Summer Reading

Summer’s here and, for some of us, this means more time to read. Yeay! Here are my top three wicked cool picks for Summer 2006.

1. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.

Best book I’ve read in the past 12 months, hands down. This book showcases Roth’s compelling writing style and draws upon his own childhood experiences to tell the story of a Jewish family growing up in Newark, New Jersey on the eve of World War II. It’s a work of alternate (alternative?) historical fiction – written as if popular aviator and vocal anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh became President instead of FDR.

Unlike Roth’s other works, there is little profanity and no sex. For those interested in Roth’s credentials, the NY Times just voted the book (and a few of his other novels) one of the most important works of fiction in the last 25 years.

2. Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri.

I’m just finishing this book right now. Wow. It’s a collection of short stories about all kinds of people and places (with a charming Indian flavor). From a couple struggling through the aftermath of a stillborn child, to an interpreter/tour guide working in a doctor’s office (the interpreter of maladies), the stories are incredibly evocative and wonderfully well written. A must read for those with short attention spans. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Review here.

3. The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong.

A fairly dense but smooth read, chronicling and comparing fundamentalist movements in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The main message of this book is that fundamentalist movements are reactions to the painfully jarring integration of religious traditions into a secular, modern society. One failing of the book is that Armstrong doesn’t present many ideas how groups can effectively maintain the integrity of religious belief and practice given the onslaught of secular humanism, but she does present a convincing argument that we must learn to develop a dialogue between the two camps, or face violent eruptions from those groups displaced and scorned by modern society.

This book is chillingly prescient, written two years before the 2001 terrorist attacks. Although the subject matter is dense, I found the book easy to read and very thought provoking. Armstrong even mentions Mormons once or twice, and fairly positively. NY Times review and first chapter here.

I’m almost finished with my current book and would love to hear suggestions from you. Happy reading!


  1. Last summer I started Catcher in the Rye. I read one chapter a month. I hope to finish it this summer. It’s a short book and I like it; the trouble is, I feel guilty about reading anything other than academic stuff. (Blogs excluded of course.)

  2. How many picks can we list? I suppose I’ll follow suit by listing three, but I have many more where these came from up my sleeve.

    Prisoner’s Dilemma by Richard Powers

    Richard Powers is often compared to other postmodernist novels such as Pynchon, DeLillo, Gaddis, Foster Wallace, etc. However, I find his books more satisfying than all of the above because not only are his books extremely intelligently written, the emotional tenor of his books are much less paranoid or ironic than other postmodernist authors. A good way of classifying his books is high intellectual fiction with heart.

    This particular novel is Powers’ second (I actually recommend all of his books, though this is one of my favorites). It’s a story about the importance of trust that contains a rewriting of American history, an examination of game theory, and a story of an interesting (and somewhat dysfunctional) family, written in intensely moving and beautiful language.

    Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought by George Lakoff and Mark Johnston

    This is a book written by a linguist and a cognitive scientist (I think) writing about how we need to rethink basic philosophical concepts through the lens of what we’ve learned in contemporary cognitive science, neurology, etc. It’s an easy book to follow (even if you’re not a linguist, philosopher, or cognitive scientist), and it has some pretty interesting stuff to say on embodiment and cognition.

    The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

    When this book was published in the 1970’s, it won a number of awards (which I can’t remember off the top of my head). It’s a series of four vignettes about the author’s experiences growing up as a Chinese-American woman. It’s about her own life as well as the lives of other women in her family, and in it she details her struggles trying to make sense of her Chinese heritage, her new adopted American culture, and her feminist beliefs and tendencies. It’s also a story about telling stories and Kingston’s attempts to find her own voice. Think The Joy Luck Club but 100 times better.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Ronan, I know exactly what you mean. When I was doing my LL.M. in Taxation at DePaul University, my guilty pleasure was reading Victorian novels, especially Austen and the Brontes.

    I wish I had some good recommendations for you, but my to read pile is overflowing, and I’m really behind. For instance, I still haven’t finished Rough Stone Rolling, which is an embarrasment to me. I did, however, read the latest SWK bio, and will be on a panel discussion of it at Sunstone. Right now I’m reading Opening the Heavens, as I’ll be publishing a review of it in the FR.

  4. If you haven’t read it five hundred times, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

    I’d also recommend countless graphic novels, because summertime is the best time of comics. Read Hush, or V for Vendetta.

    If you want something superserious, try the recent David O. McKay biography or Updike’s new book, “Terrorist.”

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    OK, S, I’m going to blow your mind: I went to high school with Richard Powers! Back then he was “Rick.” This was DeKalb High School in Illinois. He was a year ahead of me, in my future wife’s class. He was the class of 75, I was 76. (In fact, in a month I’m going to my 30-year high school reunion. We weren’t close friends or anything, but I definitely knew who he was, and I think we had a class together once. These days he lives in Champaign-Urbana (where the University of Illiois is located).

  6. This is my summer of Umberto Eco. I just finished The Name of the Rose, I am halfway through Baudolino, and then I’ll tackle Foucault’s Pendulum. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised (I’m a physicist, and my comparative literature-ist wife is trying to “expand my horizons”)

  7. Elisabeth says:

    Kevin – Reading Victorian novels is the perfect complement to studying tax law. Both genres bestow eccentric consideration on arcane, boring details, and give me a headache after about two pages :)

    S- thanks for those recommendations, they sound intriguing.

    Ronan- I loved The Catcher in the Rye and cannot fathom how you’ve been able to put it down and not devour it whole in one sitting.

  8. Nick, you’re saving the best for last. Foucault’s Pendulum is a masterpiece.

  9. OK, so much I endorse The Plot Against America. A great book, and it reads like a thriller.

  10. Elisabeth says:

    Steve – I haven’t read K&C 500 times, just once. But it was good! I’m not a fan of Updike, even though I haven’t read one thing he’s written. A weirdly bizarre prejudice, I know.

    Apparently, many famous people went to DeKalb High School. Cindy Crawford is my favorite graduate, after our own Kevin Barney, of course.

    Nick – I have to read Foucault’s Pendulum, thanks for reminding me. Foucault scares me, though. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been putting it off.

  11. I’m becoming an expert on the writings of Levi Peterson. He has very descriptive ways of describing sex: “Well, start your tractor and let’s bale some hay.”

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    I picked up Levi’s autobiography, A Rascal by Nature, a Christian by Yearning, at Casper MHA, but I just added it to the big to read stack. I’ll get to it eventually.

  13. Summer reading recommendations–oh, goody!

    OK, I’ll throw in my own completely indefinsible prejudices: _Catcher in the Rye_ is OK, but _Franny and Zooey_ is better. I adored that book when I was sixteen–I like it less now than I did as a teenager, but it was one of those foundational experience books. For a while our family cars were named Franny and Zooey (my husband goodheartedly went along with this although I have never been able to induce him to read a single work of fiction).

    John Updike is boring. Sorry, but he just is.

    Thanks for the recommendation on _The Plot Against America_. I tried to read _The Human Stain_ over spring break, and although I thought the racial issues were intriguing, I just could not plow through the nauseating trials of an old man on too much Viagra.

    I liked _Foucoult’s Pendulum_ a lot. It has some extremely witty parts that I can’t recall without laughing uncontrollably. It’s also creepy, though.

  14. a random John says:

    I’ve been reading crappy sci-fi novels again, having given up on my, “books I should have read and didn’t” kick. So…

    Treason by Orson Scott Card is one of his early novels and is very strange. The characters are very poorly developed and the dialog is sparse. I read this after four George R R Martin novels (those I’m counting as spring reading rather than summer) in which conversations can span pages and pages so maybe the contrast made Treason seem lacking, but Card pretty much admits that it is bad in the preface. The interesting thing is the talents of each of the cultures in the book and how the hero interacts with them. Even more interesting for fans of Card is that much like his novel The Worthing Saga (or Chronicles depending on your edition) there are hints of his other novels here. Fans will notice similarities to the Alvin Maker series and will also find the big unanswered question from the Homecoming series at least partly answered here before any of the Homecoming books were written. This novel plays a small part in a Slate article attacking Card because it mentions that the hero’s horses were nammed Hitler and Himmler, so of course Card is a Nazi. In any case I think it would be a very interesting read for fans of Card and a poor intro to his work for non-fans.

    I’ve also read three novels by Larry Niven: Ringworld, Protector, and Ringworld Engineers. I would rate that in that order from best to worst. The sci-fi ideas here are even more interesting than those in Treason but the writing itself is so-so. Yes, I read trash.

    Finally, I’m almost done with Stranger in a Strange Land. So far this is the best thing I’ve read this summer. At this point I think that parts of The Fifth Element are ripped off from it. One aspect of older sci-fi that I find interesting is what adavances we have now that the author has failed to anticipate. Usually it is something like computers or cell phones, but in this book I find the sexist attitudes the most jarring aspect. Interesting reading.

  15. I know people aren’t hip on her but try Toni Morrison’s Beloved or Song of Solomon. You won’t regret it.

    And I’m shameless but my sis-in-law Kate Holbrook just edited a book called Global Values 101 with interviews with social activists. It’s a good, good read.

    Short read: Frannie and Zooey by Salinger

    I’m reading DeLillo’s White Noise right now. It’s fast and entertaining.

  16. I don’t know, Beloved is one of those books I think everyone should read.

    I just read “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, ‘The Shipping News” by E. Annie Proulx and “Angle of repose” by Wallace Stegner. I’d recommend all of those to most people (and Mormons too)

  17. Last summer I read the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and Europe Central by William Vollmann.

    This summer, Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman.

  18. Another vote for _The Shipping News_! I love that book. Love it.

  19. OK, I can’t stop thinking about books now! Two I read last summer that I really liked were _Cold Mountain_ and _Snow Falling on Cedars_. Almost anything by Margaret Atwood is excellent, but I think her best is _Cat’s Eye_. I liked _Oryx and Crake_, but it’s extremely bleak. Not recommended to the potentially suicidal.

  20. Elisabeth says:

    Eve – what did you think of the movie “The Shipping News”? Any good?

  21. Steve Evans says:

    movie = crap.

    If you’re in the mood for something similarly thoughtful, Plainsong is a good bet.

  22. I just read Cold Mountain at the recommendation of my mother. It was definitely worth the time, beautiful writing. Luckily I didn’t have any movie images to mentally blot out.

    I will put Kavalier and Clay on my list. Wanted to read it before, but never got around to it.

    My favorite Eco was The Island of the Day Before.

  23. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri is good, too.

    Is the Life of Pi old news? I thought it was great.

    If you like odd religious books, Killing the Buddha, by Peter Manseau and Jeff Sharlet is also very good.

    Also good is the Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris.

  24. Julie M. Smith says:

    I thought The Kite Runner, Snow Falling on Cedars, and Angle of Repose were great. If you want something really ‘lite’, try I Don’t Know How She Does It. Blue Latitudes, Devil in the White City, The Children’s Blizzard, The Fall of the Sparrow, Seabiscuit, and Confederates in the Attic are all fun. I better stop there.

    Thanks for all the great suggestions here.

  25. Since March I’ve been reading (via audiobooks) one book a week, and I’m sad to say I haven’t read a single “Amazon five-star” book. I just finished Teacher Man by Frank McCourt and am glad I didn’t have him for my teacher. I’ve just started Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. And I’m in the library hold queue for the following:

    -Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel
    -Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
    -Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King
    -Night by Elie Wiesel
    -Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
    -The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
    -A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson
    -Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

  26. Rosalynde says:

    For fiction, I’m going to do all the little George Eliot novels this summer.

    And I have an endless list of nonfiction I’m wanting to get through—next up is “Attachment and Loss” by John Bowlby.

  27. Elisabeth (20), I never saw it! So I guess we’ll both have to trust Steve’s evaluation.

    I’ll also add to the several votes in favor of _Angle of Repose_. (Has anyone read _Crossing to Safety_? I keep meaning to get around to that one. I hear lots of good things about it.) And George Eliot. I love _Middlemarch_. Part of what I love about it is that it’s so luxuriously looong and has all of these interesting characters and plots, and her fabulous weird narrative voice. It’s like going to a good long movie. You know it won’t be over too quickly, that it will last and last.

    I like Kathleen Norris as well, partly because I lived in South Dakota for a long time and fell in love with it and I’m addicted to landscape descriptions.

    Has anyone else read Karen Armstrong’s relatively recent autobiography, _The Sprial Stairase_? It’s the only thing I’ve read by her, but there’s a lot of fascinating stuff about her own religious experience, her decision to leave the convent and her vows as a nun.

    This is so much fun! Everyone please get on and tell about more and more books. I’m wringing my hands with joy! :>

  28. I read most of the works of Robert Ludlum during law school. It was nice to read the same story line told over and over but with slightly different characters, sort of like the episodes of “24”.

    The last few months, I have enjoyed Akhil Amar’s, The Constitution: A Biography and Bruce Ackerman’s The Failure of the Founding Fathers : Jefferson, Marshall, and the Rise of Presidential Democracy, both of which were fascinating, and very readable.

    At the moment, I am reading David Brion Davis’ Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and All Fall of Slavery in the New World, and Harry Stout’s Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War, both of which I highly recommend. I have also just started Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War, but it is too soon to tell whether I’d recommend it.

    I do enjoy Rough Stone Rolling, but it is not a quick read for me. But it is not as difficult to get through as McCulloch’s John Adams (which I still have not finished).

  29. Elisabeth says:

    Eve – I just finished The Spiral Staircase. I really enjoyed it, although it was a bit emotionally overwrought in parts. Did you think? The T.S. Eliot imagery was stunning. I’m tempted to check out her other autobiography – Through the Narrow Gate – the one she wrote directly after leaving the convent. 

  30. Crossing to Safety is excellent. Every few summers I reread A River Runs Through It, my perfect summer read.

  31. The best fiction I’ve read that I’ve never heard anyone else mention is Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. I’m planning to read Augie March this summer.

  32. Elisabeth (29), very possibly. When I read for pleasure I’m a skimmer–I tend to latch onto the parts of the plot that grip me and slide right over the rest. Even when I’m bound and determined to make myself _slow down_ and read more thoroughly, my first reading always seems to zip away from me into the superficial. I have to read anything with a story at least twice to really say I’ve read it. One time in some weird family discussion, some of my siblings and I came up with something like this formula:

    1 time through a nonfiction book (straight info with little to no overarching narrative) =
    2 times through a fiction book (or nonfiction with a lot of narrative, like personal essay or biography) =
    4 times through a poem

    Not sure how I got on that tangent…

    I love _A River Runs through It_ too–I’d never thought of it, but it is the perfect summer book. When I listened to it on tape last summer, the ending broke me down into sobs right in the middle of the gym.

    I’m lapping up all of these recommendations!

  33. The Adventures of Augie March is awesome. For some other hilarious picaresque stylings, try The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, or The Good Soldier Svejk.

  34. I love reading lists.

    Foucault’s Pendulum was waaaayyy too long. It has, however, engendered an eternal smirk on my face when it comes to conspiracy theorists. You’ll never again be able to read articles on Meridian magazine connecting solar cycles to divine numbers {/smirk}. Eco’s books have wickedly delightful plots, but he couldn’t write a satisfying ending to save his life.

    If you enjoy classic children’s fantasy novels, I highly, highly recommend The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. (Strangely enough, it is based on Milton’s Paradise Lost.)

    For dark academic mysteries, Secret History by Donna Tartt. If you’ve always thought of yourself as a gifted academic at heart and/or had a fascination with classical languages, this book is for you. Very dark. Don’t read any spoilers.

    I used to love sci-fi, but have had trouble getting into it the past few years. That said, everyone must read Dune before they die. An unthinkable civilization where the book is mainly about politics on a micro and macro scale. But never, ever read any of the sequels.

    I purchased a copy of my favorite novel today–Anna Karenina. I’ve never read a novel before and learned so much about myself from characters in the novel. I never want to meet the author because he would see through me like a sheet of saran wrap. And what a great opener

    All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

    Someone should make a blog post about great first lines! (hint, hint…)

  35. Mark Butler says:

    I am currently reading Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert D. Putnam. The topic is fascinating although the endless statistics and charts get a little dry after a while.

    I am also reading William Ockham, by Marilyn McCord Adams, but it is definitely a rather specialist tome (two actually) focusing on his metaphysical analysis. I think his theology and controversy with the Papacy is more interesting, but I do not have a good book on those yet, although Volume II goes into his theology to some degree.

  36. Ick, I thought Crossing to Safety was awful. Loved Angle of Repose, and was prepared to love Crossing to Safety, but despised it. Pretentious tone, flat characters, a fairly pointless read. The tone was extremely grating. Our book club, which reads some stellar literature, was unanimous in hating it. Your mileage may (and probably does) vary of course.

    I wish I had time to read this summer, poo.

  37. Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik.

    Remarkable book. Gopnik tells of how he and his small family decamped from NY to Paris for a time. Simple, but then funny and profound and powerful in the oddest places.

    I read it a few years back, before our daughter was born. It will mean even more to me now, re-reading with new eyes his adventures with his young son in the City of Lights.

    I also crack the Patrick O’Brian series about once a year and spend a couple months plowing through it. Profound in its understanding of the male psyche. Not so much of the female counterpart, but I’d go elsewhere for that anyway.

  38. #13 Eve, I think Updike is boring, also. But I think I just bought a book by him, The Terrorist. If it’s not him, it’s somebody like him. I was intrigued by the plot description. We’ll see. I enjoyed Shipping News (wasn’t Ed Harris in the movie, I think he’s so hot) and the other books you mentioned.

    ARJ, I remember reading A Stranger in a Strange Land. I don’t remember what it was about, an earth guy from Mars or something? Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow are OSC’s best books.

    Amri, I could not get through any Toni Morrison book. I mean, I read Beloved, but geez, I’m still recovering.

    Steve Evans, I am a total Kent Haruf fan. He wrote a sort of sequel to Plainsong which is wonderful, I think it’s called Eventide. I wrote to him (I know I’ve said this before, if you’ve read it, read on)saying: “Dear Kent Haruf, you are a damn good writer.” And he wrote back: “Dear Annegb, you are a damn good reader!” Cool, huh?

    I read all of Levi Peterson’s Night Soil last night and laughed and I had to get out my marker. There are some really good lines in there.

    I’m also, yes, I am, re-reading the Book of Mormon. Stolidly, without a lot of spiritual moments, but every word. I’m making myself read it aloud. I’m feeling closer to God, though.

    You guys pretty much read me under the table, though, which doesn’t happen often in my part of the country.

  39. I’m on an Icelandic kick. I’m listening to a collection of sagas of the settlement of Iceland, Greenland and Vinland. I’m reading Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness, and after that I plan to read his Paradise Regained which deals with Mormon conversion and migration in Iceland.

  40. Kevin–that is quite weird that you went to high school with him! I actually have met him (I did my undergrad at U of Illinois), but this was after he published a few books. Incidentally, a fictionalized version of the family of the professor who served as my advisor at U of I (minus him) makes an appearance in Powers’ 5th book, Galatea 2.2.

    So, since a bunch of people have jumped in with many recommendations, I’ll list a few more:

    A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

    A book of essays that is darkly funny. If you read no other essay, read the last one (the one the title of the book comes from). It’s an essay about going on a cruise, and is one of the funniest things I have read in the last few years.

    Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories by Hisaye Yamamoto

    Stories by a Japanese American women writing primarily in the mid-twentieth century. They are stories about the everyday lives of Japanese-Americans during and after World War II. They focus heavily on family, especially parent-child, relations.

  41. I liked Shipping News the movie.

    Annegb, are you still getting over Beloved because you are traumatized? Because you thought the writing was bad? or too intense? Why did I love that book? I’ve read it three times. Am I freaky?

    I didn’t see this but HIGHLY recommend Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Her Housekeeping is also excellent. Gilead made me feel like I was having exceptional days reading the scriptures everyday I read that book.

  42. Elouise says:

    Is there anything more seductive than someone else’s reading list?

    Karen Armstrong’s lucidity and ability to weave many threads into a discernible tapistry make her a great favorite: The History of God, The Battle for God, Islam, and the two autobiographies mentioned (The Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase) are all top-notch. For anyone who finds accounts of life in the convent especially of interest (as I do), an older book worth looking at is Monica Baldwin’s I Leap Over the Wall, published about 1958. Baldwin (kin to three-time Prime Minister of the UK Stanley Baldwin)spent 28 years under the wimple and writes calmly and insightfully of that world. A dandy novel, great summer read, is Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, which reverses the popular story line of someone finally managing to get OUT of the convent. In this book, a high-powered, middle-aged executive of great intelligence and elegance enters a Benedictine order as a novice and has the spiritual battle of her life to stay IN.

    Sue, I agree with you about Crossing to Safety. It seemed very limp, somehow.

    Shipping News fans may–or may not–enjoy Proulx’s
    more recent novel, That Old Ace in the Hole. I have come to know it very well, because I’m reading it on tape for the state library for the blind. It’s a rather wacky tale set in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, somewhat in the spirit of a picaresque novel, offering us a large cast of oddball characters sporting names like Rope Butt and Freda Beautyrooms. Isn’t it a marvel that Proulx has written such diverse works as Brokeback Mountain, Shipping News, and That Old Ace in the Hole?

    Two more great reads: In the latest Anne Tyler, Digging to America, two families find their lives entwining after they meet at the airport on the day each receives an adopted baby from Korea. Like the best of Tyler’s books, this one is funny, insightful, and never hackneyed.

    Certainly the book that moved me most deeply in the last couple of years is Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. We often hear someone say, “I didn’t want to put the book down.” But after I had started this book, I wanted to put it down, wanted to slow down my reading of it, wanted to simply stay in the book and not have to finish it. I don’t want to overstate this, but for me, the book had an aura I can only call holy. This was a purely personal reaction; a close LDS friend whose reading tastes are similar to mine didn’t care for the book at all. Gilead did win the Pulitzer Prize.

    John Updike–sigh. We had such high hopes for him. That early short story, “Pigeon Feathers,” way back when, promised so much, promised us someone who could write of things spiritual and profound with such an eye and a language for detail and delight. I’ve read almost every book he’s written, but. . . .

    Oh, do, Gander, do start a blog of great opening lines (“All the clocks were striking thirteen.” “It is a truth universally acknowledged. . . ) and while you’re at it,please include great closing lines, such as the last line of Bang the Drum Slowly–“From here on out, I rag nobody.” (Movie was pretty darned good too–DeNiro as the dim-witted pro ball catcher who is “ragged” or mocked by his teammates, Vincent Gardenia as the team manager with a face like a worn fielder’s glove.)

  43. I’m shocked and offended that the BoM isn’t on anyone’s list.

  44. Two of my all time favorites already mentioned: Foucault’s Pendulum and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History!! And if you like those, you’ll probably also like Katherine Neville’s The Eight.

    Now I have to plug the book that’s number one on my reading list for the summer: King Dork, by Frank Portman. It was written by an old acquaintence of mine, and it’s in its fifth printing in the 2 months it has been out. It’s listed as “Young Adult” fiction, but it’s also being hailed far and wide as “the new Catcher in the Rye”! My little circle of we-knew-Frank-in-high-school group is so proud of him. King Dork, everyone, King Dork!

    (Oh yeah, and Frank is the lead singer for the Mr T Experience, if any of you are into that sort of thing.)

  45. JamesP, you’re not paying attention. The Book of Mormon was mentioned in post 38, and obliquely in post 41. But presumably everyone already knows about it.

  46. #43 James P. what am I, chopped liver? I’m in the middle of Mosiah.

    Amri, it was completely traumatizing, do you remember what that slave holder did to her? I decided Oprah is a very masochistic woman, she always picked downer books. I think I have held the mistaken notion that she won the Nobel prize for it, but maybe it was just the Pulitzer. The Pulitzer I could see, but the Nobel, I wondered.

    Was I right about the movie, Ed Harris? Is he dreamy or what?

    Elouise, I have all of Anne Tyler’s books. Somebody told me Digging to America wasn’t all that great, but I loved it.

    And guess what? I’m reading your book! I’m reading it very slowly though, which takes effort for me. Pondering, savoring and enjoying. I often find myself looking back at the cover at your picture to place what you’re saying with your face, which is nice to do on-line, when it is possible, I mean.

    I was, in fact, thinking of your picture just last night and applauding that you didn’t have a cheezy smile. I’ve been trying to get a decent picture and I can’t smile to save my life. My friend will say, “smile!” And I will say, “I’m smiling, you really can’t tell?” I look like I’m going to eat some liver with some fava beans. Then I fake it and look like a chimpanzee. I was thinking you looked very intelligent and kind (not sucking up, although sometimes I do)even though you didn’t have a big smile. I want to do that.

    Also I always have a book going that I can read during the boring times in sacrament. I thought a lot about that girl you wrote about, the author who said, “but that’s what happened…” and she died. Death has a way of legitimizing artists, as in Sylvia Plath, who infuriated me, but I take your word for it this girl was good.

    You guys, do you know how gospel I take your word on books? And I send for them. Don’t send for The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, I’ll give it to whoever wants it. No offense to the author.

    Jeffrey Savage has posted the start to his new novel on Six LDS Writers and a Frog. I wanted to be scared and I think he’s doing a good job of it so far. Very Dean Koontz. Who I also love. Totally plot level here.

    That Pendulum book, is it fiction?

  47. Oh, thank you, Bill, you gentleman, you. Now I’m going to go back and read what you wrote that I should have already have read, but was too lazy and self-involved to have done so. Or not. :)

    Oh, you guys, you know who is really funny? Augusten Burroughs. Very nasty and descriptive, but if you can get past that (I got to a part where I couldn’t), boy is he good for some endorphins.

  48. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 38 I don’t think Updike is boring at all. His writing style is fantastic. Just started his new book, Terrorist, and it looks to be an interesting post-9/11 update of his longtime exploration of the effects of Americanization. We’ll see.

    The BoM is fantastic bedtime reading for a guy like me who has occasional insomnia. I keep it in my nightstand. Seriously, I do find it much more uplifting than reading the Bible, but I open its pages at night and it’s as if the green Lunesta moth flies right out.

  49. Elisabeth says:

    LOL – annegb – I LOVE that you read Augusten Burroughs. And I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of him, but “Dry” was a pretty good read nonetheless. Speaking of trashy/easy reads – I just read “How to Be Good” and “A Long Way Down” by Nick Hornby (he also wrote “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch”). Good stuff.

    Okay, so I just ordered “Foucault’s Pendulum” from, and realized that it’s not about Michel Foucault the fruity French philosopher who wrote all about discipline and punishment. An embarrassing mixup, but how many Foucaults can there be, really? Anyway, hope y’all haven’t ruined the book for me with your glowing reviews, it’s going to have to fulfill some pretty high expectations.

    P.S. Anyone ever read any Joyce? I’m toying with picking up “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, but I’m afraid it’s going to be one of those books I slog through just to get through it.

  50. I picked up a copy of Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Everything” yesterday and have had some trouble putting it down (though I’ve had to more than a few times). It tells quite a bit about what scientists have discovered about the world/universe/oceans/animals/etc.

    At the same time, this seems to be a book that chronicles the absurdities of the universe, scientific minds, etc. There are so many little funny details provided … it’s been a great read. Although it deals with some fairly serious topics, the absurdity factor included reminds me just a little bit of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    For example (having just opened the book to a ramdom page) it describes the unbelievable shyness of Henry Cavendish … saying:

    “Although he did sometimes venture into society … it was always made clear to his guests that Cavendish was on no account to be approached or even looked at. Those who sought his views were advised to wander into his vicinity as if by accident and to “talk as it were into vacancy.” If their remarks were scientifically worthy, they might receive a mumbled reply, but more often than not they would hear a peeved squeak and turn to find an actual vacancy and the sight of Cavendish fleeing for a more peaceful corner.”

    (page 59)

    People are strange.

  51. Annegb, of course I remember every detail of that book. I am creepy or freaky because I love reading that kind of stuff. Not for pleasure, mind you.

    And I liked Edgar Mint! Well except the last 45 pages or so. He completely fell apart at the end but until then I thought it was pretty good. The only thing that was off-putting was that every tragic moment was mixed with something hysterical so he would never quite let me feel the pain of the event.

  52. Elisabeth, I read Dubliners by Joyce a long time ago and found it somewhat interesting. Joyce isn’t one of my favorites, though so many critics seem to think that Ulysses is the ultimate book.

  53. I love Joyce, but Portrait is probably my least favorite of his books. I tend to like bildungsroman written by women better than those written by men. So, when it comes to Joyce, I would recommend either The Dubliners or Ulysses ahead of Portrait. Dubliners is an easier read. Ulysses is tough, but it’s a wonderful, wonderful book (I would recommend looking at some background information or finding a companion guide, because it will enhance your understanding of the book).

    As for Joyce’s final novel, Finnegan’s Wake, I tried starting it, but I didn’t make it very far. It’s even less coherent than Ulysses (and in my mind, much less compelling).

  54. Elouise,

    Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead was one of the most affecting books I’ve read in the past 5 years. Its such a beautiful and quietly profound portrayal of a life and and a family.

    And for those that don’t read any books with profanity, sex or violence-this book has none that I recall.

    I for some reason read a lot of “absurdly inspirational” books. Stories like Wally Lamb’s two books, A Color Purple, The Kite Runner, some of Toni Morrison books………Novels where something horrible happens in the story and the protagonist deals with the aftermath. Many (award) novels fall in this category, but I tend to read these one after another. :)

  55. Amri, I’m that way with horror, Stephen King and the like. Vampires fascinate and scare the heck out of me.

    It took me years (I’ve said this before)to get up the guts to read The Color Purple. years after I read one paragraph in a review saying something like, “I know trees are afraid of man…” Thank God I did, though, because I had to get through that.

    I picked up Bill Bryson’s book, one of them, a long time ago and put it down, uninterested. Then this year I got into memoirs and I picked it up again and laughed my head off and went and got the other one. Maybe there are more.

    I only read the first three (I think) chapters of Augesten B. book, I can’t think of the name, but he talked about how he knew his parents had stolen him from a very rich family and they went to visit the mansion (like a museum thing) and he refused to leave with them and told the mansion security to arrest them and take him to his real parents. Seven years old he was.

    Mixing humor with the terrible things that child went through just didn’t work for me with Edgar Mint. I couldn’t stand it. Maybe it will be like The Color Purple and I will read it in years to come. For now, you want it, it’s yours.

    Last night I perused Eat Pray and Love, along with a really cool essay I got from Sunstone about meditation and wow, I’m going back to study them.

  56. I just finished “The Count of Monte Cristo,” which is the 19th century’s version of a summer page-turner. Absurdly long, but good.

    Next up, from the list of books I should have read but didn’t:
    — Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
    — Hemmingway, A Farewell to Arms
    — Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath

    But the ones I’m actually going to read:
    — Jack Black, “You Can’t Win.” I’ve read this one before, and it’s very good. An autobiography psuedonomyously written by a hobo/thief/vagrant/addict about being a hobo/thief/vagrant/addict in the early parts of the 20th century.
    — William S. Burroughs, “Junky.” Just started this one. I already like it, as Burroughs has a great style. (And “You Can’t Win” was an inspiration for this book–Burroughs wrote the introduction for the reprint.) Might also read “Naked Lunch.”
    — Nelson Algren. “The Man With the Golden Arm.” I see a pattern here.

  57. I am currently reading a collection of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft. They are not as scary as I thought they would be, but they are full on freaky.

    Coming up is David Copperfield and Boorstin’s the Discoverers.

  58. Books I’m taking with me to Guatemala (where I’ll be for a month with my kids):
    Kent Haruf’s _Plainsong_
    John Caputo’s _On Religion_
    Frederick Busch’s _Harry and Catherine_
    I thought about taking _Rough Stone Rolling_ (which is helping me re-frame and feel better about Joseph Smith), but I know think I’ll wait to finish it until after I get back.
    I’m still trying to find some really good books for my 17-year-old daughter, who likes realistic books and is very interested in eating disorders, and my 14-year-old son, who likes Gary Paulsen.
    Interesting that this blog list includes only a few books authored by Mormons. Levi Peterson’s new memoir should be great summer reading, and anything by Brady Udall is good. James P (#43), just so you’ll sleep at night, you should know that I’m listening daily to the Book of Mormon–in Cakchiquel (Mayan dialect). Believe it or not, I found audio cassettes in the Distribution Center! Now how many bookstores do you know which have a section for Cakchiquel materials? Are we great or what? Seriously, I would love recommendations for books my kids would enjoy. My husband and I both teach English at BYU, and two of our children are great readers, but not THESE two. They don’t even like Harry Potter–which is considered a disability in Utah, I believe, and possibly qualifies them for Special Ed.

  59. I’d recommend Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I used to read it to my wife the first summer we were dating while sitting in a hammock outside. Very thoughtful treatise about human identity from a naturalist’s perspective. It also has some real annectdotal gems that will impress your acquaintances in casual conversation.

    I also like history. I’d recommend Army at Dawn by Stephen? Atkinson. It chronicles the US Armies very rough start in World War II fighting first Vichy France, and then Rommel’s Afrika Corps across Morrocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. We only hear about the highly successful US campaigns in Western Europe and the Pacific. We forget that that success came at a stiff price as the US blundered about in the Mediterrenean suffering terrible losses as uprepared youths learned to be soldiers and ineffectual officers learned to be leaders.

  60. Kimball L. Hunt says:

    I’d come across “Mormon Lives” (subtitled, Somethingoranother In The Whateverthenameofits Ward?) on Amazon and became interested. Then Times & Season’s irrepressible (I just threw that adjective in there! lol) Julie said it was great. So — I ordered it ta be sent my 90-year-old mother and hope she likes it.

    I’d happened to have picked up, somehow, Bushman’s first Joseph book and read it. What I was mainly fascinated with, uh with concern to it, was how the Church thinks such “not necesarily faith promoting” biography is OK?! (But then I have an inborn prejudice . . . um that for somebody to be an “objective thinking” Karen Armstrong, they’ve got to bascially, completely dispense with belief or something.)

  61. Annegb (38), I really liked _Plainsong_. _Eventide_ was OK, but I thought _Plainsong_ was better. And Anne Tyler’s always good—so sad and funny and shrewdly observant about ordinary family life. I think of her as a great plane read (she’s unfailingly kind to her readers, and her characters and tales are so absorbing I forget I’m on the plane). My favorite by her is _A Patchwork Planet_, but that may be because I loved the guy who read Barnaby on the book on tape.

    I love _Housekeeping_ (there’s something so perfect and haunting about the alignment between subject and style in that book), so I’m excited to read _Gilead_. Robinson also has an excellent book of essays called _The Death of Adam_.

    S, I’ve liked David Foster Wallace’s essays, but he’s sometimes a bit too dark and ironic for me.
    I can see what you say about Joyce, but I like _Portrait_ pretty well. You do have to get past the male artist self-aggrandizement thing, though, and I agree that can grate.
    Confession: I’ve never read _Ulysses_. I don’t know how I can call myself a comp. lit. student. Don’t tell my advisor :>
    (Did anyone celebrate on June 16th?)

    Oh, that reminds me, S–so what are some good women’s buildingsromans? (gotta love my German, there) What would you recommend?

    A book I hated, but my best friend loved, is David Eggers’ _A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius_. His interminable self-regard was like a drill boring into my brain. I wanted to shoo him away from the story he was trying to tell.

    For people who like depressing Victorian novels, there’s no one better than Thomas Hardy. _The Mayor of Casterbridge_–and of course, _Jude the Obscure_. I love it, but it’s almost physically painful to read. Any Edith Wharton fans out there? I especially like _The House of Mirth_, but it’s another downer.

    One of my favorite novels ever is Peter Hoeg’s _Smilla’s Sense of Snow_.

    Margaret, when I was a teenager I loved a YA writer named Norma Johnston—she has a series set at the turn of the last century that starts with _The Keeping Days_ and _Glory in the Flower_. I also liked _The Crucible Year_. I think they’re mostly out of print, though, and your daughter might find them too young (come to think of it, they’re a little more early teenager than late). Seventeen seems like it could be an awkward point between YA fiction and adult fiction—at least, that’s how I remember it being for me. Maybe she’d like the Barbara Kingsolvers—The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, Animal Dreams, The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer. (?)

  62. a random John says:


    Some people think that Speaker for the Dead is OSC’s best. I’m guessing you’ll enjoy it. As with many of his other series the first books are great and the later ones are so-so.


    Despite what I said immediately above I’m going to have to say that OSC’s best works are Pastwatch and The Worthing Saga. Of course part of my reason for thinking so is that they are stand alone novels and aren’t dragged down by others in the series. I think that Worthing is his most deeply Mormon book, and could be read as an extended version of the temple ceremony, though it isn’t explicitly Mormon in the ways that the Alvin Maker books or the Homecoming series are.

  63. Okay, let me try this again. (I just finished typing a long second comment, and before I had finished, it vanished into cyberspace. Sigh. Technologically challenged here.)

    First, about Salinger. I envy you who have not read all of Salinger. I’ve read the words off the few pages he published, and hungered for more. Don’t miss Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters & Seymour, An Introduction.

    Ulysses. Yep. It’s The Novel. As S recommends, background material is helpful. And here’s another approach: Read the book rapidly, just skating through it. Shove your Inner Interpreter aside and let the book happen as though it were a dream. Don’t stop to figure anything out. Just read. This is an amazing experience, and works especially well on the last 50 pages, Molly Bloom’s immortal monologue. (Not usually a successful method for the anal-retentives, but can be a life-changing experience for those a-r’s who manage it.)

    Annegb: Thank you for reading my book and for saying nice things about the cover picture! And yes, you are right about dead writers sometimes getting the benefit of the doubt. Ann Doty, the student-writer who was killed by a drunk driver, didn’t need the benefit of doubt; she just needed a few more years of life and she would have made this BCC list of favorites several times over, but alas, all you can do, as you said, is take my word for it.

    Margaret–Have a great time in Guatamala! As for your daughter’s interests, have you read the book by Emma Lou Thayne and her daughter on bulemia? (The name escapes me.) Probably so.

    Finally, and for everyone: I’ve not yet seen a recommendation for Michael Fillerup’s Go in Beauty, set on an Arizona reservation. (Fillerup was a teacher and a bishop on the rez, and later a bishop for more than five years at Northern Arizona University. He has just returned from a Fulbright year in Mexico.)I am hugely biased in favor of Michael, who appeared in my creative writing class at BYU 35 years ago, carrying his books in a pillowcase and sporting sunbleached hair that hung–gasp!–below his earlobes. To read a more objective review of his novel, check out the critique by “Mormon Fiction Fan” at the listing for Go in Beauty.

    Great lists, Consenters!

  64. cut s dean says:

    Of the above suggestions, please read then reread Joyce (or Faulkner or, perhaps, Woolf, the great stylists of high modernism) and understand why with informed critics and other great writers he is held in such special regard. Please read Ulysses, even if it takes longer than the ten years it took Odysses to travel from Troy to Ithaca.

    If the first three chapters with Dedalus leave you lost in the labyrinth, skip ahead to Bloom in the Calypso chapter, the fourth chapter, and enjoy this enigmatic character who in many ways resembles the typical Mormon’s journey in the modern world, of but not entirely in. You can return to Dedalus later. Minor stars to consider in orbiting the galaxy of Ulysses: for background, Beach on her bookstore (Shakespeare & Company); for appreciation why Joyce was such a great artist, Burgess (Re Joyce); and for another eye through the maze, Gilbert (James Joyce’s Ulysses) or Blamires (new bloomsday book).

    It seems it would be hard to consider ourselves educated without wrestling the book that many clever people would put in the center of the Pantheon. If you haven’t come to terms with Joyce, you cannot with Beckett, Garquez, post modern candles (david foster wallace, pynchon, dellillo, auster, smith, blah) etc.

  65. I read all of the Salinger stuff when I was a teenager. Like Ayn Rand, it’s best read in adolescence, and otherwise ignored.

    I recommend Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I’ll give a description in a few hours–we’re about to take off and the flight attendant is giving my Blackberry the stink-eye.

  66. Mark B. says:

    Foucault’s Pendulum may be fiction. Or is it??

    Elisabeth, if you had hung out in the Eyring Science building at BYU as I did when I was a boy, you would have known all about Foucault and his pendulum.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the recommendation of Patrick O’Brian’s novels. They should, however, carry a warning label: Addictive. Don’t start if you’re not prepared to read all 20 [or is it 21?].

    And, for a lighter romp through the Royal Navy during the same period, read Forrester’s Hornblower novels.

    I just read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. A great read–great views of Lincoln the politician (not a dirty word!).

    One or two more for the Russkies: Anna Karenina is terrific–Tolstoy succeeded completely in his goal, to write of an adultress in a way that makes us have compassion for her, not condemnation.

    If you have two weeks and want to read a lot, now is a good time to tackle War and Peace.

  67. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell has some of the same advantages as O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin stories: set in the Napoleonic wars; a capable narrator who speaks in a period voice; a great and complicated friendship and professional relationship at the center. The primary difference is that rather than taking place in the Royal Navy, it takes place in the Ministry of Magic. At one point during the Peninsular Campaign, Wellington has his magician move an inconvenient river to the other side of the French encampment. The Spanish ambassador to London registers an official complaint with the government, which agrees to restore all natural features and cities to their pre-war location after the cessation of hostilities. Lots of great stuff like that.

  68. kristine N. says:

    I’m a big sci-fi/fantasy reader myself, so I’m going to second the Phillip Pullman suggestion. A friend recommended them as something to read while waiting for the next harry potter, and I honestly prefer them to HP. The characters are much more interesting and dynamic; it’s not clear until the very end who the good guys and bad guys are. Pullman incorporates so many cool, unique ideas I thought the “his dark materials” trilogy made for a much richer read.

    I enjoyed all of the dune novels, but sex in books doesn’t bother me–I’m pretty good at skimming over offensive parts. That said, if you enjoy the first dune book, it’s pretty safe to read to “God Emperor of Dune” before quitting. In fact, that’s my favorite book of the series and I thought the most thought-provoking. The weird sex stuff doesn’t really show up until the following books.

    Ray Bradbury is the master of science fiction short story writers, imho. He spoke at my commencement, and he is the most wonderfully crotchety, loveable old man I’ve ever seen. His best piece of advice was to “make a list of all the naysayers in your life and sit down tonight (after graduation) and tell them all to go to hell.” I loved his writing before seeing him speak, but I love the man now. His stories are creepy and very original, and he is a master with descriptive language.

    Kim Stanley Robinson wrote Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, and I also loved them. They’re a little dated now because we know more about mars now than when the books were written, but his science was incredibly up to date and accurate for a set of novels. His characters are also very real, flawed, and fascinating to watch. I read Green Mars and Blue Mars before Red Mars, which was surprisingly okay. In fact, I loved reading the series that way because there is a character who spends much of the second two books trying to decide what happened at the end of the first book. It was pretty cool to then go back and read the first book and find out what really happened.

    I’ll agree with the previous recommendations of OSC. I find his earlier work more interesting than his more recent work (lately it feels too boiler-plate) but even the more recent books are pretty darn good. I enjoyed his take on the women of Genesis in Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah & Rachel. Moses was pretty decent historical fiction too, though be forewarned, all four of these books really ought to be considered juvenile fiction for their level of complexity.

  69. Seth R. says:

    I haven’t read any Fantasy new Fantasy novels since High School (they’re just so hit and miss).

    But I remember that Tad Williams’ “Memory Sorrow and Thorn” series was one of my favorites. Still is. It’s light enough reading not to tax your brain too much, but just enough depth to keep things interesting. And I didn’t think it ever got unforgivably stupid, which sets it apart from even some of the core Fantasy authors like Weiss, Hickman, Brooks, and Eddings.

  70. I found the book Elouise referred to. It’s called _Hope and Recovery_ (with a long subtitle.) I will buy it. I’m also a great Michael Fillerup fan–and a great Elouise Bell fan too. (I had Elouise for creative writing too–about 30 years ago, and I still use some of the exercises she taught me. However, I was not as Bohemian as Michael so Elouise likely doesn’t remember that she started influencing me way back then.) I have _Only When I Laugh_ on my recommended reading list for my students to choose from, and MOST read several essays. I also have Fillerup’s _Visions_ on the list. My husband bought our son a book by Ben Michelson (sp?), who wrote _Touching Spirit Bear_, which we really liked. Bruce (my husband) thought this new book would be especially good because it was partly set in Guatemala. Great intentions. Well, the first chapter depicted a kid about Michael’s age witnessing the rape and murder of his mother and sisters and the burning of his village. Michael’s reaction was predictable: “I don’t want to go to Guatemala.” I assured him that things had improved since the 80’s. (I have wanted to take my family there for years but have waited until things calmed down.) So we read the next chapter. The little Guatemalan boy goes to find his best friend, who lives in another village. Oh no. There is his best friend’s body. DOUBLE oh no. He’s like totally dead. Not only is he dead, but there are his legs, and they’ve been chopped off. The boy remembers when he used to play kickball with this friend and mourns, “Those legs will never kick another ball.” Dang. I won’t be taking that book with me. (We stopped reading it.) Did anyone (other than my dad) read Jack London as a teenager and enjoy his work? I haven’t read anything he’s written, but it seems to be the type of stuff Michael would like. I should add that I am also taking _Gilead_ with me (our study group read it and loved it, but I didn’t have the time that month.) Eve, I’m sorry to say that the last author I’d take would be Hardy. Been there, done that. I took _Jude the Obscure_ with me on a previous trip to Guate and really, really did not like it. But I think I will give Norma Johnston a try–for my daughter. Thanks for the suggestions.

  71. Margaret, I love Gary Paulsen! I think he’s just a terrific writer for any age. Did you see I got that little note from Kent Haruf? Why are you going to Guatemala? In the summer?

    And I am carrying Levi Peterson’s books around me and brushing my teeth to them. Wow. Just wow. Who knew? Not me.

    Kimball, I bought three copies of Mormon Lives and gave two away. Really worthwhile. Makes you like Richard Bushman a lot.

    Eve, I enjoyed Jude the Obscure, although I have no recollection whatsoever what it was about. I also like Sense of Snow, same deal :). Patchwork Planet is my favorite, as well! I love Barnaby, period. Sometimes I’m reminded, “haply I think on thee”…or something like that.

    I bought and read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Morrell and I again, have no idea what the plot was.

    But I remember so many others. Bothersome. The Russian novels annoy me. All the exclamation marks.

    Sorry to hog the reading list, but it’s just exciting when somebody reads the same book as me, whether they like it or not.

    I have actually lost two of my best most favorite books and didn’t know it till yesterday. No clue. Probably loaned them out, all dogeared and written in.

  72. Re: Ulysses

    I finally read this a couple years ago. In addition to “cut s dean”‘s recommendation to at least give it until chapter 4 before throwing in the towel, I’ll add that I found it helpful to stop thinking about how a particular chapter might correspond with a particular chapter in Homer’s Odyssey (the chapter names are all identical). The correspondence exists in all cases (I think), but you waste precious brainpower trying to think them through rather than reading–save it for afterward.

    I’d also recommend Don Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated, which covers all of the historical and literary allusions (even the line about “IN BLACK. A MORMON. ANARCHIST”) and more.

    Also, it helped me greatly to know that the particularly difficult chapter 14 is written entirely in imitation of the development of English prose — it starts with medieval style, then old English, Victorian, etc., and ends with modern slang vernacular. Without knowing that, I was lost as to what I was reading and why.

  73. cut s dean says:

    I enjoyed reading your comments, Greg. I’m sorry if I gave the impression to throw in the towel, or to use the towel, at least not before the great scene at the end of chapter four before the king was in the countinghouse.

    You mentioned Chapter 14,the “Oxen of the Sun”, a remarkable part of the book,even by the standards of Joyce. Its romp through literary history simultaneously impregnants and murders language, leaving us with what, Derrida?

    (The comments about the black clad Mormon you mentioned is in the following chapter, Circe, a Shakespearean dream.)

    And Joyce did this all with great humour, not only wit,which is an overlooked pleasure of Ulysses. It is funny. To read it is to hear Joyce chuckling in the background.

  74. Eve, you’re right–Foster Wallace can be a bit dark and ironic at times. I guess I like dark stuff sometimes, and the “Supposedly Fun Thing” has a element of silliness/hilarity that offsets the dark aspects of his humor.

    And I think it’s okay that you’ve never read Ulysses. I’m an English grad student, and I’ve never read Moby Dick (shocking, I know).

    Hmmmm… some good women’s bildungsromans? I would recommend HERmione by H.D. (though I should warn others if you prefer not to read books with same-sex attraction/relationships, you might not want to read this book). I read it for my exams, and now it’s in my dissertation. Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife) is another good bildungsroman. On the technical level, it’s not quite of the caliber as other modernist pieces, but the way she writes is strangely compelling, and it’s a good story. It too is in my dissertation. I assume you’ve read Jane Eyre–that’s always a good read. Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of Jane Eyre told from the point of view of the madwoman in the attack. It’s a haunting book, and it’s not too lengthy. There’s always The Bell Jar by Plath. While I have a mixed response to Plath’s poetry, I do like The Bell Jar. Also, another book which is roughly a female bildungsroman is Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee. Mukherjee won the National Book Critics Circle award for her short story collection The Middleman and Other Stories, but I think I prefer Jasmine to the collection. Oh, one last suggestion–my recommendation The Woman Warrior from above could also be classified as a bildungsroman. (So, how’s that for a list?)

    I’ve never read any Thomas Hardy. I watched the film version of Jude the Obscure. It made me seriously depressed for days, and I decided that reading Hardy was probably not the best idea for me. As for Wharton, I like her, but she’s not my favorite. I have to confess that I prefer Henry James to Wharton.

    A few more suggestions I thought about reading others sci-fi/fantasy recommendations. For people who are not typically sci-fi/fantasy fans I would recommend William Gibson and Ursula K. LeGuin. They’ve written some really thought-provoking novels that really use the sci-fi genre to push boundaries of thought. My favorites by LeGuin are probably The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. Both books won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. When it comes to Gibson, Neuromancer is, of course, the classic, but one of my favorite books of his is his recent Pattern Recognition. It’s actually a book written in the present, and the plot is a great read (I kept turning the pages because I wanted to know what was going to happen).

    Okay, I think I’m done. :)

  75. Wow S, Moby Dick really IS a great book. I can understand you not reading it, though — it’s a challenging book. Preferring Henry James is a tougher thing to swallow, but chacun a son gout as they say.

    Great Gatsby, anyone?

  76. S, thanks for all of the recommendations. I’ll definitely have to look into those. I love Jane Eyre, but I think Villette is even better.

    I’ve tried Henry James. Really, I have–Washington Square and Daisy Miller and all that. Somehow, I just can’t seem to get into him. I don’t know what it is about him, or why. This may reflect something dark and twisted about me, but I find James more depressing than Hardy. Something in his tone is so desert-dry I’m left gasping for breath. I think he’s like Jane Austen without any sense of humor or fun.

  77. Elisabeth says:

    Oh my goodness, “Washington Square” was a snoozefest from page one. Ugh. “Portrait of a Lady” was passable. I don’t get James, either.

    “The Great Gatsby” is one of my favorite novels. I love the characters. Except Jordan. She’s a spoiled beeyotch.

  78. Steve, I have similar problems with Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Nothing they write about strikes me as remotely interesting. Yeah, Fitzgerald writes well and all that, but the lives of the rich and corrupt just bore me. It may be a lifelong limitation of my trailer-trash upbringing, or something.

    I find Hemingway even harder. I just want to say, so what? to every one of his books I’ve read. Especially since he eschews all juice and fun and pizzazz.

    Sorry, Elisabeth, it seems I just can’t resist the urge to take over your thread and be opinionated about books in public! (I welcome refutation, by the way….:>)

  79. Elisabeth says:

    Take it away, Eve! I agree with your assessment of Hemingway. For the most part, he’s just, well, terse. But “The Old Man and the Sea” is a modern masterpiece, IMHO.

    Do you like the Austen novels? I find them incredibly dull for the same reasons you gave for not liking Fitzgerald and Hemingway – but also I honestly don’t see how progressive women can enjoy reading Austen’s work as anything more than a sad commentary on 19th century social class and gender relations. Elizabeth Bennett kicks ass, though.

  80. Steve, I’m guessing if I can handle Joyce and Henry James, I’m up for Moby Dick. I guess I tend to find myself in a place where I have so much I *want* to read, that I don’t typically read things I *should* read (unless they’re things that pertain to things like my dissertation. Also, I read Billy Budd and didn’t like it much, though “Bartleby, the Scrivener” makes me more hopeful that Melville has better quality stuff up his sleeve than Billy Budd.

    Never read Villette. I will put that on my to-read list.

    I’m not sure if I can explain my like of Henry James. I think it’s strange myself. I typically don’t recommend Henry James to others, but one Henry James book I would recommend is Turn of the Screw. Creepy and compelling, and a much easier read that his other books.

    I’d have to agree with Eve about Fitzgerald, but I love Hemingway’s short stories (I’ve been ambivalent about his novels). His writing style, which often ends up sounding stilted in his longer works, takes on a new life in his short stories.

    Elisabeth, I’m a progressive woman who loves Jane Austen. Her books are well-written, I think she does an okay job with social commentary, and she has female characters with intelligence, wit, and emotion. And I must confess that I’m a sucker for novels where the girl and the guy that you want to get together for the whole novel finally overcome their differences and get together at the end. Not very progressive of me, I know, but there you have it.

  81. Elisabeth says:

    Yeah, I’m probably going to be pegged as unromantic, but I just don’t like Jane Austen’s novels at all. Blech.

    S – for some reason, I thought you were the brother of the Z’s Daughters blog until I read the line, “I’m a progressive woman”. lol

  82. heh, Elisabeth. No, I’m a good friend of Lynnette, and she invited me to participate on the blog with her family. It’s funny that you say that, though, because Lynnette was just saying to me the other day that she had been having a conversation with one of her sisters about how my moniker makes my gender ambiguous. I hadn’t really thought about that as an issue because *I* know that I’m a woman. :)

  83. Kevin Barney says:

    Sorry, Elisabeth, but I’m with S on Austen. She’s my favorite. But then I’m both a romantic and a man, so maybe I’m not sufficiently progressive.

  84. It’s so interesting to me to read about what others like and don’t like and why.

    I agree with you, S, about Hemingway’s short stories–they are better than the novels. At least in my limited experience. Elisabeth, I’ll have to give The Old Man and the Sea another try. The last time I read it was in high school, and we all know how reading under the gun can ruin things, as well as reading things too young.

    Your question about Austen is making me think why it is I like her. I’m not much of a romantic–I can’t think of another romance I like much, other than A.S. Byatt’s Possession (a great book for English majors). I think what I love about Austen is her devastating social commentary. That rapier wit just nails people’s small courtesies and snubs and self-superiority! I love reading it, but I’d be scared to know her.

    I wonder too if Austen’s somewhat misreperesented by all the lush moviews that have come out based on the books. The last time I read Pride and Prejudice, I was struck by what a dark subtext about marriage there really is. Only the two main couples end up happy. Everyone else is in a pretty dreary companionship (the heroines’ parents, for instancce, and Lydia) or alone.

  85. How about some Stendhal? The Red and the Black is a pretty rewarding text. Many consider it to be the quintessential French novel (though we really know that honor belongs to The Little Prince).

    Oh, and if no one else has mentioned her, I will — Willa Cather. WOW. Willa.

  86. Steve – I just bought O Pioneer by Willa Cather today. It’ll be the first of her books I’ve read.

    I also love Jane Austen, but even more – the Brontes – Jane Eyre is my fave book.

    More modern, I love Tracy Chevalier – Girl With a Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn were both great. I’ll be reading other books by her this summer too.

  87. kristine N. says:

    Oooh–and in addition to William Gibson and Ursula LeGuin, Neal Stephenson is a fabulous writer. I’ve only read three of his novels (Snow Crash, the Diamond Age (which has some interesting victorian aspects to it), and Cryptonomicon) but every one of them is unique and engrossing. he’s just a fun author, and he creates very believeable worlds for his characters.

    my husband refuses to read anything by anyone who isn’t already dead. He’s working on Plato’s dialogues, but before that he read The Lost Horizon.

  88. Steve Evans says:

    Rebecca, you will LOVE O Pioneers. Then you will want to buy all of her other books, including My Antonia and Death Comes For The Archbishop.

  89. Pastwatch is my favorite book by OSC also (not sure who said that). But, I will always love Enders Game also of course.
    My list –

    -John Steinbeck (all of it! Read it and then take a trip to central Cali)
    -Heart of Darkness (prolly one of the best books ever written)
    -Dean Koontz books (just fun sci fi horror without too much thinkin required. I love how he makes dogs characters in his books.)
    -HP Lovecraft
    -War and Peace – there are some new translations out that are supposedly better that I want to check out
    -Oscar Wilde – I love reading plays and he makes me laugh. I also love Picture of Dorian Gray.
    -On Walden Pond – I take something new away from it every time I read it…which also goes for…
    -1984, my favorite book by my favorite author.

    Im looking forward to checking out that Phillip Roth novel- I’ve been wanting to read somethign of his but wasnt sure which title to choose. I also want to read Rushdie – any recommendation of which to read first?

  90. Oh, I love Willa Cather. My Antonia is my favorite, and Im not usually one for such. I found myself relating to her on a level I rarely do with characters.

  91. War and Peace has new translations?

    Please tell me more! I read that book on a whim during my Junior year in high school and have read it three additional times since. Mine’s from Penguin Classics.

  92. the judge says:

    If you like Melville, don’t miss Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

  93. Margaret Young (#57):

    I can recommend the following books for your 17-yr-old daughter who likes realistic books involving eating disorders:

    Mercy, Unbound by Kim Antieau
    Massive by Julia Bell
    Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
    Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig

  94. Mark Butler says:

    I like nearly all of Jane Austen’s books. Emma is so so, but the rest are true classics. Austen was quite the progressive, I would say that anyone who doesn’t like her books probably either doesn’t understand her or has a general contempt for times and cultures other than our own.

    The following is an excellent article on what Austen had in mind:

    Jane Austen, Public Theologian
    Peter J. Leithart, First Things, January 2004

  95. Mark Butler says:

    Allowing for taste, of course…

  96. Elisabeth says:

    I would say that anyone who doesn’t like her books probably either doesn’t understand her or has a general contempt for times and cultures other than our own.

    Hmmm. You know, I am very contemptuous of other cultures. And I’m really, really stupid. You’re right, Mark, this is probably why I don’t like Austen!  :)

    Seriously, I recognize that she’s a brilliant writer, but Jane Austen is the literary classics version of John Hughes.

  97. Eve, I agree about Austen’s wit. And the dark subtext too, though I hadn’t really considered it before.

    Rushdie recommendation: I’m most familiar with Midnight’s Children. It’s long, but it’s wonderfully fabulous and worth the read.

  98. I would have to agree with Mark in #93 and #94. If not I guess all those critics and academics who influence impressionable young minds (given Austen is used all over the world as a literary study in higher education) have it wrong and we should all defer to the authors opinion for all future educational reading materials :)
    It is, after all, personal opinion and preference..and as the saying goes…there is no accounting for that now is there!

  99. Elisabeth says:

    Not that I want to start a Jane Austen catfight, but it was my vague recollection that
    Austen’s literary “genius” was generally underappreciated and not taken at all seriously by critics and academics.

    She’s recently enjoyed a revival due in large part to Colin Firth’s delicious A&E portrayal of Mr. Darcy.

  100. maybe thats just america! Reminder – america is not the world! Critical analysis of curriculum in higher education in other countries throughout the world will show a very high prevalence of Jane Austen study over many decades!
    There is currently a great ad on tv for Budweisser in the UK with the World Cup – The commentators for Bud TV pick up a piece of paper and say ‘oh there are other countries in this World Cup besides America – well have to learn how to say their names!!!’ I sat watching it with my american friends who laughed till they were crying – i guess they are Americans who dont take themselves – or their own opinions – so seriously and who can digest others opinions without always having to be right or have the definitive word on an issue!

  101. Seth R. says:

    I find Austen extremely readable. I read Pride and Predjudice from cover-to-cover in one sitting on a Saturday evening. I thought Collin Firth’s portrayal of Darcy was probably the best one. Lawrence Olivier did extremely well in the old black and white rendition, but I like Firth’s interpretation better.

    But I like Lizzie’s mother better in the old movie.

    Haven’t seen much of the BBC attempts, but I hear they are a bit underwhelming.

  102. Mark IV says:

    People, this is summer reading, right? Whatever happened to the idea of a deep hammock and a shallow novel? I was going to divulge my preference for Louis L’Amour (up this week: Westward the Tide and Utah Blaine), but now I’m embarrassed by all you highbrows.

    I agree with the previous recommendations for Snow Falling on Cedars. It is a great book, and the movie was just as good.

    Also, I have found anything by Willa Cather very rewarding.

    And S. is right – Hemingway’s short stories are better than his novels. Actually, I’m a little surprised, S. Most men I know like Hemingway, and most women don’t.

  103. a random John says:

    kristine n,

    I’ll second the William Gibson and those book by Stephenson. Unfortunately Stephenson’s books don’t end so much as get less and less detailed as they go on until there is nothing left on the page. I find this acceleration annoying. I also was unable to finish Quicksilver (prequel to Cryptonomicon) due to it being extremely boring. But the three that you mention are excellent.

  104. #77 me, too. I could never finish a Hemingway book.

    There is something so tender about The Great Gatsby. He was true. It’s not a great book, even, I don’t think. He was just a nice guy.

    See and I don’t like Jane Austen at all. BUT, Rebecca, I love the Brontes. Jane Eyre was an early love for me, I re-read it every once in awhile and I gave it to my daughter. She loved it also. I think it’s kind of cute that men like Jane Austen, though.

    Veritas, do you find Dean Koontz a guilty pleasure? It’s sort of my dirty little secret. Not that I could keep a secret to save my life.

    I’ve only read one Louis L’lamour (sp?) book. It was called Last of the Breed and I hunger for the sequel which will never be written because he died. My sister has all his books. In hard back.

  105. Seth R – Colin Firth version IS the BBC!! A&E borrowed it!!

  106. Kevin Barney says:

    I love the BBC P&P, and Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. The BBC’s Emma with Kate Beckinsale is superior to the Gwyneth Paltrow version (although Emma is my least favorite Austen).

  107. Rebecca

    I have to admit i missed that glaring error – yes it was an original BBC production that was the ‘underwhelming’ Colin Firths portrayal which was ‘probably the best one! – slightly incongrous no?

    I can only repeat the comment in 99! and of course….smile – its summer in the UK too and the internet is worldwide so happy summer readin to all and mark in 101 – i agree with you…summer reading for me conjures up outdoors, sun relaxing and very light non critical reading…ill save the heavy stuff and critical analysis for the office and lifelong academics – theres a summer life to enjoy out there all over the world…soooooo, my picks for the summer is anything short and light that will make you laugh at yourself and the world…AND less time for reading and more time enjoying life, getting out of work as early as you can and sharing quality time and experiences with loved ones, friends and family…lifes to short to always have your head in a book….who knows when that candle will be blown out…happy SUMMER everyone!

  108. Mark IV says:

    My sister has all his books. In hard back.

    annegb, your sister is causing me to break the tenth commandment.

  109. Actually I was referring to a previous BBC attempt at Pride and Prejudice that few people know about.

    I didn’t know the A&E version was originally BBC. You learn something new every day…

  110. kristine N. says:

    random john–I was going to mention the same thing! It is annoying in a novel to have it sort of trail off, but at the same time that’s more true to life. I always wonder what his characters are doing after the novels in a way I just don’t when the ending is all tied up in a neat little package.

    Stephenson wrote a brilliant essay called “in the beginning was the command line.” It’s got some great observations about computer operatins systems (comparing linux to a tank given away free by nomads living in huts and windows to a semi-functional station wagon–great) but the ending suffers from the same failing.

  111. ElouiseBell says:

    My computer, the desk, and every reachable horizontal space including my knees,are covered with bright pink Post-its. This is all your doing, Consenters! So, plucking them one by one–

    #57 (Margaret). I don’t know your daughter (though I remember when she was born), but she might like some great older favorites: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I Remember Mama, certainly To Kill a Mockingbird (which I just finished rereading and reloving), and, as others have said, probably most of Cather. Perhaps even some Pearl Buck: Pavilion of Women, The Good Earth. Try the autobiography of aviator Beryl Markham, West with the Night. (And for any of you driving long distances, treat yourselves to the audio version of this book, read by–drum roll–Julie Harris. Stunning.)

    And of course I remember you from class, Margaret, even without the pillowcase! Like Michael, you had and have a beautiful gift. I remember the whole romance–Bruce, the coming of the children (wasn’t your first a redhead?), your steady publication despite family and career, and all the other good things you have brought forth. As to Jack London for your son, the man’s style seems really dated now, but his stories are full of major mythic conflicts that capture the young heart: “As you love me, Buck, as you love me.” (Man speaking to his dog, I rush to add–the great animal is harnessed to a sled loaded with 2000 pounds, attempting to break the ice on the runners, pull the sled a certain distance and win a fortune for his human partner.)

    #75 “What is it about Henry James?” Sigh. Last summer, I rode through Europe on a crowded bus with a concert tour group. Some of the group (members of a community chorale) seemed physically unable to stop talking, hour upon hour. About anything, and nothing. There was no escape from the drone of their voices full of inanities. Finally, a man sitting nearby said in quiet desperation, “Some people feel compelled to verbalize every waking thought.” Henry James had torrents of waking thoughts, and he was compulsive about verbalizing all but the most interesting of them.

    Speaking of which, I feel rather compulsive at the moment about verbalizing a few dozen thoughts on Jane Austen. Which is a pretty good indication that I should conclude. So I will. For now.

    And thanks again for all these great posts!

  112. Actually, I’m a little surprised, S. Most men I know like Hemingway, and most women don’t.

    Well, I like to be surprising, so I’ll take that as a compliment. :)

    On a more serious note, the differences you notice between male and female readers of Hemingway probably has to do with the fact that many of his women characters come across as flat (or worse) in his novels. He generally writes from the perspective of the central male character, and his prose, especially dialogue, ends up making the female characters sound foolish (and since you’re not in their heads, you only get that one-dimensional representation).

    Which is one reason I like his short stories better. Hemingway provides you with just a glimpse into the characters’ lives (men and women), and his strategy of narrating surface-level events but leaving you to imagine the emotional depths behind those events works really well (where in the novels, you begin to wonder sometimes if the emotional depth behind the words is really there).

  113. Did anyone else hear the segment on the Diane Rehm show this morning on Beloved? A panel assembled by the New York Times just chose it as the best work of American fiction of the past quarter century. Diane’s guests were discussing it. After listening (to the parts I caught, anyway), I’ve decided to reread Beloved.

    I just read The Other Wind by Le Guin and enjoyed it. I’ve been reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. And I plan to read A Man without a Country by Vonnegut as soon as I find the copy I checked out from the library.

  114. Just at the used book store and remembered Louise Erdrich. The Miracle at Little No Horse is prolly my fav but all her earlier novels work together and are fun reads.

    Also, Murray Bail. My fav: Eucalyptus. It was a riot to read. His short stories: camouflage is fantastic. And if you email him he emails you back. Well, maybe you need to email and compliment him but he’ll email you back.

  115. Matt Thurston says:

    Too bad I came to this discussion late…

    I’m pleased to see so many of my personal favorites listed above.

    I am a fan of Philip Roth. I’ve read Portnoy’s Complaint, The Counterlife, Sabbath’s Theatre, Goodbye Columbus, and American Pastoral. I’ve been meaning to check out The Plot Against America since it came out.

    By the way, regarding Lindbergh… if you like biographies, I can wholeheartedly recommend A. Scott Berg’s biography “Lindbergh”. Read it last year and loved it.

    Glad to see a couple of other Patrick O’Brian fans. I’ve read the first thirteen of the 20.5 Aubrey/Maturin novels so far. I am trying to savor the journey, limiting myself to just one or two books from the canon per year.

    If anyone likes historical fiction, by all means check out George MacDonald Fraser’s hilarious “Flashman” series. Not for those that are squeamish about PG-13 sexual situations though.

    On the fiction front, I too have enjoyed the work of David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers, mentioned by some above. I plan to read Augusten Burroughs this summer. Loved Franzen’s The Corrections. Couldn’t finish Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay. I’ll read anything by David Sedaris though. Just finished Brady Udall’s short story collection “Letting Loose the Hounds” and loved it. I bought “Edgar Mint” the next day, but havn’t read it yet. I love Nick Hornby, but each successive novel seems to be a little worse than the previous one. High Fidelity is still the high water mark.

    I’ve read Catcher in the Rye 4X over my life, about once every five years. I relate to it a little different each time. I’ve read some great things about King Dork and have had it on my summer reading list since it came out. Another excellent coming-of-age novel is Russell Banks’ “Rule of the Bone”.

    I could go on and on… (and I havn’t even discussed the LDS History related books or faith/philosphy books yet!)…

  116. Matt Thurston says:

    A few more comments…

    Someone mentioned Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything”. I loved it too! I also loved Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” and “In a Sunburned Country”.

    I recently picked up Nathanial Philbrick’s “Mayflower”. I expect good things as his “In the Heart of the Sea” from a couple years back is not to be missed.

    For the anglophiles here who love Jane Austen and Charles Dickens (me too, by the way), I can wholeheartedly recommend the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful “Restoration” by Rose Tremain. (Avoid the movie at all costs though.)

    annegb, I read all of Levi Peterson’s books (his two novels and two short story collections) last year. I agree: “Wow”. I look forward to reading his biography this summer.

    I finally read “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card a couple of years ago because so many people seemed to love it. Eh? What’s the big deal?

    Someone else mentioned Salman Rushdie. Reminds me that I’ve meant to read Midnight’s Children for years. The only Rushdie book I’ve read was The Moor’s Last Sigh and I thought it was great.

    Has anyone read Milan Kundera before?

  117. Actually, for summer reading I highly recommend any of the pieces published at Popcorn Popping so far. Print ’em out, take them to the beach. A lot cheaper than books!

  118. Veritas says:

    Yeah there are way too many intellecutuals on here.

    No way is Dean Koontz my dirty secret. I LOVE sci fi horror, I LOVE suspense…. Its not like their harlequins or something. Be proud of your Koontz reading! I recommend From the Corner of His Eye, Odd Thomas (but not the sequel), By the Light of the Moon, and One Door Away from Heaven. By far some of his best. Seize the Night and Fear Nothing (read them together) are THE best, however. His prose is great, his characters are great, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

    Also, when I was in about 5th grade my mom gave me the Redwall series by Brian Jacques for my summer reading, and I still enjoy them to this day. Highly recommend for kids or adults.

    I presonally love young adult fiction, and some of my favorites are anything Jack London, Enders Game, Where the Red Fern Grows, A Wrinkle in Time (this book had a significant impact on me as a kid and I reread it all the time), and Harry Potter of course!

    You want to talk dirty little secrets…that would be the Halo series (based on the game) I just finished reading…

  119. I haven’t read anything in forever, but now that I’m carpooling a couple times a week I might have some time to.

    The last book I can remember really affecting me was Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. It’s now one of my all-time favorite books. I get emotional just thinking about it. :)

    I also love non-fiction books about horrible stuff, like people who work with emotionally disturbed children. My favorite author is Torey Hayden, any of her books are great. (If anyone can recommend anything else along those lines, please do.)

  120. Elisabeth says:

    Matt- Milan Kundera is hit or miss, I think. I read “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” and mostly liked it. “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is better, though.

    Susan- “Peace Like a River” is excellent – it reminded me of “To Kill A Mockingbird” – and it’s currently being made into a movie starring Billy Bob Thornton. I wonder who will play Swede – she was such an incredibly well-drawn character. As far as books with emotionally disturbed children – you might enjoy “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”, about an autistic teenage boy. Such a wonderful, wonderful book. I think you’d like it.

    Speaking of books being made into movies, I would be remiss if I didn’t add my hearty recommendation for “All The King’s Men”, by Robert Penn Warren, one of the finest novels ever written, based on the life of Louisiana Senator Huey Long.

    And for an international flavor, don’t miss Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude is his best work, IMO) and recently I discovered J.M. Coetze – the South African writer who won the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature. I enjoyed his novel “Disgrace” – but probably not a beach read – it’s dark and shockingly raw in places.

  121. This has been one of the funnest threads I’ve ever seen. I love to talk books.

    Elouise, those books you recommend for Margaret’s daughter are some of my favorites when I was young. I still re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And I love anything by Pearl Buck. I think those are all timeless choices.

    Matt, you didn’t like one of my favorites? Isn’t it just fascinating the matter of taste. But mostly it looks like we are twins separated at birth.

    I didn’t know All The King’s Men was about Huey Long.

    Sort of off the subject: Does anybody remember a book, it would be a long time ago, about a guy who’s from the wrong side of the tracks, leaving town on the run from the cops with a bad girl. He later marries this girl, for convenience and she becomes a lovey sophisticated woman and he falls in love with his wife. It’s not Random Harvest.
    I think the woman’s names were Pearl and Cordelia, but I’m not positive. One was her white trash name and when she married this guy (who became rich)she changed her name.

    He was in love with a girl from the right side of the tracks when he was run out of town with the bad girl and they sort of got stuck together.

    I’ve looked and looked for that book. I thought it was Robert Penn Warren, but no luck.

  122. Elisabeth says:

    Annegb – Not sure if you mean “At Heaven’s Gate”, by Robert Penn Warren. The plot you’re describing sort of fits, but the names are off. I really enjoyed it – I absolutely love Warren’s writing style – but ATKM is unsurpassable (if that’s a word). Have you read his poetry? It’s lovely.

    By the way, ATKM isn’t a biography per se, but the Governor Stark character is based loosely on Senator Long.

  123. I agree, annegb–it’s so fun to talk books! (And I hope Elouise Bell comes back at some point and maybe does a guest post on all of thse Jane Austen thoughts she alluded to.)

    I loved both Peace Like a River and the Curious Incident with the Dog in the Night Time (so funny and poignant). And The Backslider is the best Mormon novel ever (how can you not love the bishop telling everyone to be nice to Sister Alice?)–I also liked Levi Peterson’s short stories in The Canyons of Grace, especially the title story. I haven’t tried any of his more recent stuff.

    The Milan Kundera stories I tried (I can’t remember which, it’s been so long) struck me as astonishlingly misogynist. But I’ve read very little of his work, so I don’t know if that’s the case of it in general.

    I’ve never cared for Orson Scott Card, partly because I’m not much of a sci-fi/fantasy person. I tried Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, and the characters in both struck me as flat and boring. Maybe the later books are better?

    Speaking of religious fiction, any other Flannery O’Connor fans out there? She’s wickedly funny. She makes me laugh until I cry. Levi Peterson reminds me of her.

    David Sedaris is great. Charles Dickens is always excellent. I don’t care for Louise Erdrich or Tracy Chevalier. I can’t get enough of Urusla LeGuin’s essays (Dancing on the Edge of the World) but I’ve never been able to get into her fiction–it seems stilted. Maybe it’s that fantasy thing again. I’m sure I’m not the person to recognize a good piece of sci/fi or fantasy when I see it.

    There’s no accounting for taste, I guess, but it’s always fun to swap recommendations.

  124. Mark Butler says:

    I said “probably”. And “like” comes in degrees – the issue is why people acquire a rabid dislike to works of considerable historical, ethical, and cultural value. By that standard we would have to obliterate the Old Testament.

  125. Mark Butler, I think it’s a good idea to separate aesthetics from morality here. I don’t see how anyone’s under any moral obligation to read or to like any particular piece of literature. (And the way literature is sometimes taught in our public secondary schools as sacred iconography which grubby students–the lamentable Youth Today who Don’t Read Milton, over which hands are wrung with great glee–contributes to turning people away from the classics, for life. That may be one reason people acquire the dislike you speak of–they’ve been treated with contempt in the name of those works.)

    Besides, the _fun_ is in the disagreements. Elisabeth–and most of my siblings, actually, for that matter–don’t like Austen. Margarget Young doesn’t like Hardy. I don’t like Hemingway. Others do. That’s where the interesting discussion begins–if people who like Hemingway, like S., can point to something I haven’t seen in it before, then I can see it more deeply. Every good reader, whether she likes or dislikes a work, provides another lens on it.

    Isn’t that the whole fun of talking about books? Consensus would be such a drag!

  126. Elisabeth says:

    LOVE Flannery O’Connor!!

    Man, there are so many good books out there.

  127. Whew, please forgive the manifold typos, not least my misspelling of Margaret’s name. Sorry, Margaret, if you’re still here.

  128. Mark Butler says:

    Eve, I agree with allowances for taste, although I believe that aesthetics have a foundation that is correlated with the Good. I shouldn’t have used the word “like”, perhaps something more like “respect” or “appreciate”.

    I don’t (yet) enjoy a lot of things that I have great respect for. Opera for example – if I can’t understand the words, I would rather listen to orchestral music. The meaning is critical to me. Art without meaning is hardly more than mathematics.

    The most wonderful thing about music of course is the amazing correlation of mathematics with emotion. I suspect that is designed into our physiology much more than the correlation of visual patterns is, if only as a consequence of music’s radical temporality.

  129. Kimball L. Hunt says:

    (Testing 1, 2, 3 — )

  130. Matt Thurston says:

    annegb, it appears we’ve read many of the same authors. Funny how some of the books you liked I did not like and vice versa. Some of your favorites (can’t remember right now) I’d never read before. At least we can agree on Levi Peterson. What didn’t you like about Brady Udall’s Edgar Mint? I’ll be reading that this weekend.

    Anyone read Walter Kirn? I enjoyed Thumbsucker, though the Mormon parts were a stretch.

    I’ve read four Hemingway novels, but only enjoyed one: The Sun Also Rises.

    I liked Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, but have never read her sister’s Wuthering Heights.

    Has anyone read Little Big Man by Thomas Berger? A wonderful comic western historical novel.

    I can also heartily recommend Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Made me cry.

    Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” is a book that gives an interesting spin on “faith”. Read about it at Amazon.

    Any fans of John Irving here? He’s hit and miss for me. I adored The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany, while The Hotel New Hampshire and The Fourth Hand bored me.

    Someone mentioned Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I should read One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’ve meant to. I did read Love in the Time of Cholera and really enjoyed it.

    Someone else mentioned Pearl Buck. I’ve read The Good Earth twice. Has anyone read the sequels: “Sons” and “A House Divided”? They were out of print for years but are now available again. I’ve wondered if they are as good as The Good Earth. I read two other books by Buck on my mission, but can’t remember their titles off the top of my head. (Went on a mission to Taiwan and rationalized Pearl Buck novels as “cultural reading” re Chinese culture — necessary for me to understand the people we were teaching — not “entertainment” :) )

    So nice to see this discussion has gone this long an nobody has mentioned Dan Brown yet…

  131. Matt, FWIF I didn’t like Wuthering Heights nearly as well as I did Jane Eyre (I thought WH was way too melodramatic)–but I know some people prefer it.

    The World According to Garp bored me and didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, so I’ve never tried anything else by him.

    What are the “Mormon” parts of Walter Kirn? Sounds intriguing.

  132. My “Official” goals probably include:

    Take The Name of the Rose down from the shelf and finish it.
    Ditto The Corrections.
    Ditto Chaim Potok.
    Ditto Cryptonomicon.
    Ditto Rough Stone Rolling — stop skipping to the juicy polygamy and bank-failure chapters.
    Ditto David O. McKay.
    Ditto Leonard Arrington.
    Ditto Teryl Givens.
    Ditto Armand Mauss.

    (There’s more to the list, too. Let’s just say that I’m a lot better at starting some books than I am at finishing them).

    Likely list of actual accomplishments:

    -Buy and read the new Jonathan Stroud.
    -Buy and read that new Scalzi that everyone seems to think is good.
    -Re-read several Barbara Hamblys, a few Piers Anthonys, possibly some Orson Scott Cards. Add a little Robin McKinley or C.J. Cherryh for fun.
    -Re-read some Heinlein and Asimov.
    -Get stuck re-reading a Robert Jordan. Then spend three days afterwards on the internet looking up intersections of obscure cross-book plot-lines and forgotten tertiary characters. Swear not to touch the stuff again for a year.
    -Re-read a few Stephen King novels.
    -Re-read some Stephen Ambrose.
    -Feel guilty about excess of light reading. Spend a day reading Unamuno and Dickens and maybe a little bit of Borges or Dostoevsky. Convince self that this makes self a serious literary guru. Return to Stephen King novel. Rinse and repeat, once per month.

    -Read 100% of the Atlantic Monthly, 75% of The New Republic, 50% of Dialogue, and 25% of the Ensign.

    -Blog, way too much.

  133. Kimball L. Hunt says:

    (Test post. Help! I’m NOT “processed pork-product”!)
    Ahem. Um: . . . I’d read Whipple’s JOSHUA TREE way back when, but nnever yet (from the other side of the theological spectrum) Weyland. But, tho I rarely read fiction: Since Levi’s “Saints’ themed” work’s sais to be both popular and exceptionally well-written both popular AND well-written, HE”S the man! Smiles.

  134. 128.

    I’m a big John Irving Fan. Widow for one year and Garp are my favorites, but I liked hotel new hampshire, owen meany (I’m not sure if like or enjoy are the right words for some of his books) 4th hand etc.

    I started reading the 158 lb marriage (i believe thats the title) and about halfway through it, put it on the shelf, a week later, sold it online and haven’t read a John Irving for a year.

    Anyone here read Graham Green?

  135. 121) That vaguely sounds a little like At Heavens Gate, but I’m not sure. ATKM is a masterpiece. One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. I picked up At Heaven’s Gate randomly about 6 months ago, and was interested to see a vague plot similarity in it with ATKM.

  136. Elisabeth says:

    132 – I was on an Irving kick for a few years and read everything, but really loved only “A Prayer for Owen Meany”, although “A Widow for One Year” came close. If you haven’t checked out the recent film version of “A Widow for One Year” – The Door in the Floor – (with Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger and Dakota Fanning)- you should. Unfortunately, besides The Door in the Floor, Cider House Rules is the only passable movie adaptation of Irving’s work. Not sure why, because his characters and plot lines have so much movie potential, but they just aren’t as compelling on screen.

    As for Graham Greene, I can recommend The End of the Affair (excellent movie), The Quiet American (pretty good movie), Our Man in Havana (haven’t seen the movie), and The Comedians (haven’t seen the movie)- all very good reads.

    Hmm. Is it bad that I just ate a bag of Sun Chips for breakfast?

  137. Kaimi,

    Chaim Potok is one of my favorite writers. I’ve read the Chosen and the Promise a few times each, and they never get boring.

  138. Mark, I’ve read the sequels. I think I’ve read all her books. Twice :).

    Eve, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is laugh out loud funny, no? I put it off because I don’t like books (usually) about animals (although I loved Marley, and I have all James’ Herriott’s books). It’s not about dogs, if anybody’s wondering, well, a little.

    I’ve been avoiding The Life of Pi because I heard there’s cannibalism in it.

    The book I’m looking for isn’t At Heaven’s Gate, to my chagrin, I got my hopes up. The main character in my book is a man. It’s sort of like that show with Gary Cooper about the rich man, it’s a famous book?–and sort of like Random Harvest, because in the end he realizes he loves this girl who he’d been married to, but he didn’t forget anything. The woman is important to the story, but not the main character.

    The theme, I think, is how they both changed and their self esteem remained flawed, and that oh, I can’t think of the word, how peole grow and change and improve. But stay screwed up inside.

  139. Oh, I went to the library yesterday and looked for The Plot Against America, but it was either stolen or shelved wrong.

  140. Elouise says:

    Eve–(#122) May all your children be born naked!

    Which, being translated, means, “Thank you very much for your invitation to post on Austen! Few things would give me more pleasure.” That particular blessing (“May all your children,” etc.) was pronounced years ago by Levi Peterson, and when my eyebrows shot up, his good wife Althea explained, “When he wants to convey ill-will instead of good, he says, ‘May all your children be born with spurs on!'”

  141. Heh, Elouise.

    Elisabeth–I’ve read Coetzee, and I like him, but I have to say that his books are too dark/harsh (as you say) for me. Nadine Gordimer is probably my favorite South African writer.

    I love Flannery O’Conner too!

    Kaimi–your confession of your Robert Jordan proclivities made me laugh. I haven’t done the re-read and then go look up obscure theories thing for about 4-5 books now, but I must confess have done it.

  142. Elouise–why thank you!! I await your Austen thoughts with bated breath.

    Kaimi, I’ve got that problem too. I have way too many started and abandoned books, or books that get repeatedly checked out of the library but somehow never get read all the way through.

  143. Matt Thurston says:

    Eve (#130): Walter Kirn is a former Mormon. I also think he is a gifted writer. “Thumbsucker” is semi-autobiographical, I think. It is a coming-of-age memoir-ish novel in the tradition of Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, Rule of the Bone, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and a host of others. It’s very good I think; check it out.

    As for the “Mormon parts”… during the last third of the novel the family converts to Mormonism. At one point late in the novel the protagonist goes on a youth group field trip to Carthage, Jackson County, etc. During the trip the most spiritual young woman in the group is strategically seated next to the protagonist. It is implied that she was placed their by the adult leaders. She later seduces protagonist into a one-time midnight sexual encounter, essentially to keep him in line, to help him not waver from the faith. Again, it is implied that the sexual encounter was done with the approval (or at least a wink from) the adult leaders. Later, the protagonist witnesses the same girl doing the same thing with another wayward young man. She bears her testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel during each episode. The conclusion seems to be that the Church uses Young Women sexuality to keep the Young Men in line.

    Let me say that I’m about as liberal a Mormon as you’ll find, that I’m comfortable reading stories about good and bad Mormons, and all points inbetween. Mormons are just as capable of anyone else of myopia, hypocrasy, spiritual abuse, as well as murder, adultery, pedophilia, etc. I just want the story to “ring true”. Some pretty crazy things have occured within Mormon Culture: polygamy for one, but baseball baptisms, the French Mission apostacy in the 50s, etc. And Mormon Youth are as capable of sexual hijinx as any other youth. Had the two youths gone out and fooled around they would have joined the ranks of millions of Mormon Youth before them. That said, this kind of institutional, adult-sponsored sexual manipulation of youths implied in Thumbsucker absolutely fails the b.s. meter. Thats the long answer why I said “the Mormon parts were a stretch”. (BTW, I’ve heard the Gene England wrote something about this part of Kirn’s book too, but have never read it. Does anyone have a copy of it?)

    Other than that Thumbsucker is a pretty good book. I enjoyed the Thumbsucker movie that came out last year too.

  144. I remember reading Walter Kirn in _Esquire_ before he was well-known. And I read the germ [short story] of _Thumbsucker_ in _The Atlantic_, if I’m recalling. The characters accused one another of being “tea drinkers.” The writing was lovely, but I too had to work hard to suspend disbelief. I think Kirn’s _My Hard Bargain_ is a beautiful book. I hope y’all realize that you’ve recommended far more than I can carry to Guate–but I’ll do my best. We tried reading _The Good Earth_ with our kids last summer before we went to China. They just couldn’t get into it. My oldest daughter loved _Wild Swans_, though–a remarkable look at Chinese history. I think we’ve definitely settled on _To Kill A Mockingbird_ as one of the books we’ll take.

  145. England’s comments on Kirn’s “Mormon Eden” are in the Fall 1999 issue of Dialogue, pp. 22-23, 26.

  146. Matt Thurston says:

    Thanks Justin. Glad to see I wasn’t the only one put off by Kirn’s depiction of that Youth Trip. As I’d expect, England explains why these passages don’t “ring true” better than I do.

    England points out a few other Mormon-related passages that are bizarre, but the aforementioned adult-sanctioned-sex-manipulation episode was the most egregious.


  1. […] Anyway, back to reading 75 this year – I’ve finished one and am part way through 3 others. (I can never just read one at a time) I have a definite list of about 25 that I want to read. I have emailed friends who have sent me ideas, and consulted the great list that came out of a BCC discussion by Elisabeth last year. With those additions, I’m up to about 40 and I’m sure I’ll pick up other suggestions along the way (I don’t want to completely plan my whole years reading!). […]

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