Sunday, August 09, 2009

What I *Really* Did With My Summer Vacation

Yep, that's the top row of my tall 'espresso' bookshelf, and starting on July 1st when I began my blog-cation, this is what I've done with myself--I've read every one of those books. With so much time away from the computer, and no money to spend (July was a very lean month), I didn't have much else to do but read or do the occasional household project. And since you're all familiar with my propensity for laziness, well, you know I certainly did my fair share of reading.

You can click on the picture to get the full-sized effect and read all of the titles, but I'll offer up some thoughts on each one.

Starting on the far left, is Bill Simmons' Now I Can Die In Peace, written after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. The edition I have, however, is the 2008 update with thoughts on the 2007 championship team, along with hundreds of interesting footnotes scattered from beginning to end. The footnotes alone are worth the price of the book--most of them are extremely funny. Simmons would probably be my favorite writer of all time, except for his unnatural affection for the NBA, a subject which bores me to no end. Fully half of his columns get ignored because of that. If he were to become a Peter Gammons-like fixture of the NBA, I'd probably never read another of columns. Sad but true. But the book--even if you're not a Sox fan--is still a great read, and it's much longer than you expect, too. You certainly get your money's worth.

Next to that, one of my all-time favorite books, ever since I read it for the first time back in junior high--Johann Wyss' Swiss Family Robinson. If you've never read it, you're missing out on a truly classic piece of great literature. And no, watching the old 60's movie on the Disney Channel doesn't count, although, it's a great movie, too.

Next on the list is a compilation, the Oxford Book of Sea Stories. Some of the entries are very good, others are... meh. Two of my favorites were Joseph Conrad's Initiation, and Edgar Allen Poe's A Descent Into the Maelstrom.

With just a couple of spare hours on a lazy afternoon, one can easily get through Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Still a classic, and it's a good introduction to all of the jargon-heavy volumes further down this list.

The next book was a complete waste of money and time. It's another compilation called The Greatest War Stories Never Told. First of all, each 'story' is only three or four paragraphs long, and the 'author' or compiler or whatever you call it, tried to go all O. Henry on each one, trying for a big money-shot payoff sentence at the end of each subject. It didn't work, and most of the stories have been heard many many times already. I learned very little new information, and I want my money back.

The next eleven books, as you can see from the picture, are the sum total of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series. I loved reading these. Each volume provided an afternoon's entertainment, and my buckle was completely swashed with every turn of the page. Just a great series of adventures, and I'm sure I'll re-read them many times over the years. For somebody who up until now has been no fan of fiction, I found myself completely immersed.

Unfortunately, Forester only wrote eleven volumes in the series, and I was hungry for more. Enter Patrick O'Brian, with his 20+ volume Aubrey/Maturin series of adventures on the high seas during the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the 19th century. These are much 'meatier' than the Hornblower series, and a difficult read if your frame of mind isn't set properly (like on the quarterdeck of a British frigate, circa 1803 or so). I've read the first two volumes, Master and Commander, and Post Captain, both of which are excellent. At around 500 pages each, it's a commitment, but well worth it. It's not for beginners, that's for sure, because one is likely to get frustrated with the vernacular. But if you stick with it, it all starts to come together. At the very least, it's preparing me to kick everyone's ass on Talk Like A Pirate Day next month... Anyhow, I just finished the second one last night, and the next three volumes are enroute from the good folks at Amazon as we speak.

Next on the list are two of the later Tom Clancy novels-- The Bear and The Dragon, and Teeth of the Tiger. Both of them are the usual Clancy offerings, although every bit of dialogue the Vice President, Robbie Jackson, utters in 'Dragon' is overwrought pap. Seriously, it feels like a sixth-grader wrote that character. Cringeworthy, I think, is the word. Otherwise, it's a fine read. 'Tiger', however, left the door open for another novel, which I hope would be written and released sometime soon--it's been almost six years now. Who does Clancy think he is, Guns and Roses?

After that, there's a paperback called Dumb But Lucky: Confessions of a P-51 Fighter Pilot by Richard Curtis. I'll confess, I just started on that one this morning, and so far, so good. My only gripe is that this latest edition uses the same typeface as must have been used in the original release, 20+ years ago. It's weird how I can tell, but it just looks like an old book once you get past the table of contents.

Rounding out the shelf is probably the most difficult read of the lot--To Rule The Waves - How The British Navy Shaped the Modern World, by Arthur Herman. It's long, it's tedious, and it's a very detailed history book. It would've probably been about 200 pages shorter had the author chose not to give a detailed biography of every person mentioned. Seriously, I got it, most of the great British seafarers came from the west country and Liverpool... Anyhow, the book was on my wishlist for a long time, and one of my readers sent it along over a year ago. It's been sitting on the shelf or in a storage tote ever since, but I finally tackled it this summer. Even though I'm a student of history in general, and naval history in particular, I found it to be a difficult volume to stay with.

Finally, not pictured, because it was sitting on the floor next to my bed at the time, is Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast. I can't say enough good things about it--it should probably be an option on any high school or college freshmen-level required reading list. Having been born in California and considering myself a Californian-in-exile, his observations of 19th century life in coastal California are fascinating, and having spent much time in places mentioned in the book, I found it especially interesting. There is a fair bit of nautical jargon, for one can't spend two years on a tall ship without picking up an entirely new vocabulary. Even so, it goes on the list of all-time favorite books.

Since I did so much reading, and enjoyed my time away from the keyboard so much, that promised 'epic post' on September 1st ain't gonna happen--I'm just easing back into my normal routine of posting here and there, and then sometimes letting fly when the creative dam bursts.

Anyhow, that's about all I've done this summer, besides play a little poker here and there. If any of you have done any good 'beach reading' this summer, let me know what else is good out there. Soon enough, I'll be at the end of my O'Brian novels, and I'll be looking for something else to stimulate the brain.


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