What I’m Reading/Watching (2010)

This post contains a list of books I’ve been reading recently. Starting January 2010.  See also my 2009 Reading/Watching List2008 Reading/Watching List , 2007 Reading/Watching List my previous Sept 2004 to Oct 2005 reading list or my Nov 2005 to Nov 2006 Reading List , so definitely check that out as well. See also my Best of 2006 for a scoop about favorites. See also Writers who have Changed Me. A few remarks. I’m reading several books at a time, and to be honest, sometimes I don’t read all of them depending on the content or my interest. Usually however, it’s been a matter of attention span and what other projects I’ve been doing. Also, you might want to check my favorite novels, and my Amazon.com wishlist. Also here’s an annotated photo of my bookshelf Also, I haven’t read most of these books, but I’ve been setting up Amazon lists of classic Texas novels (100 novels and counting). You also might enjoy reading my Amazon list of Unforgettable Forgettable Novels. I’ve also started adding my book inventory to librarything.com (although I’m allowed to input only 200 titles). At the bottom of this page you will find a list of movies I’ve been watching.

What I’m Reading

  1. Memoirs of a Bookman by Jack Matthews. Brilliant as usual.
  2. Therapy of Desire by Martha Nussbaum. Fascinating discussion of Hellenistic philosophy and its insights into contemporary morality.
  3. Dog Bible. Tracie Hotchner’s classic reference guide to pet ownership. The book is so indispensable that I have to wonder how people had dogs before this book was written.
  4. Purple Cloud by M.P. Shiel.
  5. CSS: The Definitive Guide by Eric Meyer. Not a bad book, but it’s definitely a case where print books matter less than seeing it on a web page. Still a handy reference.
  6. Eureka Street by Robert McLaim Wilson. Really terrific social novel about living in Belfast during the political turbulence of the 1990s. In many ways this is a perfect novel. Lots of subplots and reprises and characters.  I’ll be honest; I haven’t been really  interested in the internecine squabblings of  Belfast, but this book made me care about it.  This is a rough bawdy novel with lots of skirmishes, outbursts, silliness and even introspection. Someone compared it to Bonfire of the Vanities or the Corrections; never having read that, I don’t know how apt this comparison is, but I enjoyed being surprised by new characters and situations. The central character is a  boorish fellow who is utterly sick of the political nonsense swirling about him; in a way he just lets everything slide over him without caring.  By the end, we learn that he has turned into an assertive and active character has started to care  (and so do we the readers)    Highly recommended.
  7. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Listened in my car. Recommended.
  8. Dachshunds for Dummies. Any idea why I bought this book?
  9. Serpent and the Rope by Raja Rao
  10. 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley. Rereading. Brilliant stuff.
  11. Edge Online Question of the Year. “How has the Internet changed the way you think?”
  12. Two books by Dan Roam about using pictures to communicate. Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin.
  13. Incomplete Education. Judy Jones. Great time-waster book of odd literary facts.
  14. Feed Your Pet Right, Marion Nestle. (on my ipad!). Good and absorbing, but too academic to be helpful.  (Read more).
  15. One More Year. Sana Krasikov. Well-written short stories.
  16. The Novel: An Alternative History (Beginnings to 1600). Steven Moore massive historical perspective on the long literary art form. Fascinating and engaging. Highly recommended.
  17. Docbook 5: The Definitive Guide. by Norman Walsh.  I will have an ebook version for my ipad and a print version.
  18. No Impact Man by Colin Beaven. Saga of a couple that tries to minimize its carbon footprint for a year. Highly recommended.
  19. EPUB Straight to the Point. Liz Castro. Excellent introduction to the epub ebook standard. Probably overpriced for what it does (especially because too much time is spent on InDesign stuff—strictly an industry tool), but the last third on CSS for epub is great.
  20. Storms of  my grandchildren. by James Hansen. America’s leading climatologist covers the politics and science of climate change. The technical parts were a little hairy, but I’m glad Hansen did not water it down too much; we need this level of detail. Other fascinating tidbits: behind-the-scene look at Bush Administration’s handling of climate change (did you know the 2000 campaign promised to regulate CO2 until mid 2001 when they cancelled that promise until the Supreme Court ordered the EPA to do this. It is a shocking fact). Also intriguing was a hypothetical situation (actually a short sci fi story) about a life form from another star system who arrive on Earth in 2100 suprised to find the climate devastation.  Highly recommended, but be prepared to wade through some science.
  21. What’s the Worst that Could Happen? by Greg Craven. This book (inspired by a Youtube video)  details the logical arguments for climate change legislation. Craven is a high school science teacher (which strangely, seems to qualify him to address arguments on a basic level).  I haven’t finished the book, but so far what I’ve read has been interesting and helpful. Recommended.
  22. Kitty Foyle. Christopher Morley.
  23. Great Voyeur: observations on my sexual history. By MC Radiance. Comic tell-all about a young man’s sexual history. Free & Creative Commmons. This book is both funny and light-hearted and a delight to read (so far). The mulitalented MC Radiance has published a number of fast-paced, imaginative and sexually explicit books on Feedbooks. A critic compared him to Tom Robbins; I would add Garcia Marquez, Salmon Rushie and Terry Southern. I haven’t read enough to know if there is any depth or great themes, but so far it reads very well.
  24. Eaarth. Bill McKibben. Highly recommended.
  25. Sassafras. Jack Matthews. Comic epic tale about a phrenologist in 19th century America. This comic & philosophical tale is like the American Candide.  Highly recommended.
  26. Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley.
  27. Solar by Ian McEwan. (Audio).
  28. Ascetic of Desire by Sudhir Kakar. Imagined tale about the author of the Kama Sutra. Cerebral and historically accurate.
  29. Fun Home. By Allison Bechdel.  Graphic memoir about a lesbian woman’s relationship with her dad.
  30. I know You are Lying: Statement Analysis. Mark McGlish. Brilliant book by former federal marshal and investigator about the rhetorical patterns of people’s statements when they lie.
  31. Various Choose Your Own Adventure books. I enjoyed rereading the story adventure books written for children.
  32. CSS Cookbook. Christopher Schmitt. Generally great reference guide to tips and tricks for CSS.

What I’m Watching . (See also my Netflix Movie Queue)

  1. Coupling. Bawdy British comedy that seems to center mainly around sexual humor. Snappy writing and strong actors make this a joy to watch.
  2. Unforeseen. dir. Laura Dunn. Documentary about real estate development in Austin. Regrettably, this documentary about Austin real estate development had too much style and not enough substance. I think there was some drama in the subject matter, but the narrative wasn’t constructed well enough.
  3. Syndecdoche, New York. Charlie Kaufman. Total snoozefest with some interesting set pieces. This is a good example of the anti-hero artist. It’s hard for films to depict the artistic struggle in an interesting or sympathetic way.
  4. Too much sleep by David Maguilin. Entertaining and not-totally great film about a security guard who loses his pistol and goes on a wild goose chase with his uncle to find it. Good color, and lots of good fun, but the scenario didn’t strike me as plausible, especially as the film wound to a close
  5. Welcome to the Dollhouse. by Todd Solondz. Uncensored look at adolescence. This film could have gone overboard but did not. Highly recommended.
  6. Candidate by Michael Ritchie It’s uncanny how much of this political comedy still remains relevant today. Highly Recommended.
  7. Zero Effect dir by  Jake Kasdan. Totally entertaining detective mystery, with lots of twists. I was guessing the whole time.  I loved this film because the detective is so quirky and the plot development was so unpredictable. I love it when a genre flick like this exceeds expectations. Highly recommended.
  8. Doctor Who (2005 incarnation)
  9. Get Smart Again, TV sequel  in the late 1980s, starring most of the original cast. I watched that mainly for nostalgia reasons; oddly, I didn’t laugh a lot, but  I enjoyed it nonetheless. I liked the experience of a show that was made before my birth takes place in my own time.
  10. Nine Lives, directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Great series of dramatic shorts. Sometimes, the melodrama was over the top, but overall, I liked the dialogue and the everyday setups. Recommended.
  11. Man from Earth. Eerie philosophic tale by sci fi writer Jerome Bixby about a man who claims to be thousands of years old and tells his friends. All the dialogue sparkled. Parts were predictable, but the dialogue was so fascinating that I indulged some of the artifices. Also, I like people-in-a-room films (see Richard Linklater adaptation of Stephen Belber’s play,  Tape).  Highly recommended.
  12. Black Hawk Down,  directed by Ridley Scott of a book by Mark Bowden. Harrowing and intense war tragedy involving American elite troops in Somalia. This movie was well-done and fitting, but my main complaint is that it goes for the orgy of violence approach. My sense is that even in slaughters like this, there is a lot of waiting and pauses between gunfire.  Instead, the film portrays it as a nonstop gunbattle — which strikes me as very Hollywood.
  13. Hurt Locker. Generally a great film, but I am growing tired of the usual testosterone cliches (playful punching, cockiness, self-righteous yelling,  nonstop profanity). Egad, I read somewhere that during the Civil War, soldiers never cussed. Hollywood changes perceptions.
  14. Lost 6th season. I am so psyched for this season! Bring on the tricks!
  15. Office. 6th Season. This series still seems fresh and on target; it manages to capture the essence of the American workplace perfectly.
  16. Lars and the Real Girl. Total dud of a film about nerdy guy who falls in love with a mannikin. No new ground, not even intelligently written.
  17. Dr. Who Season 1 and 2
  18. Real Genius. A surprisingly contemporary film with no real point.  (The premise is faulty: why would students gleefully accept military grant money and not have any pangs of guilt until later). That said, I love movies/TV shows about geniuses. Great material for satire.
  19. My Darling  Clementine. A film more interesting for its ambience than for plot
  20. Abel Raises Cain. great documentary about master of hoaxes. The thing it did exactly right was not hide the fact it was being told by the daughter’s perspective.
  21. Life after Tomorrow. Delightful documentary about women who played the lead role in the Broadway play Annie. Funny, sad, poignant and a lot of fun. Ok, these women were extraordinary people anyway, but it was revealing to see how the national tour changed their life so much.  You can view the entire film online here. Highly recommended.
  22. Spanish Man, dir David Mamet. Engrossing but not particularly memorable suspense double-crossing. I keep needing to remind myself that Mamet’s double-crossing never really amount to anything. Then again, you could do worse.
  23. Letter from Iwo Jima. Japanese portion of Clint Eastwood’s two part tale. With the except of All Quiet on the Western Front or Ran, I’m hard pressed to think of any anti-war this desolate and eloquent. Highly recommended.
  24. Doctor Who. Seasons 3 and 4. Especially good, although the finale of Season 4 was awful (those irritating Daleks!). Don’t miss the Blink episode written by Stephen Moffatt
  25. Before the Devil Knows you’re dead. Fargo, but within the family. Depressing and not really insightful. These robberies gone wrong movies don’t interest me any more.
  26. Moon. Fascinating though not brilliant science fiction tale about a lonely worker on the Moon. There were parallels to 2001. The bang at the end didn’t really mean much.
  27. Doctor Who, selected Tom Baker episodes. City of Death and Caves of Androzani. Allegedly the finest episodes of the series, there was too much deus ex machina to enjoy these.
  28. A Perfect Candidate. Revealing look at a failed senate race for the flawed Republican candidate Oliver North. I found this more engaging than I expected.
  29. The Personals. Not-very- interesting tale of an educated doctor who uses personal ads to meet eligible bachelors. This Chinese  film had moments (and the overall premise was good). But the woman’s attitude to the bachelors was condescending and insulting. It is an easy source of humor to caricature flawed bachelors. The deeper reality is that in real life most bachelors are average and polite and yet inadequate for the woman’s standards. Maybe this could have worked as farce.
  30. Carbide and Sorrel. Wonderful and charming adventure  of a man in East Germany trying to deliver some carbide for his black market friends. One of my favorite films.  It has been said that East German films of that period had a political agenda of rendering Soviet leaders more sympathetic than they actually were. That may be, but it’s certainly true that a film like Carbide and Sorrel dealt with individuals, not governments.  Highly recommended.
  31. I was 19. Excellent and somewhat shocking East German film about a 19 year old Russian soldier who was sent into East Germany to handle the surrender on a border city.  Because he spoke German fluently, he ended up playing a larger role in the handover than his age would allow. I love this film because it refuses to label Soviets as one way and Germans as another. Both are helpless pawns in a larger political system.  The political purpose of this film is to  put Soviet actions into a sympathetic  historical perspective (and I think it succeeded). But  Recommended.
  32. Gleiwitz Case
  33. No Impact Man
  34. A Place in the Sun. By George Stevens.  Great adaptation of the Dreiser classic. I like how the cinematography suggests intention and how the film dealt with ambiguous situations. I worried that the film was going to turn the male lead into a monster, but the lake scene makes it clear that thoughts of murder don’t necessarily imply that one is a murderer.   Not only a lush film, but one which deals with people in impossible situations.  Although the story stupidly declares the rule that the male lead cannot have an affair with an office worker (an impossibly strict rule that seems to drive the direction of the film), in fact the film didn’t need this conceit at all. People can relate to the fact that the homely beau cannot compare to the flighty person in a different social class. There is a minor but heartbreaking scene near the beginning where the male lead is uncomfortable at the party and mistakes someone’s greeting as directed towards him and another  where the Elizabeth Taylor character fails to notice him altogether. Recommended.
  35. Keith, dir, Todd Kessler.  Flawed but remarkable teen angst film about a popular girl in high school  drawn to a quirky wiseguy who just wants to have fun. She is fascinated by his happy-go-lucky approach to life and wonders if his scorn about  her involvement in the rat race of school is in fact justified. This film reminds me of how turbulent and despairing teenage years can be. But the film’s perspective is overly limited (maybe because the girl’s perspective is too?)  Apparently this girl who is  so level-headed can’t confide in any of her friends or family about her inner angsts (thus ensuring  lots of melodrama and potentially the loss of her “normal” boyfriend).  Although the story is doing a lot of interesting things (with great dialogue, lots of surprises and well-grounded realities), let me ask a question. Near the end the girl learns a secret about Keith which changes her attitude. If this secret didn’t exist, do you think the girl would have been as interested in saving him? The conceit of this film is that a girl can/should lower her standards in order to “rescue” a man. But what if he didn’t need rescuing and just was the way he was for no special reason — would her enthusiasm towards Keith have been the same? Probably not, and that is why the film seems emotionally manipulative. At the same time, I like how the film avoids cliches and lets the popular girl stop being cute and start being a little irrational. For more examples of the “teen angst” genre, watch Baby It’s You (dir, John Sayles), Trust (dir, Hal Hartley) and Flirting (John Duigan). The film Keith definitely belongs in the same company. Recommended.
  36. Firefly, Joss Whedon, Season 1. Highly recommended as escapist entertainment.
  37. Serenity, Joss Whedon film. Amazingly I saw this before watching Firefly. I enjoyed it a lot more after watching Firefly!
  38. Dollhouse, Joss Whedon, Season 1
  39. Thieves Highway, dir, Jules Dassin.
  40. Soap TV series. Ranks up there as one of my alltime favorite series.
  41. The Visitor. Recommended.
  42. I’ve Loved you for so long. Philippe Claudel. Occasionally interesting story of a female convict living with her sister. The story arc was predictable (and the secret revealed turned out not to be that important to the character development). I liked the film more for its French ambience and its pace of life which seems so different from the American one.
  43. Pusher. Nicolas Winding Refn’s amazing portrait of a drug pusher’s life. Drug dealer movie have a predictable feel to them, but the movie was redeemed by the “human” portrait of the Serbian kingpin, the girlfriend and the strange ramblings of the sidekick. The visual style was amazing, and for a while I was really entranced by the whole world. Highly Recommended.
  44. An Education. Interesting and light-hearted story about a pretty young high school girl and a lecherous older man who shows her a time.
  45. Flags of Our Fathers. Clint Eastwood’s magnum opus about the battle of Iwo Jima. Critic friend Mike Barrett said this one was better than the movie it is paired with “Letter from Iwo Jima,” and I agree (but both are outstanding). A fascinating look at the American war propaganda machine. Because its ostensible subject is patriotism, many conservatives who watch this might not notice its contemporary relevance. Highly recommended, along with Letter from Iwo Jima.
  46. My Cousin Vinny. I’ve watched this silly Dale Launer classic two dozen times, and I always laugh a lot at it. Marisa Tomei was totally hot! (And yet, I don’t think I’ve seen another movie with her). Fun fact. The studios wanted to remove the Marisa Tomei character; imagine that! Highly recommended, but you already knew that.
  47. Food Inc. Good documentary about the lunacies of food production. As a documentary it works well. What I remember most: “What does it say about our food supply when a hamburger ends up being cheaper than a head of broccoli?” That’s an excellent question.
  48. Tales from the Script. Fun documentary about Hollywood screenwriters. Generally fun and full of insight.
  49. Bicycle Thief. (for the 100th time).
  50. La Jetee. I was ready to watch and enjoy this French experimental sci fi film, but it didn’t grab me.
  51. Revenge of the Nerds. I remember liking this countercultural anti-frat-boy film during college. Now it just seems tiresome and rolling in cliches. We need better and more compelling movies about college life!
  52. Doctor Who: The Water of Mars. Suspenseful episode in the near future about colonization of Mars.  In many ways a typical episode, the end actually raises the stakes: can the Time Lord ultimately control destiny?
  53. South Park, various episodes in later seasons. I grow weary of Southpark’s reductionistic characteristic of do-gooders (I wish they might pay more attention to global warming and BP than the “evil” posed by Sally Struthers and hybrid cars), but it’s a guilty pleasure when taken in moderate doses.
  54. Some Kind of Wonderful. John Hughes. Recommended.
  55. Easy A.
  56. Georgy’s Girl
  57. Hot Tub Time Machine
  58. Contact. Zemeckis.
  59. Mandabi. Ousmane Sembene. Highly Recommended.
  60. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
  61. Water Lilies. Céline Sciamma
  62. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
  63. The Mask, with Jim Carrey.  Recommended.
  64. Comedians of Comedy.
  65. Capitalism: a love Story. Michael Moore.
  66. Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles. This two season sci fi continuation of the movie franchise offered lots of surprises. These sci fi/time travel thriller series seem to be getting easier to pull off nowadays, but still this film kept me guessing in a good way. Highly recommended.
  67. The Visitor. Dir. Thomas McCarthy.  Recommended.
  68. Hot Tub Time Machine. Steve Pink.
  69. Dude Where’s My car? Highly recommended.
  70. Catherine Tate Show. Recommended. Tate is amazing!
  71. Lie to Me (seasons 1 and 2)
  72. South Park Season 12.
  73. The Proposition. Totally uninteresting and predictable historical bloodbath. This one comes from Australia. Yuck!
  74. Secret of Roan Inish.
  75. Kontroll. Hungarian thriller about traffic inspectors on the Budapest subway. Not a masterpiece, but I loved the characters and the atmosphere and the remarkable settings. Most humorously, an official from Hungary’s transportation department introduces the film and stresses that he approved the use of the subways for this film even though the real-life metro conductors are nowhere near as wild. Gee, thanks! Highly recommended.
  76. Meet John Doe. Frank Capra film starring Barbara Stanwick. It had its cynical moments, but overall unremarkable.
  77. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. A totally uninteresting TV series by Adam Sorkin and some of the West Wing cast.
  78. Farscape episodes.
  79. 30 Days. Hilarious and fun documentary TV series by Super Size Me Morgan Sperlock.
  80. Brady Bunch movie. Slightly funny satire which I watched mainly for nostalgic reasons.
  81. Rachel Getting Married. Jonathan Demme. Anne hathaway is amazing, and the story is interesting, but I think the story overreaches at several points; plus, some of the confrontation scenes were histrionic and implausible. This film could have been smaller and lower key; instead, the film spent more time on the ritual of the wedding itself. Roger Ebert writes: But I believe the film’s deep subject is the marriage itself: How it unfolds, who attends, the nature of the ceremony, what it has to observe about how the concept of “family” embraces others, and how our multicultural society is growing comfortable with itself.
  82. This Film is Not Yet Rated
  83. Story of a Sex Surrogate.
  84. Chain Camera.
  85. Chop Shop.
  86. Some Kind of Wonderful. Jon Hughes.
  87. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 70s version.
  88. The Tick, TV series.
  89. Contact. Dir Jody foster based on Carl Sagan’s novel. The movie is an abomination, but as a story it worked fine (and at least it seemed internally consistent and realistic for a space movie, a rare thing indeed).
  90. Revenge of the Nerds. What a horrible movie. Regrettably I thought this was effective satire when I watched it in my 20s.
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