Two-for-One Review: “Solar” and “The Lacuna”

April 29, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Posted in Fiction, Two-for-One Review, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Everyone has at least one favorite author whose newest offering makes us tremble with excitement, even if we don’t know what it’s about yet.  Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver are two of the authors on my own list.  I was surprised to realize I was finding parallels between their new work.

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(Notice the two book covers are actually somewhat color-coordinated, and both have a round shape in the center?  I just thought that was cool).

Solar is, as far as I can tell, a bit of a departure for McEwan, because it’s actually funny.  (I’ve only read four of his books – I’m hoarding them for a rainy day – but I hadn’t counted on humor from him).  It’s not just funny; it’s even screamingly funny, at least in one scene.  What it’s really about, though, is a bad person who might be able to save the world for all the wrong reasons.  It’s almost a parable for the human condition, and I think there are layers and layers of subtle meaning here.  In my opinion, it’s his most powerful work.

The Lacuna has what Kingsolver does best, which is a warm, immersive look at another culture.  It’s about an ordinary person (or at least he thinks he is) caught up in the midst of history, and what a maelstrom of history it is.  It’s put together in the form of diary entries, newspaper articles, and letters.  While it’s probably being promoted as a book about Frida Kahlo, it’s really more about communism and government control.

Both books are tremendously earnest about a political issue.  McEwan talks about global warming, and it’s impossible to miss the message.  Kingsolver wants to ask us why we are still blowing off communism, just because Stalin tricked Trotsky and stole leadership of the party.  (Is it our fascist government?)  As books with a message, Solar is highly effective; McEwan excels as always at giving his characters complicated jobs and rich intellectual lives, putting the scientific elements of his story within the reader’s grasp.  Kingsolver starts with the assumption that the reader gets the basic premise of communism and is perhaps even sympathetic to it.  The Lacuna revolves around the question of Why Are These Innocent People Being Tormented, but it only works if the reader’s educational background does not lead to the conclusion that they deserve it because their politics are wrong.

Both books can be read as interesting stories about interesting characters.  Political books tend to put people off, though, and I think it’s possible in both cases that readers who are not already in the same camp will wish these were issue-free.  After all, we read for escape, right?

E-Books and Informal Book Shares

April 28, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Posted in Book Blather, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I read yet another article about how e-books are going to ruin everything, everywhere, and I thought I would hack it up for you. This time, the threat is to small, informal lending libraries, such as the book exchange that may exist in your office breakroom. Because e-books can’t be traded, sold, or inherited, it’s obvious that every old paperback in the world will suddenly evaporate.

That’s my first point. There are millions upon millions of books currently out there in the world, and they ain’t going anywhere. Have you taken a look at a small paperback trade collection lately? There were several at my last job, and they were chock-full of 1980’s mass market paperbacks. So, okay, maybe these collections aren’t going to be refreshed by many newer books in future – frankly it doesn’t look like they are right now. The main point, though, is that the advent of e-books does not mean storm troopers are going to run around town with a wheelbarrow, collecting and burning everyone’s old books.

Second, look. Not everyone is going to get an e-reader. It’s never going to happen. I think the people most worried about the threat of e-books are hyper-literate and overeducated, and we forget there are other categories of readers out there. My parents and my grandma are going to serve as examples here. All three are voracious readers of genre fiction. All three of them trade and share books. And all three read almost exclusively mass market paperbacks. The reason is that they prefer the format. Some people who read hundreds of books a year are never, ever going to switch to e-readers out of simple aesthetic preference. There will most likely be a market for grocery store paperbacks as long as a tree still stands.

Let’s talk about public libraries and e-books. In another window I am reading a book checked out from the San Francisco library using Adobe Digital Editions. It’s rad! The only issue I have with checking out these e-books in PDA is that you can’t check them back in when you’re done – you have to wait the designated time period. [Actually I discovered how to check books back in the morning after I wrote this]. Well, there is a second issue: you can only have five at a time, and that can be frustrating too. Many people seem to think that e-books will kill the public library, but I don’t see how.

One type of informal lending library mentioned in the LibraryThing article is that of hard-to-find books on alternative topics such as midwifery. This made me laugh. The audience for these alternative books is likely to be extremely protective of this sort of resource, and adamantly opposed to switching to e-books. I highly doubt the Reiki masters and naturopaths of the world are suddenly going to stop collecting and sharing reference materials. Even more do I doubt that the independent publishers of these works are suddenly going to switch to e-books and abandon print, not in the next decade anyway.

Let’s say The Worst happens and suddenly every literate person in the world switches to an e-reader, one of several competing brands that each have exclusively formatted books unavailable on the other brands. Does that somehow prevent sharing? Believe it or not, a Kindle owner let me take her device home and use it. If you and I each have our own e-reader, and we switch for a week, who’s to know? Unless they manage to build in a retina scanner that determines the device is being read by an unauthorized user and shoots him with a laser, I think we’re still free to do whatever we want in our homes. What’s weirder, we could even gather around and read aloud. We do that nearly every night at my house.

A year or so ago, I checked out statistics on e-book sales. The math showed that e-books are currently less than a hundredth of one percent of all book sales. To me the fact that people are still hyperventilating over e-books is profoundly silly. It’s a little unfair, too, to insist that trees die to make books and that the author should receive only a couple bucks per copy that may be read by 20 people. In the end, it’s also possible that there are a lot of books out there that don’t need to be published by the million, or at all really. Okay, e-books are here, and they may indeed take over, but it may take even longer than it should.

“Battle Royale” the Movie

April 27, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Posted in Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Young Adult Fiction | 1 Comment

Battle Royale, while released in Japan in 2001, evidently was not available in the US for some time.  I’m happy to report that you can now get it on Netflix, along with… a sequel!  We watched it (the first one) last night and I thought I’d share a little.

The production values were quite high and better than I’d expected.  The film is in Japanese with an option for English subtitles.  There are a couple of spots in which the subtitle extends off both edges of the screen, and also a couple of spots when we had to go back because they flashed past too fast, but otherwise they’re in white with black outline and easy to see.  There is one scene at the very end that appears to have been translated by a different person, or perhaps not edited, because it doesn’t make as much sense.

The plot follows the book closely, with a few subtle changes and a slightly different ending.  Man, is it graphic!  It doesn’t take long before the blood starts flying.  Every time a character is killed off, the score is flashed on screen, in kanji right above the subtitles.  The movie is fast-paced, and there are a couple of scenes that wouldn’t make much sense without a familiarity with the book.

We found the book to be really funny, in a dark sort of way.  The movie had little of this humorous vein.  I found it more affecting – in the beginning schoolhouse scene, I actually found myself tearing up!

The book and movie versions of Battle Royale, while more similar than one might have expected, are two different beasts.  If you loved one you’ll probably love the other.  It helps to have a solid background in slasher films, though.

I Didn’t Like It

April 26, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Book Blather, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Something has been on my mind a lot lately, and when I read this particular quote I sat straight up and wrote it down.  Douglas Wolk says, in his quite readable Reading Comics:

But any reason people don’t like something is a valid reason.

Is that true, do you think?

I wonder whether Wolk thinks the reverse is also true.  He suggests that criticism should be “brutal” and “harsh,” at least in the sense of maturing comics/graphic narrative as a medium.  On the other hand, he also admits to enjoying some stuff he considers less worthy of critical praise.  It suggests a sort of Quality Quadrant:

(I stole the quadrant diagram idea from Stephen Covey).

In the culinary world, I will provide my own examples.  Quadrant I: kale.  Quadrant II: zucchini. (Well, I’ll eat it but I sure don’t salivate over it). Quadrant III: Oreos.  Quadrant IV: marshmallows.  Now, in the literary world: I: The Brothers Karamazov. II: The Mill on the Floss.  III: self-help books. IV: genre fiction involving paramilitary organizations.

I read the quote claiming that any reason we don’t like something is valid to my husband.  He replied, facetiously, at his sardonic best, “I don’t like Jews.”  Clearly we can only apply this aesthetic standard to creative works!  (Although I guess Wolk did say “something” and not “someone.”)  It would be an absolute disaster in the political sphere, as in fact we have seen throughout world history.  It’s not very nice on the interpersonal level, either.

Anyway, in the literary world at least, I can think of a list of stupid reasons not to like something that I don’t think are valid at all.

  • I was put off by the cover art (over which the author has no say).
  • I wasn’t paying that much attention so I didn’t “get” some parts.
  • I was reading something else around that time and the styles didn’t play together well.
  • I heard something about the author’s personal life that bothered me.
  • I didn’t like another book by this author.  (Well, maybe…)
  • The audio version wasn’t well produced.
  • It won an award that I think should have gone to a different book.
  • It was recommended by someone I don’t like.
  • (Corollary: It was on Oprah).
  • I didn’t like the protagonist.  (Often we aren’t supposed to!)

We could probably go on from there, but I think I’ve made my point.  Saying “I didn’t like it” and being satisfied with that is just a bit… spoiled, don’t you think?  Just the other night I watched my friend’s kids eat only the noodles out of their soup, which is to be expected from preschoolers but not from adults.  On the other hand, I feel the same about people rejecting opera as I do about people not eating their vegetables, so I’m probably a big snob.

Ultimately, writing something off with a knee-jerk reaction only hurts ourselves.  When we refuse to make an attempt to appreciate something, we miss finding out it might have been our new favorite.  We limit our potential enjoyment and, what’s worse, we often spread it to others.

Library Lions

April 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

At lunchtime, I walked out of the San Francisco Library toward a crosswalk.  Two gentlemen were hanging out on the steps, anywhere in age between 40 and 60, checking out the passersby.  One of them called out to me:

“Hey, how you doin’, darlin?  Good afternoon!”

He kept calling to me, so I waved my hand over my shoulder, fingers spread in the universal sign for I’m Married.

The man smiled and held his hand up in a manly fist, showing his own ring.  “Yeah, me too,” he said.

His friend called, “You got to live for today, darlin!”

Guest Post! “The Lost Symbol”

April 21, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Posted in Fiction | 1 Comment

My man Rocket Scientist has agreed to take one for the team and review Dan Brown’s latest… offering.  Here he goes:

So, I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s books, and I’ll have to say he hasn’t broken any new ground with this one.  His standard, formulaic incarnation of the protagonist team vs the soon-to-be well-known antagonist has been floated out again in this book.  This is the third book in the “Langdon” series that started with Angels and Demons and continued with The Da Vinci Code.

This book is set in Washington, D.C. and again centers around symbology, numerology, and the Masonic Order.  It takes place in a single night, and basically follows the same formula as the other two books.  Langdon is “befriended” by a woman who then becomes the pseudo-romantic interest.  They are then tormented by the antagonist, who eventually turns out, as in all of his books, to be somebody who is well-known to either Langdon or Langdon’s “friend.”  I don’t want to make a spoiler out of it, so that’s about as much of the plot as I’m going to put out there.

Brown has this cliffhanger style of writing, where every chapter kinda ends with an “Oh my God, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at” kind of ending.  I find it irritating, but at the same time it compelled me to read on in the book.  In one sense I don’t like it, but in another sense I know why he does it.  It definitely keeps the interest flowing.  I’d recommend it to anybody who was interested in secret societies and symbology, but it’s also a fairly light read.  I mean, it’s not very complicated or sophisticated.

I enjoyed the read, it filled up a few nights, but after a few weeks, I’d say it didn’t really leave a lasting impression. It was a fun book to read.  Compared to Three Day Road, which I’m reading now, definitely softball.  I would definitely recommend Three Day Road to anybody who likes a gritty war drama in the vein of All’s Quiet on the Western Front, which is another great book.  Which The Lost Symbol definitely isn’t.  But I think I’ve said enough about The Lost Symbol.

“The End of Overeating”

April 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Posted in Nonfiction, Slow Food | 5 Comments

“Why can’t I stop eating Snackwell’s?”  It’s a question that should rank right up there with “Follow the money” as the launch of a legendary investigation.  David Kessler, a formidably educated and accomplished man and a medical doctor, asked himself why certain foods made him want to pig out.  Then he started asking neuroscientists and food industry people.  What he found out should have people rioting in the streets.

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The answer is shocking: food has been deliberately designed to act on the brain like a drug and to induce what Kessler calls conditioned hypereating.  In other words, just like the cigarette industry, the food industry is manipulating us to addict us to unhealthy foods, driving up health care costs, just to make money.

The End of Overeating is an understated masterpiece.  I read it aloud to my husband, who has struggled with his weight for 30 years but has just succeeded in taking off 20 pounds since the holidays.  (Nobody can get fat off my cooking, I joke).  He would keep chiming in, often anticipating the final sentence of a paragraph, progressively more outraged.  He started sharing what we’d learned with a friend of ours at work, who said, “You just ruined my nachos for me.”  The book truly is gripping.  While the chapters measure only 3-5 pages in length, nearly every one could merit its own book.  Kessler could easily, easily have written and sold this as an 800-pager.  Instead it’s about 250 pages of graceful text.

A caveat:  The first section of the book goes straight into neuroscience, which can be a bit daunting.  Let me assure you that it swiftly moves along into more approachable discussions of the food industry, and finally, what the individual can do to fight back.  In between are a multitude of descriptions of engineered foods, and individuals responding to them, that are nearly pornographic.

What Kessler tells us is that the food industry needs to regulate itself or be regulated.  It’s no wonder we have an obesity epidemic, and it’s easy to see why it started when it did.  That’s the main point of the book – to inform us of what’s going on and get us worked up enough to do something about it.  In the meantime, he helpfully includes some tips to help us try to resist the magnetic pull of sugar, fat, and salt.  (I’ll end with mine, as I sit here smugly in my size four jeans:  Switch to a diet based on organic vegetables and whole grains and start cooking at home at least 80% of the time!)

It Pays Off

April 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 6 Comments

Book espionage, that’s what I call it.  I have multiple sources that give me the information I need.  Though I didn’t have the Pulitzer announcements on my calendar this year, it turned out I’d already read the fiction winner, for the first time ever.  I set out to make sure I was spending my reading time on the best books I could find.  Tra la la.  It pays off.

My first source is the Amazon “Best of the Month” ad.  I scan through it, write down the ones that appeal to me, and try to put them on hold at the library.  Typically I only skip books that are later numbers in a series I haven’t read, superhero comic kind of things, and omnivore cooking stuff.  When I realized Amazon rated books in this way, they’d only been doing it for maybe four months.  I’ve only managed about 60% of that list since then, but I’ve only regretted a pick once or twice.

Next I look at the Powell’s Indiespensable page.  I’ve loved everything they’ve recommended so far, though $40 a month to have it delivered isn’t in my budget.  The best part is, it’s only one book a month, so it’s easy to keep up.

Sometimes I stumble across something when I’m doing a library search online.  This will probably sound weird, but if there are a large number of people waiting for it on hold and I like the cover, I put it on my list.  That’s how I discovered The End of Overeating, for example.

You might see me in a bookstore one day.  I’m not proud of this, but I keep a list on my old PDA to go look up in the library later.  I do buy things at bookstores, just not always books!  I buy blank books, cookbooks, and the majority of my gifts for family.  If I go to a reading, I always make sure to buy something – just typically not the book of the person who read.  There are two things I can’t afford:  The $5000 a year it would take to keep me in new books, and the space to stack them all up in my house once I’m done.

Blogs and reviews are only rarely sources for me when I’m “book shopping.”  The reason is that I hate spoilers.  I’ll only read a review if it’s of a nonfiction book.  I don’t mind the rare occasion, maybe once every six weeks or so, when I wind up reading something that isn’t really my speed.  For me it’s worth paying that price so I can preserve my tabula rasa approach to a novel.

I work with two lists:  My current shopping list and my old “great books” spreadsheet.  That was compiled of the Pulitzer, Booker, and National Book Award winners, among other literary awards, the New York Times Notable list, and the 1,000 Books the Fiction Police Will Kill You If You Don’t Read Soon list, for starters.  There are another maybe 270 random picks left on my Goodreads page.  At the rate I’m going I’ll have to live to a very ripe old age, but hey, it’s better than staring at the wall.

500

April 19, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

This is my 500th post!  I’ve been seeing a lot of hits lately for people searching for “500 books to read,” so I thought I would present a list of my 500 favorite books so far.  (Undoubtedly this will look different a year from now).  I’m putting them in alphabetical order because I’m going through LibraryThing and I don’t want to fuss with trying to rank them in some way.

  1. 1984 – George Orwell
  2. The 39 Steps – John Buchan
  3. 84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff
  4. Accordion Crimes – Annie Proulx
  5. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Gustave Dore
  6. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  7. The Adventures of Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey
  8. Aesop’s Fables
  9. Alice Adams – Booth Tarkington
  10. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  11. All Families are Psychotic – Douglas Coupland
  12. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten – Robert Fulghum
  13. All the King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren
  14. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
  15. Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging – Louise Rennison
  16. Animal Liberation – Peter Singer
  17. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  18. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
  19. An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England – Brock Clarke
  20. Antigone – Sophocles
  21. Archy and Mehitabel – Don Marquis
  22. The Areas of My Expertise – John Hodgman
  23. The Argument Culture – Deborah Tannen
  24. The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein
  25. As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
  26. Asterios Polyp – David Mazzuccheli
  27. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  28. Auntie Mame – Patrick Dennis
  29. Autobiography of a Face – Lucy Grealy
  30. Babbitt – Sinclar Lewis
  31. Back When We Were Grownups – Anne Tyler
  32. Bag of Bones – Stephen King
  33. Barn Blind – Jane Smiley
  34. The Baron in the Trees – Italo Calvino
  35. Bastard Out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison
  36. Be Here Now – Ram Dass
  37. The Beans of Egypt, Maine – Carolyn Chute
  38. Beat the Reaper – Josh Bazell
  39. Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
  40. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  41. Beowulf
  42. Bigfoot: I Not Dead – Graham Roumieu
  43. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell
  44. Black Flies – Shannon Burke
  45. Black Like Me – John Howard Griffin
  46. Blankets – Craig Thompson
  47. Blindness – Jose Saramago
  48. The Blue Flower – Penelope Fitzgerald
  49. Bodytalk – Desmond Morris
  50. The Bone People – Keri Hulme
  51. Bonjour Tristesse – Francoise Sagan
  52. The Bookshop – Penelope Fitzgerald
  53. The Borden Tragedy – Rick Geary
  54. Border Songs – Jim Lynch
  55. Bowling Alone – Robert D. Putnam
  56. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne
  57. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  58. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
  59. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
  60. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
  61. Bright Shiny Morning – James Frey
  62. The Brothers K – David James Duncan
  63. The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  64. Burial Brothers – Simon Mayle
  65. Call It Sleep – Henry Roth
  66. Calling in “The One” – Katherine Woodward Thomas
  67. Candide – Voltaire
  68. The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
  69. Carmen Dog – Carol Emshwiller
  70. The Castle – Franz Kafka
  71. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  72. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  73. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life – Daniel G. Amen
  74. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  75. The Cheese Monkeys – Chip Kidd
  76. Chicken With Plums – Marjane Satrapi
  77. Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
  78. A Child’s Life – Phoebe Gloeckner
  79. Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke
  80. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
  81. The City, Not Long After – Pat Murphy
  82. Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui – Karen Kingston
  83. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
  84. Clown Girl – Monica Drake
  85. Cold Sassy Tree – Olive Ann Burns
  86. The Color of Water – James McBride
  87. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  88. The Comedy of Errors – William Shakespeare
  89. The Coming Plague – Laurie Garrett
  90. A Complaint Free World – Will Bowen
  91. The Complete Concrete – Paul Chadwick
  92. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
  93. The Complete Tightwad Gazette – Amy Dacyzyn
  94. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  95. The Conservationist – Nadine Gordimer
  96. The Cornish Trilogy – Robertson Davies
  97. Creative Visualization – Shakti Gawain
  98. Creature – Andrew Zuckerman
  99. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  100. Crooked Little Heart – Anne Lamott
  101. The Crow Road – Iain Banks
  102. The Crucible – Arthur Miller
  103. Cruddy – Lynda Barry
  104. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
  105. Cyrano de Bergerac – Edmond Rostand
  106. Damage – Josephine Hart
  107. Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury
  108. Darkmans – Nicola Barker
  109. Das Energi – Paul Williams
  110. David Chelsea in Love – David Chelsea
  111. Dear American Airlines – Jonathan Miles
  112. Death and the Penguin – Andrey Kurkov
  113. Death Be Not Proud – John Gunther
  114. Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather
  115. The Debt to Pleasure – John Lanchester
  116. The Decameron – Giovanni Boccaccio
  117. The Devil in the White City – Erik Larson
  118. The Diary of a Nobody – George Grossmith
  119. Digging to America – Anne Tyler
  120. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant – Anne Tyler
  121. Disappearance Diary – Hideo Azuma
  122. Dishwasher – Pete Jordan
  123. Disquiet – Julia Leigh
  124. The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri
  125. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby
  126. A Doll’s House – Henrik Ibsen
  127. Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King
  128. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – Mo Willems
  129. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
  130. Downtown Owl – Chuck Klosterman
  131. Dracula – Bram Stoker
  132. Dream of the Red Chamber – Tsao Hsueh-Chin
  133. The Driftless Area – Tom Drury
  134. Dune – Frank Herbert
  135. Duplex Planet – David Greenberger
  136. Earth in the Balance – Al Gore
  137. Eats, Shoots & Leaves – Lynne Truss
  138. Eddie and Bella – Wayne Wilson
  139. Egil’s Saga
  140. Eight Cousins – Louisa May Alcott
  141. Einstein’s Dreams – Alan Lightman
  142. The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
  143. The Elements of Style – Strunke & White
  144. Elizabeth and Her German Garden – Elizabeth Von Arnim
  145. Ella Minnow Pea – Mark Dunn
  146. Ellen Foster – Kaye Gibbons
  147. Embroideries – Marjane Satrapi
  148. Emergence – David R. Palmer
  149. Emma – Jane Austen
  150. Emotionally Weird – Kate Atkinson
  151. The End of Overeating – David Kessler
  152. The End of Poverty – Jeffrey Sachs
  153. The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain – Christopher Monger
  154. The Enormous Room – e.e. cummings
  155. The Epic of Gilgamesh
  156. Equus – Peter Shaffer
  157. Everything Matters! – Ron Currie, Jr.
  158. The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde
  159. Face of an Angel – Denise Chavez
  160. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  161. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  162. The Female Man – Joanna Russ
  163. The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan
  164. Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates – Tom Robbins
  165. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
  166. Finding Your Own North Star – Martha Beck
  167. Finnegans Wake – James Joyce
  168. Fire in the Blood – Irene Nemirovsky
  169. The Five Love Languages – Gary Chapman
  170. Flatland – Edwin A. Abbott
  171. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
  172. The Flying Troutmans – Miriam Toews
  173. Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television – Jerry Mander
  174. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  175. Franny and Zooey – J. D. Salinger
  176. Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt
  177. A Friend of the Family – Lauren Grodstein
  178. Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
  179. Gang Leader for a Day – Sudhir Venkatesh
  180. Garden of Eden – Ernest Hemingway
  181. Gargantua and Pantagruel – Francois Rabelais
  182. The Gashlycrumb Tinies – Edward Gorey
  183. Geek Love – Katherine Dunn
  184. Genesis – Bernard Beckett
  185. Get a Life – Ralph E. Warner
  186. Ghost World – Daniel Clowes
  187. The Gift of Fear – Gavin de Becker
  188. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
  189. A Girl Named Zippy – Haven Kimmel
  190. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
  191. Girlfriend in a Coma – Douglas Coupland
  192. Give Us a Kiss – Daniel Woodrell
  193. The God of Driving – Amy Fine Collins
  194. Godel, Escher, Bach – Douglas R. Hofstadter
  195. Going to See the Elephant – Rodes Fishburne
  196. Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  197. A Good and Happy Child – Justin Evans
  198. The Good Life – Scott Nearing
  199. Good Omens – Neil Gaiman
  200. The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford
  201. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  202. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  203. Green Mansions – W.H. Hudson
  204. Griffin and Sabine – Nick Bantock
  205. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
  206. Guns, Germs, and Steel – Jared Diamond
  207. The Gunslinger – Stephen King
  208. Hairstyles of the Damned – Joe Meno
  209. Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas – Tom Robbins
  210. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  211. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
  212. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
  213. He’s Just Not That Into You – Greg Behrendt
  214. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  215. Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill
  216. Heartburn – Nora Ephron
  217. Heidi – Johanna Spyri
  218. Henderson the Rain King – Saul Bellow
  219. Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger
  220. The Heretic’s Feast – Colin Spencer
  221. High Fidelity – Nick Hornby
  222. The Hippopotamus – Stephen Fry
  223. Hiroshima – John Hersey
  224. The Histories – Herodotus
  225. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  226. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
  227. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
  228. Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson
  229. How Fiction Works – James Wood
  230. How I Became a Famous Novelist – Steve Hely
  231. How the Dead Dream – Lydia Millet
  232. How the Irish Saved Civilization – Thomas Cahill
  233. How to Be Good – Nick Hornby
  234. How to Be Idle – Tom Hodgkinson
  235. How to Lie with Statistics – Darrell Huff
  236. How to Read a Book – Mortimer J. Adler
  237. How to Talk Dirty and Influence People – Lenny Bruce
  238. How to Win Friends & Influence People – Dale Carnegie
  239. Howards End – E.M. Forster
  240. Human Smoke – Nicholson Baker
  241. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
  242. I Am Thinking of My Darling – Vincent McHugh
  243. I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots – Susan Straight
  244. I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
  245. I Love You, Beth Cooper – Larry Doyle
  246. The Ice Palace – Tarjei Vesaas
  247. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino
  248. The Iliad – Homer
  249. Illusions – Richard Bach
  250. An Illustrated Life – Danny Gregory
  251. In the Cut – Susanna Moore
  252. In the Woods – Tana French
  253. Independent People – Halldor Laxness
  254. Ironweed – William J. Kennedy
  255. Ishmael – Daniel Quinn
  256. It Happened in Boston? – Russell H. Greenan
  257. Ivanhoe – Sir Walter Scott
  258. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  259. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke
  260. Journey in the Dark – Martin Flavin
  261. The Journey of Ibn Fattouma – Naguib Mahfouz
  262. The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
  263. Julie and Julia – Julie Powell
  264. The Kindly Ones – Jonathan Littell
  265. The Kiss – Kathryn Harrison
  266. Kitchen – Banana Yoshimoto
  267. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  268. The Know-It-All – A.J. Jacobs
  269. The Land of Laughs – Jonathan Carroll
  270. Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman
  271. The Lifelong Activist – Hillary Rettig
  272. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
  273. Little Bee – Chris Cleave
  274. The Little Engine That Could – Watty Piper
  275. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  276. Little, Big – John Crowley
  277. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  278. Looking Backward – Edward Bellamy
  279. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  280. Lost Horizon – James Hilton
  281. Lost on Planet China – J. Maarten Troost
  282. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
  283. Lush Life – Richard Price
  284. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  285. The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann
  286. The Magicians – Lev Grossman
  287. The Man Called Cash – Steve Turner
  288. Mariette in Ecstasy – Ron Hansen
  289. Maus – Art Spiegelman
  290. The Maytrees – Annie Dillard
  291. The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
  292. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  293. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt
  294. The Millionaire Next Door – Thomas J. Stanley
  295. Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
  296. The Monkey Wrench Gang – Edward Abbey
  297. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert Heinlein
  298. Mrs. Ballard’s Parrots – Arne Svenson
  299. Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
  300. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
  301. My Antonia – Willa Cather
  302. My Dark Places – James Ellroy
  303. Naked – David Sedaris
  304. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  305. New World Monkeys – Nancy Mauro
  306. The Night of the Gun – David Carr
  307. Nine Kinds of Naked – Tony Vigorito
  308. The Nine – Jeffrey Toobin
  309. The No Asshole Rule – Robert I. Sutton
  310. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith
  311. Nobody’s Fool – Richard Russo
  312. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
  313. Not Quite What I Was Planning – Larry Smith
  314. The Not So Big Life – Sarah Susanka
  315. The Odyssey – Homer
  316. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
  317. Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout
  318. On the Road – Jack Kerouac
  319. The Once and Future King – T.H. White
  320. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
  321. The Orchid Thief – Susan Orlean
  322. Orlando – Virginia Woolf
  323. Out of Africa – Isaac Dinesen
  324. Out Stealing Horses – Per Petterson
  325. Outlander – Diana Gabaldon
  326. The Outlander – Gil Adamson
  327. Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
  328. The Outline of History – H.G. Wells
  329. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – Roddy Doyle
  330. Palestine – Joe Sacco
  331. Paper Towns – John Green
  332. The Party That Grew – Molly Brett
  333. Pedaling to Hawaii – Stevie Smith
  334. Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
  335. Persuasion – Jane Austen
  336. Pet Sematary – Stephen King
  337. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  338. Pigs in Heaven – Barbara Kingsolver
  339. Pluto, Animal Lover – Laren Stover
  340. The Poetry of Robert Frost
  341. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
  342. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
  343. The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
  344. Potential – Ariel Schrag
  345. Pretty Little Mistakes – Heather McElhatton
  346. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  347. Primary Colors – Anonymous
  348. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
  349. The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli
  350. The Princess Bride – William Goldman
  351. The Principles of Uncertainty – Maira Kalman
  352. The Privileges – Jonathan Dee
  353. Put Your Life on a Diet – Gregory Paul Johnson
  354. Quicksand – Junichiro Tanizaki
  355. Quirkyalone – Sasha Cagen
  356. Rabbit, Run – John Updike
  357. Radical Honesty – Brad Blanton
  358. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
  359. Refuse to Choose! – Barbara Sher
  360. A Reliable Wife – Robert Goolrick
  361. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
  362. Riddley Walker – Russell Hoban
  363. The Roaches Have No King – Daniel Evan Weiss
  364. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  365. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
  366. A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
  367. Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs
  368. Saint Maybe – Anne Tyler
  369. The Samaritan’s Dilemma – Deborah Stone
  370. Sandman Slim – Richard Kadrey
  371. Saturday – Ian McEwan
  372. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  373. The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy
  374. Scarlet Sister Mary – Julia Mood Peterkin
  375. The Secret Scripture – Sebastian Barry
  376. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
  377. Serena – Ron Rash
  378. Seven Gothic Tales – Isak Dinesen
  379. A Severed Head – Iris Murdoch
  380. Sharing a Robin’s Life – Linda Johns
  381. She’s Come Undone – Wally Lamb
  382. Ship of Fools – Katherine Anne Porter
  383. The Shipping News – Annie Proulx
  384. Shop Class as Soulcraft – Matthew B. Crawford
  385. Shopgirl – Steve Martin
  386. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse
  387. Silas Marner – George Eliot
  388. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
  389. Simplify Your Life – Elaine St. James
  390. Skinny Legs and All – Tom Robbins
  391. Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
  392. Sloth – Wendy Wasserstein
  393. Slugs – David Greenberg
  394. Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Hoeg
  395. Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata
  396. Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
  397. Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson
  398. The Snow Queen – Joan D. Vinge
  399. So Big – Edna Ferber
  400. So Brave, Young, and Handsome – Leif Enger
  401. Solar – Ian McEwan
  402. The Solitary Vice – Mikita Brottman
  403. The Song is You – Arthur Phillips
  404. The Song of the Cid
  405. Sophie’s Choice – William Styron
  406. Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder
  407. The Spellman Files – Lisa Lutz
  408. The Stand – Stephen King
  409. Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli
  410. Stiff – Mary Roach
  411. The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields
  412. Stones for Ibarra – Harriet Doerr
  413. The Stranger – Albert Camus
  414. Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
  415. Strangers in Paradise – Terry Moore
  416. The Street Lawyer – John Grisham
  417. Stuart: A Life Backwards – Alexander Masters
  418. Stumbling on Happiness – Daniel Gilbert
  419. The Stupefaction – Diane Williams
  420. A Summer Birdcage – Margaret Drabble
  421. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  422. Superstition – David Ambrose
  423. Swann’s Way – Marcel Proust
  424. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley
  425. The Symposium – Plato
  426. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  427. Tales of Burning Love – Louise Erdrich
  428. The Talisman – Stephen King
  429. Talk to the Hand – Lynne Truss
  430. The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff
  431. The Tempest – William Shakespeare
  432. Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  433. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
  434. Then We Came to the End – Joshua Ferris
  435. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  436. Thinner – Stephen King
  437. This is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper
  438. A Thousand Acres – Jane Smiley
  439. Three Day Road – Joseph Boyden
  440. The Three Musketeers – Andre Dumas
  441. Through the Looking-Glass – Lewis Carroll
  442. Time Management from the Inside Out – Julie Morgenstern
  443. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  444. Tinkers – Paul Harding
  445. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  446. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  447. Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
  448. Traffic – Tom Vanderbilt
  449. The Tragedy of Puddin’head Wilson – Mark Twain
  450. The Trap – Daniel Brook
  451. Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt
  452. The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
  453. Twenty Years at Hull-House – Jane Addams
  454. Ulysses – James Joyce
  455. The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
  456. Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud
  457. The Unnamed – Joshua Ferris
  458. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  459. Veganomicon – Isa Chandra Moskowitz
  460. The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
  461. The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
  462. Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett
  463. Walden – Henry David Thoreau
  464. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  465. War with the Newts – Karel Capek
  466. The Wasp Factory – Iaian Banks
  467. Watchmen – Alan Moore
  468. Watership Down – Richard Adams
  469. Waveland – Frederick Barthelme
  470. Way of the Peaceful Warrior – Dan Millman
  471. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
  472. We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
  473. We Were the Mulvaneys – Joyce Carol Oates
  474. Weetzie Bat – Francesca Lia Block
  475. What It Is – Lynda Barry
  476. What Should I Do With My Life? – Po Bronson
  477. When You Reach Me – Rebecca Stead
  478. Where Angels Fear to Tread – E.M. Forster
  479. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
  480. The White Hotel – D.M. Thomas
  481. White Light – Rudy Rucker
  482. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead – Barbara Comyns
  483. Why Did I Ever – Mary Robison
  484. Wicked – Gregory Maguire
  485. Wild at Heart – Barry Gifford
  486. The Willoughbys – Lois Lowry
  487. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
  488. Winnie-the-Pooh – A.A. Milne
  489. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  490. The Woman Warrior – Maxine Hong Kingston
  491. Women Who Run With the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  492. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum
  493. The World Without Us – Alan Weisman
  494. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
  495. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  496. Yes Man – Danny Wallace
  497. The Young Visiters – Daisy Ashford
  498. Your Money or Your Life – Joe Dominguez
  499. Zeitoun – Dave Eggers
  500. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Persig

It’s an idiosyncratic list.  I’ve included several graphic novels and self-help books, and even a cookbook.  A couple of things are on the list due purely to their significant role in my personal life:  the book that convinced me to date my husband (Calling In “The One”), the book that convinced me to marry my husband (The Man Called Cash), and the book that convinced me to change careers (The Street Lawyer), among others.  It turns out that 500 is a lot of books!

I’d love to see any personal favorites you thought should be on my list.

“The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag”

April 15, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments

Alan Bradley has done it again!  With this sequel to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, he’s shown that he’s well up to the task of tracking the machinations of Flavia de Luce for as long as it takes.

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The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag is equally as fascinating and erudite as its predecessor.  Flavia, likewise, is just as bright, weird, and charming.  This is turning into an absolutely delightful series, one that I hope unfolds into many further volumes.

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