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Reading Diary for 1995

  and earlier
"Platoon Leader"
by James McDonough
Platoon LeaderOne of the very best narratives from a Vietnam War veteran I've read. It is depressing and sad and reminds us why war should always be a last option.

"Wind, Sand and Stars"
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Wind, Sand and StarsWhile Saint-Exupéry will forever be known for "The Little Prince," I've found his aviation stories to be infinitely more interesting. An early airmail pilot for the predecessor to Air France, Saint-Exupéry was by all accounts a lousy flier – but his crashes, near crashes and general clumsiness provided him rich material for his books.

"Dark Maze"
by Thomas Adcock
Dark MazeThis was my first time through reading Adcock's Neil Hockaday series of mysteries. Hockaday is an Irish-American NYPD detective, and these books are as literary as anything Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler wrote. Hockaday finds his Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City terrorized by a serial killer, and he has a suspicion he's met the killer.

"Battle: Story of the Bulge"
by John Toland
Battle: Story of the BulgeOne of the best battle narratives about World War II, Toland's book is told through the eyes of the men who fought in the Ardennes Forest that cold winter in 1944.

"Newspaper Days"
by H.L. Mencken
Newspaper DaysPerhaps no one so despises the media as those who work in it – and H.L. Mencken's memoir of his muckraking days in Baltimore shows that trend antedates even World War I. For a newspaperman, Mencken has precious little good to say about newspapers.

"The Offering"
by Tom Carhart
The OfferingA straight-forward reminiscence of what it was like to be an infantry officer during the Vietnam War.

"A Natural History of Love"
by Diane Ackerman
A Natural History of LoveAn outgrowth of her earlier "A Natural History of the Senses," this book weaves biology, psychology, poetry and art together in trying not to explain love, but simply capture a snapshot of it.

by by Robert Mason
ChickenhawkDepressing and heroic memoir by an American helicopter pilot who fought in Vietnam.

"Garden of Eden"
by Ernest Hemingway
Garden of EdenPublished a quarter-century after he died, Hemingway's "Garden of Eden" was the most erotic story he wrote. It's an edgy, dark story of a young couple who both fall in love with the same woman.

"Marine Sniper"
by Charles Henderson
Marine SniperDuring the Vietnam War, Charles Henderson's sharpshooting skills earned him the role of sniper for the Marines. No Rambo to be found in these pages; Henderson killed because that was his job, not because he enjoyed it.

by Edward Gorey
AmphigoreyGorey is an odd bird, creating what are really poetry comic books. The poetry is much like Hilaire Belloc's, the drawings twisted, like something out of Lewis Carroll.

"Sea of Green"
by Thomas Adcock
Sea of GreenI hate all those little stock descriptions used on book jackets – words like "gripping," for instance. But this book – well, it's hard to put it down until you're done. It's about Det. Neil Hockaday, an Irish-American cop in New York's Hell's Kitchen, and it's as literary as it is readable. In this debut of the character, Hockaday is recovering emotionally from a divorce he didn't want, while trying to solve a series of murders that seem related to development projects in the neighborhood.

by Yigael Yadin
MasadaA neat history by the lead archaeologist from the 1960s dig of the ancient Israel fortress whose outnumbered and cornered inhabitants committed mass suicide rather than be conquered by the Romans.

"Ripley Under Water"
by Patricia Highsmith
Ripley Under WaterThe most recent (1991) and perhaps last of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley series finds Tom Ripley still running around killing people, and we readers still, twistedly, rooting for him.

"Without Remorse"
by Tom Clancy
Without RemorseTom Clancy is the master of setting the reader up to root, root, root for the home team. In this novel, the hero is John Clark (a supporting character in most of his other novels), who bonds with a prostitute with the heart of gold, and then tracks down the drug dealers who kill her. Predictable, maudlin – and very good.

"Ripley's Game"
by Patricia Highsmith
Ripley's GameThe third in Patricia Highsmith's series of Ripley books, in which the protagonist is a psychopathic murderer name of Tom Ripley. Reading these books, you know Ripley is evil, and yet you find yourself rooting for him, not wanting him to be caught – which shows how very good Highsmith is: She puts you so far into Ripley's mind that you see the story from his perspective.

"Dance Dance Dance"
by Haruki Murakami
Dance Dance DanceSurreal tale of modern angst and confusion Reminded me a lot of J.G. Ballard's "Concrete Island" and "Crash," only more fully developed (and set in Japan instead of England). (See full review.)

"Cannibal Queen"
by Stephen Coonts
Cannibal QueenEasily Coonts' best book yet, although it didn't sell nearly as well as his war novels. This true-life adventure sees Coonts flying around the country in a restored old prop job – kind of like a "Blue Highways" of the sky.

"The End of the Road"
by Tom Bodett
The End of the RoadHe of the gravelly voiced Motel 6 radio commercials can also turn a nice little set of tales from a mythical town not so different from "Northern Exposure's" equally mythical Cicely, Alaska.

"Ghostrider One"
by Gerry Carroll
Ghostrider OneA combat novel set in Vietnam; decent enough story, comparable to Clancy.

"The Fat Innkeeper"
by Alan Russell
The Fat InnkeeperKind of a Kinsey Milhone meets Sam Spade in La Jolla sort of a mystery. Am Caufield is a surfer who is also assistant manager of a fancy, Hotel del Coronado caliber resort hotel – who keeps running into corpses. Great stuff. (Read full review.)

by Ed Ruggero
Buy it now from
FirefallNeo-Nazis take over Germany, and attack U.S. troops stationed in Europe. Pretty good read for what it is.

by Stacy Schiff
Saint-ExuperyCritical but forgiving study of the life of the author of "The Little Prince." (See full review.)

"The Little Prince"
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little PrinceOverhyped beyond belief, yet still a neat little allegory about life by one of my favorite writers.