Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Reading Season

Snow is setting in and the holidays are drawing nearer (in fact, Hanukkah starts this Friday), so it's getting to be a time I like to call Reading Season. With the wintry mess outside, there is nothing I like more than tackling my reading list with gusto on my favorite spot on the living room couch. I've already managed to knock out two books on my list, though ironically I listened to one as an audiobook in my car, finishing the last of it as I traversed the polar weather outside.

It was American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham, which was bit dry and preachy at parts but ultimately accomplished what it set to do: explain why Andrew Jackson is on such a prominent member of our currency as the $20 bill. It turns out that while Jackson was not able to escape the racism of his age and is extremely culpable in the misery of thousands of Indians across the Southeastern United States in the 1830's, he was nothing if not a complex man full of extreme tenacity and deep convictions. Much of what we see in subsequent presidential administrations began with Andrew Jackson, including the use of veto power as a political weapon instead of just a Constitutional balancing tool and the belief that the President was directly responsible to the People of the United States instead of just another branch of government, not to mention the creation of the Democratic party itself. Jackson's new interpretation of the Presidency single-handedly transformed the office into the heart of the United States government. Now my only question is, why the heck is Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill?

In contrast, the second book was complete eiderdown for men: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton. That being said, it meant a lot to me for two reasons: 1. it is one the last novels written by one of my favorite authors (it was found on his computer after he died) and 2. it's about pirates (and yes, it was about latitudes as well, in a manner of speaking). If someone would be looking for a well-researched historical novel of the late 17th-century Caribbean with a snappy plot, shallow-but-interesting characters, all combined with a heavy dose of unpredictability (think Errol Flynn's Captain Blood meets Scorsese's The Departed) and there you have it, a Treasure Island of the 21st century.

Next on my list is The Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. What's on deck for you?


Linda K. said...

I enjoyed Pirate Latitudes too.(Hopefully the estate of Michael Crichton will find more hidden books so that he can continue to publish from the grave.)

I love how the British hanged the French pirate, but encouraged "privateering" as long as it added to the British coffers - as well as the pockets of the guys in charge of course.

To further mix fluff and fact try the book (also available as a DVD starring Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon) Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius by Dava Sobel. It's a nonfiction book that combines a little high seas adventure, British law, and the making of an extraordinary timepiece that would accurately determine longitude.

Karen said...

I received a lovely hardcover copy of A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book a few weeks ago and I'm dying to have the free time to dig into it. Her novel Possession is still probably my favorite ever, and I keep waiting for her to hit that magic vein again. Reviews are quite good for The Children's Book, and I'm hoping it makes the perfect fireside companion on a few wintry nights.

Jo said...

I read the Andrew Jackson biography by H. W. Brands a few years ago which I enjoyed. Most people associate Jackson with the infamous Trail of Tears and the Battle of New Orleans. He was much more complicated, of course. (Additionally, Joel, he fought a lot of duels. In truth, he is sort of a land-locked first cousin to the pirate.)

I am presently reading about two of my obsessions: the Beatles and Venice. I'm half way through Paul McCartney: a life by Peter Carlin which actually has information I have never read before about the Fab Four. Next is The Girl of My Dreams by Donna Leon. This series is a police procedural in Venice, so there's a little murder, then's there's a plate of pasta. Lastly, the Dalai Lama's The Universe in a Single Atom: the convergence of science and spirituality is on my nightstand. I find the Dalai Lama the most inspirational dude on the planet.

Roberta said...

Bad weather is when I seek out the authors I keep as treats, like Martha Grimes. Every book is a marvel of economical language, wrapped up in a compelling mystery and salted with memorable characters. So you can read several and not feel guilty.

I also have Shoptimism by Lee Eisenberg in my pile of Books To Be Read (BTBR), because we're surrounded by not-so-subtle messages about consuming and shopping, and I hear he's got some interesting things to say on that subject. It's the time of year when I tell everyone that they really should sit down and read Why We Buy by Paco Underhill.

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