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Does Anybody Else Read This Way?

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I can’t remember the last time I read one book, all at once, no matter how good the story or the writing. Instead, I read several books at the same time, jumping between one and the other. This probably makes no sense to an avid reader, but that’s just the way it works for me.  And I read more non-fiction than fiction by a long, long shot (even though I wish I had the time for fiction). Anyway, here’s what I’m feeding my head with today:

1776 by David McCullough
This, for me, is his best book yet. I’m riveted by the sheer drama of what was at stake and I like its focus on the big picture seen through many small details. Also, it’s so damn interesting the way McCullough first brings out how the colonists are viewed by the British. POV is everything.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester

Started watching Hornblower on the A&E miniseries and got hooked into the character and wanted to read the books it was based on. This is Forester’s first book, but it’s amazing how most of the chapters ended up generating individual episodes even though they read as short stories. Really helped get my head in the nautical side of Blackbeard when I was writing that one.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
I’m reading this one to my youngest son at bedtime. I know, I know: people dying on Mt. Everest doesn’t usually qualify as a bedtime story, but he picked it, and we’ve both gotten hooked. What can I say? We’re making the final ascent as this is posted and, even though I know people are not going to make it, I can’t remember who did and who didn’t. Krakauer is a brilliant writer and he’s right in the middle of this one.

The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh
I love the JFK style and the sense of optimism he brought to the country, but I am not an apologist either (neither is the hard-left Hersh). Reading this book (and a number of others out in the last decade) you come to the conclusion that some of the things Kennedy did would have gotten him impeached (or divorced) in a second term. Wrap your head around that one.

Okay, there it is. Eclectic (in a historical way) and not entirely balanced but a great set of reads all going on simultaneously.  Like I asked, does anybody else read this way?

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  • i tend to read like this when i’ve got a lot of other stuff going on. when that happens at least one of the books is some sort of collection of essays. that way, i don’t lose my place when i can’t get back to the book for a few days.

  • and by the way, that light streaming from the books illustration is very cool.

  • Sure, Bryce — I’ve got a living-room book, a bedtime book, a bathroom book, and always one in the car.

    They still never last long enough…

  • Shark

    ‘Into Thin Air’ is a great read! It’s incredibly tragic, but throughout — there are times when ya just wanna smack some of those morons for their brazen stupidity.

    BTW: re. Blackbeard; if you’ve never read any R. Sabatini, I suggest you and your son check out “Captain Blood.” (and any of his other 30 some-odd novels; they’re all great.)

    And you’ll be interested in this aspect: Sabatini is the most ‘cinematic’ novelist in history, imo.

    PS: And avoid the film — a butcher job that used only the title from Sabatini’s novel.

    — oh, sorry, I probably don’t have to remind you how Hollowood likes to screw their main creative resource: the writer…


  • Shark

    Whoops. Almost forgot the original question:

    Yes, I read about 4 or 5 books at a time; usually non-fiction, but the last few years, I’ve been mixing in those “greatest” and/or “famous” classic novels from the past that I never got around to reading.

    (Biggest disappointment: “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelly — what a piece of crap; it’s a travelogue for the terminally garrulous.

    Greatest discovery: the entire works of Sabatini (see above, heh)

  • Joe

    I’ve got a relative who won a charity auction dinner with Beck Weathers, he complained afterward that all Weathers wanted to do was talk about himself.

    If you stay on the Krakauer vein with your boy “Under the Banner of Heaven” will offer some good family values learning opportunities.

  • Duane

    Yeah, it’s the only way to read. You have to break up the slow going of a “serious” book with something fun.


    Robinson Crusoe — Defoe (pretty dull so far)

    Starship Troopers — Heinlein (with my son)

    The Da Vinci Code — Brown (what can I tell ya?)

    Assembling California — McPhee (geology is swell)

    Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Gibbon (from my Great Books collection)

  • Shark

    Duane, what fun!

    re. Defoe – I reread “Treasure Island” not too long ago. Still holds up after all these years.


    My current list:

    Winesburg, Ohio – Sherwood Anderson — a deeply sad book; a series of short story-like sketches of a small village just after the turn of the last century. Reminds me of Camus’s Exile and The Kingdom: tragic & profound.

    Eichmann in Jerusalem – Hannah Arendt — more deep sadness; ‘the banality of evil’ — a tough read on every level.

    The Time Machine – H.G. Wells – not too hot, but again, I’m wading through some books I missed earlier in life.

    Pogo – (*everything I can find) by Walt Kelly [this is with my grandson; he loves the dialects, and has mastered a pretty good version of Pogo. Of course, I get to be Albert the Alligator at playtime, so we make quite a pair.]

    *unfortunately, possibly The Greatest Comic Strip Ever is long since out of print — which is some sort of cultural crime, but I don’t know who to blame.

    Conscientious Objections : Stirring Up Trouble about Language, Technology, and Education – Neil Postman — one of my heroes. He can be funny, serious, cutting, insightful, and profound — all in the same essay. I reread this at least once a year — just to be reminded that at least a few humans “get it” — or in the case of the late great Postman: “got it.”

  • Shark

    Bryce & Duane:

    how old are the kiddos you’re reading to?

  • Shark, you read some great stuff for an old fruit 🙂

    Just kidding, my friend. I think Postman’s an old, cantankerous grump but I can see why you like him 🙂 He’s interesting, though. Arendt, of course, is always great reading and the “banality of evil” is one of my favorite concepts and phrases ever, one which appears more true now than ever to me.

    That is all.

  • Duane

    Shark, my son is 10. We put in about 30 minutes five nights a week.

    Next I think I’m gonna go with The Three Musketeers by Dumas, Mann’s Doctor Faustus, and The Lathe of Heaven by Le Guin, while continuing to plod through Gibbon. Also currently messing around with The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by Barrow & Tipler. For the boy … mmm .. dunno yet. He’s on a futuristic sci-fi shoot-em-up kick at the moment. Any recommendations?

  • Leave out the scifi and your kid will be a real brain, an Ivy League scholar. You rot his brain with too much scifi and he’ll own a comic book store or work at CompUSA selling Macs.

    That is all.

  • JR

    Leave out the scifi and your kid will be a real brain, an Ivy League scholar. You rot his brain with too much scifi and he’ll own a comic book store or work at CompUSA selling Macs.

    Think you got that backwards.

    And what “real brain” wastes money on an Ivy League education when they can get into the UC system on resident tuition?

  • Duane

    Thanks Bob AB. It’s something to consider. I read a good chunk of sci-fi when I was in my teens and 20s — stuff like Clarke, Heinlein, Pohl, Asimov, Niven & Pournelle — pretty good stuff I think. I know you hate sci-fi (from other threads) but some of it is just wonderful on a rainy day or while shoehorned in an airplane. It has only slightly fucked me up.

    Any other ideas? Books that meant a lot to you when you were a kid? Books that inspired you to become the Bob A. Booey you are today?

  • Um, I was a weird kid.

    But I really liked those Narnia books when I was little. I don’t remember what else I read, but I read lots. Oh yeah, I read “Roots” by Alex Haley, all 1,500 pages of it, in 3 days in junior high. I was pretty moved.

    When I was in high school, I liked stuff like “Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor, the early Hemingway short stories and the typical high-school would-be rebel stuff like “The Communist Manifesto” and weird post-colonial theory like Edward Said. I even read Foucault for the first time in high school — don’t ask, but it felt good to be smarter than my teachers.

    I wouldn’t suggest leftist theory for your own kid, but rather any literature which is bold, individualistic and affirming. Kids take away messages and morals from literature before they learn to interpret and criticize it, so be very conscious of what the books teach your kid when he reads them.

    I’m sure he’ll be very smart based on what you’re reading with him, though.

    My dad’s brilliant but he never read with me 🙂 That’s why I wedgied the scifi nerds at school. Sniff 🙂

    That is all.

  • Shark

    Duane, I’ve got some great recommendations; (I “co-raised” two brilliant READER male nephews.)

    RUN and get “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George. You can get it at library, used book stores, or of course, amazon. Your 10 year old will thank you!

    Surely you’ve done “Holes” by Louis Sachar? If not, do so.

    If he’s real advanced, you might consider “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Phillip Pullman. You’ll like it too. Metaphysical sci-fi for smart kids.

    You might also try some short stories by William Tenn. (Phillip Klass) Great bedtime sci-fi with a satirical, humorous twist.

    PS: Don’t listen to Booey.

  • Duane

    Thanks gents. We’ve gone through three of the Narnia books and The Golden Compass — the remaining volumes are in the queue. I’ll definitely take you up on the other recommendations (might hold off on Foucault for a couple of years, though).

  • Yes, I read that way but I do have adult ADD…

  • I’m back… re: Sabatini — all good stuff. The producers I did BLACKBEARD for were originally going to do CAPTAIN BLOOD but we switched off for a variety of reasons. As a writer, it was great to do an original but adapting Captain Blood would have been its own fun challenge.

    Thanks everybody for all these great comments. You post something under “Politics” and all you get are people yelling at each other. Under “Books”, you get a good discussion.

  • BC Book editor Pat Cummings chose this for a pick of the week. Click HERE to fnd out why.

    Thank you. EE Temple

  • I thought I was odd for thsi but I’m usually reading one light fiction book (often a mystery), one heavy fiction book (something more dense) and one non-fiction book.

    Lately that’s all on hold while I make my career change and go to school full time.