Category Archives: Fiction

Top 10 Bookstores in the East Bay


A nice write-up on a key subject! Omits “Dan Webb Books”, doesn’t mention “The Booktree” right across the street from “A Great Good Place For Books” but my picks belong in my list. This is theirs and I’m glad to have found it!

The writer mentions the Montclair Egg Shop as a pairing with A Great Good Place for Books. Absolutely yes! Best place I can think of to take a new book or an old friend or both.

Source: Top 10 Bookstores in the East Bay

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Bat-Mitzva and Bar-Mitzva book lists


Here’s an update, with the 40 titles I’ve typed into a Listmania list at Amazon.com. I’ll probably need a 2nd list for the rest.
Books for 13 year olds. “Today, I am an adult, and I take my place…”

“For Bar mitzvah or Bat mitzvah I used to wonder what to give, then I realized I had a list of books in my head that I’d found illuminating and helpful to have read as a young person. Books to return to as you grow into adulthood, books to provide a guide, a commentary, and perhaps, an inspiration. Books I gave to high school graduates, and camp counselors at my son’s summer camps. I’d have been pleased to get any of them, and I’m honored to give them, in turn.”

1. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
“Unique and magical, a chemist’s life, each chapter centered on one element and its relationship to the author and those around him. Mercury, Lead and Carbon are imaginary, the rest autobiographical. My favorite chapter is the story of the chemists at lunch, and the slice of onion in the linseed oil.”

2. The Caine Mutiny: A Novel by Herman Wouk
“A detailed dissection of a failing organization and the price it extracts. Not to mention a great novel. (The typhoon made my hair stand on end when I was a kid) I give this book to people in crazy organizations (most organizations are crazy…). I have never read a better description of where the distress and responsibility fall when things aren’t working right.”

3. The Maltese Falcon (Crime Masterworks) by Dashiell Hammett
“Hammett’s best, not withstanding the Charles’ of The Thin Man (and the movies it gave birth to…). All the elements are familiar, and yet the way it unfolds is riveting. The writing is gripping, laugh-out-loud funny and timeless. The subjects are honor, duty, loss, romance and having to get up every morning and get on with your life. Because “..a man … has to do something.””

4. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking
“This is it – how we know what we know, only one equation, and as readable and instructive now as ever. Hawking’s ability to express himself against the challenges of his own body is beyond my words. This book is so clear, and starts with a wonderful joke. I was overseas the first time I read it, and his contrast of Einstein and Aristotle gave me courage to get the job done.”

5. Emma (Penguin Classics) by Jane Austen
“One of those remarkable books which seems dauntingly long when you start and far, far, too short by the time you’ve finished. Emma, of good family and comfortable circumstances, trys to help her friends by matchmaking. The results are far from what anyone wants, complication and crisis compound on each other. But all is made well. Her own match is concluded in the sweetest way.”

6. The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins by Alan Walker
“This terrific book focuses on the Nariokatome Boy, a 1.6M yr old Homo Erectus’ skeleton. Kamoya Kimeu found the first pieces, Alan Walker and Meave Leakey assembled them, the scientific descriptions were published by Walker. The Boy is most complete Homo Erectus skeleton so far. Like us. But not us. Pat Shipman, Walker’s wife, is gifted writer. The story is his, the voice hers.”

7. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Penguin Modern Classics) by Malcolm X
“I read this book in 1971 and I found it electrifying- Brother Malcolm X plumbed the depths and climbed the heights and had his life torn from him just as it seemed his greatest work was beginning. The hell of segregated America is something we must never forget. How one man educated himself out of prison and became a national leader is always worth knowing.”

8. The Hominid Gang: Behind the Scenes in the Search for Human Origins by Delta Willis
“A great how-they-did-it adventure, led by Richard and Meave Leakey, Kamoya Kimeu, etc. Kimeu is a treasure in his own right, worth meeting. Willis was with the expedition as they, Alan Walker, etc, found the Nariokatome Boy, a 1.6M yr old Homo Erectus skeleton. She also covers friction between the Kenyan team and the Institute for Human Origins (from Berkeley), who found “Lucy” in Ethiopia”

9. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig
“Pirsig wastes no time. You need a thin aluminum shim for your top of the line BMW motorcycle. Do you buy expensive shim stock from the BMW dealer, or snip a piece of essentially the same thing from an empty beer can? Pay someone to think for you, or call it yourself and accept the consequences? What *is* high quality, how do you define or apply it? A great story too!”

10. When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson & S. J. McCarthy
“Written by a noted natural science reporter and a once-enfant-terrible of Freudian Psychology, is very readable and not always comfortable. Elephants are not the only species here. Animals feel and express emotions; cases to cite don’t hurt.
Full disclosure: S. J. McCarthy is a personal friend of mine. my admiration of her writing has been verified in double-blind tests.”

11. To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition by Harper Lee
“Some people can’t stop writing books. Harper Lee had one book to write. Her love of her father and the story she wanted to tell is worth more than the whole production of many other writers.
Atticus Finch’s story wasn’t leading straight to Rosa Parks, Brown Vs. Board of Education or the Voting Rights Act of 1964. Low-key person-by-person didn’t get the job done. But it wasn’t a coward’s path.”

12. The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage by Clifford Stoll

13. The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme by John Keegan
“A landmark book, explaining the often unrealistic conventions of military history, as far back as Julius Caesar and as close as the Charge of the Light Brigade. He then describes three notable battles in the history of England and Great Britain, and what the typical soldier would have experienced. Keegan’s account of the first Battle of the Somme is heartbreaking.”

14. Ancient Engineers by L. Sprague De Camp
“A wonderful (filled with wonder) history of engineering in the long ago and far away. From the Tigris/Euphrates and Nile civilizations to Leonardo, who De Camp rightly points out, was the last of the ancients- wise, but secretive, not pubishing during his lifetime or after. Not a specialist book on any area or culture, its a guided tour by someone who loves the subject.”

15. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

16. Fate is the Hunter by Ernest Kellogg Gann

17. Funny Money by Mark Singer

18. A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm by Stanley G. Crawford

19. The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman

20. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters (P.S.) by Matt Ridley

21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

22. Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway (Classics of War) by Walter Lord
“The best kind of history, built of quotes from 350 survivors, 250 from the US and 100 from Japan. How code breaking, courage, luck and sacrifice stopped the Japanese conquest of the Pacific. A human tragedy, triumph and a victory that comprised 1/3 of what Winston Churchill called “The Hinge of Fate””

23. Rising From The Plains by John McPhee

24. Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo by Eric Hansen

25. Assembling California by John McPhee

26. The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee

27. Young Men and Fire by Norman MacLean

28. Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Vintage) by Neil Shubin

29. The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler

30. The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature by Loren C. Eiseley

31. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

32. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition by Edward R. Tufte

33. Synapsida by John C. McLoughlin

34. Five Equations that Changed the World: The Power and Poetry of Mathematics by Michael Guillen

35. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

36. A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell

37. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

38. Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys by Michael Collins

39. The Prince (Bantam Classics) by Niccolo Machiavelli

40: Ultramarine: Poems by Raymond Carver

Buy a copy for your brother. Read one of the poems to him.

I think I’ve bugged more of my friends and family with Carver’s masterpiece, “The Car”, from this book, than with any other poem I’ve ever read. More than “Howl”, more than “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, “McCavity the Mystery Cat” or “Greed and Aggression”. There are teaching guides for middle school teachers to use this one as an exercise. Find it. Read it. Make up your own verses. Make up your own poem when you’re driving somewhere with your family. I’ll come back and edit in an excerpt, but trust me, you need this book, as a gift if nothing else.

When I bought my brother a copy and stopped by his house and read him, “The Car”, he laughed and looked thoughtful, his wife squeezed his hand. and he paused, at the end, after,

“… Car of my sleepless nights.
My car.”

and then he said, “‘The car I struck with a hammer.’ ‘The car I struck with a hammer.’ The car I cut to pieces with an oxy-acetylene torch !”

See?

Yeah, there’s sadness here too, but there’s a LOT of that tough heart that people, not just men, need to have to get by in this world. The first poem is called “What You Need To Paint” and lists (from a letter? a notebook?) things a well regarded fine art painter recorded. Brushes, Colors. And then the zinger, that gives the whole thing life: “The ability to work like a locomotive”.

Its what we all need. Raymond Carver had it, and its beautiful to listen to, to watch, to live up to in your own life.

So buy this one for your brother, or sister, or someone who YOU love, who can work like a locomotive, when its required.

You won’t be sorry.

41: Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boats Codes, 1939-1943 by David Khan

—=== Original Post: ===—
Its that time of year again, so beside a check, its time to pass around books that I think are worthwhile to those who are learning how to take their place in the wide world

Last year I put “The Prince” by Machiavelli into the hands of a couple of Benjamin’s classmates, JG and JB. Dunno if either read it. Both boys and Benjamin had been talking politics, so it seemed like a natural. I also gave JB a copy of “Carrying the Fire” by Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins.

JG did have an actual Bar Mitzva and by way of celebration, I gave him:
The Periodic Table – Levi
A Brief History of Time – Hawking
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Pursig (His dad noted this approvingly – “ah”, he said, “Pursig? Well, its not depressing like ‘Lila'” and I said, “Now he takes his place…” or something similar.
The Maltese Falcon, Hammett
I’ve also got a copy of
“The C Programming Language” for him.
He’d probably enjoy “The Curve of Binding Energy” too.

For JB I’ve got:
The Face of Battle – Keegan
Brazen Chariots – Crisp
and not-yet delivered:
Assembling California – McPhee

For SL I’ve got:
When Elephants Weep – Mason and McCarthy
The Fallen Man – Tony Hillerman
or
The Thin Man – Hammett
For this child and the next, both girls, I need books with a strong female character/voice. Sue Hubbell, Jane Goodall, Pat Shipman, Delta Burke… Obviously fiction such as Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Anne of Green Gables or Little Women would be appropriate, but at least some is likely to have been given… Neither Kinsey Milhone in “A is for Alibi” or in “Shooting the Boh” are quite right for 13 year olds. This is harder than it looks. “October Sky” has been recommended for an inspirational teacher who is an unconventional woman who inspires the author. His mother also has a strong role. Good suggestions, from a woman who’s son is all over the submarines, tanks, airplane books used to read. She also says she was big on Judy Blume at age 13. I’ve certainly seen Judy Blume’s books, but haven’t read any yet. Probably ought to, and October Sky too. We had a copy once…
How could I have not included
“To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee?

For HM I’ve got:
Genome – Ridley
Assembling California – McPhee – both sent today via Ben. Maybe “Rising from the Plain” would be better, with so much coming from the geologist’s mom’s diary. I think a Sue Hubbell and/or Pat Shipman needs to follow.
5/13: Added When Elephants Weep – Mason and McCarthy
The Fallen Man – Tony Hillerman

For GS I’ve got
Assembling California – McPhee, and I need a couple more-
I’m thinking The Period Table – Levi
Fate is the Hunter – Gann
All Creatures Great and Small – Herriott

for GM I’ve go little beyond good intentions, yet

For MG I’m getting another copy of
The Periodic Table

For the school’s library I donated
“Fighting On Two Fronts”
“Autobiography of Malcom X” by Halley,
“Animal Farm” by Orwell

Sitting here burning a hole in my bookshelf are give-away copies of

“Desert Solitaire” – Abbey,
“A Garlic Testament”, – Crawford
“Robinson Crusoe” – Defoe
Your Inner Fish – _______
“The Curve of Binding Energy” – McPhee
“The Wisdom of the Bones”, – Shipman & Walker

I’ve got between one and several copies of

“The Curve of Binding Energy”,
“The Periodic Table”,
“Bloods”,
“The C Programming Language”,
“The Wisdom of the Bones”,
“Your Inner Fish”
“Broadsides from the Other Orders”,
“A Country Year” and
“Waiting for Aphrodite”

on order and presumably making their way to get there.

I realize I need more female voices. I’ve received some suggestions, along the lines of young adult fiction with strong female characters:
Judy Blume
Mercedes Lakey
M Pierce (not the other Pierce)
Earthsea (Not U. K. LeGuinn’s Earthsea Trillogy)
Ibbod
Harper Lee writes from a young girl’s perspective, and if “To Kill A Mockingbird” isn’t quite in the’ books for girls’ zone, neither is The Diary of a Young Girl by Ann Frank, who is also an undeniable girl.
Besides Hillerman, Hammett, Chandler and Conan-Doyle, Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries, written with her cat Sneaky Pie, are said to be child-friendlly and female voiced. I picked one up for a look through at the library sale.

I need to add
“Young Men and Fire”
“Fate is the Hunter”
“The Simple Art of Murder” – Chandler
“Incredible Victory” – Lord.
And more

Alphabeticly, by title, this all and some other old favorites adds up to:

The Autobiography of Malcolm X – Hailey
A Brief History of Time – Hawking
Brazen Chariots – Crisp
The Cuckoo’s Egg – Stoll
The Curve of Binding Energy – McPhee
Desert Solitaire – Abbey
The Face of Battle – Keegan
The Fallen Man – Hillerman
Fate is the Hunter – Gann
Funny Money – Singer
A Garlic Testament – Crawford
Giant Squid – Ellis
Genome – Ridley
Huckleberry Finn – Twain
Life on the Mississippi – Twain
Incredible Victory – Lord
Little Women – Alcott
The Maltese Falcon – Hammett
The Phantom Major – Cowells
The Periodic Table – Levi
Pride and Prejudice – Austin
Rising From the Plain – McPhee
Robinson Crusoe – Defoe
Sense and Sensability – Austin
Stranger In the Forest – Hansen
Taking Wing – Shipman & _____
The Thin Man – Hammett
To Kill A Mockingbird – Lee
Waiting for a Ship – McPhee
When Elephants Weep – Masson & McCarthy
The Wisdom of the Bones – Shipman & Walker
Young Men and Fire – _______
Your Inner Fish – _______
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Pursig

Now that’s a list of old friends!
————————————————————————————

50 books every geek should read- from Monster.com


Ok, lets see: I’ve read 16 of these, gave up on another and have 2 in-progress.

I think there are a few good books missing:

1) “The C Programming Language” – Kernighan and Ritche. Not only a great book about programming, especially for beginners, it also shows how clear a programming text can be, how little needs to be said, and how to spiral around the same problems with increasingly capable and complicated programs.

2) “The C++ Programming Language” – Stroustrup. By comparison to C, a much thicker book, containing K&R’s language and a whole lot more, for practical coding and for object oriented techniques.

3) “The Codebreakers” – Herman Kahn A huge book and one that ends in the era where crypto was still a government issue, mostly. But a great history, and clear proof that no cypher system, or code book, is 100% unbreakable.

4) “Seizing the Enigma” – most complete discussion of BREAKING Enigma I’ve seen so far. There are any number of good lessons here, starting with, a small, motivated, team can accomplish what is considered impossible. Never treat the opposition with contempt. Define your requirements as well as you can, do what you can to satisfy them, pay attention to what actually happens.

The actual analytic technique to break Enigma was cooked up by two Polish intelligence officers who could see how the wind was blowing in the late 1930s. When the Germans invaded, they escaped with their method and presented it to the French. The French passed it on to the British before they collapsed. The technique wouldn’t do for rapid recovery of plain text from a well operated system but it could break in by brute force, with some time, and it could also rapidly exploit any laxness in technique by the cypher users. Whereas the Germans believed that Enigma was essentially unbreakable and never seriously looked for its weaknesses, or their own in using it.

Code and cipher trade-craft was good in the Kriegsmarine, so-so in the Wehrmacht and lousy in the Luftwaffe, oddly echoing Hitler’s complaint that he had a Christian Navy, a Reactionary Army and only one National Socialist (Nazi) armed force, the Luftwaffe. The Brits mounted a frontal assault on Luftwaffe Enigma traffic and got what they needed because of bad practices by the users. With the Wehrmacht they got enough to combine with conventional intelligence, what the Soviets gave them from “Lucy”, from the Italians sending cables to each other, etc., to get the job done. The Kriegsmarine used Enigma intelligently, so that frontal assaults hit a blank wall. Fortune gave the Brits the keys, the initial rotor position for each message, occasionally, and they knew what they were missing, so they made it their business to GET the keys, through espionage, Soviet salvage of a sunken German ship, the capture of a shipboard weather station in the North Atlantic, the US Navy’s capture of U-505. Every six months when the key changed, they had to get the new one and did, EACH TIME. And tight security at the Allied end allowed the Germans, all of them, to ignore any suspicion that their cyphers and codes were less than 100% secure. They had no “Red Team”s, or even someone looking at the pattern of Allied luck in finding lone U boats, bombing the right place at the right time, etc. Convinced of their own superiority, like the Japanese, they caught “victory disease” and when the tide turned, retained a confidence that events did NOT justify. Lucky for us.

“Snow Crash,” Neal Stephenson
“Neuromancer,” William Gibson
“I, Robot,” Isaac Asimov  <———- 1
“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams  <———– 2
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Philip K. Dick  <————– 3
“Ender’s Game,” Orson Scott Card
“The Time Machine,” H.G. Wells  <————– 4
“Microserfs,” Doug Coupland  <————— 5
“Flatland,” Edwin A. Abbott  <——- tried, couldn’t get into it. Should try again I suppose
“1984,” George Orwell  <—————- 6
“Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley  <————— 7
“iCon,” Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon
“iWoz,” Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith
“Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire,” Jim Erickson
“The Visual Display of Quantitative Information,” Edward Tufte  <——————- 8
“Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability,” Steve Krug
“The Non-Designer’s Design Book,” Robin Williams
“Tog on Interface,” Bruce Tognazzini  <—————– 9
“User Interface Design for Programmers,” Joel Spolsky
“Revolution in The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made,” Andy Hertzfeld
“The Soul of a New Machine,” Tracy Kidder  <——————- 10
“Where Wizards Stay Up Late,” Hafner and Lyon
“Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age,” Michael A. Hiltzik
“The Cuckoo’s Egg,” Cliff Stoll  <—————- 11
“The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness,” Steven Levy
“Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time,” Dava Sobel  <– 12
“The Code Book,” Simon Singh
“Cryptonomicon,” Neal Stephenson
“Crypto,” Steven Levy
“The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master,” Andrew Hunt, David Thomas
“Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction,” Steve McConnell  <—— working on it
“Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software,” Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John M. Vlissides  <— working on it
“Dreaming in Code,” Scott Rosenberg
“The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering,” Frederick P. Brooks  <———- 13
“Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think,” Andy Oram
“Cathedral and the Bazaar,” Eric S. Raymond
“The Long Tail,” Chris Anderson
“The Future of Ideas,” Lawrence Lessig
“On Intelligence,” Jeff Hawkins
“In the Beginning was the Command Line,” Neal Stephenson
“Code: Version 2.0,” Lawrence Lessig
“The Wisdom of Crowds,” James Surowiecki
“The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” Ray Kurzweil
“Gödel, Escher, Bach,” Douglas Hofstadter  <——— 14
“Gut Feelings,” Gerd Gigerenzer
“A Brief History of Time,” Stephen Hawking  <————- 15
“Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age,” Paul Graham
“The Evolution of Useful Things,” Henry Petroski  <————– 16
“Getting Things Done,” David Allen
“Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, Better,” Gina Trapani

“Gut Feelings,” Gerd Gigerenzer

Movies seen- w/ Ben, w/Jean


We just saw:

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince. Nice, very, very, nice. Much as J. K. Rowling did herself proud in writing the books and bringing off the sprawling yarn and its many loose ends, so now yet another director picks up with mostly the same actors and makes a VERY compact and effective movie. Its a keeper, no doubt. The three principals are maturing as actors as they grow taller, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman would have stolen any NORMAL movie, that they don’t says much about the focus of the script writers and directors of this epic industry. They’ll be sorry when its over, I can tell you that. The brief appearance of the now-married (in the movie, in the Movie!) Tonks and Professor Lupin is nice, and the scenery, the world outside the cloister of Hogwart’s, is just beautiful to look at. At one point The Hogwarts’ Express rolls along tracks through a autumn gold land dotted by a thousand ponds, lakes, streams. Another scene depends on raging seas against cliffs out of a nightmare. I can’t tell how  much of this is digital and homw much literal, but I’m not complaining…

Recently we’ve also seen:

The 2nd Transformers movie, Ben loved it. Really. A lot. Still talking about it a week, two weeks, later. Value for money, there.

Me, perhaps not so much. The human interactions don’t make any more sense than the robot interactions (Can’t tell a Decepticon from an Autobot? You’re not alone…) One of the bad robots disguises itself as a very attractive young woman and then throws herself (itself?) at Shia LeBouef’s character. I have nothing but respect and admiration for attractive young women but this bit and the key point between SLB’s character and Megan (?) Fox, that SLB, recent highschool graduate won’t tell Ms. Fox’s character that he loves her , don’t seem aligned with a special effects spectacle derived from a cartoon and licensed product gold mine aimed at 6-9 year olds.

Up in 3D. we all thought it was terrific fun. Sad at the beginning, less so than Finding Nemo, but its no accident that Pixar can have sadder and more touching things happen in their animated features than any other animated studio, with the possible exception of Studio Ghibli (H. Miyazaki) in Japan. Perhaps Pixar will made a bad movie, someday, this one isn’t it.

Lovely, unexpected depth in the characters and the story. The whole concept of taking the little house hemmed in by the big city and floating it away is wonderful. The trick of the the dog’s thoughts being rendered into speech is as funny here as in The Far Side- Benjamin and I are still breaking suddenly and looking to one side while saying “squirrel”…

Coraline in 3D. What a great movie! For sure wierd, very wonderful. and appealing. The apparently wish-fulfilling mother in The Other Side sets off all kinds of alarm bells from the word go. And the cat and neighborhood boy are terrific foils for Coraline. Not to mention her real mother and father, and all their messy difficulties.

Milk. Wow. “I’m Harvey Milk and I’m hear to recruit you!” boy oh boy can Sean Penn put across a character, and the supporting cast are superb. Directing tight, script crisp and emotionally satsfying. A truely great movie.

“Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day” – Frances McDormand in an overwhemling sweet and happy story. Many adventures, Amy Adams’  astonished, round, eyes and a happy ending that only gets telegraphed at the very end.  Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle) has a meaty and unsympathetic character,  Ciarán Hinds  is a treasure.

Tropic Thunder. Wow again! A surprising comedy-drama. Laughs are deadly, well aimed, lighting up conventions found in far too many places. The panda bit is howlingly funny, in a very, very, dark way, and Tom Cruise shows why we bother paying attention to him- his performance is simply jaw-dropping and would have overwhelmed a lesser movie. (The strength and sure-touch of the this film are reminders of how good a movie can be. Even turned up to 11, Jack Black, well cast and with a real part that matches his talent, can’t steal more than a scene or two. The material and the rest of the cast are that strong.) Ben Stiller really has a lock on funny characters who aren’t actually likable, but remain sympathetic. Robert Downey Jr’s, “dude pretending to be another dude, who’s pretending to be another dude” (or however that goes) is even further over the top than Cruise. Its like fireworks- once the fuse it lit, everyone’s committed. Jean and I saw this by ourselves and really enjoyed it, and after talking it over, let Benjamin see it on-demand at home. The beginning is gorey-er than he was comfortable with and we’d forgotten sexual nature of one of Jack Black’s character’s drug-withdrawal-crazed rants. We were embarrassed, but it didn’t last long. This is a real “R” for violence and strong language, folks. So wait until your 12 year old turns 13, perhaps, but this one’s a keeper, for sure. Just as good, maybe better, the second time I saw it.

Night At The Museum II – Battle of the Smithsonian. A sequel which basicly wrote itself – the primary characters are known, complexity is turned down, slapstick turned up and everyitng is what you’d expect and more. The bad bad guy’s dismissal of Darth Vader (or someone wearing a Darth costume) is wonderfully realized and puts that particular icon in its place quite firmly. I must agree with the review in one national print media which noted that all the skill and attention devoted to special effects are good but what most fathers will remember of Movie Magic ™ is Amy Adams’ painted-on pants.

Ghost Town Another one Jean and I saw by ourselves and a delight, a terrific showcase for Ricky Gervais, a wonderfully wacky premise and a full measure of both romance and comedy. Gervais is less off-putting than his breakthrough role in the UK “The Office”but he’s still mining the awkward and not easy to like formula. Dr. Pinkus is not a bad person, a bit prickly, a bit odd, but not a bad person. But he’s complicated and dropping him into something MORE complicated plays to his strengths. – he has that Fred Astare thing going,, he makes it all look SO easy.

Recommended Reading


We are a household of readers and we read a lot of books. Here are some particular favorites, past and present. Our son is now 12…

Perhaps these are aimed too young, but they’re delightful reads…

Winnie The Pooh
The House At Pooh Corner

When We Were Very Young
Now We Are Six
Old Possums Practical Cats
Paddington
The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald
Alvins’ Secret Code
Emil and the Detectives
Rabbit Hill, The Long Winter
– Robert Lawson
Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan.

Age Appropriate & enjoyed by all of us:
Bone” graphic novel(s) Really, really, great art, characters, story, plot, you name it. Beautiful.

All Creatures Great and Small, etc, etc. “James Herriot”.
Really good story telling, and yes, though based on real people, this is fiction. Some drinking, smoking, a fair number of complicated deliveries for sheep and some other farm animals.
Based on the writer’s experience but a work of fiction. In the real world, “Helen” wasn’t the woman he married, for starters… All Creatures and the second book were re-read requests, I think we read the pair more than 3 times all the way through…

My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives – Gerald Durrell.

British expatriots in Corfu during the 1930s. No clue where theirmoney comes from or what happened tothe father- Gerald (Gerry) is a pre-teen and already a naturalist in training and the youngest of the 4 children. Oldest brother Lawrence is already becoming A Famous Writer, middle sister and brother are teenagers, nowhere near as interesting as the animals Gerrald collects or the locals he meets. “My Family and Other Animals” is my favorite, and we re-read it at least 2-3 times.

A Zoo In My Luggage – Gerald Durrell.

Durrell’s other books are accounts of his collecting expeditions to find animals for other people’s and finally his own zoo. He has great stories, and started the first zoo-as-refuge-for-endangered-species around 1960, on one of the
Channel Islands.

The Cockcoo’s Egg – Cliff Stoll.

True story of a Berkeley grad student who discovers someone breaking into the computers he’s supervising, ends up discovering a German who is hacking university and government computers for the KGB. Includes a goode chocolate chip cookie recipe

The Periodic Table – Primo Levi –

Levi trained as a chemist, growing up in Italy in the 1930s.When the war starts he ends up in the Reisistance, is captured and shipped off to Auchwitz. He survives (working in the I. G. Farbin facility) and returns to Italy after the war. He becomes a paint and varnish chemist. Each story/chapter uses an element as the anchor for an episode, telling his life story from youth to age. Two stories are fictional the one about lead and the one about carbon. He wrote them in a feverish burst along with his acclaimed “Survival In Auchwitz” in 1946. Its wonderful in translation, it must be even more fun in the original Italian.

The Survival of the Bark Canoe – John McPhee.

Profile of Henri Vallencourt, a young man who mastered Native American canoe building technology and built them to order in the 1970s. No pencils, no saws, just a hatchet and a “crooked knife”, bought from the Hudson’s Bay Company. They’re easier to use and maintain than the sharpend beaver tooth they replaced, which is why HBC still sells them. Second half of the book is a canoe trip consisting of McPhee, the canoe maker, and some friends, through the Maine woods that Henry Thourou traveled and wrote about 150 years ago. One half-page reference to Deliverance and jokes about banjo-playing rapists mean it can’t be “G” but “PG” is very fair.

The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You know these.

The Harry Potter books. You know these too.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes – Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle

All 1100 pages. out loud, twice. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I recomend it. Smoking, light drinking, cocaine use by Holmes when he’s bored. (Watson portrays this unsympatheticly…)

The Fallen Man – Tony Hillerman.

Set on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, Hillerman’s mysteries are solved by members of the Navajo Tribal Police. They’re deeply rooted in place and time, and the Navajo and dominant cultures. In this story, a skeleton discovered over 1000 feet up a pinacle which is both popular with climbers and a Navajo sacred place. It may be a rancher who disappeared on his honeymoon years before…

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiel Hammett.

A woman with a complex story visits the small detective agency of Sam Spade and Miles Archer. Archer agrees to watch over her case personally. He is found, shot dead, in the middle of that night, and Sam Spade has to figure out who killed him, and why, and do something about it. One character in a criminal association is gay, and Spade refers to him as a “fairy” in one scene. There are suggestions that another male member of the gang may be his lover, which are not treated as positive. Relatioinships outside of marriage, past and present are key parts of the plot. Archer’s is not the only death. None the less, this is Hammett’s finest and a terrific book about being an adult.

Animal, Vegitable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver.

A year of eating locally, and in low-impact, means raising their own food animals and growing crops, as well as preserving by canning and freezing, and seeking meals away from home which are also of locally produced food. Naturally, seasonal foods become staples, and much thought is given to what comes from far away and how commercial, agribusiness farming works, as opposed to small, organic,efforts. Many recipes, the majority of the text is by Kingsolver but her husband and one daughter contribute as well. A really delightful book. A more positive take on the same subject as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Hoot, Flush,

These are really terrific kids books- kid centered points of view, serious conflict without it becoming overwhelming, justice triumphs more or less. Unsympathetic characters get a comeuppance and wits and dairing are shown to match brute force and come out ahead. Very likable protagonists, not the same in each book. I was sorry when each ended. Also see “Scat“, about Florida panthers.

Fate Is The Hunter – Ernest K. Gann

Memior of an airline pilot, from the wild days of the 1920s through the Depression, the war and the post-war boom. Superb, humble and honest adventure stories where nobody succeeds without help and kindness from others. Much dry wit, and a steady roll of the names of friends, co-workers and legends who died when fate finally had their number. I read this in 6th grade and loved it. We read it with Benjamin a couple of years ago and he loved it too. Superb writing. When he tired of the airline business, Gann went to medical school and became a doctor- quite a guy.

The Silent World – Jacques Y. Cousteau

From the invention of the Aqualung, in occupied France, through setting up Calypso for expeditions and setting out to make a life with science and diving. Cousteau wrote all his books in English directly, for the world market I suppose.

The Living Sea, World Without Sun, Jacques Y. Cousteau

Further adventures, exploration and science in the 1950s and early 1960s. I remember reading about most of this in The National Geographic some in the latest issues, some in back issues…

Incredible Victory – Walter Lord

The battle of Midway, as told by hundreds of survivors to Mr. Lord, 20 years later. He manages to tell the central parts of the story using quotes from people who were there, on both sides, the very best kind of history. In mid-1942 the Japanese Navy sets out to destroy the remaining US Pacific fleet. By capturing Midway, only 1200 miles from Oahu, they expect to provoke the US fleet into a final battle and defeat them. They don’t know the US Navy is reading their radio codes. In a single day, and amid enormous cost in American lives from Midway and afloat, dive bombers from two US carriers sink all 4 Japanese carriers, though the Japanese manage to sink one American carrier and an accompanying destroyer. This is the beginning of the why Admiral Nimitz got a freeway named after him… This and “A Night To Remember” are Lord’s most famous books, It helps that the good guys win, but the waste and savagery of war are not glossed over.

A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking

This is such a great book- it starts with a good cosmological joke, and contains only one equation. Its both a story of what is and how we know it, and what we don’t know yet. We saw Hawking on his last visit to the Bay Area and he’s inspiring. Robert Heinlein once wrote that any scientist who can’t explain what they’re doing, to a child, in 10 minutes, is a fraud. Hawking is not a fraud.

Benjamin read a number of Charlie Bone books to himself, and we read one as bedtime reading. Not my first choice, but he liked them a lot. He’s also current in the Maximum Ride and Levin Thumps series’, and looking forward to the next one in each case.

More fiction:

Holes
Around the World In 80 Days, Jules Verne
A Wrinkle In Time – L’Engle (?)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Bach
Summerland
Owls In The Family
– F. Mowat

More natural history:

A Fish Caught In Time –
Waiting For Aphrodite – Sue Hubbell
The Ancient Engineers
– L. Sprague de Camp
Wonderful Life – Stephen J Gould
Life (the first 4 billion years) – Richard Fortey
Trilobite Eyewitness to Evolution – Richard Fortey
The Decypherment of Linear “B”
The Periodic Kingdom
Giant Squid – Ellis
Platypus

The Wisdom of Bones – Walker & Shipman – Benjamin loved this and after this we read The Hominid Gang, by Delta Willis, which he liked even more. Willis has a different view of some of the same people and places that are the foundation for Walker and Shipman’s book. Willis was writing while the Nariokatome aka Turkana Boy, the oldest and so-far best preserved Homo Erectus, was being un-earthed and pieced together.

Books we read pieces of but stopped before the end or didn’t want to read all the way through start to finish:

Little Women – Louisa May Allcott – stopped before Amy died.

Read some, then stopped:
Little House In The Woods
Little House On the Praire
Anne of Green Gables
The Yearling

Read here and there, but not the whole thing. Enjoyed in small pieces. Favorites of mine :^)
Rising from the Plain – John McPhee
Assembling California – John McPhee
Looking for a Ship – John McPhee
Taking Wing – Pat Shipman and
Synapsida – McLaughlin
The Man Who Walked Through Time – Colin Fletcher
Carrying The Fire – Michael Collins

In theory good ideas but not yet actually read by/to Benjamin, yet:

Broadsides From The Other Orders – Sue Hubbell
A Country Year – Sue Hubbell
Life on the Missippi,
Mark Twain

A Distant Mirror – Werthimer
Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn
– Mark Twain
Endurance – Lansing (a powerfully written account of Shackleton’s last Antarctic expedition.)
House of Seven Gables
The Red Badge Of Courage – S. Crane

I, Juan De. Pareja

Historical fiction, story of a Moor who is enslaved and owned by the painter Velasquez… De Pareja eventually becomes a paint himself and provokes controversy by painting a black Jesus and Mary Mother and Child picture.

Pride and Prejudice – J. Austin
Sense and Sensability – J. Austin
Emma – J. Austin
Persuasion – J. Austin
Northanger Abbey – J. Austin
Is Paris Burning?
Beyond the 100th Meridian – W. Stiegner
Wuthering Hieghts
Last and First Men, Starmaker – Olaf Stapleton
A House In Space – Henry F. S. Cooper
(More) Tony Hillerman…
Diary of a Young Girl – Ann Frank