Books I love, that I'm slogging through,
or that I'm about to slog through

I read a lot. Go figure.

I know people who do not ever read books for pleasure, including otherwise highly intelligent people I know. I do not understand this. Were y'all that traumatized by your required reading in high school and college?

Anyway ... enough ranting.

As with most other things in my life these days, my reading time suffers, what with all the things I have to do, and the too-much time I seem to spend online. Nevertheless, I've managed to read these titles recently, and I'll keep updating throughout 2001 if I can remember. That last batch down there was from May of 1999. And yes, I did read in the year 2000, I just forgot about this page and didn't update it. Hey man, this site is almost 1,100 pages and it's a one (absentminded) man show!

2001 entries

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.
A month or so ago I finally saw the film of this book, and to paraphrase Woody Guthrie, it was just about "the best cussed pitcher I'd ever seen". I'm not sure how I managed to get through high school, college and gradual school without having read this (maybe I'll make scapegoats out of my junior and senior year honors English teachers, while fully realizing that all I had to do was just buy the book and read it). I've just started it. It's relentless, but marvelous.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser
You'll think twice before eating fast food again. The author freely acknowledges that it all "tastes pretty good" ... you might want to know why, though, and what's behind all this (like "the flavor industry", something you've probably never heard of before). If you're like me, you'll start thinking slow food.

Pot on the Fire: Further Exploits of a Renegade Cook, by John Thorne with Matt Lewis Thorne
It's not a cookbook, although there are oodles of recipes in it. It's an example of food writing at its finest, from two people who truly love food and love to share what they know. (In fact, they've been publishing the "Simple Cooking" newsletter for years.) Worth the cover price simply for the chapter on banh mi ("Vietnamese po-boys"), but there's much much more.

Calculating God, by Robert J. Sawyer
SF meets theology in this slightly flawed but enjoyable and fascinating novel about a visit by aliens who tell the first paleontologist they meet that they have scientific proof of the existence of God; i.e., that the universe was deliberately and intelligently designed. It's not plot-driven -- most of the novel consists of conversations between Canadian paleontologist Tom Jericho and an eight-limbed, spiderlike alien named Hollus -- plus the humor could get a bit hokey and silly, as much as I enjoyed it. All in all, though, once you get past Sawyer's conjectures as to how the aliens come to believe what they do, it's completely engrossing. One of the themes I found most interesting was the aliens' proof of the existence of God having come from their science and mathematics, not religion. They're firm and ardent believers in God, but do not worship him as humans do. Recommended.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J. K. Rowling
Whizzed through these starting right before Christmas (okay, cheating, but I gave the first 2 paperbacks to Wes and got all the hardbacks in '01). It ain't exactly great literature, but they're wonderful stories, funny and scary and thoroughly enjoyable.

The Hole in the Flag, by Andrei Codrescu
The Romanian-American poet and NPR commentator returns to Romania for the first time since he left it at age 19, mere days after the Romanian revolution overthrew and executed the hated dictator Ceauçescu. Riveting.

Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris
David moves to Paris with his boyfriend Hugh, and unleashes himself upon the French. Priceless and hilarious.

Papal Sins, by Garry Wills

1999 entries

Hannibal, by Thomas Harris
Brrrrrrr. Cracking, terrific sequel to Silence of the Lambs, full of references to Renaissance Italy and the culinary arts, and creepy as hell. I plowed through this one in two days.

Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
A powerful, often stunning novel of a man's journey home in western North Carolina during the waning months of the Civil War.

The Page Turner, by David Leavitt
It has its moments, but after Arkansas, this was a disappointment.

Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, by Neil Gaiman
Wonderful short stories and poems, by the author of one of my favorite novels.

Zydeco!, by Ben Sandmel and Rick Olivier
A beautifully photographe and insightfully written study of one of my very favorite kinds of music, the dance music of the black Creole communities of southwest Louisiana.

Hidden Truths: Bloody Sunday 1972
Essays and photograph on the British Army massacre of unarmed civilians in Derry in the north of Ireland.

The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks
A fascinating, witty, scary and ultimately shocking novel about a disturbed young man living with his strange father on a small Scottish island.

Old favorites

I tried to think of a list of my favorite books of all time, and reached a big wall. How could I just pick a few? Which ones would I pick? Why the frack can't I think of any right now? Well, some of the ones that popped quickly into mind, probably not in any order of what they meant to me, are:

A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
Perhaps my favorite novel. A hilarious farce about the characters of and the life in New Orleans. You'll never forget Ignatius J. Reilly.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
This novel of wonder and darkness still creeps me out.

Almost anything by Harlan Ellison
He can make me laugh, cry, shudder, cower under the covers, or piss me off like almost no other.

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Or almost anything else; I'm a big Vonnegut fan.

The Alteration, by Kingsley Amis
An alternate-history novel set in England in 1975, in a world where the Protestant Reformation never took place. It's one of those "wow" novels.

The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold
A time-travel (and time-travel paradox) novel, best described by my old friend Matt Brown as "a mindfuck".

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Keep those crabapples in your cheeks.

I have large, mostly annotated lists of cookbooks, Louisiana-related books, and music-related books elsewhere on my site. Those, and these ... I recommend them all.

Happy reading!


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