Saturday, August 15, 2009


The Elisson Bookshelf

Yet another installment in a series entitled “What I’ve Been Reading Lately.”

It has been eight months to the very day since I last posted about what I’ve been reading, so it’s as good a time as any for me to inflict this latest update on my Esteemed Readers. Here’s what I have read since mid-December of last year:

  • Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West - Gregory Maguire

    The familiar story of the Wizard of Oz, told from a different perspective. It’s a darker tale than the Broadway musical it inspired would have you believe.

  • From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books - Arie Kaplan

    The title pretty much tells it all. I had grown up knowing that the Jewish footprint in the comics industry was large, but it was only in my adult years that I learned just how large.

  • Devil in the Details - Jennifer Traig

    Seriocomic memoir of a young woman’s struggles with crippling OCD. Hysterical.

  • My Jesus Year - Benyamin Cohen

    A year-long adventure in seeing “how the other half lives.” Jew sets out to figure out the Christian world.

  • The Saturday Wife - Naomi Ragen

    Blisteringly funny tale of a social-climbing rebbitzin (rabbi’s wife) and the havoc she wreaks.

  • The First Patient - Michael Palmer

    Inexpertly-written thriller... but a good airplane read.

  • Maps and Legends - Michael Chabon

    Chabon never fails to entertain, this time with an extended rumination on time, place, and legend.

  • Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

    Somehow, I managed to miss this one, despite its having been around since 1986-87. But it was more than worth the wait: Watchmen mat be the single most ambitious and thought-provoking graphic novel ever written.

  • For Decades I Was Silent: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey Back to Faith - Baruch G. Goldstein

    Many Holocaust survivors made it out of the death camps with minds and bodies more-or-less intact, but with faith flayed away by the perception of seeming indifference on the part of the Eternal. Mr. Goldstein shows how his experiences during the Holocaust strengthened, rather than destroyed, his own belief in God.

  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volume One) - Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volume II) - Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

    Another pair of masterworks by Alan Moore, these being set in a steampunk London and featuring literary characters pulled from the worlds of adventure and SF. No Watchmen, but an excellent option for those who enjoy graphic novels. Worth reading if only to get the taste of the movie version out of your mouth.

  • V for Vendetta - Alan Moore and David Lloyd

    Yes, more Moore. Brilliant, dark story set in an Orwellian fascist England.

  • Make ’Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America - Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon

    Companion to the PBS series, this massive coffee-table tome has vignettes about almost all the important American comedians of the twentieth century. No real in-depth analyses, but a fine overview of how these funny people influenced our shared culture.

  • The Golden Ocean - Patrick O’Brian

  • The Unknown Shore - Patrick O’Brian

    Two novels that preceded the famous Aubrey-Maturin series by almost two decades. You can see early versions of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in The Unknown Shore; it is a pleasurable taste of things to come.

  • Abraham's Knife: The Mythology of the Deicide in Antisemitism - Judith Civan

    A fascinating study of the enduring myth of the Jews as Christ-killers. I met the author and am sad to report that her personality is not nearly as fascinating as her book.

  • The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard - J. G. Ballard

    Ballard’s death inspired me to get this collection of his short fiction, of which I had previously read only a few pieces.

  • Next - Michael Crichton

    Crichton’s penultimate book examines several potential consequences of gene-manipulation technology.

  • This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Ways in Which We Go - HP Newquist, Rich Maloof

    Amusing compendium of various diseases and violent events with unpleasant and/or unfortunate outcomes.

  • Company Aytch: Or, a Side Show of the Big Show - Sam Watkins

    Documentarian Ken Burns relied heavily on Sam Watkins’s memoirs of the Late Unpleasantness (i.e., the American Civil War). Watkins, who wrote about his experiences as a private “webfoot” soldier some twenty years after the conflict, provides an up-close-and-personal “eyes on the ground” perspective that is very different from the usual histories. His epistles, which were published serially in the Columbia, Tennessee newspaper, were later collected and published as a book; they read like a late nineteenth-century blog might have read.

  • A Trip of Goats - Kim Crawford

    A memoir of the mid-Sixties South, written in a style that seems to combine elements of William Faulkner and Hunter S. Thompson, this book cries out to be made into a movie. Alternately tender and hysterically funny (mostly funny). Yes, I know the author... but his remarkable capacity for assholery has in no way affected my impressions of his writing. Strongly recommended!

Next up we have Small Gods, one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, and Denis Kitchen’s big book about Harvey Kurtzman, the legendary artist who, among other feats, created the cultural H-bomb known as Mad. When I finish these two, I will have logged 300 books since January 2002, when I began keeping track.

So: What have you been reading lately?

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