What are You Reading Now?

Just curious. I’m reading the new Tobias Wolf novel, Old School, which my friend Tony gave me just because he so wanted me to read it. It looks, terribly, like a Dead Poets Society kinda thing, but it’s actually really different, so far. Great writing, and really good characters.

So, what are you reading?

141 Responses to “What are You Reading Now?”


  1. Reid

    I’m 3/4 of the way through *Cold Mountain*. Frazier is a solid writer.

    I’m also 3/4 of the way through Garry Wills, *A Necessary Evil*. It’s about certain misconceptions (Wills calls myths) about the American Constitution and government. I find Wills’writing to be clear and insightful. I wish more historians would write like him.

  2. pen

    I am currently reading the latest J.D. Robb mystery, “Imitation in Death.” It’s about a killer who is copying serial killers of the past. So far he has emulated Jack the Ripper and the Boston Strangler. I was reading this Lawrence Block edited short story collection called, “The Monsters Among Us.” I read about half the stories, but stopped because it made me feel horrible! It was withering for my spirit, since there was no redemption, just ugliness. I guess I picked it up because I just finished “Anyone You Want Me to Be” by John Douglass (former FBI profiler). It’s about the first serial killer to use the internet to “attract” his victims. Scary stuff. Makes me worried for my niece who goes into chatrooms a lot. *sigh*

  3. Mitchell

    I finished the Tobias Wolff novel–it was pretty good. A good read, and very interesting story, which I hope to write a review of later.

    Current book: E.L. Doctorow’s _World’s Fair_.

  4. pen

    I finished “Immitation in Death” and it was quite good. Great fluff reading. I am currently reading, “Bias” by Bernard Goldberg. He was a CBS news dude for 20 years or something. Buddy-buddy with Dan Rather (whom he calls “The Dan” in the book) until Goldberg began questioning news media bias publicly. He writes about how the media distorts the news with its liberal bias.

    Some of what he writes is spot-on. Other things he writes…well, perhaps it is my own leftist leanings that make me somewhat skeptical and irritated about what he labels “bias.” There is still some residue of bitterness on the pages regarding his ostracism from what he terms as the “media elite.”

    Still quite an interesting read and I will probably try to watch the news a little more critically. Funny, because recently I was channel surfing during the news and one station covered a story (I forgot what it was about) that made the State look good, and another station covered the same story, but was critical of the State. Ahh…even in Hawai’i nei.

  5. pen

    I just finished reading Mitch Albom’s “The 5 People You Meet in Heaven.” He’s the same guy who wrote “Tuesdays with Morrie.” I enjoyed “5 People” very much. It’s a quick read and there’s a lot in there…it’s one of those books that you’ll be able to read multiple times and get something new out of it.

  6. pen

    I am currently reading “The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators Among Us” by Gregg McCarary. It’s quite an interesting read so far. I have also read similar books by John Douglass & Roy Hazelwood. It will be interesting to see how (or if) this book differs from those.

    BTW, I would love to hear what the rest of you are reading. Grace recommended a book entitled, “Good to Great.” I have requested it from the Library and hope to read it soon.

  7. kevin

    I recently finished reading Jonathan Franzen’s book of essays, “How to be Alone.” Includes his infamous Harpers’ essay, revised to be a little more readable, re-titled “Why Bother?” Much of it through the lens of a writer swimming against the current of mass trend, but highly recommended for anyone feeling contrary to prevailing culture but not wanting to live (or die) simply a martyr. I read him differently now knowing he’s a recovering Midwest Presbyterian.

  8. pen

    I am currently reading Michael Moore’s Dude, Where’s My Country? It’s actually taking me awhile to read it . . . probably because I’ve been really tired lately, but also because it’s not a light read. He has a lot of facts and statistics and quotes and the reader has to pay attention.

    While I don’t agree with some of Moore’s conclusions or takes on the facts, it’s pretty difficult to deny what is a matter of record. He really did extensive research for this book. He is quite specific in his documentation and thus it would be easy to disprove anything he asserts (which I assume the Right would do in a Rush Limbaugh minute).

    I think it is definitely worth a read — even if you love Rush and Ann Coulter, et al and feel Al Franken should burn in effigy.

    Speaking of Al Franken (oh-oh, here comes a tangent), has anyone heard his new radio show?

  9. Reid

    Now that I’m finished with school, I’m reading several books:

    1. A Pattern Language Christopher Alexander and others
    I got this for Christmas, and this is one of those books I’ve wanted to own. It’s basically a book about different building patterns (regarding towns, buildings and rooms). It may be a bit socialist, but I really like it.

    2. The Image by Daniel Boorstin
    This is about the what Boorstin calls the Graphic Revolution (from telegraphs, photography to TV) has tranformed news and news making.

    3. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. This is a sci-fi novel that about…well, I don’t want to say anything that might ruin it.

    4. Affluenza
    This is a book about materialism in America. It’s OK, although the writing and research seem superficial in a pop-exposition sort of way.

  10. Jenn

    I’m reading Robert Sullivan’s Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants. So far I’m about 1/4 through but it’s not yet as interesting as I’d hoped. This coming from a rat enthusiast. Haha.

    Also holding out for HPatOotP to come out in paperback. Whee.

  11. pen

    Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A FAir and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken. I am enjoying this book which is unabashedly liberal. Franken’s sardonic tongue-in-cheek wit makes me smirk and laugh out loud. It’s interesting that he comes across as pretty idealist.

  12. pen

    Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. I am slightly embarassed to admit that I am unable to get through this book. I am not sure why I am unable to finish reading it…I may have to rent the videos. At least I don’t have to worry about losing my “idiot” status! 😉

  13. Reid

    You know what might help? Try flipping around the book until you find them talking about something that is mildly interesting to you. There are some really cool concepts in that book. For example, I liked the notion that myths instruct people on how to understand the world and their place in it, particularly with regard to rights of passage. Myths help people to become adults. The modern American culture has few stories or myths to help people make this transition, and that’s why young people like us (how much longer will I be able to describe us that way!), struggle with issues of adulthood, I think.

  14. Reid

    Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain

    Mann’s writing is really impressive. His ambition is huge, and he seems to be pulling it off, too! He makes me wish I could read in German. I hope to read more of his stuff. This is guy is one of the most impressive writers I have encountered.

    I’m also reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist for a Bible study. It’s not a Christian book, but the people leading the studying are making a connection. Mitchell, I think you would love this book. It’s in the vein of The Little Prince–kind of a mythic tale about following your dreams. It’s a very fast read, too.

  15. Mitchell

    I’ll read Bridget Jones.

    I’ve seen the flick. Not bad.

  16. kevin

    Reid, let me know how you find The Alchemist , it’s been on my list for months. I recently read Father Joe, the latter which I find even worthy of merit despite recent controversy around the author’s family abuse. And am finishing Chabon’s Adventures of Kavalier and Clay , which is pretty amazing writing. Both I’d highly recommend.

  17. Reid

    Mitchell,

    The book is different and better than the movie, which is not surprising. Are you still planning to read it? Chris? Kevin?

    Kevin,

    I really liked The Alchemist. I find the book profound, moving and mysterious in the way that many great religious myths or stories are. It’s the type of book where the reader can return to again and again and find new things.

    Grace has also read this book, and I’m thinking we can start a discussion here if other people are interested.

    Can you tell me more about the books you’re reading?

    I went to the McKinley book fair yesterday and picked up some good stuff:

    Ulysses James (the Gabler edition)(Does anyone know the differences between copies and which one is considered the best?)

    Innocents Abroad Mark Twain

    Essays by Thoreau and Emerson

    a collection of interviews with A.N. Whitehead and Michel Foucault (not in the same book)

    Home From Nowhere James Howard Kunstler

  18. Tony

    Hope it’s okay for me to post here. Don’t want to be intrusive. Villages aren’t always welcoming of newcomers. Heh heh. I’m currently reading Quarterlife Crisis by Robbins and Wilner. It’s all about whiny twenty-somethings who can’t figure out what to do with themselves after college. I’m enjoying the book mostly because I’m as whiny as the people mentioned in the book and have experienced a lot of the same things (well, except for getting to travel the world carefree for a year to “figure things out”).

  19. pen

    Hi Tony! This village loves newcomers! A belated welcome to you!

    Just finished The Alchemist. I agree it’s one of those books it’s better to own, because you can keep going back to it. Depending on what is going on in your life, I believe different insights will come to the fore. I’m not so sure I agree with the book’s definition of “love,” but maybe I’m missing something.

    I also read Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet recently which, while not constructed as narratively (is that a word?) as The Alchemist, is along the same vein. Another book that it is better to own.

  20. Reid

    Wait, did you read The Alchemist before hearing it on this thread? I read the book without knowing that Grace read it as well. I think this is an omen.

  21. Mitchell

    …but then, so was that movie about the son of Satan.

  22. Tony

    Currently reading McSweeney’s Mammoth Book of Thrilling Tales. It came out a couple of years ago and features short fiction by Eggers, Hornby, Ellison, Crichton, Chabon, and about 15 others. Nice, wide range of styles and content. Read an interesting time-travel-by-a-writer story this morning on the way to school. Interesting stuff.

  23. Jenn

    At Mitchell’s suggestion I picked up Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I haven’t laughed so hard at a book since – well, I can’t remember when.

    I was happy to find that there are many sticklers around. Truss’ (or is that Truss’s?) images were priceless – I could picture her running about with an apostrophe on a stick. Until now, I thought I was the only person paralyzed by incorrect or questionable punctuation (especially in the office). That’s part of the reason why it takes so long to finalize documents for these “professionals” – I keep running back to their offices to double-check (or doublecheck?) on their punctuation because my corrections could change their meanings altogether. I’m convinced they all think I’m some anal, english major snob (and no, that’s not “anal, english, major snob”).

    Next on my list is David Sedaris’s (Sedaris’? I’m so confused! I should be a greengrocer.) Me Talk Pretty One Day .

    Thanks for the recommendation, Mitchell!

  24. Reid

    I was just going to recommend “Eats” to Mitchell.

  25. Mitchell

    I’m in the middles of several books:

    Still working on Clinton. It’s too big to take anywhere, so I only get to read it when I’m home, which I haven’t been very much this past month.

    Tony passed me Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, which I like so much that I’m not finished with it but ordered the author’s first book, Fargo Rock City at half.com anyway.

    I’m a few chapters into Michael Chabon’s Summerland, which, oh my goodness, may be the first book I’ve ever seen that may have been written more for me than for anyone else in the world.

    Hey Pen, is that copy of The Prophet yours? Because I’ve really been wanting to read that.

  26. kevin

    Curious to read either Summerland or Wonder Boys, after finally finishing …Kavalier & Clay. Mitchell, recomm’dtn.? Also jumped on the bestsellers’ bandwagon after a friend lent me the latest Sedaris’ Dress Your Family.. it’s more self-reflective (but no less funny) than his previous.

    Currently reading latest by Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead – Reid, if you liked Chris. Alexander, et al, you would like her classic, Death & Life of Great Cities if you haven’t read it already, ’bout community & urbanity.

    Finished reading The Alchemist. Wow. This might be worth a separate thread… The sublimity of Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being (non-fiction) also resonated in my mind while reading it. Nouwen’s Reaching Out is next on my list.

  27. Reid

    Kevin,

    I have heard of Jacob’s book, but I never got around to reading it. I want to, though. I encourage you to start a thread on The Alchemist.

  28. Reid

    I started to re-read Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men again because I just saw it listed as one of the all time great political novels on the NPR site.

    I also thought about the book again because I’m enjoying the prose of Mann’s The Magic Mountain. ATKM was another book I really liked because of the prose. I’m getting hooked again just for that reason. The sentences just flow together, and there is a cripness and punchiness to his writing that I find appealing. That quality is also in a lot of his poems, too.

    Mitchell, have you read this? (I think this was one of the first books we tried to do in our book club.)

  29. Chris

    I just read a book called *The Incident of the Dog in the Night-time*. Very very nice book, written from the perspective of a mathmatically gifted autistic teenager who finds his neighbor’s dog murdered.

    Weird quick read — surprisingly moving and good.

    Chris

  30. pen

    Reid, I picked up The Alchemist after reading about it here. So, I guess it’s not so much of an omen? 😉

    Mitchell, I do own a copy of The Prophet and you are welcome to borrow it. It’ll be great to see you so I could also return your copy of Wecome to Fred, which I enjoyed immensely.

    Jenn, guess I’m going to have to pick up a copy of Eats, Shoots & Leaves as I would like to laugh more at a book since I can’t remember when, too!

    Just started Good to Great by Jim Collins. Quite good so far. I’ll let you all know if it manages to reach greatness by the end!

  31. Tony

    Penny- I agree on the Eats, Shoots, & Leaves stuff. Hilarious book. Also Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Klosterman. Funny stuff.

  32. Mitchell

    R: Yeah, I read All the King’s Men in college. My American Lit prof considered it one of the five greatest American novels.

    C: Everyone’s buzzing about The Incident of the Dog… lately, it seems. Definitely on my list.

    P: How many times did you cry? Me, twice.

  33. kevin

    Chris, I read Curious Incident of the Dog… last month, thought it was just OK. Poignant & touching, yes; but felt it was somehow missing some sort of “bigness” of it, like I couldn’t get past the literary “voicing.” what am I missing here? help me out, anyone?

  34. Reid

    I just started a book with a main character, Jack Reacher, who is a former military police. What’s the big deal about military police? Well, as Reacher puts it in the book, military police have to deal with trained killers (i.e. Seals, Rangers, Special Forces), so the military police have to be better than these killers. That’s an interesting way of putting it.

    Anyway, this is a detective/action novel, and so far it’s pretty good. Reacher is a loner, and he’s out of the army now. While he’s a loner, he’s also a compassionate guy, so he helps people out in trouble. I liked that quality, so I decided to give the book a try. It’s called, Killing Floor and it’s the first novel in a running series of nine. The author is Lee Child.

    Oh, one irritating thing about the novel is the prose. The dialogue and action scenes are pretty good so far, but when nothing is really happening, the sentences are “monotone.”

    It’s a huge contrast from All the King’s Men or another book I’m reading, Peter Matthiessen’s Killing Mr. Watson. The knows how to write. (His sentences are good examples of the use of active verbs.) The story is based on an actual person living in Florida at the turn of the century. The guy was an inventor, entrepreneur, and supposedly a killer. There is a mystery about the guy, and that’s what the book explores. The story may not be that compelling, but with Matthiessen’s ability, I think it’s worth the risk.

    I’m also really enjoying a collection of short stories–The Progress of Love–by Alice Munro. I’m not a big short story fan, but I’m enjoying these. The stories are about relationships, family, and individuals struggling with the conflicts and hurts that come out these things. The three stories I’ve read so impact me in a way that I don’t always consciously understand.

    I’m also starting Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. The book talks about the deterioration of social capital in the US, particularly from the 70’s until now. Anyone else read this?

  35. Tony

    Every time I’ve seen Bowling Alone I’ve meant to pick it up, but the time has never seemed right. Sounds like a book right up my alley (heh). Would love to hear what you think.

    I just finished a book called Blue Like Jazz. It’s kind of Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for Christians. A good read about Christian spirituality without all of the churchiness.

    Waiting for the next Thursday Next novel and the last Dark Tower book to come out.

  36. pen

    Reid, I read Bowling Alone, which was a lot more dry and “technical” that I thought it would be. I am enjoying reading Good to Great, which while technical is not as dry.

  37. Maurine

    Reid tells me to jump in. He and Mitchell have been telling me about good books for years. On my recent trip I missed the McKinley sale, but was loaned these by my various hosts: The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman, The Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen, and Biblical Issues in the Middle East by James W. Fleming.
    Mitchell, I inherited a copy of The Prophet from Joyce Wong. You may have it.

  38. Reid

    Alright, Ms. King! Great to see you here. I think there are some fans of Henri Nouwen here. As for good books to read, Ms. King, gave me a lot more good recommendations than I gave her.

    Penny,

    Putnam is a social scientist, and he wrote it in that style, so I know what you mean. What did you think about what he said? What stuck out for you?

    For me, Putnam’s claim that there has been a huge decline in social capital since the 70’s, and his observation that something similar happened at the turn of the 19th Century is really interesting. The way he draws on the strategies people employed at the turn of the century and tries to suggest a similiar approach to the problems now is really fascinating. (I’m actually not sure if that came from this book as I have not read all of it. But I did get to hear him talk about these ideas on C-Span.)

    Tony,

    I’ll let you know more about my thoughts about the Putnam book when I’m finished. I’d be interested in hearing more about the Dark Tower series. I like Stephen King’s visual writing style and storytelling ability. The Dark Tower also intrigued me because it seemed more like an action/sci-fi than a horror novel.

  39. Reid

    Well, I finished Killing Floor, and I don’t think I’ll be reading anymore of the Reacher stories. It’s like a Schwartzenegger or Stallone action flick. Lovely.

  40. Chris

    So, the *Dark Tower* series turned out well? I read the first one, and liked it, but something in his intro made me think it would go on forever, so I was a little apprehensive about getting involved. But it’s done? How many? Good all the way?

    Chris

  41. Tony

    Chris- The Dark Tower series ends this September. The last three books in the series have been some of the most exciting reads I’ve had. Book Seven is the final one. Very good stuff. Will post more on it later.

  42. Tony

    About Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series:

    The Dark Tower is kind of like King’s “love letter” to The Lord of the Rings. It’s like the Great American War of the Ring. Roland, a gunslinger, must save his world from the destruction of the beams that hold the multiverse together. Along the way he gathers a group of social outcasts that help him along the way.

    There are seven books in the series. The first, The Gunslinger, was recently revised with a few dozen pages added that make the story fit more into the big picture. Roland goes back and forth from his world (Mid-World) to our world throughout the series. Roland is on the way to the Dark Tower and must protect the Rose that is at the center of creation. A great quest story and a great study in alternate timelines and what not. Not a horror series at all. It is his magnum opus. I count myself a fan of Stephen King because of it.

    The seventh book comes out September 21st, so now is a good time to get used copies of the first six. The last two have been especially good. The second and third volumes are the two that I have had the most trouble enjoying.

    Really an epic for our times. But be warned… it’s more than a little vulgar in places, so if you’re not used to that, you might find yourself appalled and suprised.

    Anyone else read the series?

  43. Chris

    Tony,

    Thanks, I’ll try and read them during the upcoming school year. #1 was the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read. I had heard for a long time that he was a skilled writer. I thought it was well-written, but the ‘gunslinger’ ethos was pasted on a little thick at times. Still, it was compelling.

    I tried not to read too carefully the above post. I thought the first book did a good job leaving all that stuff in shadow; his intro suggested that he didn’t really know where it was all going anyway . . .

    Chris

  44. Marc

    Reid’s been telling me about this site for awhile and keeps wondering why I haven’t jumped in. Mostly laziness, although also the fact that I’m not sure that I have anything intelligent to add.

    Having said that, I’ve read the first five books of the Gunslinger series so I’ll take this opportunity to plunge in. The trouble is that I don’t remember all of them, because as Chris has sort of alluded to, this series has been going on for a long time and I’ve simply forgotten about some of the books. I’m sort of hot-cold with this series. I’ve really enjoyed the main character’s quest and reading about the group that’s been assembled. I haven’t enjoyed the many backflashes as much because I feel like they interrupted the flow of the story. While I don’t really consider myself a King fan, he also brings in characters from some of his other books. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Is this for convenience or does he sort of plan this series as a culmination or pinnacle for his career? I’ll probably breeze through some of the earlier books and pick up the new ones so I can be more informed.

    Future postings should be shorter and easier to wade through.

  45. Tony

    Marc-
    I think it is meant to be something of his magnum opus. The whole involvement from other books really kicked in around books 5/6 besides Flag. He pulls a big trick in book 6 (won’t tell you what), but it really should make for an interesting conclusion. And welcome aboard!

  46. Tony

    Marc-
    I think it is meant to be something of his magnum opus. The whole involvement from other books really kicked in around books 5/6 besides Flag. He pulls a big trick in book 6 (won’t tell you what), but it really should make for an interesting conclusion. And welcome aboard!

  47. Tony

    Oops

  48. Reid

    I finished reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

    Follow me here to talk more about it: “Curious Incident” Discussion.

    I also read an interesting forum discussion about advancing Progressive ideas in the new August issue of Harper’s.

  49. Tony

    Currently working through another “dog” book. This one is called The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. It’s this month’s read for the book group I attend at Barnes and Noble. I’m suprised at how much I’m enjoying the book. It tells the story of a man whose wife dies from falling from an apple tree. The only one/thing to witness the event is the couple’s dog. So, since he’s a linguist, he decides to teach the dog to talk. So far the book is interesting and well-written. Not sure what I’ll do if/when the dog ever actually gets a word out, though.

  50. burgess

    I started reading If Grace is True, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. This book appeals to my universalist tendencies and my own views of atonement. Gulley and Mulholland makes good arguments as to “why God will save every person.”

    The only real critique that I have, so far, is the narrowness of their arguments. They concentrate mainly on the experiential realm of knowing, and give little attention to rationale and tradition. Their disregard for Church tradition is understandable, since the Church has looked upon universal salvation as heresy. Aside from Origen and Jerome of Nyssa, the early church fathers reject the view of universal salvation.

  51. pen

    I recently finished Daniel Wallace’s The Watermelon King. Wallace also wrote Big Fish, which was made into a movie directed by Tim Burton and starring Ewan McGregor as a Southern boy (and he wasn’t as bad as one might suspect!)

    This book falls into the same “mythical/magical” vein as Big Fish with strange, interesting, and compelling characters. The premise is a young man’s journey to discover his roots. He travels to Ashland, Alabama (where Big Fish was also set) to see where he was born and to meet the townspeople who knew his mother while she lived there during her pregnancy.

    I enjoyed this book. While there were a few hiccups, they weren’t so jarring as to make it difficult for me to continue immersing myself in the lives of Ashland’s finest. They may bother some other readers, though. The Watermelon King tries to touch on some larger issues, but I think it works better as a quick, whimsical read.

  52. Reid

    Penny,

    I’m glad you stopped playing acrophobia (?) for a little and dropped in. 🙂

    I’ve been trying to finish an interesting New Yorker article by Oliver Sacks. It’s about our perception of time. One of the things that Sacks mentions is that animals make actually see more “frames per second” and therefore what they see may appear more slowly. In a way, the animals that are like this “live” less in real time.

    I also started The Man Who Was Thursday based on Tony’s recommendation. So far I like the philosophical/moral aspects of the story.

  53. Tony

    People talking about books again!

    I had wondered if Wallace’s other book was any good. I really enjoyed Big Fish!

    Glad to see you’re reading Thursday, Reid. Can’t wait to hear what you think.

    I devoured Chaim Potok’s The Chosen and The Promise this weekend. Wow. Much more in there than I ever expected… and much more relevant to my life than I had imagined. And now I have two more favorite fictional characters to think about.

  54. Mitchell

    Anto:

    You really need to read Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev, a book I like even better than The Chosen. You may not (most people don’t), but it was maybe the book that, when I read it in ninth grade, first got me to thinking about art.

  55. Reid

    Tony,

    I finally finished The Man Who Was Thursday. Interesting. I think I’m going to have to read this one again because the intervals between reading were too long I think. Plus, I need to think about the philosophical points in the book. I liked the suspense/mystery mixed with philosophy. Have you seen Se7en, and if so did you like it? Of course, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about MWWT.

  56. Reid

    The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman

    I’m about a quarter ofa way into this, and it’s pretty good so far. Tuchman examines four different acts of folly in history: accepting the Trojan Horse; Catholic Church provoking the Protestant secession; Britian losing the American colonies; and US involvement in Vietnam.

    Here are some excerpts:

    A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?

    Later

    Elsewhere than in government man has accomplished marvels invented the means in our lifetime to leave the earth and voyage to the moon; in the past, harnessed win and electricity, raised earthbound stones to soaring cathedrals, woven silk brocades our of the spinnings of a worm, constructed the instruments of music, derived motor power from steam, controlled and eliminated diseases, pushed back the North Sea adn created land in its place, classified the forms of nature, penetrated the mysteries of the cosmos. “while all other sciences have advanced,” confessed our second President, John Adams, “government is at a stand; little better practiced now than theree or four thousand years ago.” p. 4-5

  57. pen

    Just finished a compilation of some of Henri Nouwen’s writings, sermons and interviews called, The road to peace : writings on peace and justice. This book runs the gamut from nuclear proliferation to Central America to AIDS. Nouwen’s writing is so moving because he is so honest with himself and the reader about his own “shortcomings.” I put shortcomings in quotes because I am so far behind that…and he’s evolved from there! It is very humbling to read. Some things were quite convicting.

    I’m going to have to think more about some of the passages; they need time to digest better. In particular, Nouwen’s sermon about Thomas Merton and how the illusions people pursue…that one knows oneself, that one knows God, etc. actually lead to violence.

    A good read, especially in these uncertain times.

  58. Reid

    I picked up a bunch of books–not in NYC or Boston, but more at the local Cheapo’s. (They had a great sale this week: buy five or more fiction books and get the whole bunch for 50% off.)

    Anyway, I picked up two Nouwen books due to the praise he as gotten here: The Return of the Prodigal Son and Beyond the Mirror.

  59. Reid

    Hey Tony! What? No comments about The Man Who Was Thursday? Or are you waiting for me? I don’t know what to think about the book really. The metaphysical ending kind of threw me off. Plus, I know little about movements and the concept in general that I’m not sure what it means in the story.

  60. Tony

    Let me go back and flip through it. I remember enjoying the story on two levels.

    First, I thought it was just a cool “conspiracy” novel. I’m not much into secret organizations and such, but I really enjoyed this. Especially all about the guy being a poet and all.

    Second, I was intrigued by what Chesterton was and wasn’t saying about God and nature. More later.

  61. Reid

    I agree that it was an intriguing story about a secret society.

    I’m interested in hearing your views about Chesteron’s views on God and nature. I’m not sure what to think. (Ideally, I could have held on to the book longer and tried to think about what happened more, but I had to return the book.)

  62. Reid

    The Wild Iris
    by Louise Gluck

    I really enjoy this collection of poems about flowers. I’ve read the book one time through, and some of the poems more than once.

    Anyway, Gluck seems to write as if the flowers (and seasons, elements, creator (sun?) are alive: they tell us their thoughts, feelings and struggles. Sometimes the flowers speak as if they are humans personified as flowers.

  63. Reid

    I’m reading Joe Hill by Wallace Stegner. It’s a fictional account of a historical peson. Hill was a union organizer (Wobbly) in the 30’s. I’m interested in that time period of US history and the people that tried to fight injustice, particuarly from powerful interests, but I would be open to reading almost anything by Stegner. Of the two books I’ve read by him, I’ve found him to be one of the best at describing scenes so that the reader can actually visualize and experience what is going on. There seems to be too few authors who have this ability.

    I’m also reading The Leopard by Giueseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa. I picked this one up because a theater played the film version of this story in Boston while we were there. I’ve read comments that it was one of the most beautiful visual films and best adaptation from page to screen. When I found out it was originally a novel, I went out and picked it up. If anyone wants to read it and then watch the film with me, let me know.

    I hope I can finish both.

    I’m also reading a book about the best ways to handle utilities and other infrastructural services in a society–private services on one extreme and total government control on the other.

  64. Tony

    I just started back into The Intimate Merton, a kind of “best of” collection of Thomas Merton’s journals. I read the first major section last year to inaugurate my life as a bus-rider. Then I put it aside until yesterday morning. A wonderfully written collection of the daily life of an amazing man and writer.

  65. Reid

    I enjoyed reading The Leopard, and I think I would recommend it to anyone. The book was originally written in Italian, but I think English readers will still be able to appreciate the language–particuarly the writer’s use of metaphor. This would be a good one to read again, too, as I probably missed a lot of subtletites in the story.

  66. pen

    The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud was pretty good (although there are a lot of footnotes!) Also, it is not a Harry Potter rip-off. I look forward to reading the second book in the series.

    I also enjoyed Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. He is willing to turn his unflinching sardonic eye upon himself. I particularly liked the essay about his IQ test for Mensa. There’s also an underlying pathos to his work, especially the ones dealing with his family. The one that stands out most in my mind is the essay about his sister Amy.

  67. Reid

    There’s an interview with Sedaris in this week’s HW.

    Penny, don’t forget to give me back (or return) the Zizek book. It’s due in a couple of weeks.

  68. Mitchell

    I’m reading David Sedaris’s Naked, a purchase inspired by Penny’s carrying it around at the general election. Also by the fact that I am going to see him at the Hawaii on Saturday.

    Pen, don’t you think that essay about the parrot is the most wonderful essay you’ve read in years? That thing had me sobbing in the car when I heard him reading it on This American Life this past weekend.

  69. Jenn

    I really liked Me Talk Pretty One Day. The image of a bunch of people communicating is what I consider to be pidgin-French got me rolling. I agree with Pen, some of my favorite parts were about his sister Amy. Isn’t she the “Strangers With Candy” girl?

    I’m currently reading Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. It’s an older book (1999?) but rather notorious, and I’m sure other people have heard of it. At first I was slowly reading it but now it’s getting more interesting.

  70. Reid

    Jenn,

    Is that the one that was made into a movie? Does it have a sort of game-show-Lord-of-the-Flies plot?

  71. Jenn

    Reid,

    Yes, that’s the one. I heard it was made into a movie and a manga series, and there’s even some “sequels”. My friend who recommended the story insists the book is best. We may check out the movie later (I can’t remember if he saw it already). He says the manga is pretty good too but it’s limited in scope because of the number of characters, so I suppose that’s the reason he’s pushing me to read the book before the manga.

  72. Reid

    I’d be interested in hearing what you thought about the book and the movie. My brother has the movie on dvd, and he really liked it.

  73. Jenn

    I’ve still got a ways to go in the book and I’m not sure if I’ll see the film, but I’ll definitely let you know what I think about the book after I’ve finished it.

    I miss books like Harry Potter that could keep me up reading all night long….

  74. pen

    Mitchell, which one about the parrot? How are you enjoying Naked? (And you know what I mean!)

    Jenn, David Sedaris’ sister is the main character in “Strangers with Candy”?

  75. Mitchell

    It’s called “Repeat After Me” or something, and it’s in Dress Your Family in Corderoy and Denim.
    And yeah, Amy Sedaris is David Sedaris’s sister.

  76. pen

    Just finished Shadowmancer by G.P. Taylor. It is sort of like a young adult version of Frank Peretti’s “Darkness” series. I was disappointed with the ending (not much in the way of satisfactory resolution). You do care about the main characters, although I think Peretti did a better job. Peretti also did a better job in outlining the battle between good and evil. Also, Taylor uses other names for “God” and “Satan” which I guess made it more palatable for the non-“religious” crowd? I found it made the story lukewarm and a tad distracting.

  77. pen

    Finally finished Jonathan Franzen’s collection of essays entitled How to be alone. I am not sure why it took me so long to get through it. Perhaps I was savoring it?

    I guess most (if not all) writers love to read, but you can tell that Franzen is passionate about his reading. It’s really quite exciting to read the writing of someone who is so obviously infatuated with the written word. I definitely recommend this book.

  78. Tony

    Penny-

    A couple of weeks ago I found myself rereading How To Be Alone… I mostly read the essays on writing and books and “First City.” I love how his essays reflect his fiction… and I love that you can tell both what he reads and what he writes. I decided to check out his first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City, and have really enjoyed it. He has a great grasp of things.

    I am also currently reading Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing, a book about Christian spirituality. He takes an interesting view of what spirituality is and boils down what he thinks the basic tenants of an orthodox faith looks like.

    By they way, the second hardback/in-chronological-order collection of the original Peanuts comic strip is out. Highly recommend it.

  79. Maurine

    You young people are so erudite I’m intimidated! My mind just doesn’t run to symbolism and all those deep things. My reading is straight forward.
    Lately I’ve read If Grace Be True, which I notice some of you have also read; Homage to a Broken Man: The Life of Heinrich Arnold by his grandson, Peter Mommsen; The Secret Life of Bees, whose author I’ve forgotten; The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown, for a colleague who wanted my opinion. On tape I listened to two by John Grisham, Bleachers, about a community obsessed by high school football, and The King of Torts, a lawyer story which is prophetically relevant, considering all the drugs getting taken off the market.
    For what it’s worth, I recommend the Sister Fidelma mysteries, a series by Peter Tremayne, the pen name of a Celtic scholar who writes them to popularize his field of expertise. They are set in 6th-century Ireland, the good old days for women, if such existed. Sister Fidelma is a nun, legal scholar and judge, detective, and the sister of a king. Ireland was not yet Roman Catholic and monks and nuns could marry. The Irish vocabulary is daunting, but unless you intend to read these aloud you can get by.

  80. burgess

    I started reading Life of Pi, by Yans Martell, and hope to pick it up again if I can remember where I laid it. I had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it. It’s one of those books I saw on the discount table, and thought, “This looks interesting.” I’m still early into the book, but it appears promising.

    Maurine,

    I’ve read If grace is True, and found it to be quite compelling. There are perhaps as many scripture passages in the Bible that suggest universal salvation as those that point to limited salvation.

  81. pen

    Tony, thanks for recommending Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs. I really enjoyed it and laughed out loud along the way. I liked the format of the book and his style. Not always in agreement with his opinions and perspective, but gotta love the saturation of cultural (or pop cultural) references! This would be the kind of book Mitchell would also enjoy, methinks.

  82. Tony

    Glad you liked Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. I totally picked it up on a fluke (meaning I had no idea what I was getting myself into). I have a friend in TX who finally made it to the section in the middle of the book where he lists his two dozens questions… hilarious!

    Fight Club was on FX the other night. It was probably the first movie that totally floored me in a philosophical/”this is my life” kind of way. So I decided it was time to read the book. It reads really well except for Palahniuk’s use of sentence fragments. The changes between book and script are pretty small at this point (30 pages in). All of the great lines are there, though.

  83. Jenn

    I finished Battle Royale the other day. The ending was pretty easy to guess but I didn’t have a problem with that. It seems like a long book but it didn’t feel that way once the story really got going. Overall, I enjoyed it. True, the premise is disturbing but the character conflicts are great. I swiped a volume of the manga from Wendell and it’s actually the opposite from what I thought – it fleshes out some of the characters’ background stories more than the actual book does, but I don’t like how some of the characters are drawn (just personal opinion). Next on my list is probably the movie, but that may be delayed – Wendell has thrown Neil Gaiman in my lap, so I expect Sandman will be filling my days….

  84. Reid

    Oops, thanks for the review Jenn.

    I just finished reading The Moviegoer. I don’t know if it’s because there were long gaps between reading or I’m just really rusty on my philosophy, but I had a hard time understanding the last half of the book.

    I really got confused with the relationship between Binx and Kate. I had trouble figuring the revelance of episodes like Binx visiting his mother, going to Chicago and visiting his war buddy. OK, I know Binx is lost and trying to find meaning in his life, but I wasn’t sure how the other characters, especially Kate, figure into all that. Tony and Chris, if you guys feel like we could get into a long discussion about this book, I’ll start a new thread for it.

  85. Chris

    Max,

    I would probably have to reread this book to have a long discussion about it. I do remember feeling that the book was oddly rhapsodic/episodic at times. Like a parade kind of. But the cumulative effect worked on me very well — yes it did seem to have mostly to do with being lost, but were you expecting some kind of deeper representational meaning for each of the episodes?

    I remember one particular rant toward the end, by a playground or something where Binx is railing against the merde that covers everything, the whole 20th century. Oh, I loved that part . . .

    Max

  86. Reid

    Max,

    I wasn’t expecting a deeper representational meaning for the different episodes, I was just confused about the relevance of each episode to the larger narrative or to the characters. In telling the story Binx really jumps from one episode/topic to another, so that it can be hard to follow, at least early in the book. The other difficulty for me was the existential terminology and sensibility in the book. (Binx used various terms to describe various existential concepts.) I just haven’t read a lot of philosophy in a long time, so I was used to that.

    I think the lack of understanding is more due to my fault than the writer’s. I really liked the way the book began, but I just got lost towards the end. Who was Binx? What was going on between Binx and Kate?

  87. Tony

    Naughty love?

  88. Reid

    Naughty love? That’s it? I’m disappointed by that answer, if indeed that is the answer

  89. Reid

    Hollywood Eye: What Makes Movies Work by Daniel Boorstin

    Boorstin, Hollywood writer and producer, sets out to explain the ingredients for making a movie that succeeds in entertaining the audience. (There is a section where he compares and contrasts “Hollywood” films from “art” films by talking about Citizen Kane versus 8 1/2.

    Boorstin says that there are three types of film within every film: voyeuristic (head), vicarious (heart), and visceral (gut). In the process of describing each, he describes in clear, layman’s language the way directors, actors, cinematographers and writers collaborate to make a film.

    One part of the book I liked was a discussion about the way every successful film has a theme that unifies a film:

    …the theme, the foundation on which the film is based, must be emotional. It may be vicarious or it may be viceral, but it msut be an irreducible kernel of human nature, a particular case of a fundamental underlying problem we all struggle with in defining ourselves….In 2001 it is where we came from, where we are going, and what that tells us about being human…in the Magnificent Seven it is what it mens to be truly brave.

    Later,

    Laer meaning aside, writers and directors cline to themes for a sound practical reason: themes thll them what to put in and what to leave out. With a theme, scenes and characters have a reason for being. If The Magnificent Seven, for example, were realy about seven guys saving a town from bandits, who would the seven be? What would happen to them? Sure, they woudl each specialize in a different weapon, there woudl be suspense adn action, but what to show besides the shoot-out? How to make one shoot-out different from the next?

    Once the filmmakers decide that The Magnificent Seven is really about what it means to be brave, the process of constructing the film becomes less arbitrary and much clearer. We want a hero, the apotheosis of skill and bravery, at the center. Around him we want an array of types who evince different aaspects of the human conflict between bravery and cowardice: a tough old pro who was once brave but feards he’s lost his nerve (will he have what it takes when the chips are down?); a cocky greenhorn who thinks he’s go what it takes but has never been tested; a braggart; a silent man of action, and, finally, the villagers themselves, scared rabbits willign to sell out their protectors to save their own hides (yest as Charles Bronson says they are the truly brave becaue they carry on their shoulders a huge rock called responsibility). The shoot-outs become ways in which the men test themselves; the plot becomes the ir successive steps toward their final inner confrontations. Notice there is the same amount of action as in a themeless shoot-’em-up, maybe more. Since the human content makes each battle feel different, the audience will tire gunplay less quickly.

  90. Chris

    I re-entered The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay a couple of days ago. This is one tasty book! The writing is supremely good and it is developing nicely. I’m about halfway through, and am getting more time as I clear (or rather knock over) each little academic hurdle leading to next Thursday . . .

    Any idiots read/enjoy this one? I know Kevin really liked it.

  91. Reid

    Max,

    I picked up a used copy when I got back from Hawaii, but I haven’t started it yet.

  92. burgess

    I’m reading Freakonomics by Steven Leavitt and Stephen Dubner. The complete title is Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. I heard about this book on NPR’s All Things Considered, and I had to get the book just to see what a “rogue economist” might look like.

    Leavitt, the rogue economist, sets out to dispel the conventional wisdom of a variety of issues, but not necessarily with the intent of replacing said wisdom with a different wisdom. Leavitt looks at topics such as cheating teachers and Sumo wrestlers, why drug dealers live with their moms, another reason why the crime rate went down in the 90s, and other issues.

    I bought the book for my wife, but she hasn’t been able to pick it up because I’m still reading it.

  93. kevin

    Also recommend the NY Times Magazine article on Leavitt; it’s fascinating as to how, coming from an incredibly rough-and-tumble background, he’s succeeded against all odds to do what he does. His faith and family of-origin dynamics as it affects his perspective is also pretty unusual.

  94. Mitchell

    Man. I’m going to have to pick that up.

  95. Reid

    I had one of the best summer reading experiences ever.

    First, there were several novels that were really enjoyable reads.

    I picked up Empire Falls by Richard Russo because I heard HBO had made it into a mini-series (with a great cast including Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Ed Harris, Aidan Quinn, among others). Russo also wrote Nobody’s Fool, and I really loved the film version.

    The story is about this guy who runs a diner. There are a bunch of side-characters that are sort of like the supporting characters in a TV sitcom/drama. The dialogue is really a strong point–from the witty exhanges to punchy back-and-forths. It’s one of the strong poitns of the novel. In a way, main character is sort of like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (The novel is not as good as that film, but you guys know how much I love IAWL.)

    I also enjoyed the next novel I picked up, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I hestitate to talk much about it because I think the less you know the better. I heard about this book from NPR’s summer reading recommendations, and the critic who recommended it really gushed about this, saying something to the effect that it was the most astonishing novel he’s read in a long time. All i will say is that I can understand why he’d say that, although I don’t know if I think it’s as great as he does.

    I recommend knowing as little about it as possible, but for those who dont’ care read on…

    …The novel is a post-modern tale that combines several different stories, each taking place in a different time period. The first half of the book is the first halves of the stories, while the second half of the novel completes the stories. Each story is written in a different stlye, and Mitchell’s versatility is quite impressive. The style and language all fit with the time of the story. What impressed me was how quickly each of the characters won me over and got me caring and rooting for them, either that I foound them very entertaining.

    Both novels were a joy to read just for the writing style. I savored them both because of that.

    I think reading a novel with a lower quality of writing previous to those books accentuated my enjoyment of them. The book I’m talking about was Kevin Guilfoile’s Cast of Shadows a sci-fi thriller that was fluff, but good fluff. The movie kept my interest, and had some interesting twists in it. The story is about a cloning doctor who attempts to clone his daughter’s killer. A fun read.

    I was reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, but I lost steam, and…well, I started watching more films and…now writing online. I enjoyed the writing in that (Future topic: What do I (or we) mean by “good writing?”)

    But my summer reading wasn’t strictly entertaining. I read some non-fiction books that introduced me to novel ideas and got me thinking. I’ll try to talk about them the next time I post.

  96. Reid

    So what? No interesting summer reading from anyone? C’mon!

  97. Marc

    I enjoyed Empire Falls, although I read it about three years ago, not this past summer. I didn’t quite like the movie version as much as Reid did though.

    The best recent read for me was “Atonement” by Ian McEwing (I gotta resist the urge to call him Ian McKellan like the actor). Great atmospheric WW2 era fiction about love, consequences, tragedy, the whole works.

    I read “Kavalier and Klay” last year and enjoyed it.

    I have to admit that I read through the Harry Potter book in about four days and enjoyed it too.

    This is one seriously lengthy thread. I looked back at it and realized that I posted a year ago about the Dark Tower series. I still have the same problem in that I barely remember the first part of the series because he wrote those books 15 years ago. Sheesh.

  98. Reid

    Did you finish the series, Marc? If so, how was it? I picked up the first book last year, and I tried to start, but it seemed kinda cheesy, so I put it down.

    (Btw, I loved the film version of Nobody’s Fool. I never saw the TV version of Empire Falls.)

    I think you will like Cloud Atlas, and if you decide to read it, try not to read anything about it.

  99. Marc

    I haven’t finished the Gunslinger series. I can barely remember the first few books so I would have to re-read.

    I shouldn’t prejudice you against Empire Falls. Let me know what you think when you see it. I didn’t like it enough to sit through 4 hours of it again to watch it with you so don’t wait for me…

  100. Reid

    I’ll let you know if I see Empire Falls. (I still have a glimmer of hope that I can get Larri to read it, so we can watch the film together.)

    Let me know if you re-read and like the Gunslinger series.

    I wanted to finish posting my non-fiction reading this past summer (kinda late, I know). Anyway, I encountered stimulating ideas in the non-fiction material:

    Cradle-to-Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The more prominent idea I take away from this book is that what we consider recycling is actually downcycling (most of our products eventually must be disposed of, never to be used again), and that we must build things that can truly be recycle-able (if that’s a word). Once people are finished with products we must design them in a way that can either be “consumed” safely by the earth or be 100% re-used in a way that is affordable and safe. Instead of reducing the toxicity of our products and industrial practices, we should eliminate them completely. It’s such an obvious move, but one I had not really thought seriously about. Many of the authors ideas spring from the principle that we should mimic nature. In nature, for example, waste=food. Wouldn’t it be great if we could build things in a way where waste would either “feed” the earth or other products we build–again, in a way that is safe and relatively affordable.

    This connects well with another book I read called, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Jane Benyus. In this book, Benyus seeks out various scientists and thinkers who approach the problems in their discipline by mimicing nature. For example, one agriculture studied prairies to see how these systems protected itself against disease and pests. Another example is a scientist who studied spider webs to develop stronger fabrics and threads.

    There are interesting ideas in the book, but I could have done without the writing style. Each chapter feels like expose not just on the concept, but the scientist behind the concept. Benyus describes the office where the scientist works as well as giving background of the scientist. It felt like a magazine article, and I don’t know why I didn’t care for this approach. I guess, I just wanted to get straight to the concepts and ideas.

    Finally, I skimmed through Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. (I’m not going back to read everything.) It’s well-written book that is perfect for the layperson, I would think. Being a layperson myself, I both enjoyed reading the book and felt I could understand the concepts in it.

    The book is ambitious in that it tries to answer the question of why some cultures dominated over others and not the other way around. Diamond is a polymath drawing from biology, anthropology, palentology, linguistics, among other discplines to make his case. Besides being a very well-oraganized and clear writer, Diamond knows how to constantly pique the reader’s curiosity. He succeeds by driving the book with a series of questions that you really want to know the answer to–for example, Why were only a relatively small handful of animals capable of being domesticated? How does the axis orientation of continents (lengths of it’s north-south axis and east-west axis) affect the development of civilizations? Why did some civilizations develop written language and complex political systems and while others did not? This approach (in addition to Diamond’s writing ability) made what could have been dry, textbook prose into something engaging and enjoyable.

  101. Marc

    I’ll look for “Cloud Atlas.” I don’t know about Gunslinger. My list of unread books on my bookcase is growing steadiliy and I need to make a dent in it soon.

  102. Reid

    1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

    This is currently my favorite movie guide book. First of all, I love the way the film is formatted and designed. The films are listed in chronolgical order. Information such as movie length, credits, and any awards the film received are listed in the margin. There are also really good photographs from the films. Second, I like that book spans the entire history of films, not just films that came out in one particular year, for example. Third, the book tries to take in all styles of films and does not discriminate against popular films. In that way, the book doesn’t seem so elitist.

    A bunch of writers have written the reviews and some of them are really good, others are just OK. (Some of them totally spoil films, so beware.) The reviews are quick reads and make for a perfect reference/recommendation book. The main value is that the book points out films I’ve never heard of, and the list tries to accomodate experimental films to Hollywood blockbusters.

    After I finish the 100 Lists, I’m going for this one! Muuuwahahaaha! (No, I’m kidding.)

  103. kevin

    Reid showed the book last weekend and I agree, it’s a handsome book graphically. Sometimes the chronological order is a little disorienting, though.

    I just finished Life of Pi last week, it’s sometimes tedious but very poetic. Has anyone read this book? The last 20 pgs. create quite a hugeturnaround, and I’ve felt somewhat conflicted by it ever since, mostly by the theology of it. It’s a very beautiful proposition, but I’m not sure if I can fully buy into it. Without giving away the ending, anyone who can comment I’d be curious of their impression(s).

  104. Reid

    Haven’t read Life of Pi, but it sounds interesting.

    I have a bunch of books that I’ve started that I have really been reading:

    What’s a Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank;

    The Heart Aroused by David White–a book about making work more meaningful

    Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter

    What are you all reading out there?

  105. Reid

    I just finished Our Endangered Values. I thought it could have been better organized and better argued. In my Freshman college writing class I learned that a good persuasive paper should make concessions to the opposing view or at least address the argument on the other side. I wish Carter would do more of this, particularly in the chapters on foreign policy. I would have liked to have heard more recognition that Sadaam Hussein was a serious problem, or a strong case for why he wasn’t.

    Carter also strongly argued for making human rights a very high priority in foreign relations. That may be the best way to go, but there should also be some discussion for the costs of doing so. Could those costs be too high. Or at least is it conceiveable that political leaders would a sound reasons for forgoing human rights issues for other interests? I wished Cater would have addressed those issues.

    Having said that, it’s refreshing to hear some like a Carter–an Evangelical with left-leaning sensibility. So much of his speech and thinking come are part of the evangelical culture that I think many people on the right could relate and listen to him or at least not dismiss him outright. Just as an aside, it would be great if the Democrats could put up a candidate like this or if a person like Carter became the typical Democrat.

  106. Mitchell

    The publishers of that 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die have put out 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Anyone glanced at it? I only saw it in passing, and am really curious.

    I’m in the middle of three books right now: Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man, and The Bluest Eye and Beloved by Toni Morrison. All three of them are for school.

    The McCourt book is good. I haven’t read his other stuff, but this is really a collection of stories from his career as a teacher. It reinforces my conviction that everyone’s got an interesting story to tell, if someone will just get it out of them.

    The Bluest Eye is rocking me. If I’d read this as a freshman in college, I might have declared English sooner, and I would have focused on African American literature almost for sure, Steinbeck be damned. So maybe I’m glad I didn’t. Then again, maybe I’d have graduated sooner.

  107. Reid

    I remember The Bluest Eye being intense, or was that Morrison’s Sula? (another good one). I remember reading them at the same time I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, another compelling read.

    I want to check out the 1001 Books You Must Read…. There’s also a music album version, too. I glanced at that one, and there’s a lot of albums I never heard of.

  108. Mitchell

    Holy mackerel. I just finished Beloved. Toni Morrison is a goddess.

  109. Reid

    I’ve been reading The Purpose Driven Life for Bible study group that Larri and I are involved in. I didn’t care for it very much at first, but it’s getting a bit better. Some of the chapters have been pretty timely. I must say the book is helping me in my faith and walk with God.

    Any books on the summer reading list?

  110. Mitchell

    I read that. Didn’t like it much at all, but did enjoy the conversations it generated with my Bible-study group.

    My summer-reading list starts with Toni Morrison’s Sula, and I’ll play it by ear from there. Probably more Morrison, is what I’m thinking.

  111. Reid

    Man, a steady diet of Toni Morrison can be a much, in the sense that her books can be intense and disturbing. One of the best English teachers I ever recommended Sula. I remember her saying something like, “It’s a classic…Well, it’s not considered a classic yet, but it will be.” I wouldn’t argue with her, but then again I haven’t read all of Morrison’s stuff.

    I want to read some entertaining, but well-written novels this summer. Anyone have any strong recommendations? Steve Murphy told me that his mom (who is a very avid reader) and all of his family really love a book called, Pillars of Earth by…I can’t remember the author, but it’s one of those spy novelists. I’m thinking about reading that.

  112. Reid

    I just finished reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It was a fast read and entertaining, which is the main thing I wanted out of it. I’m not sure what the book means or if there is really a profound meaning to the book. Martel wrote in a clever, droll style that was amusing more than laugh-out-loud funny, which, partly made the book enjoyable to read. At the same time, I wonder how seriously the book should be taken. It seems to be more clever than serious. Still, I have to think about it more.

    (Spoilers)

    Kevin referred to the huge turnaround at the end of the book. I’m pretty sure he is referring to the author putting doubt into the reader’s mind about what really happened in the story–and linking that to religion. Does God reveal Himself to us in a story is more appealing simply because we will never be able to prove or completely understand the “facts” and truth of Him and the meaning of our existence? It’s an interesting angle on explaining religion, and I don’t have a much of problem with it either way.

    I’m wondering how the connections with the first part of the story–namely, the entertaining writing on religion and zoology–connect with the story overall? I haven’t done much deep thinking or analysis of the book yet, but if anyone has anything interesting to add, I would be interested in hearing it.

  113. Marc

    I enjoyed “Life of Pi” although I don’t remember the subtle details. I think I mentioned to Reid in email or an earlier post that my two favorite books of the last five years were “Empire Falls” and “Atonement”. I’m about to get started on “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire. It’s a “Wizard of Oz” prequel that’s been made into a musical that I’m hoping to see here in Seattle in the fall.

    Best book that’s been made into a musical – “Les Miserables.” Just a sidenote and my not so humble opinion. I guess you could argue that the original “Wizard of Oz” is up there too, but I didn’t really get into the book. The Oliver Twist musical “Oliver probably rates too, but “Les Miserables” is my favorite.

  114. Reid

    I thinking about reading Atonement based on your recommendation, Marc.

    What did you think of the ending in Pi and the religious aspects of the book?

    (spoilers)

    The glib explanation for the religion (perhaps, the more super-natural and “entertaining” elements) left me a little disatisfied. Are the stories the way they are merely to please people listening to than rather than correspond or reveal deeper truths and a higher purpose? That seems to trivialize religion a bit.

  115. Marc

    Let me look at the book again. I can’t remember what it is you’re asking.

  116. Tony

    Last week I finished a great book about four important 20th century Catholic writers. Paul Elie’s The Life You Save May Be Your Own follows the lives of Dorothy Day (Catholic activist), Thomas Merton (English major turned Trappist monk), Walker Percy (doctor turned philosopher/writer), and Flannery O’Connor (writer) as they wrote during the same period and even connected with one another through letters and such. Great book that has opened up a new little literary world. Led me to Percy’s The Last Gentleman and also the first of Merton’s Journals. Still, Elie’s book is great. Highly recommended.

    The most randomly interesting book I’ve read recently is an anthology called The Revolution Will Be Accessorized. It’s a compilation of essays from Blackbook magazine, a New York City fashion magazine. Some really astute cultural observations from some great writers. Don’t let the cover fool you. Great book.

  117. Reid

    That Elie book sounds like something Ms. King would be interested in. I will keep those books in mind, Tony. Thanks.

  118. Reid

    I went to the McKinley book sale and picked up two books:Atonement ($1.50) and As I Lay Dying($1).

    I also finally finished reading the graphic novel, Ghostworld. The novel captures the late teenagers–the sense of being lost, confused, insecure–but never too busy being cool and adult to overtly show any of this. The “novel” is more of a slice-of-life more than a narrative, and for something without a strong narrative, it’s compelling reading.

    The film is different, but captures the same mood very well. I think I like film more, mainly because of Steve Buscemi’s character. However, putting his character in was a risk, as it could have detracted from the heart of the story.

    I would have to say that Ghostworld the film is a one of the best adaptations.

  119. pen

    Speaking of graphic novels, I recently finished Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and have yet to begin the sequel, Persepolis 2. It is a rather unflinching view of a young girl growing up in Iran in the 1970s and 1980s. The author is clear-eyed and humorous in depicting the selfish and often narrow perspective of a upper/upper-middle class young person (one hopes we out grow that).

  120. pen

    I just finished Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live and enjoyed it very much. I found myself laughing out loud and then looking around to see if anyone thought I was weird for doing so, then subsequently not caring if they did. His is a voice from a mind that is just a bit twisted and mired in pop culture. Love it.

    I am similarly enjoying David Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice, which is old (published in 1997), but one of his works that I hadn’t read yet. There was one essay that was so biting that I did not really enjoy it, but so far the others (esp. SantaLand about his days as a Macy’s elf) are hillarious.

    Next up: The Intimate Merton . . .

  121. Jenn

    I’m only now reading HPatHBP! *hides*

  122. Mitchell

    I’m concurrently reading The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn and The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. I’m on a mission to figure out some way to teach what I teach without assigning homework.

  123. Reid

    I read a short article by Kohn about his book, and I found myself disagreeing with what he said. What’s the compelling evidence for you from these books that lead you to not assign homework? (Btw, you never responded to my email about Kohn’s essay on rubrics. You didn’t have any comments? )

  124. Reid

    Just finished reading Team of Rivals: the Political Genuis of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. To give you an idea of how much I liked it, I read this book (700+ pages) in little over a week. The book looks at the Lincoln and some of the other 1860 Republican presidential candidates–who later joined Lincoln’s Cabinet–as a way to understand Lincoln himself. Goodwin thought the approach would be similar to a hologram. For the most part, the approach worked. The men around Lincoln could be considered great men in their own right. The fact that Lincoln–this self-educated, “prairie laywer”–was greater than them in many ways says something. We all hear about how great Lincoln was. Having read about the way he won the Presidential nomination, assembled a Cabinet, and navigated the country through the Civil War, I came to understand and believe for myself how great he was.

    Btw, I found the book very easy to read. There are many dramatic moments that Goodwin ties together in a way that flows and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Her use of letters and diaries from the different people–including spouses–also kept my interest. All of the main people in the book went through a lot hardship–mainly in the form of losing loved ones–and they were very hard-working people.

    I enjoyed it immensely. Recommended.

  125. Reid

    Americanese by Shawn Wong

    This is a novel about a middle-aged Asian-American and a few of his relationships with women. But it’s really a self-concious examination of what it means to be Asian-American–struggling with questions about race and identity. I don’t care for books or films like these as some of you know, but I admit that there are some funny passages from the book that had me laughing out loud. Like many of stories with minority characters, the characters feel mostly like mouthpieces for the author to reveal the inner thoughts of minority characters; or they’re props to create situatiions that Asian-Americans can relate to. For example, the scene where Ray, the main character, meets Aurora for the first time. Since he and Aurora are the only two Asian people in a party, he’s expecting everyone else to try and set him up with Aurora. It’s these revelations–similar to the way stand-up comedians bring to light funny universal experiences–that are at the forefront, not the characters or the story. At least that’s how I felt.

    (spoilers)

    Actually, at the end of the book, I felt there was an interesting use of Ray and his relationship with Aurora, his first girlfriend and Betty. My take is that Ray and Aurora broke up because Ray thought about race too much; his preoccupation got in the way of relating to Aurora as a human being, an invidiual; ironically, that’s the same effect the book had on me in a way. The observations, albeit true and funny at times, got in the way of developing characters and a story. I should also mention that Wong’s emphasis on Asian-American existence would have been more toerlable if it wasn’t so heavy-handed–i.e. “As Asian-Americans really care about family honor…”

    Back to the relationships. Ray seems to break free from his hang-up when he gets together with Betty, a naturalized citizen. Betty represents the motherland, real Asian. Someone by trying to love her, he is released from obession over race. Hmm, that’s a rather shallow analysis, but that’a about as far as I went.

    Anyway, I think Penny would probably enjoy this book, for what that’s worth.

  126. Reid

    Glory Road

    This is not only the story about the 1966 Texas Western basketball team that won the national championship with five starting black players–the first ever in histoy–but it’s an autobiography of the coach of that team, Don “Bear” Haskins.

    The book is way more enjoyable than the film. I enjoy reading about coaches I like, and this was no exception. There were some funny moments in the book, too. There was the time that Haskins got called for 16 technicals in a game (coaches didn’t get kicked out then). The story goes that Haskins went out to the middle of the court, and the referee said that he would get a technical for every step he took back to the bench. Haskins thought he was joking and started walking back when he heard, “…12, 13, 14…” The referee stopped at 16. The other team got 16 free throws and made 14, which was a big lead for a high school girls’ game.

    What I liked about Haskins was that he coached the girls in the same way he did the boys, even though this was an era when no one took girls athletics seriously. (Haskins says that it was like a gym class. His antics above was really unnusual) I loved his response when people would ask him why he cared so much about his girl teams when no one else did. He said, “Well, do you liked getting your assed kicked by losing games?”

    That attitude transfered to players of different ethnic backgrounds, too; race didn’t matter. I also respected the

  127. Reid

    Collected Poems by Denise Levertov

    I spent a whole day reading this, re-reading poems I liked. There’s a simplicity and lack of pretension in her poems. I also like the rhythm and sound of her stuff. She also became a Catholic in her late years and wrote some poems about God.

  128. Reid

    Anybody want to talk about their favorite books of 2006?

    Two come to mind for me: Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and The Death and Life of Great Cities. I really enjoyed and recommend both. The latter gives you a new way of seeing and understanding the dynamic interaction between the built environment, economics and the social fabric.

    The former was a very compelling narrative of Lincoln’s rise to power and the way he dealt with the people around him–namely his rivals for the Presidency (who later became his cabinet, his team that steered the nation through the Civil War).

  129. Reid

    What’s on your summer reading list?

  130. Reid

    I recently finished Moby Dick. Do I consider it the greatest novel of all-time? To answer that I would have to have a better understanding of it. Certainly, it is a candidate. Descriptions I had heard beforehand about the book including too much about whaling in general are true; Well, I don’t know if Melville spent too much time on those issues, but I agree he did spend a lot of space on it. I’m not sure the purpose or meaning of those particular passages; my sense is that those passages could be more than simply anthropological or, as often seems to be the case, an apology for whalers and their life.

    Beyond the purpose and meaning of these passages, there is also deciphering of the symbols, themes and the way these relate to the characters in the story. At some point I realized the novel would require more time and energy than one reading to fully appreciate it.

    Having said that, the writing is so exhilirating that that alone made the novel enjoyable. The writing alone reveals Melville’s geat talent. I don’t think I’ve read any other writer who can maintain energy and flow with so long and complex sentences. (The author that came to mind is Thomas Mann.) If you are a fan of the English language, then the novel is a must read.

    One of my favorite chapters is the one on Nantucket. I imagine this chapter to be something read on special days of that area or something schools require their students to memorize.

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading this book, but there’s a lot of more work to be done. Melville seems to have a strong inclination toward poetry, and the novel almost is an poetic-prose epic. By like other good poetry, it require much thought and repeatedly readings to thoroughtly dig up it’s treasures.

  131. Reid

    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

    I recently finished this, and I wanted to write down my thoughts before I forget them and before I begin reading other reviews about the book. Ishiguro is a British citizen who is probably most famous for his novel, Remains of the Day. I think many of you would enjoy this book (especially Mitchell) if you haven’t already read it.

    Ishiguro displays the same skill at telling a story by focusing on the interactions between people that go beyond direct communication–it’s the feelings and ideas that are suggested or communicated indirectly; or even the feelings that aren’t expressed at all, just held inside to brew and smolder that create for the most interesting and often powerful moments in the interactions between people. Ishiguro is great at this.

    I don’t really want to tell you too much about the story as it could give away too much information. Generally speaking, the story is about the lives of three characters and their relationship in school through adulthood.What immediatlely draws the reader into the book are the mysteries about these characters and the school; the way Ishiguro slowly reveals things is what maintains that interest.

    ***
    I found the book enjoyable enough. I take delight in reading the perceptions and descriptions of the type of situations I mentioned above. However, unlike Remains, I had a hard time really connecting and sympathizing with the protagonist. (Perhaps, because of gender and the situation.) Because of that the heartbreaking moments (and there were a few) weren’t as powerful as they might have been.

    Another thing I didn’t care for were the transitions between chapters or scenes, specifically the way he would try to hook the reader. For example, after the main character would explain about an inciident in the past, the character would say something like, “That was how things went normally and I was OK with that, that is, until the day we talked under the eaves,” or something to that effect. They were effective for a while, but they became obvious because he overused this pattern. That’s a minor complaint though.

    One of the unaswered questions I have deals with whether Ishiguro used the story and characters to comment on our society and people now. There’s a feeling that this more than just a story, but also social commentary. Is he raising questions about cloning and what it means to be human? There’s a sense that he may be critiquing the way our society devalues and dehumanizes certain segments of our society. I’m not sure, but I would have to think about it more (and, unfortunately, I have to leave).

  132. Reid

    The NPR website has a thread in the book section called, “You Must Read This.” Authors choose a book that they frequently recommend to others. I’ve enjoyed reading the articles and some of them inspired me to read the books they chose.

    One of them–that I confess I haven’t read yet because it isn’t in the library (UH either) and it’s not in a local bookstore (I’m not sure if I want to buy it)–is called The Mysterious Secret of Valuable Treasure by Jack Pendarvis. It’s collection of short-stories that was chosen by author, Laura Lippman (never heard of her). Here’s the line from her essay that intrigued me:

    The subtext of “Sex Devil” is so palpable that it’s like reading a story that’s been written in invisible ink, watching the letters slowly form over the heat of a light bulb. And that’s how almost every Pendarvis story works. You laugh at what’s on the page; you’re haunted by what’s not.

    There’s an excerpt of “Sex Devil” at the site. When you read it, you’ll know exactly what she means. Btw, I write this because I think a lot of you will get a kick out of it.

    Here’s a link: The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure

  133. Reid

    Dead Man’s Walk and Comanche Moon
    by Larry McMurtry

    These are the pre-quels in the Lonesome Dove series. If you love the characters, Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call (and I do), you probably would be interested in knowing their past: how they met and became friends; their romantic involvement with Clara and Maggie, respectively; their adventures and development as skilled Texas Rangers. That’s what both books try to deliver. (They’re essentially one book broken up into two books.)

    As to whether I’d recommend this to others or not, I’ll say the same thing I said to Larrilynn. Larri enjoyed Lonesome Dove, too, so I wanted her to read the two books with me. After reading the first book and about half of the second book, I kept pestering her to read the books. But as I neared the end of Comanche Moon, I started thinking twice about goading her on. To me, the end of Comanche was disappointing enough that I thought it wouldn’t be worth it to read both.

    Having said that, the banter between Call and Gus are there, and that was enjoyable to read. There are some interesting characters. The scenes between Gus and Clara were pretty satisfying, too. (The scenes with Maggie and Call were also, but less so.)

    ***
    I liked the way the books set up certain situations. For example, in the first book Call and Gus have no experience and we see them and the group of Rangers make a lot of mistakes. I read with anticipation about the way they learned and became great Rangers. McMurtry also introduces some formidable foes for the pair and in the first book, those foes clearly have the upper hand. Again, I looked forward to a confrontation and resolution. But none of these things really happen, at least not in the way I was expecting.

    We don’t really see the way Call and Gus learn and get better. For example, there aren’t situations they get in where McMurtry shows how they’ve learned in the past and therefore change their behavior. He doesn’t seem interested in giving the reader that information (or he didn’t feel like he could). The second book makes some big jumps in time, where the characters change, but the readers aren’t privy to them.

    We also never see a confrontation between Call and Gus and the Comanche warriors Kicking Wolf and Buffalo Hump. They never meet, not really. I have a theory about why that is and this is pure speculation on my part. Anyway, the first book ends with a meeting between Buffalo Hump and Gus and Call’s Rangers. The book builds up to that point, and it’s something I (and I think other readers) looked forward to seeing, but McMurtry employs a deus machina to get them out of it. I’m wondering if fans and critics got down on him for that. I say that because in the second book he avoids the confrontation. Instead of a resolution to a juicy story, we get something banal, something that was, perhaps, more likely in real life.

    To me the ending of the second book feels like McMurtry wasn’t quite sure how to end it and maybe he even got tired of writing it (there are jumps in time and events–e.g. Gus’ two wives).

  134. burgess

    Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.

    The Gospel according to Biff came out several years ago, but I only found out about it a little less than a week ago in my Sunday school class. I was so intrigued by the title and description of the book, I stopped off and picked it up after church o Sunday—I was not disappointed.

    Moore’s offering is a novel—a product of his imagination. He makes sure to emphasize this in the introduction. It is not meant to be “gospel” or to serve as a great theological work, though it is a bold Christological picture of Jesus, and how Joshua (Jesus being the Greek form of Joshua) accepts and comes to terms with being the Messiah.

    Biff, long since dead, is brought back to life to write the story of the missing years—the years between Jesus’ childhood and what we see as the beginning years of Jesus’ ministry in the gospels. Moore, through Biff, takes us on a journey through Joshua’s childhood years into adolescence and on to adulthood. Joshua and Biff travel for years, from Jerusalem to India with stops along the way. On these journeys we see how Jesus’ ministry takes shape, and the experiences that will shape his teachings and understandings of the Kingdom of God and what it means to be the Messiah. There are also other innovations and ideas credited to Joshua and Biff—cappuccino, evolution, Judo, and a spherical world, to name a few.

    I really enjoyed this book. Moore paints a detailed picture of Jewish life under Roman occupation—the struggles and joys of a people seemingly forgotten by God. Moore gives us some good insights into first century Jewish life and culture, as well as several other world religions and cultures.

    I think a general understanding of or familiarity with the gospels and the life of Jesus as presented in the gospels is helpful in appreciating this book. It also helps if you don’t mind the often over the top and colorful language of the Messiah and company.

  135. Reid

    Nice to have you drop in, John.

  136. burgess

    thanks Reid.

  137. Reid

    The Disappearance of Childhood
    by Neil Postman

    Still thinking a lot about this book. Postman’s argument is not as persuasive or clear as some of his others. I’m going to try to sum up his position. Postman believes that our modern conception of childhood originated out of the printing press, specifically making the printed word the dominant form of communication in Western Civilization, that is up until relatively recently. Since electric media starting from the wireless telegraph and moving up to TV. (I’d guess he’d include the internet, but this book was written before the advent of the net.)

    According to Postman, the primacy of literacy created a distinction between adults and children. Children had to learn to read and write and it took time to do so. Also, unlike the middle ages, since more important information came in the form of print, children were cut off from it. Literacy also fostered self-control, the ability to delay gratification and also created secrets and a sense of shame (not sure how), which was critical to creating a notion of childhood.

    In our contemporary world, information via electronic information (i.e. TV) is accessible to everyone including children. Children do not need special training to be able to understand TV. Moreover, controlling access to TV by adults is virtually impossible. According to Postman this is pretty much eliminated adult secrets from children and the sense of shame.

    Postman uses several different types of evidence to support his views–TV models getting younger and younger; children using profanity regularly; children being tried for crimes as an adult, etc. One of my main criticisms is that the phenomenon of childhood more than likely has multiple forces influencing it. I have hard time believing that one factor–TV and other electronic media is the sole reason for this.

  138. burgess

    Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

    This is not an easy book to like, though I don’t think it’s intended to be liked. Jesus for President is easy to read, easy to understand, but difficult to accept. Claiborne and Haw give a different perspective of Christian politics. They don’t go into what kind of president Jesus would make or what a Jesus political party would look like.They speak of Jesus and how he related to power and empire. Claiborne speaks of Christians and politics asking not are we political, or should we be political, but how are we political?

    As Christians we are not called to shape or reshape culture, but to be a part of Jesus’ culture, to believe the things that Jesus believes, and to love as Jesus loves.

  139. Reid

    How does that relate to how Christians are politics? What is their take on Christian politics?

  140. burgess

    For Claiborne and Haw, the Jesus’ politics is not about power or even the use of power to bring about good. Jesus is beyond the politics of this world–his politics are non-political. Jesus’ politics is not about who Jesus would vote for, or who Jesus would endorse. It is about living in the light of the Kingdom of God, and what that might look like. This kind of living is not easy. and it’s not attractive.

  141. Reid

    What does “living in the light of the Kindgdom” mean?

    The book sounds more about how to live as a Christian.

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