Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Bleaargh. Winter colds suck. It's more annoying than incapacitating, but still stinks to have my head stuffed up and my brain stuck in second gear. First cold I've had in a long time, though. Since I had surgery to repair a deviated septum 2 years ago, I've noticed I've been a lot healthier in general in the winter. So if your septum needs un-deviating, I heartily recommend a septoplasty.

Anyway, shockingly enough January 2005 is almost behind us. It's been a fast month. Baby Peter took his first official "step" just three weeks ago and can now walk across the room and has mastered the art of the pratfall.

Something I'm going to try and do at the end of each month this year is a wrap-up of Books I Read. Here's what sped through my shelves this January, with a few notes:

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro. In a madman's errand, I somehow tore through close to 2,500 pages of Caro's three-volumes-to-date biography of LBJ last fall and winter. Enjoyed nearly every page though, and this last volume actually makes U.S. Senate parliamentary wheeling-and-dealing page-turning reading. Terrific political biography.
Men And Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem. Lethem is a novel writer but his short stories are hit and miss for me; this collection is slim but worth reading for "Super Goat Man," about a has-been superhero.
The Rabbit Factory by Larry Brown. The last novel by this late, great Mississippi author. Several thematically linked stories of tragic losers in the South, not Brown's best work but vivid and powerful intermittently. Still hard to believe we lost this fine author, too soon.
His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis. Actually read this for the day job, to review for the newspaper soon. It's a great short (under 300 pages) biography of Washington, who has become so iconic that you tend to forget he was a real live person once. Ellis does a nice job sorting out myth from fiction and trying his best to look at the elusive Washington himself.
Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem. Another Lethem, his first novel, a strange science fiction detective novel. While the mystery itself isn't particularly compelling, the characters and original setting make up for it. Any novel that features a gun-toting genetically altered kangaroo is all right with me.
Songbook by Nick Hornby (re-read), and also by Hornby, The Polyphonic Spree: A Hilarious And True Account of One Man’s Struggle With The Monthly Tide of the Books He’s Bought And The Books He’s Been Meaning To Read (phew!) I totally dig Nick Hornby's criticism, perhaps even more than his fiction ("High Fidelity," "About A Boy.") In fact, I've shamelessly ripped off this list idea from "The Polyphonic Spree," which is just a nifty read through a fellow book-obsessive's monthly reading over the course of a year, annotated extensively with his thoughts on the books he's read. "Songbook" is similar, except dealing with music, and I had to read it again after "Spree" just to keep getting my Hornby fix. Both are highly recommended for anybody who loves reading about other people's pop culture obsessions nearly as much as having their own obsessions.
The Neil Pollack Anthology of American Literature An amusing hodge-podge of literary parody of the Norman Mailer/Gore Vidal/Tom Wolfe style of journalism/fiction, it actually managed to keep the same one-note joke funny and fresh throughout.
The Making of the President 1964 by Theodore White (unfinished) Bought this for a quarter at the used book store, and enjoying it, but for someone weaned on more raw and personal modern political books, it's a bit dry sometimes. One I dip into now and again when I'm in the mood until I'm done.
Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones. This is pretty nifty, an insanely well researched look at the dawn of the comic book and the various mobsters, thiefs and characters who created them. Pretty much every superhero you know was created by Jewish men, from Superman to Spider-Man, and Jones does a great job tying their Jewish self-identity into what became the world of superheroes. Sometimes tragic, with many comic creators getting horribly ripped off by their publishers, but a must read for anyone interested in the hidden corners of comic book history. A book that needed to be written.

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