Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. And since I took the “currently reading” list off the sidebar I should really do them more often. One complication: I’ve had less time for reading since leaving DC, where I could do my online news reading as part of my job and enjoy books each way on my Metro commute. It’s been harder to work reading into my Portland lifestyle. The ideal solution would be to spend more time reading on planes while flying to exotic destinations, but unfortunately I can’t afford this. In any case, here are a few recommendations:
The Prestige, Christopher Priest — The best novel about magicians I’ve read recently. Also the only one, but still a very good book. If you’ve seen the movie then you already know the two major plot revelations, but this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment at all; in fact, it lets one appreciate writing in the early parts of the book that would otherwise be mysterious or confusing. The dueling magicians are less violent and much more sympathetic here than in Christopher Nolan’s take.
This Earth of Mankind, Pramoedya Ananta Toer — The best novel about the Dutch colonization of Indonesia I’ve read recently. And it’s not the only one, because I read the entire series of four, known as the Buru Quartet. This and its sequel are the most character-driven and accessible. The third is dense with history, while the fourth changes perspective to that of a native collaborator. All highly recommended. (Incidentally, the name for my Ontosoroh cocktail, which uses the Dutch-Indonesian spirit Batavia-Arrack, comes from this book.)
Pets in America, Katherine Grier — As with most people named Grier, no relation. A fascinating exploration of how American attitudes toward pets evolved, with numerous historical accounts and illuminating photos and illustrations.
The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross — My lack of familiarity with the music discussed didn’t prevent from enjoying and learning a great deal from this history of twentieth century composition.
Born Standing Up, Steve Martin — I’ll read just about anything from Steve Martin. This, his self-account of developing as a comedian, was particularly fascinating to me for the ways his early training in magic helped him pull off his ecstatic physicality. A bonus treat for Vanderbilt alumni is his description of how a performance at the university accidentally birthed an ending to his act that he used for years. (Though interestingly, my father was there for it and remembers the details differently. Highlight from his recollection: Martin telling security officers that his name was Carmichael Towers!)