Mouldering on the Shelves

These are capsules of books I read in 2001. Comments? Mail me.

Mouldering on the Shelves:

Paranoia, Craig DiLouie

Before I tell you what I think about this book, I should mention that I got a pre-publication copy from the author to review along with a press kit. I was flattered that he was interested in having me review it, but a little nervous as well. I mean, I'd never heard of the author who contacted me by unsolicited e-mail, and the book was about conspiracy theories. Let's face it, there is a definite nut possibility there.

Well, I'm delighted to report that I enjoyed Paranoia a great deal. Whether or not Mr. Di Louie is a nut, he's also a good writer.

The basic plot is that Chad Carver finds himself thrown by circumstance into a web of conspiracy and worse than that, finds himself forced to choose a side. This is all complicated by the reappearance of his estranged brother on one of the sides.

The details of the conspiracies are well enough layed out, but they aren't the stars. Where DiLouie shines, and what makes Paranoia interesting is how well he writes Chad. No matter how weird the world gets around him Chad continues to act like a human being with flaws, strengths, needs, and all those other motivations that real people have. He's really easy to empathize with throughout. Even when he makes wrong decisions, he makes real decisions.

The pacing definitely draws you in. I read it in one sitting. There are twists and turns to the plot, but at 190 or so pages, this isn't Foucault's Pendulum. The brevity allows a crispness and a tension. And Paranoia is creepy enough that I was wondering who DiLouie was really working for, sending me this hypnotic book unsolicited in the mail. Hopefully I won't be activated any time soon.

You can find out more about Paranoia at its web site,

Paranoia is recommended. Words to live by, those.

The Mother Tongue English And How It Got That Way, Bill Bryson

I think The Mother Tongue suffered from heightened expectations for me. If I didn't know it was written by Bryson, I'd think it was a charming fairly erudite discussion of the history of the English language. And to be fair, that's exactly what it is.

However, if, like me, you're a huge Bryson fan, there are some things you should know. This isn't nearly as much fun as In A Sunburned Country, for example. I think that it's largely because Bryson himself is missing from the text here. His travel writing is fun largely because you're sharing the trip with him. And he's funny, paranoid, and interested in all the right stuff. All the right stuff is here, too, but the guide isn't. It makes a lot of difference.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 may be one of the most misrepresented books I've ever read. Now, admittedly, I've never sought out scholarly reviews of it, but if you believe the "buzz" about this book it's a dark novel about a future in which the government burns books.

That statement is probably roughly factually correct, but it's a poor description of the book. First of all, although the future Bradbury paints isn't an encouraging one, his imagery is anything but dark. If anything his descriptions and metaphors are supersaturated, designed to imprint themselves on the reader's mental retinas. I was frankly surprised by how raw and powerful the images are.

Behind the vibrant prose is a brilliant observation of society. Although there are firemen who burn books here, they're not the primary force of censorship, but mere window dressing to the more subtle controls that the government has in force. And those forces are pretty clearly visible in our society.

I've put off reading this because I feared it would be boring and simplistic. It's neither.

Highly Recommended.

Life As I Find It A Treasury of Mark Twain Rarities, Mark Twain, edited by Charles Neider

Collections like this remind me that Mark Twain's gift to America is his clearly stated opinions. He has a gift (I suspect he'd tell you that it's a skill) for laying out his thoughts coherently. And he never hesitates to voice an unpopular idea.

I don't agree with all the things he says, but it's somehow comforting to know that there have always been thinkers like this in America.

Oh, yeah, sometimes he's funny.


Gig Americans Talk About Their Jobs, Edited by John Bowe, Marisa Bowe, and Sabin Streeter

Gig is a really good idea, phenomenally well executed. The idea is this: interview a bunch of Americans from a broad range of professions about their jobs and collect the lot of them. That's a simple good idea. It's well executed because of the selections. The Bowes and Streeter have picked the right range of jobs, everything from crime scene cleaner to bus driver, and the right range of interviews. None of them is boring, and not all of them stay on topic about the job, but the interviews comprise a fascinating cross-section of people.

Highly Recommended.

Talking With The Angel, edited by Nick Hornby

Talking With The Angel is a lot of fun. The idea of the collection is that each writer contributes a first person narrative, and Nick Hornby puts the whole thing together and some of the cash goes to a charity for autistic children in London. I didn't know that this would help a charity, but that's an added bonus. As with most collections there were one or two in here that didn't suit me, but those were largely matters of taste not of the writers' skill. The ones that work, for example Hornby's "NippleJesus" and Irvine Welsh's "Catholic Guilt (You Know You Love It)" are nuggets of delight.

Highly Recommended.

Life On The Mississippi, Mark Twain

This is one of my favorite Twain books so far. You can clearly see some of Huck Finn in here, and relationships to his other works, but the best thing about Life is the look at Twain himself. And "Twain" isn't used accidentally here - a lot of the mythos Clemens creates for himself as Twain shows up here.

It's a travel book, about traveling the Mississippi after steamboats have passed their golden age, supplanted by the railroads (a state of affairs that former steamboat pilot Twain is never happy about). But it's more than that; Twain also tells his story of learning to pilot, tells of the passing of time, and comments on anything else he feels like. I wouldn't say it's a triumph of structure, but it's never dull.

Twain's brilliant, opinionated, and engaging. He's elegantly described a place and time in American history that's worth looking at, and revealed a lot about himself and about aging and coming back to where one was born (physically and otherwise). It's a great book that miraculously spans all that space and more.

Strongly recommended.

West With The Night, Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham is a fine writer. I'd have read this book if she wasn't, because she's lived an exciting life around airplanes. She's such a good writer that I encourage you to read it, even if you don't care at all about airplanes.

Her life is fascinating and exciting. She was professional pilot in Africa when there were few of them at all. She was a good one, and did it at a time when women's career choices were limited to say the least. She was also the first woman to cross the Atlantic solo going the wrong way (against the prevailing winds). All that was after her first successful career as a champion horse trainer: another avocation that women were supposed to be too, well, womanly to do well.

Even a matter-of-fact telling of that life would be worth reading. Luckily for readers, Markham's gifted with a poets eye for the beautiful or significant moment and a verbal surgeon's precision in describing one. Her tone's just the right blend of wistfulness and hope. It's the story of a fascinating life beautifully told.

Strongly Recommended.

The Torturer's Apprentice, John Biguenet

Some of the most gushing praise I've heaped on a writer, I've heaped on John Biguenet for his astonishing "Rose", which appeared in Prize Stories 2000 The O. Henry Awards. It remains one of the best short stories I've ever read for the precision and power that it brings to its 2-page length. It's a high mark to hit, and I confess I was worried that a collection of Biguenet's work would fall short.

I shouldn't have worried. The Torturer's Apprentice is excellent, challenging, moving writing throughout. Biguenet's twin gifts are an extraordinarily creative mind that presents many unusual and moving ideas, and an amazing level of craftsmanship to realize those ideas fully. He's also a craftsman of great range. Few of the stories in Apprentice share even structural similarity, yet all develop ideas and characters fully. All the stories are strong, and several, "I Am Not A Jew," "The Work Of Art," and "My Slave," are unforgettable. And "Rose" is in here, too, which is more than enough reason to read this book.

Highly Recommended.

Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer

This is a children's book. Well, young readers, probably - someone in the 8-10 year old range, I'd guess, although I'm notoriously bad at determining those things. The setup sounds like sort of a demented Harry Potter, and that dementia drew me to it.

The protagonist of Artemis Fowl is a 12-year old criminal mastermind who discovers that leprechauns and their magical cohorts are real, magical, and scientifically advanced. Because their magic nature implies certain arbitrary rules, he realizes that he can capture one and extort enough gold from them to restore his family to a position of power. He also has some healing to do in that family, with a lost father and a damaged mother. His less-than-noble quest has redeeming elements.

It's an interesting idea. It appears that the ruthless young Fowl will eventually become more reasonable, and that the magical creatures will someday have more respect for him. However it's interesting that Colfer is willing to put forward a story for young readers with this much grey area in it. It's worth watching.

If you enjoy children's stuff that's a little off the beaten path, this is recommended.

I'm A Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson

This collection of columns written for a British audience by American Bill Bryson after returning to America after 20 years in England are a mixed bag, although the mix is decidedly tilted toward the better end. Generally Bryson's a fine wit and a good thinker. He's got a good heart, a keen eye, and a quick wit. One of his best pieces makes you smile, shake your head, and mist up. Sometimes in the same sentence. At his worst he's diverting.

Stranger is less even than the other books of his I've read, but that's unsurprising because of the structure here. If this is Bryson at his worst, he's still pretty darn good.


Prize Stories 2001 The O. Henry Awards, Larry Dark

So, I think this years crop is stronger than last years. Well, maybe not stronger, but I came away with a better impression. Although I read them during the painful week of 11 September this year, they weren't a bleak as I remember the 2000 stories being. Of course, there's no "Rose," either.

The prizewinners are all good, of course, but other high points include T. Coraghessan Boyle's brilliant "The Love Of My Life", David Schicker's delightful "The Smoker" and George Saunders's "Pastoralia." Honestly, though, I'm hard pressed to find one of these stories I didn't like.

Highly Recommended.

Essays and Sketches of Mark Twain, Mark Twain, edited by Stewart Miller

What can one say about a brilliant writer like Twain? Well, this time I'll say that Miller's done a fine job picking out short works that illustrate Twain's humanity. Every one of these pieces shows a man thinking about the human condition and expressing something about it clearly.

The sketches touch on everything from being a tourist, to learning a language or history, to Shakespeare's identity, to the place of Jews in the world, to the death of his beloved daughter. And each piece shows his thoughtful, powerful mind at work.

I don't think that Twain wrote any bad books, and this does nothing to disprove that.


Switch Bitch, Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life, and Over To You, Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is a brilliant, often twisted short story writer, sort of a demented O. Henry. He builds perfectly crafted stories from the most unexpected plot threads, that unravel in the most unexpected manner. And the reader never loses interest.

The first two of these are clearly short stories for the joy of writing short stories, or at least for a living. Switch Bitch consists of mildly prurient tales written and published in Playboy. While they're all naughty, none of them is about the mechanics of sex. They're all engrossing. Mystery takes us into the English countryside, which as everyone knows is populated by charlatans and small time hustlers. The hustlers are fine jumping off points for Dahl's perfect story execution.

Over To You seems less polished than the other works, and more personal. Most of the stories center on fighter pilots in World War II, which is what Dahl did during the war. He's very candid about pilots losing their nerve, and of the various dangers inside and outside the mind of the pilot. These are moving stories, but other than "Beware of Dog" are almost a little too intense. More precisely, they feel like they were a little too intense for Dahl to polish them as well as the others. They are rewarding, though.


The Code Book The Evolution Of Secrecy From Mary, Queen Of Scots To Quantum Cryptography, Simon Singh

Singh does an excellent job of explaining the ideas behind cryptography and why it's important. His analogies are clear and his grasp of the details is strong enough to enlighten an interested reader. You won't be able to prove RSA is equivalent to factoring large numbers, but after reading this, you'll know why someone might want to. He's so good, I officially forgive him for using the phrase "The Four Horsemen of The Infocalypse." That's not a sin I'll excuse lightly, either.

He's picked a fine topic to turn his attentions to, as well. Privacy and cryptography is important to every computer user, or will be before they know it. Singh traces the race between hiding information and finding hidden information throughout the ages, all the while clearly elucidating the ideas behind it. It's thrilling and fascinating, and builds on itself steadily until the state of the world today is clear, and the possibilities of the future a little less murky.


McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, Joseph Mitchell

Joseph Mitchell is a fine writer who picked his subjects with an eye toward the uncanny and the inconsequential. Much of McSorley's focuses on the local color of 1940's Greenwich Village. Mitchell knows his way around the Gin Mills and the back streets of the Bowery, and paints the people and places realistically, but affectionately. They're never made out to be more than the flawed, real humans they are, but nearly all of them are sympathetic somehow.

Beyond his fascinating choice of subject, Mitchell's a great writer. His prose is economical and exact, without being stiff or contrived. He has a marvelous facility for saying exactly what he means without an excess of words, but the terseness never becomes stylized, like Hemmingway. He seems to just talk simply, directly, and effortlessly.


My Blue Diaries, Liane de Pougy

I was hoping to learn about the risque side of life in turn of the century (that is early-1900s) France from this. It's the diaries of a woman described as France's most notorious courtesan, and frankly I was hoping for a little more zip. These are basically the observations of a lively woman in her middle life both looking back some and helping her sick husband. Sadly, she's not anything special as a writer. I couldn't finish.

The Annotated Alice The Definitive Edition, Lewis Carroll, and Martin Gardner

It's not difficult to sell me on the idea that extensive annotation improves a work. Gardner's annotations are everything good annotations should be: interesting, provocative, deepening the understanding of the work and drawing out new ideas. And then a few are just funny or interesting. He's done his homework, and lots of other Carroll-obsessed people have helped him out.

Even if you've read the Alice books, and you should have, read the annotations, too.


Free Flight, James Fallows

I found this book in both my natural habitat and its, an airport. Fallows is a pilot and frustrated air traveler who wants to see a better air travel system in the country in which small planes and airports figure more prominently. So do I for that matter. The difference is that he believes that he knows how this will come to pass.

Most of the book is given over to the story of the Cirrus Designs Aircraft company. Cirrus is producing a pretty revolutionary plane, geared toward opening up the aviation market to more people and using smaller airports. He also discusses Eclipse, another company, this one making an extremely inexpensive business jet. Fallows's view is that these two developments will result in a system that is more finely connected and less congested than the current system based on large airliners.

I know a little about parallelization of tasks, and I have some skepticism about how quickly such a change could be brought about. Furthermore, I think that there are many political and social pressures pushing America toward fewer airports, not more. Still, I'd rather live in the world he postulates than the one I have to travel through.

Fellows writes well and is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his topic. The book is worth reading just to introduce the possibilities to you. And if you're a new pilot like me, the hangar talk alone is worthwhile.

To The Best Of My Ability The American Presidents, edited by James McPherson

McPherson's collection is a chronological discussion of each American President in turn by various noted historians. Despite its varied authors, it hangs together pretty well as a narrative, and is interesting and enlightening.

In contrast to The American President, McPherson treats the presidents chronologically, and this makes it easier to trace the reflected history of the republic. For example, The American President tells you why Fillmore is not well regarded, but Ability makes in clear how his support for the compromise of 1850 was driven by Taylor's policies before him, and how his strict constitutional constructionism was only a finger in the dike of the impending Civil War by putting him in context with the Presidents before and after.

Of course chronological history is not a novel approach, but it's refreshing to see that it can still show the outlines of history.

There are some problems, of course. I prefer to have historians be more blunt than these folks are willing to be here. I don't think that James Loewen would be happy with the discussions of either Woodrow Wilson or James Buchanan, but the issues involved with those two men are not completely skirted. I was also surprised by the strongly negative tone of the Clinton biography. Although there's ample reason to dislike Clinton personally, I don't think that this strong a negative consensus has emerged so quickly. I found the biographies of other recent presidents (Ford-Bush) to be more well balanced. In fact I expected a much more positive evaluation of Reagan than the one published, which makes the negative Clinton essay more surprising.


The First American The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, H. W. Brands

Franklin's a more pivotal figure in American history and independence than many people realize. Brands gives him his due, both as the remarkable scientist, writer, and inventor that he was, but more importantly as a patriot. Brands asserts that both Franklin's mind and positions gave him a unique perspective from which to view 18th century politics and America's place in it. A staunch Briton until Britain made its misunderstanding of the American mind and position on the global stage clear, Franklin may well have been in a unique position to see America's destiny as a free state and democratic experiment.

Brands's exploration of this thesis as well as general retelling of Franklin's life is clear and enjoyable.


The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood

The thing that always amazes me about Atwood's writing is how well it works from the very lowest level to the very highest. The Blind Assassin is filled with perfect sentences that with only the slightest context say what other writers would take paragraphs to get to and make points that others would take pages to make with less force. Remarkably, such wordsmithing meshes effortlessly into her larger themes of desire and consequences.

Perhaps the only thing I can say against this book is that the first 50-100 pages are somewhat difficult to get through. The whole book gives the impression of arriving through a dense fog, and those first few pages far from shore may be trying for those who don't know what Atwood's capable of. It's worth it, though.

Highly recommended.

The Red Air Fighter, Manfred von Richthofen

In case you don't recognize the author, he's The Red Baron.

While he was a fine WWI aviator, von Richthofen is not a stirring author. I do cut him some slack, though, as this is a translation and he died a before the end of the war and never was able to edit the work. It's a fairly interesting recounting of fighting in the air at the dawn of aviation, and a look back at the first world war. More interestingly, this book was published originally during the war in both Germany and England. As a result, one gloss has been put on by the German censors and editors, and a second by the English editors. The result is some seriously jingoistic battles in the footnotes.

The work is primarily interesting as a historical artifact. Not particularly interesting unless you're fascinated by the very idea of reading von Richthofen's autobiography.

De Profundis, Oscar Wilde

Wilde's celebrated love letter from Reading Gaol is justifiably a classic. It is perhaps selfish of me to enjoy the words that Wilde had to endure such suffering to produce, but he knows that it elevated his thinking and writing to new heights. He touches on everything from his lover's responsibility for his imprisonment to the changes in his mind and soul it has wrought to Christ as a work of Art. And all of it is written with a clarity and beauty that would be staggering in a work produced under normal conditions, but that is nearly unbelievable given the conditions it was written under.

Well worth the read for the look at a remarkable mind, or at the writing of a remarkable artist. It's probably more than either of those.

Highly Recommended.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

I'd read Wilde's classic some years ago, and been less impressed. Reading it again, I was struck by how powerful a book it is and how well it's crafted. Picture can be read on many levels, from a story of man's flaws and the danger of being freed from consequences to a meditation on the nature of art. It's also got an heroic aphorism quotient. And regardless of how one chooses to interpret the content, it is beautifully written.


Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Holidays On Ice, David Sedaris
Barrel Fever, David Sedaris

I started just reading Me Talk Pretty One Day and just kept going across the Sedaris section of the library.

I like Sedaris a lot. He's eloquent, trenchant, and has a real eye for both life's absurdities and, sometimes surprisingly, its beauty. These are all fine books, each with their full complement of good writing, although the tone and subjects are broad enough that you can probably find something you don't like too. The fiction struck me as the weakest. Unlike his personal essays, his fiction often falls short of either plot or characterization, although the strengths of one often fill the gaps in the other.

They were all strong, although honestly, I prefer Naked to all of them.


The Alienist, Caleb Carr

The Alienist is an interesting beast. It's a police procedural thriller set in 1898 New York City, including Theodore Roosevelt as a character. Considering that I've relatively recently read both Gotham and Roosevelt's autobiography, I enjoyed the setting and characterization. Carr handles them both well.

As enjoyable as the book was, it doesn't seem as meaty in retrospect. It's a tight, well-written thriller with an unusual atmosphere and strong sense of place. But that's all it is. None of it's characters will stay with me the way Belfer's Louisa from City of Light still does.

The comparison to City is enlightening. The murder mystery in City is almost incidental to the book; the mystery drives The Alienist. This is because the characters in City are richer. Their lives will continue after City's mystery ends. The team from The Alienist will simply sit in limbo until a sequel appears.

The Alienist certainly has it's pleasures. The complex plot is unraveled skillfully, and although there are genre elements present, they're never obvious. Carr writes engagingly, and his turn-of-the-century New York is believable and interesting. I enjoyed the read immensely, but I wouldn't expect more than a good thinking person's thriller.


House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves is an amazing work. It's as rich a work of modern fiction as one can imagine, operating on so many simultaneous levels that even the multilayering becomes an end in itself. Danielewski plays all kinds of typographical tricks, uses self-referential footnotes and plays other structural games. Beyond this, there are never less than three storylines unfolding simultaneously. It's simultaneously a cheap horror movie, spoof of the media, critique of scholarly criticism, early adulthood existentialist trip, and e. e. cummings-style typographical exploration. Character studies combine with commentary on the power of the written word. And although all that's going on, I could hardly turn the pages fast enough to find out what came next.

If you hate all the metafictive elements, if you despise fiction that demands thought, if all you want is a suspenseful novel, just don't read the footnotes and skip the criticism and House of Leaves delivers a fine read. But it's so much more.

I'm not a big fan of oddness for oddness sake, and I'm certainly no fan of gratuitous nested footnotes. I initially put off reading this, because it seemed to have all that pretension going for it. Once I started reading it, I was hooked. This is not a gimmick book; there's thoughtful material, good characters, suspense, and a sense of humor. Give it a chance.

A must.

In A Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson

Well, it's official. I'm a Bill Bryson fan. I really enjoyed his Lost Continent, and In a Sunburned Country is probably even better.

Bryson's everything I could wish for in a travel writer. He's well informed, seeks out the people and unusual places, and writes hilariously. Austrailia, the eponymous sunburned country, is prefect grist for his mill. The place is isolated from the modern world, full of interesting characters, and packed with oddities (like the giant earthworms). All in all he seemed to have a blast exploring Austrailia, and even makes it sound appealing to me. Before reading this book I had no desire to see the place, and now, I'm considering it. The book's worth reading whether you go or not.


Voodoo Science, Robert Park

This is another topic that's near and dear to my heart: bad science in the news. Park does a really good job laying out the facts without being getting mired down in detail. His work is more technical than Sagan's in The Demon-Haunted World (which I swear I reviewed here, but can't find), but never so technical that anyone who's taken high-school physics will be confused. I've taken more than high-school physics and I learned a physics fact or two from it.

More importantly, with a few case studies, he shows us how the media is a willing partner in the erosion of skepticism, and how to avoid the trap. And it's much more interesting reading that just a scientific Consumer Reports.


Lapsing Into a Comma A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print - and How to Avoid Them, Bill Walsh

So, I'm the sort of person who enjoys reading style guides. No, really. Yeah, some parts are deadly dull, but I really like to think about improving my writing, and my job requires a certain amount of writing clarity. But mostly I think that looking at the workings of English is cool.

Bill Walsh has written a reasonably good overall set of style pointers, but his sections on recent Internet coinages is remarkably good, and right on target. I disagreed with him about other areas, but his style with respect to computers and networking is very good.

In general his text is fun and clear. His advice has a high hit rate, and he isn't foolish enough to believe that he's always right. Worth reading, especially if you write about modern technology.


The Aerialist, Richard Schmitt

Allegory books can be a real drag. There's nothing worse that a transparent, strained analogy stretched out over a couple hundred pages. Fortunately, Schmitt has written the best sort of allegory book - one where the parallels seem natural and the story interesting even without subtext.

Flannery O'Connor said that the more you look at an object, the more of the world you see in it. That's the way the subtext and analogy appear out of the tale of Schmitt's very human obsessive aerialist. He follows the career of a young man with no direction through time playing at being in the circus to being a performer and beyond. His young seeker is no angel, but his quest becomes more than about wire walking. But, most quests do.

It's a good story if you don't care about any of that, too, full of pathos and humor and the other stuff that makes a life an adventure.

Highly Recommended.

Theodore Roosevelt An Autobiography, Theodore Roosevelt

If you picked up Teddy Roosevelt's autobiography looking for a page turning saga of excitement and danger, forget it. This book has almost none of that, and Roosevelt's prose is as thrilling as a city council meeting.

Despite all that, the book is a worthwhile read. It's a fascinating civics text from another time, with lessons that are largely ignored or buried under cynicism today. Roosevelt's an idealist, but an eminently practical one, and the situations he describes are as enlightening today as they were almost a hundred years ago.

It is a dull read, and TR spends plenty of time selling himself, but there is a pretty interesting practical civics treatise in there that's worth it.

Recommended as a civics book. Skip the dull parts.

The Lost Continent Travels in Small-Town America, Bill Bryson

Bryson brings an interesting perspective to a subject dear to my heart, small-town America. He's a writer who grew up in Iowa and has been living in England for quite a while. After his father passes away he decides to travel the back roads of America looking at small towns, in a sort of magnified family vacation, but much longer and without the family. The result is a witty examination not only of small towns, but of America in general. It's also a sweet memoir of growing up in the Midwest. Part travelogue, part Gene Shepard coming-of-age story, it's a fine, fine thing. He even mentions my hometown.

Highly Recommended.

Just Six Numbers, Martin Rees

As much as I try to make these reviews interesting to the general reader, they are my impressions of these books. That said, I found this book unreadable for the geekiest of reasons: there wasn't enough math in it. I understand that when writing for a general audience, even when writing about science, every equation cuts your sales by some enormous amount. Still, I'd think that a book titled Just Six Numbers that purports to be about why these six quantities shape our universe would rigorously define the damned things. No such luck. I was frustrated to the point that I couldn't finish.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, Walter Mosley

This is the first Mosley I've read, but it won't be the last. outgunned is beautifully written with practically each phrase as powerful as one of the protagonists blows. Said protagonist, Socrates Fortlow, is an acknowledged but repentant bad man whose simple needs for respect and redemption drive these collected stories. Fortlow is still physically powerful, but because his opponent is American society, it doesn't help much. Watching his small victories and large setbacks is a moving experience. I'll never think of applying for a minimum wage job quite the same way again.

This is as brilliant and probably more accessible than Invisible Man.

A must.

Off Camera Private Thoughts Made Public, Ted Koppel

My girlfriend's mother has an amazing knack for buying me books that I would never buy myself, but that I wind up really enjoying. This and Tuesdays With Morrie are both examples. This is an apparently un-edited (or at most self-edited) journal kept by Koppel for all of 1999. If it was edited, they missed some stuff - although both silicon and silicone technologies are changing our world, it's silicon that powers the PalmPilot. Off Camera reads like a journal, so its quality depends on the character and mind of the writer. I'm delighted to find that Koppel's an interesting, thoughtful, intelligent man who capably expresses himself in print. We agree on many things, and disagree on some, too. I do feel like I know him a little now, though, and it would be interesting to talk with him someday.


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