READING
12/30/2000
2/18/2008

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Recommendations and counterrecommendations, purely according to my taste and whim

Books Worth Sharing
Fiction
w The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  Michael Chabon.  Simply a fabulous novel. A standard-bearer of excellence in contemporary writing. Anything this good, this intelligently and beautifully written, also ought to be exciting, riveting, and fun to read, with no boring parts, and this is. (2000) Winner of 2001 Pulitzer Prize.
w American Gods.  Neil Gaiman. What happens to the old gods when their devotees move to a new land and stop serving them with rituals and sacrifices?
w The Bug. Ellen Ullman. Insightful novel of seeking and finding answers, original in its use of the debugging of a computer program as its plot line and chief metaphor. (New York: Anchor Books, 2004.)
w Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Gregory Maguire. The author of Wicked (see below) gives another familiar fairy-tale theme a completely original treatment that is rich in real human characters; no cardboard cutouts here.  (New York:  HarperCollins, 1999.)
w Cryptonomicon.  Neal Stephenson.  Diverting, satisfying, pretty amazing. I think the digressions are as fascinating as the complex narrative and its ingenious resolution. Stephenson’s powers of imagination are stunning. I found myself wondering often what the process of writing this could have been like. He spends profligately, as if they were nothing, notions and conceits and extravagant asides any one of which, for another writer, might sustain a whole story; and his simile machine is unstoppable.
w Einsteinís Dreams. Alan Lightman.  Short, imaginative, mystcal, and oddly compelling exploration of the nature of time. (New York: Warner Books, 1993.) 
w An Equal Music.  Vikram Seth.  An extraordinarily affecting depiction of an obsessive affair between two musicians, with the deftest rendition I have ever read of the exact moment when the spell is broken.
w The God of Small Things.  Arundhati Roy.  The first novel Iíve read that was structured in concentric circles. A love story slowly revealed through intricate, interlocking puzzle pieces and a tragedy of ruthlessly converging forces. The quality of sensory detail seems to bypass the left brain and go straight to experience.
w
The Harry Potter books. J. K. Rowling. Read them all without fail. Yes, they're dereivative. Yes, the rush to print seems to have outpaced the author's ability to proceed with care. Yes, they're sloppily edited after the first one or two. Yes, they're a transitory sensation that will probably not hold its currency once the whole world knows how the last one turns out. Read them anyway just to be part of an amazing cultral phenomenon.

I

Harry Potter and the Sorcererís Stone
II Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
III
The Prisoner of Azkaban
IV
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
V
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
VI
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
VII
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows — coming July 21
w Lost. Gregory Maguire. Third novel by the author of Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Less directly based on a known traditional work than the first two, owing something to Dickensí Ebenezer Scrooge but most to the twisting corridors and secret rooms of the authorís imagination; this offering a little less tightly wrapped than the first two, a little less satisfying, but a worthy read nonetheless, with a complex heroine, an unusual plot line, and a way of inserting images into your memory as if they had been your own dream.. (New York: HarperCollins, 2001.)
w Mystic River. Dennis Lehane. A story of lives lost in different ways, not all to death; satisfying because itís so well done and because of whatever it is that we find so compelling about tragedy. (New York: HarperCollins, 2001.)
w The Namesake.  Jhumpa Lahiri. Burdened by the weight of traditions brought by his Indian parents to their new American home and by a name fraught with meaning to them but not to him, Gogol Ganguli struggles to claim his own identity amidst the suffocating presence of family expectations. Lahiriís lucid style and her command of intimate detail, especially gesture, are magical to watch.
w Neverwhere.  Neil Gaiman. A deft animation of a lively assortment of Jungian archetypes in a contemporary Heroís Journey set under-underground in London.
w Pattern Recognition. William Gibson. A remarkable piece of work by the author of the seminal Neuromancer. This 2003 review by Lisa Zeidner for the New York Times is better than anything I could say about it. Apparently the idea of a coolhunter is not simply the authorís futuristic conceit, as I thought when reading the book:  it is defined here and here, and a brief but compelling evocation of the work of a coolhunter appears in this poem by Mark Lewman. (New York: Putnamís, 2003.)
w The Probable Future. Alice Hoffman. Itís hard to describe this in a way that makes it sound as good as it is. At the plot level, itís about how Stella deals with the supernatural gift that comes to every woman in her family at 13. It is also about finding oneís place in oneís family and oneís family history and about how the right people can find each other. Beautifully written. (New York: Ballantine, 2003.)
w Second Nature.  Alice Hoffman.  Goosebumps for thrilling story and for style. Would that the other Alice Hoffman books were as good as this, but several (such as Illumination Night) simply arenít.
w Sister of My Heart. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Tender, beautiful Anju and plain, keen-minded, and rebellious Sudha grow up more like sisters than cousins under the shadow of a tragic family secret that follows them into their adult lives on two continents.
w Snow Crash. Neal Stephenson. Hell of an action yarn set in a semisatirical but credible-enough-to-make-you-shudder California of the near future, but that is not what’s remarkable about this book. Solid fiction, with appealing and interesting main characters playing out ancient battles in postmodernistic terms, it is also a theory of language, the mind, computers, viruses, and ancient mythology that hangs together at least long enough to propel you through the book as if on a souped-up high-tech skateboard. One of the few novels Iíve wished came with an index. I read this after Cryptonomicon (and simultaneously with my first reading of Gulliverís Travels), and Iíd still say itís like nothing Iíve ever read before. I went straight to Amazon.com and ordered everything Stephenson has ever written. And it all turned out to be an unregrettable reading experience, even the older stuff that was pretty bad.
w The Sparrow.  Mary Doria Russell.  Not a sparrow falleth.
w The Thief of Always.  Clive Barker.  Give this to an adolescent you love, but read it yourself first.
w Where the Heart Is.  Billie Letts. Gentle, sentimental, and very emotionally vulnerable, but with tough stuff underneath, just like Novalee. Watch for the recurring imagery of feet.
w White Oleander.  Janet Fitch.  Beautifully, provocatively, and unsparingly written narrative of the odyssey of a young girl as she passes through a succession of foster homes after her mother is imprisoned for murder.
w Wicked.  Gregory Maguire.  The life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West.  Very moving, and very much better than it sounds.  (New York:  HarperCollins, 1995.)

Nonfiction
w The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image.
Leonard Shlain.
For word people, and especially for women whose craft is words, everything we thought we understood turns on its head. Astonishingly challenging, brilliantly compelling
w And There Was Light.  Jacques Lusseyran.  Blind hero of the French resistance in World War II. (New York:  Parabola, 1998.)
w Awakenings.  Oliver Sacks.  And all the other fascinating Oliver Sacks books that reveal dimensions of the mind through its pathologies: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Island of the Color-Blind, An Anthropologist on Mars.
w Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness.  Shunryu Suzuki.  Zen talks on the Sandokai.  (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1999.)
w The Iron Cow of Zen.  Albert Low.  Worth reading twice.  (Rutland, Vt.:  Tuttle, 1991.)
w The Long Hard Road out of Hell.  Marilyn Manson.  Intelligent, disturbing, and revealing.  (New York:  HarperPerennial, 1998.)
w The Path to Enlightenment.  The Dalai Lama. (Ithaca, N.Y.:  Snow Lion, 1994.)
w Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  Shunryu Suzuki.  (New York:  Weatherhill, 1993.) Iíd say treat it as scripture, but that would be contrary to its own nature and intent. So treat it as a userís guide instead.
w Zen to Go.  Jon Winokur.  (New York:  Penguin, 1990.)  This is the book that prompted me to begin the practice and study of Zen in August of 1994.  I bought it because I liked the cover and thought it was going to be funny.

 

Books to Forget
Fiction
wCold Mountain. Charles Frazier.
wDie Trying.  Lee Child.
wIllumination Night.  Alice Hoffman.
wLos Alamos.  Joseph Kanon.
w
The Celestine Prophecy.  James Redfield.  Started it out of curiosity.  Once I had its number, continued to read it so I could tell when people around me were alluding to it in all seriousness.  Parts of it caused me to howl with laughter so convulsive that I was in pain.  My hands-down favorite line from the book:
After a long period of waiting during which I had no concept of time, I suddenly became aware that nothing had happened!    [p. 96]

It was the exclamation point that killed me.

In an oddly satisfying way, that line sums up the experience of reading this colorless and tasteless but not odorless philosophical happy meal.


Nonfiction
wThe Art of Happiness.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.  The doctor’s commentary dominates the book and seriously detracts from its credibility, its wisdom, and its heart.  I would call this a complete dud.

 

Favorite Periodicals
wParabolaMyth, tradition, and the search for meaning.  A quarterly publication that is a compilation of past and contemporary writings and images around a theme.  Recent themes:  Threshold, Riddle & Mystery, The Teacher, Fate and Fortune.  Twenty-five years of back issues are available for order, on themes ranging from Labyrinth and Pilgrimage to Clothing and Play & Work.
wUtne Reader.  The best of the alternative press.  A bimonthly gathering of articles and other readings from various nonmainstream sources, with a healthy dose of editorial attitude thrown in.  Pointers to other reading, both through ads and through lists and references, are of interest in their own right.
wHarperís Magazine.  A 150-year-old monthly magazine of intelligent discourse and opinion, with articles, selected readings, reviews, fiction, and the now-familiar Harperís Index.  The incisive commentary of editor Lewis Lapham alone is worth the price of admission.
wTricycle.  The Buddhist review.  A quarterly publication of articles, news, and reviews focusing on Buddhism in America, with attention to all traditions and a strong sense of their origins as well as awareness and support of their transformation as they pass into Western culture.


Release Your Used Books into the Wild

Love them and let them go. BookCrossing invites you to read, register, and release.

A friend recently referred me to this website. With minutes I decided to go ahead and sign up, send for a release kit, and start registering books. Iíve really been enjoying thinking of places to let them loose and wondering where they will go. Finders might even report their catchesóand then I can track how my book passes from hand to hand.

What I like best about this program is that I finally feel as if I were doing the right thing with my used books, which I can never stand to simply throw away. The beauty of it is that giving a book away no longer requires someone elseís acceptance as a precondition. When I release a book, I donít have to face a ďno, thanksĒ! Thereís a self-selecting aspect to the receiving of it. So now I can let books go with satisfaction and no guilt, and I can start to reduce the stacks around my house. For the first time I really feel good about letting go of books!



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