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Some of my Favorite BooksExemplary non-fiction and a couple fiction


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#1 pherank

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 06:36 PM

Just for the heck of it, here's my list of exceptional books on various subjects - mostly non-fiction. I'm sure I've left a few favorites out, so I'll add those in as they come to me...

[Non-fiction - Adventurous]
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon - David Grann
The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World . . .via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes - Carl Hoffman
A Man on the Moon - Andrew Chaikin
The Right Stuff - Tom Wolfe
The Age of Wonder - Richard Holmes
Between Silk and Cyanide, A Codemaker's War - Leo Marks

[Biography]
Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour - Lynne Olson
The Monument Men (NYCB's Lincoln Kirstein figures into this remarkable account)
Seabiscuit - Laura Hillenbrand
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand
John Adams - David McCullough
Paul Klee - Will Grohmann

[Autobiography]
Speak, Memory - Vladimir Nabokov
A Walker in the City - Alfred Kazin
My Mother's House and Sido - Colette
Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph: The Complete 1922 Text - T. E. Lawrence
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon - Ivan Morris
Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass - Isak Dinesen
The Illustrated "West with the Night" - Beryl Markham
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books - Azar Nafisi
Lulu in Hollywood - Louise Brooks
I, Maya Plisetskaya - Maya Plisetskaya
Confessions - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

[History]
Most anything by Barbara Tuchmann, but especially:
The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914
The Guns of August
The Zimmermann Telegram
Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water - Marc Reisner
The Most Dangerous Enemy: The Definitive History of the Battle of Britain - Stephen Bungay
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference - Malcolm Gladwell
Chaos: Making a New Science - James Gleick
Isaac Newton - James Gleick

Tom Wolfe cultural essays:
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
The Pump House Gang

[Travel]
Michael Palin books, especially "Himalaya"
Paul Theroux travel books such as -
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar
Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown
The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific

[Fiction]
(I haven't been reading much fiction in recent years, but here's some standouts that I happened upon...)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery (Author), Alison Anderson (Translator)
Death Sentence, The Madness of the Day - Maurice Blanchot
Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters and Seymour - J. D. Salinger
100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Hiroshima Mon Amour - Marguerite Duras
Alan Furst historical mystery books
Hans Christian Andersen, The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories - Erik Christian Haugaard

#2 dirac

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 02:38 PM

Interesting list of titles, pherank. "Speak, Memory" and "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" are among the best memoirs I know. Barbara Tuchman was a wonderful popular historian. Her Stilwell book is also among my favorites.

#3 pherank

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 06:11 PM

Interesting list of titles, pherank. "Speak, Memory" and "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" are among the best memoirs I know. Barbara Tuchman was a wonderful popular historian. Her Stilwell book is also among my favorites.

Thank you for looking, Dirac. Yes, I'm always recommending "Stilwell" to anyone wanting to learn more about China and U.S. relations. It's also interesting to think "what if" regarding General Stilwell - he could have been involved in so much more during WWII, if he didn't happen to have experience in China, and speak some Chinese dialects...

#4 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 11 August 2012 - 07:49 AM

100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Definitely...

#5 dirac

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Posted 11 August 2012 - 11:51 AM


Interesting list of titles, pherank. "Speak, Memory" and "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" are among the best memoirs I know. Barbara Tuchman was a wonderful popular historian. Her Stilwell book is also among my favorites.

Thank you for looking, Dirac. Yes, I'm always recommending "Stilwell" to anyone wanting to learn more about China and U.S. relations. It's also interesting to think "what if" regarding General Stilwell - he could have been involved in so much more during WWII, if he didn't happen to have experience in China, and speak some Chinese dialects...


Unfortunately, it was a time when having knowledge of the country was becoming a drawback in U.S. government circles. That situation became a lot worse, as you know.

Like you, I haven't been reading much fiction in recent years. I am dipping in and out of an old favorite, the Morte d'Arthur, and fortunately it's structure invites just such dipping.

#6 pherank

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Posted 11 August 2012 - 12:55 PM

Unfortunately, it was a time when having knowledge of the country was becoming a drawback in U.S. government circles. That situation became a lot worse, as you know.

Like you, I haven't been reading much fiction in recent years. I am dipping in and out of an old favorite, the Morte d'Arthur, and fortunately it's structure invites just such dipping.


No government 'provides' for the people quite like an ideological, or 'faith-based' one. Can't wait to have more of that. ;)

I read a certain amount of folk tales: Russian, Brothers Grimm etc. and have read Arthurian legends in various forms over the years. It's been a very long time since I've looked at Morte d'Arthur though. I don't claim to really remember the details. A somewhat related recommendation if you like such things - Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. I believe it's out of print but I know it's available through sellers on Amazon. Sounds dry, but is actually fun to start reading in any section. The human imagination is a boundless thing.

#7 dirac

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Posted 11 August 2012 - 06:30 PM

Thank you for the recommendation, I'll look for it. Le Morte d'Arthur isn't for everybody and I'll say that in some respects T.H. White's rendering in The Once and Future King (one of my very favorite books) improves on it. There is a great deal of detail about various tournaments and who unhorsed whom, and the unsuspecting reader may feel he has stumbled on Ye Olde Sportting Tymes. Malory's English is still remarkably accessible, though.

#8 Moonlily

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Posted 11 August 2012 - 07:06 PM

[font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif][size=3]
Folk tales can be a really great reading - depending on the edition, it offers a blend of fiction and non-fiction (in case there is some additional information about the transmission of these tales etc.). During my first wave of interest in this field I visited a small local library that had a 'local shelf' where I could find books on local folk tales from my immediate surroundings which was really a nice and refreshing change from reading about the 'bigger tales'. Not that those are not interesting and fascinating, it just adds a bit of flavour if you actually know all the places mentioned, yet have possibly never heard of many of these tales before.[/size][/font]

I agree with cubanmiamiboy and the original poster when it comes to 100 Years of Solitude.

I haven't read much fiction in a while, the required reading for my uni courses pretty much fills up nearly all of my 'capacity'. However, I also really enjoy some of the non-fiction in history and could add some of the works I read to a list of favourites of mine.

#9 pherank

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 03:27 PM

I just read an interesting book, "Lee Miller, A Life" by Carolyn Burke, but had a really difficult time with it because I just didn't think much of the writer's style, and meddling in the subject matter. But Miller was a fascinating woman, to be sure, and a worthy biography subject. I happened to re-watch Jean Cocteau's first film, "Blood of a Poet" (in which Miller portrays a statue that comes to life), and that got me interested in Miller and her further adventures in the worlds of photography and cooking (yes, cooking).

http://www.zimbio.co..._l6r/Lee Miller

http://www.amazon.co...e/dp/0375401474

#10 bart

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 07:56 PM

For some reason I find myself arriving late at this thread. Your list, phrank, is fascinating. I share several of your eclectic interests. Barbara Tuchman is one of those enthusiasms. Tuchman was remarkable in combining scholarship and density, while appealing to a large audience. Last spring I re-read A Distant Mirror, her treatment of the "calamitous 14th century." It's rich, dense, accurate, sharply written. The remarkable thing is how well she holds up when evaluated in terms of the more "serious" academic work covering the same period. Same holds for The Proud Tower. I guess I tend to like books that are either about, or which emerge from, periods of history that interest me most. My background is American Studies, but for some reason I don't read much U.S.-centered stuff any longer.

Regarding 100 Years of Solitude. -- I wish I loved magic realism. But I don't, even though I've tried. So there it is. I much prefer writers more directly attached to the world around them, for example Mario Vargas Llosa. His epigraph to Conversation in the Cathedral is a line from Balzac. Roughly translated -- "You have forage through everything in the life of a society in order to be a real novelist. A novel is the private history of nations."

Contradicting the paragraph above, I love Borges.

#11 pherank

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 01:46 PM

For some reason I find myself arriving late at this thread. Your list, phrank, is fascinating. I share several of your eclectic interests. Barbara Tuchman is one of those enthusiasms. Tuchman was remarkable in combining scholarship and density, while appealing to a large audience. Last spring I re-read A Distant Mirror, her treatment of the "calamitous 14th century." It's rich, dense, accurate, sharply written. The remarkable thing is how well she holds up when evaluated in terms of the more "serious" academic work covering the same period. Same holds for The Proud Tower. I guess I tend to like books that are either about, or which emerge from, periods of history that interest me most. My background is American Studies, but for some reason I don't read much U.S.-centered stuff any longer.

Regarding 100 Years of Solitude. -- I wish I loved magic realism. But I don't, even though I've tried. So there it is. I much prefer writers more directly attached to the world around them, for example Mario Vargas Llosa. His epigraph to Conversation in the Cathedral is a line from Balzac. Roughly translated -- "You have forage through everything in the life of a society in order to be a real novelist. A novel is the private history of nations."

Contradicting the paragraph above, I love Borges.


Thanks, Bart. Llosa, Borges, Fuentes - all good. ;)
I'm a little surprised that someone who loves ballets isn't crazy about "magic realism", but we all have different takes on these things.

It seems to me that Tuchmann was the first historian to figure out how to use fictional writing techniques, especially those used in character-driven novels, and apply these same devices to historical writing. In the last 30 years, every historian seems to have jumped on the bandwagon, but with differing degrees of success. Laura Hillenbrand has the gift as well - I wonder if I could get her take on the subject of Lee Miller...

#12 dirac

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 02:29 PM

I have to agree with bart on the subject of magic realism. Just not to my taste, although I am a fan, along with Balanchine, of The Master and Margarita, which does have a whiff of it.

#13 bart

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 04:31 PM

It seems to me that Tuchmann was the first historian to figure out how to use fictional writing techniques, especially those used in character-driven novels, and apply these same devices to historical writing. In the last 30 years, every historian seems to have jumped on the bandwagon, but with differing degrees of success.

An interesting point and one I never thought of. I'll have to test the hypothesis ... maybe with (what?) (Proud Tower?)

About your connection between ballet and magic realism. Makes me think of the Chagall designs for the Balanchine Firebird at NY City Ballet. Otherwise, my own taste veers away from too much "fantasy" in ballet, with a few exceptions like Midsummer Night's Dream, But then, Shakespeare, Balanchine, and Ashton are hardly magic realists (though all were are quite adept at making of magic). Posted Image

dirac, I also loved Master and Margarita, which.I read as a student at the time it was first published after decades of suppression. That's definitely one to re-visit.

It does, now that you mention it, have quite a lot in common with the darker works of the magic realism school (most of which, I hasten to say, I know only from book reviews). So why, I wonder, does M&M feel so different from, more engaging than, those other works? (Speaking for myself only.)

#14 pherank

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 06:20 PM


It seems to me that Tuchmann was the first historian to figure out how to use fictional writing techniques, especially those used in character-driven novels, and apply these same devices to historical writing. In the last 30 years, every historian seems to have jumped on the bandwagon, but with differing degrees of success.

An interesting point and one I never thought of. I'll have to test the hypothesis ... maybe with (what?) (Proud Tower?)


Hmmm, yes, "Proud Tower" might be a good example, but even "The Zimmerman Telegram" has that kind of clever pacing in which the book actually has a kind of climax and denouement - it isn't just setup in linear time - "first this happened, then the next day this happened, and here's what happened the following week..." (there's too much of THAT in historical writing). I personally find The Zimmerman Telegram has a certain excitement to it, even though, and this is the funny part - we know what eventually happened. And yet it's the details that make a tremendous story, and Tuchmann certainly realized that. Thinking back on these books I realize that possibly Tuchmann's favorite theme is that of repetition in history. We humans love to repeat the same miserable things over and again. And that's a major theme of "100 Years of Solitude" as well.

"Master and Margarita" is one I need to tackle myself. I started it once, and was more confused than attracted, got interrupted, and never went back.

Definitely, if you are drawn to more abstract ballet, say, Balanchine's 4 T's, then what you say about magic realism makes sense. I love Balanchine, but I also love "The Firebird" and other folktale-based works. I tend to like a strong concept that has some psychological aspect. That's just me.

Carry on readers!

#15 pherank

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Posted 09 October 2012 - 11:10 AM

I'll have to test the hypothesis ... maybe with (what?) (Proud Tower?)


It just occurred to me that "The Proud Tower" begins in an odd way - it's boring. The opening chapter, named "The Patricians", is all about the world of "Downton Abbey" and England's landed aristocracy. A world in which 'everything is in its right place'. The English Empire was arguably at its highest point, but the falloff was terrifyingly rapid (well, for the aristocrats - it didn't come soon enough for the those on the bottom of society).

I realized later, that Tuchmann very purposefully begins things on a dull note to show contrast, but also to make what comes later even more intense, chaotic and 'climactic'. She could have started with any aspect of European society (Austro-Hungarian Europe would have been a logical choice), but she chose to begin with the English Aristocracy and I think it demonstrates her literary skills to have done so.


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