Friday, June 01, 2007


Gulag Reading

Howdy folks,

If you're like me, you're only following the Finals to ensure that you are still kicking Fenwick's ass in your playoff hockey pool. If you're not even doing that, I have something to keep you occupied for at least 2 or 3 minutes.

As some of you may recall, because of a questionable career choice made during my later undergraduate years, I'm now obliged to spend most of my summers living in a small tent in the middle of Eastern Siberia. That's what you get when you combine a short attention span with a beer-fueled plan to pick your major by going through the academic calendar alphabetically. In any case, besides developing an entirely new definition of "acceptable personal hygiene", one consequence of this "adventurous lifestyle" (as it was described to me in 1991 by some career day hack whose ass I'd now like to kick) is that there are extended periods of utter boredom. Last year, I ran out of books, and I'm determined not to allow this to happen again.

So, puckheads, I'm kindly asking for some summer reading suggestions. Hockey reads are welcome, but so are non-hockey reads. If you've read a good book, I want to hear about it. Absurdly long books with ridiculously small print are particularly welcome. In exchange, I'll promise to send a postcard of Irkutsk's Lenin to anyone whose book I take (or to anyone else who wants one just for the heck of it). If that isn't a deal I don't know what is.


I'm not a big reader, but this was really interesting:

Adrift: Seventy Six Days Lost at Sea

Here's a list I sent to Black Dog ages ago:

Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball’s Lunatic Fringe- Sam Walker
To Air Is Human-Bjorn Turoque/Dan Crane
King Dork- Frank Portman
Right Side Up- Paul Wells
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber- Julian Rubinstein
When The Lights Went Out-Gare Joyce
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game- Michael Lewis
Baseball Between the Numbers
Game of Shadows-Mark Fainaru-Wada, Lance Williams
Da Capo Best Music Writing, 2006
Pride of Baghdad- Brian K. Vaughan
9/11 Report: A Graphic Illustration
DMZ-Brian Wood
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay-Michael Chabon
Wonder Boys-Michael Chabon
White Boy Shuffle-Paul Beatty
Motherless Brooklyn-Jonathan Lethem
The Fortress of Solitude-Jonathan Lethem
High Fidelity-Nick Hornby
About a Boy-Nick Hornby
Red Harvest-Dashiel Hammett
The Maltese Falcon-Dashiel Hammett
The Long Goodbye-Raymond Chandler (anything by Chandler, really)
The Great Gatsby-F. Scott Fitzgerald
Carter Beats The Devil-Glen David Gold
Moneyball-Michael Lewis
A Confederacy of Dunces-John Kennedy Toole
Louis Riel-Chester Brown
The Dante Club-Matthew Pearl
A Secret History-Donna Tartt
The Eyre Affair-Jasper Fforde
Game of Thrones-George R.R. Martin
Harry Potter- J.K. Rowling
Walden-Henry David Thoreau
Leaves of Grass-Walt Whitman
The Screwtape Letters-C.S. Lewis
King Lear-William Shakespeare
Ex Machina- Brian K. Vaughan
Y: The Last Man- Brian K. Vaughan
Fables-Bill Willingham

I would also add in these recent reads:

The Yiddish Policemen's Union-Michael Chabon
The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril-Paul Malmont
The Soul of Baseball-Joe Posnanski
Love Is A Mix Tape-Rob Sheffield
You Don't Love Me Yet-Jonathan Lethem
The Children of Hurin-J.R.R. Tolkien
A Well Paid Slave-Brad Snyder
The Immortal Game-David Shenk

And how did I forget Klosterman in my list for Pat?

Fargo Rock City-Chuck Klosterman
Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs-Chuck Klosterman
Killing Yourself To Live-Chuck Klosterman


This past winter I read The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein, good review of Holy Land archeology and how it matches up with history as presented in the Old Testament

For Canadian WWII history there’s Mark Zuehlke. Join the lads of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment [and regiments from sea to sea] as they kick Nazi butt all over Italy in Ortona, Liri Valley, & Gothic Line. Zuehlke has also written two books about Normandy - Juno Beach & Holding Juno.

For serial fiction there are Stuart Kaminsky's Inspector Rostnikov Novels - 14 in all. Crime fiction set in the last few years of the communist regime, and then in the mess that replaced communism.

Absurdly long books with ridiculously small print are particularly welcome.

Dostoyevsky seems a little too on the nose, but Crime and Punishment is a fine tome.

Cancer Ward By Solzhenitsyn seems appropriate.

I remember the summer I spent in Bonnyville/Cold Lake (not all that different from Siberia, come to think of it) and ploughing through Kafka.

One guy I've always liked is Tim O'Brien, who writes about Vietnam. And I'm big on the short story gang... Carver, Ford, etc.

City of Glass by Paul Auster is a good mind-bender.

The Studhorse Man

The Studhorse Man is a novel by Robert KROETSCH (Toronto, London and New York, 1969). The story of Hazard Lepage, Kroetsch's studhorse man, is told by Demeter Proudfoot, a madman in a bathtub. Lepage undertakes an Albertan odyssey in quest of a mare for his virgin stallion, the noble Poseidon; the stallion and Lepage's adventures acquire mythological dimensions in a text that comments on the nature of sexuality, history, time and the western Canadian character. The Studhorse Man exemplifies Kroetsch's powers as an explorer of western Canadian mythology and demonstrates his exuberant use of language.

And it won a GG award.

aka, the Drizzler

fine list by grabia. i would add: The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

Dune and/or its sequels.

I hope I've already qualified for the postcard. Sorry to see that Andy totally missed the point of your appeal for help--if you want a graphic novel that will actually deliver on the criterion of hr/kg, substitute the paperback of From Hell for the Chester Brown book. (In AG's defence, cheap complete editions of Hammett's novels are easy to find.)

First Circle is my own favourite Solzhenitsyn; the Red Wheel books deliver massively on hr/kg value. D.M. Thomas's biog of Solzhenitsyn is also dense; no substitutes should be accepted.

Sorry to see that Andy totally missed the point of your appeal for help

Hey, I just recommend good books. He can sort out what works best for him. Which is why I left From Hell off the list. He'd be better served picking up The Watchmen or V For Vendetta, if he wanted quality Moore works.

I'd suggest Iain M. Banks' _Use of Weapons_,Tim Powers' Declare or Steve Erikson's Malazan novels (the paperbacks are somewhat brick-sized and thus might meet your requirements).

From Hell isn't "quality", huh? Well, I wouldn't dream of arguing with a guy who's read King Lear by William Shakespeare.

To pull from the historical classics, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer is long, thick, and thought-provoking in that "hey, here's how a guy from the 1930s thinks about stuff I already know the broad strokes of" kind of way.

From the Canadian fiction department, The Saints of Big Harbour by Wayne Johnston is interesting, and The Navigator of New York by the same author is both interesting and long. The trouble with the latter being that much of it is set on series of real-life expeditions to the North Pole, which may not be the sort of thing you want to think about while wintering in Siberia.

I also left The Count of Monte Cristo off my list. That pretty much fits the Coshian hr/kg criterion to a t.

One of my favourite books of all time is Arundhati Roy's magnificent "God of Small Things".

Nice work people. Keep 'em comin'. Dig deep.

Besides many on Andy's list (Tartt, Joyce, Toole and Pearl are all ones I have read recently) here are some more I have read lately

Ulysses - although that may put you over your baggage weight allowance
Peter Ackroyd's London The Biography
The Bloody Red Hand - Derek Lundy
Nicholson Baker - The Fermata
Stephen Brunt - Searching For Bobby Orr

Other possibilities - Roddy Doyle's Barrytown Trilogy, Colin McAdam's Some Great Thing, Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919, Lynn Coady's Mean Boy and Saints of Big Harbour, Madeleine Thien's Certainty, Michael Crummey's The Wreckage

Also I would recommend the 1979 Playboys for those long northern nights.

I'll second Andy's recommendation of the Blind Side, if only because it's an absurdly good story, which teeters on the edge of believability but is apparently true.

Also, if your wife worships the ground you walk on, she'll review all of the books before you leave and underline the fuck scenes for you.

Also I would recommend the 1979 Playboys for those long northern nights.

I'm actually aware of a top secret stash of 70's Playboys. If you want them for the articles, just lemme know.

When I was 13 I discovered that the neighbouring campowner (ten minute walk through the woods) had the '79 Playboys, in his outhouse.

Fond memories, indeed.

as a kid, i recall an outhouse at my grandparent's farm, which also featured an early 70s-vintage PLAYBOY centerfold.

oh yeah, books:

Joseph Boyden - Three Day Road, Born With A Tooth (short stories)

Will Self - The Book of Dave

Ken Kalfus - A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

Arthur Nersesian - Chinese Takeout, The Fuck-Up

Tamas Dobozy - Doggone

Minister Faust - From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain

Giampiero Rigosi - Night Bus

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury (still one of the finest books ever, imho)


anything by Jim Munroe (especially Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask)

Okay, here are a couple I would recommend that fit your criteria.

Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand (I'm sure you've heard of it, it's great, and it's enormous)
Cryptonomicon - Neil Stephenson (high tech thriller/WWII epic/cryptanalysis bible, and it's 1100 pages)
The Stand - Stephen King (his best work, all 1000+ pages of it)

To pull from the historical classics, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer is long, thick, and thought-provoking in that "hey, here's how a guy from the 1930s thinks about stuff I already know the broad strokes of" kind of way.

I read that book in high school. Absolutely fascinating. Shirer was actually a CBS reporter in Germany and Austria for the early years of that nonsense, to boot, so he had a bit of an insider's perspective.

Books? Rebel League by Ed Willes, When the Lights Went Out by Gare Joyce, a seconding of the Harry Potter series, and, if you're a big language and history buff, Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler

Hope Abandoned -Nadezdha Mandelstam

A Severed Head - Iris Murdoch

The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin

Pnin - Vladimir Nabokov

The Gift - Vladimir Nabokov

Europe Central - William Vollmann

America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael Maccambridge is fantastic and took me forever to finish.

The Google Story by David Vise is an intriguing read but not very long.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers. Seriously.

You Shall Know Our Velocity - Dave Eggers

From The Corner Of His Eye - Dean Koontz

Frankenstein I & 2 (3 isn't out yet) - Dean Koontz

(anything by Koontz, really)

Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

The Strength To Love - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Teeth Of The Tiger - Tom Clancy

(anything by Clancy).

What you should do is get a portable dvd player.

James Clavell's Shogun is a long, great novel - one of my two favorites along with A Confederacy of Dunces.

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 - by Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace

It's 1400 large pages of small print about a city where I've never lived, and I found it absolutely fascinating.

Although of medium length, the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser are good, witty fun.

If you want a shorter read to balance out the long ones, I'd suggest anything by John Taylor Gatto.

Martin Amis' "Koba the Dread" might be particularly poignant for your location, but you'd have to counter his "Money" in order to lift your spirits.

Niall Ferguson's "The Cash Nexus" is perhaps the most comprehensive, not to mention the most readable, history of money markets in Western liberal democracies ever written. He's a pleasure to read.

Daniel Yergin's "The Prize" is the definitive history of petroleum and, again, a terrific read.

Guy Vanderhaeghe is a Saskatchewan born-and-bred writer who specializes in historical fiction on the prairies. His "Englishman's Boy" tracks a fictional character through the Cypress Hills massacre of 1873 as well as 1920s Hollywood.

His "The Last Crossing", meanwhile, involves real-life Metis scout Jerry Potts from Fort Benton, Montana, through Fort Whoop-up and up to Fort Edmonton. Great stuff there.

And you can't go wrong with the Roddy Doyle's Henry Smart "trilogy" (the third book hasn't been published yet, as far as I know). "A Star Called Henry" involves a fictional character with the likes of Michael Collins and other during the Easter Rebellion in Ireland. "Oh, Play That Thing!", continues with the same fictional character while he hangs out in 1920s New York and Chicago with superstar-in-the making Louis Armstrong.

That should get you going.

I second the suggestion of Stuart Kaminsky. Tremendous stories, and the characters are quirky and fascinating.

A couple other series of mystery novels that I like: the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. None of them are very long, but stack all 21 in a row (as I have) and it takes a while to get through them.

Lindsey Davis has a series of detective novels set in ancient Rome starring Marcus Didius Falco, imperial gumshoe. Silver Pigs is the title of the first. They are absolutely 100% typical private detective novels, with government intrigue, femme fatales, and conspiracy--but set in Emperor Vespasian's Roman Empire. I loaned a stack to a co-worker currently going through chemo for bladder cancer, and he has raved about them--if they are great reading while flat on your back and exhausted from cancer, I think that ranks pretty far up there as escapist fiction.

And if you have any interest in science (especially biology) and history, here are a few of my nonfiction favorites:

The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner--if I ever teach a class on evolution for non-science majors, this will be the text. Awesome clarity of writing.

The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen--excellent exploration of extinction and the current biodiversity crisis. Clear and science based, not political screed.

Locust by Jeffrey A. Lockwood--subtitled "The devastating rise and mysterious disappearance of the insect that shaped the American frontier." Also covers some of the psychology of natural disasters and how people justify not helping others who are suffering.

A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield--subtitled "Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire." Describes the attempts throughout history to obtain a brilliant red dye before the invention of synthetic pigments. Color in fabrics is something we never think about now, but this was high technology at the time.

Krakatoa by Simon Winchester--The story of a volcanic explosion that was heard in Australia, affected barometers in Bogota and Washington, D.C. and triggered a tsunami that killed nearly 40,000 people.

A Life Wild and Perilous by Robert M. Utley--A story of the time of the mountain men in the exploration of western North America.

This New Ocean by William E. Burrows--A story of the space program (both American and Russian) or what he terms the "First Space Age."

Mapping Human History by Steve Olson--subtitled "Genes, Race, and our Common Origins," a great analysis of how stupid it really is to divide human beings by superficial differences, and a study of the origins and migrations of our species.

(And as much as you might be deprived of creature comforts, I'm feeling a touch jealous. What an experience.)

A couple more that slipped my mind last time:

The Fight for English by David Crystal - another language one, this one about the history of the English language and, more specifically, the history of grammatical snootiness. If you ever wanted to know why the hell there's a "b" in "debt", there's your answer.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "trilogy" by Douglas Adams - classic of British sci-fi humour

And it occurred to me that, since we're talking about Solzhenitsyn and gulags, there's The Gulag Archipeligo. Never read it, but my Russian prof, who's a Russian lit buff, recommended it.

I'd recommend anything by Bernard Cornwell, I'm particular fond of the 20 some odd Sharpe novels, but his Grail Quest Trilogy, Arthurian Trilogy and his Saxon Stories are also quite entertaining depending on what time period you like your historical fiction in.

I'd also recommend anything by James Mitchner or his English doppleganger Edward Rutherford whom have both written rather intreguing historical fiction protrayals of the developement of various places be they texas, and poland or London and Ireland. I just finished reading Rutherford's Rebels of Ireland and found it quite entertaining.

Conn Igulda wrote the Emporer series about Jules Ceasar that I found quite entertaining, and will likely appeal to anyone fond of the Roman time period.

Larry O'Brien's novels that inspired the movie Master and Commander are also delightful naval tales. While the Hornblower stories by C.S. Forester are classics of the British navy in the napoleonic era as well.

Given that you expressed an interested in lengthy novels for some Canadian content you could check out Jack Whyte whose wrote an interesting take on the Arthurian myth that goes on at length.

If espionoge is your thing you could check out anything by Robert Lundlum and it probably doesn't need to be said the Tom Clancy novels which Clancy isn't farming out.

Political books of interest I'd recommend Paul Wells Right Side Up which is an entertaining read, and Mark Steyn's book America Alone is amusing if pessimistic.

Fantasy novels worth reading are Robert Jordan's thousands of pages in the Wheel of Time, I'll second Grabia's recommendation of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series and Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series is also quite entertaining given that he's the only Randian fantasy writer I'm aware of that exists.

Hope that helps.

The Source by James A. Michener and
Shogun by James Clavell are two of my favourites that might fit the "absurdly long" category.

The one thing about reading the Wheel of Time series is that it's not finished yet, and Robert Jordan apparently has a rare blood disease that may kill him before he finishes the series.

Just a heads up.

I forgot a couple of other long ones;

The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk. Not fiction, but it reads like it--about the struggle for empire in central Asia, and all the spying between the British and Russians, and later the Americans. Fantastic stories of intrigue on the borders of India and elsewhere.

Also, Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama. Extrordinarily thought-provoking book about how human psychology affects our view of the natural world, whether we see forests as dark places full of giants and mosters, or havens from the stress of the modern world, and how our outlook toward woods, mountains, and other natural places has changed through time.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Quiller spy novels of Adam Hall. Much grittier than James Bond, although the author has an annoying habit of putting Quiller right in a position where you are sure there is no way out, and then start the next chapter without filling in the details for a while so you tear through the next few pages to see how the heck he managed to not die.

Chris meant to refer you to Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin novels, which is widely regarded as the finest historical fiction series ever written.

i second the neal stephenson recommendation, but point out that his Baroque Cycle is three times longer than Cryptonomicon.

Alan Furst writes espionage novels set in thirties and WWII europe.

just finished Richard Preston's The Wild Trees, about another scientist who made a fateful decision by climbing into the giant redwood canopy and discovering that things live there - 200 to 350 feet up - and so, has spent his working life rapelling around thirty stories up. his first wife left him but he found another one, who is into lichen.

I found the Wheel of Time books boring as hell to get through--but that's just me, apparently.

Might I suggest the Asimov's Foundation cycle and the "I, Robot" anthology, along with a side order of the "Riverworld" books by Philip Jose Farmer? There are also the Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher--a little pulpy (and the first book is brutal), but still a fun read.

And if you just want some mind-numbing bad-yet-still-entertaining pulp, you can't go wrong with a Bolo book or three...dozen.

(I'll take a postcard, too)

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