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Reading Diary for 1992

  and earlier
"Ripley Under Ground"
by Patricia Highsmith
Ripley Under GroundThe second Ripley novel is no less disturbing than the first. It is set 15 years after Ripley murdered Dickie Greenleaf and took his fortune, and Tom Ripley is now living the good life in France. Of course, that situation becomes threatened and Ripley finds himself killing again.

"Always Another Dawn"
by A. Scott Crossfield
Always Another DawnAutobiography by the 1950s test pilot (the man who piloted the X-15) who was Chuck Yeager's only real competition for the title of greatest test pilot. It's interesting, if not the best-written book ever.

"The Talented Mr. Ripley"
by Patricia Highsmith
The Talented Mr. RipleyBefore the movies, we only had Patricia Highsmith's dark, disturbing Ripley novels – stories of a man who killed without remorse or regret, and yet this was the protagonist, the character you bonded with and rooted for. This was the first of the series, and probably the best.

"Eyes as Big as Cantaloupes"
by Don Freeman
Eyes as Big as CantaloupesDuring the 1960s and '70s, Freeman was TV critic for one of the San Diego daily newspapers. This collection of his columns is a fun look at a lot of the personalities from that era.

"Where is Joe Merchant?"
by Jimmy Buffett
Where is Joe Merchant?The popular rock star also turns out to be a fairly good mystery writer – now is that fair? Following on the heels of "Tales From Margaritaville," Buffett turns in ihs first novel, and it's a dandy about a dead rock star who may not be as dead as thought. (Read full review.)

"Age of Reason"
by Jean Paul Sartre
Age of ReasonThe first of a trilogy of novels, this is a tale of a man who puts his freedom above all else. While Sartre fans tend to see it as a manifesto of personal freedom, in fact Sartre calls into question the modern fixation on individual freedom (as when the character urges his mistress to abort so they can continue their unencumbered lifestyle, only to see her end up in the more accepting arms of his rival, who helps her to carry the baby to term). Actually a very good read, and far superior to the better-known "Nausea."

by Len Deighton
XPDLudlum and Le Carre may have sold more books, but for my money Len Deighton was the best storyteller of the spy thriller bunch. And "XPD" may be Deighton's best thriller (at least so far): It concerns unsealed documents from WWII showing that Churchill offered Hitler a peace deal early in the war – and the efforts of the British spy service to keep those documents secret. Great fun.

"Rising Sun"
by Michael Crichton
Rising SunCrichton is best known for his sci fi ("Jurassic Park," "The Andromeda Strain"), so this thriller was a bit unexpected from him. It's a good read, reminiscent of Clancy, and will keep you hooked. (Although two decades on, looking back, it's socio-political thread about the threat of Japan's rising economic clout seems dated and quaint.)

by Katie Hafner and John Markoff
CyberpunkA look at malicious hackers, principally Kevin Mitnick. A nice introduction to the mind set of those who write viruses, worms and other destructive code.

"The Shape of Dread"
by Marcia Muller
Shape of DreadA confessed murderer is set to meet his maker in the gas chamber – only there is still no body, and the confession makes no sense. This is part of Muller's Sharon McCone series, and it was so good I keep meaning to pick up more of them – can you really have too many detective stories set in San Francisco? I think not ...

"The Hacker Crackdown"
by Bruce Sterling
Hacker CrackdownOverhyped but still interesting look at early online culture – the age of the dial-up bulletin board system, or BBS, is fairly well documented here, along with an early report on issues of online civil rights.

"Digital Deli"
by Steve Ditlea (editor)
Digital DeliA wonderful collage of the early days of the personal computer revolution – "Digital Deli" was written in the early '80s, when the Apple ][ still ruled the roost, and was challenged by computers like the Atari 800, Commodore 64, Texas Instruments Ti-99 and the Timex-Sinclair. Essays on how computers would change our lives, explanations of what a word processor is, and biographies of early personal computer pioneers combine to make this one of the best documents of that period. If you lived through it, you'll love this book.

"New York Dead"
by Stuart Woods
New York DeadA New York detective witnesses a local TV newscaster plunge to her near-death right in front of him – but then she disappears. Entertaining, light, fun.

"Santa Fe Rules"
by Stuart Woods
Santa Fe RulesA new twist on the murder-mystery – a man picks up the paper to find out that he's been found murdered, along with his wife. Being dead, then, he can start investigating to find out what really happened. Pretty good read.

"In My Father's House"
by Ernest J. Gaines
In My Father's HouseThe story concerns a black minister in the South who sees his troubled past catch up to him – but it's a pretty spotty read at times, and not up to Gaines' usual standards.

"I Is for Innocent"
by Sue Grafton
I Is for InnocentA Kinsey Milhone mystery is always a good way to kill an afternoon, and in Sue Grafton's ninth book in the series Kinsey is trying to find out who killed a woman who seemed to have a lot of enemies.

"A Gathering of Old Men"
by Ernest J. Gaines
A Gathering of Old MenA tense but ultimately warm novel revolving around the killing of a white man, and the fact that more than a dozen old black men come forward to confess to the crime. The movie is pretty good, too.

"The Tunnels of Cu Chi"
by Tom Mangold and John Penycate
The Tunnels of Cu ChiInteresting story of the tunnels dug by the Viet Cong to hide from the South Vietnamese and American armies – and of the American soldiers who volunteered to go into the tunnels after them. If a book can be claustrophobic, this is that book.

"I Kid You Not"
by Jack Paar
I Kid You NotJack Paar was the second host of "The Tonight Show," following Steve Allen and leading to Johnny Carson. And Paar may have been the best of the bunch – as funny as Carson, and a better interviewer. His books are pretty darn funny, too, if you can find them.

"With No Apologies"
by Sen. Barry Goldwater
With No ApologiesGoldwater's end-of-career memoir gives a first-person account of the fiery conservative's life.

"I Am the Clay"
by Chaim Potok
I Am the ClayThe author of such popular novels as "In the Beginning" and "My Name is Asher Lev" takes us to Korea, where an older couple fleeing the war adopts an abandoned orphan. (See full review.)

"Damn You, Al Davis"
by Jack Murphy
Damn You, Al DavisA collection of favorite columns from the late San Diego sportswriter – among the best of the breed. If you liked Red Smith, you'll like his hunting and fishing buddy Murphy, too.

"Matarese Circle"
by Robert Ludlum
Matarese CircleLudlum was one of the best at the Cold War spy novel, and this was right up there. The details don't really matter, do they? Russians, Americans and a shadowy crime syndicate with ambition.

"Hit Men"
by Fredric Dannen
Hit MenNothing to do with the Mob, this book is about the music business – payola, the screwing of bands on their contracts, etc. Not a fun read, but eye-opening.

"Work and Play"
by Carlo Gebler
Work and PlayA modest but moving novel about a young man in England forced to confront racism directed toward his neighbors.

"Second Voyage of 7th Carrier"
by Peter Albano
Second Voyage of 7th CarrierA World War II Japanese aircraft carrier that had been hidden in the South Pacific is now riding to the rescue of the world after China gets a new satellite that disables all jet engines and modern avionics. Apparently there are a half-dozen books in the Seventh Carrier series ...

"No Sign of Murder"
by Alan Russell
No Sign of MurderRussell's second mystery, this one shows early evidence of the later sophistication he would introduce to the mystery genre. In this book, a deaf woman is murdered – and the private investigator looking into her death learns to communicate with a gorilla she was teaching sign language in order to seek more clues. Really good stuff – sounds goofy the way I wrote it, but you find yourself speed-reading to find out what happened.

"In Search of Melancholy Baby"
by Vassily Askyonov
In Search of Melancholy BabyFirst-person account of a Soviet exile novelist coming to America – he ends up being both exhilarated and disappointed by what he finds here.

"The Forest Prime Evil"
by Alan Russell
The Forest Prime EvilThis was San Diego-based writer Alan Russell's first stab at a murder mystery, and if a bit rough around the edges, he still manages here to create a real sense of atmosphere. Pretty good yarn, too!

by Timothy Ferris
GalaxiesLarge, gorgeous coffee-table book with lavish photographs of different galaxies and text by popular science writer Timothy Ferris. If you're an astronomy buff, this book is a must-have.

by James Burke
ConnectionsRather like Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" or Daniel Boorstin's "The Discoverers," "Connections" shows the unnoticed filaments between different scientific/technological developments.

by Josephine Hart
DamageJosephine Hart's first novel is a wonderfully enticing mixture of dark themes and gorgeous use of language – seemed we had another Patricia Highsmith on our hands. Since then, of course, she's basically written the same story over and again. If you're going to read Hart, at least read this one as it's the first telling of the story.

by Joe Hyams
BogiePopular bio never gets beyond the adulatory homage to the "tough-guy" actor – too bad, because Bogie was better than this book makes him out to be, even though the book is fawning.

"The Making of the African Queen"
by Katherine Hepburn
The Making of the African QueenThe subtitle says it all: "How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind."

"Humphrey Bogart"
by Nathaniel Benchley
Humphrey BogartA friendly reminiscence from the son of a Bogie pal (writer Robert Benchley); has that old-school Hollywood feel to it.

"The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies"
by William Hanchett
The Lincoln Murder ConspiraciesThe author goes over each of the various conspiracy theories (at least the more popular ones) put forth to explain Lincoln's assassination. Doesn't really take sides, just points out the evidence for and against. The wilder ones, of course, have very little in the "for" column.

"The Europeans"
by Luigi Barzini
The EuropeansA quick overview of modern Europe – built on the premise that there is something inherently European that transcends the national differences. Well-written (at least in the English translation), but the arguments don't always seem to match reality.

"Smear Job"
by James Mitchell
Smear JobBased on the British TV show "Callan," and written by the series' creator, this spy thriller is a bit over-written but still interesting.

by Studs Terkel
WorkingOne of those books everyone ought to read. Beloved Chicago radio host takes his portable tape deck and asks Americans from all walks of life about their jobs. Construction workers. Teachers. Executives. Musicians. Just wonderful.