What are we reading?

In lieu of discussing politics or the pandemic, which are getting tedious and depressing, let’s talk about literature—or books in general.  This thread is about what we’re reading, and I like it because I’ve gotten many valuable tips from readers about things to read. This one came from my good friend Tim, who is a huge Flannery O’Connor fan. Besides knowing of her as a “Southern Gothic” writer, until recently I had never read a word she wrote. So before the University library closed, I went across the street and took out a couple of big fat books. One of them was The Collected Works of Flannery O’Connor from the Library of America; it contains all of her 32 short stories, her two novels (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away), miscellaneous writings and nonfiction, and a comprehensive collection of her letters.

For some reason the book is expensive on Amazon ($53) but only $31.50 from the Library of America.

I’ve started with the short stories, and have read all but two. But though I intended to read them at my usual pace, found that I cannot take more than two per evening. That’s not because they’re bad, but because they’re good. She is a great prose craftsman, with nary a word wasted—in fact, she’s one of the best prose stylists I’ve seen in America, and that includes people like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cormac McCarthy. Her prose isn’t lyrical like Fitz’s, or bizarre and sui generis like McCarthy’s, but it shows her to be a keen observer of detail and someone able to limn a scene so vividly that you can picture it entirely in your head, as if you’re standing in the room with the characters. I’m not sure how any fiction writer stores up this kind of detail, whether it involves saving in one’s memory what you’ve seen or simply making it up, but the craft is beyond me.

O’Connor, who died at only 39 of lupus, was a staunch Catholic: so staunch that she believed in the literal rather than metaphorical transubstantiation of a wafer.  And somehow, in a way I’ve not quite figured out, her stories are deeply theological.  All of them are tragic, and many involve someone who considers themselves upright and moral (they’re not), only to have their lives disrupted by an outsider, a disruption usually ending in tragedy, but sometimes an epiphany. Perhaps this says something about the unpredictability of life, the pride that goeth before a fall, or the dictum of Matthew that in future lives the first shall be last and the last first. Except that this happens not in the future life, but in this life.  There are also leitmotifs—the sun and moon, a row of trees at the edge of a wood—whose meanings elude me.

The sudden incursion of violence, which seems inevitable as the story proceeds and one gets more and more uncomfortable, is what makes me unable to read more than two stories, for I’m deeply unsettled after I’ve finished just one. But I also read her work slowly, something I don’t usually do, as each word, each description, must be savored.

There’s nothing in O’Connor’s life or background that suggests, at least to me, how she came to do what she did. Her life was somewhat constricted (she kissed a man only once), and yet she constructed in her head the most bizarre and diverse panoply of unimaginably strange characters and unthinkable events.  I regret that her early death prevented the creation of more work, but her legacy is secure with what she wrote—though I doubt that anybody reads her in English-literature classes any longer. For one thing, her stories are strewn with the n-word—common argot in her Southern environment—and that alone would eliminate them from most reading lists.

I’m sorry that I came upon O’Connor so late in life, for her work bears re-reading, and I’m only starting now. She belongs alongside Carson McCullers as one of the great Southern writers of our time. (And if you haven’t read McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, you’re really missing out.)

Your turn! And if you don’t mind, say why you like your book, as it helps me decide what I want to read in the future.

Flannery O’Connor. Yes, she kept peacocks and she’s on crutches because of the lupus. Source.


  1. Mark Reaume
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I just started reading Jared Diamond’s “Gun, Germs, and Steel”. An interesting premiss, and I have heard a lot of good things about it.

    Also, I’m still slogging through Walter Isaacson’s “Leonardo Da Vinci” which is very interesting.

    On my back burner I’m very slowly making my way through Douglass Hofstader’s “Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid”. Really interesting but not something you can just skim through.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Excellent book

      Excellent video

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        What do you think of the criticisms of Jared Dismond’s work? For instance, this from NPR https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/01/14/169374400/why-does-jared-diamond-make-anthropologists-so-mad. This reports on the criticisms.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

          Criticism is great. I can’t recall precisely what any given critic said but I’m not sure what you’re asking me for.

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

            I was also addressing Mark Reaume. These are fundamental criticisms, and if true, vitiate his work.

            • Mark Reaume
              Posted June 10, 2020 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

              I’ve only got through about 5% of the book so far, I’m keeping an open mind, perhaps later I’ll look into the criticisms.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

          Not trying to be a contrarian, just raising these issues, but in addition to my comment on Jared Diamond I wonder

          1)what those who read and like Bruce Chatwin think about his dismissal as a fabulist, blurring the line between fact and fiction?

          2) Sherman Alexie has been erased by the Puritanical Cancel Culture because of allegations of sexual impropriety – impropriety, not rape or assault (mostly vague allegations according to this article https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/sherman-alexie-apologizes-amid-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct. Also from the article: “The allegations have led to online expressions of disillusionment and betrayal from fans and an anguished conversation among booksellers, fellow writers and Native Americans.” He’s been blackballed by the literary world. A crying shame. Why was he singled out, when the literary world isn’t known for chaste behavior, never has been.

          • EdwardM
            Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

            Chinatown is one of my favorite movies. I’m not a huge fan of opera but I do like The Ring. Reservation Blues is a fantastic account of the tragic and often comical struggles of young American Indians.

            Personally, I can separate the work from the creator. YMMV.

            • Jenny Haniver
              Posted June 11, 2020 at 1:12 am | Permalink

              I can separate the work from its creator, too — for the most part. I can listen to Wagner but not for 17 hours! (Unless I dropped acid or something.) Haven’t read Sherman Alexie, but that’s not because of his sexual improprieties.

          • Robert Bray
            Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:23 am | Permalink

            Ms. Haniver, in case you were thinking of my post below, I’ll respond concerning ‘In Patagonia.’ To be dismissed as a ‘fabulist’ is to me rather the highest praise a writer can achieve. Genre is slippery. What is a ‘travel book,’ anyway? The author went to Patagonia (both sides), walked hundreds of miles, talked to people aplenty, used documents (some from his family) and put all this together into a story that for me is chock-full of first-rate writing. And given Chatwin’s very negative portrayal of what the various European colonists to Patagonia did to the indigenous peoples there, it’s small wonder that some of those he talked to later called him a liar. At one point in the narrative he’s talking with an Englishwoman who has spent several years working in that country. She says, ‘it’s nice, but I wouldn’t want to return here.’ To which the narrator replies, ‘Me, neither.’

            As far as I know, Bruce Chatwin never proclaimed himself a social scientist of any stripe. He was a writer, a restless writer.

        • rickflick
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

          I looked at the npr piece, and found it baffling.
          The criticism is not described well enough to make much of it. Jared is “shallow”? He spent decades living with the natives of Papua New Guinea and he used that as a basis for speculations about our early development – often influenced by the geography that differs across the globe. It didn’t seem shallow to me as I read Guns and Steel.

          The criticism sound familiar to what we hear from the woke:
          “Can he really be so unaware of the privilege that allows him to assert — or think — such a thing?” There certainly will be elements to find fault with – I have not read his most recent book. But, the criticism sounds like a fashion statement to me.

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted June 11, 2020 at 1:34 am | Permalink

            I haven’t read any of his books and was interested what WEIT readers had to say about the criticisms. I really should read Guns, Germs, and Steel, especially because it’s about New Guinea, a place that has fascinated me since childhood.

            Some years ago, I read about the furor about the work of the extremely controversial, megalomaniacal anthropologist, Napoleon Shangon, who lived with the Yanomami in Venezuela. Much ink was spilled and I got hooked reading the gripping stories about Chagnon and the controversy https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/magazine/napoleon-chagnon-americas-most-controversial-anthropologist.html Never got around to reading his work. Chagnon was accused of essentially destroying the tribe he was supposedly studying, as well as numerous other grave crimes against the tenets of his profession.

            • rickflick
              Posted June 11, 2020 at 7:47 am | Permalink

              I think you’ll find Guns a good read. I have always been convinced it has some important lessons, even if every word has not been confirmed. The insights learned from the natives of New Guinea alone are worth the read.

    • Joe Baldassano
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Gun, Germs, and Steel is an excellent read, and sets forth an interesting hypothesis relative to the dire consequences of conquering new worlds and established civilizations by the more advanced Europeans.

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    As I am low brow, I’m reading Martha Wells’s Network Effect, the first stand alone novel related to the novella Murderbot series (I’ve read them all) & enjoying it quite a bit as I always do with the Murderbot Series. It takes my mind away from everything else & I really like Murderbot.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Loved the Murderbot series of novellas and looking forward to reading Network Effect.

      Currently reading Use Of Weapons by Iain Banks. It’s my first Banks novel. I like it fine, I’d definitely classify it as good. But for me it doesn’t quite live up to the hype I’ve always experienced with respect to Banks and his Culture novels.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Yeah I started the culture novels and I liked the one I started fine but I really really liked the Hyperion series by Simmons though it dragged a bit at places. Then I read the We Are Legion series by Taylor and really loved the humour of it. I think Murderbot is similar when it comes to humour and the Murderbot itself is so relatable.

        • Julian Cattaneo
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

          Thoroughly enjoyed Network Effect (just finished( and now reading IAn M Bank’s Matter.
          Just received N.K. Jemisin’s The City we Became…

      • Posted June 11, 2020 at 4:07 am | Permalink

        I don’t think it is the best one. My favourite is still The Player of Games which is the first one I read.

        • Posted June 11, 2020 at 6:22 am | Permalink

          I enjoyed The Player of Games too, and several other Iain M Banks novels, but would warn against Excession, which I found almost incomprehensible.

          You should try some of the Iain Banks Scottish novels – quite different, and well-written.

        • darrelle
          Posted June 11, 2020 at 7:06 am | Permalink

          Thanks for the tip. I’ll give it a read.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 1:57 am | Permalink

      I’m even lower brow (mine is ridged). Instead of escapist fiction I read true crime — not the oxymoronic genre of ‘true crime fiction’ but the real stuff, sordid and gruesome and rarely even half well written.

      Some time ago, I read a book about a serial killer nurse at a VA hospital back east. The name of one of the doctors on the staff who got involved in the case and later testified against her at the trial sounded awfully familiar. I asked my doctor if he was the physician mentioned in this book and he said he was. He told me that he remembers sitting at his desk in his office at the VA, one fine day, when he got an official call warning him that somebody who worked there was a serial killer. He said he was frightened. Who wouldn’t be?

      • rickflick
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:03 am | Permalink

        Lesson: what you don’t read can’t hurt you.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        That has to be the weirdest warning to get.

  3. Robert Bray
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:01 pm | Permalink


    Bruce Chatwin, ‘In Patagonia’
    Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough’ (abridged version)

    Lately finished: Neal Stephensen’s ‘Quicksilver’

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      I read ‘In Patagonia’ for the first time last year. Definitely worth a re-read. Hard to put a finger on why that “travel-log” is so mesmerizing and memorable.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:18 am | Permalink

      How do you like the Stephenson? It’s so long that I’ve hesitated to start it; on the other hand, there’s little or nothing better than “Snow Crash” and “The Diamond Age”. Thanks in advance.

      • Robert Bray
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        When I began ‘Quicksilver’ I found it dragging and intellectually pretentious. That was book One, which, however, gradually got me interested (‘Quicksilver’ is a very long novel), not so much in the characters as the representation of new science in the High Baroque (including Newton and Leibniz, who are rivals throughout the narrative, as in the history of science. Stephenson knows what he’s talking about here, and I began to like the dramatization of scientists (Royal Society!) at work and in their milieux.

        But it was Book Two that turned me inside out! The same world (more on the Continent, however, than London and Oxbridge) but the narrative had become a full-blown picaresque, a damned good one, introducing new characters of a ‘low’ order, including a real firecracker of a woman who, without social status, has the moxie to rule the world.

        The evocation of Louis Quatorze’s court at Versailles is marvelous. And Stephensen’s representation of European religious and political quarrels is marvelous.

        Very happy I stayed with it.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted June 11, 2020 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

          Cool. Thanks!

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I happen to have Why We Sleep – Unlocking the Power Of Sleep and Dreams – Matthew Walker, Ph. D.

    Not going to get all of it in. So far : meh

  5. Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Wise Blood is one of my all-time favorite novels. I am currently rereading Portnoy’s Complaint (Philip Roth) and just finished rereading The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco).

    • Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      What do you think of The Name of the Rose the second time around?

      The first time I read it, it blew me away. Te second time, I found it good but not great. (I was very young the first time I read it.)

      • Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        I’ve read it several times. I revisit books every few years. It was definitely more impressive on the first read. Eco’s writing lacks the simplicity of better writers, but once in a while I’m in the mood for Eco’s wordy style. Foucault’s Pendulum is another go-to when I’m in the mood.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

        I had a similar experience with it and Foucault’s Pendulum. Read them both when I was young and thought they were impressive. Reread them just a few years ago and found it difficult to finish them.

        • merilee
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

          Loved Name of the Rose about 30 years ago. I could not finish Foucault’s Pendulum. Love anything by Bruce Chatwin (and Rory Stewart).

          • Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

            Agree on Chatwin and Stewart.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

          Didn’t you also find that with Dune? I don’t want to re-read any of the books from my youth now. I figured I’d have the same reaction with Dune and Name of the Rose.

          • darrelle
            Posted June 10, 2020 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I did. I mean, I still enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t as “epic” as it was in my youth. I am very much looking forward to Denis Villeneuve’s Dune movie though!

            Yeah, I’ve found that many of the books I really liked when I was much younger haven’t withstood the test of time for me. It’s hard to express why. Definitely not merely because they might be simpler or juvenile. I still think quite highly of Heinlein’s juvenile novels for example. They still work for me.

            You know how people often talk about suspension of disbelief, usually in the context of technology that breaks the laws of physics as we know them? How in this case it wasn’t a problem, but in that case it was too ludicrous so they couldn’t? I often feel that way about other things in a story like social, economic, cultural and political premises. When I was young a may not have even noticed but then re-reading the story much later a premise just seems too ludicrous to take seriously and sort of ruins the story for me.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted June 10, 2020 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

              Yeah. I think you are right with suspension of disbelief. Most of the stupid 90s movies I liked I think are so foolish now. Except Die Hard. They are still good perhaps because now that I see them as foolish they are even better.

            • Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:01 am | Permalink

              With you Darrell.

          • Mark Joseph
            Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:20 am | Permalink

            Hi Diana:

            I actually read Dune at about age 18, and then again at about age 55. Loved it every bit as much the second time. I just can’t imagine it disappointing, as it’s such a great book.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted June 11, 2020 at 9:43 am | Permalink

              Oh, that’s encouraging. I read it first at about age 10 or 11 and I read it over and over throughout my youth.

      • GBJames
        Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        I was very impressed by The Name of the Rose when I read it as a young man. I found Foucault’s Pendulum tedious. I think I finished it, but it was so dull I don’t actually remember.

        • Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          Exactly my experience. I expected <TNOTR when I opened Foucault’s, and I sure didn’t get that.

  6. Ken Pidcock
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Obviously, I can’t help you in that I’m currently reading Matthew Cobb’s The Idea of the Brain. A favorite before that was Adam Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries, about the composition of the King James Bible. Fascinating and an easy read in (appropriately)beautiful English.

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      I’m on the last chapter of Matthew Cobb’s fine book. Great scholarship and a fun read with many interesting people from past to present. I couldn’t imagine tackling such a difficult and extensive topic as the human brain, but he manages with insight and finesse.

  7. Robert Seidel
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m reading two books at the moment: One is Snow by Orhan Pamuk, about the conflict of political Islam and secularism in Turkey. Maybe one of the best books about religious conflict I have read. He manages to convey the different viewpoints and how they clash extremely well.

    Second (at professor PCCs recommendation) is Watership Down. I don’t think there’s any praise I can give that hasn’t been given many times before.

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think any novel has made me cry as often and deep as Watership Down. (Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns is a close second.) I was young when I first read Watership, but at 51, I doubt I would react much differently.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 10, 2020 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        They animated Watership Down and I watched it. I thought it wasn’t bad. I remember bringing home that book from the library and my dad taking it from me because it wasn’t for children then he was annoyed because the rabbits talked. Lol

        • rickflick
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

          Your dad had a strange sense of danger. 😊

        • Mark R.
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

          I saw that in a double feature with Bakshi’s version of LOR back in 1978 or some such. Both animations of completely different styles. I was at the theater for LOR and had no idea what “Watership Down” was. I ended up liking Watership more than the LOR animation. They used a weird module of animating “real” action with real actors (in the orc sequences mostly). Just a strange mix that left me bewildered. I’m glad Peter Jackson came in to clean up the mess. I wonder if Watership could use an upgrade…with Pixar! Only kidding…but maybe a cool upgrade could work with today’s incredible technology. ?

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 10, 2020 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

            Haha I was just envisioning the Pixar version of Watership Down.

          • Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:08 am | Permalink

            Agree on the LOR movies.

            Jackson’s versions were (in my opinion) near-perfect. No one will ever do another version, in my opinion.

            On the other hand, stretching the thin story of The Hobbit into three movies pretty well wrecked those for me. They were retreads of the great LOR movies.

            • Mark R.
              Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

              Agree completely about the perfection of Jackson’s LOR movies and the abysmal Hobbit attempt.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

            [ comment might be misplaced ]

            When did it get called LOR?

            Thought it was LOTR or LOTR.

            Agree – The Hobbit movies – what happened?!

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink


  8. Joe Dickinson
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I’m in the middle of The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman. It’s not, in my opinion, in the top ranks of nature writing but it’s entertaining and loaded with “gee whiz” tidbits about bird behavior plus introductions to a lot of people studying birds and to their methods.

  9. Jenny Haniver
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    You say that you came to Flannery O’Connor late. Better late than never.

    I’m back to the Deipnosophists (in translation)of Athenaeus of Naucratis. I’ll never get through all the volumes and that’s quite fine with me. With the original text and English translation on facing pages plus extensive notes about all manner of curious things, it keeps me absorbed and learning the most amazing and ludicrous things.

  10. Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Just mowed through Melba Beal’s memoir of her experience as one of the “Little Rock Nine”
    in 1957.

    The abuse and terror that these children (and their families) were subjected to is hard to comprehend. In addition to all of the beatings and verbal intimidation, Melba actually had acid thrown in her eyes by a white student….that’s Taliban level intolerance!

    It’s a testament to what black people still had to endure in the deep South as recently as the late 50s/early 60s, and how very far we’ve come since then.

  11. Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Currently reading: Overspill by David Quammen. Excellent as all of his books are.

    Recent reads:
    Trumpocalypse, by David Frum. Excellent.

    Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose Very good, as his books are; but not spectacular.

    The Wild Blue, by Stephen Ambrose, about B-24 pilots in Europe generally and George McGovern specifically. Excellent.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Good to see someone getting into a little history. Ambrose did several good ones and those are two of them. I am reading Joseph Ellis again, American Sphinx to get yet another look at Jefferson. Ellis specializes in early American history and always makes them full of information and fun to read.

      • Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        I’ve read a lot of history. Well written history is a joy.

        I particularly enjoy ancient history (Thucydides, Caesar, Xenophon, Tacitus, etc.)

        So many good history books, don’t get me started! 🙂

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I think most of the good history writers just love what they are doing. I remember Ambrose, since he was going to write about the B-24, got behind the wheel and flew in one. Pretty hard to do since there are almost none left but he got that experience to add to the story.

          • Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:20 am | Permalink

            I fully agree. That was important to the book, for me.

            My Dad was a B-24 Navigator/Bombardier flying out of Hethel, England, at about the same time that McGovern was flying out of North Africa and Italy.

            I also really enjoy:
            David McCullough
            Stephen Ambrose
            Barbara Tuchman
            William Shirer

    • Raymond Cox
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      I strongly second the recommendation for David Quammen – his writing never fails to interest. I am currently re-reading The Song of the Dodo. Before that, Janet Browne’s excellent 2-volume biography of Darwin.

    • Jim batterson
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Looks like a good place to second (or third perhaps)david quammen’s “Spillover”. It is an earlier (2012) book than tangled tree, and as such is quite prescient. It provides a very well written (for me the general reader) and well researched/honestly presented (according to my biochem/emerging diseases professor) book that gives the big picture of zoonotic viruses such as the coronaviruses…spillover being the word used to decribe the point at which a virus crosses over from its non-human host to a first human who can then infect other humans. Other fine readings of my past couple months of quarantine include: nathan wolfe’s “the viral storm”; charlotte jacobs’ “jonas salk: a life”; and currently am about halfway along in matthew’s neuroscience history, present, and future: “the brain”; and on deck is sid mukherjee’s “the gene” based very much on my liking of his cancer, emperor of maladies book which i read a few years ago after colon cancer surgery and chemo therapy.

      • Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        I loved The Emperor of All Maladies. And it fully deserved its Pulitzer Prize.

        I found The Gene not nearly so good (sorry for the rain). I actually did not finish it. As has been broadly noted: Mukherjee is an impressive prose stylist. But in The Gene, I found him leaping and stretching too much for me.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:50 am | Permalink

          Oh yes The Emperor of All Maladies is a great book! Mukherjee is a very good writer.

  12. GBJames
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    My current book was recommended by you, PCC. Matthew’s The idea of the Brain. So, I’m afraid I won’t be much of a help. 😁

  13. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    But of course once the libraries are fully operational I’ll be into The Idea of the Brain!

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      You’re not going to help Matthew with any royalties? Shame on you! (Just kidding😜)

    • Charles Minus
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      The Idea of the Brain is available in ebook format. I can check out ebooks from my library and it’s on my list. Check out your library, some have ebooks easily available, some don’t.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 10, 2020 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

        It took 50 years for me to realize that I could read magazines electronically through the library. Ok well the technology & service wasn’t around for all that time but surely long enough that I should have taken advantage of it far earlier.

  14. EdwardM
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

    • EdwardM
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Sorry. I forgot to say why I like it. I read it when it first came out and have always liked Sherman Alexie’s voice. His prose is funny and hard, bitter and hilarious. The book is a series of short stories, partly autobiographical, reflecting the pathos, despair, humor and bravery in the life of a modern Native American.

      • Leo Glenn
        Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        I enjoy Alexie’s writing also. Reservation Blues is another great read of his, if you haven’t already read it. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, Alexie’s memoir, is also worth reading.

  15. Oliver S.
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    By the way, there’s a good movie adaptation (1979) of Wise Blood – directed by John Huston, featuring Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes.

  16. Robert Lundgren
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Here is a tree related theme:
    “Tree: A Life Story” by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady. Probably best read in a place where you are surrounded by trees as was I when I read it – a cabin in the Minnesota north woods. Follows the life cycle of a single Douglas-fir. Lots of biological detail with clear prose that kept this non-biologist reading and looking at the tree companions around me.
    “The Wild Trees” by Richard Preston. Follows a group of tree climbers on their quest to find and climb the tallest trees. Fascinating look at the climber’s personalities and tree biology/ecology.
    “The Golden Spruce: The True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed” by John Vaillant. Delves into the particular madness of a self proclaimed environmental activist, but also serves as a metaphor for the larger issue of forest destruction.
    And on a completely different note:
    “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery. Fictional story of the relationship between a central Paris building concierge and a twelve year old girl who lives in the building who has decided to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. It made me do something that I won’t disclose that I rarely do while reading a book (and I’m not talking about throwing it against the wall.)

    • Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Loved Hedgehog 🙂

    • Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      “The Golden Spruce: The True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed” by John Vaillant.

      I’m just reading the last chapter of this great book. I would never have chosen this title just for the subject; the rainforest area in British Columbia (I didn’t even know that there was rainforest in that region before I read it) and an activist who had felled the rare golden spruce in protest.
      But after I had read “The Tiger” by this author before, also a non-fiction book, about the search for a Siberian Tiger that had begun to hunt people in the Taiga. Vaillant conveys so much knowledge, in so many details, weaves so many threads and brings them together again so that one receives a complex picture, an idea and understands the background. And then he also writes so enthrallingly.
      I think he has won prizes for both books.

      • Robert Lundgren
        Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        It’s been quite a while since I read The Golden Spruce. Discovered it in Munro’s bookstore in Victoria BC during a road trip. Was unaware of The Tiger. Sounds like another one to add to the stack.

        • Posted June 11, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

          If one did not succumb already before to the fascination of the tigers, after reading ” The Tiger” one is it. It is a book one will not forget and a story you keep in your mind long time after finishing it.

  17. jezgrove
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Dipping into Italo Calvino’s short story collection Marcovaldo. They are funny and quite poignant stories about the struggles of an Italian peasant to adjust to life in the city. Marcovaldo’s efforts to recapture elements of the countryside that he misses, or to teach his children about them, usually end in comical failure.

  18. Alan Clark
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Just finished “The Vital Question” by Nick Lane.
    The story begins with the origin of life at alkaline vents under the ocean, which he explains in considerable detail. The origin of life is surely far less of a mystery than it once was!
    But then there was nothing but microbes for 2.5 billion years, until the first prokaryotic cell emerged, an event which has never happened again since. Suddenly we get all sorts of innovations – cell nuclei, linear chromosomes with junk DNA, ageing, sex, two sexes, followed eventually by multicelllular organisms.

    Highly recommended.

    • mrclaw69
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Nick Lane is *the* best writer on biochemistry and early evolution around, IMO.

      If you haven’t read Oxygen or Life Ascending, they’re both great – particularly Life Ascending. Easily one of the best books on evolution I’ve ever read. If you have then ignore this message!

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Hear hear. All Lane’s books are to be highly recommended. As a (very) ex-chemist, I found ‘The Vital Question’ utterly fascinating.

        • merilee
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          +1 on Nick Lane
          I’m in the middle of Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes, which is excellent. Saw a great interview with Yong recently on Amanpour.

        • Jim batterson
          Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          Agree! I have read and re-read vital question several times and watched several of his lectures at royal society on you tube. I have learned very much from him over the past few years, but still feel undereducated in biochem to really get it. That said i believe that any general readers will come away from the vital question much more knowledgeable and comfortable for their effort.

      • Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:21 am | Permalink

        I agree about Lane’s books, but they are _not_ easy reading.

        • Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:23 am | Permalink

          Dammit, I still have to enter my name and email address. And my comments still await moderation. I am logged into my wordpress.com account. So what gives?

          • merilee
            Posted June 11, 2020 at 9:09 am | Permalink

            I’m still having the same issues as well, John😖

            • GBJames
              Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:58 am | Permalink

              John and Merilee. Assuming you are on Safari…

              Go to Preferences/Privacy and uncheck the “Prevent cross-site tracking” check box.

              • merilee
                Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                Didn’t help…

              • Posted June 14, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                I’ve told Firefox to turn off all protections for this site. To no avail. Thanks anyway.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted June 14, 2020 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

                I’ve had to dive into the browser scene. Two I regularly use now :

                Duck Duck Go

                Brave shows lots of stuff including fingerprinting methods which WordPress can be found using.

  19. rickflick
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    The House of Owls, by Tony Angell – given to me by a good friend who knew I was currently filming a screech owl family who’d taken over the duck box in my yard.

  20. Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Rethinking Consciousness by Michael Graziano. He takes a neuroscience and computing science approach, which appeals to me a lot. He reviews the important theories of consciousness but concentrates mainly on his own “attention schema” theory, which strikes me as a good approach. He dismisses panpsychism in one paragraph, but what he had to say was interesting.

    Next up, Matthew Cobb’s The Brain. Then I’ll leave neuroscience for a while and read fiction, which for me is history and biography.

  21. Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Amazon loves you Jerry! I get far too many book ideas from your site and your readers! 🙂

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Just yesterday I bought “The Swerve” based on Barry’s “Reader’s Photos”…wasn’t even a “what are you reading” post! Good grief. But I must say, I haven’t been disappointed by Jerry’s recommendations or readers’.

      • Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        Nearly all my book I read these days comes from:
        This site
        Sam Harris’s podcasts
        Recommendations within other books derived as above


    • Robert Bray
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Please believe me: the following is not an advertisement, nor am I at all an interested party in


      It’s just in case any of the WEIT faithful, avid readers all, would rather give his or her business to a real bookshop, rather than Amazon.

      • Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        Good thought. I do almost 100% of my reading via Kindle these days.

  22. John Conoboy
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I have three books going at the moment depending on what room of the house I am in. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry, an account of the Spanish Flu epidemic, which I started long before the covid situation, then put aside, and now have been trying to finish it. Barry does a nice job of going through the history of medicine especially in the U.S. and exploring the physicians who played a big role in the pandemic response. I also am in the middle of Galileo by John L. Heilbron, a biography. It was given to me as a present a couple of years ago. It is slow going but having visited the Galileo museum in Florence a couple of years ago, it is interesting to learn more about the man. The third book I am in the middle of is The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace Wells. It is well written and informative, but a bit depressing. All three will be put aside if I get the copy of A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke that I ordered in early February when I visited one of my favorite small bookstores, Books along the Teche, in New Iberia, Louisiana. I am a fan of Burke’s novels about Dave Robicheaux-great escapist reading.

    • Tanya
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 3:24 am | Permalink

      Try The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley if you want something that is not all doom and gloom.

      • Tanya
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 3:30 am | Permalink

        Also: Inheritors of the Earth – How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction by Chris D Thomas

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      I highly recommend Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo by Stillman Drake

      It is not a biography; but rather a summary and reiteration of Galileo’s work and discoveries. Wonderful.

  23. Leo Glenn
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I have that very book (O’Connor), and enjoyed it immensely. Recently finished The Book of Eels, by Patrik Svensson. The subject was fascinating, but I found the writing to be adequate but less than inspiring, although it might have been the translation. Still a good read. The book that blew me away, however, which I just finished last night, is Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures, by Merlin Sheldrake. Incredible stories and marvelous writing. And the illustrations are drawn using ink made from the Shaggy Ink Cap Mushroom (Coprinus comatus). The author Robert Macfarlane, who wrote a blurb for the book, wrote that “Sentence after sentence stopped me short.” That was my experience also. Very highly recommended.

  24. Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    “The Surgeon’s Obol” is about a young trainee in Surgery who loses her religion when confronted with the problem of evil in medicine, when bad things happen to good people. It’s funny and poignant and would resonate with the readers of this website.

  25. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I suggest Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition by Jared Diamond
    Not a pleasant read, but interesting. Includes many studies of earlier societies brought down by ecological destruction, as well as reliance on other societies that collapsed. Relevant discussions of the problems encroaching on our world. Australia provides a sad example of the ignorant abuse of ecological systems creating a failing land, for profit. It includes an interesting comparison of neighbors Haiti and the Dominican Republic which share the same island. Haiti is stripped and destroyed with destitute people while things are in generally good shape in the Dominican Republic due to differing land use policies. In the case of our hugely interdependent world, many signs point to an eventual catastrophic large-scale collapse for the same sorts of reasons. The coronavirus epidemic has provided us with small example of the problems that can arise from interdependence.

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      I like that one, too.

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      I have enjoyed every book I’ve read by Jared Diamond.

  26. kesheck
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    The Deficit Myth, by Stephanie Kelton.

    Everyone in the U.S. and U.K. needs to read this book, in my opinion. Given what most main stream economists in the U.S. are saying about the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown, U.S. citizens in particular need to read this book.

    It could have been title, Why Everything Politicians and Most Economists Tell You About the Federal Budget Is Wrong.

    I cannot remember a book that has upended my conceptions of a topic the way this one has for economics.

  27. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I recently finished the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s LBJ biography, The Passage of Power.

    This one took me a while. (Not because of any problem with the prose; they were as good as ever — the same long, rolling, multi-clause sentences spilling across the page, punctuated by the occasional short, often inverted, declarative sentence, we’ve come to expect from Caro.)

    The first three volumes of Caro’s biography, I fairly flew through. But, whereas those volumes were pure history to me to soak in as fast as I could, this volume was living history, events about which I retain childhood memories, and as to some of which — like the JFK assassination — I’ve frequently revisited mentally (indeed, brooded upon) for the rest of my life. I found I had to put this volume down every few pages as the memories of those events, and the memories of the reactions to those events by the adults around me, and the memories of my own re-thinking and re-re-thinking of those events, came flooding back.

    The volume essentially starts with what is my earliest political memory — the 1960 Democratic convention that nominated the Kennedy/Johnson ticket. I was seven years old at the time and had, I suppose, a bit of a precocious interest in politics. My parents indulged it by letting me stay up to watch the convention coverage on tv for another half hour or so each night up after they put my kid siblings to bed. The night JFK was nominated, my parents lay down, each on a portion of the sectional couch in our living room, to watch it with me, and promptly fell fast asleep. I stayed up and watched the whole thing myself — the nominating speeches, the adults on the floor acting like children with their straw boaters and placards and goofy songs and balloons streaming down, the whole shebang. My folks didn’t wake up and hustle me off to the sack until it was all over, the national anthem had played, and the tone that accompanied the test pattern finally woke them up.

    I also happened to see then-senator John Kennedy in person about a month later, while he was campaigning against Nixon for the presidency, when he drove down the street in front of my grade school and the nuns let us go out to have a look. He came by sitting atop the backseat of a convertible, sans Jackie. I remember thinking he was very tan — although, looking back at it now, I’m not sure whether it was the late-summer rays he’d caught on Cape Cod or the medication for his Addison’s disease that made him so.

    Caro’s volume takes Lyndon Johnson through his unhappy, powerless years as Kennedy’s vice-president, his ascension to the presidency on the heels of the assassination, and his early victories pushing through JFK’s stalled legislative agenda. It’s leitmotif it the bitter blood-hatred between LBJ and Bobby Kennedy. These were years that had a profound effect on my nation, on my generation, and on me personally — an effect that I’m not sure any of us has ever yet fully come to grips with.

    • Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Thank you. Your writing is beautiful. I doubt that I will ever be able to read Robert Caro’s LBJ biography as a result of how I reacted to LBJ for various reasons after the death of JFK. I was one year too young to vote for JFK, but I still vividly remember sitting on the living room floor with tears streaming down my face while watching news coverage of his assassination. I don’t think any of us who lived through that time will forget it or outlive the long term effects and aftereffects.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      “Its leitmotif is …”

    • Posted June 10, 2020 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I’ve read all four volumes, absolutely mesmerized. Caro is a phenomenon, and his book The Power Broker, about Robert Moses, is a masterpiece.

      Like all Caro addicts, I know he works slowly, and hope that he finishes the last volume before he kicks off.

  28. Eduardo
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Reading “A Taste for the Beautiful”, subtitle: The evolution of attraction, by Michael Ryan. Very nice book for the general public but with good info on how “beauty” (visual, acoustic and olfactory) has evolved. I find an analogy between this topic and mimicry. Perhaps you can suggest a couple good books on mimicry.

  29. David Fuqua
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    At the moment I am reading Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, which is classified as magical realism. It reminds me of works by Thomas Pynchon more than by Gabriel García Márquez, whose One Hundred Years of Solitude is magnificent.

    I recently finished Woody Allen’s autobiography, Apropos of Nothing, which I thought was very funny and clearly stated his position about the child abuse allegations leveled against him by Mia Farrow. I think CeilingCat is correct that Woody is done as a filmmaker.

    • Posted June 10, 2020 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      I’d also recommend Cat and Mouse and especially Dog Years, which make a trilogy with the Tin Drum. I’d forgotten how much I loved the book you recommended.

  30. mrclaw69
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Chris Browning’s Ordinary Men about Police Battalion 101 during the Holocaust. Also re-reading (for the umpteenth time) Russell Miller’s excellent biography of L Ron Hubbard, “Bare-Faced Messiah”. Truly one of the most bonkers books I’ve ever read. I cannot recommend it enough. The Church of Scientology’s hagiographies of Hubbard are preposterous and unbelievable, but the true story of Hubbard’s life is even more insane. He’s a bizarre mixture of Adolf Hitler, PT Barnham, the Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh, J Edgar Hoover, Walter Mitty and Donald Trump. Just an astounding story. Also, the story behind the writing of the book is mad: the Scientologists tried to frame Miller with multiple murders and arson to prevent it from being published.

  31. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I suggest Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition by Jared Diamond
    Not a pleasant read, but interesting. Many studies of earlier societies brought down by ecological destruction, as well as reliance on other societies that collapsed. Relevant discussions the problems encroaching on our world. Australia provides a sad example of the ignorant abuse of ecological systems creating a failing land, for profit. It includes an interesting comparison of neighbors Haiti and the Dominican Republic which share the same island were Haiti is stripped and destroyed with destitute people while things are in generally good shape in the Dominican Republic due to differing land use policies. In the case of our interdependent world many signs point to an eventual catastrophic large-scale collapse for the same sorts of reasons.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      As I remember, Collapse was written before global warming was a big issue – though I think he mentions it. I suspect GW will be the death knell if it does end up as collapse.

  32. BobTerrace
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    My last 2 books were:

    The Idea of the Brain,
    The Past and Future of Neuroscience
    by Matthew Cobb

    Some Assembly Required,
    Decoding Four Billion Years of Life form Ancient Fossils to DNA
    by Neil Shubin

    My current book is:

    She Has Her Mother’s Laugh,
    The Powers, Perversions and Potential of Heredity
    by Carl Zimmer

    My next book is:

    The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst
    by Robert Sapolsky

    • merilee
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      I’m very slowly making my way through Behave and vol.1 of Caro’s LBJ opus. Not so slowly working through Barry Unsworth’s The Quality of Mercy, sequel to his Sacred Hunger (neither one is remotely religious; historical fiction on US/English slave trade, beautifully written) and Girl, Woman, Other, recent Booker winner by Bernardine Evaristo.
      And still very slowly working my way through Proust.

  33. Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    The Red and the Black, by Stendahl.

  34. Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    It’s not very useful for avoiding real world bad news, but I’m currently reading Al Qaeda 2.0: A Critical Reader (ed. Donald Holbrook). This is the final of a ‘trilogy’ I’ve been reading, the others being The ISIS Reader and the Al-Qaeda Reader. It’s for research, I’m not being indoctrinated! They’re collections of writings, speeches, etc from the leaders of those organisations past and present, which chart the evolution of the groups and jihad in general. It’s tiresome at times, reading Ayman al-Zawahiri ranting about the Crusaders and the Jews for example, but undeniably interesting.

    For more of a distraction, before embarking on the aforementioned books, I read Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, which is short and excellent, entertaining but deep, evocative of Cuba and Havana on the brink of revolution and also quite funny in its satire of the British Secret Service. It’s also moving. But overall, it’s a nice diversion.

  35. hectorburleeives
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Having run out of Dickens’s novels to read –at least to read for the first time — and pacing myself with P.G. Wodehouse so as not to get too much of a good (wonderful)thing too fast, I’m halfway through Anthony Trollope’s “The Way We Live Now,” which I knew nothing about and about which I didn’t realize until I was well into it that a startling comparison has been drawn between the character Melmotte and our Dear Leader. It was a lengthy passage, well toward the middle of the novel, describing Melmotte that made the author’s prescience about our current real-life antagonist jump off the page at me. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see it sooner.

  36. J.Pitre
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Just started “The Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf and rereading “One River” by Wade Davis. I’m excited how Wulf evokes Humboldt’s passion for science and the exploration of nature. If you’ve not read the Davis book, it includes a fascinating story about the work of ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes for the U.S government to secure sources of rubber for the war effort.

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      I loved Wulf’s book through all of Humboldt’s travels and then totally bogged down when she got him safely ensconced back in Europe. 😦

  37. revelator60
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I am reading two books. The serious book is the “Selected Letters” of Seneca, which I find less heavy going than his Essays. However, reading these reminds me that I have more affinity with the Epicureans than the Stoics. Stoicism insists on the “virtuous” man being able to conquer whatever fortune throws at him by essentially deadening himself. I prefer a philosophy that encourages people to get the best out of life. Stoicism is great for stuffed shirts.

    My other book is far more lowbrow. “Batman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 6” collects every Batman comic published between March 1948 and November 1949. Superhero comics at this time were really children’s literature at best, but this collection has some noirish post-war stories. The highlight is a grim tale where Batman confronts his parents’ killer. Dick Sprang, the greatest Golden Age Batman artist, illustrates many of the stories. This volume also features the introductions of the Riddler, the Mad Hatter, and Vicki Vale.

  38. Paul Beard
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m so glad to see this post and the recommendations of readers. The last book I read that was mentioned here was Galileo’s Error by Philip Goff and I need some recovery reading now.

  39. Debra Coplan
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I have just started reading “Invisible” by science writer Philip Ball.
    It is a history of the invisible, or unseen.
    It is about the human fascination and suspicion of what we cannot see.
    It begins talking about the invisibility cloaks and caps we see in medieval myth. (I have only read up to this point.)
    According to the book jacket, the author will investigate the idea of ghosts, spirits and psychic forces. He will investigate the use of magicians during WWII by the military to hide tanks and ships.
    The book will go into the dawn of nuclear physics and dark matter.
    Because of our suspicion and desire to know the unseen, we have been spurred on in our imagination and human inventions.
    Unfortunately, I have not read very much so far.

  40. Steve Pollard
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I have been re-reading Robert MacFarlane. ‘Mountains of the Mind’ is still a very good read, but ‘The Old Ways’ is superb. An evocative account of ancient paths (most on land, some over water), in beautiful and elegant prose.

    Also very slowly re-reading Joyce, trying to concentrate on the nuances of the language instead of treating his books like page-turners. Rewarding.

    • jezgrove
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      Robert MacFarlane is always excellent. In The Old Ways he passes within about a mile of where I’m sitting now!

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      I will have to try the Old Ways again. He did not grab me the first time. Not sure why.

      Maybe it’s the 7 Pillars of Wisdom effect. I recommend people skip the first 100 pages (of navel-gazing) in T. E Lawrence and start when he lands in Jeddah. Then the story takes off.

  41. dd
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    First, Dr. Coyne, O’Connor is not a great Southern writer, she is among the best writers, especially short stories, of her time.

    I am reading the best-seller “Sapiens”….interesting and reads quickly.

    I highly recommend Douglas Murray’s “The Madness of Crowds”, a superbly written analysis of identity politics and their effect on life and society. Extremely elegant and perceptive writing.

    My longer-term reading project is the magisterial, “Slavery and Social Death” by Orlando Patterson. Probably the keystone book on slavery.

    Now, for a fragile question, Has anyone here read “White Fragility”? Your thoughts,please.

    • Posted June 10, 2020 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      Yes, yes, but of those writers identified as Southern, I’d put her in the top two. And of course she’s one of the best American writers, though I’m not sure I’d put her in the top two. But certainly in the top five.

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      agree on Madness of Crowds. Loved it.

      Strongly recommend Lukianoff’s and Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind. Loved it.

  42. DrBrydon
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I am on the seventh novel of the Rivers of London series, which I learned about from the last book thread. When I finish the next one (on the way), then I will go back to Edmund Morgan’s The Stamp Act Crisis.

  43. Posted June 10, 2020 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Due to U.S. politics, the pandemic, and the George Floyd murder by police and its’ consequences, my reading has been affected (as in no reading).

    I just recently started “The Speculative Fiction of Mark Twain”, a selection of short stories published between 1862 and 1962. As a result of delving back into my own history (several months ago) in re WWII, Portland, OR, Kaiser Shipyards, chronic racism in Oregon, etc. I somehow ended up with a cookbook by MFK Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf”, published in 1942 with recipes and suggestions for the cook facing wartime food shortages.

    I think I own almost all of Mark Twain’s writings but know I haven’t read them all…
    yet. Having never read MFK Fisher before, I recently ordered five more of her books.
    And, as a result of John McWhorter’s name
    being mentioned in this blog, and my familiarity with him only in connection with linguistics, I’ve ordered four of his books that deal with black experience and black language. I will try to learn that “bad” black language is not as “bad” as I have thought it was.

  44. Bilby
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I’m re-reading stuff at the moment. Don’t know if he’s been mentioned further up the thread but if you want someone whose style is the opposite of sparse and dry then there’s always Anthony Burgess. PCC might enjoy ‘Earthly Powers’

  45. Joseph Kosiner
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I love history, particularly military history. Extraordinary writing cam bring history to life. John Keegan is one exceptional writer with his ability to put a face on war. His histories of World War I and II are must reads. Rick Atkinson is another exceptional writer. He has completed a World War II trilogy and is working on a history of the American Revolution. His writing brings events of the period to life. He also is able to put a face on conflict and his books are generally real “page turners”.

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Yes! I love Keegan. I should have noted him at 11, above.

  46. Marilee Lovit
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Recently re-read Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. I loved this in my young adulthood, and love it again now. Am reading some history in Spanish, La Resistencia Indigena Ante La Conquista. Also have been reading Walt Whitman.

  47. Jenny Haniver
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    This post reminds me that I’ve must find some S.J. Perelman on Amazon or in a local used bookshop (when the open – but I can’t wait that long, so Amazon tonight).

    I recently heard one of his short stories read on “Selected Shorts,” which I almost never listen to but turning the dial (my radio has a dial)this past weekend, I caught a couple of sentences of his short story “Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer,” a wicked satire on noir detective fiction, and I was hooked. Here’s the reading if anyone wants to listen – first story https://omny.fm/shows/selected-shorts/more-funny-favorites-from-andy-borowitz. (All the stories are enjoyable but I like the first and last best.)

    Now I want to read everything I can find of Perelman but much is out of print — a crying shame.

    • hectorburleeives
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      Excellent choice. Mr. Perelman’s vocabulary is remarkable. His stories, like those of Wodehouse, make me laugh out loud.

  48. Posted June 10, 2020 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    What a trove of wonderful recommendations! Perhaps Trump will take up reading in jail.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

      But he can’t read. He’s so enamored of himself that all he’d need is a mirror so that he can read his own lips.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 10, 2020 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

        It’s because he starts reading but gets distracted by his own refection in the mirror.

        He’s basically this cliché cheesie pop song including the lack of the subjunctive.

        Who’s that sexy thang I see over there?
        That’s me, standin’ in the mirror
        What’s that icy thang hangin’ ’round my neck?
        That’s gold, show me some respect (oh ah)
        I thank God every day (uh huh)
        That I woke up feelin’ this way (uh huh)
        And I can’t help lovin’ myself
        And I don’t need nobody else, nuh uh
        If I was you, I’d wanna be me too
        I’d wanna be me too
        I’d wanna be me too
        If I was you, I’d wanna be me too
        I’d wanna be me too
        I’d wanna be me too

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted June 11, 2020 at 1:01 am | Permalink

          Ha ha! That’s The Donald.

      • Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        So true. And he doesn’t listen either. But I note our host mentioned avoiding politics on this post, so I’ll avoid carrying on 😋

  49. max blancke
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    I tend to read several books at once. I have them stashed in various places, and read when I can.
    I just finished Theodore Roosevelt’s “Naval War of 1812”, which is very thorough, but assumes the reader is fully acquainted with the tactics and terminology of early 19th century maritime and military forces.

    I am also finishing up “Fire on the Mountain”, by John Maclean, which is part of his series of books on notable wildfires. Sort of a niche subject, but one I am interested in.

    While driving, I have been listening to “World War Z”, by Max Brooks. I find that light fiction is easier to make time for in the car.

    I still have “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” sitting on my desk, which I dug out when Dr. Coyne mentioned being unable to obtain it from the library.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

      World War Z the movie is t too bad because mostly Brad Pitt running. If you like it, try reading The Girl with All the Gifts. It blew me away with the writing style. The ending was stupid.

      • Max Blancke
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think the WWZ film and book have much in common at all. I did see and read (the short story) of GWATG, which was an interesting take.

        One of my particular eccentricities is a deep interest in how people recognize and deal with serious crises. I guess that ties the fire books and the zombie books together. I have had some experiences where letting my awareness get a little behind the timeline would have probably gotten me killed. Rather than developing PTSD, I just got really into the subject.

    • merilee
      Posted June 10, 2020 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      I’ve got Bloodlands in waiting too. Toooo many good books!

  50. J Cook
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Carlo D’Este’s bio’s of Eisenhower and Patton and his histories of WWII.
    Patrick O’Brian, Aubrey/Maturin stories about life aboard sailing warships and ‘other stuff’ during the Neopolonic Wars.
    C.S Foreser, Hornblower stories, same period
    Freeman Dyson, ‘Maker of Patterns’, bio. through letters.
    Dyson, ‘Origins of Life’.
    Rebecca Neuberger Goldstein, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God; A Work of Fiction’. What a read!

  51. Jake
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    George Saunders. “Tenth of December: Stories” and the novel “Lincoln in the Bardo.” Amazing writing with an immense emotional punch and great range, from hard and desolate reality to dream-like and fantastical scenes. My words don’t count. Just read him, he’s amazing!

  52. George Manitowabi
    Posted June 10, 2020 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Tardy to the party, but alas…

    I’m in the middle of a collection of Shirley Jackson stories (putting off the doorstop on my shelf that is Peter Wilson’s ‘The Holy Roman Empire’). I sensed a bit of a parallel with her and O’Connor from Jerry’s description. I haven’t read much O’Connor other than ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ (Even being a Cormac McCarthy reader, that story made me go ‘oof’!)

    Jackson’s stories, while not violent (so far), seem to deal with that uneasy hidden side of what most folks would call normal life. The loneliness of a harried housewife, silent judgemental townspeople, and their subtle and not-so-subtle casual racism are all depicted in these short stories. I didn’t do well in English class, so I’m probably missing a lot of symbolism and Very Important Themes in the stories, but they do make me think.

    Well, this was a rambler. Be excellent to each other.

  53. Mark Joseph
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    I promise (maybe) not to bore everyone with the huge amount of science fiction that I read.

    Non-fiction, though:
    Currently re-reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, which is my all-time favorite non-fiction book.

    Before that was God’s Brothel, an absolutely terrifying look at polygamy in fundamentalist mormonism, and its effects on the women, who are valued only for the child a year they are supposed to produce, while living in absolute poverty and squalor.

    OK, maybe just one SF…
    Gregory Benford’s Cosm, as well as reading like a high-octane thriller, is also the best fictional depiction I’ve ever seen of actual working scientists; Benford himself is a professor of physics, and in addition to the subculture of science, he has much to say, most of it very funny, about campus culture in general, and PC-mania in particular. Highly recommended.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Added Cosm to my list! I seem to be all about fiction these days, especially Science Fiction. I went through a stage of doing all just non fiction & now it’s the opposite.

  54. Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    Along with a half-dozen more technical books I am currently reading (physics and neurosciences), I am in the middle of Niall Ferguson’s “Civilization: The west and the rest”. You might describe it as a capitalist’s answer to “Guns, germs and steel”. Be that as it may, it is an interesting take on the same question Diamond asks in his book: Why the west won out (at least temporarily) over the rest? Unlike Diamond, who starts 10K years ago, Ferguson looks at history only since the opening of the Americas and the sea routes from Europe to Asia. Rather than a linear or national history, he groups subjects intwo six categories: competiton, science, property (I told you he was a capitalist), medicine, consumption and work. He discusses the history of each category since about 1500. Many interesting insights. Highly recommended whatever your political colors.

  55. Posted June 11, 2020 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    I’m currently rereading The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman.

    It’s the story of what happens when you do archaeology in an area without any preconceptions about what happened in that area. i.e. what happens if you dig up old ruins without the preconception that the Bible must be true.

    Readers of this web site won’t be surprised to find out that it concludes that all the history related in the Bible up to and including David and Solomon is fiction. However, after that, there is evidence that the two Kingdom history in the Bible is broadly true although heavily spun.

    The book is now more than twenty years old, so, if anybody has any recommendations about books that bring the story up to date, I’d appreciate it.

  56. Pim Wiersinga
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Mr. Coye, for a vivid and insightful introduction to a writer I have been meaning to read; a category that ‘outvolumes’ the novels I have actually read. Much appreciated… as is your candor.

  57. Pim Wiersinga
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    I’d like sing the praises of the virtues called rereading. Any great work; but ‘First Love’ by Ivan Turgenev specifically.
    Acquainting myself with this novella at an early age, I identified entirely with the youthful narrator; a lonely adolescent who moves with his rather aloof parents to the glum outskirts of 19th century Moscow. In an adjacent edifice, an abandoned wall-paper factory, dwells dazzling Zinaida with her uncouth mother (a ‘princess’ of sorts, this being Czarist Russia). Zinaida, who is largely left to her devices, receives various men: suitors & connaisseurs vying for her good graces. Soon the boy is admitted to her charmed circle… In brief, I read *First Love* in the most straightforward manner, dreaming up my very own magical Zinaida.
    Decades later, I reread the book; against the grain of its young & intolerable foolish narrator. No magic surrounds Zinaida now; at the very best a sort of tragic grandeur. And wit, that too; yet never does she rise above the rueful drabness of her surroundings (And how could she? Turgenevs ruthless realism is commendable). This time around I read the tale of the heroine herself, and I marveled at her generosity of spirit when she scrutinizes the boy’s face, saying ‘Strange… so alike; and yet so unlike, how can that be…?’
    I hadn’t missed this moment when I first read Turgenev’s novella, but perceived it as a cruel act of whimsicality on Zinaida’s part; just as the naive narrator somewhat masochistically perceives it himself. But I sure had missed the point: that she–against all likelihood–durst not open herself to her budding love for that boy; because he was a boy AND because she fell fatally for the brute who owns her; not one of those fawning or cynical suitors, but the novella’s invisible antagonist: the boy’s own father.

    • Pim Wiersinga
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      Line 1: virtues ==> *virtue*
      second paragraph, line 2: intolerablY

  58. Jason
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry, English professor here. The Catholicism in O’Connor’s works is deeply weird. Basically, she presents a world of grotesque darkness where the predominant version of Christianity is what she sees as an intellectually-vacuous form of bourgeois Protestantism. The reader, presented with such horrors, is supposed to come to the conclusion that only Catholicism can save us from such an awful world.

    And I’ll be honest, if someone hadn’t taught me that in grad school, I’m not sure if I’d have ever figured it out, because you’re right that it’s mostly not clear in her stories. It becomes a little clearer in her novel Wise Blood, but I’ve always felt that her work fails in her stated goal of bringing people to Catholicism, much as it succeeds in the other aspects you discussed.

  59. Joe Baldassano
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I am about midway through the book Evolving Brains Emerging Gods (Early Humans and the Origins of Religion) by E. Fuller Torrey. I highly recommend this book. From what I have ascertained so far, this book sets forth a rather interesting, and highly plausible, hypothesis on why and how Homo sapiens created gods. Fascinating read!

  60. Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    We recently finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Odd and I think very good. (Pet peeve: Will I ever get to read a book cover that says, “Now a minor motion picture!”?)

    Although I’ve read some serious books lately (e.g. Diamond’s Collapse, mentioned above), lately I’m very much into my usual escapist fiction: Mystery novels. Actually, as a severe introvert with little understanding of humans, I learned a lot of what I know about society by reading the detailed descriptions of daily life in various cultures that are necessary for a good mystery novel to hide the clues. Who would I recommend? Dorothy Sayers best(!), Elizabeth George, Michael Connelly, Tony Hillerman and his daughter continuing the series — oh, I could go on ad nauseum, but you’d like to read about better literature I’m sure, so I’ll stop.

  61. Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    All I can manage to read are most of the daily posts by our dear professor on WEIT, as well as this book about dahlias I bought for my daughter. It’s filled with gorgeous photos and useful info on how to grow these showpieces. That’s what I’m deeply immersed in this spring, summer and fall – flower and veggie gardening! Hardly have time to pee.
    See for yourself from the ‘look inside’ this book:

  62. merilee
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Now that, thanks to Greg James, I can post more easily, I would like to rave about biologist Sean Carroll’s The Serengeti Rules.

  63. Posted June 17, 2020 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I am reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi.

  64. Posted June 18, 2020 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Recently read A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry, which I rather enjoyed. It’s a gritty story set in the harsh conditions of the American West in the Nineteenth century. It’s told from the POV of a captured native American girl, with some terrific insights into raw racism countered by real tenderness from other characters. I was in awe of Barry’s apparent deep understanding of the culture and background to his story, which is apparently a sort of sequel to a previous novel of his. He’s an Irishman. How would he know so much about life in the wild west? I guess the answer is simply research, but immersive research, which makes for a compelling story, of a kind that I would probably not normally pick up.

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