Category Archives: Books


One of my new favorite books is “5“, by Dan Zadra. It’s a great book for any dreamer who hasn’t yet gotten around to doing. The book isn’t just meant to be read, it’s filled with questions and activities designed to help figure out what you want to do over the next five years of your life. Among the nice touches are inspirational quotes from people large in stature and small, including this gem, author unknown:

Each morning he’d stack up the letters he’d write…tomorrow. And he thought of the friends he would fill with delight…tomorrow. It was too bad indeed; he was busy each day, And hadn’t a minute to stop on his way; “More time I’ll give to others,” he’d say…”tomorrow.” But the fact is he died, and faded from view, And all that he left here when living was through Was a mountain of things he intended to do…tomorrow.

Why wait until tomorrow?

Blast from the Past: 100 Olin Novels

Sometime during my freshman year at Olin, the library called for submissions to create a list of 100 novels. In retrospect, I can’t recall why we felt we needed this list: lit readership was alive and well at Olin (thanks in no small part to Mel Chua), and with the Olin Library Community project (where each student selects a book for purchase) and Summer Reading (where in theory we all read a book and discuss it at the start of Fall term), a list of novels selected by members of the community, or even just students, seems superfluous.

I do remember that there was to be a challenge element to this: perhaps some sort of prize was going to be given to the student who read them all first.

At any rate, the list and the challenge died before sophomore year, but for old time’s sake, here is the draft list from which we were to pull the books, taken no doubt from the old Olin wiki, R.I.P. Some of these are classics, some classics of sci-fi, and others just Oliner’s favorite books: no parsed list ever came from these submissions, so this is perhaps an insight from those early days into either what we enjoyed reading, or what we thought we should be reading.

The ones in blue are the ones I’ve read:

100 Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

1984 – George Orwell

A Day in the Life of Ivan Dennisovitch- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith

Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

All the Pretty Horses – Cormac Mccarthy

Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner

Animal Farm – George Orwell

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner

Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand

Babbitt – Sinclair Lewis

Beowulf – Seamus Heaney’s translation

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Byzantium – Stephen R. Lawhead

Candide – Voltaire

Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White

Chronicle of a Death Foretold – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Clan of the Cave Bear – Jean Auel

Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

Connections – James Burke

Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson

Dune – Frank Herbert

East of Eden – John Steinbeck

Eaters of the Dead – Ibn Fadlan (compiled by Michael Crichton)

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Shadow – Orson Scott Card

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Fire and Hemlock – Dianna Wynne Jones

Five Smooth Stones – Ann Fairbairn

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway

Frankenstein – Mary Shelly

Godel, Escher, Bach – Douglas Hofstadter

Good Omens – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

Hamlet – William Shakespeare

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

Hedda Gabler – Henrik Ibsen

Henderson the Rain King – Saul Bellow

Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Hyperion et al – Dan Simmons

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

I, Asimov – Isaac Asimov

I, Robot – Isaac Asimov

Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

Islands in the Stream – Ernest Hemingway

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

Jimmy Corrigan: The smartest kid on earth – Chris Ware

Just So Stories for Little Children – Rudyard Kipling

Lamb – Christopher Moore

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them – Al Franken

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

Macbeth – William Shakespeare

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

Men of Mathematics – Eric Temple Bell

Naked Lunch – William S. Burroughs

Native Son – Richard Wright

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! – Dr. Seuss

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey

Ordinary People – Judith Guest

Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov

Picture This – Joseph Heller

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi

Rootabega Tales- Carl Sandburg

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead – Tom Stoppard

She’s Not There – Jennifer Finney Boylan

Silas Marner – George Eliot

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

Small Gods – Terry Pratchett

Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison

Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder

Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner

Spoon River Anthology – Edgar Lee Masters

Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein

Tales of the Unexpected – Roald Dahl

The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon

The Bell Jar- Sylvia Plath

The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

The Cider House Rules – John Irving

The Control of Nature – John Macphee

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon

The Dancing Wu Li Masters – Gary Zukav

The Emigrants – Vilhelm Moberg

The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan

The First Circle – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Forever War – Joe Haldemann

The Giver – Lois Lowry

The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

The Iliad & The Odyssey – Homer

The Jungle – Upton Sinclair

The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint Exupery

The Man Who Planted Trees – Jean Giono

The Moon is Down – John Steinbeck

The Oedipus Cycle – Sophocles

The Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemingway

The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

The Red Tent – Anita Diamont

The Right Stuff – Tom Wolfe

The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Search for Delicious – Natalie Babbitt

The Second Tree from the Corner – E B White

The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx

The Stranger – Albert Camus

The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

The Tin Drum – Gunter Grass

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera

The Wonderful O – James Thurber

The World According to Garp – John Irving

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Trinity – Leon Uris

Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom

Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett

Walden – Henry David Thoreau

Welcome to the Monkey House – Kurt Vonnegut

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

Winesburg, Ohio – Sherwood Anderson

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig

Google = The Ultimate Copy Protection

NEW YORK—A popular romance novelist alleged to have lifted work from other texts acknowledged that she sometimes “takes” her material “from reference books,” but added that she didn’t know she was supposed to credit her sources.

“When you write historical romances, you’re not asked to do that,” Cassie Edwards told The Associated Press, speaking earlier this week from her home in Mattoon, Ill.

Edwards then asked her husband to get on the phone. He told the AP that his wife simply gets “ideas” from reference books.

“She doesn’t lift passages,” Charles Edwards said, adding that “you would have to draw your own conclusions” on how closely his wife’s work resembles other sources.

Tip: if you’re going to copy from somewhere (like I did with the above from the Boston Globe) it’s probably a good idea to cite that source. Because a pox o’er your head if you don’t. That pox is Google, which knows everything. When somebody reads your work, and then reads something similar that predates your work, it’s over, man. You’ve lost.

I don’t buy the “I didn’t know I had to” defense from Mr. and Mrs. Edwards: successful artists, filmmakers, and writers know full well the intricacies of copyright law. Think your readers would have been dismayed to see a bibliography in the back of your historical romance? Cite your sources, come up with your own language: you’re selling a story, not a collection of other people’s work connected by a thin “romance” plot.

Much more on the story at (sigh) Smart Bitches Trashy Books

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The Birthday of Comon Sense

Common Sense, the pamphlet by Thomas Paine, was published this day in that most weighty of American years, 1776.

IN the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and prepossession, and suffer his reason and his feelings to determine for themselves; that he will put on, or rather that he will not put off, the true character of a man, and generously enlarge his views beyond the present day.

They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

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Sweetness of the Day – Swaptree

At the end of last semester, I had a giant tub of books I’d read through my four years at Olin. I didn’t want to schlep them anymore: they weren’t going to fit in my new apartment, they weighed about sixty pounds, and what was the point? I had already read these books: they were of little use to me.

How wrong I was.

From The Freakonomics Blog, I fell upon Swaptree, a book/CD/DVD/Video game swapping site. The interface is well done, the ability to add books is smart (though not as smart as Olinbuster, Sean) and there’s a plethora of books out there. Two hours after quickly adding a few books I don’t want anymore (I tried to list Washington’s Spies, but no one wanted it. Damn!) I had completed one trade and had another pending. I’ve always wanted to read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat, and now I’m only paying the shipping for The Tipping Point (which, astute Oliners will note, was given to me by the college last year.)

It’s not for everyone, or every book: I wouldn’t trade my copy of Paper Prototyping for anything. But if you don’t mind trading used book for used book, and not having a static library, check it out.

Now I kinda wish I still had that big tub of books….


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PotterMania 2007 now approaching froth-at-the-mouth levels

Pulled up the good ol’ GReader this morning, and the first three links were about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Two were from National Public Radio, and the third from the venerable Gray Lady herself.

I’m going to guess that this is a gosh darn big deal. Huge, if you consider that the book is still some news cycles away and the Times is already running its review. Ginormous, if you remember that it’s been two years since book the sixth, and the countdown has been going since. Keeping the momentum for two full years? Even the iPhone might not manage that.

Granted, it’s not like I didn’t see this coming. I mean, holy shit, Harry Potter is bigger than Jesus. (Remember the last time something from the UK was like that?) But I guess the wizard boy that entertained me a decade ago (I own a first edition thanks to my mom) is a tad bit bigger than he used to be. I think the Boston Globe has been talking about HP for months.

My two concerns are: how will book the last be received, and is this really book the last? For the former: I assume well, but the latest in a whole bunch of franchises haven’t been exactly trumpeted.

As to the latter: I’ve never heard anything to the contrary, but Harry Potter is a pretty lucrative franchise….for a select few. HP isn’t exactly a thrill for booksellers, especially after Warner Bros. decreed no profiting parties for Potter. And since bookstores have long lost their claim to exclusivity for selling HP books (I’ll be buying mine at my local Shaw’s supermarket, gas station, or Costco….), and they don’t make a profit on the book anyway, who knows if they’ll be prepared for possible book 8.

What do you think? Will you be going to a Potter Party? Going to hang out in Hogwarts Square? Will there be a book 8 or 9?

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Can you put a book down?

Right now, I’m struggling to finish Washington’s Spies, the topic of which (espionage in the times of the Revolutionary War) has been on my mind since I toured the International Spy Museum in DC last summer.

The book is well researched and the topic engaging: my problem lies in the density of the material. A lot of names and supplemental anecdotes leaves me grasping to remember who the “important” people are, and who is merely side-story.

I want to like this book, but I can’t help but find it work to finish it. I’m just not in the mindset right now to truly appreciate it. I really want to put the book down and start in on The Economic Naturalist, but I find the idea of leaving a book unfinished somewhat abhorrent.

To me, books should be the last bastion of devoted attention. I’ll turn off a crummy movie or terrible TV show, and I’m even willing to walk out of a bad play, concert, or sporting event, but I can count the books I’ve left unfinished on one hand: and a few of those are only because I left it on a plane.

I’ve given Washington’s Spies a fair shake, reading a hundred pages or so. And I suppose I would be more amenable to finishing it if I actually had the time to read it. (Any tips?) But the loads of other, more interesting books on my list (birthday in two weeks!) make me itch to wander.

What do you think? Are you willing, or even able, to put a book down?

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A Zero-Book Balance: Part 1

Everyone’s always giving me books. And if they’re not, they’re recommending them to me.

Have you read ‘The Bridge of San Luis Rey’? No, I reply. You Must! It’s a classic. What about ‘The Grapes of Wrath’? No, it’s on my bookshelf, though. Does that count? Of course not! It’s Steinbeck’s finest work, you must read it. But I’ve seen the movie, does that count?

An icy glare is my response.

In time, I’ve developed a book problem. Not a problem with books, the object; no other set of instruments can produce such incredible music. Nor to I have problems with books, the material; even if I know the plot (and I am the most awful of reader, the plot kind: one who takes little pleasure in the little details, I could care less if Mme. Bovary’s shirt is red or polka-dot green) I have still read a book, boring as it was.

My problem is one not with books, I suppose, but with the physical world: a lack of space and a plethora of fiction. But if I loathe one thing, it is not finishing a book: no matter how droll, how dreary, how damnably awful, there is nothing more satisfying than the final close of the back cover. (I have, of course, on occasion, skipped a few pages here and there, like watching an awful movie on fast-forward)

I am seeking resolution; I crave empty shelves. Laid before me is a stack of some thirty books, the bulk of which have plagued me from afar, on shelves here in Florida while I ponder about them in bookstores and libraries in Massachusetts. Have I read ‘The Death of Vishnu’? Do I own it at home? No more will these books take up space. I’m going to read them, one by one, over the semester, and then donate them somewhere.

There is nothing more embarrassing than having not read a book everyone else has read. I know ‘Huck Finn’ is required for damn near every school in every state, but we didn’t read it, ok? And there’s nothing worse than having someone say “I hated book so-and-so” just as you’re about to start reading it. So I’m not telling which ones they are, at least not now. Maybe when I finish a few, I’ll make a small note of it. The goal is to finish all of these, these 30 damnable books, by the end of the semester. It’s not going to be easy: that’s roughly a book and a half a week at a place where time is already at a premium. But, I’m going to view this as an extra 4 credits: 12 hours a week spent doing something interesting and engaging for myself, not for a professor. Live long learning at its best, no?