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January Reading

January is almost over and it's been a month of nothing but fiction, my favorite kind of reading. I do have a non-fiction book on my nightstand and I'm about half way through it, but it is the fiction that has been dominating my time.

I thought it would be fun if I explained how I came to read these particular books with the expectation that some of you will share your current reading, and the decision making process that went with it.

Here's the list:

I started with Stephen King. I don't particularly care for the horror genre but I like short stories and so decided to give it a go. I was particularly taken by King's use of time in the story The Gingerbread Girl.

Last year I read a Christine Falls a novel by Banville writing under the name of Benjamin Black, it's a crime novel thriller that is extremely well written. A review I read mentioned Banville's most notable book The Sea a Booker Prize winner in 2005 and that did it, I was into my second book for the year.

An email from a reader noting that Stalin's Ghost was on my to read list, and how much she enjoyed it catapulted it to my next choice. I've read most of Martin Cruz Smith's books and have liked them all.

The Edgar Allen Poe was spurred by an article in the Guardian pointing out that it was Poe that was the primary source of the Detective genre.

Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping was a choice based on a strong recommendation from John Baker a pretty damn good writer in his own right. I liked his novel Shooting in the Dark

Clothes on Their Backs: A Novel was a spur of the moment decision based on a review in one of the book blogs I visit, and the book was well worth the time I took reading it.

The final book on the list came as a result of two factors: one It was free on the Kindle. Some authors, wisely I believe, are offering some of their early books for free. The idea, I suppose, is to seek out new readers, and giving away a book or two electronically really costs them nothing and may very well snag some new fans. It was that as well as a pretty good review by Stephen King that hooked me.

So there you have it: why I read what I read, and now tell me your story.



it seems strange to me that the "favorite kind of reading" of a hard core rationalist, a believer in scientific method as the be-all end-all etc., a dedicated blogger whose blog is largely dedicated to entertaining and reinforcing people who feel the same way, such as yourself, norm, would be- fiction?

you don't have to convince me of the delights of fiction, and i'm well aware of fiction's unique effectiveness as a delivery system for truth (tm), but your actually liking fiction more than non-fiction is interesting to me.

any thoughts?

We need to keep make believe where it belongs, but in its place it is a wonderful thing.

yeah, but i would think where it belongs is second place to, um, the study of "facts". as much as i love fiction, and as much as i've learned from it, i'd hesitate to say i enjoy reading it more than i enjoy reading non-fiction. yet the normbot does not hesitate. curious.

what is that that jesus is holding in your icon? a ferret?

It's the obamified version of my old Icon, which was Jesus holding a velociraptor.

I get your point, and Norm has said that he does read a great deal of the Non-fiction, but I also think a personal philosophy that dedicates you to fact based thinking doesn't require that you read enough non-fiction to be fully versed in every science. Certainly most religious folks are not fully committed to knowing every rule of their religious tradition.

Certainly most religious folks are not fully committed to knowing every rule of their religious tradition.

i would disagree with this statement. i think being "fully committed" etc. is in direct proportion to "religiosity". and usually, the less "fully committed", the more rationally approachable.

I see your point, but I also think that an artist can be just as committed to a rational view of the world as physicist.

It's the obamified version of my old Icon, which was Jesus holding a velociraptor.

what, that's supposed to be obama he's holding? couldn't tell. or is the jesus figure supposed to be obama? that would make sense. obama holding a ferret. i could write a book about that. :)

ah. i was (and still am) unfamiliar with the "iconic poster" referred to. is it better than the farah fawcett one?

I also think a personal philosophy that dedicates you to fact based thinking doesn't require that you read enough non-fiction to be fully versed in every science.

didn't even imply that. rather, that a person with such a personal philosophy would (should) get more enjoyment out of non-fiction.

it's enjoyment that's the issue here. for me.

It is certainly as you say its effectiveness in getting at the truth, though if you look at my choices it is also obvious that it is for the shear entertainment it provides. It's not that I don't read non-fiction I probably read more of it than many of those who restrict their reading only or mostly to non-fiction.

Mine may be a contrarian view, but I think fiction belongs front and center.

so you don't have any more to say about this:

it seems to me that non-fiction leaves more to the imagination- a key point for me when chosing desert island reading.


To say more would be interesting and it is a discussion worth pursuing but being the lazy fuck I am and realizing it would eat into my reading time I'll take a pass for now.

i'll give an example. my two favorite authors are kurt vonnegut (fiction) and annie dillard (non-fiction). they're both packed with facts, and also "truth" (some of it arguable in both cases). but if it came down to a desert island choice, i'd go with dillard in a heartbeat.

so, another quandary: it seems to me that non-fiction leaves more to the imagination- a key point for me when chosing desert island reading.

In the deserted island scenario, I always choose the survival guide. Something about the edible botanicals section that keeps me coming back.


annie dillard actually has a lot to say about that, she's a naturalist.

edible botanicals are actually one of my major areas of interest. i used to live in a cave, you know. what, you don't know? i iz a multidimenzunal prznalty. :)

That's why I watch man Vs Wild.

I didn't know you lived in a cave.

it's true. and a fact, as well.

I'd go with Vonnegut on a desert island any day.

realizing it would eat into my reading time

and thus you remain my hero, norm. :)

re: poe my favorite poe story isn't easy to find. i've seen at least 2 anthologies that don't include it. but if you can locate "the imp of the perverse", i gaurantee it'll be worth your while. it's only about 3 pages long, but packed with juicy goodness. :)

The Imp of the Perverse was certainly worth the time. I checked and moments later I had a copy on my Kindle. So here we have a bit of Raskalnikov, and I'll bet if we visit your cave you have a sign outside reading herein resides Jonathan Becker Imp of the Perverse Thanks for the suggestion I hadn't read that before.

you're welcome. that kindle thingy sounds pretty awesome.

i don't live in the cave anymore. i had it set up so nice that after i left it was taken over for use as a classroom by some group of weird mystics. if you showed up there today at midnight, you'd probably find a bunch of spooky looking people in various biblical/arab garb studying kaballa by candlelight.

wtf. i love my new icon but this is ridiculous. sorry. i think that always happens when i try to post at the same time that you're screwing around with the blog at your end.

All 4 Rabbit novels, whose creator we remember today with tear on grizzled cheek.

I just finished a book that I never would have selected for myself (which is why I belong to a book club in the first place) - Terry Pratchett's Making Money.

I almost never read sci-fi or fantasy but this book was fabulous -over 20 characters with sufficient (albeit brief in some instances) description for full technicolor (or I should say HD at this juncture) visualization.

And the social commentary is brilliant, razor sharp, hilarious and ever so timely. Here's part of a wonderful exchange discussing what money represents in a world where the financial system is still based on the gold standard:

"I read somewhere that the coins represent a promise to hand over a dollar's worth of gold," said Moist helpfully.

Mr. Bent steepled his hands in front of his face and turned his eyes upward, as though praying.

"In theory, yes," he said after a few moments. "I would prefer to say that it is a tacit understanding that we will honor our promise to exchange it for a dollar's worth of gold, provided we are not, in point of fact, asked to."

"So ... it's not really a promise?"

"It certainly is, sir, in financial circles. It is, you see, about trust".

Now I have to start on the rest of his Discworld series.

The most recent book I read was "A Corpse in the Koryo" by James Church. It's a murder mystery set in North Korea. I can't remember exactly where I heard about it, but I jotted it down since I have lived in South Korea for 5 years and was interested in it because it was set on the other side of the DMZ. James Chuch is apparently a pen name, and the author was an actual intelligence agent with lots of experience in North Korea, so I figured it would be some reflection into NK society at the same time as being entertainment. I enjoyed it a lot. Today I started reading "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman and had a hard time putting it down.

I had quite an interesting reading list this month, so far.

1) The End of the Affair - Graham Greene

(I rarely re-read books this days, but I'm working on a story that reading this book seems to fuel, and I think it might be my favorite book, so...)

2) A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway

(My wife got me this for Christmas and it was a delightful read. It felt like short stories, but it was great.)

3) The Garden of Eden - Ernest Hemingway

(I said that I rarely re-read books, but this was a re-read... I hadn't read it since I'd first gotten married and I was astounded to see what 8 years of marriage had done to my understanding of the book. I picked it up because I felt like more Hemingway after A Moveable Feast.)

4) The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

(I read this to my kids.)

5) The Complete Short Stories by Graham Greene

(I read this on my commute on the Trax. Usually one or two at a time. I just really like Graham Greene)

6) American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis

(My brother insisted and bought me a copy. He usually has reasonable taste, so I figured why not.)

And I'm about to start:

7) Conversations with Woody Allen

(This is a gift I bought my brother for Christmas that I am now borrowing back...)

I read most everything Hemingway wrote in the 60s and 70s. I don't often reread because my list of what I want to read before I kick it is long. But, I may have to make an exception for Ernest, I love the way he writes. I have Graham Greene's short stories on my Kindle and have been meaning to get to them. Who was that said so many books, so little time. Make time to read job one.

My favorite short in the book was perhaps the shortest...

"The Blue Film"...

In all that Norm, you didn't say how you liked the books.

I enjoyed them all. None of them will find a place on the best of the best, but they were all solid reads. I got pretty much what I expected and enjoyed my January reading.

old post, so i don't know if you'll read this, but how many pages, norm, do you read a day, and how many pages do you usually read in an hour (i know it will vary between book, but on average)?

It depends if I'm reading fiction or non-fiction. I probably read about 100 pages an hour. A little more if it's formulaic fiction and somewhat less if it's more serious literature. I have no idea with non-fiction though, there too there is a wide variance between non-fiction written for general audiences and more weighty material. My familiarity with the topic also plays a big role with the non-fiction. I try to read a couple of hours a day, not counting the stuff I read on the web and magazines I subscribe to. I get grumpy when other activities cut into my reading time. But life is more than a good book, or so they say.

I am now in the middle of Black Boy, by Richard Wright. Interesting, though it can get annoying that he gives little sense of time in his tales. It is written simply, I think even for the 1940s, though it makes it easy to digest.

Before that I did The Question of God by Armand Nicholi. I didn't read any reviews, so I thought it would be more worthwhile than it actually was. Nicholi is heavily biased toward Lewis, but it was easy to separate the good information from the bullshit. I almost put it away before finishing, but I was hoping he would have something meaningful to say with regard to the question of suffering. I was disappointed, but not surprised.

Before that was American Prometheus. I did this one because my wife was reading it. Very informative, but I got the impression the book was simply an argument for the injustice of the inquisition our government put Oppenheimer through.

I read non-fiction for the most part, although I will read anything Stephen King writes. I have to admit my choice in reading material hinges on the cost. Most of my consumption is through audiobooks, and most are downloaded to circumvent the publishers, so my choices are limited almost exclusively to those. I will buy a book though, I am constantly looking for good things to read on Amazon, and The Question of God I purchased off the site. I have found however that if it is worthwhile, someone usually copies and shares it.


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