Books and Reading Parent | Books and Reading: 2003 »

December 26, 2002

Reading Season

I didn't need any additional reading material for Christmas, I have books on my list of must reads to keep me busy for years, but the list has never kept me from impulse reading. So I was thrilled when I received as gifts John Updike's latest Seek My Face and Michael Chabon's Summerland as gifts, and now some great lists bound to trigger an impulse or two. Books of the Year from the Guardian Many great categories my personal favorite was from Personal Best with recommendations from writers from Jeffrey archer to John Updike....

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November 24, 2002


A simple story of love, hope and despair, of innocence lost. I love the way MacClaverty describes Ireland. An Ireland that could easily be mistaken for a 19th Century Landscape, but for a can of coke and a modern understanding of epilepsy. It is a perfect setting for the story of Brother Sebastian (Michael Lamb), and twelve-year old Owen Kane. A story that tugs at your heart, from despair to hope. From Ireland to England and back to the place we all find ourselves in at times with no good solutions. I enjoyed McClaverty's writing in his short story collection "Walking the Dog," and he has convinced me he is also adept at longer works. Recommended, and thank you Steve Himmer for suggesting I would enjoy this, I did....

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November 15, 2002

Visions of Sugar Plums

"Visions of Sugar Plums" is the latest novel by Janet Evanovich. A scant 149 pages that manage to cover the most essential themes of a Stephanie Plum story. Like a pie in the face one never tires of seeing Stephanie's car get destroyed yet again. It wouldn't be a Plum story if that were missing. Sparky, not the Florida electric chair is Grandmas new Stud Muffin discovered at the usual haunt, Stiva's Funeral Parlor. Valerie locks herself in the bathroom. Lulu teaches Stephanie a bit about Christmas shopping. It is a holiday novel with the approaching Christmas being the thread the storyline hangs on. It begins when Diesel, no not Van Diesel a new male character appears in Stephanie's kitchen through locked doors. Is it magic? It seems that Diesel has skills not even Ranger possesses. Stephanie and Diesel team up for an adventure that includes Sandy Claws, elves and features an electrifying finish. And yes Morelli is still in the picture. If you haven't read an Evanovich novel yet I recommend starting with her first Plum novel, "One For The Money"....

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November 3, 2002

Short Stories

What the hell is wrong with me? I just realized I haven't read any short stories for awhile, a long while. Last I remember I was devouring Chekhov's stories. I view them as the birth of the modern short story. I've read most of them as I recall and then, oh yes, I did read some other short stories after that a collection by Bernard MacLaverty, he was born in Belfast in 1942 and lived there until 1975 when he moved to Scotland. My favorite from the collection is "Walking The Dog" which is also the title of the book. A man is taking his dog for a walk and has left him off the leash when a car approaches and stops. 'Get in,' the guy said. 'What?' Get in the fuckin car.' He was beckoning with one hand and the other pointing. Not pointing but aiming a gun at him. Was this a joke? Maybe a starting pistol. 'Move or I'll blow your fuckin head off.' The dog saw the open door and leapt up into the back seat of the car. You want to know what happened don't you?...

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October 30, 2002

A Good Read

Alan Furst writes historical fiction, or to be more precise he writes historical war fiction. Add to that a spy or two and you have a winning combination. I have read three of his books so far and I'm satisfied and will be reading the rest. I read this type of fiction to relax, it's a great stress reliever and just plain fun. The first Night Soldiers code for spies you know begins: In Bulgaria in 1934, on a muddy street in the river town of Vidin, Khristo Stoianev saw his brother kicked to death by fascist militia. His brother was fifteen, no more than a blameless fool with a big mouth, and in calmer days his foolishness would have been accommodated in the usual ways--a slap in the face for humiliation, a few cold words to chill the blood, and a kick in the backside to send him on his way. That much was tradition. But these were political times, and it was very important to think before you spoke. Nikko Stoianev spoke without thinking, and so he died. Kristov is then recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Service trained in spycraft, and sent to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Furst got it exactly right the setting and the ethos. It reminded me of Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls, the story of a few days in the life of Robert Jordan, an American Spanish professor who volunteered to fight with the loyalists. Night Soldiers, as I was saying is a story of struggle between Russia and Germany for eastern Europe and a good story it is. In his second offering, Dark Star, Andre Sarza a journalist finds himself in the spy business, and the moral ambiguity of the work, the real politik at a personal level. Sometimes Furst fails to develop secondary characters adequately, and leaves those of us with failing memories adrift. A minor distraction, and probably not one everyone will notice, but you'll like Sarza and his story. The third book, The Polish Officer, begins in Poland in 1939. Germany is quickly advancing, The pessimists are learning German. The optomists are learning English. The realists are learning Russian. George Bush is learning English as a second language. Sorry I simply couldn't resist that. Back to the story, Captain Alexander De Milja a plolyglot is recruited into the Polish underground and runs spies in Poland, France, and the Ukraine. How would you transport 11 million in bullion out of Warsaw a question he must answer. I particularly liked the day to day detail of the characters, like this snippet, Nothing good lasted in the world, Lezhev thought, that's why you needed poets to grab it as it went flying by. The compelling thing for me in these stories is the detail of the history. Whether your familiar with the history of the time or not Alan Furst fills in the gaps, while maintaining the flow of the overall history. So the next time you're at the bookstore grab one of these titles, and the time will go flying by....

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August 18, 2002

Relieving Stress?

I finally finished Emile Zola's Germinal. My thanks to , Doubting Thomas, The LeftBanker, and Jak King for the recommendation, and let me add my voice to their chorus of praise. This is a must read, and since I recently finished John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle another must read, I realize that in some ways little has changed in capitalisms unbridled greed and in its cruelty to the working man. Many are still getting Nickled and Dimed. But more on that later. I find I need a break from that sort of reading and believe that mystery's and spy thrillers the perfect ticket. Jonathan Delacour who recently commented on my reading list and acknowledged that he like I find the lighter fare a great stress reliever as well as great fun recommended Alan Furst's fiction. Furst's fiction is best characterized as historical espionage, in this case near history 1933-1945. The first in the series is "Night Soldiers" which I have just begun. The story begins: In Bulgaria in 1934, on a muddy street in the river town of Vidin, Khristo Stoianev saw his brother kicked to death by facist militia. His brother was fifteen, no more than a blameless fool with a big mouth, and in calmer days his foolishness would have been accommodated in the usual ways--a slap in the face for humiliation, a few cold words to chill the blood, and a kick in the backside to send him on his way. That much was tradition. But these were political times, and it was very important to think before you spoke. Nikko Stoianev spoke without thinking, and so he died. As I read those words my thoughts went to our own country in the present: In American in 2002, in the city of Alexandria Virginia, the nation saw a young man imprisoned for twenty years. The so called American Taliban was twenty-one, no more than a blameless fool with a big mouth, and in calmer days his foolishness would have been accommodated in the usual ways--a slap in the face for humiliation, a few cold words to chill the blood, and a kick in the backside to send him on his way. That much was tradition. But these were political times, and it was very important to think before you spoke. Jon Walker Lindh spoke without thinking, and so he was sentenced to twenty years in prison. The parallels are striking, but since I'm reading to relieve stress I'll also save that discussion for a later time....

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July 16, 2002

Hard Eight

I love a good mystery. Some mystery's sparkle because of the story, others because they have great characters. Janet Evanovich's series on Stephanie Plum, bond enforcement agent, has both. But what really makes it shine are the characters. I just finished her most current Hard Eight. Will you like it, here is some dialogue from the story to help you decide. Vinnie and Stephanie: Vinnie is Stephanie's boss. Vinnie was bent at the waist, sucking air. "Why are we chasing a rabbit?" "It's the rabbit who firebombed my CR-V," "Oh yeah. Now I remember. I should have asked sooner. I would have stayed in the car. Jesus, I can't believe you got off a shot hanging out the window. Who do you think you are, the Terminator? Christ, your mother would have my nuts if she knew you did that. What were you thinking" "I got excited" "You weren't excited. You were berserk!" Lula x-prostitute and sometime sidekick, not a fat chick but rather a big women: "yeah she almost never shoots anyone," Lula said. "And I don't care anyway. I'm getting out of here. I need mall air. I could breathe better if I had mall air." I'm telling you, I'm freaked. I got the sweats, I'm hyperventilating is what I'm doing. I need a burger. No, wait a minute, I just had a burger. I need something else. I need . . . I need . . . I need to go shopping I need shoes." Grandma Mazur telling Stephanie about her trip to the mortuary: "I went to the Shleckner viewing," Grandma said. "I'm telling you, that Stiva is a genius. When it comes to morticians, you can't beat Stiva. You know how old Shleckner had all those big scabby things on his face? Well, Stiva covered them all somehow. And you couldn't even tell Shleckner had a glass eye. They both look just the same. It was a miracle." "How do you know about the glass eye? Didn't they have his eyes closed?" "yeah but they have come open for a second while I was standing there. It might have happened when I accidentally dropped my reading glass into the casket" Ranger and Stephanie: Ranger is batman with an attitude and all his own rules. I dialed Ranger first thing the next morning. "About that security system," I said. "Are you still having visitors?" "I found a rabbit suit in my closet last night." "Anybody in it?" "Nope just the suit" "I'll send Hector." "Hector scares the hell out of me." "Yeah me, too," Ranger said. "But he hasn't killed anybody in over a year now. And he's gay. You're probably safe." "Whats wrong?" Ranger asked. "The door won't open." "Probably just a programming glitch. Do you have the keypad?" I dropped the keypad into his hand. Ranger and Hector looked down at the keypad . They looked up at each other, exchanged raised eyebrows, and smiled. "I think I see the problem," Ranger said. "Someone shot the shit out of this keypad." He turned it over in his hand. "At least you were able to hit it. Nice to know the target practice paid off." Joe Morelli: Cop, first looked up Stephanie dress at age six never got over it. Morelli closed and locked his front door and turned the lights off. "Maybe you should consider taking a less dangerous job, like human cannonball or crash test dummy." "You were worried about me." "Yeah," Morelli said, gathering me unto him. " I was worried about you." He held me close and rested his cheek on my head. If you haven't read anything by Evanovich before I suggest you start with her first Stephanie Plum, "One For The Money"....

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June 10, 2002

The Books We Love and Why Update

It started with a suggestion from ruzz he was a little slow in putting together his list but it was worth the wait. Now two of may favorite bloggers here from the Left Bank and here from Doubting Thomas, at my suggestion have posted their lists and interestingly they both begin with the same book, and of course my list if you missed it. Now I'd like to see Jak King's list. How about it Jak do they read in Vancouver. Update to update - I was trying to remember if I had asked Doug to post a list, I certainly didn't want to ask him twice. When I discover this. Thanks Doug. Do they read in Vancouver indeed they do. Here is Jak's list, and a dandy it is....

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June 5, 2002

The Book's We Love And Why

Someone once said that their favorite Mozart Piano Concerto was the last one they had listened to. I have a similar problem when it comes to picking my favorite books. Ruzz, has suggested that we all write a list of our top ten books with brief comments and post them on our weblog. Everyone likes lists right. My problem is not coming up with ten but limiting a list to ten, our reading doesn't take place in a vacuum. Our age, where we are in life at the moment we read a book all play an important role. We simply cannot separate our emotions from a more rational analysis nor am I sure we would want to. Perhaps that is a task best left for the critics. So with that in mind here are mine. 1 Of Human Bondage - Somerset Maugham An epic coming of age novel that I read when I was well coming of age. This might be my favorite book of all time. Don't miss Maugham�s other great stuff particularly A Razors Edge. 2. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky - One of the few books I've read more than once and perhaps someday I'll understand it. What is it to be a man? Dostoevsky shows us his conception of man's soul and that struggle called life. Of course you should read all that Dostoevsky has written. 3. Old Man Goriot - Honore de Balzac A book I've read more recently he has a powerful imagination and gets his characters just right. This book is on W. Somerset Maugham �The World�sTen Greatest Novels� list. 4. Waiting for Godot a play by Samuel Beckett On the meaning of life or more exactly on the meaning we give life. Or perhaps as the cynics say life has no meaning. 5. The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles A clash of cultures, man and nature, written in a compelling style. 6. Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy I think it is mportant to include a more recent writer. Contrary to some opinions there is some great stuff being written today. This story provides a glimpse into the American West, perhaps a beautifully written nightmare would be a worthy description. 7 Portrait of An Artist As A Young Man - James Joyce. A mostly autobiographical novel of Joyce coming of age. Stephen Dedalus the protagonist coping with life's challenges, the Irish, the Catholic Church, and himself. Loved Dubliners as well read it. 8. Thomas Jefferson - Fawn Brodie I was tempted to only list fiction after all it is the most real. I think Brodie did an excellent job, this gave me a real respect for this founding father warts and all. 9. For Whom The Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway Hemingway had a way of making simple language beautiful. This tale based on his experiences as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War and is arguably his best. But if you don't read his entire output you're missing some of the best fiction ever written, and if you have ambitions of being a writer you�ll not find a better example. 10. The Magic Mountain - Thomas Mann Coming of age, but much much more. So there you have it my top ten and I�d better post this before I change it again....

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May 29, 2002


I started keeping a list of my reading in 1980. I forget what my motivation was. It is not a lifetime reading list I was already thirty-five when I began. It does however cover a considerable part of my life. Perhaps I'll get ambitious one day and include the pre 1980 stuff at least that I can remember. There was the Science Fiction stage where I read Heinlein, Asimov, and Herbert, you know "Stranger in a Strange Land", "The Foundation Trilogy", "Dune". Then came the Hermann Hesse years big while attending the University of Utah. Narcissus & Goldmund was my favorite. I also read a lot of Hemingway back then, is there anyone better, David Gagne apparently doesn't think so. And of course Steinbeck was also a popular author then as now. There was a weekend in 1967 when I read Tolkein's Ring Trilogy, and of course I have fond memories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "100 Hundred Years of Solitude". I have told others of the joy I've found in keeping a list, a connection to my past, and many have started their own lists, and related a similar satisfaction. Perhaps like the marks on the wall measuring our growth as children a reading list measures our intellectual growth or perhaps the growth of our humanity. I think a list is a particularly good idea for young and new readers. I read both fiction and non-fiction though I prefer fiction it is more real. Carl Gustav Jung said "Man's estrangement from the mythical realm and the subsequent shrinking of his existence to the mere factual - that is the major cause of mental illness." Or simply put if you're not reading fiction you risk being a wacko. So pick up a book and read it. Then jot down the Title, Author, anything your heart desires. You'll be better for it. Credit for the Jung quotation goes to Jonathon Delacour via Pierre Ryckmans...

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May 28, 2002

I'd Prefer Not To

Tom Bissell writes in Salon of books he'd prefer not to read. I'd prefer not to My list includes Toni Morrison, Henry James, Faulkner and Beckett. Why are there some great writers we just cannot read? Whether one chooses to admit it or not, every reader has a secret list of writers one is, for whatever reason, incapable of reading. To get it over with, what follows is my own: Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, Henry James, Jane Austen, Samuel Beckett ... already embarrassment keeps me from going on. For a former book editor and fiction writer to make such an admission is, I do not doubt, enough to have me dragged before a literary tribunal and stoned. I reluctantly join in his honesty and trust that I won't be condemned. It's true I haven't read any Beckett (oops I did read "Waiting For Godot"), and was only able to get through Toni Morrison's "Beloved" with great effort. I still have Tolstoy's "War and Peace" on my list to read soon, but wonder if its just there because its a must read. Do you have authors you just don't seem to like but think you should. This is a great article. Tom, as well as discussing what he doesn't like discusses some of his favorites. If you're a reader, serious or not, don't miss it....

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May 27, 2002

Under The Net

Under The Net by Iris Murdoch. She was both a writer and a philosopher and it shows. What a delightful story. The story is of Jake Donaghue, writer, vagabond, an intellectual of sorts. His friends, his quest for truth all written in near perfect prose. The story begins "When I saw Finn waiting for me at the corner of the street I knew at once that something had gone wrong. Finn usually waits for me in bed, or leaning up against the side of the door with his eyes closed." and you're instantly hooked. Sadie, Anna, Hugo, Dave, Finn wonderful characters well developed and all help move the story along at a perfect pace. Lock picking, stolen dogs, political intrigue, simple adventures that hold you in their grasp. My only criticism is that it ends a mere 252 pages later. It was my son Chris who convinced me to read the book. I asked him what it was about and this is what he said, " hmm, er. she wrote the book in the fifties, and it has a sort of conservative characteristic to it like Simenon or Hitchcock. I mean, the drama is not huge. The main guy has been characterized as a Sartrian hero. Its in the first person perspective about a single guy. that means that he goes around making his own decisions in a sort of unstable like world, much like coming of age novels its also very quick to read. I hated finishing, in fact I read the last few chapters two pages at a time and took about a week. Then its all over and then what? after a good book, you look around in bookstores and there is nothing appealing, nothing compares." He has since read several other titles by her and recommends them all highly. Are you entralled, you should be. If not that is my fault not the book. Read it. I recommend it highly....

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May 22, 2002

Top 100 Books Of All Time

The top 100 books of all time Full list of the 100 best works of fiction, alphabetically by author, as determined from a vote by 100 noted writers from 54 countries as released by the Norwegian Book Clubs. Don Quixote was named as the top book in history but otherwise no ranking was provided I enjoy perusing lists of good books if you do too check out the link via the Guardian Some additional lists you'll find interesting Book Browser for Avid Readers Modern library 100 best novels My own list of books I've read since 1980 ranked on a scale of 1-5 The Internet Public Library links to many book lists and don't miss this one, List of the Best of the Best update: October 2003 The latest top 100 list from the Guardian Observer Here are the top ten from that list: 1. Don Quixote Miguel De Cervantes The story of the gentle knight and his servant Sancho Panza has entranced readers for centuries. 2. Pilgrim's Progress John Bunyan The one with the Slough of Despond and Vanity Fair. 3. Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe The first English novel. 4. Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift A wonderful satire that still works for all ages, despite the savagery of Swift's vision. 5. Tom Jones Henry Fielding The adventures of a high-spirited orphan boy: an unbeatable plot and a lot of sex ending in a blissful marriage. 6. Clarissa Samuel Richardson One of the longest novels in the English language, but unputdownable. 7. Tristram Shandy Laurence Sterne One of the first bestsellers, dismissed by Dr Johnson as too fashionable for its own good. 8. Dangerous Liaisons Pierre Choderlos De Laclos An epistolary novel and a handbook for seducers: foppish, French, and ferocious. 9. Emma Jane Austen Near impossible choice between this and Pride and Prejudice. But Emma never fails to fascinate and annoy. 10. Frankenstein Mary Shelley Inspired by spending too much time with Shelley and Byron....

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May 17, 2002

Mystic River

I just finished Dennis Lehane's Mystic River a departure from the delightful Kenzie and Gennaro adventures. Is it better. I don't think so. It is certainly more literary. Lehane's writing is clearly improving. In this story we meet Sean, Dave, and Jimmy, childhood friends. Characters who won't be part of a future story in the way the more formalistic Kenzie Gennaro stories are. Lehane does a great job capturing the ethos of childhood friends, neighborhoods and how life changes us and those around us. I found myself reminiscing about my own childhood and how I have changed over the years. The plot is complex, the characters well developed and after the first 50 pages or so this is a real page turner. This is his best written book to date. If you enjoy more than the standard mystery fare give it a read. Dave says "It was amazing how friendly three beers could be after a long hard day." It is amazing to me how enjoyable a Lehane mystery can be any old time....

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May 2, 2002

Perpetual War

I just finished reading Gore Vidal's latest. Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace subtitled "How We Got To Be So Hated". This is a short selection of essays. Vidal is arguably the premier essayist of our time. Outspoken, well spoken, eloquent only begin to describe his considerable talents. Dennis Miller eat your heart out this guy takes the rant to new heights. This is the book that will drive the "WarBloggers" crazy. Gore will be labeled as anti-American at worst and unpatriotic at best. He makes an interesting point about why he feels Bush declared "we are at war", since a nation can only be at war with another nation-state, which would exclude bin Laden and his troop. Corporate America of course those insurance companies could save big bucks, since they don't have to cover loses due to "war". I'm a liberal. I generally agree with Mr. Vidal. I do think he tends to get carried away with possible conspiracy theories. He never comes right out and says he believes there is a conspiracy rather he implies that is the case. He presents some evidence and lets you draw your own conclusions. In the past I have discounted much of his ranting, but I must say he certainly gives pause for thought. I understand the book was delayed due to our nations sensitivity to 9-11. Gore begins the first essay with "According to the Koran it was on Tuesday that Allah created darkness. Last September 11th when suicide pilots were crashing commercial airliners into crowded American Buildings I did not have to look to the calendar to see what day it was: Dark Tuesday was casting its long shadow across Manhattan and along the Potomac river." He asks the why questions, not very popular with a nation in mourning, but necessary I think. There is some corporate bashing, and damn if they don't deserve it, and some reasons why "We Got To Be So Hated". He also spends considerable time discussing Timothy McVeigh and his controversial relationship with him. This is fascinating stuff. Timothy McVeigh, August 14, 1997 just prior to being officially sentenced to death said, "If the Court please, I wish to use the words of Justice Brandeis dissenting in Olmstead to speak for me. He wrote, 'Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.' "That's all I have." Here is the entire closing statement of Justice Brandeis, certainly something to think about in this time of eroding personal freedoms. "Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means-to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal-would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this court should resolutely set its face." Gore Vidal has trouble believing that Timothy McVeigh acted essentially alone and presents his reasons. The book also has short essays entitled "The Bill of Rights", "The New Theocrats" to mention just a couple. I recommend this book highly to both my conservative and liberal friends. Just his writing is worth the read, and if you enjoy what you read, I would also recommend his collection of essays The Last Empire Essays 1992-2000 as worthwhile. Vidal is one of my favorite authors. His biographical novel Burr about Aaron Burr is one of my all time favorites. Update: The Last Defender of the American Republic? Marc Cooper, LA Weekly July 3, 2002...

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April 27, 2002

Right as Rain

What is the difference between crime fiction and a mystery. I suppose crime fiction doesn't necessarily have a mystery to solve but just getting the bad guys. I read both. I recently read my first novel by George P. Pelecanos. His novels are described as crime fiction, but there is just enough mystery about whodunit that for me it straddles the line. I can tell you that if you haven't read any Pelecanos you're missing out on some good stuff. Right as Rain one of this more recent offering's tells the story of Derek Strange private investigator working his magic in our nations capital D.C. The essential components are here drugs, love, and loyalty. Pelecanos develops very real characters along with a compelling story line. I love the way he describes his characters through some nifty dialogue. Here is some dialogue between Quinn, a former cop, and a used car salesman. It is clever, it is real, all without being too cliched. "How you doin today, sir?" said a startling nasal voice behind Quinn. Quinn turned to find a short, thin, middle-aged black man standing before him. The man wore thick glasses with black frames and a knockoff designer sport jacket with a white shirt and balloon-print tie. "Doin' fine," said Quinn. "The names Tony Tibbs. They call me Mr. Tibbs. Ha Ha just kiddin man. Actually they call me Tony the Pony around here "cause I give good ride" ya know what I'm sayin? I didn't catch your name did I?" "It's Terry Quinn" "Irish, right?" "Uh-huh" "I never miss. Pride myself on that, too. Hey you hear about the two Irish gay guys?" Tibbs frowned with theatrical concern. You're not gay, are you?" "Listen___" "I'm playin' with you buddy; I can see you are all man. So let me ask you again: You hear about the two Irish gay guys?" "No" "Patrick FitzGerald and Gerald Fitzpatrick. Ha Ha!" Quinn looked Tony Tibbs over: pathetic and heroic, both at the same time. I haven't enjoyed a crime novel this much since I read Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels a decade ago. Pelecanos seems to have it all: Good plot, interesting characters and great writing....

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April 16, 2002

Flesh And Machines

The point of Rodney Brooks new book Flesh and Machines - How Robots Will Change Us is that we are machines. That our bodies are a mass of biomolecules that act according to a set of specifiable rules. He believes that his spouse, his children are mere machines, but that is not how we treat them. The crux of the book is why that is so and what that means to a future world that will include more robots. He tells the history of robotics, from Shaky to Kismet with dozens of other interesting characters in between, and what is on the horizon. What is already here ranging from artificial hearing to the prospects for artificial vision, to robots that can make our lives easier and free our time for more rewarding pursuits. He discusses the what and how of artificial intelligence. There are currently two main approaches to artificial intelligence one is a top down representational view, the other is a bottom up more evolutionary view. One way to look at it would be to compare the spectrum of views with a robot, a distributed network, and a desktop pc. The robot would be no representations, the distributed network non-discrete distributed representations, and desktop computer discrete symbolic representations. Check out Steven Pinkers How the Mind Works and Andy Clarks Being There for additional insight into this aspect of the question. The notion that we are machines strikes at the core of our belief systems, and Rodney spends several chapters tracing that history. We are special, we are not special, we are them. What it is that we think makes us special and why we are so reluctant to part with beliefs that our rational mind find unsupportable but which support that idea. He takes us from Galileo to Darwin to the present, one belief at a time. This book will enlighten and challenge you. Whether you agree or not you'll understand the issues. In discussing his early attempts at building a robot Mr. Brooks says "I did manage to get my first robot, Norman, to the point where it could wander around the floor, respond to light, and bumble its way around obstacles." That is exactly how this Norman started out in this world simply change the it to he and Rodney could be talking about my beginnings. Is that the leap he is asking us to make? Are you ready? Highly Recommended. Here is an added bonus, a One Act Play by Terry Bisson entitled "They're Made Out Of Meat" published in 1991, which provides an amusing look at the question from the machines point of view....

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March 23, 2002

I've Got Character

Book Magazine has issued the results of a readers poll of the 100 best fictional characters since 1900. here at NPR The first reference I saw to it was at, Dave Does The Blog It seems to be all the rage today. Number four on the list at Daypop. I always have some time to waste on anything to do with books or reading so here are the ones I've read. A little over half way there but I still have a lot of reading to do....

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March 1, 2002

A Good Read

I'm currently on a mystery reading binge. My latest find is Dennis Lehane and what great fun he is. Patrick (never Pat) Kenzie and Angela, Angie, Ange Gennaro are a pair of gritty Boston detectives who always get their man, albeit with a few scars and scares along the way. My favorite character is Bubba, a childhood friend and one bad dude. He is fiercely loyal to Patrick and Angie, and reminds me of the family Rottweiler, very endearing. A Drink Before the War is the first in the series followed by Darkness Take My Hand, Sacred, Gone, Baby, Gone and Prayer for Rain, for those of you who can't stand to read books out of order. I try but don't always succeed. All these are available in paperback, I think he has a new one Mystic only available in hardbound, but at the rate I read I'll wait. Thank god I buy my books at there's a link under reading if you're interested. It is quite easy to buy books at half price or less including the cost of shipping. I've bought many paperbacks for $3.05 including shipping, nice having them delivered to my door. So if you want to or need to save a buck give them a try. Lehane brings humor and a page turning frenzy to his writing. I'm currently reading Gone, Baby, Gone, and yes I've already finished A Prayer for Rain out of order. I'm still chuckling about this line from Gone, Baby, Gone, "So Broussard said slowly, "She did bullshit us." "Didn't want to spoil her fifteen seconds." Poole said. "Her fifteen seconds?" I asked. "In the spotlight," Poole said. "Used to be minutes; these days it's seconds" I knew life was going faster but fifteen seconds is that all we get. The writing is consistent you can count on all of these for a good read....

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February 19, 2002

Ten Great Novels

I recently finished reading Maugham's The Razor's Edge which I commented on a few days ago , well that reminded me that Maugham wrote a book many years ago where he listed his ten favorite novel's. I no longer have the book but I do have the list. I've read all of them with the exception of Tom Jones and War And Peace which are on my list of things to read. The only problem is that the list is getting longer than the list of what I've already read. I used to say that I had of stack of books I intended to read, but there is simply no way one could stack books that high. Funny isn't it the more one reads the longer the list of what you want to read becomes. I think de Balzac's Old Man Goriot was my favorite on this list in fact I consider it one of the top ten I've ever read. If you haven't read it yet I recommend putting it on the top of your stack (or list). Okay so here's the list. W. Somerset Maugham's Ten Greatest Novels* Tom Jones, Henry Fielding; Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen; The Red and the Black, Stendhal; Old Man Goriot, Honor� de Balzac; David Copperfield, Charles Dickens; Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte Madam Bovary, Gustave Flaubert; Moby Dick, Herman Melville; War and Peace, Leo Tolstoi; The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky....

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February 9, 2002

Somerset Maugham

I just finished reading W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor’s Edge. Many years ago I read Of Human Bondage which is on my top ten list. So thirty years pass and with the exception of Summing Up an autobiographical account of his career I've read nothing else by him. My choice of reading material seems so random; I'm just as likely to pick up a mystery as something more substantive. I suppose that is why I enjoy reading so much it fills so many needs. I thoroughly enjoyed The Razor's Edge written in 1943 at the height of his career, it takes place mostly in France, and has a delightful cast of characters. Elliot the snob, but also a kind generous soul Gray, who speaks in clich�’s. His wife Isabel, gracious, interesting, but a little bit too preoccupied with money and status. Suzanne the opportunist with a lust for life and Sophie who demonstrates how unpredictable life really is. Finally Larry the idealist in all of us a searcher for truth. This is a book about life; I particularly enjoyed the contrast Maugham creates between material wealth and happiness. He is one of the best writers of the 20th Century, and this is a wonderful example of his talent. Read it!!...

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January 24, 2002

What are you reading?

I like to alternate my reading between more serious works and light fiction, although lately its been more light than serious. The fiction is usually a mystery of sorts, I find an author I enjoy and usually end up reading everything they've written. Favorites, well I always enjoy Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum mysteries. She has some of the most interesting characters ever created. Stephanie works as a bail bond enforcement person. You'll love Lulu and Ranger and Stephanie's family is well - Grandma loves going to funeral's and is not above peeking into a closed casket, you'll find yourself laughing out loud. Evanovich numbers her books, One For The Money, Two for the Dough, she's up to Seven Up, all quite delightful, I used to enjoy Sue Grafton, but she seems to have run out of steam. Hers are the alphabet books, A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, she just finished P is for Peril, but the stories are starting to get really repetitive. I think her next book should be Q is for Time to Quit. But if you've never read Grafton, the early books are quite fun. I also like John Sanford, although his novels are a little, well, if you like Hannibal Lechter, you'll feel right at home. Lately I've been reading Stuart Woods, who really knows how to create a page turner. I have found the Stone Barrington, excop attorney character to be a favorite. Woods does get a little carried away with the sexual prowness of Stone, seems every woman he meets finds it necessary to fulfill his latest sexual fantasy. We should all be so lucky. The stories are well thought out and not always predictable. For his mysteries that don't feature Stone Barrington, I liked Santa Fe the most. If you're a mystery reader leave a comment letting me know who you like and why....

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January 18, 2002

Being There

I just began reading Andy Clark's delightful book Being There Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again "Well, what do you think you understand with? With your head? Bah!" -- Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek "Ninety percent of life is just being there." -- Woody Allen The introduction does a great job of defining what the book is about. The mind is more than, as Andy puts it "a combination logic machine filing cabinet." It is first "an organ for controlling the biological body." We must make decision quickly before the predators get us a difficult proposition if all mind consists of is a "a disembodied logical reasoning device" There are and have been attempts like CYC (short for "encyclopedia") which attempts to create a knowledge base that includes a significant fraction of general knowledge. Creating a system that can reason from inference. Andy argues that this approach will never be more than a useful expert system. One of the problems with this type of system is "the lack of coupling between the system and real world problems of action and sensing." He offers an interesting analogy between a coakroach and an automobile with similar capablilites. "Such a car would be able to sense approaching vehicles, but ignore those moving in normal ways. If it deteted an impending collision i would automatically initiate evasive action taking in account the road surface, orientation." In order to avoid other dangers created by the evasive action. You can see the problems with the logic machine filing cabinet approach to artifical intelligence. A coakroach, it seems is way ahead of any efforts so far, and nicely demonstrates why that is. Well, as they say I've only just begun and whether you are interested or not if you check in from time to time you'll probably hear more. Update: Just noticed David Weinberger had some comments on Andy Clark's "Being There" in his archives and discusses the CYC again here...

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