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Reading Diary for 1994

  and earlier
"Islands in the Stream"
by Ernest Hemingway
Islands in the StreamIn the late '80s, I stayed in Bimini for half a week – Papa was everywhere. In the Compleat Angler, a bar on North Bimini where Hemingway took a room upstairs where he wrote this book, they still had the leather backgammon tables where he played. So you think I'd be excited to read this ... but it's not one of his strongest books; tells of hunting Nazis off Cuba in World War II.

"Chile Pepper Fever"
by Susan Hazen-Hammond
Chile Pepper FeverCoffee-table book that's surprisingly well-written. More about the culture of chile peppers than a cookbook, features gorgeous photographs by Eduardo Fuss.

"Sacred Clowns"
by Tony Hillerman
Sacred ClownsNavajo tribal policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are teamed up to investigate a pair of murders, one at the nearby Pueblo. Every Hillerman novel is a delight; I've re-read most of them, and one of these days will start from the beginning and go straight through again.

"Left to Die"
by Dan Kurzman
Left to DieThe story of the USS Juneau, sunk by the Japanese off Guadalcanal in World War II. 180 men survived the sinking – including the five Sullivan brothers – but only 10 were ever rescued, due to bad intelligence and plain incompetence.

"Gemini Contenders"
by Robert Ludlum
Gemini ContendersThere was a time not so many years ago when Robert Ludlum ruled the spy thriller world the way Tom Clancy did in the '90s. Ludlum has a master's touch at writing accessible fiction, and this book earns the title "thriller" – it's World War II, and an order of monks is one step ahead of the Nazis in the race for a small safe from the Middle Ages.

"Harmonicas, Harps and Heavy Breathers"
by Kim Field
Harmonicas, Harps and Heavy BreathersA very well-organized and -written history of the harmonica – from a novelty item to a mainstay of folk music and blues.

"The Hotel Detective"
by Alan Russell
The Hotel DetectiveWhen Alan Russell was first writing his two Am Caufield mysteries (so far), he was a real-life manager of a hotel in Del Mar. Not as swank as his mythical hotel here, which is like the world-famous Hotel del Coronado only in La Jolla. But simply managing any hotel, Russell met the characters and oddities that populate this book and breathe real life into it. (See full review.)

"Dead Eyes"
by Stuart Woods
Dead EyesA budding Hollywood starlet sees her world turned upside down by a stalking fan. Okay read; nothing great, but passable entertainment.

"The Lover"
by Marguerite Duras
The LoverDaguerreotype novella about a French girl's affair with a Chinese man in war-torn Vietnam. The kind of story where you can practically see the pith helmets, feel the rattan furniture and hear the flies buzzing. Incredible.

"The Naked Truth"
by Leslie Nielsen
The Naked TruthThe thing about Leslie Nielsen is that when you watch his older movies from the '60s and '70s, where he was the straight guy, you still find yourself laughing because of the incredible parodies of himself he's done in the '80s and '90s. The book is definitely more like "Airplane" than anything from early in his career.

by Joe Soucheray
WaterlineSoucheray is an old-school newspaper columnist from the Twin Cities – the kind of guy who still likes to chew on an old cigar and wear a hat, just because. But this tale of an old boat he restored with his father is utterly touching and sentimental.

"Day of the Jackal"
by Frederick Forsythe
Day of the JackalAlong with Robert Ludlum (see above) and Len Deighton, Frederick Forsythe was one of the best-selling authors at airport newsstands across the globe through the '70s and '80s. This is the book that gave international terrorist Carlos The Jackal his nickname – and it's a classic of the thriller set.

"Drown All the Dogs"
by Thomas Adcock
Drown All the DogsMy first encounter with Adcock's fictional Det. Neil Hockaday, an Irish-American cop in New York's Hell's Kitchen who travels back to the old country and learns more about his family than he cares to. Adcock writes addictive little mysteries that cheat over the line into literature.

"The Vets"
by Stephen Leather
The VetsA handful of Vietnam War combat veterans decide to pull off the largest heist in history, using the chaos of the handover of Hong Kong to China as their cover.

"Better Than Sex"
by Hunter S. Thompson<
Better Than SexPerhaps Thompson's most pathetic book. He just never got the Reagan years, never understood the man or his popularity. And if you don't get something you can't really take it on, mock it. See, Thompson understood Nixon in ways he never understood Reagan. He and Nixon shared a kind of bone-knife viciousness, a willingness to bend rules with ruthless abandon and not bother with trying to make nice after. This aw-shucks approach of Reagan (and Clinton, too, for that matter) left Thompson confused – and thus largely irrelevant in trying to make sense of their popularity.

"North From Malaya"
by William O. Douglas
North From MalayaOne of those old, grand travelogues, written by a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Open-minded and curious, in this book Douglas heads through Southeast Asia, taking photos and noting details all along the way.

by Andrew Vachss
ShellaWhen this came out, it was accompanied by such hype that you'd think Vachss had re-invented the novel. What it is is an okay mystery/thriller – told from the antagonist's point of view, not unlike Patricia Highsmith's Ripley series.

by Charles D. Taylor
SightingsMilitary thriller about MIAs in Vietnam. Good for an evening's entertainment.

"The Last Bus to Albuquerque"
by Lewis Grizzard
The Last Bus to AlbuquerqueGrizzard was one of the last of a breed – the straight-shooting newspaper columnist bound neither by ideology nor fear of offense. When Royko and Caen and Jack Smith followed him, well, the newspaper business today is full of the politically correct and the timid. There's a reason newspaper circulation is down in this country, and it's not because people don't read ... (See full review.)

"Out of Order"
by Thomas E. Patterson
Out of OrderA poli sci prof, Patterson rakes the media over the coals for its insistence on covering elections the same way it covers sports: as a contest. Thus, during presidential elections policy proposals get buried while the angle of who's ahead in Iowa or New Hampshire can determine the eventual winner. An interesting analysis.

"Night Flight"
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Night FlightSaint-Exupéry is best known for "The Little Prince" – but his first-person accounts of his life as a pilot for the French mail service in the 1920s and '30s are just as enchanting. He was apparently a bumbling pilot during an age when flying was still dangerous – and yet lived until he was shot down in combat during World War II.

"The Very Bad Thing"
by Ned White
The Very Bad ThingOne of the first cyber crime novels – a computer expert's investigation into a malignant worm goes south when his own PC is stolen and his love interest disappears.