Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

I am in Paris, France in 1720 watching the stock bubble created by John Law collapse. (The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson)

I am also in the offices of an ad agency, waiting for it all to end. (Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris)

Finally, I am at home, hanging out with my six year old son, who is out of school on winter break.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Being Dead by Jim Crace

I was not overly impressed with Being Dead by Jim Crace. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2000, this book, like my last, begins with a murder. Joseph and Celice, husband and wife, are murdered brutally on the beach at Baritone Bay. The narrative then moves back and forth between the decomposing bodies and, first the story of how the two victims fell in love and then later of how their daughter Syl deals with their deaths.

The prose in this book is quite good, but the story itself did not really grab me. I think I will try another of Crace's books, perhaps Quarantine, both a Booker finalist and a Whitbread winner. But, Being Dead really left me flat.


The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

The Tenderness of Wolves begins with a murder. The scalped body of a trapper, Laurent Jammet, is discovered in his cabin in the backwoods of Dove River, in the Canadian Northern Territories. The woman that discovers the body, Mrs. Ross, soon finds that her son, Francis, is missing and that the authorities investigating suspect that Francis is the murderer. However, conflicting motives swirl around the case. The authorities are actually representatives of the Hudson Bay Company and Jammet was in the process of setting up a competing company. Soon, Mrs. Ross, Donald Moody, a Hudson Bay Company man, and Parker, a local guide and also a suspect in the murder, all set off across the snowy wilderness in pursuit of Francis and, Mrs. Ross hopes, the real killer.

The author, Stef Penney, beautifully evokes the blustery, snowy, frigid Canadian wilderness. This is an especially impressive feat given that Penney, an agoraphobe, has never visited Canada, and wrote to book on the strength of research done in the libraries of London. Well plotted and engaging, the only weakness is that several plot lines are left completely unresolved at the close of the book. However, if you can stand the lack of closure, I would highly recommend reading The Tenderness of Wolves for its evocation of the frigid Canadian winter alone.


Friday, December 26, 2008

On Beauty is out!

I started reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty and I must say I was most disappointed. I did not like the prose, I was not interested in the story, it just plain left me flat. So, after starting it I am going to chuck it. I have removed it from my Book Awards II Challenge list. On Beauty has been replaced by Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon which won a National Book Award in 2001.

Some of you might ask, "Really, you are going to give up on a book, just like that?" And I have to say that it has taken some effort to stop finishing books that I started but did not like. Steve Leveen writes about the 50 Page Rule in his wonderful The Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life. I probably did not make it to the 50 page mark, but as all you other readers know, there are too many good books out their to waste your time on books you don't enjoy. As the third of Daniel Pennac's Readers Bill of Rights says, I have the right to not finish a book!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

New Books: Special Christmas Edition

Merry Christmas Everyone! As a serious reader, most of the gifts I get for Christmas are books. Now, my family has for years tried to limit the numbers of gifts we receive, so I don't get quite as many gifts as some. But this year, I got two books from relatives and two books for myself. From my mother in law I received the long awaited 2666 by Bolano. From my sister in law I received The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin. This one was recommended by Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. Finally, I purchased The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens for myself. Well, actually, I purchased A Christmas Carol to read to my six year old son, but that didn't work out real well, so he watched the movie and I finished the book on my own. As far as The Ascent of Money, I have another book by Ferguson, The War of the World unread on my bookshelf, but I couldn't wait to get this one after hearing several talks he gave on the book. Now, that should probably be it for the month, as I am trying to read more of the books I own ... but then again, Half Price Books is having an after Christmas sale, so perhaps there will be a special New Year's edition.

Booking Through Thursday

What I want to know today is … what are the most “wintery” books you can think of? The ones that almost embody Winter?

This year I read few books that were quite "wintery." First, The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney. It takes place in the Canadian wilderness, full of snow and ice. I was reading it during several cold spells here in Texas and the book made it seem even chillier than it actually was. The second "wintery" book I read recently was A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is appropriate to the winter season for all the obvious reasons: christmas, ghosts, and snowy streets. Finally, earlier this year I read Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol, a very strange tale that takes place in an Antarctic island.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell

The Siege of Krishnapur is a fantastic novel about the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. Sepoys were native Indian soldiers in the service of the British. The rebellion was sparked by new cartridges that the soldiers had to bite open in order to load into their rifles. The problem was that these cartridges were greased with pork fat, which offended Muslims, or with beef fat, angering the Hindus. And so, the Sepoys rebelled against their British overseers. The Siege of Krishnapur tells the story of the British inhabitants of a small cantonment at Krishnapur that come under siege by the rebelling Sepoys.

This novel is one of the best I have read in my life. Mary McCarthy says in a blurb on the back It has everything you could expect to find in a big old-fashioned novel or several of them -- characters, suspense, military action, romantic attachments, satire, with tenderness, philosophy. This is an apt summary. At times the story is hilariously funny, and at others it is heart achingly sad. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in a good read.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Booking Through Thursday -- Bonus Question

What is the best book you ever bought for yourself?
And, why? What made it the best? What made it so special?

I would have to say that the best book that I ever bought for myself was the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. I had coveted a good OED for years. The full 20 volume OED would have been ideal, but a little too expensive. Not to mention the question of where in my crowded bookshelves I could put the 20 large volumes. I agonized between the Compact OED, which is all 20 volumes printed in one volume using really print, and the two volume Shorter OED. Many of the reviews on Amazon said the print in the Compact OED was too small to read, even with the included magnifying glass. That plus an extra $200 for the Compact OED convinced me to get the Shorter OED.

This purchase was special for several reasons. First, I had wanted to own an OED for so long that finally purchasing it for myself was reason enough for it to be special. Second, I had gone through a uncomfortable time in my life and felt that I was finally making some progress toward a better life. Purchasing a version of the OED was, silly enough, part of that progress. It was a symbol of the possibilities that were now open to me as I left the rough patch behind. Thirdly, it is special because it is the most expensive book I have purchased.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you give books as gifts?
To everyone? Or only to select people?
How do you feel about receiving books as gifts?

I do like to give books as gifts. I value reading so much myself that I give books as gifts in order to encourage others to do so too.

I am selective about the people to whom I give books though. First, I always want to make sure that the book is one that is appropriate, one that the other person will enjoy. This means I have to know that person pretty well before I can purchase the right book, and as a rather introverted person, I don't get to know many people that well. Second, in my family my wife handles most of the gift giving. So, I actually choose gifts only for close family members.

As far as receiving books as gifts, is there any other kind of gift? Anyone that knows me well enough to give me a gift knows that I am an avid reader. So, books are pretty much the extent of the gifts that I receive. Years ago I wasn't as keen on receiving books as gifts because often the books I received weren't to my liking. Now an Amazon Wish List means that I mostly receive books that I want to read.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Book Review: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

The winner of the 1987 World Fantasy Award, Patrick Suskind's Perfume is an extremely creepy book. It tells the story of the odious Grenouille, a bastard born with a miraculous sense of smell. With this gift, Grenouille becomes a great perfumer, but, when he stumbles upon a young girl with an incomparably beautiful scent, his ambition becomes to steal the scent from the girl. And thereby lies a tale of murder and mayhem.

This book reminded me of the experience I have when I watch Criminal Minds on television. The story is great and I enjoy it, but I never want to go straight to bed afterward. Perfume left me with the same feeling of unease, but it was a very well written novel.


It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

I'm in the cold, snowy Northern Territory of Canada, investigating a murder in Caulfield, a tiny settlement on the Dove River. (The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney)

And, surprisingly, the weather here in Texas seems to match the weather I am reading about. No snow, but it has been surprisingly cold here in Houston. Fortunately, it is only temporary. It should reach the high 70s by Thursday.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Musing Mondays

Just One More Page asks:

I always like to have a book with me at all times – call it a nerdy grown-up security blanket – and rarely do I leave the house without slipping one into my bag (even if I KNOW I’m not going to have a chance to read it). Do you take a book with you? Do you take whatever book you’re currently reading, or do you have a special on-the-go book? And do you have a preference for a these types of book (paperback, hardback; short stories; poetry etc)?

I almost always take a book with me when I leave the house, a "just in case" book. You never know if you will get stuck in traffic, have to wait in line, etc. There are so many opportunities to read if you are ready take them when they come. Typically, I will take the book I am currently reading, unless it is a rather large sized book. As a man, I don't have a purse in which to throw a book, so I prefer to take smaller books, like paperbacks, for my "just in case" book.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What's In A Name 2 Challenge

I will commit to another challenge today. The What's In A Name 2 Challenge. I participated in this one last year and liked it. So, here is my list for this year:

A book with a "profession" in its title: Read Literature Like A Professor by T. C. Foster. Alternates: Book Thief by M. Zusak, The Secret Agent by J. Conrad, Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells.

A book with a "time of day" in its title: The Noonday Demon by A. Solomon. Alternates: The Night Watch by S. Waters, Nightwatch by S. Lukyanenko.

A book with a "relative" in its title: Fathers and Sons by Turgenev. Alternate: Midnight's Children by S. Rushdie.

A book with a "body part" in its title: Who's Been Sleeping In Your Head by B. Kahr. Alternates: A Mind Of It's Own by D. Friedman, The Body in Pain by E. Scarry.

A book with a "building" in its title: The Castle of Otranto by H. Walpole. Alternate: House of Leaves by M. Danielewski,

A book with a "medical condition" in its title: Virus of the Mind by R Brodie. Alternate: The Body In Pain by E. Scarry, The Plague by A. Camus.

Thank you to Annie for hosting this challenge.

Seconds 2009 Challenge

I have decided to go ahead and sign up for yet another challenge. The Seconds 2009 Challenge runs from January 1, 2009 - December 31, 2009. For this challenge you read 12 books by authors that you have only read once.

Here is the list of books I plan to read:

  1. The Black Swan by N. Taleb

  2. The Logic of Live by T. Harford

  3. Number9Dream by D. Mitchell

  4. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by J. Barnes

  5. The Selfish Gene by R. Dawkins

  6. Grotesque by N. Kirino

  7. Doubt by J. M. Hecht

  8. What Is Ancient Philosophy? by P. Hadot

  9. Metaphors We Live By by G. Lakoff

  10. Darwin's Dangerous Idea by D. Dennet

  11. On Chesil Beach by I. McEwan

  12. Prime Obessession by J. Derbyshire

Alternates include:

  1. The Big Over Easy by J. Fforde

  2. Something by A. Nothomb

  3. The Information by M. Amis

  4. Something by J. Banville

  5. Secret Agent by J. Conrad (which I am already going to read for the Decades Challenge)

  6. 2666 by R. Bolano

Thank you to J. Kaye for hosting this challenge.

Reading Challenges -- How Many Is Too Many?

I discovered the group of book bloggers on the internet only last year. One of my favorite things about book blogging is the Reading Challenges that the book bloggers throw down. I quickly became addicted to them. This year, I am trying to use the Reading Challenges to help me read the books in my library that I have not read. But, how many challenges can a person actually complete. I am doing two right now, the BangBang and the Book Awards II challenges. And, I have already signed up for two more that begin in January. I am looking through my library for books to meet another challenge. I am making good progress on the two challenges I am reading for now, but I don't want to sign up for too many. Then again, how many is too many?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

1. Do you get to read as much as you WANT to read? (I’m guessing #1 is an easy question for everyone?)
2. If you had (magically) more time to read – what would you read? Something educational? Classic? Comfort Reading? Escapism? Magazines?

As a stay-at-home dad with my only son in school, I would say that I am lucky enough to get as much time as I want to read. I would not, however, go so far as to say that I read as much as I want. I am often distracted by the television or the Internet. I also have a part-time freelancing gig that takes up a varying amount of time each week. Finally, sometimes I choose other projects over reading, for example National Novel Writing Month.

Having said that I get as much time as I want to read, the second question, as asked, does not apply. But, if I could (magically) focus on reading with a little more intensity, I would clear the enormous backlog of books that I want to read, starting with the ones I own but haven't read. This would consist mostly of classics, literary fiction, philosophy, and history. I would also spend more time studying Spanish or another foreign language in order to attempt to read non-English language literature in the original language. Perhaps, these can be goals for next year ...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

I am in Krishnapur, India, surviving a siege that occurred during the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. (The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update -- I Won!!!

A couple of days ago I put the finishing touches on my novel and went over the 50,000 word mark. This is my second year as a winner and I have to say, as hard as it is, it is a blast to write these things! Now, to catch up on my reading ...

The Sorrow Of War by Bao Ninh

The Sorrow Of War is a heart breaking tale of a North Vietnamese veteran of the Vietnam War with the U.S. It is filled with death, ghosts, and tragedy. It was so unflinching that I found it an extremely uncomfortable read. The narrative is composed of vignettes about the life of the narrator and his sweetheart right before, during, and after the war. These vignettes are narrated in no apparent temporal order, making it a little harder to follow the story, but this does not take away from the emotional impact of the work.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

1. Still writing words for National Novel Writing Month.

2. When I need a break from that, I am in Hanoi (The Sorrow Of War by B. Ninh).

3. Later I will be joining millions of other travelers and taking to the skies. It should be a fun time ...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

When I am not in front of my computer trying to catch up to my word count for NaNoWriMo, I am in the Jungle of Screaming Souls in North Vietnam. (The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

War Trash by Ha Jin

The Korean War is often called the Forgotten War. It is, I think, an accurate name for the Korean War. It seems to me that there is too much US history to cover in a single school year. Every US History class I took, in high school and in college, always seemed to run out of time before being able to cover the Korean War. Being born in 1970, I cannot remember the Vietnam War in any real way, but my father and my wife's father are Vietnam War veterans, so I that war is certainly had an effect on my life.

This forgotten status of the Korean War led me to be excited to read War Trash. I have, since my formal education ended, gone back and read a couple of books on the Korean War. However, War Trash is narrated by a Chinese POW, so it is told from the view point of the other side. This is an interesting parallel to the book I am going to read next, The Sorrow of War. Another book I am reading for the BangBang Challenge, The Sorrow of War is about the Vietnam War and is narrated by a North Vietnamese soldier.

Despite the novelty of the narrator and subject, I only found this book mildly entertaining. Though well written, I found the narrative arc to be somewhat lacking. Perhaps this was intended in order to communicate how if feels to be a POW stuck in a limbo of sorts, waiting for both sides to negotiate a prisoner exchange agreement. But, due to what I felt was a weak plot, I would rate this book as average.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

In front of my computer, trying to churn out more words ....

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Booking Through Thursday.

So, it’s my birthday today. (Please, no applause.) But it’s inspiring today’s question–
What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present? Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book itself? The “gift aura?”

First off, let's hear it for November birthdays. Mine is in three days. Happy Birthday to you, me, and everyone else whose birthday is in November.

I have two books that were given to me as gifts for which I have a particular fondness. First, early in my fourth grade year of school my family moved from Woodbridge, Virginia to Herndon, Virginia. My fourth grade teacher gave me a copy of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I still have the very same copy. However, I have, much to my embarrassment, never read it. But, I plan to remedy this by reading this very copy for the Decades Challenge.

Second, for Christmas in 1981, my great grandmother gave me the sci-fi book The Hydronaut Adventures by Carl L. Biemiller. I remember being fascinated by it as a child. The cover shows two men in some kind of bubble beneath the ocean. Two mean looking sharks prowl the waters above them. I remember looking at that cover and feeling that the future could bring anything, that the possibilities were endless. That, perhaps, when I was an adult, I too might live beneath the ocean.

Both of these books have been with me for most of my life. They are, in fact, the two books I have owned for the longest time. They moved with me from Virginia to Hawaii and back. They moved with me New Orleans and survived hurricane Katrina. And they are here with me now in Texas, where they hold a special place in my library.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A New America

My fellow Americans, this morning, we wake up in a new America. We wake up in the America of which Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed. An America where a man, a presidential candidate, is judged by the content of his character and not by color of his skin. Congratulations to us all, for choosing hope over fear. Now, let's all roll up our sleeves, join together, and work hard to solve our problems and make our nation an even better place.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update

It is the beginning of day four of the National Novel Writing Month. I am writing a fantasy novel with my six year old son. It is based on the screenplay we wrote together for Script Frenzy (which is like NaNoWriMo, only for screenplays). This year I am finding it slow going. I fell behind right from the start. I currently stand at 4011, which was 990 short of yesterday's target and 2657 words behind today's target. I still have plenty of time to catch up, but this isn't the start I wanted.

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

I am in Compound 72 on Koje Island in South Korea. I am a Chinese POW during the Korean War.

War Trash by Ha Jin

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Yeah -- National Novel Writing Month Is Here!!!

Today is the first day of the 2008 National Novel Writing Month. I participated in NaNoWriMo last year and had a blast. I would recommend everyone give it a shot. A 50,000 word novel in thirty days; a piece of cake! Anyway, I have to get back to writing. I have 1667 words to write today ...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Conditioning

Mariel suggested this week’s question.

Are you a spine breaker? Or a dog-earer? Do you expect to keep your books in pristine condition even after you have read them? Does watching other readers bend the cover all the way round make you flinch or squeal in pain?

By nature I am one of those people that not only flinches and squeals in pain, but will actually attempt to physically defend books when they are attacked by senseless readers who don't know any better!

That being said, in The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life Steve Leveen makes a strong case for what he calls "leaving footprints" in the books you read. This applies only to the books you own, of course. After reading his advice, I have tried to control my "preservationist" instincts and leave footprints in my books. I underline passages that strike me, indicate words that I had to look up, and write notes in the margin. However, despite inscribing marginalia in my own books, I still cannot countenance dog-earing or spine-breaking. Even if you are going to treat a book as a conversation, as Leveen suggests, you should still treat it with respect!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

The aptly named Disgrace, winner of the 1999 Booker and 2000 Commonwealth Prizes, deals with several kinds of disgrace. On the surface level, we find the protagonist, a fifty-two year old professor of English, David Lurie, compelled to resign from his position in disgrace after an awkward affair with one of his students. Foundering after his life comes crashing down, Lurie leaves Cape Town to visit his daughter, Lucy, on her rural small-holding. Haltingly at first, but then with increasing comfort, David settles into a rural life, slowly rebuilding himself after the loss of his professorship. But when three strangers violently rob the far, attack Lurie, and rape his daughter, Lurie and the reader are forced to explore the meaning and ramifications of several facets of disgrace. Luries disgrace, his daughter's, and most subtlety, the disgrace of South African apartheid and its resulting racial tensions.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Two More Challenges

I couldn't resist adding two more challenges. I am even considering a third, but I am afraid that might be too much. So, I will hold off here and see how much progress I make on the four I will now have in progress.

The Latin American Challenge

This challenge requires reading four books from Latin America between January 1, 2009 and April 30, 2009. Here is the list of books I plan to read.

  1. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)

  2. Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya (Honduras)

  3. Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar (Argentina)

  4. El Tunel by Ernesto Sabato (Argentina)

All of these are subject to change, of course, with a list of alternates below. The last more so than the others, as it is my intention at this point to attempt to read it in its original Spanish. However, since my high school Spanish is 20 years rusty, I might not be able to pull that off. So here is a list of alternates:

  1. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (Argentina)

  2. Obscene Bird of Night by Jose Donoso (Chile)

  3. House of Spirits by I. Allenda (Chile)

  4. Death of Artemio Cruz by C. Fuentes (Mexico)

  5. Something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia)

Decades '09 Challenge

This challenge involves reading a minimum of 9 books in 9 consecutive decades, excluding the current decade of the 2000s. You must read the books in 2009.

This one is a really tough one, because there are so many books to choose from. I went through my 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and came up with quite a long list of possible books to read. I am not sure which decades I will read, but here is a list of one book per decade. The list is subject to change, but I will not list an alternative pool because there are just too many in the alternative pool.

It is more common for me to read more recent modern literature, so I will be making an effort to read more from the 1800s and early 1900s.

  1. 1810s: Emma by Jane Austen

  2. 1820s: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by J. Hogg

  3. 1830s: Oliver Twist by C. Dickens

  4. 1840s: Dead Souls by N. Gogol

  5. 1850s: Madame Bovary by G. Flaubert

  6. 1860s: Journey to the Center of the Earth by J. Verne

  7. 1870s: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

  8. 1880s: King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

  9. 1890s: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

  10. 1900s: Secret Agent by J. Conrad

  11. 1910s: 39 Steps by John Buchnan

  12. 1920s: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

  13. 1930s: Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft

  14. 1940s: The Plague by A. Camus

  15. 1950s: Lolita by V. Nabakov

  16. 1960s: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

  17. 1970s: The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

  18. 1980s: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

  19. 1990s: American Psycho by B. E. Ellis

It's Tuesday Where Are You?

I am in Cape Town, South Africa, being fired from Cape Technical University. (Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

The second in Linday's Dexter novels was a little disappointing. Perhaps because of expectations created by watching the second season of Showtime's Dexter, a series loosely based on Lindsay's novels,Dearly Devoted Dexter never really grabbed me. I found the plot a little weak. However, it is still a well written novel that is good enough to leave me with the desire to read the third book in the series.


The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

A beautifully written novel about memory and how our past can haunt our future. Narrated by a gecko, perhaps J. L. Borges reincarnated, The Book of Chameleons tells the story of Felix Ventura, an albino genealogist who sells new pasts to those that will pay. He sells such a past to a man who becomes known as Jose Buchmann. The story then tells of how Jose lives as though his new past were his actual past, questing after his "mother", visiting the place of his "birth", etc. During this time, Felix falls in love with the beautiful but broken Lucia. As the story comes to a close, we find that no matter the new past, the actual past can haunt our future.

Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for 2007, this is a lyrically written novel. A light read, until the final events of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Friday, October 24, 2008

New Challenges

After completing the Seconds Challenge, I find myself out of challenges. I went poking around the internet looking for some. I found some very interesting ones that were, unfortunately, too far underway for me to attempt. However, I did find two that have just started that I am going to attempt.

BangBang Challenge

First, the BangBang Challenge. This challenge is to basically read five books set during a war or time of conflict. This reading must be done between September 1, 2008 and February 28, 2009. I plan to read from the following:

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (WW II)

  2. War Trash by Ha Jin (Korean War)

  3. Bridge Over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle (WW II)

  4. The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Ballard (Sepoy Rebellion)

  5. Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (Vietnam War)

Alternates include:

  1. Charter House of Parma by Stendhal (Napoleanic Wars)

  2. Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien (Vietnam War)

  3. The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh (Vietnam War)

Book Awards II Challenge

I also want to attempt the Book Awards II Challenge. This challenge, which runs from August 1, 2008 through June 1, 2009 involves reading 10 award winning books. The catch is, you can only read two books for each award. I plan to to read the following books for this challenge:

  1. The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualusa (Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, 2007)

  2. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (Commonwealth Writer's Prize, 2000)

  3. All The Names by Jose Saramgo (Nobel Prize, 1998)

  4. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, Jr. (Hugo, 1961)

  5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Orange, 2006)

  6. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (Costa/Whitbread, 2006)

  7. Being Dead by Jim Crace (NBCC, 2000)

  8. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (PEN/Hemingway, 2007)

  9. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (NBCC, 2007 and Pulitzer, 2008)

  10. Perfume by Patrick Suskind (World Fantasy Award, 1987)

Alternates are listed below. However, I will only count these if I run out of time. I would much prefer to read the books listed specifically for the challenge.

Alternates that are cross-overs from the BangBang Challenge:

  1. Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (National Book Award, 2007)

  2. War Trash by Ha Jin (PEN/Faulkner, 2005)

  3. Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Ballard (Booker, 1973)

Alternates that I have already read during the challenge period, but not specifically for the challenge:

  1. The Blind Assassin by M. Atwood (Booker, 2000)

  2. Amsterdam by I. MacEwan (Booker, 1998)

  3. Snow Country by Y. Kawabata (Nobel, 1968)

  4. White Noise by D. Delillo (National Book Award, 1985)

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Predictably Irrational is another is a recent spate of popular books on economics, although this one takes on the specific branch of economics called behavioral economics. Orthodox or regular economics bases the body of its knowledge on the assumption that men and women are rational actors that will always act in their best interest. Behavioral economics is a recent revolt against this assumption of rationality. Taking their cue from what psychologists have known for decades, namely that men and women do not always act rationally, behavioral economists try to find circumstances under which this assumption of the rational actor fails. They seek, in other words, circumstances in which men and women will act predictably irrational.

I found this book quite enjoyable. I will admit, however, to a special place in my heart for this type of research. I have a B.S. in psychology and actually went back to college as an older adult to study economics. I have also enjoyed other books of a similar vein: Freakanomics by Levitt and Dubner and The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford. I also have quite a few popular economics books on my shelf to be read: The Logic of Life by Harford, Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen, The Armchair Economist and More Sex is Safer Sex both by Steven Landsburg. So, I was probably already inclined to enjoy this book.

Each chapter consists of a description one or a group of clever and fascinating experiments. From these, Ariely draws a clearly stated conclusion about human behavior, about how we all act predictably irrational. What I liked most about the book was his admonition in the book's introduction:
To get real value from this, and from social science in general, it is important that you, the reader spend some time thinking about how the principles of human behavior identified in the experiments apply to your life. My suggestion to you is to pause at the end of each chapter and consider whether the principles revealed in the experiments might make your life better or worse, and more importantly what you could do differently, given your new understanding of human nature. This is where the real adventure lies.

Now, this advice applies to each and every book you read. But as per this particular book, there were several cases where I could see my own predictably irrational behavior in the description of how participants in the experiments acted. For example, Chapter 4 is subtitled Why We Are Happy to Do Things, but Not When We Are Paid to Do Them. I found a lesson in this chapter because, when my wife's employer transferred us, I retired at an early age. I had been a computer programmer and found myself volunteering to help my wife by creating Excel Add-Ins to make life a little easier for her and the rest of the finance department. I actually enjoyed doing it. This year, they decided to significantly raise their commitment to increasing their productivity, so they hired me as a consultant to write more Excel Add-Ins. Suddenly, instead of an interesting diversion from my normal routine housework and reading, programming these Add-Ins became a drag, a chore. They became work. After reading Predictably Irrational, I see how irrational this is. It is the same activity I was happy to do for free a year ago. So, now I make a more conscious effort to enjoy myself while programming the Add-Ins for my wife's company.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in human behavior. It is full of wonderful insights that will help you understand why people do some of the silly things they do, and why you do them too. I enjoyed it so much that after I return the library's copy I want to buy my own.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Seconds Challenge Completed

During this weekend's Read-a-thon, I finished the Seconds Challenge. In this challenge, you read four books by authors that you have only read one other.

  1. Reading Diary by Alberto Manguel (having read City of Words before)

  2. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (having read Handmaid's Tale before)

  3. Indignation by Philip Roth (having read Everyman before)

  4. Silk by Alessandro Baricco (having read An Iliad before)

Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One

I was disappointed by Eveleyn Waugh's The Loved One. Recommended by David and John Major in their book 100 One-Night Reads, The Loved One was not as funny as I had been led to expect from a book authored by Waugh. It was funny in a dry, almost arid way. Perhaps appropriately, as Waugh is British. I wonder if, perhaps, my high expectations ruined this book for me.


Philip Roth's Indignation

I read Indignation as part of the Seconds Challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, certainly more so than my previous Roth book, Everyman. The book is the story of a young man from New Jersey who seeks to escape from his father's sudden over-protectiveness by transferring a college in Ohio. We then follow the decisions that will eventually lead to his death. Decisions which stem very much from his indignation at the behavior of others, and there is plenty of indignation to go around. However, his indignation leads to disaster, not only for his own death, but but also the suffering of those that care about him.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Readathon: The Finish Line!!!

Yeah!!! I did it. We did it. The finish line of the the readathon. I remained awake for the entire 24 hours and read 40-45 minutes per hour. This means, conservatively, 960 minutes or 16 hours of actual reading. I read seven books, finishing six of them:

  1. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

  2. Indignation by Philip Roth

  3. Silk by Alessandro Baricco

  4. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

  5. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

  6. Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

  7. Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (1/4 completed)

Later this week, I will try to write reviews of the six books I completed.

The final mini-challenge, the End of the Event Meme:

  • Which hour was most daunting for you? Hard to say. Mentally, hour 18 because I still wasn't sure I could make it the entire 24 hours. Physically, hour 24 because I had to spend some of it reading standing up in order not to fall asleep.

  • Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I found The Elegance of the Hedgehog quite delightful. But, there are allusions to literature and philosophy in it, not to mention being literature in translation, so I would recommend reading it earlier in the 24 hours.

  • Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope.

  • What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? The cheerleaders were great. I wasn't sure anyone would actually visit my blog to cheer me on, but quite a few people did and I appreciate it.

  • How many books did you read? See above.

  • What were the names of the books you read? See above.

  • Which book did you enjoy most? Probably The Elegance of the Hedgehog. But Indignation was also quite good.

  • Which did you enjoy least? Definitely The Loved One. It wasn't as funny as I was led to believe an Evelyn Waugh book would be.

  • If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I was a reader, but I am grateful for their efforts.

  • How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Very likely actually. It was hard, but as I said in my hour 22 post, the reward is the feeling of accomplishment you get from the successfully struggling to overcome yourself, to push yourself past what you thought were your limits to do something that most people will tell you is insane. So, in essence: not always fun while you are doing it, but definitely something you look back on fondly enough to do it again.

  • And now, my fellow readers and cheerleaders -- To sleep, perchance to dream...

    Readathon: Hour 24

    In hour 24 I read 39 more pages of Jeff Linday's Dearly Devoted Dexter This brings my total page count to a coincidentally interesting 1010 pages in 24 hours. This is an average of 42 pages an hour. It is done. I will be back in a couple of minutes with a finish line post.

    Readathon: Hour 23

    39 more pages of Dearly Devoted Dexter brings my total page count to 971 pages in 23 hours. Oh ... I am so close to 1,000 pages. Such a nice round even number. I have to have it. But only one hour left! So, there it is, my personal drama, a readathon cliff hanger. With one hour left, I am, barring unforeseen circumstances, going to be awake and reading for the entire 24 hours. But, will I reach the 1,000 page mark. Tune in one hour from now to find out.

    And to my fellow readers, the end is nigh, and so I say to you Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more ...

    Readathon: Hour 22

    So, hour 22 completed! As promised, I read the remaining 36 pages of Twelve Angry Men and started Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay for another 7 pages. This brings my total page count to 932 pages in 22 hours.

    This really has been very much like an actual marathon. You start slow at first. Then you reach a point where you feel good, you feel like you are flying, and that is the fun part. But then, the difficulties start, it starts to get hard. You begin to feel the pain, or in this case you get sleepy, you get a headache, your eyes begin to hurt, etc. That leads to doubt ... Can I make it? you wonder. At that point it is all mental, a struggle with yourself. If you hang in there long enough though, it finally starts to get fun again. You are still hurting/sleepy, but you can see the finish line. You know you can make it from here. And all that is left is to finish and feel the rush you get from the successful struggle to overcome yourself, to push yourself past what you thought were your limits to accomplish something that most people will tell you is insane. And so, my fellow readers, on to hour 23 and after that, the finish line ...

    Readathon: Hour 21

    I read the first 37 pages of Reginald Rose's play Twelve Angry Men. The movie based on the play is one of my favorites. I have seen it so many times, I feel like I am cheating a little bit because there are whole sections that I could probably recite from memory. But, that does make it a great choice for reading when I have been awake and reading for 21 hours. With a page total of 889 pages in 21 hours, I hope to add the remaining 36 pages of Twelve Angry Men in hour 22.

    Readathon: Hour 20

    Right on time, I was able to finish The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh. So, another 57 pages brings my total to 852 pages in 20 hours. It looks like I will pass 1000 pages, if I can stay awake. Well, on to Twelve Angry Men ...

    But before I go ... is it just me, or is the countdown clock at Gargantuan Books wrong? According to my clock (Fox Clocks for the Firefox browser) it is a little after 8:00 a.m. GMT. Which, since we started at Noon GMT yesterday means we have a little less than four hours left, not a little less than three.

    Readathon: Hour 19

    Another 46 pages of The Loved One bringing my total up to 795 pages in 19 hours. I have 57 pages left in The Loved One, and I am going to try to push hard to finish it in the next hour. Then, I think I will move on to the play Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose.

    Readathon: Hour 18

    And, just on cue, the dreaded Wall! I managed to read 60 pages of The Loved One. But during the hour, I did a lot of head nodding. With six more hours, I have serious doubts I will be able to stay awake the whole time. But my page total is now up to 749!

    Readathon: Hour 17

    I read the last 25 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. A great book despite the sad ending. I will try to review all the books I finish during the readathon throughout the following week. For those keeping score, and I know I am, that brings my page total to 689 pages in 17 hours, with 4 books completed. I will be moving on to Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One.

    Readathon: Hour 16

    Just like in a marathon, I must be getting my second wind. I picked up the pace again this hour, reading another 53 pages. I have just 25 more pages until I finish The Elegance of the Hedgehog. My page total for 16 hours is 664.

    I am starting to get the crazy idea that I might just be able to stay up for the entire 24 hours. After all, there are only eight ours left. Unfortunately, I am running out of tea ...

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    Readathon: Hour 15

    I have picked up the pace a little bit, despite having taken a little break, reading another 42 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. My total page count for the 15 hours is 611 pages.

    Readathon: Hour 14

    Another 31 pages to bring my grand total to 569. I am starting to get tired again. I have another 120 pages left in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which at my current pace is another four hours. With a break or two that makes another five, maybe six hours to complete this book. I will definitely pick an easier book next.

    Readathon: Hour 13

    Just like a marathon, the important thing is to keep moving forward, and I am doing that. This hour I am still a little low on the page count because of my dinner break. I read another 25 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, bringing my total for 13 hours of reading to 538 pages. Not bad, that would put me on pace to read approximately 1000 pages in 24 hours. However, I am not really sure that I want to remain awake for 24 hours. Right now, my plan is to take a longer break tonight and get some sleep and wake up early tomorrow morning to finish. But, we'll see ...

    Readathon: Hour 12

    I took a break to eat dinner with my family, so I managed only 15 pages this hour. I am still reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I considered changing books and reading something easier. But, I changed my mind and I think I will stick with this one until I finish it.

    Now for the Mid-Event Meme:

    1. What are you reading right now? As indicated above The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

    2. How many books have you read so far? Including the one I am currently reading, 4.

    3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? Finishing the one I am reading now. I have bookshelves full of books, so I really haven't picked what I am going to read next.

    4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? I didn't make any special arrangements per se. My wife and I don't really make too many plans on the weekend. However, she has been real supportive. She took our six year old son to the gym and a little festival in the next town over during the majority of the day, which helped a great deal.

    5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Mostly my interruptions have been eating, my son, and my dog. As far as dealing with them, I eat, I help my son when he needs it, and I let the dog in and out when she needs out.

    6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How tiring it is to sit on your rear and read all day.

    7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Not really.

    8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I might pick easier books to read. I would definitely try to get more sleep the night before the event.

    9. Are you getting tired yet? I was definitely tired before I took a break to eat dinner. I feel a little refreshed right now, but I am pretty sure it won't last very long.

    10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Not really.

    Readathon: Hour 11

    Another 34 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, bringing my page total to 498 pages in 11 hours. It is pretty exciting that I will be going over 500 pages in the next hour and before the halfway point.

    Readathon: Hour 10

    28 more pages of the same book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I am starting to feel a little better. Perhaps it was just the normal mid-afternoon fatigue that was slowing me down. My page total is now 464 pages in 10 hours. I so, I read on ...

    Readathon: Hour 9

    Another 21 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I will attribute some of the diminishment of my reading speed to the sophistication of the prose. After all, the Ms. Barbery includes allusion to philosophical phenomenology. However, I am also becoming quite fatigued. I decided to rest my eyes for five minutes, so I set a timer and laid down on the couch. I promptly fell asleep, so it is a good thing I set the timer. It might be time for another walk around the block, or something else to get my blood flowing, perhaps some push ups. Anyway, my grand total is 436 pages in 9 hours. I have completed three books and am working on my fourth. Until the next hour ...

    Readathon: Hour 8

    I am starting to get tired now. It probably doesn't help that I am reading literature in translation. However, I did manage 28 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. That is actually more pitiful than I thought, now that I have actually done the math. But, it does bring my page total over 400 to 415 pages.

    Here is another quote to share. It is an eleven year old girl's description of rugby and the Maori haka that the All Blacks perform before each match:

    What I knew was that the haka is a sort of grotesque dance that the New Zealand team performs before the match. Sort of intimidation in the manner of the great apes. And I also knew that rugby is a heavy sort of game, with guys falling all over each other on the grass all the time only to stand up and fall down and get all tangled up a few feet further along.

    For what it is worth, I love watching the haka and enjoy watching rugby too. Although, I admit, I like watching soccer more.

    Readathon: Hour 7

    I read a 58 pages this hour, bringing my total to 387 pages in seven hours. I completed Alessandro Baricco's Silk, and with it the Seconds Challenge. I also found that Bart (I assume) at Barts Bookshelf also read Silk during the readathon.

    After Silk, I did take a five minute walk around the block to clear my head. I still had time to read a little of my next book, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

    Readathon: Hour 6

    Hampered by having to eat lunch, I only read 39 pages of Silk this hour. That brings my total to 329 pages in six hours. I should complete Silk in hour seven, as it is only a 91 page book. I haven't decided what to read after that. I am getting a little muzzy headed after six hours of reading. I might take a break and go for a walk around the block after I finish Silk. Until next hour ...

    Readathon: Hour 5

    I finished Indignation by Philip Roth, reading another 76 pages for a grand total of 290 pages so far. I will now be moving on to Silk by Alessandro Baricco. This is another book for the Seconds Challenge. Once I finish Silk I will have completed the challenge!

    Now, I might be a little early with this mini-challenge, but here is a quote from Indignation. It is the end of the novel's narration:

    ... the terrible, the incomprehensible way one's most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve the most disproportionate result.

    Readathon: Hour 4

    I completed another 74 pages of Indignation. This brings my total page count to 214 pages.

    I must say that this is in some ways harder than I thought, but in others easier. Distractions can be a problem. Phone calls, the dog, my six year old, etc. However, one thing that has, so far, been less of a distraction than I thought it would be is the television. I am an avid soccer fan and usually spend part (my wife might say most) of my weekend watching European soccer. In the run up to the readathon, I noticed that my favorite team, Arsenal, would be playing this morning. This presented a dilemma, and I almost decided not to do the readathon so I could watch the game. However, I have a DVR, so I decided to go ahead and read away the day (and night). I am glad I did. More on the lack of television later, I am sure.

    Readathon: Hour 3

    This hour I read 54 pages of Philip Roth's Indignation. This brings my page total to 140 pages with one completed book in three hours.

    Readathon: Hour 2

    Distractions, distractions, distractions! I did well during hour 1, but not so well during hour 2. My six year old son woke up before my wife. So, between him, the dog, and other things, I didn't do as much reading as I wanted in hour 2. However, I did manage to read 36 pages and finish Predictably Irrational as promised. Hopefully, I can do better in hour 3 because my wife is now awake and has promised to take our son to the gym with her.

    I visited some of the other readers and found that perhaps I should introduce myself, as per the "Introduction Meme":

    • Where am I reading from? I am reading in Sugar Land, Texas. For those that don't know, Sugar Land is just outside Houston.

    • Three facts about me:
      1. I retired when I was 35. (Which is to say that when we relocated for my wife to take a promotion at work, I stayed home to take care of our son.)
      2. To earn book money, I do freelance computer programming.
      3. I own way too many books -- probably more than I can read.

    • How many books are in my TBR list? As per item 3 above, quite a number. However, I do have a pile of 10 or so books that are closer to the top of that list.

    • Do you have any goals for the readathon? Just to have fun.

    • Are you a veteran readathoner with advice for newbies? Nope. I am one of those newbies. But, I am a veteran marathoner and will probably apply that experience to the readathon. The most important thing I learned from marathoning is to pace yourself. You want to leave it all out on the course, but you definitely don't want to run out of steam at mile 15!

    Readathon: Hour 1

    So, the first hour is complete. I started the readathon with a book I was already reading, Predictably Irrational, a book on behavioral economics by Dan Ariely. In this first hour of the readathon, I read a little over two chapters for 50 pages even. I will be finishing Predictably Irrational in the next hour and moving on the Philip Roth's Indignation, a book that I am reading for the Second's Challenge.

    Readathon: "Pre-race" thoughts

    In a little under fifteen minutes, the October 2008 readathon begins. This will be my first readathon and I am a little excited about it. But, before it begins, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.

    1. Before being sidelined by a problem with my feet, I was a marathoner. When I ran them, I followed the Galloway method. Famous runner Jeff Galloway proposed that unless you were an elite runner, you would be better off completing the marathon by taking short walking breaks during the event. He suggested that you choose a particular ratio, for example 9 minutes running to 1 minute walking. I had a great deal of success following this method. What does this have to do with the readathon? Well, I guess what I am really trying to do is come out and say I will not be trying to read for 24 hours straight. Instead, my goal is to spend the majority of each hour reading, while taking small breaks through out the event.

    2. Speaking of goals, I would also like to hedge my bets a little right from the start. While I would be thrilled to stay up for 24 hours and read, I am pretty sure that I am just too old to be able to pull it off. So, my goal is really to see just how long I can read. I suspect that I can make it 16-18 hours before falling asleep with a book on my face. Time will tell ...

    Well, writing this has taken ten minutes, so the "horn" will go off in five minutes. I want to wish my fellow participates good luck. Let's all have fun!

    Friday, October 17, 2008

    Man Booker Challenge Completed

    By finishing Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin yesterday, I have completed the Man Booker Challenge.

    1. The Sea by John Bainville -- Winner 2005

    2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell -- Short List 2004

    3. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes -- Short List 1984

    4. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan -- Winner 1998

    5. Time's Arrow by Martin Amis -- Short List 1991

    6. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood -- Winner 2000

    The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

    Weighing in at 521 pages, I find The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood hard to sum up in a short blog post. This is a product of my weakness as a writer/book review, not of the Ms. Atwood's wonderful book. Quite deserving of a prize like the Man Booker, this book defies genre. It has elements of historical fiction, science fiction, and even (if read with the right attitude) a mystery novel. It contains a book within a book within a book. Fantastic stuff!

    The Blind Assassin tells the story of Iris and Laura Chase, heirs of a fallen depression era industrialist. The books starts with the Laura's suicide and the suspicious death of Iris' husband, Richard. We then read about the events that lead up to the two deaths, the story of Iris and Laura's childhood, the demise of their father's business during the depression, and the catastrophic marriage of Iris to Richard. At intervals, we read the story of the furtive affair between an unknown woman with an unknown man. Who are they? That is the mystery, although not really a difficult one to divine. During post-coital interludes, the unknown man tells the unknown woman an improvised science fiction story called the Blind Assassin. A book within a book within a book, because the narration of this affair is actually a novel written by Laura, called the Blind Assassin.

    There is a lot that goes on in The Blind Assassin, and I found it a long slow read, but it is definitely worth it! I highly recommend it.


    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    Time's Arrow by Martin Amis

    Short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1991, Time's Arrow is a novel about the life of Nazi doctor. One would think that a novel about a Nazi doctor would be a dark and grim novel, but Time's Arrow is actually quite comic, although at times in a "laugh so you don't cry" kind of way. It is the narrator and the method of narration that make this novel comic. The narrator is a sort of third-person that lives in the Nazi doctor's head, observing the doctor's life. What makes the novel comic and interesting is that the doctor's life, relative to the narrator, progresses backwards. This leads the narrator to suppose that instead of rounding up, torturing, and killing the Jews, the Nazi doctor and his compatriots are actually bringing the Jews back to life, healing them and then repatriating them. The backwards flow of time also leads to other comic interpretations by the narrator, albeit not as darkly comic in the eyes of the reader. Such as the idea that one rounds up one's things and exchanges them for money at stores.

    I really enjoyed this book, despite it's grim subject matter. It took a while to get used to the backwards narration, especially when it came to dialogue which also runs backwards. However, after I did, I found it insightful to view the progress of life in reverse.


    Sunday, September 21, 2008

    Sunday Salon

    Last Week
    I missed the Sunday Salon last week due to Hurricane Ike. I live in Sugar Land, just outside Houston. Fortunately, our side of the Houston area was spared the worst part of the hurricane. We were also lucky to have had our electricity returned fairly quickly, unlike many through out the area. However, in the run up to Ike, my high anxiety levels meant I could not concentrate enough to read.

    However, this week, I regained my mental footing sufficiently enough to start reading again. I also had more time on my hands as the entire area recovered from the hurricane.

    Finished Reading This Week

    1. A Reading Diary by Alberto Manguel

    2. Out by Natsuo Kirino (Japanese Lit. 2 Challenge)

    3. Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale

    Additions To My Library
    I was quite happy the bookstores opened this weekend. I was living in the New Orleans area when Hurricane Katrina struck. The Barnes & Nobles was closed for quite sometime. Fortunately, the Borders opened soon after. I am glad Hurricane Ike did not close the bookstores for long.

    1. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Weeks by Julian Barnes

    2. Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

    3. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells (cited in Manguel's A Reading Diary)

    Challenges Update

    I made no progress this week on the Man Booker Challenge (six Man Booker winners, short/long listed) this week.

    1. The Sea by John Bainville -- Winner 2005 (done)

    2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell -- Short List 2004 (done)

    3. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes -- Short List 1984 (done)

    4. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan -- Winner 1998 (done)

    5. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood -- Winner 2000

    6. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch -- Winner 1978

    I read one book for the Seconds Challenge (Read 4 books by authors that you have only read one other.)

    1. A Reading Diary by Alberto Manguel (having previously read his The City of Words)

    I will likely pick the remaining books for this challenge from the following:

    • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

    • Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

    • Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

    • Number9Dream by David Mitchell

    • The History of the World in 10 1/2 Books by J. Barnes

    • Silk by A. Baricco

    • Dearly Devoted Dexter by J. Lindsay

    • Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

    • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

    I completed Japanese Lit Challenge 2!!!

    1. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

    2. After Dark by Haruki Murakami

    3. Out by Natsuo Kirino

    Currently Reading/Plan to Read
    I have Time's Arrow by Martin Amis from the library to read this week. After that, I will likely read one of the books I have listed for the Man Booker Challenge or the Seconds Challenge.

    Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale

    Reviewed by both New Books and Bookgasm, I had high hopes for Joe R. Lansdale's Leather Maiden, a story of missing women, murder, kidnapping, and political assassination. However, I found Lansdale's writing style to be something of a distraction. He tries too hard to be folksy and funny. Not every piece of dialogue needs to have a punch line, especially in a noir mystery. However, despite this rather glaring flaw, the plot was interesting enough to keep me reading, but only just.


    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    Japanese Lit 2 Challenge Completed

    Today, I completed the Japanese Lit 2 Challenge, reading these three books by Japanese authors:

    1. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

    2. After Dark by Haruki Murakami

    3. Out by Natsuo Kirino

    This was a great challenge, encouraging me to read authors that I might not have otherwise read. In the process, I discovered three more authors whose works I need to add to my list of books to be read.

    Out by Natsuo Kirino

    An enthralling but deeply disturbing crime novel that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. It was like a print version of the television show Criminal Minds. Natsuo tells the story of how, in a single moment, a woman snaps, killing her husband. And then, like a stone thrown into the water, this one act sends out ripples that have consequences for many. I highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys a compelling story.


    Tuesday, September 09, 2008

    The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester

    Subtitled The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, this is a delightful book about the making of the OED. I read this as a follow up to Ammon Shea's Reading the OED and I am very glad I did. This book does exactly what it sets out to do, tell the story of the men and women that made the OED. It is full of wonderful anecdotes as well as serious history. If you have any liking for the English language, I highly recommend you read this book.


    Sunday, September 07, 2008

    Sunday Salon

    Additions To My Library

    1. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do by Tom Vanderbilt (Recommended by Marginal Revolution.)

    2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

    3. The Decameron by G. Bocaccio

    4. The Castle of Otranto by H. Walpole

    5. Sex in History by R. Tannahill (Cited in I Don't by S. Squires)

    Wow ... my book "bender" continues. And while certainly not as harmless as a real bender, I told my wife that I want to go to a "one to one" on reading to purchasing. That is, I can purchase a book for every book I own that I read in that week. That way, I will stop stockpiling books that I haven't read yet.

    Finished Reading This Week

    1. After Dark by Haruki Murakami (Japanese Lit. 2 Challenge)

    2. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (What's In A Name Challenge)

    3. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (Japanese Lit. 2 Challenge)

    Currently Reading

    • The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. Still reading ...

    • Out by Natsuo Kirino. Reading it for the Japanese Lit. 2 Challenge

    Challenges Update

    I have also started the Man Booker Challenge (six Man Booker winners, short/long listed):

    1. The Sea by John Bainville -- Winner 2005 (done)

    2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell -- Short List 2004 (done)

    3. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes -- Short List 1984 (done)

    4. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan -- Winner 1998 (done)

    5. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood -- Winner 2000

    6. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch -- Winner 1978

    The Seconds Challenge (Read 4 books by authors that you have only read one other.)

    I will pick from the following:

    • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

    • Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

    • Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

    • Number9Dream by David Mitchell

    • The History of the World in 10 1/2 Books by J. Barnes

    • Silk by A. Baricco

    • Dearly Devoted Dexter by J. Lindsay

    • Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

    • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

    The Japanese Lit Challenge 2

    1. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (Done)

    2. After Dark by Haruki Murakami (Done)

    3. Out by Natsuo Kirino (In progress.)

    Snow Country by Kawabata Yasunari

    Snow Country is a "haiku novel" about a man and his relationship with two women, a geisha named Komako and a younger girl named Yoko. Spare and beautiful, much like the snow scenes described in the book, it is a sad and tragic tale. I enjoyed it and would like to read more Kawabata books. Perhaps, The Master of Go or Beauty and Sadness. It also leaves me with the desire to read more Japanese literature than required by the Japanese Lit Challenge 2, for which I read this book.


    Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes

    I finished this book seven days ago, but I am just getting to the review. At first, I wasn't sure I was going to like the book. I felt as though I needed to have read some Flaubert, Madame Bovary or Sentimental Education, before I could enjoy Flaubert's Parrot. However, since the book was for the Booker Challenge, I was determined to finish it. Then about halfway through the book, I noticed that I had copied down quite a number of quotes from the book. Barnes has quite a turn of wit and I found the in some places he is quite funny. So, when I was finished, I realized I enjoyed the book. I look forward to reading another Barnes': The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.


    Wednesday, September 03, 2008

    After Dark by Haruki Murakami

    A couple of days ago, I finished After Dark by Haruki Murakami. I read this for the Japanese Lit Challenge 2. I had been warned by reviews that After Dark was, perhaps, not Murakami's best. It was pretty good, if a bit quirky. It is, at times, narrated as if the reader were watching the action through the lens of a video camera. I found those parts of the book awkward and somewhat irritating. However, the rest of the book had some very engaging characters, even if they populate a book with a thin plot. However, despite these perceived weaknesses, I liked the book, probably because of its weirdness. I will have to read some more Murakami in order to decide if, like others, I think his other books are better.


    What's In A Name Challenge

    I have now completed the What's In A Name Challenge!!!

    1. A book with an animal in its title: Throne of the Eagle by Carlos Fuentes translated by Kristina Cordero

    2. A book with a first name in its title: The Lais of Marie de France translated with introduction by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby

    3. A book with a place in its title: Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

    4. A book with a weather event in its title: Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen

    5. A book with a color in its title: White Noise by Don DeLillo

    6. A book with a plant in its title: The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

    The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

    Read for the What's In A Name Challenge, I found the plot engaging enough to want to know what happens to the characters. However, I found myself wondering why so much praise was heaped upon this book. I would rate it as only slightly above average, but then again, it really isn't much like the type of stuff I would normally read. Which, I think, is the brilliance of these challenges. They can push you outside your comfort zone. So, while I found the book rather bland, I would consider reading more Penelope Fitzgerald. Perhaps Offshore for which she won the Booker Prize. Or even The Beginning of Spring, The Gate of Angels, or especially The Bookshop, all of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

    [Y]ou should never lend a book or a woman. There's no obligation to return either. (p. 163)


    Sunday, August 31, 2008

    Sunday Salon

    Additions To My Library

    1. The Annotated Lolita by V. Nabokov

    2. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (Recommended by Bookgasm and on the bargain table at Borders.)

    3. On Chesil Beach by I. McEwan (For Seconds Challenge.)

    4. Snow Country by Y. Kawabata (For Japanese Lit. Challenge.)

    5. Silk by A. Baricco (Recommended by someone on Marginal Revolution's The best books under 100 pages. I have read An Iliad, so I could read it for the Seconds Challenge.)

    6. The Arabian Nights transl. by Husain Haddawy

    Finished Reading This Week

    1. I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage by S. Squire

    2. Reading the OED by A. Shea

    3. 300 by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley

    4. Flaubert's Parrot by J. Barnes

    Currently Reading
    The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. I just started this today as a follow-up to Amon Shea's book Reading the OED. I have also listened to a lecture by Mr. Winchester on this very topic and found it very interesting.

    Challenges Update

    The What's In A Name Challenge:

    1. A book with an animal in its title: Throne of the Eagle (done)

    2. A book with a first name in its title: The Lais of Marie de France (done)

    3. A book with a place in its title: Amsterdam (done)

    4. A book with a weather event in its title: Atmospheric Disturbances (done)

    5. A Book with a color in its title: White Noise by Don DeLillo (done)

    6. A book with a plant in its title: The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (I have been waiting for the library to deliver it.)

    I have also started the Man Booker Challenge (six Man Booker winners, short/long listed):

    1. The Sea by John Bainville -- Winner 2005 (done)

    2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell -- Short List 2004 (done)

    3. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes -- Short List 1984 (done)

    4. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan -- Winner 1998 (done)

    5. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood -- Winner 2000

    6. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch -- Winner 1978

    The Seconds Challenge

    I had a tentative list of the books I wanted to read for this challenge:

    1. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

    2. Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

    3. Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

    4. Number9Dream by David Mitchell

    But I might substitute any of the following in:

    • The History of the World in 10 1/2 Books by J. Barnes

    • Silk by A. Baricco

    • Dearly Devoted Dexter by J. Lindsay

    • Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

    • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

    The Japanese Lit Challenge 2

    I don't quite know what to read for this, maybe:

    1. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

    2. After Dark by Haruki Murakami

    3. Something by Kirino or Mishima

    Wednesday, August 27, 2008

    Reading the OED by Ammon Shea

    What an extraordinarily entertaining book. It is full of wonderful words:

    Advesperate (v.) To approach evening.

    Balter (v.) To dance clumsily..
    It's nice to find a word I can use to explain why I've always hated to dance. I am a balterer. [Me too!]

    ... some of which are quite funny:

    Fard (v.) To paint the face with cosmetics, so as to hide blemishes.
    I suspect there is a reason no one ever gets up from the table and says, "Excuse me while I go to the ladies' room and fard." It seems to be very difficult to make a four-letter word that begins with f sound like an activity that is polite to discuss at the dinner table.

    Unbepissed (adj.) Not having been urinated on; unwet with urine.
    Who ever thought there was an actual need for such a word? Is it possible that at some time there was such a profusion of things that had been urinated on that there was a pressing need to distinguish those that had not?

    There are also some hilarious anecdotes about reading such a gigantic book. For example, after finding that reading the OED ten hours a day for months has caused his eyesight to deteriorate, he relents and gets eyeglasses.

    When I get back to the library and resume reading I immediately realize why people wear these silly little things -- they make your vision better. I no longer have to move my face closer or farther from the page depending on whether I am reading the definition or the etymology. The headaches do not go away, but they become less severe, And at the end of the day I do not have large patches of gray imposing themselves on my peripheral vision. I am considerably cheered by this improvement, and wish that I could get glasses for all the other parts of my body that don't work as well.

    If you enjoy reading, books, or language, run, don't walk, to get this book from your local library or bookstore. I highly recommend it!


    Monday, August 25, 2008

    I Don't: A Contrarian View Of Marriage by Susan Squire

    This book is a rambling history of the idea of marriage from prehistory to Luther and the Reformation. At times it was witty, but overall, I feel a little disappointed with it. While some might find it's chatty style endearing, I found that it detracted from the attempt at historical scholarship (which may not have been the author's intent anyway). In addition, I found that the sudden halt at Luther and the Reformation left me wanting a more complete treatment of the subject. Perhaps at least following the topic into the 20th century. That being said, it was still a very entertaining book. I always like a book with notes and a bibliography and hope to be able to pursue the topic by reading some of the books Squire cites.


    Sunday, August 24, 2008

    Sunday Salon

    Additions To My Library

    1. Number9Dream by David Mitchell

    2. I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage by Susan Squire (reviewed in The Week)

    Finished Reading This Week

    1. The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow: see last week's Sunday Salon for a review.

    2. Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen: A very interesting book all the way to the end. However, it was quite quirky, almost to the point of strange. 3.75/5

    3. Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir transl. from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder: A mystery novel that was quite good. The Icelandic element added a touch of the exotic. However, either due to things lost in translation or poor translation, the prose and dialog seemed clumsy at times. But, I am looking forward to when they publish her next book in English. 4.00/5

    4. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan: Really good. A compelling enough read that I finished it in one day. As one of the blurb on the cover said: "darkly comic". 4.25/5

    Currently Reading
    I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage by Susan Squire. I started it in the book store and want to finish it as soon as possible. The intro and first chapter a quite amusing at times. I look forward to the rest of Squire's scathing commentary on the patriarchal idea of marriage.

    Challenges Update

    The What's In A Name Challenge:

    1. A book with an animal in its title: Throne of the Eagle (done)

    2. A book with a first name in its title: The Lais of Marie de France (done)

    3. A book with a place in its title: Amsterdam (done)

    4. A book with a weather event in its title: Atmospheric Disturbances (done)

    5. A Book with a color in its title: White Noise by Don DeLillo (done)

    6. A book with a plant in its title: ???

    I have also started the Man Booker Challenge (six Man Booker winners, short/long listed):

    1. The Sea by John Bainville (done)

    2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (done)

    3. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (done)

    4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

    5. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

    6. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes

    The Seconds Challenge

    I have a tentative list of the books I want to read for this challenge:

    1. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

    2. Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

    3. Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

    4. Number9Dream by David Mitchell

    The Japanese Lit Challenge 2

    I don't quite know what to read for this, maybe:

    1. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

    2. Something by Murakami

    3. Something by Kirino

    Sunday, August 17, 2008

    Sunday Salon

    Adding to My Library

    Okay ... this week I went on a book bender. I went to the Half Price Books on Friday here is Sugar Land and today my family dropped me off to look at one in Houston. This resulted in the purchase of:

    1. More Sex Is Safer Sex by Steven Landsburg. This is an econ. book that argues that against intuitive common sense on certain issues, much in the same manner as Freakonomics. It joins another of his books, The Armchair Economist (unread), already in my library.

    2. A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis by David M. Friedman. Okay, okay, it was a spur of the moment buy, but promises to be interesting at the very least.

    3. A Reading Diary by Alberto Manguel. To join the other Manguel books I own.

    4. Sir Gawain & the Green Knight transl. by W. S. Merwin. I have read this and wanted a copy for a while.

    5. Out of Control by Kevin Kelly.

    6. Schott's Original Miscellany by Ben Schott. A book of trivial facts. Fascinating. I couldn't stop reading it while I waited for my family to return to pick me up.

    Currently Reading

    Currently I am in the process of reading a popular book on statistics, The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow, and the novel Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen. Both are library books. I am just about done with The Drunkard's Walk. It is good, but nothing special. It seems to go over the same ground as other books on statistics that I have read, e.g. Chance by Aczel or Chances Are ... by the Kaplans. I have just started Atmospheric Disturbances so I will reserve judgment at this time.

    Challenges Update

    I am new to this whole challenge thing, just have discovered them in the last couple months. Even though I didn't know about the challenges, I keep track of the books I have read in the last couple of years, so counted ones that were read within the challenge period.

    I have completed one, the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Nine books, nine authors, nine different countries):

    1. Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino of Italy

    2. Elementary Particles by Michel Houlebecq of France

    3. The Sea by John Bainville of Ireland

    4. Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang of China

    5. Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb of Belgium

    6. 1984 by George Orwell of England

    7. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey of Scotland

    8. The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein of Canada

    9. Throne of the Eagle by Carlos Fuentes of Mexico

    I have started the What's In A Name Challenge:

    • A Book with a color in its title:

    • A book with an animal in its title: Throne of the Eagle (done)

    • A book with a first name in its title: The Lais of Marie de France

    • A book with a place in its title:

    • A book with a weather event in its title: Atmospheric Disturbances (in progress)

    • A book with a plant in its title:

    I have also started the Man Booker Challenge (six Man Booker winners, short/long listed):

    1. The Sea by John Bainville (done)

    2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (done)

    3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

    4. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

    5. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

    I am also interested in the Seconds Challenge and the Japanese Lit Challenge 2 but I want to finish the two above first.

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    Sunday (Monday) Salon

    Last week I managed to finish White Noise by Don DeLillo. It was a fairly compelling read even though it didn't really seem to have a strong narrative direction. Overall I would given it 3.5/5. One quote that I really liked:

    ...but I think it's a mistake to lose one's sense of death, even one's fear of death. Isn't death the boundary we need? Doesn't it give a precious texture to life, a sense of direction? You would have to ask yourself whether anything you do in this life would have beauty and meaning without the knowledge you carry of a final line, a border or limit.

    Today, I finished Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol. It was recommended by Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. I really liked it, even though it was pretty creepy. While not intensely so, it was one of those books you feel you have to read, but you aren't really sure that you want to keep reading it because it disturbs you. 4.0/5.

    Last week, I made a trip to the used book store and bought four books:

    1. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan: I want to read this one for the What's in a Name Challenge and it is a winner of the Booker prize.

    2. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin: I cannot remember who recommended this one.

    3. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa.

    4. Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton: because I enjoyed How Proust Can Change Your Life so much and it was only $4

    I also purchased Readings by Michael Dirda from B&N. Then also went to Borders and purchased Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? by H. Bloom and Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin from the bargain table.

    So ... seven books purchased this week ... I have to learn to read faster.

    Monday, August 04, 2008

    Sunday Salon - a day late

    This week I finished The Lais of Marie de France and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

    The Lais is a series of stories written by a medieval french woman. I had to read one, Eliduc in college. I remember liking it, which is why I wanted to read the book. Overall the stories were interesting, and I enjoyed the book. I give it 3.5/5. A fine quote from the lai Equitan:

    Love is not honorable, unless it is based on equality.

    Cloud Atlas was a great book, 4.25/5. It is a series of six nested stories, loosely connected. Even though I enjoyed it, I had two minor quibbles. First, the stories ran A B C D E F E D C B A and by the time I got back to C, B and A, I had lost track of what was going on. Second, I felt the end sort of petered out without really coming to any kind of conclusion. Still, a great book. I am looking forward to reading more by David Mitchell, probably number9dream.

    This week I added Margaret Atwood's Blind Assassin to my book collection. I am a member of both Borders and Barnes & Nobles, which means that they will send me discount coupons, especially Borders from whom I receive a coupon weekly. After purchasing Atwood's book, I remembered that I had wanted to get Reading the OED, but forgot. Well, this morning, I received another coupon from Borders for 40% off a purchase of $20 or more, so I will be going to get Reading the OED later today.

    Sunday, July 27, 2008

    Sunday Salon

    This week, while traveling, I managed to finish Mistakes Were Made. It was a great book on cognitive dissonance and how it causes us to justify our opinions contrary to evidence and objectionable behavior. I would highly recommend it: 4 1/2 out of 5.

    I also managed to get halfway through both Cloud Atlas and The Lais of Marie de France. Cloud Atlas is really good so far. I have become quite engaged by each of the six stories that make up the novel.

    Finally, I added Wheelock's Latin to my library. I probably won't make much use of it, but I have always wanted to learn to read Latin.

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    Sunday Salon

    This week I struggled through Martin Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics. I was under the impression that most find Heidegger's work either the hallmark of genius or the epitome of obfuscation. I found it the latter. There were some interesting parts, but for the most part I found it too dense for it to make any sense to me. I was very interested when I picked it up at the book store. It starts with the question: Why is there being instead of nothing? However, Heidegger seems to think that an exploration of Ancient Greek etymology will answer the question. I, however, strongly disagree and would therefore not reccommend this book to anyone.

    I am currently out of town visiting my in-laws, which led to the age old problem of what books to bring with me while traveling. I tried to "travel light" and brought the following:

    • Mistakes Were Made by Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson

    • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

    • The Lais of Marie de France

    I am reading the last two as part of the What's In A Name Challenge.

    This week I bought Moral Clarity by Susan Neiman and convinced my wife to buy two books to read on vacation that were on my TBR list: Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Lang and Napoleon's Pyramid by William Dietrich.