d e t a i l s

  i try to make reading a daily part of my existence. there are a number of reasons for this but i imagine you're interested in exactly zero of them. so deem yourself spared. as for how i choose what to read, i use a genre-based rotation. the rotation changes from time to time but below is the present pattern:

POPULAR FICTION (e.g. ken follet, dan brown, john grisham)
CLASSIC LITERATURE (e.g. alexandre dumas, victor hugo, charles dickens)
SCI-FI/FANTASY (e.g. isaac asimov, orson scott card, robert heinlein)
PHILOSOPHICAL (anything from raw philosophy to the merits of bhudism)
MODERN LITERATURE (e.g. upton sinclair, william faulkner, theodore dreiser)
INSTRUCTIONAL (something towards making a better me)
HISTORICAL BEST-SELLER (from the kahn reading project)
NON-FICTION (e.g. michael lewis, jon krakauer, bill bryson)

the purpose of the above serpentine is rut and glut avoidance. i am desperate to not become a boorish one-category reader and i also love (!!!) the sweeping arcs of subject matter landscapes this practice forces my mind to ambulate through. from a fox hole in WWII europe to solar systems not yet seen (and in times not yet conceived) to how to make your child laugh more to the roman forum at its peak the potential behind this exercise offers limitless candy and vitamins for your mind (and soul).

if you think i'm missing a category, i'd appreciate to hear your argument. and, i'm ever interested in hearing about people's favorite reads, so please hit me up with yours.

The Clan of the Cave Bear
Jean M. Auel

READ BEFORE BOOKS FROM : 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017


Dishwasher Pete
Pete Jordan

pete is a good storyteller with an interesting story to tell but, as the title suggest, there was going to be a whole lot about dishwashing which does start to get a little single-threaded in time. late in the book things were starting to feel a bit like the beavis and butthead movie. but then with less than 75 pages to go i ran into this passage.

the one-room library looked like it had enough books to keep a reader busy for years. But it held no books by Phillip Roth. So I retrieved nine of his paperbacks from Crescent (his van) and donated them to the cause.

this shared adoration of the contemporary story master roth, perked me up enough to bring me across the finish line at a healthy canter.

and as a personal aside, my first ever job was "bustin' suds" as pete would say. it was difficult, foul and arduous work, especially to an uninitiated, soft suburban fifteen year old like me. but that job and similar ones that followed allowed me to be a guy who has never uttered the words, "i don't get paid enough for this job" because i've worked in some horrifically underpaid industries.
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Tal Ben-Shahar

this text is the product of a positive psychology class taught at harvard. the first time it was offered, eight students signed up, then two dropped out. the second year saw 380 sign up. and the third year enrolled 855, making it the largest class conducted at the university. if that doesn't pique your interest, i'm not sure what will.

this book took me four days to read. the number of thoughts and notions from the text that have been swimming around in my head since finishing it five days ago tells me that its teachings will be with me for a good long while. fact is, the second i finished reading the last paragraph i closed the book on my lap, stared out of the window i was sitting in front of for several minutes before shaking my head in wonder at how my mind was racing as i re-considered various parts of the book. i then stood up, walked to my desk and slid the book onto a hallowed spot on a shelf next to two other books that i skim, peruse and re-read throughout the year. not only did this book just enter that spiritual rotation, i'm already eager to walk its pages again. good, good stuff.
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Phillip Roth

i read my first roth novel in my twenties. i've read several since then. each time i open one of his works and begin i feel as though a favorite uncle has launched into a story, a story that from the start entrances me to stillness. his stories are special because they give you the sense that you are hearing something that has until now been kept from you. but he has faith in your ability to take it in. roth reveals truths about the human condition which most folks just don't or won't talk about either because they think it shouldn't be discussed or because they think by discussing it they are planting seeds in impressionable minds. but roth doesn't share this fear. roth never holds back. he has no reservations about saying swears or discussing social ills before virgin ears.
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Winesburg, Ohio
Sherwood Anderson

this book was written in 1919. some of the the characters mentioned in the story fought in the civil war. given the early american venue i expected stories rife in fortitude and chastity and good besting evil. instead, the first story dealt with pedophilia. the second story, date rape. the third story, dementia. the unexpected topics continued: un-wed pregnancy, adultery, theft, voyeurism (by a priest no less). this book would have given a modern day 90210 a run for it's money dysfunction for dysfunction. and the pre WW1 happenings in winesberg, ohio surely weren't about the lives of the sorts of folks my grandparents and parents would have had me believe were running around in those days. listening to the stories of my elder relatives, i am dealt visions of virginal, do gooders helping old and feeble people across the street while walking from their first job to their second in the pouring rain.

one curiosity about this book can be seen in its simplicity. when i read books, i mark the words i don't know in the margins of the pages to get a sense for how many words i had trouble with. this book was one deep, rich, detailed description of an equally deep and rich group of characters, yet in the whole work there were only two words that sent me to the dictionary. in college, i remember professors telling me it is possible to write using only the most basic of terms. i always thought they were deceiving me in some manner. works like this show me perhaps they were not.
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The Lost Symbol
Dan Brown

there's not much to say here other than dan brown is getting better at his craft. to me, he's effectively staving off the creative morass that seems to grip many who experience such success. it's almost as if they're blinded by the grandeur of it all and expectations overwhelm their ability to 'do it again'. but brown somehow comes back into the ring, swinging from the start, as his formula has repeatedly promised and here he does it again crafting yet another quintessential page turner.
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James Michener

michener is a story teller to his bones. he believes in being thorough. very thorough. so thorough that he often begins his tales millions of years in the past and tells of the geologic development of the area he's writing about. then the earliest creatures. then the beginnings of civilization. in this story about the development of the american west, the human story line eerily mimics the geologic timeline. it began with explosive conflict (development of the continents / early american and indian relations). it moved onto inspiring growth and innovation (creation of the rockies / settling of the west). and it ends with a slow demise (destruction of our environment / apathy of our society). given this trajectory, the book left me feeling down.

in addition to the guiding tangent of the book, it has moments of strong imagery that will sear indelible marks on the walls of your brain. some good. some not good. but they happened and michener does a fine and just job of capturing much of the history that took place.

as a personal aside. the first half of this book has three core locations. the primary one, and the one which the book gets its name, centennial, occurred very close to the town i grew up in, fort collins, colorado. at one point michener goes back east to follow someone coming west. for this he begins in lancaster, pennsylvania, the county where i was born. and then many trips are made to the most populated city westward city of the time, saint louis, where i now live. these moments are so disconnected from what i knew the relation only proved mention-worthy. more than anything it makes the book seem like a work i was meant to read.
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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Diaz

i'm a reader of books. i'm not one who skims sections or flits over paragraphs and pages. so to read an author who sprinkles another language, a language i do not know, into a story as freely as one may use prepositions, is unsettling, at best. this point acknowledged, i can't recall the last time a book evoked this level of excitement from me. the broad swath of lives and generations and cultures this author threw against the wall makes you look, makes you stare. even though some is horrific and tragic, you can't break your gaze. a very nice bit of contemporary literature.
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Better Off
Eric Brende

this is about a man who went to live with the amish for a year. i've long said if someone gun-to-my head forced me to pick a religion, i'd be all about the amish. given this, ever since this book was suggested to me earlier in the year i was extremely drawn to it. part of the delay was caused because i was teaching a class on design and technology last semester and didn't want this man's experience messing with my geek-chi.

to begin with, i couldn't love the title any more.

second off, any creative effort that comes from true passion or visceral interest is almost always beautiful. this is no exception.

thirdly, i covet this man's experience. if there's a good side to all of this, brende's message isn't one of complete abstention. his sole argument is the intelligent application of technology. coincidentally, the class i taught last fall focused on just this, or i termed it the thoughtful use of technology but it's very much the same thing.

brende isn't against technology, not at all. he's actually quite a student of it (he is MIT trained after all). what brende stands against is the blind dependence and reliance and utilization of technologies without the careful, or even sloppy, consideration if it is a good fit and is going to enhance your life or actually, stealthily, reduce your quality of life. if someone were to do an audit on your lifestyle, my lifestyle, most american's lifestyle, i think we'd all be quite alarmed at what we learned.
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American Pastoral
Phillip Roth

with this book, phillip roth will become my most read author in the last ten years except for j.k. rowling. but please have a heart and don't make me count the rowling series. i was momentarily weak but have since recovered.

no one will ever accuse phillip roth of being a conventional storyteller. it'll just never happen. i've now read three of his books and each one dealt with off the wall topics. sure, there are veins of consistency, but overall everything is quite distinct. and out there. but the direction and subject matter of his narratives is irrelevant because no one will accuse roth of being a pedestrian connector of words. his descriptions are just too wonderfully detailed and thoughtful and fearless. there's not a topic he could choose that could keep me away from experiencing how he chooses to tell it.
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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
John LeCarre

this is said, by some, to be the best spy novel ever written. so reading this first, like eating the best thing on your plate first, is not the most logical choice, but i could get hit by a bus tomorrow which turns all logic quite pear-shaped.

if this is the best spy novel ever written, the pool of competition must be pretty bleak. it was ok. i did finish it. i just find it surprising that it would be called the best of anything. or perhaps the lesson here is to be more responsible when throwing around 'best-ever' claims and use more thoughtful and leveled descriptors.
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A Fan's Notes
Frederick Exley

this book was recommended to me by a guy i sat next to on a plane from salt lake city to saint louis. he was the son of an english professor and an avid reader himself. he said he re-reads just a handful of books. to the question, which of them was his favorite, he offered this. i feel confident saying a more qualified lead is probably hard to come by. in beginning the book i was entranced and full of lust by the end of the third page.

in the review before this one i spoke of how i mark notes on a book's pages when i read. if you were to look at this book, there are sections you'd think i read it ten times and poured over its pages as part of a dissertation defense. actually, strike that. if you were to look a this book you'd think ten people who do what i do had read it. it's a complete mess.

please note my use of the word sections in here. there were particular sections which really spoke to me. other portions of the text, not so much. but even where i found myself contextually disinterested, the writing was still unique and charged. trying to describe exley's style is challenging. it's a bit like vonnegut channeled through roth. the sheer abundance of twisted details make his pages effortful to read but only because the notions have such depth. the following passage, and one of my favorites, is a great example:

... the generation which will all retire to the great american southwest, where under dry, brilliant, and perpetual suns they will all live to be a hundred and fifty, watching reruns of ed sullivan on a colored screen twenty feet high. what i am now certain i am beseeching them to consider is that of itself longevity is utterly without redeeming qualities, that one has to live the contributive, the passionate, life and that this can well be done in twenty-six (hence keats) as in a hundred and twenty-six years...
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Revolutionary Road
Richard Yates

i was not prepared for this book.

when i read books i always have a pen or highlighter to mark passages that really jump off the page. this book has wild, dancing scrawls all over the margins. and now, with all this beautiful language and vivid passages the thing i'm most left wondering about is how this guy, this one guy, richard yates, was so able to get into the heads, the souls of so many people, male and female alike. it's obviously rare to find a person who can write the opposite gender so believably (granted he dove deeper with the men, but still).

this book was written in 1961. i'm young and naive enough to feel surprised that this sort of disfunction went on back then. if it didn't intentionally date itself at times, you'd be dead sure it was a story about contemporary times which says such problems aren't new, just possibly more rampant.

oh, and by the way, whoever wrote the script for the film american beauty as some point in their life read this book, and probably read it more than once. obviously, i have no way of knowing this, but i do.
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The Forever War
Joe Haldeman

a compelling aspect of science fiction is studying how an author chooses to project the future. it is an area of art where you know great thought has been given. it is important. more so here than with other more conventional works. if you write about the past or the present, you are tasked with redrawing it with some level of believability and realism. when you deal with the future, you not only have to write with a reasonable level of believability, you also have to write about things that don't yet exist and may never exist with believability. and this small detail is why you are guaranteed extra hours of contemplation in science fiction. and when a vision has brewed adequately, it shows, it shows wonderfully.

this is a book of such passion. and one that came to life in meaningful ways. the story is vivid, rich. if there's a downside it is that the year he chose to begin his fantasy has passed us by, and had the disrespect of doing so without resembling his world in any way. this could have been fixed easily enough by adding a hundred or thousand years to the timeline but it is of little importance and does not mar the tale in any significant way. and there are a few elements of his tale i wish were part of our society. i imagine the author wishes they were part of our society as well.
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