Recently Read

  • Absolutely American : Four Years at West Point - David Lipsky (NF)
  • Independence Day - Richard Ford
  • The Bobby Gold Stories - Anthony Bourdain
  • The Final Confession of Mabel Stark - Robert Hough
  • Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science - Atul Gawande (NF)
  • Those Who Walk in Darkness - John Ridley
  • Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles - Anthony Swofford (NF)
  • Making the Corps - Thomas Ricks (NF)
  • Voyage of the Narwhal - Andrea Barrett
  • Affliction - Russell Banks
  • Stray Dogs - John Ridley
  • Report From Ground Zero - Dennis Smith (NF)***
  • The Whore's Child - Richard Russo
  • The Sweet Hereafter - Russell Banks
  • Lord of the Flies - William Golding
  • This Boy's Life - Tobias Wolff
  • The Beach - Alex Garland
  • The Stories of Tobias Wolff - Tobias Wolff
  • The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
  • The Sportswriter - Richard Ford
  • Forever - Pete Hamill***
  • The Dive from Clausen's Pier - Ann Packer***
  • Love is a Rackett - John Ridley
  • Batavia's Graveyard - Mike Dash (NF)
  • A Conversation with the Mann - John Ridley
  • The Angel on the Roof: The Stories of Russell Banks - Russell Banks
  • Mayor Corning: Albany Icon, Albany Enigma - Paul Grondahl (NF)
  • American Ground - William Langewiesche (NF)
  • Everybody Smokes in Hell - John Ridley
  • Roscoe - William Kennedy
  • The Drift - John Ridley
  • Empire Falls - Richard Russo
  • The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst - David Nasaw (NF)
  • Firehouse - David Halberstam (NF)
  • Last Man Down - Richard Picciotto (NF)
  • Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw - Mark Bowden (NF)
  • Fifty-Two Pickup - Elmore Leonard
  • The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd -Richard Zacks (NF)
  • The Risk Pool -Richard Russo
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly -Anthony Bourdain (NF)
  • Mohawk -Richard Russo
  • Nobody's Fool -Richard Russo
  • WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program -Pete Early (NF)
  • The Lion's Game -Nelson DeMille
  • Seabiscuit -Laura Hillenbrand (NF)
  • The Map That Changed The World -Simon Winchester (NF)
  • Bad News -Donald E. Westlake
  • The Amazing Adventues of Kavalier & Clay -Michael Chabon
  • Mysteries of Pittsburgh -Michael Chabon
  • Wonder Boys -Michael Chabon
  • Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook -Martin Dugard (NF)
  • The Fourth Hand -John Irving
  • In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex -by Nat Philbrick (NF)
Author Comments: 

Most everything on my list was worth reading, with a couple of exceptions.

*** Denotes a book that I do not recommend.
*** Good read, some general comments.

***With all due respect to book clubs, The Dive From Clausen's Pier made me feel like I was in book club hell. I liked the idea of the story, a woman faced with difficult choices brought on by a sudden, tragic turn of events, but the main character was so uninteresting I hardly cared about reaching the end of the book. On the other hand, I should say that the only time I really liked her was when she was sewing, because that's where we saw some genuine passion. As sewing scenes go, this book has some real humdingers. In fact, I'd say Clausen's Pier is a must-read for sewers, because there are some very detailed passages that involve dress making, fabric buying, and other aspects of the needle arts. I only wish the woman in the story was as interesting as the outfits she made.

***I was a little wary after reading a number of reviews that slammed Pete Hamill's Forever, but overall I found it very entertaining and satisfying. Its blend of adventure, mysticism, and history make for a good mix, and even though his social commentary might be a little heavy handed at times, it's still fun. Much has been made (possibly by Hamill's publicist?) of how the last third of the book was rewritten after 9/11. Indeed, the shadow of the Twin Towers falls on the last chapters like a sundial, marking off the hours before an inevitable conclusion. It works.

***Dennis Smith is best known for Report From Engine Company 82, his classic memoir about his experiences as an New York City firefighter. The first part of his book Report From Ground Zero provides a good account of the NYFD's response to the attack on the World Trade Center, much of it told in first person accounts. The second half on the book documents the recovery efforts -including the shattering effect 9/11 had on the fire department, its members, and their families. Smith's a true FDNY insider who had unlimited access to the site and to the firefighters, allowing him to bring us a unique look into firehouse culture. My one mild criticism: not much is made of the thousands of victims who were not emergency service workers. William Langewiesche, in his book American Ground, describes Ground Zero as a place where the remains of "civilians" were not treated with the same reverent regard as those of the firefighters. Smith's book didn't do anything to dispell that idea.

How were Mysteries of Pittsburgh & Wonderboys? The only Chabon I've read so far is Kavalier & Clay and was wondering how much of an effort I should make to read others soon.

I'd run right out and get a copy of Wonder Boys, which is a very funny book, but in a lot of ways also very touching. We tag along for a weekend with author and college professor Grady Tripp, who's struggling with a whale of an unfinished novel and a host of other problems, not the least of which is his own mortality.
I also liked Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which is, more or less, a coming of age story.
I heard Chabon speak on the radio recently about Kavalier and Clay, his own experiences that inspired Wonder Boys, and the interesting response to's a link to a partial transcript if you're interested:

Always nice to find another Dortmunder reader. :-) I haven't read Bad News yet, but my wife is reading it now (she's about half-way through) and reports that it's merely average. I'm worried I'm going to have a hard time getting into it since What's the Worst That Could Happen? really felt like a nice way to end the series (not that that was Westlake's intent with that book; that's just how it felt to me).

I liked Bad News, partially because some of it takes place around Plattsburgh, NY, where I went to college. I have't read What's The Worst That Could Happen...I'll have to surf on over to my library's website and put it on hold. I suppose it's the same everywhere now, but I think it's so cool that I can request books from all over my area's public library sytem online and pick them up at my branch. It's funny, I remember reading The Hot Rock when I was like 12 years old!

I'd make WtWTCH? the last Dortmunder you read, since it turns several of the series' conventions on their heads. I generally recommend Drowned Hopes, Don't Ask, and WtWTCH? in roughly that order to folks that don't want to read the whole series.

What'd you think of The Fourth Hand? I normally love Irving but picked that one up and couldn't get into it.

I enjoyed The Fourth Hand, but compared to his other novels thought it was a bit of a lightweight, probably because it was a more a pure love story than anything John Irving has written in the past.
Among his recent work, I felt A Widow For One Year was more satisfying. One thing I love about that book is how it tricked me at first into thinking it was about Eddie O'Hare, not Ruth Cole.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Russell Banks speak and read a wonderful short story at my wife's university. A delight; he reads the stories as well as he writes them.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I agree! He recently read his story Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story on the radio program This American Life. You can hear it on the episode called You Are So Beautiful...To Me, which is streamed at their website.

Very impressive list. I haven't thought about 52 Pickup in years now, but I'm not sure that it still isn't my favorite Elmore Leonard book. I loved Lord of the Flies, but sadly, still haven't gotten around to Sweet Hereafter yet.

How was The Beach? I've heard the book is quite good.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Can you believe that they didn't make me read Lord of the Flies when I was in high school? As allegory goes, it's much more interesting than the other ninth grade staple, Animal Farm, and considering history, its themes are more timeless. The Beach is a good read...and only this second did I realize the debt it owes to Lord in regards to presenting a microcosm of society.
52 Pickup is a riot, even if it's a little dated. Sweet Hereafter is wonderful and heartbreaking; I think Russel Banks is brilliant.

They didn't make me read Lord of the Flies either. Maybe it is out of vogue with high schools when we went through.

I'll have to check out Beach and, especially, Sweet Hereafter. I like what I've read of Banks very much.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

How was Complications? That book caught my eye awhile ago, but I haven't picked it up yet.

Complications is GREAT! Just don't read it before having a surgical procedure.

You were right, Complications was fabulous. One of the best books I've read in a long time. Eye-opening and educational, it gave me a whole new perspective into medicine and the people who practice it. The reality of how doctor's learn was stunning, but equally stunning was that it seems like that's they way it has to be. And it was a page-turner to boot! Highly, highly recommended (well, not to you, since you already read it, but to everybody else joining in :-).