May 12, 2006

Summer Reading Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at May 12, 2006 12:47 PM

It's another media thread, but at least the medium under discussion is different. As I mentioned in an earlier comment thread, I will be traveling quite a bit over the next four weeks. The first trip, to Pasadena for Caltech's alumni weekend next week, will merely involve a lot of driving, but the others will require air travel. And while the Nintendo DS remains tempting, I'm also looking for some entertainment that doesn't run on batteries and can be used during takeoff and landing. So, anyone have summer reading recommendations?

To narrow the field a bit, a few preferences (but feel free to violate any or all of them in your recommendations): recent books preferred to older ones, paperback preferred to hardcover, fiction preferred to non-fiction. (Not that I have anything against non-fiction in general, but I'm not usually inclined to read about Middle East foreign policy when I'm sitting on the beach.) Sci-fi and fantasy are the genres I usually read, but other genres or non-genre fiction are ok too.

Since I should provide some recommendations of my own: the best book I've read so far this year has been Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, and my favorite book from last year was Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (which I read during last summer's travels).

Tags: Books, Travel

One book I read recently that I'd recommend is Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music. One review described it as "Philip K. Dick meets Raymond Chandler," to paraphrase. It's fun (if you like sci-fi and noir)--not deep or extremely thought-provoking, but fun. Unfortunately, it was released about 10 years ago.

Posted by: Jolene | May 12, 2006 1:17 PM

Unfortunately I don't have much time to read now, so you'll be spared my usual unreadably massive response to requests for sf recommendations. :) I'll be interested to see what others post in this thread.

Regarding non-fiction, has anyone read last year's Jared Diamond book? I quite liked Guns, Germs, and Steel (though I think I've lost my copy), but haven't gotten around to getting the new one yet.

Gazebo, if you're inclined to branch out into historical fiction, I loved Colleen McCullough's novelizations of the last decades of the Roman Republic. Five or six huge volumes, starting with First Man in Rome (about Marius's rise to power) and ending with The October Horse (about Octavian and the Second Triumvirate). The Cartoon History of the Universe, Vols. 1-3 are outstanding and entertaining non-fiction, and (to plug UCSC astro folks) Greg Laughlin's Five Ages of the Universe was very interesting as well. None of these are especially recent, though...

Posted by: Justin | May 12, 2006 2:03 PM

I've been reading and enjoying the Death Gate Cycle novels recently (though this also is a little old on the scale that's been mentioned). The first book isn't great, but things really start to pick up with the second volume.

I am currently in the middle of the book "Amber and Iron," which is the second book in the Dragonlance "Dark Disciple" series (the current 'main' story line). It's pretty cool, and going from wherever you left off in the Dragonlance series is wortwhile. (I assume you've read some of the older ones, but if you haven't, I highly recommend reading those.)

Posted by: Mason | May 12, 2006 3:27 PM

Jolene: As a matter of fact, I do like sci-fi and noir, especially in combination. (Altered Carbon being one of my favorite books.) I'd been meaning to look into that Lethem novel but hadn't got around to it yet. It does sound like good beach reading, though.

Justin: I don't read a lot of historical fiction but I find ancient Rome tremendously interesting, so I'll check out that series.

Mason: I did read some of the older Dragonlance novels years ago, but haven't returned to the series since.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | May 12, 2006 3:59 PM

I just bought my first Hunter S. Thompson book, and have recently started reading it. It's magical!

Posted by: Josh | May 12, 2006 7:48 PM

I got a book for Newton's Birthday/Christmas that looks good but I haven't had time to read yet:

Calvin Trillin Feeding a Yen

I also based on your Caltech/NCHS Wagner obsession would recommend German or English translation of the folklore of Till Eulenspiegel

I want to buy a copy of the translation myself, in case I ever have to teach college students to play the famous horn solo.

--Check them out


Posted by: Katie | May 12, 2006 10:52 PM

And furthermore...

If you want well-written Los Angeles noir books, try any work by Raymond Chandler.

For northern California noir I think Dashiell Hammett takes the prize.

Posted by: Katie | May 12, 2006 10:53 PM

If you enjoy historically inspired fantasy, check out Guy Gavriel Kay's books, "Sailing to Sarantium" and "Lord of Emperors", losely based upon the Byzantine Empire, and "The Lions of al-Rassan", based on the reconquest of Spain from the Moors. "Tigana" was another great triology/book of his.

Some other interesting, if at times didactic, reading is Sherri S. Tepper. I particularly enjoyed "Grass" and "A Plague of Angels".

Posted by: Chris L-S | May 12, 2006 11:30 PM

for cheap trashy sci fi there were some B5 novels created i found the technomage one and the centuri prime one quite enjoyable reads.

If you like dan brown i found John Land
A Walk In The Darkness also good. In fact i liked it enough i am going to get the rest of the series and start from book one.

For non-fiction i just started Everything bad is really go for you. so far i like it.

Posted by: shellock | May 13, 2006 4:52 AM

Alan Furst has a new one out this summer- THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. It's supposed to be good, and he's one of my favorite writers.

Posted by: JSpur | May 13, 2006 10:43 AM

I am totally in the mood for more detective noir after the movie I saw last night (Brick).

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | May 13, 2006 1:53 PM

You might really enjoy Everything That's Bad is Good for You...I thought it was OK, but I just skimmed it. It was all about gaming, which I'm not really into. (aside from the occassional obsession with Tetris & Sudoku)

I was also told "The Life of Pi" and "Kite Runner" were good books from reliable sources. I did not read them, though they are on my list, because right now until December all I'm reading is CFA material. Sad cuz I used to be such a bookworm.

There was also a really good sci-fi I read lately but I can't remember the name of the book. All about defying aging and living forever through synthetic bodies.

Posted by: Sharon | May 15, 2006 8:22 AM

Oops, think I meant to drop my previous comment in this thread... oh well. (The one about 365).

Also, in case you've never read any of it, Cory Doctrow's stuff tends to be fairly interesting speculative scifi type of stuff. Down and Out was great, and I swear I'm gonna crack open my copy of Eastern Standard Tribe any day now...

Posted by: Lemming | May 15, 2006 11:23 AM

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME - I would strongly recommend this book to anyone. Quick read, yet unconventional. It's always fascinting to look at the world through someone elses eyes, especially those of an autistic boy.

I'm about halfway through THE AMAZING ADVENTURE OF KAVALIER AND CLAY. This too i strongly recommend.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 15, 2006 11:26 AM

Sharon: I'd heard of Life of Pi but not The Kite Runner. It looks interesting.

Lemming: I've actually never read any Cory Doctorow, but I've been curious since I started reading BoingBoing.

Anonymous: I second the recommendation of Kavalier and Clay, which I read a few years ago. I haven't read Curious Incident but I remember hearing about it when it came out.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | May 15, 2006 2:17 PM

I meant to read Life of Pi in Japan. I read the foreward, though, and I couldn't bring myself to start the book. As I recall, the author was the most pompous jackass I think I've ever read. The book may be legitimately good, but I wasn't going to be able to respect the book after that, so I'd skip the introductions and get right to the book if I were you.

Posted by: Josh | May 15, 2006 4:54 PM

Speaking of Japan (and noir), Barry Eisler's first book, Rain Fall, is exceptional. Think of it as a noir thriller starring an assassin in Tokyo, and involving lots of judo and yakuza and the Liberal Democratic Party. I haven't read the sequels yet, which I hear go downhill, but this one is definitely worth a read.

Posted by: Josh | May 15, 2006 9:46 PM

Josh: Are you being hunted by the Yakuza?

Jackassery: It would be very hard for some of us in academics to read a book and decide somebody is the most pompous jackass ever. Given what we're so often exposed to, the standards in this respect tend to be quite "high."

A few names come to mind. Per Bak, for example, titled his popular science book "How Nature works." I shouldn't pick on him too much because he's dead now and can't defend himself, but my personal "favorites" include Steven Wolfram (who think's more important than Newton) and Albert-Lazlo Barabasi (who lists his top ten most cited papers on his website). There are some very high bars here.

"THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME": I bet that incident smells pretty bad...

Posted by: Mason | May 16, 2006 6:10 AM

Mason: SHHHHHHH! Ixnay on the Akuza-yay! The alls-way have ears-hay!

Posted by: Josh | May 16, 2006 9:55 PM

In my opinion 100 Years of Solitude is the most amazing work ever written, though there are many close seconds.

Posted by: Kyle | May 17, 2006 12:48 PM

I have to chime in, even though I'm a bit late -- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is really good (and it isn't the "incident" you are thinking it is, Mason!)

I don't usually read random books on the bestseller lists, but a friend handed me Marley & Me, last week, and I enjoyed it -- it's a quick read and very funny at times.

Posted by: lidarose | May 19, 2006 2:53 PM
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