What are you reading now?

June 28, 2015 • 7:43 am

by Grania Spingies

I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t heard of James Rhodes (I don’t own a TV, never have) until I saw a tweet from Stephen Fry.

James Rhodes is a concert pianist, and when he tried to publish his autobiography his ex-wife sought an injunction to bar it on the grounds that it would cause their son mental distress.

He pretty much had me at classical pianist, so I bought the book.


It’s hard to find adjectives that describe the experience of reading it. Beautiful. Raw. Resilient. Passionate. It’s essentially the autobiography of a man in love with music, a man who struggles with depression daily after having been raped repeatedly as a child while at boarding school. But it isn’t a story of horror, it’s the story of surviving (even when he has to deal with unwanted tics that dog him even during his public recitals). It’s interlaced with stories about composers, compositions, living, victories, facing one’s inner demons and hilarious observations about being human.

It’s also a treasure trove (to me) of recommendations, not so much of actual compositions, but of a particular recordings of those compositions. I’ve pretty much had to read the book with Google and a pen and paper in hand.

Here’s a short interview after the court verdict.

Here’s a TEDx Talks Oxford performance.

What are you reading now?

154 thoughts on “What are you reading now?

  1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color that Changed the World by Simon Garfield, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, The Better Angels of Our Natures by Steven Pinker, The Stand by Stephen King… I think I need to focus my attention more.

  2. I’m reading Enlightenment 2.0
    It’s about how the promises of the Enlightenment keep going unfulfilled because humans are not naturally rational. Unscrupulous operators are able to hijack democracy because they have a good understanding of human nature and are able to get people to vote with their hearts instead of their heads so that the crazies get elected.

  3. Probably like a lot of folks here I usually have several books going at once but right now I’m all about Karl Knausgaard’s My Struggle. Wish there were more than only 3600 pages!

  4. I’m usually in the middle of a dozen books, but I have been consistently reading The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne recently. The black character Neb is called “intelligent”, but says little, is completely loyal and subservient to the master who freed him, and portrayed in a manner typical of the time.

  5. Nothing as deep or “improving” as Instrumental. I’m currently reading

    1/. Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner. This one will take a while to finish. It is beautifully written, but I can only read a few pages at a time without wanting to throw it at the nearest wall. It is riddled with teleological thinking, starts with a bridge hand fallacy, and despite Wagner’s deep knowledge, doesn’t seem to improve as it goes on.

    2/. Weinberg’s To Explain The World. I’m really enjoying it.

    3/. Think Python by Allen Downey. So that I can help one of my kids with his computing homework, though it looks like he is going to drop the subject.

    4/. The Honor of the Queen by David Weber. Because it is totally mindless, and that’s about what I need at this point. Other than that, I can’t really recommend it.

  6. Believe it or not, Faith vs. Fact, by some guy named Coyne!

    Also, a wonderful book of magical stories, Little Star of Bela Lua: Stories from Brazil by Luana Monteiro.

    Just finished Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier.

    1. Faith vs. Fact: me too! I’m about 2/3s through and enjoying it.

      Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke.

      Why Information Grows, by Cesar Hidalgo.

      1. How are you enjoying Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell? I read that book out loud to my wife, and we loved it.

        1. I’m really enjoying it with only a hundred or so pages left! I don’t know why I put off reading it for so long, but I began right before the TV series started showing on BBCA. Quite a lengthy book to read out loud…

          1. Yes, it is a very good book. And yes, it is long, but we’ve done longer. I read to her incessantly, especially when she is cooking or cleaning up. We get in about 20 books a year that way, and have done many long series.

  7. “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War” by Karen Abbott

    One woman pretended to be male and enlisted in the union army. One was a teenager in Virginia (the area that later became WV) and was a courier and spy for the south. One lived in DC and was a spy for the south. One lived in Richmond and was a spy for the union.

  8. Currently reading:
    Arthur Koestler’s autobio The Invisible Writing, written in 1954, and covering his years in Germany, Russia, Spain, France & England 1931-53. I read it 30 years ago when I was 19 and it had a profound effect on me back then. Revisiting it is interesting, as I am now living in the city (Berlin) where much of it happened.

    Some of his observations have become even more significant with the passage of time. He wrote about the irony of having a Communist leader in Berlin share a podium with Goebbels in 1931. Koestler didn’t know it at the time of writing, but that leader — Walter Ulbricht — would later become the Head of State of East Germany and build the Berlin Wall.

    Koestler recounts how, as a dedicated communist, he traveled through Ukraine during the famine, and managed to rationalize it to himself as a necessary part of the World Revolution. Tremendously insightful fellow, who lived through the very worst that our species has to offer, and described it with a tremendous depth of insight. Certainly had his faults, but inquired sincerely into the human condition, and wrote brilliantly in English (his 7th language).

    Also reading Fact vs Faith. As someone with a kind of “spiritual” bent, I find this book inscribes the boundaries or borders which “spirituality” must learn to respect if it wishes to stop wasting its time. Professor Dr C. Cat has done everyone a great service by dismantling the entire apparatus of theology in such a careful and thorough manner. If the religious would get over their loss of status, they might realize that the acts of breathing and simple conscious awareness are actually much easier if you stop jumping onto a trainload of bullshit theology and hoping it’s going somewhere sensible. It isn’t. It doesn’t even get out of the station.

    Also reading through– Ibn Waraq: Defending the West, and Robert Irwin: Dangerous Knowledge (both demolishing Edward Said’s Orientalism). I’d probably find I’m reading a dozen other books too, if I tidied my desk up.

  9. I have to back off on books a little during the summer, with more outside work to do. I thought God’s Banker, A History of Money & Power at the Vatican was was worthwhile. I am always looking for American History so another one called Washington’s Circle is recently out and good for anyone into the history. Had to interrupt a book called Columbus, due to this new Jerry Coyne book but got back to it. Not brand new, 2011 I think, but a detailed look at the guy and all four voyages that he made.

  10. The Faith of a Heretic by Walter Kaufmann. Pretty good so far, with bits that made me laugh out loud which I was not expecting from a book like this. It took a while to get a copy up here in the Great Frozen North, but amazon eventually came through(ordered in November, received it in June…)

    The Most of P.G. Wodehouse (a collection of a bunch of whole bunch of his stories). I’ve heard a bunch of people say that that P.G. Wodehouse was the best of the best of the best comic writers ever, etc, etc… and while I’m not sure I’d go that far it’s been very funny most of the time. A couple of the stories so far fall somewhat flat, but that might well be a defect in me.

    Rereading How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog by Chad Orzel. This and the quantum physics books were both amusing and taught me a few things on my first go through a couple years ago. I was talking to a coworker and mentioned something from this book and that inspired me to go dig it out again.

    Winter Backpacking: Your Guide to Safe and Warm Winter Camping and Day Trips by Ben Shillington and Rebecca Sandiford. This is something I pull out every once in a while. I enjoy hiking and camping and last winter got out a few times to enjoy nature when it was cool out. One memorable night last year had me in my camping hammock out in Frontenac Park when it was -30 C. Reading this to see if I can pick up any new tips or tricks or ideas that’ll make my experiences even better than they were.

    For fluffy reading, like ratabago above I’m reading some David Weber. The Worlds of Weber which is a collection of short stories. Some of these are drawn from the Honorverse and others from various other universes (or our own, but an alternate timeline). It’s been nothing amazing, but it makes for a good book to grab and just relax with.

    1. Hammock camping changed my life. I’ve spent a total of about a year of my life camping, but with back trouble and age, I find it harder and harder to sleep in a tent. Even with a nice thick camping pad, my back gets so stiff I can barely bend my spine enough to exit the tent. With the hammock, I sleep well and feel great when getting up. I use a hammock, bug net and rain fly by ENO, whoopie slings, carabiners and polyester webbing.

      1. I guess the hammock doesn’t bend you too weird then. I always thought they would but I guess the secret is keeping them taut enough.

        1. The trick to sleeping in a parachute-style hammock has several components. First, give the hammock a surprisingly large amount of sag (recommended that a straight line between hammock ends be 83% the length of the hammock). Second, use a camping pad. This is for extra support and insulation (since compressed sleeping bag insulation doesn’t insulate). Third, sleep at an angle to the line between the trees (I’m guessing about 20 degrees). You won’t lie perfectly flat, but you’ll be surprised how close you can get!

          1. Interesting! My back is a wreck and I can stand only to sleep in my bed with a mattress I carefully selected, thought was no good an changed, then realized it was me all along with my stupid back so switched it back & now like it again. I have the Goldilocks of spines.

            1. Falling asleep in a hammock when just reading or relaxing is easy (just ask my father…), but intentionally spending the night in one takes a lot of getting used to. It took me hours to fall asleep the first time I tried it, but once you get the hang (!) of it, it’s a great feeling. All you need are two strong trees the right distance apart and with open space between – no more looking for a flat, clear, root- and rock-free piece of ground to pitch a tent.

          2. Pads work, I’ve used them, but ehhhh, I’ve gone to underquilts as my source for back and butt warmth and I find them much comfier despite(perhaps because of) the relative lack of “support”

            The fabric of the hammock itself does the supporting of me, cradling me gently with no real pressure points.
            That said, a good underquilt can be a … substantial investment(I have a couple now) and they’re hardly necessary when you’re first getting into hammocking. I guess a poncho liner underquilt(PLUQ) is a good budget solution for warmish weather if you have some minor crafting skills.

            That said, we’re starting to stray away from the books theme, so better plug Derek Hansen’s fantastic book The Ultimate Hang. While I’m not reading it right now, I’ve read that short book several times over. It and Shug’s videos on youtube have done a heck of a lot to support my hammocking addiction.

            If you want a book to read on this topic, it’s a cheap and excellent one Diana!

    2. Wodehouse wrote so much over so long, that some of it is bound to be mediocre. I would recommend Right Ho, Jeeves!, if you haven’t read it.

  11. I’m almost finished Child 44 about someone trying to solve the crimes of a child murderer in Russia during th Soviet era and of course getting in trouble with the state in the process.

  12. “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” Anita Loos (The movie uses only the first chapter)
    “Is Shakespeare Dead?” Mark Twain
    “The Death of Caesar” Barry Strauss

  13. Simon Schama’s Rembrandt’s Eyes ( fantstic!!)
    Oliver Sacks’s On the Move ( a memoir)
    Wm Faulkner’s The Hamlet/The Town/ The Mansion

    Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others ( Booker short-lister from last year. I don’t really recommend this one, but do make it a point to read the short list every year)

  14. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Love, war, life, death, and all the rest. Thought-provoking book.

    1. Excellent book by Flanagan, Ant. It won the Booker last year, as I’m sure you know. Disturbing story ( basically The Bridge Over the River Kwai story) beautifully told. I’ve read a couple others of Flanagan’s: Death of a River Guide and Wanting. Especially liked River Guide.

    2. That’s the title of a book by Basho (17th century Japan) that I once read. I wonder what, if anything, is the relationship between the two books.

  15. PS. I want to thank whoever recommended the Julie Sahni Indian cookbooks to me. i’m sorry I’ve forgotten who it was. I made the potatoes from Microwave Moghul in 20 minutes and they were divine;-$

    1. Hey, Merilee, from your recipe, I made that fenugreek/cream dip for the lamb popsicles, except I used less expensive cuts of lamb. The whole dish was delicious. So thanks!

      1. Excellent, Paprika! I often just use frozen lambchops from NZ, which are easily available and not expensive. Did you have leftover sauce? I usually do and it keeps well in the fridge for weeks. You’re making me feel like making some soon🐸

        1. Yes, I also buy the frozen NZ chops or chunks, and I did have leftover sauce which very smoothly sent down some other things. Now I’m thinking that the NZ lamb chunks would make great lamb kabobs with that obligatory dipping sauce. Muchas gracias again. 😛 slurrp.

            1. Yes, the best! I usually do it with curry or this other way with fresh lime leaves (or bay leaves, a dash of low-sodium soy sauce, brown sugar and anise stars, and stew the hell out of it. Great over rice with homemade brined limes as a condiment(kinda like a chutney)!

              1. My wife does the curry spice method and adds a can of coconut milk. This is good.

              2. OK – HERE is where I meant to put my comment about lime leaves and coconut milk;-)

  16. Filmed in Supermarionation by Stephen La Riviere covering the history of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s puppet dramas.

  17. I’m wrapping up “Queen Silver” by Wendy McElroy. It’s a biography of an atheistic freethinker who was a child street front speaker who published her own magazine and gave oratories challenging William Jennings Bryan. D.W. Griffith made a very distorted movie about her called “The Godless Girl”.

    I’m about half way thru “Tall Tales of a Short Clown” by Barry Lubin, who’s clown alter ego is Grandma, beloved to many fans of The Big Apple Circus, as well as to clown and circus fans in general.

    Just started two books: “Roadside Geology of Texas”. (I do a lot of driving thru Texas!) and Professor Coyne’s book, “Faith vs Fact”.

    1. The Roadside Geology series is excellent, though they’re not really books you read from cover to cover, in my opinion. I have intentions of accumulating the entire series for at least all places I’m likely to visit.

  18. I always have two books going, one fiction and one nonfiction. My selections at the
    moment are Prof Ceiling Cat’s “Faith vs. Fact”, and the other is “Outlander”. Very much enjoying the Prof’s excellent book!

    1. I do the same, and that’s the same two I’m reading, with a slight change. When Outlander came out, I decided to read the whole series from the beginning again, and I’m about half way through the fifth book.

      I’ve also recently finished Bill Browder’s Red Notice. I got it as an audio book and listened on a series of long trips. It was very different from what I usually read, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

  19. I just finished “Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes”, by Svante Pääbo.
    It is about the present research on mamuts, bears, Neandertals, all the inside story of that particular scientific community, and lots of fun details about his life.
    Highly recommended. He is quite a character!

    1. I bought Pääbo’s book last year on a whim and loved it! Of course, as usual, books like that make me confront the great wall of ignorance that encompasses my brain; such a brilliant person.

    2. I heard that that book has a lot of personal stories about the adventure and drama of researching ancient genomes, as well as interesting biographical information about the author, but does it also do a good job of explaining the research itself and how it confirms or alters our understanding of Neanderthals and how their lineage fits in with the big picture of human migration and evolution? I’ve been curious about the book, but hesitant on that point.

    3. That sounds good. When I first read the title, though, I thought it was “in seach of lost lost gnomes”….

  20. Recently finished Jimmy Carter’s A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence & Power. The one thing I particularly remember in it was his explanation why the Carter Center focuses on endemic disease in Africa vs. birth control – that studies have shown that with better health status, interest in limiting family size comes from within.

    The rest are historical and somewhat more arcane. I wouldn’t mention these except that some of the above show that at least some of the Commentariat have an interest in history.

    I’m 2/3 through Hoover, Blacks and Lily-Whites (Lisio, 1985), on Herbert Hoover’s interface/interactions with the black America. In summary, his heart was in the right place, but a lot was constrained within limits of politics, and some efforts were either ham-fisted or had to be kept out of the press because of white reaction. Also, what’s completely forgotten now is that blacks mainly voted Republican then (but were beginning to question what benefit they had gotten from that) while the Democrats embraced the white-only stance. Another historian (forgotten who) has called Hoover either the last of the old presidents or the first of the modern ones – there’s much to support the latter view.

    Next up is one for Pittsburgh history and with a personal interest – The Carnegie Boys (Quentin Skrabec). I’ve peeked in that one and am intrigued by the assertion (that I haven’t found anywhere else) that one of his boys, Schwab (who rose to the presidency of Carnegie Steel and then US Steel), and whose starter mansion I now own (FB page = Schwab-Dixon Mansion), was the largest private contributor to the Harding campaign. (Harding would’ve won anyway, but it was he who appointed Herbert Hoover as Commerce Secretary (where he became known as the Secretary of Commerce and Undersecretary of everything else), from which position he launched his quest for the Presidency.

    Meanwhile, I’ve opened the box FvF arrived in, but I figure there’s less pressure to pick it up since I’ve probably read most of it here already.

    1. It does amaze me how few people understand that the make-up, party platforms, and ideologies of the two major political parties in the US have changed dramatically since their respective foundings. It never fails to disturb but amuse me that Republicans can claim to be the party of Lincoln and yet be so exclusionary and well, racist. Likewise, Dems seem oblivious to the Southern and again, racist, history of their party, since they’ve shifted so dramatically.

    2. I saw Carter on Real Time. He really does get at the root cause of things and his organization has made a difference. If only all Evangelicals could be like Jimmy Carter!

  21. Just finished “FvF” and Oliver Sacks’ “Hallucinations”.

    Currently reading Bernd Heinrich’s “In A Patch of Fireweed” which made me wonder about the most likely gigantic N. American dung beetles that went extinct when the megafauna did. Anyone have any info about the Mammoth’s dung beetles?

    Also awaiting two books, Oliver Sacks’ first book, Migraine, and Archie Carr’s “Ulendo: Travels of a Naturalist In and Out of Africa”.

    A stack of books always awaits me, offhand I can think of SJ Gould’s “Wonderful LIfe”, Konrad Lorenz “Here I am-Where Are You?” James T. Costa’s “Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species”, and tow wonderful used bookstore finds, Richard Headstrom’s “Nature in Miniature” and a vintage copy of Julian Huxley’s “Heredity East and West: Lysenko and World Science”.

    I guess I use books as therapy, but also a vice. I buy when I’m happy, when I’m depressed, read to learn, engage, and to escape…I’ve got some catching up to do though, plus I have to track down the Ernst Mayr book PCC suggested,”Animal Species and Evolution”.

    1. Another you may like and that is probably somewhat obscure is Report from #24 (Gunnar Sønsteby). An excellent account on the Norwegian Resistance, whose members did much to hamstring the Nazis there. (Sønsteby was #24.)

    2. I would also recommend the book that I have just finished – “Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble” by the British historian Anthony Beevor. A story of an American triumph, despite the squabbling Allied generals.

      1. Thanks, Bonetired and Hempenstein for your recommendations. Will try to accommodate the two titles on my ever-growing ‘to read’ list…

    3. I think the single best book I’ve read on the Second World War was Munich: The Price of Peace by Telford Taylor, one of the Nuremberg prosecutors. It goes through the pre-history of the war in great detail.

      1. Yet, the topic of World War II is so huge and multifaceted that no single tome can do it justice in my opinion. From the pre-war context of Hitler’s NAZI party, the failed British policy of Germany’s appeasement, to the Hitler-Stalin Pact, assassination attempts on Hitler, the horror of concentration camps, the Holocaust of Jews, heroic battles, and downright betrayal of Poland, the ongoing beef between American and British generals, to the post-war trials, and the USSR occupation of many European countries after the war, etc

  22. “A Hora da Estrela” (“The Hour of the Star”)by Clarice Lispector, simultaneously in Portuguese and English (Benjamin Moser’s translation). A short, difficult, rewarding effort to portray a woman who has been hopelessly downtrodden from birth yet seems strangely unaware that this is her condition or that her plight is in any way unfair.

    “Citizen Welles” by Frank Brady, one of several biographies of Orson Welles, very likely the finest of all filmmakers to date and a protean figure in numerous other ways as well.

    1. That prompted me to check my email and mine is on the way too! Whoo hoo! I’m happy and sad. Happy that I get the book, sad that I have so many to read. So many books, so little time.

  23. I am reading Nonsense on Stilts by Massimo Pigliucci. I am almost halfway through, and so far it is better than I expected, because he has refrained from the petty sniping at others in the atheist/skeptical movement which so frequently mars his personal and web presence.

    The book is about the nature of science, and what constitutes good science, borderline science and bunk, with many examples discussed.

    1. I read a handful of blogs (and websites, Jerry…) on a regular basis, and one is that of Larry Moran. Larry holds the position that Intelligent Design Creationism (the term he uses) is not non-science as most of us consider it, but as BAD science (to the best of my knowledge I am portraying Larry accurately). Does Massimo’s book shed any light on this distinction?

    2. Frankly, I was dissapointed with Pigliucci’s book. I found no clear and consistent criteria for distinguishing science from non-science. And, later in the book, it seemed to descend into whatever Pigliucci did or did not like, often based on perceived political implications and almost in a stream-of-consciousness mode.

      1. I’ve read a couple of “books” on Kindle which are just collections of Pigliucci’s columns, and have found them very enlightening. See, for example, my review on Amazon of his collection, Thinking About Science: Essays on the Nature of Science.

    1. That book kicked off a torrent of reading for me! It started me thinking about “deep history” which is what led to an interest in evolution, which is what led me to this here website.

    2. Yes, terrific book. Diamond’s book “Collapse” is excellent, too. I have his last book “The World Until Yesterday”, but haven’t read it yet. My pile of “to read” books is enormous, but I love it that way so I have a lot of selections to choose from when I’m ready for another book! Can’t have too many books.

  24. What are you reading now?

    A website called “Why Evolution is True” ; you may be familiar with it.
    And in other windows, wireline logging reports, a job ticket, mud reports and a summary document due on the government’s desk about the time that my butt is due on the helicopter tomorrow.

            1. I like the German: Klugscheißer. Because I find it amusing that Germans feminize endings (because feminized endings amuse me in English too), I describe myself as a Klugscheißerin on Twitter. 🙂

      1. OK ; also listening to an audio book of lectures on Arthurian legend, a stack of 150 mud reports, and
        Aw I can’t be bothered with the Arthuriana – meaningless literary guff. [Shuffles podcasts etc …] Ah, the novelisation of “Nightfall”.
        Back to mud reports.

  25. I consider myself to be an avid reader but it never ceases to sadden me that I will never be able to read everything that I would like to read. At the time of my comment here there were 48 previous messages and only two mentioned a book I have read (‘Wonderful Life’ by Stephen Jay Gould, which I read earlier this year and really enjoyed, and ‘Guns, Germs, & Steel’ by Jared Diamond). I accumulate books like a squirrel gathering acorns for the winter and have something like 2000 of them, many of which I will probably never read, but when I see one that I want for sale at the Goodwill store for a dollar or two, how can I resist?

    As part of my quest to read all of the novels on Modern Library’s ‘100 Best Novels of the 20th Century’ list, I just finished Graham Greene’s ‘Heart of the Matter’, which was excellent, and have now started on Elizabeth Strout’s ‘Olive Ketteridge’, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, which is not impressing me thus far.

    1. Hope you get to like Olive K. better as it progresses. She’s not a terribly likeable character, but the book is wonderful, imho. There was a mini-series on TV recently with the wonderful Frances McDormand playing Olive.

    2. I know what you mean but it’s comforting that so many others on this site feel the same way. You’re among friends!

    3. All my fiction reading is science fiction and fantasy, but I have a colleague in the office who is working his way through the Time magazine list of the 100 best novels of the “20th century” (actually, their list starts in 1923, the year Time started publishing). By coincidence, he also just finished the Graham Greene novel on that list.

      I wonder how many titles overlap on the two lists?

    4. I know the feeling. I’ve not read much of anything that has been listed, I’ve got a stack of books awaiting me already, two others en route because I can’t help but shop online, and I’ve got several lists of books scribbled whilst reading, such as the autobiographies of Hitchens and Rushdie both gave me long, non-science lists that I’ve yet to get around to.

      I squirrel away books as well, being a quick drive away from three Half Price Books stores, the wonderful local Prospero’s in Westport KCMO, plus a recent library book sale…I’ll probably die under a pile of them like a poor man/hoarder version of Al-Jahiz, which reminds me that Rebecca Stott’s book “Darwin’s Ghosts” which I have read, is pretty good, but not to be confused with Steve Jones’ book, by the same name, which I own but have not yet read!

    5. “when I see one that I want for sale at the Goodwill store for a dollar or two, how can I resist?”

      My disease exactly. I have at least 1500 books (estimate based on shelf footage). But these days what I read mostly is websites including WEIT, and (given my propensity for fiddling with my computer systems and breaking things), Linux* man[ual] pages.

      *Strictly called GNU/Linux, for the benefit of the nerds among us.

      1. Oh, and I have to exercise severe restraint around second-hand bookshops these days, like an alcoholic in a pub, since my bookshelves are overflowing and Mrs Inf refuses to set foot in my ‘den’ in case she starts a book avalanche.

      2. I am *so* with you, my friend. I have an uncanny ability to receive books for my birthday, to find library sales, semi-annual sales at bookstores, Saturday parking lot sales, ad infinitum. Our personal library is over 2,000 books and growing rapidly.

        Nevertheless, if I see a book for a dollar or two, I always answer the question “next year, will I rather have this book, or the dollar?” by buying the book.

  26. This was deeply moving and beautiful. I ought to add Instrumental to my evergrowing booklist.

    I finished FvF a couple of weeks ago; am reviewing sections of Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature (I find it’s that kind of book – hard to get through in one go as it’s epic and ultra detailed – and it’s obvious I need to hear his words again); in the rest of my dwindling spare time, I’m tucking into A Universe From Nothing by Lawrence Krauss; plan to read the latest by Oliver Sacks; am looking for a good gripping novel to completely escape into. Am open to suggestions.

  27. Brother Jeffrey Tayler’s latest Sunday Salon song of today: “Fox News, Sony, Sarah Palin pal help hit movie prey on the gullible: ‘Heaven Is for Real’ is lame ‘heaven tourism,’ a ‘divine travelogue for dummies.”’ But not to Sean Hannity!” here at http://www.salon.com/2015/06/28/sean_hannity_very_bad_critic_fox_news_sony_sarah_palin_pal_help_hit_movie_prey_on_the_gullible and re thus: “This week’s essay concerns one Colton Burpo — no, I’m not making up this burbling eructation of a name — and his father Todd and the immensely remunerative product of their collaboration, ‘Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.’ Based on alleged happenings in 2003, the book hit the stands only in 2010. Todd Burpo, originally (and not incidentally) a cash – strapped Nebraskan preacher, relied on Lynn Vincent (who helped Sarah Palin write ‘Going Rogue: An American Life’) as co – author to tell the story of Babe Burpo’s putative excursion to paradise and back, and his supernal jaunt’s effect on his family and community.”


  28. Currently trying to finish reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, before watching the corresponding TV series (on my DVR). I have an aversion to doing things the other way round.

    Also reading Eric Sanderson’s Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City, which is excellent; I think anyone who’s interested in geography and history, and the process of combining the two disciplines, will enjoy it. I’ve read quite a few books about cities, and this one is definitely in my top ten.

    Another book I just started reading is Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, which is far more than a collection of place-words. Don’t get me wrong – there is plenty for the logophile, and that’s what attracted me initially to the book. But I’m also a person who’s tied to place, and to being engaged with and surrounded by the natural world, and there’s much in this book for those of us who notice nature. Fewer than 30 pages into the book, I was inspired to develop an idea for a possible scholarly collaboration, and have already set things in motion to identify research collaborators – not my usual bench research, obviously. 😉

    1. Wolf Hall is a series? I’ll have to check that out. It took me about 3/4 of the way through the book to figure out who was talking when!

        1. Yeah, it’s like there were no other names for males but “Thomas” back in Cromwell’s day.

  29. I’m coming to the end of THE VITAL QUESTION by Nick Lane: it’s brilliant. Though written for a general audience it’s still tough going, but I like that you have to work hard as a reader. I like being treated as an intelligent reader!

  30. I’ve read most of Oliver Sacks books with great
    interest, including his recent autobiography and
    recommend all his available writings.

    I’m rereading “The Dead Sea Scrolls” which has come out in various versions. The one I’m currently reading is by Geza Vermes.

    “In the Language of Kings: an Anthology of Mesoamerican Literature – Pre-Columbuan to the Present” by Miguel Leon-Portilla and Earl Shorris.

    I recently read “The History of Jewish Christianity: From the First to the Twentieth
    Century” by Hugh Schonfield.

    I’ll be reading FvF soon as my husband finishes it.

    Awaiting me in the near future are a number of books about women pioneers who homesteaded in the American West.

  31. Currently alternating between To Explain the World (a PCC recommendation) and With Our Backs to the Wall, which explains why the Central Powers lost and the Allies won in 1918. When one of these library books is finished, I can start reading my copy of F vs F, another PCC recommendation.

  32. Grania, I’m a big classical nut (have been for decades), and on my way to and from Massachusetts this week on the bus, I listened to some symphonies by Beethoven, Schubert, and Prokofiev. I won’t go into details on the recordings here, but if you ever want any help with some ideas, I can help.

    As for reading, I wanted to take some light for the bus trip, and so I chose “Tepper Isn’t Going Out” by Calvin Trillin. It’s a comic novel. I’m reading it for the second time, but I spent more time listening to music!

  33. This is always my favorite kind of thread. Thank you, Grania!

    I recently finished FvF. Since my wife and I are going on vacation to visit our kids, I didn’t think I’d have time to finish another large and/or serious book before we leave, so I decided to catch up on Robert Sheckley. If you’ve ever seen a modern reprint of any of his books, you’ll have seen Douglas Adams’ comment about him, “I had no idea the competition was so terrifyingly good.” I’ve always loved Sheckley’s short stories (for which he is most famous), but I’m finding his novels to be pure, antic fun, and his influence on Adams is obvious. The Status Civilization is a marvelous take on forced conformity. Journey Beyond Tomorrow is a retelling of Voltaire’s Candide, with the protagonist being a South Seas islander voyaging through a post-apocalyptic America of steadily increasing weirdness (Sheckley was at his best when lampooning silly social institutions and customs). The 10th Victim began life as a short story, The Seventh Victim, was made into a 1965 movie with Ursula Andress and Marcello Mastroianni, and then into the novel which is laugh out loud hilarious; it’s also the prototype of “Survivor” type shows. I’ll finish Mindswap today; this (along with The 10th Victim) is the most “Douglas Adamsian” of his books; the protagonist, like Arthur Dent, goes zapping around the universe, bumbling his way ineptly through one misadventure after another. Also suffocatingly funny. Before I leave, I’m hoping also to read his Dimensions of Miracles, which at least one reviewer said was his best.

    When I get back, plans are to read Kaufmann’s Faith of a Heretic.

    1. Coincidentally, I made a Goan cod recipe this evening with some lime leaves I’d forgotten I’d had in my freezer for ages. It also had coconut milk in it. For dessert a rhubarb streusel cake with a cup of cooked lentils in it ( and lots of spices). It sounded so bizarre I had to try it. It turned out to be delicious! You’d never know there were lentils in it, but it’s really moist. D’ya think it could count as a veggie? Probably not…

      1. This is a perfect example of the type of bizarre non sequitur I would expect from Sheckley or Adams. I don’t recognize the quote, so it’s either from a Sheckley I haven’t gotten to yet, or we have a new comic talent in our midst. In either case, well-played, Merilee!

        1. I think she probably meant to post that as a reply to her Calvin Trillin comment @ #45. Fun when things like that work themselves into a new context, tho.

          1. LOL – Actually I meant this as a reply to smokedpaprika who was talking about lamb with lime leaves, and then somebody who said his wife added coconut milk. Whoops! Who the hell’s on first??

      1. Though I don’t remember the story, I see in my database that I rated that story 4 out of 5. I will have to reread it.

        The Sheckley story that has always meant the most to me is Something for Nothing. Not only is it a great story, very creative, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but probably more than anything else this story has been responsible for my lifelong fear of debt. Except for my dwelling (filled with books, as you’ve read in my other posts), I’ve never been in debt in my life. I either pay cash, put it on a credit card (and pay the whole balance every month), or do without. Sure, I’ve never had a nice car, but neither will I be quarrying marble for 50 credits a month until my debt is paid off.

  34. “Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World” by Amir Alexander. It’s about the idea that a plane is made up of an infinite number of lines and a solid is made up of an infinite number of lines. It deals with the opposition to the idea (mostly by the Jesuits who acted in opposition to the Jesuats – really!), and how the idea lead to the development of calculus.

  35. I just finished Faith versus Fact by Jerry Coyne 🙂

    Currently, I am reading two non-fiction books and one fiction book (I always try to read one fiction and one non-fiction at a time):
    1. A Universe From Nothing – Lawrence Krauss
    2. What Evolution Is – Ernst Mayr
    3. Under the Dome – Stephen King

    1. I’m impressed with everyone that can read more than one book at a time. I found that when I did that I ended up not finishing many books so I had to limit my Work In Progress (WIP) or Book In Progress (BIP) to 1.

        1. Good point, Matt, though I do finish most books…eventually. I have finally given up my stubborness at finishing every book, though. I’ve decided that there are some books that are not sorth my time ( and Zi give up maybe 100 pages in).

          Good news: Matthew C’s book arrived today and it looks great!

  36. A bit late to this, but:

    Flight Of The Intellectuals(just finished) and Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman

    Why Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson & Jeremy Stangroom

    The Rushdie Affair by Kenan Malik

    What’s Left & You Can’t Read This Book by Nick Cohen

    and am rereading David Deutsch’s The Beginning Of Infinity – just because he’s the most thrillingly audacious writer on science and philosophy there is and I pick up more ideas from a few pages of his than I do most entire books.

    And I don’t know why but I’ve not read any fiction in ages. The last novel was…oh god, it was Gone Girl.

  37. Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum (Leonard Susskind)

    Fossils (Richard Fortey, which is a great author imo in general) because I recently visited Solnhofen Lagerstätte

    Bau und Werden (Herbert Scholz), a volume on local south bavarian geology

  38. Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger in the Hofmann translation. It is the memoir of a soldier who spent almost the entire First World War on the Western Front except for the several occasions when he was wounded.

    The account focuses almost exclusively on Jünger’s personal experiences of the front line (and for part of the description of the Battle of the Somme, on one of his comrades, because Jünger was in hospital at the time).

    The writing style is very sparse. There is none of the “endless poetry” that Lord Flashheart dislikes, and this lends the prose a surreal almost comic quality.

    I’m told (I haven’t finished the book yet) that Jünger viewed the war as a positive experience. Nevertheless, this book will give you an insight into the ordeal suffered by the soldiers on the Western Front in WW1

  39. Also a bit late, but for anyone who celebrated Waterloo Day on the 18th “Waterloo: four days that changed europe’s destiny” by Tim Clayton is a good general account of the campaign and the battle, correctly placing high emphasis on fog of war. It was a damn close run thing.

  40. I have bought about 40 books already for this year. May not get them all read will have plenty to choose from. I am a history major specializing in labor history and Civil Rights and Black History, but read many other books. I am a life long atheist so have five or six books to read . Just finished Tom Hayden book on Cuba, Anthony Pinn, “The Nature of Black Religion”,just got three books by Amy Goodman, “Black and Blue” by Cheryl Dorsey are just a few! All My Days Are Good!

    1. If you would be so kind as to suggest a good general history of the American labor movement and/or something similar focusing specifically on the 1920s, I’d be much obliged, as that is something that I’ve been wanting to read about quite a bit. Thanks in advance!

  41. Just ordered this book:
    Four Last Songs: Aging and Creativity in Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten [Kindle Edition]
    Linda Hutcheon (Author), Michael Hutcheon (Author)

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