What I’m Reading/Writing (2-2009)

his post contains a list of books I’ve been reading recently. Starting February  2009. See also my 2008 Reading/Watching List2007 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. Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell. A surprisingly engaging light comic novel that inspired the TV series.  The writing style is breezy and light-hearted; the characters come and go, and the narrator makes a lot of journalistic observations (which is wholly in keeping in character). I’ve only started–will check in again when I finish–but I found the male characters just weak and pathetic.
  2. The Curtain by Milan Kundera. Outstanding collection of meditations about the novel and its place in history. I loved every page! Highly recommended.
  3. Why Him? Why Her? by Helen Fisher. Summarizes chemistry.com research into human relationships. Fascinating.
  4. Why We Love, Helen Fisher. An academic treatment about sexual attraction, with special attention to its correlation with hormones.
  5. Plenty Coups, chief of the Crows
  6. Saline Solution by Marco Vassi, for a literary essay. Surprisingly, a mature and cynical work about sexually promiscuous people. Reminded me of Jean Paul Sartre’s novels. Recommended.
  7. That Night Alice McDermott
  8. How the Wise Decide,  Bryn Zeckhauser & Aaron Sandoski. Short journalistic book about how CEO’s make big decisions.
  9. Home Business Tax Deductions, Stephen Fineman (also Working for Yourself).
  10. Travels with Lisbeth. by Lars Eighner. Classic tale about being homeless in Texas. I’m enjoying this work a lot, but there’s really nothing typical about his homeless story. I really enjoyed this work, especially a chapter entitled “Institutional Parasitism.” One conceit of the memoir is why such an eloquent person would be roaming the streets, but if you forget about that for a moment, you can appreciate Lars Eighner’s insights into life from the point of view of a down-and-outer. Highly recommended.
  11. Practical Plone 3. For a book review.
  12. Guinea Pigs, Ludvik Vaculik. Ah, back to Czech writers again!
  13. End of Sex, Erotic Love After the Sexual Revolution by  George Leonard. Philosophical essay and memoir about sex.  Unsure where the book is going, and also it’s easy to see how his views about sex are influenced by his times, but Leonard is a marvelous writer; I’m sure he’s taking the reader someplace interesting.
  14. Lies my teacher told me: Everything your american history textbook got wrong by James W. Loewen. Fascinating and readable analysis of some of the oversimplifications that high school textbooks gives it students.  Especially: Helen Keller (actually a socialist zealot!), Woodrow Wilson (unrepentant imperialist), Pilgrims (too loony to plant crops), Indians (the epidemics killed a lot more than we’ve been told). Highly recommended.
  15. Truth Book, by Joy Castro. Started two years ago, picked up again.
  16. Vegas Pro 8 Editing Workshop by Douglas Spotted Eagle.  How to guide about using video editing software. More of a reference than task-based, but still well-written.
  17. Blood Oranges, by John Hawkes, story with lots of erotic episodes. Quality writing, but not sure where it’s heading.
  18. R Crumb Coffee Table Art Book. Robert Crumb. Although I understand that this book merely compiles Robert Crumb’s comics to make it an autobiographical scrap book,  I still am enjoying this thing tremendously. Highly recommended.
  19. Lowest Blue Flame before Nothing. Lara Stapleton. Short Stories. First two stories were outstanding (though maybe the writing is too fancy and self-conscious). Look forward to finishing.  Great debut by a promising  young Philipino writer.
  20. Shipping News. Annie Proulx. Book on tape in my car.
  21. Dialogue on Love by Eve Kosofsky Sedwick. Unstructured dialogue between literary critic and cancer patient with her psychotherapist. Not sure where we are going with this, but found the concept of it interesting.
  22. Contempt by Alberto Moravia. Second time reading.  This is one of the most psychologically absorbing novel I’ve ever read. It is sad and tragic,  though Moravia has all sorts of insights into relationships and the human heart. It’s funny; I’ve read some other mediocre stuff by Moravia and didn’t expect much here. Oddly, I wasn’t particular enamored by the film when I first saw it (before reading the book). Now that I’ve read the book, I’m tempted to watch it again for curiosity’s sake.  Highly recommended.
  23. Swing It. The  Andrew Sisters Story. by John Sforza. delightful bio of America’s most beloved girl singers. (I’m an adoring fan).
  24. Dubious Persuasions. Jack Matthews.  Smart short story collection by distinguished short story writer. Update, this collection just keeps getting better.  I’m close to calling this the best book of the year and Matthews now one of my fave writers. Highly recommended. Read further thoughts on Jack Matthews.
  25. Aran Islands by John Milington Synge.  Books on tape version of his chatty tale of visiting the famous islands off Galway, Ireland. I am enjoying this tremendously, and the audio reader Donal Donnelly was easily one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Funny, during my Ireland trip I tried to go to the Aran islands to go bike riding, but the storms in the Atlantic were preventing this.
  26. Writing in the Dark. Essays by David Grossman. This Israeli writer writes about morality and art with the seriousness of a Camus and the introspection of Proust. Highly recommended.
  27. Crazy Women by Jack Matthews.  I expect to like this story collection as much as I liked the two other Matthews collections I’ve encountered. So far, I have not been disappointed.
  28. Global Warming & Climate Change Demystified: A Self-teaching Guide. Jerry Silver.
  29. A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages by Kristen Chenoweth gh0stwritten by Joni Rodgers. Entertaining celeb tell all by entertaining actress and singer. Easy reading, with special guest appearance by Aaron Sorkin (who contributes a half-chapter). I mention this merely to show that I read a lot of lowbrow stuff too.  The anecdotes I read were fun and well-told. Kudos to Ms. Rodgers.
  30. Booking in the Heartland. Jack Matthews. Entertaining nonfiction account of a book collector/author.  Highly recommended.
  31. Storyhood as we Know It and other tales by Jack Matthews.
  32. Art of Seduction by Robert Greene.  An attempt to describe different kinds of seductions, as viewed through historical and literary figures. Probably not as profound as the author wishes, but full of insights and interesting stories. Highly recommended if only for readability.
  33. First Loves: A Memoir. By Ted Solotaroff
  34. Cloud Computing by Michael Miller. Mediocre manager’s overview of the subject.
  35. Docbook XSL 4th edition by Bob Stayton.  What a magnificent technical manual. It explains a lot of nonobvious things and gives lots of tips. I’ve been reading the free online version and finally decided to buy the print book. Update: I have reread this book several times and am close to calling it one of the best technical books I’ve read.
  36. DITA 101. Fundamentals of DITA for Authors and Managers. by Ann Rockley, Steve Manning and Charles Cooper. Ebook version about an XML-based language for online documentation.
  37. Hanger Stout Awake, by Jack Matthews
  38. Tales of the Ohio Land, by Jack Matthews. Tales based upon 19th century historical events and legends. Amazing.
  39. Reading Matter by Jack Matthews.
  40. Snoop: What Your Stuff Says about You. Sam Gosling
  41. Tale of Asa Bean by Jack Matthews. Hilarious. Witty. Great fun.
  42. Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx. Overall, I liked the oddity of the subject matter and occasionally enjoyed the drollness, but for the most part the story didn’t seem important to me.
  43. Interior Palace (short story). Jean Stafford. Amazing, the kind of story which reminds me of how much a short story is capable of doing.
  44. What’s the Matter with Kansas? Thomas Frank. Well-written sociopolitical analysis.
  45. Art of the Personal Essay, Anthology edited by Phillip Lopate.
  46. Eureka Street Robert Mclaim Wilson. This probably is the first novel I’ve ever read that could best be described as rowdy and fun. A rowdy novel about boozing and romancing women in the politically-charged city of Belfast. Highly recommended.
  47. Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis by Al Gore. Quite apart from politics, this is a badly needed reference guide about emerging technologies for the general reader.
  48. A long bright future by Laura L. Carstensen
  49. Zen in the Art of Writing. Ray Bradbury. Bradbury is a wonderful raconteur; these essays are a delight.
  50. Free : the future of a radical price / Chris Anderson.
  51. XSL-FO, Dave Pawson.
  52. Amerika: Russian Writers View the United States, edited by Mikhail Iossel and Jeff Parker
  53. Serpent and the Rope by Raja Rao.
  54. Therapy of Desire. Martha Nussbaum. Fascinating ruminations about the long overlooked Hellenistic philosophers by an amazing American philosopher.
  55. Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (audio).

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

  1. Syndromes and a Century, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. I agree with Michael Barrett’s assessment of the film’s  importance.  I enjoy how the film defies conventional cinematic narratives. I literally have no idea what will happen next. Highly recommended.
  2. Empire Strikes Back. Two nostalgia films. These two age very well with time.
  3. Return of the Jedi
  4. Children of Men. Overrated,  incoherently nightmarish.
  5. Baby It’s You. John Sayles. Flawed but recommended. The ending was stunning and weighty. Sayles has the magic touch with dialogue; everything seems so natural and unaffected.  Lots of quick cuts, strange plot progressions. Rosanna Arquette did a great job and has now become one of my fave actresses. She appeared in NY Stories and After Hours, 2 wonderful films from long ago.
  6. Night on Earth. Jiri Jarmusch. I didn’t think it worked that well (especially the 1st piece in Hollywood), but parts were superb.  Sometimes the dialogue seemed unnatural, though I like the story structure.
  7. Trip to Bountiful. Perhaps too weepy for my tastes, but I like its evocations of a small town. Also, I like the minor dramas here–no sex or crashing airplanes. Horton Foote knows how to write, but the dialogue seems stagey. However, the final scene in Bountiful was very cinematic.
  8. Little Miss Sunshine. Typical oddball indie film. Some funny moments with outstanding acting.
  9. Lianna, John Sayles. One of my all time faves! Highly recommended.
  10. Get Smart.  Too big a budget, but the two leads (Hathaway and Carrell) really pull it off.
  11. Easy Money, Rodney Dangerfield. Moderately entertaining comedy.
  12. Wizard of Oz, watched with my 8 year old nephew Dylan. Interesting to see it with his eyes.
  13. Inspector Gadget 2. I did not actually watch this film,  but merely heard the dialogue while working on a computer problem in the next room. But the star French Stewart is one of my fave comic actors, and I should conclude that I found it passable and entertaining.
  14. Once Bitten, early Jim Carrey 1985 teen/sex/vampire comedy.  I just love occasionally watching one of those vapid comedies from my teen years.  It’s interesting how the 90s started taking seriously the vampire/supernatural genre while in the 1980s they were just a source of laughs.
  15. Various Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton films.. Early comic gems from the Arbuckle factory. I laughed and laughed and laughed.  They overcome the limitations of no sound and did some crazy and amazing stuff. Highly recommended.
  16. Cesar et Rosalie, Claude Saudet’s absurd love triangle. An atrocious film populated with likable characters. The most interesting thing about the movie are details from the time period: the beaches, the shops, the ateliers, the wedding, the cars.  There is no other reason to watch this film though.  For something better, see Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s.
  17. Muqaddar ka Sikandar, Prakesh Mehra.  Fast-moving 1970s flick (compare to Sholay). Ridiculously melodramatic, and in fact, I think I turned it off during the last 5 minutes (I can’t remember). But it sustained my attention, and honestly the songs were great! I almost got the sense that the actors were giggling to themselves between cuts.
  18. Waitress, Adrienne Shelly’s last film project. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very well done; there was no subtlety of characterization, plus the film never dealt with the fact that the lead female character was deceiving her abusive husband. I guess male sins allow females to lie about anything.  It was a female + unhappy marriage  wish-fulfillment fantasy.  Andy Griffith’s cameos were good though.
  19. Marnie, Alfred Hitchcock. Character-driven story, with usual Hitchcock elements thrown in (paranoia, mischief, marital suspicion).  The psychological explanation for Marnie seemed a bit too pat, but hey, that’s the 60s.  Atmosphere reminded me a lot of his earlier Rebecca masterpiece, and the set styling reminded me of Rear Window or To Catch a Thief. Not a great film, but I enjoyed the characters and the unpredictabilities.  I had no idea what was coming next!
  20. Les Carabiniers by Godard.  Allegorical & comic anti-war fable. Compare to Dr. Strangelove, but more grounded in WW2 and 19th century conceptions of war.  It struck me how much military victimhood must have been internalized in the French psyche at the time.  This film looks like an impromptu student film, but it was well-done and inventive. High points: the postcard scene, and a scene where a female soldier recites a Mayakovsky poem.  I probably need to revisit early Godard.
  21. After Hours, Martin Scorcese. Just as funny as I remembered, but more about technique and acting than a good story. A lot of directors get started by writing Look-how-quirky-people-can-be movies, and this was Scorcese’s.  By the way, aside from the obvious reference to Kafka’s Before the Law, I saw a lot of parallels with Kafka’s Trial. Not only because of the false-accusation theme, but the subterranean hallways, seductive women popping up and accusing you of straying, and how  the need to please others ends up hurting everybody. Ultimately, this is not an important film, but it’s well worth watching.
  22. Hud, dir Martin Ritt.  As much as I liked this period piece, I couldn’t help feeling that nothing had really developed by the end; we had no real surprises or discoveries about living.
  23. Inconvenient Truth with Al Gore. Highly recommended.
  24. Dark Knight. Well done and clever, but after a while, I grew weary of the sadism and panic.  These sorts of movies feed a general paranoia about life. It is not healthy.
  25. Silver City, directed John Sayles. Clever political satire, with some jabs at the Bush Administration. I liked its unpredictability as well as the affability of the private eye. It’s a conventional comedy, but heads above what we typically see in mainstream American film.
  26. Lone Star, directed John Sayles.  One of Sayles richest and most accomplished works about life on a small border town between Texas and Mexico.  I guess I should call it a great film. Some of the writing and characters and dialogue is just wonderful, but things are always dragging (I noticed that in almost every Sayles film). These are find-the-answer-to-the-secret films, with the journey being more important than the discovery itself. Sayles is great at slice of life, realistic characters and situations. He has an ability to mix lots of characters and show how they  interrelate (that is a conceit of his movies I guess). I like Sayles’ injection of social problems into the story and his unusual plot premises.  Aesthetically I have found Lianna to be Sayles most perfect film (so far), but the cast of characters in Lone City is much more interesting. Despite a few plot surprises, I was less interested in plot and more intrigued by characters. One risk of an  ensemble film is that you can’t tie up all the plot threads adequately, and if you do, it all seems too neat. As a thought exercise, I’ve tried to remove some of the characters from the story and ask what I lose. They all fit in some way. It’s interesting to me by the way that Sayles was never tempted to produce a TV miniseries  (like Twin Peaks) where stories can be interweaved and given minor resolutions at the end of each episode.  Although there is one big denoument at the end, the story had a lot of smaller denouments as well. Highly recommended.
  27. Jack Benny Comedies. Jack Benny isn’t amazingly funny (like Sid Caesar for instance) but he has moments; I enjoy nostalgic variety/sitcom shows if only to see what people used to find funny. The contemporary Jay Leno/David Letterman don’t seem to have the talent to be funny on their own.
  28. All in the Family. Season One and Season Two. Because this is my alltime fave TV show, I speed through this series in no time at all.
  29. Up in Smoke, Cheek and Chong
  30. Lookout,  Scott Frank. Teen with injury gets caught up in a bank heist. Kept my interest, but predictable.
  31. Being There. Hal Ashby. Rewatched one of my favorite movies.
  32. Pee Wee Hermann’s Big Adventure. Rewatched.
  33. Red Dwarf. Rewatched.
  34. Superbad. Mediocre teen-sex-party-booze movie. God, I can’t believe I actually watched it. It’s Porky’s + American Pie + Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Only interesting thing is that it was written by two people when they were 13 years old. It shows. If you want a teen-sex-party movie that is actually decent, check out Revenge of the Nerds or the more mature After Hours.
  35. Grease. Amazingly, I never saw this film until now. I liked the film overall, (kitsch and all), but one scene just blew me away: Frankie Avalon’s Beauty School Dropout. Hilarious, silly and syrupy. Elegantly choreographed. What a lovely surprise! After seeing this film, I have more of an appreciation for the Blues Brothers, which I’m beginning to think is the classic American musical (excluding cartoons of course).
  36. Blink. Brilliant psychological thriller directed by Michael Apted.
  37. Waltz with Bashir, dir Ari Folman.
  38. Lost TV Series. 3 Seasons worth!
  39. 10 Things I hate about you. Not a bad teen comedy, starring my fave teen actors from Third Rock.
  40. Tin Men. Interesting (but not great) character comedy about Baltimore salesman who find a reason to hate each other.
  41. Paris Je T’aime. Fascinating concept that could be replicated for just about any city.
  42. The Quiet Man. John Ford.
  43. Lost Season 4.
  44. The Method , dir Marcelo Pineyro. Clever adaptation of Jordi Galcerán’s play.
  45. Heroes, Season 1-4. This took 3 weeks out of my life.  I will write more about this separately, but I generally enjoyed this series for its comic book value.
  46. The Gods Must be Crazy 1 and Gods Must be Crazy 2. I loved Gods 1; it still looks good with time. Gods 2 is a little less interesting and has fewer great moments, but it is not a waste of time. Special addition: DVD extra on Gods 1 about the life of N!au was interesting and even a little sad.
  47. Cloverfield.
  48. Drew Carey Show Season 1.
  49. Dude, Where’s the Party?
  50. Sunrise, dir Murnau (silent).
  51. McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Robert Altman
  52. Falling Down, dir Joel Schumacher
  53. Leave It to Beaver, Season 1
  54. Phone, by a Korean director
  55. 100 Girls
  56. Damage
  57. Blade Runner, ridley scott. 3rd time.
  58. Simpsons Season 1
  59. Say Anything. 2nd time.
  60. DamageUnfinished. Damn you Netflix for taking this off the Instant Viewing list. (The British political drama did not look very interesting, I’m afraid).
  61. Wall-EAlthough I liked the concept of it, I found the plot to be contrived and just an excuse for Pixar to anthropomorphize inanimate objects.
  62. Office Season 4 and 5 Absolutely hilarious. An actor friend of mine points out that this show is written and filmed entirely as an improvisation, and that is a good insight. The negotiations about the Michael Scott paper company are surreal.
  63. Starship Troopers. Paul Verhoeven Definitely a guilty pleasure, but I like the fact that the movie is unflinching about violence during the fight scenes. The fakeness of the gung-ho ideology is undermined by the raw gruesomeness of the violence.
  64. Falling Down A funny and subtle social comedy and a very well-written script. The best thing about it is that we never know for sure whether the hero is completely sane or bonkers.
  65. Hoop DreamsSecond time. After reading Roger Ebert’s updated review of this film, I watched it again and found it just as exhilarating. This is the archetypal American story; I just love the way the film turned around lots of characters without losing focus on the two basketball players. (Read more).
  66. HancockWhat a brilliant idea for a plot: a superhero who doesn’t care what people think about him and is oblivious to collateral damage. The subplot that develops at the last third is ridiculous, but still this movie was extremely fun and unconventional.
  67. Leave it to Beaver Season 1. Surprisingly well-written and perfectly targeted for children.
  68. Sweet Revenge, starring Carrie Fisher and Rosanne Arquette.
  69. Earth 2. 1994 Sci Fi/Survival series.
  70. Dogfight, directed by nancy savoca. Charming piece about an unlikely romance between a young Marine and a homely folk singer. I love these character studies!
  71. Dead Like Me. Imaginative supernatural series by Bryan Fuller (the same brains behind Pushing Daisies and to a lesser extent, Heroes). The pilot episode seemed charming but formulaic. I probably will watch as few more episodes.
  72. Lost Season 5
  73. Butterfly, a surprisingly well-done old-fashioned Western drama with a lot of suspense and enough twists to please anyone. Pia Zadora did a remarkable acting job. I don’t usually go for historical pieces like this, but the details felt right and plausible.
  74. Who am I this Time? High quality light-hearted TV special about amateur theater in a small town. Amazingly, starring Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon in the 1970s.
  75. Return of the Secaucus 7. Another early John Sayles treasure about college friends getting together 10 years after college for an informal reunion. This movie charmed the pants off me. Compare to Slacker, but with stronger characterization. The scene in the police station was hilarious!
  76. Coupling. Bawdy British comedy that seems to center mainly around sexual humor. Snappy writing and strong actors make this a joy to watch.