Good Books
Books That Stand A Pretty Good Chance Of Being Acceptable To Most

Before the main entrée, perhaps it's worth noting some preferred authors in alphabetical order, a go-to list that I only expect entertainment from every time:
Ray Bradbury
Bill Bryson
Charles Bukowski
Martin Cruz Smith
Gary Giddens
Ernest Hemingway
Carl Hiaasen
Peter Hoeg
Jon Krakauer
Gene Lees
Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
George Saunders

Taste and mileage may vary with those ones, but they consistently work with me. And now, the books:


2001: A Space Odyssey - Arthur Clarke
More screenplay than full-on novella, perhaps, but nevertheless interesting in scope. An extraterrestrial civilization has left sensors in our solar system and we have awoken their detection. Who is seeking who, what else is there out there, and should we engage or be afraid? Or is already too late?
Absolute Friends - John Le Carré
In a somewhat different book for Le Carré's pantheon of spy tales, this one is nonetheless still about the trade. This time there are two protagonists who operate from both sides of the Iron Curtain as time marches on toward the younger Bush's years in the White House to critique the present more than Le Carré usually does.
Absurdistan - Gary Shteyngart
A Russian-cum-New Yorker tries to find his way back to New York - if only his father's mafia legend didn't so inconveniently get in the way. A beautiful slice of the absurd, indeed, if only marginally located in a 'Stan.
The Accidental Tourist - Anne Tyler
A man who makes business-styled tourist guidebooks undergoes a marital crisis over a dead son that spills over into an existential one for him as well. In the process, a woman he becomes involved with provides intrigue as a catalyst principally because she's exactly what he's not.
The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow
A tour-de-force that details the life and (early) times of Augie March, a kid born on the poor side of the tracks who finds more than his share of luck and nerve in making his way on the mean streets of Chicago. So it goes, from gangster to mol, until he's left to his own devices... and more or less makes do. Comic adventure with a great eye.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Age Of Innocence - Edith Wharton
Or maybe it should be called the age of upper crust New York society scheming. In any event, it's a small subculture that is visiting in this tome, that of a very closed group with a rigid set of standards. Woe unto (s)he who strays far from the pack.
The Alienist - Caleb Carr
All Of The Mowgli Stories - Rudyard Kipling
All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
A boy and girl's fates are intertwined in odd ways, as the boy's adventure begins with radios in North Germany and the girl's with blindness in Paris. They both end up in St. Malo toward the end of WWII.
All The Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy
A western as they should be told, and for which McCarthy has become known. Two late-adolescent boys in Texas get on their horses to look for adventure in Mexico. They duly find it.
The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay - Michael Chabon
A story both of the Holocaust and the golden age of comic books, the latter is explored in far greater detail as two Jewish cousins embark on the adventure of their lives. A family left behind in Europe and a girl's promise of a future with the protagonist in the U.S. tug under the shadow of the pulp fiction wars as the years move on through the 30s and into the 50s.
Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A young Nigerian couple separate shortly before what would seem an inevitable marriage, she to the U.S. and quickly coming to terms with how the concept of race is perceived, he to stay behind and wonder why. A good contemporary take (~2011) on the state of ethnicity in the U.S. and Nigerian culture, plus the clash of the two.
An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser
And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini
Again Hosseini takes us to Afghanistan, both to a village and Kabul itself. Two families of vastly different means are enjoined forever when a daughter is used both as an instrument of survival and a replacement for what could otherwise never be. Family and friend relationships of all forms take center stage in this one as decades of strife in this war-torn country pass by unto 2012 or so.
The Angel of Darkness - Caleb Carr
Anil's Ghost - Michael Ondaatje
A forensic pathologist returns to the Sri Lanka of her youth and becomes steadily more involved in uncovering truths of the brutal civil war that is still all-too-present.
Anna Karenina - Leo Totstoy
Animal Dreams - Barbara Kingsolver
Apochryphal Stories - Karel Capek
Bad Monkey - Carl Hiaasen
In the FL Keys, a nasty dastardly developer is at it - while someone is making some big bucks on a life insurance policy. The slimeballs manage to stretch their sleaze all the way to the Bahamas, too. Crime fun and sun, Hiaasen-style. Which is a good thing.
Back To Blood - Tom Wolfe
Taking more stabs at the bizarre and outsized parts of American culture, here Wolfe turns his focus onto the Cuban community in Miami - and the interesting U.S. policy of turning back Cubans trying to make it to shore. (If they make it, they get to stay. Exactly.) And woe to the person of Cuban heritage who gets caught in the middle of this policy - or on the wrong side of it. If anything, this is a critique on how fellow Americans critique the actions of others through their own filters... and in promotion of their own agendas.
Basket Case - Carl Hiaasen
Another FL crime caper, this time in SE Florida and concerning the mysterious death of the former singer of the Slut Puppies - a rock group of some time ago fame. Throw in seedy characters and stir well.
Being There - Jerzy Kosinski
Beloved - Toni Morrison
Beneath The Wheel - Hermann Hesse
In typical Hesse fashion, a boy struggles within, trying to figure out who or what he wants to be while respecting cultural norms. To pursue scholarship and some kind of exalted perfection in accomplishment, or just enjoy what slices of life come your way from the side of a river? To be or not to be...
Beowulf - unknown
The oldest work in English Literature by some measures, Beowulf tells the epic tale of a Scandinavian town besieged by a monster and in need of a hero. One comes, needless to say, and he puts his life on the line to fight the monster and then its mother as well.
Birds Without Wings - Louis de Bernieres
A trove of historical information on the purges of Armenians, Christians, and Moslems alike in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, as told via a formerly mixed village in what will become Western Turkey. A worthy successor to Corelli's Mandolin, and no less disturbing and necessary to understand the dark side of man and the tribalism that comes with religious warfare and "cleansing". A fantastic magnifying glass on an all-too-oft-ignored subject and corner of the world.
Blindness - Jose Saramago
First one, then a few, than many people are afflicted with sudden blindness. The panic of deciding what to do in the onslaught of an inexplicable plague puts these growing numbers of victims in the crosshairs of society's fright and, ultimately, into quarantine under mob rule. Not pretty.
The Bonfire of the Vanities - Tom Wolfe
Perhaps one of the definitive books of the go-go-get-rich days of the 90s, but really of the American way of worshiping the financially successful. Racism is brutally brushed in this one, speaking to the raw and feigned sides of public perception, not without dark comic effect of what role the media plays to furthering its own ends in mining the issue.
Booked to Die - John Dunning
The Bookman's Wake - John Dunning
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting - Milan Kundera
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Although written for most likely a teenage audience, this is a particularly human take on living in Nazi Germany from the perspective of a young girl. With the hiding of a Jew (in the house of three Bavarians still interacting with their surrounding community), comparisons to Anne Frank might seem apt - but the story being told more or less from the viewpoint of the Grim Reaper manages to infuse a lot more history and a wider perspective. Such are the obvious advantages in using a novel's form.
Borderliners - Peter Hoeg
Brazil - John Updike
An unabashedly erotic take on the merging of European and African cultures that Brazil is. The story takes form following an impossible coupling of a rich white girl and a black boy straight out of the gutters of the favelas. In between the racy details emerges a picture of the strains under which contemporary Brazil operates. Racial harmony and disharmony are both explored to the extent that they are true and false simultaneously in the conundrum that is this unique country.
Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote
Breakfast Of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut
One of Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout books, where the author (KT) is both lauded and abused in funny fashion amidst a cast of other losers, wannabes, and freaks.
Bridge Of Sighs - Richard Russo
A boy becomes a man and, at the age of 60, tries to reflect honestly on his life in yet another of Russo’s small towns in New England. Morality plays mix with nostalgia to evoke a sense of place that feels both real and intriguing as the eternal question is posed: “Do we ever escape our past?”
The Burden Of Proof - Scott Turow
The Call Of The Wild - Jack London
Inside of every domesticated dog lies the wild beast within, especially and probably unavoidably visible when pushed to it.
Cannery Row - John Steinbeck
Cardinal of the Kremlin - Tom Clancy
Casino Royale - Ian Fleming
Even reading this in Spanish doesn't change the pace and style of Bond, James Bond. Something of a formative tale in the legend that will never die on the silver screen, this one fairly explains both his ultimate use and disregard of women in the greater game known as The Cold War. Shaken, not stirred, and all that reign here. Fun, brief.
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
Children Of the Arbat - Anatoli Rybakov
Chronicle of a Death Foretold - Gabriel García Márquez
La Chute - Albert Camus
The Cider House Rules - John Irving
The Circle - Dave Eggers
At times annoying, definitely, but certainly thought-provoking as well. Eggers takes the world of social media to some potentially inevitable conclusions if enough political correctness and ensuing mob behavior win the day. Is this the future Apple, Google, Facebook, et al. intend for the human race? Not likely, but...
Cities Of The Plain - Cormac McCarthy
The third of McCarthy's "Borderland Trilogy", this is the Western that the movies couldn't deliver, the earnest cowhand out to make the lil Mexican prostitute his wife. Horses, tough guys, and more, sure, but the writing is superb.
La ciudad y los perros - Mario Vargas Llosa
The debut novel for MVL, and an auspicious one that is said to have heralded the "Latin Boom" of writers that began in the 60s. Pioneering part of his technique of mixing timelines, we see from several points of view the lives of cadets in a military school in Lima. The bullying, pecking orders and more are not given short shrift, especially as they are compared with the lives of the boys outside of the academy. The tragic figure of the boy at the bottom of the heap - The Slave, as he is called, for his lack of assertion - serves as a catalyst.
CivilWarLand In Bad Decline - George Saunders
Claudius the God - Robert Graves
The first of two invented histories concerning the life and times of the Roman Emperor Claudius, known equally as a stuttering idiot and very capable manager of empire. This one covers the years up to his becoming emperor, faithfully trying to use the facts that are out there of historical record - such as there are when permanence in writing meant chipping it out in stone.
Closely Observed Trains - Bohumil Hrabal
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
Six stories told one after the other in chapters then resolve themselves in reverse order, beginning in the past of a few hundred years ago and jumping to the future with some connectivity. Creative and interesting, well told.
Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
Twenty years see two families living side by side in the same house in burgeoning Perth, Australia, from WWII on. The industrious family is, in the end, not so terribly different than the one scraping by on luck and booze, but every person has their own story to tell. A nice snapshot of that time gone by, a vastly more nostalgic than necessarily plot-driven affair.
Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
Proof that one can't exactly go back to the country, or something like that - I think. Actually, this is a parody of such sentiments popular at one time in Great Britain, here personified in a woman whose dwindling prospects in the city lead her to live with her relatives back on the farm. They've been living in a peculiar way for some time, and it looks like she might be the person to shake things up in her indomitable, comic way.
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
The Complete Short Stories Of Mark Twain - Mark Twain
A mix of gems and other yarns from over the career of the masterful writer. For every hokey one there is a timeless counterpart to compensate for it.
The Constant Gardener - John Le Carré
The theme is the using of Third World countries to perfect and test medical drugs, a new area for the spymaster Le Carré. It works, though, and Kenya is a worthy backdrop to the cause. A spy or two still walk the pages, keeping that angle intact for the journey, too.
Conversación en la catedral - Mario Vargas Llosa
One of MVL's more accomplished works, concerning events around a mid-twentieth-century Peruvian dictator. Again with the interlaced conversations that span different times, places, and voices that only MVL has become known to (very successfully) do.
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Crucible - Arthur Miller
Cyrano de Bergerac - Edmond Rostand
A brief play about, well, an exceedingly large nose. It just happens to adorn the face of a proud warrior who is also bashful in love, a toxic combination for those who don't respect either flashpoint for this flamboyant character. Brevity is the soul of wit, indeed, as this is a rapidfire work of theater.
Daisy Miller - Henry James
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
Without a doubt the best and most character-developed of Dickens's works, coincidentally also his favorite and I believe possibly his longest as well. Young, orphaned David Copperfield's rise from orphan-dom to respectability has many twists and turns, with many colorful characters along (and in) the way, but in the end the reader gets every storyline resolved. The... END!
A Day In the Life of Ivan D - Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Death In The Andes - Mario Vargas Llosa
Llosa touches on the reign of terror imposed on the Peruvian Andes by the Shining Path guerrilla insurgency movement. His recurring character Lituma shows up again, here running an outpost seemingly always on the verge of being overrun by them - or the devils of the mountains, as local lore and legend tells it.
The Defector - Daniel Silva
Fun suspense in the world of spies.
A Delicate Truth - John Le Carr&eactute;
Le Carr&eactute; here takes on the "special relationship" between the U.S. and the U.K. regarding the War on Terror. How the far right of the U.S. political spectrum likes to get things down their way receives special focus, constitutions and international law be damned.
Los Detectivos Salvajes (The Savage Detectives) - Roberto Bolaño
Two friends, one Mexican and Chilean, go on what becomes something of a worldwide search for information about a long-disappeared and marginal Mexican poetess from the 20s. A random yet entertaining read that wanders many a locale and never fails to play with our fragile egos and aspirations in this thing called life. But it's not as cliche as that line.
Diary of a Madman - Gogol
The Djinn In The Nightingale's Eye - A.S. Byatt
Several contemporary takes on the concept of the fairy tale. Good, imaginative and lyrical takes.
Doctor Fischer Of Geneva Or The Bomb Party - Graham Greene
A one sitting read that is drily comic take on greed. Doctor Fischer uses dinner parties to test how far his wealthy guests will go to further add to their piles. A new son-in-law bears disgusted witness.
Dreamtigers - Jorge Luis Borges
Drop City - T. C. Boyle
How does one get a commune/cult going, anyway? And how does it function on a day-to-day basis? Who makes the crucial decisions when they have to be made and the outside world tries to come rushing in. Boyle has this very humorous take.
Dubliners - James Joyce
East Is East - T. C. Boyle
Quirky, certainly, describes this one. A Japanese sailor escapes his hell aboard ship to castaway himself on a small island off of Georgia. Between the hicks and the writer colony he finds there, America is nowhere close to what he hopes it to be.
L'edition sans éditeurs - André Schiffrin
The End Of The Affair - Graham Greene
An Englishman's affair with an acquaintance's wife leaves him questioning forevermore both his and her motives. Appearances all around are deceiving.
The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
A lyrical story of several tragic lives that intersect, those of an archaeologist, a spy/thief, a sapper (mine-clearer), and a nurse. Each brings a history that has seen its dark share of events, yet here they are all in an abandoned monastery in Italy as WWII draws to a close. Lyrical, beautiful.
Ethan Frome - Edith Wharton
A different book for Ms. Wharton, far more known for her stabs at NE-Coast upper society, focused on their foibles and failings. Here instead is rural Vermont in its bleak offerings at the turn of the 20th century or so, where the past is still the present - and a dollar is never quickly found nor spent. In the span of not too many pages, the tension begins for Mr. Frome...
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues - Tom Robbins
It's Robbins, so it's a given that there's going to be sex with a liberal bent. Sissy is a girl who's born to hitchhike, but then she meets the cowgirls - and a guru who lives up in the mountain above their ranch, waiting for a kind of Last Days of the human race. Interesting ideas are intermixed with playful prose and, of course, more sex.
Everybody's Fool - Richard Russo
A first sequel of sorts, from Russo, this to Nobody's Fool. Familiar characters return and the mood returns just where it left off in the hapless town of Bath.
Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Foer
A novel approach to relating the holocaust, oddly humorous in great turns.
L'Étranger - see The Stranger
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
The Famished Road - Ben Okri
A Farewell To Arms - Ernest Hemingway
Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
Far Tortuga - Peter Matthiessen
A curious slice of time and place, an illiterate crew of turtlers set sail for the nesting grounds off Nicaragua. Only Matthiessen can manage this type of color and pacing.
Fathers And Sons - Ivan Turgenev
Pre-Soviet Russia is explored in the time of nihilism and the first breaking with the feudal past. Pride and honor are the running themes, not to mention propriety. No wonder the masses were ready for change and progressive ideas of any sort.
Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas - Hunter S Thompson
Following the Equator - Mark Twain
This one follows in the spirit of his more popular The Innocents Abroad, a worthy addition to the Twain canon without quite the travelogue novelty of his voice in that first work. Impish rogue satirist? Yes, those characteristics still stand out. This is Twain, after all.
Fong And The Indians - Paul Theroux
A quick fiction in modernizing, just-post-colonial Africa, Chinese merchant Fong and the local Indian population try to muddle their way through the new reality of a government made up of Africans. The devil is in the details.
The Fortress of Solitude - Jonathan Lethem
A white boy grows up and out of a mostly black neighborhood of New York City over the 70s, 80s and 90s. Racism, gentrification, music, drugs - it's all there and well-described with a certain amount of affection and rue.
Foundation (series) - Isaac Asimov
Franny and Zooey - J. D. Salinger
An odd book, if an intriguing one. A family of precocious kids is somewhat distilled into two of them, the most standout of these over-achievers exposed to the general public at a young age via radio. Now they have to deal with the results of expectations within and without the bubble of their family.
Los Funerales de la Mamá Grande - Gabriel García Márquez
Some of Gabo's early short stories, ample indication of where his great stuff was coming from.
Galapagos - Kurt Vonnegut
Les Jouers/The Gamblers - Doesteivsky
Gargantua & Pantagruel - Francois Rabelais
Although overly long, these five books in one tome do a fair job of skewering the concepts of royal and especially religious prerogative. Written in 15xx, perhaps most surprising is its constant - and generally funny - focus on every bodily function. If ever a tribute to the codpiece or the well-timed fart should exist, this is it.
Geek Love - Katherine Dunn
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larrsen
The conclusion of the Millenium Trilogy, all loose ends get wrapped up as revenge follows in Lisbeth's wake. A fun ride ends.
The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson
The 2nd book in the Millenium series, the pixie Lisbeth tries to sort out her past while finding herself in a shitstorm of a present. Continual action and attitude makes this a fun page turner with mystery always along for the ride.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larrsen
The 1st book in the Millenium series, where we are introduced to Lisbeth Salander. A combination of troubled teen, hacker, and righteous indignant, Lisbeth begins her settling of scores with this one. Here, then, begins the fast-paced prose that led to the next two tomes.
Goodbye Mr Chips - James Hilton
Great Short Works of Edgar Allen Poe
Great and short works they are, dark and timeless with Poe's flair for the macabre.
Guerillas - V. S. Naipaul
On some Caribbean island, revolution is fomenting. But the powers that be aren't going to give in all that easily. This tale, however, is told from the ground. Who are these people who agitate for change? Who supports them? How can they make it happen?
La Habana Para un Infante Difunto - Guillermo Cabrera Infante
Reminiscences of Old Havana, a romantic version of life before the rigidities of the Cuban brand of communism stamped it out. Word play galore.
Ham On Rye - Charles Bukowski
Essentially Bukowski's coming of age story as seen through the eyes of Henry Chinaski, his fictional doppleganger. Getting bullied, getting the girl, standing up to Mom and Pop, it's all there during the Depression years with comic treatment.
Hawaii - James Michener
The Heart Of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
A novel form of expose about the horrors of the Belgian Congo and the hypocrisy of European "Civilization" of the time. "The horror, the horror..."
The Heart Of The Matter - Graham Greene
Somewhere in the west of Africa in WWII (Ghana would be my guess), a major in the British military plods through one dreary day after another. That is, he does until his antsy wife insists on decamping the drudgery... and a shipwrecked woman alights on his doorstep to make things interesting. Greene's mastery of prose is as alive here as elsewhere, even if his struggle with the ornery and arcane details of the Catholic religion are trod more than necessarily.
Historia de Mayta - Mario Vargas Llosa
As usual, MVL mixes events separated by many years, in this case about twenty-five. A writer is investigating a marginal revolutionary character who preceded more important revolutionary times, instigating an action that quickly failed but with some serious consequences at least for his life. Also as usual, the time trick of mixing dialogue works.
The Honourable Schoolboy - John Le Carré
The master spywriter of the Cold War shows why his real experience in the Circus counts for something.
Hotel Honolulu - Paul Theroux
Short tales of visitors to the creaky Hotel Honolulu mesh together in giving a rather detailed depiction of Hawaii as an outlier states of outcasts, dreamers, and disillusioned folks in search of something that is perhaps impossible to find. Although some would insist that they've found it. Much more lustful fare than the usual Theroux, and seemingly at least partially autobiographical in relating pieces of the manager's history.
A House For Mr. Biswas - V.S. Naipaul
In a familiar theme for Naipaul - the Indian not in India, the ex-pat or the descendants of the same - Mr. Biswas tries to eke out his position in the world. Born of poverty and, apparently, awful luck through and through, the symbol of all that is free and good and respectable is a house. The question is how to get one. Comic in its way, the lives lead in this hive of families linked by blood has its roots in tragedy as well. It's a long, crowded road to becoming landed gentry.
The House Of Mirth - Edith Wharton
A wicked and telling account of NY society life before the turn of the century. All the traps that class stratification of society offers comes to the fore as one woman tries to find her place in the tier structure. A false world it is, but not so to those that find themselves within - indeed born - to it.
The House Of The Spirits - Isabel Allende
Three generations of a family in Chile are used as the vehicle for telling the story of the country's passing from a land of haciendas to some amount of democracy to dictatorship under Pinochet. Overall it works pretty well in what is Allende's first - and likely best - work.
The Human Factor - Graham Greene
The spy game considers the human factor, as the title suggests - an unusual angle. Wife & kid vs. work, with idealogy thrown somewhere in the mix to influence the decisions.
The Hunt For Red October - Tom Clancy
I, Claudius - Robert Graves
The first of two invented histories concerning the life and times of the Roman Emperor Claudius, known equally as a stuttering idiot and very capable manager of empire. This one covers the years of his "emperorship", faithfully trying to use the facts that are out there of historical record - such as there are when permanence in writing meant chipping it out in stone.
I Am Charlotte Simmons - Tom Wolfe
Wolfe takes on the social aspects of university life in the U.S., removing the veils of scholastic bombast that are particularly belied by the frat/sorority system and bigtime college sports.
The Iliad - Homer (Fagles translation)
Could there be more gore than this? No there could not, and the gods were not pleased in this foundational tale of Western Civilization.
The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
A comedy poking fun at Victorian England and its societal mannerisms of obligation and position, this brief work follows a gentleman who tries to have it all ways somehow simultaneously.
In A Free State - V. S. Naipaul
Three tales of Africa, with the eponymous one best taking on the vestiges of colonialism in some unnamed country that might well be Kenya. Where do the white folks belong when these countries become independent and majority-ruled, yet not beyond tribal whims? What about the numerous folks - Indians, mostly - caught in between?
The Inner Circle - T. C. Boyle
A fictionalization of the development of the Kinsey Report on sexuality, many of the details nevertheless are true enough in describing an the environment of tension and freedom from cultural norms that ultimately allowed for the publication of the landmark study.
Innocent Eréndina - Gabriel García Márquez
Tales from Gabo, culminating in the epic of whore slavery on the Caribbean Coast in the eponymous tale.
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
Les Infortunes De La Vertu - Marquis de Sade
The Invisible Man - H G Wells
Ironweed - William Kennedy
Islands In The Stream - Ernest Hemingway
Over the three stories posthumously released not long after his death, Hemingway recounts a few chapters in the fictional life of Thomas Hudson. As always it's not far from the reality that was his own life, of course, but these tales nevertheless are both interesting and connected. A few islands in the stream (in Cuba and the Bahamas) get their moment in the sun as Hemingway more or less experienced them.
Kidnapped - Robert Louis Stevenson
The Killer Angels - Michael Shaara
King Rat - James Clavell
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Last Night In Twisted River - John Irving
A man and his son go on the run after a deadly mistake in upstate New Hampshire. They're haunted by the possibility that someday this past will catch up to them, likely in the form of a steel barrel held in the hand by the corrupt lawman who'll never forget and wants to even the score somehow. Kind of Russo-like in its settings and characters, but definitely an Irving work when it comes to the weird love triangles.
The Last Of The Mohicans - James Fennimore Cooper
La Lenteur (Slowness) - Milan Kundera
Life Is Elsewhere - Milan Kundera
The Little Drummer Girl - John Le Carré
An actress of strong political leanings is brought in for a ruse to catcher a Palestinian bomber by the Israelis. How far can the method acting go before she becomes who she's playing? The layers to this onion steadily peel away, but only slowly so.
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Lost Horizon - James Hilton
Lucky Jim - Kingsley Amis
Lucky You - Carl Hiaasen
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Magister Ludi/The Glass Bead Game - Hermann Hesse
I would have to at least nominally call this science fiction, seeing as it is set several centuries hence from now. But esoteric would perhaps be the better, or even eccentric, in the telling of what is termed Hesse's magnum opus. Nuggets aplenty about human relations, life and what we expect of it, and more. Tough chewing at the start but the river steadily begins to flow more easily even if I might never fully grasp what all the deeper messages and meanings are.
La Mala Hora - Gabriel García Márquez
A Man For All Seasons - Robert Bolt
A Man In Full - Tom Wolfe
Another biting critique of contemporary American life, with a business tycoon, his socialite wife, a blue-collar worker turned stoic in prison and more as effective props. How the mighty puff themselves up and fall; how the vultures circle.
The Man Within - Graham Greene
Greene's first novel, a tale of corruption, murder and intrigue. But mostly it's an inner dialogue belonging to a coward who has snitched on his fellow smugglers and now must face up to the consequences.
The Martian Chronicles - Ray Bradbury
The Mayor Of Castorbridge - Thomas Hardy
Memento Mori - Muriel Spark
A woman's death is predicted over the phone, creating a discomfort that spreads among her geriatric set.
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
The Merchant of Venice - William Shakespeare
A comic tale of deceit and humility.
Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil - John Berendt
No shortage of colorful characters litter this tale which gives breadth to the rebirth of Savannah, a town quite content to live in the past and apart from the present even to the extent to which it accepts it. A history lesson is in the offing, as is a social commentary on this particular group of people in contrast with the changing country outside of its limits.
The Milagro Beanfield War - John Nichols
The Mission Song - John Le Carré
A rare book set nominally in Africa - as in that's what it's about in almost its entirety even if no time is spent on the ground there. An interpreter is brought into the intrigue of central African politics, something which he's not terribly far from given his birth there and affinity for languages of the area.
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Mohawk - Richard Russo
No one seems to do small town contemporary New England like Russo. A good kid emerges from the shadows of his parents and their divorce.
Moll Flanders - Daniel DeFoe
In 17th-18th century England, a woman is lost without means as much as a man. Moll Flanders, born of neglect to rather luckily find a certain means of security shortly thereafter, doesn't escape her birthright for long. Eventually she has to comes to terms with the sharp reality of necessity and finds the means to do so... The only question is if she'll manage not to get hanged for her capers. A light-hearted read for the subject matter, it's worth noting.
A Moment In The Sun - John Sayles
A fictionalized version of the events surrounding the year 1898, from the Yukon Gold Rush, to the war with Spain in the Philipines and Cuba. The U.S. doesn't shine here in its first attempt to become an empire. On paper it succeeds, but the details are revolting. Meanwhile, mixed in the mess, the town of Wilmington, N.C. suffers the only coup d'etat in U.S. history when Jim Crow descends on the town in the ugliest fashion. True.
Monsieur Maléfique et autres nouvelles - Truman Capote
Three short stories, all curious and interesting, in the voice that is Capote.
Monsignor Quixote - Graham Greene
Monumental Propaganda - Vladamir Voinavich
Stalin's legacy and how people deal with all sides of it.
Moo - Jane Smiley
A Most Wanted Man - John Le Carré
A spy novel a bit lower on the rungs of what Mr LC is capable of, but still a fine read. This one puts the War On Terror in the crosshairs, and its treatment of Muslims in particular.
The Mote In God's Eye - Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Mother Night - Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut takes a darkly humorous look at the Final Solution and how a supposedly "everyday citizen" got caught up in it, a displaced American who broadcast from Germany during the war.
A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
La Muerte de Artemio Cruz - Carlos Fuentes
A death of a former revolutionary in Mexico serves as a vehicle for exposing the various stages of cotidian life before and after the revolution. Artemio Cruz is a corrupt soldier, politician, journalist, tycoon, and lover, relating the seminal events of his life from his deathbed.
My Man Jeeves - P. G. Wodehouse
A sampling of shorts that mostly demonstrate the wiles of the imperturbable and oh-too-English butler Jeeves. He may not give the best of advice at the outset, but somehow in the end he always nails it. If anything, these tales provide a witty glimpse of the idle rich of Britain, as somewhat seen in the earlier years of the Twentieth Century, anyway.
Native Tongue - Carl Hiaasen
Nature Girl - Carl Hiaasen
Annoying phone solicitors eventually end up in great discomfort in the Florida Everglades, which is not surprising since Mr. Hiaasen always takes pleasure in putting the lesser of our fellow citizens into compromising positions somewhere in the lower rungs of Florida's sweaty, criminal-infested climate.
Next - Michael Chricton
The Night Manager - John Le Carré
In a clever spy story as always, Le Carré creates another outsider character in a hotel manager who is recruited to target an arms smuggler who operates with impunity worldwide. It's all about the STYLE of the thing with Le Carré per the usual, with the plot never playing second fiddle in the process.
The Night Watchman's Occurence Book - V.S. Naipaul
An interesting foray into short story fiction, both England and Trinidad get some more moments under Naipaul's eye. Mostly humorous in tone, the realities of everyday life in both locales get their share of justified skewers.
Northwest Passages - ed. Bruce Barcott
An author of Pacific Northwest reputation in his own right, Barcott does an admirable job of selecting passages from authors depicting life in the PNW from Native American days to about the present. Kesey, Kerouac, Steinbeck and more all offer snippets after interesting introductions to each by the editor.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman
A gem of sorts, if likely more for a teenager audience in dealing with adult issues. That's the explanation for the magic, anyway, but the wordsmithing is definitely there in this one.
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
O Henry Prize Stories 2002 - various
The Old Devils - Kingsley Amis
Infighting among old friends and enemies in Wales, settling old scores and creating new ones.
Old Goriot - Balzac
Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
Intended as a scathing review of the relatively recent concept of the English workhouse, Twist does exactly the thing in relating the chain of events surrounding the misgotten pauper named Oliver. The characters don't lack for color or fancy, and you know how it's gonna end. And that's not a bad thing.
On The Black Hill - Bruce Chatwin
An epic in a small book, a pair of identical twins come to being on land that straddles Wales and England. A time capsule of rural life, the century or so that passes serves to explore the nature of being such an individual - yet part of a duo at all times.
On the Road - Jack Kerouac
Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey
Two outsiders make their way in the world, he from backwoods Wales and she from backwoods New South Wales (Australia), challenging the commanding mores of religion and British culture of their day in their own ways. And then they meet.
Our Game - John Le Carré
Two British spooks careers and love lives are deeply intertwined, with Ingushetia as a distant background to the entire affair. The usual lengthy mental digressions of a spy trying to navigate his odd world form the bulk of the story, as often is the case with LeC.
Our Kind Of Traitor - John Le Carré
JLeC doing what he does, which means that this is eminently readable. Although not at the level or pitch of my favorites, it's always interesting world to inhabit when Mr. LeC paints it with his words.
Our Man In Havana - Graham Greene
A more humorous take of the spy world, when a man is recruited into the fold under pretenses he creates.
Out Of Africa - Isak Dinesen
Paths Of Glory - Cobb
The Pearl - John Steinbeck
La Peste - Albert Camus
(The Plague)
Le Petit Prince - Antoine de Saint Exupéry
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
Platforme - Michel Houellebecq
The Plot Against America - Philip Roth
If FDR hadn't won his 3rd term and Charles Lindbergh had won the presidency instead, here's a take on what might have happened under the leadership of the noted Nazi-sympathizer and (evidently) racist populist. Shadows of Donald Trump foretold, methinks.
Polar Star - Martin Cruz Smith
The Possessed - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The most political of FD's novels, and perhaps the most controversial in light of the Russian Revolution and Stalinist days to come. I actually found it something of the darkest of comedies, with bloated egos and conspiracies and subplots a plenty. A series of dramatic events pulls the strings holding the townsfolk of a small town in the Russian countryside...
Post Office - Charles Bukowski
Part two of the trilogy, here where Bukowski slaves away at his deadend job while dreaming of better things - like not working and carousing with women at the racetrack.
Prey - Michael Crichton
Ragtime - D. L. Doctorow
A number of stories combine to give flavor to pre-WWI New York State (and City), touching on issues of race, the societal strains of recent massive immigration, and the early days of jazz. A number of historical figures find themselves inside this work of fiction, too.
The Red Badge Of Courage - Stephen Crane
Red Square - Martin Cruz Smith
Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates
A couple struggle with the demands of marriage and society in 1950s America. The question of who you want to be when you grow up never leaves center stage, both in reality and, more importantly, the psychology of each spouse.
Rising Sun - Michael Crichton
A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean
A beautiful novella that is a mixture of nature, fatalism, and brotherly love. A semi-autobiographical tale of the different paths two brothers take, one of which is more carefree and passionate - and ultimately tragic. The religion of fly-fishing here gets it time under the microscope, set to handsome prose.
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
A brief, bleak take on a post-apocalyptic world, where a man and his son follow a road in hopes of any kind of bright future. Mankind has been reduced to few survivors, with virtually no animals or plants to help the equation. While the source of such destruction is left nebulous, the writing flows and the scenario seems completely plausible.
The Road To Wellville - T.C. Boyle
This is a fictionalized rendering of life inside Kellogg's Battle Creek (Michigan) Sanitorium during the formative years of the cereal industry. The kooks and charlatans are all on full revue as the enemas and strictly wholesome (and completely unappetizing) diets get dished out - each with a lecture from the self-annointed Saint Kellogg himself. Funny stuff.
Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
Shockingly written in the 1600s, a man is shipwrecked alone on a Caribbean island. He finds his path to survival as he learns to understand his place in the grand scheme of things.
Room - Emma Donoghue
A woman is kidnapped at the age of nineteen and made to live in a small outbuilding beyond her aggressor's house. She births a child, and five years later he tells this tale from his perspective in the room. As creepy as you would expect it to be, but practical-seeming as well in relating the room's day-to-day affairs.
Rose - Martin Cruz Smith
The Russia House - John Le Carré
The "Glasnost" book in LeC's large body of work, another seemingly-unlikely person is co-opted into the spy trade. Moscow, St. Petersburg, London, Lisbon - it doesn't matter where, the alleys are trammeled as the trenchcoats are buttoned up tight. Vodka, French cigarettes, some black bread and thou to paraphrase.
Saint Jack - Paul Theroux
A man stumbles into becoming a pimp in old Singapore, finding himself to be quite good at the trade while developing a kind of morality about how to go about it. But it's a racket and he's in the unsteady situation of being ex-pat. How to get out?
Sanctuary - William Faulkner
Saturnin - Zdenek Jirotka
A 20th-century Czech classic, this one shares a kindred spirit with its brethren The Good Soldier Svejk and I Served The King Of England. Lighter in theme with a more romantic tilt, it plays as a pleasant diversion with an eye to a less serious world.
Say You're One Of Them - Uwem Akpan
Horrific short stories, ones that unfortunately speak to the realities that kids in Africa live and have been living in, still accurate in the year 2011 (and probably to date). The Sea Wolf - Jack London
A nastier persona than Wolf Larsen cannot be found to embody the meaning of "survival of the fittest", then following it to its logical ends. A shipwrecked man (the narrator) is saved - only to be subsequently kidnapped - by the crew of the clipper ship Ghost, a ragtag outfit beaten into submission by its highly intelligent captain. This beast of a man philosophizes on the weakness of human nature, rejoices in the reality of the wild which he feels can and should never be ignored, then uses his very crew as his experiment. The narrator scrambles to survive with all his wits.
The Secret Sharer - Joseph Conrad
A stowaway is saved by a captain and is kept in his cabin in secret as the captain weighs the likelihood of his innocence and the risk of keeping him.
Seize The Day - Saul Bellow
A novella, this one's a tale of a man trying to make a fast buck and prove himself to his established father. But a fast buck entails a certain amount of trust in a system of which he's essentially ignorant. Gamblers can have beginner's luck... or be taken to the cleaners.
Selected Stories - Nadine Gordimer
Snippets of life in South Africa under apartheid, without any varnish, told on very human levels in these shorts selected from her larger works.
Sick Puppy - Carl Hiaasen
A black labrador somehow ends up the mistaken focus of Skink & Co. and a younger, but just as eager eco-minded man as greedy politicians and land developers are laid low in sunny Florida. This is what Hiaasen does, and he does it well.
Sideman - Warren Leight
Skinny Dip - Carl Hiaasen
Another quick page turner of the "Florida Noir" genre. Or at least that's what I call it, and Hiaasen is the ringleader into the world of wacked bad guys who eventually get caught and squared away by the latest version of his beleagured-guy/gal-turned-resigned-hero. And then there's the recurring character called Skink.
Skin Tight - Carl Hiaasen
More "Florida Noir" crime fiction that blasts through the pages in more-than-acceptably amusing fashion. You don't have hide a Hiaasen guilty pleasure in the same manner as would be required of a Grisham novel. Hiaasen can write, even if the core of his style is fluff.
Smiley's People - John Le Carré
The third in a trllogy that essentially fictionalizes the real-life Soviet mole story of Kim Philby and his co-conspirators in the British Secret Service. Unlike LeCarré's other books, there is a greater amount of jumping to and fro in this one which can make it more difficult to follow the complex story line. But the style is there, and in spades.
Snow - Orhan Pamuk
Many sides of contemporary Turkish life and no short amount of touching on Turkish history finds the light of day as one emigre returns to the town of his past. Snow is the constant theme in any number of senses as a society lives a mild version of civil war in conflicting its Islamic and modernist pulls from within and without.
Snow Falling On Cedars - David Guterson
A Soldier Of The Great War - Mark Helprin
A pretty encompassing book on the ills of being a soldier, from conscription to life in the trenches to desertion to court martial and more. In this case it's the story of an Italian soldier in the First World War. A bit of melodrama infuses the storytelling, sure, but there are many details to absorb and be engaged by.
Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury
A Son Of The Circus - John Irving
Irving's usual grabbag of eccentric characters this time finds itself in the circuses and streets of Bombay (now Mumbai), India. Sort-of eunuchs, dwarves, long lost twins... and a murder mystery.
The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk - David Sedaris
Sedaris here provides a detour of shorts from his usual collection of shorts that are generally autobiographical. Instead we have animals behaving like humans in a twisted pile of Aesop's Fables. Think of the Grimms tales before they were pasteurized and homogenized.
Stalin's Ghost - Martin Cruz Smith
Star Island - Carl Hiaasen
A look at celebrity while still in the netherworld of Florida crime a la Hiaasen. Former governor Skink makes a nice appearance in this one, too, as a Lindsey Lohan/Brittney Spears clone crashes in Greater Miami. Nutjob Chemo is back, too.
State of Fear - Michael Chricton
Stormy Weather - Carl Hiaasen
Straight Man - Richard Russo
Perhaps THE book on professorial politics at a university, specifically in an English Department. Petty details and bloated egos can try and coexist all they want to... bwah-hah-hah-HAH!
The Stranger - Albert Camus
Strip Tease - Carl Hiaasen
Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart
Shteyngart handles yet another pathetic and yearning loser with gloves of more than a goodly measure of mirth. Not as strong a take as his previous two novels, however.
The Swallows of Kabul - Yasmina Khadra
The horror of living under the Taliban in Kabul, poignantly exposed from both sides of the power divide.
Take A Girl Like You - Kingsley Amis
Tatiana - Martin Cruz Smith
Yet another Arkady Renko novel, brought up to date and into the age of Russian mobsters that are the reality of Russia in the Two Thousand Teens. It's not a pretty picture of power struggles and casual murder of opponents and journalists both.
Tender Is The Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tenth Of December - George Saunders
No one catches the odd foibles of modern American society more unaware and uncomfortable than Saunders. Here's another scorching set of comic short stories, most if not all of which also have appeared in The New Yorker.
That Old Cape Magic - Richard Russo
A college professor/screenplay writer is undergoing something of a late midlife crisis as his marriage is strained and his parents die - while the book at no time reads so sadly, but quirkily lunges forward instead with light twists to keep things interesting. Russo writes winningly.
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
A brief telling of the beginning of the end of a tribal way of life somewhere in greater Nigeria/Niger. Animist beliefs rule the roost of the N tribe, requiring harsh obedience at times, until the white man makes his appearance near the end of the book. Things don't necessarily all change for the better, needless to say.
The Third Man - Graham Greene
This brief work reads quite a bit like the screenplay that it admittedly is (according to the author in the foreward). But it's nevertheless an interesting slice of time, in Vienna not long after WW2 and when the city was divided into quadrants (U.S., France, U.K., U.S.S.R.). Racketeering was rampant, particularly concerning any rationed goods. Enough to drive one to... murder, he wrote.
This Much I Know Is True - Wally Lamb
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
A sophomore work of considerable weight, and certainly at least an equal to its predecessor. This one shifts to two women instead of two boys, however, exploring the hardships of life in both the Afghani and Muslim worlds. Particularly strong is the extreme version of these which is found under the Taliban. Convincing, heartbreaking - and all too true too often in the reality that was lived by so many Afghanis.
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
Three Stations - M. Cruz Smith
Another Russia-based entry in the Arkady Renko canon, the ruffled detective of Gorky Park origin.
The Tiger's Wife - Téa Obreht
A look at the Balkan War from the point of view a girl who grew up in it and survived. On a grander scale, her grandfather's story serves as the vehicle to parlay a healthy portion of the tragic history in those parts.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John Le Carré
The first in a trllogy that essentially fictionalizes the real-life Soviet mole story of Kim Philby and his co-conspirators in the British Secret Service. Unlike LeCarré's other books, there is a greater amount of jumping to and fro in this one which can make it more difficult to follow the complex story line. But the style is there, and in spades.
Tom Jones - Henry Fielding
Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
Too Loud A Solitude - Bohumil Hrabal
How communism denied reality in Czechoslovakia.
The Tortilla Curtain - T.C. Boyle
A look at the hypocrisy of immigration (particularly from Mexico) in the U.S., where citizens reject undocumented workers while ignoring just how dependent they are upon them. Racism courses throughout the confrontations, even when the words aren't spoken aloud.
Tourist Season - Carl Hiaasen
Travels With My Aunt - Graham Greene
A comic turn for Greene, and a surprising un-masculine one to boot. A recently retired banker comes face to face with his aunt after many years, on the event of his mother's death. A new world unfolds that shakes up his stolid ways, beginning with some innocent travels with his aunt...
The Tree Where Man Was Born - Peter Matthiessen
On the earlier side of his career, Matthiessen traveled through East Africa in hopes of seeing some of what was left of a wealth of nature quickly disappearing. He witnessed tribes on the cusp of complete assimilation, animals in their last gasps of relatively unfettered habitat, all the while commenting insightfully about all of it. This takes place in an early-seventies timeframe, with many references to his previous time spent in some of the area from back in the 1960s.
Tres Tristes Tigres (Three Trapped Tigers) - Guillermo Infante
Compared to James Joyce's Ulysses, this is called its Cuban counterpart. Reading it in Spanish was more of a chore than I bargained for, with a generally make-out-able slang that nevertheless bogged me down too much to enjoy the work. Might try it again in English, as Three Trapped Tigers.
The Trial/El Proceso - Frank Kafka
Tropic Of Cancer - Henry Miller
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being - Milan Kundera
various plays - Anton Chekhov Ivanov, The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull, Uncle Vania, Three Sisters
Until I Find You - John Irving
The longest of Irving's growing library of books, no less on the saucy sex side than the others, equally as interesting. An (practically...) fatherless actor comes of age through the unlikely worlds of tattoo parlors and church belfries - where the grand organs of the world reside. Well, red light districts, too - this is Irving. Which means it's phenomenally-well constructed read.
The War of Don Emanuel's Nether Parts - Louis de Bernieres
The War With the Newts - Karel Capek
Waxwings - Jonathan Raban
Set at the height of the doctor madness in Seattle, such things as the WTO "Battle In Seattle" and the general drive of greed that came with high tech on a new scale are presented in the form of a deteriorating marriage.
The Way We Live Now - Anthony Trollope
A multidimensional look at folks in or at the edges of nobility in Victorian London, each trying to finagle their way to an assured ease of life while maintaining manners and standing in their narrow community.
Welcome To The Monkey House - Kurt Vonnegut
A collection of short stories that are, in many aspects, science fiction. In many cases this is Vonnegut at his best, and in a format that maximizes the number of ideas and ideals he can expound upon. That's a damn good thing.
Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys
What Maisie Knew - Henry James
Where The Air Is Clear - Carlos Fuentes
A rambling book with numerable characters and a sometimes tricky story line, this tome nevertheless fleshes out many of the day-to-day details of the Mexican Revolution and particularly what comes to follow - especially among the upper, or pseudo upper, classes. There's texture to this philosophizing that is interesting, perhaps moreso than the philosophizing itself.
White Fang - Jack London
The other side of The Call of the Wild, where a dog-wolf finds civilization.
White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
Making sense of a modernizing India that still has one foot planted firmly in the past in spite of it.
A Widow For One Year - John Irving
The Winds of War, War and Remembrance - Herman Wouk
Two massive tomes detailing the lives of two families - one American and one Jewish in Europe - that intersect. The larger story is the Holocaust, and that is told in all its gory detail. Not the deepest characters, but a trove of facts about the genocide is revealed.
The Windup Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami
Modern Japan's pressuresand the legacy of Japan's WWII Manchurian campaign.
The Witches Of Eastwick - John Updike
Trouble comes in the form of man, recently moved to the sanctuary of a New England town where a few witches have established their modern-day coven.
Wolves Eat Dogs - Marin Cruz Smith
Yet another compelling read of the Arkady Renko series that began with Gorky Park. This one's in Chernobyl post the meltdown.
The Woman and the Ape - Peter Hoeg
Women - Charles Bukowski
Part three of the trilogy, where Bukowski has become a famous writer and women fawn over him as he attends to the more important things in his life: booze and the betting track.
The Women - T. C. Boyle
For all his genius in the field of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright was no less a petty tyrant and womanizer with no shortage of affectations. Or so it's made abundantly clear in this somewhat fictionalized take on his most notable relationships with a few of the women in his life.
The World According to Garp - John Irving
You Shall Know Our Velocity! - David Eggers
The very definition of road trip gone awry, but never a less than entertaining read as two young men lay plans to see the world and donate a life's savings in the process. "Quirky" indeed.
Zorba the Greek - Nikos Kazantzakis
A man comes to Crete with the excuse of building a fortune, taking on a local who seems to have both an insider's view of life on Crete and how to live an general. Both a testament to seizing the day and how little people can be, it's worth the price of admission alone to see this rural side of traditional Greek culture.


Almost Adam - Petru Popescu
An Anthropologist on Mars - Oliver Sacks
Are You Anybody? - Jeffrey Tambor
An autobiography of the comic actor perhaps best known as the patriarch of the clan of Arrested Development.
The Armies of the Night - Norman Mailer
Assassination Vacation - Sarah Vowell
At Home: A Short History Of Private Life - Bill Bryson
In another of Mr. Bryson's non-travel-related books, the house and how it came to be the home of today is explored. When a hall became a hallway, the development of the kitchen and the bathroom - it's all there and replete with his usual massive collection of interesting anecdotes.
The Audacity Of Hope - Barack Obama
A political book, yes, but a voice worth hearing and a tone worth emulating. This isn't a righteous diatribe but, thankfully, a measured look at the issues of our day that gives respect to both sides of the arguments while not leaving any doubt as to his own position. Nuance is a great thing.
Bad Science - Ben Goldacre
Using scientific method, Dr. Goldacre takes the fight to claims made by homeopaths, nutritionists and Big Pharma. He shows how test results are skewed and manipulated in a self-serving and sometimes downright evil way, then takes aim at health reporting to complete the task. A worthy effort that should be well followed... but likely won't be.
Based On A True Story - Norm Macdonald
More or less a memoir for the comedian best known for his several years of feeding "fake" news on Saturday Night Live. That or it's a newer version, perhaps, of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Norm-style. Entertaining as hell, regardless of which tidbits are true or not.
Beyond Belief - V. S. Naipaul
In Indonesia, Iran, and Pakistan (and Malaysia, in the end), Naipaul takes on the Moslem/Islam stories of revolution. There's much more of the bad and ugly than the good, however much the latter is trumpeted at the start in each case. At the root of all is the usual combination of power and money, well-shown through the tales of various individuals who lived through the tumultuous times of c1979 and the mid-1990s.
The Big Burn - Timothy Egan
The largest forest fire in American history, focused in the Bitterroot Mountains of the Northwest, serve as a backdrop for how Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot got the U.S. Forest Service and The National Park System started. It's greed vs. idealism, and both take their wins and losses.
Black Hawk Down - Mark Bowden
Born A Crime - Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah's coming of age story, living in South Africa as a young boy and then man who was technically "illegal" under the days of Apartheid. A black mother, a white father, and a kid making his way. Many a laugh as well as insightful in dealing with a neck of the world woods not often on display outside of its borders.
Bossypants - Tina Fey
An autobiography, and, as expected given the author, it's light and humorous even if the issues she brings up along the way - being subjected to sexism is chief among them - aren't.
Clifford Brown - Nick Catalano
Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed - Jared M. Diamond
Part Two of the masterful treatise on why certain societies succeed at the expense of others, Guns, Germs, and Steel. This one focuses more on case studies on how we are destroying the planet with our relatively unchecked resource extraction. It's happened many times before; now it's just global.
Dark Star Safari - Paul Theroux
After a long hiatus, Theroux returns to his beloved Africa, with foot to ground or butt to seat from Cairo to Cape Town. A lot's changed since his Peace Corps days in the 60s by the time 2001 rolls around. And some things haven't really changed at all. As always, the observant eye of P.T. keeps this interesting, even when some things shouldn't be.
David and Goliath - Malcolm Gladwell
Again Gladwell presents a theme which he pounds home in an eminently readable - and quick as always - book. Disadvantages can easily turn into advantages, depending on how they are attacked or turned around. Agree with the stats completely or not, it's all laid out in accessible prose.
Deep South - Paul Theroux
In a abrupt change from writing about random travels about the world, Mr. Theroux spends several seasons in the back roads of the Deep South. Racism and history is alive and well, and very current - but it's not all hopeless, either.
Desert Solitaire - Edward Abbey
Abbey's days in the desert lead to some lore and history of the U.S. Park Service in the area, as what was a gem of difficult-to-access terrain opens up to the public. He rues the change, needless to say - and with merit, given the result.
The Devil In The White City - Erik Larson
The Dinkum Dictionary - Susan Butler
A lexicon of Aussie terms, if not always their origins. For anyone who's traveled Down Under, however, this is a useful and interesting guide.
Down and Out In Paris and London - George Orwell
Orwell's year or so in the grip of poverty, and of the characters and attitudes of people he knew in similar straights.
Dream of the Celt - Mario Vargas Llosa
The story of Roger Casement, the itinerant Irishman who exposed the horrors of the Belgian Congo to the world before ultimately being put to death for his involvement in the Irish independence movement. An idealist of extraordinary drive... and folly, too, in letting the rightness of his causes blind him to the realities of politics and war.
Dreams Of My Father - Barack Obama
President Obama's formative years, mostly concerning his coming to terms with the role skin color can force upon people... or the extent to which it is allowed to.
F5 - Mark Levine
Not the strongest of the pantheon of natural disaster tomes, this one nevertheless more-than-adequately covers the massive spate of twisters that descended through the U.S. one day in 1974.
A Fortunate Life - Albert Facey
Fresh Air Fiend: Travel Writings - Paul Theroux
A hodgepodge of essays grouped by similarities, all with Theroux's typically sharp insights into not simply travel, but why we (should) travel - and how we (should) do so. He's got the track record to support it.
García Márquez - The Early Years - Ilan Stavans
An outlining of García Márquez's earlier history after the publication of his autobiography, the purpose of this tome is to fill in the blanks of where the great author got his ideas. What were his influences, which histories play themselves out in his books? Well, here they are to a great extent - up to about the age of 40, when One Hundred Years Of Solitude took the literary by justifiable storm.
Ghost Train To The Eastern Star - Paul Theroux
Mr. Theroux attempts to retrace his steps taken in his original classic, The Great Railway Bazaar, with varying success. The "varying" part is more on account of where he can and cannot travel circa 2007 or so, in comparison to his original trip some decades prior. If anything, his insights into travel and culture are the more seasoned for his wear.
The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer
Schumer gives her take on how she got to where she is, a self-deprecating comedian enjoying a large scale of popularity. Rags to riches, or the other way around and back, makes for a good story as she mixes in bits of life advice along the way.
How About Never - Bob Mankoff
A light and comic take on the light comics found in The New Yorker, as related by the semi-longtime cartoon editor. Loads of cartoons get commentary on why they do or don't work as Mankoff's career gets the once over by himself. Fun.
The Immortal Irishman - Tim Egan
A seminal figure in the unsuccessful creation of the Irish State in the 1840s, Thomas Meagher lived many lives in first facing jail there and then ending up in Tasmania under confinement. He later would escape to the U.S. to promote the Irish cause, then would eventually fight in the U.S. Civil War before making his way out west to run the state of Montana - where he mysteriously disappeared.
In Search of Buddy Bolden - Donald M. Marquis
Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer
Into Thin Air - Jon Krakauer
Isaac's Storm - Erik Larson
Hubris and the hurricane that levelled Galveston in 1910.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - Mindy Kaling
The comedian shares her story of insecurities, not being white in a very white environment, and becoming a comedian. Funny and lighthearted about what are actually quite dark subjects such as misogyny and racism.
It Wasn't All Velvet - Mel Tormé
Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life - Wynton Marsalis and Vigeland
Jazz Is - Nat Hentoff
Jazz Lives - Gene Lees
Jazz Styles (7th Ed ) - Mark C Gridley
Journey Without Maps - Graham Greene
While still young, the legendary author went on a walkabout of sorts with cousin and a host of porters in West Africa. A lost time on the eve of WWII.
Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain
Something of a no-holds-barred take on chefs and kitchen staff at those restaurants that try to take themselves seriously or at least appear to. Bourdain nevertheless has a respect for food and the art of cooking in spite of his admitted extended dalliances with drugs and the frankly seedy characters that have inhabited most of the kitchens he's worked in. There's a joy and fun oomph to this work which put Mr. Bourdain on the map and onto the TV tube chasing down ever more bizarre things to eat by at least our mentally-restricted standard.
Krakatoa - Simon Winchester
The biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history, Krakatoa's impact is ultimately believed to be much more than the immense destruction that happened in the immediate area. It changed the world's weather, causing crop failures around the world and perhaps affected the destiny of many nations if not the entire world. But this book focuses on the folly of gaping at a smoking volcano giving signs that something bad's about to go down... and did.
Lady Sings the Blues - Billie Holiday
Lafayette In The Somewhat United States - Sarah Vowell
Ms. Vowell turns her attention to how France helped the U.S. in various ways altogether to become independent of Great Britain, ignored for long now by those who find such history inconvenient and annoying. With her usual humor and deep research, this is one of her better stabs at bringing U.S. history to light.
The Last Train To Zona Verde - Paul Theroux
Theroux guesses on this being his last foray into the uncomfortable side of Africa, what with his gout and advancing age. His penchant for bitter notice is on high alert here as his almost romantic love for the continent is laid to siege because of the sad state of affairs in the daily life found from South Africa to Namibia, Angola, and beyond.
The Lawless Roads - Graham Greene
In 1937, Graham Greene traveled through a Mexico lost now to the sands of time and modernization. Travel by mule between towns, rickety boats on the verge of sinking at all times, mystics, and a political situation that had essentially outlawed religion. An intriguing timepiece, this work served in a sense as a study for his classic novel which followed, The Power and the Glory. It's a fantastic snapshot of Mexico before industrialization, in the late 1930s, detailing those years where Mexico continued to deal with the ramifications of its revolution and severe break from its past.
Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls - David Sedaris
More essays from Sedaris that don't miss in their humor, if a bit more of a political edge finds its way inside the narratives for what seems a first time.
Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures - Wade Davis
A collection of essays with the unifying theme of how we are watching cultures disappear across the world. This happens in various manners, from dwindling survivors to extinction of language to suppression of traditions.
Living To Tell The Tale - Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez's autobiography is a fascinating look at a rise from poverty and expectations into a life first as a journalist and a writer. The tale stops before he reaches the age of 30 or so, but GM bears witness to significant events in Colombia's tragic history while going through his own struggles to become established and capable in the written art.
The Lost City Of Z - David Grann
The explorer Percy Fawcett became known as the explorer who could enter the toughest environment and yet somehow come back out, perhaps even months later. He became fascinated and bewitched with an Amazonian version of El Dorado that ultimately consumed him and his life as well - or so one must assume since he disappeared with finality. This book explores where he might have ended up.
Mahatma Gandhi (Autobiography) - Mahatma Gandhi
An intriguing look into the mind of one of the 20th Century's most charismatic and influential figures. Some details are mundane, true, but all give insight into how his influence grew as his philosophies cohered.
Man's Search For Meaning - Viktor Frankl
The Measure of a Mountain - Bruce Barcott
Miles - Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe
Music Is My Mistress - Duke Ellington
The Mutiny on Board H.M.S. Bounty - William Bligh
Bligh's version of what happened after the fated trip to collect breadfruit plants in Tahiti. Certainly the details are vouchsafed, if the tone might be a bit suspect. Nevertheless a slice of history well worth knowing if only for the reality of a seaman's lot over the eons.
My Secret History - Paul Theroux
The famous travel and novel writer's creates something of an autobiography by stringing together essays about events covering various times in his life.
Naked - David Sedaris
Notes From A Big Country - Bill Bryson
Bryson turns his jokey wit to the goofiness of aspects of life in the U.S. that he finds interesting. In doing so, however, he stays firmly in the pocket of safe topics of observation and discussion if nevertheless applying honesty to them.
Noticia de un Secuestro (News of a Kidnapping) - Gabriel García Márquez The true accounting, from the victims' point of view, of the mass kidnapping of 10 journalists in Colombia in 1990 by the narcogroup headed by Pablo Escobar. Details of life and hope, or the lack of it, from within captivity parallel the attempt to get Escobar and his cohorts to turn themselves into the hands of justice so a healing process can begin within the country.
Off The Road - Carolyn Cassady
Of Love and Other Demons - Gabriel García Márquez
Cartagena under the inquiring Spanish makes a redheaded girl suffer acutely.
On The Damned Human Race - Mark Twain
Essays ranging over a number of ills afflicting civilization, from religion to war to slavery to torture and more. The man was ahead of his time.
Partly Cloudy Patriot - Sarah Vowell
The Perfect Storm - Sebastian Junger
Personal Memoirs - Ulysses S. Grant
One of the most famous of autobiographies, and perhaps one of the first, too, of consequence. Most of the book concerns Grant's experience in the U.S. Civil War, but it also gives some insights into the flavor of the times. In that same vein, however, there is not much of the emotional element of what it all meant to him or others.
Piano Lessons - Noah Adams
The Pillars Of Hercules - Paul Theroux
For this go-round, Mr. Theroux makes a (more-or-less) loop of the Mediterranean by land and sea. As usual, his knowledge of history, literature, and other writers with local connections are brought to bear as he picks away at the denizens of these lands in his inimitable way. Greek mythology and the Bible take the lion's share of references.
Princess - Jean Sasson
A Random Walk Down Wall Street - Burton G Malkiel
Relato De Un Náufrago - Gabriel García Márquez
The true story of the random sinking of a Colombian warship and its one survivor.
The Return Of Evita Peron - V. S. Naipaul
A few lengthy essays on real life third world phenomena in the early 70s, in Argentina, Trinidad, and Congo. Big man politics, revolution, and corruption shake hands.
Riding on a Blue Note - Gary Giddens
Sables y Utopías : Visiones de América Latina - Mario Vargas Llosa
Essays from over a longer career, most of which speak to general politics of various countries in Latin America. The strongman dictator, flirtations with communism and capitalism, the left and right, the intrigues and (mostly) the lies. Then comes some commentary on a number of Latin America's best known artists.
Sal Si Puedes - Peter Mathiesson
Mr. Mathiesson spends the better part of three years trailing Cesar Chavez as he furthers the cause of organizing farm workers in the U.S. It's an uphill struggle against the hard and unsympathetic line of the growers, but Chavez is indefatigable in his quest. Whether he had a Messiah Complex or not, unquestionably the goal was always worthy and there was virtually no amount of sacrifice that Mr. Chavez wasn't willing to endure to hopefully see his dream of farm worker respect - in its most important forms of pay and safety - achieved.
Selected Letters, 1940-56 - Jack Kerouac
The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins
A layman's approach with a decidedly scientific lean, human actions are explained in a way that gives pause to the thought of free will... or God/god. Living machines have a survival instinct, Dawkins explains.
Seven Pillars Of Wisdom - T.E. Lawrence
Rather dry but detailed, Mr. Lawrence is an archaeologist who finds himself caught up in WWI. Specifically he's entrusted with ralling Arabs of the desert to bedevil the Turks on this fringe of the Ottoman Empire. Color comes perhaps by accident in his commentary, but here is a world that is for the most part gone by. Camels and tribal pride are described in great detail, probably the two realities of greatest importance to the mission.
Shakespeare - The World As Stage - Bill Bryson
The fascinating aspect of this biography is that there is almost no information to work with. Bryson makes this abundantly clear in his humorous take on the information that DOES exist - while not failing to note the more important impact his works have had on our culture.
The Tao Of Travel - Paul Theroux
The famous travel writer takes snippets of others and his own in putting together this compendium of all things travel-related, from why to how. Interesting accounts and worthwhile advice make their way into the mix.
Teacher: Two Years in the Mississippi Delta - Michael Copperman
Copperman takes a two year position in the Mississippi Delta as an act of idealism and charity, far from home and culturally he seems to the locals as if from another planet. And that's even before he tries to connect with children who have by and large been ignored from their education to their existence. He's in over his head, but not afraid to keep the wounds open for inspection.
Three Cups Of Tea - Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
This now-controversial book retells the events of how Mortenson got a number of schools going in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the world (in Pakistan and Afghanistan). The shame is that the bulk of it is apparently quite true, the events at times condensed and his ensuing foundation somewhat sloppily run. There is still much to laud about the effort, however, and there is much cultural detail to absorb in the process about an area of the world that only ever-increasingly receives attention.
Travels With Charley - John Steinbeck
Steinbeck hits the roads of the U.S. in his pre-RV truck named Rocinante, making observations in the wake of Kennedy's election that surprisingly ring as often true today. His pride and disgust in what he sees is just as justifiable then as now.
Trials Of The Earth - Mary Hamilton
A rare account of a woman pioneer in the U.S., from before the Civil War until The Great Depression. Mystery surrounded her husband's past as they moved between Arkansas, Missouri and the Mississippi Delta. Tragedies and triumphs on a small scale in the grand scheme of things, but unbelievable when considering that this woman pushed through it all.
Trumpet Blues - Peter J Levinson
Vacationland - John Hodgman
The sometime "reporter" from the Daily Show gives autobiographical details especially related to his life both in Massachusetts and Maine, never failing to give a comic touch to the story.
Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina (The Open Veins Of Latin America) - Eduardo Galeano
Heavy reading, indeed - and it should be required reading as well. Yes, the tone is unabashedly harsh, but the sentiment is certainly justified in detailing the woes of Latin American exploitation in the hands of Europe and then the U.S. The boldness and openly brazen manner in which politics have been handled down that way adds up to five hundred years of shame. There really is no two ways about it.
The Voyage Of The Beagle - Charles Darwin
Darwin's actual journal of his time on the Beagle, the experience that ultimate led to his seminal work The Origin Of Species.
Waiting For Dizzy - Gene Lees
A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson
Ways Of Escape - Graham Greene
The great author reflects mostly on his professional career, and how various experiences in his life found their way into his books - or didn't, at least not directly. The writer's process, the opium...
What Am I Doing Here - Bruce Chatwin
A collection of essays from both travels and work, from the point of view of a very literate aesthete.
What Just Happened - James Gleick
Where Men Win Glory - Jon Krakauer
Although ultimately a complete biography, the focus is on the military part of Patrick Tillman's life. He was the overachieving ballplayer who decided to leave the NFL to join the army and ultimately died in Afghanistan from friendly fire. Although his decision made and makes no reason to me then or now, the book lays out a good case for well-meaning individual whose demise was shamefully played a different way for the press than what happened.
The White Cascade - Gary Krist
The worst avalanche in U.S. history happened near Steven's Pass, when a couple of trains waiting out a winter storm were swept off of a mountain to kill around 100 people. This is the story of the buildup to the tragedy and the aftermath.
The Wordy Shipmates - Sarah Vowell
The dirt on the Puritans, as told in Vowell's loose and jockeys style. But she doesn't short the facts in setting some myths to rest and creating a better picture of how these folks lived and thought.
The World Is Flat - Thomas Friedman
In this tome, New York Times columnist tackles the ramifications of globalization. Specifically - where are the jobs (and thus the money) going and why?
The Worst Hard Time - Timothy Egan
The details of what happened during the Great Depression in the soil-raped and ravaged Great Plains are laid out here, leaving little doubt as to the causes of the disaster that took immense amounts of soil to flight - along with the fortunes and futures that had been laid into it. All fall to pieces, and worse than imagined.
The Worst Journey In The World - Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Very possibly indeed the worst journey in the world in more than one sense. First there's the insanely cold weather and being among the first humans spending time on Antarctica to endure it. Then there is the (South) polar journey of Robert Scott which ends first in dismay and then tragedy. Quite a tale of the ins and outs of the adventure over three years.
You'll Grow Out Of It - Jessi Klein
Another coming of age story for a successful comedian, this one more of a writer than a standup or actor. But no less sharp for the lack of public exposure, as she's worked on many of the best-received comedic programs from Saturday Night Live to Inside Amy Shumer.
Zeitoun - Dave Eggers
Hurricane Katrina's scope of disaster is well documented, but here it is brought into focus via a Syrian immigrant and his American-cum-muslim wife who get caught up in its mess. Poignant details range from abandoned pets to overeager national guardsmen.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig
Slightly trapped in (60s/70s) time sylistically, and espousing some textbook-ish philosophy that can be beyond the layman's terms, life philosophies are nevertheless successfully explored.

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