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

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Main Street
Sinclair Lewis

i went into my local independent bookstore. behind the counter was an impish girl i see often but don't know her name. before i can move down one of their three short aisles she asks if she can help me. i say i'm looking for main street by sinclair lewis. she pinches her lips in thought and turns to the computer while making the "hmmm, let me see" sound. as she starts typing she prepares me for the inevitable by saying, "i still have my copy of that from junior high at my mom's house, as many do i imagine, so it's not a very commonly sought-after title." how many online booksellers do you know that come with emo girls jockin' your arrested reading skills? the right answer of course is not nearly enough.

having now completed this book i think this girl and i went to different junior high school's. if memory serves, we didn't get into anything deeper than animal farm. main street is dense and astute. when lewis sets out to describe something, he plans to put you there, seeing, smelling, sensing, living. giving yourself to his words is probably the closest you'll ever come to time travel. example:
The four cabins were inhabited by Main Yankees who had come up the Mississippi to St. Paul and driven north over virgin prairie into virgin woods. They ground their own corn; the men-folks shot ducks and pigeons and prairie chickens; the new breakings yielded the turnip-like rutabagas, which they ate raw and boiled and baked and raw again. For treat they had wild plums and crab-apples and tiny wild strawberries.

Grasshoppers came darkening the sky and in an hour ate the farmwife's garden and the farmer's coat. Precious horses, painfully brought from Illinois, were drowned in bogs or stampeded by the fear of blizzards. Snow blew through the chinks of new-made cabins, and Eastern children, with flowery muslin dresses, shivered all winter and in summer were red and black with mosquito bites. Indians were everywhere; they camped in dooryards, stalked into kitchens to demand doughnuts, came with rifles across their backs into schoolhouses and begged to see the pictures in the geographies. Packs of timer-wolves treed the children; and the settlers found dens of rattlesnakes, killed fifty, a hundred, in a day.

Yet is was a buoyant life. Carol read enviously in the admirable Minnesota chronicles called "Old Rail Fence Corners" the reminiscence of Mrs. Mahlon Black, who settled in Stillwater in 1848:

"There was nothing to parade over in those days. We took it as it came and had happy lives .... We would all gather together and in about two minutes would be having a good time - playing cards or dancing ... we used to waltz and dance contra dances. None of these new jigs and not wear any clothes to speak of. We covered our hides in those days; no tight skirts like now. You could take three or four steps inside our skirts and then not reach the edge. One of the boys would fiddle a while and then some one would spell him and he could get a dance. Sometimes they would dance and fiddle too.
anyone who would describe sinclair lewis as anything short of thorough would probably term my positions on vasectomies and prostate exams as uncertain.
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Alexandre Dumas

there's a lot written about how unknown this book is, so much so that it gave me pause to take give it time. but i immensely enjoyed my first dance with dumas and have since been respectfully saving his other works, forcing myself not to gorge on him in one sitting as i feel inclined to. after getting through the first few chapters i found the under-published nature of this book to be purely scandalous.

now, i'm not going to say this book was every bit as entertaining as the count of monte christo because it's not, but to be fair the count is a truly special human effort. that said, georges is crazy-good entertaining and i'm more than mildly shocked hollywood hasn't sank it's teeth into it because it seems to have a very manageable and ready to go narrative and would be leagues more entertaining that much of the drivel they typically roll out. but it's probably for the best because i'm sure they'd botch it like mad so i'd recommend you read it before they begin their miscasting and associating depp or dicaprio in a role that deserves so much more uniquity than that.

no one needs to come in and fix or redefine something as sweeping, pleasing and accessible (292 pages) as georges. so good.
link to this review


The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon

i was initially going to say if you're looking for a good summer read this might be it, but upon further reflection i think it may play better while sitting in front of a crackling winter fire, under covers and reading by dim light. the writing is unique and winsome and contains good episodes of love, lust, loss, insight, mystery, and of course tragedy.
link to this review


The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin

i read a portion of benjamin franklin's autobiography about ten years ago when i was researching time management as he is considered the father of the art of self-improvement. back then i only read part two (of four) as that was the section that dealt with his notions on self-improvement and i was at the time trying to be thrifty about my time. something stirred me recently making me think not reading all of franklin's text may have been a mistake.

curiously, what sent me back to the work was a promise i made to myself during the last semester to not watch any television as i was teaching and i didn't want it to distract from or reduce the quality of my classes. aside from the super bowl and two recommended episodes (by my students) of south park i held to my commitment. towards the end of class i started whimsically thinking of what i would watch first once the self-imposed ban was lifted. i tried a few shows like west wing, deadwood, weeds but found myself totally unable to sit through even ten minutes of anything. listless, i went to my bookshelf and the franklin spine caught my eye. i began with part one and consumed it with a ravenous fervor usually reserved for hbo series finales and sporting playoffs.

after finishing the book i did some research and discovered two interesting things about this book. first, it is one of the most popular and controversial autobiographies ever written. it is said to be the case because it is not entirely accurate and sloppily written. this is simply another way of saying not all people feel franklin was the first true american many deem him to be. the second curiosity about the book is the manner in which it was constructed. as mentioned, the work is divided into four parts. the first part, which was around 80 pages long, was written by franklin while on a weeklong solitary, holiday from his work. the purpose behind the effort was to record his life to pass onto his son at some later date. the second part talks about his methods of time management and self improvement. it is short but has to be one of the most compelling pieces of thought penned in early america. the third part was drafted in response to people who had seen the first part through various and curious means and urged franklin to continue documenting his life for future minds to learn from. it is said that the work less compelling here because the first few sections were personal and innocent in nature and starting in the third section, his writing became pedantic and boastful. if this was the case, and i didn't greatly sense it, the writing is still charged and of interest. and lastly the final part of his work which was his last effort to complete the story was just a few pages in length as he died before his thoughts could be completed.

regardless of people's thoughts and criticisms of this work, benjamin franklin's autobiography is an inspired piece of literature penned by an inspired individual which should leave you feeling ten kinds of inspired to do more with your days.
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A Man in Full
Tom Wolfe

a person once said to me that if someone described the act of playing a piano to them, and they had never seen anyone do it, they would have said such a thing was not humanly possible. i agreed with them and it also voices how i feel about the writing of tom wolfe, and others like him. i just don't understand how he is able to write from the intimate perspective of so many people, so many races, so many generations, backgrounds, agendas, perspectives. and to do so so entirely believably. it's wholly unreasonable to my mind because i've always been taught and told to write about what you know, from your experience and there's just no way this man has this experience or this insight. it's ten kinds of crazy which makes his efforts twenty kinds of enjoyable. this sprawling narrative is surely no exception.

one curiosity about this book is some of the oft-repeated phrases used throughout. there are two in particular that stand out for me even now. one was "big-breasted lawns" which there seem to be many of in the more affluent parts of atlanta. and the other phrase was "shank to flank" which i must confess to being not entirely sure what it means, but it does have a way of rolling off the tongue in a mischievous and decadent way.
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson

this book is surely tearing up the recreational reading circuit and once you get into the story you'll quickly see why. while not stylistically as clean and polished as a dan brown work, there is a certain ikea-like mood set in the tale and one that keeps you briskly working deeper and deeper in until you suddenly find yourself at the end.

if the author has a predominate quirk, it is this: he has some hangup or fetish for technology and includes details in a manner i can't believe his or any editor would let through. for instance, at one point in the story a character loses a computer and needs a replacement. the subsequent passage read:

Unsurprisingly she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 Ghz in an aluminum case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive. It had BlueTooth and built-in CD and DVD burners.

Best of all it had the first 17-inch screen in the laptop world wth NVIDIA graphics and a resolution of 1440x900 pixels, which shook the PC advocates and outranked everything else on the market.

with the state of modern technology, this stuff will sound impressive or relevant for about four months. hell, the machine was probably dated by the time the book went to the printers. to what advantage is this level of inconsequential detail allowed to be included? if you wanted to impress that the girl liked high end stuff wouldn't you be better served saying something like, she replaced her lost machine with the apple's latest release which would have made any technology minded person under the age of 25 drool with covetous envy.

altivec. powerpc. nvidia. bluetooth. 1440x900. 7451. 960mb ram.

i don't get it. at all. including such detail is only going to make the work prematurely date itself.

fact is when i sat down to write this review and thought back to this prose, i found the above passage in the 600 page text in less than two minutes because i remembered exactly where it fell on the page (next to the last paragraph in the bottom, left corner) given how befuddled i was by its inclusion.

oh well. aside from larsson's juvenile attraction for technology specs, the girl with the dragon tattoo is a nice winding ride with a more than enough attention-getting dips in the road along the way.
link to this review

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