Wonderful. A brilliant examination of the craft of novel-writing. I had feared that it would feel dated, having been written nearly a century ago, but Forster’s analysis remains vivid and relevant even as literature has progressed. I’m not sure that I agree with all of his judgments, but I can appreciate them nonetheless.

Death in Venice and Other Stories by Thomas Mann
[Finished 23 August 2012] I’ve had this book for over twenty years, if I recall correctly, having bought it as an undergrad on the recommendation of Graham Greene. I made an attempt at starting it once but was in the mood for something lighter, so I put it back on the shelf and now I’ve finally returned to it.

Mann is a master of writing tragedy and unrequited love, perhaps a consequence of his own homosexuality, which shows up most strongly in the title novella of the collection which, despite being the tale of an older man falling in love with an innocent boy, manages to remain beautiful without becoming creepy, a remarkable feat. The writing here is gorgeous and there are many passages I’ve marked for my own collection of beautiful sentences.

Storm Prey by John Sandford
[Finished 21 August 2012] Pure commercial fiction. I’m not sure how this ended up in my reading list—it must have been a blog recommendation or something as it’s a bit out of my normal reading choices. I was interested in noting how Sandford managed his descriptive language and point of view. The whole thing is in an omniscient third person, but not handled elegantly. Sandford does have a way with plot and even with the inevitability of the events of the novel, it remained a page turner.

The Mosher Survey: Sexual Attitudes of Forty-Five Victorian Women by Clelia Duel Mosher
[Finished 17 August 2012] I first heard about this book courtesy of an article from Stanford Magazine which got some play on the internet. An ILL request later and I was reading the book myself. This is pure primary source material, other than a pair of short introductions, this is nothing more than raw typescripts of the handwritten survey forms. Despite the relatively narrow demographics of the survey (these seem to be mostly faculty wives in the survey), there is a surprising variety of attitudes to sex and some wonderfully expressed views about marital relations. I guess the thing to do know is to look to see if this appears in the social sciences citation index and read those papers.

Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal
[Finished 16 August 2012] The closely watched trains of the title are German supply trains under close surveillance (one of the early English titles of the book was Close Surveilled Trains). We learn of a somewhat comic crew of railway workers including the narrator, a failed suicide who suffered from ejaculatio praecox with his girlfriend (this was the cause of his attempt at suicide). It’s a slight book and feels in many ways more like a film treatment than a novel.

Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique by Edith Diehl
[Finished 13 August 2012] A decent workmanlike book. Not quite sufficient for self-education, but a good supplement to learning the craft in a studio situation. Diehl assumes some familiarity with tools and materials which the reader may not have, a fact complicated by the change in tools and materials available since the book was written. The history section which composes the first half of this volume has a handful of errors in it, which are a bit of a negative.

The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth
[Finished 13 August 2012] A book for my MFA program. There were some aspects of it I found really helpful, it giving a good ground-level view of life in the Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I, but as a story, I was not especially interested: I would have more happily read stories of clerical life than of military life. There was certainly a touch of the anarchic mockery of the authority structures of the empire which also marked The Good Soldier Švejk.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
[Finished 7 August 2012] This is one of those books that it seemed that everyone but me had read (or at least had on their desk) when I entered nerd school. Coming to it now a quarter century later, I can see the appeal of it, and I think it would be fun to teach a course using this book as the central text. I was most interested in the Gödel part of the book, which was a central concern of the first two-thirds and was really well-done, providing a good in-depth look at the meaning and consequences of the incompleteness theorem. As Hofstadter moved into the domain of artificial intelligence, the book began to really show its age. Aside from the obvious case of Hofstadter believing that a computer would never beat the best human chess player (which, in fact, happened in 1997, 18 years after the book was published), the field of artificial intelligence has moved in directions rather different from what Hofstadter imagined at the time of this writing. Still, despite its age and its flaws, it’s a book well worth reading.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
[Finished 3 August 2012] Reading this, I found myself frequently remembering the film with Debra Winger and John Malkovich along with a forgettable actor in the role of Tunner (Timothy Spall as Eric Lyle, on the other hand was perfectly cast). This combined with my own recollections of Morocco made the descriptions in the book almost superfluous, which is a pity since they represent a big part of the book’s charm. The plot is more or less a straight line down with Port becoming ill and dying and Kit descending into a sort of fugue state herself. Tunner, while a forgettable character in himself, acts as catalyst for all of this. Kit and Port feel compelled to provide good appearances for Tunner and are both drawn to and repulsed by him. The catalyzing action is when Kit gives in to Tunner’s advances on the train while Port rides with the Lyles in their car. Having had sex with him, Kit is willing to go along with Port’s efforts to avoid Tunner, even though she can see the folly and danger in his plans.

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
[Finished 29 July 2012] I had really enjoyed the inventiveness of Joshua Ferris’s first novel so I was eager to see what he did in his second. It seemed to me that he may have been influenced by Tom McCarthy’s Remainder in his writing, the tone of this novel seemed remarkably similar to that other book (in fact, I had to remind myself a number of times that I was reading a book by the author of And Then We Came to the End and not the author of Remainder). But that said, the book overall was a disappointment. Ferris pushed his metaphors beyond the breaking point more than once and his plot became directionless and unmoored.

Work is Hell by Matt Groening
[Finished 28 July 2012] Back in the late 80s, I bought School is Hell and Love is Hell but left Work is Hell unpurchased since at the time I was living through school and love, but not work. Now that I’ve spent time in the working world, and I happened to stumble upon this collection at Open Books in Chicago, I’ve completed the trilogy of the original three Life in Hell compilations. Some of the humor is a bit dated in that the face of office work is now staring into a computer monitor, but much of it holds up pretty well. Not bad for humor which is going on 30 years old.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
[Finished 28 July 2012] I really enjoyed the challenge of reading this book; I realize some people can find the time shifts confusing, but I found them exhilarating, an inspiration for my own writing. I have some ideas for some writing of my own which would engage in similar time shifts.

A Millenium of the Book: Production, Design and Illustration in Manuscript and Print, 900–1900 edited by Robin Myers and Michael Harris
[Finished 27 July 2012] A collection of essays on the history of books looking at a variety of topics from the origins and development of the Aldine italic to the progress of bookbinding as it transitioned from a luxury to a commodity. This is the sort of wide-ranging book which seems more a library purchase than a part of an individual’s library (my copy was sent as a review copy from the publisher and languished on my shelves for nearly two decades before I finally read it). There are some great bits of academic historical research here, but little to really grab the casual reader.

The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2012 edited by Laura Furman
[Finished 25 July 2012] I’ve decided to expand my universe of prize anthologies beyond the Best American Short Stories collection, and so the first of these that I’ve tackled is the O. Henry anthology. There’s some overlap with the Best American selection, but most of the stories here are unique to this volume. I do find the physical quality of the book to be poorer than the Best American book, the cover stock is lighter and the pages have the look and feel of newsprint. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the pages turning yellow and brittle in short order.

One feature unique to this is having three jurors write essays on their favorites at the end of the book. Alas, other than Ron Rash’s essay on Alice Munros “Corrie,” I found these essays to be a bit shallow and uninteresting. I really hoped for an analysis as deep and interesting as the conversations at the end of the New Yorker fiction podcast.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
[Finished 18 July 2012] This falls into the category of books that are hard to put down. The writing is workmanlike, there are no great flights of lyrical prose, and the great innovation here is the invention of lapine language (including some occasional extension of English to include such neologisms as “hydrophanic” which here means showing water), but Adams tells a good story and creates some memorable characters even if the female characters are woefully underdeveloped and the character of Fiver, the most interesting of the rabbits, mostly drops out of the story in its final chapters.

The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye by A. S. Byatt
[Finished 18 July 2012] I first encountered this book courtesy of the readings for one of the seminars in my MFA program. The professor, however, only gave us copies of the first few pages of the title novella from this collection of modern fairy tales, and I so loved the writing that I had to immediately buy the book so that I could see what else was there.

The prose, as I noted, is just gorgeous in this book, with Byatt subverting the conventions of fairy tale storytelling to tell her own sorts of stories in their place. The title novella goes a level deeper with multiple stories told (or retold) and the protagonist a narratologist in her 50s who meets the titular character after her own story is half-told. I read this book in fits and starts over a couple of months and I’m glad that I took my time with it as it’s a book well-worth savoring.

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch
[Finished 13 July 2012] A large and dense book. The third thousand (or should I say first?) of the title is the pre-history of Christianity, examining its roots in Greek and Hebrew thought, seeing how the founders of Christianity were influenced by their cultures, the religious and philosophical ideas surrounding their writing.

MacCulloch’s with and erudition are on display throughout the book, making it an entertaining and engaging read, almost enough to forgive the shortcomings of the book. Most notably, MacCulloch isn’t really able to move beyond his own liberal Anglican background in his writing of history, which is most notable in his superficial treatment of the sixteenth century, but in writing on religious topics, it’s not entirely clear that any truly objective account is possible.

Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman
[Finished 12 July 2012] Re-reading this book made me appreciate it a great deal more than I did on the first time around. I was focusing largely on how Chapman handled POV in her book, and while the discussion questions at the end of the book imply that the first person plural and omniscient viewpoints are meant to be distinct, there are no real transitions between them and I prefer to think of it still as the free-floating consciousness of the uppatients telling the story.

The Way of Life by Lao Tzu
[Finished 10 July 2012] I imagine the translation of the Tao Tê Ching here is adequate, but it’s marred by an atrocious commentary. R. B. Blakney reveals only a superficial familiarity with Chinese philosophy and instead fills his commentary with spurious references to Plato and the Bible. Clearly a believer in the all religions are one school of thought, his commentary creates parallels where none exist, in some instances actually distorting the meaning of the text to fit his own agenda.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
[Finished 7 July 2012] Maybe because,as a failed L.A. refugee-turned-Seattleite, big portions of this seemed familiar, but I really loved this book. The idea of trying to understand everything that led up to the narrator’s mother’s disappearance and so gathering big piles of relevant and irrelevant e-mails, brochures, report cards, into telling a frequently hilarious story was absolutely delightful. The humor was brilliant, the plot unpredictable and while it faltered a bit at the end, it was a complete novel. A definite recommendation. Just ignore the cover which makes the book look like it’s chick lit.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 16: A Larger World by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 2 July 2012] Now I’m completely caught up with the comics, barring how ever far the monthlies have gotten while waiting for the trade paperbacks to come out. We’re beginning to see the start of an attempt at normalization as well as the impact of the breakdown of civilization on interpersonal and intercommunity trust. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the story progresses from here.

The Big Kerplop! by Bertrand R. Brinley
[Finished 29 June 2012] As a kid I loved the Mad Scientists’ Club adventures, being influenced by it to the point that I talked about going to the Air Force Academy, as the kids in the books aspired to do. This is billed as the first adventure of the Mad Scientists. It provides a foundation myth for the group as meet slightly younger versions of the kids in this story. I had worried that the adventure might be a bit juvenile from the description, but there doesn’t seem to be a discernible difference in age of the kids in this story versus the short stories.

This is Brinley’s first attempt at a novel and I do have to admit that it seems that he had less than a novel’s worth of story here. At times, the plot ends up dragging as Brinley tries to pad his word count, but overall, it was a fun read, with more than a few laugh-out-loud moments throughout.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
[Finished 24 June 2012] I really appreciate books that are ambitious. And this is an ambitious book. The story spans sixty years, manages to incorporate multiple points of view and means of storytelling in a comprehensive whole. There are a few places in the middle where Walter’s reach exceeds his grasp and he’s not quite as successful at the storytelling as I would like, but these are slight sins in a book that tells its story remarkably well.

Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics edited by Deborah Brown, Annie Finch and Maxine Kumin
[Finished 18 June 2012] A wide-ranging survey of poets writing about poetry, focusing on questions like inspiration, the creation process and the interaction of poets with society. The selections range from the ancient to contemporary including writers from around the globe although the bulk of the poets are writers from the Anglo-American tradition. My lone complaint would be the brevity of the selections: The editors have traded breadth for depth and in many cases I would have liked to have been able to get greater insight into what they were finding

Another Good Loving Blues by Arthur Flowers
[Finished 14 June 2012] I read this book largely to better understand some of the readings for my MFA program (which discussed this book and its relationship to Their Eyes Were Watching God). It’s a decent book, with a strong voice at times, although not always consistently so.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
[Finished 12 June 2012] A beautifully written book. The use of dialect makes for difficult reading at times, but I found that hearing it spoken in my head went a long way towards making things intelligible. I can see how this became an important book to writers of the seventies, but its disappearance during the fifties and sixties seems inexplicable.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Vol. 5. Predators and Prey by Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, Steven S. DeKnight, Drew Z. Greenberg, Jim Krueger, Doug Petrie,
[Finished 11 June 2012] After spending so much time reading The Walking Dead, the pacing and tone of the Buffy comics comes across as a welcome change. Each issue is a self-contained story which in this instance means that the overall story ark is not really advanced (other than the return of Dawn to human form). The Whedon humor is on full display here.

Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art by Julia Kristeva
[Finished 9 June 2012] Really the worst sort of late twentieth century literary theory. Jargon-laden with a sense of being ultimately content-free. Kristeva’s uncritical acceptance of Freudian theorizing at a time when actual psychiatrists were beginning to realize how absurd and useless Freud’s concepts are was especially laughable. There were a few notable moments in the book where I thought there were some useful insights into language and meaning, but these felt few and far between.

Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman
[Finished 7 June 2012] Chapman is one of the instructors at my MFA program and I wanted to get some sense of what her writing and tastes were like. I have to admit that had I not known that she was teaching a class on writing historical fiction, I would have had to wait quite a while to get some sense that this novel isn‘t set in the present (in fact, a lot of the contextual clues require some knowledge of historical medical care and the history of Finland‘s relationship with Russia).

The narration is strangely disembodied, occasionally manifesting itself as a first-person plural but most of the time reflecting a sort of free-floating consciousness of the whole setting. I found it strangely satisfying, an interesting twist on omniscient third-person narration.

The plot itself is rather slow and feels more character-driven that story-driven which makes the sudden deaths in the final chapters a bit jarring and the denouement even more so.

Sons and Other Flammable Objects by Porochista Khakpour
[Finished 5 June 2012] I really wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. It seemed in many ways to be a quintessentially MFA style novel, despite the promising cast of characters, an Iranian immigrant family living through life before, during and after 9/11. There were some wonderful moments, but the characters felt surprisingly familiar and unsympathetic, with a central conflict between father and son that seemed nearly inexplicable.

Every Hunter Wants to Know by Mikhail Iossel
[Finished 4 June 2012] A linked collection of stories (nearly a novel, but the fact that some of the stories refer to the protagonist in the third person and the fact that each story stands on its own presumably makes this the former). Iossel gives a sense of the paranoia surrounding life in Soviet Russia, but I found, in some ways at least, his relentless anti-communist attitudes a bit off-putting, I guess a consequence of my own blind leftism.

The Collector Collector by Tibor Fischer
[Finished 1 June 2012] A wonderfully surreal piece. Funny and experimental all at once, with a number of delightful verbal ticks in the narrative voice of the ceramic bowl who relates the story of both Rosa, the appraiser who serves as (human) protagonist as well as some of his own adventures through a few thousand years of human history.

The use of odd words in the narrative such as “lugal” or “chryselephantine” are another interesting use of language in the novel, giving some indication of the age (lugal comes from a cuneiform term) and nature (chryselephantine refers to a form of decoration) of the narrator.

The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
[Finished 29 May 2012] A rather strange book. DuPlessis pushes the limits of prose in her writing and on many occasions, this really felt more like reading poetry. It’s provocative and beautiful, and I could see someone coming across a manuscript of one of these essays and rejecting it out of hand because it’s so very very strange in its presentation.

Bucky Katt's Big Book of Fun by Darby Conley
[Finished 28 May 2012] Some of the funniest stuff I’ve read. I remember reading a lot of these when they originally appeared in the paper, but they’re still wonderful to revisit.

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick
[Finished 27 May 2012] A really nice cross-disciplinary look at information theory. Being a few chapters into a more academic computer science oriented text on the subject (working through lots of proofs and calculations relating to entropy, encodings, etcetera), I found some of the concepts familiar and had a bit of deeper background in understanding where things were going in the discussion, but I don’t think that this was strictly necessary. There’s a great deal of wonderful background and example-building that enables a great deal of breadth as well as making connections between computability and Gödel’s incompleteness theorem.

Dynamite: A History of Class Violence in America by Louis Adamic
[Finished 23 May 2012] I’ve been on a bit of a radical reading tear. Here, Adamic gives a history of the labor movement from the early nineteenth century until the late 1920s, using violence as his framing device for understanding the development of relations between labor, capital and the state. Adamic’s socialist sympathies are clearly on display and he’s more sanguine about the use of violence than my own Menshevik sensibilities can allow. On the other hand, he clearly blames the use of violence by trade unions for the eventual takeover of those unions by organized crime, itself a development which he doesn’t have a clear view pro or con for.

Most surprising, though, is how much the economic conditions of today mirror those of the early twentieth century. It makes me even more fearful of a Republican takeover of the government in this year’s elections.

An Anthology of Western Marxism from Lukacs and Gramsci to Socialist-Feminism edited by Roger S. Gottlieb
[Finished 22 May 2012] A nice diverse collection of essays. Some of the essays end up feeling a bit dated, especially many of the socialist-feminism essays, a fact thrown into stark contrast because of the presence of Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Life without Father” which points out how much of the patriarchy theory has fallen apart with the movement of women into the labor force since the 1970s (although having watched a fair amount of 1970s television I can understand how much those sorts of patriarchal ideas permeated American culture, at least).

Perhaps most interesting to me was Gramsci’s critique of the Catholic Church which managed to be especially apt with the state of the church in the early 21st century. I really need to read more Gramsci.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 15: We Find Ourselves by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 22 May 2012] There’s a definite move of the problem in the post-zombie world being the people more than the zombies. I find the waves of discontent forming and receding among the human characters to be fairly compelling, although there’s a danger of things falling into stagnation if not handled well. Meanwhile I guess I have to wait a month for the next trade paperback of the comics. I’m not sure I’m willing to go the individual comics route, not yet at least.

Walking Dead, Vol. 14: No Way Out by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 19 May 2012] It’s as if they could read my mind. Suddenly there’s a letters column with every issue in this book. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it would be nice. One nice thing for forcing my addiction into quiescence is that I’m nearly caught up. And sadly, I’ve already started on Vol. 15, the last currently available collection (although #16 will be out in mid-June).

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley
[Finished 17 May 2012] More a tour guide history than anything else. There are a few nice details on changing practices in the home, but I would have liked something perhaps a bit more systematic than this. For example, Worsley has a tendency to move from one period to another with minimal transition. And then there’s her fondness for spurious etymologies and origin stories, which make me somewhat distrustful of her overall trustworthiness.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 13: Too Far Gone by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 15 May 2012] A weird mix of things happening and stasis in these six issues. A threat from outside the walls is resolved disappointingly quickly, and likewise with the resolution of the domestic violence story. It’s not that I needed action throughout, but it seemed like Kirkman didn’t want to fully explore the consequences of some of the things he set up.

On the flip side, the issue 75 bonus features including letters and the full color aliens sequence are a delightful bonus. It seemed like letters are in every issue of the individual comics. I wonder why they don’t include them in every issue?

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
[Finished 13 May 2012] I wasted my youth. I say this thinking about how I spent my twenties largely in pursuit of things all vanished from my life now, starting a magazine which failed, buying a house which I couldn’t afford, pursuing a girl who didn’t love me. And somewhere in the midst of all of this was the potential for something more and reading Rilke’s letters from this book, I can see in his preternatural creative and spiritual gifts some hint of what I might have aspired to instead of the vanities that I accepted. This was a man who understood what was important and seized it. If only I had had the wisdom to do likewise.

That said, this is still a wonderful and beautiful book, full of wisdom and worth submersing oneself into (or, if falling short of that, dipping into it with a sort of sorties Rilkiana). Wonderful.

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
[Finished 10 May 2012] A beautifully written book. This is the first glimmer of the fully mature Patchett of Bel Canto and Run. She writes in a close third person rather than the omniscient POV of those books, but manages to turn out beautiful sentence after beautiful sentence. Most of her characters are well-drawn and fully-fleshed, but the two teenagers, Guy and How are undeveloped and nearly interchangeable and their father Howard is more caricature than character, but the remainder of the characters live on the page and the magically of the ordinary manages to light up the book.

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby by Ludmilla Pretrushevskaya
[Finished 10 May 2012] This collection is subtitled “Scary Fairy Tales” which is an apt description. The stories which span her career are, alas, not designated with any sort of dates which makes it difficult to put them in a cultural context (it would be nice to know which stories were written in the Soviet era, which in the heady early days of the Russian Republic and which in the the broken-promise-land of contemporary Russia). Many of the stories begin with a storybook style formula, but then mysteriously mix realism and a sort of waking dream state which gives the stories their power.

Orange County by Ray Bradbury, West Light
[Finished 3 May 2012] I stumbled on this at the going out of business sale at Dawson’s Books. The appearance of Ray Bradbury’s name on the spine and some of the photos showing an unrecognizable Orange County inspired me to add the book to the treasures that I grabbed from the shelves. Now that I’ve finally opened it, I was surprised to discover that Bradbury’s contribution to the book was limited to a brief essay at the start of the volume and the unrecognizable O.C. was just a year older than my first visit to the place myself.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is to see how much the county has changed since the book was published in 1985. It’s still full of Barry Goldwater wannabes, but increases in the Latino population have provided some liberal incursion into the county and the growth of the Asian population was completely unforeseen by Bradbury in his essay. The Catholics ended up buying the Crystal Cathedral from a bankrupt congregation, saving themselves the trouble of relocating the San Andreas fault to reduce it to rubble. Meanwhile, many of the views of the county already appear more than a quarter century distant.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
[Finished 2 May 2012] This is one of those books that really makes me wish I kept better track of how books end up on my reading list. I can’t for the life of me figure out how a mystery set in 1950 with an 11-year-old girl as the detective at the center of the story came onto my radar, but I have to admit that I’m very glad that it did.

Precocious beyond plausibility, Flavia de Luce is one of those characters who end up being completely unforgettable and addictive. The mystery itself is sufficiently engaging with plausible red herrings in it’s telling to keep the reader occupied for the whole book.

Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch
[Finished 2 May 2012] A book club pick. Interestingly, this is the second Seattle book that I’ve had from them, and both have interwoven historical and contemporary narratives, although this time, a but more successfully in the story of how a man who is, at heart, a distinctly decent person has his story told accurately but incompletely by an ambitious newspaper reporter as he is running for mayor of Seattle. The story, though, is really about the difficulty of being able to tell someone’s story and how an account can be accurate and misleading all at the same time. In all, an interesting work.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 12: Life Among Them by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 29 April 2012] The story continues with our heroes arriving at a walled suburban community outside Washington D.C. run by an ex-congressman. The big conflict here lies in the fact that our protagonists are afraid to believe in the safety and normalcy that they’re offered by the community. They have a high level of paranoia, but despite glimpses of some awful event in the past, this doesn’t seem to be justified based on what we’re shown.

Aphrodite by Russell Andrews
[Finished 27 April 2012] I heard an interview with Peter Gethers (who use Russell Andrews as his pen-name) some years ago and apparently found it interesting enough to order a cheap copy of this book from Amazon. It is, ultimately, a serviceable commercial thriller. I found it interesting how elliptical Gethers was about sex when he wrote it (although he seemed a bit less squeamish about some, but not all, of his violent scenes). The conspiracy at the center of things and how Gethers resolved the conflict felt a bit flat to me, and there was a tendency to get a bit too involved with some characters (most notably a pair of twin assassins) who would have been more effective left as ciphers than being explored in such depth.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
[Finished 26 April 2012] What a wonderful little book. I had a hard time staying away from this, dipping into it while I was waiting for tasks to finish on my work computer. Atwood creates a wonderful narrative voice and plays with chronology in a way that sets up the narrative as a mystery as sorts (how on earth did the world become what it was in the novel). This mystery ultimately is the real plot. The activities of the novel’s “now” are not terribly exciting with the protagonist heading back to the remains of civilization in search of food and supplies, but understanding how Jimmy became Snowman and the roles of the titular Oryx and Crake in all of this makes for an enjoyable read.

One thing that I really enjoyed was a nice bit of voice that Atwood employs a few times, just enough to establish it as part of the voice, but not so much that it becomes tiresome or overbearing (a problem that Kurt Vonnegut verged upon in his writing on more than one occasion). Here’s an example from early in the novel:

Not that Snowman passes judgment. He knows how these things go, or used to go. He’s a grown-up now, with much worse things on his conscience. So who is he to blame them?

(He blames them.)

Just brilliant.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
[Finished 20 April 2012] I’d read conflicting reports on this book before I began it. Wil Wheaton thought that he waited an awful long time for anything to happen in the book. Maureen Corrighan thought it was Patchett’s best work. Me, I found myself luxuriating in the language in the opening pages. Patchett did some, ultimately, unsuccessful things with memory and dreams that force the reader to slow down just to have some sense of what’s happening in the story, and I think that hurt her somewhat in her writing. And there were occasional cases where the writing flopped like a dead fish, for example, at the opening of chapter three, speaking of her protagonist’s passport, she wrote, “the man stamped an empty page in a booklet filled with empty pages.” “Booklet”? Oh dear, why not just write passport here? This choice of another word just drove me nuts. And this from the same author who just a few dozen pages earlier wrote, “There was inside of her a very modest physical collapse, not a faint but a sort of folding, as if she were an extension ruler and her ankles and knees and hips were all being brought together at closer angles.” On the flip side, I found the story compelling and not the snoozefest that Wheaton claimed it to be. Yes, this isn’t Bel Canto or even Run, but it’s a worthy addition to Patchett’s canon.

God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World by Stephen Prothero
[Finished 19 April 2012] I notice that the second part of the subtitle (“and why their differences matter”) has been removed from the paperback edition of the book. This does not surprise me, this was my single biggest complaint about this book—there is little attention paid to this final question beyond a concluding chapter which makes the argument that “Godthink” which lumps religion together, whether on the part of the New Atheists, or the perennial philosophers, is not a terribly useful way of thinking about religion.

The book itself provides a good overview of the eight most influential religions (Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba, Judaism and Daoism) and a shorter chapter on atheism, which provides a broad, but necessarily shallow, overview of these traditions. My own religious understanding is largely confined to the Abrahamic traditions, although I did learn a fair amount about Buddhism courtesy of a course in Zen Buddhism while I was an undergrad. Overall, it’s a good starting point for getting some sense of the incredible diversity of religious thought and philosophy in the world.

The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism by T. S. Eliot
[Finished 12 April 2012] A collection of lectures Eliot gave in the 1930s, this is Eliot’s summary of the history of poetry criticism and while he doesn’t really fulfill his goal of creating a sort of first principles of philosophy with respect to poetry and criticism, it did provide a useful and enlightening read.

The Cove by Ron Rash
[Finished 9 April 2012] Rash has written a tragedy which is undeniably so, and yet it manages to also be mysteriously beautiful in its management of its tragic nature. About halfway through, I just knew that bad things were coming, with an unsettling certainty. although there was nothing explicit to point in that direction. The attention to detail and building of character in this book was amazing.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
[Finished 8 April 2012] A difficult book to react to. I found myself reading this in the context of the criticism of The Help. Once again, we have a story of a white girl coming to the rescue of black folks, but this time, the story is true. Is it somehow more or less acceptable given that fact? And is this an oversimplification of the question? Had this been a straightforward piece of scientific writing, this issue wouldn’t be so prominent. Even by including the story of Henrietta Lacks’s life, we get a human dimension, but no questions of race rise up. But in the inclusion of Rebecca herself into the narrative, the white girl coming in to fix things (although unlike in The Help, one could make the argument that Skloot doesn’t really reach the same level of success—real life can be tricky that way).

There are few cases where the appearance of the biographer in the biography manages to be a successful endeavor (Ian Hamilton’s The Search for J. D. Salinger comes to mind). I’m still not sure if this is one of those instances.

Round Up by Ring Lardner
[Finished 5 April 2012] This, apparently, was Lardner’s hand-picked “best of” collection of stories. I, like (I imagine) many contemporary readers, know of Lardner through the recommendation of Holden Caulfield (and to a lesser extent the Glass family) and reading this, I can see the influence of Lardner on Salinger, especially in his earlier “commercial” stories (which are uncollected). Lardner is a master of voice and dialect and while his stories tend to have that cuteness to them that I associate with the pulp writers of the 1920s, the language is exquisite and keeps the stories lively and readable.

The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller
[Finished 30 March 2012] I think I discovered this book in a list of books about 9/11, with this perhaps being named the best of the lot. There’s a lot to digest in this book, which is told in eight chapters, two each for the four protagonists of the novel, each dealing with their own losses, some surrounding 9/11, some not, all entangled in the grand complexity of life. The center of the novel is a play written by one of these characters, “The Lake Shore Limited,” which focuses on a family’s dealing with a terrorist attack on the train of the same name in which the family’s mother was traveling. The play, in turn, serves as a vehicle for the playwright, a woman who’s accustomed to mining her life for her work, to digest her own feelings over a lover with whom she was no longer in love who died in one of the planes on 9/11. Thematically, it’s a rich book, but I found myself growing a bit annoyed at the writing. Miller has a tendency to overuse conjunctions at the beginnings of her sentences (at one point early in the book, I found myself noting more sentences that began with “But” or “And” than not). There were some other places where it seemed that insufficient care was given to the language of the book. Maybe I am getting a bit of that poet’s concern for language in my reading and writing concerns.

The Innocent by Ian McEwan
[Finished 29 March 2012] At first this seemed like it was going to be a garden-variety espionage story, a tale of an innocent underling getting caught up in a betrayal of secrets relating to his position in a project to tap Russian communications in 1950s Berlin. But McEwan does a superb job of turning things on their head and when the revelation of the official secret comes, it comes as a means of protecting a personal secret instead.

The narrative is taut and well-written although there are places where the authorial voice becomes overly intrusive as McEwan feels compelled to defend his depiction of a 1950s-era radio technician to a reader in the 1980s with the gulf of the sexual and cultural revolutions of the sixties and seventies separating his readers from his characters. While these were well-written, they also seemed unnecessary and distracting.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 11: Fear the Hunters by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 25 March 2012] This could have been a really dark turn in the story. There are two stories in this volume, first a single-issue arc where one of the twin kids kills the other, saying that it would be ok because he didn’t destroy the brain so his sibling would come back. This is followed by a five-issue arc where our group is confronted with a group of people who have found that cannibalism is their ticket to survival since people are easier to hunt than animals. And yet, despite the darkness of these stories, it manages to be not too depressing as some of the earlier arcs had tended towards.

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman with John Shiffman
[Finished 24 March 2012] After reading Michael Capuzzo’s book on the Vidocq Society, I was expecting this to be similarly poorly written. Surprisingly, my expectations were not fulfilled. There’s some similarity in the books using genre conventions with the narrative starting with a teaser chapter before going back in time to fill in the background and bring things back to the present, but here we have something very well written, providing a compelling narrative, a fascinating protagonist and while some of Wittman’s hobbyhorses are very much on display here, they don’t distract, instead they inform the narrative.

The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D'Agostino
[Finished 23 March 2012] A coming of age novel set in the directionless 20s of today’s post-adolescents, D’Agostino manages to write with humor, compassion and honesty. And yet all of that doesn’t seem to be enough. I longed for some connection between the components of the story, the autistic children at the school where the narrator works, his obsession with a girl he doesn’t really know who is said to have a hole in her head she keeps hidden with a baseball cap, his father’s illness, the family’s financial troubles, his sister’s pregnancy, but this ends up feeling more like a jumble of anecdotes than a proper story in a lot of ways. Perhaps this is intentional, a way of mirroring the directionlessness of the narrator’s generation, but I found it just a void at the heart of the novel.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
[Finished 20 March 2012] It seems that the linked collection of short stories is a bit of the hot thing in contemporary literature. Rachman’s debut centers on the life of a dying English-language newspaper published in Rome, with stories told in close third person for a different character each time interspersed with short vignettes of the newspaper’s history.

At times I wanted to spend more time with some of the characters and even though it was doomed, I really wanted to see the newspaper somehow succeed, perhaps because there’s a part of me that somehow became the city desk reporter I’d envisioned myself become in high school, driving to west side crime scenes in a bare-bones domestic hatchback (and another part of me somehow became the business titan who owned either the Sun-Times or the Trib and turned it into my own personal mark on the world).

In all, it was a pleasant read, although I wonder whether there was all that much depth or it was a confection too hard not to keep reading at every opportunity.

Polly's Ghost by Abby Frucht
[Finished 17 March 2012] How strange that I read, largely by coincidence, two literary novels with ghosts in a row. In this case, the titular ghost is the omniscient narrator of the story (I’ve done something similar in The Archbishop’s Son, although a bit more subtly).

The prose here is dense. Frucht is fond of writing long sentences that require the full attention of the reader, and her narrative is not always linear, but for the careful reader, the prose is rewarding, although the story doesn’t so much end as fade away.

Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot
[Finished 14 March 2012] Eliot’s first book, not really a novel, but rather a compendium of three novellas. I have to confess I grew a bit bored reading about the various minor travails surrounding clerical life in rural Victorian England, although there were a few wonderful moments like the mockery of the evangelical preacher in the final novella, Janet’s Repentance.

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler
[Finished 14 March 2012] I began this book with some trepidation. While I’ve never read any of Fowler’s works, I knew she was also the author of Before Women Had Wings which Oprah made into a movie (which I’ve also never seen), and so I expected to read a book worthy of being filmed for the Lifetime Movie Network. Pure prejudice, I know.

But my fears were not borne out. Instead I found myself reading a beautifully written book and a wonderful example of managing a mix of close third person and omniscient viewpoint with some wonderful bits of magical realism thrown in (the narrative features numerous ghosts, an angel and sentient animals). The prose was wonderfully crafted. My only problem was the extent to which Fowler let her heroine’s epiphany come at the hands of a male friend and colleague. If anything, it seemed to make the book feel a bit anti-feminist in some of its undertones, but this was a minor failing and this easily should make it into my top books of the year.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 10: What We Become by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 9 March 2012] The action is back up, as our newly expanded group heads on the road to Washington. They pass near Rick’s old town to collect supplies—and Morgan who has gone a bit nuts in the aftermath of his son being bit—while Dale shows distrust of Rick. Since I’m currently watching the series as well, it seems that there’s almost no chance of the two story lines converging now given the differences in who lives and who dies. It’s kind of strange that I’ve been turning to the comics for a less dark view of things, especially given that one issue in this volume seems to have been dedicated to a recollection of the awful things the characters have done.

Wide Eyed by Trinie Dalton
[Finished 7 March 2012] Most of these stories felt more like anecdotes than actual stories. Few of the stories had anything really feeling like a satisfying plot. The language was wonderful and the characters intriguing, but the lack of plot left me unsatisfied. The most successful of the stories was “Bienvenido el Duende,” a set of letters between a middle-aged woman and a mythical elf.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 9: Here We Remain by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
[Finished 2 March 2012] Growing somewhat impatient with waiting for the next gigantic compendium for The Walking Dead to be released, I decided to try out the Comics+ app on my iPad and read this there.It would have been slightly cheaper to get the paperback from Amazon, but I’m becoming increasingly disenchanted with the big A (I suppose I should start buying this stuff at the comics shop down the street).

It took me a while to remember what had been happening in the Walking Dead storyline, but once I did and remembered that we were in the aftermath of the attack on the prison with I don’t remember exactly who dead, I was better able to keep up with things.

This volume is a bit quiet, but establishes some interesting things like how exactly the herds of walking dead form and set up the introduction of some new characters and the next story arc. Perhaps most interesting is the beginnings of some explorations of issues of mental health in the post-apocalyptic world.

The Mariposa Club by Rigoberto Gonzalez
[Finished 1 March 2012] Another MFA faculty member book. This time, we venture into young adult territory with the story of four gay teens at a southern California high school who decide to start a LGBT club to get their picture in the yearbook. Or at least that’s what it says on the back cover. The story is a bit more involved than that, covering all manner of concerns that could happen to gay youth in a not terribly accommodating environment. Alas, the story seems to verge into after school special territory throughout (not even the boy who runs away and ends up living with an older man has sex), and the narrative voice, told in first-person present tense, feels frequently as if it’s the voice of an older adult and not the seventeen-year-old that it theoretically is.

Oak Park: The Evolution of a Village by David M. Sokol
[Finished 28 February 2012] At times this felt like a revised and expanded version of Sokol’s Oak Park, Illinois: Continuity and Change, but with a higher text-to-pictue ratio than that book. Overall it was an interesting look into the history of Oak Park, although at times, it felt like there were key details omitted, such as explanations of buildings or institutions which were mentioned in passing without explanation. It’s not the last word in Oak Park history, but it is a pretty good contribution to the exposition of local history.

Bad News of the Heart by Douglas Glover
[Finished 23 February 2012] Part of my MFA instructors literature series, this is a collection of twelve wonderful occasionally surreal stories. There are moments of humor mixed with horror. Glover’s ability to write in big voice carries some stories while others are more intimate first-person accounts. My only complaint would be that at times it seems that the juxtaposition of some stories emphasizes thematic commonalities of those stories in a way that makes the scope of Glover’s imagination seem smaller than it is.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
[Finished 22 February 2012] Didactic in the way that only nineteenth century literature could be, this was at many times a lecture on the evils of slavery and the virtues and power of Christianity. Few of the characters had any real depth to them, especially the titular character (although the transformation of his name into an epithet seems unjustified). Perhaps most surprising in then book was, despite the anti-slavery bent of the author, the current of racism that ran through the book. Even with the author providing real life examples of blacks made good in Ohio, Stowe doesn’t seem to be convinced that they are equal to whites and views the recolonization of Africa as per the Liberian experiment to be the best solution to the question of what to do with the freed slaves.

A Vocation and a Voice by Kate Chopin
[Finished 21 February 2012] Around the time that I bought this book, I had a subscription to The New Yorker. I remember being rather pleased and surprised to see a review of this book at that time, although I was a bit perplexed as to why a book in the Penguin Classics series would rate a New Yorker review (I don’t recall much of the contents of the review itself—I’m sure I didn’t once I read the book as the reason for the review became obvious).

It turns out that this collection had been intended to come out after The Awakening, but was canceled by her publisher in the aftermath of the controversy over that book.

Some of the stories here carry that veneer of turn of the century scandalousness, although to modern eyes, there’s little to scandalize. I found in some ways the most interesting things some of the more meta aspects of the compilation, such as the revelation that most of the stories were written in fairly short time frames.

The other thing I enjoyed, was noting how often the notes at the end of the book revealed more about the book’s editor than the text, particularly one in which the editor reveals with some surprise about how Catholics celebrated mass in Latin until the 1960s.

The Girls Next Door by Peter Turchi
[Finished 16 February 2012] Turchi sets up an interesting premise. A trio of prostitutes move into the house next door to the narrator, a young man married for just a year when the story takes place. Some of the plotting is handled clumsily, details about timing, such as when the narrator’s father died and how long the couple have been married seem a bit vague until later in the novel than they should have been. A road trip away from the neighborhood takes the story into different thematic territory, bringing a focus on the narrator’s relationship with his wife that could have been developed earlier as it changes the meaning of the novel in ways that were an improvement, but left me wondering why he lated until so late in the book to bring those aspects into the story.

But along with that are some wonderfully comic scenes and pitch-perfect descriptions of the sexual temptation of the almost-newlywed narrator by one of the trio of prostitutes, a girl who while not attractive still manages to exude a certain sexiness that transcends her looks. Overall, it was an enjoyable first novel even if it didn’t live up to the expectations that I developed from reading a later Turchi book on writing.

The Sovereignties of Invention by Matthew Battles
[Finished 13 February 2012] A book club selection, this felt like something that I should enjoy a lot more than I did. There was a wonderful surreality to the short stories in this collection, but they managed somehow not to connect with me. Towards the end of the collection, I decided that I was reading a sort of mock-Borges, trying to bring the ideas that Borges wrote about into the twenty-first century. Only one of the stories, “For the Provisional Description of Superficial Features,” managed to succeed on that point with two deep-space explorers stumbling upon the internet and wikipedia on a distant planet where their presence should have been impossible.

The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Fiction by Joyce Carol Oates and Christopher Beha
[Finished 9 February 2012] A thick tome filled with a variety of stories. I suspect that the bulk of the work fell upon the shoulders of Mr Beha whose name appears in much tinier type than does Oates. Still there seems to be some touch of Oates’ sensibilities here as many of the stories touch on darkness and violence. It’s a good look at what’s happening in the current scene and I was quite pleased to discover a number of authors whose work I’d like to delve deeper into.

How To Read an Unwritten Language by Philip Graham
[Finished 8 February 2012] Just from the title, I was drawn into this book. How could I possibly resist? Graham writes a beautiful work, managing to take his title and invest it into a story of man’s own slightly off-kilter life, looking for the poetry of insurance and the stories everyday objects tell. The frame that Graham uses in his story works surprisingly well (or perhaps I’ve just grown accustomed to ineffective frames in the stories that I’ve been reading), with the frame illuminating the memories and the memories illuminating the frame.

The Other Woman by Ellen Lesser
[Finished 2 February 2012] A character driven novel, Lesser traces the history of a single woman’s experiences from having an affair with a married man to his moving in with her and bringing the kids on weekends. It was wonderfully written, but I found myself feeling like this was a book not for me. I really wanted to enjoy this book, but I found myself somewhat alienated from the subject matter, I wonder if because of my maleness?

The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo
[Finished 30 January 2012] Great subject matter, awful writing. The book is written like a pulp true crime book, full of overwrought prose. Worse still, Capuzzo tends to write with an omniscient point of view, the worst choice for writing what is, at heart, a mystery narrative. If it’s clear that the narrator knows everything, there’s no compelling reason for that narrator to hold back the truth.

The Vidocq society itself has some interesting characteristics, but I found myself surprised at how much superstition (e.g., psychics) and pseudo-science (e..g., polygraphs) played a role in their investigation. Furthermore, one of the central characters, a profiler, struck me as egotistical and willing to make unfounded accusations based on his dubious conclusions, although a passage where his process was broken down a bit more made his process seem a bit more reasonable.

C++ Coding Standards: 101 Rules, Guidelines, and Best Practices by Herb Sutter and Andrei Alexandrescu
[Finished 29 January 2012] A reasonably comprehensive overview of the best practices of contemporary C++. I found myself realizing as I read this how poor and out of date my C++ has gotten. There were big chunks of the language which I had forgotten existed in any form.

The Company Car by C. J. Hribal
[Finished 20 January 2012] My first Hribal book, but likely not my last. Hribal begins with familiar territory to me, writing about a Czech family from Chicago (the narrator’s father lived in Cicero, just a couple miles from my own boyhood home). There are two narratives intertwined here, one spanning over half a century, telling the story of a family from the father’s boyhood through the births of seven children and their own growth into adulthood.

Intermingled with this is another story, partly the telling of the family story, partly the contemporary situation of the narrator as he drives to and participates in his parents’ fiftieth anniversary party while he worries about the state of his own marriage. It’s this second story that makes the narrative vibrant, although in the end, Hribal doesn’t quite succeed in making the stories really mesh, although there is a valiant effort as the narrative deconstructs itself in the last chapters.

Your Happy Healthy Pet Beagle by Elaine Waldorf Gerwitz
[Finished 20 January 2012] A somewhat redundant book, but our visit to the library resulted in us clearing the beagle books from the shelves. The chapter on training was pretty good and for those who would have adopted a puppy there is a great deal of essential information. It does appear that there’s a fair amount of cut and pasting done between this book and other breed-specific books in the same series.

Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi
[Finished 16 January 2012] I had the good fortune of reading this book not too long after I read this article (not to mention being a bit of a map head in general). The central metaphor, comparing the process of writing to the process of cartography is brilliant in its design, with the added advantage of being able to draw on writing in which mapmaking was central to the effort (Robert Louis Stevenson’s account of writing Treasure Island is central here). And then there was the portion of the book in which Turchi compared section breaks in two writers’ works, quoting the section breaks (and only the section breaks), which was laugh out loud funny. A brilliant imagining of what’s involved in the writing prices.

Little Peg by Kevin McIlvoy
[Finished 12 January 2012] An interesting concept, although it seems more empty than anything else. Peg is a mentally ill woman who teaches a creative writing class in which her students are assigned the responsibility of writing about Peg, although she takes their stories and completely rewrites them before returning them to the class. It kind of feels as if McIlvoy had set out to write a set of linked short stories, but didn’t manage to make the linkages between the stories that worthy of reading.

Beagles for Dummies by Susan McCullough
[Finished 8 January 2012] A useful and somewhat interesting book, although much of what I needed to know, I learned from Cesar Millan before reading this. There were some fun bits of trivia and this would not be a bad book for someone considering getting themselves a beagle even if the prose tends to be a bit precious at times.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
[Finished 8 January 2012] Can you really say that you’ve ever “finished” reading this book? This is as much a sourcebook, a launching pad for flights of fancy as it is anything else.

The Full Matilda by David Haynes
[Finished 5 January 2012] A wonderful century-spanning account of an African-American family, told through the relationships with Matilda Housewright, the formal and practical-minded spinster daughter/sister/aunt/great-aunt of the male characters in the novel whose perspectives make up the bulk of the story, although there are a handful of interludes narrated in the first person by Matilda herself. It manages to describe the African-American experience without feeling exclusive about its perspective. Haynes doesn’t seem to have the white people wouldn’t understand subtext in his writing that I sometimes perceive in African-American writing (perhaps that’s my own failing). There’s humor and pathos and engaging characters, the deaths of each one who does die striking as a blow to the reader’s heart. This really feels like the level of writing that I should be aspiring to reach.

The Missing Person by Alix Ohlin
[Finished 29 December 2011] Ohlin almost lost me completely when in the opening paragraph of the second chapter, she wrote, “The sun was plangent and full.” Perhaps her experience has been different than mine, but I have never known the sun to be anything but silent and unemotional. It struck me as a sentiment painfully overwritten stretching a metaphor beyond the breaking point.

Fortunately, the book largely redeemed itself in the remaining pages, as the meaning of the title ramified across the pages, fully exploiting the possibilities of the meanings of the phrase “The missing person,” leaving us wondering just who it was who was missing, or whether in fact it was the personhood of the narrator herself that had vanished. The book, as is so common in many contemporary novels, faded out rather than coming do a definite conclusion, but Ohlin’s writing was worth the journey, misbegotten metaphors notwithstanding.

Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph
[Finished 27 December 2011] A compulsively readable book. Another memoir I would not have picked up without my book club, I found Joseph’s story to be can’t-put-down compelling. The writing was plain and unpretentious, but the story, well, I could see myself being a happy supporter of the Black Panthers had I been more than an infant back in the day. Joseph’s story gets a bit less interesting after the dissolution of the Panthers, but his account of his time in Leavenworth became a bit more interesting and kept me from being annoyed at the saccharine uplift of the final chapter of the book.

Best American Short Stories 2011 edited by Geraldine Brooks
[Finished 16 December 2011] Taking the stories one at a time: Adichie: Ok, not a favorite.Bergman: More my style, despite the off-putting title of “Housewifely Arts”. Bissell: This was a high point of the anthology, the cultural-religious conflict of the characters and their circumstances. Egan: One of the parts of Here Comes the Goon Squad that I was unimpressed with. Englander: A study of moral relativism, sometimes I like it, sometimes not. Goodman: forgettable. Havazelet: Another one that escaped me. Horrocks: I loved this piece. I kind of would like to do the sleep myself some winter. Johnston: Another favorite from the anthology. Keegan: Not really to my tastes. Lipsyte: Amazing. I must dive into the collection of his stories I have sitting at home. Makkai: A beautiful piece, with great characters and plot. McCracken: I loved how she managed to cause everything to change meaning in the final pages of the story. Millhauser: I wanted to like this more than I did. Nuila: A writer to watch, I look forward to reading more of his work. Oates: Falls into that middle territory again. Powers: Hmm, two second-person narratives in this years’ BASS. This one does something really cool with the idea, almost a choose your own adventure type narration. Row: I felt about the same about this as I did about The Train to Lo Wu. Saunders: Wonderfully Saunders-esque with a well-drawn concept. Slouka: I loved how Slouka managed to change the meanings of things within the span of his story. Another great piece.

Overall, this was a good collection, but I think that I would rank the King and Rushdie volumes over this one.

Wild Desire by Karen Brennan
[Finished 15 December 2011] I found the stories in this collection left me more than a little flat. Some of the longer pieces worked better, but this just wasn’t my sort of book in the end, even if the writing was first-rate.

Century's Son by Robert Boswell
[Finished 12 December 2011] A domestic drama with a great deal of simmering subtext (not to mention the simmering text itself). Boswell tells the story of a family struck by their son’s suicide, a daughter who became pregnant by their next door neighbor when she was fourteen, a public intellectual father-in-law facing senility and irrelevance and the husband’s desire to do right by his junior partner, a young man who turns out to be every bit the punk that everyone else believed him to be. An excellent study of character.

A Member of the Family: The Ultimate Guide to Living with a Happy, Healthy Dog by Cesar Millan
[Finished 11 December 2011] Since my wife and I were in the process of getting a dog (which we’ve now done), and she’s a devotee of Cesar’s from his TV show, we read this book to make sure that we were on the same page for how to train our newly adopted beast. In all, it’s a pretty good book, although it tends to be a bit short in some specifics. I would have liked to have gotten direction on how best to apply Cesar’s principles to some of the behavior modifications that we would like to train in our dog.

The Train to Lo Wu by Jess Row
[Finished 1 December 2011] Seven stories linked by geography and culture, most telling the stories of Americans in Hong Kong, although the last tells of a Chinese student in New York during the sixties. I enjoyed looking at how Row structured his stories and seeing how I could incorporate some of this in my own writing, trying to get away from the single transformative event narrative which is central to so many of my short stories.

The Weatherman by Clint McCown
[Finished 29 November 2011] A wonderfully strange and touching book, on its surface it’s a darkly comic story about an inept weatherman/reporter who, as a boy, witnessed his cousin commit murder then watched as the cousin grew up to be the leading candidate for state attorney general. But mixed in with all of this is some delightful painting of character along with a surprising meditation on free will versus predestination. One of my favorite reads of my books by MFA instructors project.

The Price of Land in Shelby by Laurie Alberts
[Finished 20 November 2011] A sprawling family saga, this is really more a collection of linked short stories than a novel per se with each lengthy chapter generally capable of standing on its own.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Volume 4: Time of Your Life by Joss Whedon, Karl Moline and Jeff Loeb
[Finished 20 November 2011] Largely a bit of a digression from the main twilight big bad of Season 8, here we get an odd time travel story which reveals a bit about the future of Willow, slayers and the planet earth in the distant future.

Damascus by Joshua Mohr
[Finished 18 November 2011] Maybe it’s just me being super-attentive to omniscient narratives, but I found this to be an especially enjoyable read. Mohr manages to play an interesting game with his narrative here, writing in a self-conscious narrative style where the narrator occasionally goes to great lengths to show his omniscience, whether it’s revealing a statement withheld at the moment of its occurrence for the benefit of the reader of whom the narrator is conscious, or spiraling into revelations of distant events taking place at the same moment as the main action of the novel.

The story itself is a wonderfully varied portrait, more an ensemble piece than an account with a single protagonist. With this palette, Mohr paints a wonderful portrait that deserves to have a bigger audience than his indie publisher is likely to provide.

FatherMucker by Greg Olear
[Finished 11 November 2011] Olear’s novel reads mostly like an extended riff on modern parenthood than a novel. I found the narrative voice was one that wore thin after the first chapters (which I found riotously funny). An extended digression on autism and asperger’s syndrome felt like something inserted because Olear realized his page count was lower than he wanted. And the climax and conclusion ended up feeling a bit sappy given the slightly edgy feel to the book (or at least the attempts at edginess). It wasn’t a bad book, per se, but it also wasn’t one that I really would recommend as anything other than a disposable read.

When to Go Into the Water by Lawrence Sutin
[Finished 10 November 2011] What a cool book. The conceit is that Hector de Saint-Aureole (lovely name, that) is the author of a book, When to Go Into the Water and we get glimpses of his life and how the book is received by various readers over the years following Hector’s death. Short, but beautifully written.

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and José Marzán, Jr.
[Finished 8 November 2011] An amusing concept: Yorick is the last man on earth. Not the last person, just the last man. He and his pet monkey, Ampersand are apparently going to face a post-apocalyptic world where the women turn out to be willing to supply the savagery that men can no longer provide (being dead and all). I stumbled on this sitting unshelved on a table at the Chicago Public Library and decided to give it a read having a bit of time to spare.

The Ancient Rain by Domenic Stansberry
[Finished 8 November 2011] A contemporary noir, this book felt like it was all promise and no delivery. We had an interesting atmosphere set up with the mix of contemporary and late 60s political intrigue, but the mystery at the heart of the story is both given away and unrevealed in an unsatisfactory manner. And the motivations of far too many of the players ended up being more opaque than intriguing.

The Mover of Bones by Robert Vivian
[Finished 3 November 2011] An unapologetically experimental work. For some reason, my library shelved this as a “mystery,” and while I suppose with some grotesque deformation of the conception of that genre one could classify it as such, it really is more a pure work of literary fiction, sadly consigned to publication by a university press where it is unlikely to get the sort of recognition that it deserves.

Told as a series of vignettes, with the exception of the first and last pieces in the first person, we get a fragmentary account of Jesse Breedlove, a man who dug up the body of a girl he had raped and murdered from the basement of a church and then proceeded to travel around the country with her body which occasionally formed as a living being, sometimes was just a collection of singing bones, and in various ways touched the lives of the people who they encountered, or who encountered them, or who were placed in the way of the unlikely pair of Jesse and his murdered/resurrected victim.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
[Finished 27 October 2011] Despite the claim on the front cover, this is not a novel, but rather a collection of linked short stories. That said, Egan is a superb short story writer, and while I’ve read two of the stories here before, I was happy to re-read them and pay close attention to the craft of what she’s doing in each story. In some cases, there’s a bit too self-conscious an affectation. “Forty-Minute Lunch”, even without its footnotes, feels like a David Foster Wallace pastiche (it feels like Egan was closely studying Brief Interviews with Hideous Men) and “Great Rock and Roll Pauses” which is written as a PowerPoint presentation came across as an attempt to be clever without enough to back it up, but much of the rest of the collection left me overwhelmed with the quality of her writing.

Hadoop in Action by Chuck Lam
[Finished 24 October 2011] I went into this book thinking that much of the learning curve of Hadoop was going to be centered around programming issues and was irritated that the early programming examples employed a version of the API that was already deprecated when Lam wrote the book. But as I dug deeper, I realized that the programming side of things is ultimately the least important aspect of Hadoop; writing a Map-Reduce program is not that complicated (and Pig/Hive which are brought into discussion in later chapters really deserved more coverage simplify that even further). Most of the book focuses on management issues with Hadoop which seem to be the core of working well with Map-Reduce development

The Big Why by Michael Winter
[Finished 22 October 2011] I’d never heard of Rockwell Kent before reading this, but I’m not sure that this really impacted my understanding of the book. Winter writes in a style that reminded me of Cormac McCarthy (especially his use of punctuation, or really lack thereof). There are some beautiful sentences here and the story really gets going once Kent’s pacifist views come into complex with World War I-era Newfoundland.

Fiction Writer's Workshop by Josip Novakovich
[Finished 21 October 2011] I picked this book up as an audition of sorts for Novakovich who is one of the fiction instructors in a low-res MFA program that I’m considering applying for. Many of the questions addressed here are somewhat lower-level than I need. This seems like it would be a good text for a college or advanced high school creative writing class (something that, in my arrogance, I’ve never actually done). Each chapter concludes with a number of writing exercises and wonderfully enough, the exercise concludes with a check that the writer can use to see whether they’ve “succeeded” in the exercise. I found reading this that Novakovich and I have similar perspectives on the writing process, so I suppose he’s passed the audition.

Ovenman by Jeff Parker
[Finished 11 October 2011] Usually, stories about people in the lower classes who engage in all manner of sub-optimal behaviors like stealing, drug use, etc. drive me nuts. It reminds me of what a square I am to find myself wanting the protagonist to clean up their life and get on the straight and narrow.

For some reason, I didn’t feel that way with When Thinfinger, the narrator of Ovenman. I was actually delighted by his petty larcenies and frequent blackouts.

April Fool's Day by Josip Novakovich
[Finished 10 October 2011] A great picaresque firmly in the tradition of Švejk. We get an absurdist take on communist Yugoslavia, the civil war that broke the country apart and post-independence Croatia along with a wonderfully bizarre conclusion in which the protagonist either dies and becomes a ghost or is buried alive and manages to crawl out of his grave and lead a life on the far fringes of society. I loved it.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
[Finished 6 October 2011] I find Marilynne Robinson’s writing intensely seductive. She writes in a way that I couldn’t begin to emulate (nor would I necessarily want to), where she manages to assemble one beautiful sentence after another while fully inhabiting her characters and telling an intriguing story. The ultimate reveal was not necessarily that exciting or important but the journey was so enjoyable I want very much to read the companion volume to the story and bask in her prose for one more volume.

C by Tom McCarthy
[Finished 5 October 2011] After reading Remainder I was eager to read McCarthy’s second novel, which treats of the life of Serge Carrefax, beginning with his birth, with a caul on his head (shades of David Copperfield, I presume). There are some elements of some of the surrealist realism of Remainder in the book, but overall, I found the book a bit of a disappointment, falling into the all-too-common second-novel flop.

The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein
[Finished 29 September 2011] I’m not sure what made me think that I would find this an interesting read, but ultimately, it came across as some interesting observations overwhelmed by an unhealthy dose of “get off my lawn” conservatism. Unless people have the same respect for the classics that Bauerlein does, they clearly are philistines and responsible for the decline of civilization. I was more annoyed than anything else reading this book. There are some good arguments to be made along the lines of what Bauerlein wants to say, but Bauerlein’s own limited horizons cause him to fail at the task.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
[Finished 28 September 2011] Moving from novellas to short stories, I found Conan Doyle’s narratives to be painfully thin here. Or maybe I’ve just overdosed on the Sherlock Holmes.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
[Finished 26 September 2011] A re-read, I found myself enjoying this as a return visit with some old friends, while simultaneously paying close attention to craft. It seems to me that the opening paragraph of the book, which establishes the omniscient viewpoint was essential to the narrative tone. We begin with a sentence that was essentially third-person limited (“When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.”), then we get some unattributed point of view (“Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hands.”) and then we finally get the omniscience: “There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss.”

It’s hard to imagine the book beginning in any other manner than it did, although apparently Patchett originally had a prologue from the POV of Gen, the translator. I can see how that would be tempting. Gen, more than anyone else, is the protagonist of the story and it would have been possible to write this as a first person or close third staying with Gen, but that prologue would have made using the omniscient POV, which was a major goal of Patchett’s in writing the book, a dismal failure.

The Creative Writing MFA Handbook by Tom Kealey
[Finished 23 September 2011] Breezily written, I found this a bit of a mixed bag. There were some parts that were useful, some not so much (the section going into details on MFA programs didn’t address any that I could realistically attend), but the section on workshops seemed remarkably useful to me.

Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang
[Finished 19 September 2011] I think i heard about this book from Science Friday. At the very least, I remember hearing about many of the topics covered in the book on that program. The book is written in a casual breezy style, frequently choosing anecdote as a way of introducing a subject. There was little in here that I didn’t already know, but I’ve managed to read a bit more than the typical layman on questions of neuroscience and psychology, but for the neophyte in this arena, I can see this being a valuable introduction, especially since there’s a good selection of references for deeper reading referenced to each chapter.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale
[Finished 14 September 2011] I’m not sure how this book ended up in my reading list, but I’m glad that it did. Sort of a nice counterpoint to all the Sherlock Holmes I’ve been reading of late, Summerscale manages to beautifully recreate the minutiae of Victorian life in her account of a mysterious murder, its investigation and the aftermath. Even better, it’s written well enough that I’ve finally been motivated to begin my collection of beautiful sentences that I’ve long meant to create. My samples:

While a murder went unsolved, everything was potentially significant, packed with secrets. The observers, like paranoiacs, saw messages everywhere. Objects could regain their innocence only when the killer was caught.
and
A storybook detective starts by confronting us with a murder and ends by absolving us of it. He clears us of guilt. He relieves us of uncertainty. He removes us from the presence of death.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
[Finished 11 September 2011] By now, we all know the story of Franzen and Oprah and all the brouhaha associated with that infamous incident. I never really understood Franzen’s reluctance to be part of her book club. I gathered later that it was based, at least in part, in a misunderstanding of what was entailed on Franzen’s part.

But what got me to read this book was less that incident than hearing a portion of Franzen’s next novel, Freedom read during a review on Fresh Air. It was just a paragraph or two, but I found myself thinking how incredibly well-written it was, and at that point I decided to read not only Freedom but The Corrections as well.

Franzen manages to take his beautiful prose and apply it to a study of a family in some level of decay. The patriarch is descending into senile dementia and suffering the affects of Parkinson’s. His wife lives in a state of denial enhanced by a dose of a fictional drug prescribed by a shady cruise ship doctor in international waters. Then there are the children, Chip, a disgraced former professor who lives on borrowed money while sleeping with a married woman and writing a comically bad screenplay who ends up being spirited to Lithuania to take part in a scheme to defraud American investors seeking to buy a piece of Lithuanian government. Gary, a control-freak, who, on the surface is the most stable and settled of the children but is revealed as the novel progresses to be the most broken of the children. And Denise, the chef with a taste for married men and women who manages to implode the success that she’s stumbled into by having affairs with both her boss and her boss’s wife. Throw in a dose of humor on top of the beautiful prose and a level of truth in the familial relations that is at turns familiar and painful and it truly is an amazing novel.

The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
[Finished 7 September 2011] I had thought that I’d never read any of the Holmes novels, but after reading this one, I find myself with hints of recollection of the story. Maybe I did read this after all. Various details of plot and language kept lingering on the edges of my consciousness, telling me, “you’ve seen me before, you know this plot, you know this character, you know this scenario.”

The Score by Richard Stark
[Finished 3 September 2011] A great bit of classic commercial fiction. Plain prose, simple descriptions, but gripping story-telling with a certain level of inevitability in the plot.

Pretty by Jillian Lauren
[Finished 1 September 2011] A book club selection. I found the whole thing a bit dull and not quite to my liking. It’s well-written, just not terribly interesting.

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
[Finished 1 September 2011] Between the BBC series and the Robert Downey Jr movies, I’ve become a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fanatic of late, so I decided to go to the source having never read the original stories. The place to begin, naturally enough, is the beginning, and so I did. The novel is divided into two parts: The first is the form that I was expecting, a first person account from the perspective of Dr Watson, with Watson standing nicely in for the reader in becoming acquainted with Holmes, but in the second part, there’s a sudden shift to an omniscient third-person narrative of events in the American west. I actually found myself wondering whether a different book had been inadvertently mixed in with the Holmes novel, the shift in tone and subject was so dramatic.

Remainder by Tom McCarthy
[Finished 26 August 2011] Wow, what a beautiful piece of writing. McCarthy takes the style of magical realism and applies it to the quotidian.

Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience edited by Stacy Bierlein, Gina Frangello, Cris Mazza and Kat Meads
[Finished 24 August 2011] An amazingly diverse selection of work. While a few sections border on erotica (or are proudly part of that genre), the majority is literary fiction drawn from both short stories and novel excerpts (no poems though). Some of the novel excerpts stand alone better than others, and with a handful of exceptions, everything in the anthology was previously published elsewhere.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
[Finished 21 August 2011] It seems that I’m reading a lot of multiple-narrator books lately. Stockett manages it well here, and while she admits in a note at the end of the book that she’d been wary of attempting to write in the voices of her black women characters, she acquits herself admirably. Each of her three narrators manages to keep a distinct identity, even without the tags at the beginning of each narrator’s sections.

I notice that Roxane Gay has been highly critical of both the book and the movie, and while I imagine that as a black woman she has insights that a northern white male would lack, it doesn’t change the fact that I found the book to be, if nothing else, a thought-provoking read. Are things really that different now? The help is more likely to be Latina rather than black, and the laws are now centered around illegal immigration rather than racial separation, but the class barriers still remain strong. Even without the legal and racial barriers, I suspect that the class barriers manage to provide difficult and uncomfortable terrain to manage

Last Orders by Graham Swift
[Finished 18 August 2011] I had a remarkably difficult time getting into this book. I found the plethora of narrators difficult to keep up with, and having characters named Vic and Vince didn’t help with that at all. It’s interesting to finish not long after reading an article about authors not liking “great” books and a similar passage in Exit Ghost where a friend of Zuckerman ascribes his not caring for Zuckerman’s latest manuscript to his own failing. Is it my own failing that I was left cold by this book? It did, after all, win the Booker prize (I think that’s how it ended up in my reading list). Or did the book fail in its ambitions and win the prize despite this failure?

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth
[Finished 17 August 2011] The last of the Zuckerman novels. This is the Philip Roth who dragged me in when I first read American Pastoral, writing beautifully crafted sentences in a book about ideas as much as characters. I have some sympathy with Zuckerman’s view on literary biography, the attempts to find the “real life” inspirations for the characters in an author’s work. It’s pointless and voyeuristic, in a way, although at the same time, in a body of work as pointedly autobiographical as Roth’s Zuckerman novels, it’s oddly self-referential to make that critique (although I would point out that I have managed to remain blissfully ignorant of the state of Zuckerman’s prostate).

Usually, writing of the (frustated) lusts of older male narrators leaves me cold, but here, it manages to be poignant, the strong desire that Zuckerman feels for Jamie that is only—can only be—requited in the notes he makes for “He and She”, a dialogue that at times Zuckerman seems to confuse with reality, much as reality causes its own difficulties for Zuckerman in the story with his failing memory.

Machine of Death edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, David Malki
[Finished 12 August 2011] This book is one of those odd things that could only have happened in the internet era: Inspired by a webcomic, we get 34 stories by mostly unknown authors (only two have achieved the necessary level of notoriety to have articles about them on wikipedia, and one of those two has his fame from writing his own webcomic). The basic concept is simple: There’s a machine that will tell you how (but not when) you die. The catch is that the information is vague and not necessarily helpful. “Old age” could mean that one dies old, or that one is hit by a car driven by an old person.

But interesting origins aside, the question remains, is it any good? I would say that for the most part the answer is yes. There weren’t really any stories that I finished and thought, “this is awful,” although the two stories by the “known” authors were not among my favorites. There are some stories which are based around the ambiguity of the prediction, with the associated ironies attached to that, but more interesting were the stories which delved deeper into the social impacts of the existence of such a machine, whether it’s the fact that having a bad death predicted would foreclose a lot of possibilities by institutions looking to preserve their prestige (what elite prep school wants an alumnus killed in a prison knife fight?), or the fact that the entropy requires the predictions to remain vague to preserve the laws of thermodynamics.

By far, my favorite story was James Foreman’s “Heat Death of the Universe” which manages to really bring out the tragedy and doom of its central characters with an apocalyptic doom hanging over them.

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett
[Finished 11 August 2011] Many years ago, I was at a talk where a priest said that he believed that there should be a sacrament for friendship. I puzzled over this for some time afterwards, wondering what exactly a sacramental friendship would entail. After all, friends come and go, many of my best friends had already disappeared in the brevity of my lifespan to that time. But I’ve come to realize, at least in part because of reading this book, that the sacrament of friendship would not be something imposed from the outside on the friendship, some sort of ceremony involving white dresses and cake, or even pocket knives and the commingling of blood. The sacrament of friendship arises from the friendship itself.

I begin on this note, at least in part, because reading this book, I found it the most Catholic of all Patchett’s books that I’ve read so far. There’s been a sort of Catholic undercurrent that runs through her books, sometimes close to the surface (like in Run), sometimes buried deep (like in Taft), but it’s always there. But here, in her account of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, along with the parallel story of her rise to success as a writer, the Catholicism percolates her every action. It’s not the Catholicism of a tedious moralist. Patchett is able to face both Grealy’s and her own sexuality without judgment. It’s more a Catholicism of love, an understanding and living of the unconditional love of God, along with our own limitations in being able to reach those heights.

I had been hesitant to approach this book. After all, I’d managed to be ignorant of Lucy Grealy (I’m still unacquainted with any of her work) and I feared that it was not going to be a compelling read. But the closing of the Santa Monica Border’s a few years back left only a few Ann Patchett titles on the shelf and this was one of them and who can resist a 50% discount? So I bought the book and it sat unread on my shelves for a couple years until now when most of my unread books are still in boxes and this was one of only two books in English in the unread book box that I’ve opened already. And I’m glad that I did, if only to get a chance to read some of Patchett’s mature writing.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham
[Finished 10 August 2011] I knew the outline of the story from seeing the film, but this was my first time reading any of Michael Cunningham’s writing. And even though I’ve seen the film, I can’t imagine how this was made into a movie. So much of the story is internal, the private meditations of the three Missuses, Woolf, Dalloway and Brown. And somehow, three stories are tied together in a beautiful and extraordinary fashion. I can’t help but envy Cunningham’s prose, the beauty and elegance of each sentence, something that I can only grasp at in my own writing, but never quite achieve.

What a delightful coincidence that I finish reading this on Virginia Woolf’s birthday.

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
[Finished 6 August 2011] My reading this book was a consequence of successful Facebook marketing: Because I had indicated in my Facebook profile that I liked Anne Patchett, I got a little ad on my pages suggesting that I would like this book. I decided to give it a try and I’m glad that I did. It’s not especially close to Patchett’s style, at least not the later books that I’ve really loved, but Henderson’s characters and setting were compelling and imminently readable.

Tatoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle
[Finished 6 August 2011] OK, confession time: Greg Boyle could have put out two-hundred pages of “qwerty asdf” and I’d’ve bought it to support Homeboy Industries. I’ve known Father Greg since sometime in the early 90s when I met him through the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and I’ve been happy to do everything I can to support his ministry.

But that said, Tattoos on the Heart is definitely not 200 pages of gibberish. It’s more a collection of the stories of the young men and women he works with that he tells in his homilies and presentations, and a lot of what he writes here I’ve heard before, but even so, it was a delight to be able to read these again and hear Father Greg’s voice in my head. It’s a wonderfully inspiring collection along with a fun read. Definitely get this book and read it. Right now.

Suttree by Cormack McCarthy
[Finished 5 August 2011] Cormac McCarthy goes into a bar and says, “Their chattel razed whore-red wainscoting,” and the bartender goes, “That’s not even a sentence.”

I encountered that joke (courtesy of Merlin Mann) just before I dove into Suttree, an adjective-laden text much in the tone of the Cormack McCarthy joke. It seems more a collection of vignettes than a cohesive story, but it was a wonderful exploration of language and story that I wouldn’t mind re-reading.

Kraken by China Miéville
[Finished 4 August 2011] I first heard about this courtesy of Boing Boing and finally a few years later I got to reading it. I’d known that it was going to be some sort of fantasy/sci-fi type book, but the opening chapter with its quotidian realism let me forget that until things gradually increase in their surreality as the story unfolds. At times the plot ended up a bit of a mess with pointless strangeness and needless twists but even with all of that, it was a fun reading.

Indignation by Philip Roth
[Finished 3 August 2011] In my hot-cold relationship with Philip Roth’s novels, this falls into the hot category. The story of a Jewish college student in the 50s dealing with the constraints of contemporary culture, Roth adds an interesting twist by revealing a few dozen pages in that his narrator is telling his story from the formless void of the afterlife.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
[Finished 28 July 2011] A great book. I first heard of this on Ford’s agent’s blog, and I put it on my reading list by virtue of the title alone (man, I really wish I’d come up with a title like that). At places Ford pushes his central metaphor a bit harder than I would have liked, but he manages to control the time shifts between the 40s and the 90s superbly, not letting himself fall into a neoclassical rigidity of pattern (too often writers can get sucked in by neoclassicalism’s siren call).

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
[Finished 26 July 2011] I first encountered Shteyngart in a panel at the L.A. Times Festival of Books when he was promoting Absurdistan and I was charmed enough by him that I made a note to read some of his books. I finally got to it with his latest work, and while the satirical tone began fairly light-hearted with Jeffrey Otter, the story quickly turned depressing to me. It’s not so much the vision of America as a bankrupt right wing consumerist dictatorship on the brink of collapse. I was fully conscious during the Bush II years so I’d already grown accustomed to that. It’s more the idea of a world in which reading and literature have largely disappeared, replaced by scanning texts for information and a general cultural shallowness. That was the thing that I had the hardest time dealing with while I read the book. A reader looking for something wildly comical would best look elsewhere (I think, though, I’ll still try at least one of Shteyngart’s earlier novels).

Spring Integration in Action by Mark Fisher, Jonas Partner, Marius Bogoevici,
[Finished 21 July 2011] Pretty good coverage of Spring Integration by the project lead and several committers. It does assume some familiarity with enterprise integration patterns, but not so much that it’s a handicap to read it without that background.

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
[Finished 21 July 2011] After a bit of a slow start (which, I admit, was at least partly caused by my refusal to read any jacket copy on the book), this became a gripping read of a journey to Jacksonian America by a liberal French noble and his pragmatic English servant. There are times when Carey’s characters become a bit too prescient for their own good (America will one day be ruled by an idiot being the prime example, but the overall concern of Americans about money over all else being the other), I still found this an enjoyable read.

The Dying Animal by Philip Roth
[Finished 19 July 2011] A novel almost entirely written in big voice, my copy has a “movie cover” showing Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz and leaves me wondering how this could possibly have been filmed. The story, such as it is, is entirely an interior story. I’ll find out eventually—I have it in my netflix queue.

The language of the novel is beautifully seductive and once again I find myself in awe of Philip Roth. He seems very much an author for whom I really love what he does or I find him unappealing.

Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show: Book One by Gordon McAlpin
[Finished 19 July 2011] I discovered this book at the Chicago Cultural Center and became immediately addicted to the strips (I’ve since gone and read all the strips online). Great compelling characters and a lot of humor that appeals to a movie nerd like myself.

The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson
[Finished 15 July 2011] I’ve written already about the defects in Larsson’s writing: His tendency to go into great depth on irrelevant materials (a section of this book where Salander visits her accountant in Gibraltar is completely superfluous), his slow arrival at the meat of the plot, the fact that Mikael Blomqvist (and obvious stand-in for Larsson) sleeps with every single significant female character in the series (with the exception, thankfully, of his sister). But despite these flaws, the books manage to be compulsively readable. The plotting of this book is less byzantine than the second book in the series and as a consequence the story is more compelling.

Spring in Action, 3rd Edition by Craig Wallis
[Finished 15 July 2011] A great update to the previous edition of Spring in Action. As usual, the framework is presented through the context of building a web application, but the greater simplicity that comes with the annotation-based configuration in Spring 3 means that Wallis is able to cover more topics and get into greater depth in some areas without sacrificing comprehensiveness.

Make More Money Investing in Multiunits by Gregory D. Warr
[Finished 11 July 2011] A much more useful book for my needs than I have found previously, although a lot of the information is dependent on a $199 software program available from a website which seems abandoned. But there’s enough information here to really feel comfortable moving forward with some real estate investments.

EJB3 in Action by Debu Panda, Reza Rahman and Derek Lane
[Finished 11 July 2011] A good overview of EJB3 technologies, although there seems to be a bit of a defensive stance taken with respect to the growth of Spring and its lightweight framework.

Some Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
[Finished 7 July 2011] Wonderful wonderful wonderful. This, I think, is easily going to be one of my favorite books of the year. A collection of 40 mostly short-short length stories (some fall below the flash fiction line). Everything is written almost entirely in big voice and has a wonderful magical realist fairy tale feel to it. It didn’t surprise me to find that Loory lists Richard Brautigan among his favorite authors. There’s a very Brautigan-ish feel to much of what he writes.

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
[Finished 6 July 2011] My wife warned me that it takes the first third of the book for things to really start happening, and indeed, that is the case. The characters here don’t really feel that connected with the first book of the series, and I have to hope that there’s not the same kind of unfinished nature to the plot of book three of the series as there was to book two.

Netherland by Joseph O'Neil
[Finished 5 July 2011] This is one of those books in my library queue that I had no idea how it got there (I later realized it was at least partly because it was a book that Obama was spotted reading early in his presidency). A beautifully written book although the big reveal turned out to be more non-sequitur than anything else. It was interesting to be reading two books simultaneously which featured bodies being found in canals in their early pages.

On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers
[Finished 1 July 2011] A collection of essays rather than a comprehensive work in itself, so at times it gets repetitive, but an interesting look at the point in which psychology/psychiatry finally began to break from its Freudian pseudo-scientific roots.

Investing in Income Properties by Kenneth D. Rosen
[Finished 28 June 2011] Not at all the book that I was looking for. I’m interested in learning more about valuing a rental property, being able to invest for current income, not for capital gains, but it seems that Rosen is all about leveraged capital gain improvement and not once mentions the downside of a leveraged investment (that is, the potential cash-on-cash return is balanced by a startling downside where a 20% drop in a property’s value can wipe out an entire investment). In all, it seems like it’s a book geared towards investment naïfs and its main value is in generating a new income stream for the author rather than educating the reader.

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
[Finished 27 June 2011] I didn’t really fully appreciate Steve Martin until I saw his surprisingly intelligent films of the early 90s: L. A. Story, Roxanne and Leap of Faith, three films which made it clear that he was more than just a silly performer. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy him earlier. I had memorized a number of his early bits learned from friend’s comedy LPs and appearances on Saturday Night Live.

Here, Martin pulls back the curtain and gives a fascinating account of his life from childhood to his transition from stand-up to movie-making with The Jerk. He quotes enough of his early routines to keep the smiles coming (at times the book is laugh-out-loud funny), along with a number of great early photos. And the whole thing is exceedingly well-written. My favorite line would be, “Was she beautiful? We were all beautiful. We were in our twenties,” a sentiment both poignant, entertaining and true.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
[Finished 25 June 2011] Painfully badly written. This is a book which desperately needed editing and rewriting, but its author’s demise prevented that from happening. But even with its flaws in storytelling and characterization, it was still compulsively readable and I had to finish it even though I found it not that well written

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace
[Finished 22 June 2011] I just love how DFW manages to subvert the whole structure of story telling in so many of his works. This is post-modern literature at its best.

Willing by Scott Spencer
[Finished 19 June 2011] Spencer starts with a high concept—his narrator has just broken up with his girlfriend and gets the opportunity to go on a high-end sex tour of northern Europe. But given this, the story ends up being remarkably vacant. The other men on the sex tour end up being largely faceless archetypes with little to make them seem interesting.

Spencer does have the ability to write some incredibly beautiful sentences and there’s a fair amount of the book that is quotable. His decision to omit quotation marks in his writing is presumably to slow the reader down but at times the ambiguity turns against the narrative in an unfortunate manner.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
[Finished 15 June 2011] I’m a sucker for novels that subvert my expectations of them. And boy did this novel subvert my expectations. What seemed like a fairly straightforward bit of historical crime fiction took a sharp left turn at the end of part one and then swerved again off a cliff on the first page of part two (and then rocketing to Mars as part two continues). The final part of the novel ended up being relatively prosaic and predictable, especially given the amazing jolt I had reading part two. That’s about all I want to say about the plot for fear of spoiling the experience for someone who decides to pick up the book based on this review. The writing itself is serviceable and the author manages to do a good job of writing in two distinct narrative voices without letting the two blend into a single voice.

The Walking Dead Compendium One by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn, and Tony Moore
[Finished 11 June 2011] Wow, addictive and compelling. Yes, there’s not necessarily a whole lot new here. It’s easy to point out parallels between the prison of the later chapters and the mall of Day of the Dead and whole hosts of post-apocalyptic zombie tales, but even so, I was sucked into this, like I haven’t by so many zombie films. It was especially interesting to see how much the AMC series deviated from the books (in some ways much to their improvement—there was a greater depth to the characterizations and conflicts in the AMC series than in the comics). I look forward to the release of compendium two.

A Void by Georges Perec
[Finished 8 June 2011] It’s fascinating how this author can go through all his work without using a particular glyph and in translation too!. Also many unusual linguistic constructions inform his book, marking it as an uncommon thing to accomplish.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
[Finished 3 June 2011] Wow. I picked this book up courtesy of its appearance on the 1001 books to read before you die list, and had no idea what to expect. Maybe that’s why the magical realism and fantasy elements caught me by surprise and impressed me so much. But still, there’s a great deal of depth to this novel with plays on identity and language and symbolism rife throughout the book. This will easily make it into my top books of the year list.

American Masculine by Shann Ray
[Finished 31 May 2011] Another book club selection. The existence of this short story collection as a published work is the consequence of Ray winning an award for this writing, although I have to admit a certain coldness for this style and his subject matter.

Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood by Gary S. Cross
[Finished 27 May 2011] In an academic fashion, Cross gives us a history of American childhood and toy marketing, purchasing and consumption. Perhaps the most stunning revelations are the extent to which childhood is a twentieth-century creation and how war toys weren’t really a part of boys’ play before the 1950s (so much for the “genetic” argument justifying the purchase of toy guns since boys would turn any object into guns otherwise—this is ultimately the consequence of pervasive marketing to children).

Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences by Abraham H. Maslow
[Finished 26 May 2011] Not really what I had hoped it would be. Rather than a scientific and clinical appraisal of peak experiences, the book is largely anecdotal with a stated goal of creating a new religion with psychiatrists as its high priests and Freud as its prophet.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ichiguro
[Finished 19 May 2011] My third Ichiguro novel. It seems that the second world war haunts Ichiguro much as Napoleon haunted much of nineteenth century literature. I knew at least some of the outline of the story from having seen the film (and it was hard to envision the characters as anything other than the actors who played them in the movies).

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
[Finished 15 May 2011] A first-person account from an autistic boy’s perspective. Haddon manages to convey his narrator’s perspective on a world in which everything familiar to the rest of us is alien using the structure of a detective story (the mystery turning out to not entirely be the mystery that it would have appeared to be at first).

Skinny by Diana Spechler
[Finished 13 May 2011] A curious book, with an interesting twist conclusion. I do have to admit that I could never really picture any of the adolescent characters in the book as being in any way overweight which doubtless impacted my ability to enjoy the novel.

London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
[Finished 13 May 2011] A history of London that focuses on thematic rather than chronological organization. Ackroyd knows his subject well, although at times he depicts urban legend as fact and there was one questionable use of the word “noisome” which perhaps referred to its archaic meaning of annoying, but more likely was used where “noisy” was meant. Still, it was a fascinating look into London’s history and seems to have informed my understanding of works I’m reading later.

Taft by Ann Patchett
[Finished 6 May 2011] Patchett’s favorite of her novels, but I found myself a bit underwhelmed. The characters all felt a bit flat and unconvincing. More soap opera than literature.

Zuckerman Bound by Philip Roth
[Finished 4 May 2011] The first three “proper” Zuckerman novels, along with an unproduced teleplay of The Prague Orgy. My love for Roth begins to abate again. There are times when he can be really amazing and there are times that he can be tedious (the fallout of Carnovsky, presumably a stand-in for Roth’s own Portnoy’s Complaint rather bored me, although it did provide a catalyst for the action of the later Zuckerman novels.

Oak Park, Illinois: Continuity and Change by David M. Sokol
[Finished May 2011] A slender volume, mostly a means of providing pictures with a bit of text, but a nice introduction to local history.

What Now? by Ann Patchett
[Finished 27 April 2011] A slender volume adapted from a graduation speech, this is part memoir, part exhortation, the ultimate message being that we really need to look outside ourselves. Grim advice for an introvert like myself.

An American Demon by Jack Grisham
[Finished 26 April 2011] If you’re writing a memoir, do you really want James Frey blurbing you? Perhaps, this odd choice was an essential part of the story, in which Grisham claims to be an incarnated demon who became human after the birth of his daughter. But between not really believing Grisham about his callow evil and the rather unpleasant nature of he narrative, this was something that I could have easily skipped reading.

Emily Alone by Stewart O'Nan
[Finished 21 April 2011] My first O’Nan (oh, how that name must have led to painful teasing in junior high), and a compelling read. I can see why the Fresh Air book reviewer loves O’Nan’s writing so much and I too want to read a lot more of his books.

The Great American Novel/My Life as a Man/The Professor of Desire by Philip Roth
[Finished 18 April 2011] Three radically different novels. The Great American Novel is filled with an exuberance that reminds me a bit of the opening pages of Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters, a book which is as much about the joy of writing as the story that it tells. In My Life as a Man I get a bit more of a feel for the Roth that I feel in love with when I read American Pastoral.. Maybe it’s because of the first appearance of Nathan Zuckerman (here, a fictionalized version of Peter Tarnopol, himself a fictionalized version of Roth), but I really loved the multi-layered narrative of this novel. Finally, we have The Professor of Desire in which the protagonist of The Breast, no longer an enormous mammary, grapples with his male sexuality in a more mature manner than I’d read in earlier Roth and again, I found this to be a more appealing novel.

Drinking Closer to Home by Jessica Anya Blau
[Finished 4 April 2011] Another book from my book club. It was compulsively readable, despite the fact that the characterizations of the family were inconsistent (there were times when I was confused over which daughter was which during the first half of the book, a problem only compounded by Blau’s choice to use a third person omniscient POV, something I’m not sure that she handles as well as she could have done).

The Wall Street Journal Complete Home Owner's Guidebook by David Crook
[Finished 17 March 2011] A book focused almost entirely on the financial aspects of the guidebook and very much a compendium of the new common wisdom in the aftermath of the housing market crash. I would summarize the book in six words: “A house is not an investment.” There’s some decent number-crunching to back up a number of Crook’s points and some sobering and surprising statistics (most notably that renovations/additions/etc. as a rule pay off at under 100% in home value appreciation. A pretty good book for the financially naïve. For me, the most useful thing was the maintenance checklist near the end of the book.

Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald
[Finished 13 March 2011] A curious book: Combine a narrative in stream-of-consciousness format (it reminds me most of Proust) with a selection of (found) illustrations and we have a book that, while I can find books to compare it to, and already have, is still somewhat sui generis. The meditations on architecture and origins are fascinating and a delight to read.

The Girl with the Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace
[Finished 5 March 2011] My first DFW experience and I found myself blown away. Wallace does an incredible job of subverting narrative conventions without being overly showy about things. From the first line of the first story I was enthralled. There’s so much to learn from this one book, and I want to read more more more more more.

West of Here by Jonathan Evison
[Finished 20 February 2011] A sort of epic parallel story between the early twenty-first century and late nineteenth century. There was a lot going on here, and some parts of the story worked better than others.

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
[Finished 11 February 2011] I had some doubts about reading this book. I knew that Pullman was an atheist and that the big bad of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy is God, but I’ve found that, at least with this first book, this is not a distracting aspect of the story. Meanwhile, the world building is brilliantly handled with little pieces of information revealed to let us see more and more how the world of the book is different from the Earth that we know so well. I have conflicting feelings about the occasional bursts into omniscient story telling, which give us some understanding of why at least some of the adults act the way that they do (as opposed to the sometimes inexplicable behavior of the adults of the Harry Potter world), but at the same time it ends up feeling a bit much like telling us rather than letting us discover these things through the story.

Man and the State by Jacques Maritain
[Finished 23 January 2011] An interesting bit of political philosophy. There are some things that I find myself feeling dubious about, and apparently Maritain is classified as a political conservative which would go a long way to understanding my discomfort.

Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X by Aaron Hillegass
[Finished 22 January 2011] This is definitely the book to get to learn Cocoa programming. I started this with a study group, but fell behind the group and finished it up on my own. There’s a pretty good overview of the libraries, but I would have liked more depth. I’m assuming that I need more books to cover details (or just get deeper into the Apple-supplied documentation).

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8, Vol. 3. Wolves at the Gate by Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty, and Jo Chen
[Finished 21 January 2011] One last issue in my first set of Buffy comics. I’m looking forward to getting more later, but this will be it for a while.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8, Vol. 2. No Future for You by Brian K. Vaughan, Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty, Cliff Richards, and Jo Chen
[Finished 19 January 2011] The story advances. I’m not going to say too much on these issues as I’m behind on updating my book log a bit belatedly. I am having a hard time pacing myself and not just reading a whole volume at a single sitting.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8, Vol. 1. The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty
[Finished 15 January 2011] After hearing a friend speak highly of this series, I decided to go ahead and start buying the collected issue volumes. And I can see the joy here. We have a nicely paced, well-written set of stories. I’m glad I wasn’t going out and buying individual comic books since the wait between issues would be insufferable. The artwork is occasionally a bit dodgy with some characters verging on unrecognizable at times, especially in some of the long shots where the details are wiped out. But it’s interesting to see some familiar characters return.

Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt
[Finished 9 January 2011] Beautifully written, if a bit soap-opera-y at times. There was, of course, the usual art-house cliche of setting up expectations to pull them away in a somewhat unsettling way (and a perhaps sly wink at this in the dialogue when one character makes clear to the other what was going to happen).

The whole book uses only one simile (which I can’t remember while I write this and the book is not to hand), but it’s a striking one and its lack of peers made it all the more impactful.

What I really enjoyed, though, was the brief author’s note at the end which was an essay on writing book reviews as a novelist and reading about what she learned about writing from closely reading other writers’ books, a practice, I think, that I need to adopt, even if I’m only writing brief reviews for these pages.

The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
[Finished 6 January 2011] It has been a very long time since I’ve read James. I’d forgotten how dense his prose can be, having to re-read paragraphs or even pages just to regain some sense of what I had just read, although the extra effort is worth it.

You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin
[Finished 24 December 2010] A lot of what I’ve been writing, in short fiction at least, has to do with memory, so a novel on the subject struck me as something worth reading. Alas, this book didn’t quite live up to that promise: Despite a superb premise, the book seems to lose its way in multiple directions including the visit of the protagonist’s god-daughter, the failure to really employ the narrative of the protagonist’s wife, or even the concept of memories being written on index cards, or integrating more about the protagonist’s own research into memory and Alzheimer’s disease. It was an entertaining read, but not what it could have been.

My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles by Martin Gardner
[Finished 22 December 2010] A fun collection of puzzles. They seem to be arranged, more or less, in order of increasing difficulty. Some of the earliest puzzles in this volume I was able to do in my head, while as things moved on, I needed paper or a peek in the back of the book.

An Inspired Journey: The First 100 Years of the SNPJ by Jay Sedmak
[Finished 20 December 2010] My grandfather was the longest-serving president of the SNPJ, and I’ve been a member of this fraternal insurance organization my whole life, although as the Slovene population has become diluted outside of Ohio and western Pennsylvania, it doesn’t really play any role in my life (unlike my childhood when I regularly attended meetings for Circle 26 at the SNPJ hall in Cicero as well as other events that my grandfather took me to).

So, I read this with an eye towards understanding a bit more about this organization. Sedmak’s style is a bit bland and it seemed that he was unwilling to really address the importance of pro-labor politics in the formative years of the SNPJ (although I would note that Sedmak claims that an earlier history of the SNPJ commissioned by the organization was shelved because of an alleged over-emphasis of the labor politics). What is more interesting is the tension between the Pennsylvania-Ohio faction of the SNPJ and the Chicago faction. I had been aware of this on the periphery of my consciousness since my childhood, and can remember my grandparents excoriating the members who wanted to move the SNPJ headquarters from Chicago to Pittsburgh or Cleveland. As a young adult, when I attended lodge meetings in Fontana, I can remember Joe Umeck expressing disappointment when I supported the idea of moving the headquarters (it seemed logical to me, given that the bulk of activity was happening in that part of the country), but after reading this, I can understand a bit more of the deep personal divisions that lead to the conflict.

Silence by Shusaku Endo
[Finished 15 December 2010] I don’t remember where I first heard of Endo. I imagine it was in reading something about Graham Greene (perhaps the collected letters), since the preface refers to Endo as the Japanese Graham Greene. I can totally see this. Endo is one of the rare writers who writes intelligently about the borderland between faith and doubt, for whom religion is a question of nuance and complexity, rather than merely a yes or no question which seems too much the case in contemporary discourse.

The Visiting Suit: Stories From My Prison Life by Xiaoda Xiao
[Finished 9 December 2010] I was left completely flat by this book. In general, memoir has little to appeal to me, and this book was no exception.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
[Finished 5 December 2010] I, like most people, first heard of Salman Rushdie in the controversy that followed from the publication of The Satanic Verses. Being the conceited self-important young man that I was at the time, I declared an intent to not read Rushdie’s book for some years to see whether it actually stood the test of time.

Stupid me.

Having finally dipped my toes into Rushdie’s waters, I was left with an awe at his ability to use language and imagery with such skill. It was like reading a dream: And from my own experience, I know that writing a dream is a task of near-impossibility. How many years I denied myself the beauty of Rushdie’s writing for no good reason, a fault I must remedy.

And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
[Finished 28 November 2010] A delightful book. At times the first person plural narration was a bit distracting, but in the end it was more successful than the attempts I’d read by Andrea Barrett, enough so that I’m tempted to re-read Barrett and see how I react to them now.

Stanley Morison by Nicolas Barker
[Finished 24 November 2010] A re-read. Again, I find myself fascinated by the parallels in thought between Morison and myself. How many Marxist Catholic typophiles can there be, even given the span of time in which typography, Marxism and the Catholic church have coexisted? But re-reading it, knowing more of his relationship with Beatrice Warde enabled me to read between the lines to find some traces of that particular situation. It did remind me of how much of my typographic memory has evaporated over the years, as I tried to recall the details of the various typefaces discussed in the text.

Half a Life by Darin Strauss
[Finished 17 November 2010] I’d first heard Strauss’s story told on This American Life, and if it were not a TNB pick, I doubt that I would have read the book. Fortunately or me, it was, and I did read it. It’s a short book, but it tells the story of the aftermath of Strauss’s having killed a classmate in an auto accident just before graduation his senior year of high school.

As an aside, this book, published by McSweeney’s is exquisitely designed and manufactured. I’ve always thought of Dave Eggers’ empire as being too cool for me, but given the obvious care lavished on the details of this book—something all too rare in contemporary publishing—I find myself wanting to take another look at the Eggers empire.

As an aside, this book, published by McSweeney’s is exquisitely designed and manufactured. I’ve always thought of Dave Eggers’ empire as being too cool for me, but given the obvious care lavished on the details of this book—something all too rare in contemporary publishing—I find myself wanting to take another look at the Eggers empire.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
[Finished 14 November 2010] Not exactly a novel, but not exactly a not-novel either. My first Kundera, with great depth, especially the sense of betrayal that the left-leaning intellectuals of Czechoslovakia felt as Stalinism made its influence felt in their land. I definitely want to read more of his writing after reading this wonderful little book.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
[Finished 4 November 2010] A curious tale of Victoriana, with some surprising twists and turns as the narrative unfolds.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
[Finished 20 October 2010] Beautifully written from the first line. I had assumed, from previous experiences reading Ishiguro, that his prose style was always rather flat, but this time, I was left feeling that there was a great depth to things that might have otherwise seemed ordinary.

Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label that Got Big and Stayed Small by John Cook
[Finished 13 October 2010] A bonus book from the TNB book club. I’m largely ignorant of the artists of Merge Records, but even so, as a musician, I was able to appreciate this account of what’s wrong and right with both the major labels and indies.

If I had a problem with the book, it would be, to quote Billy Joel, “there’s a new band in town, but you can’t get the sound from a story in a magazine.”

Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
[Finished 8 October 2010] A sequel to The Sparrow, it answers some long-standing questions from the first book, some in satisfying ways, some in ways that seemed rather redundant (we don’t always need to know everything). But still, one of those rarities, a contemporary work of fiction which is able to view questions of religion with depth and nuance.

Collaborative Intelligence In Action by Satnam Alag
[Finished 7 October 2010] A bit of a mishmash, although there’s a fair amount of useful information on algorithms and open-source solutions to collaborative intelligence problems.

Exley by Brock Clarke
[Finished 6 October 2010] Another TNB book club pick. Having previously read Clarke’s Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England, it was easy to fall into the trap of reading this book as a retelling of the former book, and as a consequence of that, I have no doubt that my enjoyment of the book was lessened as a result.

Best American Short Stories 2010 edited by Richard Russo
[Finished 2 October 2010] I was at the store on publication day to pick this up. It’s become very much my fall tradition to dig into the latest Best American anthology. This issue, I think, had a little too much of the post-global warming themed issue of McSweeney’s and overall, it seemed like the stories were drawn from a narrower range of magazines than in the past. My favorite of the lot has to be Kevin Moffett’s “Further Interpretations of Real Life Events.”

Meanings of Life by Roy F. Baumeister
[Finished 30 September 2010] A re-read. When I first read this book, I managed to find it in the interregnum between the end of the hardcover’s print run and the release of the paperback. Coming back to it a decade later, I found it interesting for perhaps different reasons than the first time around. I was particularly struck by the fact that much of what makes life—or at least work—meaningful is precisely what contemporary society is trying to pull out of the last corners of work where meaning could have been found.

The Cathedral of St Vitus by Ivo Hlobil
[Finished 19 September 2010] A slim volume sold at the bookstore of the Prague Castle. Of great assistance in researching details for my novel.

Room by Emma Donoghue
[Finished 12 September 2010] The first book from my membership in the Nervous Breakdown book club. A wonderful look into one of those horrible situations. In this instance, inspired by the stories of women held captive for years, and even bearing children to their kidnappers and rapists, we get a story told from the naive perspective of a young boy born to a kidnap victim who has lived his whole life in a backyard shed with no view of the outside other than a small skylight in the ceiling.

My big surprise came that the book quickly moves from the rhythms of captivity into the disruption of the greater world, a space that the boy finds less comfortable than the room where he had lived the first five years of his life. In retrospect, of course, it is that aspect of the story which is most interesting and if anything, I would have liked more of this, perhaps a glimpse into the boy’s life a decade or more after his entry into the world.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
[Finished 10 September 2010] Another of these books which it seems to surprise people that I’ve never read. I know the story, in broad outline, from various adaptations. The epistolary form seemed to be a bit contrived and clumsily handled, with Stoker having to go to some strange measures to make his story tellable. I wonder if it might not have been stronger had he the courage to let his narrative be more fragmentary.

I wonder whether the power of the Catholic sacraments in the face of the englishmen’s skepticism was a deliberate dig by the Irish Stoker. Certainly, the Catholicism of Van Helsing was an aspect of the story which has not survived in any of the adaptations of which I’m aware.

And a final note: I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the Buffy mythos comes out of the novel. This truly was the beginning of the modern vampire story.

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt
[Finished 4 September 2010] I had some difficulty getting into this story at first. Hustvedt writes in a somewhat dense MFA style and I found myself rebelling at reading yet another New York intelligentsia novel. The extent to which New Yorkers can be full of themselves gets tiring quickly. But eventually I managed to get past that difficulty: the descriptions of Bill’s art drew me in as I found myself really wanting to see the works described, although at times it seemed I could detect some trace of the real-life inspiration for some of the works in my memory.

There’s something about art that’s irresistible to writers. Perhaps it’s the directness of it, where the writer may need a page or more to convey a concept, the visual artist can just show it. And being able to tell a story about artists and art critics gives Hustvedt a wealth of opportunities to explore this ability to do so. But the story runs deeper than this, with its emotional core centered around the two deaths along with the collapse of two marriages, albeit in different ways (in one case it’s the birth of a child which ends the marriage, in the other, the death of a child leads to a marriage held at a distance.

But I think the title holds some of the greatest profundity of the novel. To use the phrase what I loved in a story about remembering relationships says something about the narrator’s ability to relate to people and perhaps indicates that for him, in some ways it was the art which was more alive than the artists.

I Don't Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges
[Finished 29 August 2010] Frankly, a bit of a disappointment. I had expected a reasoned critique of the “new atheists”, but instead Hedges uses them as a launch pad for a critique of the neocon world view (a box I’m not entirely sure that the new atheists completely fit into). Add into it a rather didactic tone in the writing and I found myself put off from the book a good amount.

There are some good points, although a lot of these come not from Hedges so much as from his sources (his writing in the final chapter on Proust’s view of memories was especially nice, if not entirely on topic).

Selected Poems by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
[Finished 28 August 2010] English poetry before Shakespeare is dominated by the two poets of Tottel’s Miscellany, Wyatt and Surrrey. While I was an undergrad I managed to find a complete poems of Wyatt but only selected poems of Surrey, the latter of which I’ve only now gotten around to reading. I think I was interested in Surrey as a potential crypto-Catholic, although Dennis Keene who edited this selection finds that claim unlikely and provides significant evidence to the contrary.

The poems themselves vary from somewhat banal to quite nice, but what’s especially interesting is that this is Surrey working to, in effect, invent English poetry, experimenting with the sonnet form as well as writing the first narrative poetry in English using blank verse.

Money by Martin Amis
[Finished 19 August 2010] Martin Amis’s father famously threw this book across the room in disgust when he reached the point where the Martin Amis character appears in the book. I have to say that although I wasn’t aware of this anecdote when I reached that point in the story, I was tempted to join Kingsley Amis in a physical criticism of the novel.

Martin Amis manages to have a compelling narrative voice in John Self, a man who is defined by vulgarity, but he tells a story with to recommend it. A mystery introduced early in the novel has little if any meaning and the big con of the book appears as unexpectedly as the horse beneath the Old Spice guy. What’s more, there seems little justification for the character of Martin Amis being Martin Amis other than egoism. In all, a rather disappointing read. I read in an interview with Amis that he said if his father had pursued a different career, he would have pursued that same career. This book almost makes me wish that were the case.

The Complete Short Stories, Volume One by D. H. Lawrence
[Finished 18 August 2010] I remember really liking Sons and Lovers when I first read it (although it did nearly get me arrested by campus police because I happened to be reading it in a dorm lounge when a girl living in the dorm was worried about a stalker (not me) and they spent an inordinate amount of time paging through it while determining that I wasn’t a suspicious character).

But maybe it’s a change of tastes since I was twenty, but I found little of this collection of stories to interest me. Some of it is because these are early efforts by Lawrence (the back cover copy is a bit apologetic about the books), and in nearly 300 pages, only a single description of emotional pain stuck out as better than average writing.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
[Finished 4 August 2010] McCarthy does some interesting stylistic things with his prose, eschewing quotation marks and most apostrophes, but the stream-of-consciousness style manages to keep this from being distracting.

The story itself is a meditation on human nature, really, the question of what it means to be one of the good guys versus one of the bad guys, in the context of a world gone horribly bad, where humanity has been reduced to scavaging from the remains of civilization or, when that fails, cannibalism and other savagery. The plight of the old man in the story as he leads his son on a destinationless journey down the titular road is especially compelling. Was he right not to join his wife in her suicide at the end of civilization? Is there meaning to the journey if it’s only about the survival of him and his son? I feel that there is a great deal of depth in the seemingly simple story that I have only half-plumbed.

Novels 1967–1972: When She Was Good, Portnoy's Complaint, Our Gang, The Breast by Philip Roth
[Finished 3 August 2010] When She Was Good: I’m guessing that Roth was weary of being described as a “Jewish” writer, so he wrote a book about WASPs. The whole thing felt a bit misogynistic to me and the ending seemed contrived.

Portnoy’s Complaint: An incredible narrative voice but somehow Roth manages to make a book about sex feel wearying and dull. At this point, I found myself wondering whether the ardor I felt for Roth’s writing after reading American Pastoral was misplaced.

Our Gang: And this slim story didn’t help. I imagine it was hilarious 30 years ago. Now, the whole thing feels painfully dated. Most likely one of those books which remains in print primarily for the benefit of completists.

The Breast: And then my faith in Roth is restored. I’m less inclined to be a Philip Roth completist after working through these early works. I can see why Howard Junker spoke of having grown bored with Roth in one interview. But suddenly here, we manage to see the mature Roth emerge. Or at least that’s what I hope it is. With deliberate reference to Kafka and Gogol, we get the story of a man transformed into an enormous breast and the writing once again feels deft and compelling. Am I seeing the emergence of the Roth who wrote American Pastoral? Or are these just sparks in the firmament? I’ll have to read on to know for sure.

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow
[Finished 30 July 2010] A novel in verse about werewolves.

Is the “in verse” a gimmick? Yep. Barlow writes with a distinctive voice, but I don’t think that removing the line breaks would really impact the experience of the book (although it would cut down on the line count and the radio interviews).

There are a number of goofs that only someone writing about Los Angeles without having any significant direct experience with the city would make (the three that stand out were a pair of errors in Spanish and leaving out the article on “the 10”).

The story was pretty compelling although the central event of the story was a bit jumbled and confused, but I loved, absolutely loved the mythology of the story.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
[Finished 28 July 2010] A brilliant novel of ideas. I listened to this as an audio book, something which I suspect made part III a bit more intelligible since each character’s voice was distinct. I knew that it was about a castaway on a lifeboat with a tiger from the beginning, and found myself a bit impatient through the first part waiting for Pi to be on the lifeboat already. And at times, during the long detailed narration of the time on the lifeboat, I grew impatient again, but looking back over the 100 chapters, I found that even those parts that I was impatient over were essential to the whole and the wonderful combination of comparative biology and theology make for a wonderful meditation into meaning, narration and the nature of grace.

The Light of Day by Graham Swift
[Finished 24 July 2010] Nominally a detective novel, but really a novel about remembering. Since much of my own writing, I’ve come to realize, is also about remembering, I paid especial attention to his style to see how he managed the task.

An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
[Finished 16 July 2010] The second I saw this title, I knew that this was a book that would make for an interesting read. Or at least I hoped it would. Certainly, it’s a title I wish I had come up with. Fortunately, Clarke manages to take the concept dictated by the title and turn it into something a bit special, if a bit English-major-y (but in a good way). The nominal story exists to a large extent as a framework for considering the concept of story telling and truth, and what makes a story a good story? Should it be true? Should it lead to good things on the part of the reader? There is a bit of it which dates the novel since there’s a bit of a preoccupation with the current obsession with memoir and its ascendency over the novel as a preferred form of recreational reading (something I still don’t entirely understand myself, and I suspect Clarke would agree with me on this one).

But even with the heady intellectual aspects of the narrative, there remains a delightful humor and storytelling which keeps this from veering too deeply into literary novel which only an English major could love. Clarke’s choice to leave his contemporary authors unnamed makes for a fun game of guess the writer/book as an added bonus.

The Periodic Table by Primo Levy
[Finished 14 July 2010] This book was on a list of the 100 best novels, an interesting thing since it’s not actually a novel or even a work of fiction (modulo a pair of curious interludes on lead and mercury in the middle of the book, plus the carbon chapter which closes the book), but a memoir. Levi elides his experiences in Auschwitz since he’s talked about it in great detail elsewhere and instead focuses on the time before and after that experience instead. A strange and wonderful book that makes me wish I had been more open to chemistry as an undergrad.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
[Finished 7 July 2010] When I first heard about this book, I immediately added it to my reading list (slowly spiraling out of control, of course). A book about a book restorer struck me as something that would interest me a great deal.

It’s a bit deeper than that, using the book restoration story as a frame for a series of short, mostly disconnected narratives tracing the history of the book back in time. Each of these could stand on their own and provide some fascinating looks at historic narratives taking as their launching point a seemingly insignificant detail of something captured in the book.

The framing narrative is occasionally a bit disappointing, although a final bit of suspense and crime(!) does give it some justification for existing beyond as a linkage for the stories, although I’m not entirely certain that the non-book aspects of Hannah Heath’s life really amount to that much. In all, though, a wonderful introduction to the writing of Geraldine Brooks. I’d definitely read more by her.

The Colour by Rose Tremain
[Finished 30 June 2010] One of these books that it’s difficult to make sense of. At first it seemed that it was going to be a story of a man making a hardscrabble living in 19th century New Zealand, but the book quickly transformed into being more about the women of the period, focusing initially on the wife and mother of the man I had originally assumed to be the protagonist and fanning out in a network to other women of the terrain including the former Maori nanny of the son of a wealthy couple who live near our putative protagonist’s home.

And every step of the novel suggests a path that the story might take, but then backs away from that possibility. What distinguishes the plot more than anything else is the paths that appear to be clear but then are blocked like the passage through the mountains from the east to west coast of New Zealand.

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
[Finished 25 June 2010] As someone not especially sympathetic to either capitalism or protestantism, this was an odd book to read. There seems to be a fair amount of assertions made without basis, and assumptions of good in areas where I would argue that the premise is flawed (for instance, his view that a worker who responds to a pay raise by reducing the amount of work being done is acting against his own self-interest).

I remember this book being mentioned as important reading by one of my professors in my undergrad days, but I don’t remember which professor or why they felt that it was important to read, a question that I puzzled over as I read this. I think that I had a vague notion that Weber would be writing in a more critical mode than he was, and while he makes token efforts to establish his correlation does not imply causation bona fides, they remain nothing more than tokens.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee
[Finished 15 June 2010] An interesting book, although there is a lengthy chapter on the best Chinese restaurant in the world which is indirectly acknowledged as an attempt to pad out the size of the book and is almost completely dispensable. Lee also has a tendency towards some of the organizational flaws which are all too common in contemporary narrative non-fiction, but even so, she does some great detective work in ferreting out the origins of not only the titular fortune cooke, but also chop suey (a staple of the Chinese restaurants of my childhood which is now almost completely extinct) and General Tso’s chicken, among other things.

The Accidental by Ali Smith
[Finished 10 June 2010] An interesting book. At first, I was a bit thrown by the stream-of-consciousness narrative, but as the story developed, I fell into Smith’s rhythm and found myself enchanted by the tale she was telling. The fragmentary style, told from multiple POVs is a stylistic triumph, even if things fall apart a bit in the final section of the book.

Rosalynde, or, Euphues' Golden Legacy by Thomas Lodge
[Finished 8 June 2010] A curious volume, something I picked up in college as part of my bibliomania surrounding my undergrad thesis (I would buy anything that had the name of a Catholic author on the spine at the time).

Rosalynde is a prose romance, written, as the alternate title suggests, in imitation of Lyly’s “Euphues,” and notable primarily as being the source for the plot of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

Perhaps more interesting than the text is the fact that this is one of several editions of the work published during the first couple decades of the twentieth century (and as I recall, similar volumes were popular for other minor works which were source material for Shakespeare). If they exist in print today, it’s because they’re reprints of these earlier editions, remnants of an era when the new criticism hadn’t become the dominant mode of approaching texts.

4 Months to a 4-Hour Marathon by David Kuehls
[Finished 1 June 2010] Since my brother has beaten my family marathon record and he was kind enough to give me this book for Christmas last year, I’ve read it and plan to follow its advice to set a new familial record to put him back in his place. The advice here is simple and practical and seems like it will do a good job of delivering on its promised goal. I guess the only thing to do is to check back in four months from now.

Lettering, Designing, Illustrating, Cartooning by International Library of Technology
[Finished 31 May 2010] A fascinating book, less because of its nominal content than for the glimpse it gives of vocational training and cultural attitudes near the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Locked Room by Paul Auster
[Finished 27 May 2010] The final volume of Auster’s New York Trilogy. A mention of the first two books of the trilogy in the penultimate chapter marks the first real intertextuality between the books (and perhaps identifies the anonymous narrator of the novel as Paul Auster, although not necessarily the Paul Auster(s) of the first novel in the trilogy. There are some wonderful narrative devices at play, the telling of the story of Fanshawe through the mystery of his disappearance, along with an assumption that the reader will be familiar with Fanshawe is a beautiful stylistic tic, something I wish I had come up with. While perhaps the most complete story of the trilogy, this one also left me feeling emptiest, although perhaps it was the fact that Fanshawe remained a bit of a cipher throughout the book, leaving us wondering whether he ever really existed (and the fact that he didn’t actually exist only takes things a bit further).

Drop City by T. C. Boyle
[Finished 20 May 2010] An interesting book. This is my first book I’ve read by Boyle and it seems that he is an author whose books are driven primarily by character rather than plot. The plot of this book, such as it is, is rather thin, with most of the conflicts fading away rather than being really resolved. But the characters that Boyle creates stay with the reader and kept me coming back to the book the whole way through.

Graham Greene: A Life in Letters edited by Richard Greene
[Finished 14 May 2010] When I read a collection of an author’s letters like this, I sometimes wonder what the 21st century equivalent will be. Selected e-mails perhaps? No matter, Richard Greene’s (no relation) collection gives an interesting perspective into Graham Greene’s life. We’re left with a sense of a man who strays less far from the church than the Greene of the Sherry biography, but at the same time this might be a bit of selection bias: R. Greene may have chosen his letters to support a view point, the recipients of Greene’s letters may have kept only those letters which supported their own preferred view of the man, or Greene himself may have done more to cultivate the appearance of a certain level of belief (although that level is far from full orthodoxy as well).

There’s a clear sense of Greene’s voice in these letters, and it’s easy to see just why I’ve enjoyed his writing so much over the years. There’s also a bit of support for some of my suppositions about writings by and about Greene. The origins of Ways of Escape are confirmed and the reticence of the second volume of the Sherry biography is also explained.

Data Structures & Algorithms in Java by Robert LaFore
[Finished 11 May 2010] A decent introduction to data structures. There wasn’t a whole lot in here that I didn’t already know, but I felt that it would be a good idea to plug in some of the gaps in my knowledge.

Much of the information is presented informally and readers are directed to a set of Java webapps to be able to see how the structures and algorithms work in slow-motion. For some of the more complicated structures, these are especially handy for understanding

This is the first entire book that I’ve read on the Kindle and I found the Kindle experience to be a bit underwhelming, complicated further by the fact that program listings and tables are presented as graphics because of the limitations of the Kindle format. ePub theoretically would work better, although when I looked at a programming book on a Nook while visiting Barnes & Noble, I was similarly underwhelmed by that device’s display of technical content as well.

Oil! by Upton Sinclair
[Finished 7 May 2010] A first-class bit of propaganda. It’s hard not to want to go out onto the streets singing “The Internationale” after reading this book, Sinclair does such a good job of portraying the plight of labor against the backdrop of the seemingly invincible power of moneyed interests. Even more surprising, though is how relevant the book seems to my contemporary eyes: Sinclair’s description of the drilling process seems still applicable to how it’s done today (at least as it’s described in accounts of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico). The hypocrisies of Eli Watkins and Vern Roscoe also have contemporary resonances.

The book opens with a bit of rather poetic description, something which I hadn’t expected (I think I may have paged through The Jungle in my younger days, but I doubt that I actually read it), although the poetic language faded pretty quickly on, so it’s hard to see that as central to Sinclair’s writing as his clear agenda in the writing.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
[Finished 30 April 2010] I went into this book with two sets of expectations: The delight that I gained from reading Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo and vague memories of the story informed primarily by the animated series that was shown during the Banana Splits show, along with the film with Charlie Sheen and Oliver Platt.

So coming into this story, it starts out much as we all recall. A bit of adventure and intrigue, the hilarious triple-duel scene for d’Artagnan’s “meet cute” with the three musketeers, but then as the story proceeds, it becomes clear that the three musketeers are—well, not to put too fine point on it—dicks.

What’s more, their role in things seems a bit anti-patriotic. They seem to be helping the queen as she undermines her own country, while the “villainous” Cardinal Richelieu is actually acting in the best interests of France. The musketeers aren’t heroes, they’re anti-heroes! Imagine my surprise.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
[Finished 24 April 2010] A wonderful book, or really books, there are a series of novels, nested together like matryoshka dolls. As we begin the unnesting process, Mitchell begins to expose the philosophical underpinnings, most particularly, the question of what the real story is here. Is it the innermost nest of the lot, or are the inner stories set in progressively distant futures, just imagined audiences of one of the outer stories. Meanwhile, the nested stories raise questions of freedom and slavery, free will and the relationship among layers of society. Overall a brilliant book.

Ghosts by Paul Auster
[Finished 16 April 2010] A slender volume without chapter or section breaks. Continuing on the first volume of the New York Trilogy’s theme of surveillance and identity, we have another story of surveillance, this time of a detective named Blue hired by a man named White to watch another man named Black. The color theme carries throughout the book but it seems like this is more connective tissue than a solid novel. The fact that it appears to be out of print outside of omnibus anthologies containing all three works only bolsters that point.

City of Glass by Paul Auster
[Finished 7 April 2010] Whoa, this was brilliant. The story is ultimately a reflection on philosophy of identity. The protagonist, a writer of detective novels who identifies with his main character about whom we writes under a pseudonym, takes on the identity of Paul Auster, whom he believes to be a detective. He later discovers that Auster is a writer himself, one who is familiar with his non-pseudonymous early work. And we learn that the narrator who remains absent until near the end, is yet another unnamed character. And that’s not touching on the various Michael Phillipses, discursions on the tower of Babel and the original language, or what it really means to be alone. What a brilliant bit of writing, even more so in that the whole thing appears quite effortless.

Tinkers by Paul Harding
[Finished 5 April 2010] Really the epitome of the MFA novel. Beautiful beautiful prose and no real plot to speak of. There were some great moments and some fascinating plays on words, including the title (“tinkers” could be interpreted as a verb or a noun), but in the end, I was left feeling empty.

Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther by James A. Fischer
[Finished 5 April 2010] A rather dull set of commentaries. The text is from the New American Bible translation, but Fischer finds that translation defective in places.

A big part is a lack of targeting of the commentaries. It seems that Fischer wants to write a scholarly commentary but is constrained by a market demand to make something suitable for the Biblically naïve Catholic layperson, the result being a commentary that doesn’t fit either role and ends up feeling both condescending and inaccessible at the same time.

Catechism of the Council of Trent
[Finished 25 March 2010] An interesting book, translated from the Latin produced in the wake of the Council of Trent. The book is explicitly directed at priests in pastoral roles, addressing how matters should be approached in sermons and he confessional. At times sexist views of the times drown out the content, but it’s also amazing how contemporary some of the discussions can seem as well.

Handbook of the Christian Religion by Wilhelm Wilmers, S.J.
[Finished 5 March 2010] This was one of the first books on Catholic theology that I read. Coming back to it a couple decades later, I can see the clear influence of a second hand in the book, that of the American editor and co-translator James Conway who indicates that he felt free to expand, delete and edit many portions of the book as he saw fit. It’s hard at times to determine how much of the book is Wilmers and how much is Conway. The only clearly designated addition is the appendix which contains a list of church councils, the texts of several creeds in Latin and Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors.

It is interesting to note how little of the book is dedicated to questions of moral theology and how much to more abstract theology. There are a few passages which betray a surprising conception of space, time and causality which seem more appropriate to someone writing in the late twentieth century than the mid-nineteenth.

The Mass in Slow Motion by Ronald Knox
[Finished 19 February 2010] A chatty little book adapted from a series of catechetical sermons Knox gave to the students of a girls school evacuated to Shropshire during World War II. It’s an interesting and informal look at the details of the Tridentine mass. An interesting note is that et cum spiritu tuo, which had previously been translated into English as “and also with you,” and has been a bugbear for many liturgical traditionalists, is translated by Knox in his comments as “the same to you.”

I re-read this largely hoping to get some details on the celebration of the mass for use in my current novel, and I got some of that, although a great deal of what Knox focuses on is the inner thoughts of himself as he celebrates the mass and the thoughts he would like the members of his congregation to have as they hear the mass.

A World of My Own: A Dream Diary by Graham Greene
[Finished 16 February 2010] Greene’s epitaph to his life’s work. The preface by his last mistress, Yvonne Cloetta makes it clear that this was the last work he assembled from a lifetime’s records of dreams and it was arranged to conclude with Greene’s dream of his own death and the poem he wrote as is own obituary.

The prose takes on a poetic quality that is generally absent from Greene’s fiction, allowing Greene to manage the difficult balance between the reified and immaterial that is essential in any good account of a dream. Not an essential work, certainly, but a wonderful conclusion to Greene’s ouevre.

Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray
[Finished 12 February 2010] There’s something interesting inherent in a book which begins with Book Three and has the prologue after the beginning and epilogue before the end. Sadly, the whole thing ends up being a bit of a hash. There are really two separate narratives here, the surrealistic Lanark story and the naturalistic Thawe story, each with its own merits, but with what seems only a tenuous connection (something acknowledged by the author in the epilogue). I feel like there were two good books here, but the postmodern narrative managed to sink them both into a bit of a morass.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson
[Finished 12 February 2010] The Stephenson that I’ve read previously has all been set in the same universe of 17th and 20th Century earth, focusing on questions of cryptography and the nature of money, so coming into Anathem which is set in a distant future and alien world was a bit of a shock. Add onto that the fact that Stephenson decided to create his own vocabulary for a number of things and I found the book off-putting at first. Creating a world is difficult enough, creating a language is much harder and tends to fall flat unless the writer is someone skilled in linguistics (like Tolkien) or who takes an existing language and modifies it for his ends (like Burgess did in A Clockwork Orange). Stephenson is certainly not a linguist and while he uses some latinate vocabulary to good end in the book, his deviations from that tend to way down the narrative, especially given that he doesn’t consistently distinguish between his “Fluccish” and “Orth” words.

The story itself is an interesting one with some nice discussions of mathematical concepts (Stephenson’s forte, by far is mathematical fiction), although the conclusion ends up devolving into a bit of nonsense (but then that could be said of the other Stephenson novels that I’ve read as well). But even with the flaws, I had a hard time putting it down and I found myself flying through its nearly 1000 pages in short order.

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St John Mandel
[Finished 11 February 2010] Part of my project to read recent first novels. St. John Mandel’s prose has a glowing dreamlike poetic quality that is hard to put a finger on and makes me really really wish that my writing were like that. She manages to do a great job of unravelling her story through non-chronological storytelling, although towards the end it feels like she doesn’t really have a good sense of what to do with her characters and falls into some cliches of storytelling, but I look forward to reading her next novel.

A Series of Unfortunate Events 10: The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket
[Finished 9 February 2010] We’re slowly seeing the characters grow and mature and finally getting some clues as to the whole VFD/Eye mystery. It was neat to see Sunny really get a chance to shine this time around.

The Last Word and Other Stories by Graham Greene
[Finished 2 February 2010] A hodgepodge of stories from across Greene’s career including those deleted when 19 Stories became 21 Stories. There are some delightful surprises in the mix, “The Man Who Stole the Eiffel Tower,” being chief in the mix, a wonderful bit of whimsy telling precisely the story the title promises. Some bits were tedious, most notably, “Work Not in Progress,” which is more a description of a story than a story in and of itself. It’s surprising, though, to note that the story comes from the 50s and not the 80s.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
[Finished 1 February 2010] This book is really the definition of commercial fiction: Plot-driven, difficult to put down, but not necessarily of any great depth. One of the comments that many others of my acquaintance who’ve read the book is that there’s a lot of information on cathedral building in the book. Perhaps, although I don’t feel, joking to the contrary, like I can go out and build a medieval cathedral in my back yard now that I’ve read it.

The story, as I noted, is compelling and fast-paced. The 900+ pages of the book fly by with amazing celerity. But characterizations are not necessarily very deep. There doesn’t really seem to be more than one dimension for almost every character in the book. Aliena shows the greatest depth and even she doesn’t run especially deep.

But this is commercial fiction. We read it for the story, not for the characterizations and certainly not for the prose. We get a touch of an idea of what medieval life is like and a story that makes the reader want to just read a few pages more before bed. And in that, it succeeds quite well.

The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd
[Finished 26 January 2010] When this book first popped to the top of my reading list, I assumed that the title used the term “lambs” metaphorically, to talk about innocents in London, and while ostensibly, the Lambs of London are in fact, Charles and Mary Lamb (of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare), I think that there’s some merit to my original assumption, as Charles and Mary are, in a way, secondary characters in the novel, overshadowed by William Henry Ireland. I read this somewhat ignorant of the real Ireland’s history so the twist, that he was a forger and not a discoverer of lost texts, was one that caught me by surprise (it also helped that I hadn’t read the jacket flap copy). In all a delightful diversion.

Reflections by Graham Greene
[Finished 23 January 2010] I had some concerns going into this volume when I saw that it was a collection of essays from throughout Greene’s career including many which had been excluded from Collected Essays for a variety of reasons. But upon reading the collection, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the quality of the essays. A number of the early essays, speaking abstractly about film, form a sort of manifesto for what narrative arts in general (not just film) should seek to do and how it should approach the task. There are some curious bits of occasional verse included along with a concluding essay containing some notes on abandoned story and novel ideas.

Best American Short Stories 2009 edited by Alice Sebold
[Finished 14 January 2010] This volume is apparently where the Hurricane Katrina fiction made it through the pipeline into the best of anthologies. Neither of the Katrina stories really called out to me that much, though. The stories which I enjoyed the most were Alice Fulton’s “A Shadow Table,” Karl Taro Greefield’s “NowTrends,” Greg Hrbek’s “Sagittarius,” Yiyun Li’s “A Man Like Him,” Rebecca Makkai’s “The Briefcase” (the best one in the book), Richard Powers’s “Modulation,” and Alex Rose’s “Ostracon” (an interesting bit of experimental writing).

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee
[Finished 8 January 2010] A wonderful book, far better than the last Coetzee I read and a clear indication of why it was that he was named for the Nobel prize. While there is a fair amount of old man mourning his dying sexuality in the story, the stories of the stupidity of the imperial military caused a decrease in security took over. In a way there were two conflicting narratives going on: One was a bit of an allegory on the failures of empire (prescient of American overreach in Afghanistan and Iraq), the other the story of the magistrate. Oddly while I tend to find allegory tiresome, in this novel it was the more successful aspect of the novel. At times, the magistrate’s story descended into banality and boringness.

L.A. Outlaws by T. Jefferson Parker
[Finished 3 January 2010] An enjoyable crime novel. Parker does a good job of sprinkling clues without giving things away, although it felt as if the story lost its momentum in its final pages. I think, though, that I might read more Parker in the future. He has a wonderful feel for Los Angeles.

Selected Poems by Alexander Pope
[Finished 3 January 2010] I’ve been reading these poems for the past couple weeks, reading a collection I’d only dipped into when I purchased it for my 18th Century English Literature class. The Penguin edition has the odd choice to omit line numbers on the poems making the usual citation format a bit difficult (I’m still a bit disturbed to look back on the papers I wrote on Pope and see the odd-looking citations), but the poems themselves stand on their own even if I do find myself slipping into a bit of a rap rhythm while reading them.

The Master by Colm Tóibín
[Finished 30 December 2009] I have to admit I found this book to be rather dull. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any Henry James, but I think that about half the time I found myself in the same situation with James’s work so maybe it makes sense that I’d react the same way to a novel about Henry James.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
[Finished 28 December 2009] Second novels are an interesting thing. After pouring out a life’s worth of experience on the first novel, a successful writer is often given a sizable sum of money and a deadline in which to produce a second novel, not always to the best effect. Niffenegger manages a creditable second novel with Her Fearful Symmetry, demonstrating a good handle on writing third-person omniscient (I think it might be coming back into fashion) in her take on a ghost story. At times the symmetry metaphor is handled a bit clumsily, but the writing is beautiful and the plotting is as surprising as she managed with her first novel.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
[Finished 22 December 2009] How unpromising the title seems. A woman writer and a domestic title. And yet upon opening it, I was left feeling like this was some of the most purely beautiful prose that I’ve ever encountered, written with a hypnotic quality that leaves you feeling as if you’ve wondered into a waking dream. It’s not often that I find myself going back to the beginning of a chapter to re-read it for the pleasure of reading it one more time. I feel that my own writing has turned limp and inadequate in comparison.

Yours, Etc.: Letters to the Press 1945-1989 by Graham Greene
[Finished 19 December 2009] I picked up my copy new as a first edition out of my Greeneian completist instincts. Probably over half the text is actually explanatory prose from editor Christopher Hawtree, essential to an understanding of many of the issues which have since faded into obscurity (and even when they haven’t are often in need of clarification courtesy of the minimalist style of a letter to the editor). That said, it’s a frequently enjoyable read, especially given some of Greene’s habits as a practical joker. Having read the revelations of the later volumes of Norman Sherry’s biography of Greene since my first reading of this book, it’s interesting to wonder how much of the political writing was showmanship for Greene’s continuing espionage career.

Metamorphoses by Ovid
[Finished 18 December 2009] I can understand the temptation to take an epic work of poetry in Latin and Greek and translate it in prose as Mary Innes has done with this edition, but the end result is seldom good and this is no exception. We’re left with a rather prosaic rendering of the text and the choice to turn the Metamorphoses into prose has ended up leaving the text feeling like a dense blob of words rather than something special.

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
[Finished 13 December 2009] There is something a bit obvious in writing a book called The Plot Against America in the days following 9/11 amidst the seemingly unstoppable upsurge of the Bush-Cheney regime. Roth’s alternate history even includes a president who likes to do his own flying (although Lindbergh, unlike Bush flew solo).

But all that said, somehow I found the novel falling a bit flat. Using the perspective of a 9-year old Philip Roth to tell the story, there is a great deal of promise, but it feels as if towards the end, Roth grew tired of his premise and decided to give up on the book rather than follow it where it was leading (which would have led to a much longer book, certainly, but, in the end, I think a much better book).

True, it’s a Philip Roth book, so even as flawed as it is, it’s still hard to put down, but in the end, I was left seeing more in the book that Roth hadn’t written than in the book that he had.

A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul
[Finished 7 December 2009] I know very little about the postcolonial period in Africa, but Naipaul manages to convey the atmosphere quite well in this novel. The country that Naipaul depicts is unnamed in the novel, but this, in a way, manages to make the themes more universal: that people more knowledgeable than I can make cases for different countries as the locale for the novel tells me that the conditions in various central African nations were similar.

Perhaps most interesting is that the story is told from the perspective of an outsider, an Indian trader working in rather cultural isolation. The commentaries on the international world of the fifties and sixties were especially fascinating.

The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
[Finished 4 December 2009] Greene’s last novel. There are elements of Greene’s experiences in Panama in the narrative, with characters clearly reminiscent of Omar Torrijos and Chuchu from Greene’s Getting to Know the General. There are some possibly metaphorical elements in the story, including some hints that the Captain of the title is, in some ways, a stand-in for an ambiguously good God. This was the first Greene book I was able to purchse new and at publication, which in some ways is a bit of a pity since our lives had such little overlap chronologically.

Beautiful Children by Charles Bock
[Finished 2 December 2009] I have no idea how this ended up in my reading list, but sometime between when I took it out of the library and when I started reading it, I came across a reference to it from a literary agent citing it as something he would like to see more of.

Bock does an interesting job of weaving together different characters and chronologies around the central mystery of the story, what happened to Newell Ewing. There’s a fascinating look into the worlds of the marginalized, whether it’s comic book fanatics, strippers, runaways or a father whose marriage is collapsing and has begun to seek solace from strippers and pornography. It really is a great debut novel and leaves me seeing a higher level of writing to aim for.

Bump by Diana Wagman
[Finished 30 November 2009] I first heard about this book from Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s Writers on Writing show and upon reading it, I realized what it was that had attracted me to the book. The characters in the book are each, in their own way, touched by suicides whether it’s the cop who collects suicide notes, has a father who killed himself and spends most of the novel thinking that this will be the last day of his life before he himself commits suicide to the Beverly Hills housewife who volunteers for a suicide hotline. Wagman does a great job of managing the coincidences which tie her characters together with the exception of one character’s demise near the end of the novel which seemed just a bit too tidy for my tastes. For a novel whose unifying theme is suicide, this manages to be a rather uplifting read.

If On A Winter's Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino
[Finished 26 November 2009] A wonderfully readable post-modern novel. It’s really about reading and includes a delightfully byzantine story about foiled attempts at reading where just as the reader reaches the end of the first chapter, one of a number of problems leads to the reader being led to a new book, entirely different from the first. One of my favorite reads of the year.

Collected Plays by Graham Greene
[Finished 25 November 2009] Greene is known in US primarily as a novelist, and it’s perhaps a bit surprising that during the latter period of his life, he considered himself to be more of a playwright. The earlier plays reflect themes similar to the concerns of Greene’s novels of the period, but later plays manage to become their own entities including the delightfully farcical “The Return of A.J. Raffles”

The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble
[Finished 20 November 2009] I think I read Drabble’s The Waterfall in college, and if I did, my primary memory is of feeling rather disconnected from the narrative and that the story felt like I was seeing it through a gauze mask.

Coming back to Drabble to read this recent novel, I found her narrative style a bit more engaging. The story is told, for the most part, from the perspective of the deceased Korean Crown Princess Hyegyong of the title. We begin with a story of the princess told in a formal style, then move to a close third person narrative of a contemporary female academic who reads the life of the princess and finds it consuming her while simultaneously engaging in some parallel activities in her own life. We conclude with the academic meeting Margaret Drabble and Drabble writing the novel. Enjoyable, but not necessarily 5-star material to my mind.

Morte d'Urban by J. F. Powers
[Finished 15 November 2009] Powers is my people. Not merely a Catholic, but a pacifist and a writer whose first stories appeared in The Catholic Worker. This is a lightly comic tale of a worldly priest slowly coming to his own epiphany. The story is managed in such a way to avoid heavy handedness in its ultimate morality. Powers does a masterful job of letting us identify with and root for Father Urban so as he starts to feel the limitations of his world view, we do as well. I am eager to read more Powers in the future.

Social and Political Philosophy: Readings From Plato to Gandhi edited by John Somerville and Ronald Santoni
[Finished 13 November 2009] A nicely curated selection of readings from Plato to Gandhi. It was my first time reading any of Hitler’s writings and I have to admit feeling violated as a I read his racist and anti-semitic ranting. Truly disturbing. Jefferson’s comments about the political theorists of past ages not necessarily being applicable to his present time seems surprisingly applicable now. And reading Marx and Engels I was reminded that yes, I am truly a Marxist at heart.

Stripes ...and Java web development is fun again by Frederic Daoud
[Finished 10 November 2009] A nice clear and lucid introduction to the Stripes Java web framework. I found that the framework did everything that I needed it to do and did it in a generally clear way. Daoud does a good job of covering the cases where Stripes is a bit out of sorts in the way it handles things (most notably some odd corners of Spring integration). Sidebars and commentary go a long way towards adding clarity and pointing out some of the more complicated aspects of the framework.

The Zapatista Reader edited by Tom Hayden
[Finished 9 November 2009] I had decided that I needed to know a bit more about the Zapatista movement than my casual acquaintance with the facts provided (and that the wikipedia article covered), so based on a citation of this book by wikipedia, I decided to dig a bit deeper.

As might be expected in a book edited by Tom Hayden, there is a strong leftist slant in the information provided, something which left me a little dissatisfied as I found a fair amount of the writing felt more like hagiography than analysis (although there were a few token dissenting pieces, I would expect there to be a greater depth of serious critique of the Zapatista project in existence. Then again, given the intellectual bankruptcy of American conservatism, perhaps not). Most appealing were the direct interactions with Subcommandante Marcos whose intelligence, wit and charisma show in his writings and his interviews with others. I also found a wealth of background on the history and sociology of Mexico in general and Chiapas in particular.

My primary complaint about the book is that the choice of organization fails to provide a comprehensive narrative and Hayden’s introductions tended to be redundant rather than illuminating.

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
[Finished 5 November 2009] A long long book on Gary Gilmore, the first person executed after the Supreme Court ban on the death penalty was lifted in the 1970s. I have vague memories of the execution in the news (I was eight at the time, so more concerned with legos and dinosaurs than with someone being executed in a distant state), but the book does a lot to illuminate events using the non-fiction novel format to detail Gilmore’s life as well as the lives of those around him.

Mailer manages to weave the materials he had (he came onto the project after Gilmore’s death and relied on interviews with Gilmore gathered by others as well as is own interviews with principals of the events) into a compelling interview which has left Gilmore a weighty presence in my consciousness even after finishing the book.

Number Theory and its History by Oystein Ore
[Finished 30 October 2009] Written well before the modern computing age, this book has a tendency to focus a bit on computational exercises, although I have to admit that having worked through the book that the heavy computation does a lot to bring a deeper understanding of the mathematical concepts underlying the discussions. It would be a nice introduction to number theory for advanced high school students or non-specialist college students.

Programming in Scala by Martin Odersky, Lex Spoon and Bill Venners
[Finished 6 October 2009] Not only an excellent book on Scala, but an excellent book on functional programming and on programming in general. By far, this is the book which does the most to really explain what FP is all about and how programmers can take advantage of it. Scala is a language that I think that I would really like to pursue and this is a book which will remain at convenient arms’ length

Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organizationm and Strategy in the California Farm Workers Movement by Marshall Ganz
[Finished 24 September 2009] My wife saw this book sitting on my desk while I was reading and asked whether I had been inspired by an exhibit of photographs of Chicano history we had seen a week earlier. I told her no, I needed to learn how to organize farm workers for a short story that I was writing.

And given that I had this rather prosaic goal in mind, this book did a great job of explaining what made the UFW movement so successful. Ganz was one of the early outside volunteers with the movement who later moved into an organizational position with the UFW. He provides a clear-eyed accounting of what happened, and is never afraid to talk about mistakes that were made, nor does he treat Cesar Chavez as an infallible saint (the final chapter that talks about the decline of the UFW is especially noteworthy in this respect; it’s very common for progressives to want to overlook the faults of their leaders, especially charismatic and successful leaders like Chavez. Ganz has no such illusions and while he is able to point to the successful moves of Chavez with the rest of them, he has no problem discussing Chavez’s failings and the organizational problems of the latter-day UFW).

The Tenth Man by Graham Greene
[Finished 16 September 2009] A bit of an oddity in Greene’s oeuvre, a treatment for a film that was never made (until after the treatment was published). It was part of a trove of lost writings by Greene unearthed in the early eighties.

The story is easily the most commercial of Greene’s plots, written out of the same sort of financial desperation that brought about Stamboul Train, although perhaps tinged with additional worry of middle age. The conclusion is more than a little melodramatic and Greene’s use of coincidence overbearing, but underneath it all is the distinct sense of moral ambiguity that underlies so much of Greene’s writing.

The Victorian Illustrated Book edited by Richard Maxwell
[Finished 15 September 2009] A collection of essays on the illustrated book. It was a bit illuminating (so to speak), since I hadn’t really considered the technological advances that allowed the advent of the illustrated book in the beginning of the nineteenth century or the cultural changes that resulted in the banishment of illustration from serious literature. Some of the articles were a bit over-jargoned, a failing too common in humanities writing, and there were occasional factual errors (e.g., a misidentification of the Kelmscott Chaucer type as Golden), but overall it was an interesting read, something that I’m happy to have added to my reading experience.

The Sea by John Banville
[Finished 14 September 2009] I didn’t really get into this book as much as I had hoped I might. There is some beautiful writing and exquisite use of allusion and reference in the text, but the structure of the book with its frequent shifts in time left me feeling unmoored as I read.

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel
[Finished 8 September 2009] Much of the core of the story in this book I learned from Koeppel’s interviews on NPR (he was on Fresh Air and, I think, Science Friday), but it’s still interesting to get the details filled in, to see how banana cultivation represents the ultimate monoculture, with all bananas in a given variety being genetically identical.

Koeppel makes a compelling case for the importance of GM techniques in creating a future for the banana and points out that since bananas are sterile and propagate only through cloning that many of the concerns about GM techniques in other plants are inapplicable when it comes to the banana. Given that in Africa the banana is a central part of the diet (in some areas 70% of the caloric intake comes from bananas), preserving a future for the banana makes for a critical concern on the continent.

The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge
[Finished 2 September 2009] A wonderfully strange book, it starts out as what seemed to be a bit of a domestic drama about two single young women sharing an apartment (and a bed, with a wall of pillows and books separating them). But as the central event of the book, an outing of workers at the bottle factory where both women work, comes to pass, the story takes a strange twist into a morbid comedy about dealing with the body of one of the women who dies on the outing (it’s revealed at the end that it was an accidental killing by one of the men on the outing). It’s the sort of twist that one sometimes imagines happening in a story but never actually encounters in reality (the only point of comparison I can come up with is the film From Dusk ‘til Dawn with its genre shift mid-story).

Prague Then and Now by J. M. Lau
[Finished 1 September 2009] While working on my current novel, I thought that it would be nice to get some old photographs of Prague to enable me to fill in some of the gaps in what I could imagine or infer from what currently existed. Amazingly, this book came out in the midst of the writing process and has turned out to be quite helpful for my research including some occasional filling in of some gaps of historical information (e.g., when electric trams and streetlights would have begun to appear).

If I have a complaint it would be that at times the book focused far more on the contemporary photograph than the historical photograph in its descriptive text. Worse still, as a rule, no date is given on the older photographs.

Nuns and Soldiers by Iris Murdoch
[Finished 22 August 2009] I’ve had this novel sitting on my shelves for at least a decade, probably longer. I went through a bit of an Iris Murdoch phase in college, and after reading this book, I’m thinking that I’d really like to revisit at least some of those books again now. In this instance, it’s an almost Victorian tale in some ways, complete with something approaching a Dickensian happy ending. And the language is exquisite. One thing I remember well from earlier reading of Murdoch was her skill at describing artworks, and here while there is an artist character, that skill ends up portraying the subjects of the art rather than the art itself.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
[Finished 21 August 2009] A wonderful book, with touches of magical realism amidst the world of African Americans struggling to survive in mid-twentieth century America. I can see the influence of her on August Wilson and I really look forward to reading more Morrison.

Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames by Pete Earley
[Finished 15 August 2009] It’s infrequently that I decide to read a book and then read it right away. I have nine shelves of unread books at my side right now, and I keep a list of books that I plan to check out from the library which currently has over 100 titles in it (I’d never counted until just now: I’m shocked at how long the list is). All of which means that when I come to a book, I may have no reason how I heard of it or what motivated me to read it (perhaps I should start adding notes into the library book list, at least).

This is the third Pete Earley book on spies which appeared in my library list. How I decided to read this batch of books eludes my recall, but I find myself thinking that perhaps one day I might write a spy novel. One thing that I find intriguing are the common threads in the stories that Earley tells. Is this because of Earley’s own editorial bias (unconscious or not), or because his subjects read the earlier books and imposed others’ motivations on their own stories, or possibly that’s just the way things are. For example, I notice that it seems that many of the men profiled found themselves frustrate by how much both the US and the USSR were uninterested in the intelligence that the future double agents thought was really important. When men like Ames considered intelligence to be little more than a game, there may have been a grain of truth in that.

My Name is Will: A Novel of Sex Drugs and Shakespeare by Jess Winfield
[Finished 14 August 2009] One of the central conceits of this novel, that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic, was one which I was familiar with from my undergraduate research on English recusancy and 16th century literature. For me, I found the analogy to be one of politics, trying to connect recusancy with the struggle of the poor in Latin America. In Winfield’s novel, he makes the connection (perhaps more successfully) between the actions of the pursuivants and the Reagan-era war on drugs. The story more fades away than comes to a conclusion and the attempt to bring the contemporary and Shakespearean narratives into contact was as fuzzy as the drug trip depicted, but it was still a fun read and it was nice to see some of my more esoteric interests represented in something approaching pop culture.

Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
[Finished 12 August 2009] I first learned of this book from Dave Kostelancik. He was stopping by the high school where I was a freshman and he had just graduated and had a copy of the book with him. He described it as “Don Quixote is a priest and Sancho Panza is the communist ex-mayor of El Toboso.” I decided I had to read the book and rushed to the local public library to check out their copy.

Dave’s one-sentence summary does give a good sense of the plot and this is the most idea-centered of all Greene’s novels, even more so than A Burnt-Out Case, and represents, if Norman Sherry is to be believed, a bit of Greene’s rapprochement with Catholicism, the idea that belief and doubt were to be forever intertwined in his psyche. As I re-read this, I found myself reveling in the familiarity of the passages that I’ve read so many times and see the germination of many of my own beliefs, religious and political, in its pages.

Java Persistence with Hibernate by Christian Bauer and Gavin King
[Finished 11 August 2009] A great overview of Hibernate. There are problems of course: Some unnecessary chapters (e.g., the gratuitous chapter on SEAM); too much coverage of XML vs Annotation-driven configuration; not good enough reference organization; too little coverage of JPA. But even with these flaws, I learned a lot about how to configure entity beans with Java and manage their persistence. Definitely a book to keep within arm’s reach of my desk.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
[Finished 8 August 2009] I read this primarily because my wife told me as we left the film that they had changed the ending (and I’ll be talking about that, so skip reading this if you’ve not read the book and/or seen the movie and care about spoilers), so I feel compelled to write about both the book and the film in this review.

The film was flawed in that, at least in the first act, and somewhat less later, it felt compelled to stick closely to the book, which meant trying to translate the multiple first-person narrations to the screen, which in turn came out as a series of gratuitous voice overs. In screenwriting, a voiceover is the cinematic equivalent of telling-not-showing in print. Very rarely is a voiceover a good thing in a film. And I’d also point out that multiple first person POVs are a deadly trap in narrative fiction. It seems like a good thing at the time, but it’s difficult to meet the challenge of writing more than two narrators, and even that is beyond most author’s skills. The fact that the book designer felt compelled to do the cutesy thing of changing the body typeface for each narrator (including some hideous choices of typeface).

As a storyteller, Picoult manages to transcend the limitations of her POV choice, though, and while I think that some of the streamlining of the story that took place in the film was worthwhile (although eliminating the Jesse-as-arsonist story turned his character into a bit of a cipher in the film), she made for a good story, the sort of thing that would spark some good book club discussions, even if she was a bit heavy-handed in bringing up the “are we responsible for others” theme.

And the ending? The film went for the Hollywood ending: Anna was filing the lawsuit because her sister wanted her to do so, because she was ready to die. And frankly, I think it was more effective than the self-conscious ending that Picoult chose for the novel, where Anna is killed in a car accident and her kidneys are transplanted to her sister, miraculously saving her life and allowing her to live well into the future. It just felt too contrived for my tastes. I suppose if Kate had died anyway, I would have felt better about it. Picoult had spent so much effort in letting us know that Kate was unlikely to survive that letting her live at the end cheapened the novel.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy by John Le Carré
[Finished 7 August 2009] I’ve not read much of the spy novel genre. Really only a couple of books by Graham Greene, and of those only The Human Factor really counts as a spy novel. So I don’t have a real point of comparison (other than watching films in the genre). That said, I found this a fun read, a great account of the psychology of deceit. What makes a good spy novel fascinating is less the spycraft side of things and more the whole psychological impact of a life style which is focused on deception.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
[Finished 7 August 2009] Hornby is my favorite light writer. I can feel pretty confident when I pick up a Nick Hornby book that I’m going to encounter a strong voice, an entertaining tale and a weak ending. And A Long Way Down is a solid entry in that tradition. It does feel like Hornby is pushing himself a bit beyond his abilities in attempting to establish multiple narrators in his books, something he’s been doing for the last few novels, but as he increases the number of first-person voices, the strength of the narrators weakens. Here, only Jess has a strong voice, and while Maureen is the most interesting of the characters, she has the weakest voice. Still, Hornby resists the urge to moralize in the book, while acknowledging the pressure to do so. In all, a successful book.

A Programmer's Guide to Java SCJP Certification: A Comprehensive Primer by Khalid A. Mughal and Rolf W. Rasmussen
[Finished 7 August 2009] I read the guide for Java 1.4 in the Bates and Sierra version, so I decided to try someone else’s guide in prepping for the Java 6 test. The overall material is pretty good, but I found myself frustrated by frequent errors in the review questions/answers. Numerous answers are missing from the back of the book and there were four questions in the review test where the answers in the back of the book didn’t match the questions. Those problems aside, it’s a good enough book for learning the material and diagnosing weaknesses.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
[Finished 2 August 2009] Oh my. It’s hard to overstate how good this book is. Maybe it’s partly because the people in the book are very much my people. I was someone who did research on book arts related stuff at the Newberry Library (I’m not sure if it was Audrey Niffenegger herself or one of her Columbia colleagues who, seeing the document requests that I had made at the library came to see who was researching Beatrice Warde). The bookstores and record stores mentioned in the book are places that I’ve been, that I’ve blown my hard-earned pay on books and CDs that I probably couldn’t actually afford.

There’s not a sentence in this book which doesn’t seem perfect. Granted, the overall narrative runs out of steam in the final pages, but the first 500 pages more than make up for that. The time travel acts as a way of being able to provide a brilliantly crafted non-linear narrative. We don’t really follow Henry or Clare’s lives in sequence, but instead get both out of sequence, so not only is the reader learning things in a non-linear fashion, but so are the characters of the book. There’s a small list of books that I wish I had written and this, I think, takes the position at the top of the list.

Slow Man by J. M. Coetzee
[Finished 1 August 2009] My first (but not last, courtesy of the 1001 books list) Coetzee novel. The novel begins conventionally enough, seeming like it’s going to be yet another story of post-midlife lust. And in some ways it is, but the introduction of the character of a writer, Elizabeth Costello, who says that she didn’t come to the characters in the book, but that they came to her puts the book squarely into post-modern territory. The fact that Costello is not simply an imposition of Coetzee into the narrative, but a character in her own right gives her a narrative interest that might not otherwise be possible. At times, her presence is more a distraction, and Coetzee is inconsistent in his use of this authorial character, but even the attempt at such a difficult balance in narrative is a daring choice.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
[Finished 1 August 2009] A fascinating book about contemporary academic life and its overlapping with townie life. Smith is a bit clumsy at times with her use of the omniscient narrator. Her opening, “One may as well begin with Jerome’s e-mails to his father,” makes us aware of the presence of a narrator who disappears and reappears throughout the book. It seems as if we might have been better off if she were to let herself stay with a moving close third person narration. But as a storyteller, Smith is brilliant, using lacunae to move the story along, keeping us involved and giving us reason to read on, if only to learn what happened in the days weeks or months that passed in the blank space that separates the chapters.

The Film Club: A Memoir by David Gilmour
[Finished 28 July 2009] As a movie buff, when I first heard about this book, about a father who lets his son drop out of school and not work in exchange for watching three movies a week with him was one that I couldn’t pass up.

As a memoir, it has the usual not-quite-story-arc structure of real life, and at times Gilmour’s teenage son’s travails in his love life can get repetitive, and the film commentary which is pretty dense in the early days of the story start to fade away later in the book. But on the other hand, it’s an interesting account of hands-off parenting (eventually) turning out alright, although the route there is circuitous and leads the reader (and Gilmour) to wonder whether it’s all a big mistake.

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
[Finished 27 July 2009] A delightful novel about growing old and dying at a London hotel. We follow the titular Mrs Palfrey as she moves into the Claremont Hotel and becomes a part of the insular society of the permanent residents as well as befriending a young would-be writer. It’s a short breezy novel, an absolute delight to read.

Herzog by Saul Bellow
[Finished 24 July 2009] When I first read Bellow as a callow college student who had been pointed at Henderson the Rain King, I fell in love with the writing. Coming back to him at double the age, I found myself less enamored with him, although as I got deeper and deeper into the novel, I found it more appealing, although the letters scattered throughout varied from being distractions, to being illuminating, to being unnecessary, a view that Bellow himself may have agreed with as they almost completely disappeared from later portions of the book.

Ways of Escape by Graham Greene
[Finished 22 July 2009] I was looking to see if I had a review of this book in my archive, and it turns out that I did. AND, I had speculated that I had first read the book (almost) exactly ten years earlier. The date of that review: 23 July 1999. Apparently, for whatever reason, I come back to this book every ten years. And each time, I’m still in that hotel room outside Princeton.

I’ve read a number of biographies of Greene’s life now, so coming back into his autobiography now becomes an interesting commentary on those (or those on this). Greene’s tax troubles that led to his tax exile are elided in a few words, and he alternates from openly discussing his mistresses to discretely referring to staying in a hotel with “a friend.”

Greene’s attempts to tie his memories in with the title throughout are a bit weak and there’s one point where “athleticism” is used where “asceticism” is meant (I assume an editor is to blame--or perhaps Greene’s typist). The fact that a large portion of the book is re-purposed from introductions to the various books only makes things worse.

And yet, Greene’s life is compelling enough to let us get past these flaws and draw us in. It’s a pity that time has led to the book falling out of print.

Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring by Pete Earley
[Finished 18 July 2009] As much a character study of a man (John Walker) with antisocial personality disorder as an account of espionage. Earley makes some odd decisions, like not pointing out until near the end that there are some big questions about how Walker first approached the Soviets to begin his spying. Perhaps some of the pages that had been torn out of the library copy that I read would have resolved these issues I had with the book, but it was still a fast compelling read and I had a hard time putting the book down during the time I spent reading it.

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
[Finished 18 July 2009] Ah, the joys of returning to Trollope. The unconventionality of the characters made it not immediately clear whether John Grey or George Vavasor was meant to be the hero of the story, although, as in most things Victorian, this should not have been a difficult question to resolve with modest reflection. I had some doubts about whether I would want to read the Palliser novels when I first started reading this novel, but those doubts are resolved. I do.

Programming Erlang: Software for a Concurrent World by Joe Armstrong
[Finished 11 July 2009] I’m not always confident about reading a book written by the creator of a language. Sometimes it works well (see Knuth’s TeXBook, sometimes not so much (the original ANTLR book by Terrence Parr). This book, thankfully falls into the first category. I would have liked to have had some more guided application development in the book. It’s a surprisingly thin volume, but then Erlang is at its heart a rather simple language. Armstrong does a good job of establishing the FP mindset and I find myself tempted to write some of my newest code in Erlang.

Saturday by Ian McEwan
[Finished 11 July 2009] McEwan has set an interesting challenge for himself: Tell a story that takes place entirely in one day from the perspective of a single character. The events manage to largely fold together into a consistent story, and McEwan has sufficient skill as an author to keep the reader entranced even as we go into long internal monologues. I’m still not entirely sold on McEwan, but I enjoyed this a bit more than the contrived Atonement.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
[Finished 14 June 2009] A wonderfully anarchic novel. A lot of it is disconnected, but it seems to do an excellent job of capturing the pointlessness of war.

Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word o by David Plotz
[Finished 27 May 2009] (I listened to this book as a free promotional download from audible.com.) Plotz, like many Americans, had never really read the Bible, but only knew it in bits and pieces from Hebrew school and popular culture. What he set out to do here was to provide a naïve perspective on scripture, writing about what someone who didn’t have a strong religious background or access to Biblical scholarship would make of the Bible. When I first read the Bible, I read the New Jerusalem Bible which incorporates significant commentary throughout, which meant, among other things, that I knew about the JEPD theory of the origins of the Pentateuch, and there are many times that I found myself frustrated by Plotz’s naïveté in understanding some of the text, but even so, it was an entertaining read, although Plotz’s tendency to snarkiness was more distracting than entertaining.

Plotz’s big takeaway from reading the Bible was twofold: One was that he became appreciative of how much our culture was dependent on the Bible for many of its references (although I think some of the connections he makes may be spurious), the other was how it made him really address his own Jewish heritage.

God in the White House: A History: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush by Randall Balmer
[Finished 14 May 2009] A bit disappointingly thin. I felt like there was a great deal more that could be said on the subject than Balmer does, and was left wondering why he couldn’t have written more on the topic.

For example, a single chapter covers religion and presidential politics from Alfred Smith through Kennedy, and it seemed like we were rushing through each presidency thereafter.

ESPete: Sixth Grade Sense by Arnold Rudnick
[Finished 11 May 2009] The main reason I picked up the book is that the author is my brother’s writing partner and on my brother’s last trip to town, Arnold gave me a copy of the book.

That said, this is a reasonably entertaining and well-written book, aimed at middle grades. There’s a tendency at times to write down a little to the audience, but overall it’s a fun and entertaining little book, the sort of thing that I can see really capturing a kid’s imagination. The book includes the opening chapter of the planned sequel, ESPete: Psychic Hoop Dreams.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
[Finished 9 May 2009] It’s rare that I get towards the end of a book and deliberately slow down my reading because I don’t want the book to end. But this time, I had been so captivated by Ishiguro’s narration that I couldn’t bring myself not to.

This is, I suppose, a work of literary science fiction, and from the beginning with the familiar yet unfamiliar vocabulary, I could tell that there was something a bit different about the world that Ishiguro was depicting (I knew nothing about the book when I began reading it), which is actually precisely the sort of science fiction-ish narrative that I really enjoy.

I think some of it is the almost emotionally flat narrative, something which didn’t work in the screen adaptation of Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day (I’ve not read the novel, so I can’t comment on that), but in this context serves, ironically, to heighten the emotional content of the story.

Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party by Graham Greene
[Finished 8 May 2009] This, apparently, is considered a minor work in Greene’s canon, having fallen out of print and not meriting any mention at all on Norman Sherry’s biography of Greene.

But it seems like this is a somewhat misplaced view of things. Yes, there are some clumsy characterizations in the novel, but at the same time, the philosophy of the narrator rivals Querry’s in its pessimism, the concept of a God who exists primarily to humiliate his creation, does provide a fascinating view into Greene’s state of mind at this stage of his life. It’s interesting to note that Greene’s next novel would be Monsignor Quixote.

No Star is Lost by James T. Farrell
[Finished 7 May 2009] It’s been a while since I’ve read any Farrell. I remember being absolutely captivated by Studs Lonnigan, so I was more than happy to start the Danny O’Neill pentalogy a few years back before discovering that most of Farrell’s works had fallen out of print. Now they’ve come back into print so I’m able to easily obtain copies of the books on the pentalogy that I didn’t have and I’m back into it. What’s interesting is that despite the sometimes clumsy narration (when a character is first introduced, we get a description that seems more like what you’d find in stage directions than in a novel), there’s a compelling voice here, especially in the rendering of dialogue. The plot such as it is, is a bit wandering and undirected with no real protagonist for the action to be centered on (is Danny meant to be the central character? Or Margaret? Or Mother? Or is it the family in general?), but even so, the narrative voice is enough to keep the reader propelled through the story.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
[Finished 4 May 2009] This book reads like a first draft typed out on a benzedrine high, but oh my, what an amazing first draft it is. The incredible compelling voice here grabbed me and never let me go through the whole story. The madness and energy of Dean Moriarty are addictive and it’s easy to see our narrator drawn into the adventures that Moriarty instigates as well as setting off on some of his own. Could it be a more polished narrative? Sure, but it would at the same time lose some of the energy of the book. It makes me tempted to re-read the book in the scroll edition.

The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
[Finished 30 April 2009] There are those occasional works of literature which are widely acclaimed as great, but which manage to leave some readers cold. For me, this is one of them. I can see some of the flashes of brilliance in this book, particularly, the account of the burning of the synagogue, and elements of the surrealist narration, but too much of it just seemed to drag and not be that interesting. That said, even in a book like this, I find some small inspiration for a bit of formation of future writing.

The Human Factor by Graham Greene
[Finished 17 April 2009] I remember being puzzled when I bought this book that it wasn’t a Penguin paperback like all my other Graham Greene novels. Only later did I learn that a conflict over the title of the book led Greene to change publishers with the publication of this book.

Re-reading it with a memory of the vague outline of the plot took away some of the suspense of the story, but allowed me to really enjoy how Greene unfolded character and mood. I did find the Catholic “furniture” in the story to be an odd diversion in the story, the metaphors and confession scene seemed to be completely out of place.

Caspian Rain by Gina B. Nahai
[Finished 16 April 2009] I’m not sure what attracted me to this book to put it in my library queue. Was it the first-person omniscient voice? The magical realism? The account of hearing loss? Perhaps some combination of them all. That said, it was a beautifully written book with a compelling voice.

Radio Replies: Third Volume by Rev. Dr Leslie Rumble, M.S.C. and Rev. Charles M. Carty
[Finished 15 April 2009] I’ve been reading this three volume set off and on again for longer than I’ve been keeping this diary. Mostly off, apparently, since I didn’t find any sign of the previous two volumes as I prepared to write this review. This is a collection of apologetic writing, in question and answer format, from a radio show in the 30s and 40s. The scope is pretty wide ranging, although there’s a fair amount of focus on critiques of the church from an Anglican perspective plus a fair amount of references, sans context, to contemporary controversies. What was especially surprising was the general openness on some topics, such as evolution, which were beyond what one might have expected from the time. Overall, a delightful and grounding read for me.

Programming Groovy: Dynamic Productivity for the Java Developer by Venkat Subramaniam
[Finished 27 March 2009] A reasonably well organized book for a sometimes disorganized language. I felt like there was a lot more to the language than I got from the book, although some of the key aspects of the language which have a great deal of promise, particularly the builders. On the other hand, playing with the language I’ve found that it has a tendency to change types unexpectedly.

Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel
[Finished 20 February 2009] A wonderfully written accounting of an obscure bit of history. Who knew that Galileo had children (two daughters and a son). The daughters were sent to a convent while the son turned into a bit of a ne’er-do-well. The oldest daughter, though, remained devoted to her father and while his letters to her no longer exist, hers to him have been preserved and Sobel uses the letters for the narrative hook on which she hangs her biography.

There’s a fair amount which was new to me, even having a deeper than the usual paragraph-long summary that came out of my high school history classes. Sobel manages to paint all the characters in the drama with a fair amount of nuance showing exactly what the forces were that led to Galileo’s famed trial and the consequences of the trial in Galileo’s life.

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta
[Finished 13 February 2009] I have to confess that I had high expectations for this book, and that I was left a bit underwhelmed by the result. It seemed like it took Perotta an awfully long time to begin to draw the character of Tim as a three-dimensional human being, and even moreso with Tim’s wife. Instead, the Christians of the story ended up as being rather cartoony and unsatisfying, especially the character of the pastor of the tabernacle. It’s a pity because when Perotta was in good shape, it was really good, but it just didn’t seem like he had any good idea of what to do with his characters (the plot more peters out than reaches any sort of conclusion). I’m likely to try another Perotta novel, in hopes of feeling more satisfied, perhaps if he stays more within his comfort zone, the writing will be more satisfying.

Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About by Donald E. Knuth
[Finished 9 January 2009] I knew Knuth originally because of TeX and Metafont, which were in many ways my entre into computer science. This book is a collection of Knuth’s lectures centering primarily on the process that he used in writing his book, 3:16, a collection of commentaries on Bible verses.

Maven: The Definitive Guide by Sonatype
[Finished 5 January 2009] A pretty good guide to Maven, although I have some quibbles about the order in which things are presented (I’d rather have it start from the perspective of someone working in Eclipse, for example), but it covers everything that one needs to know about this build/dependency management tool.

Best American Short Stories 2008 edited by Salman Rushdie
[Finished 28 December 2008] Another wonderful collection of stories. This time around, the editor Salman Rushdie focuses on the American part of the story with an interesting essay in what exactly constitutes an “American” short story, finally settling on an especially broad definition of the term.

There’s a fair amount of skewed reality in the stories (although surprisingly, not from George Saunders’s contribution), which I found pleasant. Allegra Goodman’s “Closely Held” managed to really grasp the reality of working in the tech industry.

The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown by Hugh Agnew
[Finished 28 December 2008] I’ve read enough histories of the Czechs that a fair amount of this was familiar. This was, however a very readable account and there were a fair number of gaps in the periods I’m most interested in which were filled.

Java Tools for Extreme Programming by Richard Hightower and Nicholas Lesiecki
[Finished 18 December 2008] I found this in my wife’s library and decided to read it, but found myself frustrated by the obsolescence of large swaths of the text along with the high proportion of filler.

Jakarta Commons Cookbook by Timothy M. O'Brien
[Finished 17 December 2008] Another essential reference desk. Here the problem is that a fair amount of the Jakarta Commons is made less meaningful with Java 5. Perhaps, though, this would be a good area to contribute to the open source community: Putting together Generics-aware versions of the libraries.

Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture by Carl E. Schorske
[Finished 16 December 2008] An interesting account of the political and cultural forces in Vienna (and to a lesser extent the whole Austro-Hungarian empire) at the end of the nineteenth century. A fair amount of useful background for my novel.

Java Cookbook by Ian F. Darwin
[Finished 13 December 2008] An essential reference for any Java programmer. My one complaint is that there’s a concerted effort to ignore anything outside the Java libraries.

Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett
[Finished 1 November 2008] Looking back on this book, what I remember more than the book itself is how it inspired me to add a new chapter to my own work in progress.

The American Jitters: A Year of the Slump by Edmund Wilson
[Finished 17 October 2008] Before the Great Depression got its name, Edmund Wilson travelled the country collecting anecdotes of what life in the country was like. It’s useful preparation for the days ahead in some ways, and a startling look at what society was like before Roosevelt in others.

A Series of Unfortunate Events 9: The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket
[Finished 25 September 2008] I’m left with a stronger sense that we’re writing novels now instead of clever stories. Snicket has enough sense to pull back on some of the verbal games that could have grown tiresome this deep into the series.

Dvorak and His World edited by Michael Beckerman
[Finished 11 September 2008] A collection of essays I stumbled upon while looking for a biography of Dvorak. I really had no sense of critical perspectives on Dvorak before reading this, and found that there was a whole universe of which I was unaware.

The Bush Tragedy by Jacob Weisberg
[Finished 5 September 2008] An intriguing look at Bush’s background and ruling through the lens of Shakespearean tragedy. A surprisingly sympathetic yet disturbing account.

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett
[Finished 31 August 2008] Having read Ann Patchett’s most recent novels, I decided to start at the beginning and read all of her works. I was a bit surprised to discover that she wasn’t using her omniscient POV in this work, but rather uses a series of three first-person narrators.

If I had any doubts about whether Patchett was a Catholic before reading this, they were dispelled when I finished

Core JavaServer Faces by David Geary and Cay S. Horstmann
[Finished 29 August 2008] We decided to avoid JSF on our project before I began this book, although after reading it, I’m wondering whether that was a mistake. It seems a great technology, although this book contains a little too much padding and off-topic material to boost its page count for my tastes.

Lord Rochester's Monkey by Graham Greene
[Finished 27 August 2008] A re-read. It’s still somewhat surprising that this was considered too scandalous to publish on its creation.

Head First Object Oriented Analysis and Design by Brett D. McLaughlin, Gary Pollice and Dave West
[Finished 22 August 2008] A bit more basic than I had originally expected. A good primer for a programmer who is not quite ready for design patterns yet, to get them thinking about how to solve programming problems.

The Plague by Albert Camus
[Finished 21 August 2008] I always expect surrealism from Camus, for some reason, but never find it.

Novels and Stories 1959-1962: Goodbye, Columbus & Five Short Stories / Letting Go by Philip Roth
[Finished 19 August 2008] Roth’s early writing is not quite as engaging as I might have hoped, although some of it is attributable to the youth of the author. When I was in college, I made a point of reading lots of first novels. They were often quite delightful, containing the author’s lifetime of pent-up creativity in their pages. I don’t see that happening with the early Roth. Instead, there’s some indication of his nascent creativity beginning to show, and with his first novel, some hints of the narrative genius that he would become.

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
[Finished 18 August 2008] A revisiting of the characters of Mitford’s first novel, and surprisingly, just as entertaining.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
[Finished 11 August 2008] Oh, such delicious characterization.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler
[Finished 8 August 2008] By far my favorite of the three Chandler novels which I’ve read, although in this case, most of the plot twists which Chandler assumed drove the novel were abundantly clear. Maybe that’s why I liked it.

Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War by Pete Earley
[Finished 4 August 2008] An interesting account of the life of a KGB officer who ultimately defected to the U.S. at the end of his career, not because he had ever grown disturbed by communism, but because he had become disturbed by the kleptocracy which replaced it.

Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
[Finished 3 August 2008] I’m getting a bit more accustomed to Chandler’s plotting and geography, although this is still a bit too convoluted a story for my tastes.

Core J2EE Patterns by Deepak Alur, John Crupi and Dan Malks
[Finished 1 August 2008] It seems more a book for someone writing a framework than for someone using a framework. I can see this as useful as my Java work becomes increasingly sophisticated, but at the moment, it seemed mostly a dry and uninteresting work.

Maxed Out: Hard Times in the Age of Easy Credit by James D. Scurlock
[Finished 28 July 2008] It’s hard to read this book and not get angry. So many of the contemporary problems in the economy were foreseeable and foreseen. Especially if we dig deeper, we can see that things are even worse than they seem.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
[Finished 28 July 2008] Maybe it’s just me, but I had a hard time getting into Chandler. Although being an Angeleno, I can at least envision his geography reasonably well.

Inside Java 2 Platform Security: Architecture, API Design, and Implementation by Li Gong
[Finished 21 July 2008] A great deal of information at higher detail and lower level than I’m interested in. Perhaps someday in the future I’ll come back to this and be happy about it.

The USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos
[Finished 15 July 2008] An amazing literary experiment. The “camera eye” segments seemed to be largely failures, although failures with grand aspirations. The mini-biographies of real-life figures, however, were fascinating as was the overall plan of the book in which the protagonist was not an individual but a nation and the arc of how capital and labor interacted over the first part of the twentieth century.

Hibernate in Action by Christian Bauer and Gavin King
[Finished 12 July 2008] Argghh! For some reason Bauer and King decided to change the title of the book between editions so I inadvertently bought the old edition.

Google Web Toolkit Applications by Ryan Dewsbury
[Finished 10 July 2008] A bit of a disappointment. I had hoped for something that was a bit more about integrating GWT with Java applications, but Dewsbury’s focus is almost entirely on doing fancy stuff in the front end.

The Mad Scientists' Club by Bertrand R. Brinley
[Finished 21 June 2008] I hate to confess that it’s my fault that the Stickney-Forest View Library does not have a copy of this book. I checked it out over and over and managed at some point to lose it (costing an astronomical ten dollars of library fines as a consequence). And because the library’s copy was lost, I haven’t read these stories in some three decades. I’d forgotten the contents of almost all of them, so it was like reading them fresh when I got my own copy of the book.

Some of the plots are a bit simplistic, and there’s a fair amount of “magical” technology courtesy of small radios which can be effortlessly wired into doing any of a number of things, but it’s forgivable as children’s literature, especially given its ability to inspire a youthful imagination.

Journey to the End of Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
[Finished 13 June 2008] A book which is perhaps most amazing in its voice which manages to carry through even through the necessary mutilation of translation. There is a startling frankness and directness to Céline’s narration which sets the book apart.

Spring in Action by Craig Walls and Ryan Breidenbach
[Finished 9 June 2008] Given how much material there is to cover, this volume does an admirable job of covering it, although it really could have benefitted from frequent references to other sources on the material where there was insufficient room to cover the whole of the material. As for the framework itself, it seems an outstanding framework and I’m looking forward to working with it on our current project.

Unfashionable Observations by Friedrich Nietzsche
[Finished 6 June 2008] I acquired this book as an entry in the first Serif design competition (it won the first prize).

This is my first direct reading of Nietzsche, and what’s perhaps most striking to me in this is the strong German nationalism in the writing. A bit offputting, really.

But the strength of the writing is quite striking, not enough to overcome my middle-aged aversion to philosophy, but enough to make me think more about it.

Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
[Finished 4 June 2008] Reading this book really changed how I saw those around me. I checked this out of the library the day that I began a three-day business trip and finished it two days later. Understanding a bit of the lives of those toil for low wages in the face of this made me see the invisible services that took place behind the trip quite differently. Realizing that the maids who cleaned my hotel room each day faced a grueling schedule (and with a shift towards paying them by the room, rather than by the hour, they were quite possibly making less than minimum wage).

Perhaps most startling is to think about how hard Ehrenreich had making ends meet with gasoline at $2 a gallon. Now that gasoline is more than double that, small wonder that bicycle and transit use has skyrocketed.

Java Generics and Collections by Maurice Naftalin and Philip Wadler
[Finished 2 June 2008] One of the interesting features in Java 5 is the addition of the generics and collections features. To a large extent, this reminds me of the introduction of the STL in C++, and just like that opened new possibilities in C++, the generics material makes Java a more compelling language to work with.

Implementation Patterns by Kent Beck
[Finished 28 May 2008] It’s not often that a computer book is beautifully written. But this is one case where the rule is violated and the prose is exquisitely crafted.

The patterns described here are rather simple things, not quite on the level of Gang of Four patterns. They consist of such concepts as how to name methods or fields, or how to assign responsibilities to classes. A delightful book and one which seems like it would repay re-reading handsomely.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
[Finished 27 May 2008] This is only the second Woolf I’ve ever read, the first being To the Lighthouse which I read but didn’t really get as an undergrad (that, of course, excludes countless readings of “A Room of One’s Own”). Coming back to Woolf now, I can appreciate the exquisite beauty of her prose, although I have to admit that I find that Ann Patchett is a better Woolf than Woolf herself is.

Unit Testing in Java: How Tests Drive the Code by Johannes Link
[Finished 23 May 2008] A clear, well-written book on the subject of unit testing in Java. Not a whole lot which is unfamiliar to me, courtesy of doing a lot of test-driven development in other languages, but it was nice to see my practices and beliefs validated by another developer’s suggestions. It is interesting to note that dependency injection is viewed as the solution to the mocking problem for Java, which makes sense since some of the Perl-esque solutions I’ve been using are not really possible in Java.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
[Finished 21 May 2008] Another one of these fun brisk novels. The story is pretty straightforward and there aren’t the sorts of extreme twists and turns which seem obligatory for a modern thriller, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I’m thinking that I may definitely read more Buchan in the future

Collected Short Stories by Graham Greene
[Finished 8 May 2008] Coming back to these stories, I find many of them to be a bit lacking, feeling more like outlines for novels never undertaken rather than full-fledged examples of the short story art. In many of the stories, there is a lack of closeness that leaves the reader feeling a bit empty. Even the stories which feel more like stories, like “May We Borrow Your Husband,” come across more as a piece of a novel more than a story. I can’t help wondering whether that might have been the intent behind some of the stories.

But not every story is a failure. Greene is at the peak of his art in a story like “Under the Garden”, a story whose half-forgotten memory, mixed with the half-forgotten memories of the plot itself, have haunted me for decades since first reading it.

The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence
[Finished 8 May 2008] It’s been a long time since I’ve last read D.H. Lawrence (I think not since just after the first time I dropped out of college). The reasons for this being banned seem somewhat trivial in modern society (a not terribly graphic lesbian romance), but more interesting are things like the attacks on her husband’s religion by Anna Brangwen.

Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn
[Finished 7 May 2008] A somewhat different approach to scrum than I learned from Scrum and XP From the Trenches. The most useful part, I found, was the final chapter which provided a case study of scrum in action, something which seems to be the most helpful way of really learning how it goes.

Catalyst: Accelerating Perl Web Application Development by Jonathan Rockway
[Finished 1 May 2008] An amazingly bad book. What’s really necessary for Catalyst is a single tutorial than a comprehensive overview of the features well-organized. What we get instead is a set of tutorials which don’t necessarily cover all the features of Catalyst, and no reference features to speak of at all. Wondering what the function of the method attributes in a controller are? You won’t find that information here. The index is frustratingly incomplete, the book is thin and vague and the whole thing is a bit of a waste. Would-be Catalyst developers are better off just reading the POD documentation than trying to make any use of this book

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
[Finished 29 April 2008] I picked this up thinking that it as going to be primarily a science fiction-ish accounting of a future earth without human beings. And it was to a certain extent, but even more so, it’s an interesting account of how we as a species have impacted our environment, both in the obvious ways (cities, farms) and the non-obvious (small bits of plastic entering the eco-system, invasive species, reshaping the landscape in our image). As an overall narrative, it’s not as cohesive as I would have liked, which seems to be a common shortcoming of a lot of contemporary non-fiction (I think this is a consequence of journalists writing book-length pieces). But even with its failings, this is still a fascinating book and one which provides an interesting insight into human impact on global ecology.

American Notes for General Circulation and Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens
[Finished 28 April 2008] An interesting pair of books. These are Dickens’s travel accounts of trips to America and Italy. As a detailed accounting of what life was like in each country in the first half of the nineteenth century, these are great accountings. Dickens at times comes across as one of those grumpy travelers for whom nothing abroad can be anything better than an inconvenience or a pale attempt at doing something which is done far better at home, but getting beyond that, Dickens’s humor shows through and he makes for an entertaining traveling companion.

Books from North River Press by Paul McPharlin
[Finished 27 April 2008] A curious volume. As near as I can tell from its contents, North River Press was a vanity publisher struggling for respectability. It’s not clear if the publishing company by the same name is connected, which would indicate that they managed to make the move from vanity publisher to actual publisher (although that is not clear from the current publisher’s information). The book, is reasonably well printed, albeit hurt by being set with linotype. The bulk of the book are sample pages from books published by the press, designs with little distinction in most cases. More interesting, I found, were the introductory sections which served as both advertisement and apologia for the press.

A Sort of Life by Graham Greene
[Finished 26 April 2008] I stumbled across my first edition copy of this at a book fair in Chicago some twenty years ago. Coming back to the book again I find it remarkably readable. There are parts of the book which I realize that I’ve managed to forget in such a way that I’ve incorporated them into my psyche, a sign of just how dramatically reading Greene has impacted my own personality.

Some readers have found the detachment in this first volume of memoir offputting, but the younger me found it exhilarating, while the older me finds it comfortable, a reminder of what I liked as a young man. I’ve become old enough that I no longer read writers’ autobiographies as a recipe for how to lead my own life, but instead as an insight into another mind.

Time Regained by Marcel Proust
[Finished 23 April 2008] The final book in In Search of Lost Time. I’m finally really bound up in Proust’s prose. So much so, that my thought as I finish this last volume is that I would like to re-read the whole thing, although I think that when I do, I would like to do it outside my usual context of bus rides and stolen moments.

The Truth About Managing People by Stephen P. Robbins
[Finished 16 April 2008] A somewhat helpful book. The organization is a set of very short (2-3 pages) essays on different topics of personnel management. A lot of it is focused on recruitment/interviewing, although that is a significant part of management (the other part being retention). It is definitely a useful book to keep on my desk to dip into as I need to consider special considerations, although it wasn’t quite everything that I had hoped it could have been.

Inside the Company: CIA Diary by Philip Agee
[Finished 15 April 2008] It’s not often that a book mentions in its closing passages exactly what’s wrong with it. As a book written to serve a particular agenda, in this case to expose the CIA’s efforts to undermine democracies in Latin America in the name of fighting communism.

Parts of the book are fascinating, particularly when Agee manages to give a good accounting of his own personal experiences, but large parts of it are a dump of classified information whether code names for CIA operations or listings of CIA operatives. If Agee were a better writer, it could have been a better book, but instead it ends up being little more than an attempt to harm the CIA (and this from a leftist who is fully in agreement with Agee’s beliefs).

Prague Pictures: A Portrait of the City by John Banville
[Finished 12 April 2008] A somewhat idiosyncratic look at Prague by an Irish author who describes the city partly from his own experiences in the city and partly through the lens of his researches for an historical novel about Kepler and Brahe.

I had bought the book, I think, hoping for some actual, pictures, having taken the title a bit too literally, but I found at least a few bits of description which help put me in Prague even without the illustrations.

Prototype and script.aculo.us: You Never Knew JavaScript Could Do This! by Christophe Porteneuve
[Finished 9 April 2008] I freely admit that it was the visual candy of script.aculo.us which brought me into learning this package, but the syntactical candy of prototype really impacted how I looked at writing JS code.

The book itself is a somewhat odd bird as at times it assumes familiarity with JS techniques and at other times, it assumes ignorance thereof. Overall, though it does provide pretty decent coverage of the Prototype and script.aculo.us libraries, although I would have liked a little more remedial JavaScript as part of the text.

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
[Finished 8 April 2008] Coming back to this book after a couple decades, I’m left amazed with the pure richness of the narrative. Sometimes the international travels seem a bit gratuitous, as if Greene had wanted to be able to justify some vacation time as a tax deduction, but it still ends up being an entertaining yarn, definitely one on my short list of the best Graham Greene novels.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
[Finished 4 April 2008] Russell’s novel manages to start on an amazingly high note, worth quoting in its entirety:

After the first exquisite songs were intercepted by radio telescope, U.N. diplomats debated long and hard whether and why human resources should be expended in an attempt to reach the world that would become known as Rakhat. In the Rome offices of the Society of Jesus, the questions were not whether or why but how soon the mission could be attempted and whom to send.

The Jesuit scientists went to Rakhat to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God’s other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. They went for the greater glory of God.

The characters that Russell creates are largely well-drawn although two members of the party end up being little more than names and occupations. And the situation that she sets up is an amazingly intriguing one. The problem is that she doesn’t quite succeed in pulling off the conclusion of the story, not too difficult though since she’s trying to tackle the Job problem, how God can allow suffering and bad things to happen. Nevertheless, I’m still eager to take a look at the sequel that she wrote to see how well it works.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century E by Daniel Pool
[Finished 26 March 2008] An interesting enough book, talking about the facts of life in nineteenth century England. Pretty much it’s a collection of all the stuff that your college English professor said during discussion to provide context for what was happening in the novels you read. It’s primarily of use to readers rather than writers, but did provide some useful background to me (although some of the things which I’ve always wondered about, like clubs, is left unexplained).

Anthology of Catholic Poets edited by Joyce Kilmer
[Finished 20 March 2008] A New Critic’s dream. The poems here are identified only by title and author, with the selection listed in alphabetical order by poet’s name. No dates, no background information, only the text.

The subjects of the poem are mostly religious, although there are a handful of poems with secular topics as well. It provides a pretty good sense of what was in vogue at the opening of the twentieth century (the first edition of this book was produced in 1917). A later edition added some additional poems to the collection including a fair number by Kilmer himself.

Ten Miracle Plays edited by R. G. Thomas
[Finished 10 March 2008] One of the ancient books in my collection. I picked this up at a time when I had the idea of writing a great comprehensive paper on reinterpretations of the gospel story (intending to write about everything from medieval miracle plays to Andrew Lloyd Weber). I never did.

The book is a collection of different portions of multiple pageants, all presented in unmodernized middle English. The decision to simply provide a glossary at the back of the book rather than marginal annotations was not one that I would have made. It was interesting to see the medieval didacticism at work in the play.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
[Finished 7 March 2008] I first learned about GTD from Merlin Mann, and frankly, there’s enough from that site that the book isn’t strictly necessary, but I still found the book really wonderful and helpful. I’ve just begun really employing a GTD workflow in my work day, focusing on capture and categorization at this point, but it does make my life much easier, especially as my responsibilities at work have increased and I find that there’s much to take care of. I’m using Omnifocus as a primary organizer at the moment, although I’m finding that in some ways, the software acts as an obstacle to the workflow as much as an assistant. But regardless of my own experiences, I can see that there’s a lot to be learned here and I can see how it will make me more productive and less stressed.

The Bible: Its Criticism, Interpretation and Use in 16th and 17th Century England by Dean Freiday
[Finished 5 March 2008] Although this book is labeled as being part of the Catholic and Quaker studies series, for the most part it is concerned with the development of Biblical studies in Anglican and Puritan circles (there are, however, some Quaker and Catholic scholars discussed as well).

The Parables of Peanuts by Robert L. Short
[Finished 28 February 2008] Back in the 60s, Robert Short managed to parlay the occasional references to Christian theology into a minor publishing empire. The text itself is a pretty straightforward theological treatise, pretty much a low church Calvinist perspective. By illustrating his points with Peanuts cartoons, Short managed to get people who might not otherwise ever read theology to read his texts. It was apparently a successful gambit: My copy was bought used and has the original 1960s cover, but the book is still in print 40 years later (I imagine that his earlier book, The Gospel According to Peanuts is also still in print).

It’s an interesting approach, and while some of the cartoon references are a bit of a stretch (and he has many instances of describing a cartoon without showing it), but he does manage to provide an interesting and compelling framework for his theological exposition, even if I don’t always agree with all of his conclusions.

Perl Medic: Transforming Legacy Code by Peter J. Scott
[Finished 28 February 2008] Bleah. This is a wannabe Perl Best Practices, but without the quality or depth of Conway’s work. In fact, a fair number of the suggestions are the opposite of best practices. Don’t bother with this one, get Conway and consider yourself done.

Pro Perl Debugging by Richard Foley with Andy Lester
[Finished 23 February 2008] I opened the box from amazon and found a hardcover computer book. Imagine my surprise.

Cover aside, there’s a fair amount of good information in here, although it seems at the same time to be about half filler (I think this has been my experience with Apress books in general). There are, however, some good recipes for debugging web applications (short version, run Apache in single-user mode), and for those of us who like paper references, it’s a useful tome to have on the shelf.

Can We Be Good Without God? A Conversation About Truth, Morality, Culture, and a Few Other Things That Matter by Paul Chamberlain
[Finished 20 February 2008] When I was an undergrad, there was always that person in class who would write their essays in story form. I never did it because it seemed that it was always the worst of both worlds, as fiction, it suffered because it was being forced to conform to the requirements of an essay and as an essay it suffered for being forced to conform to the requirements of fiction.

This book is a prime example of this at work, with the added bonus of it not being a very good argument to begin with. The characters are two-dimensional with their only purpose being to represent viewpoints, and those not very well.

Chamberlain presents his Ted the Christian (as a note in how bad the fiction is, this is, in fact, how the character is described, and the others are similarly named) character as a smug know-it-all who manages to easily demolish the straw man arguments which represent the opposing viewpoints. Each person ends up being quickly convinced of the correctness of Ted’s perspective.

Alas, what this book ultimately does is unintentionally provide a good argument for the deconstructionist view of morality, that there is no way of pinning down an objective system of morals from within the system. There ends up being a choice as arbitrary as “arbol” meaning “tree” and while it may not be aesthetically pleasing, it does carry its own logic.

Practical Perforce by Debra Wingerd
[Finished 15 February 2008] For whatever reason, my current employer is using perforce for version control. Not being familiar with it (but having used RCS, CVS, SVN and even SourceSafe in the past), I figured that it would be a good idea to read the book so that I could tell what practices were dictated by the software and what were cultural (and perhaps subject to improvement).

All told, I have to say that I prefer svn’s overall methodology. It just seems a lot more agile than the perforce approach, although the final chapter on dealing with web-based projects is a bit more sensible. I’m thinking that there might be some applicable ideas in the agile version control with svn book, despite the use of the word “svn” in the title.

As a manual, the book falls a bit short. I’m thinking that there’s room for a good book that’s repository-neutral to talk about the best way to manage version control in a programming environment.

Sadhana: A Way to God: Christian Exercises in Eastern Form by Anthony de Mello
[Finished 13 February 2008] I’ve been dipping into this book a little at a time for a few years now. There are a total of 47 exercises in the book, drawing on Jesuit and eastern traditions as a means of developing spirituality. This is really the sort of book to keep on a table in your prayer space, more than one to sit down and read. There are places where it really feels like it would be helpful to have someone acting as a facilitator for the exercise (perhaps doing these in a group context would be a good idea so that a facilitator can read the instructions). As it was, some of the exercises didn’t really work as individual exercises. But overall, it seems a useful tool for one’s spiritual development.

Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen
[Finished 13 February 2008] This is the sort of book that needs to be kept on the bookshelf to be most useful. A simple read-through is helpful to get the lay of the land (and perhaps is essential), but this is really a resource collection, a set of ideas for how to structure and implement the end of a sprint retrospective (although the content is not really scrum-specific). Having read through it once, I was ready to start dipping into it in planning my next retrospective and will likely continue to do so.

Five Cries of Youth by Merton P. Strommen
[Finished 8 February 2008] An interesting book. It’s a bit dated in that much of the book is based on surveys done between the late 60s through early 80s (what’s more, it feels as if most of the book was written in the early seventies then lightly edited to reflect societal changes in the early 80s).

While the work is based on good hard data, there does seem to be a bit of an a prioristic slant to the interpretation, where the five cries were pre-determined, rather than emerged from data clusters. But even with that, it does provide an interesting framework for working with youth, and a pointer, if not a model, for how to do research in psychology of religion

Death March by Edward Yourdon
[Finished 7 February 2008] When I started my new job, this book was sitting on my desk. Fortunately, it seems that the corporate culture is not one which encourages (or, it seems, tolerates) death march projects.

So the book has little immediate applicability (my wife, on the other hand, is a different story). There are some ideas which are good general technical management practice though, and I can see being able to employ them in a non death-march context.

MySQL Database Design and Tuning by Robert D. Schneider
[Finished 5 February 2008] A decent enough book, although too much of it seemed like it was straight out of the MySQL manual, without enough supplemental information. Why would I choose InnoDB over MyISAM? How exactly do I interpret the results from EXPLAIN? There was nowhere near enough of this sort of information, which I would really have liked to have seen.

The Collected Essays by Graham Greene
[Finished 1 February 2008] As an undergraduate I started reading this collection, but I don’t think that I ever finished it. I can guess how far I got into it by where the familiar turned alien. The review of Recusant Poets that turned me onto my undergraduate thesis topic was familiar. The account of Castro and 1960s Cuba, or Pope Pius XII were unfamiliar, but fascinating.

The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust
[Finished 31 January 2008] As I come into the home stretch of In Search of Lost Time, I find myself beginning to really get Proust. I have some sense of the sprawling landscape of the novel and the long stretches of uninterrupted prose are easier to get through, I’m almost ready to try re-reading the whole thing, although that will likely be a pleasure reserved for later in my life.

Best American Short Stories 2007 edited by Stephen King
[Finished 19 January 2008] It’s probable that it’s at least partly a consequence of King’s sensibilities, but I found this volume to be far more plot-oriented than last year’s edited by Ann Patchett. King notes in his introduction that he feels that the American short story is alive but not well, largely because writers have become too focused on writing for other writers as opposed to writing for readers, a trend which tends to reinforce and be reinforced by declining circulations of literary magazines.

In this volume, my favorites were John Barth’s “Toga Party,” Lauren Groff’s “L. Debard and Alietto: A Love Story,” and Richard Russo’s “Horseman,” although unlike the 2006 volume, there really weren’t any stories that left me cold.

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs
[Finished 15 January 2008] I love A. J. Jacobs’s books. At least in part because he engages in the sort of quixotic enterprises that I enjoy myself. He reads the Encyclopedia Brittanica, I watch the IMDB Top 250.

For his latest book, I realized that what Jacobs is doing is a more extreme version of the kind of thing that I do for my lenten sacrifice. I’m actually a bit jealous of the extent to which Jacobs was able to take things, as well as that initial journey of spiritual discovery. In his year of taking the Bible literally, he found that religion is not merely self-delusion, but does speak to something transcendent, even if the Bible is not quite the perfect guide that many claim it is.

Programming Ruby by Dave Thomas with Chad Fowler and Andy Hunt
[Finished 11 January 2008] A pretty good book which manages to thread the line between needing to be a tutorial and needing to be a reference. The big problem I see is a complete lack of coverage of any of the practical library components necessary to do any real development work. I suspect that this is part of why Rails is viewed as an almost inseparable part of Ruby.

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells
[Finished 9 January 2008] In my little H. G. Wells marathon, this was the only story that I didn’t have any previous exposure to. The closest I came was the trailer for the 1996 film.

So maybe that’s why of the three Wells novels, this was the one that made the greatest impression on this reading. I found myself thinking that it was an especially creepy story, one which left me chilled as I finished reading it. Perhaps it was also aided by a relative lack of Wells’s usual sociological moralizing.

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
[Finished 8 January 2008] I don’t know if I ever read this as a child or if my memories are based primarily on the various adaptations of the story (the old black and white film, Orson Welles’s radio broadcast, even the Spielberg film).

It’s interesting to see how Wells adapted his preference for first person narration to a story which really needed multiple points of view (by recounting the experiences of the narrator’s brother and making references to pamphlets which had been published).

But the real crux of the novel seems to be the encounter between the narrator and the artilleryman near the end of the book when the artilleryman outlines his plan for surviving until the humans are able to finally defeat the Martians. It almost seems an echo of the Morlocks from The Time Machine.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
[Finished 4 January 2008] I had read this book at some point in my childhood, so I had a vague recollection of the Eloi and the Morlocks, along with mental images which resurfaced as I read the book.

But what I didn’t remember, and what probably eluded me on that first reading, was the social commentary which is an essential part of this book. Wells was clearly concerned about a strict separation of the classes, and more than anything else, this book seems a parable designed to warn against the dangers of the idle rich depending too heavily on the working classes and being unable to function for themselves.

The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt
[Finished 2 January 2008] What a wonderful book. As a number theory math guy, the prospect of reading a novel about Ramanujan was already appealing, but Leavitt is a skilled writer and managed to handle the story remarkably well. The focus of the story is on G.H. Hardy, including a significant amount of his personal life that I was unaware of (I hadn’t known that he was gay). The mathematics is presented in a way that manages to not frighten off the non-mathematical (or so I assume) while still providing enough information for the mathematically inclined to get the sense of what’s in there. And perhaps most deliciously, The Anecdote is saved until almost the end of the book, something which keeps those of us who know little more than the bare outlines of Ramanujan’s life on our toes waiting for it to finally appear in the narrative.

I think one test of a historical novel is whether it inspires the reader to want to learn more about the subject of the story. By that test, Leavitt has more than passed the test.

Perl Testing: A Developer's Notebook by Ian Langworth and chromatic
[Finished 31 December 2007] I wanted to get a stronger sense of the testing capabilities of Perl, so, this being the sole book on the topic that I was aware of, I placed an order.

The book is fairly dense and designed more as a reference than a tutorial. It helps to have a computer handy to try the code that’s provided and do experiments, but even more so, it’s a means to be able to learn the material well.

It’s a very different approach than the Head First series which I’ve taken to much more closely, but it does seem to have a valuable place in the nerdbook ecosystem.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
[Finished 30 December 2007] Hearing an interview with Díaz on NPR, I thought that this would be a book that I would enjoy a great deal, but I found that large stretches of the book left me feeling a bit bored. The character of Oscar was compelling, but much of the rest of the book was less interesting. I can see how some of the parallels that Díaz set up were meant to work, but I don’t think that it was that successfully managed.

The Comedians by Graham Greene
[Finished 30 December 2007] In one of my English classes, the professor asked us what would be the epigraph for our lives. I had recently read the Gospel of Matthew and had quoted it a fair amount in my papers and he thought perhaps I would take my epigraph from that book, but I told him that I thought I would take it instead from Greene’s novel, writing, “I would rather have blood on my hands than water like Pilate.”

Coming back to this novel 19 years later, I realize that I only read it the one time, so I was able to have quickly forgotten the twists of the story, only the general outlines and a handful of memorable scenes. It’s a good read, and while it’s not up to the quality of Greene’s earlier work, I enjoyed it a fair amount.

Beware of God by Shalom Auslander
[Finished 23 December 2007] After reading Auslander’s memoir, I decided to take a look at his stories. Auslander is a writer of some skill, although he seems to have a rather limited range and many of the stories are riffs on the same joke, one which also is central to Auslander’s memoir as well. Some of the stories manage to take this riff and bring it to brilliant heights of comedy, but others fall flat or, in the worst case, descend to the depths of mediocrity. There is a fair amount of potential that is lost because of Auslander’s apparent fear of really facing the full depths of his topic.

Interestingly enough, the copyright page does not include any previous publication information on any of the stories. I’m not sure whether that’s an indication that this is a collection of stories never previously published.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
[Finished 20 December 2007] Wow.

One of the concerns I’ve found myself exploring in my own writing has been language, so when I heard about this novel, I immediately had to read it.

Wow.

The story is serviceable, a story of love found and lost. But the telling of it, in the context of learning a language (and the learning of the language was the context of writing the novel), is amazingly beautiful. Guo manages to make broken English readable for 300 pages. Absolutely brilliant. The language gradually transforms as the book advances, which, although it’s not done quite as perfectly as one might hope, is still effective at conveying the development of Z’s facility with the language.

Ron Carlson Writes a Story by Ron Carlson
[Finished 18 December 2007] I’ve tended to be someone who leans away from writing books written by writers. Far more interesting and useful is the advice proffered by editors and agents, people who have a view of many many manuscripts and have some sense of what the slush pile looks like.

But that said, there is some value for knowing something about how an individual writer approaches their writing. This is a somewhat interesting take in that it takes a line-by-line approach to how Carlson was inspired to write a single short story. It’s somewhat interesting, but I found myself wishing for more of the craft than the inspiration. There’s much more to be learned from how the story was crafted than where the ideas come from. And in this case, the structure of the book, creates the unfortunate illusion that there was a single draft through in the writing process.

ABC of Leather Bookbinding by Edward R. Lhotka
[Finished 17 December 2007] A delightful little book. Not quite enough to learn leather bookbinding without an instructor, but a great reference in conjunction with actual instruction. Every other page is an illustration. Definitely worth finding a copy on the second-hand market.

Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett
[Finished 17 December 2007] I still have mixed feelings about Andrea Barrett’s writing. It seems that she misses the mark a fair amount, but partly because she’s so willing to push the fiction much farther than is safe. The short story which is clearly connected to The Air We Breathe is apparently her first effort at the first person plural narrative and it’s a bit clunkier in its first attempt.

The Linnaeus stories, though are superb and are worth the price of admission alone, as is the title novella.

Munster Village by Mary Hamilton
[Finished 16 December 2007] For some reason, I went through an eighteenth-century novel phase in my early twenties and this was one of the books that I bought that I never quite managed to pick up. Reading it now, I found it to be a somewhat tedious read.

In Search of a Character: Two African Journals by Graham Greene
[Finished 16 December 2007] Reading this, I find that the form is very similar to what my notebooks that I kept during college and the following years. I wonder now, how much I was influenced by reading this slender book.

The first part, Greene’s journal when he was preparing to write A Burnt-Out case is the more interesting part and confirms my suspicion that that work was meant to be Greene’s final novel.

The second part, notes on the journey to west Africa during World War II is rather less interesting, perhaps because it lacks the raw material of a novel.

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander
[Finished 13 December 2007] After hearing Auslander interviewed on Fresh Air, I thought that this might be an interesting book to read. Auslander has an interesting relationship with God, one which is both complex and juvenile at the same time.

I don’t always find Auslander to be a sympathetic character although he is refreshingly honest in his depictions of his struggles with responding to his sexuality and the temptations to spend the day with porn and pot instead of writing.

In all, it’s an interesting memoir of struggles with belief and the consequences thereof, good enough to suggest that his collection of short stories about God would be worth reading.

The Gnostic Scriptures by Bentley Layton
[Finished 13 December 2007] It’s interesting to note that the later editions of this book identify it as being part of the Anchor Reference Library (I have a first edition hardcover which does not do so). The style and organization is very much that of the Anchor Bible Commentary series.

Layton provides copious background and commentary on the texts he discusses, some of which only exist as fragments quoted in anti-Gnostic polemic texts or as summaries of the matter in the same. Enough intact manuscripts exist, however, to attest to the accuracy of the manuscripts.

For those who think that The Da Vinci Code presented anything like an accurate account of Gnosticism, reading this book will be a shock. The philosophical and cosmological understandings of the Gnostics come across as distinctly bizarre, albeit familiar at times to those who know their way through Plato’s dialogues (the concept of the androgynous original humans of The Symposium is fundamental to some of the concepts of Gnostic thought).

The texts themselves tend to be painfully dense and twisted and most of the time, I found that Layton’s introduction essential to being able to follow the text.

Sun Certified Programmer & Developer for Java 2 Study Guide by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates
[Finished 6 December 2007] While digging up the ISBN for this at Amazon, it appears that the exam has changed since I (well, my wife, actually) got the book. Looks like another purchase may be necessary, although this exam is apparently still given as well...

The text is well-presented and gives good advice on how to approach the material. I found the Bates/Sierra jokey style a bit cloying at times as I read through the book, but it didn’t detract too much from the information being presented. The practice CD is, alas, Windows-only (come on folks, right the software in Java!), which leaves the paper-only reader with fewer practice questions than I would like.

Quarantine by Jim Crace
[Finished 6 December 2007] After this was mentioned on NPR, I decided to give the book a look. It’s a rather odd look at the historical Jesus, perhaps akin to Kazantakis’s Last Temptation of Christ. Not exactly a naturalistic understanding of the events, as there is at least one, if not two, putative miracles in the story. And yet, the understanding of the events—Crace is recounting the 40 days in the desert—is not exactly orthodox either.

By focusing on the other hermits in the desert and giving us some sense of what a desert quarantine would be like in first century Palestine, we get some more insight into just what Jesus’s task would have been. Familiar biblical phrases appear, but transposed and not necessarily with the same meaning that they have in the gospels.

In all, a well-written and thought-provoking work although not quite having the impact of Kazantzakis which stands apart as the best of the modern re-imaginings of the gospel story.

Run by Ann Patchett
[Finished 30 November 2007] I’m thinking that I have a new favorite author. This is another one of those brilliant works of literature which have so many depths to them to explore. Consider the title. One short word, but one which has so much meaning. You can run on a track, or run for office, or have the run of the laboratory, or run the household, or run away (figuratively or literally), or things can run in the family or be run over by a car. Somewhere there’s an English major who’s getting 5-10 double-spaced pages on this topic for their contemporary literature professor who will remember this paper when she writes a letter of recommendation for that student’s application to a PhD program.

This is only the second Patchett novel that I’ve read, but I’m hooked on her use of language, something so skilled that I need to switch over to classical music on my iPod when I’m reading so that I don’t get distracted from her words, something I normally only need to do for poetry, she’s that good.

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill
[Finished 27 November 2007] O’Neill has a compelling voice in this work and manages to capture the language and psychology of a child remarkably well in this book. Although there are occasional points where she lapses from her 12-year-old’s perspective to philosophize, these might be forgiven somewhat as a bit of reflection from a presumably older point of view.

A far bigger problem for me is the structure of the narrative. While it’s very well told, even given the rather ugly turn the narrative takes, it tends to be rather episodic, more like memoir than novel. That, plus a happy ending which felt tacked on and somewhat out of character with the rest of the narrative left me feeling like this wasn’t quite the great work of literature it could have become.

The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett
[Finished 25 November 2007] I caught an interview with Barrett on the Writers on Writing podcast and was intrigued by the concept of the first person plural narrative structure. It’s a fascinating conceit, and one which gives Barrett at least some of the freedoms of an omniscient narrator while retaining some of the intimacy which is characteristic of a first-person narrative. but at the same time, the conflict of the two left me feeling like the book was being narrated by some sort of disembodied consciousness: At no point were any names ascribed to the collective we, nor any actions directly connected to the narrative. There also seemed to be a fair number of cases where it didn’t make sense for the collected narrators to know some aspects of what had happened.

But even so, and with a plot which manages to be predictable and compelling at the same time, Barrett’s use of language gripped me and enabled me to ignore the POV issues (I’m beginning to think that we’re actually on the verge of breaking out of a neoclassical rigidity with respect to POV which would be quite welcome in some cases and a bit disastrous in others). I am intrigued enough that I think I may read Ship Fever to get a broader sense of Barrett’s style.

A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene
[Finished 24 November 2007] Given what I know about Greene’s life now, it’s hard to not read this book as a somewhat autobiographical statement (in fact, Greene admitted as much in a letter to Evelyn Waugh). There’s a bleakness to Greene’s psyche at this point which is stunning. And yet, despite the presence of annoyingly ernest Catholics like M. Rycker and Fr Thomas in the narrative, there is also some hope lurking in the margins of the book that perhaps God does exist. This is not the narrative of a committed atheist, but of someone who, like Querry, is a burnt-out case, who has lost hope and the ability to love.

I suspect that this was meant to be Greene’s swan-song, and only a rather bad choice of investment advisors forced Greene into having to continue writing over the remainder of his life.

The Holy Bible translated by Ronald Knox
[Finished 19 November 2007] Ronald Knox was a polymath whose path took him from the Anglican priesthood to the Catholic priesthood. This was probably what he considered his greatest work, but courtesy of changing standards of Catholic biblical scholarship has ended up a footnote. What we are presented with is a translation of the Vulgate Bible with reference to the Hebrew and Greek originals, finished just in time for the Catholic church to declare that it was no longer necessary for Catholic Bibles must be based on the Vulgate.

The New Testament translation seems to me to be superior in its use of the English language than does the Old Testament, perhaps at least partly because the latinized spellings of NT names are generally close to the anglicized spellings as opposed to the frequently bizarre spellings of the Vulgate OT (e.g., Noe for Noah or Osee for Hosea).

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
[Finished 16 November 2007] I found this a bit more developed a story than Slaughter-House Five although the book ends with more of a whimper than a bang after building to a crescendo in which all the characters are brought together.

I note that the book was made into a film. This was doubtless a grave artistic misstep as the value of the book is much less in the story (which is the core of a good film) and more in the use of language in telling the story. One of the narrative conceits which is common to the two Vonnegut novels which I’ve read at this point is the explanation of the obvious throughout the story. Unlike with the insult-your-intelligence footnotes that I’ve complained about in some other books, these explanations carry with them the unspoken belief that the reader knows damn well about what’s being explained, and it’s the sly explanation, often in a satyric vein, which makes the story worth telling.

I have to admit that in general, while Vonnegut’s voice continues to impress me, I find his story-telling itself to be a bit disappointing. He falls back too much on giving 2-paragraph summaries of Killgore Trout novels as a means of commenting on the events in the story, a trope which leaves me a bit unimpressed.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
[Finished 15 November 2007] As I read this, I came to the realization that many of my favorite Greene novels aren’t beloved for their style, but for their plots and characterization. This is another light novel, although it does turn a bit darker as Wormold’s circle of “agents” begins to be targeted for elimination or intimidation. It’s telling that Captain Segura, the police officer with a cigarette case made from human skin, ends up being an at least partially sympathetic character after being introduced as an intimidating figure. Meanwhile, Braun and Carter end up seeming as much deus ex machina to move the plot as real character.

Sherry’s biography of Greene gives some insight into Greene’s writing practice at this stage of his life and it does provide some explanation of the weaknesses of Greene’s long-form fiction at this stage of his career.

Head First Design Patterns by Eric Freeman and Elisabeth Freeman with Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates
[Finished 15 November 2007] Quite simply, this is the best book for learning design patterns. Yes, it’s a bit overstuffed with some fluff and filler (and perhaps a bit too much whitespace in places, which is an uncommon complaint for contemporary computing paper brick books). By beginning with a problem to be solved then showing how a pattern fits it, the authors manage to do an outstanding job of presenting what could be a difficult and abstract problem.

The examples are presented in Java, but it should be a simple matter for any competent programmer to use this to apply patterns to her preferred language if it’s not Java.

If the rest of the Head First series is this good, then O’Reilly has a big winner on its hands here.

Jake's Thing by Kingsley Amis
[Finished 14 November 2007] I was in Claremont and planning on heading back into L.A. but had no book. Add in that it was the final day of existence for Claremont Books and Prints (although much of the inventory and the selling thereof in the space is continuing--sans the presence of Chic Goldsmith--as Second Story Books), so I spent some time digging through the selection in the fiction room for something I could read on the train. My something turned out to be Amis’s book Jake’s Thing. While there were some funny bits, for the most part it struck me as a bitter book written by a bitter man with little to redeem it. Let me leave a letter for my future self: Don’t ever write a book about how awful the sex life of a middle-aged (or, for that matter, old) man is. It’s not that interesting. Also leave out the writing about lusting over younger women as well.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
[Finished 9 November 2007] Among the authors whom I’ve never read, much to the surprise of others, is Kurt Vonnegut. Perhaps it was because in high school Dave Orland loved Vonnegut but his girlfriend Kim Bartosz found him vile (and if you found yourself at this page by googling either of them, drop me a line).

So now that I’ve read my first Vonnegut (prompted by the comic strip Frazz to read not just this one but also Breakfast of Champions), I can see a big part of the appeal of Vonnegut: he has a distinctive and infectious voice in his writing. In fact, I’m almost tempted to put aside any writing projects until I finish Breakfast of Champions just to make sure that none of this voice creeps into my own writing.

There is also a lot to say against Vonnegut as well, though. His style is the sort of thing that I would imagine many of the pretentious high school students who love him grow out of as they transform themselves from pretentious high school students into pretentious adults. And the marriage of the science fiction (or is it mental illness) and wart narratives doesn’t seem to quite work for me.

The Dynasts by Thomas Hardy
[Finished 8 November 2007] This book is an odd little backwater of Hardy’s output: A massive three-part verse drama which would not have been easily produced (if it were even possible) at the time that he wrote it. Certainly the fledgling film industry had begun to exist by this point, but it’s difficult to see Hardy anticipating the invention of the mini-series this early in the twentieth century.

As an account of the Napoleonic wars, it comes across as a bit slow and turgid. Apparently Hardy had wanted to face the subject of the Napoleonic wars for some time (The Trumpet Major which I read earlier this year being his previous work which touched on it), but was put off from writing it in novel form because of the immense shadow cast by Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Alas as a verse dramatist, I find Hardy to be a bit of a failure, and this work is justifiably consigned to the back corners of the literary world.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
[Finished 7 November 2007] Since I became a member of my current writing group, I’ve become a lot more conscious of point of view in writing. I used to simply assume that third person was the same as omniscient (and as I read closely, this seems to be the rule in a lot of older writing). So when I heard in an interview with Patchett that Bel Canto is considered to be a masterwork of writing in third-person omniscient, I decided to take a look at it.

Wow.

This is one of the best-written books I’ve read in some time. I think part of it is that unlike a lot of literary fiction, it actually is about more than the language in which it is written. There’s a story worth stopping the wedding guests for here.

And the story is told not only with style and beauty but with humor (for example, the translator who learned Swedish by watching Ingmar Bergman films and thus is best equipped to discuss dark subjects). My previous experience with Patchett had been her work as an editor on Best American Short Stories 2006 and I had feared the worst coming into this book. Instead, I found the best.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
[Finished 30 October 2007] I guess it was all the buzz about Sebold’s new novel which provoked me to finally read this book. I can remember seeing it on the tables by the entrance to Borders and found the conceit of the novel intriguing: A story told by a murdered girl from the perspective of heaven. But it never really attracted me enough to actually read the book.

Coming to it now, I wish I had read it earlier. Sebold has managed to succeed phenomenally at capturing the psyche and language of a young girl denied the chance to move into adulthood and her narrative conceit gives her a logical way to be able to look into the thoughts of any character while retaining the distinctive voice of a first-person narration.

But writing this a week after finishing the novel, I find myself feeling a bit empty about the book. There was something--I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what--lacking from the book which left me feeling that what I read was good--very good, in fact--but fell short of being great.

A Series of Unfortunate Events 8: The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket
[Finished 30 October 2007] The format of the books is completely broken at this point with the Baudelaires on the run at the beginning of the story. Putting aside some of the bizarre leaps of logic (although I do realize the oddity of being less concerned about a baby passing as a doctor than records about the fire which killed the Baudelaire’s parents being kept at a hospital), the story progresses although mostly in the way that seems typical of the middle movie of a trilogy. We’re being positioned for a continuation of the narrative more than telling a story worthy of standing alone.

Loser Takes All by Graham Greene
[Finished 29 October 2007] As I continue my Graham Greene re-reading project, I’m brought to the first of his “light” novels. This was, in a way, the first side of Greene that I was exposed to when I first discovered him in high school when I read Monsignor Quixote (which manages to merge the light Greene with the Catholic Greene).

As a purely entertaining book, this shows a new side of Greene, one which must have seemed alien to Greene (although if I remember correctly, he had published some mildly humorous short stories by this point as well). The change in tone must have been shocking to Greene’s readers at the time, especially coming in the wake of The End of the Affair and The Quiet American

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
[Finished 25 October 2007] An interesting book, although not quite the book promised by the title. Gilbert’s interests are primarily in cognitive psychology, particularly in the study of perception, so while we would think that this would be a book about what makes people happy, it turns out to instead be a book about how people perceive and anticipate the world and only tangentially about how this impacts happiness.

But getting beyond that, Gilbert has written a good overview of much of current research into cognitive psychology in a humorous and engaging style which I find the sort of thing which could be helpful for teachers to read to get an idea of how to make dry material engaging.

Rasselas, Poems and Selected Prose by Samuel Johnson
[Finished 24 October 2007] Samuel Johnson, I’ve come to realize, is not an author that people read for pleasure. And yes, I realize the irony of that statement. This is one of two selections of Johnson’s writing that are left over from my undergrad days and the first that I’ve undertaken to read cover to cover.

I remember being assigned Johnson as an undergrad and wondering why, precisely, we were assigned to read him. As a poet he was a decidedly minor figure and his “novel,” Rasselas pales in comparison with other prose fiction of the period. Since the curricula of an English major tends to be overwhelmingly focused on poetry, fiction and drama, the concept of dealing with essays, particularly, the sort of essays which Johnson specialized in, which are now an extinct genre, seemed especially alien.

Coming at Johnson again with a couple decades’ reading to intervene, Johnson still seems not especially worthy of reading. He occupies an odd space between philosophy and literature. His life is more interesting than his works and I find myself thinking that I would rather re-read Boswell than this volume.

The Quiet American by Graham Greene
[Finished 22 October 2007] Greene’s use of the first person narration has greatly improved betwen his writing of The End of the Affair and this novel. Part of it, no doubt, was the consequence of spending more time on the novel: This was three years’ work. The narrator, again, is recognizably similar to Greene, but the plot is less close to his experiences and as a consequence he is able to put more art into what he writes.

A lot of the attention to this novel is based on the prescient account of American intervention in Vietnam, but really, that’s just decoration on the real story, the love triangle of Fowler, Pyle and Phuong. It’s interesting to note that while the first film of this novel, with Audie Murphy, grotesquely misportrayed the politics of the movie, it did a better job than the Caine-Fraser film of depicting the personal relationships which are the center of the novel.

I also find, re-reading this novel that Greene’s writing here is essentially cinematic. So much of the text is devoted to setting scenes and providing a sense of place. There’s a lot to be learned from this novel in that respect.

Brasyl by Ian McDonald
[Finished 17 October 2007] In 1986, Paul Simon released Graceland an amazing fusion of his own songwriting with the stylings of musicians from South Africa. Four years later he followed that up with The Rhythm of the Saints, an imminently forgettable attempt to redo that success by incorporating Brazilian musicians into his music.

Ian McDonald appears to be following in Simon’s footsteps by following up what I’ve heard is an outstanding science fiction novel set in future India with a science fiction novel set in future (and present and past) Brazil. Alas, like Simon’s 1990 album, I’m left with a sense of the effort being more tourism than real understanding.

That’s not to claim that my understanding of Brazil runs any deeper than a few Caetano Veloso CDs and a viewing of Cidade de Deus on DVD, but rather that my sense is that McDonald’s understanding of Brazil doesn’t run much deeper.

That said, there are some moments of brilliance, particularly the opening scene of a pilot of a reality show centered around filming car thieves stealing a car rigged with hidden cameras with the prize being the stolen car if they succeed at evading the police for the duration of the show. Had McDonald focused on this character and the social degeneracy around her television producing life, he could have had an outstanding work (or perhaps merely a poor knock-off of Series 7: The Contenders).

We’re taken through a plausible series of events centering around a quantum multiverse but the final pay off again leaves a fair amount to be desired. I think that I’ll read McDonald’s River of Gods to give him another chance, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with this book.

The Bill From My Father: A Memoir by Bernard Cooper
[Finished 12 October 2007] In a lot of ways, this book really is a shining example of how to write good literature: Write a beautiful sentence, and then write another. Cooper has a knack for being able to write beautiful sentences even when he doesn’t have that much to say. Fortunately, there’s a fair amount of interesting material here, although the titular bill doesn’t show up until fairly late in the book. I think that I might have used that as the hook to build the book from, although the bill was, in many ways, not as detailed as I might have imagined. There’s also a bit too much writing about writing the book, instead of writing the book itself, although I suppose that’s a hazard of being a memoirist: After a certain point, what you’re remembering is the act of writing itself.

But even with these weaknesses, the book is always a good read, and while I don’t feel that Cooper succeeded in revealing much about his father’s life before the events of the book took place, he does an excellent job of showing his father’s life declining into dementia and ultimately death.

Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais
[Finished 10 October 2007] This was, I have little doubt, an absolutely hilarious book when it was first published. But changing tastes and social conditions leave it as more of a slow text of jokes that seem like they could almost be funny to the twenty-first century reader. I can see some roots of later satires, particularly Gulliver’s Travels but also The BFG in the book, but ultimately, I was more bored than entertained by the book.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
[Finished 9 October 2007] I first read this eighteen years ago in the aftermath of a painful and inexplicable (to me, at least) break-up. I thought it was a work of genius, and I began writing my own story, about a character going through a break-up with a girl named Sarah that I realized on its completion was complete and utter dreck, although between the reading and writing (and perhaps also some subconscious remembrance of The French Lieutenant’s Woman), I had developed such a complete dedication to the name, that I still sometimes have a hard time convincing myself that I have, in fact, never actually dated a Sarah.

So to return to the book in a different state of mind and stage of life, I find my reaction to its pages quite different. I see further confirmation of my belief that break-up fiction makes for good therapy and lousy literature. I don’t think that I’m likely to continue citing this novel as the counterexample. There are huge problems of characterization, particularly with the narrator, Maurice Bendrix, who is meant to be an atheist, but who keeps making references to Catholic belief (so much so, that when Garrison Keillor described the book on Greene’s birthday on “The Writer’s Almanac,” he incorrectly stated that Bendrix was a devout Catholic). There are also clumsy repetitions that leave me feeling like I’m reading a barely-edited first draft, as if this were a book that Greene wanted to get out of his system as quickly as possible. I can’t help but feel that this is perhaps an almost-masterpiece, but falls far enough away from success that its status in the canon is undeserved.

The Unknown Karl Marx edited by Robert Payne
[Finished 5 October 2007] This was a less interesting collection than I had hoped. It’s a hodge-podge of materials by and about Marx which had not been previously published in English. These included Marx’s essays for graduation from gymnasium, a pair of embarrassing conspiracy theory pamphlets about how the Russians were secretly controlling Lord Palmerston, his wife’s unpublished short autobiography (with deletions, presumably, by Marx’s daughter) and some letters from Marx’s daughter to his illegitimate son). Nothing that really justified the purchase price. There was more of an intriguing look at the “unknown” Marx in the introduction to the Viking Portable Karl Marx.

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
[Finished 1 October 2007] What should I make of the fact that amazon doesn’t appear to have an in-print edition of this book? I thought that this was clearly part of The Canon and therefore immune from falling out of print.

This is yet another re-read for me as it occured to me that what I’m thinking of doing with draft three of the novel might be too close to what Fowles did here. It isn’t, although it could have come close and the re-read helped me delimit what I was going to do with the writing to avoid that problem.

I also found myself rediscovering a wonderful quote from chapter thirteen that I re-published in the Scripps College Press book, Livre des Livres (my copy of the book has the letter from Fowles granting permission to use his work with some small emendations to make the text stand better on its own).

The authorial intervention in the narrative is something that I intend to do, but it will be with some narrative purpose of its own, although I’m not quite certain just what that purpose will be. And the mock-Victorian narrative style is not something that I intend to attempt at all.

Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust
[Finished 30 September 2007] I stopped in a used bookshop in Santa Monica recently and noticed that in the edition of Proust they had on the shelves, this volume was entitled Cities of the Plain, an interesting bowdlerization of the title. I didn’t open it up to see if the text itself was similarly butchered.

I still find Proust to be a bit of a slog, I think partly because of the long uninterrupted stretches of prose (it’s especially difficult with paragraphs that run for two or more pages). But at the same time, I seem to have developed some affinity for Proust’s prose style as I didn’t feel as at sea while reading this volume as I have previously, even with the years that have passed since I’ve read the preceding volume. Only three more to go to complete the set.

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
[Finished 30 September 2007] This is one of the most religious of Greene’s works (if I recall correctly, this was the book which prompted one reviewer to wonder if Greene’s next book would even be understandable to a layperson). Certainly, the experiences of reading it before I became Catholic and reading it again as a Catholic were quite different.

The descriptions of Scobie’s loss of faith--if that’s even the right word for it--were especially haunting as he found himself cut off from the experience of God’s presence in his life. This is certainly in Greene’s top tier of works.

The Third Man / The Fallen Idol by Graham Greene
[Finished 21 September 2007] A novella and short story which are bound primarily by being transformed into films by Carol Reed and the need to hit a minimum page count in a published book.

The Third Man represents a first pass at the story and we’re faced with a curious situation: Most of the films of Graham Greene novels I’ve seen are pale shadows of the printed word. In this case, however, the film is a looming presence over the book. It’s difficult to read the book without imagining Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton in the central roles.

For the Fallen Idol, on the other hand, I have only a vague recollection of the film from a cable showing in the late ‘80s, so I’m able to look at the story as story. There’s an interesting thematic concern happening in the story, one which appears elsewhere in Greene’s writing, about the corruption of the child, the impinging of adult concerns and desires into the terrain which belongs rightfully to the innocence of childhood. As a story which is written for the page and not the screen, it seems to work better as a work of literature, even with the rather conventional plot that Greene uses to explore his themes.

Best American Short Stories 2006 edited by Ann Patchett
[Finished 19 September 2007] I’ve long seen this on the shelves in book stores (but with different years), and now that I’m back writing, especially writing short fiction, I figured that it was a good idea to read some of these stories. The general emphasis, in this volume, at least, seems to be on language and mood over character and plot. The one story which I absolutely loved was “The Casual Car Pool” by Katherine Bell which is a masterpiece of third person omniscient story-telling. She makes it look so easy. Others I enjoyed were “A New Gravestone for an Old Grave” by David Bezmogis, “The Conductor” by Aleksander Hemon, “Tattooizm” by Kevin Moffett, “So Much for Artemis” by Patrick Ryan and “Awaiting Orders” by Tobias Wolff. I did my best to avoid the usual writer’s reaction of “my stuff is so much better than this crap but keeps getting form rejections what’s wrong with the world,” although there were times it felt difficult. The Ann Beattie story largely confirmed what I had suspected before, that I’m not cool enough for McSweeney’s. I do want to read more of these volumes, as well as get the O’Henry Prize stories as well, so expect to see the new volumes on these pages when they appear and perhaps some working backwards through older volumes when I can turn them up.

Harpo Speaks by Harpo Marx
[Finished 13 September 2007] Courtesy of MacBreak Weekly (no, really!), I keep reading show biz bios.

So next up was Harpo Marx. I always loved the Marx brothers as a kid, although I was more partial to Groucho than the others. Having read this, I’m wondering whether, in fact, Harpo was the real genius of the bunch. One of the highlights was reading about Harpo’s involvement with the Algonquin Roundtable, a rather incongruous match-up: The second-grade drop-out hanging out with some of the greatest literary wits of the time. But in reading this, it makes sense. They didn’t need another Harold Ross at the table, they needed someone to engage in juvenile antics to help relieve the pretension.

The voice of the story is wonderfully modest, with Harpo happily telling tales of his life with a sincere modesty and occasional bits of gee-whiz naivety.

I’m thinking that I want to read about George Burns or Jack Benny next after this batch.

101 Common Therapeutic Blunders by Richard C. Robertiello and Gerald Schoenewolf
[Finished 12 September 2007] I hadn’t looked too closely at this book when I picked it up at a used book store in Chicago some years back while I was studying psychology. Had I done so, I would have doubtless put it back on the shelf. This is a monstrous collection of Freudian mythology in fable form: Therapist A made mistake B with patient C because of some unresolved issue with his/her mother/father. At times, the Freudian jargon verges on the absurd. Castrating mothers, indeed! I had thought, perhaps, that reading this I might at least come up with some story ideas for fiction. Not hardly. I am happy to note that while the book was released in a paperback version, it has since gone out of print. Nevertheless, I am astonished that something like this could have been published as late as 1992. Somebody needs to make it abundantly clear to the psychodynamic people that they’re not practicing psychology, they’re practicing witchcraft. The few valid observations of Freud were much more efficiently and effectively explained by B. F. Skinner.

The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene
[Finished 7 September 2007] Coming back to this book again, with the benefit of knowing the story, allows me to focus a bit more closely on Greene’s use of language and character. Wow. This is more than just an “entertainment” as Greene labels it. It explores the themes of sin and redemption that permeate Greene’s work in ways that sometimes seem at odds with the story being told, but ultimately, works well. This isn’t the best of Greene’s early works, but it’s an enjoyable read nonetheless.

Final Conclave by Malachi Martin
[Finished 3 September 2007] The problem with so much Pope Fiction is that there’s an overwhelming tendency to make the novel into a manifesto. This book is probably the most overwhelming example of this. The first 100+ pages of the book are Martin’s version of the history of the papacy of Paul VI (or as he, idiosyncratically writes, Paul 6). Then we get to the drawn out politicking of the selection of a successor.

There is little doubt throughout the book of where Martin’s sympathies lie although he decides to focus his attention on the actions of the liberal faction and leaves his proxies in the conclave as enigmatic sphinxes. He lays out a stark choice: Either return to a traditionalist church with liturgy in Latin or we’ll all be godless commies!

Being able to look back at the outcome of the geopolitics of the 70s with the advantage of 30 years of intervening history, Martin’s concern that Russia would come to dominate western Europe comes across as laughable.

As a piece of literature, the book is little better. The opening section has all the voice of an AP newswire, and through the use of an omniscient third person present-tense narrator, he manages to keep a journalistic tone throughout which only serves to make the book a dull slog, hardly worth the effort of opening, let alone reading.

Selected Poems by T. S. Eliot
[Finished 3 September 2007] Courtesy of Mr Caravello, my high school English teacher, I have the opening lines of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” permanently tattooed in my cerebral cortex. Curiously, throughout the entire coursework of a B.A. in English, I never revisited Eliot again.

I picked up this volume a decade and a half ago at Midnight Special Books, back when they were (a) still in existence and (2) on the Third Street Promenade (along with half a dozen other bookstores, none of which was Borders or Barnes and Noble). I only now got a chance to sit down with it and I continue to be in awe at Eliot’s abilities to make music from language. He makes it look easy, but from my own occasional efforts at poetry, I know that it’s far from easy to write a poem a fraction as good as what Eliot wrote.

At a younger age, it’s unlikely I would have fully appreciated the poems here, with the references to a mourning of lost youth and the religiosity which shows a man drawn towards Catholicism, but too timid to come any closer than high church Anglicanism. I may have to go ahead and spring for the complete poems.

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
[Finished 24 August 2007] Who’d’a thunk it? A Joseph Conrad novel which is not entirely in quotation marks.

Reading this, I can see that Conrad is somewhat less skilled at writing from an omniscient viewpoint and there are some scenes in particular which end up coming across rather poorly as he tries to tell us everything that we think that we should know, but the build up to the climax is quite gripping and it makes for an engaging read.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
[Finished 24 August 2007] Like many (most?) people coming to this story in the twenty-first century, my primary previous exposure comes from Walt Disney. Or more specifically, the Mr Toad’s Wild Ride attraction in Fantasyland (best ride in the whole damn park). So I have to say that when I got to that part of the story, I was somewhat shocked to discover that Grahame disposed of the whole affair with a scene break. Mr Toad drives off and the next we see him, he is on trial.

The story, for the most part, focuses on the character of Mole, who, one spring day decides to explore the world outside of his hole. We’re introduced to his friends Ratty, Toad, Otter and Badger, as well as an odd world in which anthropomorphic animals somehow coexist with humans, as well as sit down to an occasional plate of meat (I can picture that scene leading a young reader into vegetarianism as they begin assembling the consequences of such a scenario). In all it is a fun and gentle story which deserves a more prominent place in the canon than it currently occupies.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
[Finished 21 August 2007] This is, I think, Graham Greene’s best-known work, and one which I’ve only read once before. Coming back to it again, and reading it close on the heels of The Lawless Roads, I can see the influence of Greene’s journey on his writing, but even more so, I see the clear influence of Greene’s consciousness of his position in the world as a Catholic. The theology of The Power and the Glory is more fully-formed than that of Brighton Rock and Greene’s attention has turned, at least briefly, from a focus on sin to a focus on grace, albeit grace as seen through the veil of sin. It is a perspective that Greene would never really regain until Monsignor Quixote, I think.

The Complete Fables by Aesop
[Finished 16 August 2007] We all think that we know Aesop’s fables, but the reality is a bit different. Reading this translation by Robert Temple really forces the reader to re-evaluate everything that they think they know. Yes, the boy who cried wolf and the fox and the grapes are there, but the “morals” which are likely later additions are set off and italicized to emphasize this. Throw in the lack of bowdlerization and the fact that many of the fables were meant more as jokes than moral lessons becomes considerably clearer.

The notes scattered through the collection vary from pedestrian and useful, to more interesting than the text which they accompany. Some notes seem to exist primarily to show off Temple’s broad knowledge, although one simultaneously demonstrates his lack of interest in religious topics when he points out that a fable occurs in the Bible, but then makes a point of his choice to not consult the Septuagint text to see whether a particular Greek word is used in that telling.

Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait edited by Henry Anatole Grunwald
[Finished 15 August 2007] A fascinating collection of essays by authors including John Updike and Joan Didion (when she was less well-known than Arthur Mizener, Alfred Kazin, Granville Hicks and Maxwell Geismar).

The essays were written in late fifties and early sixties, most between the publication in book form of Franny and Zooey and “Seymour/Raise High the Roof Beam”. It was somewhat interesting to note an account at one point of a Harry Potter-esque frenzy around the release of Franny and Zooey. And yet half a century later, no one remembers the frenzy (the book, on the other hand, is still very much with us). As the second book of criticism that I’ve read in recent months, I continue to be surprised at my receptivity to reading criticism. Again, it may be a quality issue. It was especially interesting to think about what the critics were saying about Holden Caulfield (and Huck Finn) in the context of what I need to do in writing my own novel. I somewhat wish I’d gotten around to this collection earlier in my reading.

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
[Finished 14 August 2007] I had a bit of Conrad burn-out after being assigned Heart of Darkness in three consecutive classes across my high school and college career. I returned to The Secret Agent later in College and developed an appreciation for Conrad, but coming to this work, I found myself just drowning in his narrative, not particularly grabbed by story or language. Except the key part of the story in which Jim abandons the ship. I suspect the failing is my own, but this was just not a work to hold my affections.

Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway
[Finished 7 August 2007] I’ve always tended to shy away from Hemingway: The macho reputation was something rather off-putting to me. Then some years ago, I decided to read a collection of his short stories (not this one) and found, to my surprise, that I did enjoy them. And the linguistic detail in For Whom the Bell Tolls still impresses me ten years after I read it.

But then coming to this collection, I find myself face to face with all that I feared I wouldn’t like about Hemingway and discovering that my fears were, indeed, justified. I just had no interest in most of the stories of this book. They were well-written enough, I just wasn’t grabbed like the other Hemingway I’d read.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London
[Finished 5 August 2007] This is one of those books which I’ve known of for most of my life, and yet never read. Would I really want to read a book about a dog? Probably not, but it’s on the Observer list, so here I am.

The book takes us from Buck’s theft from his home in California to his life as a sled dog in the northern wilderness and eventually his taking a place as the lead of a wolf pack. I found the book to be rather slight and unimpressive. I suppose that’s a large part of why I never read it earlier in life.

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
[Finished 3 August 2007] An interesting view into a past time in India’s history. The state of racial relations between the English and the Indians at the time that this novel was set, in many ways, seems completely incomprehensible to me. And at the same time, it’s not too far from the racial relations that I grew up with in suburban Chicago in the ‘70s.

The story is skillfully drawn, although at times I lost track of some of the characters, perhaps as a consequence of reading the first half of the book on a weekend trip full of sleep deprivation. The delay of the major crisis of the book until nearly the halfway point makes for some slow pacing early on, but the second part moves at a pace more amenable to contemporary sensibilities.

The Lawless Roads by Graham Greene
[Finished 2 August 2007] Re-reading this book after nearly 20 years, I have a new perspective courtesy of the time that I’ve since spent in Mexico. Cities like Las Casas, San Luis Obispo and Mexico are less abstract concepts to me now, and more places I have been to, and, in some cases, have something approaching intimacy with.

Reading this relatively close on the heals of Journey Without Maps, it’s clear that Greene has a distinct travel-writing style, on which focuses on fairly short vignettes rather than in-depth observation. It’s clear after reading this that Greene ended up a stronger Catholic as a result of the trip, but at the same time, his distaste for Mexico itself also comes across rather clearly.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowlings
[Finished 30 July 2007] I made a point on the evening of the release of Harry Potter to head over to the local Border’s. Not to buy a copy, but to see the excitement, celebration and chaos of it all. I’m pretty sure that there will never be this kind of excitement about a book again in my lifetime (although I would be more than happy to be proven wrong).

It’s also been interesting to note how common sightings of the book have been in the days since (I think there was at least one copy per row on the two flights I took the weekend before finishing the book).

But enough about the cultural phenomenon, what about the book itself?

Well, there were portions that just dragged. The action of the book doesn’t really start until nearly halfway through the book. That could have been safely condensed to half its length (although that would have denied Rowlings yet another Guiness Book of World Records entry). There was also her too-common tendency to introduce some previously unheard of aspect of the wizarding world to meet the needs of the plot. And with only two exceptions, most of the deaths came and went with too little notice for them to have any real emotional impact.

But at the same time, there was some wonderful writing here. The pensieve was used to decent effect to convey some additional back story and the scene before Harry’s face-off with Voldemort was perhaps the best bit of emotional writing that she has done in the whole series.

In all the Harry Potter series has been frequently flawed, and Rowlings has perhaps been somewhat hurt by getting such success at an early stage in her career, but she is still an excellent writer. I have little doubt that these will be books that are still read in decades to come.

Oyster by John Biguenet
[Finished 29 July 2007] I first discovered John Biguenet on the pages of Granta. I was sufficiently impressed by that first story, that I’ve kept my eyes open for his other work and have since read his collection of short stories and now this, his first novel.

I had some trepidation about starting this novel. It was the religious themes in Biguenet’s writing that first attracted me. Would a historical novel about New Orleans oystermen interest me much?

It turns out, yes, it would.

Biguenet manages to come up with a compelling narrative, although at times it does feel as if he’s stretching a bit to fill in his minimum page count. In all, though, it was the kind of read which was difficult to put down. I’ll have to remember to send him an e-mail to see what’s been published since The Torturer’s Apprentice.

The Confidential Agent by Graham Greene
[Finished 28 July 2007] As I continue on my re-reading of Graham Greene’s work, this is the first book besides the two withdrawn novels which appears to be no longer in print. I’d always assumed that Greene’s books would remain in print forever, so it was a bit of a shock digging through Amazon and not finding an in-print edition of this book. Sic transit gloria mundi, it appears. I suppose it was a good thing that I obsessively collected his work when I did.

The story is a bit thin, and as I recall, was written under the influence of Benzedrine and Joseph Conrad to fulfill a bit of financial need while Greene was also writing The Lawless Roads and preparing to begin The Power and the Glory. This stretching thin is apparent in the work. It’s an atypical bit of output, and falls short of greatness (although it isn’t difficult to imagine some small changes in the story making it a much more powerful work). I suppose there’s a reason why this particular work fell out of print.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
[Finished 27 July 2007] A delightful satire of the insecurities of academic life. Even with the decades of change which have elapsed since this was written, the behaviors and insecurities of those in higher education remain highly recognizable. Amis succeeded here in accomplishing one of those rather difficult tasks: Writing a book very much of its time while still keeping it timeless.

Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins
[Finished 25 July 2007] I picked this up some time ago and only know have gotten around to reading it. I have to admit that I found Hopkins’ style to be a bit quaint for my tastes. There were a few nice images or turns of phrase, but for the most part I found Hopkins’ style to be affected and archaic. I remember a then-girlfriend seeing the book on my shelf some years ago and thinking that it would be good reading. Turns out she was wrong.

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
[Finished 22 July 2007] The edition of this book that I read was labelled an illustrated children’s classic, which was an interesting take since the book was a bit of a challenging read for me, if only because of the large amount of unfamiliar naval vocabulary (among other things, I learned the phrase “coign of vantage” which my dictionary informs me I should have noticed while reading Macbeth).

The story was a bit convoluted and the inclusion of numerous maps throughout helped make some sense of the geography of the story.

The sands of the title refers to the sandbanks off the Frisian coast of Germany and Holland and the story is about how two British amateur spies managed to discover a German plot for using these sands as a launching point for a potential invasion of England via shallow-draft boats. Even from the vantage point of a century later, the story managed to effectively convey its time and place quite well to the reader.

Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith with illustrations by Wheedon Grossmith
[Finished 21 July 2007] A charming bit of suburban satirical fiction. The illustrations do add quite a bit to the book, including page count, which the book is a bit shy of (it only runs a bit over 100 pages).

44 Lectures Complete by Robert G. Ingersoll
[Finished 19 July 2007] This is one of those books that I’ve been moving around with me for twenty years without reading. It had previously belonged to my great uncle and I suspect may have had an owner before him.

Ingersoll made his fame as an advocate of atheism and the Republican party (a combination which seems essentially unthinkable today) and the lectures here are on those two topics, primarily the former.

There is a high level of repetition in the lectures as these appear to have been occasional speeches, not intended to form a comprehensive whole and I found myself skimming over portions that I had seen previously.

Ingersoll’s greatest weakness as a polemicist against religion is that he is unwilling to allow religion to define itself on its own terms and he took the most radical fundamentalists as his baseline in his attack and discounted the representativeness of anyone who took a moderate stance. In his mind, to allow for a historical-critical approach to the Bible was tantamount to denying the Bible. His interpetative approach was in many ways more fundamentalist than the fundamentalists he attacked.

His Republican speeches reflect the social progressive wing of the Republican party which was still on the ascendency in the late nineteenth century, but which gradually weakened until becoming almost entirely extinct in the era of George W. Bush. The attitudes in the democratic party that he railed against have become the province of the modern Republican party which embraced southern segregationists into its bosom in the 50s and 60s.

In all, the interest here is primarily historical, providing an interesting window into a mindset which seems to have disappeared. Ingersoll’s prediction of the imminent demise of religion in particular has failed to materialize: Today, in fact, it’s difficult to imagine the kind of large crowds described in this book gathering to hear any prominent atheist speak on the topic of atheism.

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome
[Finished 16 July 2007] My top 100 list claimed that this is one of the funniest books in the English language. I’d say that Wodehouse consistently outperforms Jerome on that front. But there are some delightfully funny parts of the book, even if the humor has been dulled by a century of exposure.

I also realized while checking this book off from my list that my list isn’t in order of excellence, but is chronological, which is why Philip Roth is so low on the list.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
[Finished 15 July 2007] As I continue with my project of re-reading Graham Greene’s works, I come to my favorite of Greene’s novels, Brighton Rock. There is so much to learn from Greene’s pacing, plotting and characterization. At the same time as I read this, I’m realizing that this is not a novel which could be written today, at least not as a non-historical piece of fiction: The sense that Catholics once had, as a people set apart, is long gone. Perhaps this is why Greene, later in life, only addressed Catholic issues in Catholic countries.

A Series of Unfortunate Events 7: The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket
[Finished 13 July 2007] In preparation for the upcoming release of Harry Potter 7, I figured it was best to finish off the current Lemony Snicket book I’ve been reading in snatches at the bookstore. That I did this on Friday the thirteenth is merely a serendipitous coincidence.

The plot here remains suitably outlandish, and is, for the most part rather forgettable. I found it most interesting in what it sets up for book 8 in the series. We’ve had a bit more of an intrusion of Snicket into the plot, along with some surprising development of one of the Baudelaire children, but other then what resembles a bit more than usual of a cliffhanger ending, this one seems more like filler than anything else.

Deception by Philip Roth
[Finished 12 July 2007] This book was suggested when I was looking for books which told a story through dialogue. I was looking for more of a framing device, but in this instance I found something quite different. Roth tells his story through conversations stripped of context, even dialogue tags. It’s as much an experimental work as Begley’s Shipwreck, but in this case, I think that the experiment is more successful.

Both works treat much the same subject matter: Middle-aged lust and infidelity, writing, language. But I find that Roth is by far the more skilled writer (or at least the one whose writing fits in well with my tastes in reading). And Roth’s final chapters, rather than providing a comfortable conclusion to the story which wraps up everything in a relatively predictable fashion as did Begley’s tale, instead provides an internal justification for the format of the story, which Begley never managed to do. I didn’t love this book as much as American Pastoral, but it has confirmed me as a Philip Roth fan. He is not a writer to be checked out of the library, but one to be purchased from the bookstore, at full price, with money obtained by selling plasma to the university medical center.

Shipwreck by Louis Begley
[Finished 10 July 2007] I came across this title as a result of a request for contemporary stories told through dialogue and I had no ideas what the story might hold as I began reading it.

Begley makes an interesting choice in omitting quotation marks in the framing narrative, which forces the reader to slow down since we have a first person narrative inside a first person narrative, but in the end it seems more stylistic choice for the sake of style.

The bulk of the narrative ends up being a rather tedious account of middle-aged lust, leavened occasionally with some thoughts on self-doubt which mysteriously disappear as the novel progresses. The denouement of the novel, likewise ends up feeling cheap and not particularly satisfying. It seems as if Begley had a short story, perhaps a novella here, and did what he could to pad it out to 77,000 words.

Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation by Edward Chancellor
[Finished 6 July 2007] I’m old enough now to have seen three speculative bubbles pop (junk bonds in the 80s, real estate in 1990, tech stocks in 2000) and see another one on its way to popping (real estate--again!).

Chancellor does a pretty good job of describing a history of speculative bubbles. Everybody knows the tulip mania and the 1929 stock market crash, but most of the rest of these are relatively unknown (although it’s interesting to see not one, but two works of fiction that I’ve read reflected in the pages of this book: The Way We Live Now is directly referenced and The Baroque Trilogy clearly drew upon this book for inspiration and information.

If I have any complaint, it’s in Chancellor’s reluctance to take any clear stands on the historical issues that he talks about. Only towards the end does he evince a lukewarm enthusiasm for Bretton-Woods-style currency controls as a bulwark against speculative excess, although it’s difficult to see how a return to that sort of currency control would even be possible in the hyper-globalized economy of the twenty-first century.

Two Stories of Prague by Rainer Maria Rilke
[Finished 2 July 2007] This book is almost as much Angela Esterhammer’s as it is Rilke’s. Esterhammer serves as more than just a translator, but also as a bit of a tour guide, providing some insight into the various places throughout Prague which are so central to Rilke’s narratives. For my research purposes, this is an outstanding book, providing me with a great deal of the raw material I’ve been seeking to write my story of turn-of-the-century Prague.

As for the narratives, I was more than a little distracted by my research reading, so I can’t say too much about them. Rilke’s prose styling seems rather modern, especially compared to Jan Neruda’s stories from just a decade earlier. This is clearly something that I want to return to.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
[Finished 26 June 2007] When I started this novel, I was overwhelmed with the sheer vitality of Alex’s narration. The language with its frequent malapropisms was the sort of thing that I wouldn’t even attempt to do in my own writing.

But reading on, I found that while this was a brilliant and promising novel (wow, what kind of first novel author gets blurbed by Joyce Carol Oates?), there were flaws that ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied. The novel is essentially three narrative streams. Alex’s account of the journey to the Ukraine by the hero (named, intriguingly enough, Jonathan Safran Foer), letters from Alex to Jonathan which are commentary on the novel and a magical realist take on Jonathan’s family history from the 18th century to World War II.

The magical realist thread, left me the most unsatisfied of the three. Foer has clearly been reading García Márquez, Fuentes, and Borges. And while he’s learned a lot from them, the style doesn’t fit him, sort of like a teenager wearing his dad’s sport coat (to borrow a simile from Jonathan Gold). There are some beautiful images there, and as he develops as a writer, he will doubtless grow into his ambitions unless success stunts his growth (as has been the case with J.K. Rowlings).

The letters from Alex to Jonathan are sparse and are an interesting conceit, commenting on the novel as it unfolds. Again, Foer’s reach exceeds his grasp here, and the letters fail as much as they succeed, although the successes are of exquisite beauty.

Alex’s narrative is, I think, where Foer is at his strongest but again, he manages to hit a fatal flaw, this time with the problem of telling a story which is clichéd and predictable in the end.

As a craftsman of language, Foer is in the top tier easily. In another age, he would be a poet rather than a novelist (in fact, while looking up his bio, curious as to whether he was a product of an MFA program--he’s not--I discovered that, based on his endeavors, he’s been exploring artistic endeavors beyond the novel). As a crafter of plot, however, he has some distance to go (which is why I was curious about whether he had done the MFA).

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
[Finished 26 June 2007] This is one of those stories which has lost its impact through its familiarity. Unlike, say, Frankenstein where the core of the novel is missed somewhat in the Universal monster movie version, there isn’t the same sort of depth to this story. It’s more the novelty of the story which makes the novel noteworthy. In fact, the structure of the story is such that most of the story consists of prologue, setting up a mystery about Jekyll and Hyde that perhaps would have been more compelling if a century or so of popular culture hadn’t spoiled the great twist that made the final two chapters so compelling to the novel’s original readers.

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
[Finished 20 June 2007] Let me begin by complaining about the Barnes and Noble edition of this book which I checked out of the library. The book is a perpetrator of “insult-your-intelligence footnotes.” Do we really need a footnote telling us that a row is a disruptive argument? Worse still are the missing-the-point footnotes. If someone doesn’t know what it means to be between Scylla and Charybdis, will telling them about Scylla and Charybdis without explaining the metaphor really help them? I’m sorry, but readers should be encouraged to pick up a dictionary from time to time. Lord help us if B&N ever decides to put out an edition of anything by Anthony Burgess.

This is a surprisingly political work for Trollope. Perhaps my view of Trollope is excessively colored by my reading of the Barsetshire Chronicles, but I found this to be something almost more like what I’d expect from Dickens than from Trollope. And while it’s a surprising choice to represent Trollope for the Guardian’s top 100 (it’s number 26), I’m glad for the unorthodox choice as I might not have read this book otherwise.

Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade
[Finished 16 June 2007] A fascinating book. Wade, a science writer for the New York Times, gives a pretty good overview of what science has been able to learn from DNA sequencing. By examing things like the variations in mitochondrial DNA (revealing the matrilineal heritage) and the Y-chromosome (revealing the patrilineal heritage), it’s possible to do things like find the spread of humanity from our ancestral homeland in East Africa throughout the world. What’s more, by making inferences from the rate of mutation in the DNA, it’s also possible to date the spread of humans into each part of the world, correlating that from geological history and fossil evidence to get some sense of prehistoric anthropology that was not previously accessible.

My only complaint about the book is Wade’s willingness--eagerness even--to accept as fact theories on the edge of acceptibility. Science tends to be inherently conservative, much to the consternation of science journalists who are looking for a big story, not an incremental advance in knowledge, and while it’s not difficult to find cases where the radical theorist was correct, it’s also easy to forget about all the cases where the radical theorist was completely off base.

A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene
[Finished 16 June 2007] As part of my re-reading of Greene, there’s always the moments of re-evaluation. When I had first read A Gun for Sale I was happy to put it aside as a minor and forgettable work. Coming back to it again almost twenty years later, it’s remarkable how gripping the narrative is. Greene’s ability to conjure the paranoia of Raven’s world as the police close in on him while he closes in on Cholmondely/Davis makes the book compelling. There are still some parts of the narrative which don’t quite work for me, including the entirety of the last chapter which seems to be a fair amount of anti-climax, but I had previously marked the beginning of the mature Greene with Brighton Rock, but I think that I would move that up and claim that this was the first of Greene’s mature work.

A Smile in the Mind by Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart
[Finished 12 June 2007] A large number of design books tend to be large collections of pictures with little or no commentary. Since designers are often not particularly verbal people, this isn’t too surprising, but it also shouuldn’t be surprising when such a book ends up being used as a source of rip-offs “inspiration” by lesser designers whose work ends up looking suspiciously like the exemplars put forth in the picture collection.

This book, which treats the concept of “wit” in design manages to strike a decent balance between pictures and words. Yes, a large section of the book is a garden-variety picture collection, but the first part is an interesting essay on just what constitutes wit in the world of design (although it is perilously under-illustrated!). The last section, similarly, is a collection of interviews with designers on the topic of “how I got the idea.” Of course, designers being the non-verbal bunch that they are, this is often a bit hit or miss, with the misses outweighing the hits (although it was nice to see at least one designer open with a forthright, “beats me!”).

The examples, not surprisingly, given the nationalities of the co-authors, are overwhelmingly British, and one co-author’s design firm is perhaps a bit over-represented in its pages, but there’s also a good collection of historical examplars as well. In all, the end product is one of the better design book which I’ve encountered.

(And as an aside, it occurs to me that this is a review I could never have allowed myself to run on the pages of Serif, and it also strikes at the heart of the problem with that magazine, in that it tended to want to focus on words rather than pictures.)

Prague 1900: Poetry and Ecstasy edited by Edwin Becker, Roman Prahl and Peter Wittlich
[Finished 8 June 2007] So I’m writing a novel set in Prague in 1900 and I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a book about Prague in 1900.

Then I find this book.

It’s not exactly what I was looking for, with its focus primarily on the arts of the period, but there were a few historical photos and paintings worth the price of admission (which was free since I found this book at the library), and I was able to get a bit more of the cultural zeitgeist than I had previously, which is always good. And I have the names of some artistic figures whose lives and work may reveal a bit more of what I’m attempting to learn.

Journey Without Maps by Graham Greene
[Finished 6 June 2007] Having read Greene’s cousin’s account of this journey since the last time I read this book, my perspective is dramatically changed on Greene’s telling of the story. Most notably, Greene’s cousin is barely mentioned and Greene’s illness isn’t mentioned at all.

I remember being a bit bored with this when I first read it, and the impression remains that it’s not the most interesting of accounts. Most of the time in the bush is a rather monotonous account of interchangeable villages and squabbles with the carriers. Knowing that Greene was ill with fever for most of this time, explains a lot.

The most interesting parts of the story are the occasional ventures into autobiography which are mostly confined to the first part of the book. It’s this, rather than the details of the bush which make this worth reading at all.

Graham Greene: The Novelist by J. P. Kulshrestha
[Finished 30 May 2007] As an undergraduate, I had a major crisis of faith about what I was doing as an English major. It made sense to write literature. It made sense to do critical theory. But to do actual criticism seemed to me an empty and pointless act.

This is probably the most significant reason why I didn’t get a PhD in English.

Maybe it’s a consequence of a rejuvenation of my writing life over the last year, but I’m finding myself re-examining my English major years and thinking about them as something more than providing some solidarity with Garrison Keillor’s occasional jokes about being an English major.

Reading this book by Kulshrestha has actually made me come to appreciate the value of criticism. A big part of it, no doubt, is the clearly written text. As an Indian academic, he apparently feels no compunction to wrap his prose in a thick gauze of jargon. Or perhaps it’s a consequence of the clear writing style of his subject, but for the first time, I found myself really enjoying a work of criticism. And seeing how Kushrestha reads Greene, I felt more inspired in approaching my own writing. I suppose it would be possible to think of it derisively as “writing for critics,” but it’s really a case of writing for discerning readers. A good work of criticism, I think, is precisely that: A discerning act of reading set down on paper. It almost makes me want to teach a freshman rhetoric class.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
[Finished 27 May 2007] Interesting: While pulling up the ISBN for this book from Amazon, I discovered that this was an Oprah’s book club pick.

I haven’t read any other Tolstoy before I started this book, so I don’t have much point of comparison, but this translation (by Pevear and Volokhonsky) seems to have managed to convey the sheer poetry of Tolstoy’s writing (or is it that they’ve added it where it hadn’t previously been?).

There were some stretches of the book where I was a bit lost in the minutiae of nineteenth century Russian society and the footnotes provided didn’t always provide the kind of background that I wanted to have, but in all it was a wonderful read.

And as an added bonus, the book features one of the rare literary uses of my favorite word, “wertherian.”

The King of Comedy by Shawn Levy
[Finished 26 May 2007] I heard about this book while listening to MacBreak Weekly and decided to pick it up at the library and read it. This would be my first entertainment-industry book, I suppose, as I had to create new categories in the database for it.

Usually in a biography, the most interesting part is the childhood and adolescence, but in the case of Lewis’s life, I found the early years of his life to be painfully dull. It wasn’t until we got to the development of his primary character, “The Kid,” while he was partnered with Dean Martin that his life began to become fascinating and even more interesting were some of the aspects of Lewis’s personal life.

As a kid who grew up watching Lewis on the MDA telethon every Labor Day weekend along with his movies playing on weekend matinees on the local UHF stations, it was fascinating to learn more about his life. I realized after reading this that I really don’t have many strong memories of his “golden age” films, although I do remember seeing “Hardly Working” in the theatre and being quite impressed by his performance in the Scorsesi film from which this book takes its title.

England Made Me by Graham Greene
[Finished 23 May 2007] This is, to me, the first book in which we get a look at “Greeneland,” that seedy perspective on the world which is, to some readers, the distinctive mark of Greene’s writing.

The interplay between our central characters here is the essential aspect of the story made by Anthony Farrant with his habitual lies and string of casual failures in his past, none of which he attributes to his own shortcomings and his interactions with Minty, the shabby journalist living primarily on his remittances from home with dark secrets of his own in his past and a spider captured under his toothglass (that spider is perhaps one of the greatest images in the early Greene).

The characters of Kate and Krogh are less clearly drawn and some experiments in stream-of-consciousness in the early chapters show a novelist still feeling his way to his voice, but this is very much the beginning of the mature Greene.

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights by Ariel Gore
[Finished 18 May 2007] OK, here’s an example of why a good title makes a difference. I wouldn’t have picked up this book if it weren’t for the title.

The actual advice is largely pedestrian and some of the interviews seem more like padding than anything else. What I was most interested in was seeing what she had to say about career-building moves and guerilla marketing tactics. Some of her advice sounds good (like her emphasis on doing things like readings to get your name out there), but I’m not really buying her enthusiasm for self-publishing. The analogy to indie music is made more than once, but it’s worth noting that even those major label artists who have made some moves back into the independent world (I’m thinking of Robert Fripp in particular) tend to still release their “big” stuff on the major labels.

The anthology whore advice, on the other hand, is something that I’d not heard previously and is by far the most striking single item that I hadn’t previously considered.

The Republic by Plato
[Finished 11 May 2007] As I started reading this, I found myself wondering why I’m reading Plato at this stage of my life. I’m thinking that reading philosophy is, in a lot of ways, a game for younger people.

But to revisit Plato at a remove of more than a decade since I’d last read him and two decades since I first read him is an interesting experience. My initial impression of Plato was that he was an asshole. I strongly objected to his views on democracy and on fiction. Coming back to him older and wiser, I still object to his artistic views, but having lived through six+ years of Bush II, his ideas about democracy have a bit stronger of a resonance. I can see in his writing also some of the origins of the Catholic concept of vocation, something which has become an almost unconscious assumption in my own worldview.

That said, the Republic is a somewhat overmined source of ideas, and it didn’t necessarily seem worth spending a week on it.

This translation, though, is rather nice. The short summaries and commentaries which lead into each chapter are handy for providing a quick roadmap, and the occasional footnotes discussing some of the background in ideas or reasoning behind translation choices is also quite good. If you’re going to read the Republic, this is probably the translation to use.

The Perfect $100,000 House by Karrie Jacobs
[Finished 4 May 2007] It sounds like a great concept: An architecture writer with $100,000 in the house sets out to see what she can buy for that money somewhere in America. And the first chapter, where she goes to “architecture camp” in Vermont sets us up for something promising.

But the promise isn’t fulfilled because for a book like this which is as much travelogue as reporting requires that we have a guide that we enjoy spending the trip with, and Jacobs is that most obnoxious sort of New Yorker: No place is good enough because it just isn’t New York. The other cities in America, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, are just places to get through on the way to another rural area which will be dismissed because it’s just some remote area where there aren’t enough hip people (or too many hip people) for it to be comfortably similar to living in Manhattan.

Worse still, in a book about architecture, there is one essential ingredient which is painfully absent. PICTURES. I’m sorry Ms Jacobs, but your prose is not sufficient to convey the feel of the homes you describe without abundant illustration to accompany them. Instead we’re treated to one(!) illustration per chapter, which often isn’t even the most interesting-sounding building from the chapter.

It's a Battlefield by Graham Greene
[Finished 2 May 2007] There’s a long period of mostly forgotten novels in Graham Greene’s output during the thirties. I’ve read all of these once back when I was in college and not returned to them at all since.

The opening chapter of this book, It’s a Battlefield, is awfully slow and poorly drawn, but as the book develops, we begin to see some signs of the mature Greene, with a few beautifully-drawn interior monologues in the middle of the book. In all, it’s a weak book, but it shows the promise of what’s to come.

Will Warburton by George Gissing
[Finished 28 April 2007] Gissing is one of those pleasures that seem to be unknown to all but a select few, like Argentine films or the taco truck at Olympic and La Brea.

It’s been a while since I read Gissing, and I found myself pleasantly surprised when I picked up this book. The energy in the opening page sucked me in to the book, until I had finished it a couple days later. It’s not the best of the Gissing that I’ve read, with the plot unfolding almost as predictably as a Trollope novel, with the twist that Gissing’s version of a happy ending is a far cry from what was typical for a Victorian writer.

Stamboul Train by Graham Greene
[Finished 26 April 2007] This book marks the beginning of Greene’s mature period. At this point, Greene has abandoned historical fiction for something set contemporaneously. There are still some signs of his early idiosyncrisies in the writing and we’re still a few novels away from Greene as he would later become familiar (his trip to Mexico raised the importance of Catholicism in his writing).

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
[Finished 23 April 2007] This is, by far, one of the girliest books that I’ve ever read, and I have to admit that if it weren’t in my list of the top 100 novels of all time, I would never have picked it up.

The girliness of the book declines a bit from the opening chapter, but it pervades it still. Clearly, when Alcott set out to write a book for girls, she succeeded. In all, the book is well-written, if a bit sentimental for my tastes.

A History of the English Church in the Sixteenth Century from Henry VIII to Mary by James Gairdner
[Finished 23 April 2007] Yet more leftover research books from my undergrad thesis (you’d think that nearly two decades later, I’d have finished these). At this point, the nominal topic of the book is not especially the most interesting point to me. I’ve read enough religious histories of the period that I’m really not learning anything new about the time. Instead, what I find interesting is trying to tease out exactly what perspective the author is writing from.

At first, I imagined that it was a typically Anglo-Catholic position, asserting that the church founded by Henry VIII was the same church as existed previously in England, but as I continued reading, I was struck by the harsh stance the author took towards Henry’s innovations, and his general disdain for the protestants. At the same time, however, the book lacks the tendency to whitewash the Catholic actions of the period common to most Catholic-written histories of its time (it was first published in 1902), almost lends it the more objective tone common to the late twentieth century. In the end, I’m left with a book more fascinating as a study of the history of history-writing than as a study of the history being written about.

The New Testament for Spiritual Reading: The Epistle to the Philippians, The Epistle to the Colossians edited by John L. McKenzie
[Finished 2 April 2007] This was one of a pair of books that I was given by a friend who found them in a library book sale. I was a bit surprised to see that it’s been 12 years since I read the other book from the pair, although my overall impression is the same: They’re largely forgettable Catholic interpretations of the New Testament. There were a few bits where I found the commentary stretching a bit to be orthodox without providing sufficient justification (say citations of other biblical texts or patristic writing) to support the stretches. There were a smaller number of intriguing readings of the text, but nothing which grabbed me.

The Episcopal Church and Its Work by P. M. Dawley
[Finished 30 March 2007] A book I bought in a bout of not terribly selective research buying for my undergrad thesis. In this case, I bought something which would have been completely useless had I taken the time to read it.

It’s an interesting read, less for what it says about the contemporary Episcopal church than for its being a snapshot of a time in intellectual history. Dawley writes from a perspective of unquestioningly assuming the rightness of the Episcopalian position, something which the intellectual upheavals of the last half of the twentieth century make a more difficult position to take for most writers (only the fundamentalists of whatever stripe are still able to do this).

The snapshot of the church at the time of its writing (my copy dates from 1955) is interesting from a historical perspective, and contains a few interesting surprises, most notably that social conservatism was considered to naturally be in opposition to Christian values, something which has been lost as anti-abortion stances, social conservatism and Christian stands have managed to be conflated into a single thing in too many peoples’ minds.

Marriage as a Path to Holiness: Lives of Married Saints by David and Mary Ford
[Finished 26 March 2007] I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find that a book with this title is written from the Orthodox perspective rather than the Catholic one. The Catholic tradition recognizes very few married saints, mostly couples who decide to live together chastely (or as this book puts it, “as brother and sister”).

Since the Orthodox tradition allows for married clergy, and clergy and religious tend to be disproportionately represented in the canon of Saints, it’s not too surprising that there would be a larger number of married people in the Orthodox canon.

The introduction to the book is perhaps the most interesting part, with a good explanation of the Orthodox understanding of the sacrament of marriage. The lives of the saints themselves, on the other hand, are somewhat less interesting. As mentioned earlier, there are a large number of those who lived together as brother and sister, along with a number of married priests of note (for example, the Russian priest who lead the evangelization efforts in Russian Alaska). A bit more disappointing are the national heroes named as saints. The erastian nature of Orthodoxy leads to such oddities as naming the founders or early defenders of various countries as saints, a decision which is difficult to defend on the basis of the lives as presented here.

Perhaps the most interesting story had a wife encouraging her husband on his way to martyrdom.

But in the end, I found that the lives of the saints did not really meet the title of the book, showing marriage as a path to holiness. There were really few if any cases where the fact that saints were married had anything to do with their holiness.

Agile Web Development with Rails by Dave Thomas and David Heinemeier Hansson
[Finished 23 March 2007] I’ve come to appreciate the value of a good framework in application development. Yes, it sometimes forces me to set things up in a way that seems a bit unnatural, but the benefits of scaffolding and MVC-architecture by far outweight that difficulty.

Ruby feels much like the programming language that I’ve been looking for, with a clean dynamically-typed object model and mostly well-conceived language structures. The big difficulty I’ve found is that there isn’t any good single resource for Ruby/Rails programming. This book provides a decent overview, but the current practice in programming books to build the bulk of the text around the construction of a sample application doesn’t really fit the way that I like to learn a language: I want to get into my own project and the needs of the sample project and my own code generally split apart pretty quickly. I’ll doubtless come to appreciate the value of this book over time, much as I grew to love the llama book, but for now, I find myself wishing that it was more of a reference than a tutorial.

And I would add that I do feel that I can trust the Pragmatic Programmers series of books for future purchases, regardless of my reservations about this volume.

Ephesians 4-6 by Markus Barth
[Finished 15 March 2007] The last of the unread volumes in my Anchor Bible collection. This one is written by a theologian, so it as much less of a focus on the minutiae of the language and is more focused on the interpreation, but Markus Barth, the son of famed theologian Karl Barth, writes from a polemical low-church Calvinist position. I think that it would have been more interesting to read what a Catholic theologian had to say on the material on ecclesiology, or, when we get to the part about women being subject to their husbands, perhaps a liberal feminist theologian. It’s an interesting read, but not especially remarkable in the corpus of works that make up the Anchor Bible.

Anglicanism and the Christian Church by Paul Avis
[Finished 4 March 2007] I picked this up as an undergrad thinking that I should counterbalance the Catholic perspectives on the English reformation that were my primary source of religious history.

Reading this (at last) I find that the arguments presented are a bit unconvincing and rather a prioristic: Avis has a motivation to justify the status quo in the Anglican church, and he does what he can to do so, trying to make the case that the post-Henrician church did not represent a break with the pre-Henrician church, all while trying to also make a case for the validity of the more protestant expressions of the church. There’s some interesting history included (including an awful lot on Coleridge’s theological writing, of which I had not previously been aware), but in the end it was not a book I found particularly interesting or useful.

Rumour at Nightfall by Graham Greene
[Finished 23 February 2007] This is Greene’s third novel, withdrawn after the first edition went out of print. I stumbled across a copy in a bookshop in Victoria, British Columbia at a ridiculously low price (I suspect the bookseller had no idea what he had).

The novel is set in Spain in the ending days of the Carlist uprising and represents Greene’s last foray into historical fiction. Familiar themes of religion and betrayal are present here, but Greene’s sense of Catholicism is still somewhat immature, especially compared to later works, and he still writes of Catholicism from the perspective of an outsider. An interesting read for the sake of seeing the origins of Greene’s work, but not worth the price that copies generally sell for in the used market these days.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
[Finished 16 February 2007] Another book in my project to read the top 100 novels of all time. It’s an interesting experiment in shifting narrators, although not as adventurous as that might seem at first glance (the shifts in narration are made too much a concern of the narration, I think). The story drags in places and certainly represents a Victorian sensibility which appealed to me much more when I was younger than it does now.

I have to admit some disappointment in the central mystery of the story. It ended up being somewhat inconsequential and was resolved in a completely unsatisfactory manner, with the narrative continuing on in a way that would seem unnecessary in modern fiction. All told, an interesting work, but one whose interest is as much for its position in literary history as for any intrinsic merits.

Pimsleur Basic Czech
[Finished 6 February 2007] My first audiobook. In this case, it’s something which really can only be presented in audiobook format: Language lessons.

And I have to admit, that I like the Pimsleur format. The pacing is generally pretty slow (although lessons six and ten were both a bit fast compared to the rest of the ten-lesson set), and plenty of repetition means that as long as you’re consistent about doing at least two lessons a week, you don’t generally need to repeat lessons to get the learning from them (although I’ve let the lessons repeat into my iTunes playlist).

I’m not sure if I’m reading things into the conversations that aren’t there, but it seems like lesson nine has our male speaker trying to hit on the female speaker and getting shot down pretty badly. I always enjoy unexpected dialogues in languge learning materials.

But I’m not going to take their offer of a $50 discount on the comprehensive Czech CD set. There are two problems with this set. The first is that the lack of printed materials is a bit disorienting for me. I’m really a visual learner and not being able to see the words has been problematic for me. But even more of a problem is that the pronounciation on the CDs is bad. The male speaker has a tendency to add syllables to the ends of words that just don’t exist (I’ve checked with my father who speaks Czech on this). So whenever the male speaker on the CD says, e.g., “dobry den” it comes out as “dobry deno.” This is completely unacceptable for an audio-learning program. There are also other places where the pronounciation is unclear so, while it was a good introduction to the language, my further studies will be using more traditional paper methods. It’s a pity because it was a nice way to spend my walk home from work.

Time and Again by Jack Finney
[Finished 4 February 2007] During an interview with Audrey Niffenegger, she mentioned this book as one of her favorite time travel novels, so I decided to give it a read. I have to say that I’m not that impressed. The illustrated novel part of things is almost nice, but it seems that the use of found artwork is rather grating pretty quickly. The frequent insistence that the narrator was drawing things in the style of the time seemed more crutch than a benefit: Why not re-draw the illustrations for the book? It would make for a huge improvement over what’s there.

The writing itself was also a bit disappointing. There were some rather transparent devices in the writing (it’s not the author being melodramatic, it’s the characters, cause that’s the way people talked back then), and the pacing was a bit off, and the differences in social mores between the 1970s and the 1880s was poorly handled. There was also a strong sense of, “I did all this research for my novel and damnit, I’m going to put it all into the book.”

But there were some nice parts too: The means by which time travel was effected, for example, was brilliantly conceived: A bit of setting up props combined with self-hypnosis and boom, you’ve walked outside into the wrong year, and the ending was a nice one (although the ambiguity was spoiled by the postscript on the sources for illustrations).

Looking at the Amazon reviews, his sequel seems to emphasize all the things that I disliked about this book with little of what I liked.

A Series of Unfortunate Events 6: The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket
[Finished 1 February 2007] We’re starting to see a lot more continuity here in the books, we’ve moved from episodes to a story arc. A few more hints about Lemony Snicket and Beatrice are in the narrative, and our narrator becomes more of a character. It’s a difficult feat to pull off, but one that works well here. Count Olaf’s plot is a bit more finely drawn as well, leaving me the sense that there’s much less a sense of “it’s just a children’s book” in planning out the story. The connections that are drawn are also a bit more involved, leaving me to eagerly await my start on the next book in the series.

The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman
[Finished 27 January 2007] This is another one of the blog-recommended writing books that I picked up at the library. The tone and style is very different from the first. Instead of writing in short bites (each “reason” in the Walsh book was 1-3 pages, here we’re treated to 19 in-depth chapters), and the perspective is much more geared towards what’s wrong with the stuff in the slush pile. What I read here fell a lot less into the “gee, I already knew that” category, and a lot more into “this is something that I think I’m good about, but I should look for it when I’m revising my work.”

Another nice feature is the inclusion of exercises at the end of each chapter, things to look at in your manuscript and find ways to improve the text.

Less useful, for me at least, are some of his examples of the faults at work. They felt far too contrived and it would have been nice to see actual slushpile examples rather than the obviously fake (and, I would hope, extreme) cases that show up in the book.

But all told, this is an excellent book. I read both writing books in library copies, but this one, I think I’m going to buy.

The Man Within by Graham Greene
[Finished 24 January 2007] After finishing the last volume of Norman Sherry’s bio of Graham Greene, I decided that it was time to go back and re-read all of Greene’s work (or in the case of the essays, read it for the first time). When the first volume of the Sherry biography came out, I started driving to every book store in Chicago until I had nearly all of Greene’s novels, and I read (or re-read) nearly everything Greene had written during the summer of 1989. Much of this, I haven’t looked at since.

So starting at the beginning, I’m faced with Greene’s first published novel (two earlier attempts were never published). I remember finding the work a bit opaque when I first read it, and coming back to it, I think some of that is due to the lack of any context of when the story is set. I know enough now to place it in the 19th century, marking it as historical fiction, a genre which Greene avoided in his later writing. In the preface to the Penguin edition which I read, Greene criticizes the book for its romanticism, and this is certainly a problem with the book. Re-reading it with a critical eye, I’m struck by the many failures of description which occur throughout the book, either with scenes being over-written, or Greene failing to give the reader a sense of place.

The characters of the protagonist Andrews and the father figure, Carlyon, who he portrays are well-drawn, although the relationship between Andrews and his father almost feels clichéd, and Elizabeth is little more than a cardboard cut-out of a character for Greene to hang plot points upon. Even the prostitute in Lewes is better-drawn than her.

In all, the book is primarily of historical interest in seeing the origins of one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published & 14 Reasons Why It Might by Pat Walsh
[Finished 22 January 2007] On one of the literary agent blogs I’ve been reading, there was a list of recommended books on writing. Since I’ve never actually read a book on writing, not even what they passed out in junior high about grammar, I decided that maybe it’d be worth checking these out, since they did come with a personal recommendation.

This book is written by an editor at a small publisher, and covers a wide variety of sins committed by would-be authors. Only a small portion of these are about the writing itself, much of it being more a guide to etiquette and protocol in shopping one’s finished book around. I kind of feel proud of myself that there was little that I didn’t already know, courtesy of such luminaries as Miss Snark, and Jenny Rappaport, but the style is light and engaging and is a lot faster than reading agent blogs for a few months. It does encourage me to know that just by writing at a level of competence, I’m already in the 90th percentile of submissions (alas, it takes being in the 99th percentile of that group to actually get accepted).

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter
[Finished 18 January 2007] I was curious to hear what Jimmy Carter had to say about the Palestine-Israel matter, especially in the wake of the controversies which followed the publication of his newest book. Was Carter really presenting an unbalanced view of matters in Israel?

Having finished the book, I think that the answer is that he’s probably not being unfair in his assessment of the situation. I think that one could make a case for unbalanced, but unbalanced is not the same as unfair. A balanced view of global warming or evolution, for example, would not be appropriate since one side is clearly in the wrong on the matter.

In the case of Israel, there is nothing in Carter’s book that contradicts the reporting from the area that I’ve read previously. There have been some facts that I was not aware of (for example, the Israeli security fence is entirely within Palestinian territory).

The history of the conflict that Carter provides is essential reading for anyone interested in knowing the background of the situation.

The only sustainable solution to the Palestinian question has been known for almost four decades: Israel needs to withdraw to its 1967 boundaries. Israel’s claim to any foreign occupation only provides justification for continued attacks upon Israel.

The Algebraist by Iain Banks
[Finished 12 January 2007] I first spotted this book at Border’s in Santa Monica on one of the tables near the entrance. The title caught my attention since, at the time, I was an algebraist of sorts. Fast forward to the end of the year and I spotted the title in someone’s best of 2006 list, and I need to add something to an amazon order to get free shipping, but because I don’t know what might have been bought from my wishlist for Christmas, I can’t just pick something from there so I order this one.

The story starts out slow and a bit disjointed. While Banks does eventually tie everything together in the end, the first third of the book was still just not that gripping. The best parts, to me, were the descriptions of Dweller society, and I found myself wishing for 300 pages of that in preference to some of the other description which was presented. Add in a badly-written back cover blurb (which only really makes sense after you’ve read half the book) and it’s something that I might not have read otherwise. Banks does a good job of world-creating, but not so much a good job of storytelling. It’s not a bad book, but it wouldn’t make my best reads of 2006 list.

"Say Cheesy" by Darby Conley
[Finished 3 January 2007] This is one of the better collections of Get Fuzzy cartoons. The first dozen pages or so, especially, were full of laugh-out-loud moments, and unlike Blueprint for Disaster, there are no long stretches of clunker strips. Definitely a must-have Get Fuzzy collection.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
[Finished 31 December 2006] This is a classic case of changing tastes leading to a “great” work falling a bit flat. The intrusive narrator here is more annoying than entertaining, and the underlying social views (the headstrong Becky Sharp ends up being a mostly unsympathetic character while the docile Amelia Sedley is rewarded at the end). There are some great character creations, and I can see that Thackeray clearly influenced other authors (I can see elements of him in Trollope), but it hardly seems worth nearly 1000 pages of prose.

Tales of the Little Quarter by Jan Neruda
[Finished 30 December 2006] More research reading. The details of life in Prague, albeit a bit earlier than the period of which I’m writing about are invaluable, but the writing itself is wonderful as well. No wonder Pablo Neruda took his nom de plume from Jan. It’s a light touch, difficult to do well, but when it is done well, it is a beautiful thing. This is that style of writing, an intrusive narrator, done very well. Only a handful of the stories are a true first-person narrative, but “I” is present throughout.

The Life of Graham Greene, Volume III: 1955-1991 by Norman Sherry
[Finished 28 December 2006] At long last, I read the final volume of Norman Sherry’s biography of Graham Greene. I find myself a little disappointed to discover that it lacks the promised complete bibliography of Greene’s works (only the works actually mentioned in the book are included, and Sherry does not even mention two of Greene’s late novels, The Tenth Man and Doctor Fischer of Geneva.

After the depth of volume II, this volume seems a bit slight. Only the chapter on Greene’s religious beliefs near the end of his life seems to provide any insight. And even then, we’re given little insight into Greene’s opinion on the changes in the church after Vatican II (although there is some hint of his view in Monsignor Quixote. Otherwise, it seems that we are faced with an endless game of “on whom did Greene base this character?” as well as the intrusive presence of Sherry himself. My last complaint would be Sherry’s frequent abandonment of chronological narration throughout this volume. Some retrospective views are appropriate, but there are places where it appears that the pages of the manuscript had been shuffled and never returned to their original order before publication.

But reading this volume also leaves me eager to revisit Greene’s works, many of which I haven’t read since I was in college and reading the first volume of Sherry’s biography.

Cuentos de Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
[Finished 27 December 2006] Efforts to enhance my Spanish vocabulary. I still need a dictionary to get through any given story (and often any given page), but my ability to read Spanish, at least, is developing well. If only my ability to understand spoken Spanish were proceeding equally well.

Seminary Boy: A Memoir by John Cornwell
[Finished 26 December 2006] Another research book. One nice thing about Catholicism before Vatican II is that things tended to be somewhat static and unchangeable, so an account of a minor seminary in 1950s England is useful in understanding life in the minor seminary in Prague in 1900.

It was somewhat amusing to discover that their was interplay between this memoir and the biography of Graham Greene that I was reading at the same time.

From Good King Wenceslas to the Good Soldier Svejk: A Dictionary of Czech Popular Culture edited by Andrew Lawrence Roberts
[Finished 23 December 2006] I picked this up as research on my current novel, although as the author pointed out to me in an e-mail after I’d ordered it, it tells me more about how contemporary Czechs view things than providing the kind of historical background that I needed. But even so, given the conservative nature of Czech tastes (for example, the Czech diet remains largely unchanged even after the transition from Hapsburg dependency to republic to communism to the current state of affairs). Even just for some pointers on some of the names and locations of some chief landmarks, it has been invaluable. The compilation of pop culture is also, for its own sake, a significant work.

Ask the Dust by John Fante
[Finished 21 December 2006] Palm tree. Palm tree. Palm tree. This is largely held up as the great Los Angeles novel. The plot, such as it is, is not especially good, and the characters of Arturo and Camilla are too annoying to hold much sympathy, but the writing--wow! There is a film of this book, but I have to wonder what the point is (I suppose I’ll find out when it pops up to the top of my netflix queue). This is a book in which the language of the narration is everything, and the characters and plot are more there to provide a raison d’etre for the writing. But even while the characters are not sympathetic, they manage to remain compelling. I still find myself thinking about Arturo telling Camilla to abandon her huaraches for proper shoes, then regretting his command after seeing her change for him.

A Series of Unfortunate Events 5: The Austere Academy by Lemony Snickett
[Finished 17 December 2006] The schtick which sustained the first four volumes of the Series of Unfortunate Events has largely run its course, so Snickett has been forced into changing the formula a bit here. Of course, the Baudelaires have learned, the adults are of no help in dealing with the dangers of Count Olaf, so they find themselves helped instead by a pair of triplets. Most of the other characters in the book continue to be two-dimensional, but some further insights into the narrator and his beloved Beatrice are hinted at, and the series begins to transition from loosely connected discrete tales to more of a genuine story arc.

The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power by James Traub
[Finished 4 December 2006] I first heard about this book during an interview of James Traub on Fresh Air, so I decided to request it from the library. The interview turned out to be a bit more interesting than the book, largely a consequence of Traub’s writing style: The book reads as if it is a book-length newspaper article. Traub doesn’t provide many inessential details, a failing that reveals how essential the inessentials are.

The tale that Traub tells is an interesting account of recent history, largely focusing on the last decade. What I found most striking here is the contrast between the original hopes for the U.N. (FDR viewed it as a continuation of the alliance that won World War II), and the body which seems incapable of doing anything substantive, largely because of the unwillingness of the member states to take action. The Bush years have been hard on the U.N., but they’re to a certain extent a continuation of the US’s ambivalent relationship with the U.N. As someone who was raised on idealistic internationalism (not to mention eight years of Model U.N. in High School and College), it’s a tough pill to swallow when looking at how the world community has let the U.N. turn things into such a bad situation. I almost wonder if a new body needs to be created, one which is closer to a United States of Earth model (similar to how the original articles of confederation of the US gave way to the constitution). Perhaps using economic cooperation as the bait to get states to guarantee basic rights to their citizens and to yield the necessary level of sovereignity to this global body to make it truly workable.

Sybil, or The Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli
[Finished 24 November 2006] This is a book which was on my to-read list since it was mentioned by one of my professors in college. I was expecting a typical victorian novel of manners, an accounting of life among the upper classes. So I wasn’t expecting the sudden appearance of working class Catholics in the narrative very close to the beginning of the story. The subtitle of the novel suddenly becomes much clearer. What particularly intrigued me after reading this was to look up Disraeli’s biography and find that he was a founding member of the Conservative party in England. Apparently “Conservative” had very different meanings then than it does now.

Perl Best Practices by Damian Conway
[Finished 13 November 2006] After reading Damian Conway’s excellent Object-Oriented Perl and hearing about this book, I of course let amazon take some of my money so that I could read this one. It’s a solid book with absolutely no filler in its 500+ pages. There are some sections which could do with a bit less explication of the low level section (I’m thinking in particular the advice to use Inside Out objects, which would have been better to start with explaining how to work with Class::Std or Object::InsideOut rather than going into details about how to do by hand things which are better handled by the appropriate CPAN module). And there are some bits of advice that I disagree with entirely (for example, Conway’s deprecation of protected access to data which he might think is an idea which is best forgotten, but I find is, at least at times, a very useful way for parent and child classes to communicate). But even if you disagree with some of the practices, it provokes the programmer into contemplating that aspect of coding. No perl programmer can read this without coming out at the back a better programmer. And many of the ideas are rather language agnostic and could be applied to coding practice for other languages as well.

Czech and Slovak Short Stories edited by Jeanne Nemcova
[Finished 11 November 2006] Part of my research for my current novel, I continue to be frustrated at the difficulties in finding accounts of Prague life before World War I. Much of what I’d like to read has not been translated into English, so I read whatever I can find.

Perhaps it’s my goal-oriented reading, but I found the older stories in this collection to be the most satisfying. The only one of the post WWII stories that I loved was Josef Nesvadba’s “Mordair,” a wonderfully dark and surreal tale. On the other hand, I simply adored most of the early stories, whether it was Neruda, Herrmann, Rais, Hasek, Capek or any of countless others. I do think that I will definitely pick up some of the other Capek stuff which has been translated into English.

The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy
[Finished 5 November 2006] One of Thomas Hardy’s lesser works, but still a fun read. I continue to marvel at how long a shaadow Napoleon cast over nineteenth century literature (in fact, it seems that nearly every nineteenth century novel that I’ve read recently has made reference to Napoleon.

The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk, Book One by Jaroslav Hasek
[Finished 30 October 2006] I first heard of this book (and this translation) from an article in the Chicago Reader. Shortly afterwards I bought it from amazon, but it took a few years (and the writing of a novel set in Prague a couple decades earlier) for me to actually read it. I can’t compare it to the earlier translations of Hasek’s work, but it is a fun read and the humor comes across quite well. I eagerly await the publication of the three remaining volumes. The translation of book two is apparently complete and books three and four are near completion so we may see them soon.

Foundations of Ajax by Ryan Asleson and Nathaniel T. Schutta
[Finished 24 October 2006] Part of what attracted me to this book when I picked it up was the fact that it had screenshots of Safari and Firefox from a Mac. Great, someone writing about web development who knows that there are browsers other than Internet Explorer under Windows.

The exposition is pretty decent, although as with too many computer books (I think I’m ready to give up on Apress books already), there’s a lot more padding than content here. What’s worse, what seems to me the best approach to dealing with Ajax having finished my first project where I used it, is to have some sort of Framework, a possibility which isn’t even mentioned until the end of the book, and that in passing. The appendix on browser issues, is helpful and not something I was able to find in the web (I wish I’d finished reading the book before I started the Ajax project since I really needed that info many times). The index is woefully incomplete especially when you’re looking up information on particular Javascript properties.

In all, a decent, but not spectacular book. I think what I really want is something which is geared around the use of some Ajax framework (or perhaps more than one) and which deals with the ugly details of how to do the job in an appendix. And much shorter code snippets between explication. Four-page listings of HTML/JavaScript make my eyes glaze over. Having typographically indistinct Java code as well makes things just that much more complicated.

English Literature in the 16th Century by C. S. Lewis
[Finished 21 October 2006] The fact that this book is out of print and likely only available in libraries or select private collections (like mine) is, I think, connected to my flame out as an English major as an undergrad. This book represents the kind of comprehensive look at literature that was pushed out of fashion by the various post-modernist movements in critical thinking. Lewis is able to give us a serious critique of 16th century poetry and prose (drama was covered in a different volume in the series) because he is familiar not just with the texts which he treats, but the historical, philosophical and religious contexts. The result is a remarkably erudite look at the literature of the time, informing the reader of contemporary perspectives on magic, religion and the role of literature itself. I bought this book as part of my undergrad thesis research, but didn’t read it at the time. I wish I had because it would have given me precisely the focus that I struggled with in my own critical writing, in particular Lewis’ division (not always neatly) of the writing of the period into “drab” and “golden” stylings with occasional glimpses into the beginnings of metaphysical and augustan styles and the occasional authors who were very much sui generis.

Applying UML and Patterns: An Introduction to Object-Oriented Analysis and Design by Craig Larman
[Finished 20 October 2006] A fairly quick read, I tackled this while re-entering the programming world. Parts of it are a bit frustrating, like some vagueness about some aspects of UML and what the components are, but the structure of the book, which looks at the life-cycle of a software development project does give a pretty decent introduction to both UML and design patterns, although it’s not especially useful as a reference to either.

The Black Sheep by Honore de Balzac
[Finished 18 October 2006] I first heard of Balzac when reading some advice for would-be novelists in Writers’ Marketplace while I was in college. It was something along the lines of don’t try to be like Dickens or Balzac. Dickens I knew, but Balzac was unknown to me, so I went to the bookstore, bought a second-hand Penguin paperback of The Black Sheep and put it on my bookcase where it remained for the next 17 years.

And now it comes back as number 12 on the list of the top 100 novels of all time.

The beginning of the novel is slow in the way that nineteenth century novels had the luxury of opening, but as it progresses, it becomes a fascinating story of Napoleon-haunted France at the beginning of the 19th century. I can clearly see how Balzac was held up as a model for writers alongside Dickens after reading this.

Vicar of Christ by Walter F. Murphy
[Finished 6 October 2006] Reading this book in “writer” mode, one of my first thoughts was that this was a novel written by someone who’s more an enthusiast than a writer. At over 600 pages, for one thing, the book is just too long and could have done with some serious pruning. And the narrative conceit, that each section of the book tells a non-overlapping part of the life of Declan Walsh, soldier-turned-chief-justice-turned-Pope, is more a distraction than a benefit to the narrative.

But as a page-turner, it does its job reasonably well, telling, as is typical with novels of fictional popes, a story more about the author than the papacy. I didn’t really need to look at the short bio on the back flap to see that Murphy was a soldier in Korea or a professor of constitutional law. And the novel tells me a lot more of Murphy’s tastes in women and politics than does the bio. There are some unique touches here, like a hint that Declan Walsh’s changes to the church meet with the approval of God, if not of the CIA or the curia, but also the usual cowardice in the conclusion (since this book, like all others of its genre, concludes with the untimely death of its pope) with its hints that, despite the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail, the gates of hell do indeed prevail in the end.

The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal
[Finished 29 September 2006] As I work through the top 100 novels (this is number thirteen), I sometimes find some that I don’t really relate to. This is probably the least exciting of the lot. Part of it is doubtless that this book is strongly in violation of one of the prime rules of contemporary fiction: “Show, don’t tell.” Much of the book is long sequences of just that. I am happy to have reached the end of the book.

Apache Cookbook by Ken Coar and Rich Bowen
[Finished 13 September 2006] I had high hopes for this book, which were quickly dashed once I started actually reading it. Much of the information is sparsely and incompletely presented (the latter especially perplexing given how thin this book is). A great deal of time is expended on explaining also how to get Apache running under Windows, a foolish prospect if there ever was one: The only reason to use Windows as a server is if you want some Windows-specific functionality which in turn implies IIS. A well-informed web administrator would run a proper server OS on their webserver.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
[Finished 11 September 2006] Continuing to read a fair amount of American history. The obvious and intriguing comparison is between Lincoln’s political history and handling of the Civil War and the current resident of the white house’s parallel circumstances. Especially since (per NPR this morning), the administration is busy trying to make the same comparison. But it’s worth noting that Lincoln’s stance was one of moderation and trying to reach out to others, as opposed to the current administrations tack of demonizing all who deviate from their viewpoint. Perhaps there is a comparison to be made, but Bush doesn’t play the role of Lincoln in that comparison.

The BFG by Roald Dahl
[Finished 27 August 2006] This is number 88 on the top 100 novels of all time. While I still would pick Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach to represent Roald Dahl’s output, this gave me an opportunity to dig a bit deeper into Dahl’s writing. Since it’s been many many years since I’ve read any other of his children’s novels (I did read a collection of the “adult” short stories when I was a college student), I can’t really make a direct comparison, but it was a fun light read. The playfulness of language is especially beautiful and the playful tone doesn’t keep Dahl from the dark aspects of his story (viz, people are eaten).

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
[Finished 23 August 2006] Every so often a book comes along that can radically change the way that you lead your life. For me this is one of those books. I first heard of Michael Pollan when he was interviewed on NPR’s Science Friday (if you don’t read the book, at least listen to the interview).

My wife and I generally make an effort to eat healthy foods, and whenever possible organics, but I hadn’t considered the implications of some of what’s happening in the industrial food chain in America. The realization that local food is probably more important than organic food, for example (the food that Americans eat travels an average of 1500 miles to get to their table). Or the thought that a huge percentage of what we eat has its origins as corn grown in Iowa (not just the obvious things like corn syrup, but most of the other ingredients that don’t sound like food on the label of your processed food come from corn). Add in that most of our meat is corn-fed now, whether or not that animal is designed to eat it and we have some serious recipes for disaster. The various e. coli outbreaks in the meat supply chain are a direct consequence of feeding beef cows corn (these sorts of infections are not an issue for grass-fed cows). This leads us to such abuses of the food chain like irradiated meat and the widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed which leads primarily to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

So what changes have been made? The big one is a stronger drive towards eating local foods. It’s a hard habit to break, especially when you walk into the supermarket in August and see stacks of gorgeous-looking Australian-grown oranges (although the high price should be a deterrent). Avoiding high fructose corn syrup means avoiding almost all processed foods which is a frightening prospect (take a look at the labels sometime: It’s in everything: Bread, lunch meat, soup, salad dressing...).

Living in L.A. we have access to a superabundance of farmer’s markets at least, although there seems to only be one Community Supported Agriculture farm that serves our area.

The first two sections of the book are definitely the best part. The hunter-gatherer meal, was less interesting to me, if only because I really don’t see myself willing to get so close to my food chain as to actually hunt my own wild meat (although my wife and I have contemplated the possibility that game meat might be the healthiest possible option, on second thought though, we just don’t eat that much meat to begin with).

Now to find the L.A.-area restaurants that use local foods...

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
[Finished 16 August 2006] My first exposure to The Count of Monte Cristo was through the passages in Huck Finn where Tom Sawyer refers to the book. Having read it, I can see how it could capture Tom’s imagination. This is a fun adventure story. There’s not a whole lot of depth to the story. For the most part, the bad guys are bad, the good guys are good and there is little shading in between, but the plot moves along in such a compelling way. This is the nineteenth century version of a great popcorn movie.

PHP 5 Objects, Patterns, and Practice by Matt Zandstra
[Finished 3 August 2006] Maybe it’s because I was reading this at the same time as Damian Conway’s excellent book on object-oriented Perl, but this came across as quite a bit less well-written. There’s much less information on object-orientation here, but a big part of that is the more mature object mechanism in PHP compared to the kludgy Perl5 object system.

There are a few chapters which seem to be padding as a consequence, although even as padding they do address some useful topics for good programming practice (PEAR, CVS and Phing).

Object Oriented Perl by Damian Conway
[Finished 31 July 2006] This is easily one of the best programming books that I’ve read. The tone is light but informative, and one of my favorite features of the book is that Conway ends each discussion with a reference for where to find out more: Sometimes it’s a book or article, sometimes a website, sometimes the perl documentation. The book covers, reasonably comprehensively, the ins and outs of object-oriented programming in perl. There are sections which are a bit out of date already (always a problem with a rapidly evolving language like Perl which was at 5.005 when Conway wrote the book, is 5.8.6 on my Mac, and Perl 6 is under way (one hopes with a bit more alacrity than the LaTeX 3 project).

Do I have any complaints about the book? None that I can think of. This is an essential for any perl programmer’s book shelf.

Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock
[Finished 26 July 2006] This has been one of the harder books to find in my project to read the top 100 books of all time: While the L.A. Public Library has several copies of the book, most are non-circulating, and the two circulating copies are not in the main stacks. I had to have a librarian fetch the book from the closed stacks.

And what did I get for the effort? A short, somewhat comic novella which seemed far from top 100 material to me.

The Trial by Franz Kafka
[Finished 21 July 2006] Kafka is one of those authors who suffers from being over-assigned by high school English teachers (although I managed to avoid having Kafka assigned to me for any class: The three Kafka novels I’ve read have been purely for my own enjoyment).

Unlike The Castle, The Trial manages to avoid easy allegorization. Instead it manages to be a fascinating story of disorientation and paranoia. The unfinished nature of the book, with a large appendix of deleted passages is a bit frustrating in that it forces the reader into being a bit of a textual critic on top of being a literary critic. My choice was to ignore the whole appendix as best as possible (the typographic indications of a deleted passage in the text, however, were a bit obtrusive).

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
[Finished 12 July 2006] A dangerous subject for a novel, and reading Nabokov’s afterword, it did have an impact on his attempts to find a publisher. But an incredible tour de force of novel-writing, at times reaching levels which can best be described as poetry, most notably the early description of nymphettes and later, the accounts of motels. The climax of the novel itself was somewhat less satisfying, but the whole was a masterpiece of prose.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
[Finished 7 July 2006] When Spark died earlier this year and I heard her obituary on NPR, I thought that she might be an author who would appeal greatly to me. After all, my favorite authors have been English Catholic writers (including Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh who apparently both mentored Spark). But I was left feeling a bit unsatisfied by this book: The narrative experiment is quite impressive, and, I think, successful, in creating a novel way to tell a story, but the story that she tells doesn’t seem that satisfying, nor are the characters ones that I felt much connection to. In the end, not a particularly satisfying read.

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
[Finished 30 June 2006] It’s not often that my reading material generates widespread commentary from strangers, but this book was one that did. Some of it was a consequence of the film that was made of the book, but Ellroy has a significant fan base in Los Angeles (not surprisngly).

While a long book, this was a rather quick read, with short chapters. The 50s slang made things a bit hard going at first, but I quickly adapted.

The plot is convoluted and I’m still not quite sure how everything fit together, and it makes me wish for the relative simplicity of the movie version of the story (which eliminates half the characters and sub-plots of the novel).

But even with the byzantine plotting, this is a great book and hard to put down.

Atonement by Ian McEwan
[Finished 27 June 2006] The first part of the book is brilliant, and the narrative device of the child/aspiring writer Brony Tallis is pure genius. But the second part of the book, focusing on the Battle of Dunkirk, and the latter sections of the book seem to lack the energy and vitality of the first part.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth
[Finished 21 June 2006] Part of my project to read the top 100 novels of all time (this one weighs in at #99).

One of the great lacunae in my reading is twentieth-century American authors, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I’d never read Philip Roth before. But after reading this book, I suspect that I very likely will return to Roth in the future. The narrative structure is amazing with its frequent shifts in time and non-linear sequencing. The narrator, who is a major character in the first section of the book has completely disappeared by the end of the book, which I suppose might be seen as a flaw although I find it an interesting choice on the part of the author.

Also interesting to me, more on a personal note than anything else, is that Roth is quite squarely in my parents’ generation, and parts of this book feel like they could have been written, if not by my dad, then by one of his high school classmates.

Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman
[Finished 20 June 2006] Whatever preconceptions I had when I picked up this book and what form it would take were nowhere near what the reality was.

The book is largely a narrative of discussions between scientists and the Dalai Lama about scientific and Buddhist perspectives on destructive emotions. This part of a continuing series of meetings/books. The discussions themselves were often a bit shallow, but hinted at some tantalizing deeper ideas and discoveries.

If that was all there was to the book, it would be a disappointment indeed, but the final section, offered just what I hoped it would: Some pointers to the research that had come out of the meeting and even better, there’s a website which presumably includes some live updates on the material.

It almost makes me wish I were a psychology or neuroscience graduate student (or better still, PhD).

A Series of Unfortunate Events 4: The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snickett
[Finished 18 June 2006] I’ve now moved past the end of the material covered in the film, so I no longer have the cognitive interference from it to distract me from reading the book as book alone. I don’t think that this alone accounts for the rather dramatic change of pace in this book, The orphans’ new guardian has moved from cluelessness to nearly malicious viewpoints. And Klaus and Violet find themselves reversing their usual roles in the resolution of the story. In all, not a bad way to spend an hour or so.

Job by Marvin H. Pope
[Finished 2 June 2006] I began collecting and reading volumes of the Anchor Bible some 15 years ago. But it’s only recently that I’ve realized the key difference between my favorite volumes and those that I’m not that crazy about: The interesting ones are written by theologians, the dull ones by linguists.

The theologian-written volumes tend to follow a format of text-commentary-notes on each section of the text. Since I’m usually not that interested in the hairy details of the translation, I skip the notes unless something really odd is happening in the text.

On the other hand, the linguist-written volumes tend to be text-notes for each section. What little commentary is offered (and it’s usually minimal) is intermixed with a detailed description of textual issues.

Job is a linguist-written volume.

That said, there’s still some very interesting detail here. I do intend to read the bible in Hebrew at some point although this comentary makes reading Job seem a rather daunting prospect.

Also interesting here is the survey of other near-eastern texts which may have served as inspiration for, if not sources of, the story of Job. And the translation itself is very clearand well-formed.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
[Finished 27 May 2006] I’m sure I’ve said this somewhere else in the log, but it bears repeating: For someone as well-read as I am, I’m surprisinly poorly-read.

Case in point: Frankenstein. Wasn’t everyone assigned this book in high school English class? Or if not then, sometime in college?

Not me. Not sure how I missed it, but there it is.

What to say about the book itself? A gripping read, although I found myself periodically flipping back wondering if I’d missed something (Victor’s father’s death slipped past me). Doubtless my own failing, rather than Shelley’s.

Language, Culture, Type: International Type Design in the Age of Unicode edited by John D. Berry
[Finished 25 May 2006] An intriguing volume from 2002. The first part is a collection of essays lead off by Robert Bringhurst and consisting of a mix of history, philosophy, practical type design and occasional self-promotion. The second half is a collection of the winning selections from the bukva:raz! international type competition.

Of the essays, some are outstanding, some have at least some interest and a few are of nearly no merit.

The type specimens are full page showings of the character set with a sample setting on the facing page, the kind of generosity in exposition one wishes would be seen more often in type specimens. The bottom of these facing pages include a short biography of the designer and a blurb about the background of the typeface.

Ulysses by James Joyce
[Finished 25 May 2006] When I was beginning my freshman year of college, a friend talked about having read Finnegan’s Wake on a family vacation and (I think) getting a T-shirt which read “I survived Finnegan’s Wake” I remember being not terribly impressed by this, but having (finally) finished reading Ulysses, I appreciate his accomplishment.

This is the third Joyce book that I’ve read (the others being Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), and I’m left thinking that reading Joyce isn’t really a terribly pleasurable experience for me, at least not in sustained readings. Early on, I found that one secret was to read the novel as if I was reading a poem. I was able to appreciate the language of Joyce’s writing, but as it continued, I just wasn’t able to sustain that kind of close careful reading. When I reached the famed 45 page run-on sentence (not really, more just a final section devoid of punctuation), it was more with a sense of relief than regret that I came to the end of the novel.

Against the Grain by Terry Eagleton
[Finished 21 May 2006] There was a time in my life that critical theory was something of great importance to me, and Terry Eagleton was very much the center of that universe. Now I come back and read some of the last unread Eagleton on my shelves and I find myself wondering how I’ve changed so much. There are bits of the essays which still strike me as containing some interesting ideas, but most of it comes across as dry and pretentious rather than appealing.

Six Comedies by W. Somerset Maugham
[Finished 19 May 2006] In his introduction, Maugham effectively dismisses the plays in this volume as being of little literary significance, meant only for entertainment, but most of these seem to fall short of even that aspiration. Perhaps its because of the sameness of most of plays’ themes, or the short shelf-life of humor, or even the loss of impact from reading a play rather than seeing it, but I was left disappointed by most of the plays. Only Home and Beauty and The Breadwinner left me happy to have read them. The former for its wonderfully silly plot, the latter for its hints at some of the themes that would recur in The Moon and Sixpence amd The Razor’s Edge. I’m thinking that it’s beginning to become time to re-read the short stories.

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
[Finished 1 May 2006] Usually autobiographies peter out about the time that the protagonist begins his life’s work. In Henry Adams’ case, it’s not entirely clear that this ever really happens, so the story remains fascinating, although at times, his choice of poetic language leaves the reader feeling a bit at sea as to what’s going on in Adams’ life (for example, his marriage and subsequent death of his wife are elided over in the text), the overall vision of the development of America, from an 18th century country’s last vestiges to the beginning of the 20th century’s transformation of the nation forms a compelling backdrop to Adams’ story, told using his “education” as a unifying theme.

The System of the World by Neal Stephenson
[Finished 27 April 2006] It’s been a long road to get here: Nearly 3000 pages read in spurts spread out over 2 years, but I’ve reached the end of Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. I think that the time in some ways helped enhance my enjoyment of the book, in that I didn’t make connections between minor appearances of characters in volume one and their recurrence in later volumes.

Unlike The Cryptonomicon, Stephenson has managed to actually write a satisfying ending to his story (albeit one which is at times a bit Dickensian in its wrapping up of loose ends).

The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way
[Finished 12 April 2006] I first learned of this book, like (I assume) most Americans, from J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. The first of those two stories does a pretty good idea of conveying the gist of the book’s message and long before I read it, I’d been employing the Jesus prayer as a means of devotion.

The text, in some ways, is more interesting as a document of life in Tsarist Russia than as a spiritual document. Perhaps it was because of reading Franny and Zooey, but I was not really captivated in quite the same way that Franny was by the book. Instead, I found myself imagining the Russian landscapes of Doctor Zhivago (anachronistic, I know), and periodically finding myself employing the Jesus prayer as I learned it from Salinger.

Stations of the Cross: A Latin American Pilgrimage by Dorothee Soelle
[Finished 27 March 2006] It startles me to think how much the concerns of the late 80s and early 90s have melted away. Which is not to say that the underlying problems have disappeared, but rather that they no longer demand our attention in the same way that they did 10-20 years ago.

Reading this book was a reminder of this sort of shift in attention. When I bought this (1992 or 1993, I think), Latin America was a big issue for me. Now, I rarely think about it, unless Hugo Chavez is mentioned in the news (which seems reasonably frequently), it having been pushed out of the forefront of my consciousness by such horrors as the current war in Iraq, or the problems of Africa. This is not to say that the problems are gone away, however, and this book is a good reminder of just what was and is at stake in Latin America.

The book provides a good ground-level view of the issues facing the poor of South and Central America, and while Soelle falls into the bad habit of glamorizing the pre-Columbian native American lifestyle, a fault which conservative critics would likely use as ammunition to attempt to discredit the whole of her work, it’s a compelling read. It’s a pity that it’s fallen out of print, showing that I’m not the only one whose attention has been diverted from Latin America.

English Poetry of the Seventeenth Century by George Parfitt
[Finished 18 December 2005] A dry accounting of different strains in poetry during the 17th century.

A Series of Unfortunate Events 3: The Wide Window by Lemony Snickett
[Finished 17 December 2005] I’m at roughly the end of what was in the movie now and I’m a bit more into the rhythm of the books. The running jokes and dry humor are a hoot.

The Know-It-All : One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs
[Finished 16 December 2005] I’d heard about this book before I picked it up after the buy 2 get 1 free table at Border’s. The author is also a contributor to NPR and I’d heard him interviewed on ATC or Morning Edition. I remembered thinking that reading the encyclopedia seemed like it would be fun, although I have yet to make the endeavor myself.

The organization of the book, which is a sort of autobiography mixed with some philosophy and nuggets of knowledge from the pages of The Encyclopaedia Brittanica is an entertaining and quick read. Plus anytime I felt self-congratulatory because I knew, for example, just why the Brittanica seems to say so much about type designers (Stanley Morrison, who had been publicity director of Monotype during their golden age of the 20s and early 30s was later on the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica), I only had to note that this is Jacobs’ fourth published book. I have yet to make it to number one.

The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
[Finished 22 November 2005] It’s become my custom to employ my educator discount at Border’s to buy yet another thick Neal Stephenson novel. In this second volume of the Baroque cycle, we’re treated to some of what had come before made explicit (in particular, the curious longevity of Enoch Root, although the story of the mysterious eater of rotten fish is not handled in a satisfying way. The mathematical content here is a bit thinner than in previous Stephenson works, but the economics is a bit more fully fleshed out. I’m eagerly awaiting the next educator appreciation weekend when I’ll buy the final volume of the series.

Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D. by Robert Peters
[Finished 14 November 2005] A great book on how to get into (and out of) graduate school. The book is quite a bit longer than I expected it to be (some 400 pages), and portions of it are a bit dated (most particularly anything related to technology), and I frequently wished that he’d not lump all disciplines together.

The section on job-hunting is painfully flawed, however, as it doesn’t deal with the academic job search in any way at all, but this is offset by excellent advice for getting into graduate school and getting the degree in the most efficient way.

My Freshman Year by Rebekah Nathan
[Finished 15 October 2005] A fascinating account of an anthropology professor’s study of college students. Rebekah Nathan (a pseudonym), took a year off of teaching, and entered the university where she taught as a freshman using only her high school transcripts for placement. She moved into the dorms for the year and took classes with the students.

There are some things that I read and my thought was, “duh, of course,” but much that I didn’t. The experience of attending a large state school is quite different than my own undergraduate experience of nearly twenty years ago at a small private college, and this is helps me get some insight into what my own students are going through. (It’s worth noting that my community college students have a different experience than do my Cal State students).

There are some insights here which I doubt that I would have ever found on my own, like the role of ethnic societies on campuses (non-majority students primarily interact with people who are not like them. This gives them a chance to spend time with people like them), and a handful of ideas which directly will impact my teaching, although much less of that than I had hoped.

How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff
[Finished 7 October 2005] Even though it’s half a century old, this is still a great overview of understanding what statistics mean. I’ve assigned this as reading to my math for liberal arts majors students after I became frustrated with the standard approach of teaching the material which only focuses on how to calculate the statistics. Frankly. there’s no reason to memorize formulas for finding a correlation coefficient, for example, but students had really better understand what margin of error and confidence level mean if they want to be able to function in today’s society. This book is a pretty good start along that road.

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope
[Finished 25 September 2005] For the first time since I started reading this series, I’ve read two Barsetshire Chronicles back-to-back. Mostly I was motivated to find out what happened to the saga of Johnny Eames and Lily Dale which had been left unresolved at the end of the previous volume, a hope which ended up being somewhat dashed in this one. I found that the passage of years had left neither character especially sympathetic. Johnny had turned into a bit of a boor while Lily had turned into a self-pitying parody of herself.

But the remainder of the story did provide some motivation to read the nearly 900 pages of Trollopian prose, and Johnny and Lily notwithstanding, the story was the typically comfortably predictable story which I usually expect from Trollope. But having finished this novel, I’m more than ready for a bit of a break from Trollope.

Red Hat by Ralph McInerny
[Finished 5 August 2005] What a depressing read. McInerny is a conservative in the “the world is going to hell in a handbasket” mode and I feel like the election of Bush and Benedict probably has him feeling awfully triumphant. There’s an amazing amount of wishful thinking here (e.g., the miraculous disappearance of AIDS from Africa while the disease ravages Gay America, close to the opposite of real life), and a needlessly complicated plot. It does provide further grist for my conception that papal novels are really all about wish fulfillment for the author.

The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
[Finished 31 July 2005] I first started reading the Barsetshire novels while I was in college. Maybe one every three or four years. There’s always a comfort in reading Trollope but in this case things don’t completely turn out as expected. So for the first time in my reading of the series since I read the first two books back-to-back as an undergraduate, I’m diving immediately into the successor novel.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
[Finished 20 July 2005] This, I think, is the best book in the series. The shock of the second chapter was only exceeded by the shock of the penultimate chapter.

There’s a lot to be said for the argument that there’s still a lot of filler here, but it seems to me that Rowling has, at last, gotten some of the editing that she so desparately needed.

It’s hard to say much about the book without spoilers though. I will say that I didn’t really expect any of the last couple chapters at all, but perhaps I’m just a bit dense. At the least, I’m not quite so obsessive as to compile spreadsheets of information from the book in order to connect the dots. I’m looking forward to book 7 to see how it all ends up.

A Series of Unfortunate Events 2: The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket
[Finished 13 July 2005] In the second book, I’m getting a bit more into the flow of the writing and able to put aside my memories of the movie a bit more easily now. The various asides about the meanings of words and phrases are one of the highlights of this series and at this point we have occasional characters explaining what words mean as the story progresses for a bit of entertainment value.

There might be some who would object to a homicide in the book, but given that the first volume opened with the deaths of both Baudelaire parents, we’re actually at a lower body count than has previously been the case.

The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum
[Finished 11 July 2005] A bit of light reading as a break. This is the first of Baum’s sequels in the Oz series. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the Wizard of Oz, and I suspect that my perspective has been colored a bit more by the movie than the book, but it seems to me that Baum has played fast and loose with his characterizations in this follow-up. That plus some seemingly arbitrary plot points which don’t appear to have any purpose other than to pad out the length of the book. But it has its enjoyable moments and there are some amazingly funny scenes, like the translation difficulties sequence when the pumpkin head meets the scarecrow.

There is also a fair amount to be said about the role of gender in this book, but there’s a part of me that feels that a proper treatment of the subject requires a more thorough understanding of Baum himself and his relation to the political movements of his time. A new critical approach to the topic would be a disservice to the text.

The Erotic Poems by Ovid
[Finished 1 July 2005] The introduction to this volume, by translator Peter Green, is a fascinating overview of Ovid’s life and the context of his poems. This was almost worth the price of admission alone.

However, the translation of the poems left me feeling that it was somewhat suspect. Green frequently uses anachronistic colloquialisms in his translation. I can understand the motivation: A literal translation of a first century colloquialism might not convey the informal nature of the text, but his choices leave me feeling like I’m reading a paraphrase rather than a translation.

Thankfully, Green didn’t feel the need to shoehorn Ovid’s poems into an English verse form, further deforming them.

A Series of Unfortunate Events 1: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
[Finished 25 June 2005] Is it bad form to begin a book review by mentioning the film, let alone comparing to the film? Then so be it. It was the film which inspired me to pick up the book.

The Series of Unfortunate Events books, unlike the other contemporary children’s best-seller series consists of much shorter, more manageable books. I was able to read this one at a single sitting while waiting for my wife at the mall. Having seen the film previously, I found myself waiting for some of the better jokes from the book to make their appearance and was somewhat disappointed when they didn’t. But the spirit of the writing is still quite entertaining and the didactic elements of the book are quite entertaining with the occasional interposed vocabulary lessons. I suppose I’ll keep at the series until I catch up. And one hopes that once I get past the source material for the film, I’ll be able to more directly appreciate the storytelling.

A Theology Primer by Robert Cummings Neville
[Finished 20 June 2005] My first real look at systematic theology, at least formally. After reading this book, my sense is that systematic theology is a sort of meta-catechism: A way of organizing theology around central questions (and determining just what those central questions are).

In this book, Neville’s outline isn’t terribly different from that of the assorted Catholic Catechisms which I have read, which follow the creed as an outline (although generally following that up with the Our Father, perhaps Hail Mary and the list of Sacraments).

Neville’s presentation is (protestant) Christian in its orientation, but not exclusively so, and he considers perspectives from Judaism, Islam, Confucianism and Buddhism along the way, although not in any great depth.

Each chapter ends in a list of suggested readings which allows the reader to consider the questions even more deeply: I can see this book being used for a year-long graduate introduction to systematic theology (and were I younger, I would have gone out and obtained the referenced works in order to read it as intended).

A subtle humor pervades much of the book, providing some relief to the heavy subject matter.

Reading this, I do get a sense that part of what Neville was aiming for (and perhaps failed to reach), was a sort of axiomatics of theology. I suspect his lack of rigorous training in mathematical logic is both what resulted in his grasping for the goal and also his ultimate failture to reach it.

Books of Hours
[Finished 6 May 2005] A beautiful miniature book from Phaidon Press which provides a nice selection of pages from miniature books of hours reproduced as closely as possible to the original size. The texts are often illegible because of the attack of time, but the images remain brilliant and beautiful.

An Animated Alphabet by Marie Angel
[Finished 5 May 2005] A collection of alphabet-based miniature paintings of animals. Some interesting choices along the way (Z is not for Zebra). A beautiful little book, with the illustrations reproduced here for the first time in color (an earlier edition of the book was black and white).

The lettering is also exquisite, demonstrating the wide-ranging talent of Angel

The Very Persistent Gappers of Fripp by George Saunders
[Finished 3 May 2005] Saunders is best known as a writer of surrealistic short stories for adults. In this instance, he tackles instead a surrealistic short story for children.

It’s wonderful.

This is a book that I will read to my children in hopes that they too will grow up to be somewhat strange and offbeat.

The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
[Finished 17 April 2005] Reading this book, one name kept leaping to my mind: Erik Von Daniken.Von Daniken had posited that various ancient monuments (and passages from the bible) could be explained by the presence and intervention of space aliens.

Jaynes makes his case a bit more down to earth (so to speak), but engages in many of the same sorts of logical errors: His evidence frequently seems rather a prioristic to me. Looking at what he finds in literature, it seems that the difficulty in explaining the lack of internal monologue in the earliest available writing could just as easily be explained by the development of langugage: It took a millenium or so to be able to speak linguistically about interior life.

Perhaps most disturbing to me is that Jaynes’s thesis seems to rest on some sort of Lamarckan evolution of the brain. Although he doesn’t go so far to claim this explicitly, he leaves the reader little other choice to explain the kinds of development in the brain necessary to justify his theory.

Another thing to consider is that some of Jaynes’s theses could be more easily tested now than when he wrote the book. At that point, he makes a passing reference to EEG scans of hallucinating schizophrenics. More modern technology, such as PET scans could offer a bit more indication as to whether the hemispheric thesis that he puts forth is valid.

In all, Jaynes’s book makes for good mythology, but as science, it seems a bit lacking for me. More the pity because the opening chapters on consciousness and the closing chapter on science have something real to offer. Even the mythology does a good job of bringing to the fore interesting questions. It’s just that there are simpler answers than the one that Jaynes puts forth.

The Prodigal Project Book 3: Numbers by Ken Abrahams and Daniel Hart
[Finished 10 April 2005] Hmm, let’s see what’s happening now: We’re introduced to a wacky angel (his name is Stan! he likes Jell-O! He drives a Cadillac!), we learn that Azul Dante is the Anti-Christ, all those night people are probably not the same as Izbek Noir but are apparently demons or devils or whatever they would be in the cosmology of this series, and that some how Izbek Noir (who, presumably, is Satan), is perhaps at odds with Azul Dante or perhaps subtly linked with him. It’s all quite a mess really.

One reviewer on Amazon has called this series, “Left Behind for mature adults.” I hate to imagine how bad Left Behind would be.

And am I the only one who’s reading this and thinking that the theology is pretty problematic? Not just the whole idea of the rapture, but the way God acts in this book is a bit off.

The English Catholics in the Reign of Elizabeth: A Study of their Politics, Civil Life and Government 1558-1580 by John Hungerford Pollen, S. J.
[Finished 29 March 2005] Published just after the first world war, this is apparently the first of two (planned?) volumes as it ends just after the arrival of the Jesuits Persons and Campion in England. Having as read as much as I have about the English Counter-reformation, there was little in here that was new. It was more like reading a review of familiar facts. The tone of the book is distinctly apologetic as the emancipation of Catholics in England was still relatively new and there was a strong need to defend the actions of the Catholic missionaries in England during the reformation.

Blueprint for Disaster by Darby Conley
[Finished 18 March 2005] A quick break from heavier reading. This is one of the last laugh-out-load comic strips around. It’s not always at its best (a long series of rejected character strips in this collection, for example, represents the strip at its lower reaches), but it’s always beautifully drawn and fun to read.

Fun fact of the day: Bucky has a Slytherin poster in his room while Satchel has Hufflepuff. Such wonderful attention to detail!

Anchor Bible, Vol. 27: Mark by C. S. Mann
[Finished 16 March 2005] I tend to think that the Anchor Bible gets most interesting when the translator-commentators take risks in what they do, and Mann certainly fills that bill here. Some of it is a bit jarring, like his translation of “The Son of Man” as “The Man” (I keep imagining the apostles saying, “You The Man, J-Dawg” whenever I read that). Perhaps more interesting is Mann’s argument for the idea that Mark is not the earliest gospel, but rather is a digest of Matthew and Luke with some additional detail added from eyewitness reminiscences (which Mann attributes largely to Peter).

The lengthy introduction makes for an interesting summary of the theories about the sources and order of writing of the synoptic Gospels.

It’s worth noting that apparently later editions of the Anchor Bible have replaced this volume with a 2-volume commentary by Joel Marcus

On Atheistic Communism by Pope Pius XI
[Finished 16 March 2005] Written in 1937, Pius’ primary concern is the anti-Catholic activities of the Communists in Russia, Spain and Mexico. And certainly from this perspective a harsh perspective on communism is well-granted, but I question the doctrinal foundations of a Christian right to private property. Perhaps more interestingly, though, the politics of this letter seem to be pretty much aligned with American liberalism (which is not to be confused with Liberalism as it is referred to in the book, which in many cases, is not what a contemporary reader would recognize as liberalism at all). Pius goes to great lengths to speak of the importance of workers receiving a just wage and fair conditions, and ultimately that the most important Good is spiritual and not materialistic.

At Risk by Stella Rimington
[Finished 27 February 2005] A decent first novel by the former head of MI5. There’s some personal story from the protagonist which mysteriously vanishes in the second half of the book, leaving the reader wondering why it was in the book in the first place, and Rimington has some difficulty making her characters distinct (which left me a bit confused at times who the various people in the book were), but as it proceeds to the climax, the narrative narrows its focus and Rimington’s potential becomes much more evident.

The novel gets a lot of press for being a novel about a female spy, but far more interesting (and evident), I think is the interplay between the two British spy agencies, MI5 and MI6 which is, by far, the most fascinating part of the book.

Reason for Faith: Nine Sermons by John Henry Newman
[Finished 25 February 2005] The first epigram I ever put on a paper in college was a paraphrase from Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, “The age is so wicked that no one reads sermons any more.” Certainly, I really hadn’t prior to this volume (unless you count the catechetical sermons by Ronald Knox which were converted into a book on the mass). It’s been a delightful way to begin Lent, especially as I managed to time things so that I read the first and second Sunday of Lent sermons close to the first and second Sundays of Lent.

Newman’s style is clear and lucid and he tends to write in an almost mathematical style: Each statement leads inexorably to the next to create the sense that his conclusions are inevitable.

A History of Pi by Petr Beckmann
[Finished 11 February 2005] A curious book. The mathematical history is generall pretty good, but as he himself notes, Pi tends to attract crackpots and he himself tends to slip into that category quite frequently. The book is frequently marred by somewhat bizarre diatribes against religion (especially Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular), Latin culture, communism, liberalism and nearly anything else that strikes Beckmann’s fancy. I’m guessing that a big part of this is his own personal history: He came to the US from Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia in the 60s and apparently decided that Goldwater conservatism was for him (although his strong anti-religion stance would make him somewhat alienated in the contemporary Republican party).

Some of the mathematical presentations are needlessly difficult to follow, and he has a tendency to skim over material that would bear more careful explication, but the mathematical history outside of the diatribes is worth reading. That is, if you can find your way past the diatribes.

What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods by Richard Courant and Herbert Robbins, Revised by Ian Stewart
[Finished 4 February 2005] Sort of the rigorous version of The Art of the Infinite, this book covers, at a fairly quick rate, a wide smattering of mathematical thought including a lot of byways that aren’t taught a whole lot anymore (projective geometry, anyone?). Perhaps some of the more interesting parts come down to asides about axiomatics towards the ends of the book.

It’s hard to tell who the book is aimed at. It purports to be something that a college freshman could understand, but at the same time it also assumes some familiarity with most if not all of its topics.

At times, the coverage is remarkably thin, giving only the vaguest sense of what a topic is about (for example, while knot theory is mentioned along with the Alexander, Jones and HOMFLY polynomials, no indication of how those polynomials are derived is given).

That said, it was stil an enjoyable read. I’m thinking that this would be best read as a culmination of an undergraduate math major or perhaps as a prolegemenon to graduate studies in mathematics.

The Prodigal Project Book Two: Exodus by Ken Abrahams and Daniel Hart
[Finished 12 January 2005] Well the mystery of Daniel Hart is revealed. As near as I can tell, he’s the person who’s come up with the broad outline of the story while Abrahams does the actual writing. I’m guessing that this is Abrahams’ modus operandi: He gets some collaborator who wants to write a novel without actually doing the writing.

As for the book itself, it’s more of the same and then some: Of course we throw in some mild anti-Semitism to go with the anti-Islamic slant (it’s interesting to note that other than a brief passage in the first book, the Catholic Church is completely absent from the book). There’s some sort of goofy mystery about “seven” which is left unresolved (or maybe it is, I didn’t count the number of people who are asked about “seven” but the obvious Satan stand-in. Still worse, we get interior monologue from the assorted characters that I assume are Satan, all of which comes across as rather ham-handed and poorly managed.

And then there’s the lost opportunity. The first book, with its subtitle Genesis provides a framework of sort for the book: It’s about the beginnings of the whole thing. The second, presumably should be something about travelling, perhaps with the characters gathered in a central location, but alas, the possibility of symbolism is lost.

And there are still too damn many characters. I’m really hoping that the shooting in chapter ten will result in a death in the beginning of the next book since that way there will at least be one less character in the narration.

Return to Eden by Harry Harrison
[Finished 11 January 2005] The story of the Yilane in South America, introduced in the second volume reaches its fulfillment here, albeit not entirely satisfyingly. Perhaps less satisfying is the resolution (or really, lack thereof) of the conflict between the humans and dinosaurs. But I’ve also come to realize that it’s really not the story which is the most interesting part of this as the descriptions of societies in change. Here, the South America subplot really shines as the dinosaurs find a way to structure a society around their new philosophy. Similarly, the human society, on the verge of a change in its way of living, also creates some interesting elements, although at times the whole thing seems a bit rushed. I wouldn’t mind seeing a fourth book in the trilogy.

My Name is Aram by William Saroyan
[Finished 5 January 2005] I wanted a bit of light reading to start out the year so looking over my libri legendi shelves, I spotted this volume of short stories by William Saroyan. I had previously read Saroyan’s The Human Comedy and had enjoyed the gentle humor of the book, so I figured that this would be similar. It was. Nothing dark or challenging here at all, just recollections of a childhood in the San Joaquin valley filled with wonder and poetry and love.

Winter In Eden by Harry Harrison
[Finished 17 December 2004] Clearly a middle book. The narrative gets fragmented as we follow an assortment of characters introduced in the first book of the trilogy. The issues of suspension of disbelief are lessened in this volume, I suppose because I made it through one volume already with Harrison’s bizarre concepts. But this is clearly a set-up for the final volume of the trilogy and a bit unsatisfying still. But I’ll doubtless continue on.

The Prodigal Project: Book One-Genesis by Ken Abraham and Daniel Hart
[Finished 9 December 2004] I started reading this book when my wife and I stopped at Vroman’s in Pasadena to rest a bit after a strenuous hike in the mountains. I’d been toying with reading the Left Behind series in bookstores (no real interest in actually owning these books), and figured this looked, at the least, to be shorter.

Except, “Book One-Genesis”? Does that mean 65 more books to come? (Apparently not: Book Four brings things up to Kings).

Anyway, I read the first three chapters that day and still hadn’t finished with character introductions (or had an introduced character return, for that matter). I finished it off at Borders today and I’m left thinking that this is pretty much a me-too book. Let’s see, only Christians are good, Muslims come out as largely off-screen and unmitigatedly evil (curiously, although the book was first published in 2003, the events of September 11th seem not to be referenced in any way, despite an obvious opening). Less suspense (and more predictability) than even a Dan Brown novel.

The most fascinating thing to me was the fact that the brief author bio didn’t mention Abraham’s co-author. I’m not sure that I’ll bother with the other three books. Or maybe I will. They are, at least, fast reads. Next time I’ll bring a CD player with me so that I can listen to something other than piped-in Christmas Carols while I read.

How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya
[Finished 25 November 2004] At times, this book seems a bit quaint, clearly written in a different age. And the examples make it unclear exactly who the book is written for, high school teachers, presumably. It was a bit repetitive at times, but ultimately rewarding despite its flaws.

The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero by Robert Kaplan
[Finished 10 November 2004] You’d think that there’s not enough material about zero to make a book, and you’d be right. This was nowhere near as successful a book as Kaplan’s later The Art of the Infinite. The first half, detailing the spread of zero, was frequently boring and the mathematical section was painfully short (although the history of limits and Napier’s contribution was quite interesting). Better to skip this one and stick with The Art of the Infinite.

Q. E. D. Beauty in Mathematical Proof by Burkard Polster
[Finished 26 October 2004] A fairly short (58pp) book, which seeks to give a quick overview of some attractive proofs in elementary mathematics (primarily Euclidean and solid geometry, but with some excursions into algebra and elementary number theory). The main focus is on showing the beauty of the proofs, and by including one short page of text facing one page of woodcut-style illustrations the book does a pretty good job of accomplishing its modest goal.

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
[Finished 20 October 2004] I came at this with some trepidation as some reviews I read had been a bit less than positive. But I’ve found it to be a very interesting read indeed. My knowledge of European history has assorted lacunae, one of which is the late 17th and early 18th centuries, which is precisely the time period covered in Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, so I’ve been learning quite a bit in the process of reading this (although sorting out the historical from the fictional is occasionally a bit of a challenge). But like the best historical fiction, this book leaves me inspired to delve deeper into the period.

I’m looking forward to the paperback releases of volumes 2 and 3 of the Baroque Cycle.

Deus lo Volt! Chronicle of the Crusades by Evan S. Connell
[Finished 14 October 2004] A very odd book. The bulk of it is a history of the crusades written from the perspective of a medieval noble, which provides an interesting perspective on the topic, and forces the reader to be aware of the narrator’s credulity (although bits of modern sensibility creep in at times). This part was interesting although at times a bit tedious (I felt like it would have been helpful to have a timeline perhaps, and maybe a dramatis personae to keep track of all that was going on).

Towards the end of the book, the tone suddenly changes as our narrator participates in one of the final crusades lead by the French. Oddly, while this is the closest to a traditional novel that the story gets, it’s also the least successful part of the novel. In the end, I was left wondering why I read the book at all, although I do confess to having more understanding of the crusades than previously. I just think that a straight history would have been a more productive way to have learned what I learned.

The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong
[Finished 14 October 2004] An outstanding book, one that I wish I’d gotten more than a week before the beginning of classes. While some parts of the book are geared towards K-8 education, it’s relatively minimal and there’s a great deal here for the secondary teacher as well. There’s also plenty for the experienced teacher as well as the new teacher. It’s not necessarily enough in itself to make you a great teacher, but it will help an awful lot

Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul by Tony Hendra
[Finished 1 October 2004] The first half of this book is probably one of the best spiritual autobiographies of late years. Tony Hendra does an outstanding job of recreating the process of falling in and out of love with God as a youth. I’m almost thinking forget the late years part.

As the narrative moves into Hendra’s adult life, however, the glamor of sin really doesn’t carry much luster. I think that it’s the curse of the autobiography: Once a person becomes an adult, his life story loses its appeal. The final sections where Hendra turns back to the church brings back some of the interest of the story, with a truly devastating conversation between Fr Joe and Hendra.

Understand This by Jervey Tervalon
[Finished 17 September 2004] When I was researching Locke High School when I was offered a job there (which I ultimately did not accept), I encountered references to this book which fictionalizes the school as Bolt, and I decided to pick it up as part of my decision-making process. I ultimately ended up teaching at a different school, but I did find the novel to be a very compelling read. The day-to-day lives of the students at the school are chronicled in honest detail (Tervalon had been both a student and teacher at Locke). At times his change of narrator with each chapter seemed a bit gimmicky, but it ultimately served the tale quite well.

To Kill the Pope: An Ecclesiastical Thriller by Tad Szulc
[Finished 12 August 2004] One of the better Pope novels I’ve read in the past few years, Szulc’s book reads a lot more like biography than a novel, which makes sense if only because Szulc is primarily known as a biographer.

In this novel, his Gregory XVII stands in for John Paul II, with the plot centering around the unconfirmable story that Szulc found when he investigated John Paul’s attempted assassination. The fictional characters behind the plot can be easily connected to the real characters, allowing Szulc to get his version of the story out while at the same time providing a rather entertaining history of the Catholic Church in France and the church’s relationship with Islam since the Crusades.

I recommend this one without hesitation, regardless of the veracity of Szulc’s story (on which I have no firm opinion, although I’m willing to believe Szulc)

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien
[Finished 9 August 2004] I came across this novel mentioned on a writing professor’s website as key reading for the students in his writing class, so I decided to take a look at it.

Having read it, I have to agree that it’s a beautifully crafted story, with an amazing repertoire of technical tricks used to advance the ideas of the novel. Definitely worth reading. I won’t say anything about the plot details for I think that it pays to read this novel, “blind” knowing nothing about what the novel is about.

Looking Closer 3: Classic Writings on Graphic Design edited by Michael Bierut, Jessica Helfand, Steven Heller and Rick Poynor
[Finished 9 August 2004] I picked up a couple volumes in the Looking Closer series a few years ago when I was contemplating seeing if I might synthesize something resembling a critical theory around graphic design. I started reading this book back then, but apparently it fell behind a desk half-read or somesuch as I found it, with a bookmark about halfway through while unpacking after my latest move. I don’t really remember too much of the earliest portion of the book, but the later essays were rather interesting. Perhaps I may return to that project at some point in the future.

Robert Browning's Poetry: Authoritative Texts, Criticism (Norton Critical Edition) by Robert Browning
[Finished 5 August 2004] I guess it’s been too long since I’ve read poetry, especially difficult poetry. It took me most of the book to finally begin to get Browning, and then it was too late. And given the heft of this volume, going back just seemed to be too much.

Of the critical essays which conclude the book, the historical essays seemed to be an alternating series of vituperation and reverence while the modern ones were a bit more compelling. The interpretative essays in particular were well worth the read, particularly the essay, “Blougram’s Apologetics” which provided a novel, but persuasive interpretation of “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
[Finished 25 July 2004] It’s been a while since I’ve read any Dickens and this was rather slow going at first, but as I read further, my mind began reacquainting itself with Victorian diction and it became a much easier read.

It’s a bit interesting in that there seems to be a lot in common with 18th century novels in this book, particularly the periodic digressions into implanted short stories which is something that I tend to associate more with Fielding than Dickens, but perhaps given that this is Dickens’ first novel and bears many of the marks of his influences (especially Fielding), that shouldn’t be a big surprise.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
[Finished 8 July 2004] Very hard to put down, Larson intertwines the story of the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair with the story of Dr H. H. Holmes, one of America’s first serial killers. I had had some familiarity with Holmes’ story already from the book Chicago by Gaslight, so this wasn’t completely new to me, but Larson’s ability to reconstruct the events in what he terms in his notes as “a plausible recreation” made the story that much more compelling.

At times the interweaving of the stories (along with the events leading to the assassination of Chicago mayor Carter H. Harrison) seemed a bit forced--I’m not entirely certain that the World’s Fair and Holmes were so closely intertwined--but it remains a compelling read. I understand the movie rights have been bought. It will be interesting to see how it turns into a film.

My one complaint is that there is a severe paucity of pictures: Certainly the World’s Fair itself merits a few pages of photos, and there is at least one photo of Holmes’ building in Englewood in existence which I’d seen in Chicago by Gaslight.

Supertoys Last All Summer Long and Other Stories of Future Time by Brian Aldiss
[Finished 2 July 2004] I picked this up in the wake of seeing the brilliant, if flawed, film, AI. Having now read the stories that inspired the film, I’m left a bit disappointed: I think that the film realization of the concept was far superior to the original.

The other stories in the collection were also largely empty. I don’t particularly think that Aldiss met his goals as stated in the introduction very well, or, in many cases, at all. There were a handful of good stories and a lot of what felt like filler.

Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America by Thomas Fleming
[Finished 15 June 2004] I’ve been reading history a fair amount, it seems, and finding it quite fascinating. There’s an awful lot about the early days of the U.S. that I wasn’t aware of and the standard hagiography finds inconvenient to relate.

The primary focus of this book is the biographies of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, with Thomas Jefferson playing a major role, if one largely on the sidelines. It was somewhat fascinating to see what an inept president Jefferson was, at least in Fleming’s eyes. A Fleming biography of Jefferson would be a fascinating, if controversial read.

But as it is, this is a book that I found rather difficult to put down and one which would reward re-reading.

Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics by John Derbyshire
[Finished 17 May 2004] One of the more compelling books I’ve read about mathematics. There were times when Derbyshire’s attempts to make the math easier to digest frustrated me (I kept thinking, “just give me the formula already!”), but for the most part it was pretty easy to follow. This would be a good introduction to analytic number theory for just about anyone and were I teaching an advanced number theory course at the university level, I think that I would assign this as reading over the break to all my students.

Made in America: Immigrant Students in our Public Schools by Laurie Olsen
[Finished 9 May 2004] A thought-provoking case study of the socialization of immigrant students in a northern California high school.

Olsen’s writing begins with a sense that we’re going to get a rather ideologically driven work, but thankfully, reality intervenes and her ideology is not a driving force in the work.

Few if any solutions are offered. Primarily this is a book about raising questions, designed to make teachers and administrators (and presumably also students and parents) think about questions of race, class and culture in American schools. I don’t see this as a book that will give me solutions for dealing with immigrant students in my classroom, but it is a book that will make me aware of the questions relating to their presence in the classroom.

West of Eden by Harry Harrison
[Finished 16 April 2004] An engaging fantasy. I had a hard time suspending disbelief for the dinosaur civilization and the subplot about the daughters of death ended up having no real consequence, but I still had a hard time putting the book down. I’ll definitely pick up the sequels.

5 Novels by Daniel Pinkwater
[Finished 14 April 2004] I picked up this omnibus out of a desire to re-read one of my favorte novels from my childhood, Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars. The book was still as entertaining as it was when I first read it over 20 years ago. The others in the collection were a bit of a mixed bag. Slaves of Spiegel didn’t particularly do much for me other than remind me of Pinkwater’s weight problem and become more conscious of the omnipresence of food in Pinkwater’s writing. The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death had a good start but seemed to rush to its conclusion. On the other hand, The Last Guru and Young Adult Novel were both works of genius. All of the books reveled in the joys of nonconformity and creativity, and for that alone, I think that all young people should read these books.

Fraud: Essays by David Rakoff
[Finished 9 April 2004] Some of these essays I’d heard versions of previously on NPR (mostly This American Life, but I seem to remember one or two popping up on All Things Considered. They seemed to work a lot better as radio pieces, and after the first essay I kind of lost interest for a lot of the book. The essay on Austrian teachers in New York was interesting, but didn’t go into those aspects of the teachers’ lives that I was most interested in. Oh well.

Pastoralia by George Saunders
[Finished 1 April 2004] I really enjoy Saunders’ writing voice. This collection was a bit more conventional in setting for many of the stories than was Bad Decline in CivilWarLand, but it still had the compelling voice. One thing that I’ve found that I really enjoy with reading Saunders’ work is the gradual sense of becoming oriented to the universe of the story. You’re never certain what “normal” is until the story has been read most of the way through. It’s a great example of what the deconstructionists meant about the transformation of meaning as the text progresses. And even if you’re not into literary theory, they’re still fun stories to read.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
[Finished 11 March 2004] A fascinating tale. Historical reconstructions like this are always a bit of a challenge to make interesting, but Winchester is up to the task in this book. He manages to convey an interesting mix of information about the creation of the greatest English dictionary, Victorian England, the treatment of mental illness in the 19th century and more. A great companion to Chasing the Sun which approaches the question of dictionary-making from a more global perspective

Making Minutes Count Even More: A Sequel to Every Minute Counts by David R. Johnson
[Finished 8 March 2004] Sequels are never as good as the originals, and alas, this volume falls into that same category. There’s an awful lot of the book dedicated to what seems a bit like filler: multipage letters to parents, detailed classroom expectations, etc. I think perhaps about half of it seems particularly useful, and none of it is essential. Get Every Minute Counts and skip this one.

Every Minute Counts: Making Your Math Class Work by David R. Johnson
[Finished 28 February 2004] Johnson is a Wisconsin math teacher who’s managed to come up with a classroom procedure which works quite well for him and for others. His suggestions are often difficult to implement, if only because they require breaking student and teacher habits (for example, when questions are asked of the class, the teacher is to ask the question, pause give all students a chance to think about the question, then ask a particular student to respond). I’ve been working on trying to incorporate his ideas into my teaching, and I’ve found that they do in fact work quite well, it’s just that modifying habits thing which is difficult. I look forward to next fall when I can attempt the process with a clean slate with my students

The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to Post-Modern by Carol Strickland, Ph.D.
[Finished 16 February 2004] A good enough overview of art history, I suppose. I was exposed to a fair amount which I was not familiar with. The work largely restricts itself to Western European and American artists and while Japanese paintings were mentioned as inspiration for the impressionists, none are shown, nor is that tradition discussed beyond brief mentions. It’s hard to fault the book for this, though because it still covers an awful lot of art history in just under 200 pages.

I found the frequent lack of illustration frustrating. There were artists mentioned without a single illustration of their work (often the artists who sounded most intriguing), or major works discussed without illustration. Other illustrations were marred by being presented in black and white rather than color.

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis
[Finished 24 January 2004] Well that’s the end of the Chronicles of Narnia. Again, I found this a more compelling read than some of the earlier volumes. The portrayals of religious hypocrisy and false prophets struck me as particularly interesting. The conclusion of the book also had me caught quite by surprise.

I would say, at this point also that perhaps publication order is the best order to read the books rather than chronological. I really think that The Magician’s Nephew would work much better after The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

I think also that some of my reservations about the series are largely a result of my general distaste for allegory. Once I can get past that, the books become more enjoyable (and interestingly, the books that are least allegorical are the ones that I enjoyed the most.

The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis
[Finished 20 January 2004] Is it that the books are getting better in the series or am I getting more accustomed to Lewis’ writing? My personal favorite passage from the book:

After that the Head’s friends saw to it that she was no longer a Head, so they got her made an Inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found out she wasn’t much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis
[Finished 18 January 2004] The most satisfying, in literary terms, of the Narnia series thusfar. Aslan is largely offstage which helps a fair amount. This feels much closer to a classical picaresque than to a Christian allegory which also seems to help, although this is the first book in which Lewis directly hints that Aslan=Jesus.

Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis
[Finished 15 January 2004] Continuing with the Chronicles ol Narnia. I’m realizing the two things that bother me about this series: The first is how problems are almost always solved through violence. This wouldn’t seem to really jibe with Christianity in many ways. The other is that Aslan as a character just doesn’t work, but then God has never made a good literary character. I’m reminded of how in Paradise Lost, despite Milton’s best efforts, Satan ended up seeming the hero of the piece.

The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis
[Finished 13 January 2004] I continue to be bothered by the extent to which Aslan is a deus ex machina in this series. This could have easily been a much longer book than it was. I’m not sure that I really like the Chronicles of Narnia series. There are some good moments in the books, some brilliant imagery, but Lewis’s plots seem to leave a lot to be desired.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
[Finished 12 January 2004] This book felt a bit less juvenile to me than did The Magician’s Nephew. The character of Edmund in particular struck me as being a rather interesting choice for a children’s novel, although Lewis tended to shy away from too much complexity in the characterization and to make Aslan a bit too much of a Deus ex machina for the plot.

The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis
[Finished 5 January 2004] The first (in chronological order) of the Chronicles of Narnia. I managed to somehow never read these books when I was younger, so having received the full set as a Christmas gift this year, I’ve decided to take the plunge. The narrative tone is at times a bit grating, but the story moves along nicely and makes for a good read. Certainly, I had a hard time putting the book down.

Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education by John Dewey
[Finished 1 January 2004] A sometimes interesting, sometimes perplexing, sometimes maddeningly dense collection of essays. Dewey is very much the prime influence in contemporary educational thought and if you’ve not read Dewey, then you really aren’t likelyto know much about how education is thought about. However, I think that much that’s useful with these essays somewhat requires a bit of a guide, whether in the form of a helpful professor, or some other supplementary work. In isolation, Dewey can be difficult to digest.

2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke
[Finished 23 December 2003] An entertaining enough read. There were plenty of unresolved threads and pointless diversions (like the celebrities on the flight to Halley’s comet), but since I don’t read that much genre fiction, it was easy to overlook the shortcomings while I read through the book.

The Art of the Infinite: The Pleasures of Mathematics by Robert Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan
[Finished 18 December 2003] A wonderful wonderful book, covering a wide spectrum of mathematics. The heavy lifting is largely relegated to an appendix leaving the body of the textbook accessible to mathematically inclined high school students as well as those with more mathematical experience. At times, the ventures into poetry seem a bit forced, but the biographical details add some color for the casual reader and the ability to connect widely varying areas of mathematics is just plain delightful.All high school math teachers should read this book. All prospective math teachers should read this book. This should be required reading for all math majors. Can you tell that I love this book?

The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century by Paul Krugman
[Finished 17 December 2003] A disturbing look at what’s happening in America today. I was only able to read this a few columns at a time. More than that and the despair got to be too much.

One of the startling things is just how far to the right the Republican leadership has taken the country. The Bush crowd are still worse as they aren’t even driven by ideology so much as the sheer desire for power regardless of the consequences. I hate to imagine what will be left of this country should Bush be elected in 2004.

The Excellent Teacher's Handbook by Jerome C. Yanoff
[Finished 11 November 2003] A thin little book, but remarkably useful. It consists of a series of 60 multiple-choice questions followed by brief essays. This is a book to be dipped into periodically to instigate thought about different aspects of being a teaching professional. I don’t always agree with the answers that Yanoff provides for some of his questions, but he provides sufficient reasoning behind his answers for me to consider why I disagree and whether I should agree.

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson,
[Finished 6 November 2003] It turns out that the title story was the least interesting of the lot. I was most intrigued by the glimpses of a much simpler life lead by the main characters. Minimal possessions, simple abodes... and the heart-rending relationships. The recurring character of James Harris left me especially intrigued and I wonder if he appears in othe Jackson writing.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
[Finished October 2003] An enjoyable read, with some significant mathematical content. This was one of the best explanations of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem that I’ve encountered.

In general I enjoyed the Lawrence Waterhouse passages the most. Stephenson has a knack for creating good “genius” characters. Other sections fell a bit flatter, and Stephenson’s tendency to wait a hundred pages to fill in a lacuna was a bit disconcerting at times.

The conclusion of the book was rather disappointing. It felt like Stephenson decided that he’d written 900 pages so he’d better end the book sooner ratherthan later.

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
[Finished October 2003] A painfully predictable read. I figured out the identity of the Teacher fairly quickly, solved all the riddles almost immediately (except in cases where key information was withheld), I knew the 10 digit account number well before the characters found it, realized immediately where the grail was, who sophia was, etc.

Then there’s the “history” which is full of so many absurd fabrications and instances of anti-Catholic bigotry that I found the whole thing more annoying than entertaining

The Moral Life of Schools by Phillip W. Jackson, Robert E. Boostrum and David T. Hansen
[Finished October 2003] Really a book about interpretting case studies more than anything else. Ignore the title and use this as a sourcebook for thinking about how to interpret classroom observations.

Moral Principles in Education by John Dewey
[Finished 10 September 2003] Way overpriced for a brief public domain text. There are some good ideas here, but this should not be a $15 book. If it’s a class assignment, get together with some friends and split the photocopying costs.

My First Year as a Teacher by Pearl Rock Kane
[Finished 9 September 2003] A captivating account of a variety of teachers’ first year experiences. If there’s any flaw, there’s not a lot about teachers who failed miserably. There was one teacher who was so successful, I found him to be just plain annoying.

Lilith by George MacDonald
[Finished 19 August 2003] An intriguing proto-fantasy novel. At times the allegory and metaphysics become a bit too victorian for my tastes, but it was a worthwhile endeavor.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
[Finished 5 August 2003] I found this entry in the Harry Potter series a bit disappointing. The all-is-well ending was rather unsatisfying. It’s a series of books, not a sitcom. It’s really not that important that each book end with the characters in similar places as the previous books.

That said, the book does reflect a more mature Harry Potter and an interview with Rowling which I read earlier this year in which I read that she had intended the books to be read one a year while the reader was the same age as Harry and his pals actually made the books make a bit more sense in some ways.

Players by Don DeLillo
[Finished 5 August 2003] Despite good reviews elsewhere, I found this novel to be a bit empty. Perhaps I missed something

Millenium Pope: A Novel of Spiritual Journey by Frederick J. Luhmann
[Finished 1 August 2003] My annual “Pope” novel. This one is another American liberal Catholic fantasy following the usual pattern. It confirms my belief that Pope novels tend to be more about the author than religion.

Strange Deaths: More than 375 Freakish Fatalities by Ian Simmons
[Finished 24 July 2003] A Barnes and Noble publication given to me by my fiancée, this is a News of the Weird-style collection of odd deaths. Some I’d heard about, some were new to me. An entertaining way to spend a plane trip.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of the Fire by J. K. Rowling
[Finished 23 July 2003] The high point of the series. Rowling has hit a high point in her writing and pushed the plot to an interesting breaking point.

Exceptional Learners: An Introduction to Special Education by Daniel P. Hallahan and James M. Kauffman
[Finished 14 July 2003] A pretty good survey text. I like the case studies and sidebars.

Uncommon Fathers: Reflections on Raising a Child With a Disability edited by Donald J. Meyer
[Finished 3 July 2003] A selection of narratives about raising special needs children from the perspective of the fathers. There are a wide range of disabilities, ages and experiences reflected, from the actively involved father to the father who guiltily relates the institutionalization of his child. A nice supplement to the more academic treatments of the subject.

Illegal Harmonies: Music in the 20th Century by Andrew Ford
[Finished 7 June 2003] A good history of how music developed in the twentieth century. It’s written for non-musicians so the details on the music are often absent, but it does give a good big picture sense of the relationships between different composers (and also brings in jazz and rock as key elements of the development of serious music).

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
[Finished 27 May 2003] I’d been meaning to read Bonhoeffer for some time but the confluence of a couple events finally got me to read this book. The first was a song that I was writing, “Salvation at a Discount,” which I’d been stuck on the lyrics for a while. Then at a mass at Holy Name Cathedral, the priest mentioned Bonhoeffer and The Cost of Discipleship and talked about Bonhoeffer’s idea of “cheap grace”. Then not too much longer I started dating Nalleli and noticed that she had the book on her shelves. On a recent trip to visit her in Tucson, I borrowed the book and read it on the plane ride back.

Of course I’m writing this two years later, I no longer live in Chicago, Nalleli no longer lives in Tucson, we’re married and I don’t remember the book well enough to write something inciteful. Click on the link and read the reviews at amazon instead.

Adolescent Diversity in Ethnic, Economic and Cultural Contexts edited by Raymond Montemayor, Gerald Adams and Thomas P. Gulotta
[Finished 26 May 2003] A rather dense academic treatise on how non-prosperous, non-white kids do in school and other contexts

The Talented Mr Ripley; Ripley Underground; Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith
[Finished 25 May 2003] An omnibus collection of the first three Ripley novels. I decided to read this after seeing the film with Jude Law and Matt Damon (which, by the way, was quite excellent). The books left me a bit disappointed. The clever plotting in the film was in many ways a creation of the screenwriter with the novel being a bit less carefully conceived. I don’t think that I’ll read the last two Ripley novels. Or at least not buy them.

Selected Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant
[Finished 19 May 2003] I first picked this up after I had discovered W. Somerset Maugham and read that he considered Maupassant to be one of his key influences. A couple early starts at reading the stories left me having a hard time getting going, but this time around they flowed like good wine. I’m thinking I should learn French so that I can read the originals.

The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert L. Short
[Finished 18 May 2003] An amusing and interesting little book, taking the religious themes in Peanuts (which is a remarkably religious comic strip, but not obsequiously so) and using them as a starting point for a discussion about theology.

The Acoustic Guitar Answer Book by Sharon Isbin
[Finished 17 May 2003] One to avoid. I had hoped for some good insights into acoustic guitar playing from one of the masters of the craft. Instead I got a disjoint collection of magazine articles she’d written. Some interesting, some dull, and not worth the price of admission as a whole

Inside Rikers by Jennifer Wynn
[Finished 16 May 2003] More reading about prisons. In this case Wynn looks at what happens inside the Rikers Island penal colony and how it affects those who pass through it.

Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years 1939-1966 by Martin Stannard
[Finished 15 May 2003] Most peoples’ lives are less interesting in the second half of their lives, and Waugh is largely no exception.

Popular Culture, Educational Discourse, and Mathematics by Peter M. Appelbaum
[Finished 13 May 2003] Interesting, but not terribly compelling. I picked this up when it was recommended by someone on a math ed mailing list that I used to subscribe to, but it didn’t strike me as something that I felt compelled to read again, or remember after I read it.

The Elements of Social Scientific Thinking by Kenneth R. Hoover
[Finished 6 May 2003] A fairly non-descript textbook introducing social science majors to the methods used in social science research.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
[Finished 5 May 2003] Dickens in heavy-duty social commentary mode.

Fuzzy Logic by Darby Conley
[Finished 2 May 2003] The second volume of Get Fuzzy cartoons. It hurts to read at times because I laugh so much.

Teaching Secondary Mathematics: Techniques and Enrichment Units by Alfred S. Posamentier and Jay Stepelman
[Finished 7 March 2003] An outstanding book. Portions of the body are a bit poorly conceived (e.g., the difference between pre- and post-standards lesson planning is not well presented), but overall this book provides a great resource for the teacher of mathematics.

Double Cross : The Explosive, Inside Story of the Mobster Who Controlled America by Sam and Chuck Giancana
[Finished 18 February 2003] The genre of true crime can be a fascinating one, if the stories are told well and in this case, a biography of Sam Giancana written by Giancana’s brother and nephew is quite well told indeed. There are some claims in the book that are a bit dubious (e.g., that the outfit was responsible for the assassination of JFK), but even then, it’s well worth reading. And you’ll never call it the Mafia again.

The Torturer's Apprentice by John Biguenet
[Finished 20 January 2003] Ever since I first discovered John Biguenet in the pages of Granta, I’ve been waiting for this. He’s got a great voice and is potentially the successor to Graham Greene as a great Catholic writer. Not all of the stories are winners, but enough are that this is a must-read collection.

Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of our most Primal Fear by Jan Bondeson
[Finished 20 January 2003] I have no recollection of how I came across this book, but what a strange, bizarre and wonderful book it is.

Bondeson debunks the myth that live burials were ever really a serious issue, and while he’s not really able to get to why the fear should be so great (other than recurrence of the motif in fiction), he does provide some interesting history of the steps that were taken to avoid live burial.

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher
[Finished 6 January 2003] A rather frightening account of how social pressures constraing the potential roles of girls in our American society. After reading this, I’m terrified at the prospect of raising a daughter.

Theories of Adolescence by Rolf E. Muuss
[Finished 6 January 2003] A survey of theories of adolescent development, beginning with the ancient Greeks and working through contemporary developmental psychologists. Some of the historical material could be profitably omitted or skipped, but it’s a nice overview of the field.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
[Finished 27 December 2002] The first really good book in the series. Rowling still needs an editor, but she’s got a better idea of how to construct a plot now. I imagine part of it comes down to her conceiving of the series as books which should be read at the same age as Harry is. Certainly the subject matter is becoming a fair bit more mature.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
[Finished 22 December 2002] An improvement on the first book, but still somewhat inferior to the film, which manages to tighten up the plotting quite a bit. Somebody get this woman an editor. At least the ending is a bit better conceived than in the first book.

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone by J. K. Rowling
[Finished 21 December 2002] Being a bit sick while visiting my cousin’s family, I decided to read this book while in bed. I had hoped that the conclusion was somewhat better than that of the film, but was disturbed to see how faithful the film was to the book. In general, I think the film was actually superior to the book because it caused some forced editing to take place. Overall, the writing is pretty good, though, and I ended up getting hooked on the series.

American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley, His Battle for Chicago and the Nation by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor
[Finished 16 December 2002] An outstanding biography of the King of Chicago.

Existentialism in Education: What it Means by Van Cleve Morris
[Finished 4 December 2002] More a case for nihilism in education at times. There are times that Morris has some good ideas about educational philosophy, but his unwillingness to establish his starting point for his philosophy means that he has no starting point. Ruling out reason as a guiding point was something I found particularly troubling.

One of the lessons of Deconstructionism (and also mathematical axiomatic theory) is that the choice of one’s foundations is somewhat arbitrary. That said, it doesn’t mean that those starting points do not still need to be selected!

Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer
[Finished 28 November 2002] Read on Thanksgiving break afternoon while my cousin was visiting (it’s his book). Breezy and fun. I really should read the first book in the series, but this seems very much the sort of thing that I would have enjoyed as a child and I do enjoy it as an adult.

The Horned Dinosaurs by Peter Dodson
[Finished 4 November 2002] Like most kids, I was fascinated by dinosaurs, especially the ceratopsians, courtesy of Oliver Butterworth’s The Enormous Egg, so when I spotted this book in a theatre book sale, I grabbed it. It turned out to be well worth reading. I’ve learned far more about the ceratopsians than I’d imagined possible, and I find myself wanting to read more paleontology for adults.

Adolescents Worlds: Negotiating Family, Peers, and School by Patricia Phelan, Anne Locke Davidson and Hanh Cau Yu
[Finished 4 November 2002] A selection of case studies of high school students along with some commentary on their relationships to family, peers and school from a educational psychologist’s perspective.

The Aims of Education and Other Essays by Alfred North Whitehead
[Finished 4 November 2002] Better known as a mathematician, Whitehead also gave a fair amount to educational practice.

The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History by Libbie Hill
[Finished 27 September 2002] Growing up in the Chicago area, I was taught early on the tragic-heroic outline of the history of the river. Its foolish use as a sewer (the river emptied into the lake which was the primary source of drinking water), its reversal so that the sewage went to the Gulf of Mexico instead.

But the details were often lost and this book provides a good explanation of the hows and whys of the river, but naturally and artificially. Especially fascinating to me were the historic maps overlayed with contemporary street grids. Who knew about the forks of the south branch that no longer flow? Mud Lake I did know (I grew up in its bed), but it’s all a great read.

McKeachie's Teaching Tips by Wilbert J. McKeachie
[Finished 14 September 2002] Geared towards the college professor, this is a good compilation of pedagogical guidelines. Definitely worth a re-read.

In Code: A Young Woman's Mathematical Journey by Sarah Flannery with David Flannery
[Finished 7 September 2002] An interesting exploration of basic number theory and encryption concepts written by a talented high school student whose father is a professor of mathematics. It provides an easy way to approach the topic and the discussion is more than a little accessible.

The really hard mathematics is stashed into an appendix so that the casual reader can follow the story of how the author came up with an encryption scheme (which turned out, later, to be rather insecure) as a high school student.

Experience and Education by John Dewey
[Finished 3 September 2002] A slender paperback which pretty well encompasses most of what Dewey has to say.

Teaching Mathematics in Colleges and Universities: Case Studies for Today's Classroom by Solomon Friedberg et al
[Finished 27 August 2002] A collection of scenarios for new university teachers covering pedagogical technique, diagnosing misconceptions in students and awarding partial credit while grading.

I found it a little thought-provoking at first, but quickly outgrew it.

The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce
[Finished 25 August 2002] My edition (not the one linked) was apparently abridged, but given that it was a $.99 Dover edition I don’t feel too cheated. It was just the right length to read straight through, which would have been unpleasant for a longer version.

Ayres and Observations by Thomas Campion
[Finished 16 August 2002] 16th century lyric poetry. The introduction includes a bit of music with lute tabulature.

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley
[Finished 15 August 2002] Buckley (the son of William F.) Has a fun light touch in his satiric writing which makes his writing always a pleasure to read. In this case, we’re told the story of a P.R. man who ends up being used. The Nick Naylor short I read was similar in character and Buckley has a gift for writing entertaining fiction.

The Reckoning by Thomas Monteleone
[Finished 13 August 2002] My annual “Pope” novel and a really awful one at that. It reads like a Jack Chick tract re-written by Jerry Bruckheimer. But I always try to finish the books that I start and I slogged through it, all the time wondering, “why? why would anyone write this? or more to the point, why would anyone publish it?”

Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Mathews
[Finished 4 August 2002] An outstanding biography of Jaime Escalante, the inspiration for the film Stand and Deliver.

Unlike the film, you get a very real idea of what Escalante’s challenges and struggles with teaching his students were and you learn that he didn’t immediately transform a group of students struggling with fractions into a group of calculus superstars.

The cheating controversy is addressed (it’s likely that there was cheating by the students), but it’s really one of the least interesting aspects of the story.

It’s well worth tracking down a copy of this (out-of-print) book.

King Richard the Second by William Shakespeare
[Finished 2 August 2002] A slender, sparsely-commented volume (not the edition linked to at amazon!), this is the first of Shakespeare’s 8-play history cycle, a sequence of plays well worth returning to.

Man and Superman by Bernard Shaw
[Finished 31 July 2002] I remember reading or hearing somewhere that the theatre was about Ideas with a capital I, and certainly, Shaw’s theatre is very much so. I don’t know why I don’t read more Shaw more often. I always enjoy it.

The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design by Jan Tschichold
[Finished 27 July 2002] A collection of essays on book design by one of the twentieth century’s most masterful (and controversial) book designers. The time span of the essays is rather broad, and covers Tschichold’s young radical days along with his later traditionalism.

Versification: A Short Introduction by James McAuley
[Finished 21 July 2002] It probably would have been better to have read this when it was assigned reading rather than nearly 15 years later. It’s a pretty good overview of poetic meter, but a bit below my level nowadays.

The Captives, or The Lost Recovered by Thomas Heywood
[Finished 19 July 2002] I’m trying to remember this book nearly three years later as I fill in the gaps in the book list, but I’m stumped. Pretend there’s something profound here.

The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope by Andrew Delbanco
[Finished 16 July 2002] Writing this two years after the fact, sadly, I just can’t remember this book. At all. I don’t remember buying it, I don’t remember reading it. I don’t remember owning it.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
[Finished 15 July 2002] A classic gothic tale, complete with mysterious goings on, rooms that are not to be entered and a handsome yet tragic love interest for the heroine. A fun fast read.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
[Finished 10 July 2002] This is one of those books which was furtively passed around in my childhood, but as an upright youth, I never partook back then. I did now as a warped adult instead.

I knew a little about the Manson family from assorted news accounts (the usual three paragraph summary whenever Manson’s parole comes up), but this book does a pretty good job at attempting to reconstruct the actions and motives of the Manson family. There’s a limit to which one can explain such horrific acts, but this is about as good as you can hope for.

Alone in the Universe by Walker Percy
[Finished 7 July 2002] Sort of a parody of 70s self-help books, but with a serious agenda as well.

Optical Letter Spacing for New Printing Systems by David Kindersley and Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley
[Finished 7 July 2002] A slim paperback published hoping to get Kindersely’s ideas more “out there” into the world of typography.

Exemplary Novels by Miguel de Cervantes
[Finished 3 July 2002] More a collection of stories than novels, my copy is a limited edition (although long enough print run to make that description a bit odd). Nothing to quite measure up to Don Quijote.

Waugh in Africa by Evelyn Waugh
[Finished 3 July 2002] Evelyn Waugh’s writings from his trip to Ethiopia before World War II reflect the prejudices of his time perhaps more than the realities of African life. But even Waugh’s prejudices make for interesting reading.

The Funhouse Mirror: Reflections on Prison by Robert Ellis Gordon
[Finished 28 June 2002] The title of this book plays with the meaning of reflection: This is not merely a reflection on what prisons are about, but also a look at how prisons reflect society. And while the funhouse mirror might not reflect ourselves as we think we look, it still reveals something about who we are. Prisons in the U.S. in particular reflect just how messed up we are as a society, how willing to throw away the lives of people without any real concern for what will become of them when they, inevitibly, are released back into society. But as long as our society is built around vengeance rather than justice, I suppose it shall always be that way.

A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-violent Conflict by Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall
[Finished 26 June 2002] It’s kind of funny when we have a president who claims Jesus as his favorite philosopher but doesn’t seem to understand any of Jesus’ teachings. There’s nothing exclusively Christian in non-violence, but there’s nothing authentically Christian in violence.

A combination of philosophy and history, this book looks at why non-violence works and considers a number of case studies (including a number of cases where the non-violent protestors ultimately failed in their aims, which gives this a much more authoritative vantage point than approaches to non-violence which point to India and say look, it worked there without addressing the whys of other non-violent causes.

And perhaps the most striking thing comes from the early chapters where we learn that no one can be governed without their consent, and therein is where the true power of non-violence lies: In being willing to say no.

Return Flight: Community Development Through Reneighboring Our Cities by Robert Lupton
[Finished 21 June 2002] A stunning tract: Lupton proposes that the solution to the ills of the inner city is to have the middle class move in, reversing the trend of white flight. There’s a lot to be said for this: If no one in the neighborhood has a job it’s difficult to get the concept that having a job is a normal thing to do. This is one of the big causes of the failure of public housing in the late twentieth century (in Chicago, this is partly the consequence of changes in rent policies which eliminated any sort of economic diversity in the projects).

Lupton has, in fact, put his money (or more accurately, his family) where his mouth is, and has actually moved into the inner city with his family and the stories here come from his own experiences.

The big failure that I can see here, however, is that Lupton doesn’t really address questions of gentrification. In many cities, there is a movement of the middle class back into the city center, but rather than helping raise up the poor who live in that area, they are instead being pushed out.

Graham Greene on Film by Graham Greene
[Finished 20 June 2002] The sort of book that one buys and reads because of completist tendencies, which as a Greene afficianado, I freely admit to. I’ve seen only a handful of the films reviewed in the book, and many of them have disappeared into the collective amnesia.

The Debate on the English Reformation by Rosemary O'Day
[Finished 18 June 2002] A sort of meta-history, O’Day focuses not so much on the English reformation as on how it’s been interpretted historically.

Many Dimensions by Charles W. Williams
[Finished 16 June 2002] Continuing my explorations of the inklings, I decided to try this kind of science-fictiony adventure yarn. Similar in spirit to War in Heaven, although a bit more enjoyable and better conceived. Certainly a world away from Tolkien.

A Millenium of the Book edited by Robin Myers and Michael Harris
[Finished 14 June 2002] A collection of essays on the history of the book.

Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution by Che Guevara
[Finished 12 June 2002] A fascinating collection of essays and speeches by Che Guevara, arranged in chronological order, they provide some insight into the development of the Cuban revolution. Some of the most fascinating, to me, are the speeches from the 60s where we learn how the Cubans were struggling with transitioning to a strictly sugar-based economy to one where they began producing some of the goods which previously had to be imported, in particular soda and toothpaste, both of which provided unique challenges to the nascent industial sector.

And through it all, Che’s idealism remains, which is perhaps the most interesting part of all.

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
[Finished 9 June 2002] I don’t remember how I first encountered this book (perhaps amazon recommendations), but it was a breezy and fun read, especially in the wake of having recently read Stephen J, Gould’s Dinosaur in a Haystack. I would definitely seek out more Sawyer in the future.

Four Plays by Eugene Ionesco
[Finished 4 June 2002] I first encountered Ionesco when I saw the film of Rhinocerous on PBS while a child home with chicken pox. I loved it enough that when I saw the play in the Marshall Field’s bookstore nearly ten years later, I grabbed it. Wanting to read a bit more Ionesco, I found this at a used book sale. I guess he had more to say to fourth grade me than adult me.

Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose
[Finished 3 June 2002] Let’s see:

  1. There’s not enough money in the world to get me to live in Texas. Man, that place is messed up.
  2. This is the guy who’s running the U.S.? Things are worse than I thought.

Written before the election, but still very much relevant.

Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allen Poe
[Finished 2 June 2002] I figure being the sort of geek that I am, that I really should read the bits of Poe that I hadn’t or knew primarily by reputation (thank you Ray Bradbury). Nice haunting stuff, which holds up pretty well after nearly 200 years.I especially enjoy his detective fiction.

The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust
[Finished 24 May 2002] Maybe it’s the long stretches without so much as a blank line between paragraphs, but Proust really more tires than entertains me. Every so often I’ll spot a vignette which appeared on stage in a Proust production I saw a few years back and I’ll enjoy the spot of recognition, but most of the time, I’m kind of bored if I might admit it.

How to be Good by Nick Hornby
[Finished 16 May 2002] Nick Hornby tries writing a novel with a female narrator and largely succeeds. As usual, he doesn’t really have a good idea of how to end his novel, but that’s not really why I read Nick Hornby anyway. I’m curious to see the inevitible film of the book (which will doubtless be in theatres when the paperback of his next novel is published).

The Third Woman: The Secret Passion Which Inspired the End of the Affair by William Cash
[Finished 6 May 2002] An intriguing story of Graham Greene’s affair with Catherine Walston. It provides a compelling supplement to Norman Sherry’s biography of Greene, going into greater detail and giving a rather fascinating mix of sexuality, religious fervor and artistic genius which motivated Greene at this point in his life

Harmony and Voice Leading by Edward Aldwell and Carl Schachter
[Finished 27 April 2002] If you only read one book on harmony, this is the one. Written from the perspective of providing the information that the composer needs to know to be able to fully employ the harmonic tools at her disposal, I found this book enormously helpful in understanding concepts which had previously remianed a bit elusive. I haven’t seen the workbook, but I assume it is equally helpful.

Introduction to Literature: Poems by Lynn Altenbernd and Leslie Lewis
[Finished 7 April 2002] A New Critic’s dream anthology. Minimal commentary and the editorial intervention is largely constrained to a roughly chronological ordering with some excerpting of larger works.

Liberation Theology at the Crossroads by Paul Sigmund
[Finished 6 April 2002] An overview of the history of Liberation Theology followed by an outlook of where it’s going. I’ve kind of lost touch with what’s happening in Latin American Liberation Theology, so I’m not sure how accurate Sigmund’s prognoses are.

Night by Elie Wiesel
[Finished 5 April 2002] The current One Book One Chicago selection. I’d actually meant to read some Wiesel for a while after hearing an interview with him on NPR. It’s a haunting read based on Wiesel’s own experiences during the holocaust.

Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine by Michael Sheehan
[Finished 21 March 2002] The edition I’ve read is an older unrevised edition, but still a fascinating account of Catholic doctrine, written from the somewhat defensive stance of the apologist for the faith rather than as a strict catechesis. But this, perhaps, makes for a stronger presentation. Certainly, I’ve always prefered apologetics to catechesis.

Jesus in Latin America by Jon Sobino
[Finished 10 March 2002] A great account of contemporary Christology in the context of Latin American Liberation Theology.

Vatican Council II: More Post-conciliar Documents edited by Austin Flannery, O. P.
[Finished 5 March 2002] An interesting collection of documents promulgated by the church in the wake of Vatican II. I’m kicking myself for not having purchased the first volume of Vatican II documents while it was still in print.

The Eucharist Yesterday and Today by M. Basil Pennington
[Finished 21 February 2002] A rather amazing book. Written in the early days after Vatican II, Pennington attempts to get to the core of the Eucharistic liturgy and provides a fascinating transcription of a Eucharistic liturgy from India. It’s not a big surprise that I saw this book on the shelves of a lot of Catholics of my acquaintance.

The Footprints of the Jesuits
[Finished 17 February 2002] A distressingly anti-Catholic history of the Jesuits.

Fictions of Sappho, 1546-1937 by Joan DeJean
[Finished 9 February 2002] When I was in college, rather under the influence of J. D. Salinger, I had a bit of a whirlwind love affair with Sappho. This is one of the loose ends that remained as time passed on.

As someone whose biogrpahy is known only in fragments, Sappho tends to have a great deal projected upon her and this book is an attempt at untangling some of these threads to see not so much who Sappho was, but rather how perspectives on her reflected the times and culture from which they originate. An interesting, albeit sometimes dry book.

Counterpoint by Walter Piston
[Finished 22 January 2002] Deciding to take amazon’s advice, I picked up another book on Counterpoint (beyond the Jeppeson). It was definitely a more lucid discussion of the topic although I’m not sure how much of that to credit to the fact that this was the second book I’ve read on counterpoint and how much credit belogs to Piston himself.

The Paradise of Dainty Devices edited by H. E. Rollins
[Finished 17 January 2002] An early anthology of flowers, in this instance dating back to the sixteenth century. This edition is a lightly edited version of the original edition, with poems from later editions added to the end of the book.

Dream Catcher: A Memoir by Margaret Salinger
[Finished 15 January 2002] One of these books that I’ve read largely because of the dearth of biography of J.D. Salinger. It’s an interesting inside view of Salinger’s life written by his daughter and not surprisingly, when her life veers from her father’s, the story becomes less interesting, but it’s still a vital read for the Salingerphile.

Art of Double Bass Playing by Warren A. Benfield and James Seay Dean, Jr.
[Finished 8 January 2002] An odd mix of materials, some seemingly geared towards the person considering playing the bass, and others towards the advanced student. Inspirational, and worth keeping near the music stand, but not all that practical in the end.

War in Heaven by Charles Williams
[Finished 29 December 2001] After re-reading The Lord of the Rings I decided to explore some of the other inklings. Wright’s tale transpants the grail story to 20th century England. It’s occasionally comic and doesn’t really have much of a conclusion but does make for an interesting read. I really should find some more of his novels.

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
[Finished 26 December 2001] Quite a lot different from either of the films of the same name, we have a frame which helps provide some new twists on the theme with the cautionary tale taken in a different direction (closer to the second film than the first). There’s quite a bit of minutiae in the narrative which makes for a better novel than film

The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
[Finished 8 December 2001] And the saga comes to a close. There were a few more parts here that seemed familiar than in The Two Towers but a fair amount which seemed out of reach. I hope that I haven’t ruined my enjoyment of the films by going back to the books right before the movies begin.

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
[Finished 25 November 2001] Unlike The Fellowship of the Ring there was quite a lot of this volume that didn’t come back to my memory which makes me wonder whether I actually finished reading the book or, perhaps, if I had just skimmed over the last two volumes looking for fodder for my expanding universe of Dungeons and Dragons characters and adventures (sadly never played because of a lack of fellow hardcore nerds).

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
[Finished 18 November 2001] It’s been almost 20 years since I read this. Parts are still familiar, others had escaped my memory entirely. I have to admit that I don’t see the Catholic allegory that everyone claims is there (I suppose one could make a case for a Christian allegory, but specifically Catholic? I think not). It’s a bit startling how slowly the story starts off and how abruptly it comes to a conclusion at the end of the volume, something that I remember deeply upset me when I first read this book as a high school freshman

Civilwarland in Bad Decline: Stories and a Novella by George Saunders
[Finished 10 November 2001] What makes these stories work is the voice. There is a clear authorial voice here, one which remains familiar without becoming grating. Occasionally the stories miss the mark (“The Wavemaker Falters”) but mostly they’re dead on. Saunders manages to convey a sense of melancholy and decay that’s just perfect.

If you came to buy this collection after hearing “Offloading for Mrs Schwartz” on This American Life, hesitate no longer. Buy the book.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
[Finished 30 October 2001] A re-read in honor of the upcoming films of The Lord of the Rings. I’m a bit startled to see how childish the tone is in this volume. I’d quite forgotten that. But it does also make it a much easier read than I recall the later books being.

Poetry and Life edited by F. J. Sheed
[Finished 24 October 2001] Despite the innocuous title, this is actually a rather specialized anthology, focusing exclusively on Catholic poets. Not much beyond that to really recommend it. I bought this when I was on a bibliomanic buying rampage for all things relating to Catholic poetry.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
[Finished 14 October 2001] A re-read, and one that’s well earned these days. It’s been a long time since I’ve read this, and with it being a One Book One Chicago selection, it seemed about right to pull it out again. How delicious are the details and how wonderful is Atticus Finch. This is what I aspire to be as far short of the mark as I often fall.

I can see why Harper Lee never published another book. How could you meet the expectations that this book set.

The Dog is not a Toy: House Rule #4 by Darby Conley
[Finished 14 October 2001] I’m not sure why, but Get Fuzzy has become my favorite comic strip. Part of it is the painstakingly drawn artwork (equalled only by Doonesbury and The Boondocks), with subtle details in the background (it’s always fun to look at the books being read or the tapes in Rob’s video collection). Then there are the wonderful cultural references, the great continuity (when Bucky put Nair in Rob’s shampoo, it took a couple of months for Rob’s hair to grow back in) or the characters themselves. It’s just fantastic. This is the first set of comics in the series.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
[Finished 7 October 2001] An amusing enough yarn, although I seem to recall having enjoyed Swiss Family Robinson a bit more. It’s a bit startling to realize how blithely Defoe has his protagonist spending decades stranded on his island.

Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust
[Finished 30 September 2001] The second volume of Remembrance of Things Past is a bit easier going than the first, but still left me feeling a bit lost at sea. I think a big part of this is the bulk not only of the whole book, but of the individual parts of the book as well.

Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture by Robert Venturi
[Finished 24 September 2001] The beginnings of my reading on contemporary design criticism as I started to contemplate a theory of design criticism.

Documents Illustrative of English Church History edited by Henry Gee and W. J. Hardy
[Finished 17 September 2001] A collection of documents beginning well before the reformation and continuing through the 19th century that attempts to provide an outline of English church history through primary source material.

Complete Poetry and Prose by William Blake
[Finished 9 September 2001] There’s something about reading poems written by a man with such a psychotic imagination which can’t help but capture the fancy of the reader. There are the familiar lines (“tiger tiger burning bright”) and the unfamiliar, all of which provide a strange and unusual trip into pure fantasy.

A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and the Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell
[Finished 6 September 2001] Two accounts of a trip made by Samuel Johnson and his biographer. At times a bit ponderous and dull, but generally rather interesting

Dinosaur in a Haystack by Stephen J. Gould
[Finished 21 August 2001] This is my first experience reading Gould’s writing and it’s been quite a pleasure.

Gould is largely concerned with evolutionary science and does a good job of explaining how we are able to know the things that we know. At times the defensiveness against the creationists gets a bit wearying, but I imagine that from where he sits, it seems all to current of an issue to ignore.

The Making of the President 1960 by Theodore H. White
[Finished 17 August 2001] WIth all the attention focused on his assassination, it’s easy to overlook the bitterly contested and controversial election of John F Kennedy in 1960. This book was san early example of the “instant” book, compiled shortly after the election.

For me this was an eye-opener: It was fascinating to get a snap-shot of the realignment of American politics that began with Roosevelt’s election in 1932 and reached its culmination with Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”. Definitely worth reading, especially in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election.

Streetwise Chicago by Don Hayner and Tom McNamee
[Finished 15 August 2001] An accounting of the origins of the names of streets in Chicago along with occasional bits of history (although this latter is a bit thin and disappointing).

America's First by Charles Edwards
[Finished 13 August 2001] A missed opportunity. Edwards, setting out to write a novel about the first black president of the United States, ends up with a mishmahs of mafia themes, behind the scenes manouvres of his central character’s party, and even Saddam Hussein. All of which adds up to little of consequence. Not worth bothering with in the end.

Interpretation in Teaching by I. A. Richardson
[Finished 8 August 2001] An intriguing book, discussing how questions of interpretation shape the teaching of English, although in the end, I don’t feel that the book really provided what I hoped it would. Had I read this when I bought it, it might well have only exacerbated my existential crisis about the role of criticism.

The Accidental Pope by Raymond Flynn and Robin Moore
[Finished 4 August 2001] This year’s Pope novel. Hmm, why is the American ambassador to the Vatican such a central character? It turns out Flynn was the ambassador to the Vatican during the Clinton years. Well, that explains a lot. Yet another formulaic Pope novel with little to recommend it.

A Flowering Tree: And Other Oral Tales from India by A. K. Ramanujan
[Finished 6 July 2001] A fascinating collection of orally-transmitted folk tales from India. It is made a bit perplexing by the incorporation of some scholastic apparatus including a nomenclature for classifying tales according to some sort of rather mechanical system. I felt at times like I’d missed most of a semester of class. But the tales are great.

Walter Benjamin and the Bible by Brian Britt
[Finished 2 July 2001] Not entirely sure why I bought this. I guess it’s because of the Terry Eagleton-Walter Benjamin connection, but having not actually read any Benjamin, this came across as amazingly opaque.

Chasing the Sun: Dictionary-Makers and the Dictionaries They Made by Jonathon Green
[Finished 1 July 2001] This is one of those subjects that seems to fascinate me but few others. I knew a very small amount about dictionary making before I read this book, largely courtesy of reading about Samuel Johnson. This provided a rather interesting history of the genre (which is relatively young). It’s interesting to note, for example, that the idea of arranging words alphabetically was not self-evident (after all, if you know a word and want to know what it means, it works well, but if you want to know what the word is for, say, the knee of a horse, a standard dictionary is little help at all). In all a fascinating work.

God First Loved Us: The Challenge of Accepting Unconditional Love by Antony F. Campbell, S.J.
[Finished 1 July 2001] Campbell is a frequent visiting priest at my old parish in Claremont, and he wrote this book apparently while spending the New Zealand summer in California which made it a favorite among the parishioners and eventually a present for me.

In this short book, Campbell explores just how radical the concept of being unconditionally loved is, and just what it demands of us as the ones being so loved. Thought-provoking and inspiring.

No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin
[Finished 22 June 2001] Like most people educated in the US, history classes generally managed to stay pretty detailed until roughly the civil war, then as the spring arrives, we ended up rushing through the 20th century not getting a whole lot of the details.

So it’s been with some delight that I’ve been reading this book, filling in the details. Focusing primarily on the lead-up to Roosevelt’s third term through his death, Kearns manages to provide enough detail and background to keep the reader informed and engaged throughout.

It is, though somewhat disturbing while reading this to realize how far to the right the US as tacked in the last 60 years.

The Quest for Graham Greene by W. J. West
[Finished 21 June 2001] One of the weaknesses of Sherry’s biography of Graham Greene is the additional information which has come to light since he began writing. This, in part, explains the fact that between the publication of the first and second volumes, the size of the work had expanded to three volumes with the second volume being far more detailed than the first.

In writing this work, West has come at it with the view that his readers would likely be familiar with the other biographies and makes frequent reference to them (including scathing rebuttals to claims made in Shelden’s travesty of a biography). This ends up creating a work which helps fill in the gaps that were unavoidable in Sherry volume 1 and makes this an essential companion to Sherry’s work for the serious Graham Greene scholar (or fan).

Say I Am You: Poetry Interspersed With Stories of Rumi and Shams by Jalal Al-Din Rumi
[Finished 15 June 2001] I stumbled upon the Sufi mystic and poet looking over the shoulder of a girl I sat next to on the bus one morning heading in to work. We both got off at the same stop, she went right to art school, I went left to my computer job. Something significant there.

The poems come from the Sufic mystic tradition of Islam, although I find that mysticism tends to be fairly uniform regardless of the underlying theology. A great read and one that I’ll doubtless return to.

Reformation in England by Frederick Powicke
[Finished 12 June 2001] A not particularly memorable accounting of the English reformation

On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism by Jonathan Culler
[Finished 29 May 2001] Some leftover reading from college. I kind of wish I’d actually read it when I took the class. This was a highly readable and quite interesting introduction to post-structuralist criticism. Certainly a lot easier to follow than some of the other work that I did read all those years ago.

The Stranger by Albert Camus
[Finished 28 May 2001] One of those books that most of my peers read in high school but I managed to miss (that’s what I get for writing a novel in place of senior English, I guess). The sense of alienation throughout the novel is something which will haunt me for years to come, I suppose.

Letterletter: An Inconsistent Collection of Tentative Theories That Do Not Claim Any Other Authority Than That of Common by Gerrit Noordzij
[Finished 27 May 2001] A collection of essays by Dutch type designer Gerrit Noordzij. I’ll probably publish a full review in Serif.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
[Finished 14 May 2001] A pleasant read, in a series of vignettes. This was a One Book One Chicago selection when I read it.

Chicago by Gaslight: A History of Chicago's Netherworld, 1880-1920 by Richard Lindberg
[Finished 13 May 2001] An enthralling account of the dark side of Chicago at the turn of the last century. It was fascinating to read about the assorted vice criminals, murderers and corrupt politicians of the era (not to mention connecting some of the addresses mentioned to what’s there today).

Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty by Roy F. Baumeister
[Finished 12 May 2001] Baumeister is fast becoming one of my favorite non-fiction writers. His journal articles are especially fascinating. In this book, Baumeister turns to the question of evil. He makes a conscious point of avoiding literary depictions of evil and instead tries to apply social scientific tools to the question. What he found is that people tend to prefer not being evil in general and attempts to identify some of the root causes (one that stands out is that “evil” behavior is not generally rooted in a lack of self-esteem, but in fact the opposite: It’s generally a consequence of a surfeit of esteem.

I attempted once to replicate one of his studies in which he found that submissives outnumbered dominators in the alternative newspaper classifieds. In the issue of the Reader that I looked at, the opposite was quite the case.

Orchestration by Cecil Forsyth
[Finished 25 April 2001] The first practical book I’ve read on orchestration. It’s a bit outdated in places and at times charmingly un-PC, but a handy guide regardless. While it doesn’t talk as much about combinations of instruments as Rimsky-Korsakoff’s book, it provides detailed and practical information on each of the instruments it covers.

Chicanos, Catholicsm And Political Ideology by Lawrence J. Mosqueda
[Finished 14 April 2001] Heavy number crunching looking at the patterns of religiosity and political belief among Mexican immigrants in the American southwest. Much of what the mainstream media seems to find surprising (they’re not all Catholics and they’re not all democrats) is quite clearly outlined here.

Typee by Herman Melville
[Finished 14 April 2001] I spotted this at a book sale and picked it up having enjoyed other Melville that I’d read. Divorced from any context it was a bit perplexing: Was I to take at face value the manuscript’s claim to be true. Obviously not. On the other hand, I also missed out on the ways in which this was a truly shocking story: From the perspective of a 21st Century American, the sexuality, cannibalism etc. aren’t that outrageous.

Catholics in England 1559-1829: A Social History by M. D. R. Leys
[Finished 3 April 2001] A pretty good history of English Catholics under the penal laws.

Life is Worth Living by Fulton J. Sheen
[Finished 18 March 2001] A collection of essays adapted from Sheen’s television program of the same name. Pleasant reflections on spiritual living.

A Catholic Reader edited by Charles A. Brady
[Finished 12 March 2001] A delightful compendium of Catholic writings from throughout English history. Some of the short stories are particularly delightful

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
[Finished 16 February 2001] I had my doubts about this book as I started reading it. How interesting can a novel about a pre-adolescent be? As it turned out, it was actually quite good, perhaps better, even, then the Barrytown trilogy.

Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B. F. Skinner
[Finished 9 February 2001] Skinner’s controversial work in which he argues for using behavioralist techniques to shape society. But ultimately, it’s much less controversial than the title would imply. Perhaps it’s just that I’m sympathetic to the behavioralist viewpoint (although not necessarily to the extremes that Skinner sometimes espoused, although I’m not sure that Skinner himself believed in those extremes--rather he was just being provocative to get his ideas debated), but much of Skinner’s arguments seemed eminently sensible.

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis
[Finished 3 February 2001] The book that got me into early American history. History as it’s taught in American schools reduces the subject to a rather dull series of events. The detail behind it is quite another matter.

Ellis’s primary subjects are Jefferson and Adams, although most of the founders of the republic get a fair amount of play here.

Amazing Conversions: Why Some Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion by Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger
[Finished 28 January 2001] I’m always happy to read books which try to scientifically study religious phenomenon. In this particular case, Altemeyer and Hunsberger attempt to address the question of what the factors are which lead some young adults to turn to religion while their peers abandon their childhood faiths. It’s a difficult question to address because it’s looking at the outliers on the question of religious belief (the vast majority of young adults don’t go through any change in religious belief either towards or away). Definitely worth a read for those interested in the topic.

Decadence and Catholicism by Ellis Hanson
[Finished 26 January 2001] When I saw the title, I was intrigued enough to want to read it so I picked it up at Border’s (using my discount card). By “decadence” Hanson is referring particularly to a late 19th-century literary and artistic movement which was fascinated by decay. And what better source for decay than the Catholic church in England, finally coming out from under the weight of severe penal laws prohibiting Catholicism and divested of much of its historical wealth? Yet the reading remained relatively dry, even with Oscar Wilde as a central figure in the book. I suppose it would have been far more interesting to me as a college student.

About a Boy by Nick Hornby
[Finished 21 January 2001] A great premise with fun and interesting characters. But of course, as seems to be perpetually the problem with Nick Hornby, he is unable to provide an ending to his story. The film of the book helped a bit on that front, but here the book just sort of peters out. On the other hand, the path there is sufficiently fun that really it’s hard to begrudge Hornby his inability to end a novel.

Samuel Johnson by W. Jackson Bate
[Finished 18 January 2001] A captivating biography of Johnson, surprising in its detail. This is the second Johnson bio that I’ve read (the first being, of course, Boswell), and I’ve found that it gave me a remarkably good perspective on Johnson the man, and his accomplishments in his life.

Programming Applications with the Wireless Application Protocol by Steve Mann
[Finished 13 January 2001] A fair introduction to a technology which became obsolete almost immediately upon release. By the time I finished reading this, WAP was one of those technologies that had fallen into the technological dust bin

Granta 70: Australia, the New New World
[Finished 4 January 2001] Once again, Granta manages to put together a stunning collection, although it felt like some of the fiction could have used some footnotes for those of us unfamiliar with the finer points of Australian life.

Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice by Vincent Persichetti
[Finished December 2000] Both a manifesto and a textbook, the opening sentence sets the tone:

Any tone can succeed any other tone, any tone can sound simultaneously with any other tone or tones, and any group of tones can be followed by any other group of tones.
I love this book, and I love Persichetti’s compositions. Clearly an essential work for students of music theory.

Counterpoint: The Polyphonic Style of the Sixteenth Century by Knud Jeppesen
[Finished November 2000] As part of my program of musical autodidacticism, I decided that I needed to learn about counterpoint (partly because I found myself wanting to write a piece in the style of classical counterpoint). A bit of research revealed this to be the generally acclaimed best book on the subject, and I found that it did suit my needs quite well, although less so than actually performing Palestrina pieces with the Holy Name Choir.

The South Side: The Racial Transformation of an American Neighborhood by Louis Rosen
[Finished November 2000] Chicago is a remarkably segregated city, and Rosen, in this book, decided to do a case study of his own neighborhood on the far south side of Chicago to see the processes that led to his neighborhood turning from a predominantly white neighborhood to a predominantly black neighborhood.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
[Finished October 2000] A re-read. I first read this as an undergrad, and after lending my copy to a friend who never returned it, I decided to buy a new copy (this edition which includes the Postscript). This is clearly a book which rewards rereading, with its layered meaning in the detective story. I’m thinking that I’d like to read it one more time paying a bit more attention to the historical background in the book as well for still more meaning waiting to be unwrapped

What You Can Change... And What You Can't by Martin E.P. Seligman
[Finished September 2000] Seligman is, I think, one of the greatest psychologists of the late twentieth century, and this book, one of his works for the general populace, is a good overview of what psychological research can tell us about the things that matter most to us: Everyday problems like phobias, weight loss, addiction, depression, anxiety, etc. If only more people would read Seligman and fewer would read John Grey’s claptrap

Eminence by Morris West
[Finished August 2000] Another annual “Pope” novel. I’m back to Morris West who’s probably the king of the genre. Once again, West manages to do a good job of using fiction to reveal the state of the church

Understanding ActiveX and OLE by David Chappell
[Finished August 2000] This got good reviews at amazon. I, personally, didn’t care too much for it, as it gave me a conceptual understanding, but didn’t allow me to do any actual development. Not in any way what I needed from the book

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
[Finished July 2000] Inspired by the “Summarizing Proust” skit on Monty Python, I’ve long meant to read Rememberence of Things Past, so I finally decided to begin. It’s a long, often difficult journey, with chapters which run for unbelievably long stretches, which is largely incompatible with my somewhat addled reading habits.

The Feeling of What Happens by Antonio Damasio
[Finished June 2000] An interesting attempt to look scientifically at what consciousness means.

The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
[Finished June 2000] Great fun. Yes, parts of it seem to be gratuitous filler, but it’s still an awful lot of fun to read. Even bits of the filler have stuck with me as a source of amusement some years after reading it.

And if you’ve ever played Illuminati, this is almost a must-read.

Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood
[Finished May 2000] A mixed variety of short stories set in Germany between the world wars. It’s been a while since I read these, but I remember enjoying many of them.

Class: A Guide Through the American Status System by Paul Fussell
[Finished May 2000] An interesting look into the American class system. Definitely something that I should track down and re-read.

Structures of the Church by Hans Küng
[Finished April 2000] A fascinating look at church hierarchy and its relationship to the laity. Küng argues for a greater role for the laity in the church, a call which was only partly heeded by the second Vatican council.

In the Heart of the Seas by S. Y. Agnon
[Finished March 2000] A very curious narrative. It’s written in an eighteenth century style, but seems to be a contemporary piece. I believe I got this from a list of top 100 spiritual books of the twentieth century.

The Mass of the Roman Rite by Joseph A. Jungmann, S.J.
[Finished March 2000] A massive tome detailing the history of the Roman mass. Written on the eve of Vatican II, it was an essential background for those working to revise the liturgy for the modern era.

The Cardinal Sins by Andrew Greeley
[Finished 20 February 2000] Better than White Smoke although Greeley still doesn’t do too much for me as a novelist. If you’re looking for a compelling Catholic novelist, try Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh or Morris West.

Paul Renner: The Art of Typography by Christopher Burke
[Finished 13 February 2000] Review pending for Serif.

The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication and Explanation by John Horgan
[Finished 4 February 2000] When I first flipped through this after I got it for Christmas, I formed a (mistaken) impression that Horgan was Freudian. However, upon reading the book, the truth is that Horgan is an extreme positivist, who despairs that any psychological theory will be productive for anything.

Granta 69: The Assassin
[Finished February 2000] Another fascinating collection from Granta.

Graham Greene: On the Frontier by Maria Coutos
[Finished February 2000] Not terribly insightful, I thought.

J'Accuse: The Dark Side of Nice by Graham Greene
[Finished February 2000] I doubt that this would be notable if not for its author. Actually, I’m not sure it’s notable even with its author.

Kinds of Minds by Daniel Dennet
[Finished 30 January 2000] An intriguing inquiry into how consciousness works, by a philosopher with a scientific bent.

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
[Finished 21 January 2000] Not one of Maugham’s best novels, but still an interesting (and short) read.

Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years 1903-1939 by Martin Stannard
[Finished 18 January 2000] An outstanding and intriguing examination of Waugh’s life and opinions.

Granta 68: Love Stories
[Finished 16 January 2000] The Cheever left me cold, but as usual, some nice stories and articles.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert Pirsig
[Finished 15 January 2000] Required reading by the more pretentious students at nerd school, I managed to miss this during my stint there. Good thing, since I think that I appreciate it more as an older reader than I would have as nerdboy.

Harmony by Walter Piston
[Finished 5 January 2000] An excellent introduction to harmonic analysis. Some sections were a bit unclear, but a large part of that was more because I read 2/3 of it away from a keyboard so I was relying on my musical imagination to tell me what the examples sounded like. Reading it has certainly done a lot to broaden my own compositional skills. Reviews at Amazon.com indicate that the current edition is not as good as the older edition which I read. Pity.

My Life by Leon Trotsky
[Finished 11 December 1999] Perhaps it’s because I read this immediately after Newman’s autobiography (below), but I saw a lot of parallels between the two works. Both use the autobiography form as a means of justifying their opinions and actions in the face of the attacks of an opponent (Stalin in the case of Trotsky, Kingsley for Newman). Trotsky’s autobiography is less rhetorically sophisticated than Newman’s but ultimately is a more interesting read, because of that very trait.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua by John Henry Cardinal Newman
[Finished 28 November 1999] I selected this particular edition to link to because it’s the one that I read and it includes some vital context for understanding Newman’s autobiography. Should you actually read it for yourself, I would encourage you to read the exchange between Newman and Kingsley at the end of the book before reading the main text. The critical essays can largely be skipped unless you really enjoy that sort of thing (and perhaps even if you do).

Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words
[Finished 23 November 1999] I picked this book up at an anti-war rally back in ‘91, but never got around to reading it. Frankly it struck me as being unlikely to be interesting (why I got in the first place escapes me). But it finally percolated to the top of my reading list and it’s been quite a surprise. Much of what Peace Pilgrim says could be my own words and her life is one that I have aspired to. I find some of her spiritual perspectives to be a bit odd, but her life, truly in the spirit of St Francis, is quite astonishing.

Principles of Orchestration with Musical Examples Drawn from his own Work in Two Volumes Bound as One by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov
[Finished 16 November 1999] A bit frustrating as many of the principles are still left unillustrated even with the copious score extracts, and much is left unexplained. The introduction explains how the text came to be (compiled from fragments of a planned work left unfinished at Rimsky-Korsakov’s death), but fails to explain why the work was published in its present state. It has influenced me somewhat in my playing and arranging, but was of little direct use to me.

Guerilla P.R. by Michael Levine
[Finished 12 November 1999] Frankly, not all that groundbreaking or innovative. Or maybe I just have good P.R. instincts, but there didn’t really seem to be anything to what Levine offers that I didn’t already know.

The Flute and Flute Playing in Acoustical, Technical and Artistic Aspects by Theobald Boehm
[Finished 9 November 1999] When I started teaching myself the flute, I put this book aside as being a bit impractical for my interests. I was right to do so, but as I progressed, I decided to pick it up again and see if it was interesting. Very much so. It was occasionally confusing as some of Boehm’s terminology clashed with my own (e.g., what he called the C# key, I called the C key, his reasoning being that the hole beneath the key sounded C# while mine was that closing the key caused the flute to sound C), but it was fascinating reading the description of how the modern flute came to be. I’ve read some autobiographies of flute techs who said that they used this book to disassemble and reassemble a flute for the first time. Maybe so, I don’t see that, but still worth the few bucks it’d cost any flute player to pick this one up.

Birdy by William Wharton
[Finished 4 November 1999] A re-read. I first read this in college when I borrowed the copy my roommate had for one of his classes and later bought a copy for myself. I still love the intertwining narratives and timeframes.

Autobiography by John Stuart Mill
[Finished 13 October 1999] As one of my college professors observed, really only the account of Mill’s childhood education is interesting, although that comes in as very interesting.

Poems for the People by Carl Sandburg
[Finished 11 October 1999] Mostly lesser poems, there’s one really nice one describing a gypsy girl sitting across from Sandburg on the L which was the whole reason I bought this.

The Prey of the Priest Catchers: The Lives of the Forty Martyrs by Leon Knowles
[Finished 24 September 1999] A popularized history, but nice outline of the English saints.

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov
[Finished 22 September 1999] Not as funny as some reviewers have led me to believe, but certainly the lightest Russian literature I’ve ever encountered.

Granta 67: Women and Children First
[Finished 15 September 1999] An interesting look at the places where social niceties seem to break down or stand up.

Markings by Dag Hamerskjold
[Finished 8 September 1999] One of the most impressive accountings of the inner life, if not the most impressive accounting. This book by far deserves its place in the recently published list of the 100 top spiritual books of the century.

Life and Poems of Nicholas Grimald by L. R. Merrill
[Finished 2 September 1999] The archipropheta is especially interesting as are the many contradictions of Grimald’s life. This is part of my collection on Catholics in Elizabethan England.

Shakespeare's English Kings by Peter Saccio
[Finished 27 August 1999] A nice companion to the historical plays. It provides some much needed background.

Sir Thomas Browne: A Doctor's Life of Science & Faith by Jeremiah S. Finch
[Finished 16 August 1999] A highly readable biography.

Special Edition Using FoxPro 5 by Michael Antonovich
[Finished 4 August 1999] Occasionally good, occasionally bad. It gets higher marks just because so many FoxPro books I’ve encountered have been so uniformly bad.

Papabile: The Man Who Would Be Pope by Michael J. Farrell
[Finished 3 August 1999] Not quite the book it could have been.

Modern Political Analysis by Robert A. Dahl
[Finished 31 July 1999] Not particularly remarkable. Some leftover unread stuff from college.

Ways of Escape by Graham Greene
[Finished 23 July 1999] A re-read. Interestingly as I was reading this, I found myself transported to the hotel room in New Jersey and its environs where I read this book initially in 1989 (in fact it’s entirely possible that I read this exactly one decade earlier).

The French Impressionists and their Century by Diane Kelder
[Finished 19 July 1999] A nicely illustrated examination of the development of impressionism in France.

The Golden Book of Catholic Poetry edited by Alfred Noyes
[Finished 15 July 1999] A fair anthology of poems which stretches beyond the breaking point the definition of “Catholic Poetry.”

A Sentimental Journey with The Journal to Eliza and a Political Romance by Laurence Stern
[Finished 25 June 1999] Not quite as great of a read as Tristram Shandy was.

Beyond the Bass Clef: The Life and Art of Bass Playing by Tony Levin
[Finished 21 June 1999] Perhaps the only book that has inspired me to be a better musician.

Shyness: What It Is, What to Do About It by Philip G. Zimbardo
[Finished 11 June 1999] A nice examination of research and its applications to social phobias.

Granta 66: Truth and Lies
[Finished 24 May 1999] As usual, a great outing from Granta

The Satyricon by Petronius
[Finished 19 May 1999] Frustrating with its frequent lacunae, an amusing and bawdy work.

The Portable Karl Marx edited by Eugene Kamenka
[Finished 6 May 1999] A nice collection of writings by and about Marx. I especially love the story early on where Marx “swopped knives” with a youth who had no idea to whom he was making his request.

Integral Humanism by Jacques Maritain
[Finished 30 April 1999] A bit of philosophy that occasionally reached beyond me, but an engaging read on the meaning of being human.

Fundamentals of Cognitive Psychology by R. Reed Hunt and Henry C. Ellis
[Finished 20 April 1999] Cognitive psychology is usually a dry subject but it doesn’t have to be that way. Unfortunately, Reed and Ellis don’t seem to know that.

What Gunpowder Plot Was by Samuel Rawson Gardiner
[Finished 15 April 1999] A charmingly biased (towards the protestant side) accounting. It was written in response to another book which I’ve not read which makes it frequently opaque.

Chicago '68 by David Farber
[Finished 14 April 1999] Primarily an account from the yippie perspective of the events leading up to and surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention.

The Undertaking: Life Stories from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch
[Finished 9 April 1999] A great collection of essays from an accomplished writer who happens to also run a funeral home.

Cognitive Therapy of Depression by Aaron T. Beck, Gary Emery and Brian F. Shaw
[Finished 8 April 1999] Generally interesting, but incomplete. For example, the Beck inventory and a few other diagnostic tools are included, but no instructions on how to score them is given.

Granta 65: London--The Lives of the City
[Finished 7 April 1999] Another outstanding collection of fiction and essays.

On the Dignity and Vocation of Women by John Paul II
[Finished 1 April 1999] An intriguing mix of progressive and conservative ideas. The Catholic position on women is far more nuanced than its critics and supporters sometimes see.

On Social Concern by John Paul II
[Finished 31 March 1999] Even more progressive than “On the Hundredth Anniversary” which came later.

On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum by John Paul II
[Finished 30 March 1999] Given JP2’s conservative reputation, surprisingly progressive.

Pacem in Terris by John XXIIII
[Finished 27 March 1999] While it’s primarily about peace matters, this encyclical is an important work in the corpus of Catholic teaching on social justice.

The Story of the English Cardinals by Charles Isaacson
[Finished 26 March 1999] A surprisingly readable book. Isaacson’s dilemma over figures like Newman is rather entertaining.

A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez
[Finished 24 March 1999] I wasn’t prepared for the rigorous philosophical bent of this book, but can see the value of it as it provides a solid grounding for the various liberation theologies which followed this work.

Who will Teach Me? A Handbook for Parents by Joseph Girzone
[Finished 18 March 1999] A handy book. Girzone is a mostly liberal Catholic, although in some areas he’s surprisingly conservative.

The Respectable Murderers: Social Evil and Christian Conscience by Paul Hanley Furfey
[Finished 17 March 1999] An interesting, but dated book, arguing that Christians must take a stand against social injustice, despite (or even because of) the personal cost of doing so.

Wellsprings: A Book of Spiritual Exercises by Anthony De Mello
[Finished 15 March 1999] A delightful book, although best dipped into than read. One could use it as a sort of sorties, I suppose.

Way of the Cross: The Passion of Christ in the Americas edited by Virgil Elizondo
[Finished 8 March 1999] Somewhat uneven collection of essays linking the Passion of Christ to opression of native Latin Americans. When it’s good, it’s excellent, but when it’d bad, it’s awful.

The Mass and the English Reformers by C. W. Ducmore
[Finished 4 March 1999] Another book typical of the era in which it was written (interbellum England). Ducmore works to claim that the Anglican liturgy is in fact part of an unbroken tradition, but ultimately fails.

The Oberagammau Passion Play 1970 by J. A. Daisenberger
[Finished 3 March 1999] Rather pedestrian. The dialog added to flesh out the story is incredibly banal. The portrayal of Judas was somewhat sympathetic, which seems to be characteristic of just about any dramatic treatment of this material.

English Catholic Worship: Liturgical Renewal in England since 1900 by J. D. Crichton, H. E. Winstone and J. R. Ainslie
[Finished 1 March 1999] I have to admit that before I read this book, I’d not put a lot of thought into the origins of contemporary Catholic liturgical practice. Actually, it’s very amazing indeed. It’s also interesting to note the fairly sizable chasm between English and American liturgical practices, which makes some other books that I’ve read a bit more lucid.

Priest of the Plague: Henry Moore, S. J. by Philip Caraman
[Finished 27 February 1999] Caraman was a writer of some skill who wrote, translated or edited a large number of the books that I’ve read on the Catholic mission to England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He has a good touch and writes very readable works. I may well hunt down some of his other books on other topics.

English Monks and the Supression of the Monasteries by Geoffrey Baskerville
[Finished 25 February 1999] More illuminating about the state of religion in the 1920s than in the early sixteenth century.

Defence of English Catholics by William Cardinal Allen
[Finished 20 February 1999] A rather dreary bit of 16th century prose. Of minor historical interest; I suppose I’ve read too much material on the Elizabethan Catholics, because this seemed all old hat and more than a little dull.

Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs by Alan Schreck
[Finished 18 February 1999] Out of the “if you really understood it, you’d have nothing to argue about” school of apologetics. Schreck downplays the fact that many Catholics don’t get some beliefs and that many folk practices are in conflict with official orthodoxy. However, as it goes, it’s a good book, although I prefer Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism.

Viper's Tangle by François Mauriac
[Finished 15 February 1999] An intriguing and provocative novel. A nice treatment of spiritual matters without descending into becoming maudlin.

The Short Stories of James T. Farrell by James T. Farrell
[Finished 12 February 1999] When I first read Farrell’s Studs Lonigan I ended up losing a lot of sleep reading my way through the book. The other Farrell I’ve read has often failed to measure up to that masterpiece, although some of the stories here come close. It’s a shame that nearly everything Farrell has written has fallen out of print.

Instant SQL Programming by Joe Celko
[Finished 11 February 1999] A consensus recommendation from the internet, I found this book to be a bit of a disappointment. The useful content could have been condensed into a much shorter work and information on more sophisticated SQL programming added in its place.

Religion and Contemporary Western Culture edited by Edward Cell
[Finished 3 February 1999] I’ve been puzzling through the meaning of modernity for the past decade or so and this fills in a few more pieces while opening up other questions at the same time. Some context would have been helpful with some of the essays whose time frame spans about forty years, from the twenties to the sixties. The optimism about being able to address religion and culture is kind of stunning really coming at it from the perspective of someone educated at the end of the twentieth century when the whole concept of meaning is under question.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C. G. Jung
[Finished 24 January 1999] Let me be on record as saying that Jung was very weird. Very, very weird.

Male Homosexual Behavior and the Effects of AIDS Education: A Study of Behavior and Safer Sex in New Zealand and S Austr by B. R. Simon Rosser
[Finished 19 January 1999] Rosser does a good job presenting the results of a series of related studies and discussing the implications of their findings, especially in their broader context.

Heterosexism: An Ethical Challenge by Patricia Beattie Jung and Ralph F. Smith
[Finished 15 January 1999] While some of their arguments fail to persuade me, valuable if only for its taxonomy of religious views of homosexuality.

Gay and Lesbian Mental Health: A Sourcebook for Practitioners edited by Christopher J. Alexander
[Finished 12 January 1999] The chapter on eating disorders was especially fascinating, and while some portions were a bit more psychodynamic than is in accord with my tastes, still a good read.

Motivation and Personality by Abraham Maslow
[Finished 11 January 1999] The summaries of Maslow’s theory that I’ve read elsewhere haven’t really done justice to what Maslow himself has to say. amazon.com has a comment from Maslow written January 1999, while Maslow was mouldering in his grave. Interesting.

Spirituality and Religion in Psychotherapy: Diversity in Theory and Practice by Eugene W. Kelly, Jr.
[Finished 8 January 1999] A practical examination of how and why to bring spiritual issues into counseling practice.

Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm
[Finished 19 December 1998] Provocative and interesting. I think that in some ways Fromm’s ideas are less historically determined than he thinks, with the form of the escape from freedom changing on the basis of the sociocultural moment, but the underlying concept remaining constant.

Readings in Moral Theology No. 8: Dialogue about Catholic Sexual Teaching edited by Charles E. Curran and Richard McCormick, S. J.
[Finished 18 December 1998] Outstanding. Curran and McCormick come from the progressive side of the theological spectrum, but manage to still provide a creditable selection of conservative voices (the Siker book, below, seemed to have more straw-man type conservative voices, which does credit to neither side). I especially liked Curran’s essay comparing Catholic social and sexual teaching.

Granta 64: Russia
[Finished 6 December 1998] Possibly the best Granta yet. The first one with multiple authors that I’ll be seeking out more of their writing.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
[Finished 30 November 1998] Stuffy Victorians? Posh and nonsense. They were heavy drug users apparently.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott
[Finished 28 November 1998] Classic nerd fiction. Some of the allegory is a bit forced and frankly it gets a bit dull at times. Back when I thought four-dimensional geometry was the coolest thing on earth though, this would have been my favorite book.

Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate edited by Jeffrey S. Siker
[Finished 25 November 1998] A very interesting collection of essays, surprisingly well-balanced and essential reading for anyone interested in religious implications of homosexuality.

The MMPI: A Practical Guide by John Graham
[Finished 23 November 1998] A decent enough guide except that (a) it’s now the MMPI-2 and (b) it’s overly invested in psychodynamic theories.

The Jesuits 1534-1921: A History of the Society of Jesus from its Foundation to the Present Time by Thomas J. Campbell
[Finished 18 November 1998] A bit cheerleader-ish and occasionally racist. Notable primarily because it was the first history of the Jesuits written in English by a Jesuit.

English Catholicism 1558-1642 by Alan Dures
[Finished 2 November 1998] A great introduction to the subject. Unfortunately, I learned most of this years ago when I first began reading about 16th C. English Catholics.

The Power and Secret of the Jesuits by René Fülöp-Miller
[Finished 30 October 1998] A rather curious book. Fülöp-Miller feels compelled to grant a sort of grudging respect to the accomplishments of the Jesuits despite what seems to be his desired tendency to deride them as morally suspect. Lack of time context in some passages was unfortunate (e.g., when were the Jesuits teaching the Copernican system to the Chinese?) but overall, it’s a good an interesting read (even if Fülöp-Miller does believe that the Copernican system is merely the most plausible hypothesis of the solar system).

Body, Sex and Pleasure by Christine Gudorf
[Finished 29 October 1998] When I first started reading this book, I though Gudorf was way off base on a number of her conclusions. I still think that she is, but she does a much better job of explaining why she’s reached her conclusions than other theologians have and is much less likely to argue by handwaving.

Personality Theories: Development Growth and Diversity by Bem P. Allen
[Finished 27 October 1998] This book is a bit confused as to whether it wants to be a personality theories book, be a history and systems text or be a counseling and psychotherapy text. More than any psychology text that I’ve encountered, this is one that I would write radically differently if it were up to me.

Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in Asia and the United States by Rita Nakashima Brock and Susan Thistlethwaite
[Finished 1 October 1998] Rather a jumbled mess. Prostitution, at least at the surface, presents a bit of a paradoxical situation for feminist thinkers (more problematic, even, than pornography, I think) and Brock and Thistlethwaite do a poor job of approaching the problem. A further problem is the insistence on linking prostitution with militarism (which may be the case in some contexts but is certainly not universal) and which was apparently done in an effort to enlist the support of people in the peace and justice community in addressing the prostitution problem.

Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse
[Finished 20 September 1998] I liked it; an interesting exploration of the meaning of life from a Jungian perspective.

Lord Rochester's Monkey: Being the Life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester by Graham Greene
[Finished 18 September 1998] This is the second time I’ve read this book. Both times I’ve found it horribly dry and wondered where the “obscenity” was that lead to its failure to be published when it was originally written. Perhaps the real reason it failed to find a publisher was because it was so dull.

Granta 63: Beasts
[Finished 17 September 1998] This is why I love this publication. Usually there’s a clunker or two in any given Granta, but this one is perfect. Wow.

Meanings of Life by Roy F. Baumeister
[Finished 17 September 1998] A systematic exploration of where people derive the meanings in their life from a primarily social psychological standpoint. Baumeister tends to be rather dismissive of religion in general and Christianity in particular and occasionally dramatically demonstrates his lack of knowledge in the subject area (“Damn it Jim, I’m a psychologist, not a theologian!”), but still manages to provide a well-written, thoughtful exploration. His defining meaningfulness in terms of its objects rather than its loci is especially interesting to me.

A Sense of Sexuality: Chrstian Love and Intimacy by Evelyn Eaton Whitehead and James D. Whitehead
[Finished 10 September 1998] The Whiteheads provide a generally thoughtful analysis of sexuality (from a primarily Catholic Christian standpoint) supported by anecdotes. They’re a bit too dismissive of certain classical concepts, such as original sin, and I question their rather dismissive portrayal of St Augustine (if nothing else, they should have been willing to dig a little deeper than they did), but still not too bad of a book.

Motif Programming: The Essentials... and More by Marshall Brain
[Finished 3 September 1998] Excuse me for a moment, I just have a mental image of the author in junior high: “Mr Brain will you keep your hands to yourself!”

OK, the book itself is a bit thin on details. You won’t really be able to call yourself a Motif programmer just by reading this book (and doing the exercises), but it is a good way of getting one’s feet wet before diving into the O’Reilly books.

Love Does No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us by Marie M. Fortune
[Finished 1 September 1998] I believe that Fortune may see sexual violence as more pervasive than it is (probably as a result of her work with women who are victims of sexual violence). Certainly, her world bears little resemblance to the one in which I live.

Anthony Trollope by James Pope Hennesy
[Finished 28 August 1998] Fortunately Trollope’s life is fairly fascinating because this book is a bit of a mess.

Autobiography by Eric Gill
[Finished 25 August 1998] An odd mix of philosophy and details of Gill’s life. I’d’ve liked more philosophy, less recollection.

I am Mary Dunne by Brian Moore
[Finished 24 August 1998] Not one of Moore’s best. I found Mary Dunne a fairly unconvincing creation, but the exploration of memory and identity was promising. I wonder if Moore ever attempted to return to that theme.

The Imitation of Christ
[Finished 22 August 1998] The contrast between mediaeval spirituality and its denial-of-self center and contemporary spirituality and its service-of-others center is quite striking. I have to admit that I found the mediaeval spirituality to really be rather self-centered, despite (or perhaps because of) its denial-of-self center.

Trout Fishing in America; The Pill vs The Springhill Mine Disaster; and In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
[Finished 17 August 1998] Three books in one. I had a feeling of being on a really bizarre acid trip with Trout Fishing in America, felt the poems were largely disposable and the lyric beauty of In Watermelon Sugar absolutely captivated me. I may have to dig up some more Brautigans.

The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum
[Finished 15 August 1998] A bit of brain candy. Too much of this book made no sense and seemed like it was there just to incorporate another death in another country. But I still couldn’t put it down. I hate that.

White Smoke: A Novel About the Next Papal Conclave by Andrew M. Greeley
[Finished 10 August 1998] My first Greeley novel. Quite a disappointment. It seems that Greeley is incapable of creating characters who aren’t Andrew M. Greeley himself. The central characters in the novel are all interchangeable. There is barely a thing that one says that couldn’t come out of the mouth of another. And the characters who aren’t Andrew M. Greeley are so 2-dimensional as to be laughable. I’ve got a few others on my list that were mentioned in other books that I’ve read, and I’ll still read those, but it’s unlikely that I’ll add more to my list if this is par for the course.

Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence by Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan
[Finished 7 August 1998] The thing that struck me the most was the sameness of so many of these stories. It seemed like a large portion of the women who were interviewed followed exactly the same path: They realized that they had no desire to get married, entered the convent (frequently to the objections of their families), had an affair or two with other sisters, maybe were disillusioned by the changes with Vatican II, then left the convent and then left the church. Not always, but that’s a capsule summary of most of the stories. The church bears some culpability for this in its treatment of homosexuals, but so do the women for blaming the church for their own naivete.

It’s kind of interesting to note that, while this book was published originally in the late 70s (or early 80s?), there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of follow-up writing on the issue of lesbian nuns. That says something, I’m not sure what.

A Challenge to Love: Gay and Lesbian Catholics in the Church edited by Robert Nugent
[Finished 3 August 1998] An interesting collection of essays with a surprisingly diverse set of viewpoints (usually given a hot-botton issue like this, we’ll only get one side of the argument). The essays were all over the place and I found Matthew Fox’s contribution to be unreadable, but well worth the time spent.

Helplessness: On Development, Depression & Death by Martin E. P. Seligman
[Finished 2 August 1998] A fascinating explication of theory. I wish that Seligman had been a bit more thorough in some of his empirical descriptions, but he does make his case quite well. I would assume that this book has been a wellspring for further research.

The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach by Ralph W. Hood, Jr., Bernard Spilka, Bruce Hunsberger and Richard Gorsuch
[Finished 24 July 1998] Absolutely fascinating. This book has already sparked some other reading. Which brings up my lone complaint: It’s hard to use this as a starting point for further reading because of the use of footnotes to get to APA-style citations which must then be located in the bibliography. In-text citations and perhaps a further reading section at the end of each chapter--or at least a chapter bibliography--would have been welcome.

Research Methods in Psychology by John J. Shaugnessy and Eugene B. Zechmeister
[Finished 24 July 1998] A bit dry and the information on statistical analysis comes across as a bit opaque, but I suppose it’s about as good as it gets on the subject.

Gay Priests by James G. Wolf
[Finished 14 July 1998] Wolf’s empirical study was unfortunately too flawed to be scientific, a fact which he at least readily admits, but the results are still interesting. The response biases in the results can be readily seen (using a network sample to find gay priests will naturally lead to a sample which is more sexually and socially active than a true random sample would find). The personal statements that make up the second part of the book are also interesting. I have some ideas about replicating the study in a way that should eliminate the response biases that occurred the first time around which I may see if I can put into action.

The ABCs of Typography by Sandra Ernst Moriarty
[Finished 7 July 1998] Another in a long line of books minimally updated for the digital era. Either don’t bother with the update, or rewrite completely. The half-way version is really quite pointless.

In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development by Carol Gilligan
[Finished 6 July 1998] Interesting theories, but I wonder where the empirical basis is?

Granta 62: What Young Men Do
[Finished 3 July 1998] Delightful. One of the best Grantas yet. I especially liked the long article on Indonesian headhunters.

The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath
[Finished 29 June 1998] What I didn’t know when I started reading this: Ted Hughes, who edited this volume, was Sylvia Plath’s husband. A friend who is a big Sylvia Plath fan told me this. What was interesting is that I, unfamiliar with much more than the most basic biographical facts (poems, oven, dead) was able to come up with a description of Hughes that matched his view based on reading every scrap about Plath that’s ever been published: In short Hughes is a bit of an egomaniacal bastard. He talks about the meticulous care that Plath put into arranging her poems for publication than proceeds to disregard this in this collection and instead publish everything in chronological order.

Fortunately, the strength of the poems comes through. Great stuff, although I personally didn’t find it as depressing as my friend did. There’s a sort of quiet sadness that pervades many of the poems, but also a great beauty in that sadness.

A Renaissance Alphabet: Il Perfetto Scrittore, Parte Secunda by Gioban Francesco Cresci with an intro by Donald M. Anderson
[Finished 20 June 1998] Cresci’s second alphabet, now available as a digital typeface from LetterPerfect, is, I think inferior to his first model alphabet.

Calligraphy by Arthur Baker
[Finished 20 June 1998] A selection of calligraphic works, meant for reproduction before the days of desktop publishing and EPS clipart. I really wish that it would have been more than just a simple display of calligraphic work, masterful as it is. I kept wondering as I looked through it, “how’d he do that?”

Type Foundries of America and their Catalogs by Maurice Annenberg with Stephen O. Saxe
[Finished 20 June 1998] A pleasantly non-academic look at typographic history.

The Principles of Learning and Behavior by Michael Domjan
[Finished 16 June 1998] Dry and some of the examples are a bit off (for example, examples of inhibitory classical conditioning seem more like instrumental conditioning to me).

Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type by Isabel Briggs Myers with Peter B. Myers
[Finished 6 June 1998] A surprisingly scientific book, given how much “this sounds good” type writing there is surrounding the MBTI. It’s perhaps a bit too psychodynamically oriented in places, but much of it is based on sound statistical analysis showing that the MBTI does have some pretty good statistical validity.

The Life of Eric Gill by Robert Speaight
[Finished 5 June 1998] Focused largely on the religious side of Gill’s life, Speaight does not complete whitewash Gill’s sexuality, although it’s easier to catch the references if you know about Gill’s proclivities before you read the book.

Naked Masks: Five Plays by Luigi Pirandello
[Finished 30 May 1998] Some leftovers from college (the only assigned play in the book was Six Characters in Search of an Author). In cases Pirandello seems a bit too facile in his philosophical explorations, although I think It is so! (if you think it is) is rather successful indeed.

Letterproeven van Nederlaandse gieterijen/Dutch typefounders' Specimens by John A. Lane and Mathieu Lommen
[Finished 27 May 1998] A pure catalog of specimens would be uncompromisingly dull. Fortunately, this goes beyond and precedes each foundry’s specimen list with a brief history. Some of it is a bit cursory, but all of it is quite scholarly, especially compared with the American counterpart I’m reading at the moment (a review of both will appear in Serif.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
[Finished 22 May 1998] As a pretentious high school student, I read this book and completely missed out on what it’s about. Coming back to it again, I find myself shocked by how kind Raskolnikov is at times. The treacley ending is a bit hard to swallow, but it’s truly a brilliant novel.

Last and First Men and Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
[Finished 15 May 1998] Histories of the future form an interesting genre. As prediction they generally fail miserably, but as a philosophical exercise they are quite interesting indeed. Stapledon was a philosopher and his two novels (the first is a history of the future, the second an exploration of other worlds) betray his philosophical concerns: He saw humanity in the twentieth century as being in crisis, and on the verge of self-destruction. He saw the solution as finding a balance between individualism and communitarianism. Writing in the thirties, he is clearly influenced by his times and the racism, sexism and anti-Semitism (this latter, I think, only possible in persons like Stapledon in the years before Hitler’s atrocities were revealed) sometimes make the text hard to digest. Only when he gets some distance away from contemporary humanity do these views manage to evaporate.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare with the Famous Temple Notes by William Shakespeare
[Finished 15 May 1998] Frankly, the Temple notes aren’t all that impressive. Also, it’s much easier to watch Shakespeare than to read him. The more obscure plays are leaving me quite in the dust (the typography of this edition is also quite awful, which doesn’t help much). My big surprise was how much I enjoyed the history plays. [Note the amazon.com link is to a different edition. I can’t vouch for its typography or editorial content.]

Fundamental Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences by Robert B. McCall
[Finished 5 May 1998] Generally fairly lucid, although the ANOVA section lost me pretty badly as did the beginning section on inferential statistics.

Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy by Gerald Corey
[Finished 2 April 1998] A bit dated--the book was written in the late 70s, but still rather interesting. I would have liked to have seen some more concrete examples of the different styles of therapy though. [Note: The amazon.com link appears to be to a more recent edition.]

Granta 61: The Sea
[Finished 23 March 1998] A few gems and a bit of dreck, but as usual a good collection of writing.

Abnormal Psychology by David Holmes
[Finished 11 March 1998] A truly outstanding textbook. The use of illustrative case studies is great and the organization is pretty good although I wish that different understandings of abnormal behaviors weren’t presented as orthogonal choices.

Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings by Jorge Luis Borges
[Finished 10 March 1998] Delightful. I’d never read any Borges before this, but I will definitely read Borges again. I think that I’ll keep my eyes open for the fiction in Spanish.

The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, translated by Richard Crawley
[Finished 3 March 1998] A long dry account of a long dry war between Athens and Sparta. I have to rank this as a book that I’d rather have read than read.

Thinking in PostScript by Glenn C. Reid
[Finished 23 February 1998] Reid was kind enough, after Addison-Wesley let his book fall out of print, to put it up on the web in PDF format. Unfortunately, having read it I’m left thinking that A-W had good reasons not to order a second printing. If you want to learn PostScript, read the Adobe “color books” (Reid wrote one of them). They’re worth the money. [Note: The link is to the PDF version of the book, not amazon.com.]

Talking Back to Prozac: What Doctors Aren't Telling You About Today's Most Controversial Drug by Peter Breggin
[Finished 21 February 1998] There may be some good arguments against the safety of Prozac, but Breggin does a poor job of presenting them. He demonstrates a poor understanding of statistics and a strong prejudice against psychiatric medication. One telling moment in the book happened when Breggin talked about how it was widely agreed that X was true (I forget what X was) and then cited himself as the authority for that statement. Sorry, it don’t work that way.

And Breggin’s title and his continued use of the phrase “talking back to Prozac” betrays either that he didn’t read Kramer’s book or if he did, he didn’t comprehend it.

The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery by Janwillem van de Wetering
[Finished 17 February 1998] An often humorous account of life in a Zen Monastery. Well worth the time it takes to read.

The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford
[Finished 12 February 1998] Surprise: The Loved One was not as much of an exaggeration as you might have thought.

I heard Mitford on the radio a couple years ago. It’s all still true. The death industry in America is coldly calculated to separate you from as much of your money as possible.

Teach Yourself Perl 5 for Windows NT In 21 Days by Tony Zhang and David Till
[Finished 30 January 1998] Personally I prefer Randall Schwartz’ style of Perl teaching more, but this is a surprisingly good book for the paper brick genre.

At Home in the Loop: How Clout and Community Built Chicago's Dearborn Park by Lois Wille
[Finished 26 January 1998] How a book about real estate development in Chicago can omit all mention of Charlie Swibel I’ll never know. It’s the sort of omission that leads me to look at the rest of the book with a somewhat jaded eye (the curious mention of the then-unknown John Kass also struck me as odd). Nevertheless it’s still an interesting read and if read in conjunction with Ross Miller’s Here’s the Deal about block 39 a pretty good history of what’s involved in Chicago real estate development can be had.

Language Translation Using PCCTS and C++: A Reference Guide by Terence John Parr
[Finished 25 January 1998] Donald Knuth felt that the creator of a software system should write the manual. This book is the reason why he was wrong.

Trademarks of the '60s & '70s by Tyler Blik
[Finished 30 December 1997] A poorly categorized showing of trademarks and little else. They don’t even identify the designers of the marks.

Visual C++ Unleashed by Viktor Toth
[Finished 29 December 1997] I got suckered in by the promise of great software on the CD. But it’s all crippleware demos and not the real stuff. The book itself is passable, although the author is still largely stuck in C-mode. Sigh.

Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic by Terry Jones
[Finished 26 December 1997] If like me you’re puzzling over what “Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic A Novel by Terry Jones” could possibly mean, the answer is revealed in the introduction. The Starship Titanic was a passing reference in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy which was recently made into a CD-ROM game under the direction of Adams. Adams then asked Jones to write the novelization, and this book does read an awful lot like a novelization of a CD-ROM game: An awful lot of looking for lost artifacts and solving puzzles. At least Jones doesn’t fall into some the facile linguistic games that Adams is so fond of.

Granta 60: Unbelievable
[Finished 20 December 1997] A bit of a mixed bag, really. I could have lived without the Princess Diana thing, although at least it was the “minority” view. The article on Emma, though was spellbinding.

Visual FoxPro 5.0 for Windows: Developing an Application Framework by Nelson King
[Finished 29 November 1997] Somebody please find me a book that will allow me to learn FoxPro programming already. I’m beginning whether the people writing the books know how to program FoxPro. Surely someone somewhere does, but they don’t seem to be writing the books.

Nice Work by David Lodge
[Finished 27 November 1997] Lodge created a delightful satire of the world of academia, especially the literature departments. Add in a near-perfect portrait of 80s society and the fundamental philosophical question of meaning in life and literature and we’re left with a fine book indeed. I haven’t decided if the Dickensian ending spoils the book or is the only possible postmodernist conclusion to the story.

From Image to Likeness: A Jungian Path in the Gospel Journey by W. Harold Grant, Magdala Thompson and Thomas E. Clarke
[Finished 20 November 1997] Perhaps it’s a lack of background, but I found myself frequently thinking as I read this book that I didn’ buy some of their basic premises. The developmental stuff, especially didn’t ring true to me although it is an interesting idea.

The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy
[Finished 15 November 1997] Although it predates the drug and the book, this is in many ways a good companion to Kramer’s Listening to Prozac (below). As a work of fiction---I don’t know it struck me as being a bit Crying of Lot 49 at times. Perhaps I’ll read some other Percy and see if this is typical of his work.

Visual J++ Bible by Richard C. Leinecker and Tom Archer
[Finished 14 November 1997] A decent coverage of the language although the authors appear to be severely challenged in the aesthetics department. Many of their later examples also leave much to be desired.

Listening to Prozac: A Psychiatrist Explores Antidepressant Drugs and the Remaking of the Self by Peter D. Kramer
[Finished 3 November 1997] Kramer, a psychiatrist, is generally positive about the benefits of Prozac, a stand which I find myself shrinking from more from instinct rather than any definable rationale. There’s a wealth of psychological information included in this book which makes it quite interesting. Kramer’s kindling model of depression, for example is rather intriguing and leaves us wondering whether it might also be the basis for a psychotherapy-based treatment for depression. The possibility that it might is really only addressed in a footnote which mentions that cognitive behavioral therapy has caused similar changes in brain chemistry to those caused by Prozac. Presumably, these would be more permanent than the Prozac effect which disappears almost immediately when the pharmacological treatment is ended.

There’s a lot to this book and much more than I can (or am disposed to) write about in this small space.

Personality Type and Religious Leadership by Roy M. Oswald and Otto Kroeger
[Finished 2 November 1997] Despite being rather painfully dependent on the work of others, this is a relatively useful book insofar as it presents a new presentation of the ideas underlying the MBTI as regards religious issues. The book is a bit too focused on clergy and too little on lay leadership and seems to often fall trap to a conception that all religious leadership is in the hands of protestant parish clergy (even though the authors clearly recognize that this is not the case in reality).

Introduction to Psychology: Exploration and Application by Dennis Coon
[Finished 29 October 1997] A popular psychology text book, its size perhaps makes it a bit daunting but it is reasonably comprehensive (and includes surprisingly contemporary examples throughout). Some of the author’s attempts at humor fall flat but Coon does a good job of keeping the text readable throughout. One assumes that it’s filthy lucre behind the decision to include such poor study aids in the text itself (they’re instead provided in a study guide which of course costs extra).

The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck
[Finished 28 October 1997] After a rather slow start, the book picked up themes that were really much better developed in the Winter of Our Discontents. Some of the descriptions struck me as being a bit clumsy as well.

The Castle by Franz Kafka
[Finished 23 October 1997] I first discovered Kafka through the comic strip “Kudzu” which had a sequence in which Mr T was guest-hosting a Masterpiece Theatre production of Metamorphosis. That was (yikes) fourteen years ago. I haven’t been back to Kafka since that first reading of Metamorphosis and really only have some general memories of plot to work from for reference. The Castle is an unfinished work and certainly that colors my perception of the work. The underlying religious metaphor is a bit clumsy since it’s difficult to conceive of the book as being anything but a religious metaphor. It does seem, though, from the notes on omissions and surviving fragments that the finished product would have been quite a bit better indeed.

Windows NT in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference for System Administrators by Eric Pearce
[Finished 16 October 1997] Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I expected something a little bit more in depth than this book. Pearce, for example, fails to discuss the environment variables that affect the operation of some shell commands (although some of these are apparently undocumented outside of Microsoft).

Granta 59: France--The Outsider
[Finished 16 October 1997] Not one of the better Grantas, I’m afraid. The “France” content made up only about half of the book and it was a bit confusing to find oneself out of France at that point. What’s more, the non-French bits were some of the better ones.

I understand the French think that Jerry Lewis is a cinematic genius.

Object Orientation in Visual Foxpro by Savannah Brentnall
[Finished 14 October 1997] Theoretical books have been pushed out of the marketplace by big bricks of paper. I’m uncertain as to whether this is a good thing. In some cases, a theoretical approach can be useful, but Brentnall’s discussion of Foxpro’s object orientation in this book left precious little standing room to really have a concrete grounding. The only clearly good thing that I got from the book was a realization that what Fox calls a container class is not what I would think of as a container class.

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
[Finished 7 October 1997] An interesting book, marred by the surprisingly strong prejudices of turn-of-the-century liberal protestantism. I can see why it’s not universally assigned reading in psychology of religion courses.

The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
[Finished 6 October 1997] Sometimes it takes an outsider to really see. Norris, a married protestant poet has a better idea of what celibate monastic life is about than most Catholics that I know. At times it gets a bit rambly, at times a bit academic, but it’s worth working through that to get to the amazing insights into Benedictine spirituality. The chapter on celibacy is the best writing I’ve read on the subject.

Letter Forms by Stanley Morison
[Finished 19 September 1997] A reprint of a Typophiles chapbook, it consists primarily of two essays by Stanley Morison, both intended to be prefatory material for larger works. Only the second esay stands on its own well. The first essay cries out for illustration but does not get the illos it so desparately needs. It’s also a work, that robbed of its original context (and perhaps even in its original context) could desperately use some editing. As a publisher friend once commented, “It’s nice working with dead authors--they never complain.”

Building Visual FoxPro 5 Applications by Barrie Sosinsky
[Finished 18 September 1997] DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK. Despite claims that this is a step-by-step account of how to put together a FoxPro application, it’s a rambling acccount of contracting, software development processes and only a modicum of usable FoxPro knowledge. I hope I can get my money back.

Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago by LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newmand with David Isay
[Finished 13 September 1997] Begun as a radio segment for NPR, this book is very much a sequel of sorts to There are No Children Here (below). Jones and Newman conducted a series of interviews over a six year span with their friends and neighbors in and around the Ida B. Wells housing project on the south side of Chicago. You may recall the name as the place where 5-year old Eric Morse was dropped to his death from a fourteenth-floor window. We’re exposed to the brutality and despair of the neighborhood although there’s some hope as well. Perhaps most striking is the outcome of Jones and Newman. As the book closes, Jones is preparing to begin college. Newman has been held back a year for discipline problems. Both are intelligent and articulate boys, in the same environment.

There are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America by Alex Kotlowitz
[Finished 9 September 1997] The west side has long been familiar to me, whether driving down Washington or taking the “L”. Still, much of the space between Cicero and Racine is terra incognita to me. This book is a personal account of a couple years in the lives of two young boys growing up in the Henry Horner homes. I’ve seen these buildings many times and have spent a long time in their shadows. Still, the lives of their residents have been largely unknown to me (in Chicago, even if your social relations break racial barriers as do mine, crossing class barriers is still quite difficult). The neglect of the projects and the people who live in them is criminal and yet there are still glimmers of hope. This book is one of those few that everyone should read.

Fine Printing in Georgia, 1950s-1990: Six Prize-Winning Private Presses by Martha Jane K. Zachert
[Finished 3 September 1997] Zachert is at her best when she is able to actually interact with the proprietors of the presses. In those accounts, we get a strong sense of the motivations and ideals that drive people into that archaism referred to as the private press. When she is unable to speak with the press’s proprietor, her accounting becomes much more sterile.

The book would have greatly benefited from more illustration, but the decision to print the volume letterpress and its short run length no doubt contributed to the failure in that department.

Deco Type: Stylish Alphabets of the '20s & '30s by Steven Heller and Louise Fili
[Finished 26 August 1997] A generally good survey of the moderne tradition in typography. The commentary runs a bit thin at times, but the illustrations are excellent.

Boss by Mike Royko
[Finished 17 August 1997] Easily Royko’s best writing, this biography is as much about Chicago as it is about Daley. A great complement to all the Chicago-related reading I’ve been doing lately.

Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice by James D. Foley, Andries van Dam, Steven K. Feiner and John F. Hughes
[Finished 13 August 1997] A somewhat disorganized conglomeration of just about every imaginable topic on computer graphics. It’s really more useful as a reference than a tutorial and even then, I find myself wondering.

They All Fall Down: Richard Nickel's Struggle to Save America's Architecture by Richard Cahan
[Finished 9 August 1997] I’m fascinated by architecture, as was Nickel. Nickel entered the world of architecture through photography and became the foremost expert on Louis Sullivan, eventually dieing while doing scavenging work while the Chicago Stock Exchange building was undergoing demolition. This was a fascinating work and was greatly plundered by the architecture walking tour program that gets shown on WTTW during pledge drives.

Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Types by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates
[Finished 7 August 1997] Much of the contents of this book have been condensed, paraphrased and plagiarized by the Myers-Briggs groupies on the internet, so I was left with a strong sense of Deja Vu as I read this. On the plus side, it’s nice to get a lot of this without the mediation of Joe Butt and there are some bits that are not on the internet. I’m certainly interested in learning more about personality theory.

The Van by Roddy Doyle
[Finished 14 July 1997] The last of the Barrytown trilogy. Doyle is clearly a playwriter in his prose styling, but the end result is quite excellent.

The Fleuron 4 edited by Oliver Simon
[Finished 11 July 1997] The last of the Simon Fleurons. I don’t really remember too much of it, I’ve fallen so far behind on this record.

Harlequin by Morris West
[Finished 10 July 1997] West is probably the best of the Catholic novelists writing today. This was the first of the non-overtly religious novels which I’ve read and was pleasantly surprised to see the intelligent discussion of religious questions carried into a secular narrative (as it should be).

The Snapper by Roddy Doyle
[Finished 8 July 1997] My favorite of the Barrytown trilogy and the only one for which I have not seen the film. I wonder if that’s just coincidence?

Elements of Typographic Style (Second Edition) by Robert Bringhurst
[Finished 2 July 1997] An updated and improved version of the already excellent first edition. Watch for the review in Serif.

Mouthful of Rocks by Christian Jennings
[Finished 27 June 1997] This is why I’m not going to join the French Foreign Legion.

The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
[Finished 24 June 1997] A much better accounting of the interpersonal dynamics than was present in the movie (but the movie sounded much better).

The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer
[Finished 17 June 1997] Mailer manages to recast the gospels in a first-person psychological novel form and avoid providing any new insights into the Gospel. He doesn’t even come up with any facile blasphemies. This is Norman Mailer? I’d never read any of his books before, but I’d expected something a little more solid.

If you want to read a good novel about Jesus, pick up Kazantakis’ Last Temptation of Christ instead.

Granta 58: Ambition
[Finished 16 June 1997] When I renew my subscription, I’m buying two years. John Biguenet is an American Catholic writer to watch for. I’m also going to keep my eyes open for Paul Auster’s memoirs.

Here's the Deal: The Buying and Selling of an American City by Ross Miller
[Finished 14 June 1997] Further proof of the value of editors. There’s a good book here and I could find it just by rearranging paragraphs. Interesting stuff, but completely disorganized. Why would the historical background be in the penultimate chapter?

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
[Finished 13 June 1997] One of four or five Dostoyevsky novels I picked up with the last of my store credits at Huntley Bookstore before leaving Los Angeles. I continue to be intrigued by the philosophical-intellectual situation in late 19th c. Russia, but I have to admit to being somewhat baffled by it still. It’s quite an alien culture, I think. And I’d like to have a reference guide to help keep the characters straight in Dostoyevsky.

Interviews with Spanish Writers by Marie-Lise Gazarian Gautier
[Finished 29 May 1997] You’d think maybe Gazarian Gautier’s interviewing skills would have improved for the second volume in the series. You’d think wrong.

Interviews with Latin American Writers by Marie-Lise Gazarian Gautier
[Finished 28 May 1997] A present from a friend who was aware of my interest in Mexican literature. The book is saved by the writers interviewed by Gazarian Gautier. She herself is not really much of an interview and misses the obvious follow-up questions.

Granta 17: While Waiting for a War
[Finished 23 May 1997] I bought this back issue expecting a bit more Graham Greene content than I found. The remainder of the volume was a bit less coherent than the first Granta that I read. I especially enjoyed the pieces by Alice Munro and Marianne Wiggins. The “name” pieces were uniformly weak.

Counterpunch: Making Type by Fred Smeijers
[Finished 20 May 1997] The best book out of Robin Kinross’ Hyphen Press so far. The details on physical punchmaking were a bit thinner than I would have liked, but the discussion of the philosophy of type design is the best I’ve seen so far. I’ll do a full review for Serif.

Designing Books by Jost Hochuli
[Finished 19 May 1997] A generally pretty good short book on book design. Well-illustrated with good backing commentary. Not the best thing out of Hyphen Press (see above), but quite good. I’ll do a full review for Serif.

Marks of Excellence: The Function and Variety of Trademarks by Per Mollerup
[Finished 16 May 1997] A survey of the approaches to trademark design. Many of the books of this genre tend to be little more than picture books with a weak commentary, but I found this one to be a genuinely delightful discussion of the subject. (Note: The book was retitled in its latest edition)

Compilers: Principles, Techniques and Tools by Alfred V. Aho, Ravi Sethi and Jeffery D. Ullman
[Finished 15 May 1997] The famed dragon book. I really only understood about half of it, but it was still very fascinating and leaves me wanting to write a compiler of my very own.

The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams
[Finished 8 May 1997] A lot of cartoons, amusing observations on the business world and a sensible management philosophy thrown in as a bonus. Unfortunately, the business world seems to insist on things like denying voice mail to departments that don’t have a secretary to answer phone calls.

Fleuron 5 edited by Stanley Morison
[Finished 2 May 1997] Perhaps one of the most important editions in the seven volume run of The Fleuron, this number includes Morison’s article on an ideal italic and Beatrice Warde’s Garamond article.

Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg
[Finished 29 April 1997] An incredibly jargon-laden work. Sadly, many of the contributors really have nothing to say and spend a long time not saying it. On a few occasions, however, some of the contributions really shine and remind one that not all of academia is populated by mediocrity.

Greek Letters: From Tablets to Pixels edited by Michael S. Macrakis
[Finished 23 April 1997] A delightful collection from a variety of perspectives on the questions relevant to the production of Greek typefaces. It’s interesting in that the Greek printing community is seemingly unconcerned about the production of quality Greek typefaces, leaving the task to be done largely by Western designers.

Notes from Underground; White Nights; The Dream of a Ridiculous Man; and Selections from the House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
[Finished 18 April 1997] I’ve been reading a fair amount of Dostoyevsky (favorite of pretentious high school students everywhere) lately and this particular collection is especially nice as it shows quite clearly a progression in Dostoyevsky’s thought. To what extent the progression has been manipulated by the editor, I don’t know, but it is certainly quite revelatory.

Typographers on Type edited by Ruari McLean
[Finished 16 April 1997] An excellent collection of articles on typography. Some of the essays are of only historical interest, but many are of practical use to the practicing typographer. Watch for the review in Serif.

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
[Finished 11 April 1997] There’s nothing to make one feel settled like a nice long Victorian novel. And Eliot can be counted on to not only provide the novel, but to include some subtle subversions in it as well. Daniel Deronda doesn’t fail to satisfy on this front and is largely an interesting novel, although some of the “Jewish bits” do seem forced.

Beware Wet Paint: Designs by Alan Fletcher edited by Jeremy Myerson
[Finished 31 March 1997] A rather fascinating look at the work of designer Alan Fletcher. There were a few illustrations that I would have liked to have seen that were left out, but otherwise, it was quite an interesting read/look.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
[Finished 27 March 1997] My admiration for twentieth-century Latin American fiction continues unabated. Garcia Marquez creates an interesting work on the circularity of narrative with the theme reasserting itself in all manner of subtle and fascinating ways.

Granta 57: India
[Finished 24 March 1997] I’m hooked. Granta will be filling the void left in my reading material after Tina Brown ruined I mean took over The New Yorker. (Damn it, I liked the four part articles on zinc!)

My only complaint would be that there was too much short material in the magazine. I would rather have had fewer longer pieces.

The Jesuits: 1534-1921: A History of the Society of Jesus from Its Foundation to the Present Time by Thomas Campbell S. J.
[Finished 21 March 1997] A highly sympathetic portrayal of the society. There was an interesting discussion of Irish slaves in the British West Indies which was something that I’d never heard of before.

Also rather disturbing was the racist and anti-Semitic tone that Campbell often took. The anti-Semitism was never curbed and the racism at best became mere paternalism.

The Jesuits: History & Legend of the Society of Jesus by Manfred Barthes
[Finished 14 March 1997] When I was young I used to get Luther and Lucifer confused since the two names were generally spoken in the same tone of voice in the highly Catholic neighborhood where I grew up. I get the sense that Barthes, a German Lutheran, has much the same attitude towards Catholics despite a promising forward. A subtle anti-Catholic prejudice (fueled by a corresponding anti-Lutheran prejudice on the part of his Catholic neighbors) pervades the book which is a largely negative view of the Jesuit order although not quite at the paranoid fantasy level of a Jack Chick publication.

English Morality Plays and Moral Interludes edited by Edgar T. Schell and J. D. Schuchter
[Finished 13 March 1997] Morality plays which were the dominant form of drama until the Elizabethan era are an under-studied area of English literature. I became fascinated with the whole concept when I read Bangert’s history of the Jesuits which gave some considerable attention to the continental forms of this type of drama and only now am I getting around to this anthology which I managed to find (along with another collection of Mediaeval religious dramas) shortly after reading Bangert some five years ago. Unfortunately, I found the plays themselves to be generally rather dull and uninteresting.

The Works of Saint John of the Cross by Saint John of the Cross
[Finished 6 March 1997] Great stuff. It’s a rather different perspective on the world than is typical for contemporary society, but one that I find rather compelling.

The Red and the Green by Iris Murdoch
[Finished 13 February 1997] This is the second historical novel in recent history that covered a period of European history with which I have an inadequate acquaintance. As a device for getting me interested in the period leading up to Irish independence, it succeeded. As a novel, not so much.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
[Finished 10 February 1997] I knew I had picked the right book to read at the beginning of my (now-ended) stay in the community of the Catholic Worker when I discovered that every other member of the community had read the book. This is quite possibly Dostoyevsky’s best novel, an interesting examination of the role of religion in society.

Antología de Cuentos Mexicanos I edited by Carmen Millan
[Finished 9 February 1997] Frequent visitors to this page (if such persons exist) will know that I read volume 2 in 1995. Again, I find myself very impressed with contemporary Mexican literature and interested in pursuing it even further than I have in the past. I’ll definitely re-read this.

Murther and Walking Spirits by Robertson Davies
[Finished 4 February 1997] Very much a failed narrative experiment. Davies was trying to do something interesting here, I think, but he didn’t succeed.

The Lyre of Orpheus by Robertson Davies
[Finished 3 February 1997] I find myself wondering when I read a book like this, how much of it the author is just making up, working on the assumption that his readers will not know enough about the subject matter to realize that it’s all bullshit.

What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies
[Finished 1 February 1997] Actually the best of the Cornish trilogy, I think, although that’s not saying too much. The closing of the novel seemed a bit rushed, as if Davies had realized that he already had his usual page count totalled and he should wrap things up quickly. It’s a pity, because the novel could have been much much more.

Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies
[Finished 28 January 1997] Very much what I would expect from Robertson Davies after reading the Deptford Trilogy. The dual narrators, however, are poorly managed and only a few too-rare moments reveal the full potential of the device.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
[Finished 26 January 1997] This is, I think, the best of all Greene’s novels. It’s been a long time since I’d read the book and my attempts to view the film in a revival house in London failed because I was too jet-lagged to remain awake in a dark room for the requisite 99 minutes. So I return to the book. Rereading a book is a very different experience from reading a book. It’s much like revisiting one’s home town as compared to being a tourist, the terrain is familiar and one can focus on the details of the landscape and discover the delightful things that were missed in the broad view.

Type Sense: Making Sense of Type on the Computer by Susan G. Wheeler and Gary S. Wheeler
[Finished 24 January 1997] Three words: Awful, bloody awful. The premise of the book is a good one: That in this era of increasingly common interaction with type people need to develop “type sense” much as they have common sense. The problem: All the evidence is that the two Wheelers have no type sense. The book is filled with incorrect information and headings are set in attrociously poorly spaced capitals (and not just at say, Monotype Perpetua Titling out of the box bad, we’re talking really cheap clone type without even Fontographer auto-kern level spacing corrections. Unbelievable).

A Liar's Autobiography, Volume VI by Graham Chapman
[Finished 24 January 1997] I look back and I’m not entirely certain why I bought this book originally. I guess I was looking for something funny and Chapman’s book is sometimes funny (after all it was written by Graham Chapman with assistance from Doug Adams, among others). And sometimes it’s absolutely unreadable. At other times it’s a rather fascinating view into Chapman’s character. The mix is not always good and I can see why it was on the shelves of a used bookshop priced cheaply, but I suppose the fun and interesting parts were worth slogging through the unreadable bits and paying whatever I paid for this book.

Graham Greene: The Enemy Within by Michael Shelden
[Finished 20 January 1997] One of my authors asked me recently about whether I wanted footnotes in a piece that he was writing. I told him that if he was making any claims that people might dispute, he should footnote the hell out of it. Michael Shelden doesn’t do this. His biography is full of controversial claims but his critical apparatus is very weak. In fact, one of his claims, that a gardener at an uncle’s home was a central figure in his life, doesn’t seem to have any documented source at all.

If the claims were restricted to gardeners, this would not be an important detail, but Shelden makes an assortment of claims, identifying Greene as a homosexual, an antisemite, a closet fascist, and even insinuates that Greene was a murderer as well. Of all of these claims, only the antisemitism claim seems to have any merit and what merit there exists is for a weaker antisemitism than Shelden claims. The claim of homosexuality doesn’t jibe with Shelden’s own account of Greene’s life.

Perhaps most amusing is that while Shelden is eager to point out Greene’s fondness for deception, he doesn’t seem to acknowledge the possibility that he himself was being deceived.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
[Finished 14 January 1997] People tend to get hung up on the macho aspects of Hemingway. The hunting, the bullfights, the sex, the dynamite, the war, etc. But what they miss with this approach to Hemingway is the exquisite use he makes of language. I think he is perhaps somewhat superior to Anthony Burgess, even, in that his experiments with language are much more subtle than Burgess’. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, we get the feel in the dialogue that we’re listening to the dialogue of people whose language we’re not entirely comfortable with. Not just in the qué va’s and thee’s and thou’s but in the idioms (“How are thou called?”) that the characters use. And Hemingway does an almost perfect job of dropping in and out of this as appropriate to the context of the language. Wow.

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
[Finished 7 January 1997] So I’m reading this book and then, on page 481, disaster. It’s not there! The binder screwed up and inserted the wrong signature at this point. Fortunately, they had a replacement copy at the local B&N (and didn’t even ask me if I had bought it there--I hadn’t) so I was able to finish it without too much discomfort.

Graham Greene wrote in his introduction to The Lawless Roads about the pleasures of reading Trollope. I have to agree, it’s a comfortable world where things always work out well in the end and the journey along the way is pleasant enough.

Stanley Morison by Nicolas Barker
[Finished 13 December 1996] I’ve begun working on a biography of the typographic writer Beatrice Warde & decided to read Barker’s biography of Stanley Morison as an introitus to the project. It’s a very entertaining read and there are little bits of intriguing information hidden behind seemingly innocent passages as well as a frequent infuriating vagueness in some of the accounting.

Grace in Action by Richard Rohr and Others
[Finished 3 December 1996] Radical Grace is the name of the newspaper published by the Center for Action and Contemplation, an institute established by Rohr in New Mexico. The essays in this collection are taken from that newspaper and are of varying interest. Rohr’s contributions in general stand head and shoulders above the rest of the offerings in the book although there are a couple of moments of inspiration from the laity.

Dimensional Typography by J. Abbott Miller
[Finished 28 October 1996] A slim volume (I read it between meals on a transatlantic flight) covering the idea of three-dimensional typography from the earliest shaded types to the rather extravagant computer-generated three-dimensional forms of contemporary designers. The body of the examples are printed on a translucent paper which helps to add yet another dimension to the images, presented as they are in two dimensions on paper.

C++ Database Programming by Al Stevens
[Finished 24 October 1996] An interesting book, although at the end, I was left wondering where the query library is. The separation of commentary from source code in the example programs is also unfortunate.

Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide by Gary R. Collins
[Finished 22 October 1996] Generally a very good book. The theological orientation is a bit “low church” (a perception doubtless colored by my own Catholicism) and the chapter on homosexuality is of dubious validity in its claims of the origins of homosexuality (its perspectives are determined more by wishful thinking than by clinical research). Still, it’s an interesting overview of issues in pastoral counseling. Not for those without at least some training in counseling issues, but for those who feel that counseling has an imperative to have a spiritual basis, this is a good resource.

Advanced C++ Programming Styles and Idioms by James O. Coplien
[Finished 13 October 1996] Just as the title indicates. Some of it was a bit too esoteric for me, I must admit.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
[Finished 10 October 1996] Hardy can always be counted on to tell a good story. The Mayor of Casterbridge is no exception on this front, but there are some problems with the structure of the novel. There’s almost a Job-like plague upon Michael Henchard where once things seem like they might finally be settling down, something else pops up.

Making All Things New by Henri Nouwen
[Finished 30 September 1996] A short guide to living the spiritual life, a life that doesn’t require withdrawing from the world, but rather reevaluating one’s priorities.

Lazarus by Morris West
[Finished 29 September 1996] The last of the books in West’s Papal “Trilogy.” I think that trying to make a trilogy out of The Shoes of the Fisherman, The Clowns of God and this book was a mistake. The Clowns of God was really not written as a sequel to The Shoes of the Fisherman and certainly doesn’t lend itself well to a sequel such as this one. I think it might have been better to have eliminated the gratuitous references to the two earlier novels and to just let this novel stand on its own. That said, each of the three novels is a remarkable portrait of the papacy in the times of the writing of each novel (The Shoes of the Fisherman was written ca 1960, The Clowns of God ca 1980 and Lazarus ca 1990).

The Clowns of God by Morris West
[Finished 24 September 1996] A dull evening lead me to Borders and thence to a night spent reading. This was the book that I bought and read. I’ve enjoyed West’s writing and this was a fairly entertaining and moving book, although I think that West was a bit out of his element with the apocalyptic dimension.

A C++ Programmer's Guide to STL by Mark Nelson
[Finished 23 August 1996] This book has taught me more about general C++ programming than any other that I’ve picked up. And its coverage of STL is fantastic.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
[Finished 21 August 1996] I think that part of the reason why many people are disappointed in this work is that their expectations are raised much too high by the preface. The book itself is really quite well crafted and really quite funny although from much of the comments lavished upon it, I suspect readers go into it expecting Douglas Adams, which of course, they won’t get.

I wonder if Karol Wojtla has ever read this book.

The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies
[Finished 19 August 1996] Wow. This is a really amazing work. Not perfect, but awfully close. I’ve long been interested in telling a story from multiple perspectives and in the trilogy Davies does a very good job of accomplishing this task. This is the first Davies I’ve read and I’m looking forward to reading more.

A World I Never Made by James T. Farrell
[Finished 13 August 1996] When I read Studs Lonnigan back in 1991, I remember being so impressed with Farrell that I ran out and bought every one of his books that I could find. Reading this book, I’m still impressed with his ability to manage the technicalities of literature, but I find that his story is less compelling.

The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West
[Finished 8 August 1996] It seems that every year about this time I read another “Pope” novel. In this case, West was remarkably prescient about coming changes to the Catholic church and the papacy. In these days of the continuously travelling John Paul II, it’s difficult to see the dramatic impact of a single papal visit to France or of proposing that African clergy might be exempted from learning Latin, yet even still, West manages to convey the mood quite well.

From a Burning House: Writing from the AIDS Project Los Angeles Writers Workshop edited by Irene Borger
[Finished 3 August 1996] This book puts the lie to the first sentence of the next commentary. (Fun part about reverse chronological order, eh?) I picked up this book, also from a radio interview, in this case a local NPR interview with Irene Borger who is the editor of the collection as well as the leader of the APLA workshop. My interest in the book was twofold: First to see what the individuals who were in the work shop would write and second, I find works-in-progress (of which much of the work in this collection could be classed) to be fascinating. On both counts the book was successful. The contributions by Christopher Gorman and Ezra Litwak were easily among my favorites and the beginning of the unfinished novel, The Headless Boy on its own demonstrates the great tragedy of AIDS---I would love to have had the opportunity to read the rest of this work. Perhaps when I die...

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
[Finished 2 August 1996] It’s not often that I’m persuaded to read a book from a radio interview but Hornsby’s interview with Terri Gross on Fresh Air had me intrigued and I decided that I’d pick this up next time I was in a bookstore. (That I was buying a new book was also an unusual event).

The book itself was frequently laugh-out-loud funny and also insightful. It gets a bit soppy and juvenile (in a bad way) towards the end which is a pity, but it was well worth the time it took to read.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
[Finished 28 July 1996] Like most Americans I read The Great Gatsby. Correction: I was assigned to read The Great Gatsby. After reading this over the course of a weekend, I am certain that I never actually read it when it was assigned.

Reading assigned to kids too immature to understand the works assigned is doubtless responsible for how little reading happens these days. The fact of the matter is that The Great Gatsby is a great book with wonderful characterization and some passages whose language is, well, perfectly crafted. I found myself wishing, on more than one occasion, that I had written some of this.

Great Dialogues of Plato (translated by W. H. D. Rouse) by Plato
[Finished 13 July 1996] A collection of as many of Plato’s dialogues as Rouse managed to translate before he died. It’s a bloody awful translation and the additions that were added to the book after his death only accentuate how bad a translation it is.

On the other hand, it’s Plato, and much of this material was unfamiliar to me before I read this book. The Republic seemed to be almost perpetually required reading throughout my formal education (along with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) but the rest of it was fresh and new. I find interesting the remarkable parallels between many of Plato’s ideas and Paul’s teaching in the New Testament epistles. I’m curious to examine the possible connection here, especially since the received idea of the connection between Platonism and Christianity is that it entered Christianity via St Augustine and his cronies from Plotinus. But if Paul knew Platonic philosophy (which would not seem unlikely) it would be more a case of Augustine and friends rediscovering an early influence on the church.

A Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin by Carl Darling Buck
[Finished 25 June 1996] A rather heady linguistic work. At times I find myself drowning in a jargon which I don’t speak, but at other times, I find myself seeing linguistic connections that I was never aware of (or not a conscious level). Some of the patterns enumerated are ones that have entered my intuitive understandings of language, but seeing them explicitly defined helps me understand why they work the way that they do. I find myself interested in learning Sanskrit after reading through this book. I’ll have to look into auditing something at CGS when I get the chance.

Love Among the Ruins by Evelyn Waugh
[Finished 18 June 1996] There are two contemporary English authors who I’ve read and collected extensively: Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. My views of the world are probably closest to Greene, but my own story is closer to Waugh’s. What that means, if anything, I wouldn’t care to guess.

This book is perhaps the most explicitly political of Waugh’s fiction. He comes across, really, as nearly Newt Gingrich. He posits a world in the new future in which the State has been elevated to Godhood (in fact, his characters use interjections of clichés with the word “God” substituted with “State”, e.g., “State be with you.” It’s not really a surprise that this is not one of the novels available in a Little Brown paperback edition. Politics aside, it’s not a very good novel (although in reality it’s not much more than a long short story).

A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
[Finished 16 June 1996] For some reason, I had found myself wanting to get this book many years ago when I use to buy books with the fervor of a hypomanic, but I was never certain why. In all, I have to admit that I found the book to be entertaining, but slight. Not quite up to the level of some of my favorite Murdoch work (I’d have to say that I liked Henry and Cato the best).

Fergus by Brian Moore
[Finished 13 June 1996] I had tired of the “hard” reading I’ve been tied up with of late, so I took a quick novel break, reading this brief work by Brian Moore nearly straight through. In a way, it’s a work similar to John Fowles’ Mantissa (see the archive), although in many ways it’s a more successful book. It does lack an ending, but the process of discovery in the novel is still quite pleasant.

Writing & Illuminating & Lettering by Edward Johnston
[Finished 26 May 1996] A classic on lettering and calligraphy. Not something that one can dip into and out of, though. It was written at a time when an author could expect his audience to patiently read the entire text before hoping to use it as a reference. Frequent identification of items by price is another odd feature of the book which makes its use a little more difficult.

Design with Type by Carl Dair
[Finished 2 May 1996] For some reason Canada seems to produce spectacular typographic writers. I’d never read this book before, but encountering it for CDN5.00 last week, I figured I may as well pick it up. Good decision. It’s a very well-written book indeed.

A Sor Juana Anthology edited by Alexander S. Trueblood
[Finished 29 April 1996] Sor Juana was a seventeenth century Mexican nun who was also a notable poet. Unfortunately, this particular translation (by Trueblood) is quite execrable. Translating poetry is dicey business at best and is perhaps best handled with a literal translation and occasional footnotes. Trueblood imposed rhymes where there were none in the original and a rather jangling rhythm more appropriate for twentieth-century Madison Avenue than seventeenth-century Mexico City. His introduction also seems to distort some of Sor Juana’s attitudes to meet his own ideology. Thankfully, the book also includes the poems in the original Spanish.

Words, Things and Celebrations by Wendell Stacey Johnson
[Finished 25 April 1996] A rather basic book on ideas about language. It was on my shelves, I read it. The target audience is probably junior high or high school students, so it’s a bit basic, but it also presents a rather novel approach to the subject, giving “games” rather than exercises at the end of each lesson.

Fontographer: Type by Design by Stephen Moye
[Finished 20 April 1996] I’ll print a proper review in Serif.

Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown
[Finished 14 April 1996] A surprisingly interesting biography of St Augustine. It was a book I got for free when I bought my BHS in Boston six years ago. My shelves are full of books like this which I had bought at some date in the past thinking they might be interesting and only later do I get around to reading them. Especially interesting is Brown’s characterization of the actual circumstances and issues behind the Pelagian-Augustinian controversy, which is almost directly opposed to the conception one would have gotten from the characterization of the issues given by Anthony Burgess in The Wanting Seed.

Sefer Otiyot: The Book of Letters--A Mystical Alef-Bait by Lawrence Kushner
[Finished 14 April 1996] This is the sort of playful look at language and religion that I really enjoy, and one of the most wonderful things about the Jewish tradition since this sort of play is not a modern invention but can be found even in the early midrashim. The calligraphic content is a bit lower than one might have liked but it’s a very fun book nevertheless.

The Catholic Reformation by Pierre Janelle
[Finished 1 April 1996] Janelle provides a rather ultramontanist (typical of French Catholicism of the first part of this century) view of the events around the counter-reformation. An interesting counterpoint to the typical histories of the time which are clearly biased towards a protestant viewpoint.

A Piece of My Mind (On Just About Everything) by Andrew Greeley
[Finished 24 March 1996] Greeley is a fascinating author. Thusfar, I’ve only read his sociology. This is a collection of his columns for syndication in which he attempts (with varying success) to be an ordained Mike Royko.

It’s tough to tell exactly what Greeley thinks on a lot of subjects because his writing tends towards self-contradiction, sometimes even in the same column. In general, though, it seems that he espouses the sort of comfortable suburban Catholicism that I’ve come to reject myself (it was only in reading this book, the first Greeley I’ve read in two years, that I realized how radically my views have changed in that time and to what extent I continue down my path towards a much more radical form of Catholicism than even what I hold now).

Counseling in Catholic life and Education by Charles Curran
[Finished 20 March 1996] Curran is both a psychologist and a theologian. This work focuses primarily on the counseling side of life and less on the theological, although the implicit connections are really quite profound. The premise of Curran’s counseling is quite the opposite of the stereotype of the counseling process as portrayed, say, on Frasier. Rather than being an interventional presence in the life of the person being counseled, the counselor’s role is to be an objective mirror to help the person see what they should do more clearly on their own.

Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis
[Finished 16 March 1996] I think nearly any person’s account of their childhood could be interesting, assuming that it’s well written. Lewis’ is no exception. I have to admit, though, that I didn’t find it a particularly spiritually compelling work.

A Harsh and Dreadful Love: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement by William D. Miller
[Finished 14 March 1996] I first learned about the Catholic Worker when I stumbled across a copy of the newspaper in a dorm lounge while I was still in college. The front page included a story about St Julian of Norwich and how she was one of the first mystics to view God as both Father and Mother. I don’t remember if this was before or after I had made the decision to become Catholic, but it stuck with me.

The Catholic Worker has managed to continue to haunt my life. The priest who welcomed me into the church was/is deeply involved with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, although I found my way there independently of his influence--in fact the first time I met him there was a bit of a surprise. My first visit to the LACW also turned up a friend from college, surprisingly enough.

The Catholic Worker differed from other liberal Christian movements in that for them, religion was not merely something on which to hang a liberal doctrine. Rather, there doctrine flowed out of the spring of religion, and has a depth that other groups which I have worked with lacked.

This book gives an accounting of the history of the movement from its founding by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day until the early seventies. Always a fascinating story, this accounting is a bit drier than the others since it places a bit of distance between itself and its subject (as opposed to Rosalie Troester’s Voices from the Catholic Worker which is as close to the subject as can be accomplished). Still, as a comprehensive account, it does a lot to help establish the broader contexts of many of the events in the history of the Catholic Worker.

An interesting note for the hagiographers: The parallels between the development of the Catholic Worker and the early years of the Franciscans are astounding.

Journal of a Soul by Pope John XXIII
[Finished 13 March 1996] Selections from the journals of John XXIII, it looks to be a fascinating read. The development of religious thought from the overpious youth at the beginning of the book to the much wiser old man is fascinating. It’s almost entirely reflections from retreats, which is a bit of a disappointment since I was hoping for some ordinary day-to-day reflections, but still, a wonderful book. The spirituality seems, at times, out of touch with today’s life, but there’s still much to be learnt. The frequent attempts at self-mortification through even small things like avoiding the use of the first person in conversation really intrigue me.

Catholicism by Richard P. McBrien
[Finished 9 March 1996] A comprehensive accounting of Catholic thought, giving a historical background and a synthesis of the various perspectives on each doctrinal point. A very interesting synthesis of liberal and conservative religious thought. McBrien tends to take a very ecumenical view towards many issues and is a bit too liberal on some issues relating to the sacraments than I care for, but it’s still a wonderful compilation of Catholic teaching with a much broader base than the Universal Catechism put out last year (although this latter does effectively provide the definitive state of the magisterium on many issues).

The Little Flowers, Legends and Lauds of Saint Francis of Assisi by St Francis of Assisi
[Finished 5 March 1996] A compilation of writings by and about the saint. It’s a reprint of a volume originally published in 1947 and is especially interesting in that it seems to be the beginnings of a historico-critical approach to religious matters in the Catholic church. St Francis is a reasonable starting point for such a thing since he’s both fairly central to the concept of the church without being a point of dogma.

Little by Little: Selected Writings by Dorothy Day
[Finished 25 February 1996] A collection of Day’s writing, it’s a fascinating read, and one would hope a call to conversion for those who fail to see Christ in all around them, especially in the poor. Remember, we are told not to judge and to give freely to all who ask. Think about that the next time you’re approached by a panhandler.

Note that the title was changed somewhat when it was re-released by Orbis

Cecilia by Fanny Burney
[Finished 18 February 1996] It’s been a long time since I read Evelina and all I remember was not much caring for that novel. Cecilia has me thinking about picking it up again and giving it another spin. Burney has hit upon the same vein as Chekhov did with Uncle Vanya and it certainly is one to appeal to this reader.

Autobiography of a Saint by St Thèrése of Lisieux
[Finished 13 February 1996] Perhaps more meaningful to the Catholic than the non-Catholic, but the appeal of this saint becomes increasingly apparent as one reads this book. While some reviewers are appalled by her simplicity, I think that it points correctly down the path to true spirituality.

The amazon.com link is to a different translation as the Knox translation is out of print.

Postscript to the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
[Finished 5 February 1996] An amazing little book. Eco chooses not to explain what he wrote (consistent with his views on literary theory) but rather why he wrote, an all too rare occurence. Occasional author’s autobiographies move into this territory, but too infrequently, I think. Eco is one of the more accessible of the contemporary theoreticians, and this is certainly one of the more accessible of his works, not a bad introitus to literary theory. I would, however recommend that students not use this as Cliff’s notes when writing papers on The Name of the Rose your professor will almost certainly know who you’re cribbing from and judge you accordingly.

Aventuras de don Quijote by Miguel Cervantes
[Finished 4 February 1996] In Spanish, but in a condensed & heavily illustrated (one picture per sentence, roughly) form. Not bad for someone like me whose Spanish is good enough to read, but not good enough to read the original (yet--it is on the libri legendi shelves). At times the editing is a bit choppy---it seems that the intent of the editor had been to simply condense the book, but to avoid any rewriting, but it’s still not a bad effort. I may do a similar job on Tom Sawyer which I feel is the American Don Quixote.

A Wood-cut Manual by J. J. Lankes
[Finished 25 January 1996] This is a great little book, with rather good information on wood engraving interspersed with philosophical and sociological reflections in the same sort of artisan-based socialism of which Gill and Morris were both proponents.

Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
[Finished 24 January 1996] I first encountered this novel in the office of John Peavoy, a literature prof at Scripps College. It was the largest Penguin paperback I’d ever seen, roughly the size of the Chicago Metro Yellow Pages. A few years later, I saw it in a Cambridge bookshop and bought it for later reading. It’s finally come to the top of the stack, nearly five years after I bought it and seven or eight after I first saw it. I have a vague notion that this might be the longest novel in the English language.

Samuel Johnson once said that anyone who read Clarissa for the plot would hang himself. This is true. It’s a remarkably slow-moving book, although it does have its rewards. After the first five- or six-hundred pages things pick up a bit and in the last five-hundred pages it’s hard to put down. The unfolding of plot is predictable, but still compelling. I’ll probably have to pick up Terry Eagleton’s The Rape of Clarissa now and read that.

Fit or fat? by Covert Bailey
[Finished 7 January 1996] A classic of general fitness. One of the first stages in my getting my weight down to 200 pounds by year’s end.

Little Wilson and Big God by Anthony Burgess
[Finished 2 January 1996] It’s rare that I encounter a book in English that I need to read with a dictionary handy. Anthony Burgess’ autobiography is the first book which has forced this in quite a while. The life itself was rather fascinating, covering primarily that portion of Burgess’ life before he became a writer. This is the point in a writer’s life which is interesting. After they settle into the task of actually writing, their lives tend to become dull as dirt.

Mantissa by John Fowles
[Finished 25 December 1995] A novel about writing, nominally, although Fowles has perhaps gotten to wrapped up in the eroticism of his nominal tale so while it has it’s moments, this is largely a rather unsatisfying book on all counts.

Logotype & Letterforms: Handlettered Logotypes and Typographic Considerations by Doyald Young
[Finished 24 December 1995] In an era in which the computer reigns supreme in graphic design, a book about handlettering logo types may seem a bit anachronistic, but there is much to be learnt from the work of a designer such as Young, especially in comparing specimens of typefaces from which he drew inspiration and the final result which often only slightly resembles the original type.

Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope
[Finished December 1995] The third book in the Barsetshire series, it, like most Trollope, is a fun, light read. The ending is evident about one fifth of the way through the book (Trollope tells us), but that’s not the fun of Trollope anyway.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
[Finished 18 November 1995] The first chapter of this book, was clearly written separately from the remainder. The characterizations, especially of Owen Meany, the narrator and the narrator’s grandmother all don’t really seem to be the same characters as those persons by the same names we encounter in the remainder of the book. As a humorist, Irving is outstanding and this certainly is a funny book. The conclusion helps compensate for some of the deficiencies of the text, but in all it’s a rather imperfect novel, certainly not up to the level of Garp.

Alphabet and Image 1 edited by Robert Harling
[Finished 15 November 1995] A collection of the first half of the run of this postwar periodical of typography and graphic arts. The subject matter is wide-ranging, and perhaps most surprising is the selection of books reviewed which included in one instance a work on what would now be called literary theory. It is difficult to imagine a review of something by Derrida in Print.

One disappointment is that after the type review appearing in the first number, no additional type reviews appeared. The volume which I have only represents the first year of publication. If memory serves, the publication ran to eight numbers and it would certainly be nice to locate numbers 5-8 for further reading.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
[Finished 10 November 1995] With a cover in Penguin’s own brand of Pantone 804 (although not a Penguin), this book grabbed my eye at the library book sale. This edition concludes with an embarrassingly shallow essay, which one assumes was only included because of its provision of a Nadsat glossary. I’m told that Burgess opposed this (most likely both for the glossary and for the poor essay which is its companion).

Reading A Clockwork Orange was an experience much like reading the Mexican short stories of Antología de cuentos Mexicanos (see below), in that one is somewhat distanced from the text by not knowing what all the words mean, and occasionally misunderstanding the text itself. Should you, O my brother, find yourself reading this book for the first time, I urge you to eschew the glossary and just experience the text itself.

Getting past the superficialities of language itself, the novel, like the other Burgess that I’ve read (The Wanting Seed) is effectively an examination of a dilemma of Christian philosophy, in this one the matter of free will. In that, I think Burgess succeeded quite well where he had been somewhat clumsy in execution in The Wanting Seed.

This Side of Paris by F. Scott Fitzgerald
[Finished 6 November 1995] First novels have a certain quality that can never be regained no matter how hard the author tries. The first novel encompasses a lifetime’s experience in a way that can never be repeated, much as one’s innocence can never be restored. This Side of Paradise has all the autobiographical qualities one expects in a first novel and it’s easy to see the promise of the young Fitzgerald in its pages. The book concludes a bit too weakly and Amory Blaine’s impromptu speech on socialism in the last chapter leaves much to be desired, but in all, this was quite a satisfying read.

The Inheritors by William Golding
[Finished 4 November 1995] An intriguing experiment in expressing perspectives, I found. Golding does an effective job of putting one in the head of neanderthal man, and presenting the known (canoes, bow and arrow, etc.) as unknown. As a story, I must admit that I preferred Lord of the Flies and Darkness Visible.

Antología de Cuentos Mexicanos II edited by Carmen Millan
[Finished 1 November 1995] Yes, in Spanish. I must say that I find twentieth century Mexican literature fascinating. I bought this book in the spring of ‘92 while I was in the D.F. Unfortunately, I’ve never managed to track down volume I. But then my library is filled with many incomplete sets like this.

Reading an anthology of this sort when one is developing one’s language skills is incredible. One never quite becomes conscious of individual vocabularies until one reads an anthology of multiple authors whilst on the boundaries of literacy.

Of the authors I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed Sergio Galindo’s “Querido Jim” and I hope to be able to find some of his other works. Carlos Fuentes has been a big challenge and easily the densest of the writers. I may stick to reading Fuentes in translation (there’s no way in hell I’d’ve been able to read Christopher Unborn in Spanish). José Emilio Pacheco was another favorite. What looked like it might be difficult going turned out to be really rather compelling and an interesting read.

I’m putting this book back on the libri legendi shelves guaranteeing that I’ll reread it. Certainly my Spanish is much stronger now and I hope that after reading other works in Spanish, I’ll be in excellant shape to return to these stories.

The Art of Typography by Martin Solomon
[Finished 1 November 1995] Really a rather poor text. I don’t recommend it. A review appears in Serif 4.

The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck
[Finished November 1995] Steinbeck is at his best when he avoids his tendency to allegorize (e.g., Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men. Alas, too many unimaginative high school English teachers have turned off too many better-than-that high school students by sticking to the allegory and skipping the good stuff. This is a particularly fascinating novel with some of Steinbeck’s most inventive experiments with narrative structures.

The Devil's Advocate by Morris West
[Finished November 1995] An interesting story about a priest’s journey into rural Italy to investigate a reputed saint. Having read Woodward’s The Making of Saints helped a bit in supplying background details, but it wasn’t essential. West is easily one of the better writers dealing with Catholic issues.

The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
[Finished November 1995] It’s interesting when one gets a sort of synchronicity of themes in one’s reading, especially if one, like myself, has a somewhat arbitrary method for selecting the next book to be read. In this instance, I find myself hitting the same theme, approached in radically different ways, in three consecutive books. In the end it all comes down to Thoreau’s challenge: Simplify! Simplify! Which of course is really just Jesus’ a man cannot serve two masters put in a forceful American way. Materialism. It’s killing us all. I’m not much better than most. I just have different household gods. Books, mostly.

The American Senator by Anthony Trollope
[Finished 19 October 1995] Trollope is one of the great underrated writers of the nineteenth century. This particular novel, which from its title sounds as if it might be a satire of American manners (a la the American scenes from Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit), is in fact very little about the title character and instead turns around two intertwined marriage plots. The story reminds me the most, perhaps, of Trollope’s Kept in the Dark. In any event, The American Senator is pure Victorian potboiler and a good read.

Graham Greene: An Intimate Portrait by His Closest Friend and Confidant by Leopoldo Durán
[Finished 6 October 1995] Are there no editors anymore? After I’d sat down with the book for less than half an hour I found numerous items that any competent editor would have found, errors that are reminiscent of what happens if I write something at three in the morning and don’t check it again after getting a good nights’ sleep. I found similar problems in the Sherry bio. There is an interesting book here, but the final product lacks the touch that a good editor could have lent the work.

The Cambridge Book of Lesser Poets edited by J. C. Squire
[Finished 3 October 1995] A friend majoring in English attempted to slip a course plan past her advisor which did not include any course in Shakespeare (her plan was rejected). Perhaps this anthology would appeal to her. The basic plan is to begin by excluding the best known poets of the English language along with anyone still living (then again, perhaps she wouldn’t like the anthology) and collect what’s left.

The Life of Graham Greene, Volume II: 1939-1955 by Norman Sherry
[Finished 24 September 1995] I’ve spotted on bookstore shelves recently three Graham Greene bios (and of course have purchased each). The Sherry biography is perhaps the most “respectable” of the three, being the authorized biography. Despite the authorized label, however, it’s far from a whitewash, particularly in this second volume. One wonders to what extent the death of Greene in the interim between the publication of volumes I and II is part of this. It was a fascinating read, taking me just about a week to finish. There are a few places where it feels like Sherry’s editor was lax and the organization is sometimes confusing in the jumping about in the chronology.

Finer Points in the Spacing & Arrangement of Type by Geoffrey Dowding
[Finished 24 September 1995] A fascinating book, despite the rather dry title. My review appears in Serif 4.

The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier by Bruce Sterling
[Finished September 1995] Most prose on the internet is, quite frankly, crap. Anything book-length tends to fall into one of two categories: Poorly HTMLized texts in the public domain and works too bad to find a “real” publisher.

The discovery of this book on the internet (and it’s available on paper as well), then was quite delightful and sucked several hours of my precious time while I read it. Since most of my non-fiction reading tends to not be of the mainstream variety, I often forget how captivating it can be (and ought to remind myself to bring some of this energy into my own writing). Definitely a gripping yarn, and while it will appeal to the computer geek, is not mired in technobabble. A definitely recommended read.

Hadrian VII by Frederick Rolfe (aka Baron Corvo)
[Finished August 1995] I first encountered this story in a radio drama on KCRW and decided to start tracking down books by the author, a rather difficult process to say the least. As the radio drama made more clear by calling the main character Rolfe rather than Rose, this is a bit of self-fantasy about the author’s being “rightfully” given his ordination as a priest and later being named pope. If one can get past the rather dull turn-of-the-century geopolitical diatribes, there’s an amazingly prescient view of where the church did end up going half a century later.

Graham Greene by John Spurling
[Finished August 1995] A rather cursory treatment of Greene’s work I find. I’ve not found any Greene criticism which I particularly enjoyed. Whether the problem is with Greene, contemporary criticism or myself, I don’t know.

Twentieth Century Type Designers by Sebastian Carter
[Finished July 1995] As the editor of Serif, I frequently receive review copies of books. These make up a big part of my libri legendi pile next to the bed. I’ve read the original and the review will likely compare the two volumes (the new edition, incidentally is much thicker). I’ll let you read the real review in the magazine.

The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management: Proven Strategies for Increased Productivity and Inner Peace by Hyrum W. Smith
[Finished July 1995] I’m generally skeptical of books with titles like this and I certainly wouldn’t have bought this. Instead, I was given a Franklin organizer recently and this book came with it. It’s a quick read, and the ideas seem sound. I’m working on putting them in practice and I’ll see what comes of it.

Analytical Marxism edited by John Roemer
[Finished July 1995] An interesting book, taking, as its title suggests, an analytical approach to Marxist ideas. Since there is no sense of sola scriptura among Marxists, every idea and assumption is open to critique (more so, even then among capitalists, for whom profit is an unquestionable Good). Tools such as game theory help bring Marxist ideas into better focus. Interestingly, many of the authors reach contradictory conclusions. As is all-to-common among contemporary social scientists, there is a tendency to obfuscate the prose with needless mathematics, but there is still quite a bit to be learned here.

Landmarks in Christian History by Henry K. Rowe
[Finished June 1995] When I started buying books for my thesis research back in 1989, I decided that I needed a protestant account of the reformation. This is what I found in a second-hand bookshop in St Louis. As it turns out, the scope is somewhat broader and attempts to be a history of Christianity from Jesus’ ministry up to the time of its writing at the beginning of the twentieth century. While reading this book, I found myself continually trying to figure out what the author believed. He was vehemently anti-Catholic, but otherwise rather liberal. While there was general praise of John Calvin and an association with the Calvinists, the author’s view point tended more towards a strong concern towards social justice I tend not to associate with Calvinists.

The New Testament for Spiritual Reading: The Epistle to Titus, The Epistle to Philemon edited by John L. McKenzie
[Finished June 1995] McKenzie was a Jesuit who lived his last years in the parish to which I belong. He died not too long after I arrived and I never had the opportunity to meet him, but his reputation survived him. I was given this volume and one other as a gift from a friend who’s now working at Southern Illinois University. He found these two volumes in a library book sale for a quarter each.

As for the text itself, it tends to be a relatively mainline Catholic interpretation of the two named epistles by a pair of German theologians. I must say that I found little of memorable interest.

Learning Perl by Randall Schwartz
[Finished May 1995] OK, so I can be a computer geek at times. I figured it was about time to learn this language so I could do my own CGI scripts, or at least understand the ones I get from other people. As for the book? Well, the humor was really more distracting than it should have been and I found the organization really quite awful. There’s also a dearth of good examples of things and the discussion of vital things like eq appears somewhere nonintuitive. Perhaps if I had done the exercises as I went along it might have helped. Still, there’s plenty of room for a better mousetrap here.

Anchor Bible, vol. 4: Numbers 1-20 by Baruch Levine
[Finished May 1995] Part of the Anchor Bible series, a collection of translations and commentaries on individual books of the Bible by Jewish, Protestant and Catholic scholars. The quality and approach of the volumes vary widely. This particular book is written from a rather secular world view: Levine makes an attempt to demythologize the text wherever possible. I’m not certain I like that approach. I have yet to find anything gained from the demythologization process. People need myths.