Sunday, February 9, 2014

What I've Been Reading

The Lost Symbol  by Dan Brown. Occasionally, I get the feeling that I should go for a cheap thrill and read something like a Dan Brown novel, and a cheap copy of The Lost Symbol  that I found at a used book store on vacation fit the bill. It was just about what I expected. One thing I appreciate about Brown's work (I have also read The Da Vinci Code) is that it makes me think about the origin of certain cultural habits, buildings, writings, etc. In the novel, Robert Langdon is roped into saving his friend Peter Solomon's life by trying to uncover some secrets that will give the villain, Mal'akh, some kind of extraordinary powers. Even if some of his work is fictionalized history, it spurred me into finding out more about the Washington Monument, the Capitol, etc. As for the book itself, I grew somewhat tired of the main character, Langdon, sounding like an encyclopedia all the time. The dialogue is very stiff and can be grating, but that's clearly not Brown's strength, so I knew what I was getting into. It was a pretty quick read, but I was looking forward to the end so I could extract myself from the pretentious Langdon.

The Garden of Last Days  by Andre Dubus. I was unfamiliar with Dubus, who also wrote The House of Sand and Fog, before picking up Garden of Last Days  on somewhat of a whim. It had been on my reading list since I saw it on a "year's best novels" list in 2008, and I happened to find a copy through a co-worker. I usually don't get much reading done during football season, and this happened to be the first one I grabbed off the shelf following the season. It's a piece of fiction about a stripper in Florida named April who meets an unsavory character at work (who would expect that at a strip club?); when the babysitter was unavailable, she had to bring in her toddler daughter to spend the evening in the back room; and the daughter ends up getting kidnapped by an angry patron. All these events take place in Florida on the days leading up to September 11, 2001. Unlike Brown, Dubus does a great job of exploring the motivations behind his characters' actions. But if you're looking for big plot twists, this is not a book for you.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs  by Chuck Klosterman. This is a series of essays in which Klosterman uses cultural events from the 1980's, 1990's, and early 2000's as metaphors: Saved by the Bell, Tom Cruise, Star Wars, Lakers vs. Celtics, The Real World, etc. These are all things I grew up with, but I have to say that I've never thought this much about Saved by the Bell. The cynical Klosterman is going to grow up to be an angry old man, but in the meantime, I appreciate his explorations of serial killers and internet porn.

The Last Battle  by C.S. Lewis. I have mentioned this before, but as a kid, I never read any of Lewis's books. I was a heavy reader when I was younger, and I still read more than most of my friends, but I just never knew they existed, for whatever reason. Over the past couple years, I've read all seven Narnia books. Despite this being the climactic book, I found it somewhat disjointed and wished for some more involvement from the characters that had been developed in the earlier books. I was waiting for them to return, but either they never did, or they only did so briefly. I did enjoy the final battle scene, and I was curious to see Aslan's return and what waited behind the door of the stable. I was also looking forward to finishing the series so I can have a more complete grasp of Lev Grossman's series (The Magicians  and The Magician King, soon to be followed by The Magician's Land).

Moneyball  by Michael Lewis. Yeah, I'm late to the party, but I had just never gotten around to reading Moneyball. As we all probably know by now, it follows the story of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane and how he used advanced statistics to level the playing field with big-spending clubs who used more traditional scouting methods. I did find the baseball portion of it enthralling, but the two themes that interested me most were a) Beane's willingness to flout tradition and b) his playing days as a phenom, which I thought related well to the college football recruiting industry that this here website tracks.

You can find my other reading suggestions here. Feel free to leave reading suggestions in the comments!


  1. If you liked the Narnia books. Try The Screwtape Letters and then Screwtape Proposes a Toast. There is nothing remotely like these two books that I have ever come across anywhere in western literature.

    I gave up on One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish for the second time at about page three, finished it in English. A great story to my way of thinking.

  2. Bartender's Tale by Ivan Doig is the best thing I've read lately. Just finished a Bob Newhart memoir and just starting a Steve Earle collection of short stories.

  3. I have rather strong objections to CS Lewis and the Narnia series in general, but that's a conversation for another day and not through these medium.

    Some Dan Brown novels are decent, like Deception Point, but Robert Langdon is shallow, bland, and severely lacking in charisma. Most of the side characters are so much better.

  4. I'm going to second The Screwtape Letters. I think even if (perhaps especially?) you're not a person of faith, those + Mere Christianity or really any of his philosophical/moral musings are really amazing. Simple enough to understand and fast reading, but really, super, hard-hitting. Really have a lot of lessons in them, and gives a good window into how modern theology is approached by believers.

  5. Fiction: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

    Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
    Charles Mann: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
    1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

  6. In a half-serious-half-not-serious note, I recommend Andrei Lankov's "The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia."

  7. Thanks for posting this. I have mentioned it before, but our tastes in reading run very similar. I usually enjoy your recommendations.

  8. I also went for a few cheap thrill reads recently. I read the first two Jack Reacher books, I must say, I was entertained.

  9. The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Warner!