Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotations
Contact Me

Reading Diary for 2004

  and earlier
by J.G. Ballard

Super CannesBallard remains at the top of his art, the best living novelist in the world. Nominally a psycho-thriller, "Super-Cannes" is really an unflinching look at the price technology extracts from our humanity. Well-written and accessible, the hard truths of Ballard's story come to light only slowly as the secrets of a large corporate business park come to light.

"Basket Case"
by Carl Hiaasen

Basket CaseClever and entertaining South Florida mystery about a rock star murdered by his wife. Set at a fictional mid-size daily newspaper, "Basket Case" does a nice job of both holding your interest and capturing the feel of a newsroom.

by Leon Uris

ExodusA friend convinced me to read this – anyone who's perused my pages knows I'm not much into the Michener/Wouk school of epic historical novels. I found it an intriguing story adequately told. Uris can't seem to make up his mind if this is a book about the founding of Israel following the Holocaust or a love story. The two different tales are cobbled together in sometimes clumsy fashion. What I found most interesting about this is that while "Exodus" is the book that anti-Semites and Arab apologists love to hate, when you read sober histories of modern Israel you still run up against the inescapable fact that the Arabs killed children and raped women as sanctioned tools of warfare (and still do, for that matter), and the Jews didn't. With anti-Semitism increasingly chic on the Left again, maybe we ought to encourage more people to read this book.

"The Mediterranean in History"
Edited by David Abulafia

The Mediterranean in HistoryA nice collection of essays tracing Mediterranean history from the most ancient of pre-historic times up to the present. Not always the most insightful, but a solid overview that will fill in gaps of history you thought you knew.

"No Bended Knee: The Battle for Guadalcanal"
by Gen. Merrill B. Twining, USMC

No Bended KneeThis first-hand account by one of the Marine staff officers who participated in the battle for Guadalcanal in World War II doesn't have the immediacy or narrative flow of the classic "Guadalcanal Diary," but it does offer insights that that book, written while the dead were still being buried, couldn't possibly provide.

"Political Suicide"
by Alan Russell

Political SuicideAll you need to know about how good this mystery thriller is this: After getting off work the other night, I decided to read the first chapter to help fall asleep. I started at 11:30 p.m.; when I finally put the book down, finished, it was 5 in the morning! Russell's trademark is getting inside the worlds of his characters, and in "Political Suicide" he re-creates the world of those who have attended West Point. The only complaint would be Russell's stereotypes of pro-lifers as gun-toting blood-thirsty savages. Hey Alan – not all of us are fanatics nor hypocrites; heck, some of us even buy your books ...

"To Kill the Potemkin"
by Mark Joseph

To Kill the PotemkinAn okay military thriller along the lines of "Hunt for Red October." Joseph's premise in this book is taken from the real-life disappearance of a U.S. nuclear sub in the late 1960s; Joseph then builds the novel around a fictitious showdown between U.S. and Soviet sub forces. Not a bad read, but hardly literature.

"A Short History of Nearly Everything"
by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nealry EverythingA very well-turned popular history of the physical sciences: Geology, physics, archaelogy, biology. The popular humor writer takes the same approach Carl Sagan did with >"Cosmos," only broadens the subject matter and explains a few things a bit better than the academically oriented Sagan did. A good introduction to popular science.

"Solomon Gursky Was Here"
by Mordecai Richler

Solomon Gursky Was HereMaybe the best novel I've ever read. Certainly one of the toughest to put down, or, when it's all done, let go of. Written as a series of non-chronological, non-linear recollections and narratives, "Solomon Gursky Was Here" is immersed in Jewish culture, Canadian history, and a bit of neomythology, tracing the mysterious title character through the 20th century.

"Einstein, Picasso"
by Arthur I. Miller

Einstein, PicassoQuite interesting if not particularly well-written, this dual biography of two giants of the last century whose groundbreaking work was being developed simultaneously (even if Einstein's theories would undermine the notion of simultaneity!). A neat exploration of how science and art commingle and cross-pollinate, of how artists are influenced by forces and ideas from beyond the art world, while scientists can have an aesthetic. The subtitle of "Space, Time, and the Beauty That Causes Havoc" is a pretty fair summation.

"A Question of Honor"
by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud

A Question of HonorA well-documented (and well-written) history of the Polish nation from its re-creation after World War I to its final (hopefully) liberation by Solidarity in the 1980s, with a particular emphasis on the Polish pilots who fought for the Allies in World War II. A pretty damning indictment of FDR's willingness to sell out other nations to advance his own political career.

"Inside the Sky"
by William Langewiesche

Inside the SkyA thoughtful, insightful rumination on flying by the son of the author of "Stick and Rudder," the classic how-to guide to flight. In this book, the younger Langewiesche looks at both the wonder of flight (in which he approaches the lyricism of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) and the danger of flight, with several fascinating explanations of famous air crashes.

"How the Irish Saved Civilization"
by Thomas Cahill

How the Irish Saved CivilizationThe premise of this book is a great deal more interesting than its delivery: the author sets out to show how Irish monks working in obscurity saved Greek and Roman literature during the Dark Ages. But Cahill uses the book to put forth all sorts of other notions as well: the early Celts as the noble savage, the Romans as corrupt conquerors, and most of all, his disdain for the Catholic Church (born of his American Protestantism).

"City Room"
by Arthur Gelb

City RoomThe former New York Times managing editor looks back at his four and a half decades at the paper. The book starts off strongly, with Gelb taking a nostalgic look back at his days as a copy boy in World War II. But as the Remington and Underwoods are replaced by computer terminals, and as old-time reporters like Mike Berger are replaced with college-degreed yuppies, even Gelb loses interest and begins quoting from company memos – until by the time we get to the 1980s, when Gelb had risen nearly to the top, he spends not a word on the entire decade.