Monday, August 22, 2005

Summer Reading Club
I don't know how much of our tax bill goes to fund our local library system, but the Mrs. and I are certainly getting our money's worth. She's been known to devour two or three books in a weekend. I'm a bit slower, but I read my share. And here's what I've been reading this summer.

Until I Find You/John Irving. Even though I'm a big Irving fan, I found this 800-page doorstop a bit daunting at first. It's the life story of a boy and man who spends his life trying to find the father who abandoned him--and even though it's fairly easy to guess how it's going to turn out, it's moving nevertheless. Irving's obsessive focus on sex (and in this novel, what passes for sex is a bit strange in spots) gets a bit tiresome after a while--but nobody else spins plots like he does.

Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail/Christopher Dawes. Dawes is a music journalist. He happens to live next door to punk-rock legend Rat Scabies, who has become obsessed with the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau (featured, among other places, in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code). How best to describe the Rennes mystery in a few words? Well, sometime in the 1880s, the priest of a tiny church in southern France is said to have discovered documents relating to A) an enormous treasure in the area hidden since the Middle Ages; B) the possibility that Jesus survived the crucifixion and founded the Merovingian dynasty of French kings; and C) various other odd events. Scabies wants to know the truth, and talks Dawes into going on several quests to find it. Despite the obvious connections to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the story is not so much Pythonesque as it is a rock-star road movie. To Scabies, the quest is mostly a lark. To Dawes, getting to the bottom of things at Rennes-le-Chateau begins to seem very, very important. Plus, it's a good introduction to a fascinating historical mystery.

Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco/Peter Shapiro.
I blogged extensively about this over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin'. It's interesting cultural history, even if you think disco sucks.

American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies/Michael W. Kauffman.
Kauffman reconstructs the life of John Wilkes Booth, the development of Booth's conspiracy, the assassination, the hunt for the conspirators, and their trial and punishment. Kauffman reveals that some of the stuff everybody knows about the assassination is false: for example, Booth was far from crazy, and he didn't break his leg jumping out of the presidential box. By examining legal procedure as it existed in the 1860s, Kauffman explains why several culpable conspirators were never charged, even though they were more deeply involved than some of the people hanged or imprisoned for the assassination. This is one of the best Civil War-era books I've read in years.

The Guns of the South/Harry Turtledove. And speaking of the Civil War, in this novel, the Confederate Army is given AK-47 automatic weapons by time-travelers who want the Confederacy to win the Civil War. That sort of wild premise is almost guaranteed to draw in a Civil War buff, and once you get past the logical problem with time travel--the butterfly effect, which states that the smallest change in the past can have incalculable effects on the future--it's a mighty entertaining novel. Turtledove has written several series of alternate-history novels. One of them has traced the military history of the separated USA and CSA up to the 1940s--although The Guns of the South is not considered part of that series.

When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?/George Carlin. I'm a Carlin fan, but this book didn't do it for me. It's a collection of bits, many of them involving Carlin's favorite subject, the manipulation of language. They're not really organized in any logical manner--and lots of them aren't funny, even if you imagine them accompanied by the sound of Carlin's voice and the gleam in his eye.

On the end-table in my living room at the moment: Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping by Patrick Radden Keefe, and Satchmo Blows up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War, by Penny M. Von Eschen.

What have you been reading lately?

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