A few of my favorite books

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A love affair with books

An appetizer: "Reading, meanwhile, is an activity subsequent to writing —
more resigned, more civil, more intellectual."
— Jorge Luis Borges, Buenos Aires, 1935,
from the preface to the first edition of A Universal History of Iniquity

Right brain

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas AdamsYa gotta love this vision of our "utterly insignificant little blue-green planet…."

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.
   Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

Harmony Books, New York, 1979

Iain M. Banks, Culture Series
narrated by Peter KennyCovers of the five books in the Culture Series written by Iain M. Banks and narrrated by Peter Kenny

There's nothing else quite like the stories in the Culture Series by the late Iain M. Banks. The breadth and depth of his imagination is simply astonishing, reaching to the far corners of the galaxy and to dimensions beyond. His stories are deadly serious, revolving around the greatest of clashes of cosmic cultures intertwined with the most intimate intrigues of individuals. Yet he also paints them with deft strokes of humor, especially in how he depicts his artificial intelligences, beings with capabilities far in advance of the humanoid creatures they adventure alongside, creatures they often seem fond of and at the same time just barely tolerate, often with much virtual eye rolling and apparent boredom.

Peter Kenny's performance of these stories is pitch perfect. He pulls us into this enormous tapestry with an amazing range of voices that deftly portray the wide array of colorful personalities populating the vast reaches of these space operas. There are more books in the loosely joined Culture Series, but Kenny's sublime telling of these five tales creates a series within the series, a fun 79-hour romp worth listening to as a whole: Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, The Use of Weapons, Surface Detail, and The Hydrogen Sonata.

Hatchette Audio, 2011 – 2013
Books originally published by Macmillan and Orbit, London, 1987 - 2012

Daniel James Brown, Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II

Facing the Mountain by Daniel James BrownVery well narrated by Louis Ozawa

Incredible book. Amazing story. Mainly focused on Katsugo "Kats" Miho, Fred Shiosaki, and Rudy Tokiwa, boys from Hawai'i and stateside who enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor was bombed and served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a highly decorated infantry regiment in the United States Army comprised of Americans of Japanese ancestry; as well as Gordon Hirabayashi, a Quaker who was a conscientious objector and fought for the civil and constitutional rights of Japanese Americans, choosing to go to prison rather than compromise his beliefs. Also tells the stories of their families and friends who were torn from their lives and forced into American concentration camps where they were interned even if they were American citizens because they were of Japanese ancestry, as well as some of the soldiers they served alongside.

Penguin Random House Audio, 2021, Libro.fm⩘ 

John Burdett, Bangkok 8

Bangkok 8 by John BurdettAs with Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park and Peter Høeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow, when you read this book you have to keep in mind that you are reading the writings of an outsider to a culture who is pretending to be the most intimate of insiders. In each case, the author is able to pull it off because the insider is him or herself an outsider within their own society, and as part of their story, they cast their eyes on us, the outsiders … voyeurs even, who are trying to catch a glimpse of the secret flesh of another culture.

Keeping this in mind—in other words, understanding that the secret flesh we see is ourselves reflected in a mirror—permits us to enjoy books like this for what they are, tremendously entertaining fiction. I love rereading books like this because the mystery is gone and I can focus on the nuances of the characters. And of course in a story like this, one of the most important characters is the place itself.

Knopf, New York, 2003

Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

Out of Africa by Isak DinesenThe baroness looks at Africa and sees. One of the most beautifully written books I have come across in my life. This is the part of Africa not unlike the one I visited; the story has provoked a reawakening of my memories, especially those of the senses:

There were low thorn trees regularly spread over the plain, and long deep valleys with dry riverbeds of big flat stones, where you had to find a deer-path here and there to take you across. After a little while you became aware of how still it was out here. Now, looking back on my life in Africa, I feel that it might altogether be described as the experience of a person who had come from a rushed and noisy world, into a still country.

Modern Library, New York, 1983

Lindsey Drager, The Archive of Alternate Endings

The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager

Over the last few years, my focus has shifted from primarily reading books to listening to audiobooks. When there is a good narrator, I prefer the atmosphere of storytelling that an audiobook can so vividly convey. However, once in awhile I come across a book that intrigues me but isn't available as an audiobook, as is the case here when I initially came across a review of it by Ian Mond in Locus⩘ .

I went ahead and ordered a copy from the publisher, and I'm glad I read it as it touched me deeply. It is at the same time a small book and an immense story. Several themes give the story its continuity—the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel; what happens to oral stories when they are captured on paper; the deep bonds of siblings—as it bounces back and forth across the centuries from 1378 to 2365, providing glimpses into the lives of its characters that coincide with the periodic visit to Earth by Halley's comet. No story has ever made me feel more clearly the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the hatred and ignorance it stirred up in some people, and at the same time, the grace it brought forth in others.

This is a powerful and beautifully written story.

What are words without a heart beating behind them?

Dzanc Books⩘ , 2019

Louise Erdrich, The Antelope Wife

Antelope Wife by Louise ErdrichA storyteller drawing from a deep well of wisdom, she tells an immense tale of challenging complexity. It is the story of us:

Cecille, she sat down for lunch with me. First thing, she gets the salt shaker. She salts before she tastes. I have read that's a habit can lose you a job in an interview lunch. This salting before tasting is supposed to indicate some kind of think-ahead deficiency. Some lack. Me, I think different. To my mind, the pre-salting indicates this notion that the world is automatically too bland for Cecille. Something has to be done, in big and little ways, to liven things up and bring out all the hidden flavors. Something has to be done to normal everyday life, time spent, to heighten and color the hours, to sprinkle interest.
   As salt is to food, so lying is to experience.
   Or not lying, that sounds too bald. How about sprucing up, spicing, embellishing reality? That's better.

Harper Flamingo, New York, 1998

Simon Goodwin, Hubble's Universe: A Portrait of Our Cosmos

Hubble's Universe by Simon GoodwinAh, the perspective of looking back in time billions of light years and seeing stars being born.

Penguin Studio, New York, 1997

G.I. Gurdjieff, Meetings with Remarkable Men

Meetings with Remarkable Men by G.I. Gurdjieff

And so I begin, also of course for the purpose of resting, to wiseacre a little….

E. P. Dutton, New York, 1963

Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

Homegoing by Yaa GyasiPowerfully narrated by Dominic Hoffman

This debut novel by Ghanaian-American Yaa Gyasi is stunning. The perception and insight she shares of her characters, their places, and the sweep of historical issues she covers suggests decades of astute observation, yet she was in her mid-20s when she wrote and published this book. Obviously, she has inherited and integrated the wisdom of generations of her ancestors.

Random House Audio, 2016, Libro.fm⩘ 

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha learned something new on every step of his path, for the world was transformed and he was enthralled.

New Directions, New York, 1951

Ruth Beebe Hill and Chunksa Yuha, Hanta Yo

Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe Hill and Chunksa Yuha

"Hanta yo; wakanya hibu welo"—"Clear the way; in a wonderful manner I come." "Maka kin le mitawa, ca hibu welo"—"I own the earth and so I come."

Doubleday, New York, 1979

Peter Høeg, Smilla's Sense of Snow

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter HøegI return to this book from time to time. The pleasure, for me, is in the details, and each time I read it more slowly, dwelling on the nuances Høeg reveals through Smilla.

I feel the same way about solitude as some people feel about the blessings of the church. It's the light of grace for me. I never close my door behind me without the awareness that I am carrying out an act of mercy toward myself.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1993

John Irving, The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules by John IrvingAn intelligently compassionate and emotionally rich perusal of living in a morally complex environment, overcoming personal failures, and discovering inner strengths.

William Morrow, New York, 1985

Zeyn Joukhadar, The Map of Salt and Stars

The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn JoukhadarExquisitely read by Lara Sawalha

I'm so grateful to have come across this book.

"Like the old tales you like," she says, smiling with the good times in her eyes, the times when we had Baba. "You have to weave two stories together to tell them both right." She presses her palms together, then opens them. "Like two hands."

Zeyn Joukhadar is a tremendously talented storyteller. This wondrous book vividly reveals the story of a modern-day Syrian family from the point of view of Nour, the youngest daughter, woven together with the story of Rawiya, a girl who lived 800 years previously. Both girls have recently lost their fathers.

Nour, along with her mother and her two sisters, leave New York City, where Nour was born and raised, to travel to their old home in Homs, Syria. Shortly after they arrive, war breaks out, their home is destroyed, and they are forced to become refugees. The story follows their perilous journey across an often war torn region as they attempt to make their way to Nour's uncle, who lives in Ceuta.

Rawiya leaves her impoverished mother and home, disguises herself as a boy named Rami, and strikes out on her own to find her way in the world. She finds a place as a mapmaker's apprentice, and they set out on an equally perilous journey across the region in order to map it for the first time.

In their unique ways, both girls are gifted and discover within themselves deep wells of strength and courage as they deal with the multitude of challenges they encounter during their travels.

The stories reveal the tremendous beauty of the region, and at the same time, the horrendous ways refugees are treated, as well as the gifts we stand to gain if we open our hearts enough to view them as unique individuals who deserve, at the very least, to be treated with the dignity of fellow human beings.

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2018

Jaroslav Kalfař, Spaceman of Bohemia

Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav KalfařVery well narrated by Jot Davies

Aha! I read for rare moments like this, when such a book materializes in my universe.

I had traveled through Space, I had seen truths unparalleled, but still, in this Earthly life, I had barely seen anything at all. Something rests in the mortal soul, hungry to feel anything and everything in its own boundless depths. As boundless and ever-expanding as the universe itself.

I also like the way Kalfař begins and finishes his acknowledgements: "I'd like to thank: My country and my people. For their resilience, wisdom, art, food—and their humor in the face of great adversity.… Most importantly, I'd like to thank all readers of books, for keeping the conversation alive across centuries."

Little, Brown & Company, 2017, Libro.fm⩘ ; Back Bay Books, 2018, Bookshop.org⩘ 

William Kamkwamba, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Co-authored by Bryan Mealer; delightfully narrated by Chike Johnson

William Kamkwamba grew up in the small, rural village of Wimbe, Malawi in a farming family that got by at a subsistence level. In 2002, when he was a young teenager, Malawi was hit by a severe drought, and he and his family came close to starving to death. Afterwards, they could no longer afford to send him to secondary school, yet his passion for learning continued to drive him, and his experience with the drought inspired him to focus his creative genius on figuring out how to create windwills from physics books he borrowed from his three-shelf local library, in order to provide his family with electricity and a way to pump water. Scraping together an assortment of parts from the local junkyard and just about anywhere else he could find them, and against all odds, he succeeded.

I read about William years ago, but hadn't come across his book until just recently. It's wonderful to read his whole story, to gain the context of what growing up in Wimbe was like, to become better acquainted with the challenges he faced: grinding poverty, a culture of superstition that often stood opposed to science and education, and a political climate that was often nefarious and corrupt. Understanding this shines a light on how truly remarkable his journey has been.

Now a recent graduate of Dartmouth, William is already an accomplished speaker, giving talks around the world, and is also doing incredible work to help improve life in his family's village and throughout the surrounding Kasungu district. He's also inspiring people everywhere to reach higher.

Related TED talk: How I harnessed the wind⩘ .

Harper Audio, 2009

Ryszard Kapuściński, The Shadow of the Sun

The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard KapuścińskiTo read Ryszard Kapuściński is to touch—and feel—life.

   I arrived in Kumasi with no particular goal. Having one is generally deemed a good thing, the benefit of something to strive toward. This can also blind you, however: you see only your goal, and nothing else, while this something else—wider, deeper—may be considerably more interesting and important.

And this is the way to approach a book by Ryszard Kapuściński, with no particular goal, but simply allowing him to take you on a journey into the heart and soul of the land through which he is wandering. He sees where many simply look, smells where many simply breathe, experiences what many simply pass by.

Knopf, New York, 2001

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

The book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer showing three strands of golden and green-hued sweetgrass braids running horizontally across the cover on a light yellow background with the title and author between two of the strands.Beautifully narrated by the author

After I came across an article talking about how the book has become an international bestseller and Robin Wall Kimmerer a sought after speaker, I was reminded of the sweet wisdom of this book and decided to listen again. Good choice.

Robin Wall Kimmerer lovingly shares her unique perspective: a wholistic synthesis of Native American wisdom about our living earth as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation combined with the scientific insight of a botanist and microbiologist with a PhD in Plant Ecology. She is an American Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology, and her graceful ability to teach lives in this book for any reader willing to open their learner's mind.

   In the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital, or natural resources. But to our people, it was everything: identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us. Our lands were where our responsibility to the world was enacted, sacred ground. It belonged to itself; it was a gift, not a commodity, so it could never be bought or sold.

An essential book in this time of worldwide environmental destruction and the consequent climate change.

   The fork in the road stands atop a hill. To the left the path is soft and green and spangled with dew. You want to go barefoot.
   The path to the right is ordinary pavement, deceptively smooth at first, but then it drops out of sight into the hazy distance. Just over the horizon, it is buckled with heat, broken to jagged shards.…
   I worry who will get to the crossroads first, who will make the choices for us all.

   The earth gives away for free the power of wind and sun and water, but instead we break open the earth to take fossil fuels. Had we taken only that which is given to us, had we reciprocated the gift, we would not have to fear our own atmosphere today.

Author's website: Robin Wall Kimmerer⩘ 

As a writer and a scientist, her interests in restoration include not only restoration of ecological communities, but restoration of our relationships to land.

Milkweed Editions, 2015; audiobook: Tantor Media, 2016; IndieBound⩘ 

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara KingsolverAn incredible read, as are all of her books; I am particularly grateful for this book as it helped me to relax into a new level of understanding and acceptance of how my year in Africa still shapes my life more than two decades later.

Let me claim that Africa and I kept company for a while and then parted ways, as if we were both party to relations with a failed outcome. Or say I was afflicted with Africa like a bout of rare disease, from which I have not managed a full recovery.

Harper Flamingo, New York, 1998

Gary Larson, There's a Hair in My Dirt!

There's a Hair in My Dirt! by Gary LarsonThis guy is so funny, and has such a shrewd eye.

See you soon!

Harper Collins, New York, 1998

Hervé Le Tellier, The Anomaly

The Anomaly by Hervé Le TellierTranslated by Adriana Hunter; well narrated by Dominic Hoffman

Absolutely brilliant.

And when I say you are dreaming,
I am dreaming, too.
– Zhuangzi

I found it helpful to have a list of the main characters to refer to as I was listening: The Anomaly (novel): Characters⩘ 

Penguin Random House Audio, 2021, Libro.fm⩘ ; Other Press (NY), 2021, Bookshop.org⩘ 

Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan LethemIntense, insightful, funny, stylish, smooth. If ya don't wanna take my word for it, then put an egg in your shoe and beat it.

Doubleday, New York, 1999

Stephen Markley, The Deluge

Book cover of The Deluge by Stephen Markley showing sunlit blue sky with a few whispy clouds and a big rip running down the top half of the sky.Incredibly well narrated by Corey Brill, Danny Campbell, Gibson Frazier, Stephen Graybill, Soneela Nankani, Joy Osmanski, Melissa Redmond, Aida Reluzco, André Santana, Neil Shah, Aven Shore, Shakira Shute, Pete Simonelli & Shaun Taylor-Corbett.

Amazing novel, certainly among the very best I've come across.

The story revolves around climate change, told through the experiences of a fairly large cast of characters who have seven very different points of view.

The story begins in 2013 and progresses through the late 2030s, weaving between moments of the mundanity of everyday life, soaring descriptions of exquisite poetic vision, deep explorations of the science of climate change, passages of impassioned activism, sections of stomach churning political machinations, and segments of sheer heart-stopping terror. It paints a bleak, though I think entirely realistic picture of what we are headed towards in the coming years. Even amongst the vividly described devastation of earth-shattering natural calamities, the extreme violence perpetrated by both terrorists and governments, and the dire life threatening climate challenges that all but the very rich are forced to try to cope with, the story ultimately has the hopeful message that it is possible, even if it looks nearly impossible, that we can come together and tackle this existential crisis that we have created and continue to cause to accelerate.

Even if we succeed, it'll be generations before the emergency ends. I think we have to be at peace with that.

The Deluge inspired me to write the longest review I've ever produced, which is posted on its own page: Extended review of The Deluge by Stephen Markley⩘ .

Simon & Schuster, 2023; audiobook: Simon & Schuster Audio, 2023; IndieBound⩘ 

Zachary Mason, Void Star

Void Star by Zachary MasonSkillfully performed by Cassandra Campbell, Tristan Morris, Sean Pratt, and Michael Braun

As I was listening to chapter 11 of this book, Theater, a couple hours into the story, I was struck by the lyrical beauty of the description of the interaction between Irina, a woman with an exceptional and risky augmented memory, and an AI.¹ I started the chapter over in order to listen more carefully, and was then struck by what an extraordinary story I was listening to.

I listen to and read a lot of books. Some are okay, others bore me, a few I don't finish, and once in awhile I come across one like this, delightfully imaginative and intelligent. Wanting to ensure that I was tuned into all of the important plot lines, I started the book over again, listening more carefully to the unfolding story. At the same time, I purchased the ebook so I could read some of the passages that particularly captivated me.

I found this a challenging book, something I appreciate. I had to work to keep up, sometimes not quite sure what was happening until it would click into place a bit further along. As I finished the book, I realized I will set it aside for a bit and then listen to it again so that I can more fully appreciate the nuances of the story having the perspective of a better understanding of the general outline of the story's journey.

This is, for me, an example of peak science fiction.² Mason is a computer scientist who works in the field of Artificial Intelligence, as well as a wonderful storyteller.³ Here, he has created the most perceptive story about AI and our near future that I've come across so far, wrapped in a riveting adventure.

Blackstone Audio, 2017

Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton

The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to.

New Directions, New York, 1965

Lorrie Moore, Like Life

Like Life by Lorrie MooreSometimes, I can read an entire book and—even if I thoroughly enjoy it—not come across a single golden phrase. Oftentimes, I come across just a single golden phrase in a book. And I am joyful.

Like Life overflows with them, so many that I had to buy a block of stickies to keep track.

Last year she had gone to a doctor, who had looked at her throat and a mole on her back, studying them like Rorschachs for whatever he might see in them. He removed the mole and put it floating in a pathologist's vial, a tiny marine animal. Peering in at her throat, he said, "Precancer"—like a secret or a zodiac sign. "Precancer?" she had repeated quietly, for she was a quiet woman. "Isn't that . . . like life?

Faber and Faber, London, 1990

Walter Mosley, Gone Fishin'

Gone Fishin' by Walter MosleyAlthough published only a few years ago, this is actually the first story in Mosley's fine series about Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, a quick-witted man with a deep soul, big heart and insightful watchfulness, struggling to get by in an often unfriendly world.

Mostly set in L.A., and surpassing Raymond Chandler in capturing the mood of that city in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, the story begins in this book in a bayou in Texas, with an intense series of experiences that help shape the direction Easy will travel through life.

I highly recommend this entire series, something I've never done before. And I suggest starting with this book.

   I needed a place where life was a little easier and where nobody knew me. I knew that if I could be alone I could make it. All the people around me dancing, having a good time; they were just holding me back, wanting me to be the same old poor Easy—not a nickel in my pocket or a dream in my head.

   I didn't have a thing, just like everybody around me; all the money I had was in my pocket and all the clothes I had were on my back. That's how life was back then. You couldn't hold me responsible for anything because I didn't have anything. And, realizing that, it was time for me to go.

Black Classic Press, Baltimore, 1997

Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki MurakamiMurakami writes with a deftness that sweeps me away and leaves me astonished.

Ben Okri, The Famished Road

The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Those of us who lingered in the world, seduced by the annunciation of wonderful events, went through life with beautiful and fated eyes, carrying within us the music of a lovely and tragic mythology. Our mouths utter obscure prophecies. Our minds are invaded by images of the future. We are the strange ones, with half of our beings always in the spirit world.

Being born was a shock from which I never recovered. Often, by night or day, voices spoke to me. I came to realize that they were the voices of my spirit companions.
"What are you doing here?" one of them would ask.
"Living," I would reply.
"Living for what?"
"I don't know."

Nan A. Talese, New York, 1991

Osho, The Book of Secrets

The Book of Secrets by Osho

Live watchfully, whatsoever you are doing—walking, sitting, eating, or if you are not doing anything, just breathing, resting, relaxing in the grass—never forget that you are a watcher. Make it an inner process continuously…. You will be surprised how life changes its whole quality.

St. Martin's Griffin, New York, 1998

Michael Paterniti, Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain

Driving Mr. Albert by Michael PaternitiThe freshest voice I've come across since Jonathan Lethem. It's a strange, strange country we live in, peopled by weirdos who think of themselves as normal. Paterniti chronicles his journey from the east coast to the west coast with Einstein's brain in a Tupperware container in the lap of the old doctor, Harvey, who had taken it when he performed the autopsy many years before. And that's not the strange part! Paterniti speaks with humor, honesty, respect, and awareness about the folks they meet and the places they visit. Our backyards.

If we've incorporated the theory of relativity into our scientific view of the universe, as well as our literature, art, music, and culture at large, it's the great scientist's attempt to devise a kind of personal religion—an intimate spiritual and political manifesto—that still stands in stark, almost sacred contrast to the Pecksniffian systems of salvation offered by modern society. Einstein's blending of twentieth-century skepticism with nineteenth-century romanticism offers a different kind of hope.
   "I am a deeply religious nonbeliever," he said. "This is a somewhat new kind of religion." Pushing further, he sought to marry science and religion by redefining their terms. "I am of the opinion that all the finer speculations in the realm of science spring from a deep religious feeling," he said. "I also believe that this kind of religiousness … is the only creative religious activity of our time."

Dial Press, New York, 2000

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Let's consider a reevaluation of the situation in which we assume that the stuckness now occurring, the zero of consciousness, isn't the worst of all possible situations, but the best possible situation you could be in.

William Morrow, New York, 1974

Richard Powers, Bewilderment

Bewilderment by Richard PowersWell narrated by Edoardo Ballerini

May all sentient beings be free from needless suffering.

Richard Powers is at the top of his form with this breathtakingly bittersweet story about the exquisite wonder of this planet we are so carelessly squandering. The final sentences are as beautiful as anything I've ever read.

Penguin Random House Audio, 2021, Libro.fm⩘ ; W. W. Norton & Company, 2021, Bookshop.org⩘ 

Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations

The Gold Bug Variations by Richard PowersSimply put, I'm in awe. This is nothing less than the story of life itself, life writing about itself. Richard Powers is obviously a brilliant manifestation of the code he writes about.

[Heads-up: As much as I appreciated this book, when years later I listed to the audiobook, I found it to be one of the worst performances I have ever come across. My recommendation: read the book, don't listen to it.]

Scribners, London, 1992

Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps"What is Zen?"

One answer: Inayat Khan tells a Hindu story of a fish who went to a queen fish and asked: 'I have always heard about the sea, but what is this sea? Where it is?' The queen fish explained: 'You live, move, and have your being in the sea. The sea is within you and without you, and you are made of sea, and you will end in sea. The sea surrounds you as your own being.'

"Another answer:     "

Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, Vermont, 1957

Idries Shah, The Sufis

The Sufis by Idries Shah

Most fables contain at least some truth, and they often enable people to absorb ideas which the ordinary patterns of their thinking would prevent them from digesting.

The Octagon Press, London, 1977

Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life
How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures

Entangled Life by Merlin SheldrakeWonderfully narrated by the author

An absolutely extraordinary book. It has changed the way I view our world.

Nature is an event that never stops. As William Bateson, who coined the word genetics, observed, "We commonly think of animals and plants as matter, but they are really systems through which matter is continually passing."

Random House Audio, 2020, Libro.fm⩘ 

Suzanne Simard, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne SimardNarrated by the author

This is an amazing book. Professor Simard combines stories of her decades of research—in the forests and in labs—with stories of her life, revealing the interconnectedness between her professional and personal lives, just as she reveals to us the interconnectedness between the inhabitants of our forests: the various species of trees, the other vegetation, the fungi, the insects, the animals, birds, and fishes … and yes, even us. This goes way beyond just that we all live side by side, also contradicting the long-held belief that the primary relationship is competition, to reveal how trees communicate with and nourish each other, as well as the rest of us.

   Somehow with my Latin squares and factorial designs, my isotopes and mass spectrometers and scintillation counters, and my training to consider only sharp lines of statistically significant differences, I have come full circle to stumble onto some of the indigenous ideals: Diversity matters. And everything in the universe is connected—between the forests and prairies, the land and the water, the sky and the soil, the spirits and the living, the people and all other creatures.

Although there are many challenges to the life of our forests these days—including our callous clear cutting, our monoculture tree farming, and the changing climate—Professor Simard ultimately shares an upbeat and optimistic vision. In conclusion, she invites us to think about what can be possible if we understand the totality of what our forests give us, and take action based on that understanding.

… with taking something comes the obligation to give back.

Penguin Random House Audio, 2021, Libro.fm⩘ ; Knopf Publishing Group, 2021, Bookshop.org⩘ 

Martin Cruz Smith, Gorky Park

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz SmithAn astonishing read; Smith certainly poured his heart and soul into this story. Rich enough to be read again and again and still provide delicious surprises. As is so often the case, the movie adaptation is a wax museum caricature.

Random House, New York, 1981

Scott Turow, Presumed Innocent

Presumed Innocent by Scott TurowThere are so many books I want to read that it is the highest compliment I can pay an author to take the time to read one of his or her books a second time. I've read this book several times, and I'm pretty sure I'll read it again in the future. When I do read a book like this again, I find that my experience is richer because, after the first time, the urgency of unraveling the mystery of the story is gone, and I can instead focus on its nuances. Turow obviously reached deep into himself for this one. It is abundant with details, well researched, contains the spark of authenticity, and the main characters are complex, soul-searching individuals.

What is harder?
Knowing the truth or finding it?
Telling it or being believed?

Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 1987

Alan Watts, The Way of Zen

The Way of Zen by Alan WattsThe only thing that tops Alan Watts' writing on Zen is to hear him laughing while he is talking Zen.

Pantheon Books, New York, 1957

Peter Watts, Blindsight

Blindsight by Peter WattsWhoa! Wow! A brilliant and somewhat insane imagining of a first contact with an alien species that is really alien. This isn't just some cute bicycle riding alternative that we can easily relate to. This isn't even some nightmare punching out of our chests whose motives we can still somewhat understand. This is a form of being that, while Watts strove for biological plausibility, is as different from us as anything I've encountered in my wanderings through the wonderfully crazed imaginations of the best science fiction writers, a being that appears not to have self consciousness, yet also seems to be much more intelligent than us.

This is what fascinates me most in existence:
the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.
– Philip Gourevitch, epigraph

Tor, New York, 2006

Banana Yoshimoto, Lizard

Lizard by Banana YoshimotoWhat happens to us when we hide things from others, keep them to ourselves, and then later let them go?

Grove Press, New York, 1995

Tyson Yunkaporta, Sand Talk
How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World

Sand Talk (oral edition) by Tyson YunkaportaSpoken by the author

When I first became aware of this book, it was available only by ordering it from the continent currently known as Australia, which I did. I very much appreciated the book. When I read that it would be released in an oral edition mid-year, I immediately preordered this edition, intuiting that it would be even more powerful to listen to it. As I heard the first few words spoken by Tyson Yunkaporta, I nodded my head: yes, this is the right way, to sit quietly and let this yarn flow over and through me.

HarperAudio, 2020, Libro.fm⩘ 

Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor

Banker to the Poor by Muhammad YunusOne of the most important books I've read. Can you imagine a world without poverty? Muhammad Yunus has, and he has created a way that is making this dream a reality.

In just eleven years, this method of microfinance for the poor has reached 100,000,000 of the world's poorest, and helped many of them lift themselves out of poverty. This isn't charity, it is a powerful tool for unleashing the creative talents of people who previously didn't have access to this opportunity.

For more information about the Grameen Foundation, visit https://grameenfoundation.org/.

Read my full review …

Public Affairs, New York, 1999, 2003

Left brain

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English LanguageLove at first sight? With a dictionary? Yes! I've used previous editions of this dictionary and liked them very much, but the last couple of editions have taken it to another level. I like this dictionary so much that I use one copy at work and have a second copy open on a dictionary stand next to my desk at home.

I like how the definitions are crafted, I like the attitude of the editors (not in any way pretentious, they view themselves as recorders of a living language rather than as grammar-hammer cops), and I am thrilled with the color. The color? Yes! It brings the book alive, transforming it from a dictionary into a coffee table book. We always leave it open to the last word we've looked up, and I often find myself pausing over the book just to wonder about one of the illustrations.

There is an online version of the book that I use sometimes at work to email a definition to a coworker who has asked me a question, but for my personal use—at work and at home—I prefer the printed book. I really enjoy turning its pages. Kudos!

Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2011

Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style, Second Edition

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert BringhurstMr. Bringhurst has created a book where poetry, craftsmanship, historical perspective, and an understanding of this moment dance gracefully together. Over the years, I have read some wonderful books on design, layout, and typography; this one opens at the very pinnacle.

Hartley & Marks, Vancouver, 1999

Allen Hurlburt, Layout: the Design of the Printed Page

Layout: the Design of the Printed Page by Allen HurlburtI am indebted to Mr. Hurlburt for introducing me to the golden mean.

Watson-Guptil, New York, 1977

Scott Landis, The Workbench Book

The Workbench Book by Scott LandisTruly inspiring photographs and text (well … okay, if you love woodworking the way I do).

Taunton Press, Newton, 1987

Donald A. Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things

The Psychology of Everyday Things by Donald A. NormanAnyone designing a Web site would do themselves and their eventual visitors a favor by being familiar with the worldview presented in this book. I believe the new title is The Design of Everyday Things.

Basic Books, New York,1988

Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. TufteI'm not a data freak, but I really appreciate the clarity with which he discusses his passion. His dedication to essence influences my daily work.

Graphics Press, Cheshire, 1983

Colin Wheildon, Type & Layout

Type & Layout by Colin WheildonMaybe you don't care what font you use and how you design your communications. Then again, maybe you don't care whether people bother to read what you want to communicate, or whether they comprehend it even if they struggle through reading it, or whether you are throwing away the dollars you spend on communicating. But if you do care about these things, read this book (and weep that you didn't read it sooner).

Strathmoor Press, Berkeley, 1995

Jan V. White, Graphic Design for the Electronic Age

Graphic Design for the Electronic Age by Jan V. WhiteThis guy has such class.

Watson-Guptil, New York, 1988

A few favorite snippets

These are from books I've read, but haven't posted reviews of.

Oh! by Todd ShimodaI'm not sure where it's going, if it has to go anywhere. Not everything has to go somewhere. In fact it's best if it doesn't. Once it gets there, wherever there is, then it's fully defined, no longer a mystery.

—Todd Shimoda, Oh! A Mystery of Mono No Aware

Underworld by Don DelilloHe speaks in your voice, American, and there's a shine in his eye that's halfway hopeful.
   It's a school day, sure, but he's nowhere near the classroom. He wants to be here instead, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, and it's hard to blame him—this metropolis of steel and concrete and flaky paint and cropped grass and enormous Chesterfield packs aslant on the scoreboards, a couple of cigarettes jutting from each.
   Longing on a large scale is what makes history.

—Don DeLillo, Underworld

Too Much Coffee Man's Guide for the Perplexed by Shannon WheelerWait a second,
I recognize this corner...
I'm not in Hell...
I'm just at home.

—Too Much Coffee Man (Shannon Wheeler), Too Much Coffee Man's Guide for the Perplexed

Musashi by Eiji YoshikawaIn an instant, the island was as quiet and still as it had ever been. Only the rustle of the pines and the swaying grasses mocked the frailty and impermanence of mankind.

—Eiji Yoshikawa, Musashi

By the Light of My Father's Smile by Alice WalkerI do not know
where I've
come from
I do not know
where I go
I only know
that I feel
in my heart
that I am here
a very small part
of love

—Alice Walker, By the Light of My Father's Smile

The Whole Shebang by Timothy FerrisWe live in a changing universe, and few things are changing faster than our conception of it. The cosmos of our not-so-distant ancestors was small, static and Earth-centered. By the middle of the twentieth century we had discovered that we are adrift in an expanding universe so large that the light from its outer reaches takes more than twice the age of the earth to reach our telescopes. Looking ahead, we can see an emerging cosmology in which our universe turns out to be a great deal larger still, and to be but one among many sovereign universes.

—Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang

Cold Mountain by Charles FrazierInman thought about the question. He had long since decided there was little usefulness in speculating much on what a day will bring. It led a person to the equal errors of being either dreadful or hopeful.

—Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman AlexieWe drove off then and left Jimmy to make his own decisions. That's how it is. One Indian doesn't tell another what to do. We just watch things happen and then make comments.

—Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry PratchettCrowley put the Bentley in gear. Then he remembered something. He snapped his fingers. The wheel clamps disappeared.
   "Let's have lunch," he said. "I owe you one from, when was it..."
   "Paris, 1793," said Aziraphale.
   "Oh, yes. The Reign of Terror. Was that one of yours, or one of ours?"
   "Wasn't it yours?"
   "Can't recall. It was quite a good restaurant, though."
   As they drove past an astonished traffic warden his notebook spontaneously combusted, to Crowley's amazement.
   "I'm pretty certain I didn't mean to do that," he said.
   Aziraphale blushed.
   "That was me," he said, "I had always thought your people invented them."
   "Did you? We thought they were yours."
   Crowley stared at the smoke in the rearview mirror.
   "Come on," he said. "Let's do the Ritz."

—Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens

365 Views of Mt. Fuji by Todd ShimodaThe wave of emotions reached his fingers.
The emotions took control of the brush.
                          Brush strokes

—Todd Shimoda, 365 Views of Mt. Fuji, Algorithms of the Floating World

The Accidental Tourist by Anne TylerThe real adventure, he thought, is the flow of time; it's as much adventure as anyone could wish.

—Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist

Material World by Peter MenzelWooden chair, Jars (3, contain spices)
Metal case (contains family papers, pictures, valuables
Ladder, Wooden weights (4, used for wrestling practice)
Bed (under family, used as couch during day)
Pictures of Hindu gods (2, being held by family)
Firewood (to right of door), Bicycle (broken)
Metal pots (7), Glasses (2), Trays (4), Ceramic pots (2)
Basket of crockery (between metal and ceramic pots)
Basket (with rice), Bags of rice (3, harvested last season)
2nd bed (leaning against wall), Blankets (3, draped on 2nd bed)

(A list of all the possessions of the Yadav family, Ahraura Village, Uttar Pradesh, India, where the per capita annual income is $US 330. Their most valued possession: print of Hindu gods.)

—Peter Menzel, Material World, A Global Family Portrait

More snippets

From unreviewed books and other sources >