50 book update, 27 through 38. You’ve been warned.
27. The Third Man and The Fallen Idol [The Basement Room], by Graham Greene.
The stories are marvelous, of course — Graham Greene! —- but Greene’s prefaces are fascinating, too. He discusses the difference between writing a story as a story (The Basement Room) and a story as a precursor to a film script (The Third Man), and the dialectic through which he and Carol Reed tore apart and reconstructed these tight, hard narratives into two of the finest
films of the 20th century.
28. The Difference Engine, By William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.
This was my second whack at The Difference Engine. A year ago, I started reading and found, one day, that I hadn’t picked it up for a week.
This time, I got within 30 pages of the end before I stopped reading. Oh, eventually, I found it at the bottom of a stack of books and thumbed my way through the epilogue, but I just couldn’t care.
29. A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster.
Charming, light, witty, and altogether delightful.
30. Best American Science and Nature Writing of 2005, edited by Steven Pinker.
Not surprisingly, Pinker’s selections lean toward the popular. More surprising, though, is the heavy reliance on social sciences over hard science, and in several cases the complete absence of any science, hard or soft. The article on popular baby names, for example, could be interesting, but the subject just barely qualifies as sociology, and the treatment doesn’t even do that. The same is true of the article on Caring for your Inner Introvert, a not-actually-funny humorous piece I had already encountered (and stopped reading halfway through) when it was originally published in the Atlantic. What was Spinker thinking?
There is a light but interesting piece on the click languages of Africa. I could do with a bit more clicking, and more actual linguistics (and Pinker, although currently in Harvard’s Psychology Dept., was once upon a time an actual linguist, so hey, what the hell, Spinker?), but the thesis is fascinating.
I do heartily recommend the article on the many-worlds hypothesis of quantum physics. Listen: I’m no dummy, but ow my brain! It took some work, but I finally got it…
31. The Dark Is Rising;
33. The Grey King; and
34. Silver on the Tree, from Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence.
Puts Harry Potter in the dust.
35. Men and Cartoons, by Jonathan Lethem.
A handful of gleaming stories illuminate this little volume. Sometimes, Lethem’s writing leaves me blinking in astonishment; other times, it just leaves me emptily blinking. If you loved Fortress of Solitude (as I did not), this collection should please you.
36. The Ring (graphic novel version), by Misao Inagaki and Hiroshi Takahashi.
Yet another halfhearted attempt to read more graphic novels. It’s sad, I know. If there are any comics aficionados out there, please give me some suggestions.
[Good lord, are you still reading this?]
Benedict’s account is far from unbiased, casting Owsley and his colleagues as gleaming heroes whose opposition simply doesn’t get it, but it’s interesting to see a popular approach to an issue so intensely discussed in the archaeological community.
38. Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, by Lynne Truss. [Click the link!
Take the test! Play the game!]
I put off reading this for fear that the widespread and enthusiastic recommendations had primed me for disappointment. When I finally capitulated, I found myself bursting into laughter in the coffeehouse, on the shuttle, and waiting for the bus outside the grocery. And not subtle chuckling, no —- the unsmotherable tearful laughter that causes other patrons in the coffeehouse to check the title on their way out. I just adored this uptight, priggish, slightly insane text.
I listed this one last so you wouldn’t read through the entire entry painfully aware of my commas.