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What I'm Reading

Once upon a time I would write comments about books I had recently read. These days, I rarely have time to read, and rarely have time to write. But every now and then, I jot down a few notes...

 

Currently Reading:

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. Fact-filled and fun, and the author is on a Really Important List. Vowell has a gift for distilling complexity into delicious little McNuggets: "Growing up, I came to know America as two places -- a rapacious country built on the destruction of its original inhabitants, and a welcoming land of opportunity and generosity built by people who shared their sausage and cheese."

Recently Read:

They All Fall Down by Richard Cahan. One of my peculiar hobbies is photographing movie theatres. The kindest thing anyone ever said about my pictures was that they reminded him of Richard Nickel's photos. Nickel devoted much of his life to preserving Chicago's architectural history; in fact, he lost his life inside the crumbling wreckage of the Adler and Sullivan's Board of Trade building. Cahan's biography is fascinating, and best of all, it's illustrated with many of Nickel's finest photos.

Tretiak the Legend by Vladislav Tretiak. Tretiak? Who is Tretiak? One of the greatest hockey goalies of all time. Why haven't more hockey fans heard of him? He didn't play in the NHL. Tretiak was the goalie for the Soviet Red Army Team in the 1970s. This is an old book, translated from Russian back in the waning days of the Cold War. It's not exactly graceful, flowing prose, but still, hockey fans should read this book. It's full of thoughtful observations about sport, and sportsmanship.

John Dies at the End by David Wong. I have no idea how the hell I got this book... and in the context of what the book is about, well, that's really kinda fitting. The book just appeared in my house one day, inside a bag in the living room. It sat there for several days, until my daughter's curiosity got the better of her, and she started reading it. When I came home, she told me it was the best book she'd ever read. I asked her if she got it from the library, or if she'd bought it at the bookstore... at which point she told me she thought I had bought it. I hadn't. Did a friend accidentally leave it at the house? Did the clerk accidentally put it in our shopping bag at the bookstore? I dunno. But setting that aside: John Dies at the End is... what, exactly? A ghost story? Sort of. Science fiction? Sort of. Worth reading? Definitely! Don't wait for a copy to mysteriously appear in your house. Just go buy a copy, right now.

Art in America by Ron McLarty. This one was a little uneven, and at times the author's habit of writing dialogue without attribution sometimes made it difficult to figure out who was saying what. It drags a little, but if you stick with it, you'll be rewarded in the end.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. Funny, painful funny, and more funny. Sedaris is articulate, engaging, and frequently hilarious.

Bonk by Mary Roach. The woman who wrote fantastic books about dead bodies and ghosts writes one about sex. How could this not be a great book? It's strange, sporadically silly, and always fascinating. And what Mary does in an MRI machine is enough to earn her a place among the all-time great heroes of science.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis. I hate baseball. It's excrutiatingly dull. So why did I reading this? Don't think of it as a baseball book: it's a book about statistics, and how what we "know" isn't always true. An absolutely terrific book.

Bradbury Speaks by Ray Bradbury. A collection of Bradbury's essays; some brilliant, some curmedgeonly, but all fun to read.

Cobra II by Michael Gordon, Bernard Trainor. Deeply depressing current history: the book explains in painful detail how an ill-conceived attempt to revise military doctrines led to disaster in Iraq.

Pure Drivel by Steve Martin. The bit about Times New Roman running out of periods was kinda funny, but otherwise, this was pretty forgettable.

Spook by Mary Roach. A look at scientific attempts to answer questions about afterlife. Fun, but not as much fun as Stiff, Roach's gory, funny, fascinating look at cadavers.

The Last Great Books I Read:

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. This is a brilliant, brilliant book. It's a beautifully written fable of a dystopian future. It deserves a place alongside Animal Farm, 1984, and Brave New World. It's ever-so-slightly marred by its incongruous final chapter, but make no mistake: this is the work of genius.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. Wait, how do you spell her name? I'd look it up but I'm offline as I write this. A fun, funny, brilliant travelogue/monologue.

Colditz by Henry Chancellor. Wonderful! It's a true story about a POW camp in WWII Germany. A great, great, great book. Rating: 10 out of 10.

And now... drum roll please...the Greatest Books Ever...

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee