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 2018


The Other 8 Hours
Robert Pagliarini

a few choice passages:
Your day doesn't start when you crawl our of bed. Your day—and even your life—doesn't really start until 5:00 PM. What you've done with your time after 5:00 PM last week, last month, and last year has determined where you are today. How you use the other 8 hours today, tomorrow, and next year will determine your future—they are your only hope to radically improve your life. The 8 hours you sleep are lost. The 8 ours you sell for a paycheck are gone. What you have—really, all you have—are the other 8 hours. Life not only happens in those other 8 hours, but life is the other 8 hours.

Where you work, the size of your paycheck, the amount of debt you have, what you weigh, the number of people you can count on to help you in an emergency ... the relationship you have with your spouse and children, and just about everything else that is meaningful to you is the result of how you've used the other 8 hours.
Tme has no conscience, and the other 8 hours are indifferent. They can be invested or wasted. The other 8 hours can improve every aspect of your life, but you must do something valuable with them. If you wast the other 8 hours, they can't help you. The clock ticks. Seconds, minutes, and hours pass, regardless of what you do. Your finances, your job responsibilities, your relationship with your parents or spouse, your health, and even your quality of life and level of happiness are either getting better or getting worse. Life and all of the things in it are moving forward, progressing and advancing or falling behind, stagnating, and dying. Is your net worth growing or shrinking? Are you moving up in the company or down? Are you getting closer to your boyfriend or moving farther away from him? Are you getting into shape or losing he battle of the bulge?
There are few things in life as special as someone what wants to improve his life and overcome challenges. Unfortunately, there are few people in life who are willing to change. Too often we see the potential in others that they do not see in themselves. We spend years trying to get them to recognize their own potential. We spend more time and energy trying to get them to change than we do trying to improve our own lives. Of course, it usually ends in frustration and defeat. It reminds me of a saying a friend of mine who has battled alcoholism her whole life told me once. AA is for people who want it, not for those who need it.
The Buddhist believe in reincarnation. We die and come back—each time trying to have a more perfect life until we reach the ideal state of nirvana. I don't think we have to die in order to start over. Each day is another opportunity to get it right and to create a better, more perfect life.

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When the Game Stands Tall
Neil Hays

favorite passages:
We're not asking you to be perfect on every play. What we're asking you is to give a perfect effort on every play from snap to whistle.
Walsh taped newspaper articles above his bed heralding Pittsburg's upset victory the year before. Every night for a year he heard those articles rustling in the breeze from the ceiling fan. It made it hard to sleep but he wanted to remind himself of that loss every night before he went to bed.

He told his teammates this story during the meeting the night before the rematch with Pittsburg in the 1992 NCS championship game, and it has been passed down ever since.

"Patrick Walsh is the most passionate person I have ever met, and he was able to channel that tremendous passion into high school football like nobody I've ever seen," says Tyler Scott, a senior wide receiver on the 1991 team that lost to Pittsburg.

It wasn't until after the Spartans defeated the Pirates 41-6 the following day that Walsh took the articles down and slept peacefully.

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Gone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell

favorite passages:
Gerald's voice was strangely quiet and he spoke slowly as if drawing his words from a store of thought seldom used.
Ellen's life was not easy, nor was it happy, but she did not expect life to be easy, and, if it was not happy, that was woman's lot. It was a man's world, and she accepted it as such. The man owned the property, and the woman managed it. The man took the credit for the management, and the woman praised his cleverness. The man roared like a bull when a splinter was in his finger, and the woman muffled the moans of childbirth, lest she disturb him. Men were rough of speech and often drunk. Women ignored the lapses of speech and put the drunkards to bed without bitter words. Men were rude and outspoken, women were always kind, gracious, and forgiving.
She lay in the silvery shadows with courage rising and made the plans that a sixteen-year-old makes when life has been so pleasant that defeat is an impossibility and a pretty dress and a clear complexion are weapons to vanquish fate.
"Child, it's a very bad thing for a woman to face the worst that can happen to her, because after she's faced the worst she can't ever really fear anything again. And it's very bad for a woman not to be afraid of something. You think I don't undertand what you've told me—what you've been through? Well, I understand very well. When I was about your age I was in the Creek uprising, right after the Fort Mims massacre—yes," she said in a far-away voice, "just about you age for that was fifty-odd year ago. And I managed to get into the bushes and hide and I lay there and saw our house burn and I saw the Indians scalp my brothers and siters. And I could only lie there and pray that the light of the flames wouldn't show up my hiding place. And they dragged Mother out an killed her about twenty feet from where I was lying. And scalped her too. And ever so often on Indian would go back to her and sink his tommyhawk into her skull again. I—I was my mother's pet and I lay there and saw it all. And in the morning I set out for the nearest settlement and it was thirty miles away. It took me three days to get there, through the swamps and the Indians, and afterward they thought I'd lose my mind....That's where I met Dr. Fontaine. He looked after me .... Ah well, that's been fifty years ago, as I said, and since that time I've never been afraid of anything or anybody because I'd known the worst that could happen to me. And that lack of fear has gotten me into a lot of trouble and cost me a lot of happiness.

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On the Shortness of Life

favorite passages:

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Man's Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl

favorite passages:
I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or ... a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.
Thus, the transitoriness of our existence in no way makes it meaningless. But it does constitute our responsibleness; for everything hinges upon our realizing the essentially transitory possibilities. Man constantly makes his choice concerning the mass of present potentialities; which of these will be condemned to nonbeing and which will be actualized? Which choice will be made an actuality once and forever, an immortal "footprint in the sands of time"? At any moment, man decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.
The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which eh daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? "No thank you," he will think. "Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most prod, though these are the things which cannot inspire envy.
To the European, it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to "be happy." But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to "be happy." Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation.

This need for a reason is similar in another specifically human phenomenon—laughter. If you want anyone to laugh you have to provide him with a reason, e.g., you have to tell him a joke. In no way is it possible to evoke real laughter by urging him, or having him urge himself, to laugh.
... there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past—the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized—and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

i have a small problem here in that in looking back through the book and my notes, i'd need to transcribe a quarter of the book to this page to share what i found noteworthy. assuming we can all agree the economy of that approach is not ideal, i'll share just a few and suggest if you find them compelling, you get the book, which will surely cause you to glance about the world, and how you interpret that which unfolds before you, a touch differently.
How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from living, ultimately depend directly on how the mind filters and interprets everyday experiences. Wether we are happy depends on inner harmony, not on the controls we are able to exert over the great forces of the universe.
A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening "outside," just by changing the contents of consciousness. We all know individuals who can transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome, just through the force of their personalities. This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others, and justly so; it is probably the most important trait not only for succeeding in life, but for enjoying it as well.
Because attention determines what will or will not appear in consciousness, and because it is also required to make any other mental events—such as remembering, thinking, feeling, and making decisions—happen there, it is useful to think of it as psychic energy. Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we invest this energy. Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it. And it is an energy under our control, to do with as we please; hence, attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.

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The Three Musketeers
Alexandre Dumas

favorite passage:
As he said, he was ready to go to the end of the earth in quest of her; but the earth being round has very many ends, so he knew not which way to turn.

link to this review


Never Too Late to Bre Great (The Power of Thinking Long)
Tom Butler-Bowden

favorite passages:
You can't measure success in a year or two. Speculating on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis is fraught with uncertainty and dangers, but someone who takes a long-term view invariably does well.

Take the long view of your life, career or business, and much worry and angst is removed from the equation. You may be no better than someone else at what you do at the outset, but if you let time and experience play its part, and have a willingness to build these into the 'product' that you offer the world (whether this is a thing, a service, or you yourself), you will set yourself apart from your peers.

Fashions come and go, but quality and originality are always recognized. Don't despair if you feel like a lone voice in the wilderness, or if people see what you do as being out of setp with the times. Consider this radical idea: you do not have to depend on 'the times' for your success. Rather, by sticking to your guns, by being faithful to who you are and what you do, the times can be shaped by you.

The passing of time has a way of revealing truth. It lifts up to recognition those who stick to their guns, even when they face lack of recognition or opposition. It also puts in their proper place people who once seemed invincible and ubiquitous, and whose true merits can not be properly judged. It is never enough to be excellent or even extraordinary in terms of talents, technical skills or ability to motivate and command people. For a person to reach his or her potential, there must be a certain amount of self-reflection and willingness to correct character flaws or rackets. Self-reflection may not be compatible with the go-getting nature of fast success, but it is compatible with real, slow-cooked success.

Whether or not you accept the theories surrounding mid-life, it is difficult to argue that having spent four decades on the planet has no effect in terms of the ripening of personal character and skills, or the execution of successful ideas. By forty, we usually know what we are good at, but we may be more open to changing our ways if it leads to greater success. By this age we know the value of persistence, but are wise enough to keep experimenting in order to find 'what works'. Finally whatever pressures we felt when younger to conform to expectations or peers, teachers or parents, we are not our own person.

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How Children Succeed
Paul Tough

favorite passages:
As Karen Fierst observed, most Riverdale students can see before them a clear path to a certain type of success. They'll go to college, they'll graduate, they'll get well-paying jobs—and if they fall along the way, their families will almost certainly catch them, often well into their twenties or even thirties if necessary. But despite these students' many advantages, Randolph isn't convinced that the education they are currently receiving at Riverdale or the support they are receiving at home will provide them with the skills to negotiate the path to the deeper success that Seligman and Peterson hold up as the ultimate product of good character: a happy, meaningful, productive life. Randolph wants his students to succeed, of course—it's just that he believes that in order for them to do so, they first need to learn how to fail.

When Duckworth talks about character, as she did that day at the KIPP workshop, she often cites William James, the American philosopher and psychologist, who wrote that the traits we call virtues are no more and no less than simple habits. "Habit and character are essentially the same thing," Duckworth explained to the KIPP teachers. "It's not like some kids are good and some kids are bad. Some kids have good habits and some kids have bad habits. Kids understand it when you put it that way, because they know that habits might be hard to change, but they're not impossible to change. William James says our nervous systems are like a sheet of paper. You fold it over and over and over again, and pretty soon it has a crease. And I think that's what you at KIPP are doing. When your students leave KIPP, you want to make sure they have the kind of creases that will lead them to success later on."

According to Duckworth, conscientious people don't go around consciously deciding to act virtuously all the time. They've just made it their default response to do the "good" thing, meaning the more socially acceptable or long-term-benefit-enhancing option. In any given situation, the most conscientious path is not always the smartest option. On Carmit Segal's coding speed test, for example, the students who scored highest worked really hard at a really boring task and got nothing in return. One word for that behavior is conscientious. Another is foolish. But in the long run, it serves most people well to have conscientiousness be their default option. Because when it does matter—when you have to study for a final exam or show up on time for a job interview or decide whether to yield to temptation and cheat on your wife—then you will probably make the right choice, and you won't have to exert yourself and exhaust yourself in order to do so.

Recently, two labor economists at the University of California, Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks, analyzed surveys of time use by college students from the 1920s through the present. They found that in 1961 the average full-time college student spent twenty-four hours a week studying outside of the classroom. By 1981, that had fallen to twenty hours a week, and in 2003, it was down to fourteen hours a week, not much more than half of what it had been forty years earlier. This phenomenon transcended boundaries: "Study time fell for students from all demographic subgroups," Babcock and Marks wrote, "for students who worked and those who did not, within every major, and at four-year colleges of every type, degree structure, and level of selectivity." And where did all those extra hours go? To socializing and recreation, mostly. A separate study of 6,300 undergraduates at the University of California found that students today spend fewer than thirteen hours a week studying, while they spend twelve hours hanging out with friends, fourteen hours consuming entertainment and pursuing various hobbies, eleven hours using "computers for fun," and six hours exercising.

link to this review


The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Deepak Chopra

favorite passage:
Not only is the human nervous system capable of becoming aware of the information and energy of its own quantum field, but because human consciousness is infinitely flexible through this wonderful nervous system, you are able to consciously change the informational content that gives rise to your physical body. You can consciously change the energy and informational content of your own quantum mechanical body, and therefore influence the energy and informational content of your extended body—your environment, your world—and cause things to manifest in it.

This conscious change is brought about by the two qualities inherent in consciousness: attention and intention. Attention energizes, and intention transforms. Whatever you put you attention on will grow stronger in your life. Whatever you take your attention away from will wither, disintegrate, and disappear. Intention, on the other hand, triggers transformation of energy and information. Intention organizes its own fulfillment.

The quality of intention on the object of attention will orchestrate and infinity of space-time events to bring about the outcome inteded, provided one follows the other spiritual laws of success. This is because intention in the fertile ground of attention has infinite organizing power. Infinite organizing power means the power to organize an infinity of space-time events, all at the same time. We see the expression of this infinite organizing pore in every blade of grass, in every apple blossom, in every cell of our body. We see it in everything that is alive.

In the scheme of nature, everything correlates and connects with everything else. The groundhog comes out of the earth and you know it is going to be spring. Birds begin to migrate in a certain direction at a certain time of the year. Nature is a symphony. And that symphony is being silently orchestrated at the ultimate ground of creation.

The human body is another good example of this symphony. A single cell in the human body is doing about six trillion things per second, and it has to know what every other cell is doing at the same time. The human body can play music, kill germs, make a baby, recite poety, and monitor the movement of stars all at the same time, because the field of infinite correlation is part of its information field.

What is remarkable about the nervous system of the human species is that it can command this infinite organizing power through conscious intent. Intents in the human species is not fixed or locked into a rigid network of energy and information. It has infinite flexibility. In other words, as long as you do not violate the other laws of nature, through your intent you can literally command the laws of nature to fulfill your dreams and desires.

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Notes from No Man's Land
Eula Biss

favorite passage:
I would often wonder, during my time in that town, why, of all the subcultures in the United States that are feared and hated, of all the subcultures that are singled out as morally reprehensible or un-American or criminal, student culture is so pardoned. Illinois home owners propose ordinances against shared housing among immigrants, while their sons are at college sharing one-bedroom apartments with five other boys. Courts send black teenagers to jail for possession of marijuana, while white college kids are sentenced with community service for driving while intoxicated, a considerably more deadly offense. And Evangelicals editorialize about the sexual abominations of consenting adults, while very little is said about the plague of date rapes in college towns.

One reason for all this might involve the sign on Liberty Bank in downtown Iowa City that reads "Welcome Students!" Or perhaps it has more to do with the fact that those of us who own homes, and those of us who write laws, who demand ordinances from the city council, who lead congregations, see students not as Trojan soldiers hiding in the wooden horse of education, but as the quickly dying sparks of our former selves. And so we allow them their romp, believing that beer pong will lose its luster after four years and that these students will graduate, most likely, into a life of harmless drudgery, in which they will cease drinking loudly and begin drinking more quietly, quickly becoming the kind of thick, docile citizens the Midwest expects them to become.

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The Sacket Brand
Louis L'Amour

favorite passage:
As a general run, motives weren't hard to understand there on the frontier. Things were pretty cut and dried, and a body knew where he stood with folks. He knew what his problems were, and the problems of those about him were about the same. A man was too busy trying to stay alive and make some gain, to have time to think much about himself or get his feelings hurt. It seems to me that as soon as a man gets settled down, with meat hung out to smoke and flour in the bin, he starts looking for something to fuss about.

Well, it wasn't that way on the frontier. A man could be just as mean as he was big enough to be; but if he started out to be bad he'd better be big enough or tough enough, if he figured to last. Such folks were usually given time to reach for a gun or they were tucked into a handy noose. I've noticed that the less a man has to worry about getting a living, the more time he has to worry about himself.

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Dan Brown
popular fiction

favorite line:
The decisions of our past are the architects of our future.

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Echoes in the Dark
Joseph Wambaugh

favorite passage:
When Jack Holtz got Bill Bradfield back to the lockup in Harrisburg and took off the handcufs, his prisoner, who'd been as silent as fungus, decided to make life hard for him. Bill Bradfield just dropped down on the floor and lay there on his back.

Jack Holtz said, "If you're gonna act like a baby, I'll treat you like one."

But no baby ever got this treatment. Holtz reached down and grabbed two handfulls of Bill Bradfield's whiskers and curled him straight up until they were nose to nose.

Bill Bradfield gave Jack Holtz the stare, but Jack Holtz stared back and said, "That bullshit only works on intelligent people."

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The Inside of the Cup
Winston Churchill (not that one)
historical best-seller (1913)

favorite passage:
The rector of St. John's realized that a crisis had come in his life, —a crisis he had tried to stave off in vain. And yet there was a period during which he pursued his shrunken duties as though nothing had happened to him; as a man who has been struck in battle keeps on, loath to examine, to acknowledge the gravity of his wound; fearing to, perhaps. Sometimes, as his mind went back to the merciless conflict of his past, his experience at the law school, it was the unchaining of that other man he dreaded, the man he believed himself to have finally subdued. But night and day he was haunted by the sorrowful and reproachful face of Truth.

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The 8-Hour Diet
David Zincencko

favorite passages:
In today's world, control is the ultimate luxury—something all of us crave, but few if any of us really have. Being out of control leads to stress, frustration, and eventually, bad choices. We don't do the things we need to do for ourselves because we can't find the time or the will or we become overtaxed by all the demands on us and wind up doing dumb things—like skipping greens and doubling down on comfort foods. Either way, the more we feel out of control, the harder it becomes to look good, feel good, and truly enjoy life.

Something else happened when I began to eat according to the principles of the 8-hour diet. The food I ate tasted better. I was no longer grazing mindlessly; instead, I was eating mindfully. I focused on choosing food I really wanted to eat and enjoying each meal and snack. It was like going from listening to a scratchy transistor radio to having digital surround sound.

Maybe that's why eating the 8-Hour Diet way has been popular with the great minds of the last many millennia. The scientific evidence for this diet is new, but wiser men than me have been following a similar type of eating for eons. The Big Four of religion—Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad—all practiced and promoted fasting, and chances are they knew a thing or two more than we do. And while I'm not recommending 40 days and nights in the desert, the health benefits of giving your body a longer break between meals are undeniable. Smart people through history from Socrates to Hippocrates to Gandhi, found strength in skipping meals..

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Catching Fire
Suzaane Collins

when bella saw me nearing the end of this book she quaked with excitement. she said there was a great cliff-hanger at the end and i would have to start the next book immediately. to say the least i surprised the girl by not sharing her ravenous review of the conclusion.

and in looking at the last few books i've read, i can easily name this my greatest reading slump in over a decade. not sure what is going on but i need a fix.
link to this review


The Girl Who Played with Fire
Stieg Larsson

this book resembles beavis and butthead in that too much of the style and you feel your brain start to gelatinize with every page turn.

at present, i don't see book three in my future.
link to this review


The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins

this book sat in my to be read stack for many months. bella placed it there along with an unhealthy need that i read it. picking it up and studying it i asked her about the story. she told me. i handed her the book back explaining i wanted nothing to do with a book that pitted children against one another. she pushed the book back towards me and said it wasn't that bad and the story was great and i just had, had, had to read it.

so i read it and it turned out to be less evil than it could have been and more enjoyable than i expected it to be.
link to this review


The Other Wes Moore
Wes Moore

i had to lead a discussion about this book to group of incoming university freshmen (and then later to their parents) as part of a freshman reading program. in this program they find faculty from all over campus to lead the discussions, with around twenty students per group. in introducing myself i explained they drew the short straw in facilitators because faculty tended to approach the conversation based on their subject matter expertise. this meant that elsewhere on campus you has psychologists and political scientists and social workers delving into the complicated issues exposed in this book. i apologized that they got dealt a technology guy to lead their group. but then i quickly added that they lucked out, we all lucked out, because a hobby of mine, my favorite hobby is time and life management, and if you think of this book as a study of life management, or more specifically the management of two lives, with two very different outcomes, the work is endlessly and personally fascinating to someone like me, so they just went from being in the worst discussion group on the campus to the best because i promise no one finds this subject matter more interesting that i did.

and while i'm usually against over-selling something before producing the goods, i felt i had to in this case. thankfully, through a group effort, we had a wonderfully compelling and thought provoking discussion so i didn't have to end the session with an apology as well.

if you're wondering, the parents' session went well too.
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Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain

i don't know that i ever fully read this book when young. some of the early stuff felt vaguely familiar but much did not. while it's a great story i'm left thinking two things. one, i think i enjoyed the descriptions of old america found in main street by lewis more than twains. while this is a great picture of a young man's life and you get some of the peripheral landscape, i felt like lewis drew a deeper picture of the whole world your were peering into. secondly, based on some small examples of heard about, i think i might enjoy twain's personal writing and letters more than his novels. i will get to verify this shortly as his autobiography is on my shortlist.
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The Streets of Laredo
Larry McMurtry

i can't tell you how bummed i was to learn that lonesome dove was the third book in a series (only after i read it). this is book four. given that its the wind-down of the series it comes with a touch of sadness, but it's still quite great (and a great wind-down to a four book series).

i'm eager to crack the first two books as i'm definitely left wanting more of the interesting characters McMurtry dreamed up here.
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It's Easier Than You Think
Sylvia Boorstein

an amazingly accessible introduction into the buddhist way of thought. a truly lovely piece of work that i'd recommend to any wondering about the buddhist approach to life and the many bumps you'll sense along the way.
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Akira (Volumes 1-6)
Katsuhiro Otomo

I'm by no means a graphic novel guy, but in the name of experience, i like to give all sorts of storytelling a shot. this was touted to me by a few souls as one of the best ever comic/manga stories. i picked up the first volume and got pretty sucked into the world. i know the purist say black and white is the way to go but i think i touristy enough to say i would have preferred a colorized version of the comic.
link to this review


The Hamlet: A Novel of the Snopes Family
William Faulkner

anyone who ever aspires to write a novel should never read faulkner. i can't imagine still having the gumption to try after seeing him bend the language.
link to this review


Aging Well
George Vaillant

i've always had mixed feelings about aging. one side of me bristles with the anticipation of untold possibilities. the other side of me trembles with the anxiety of untold possibilities. whether it's finally securing that job you've been chasing or being told something has gone wrong with some needed part of your body, the days in front of us are rife with mystery.

the stories and ruminations found in this book have allowed me to come to better terms with what's ahead. largely due to its emphasis of the importance of the now, and how the now is, obviously, so connected to the future - your future. of course you have to set worrying about possible illnesses and catastrophes to the side (it's not healthy to carry around such hefty luggage you may not need). but there are surely things, many things, that can be done to mitigate some of the bad stuff potentially ahead.

partly through this book and partly through my own discovery, i have found myself becoming more excited about aging (where previously i greatly feared what it had in store). now i'm ravenous for the boons of wisdom that comes from better understanding your mind, your body, your family, your society, your purpose. the only requirement for collecting this reward is a fair bit of reflection and introspection - which so sadly seems to be hypersonically becoming a lost art in our frenetic culture.

in short, we are all going to age. there are things that can be done to improve our chances of making the best of things. it reminds me of the words of Gale Snoats, john goodman's character in raising arizona, when he said, "This'll go hard or easy, H I." it turned out to be true for H.I. McDunnough and it will turn out to be true for us as well.
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I Am Charlotte Simmons
Tom Wolfe

i've long said the female mind, especially the young female mind, let's say younger than twenty-five or thirty (and much longer for sheltered souls), cannot conceive the depravity of the male mind. there have been times where i've said this to girls in the past and they turn to me curious and ask me to enlighten them, or to try to at least. always with a chuckle, i explain i lack both the skills and the confidence to bring them into the know. but here, in tommy wolfe, we've tapped the most capable or appropriate member of the tribe to throw the barn doors open.

wolfe's journalistic style makes him the perfect american male to vivisect our college-age youth. or you could say, he picks up where the most-effective movie Kids left off. i'm glad that wolfe exposes what sorts of nonsense is happening on the other side of the tracks from where Kids drama unfolded because i think many left the theatre with an inflated sense of the them-not-us mindset, and charlotte simmons makes the strong point that that notion is simply not true. in evidence, here's one of wolfe's more succinct bits of work:
By the time they reached the bed, she had somehow managed to unbuckle his belt and undo the top button of his khakis. Like many a man before him, his brain had dropped like a stone into his groin.
socio-economic standing doesn't have a lick to do with that small but absolute male truth.

and i can't tell you how many times i repeated the mandate in my head that i'm going to make bella read this in the months before she leaves for college. there were a few points were i dismissed the notion saying that by then it will be too dated for her. then i re-did the math and realized i'm looking at eight short years and know, sadly, the book will still be perfectly relevant and accessible in that desperately brief span.
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The Cellist of Sarajevo
Steven Galloway

this is not the sort of book i typically read. it is the sort of book book clubs typically read and if i'm anything i'm not a book club sorta fellow (as they usually include more than three people and my comfort level plummets severely when there are more than three folks at the table). how this one fell into my queue, my well-defined and intensely-guarded reading queue, was through an invitation to lead a discussion group for a college freshman reading program. always up for tickling the routine a bit, i quickly accepted the curious invite with the twinge of apprehension we all might feel before walking through an ill-lit, unfamiliar doorway.

before the actual session with the students, the facilitators were invited to a preparatory talk being led by a college english professor. here the book in question would be analyzed, professionally, and possible discussion points raised. i had a feeling i would really enjoy this session having not been part of such a forum since my college days. as for how it went, rarely do you find yourself in situations that immensely outdo your expectations, especially when you expectations are immense. having the opportunity to sit in a room with university professors of all practices (e.g. english, anthropology, architecture, history, music, design) discussing a book with rapt and pointed focus was even better than my school days as back then there were the inevitable tourist in the class that never took the material or college opportunity seriously. this roundtable of interested professionals was the secret wish of all ravenous english dorks and what they/we wished for in every literature class - people who cared about and considered the text deeply, even if differently. this unusual opportunity was surely the perfect storm as each person in attendance had agreed to lead one of the discussion groups and thus had skin in a game. and by skin i literally mean their skin because failing to produce ninety minutes of engaging book-discussion-fodder for their group of students who were experiencing their first ever collegiate-level academic moment would scar everyone in the room good and long.

regarding the work itself, at the surface the book tells a detailed and intimate story of a horrific moment in human history. when you have the luxury of teasing the words and sentences apart with a pair of tweezers (thanks preparatory session) there are hidden rooms and floors of material, material that exposes the astonishing and grotesque sides of humanity and the choices we all have to make to determine what shape and volume our contributions to the buckets of life we touch will be.

man do i miss me a good ole' college english class.
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Game Of Thrones
George Martin

i am a man of regiments and rituals. a few rules related to this review:
  1. i only watch a television show if it has a full season in the can and the next one is underway. reason being i don't like the cliff-hangers typical in season finales. so for an active show, i will watch a whole season in immediate sequence, like on dvd, and at the last show, immediately roll into the next season, just watching enough episodes, usually two to three to resolve the previous season finale's suspense-laced storyline and then i stop. of course, this only applies to shows actively being produced and not ones that are fully run and done).

  2. if i see a movie if being made of a book i want to read i rush to (a) buy the book before it gets its actor-posed movie cover and (b) attempt to read the book before the movie press starts. the rigidity in which i enforce this is proportional to how much i want to read the book. the more i want to read it, the faster i am to act. the reason behind this approach is that (a) i find movie book jackets lame and thoughtless and (b) i don't like having the story's characters pre-defined in my mind's eye. there's only so many personas tom hanks, or leonardo dicaprio, or russel crowe should be allowed to portray.

  3. i try to avoid reading the same author twice in one year. the reason behind this is for authors i super enjoy, i fear exhausting their catalogs too rapidly, thus depleting my ability to experience them anew anymore. while i'm just as inclined to binge as the next person, i force myself to be patient to milk new material as long as possible.

  4. although, my consistency in this wavers (i'm now currently back on track) i attempt to read books in a defined genre-based rotation. this has changed over the years but the current pattern is this.

    POPULAR FICTION (e.g. ken follet, dan brown, john grisham)
    CLASSIC LITERATURE (e.g. alexandre dumas, victor hugo)
    SCI-FI/FANTASY (e.g. isaac asimov, orson scott card)
    MODERN LITERATURE (e.g. upton sinclair, william faulkner)
    INSTRUCTIONAL (e.g. typically recommendation-based)
    CLASSIC LITERATURE (e.g. charles dickens, vladimir nabakov)
    NON-FICTION (e.g. michael lewis, jon krakauer, bill bryson)
    MODERN LITERATURE (e.g. gabriel garcia marquez, theodore dreiser)

    the purpose of this 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 forces my mind to ambulate through.
the above rules are needed for book review because all four of the tenets were challenged by this book. last month i was in north carolina visiting my two best friends. their monikers, curiously, are bookpimp and bookguy, although that is, surprisingly, completely unrelated to this story about books. while visiting bookpimp (as i stayed with them separately) he mentioned this new hbo show he was watching. he said it was rife with unexpected and curious happenings and he found it most entertaining. at his suggestion i watched the first few episodes, three to be exact.

now since it is an active show in the midst of its first season, it was in conflict with rule 1. since the show was unusually good out of the gate, i knew this was going to prove problematic. wanting to see the sort of longevity the show might have i looked into where the story came from and found there was a line of books, five to be exact, fueling the series. in looking into the books, i found the fans of this particular author were nothing less than rabid for his words, calling him a modern-day tolkien. while it gave me hope for the series, it now put it in conflict with rule 2 (even though i didn't know i was breaking rule 2 when i began).

figuring i would take control back and stop the bleeding i stopped watching the show and bought the first book of the series. i made three immediate observations about it:
  1. it was crazily identical to hbo's series. i don't think i've ever seen something translated so perfectly (the next best thing may be the porting of the UK version of the office to the US version of the office - although i still contend that the one you prefer depends on the one you saw first). scenes and dialog are portrayed near verbatim, missing none.

  2. given the convoluted, and often similar, kooky names for things, i would have been lost trying to keep things and places straight. having watched the show i already had faces to names. i was also able to download and print a visual family tree of the players and houses which i kept folded up in the book in the early chapters to help me keep the diorama in check. due to an amazing job of casting done by the hbo team, having faces pre-stamped to names was surprisingly not annoying and allowed me to easily lose myself the story being told instead of fighting the fantastical language.

  3. the story was masterfully good. and i tore through it's 900 pages at a surprising clip. as i got near the end and the storyline was popping in multiple threads i lamented to marty how i was sad it was ending. surprised, she said i thought it was a series. i said it was but referred her to rules 3 and 4. without hesitation and with a great judgmental inflection she said, "i suggest you live a little troy and read that second book. i mean, go wild. tear it up. they'll never see you coming."
and you know what i did. i got wild and read that second book. well i got wild and started that second book at least. and like when i watch television shows, i got through the cliff-hangers, and once i did i lost my cavalier spirit and reason returned. i put a bookmark in book two at page 150 and returned it to the shelf, trading it for the next one in my scheduled rotation, a tom wolfe selection and one i've been anticipating since i read his last (there's that bristling newness i work to protect).

so in short, this book was entertaining enough to make someone as regimented as myself leave the comfort of my well-defined and hard-held routines to taste just a little more. 150 pages more to be exact. and i'm confident the rest of book two, scheduled to come up in rotation sometime in 2012, is not going to disappoint.
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The Winter of Our Discontent
John Steinbeck

my neighborhood saw some recent strife. an older neighbor in regard to the trouble asked me in passing if i had read steinbeck's winter of our discontent. when i said i hadn't, he simply replied with an "oh". when i asked why he asked, he said "no reason". given he's an overly curious fellow to me, i figured it was worth discovering the reason.

now having read the work, i see the neighbor's point. but more relevant to how this work spoke to my community woes is how it's been too long since i've read something by this man. holy crap is he a bender of words. and, when he truly hits his stride (because, of course, not all sentences are equal) the culmination nears ridiculous unbelievability.

in case you fear i have whimsical or exaggerated memories of the read, you should first know better (smile) and second know that i have tangible proof of my claim. the evidence comes from a practice i have of marking books up when i read. this marking up involves highlighting and flagging and coding any passages that strike my as unusual or special. one of my most pedestrian coding conventions involves simply flagging a sentence or paragraph in the margin with a sweep of the pen noting the start and stop point of the noteworthy bit. if the marked passage employs an extra tasty use of the language, i add a star to the block and then dog-ear the page so i can re-visit the best parts of a book in the future. when you look at this particular book from the side when closed, there are so many folded corners it looks like there was a problem at the printers. that small nuance is how i know this bit of writing is something special.
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Lonesome Dove
Larry McMurtry

"what they lived we dream..." this is what was written on the back jacket of my copy of this book. a more apt description could not be penned. i am completely dumbfounded by the comprehensive richness an author like this is able to achieve. speaking from the intimate perspective of ten to twenty characters effortlessly. young-old, male-female, civilized-insane. such ability is absolutely mind-boggling. as such, this sprawling tale is wildly entertaining.

i am anxious for my next mcmurty which will have to be the works sequel, the streets of laredo, but when i look at his others efforts, terms of endearment and last picture show, i'm eager for those as well. mcmurty only came on my radar after hearing an interview with robert duvall. he was asked, excluding the godfather, what was his favorite movie project he was ever involved in. with zero hesitation he said it was without a doubt and by far lonesome dove. i myself hadn't even known there was a lonesome dove movie or that bobby duvall, of all possible people, was even in it. hence the selection. that said, i'm a little bummed that i still won't be able to watch the movie as i don't want it to soil my images of the characters (i still don't even know who duvall portrays - and don't bother emailing me because i like it that way). add to this i never read the same author twice in the same year (i do believe aasimov is the only exception to that but his pieces are so short and sooooo enticing, this should be forgivable) that i now have to wait until next year to even begin laredo and then i have to finish it before i can watch the film.

also, this book gets many extra points with me as it was the first book that was able to engage and hold me after my mother's death. i tried over ten other books but none of them were up to it so i give a deserved bonus mark of recognition here.
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The Happiness Prescription
Deepak Chopra

for me reading books on happiness could qualify as a pastime of mine given the number of them i've gone through. anymore it is an exercise in comprehensiveness than true searching. that said, this one delivered a right jab to my temple that left me dazed. it happened straight away, in the author's forward. here the author explained how the happiness paradigm typically works, by western standards at least: you do good things, people reward you (in various ways) for your good things, you feel better about yourself. easy, cheesy. this is known as the basic ego-driven system. immediately after describing this familiar format, the author says it is has been proven that this model is flawed, very flawed. he goes on to explain that in eastern teachings, for thousands of years, the following five things have been widely understood to be the greatest fears of mankind and thus, the most prevalent obstacles to one's happiness.
  1. not knowing your true identity
  2. clinging to the idea of permanence in a world that is inherently impermanent
  3. fear of change
  4. identifying with the socially induced hallucination called the ego
  5. fear of death.
i've never read five lines of anything, even that i myself have written, that seemed to more succinctly describe me. "fear of change" ... "socially induced hallucination called the ego!" ... "fear of death". the words haphazardly tumbled through my head as i repeatedly read the section. needless to say i tore through the remainder of this short book with a rapaciousness i reserve for few things. in the end do you know what i found? i found that mr chopra didn't answer a single one of the five introductory points. #*&!$@ !!!

a week after finishing the book i saw the woman who referred it to me. she asked how i liked it. i said #*&!$@ !!! again. i raged. it picked at five predominately suppressed scabs. it cited them as being the problem. and then it didn't give answers to a single, damn one of them. that's how it went. terrible. horrible. she looked at me with a calm and understanding face. she all but put her hand on my arm and said, "he does answer the points troy, you're just not hearing the answer. you might not be ready." might not be ready? what kind of obi-wan nonsense it that? i explained that i give whole parts of my day, of my life, for years, in trying to better understand these matters. there's no way i'm not ready. she then said the problem is often that the ego-based paradigm is too ingrained in our thought to grasp some of the new notions. great. by many standards, i've done ok using this ego-based system. this system that has now been called, by at least one, a socially manufactured facade. #*&!$@ !!!

while i'm a tad pissed about all this, i'm still convicted to getting my arms around these concepts, to at least have a reasonable grasp at what he says is the fix. to this end, i'm re-reading the book. although to call what i'm doing reading would not be accurate. what i'm doing is studying the text one paragraph at a time. i assure you there are serious scholars who have treated the torah less seriously than i'm treating this short but dense book.

#*&!$@ !!!

read at your own peril.

#*&!$@ !!!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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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Lords of Discipline
Pat Conroy

rare is a work which possesses such beauty and abjectness all at once. its akin to asking a great chef to prepare a meal that both delights and engages one's gag reflex simultaneously. yet here it is. a tale about one of our country's storied relics, one that has thus far refused to relent. it's almost as if you can see its fingers straining on the ship's railing, hanging on, constantly re-adjusting its grasp. conroy does much in Lords to dance between the lines of ardor and disgust and in doing so does much to reveal the societal schizophrenia we possess to explain and justify such hangers-on as this.

regardless of your position on the matter, this is an entrancing story with plenty of darkened corners. possibly one of the more remarkable facets of the effort is his ability to wrap things up so clean and neat at the end, just like the military shirt tucks mentioned throughout.
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Upton Sinclair

The road ran, smooth and flawless, precisely fourteen feet wide, the edges trimmed as if by shears, a ribbon of grey concrete, rolled out over the valley by a giant hand. The ground went in long waves, a slow ascent and then a sudden dip; you climbed, and went swiftly over - but you had no fear, for you knew the magic ribbon would be there, clear of obstructions, unmarred by bump or scar, waiting the passage of inflated rubber wheels revolving seven times a second. The cold wind of morning whistled by, a storm of motion, a humming and roaring with ever-shifting overtones; but you sat snug behind a tilted wind-shield, which slid the gale up over your head. Sometimes you liked to put your hand up and feel the cold impact; sometimes you would peer around the side of the shield, and let the torrent hit your forehead, and toss you hair about. But for the most part you sat silent and dignified - because that was Dad's way, and Dad's way constituted the ethics of motoring.

this was the first paragraph of a 548 page novel. they have yet to make the film that can come close to conveying the deep and vast imagery of a gifted writer.
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Switch Bitch
Roald Dahl

twisted erotica is a tough combination to beat.
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Jeff Smith

there's a comic book store near my house which i step into every now and again. i went in one time looking for something bella and i could read together. bella was close to reading on her own and i thought reading a good comic together might stimulate her interest and learning. a clerk directed me to the BONE series. i picked up the first few books in the series and took them home to bella. we read a chapter or two over a couple of days and then while i was sleeping or at work, can't recall which, bella learned how to read on her own. it wasn't at all how i imagined it. i expected it to be a gradual and pain-staking experience but for her it just sort of clicked and one minute she couldn't read and the next she could. as for my BONE experiment she left me in the dust and after a few more days asked if there were more of them.

it wasn't until i was stuck recovering in bed for two weeks that i got to revisit the series but instead of reading them with bella i read them with alex. there are nine books in all and it is available in one 1,300+ page collection. there aren't many long tomes such as this that can be enjoyed from start to end by kids and parents alike but this one hit many of the marks and i'm glad it found its way into our home.
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The Golden Compass
Phillip Pullman

the best thing about this story is something someone informed me when they saw me reading it. they said that christian zealots were protesting this book. i looked at the cover making sure we were talking about the same text and asked if they were mistaken. nope. they were sure they were right. i can't even imagine what would happen if these religionist actually read more. i think they'd have a full coronary if they knew literature existed that was more chilling and threatening than harry potter and other selections from borders' best-seller cardboard stand.

as for this though, i thought it was big fun. and given that the star of the saga is a young girl, i'm excited for when bella will read it because the daring and chippy heroine will surely thrill my daughter's young mind. the curiously tweaked world in compass is mysterious and magical, reminding me of myst island more than anything else. the story is fast and flowing, ending with a near-literal cliff-hanger. great and fluffy stuff.
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The Blind Side
Michael Lewis

if bissinger's friday night lights was thought to expose some of our country's social ills regarding america's obsession with football, this book took those same ills, placed them under the petri dish and vivisected them with wicked anatomical detail. we have some complex and messy issues floating around out there and i'm no less guilty than most i know and find myself plenty conflicted by the implications of this story, as touching and vile as it is.

fortunately, the timing of this read couldn't have been better in that i'm sure i'll be feeling better by the time the pigskin starts flying through the air again.
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Pillars of the Earth
Ken Follett

without knowing the genesis that brought this book to life, it's easy to see it was not just another deliverable owed to a publisher by an established author, but a true work of ardor and interest. follet bled these characters. and aside from some godfather III like political complexities towards the end, this novel from the first sentence to the last proves to be as wrenching and entertaining a story as ever told. and as a storytelling effort rivals the works of gabriel garcia marquez and alexandre dumas. simply one of the best.
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10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management
Hyrum Smith

i first read this book eight years ago. it was referred to me by a colleague after i was complaining about my poor time management skills. on his recommendation, i got it and read the chapters dealing with time management (trying to be time-thrifty and all). i employed the techniques described, saw some gains but after a year still felt i wasn't achieving much. i returned to the text and re-read those initial chapters making sure i wasn't missing something. this time i continued reading and found that the real meat was actually not in the pages i first read, but all around them.

time management in itself is quite trivial. franklin quest (a company that this author is one of the founders of) has shown the world that effective time management has two simple steps:
step 1. if you have something to do, write it down.
step 2. if you have written something down, do it.
franklin quest, through their franklin planners, has made scillions of dollars on those two simple tenets. but what i learned in my second reading of hyrum's book is that yes, getting more done with your time is simple, but it is what you choose to do in that time that is the hard yet infinitely important part.

this book is responsible for the state of my marriage. this book is responsible for the state of my career. this book is responsible for the relationship i have with my children. without this book all of these things would obviously still exist, they would just be much less than they are, on all counts. there are many books out there that deal in these matters. i've read others like it but they haven't spoken to me as this one has. for this reason, i have re-read this book at the beginning of each year for eight years now. each time i walk away re-committed. i also walk away realizing how fluid life is. every year i have to tune and refine how i operate because my life is never the same two years in a row, especially now with children underfoot.

i'm not entirely sure why i have never included this on this list. i guess because it is quite different than the other works cited here. but 2007 was a tumultuous year and spending time in this book was therapeutic beyond words so i reckon hyrum has certainly earned a spot here for his role in my world. so i thank hyrum for divining it and i thank chris for leading me to it.
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The Human Stain
Phillip Roth

coming into this the one thing, the only thing, i expected was that it would not be as good as portnoy's complaint, the only other work by this author i have read. i was wrong. it was not only better but quite a bit so. i loved portnoy for it's frankness, its sexual frankness which is the best kind of frankness in my not-humble-enough opinion. the human stain is also frank and also deals in sexuality, but it is more, oh so much more and a consequential sort of more. this book has changed me and i will take its notions with me as i mature and grow as a professional, a parent, an individual and as part of the collective. powerful stuff and so fabulously told.

and, don't see the movie. don't even look at the glossy dvd cover. just read the book. it is/was all that is needed.
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Harry Potter #5
J.K. Rowling

i think my interest in this series waned somewhere between the third and fourth installments. too much redundancy and predictability and not enough meat. perhaps if i could read faster or had more time to give they'd rub me differently, but as it is i need my books to jump off the page and take me places, new places, not places i've already been.
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Friday Night Lights
H.G. Bissinger

i didn't go into this with any agenda but the stories told in here convincingly spoke to my theory about youthful celebrity. it's all bad. ten kinds of bad really. of every core character portrayed, it appears only one was able to make a healthy transition from the fanciful idolatry he experienced in youth to the painstaking anonymity he met later in life. it's painful to take in, truly. and just when you you feel all is hopelessly flawed, the author walks through another door and you see this world from an entirely different perspective, one that shows how all this disfunction actually serves as a curative elixir to part of the population. more than that, it's the only medicine in town. the dynamic here is quite complex and this book does wonders to expose the depth of the paradox in a way that is so very captivating, right to the end. it is simply a spectacular read.
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Intruder in the Dust
William Faulkner

i received one of those email chain letters the other day that contained this dissertation on how great american society was in the 1950's (at least this one focused on that date) and how jacked up today's society is by comparison. you know, the whole to hell in a hand-basket kinda stuff; children minded their parents, addressed elders as sir, loved their country, held the door for ladies, believed in an honest days work, appreciated what they had, respected family values and on and on and on. while i agree with some if not many of their points i'm commonly compelled to respond to the individual who sent it with my own list. mine would be equally simple but list things like; racial lynchings, slumlords, child labor, american indian extermination, slavery, unchecked sexual harassment and on and on and on. instead i think i could recommend this book and others like it. it would be a cleaner, less confrontational way to approach the conversation.

i'm ever astounded reading literature discussing our younger america. knowing that these things happened in this society on this soil by our distant relations really disturbs me. and i don't know if i'm more comforted by the fact that these social ills are no longer so prevalent or more plagued by the fact that it was ever this way to begin with.
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American Gods
Neil Gaiman

it's unfair for anyone to have to follow gabriel garcia marquez. especially when that anyone specializes in graphical novel work.

and to put things right i'm following with faulkner which should drive any loose nails home in my first stroll through gaiman's written world.
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One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

if you could meld the randomness of vonnegut into the descriptiveness of faulkner, you'd have a sense for the style gabrial garcia marquez works in. his manner is both heavy and constant. allowing your mind to wander for even a sentence is asking for narrative discord, in that such a lapse can leave you sitting in the wrong decade or continent, because it is in single disconnected sentences that main characters die, wars begin and incestuous relationships produce offspring. and given the randomness of the presentation it's not like you can anticipate such events because one sprawling paragraph can jump you forward twenty years and then back seven as if all storytellers treat time in this way. and if the erratic timeline doesn't unseat your footing, the exotic naming of characters (Jose Arcadio Buendia, Colonel Aureliano Beundia, Mauricio Babilonia, Santa Sofia de la Piedad) should keep the gears in your mind warm and spinning.

obviously, this is not an easy or leisurely read. you're going to work to experience what is to be had. at least the morsel inside contains a mysterious and whimsical world rife with the unexpected and sometimes unimaginable. should you elect to wiggle this loose from your bookshelf, i suggest getting a few good nights of sleep under your belt as to not be left in the wake marquez's century long adventure creates.
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All the King's Men
Robert Penn Warren

we were all taught in high school english that there are good writers and good storytellers. a defining quality is that a storyteller had to rely on their narrative to be effective and a writer could get by on their use of language alone. never before have i seen a better example of this tenet than with All the King's Men. virtually every facet of the story itself is unremarkable, considerably cliche even. but the manner in which Warren describes these people and events is truly breathtaking. truly.

what compelled me to finally read this was the recently released movie based on the work. i've long been critical of film adaptations of exceptional novels. it's kind of like re-making the mona lisa using legos. it's fine as a wintry weekend time-spoiler but not exactly something you should subject others to. the flaw in this particular treatment is amplified by the fact that this art works because of how it is presented. it doesn't need someone to come in and fix it or re-do it because i can say with one thousand percent certainty, and this without having seen the film, there is no way they are going to improve upon what is already there. although, if your goal in life is to take great things and make them mediocre, plug away hollywood. plug away.
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The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Kate DiCamillo

bella's kindergarten class has a reading program where kids are encouraged to track the amount of time spent reading. when bella gears up to add to her minutes she carefully selects a book, grabs a watch marty loans her for the purpose and hunkers down in her reading spot of choice. once settled she opens the book on her lap, positions her finger on the first word to be read, trains her thumb over the stopwatch's start button and with olympic-like accuracy depresses the button and utters the first word aloud at the very same moment.

bella came to me and said she was tired of reading on her own and asked if i would read to her (which is allowed) i was glad to help. in her hand was a birthday present i had given her, edward tulane. so we sat down, snuggled close and i leafed to the first page of the text. bella asked if i was ready. i said i was. the high tone of the stop watch grabbed my attention and i looked at it in her hand. bella turned to me frantically, "READ FATHER! START READING! READ! THE TIMER'S GOING!". startled i was barely able to mumble a childlike 'huh?'. i heard the high tone of the watch beep again. bella shifted in her seat to look me in the face. "father! i asked if you were ready and you said you were. when i start the clock you have to start reading." oh. sorry. now i understand. she reset the watch and asked, more slowly this time, if i was ready. i positioned my finger on the first word of the page and reported that i was. i heard the high tone sound and i shot out of the blocks with bella-exacting precision. now that i was properly schooled, bella and i moved through the book with routine ease, until late in the story.

tulane is a creative, adventurous yarn that takes an unexpectedly serious turn towards the end. serious to the point that i found my spoken words beginning to crack with emotion. nestled on the couch one sunday morning when bella and i were the only ones yet awake, i found myself fighting back tears as i read the final pages. in lieu of this i started taking long pauses between sentences trying to compose myself. each unnatural silence was met the same "read father. you're not reading. you gotta keep reading. do i need to stop the watch because this time can't count?" unsurprisingly, these repeated scoldings kept my clenching chest in check and allowed me to champion my way through the last moments of this short but touching novel. much of the sentiment was lost on bella, but it certainly hit the mark with her reading partner.

and in case you're wondering why i cared if i cried in front of my five-year old daughter, i don't have an answer. i was just compelled not to.
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Malcom Gladwell

blink is another one of those novels that discusses a facet of human nature most people are acutely aware of, but don't understand; the human brain's ability to process certain pieces of information with blinding, even unreasonable, speed. it is a phenomenon so mysterious that it has historically bordered on the supernatural. but gladwell, through a variety of cases, employs both hard and soft sciences to try to explain and understand what is happening as if he were debunking his very own x-file.

in the end it strikes me as a work not meant to teach you how to do it but instead to appreciate that an identifiable chemistry is at work. in many of the examples used, people don't know how they are able to do what they do and/or often aren't aware it is happening. furthermore, these moments occur at an individual level, like when the right combination of details are put in front of a person with the right combination of education and experience a little spark flashes in the room and left behind is a magic gobstopper, constructed out of thin air and with no intentional planning.

on the suck side, much study has gone into taking commercial advantage of these cerebral reactions, which gladwell dips into, in the name of profit. i always find that side of science quite distasteful. in this case though, i feel it is good to know, even though i'm seemingly impotent to deflect the practices at hand. aside from this one dark matter, the book holds a bevy of entertaining curios.
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The Fourth Hand
John Irving

the fourth hand tracks a character so devoid of redeeming or interesting characteristics one would be pressed to hold a four minute conversation with a real-life version of the guy. aside from the man's noteworthy maiming, this human has no business getting a novel's worth of attention. and he surprisingly proves as uninteresting after his incident as he was before. i mean, the story here is as gripping as reading three hundred pages about an attractive high school quarterback who suffered a knee injury mid-season. as i read, i kept wondering how the inventor of garp, owen meany and the berry family could divine a personality so lacking or more to the point, be satisfied with the flow and outcome of the story.

anyone who has read more than one novel by john irving knows he's a solid maker of curious characters. had someone else written this, maybe, and i stress the 'maybe', i'd garner an ounce of passion for the lead. but i expect more from irving because he is irving. and, i hate to be part of that 'you're only as good as your last set' mentality (because i think it's wholly unreasonable), but such is the way of a medium that requires such a time commitment from its audience.
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The Naked Sun
Isaac Asimov

the worlds/societies asimov divines are breathtaking. couple that with his very simple style of narration and the guy is savant-like in what he does. i mean it's one thing to dream up some previously untapped scenario but it's another to think through so many of the nuances of your vision making the reader walk away with a real sense of familiarity. and everything i've read by him comes off so effortlessly it makes it seem like he's personally visited these worlds. his depth and art of description appear limitless.
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The Paradox of Choice
Barry Schwartz

the topic of this book resembles grammar and time management, we all know the basic workings, we just don't know what all of the doo-hickeys are called, thus making it very much of a head-nodding experience. but while it validates the science behind your actions and encounters, being able to envision the math does not necessarily help the palatability of it all. furthermore, the lengths the work goes to illuminating the various trends and behaviors of individuals seem for naught for the recorded observations are trends and behaviors for quite a good reason; it is who we are. very much of what is discussed here deals in a person's hard-wiring. how do you get someone who roils over a high dollar transaction to not experience angst? the short answer is, you don't. simply, you're either a roiler or you're not a roiler so thank or bad-mouth your folks accordingly for it is they who are responsible.

and curiously i started reading this book at the same time i started looking for a job. for the first few weeks i had no prospects and was miserable. and then an incredible and incredibly viable option presented itself and i was elated. a few weeks after that a second promising offer came up and i was again miserable. having no options sucks and having too many options sucks, in some ways even more, leaving the only blue-sky scenario to having one right and good choice. unfortunately for us folks living in the dollar-whore society that we do, fewer choices just ain't gonna happen. doubt me? go buy a toothbrush. one like you grew up using. then we'll talk.
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Christopher Paolini

i was told this book was written by a twelve year old. i bought it thinking this. i later learned it was not true, although paolini was quite young, impressively young even, starting it at fifteen and completing it at nineteen. since it was already on the shelf i decided to give it a look. it jumps at you right quick. no playing around, no setting the scene. just right to business. while the pace continued fine, it was ultimately and unsurprisingly not able to maintain the initial punch in the face (much like the film star trek VI : the undiscovered country).

i don't read a lot of fantasy. sci-fi, sure. especially recently but not much of the molly-hatchet-cover sorts of stuff. i'd place this into that realm and feel a little unqualified to speak to its effectiveness. additionally, i don't know how much of it was actually unique or innovative for the genre. the closest thing i could liken it to is tolkien's works which seems wholly unfair. but as i think on it, i finished it which, especially as of late, says something in its favor.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
C.S. Lewis

c.s lewis is the anti-tolkien. tolkien could make mowing my lawn into a six-volume series (and my lawn could fit inside my living room). lewis on the other hand could recount the birth and evolution of the universe on a post-it note. his story began:

there is a place called london. they had a war. for protection-sake, the children were sent to the country. four kids went to this one house where one of them opened a door and they found a magical land.

there are seven, perhaps eight more sentences in this novel. i don't want to spoil it for anyone who plans to read it so will stop there.

unfortunately, an inordinate amount of attention is given to the biblical aspects of this work. it is not necessary to track these details to enjoy the narrative. i know this to be fact because i thoroughly enjoyed this adventure.
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Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Gregory Maguire

first off, i didn't finish reading this book. it's not that i wasn't enjoying it, it was just a hectic month (cough ... everyman). combine that with marty and i had choice seats to the musical version of this work thanksgiving-eve and i feel there's little point in continuing the book now that i know the outcome. therefore, this review will consider what i did read, my feelings on the theatrical rendition and marty's observations regarding the two.

the text was obviously more involved and did a fantastic job of extending the world of oz. of what i did read i'd say it was respectfully and believably treated with an appropriate, if not expected, mix of mystery and uniquity to move you forward. the stage production deviated from the plot-line significantly but in doing so amped up the humor and suspense. for the show, i took my seat expecting little for those who weren't oz-groupies. at its conclusion, i left the theater trying to enumerate the great complexities of the narrative. in several respects i'd liken it to the latest star wars film which chronicled the true birth of vader. and while she was no sith lord, i imagine Elpheba is somewhere on the radar of super-villans. and efforts such as wicked and episode three will collectively move us to appreciate that things just aren't always as they seem. wicked was outstanding and based on marty's comments, possibly superior to the book.

in a quasi-related aside. the first time marty played the wicked soundtrack on our downstairs radio, the witch's cackle sent alex into hysterics. since then anytime someone turns that stereo on, regardless of what it's tuned to, alex totally, completely and utterly comes unglued. so, with this new neurosis in our home, is anyone in the market for an absolutely stunning henry kloss model two? if so, i suggest you do what i did and go buy one because alex's limbs would have to start flying across the room messing up my painted walls before i parted with mine.
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Assassination Vacation
Sarah Vowell

sarah vowell covets space and time. this is the tile he was shot on. this is the same bumpy road his wagon descended on that fateful night. this is a piece of the bullet that took his life. this is the program he was holding which, if you look close, you can see a drop of his blood. and, in case you can't see the blood, there's a chunk of his skull in this glass display.

i get this. totally. a similar proclivity explains why i can't live in the town i grew up in. i can barely visit the place. at every intersection, every converted building, every twenty year old eatery my mind projects a frenetic slide show of sound and imagery flooding my brain's narrow neural avenues. fortunately, vowell's subject matter actually rates discussion in that she addresses moments of national and social consequence where my thoughts focus on the globally insignificant.

in our days we race, dash, and bounce off one another spending our minutes in mostly meaningless events en route to other, different, meaningless events without stopping to reflect on significant things that are and have happened around us, like there is no value in it, no point. i guess for many this is the case, but for those who treat now and then more spiritually, vowell's product of obsession reads as a passionate homage to that which is there, but simply overlooked and under-noticed.
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The Sandman, Nocturnes and Preludes
Neil Gaiman

i don't fully know the genesis of how this story came to be but it is one fantastical and interestingly told yarn. in being introduced to some of the more mature pieces of this genre, i'm definitely seeing the great potential many already know it to have.

i have some additional thoughts about the coolness of this medium but am having trouble verbalizing them, coherently at least, right now. so as to not embarrass myself, i think i won't try.
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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
Mark Haddon

beavis and butthead went from being a short to a show to a movie. it was exquisite as a short, acceptable as a show and excruciating as a film. curious incident had a little bit of that going on (danger of letting the narrator go on too long) and it almost seems like someone, like an editor or a friend, told him this late in the process because the tent got rolled up on the quick, like he was late for a hard-to-schedule colonic.

and, i will admit to being disappointed the author was not, himself, autistic. the way the book was presented to me, i was given the impression this was the case and sadly it is not. the voice was believable, i just wish it were authentic.
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Caves of Steel
Isaac Asimov

right now, the thought of a robot so realistic the average person can't tell if it is human or not is quite unreasonable. but assuming we don't destroy ourselves with our primitive tools, such elegant ones are surely part of our inevitable course. do you think their introduction into mainstream society will work itself out? to that i say, ever seen a HIRE UNION bumper sticker? we are a people who, even if we have dinner on our own family's table, care who else was able to feed their family that day. i don't have great faith that this is an evolutionary checkpoint that is going to work itself out.

predicting or theorizing how society unfolds through the advance of robotics (or anything else for that matter) is a grand exercise, one asimov handles masterfully. obviously we or even our children's children will not know how close he came but does that really matter? at the turn of the final page, it's about the cerebral gymnastics and serves as the one great advantage fiction does have over fact.

although, one point already straying from his vision; tobacco. in asimov's future, smoking is still very much part of society which, given the last ten or so years, just doesn't seem like a pony you want to put friday's check on. but considering when his stuff was written, it's an easy thing to slip through the cracks and is a testament to how challenging predicting what a society will look like a thousand or even a hundred years from now truly is.
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Under The Banner of Heaven
Jon Krakauer

some scary and disturbing shit goes on in these pages.

with this book, mormonism catapulted itself to the forefront of what i deem to be interesting. that is, the study and discussion of mormon history surpasses circumcision, the evils of walgreens, is homosexuality a choice and the use of abortion as birth control arguments combined. the informational nooks and crannies that make up this spiritual juggernaut are as endless as the nooks and crannies of their ultra-white temples. and, secreted behind any of the curtains, beneath all of the rocks you are reasonably assured of discovering a skeleton as intriguing as anything dan brown has ever put to paper.

granted the most special facet of this thread is that we are talking about a major religion that came into existence AFTER the printing press and modern journalism (although, let's be clear, if CNN existed when joseph came down the hill with his gold plates, the church of the latter day saints would have never gotten out of the blocks). as a historical object, the documented roots of mormonism are as compelling as would be the discovery of a partially evolved human alive and kicking and biting for all they're worth. it is, without doubt, endlessly marvelous.

the core question; are the true foundations of the other world religions equally dubious? it doesn't take long to see that given the difficulties in pinning this nascent faith down, the odds of debunking something thousands of years old just aint' going to happen. however, to the great and public chagrin of the church, their institution can be, and is routinely, placed on the petri dish and vivisected by the world-over.

in their defense, the white men of MORMON.INC are putting up one hell of a fight.
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2 Sisters
Matt Kindt

the pundits say that what separates a great craftsman from their peers is an ability to select the right word, the quintessential detail, the lowest common denominator of any given moment to paint an image to their audience. in the first thirty pages of this graphic novel you are swept from a bath house of the roman empire to the war-torn streets of a 1940's europe. thirty pages! and what's more, in this first thirty pages there's an equal number of words ushering one along this timeline.

the imagery in 2 sisters seizes the reader while the underlying mystery compels them forward. it becomes immediately apparent that kindt has a unique gift for both sides of the page, the artistic rendering as well as the story's composition. in fact, the sophistication of the story makes me rethink my position on the comic genre. for many, the 'funnybook' industry's depth matched the characters it accommodated (think archie and jughead). pieces like 2 sisters, and others like it, will continue to challenge this mainstream consideration.

2 sisters site
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i, Robot
Isaac Asimov

i've always liked works that require the reader to fill in some blanks. robot's collection of short stories could easily serve as a classroom exercise designed to stimulate original thought, drawing small, concise pictures before leaping to another point in time, leaving the reader to bridge the gaps.

while there are holes in the timeline, a certain fluidity exists between the pieces. and instead of coming off as a patchwork with missing squares, this collection presents more like a vast and vivid tapestry with a random series of different-sized circles cut out. overly impressive for a man's second published work.
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Angels and Demons
Dan Brown

i went into this anticipating it to be much less than the davinci code. while davinci possessed a globality that added appeal, this story's more pointed agenda sang from early on. brown is all over this small-chapter, wide-turns style of suspense guiding the reader with great precision.

think of it this way, this book would make a great parent neglect their children to read just ten more pages. so imagine its effects on someone who is as confident in his ability to govern kids as he is to teach a class of 12 year old girls how to use a tampon. the good news is, the book can be read in a matter of days and what self-respecting kid can't do 48 hours in the same diaper.

on a more academic note, i read this while our pope of a scillion years died for real and the catholic players were in the process of selecting the next. you'd win the bonus question if you answered 'troy learned more about the pope in the last week than he ever knew before.' true dat.
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Parenting from the Heart
Jack Pransky

when marty was still teaching high school we met some really impressive young people. there was this one guy i found extra remarkable. after knowing him for awhile marty and i met his parents at a social event. we asked them a number of questions about their philosophies in regard to parenting. they were very open about sharing their personal beliefs with us. one of the more concrete things they mentioned was this book.

there can be no doubt that the tenets discussed in this study are contrary to how either marty or i were raised. they don't feel natural. but then again neither did holding a tennis racket the first time someone showed me the proper way to do it.

and this book affirms a theory i apply to virtually everything; the difference between being mediocre and great at something is a whole lot of dedication, discipline and patience.
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Second Foundation
Isaac Asimov

just as with the second book in this installment, i didn't spend too much time thinking on what was coming next until i sat down and began reading. and again, i was thoroughly intrigued, piqued and anxious once i saw where the tale wound. this trilogy stands as one of the most complete and satisfying series i've ever read.

with some serialized works, i'm left questioning why the author/publisher elected to divide the piece so. the untrusting side of me usually leans towards some form of monetary reward, for them not the reader. but, not in this case. while length and cohesion-wise this book could have snugly fit into a single volume it works so remarkably better broken into distinct chunks as it is. the divisions are mandatory and assist in preparing the reader for the next phase of this journey. amazing.

additionally, i consciously meter how much i'll read of an author, not wanting to OD on a single human or even genre, but i could not be more ravenous for asimov's chili. the reading staff in my brain are already on edge, tapping toes and furrowing brows wondering why management isn't launching headlong into the next asimov-offering. i need them to understand there are reasons, although when the throwing shit and name-calling begins, this administration may be pulling the first of the robot series from the stack. we'll see.
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The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living
Martin Clark

this book was .... funny .... gritty .... twisting .... southern ....

this book was not .... any of the things i thought it would be .... which in the end was good for it, the book.

i'd read more by this guy.
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Foundation and Empire
Isaac Asimov

i didn't contemplate the title or direction of this second novel in the foundation series so when i sat down i wasn't real sure where this story was headed. by page three i was on board and rifling through the pages and chapters as rapidly as my nimble eyes could dart from left to right.

if i could make one book longer than it is, so it wouldn't end so fast, it would be ... well it would be puzo's the godfather. but, if i could make two books longer, the second would be this foundation series. unfortunately, it's brevity is part of why it works. there is no waste. there is no clutter. this trilogy and paris hilton are each operating with about 2% body fat.
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A Very Long Engagement
Sebastian Japrisot

same old war, new kinda story. this book excels in two categories; realistic portrayal of a highly romanticized period of our history and delivering these images in a unique packaging. my wheels were spinning from the start wondering where this narrative was going to wind up. pleasantly, this brain folly continued throughout. kind of an all's quiet on the western front (of erich remarque) meets ten little indians (of agatha christie).

curiously, marty tried reading this after i did and she didn't make past page 50. when asking her about it she likened the narrative to the camera work on most reality tv shows, jerky and unpredictable. to me, lack of predictability is half the reason for reading this book. but, something you should know, marty has only recently decided it's ok to stop reading a book after she's started it. given this, i think she's overexcited at wielding this newfound ability.
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Isaac Asimov

i had a professor once say that an indicator of excpetional science fiction is when the fiction greatly outweighs the science, meaning the story is the key and the science merely adds nuance. asimov wrote with such subtlety if you removed ten percent of the content, the story would be contextually anachronistic. and, this was like the third or fourth novel the dude ever wrote. i think he scored an exceptional high school conselor because he's definitely doing what he should be doing.
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A Short History of Nearly Everything
Bill Bryson

h biggs summed it up best when he said this book gave him a persistent case of the shakes. you see, based on bryson's message, earth's blind date with an astral body (aka planet-killer) isn't a matter of IF but instead WHEN. and, if the debris in space doesn't end us, a homegrown microbe will. think for a moment if AIDS became an airborne virus. then think how many times the dolt you share a copier with at work got you sick this last winter. granted, he talks about a host of other science-related stuff, but like h biggs, i walk away with a pant load of paranoia.

remember, not IF but WHEN.
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Trial (manuscript)
Patrick Tully Dorsey

just about anyone can wire an outlet, change the oil in their car or cook a good omelet. and those who can't can learn how. writing a book is different. sit down and try to write a twenty page story about something. hell, i'll even let you double space it. when you're done with that, give me 500 pages on that or another topic. and please see that it is interesting and that i give some kind of shit about the people in it and for god-sake, see that you don't confuse me with wild ramblings and asides, lucidity is important. no small assignment nor easily learned.

so imagine my admiration when i heard that this guy i know wrote a book. a whole, complete book. this guy is not a novelist. he is not some privileged fella sitting in a vermont cabin pecking away old-style on a metal typewriter. he is a guy who gets up in the morning, drinks a cup of joe, scratches himself in a few spots, grunts at people who talk to him before 10am and yells at traffic when driving home from work. he's just a dude like you or me (insert the female equivalent if you don't have a penis). he's like us except that while you and i were watching episodes of alias and sopranos, he was writing a book.

now about this book. i enjoyed it. i consumed it. i felt privileged to get this early glance at someone's passion before others get the proverbial looksey. now considering all of the above baggage i'm admittedly hoisting, how legitimate are my opinions? if it was written by someone i didn't know, what would i think? if it was written by someone i didn't like, what would i think? fact is, i'm not sure i can answer those questions. while he shops for a publisher, the only feedback i'm certain of is that i surely enjoyed this book written by a guy i know.
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Ender's Shadow
Orson Scott Card

think of how many times you've come to the end of a good book or film and thirsted for more. even though it is not, it cannot be, as intriguing or compelling as its predecessor, ender's shadow is remarkably good. there can be no doubt that card delivers entertainment in this quasi-experimental technique, weaving in and out of the first novel at key points he accentuates the intial work in significant ways.
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Ender's Game
Orson Scott Card

this is not the first time i've read this book and sadly and like some other things it will never be as good and sweet as it was the first time, but that said, it's still crazy good.

for reasons i won't discuss here (in the event you haven't read it), i view this to be a book of import and consequence especially for a young and hopefully impressionable mind. oddly though i struggled over giving this as a gift to a nephew of mine because some of the subject matter, if really poured over and considered, is intense. while i think this science fiction novella is a good exercise for a questioning adolescent, there is a part of me that wonders if it is my place to make that decision for someone else's child and for all the stupid stuff i say on a daily basis, i don't really want to be the guy who pisses off some young person's parents, especially on the matter of literature, because that has the ingredients of being pretty messy.

in the fifteen seconds i just sat here looking at the flashing cursor, i'm going to say i don't know. but i do hope my children read it.
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The Davinci Code
Dan Brown

consider brown's great technique for telling a tale of mystery. next consider his well researched conspiracy angle. then consider that what i like most about this book is what it does to the more spiritually zealous among us and you may be nearing in on what a jerk i am. watching the tailspin these folks fall into at the mere mention of this novel is worth its hardbound expense, and allow me stress the word novel there.

and not that this book is any mystery to anyone at this point, it definitely falls into one of the better quick reads available. at least it was the most ravenouse my wife has been for a book since she stopped reading the laura ingles wilder series.
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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Michael Chabon

luby tells me that it's near prerequisite to know/like/understand comics to enjoy this book.

my breadth of knowledge on comics would not fill the back of a bazooka joe wrapper.
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The Watchmen
Alan Moore / Dave Gibbbons

granted, my exposure to comics is not what it could be but this tight effort redefined what the comic genre is certainly capable of. it was much more concise, involved and intricate than any other i've come across. given its development, watchmen reads more like a novel than a funny picture book, rife with meaningful characters. moore and gibbons crafted a world that was both fantastic but possible in that good sci-fi conjecture based way. and, it's no secret that this is a major objective of the genre, both comic and sciene-fantasy.
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The Fountainhead
Ayn Rand

she doesn't appear in the mla's top 100. she appears twice in radcliffe's, more pedestrian, top 100. and lastly, she not only appears four times in mla's reader's poll, she occupies the top two spots. what more could one ask for in a recommendation.

while it took a little bit for me to embrace the work, after a few hundred pages the story took over and consumed me. don't let the fact that it took me four months to finish it because i took three months off to build a corporate website and have a child. actual invested reading time was just a few weeks for this 800 page monstrosity. i don't know if it would fall in my top five, but it would fall in my top 50, without doubt.

and, it's kind of lucky i stumbled upon her because i've been shopping around for a religion and how can one as self-serving as me turn away from a philosophy which centers on the individual, especially when that individual is me.
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Chuck Palahniuk

"i learned long ago to not go to movies with 'sex' in the title, i'm always disappointed." i should have respected this advice from marty before delving into this book. i was told i'd love it, it's about a sex addict, they said. it's like the book was written for you. this is the beauty of our individuality. when one person hears something, they think one thing, when i hear the very same thing i think something entirely different. this was obviously the case here. don't get me wrong, the book is very good. the subject matter was handled expertly, but you don't call me to the table for a meal like that and dish up a simple porterhouse. i'm expecting a roman like feast of carnality and 2,000 plus pages of it.

again, i enjoyed it, it just fell about 500 adjectives short of what my mind had readied itself for.
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Lake Wobegon Summer 1956
Garrison Keillor

people either seem to hate or love ole garrison. i certainly don't hate him so i must fall more on the love side, although it seems a little strong. not many can argue his ability to tell a story. he's good. i think the burn for many is the connectibility they have with his tales. depending on where and who you are, you may not be able to identify with his yarns and if that's the case, i reckon he could be little bumpy to read.

in summer, garrison deals with one of the age-old issues our society just can't seem to best ... sexual maturation. the agony our young people go through in our culture seems absolutely inane. everyone knows about it, everyone lived it, yet many can't seem to recall their awkward, questioning periods for anything. our elders are fearful of what this means and often times what was ok for them, ain't ok for their youngins'. hopefully works such as this will take us back to when we struggled with this period of our lives so that we may better associate with our children as they venture on this tumultuous and sucky ride.
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The Two Towers
J.R.R. Tolkien

i do not subscribe to some people's rule of finishing books you start. if i don't like a book for any reason, i put it down. i simply have too many books i hope to read to spend time on one that isn't panning out. i have a short list (20) of books stacked in my bedroom that are on the to be read next list and another 100 in my library that have been directed to me in one manner or another. what is unique about this book is that this list is reserved for those that i have finished and even though i did not complete this one, i have something to say.

i read and enjoyed the hobbit. when very young, i tried this subsequent series but it did not hold my attention and i moved on. when i heard the movie was coming out, i decided to give it another try in that i hate how movies ruin any potential enjoyment to be had by reading the (always-better) book it was based on. the first book in this series was ok. at the end i felt it was a pretty long path for a fairly basic story. this second one is even worse. i'm 150 pages into it and these guys haven't done a thing but walk around the country looking for each other. sure, they bump into a curious fellow or two along the way, but that's about it. they prattle on about who they know and where they come from and sing the occasional weird-ass song about what i honestly cannot say because i've learned to skip any longish italicized sections in tolkien's works (studied on their own they may possess merit, but interspersed as they are they simply prolong my agony). in the end i have concluded that if these ax and bow wielding do-gooders had a car this series would not be a trilogy but instead an 80-page novella.
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The Corrections
Jonathan Franzen

i typically only read books that come highly recommended from some source i deem reliable. this was one such book. the danger with this routine is that with adulation comes expectation and when it is not quick to deliver, i am quick to tire. i'm sure in the right time, right place and right frame of mind, it may have caught my rapture a little sooner but as things were, it did not.

that is not to say though that it didn't have some really great moments and phrases and imagery, it's just to say that the book came highly recommended and well we've already covered that.
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A Painted House
John Grisham

i am a student of english, used to be at least. i appreciate and respect the written word, always have and quite likely forever will. and while i revel in the technical capabilities of our language's writers the first and foremost requirement in this craft for me is the story beneath the text. now granted a story told in a ingenious and innovative way offers a literary thrill to a word-dork like me, but the story cannot get lost in the science. t.s. elliot for instance, considered by many to have written some of the most eloquent and skilled prose ever seen, in my eyes loses the reader in morass of language and style therefore rendering his wasteland and other efforts impotent to move most humans. this is tragic. painted house is not. and because of this it resides on the opposite end of the spectrum. it is raw, uncut storytelling whose delivery is so brazenly simple, it reminds one of listening to an aged relative rocking in a chair, sitting on a porch, staring up at a tree as they talk about their youth. hat tipped.
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Ghost Story
Peter Straub

every time i read a book of this ilk, i swear at its conclusion that i will never read another book of this ilk. yet here i am years later, rifling through the pages, subconsciously noting the number of times i furrow my brow or think "what?!? that so couldn't happen". this condition is called recidivism. basically, as a younger fellow, i devoured these books staying up till i'd see the sun cutting through the slats of my bamboo blinds only to sleep through first, second and third periods hours later. i reckon it's something as simple as exposure and reality that make it difficult to enjoy the likes of king or straub anymore. for me, reminiscence makes this hard given i have more sentimentality in my body than i have water. and, because of this i too occasionally venture to my roots in attempt to experience this sense of youth once again. all that doesn't matter though because after reading this quasi-respectable effort for its genre, i'm totally done. for good. baked. i swear. never again. and i could'nt mean this any more than i do.

see you in a couple of years.
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The Moviegoer
Walker Percy

i remember a professor once waxing on about when reading or writing significant literature, every angle, sentence and even word should matter and be carefully selected and crafted. after attempting this a time or a hundred i concluded it unreasonable and discarded the advice as pedantic nonsense. my process became one of throwing buckets of words on a stack and pointing to the tangible pile in the morning, clapping my hands and exclaiming "all done." then, later, i would read someone else's pile of words, like percy here, and see how mud hut my construction appeared in contrast. and then even later you finally get what that doddering old prof was prattling on about. moviegoer's creation came from such loins and each angle, sentence and word carries imagery and observation and in the end you not only see the world but also feel it and know it with unexpected realism and clarity. simply, percy's skillful use of language should leave you dumbfounded. but allow me to qualify that by adding in order to get dumbfounded one must slow down their mind and read in an almost tantric state, letting the words move them and not the other way around as is our compulsion. because when absorbed properly it's like riding atop a verbal mosh pit and someone keeps grabbing your ass.
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Eric Begosian

hmmm. what to say? something positivish. something reasonable. something not scathing.

well, the cover's kind of cool.
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The Bonfire of the Vanities
Tom Wolfe

bonfire is a schizophrenic read in that the deep and numerous characters keep this work moving all over the scale. one minute you're in the head of a crack dealer and the next in the pants of a money marrying trollop from the south. if you elect to read this i suggest taking long pauses in your day to spend in its pages else you may find yourself spending as much time recalling what circle of society your currently visiting as you do actually reading the text. overall bonfire tells an entertaining story but smacks of a lot of work ingesting it.
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Chuck Palahniuk

the only movie i have watched more than american beauty in the last six months is fight club. for this reason one should not be shocked to hear that every word read in this book, from the maker of fight club, rang out in my mind in edward norton's lazy jack-drawl. this author, whose name i cannot pronounce, writes in a melodic and prancing style that soothes me while crafting sentences and thoughts that hijack my mind forcing it down thoroughfares without the owner and operator's permission. this author who i simply call chuck, or charles out of respect, left me singing his words in my head, again.
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Holidays on Ice
David Sedaris

Sedaris is to Christmas as Phillip Roth is to adolescent and/or jewish angst. And, if I have to explain, you most likely wouldn't understand and I'm not going to be the one to make you. Suffice it to say, this book _will_ make you laugh. If it does not, I'll buy you lunch. Now, I won't eat this lunch with you because it would be blindingly apparent to me that you are one of the lamest and thickest humans scraping around this planet but for this I will buy you lunch and because of this, you will eat it alone.
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The Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R. Tolkien

this series is not as much a trilogy as it is a single and continuous tale that is divided between three novels, which i am now a third of the way through. for this reason the experience does not seem complete nor satisfying in that it essentially ended in the middle of a sentence. all that hype and suck. too much hype and suck. the first word to enter my mind upon reading the last line of this story: suck. the second thought to run through my mind wondered how they would handle this 'suck' ending in the movie because if they did it by the letter, they would have left a lot of patrons thinking suck. (i've since seen the film, and they did make applicable adjustments). unfortunately, i'm afraid i'm a victim of this novel's legend and received less than i expected and for this reason am left in a lackluster mood. perhaps the second and third installments will correct this patina left on my opinion. otherwise i will have more suck-ridden pieces to write.
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Cold Dog Soup
Stephen Dobyns

There's a girl in my computer class who recently told a story about how she and a friend, while driving down the road, ran over and killed a dog. It's not a new tale but in her telling she couldn't help but laugh uncontrollably throughout the narrative. I mean she was in absolute hysterics and repeatedly said, "I know I shouldn't be laughing, but it was just so damn funny I can't help it." The girl who finds humor in running over man's best friend would enjoy this book. I did not.
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Les Miserables
Victor Hugo

Like chess the written word has infinite possibilities, there are countless ways to describe any one moment. Of these possible options each and every instance falls onto a continuum of efficacy. It is this continuum that divides great authors from the pedestrian. It is no secret that Hugo danced on the very precipice of this scale mostly through his specialty; character development. He masterly accomplishes in a few lines what some attempt to achieve in complete works. Of the countless characteristics or observations that can be conveyed, he had the ability to focus on the meaningful points that brought you ever closer to his characters. By the end of this lengthy tome I feel as though I would recognize Jean or Cossette should I run into them on the street.

In fact, after reading on the metro one workday morning, I found that, without even being fully aware, I was crying while walking down the sidewalk towards my building. By my evaluation, that there is some mighty fine storytelling.
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Lucky Jim
Kingsley Amis

So this book did not strum my funny bone the same reading it ten years later. But, I can explain. First, the story takes place on a university campus among some of the most pretentious and pedantic types known. When meeting this book for the first time, that was my life and therefore it spoke to me in a very intimate way. Having left that environment and many of its occupants behind, I no longer see myself planted in its pages. Lucky Jim also deals with the dating game, yet another arena I haven't frequented in many years, although it did take me back to more than one memory. Lastly, and what will still make me call this an overly enjoyable book deals with the main character lucky Jim Dixon.

Now luck, then and now, is something I am very familiar with and not a shred of that humor was lost on me. Bottom line, if you're not at university, in the dating melee or a very lucky person, this British comedy may not whisper secrets in your ear like it did mine and you may therefore not enjoy it as much as I. Buyer beware.
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The Godfather
Mario Puzo

I deprived myself of this encapsulating tale long enough to forget enough to make the second trip through almost, almost, as enjoyable as the first. With the exception of the ten pages dedicated to Lucy Mancini's vaginal reconstruction surgury (which surprisingly did not make it into either of the first two films), this tale is literary wizardry. And, if I could discern the significance behind Mancini's medical miracle, I may even appreciate those ten pages.
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Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
Stephen Pressfield

Gates portrays a mindset most people will never embrace and an era virtually none can conceive. The situations and imagery conveyed here are unfathomable to me and my mind is impotent to divine such a world on its own. Given this mental limitation, I consumed Pressfield's account of what was certainly a unique moment in man's evolution and growth. When the Spartan king lost use of his left arm due to a severed tricep, his shield was strapped to his torso and he returned to the battlefield to fight beside his blood-caked troops. I once stayed home from school for two days because of a festering blemish on the tip of my nose. Like I said, inconceivable to me.
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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (book 4)
J.K. Rowling

This is the best of the series, for multiple reasons. Rowling outdoes herself here and certainly outpaces any expections for this, her fourth in the potter series. She obviously has immunity to whatever funk gets in people's heads after initial success because not only do her books continue in their original vein and sincerity, they seem to improve exponentially in their readibility. The true test for her will be the pending cinema production and if she can continue her craft without letting the ancillary movie efforts cloud her creativity. Secondly, I'm a huge fan of what J.K. is doing for the reading movement on this planet in not only getting kids flipping the pages again, but offering a rather hefty tome (733 pages) as to let young minds not be intimidated by larger works.
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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Carson McCullers

Ok, I need to start by saying I totally got screwed on this book. For any who may not know me or my proclivities, I'm absolutely maniacal when it comes to going in blind on anything enterainment based. In locating the image of this book for this site, I went to amazon and while obtaining it read one sentence of some verbiage in the content area. Wouldn't you know that this one sentence was a 'describe this book in thirty words or less making sure to ruin the ending' kind of sentence. I was absolutely raving. Raving, but not mad in the sense that I'd let the ridiculously foolish act of one person deny me a story written by a woman named Carson. Historically I've not been a fan a female novelist, nothing sexist here, I just can better relate to the prattling-ons of my fellow tripods, but was very impressed with this Carson's Stienbeckian storytelling and eye for the pedestrian. She painted some memorable instances of freaks in an age before my own. Freaks have come a long way. And, thanks for the text and reccomendation Buddy James.
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The Fourth K
Mario Puzo

Nothing too sexy going on in this novel. It reads as much like a Clancy novel as anything else. But, the story is quick and entertaining. I would recommend this for anyone looking for a fast, light and enjoyable read to kill a weekend.
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The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Alex Haley

This is a powerful book. This is a very powerful book. I have never partaken in a more sincere account of a man's inner and public struggle. If the experiences of Malcolm the pauper, the player, the prisoner, the puppet, the brother and finally the sacrifice, do not touch you, black or white, you are not a reasonable individual.
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All Quiet on the Western Front
Erich Maria Remarque

Oh to be part of a coddled and privileged generation, floating through our war-eligible years without getting called up stands as quite a boon (for myself and country alike). Because, if a doubt exists in your mind that I would not be the Saving Private Ryan guy frozen and crying in the stairwell, remove it now. And, while I know I can make observations on Western Front like "he made it feel like you were right in the fracas" or "boy, I can just hear the tanks chugging over the hill", I cannot forget that I offer this learned opinion reading, writing and sitting in my chair and a half, fire popping in the hearth and gulping peanut m&m's by the gross. So, for us layman, this compact story of one man's war-time experience presents a concise glimpse into a life that is not our own. And, if nothing else, assures us that it is not a romantic or heroic life, just one rife with fear, agony and the desperate drive to survive. But, on the other hand, if you polled the average American, many would report similar emotions in their daily machinations, the only difference being one is justified and one is not. And, no matter who or how many people would argue the point of relativity, it is not, in any way, relative.
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The Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison

Typically when I read a book from the MLA's top 100, I can see why it's there, whether I agree or not. Not only is this book in the top 100, it is high in the top 100. I'm not certain on what basis though. While I found it to contain a unique tale, I found the plot scattered and unlikely. Furthermore, this book is to politics what Lolita is to sex; there's plenty of it in there, but no direct reference to it in the language. This most likely represents my majority reason for struggling through the piece in that I know more about feminine hygiene products than I do about politics. Can you say no prayer.
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The War of the Worlds
H.G. Wells

Possibly, the most amazing aspect to this novel rest in its timeless nature. That Wells crafted this tale in 1898, same as his Time Machine, simply boggles the mind. I guess its dated nature explains why this has such a different feel from modern day sci-fi. There is a simplicity to the narrative style which sincerely conveys the primitive nature the human race would truly assume given such an event. You just don't get that feel with Bruce Willis behind the helm or nuclear weapons in the equation.
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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (book 3)
J.K. Rowling

I read an account of someone bashing Potter for it's ill representation of women/girls in the series. This stands as one of the more absurd dings against this fairly controversial series. I mean seriously, it is written by a woman and the main female character is also the smartest, hyper-smart actually, not to mention the voice of reason. If the detractors of Potter cannot do better than this, they should capitulate the battle.
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The Harried Leisure Class
Stephen B. Linder

Harried represents the work of a Swedish intellect who set out to observe a technologically advanced society (us) and the ramifications our evolution had on our lifestyle. The assumed postulate has always been "technology evolves culture" providing benefits and amenities not available to primitive peoples. Done. So what happened? Why so many abject and woeful people? According to Linder, too many goods and not enough time to play with all the toys. In a society with a lot of product, before you may consume, you must produce and in order to produce, others must consume. We have us a vicious little circle here. But, ultimately the lesson smacks of high school grammar, we all know how it works, we just don't know the rules.
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The Invisible Man
H.G. Wells

Wells, again, demonstrates that his mind rode on the creative concord of his time. This story is very authentically told with an extraordinary eye for the details given the extraordinary scenario. There is no question that imaginative abilities like this are not pedestrian. The only flaw resides in the fact that this scientist was smart enough to make his internal organs and skin invisible but did not have a convention to garner transparent apparel. Our hero therefore has to wander the streets of winter-time London buck naked. Thought of everything but the clothes. Damn the details!
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The Count of Monte Christo
Alaxandre Dumas

Hmmm. This was touted as the revenge story to pummel all revenge stories. If speaking of simple duration, I would concur, but if these sage reviewers are speaking of true visceral revenge, I doth contest. Due to the longish nature of the book one certainly feels the pain that comes from loss of time. But, as for good ole medieval payback, I'm afraid it falls short. Now what act serves suitable in this scenario? I'm afraid one who has not endured such trauma is capable of inventing the requisite recompense, but I do know that you would much rather have the count on your ass than Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.
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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (book 2)
J.K. Rowling

I'm a little surprised there isn't a greater stink about these novels that there is. Or should I say, lesser books have been attacked with greater vigor. Given the amount of adolescent violence and mayhem portrayed tags the book as a non-American based work. I just don't think it would fly here post columbine, etc. And, I read where this series is credited with single-handedly getting kids in the library again. Whoo-Hoo!
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Brave New World
Aldous Huxley

This didn't speak to me like it seems to have spoken to many before me.
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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (book 1)
J.K. Rowling

Good young adult fiction is as rare as above par science fiction. Therefore, when something sound comes out, people consume it like repeat ticket buyers in line for Titantic. Rowling creates an engrossing tale here. The world she has created possesses enough detail and creativity to keep the story moving and enjoyable.
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An American Tragedy
Theodore Dreiser

Let me first say that this book has been the best I've read in some time. Based on an actual criminal record this psychological tour de force compels one, if the reader elects, to perform some crafty mental gymnastics. The very discussion got me in quite a banter session at a dinner party - sorry for demonstrating empathy towards someone who is not me. I can admit that this tale touched me due to parallels I drew to my own past and would not expect it to touch others similarly, especially women. However, I am comfortable asking nay-sayers to hold any diatribes until you walk in the birkenstocks of the accused.
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Battlefield Earth
L. Ron Hubbard

Hubbard's opus makes The Stand read like a USA Today article. I'm hip to and respect the literary technique of forcing a reader through a long journey to emulate a long journey, but I'm not seeking high literary prowess out of the likes of Scientology's father. It took me about four cracks at this tome to finally cap it for good. But, on its side, the movie makes the book look like one of man's greatest contributions to the arts.
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For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway

The plot of this book is basic, the storytelling is not. Hemingway's ability to describe a moment is so powerful and the image so vivid, you may think it your own memory. I always marveled at a great writer's ability to describe something as simple as a man lighting a cigarette and you don't picture someone you've seen lighting a cigarette, but instead perfectly visualize Hemingway's guy lighting a smoke.
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