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Reading Diary for 2003

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"Holidays on Ice"
by David Sedaris
Holidays on IceI saw Sedaris' "Santaland Diaries" at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre two years running before I was given this book as a gift – but I'm glad to have the book, because I can now read this year after year. Sedaris has an eye for life's usual ironies, and the ear to make them funny. The other stories here are even more twisted, making the entire collection worth having.

"I Could Never Be So Lucky Again"
by James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle
I Could Never Be So Lucky AgainA wonderful autobiography by the man who led the raid against Tokyo in the months after Pearl Harbor. Self-effacing but proud of his accomplishments, Doolittle focuses very little of the book on that raid (which has been covered extensively elsewhere) and instead writes of his barnstorming days in the '20s, his years as an early air racer, and his role in the strategic bombing campaign against the Nazis.

by Alan Russell
ShameAlan Russell remains one of the most mysterious of mystery writers – as well as one of the most literary. In "Shame," he again radically changes gears – going from the taut thriller "Exposure" (which followed the outstanding whodunit "Multiple Wounds") to a kind of character analysis. He also tries a variety of different literary techniques to create suspense, to hold the reader's interest. Some work, some don't, and while the story premise has Russell's trademark touch of being off-beat but believable, this book still has somewhat of a feeling of an experiment.

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"
by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixNot quite as good a story, nor as tightly written, as the previous Harry Potter books. Rowling seems to be losing her discipline as a writer – she rambles all over the place with this book. Still, any fan of the earlier books will find themselves compelled to read this one, too, just to see what happens to the crew.

"The Five Ages of the Universe"
by Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin
The Five Ages of the UniverseMuch as a human being goes through various periods of life (prenatal, newborn, adolescent, geriatric), so, too, does our universe. At least that's the point of the authors – who structure their book accordingly, explaining the physical changes and appearance of each age, starting with the Big Bang and stretching it out to a distant future when all matter has decomposed into energy.

"Castles of Steel"
by Robert K. Massie
Castles of SteelThis is a very readable and intriguing history of naval warfare between Britain and Germany in World War I. Robert K. Massie's narrative is as enticing as a good novel; his characterizations are wonderful. He's written this book fairly down the middle, although he does clearly idolize the late Admiral John Jellicoe and disapprove a bit of Jellicoe's rival, Admiral David Beatty.

"To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight"
by James Tobin
To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for FlightA wonderful telling of the story of the Wright Brothers, from my native Dayton, Ohio, and their efforts to not only conquer heavier-than-air flight, but to receive proper recognition for their efforts. A perfect way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their achievement.

"All the Way to Berlin"
by James Megellas
All the Way to BerlinA veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II recounts his combat experiences from basic training through campaigns in Italy and Europe. Not the best-written book ever, but heart-felt and touching.

"The Geography of Thought"
by Richard E. Nisbett
The Geography of ThoughtVery interesting arguments in here that Asians and Westerners are raised and culturally inculcated to see the world in fundamentally different ways. It was, of course, controversial on publication, with the polically correct forces condemning it as racist. But it's nothing of the sort, and instead furthers arguments put forth by Jacques Derrida and others that language shapes our perception of reality.

by Brian Jacques
MossflowerThis really should have been the first book in the series, as it traces the battle that led to the establishment of the Redwall Abbey (which comes under attack in the first book, "Redwall" (below). Good story-telling and mythmaking, all in one.

by Brian Jacques
RedwallSort of a "Wind in the Willows" meets "Watership Down" crossed with "Lord of the Rings." Forest animals engage in a battle of good vs. evil, fall in love with fair maidens, fight to save their freedom. Maybe not quite a classic like the above works, but close – very close. And author Brian Jacques has created far more explorations of his world of Redwall than any of the others listed above did for theirs – continues to create them, as well.

"Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century"
by Hunter S. Thompson
Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American CenturyPretty sad, this collection of recent articles by the same manic genius who wrote "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." He mailed it in this time. (See full review.)

"Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure"
by Michael Palin
Michael Palin's Hemingway AdventureEx-Python and longtime BBC travel correspondent Michael Palin is just as funny and engaging with the pen as he is the camera. In this large, oversized color (or should that be colour?) book, he consummates his fascination with Ernest Hemingway by traveling to all of Hemingway's haunts: Chicago, Paris, Italy, Spain, Africa, Cuba, Key West, Montana and Idaho. He even meets up with a surprising number of people who knew Hemingway – but one supposes that a BBC expense account and a famous face are useful at facilitating such meetings! A wonderfully written book, beautifully illustrated with colour photography – fans of both Hemingway and Python will get a kick out of it.

"Artemis Fowl"
by Eoin Colfer
Artemis FowlStarting reading this to my kids – when they got bored, I finished reading it to myself. First book of a series about a juvenile mastermind criminal who messes with the faeries with high-tech gizmos on his side – technology vs. magic. It's fun, but it's no Harry Potter.

"The Altar of the Body"
by Duff Brenna
The Altar of the BodyA customer review on described "The Altar of the Body" as "... an odd, not too likable, but hard to forget book." While I liked this novel more than that reader, the story is painful at times – bad things happen to the characters you've grown to care for, and by the end of the book there's a sense of impending doom that casts a pall over the very act of reading. Having said all that, Brenna (who wrote "The Holy Book of the Beard" as well) has created a remarkable cast of characters that will stick in your head for a long, long time.

"The Tetherballs of Bougainville"
by Mark Leyner
The Tetherballs of BougainvilleWacky, hyperkinetic speed fiction – it's parody and irony and absurd and satire. It's pretty much about what the title says ...

"Letters From a Nut"
by Ted L. Nancy
Letters From a NutPurportedly written by Jerry Seinfeld under a pseudonym, "Letters From a Nut" is twistedly funny stuff – correspondence to hotels and bus lines seeking permission to bring his own ice machine or to travel in costume as a stick of butter. The usually confused responses are often the funniest part.

by Alan Russell
ExposureSan Diego's Alan Russell moves from mysteries to thriller – the story of "Exposure" involves a papaarazzo who inadvertently causes an accident that kills two high-profile celebrities, and then finds himself blackmailed. If a notch below Ludlum and Forsythe in this sort of story, Russell's book is still very good.

"One Palestine, Complete"
by Tom Segev
One Palestine, CompleteA history of the British Mandate – when the League of Nations designated Britain to run the Ottoman Empire's former holdings in the Israel/Palestine area following World War I. Written by a pro-Arab Israeli leftist, the book keeps trying to sympathize with the Arabs but continually runs up against the facts of history and the brutal anti-Semitism of the Arabs. The Zionist homeland policy for the Jews may not have been benevolent toward the Arabs, but the Jews rarely targeted Arab women and children the way their own were targeted. Interesting more for its take on the British aloofness toward their colonial holdings than for any insight to the Arab-Jew turmoil still going on in the Mideast.

"Medal of Honor Heroes"
by Col. Red Reeder
Medal of Honor HeroesOne of Random House's old 1960s Landmark series of history books for kids. Needed something quick to read, so pulled off my kids' shelf. Short, easy to read bios of war heroes like Sgt. York and Audie Murphy.

"Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder"
by by Lawrence Weschler
Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of WonderWhat a treasure of a book this is! Built around an eccentric little museum in L.A., "Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder" explores the fringe areas between science and superstition, academia and hustlers.