Hi Again; Some Reading Recommendations for the Holiday Season

Lynne Kiesling

Hi! How are you? I’m well, thanks. Long time no chat.

Frankly, I’ve been tired, and have had too many work obligations stretching me in too many disparate directions. This has been bad for my KP writing, because much of what is happening with electricity regulation and policy right now is ripe for economic analysis, but what I want to say is too involved for the mental bandwidth I currently have available. Couple that with the uncivilized and vitriolic turn that online economics discussion has taken in climate, financial markets, etc. (e.g., the links that Jonathan Adler put in his “Climate McCarthyism” post at Volokh; for the record, I agree almost entirely with Jonathan on this subject), and my generalized anger about current government policy and its likely directions, and I haven’t had much that I wanted to contribute here.

Also, much of what has captured my passion and attention (over the past several months, not just the past month since my last post) involves cycling and triathlon training; I could go on and on, but probably in ways that would bore everyone! One thing, though: I have been reading Chi Running to improve my running form and speed, and now I am reading Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run. I have not been bitten by the barefoot running trend, but McDougall’s tale of the running prowess of Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians is a really, really good read. McDougall weaves a great tale, part anthropology, part travel narrative, part adventure story about the personalities who participate in ultramarathon races in the US. Even if you’re not a runner you may enjoy his well-told tale.

Along these lines … as it’s getting toward the end of the year and we are all looking for gifts and for engaging reading for the holidays to divert us from the strains and stresses of too many long days traveling and visiting with family, a few different “best book” lists have caught my eye. The first list is the candidates for the Man Booker Prize, which was given in October to Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall, her novel about Henry VIII’s right-hand man Thomas Cromwell. I happened to be in London the weekend before the prize was given, and I caught a review show on BBC in which three reviewers gave their recommendations and synopses of each book, and they all sounded well worth reading. Mantel’s writing in particular is right up my alley because I love historical fiction that is both literary (with good character development) and reflects accurate and nuanced historical research; her earlier novel set in the French Revolution, A Place Of Greater Safety, also sounds great. In both books, the reviewers indicate that Mantel couples history research with character development that amounts to hypotheses about the motives and roles of historical characters who are opaque to us now.

Another Man Booker finalist was A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, a historical narrative set in late-19th century England. I have been a Byatt fan for a long, long time; I think of her writing style as chromatic, because much of the time she writes in such lyrical detail that I see colors in my mind (and no, I don’t think I have synaesthesia!). The only exception is her Babel Tower, which didn’t hang together or cohere at all. Other than Babel Tower, Byatt is a master of the complex, interwoven, often time-shifting parallel plot structure.

Byatt’s book (and Wolf Hall) featured on both of the “best of” lists that I saw. First, Amazon’s best 100 books of 2009. This list is pretty fiction-heavy, but also includes some memoirs, some history, some biography, and other nonfiction. Through looking at this list I discovered that Colson Whitehead has a new novel, Sag Harbor, that is set in 1985 and includes a lot of references to music that is near and dear to my heart! Whitehead’s The Intuitionist was a great read, and I have John Henry Days but haven’t read it yet. Another book on the list that stood out to me is Terry Teachout’s Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong. Terry Teachout is the wonderful reviewer and cultural commentator from the Wall Street Journal, and Louis Armstrong is, well, Louis Armstrong. ’nuff said.

The Amazon list also includes Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind The Craft Of Everyday Cooking, which I’ve been meaning to get for some time. If you like to cook but are nervous about straying from pre-determined recipes, Ruhlman’s book can help unleash your culinary creativity. And Born To Run is on there too, at #85. All in all, I was really impressed with the Amazon list; almost all of the books on it that I haven’t read caught my attention.

The other good “best of” list I saw was The Atlantic’s top 25 books of the year, which leaned in a more historical and nonfiction direction. I love reading history. Love, love. Their top recommendation is Burlingame’s Abraham Lincoln: A Life, weighing in at 2,024 pages. Another one that caught my eye was the revised edition of Parker’s The Thirty Years’ War.

I’ve been reading a lot of Adam Smith, David Hume, and analyses of Smith and Hume this fall, and I’m looking for a different direction for the holidays. The KP Spouse has read Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies, which he classifies as an entertaining and diverting read. So my draft reading list for the holidays is Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies; Wolf Hall; The Children’s Book; Sag Harbor, A Place Of Greater Safety; John Henry Days. I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish all of that by January, but I look forward to trying!

What are your (fiction and nonfiction) reading recommendations?

4 thoughts on “Hi Again; Some Reading Recommendations for the Holiday Season

  1. Here’s my suggestion: ask a friend to lend you his/her favorite book. (you have to promise that you will NOT diss it; perhaps they can tell you about their top three favs and then you can choose the most promising one…)

    There are a LOT of good books out there, and the “old” ones are just fine — because we NEVER read them all πŸ™‚

    (OTOH, some old but good non fiction is too outdated to read…)

  2. Robert Harris “Pompeii” – excellent historical thriller about a Roman aqueduct engineer at the time of the eription of Vesuvius.

    Bill Hayes “The Anatomist” – An exploarion of the writing of Gray’s Anatomy interspersed with accounts of the author’s participation in dissection classes at UCSF

    Walter Mosley “Blonde Faith” – return of Easy Rawlins – not the best of Mosley, but everything he writes is worth reading

    Lucas Delattre – “A Spy at the Heart of the Third Reich” – a French jouranlist re-tells the story of Allen Dulles’ coup in developing a relationship with a low-level clerk who rose to become a prize source at the heart of the German Foreign office during World War 2.

  3. Good to have you back. I don’t do a whole lot of reading–beyond this and other similar blogs πŸ˜‰ –so I don’t have much to offer there.

  4. Thanks for the recommendations and the kind wishes!

    Another author the KP Spouse is really digging right now is Christopher Moore. Very dry wit.

Comments are closed.