Reading list

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2002

I’m not quite sure why, but I haven’t been documenting what I’ve been reading for the past few months. Laziness probably…or too busy getting on to the next thing to read. In an effort to catch up a bit, here’s a list of most of the books I’ve read lately:

- Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
- Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
- How to Write by Richard Rhodes
- The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
- Small Pieces Loosely Joined by David Weinberger
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Math Gene by Keith Devlin

I would especially recommend The Making of the Atomic Bomb and The Death and Life of Great American Cities, masterpieces both.

Paris to the Moon was my latest read. Gopnik is another one of those annoyingly talented New Yorker writers (along with Gladwell, Orlean, and Mead) that I just can’t get enough of. His observations on living in Paris as an American are the exact opposite of crappy.

What books have you read recently?

Reader comments

roeJul 14, 2002 at 12:14AM

Sellevison — a satire about the backstage life of hosts of a television shopping network. Fast read, and hysterically funny. :)

Serdar KilicJul 14, 2002 at 12:23AM

Almost French : I guess it is similar to Paris to the Moon but this time it’s through the experiences of an Australian. A wonderful read.

GarrettJul 14, 2002 at 12:59AM

House of Leaves - Absolutely amazing book. It’s huge, and too difficult to explain without making it sound strange. It’s worth the money, I promise.

jubyJul 14, 2002 at 1:03AM

The Sum of All Fears : Decided to read it before I go watch the movie. Now I’m being told that was a mistake. Still, I’m always struck by how Tom Clancy picks up on all the little things that I would never think of. I’m actually planning on going back and reading through all of the Jack Ryan novels, in their storyline order. Should be some fun stuff.

uberchickJul 14, 2002 at 3:52AM

crime and punishment was one of my favorite reads. if you like dostoevsky, the brothers karamazov is one of his all-time best.

terenceJul 14, 2002 at 4:00AM

My latest reads have been the four Harry Potter books. I was able to finish them in about two weeks. Marvelous books, for children or not. I’ve also read Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked, both by David Sedaris. Simply hilarious prose!

BTW, I’ve read the Jane Jacobs book you mentioned in the list. It’s somewhat dull, but fascinating when you put it to use and really think about it afterwards. The destination is definitely better than the trip in this case, IMO.

ramzJul 14, 2002 at 4:52AM

The Sum Of All Fears: I also read this novel before I went and saw the movie in the theaters, and I think it only made me upset in the long run. Clancy has such a way of dragging minor little details together at the end so that all these anti-climatic nuisances combine into one uber-climatic end that no movie could ever match his works (that goes for now all four Jack Ryan movies, maybe with the exception of The Hunt for the Red October).

It just goes down as another book that was much better than its theatrical counterpart (such as Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Lost World and all of Grisham’s novels). A pity the screen can never match the ink that some can put on a page.

JosetteJul 14, 2002 at 4:57AM

i’m currently toting around the first paper girl in red oak, iowa and mermaids on the moon, both by elizabeth stuckey-french. the former is a short story collection, a fast delicious read. just started the second book …

JohnJul 14, 2002 at 5:23AM

Speaker for the Dead: Part of the Ender Trilogy by Orson Scott Card. I read all three of them in late-middle/early-high school, but I think being a little older I appreciate them a lot more. They’re all excellent reads, though the first is very much different from the second and third.

JohnJul 14, 2002 at 5:31AM

Doh! There’s four books, which would make it not a trilogy. Well, the comment still apply, just tack on a fourth book. :)

MartinJul 14, 2002 at 5:37AM

I’ve just re-read the Philip K. Dick collection Minority Report, which includes the short story that the recent movie was based on. It’s far superior in concept to the movie and the rest of the stories are simply genius.

I’ve also been reading alot of Chrisophter Brookmyre’s stuff, he’s a sort-of Scottish version of James Ellroy.

Steven GarrityJul 14, 2002 at 6:14AM

I actually read it a few years ago, but I was reminded of the great impact Tolstoy’s Confession had on me by a recent episode of the CBC Radio program, Ideas. I hadn’t known that the primary influences for Ghandi were Leo Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau.

Dan CederholmJul 14, 2002 at 7:05AM

The Turk, by Tom Standage. The story about an eighteenth-century chess playing machine that inspired the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Napolean, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Babbage. Fascinating, and reads almost like a mystery, until you’re finally let in on the secret in one of the final chapters.

SpacemanJul 14, 2002 at 7:59AM

I recently re-read the shocking Story Of The Eye, by Georges Bataille. A Bjork favorite and an influence to her ‘Venus As A Boy’ video.

SpacemanJul 14, 2002 at 8:24AM

hmm, it rejected my link using an href tag, here it is:


AzraelBrownJul 14, 2002 at 8:27AM

The Stars My Destination
, Alfred Bester. I’ve been combing used bookstores for scifi classics, pre-1950s, when outerspace was truly fantasy; they didn’t tie themselves down with the morality of technology, like most modern scifi does. “The Stars My Destination” is pretty messed up, though; Just when it seemed like it was going to get corny, it went weird instead. Just the way I like it.

tozéJul 14, 2002 at 8:54AM

hermann hesse’s “der stepenwolf” and kerouac’s “big sur”

zachJul 14, 2002 at 9:47AM

I have been stuck on Ayn Rand lately. Just got done with The Fountainhead and I’m in the middle of Atlas Shrugged. Both are groundbreaking.
In addition, I recommend Neuromancer by William Gibson. At times while reading this book, I really thought I was hallucinating. If you’re into sci-fi this a complete mindbend of a read. And I’m anxiously waiting for the movie to be made.

strikterJul 14, 2002 at 10:54AM

read angela´s ashes

matJul 14, 2002 at 12:09PM

Fast Food Nation: By Eric Schlosser.
I finally got around to reading this. It’s a book every American should read, whether or not you eat Fast Food. Although you go into it knowing pretty much what you’ll find, the depth and breadth of Schlosser’s reporting is amazing.

Return of the King: JRR Tolkien.
Frodo lives, yo

Thai Phrasebook: Lonely Planet

vanderwalJul 14, 2002 at 12:19PM

I have been finding Inner Navigation: Why we Get Lost in the World and How we Find Our Way a joy to read and sparking ideas that help understand the world around and how we move about in it. A good companion to this has been Linked: The New Science of Networks. Moon Over Paris is an occasional read that takes me to a joyful place. MOP also is a nice read with Patricia Walls Paris Cookbook as its companion.

mattwJul 14, 2002 at 12:29PM

One particularly shaping book I’ve read recently is Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond — a social history of the last 13,000 years, it takes the fortunes of civilisations back to first principles: geography and environment. It’s a book of the Long Now, a map of the holocene that helps you find your place in history. Recommended.

npJul 14, 2002 at 12:52PM

TARGET=”new”>Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing
written by the young Harvard scientist, Margaret Livingstone, and the Nobel prize winner David H. Hubel

AlejandraJul 14, 2002 at 1:23PM

I just reread Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio.” “Hands” gets me everytime.

Imagine living in that town…

MarcCanterJul 14, 2002 at 2:32PM

The Invisible Computer - by Don Norman - is my favorite recent book, which I should have read years ago. Also In the Beginning…Was the Command Line
by Neal Stephenson.

He has also done some other EXCELLENT books Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age.

FranJul 14, 2002 at 3:11PM

My library was discarding Williams & Tollet’s The Non- Designer’s Web Design Book, so I bought it for 10 cents! Very datedit is, but she still is a wiz at design.

heatherJul 14, 2002 at 3:20PM

The Island of Lost Maps - wonderful book about the history and theft of maps
Replay - great science fiction similar to my all time fave, Jumper
A Finer End - mystery, great summer reading

BrianJul 14, 2002 at 5:40PM

American Gods - Excellent stuff from Neil GaimanThe Player of Games - science fiction in the Culture series from Iain M. Banks

tamimJul 14, 2002 at 5:52PM

Not necessarily “reading” per se, but three books in my bag/desk/nightstand/floor:

Sylvia Yount’s museum catalog companion Maxfield Parrish, 1870-1966 and Coy Ludwig’s excellent biography Maxfield Parrish. Parrish, one of my favorite artists, was close to being a “prima donna web-designer,” at least in his attitude, long before there were prima donna web-designers. Ludwig’s book is detailed and comes complete with Parrish’s correspondence about many of his pieces. I had read both of them about two years ago. After seeing some of the comments disputing my facts in a MetaFilter thread, I decided to flip through again just to re-check that my often fragile memory hadn’t let me down. I think I should post a follow-up in that thread and quote the necessary parts.

I’m also flipping through Jan Cloninger’s A Letter to My Son, only because my dad bought me the book about two months ago. I don’t think he read the book himself; or he’d have realized that I am a bit older for Cloninger’s collection of letters she wrote to her teen-aged son to help him through his adolescence. (Or maybe my father thinks I have not grown up.) Cloninger maintains a website for the book at: time-to-reflect.com.

tamimJul 14, 2002 at 6:03PM

BTW, Cloninger’s “letters” are not written as traditional letters, but as a series of advices.

paulJul 14, 2002 at 6:42PM

mentioning newyorker writers and not talking about haruki murakami (who does send in his short stories every few months)? for shame!

EdJul 14, 2002 at 7:40PM

I’m afraid I’ve been catching up on widely read books over the past few months. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was a lot of fun, thoroughly researched and lovingly told. Chabon has a subtle way of putting his stories into cultural and historical contexts that I very much admire. Salvador Dali’s sudden diving suit appearance at a party was just so damned right, as was the character culmination.

As overlong as it was, The Royal Family was tough and meticulous in its portrayal of San Francisco street life. Vollman came very close to turning the SF underground into a sort of overcompensatory Les Miserables, what with an essay on bail bonds and a few gossipy tidbits on how the Grand Street editor rejected an excerpt.

But the best novel that I have read this year is Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Nothing really comes close in measured prose, vivid detail, honest humanity (and its antithetical flip side) or bravura economy. I’ve also been catching up on McEwan’s back catalog these days, thrilling to the emotional scope buried within his careful sentences.

The Jacobs book is actually in my bookpile right now and I hope to get to it eventually. In preparation for Theodore Rex, I read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and was fascinated by Teddy’s character, particularly during his stint as NYC police commissioner in which he proved that he could win the public over while simultaneously upholding a very unpopular temperance law.

BryanJul 14, 2002 at 7:58PM

I nearly fell asleep trying to read Rhodes’ “Making of the Hydrogen Bomb”. I felt like I was reading a grocery list.

I’ve just finished reading works by Stainslaw Lem. “Futurological Congress”, “Cyberiad”, “Solaris”, and “Memoirs Found in a Bathtub”. He’s an absolutely brilliant writer; incredible work.

Also read recently: “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Nietzshe (not at all what I was expecting), “Cosmos” by Sagan, and “Mathematics for the Million” by Lancelot Hogben.

the AdmiralisationJul 14, 2002 at 10:17PM

I’ve started to read Stephen Wolfram’s “A New Kind of Science,” and prefaced it with James Gliek’s “Chaos” from 1987 as a primer.

I’m also reading “Hot Text,” writing for the web, by the Prices. Finished not too long ago “What Einstein Told his Cook,” forget the author, about food science. Love those food books.

benryJul 14, 2002 at 10:32PM

How to Build a Time Machine by Paul Davies and The Design of Books by Adrian Wilson.

KurtJul 14, 2002 at 11:30PM

I’d recommend any book by Thomas Brussig for a fascinating look into German life in the shadow of The Wall. Unfortunately, the only English translation Amazon stocks is Heroes Like Us. If you can read Deutsch, definitely go for Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenalle. Hilarious!

Oh, and if you’re still wondering about the circles you saw from the air… they were probable fields irrigated by a central-pivot irrigation system. They’re everywhere here in farm country…

boogahJul 15, 2002 at 12:53AM

lately i’ve been reading the collected works of chuck palahniuk. from the man who brought you “fight club” his other works such as “survivor”, “choke” and “invisible monsters” are such a roller coaster ride that i enjoy leafing thru them when i’m between books. i’m really looking forward to “lullaby” which should be dropping this fall.

also, i know “a heartbreaking work of staggering genius” was so last year but i just re-read it and it still punches me in the gut every time with raw emotion.

right now tho i’m rather excited to be getting alton brown’s “i’m just here for the food”. it should be here within the next couple days and i’m rather interested to see what it holds in store for my appreciation of cooking.

Christopher WalkerJul 15, 2002 at 5:24AM

I spent the last two days remembering why I love Hemingway so much: A Farewell To Arms. If anyone’s seen “Evil Dead 2”, there’s one of the best movie/literary crossover jokes ever involving that book.

Also worth a look is Bret Easton Ellis’s “The Rules of Attraction”, which begins and ends mid-sentence. Boy, I’m glad I wasn’t an American in college in the 80’s.

I tried Big Sur but couldn’t get into it, with sentences that went on for pages. Is “On The Road” any easier to start?

Jim SfekasJul 15, 2002 at 6:04AM

I read Jane Jacobs as part of the required reading for a city planning seminar in college. We spent the first 2/3 of the semester reading The City in History by Lewis Mumford, which is a dense and very abstract book. After slogging through that, reading Jacobs was a breath of fresh air. All of a sudden, you can understand what makes a city neighborhood really special and vibrant. It changed my perspective on cities.

patrickJul 15, 2002 at 6:11AM

Like mat, I finally got around to reading Fast Food Nation. Just started it last night, after completing Richard Powers’s Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance. That was my first exposure to Powers and a truly pleasant experience. I look forward to continuing on to The Gold Bug Variations and Galatea 2.2, two books that have rested on my bookshelf for some time, collecting little but dust. Reaching further back a few weeks, I reread The Great Gatsby (again), plodded through Empire Falls, boiled in anger at the American library system thanks to Double Fold, and got my Nick Hornby fix while paying homage to the World Cup with Fever Pitch.

IvonneJul 15, 2002 at 6:28AM

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris.

I’m only on the fourth of a bookful of essays/short stories/snippets.

So far it’s pretty damn funny. And eloquent. He just has a way of describing people and events that really puts you there with him, without having experienced his life, or met his family and friends, gone to his school, or worked his jobs.

ReidJul 15, 2002 at 7:01AM

Never one to shy away from a band-wagon, I’m currently reading Fast Food nation. Before that I went on a Bill Bryson blowout - Notes from a Small Island, Big Country and Down Under. I enjoyed them all but McCarthy’s Bar is still the best travellogue I’ve read recently.

AndrewJul 15, 2002 at 8:14AM

I just finished I’m Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown — the first cookbook I’ve ever read cover to cover. I’ve moved on to Rebecca Blood’s Weblog Handbook, which is quite good. While reading both these, I’ve also been stutter-stopping my way through A Brief History of Rudeness, by Mark Caldwell. It’s fairly dry and academic, but hey, if you’re gonna be rude, you should know what’s come before.

SalJul 15, 2002 at 8:58AM

LA Confidential - Finished it and was amazed. Rereading it because I know I missed all kinds of things. (never seen the movie)
Lord of the Rings - marvellous.

FrançoisJul 15, 2002 at 9:59AM

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane is one of the best detective novels I’ve read in a long time. If you enjoy mystery, try And Then There Were None, a classic by Agatha Christie (I think the movie/game Clue might have been based on this).

I just bought Red Dragon, Thomas Harris’ first book in the legendary Hannibal Lecter trilogy. A movie based on this novel is coming out shortly, with Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Mary-Louise Parker, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (let’s hope all of these great stars can save the series from last year’s Hannibal).

Other favorites are any of Kurt Vonnegut’s great books (try Cat’s Cradle and Welcome to the Monkey House). My favorite non-fiction book for the last few years has been The Hot Zone by Richard Preston.


JeffJul 15, 2002 at 10:08AM

Presently reading Immortality by Milan Kundera. Just finished reading Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography by David Shields.

Am reading the former because a friend commented that my writing reminded him of Kundera (I’m flattered but much more curious than convinced). I like the premise of the book: essentially he builds his main character from a daydream he has in the first chapter.

Enough About You is light, slightly insightful as to why David writes. But it doesn’t give you much about the nature of autobiography in general, which I would love to explore more fully.

JeffJul 15, 2002 at 10:11AM

The working link to Enough About You. Sorry.

sonyaJul 15, 2002 at 11:48AM

I finally read The Corrections. After the Oprah/Franzen controversy and my anxiety over whether or not Franzen had me in mind for a member of his reading public, I read it and was glad. The characters broke my heart, and their frailties reminded me of my own family and of myself. Franzen’s eye for detail and nuance make the controversy’s hoopla irrelevant.

robertJul 15, 2002 at 11:56AM

I love the blog world for this very reason, trading thoughts. Thanks.

Flags of Our Fathers — James Bradley, Ron Powers
The Things They Carried — Tim O’Brien
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace; How we got to be so hated — Gore Vidal

earlier in the year…
Rise to Rebellion — Jeff Shahara
Prodigal Summer — Barbara Kingsolver
…and more.

A lot of war history, even if some of it is historical fiction… thinking about what makes people tick in these situations. Thinking about the person next to you.
Prodigal Summer is a war of another kind really, not mechanized, but driven by the paternal leader of a family. Amazing story really.

Read the others to learn just how heroic every person can be when faced into the fire. If you have any interest in what people face as they fight wars just and unjust these are great books.
The Things They Carried provides personalized vignettes through tales of war, that “never happened” but could have.

PaulJul 15, 2002 at 11:59AM

Rivethead, by Ben Hamper, a former “shoprat” in a Michigan auto plant. Lots of humorous insight into the lives of assembly line workers.

Rich KottkeJul 15, 2002 at 4:25PM

Map Projections - a Working Manual, by John P. Snyder of the USGS. Lots of good math, plus humorous attempts by mathematicians to explain history.

The King’s Buccaneer, by Raymond E. Feist. A shallow, pulp fantasy story. Bad people die at the appropriate time, rescuers arrive on cue, even has elves and dwarves! I loved it.

David GunterJul 16, 2002 at 12:13AM

I’m glad to see “Making of the Atomic Bomb” on your list. I’ve read it a few times - the last while I was supposedly studying for my senior physics exams.

I highly recommend the pseudo-sequal “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb”. It captures your attention and grips it in the same manner as the “Atomic Bomb” book, but the story is just as much about the spy networks that existed in the US during WWII as it is about the h-bomb itself.

JoeJul 16, 2002 at 2:13AM

Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life is a fascinating book, but don’t overlook her other work. In particular, I would recommend The Economy of Cities. Planners helped make her first book famous by attacking it. Economists, perhaps a bit smarter than planners, ignored her second book. She may be on shaky ground in some of her early assertions about full-blown cities predating agriculture, but her description of how cities grow through the processes of export generation and import replacement is invaluable to anyone who wants to understand the way humans, and their communities, behave economically in (as she always calls it) “the real world.”

speedwellJul 16, 2002 at 4:08PM

Weirdly enough, I’ve read everything Wilkie Collins wrote (in a period of about six months, and all on my Handspring), as many other Victorian sensational novels as I can get my paws on, a run of vegan cookbooks, Spinoza (on a bet with my father), and the back of the cereal boxes at breakfast.

If it’s print, I read it, even if it’s not something I’m SUPPOSED to be reading…. (sigh)

speedwell (the best little underqualified legal assistant in Texas)

jkottkeJul 17, 2002 at 8:32AM

I forgot to add two books to my reading list:

- The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
- Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

WoodgeJul 18, 2002 at 10:47AM

I’m currently reading 2182 kHz by David Masiel. It’s about a hard luck guy who works in the Arctic. Pretty exciting and salty, so far. I’m digging it. FYI: 2182 kHz is the international distress channel. Here’s some other things I’ve read recently (link).

henryJul 19, 2002 at 2:18AM

no offense but who the heck cares what you are reading???

JasonJul 19, 2002 at 9:23PM

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It has been so long since i entered the world of Holmes. Truly a masterpiece.

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RonJul 22, 2002 at 6:50AM

If you liked Paris to the Moon, and/or if you just like books about Paris in general, do yourself a favor and read Stanley Karnow’s Paris in the Fifties. The title isn’t exactly correct; as the Amazon.com editorial review notes, it’s “more a biography of a city and its culture than it is a mere look at a time and place.” If you’ve read Gopnik, you’ll find yourself going, “Hey! Gopnik covered this same territory 50 years later!” Except that Karnow is, in all honesty, a better writer (and Paris in the 1950’s was a much more interesting place than it was in the 90’s). If you haven’t read Gopnik yet (and you should), you may want to read Karnow first, as he gives a much better feel for why Paris was (and is) the way it was (and is), and many of Gopnik’s essays are, in essence, updates of Karnow’s observations. Both highly recommended.

I’ve also read, lately, Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential (terrific stuff; a nice, breezier companion to Fast Food Nation and Ruhlman’s Soul of a Chef), the classic All the President’s Men, and the wonderfully engaging and accessible Civil War, the companion to the Burns PBS documentary.

Jens KlessmannJul 23, 2002 at 9:15PM

Last book I read was Twentynine Palms by Deanne Stillman. A nice disection of American society and the people kicked out of it. The whole story circles around a gruelsome murder in the Mojave desert. By describing the victim`s families, friends and friends of friends the author draws a picture Americans who don´t profit from the purest form of capitalism on Earth. They still keep beliving in the American Dream though.
Now I´m reading “The vintage book of contemporary American short stories”.

Craig SchampJul 25, 2002 at 9:47AM

Now reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, about colonization of Mars 50 to 100 years from now. In an interesting turn of phrase, the Greens on Mars are those who want to change the environment of Mars to make it more suitable for humans. The Reds are those who want to preserve Mars in pristine state.

Also just read A Dog Year by Jon Katz. It’s a fun, short read. Poignant story about adopting a dog, dealing with death, adapting to change.

Richard Fletcher’s The Quest for El Cid is short but a rich historical account of Spain in the 11th Century, just when Muslim influence was waning on the Penisula and Christians took control of Toledo again.

Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine is memorable. I read it years ago just about the time I joined a startup for the first time. We were building a new computer, and I could identify with much of Kidder’s description of computer company schedules and politics. Maybe I ought to re-read it, now that you mention it.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.