Week 20, Book 19: Private Wars

Rucka, Greg. Private Wars. This was an impulse pickup, as I was scanning the limited checkout shelf at the library. I read Rucka's A Fistful of Rain last year, and I'm a sucker for spy novels. The main character, Tara Chace, is an intelligence operative in the same mold as Tom Clancy's Clark, but more believable. She's also a new mother, and the conflict between the things she loves (her job and her daughter) constantly tears at her. But make no mistake, this is not a touchy-feely book; it's hardcore spy thriller. Private Wars is a sequel to A Gentleman's Game, which I must now add to my todo list. :-)


Week 20, Book 18: Love Monkey

Smith, Kyle. Love Monkey. I was surprised to learn that the television series was based on a book. I was even more surprised to learn that I already had the book on my todo list. I enjoyed this a lot—Kyle Smith's writing reminds me a lot of Nick Hornby's (to whom Smith pays homage by having his protagonist mention a book in which the main character keeps making top 5 lists). I can see why this ended up on TV instead of as a movie; it's similar to About a Boy, and the events of September 11, 2001 work into the background. The ending left me feeling a lot more satisfied than, say, The Salt Palace did.


Week 19, Book 17: Everything Bad is Good For You.

Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. The basic premise is, popular mass media is not dumbing us down, turning us all into the lowest common denominator, but is actually increasing in complexity, forcing us to think harder and better. An interesting read on the heels of Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell's books.


Week 18, Book 16: A Confederacy of Dunces

Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. It took me a while to get into this one—for the first few days, I felt like I was reading it because I was supposed to, not because I wanted to. The characters were largely unlikeable, and the whole thing read like a farce. Then, I realized that that was the point.


Catching up.

The 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge has not shaped up like I expected. As you may have noticed from the recent posts (or lack thereof), I had a five week dry spell at the end of March and most of April. Things have been busy at work and I just haven't been taking the time to read in the evenings like I used to.

I may need to alter the rules just a bit more. Right now, there's actually a disincentive to start a book toward the end of the week—I have to start and finish the book in the same week for it to be the "official" read for that week. In retrospect, I think that was appropriate for the first week of the year, but now I should count a book in the week it was finished, with the ultimate goal of finishing 52 books in 52 weeks.

I just put a bunch more books on hold at the library, so the count should pick up again for the next few weeks.


Week 16, Book 15: The Salt Palace

Defrain, Darren. The Salt Palace.. It would be easy to characterize this book as one of the dust jacket blurbs does: as a small narrative positioned above footnotes about the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Utah Jazz. The footnotes aren't just marginalia, but a whole other narrative—or, rather, two—in their own right. In fact, in one instance, when the narrator is unable to continue his story temporarily, there's a whole chapter that's nothing but a footnote, that itself has two footnotes.

However, that would be selling the main narrative short. It's the story of a young man born and raised in the Mormon church, now... not necessarily lapsed, but certainly off the spiritual path his family and faith would have chosen for him. He sets off on a road trip back home to Utah, which not coincidentally mirrors the exodus of early Mormons from the Midwest to the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Along the way is adventure, misadventure, and self-discovery.

Unfortunately, the ending is somewhat abrupt, after veering in a direction that left me wondering if it was supposed to be real or imagined. I could have done with more closure, but then again maybe that's the point of modern literature.


Week 16, Book 14: The Colony

Tayman, John. The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai.. We honeymooned on Molokai, and our flight from Honolulu landed briefly at Kalaupapa, but we weren't allowed to deplane. A few days later, we gazed down on the peninsula from the top of the cliff, but the National Park Service was not running tours (led down the cliff path on muleback) at the time, so that was the closest we got.

The Colony tells the tale of the residents of Kalaupapa, exiled from the rest of Hawaiian society for having contracted leprosy. I knew a little of the history, from our time on Molokai and shortly after, but Tayman's research and interviews with some of the remaining residents shows that most of the information out there is little better than urban legend. This is important American history—the laws banishing patients to Kalaupapa were on the books until 1969—and I recommend it highly.


Week 11, Book 13: Cell

King, Stephen. Cell.. I was really hoping that now that Stephen King has finished the Dark Tower cycle, he'd go back to the basic, visceral horror on which he built his reputation. No such luck, unfortunately. Cell is cut from the same cloth as just about every other book he's written in I-don't-know-how-long: trouble is a'brewin', unlikely compatriots find each other in their time of need, prophetic visions are... viewed I guess, help in the form of a magic bullet arrives from an unexpected source, there's a big showdown between good and evil (or normal and abnormal), and we're done. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would once I figured out where it was going, but if you're familiar with King's work, mash up The Stand with Trucks and save yourself some time.


Week 9, Book 12: A Crack in the Edge of the World

Winchester, Simon. A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906.. I've been reading a lot of my favorite authors lately—must be a "comfort food for the reading mind" kind of thing. In my opinion, no one does popularized history like Simon Winchester. This time, the topic is the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Thanks to the California Gold Rush of 1849, San Francisco was one of the premiere American cities at the time, a shining jewel and a den of iniquity at the same time. Thanks to the earthquake and subsequent fire (which was the more damaging of the two), the city lost its priority over Los Angeles and never recovered it. Thrown in for good measure is a layman's introduction to geology, plate tectonics, and seismology.


Week 8, Book 11: Wild Ducks Flying Backward

Robbins, Tom. Wild Ducks Flying Backward.. This is a collection of shorter works—reprints from magazines, for instance, and a screenplay treatment that apparently went nowhere. I'm normally a big fan of Robbins' work, especially the florid and parenthetical way he turns a phrase, but repeated short bursts like this left me feeling pummelled.


Week 7, Book 10: Going Postal

Pratchett, Terry. Going Postal.. The (next-to-) latest in the ongoing Discworld saga. This one deals with the rebirth of the Ankh-Morpork post office. As usual, Pratchett's satire is spot-on. The more I read, the more I want to read. Here's hoping that he keeps writing for a long time to come.


Week 7, Book 9: Freakonomics

Levitt, Steven D. and Dubner, Stephen J. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.. The book has been out for a while, and it's experiencing a rebirth of sorts (#5 on The New York Times bestselling nonfiction list this week), so there's not much I can add to the hoopla. Suffice it to say that it's not a dry read, and while it does come to its own conclusions about some things, its primary aim is to make you question your assumptions about the world—in other words, don't just accept the obvious answer because it's obvious. This book makes a good companion to the works of Malcolm Gladwell.


Week 6, Book 8: Anansi Boys

Gaiman, Neil. Anansi Boys. I'm trying to think how to describe this book without mucking it up, but it's late and I could use sleep. Neil Gaiman spins a good tale.


Every little bit helps.

Please consider registering as a bone marrow donor.

This is something I've been thinking about for a long time, more so lately. I used to donate blood regularly—every eight weeks, like clockwork. My blood is type O negative, which means that it can be given to anyone regardless of their blood type with minimal chance of complications (which is why in shows like ER you hear phrases like "push 2 units of O neg") and CMV negative, which means that it can be given to infants and pregnant women without concerns about them contracting, well, a cytomegalovirus infection. Check the link above for more information; all I know for sure is that it means I get called by the community blood center a lot.

Unfortunately, the last few years I've been busy with work, and usually feeling less healthy than I should (largely, I suppose, because I sit at my desk all day instead of exercising), the upshot being that I donate very, very rarely anymore. I reached my first gallon before I started college, my second some years ago, and am probably nowhere near a third.

That will change.

Week 6, Book 7: A Long Way Down

Hornby, Nick. A Long Way Down. Four people meet on New Year's Eve, on the roof of a building in London, because they've each independently decided to end their lives by jumping. What happens next is, well, the story. It reminded me a lot of About a Boy (the movie, not the book, I'm afraid to admit).


Some fives

Five software packages (not from Apple) that I use every day

  1. Quicksilver
  2. MenuCalendarClock
  3. PulpFiction Lite
  4. jEdit
  5. OpenUp

Five RSS feeds I look forward to reading every day

  1. 365 tomorrows
  2. Kottke
  3. Guy Kawasaki
  4. WWdN
  5. My blog buddy

Five websites that could be my only bookmarks

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Google
  3. IMDb
  4. my del.icio.us
  5. Olathe, KS Public Library

I won't even try to pass this off as yesterday's.

Right after I went to bed last night, I realized I hadn't posted for the 6th. I thought about getting up and either pre-dating a post, or claiming that I was still golden as long as it wasn't midnight on the International Date Line, but then I just went to sleep instead. It's not like I'm going to fire myself for not meeting an arbitrary deadline.

Somehow, we have become the TiVo Rescue Mission. Yesterday, someone posted on Freecycle a Series 1 with a blown modem. Since we already have one of those, I figured, why not make a matched set? This brings our total to four, only one of which is in fully working order. A second one, our original Series 1, we use as a glorified VCR. The other two are in various states of disrepair. One of these days, I need to break out the tools again.


Quick Impressions from the First Half of Super Bowl XL, Minus the First Hour, As Filtered Through TiVo

  1. The Michelob Ultra commercial was good. Not great, but good.
  2. Seattle was robbed. I thought it was obvious that the ball did not break the plane of the goal line. However, the replay judge has to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt, which is why I suspect the ruling on the field was allowed to stand.
  3. How does GoDaddy.com figure that a lame-ass ad like that is going to generate enough US$1.99 domain registrations to pay for itself?
  4. The Sprint ad ("crime deterrent"), on the other hand, made me laugh out loud. I'm still giggling about it. I have four old cell phones sitting on my desk at the moment—now I know what to do with them.
  5. How does a placekick that appears to leave the ground straight, end up curving wide to the right? You're in a dome, so there's no wind. A kick that long is not easy, I'm sure, but damned if it didn't look good until, well, it didn't.
  6. Whoever thought of combining the words "The Rolling Stones" and "live" either should be shot, or commended for his/her sense of humor.
  7. The best ad was easily the promo for Lost. Somebody had a hell of a lot of fun editing that. The Sprint ad comes in second. The various ads for Desperate Housewives get honorable mention. Speaking of which, was someone being intentionally ironic in identifying Edie—who Angela describes as "the trampy one"—with Hef and his girlfriends?


It's the fiscal day that counts

A friend of mine in high school came up with the term fiscal day. Just as some organizations (companies, governments) have fiscal years that don't correspond to calendar years, the fiscal day doesn't necessarily correspond to the clock day. If it's 4 AM, and you're still up, and you haven't gone to bed since yesterday, it's not today but still fiscal yesterday.

This is all an attempt to distract you from two tiny details:

  • I backed up the timestamp on this post twelve hours.
  • I missed posting yesterday.


Week 5, Book 6: Blink

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Malcolm Gladwell may just about be my favorite non-fiction author—though he's neck-and-neck with Simon Winchester.

  • Our daughter's insulin pump arrived today. I've been looking at pictures on their website and in their marketing materials, and got to see one in person a couple of weeks ago, and somehow I'm still amazed at how small this thing it. It's just about the same size as my new cell phone (a Samsung x495).
  • Speaking of Abbey, we had a date night tonight. My wife had dinner with a friend of hers, so Abbey and I went out to Macaroni Grill. We spent the better part of dinner doing math problems on the paper tablecloth.
  • I am finally starting to grok Eclipse. Having a laptop that is capable of running it helps. :-)
  • I bought an ounce of Rishi jasmine white tea the last time I went to Whole Foods, and I have to say that I'm somewhat disappointed by white tea. I guess I'm used to the tannic kick of black tea—even green tea seems a little weak to me. Antioxidants, however, are a good thing, so I think I'm going to try blending in some oolong.


Squeaking in under the wire

It's still Thursday. This still counts.

  • I'm currently reading Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. I popped into the library on Wednesday to find something, anything to read this week, and was happy to see a book that I've actually been wanting to read on the limited loan shelf.
  • We upgraded our cell phones last week or so to Samsung x495s. They come with a 168-page user's manual. One hundred and sixty-eight pages. Reading this should count toward my 52 books in 52 weeks.


Nose to the grindstone, etc.

It's too late for resolutions for the whole year, so I'll have to think a little smaller. This month (February 2006) I will try to post every day, at least once a day, to this blog—even if I think I have nothing in particular to say. I suspect I will surprise myself.


Week 4, Book 5: The City of Falling Angels

Berendt, John. The City of Falling Angels. I never read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but I did see the movie, and this book felt a lot like the movie of the first one. If that makes sense. John Berendt has a way of writing that says, "I'm just going to immerse myself in this environment and write down everything that happens, and we'll see what pops out the other side."

One side effect is that I so want to visit Venice now.


Week 3, Book 4: Hard Revolution

Pelecanos, George. Hard Revolution. One of my favorite authors lately.


Slight rule change for 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2006 Edition

I decided to amend the third rule in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, 2006 Edition. The original rule was:

  • A book counts towards the total when I finish it.

The new rule is:

  • A book counts towards the goal if I start it on or after Sunday of a given week and finish it on or before Saturday of the same week.

I think this tightens up the schedule a little, and forces me closer to the original goal: 52 books in 52 weeks.

One side effect is that now I need to strategize. I finished Rosalyn Story's More Than You Know late last Friday for the book for week 2. I'm going to be on the road at the end of this week, and busy most of the time, so I really need to finish this week's book by Wednesday night. I could have started my next book (Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos) on Saturday, but then it wouldn't have counted for this week. As a result, I had to (gasp!) not read until Sunday.

Fortunately, Google Earth is now available for Mac OS X, so I have something else to do with my time. (Rob, that's not a shout-out, but hello anyway. :-)


Week 2, Book 3: More Than You Know

Story, Rosalyn. More Than You Know. I enjoyed this immensely. Any book in which Kansas City figures prominently earns points in my book. Mentions of lesser-known features (the Folger's plant downtown, the old Monarchs stadium) earn double points. Mentions of Arthur Bryant's earn triple points. :-)


Week 2, Book 2: Into the Wild

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. I missed finishing this in week 1 by about 12 hours.


Week 1, Book 1: S is for Silence

Grafton, Sue. S is for Silence. I actually finished this yesterday, and nearly forgot to blog about it until just now. I'm deep into Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, but I don't think I'll squeak it in this week.