Books Read in 1998

other readers: street librarian | jen | sara | fil | step | jack

Goa Freaks: My Hippie Years in India by Cleo Odzer

Do you remember when you learned that there was really no such thing as hippies and all the people that had that enviable "counterculture" lifestyle were actually independently wealthy thanks to their parents or else getting rich off of the generosity or gullibility of others? Or dealing drugs? This is one woman's story about being part of the freak scene in India back when it was "still cool" and everyone wasn't strung out on smack and opium. She paints herself as a free spirit JAP [her word, not mine] living the free and easy lifestyle and getting addicted to heroin and sleeping with a lot of lovely guys. She's also a neurotic pain in the ass and horribly inconsiderate, though maybe not more than the other drugged out wackos she hung out with. It's an interesting slice of life story, but she herself got on my nerves, used a lot of irritating stylistic devices, and lost me every time she used appalingly bad judgement to get herself out of bad situation after bad situation. She's now into the Internet, go figure.

Freak Show: Sideshow Banner Art by Carl Hammer & Gideon Bosker

This book is great to look at, but I'm curious about some of the research. Even with my limited freak background, I know that it was Tom Thumb [aka Charles Stratton] who wed Lavinia Warren and not, as this book suggests, Prince Arthur. There are lots of good images of banner art, but there seems to be a preference towards more recent and thus [to me] somewhat less interesting banners. Apparently this form of art falls into the category of "outsider art" which means, I guess, unpracticed or unschooled artists. Listening to "actual" artists talk about people like this can often be an exercise in tongue biting for me.

Freak Like Me by Jim Rose

I first saw Jim Rose at Bumbershoot in 1990 which I later learned was one of his first shows. He escaped fom a straightjacket and lay with his face in glass while someone stood on his neck. The friend I was with questioned the tastefulness of this show being done in public where children could see it. I knew two things 1) I disagreed with my friend not only about this, but in some fundamental way, 2) I was a freak show fan. Jim later expenaded his show to include bug eaters, human pincushions and all other manner of human oddities. I've seen him at street fairs and on TV. This book outlines the basic chronology of a guy born with cross-eyes and resulting low self-esteen who reinvents busking to suit his own needs. For anyone looking for psychological insight into the major players, you'll need to find another book. This one is mostly chronology, bad jokes and paeons to his lovely wife, Bebe. It was a great read with some truly excellent pictures.

Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne

This was is silly book about painful adolescence that verges on the wacky, caper style of writing I've come to expect from Daniel Pinkwater. Fun schemes, outrageous crimes, lots of masturbating and teen sex, indifferent parents, casual drug use and angst angst angst. Also funny as hell. Nick Twisp, our hero, is a skinny kid in love with a 14 year old cutie who he endeavors to associate with in any way possible. Needless to say, this makes him do dumb things.

The New Wolves by Rick Bass

Rick Bass writes about the reintroduction of the Mexican Wolf into Southwestern America as if he were writing about freedom itself. He tracks the players in this bid to get the wolf reintroduced, often painting them as rather two dimensional figurines in what, he supposes, has to be the Good Fight to end all Good Fights. If you agree with Bass, you will love this book. If not, it's still a good read, though overly sentimental at times.

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb

I knew I was in trouble when the weirdo book I picked off the cart at work kept getting strangers saying to me "Hey, I read that..." I just thought it would be an interesting story about a giant fat woman who's angry at things. Once I learned the book was an Oprah Pick I realized the fat lady would get skinny, happy and married. Sure enough. This book started out to be a good read and ended up as an embarassing disappointment.

Mary Dyer: Biography of a Rebel Quaker by Ruth Plimpton

Mary Dyer was the only woman in America to die for her Quaker beliefs. She was hanged in Boston in 1660. This book contains a good amount of primary source research and a great background on the religious atmosphere in the colonies in the early days. With the current atmosphere of at least nominal separations of church and state it's interesting to read about people being punished for not attending church or believing that women had the right to speak for themselves. The Quakers got a lot of grief for refusing to take off their hats before authority and letting their women hold ranking positions in the church, among other things.

Aroma: The cultural history of smell by Constance Classen et. al.

I was first drawn to this book by its hot pink cover. I couldn't ignore it. The subject matter is equally interesting: a well-researched, at times academicky approach to smells across cultures and times. Some of the chapters are boring ["here's another poem about how people liked to wear perfume in the Middle Ages..."] and some are downright fascinating [the last chapter entitled "the aroma of the commodity"]. There are a lot of cross-cultural studies of other societies where smell plays a much larger part than it does in U.S. society, though they mostly focus on the United Arab Emirates and so-called "primitive" cultures of hunter gatherers.

On the Road with the Archangel by Frederick Buechner

I'm sure if I'd ever read the bible, I'd like this book even more. As it stands, it's a great tale of travel and faith with a trusty dog and an archangel in disguise taking place in [or near?] Jeruselam. More of a buddy story, really, and it's got a great cover.

Black Lung: Anatomy of a public health care disaster by Alan Derickson

Whenever people ask me what I think is wrong with capitalism [which happens more often than you might think] I tell them that in order for capitalism to work, it necessitates an oppressed underclass. The miners in Appalachia and thereabouts are that oppressed underclass. Working for slave wages, living in company towns and having to shop at company stores, many of these miners started as breaker boys at age 10. Most of them developed an affliction called miner's asthma -- hacking and coughing black sputum, decreased lung capacity, etc. Nowadays, we know that breathing dust, like coal dust, can do this to you. Back then, the etiology was unknown or easily ignored and the companies had a vested interest in not wanting to pay out any disability compensation to those who got sick. This book tracks the crusaders who worked to get miner's asthma, later termed black lung, to the status of a compensatable disease over the course of nearly a century. Gripping reading.

Circumnavigation by Steve Lattimore

The story I remember most in this book is about a man who lives in a house in the country and a friend of his drops off his five year old son and $120 and tells him to take care of the kid. The kid is serious, the man is not, they awkwardly hang out as the man's ex-girlfriend [with her new icky boyfriend] keeps dropping by and cooking everyone food. Slice of life stories. Great to read, hard to remember.

The Lonliest Road in America by Roy Parvin

This is a collection of stories about imperfect people who live in the woods of California. Some are nutty, some are crazy, some are happy, some are sad. They all are living very individuaized lives far from human contact in whatever quirky way they want to. Parvin really makes all these stories seem real and all the people seem very human. I was sorry this book wasn't longer.

The Medusa and The Snail by Lewis Thomas

It is either the very good news or the very bad news that a book like this should be in the free box outside of a Port Townsend bookstore. Lewis Thomas is a doctor who thinks about science a lot. He is smart, wickedly funny and somewhat philosophical at times. This book is a quiet reflection on some of the things that he has observed that can loosely be categorized as being about biology. An excerpt [context: he is writing a short essay about the ponds that are formed in Manhattan when they dig up buildings, one of the ponds began to fill with goldfish...]:

Now there are complaints against the pond, really against the goldfish. How could people do such a thing? Bad enough for pet dogs and cats to be abandoned, but who could be so unfeeling as to abandon a goldfish? They must have come down late at night, carrying their bowls, and simply dumped them in. How could they?

The ASPCA was called, and came one afternoon with a rowboat. Nets were used, and fish taken away in new custodial bowls, some to central Park, others to ASPCA headquarters, to the fish pound. But the goldfish have multiplied, or maybe those people with their bowls keep coming down late at night for their furtive, unfeeling dumping. Anyway, there are too many fish for the ASPCA, for which this seems to be a new kind of problem. An official stated to the press that the owners of the property would be asked to drain the pond by pumping, and then the ASPCA would come back with nets to catch them all.

Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros

I find that unlike African American fiction, it's tough for me to find any Hispanic fiction that I don't like. This book of stories -- primarily about Mexicans who live in the U.S. -- is full of loss, betrayal, perseverance and food. Lovely, luscious, and sad. The author describes herself as "nobody's mother and nobody's wife". I liked her immediately.

Women Against the Good War by Rachel Goossen

This book is about women who were conscientious objectors to World War II. I had not known that men who received CO status were actually sent to camps in the US where they had their room and board taken care of but were essentially unpaid labor in public works projects for the duration. This book tells the stories of some of the women who worked in the camps or who resisted the war in other fashions. It mainly focusses on the organized resistance to the war put on by some of the peace churches like the Mennonites and the Quakers. The churches wound up supporting the families of many of the men sent to the camps and many of the women in the church went to work not to support the war effort but to support their families while their husbands were in the camps.

Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer

Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine and this book is devoted not only to debunking fairly widely held pseudoscientific beliefs such as creation science and the "holocaust never happened" folks, but also to exploring why people hold and maintain these beliefs. He spends a lot of time explaining what it means to prove something scientifically and how these pseudoscientists' beliefs cannot hold up to scientific rigor. Throughout, he is respectful of the people themselves and seem to explore these issues in the spirit of free inquiry and doesn't approach any of the people involved as wackos or freakouts.

The Blood Countess by Andrei Codrescu

This book would make a great soft-core lesbian S/M porno flick. I picked it up because it takes place in Transylvania, where I used to live and because I generally like Codrescu. It's about that Countess who was rumored to bathe in the blood of virgins and all sorts of other bad behavior. There's not enough historical information in it to sustain it and too much of the biting queen.

The Simulacra by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick is good for my paranoid side. No matter how nutty I can imagine things to be, he goes at least three steps further. This is a standard futuristic sci-fi book taking place in a future where the leaders of the government are a faceless few who create new robot leaders and manipulate their election to lead offices. Sounds silly but Dick makes it compelling and interesting.

The The O. Henry Awards, Prize Stories 1990

As far as short story anthologies go, the O. Henry Awards are consistently my favorites. Unlike the forced multi-culturalism of the Best Short Stories Series [or the occasional weird editors who only pick stories about families whose children have died] these stories seem to come from many backgrounds in terms of gender, class and just plain old topic choice. The 1990 edition -- which I picked up at the Shoreline CC library, desperate for something to read on the bus on the way home -- includes stories by Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Adams and T. Coraghessan Boyle. There's also a neat notes section in the back where the authors reflect on what impelled them to write their stories.

A place of their own : creating the deaf community in America by John Van Cleve

This was on the new book shelf at Shoreline where I now work as a librarian. Very slick cover, looks nice. I have some sort of endless fascination with the deaf community and the way it operates not like any other community, "disabled" or otherwise. This book was created when some professors at Galludet wanted to teach a class on the history of deaf people in American and found that there was nothing even approximating a reasonable textbook or available history. So they set about writing one. This book discusses a lot fo the major issues that came up in deal peoples' history: oralism vs. signing, controversy over deaf people marrying and/or procreating, deaf people getting jobs when the country switched over from agrarian to industrial. It's a well-illustrated interesting read.

The Monkey Sonatas by Orson Scott Card

Another favorite from the Peace Corps office. This book is also recommended when you camp with people who actually have the ability to sleep beyond sunrise. Good to read sitting on a picnic table in the middle of the woods. A lot of great fantasy short stories with good, solid morals by Mormom sci fi guy, Card.

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton

In the Peace Corps office in Guatemala City, there are huge walls filled with bookshelves where Peace Corps volunteers drop off their old, worn paperbacks and trade them for someone else's worn paperbacks. That pretty much explains how I came to read anything by Crichton. This book is historical fiction, recounting the events that led up to the Great Train Robbery in London in the 1800's. It includes a lot of interesting sidebars on local scams and swindles of the day and is liberally peppered with con artist lingo. And, of course, I like it cuz the good guys eventually get away with the loot and no one even gets killed.

Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy

This book was 800 pages long, but it's trade paperback size so it looked deceptively small in my hand. A perfect winding-down-from-a-trip book. It's the story about an interrelated amalgam of Jews and describes what they were doing during the war. Some were in the camps, some were in the army, some were in the resistance. Some live, some die. All of them are inteersting and it's told fom a variety of first-person perspectives so you get to see WWII through many different sets of eyes.

Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

This book has got to have the best title of anything I've read this year. I usually think Sherman Alexie is a bit heavy handed, but this is a great collection of short stories covering a wide variety of the trials and tribulations of native life in the United States. A lot of the stories have a dreamy quality to them that makes them ideal for reading aloud. A perfect hammock book.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Has anyone not read this book? It reminded me a lot of another similar coming of age as a black girl novels that I read in college. A quick read, engaging and somehow familiar.

One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

This book is so absolutely gripping because of the exacting mundanity of all that happens in one day in a prison labor camp in Russia. This book tracks Ivan from the moment he wakes up hungry and freezing, through a full day of work and scrounging for food and warmth and then back to bed. Not a lot of political commentary and very little editorializing -- this book is so powerful precisely because it allows the reader to see how flat and bleak the endless days of prison labor truly are.

A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr

This was a really interesting courtroom drama made all the more readable because it's true not just another John Grisham high-drama sensationalist tract. The story follows a lawyer as he attempts to prove that a big bad chemical company was responsible for the cluster of children with leukemia that all turned up in one area of Woburn in the early 80's. As in life, it doesn't have a very happy ending.

A Beauty That Hurts by W. George Lovell

I've been preparing so much for my trip I've hardly been reading anything at all until I recently realized I knew almost nothing historical about the country I was going to visit. This is not so much a book as a collection of essays written over the past decade or so about Guatemala and its vicious history. While it's not comprehensive, it is riveting and is very anecdotal and so is easier to relate to than the listing of presidents and their atrocities which I've seen in other books.

The Revolutionary Pleasure of Thinking For Yourself

Anyone who complains to me about their job will be forced by me to read this incendiary tract about the nature of work and power structures and false consciousness. This was the first thing I have ever read in the bathtub and worth every soggy page.

Thank You for Being Concerned and Sensitive by Jim Henry

In the past day, I've read two books of short stories by award winning clean cut guys. This one was a bit better than the other. Henry really has a sense of humor that at times verges on Barthelmisme, other times he's just good at capturing the weird world of the misfit. My favorite story involved a dead father who came back from the grave to try to lighten his family up a bit.

Pure Slaughter Value by Robert Bingham

I believe that every story in this book is a screaming testimony to why people should not get married. This guy has a shifty author photo and his stories have many well-to-do creeps in them who are all captivatingly screwed up. Lots of drunks, infidelity and having to go to the bathroom, a good read but only if you're into that sort of thing.

The Improvised Woman by Marcel Clements

My friend told me to read this book without really telling me what it was about. This was probably a good strategy since I went out and read it and then discovered it was all about single women and the lives they lead. Kinda the way people say that happy families are the same and sad families are all sad in their own way, so this book posits that all single women are single -- and interesting -- in their own way. Clements interviews a lot of women in their own quirky lives on such topics as: do your married friends still invite you to dinner parties, when was the last time you had sex, and whether cats really are members of the family [answer: not really]. I loved it, loved it, loved it. Since I come from a big family of single [and interesting] women, this book resonated really well for me.

Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments by Mark Sloan & Roger Manley

This book is the most beautiful book I currently own, and as such it is developing an ego problem around my other books. It is filled with pictures of people and their large folk art projects. Some of the folks seem to be what I might think of as traditional artists and some of them are clearly posessed by mad/divine inspiration. Including such well known public art as the Watts Towers and spanning folk art in several countries, this book makes me want to go to Vermont and build towering sculptures in my back yard.

Ghost Fleet: The Sunken Ships of Bikini Atoll by James Delgado

I got this book out of the library because I was browsing the shipwreck section for books on survivors of shipwrecks. It tells the story of the weird Atomic Age when the U.S. put together the world's sixth largest navy in order to sink it all in a series of A-Bomb tests in the South Pacific. A lot of creepy naievete with regards to radiation -- I wince at every photo of sailors in t-shirts swabbing down radioactive boats with lye to "clean off" the radiation. And a lot of insensitivity to other cultures -- they refer to the King of Bikini as the "King" [in quotes] instead of like any other leader of a nation. There's also a lot of boring detail about the damage each ship sustained, as if it was somehow surprising that the boats that got bombed were essentailly destroyed. There are a lot of good photographs and the book is a good jumping off point if you want to continue to dig and get the real story behind all the awful atomic atrocities the U.S. has plagued the South Pacific with.

The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! by Harry Harrison

Pulp sci fi can be really fun when it's 100 degrees out. Especially if it was written in 1979 before the advent of computers [more or less]. And also especially if it's a whole alien-fightin' family [Mom included] who fight the blecchy monsters and little grey men. This book is fun. If my last name was Harrison, though, I don't think I'd name my kid Harry.

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

You have to kind of admire a woman who names her book after a slang term for female genitalia. On the other hand, you have to kinda disrespect a woman who is now writing mystery novels with her cat as co-author... I'm not sure if I didn't like this book cuz I don't identify with it enough or if there are valid objective flaws with it. I think the character doesn't speak like a kid when she's a kid. I think a lot of the characters are two-dimensional. I think the name Molly is done to death, and I think all the sex seems far too easy. Perhaps I am just grouchy. Maybe it's because I like men?

How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan

I always think the same thing after reading a Terry McMillan novel: her characters spend too much time primping. There's tons of product placement, lots of worrying about body odor, lots of cellulite anxiety and a lots of dissing on men for no good reason. I appreciate that the female characters are strong female roles, but it's not worth much getting gender equity if you're still having to shop every day of the week and worry if your pits smell.

Secret Witness by Richard North Patterson

More travel reading, this one having to do with girl murders and trials and anal sex and god knows what else. Kinda interesting, though I think stories with trials in them are better watched on the big screen than read about, too dialogue-y. A page turner and kept me unworried about dropping out of the sky from Boston to Seattle.

Postcards by E. Annie Proulx

Don't read this book unless you really really like books in which nearly every character is doomed. I guess for those Shakespeare fans and gloomy gothic types this might be okay, but I was completely depressed throughout this book and I'm usually someone who can handle quite a bit of pathos. The gist is: farming family has to deal with the fact that farming is a thing of the past and everyone loses their minds in one way or the other and/or dies. Shit. It does have that epic quality where people get older and move around, but no new people are born and the whole thing has an uncanny Hundred Years of Solitude for the trailer park set feel to it. It does include an amusing postcard which reads, in its entirety "Dear Fido, send me a cat. woof woof, Dog."

I'll Be Home Late Tonight by Susan Thames

It's a dysfunctional mother & daughter team on the road in this bleak novel about poor white folk in the south. Bad communication, bad sex and bad food are the highlights of this depressing first-person account of a twelve year old girl and her trampish mother and their incessant road tripping to get away from her two-timing father. Interesting but not inspiring.

The Gemini Contenders by Robert Ludlum

I'm still on vacation, this was a vacation book, and a pretty good one too. The reason spy novels are great and spy movies suck is because a lot actually goes on in spy novels and you can't dumb them down sufficiently to make a 2 hour movie out of them [except, perhaps for No Way Out]. This was a long rambly epic spy novel about a secret cache of religious documents guaranteed to completely freak out the world if they were ever revealed, you know the type. So, lots of bad guys and good guys are looking for it and crossing and double-crossing eachother and there's this great showdown between twin brothers in the Alps somewhere. In the end, the documents aren't that out of sight and who knows if they're real anyhow?

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

I am that friend you have who when you say "Did you see such-and-such a movie?" will say "No, but I read the book..." thus bringing you either to a conversational standstill or to a back n' forth "well, was this in the book/movie... was that...?" etc. etc. Like Smilla's this is a book where I heard about the movie enough to keep it in mind while I was reading it and got Kevin Spacey stuck in my mind as the lead character. It did not have the same effect on me as it did on most people I heard about, which is to make me immediately want to visit Savannah. In fact if I was Mr. Berendt, I would have extorted money from the Savannah tourism bureau for all the hype he gives the place. Maybe I was hoping for more of a murder mystery, but I got bogged down in some of the lush descriptions, or maybe I just am not sucked in by descriptions of the super-rich.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories by Tim Burton

It's the Gastlycrumb Tinies only with color drawings and slightly longer explanations. Here's one:

"My name is Jimmy
but my friends just call me
'the hideous penguin boy'"

with an accompanying horrific drawing. These books all make me feel like it's okay for us to display the freakish qualities in all of us. But then we let our freak flags fly and there's always some adult to tell us we're weird. Me and the penguin boy would be friends.

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg

Now that I've seen the trailers for the movie, I can't help thinking of one of the characters as Gabriel Byrne, which colors this book for me somewhat. Also, it's one of those Big Mystery books and, as with many books like that, it's unclear how the mystery ends up though a lot of the bad guys die and the female lead is about as rad as female leads get, and she's just about my height. Lots of good information about snow and Greenland's status as a colonized nation of Denmark which was not something I knew much about.

Runaway Jury by John Grisham

So sue me, I was on an airplane and travelling for too much of a day and the nice lady who gave me luggage also gave me this book. It's your standard Grisham fare about tobacco companies buying off juries to save their asses. Not as much crossing and double-crossing as I was used to and kind of a pat ending. No real suspense. Yeah, yeah what was I thinking?

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

A real page turner. I was following this story as it unfolded from Seattle because Scott Fischer was so damned popular he had a front page Weekly article done on him right before he left. Also Jon K. went to Hampshire so he's a favorite of sorts. Also a friend of mine is going to go live in the woods for a few months so Into the Woods has been on my mind lately. This book was really great. Krakauer seems pretty sensitive for someone who also nearly died on Everest and it's not a totally hokey sentimental look at a bunch of heroes either. I was hoping for more pictures, but this will do.

Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep by William Dement

This book was one of those books that gets included in a box of books that you get from friends who are moving -- not completely interesting but not worth giving away either. I read it when I was up late one night ["this looks interesting, it's about sleep..."] and found it facinating. It's written by the guy who basically discovered REM sleep and talks about sleep research in the 70's at Stanford & the goofy things they did to people and what they learned from it.

The night in question by Tobias Wolff

A wonderful series of hazy stories about people doing each other wrong, perfect for late night or early morning bus rides. Tobias Wolff wrote that novel that that really violent movie [A Boy's Life?] was based on and these stories have some of that in them. Many childhood reminiscences and people who do things and then don't quite know why. Beautifully written and very heartfelt.

The Last Great Snake Show by Tim McLaurin

This book was in the summer reading section at the library and who can resist a book about snake shows? It's kind of light fiction with a snake catcher, a dancing girl, a millionairess runaway and every archetype of trouble you can think of, as they traverse the country in their travelling road show. Kind of a wacky caper book. Perfect summer bus reading.

Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West

Whenever I finish a big writing project, the thinking part of my brain just kinda shuts off for a day or two and I just experience the world as a series of pleasing stimuli. Jessamyn West's books are perfect for these times. This one is a series of chapters following one devout Quaker family through a large part of their lives. Small scale Brady Bunch style conflict and resolution, but beautifully written with characters that are complex yet also have a lot of integrity.

Guilty by Circumstance by Ron Fowler

This is one of those books with a snappy cover that you pick up and realize it was published by some weird vanity press. Well, I read it anyhow and liked it. It's about this loner mountain man who was accused of a crime he most likely didn't commit and the manhunt that went on for him in the Olympic Forest [file under Pac NW history] for nearly 19 months at the turn of the century. Really good period piece writing and a lot of good research. The guy's writing style is a bit overly descriptive, but considering he's a retiree who basically writes for fun, it was a real good read.

Sparkman and other stories by Brian Griffin

Another book with a good cover, this collection of short stories won some kind of award and I picked it up cuz I thought Sparkman would be a really good name for a cat. It's all stories about uncomfortable people in Tennessee and the things they do, but unlike a lot of things I read about weird neurotic folks, these people all seem quite real and interesting. There's a lot of central themes, like deciding whether to enlist for Vietnam when you've just graduated from high school in your nowhere town or the troubles folks get into working at the radiation plant -- seems like it could be somewhat autobiographical which is what makes it all the more real.

Flaming Iguanas by Erika Lopez

I rarely get to read a book that is a good visual experience as well as a good read. This is Erika Lopez's story about learning to ride a motorcycle and taking it all the way across country. It's a compact square book in a cool font that has a lot of black and white illustrations done by Erika that are all hilarious. The story is funny, sexy and very familiar. I laughed out loud while reading this book and stayed up til 4 in the morning to finish it.

Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney

It's hard to find information on Tesla that isn't all gibbering nonsense or totally scathing. The guy has a zillion patents, is the father of modern radio and messed around with millions of volts of electricity in the middle of downtown Manahattan. This writer is a little more of the Tesla-invented-the-rocketship variety and is a bit awestruck by all the nifty things be did, but this book has a lot of research, some good pictures and a creepy little epilogue talking about how she found out where the Tesla papers are being secretly kept but can't tell because of "national security". Feh.

Starship Titanic by Terry Jones

When someone's going to jail and they give you a book to read, even if the cover is kinda goofy, don't you have a moral obligation to read it? Well, this book is better than its cover and actually hilarious and a nice romp Douglas Adams style though a giant Titanic-size spaceship that suffers bad consequences. Snooty robots, mystery and intrigue, alien life forms and a smart blonde chick with big tits.

Life in a Day by Doris Grumbach

This book is relaxing. Or maybe the fact that I read it on the beach while my friend napped next to me is what makes me think that. Either way, it is one old woman's account of what she does in her day, from the time she gets up til the time she goes to bed. She lives in rural Maine, so there's not a lot of ventures to Starbucks and road rage to contend with. She has a tendency to drop a lot of quotes and citations into her reflections, the way the truly learned do when they assume that everyone is as smart as they are and won't find it ostentatious. This was another one-sitting book and worthwhile to anyone contemplating an unemployed rural existence [Grumbach Rule: have a partner, Woolf Rule: have a patron].

Anthem by Ayn Rand

I read this while I was doing laundry at a friend's house. The whole book. It's short. My favorite thing about Any Rand besides her cool first name is her ability to oversimplify a position to the point of absurdity and think she is making some sort of useful point. Something along the lines of "if you keep eating at that rate, you'll explode!" I do have a soft spot for two-dimensional evil and true love, however and this book has some of that. It's also annoyingly in the second person collective [is that right? the narrator calls himself We...] which makes some sort of point, but is pesky nonetheless.

Sleeping Where I Fall by Peter Coyote

Okay, so he's my uncle. I read his new book. It's a romp through hippe-lifestyle issues and attitudes and a really good read. That said, my uncle comes off as a swaggering dick womanizer and general reprobate. It's interesting to read about the naivete with which they relentlessly [and unapologetically] ripped people off in order to maintain their "free" lifestyle. There's a bit of reflection, but not too terribly much. My mother will not read this book, but I'm happy I did.

One Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse

I got turned onto Herbert Marcuse by a quote I read on the Internet and have been stuck on this book ever since. It's really inspiring in some ways [Marcuse and I agree on many things] but also a bit depressing [Marcuse wrote this book in 1964 and much of the same stuff is still wrong or worse]. Either way, it's radical political philosophy and it's been a while since I read anything like that. There's a lot of discussion about understanding the systems you're part of, not just narrowly critiquing pieces of it. So, to be fully media literate, for example, one must understand the purpose of the media and how it operates [as a conduit for advertising and the viewpoints of big business], not just say "the New York Times is biased..." and continue to read it and assume you've solved the problem by recognizing it.

Carrying Water as a Way of Life by Linda Tatelbaum

This was a really interesting book about a self-proclaimed "hippie" [note: anyone who calls themselves a hippie probably isn't] who did the drop-out-of-society thing with her mate and built a house on acreage in the middle of nowhere, Maine and kind of an anecdotal account of her trials and tribulations. Quite interesting, though it smacks of holier than thou Protestant work ethic boosterism. I kept thinking of Virgina Woolf's room of her own... First: get someone to pay all your expenses [Tatelbaum is a college professor, we're talking voluntary simplicity], then, do art.

The Heart of the World by Nik Cohn

This guy spent an indeterminate amount of time walking up Broadway in NYC and wrote a book about all the people he met, filled in with chunks of New York history. I wasn't sure it wasn't a novel until about halfway through it when I realized "Hey, this book isn't going anywhere, plotwise." If you love New York, you will love this book.

Granta: Best of Young British Novelists

I guess technically Granta is a periodical, but this is the best collection of fiction I've read in a long time. A wide variety of stories, by male and female authors, about such topics as morphine addiction, weird parents, slavery, gawky adolescence and much much more. Even a story by Hanif Kureishi about the Beatles. Nothing slick, no hype, just really good writing Granta-style.

Joy of Pi by David Blatner

What a cute little book this is, with its own cute little web site. Actually, this book is chock full of information about people trying to square the circle since time immemorial, as well as having the first million digits of pi as a graphic sidebar. The millionth digit is 1. If you're into meshing your reading with a good visual experience and maybe even learning something, this is a nice quick read that goes well with breakfast.

Count Zero by William Gibson

This was my lie-in-my-new-bed-and-READ book and was quite satisfying for that. Good cyberscifi and good writing in general w/ a lot of good description and not too heavy on the interpersonal melodrama.

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson

You probably have only heard of Shirley Jackson, if, like every other American high school student, you had to read "The Lottery" where everyone draws a ticket and the winner [or loser] has everyone else in the town throw rocks at them. Bleah. Well this book is an autobiographical account of her moving to rural Vermont with her family and learning to drive and all the zaniness that ensues when one lives with small children. It's completely hilarious and even funnier than it sounds.

Irons in the Fire by John McPhee

With his customary eye for trivia, John McPhee takes on forensic geologists, brand inspectors [for cattle], car auctions and computers that talk. This book has some really good trivia about the incendiary bombs sent to the US by the Japanese during WWII.

City Life by Donald Barthelme

I love Don B! This is a collection of his stories from before I was born and back when he didn't have a beard. There are some real dogs but also some cool bits and it's a good way of getting a handle on his early style before he got all smooth. There's a lot of experimental stuff including The Glass Mountain which is a story told in 100 numbered lines as well as Sentence which is six pages or so of one whole sentence.

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

An attempt at non-fiction bought for me by my Dad, this book is great and a librarian's wet dream. Impeccably researched, this book is about a big storm that hits the coast of MA resulting in a lot of loss of life and some crazy weather. Since no one really knows how all the folks die, the author talks to a lot of people who have been in similar storms and who have experienced extreme weather resulting in some incredible stories. Sounds like a hokey set up but it works really well.

Snow White by Donald Barthelme

One girl with a beautiful ass and long black hair lives with seven guys who wash buildings and make baby food in this Snow White parable by Don B. My favorite part is the survey in the middle of the book [which is otherwise told in fairly normal narrative style] asking questions such as have you understood, in reading to this point, that Paul is the prince-figure? and would you like a war? Yes ( ) No ( ), My next favorite part, which is going in my new Don B. quote generator, is anathematization of the world is not an adequate response to the world.

Dad Says He Saw You At The Mall by Ken Sparling

This author works in a library and the character works in a library but I don't think he's a librarian which makes me suspicious. It's a Barthelme style story about a guy, his wife, his parents and his job told in that lack-of-affect style that you either love or hate. I was originally drawn in by the cover, which is really something to look at, as well as orange.

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman by Angela Carter

This book is a super-romp through a city taken over by the mysterious Dr. Hoffman who alters the fabric of reality to make people see what he wants. Machines fueled by raw human desire change everything. Here's an excerpt that I really liked:

"I often saw her cradling in her arms and lullabying a doll dressed like the river babies, a knitted skullcap on its head to stop the demons who grabbed ahold of babies' topknots and pulled them bodily through the portholes, and the rest of it stuffed into a tailored sack to stop other demons who sucked out babies' entrails through their little fundaments. And the sack was bright red in colour because red kept away the demons who gave babies croup, colic and pneumonia. But when she offered me the doll so that I could play with it myself, I saw it was not a doll at all but a large fish dressed up in baby clothes. Whenever the fish began to rot, Mama exchanged it for a fresh one just like it so that, though the doll was always changing, it always stayed exactly the same."

The Amok Sensurround Journal

Don't read this unless you have a pretty strong tolerance [or appetite] for pretty gruesome stuff. Amok has put together some of the more interesting [and fact-filled] journal and research articles that address the seamier side of human existence: amputee fetishes, trepanation, auto-erotic asphyxiation, cargo cults. These are presented with some useful introductory info as well as photos, photos, photos. I really enjoyed this book, your mileage may vary.

The Laws of Our Fathers by Scott Turow

This was kind of a mystery/courtroom/storytelling book that cost $1 at the New Orleans Public Library. It beats the crap out of Grisham and all his sensationalistic southern trial stories and is, at some level, a book about people and feelings and nostalgia for a past you can never get back. Still a bit too much popular fiction style for my tastes, but a great airplane read.

The Body Farm by Patricia Daniels

This book was just barely good enough to read on the plane. Lady detective stuff, dead children and car fetishizing make this a dull read.

The Codicil by Tom Topor

This book claims to be "suspense fiction at its best" and turned out to be a completely reasonable page turning pseudo-detective story that made my long plane trip to New Orleans much more enjoyable.

go to 1997 books

last updated 12/30/98