The Night Circus

  • Author:  Erin Morgenstern
  • Published:  2011
  • Publisher:  Doubleday
  • Pages:  387
  • First Line:  “The circus arrives without warning.”
  • Last Lines:  “You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.”
  • Film Version:  none yet
  • First Read:  Spring 2011

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The Song of Achilles

  • Author:  Madeline Miller
  • Published:  2012
  • Publisher:  HarperCollins
  • Pages:  378
  • First Line:  “My father was a king and the son of kings.”
  • Last Lines:  “In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk.  Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”
  • Acclaim:  Orange Prize for Fiction
  • Film Version:  none
  • First Read:  Spring 2018 / Spring 2020

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Astonishing X-Men

(4 volumes or two larger volumes or one omnibus)

  • Author:  Joss Whedon
  • Artist:  John Cassaday
  • Published:  2004-2007
  • Publisher:  Marvel Comics
  • Pages:  656
  • First Line:  “Mommy is screaming.”
  • Last Lines:  “You take what you can get.  Cause it’s here, and then gone.”
  • Film Version:  none, although elements from the first volume were used in X-Men: The Last Stand
  • First Read:  Winter 2006 and then ongoing until it ended

Back in 2007, I wrote a piece entitled “Whedon, You Stupid Bastard” with the intention of sending it to one of a couple of websites that I occasionally contributed pieces to, but in the end, I didn’t.  But I still have the piece sitting on my computer and parts of the piece below are straight from that piece (the parts in red), written back when things in my life were a lot different. (more…)

His Dark Materials

  1. The Golden Compass (Northern Lights)
  2. The Subtle Knife
  3. The Amber Spyglass
  • Author:  Philip Pullman
  • Published:  1995  /  1997  /  2000
  • Publisher:  Scholastic
  • Pages:  300  /  400  /  518
  • First Line:  “Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.”
  • Last Lines:  “’The Republic of Heaven,’ said Lyra.”
  • Acclaim:  Carnegie Medal (Northern Lights), Whitbread Book of the Year (Amber Spyglass); Big Read #3
  • Film Version:  2007 (The Golden Compass – ***.5); 2019 (tv series)
  • First Read:  mid 2007

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Straight Man

  • Author:  Richard Russo
  • Published:  1997
  • Publisher:  Random House
  • Pages:  391
  • First Line:  “Truth be told, I’m not an easy man.”
  • Last Lines:  see below
  • First Read:  Summer 2001

The campus novel has a long and strong tradition.  Its origins date back to the 30’s although the comedic campus novel really dates to 1954 with the publication of Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.  While there have been a number of really good serious novels that can be considered campus novels (both Human Stain and Disgrace are among my Top 100 and Possession could definitely be considered one), I prefer the ones that find the humor at the core of the university experience, books like Wonder Boys or Dear Committee Members or even White Noise. (more…)

In a Sunburned Country

  • Author:  Bill Bryson
  • Published:  2000
  • Publisher:  Broadway Books
  • Pages:  335 (paperback with new Appendix)
  • First Line:  “Flying into Australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten again who their prime minister was.”
  • Last Lines:  “You see, Australia is an interesting place.  It truly is.  And that really is all I’m saying.”
  • First Read:  Fall 2001

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spilloverSpillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

  • Author:  David Quammen
  • Published:  2012
  • Publisher:  W. W. Norton & Company
  • Pages:  587
  • First Line:  “The virus now known as Hendra wasn’t the first of the scary new bugs.”
  • Last Line:  “It all depends.”
  • Awards:  Shortlisted for PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award  /  finalist for Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
  • First Read:  Fall 2012

I get a lot of books out of the library, in the same way that I used to read new books at various stores back when I worked at bookstores.  I rarely, however, read those books more than once.  That’s why I buy books: so I can read them again and again.  But every now and then there is a book I go back to and I pull out of the library again.  Such a book is Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, which I first grabbed off the shelf when it was a brand new book and I was working at the Booksmith and which I just dived into for a second time because it keeps pulling at my brain.  There’s a reason for that.  It’s not only a really well-written book, one that tells a good scientific story, a fascinating human story and does it all very well.  It’s also because I have an interest in viruses. (more…)

I, Claudius

  • Roman depravity, decay and decadence in all its literary glory.

    Roman depravity, decay and decadence in all its literary glory.

    Author:  Robert Graves

  • Published:  1934
  • Publisher:  Arthur Barker
  • Pages:  432
  • First Line:  “I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as ‘Claudius the Idiot,’ or ‘That Claudius’, or ‘Claudius the Stammerer’, or ‘Clau-Clau-Claudius’ or at best as ‘Poor Uncle Claudius’, am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach that fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the ‘golden predicament’ from which I have never since become disentangled.”
  • Last Lines:  “What a miraculous fate for a historian!  And as you will have seen, I took full advantage of my opportunities.  Even the mature historian’s privilege of setting forth conversations of which he knows only the gist is one that I have availed myself of hardly at all.”
  • ML Edition:  #20; tan cover
  • Acclaim:  ML Top 100 English Language Novels of the 20th Century #14; TIME 100 Best Novels Since 1923 List; James Tait Black Memorial Prize
  • Film Version:  1937 (aborted); 1976  (TV – ****)
  • First Read:  Late 1998

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highfidelityHigh Fidelity

  • Author:  Nick Hornby
  • Published:  1995
  • Publisher:  Victor Gollancz LTD
  • Pages:  323
  • First Line:  “My desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order.”
  • Last Lines:  “When Laura hears the opening bars she spins round and grins and makes several thumbs-up signs, and I start to compile in my head a compilation tape for her, something that’s full of stuff she’s heard of, and full of stuff she’d play.  Tonight, for the first time ever, I can sort of see how it’s done.”
  • Film:  2000 (****)
  • First Read:  Spring 2000

The Novel:  In the book, Barry is the one who is first obsessed with lists, who introduces them to the other two in the store.  But it’s Rob who’s narrating, Rob who can’t stop making lists, who, in fact, begins the novel with a list.  I read this book because the trailer was out and it looked great and Veronica and I were going to go see it (she owned the book).  And suddenly, for the first time since Catcher in the Rye, I felt like I was reading about myself. (more…)

bernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette

  • Author:  Maria Semple
  • Published:  2012
  • Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company
  • Pages:  326
  • First Lines:  “The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, ‘What’s important is for you to understand it’s not your fault.’”
  • Last Lines:  “Say yes.  And know I’m always, Mom.”
  • Film:  none
  • First Read:  Spring 2014

Old fashioned letter writing might be disappearing but the epistolary novel is still surviving.  In fact, the two novels over the last few years that I have enjoyed more than almost any other have both been epistolary novels.  (One of them, Dear Committee Members, is even still keeping letters alive, though not the kind of letters you necessarily want to read.)  Where’d You Go, Bernadette isn’t a complete epistolary novel – our valiant teenager, Bee, provides us with linking narratives that help explain some of the things.  But that’s necessary in this case, because she helps us sort through some of the e-mails, memos, faxes and vital documents that make up one of the funniest books of the last decade. (more…)