Don’t Get Too Comfortable, David Rakoff, Humorous biographical essays. Actually listened to this one — it’s read by the author himself, and it’s priceless when he mutters that Queen Mother Barbara Bush is a “stupid fucking cow” (after relating the story of her “beautiful mind” quote — Google it if you’re lost).
For some time I’ve been meaning to start posting my reading list, so I have a lot of catching up to do. Here are the last couple of years’ books with brief reactions. I probably missed a few, and I’ll fill those in if I remember them. 2004
Useful Idiots, Mona Charen, Criticism of liberal responses to Communism, other 20th century events
I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe. This was the first of his books I read. Provocative, but over-the-top from someone too old to do more than hyperbolize and then criticize college culture.
Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe. Same vein, but he’s closer to his subject matter and less idiotic.
A Radical Line, Thai Jones, Story of his family’s involvement in 20th century radical movements, including the Weather Underground. I can’t remember the genesis of my interest in the Weather Underground during this year. I mean, it grew from my love of Dylan’s music from the late 60s, but other than that…
Chronicles: Vol I, Bob Dylan. Funny as heck, especially when he goes on about his sets-of-three guitar playing discovery.
All the President’s Men, Bernstein & Woodward, Watergate. Saw the movie first, then read this. Actually was more interested in Ellsberg (see below) and his story, but this dovetails with it.
Secrets, Daniel Ellsberg, Vietnam and Pentagon Papers. Saw a made-for-FX movie about his story first, then got interested in what happened there. The parallels between Nixon and our current King’s fascination with his own authority (“executive priviledge”) obviously enhanced my interest.
Hegemony or Survival, Noam Chomsky, A sermon against America’s ill-fated quest for global hegemony. I agree with most of it, but he’s a bit over the top.
In Retrospect, Robert McNamara, Autobiography, mainly focusing on Vietnam years
Papers on the War, Daniel Ellsberg, Position papers on Vietnam topics. Dry and old news now, but must have been interesting when written.
Riders of the Purple Sage, Zane Grey
The 9/11 Commission Report, US Gvt 9/11 Commission
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe, Entertaining read about the early days of LSD, Ken Kesey, the hippies, the Grateful Dead, etc. I started downloading Dead bootlegs just because everyone else was (after trading Dylan’s concert recordings for years), and this is part of how it all started. If you read it, download a recording of one of the Acid Tests first, and listen to it as you go along.
Fugitive Days, Bill Ayers, Autobiography, mainly surrounding Weather Underground years. He and his wife (Bernadine Dohrn, a leader of the WU), still live in Chicago. They are both interviewed heavily in a recent documentary called “The Weather Underground.” The WU took it too far, and they acknowledge that and discuss how it happened. I’d read this again. And again.
Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Keith B Miller, Ed., Essays on theistic evolution – includes a decent amount of material on the subject of evolution and original sin, my focus in reading the book
Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman, Most of the book focuses on the story of the totalitarianism in the 20th century and endeavors to paint Islamism in the same colors as Nazism and fascism. Encourages liberals to view Islamism, though not Islam, as an evil that must be eradicated, though is critical of the approach of the Bush Administration in its “War on Terror”
The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Story of his motorcycle and hitchhiking trip around South America, partially focusing on his experience and empathy with the proletariat, how he came to support a united Latin America, and, to a lesser extent, the development of his anger about the influence of the US in Latin America. Again, saw the movie first, unfortunately.
Cubans: Voices of Change, Lynn Geldof, Good. Shows both sides of the debate about life in Cuba under Fidel. Had to look for a little perspective after reading Guevara and seeing our govt’s lame attempts to force change over the past decades in what could have been a friendly country.
Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller, Good critique of today’s Christianity and a hope for something better. The first half is the heart of it — after that he backs down and accepts status quo.
The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America, Russell Shorto. Kari and I listened to this on our way to and from Wyoming for the August 2005 backpacking trip. First book on tape (CD, actually) I’ve ever listened to all the way through, and it was great. Totally new subject to me, so I don’t know how it stacks up on the topic, but interesting topic, engaging details and very educational.
The Year the Dream Died (1968), Jules Witcover, Good review of the year, with focus on politics.
The 60s: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, Todd Gitlin, Good perspective on the 60s, from the perspective of a protester and an early leader of SDS but not a radical in the same vein as the Weather Underground. If you read Bill Ayers and Thai Jones (above), read this too to balance it out. He’s also interviewed in the WU documentary mentioned above.
A Bright Shining Lie, Neil Sheehan, Excellent history of the start and first decade of the Vietnam War, wrapped around the story of John Paul Vann’s time there. Highlights the futility of the war, and noble but misguided actions of Vann.
Through Painted Deserts, Donald Miller, Story of a cross-country VW van trip in a pseudo hippie tradition. Enjoyable reading.
Hiking the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Bill Schneider, Guidebook, read because we were trying to decide where to go for the summer Montana trip, and brother Jimmy was going to do a solo trip in the A-B before we met up (he ended up skipping it).
The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell’s Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears, Nick Jans, Excellent. Not as sensational as expected, given the topic. Good info on bears in general in addition to discussion of Treadwell. As usual lately, read this because I watched the movie on Discover Channel first — I really need to stop doing that.
The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowel, Essays. She is hilarious, especially on tv.
Off the Map, Hibickina and Kika (CrimethInc), Travels through Europe, originally published as a Zine. Laid back, squatting, hitchhiking.
The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, I’m starting a little late in life on some essential reading. Insightful, extremely well written. Read it in the cabin in Montana.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac. Read this back in college, along with his other popular ones, but just listened to it on the way to Montana and back, so it’s fresh in my mind. I can see how it has inspired people for decades to pack up and drive off across the country.
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, More essential reading I should have done a long time ago. This was the “uncensored version”. A better term is “the first published version.” There’s some controversy about which one Sinclair preferred, though the extra text in this longer version seemed essential to me. Reading coincided with the move to Chicago and a desire to learn more about the City’s history.
My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, Rebekah Nathan, Interesting for the same reason I was attracted to cultural anthropology in college: it makes you examine your own experiences and culture.
Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Trips, Dave Glowacz, Met the author at “Chicago Green Drinks” in August, which coincided with the move to the City. Not really the type of book you read straight through, though it is interesting and seemingly complete on urban biking, especially in Chicago.
And these are sitting on the shelf waiting for me, or waiting at the bookstore to be purchased, or being finished by Kari:
God’s Politics, Jim Wallis
Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller
Steal This Book, Abbie Hoffman
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail…, Jared Diamond
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
Catch 22, Joseph Heller