Book Lust: Recommended for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason – Nancy Pearl, 2003

It’s a strange fact (maybe an outgrowth of reading too much) that I love reading descriptions of books I’ve already read. I suppose it lets me enjoy them again in an incredibly efficient way! So I read this book cover-to-cover, though it’s just an assemblage of brief reading lists with some commentary. Pearl (best-known perhaps as the model for Archie McPhee’s shushing librarian action figure) has very eclectic tastes (yay!) which don’t overlap with mine very much (too bad for me…) I’ve added a few to-reads to my ever-growing list, but I’m actually relieved there weren’t more (I couldn’t possibly make a serious dent in the list before I die, especially since I’m very attached to RE-reading). But if you don’t have such a list, this is a great way to start one; with segments from the Alices (Adams, Hoffman, Munro, Sebold, Walker, etc.) to Zero (books on the counter-intuitive concept that revolutionized mathematics), there’s something for most everyone. Especially intriguing: “Too Good To Miss” sections which highlight Hamilton Basso, Frederick Busch, George MacDonald Fraser, Robert Heinlein, Ward Just, P.F. Kluge, Mark Kurlansky, Jonathan Lethem, Elinor Lipman, Ian McEwan, Merle Miller, Iris Murdoch, Lewis Nordan, Richard Powers, Van Reid, Rex Stout, Ross Thomas, Gore Vidal, and Connie Willis. Heinlein and Fraser are the only two I’ve read; I agree with her on Heinlein (this book is what led me back to Red Planet, the only H. juvenile that was missing from my collection, though I don’t think it holds a candle to the later ones), not on Fraser, but reading at least one each of the others would be a good goal.

Vertical Run – Joseph R. Garber, 1995

Recommended by the Adult Reading Round Table as a “Sure Bet”–and it was. A satisfying thriller, not great, but very hard to put down. One morning, everyone (his boss, his friends, his family) want Dave Elliot dead, and he has to figure out why while staying alive in the skyscraper where he works. Par for the course for a not-great novel: four brand names on the first page of the opening scene (Pratesi sheets/Panasonic clock radio/Nikes/Rolex president watch–it’s not just lazy, it’s obtrusively silly), cardboard characters, painful dialect (“Whut else can yew tell me ’bout him?”) But the popcorn-cruncher in me enjoyed it a lot.

Frontier Wolf – Rosemary Sutcliff, 1980

It’s curious that this was marketed as a young adult novel–yes, the protagonist is young and the book is short (196 pages), but it’s a regular novel that some teens would enjoy if they are advanced readers. It even has a brief mention of sex (that was Robert Heinlein’s definition of his juvenile novels: short adult novels with no sex). In 4th century Britain, 23-year-old Centurion Alexios Flavius Aquila, in disgrace with his superiors, is exiled to take charge of the native Frontier Wolves. He grows into the command, gains the respect of the hardbitten Wolves, and makes friends with Cunorix, son of the local chieftain. It’s really about career: recovering from failure, learning a new job, dealing with the stupidity of management (Praepositus Montanus comes to visit and starts a chain of tragic events)–also touching on friendship, betrayal, and courage. Sutcliffe has a knack of making the past live. Most of her books seem to feature stoic male protagonists and lots of battles; they fit seamlessly into the stiff-uppper-lip school of British boys’ stories that I was weaned on.

Features the new-to-me word “kalegarth,” which isn’t even Googleable–now it is!–or in the OED. Looks like it’s more commonly spelled “calgarth” and means “kailyard”: “a cabbage garden, kitchen-garden, such as is commonly attached to a small cottage.” Here’s the context: “…this country that they knew as a man knows his own kalegarth.”