Sometime back in early 2002 I started keeping track of the books I read. The likely driver for this was curiosity - how many books did I read every month, and what kind of books were they?
Well, based on the log I’ve kept beginning in January 2002, I average 3.1 books per month. Of these, roughly 44% is nonfiction of one sort or another, 26% is science fiction, and the remaining 30% what I loosely call “other fiction.” This excludes, of course, all of the routine garbage such as periodicals, newspapers, et cetera.
I knew right off the bat that science fiction would be a prominent fraction of the total. I learned to enjoy SF (that’s right, SF: true science fiction people never call it “sci-fi”) at my mother’s knee, and today it occupies a good-sized chunk of my reading time. But not all of it, it turns out. I was surprised to find out that SF makes up only about a quarter of my literary intake.
The only problem I have with books is where to put ’em all. I tend to buy my books in hardcover instead of doing what most rational people do - visiting the library. After a while, I run out of storage space on the bookshelves in the bedrooms and den, at which point I have to perform triage and move some of the overflow to the basement. Too many books? Maybe, and yet...
A house without books is a house without a soul. Sounds like a platitude, but when we were looking at houses in 1998 in preparation for our move back to Atlanta, one place we looked at gave off a weird vibe. It was a pleasant enough house, well constructed, plenty of room, a few extras, nice kitchen, finished basement - but something about it felt wrong. And then it struck us...there was not a single book in the whole place. Videotapes, yes. Gym equipment, check. But not one book.
I tell you, it just felt wrong. I couldn’t wait to get out of that house.
Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading lately, starting with most recently completed and working backwards:
Summerland, Michael Chabon. Young adult fantasy novel by a gifted modern writer, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
Deception Point, Dan Brown. Early thriller by the author of The Da Vinci Code, a page-turner without a whole lot of heft. Probably would make an entertaining but stupid action movie.
Last Car to Elysian Fields, James Lee Burke. Detective novel set in New Orleans. The viewpoint character, Dave Robicheaux, was played by Dennis Quaid in the movie The Big Easy.
Persepolis - The story of a childhood, Marjane Satrapi. An autobiographical graphic novel set in Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution. A unique personal perspective on historical events that continue to resonate.
Bringing Down the House, Ben Mezrich. How a bunch of talented MIT whiz kids beat the Las Vegas casinos at blackjack...for a while.
Crossing California, Adam Langer. The intertwined lives of three families in West Rogers Park, a Jewish enclave in Chicago.
Hey, where’s the SF?
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach. Surprisingly funny look at a morbid topic.
The Brigade, Howard Blum. Uniformed Jews fight in Europe during the closing days of WWII and smuggle refugees into Palestine - a true story of little-known heroes.
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris. Hilarious vignettes of family life from one of today’s most brilliant and twisted minds.
The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. Princeton students tackle a mysterious piece of Renaissance-era literature that holds a puzzle...and a deadly secret. Makes The Da Vinci Code look like a Hardy Boys installment.
Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk. The story of the last survivor of a suicide cult, told end-to-beginning by a master of the perversely funny novel.
Angels and Demons, Dan Brown. What, The Da Vinci Code not enough for you?
Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, Steve Almond. Thanks to this book, I have now discovered the pleasures of the Five Star Hazelnut Bar and the Valomilk Marshmallow Cup. Damn your eyes, Mr. Almond!
Moby Dick; or, The Whale, Herman Melville. That’s right. Call me Ishmael. I dare you.
The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon. Ah, finally a science fiction title! Told (mostly) from the point of view of a high-functioning autistic adult, this novel asks disturbing questions: What if there were a debilitating mental condition that was, deep down, the result of experiencing the world differently than most people? And what if there were a cure for said condition - a cure that might change your personality or even your very self-awareness? Would you want to be cured of being you?
The Art of Eating, M. F. K. Fisher. A collection of five books by the legendary essayist, foodie, and all-around bon vivant.
OK, enough for now. Gotta go Amazon.
6 months ago