Khadaji's Whatcha Reading Thread--June 2019 edition

Here is the June thread. I’m a little hesitant to start it myself since I don’t want to make it a habit, as I am rather busy here, am off the Board for days at a time and cannot guarantee I’ll be available when a new month starts. But what the heck, here it is for this month.

I hope everyone is having a good late spring / early summer. I guess it’s that time of year. Hard to keep it straight since it’s always late spring / early summer here.

I’m almost halfway through Freewheel: #HonoluluLaw, #FamousTriathlete, & a #Charity, by local attorney and writer Katharine M. Nohr, the second of her Tri Angles mystery trilogy and sequel to the first one, Land Sharks. Reading the author’s own copy that she’s loaned me.

Khadaji was one of the earlier members of SDMB, and he was well-known as a kindly person who always had something encouraging to say, particularly in the self improvement threads. He was also a voracious, omnivorous reader, who started these threads way back in the Stone Age of 2005. Consequently when he suddenly and quite unexpectantly passed away, January of 2013 we decided to rename this thread in his honor and to keep his memory, if not his ghost, alive.

Oops. Link to May thread

See? You don’t want me doing this.

Thanks, Siam Sam!

Still reading Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 bodysnatcher novel The Puppet Masters, which isn’t as good as I remember but is still a good read. The protagonist, an agent for a supersecret American security and espionage agency which reports directly to the President, has just married a fellow agent and gone on his honeymoon. It doesn’t go well, shall we say…

I’ve kind of bogged down in A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes by British scientist Adam Rutherford, but expect to return to it before long.

I started, then abandoned, What the Dead Know. I think it could have been a good book if the writer had kept the story tight, but she kept wandering off in different directions. The main premise was that a girl disappeared thirty years ago, and now a woman is claiming to be that missing girl, but refusing to share details. That was an interesting plot, but then the writer also wanted to explore what the girl’s mother was doing thirty years later, and what was going on in the sheriff’s life, etc., and all the side plots were so boring that it wasn’t worth plodding through to get back to the main storyline.

I read Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition. I thought about DNFing that one as well, but stuck with it and I’m glad I did. To reduce an incredibly informative book to a quick catchphrase, the gist of the book was that nutrition can improve your health in ways that drugs and supplementation can’t, but since there’s better funding for pharmaceutical research, we’re not properly educated on the benefits of nutrition. The author is a bitter old man, and this bitterness taints his writing, but if you can look past the bitterness, it’s an informative read.

I read Orange World and other Stories by Karen Russell, which I was fully expecting to love, and which I did. Russell is my favorite short story writer; she comes up with these insanely imaginative scenarios and writes about them so beautifully that the whole experience of reading her work feels surreal.

I’m halfway through The Woman in the Window. The beginning was great and really sucked me in, but the middle is kind of lagging, and I did some skim-reading last night. I’m sure I’ll finish the book, but I do hope the pace picks up again.

Also halfway through Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian by John Elder Robison. No complaints about this one; Robison is a humorous and engaging writer. It’s easy to get sucked into the stories he tells, and his unique perspective on life is intriguing to read.

Finished View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman, which I enjoyed, and has inspired me to read several things he recommends.

Now I’m reading Giants of Jazz by Studs Terkel.

I’m reading a short story collection by Sarah Pinsker, Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea. Collections are always uneven, but this one is pretty good so far. Some of the stories seem a little like pointless fragments of a larger tale, some are quite nice, and none have been boring yet.

I’m less than halfway through Uncommon Type: Some Stories, by Tom Hanks (yes, *that *Tom Hanks). I’m…disappointed. The writing is good enough, but the stories are dull. So far, when each one has ended I’ve found myself wondering what the point was. Dung Beetle’s “pointless fragments of a larger tale” description applies. I keep reading, though, figuring that the next one might be (has to be) better. If I hit the halfway point with no improvement in the storytelling, I might just abandon this book. I’ve already started to think of reading it as something I have to do vs want to do. I still love Tom Hanks, but I kind of wonder if this collection would have gotten published if the author were anyone else.

Re reading Band of Brothers…don’t know why.

Was on the road over the weekend and managed to finish three books - the fictionalized story of the C.S.S. Hunley, John Gardner’s Grendel (which disappointed me), and The Penguin Book of Hell, which was a hoot. I’d always wanted to read the Vision of Tundale. I started Tales of the Marvellous and Strange, an Arabic collection of fantasy stories almost contemporary with the much-better-known 1001 Nights. There is a tiny bit of overlap.

On audio I am, against my better instincts, indulging in the latest of Preston and Child’s Agent Pendergast stories, Verses for the Dead. At least they did something interesting by saddling the independently wealthy FBI agent with an unwanted partner, but I have the annoying feeling that they’re field-testing the partner for a spinoff series.

I thought it was a pretty good tale, especially since I’ve lowered my expectations of Preston & Child in recent years. I give it extra points for being a stand-alone story and not including any of the abysmal Pendergast family Gothic soap opera drama.

Last night I abandoned the Tom Hanks collection; at least, temporarily. I just couldn’t take the pointless stories anymore.

I decided to (finally) start reading Tina Fey’s autobiography, Bossypants. I’m only a few essays in (just past the point where the sample ended and I decided to buy the book), but already I have a feeling like she might be trying too hard. Anecdotes keep being set up like they’re super funny, but…they aren’t. I’ll definitely keep reading, but I’m not sure I can handle consecutive literary disappointments from celebrities I like and admire. Has anyone read this and can tell me it gets better? :slight_smile:

I’m up for a new series, and the first book in this one – Relic – sounds like a possibly interesting mixed legal/supernatural thriller. Do y’all think the earlier books in the series are worth checking out? Is it just the more recent ones that have you less-than-enthused?

I’ve always hated the “gothic soap opera drama” that Rough Draft wrote of, but mostly because it a.) runs on interminably, and b.) involves something that I hate, the ultracapable and damned near omniscient villain (who is also virtually another cliché besides that, an Evil Twin).

Pendergast isn’t front and center in Relic (which I liked*, for the most part) and Reliquary (which wasn’t anywhere near as good). His stand-alone novels are over-the-top guilty pleasures, like Clive Cussler novels.
I don’t recommend Crimson Shore, by the way. It feels as if they exhausted their story before they got to the end of their word count, and so felt compelled to tack on Something Completely Different to pad out the book, so they rewrote part of [Still Life with Crows and shoehorned it in.

*As I’ve mentioned before, Preston used to work for the American Museum of Natural History, managing editor for Curator and a columnist for Natural History and author of a history of the AMNH, and Relic feels like his daydream about a monster getting loose in the vaults in the museum’s basement. He’s gotten close to that idea in some of his other novels, too.

Preston & Child know how to write a captivating tale, so you may find all of their books worth reading, even the ones with the bizarre Pendergast family plot lines. For me personally, the Pendergast series peaked at about Cemetery Dance, because it was followed by a three volume story (Fever Dream, Cold Vengeance, Two Graves) that I found so frustrating I almost wished I’d never read them. After that, though, I did like several stories quite a bit, such as White Fire and City of Endless Night, and the latest one.

Also, I think some of the non-Pendergast books are very good. I especially enjoyed Thunderhead and Riptide. Like CalMeacham said, they’re similar to Clive Cussler novels (except IMO they’re much better written).

The Preston & Child website ( has lots of interesting stuff, including capsule descriptions of all their books.

Finished Giants of Jazz by Studs Terkel, which I enjoyed. My brother’s a jazz fan, and he used to play jazz records for me, but I didn’t really appreciate them. After reading this book, I went on YouTube and listed to them again. Good stuff.

Now I’m reading The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. Enjoying it so far.

Thanks, CalMeacham and Rough Draft!

I’m a jazz singer, and that book has been in my queue for a while (because it’s not available for Kindle); good to know that even a non-jazz-fan enjoyed it! :slight_smile:

I’ve been rereading my entire Doc Savage collection, selecting the books at random. When I’m done, I think I’m going to read Polybius’ The Rise of the Roman Republic.

Got to read 1984 finally. It sucks … Book is great, it is classic, I can see why. But I don’t really enjoy reading classics. I struggle to find right word why not - they tend to be overspoiled, or hyperspoiled. That one in particular. To many back references … It is agony to read it properly.

So far in June I have finished Have His Carcase (1932) by Dorothy L. Sayers and The Franchise Affair (1948) by Josephine Tey. In the May thread I expressed my lack of enthusiasm for Sayers (so talented but so long-winded!), so I’ll skip over her book and just say that The Franchise Affair was a huge breath of fresh air after Sayers’ meanderings. Tey was an extremely gifted author, and this book was a complete pleasure to read. The plot concerns two upper-class but impoverished English women who are accused of kidnapping a young girl of humble means and forcing her to be their maid for a month before she’s able to escape. The mystery aspect of the story isn’t really whether the girl is lying; it’s all about how the women will be able to prove they’re innocent.

And that’s where I think Tey missed an opportunity to make this a truly great novel. Allowing the villain to be known (or at least confidently assumed) from the beginning removes any ambiguity on that point; I think leaving some uncertainty would have made the plot richer and more complex. Also, the villain is woefully underdeveloped as a character. Making her more than a cardboard cutout representing the “inferior” and presumably immoral lower classes of England at the time would have made the book much more nuanced (and it also would have gotten Tey off the hook from the charges of classism and snobbishness that she actually kind of deserves, at least in this particular novel).

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union Michael Chabon

Reviving my ambition to read all of the Hugo awards novels…

The book is a mystery/alternate history. The AH is that during World War 2, part of Alaska was set aside for Jewish refugees, and by 2000 the region of Sitka is a mostly Jewish, Yiddish-speaking autonomous part of the United States, but is about, ominously, to revert to full American control.

The mystery is a police procedural around the murder of an elderly chess champion fallen on hard times and drug addiction.

It’s a bit of a challenge to read for someone not well-versed in Jewish culture, but I am really enjoying it. The author really creates a believable world full of hardboiled, cynical characters. My only quibble is that it could be a bit shorter than its 400 pages.

For another excellent alt-hist murder mystery, zimaane, try Robert Harris’s Fatherland. In April 1964, an SS criminal investigator looks into the recent deaths of several senior Nazi Party officials in and and around Berlin, just before Hitler’s 75th birthday and a high-profile summit meeting with President Joseph Kennedy. Chillingly good, both as alt-hist and a mystery.

I finished Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. Not nearly as good as I remembered, and the protagonist is much more of a jerk than I remembered, too.

Just started Stephen Ambrose’s Nothing Like It In The World, a history of the building of the US Transcontinental Railroad. I know about the many early criticisms about its accuracy and am taking it with a grain of salt, but it’s an interesting tale.