Books read, 3rd and 4th quarters 2014

Half of these titles were gifts/giveaways from dirtylibrarian, because in Fiji, I will pretty much read anything "new" since the fiction at my library is either Booker/Pulitzer winners or donated mass market paperbacks and nothing else. Other titles were either already owned and I finally got around to reading them, or ebooks (book club selections, especially).


1) Who could that be at this hour? (All The Wrong Questions, #1) – Lemony Snicket - disappointing. will probably not read sequels.

2) The cloud atlas - David Mitchell - read for book club. Hard to get into but ultimately a good read.

3) Captain Freedom - G. Xavier Robillard - comic novel about a superhero having a work crisis. I loved it. If you like Christopher Moore you'll dig it.

4) Harry Lipkin, private eye - Barry Fantoni -elderly Jewish PI novel. cute but didn't move me.

5) A Highly unlikely scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza employee's guide to saving the world - Rachel Cantor - Agressively quirky; finished it but didn't really like it.

6) The Frangipani hotel -Violet Kuperknick - Excellent short stories, most about Vietnam and ghosts/old beliefs in the modern world. Not flaky/horror, just the right touch of fantasy.

7) The Enchanted - Rene Denfeld - brilliant but really heavy literary novel about prison. Mostly interior monologue. well written but difficult subject matter.

8) Where'd you go Bernadette - Maria Semple - read for book club. Funny and entertaining novel about Microsoft millionaries having the same problems with neighbors and parents at their daughter's school that other people have. Plus, Antarctica!

9) The dead in their vaulted arches (Flavia de Luce, #6) - Alan Bradley - had not read any other in this series and this was a bad one to start with since it explicates plot points in the saga without anything much happening. didn't do anything for me but probably fine if you already know these characters from other books.


1) Starvation heights : A true story of murder and malice in the woods of the Pacific Northwest -Gregg Olsen - Health faddism kills people at an isolated sanitarium in Ollala, WA, including Ivar Haglund's mother! Interesting true crime story.

2) Let's pretend this never happened : a mostly true memoir – Jenny Lawson - blog humor pieces republished in book form. really funny.

3) Travel as a political act – Rick Steves - not much I didn't already know but nice to see someone in the travel industry who has the ear of middle America making these arguments.

4) Songs only you know: a memoir - Sean Madigan Hoen - Punk rock 'get in the van' memoir from someone who's been in a bunch of bands I've never heard of. a little self-indulgent but captures the pre-internet punk touring band scene really well.

5) Life and death in Eden: Pitcairn Island and the Bounty mutineers- Trevor Lummis - My Pacific History title for the 3rd quarter. Stranger than fiction tale of how there are still 50 people on a remote Pacific Island who are all descended from English mutineers.

6) Fiji and me- Carol Phillips - Peace Corps memoir; research. Self published long after her service as a nurse. Not much I didn't already know but pleasant enough.

7) Bula Pops!: a memoir of a son's Peace Corps service in the Fiji Islands - Michael J. Blahut - Peace Corps memoir; research. Self published by the volunteer's dad from his letters home. Lightweight and riddled with typos like "minor bird" for "Mynah bird" (which are so common in Fiji this mistake is egregious; it'd be like living in Italy for 2+ years and spelling the word for noodles as "posta")

8) Letters from Fiji - Keith Kelly. Peace Corps memoir; research. Probably the best of the three but also self-published and badly edited.

9) A renegade history of the United States – Thaddeus Russell - Celebrates the contributions to American History of drunks, prostitutes, jazz fans and other people not content to be good citizens. lightweight but amusing.


books read 1st and 2nd quarters 2014


1) Kago, kastom and Kalja: the study of indigenous movements in Melanesia today: edited by Marc Tabani and Marcellin Abong (2013) - academic papers on cargo cults. Did not know Papua New Guinea recently had one that was a combination of pyramid scheme and self-help/Tony Robbins blather. probably not of interest to any of you.

2) The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own - David Carr (2008) - What sets this apart from other drug confessional memoirs is that the author actually went back to police reports, court records, hospital files to reconstruct his drinking and crack-using years. A bit self indulgent, but interesting.

3) Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology... by Lawrence Weschler (1996)- How the Museum of Jurassic Technology came to be. Tries to uncover how much of the museum is fictional and how much is real. Worth reading if you're going/have been to the MJT.

4) Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach (2014) She cannot write an uninteresting book. Not as gross as "stiff".

5) A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown by Julia Scheeres (2012) An account told via survivor's tales and a diary kept by one who perished. Depressing but important.

6) Swingland: Between the Sheets of the Secretive, Sometimes Messy, but Always Adventurous Swinging Lifestyle by Daniel Stern (2013) more a memoir than an ethnography, which is what I was hoping for. But still interesting, if a little too Southern California.

7) Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti by Amy Wilentz (2013) Pretty good look at modern Haiti- part journalism, part memoir, but also an unflinching look at Western aid/involvement in Haiti, especially after that last earthquake. Basically, doctors that go to Haiti = good, Sean Penn=better than you'd imagine, UN and NGO aid orgs = probably making things worse.

If you're about to spend any time in a developing country that has lots of foreign aid workers in it (ahem), this is a pretty good primer of what the issues/results of that involvement can look like.

8) The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan (2013) nice social history that doesn't shy away from the ugly parts of the home front (sexism, segregation, etc).

9) The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead (2014) I love his fiction, and really liked this, too. Participatory journalism about the World Series of Poker. Similar in theme to "Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker" but waaay shorter.

10) 30 days in the South Pacific : true stories of escape to paradise edited by Sean O'Reilly (2005) all the Traveler's tales series I've read have been was this one.

11) When the Tea Party Came to Town: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives' Most Combative, Dysfunctional, and Infuriating Term in Modern History by Robert Draper (2012) The author profiles some of the Tea Party folks who got elected in 2010 and tries to show their mindset/motivation beyond "they were obstructionist morons". Not entirely balanced, but a tad more sympathetic than I'd expected.

12) Orange Is the New Black- Piper Kerman (2010)  Different from the TV series but lots to learn about how screwed up the US prison system is.


1) Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn (2012) good suspense page-turner about a young marriage in trouble. Didn't like the end, but overall satisfied.

2) Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan (2012) fast, delightful read. For anyone that likes codebreaking and hacker culture and thinks they can co-exist with the printed word.

3) Rubdown- leigh redhead (2007) Australian chick-lit mystery featuring ex-stripper PI. okay but not exceptional. Full of unfamiliar Aussie slang, so at least I learned something from it.

4) Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse: A Novel by Victor Gischler (2008) Like The Road, except with more lulz. Not the best post-apocalyptic book ever, but it was a fun read.

5) The Wrath of Angels: A Charlie Parker Thriller by John Connolly (2013) decent supernatural thriller. Haven't read any others in this series but I liked this one well enough.

6) Wool by Hugh Howey (2012) first 2 thirds are great. but then the last act has too much resolution crammed into it. will read the pre/sequel, just a little disappointed in the pacing.

7) Dear life - Alice Munroe (2012) Short stories. Very Canadian. Most are sad or wistful but I still liked this. Read for Book Club.

8) Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy (2012) started out great but the ending was a mess. Haven't seen the Netflix series, might try that and see if it has a better story arc than the last 3rd of this book.

9) Euphoria- lily king (2014) Anthropologist love triangle in 1930's New Guinea. Loosely based on Margaret Mead. Exceptional.

10) The Returned Jason Mott (2013) Dead people come back to earth for no reason; their living relatives are confused/anxious. Story drags forever and I almost quit this book twice before plodding through. Most of book seems to be about the emotional state of parents who get their dead kids back. Would not recommend.


books read 4th quarter2013

Non Fiction

Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story  (2013) by J. Maarten Troost
Supposed to be about retracing Robert Louis Stevenston's South pacific travels and life in Samoa, but turns out to be more about the author's recovery from alcoholism. Disappointing, especially since I liked his first two books. Read “Getting stoned with Savages” or “the Sex Lives of Cannibals” instead.

Zoo Station: The Story of Christiane F. (2013) by Christiane F
New translation of famous German teen heroin memoir from the early 80's, later made into a film with David Bowie music. Grim but an interesting read. The author is still alive, though in various states of sobriety.

Tell Them to Get Lost: Travels with Lonely Planet's First Guide Book (2011) by Brian Thacker
Travel writer takes 2010 SE Asia trip using LP's 1975 “SE Asia on a shoestring” guide. Bought this on a whim right before going to Singapore and Malaysia -fun to see how things have (and haven't changed). Amusing but ultimately forgettable. Makes me never want to go to Kuta Bali, though.


The Golem and the Jinni (2013) by Helene Wecker
Historical fiction about a female golem separated from her master trying to make sense of immigrant-laden NYC in the early 1900's. Nice portrayal of the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods of the time. I enjoyed, would recommend to anyone who likes fantasy with an element of history.

Murder below Montparnasse (2013) by Cara Black
Did not like this. Series mystery about Paris female detective, written by an American Francophile. Maybe the earlier ones are better but I thought this was hackneyed and trite.

Alif the Unseen (2012) by G. Willow Wilson
Somehow I managed to read TWO books this quarter with Djinn/Jinni characters, and this is the other one. Young hacker in unnamed modern Arab State with hyper-vigilant security invents an AI that multiple factions want to intercept. Not only a good story, will give you some insight into how Islam is lived day-to-day by average non-militant folks. Like "for the Win", except much, much better.

Carter Beats the Devil (2001) by Glen David Gold
Historical fiction about stage magicians in the age of Houdini and Prohibition. Loved it! Apparently a first novel, which makes it all the more impressive. Great read for all you Penn and Teller/ Ricky Jay fans.

books read 2nd and 3rd quarters

Was traveling in June so didn't post book list then. Posting that one and the one that ended in September at the end of October. Island time, or something.


The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (2009) -apocalyptic sci fi that starts strong, and then veers into flashback for a really good reason you'll learn as you get closer to the end of the book. almost gave up on it, but worth it in the end. Really excellent IF you can stick with it.

Bible Stories for Adults by James Morrow (1996) - cynical short stories, sorta SF in the way that J. G. Ballard was SF: 40% speculation and 50% misanthropy. Will read one of his novels eventually.

South Pacific Skin by Amanda D Fornal (2012) -self-published book ostensibly on
the tattoo traditions of Oceania by self-absorbed American documentary filmmaker (or so she says). I haven't seen her film on SP tattoo (if it even exists yet), but why do we need a film AND a book from the same author, especially when the book is more about how crappy the tourist facilities are on remote islands than it is about tattoo?

There are a few bits and pieces of interviews with tattoo artists and some hints of the symbolism in SP tattoo iconography, but the majority of the book is a travelogue about the awesome scuba dives the author took in between interviews, her crushes on men she met while travelling, and how shitty (rats, no electricity) the guesthouses are at remote places that don't get any Western tourists. There are plenty of other books on tattooing in this region written by people that ACTUALLY HAVE TATTOOS (unlike Ms. Fornal) that no one needs to read this, ever.

Finder, King of the Cats - Carla Speed McNeil (2001) another excellent graphic novel by an artist who ought to be "Walking Dead" levels of famous.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (1949)- American expats/postwar trust fund kids go to Algeria and Morocco in search of some vague cure for ennui and bad stuff happens. Alienating and poetic and I really wish I'd read this at 23 instead of 43. Not disputing it's place in literature, just probably not the best choice for me to read 1/8th of the way through my own expat contract.3 out of 5.

Tropical Depression by Arin Greenwood (2011) Like the protagonist, I am an American woman living and working on an island in the South Pacific. While this is a novel, she really captured the spirit of the joys and frustrations of living on island time in a foreign culture. Probably the best small press/self published (?)debut novel I've ever read. Read this before you take that expat job!

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight (2013) sorta YA novel about a mom trying to come to terms with and figure out the story behind her daughter's death by suicide/accident/murder after high school angst. Nice read, good suspense, not overly cheesy. Good airplane/beach book, would read next by this author.

Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss (2001) As a fan of the Mutter Museum and the circus tradition, I wanted to love this, but the writing just didn't do it for me. Historical fiction that tries to give voice to the idea of "what if you're a conjoined twin and you really despise your brother?" A nice effort with a true backstory that's remarkable, but I just didn't get into it (though I did finish it). 2.75 out of 5.

The Healer: a novel by Antti Tuomainen (2013) - Finnish crime novel about an Earth maybe 40 years from now devastated by climate change with refugees fleeing to Scandinavia for the tolerable weather and a vigilante called "The Healer" killing people indirectly responsible for trashing the planet (greedy CEOs, etc). Started off promising but I was unsatisfied with the end. not bad overall though.

Persepolis 2- the story of a return by Marjane Satrapi (2005) - pretty good, but not excellent, sequel to the amazing Persepolis covers authors high school years in Europe while her family suffers in Iran.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (1987) - somehow I had never read this. would have liked it better had I read it before all the Bale Batman films, but still damn good.

Elders- Ryan McIlvain (2013) Novel about Mormon missionary in Brazil losing faith in the church written by ex-mormon who did his missionary work in Brazil. I guess we can assume some of the novel is autobiographical? Anyway, I liked it, but I don't think many people who are still Mormons would like it. As someone also living in a foreign country, I enjoyed the "fish out of water" descriptions from the lead character.

Nos482 - Joe Hill (2013) Very old school Stephen King-ish, but still really good horror novel about a sort of vampire who whisks children away to Christmasland and feeds on their souls and never ages. I haven't read King in decades but I loved this.

Non fiction:

More Women Travel: The Rough Guide, Second Edition (1995)
Anthology of short travel narratives with nothing in common except they were all written by women and were all mostly interesting. Many were extended vacation / "finding myself" while travelling, but there was only one or two that were overly self-indulgent. Recommended-- there are other similar other anthologies from Rough Guides like this one that are also probably as good.

What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank (2005)
One of Paul's books I never read but picked up off the bookshelf to see how it read post-Obama. Obviously weighted in favor of trying to explicate the GW Bush's popularity among people that didn't used to be GOP voters.

Tiger lilies : women adventurers in the South Pacific / Shirley Fenton Huie
Stumbled across this while researching something related. Really interesting. Amazing how many well-to-do Victorian ladies made it out here when there was little infrastructure for them to be travelling without an entourage. Knew that Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife lived in Samoa but didn't know Jack London and his wife also did that "sail around the South Pacific" thing, Probably not of interest to most folks I know, but I really liked it.

Month six in Fiji update

So we made it this far. It's not what I thought it would be, exactly, but no huge surprises. We have experienced a burglary, absences of food and drink we loved in the PNW (alas Morningstar bacon, I'll see you again in June) and a shit-ton of rain but things are mostly okay. Don't know if we will last the whole 3 year contract but we're only 1/6 of the way through, so who can tell?

Hulu and netflix and proxy servers that make aforementioned think we are still in the US are keeping us sane. There is no indie rock here and no live music that isn't reggae or traditional island music. We are slowly making friends. We are perhaps the oddest people in Suva, not for our beliefs or musical tastes or clothes, but for the fact that we are a married couple with no children. Explaining that we got married when I was 39 does not help as that fails to explain what I did in my previous 20 years when I should have been raising 4-6 children.

If you want more detail read the blog (address posted in previous FL post). But things are good and we haven't broken down and freaked out yet. Yet.

4th quarter books: all time low!

Okay, what did I do from October to December to make my book count the lowest it's been in the decade since I started doing this booklist? hmm, I dunno, MOVE HALFWAY ACROSS THE WORLD? Having my routine disrupted apparently affected my reading, not to mention no longer having access to the awesome Seattle Public Library.

non fiction:
1) The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific - Graeme Lay
nice sampler of SP travel anecdotes from NZ author. Covers bush beer drinking sessions and ladyboy beauty contests aside from the usual topics.

2) Best American travel writing 2004
Best piece was an obstinate dude that kept attempting to go off the beaten path in Myanmar with forged permits into restricted areas until he 1) realized he was endangering everyone he talked to and 2) got drugged at a bar and woke up with "Leave or die" written on his hands. other pieces good as well, even when old, this series rocks.

3) Sons Of The Profits Or, There's No Business Like Grow Business! The Seattle Story, 1851-1901 William Speidel
Waited til leaving Seattle after 10 years to finally read this because that's how I roll. Could have used tighter editing, but nice chatty history of the early days of Seattle. Unlike other history books, does not shy away from the salacious and snippy.

1) Read World War Z by Max Brooks again. so doesn't really count except I liked it, still.

2) Geek mafia by Rick Dakan - free ebook recommended by friends. kinda half revenge fantasy and Half Fight club's project Mayhem with nerd references. good concept marred by atrocious editing and continuity problems (reads like a NaNoWriMo project sometimes), but you could certainly do worse for free ebooks about nerd life. here's the link if you want it: . I liked it enough to want to read more by him. I would give him kickstarter money to hire an editor and clean up his existing titles, but I wouldn't pay the same price to buy hardcopies for my personal library simply because of the sloppy copy.

Books read 3rd quarter 2012

1) Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel (graphic novel) - not as amusing as her Dykes to Watch Out For comics and more introspective than her Fun Home, but still worth reading. Read Fun Home first if you haven't already, though. recommend: yes.

2) Solomon Time : an unlikely quest in the South Pacific by Will Randall (2003) Memoir of an English schoolteacher who gets suckered into administering the estate of a post-colonial sugar baron with the directive to go to the Solomon Islands and do something sustainable and income- producing for the former plantation workers. Trying to deal with South Pacific bureaucracy and lack of interest in entreprenuership is a common theme in books like this, but this one is sweet rather than cynical.recommend: yes.

3) Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings- second memoir by the Jeopardy champion. Okay, but nothing amazing. Nice but forgettable read. Good coverage of the national geography bee. recommend: sure, I guess.

4) Fielding's the World's Most Dangerous Places by Robert Young Pelton (1997)- Offbeat travel book telling you all about what's going on in Osetia, the Diaoyu Islands, and disputed Muslim territories, but published before 9-11 changed everything. Depressing but enlightening. Most recent edition appears to be from 2003 and is no longer published by Fielding (which appears to have collapsed as a travel guide publisher shortly after this was published). Dated and sensationalistic but interesting look into places most of us will never go.

Funny story about this book: I bought it used in like 2007 or 2008 and had been reading tiny little bits of it and putting it aside when something I wanted to read more crossed my path, until suddenly I'd been reading it for 4 years and was only 1/3 of the way through it. I solved this problem and finally finished it by bringing it on the plane to Fiji with me and having it be the only book I owned for my first week here. When I finished it, I noticed the bookmark I was using for it was an old Seattle PL hold slip with my pre-marriage name from 2008. recommend: yes, though mostly for the schadenfreude of "there are worse places you could be travelling".

5) The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures - other editions subtitled: Encounters with Survivalists, Porn Stars, Alien Killers, and Ike Turner which will give you an idea of what to expect. writer is son of famed travel writer Paul Theroux. more like a collection of Rolling stone type profiles of oddballs than a travel guide. Still, amusing.recommend: yes.

6) Even the Smallest Crab Has Teeth: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories: Volume Four: Asia and the Pacific (Peace Corps at 50) by Jane Albritton (2011) - I have not read the previous 3 volumes, but this one has lots of South pacific content so I enjoyed it. Glad that my time in a developing country is spent working in a real job rather than living in a bure and sleeping on a mat, but the culture clash stories are great. recommend: enthusiastic yes.


1)The Walking Dead: Compendium One (graphic novel) - 1088 pages that diverges enough from the TV series that sprung from it that it keeps me guessing. Now I want to read the next volume, but I doubt it can be obtained in Fiji for a reasonable price. the TV station here is about to start showing Season one, so that's a good sign that the American shows they syndicate here are getting better. then again, they also show the A-team and the Dukes of Hazzard.

2) Codex by Lev Grossman (2005) Sounds like a DiVinci Code ripoff but is actually about obscure Medieval manuscripts and scholars. From the guy that wrote The Magicians (which I liked). Apparently heavily influenced by the Voynich Manuscript. recommend: yes.

Also currently reading a bunch of Lonely Planet guidebooks, fijian phrasebooks, etc. But I don't think these really count as books read.

Goodbye, Seattle

I'm moving to Fiji. Yes, really. Most everyone reading this already knows this from FB, but just in case...

I'll be working in an academic library there on a 3 year contract. Part of the reason for taking the job is the adventure, and the other part is the general suckiness of the job market for librarians here in Seattle. Over 2 years after my 2010 layoff, I have yet to obtain a FT permanent job, despite working two different short term (6-9 months) gigs that did not lead to permanent positions. So if I have to move to find career-level work, why the hell not go somewhere exotic?

Yes, Paul is coming with me. No, the cats aren't. We found them a new home with a friend I've known for a decade, and while I miss them terribly, it's what was best for them. They'd have been uprooted anyway if we had to sell the house when my unemployment ran out, which was beginning to look like a real possibility. Quarantine procedures precluded them coming with us.

I sold the art car. We're selling the house (have an offer, and it's currently in the inspection stage). I've divested myself of lots of stuff (though to be fair I still probably own 10x the amount of books/LPs/CDs as the average Fijian) and am preparing for the movers to come (supposedly this week, but that's a long story and may not happen on schedule) pack up all our crap and put it on a boat to reach us in 6 weeks. I will be moving into a furnished place but will basically be living out of a suitcase with only my laptop for entertainment for the first month.

I'm excited and scared. What if I hate the job? What if my apartment has mildew, or bedbugs, or mildewbugs? What if Paul hates it? I am trying not to dwell on the what if scary parts, but let's just say this last week was the worst possible time (biologically speaking) to be dealing with things that provoke an emotional response. I'm better now, honest.

Supposedly Suva has reliable internet, and I'll be on a campus with lots of wifi should the apartment DSL fail to live up to US standards. But it will be a far cry from having free wifi at any Burger King or Starbucks, notably because Fiji does not yet have either a Burger King or a Starbucks (there are 2 McDonalds on our island though).

I'll still check in here from time to time, though I'm mostly on FB these days. If you have any questions about daily life in the capital city, I'll probably be able to answer them in a few weeks.

books read, 2nd quarter

Once again I forget to post this in June and now we're halfway thru the 3rd quarter. Oh well.

1) The Leopard by Jo Nesbo (audio) - I read the Snowman and liked it, this is the next book in that series. Fairly tense crime thriller, but less believable plot than the Snowman. Audio is well done and will keep your eyes from hanging up on the Norwegian names.

2) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie - finally read this coming of age story. Very sad in parts but a nice memoir of what it's like to be young and miserable.

3) The Magician King by Lev Grossman (audio) - Sequel to the Magicians, which I really liked. This one has too much about Fillory when the really interesting story is about how Julia self-trains as a Magician after failing the Breakbills entrance exam. I'd probably read a 3rd one but I'd prepare for it to be disappointing.

4) Double Dexter By Jeffry P. Lindsay- Series is losing steam. WIll probably quit reading it. Started this one on audio, but it was read by the author and he's a TERRIBLE reader. Do not read on audio if you're still with this series.

5) Red, White, and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth- 3rd in President's Vampire series, where there's a vampire honor bound to advise and protect the Prez. This one has a very surprising twist ending that makes me want to read the next book NOW but I don't think he's written it yet.

6) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (audiobook) Perhaps the most delightful book I read all year. audio read by Wil Wheaton, who clearly is perfect for this story. Plot: it's the near future, there's a big puzzle-solving contest that will give the winner control of The Oasis, a very popular immersive video game environment. The creator of the contest makes all the puzzle steps feature the nerd passions from his youth, aka the 1980s. Great trip down memory lane for us 80s geeks.

7) A Study in scarlet by A. Conan Doyle (audiobook) Realized after watching the Masterpiece Mystery series with Frumious Bandersnatch that I'd never read a Sherlock Holmes story. Now I have. This one features evil Mormons!

8) Swamplandia! by Karen Russell Started out great, then turns icky when the Birdman shows up. Magical realism and great character development suddenly derails into really unpleasant story. Am really glad it did not win the Pulitzer.

9) Vanishing Act (Jane Whitefield Novels) by Thomas Perry (audio) 1st in series about a Seneca woman who helps people in trouble (battered wives, mob witnesses, etc) disappear. Good story, might read more of them.

10) A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume One by Daniel Abraham -follows the structure of the TV series pretty well, so I didn't learn much new (I haven't read the actual novels yet). Did not care much for the art style, so probably won't continue.

1) Best American Crime Writing: 2006 - Apparently they stopped doing this series, so no new ones. Boo.

2) Tales From Development Hell : The Greatest Movies Never Made? by David Hughes Stories about big budget movies that were almost made, but weren't, like the Total Recall sequel, Paul Verhoven's Crusades movie, and a John Boorman 1970's Lord of the Rings movie. Good reading if you're a film nerd.

3) Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too! by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon I had no idea that these dudes from The State wrote "Night at the Museum" and the Vin Diesel comedy "The Pacifier". They've also written some flops, so it's fun to read about those, too. Great read if you think you'll ever write a screenplay.

4) Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman - Essays, mostly funny. I liked it but can see why some people loathe this guy's writing.

5) Just Kids by Patti Smith - Memoir of being a starving artist in NYC in the late 60s and early 70s. Became the first great love of Robert Mapplethorpe before he knew he was gay (though if you've seen the bullwhip photo, you're probably as surprised as I am that there was a time when he didn't know). Criticisms: a little too name-droppy, and the path from starving to success isn't explored as much as I would like. I did like that she fesses up to living in such slovenly dumps at this time that she got lice on several occasions. Also, not enough detail on how Blue Oyster Cult decided to record songs she wrote (she was dating one of them, but no info about collaborating with the band).

6) Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck by Roger Ebert - another compilation of his zero to two star reviews. great bathroom reading.

1st quarter books read

(actually includes April's books too, because I procrastinate).


1) The Book of General Ignorance By John Lloyd,
2) The Second Book of General Ignorance Everything You Think You Know Is (still) Wrong By John Lloyd

Trivia/debunking compendium. Interesting but a lot of them were facts I'd never thought about and thus had no reaction when they were proved wrong. Stuff like "Oranges aren't really orange in the wild". Still worth skimming if you like these kinds of books.

3) The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History -Jason Vuic(Audio)

Delightful. The story of how one dogged and possibly delusional entrepreneur, Malcolm Bricklin, (who had already spectacularly failed at other car-importing schemes) decided that America needed a tiny car cheaper than Honda and Toyota and looked to Eastern Europe to find it. Business case study combined with a history of the "good Communism" of Yugoslavia, though not at all dry. The Serbian/Bosnia war actually killed the American Yugo before the company could fold based on the crappy quality of its cars, and Bricklin was STILL trying to revive the Yugo brand in the US well into the 2000's after the dust of the breakup of Yugoslavia had settled. May be the only automotive history you read where Slobodan Milosevic repeatedly pops up.

4) The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure-  John Mitchinson , John Lloyd

Stumbled across this compilation of biographical sketches via Book of General Ignorance (same author), and it it was great fun. The book groups famous and forgotten people into chapters based on suitable shared characteristics:  people whose lives were influenced by sex  (Kinsey, Casanova and H G Wells), famous imposters, and for no apparent reason, people who were notable for other reasons but also kept pet monkeys (Frida Kahlo, Madame Mao and Oliver Cromwell). The book equivalent of falling into a wikipedia hole. Recommended.

5) To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism by Chuck Thompson 

Another one of those "travelling to places most people would prefer to avoid" titles by a travel writer that also works for Maxim (and yeah, it sometimes shows in his writing style). The places in question are The Congo (corrupt, broken, friendly people), India during monsoon season (wet, frightening), Mexico City (fun and undeserving of the stigma of the Drug War) and Disney World (the fish in a barrel for a cynical travel writer). I liked it okay, but the Lonely Planet title Tony Wheeler's Badlands covers more ground with more thought.

6) Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness by Neil Strauss

Music journalist Strauss went back to his interview notes to highlight the most telling excerpts that really revealed the essence of his subject(s). So instead of the completed Rolling Stone or Esquire piece, you get the 3 most interesting pages of the interview transcription that would become the profile. A lot of this stuff probably didn't make it into the final articles, so glimpses of the subject doing everyday things (Snoop running an errand to buy diapers for his baby, Courtney Love having the first crisis breakdown of the day) are sort of amusing. Also reads very fast because of the Q/A format.

7) Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug

fast read, and still relevant despite the age. Probably essential if you ever find yourself having to name the buttons on a navigation bar and want to instill maximum clarity.

8) Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss

Strauss decides to find out what it takes to get citizenship/a second passport from somewhere less provocative than the US without actually moving there and becoming a resident for 5-10 years (winner: the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts) and along the way starts doing the Doomsday prep routine. Investigates the "stay in your bunker with supplies" versus "bug out to the boonies with a pre-outfitted getaway car, boat, or plane" schools of survival. He also does EMT training and learns wildlife skills from Tom Brown's famous tracker workshops. Made me realize that if anything hits the fan, I am one of those people who is not going to be able to hunt and butcher goats and deer, so my best strategy is to enjoy the time I have rather than preparing for the worst.

9) Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems by Steve Krug

Companion piece to "Don't make me think" but focuses more on how to do usability test with actual live users. Not as pertinent to me but still sound advice.

10) Getting Stoned with Savages A Trip through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu By J. Maarten Troost

Reread simply because I applied for a job in Fiji and got a skype interview (no foolin') and wanted to read something contemporary and irreverent about the country in case they hired me. They didn't, but I still enjoyed the book the second time around.

11) The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss 

This is one of those books perpetually asked for by skeevy young men at the public library, so I knew I'd have to read it eventually. It contains some advice on picking up girls but also profiles the Pick Up Artist (PUA) subculture, which I was surprised to learn was a thing. Apparently PUAs give workshops to other aspiring PUAs and often go out "sarging" together. Strauss joins them, learns from them, and eventually rents a house in Hollywood with a group of them, and hilarity ensues. Best parts are when Courtney Love becomes a long-term houseguest/ cracked-out den mother at the PUA house and when the workshops become so successful that Strauss can't use his own pickup lines in LA anymore because every attractive woman in the region has now been subjected to them via his PUA disciples. The basic lesson is obvious: if you can approach women confidently and engage them in conversation for at least 10 minutes, your foot is in the door.


1) Blood Oath (Nathaniel Cade #1) by Christopher Farnsworth

Supernatural political thriller: Every president since Lincoln discovers the office comes with an vampire advisor/bodyguard, who steps in when the world gets into big messes. Kinda silly but I liked it enough to read the sequel (below).

2) The Snowman- Jo Nesbo (audio)

The next big name in Nordic crime fiction. A string of married mothers are killed, with a signature snowman in the yard facing TOWARDS the house left as the killer's signature. It takes a while for the cops to get the connection (apparently snowmen are too common to notice in Oslo) and then you have the standard red herrings, race against time to save the next victim mystery tropes. Still, I enjoyed it and am reading the next in the series. Excellent reader for audio version.

3) The President's Vampire (Nathaniel Cade #2) by Christopher Farnsworth

sequel to blood oath, more of the same, but likeable enough.

4) Zone One- Colson Whitehead

Literary fiction about the post-zombie world in NYC. Our hero is a "sweeper" trying to reclaim the city's buildings from straggler undead. Each of Whitehead's novels cover different plots/themes/styles, and this one was one of his better ones (also, way shorter than "John Henry Days")

5) Blood's a Rover -James Ellroy (audio)

Ugh. The third in the trilogy that started with American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, which I enjoyed, but were really heavy. This one was also heavy but I think I'm just over the J Edgar Hoover/Nixon/CIA/Mob/Howard Hughes/Cuba conspiracy thing. Audio reading was fine, but the book was sprawling and manages to kill off main characters way too often. Plus, I kept falling into Wikipedia holes after every chapter to see what was historically real and what was not. For diehard Ellroy fans that loved the first two books only.

6) Blankets (graphic novel) - Craig Thompson

autobiographical story of first love, Christian parents and growing up in rural Wisconsin. Beautiful art, and good story, but I wanted to see a glimpse of what happens to the main character after childhood (more like Persepolis, I guess). Still, a fine book, but I'd have probably liked it more if I read it at age 17 instead of 42.

7) A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (audio)

Is it a novel, or a series of connected short stories? Yes. Most chapters focus on pivotal players in a fictitious rock scene: the label magnate, his kleptomanic assistant, the has-been rock star, etc. I liked the interplay of a story about punk-loving kids in the 80s intersecting with other characters 20 years later, but there were a lot of loose ends I'd have liked to see tied up. Two of the stories take place in a 20 years away future with new technologies, and I'm not sure I liked that after the realism of the first batch of stories. I thought this was good, but not 2011 Winner of the Pulitizer Prize in Fiction good, if you know what I mean. Other beef- like "Catcher in the Rye", the title doesn't really fit, isn't apparent why it was chosen and the eventual explanation seems like grasping at straws. Audio version is good, but the chapter that takes the shape of a Powerpoint presentation ought to be seen in addition to being heard. Currently in development at HBO, so read it now before it gets a Game of Thrones-length hold list at your library.

8) The Magicians Lev Grossman (audio)

Sorta an American Harry Potter meets Less than Zero, but better. Plot: bright high school kid with a fixation on a set of Narnia-ish children's books is whisked away to a magic school, where there is no "wizarding world" and students are at a loss to figure out what to do with their skills after graduation. After the post grad indolence and descent into alcoholism, the hero and his pals are finally given a Magical Mission. I liked it and will read the sequel, but it took a long time to get to the Epic Quest part, so at first it seemed like just a coming of age story, but with spells and sexual tension.

9) The Marriage Plot By Jeffrey Eugenides (audio)

Contrasts the love triangle experienced by 3 new graduates of Brown University in 1982 with the "Marriage Plot" of 18th century novels, which is Madeleine's Senior Thesis topic. I really liked the story and the character development and the flashback to what it's like to be out of college and have no idea what to do next with your life. What I hated was all the anachronisms that the author could have easily checked against wikipedia before including them, which took away from the realism of the book by making me say "Wait, that can't be right!" (listed below* if you're curious to know)

10) The Second Half of the Double Feature By Charles Willeford
Posthumously collected unpublished short stories, fragments and even poetry from one of my crime fiction favorites. Good, but for completists/fans only.

21 books in 4 months. Having a 45 minute commute again is helping increase the audiobook consumption.

* Marriage Plot anachronisms I found (with help from wikipedia and amazon's "search inside this book" feature):
Leonard "fires up some Violent Femmes on the boombox" in September or October of 1982, despite the fact that their debut LP would be released in April 1983.

Leonard has somehow acquired a Moleskine notebook (mentioned twice), despite having never been to Italy (they would not be exported to the US until 1999)

When Leonard travels to Monte Carlo and visits the casino he "can't remember which Bond film it's in". He later recalls that it's "Never say never again", which would be released in October 1983, so even if it's late 1983 by the time Leonard is in France (I believe it's early 1983, before summer), he'd hardly need to "remember" what film it was, since he would have only seen it a month or so ago.

"Purple Rain" (September 1984) is playing on the stereo at a party in 1982 or maybe early 1983.

Unconfirmed anachronisms (cannot easily prove, but them seem wrong based on available data/my memories):

Leonard got a play microscope from Toys R Us at age 10, which would be about 1971 or 1972. Did the company ever have stores as far west as Portland, OR way back then?

Madeleine goes to her college PO box, gets a letter, tears it up and places the pieces in a recycling bin. Widespread paper recycling bins in 1982? I think that in 1987 my campus post office still didn't have them.