What are you reading?

First, the request: I need someone to fill in for me next week (April 11) I also need someone for April 25.  On April 11 I will be guest host Frugal Fridays (at dailyKos); on April 25 I will be out of town

If you like to trade books, try BookMooch.

cfk has bookflurries on Weds. nights

pico has literature for kossacks on Tues. nights, but it’s on hiatus

What are you reading? is crossposted to dailyKos

If you have ideas for future weeks, let me know.  In two weeks, I am thinking of “books that explain America”

Last week, AnnieJo in a comment on dailyKos, compared some of the books she was reading to different kinds of candy.  That got us into books as food.  Which, of course, leads to books about food.

First, a brief look at what I’m reading:

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.  Stunningly good.  This is really three  or four novels, tied together.  It all does connect.  Novel 1 is set at the time of WW 2, and follows Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, and his friend Alan Turing, in efforts to decode German and Japanese codes, and do other neat stuff (fall in love….).  Novel 2 also takes place in WW 2, and features Goto Dengo, an honorable and intelligent Japanese soldier, placed in intolerable situations by the exigencies of war.  Novel 3 (or 2A) is also in WW 2, and follows the adventures of Bobby Shaftoe, a gung ho marine.  Novel 4 is in the near future, and features Avi, who wants to create a data-haven (and use the profits for a very good and interesting cause) – one of his colleagues is Randy Waterhouse (grandson of Lawrence) who is in love with America Shaftoe (grand-daughter of Bobby); one of his investors is Goto Dengo, now an old and very rich businessman.

Along the way we learn about cryptography, geology, mining, spying, mathematics….. along with the old standbys like the nature of love, duty, and honor.  

My third time through this huge book.  It won’t be my last.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.  A fascinating and very well-written biography of a fascinating man (hey, get this! He thought Black people might be as smart as Whites….he opposed slavery….he fought valiantly in the Revolution….)

Gaming the vote: Why elections aren’t fair (and what we can do about it) by William Poundstone.  Fascinating.  This isn’t about cheating or hanging chads or butterfly ballots, it’s about fundamental flaws in our system of voting, and proposed alternatives.

The Status Civilization by Robert Sheckley.  What an odd little book. Originally published in 1950….sort of a combo of 1984, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Lord of the Flies, and a healthy dose of perhaps Jonathan Swift.


Books as food:

Some books are like candy – light, sweet, enjoyable, not of any nutritive value, perhaps kind of fattening, in an odd, mental sort of way.  I am not a big fan of these, usually.

Others are like comfort food. I think of these as books that you re-read, not so much because you missed stuff the first time around, as because they’re just fun…. I’m not always in the mood for mind stretching books that require attention.  Two like this for me are Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister.  They’re just so funny!.  Calvin Trillin’s Tummy Trilogy (about eating!) are like this too.  Some SF novels that I read long ago are like this — Spider Robinson’s  Callahan books, for instance.  

Then some are like meat.  Solid.  Full of protein.  Good history books and biographies are like this, especially if they’re about a period or a person that’s at least somewhat familiar to you.  The Alexander Hamilton book is like that.  Books on topics you are familiar with, but not in detail.

Then, some books are like “ethnic” food….. especially if the “ethnicity” isn’t yours.  These books require attention.  They aren’t about what you’re used to, they sit differently in your brain.  For me, these are usually highly technical books; either about math, or statistics, or philosophy.  They require slow and often repeated reading.  One great example of a book like this is Godel Escher Bach — it’s a different world you’re entering here.

Finally, some books are like goulash.  They’re a mix.  It’s really hard to do this right.  If you mix a bunch of different stuff, you’re like to get glop.  Cryptonomicon is a goulash book of superlative quality.


Books about food:

Some favorites:

Anthony Bourdain’s books

Calvin Trillin’s “Tummy Trilogy” (American Fried; Alice, Let’s Eat!; and Third Helpings, available in one volume).  The adventures of a happy eater who tries to avoid “La Maison de la Casa House” in favor of good local food.

MFK Fischer books.

doubtless others will come to mind


Skip to comment form

  1. I have four weeks (actually more like two) to learn the subject.

    Shot in the dark for recommendations.

    Don’t ask.

    • plf515 on April 4, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    or eating, or reading about eating….

    • Mu on April 4, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    The Life & Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin (Vladimir Voinovich).  A farcical satire, a scream.  Thing is, although it’s a send-up of the Soviet bureaucracy, with very minor adjustments, it could apply to the U.S. Bureaucracy, Military (think Catch-22) or dealing with most any utility company or large corporation.

    In fact, this is what informs all of Voinovich’s work (at least that translated into English):  satire of the Soviet Bureaucracy that could apply to any bureaucracy in which a “Hemmingway Hero-esque Everyman” battles, not the forces of nature, but the forces of bureaucracy and human pettiness.

    Oh, and it’s hilarious.

    Mu . . .

  2. From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment by Kosho Uchiyama. His explication of Eihei Dogen Zenji’s Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions for the Zen Cook). I usually take away something of value from any book on zen (or Buddhism in general).

    Before that, Malaga Burning, by Gamel Woolsey, an American woman’s account of her experiences in Spain during the outbreak of the civil war.

    Recently reread The Count of Monte Cristo. Twelve hundred pages of revenge.

    Hope to get around to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk before too long.

    Also recommended to me by friends for my “to read list”:

    The Kite Follower by Khaled Hosseini

    Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

    Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

    Would also like to find a good history of the French revolution.

    Being on the commuter train is like being in a reading room for an hour and a half a day . . .

  3. Jim Hightower’s new book “Swim Against the Current: Beacuse even a dead fish can go with the flow”

    I skim read it because I wanted to read it before Hightower came to town but now I’m reading it in more detail.

    Reading my physics textbook too.  

  4. …for a very long time. So I was happy to find at my neighborhood used bookstore a hardcover copy of E.F. Benson’s omnibus of Lucia novels, Make Way For Lucia. I’d read two of the books long ago (Queen Lucia and Lucia in London) and was delighted with them, but somehow never got around to the rest. Now I’ve got nearly a thousand pages of happy light reading in store. 🙂

    I’d say, for me anyway, that the Lucia stories are like a palate-cleansing sorbet in between courses of heavier fare.

  5. Recently finished reading a great new book called True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, by Farhad Manjoo (of The Machinist blog at Salon). Basically it’s a book about “truthiness” and how prevalent it is. Learn all about “selective exposure”, “selective perception” with examples of biased political propaganda and beliefs on the right and the left.  All made even more possible by living in a world of so much information that you can take bits and create stories of reality sure to please any group’s existing biases.

    I’m about half-way through a fabulous little book called I Don’t Believe in Atheists, by Chris Hedges.  He makes a very powerful case against both religious and scientific fundamentalism (aka scientism).  As a former war correspondent who happens to have graduated from seminary at Harvard Divinty school, he has alot of powerful things to say how fundamentalist ideologies contribute to our current problems.  Highly recommended! (Note: Hedges has no problem with either atheists or religious folk who are tolerant and non-rigid in their beliefs)

    Another book I’m part way through that I’m enjoying is The Secret Pulse of Time: Making Sense of Life’s Scarcest Commodity, by Stefan Klein.  Apparently much of our feeling about time is culturally determined and therefore is more psychological than you might think… which means that we can change our relationship with time (our mental experience of it).


Comments have been disabled.