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Read in 2003:



A. From Salon's top 10s 1997-2000 and 2002 monthly recommendations:
Jonathan Franzen, "How to be Alone"
on audio cd. Listened to it Jan 7-20. At the top of Salon's November 2002 recommendations. Franzen reveals himself to be a man with a lot of interesting ideas, and strong opinions on just about everything under the sun. The more personal the essay, the more riveting it is. The less personal essays are still interesting. In my opinion Franzen has gotten better with each succeeding book and his next work of fiction will be greatly anticipated.

Zadie Smith, "The Autograph Man"
On audio cassette, from the library. Recommended by Salon in it's "What to read in September" 2002 article. Listened to it Jan 25-Feb 8. This was an immensely enjoyable book. Zadie Smith is not only immensely intelligent, but she also understands the male animal so well that it is downright scary. Smith's male characters are so three dimensional that one they fairly come to life. I have to say that, as with White Teeth, Smith takes a while to get rolling and I didn't fall in love with the novel until a goodly way in. Overall I would say this is a better book than Smith's first ("White Teeth"). It has a much more entertaining plot and a much lighter touch, even as she explores dark issues such as mortality and lack of religious faith. Parts of the book are so much fun to read that I could envision the author squealing with delight as she wrote them. Highly recommended.

Arthur Phillips, "Prague"
recommended by Laura Miller. From the library. Read it Apr 7 - Apr 13. I made it through about two thirds of this book before tossing it aside. The book was mainly a character study of young men who were living in Budapest in the early 90s. Unfortunately the characters were really uninteresting. The writing style was pretty bad as well. Even the sex was boring!

Mark Costello, "Big If"
recommended by Laura Miller. From the Library. Read it Apr 13 - 14. This odd merger of crime fiction (a la Elmore Leonard) and serious literature (a la Pynchon, et al) worked for me. The main character is a female secret service agent protecting a vice president who is running for president, while the agent's brother is a computer programmer writing monster logic for an online war game. Definitely worth the time.

Doris Lessing, "The Sweetest Dream"
recommended by Laura Miller. From the library. Read half of it Apr 17 - 18. It just didn't hold my interest, so I tossed it aside. It was a character study of a family in England during the 60s. Too much like a soap opera for me.

Donna Tartt, "The Little Friend"
recommended by Laura Miller. From the library. Read it August 2 - 6. Tartt is a wonderful writer and I really enjoyed the book, but unless i missed something, the mystery of the brother's death is totally unresolved at the close of the novel and therefore I cannot highly recommend it. Tartt creates extremely vivid characters, and I will certainly read her earlier novel, "The Secret History." Tartt is a welcome addition to the tradition of strong Southern novelists.

Elizabeth Gilbert, "The Last American Man"
non-fiction recommended by Laura Miller. From the Library. Read it August 6 - 8. This was one stinker I read all the way through, because as bad a writer Gilbert is, she still managed to keep me interested to the end. I deeply disliked not only Gilbert's style of writing, but the personality of the subject really offended me. Eustace Conway may be charismatic enough to persuade Gilbert that he is a great man, but Gilbert failed to convince me.

Amanda Craig, "In a Dark Wood"
recommended by Laura Miller. From the library. Read it August 8 - 9. A powerful and disturbing novel that takes us deep into the mind of a manic depressive. Very well written. Highly Recommended
B. Wodehouse:
P.G. Wodehouse, "Young Men in Spats"
A short story collection from 1936. Read it Jan 17-28, one story a day to make the pleasure last longer. Six stories of the adventures of members of the Drones Club, three stories told by the pub-dweller Mulliner, and three golf stories told by a club's Oldest Member. This book was a constant delight, with frequent laugh-out-loud situations. Wodehouse's sparkling writing makes every day seem mild and sunny, even when read during the harshest winter weather. Does it ever rain in a Wodehouse story?

P.G. Wodehouse,"Laughing Gas"
A 1936 classic. Read it Mar 11-Apr 6. One of the strangest Wodehouse plots of all, with the main character, a typical rich young man, is very untypically transported into the body of a pre-teen movie star. There are lots of laughs, but you can tell Wodehouse was out of his element in this fantasy.
C. Other Fiction:
David Guterson, "Snow Falling on Cedars"
Loaned to me by Betty. Read it Jan 17-24. This novel aspires to go in many directions and achieves it's goals in most of them. As a mystery it has a deeply satisfying ending. As a social commentary it provides deep insights into the nature of racism and its affects on personal lives and on society as a whole. It's aspirations to literature suffer due to it's aspirations to being a romance novel. There's way too much information about the sex lives of the characters and their gooey inner feelings detract from the impact of the book. Definitely a good book, but not a great one.

Carl Reiner, "How Paul Robeson Saved my Life"
a present from Kathy. Read it Feb 1-3. This was supposed to be funny, but it didn't make me laugh. It was only occasionally interesting and the best thing that can be said for it is that is only 160 smallish pages long.

Michael Collins, "Keepers of Truth"
Cliff Recommendation. From the Library. Read it Feb 25-28. Fabulously well written. The story is pretty depressing, and none of the characters are very loveable. I assume we are supposed to feel sorry for the main character, but his faults and flaws just irritated me. This book has a mystery floating along in the plot, but it's not the mystery that kept me furiously turning pages, it was the shimmering glow of Collins' prose, his mastery of the language. I'm betting there is a much better story inside Collins' head, and I look forward to reading it when he shares it with us.
John Kaye, "The Dead Circus"
Cliff Recommendation. From the Library. Read it May 8-12. A fun read, very smarmy in parts, concerning the seamier side of the pop entertainment industry in Southern California around the time of the Mansons. The characters are well developed and one cares about their well-being. Seems to aspire to being an Elmore Leonard novel, but not quite as taut.

Martin Amis, "The Information"
Read it June 6 - June 22. I haven't read Martin Amis in years, but I loved the next to last Amis I read ("London Fields") and hated the one after that ("Time's Arrow"). "The Information" is a wonderfully written book, with Amis masterfully switching between humor, suspense, drama, and everything else on the literary emotional spectrum. The unifying theme of the book is the nature of authorship. He doesn't have anything nice to say about writers as people. This book is truly a very modern work of literature. Highly recommended.

Robert Jordan, "The Eye of the World"
a present from Tom. Read it July 19 - August 1. Jordan wrote this first volume in his "Wheel of Time" saga in 1990. Since then he has written nine more and expects to complete the saga in twelve volumes. Each one, including this one, runs about 800 pages, and it is not quick reading. The characters are complex and live in a world similar to ours but almost completely lacking in religion. instead there is a spirituality common to all the people of the world. The bad guy is similar to our western concept of the Devil. The life style is similar to our middle ages, but there are books that many of the characters read. Jordan's writing style is not the greatest, but the story is quite interesting and I will not count out reading the next volume in the series to see how both Jordan and his characters develop.

Jeanette Winterson, "Oranges are not the Only Fruit"
A book-crossing from Madaline. Read it Aug 10 - 14. An exceedingly strange book about a young lesbian and her evangelical mother. The unique writing style carries Winterson breezily through the book. Aside from the infrequent forays into fairy tales, the book gripped me all the way through. Now according to the BookCrossing dictates, I must find a way to release the book "into the wild."

Dave Barry, "Tricky Business"
A present from Tom. Read it Aug 20-21. This book had more than it's share of funny moments and created some three dimensional characters, but the gruesomeness of the tale turned me off a little. Barry has a breezy style that makes for quick reading, but that doesn't keep the gore from being repulsive. Some of the issuesBarry writes about are thought provoking, such as mob control of gambling casinos.

Amistad Maupin, "Tales of the City"
A tandem read with Dagny. Read it Sep 2-13. Very fast paced. breezy book about the fast life in the city of San Francisco in the mid 1970s post-hippie, pre-aids. It's hard to imagine this was serialized in a daily SF paper back then. Most papers wouldn't touch it today. Definitely worth checking out if only for the fact that it makes great bathroom reading because all the chapters are only about three pages long!

Vladimir Nabakov, "Pale Fire"
A group read within the Pynchon-L. Read it July 15 - October 4. A magnificent literary accomplishment that is a somewhat creepy read as you are stuffed inside the mind of a very deranged man who happens to live next door to a famous poet. A book that cries out for re-reading, but not by me right now.

Don Delillo, "Cosmopolis"
From the library. Read it Oct 12-15. Very well written but horribly perverse view of a repulsively amoral capitalist as he spends his final day on earth. Good riddance to him! I liked Delillo's previous book, The Body ARtist, much more.

Norman Rush, "Mortals"
From the library. Read it Nov 1 - Dec 5th. Reccomended by CLiff. A very thoughtful, serious work of art that truly puts the reader into the maelstrom of southern Africa. I was not crazy about the charcters and this diminished its effect on me. Your mileage may vary.

Anita Brookner, "Hotel DuLac"
From the library on audio tape. Listened to it Nov 23-Dec 4. Booker award winner in 1984. It reads more like a book length poem than a novel, one long whispered scream of anguish from a most proper Englishwoman. A moving tale of alienation.

Beryl Bainbridge, "An Awfully Big Adventure"
From the library on audio tape. Listened to it Dec 5-20. Booker short list in 1990. Almost Dickensian in its characterization of post war Britain's Liverpool in which the main charcter, a teenaged girl must navigate treacherous emotional waters to establish a foothold in the world of the theater. This is a book I will read some day, because I am sure that listening to it on tape will not be as rich an experience as reading it.
D. Other Non Fiction:
Art Buchwald, "I'll Always Have Paris!"
A present from Kathy. Read it Jan 1-3,6-8. This was Buchwald's second book of memoirs, recollecting his life from the time he got out of the army after WWII until he returned home from working at the International Herald Tribune in 1962. I've never been a big fan of Buchwald's humor, but the book was extremely funny in spots and always interesting and enlightening.

Gene Lees, "Cats of Any Color"
A present from Angela. Read it Jan 12-16. A very interesting book on the subject of racism in the world of jazz musicians. Although I couldn't stand Lees' writing style, he had some great anecdotes to relate. His saves the last twenty pages of the book to bash Wynton Marsalis. Since I am a fan of Marsalis' music, this made me give the book an overall thumbs down.

Downie & Kaiser, "News About the News"
Recommended by Molly Ivins. Read it Feb 4-13. Somewhat interesting overview of the problems facing journalists today, from the technological onslaught to the corporate pressures for profits.

Greg Palast, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy"
a present from Rob. Read it Feb 19-21. Palast takes no prisoners as he picks apart the ways in which the rich control the greedy politicians of both US parties and other politicians around the world. He is a relentless self-promoter, with all his pride in obtaining information from unnamed sources, but he comes across with a consistently interesting story that rings true. One thing that Palast mentions a couple of times is the battle among the founding fathers over the creation of the corporation as a legal entity. Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were opposed to it. Given my admiration for the brain of Jefferson, this bears further looking into.

Philip Toshio Sudo, "Zen Guitar"
A loaner from my piano teacher. Read it Mar 7-10. Maybe this mysticism would have appealed to me in my 20s, but I'm into the philosophy of pessimism at my advanced age.

David Brock, "Blinded by the Right"
Recommended by many. From the library. Read it Apr 15 - 17. A very depressing look at how a bright young gay man worked his way to the top of the conservative slime heap and then felt a pang of conscience and broke ranks. As one who hates Republican conservatism, I found this book confirming all my worst assumptions about the right wing.

Susan McDougal, "The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk"
Recommended by many. From the Library. Read it May 1-3. A fascinating story, if slightly self-serving. Susan McDougal is truly an American hero, and I feel uplifted in reading her inspiring story about her fight to tell the truth and keep telling it, no matter what. Highly recommended.

Ariana Huffington, "Pigs at the Trough"
Angela took it out of the library and left it for me to read. Read it May 4-8. As sympathetic as I am toward the subject, I did not enjoy this book due to Araina's jokey style. Her columns are not like this. I got the feeling that someone else wrote this book and she put her name to it. One should read this and Stupid White men to learn the wrong and right way to incorporate humor into social commentary.

Constance Reid, "Hilbert"
Cliff reccomendation. From the library. Read it May 13-25. Very difficult but possibly important work, since David Hilbert is supposed to be the center of Pynchon's forthcoming novel. The author did as good a job as possible in explainig very difficult concepts, as Hilbert worked on the outer edges of advanced mathematics.

David Wild, "Seinfeld"
An appreciation of the TV Series, from 1998 before the series ended. Read it May 26-30. A barely readable account of what makes Seinfeld one of the top TV shows of all time. I learned a few things from the book, but overall it was a longish essay that was puffed into a book. The episode descriptions were the worst I've ever read.

Gore Vidal, "Dreaming War"
From the library. Read it May 31 - June 5. Extremely persuasive condemnation of foreign policy by both Democrats and Republicans since 1945. Vidal is a fascinating curmudgeon.

John Drysdale, "Our Peaceable Kingdom"
A gift from Kathy. Read it June 14-26. Extremely beautiful black and white photographs depicting loving relations between animals and humans. Drysdale is a genius. Highly recommended.

David Nemec, Saul Wisna "100 Years of Baseball"
a present from Kathy. Read it mainly from June 27-July 2. A coffe table sized book with a ton of information. The book is arranged chronologically with a half a dozen page preface to each decade and then four or five pages devoted to each year. There's a page of numbers for each year that highlight the special nature of the particular year and a page devoted to the player who outshone the rest of the sport each year. From cover to cover it presents the tapestry of baseball as it changed over the course of the century. Utterly fascinating. Highly recommended.

Stefan Fatsis, "Word Freak"
A loaner from Angela. Read it July 3-10. This exploration into the world of the top scrabble tournament players in the world was fascinating, but waaay too long. A much better editor would have shaped this book into a prize winner. Anyone interested in gaming in general would enjoy this book, and anyone who loves the game of scrabble will love this book, even when the author gives a blow by blow of yet another game in the last stages of his quest to attain expert status in his national tournament association rating.

Nuala O'Faolain, "Are You Somebody"
Audiotape gift from Kathy. Listened to August 28 - Sept 1. This was a sorrowful tale of loneliness in Ireland, augmented by problems of family alcoholism. Almost unremittingly depressing, the one thing that kept me listening was the author's beautiful Irish accent. I would have listned to her read the Dublin phone book.

Al Franken, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them"
A loaner from Angela. Read it Oct 20 - 25. Al Franken's humor is better in writing than on TV. Parts of this books were absolutely brilliant, parts merely funny and parts just plain stupid, but on the whole a breath of fresh air and a fun read.

J.L. Locher, editor "M C Escher His Life and Complete Graphic Work"
A present from Tom. Read it Dec 18-24. Absolutely stunning book with great biographical information about one of the major artists of the Twentieth Century. Highly recommended.
E. Mysteries:
Bill Pronzini, "Bleeders"
from the library. Read it Jan 4-5. Bill Pronzini is a master of suspense and this book carry's the reader right along on a journey Pronzini has taken us many times. This is the 28th Nameless Detective novel he has written (the first appeared in 1971) and old Nameless is now 60 and feeling too old to be getting into fist fights with drug addicts.

Ed McBain, "Money, Money, Money"
from the library. Read it Jan 9-11. This 51st novel in McBain's 87th Precinct Series is a corker. That a 76 year old author can write a book as thrilling as this is a testament to the spirit of man. McBain is the king of the "police procedural" in which the reader traipses alongside the cops as they doggedly run down clues and try to solve murders. Usually McBain's plots are simple and straightforward. This one is as complicated as our modern world, and McBain masterfully ties together drugs, terrorism and international money counterfeiting into a book with enough action to keep the reader turning the pages in white-knuckled excitement. The whole 87th Precinct series is recommended, but this latest installment is highly recommended.

Ruth Rendell, "A New Lease of Death"
From the library. Read it January 25-29. The second of her Inspector Wexford series. Wexford plays a somewhat more peripheral role than his less than omnipresent position in the first Wexford novel. Rendell provides plenty of thrills as a vicar and his son go over Wexford's first murder case from sixteen years back. This is a very British novel, and a good one.

Agatha Christie, "The Mysterious Mr. Quin"
1930 mystery. Read it Feb 3-14. A collections of short stories featuring the adventures of the 69 year old Mr. Satherwaite who is visited in every story by an apparently other-worldly Mr Quin, who assists him in solving mysteries and helping people out of desperate situations. One of Christie's weaker efforts.

Ruth Rendell, "Wolf to the Slaughter"
Rendell's third Wexford mystery. Read it Feb 17-18. Another puzzle in which everything is a mystery, including whether there was or wasn't a murder. The puzzles are all solved satisfactorily and the last knot isn't untied until the last page.

Earl Derr Biggers, "Charlie Chan Carries On"
The penultimate Derr Biggers Charlie Chan mystery. From 1930. Read it Feb 22-25. Derr Biggers takes the Scotland Yard inspector from "Behind That Curtain" and makes him the main character for the first two-thirds of the book. Charlie Chan breezes in at the beginning of Chapter 13 and takes over for the stumped inspector, solving the mystery while barely breaking a sweat. A fun read, in a pulp fiction sort of way.

Sue Grafton, "Q is For Quarry"
From the library. Read it March 1-6. If you squeezed all the fluff out of this book you probably would have a decent Kinsey Milhone novel. But at 385 pages, way too much space is wasted on Kinsey's family problems and other non-plot related elements. I'll probably read R is for whatever, but with much less anticipation than I had for the earlier novels in this series.

Ellery Queen, "The French Powder Mystery"
1930 mystery. Read it Apr 18-20. This is the second Ellery Queen mystery. This time the bon vivant helps his Inspector father solve the murder of a department store owner's wife whose body was found in the storefront display window. The book has a delightfully comic bookish style and plot. I can see those future comic book writers of the 40s as kids devouring this book and dozens like it. Truly a classic.

Marcia Muller, "Dead Midnight"
The 23rd Sharon McCone mystery. Read it Apr 25-29. Still breezilly readable, the plot is pretty weak and the mystery easilly solveable.

Dorothy Sayers, "Strong Poison"
Read it July 3-5. The sixth entry of the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series that begun in 1923 finds Wimsey in love with the accused, who happens to be a mystery writer. For most of the bok Wimsey takes a back seat, directing his female assistants in the detective work. Although the mystery is laughably easy to solve, Sayers still manages to write a gripping tale that does not fail to entertain.

Bill Pronzini, "Spooks"
From the library. Read it July 11-14. This is the 28th Nameless Detective mystery. It's Christmas time and Namelss has taken on a new detective to do his legwork, so Nameless can become semi-retired at the end of the year. An interesting suspenseful story that isn't much of a mystery but still a pleasure to read.

Ed McBain, "Fat Ollie's Book"
From the library. Read it July 15-18. This 52nd entry in the 87th Precinct series wasn't anywhere nearly as entertaining as the previous one, but a pleasure nonetheless.

Margery Allingham, "Mystery Mile"
A 1930 mystery. Read it August 22-27. This was the first Allingham mystery to feature Albert Campion, and he is an endlessly fascinating character that more than makes up for the comic book style plot.

Stuart Kaminsky, "Death of a Dissident"
On tape from the library. Listened to it Oct 26 - Nov 9. A wonderful mystery, with interesting characters and a seemingly straightfoward plot that twists up at the end.

Dashiell Hammett, "The Continetal Op"
a 1930 collection of detective short stories. Read it Dec 10-17. Pulp fiction short stories from the pen of hard boiled detective master. Fun from the first page to the last. The Op is long on morals and guts yet has a jaded view of the world.

Dashiell Hammett, "The Maltese Falcon
A 1930 mystery. Read it December 26-30. He really improved in sytle from the Op short stories. A total joy from the first page to the last. Sam Spade starts out clueless but battles his way out of the mists to clear understanding and triumph at the end. highly recommended.
total books read so far in 2003: 56
total from the library: 24
total listened to: 6

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