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Attention Deficit Reading

There's been some chatter here on the blog about starting a book club, but that might require a convulsion of orderliness and that thing people call "planning ahead." I find that anarchy fits better into my schedule.

Also, I read chaotically, because I suffer from Attention Deficit Reading. I've started Doctorow's "The March," which is so great I might read all the way through to the end of, like, the fifth chapter before going back to either Stephen King's "The Cell," which I abandoned on roughly page 125, or Elizabeth Kolbert's "Field Notes from a Catastrophe," where I was just getting to the part where the Earth is doomed, or Rick Atkinson's "An Army at Dawn," which I've been working on since Christmas. Last I checked, the Americans had invaded North Africa and lots of ships were being sunk by German U-boats. I need to hurry up, because Atkinson is furiously writing Volume II of his Liberation Trilogy, and I don't want to be "lapped," if you know what I mean.

My house is littered with partially read books, moaning for someone to put them out of their misery. I approach the basement library like a doctor assigned to perform triage. What book shall be given life, and picked up anew? And what consigned to oblivion? "The Known World," by Edward Jones, is one I'll finish, and "The Little Friend," by Donna Tartt, if I can just figure out where I put it. But already the stack of stuff I'm supposedly reading is getting so high that I fear it will fall on me. All that unread material may literally crush my spirit.

And there are so many things other than books that must be read: My science magazines, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, plus all the bargain celebrity mags you can now get for just $1.99 that tell you everything you want to know about "Nick" and "Jessica" except why these people are famous in the first place. I missed the backstory on Nick and Jessica. Are they singers? Actors? Were they on some reality show? Honestly have not a clue who these people are, only that they're having some kind of domestic problem and spend a lot of time hanging out on magazine covers.

Part of the problem with reading is that many books do not deserve to be finished. In fact, some don't need to be read much beyond the dust jacket. Life is short. A savvy reader is a ruthless reader. If it's not good by page 60, cast it from thy sight. Sometimes you have to admit to yourself that you're never going to finish a book, and ditch it. Otherwise the book will sit there on the night table, nagging you, reproaching you, making you feel like a Bad Reader. Just pick it up, stare right at it, and say: "It's over."

By Joel Achenbach  |  March 7, 2006; 9:30 AM ET
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Next: Nick and Jessica, Brad and Angie, and Writing Books


Obviously, Joel, we have the same interior decorator and the same cognitive dysfunction.

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Currently at the top of my guilt list is Absolom, Absolom! by W. Faulkner. I checked it out of the library because my daughter's reading it for a literature class and I wanted to be prepared in case she wanted to have an intelligent conversation about it.

Faulkner is hard to read. But the rewards are great. He's like Shakespeare: it starts out incomprehensible and you have to activate previously unused neural channels in order to read it; once your brain is reorganized, you can read it and it increases the blood flow to your brain. Really. They did a study. Well, they should have, anyway.

I have fond memories of the days when, every day after dinner, there was a stretch of a few hours when I basically had nothing else to do except read whatever book I was currently involved in. Those days are gone. My inability to get past page 50 of this book is an indictment of my lifestyle, and I am trying to make some changes. Less blogging. Fewer movies. No housework after 7 p.m.

My only consolation: the bertoccichick did read Absolom, Absolom! [you have to respect a book with an exclamation mark in the title] and wrote a nice paper that was recognized by her professor as the best in the class. (She was named MVP, she said) Of course, this whole comment was just a pretext to announce that. She's my only, and I'm very proud of her.

Posted by: kbertocci | March 7, 2006 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I have quite a few books on my unfinished list, and even though they're packed up out of sight they still nag me.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Ordinarily, if I start a book, even a crappy book, I feel compelled to finish it. Still waiting, however:

The Worm Ouroboros, E. R. Eddings, from page 54, stopped in 1975.

Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad, from page 110, stopped in 1984.

The Voyages of Joshua Slocum, Joshua Slocum, somewhere in the first of 4 books, 2004? 2005?

Selected Writings of John Muir, around 1/3 of the way, 2005.

I've become more vague in my bookish incompleteness as I've become a Feeble Old Guy ® (FOG®). Also, I've moved toward failing to complete nonfiction, rather than fiction. Looking at the dates, I'd have a real pattern here if I could just remember what I failed to complete reading in 1994-1995. It was just that good, you see.

Posted by: Tim | March 7, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Not to start a contest since the first liar doesn't stand a chance, but my bedroom has a wicker bookcase with just the twenty or thirty books I hope to read. My nightstand holds the books I am currently "reading" in two piles about four books high. Currently with bookmarks in place are:

"I'm With The Band" by Pamela Des Barres
"Quicksilver" by Neal Stephenson
"The Rock Snob's Dictionary"
and a few others I'm blanking out on.

I have "Sirens of Titan" (by Kurt Vonnegut, natch) in my gym back for reading during physical therapy.

The last several books I finished are:

"Anthem" by Ayn Rand
"The Tipping Point"
"The Plot Against America" by Phillip Roth
"Flush" by Carl Hiasaan
"The Boy Who Would Live Forever" by Fredrick Pohl
"Anansi Boys" by Neil Giaman

My review of Anansi Boys is here:

I've actually been on a binge since the beginning of the year since blogging and magazine reading have slowed my book reading pace to about one a month. The purchasing rate stays steady at about one a week.

Naturally, every horizontal surface in my house including portions of the floor, holds some pile of books that vainly hope to actually make it to the nightstand.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 7, 2006 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Joel about the book club. Too formal and organized for the boodle. Hows about we just recommend and discuss books to each other? I've just finished reading Doctor'w Ragtime which addresses major societal changes in turn of the century America and how these changes affect and change the characters. (Cassandra, my fellow mobile home dweller, I particularly noted the character Evelyn Nesbit, who epitomizes a certain naivete about poverty (so typical of the upper class) on her first visit to a slum neighborhood.

Joel, please be tolerant of my gushing, but I so heart this blog, and am continually amazed at its diversity, its lovable and oh so talented boodlers and your kind benevolence in allowing us to be "us"! What a fantastic place to learn. The Achenblog, Shangri La in print.

Posted by: Nani | March 7, 2006 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Joel-I much prefer the first and last chapter method over dust jacket only. It took me 20 years to finish Sun Tzu's Art of War, and it was assigned reading that ostensibly should have required reading the whole slim volume 19 years and 50 months ago.

A bit OT-as someone who has spent a lifetime in, or associated with, the US military I find it pretty funny when the press makes a big deal about the influence of Clausewitz on today's officer. Witness the saying "It's only a lot of reading if you do it."

Instead of a book group, how about semi-regular postings of What I'm Reading Now?

Posted by: MIssingVA | March 7, 2006 10:16 AM | Report abuse

I'm trying to finish Michael Benanav's "Men of Salt : Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold" so that I can begin Richard Bulliet 's "The Camel and the Wheel."

Of course, when we were in Costco on Sunday I discovered a new "product." Current magazines are 30 percent off retail. I had to push beyond Vogue and Glamour to find it, but there it was: the Texas Monthly special edition on the Iraq War with the feature by W.H. Brands and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Now I can really settle into the discussion in the magazine (tough to do in the dental office) before DKG's guest lecture at Trinity tonight.

And Joel, I have to second your emotion. We tried a bookclub in our neighborhhood circa 2003 (it ended up as women-only by default, not design.) We chose to read according to our own interests and each woman talked about her own reading selection(s) that month. The club failed miserably (because) I failed miserably since I was bored by what the others were reading (home schooling of children being one of the prevalent topics).

The Boodle is stronger because of diversity and the passion with which each of us pursues her/his interests.

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 10:18 AM | Report abuse

I've been putting off the book on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to pay attention to the sleep apnea book, which is neglected because I'm busy falling asleep.

Meanwhile, Ruddiman's "Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum" languishes. As does a story on Maverick's B.C. (Before Jeff Clark) in The Surfer's Path. It seems there was a bit of surfing activity at the great wave south of San Francisco before Clark officially brought it to the attention of the world. Sort of like those Portuguese cod fishermen who were at the Grand Banks before Columbus.

Posted by: Dave | March 7, 2006 10:19 AM | Report abuse

SCC: ....discuss books WITH each other.

Other screw-up without a name: Cassandra, I didn't mean to suggest that mobile home dwellers live in poverty (and just remembered that you no longer live in a MH)

Posted by: Nani | March 7, 2006 10:20 AM | Report abuse

My mother jokingly says she will read "Ulysses" by Joyce before she dies.
She got the book as a graduation present, and never got further then the first 4 pages the couple of times she started to read it.
Of course she never intends to finish it, because that would be a bad omen.

Posted by: Eurotrash | March 7, 2006 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of triage...
There was an update on Bob Woodruff this morning on ABC's GMA. Woodruff, after five weeks, is taking his first steps and speaking now several sentences at a time--in English, as well as Chinese, and German, but is still under heavy pain-med sedation. Woodruff's brother says that Bob still has a "TV face." Woodruff's children have been in to see him on more than one occasion.

But there still is no discussion of Woodruff's injuries--the extent of them or their location. Where's Dr. Tim Johnson when we need him?

When Woodruff decided to enter broadcast journalism after returning from China where he helped ABC News (with translation of Chinese) to cover Tiananmen Square, he entered it in the nation's 131st largest market, in Redding-Chico, Calif., just over the Coastal Range from Humboldt State.

I think I have most of this story right, the exception possibly being Woodruff's translation of Chinese during the Tiananmen Square uprising...I think it was to ABC News and Peter Jennings that he provided the language/translation assistance. Could stand some fact-checking on this small factoid.

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Didn't someone produce an edition of "Ulysses" with the spelling cleaned up and other editorial improvements? I think the self-appointed editor thought he was merely doing what any good editor would.

Posted by: Dave | March 7, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse

How do you think Mama got these bicepts?
Moving teetering stacks of read/unread books (all w their very own post it tab packs - that's positive thinking) and their own collection of accumulated related articles and the notes on spin off articles that could be written from the articles.......from one horizontal shelvish/floor surface to another - at Mama's place, the seek and ye shall find method of organization rules!

Posted by: Nachomama | March 7, 2006 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I got seven pages into Steven Wolfram's "A New Kind Of Science" and at least half a chapter into Bruce Schneier's "Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C".

So I'm pretty proud of myself.

Actually it has more to do with the fact that I can't change the font size in books and refuse to get glasses. Also by the time I get home I'm tired of thinking. I have the same problem with video games. "But don't you like a puzzle?" Yes, but my every working moment is solving puzzles. It's not recreation for me.

On the other hand, I recently finished all three seasons of Green Acres, and I'm making good headway on the Beverly Hillbillies.

Posted by: Error Flynn | March 7, 2006 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I gave up on Karen Armstrong's History of God; medieval Jewish cabbalism just did me in. I'm starting to get over the Jane Austen kick I've been on recently. I had read all the novels, of course, but bought a couple of biographies and the letters - which are wonderful! I got out of the habit of reading lots of fiction when the kids were small; I always zone out and that's not possible when there are small beings requiring constant attention. Maybe now that they're out of the house I could get back into it. Never been into American lit. 'Spose I oughter read some Dan Brown, or maybe Faulker.

No, what I really need to do is reread Paradise Lost. Oh, and the fiction of C.S. Lewis, all of which I own and have never opened. His theology books helped me a lot when I was young, but I find them unreadable now.

Posted by: slyness | March 7, 2006 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Late at night, after the children are in bed, and while my wife is watching the latest crime-drama mutation, I like to read. I go down to a small playroom I once built in the basement for the children. For reasons to complex to go into, we keep rabbits there. I let the rabbits out of their cage, and I read while the lagomorphs prance around. At such moments I am largely at peace. However, I am increasingly unsatisfied with the books I have chosen to read. We have a large library here at work, but most of the books are either dull expositions of international policy, or not actually in English. I recently read a book that claims the Black Death was actually caused by hemorrhagic fever. I am currently reading about the history of explosives and its relationship to the international supply of guano. I need help. Any suggestions, from Joel or otherwise, of good books, preferably with an historic or scientific slant, would be greatly appreciated. And please, keep that information about the bunnies to yourselves. I have a reputation to keep up.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 7, 2006 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Religion? Donald Akenson's "Surpassing Wonder" is engaging, even if it's big as a brick. I gotta read his "If the Irish Ran the World: Montserrat, 1630-1730." The volcanic little island was an Irish colony.

Posted by: Dave | March 7, 2006 10:45 AM | Report abuse

slyness says: "his theology books helped me a lot when I was young, but I find them unreadable now"

I had a whole list of books that I told my daughter, you must read these--it's urgent, read them before your 18th birthday! Some, she didn't get to. But I did get her to read Ray Bradbury and Ayn Rand, if not Taylor Caldwell and Howard Fast--I loved those authors when I was young and they meant so much to me. But as an adult? Nah. C.S. Lewis could be in that category for me, too, but I think I was a little too old already when I first read his books.

Posted by: kbertocci | March 7, 2006 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I'll attempt to list the books I haven't read later, but forget about page numbers because was a library book and all but two are packed away somewhere. The two books I did start and stop and eventually finish were "War and Peace" and "The Sailor from Gibraltar", and I liked the "...Sailor..." book more.

The most recent book I've finished was "The Third Policeman" by Flann O'Brien. Quite possibly the strangest book I've ever read. I had heard that this book was shown in an episode of "Lost" and that a reading of it would help in understanding just what the heck is going on, on the island. Well the only thing I came away is a confirmation of my original suspicions.

The book I'm currently reading is "The Paris Option" (the non-Ludlum Ludlum novel). So far it's really good. I usually only read on my commute, about 25-35 minutes one way, but if the book is really good I'll read little when I get home, which I did last night (another hour). The story so far is about a terrorist group the steals a prototype of a molecular DNA computer and we don't know yet what they're planning to do with it. But look at it this way: an m-DNA computer is to today’s most powerful super computer what today’s most powerful super-computer is to an abacus.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 10:51 AM | Report abuse

RD:we keep rabbits there. I let the rabbits out of their cage, and I read while the lagomorphs prance around. At such moments I am largely at peace

RD, I was getting "velveteen" vibes the first time I *heard* you! Nuts to the reputation. You're even more loveable with some of your fur rubbed off.

There's a great riff here somewhere ....I'm working on it ;-) but severely caffeine deprived.

Posted by: Nachomama | March 7, 2006 10:55 AM | Report abuse

SCC "one" was a library book...but you knew that.

And I still have know idea what's going on on the island. Oh, and my original suspucion is from the first episode.

Another SCC group "that" (not "the") steals. There are a couple more SCC, but I'm not going to continue bragging about it. Blorph, I am scum-scum.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Geez, I can't even SCC properly. I think it's time for a walk.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 10:59 AM | Report abuse

So that's my problem. Attention Deficit Reading. Its always so nice when you can put a name to a problem.

There's not a lot that is left unread at my house. If I begin it, its going to be finished with several exceptions. I've never finished 'Gone With the Wind, but I have started 4 seperate times over the course of my life. I give up. I will never read this to the end. I've never finished the 'Illiad' and the 'Odyssey' though I've started them each twice. I think I'm going to need a class environment to keep me motivated. Or maybe I should just try to find the tv miniseries from several decades ago on dvd. That would be so much easier. 'Memoirs of a Geisha' is a lovely looking book and is sitting unfinished. I keep debating if this book is really worth my time. Otherwise I have inhaled all the books I own, and significant portions of libraries across the prairies.

Currently in the read are 'Shake Hands with the Devil' which I am going to need more tissue and a stronger heart to finish. 'The Thieves of Baghdad' is partly finished too. The stack of the purchased and not begun is growing, and the must read list is expanding exponentially every time I come to the blog.

I bought a novel yesterday to read over lunch and as is my custom, I checked out the back pages of the book. There is a whole book club section, questions for disscussion, authors comments, afterword. I'm not sure I like that. It felt contrived.

Posted by: dr | March 7, 2006 11:05 AM | Report abuse

The Velveteen Rabbit. All parents must read this book to their children at some point. It is a book for the ages. The message just gets stronger with each passing year.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 7, 2006 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Recently retired and cannot believe how quickly the books stacked up; I read more books when I was working because I spent less time on the net. Currently laying around that I definitely intend to finish are Rising Tide by Barry, Collapse by Diamond, His Excellency, George Washington, Grant & Sherman, 1491. This list does not include the nonfiction I might finish. And don't forget the fiction I gobble up in an evening, those I partly read, those I might read, and the ones I would like to read but probably won't get past page 10. How many book pages could have been read instead of this blog, all the comments, and writing this? Still nice to have goals in life no matter how unattainable.

Posted by: Jenice | March 7, 2006 11:06 AM | Report abuse

RDP, we used to let our pet lagomorph Pippin have the run of the basement from time to time, but he chewed on some shelves that must have had lead paint, because before you could say "hassenpfeffer" it was adios Pippin and he was off to the big hutch. Be careful what you expose your pals to. Rabbits are pretty sensitive. This is the reason that drug and cosmetic companies like to use them for testing. If the eyeliner doesn't bother Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, it's probably OK for Muffy, Buffy, and Heather.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Books I can't finish no matter how often I start them:

Gravity's Rainbow - I made it through V just fine.

Ulysses - I have the "revised, corrected, original author's intent" edition and it is still completely incomprehensible.

The Killer Angels - Who knew the Civil War could be this dull?

Posted by: yellojkt | March 7, 2006 11:08 AM | Report abuse

RD Padouk, Nachomama beat me to the punch! I was going to say "How sweet!" Something tells me you're going to be one heck of a grandparent!

Posted by: Nani | March 7, 2006 11:12 AM | Report abuse

My all-time favorite Twilight Zone episode: the guy who never has enough time to read. Is he a librarian? I guess so, because he's in a building full of books when the bomb drops or something, anyway, it's the end of the world and everybody is gone except him, and now he has all the time he could ever want to read, read, read. He's happy, and then he breaks his glasses. That's supposed to be a tragic twist, but I'm thinking, no glasses just means holding the book closer. I thought that was a happy ending Twilight Zone.

Posted by: kbertocci | March 7, 2006 11:14 AM | Report abuse

As far as C.S. Lewis goes, The Screwtape Letters is fairly brilliant. Like Dostoevsky, Lewis had a unique understanding of what ails the human soul.

Posted by: Sirin | March 7, 2006 11:14 AM | Report abuse

K-guy words well taken. Since the playroom was designed for little children it has been carefully screened for danger. The bunnies are spayed sisters we got from a rescue service a few years ago. Unfortunately, I suspect these bunnies were abused at one point, because despite much patience, they still will not tolerate being touched. But I like them. And they like me, to a point, because I always have raisins.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 7, 2006 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I sometimes listen to audio books to ease the pain of my miserable commute down I-270, then on to the Washington Navy Yard. Listening to them makes you feel like you accomplished something. (Besides just showing up for work, that is.) My wife just got me a stash of audio books off the clearance rack at the local big-box-bookstore for my birthday.

I wish that there was a "Napster" equivalent for audio books. Or a magic machine that you could stuff a book into, and, presto, out would come a tape or CD. Scanning a book by hand, page by page, is a drag.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | March 7, 2006 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Jeez, lookit all the exclamation points! I yam beneath contempt.

Posted by: Nani | March 7, 2006 11:19 AM | Report abuse

You just triggered a Far Side memory and I can't find the cartoon to link to, but the set up is a sales clerk at store counter with a bunny on the counter and a number of small dark objects on the counter near the bunny's bum with a sign that says "Raisins five cents".

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 11:23 AM | Report abuse

I bet a person could have an excellent and educational time, and produce a funny book, by writing "The Comprehensible Ulysses, for the Style-Impaired." Not that I've ever actually even seen a copy of Ulysses. I know him only by reputation.

Posted by: Tim | March 7, 2006 11:26 AM | Report abuse

I've done a lot of audio books as substitutes for real reading. In a way they are better. I insist on unabridged versions that I get from the library. Since my car only has a CD player that also limits my selection to the newer acquisitions. Ones I have enjoyed include:

"Jazz" by Toni Morrison
"The Corrections" by Jonathon Franzen
"Parable of the Sower" by Octavia Butler

My tribute to Octavia Butler is here:

My FM antenna is on the fritz. I have been listening to AM radio for two weeks and am now suffering severe NPR withdrawal. I need to either get some audio books or learn how to put podcasts on my PDA.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 7, 2006 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Don, I'm with yah. If it isn't on audio, I don't have time to read it. It's pathetic, I know. By the way, has some kind of mp3 purchase progra. I've never used it, but it seems like a nice idea. Here's their link:

Posted by: CowTown | March 7, 2006 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Oh, I should have mentioned that my wife got to meet Gary Larsen years ago when he had a show at NMNH. She said that he was quiet and a little nerdy and she couldn't get him to talk about much of anything. Actually I think what she said was that he had "the conversational skills of a turban squash on Thorazine."

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 11:29 AM | Report abuse

RD, do you enjoy historical mysteries? Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time is a classic. Police officer in hospital – nurse wants him to stimulate his brain and brings him photos of people – one of whom is Richard III. Question: was Richard guilty of the murder of the princes? A great book. She also wrote a book called The Man in the Queue. That was the first one of hers I read. Ellis Peters also writes that type of book. Another author is Penman (I think that;s correct) same type. Medieval. There’s also the Brother Cadfael books = they were done on WFSU Mystery series.

RD, perhaps one day you'll have a dances with wolves experience and the rabbits will take raisins from your hand. I

Posted by: Nani | March 7, 2006 11:29 AM | Report abuse

A few years ago, I read Don Quixote, all except the final 70 or so pages. I think I see what's coming (he's going to become sane and then die, right?) and I don't want to see it happen...I've come to love his insanity. Besides, I couldn't bear it if he realizes Dulcinea is an ideal, not a woman.
So there the book sits, taunting me, all these years.

Posted by: LostInThought | March 7, 2006 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Uh, I'm embarrassed. Sorry, bad link. Try this for

Thank you for your continued attention and cooperation.

Posted by: CowTown | March 7, 2006 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Don from 270,

iTunes has lots of audiobooks. Very easy to navigate, purchase and download.

But the Fairfax Co. Public Library now has two services of audiobooks to download (check out) for free--one works with iPod, the other doesn't (go figure: "Let's leave out 85% of the market!").

Perhaps out there in Maryland-land there's a library system that provides downloadable books, too.

Posted by: TBG | March 7, 2006 11:39 AM | Report abuse

lostinthought - i'm reading don quixote as well! i got it for xmas - man, is it a MONSTER of a book! that and the last harry potter are my guilty partially-reads - plus mountains and mountains of unread from a stupid book club i was too stupid to join... there's just no way in he$$ i can keep up with book clubs! i can't even keep up with the boodle!

so now that i'm caught up i hafta weigh in on a cple things:

i thought crash deserved to win and i was delighted! i really liked the movie because it disturbed me to no end... i think that's what a movie is supposed to do, make you THINK! having lived in hollywood and been in the industry for a while i can name-drop with the best of 'em but i can't stand name-dropping so i won't (it's way way to prevalent there). oh, and trust me, people in the academy and in hollywood have absolutely no problem with homosexuality! i think there's more i want to say but i hafta think it thru more...

Posted by: mo | March 7, 2006 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Many thanks for the link, CowTown. I'll check it out. I did the entire Harry Potter series that way. So now, my memory scrambles the audio/video feed from the movie with the audio feed of the book and visual recollections of where I was driving. My brain is a wasteland of useless imagry.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | March 7, 2006 11:45 AM | Report abuse

oh, about african american contributions to the US in general and DC in particular - kb, that really resonnated with me! i, too, will look at the monuments very differently now - but i've grown up with the idea of african american contributions to the world - (remember mom is from panama and the canal would never have been built had it not been for the african workers! many of them stayed in panama...) so having grown up with that history it's like, well, yeah - there's a lot we wouldn't have had it not been for African americans!

Posted by: mo | March 7, 2006 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Dana Reeve is dead today from lung cancer--passive smoke. 44 years old.

One of the Reeves' close friends is actress Glenn Close (mo forgive the name-dropping, but Close is a daughter of ancient Windsor, Conn.)

Nani, I am so pleased to learn that you are a yam!

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Let me recommend that you scamper off to August House Publishing, , and look for storytelling CD's and tapes. This is material that always was intended for the ear, not the eye. Books on tape always seemed like a derivative medium to me (not that there's anything wrong with that...). More importantly, if it is a straight reading, rather than an adaptation, then you have lots of the reader saying "... he said", "... she said", and reading what are essentially stage directions. The old maxim applies: "show, don't tell." In a storytelling performance, a good teller conveys the context by voice and mannerism. If the book-on-tape is an adaptation, with the author's cooperation, then I withdraw my reservations.

I find I largely read children's books these days. Partly, it's because I want something I can finish quickly. Partly, it's research for my eventual desire to try to publish some of my stories as children's books. Partly, I just want to stay current with what my offspring are reading, which means I am slowly coming back to young adulthood in my reading. Mainly, however, I find that children's books that stand up as classics do so because the author has shaken free of literary pretension and is ready to tell a story that speaks to your heart. The children's book market is a harsh wilderness of natural selection. Trash and snobbery don't last long, and rarely get a second printing.

Posted by: StorytellerTim | March 7, 2006 11:49 AM | Report abuse

and isn't modern civilization said to have started in africa? mesopotamia if i remember correctly... that's why racism boggles my mind... i mean, we all come from the same place if you really think about it! i'm a firm believer that mixed race children may be the bridge that gets over racism... (sorry to bring racism back into the boodle)

Posted by: mo | March 7, 2006 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I'm delighted to see I'm not alone here. I've always been in the habit of reading multiple books at a time. I love switching around from fiction to non, classic to fluff, humor to true-crime. I don't care how long it takes to finish any of them, if ever. My real problem is that I recently and innocently subscribed to the New Yorker. Who knew that sucker is a weekly???? I barely get the chance to enjoy the cartoons, read the short articles in front and briefly scan the fiction when BAM - there's another one in the mailbox! Now there are piles of magazines everywhere, staring at me all haughty and resentful-like, as if to say, "some voracious reader you are - can't even get through a lousy magazine!!" I'm considering moving and not leaving a forwarding address...

Posted by: Slats | March 7, 2006 11:53 AM | Report abuse

mo writes:
(remember mom is from panama and the canal would never have been built had it not been for the african workers! many of them stayed in panama...) so having grown up with that history it's like, well, yeah - there's a lot we wouldn't have had it not been for African americans!

Ditto with the Chinese laborers who bulit much of the Western leg of the transcontinental railroad.

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 11:53 AM | Report abuse

RD, I love rabbits. I'm a little afraid of them, but I think they're fantastic. And the fact that you have two, just really elevates you to one sweet person in my book.

Nani, not offended, could never be offended at you. You're a good heart.

As to my reading, I can't really read the books I would like to anymore because of the granddaughter and my care of her. We read the easy readers from the library for her, and I enjoy that.

Posted by: Cassandra S | March 7, 2006 11:56 AM | Report abuse

mo writes:
and isn't modern civilization said to have started in africa? mesopotamia if i remember correctly... that's why racism boggles my mind... i mean, we all come from the same place if you really think about it!

Oooohhh, mo, let's make this really contemporary with the latest on genetics from fab reporter Nick Wade at the NYT today:

March 7, 2006
Still Evolving, Human Genes Tell New Story

Providing the strongest evidence yet that humans are still evolving, researchers have detected some 700 regions of the human genome where genes appear to have been reshaped by natural selection, a principal force of evolution, within the last 5,000 to 15,000 years.

The genes that show this evolutionary change include some responsible for the senses of taste and smell, digestion, bone structure, skin color and brain function.

Many of these instances of selection may reflect the pressures that came to bear as people abandoned their hunting and gathering way of life for settlement and agriculture, a transition well under way in Europe and East Asia some 5,000 years ago.

Under natural selection, beneficial genes become more common in a population as their owners have more progeny.

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Sorry mo, Mesopotamia is in Asia, not Africa. Iraq and its neighbors.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 12:01 PM | Report abuse


You are so right about the New Yorker. I had a subsription in college. I would read it on my 45 minute bus ride each way to my co-op job. I could barely finish one issue before the next one arrived. The pressure is unbearable. And the pace is unrelenting. I had to let my subcription lapse for the sake of my mental health.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 7, 2006 12:03 PM | Report abuse

YJ, We once subscribed to the Sunday New York Times, with similar results.

Posted by: kbertocci | March 7, 2006 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Go to any suburban apartment complex swimming pool this summer, and you'll see why racism is on it's way out. Children playing/learning together is the answer. Racism is about the fear of Other. There is no Other in a playgroup, with perhaps the exception of who is "It" and that job rotates.

Posted by: LostInThought | March 7, 2006 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Loomis, way cool. My weekend was spent tossing old magasines from forgotten corners. I went through Discover magasines from the early 90's on the weekend. The older they were, the more outdated the adds for computers and technology. Just this morning I was reading in one of the last about the gene for Cysitc Fibrosis possibly being an adaptation to avoid the diarrhea caused by disease. Interesting reading, and very possibly out of date. As I read I realized how much knowledge has been gained about the human body in just the last 10 years.

Posted by: dr | March 7, 2006 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Huh! Just try keeping up with the Economist. It's a hefty weekly.

Posted by: CowTown | March 7, 2006 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I still read to my children (still got two at home). Of course, they are 20 and 23, and I read them the riot act from time to time. *rimshot*

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Loomis, is it really supportable to assign a specific cause for Dana Reeve's lung cancer? I know that my immediate reaction when the press first released the fact that she had been diagnosed was to think "Well, that's what you get for smoking." Except, a moment later, the press report noted that she said that she had never smoked. So, my tidy universe of orderly cause-and-effect, of reaping what you sowed, was tipped over and broken. I doubt it did much for her, either. Maybe there was a specific cause for her cancer in secondhand smoke. Maybe it was just very, very bad luck.

Cancer is a statistical problem. Sometime, I need to calculate the number of times in your lifetime, or even in a day, that the cells in your body copy their DNA and produce daughter cells. Every single division needs to be near-perfect, or needs to kill the cell -- and not too many of those dead cells at one time, or you die from internal hemorrhaging (which is what Ebola does to you). Carcinogens increase the probability that a bad copy occurs, or maybe increases the odds of a badly-copied cell surviving. I couldn't tell you which.

We know that smoking enormously increases the odds of something that is actually fairly rare in a 'wild population' of humans. It stands to reason that secondhand smoke does so, too, unless almost all the carcinogens are trapped in the lungs of smokers. The last I heard, the direct statistical evidence for secondhand smoke causing cancer is weak. I suspect it's mainly a data-collection problem -- determining who has been exposed to secondhand smoke, and how much, and also distinguishing them from the general population. Those of us born before about 1980 have already been exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke, becuase workplace and public-place smoking were so prevalent before the 80's and the rise of smoke-free environments. Dana Reeve was only a year older than me. My mother and father smoked when I was young (now, only my mother still smokes, a lot less than she used to). My first 20 years were in a smoky environment. Will cancer get me? Maybe. Maybe not before heart disease.

My suspicion, unfounded in actual data, is that secondhand smoke is not a major problem in the sense of causing cancer. It is associated with a higher incidence of sudden infant death syndrome, and other relatively immediate effects in children. I thinkwhat dooms us is the polluted stew we have made of our environment. The experimental test would be to compare to nonsmokers in an environment of otherwise heavy smoking without a lot of industrial waste, and with low population density to limit exposures to human waste products. I'm thinking Mongolia, Siberia, some Indian reservations.

Posted by: ScienceTim | March 7, 2006 12:22 PM | Report abuse

loomis! my bad, i don't mean you name drop - you list your geneology - that's different then name dropping who you rubbed shoulders with at a party just to impress someone... and k-guy, i'm an id, i knew meso. was in asia - don't know why i brain farted on that - i think i heard recently something about civil. starting in africa and got it mixed up in my mind... my mind is very very mixed up!
as for magazines - i finally had to just STOP the addiction - there's no way i can keep up with them and the sunday paper - like slats said:

Now there are piles of magazines everywhere, staring at me all haughty and resentful-like, as if to say, "some voracious reader you are - can't even get through a lousy magazine!!"

i totally had that in my apt... had. to. stop. the. madness!

Posted by: mo | March 7, 2006 12:26 PM | Report abuse

"A savvy reader is a ruthless reader."

How true. I used to compel myself to read any book I began. In my 40's I began to liberate myself from this form of self-punishement. Now that I'm in my 50's, I wouldn't dream of finishing a book that doesn't hold my attention. To those of you reading Faulkner, good luck. To anyone considering reading Ulysses or any other James Joyce, I can only ask, why? Just finished reading Gilead which I enjoyed and am now starting Middlemarch by George Eliot. Even though I was an English major in college, I somehow never read that book. Tonight I'm attending a book event featuring the physicist Dr. Michio Kaku who will discuss his book Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos. My son is even going with me. I do like it when Boodlers post books of interest that they've enjoyed. I've read several books that have been mentioned here.

Posted by: Susan | March 7, 2006 12:28 PM | Report abuse

'Mudge, send the kids. I have a lot of brush and downed trees to be cleared and don't get August off like some Presidents. You could sell it to 'em like a summer eco-retreat. That way I can put 'em on a nice diet of granola bars and compensate you directly.

Hmmm? Whaddaya think?

Posted by: Error Flynn | March 7, 2006 12:29 PM | Report abuse

dr, my younger child subscribes to Discovery and Scientific American. This English major doesn't comprehend all the articles, but I do enjoy SA's feature of info published 50, 100, and 150 years ago. There's something to be said for that kind of continuity...She and I have devoured all the Harry Potter books, but, as much as I enjoy them, I find them like Chinese food. In an hour, I'm hungry again...and I never can keep the plots straight in my mind. They just don't stick like Austen's, or Shakespeare's.

Posted by: slyness | March 7, 2006 12:29 PM | Report abuse

From what I understand, before cigarettes came about, lung cancer was pretty unusual. That's not to say it didn't exist, or that smoking "created" it. But it became fairly common, or at least it was no longer unusual, once everyone started smoking. That's probably why we attribute lung cancer to cigarette smoke, and we don't automatically attribute other forms of cancer to smoking (even though smoking is responsible for causing other kinds, too.)

Posted by: Sirin | March 7, 2006 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Don from I-270:audio books to ease the pain of my miserable commute

great way to up your average don! I'm w you. read a lot that way.

Posted by: Nmama | March 7, 2006 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I also thought about reading Doctorow's "March", but having already read "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and "Lies Across America" by James Loewen, I felt that Doctorow was touting the party line on U.S. history, to my disappointment. If Docotorow addresses any of the following, my interest in the book may be revived.

In "Across America", Loewen tells the true story of Elizabeth Van Lew of Richmond, VA. She and her Quaker mother freed their slaves and bought the freedom of some of their former slaves' relatives before the raid at Harpers Ferry. During the war, Elizabeth was a spymaster for the Union. Because she was a white woman, authorities didn't investigate her for her abolitionist ways. In fact, she was known as an eccentric who walked the streets of Richmond with wild hair, talking to herself.

Elizabeth had assisted in the education of many of her former slaves, and sent them out as servants into the home of Jefferson Davis and other key Confederates. Because they were black, no one suspected they could read, and they used sophisticated codes to report the activities of their targets.

Loewen also explains that many a marker put up to commemorate a southern white killed by the Union Army, is a lie. Many southern white abolitionists were killed by their neighbors, and the story of solidarity with the Confederacy in the South is a neo-Confederate myth.

Loewen also documents that the destruction allegedly inflicted by Sherman during his "March to the Sea", is also a myth. He was preceded on the march by Confederate Cavalry units bent on destroying the resources before the Union Army could arrive. Then North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance called the Confederate cavalry the 8th plague, comparable to the first 7 visited on Egypt. The editor of the Savannah newspaper in 1864, before Sherman arrived, noted that "It is notorious that our own army...was more dreaded by the inhabitants than was the army of Sherman. The soldiers, and even the officers took everything that came their way, giving the excuse that if they did not, the enemy would."

Just on the march from Atlanta to Savannah, according to Loewen, hundreds, if not thousands, of white southerners joined Sherman's army. The historical markers that portray a unified white southern pro-Confederacy population, are fiction. The allegations that slaves were pro-Confederacy is as absurd as it sounds. There are no markers to commemorate the joy with which Sherman was greeted by slaves. Often some of the units of that army would see no whites for days, but crowds of ecstatic blacks were freed by the northern soldiers while those still enslaved worked in secret to hide escaping northern prisoners and to foil Confederate operations.


Posted by: DoubleVision | March 7, 2006 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I once tried to read 'A Brief History of Time'. I understood most of it in a very plebian, man on the street kind of way, but once it got to quantum physics, I had to stop. There was a band that just kept tightening around my head, and it was starting to interfere with my thought processes. I'd like to finish it, but I don't think I have the intellectual time, to really think about what he wrote.

Austen is was and always will be a welcome relief.

Posted by: dr | March 7, 2006 12:40 PM | Report abuse

TIM: author has shaken free of literary pretension and is ready to tell a story that speaks to your heart...harsh wilderness of natural selection. Trash and snobbery don't last long, and rarely get a second printing

Thanks for the link and agreed. I just read Jackie Tales: the magic of creating stories and the art of telling them. In the 80's Jackie was coming to the school system where I worked (in the library) and to think I had no idea who she was! Would give anything now if I had been a fly on the wall.

Posted by: Nachomama | March 7, 2006 12:45 PM | Report abuse

TIM: * Picture Books finished recently (yes, good way to up your ratio) - also, if you (attempt to) write poetry this is as close as you can get to "original mind" and the illustrations alone are enough to spark at LEAST 1000 words:
Bird of imagining, Lewis
I live in music, Ntozake Shange / Romare Bearden
The eagle's gift, Rafe
And if the moon could talk, Banks
3 days on a river in a red canoe, Williams
Darkness and the butterfly, Grifalconi
The way to start a day, Baylor
Narnia books, all

Posted by: Nachomama | March 7, 2006 12:50 PM | Report abuse

TIM: * Picture Books finished recently (yes, good way to up your ratio) - also, if you (attempt to) write poetry this is as close as you can get to "original mind" and the illustrations alone are enough to spark at LEAST 1000 words:
Bird of imagining, Lewis
I live in music, Ntozake Shange / Romare Bearden
The eagle's gift, Rafe
And if the moon could talk, Banks
3 days on a river in a red canoe, Williams
Darkness and the butterfly, Grifalconi
The way to start a day, Baylor
Narnia books, all

Posted by: Nachomama | March 7, 2006 12:51 PM | Report abuse

What I'm reading:

Shattering the Myth: Islam and Violence - Bruce Lawrence
Messages to the World: The Writings of Osama Bin Laden - Lawrence
One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw - Witold Rybczynski

On audio for my commute:
A Briefer History of Time - Hawking

And, I realize this may sound weird to some, but for my bedtime reading, I am rereading my entire collection of Agatha Christie, in the order they were written. I've done the same with my Arthur C. Clark, Dick Francis, Dorothy L. Sayers, John LeCarre and Isaac Asimov.

On deck:
The Thich Nhat Hahn Collection and a couple of shelves-full of others.


Posted by: DoubleVision | March 7, 2006 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Tim, that's Jackie Torrence, sorry

Posted by: Nachomama | March 7, 2006 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if I can use a word like "recommend" with regard to depictions of cancer in film, but there are a couple of movies on the subject that I found deeply affecting. The Doctor with William Hurt, Christine Lahti, and the wonderful Elizabeth Perkins is about a doctor who developes throat cancer and learns about life on the other end of the stethoscope. Wit with Emma Thompson directed by Mike Nichols is adapted from a stage play about a lonely scholar who has terminal ovarian cancer. It follows her from diagnosis to terminus with a good deal of realism. Much of the film is Thompson talking to the camera. She is wonderful. Because of the subject matter. this is tough going. Do not watch this if you or someone close to you has cancer or if you have lost someone to cancer recently. I mean it.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 12:56 PM | Report abuse

At one time I subscribed to at least six magazines. I have now trimmed that down to Time, Entertainment Weekly, and Wired. I still don't always get around to Wired. I binge read them while on vacation.

When I read Scientific American, I count the number of paragraphs I can get into an article before I am completely lost. The mean is 6. Three, if the article is biology related.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 7, 2006 1:02 PM | Report abuse

KGUY:the conversational skills of a turban squash on Thorazine

This is what comes of childhood spent holed up in my fort in the woods wi critters & books, & no 2 leggeds. Many of us boodle for this reason??

Posted by: Nachomama | March 7, 2006 1:04 PM | Report abuse

new category: *Books Reread most, best current recollection:
Bones of the Master, Crane (winner most times in 1 yr)
Joseph Campbell, all, any format, continuous iv feed,(tie for 1 yr, grand champ longterm)
Long Quiet Highway, Goldberg, (1st runner up)
Early Morning, Kim Stafford
William Stafford, anything, all of em (impossible to rank)
House of Shattering Light, Rael
Being and Vibration, Rael (2nd runner up)
Mama Makes Up Her Mind, White (right up there)
Sleeping at the Starlight Motel, White (ditto)
You Have To Say Something, Katagiri Roshi
Hafiz, several, way up there too
Mark Doty, ditto
Stephen Levine, A gradual awakening, Who dies

Posted by: Nachomama | March 7, 2006 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I am indeed a big reader and I can attest to the fact that very few books are worth reading. Many of the so-called great books are not so great and can be skipped. Novels, even the best, are a thing of the past. I used to keep up with them;now I avoid them like the plague.

Every year I clean out my books, sending the scholarly ones to a University Library and the rest to a Public Library. I get a nice tax deduction for the contribution and get space for new books to buy.

Posted by: candide | March 7, 2006 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if anybody else has noticed this, but the double word phenomenon seems to be linked to the browser one uses. I see two "somes" in my 11:06 post when viewed with IE, but only one when viewed with Netscape.
Curioser and curioser.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 7, 2006 1:29 PM | Report abuse

DV: I just heard a great interview with Thich Nhat Hahn last Sunday on NPR. Thank you for mentioning his name, because I would never have been able to spell it on my own. And without being able to spell it, I wouldn't be able to remember it--and it is a name I would like to remember, a human presence that I would like to keep in mind.

Posted by: kbertocci | March 7, 2006 1:34 PM | Report abuse

to my list of inspirational picture books add used National Geographics and Smithsonians and Arizona Highways bought elcheapo at big AAUW booksale benefit (think football field full of books in boxes)

alltime best find: Equires history of Cigars (detest cigars but like to read about the type of guys who smoke them!

Posted by: Nachomama | March 7, 2006 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Science Tim deals with cancer in such scientific, analytical terms, which is good and thought-provoking.

K-guy deals with cancer in the movies, which is good and thought-provoking.

My husband and I dealt with my mother-in-law's lung cancer and her decline, second-hand, because she started her slow/fast (what is time?) decline in my brother- and sister-in-law's home. She died under their roof, in more-or-less her own bed. The story is not pretty.

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 1:40 PM | Report abuse

wow DV, When I started reading your post I was thinking LindaLoo. I of course mean that as a compliment to both of you.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Lindaloo, yes I yam a yam and proud of it!

Nachomama, Google Cricket Magazine (suggested by TIM a boodle or so back) click on sample issue; today's story is "Pond Water", a different take on the princess/frog/kiss tale. I've taken a year's subscription for No. 1 great-grandboy and the other grandchildren.

Posted by: Nani | March 7, 2006 1:43 PM | Report abuse

kber, I bought my Hahn copy at a remaindered bookstore online that I read about in the WaPO a few weeks ago:
I am not affilliated with them, but I am now a fan.

Nacho, thanks for mentioning Hafiz, one of my re-reads, too.

candide, I agree that the so-called great books are often not worth the trouble.

It's bad feng shui to hang on to things that depress you, like books you think you "should" read. Or the antique wicker rocker I recently unloaded because even with my magic drill and tinkering nature, it was beyond help.

You can also donate books to your local prison. I sometimes wonder what they make of my literary tastes. Sadly, the state of America today includes an ever-growing prison population.


Posted by: DoubleVision | March 7, 2006 1:46 PM | Report abuse

To lighten things up a little bit, Eugene Robinson has turned down my proposal of bigamy:

San Antonio, Tex.: As a person who graduated from college with an art major, I'm impressed that your column today compared the dada art movement early in the last century with the current state of U.S. politics.

My question is: Will you marry me?

Eugene Robinson: Already married, and while bigamy would be a Dada kind of thing to do, the authorities would not be amused. Neither would my wife.

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 1:47 PM | Report abuse

About two weeks ago, I almost bought (seriously) Witold's "Screw" book (it was deeply discounted and I already have his "A Clearing in the Distance").

Would you really recommend it? Why?

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I read that column too. A good read and much recommended:

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 1:51 PM | Report abuse

You know, if you read the last paragraph of Joel's Kit, it could also apply to mates/marriages that aren't working any more. "It's over."


Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I swear, I didn't propose twice to Eugene Robinson--that would be double-bigamy and we just couldn't bare it! So that's the double word-thangy that y'all are talkin' 'bout?

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Book re-re-re-read category:

By LeCarre: the Karla Trilogy (Tinker/Tailor, Honorable Schoolboy, Smiley's People), A Small Town in Germany, 5-6 times each.

A Burnt-out Case, Graham Greene, 5 (?) times, "Our Man in Havana, 3-4 times

Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, 4-5 times, (previously mentioned in a Loomis post, thought it isn't "recent," but 1974, and won the Pulitzer Prize; was the "granddaddy" and progenitor of all the Civil War novels like The March that followed it. Its technique and structure were revolutionary in its day, and sparked everything that followed in this kind of war novel. Some have considered it the best war novel ever written. (If it isn't, it's clearly in the top 5.)

All the Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester.

All the Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian (though two or three passes were the great Recorded Books versions read by the outstanding Patrick Tull.)

All the "Quiller" novels of "Adam Hall" (Elleston Trevor)--3-4 times each.

All Sherlock Holmes, 3-4 times.

All Michael Connelly "Harry Bosh" novels, 2-3 times for the earlier ones, most especially the first three (Black Echo, Black Ice, Concrete Blond).

Several Robert Crais "Elvis Costello" novels, plus "Demolition Angel" (3 times)

"The Great War and Modern Memory," Paul Fussell, 4-5 times (a seminal, life-changing work)(Pulitizer winner)

The Face of Battle, John Keegan, another seminal, perspective-changing book--4 times.

As a youth, most of the then-existing Hardy Boys, 2-3 times each (there were only 32 in the series back then)

A Kind of Anger, Eric Ambler--4 times (very overlooked Ambler spy novel, but his best, IMHO)

All in the Family, by Edwin O'Connor (no connection to the Archie Bunker TV show, but is about Boston politics; same guy wrote "The Last Hurrah." The opening 80-page chapter of this novel is one of my favorites in all of literature.)

All Hemingway "Nick Adams" short stories (2-3 times); Sun Also Rises (4-5 times); Islands in the Stream (five times; my favorite Hemingway)

The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald, 3-4 times

All Anthony Price novels (20 spy novels, all concerning the great Dr. David Audley---without question the most underappreciated spy novelist; read "Other Paths to Glory," his best, perhaps 6 times)(a very "clean" writer who dazzles with changing point-of-view in each book; highly recommend also "Gunner Kelly," "The Old Vengeful," "Our Man in Camelot.")

The Once and Future King, T.H. White. (Basis for the musical "Camelot")

Pigeon Feathers, Of the Farm, Rabbit Run, John Updike

Grendel, John Gardner--maybe 6-7 times. Great, great novel.

Poetry of Wilfred Owen, Billy Collins, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, also John Donne and Shakespeare sonnets, 3-4 times each

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Oh Linda I know what you're talking about. My mom lost a breast to cancer eight years ago- she's doing great now. I can remember the sort of quiet satisfaction I felt when she asked me to take leave from my job and fly to Ft. Worth to help her through her recovery. It just felt so good to be able to give back. I had thought that it might be a little strange helping her bathe and dress and care for the surgical site since my mother was always very modest with us as kids, but she was very straightforward and matter of fact about it all and ultimately it brought us closer. I'm sure that my stay-at-home-dad years were a help in developing my nurturing skills too.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Oh, Maltese Falcon, The Continetal Op, Dashiell Hammett, and most Raymond Chandler, especially "The Long Goodbye."

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Ah, the scent of Cowtown. Come hither, son.

Posted by: Gargantua | March 7, 2006 2:03 PM | Report abuse

What, Mudge, no Elmore Leonard?

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 2:10 PM | Report abuse

'Mudge, that's definitely a guy list - which I mean in the most positive way. You know, I enjoyed The Once and Future King when I was a kid, but haven't been able to get through it as an adult. I wonder what that says about me? OTOH, I was in my middle thirties before I realized that all my favorite authors - Alcott, Wilder, Austen, Sayers, et al - were women. And all of them portray strong women who overcome obstacles to become successful.

Posted by: slyness | March 7, 2006 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Loomis, I enjoy Rybczynski's writing. In this book, he was tasked to write about the "best tool". He succeeded in bringing me to imagine the mind that would invent the first screw and its first uses.

'Mudge, big yes to Hammet, too bad there weren't more than five. And "Once and Future King" still shapes my understanding of man's place in the universe. Did White ever say that he was writing on a metaphysical level?


Posted by: DoubleVision | March 7, 2006 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Actually yes, K-guy--most Leonard crime novels (no westerns), but so far just once each. Lots of other stuff, too, but the list was multiple reads only. Lots of other crime/spy/mysteries, too, but also only once or maybe twice. Somebody mentioned the excellent "Daughters of Time" by Tey--that was a 3-4 timer.

Dune by Frank Herbert 3-4 times (the whole rest of the Dune novels sure sucked, though, didn't they?), Asimov's Foundation trilogy 3-4 times, all Alfred Bester sci-fi 3-4 times.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Hey, we're highlighted on the WaPo home page today.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Slyness, try Wilkie Collins- The Woman in White or No Name. Either will give you strong heroine and good plotting.

Mudge, try Doris Lessing. She wrote some sci-fi from a feminine perspective. Nothing I have ever read gave me more of a sense of what it is to be a woman than The Golden Notebook, though definitely not sci-fi. Also try Dean King's biography of Patrick O'Brian.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I love the Elmore Leonard stuff set in South Florida because he gets the details nearly perfect. I could practically drive to the locations he used in "Rum Punch".

Posted by: yellojkt | March 7, 2006 2:25 PM | Report abuse

K-guy, I actually have a copy of The Moonstone but have never sat down to read it. Ah, the things to look forward to in retirement!

Posted by: slyness | March 7, 2006 2:29 PM | Report abuse

The Moonstone has things to say about racism and drug addiction, but not so much women's rights, which was Collins' great cause and a central theme in the two novels I mentioned. No Name throws in bastardy for good measure. In its way it's a little like Band of Angels, a Civil War and Reconstruction flick with Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier wherein Yvonne DeCarlo finds out after living her whole life as white that she is actually of mixed race and is sold as a slave (it's not bad but not great either).

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Screen trumps page for me these days, but books remain an important part of my workstation decor. Not only does the PC allow me to format text into a preferred font (using wordpad), but the save and search capability is priceless.

I am currently enjoying a recent translation of Thomas Moore's Utopia by Clarence H. Miller.

A brief excerpt:

"...thus there is a danger that the device which they thought would do them so much good will do them great harm because of their imprudence."

Posted by: nodomojo | March 7, 2006 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Read the Lessing long ago, K-guy, but couldn't get into her much. Read Ursula LeGuin, too, and she was OK, but not the top of my list.

I read the latest Elmore Leanord paperback, "Mr. Paradise," on the infamous cruise a few weeks back. Very good, typically funny, but I didn't give it to my wife when I was done--I know she wouldn't like some it: a major plot point has to do with the differences in how two fashion models shave they shave. Liked his Tishomingo Blues, Rum Punch, Maximum Bob, Get Shorty. especially liked the twists in Pagan Babies.

Oh jeez, how could I forget Carl Hiaasen!! Loved Skin Tight, Tourist Season, Skinny Dip, Basket Case, Double Whammy-- especially those with the character Skink. Actually didn't care for Strip Tease or Stormy Weather much.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Lord of the Rings three times (one of these days I'll make four, as soon as I find copies that don't have the stupid movie covers)

The Hobbit five times.

The Silmarillion twice (most people don't believe I finished it once, let alone read it twice, haha)

That's all I can think of for multiple readings. Maybe some Asimov and Heinlein.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Of course all those multiple readings were in High School, when I had gobs a free time. Don't forget entire summers of free time too.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 2:53 PM | Report abuse

SCC gobs OF free time. And I JUST got back from a walk, damn.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 2:53 PM | Report abuse

The great teen coming-of-age trilogy: William Goldman's Temple of Gold, John Knowles A Separate Peace, and of course Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, all 3-4 times each many many years ago. All other Salinger at least twice, plus the short story "The Laughing Man" (one of my alltime favorite short stories by anybody)--maybe 8-9 times. TLM features the Girl in the Black Raincoat, with whom I developed the worst crush (as did the two guys in the story). To this day, I still see a Girl in the Black Raincoat-type (doesn't actually have to be a black raincoat, or even any coat; it's a look, a style) and my pulse picks up speed.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 2:59 PM | Report abuse

"The Once and Future King" is a much better read than Mort d'Arthur... I got lost past the first couple pages which basically talked about all the rapes and near-rapes going on by the merry lords.

Childrens' book get to the point of the matter, rise to better writing by avoiding graphic and grown-up stuff.

It's strange that so most of adult lit tends to focus on failed relationships /society/self. (see "Babbitt" etc.)... I liked Lord Jim, although that's pretty much in the same genre.

As a result, I generally read genre or humor fiction only from the adult bookshelves-- maybe some classics.

I liked Moby Dick, probably a deep abberration on my part, but gosh durn it, I even liked the chapters on whaling.

For somebody who really has a broad literary taste and enjoys allusions, I heartily recommend the "Silverlock" by John Myers Myers. I found allusions to over 400 books and counting-- Moby dick, robin hood, Beowulf, Shakespeare, "the Golden Ass", Rabelais, La Belle Sans Merci, Swift, and so on...

Truly mindboggling, and woven into a good tale with some nice 'drinking songs' as well, I liked the alamo scene and the song "Bowie Gizzardsbane" about David Bowie.
And the line about the man presumed dead, saying "Death was only fooling, fill me up, I'm both dry and drooling" wasn't bad either.

I lent it to my English teacher once and she loved it. Don't know if it helped my grade, but it didn't hurt.

Speaking of overlooked children's literature, I recommend Miss Piggly Wiggly books, especially for anybody with kids who think misbehaving is fun.

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 7, 2006 3:00 PM | Report abuse

omni, "The Silmarillion twice (most people don't believe I finished it once, let alone read it twice, haha)"

First time I read it I had to chart out the pantheon and the family trees to keep it all straight. But it was worth it to read the poetry and to see how he combined so many religions into one creation account. I'd be embarassed to say how many times I've reread the trilogy.


Posted by: DoubleVision | March 7, 2006 3:03 PM | Report abuse

"Moby Dick" is on my list of started not finished. Second oldest on the list. As I've mentioned before I started in 1987. Next fall will be twenty years. The first on the list is "Walden". The book mark fell out. Somewhere in the middle of the list is "Uncle Tom's Cabin". This is the library book, so of course no book mark there. It was due back and I dropped it off after hours and never made it back to check it out again. "Satanic Verses" is on the list. Don't know why I stopped that (I think a more ineresting book jumped out at me). "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" is a book I stopped, restarted and stopped again. I stopped the first time because it was getting into set theory which if you can believe I had never studied in school so I did some internet researching and then was able to contnue on. I forget why I stopped the second time. That's all I can think of right now. I think the list is up to 7 or 8, so I have some thinking to do if I want to finish the list.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse

DV, I read it twice and the second time it a made whole lot more sense, but I can't claim to remember any of it at all. In fact I'll say it right here: I don't remember a damn thing about that book except I read it twice.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 3:24 PM | Report abuse

No way can I compete with the serious lists posted above, but if I wore out 2 hardcover copies of the Swiss Family Robinson, and am well on my way to wearing out a third, can I be counted at the lowly feet of such lists? It was my earliest long read when I was in Grade 2, and I reread it annually. Its like putting on an old favorite sweater and being surrounded by my youth again. Now can someone tell me where to get a copy with a tougher binding?

Posted by: dr | March 7, 2006 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I went to post a comment on Chatwoman's new blog (yes! I feel like such a cheater!) and found this notice above the Comment Box:


We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.


Nice to know that we here at the A-blog don't need such reminders.

Posted by: TBG | March 7, 2006 3:29 PM | Report abuse


I'm interested in your picks for the other four best war novels as I enjoyed The Killer Angels.

Try The Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer. German soldier's account of the Eastern Front. Very gripping.

I also recently read Robert Graves' Good-Bye To All That. Very insightful and well written description of his experience in WW I, with the plus of having no axes to grind.

Posted by: SonofCarl | March 7, 2006 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Another multiple read: "Cathcer in the Rye". First time for school and I have to say I didn't understand it at all. Second time after reading some review in the paper the had me scratching my head at all the references I had no memory of. The second reading was as an adult. Guess what: I STILL DON"T UNDERSTAND THAT DAMN BOOK!!! Furthermore, I must have some kind of disorder when it comes to this book because the things mentioned in the review that I was looking for: didn't see them. So I thought what a waste of time and threw the book in a box and forgot about it.

I did get (understand) "A Separate Peace" and liked it, but only once.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 3:36 PM | Report abuse

okay, I spelled the Faulkner title wrong four times. Sorry!!!!
It should be "Absalom, Absalom!"

Probably Shiloh was thinking whether to humiliate me publicly or just send me an email...

Posted by: kbertocci | March 7, 2006 3:36 PM | Report abuse

And just what did Eugene Robinson mean when he answered PK4?

or does it have to do with computerese file extensions?

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse

dr, my earliest "grown-up" and re-re-re read book was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I so identified with Francie Nolan that I wondered how author Betty Smith knew of me. We didn't have a fire escape, but there was a big old tree in the back yard with branches made for kid-sitting, reading and sucking peppermint candies. My Aunt Gladys was Francie's Aunt Sissy, bold, beautiful, a little on the wild side and with moxie to spare. Francie's mother, Katie Nolan inspired me, as a young mother, to read to my babies and how to make pennies stretch til payday.

Posted by: Nani | March 7, 2006 3:41 PM | Report abuse


Another unfinished book: Either "The Prairie" or "The Pioneer" by James Fenimore Cooper. It's the one with the wagon train and some thing mysterious in some cage or box (that's all I remember). It was a narrative descriptive, just like "Moby Dick".

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 3:42 PM | Report abuse

SonofCarl, I hate to be the one to tell you, but Good-bye to All That, excellent though it is, is massively fictional, although it purports to be a memoir. Fussell goes into great detail on this in The Great War and Modern Memory. It doesn't mean people shouldn't read it; it just means that many people think it is "accurate," when he wrote it pretty much tongue-in-cheek.

Gee, best war novels? Has to include Catch-22 at the top. I was never much of a fan of Red Badge of Courage, but most lists would include it. "HMS Ulysses" by Alistair MacLean. Going After Cacciato. The Caine Mutiny (I have to admit to a personal bias on this one: we performed the play in high school and I played Capt. Queeg). Naked and the Dead, maybe. And the two I'm still working on, which I can't talk about. Tough category.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 3:42 PM | Report abuse

The Vice President is threatening Iran, Lord are we going to war with them too?

Posted by: Cassandra S | March 7, 2006 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I saw that, too, Cassandra, then thought, what the heck. He's probably just going to invite them to go hunting.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 3:50 PM | Report abuse

If Cheney's threatenin', mebbe he's just fixin' to go huntin' and wants the Iranians to go along.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I loved "Catch 22" one of the funniest books I've read. Had me laughing on every page. Wrote a book report for it in highschool that I no longer have and completely forget. My teacher said I broke all the book report rules and would ordinarily get a D, but she said I had her in stitches as she read it and thought it was almost as funny as the book. I got a B. hehe.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Don't bother with Donna Tartt's "The Little Friend." Should have been called "The Big Disappointment."

Posted by: Genius | March 7, 2006 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I have twin grandsons that are ten-years old. At the rate we're going with the war thing, my grandsons may be going to war by the time they're out of high school. Have mercy on us, Sweet God.

Posted by: Cassandra S | March 7, 2006 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Great minds think like, and old farts do too!

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 4:03 PM | Report abuse

True, K-guy, but ya gotta be faster than that. Try to keep up, please; we don't wait for stragglers.

(Well, actually, we do, now that I think about it. OK, never mind.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, during the draft for Viet Nam, drawing calendar dates from a goldfish bowl method, my then 10 yr. old son, had he been 8 yrs. older, would have been drafted. God must be thinking "Will these mortals ever learn?!"

Posted by: Nani | March 7, 2006 4:11 PM | Report abuse

An observation from Von Drehle:

Samuel Johnson, on the notion that books, once started, should be read all the way through:

"This is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to keep them for life. A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?"
Boswell: Life

Posted by: Achenbach | March 7, 2006 4:17 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Omni: My dad, who served in North Africa and Italy during WWII, thought "Catch 22" was a hoot. Why? Because it was a collection of every tall tale he'd heard during the war - and every one had a true story in its core. He even knew a Milo Minderbinder (the charactor, not the name) who re-sold automobiles "liberated" by the 3rd (?) Army.

Anyway, thought you'd like the testimonial.

Anybody want to read an engaging-yet-trashy Ann Rice book? Try "Servant of the Bones."

Posted by: CowTown | March 7, 2006 4:18 PM | Report abuse

"This is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to keep them for life.

But isn't this the premise of half the buddy stories in the world? Think about Sideways. Think about Becket. Why did Holmes put up with Watson all those years? Why did Sam Spade want to avenge the murder of his partner Miles Archer? Why did Cheney keep Dubya in 2004?

Posted by: kurosawaguy | March 7, 2006 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Yes, K-guy, after I thought about, I realized you are right: we're ALL stragglers here.

Cheney kept Dubya for the same reason Holmes kept Watson: comic relief.

Spade avenged Archer for the same reason Cheney shot Harry: when your partner gets shot, "you're supposed to do something about it." Oh, wait, that doesn't work.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Please do finish "The Known World." It really is worth. I promise.

Posted by: Emily Crews | March 7, 2006 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Lately I have been reading as many of Alexander McCall Smith's books as I can. I highly recommend all of them, and you will definitely want to finish them.

Posted by: anonymous | March 7, 2006 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Omni, I never got "Catcher in the Rye" either, but I know a guy who struggled with alcoholism who said that was his favorite book as a teenager.
It's something to do with feeling like a failure above and beyond usual angst, I think. I didn't feel that, so I didn't get it.
Likewise, prisoners TOTALLY get "Waiting for Godot". When books speak to your heart, I guess you forgive a weak plot and lack of action.
If a book don't speak to your heart, your heart won't speak to the book either, eh?

I liked Walden as a kid... but when I re-read it I went "beans farming?" I had been zinged by living alone in the woods... something I really wanted to do a lot.

Then again, I have this obsession with ship novels I can't figure out. Maybe it's the lack of overt sex (although the bed scene with Ishmael and Pequod in Moby Dick is unforgettable.), the sacrifice for survival...
So Moby Duck (SCC) was just ducky for me. The vivid imagery and writing is nice, too. An abridged version might be best for you, not everybody gets tickled about reading about whaling operations or Ishmael's amateur zoology of whales, so that tends to be cut out.

For me, those chapters are half the book, as Ishmael tries to paint a picture of what the epic battle will be like, and why whaling is so dangerous, and there is an hint of grappling with the unknowable. It's all foreshadowing and very lush christian imagery. And probably less bloody than a Mel Gibson movie.

I also read Escher, Godel, and Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid" and liked it, very pretty conceit, but don't know if I'd pick it up again. Godel is an very interesting mathematican. I like Godel: forever undecided.

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 7, 2006 4:42 PM | Report abuse

The feminist in me gave up on Thoreau when I read that, for the whole time he lived at Walden Pond, he took his dirty laundry home for his mother to clean. As far as I'm concerned, living the simple, independent life includes washing your own dirty clothes.

Posted by: Slyness | March 7, 2006 4:52 PM | Report abuse

For me, books tend to fall into three categories: fun, cultural touchstones, guilt books.


Fun to read -- "The Grand Idea," "An Army at Dawn" (really, really good), anything by Dave Barry

Cultural touchstones -- These are books that have entered the public consciousness that I read just so I don't refer to them wrongly and get called on my ignorance. "Confessions" by Augustine, "Silent Spring" and "Catch-22" are examples.

Guilt books -- I bought the stupid things years ago and didn't read them for years. I finally blaze through them with little thought just so they'll stop glaring at me from the shelf. Last month I read a book I bought in 1997.

Usually, I'll finish two fun ones for every one of the others.

Posted by: Thomas | March 7, 2006 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, I could never read an abridged book, feels to much like cheating. And I only cheat in solitaire (haha).

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 4:53 PM | Report abuse


Rules.If a player touch one of his men he must move it, unless he says jadoube (I adjust), or words of a similar meaning, to the effect that he was only setting it straight on its square. If he cannot legally move a touched piece, he must move his king, if he can, but may not castle; if not, there is no penalty. He must say jadoube before touching his piece. If a player touch an opponents piece, he must take it, if he can: if not, move his king. If he can do neither, no penalty. A move is completed and cannot be taken back, as soon as a player, having moved a piece, has taken his hand off it. upon to mate under the fifty-move rule, fifty moves means fifty moves and the forty-nine replies to them. A pawn that reaches an eighth square must be exchanged for some other piece, the move not being complete until this is done; a second king cannot be selected.

Modes of Notation.The English and German methods of describing the moves made in a game are different. According to the English method each player counts from his own side of the board, and the moves are denoted by the names of the files and the numbers of the squares. Thus when a player for his first move advances the kings pawn two squares, it is described as follows: I. P K4. The following moves, with the aid of diagram 2, will enable the reader to understand the principles of the British notation. The symbol X is used to express takes ; a dash to express to.

White. Black.

1. PK4 I. PK4

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 4:55 PM | Report abuse

The return of THE LONEMULE...Be afraid...Be VERY afraid!!!!!!!!

I like to clear the air on a few things...But, to do so I'll have to stop reading this BLOG...


Posted by: The Lonemule | March 7, 2006 4:56 PM | Report abuse

best laugh I've had today!

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I started Walden when I was a teen (stopped when I was a teen too). I also started doing my own laundry as a teen because I didn't have a lot of clothes I would wear (I had different taste than my Mom, and she never took me shopping with her, and I wasn't a complainer, so she never knew and didn't notice), and my Mom didn't do laundry often enough to keep the stuff I did wear in my closet and drawers, so I just started doing them myself. I was 14.

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2006 4:59 PM | Report abuse

O.K., hhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeere's Johnny!
*strike Johnny*
Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeere's Linda!

Fem Lit 101:

Erica Jong:
Fear of Flying
How to Save Your Own Life

Gloria Steinem:
Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions

Fay Weldon:
The Hearts an Lives of Men
The Life and Loves of a She Devil

Live Ullmann:

The Other Civil War: American Women in the Nineteenth Century
author: Catherine Clinton

The Grand Domestic Revolution
author: Dolores Hayden

Inventing the American Woman: A Perspective on Women's History 1865 to the Present, Vol. II
author: Glenda Riley

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 5:06 PM | Report abuse

"Fear of Flying" is like "Portnoy's Complaint".

I never get much past the first chapter.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 7, 2006 5:09 PM | Report abuse

You *should* write "Laundry for Dummies."
Think about it.
Money (and laundry) makes the world go 'round, the world go 'round, the world go 'round, the clinking clanking sound...

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 5:09 PM | Report abuse

I imagine it's hard for men to imagine the zipless F-word, yellojkt...

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I have a strange affliction. If I read page one, I read to the end. Some sort of strange OCD, that leaves me wracked with guilt if I dont read to the bitter end. My dad's the same way. I've finished a lot of books that I hated, but I ended liking a lot more about two thirds of the way through.

Posted by: chouse | March 7, 2006 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of dada, these headlines are over at

Chertoff: Ports deal would improve homeland security

Rumsfeld: Media exaggerating Iraq

Delay's election night with lobbyists

CIA: Libby defense would 'disrupt intel'

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 5:19 PM | Report abuse

there's one thing i consider completely sacriligious when it comes to reading - going to the end of the book before you've read the entire book - my mother does it and it drives me NUTS! one of those weird pet peeves... and dr - trust me - i felt very well read before but now i'm feeling like quite the dunce (esp saying that mesp. was in africa - duh!)... i loved catcher in the rye! i understood the character but i think it's exactly like wilbrod said - you hafta relate to "that kinda thinking" (i had issues going up - heck, i still have issues)...

Posted by: mo | March 7, 2006 5:23 PM | Report abuse

chouse writes:
I have a strange affliction. If I read page one, I read to the end. Some sort of strange OCD, that leaves me wracked with guilt if I dont read to the bitter end. My dad's the same way. I've finished a lot of books that I hated, but I ended liking a lot more about two thirds of the way through.

My goodness, this could have described last night's District 1 meeting about the plans for redeveloping San Antonio's Main Plaza. City bungling, crowd control/ mismanagement, information mismanagement, poor presentation graphics, city officials who talk with obfuscating disclarity--the Express-News reporter Laura Jesse left halfway through because up to that point the city hadn't provided any new information since last Wednesday's meeting on the same subject...and the last one-third of the meeting turned out to be pretty good--the owner of Mi Tierra restaurant spoke, the priest from San Fernando Cathedral spoke, the environmental space planner spoke, and I, too, spoke (although Councilman Roger Flores tried his damdest to shut me up.)

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 5:26 PM | Report abuse

It has been my opinion for a long time that books that do not facilitate the reader's need for completion probably should not have been published in the first place.

A writer has an obligation to make certain that the reader's time is not wasted. Most writers do not take this belief very seriously.

I take this very seriously. I have NEVER had ANYONE fail to finish one of my books. I don't waste your time, and I take my obligations seriously.

Posted by: Bob Hoffman | March 7, 2006 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Heading for the bus--and nearly an hour of reading (if I don't nod off).

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2006 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Solitaire is the best game to cheat at, although you're only cheating yourself if you do. Maybe you should just shout "J'adoube!" whenever you cheat.

'Portnoy's complaint' was funny, if rather bawdy. I liked the ending. Just wash your hands after reading and ask yourself why you wasted the time reading it.

But the best was the quote from another author that he liked Phillip Roth's writing in that book, but "he wouldn't shake his hand."

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 7, 2006 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Those chess rules are way too anal for me, Loomis. The only one I played by was the one where the move was completed once you let go of the piece. The other rules make it more like a game of Gotcha rather than chess (I'm sorry, you can't checkmate me because you didn't say "Mother, may I").

Posted by: pj | March 7, 2006 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I don't play chess and never have, though I really enjoyed Chinese checkers as a kid. Just trying to figure out what Eugene Robinson was saying in his chat today...since there are so many meanings, beyond chess, to PK4. *wink*

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 5:42 PM | Report abuse

I just looked at Robinson's chat. Now I follow. That's what I get for trying to catch up with the boodle quickly.

Posted by: pj | March 7, 2006 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Loomis, looking at your list of writers, brought to mind Sigrid Undset's "Kristin Lavransdattar'. Undset was the Noble Prize winner for Literature in 1928. I came across her books at a Salvation Army used book section, a boxed set of 3. I have only read the first of them, but intend to read all 3. Like all well bound old books, the tiny print does me in (Once again, Hall, thank you). Though she is not well known in North America, and is generally left off womens studies reading lists, she should be there.

Posted by: dr | March 7, 2006 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Don't fail to finish 'The Known World.' But there are plenty of examples out there, for me----I've tried, God knows I've tried to get into 'Moby Dick". Maybe there's some good stuff on pg 100 or so, but I haven't got that far in a no. of tries. Cheers.

Posted by: der_Alte | March 7, 2006 6:16 PM | Report abuse

omni, that laundry story is so sweet!
Such respect for you mother, and you still got to wear the clothes you liked.

I loved RD Padouk's rabbit story too, of course. ("they like me, to a point, because I always have raisins" -- ha!)

Posted by: Achenfan | March 7, 2006 6:37 PM | Report abuse

I've been meaning to read "100 Questions Every Home Buyer Should Ask", as I attempt to buy my first home. I carry it with me wherever I go, I just can't get motivated to read it. It's a fear thing. I'm afraid of finding out all the things I should be doing, that I'm not.

I tried to read "Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey Into Manhood and Back", by Norah Vincent. I couldn't get through the chapter where she enters the monastery. It was just too awful (the whole book). I wish I could erase the memories of the bowling league and the titty clubs from my mind.

Another book that was too horrible to keep reading was "Sucker", by David Denby. Horrible. Loathsome. He should stick to movies.

I used to have a rule that if I made it to p. 50, I had to finish. Now, having turned 40, I realize life is too short. And some books are too unpleasant.

Posted by: Delicate Froth | March 7, 2006 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and I just wanted to mention:
I liked The Little Friend. Also Tartt's previous book, The Secret History.

The Corrections is one of the few books I've listened to on tape. I enjoyed it immensely. Another one I've listened to is Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. Ditto.

Posted by: Achenfan | March 7, 2006 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Such respect for youR mother.

Time for me to fix some breakfast. Or "brekky," as we call it in Oz.

Posted by: Achenfan | March 7, 2006 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Delicate Froth, there are, of course, all kinds of things you should learn before buying your home. I found a very important one to be, "figure out how mortgage payments work." In my case, I geeked out and wrote my own software to work out the compounded interest payments, the fraction of payment that goes to principal as a function of time, and, especially, the total cost of payment after a certain length of time. At the time we bought our first house, I made my calculation assuming that the variable-rate mortgage increased at its maximum permissible rate each year, up to the ceiling provided by the lender. It ended up being the cheapest mortage until 4 years passed, after which the fixed-rate surpassed all others for lowest total cost. As it happened, however, the variable-rate dropped by the maximum amount each year, so we did well, much better than a fixed-rate. Even so, if you finance 100% of your house and sell after 7 years, as we did, you have very little equity unless your local housing market shoots way the heck up. Our house had devalued, so we got practically nothing back. Since we stayed in the same area, however, it made no difference, since our new house had devalued similarly. We went for a fixed-rate and later refinanced on our current house. Since the market is growing now, it's nice to have a mortgage on an amount that is an ever-smaller fraction of the house's resale value.

Posted by: Tim | March 7, 2006 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Before wading into books on cd, is there a best of list? I'd hate to buy and then dislike the voice of the reader. To my shame, for the first time in my adult life, ok, ok since 2003, I have no library card and cannot borrow them. My mother and father are sure this is a sign of sickness.

Posted by: dr | March 7, 2006 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Alas, Captured By Aliens is on that list in my house. Tried 4 times, on vacation, off vacation. No luck.

Would you write it again ?

Posted by: Random Joe | March 7, 2006 7:08 PM | Report abuse

pj writes:
I just looked at Robinson's chat. Now I follow. That's what I get for trying to catch up with the boodle quickly.

pj, quickly, since my husband and I will head out the door shortly to hear Goodwin's talk the space program and photo example I provided links for (for other examples of PK4) play off the black/white dichotomy of the earlier PK4 chess rule? I could understand that if the Brisish photog was shooting in B&W, but his examples are all 4-color? (My mind thinks in art terms...)

Posted by: Loomis | March 7, 2006 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Random Joe:
You tried FOUR times? Such Achendedication!

Posted by: Achenfan | March 7, 2006 7:23 PM | Report abuse

[Castigates self for rising to the bait.]

Posted by: Achenfan | March 7, 2006 7:26 PM | Report abuse


On Graves' book, maybe I'm going Oprah on this one defending 'near truth', but I actually included it as we were discussing fiction. Still, lots of stuff in it that would never have been written by someone who had not been in the infantry (what kind of poet goes against the common wisdom by saying that trenchfoot was only a problem in bad units?).

While on war fiction and memoirs, "Chickenhawk", the memoir of a Vietnam helicopter pilot, is also excellent.

Returning to the Great Unfinished List, I'm going to confess that I've never actually completed anything by Dickens. Also, the Old Testament (let me know how it turns out).

Posted by: SonofCarl | March 7, 2006 7:51 PM | Report abuse


I don't know a thing about PK4 as shown those pages. Maybe it was preceded by PK1, PK2, and PK3 (there is a PK3 mentioned on the site you mentioned). Maybe it deals with dimensions. (The PK is obviously Plasmakristall (plasma crystal, auf Englisch)). I really, really doubt it has anything to do with chess. Maybe Science Tim can shed some light on this.

Posted by: pj | March 7, 2006 8:18 PM | Report abuse

"My house is littered with partially read books . . . ." I often wonder if the same is true of Dirda.

Posted by: Unity | March 7, 2006 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Random Joe are you serious? I read Captured by Aliens in three days, I used to fall asleep with it in my bed, reading until I literally passed out. I should hope he would write it again, it's one of my favorite books of all time.

Posted by: Sirin | March 7, 2006 9:21 PM | Report abuse

I read "Captured By Aliens." It was great. Except for the jacket cover. Maybe that was the problem.

Posted by: FF | March 7, 2006 9:28 PM | Report abuse

I think the problem was that some big bookstores, like Borders, put it in the "metaphysical" section because it had the word "Aliens" in the title. So it had a very low profile in terms of store placement. I remember being surprised when I went looking for it and found it in what was obviously the wrong section, way in the back, next to "Religious Studies."

Posted by: Sirin | March 7, 2006 9:35 PM | Report abuse

I too had to give up on Armstrong's History of God -- I made it up to Islamic mysticism and just caved. But I finished and enjoyed both her memoirs.

Books with bookmarks midway through in my house now:

All the King's Men -- really great but I seem to just not be in the mood for it
Vol. 2 of Somerset Maugham's Short Stories and also his book The Summing Up
James Michener's Poland (never going back to that one)
The Assassin's Gate; America in Iraq (excellent and I'll finish it tomorrow)
Reason by Robert Reich (I know -- I'm like two years behind on reading that one]
The Partly Cloudly Patriot - Sarah Vowell -- very funny and I'll deinitely finish that one
Autobiography of Ben Franklin -- bogged down with less than 30 pages to go at least 4 years ago.
A huge number of Mew Yorkers and Atlantic Monthlys and two years worth of NY Review of Books.
To the person with all the CS Lewis fiction -- the Space Trilogy is wonderful and so is Till We Have Faces. And his book The Abolition of Man is just wonderful.

Posted by: AJ | March 7, 2006 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Achenfan, there's a new Barbara Vine book? I've read everything by Barbara Vine and Ruth Rendell (her real name) - wonderful, dark psychological mysteries. One of my favorites is Anna's Book - I read that over and over, as well as Le Carre, Maugham. It is funny how some books that I loved as a teenager just aren't the same now - I reread Wuthering Heights a few years ago and was not impressed (I love all the movies, though, and Kate Bush's song).

Oh, and for new boodlers, remember - Steinbeck makes sara thirsty...

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 7, 2006 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Re: Attention Deficit Reading Disorder

Stumbled upon this while doing a quick visual scan of the WashPost web site and having neither time or discipline to read through responses because of Attention Deficit Reading Disorder, I'd like to make a few observations:
*It became worse for me after age 40 and I cut my periodical subscriptions in half
*Everyone now calls me a book collector because I can't finish any books but I keep buying and at least begin to read new books
*My inability to finish books (particulary fiction) grew when I stopped smoking
*You indicated not knowing much about Nick and Jessica - in some circles, keeping current with cultural knowledge is of value

Posted by: Patti | March 7, 2006 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Books in process right now (that I am actually going to finish reading):

To Lie With Lions - Dorothy Dunnett

Can You Forgive Her - Anthony Trollope

The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls

The Great Influenza - John Barry

I appreciate the reading suggestions. I'm always looking for books.

Posted by: OK | March 7, 2006 10:28 PM | Report abuse

I also don't buy many books - I get them from the library, so I'm always under pressure to get them back. Had to take back Team of Rivals without reading even one page (it's 900 or so). The books I do buy, sit on shelves for years before I get to them.

With biographies, memoirs, some other non-fiction, I skim if I don't have time to read all of them. The books by the Clintons and Madeleine Allbright were so intimidating - they had accomplished more by the time they graduated high school than I will in a lifetime, so it was a bit depressing...

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 7, 2006 10:28 PM | Report abuse

mo, thanks for your thoughts about Crash. I'm mostly over my disappointment that Brokeback Mountain didn't win (it was my jinx effect, I'm sure). I'm glad Ang Lee got best director - I have most of his movies on order from the library.

The other thing I don't have time for is listening to old albums, mainly rock from the '60's, reissued on CD, with alternate takes, least I can do that while boodling...

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 7, 2006 10:34 PM | Report abuse

Books on the nightstand-which means they have a shot at getting finished.

Assassination Vacation-Sarah Vowell raced through it. Is still on the nightstand because I'm not ready to let it go.

By Order of the President-first in a series by WEB Griffin, might not even start it. (His brotherhood of war series was rip roaring fun when I was 24.)

Naked in Baghdad-Anne Garrels Halfway through, but losing interest. I don't give a rip about her marriage.

Come Back to Afghanistan-Said Hyder Akbar. Will start this one tonight but know from his pieces on This American Life that there will be times I'll have to put it down and read something lighter for a while.

Now if if Alexander McCall Smith would just write a couple more #1 Ladies Detective Agency books I'd have a good alternative.

Posted by: MIssingVA | March 7, 2006 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Currently rereading Maugham short stories, caused by an urge to reread "The Three Fat women of the Antibes." All just as good as they were 40 years ago.

And to Double Vision, what is wrong with rereading Dick Francis and Dorothy Sayers? Those are the ones I reread --- particularly Francis when depressed. His heros are always nice people who manage to stay nice. Reminds me of Neville Shute, another one I read over and over.

A book I've never managed to get through -- "100 years of Solitude" altho my younger son thinks I am a complete dork because of this.

And Alexander McCall Smith's Ladies Detective Agency books are sweet --- but aren't they all the same book? You can say the same about Dick Francis, I guess.

Posted by: nellie | March 7, 2006 11:13 PM | Report abuse

I am slowly re-reading for great pleasure "The Third Deadly Sin" by Lawrence Sanders. Am on pg 260 of this 410 pg paperback. I will awaken at 3a.m. and read more of it. It's about a woman serial killer. Like the rest of Sanders' books it's comedy/action/drama. It would be a GREAT movie.

Posted by: samtheoldaccordianman | March 8, 2006 12:07 AM | Report abuse

I love the Alexander McCall Smith books - very quick reads. I've tried a couple of his other books that aren't set in Botswana - good, but I prefer Africa.

I used to love Dick Francis, because of the horses, of course, and because I could read them in a day or so. But then I got confused about which ones I'd already read - and he has some awfully gory, violent parts which I had trouble reading...

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 8, 2006 12:10 AM | Report abuse

er -- just ONE Lawrence in "Lawrence Sanders." How the heck did I type TWO? Holy jumping woof-barks!

Posted by: samtheoldaccordianman | March 8, 2006 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Books I haven't been able to get past first chapter:

100 Years of Solitude - which I actually really like. Some day, I swear, I will read.

Shardik, and The Plague Dogs, by Richard Adams. Still want to read.

Sexual Personae, by Camille Paglia. Can't imagine will ever read.

End Zone by Don DeLillo. Wilkie Collins, Moonstone and Woman in White.

Books read multiple times: Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, 1984, Fear of Flying, Catcher in the Rye, The Women's Room.

Never read any Dickens. Or Faulkner. Finally read some Henry James in 2005. It rocked. I keep meaning to read the oeuvres of Martin Amis and Susan Sontag, but clipping my hangnails keeps me too busy.

Have at least 2 years of unread New Yorkers on my shelves. Again, I swear I will read these one day. Except for the fiction. New Yorker fiction usually blows.

Made myself stop getting New York Review of Books, even though I loved it. I just couldn't get through them. It's nice that some of the articles are free online now. (Unlike Atlantic Monthly, what does David Bradley have against giving away stuff for free?)
Agree with AJ, C.S. Lewis' space trilogy is great. It's almost time to reread it. I'm also ready to reread Paul Scott's 4-volume Jewel in the Crown, Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, Herzog, In Cold Blood.

Reading on the commute: New Yorker, library books, Froomkin's column and Slate articles.

Posted by: Angry Muffin | March 8, 2006 12:13 AM | Report abuse

There is indeed a new Barbara Vine book. I find that they're sometimes released sooner in England, Australia -- and I guess Hong Kong, too -- than in the U.S. The paperback versions come out a lot earlier here, too.

Vine's latest is "The Minotaur." When I first spotted it in the bookstore, I thought it was too good to be true -- I double-checked to make sure it wasn't one I'd already read, released under a different name (which happens sometimes; I think "Anna's Book" was called something different in England and Australia -- "Astor's Book," maybe?). But this one is definitely a newie.

Here's the synopsis from the back cover:

"Kerstin Kvist enters crumbling Lydstep Old Hall to live with the Cosways and to act as nurse to John -- a grown man fed drugs by his family to control his lunatic episodes. But John's strangeness is grotesquely mirrored in that of his four sisters, who roam the dark, mazy Essex country house under the strict gaze of eighty-year-old Mrs Cosway.

"Despite being treated as an outsider, Kerstin is nevertheless determined to help John. But she soon discovers that there are others in the family who are equally determined that John remain isolated, for sinister reasons of their own . . ."

Looks like it's going to be a goodie!

[mostlylurking, do you find that some people think you're weird for liking Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine? That's been my experience as a dedicated Rendell/Vine reader. My sister and my mother both love her as well, although the weirdness sometimes gets to my Mum -- she often says to me, "You always did like weird stories, even when you were little."]

Posted by: Achenfan | March 8, 2006 12:41 AM | Report abuse

Ooh, thanks, Achenfan. I just put The Minotaur on hold at the library - it's on order, so it must not quite be out yet here.

I'm a little reluctant to give my Rendell books to friends, because they are strange (the books, I mean). A Killing Doll was creepy...and there are a couple I didn't like much. Maybe her books make me feel more normal, because the characters are quite disturbed! A Dark Adapted Eye is another one I like - so interesting, the effect that a relative who committed a crime has on the family (if I'm remembering correctly)...

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 8, 2006 2:15 AM | Report abuse

the a-blog was so ontopic and longthreaded
back to joels musings in kit today...:-)

over the years have acquired some books
that i am very fond of...have kept together
a small but treasured collection of paper
back scifi...nothing that will ever be in
given me much delight over the years to
read and then read again...

to mention only a few...

changeling earth by fred saberhagen
chamiel by edward pearson
lord of light by roger zelazny
songmaster by orson scott card

leaving the usa,packing and moving across
the planet and doing so with books is not
easily done...most of my books i keep at
my sisters house...there they reside in
relative calm and safety...on the not so
frequent visit backhome i am able to visit
her and my happy for both...:-)

...i have many books on architecture,autos,
ships and aircraft...a sizeable number of
books about flwright,the architect and his
lifelong work...quite a few books i have
picked up have to do with religion,history
of several sorts and a pristine world book
set from the mid 1950's...i understand that
a world book set may seem not hardly up to
anyones great read standards but as a boy
in rural wisconsin just such a similar set
was my gateway to the world in countless
many ways...reading about the roman empire
or faraway lands and peoples was wondrous
many times over for when i had the
opportunity to pick up this set at a thrift
store for all of $20 it was a done deal :-)

...and finally of course there are the
cookbooks...many years of collecting them
has led in so many directions of culinary
interest,flavor and fashion...i prize them
as much for the randomness of how they were
found as for the recipes they may reveal.

...a world without books would be a very
empty one indeed...the computer may be ever
so clever and capable but it will not ever
replace the pleasure of resuming a good
read,finding the bookmark and returning to
worlds of words and mental imagery only
books can bring forth...:-)

Posted by: an american in siam.... | March 8, 2006 3:00 AM | Report abuse

an american in siam:
That is so true ("the pleasure of resuming a good read, finding the bookmark and returning to worlds of words and mental imagery only books can bring forth").

The thing I like about Vine/Rendell books is that, unlike most crime novels, they're written from the perspective of the disturbed individual rather than the detective (as you well know). Usually, the story takes place before a detective even becomes involved, and you don't don't what the crime is going to be exactly. There are so many clever twists in the tale! (I guess that's why I don't like Rendell's Wexford books as much as I like the others -- although of course I still read them all as soon as they become available.)

Rendell's creepy characters serve as a reminder that the world is full of people with very diverse perspectives on life and on what is "normal" and acceptable, and a reminder that it can be dangerous to assume that others perceive things in the same way we do or that they will behave in a certain way in a given situation.

But honestly, I don't know how she comes up with these characters! She's incredibly talented and imaginative, IMHO. Once I start reading one of her books, I find it pretty difficult to focus on anything else until I'm done -- but I also don't want the story to end; I don't want to "wear the book out."

Yin and yang -- I think.

Posted by: Achenfan | March 8, 2006 4:49 AM | Report abuse

[Just tasted some durian ice-cream. Not bad at all -- tastes kind of like passionfruit.]

Posted by: Achenfan | March 8, 2006 5:33 AM | Report abuse

See, A-fan, I knew you and am-in-siam would cross paths on the Boodle graveyard shift.

And returning to Joels very first question:

"I missed the backstory on Nick and Jessica. Are they singers? Actors? Were they on some reality show?"

The answers are yes, sort-of, and that's what made them famous. Don't be so obtuse. There are thing that just suffuse the zeitgeist that you are expected to know. How else can you be catty at awards shows?

Posted by: yellojkt | March 8, 2006 5:34 AM | Report abuse

I hope Joel doesn't take umbrage at "obtuse."
I must admit to being pretty clueless about Nick and Jessica myself -- although I do seem to recall something about buffalo wings.

Posted by: Achenfan | March 8, 2006 5:55 AM | Report abuse

I hope Joel doesn't take umbrage at "obtuse."
I must admit to being pretty clueless about Nick and Jessica myself -- although I do seem to recall something about buffalo wings.

Posted by: Achenfan | March 8, 2006 5:55 AM | Report abuse

I hope Joel doesn't take umbrage at "obtuse."
I must admit to being pretty clueless about Nick and Jessica myself -- although I do seem to recall something about buffalo wings.

Posted by: Achenfan | March 8, 2006 5:57 AM | Report abuse

I posted twice, not thrice! (The first time, I got a strange "Moveable Type Error" notification, so I posted again.)

Darn that Schemer!

Posted by: Achenfan | March 8, 2006 6:01 AM | Report abuse

Reading 5 newspapers on-line, plus certain blogs, volumes of articles e-mailed by friends, and googled or websearched info, doesn't leave much time for new books; so I re-read the old and familiar, learning something new or seeing something differently each time. My lifetime reading list topped 10,000 books some time back - I think I used to keep Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller in business after I relocated to a town over 50 miles distant from the closest major library. My oldest, most dog-eared and worn out book friends are Will and (later) Ariel Durant's "Story of Civilization," Toynbee's "A Study of History," "The Norton Anthology of Poetry"and various books by Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Alan Watts.

Posted by: shiloh | March 8, 2006 6:22 AM | Report abuse

American in Siam, I too have, and have read the my entire set of World Books. When I pass on, they will go to my nephew Aaron, who also loved them as a child. They took you everywhere.

Posted by: dr | March 8, 2006 7:34 AM | Report abuse

Just a few morning thoughts. Like many, I am library trained. My mother thought it wasteful to buy books. Instead, each week after church she religiously took her offspring to the public library. I used to wander the shelves of the Puyallup Public Library looking for that magical "SF" sticker as if on an Easter egg hunt. Although I eventually branched out from Science Fiction, the library habit, and the associated need to finish all acquisitions within two weeks, stuck. I actually own very few books. Those I do I keep on a small shelf down in the playroom where I keep the bunnies. These books include "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and "The Velveteen Rabbit, " which I keep for sentimental purposes. There are dog-eared compilations of "Calvin and Hobbes," "Bloom County," and "The Far Side" because they are fun to revisit. Finally, I have the collected works of one Joel Achenbach, because, well, it seems the right thing to do.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 8, 2006 7:56 AM | Report abuse

American in Siam and dr-you took me back to my first winter in college. After retiring from the army my father became a stay-at-home dad for my baby sister and would spend the evening reading our old World Book set cover to cover. At first we thought it was the strangest thing in the world, to read an entire volume without skipping anything. Then, he started sharing his thoughts on the few topics that struck him as worthy of conversation. I learned more from, and about, my father that winter than I did at school.

Posted by: missingVA | March 8, 2006 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Jessica Simpson was a teen singer that came on the scene about the same time as Britney Spears. She was billed as a Christian-lite alternative to the innuendo-laced music of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Jessica infamously wore a "virginity" ring given to her by her Svengali-like father/manager.

Nick Lachey (and his "Dancing With The Stars" brother Drew) was in a third-tier squeaky clean boy band called 98 Degrees. The two met, fell in love, and married. They filmed several seasons of a reality series called "Newlyweds" for MTV which basically portrayed her as an empty-headed ditz and him as an eye-rolling emasculated doormat.

They have become incredibly wealthy, her more so than him. She went on to play Daisy in the Dukes of Hazzard movie. The marriage soured and their break-up was long rumored. In the divorce papers he is holding out for some level of spousal support.

The extra dose of schadenfreude comes from the fact that they originally sold themselves in their respective careers as being more "wholesome" than their competitors.

That's been your tabloid minute.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 8, 2006 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Ah, back from vacation from trying to impress American History upon my progeny; Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, etc.

I think the things they were impressed with most were the biggest Yankee Candle store they've ever seen, and the fact that the Great Wolf Lodge has an indoor water park off of the lobby. *sigh*

I have three towers of Babble on my nightstand, two for periodicals and one for books. The periodicals are too many to list (and go embarrassingly far back in time), but I'm currently reading Tom Holt's 'Here Comes the Sun' and Brian Greene's 'The Fabric of the Cosmos' (someone smarter than I told me that Greene's 'The Elegant Universe' is better; serves me right for not asking for advice). On deck is Jared Diamond's 'Collapse' and Stephenson's 'The System of the World'(I had to allow time for my brain to cool down after 'The Confusion').

Ah, more later, I have hundreds of emails to sort through here...


Posted by: bc | March 8, 2006 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Just saw a print ad for Williamsburg emphasizing the action/adventure aspect of the Revolutionary era. I can't quite remember the tag line, but I think it went like:

"Why wouldn't kids like defying authority?"

I'm not sure this campaign isn't raising the bar a little high for what Colonial Williamsburg is usually about: Waiting in line for a half hour to see the printing press.

When I was a kid, my parents would take us there but not actually buy any tickets. We would just right bikes between the State House and William and Mary and watch anything that was free.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 8, 2006 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: SCC: | March 8, 2006 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Adding to my multiple read list: one of the all-time best political novels: "Corridors of Power," by C.P. Snow--maybe 3-4 times.

(Best political novels list in no particular order:
Advise and Consent (maybe 3-4 times), Corridors of Power, All in the Family, by Edwin O'Connor; The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert by Ward Just; All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren; Primary Colors by Joe Klein [hey, it's really not such a bad novel, nor movie, either}.

The Last Hurrah isn't bad, but just doesn't make my "top" list.

Whoever said they just couldn't get through "100 Years of Solitude": you have my sympathy as well as my empathy. I have tried, and tried, and tried, but just can't make it either. Tried it again for about the sixth time on the cruise in January, failed yet again.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 8, 2006 9:40 AM | Report abuse

SCC: "ride bicycles" instead of "right bicycles".

And a meta-SCC on the 9:39 finger slip.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 8, 2006 9:40 AM | Report abuse

My favorite political book is "Winter Kills" by Richard Condon. I also like "Full Disclosure" by William Safire. Political novels should be on the dark and cynical side.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 8, 2006 9:43 AM | Report abuse

I think the Williamsburg Experience lives or dies on the re-enactor. We had some who really tried to engage the kids (and adults) and stressed the differences between the colonial world and the world of today. Some, unfortunately, were so obsessed with remaining in character that they bordered on the obnoxious. Still, the leaches were cool. As were some of the colonial snacks. Alas, the environment was shockingly absent any colonial prices.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 8, 2006 9:43 AM | Report abuse

I meant leeches, of course. Unless while we were visiting last year they were secretly filming "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 8, 2006 9:46 AM | Report abuse

can I be the third, or is the fourth, to recommend Alexander McCall Smith.

And I remembered another multiple read: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Once in the early '80s, then again last year after watching the movie. I remembered it being one of the funniest books ever the first time, not so much the second. I'm wondering what the heck happened to me.

Posted by: omni | March 8, 2006 9:51 AM | Report abuse

oooh, yellojkt on 9:43 got a twofer on the repating word thingy.

Posted by: omni | March 8, 2006 10:04 AM | Report abuse

and of course an SCC on my 9:51 post. feh, time for a walk.

Posted by: omni | March 8, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

The only grown-up book (excluding technical texts, of course) that I've ever read twice is "Coming of Age in the Milky Way" by Timothy Ferris. This should be required reading for anyone who has ever bothered to look up.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 8, 2006 10:07 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- | March 8, 2006 10:08 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | March 8, 2006 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I am proud to announce that I completed another four pages of The Da Vinci Code last night. Though, with Boston Legal on the t.v. at the same time, I'm not sure I retained much. I'll continue to give reports of my progress with this fine book that nearly everyone on the planet has read a long time ago but me.

Posted by: CowTown | March 8, 2006 10:08 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | March 8, 2006 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I would have loved this thread yesterday and where was I? I was working and then going to class and then grocery shopping (where, of course, I forgot all the vital things we needed). I could have been discussing books. See Sara disappointed.

Posted by: Sara | March 8, 2006 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Addendum: I didn't do the phantom post that appears before mine. But it's cool, huh?

Posted by: CowTown | March 8, 2006 10:10 AM | Report abuse

CowTown, I'm waiting for the movie.

I <3 Audrey Tautou...

Posted by: omni | March 8, 2006 10:12 AM | Report abuse

This is a test by the phantom. This is only a test. Testing, testing, test…

Posted by: Anonymous | March 8, 2006 10:14 AM | Report abuse

ok, I'll stop now.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 8, 2006 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Doris Kearns Goodwin is smaller and tinier than I expected her to be--a mere midget of a woman but a towering mental powerhouse. She was also far funnier than I ever dreamed. And she was earthy--speaking of sex and outhouses with ease. "Why aren't there more women historians?" I came away from last night's presentation at Trinity University, asking myself.

But audiences in Texas are tough ones. I lead the questions from the audience last night, but the woman who was second to the microphone, asked a very political question about George W. Bush's legacy. It was cleverly worded, and about half-way through, the audience began to boo her. About two-thirds of the way through her question, other members of the audience began to clap. Mind you, the venue last night was Trinity University.

Texas audiences are barbaric. If they feel that your opinion goes against their particular mindset, then they're ready to fling their metaphorical rotten tomatoes, banana peels, and potato scrapings in your metaphorical face. Texans very much have a Roman Coliseum mentality. I was laughing so hard at this primitive Texas Weltanschauung last night with my husband on the drive home, but by the light of day, I am more sobered by the thought of their outrageous and impolite group behavior.

I have been in that particular woman's shoes, when, in 2004, I asked some difficult questions of (Texas) weapons inspector David Kaye. The waves and soundwall of boos trailed me when I found my seat after speaking at the mic, particularly since I pursued Kaye's answers to my questions with several follow-ups.

At Monday night's District 1 meeting about the future of downtown's Main Plaza, I was also booed by the small assembled group when I happened to point out that the small cardboard design plans were "crappy presentation graphics." O.K., by that time I was mad, and I did you the word "crappy."

Mudge, I wish that at one time you hadn't written that a California mind is a terrible thing to waste in Texas, because I now swill your words around in my mind with a too frequent regularity--and the resulting feelings are not good ones.

But there was were some interesting information in the Doris Kearns Goodwin Q&A that I shall post when Joel puts up a new Kit.

Posted by: Loomis | March 8, 2006 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Oh, Cowtown, do I have some interesting Hanks info for you (and the Boodle)...

Posted by: Loomis | March 8, 2006 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Let me guess Loomis, Tom Hanks is a fifth cousin twice removed. ;)

I still think Hanks has never gotten the credit he deserves for his excellent work in "Bachelor Party" and "Turner and Hooch".

Posted by: yellojkt | March 8, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse

When the reenactors didn't capture the imagination, I tried some follow-ups based on my own limited knowledge. Perhaps a little better, but kids can only listen to their Old Man lecture and demonstrate for so long...

Still, I can't really blame them. My own personal highlight was finding flintlock capguns that shoot cork balls, just like the souvenirs my brothers and I brought home 30someodd years ago.

History is not interesting to the young; it only starts becoming important to those old enough to have been a part of it.


Posted by: bc | March 8, 2006 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Hey, Achenbach, write something. I'm trying to avoid work, and all you've got is this antique Kit to respond to.

Posted by: ScienceTim | March 8, 2006 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Many years ago, Stephen Hunter, then of the Baltimore Sun, reviewed the movie Bachelor Party. He did not care for the movie. However, something that stuck in my mind -- he said that the supporting actor playing the best man, a new young guy named Tom Hanks, was a talent to watch. He predicted that this guy had an undefinable something that would have him doing great work in the future.

Posted by: Tim | March 8, 2006 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Reading about the "action/adventure aspect of the Revolutionary era" reminds me of the restaurant my son and I went to a few weeks ago in Southwest Virginia. It advertised that by eating there we could "dine in a relaxing civil war atmosphere."

Posted by: TBG | March 8, 2006 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I agree, yellojkt.

Hanks, Adrian Zmed were a dream team in "BP".
Still, the donkey and Tawny Kitaen rendered the ensemble's performances as nothing less than magnificent.


PS Don't forget Hanks on TV in "Bosom Buddies".

Posted by: bc | March 8, 2006 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Oh where oh where is my Cowtowne?

Posted by: Belushilover | March 8, 2006 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Finding that I am not the only person unable to read "100 Years of Solitude," I have placed it reverently in the box for the recycling book store. I am so relieved!

Posted by: nellie | March 8, 2006 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Cross-dressing is always comedy gold. It's a great ticket to fame and fortune. Just ask Peter Scolari.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 8, 2006 10:53 AM | Report abuse

TBG - ha!


Posted by: bc | March 8, 2006 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Yesterday's exchange about chess between pj and Lindaloo reminded of a rather risque moment in my life but I thought better of posting it. But this morning's post by Lindaloo admiring historial Kerns, "And she was earthy--speaking of sex and outhouses with ease" has emboldened me.

Back when we were young, silly in-love newlyweds, I asked Mr. Nani if he thought I was sexy and he responded "sometimes". Of course I wanted to knew when, thinking it was the evening I wore my new negligee or something of that nature. To my surprise, he said it was during the week he'd been teaching me how to play chess. Well, he explained that during our very first real game, mano y muerto, no hints or help from him, he looked at my face, concentrating, deep in study of the board(I so wanted to win). When he noticed tiny droplets of perspiration on my upper lip, he wanted to brush the board and pieces off the table in one felt swoop, take me in his arms and so on and so forth. (blush). Yes I won the game probably because I broke his concentration.

Posted by: Nani | March 8, 2006 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I also saw Bachelor Party with Tom Hanks, and liked the movie because I thought Tom Hanks was funny. The plot wasn't that good, but Tom Hanks was great.

Nick and Jessica, Ken and Barbie. And where I live teachers can't pay rent and car payment, and these folks have more money than they know what to do with, go figure.

Posted by: Cassandra S | March 8, 2006 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Huge SCC muerto means DEAD! mano y womano

Posted by: Nani | March 8, 2006 10:59 AM | Report abuse


You are totally correct.

Life is cruelly tilted towards the extremely attractive and marginally talented. Jessica Alba. Case closed.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 8, 2006 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Can anyone post Garrison Keillor's haiku about the baseball player waiting under a fly ball? I can't seem to remember it. (This is another thread -- books that have disappeared somewhere in the house.)

Posted by: jg | March 8, 2006 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Jessica Alba, who seems to be selling her career as a hot-looking actress on the basis that she is, in fact hot-looking, bothers me less than Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and Shania Twain, who sell their careers as singers on the basis that they are hot-looking.

Posted by: Tim | March 8, 2006 11:10 AM | Report abuse

When I encountered and questioned Clay Jenkinson of Reno (character reenactor from Reno) I had him agitated, madder than hell, and sputtering for words, as Thomas Jefferson, in the Louisville Library:

I admit to having had Bill Baker, Jefferson reenactor, sputtering here in San Antonio. You can watch him at this website. Scroll to Jefferson and Baker:

John Hall, who portrays James Madison, came off the stage and kissed my hand, in character as Monroe. Hall, the actor, hails from Connecticut.

Posted by: Loomis | March 8, 2006 11:15 AM | Report abuse

you mean "hombre a la mujer". "Mano y mano" means "hand and hand".

Posted by: omni | March 8, 2006 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Always glad to be of service, nellie.

C'mon, Loomis, you can't leave us hanging like that! Sex and outhouses? Details, girl, details!

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 8, 2006 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I hope that didn't come off as nitpicky, really just trying to be helpful. But once again Nani tells a great story.

Posted by: omni | March 8, 2006 11:16 AM | Report abuse

yellojkt writes:
Let me guess Loomis, Tom Hanks is a fifth cousin twice removed. ;)

Oh, yellojkt *giggling* you are very, very hot and very, very cold.

Oh deepest desires of the heart--to be at the premiere of "The DaVinci Code."

Saw "Cabaret in Munich when it opened, went to "The Alamo" premiere. The third time truly would be the charm!

Posted by: Loomis | March 8, 2006 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Nani, great story! That's an all-timer! Must save that for Best of the Boodle.

FYI, there's a new kit. A little self-indulgent, conceivably.

Posted by: Achenbach | March 8, 2006 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Every time I see Christina Aguilera in yet another skanky outfit, I just want to shake her! Listen to "Beautiful". The girl has real talent and should leave the trashy clothes and shocking (yawn) behavior to Britney Spears and Madonna. My granddaughters tell me that Christina has been singing for her supper since she was 5 years old, performing at grocery store and auto dealership grand openings while she, her sister and mother moved from town to town to escape an abusive father/husband.

Posted by: Nani | March 8, 2006 11:28 AM | Report abuse

bc, just wanted to mention that I just discovered Tom Holt last month. Picked up his "Second Omnibus" on, because it was cheap enough to take a gamble. I suspected I'd like at least one of the stories: "Who's Afraid of Beowulf?". Brilliant.


Posted by: DoubleVision | March 8, 2006 11:53 AM | Report abuse

DV, I've been reading Holt for awhile (late 90's), 'Who's Afraid...' is one of his better works, IMO. 'Expecting Someone Taller', and 'Snow White and the Seven Samauri' are some goodies, too.

I'm sure he'd hate being lumped in with that long line of British comic fantasy, e.g. Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, but there he is.


Posted by: bc | March 8, 2006 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I have absolved myself of all "guilt from unread books" by donating them to deployed troops through They have now gotten a second life with people who will actually read them, I have lots more room on my shelves, AND I no longer feel guilty when confronted by "someday, I'm gonna read that" books throughout the house.

If interested in doing the same yourself, either submit a volunteer application (downloadable from the website) to get access to hundreds of requests from troops, or offer your books in the "We've Got Books Ready to Ship" forum here:

It's the first time I've ever actually felt good letting go of my beloved books!

Posted by: AZS | March 8, 2006 7:21 PM | Report abuse

How is this for obsessive: I recently put myslef on a program of reading all of the novels on my bookshelves that I have never read--in alphabetical order by author! Since I obviously resisted reading them in the first place, this at least gives me a regimen . . .

Posted by: arpie | March 9, 2006 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I found a new way to deal with Attention Deficit Reading. Picked up a copy of The March a few months ago. Somewhere between the cash register at Costco and my arrival home, it disappeared. I hope whoever found it gave it a good home.

Posted by: rep | March 10, 2006 2:44 PM | Report abuse

In a perfect world I would sit down with The March and read it, but I have painting and furniture refinishing to do this weekend, in addition to research at the library and my normal chores and exercise regimen. Not to mention, it's my birthday, so there are social obligations. So. I am downloading the audio from This is the first time I've tried If it works out I'll be able to listen to the Doctorow book whilst painting, sanding, cleaning, sewing, etc. this weekend.

Re Doctorow's work: I didn't like Ragtime as much as World's Fair. And City of God is in a category all its own--I have it on my bookshelf, and I plan to reread it at some point, because once wasn't enough to really comprehend it.

I'm entering this comment March 10 at 9:07 p.m.--Linda says there's a time limit on comments now, and I came back here from the future to test the theory.

Posted by: kbertocci | March 10, 2006 9:01 PM | Report abuse

pbynyilk [url=]test2[/url]

Posted by: John S | September 2, 2006 12:38 PM | Report abuse

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