Wanderings of an artist in the trenches.

Reading List

Haven’t posted a reading list in quite awhile and thought I’d remedy that situation right now.

I’m a voracious reader. I read every chance I get. It’s the greatest gift that my parents gave me. It’s the gift that just keeps on giving. I have boxes and boxes and boxes of books. I love the written word. I love the journeys that books take me on, how they remind me that I’m not alone, that others have been here long before me and they’ve left breadcrumbs of wisdom for me to savor. How could one ever be lost?

I don’t care how tired I am, how worn out, late at night, I have to read. The problem is that once I get into a book I find it hard to stop! I can be woken up by the words and the waking dream that writing evokes.

I usually have several books I’m reading at a given moment, switching from book to book as the spirit sees fit. Then there are piles waiting in the wings on my bedside table, or sitting in the queue on my iPad. I flit from fiction to autobiography to non-fiction to biography to history to pulp, etc. I love it all. And I’m enjoying transferring that love to my children, who both love books as well.

Right now I’m almost done with “The Tell-Tale Brain” by V. S. Ramachandran, which I’m thoroughly enjoying.

“A physician (like Oliver Sacks, a neurologist) as well as a researcher, Ramachandran uses his neurology patients’ predicaments to inspire inquiries into how we see and know, the origins of language, the mental basis of civilization, how we conceive of and assess art, and how the self is constructed. Always careful to point out when he is speculating rather than announcing research findings, he is also prompt to emphasize why his speculations, or theories, are not just of the armchair variety but can be put to the test because of what neuroscience has already discovered about the active structures of the human brain.” (Booklist )

There’s a lot of food for thought in this book, and I’ve learned so much about how we see, how the mind processes visual information. A very engaging read!

Another (actually two by the same author): “The Element” and “Out of Our Minds” by Ken Robinson. Ever since Sir Ken Robinson spoke at the Ringling Commencement a couple of years ago I’ve been an avid follower of his ideas on how the educational system is basically broken and his ideas on how to fix it. You can see and hear him speak online through the TED talks on You Tube easily enough. He’s a delightfully open, honest and earnest speaker that is able to deliver some serious information about education in a humorous way. His books, so far (I’ve not finished them yet) are great reads and almost capture his speaking voice. They delve much deeper into the causes of the breakdown of education, and what his ideas are for fixing it all. Worth a read.

“A breakthrough book about talent, passion, and achievement from one of the world’s leading thinkers on creativity and self-fulfillment.

“The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. With a wry sense of humor, Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the Element and those that stifle that possibility. Drawing on the stories of a wide range of people, including Paul McCartney, Matt Groening, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, and Bart Conner, he shows that age and occupation are no barrier and that this is the essential strategy for transform ing education, business, and communities in the twenty-first century.” Amazon

Next: “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2010: “In 2010, about six hundred thousand Americans, and more than 7 million humans around the world, will die of cancer.” With this sobering statistic, physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee begins his comprehensive and eloquent “biography” of one of the most virulent diseases of our time. An exhaustive account of cancer’s origins, The Emperor of All Maladies illustrates how modern treatments–multi-pronged chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, as well as preventative care–came into existence thanks to a century’s worth of research, trials, and small, essential breakthroughs around the globe. While The Emperor of All Maladies is rich with the science and history behind the fight against cancer, it is also a meditation on illness, medical ethics, and the complex, intertwining lives of doctors and patients. Mukherjee’s profound compassion–for cancer patients, their families, as well as the oncologists who, all too often, can offer little hope–makes this book a very human history of an elusive and complicated disease.” –Lynette Mong

I’ve not gotten too deeply into this yet, but what I’ve read is incredibly interesting and hard to put down.

Next: “A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams” by Michael Pollan. I’m actually re-reading this now. I bought the book when it was originally released in 1997 and absolutely loved it. Michael Pollan decides to build his own small writing studio on his property in and his attention to detail and care in getting it right are a joy to read. It’s a wonderful book on really thinking about how a structure should fit the land and the person who will use it. This book makes one want to care more about one’s craft.

“An utterly terrific book . . . an inspired meditation on the complex relationship between space, the human body, and the human spirit.”
-Francine du Plessix Gray

“Michael Pollan’s unmatched ability to draw lines of connection between our everyday experiences- whether eating, gardening, or building-and the natural world has been the basis for the popular success of his many works of nonfiction, including the genre-defining bestsellers The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. With this updated edition of his earlier book A Place of My Own, readers can revisit the inspired, intelligent, and often hilarious story of Pollan’s realization of a room of his own-a small, wooden hut, his “shelter for daydreams”-built with his admittedly unhandy hands. Inspired by both Thoreau and Mr. Blandings, A Place of My Own not only works to convey the history and meaning of all human building, it also marks the connections between our bodies, our minds, and the natural world.” Amazon

Next: “The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans” by Mark Jacobson.

From Booklist
“The origins of this story go back to Buchenwald, the Nazi concentration camp, where Isle Koch, the sadistic wife of the commandant, developed a liking for things (gloves, lampshades) made out of human skin. Flash forward to the present: the author receives a strange artifact in the mail from a friend: a lampshade that appears to be made from human skin. This fascinating and frequently unsettling book chronicles Jacobson’s quest to find a proper home for the lampshade and, if possible, to find out exactly where it came from. The book also explores the history of torture by flaying (the gods of Greek mythology did it; so did Ed Gein, the American serial killer of the 1950s), and the impact of the Nuremburg trials. Journalist Jacobson avoids sensationalizing this inherently sensational story, taking a reportorial approach to the material. A chilling reminder that the aftereffects of World War II and the Holocaust continue to be felt, even in the most unlikely of ways.” –David Pitt

Next: “Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea” by Mark Kurlansky. I’ve read Kurlansky’s other books and have loved them all (“Salt”, “Cod”). This book is an incredibly engaging read about how religions have been hijacked and used for power, how nonviolence is different than pacifism, and why nonviolence is feared by those in positions of power.

“In this timely, highly original, and controversial narrative, New York Times bestselling author Mark Kurlansky discusses nonviolence as a distinct entity, a course of action, rather than a mere state of mind. Nonviolence can and should be a technique for overcoming social injustice and ending wars, he asserts, which is why it is the preferred method of those who speak truth to power.

“Nonviolence is a sweeping yet concise history that moves from ancient Hindu times to present-day conflicts raging in the Middle East and elsewhere. Kurlansky also brings into focus just why nonviolence is a “dangerous” idea, and asks such provocative questions as: Is there such a thing as a “just war”? Could nonviolence have worked against even the most evil regimes in history?

“Kurlansky draws from history twenty-five provocative lessons on the subject that we can use to effect change today. He shows how, time and again, violence is used to suppress nonviolence and its practitioners–Gandhi and Martin Luther King, for example; that the stated deterrence value of standing national armies and huge weapons arsenals is, at best, negligible; and, encouragingly, that much of the hard work necessary to begin a movement to end war is already complete. It simply needs to be embraced and accelerated.

“Engaging, scholarly, and brilliantly reasoned, Nonviolence is a work that compels readers to look at history in an entirely new way. This is not just a manifesto for our times but a trailblazing book whose time has come.” Amazon

Next: “Autobiography of Mark Twain” by Mark Twain. I’m a Twain fanatic and will pick up just about anything on him or by him. I love his voice, his honesty, his unpretentiousness and humor. He reminds me of my grandfather on my father’s side, who, incidentally, adored Twain as well. But the voice I hear when I read Twain is my grandfather’s and it’s a great place to be.

Next: “Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years” by Russ Baker.

This book was an eye-opener and has an incredible amount of food for thought. If you’re a Republican then this will probably make your head explode. But I did find it a fascinating read.

“In an era dominated by corporate journalism and an ideological right-wing media, Russ Baker’s work stands out for its fierce independence, fact-based reporting, and concern for what matters most to our democracy…A lot of us look to Russ to tell us what we didn’t know.” —Bill Moyers, author and host, Bill Moyers’ Journal (PBS)

“Russ Baker has the three most important attributes of any great investigative reporter: He is skeptical, he is fearless, and he is indefatigable. Whenever he examines anything—including the most allegedly well-covered topics—he breaks important new ground.” —David Margolick, author and contributing editor, Vanity Fair

“Shocking in its disclosures, elegantly crafted, and faultlessly measured in its judgments.”—Roger Morris, author of “Richard Milhous Nixon and Partners in Power”

“How did the deeply flawed George W. Bush ascend to the highest office in the nation, what forces abetted his rise, and — perhaps most important — have those forces really been vanquished by Obama’s election? Award-winning investigative journalist Russ Baker gives us the answers in ‘Family of Secrets’, a compelling and startling new take on the Bush dynasty and the shadowy elite that has quietly steered the American republic for the past half century and more. Baker shows how this network of figures in intelligence, the military, oil, and finance enabled — and in turn benefited handsomely from — the Bushes’ perch at the highest levels of government. As Baker reveals, this deeply entrenched elite remains in power regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.
‘Family of Secrets’ offers countless disclosures that challenge the conventional accounts of such central events as the JFK assassination and Watergate. It includes an inside account of George W.’s cynical religious conversion and the untold real background to the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina. Baker’s narrative is gripping, sobering, and deeply sourced. It will change the way we understand not just the Bush years, but a half century of postwar history—and the present.” Amazon

Then there’s my just plain fun stuff to read pile:

My mother’s been nudging me to read author Vince Flynn’s series of books about his character Mitch Rapp, and I decided to take the plunge with the newest one “American Assassin”, which is really his sort of origin story. So far I’m enjoying it. Pulp stuff, but fun with lots of action.

I just finished reading one of the latest Charles Todd thrillers, “A Lonely Death.” This is a series about Inspector Ruttledge of Scotland Yard, just after the First World War. Ruttledge was a Captain in the British Army who was forced to execute a Scottish soldier under his command in the last days of the war. In returning to his previous post as an inspector he finds that he’s haunted by the man who now inhabits his mind. These books are well written, thoughtful and emotional mysteries. I’ve enjoyed them all.

I also just finished reading the new Elmore Leonard novel, “Djibouti”. As usual, fun stuff. His dialogue is always fantastic. He’s able to capture the true cadence of the way people speak. It’s like being a fly on the wall. I love the way he writes! Lean and mean. You can’t go wrong picking up anything he’s written.

Here’s a quick list off the top of my head of authors that I love, in no particular order:

John D. MacDonald
Derek Raymond
Rex Stout
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Roald Dahl
Ray Bradbury
Stephen King
Charles Beaumont
Jack Finney
James Thurber
James Lee Burke
Jim Thompson
Charles Willeford
Richard Matheson
John Scalzi
Arthur Conan Doyle
Lester Dent
Robert E. Howard
Sheridan LeFanu
Sir Richard Francis Burton
Frank Herbert
Lewis Shiner
Joe R. Lansdale
Boston Teran
Kurt Vonnegut
Michael Crichton
Jack London
Rudyard Kipling
Lawrence Block
Lynn MacDonald
Barbara Tuchman
Mary Stewart
Jayne Anne Phillips
Rick Bragg
Cornell Woolrich
T. R. Pearson
Donald Westlake
Richard Stark
James Dickey
Eric Hansen
Rory Nugent
Tim Cahill
Redmond O’Hanlon
David Sedaris
Jacques Cousteau
Eddy L. Harris
Ernest J. Gaines
Richard Wright
John Irving
Cormac McCarthy
Larry Niven
Jerry Pournelle
Isaac Asimov
Arthur C. Clarke
John Gardner
His “On Becoming a Novelist” is a must read!
Switch the words artist for novelist and it
fits perfectly.
Stieg Larsson
J. D. Salinger
Breece D’J Pancake

And on and on and on and…
I’ll add to this later. 🙂

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


5 responses

  1. Roald Dahl IS amazing. This is a nice list, thanks for the recommendations.

    February 8, 2011 at 10:37 PM

    • Dahl is great! Most people are just familiar with his children’s fiction. But his adult stuff is a lot of fun to read. His autobiographies are wonderful reads as well: “Boy” and “Going Solo”


      February 10, 2011 at 7:23 PM

  2. We saw Michael Pollan give a talk in Austin a few months ago. I’m a huge fan of all of his food writing and his talk was great, completely no nonsense and articulate, but still pretty funny. If you get a chance, Omnivore’s Dilemma is a really fun read as well (to add to your already long list).

    It’s always surprising to me when illustrators DON’T enjoy reading, or don’t do it more often. Seems like such a vital part of being a better overall storyteller. 🙂

    Hope you’re well!


    February 8, 2011 at 11:53 PM

    • Erin,

      Thanks for posting! Yeah, I love Pollan’s stuff. I do have those books as well and have enjoyed them immensely.

      Hope all’s well with you!


      February 10, 2011 at 7:24 PM

  3. Dang George, that’s a hell of a list.

    I’ve finally gotten back into reading all the time. Over the last couple of months, I read every Raymond Chandler novel and several of his short stories, as well as a couple of Dashiell Hammett books. All great, and I can’t believe I didn’t read either author until now.

    I picked up one of Richard Stark’s Parker books when I was at Nice Price in Chapel Hill last month (the Black Ice Score), and have just started it.
    On the comics front, I’m re-reading the Noel Sickles art book, and just re-read every single Usagi Yojimbo story. That was a great read. Such good storytelling.

    I’ve also been reading the fine print on a year’s worth of receipts, gearing up for that fun time of the year … taxes!

    February 12, 2011 at 10:06 PM

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