From the "Who asked You?" Department, it's
Larry's Top 10 Fave Reads for 1999
- All Men Are Mortal, Simone de Beauvoir
(translated by Leonard M. Friedman)
Before I read this book, I believed that my life was basically
meaningless--no matter what I did, I'd lose everything when I
died. This book pointed out the fundamental fallacy, the
short-sightedness of my belief. This book demonstrated that
life would be meaningless even if one could live forever. It's
the story of someone who does just that. In his quest for
meaning, he turns to politics, to love, to art, to accomplishment,
to philosophy, to wisdom. Nothing helps. In spite of this, it's
a fun read.
- The Jain's Death, Patrick Farley
Patrick Farley's Electric Sheep is
probably my favorite web comic, and The Jain's Death is probaby
my favorite e-sheep story from 1999. A Jain nun goes up against some tough foes.
Then things get really weird, reminding me of... have you read any of
Moebius' stories where he tries to get all mystical? And you sort of
have to tune out the story, but the pictures are still pretty? This
story gets like that.
- Black Rain, Masuji Ibuse (translated by John Bester)
This year I went on a sort of atomic tour of New Mexico. I visited
some Manhattan Project sites. I learned about the
people who designed the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This
was an awful accomplishment--grand and brutal. I caught myself starting
to get caught up in the grand side of things, so I read Black Rain,
a story of bomb survivors. It reminded me of the brutality of large-scale
bombing quite effectively.
- Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac
There was a time before Zen had entered California's
culture. There was a time when
Buddhism was still exotic in Berkeley, at least among its
white people. This book transported me back to that day,
buoyed along by Keroauc's poetic stylings.
- Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
This year, I read two novels about families of tough people who
act tough with one another. One of those was Postcards.
It was by E. Annie Proulx, so I expected really terrible
things to happen to all of its characters. (And they did.)
The other such book was Sometimes a Great Notion.
It was by Ken Kesey, and I hadn't read anything by him, so
I didn't know what to expect. So when the whole family situation
melted down into a really messed up tale of love and revenge,
I was viciously surprised.
- Joe Jones, Anne Lamott
I don't read self-help books; I read Anne Lamott novels instead.
They're all about dealing with personal difficulties and helping
friends who are dealing with personal difficulties. Like this
book--I'm still not sure what its story line is, or if it has
one. There's a group of friends, they have their problems. They
talk about their problems, they deal with their problems, they
don't deal with their problems. They do stupid things in the way
that people do stupid things. I emerged from this book better able
to deal with life.
- Modern Meat, Orville Schell
The hippies and luddites are screaming about bovine growth
hormone and the filth of modern swine farming, giving the
impression that these things will wipe out all life on earth in a
generation. The meat industry says that everything it does is
perfectly safe. This book describes some investigative
journalism to uncover the truth between these extremes. We learn
about illegal use of low-level antibiotics--perhaps putting more
meat on a beast, definitely encouraging antibiotic-resistant
diseases. We see what happens when bovine growth hormone escapes
from its packaging before it can be put inside a cow. We see a
laboratory of scents and tastes where researchers make cattle
feed taste better. We learn of the strange ubiquity of
reconstituted meats. I don't trust the strident hippies; I don't
trust sleazy meat PR flacks. I trust these stories.
- The Code Book, Simon Singh
I have a confession. Though I am a computer geek, I never
really understood the thinking behind RSA encryption or
public/private key encryption. Everything I knew about
cryptography was stuff I'd learned from David Kahn's The
Codebreakers, and that only really covered stuff up
to World War II. My friend Ron works at
amazon.com and ordered
this book through their internal ordering system. Due to
some glitch, he received four copies. He gave me one, and
I read it. It taught me about RSA and public/private key
systems. I'm not ready to run out and implement these things,
but I have the level of knowledge I expect to get out of a
popularized science book.
- Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
You've probably already read this book.
I mean, if you're looking at this web page, you're probably
either a web-indexing robot or else a friend of mine. If
you fall into the latter category, you probably already read
Cryptonomicon and liked it. So why should I waste
my time writing up a blurb for it?
- Standing By and Making Do: Women of Wartime Los Alamos, Jane S. Wilson and Charlotte Serber, Editors
- I read a few anthologies of first-person accounts of life in
Manhattan-Project-era Los Alamos this year. This one was my
favorite. The USA government was doing its best to keep the existence
of atomic research secret. Thus, physicists from all over the USA and
England were plunked down into the middle of the desert, along with a
huge support staff. Some aspects of this exile were easy; some were
- Be Sweet, Roy Blount Jr.
One of the USA's funniest authors tries to come to
grips with the idea that his mother was depressed
for most of her life. You'll laugh out loud while
thinking to yourself, "Oh my gracious, that must
have been very sad."
- Power System Safety Manual, Department of Energy, Western Area Power Administration
I liked this book because it taught me of the existence of "hot stick"
work. Maybe every power lineperson in the world knows about hot stick
work, but it was new to me. The idea is that if you're working on a
power line and that line is live, then you don't want to touch it with
your hands, not even if you're wearing gloves. So you use a hooked
stick. But this isn't any ordinary stick--it's a "hot stick". It's
made from non-conducting material. As part of its maintenance, you must
keep crud off of it--in case the crud might conduct electricity. When
you clean the crud off of it, you need to make sure that any cleaning
substance you use won't leave behind a conducting residue.
- Maggie Cassidy, Jack Kerouac
Earlier this year, I travelled to Lowell, MA. Jack Kerouac
grew up there. There was a monument there that gave me the
impression that Kerouac had set some of his stories in Pawtucketville,
a thinly disguised Lowell. The monument made clear that Pawtucketville
is the name of a neighborhood of Lowell. Then I read Maggie Cassidy,
a story that's set in Lowell. And the story calls Lowell "Lowell" and
Pawtucketville is obviously a neighborhood in Lowell. So I don't know
whether I mis-read the monument or what.
- Moby Dick, Herman Melville
I enjoyed reading Moby Dick. I think that this is partly because
I felt free to skip over parts of it. The book begins with lots
and lots of quotes from literature and the bible--the quotes mention
whales and whaling. I decided that Melville couldn't possibly want
me to read all of those quotes--most of them were pretty dull. I
decided that he just wanted to make the point that whaling, for all
of its proletarian nature, was still fit subject for literature.
So I skimmed that part. I enjoyed reading Moby Dick. I think it
helped that I had just learned a lot about whaling during my travels
in the towns surrounding Boston. People will tell you that you don't
need to know about whaling before you read Moby Dick, because
it will explain everything that there is to know. I call bullsh*t
on that. Moby Dick will pretend to explain whaling. Really,
it just says a lot of lyrical nonsense which sounds pretty and
demonstrates that Melville knew something about whaling. Do not
think that you will learn about whaling from this book. In fact,
I'd bet that this book is pretty irritating to people who read it
without first knowing something about sailing or whaling. But
I enjoyed reading Moby Dick.
- My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki
If you took part of Modern Meat and turned it into a novel,
and tossed in some information about American meat press relations
(a hobby of mine (no, really)), this would be it. I would have
enjoyed this novel more of I hadn't already read Modern Meat,
and if I didn't spend so much time reading meat PR web sites.
Ozeki's thunder was stolen.
- Harry Potter vols. 1-3, J.K. Rowling
I read the first three Harry Potter books and they were okay.
They had adventure and excitement and really wild things and
candy, which were all very nice. There was an irritating thing
about them--the protagonist is definitely someone special.
I can imagine reading this as an impressionable youngster and
thinking, It's okay if I never try to do anything exciting:
my birth wasn't heralded by prophecy and lightning storms.
This book made me want to hunt through used book
stores in search of Five Children and It, an old book
about a bunch of siblings who encounter some ancient Greek
mythical creature called a Psammead. These children were quite
ordinary, but they didn't let that prevent them from having
magical adventures and being as cowardly or brave as the
situation called for.
- Longitude, Dava Sobel
This book has it all: celestial navigation, wooden ships, wooden
clocks, biography of an obsessive inventor, that Maskelyn
guy, treachery, and a discussion of time zones.
- Little Gloomy,
Landry Walker and Eric Jones
I feel a little nervous putting this comic book onto my list
of fave reads--so far, only one issue has come out. It shows
lots of potential. Young versions of your favorite movie
monsters wander around and complain about their relationship
problems. The only character who has his act together is
a hairy guy named Larry. (He's hairy because he's a werewolf,
but I identify with him anyhow.)
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