Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What I'm Reading

I've received an overwhelming spate of questions on what I'm currently reading. Honestly, people, turn off the fire hose!*

I typically read whenever possible. La, am I expected to sit there at breakfast and drink coffee but read nothing? Impossible. Sometimes it takes me longer to select what to read than to make the meal. Luckily I'm deep into a few books, with more on deck:

Breakfast reading: War of the World by Niall Ferguson. Thanks to my buddy Ken for recommending (and loaning) this to me. It's a wide-ranging nonfiction survey of twentieth-century warfare, with WWII as the fulcrum of that long century of industrialized violence. Fascinating, though I admit I skim the hard-core economics to get to the real human issues: what makes people hate or kill or forgive or despair or persevere?

Bedtime reading: Post-Captain by Patrick O'Brian. I've blogged about (and read) this series before. Truly superb historical fiction, with on-shore romance and intrigue, spies, great naval battles, deep and poignant sketches of friendships, and behind it all, the rich and complicated world of 19th-century Britain. Truly wonderful, and I'm re-reading it now so the sailing scenes can help inspire my next book.

While-making-dinner reading. There's a lot of down time in cooking -- usually I'm waiting for water to boil or delaying setting the table -- so recently I finished up The Lies of Locke Lamora. I'd seen a reference to it on some blog but then immediately forgot where, so I gamely read through it, unsure of what might have caught my eye. It's grown-up fantasy, with a lot of plot packed into a thick trade paperback. There are more in the series but I doubt I'll pick up the next one.

Evening reading. This is for the time between dinner and bed when I'm wandering around the house avoiding packing my lunch. Often I'll disappear upstairs "on an errand" and get pulled into a story. On deck: Walter Benjamin's essay "On Storytelling," which I saw referenced, and highly recommended, in a book about ... storytelling. (Suddenly They Heard Footsteps, by Dan Yashinksy). Both the essay and the book that mentioned it are on my list as research for my next book, where the idea of storytelling will play an important role.

Vacation reading. Just back from a week in San Diego, it seemed appropriate to try all-new books. Thus: D. M. Cornish's excellent Lamplighter, a middle-grade fantasy about an orphan who finds his way through a world bewildering to him and to us, filled with monsters -- real monsters, that eat people -- ships powered by living muscle, warriors who implant themselves with additional power-giving organs, martial dancers, on and on. The richness of the world Cornish creates would be notable even in a lesser book, but to his credit the author writes a very good story. Highly recommended.

Also while on vacation: A History of Old English Literature by Michael Alexander. I first read The Seafarer in one of Alexander's translations while in college, and its haunting tone has stayed with me ever since. More recently I've begun to wonder if some of the themes -- loneliness by choice, exile, responsibility, cold voyages -- might fit into my own book. They trickle in like melting ice, how they trickle. And thus I set out to learn more. This book was instructive but I was hoping for a full version of The Seafarer (since I've evidently lost the book I had in college; shameful).

Not to be left out: a draft of a book my brother has written about -- but no! I'll wait to hear from him if I should reveal more. I never know how much of pre-publication content to reveal. I will say this: it is the winding core of a very good story.

Just found this today: the Associate Press hired a team of anthropologists to help investigate why people aren't reading newspapers as much, or as well, or in the ways that they once did. That report is now available and should make for interesting reading on media consumption habits. My dad's a journalist and this topic is very close to his heart. As to mine, since I always picture people reading books rather than retinal projections or e-stories or whatever the kids are talking about these days.

And there's more. Oh, there is more. The Little Prince. Irish folktales. The Kalevala. Icelandic sagas. History of ship construction. The sequel to Lamplighter. The Diary of Anne Frank. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. On and on and on....

*Note that while double-checking the exact meaning of "spate," I came across this useful word: suctorian. It does not mean what you might think, though I intend to trot it out into conversation whenever possible.

Also note that
spatterdock also does not mean what you might think. Must ... escape ... dictionary!

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