Reading!

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,370
73
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
On my to-read list (LISTS... drool), I had heard that Louis L'Amour's The Haunted Mesa was his best work. Well, um, it was different: not really a western novel, as it tries to explain why the Anasazi people disappeared from the Southwest region centuries ago. The action was weak, as was the dialogue. Were there a lot of rhetorical questions? Did I notice that? Often? But I enjoyed the descriptions of the surrounding areas and landforms. If the protagonist, Mike Raglan, were a repeating character in other books, this would've been stronger (as I see online, this is the only book where he appears). The end is predictable, but also confusing.

[edit: 7/9] I didn't realize I'd read part of James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time book when I taught his "My Dungeon Shook" letter in my classes. A short book (barely over 100 pages), but a powerful voice from the 1960s when it was written that still resonates in the 21st-century. It is dense: long paragraphs (some almost 4 pages long) and long sentences (important to keep those ideas together, maintain the tone), and the topics might make some people uncomfortable. I hope there's a time in the future that this won't be relevant, and readers will think "really? people had to deal with these issues? why would someone do that?"

This book makes 1500 books read in my reading life, all-time.

[edit: 7/10] With this book, I'm at 10,000 summer pages, and 37 books. Once I discovered that most of August Wilson's plays are set in Pittsburgh, I sought out one that was: Seven Guitars. While not as good as my first Wilson play read earlier, it is similar with the motif of a musician (Floyd) trying to make a record and get the benefits that come with success. The first Act tells you he dies (characters have returned from his funeral), so the rest of the play fills in how it gets to that point (a surprise to me, as to the how).

[edit: 7/11] Another notable mark: this is my first calendar year with 90 books read. And it's mid-July.
In checking my lists (LISTS... drool), apparently I had already read Shusaku Endo before (back in college... last millennium! :p ). This book, The Samurai, doesn't have as much action as I expected (no sword play; in fact, no "war" violence at all). It is a travel from Japan to Mexico to Spain to Rome, in the early 1600s, trying to guarantee trade and religious rights. It reminded me of The Crucible, in that honor and outside forces controlling things were motifs here. And, like that play, this book ends with both sorrow and accomplishment, despite what other characters and "systems" at the time believed.

[edit: 7/12] More marks: book 40, only the third summer doing so. I've read Sarah Vowell's books of history before and really enjoyed her "funnily flippant" satirical style of presenting not only what occurred in those places and times but her perspective of them. Unfamiliar Fishes covers the island and people of Hawai'i, in similar ways that The Samurai did for Japan: outsiders who arrive for financial and/or religious gain. I learned quite a bit about this distant world.

[edit: 7/13] The dust jacket of M.G. Hennessey's The Echo Park Castaways sounded interesting; I didn't realize it was a kids book (ages 8-12), but dealing with the foster care system (plus autism and health care issues) was pretty "adult" of themes. Plenty of SW references (mostly OT, and no Disney era); each character gets a part of each chapter told from his/her point of view (but one doesn't get her own part, since she rarely speaks). A tough story to read, knowing that this is probably a better situation than other foster kids have.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,370
73
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Having seen many of the "Finding Your Roots" PBS episodes, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., I thought that his America Behind the Color Line would be similar. As a book, this didn't work well: the section introductions used quotes that were word-for-word what was in that person's chapter (made for frequent repetition), and while the subtitle of the book was "Dialogues with African Americans" since the speaker's chapter was only his or her own words it was more of monologues (made for lengthy and sometimes dull passages). The details in the people's accounts were informative and often disheartening, but the intent was to show perseverance and accomplishment. If I see the documentary, I presume it would be a stronger format than this transcript one.

[edit: 7/18] Only one last author's name letter to go now (and it doesn't take Prof. X to figure out which is the hardest letter to find each year), after reading Spencer Quinn's Paws vs. Claws, the second book in his YA "Arthur and Queenie" series. The family is still struggling financially with their inn (it's the off-season now), and a neighbor family is also having troubles. An outside tech company wants to buy (or just get) the land, and its waterfall for hydroelectric power potential. So, the thinking dog and cat must save the day! (spoiler: basically, they do so, but some open plot holes are left, with the sudden solutions that arrive too close to the book's end). It was alright.

In this memorable year of 2020, it seems appropriate that another year of significance would be record-breaking, too (it's my record-44th summer book read, along with 12K pages for the first time ever). Bill Madden's book 1954 covers that baseball season, especially focusing on the champion NY Giants, runner-up Cleveland, as well as the other teams that came up short in chasing those two squads. The standout players/managers and up-and-coming new ones (Mays, Aaron, Doby, Banks, Robinson, Durocher, Stengel, etc.) show how their efforts affected the leagues and players to come. Interesting how he mentioned that 1954 had other non-sports significance: Brown v Board of Education case, rock n' roll recordings, Sen. McCarthy. Very informative, if a little dry at times.
 
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The OC47150

Jedi Initiate
Nov 9, 2018
129
9
52
Taking a little break from the SW reading universe. Read the Osprey WWII history book on the battle of Tarawa and am now reading Killing Lincoln.
 

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,370
73
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
OC, I never got into the Killing... books. Maybe someday.

I didn't realize the two books I read by Christopher Moore were part of a series (but each book was published about 5 years apart), and this book makes the third: Shakespeare for Squirrels. Is it a funny book: yes, but still as bawdy as the others (I had a thought after finishing this one: current readers don't really get the connotations and usage of previous eras' words, despite footnotes or explanations, so this book using those "raunchy" terms in ways the 21st-century would understand). Pocket the fool (from King Lear) ends up in the world of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and has to solve the murder of The Puck (as he's called here). Fairies, goblins, kings and queens, guards and Amazons, acting troupes; they all come together to tell a humorous detective story.

[edit: 7/21] I usually pick a romance book to read, just to see if the genre isn't as bad as I've read before. Well... no. Julia Quinn's To Catch an Heiress was set (in the time period) of 1814 England, but anachronistic in its dialogue and style. I thought some parts were an episode of Three's Company or a scene from a Die Hard movie: a woman who'll inherit lots of money in a few weeks, ends up at the home of a War Office agent spying on a possible traitor to the crown. They're opposites who attract and trade sarcastic comments, plus there are other cliched characters to finish the story; includes a night time shoot-out (with 19th century weapons) at the beach. Ugh.
 
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The OC47150

Jedi Initiate
Nov 9, 2018
129
9
52
I'm enjoying the Lincoln book. It starts out at his second inauguration.

The Killing Patton was disappointing, IMO. There's a conspiracy theory mentioned but not followed up on. There are several other books out on the topic but it's like a passing thought in KP.
 

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,370
73
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
I did a library search for "jeopardy" (seeing if Alex Trebek's new book, or that other new biography of him; was there, or maybe a trivia book for it or another contestant's account, perhaps a fictional YA book, etc.), and came across... the fact that such a book was checked out. However, another book by that author (Donna Gephart), In Your Shoes, was available. It had a Converse-looking shoe on the cover (in fact, the story mentions a purple and blue pair of All-Stars) plus a bowling shoe. Turns out, this YA story is about two middle schoolers who learn they have things in common and become friends... all framed (ah, ha-ha) around the boy's family's bowling alley (each section of vignette chapters is a "frame" of the 10 in a bowling game), plus their friends. The end got a little weepy, but it's strong on characterization and dialogue, even with the "annoying" narrator of the author herself towards the ends of some sections.

[edit: 7/26] Quite a different tone in this well-known book, from the above review. Also, I passed 100 books read in a year. For years, I had The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a to-read book. The cover mentions it was "as told to Alex Haley, author of Roots," so while 19 of the chapters are the words of Malcom X, typed up by Haley, there is an Epilogue by Haley and a short description by his eulogist Ossie Davis. Very detailed, brutally honest.

[edit: 7/27] After the long, serious nature of my previous read, Mindy Kaling's Why Not Me? was a shorter, lighter one. I don't think I've read a biographical book where the previous book this person wrote was referenced so much. Funny, silly, often satirically serious; I haven't watched much of the shows in which she was a writer or actress, so I didn't know much about her.
This also makes 50 summer books, over 13K pages, with a little time before the return to work next week.

[edit: 7/30] By the same author as Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan's Rich People Problems seems to be about that same subject. A mixture of extended families comes to the famous "house" (even "mansion" isn't a large or ornate enough term for the place) when the matriarch is ill. She dies and her will leads to more in-fighting than before her passing. Learned more about brand name fashion, jewelry, food, architecture, cars than I realized was out there (I enjoyed and was helped by the footnotes throughout the story). Each character holds their unique personality (even though the "bad" ones stay that way), which is a challenge when there are a couple dozen of them.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,370
73
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Ah, travel. I miss you so! My cancelled summer trip had a few of these places on the agenda. Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer wrote America’s Holy Ground, about each of the 61 National Parks (no Monuments or Seashores). It's not just a travel book, but more of a philosophical/religious view of these places. Short, informative and with plenty of pretty pictures.
More than 14,000 pages this summer... runnin' out of days, though.

[edit: 8/1] There are two bios of Alex Trebek out this summer: I read his autobiography, The Answer is..., and enjoyed it as anyone who's a fan of Jeopardy! would. Learned a lot about his younger days in Canada, his time as host of other game/quiz shows. It's divided into short chapters by topics, with photos known and never-before-seen.
 
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The OC47150

Jedi Initiate
Nov 9, 2018
129
9
52
Finished Killing Lincoln. Well researched. I highly recommend it. However, I could've went my entire life not knowing Mary Todd Lincoln had an ample bosom.
 

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,370
73
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
This might be my last "for fun book" in some time, as "school" (it sure doesn't feel and look like school was been ever before) has resumed. The 10th (wow...) book in Spencer Quinn's Chet and Bernie series, Of Mutts and Men, has about... water in the Southwest (a theme that's occurred many times before). A scientist gets murdered, and the pair tries to find "the real killer," since Bernie found someone who's too conveniently accused. Not as funny as some previous books were, but a better and tighter mystery story.

Also, here's a brief rundown of my summer reading stats:
54 books = 14,800 pgs.; 274 pgs. per
Read at least one author from every letter except O (most common letter: M, with 7)
Lots of genres (most... adventure/fantasy: 7, least... TV/movies, romance, wester: 1 each)

[edit: 8/10] Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior was a collection of five lengthy essays about her family background and culture. It alternated between true stories, made-up tales (including Fa Mu Lan, the basis for the Chinese legend). I'd read some of her other essays (much shorter pieces) and looked forward to this one. It was pretty good, if a little confusing at times (mostly unfamiliar language and cultural references).

[edit: 8/15] Another book for school: we sophomore teachers are to teach Nic Stone's Dear Martin, a sort-of YA book with pervasive profanity that addresses racial concerns with high schoolers and their communities. It certainly covers recent issues, and would be relevant. Interestingly, this is my second-ever book I've read by an author named Stone, and both books are titled "Dear [single name]." Okay.

[edit: 8/16] Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain is another book for school, more for procedures than content. The title says it: how to address the concerns and backgrounds of students while using brain science. It's practical, and about as interesting as most such manuals/help guides tend to be.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,370
73
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Well, with online teaching and grading, to give my eyes a break from screens, I have found a few moments here and there to read "shorter" books (graphic novels, collections of essays) like this one from the creator of comic strip Pearls Before Swine... Timmy Failure #1: Mistakes Were Made, by Stephan Pastis. I like the oddities of the comic strip, but aside from often silly situations and bold-faced lies and over-exaggerations from the titular character, this just wasn't as funny as I'd have expected. The elementary-school age boy is a detective (so he believes) with a pet polar bear named Total, and his clueless (pun intended) sleuth skills and vast vocabulary and self-centeredness wear thin fairly quickly.

[edit: 8/31] I started this month reading an autobiography of Alex Trebek, so symmetry says I should end the same month with a biography of Alex Trebek: Lisa Rogak's Who is Alex Trebek? was okay. I believe her motif is to write biographies of notable people without interviewing them, getting the quotes and history from published sources (I do give her credit for the amount of material she searches through to get her material). Some of the behind-the-scenes stories about the show were interesting, but having already read about him before, I found the identical quotes and anecdotes less enjoyable in repeat. Still, a good recap of the game show (NOT quiz show) host's career and life.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,370
73
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
A long book (just under 400 pages, but dense and therefore took time to get through), Hector Tobar's The Last Great Road Bum, sounded interesting when I first heard of it, as someone who enjoys travel and we're in a temporary age where that just isn't possible now. Joe Sanderson "bummed" around the globe starting in the 1950s and continued doing so into the '80s, travelling from country and continent by boat, hitchhiking, plane, and on foot. He wanted to be a writer, but didn't get to publish his travel journals, letters, and other observations; so this author published them... as a fictional "novel" where Joe appears to comment in footnotes and asides. Fascinating.
 

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,370
73
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
I read a few books in between the last post, but I'll just continue here with my latest read.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Divided into topical sections, his commentary is surprisingly not dated, considering it's from 1967. That's probably because the issues he addresses here (in practical, problem-solving style) are still problems today.

[edit: 11/22] I had seen Ta-Hehisi Coates on shows like The Daily Show, but I'd never sought out his books. I read a Captain America trade paperback he wrote, and liked the storytelling. I found his Between the World and Me on the library catalog, but I was surprised to find it was short. Interestingly, it's about as long as Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, and a 21st-century version of that same piece with just as much significance and intensity. In this, he writes an extended letter to his teenage son about how the world is, appears to be, and even shouldn't be. Powerful, even more so with current references that connect with readers more now.
 
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The OC47150

Jedi Initiate
Nov 9, 2018
129
9
52
Reading Killing the SS right now. It's pretty good.

Read Killing Lincoln a couple of months ago. It was informative and enjoyable. These Killing books are well researched.
 

The OC47150

Jedi Initiate
Nov 9, 2018
129
9
52
Based on historical facts. I'd say a good half or more of Killing the SS involves the Eichmann case: locating him, the trial. It's well researched.
 

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,370
73
107
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
I may have to add the Killing... books to my To Read list (LISTS... drool ); any particular one you'd recommend as a starter?

With this week being grading-free for Thanksgiving, and it being unable and unwise to go places, I expect to make a dent in piles of to-read books. My mom recommended the newest Fannie Flagg, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop, which continue the Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe tales into the 21st century. Lots of flashbacks and flashforwards, humor (often to end a chapter), and many characters who mostly end up interconnected by the novel's end. A good and quick read.