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Thread: VSalon Infinite Book Listicle - What Are You Reading Now

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    Default VSalon Infinite Book Listicle - What Are You Reading Now

    I would expect one, but I have not found a thread similar to the "What are you Listening to right now?" or "Binge Watching Series Recommendations" threads here.

    If my search-fu is particularly off, please move this post to the appropriate thread.

    Otherwise, I would like some recommendations, as I think I'll need something else to read by the time of my upcoming trip to Japan and Taiwan in May.

    I'm currently reading Les Misérable, which I picked up about half a year ago. I'm about 350 pages from finishing, and the enjoyment has been all over the place. The chapters on character development and action were enjoyable, and I actually didn't mind the 60-page introduction on Bishop Myriel and the 70-page segue on Waterloo. The discursion on various monastic orders was just about tolerable, but I just couldn't take another page of the discursion on Parisian argot and skipped 10-15 pages thereof. The various chapters on the courtship of Cosette and Marius was also a big meh, but I think with a lot of action still to come, the next 350 pages should go relatively fast.

    I don't have too many restrictions on things, but I think I might not do well with modern fiction. I really enjoyed reading Dicken's Bleak House, but I just couldn't gain any traction with Oliver Twist. I hobbled through Tale of Two Cities and found it incredibly dry until the last quarter of the book. I did go through Robert Ludlum's Bourne Trilogy quite rapidly. So perhaps I should be looking at something by Le Carré?

    As for non-fiction, I haven't finished any "serious" works in more than a decade. In my twenties, I read mostly non-fictions, and my favs were American Prometheus (on J. Robert Oppenheimer) and The Power Broker. Reading the latter somewhat spoiled me, as I have yet to find a non-fiction that was as engaging. It probably helped that I was living in NYC at the time, which made the book all the more relevant. That's probably the last "serious" non-fiction I finished, where the book was consumed for pleasure (as opposed to more expedient reasons). I guess for most biographies (even the well-regarded ones), they become mostly just stories of the person detailed and don't have many additional dimensions, and the eventually gets to me. In contrast, I think both American Prometheus and The Power Broker have enough others things going on to keep the reading interesting. One topic I think I might be interested in is the dynamic of East and West Berlin.

    Suggestions greatly welcomed.

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    I try to average a book a week and actually hit 60 last year. Running a little behind this year.

    I've read a few LeCarre books- they're much more understated than Ludlum but good reads.

    Recent standouts for me have been:
    Philbrick's book on Custer
    We Don't Know Ourselves by Fintan O'Toole- which is a modern, narrative style history of Ireland post-division.

    Currently working through Bono's book and a history of Fulton Fish Market.

    I would also highly recommend anything written by Patrick Radden Keefe.
    my name is Matt

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    It's not Berlin, but I suspect that you might find Patrick Radden Keefe's "Say Nothing" to be interesting.

    Right now I'm reading Will Sommer's "Trust the Plan" and it's both fascinating and hugely disturbing, which is not a surprise to me. Otherwise I've been reading a lot of John McPhee (The Control of Nature, Coming into the Country, Uncommon Carriers are all recent faves.)
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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    Anything written by Charles Portis.

    "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole

    "Mountain Man" by Vardis Fisher

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    LeCarré took as his literary mission to deglamorize intelligence work as ignominious work done by emotionally dented immoral grifters and thieves employed by those who could harness the desperation of others in order to achieve something similar to the status quo and label it as heroic for dishonorable reasons. When he starts to mellow later in life, the vinegar goes out of his stories, and while well-written, they are not as interesting, at least to me.

    I'd say the Karla Trilogy is a good place to start. Intriguing story telling that feels atmospheric and restless. The "Trilogy" is a later appellation and consists of the books about George Smiley, an intelligence officer with MI6, and his Russian nemesis, Karla, head of the KGB (or LeCarré's version of it.)

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    The Honorable Schoolboy
    Smiley's people

    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a good read as well. It was written before the Smiley books, but Smiley is in it. There are several books outside the Karla Trilogy where Smiley shows up. Kind of like Where's Waldo. This was written when LeCarré was still working in intelligence.

    The Little Drummer Girl is great. A depiction of the way people get used in an ever tightening twist like a strand in a rope. Israeli intelligence against a terrorist network.

    The Constant Gardener is also great. Takes a bit of time to start, but eventually it starts to get more and more intense. The end of the book is one of the best constructed I've read.

    A Perfect Spy is a special case. It is very well written but has a two or three part chronology that creates the back story as the main story develops, so you have to juggle things while following everything. Less perhaps about the espionage industry and more about how character flaws grown out of one's childhood make one a perfect spy. Supposed to be semi-autobiographical.

    A friend of mine really likes A Small Town in Germany. Our Game is also supposed to be good. I haven't read either. There are plenty more titles, but as I said I think something is lost from his later works. Maybe anger at those people he worked for and against in his own intelligence career.
    Last edited by j44ke; 04-17-2023 at 06:05 PM.
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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    Since you made it thru Bleak House, on to Our Mutual Friend.

    Or try the Soviet version, Vasily Grossman "Life and Fate"
    Grossman doesn't have the long digressions you get in Tolstoy or Hugo.
    "Hunchback of Notre Dame" is short form Hugo, tiny digressions.

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    Quote Originally Posted by TonyP View Post
    ..."A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole...
    That one is fun to read.

    An interesting one is
    "The Discovery of France: A historical Geography" by Graham Robb
    This is an interesting history of France from a perspective gained by riding a bicycle through the French countryside.
    It is not much about cycling, but is interesting nonetheless. He talks about history in a way that historians usually do not address.
    He thinks trough the point of view of the average person rather than that of the famous people.
    Mark Walberg
    Building bike frames for fun since 1973.

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    I haven't started yet, but while I was in Maine visiting my sister I bought volumes 3 and 4 of this series (used).

    (one from the Big Chicken Barn in Ellsworth, and the other from the Skidompha Secondhand Book Shop in Damariscotta, both great places check out if you're ever in the area)

    I haven't decided if I'll wait until I can track down Vol 1 and start with that, or dive into the middle of things with Vol 3. However, like all US history buffs out there, I'm hoping that Robert Caro manages to finish Vol 5 before he dies...


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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    I enjoyed Le Carré’s Trilogy, along with The Constant Gardener.

    A few favorites that I’d enjoy reading anywhere:
    The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
    Basin and Range, John McPhee
    Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
    How to Cook a Wolf, MFK Fisher (a very good read even for non-cooks)

    Recent happy discovery:
    All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    i personally re-read Les Misérables and Moby Dick every few years, but also re-read every few years one of the 1st true 'books" I ever read, which was Tarzan (3rd grade so I plead total nostalgia) and Frankenstein (5th grade)

    easy classic fiction: South Wind by normal douglas
    non-fiction: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by rebecca west
    Diaries of Lewis and Clark

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    Quote Originally Posted by jimcav View Post
    i personally re-read Les Misérables and Moby Dick every few years, but also re-read every few years one of the 1st true 'books" I ever read, which was Tarzan (3rd grade so I plead total nostalgia) and Frankenstein (5th grade)[snip]
    Jose Philip Farmer wrote the definitive bio of Lord Greystoke aka Tarzan, "Tarzan Alive"

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mabouya View Post
    I haven't started yet, but while I was in Maine visiting my sister I bought volumes 3 and 4 of this series (used).

    (one from the Big Chicken Barn in Ellsworth, and the other from the Skidompha Secondhand Book Shop in Damariscotta, both great places check out if you're ever in the area)

    I haven't decided if I'll wait until I can track down Vol 1 and start with that, or dive into the middle of things with Vol 3. However, like all US history buffs out there, I'm hoping that Robert Caro manages to finish Vol 5 before he dies...

    The logical thing to do after finishing The Power Broker was to switch to reading Caro’s work on LBJ, but it’s just so very daunting.

    IIRC, first 150 pages of The Power Broker was a bit dry and prosaic. It really wasn’t until all the intrigue started (at first, just Robert Moses cajoling others to get a road/ park built) that the book got really interesting. All his subsequent machinations were kinda difficult to stomach, after he steamrolled an opposition for the umpteenth time and managed to get away with it yet again.

    I think i would want to read about LBJ’s early career as a teacher to the indigent and how he pushed through the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and expansion of Social Security (full disclosure, I rate LBJ a lot higher than I rate JFK). I’m not sure i could stomach reading how he bamboozled Congress yet again and escalated the Vietnam War by bombing Laos and Cambodia…

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    I am always reading books. About an hour a day is spent with either my tablet or a physical book. I am a retired military officer and historian, so I have broad interests, primarily in US History.

    My favorite military histories:
    Goodbye, Darkness by William Manchester
    Tears in the Darkness by Michael Norman
    Neptune's Inferno by Jim Hornfischer
    Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by Hornfischer
    The Fleet at Floodtide by Hornfischer
    Outlaw Platoon by Sean Parnell
    The Bravest Man by William Tuohy
    Sink 'Em All by Charles Lockwood
    Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
    Dead Men Flying by Mike Mullane
    Diplomats and Admirals by Dale Jenkins
    Shattered Sword by Johnathan Parshall and Anthony Tully


    As a historian, I like to read history books from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I am a revisionist historian, so the study of Historiography and Historicity are fascinating to me. I analyze the bias in written history and research the hows and whys it was written. If you read any history written before the 1960s, you would think that white men were totally responsible for US History.

    History, starting with Civil Rights:
    From Jim Crow to Civil Rights by Michael Klarman - Civil Rights from a legal perspective.
    Cold War Civil Rights by Mary Dudziak - How the world viewed the US during Jim Crow
    White Flight by Kevin Kruse - Atlanta
    Personal Politics by Sara Evans
    Nixonland by Rick Perlstein
    Courage to Dissent by Tomiko Brown-Nagin
    Looking for the Good War by Elizabeth Samet - Not so much Civil Rights, but the biased and racial views of the US in wars.

    My area of study for my MA was the impact of the Confederate Lost Cause:
    The Myth of the Lost Cause by Edward Bonekemper
    The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History by Gary Gallagher and Alan Nolan

    I think it is important for folks to understand the tenets of the Lost Cause Myth and how it impacted our written history, contributed to Jim Crow, and how it continues to impact culture today.
    Retired Sailor, Marine dad, semi-professional cyclist, fly fisherman, and Indian School STEM teacher.
    Assistant Operating Officer at Farm Soap homemade soaps. www.farmsoap.com

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    I’ll throw this one out there, given it’ll be a movie with an all galaxy cast later this year.

    Killers of the Flower Moon
    Well worth the read.

    Shadow Divers by Kurson about some amateur scuba divers who find a U-Boat off NJ.

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    bigbill, I recently read The Generals by Thomas Ricks, about the decline of military command after WWII. I seem to recall you recommending that book.
    Dan Fuller, local bicycle enthusiast

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    Easy lifting, but I flew through this series in weeks (and googled a lot of vodka even though I don't drink vodka):

    Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz.

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    Quote Originally Posted by 72gmc View Post
    bigbill, I recently read The Generals by Thomas Ricks, about the decline of military command after WWII. I seem to recall you recommending that book.
    I can't recall that book. The best WW2 analysis books I've read are Shattered Sword, which rewrote the account of Midway based on Japanese archives, and Diplomats and Admirals, which analyzes the errors and arrogance in diplomacy that pushed Japan into a corner, allowing the military to take over the government and attack Pearl Harbor.

    These days I'm working on histories of the Plains Indians, specifically in northeastern Wyoming. The Dawes Act allowed the government to take back reservation land and sell it. The Carey Act allowed for irrigation of previously unproductive land, which was left for the reservations and became valuable farming and ranching property after irrigation. The main industry of the Crow Reservation is agriculture, while the unemployment rate is >20% with non-natives running the farms.
    Retired Sailor, Marine dad, semi-professional cyclist, fly fisherman, and Indian School STEM teacher.
    Assistant Operating Officer at Farm Soap homemade soaps. www.farmsoap.com

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    Quote Originally Posted by j44ke View Post
    LeCarré took as his literary mission to deglamorize intelligence work as ignominious work done by emotionally dented immoral grifters and thieves employed by those who could harness the desperation of others in order to achieve something similar to the status quo and label it as heroic for dishonorable reasons. When he starts to mellow later in life, the vinegar goes out of his stories, and while well-written, they are not as interesting, at least to me.

    I'd say the Karla Trilogy is a good place to start. Intriguing story telling that feels atmospheric and restless. The "Trilogy" is a later appellation and consists of the books about George Smiley, an intelligence officer with MI6, and his Russian nemesis, Karla, head of the KGB (or LeCarré's version of it.)

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    The Honorable Schoolboy
    Smiley's people

    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a good read as well. It was written before the Smiley books, but Smiley is in it. There are several books outside the Karla Trilogy where Smiley shows up. Kind of like Where's Waldo. This was written when LeCarré was still working in intelligence.

    The Little Drummer Girl is great. A depiction of the way people get used in an ever tightening twist like a strand in a rope. Israeli intelligence against a terrorist network.

    The Constant Gardener is also great. Takes a bit of time to start, but eventually it starts to get more and more intense. The end of the book is one of the best constructed I've read.

    A Perfect Spy is a special case. It is very well written but has a two or three part chronology that creates the back story as the main story develops, so you have to juggle things while following everything. Less perhaps about the espionage industry and more about how character flaws grown out of one's childhood make one a perfect spy. Supposed to be semi-autobiographical.

    A friend of mine really likes A Small Town in Germany. Our Game is also supposed to be good. I haven't read either. There are plenty more titles, but as I said I think something is lost from his later works. Maybe anger at those people he worked for and against in his own intelligence career.
    A good description of LeCarre's work!

    I think Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a real stand out. Atmospheric is a good description in that you can almost feel the melancholy clothing Smiley as he investigates the betrayal (professional and personal) that keeps the book moving forward (with liberal use of flashbacks to interrupt the chronology, which is a feature of his writing). I'd say relentless as opposed to restless, but it is a patient form of relentlessness as the anti-hero (Smiley) gradually unravels the knot.

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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    Quote Originally Posted by BBB View Post
    A good description of LeCarre's work!

    I think Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a real stand out. Atmospheric is a good description in that you can almost feel the melancholy clothing Smiley as he investigates the betrayal (professional and personal) that keeps the book moving forward (with liberal use of flashbacks to interrupt the chronology, which is a feature of his writing). I'd say relentless as opposed to restless, but it is a patient form of relentlessness as the anti-hero (Smiley) gradually unravels the knot.
    One of the things I cannot grasp is how he creates the sense that a character is thinking. Usually there is an omniscience in sections like that - where the 3rd person omniscient narration says something like "he began to add events in his head, remember the places each character had been..." so that the reader knows what the character is thinking about. But LeCarré's characters just think and the reader is left to wonder what they are thinking about at that moment, and then later as the story evolves, the reader realizes what was being thought about through the actions of the character. He even has the characters ask questions that don't seem important and then end up being key later in the book. As a reader, you know to look out for these things, but somehow he gets them past you. Spy craft.

    LeCarré's real name was David Cornwell, and he was an intelligence officer. LeCarré was used as his pen name, because he couldn't use his real name while working for MI5. However, when Kim Philby handed over a list of British agents, Cornwell was on that list and that meant his cover was blown. So he had to retire. And that's where Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy came from - the Soviet mole in The Circus.

    My wife's colleague in England became acquainted with a gentleman named David Cornwell through a mutual friend. Cornwell asked if he'd mind reading a manuscript he was working on, not for editing, just his impressions. So he did and then forgot about it. Some time later he heard someone talking about a book in which this and that happened and so forth, and he realized that was the manuscript he had read, except the author's name was John LeCarré. I forget which book it was, Night Porter or Constant Gardener, one of the later books. The end result was that her colleague became a reader of manuscripts for this David Cornwell who published as John LeCarré, and he didn't tell anyone until after Cornwell died in 2020.
    Last edited by j44ke; 04-18-2023 at 07:47 PM.
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    Default Re: Do we have a book reading thread here?

    These are the books I recommend to anyone/everyone, books that I keep on my shelf and have happily re-read multiple times in my life:

    for non-fiction, anything by Daniel C. Dennett, but especially Consciousness Explained. Life-changing book, seriously.

    for fiction, Tom Robbins' Jitterbug Perfume and Carl Sagan's Contact (which fwiw is quite a bit more engaging than the 1997 film based on the novel).

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