What I’ve been reading

A long list to catch up with.

Audiobooks first:

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen.  I’m a big fan of Hiaasen’s stuff, which is always funny, set in Florida, and generally angry about how people are despoiling a place that Hiaasen clearly loves.  In this book, Hiaasen takes on celebrity culture, focusing on a celebrity trainwreck on the Britney/Lindsay level.  Amusing stuff, though not his best.  (If you want to read Hiaasen, I’d recommend Skin Tight.)

– The Passage by Justin Cronin.  An interesting take on both vampire and end-of-the-world stories.  Genetic vampires are created by the military, and, surprise surprise, things go bad.  The first third of the book takes place before the world collapses, the second two thirds afterwards.  The characters, writing, and plotting are all excellent.  There’s clear indications that a sequel is to come, but the story stands rather well on its own.  Strongly recommended.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer.  Yeah, geeky, I know.  But it made for a surprisingly good audiobook.  But there was one strange consequence of reading it like this: I usually listen to audiobooks while driving.  Occasionally I lose focus on the book (imagine, paying more attention to the road than to what I’m hearing), but generally come back eventually and realize what’s going on.  (Though I had to stop listening to David Copperfield at one point because I found that it required more attention than I could muster while on the road.  Which is a good aspect of the book, to be sure.)

So I’d be listening to all the talk about Nazis, start to space out a little, and realize that I’m listening to the description of a really despicable, definitely non-PC, point of view.  Hey, I think, that’s really an awful way to look at the world!  Then I realize that the audiobook is describing something said by Adolph Hitler.  So I suppose one thing I gained from this book is a clear realization that Adolph Hitler was not a nice guy.  Who knew, right?

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  A comic take on Biblical Armageddon, containing about the most endearing representation of the Antichrist that I’ve come across.  Particularly amusing if you remember the movie “The Omen.”

E-books on the iPad:

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.  A reread of the sequel to American Gods. I like this one better than the original.  It includes moments that had me laughing out loud, both on original and second readings.  Strongly recommended.

The Fever by Sonia Shah.  A book about the science, history, and current status of malaria.  A fascinating read, though rather depressing, seeing as it strongly suggests that we’ll never manage to eradicate this scourge of a disease.

A Woman’s Crusade by Mary Walton.  This is a biography of Alice Paul, focusing on her efforts to get women’s suffrage passed.  Since Julie got her studio at the Lorton Workhouse, she has become fascinated with the story of the suffragettes who were once imprisoned there.  The leader of those suffragettes was a woman named Alice Paul, a fascinating and dynamic character who organized and led the more radical wing of the American suffrage movement.  Paul was a pioneer in the area of civil disobedience (the suffragists were the first to picket the White House), and a truly heroic woman who underwent torturous force feedings at the hands of authorities when she was imprisoned for leading the picketers.  The story of how she helped get the suffrage amendment passed is both fascinating and horrifying, and it’s a pity that her story is not better known.  Suffice to say that the suffragettes were not all the prim and stuffy old ladies of popular imagination.

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold.  I’m a huge fan of Bujold’s Vorkosigan series of character-driven science fiction.  This is the latest in the series.  It’s a fun read, full of rollicking adventure.  But it’s not one of her best.  I’d recommend it to a big fan of the series, but if you want to read Bujold, there’s better places to start.

Inside Straight, Busted Flush, Suicide Kings, edited by George R.R. Martin.  Once upon a time, there was a science fiction series called the Wild Cards books, which was a multi-author universe in which people gained superpowers.  But it was a distinctly real-world take on superpowers, in which having powers can be more pain than fun, and no one would seriously consider putting on purple tights to go out and fight crime.  These three books represent a new generation of the series.  I enjoyed them – they’re fun reads, though they tend to take themselves a little too seriously at times.  Still, it’s fun stuff.

And one on print:

Days of Darkness: The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky by John Ed Pearce.  I’ve started working on a set of rules for gunfight battles.  As part of this, I’m researching some real-life gunfights to serve as the basis for some scenarios.  This book is one source of such battles.

Eastern Kentucky was the site of several family feuds of the Hatfield-McCoy variety.  These included outsized personalities, vicious gunfights, and many many deaths.  This book was an entertaining read describing several of those feuds, and many of the battles.

I wasn’t thrilled with the prose style, which sometimes seemed a bit slapdash.  And at times it was difficult to keep track of all the personalities involved – a list of major figures in the various feuds would have helped a lot.  But the subject matter is fascinating and the stories moreso.  And I give the author credit for not trying to come up with a single catch-all explanation of why there was so much violence in that area: as he says, it wasn’t related to the Civil War (most of the veterans were from the same side, generally the Union), it wasn’t from being cut off from the rest of the world (some feuds took place in isolated counties, but some in places with railroad access), and not a matter of a bunch of illiterate hillbillies (several of the feudists were college-educated professionals, including a number of lawyers, doctors, and judges).  A fun read.

And that’s about it.  Oh, I’ve started a few other books, some of which I’m still reading.  And there’s at least one book that I’m not at liberty to discuss in a public forum.  But that catches me up to the end of the year.

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