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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.)
    steve cortez

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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 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 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.
    Your summary of Le Carré's attitude was in the back of my mind when I read Tinker Tailor and Smiley's People. I'll preface the following by saying that I've always been quite subpar on picking up cues just below the surface and usually had to rely on express statements to get these cues. As such, while I could detect here or there some of the de-glamorizing effort, they felt non-existent to subtle.

    This wasn't the case for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. The nature of the narrative itself makes it very clear from almost the beginning at what a cynical and immoral (and not just merely amoral) the whole profession was. And though it was a relatively short read at no more than 250 pages, there is almost no filler, and many details become important later-on, so much so that I definitely need to re-read it (and perhaps jot things down). It was such a worthwhile read, and I think had I read this first, Le Carré's attitudes in his later works would have appeared as more than just under-the-surface hints.

    Also on somewhat of a tangent, in his intro to Spy Who Came in from the Cold written in the 2010's, Le Carré expressly mentioned the Gehlen Organization, founded by Reinhard Gehlen (former head of German military intelligence focused on the Eastern Front) and full of former SD members, wherein a good number of the latter have been turned by the Soviets. This organization effectively morphed into the West German BND, whose first director was none other than Gehlen himself. In light of this, a lot of the context to Deutschland 83/86/89 and the leaky BND begins to make a bit more sense. A Small Town in Germany is probably next on my list.

    It probably comes as no surprise that if we were to get the opportunity to travel in 2024, we would head to Berlin.

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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’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 rmplum View Post
    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.
    I enjoyed this series and have been reading my way through Michael Connelly Bosch series along with his other “characters “. Not heavy but entertaining.

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

    Reporting back now that I've finished Les Misérable and Tinker Tailor

    The last 350 pages of Les Mis was generally good, but I think I was at my wit's end when Hugo tried to differentiate an insurrection from a rebellion. Just some awful bits of sophistry, all to serve as apologia for his involvement in one revolution and his eschewing of another. But it did make for overall enjoyable reading.

    I started both Constant Gardner and Tinker Tailor, and I found myself more drawn to the latter. @j44ke is pretty spot on re: the literary devices used, and I think I lost out on some of the important details the first time through. I think it'll be a re-read this year or the next.

    I now also have a "good" problem, being that reading Le Carré at bedtime is probably not going to help me sleep, so I need something slightly more "boring".

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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: VSalon Infinite Book Listicle - What Are You Reading Now

    I enjoyed both of those Le Carré books. Still haven’t watched the movie adaptations but I do have a long flight coming up in August.

    Currently reading A Woman of No Importance. Just finished Michael Chabon’s Pops short story collection. Might read Susan Orlean’s The Library Book next.

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    Default Re: VSalon Infinite Book Listicle - What Are You Reading Now

    Def get the BBC series version of Tinker Tailor (available on BritBox, may allow episode downloads) as opposed to the 2010 movie remake. Although there are a few rather clever scenes in the movie remake, I think some of the ambience is lost.

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    Default Re: VSalon Infinite Book Listicle - What Are You Reading Now

    The He-Man Effect
    How American Toymakers Sold You Your Childhood
    by Brian "Box" Brown




    Fascinating, so far. And not just because one of my kids is a toy designer. Or because I was the bullseye of this demographic.
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    Default Re: VSalon Infinite Book Listicle - What Are You Reading Now

    Beaver Land 'How One Weird Rodent Made America'.

    I'm just reading the part about how beaver pond and meadow systems are great at flood mitigation, water storage and treatment. Having seen that first hand only the cleansing part surprised me.

    The chapters on fur trapping in the current day are pretty interesting too.

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