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Reading Diary for 1991

  and earlier
"The Road From Coorain"
by Jill Kerr Conway
The Road From CoorainSmith College president and MIT prof traces her history from growing up on a sheep farm in Australia's outback to the top of American academia. Fascinating read.

"Dave Barry Turns 40"
by Dave Barry
Dave Barry Turns 40The Miami Herald's humor columnist tackles middle age, to hilarious result.

"Songs of the Doomed"
by Hunter S. Thompson
Songs of the DoomedAn interesting cross-section of Thompson's work – from the first hints of "The Rum Diary" (bordering on brilliant) to his 1980s San Francisco Examiner columns (fairly useless). While not anywhere near his best work, it offered more promise than the two collections published immediately before this one.

"The God that Failed"
by Joe Crossman (editor)
The God that FailedEssays on communism by Arthur Koestler, André Gide, Richard Wright and others who originally embraced the political philosophy only to reject it later. An eye-opening set of explorations on why the utopian ideology was so attractive to Western intellectuals in the face of all the evidence of its real human cost.

"Grandfather Medicine"
by Jean Hager
Grandfather MedicineNeat mystery, set among the Cherokee – just as Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries can't help but teach you about the Navajo, so does this whodunit teach you about the Cherokee.

"E Is for Evidence"
by Sue Grafton
E Is for EvidenceKinsey finds herself on her own case, as someone is trying to frame her and destroy her reputation – and her private investigator practice.

"Mocking of the President"
by Gerald Gardner
Mocking of the PresidentFairly funny history of presidential campaign humor – both self-deprecating humor from the politicians poking fun at themselves, and more pointed barbs aimed at the candidates.

by J.C. Pollock
CrossfireCold War spy novel set in East Europe with a story line too convoluted to ever really allow the reader to suspend disbelief. Special forces operatives and ice skaters – enough said.

"Faster Than Light"
by Nick Herbert
Faster Than LightIntriguing argument that relativity – rather than making obvious that nothing can go faster than light – actually describes some instances in which it is possible to go faster than the speed of light.

"Silence of the Lambs"
by Thomas Harris
Silence of the LambsClarice Starling just isn't as compelling a protagonist as Will Graham was in the first book of this series, "Red Dragon" (immediately below). Still a pretty good read, before the series began its rapid descent into money-grubbing.

"Red Dragon"
by Thomas Harris
Red DragonThe first of Harris' Hannibal Lecter stories, it is also by far the best. Will Graham, the FBI investigator who picks the imprisoned Lecter's mind in search of another serial killer, is a much more nuanced, interesting character than subsequent protagonists in the series.

"Under Siege"
by Stephen Coonts
Under SiegeThe president's helicopter is shot down, the Capitol is attacked, and South American narcoterrorists bring the war on drugs to the streets of the United States. Like most of Coonts' thrillers, this is a bit of a stretch in terms of a believable storyline – but it's a quick afternoon summer read.

"Holidays in Hell"
by P.J. O'Rourke
Holidays in HellThe only real literary heir to Hunter S. Thompson, humorist P.J. O'Rourke goes on "vacation" to war zones, nations of extreme poverty, and other non-standard vacation spots. Even when confronted with hopelessness, O'Rourke manages to find the humor in any situation.

"Other Worlds"
by Paul Davies
Other WorldsA good, solid overview of quantum theory for educated lay readers (you don't have to be a physicist to understand the concepts presented here, but a familiarity with general science will help) and how it may indicate the probability of other universes.

"Fly on the Wall"
by Tony Hillerman
Fly on the WallHillerman's only mystery not featuring his Navajo police investigators Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, "Fly on the Wall" is about a newspaper reporter covering a congressional scandal. Not as good as his Navajo mysteries, it's still a better read than most whodunits.

"B Is for Burglar"
by Sue Grafton
B Is for BurglarHired to find a missing woman to help settle a will, Kinsey's suspicions are aroused when the client tells her to drop the case. Another one you can't stop once you start.

"C Is for Corpse"
by Sue Grafton
C Is for CorpseSure didn't read these in order, did I? When she's done, I'll go back and re-read all of them, in order. Kinsey tries to solve a case of attempted murder here – made more difficult because the target has amnesia. A bit clichéd, sure, but still well written and we're still getting to know Kinsey Milhone in this third entry in Sue Grafton's classic series.

"Lost Highway"
by Peter Guralnick
Lost HighwayCompanion to "Feel Like Going Home" (below), the second volume in Guralnick's trilogy of books of American popular music of the 20th century picks up where the first volume left off: Interviews with some of the most influential musicians in various popular styles: Rufus Thomas, Waylon Jennings and more. Any fan who wants to know about the music should read this trilogy.

"H Is for Homicide"
by Sue Grafton
H Is for HomicideThis go-round, Kinsey heads into L.A. to solve a murder – and finds herself in jail after her case ends up with a murder. Never a let-down in this series.

"Golden U-Boat"
by Richard P. Henrick
Golden U-BoatNautical thriller with Nazis and submarines – a wrecked U-Boat is located on the ocean floor, and the race is on to see who can get to it and the gold it carried. Not bad if you have an afternoon to waste.

"Feel Like Going Home"
by Peter Guralnick
Feel Like Going HomeAn absolutely wonderful collection of profiles of early blues and rock 'n' roll musicians, from Muddy Waters to Jerry Lee Lewis.

"Return to the Islands"
by Arthur Grimble
Return to the IslandsPicks up where "We Chose the Islands" (below) left off – another fun, educational (if dated) read about life in the South Seas before the war as viewed by an English couple.

"Emerald Decision"
by Craig Thomas
Emerald DecisionForgettable dime-novel spy thriller with good guys going up against the Nazis in Ireland during World War II.

"Hit Hard"
by David J. Williams
Emerald DecisionWhite officer who led all-black armored unit in World War II tells of how his men fought the Germans and prejudice from their fellow American soldiers. Good read if you can find it.

"We Chose the Islands"
by Arthur Grimble
We Chose the IslandsNeat travelogue of the old school, by a British colonial service officer who served in the South Pacific in the years before World War II.

"F Is for Fugitive"
by Sue Grafton
F Is for FugitiveKinsey finds herself taking on a cold case in another town, a case that not everyone wants her to solve.

by Zalin Grant
SurvivorsWell-written oral history of American POWs during the Vietnam War. Not for the squeamish or faint-hearted.

"One Man's San Francisco"
by Herb Caen
One Man's San FranciscoCaen's love affair with the City by the Bay continues, some 30 years into the romance. If the prose isn't as rose-tinged as his earlier collections, he clearly remains smitten.

"G Is for Gumshoe"
by Sue Grafton
G Is for GumshoeKinsey Milhone works to solve one case (finding a missing elderly woman) while trying to avoid becoming someone else's (a former target may be looking to settle scores). Another great, fun read from Sue Grafton.

"Blue Hotel"
by Stephen Crane
Blue HotelA remarkably modern tale of murder and the psychological aspects of it, from the author Hemingway later credited for creating modern fiction. Often overlooked, or remembered only for "The Red Badge of Courage," Crane was one of the first to write in an informal American voice.

by Steven Levy
HackersAn insightful history of the first generation of computer programmers, who coined the term "hacking" to mean an improving or tightening up of code. Hacking has since come to mean malicious coding and/or network infiltration, but this book's importance in documenting the early days of computer programming can't be over-estimated.

"The Drowned World"
by J.G. Ballard
The Drowned WorldWritten in the early 1970s before global warming was the scientific fashion, J.G. Ballard's tale is of a future in which London and most other low-lying coastal cities have been flooded and are inhabitable due to the heat. A scientific expedition sets out for the ruins of London – where the members of the expedition must face their own demons. Vintage Ballard – which means it's very, very good.

"King Doctor of Ulithi"
by Marshall Paul Wees
King Doctor of UlithiRomanticized but utterly charming memoir of a U.S. Navy doctor's experiences on a small South Pacific atoll during and after the war. Wonderful first-person anthropology/travelogue.

"D Is for Deadbeat"
by Sue Grafton
D Is for DeadbeatKinsey finds herself in possession of a significant stash of loot with no apparent rightful owner. Try putting this one down before it's done ...

"Farmer in the Sky"
by Robert Heinlein
Farmer in the SkyA classic Heinlein tale of a young man who stows away on a space ship to find his destiny in the stars.

"The Panama Hat Trail"
by Tom Miller
The Panama Hat TrailA very cool book that traces both the history and the economy of the Panama hat: those classic soft-weave straw hats that practically define summer. Highly recommended.

"A Is for Alibi"
by Sue Grafton
A Is for AlibiMeet Kinsey Milhone – tomboyish 30-something single private eye in fictional Santa Teresa (really Santa Barbara), California, who lives in a rental near the beach. A classic fiction franchise gets a classic start with this novel: a woman convicted of murdering her slimey divorce-attorney husband eight years ago hires Kinsey to find out who really did the deed.

by Stefano Benni
Terra!Intriguing sci-fi parody – kind of like Monty Python meets Arthur C. Clarke. Set in a post-nuclear future in which everyone lives underground, although the story isn't really the point.

"Baghdad 1951"
by Herb Caen
Baghdad 1951Picks up where "Baghdad By the Bay" leaves off, continuing Caen's love affair with San Francisco.

"Tunnel in the Sky"
by Robert Heinlein
Tunnel in the SkyA group of cadets finds themselves stranded across the galaxy on the other end of a worm hole, and have to try to find a way home – or at least survive. Heinlein at his story-telling best.

"Baghdad By the Bay"
by Herb Caen
Baghdad By the BayCaen's first collection of columns and observations from his early days as a daily columnist in San Francisco. A real slice of San Fran culture and history.

"O Congress"
by Donald Riegle
O CongressAt the time it was written, this was an idealistic reminiscence of what led a man with little political experience or inclination to run for office in the late 1960s. By the time I read this little gem of a book, Riegle himself had apparently forgotten about the idealism that initially led him to Congress, having been caught up in the Keating 5 scandal.

"To Have and Have Not"
by Ernest Hemingway
To Have and Have NotNothing like the Bogie movie (which was basically a combination of "Casablanca" and "Passage to Marseille," only moved to the French Caribbean), this is probably Hemingway's darkest novel – with very little of the grace or nobility that always buffered the dark undertones of his other novels. Just loss, suffering and heartbreak – but beautifully told.

"An Outdoor Journal"
by Jimmy Carter
An Outdoor JournalA neat reminiscence of the former president's life hunting and fishing. Well-written, with a love of nature that just shines through.

"Book of the Eskimos"
by Peter Freuchen
Book of the EskimosPeter Freuchen was a Danish explorer who wrote quite a few real-life adventure books in the first half of the century – when we still had such things as explorers. This book was a result of his living among the eskimos as one of them, and is utterly fascinating.

"Eagle Against the Sun"
by Ronald Spector
Eagle Against the SunA broad overview of the Pacific Theater of World War II; one of the better such histories I've run across.

"Wake Island"
by Duane Schultz
Wake IslandBreezy, easy read of one of the defining battles of the Pacific War. A tiny American outpost at the far Western reaches of the Hawaiian archipelago, with no real chance for successful defense still held out far longer against Japanese invasion than anyone would have guessed.

"The Lonely Ships"
by Edwin P. Hoyt
The Lonely ShipsA history of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, or more precisely, a history of the end of the Asiatic Fleet at the Battle of the Java Sea. Well-written history of how the U.S. naval forces stationed in the Western Pacific were cut off after Pearl Harbor and left to fend for themselves.

"My Friend the Gullah"
by J. Gary Black
My Friend the GullahFirst-person account of living among the Gullah – the descendants of escaped slaves who live in the coastal islands and swamps of Georgia and the Carolinas. Isolated by geography and necessity, the Gullah developed their own dialect of English, and their own culture. The book isn't a terribly deep read, but it is interesting.

"Clear and Present Danger"
by by Tom Clancy
Clear and Present DangerSuper-spy Jack Ryan has to go to South America to fix an anti-drug operation gone bad. Kind of a dumb story-line, but Clancy manages to make it a good read anyway.

"Book of the Seven Seas"
by Peter Freuchen
Book of the Seven SeasA pretty cool, old-school overview of the age of sailing ships. Not a hard and fast history, more of a romanticized tale of the sort we no longer believe in.

"Colonel Sun"
by Robert Markham
Colonel SunThis is a Bond book, the first commissioned by the family after Fleming's death. One of the best Bond books, too (Bond rescuing M from kidnappers while preventing Colonel Sun from framing the British secret service in the eyes of the Soviets). And Robert Markham? None other than the great Kingsley Amis writing under a nom de plume.

by by Ian Fleming
OctopussyThree short stories: "The Living Daylights," "The Property of a Lady" and "Octopussy." They were gathered together after Fleming died, and if not his strongest works still show his deft touch at the thriller.

"The Man With the Golden Gun"
by by Ian Fleming
The Man With the Golden GunIn this book – the last written by Ian Fleming – Bond goes up against Scaramanga. Good stuff ...

"You Only Live Twice"
by Ian Fleming
You Only Live TwicePicks up where "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" left off; Bond is finally able to confront Blofeld and avenge his wife's murder.

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service"
by Ian Fleming
On Her Majesty's Secret ServiceThis was the James Bond novel that not even Cubby Broccoli could turn into a happy tale on screen. The dark side of Bond was played perfectly in the film by George Lazenby, but the public hated it – yet this was the movie that came closest to capturing the shifty, moody and tense atmosphere of Fleming's books, which are not all like the cartoonish Roger Moore films.

"The Garden of Allah"
by Sheilah Graham
The Garden of AllahFun, gossipy look at the bungalow complex where many of Hollywood's top actors, writers and directors lived at one time or another – from Bogie to Errol Flynn, Robert Benchley to F. Scott Fitzgerald.