Books

No Country for Old Men

200px-Cormac_McCarthy_NoCountryForOldMen.jpgToday I finished reading Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. From Wikipedia:

The plot follows the interweaving paths of the three central characters set in motion by events related to a drug deal gone bad near the Mexican-American border in southwest Texas.

I enjoyed it as I usually do when it comes to McCarthy. The Coen brothers adapted it for film and it comes out later this fall.

This passage by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell was one of my favorites

Here a year or two back me and Loretta went to a conference in Corpus Christi and I got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talkin about the right wing this and the right wing that. I aint even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin something bad about em, but of course that's a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I don't like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I dont think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I dont have much doubt what she'll be able to have an abortion. I'm goin to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she'll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

200px-A_Thousand_Splendid_Suns.gifThis past weekend in Grand Haven I read Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns (thanks for the birthday present, Alice!). From Hosseini's web site:

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan's last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to the post-Taliban rebuilding—that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

It's a good book. Evidence suggests that people wonder if it's as good as The Kite Runner. I'd say yes. Better in fact. It's good that so many westerners are reading these stories about Afghanistan (with the films on the way). It's heartbreaking what the Afghani people have suffered, what history and culture has been lost, and it isn't over. The Taliban, those barbaric murderers, are resurgent.

The Road

200px-The-road.jpgOn vacation last week I managed to lose a book that I have been nibbling on for about a year now (I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company: A Novel of Lewis and Clark) but had finally been nearing the end. That was annoying. I was enjoying it OK, but the fact that it was taking me so long was evidence that it was a bit of a struggle. It was a kind of vicious cycle because the variety of narrators (Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea) made it a bit hard to follow at times, especially since I was reading it only occasionally and in small chunks.

So after losing that one, I picked up The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It's one that I had been looking forward to reading since I enjoyed The Border Trilogy and several of his other novels. Lisa read The Road in a weekend a month or two ago.

Like Lisa, I really enjoyed The Road, following in a mostly-understated way the relationship between a father and son who are "on the road" in a post-apocalyptic setting. It turned out that our friend Greg who we were visiting had recently read it too, and our discussion centered on the geography. Lisa assumed that it was set in the west. I knew that it was in the south because of the "See Rock City" sign that is mentioned. Greg new it was in the south and recognized the description of one particular setting as Gatlinburg.

From the Wikipedia entry:

The journey passes through towns and cities whose names are known but never named. The travelers apparently set out on their journey north of Knoxville, Tennessee, crossing the Tennessee River at that city. They notice sunken boats under the bridge there, a nod to McCarthy's novel Suttree, in which the protagonist lives in a houseboat community in that location.

They continue through Gatlinburg, Tennessee, across the Great Smoky Mountains – probably over Newfound Gap (elevation 5,048 ft above sea level; see below) – and through the Piedmont region of North Carolina. From there, they proceed southeastward to the coast, perhaps that of South Carolina or Georgia.

One rare specific geographical indication in the book is a barn bearing the painted legend "See Rock City". One published book review (that of the novelist William Kennedy, entitled "Left Behind", the cover review in The New York Times Book Review for October 8, 2006), apparently not realizing how many barns in the upper South recommend seeing Rock City, has relied on the reference to infer that the route in The Road must pass through Chattanooga, Tennessee, but this is clearly impossible ("The pass at the watershed was five thousand feet and it was going to be very cold," The Road, p. 25).

Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut passed away yesterday. I spent the summer of 1993 at the University of Central Florida. One of my roommates was Rob Wessel, a student from the University of North Carolina who claimed that his middle name was Elvis and never told me what his Bazooka Joe joke was. He loaned me Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus to read, and I enjoyed it. It was different from anything else I'd read before...more stream of consciousness...more creative punctuation (at least that's what I remember about it). Over the next few years I read the rest of his books as he became one of my favorite authors. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater was probably his novel that I enjoyed most. Wessel also loaned me Sam Shepard's Seven Plays which I also really dug.

BookMooch 100 Most Wanted

Go here for a list of BookMooch's 100 most-wanted titles (the books I have no hope of mooching anytime soon).

Best Books of 2006

color_of_love.jpgI haven't read many books this year. Make that one:

The Color of Love by Gene Cheek. It was gripping, especially since it occurred in my old stomping grounds. An amazing, sad, and tragic story. I wrote a little about it here.

Hopefully my list will be a bit longer next year.

The lists of others:

NY Times "100 Notable Books of the Year"

Slate's "The Year in Books"

Books I'm Trying to Give Away

Last night I added several more books that I'm trying to give away via Bookmooch. Here is a list of a few of them:

My full Bookmooch inventory is here.

BookMooch - New Life for Old Books

I'd like to recommend a web site: BookMooch. It was created by John Buckman who made a load of cash before the tech bubble burst and created Bookmooch as a sort of public service. From the BookMooch about page:

BookMooch is a community for exchanging used books.

BookMooch lets you give away books you no longer need in exchange for books you really want.

Give & receive: Every time you give someone a book, you earn a point and can get any book you want from anyone else at BookMooch. Once you've read a book, you can keep it forever or put it back into BookMooch for someone else, as you wish.

No cost: there is no cost to join or use this web site: your only cost is mailing your books to others.

Points for entering books: you receive a tenth-of-a-point for every book you type into our system, and one point each time you give a book away. In order to keep receiving books, you need to give away at least one book for every five you receive.

BookMooch is cool, though parting with books isn't one of my natural inclinations. The list of books I have available is here.

The Color of Love

A while back I heard a segment on This American Life about Gene Cheek and his book The Color of Love: A Mother's Choice in the Jim Crow South. His is an amazing, sad, and tragic story. It caught my special attention because it occurred in Winston-Salem, NC where I grew up. I ordered the book and and read it during our vacation in the mountains of NC. I think the book would have been more powerful had I not already known the basic outline of the story from the radio show...I knew what was coming. So, if you're gonna read the book, I recommend not listening to the radio bit first. It was kind of a shock to me that in 1972, the year when I was born, inter-racial marriages were still illegal in NC and that Gene Cheek's story was happening in the previous decade. I'm so thankful that my parents raised me such that I wasn't taught any of the racism that was the norm when they were growing up and still wasn't nearly dead when I did.

Best Science Book Candidates 2006

From a story in the BBC News, the candidates for the Aventis Prize for popular science writing have been announced:

Electric Universe - How Electricity Switched on the Modern World, by David Bodanis (Little Brown)

Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, by Jared Diamond (Penguin Allen Lane)

The Elements of Murder - A History of Poison, John Emsley (Oxford University Press)

The Gecko's Foot - Bio-inspiration - Engineering New Materials from Nature, by Peter Forbes (Fourth Estate)

The Silicon Eye - How a Silicon Valley Company Aims to Make All Current Computers, Cameras, and Cell Phones Obsolete, by George Gilder (WW Norton)

Parallel Worlds - The Science of Alternative Universes and our Future in the Cosmos, by Michio Kaku (Penguin)

Power, Sex, Suicide - Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, by Nick Lane (Oxford University Press)

Venomous Earth - How Arsenic Caused the World's Worst Mass Poisoning, by Andrew Meharg (Macmillan)

Empire of the Stars - Friendship, Obsession and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes, by Arthur I. Miller (Little Brown)

Seven Deadly Colours - The Genius of Nature's Palette and how it Eluded Darwin, by Andrew Parker (Simon & Schuster)

The Truth About Hormones - What's Going on when we're Tetchy, Spotty, Fearful, Tearful or Just Plain Awful, by Vivienne Parry (Atlantic Books)

Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis - The Quest to Find the Hidden Law of Prime Numbers, by Dan Rockmore (Jonathan Cape)

The Fruits of War - How War and Conflict have Driven Science, by Michael White (Simon & Schuster)

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