Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October Reading

Here's what I read in October.
After the two snoozers I read last month, I needed a little pick me up.  So I went in search of a book with a pulse, and found it in a section of the library that I usually never explore--the mystery novels.

Now, I have nothing against mystery novels; I just never read them.  I did once write a punk song called "Mystery Novel," (oh, do check it out!), but I don't think I've actually read one since about 1995, when And Then There Were None showed up on one of my required reading lists.  

1. The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley has been on my "books I'd like to read if I only had the time" list for years, and I decided that this fall was when I had time.  I, of course, was familiar with the novel through the 1999 movie version, starring Damon, Law, and Paltrow, but it was not until I was standing in front of her books that I realized that she also wrote Strangers on a Train, which was also made into a fairly successful movie.

I don't know if The Talented Mr. Ripley really qualifies as a mystery.  After all, we know who the murderer is all along, and the only mystery is whether he gets away with it.  Nevertheless, it was a fun, quick, delightful little read, and I may some day pick up Strangers if I get a chance.

2. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I'm a sucker for those pop-economics books that have been on the shelves for the last decade or so.  I've read The Tipping Point and Blink by Gladwell, as well as Freakonomics by those other dudes.  Whenever I read books like these, I always get swept away in the storytelling and the statistical analysis that the authors present, but at the same time I realize that I have no background in economics, stats, or even analyzing data, and they could all be misleading me.

Having said that, I read this book on the recommendation of a few different teachers, who all said it was a great read.  And I enjoyed it!  The latter part about why Korean planes crash more frequently than planes from other countries was fascinating (even though I didn't quite see how it fit in with Gladwell's thesis about how people become remarkable successes), and I always love reading about hockey.

3. Ancient Rome (Eyewitness Books)

Now that my son has turned three and is becoming less of a toddler and more of a little dude, he is beginning to play with the toys and puzzles I used to play with, and soon he will be reading the books I used to read.  I saw this one on a pile of books to be donated, and I immediately snatched it up.  After flipping though it for a moment, I remembered how fascinating and delightful Eyewitness Books were. (I remember the one I had about space travel, back when the Space Shuttle was my obsession.) 

So, I read a little bit of this book to my son while he was eating his cheerios, and housed the rest of it in a few minutes. I studied the classics during a semester at Oxford University, but that doesn't mean I know it all.  There was plenty in this book that I learned for the first time.

4. A Distant Mirror, by Barbara Tuchman (partial)

I picked up this book at a thrift store when I was at Yale, studying Chaucer and the fourteenth century.  It's been sitting on my shelf, and I always fantasized about a time when I would have an opportunity to read the whole thing.  A few weeks ago I picked it up and started, and, now that I am 200 pages into it, I have to decide if I am going to stick with it for the entire 600 and some pages.  Will I do it?  I still haven't decided.

I read Tuchman's The Guns of Augusta few years back and found it fascinating.  Tuchman's research is exhaustive, and she tells the story of history (whether it is the opening days of the first World War, or the onslaught of the Black Plauge) in such a compelling way that makes me wish I could take a few days off of work just to finish it.  Plus, there's this amazing picture of her laughing as only mad geniuses can laugh:

I wish I felt as insouciant as she looks, just once in my life..


  1. A Distant Mirror is one reason why I became interested in Medieval Europe in the first place. But can you enjoy it knowing how much our Yale professor railed against the author? Guns of August was terrific, too. I agree.

  2. I don't remember what he said about her. Remind me!