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October 12, 2006


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Can't get it down to one each, how about one and a runner-up?

"The Maltese Falcon" Dashiell Hammett
The movie was so faithful to the book, even down to the dialogue, that reading this book is like being inside a 3-d version of the film every morning as you read it over breakfast.

"The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester
Straight-up pulpy 50s sci-fi, but with a premise (how do you contain a deadly technology that could end the world?) that is even more relevant today than it was then, and a hero (Gully Foyle is my name, Terra is my nation...) who travels from a locked closet in a junked spacecraft near the orbit of Jupiter to a life of crime, pillage, revenge, and fame on Earth, until finally becoming the biggest WMD proliferator in history...


"The Arrogance of Power" by Anthony Summers
An eye-opening history of Richard Nixon's rise from sweaty, narcissistic high school thespian to sweaty, narcissistic, mobbed-up Ruler of the Free World.


"Wouldn't It Be Nice?" by Brian Wilson
Chilling autobiography of the genius behind the Beach Boys, tells of their unlikely rise, and gets into the horrible struggle with his father as he tries to record the sounds spinning around in his head. If these are the wages of genius, I think I'd settle for being just really bright.

special mention:

"A Cure For Gravity" by Joe Jackson
The best musician's memoir I've ever read (and I've read lots of 'em), really gets inside what it's like to try and make music, try to make bands work, what it's like to play a gig, and the incremental, painstaking work of becoming an artist with an individual voice.

I know as soon as I see these picks in print, I'll think of a dozen more. But these really are the ones that came right to mind.

Mark Gunnion

Fiction: If on a winter's night a traveler, by Italo Calvino. My introduction to Calvino. Every novel I've read since has paled to this one, because it is anticipates every novel that came after it while improving on every one that came before it. It's like being sucked into a 360 degree book. And the ideas would be good enough alone, but he saturates it with prose that just leaves me gasping. I'm a what-happens-next reader, my eyes race from page to page, but this book would rest on my lap while I would stare into space and marvel. The story about the two contrasting authors on abutting mountaintops spying on a reader in the valley below is my favorite image from literature.

Non-fiction: Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam. Here's a good reason to read a book: since reading this one, I have seen it quoted and mentioned, and Putnam consulted or addressed, in more magazine articles and studies than I can count, and I get to feel like a smarty-pants because I read the whole book (I'd feel even more hierophantic if I'd read his more recent book, Better Together, which has held a place of honor on my bedside table since December). I think this book slightly predates the onslaught of "how one tiny thing means everything" books, but it isn't even really that: it's a how everything is about everything.

I have recommended both these books to many of my friends, and few (if any) have made any headway. Maybe I just haven't suggested em to the right people.

I can't resist an opportunity to plug the books I love. My vote for all-time favorite is The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu. And for non-fiction: The Annals of the Former World, a book on geology and the contemporary scientists who study it by John McPhee. Both books do such a great job of creating whole new places for me to escape to, and both are generously long—once they get you under their spell, you don't have to worry about other distractions for a LONG time.

Fiction: "Time of Our Singing" by Richard Powers. I wish more people would read Powers, because he's so good; this has all the Powers technical brilliance plus a moving personal story. There are two set pieces, one at the beginning and at one at the end, that are breathtaking.

Non-Fiction: Understanding Comics, by Scott McCleod. Everything you didn;t know you didn't know.

I only have one at the moment - Yes Man, by Danny Wallace. It's entertaining, and it shows what saying yes to more things can get you into...

I'm with you regarding Postman's book. It was recommended to me a long time ago and it makes more sense every day.

For non-fiction I recommend "The Creative Habit" by Twyla Tharp, a wise book about the creative life. And as a runner up, how about Peter Block's book, "The Answer to How Is Yes". Block's take on pragmatism is a good bit of caution.

For fiction I'd like to suggest John Hersey's A Bell for Adano. This 1945 Pulitzer Prize winner has a lesson or two for us.

What a joy to read what everyone here is recommending.

"East of Eden" John Steinbeck
"Angle of Repose" Wallace Stegman
"Sometimes a Great Notion" Ken Kesey

"Great Plains" Ian Frazier
"Doing Our Own Thing" John McWhorter
"On Writing" Stephen King
"A World Lit Only by Fire" William Manchester

Oh brother: Wallace Stegner

Thanks to one and all for the terrific suggestions. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in many of them (top of my list: "The Creative Habit"--I loved Twyla Tharp's autobiography, "Push Comes to Shove"--"The Time of Our Singing," and "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler"). But first I have to plow through required reading (for client projects) about Wall Street, pension funds, and ERISA. I can hear your moans, but I'm finding some gems amid the dross. How about this nugget, from a history of the stock market: "While radical thinkers are usually wrong, ultraconservative thinkers are always wrong. Nobody can foresee the future...but it always turns out differently from the past."

First book that came to mind...dates me I know...


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