If..Else Log

Sharing words

It always amuses me to see the surprise reaction when I mention that I enjoy reading.

“What? You Read? Books? You mean programming books, right? No?”

Personally, I find that there’s a simple joy from curling up on the sofa with a good read and so am always on the lookout for recommendations on books to read. However, as someone reminded me recently, you have to give to receive and so, here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far in 2007.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief

It was probably the gorgeous looking cover that first grabbed my attention, and the idea of Death as the companionable narrator that helped pull me in but it was the charming and lyrical writing that really won me over. The Book Thief recounts the story of Liesel, a 9 year old girl growing up in the midst of a world war. Struggling to survive the darkness of Nazi Germany, she’s comforted by being taught both words and kindness by her foster father. Indeed, it’s a love of words which not only leads her to become the eponymous book thief but also indirectly leads her to the humanity that lies behind a war-torn nation. Playful at times (especially, Death’s narration), tragic in others but always moving. A lovely and recommended read.

The Secret History

The Secret History

Where The Book Thief takes a complex setting and retells it with innocence and gentle simplicity, The Secret History is almost the opposite; taking the setting of an arts college, Donna Tartt explores how obsession and emotion intertwine and culminate in a modern Greek tragedy. Narrated in the first person and in hindsight, it tells the story of how a student finds himself accepted in a group of reclusive Classics students, an act which begins with acceptance and friendship before the inevitable tragedy of human emotion leads to an accidental murder and the eventual emotional breakdown of the group. Whilst the complex but well-written story is lovely to read, it does over-steep itself in melodrama at times; nonetheless, it’s an beguiling and suspenseful read.

Calvin and Hobbes

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes collection

This probably doesn’t quite qualify as a book but I love Calvin and Hobbes too much to care:) If you haven’t read Calvin and Hobbes, then you owe it to yourself to take a look. And if you do, then you probably don’t need me telling you twice…

Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind

When a father takes his son to a library of rare books and gives him the choice of any book, it leads a young boy into a tale of intrigue, murder and doomed love. After Daniel Sempere chooses a book by an unknown and supposedly unrenowned author, he finds him the centre of attention by a mysterious stranger and the tragic circumstances behind the author of the “Shadow of the Wind”.

Whilst a fairly enjoyable read, the Shadow of the Wind reminds me of a Dan Brown novel, not only in the way it fashions murky intrigue but also in it’s single-faceted characterisations. However, in the same way that The Da Vinci Code didn’t overly suffer from the weak writing, the (writing) flaws aren’t necessarily fatal for Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel. It’s a pleasurable enough read but more one to borrow than to buy.

Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys

I loved Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and whilst Anansi Boys is less epic and more comical, it’s an equally delightful read. The main protagonist is Fat Charlie, an ordinary guy with an ordinary life who has finds his life suddenly become more than ordinary when his dad, the trickster Anansi, dies. Gaiman’s dark humour shines through in what is a modern fairy tale of family love and self-acceptance. Anansi Boys does take a while to get going but it soon becomes a page-turner.



Being british, I have to confess that Baseball is both a sport which strikes little interest in me. However, I was a fan of Lewis’ Liar’s Poker and the favourable writeups of Money Ball across the web were enough to convince me to give this a go. Telling the story of how the Oakland Athletics, a poor underdog in the moneyrich world of Baseball, and how their canny manager exploited the Baseball market bias and weaknesses in drafting players to beat teams with many times the bankroll. As with Liar’s Poker, it’s Lewis’ engaging writing that help make Moneyball a good read even for non-baseball fans.


Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?

I like trivia and I like collecting trivia which is why, back when I did Physics in college, the back pages were the main reason for me reading the New Scientist. If you’ve read any of the New Scientist “Last Word” books before, you’ll know what to expect. Everyday questions are answered for the layman. You’ll either find it a pointless read or, if you’re like me, a fun way to wile away the time.

Empress Orchid

Empress Orchid

I decided to pick this up after I saw both my sister and a friend reading this. Empress Orchid is the story of the mother of China’s Last Emperor and her struggles in the court of Imperial China. Whilst I enjoy books set around historical eras, I found myself struggling as Orchid did with her endeavours in the forbidden palace. The narrow confines of the experience, the one-dimensional characters and the difficulty in empathising with any of the protagonists meant that I can’t really say that I enjoyed the read. It does pick up slightly towards the end of the novel, but it’s still not a book that I would personally recommend. That said, my sister enjoyed it so YMMV.


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

Jared’s previous book (Guns, germs and steel) was a brilliant look into some possible explanations for the rise of Western Civilisation. Exploring Easter Island, Viking Greenland and the Maya, Jared takes a brave stab at the other side of the coin by attempting to look into possible reasons why certain societies fall and perish. However, whilst Guns, Germs and Steel managed to succeed with well thought out reasoning backed by case study, Collapse is less successful. In examining specific circumstances and societies, it does a decent enough job but it’s in trying to extrapolate and weave these explanations where it falls short. Whether it’s due to the small sample set or the narrative, the analysis feels neither substantive nor authoritative to be truly convincing. Collapse is a well written read which works best as a collection of lessons and case-studies into failed societies; however, it perhaps would have been better if it constrained it’s ambitions a bit more.

Over to you

Looking back, that does seem to have been a relatively busy couple of months of reading It’s actually a bit worse than even the above list suggests as there’s a few books I left out because they were part of a series or because I haven’t finished them (“The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana” which I don’t like so far and thus, probably won’t finish and “Never Let Me Go” which I do and probably will). Now, if only bookstores ran loyalty card schemes…. Whilst I’m generally a fast reader, even when I was youngAs an amusing aside, I remember a time during Infants or maybe Junior school when we had reading periods. I’d finished reading the book that I was given and got up to ask the teacher if I could have another one. The teacher, looking at her watch and the rest of the class still making their way through their books, didn’t believe I could have finished and proceeded to quiz me all about the book. Despite answering all her questions correctly, I don’t think she was entirely convinced on that occasion though she did give me another book to read, this was more due to having obtained a few books courtesy of Christmas, being without home internet access for most of this year and having a lazy new year:)

However, you can never have too many books to read so going back to the reason for this post; what books are you reading and what books would you recommend?


53 Responses to “Sharing words”

  1. Gravatar Zach Inglis

    The Book Thief sounds very interesting to me. I love reading books about Death himself. I read Pratchett and one of my favourite Discowrlds is when Death goes on holiday.

    I like Danny King’s; The * Diaries series. They are a set of individual (slightly related – you’ll hear about a character from another book randomly sometimes) books around being a Hitman(another huge obsession I have, I actually want to find some more decent Hitman books.), being a Bank Robber, Being a Pornographer and Being a Burglar. I’ve read them all.

    Other than Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, I have no other favourite books.

  2. Gravatar Mark

    Here’s 3 quick recommendations for you: “Old Man’s War” and “The Android’s Dream” both by John Scalzi as well as “Ghosts in the Snow” by Tamara Siler Jones.

  3. Gravatar Kate Bolin

    I’m in the middle of Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch, which is highly entertaining, but not really substantial. WWII soap opera stuff with a sapphic twist.

    My favourite book of all time is probably Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower – fantastically done sci-fi dystopia set in the Los Angeles that I grew up in, all suburban and multicultural and terrified.

    But I’ve also become a sucker for novels involving stage magic. Glen Gold’s Carter Beats The Devil is a lovingly detailed epic, Christopher Priest’s The Prestige is just utterly amazing, and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is just *fantastic*.

  4. Gravatar Neil Crosby

    Now, if only bookstores ran loyalty card schemes…

    They do! Well, at least Borders does here in the UK. I’m probably going to end up picking up “Anansi Boys” and “Why don’t penguin’s feet freeze” at smoe point this week – they’re both books that I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t got round to yet.

  5. Gravatar Michael Benson

    Why Dont Penguins Feet Freeze is pretty good reading, although at the moment my latest indulgence Sophie’s World is pretty captivating and a good recommendation for those looking for a philosophical read.

  6. Gravatar Kate Bolin

    Oh, and if you like Jared Diamond’s stuff, but want something a bit more angry/depressing, I highly recommend Mike Davis. Admittedly, he’s a bit more L.A.-focused, but Ecology of Fear was utterly amazing.

  7. Gravatar Bernd

    I really envy you the Calvin & Hobbes Collection. Well, not really but I enjoy reading the cartoons over and over again and maybe I’m lucky and I’ll find some yet unread ones.

    I can recommend to you the Pulitzer Prize winners. I think they do a good job selecting great titles. Otherwise C.S. Lewis is also a good read (I used to recommend the Chronicles of narnia but this isn’t any news nowadays). Try something like The great divorce.

  8. Gravatar M&Co.

    Oh I loved Shadow of the Wind! And doesn’t everyone read Calvin and Hobbs?

  9. Gravatar mcangeli

    The calvin and hobbes collection is a must. I think I almost cried the day that comic stopped running in the local paper.

    My latest reads have been the Stephen King Wizzard and the Glass series and the John Stossel books….

  10. Gravatar Patrik

    The last book I read was “The way of the weasel” by Scott Adams, and I can really recommend it. Perhaps not the genre you expected, but it’s still a good book. :)

  11. Gravatar Andy Polaine

    You have similar taste to me it seems. So, try The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert, anything by Irvin Yalom (though When Nietszche Wept is great).

    Also The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is probably one of best books I’ve ever read. Read Donna Tart’s The Little Friend if you liked the Secret History, it’s also brilliant.

    Another book that is a must read is The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, which is up there with The Reader for a brilliant read.

  12. Gravatar sly

    If you like baseball, then you need to watch “The Natural”.

  13. Gravatar Human

    Collapse is awesome book. I have read it several times. There is second book, but I forgot the name of the book

  14. Gravatar Miss Austen

    The Book Thief appears to an engrossing read. I’ll definitely buy when I get back to the UK next week. Perhaps I could even do it with my students. I’m constantly on the lookout for interesting classroom fare, and seeing as I have precious little time to do much research, websites like this one are a godsend.

  15. Gravatar Brian

    I also envy the Calvin and Hobbes. I’m glad to see a post from you. I was missing them. How goes restoring things?

  16. Gravatar Alexandra

    I’m so sad that Collapse isn’t as good as Guns, Germs and Steel! Ah well. I’m also glad to see Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze on here– my grandfather was obsessed with these books, but i had forgotten about their existence until recently.

    My current reading? Catching up on classics. Strangely enjoyable.

  17. Gravatar Ralf Michelin

    “Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?” is a strange book for reading. But someone will enjoy it. I through it after second page

  18. Gravatar Tomek

    “Here’s 3 quick recommendations for you: “Old Man’s War” and “The Android’s Dream” both by John Scalzi as well as “Ghosts in the Snow” by Tamara Siler Jones.” Thanks Mark for list of interesting books. btw. Thanks for great list of very good books – if found some free time in next month I will try to read one of them:) Greetings

  19. Gravatar Denise

    I love Calvin and Hobbes they have always been my favorite cartoon characters.

  20. Gravatar Keith

    I loved The Book Thief! It was totally engrossing. I also enjoyed his book I Am the Messenger, though that one didn’t have the greatest ending.

  21. Gravatar Maureen Moriarty

    There are times when you read classic books and time you read programming books when you need to raise your skill. Nowadays I need to raise my skill, but I want to read classic books :(

  22. Gravatar Sofi

    wow, you got a really nice blog here! Thank you for sharing the books!

  23. Gravatar The White Witch

    Ok am half way through The Book Thief and loving every page, also halfway through The Good Earth, Pearl S Buck 1931, apparently its a classic, just makes me glad my food cupboards are well stocked ! This book however has invoked an interest in me to go visit China -but so do all the Jet Li movies!

  24. Gravatar L’ombra del vento

    Zafon with Shadow of the wind made an amazing book, I think that all the people have to read it!

  25. Gravatar Heather S. Ingemar

    I think it’s great that you have time to read for fun. Too many people think they simply don’t have time–but look at what they’re missing! :)

    To quote Emily Dickinson:
    “A wonderful, mouldering pleasure ’tis, to pick up an ancient book….” (or something to that effect!)

    All the best.

  26. Gravatar Mike Lothar

    I enjoy reading the cartoons over and over again and maybe I’m lucky and I’ll find some yet unread ones. I think I almost cried the day that comic stopped running in the local paper.

  27. Gravatar H2T

    Anh la nguoi Viet Nam phai khong! “Phu Ly”??!
    Em co lam blog o WordPress co su dung theme cua anh!
    Nice to meet u!

  28. Gravatar Homeboy

    There’s probably a very good chance you might have read it already, but a book that never gets dull and has surprises right up to the end is “ender’s game”. It’s more on the lighter side of reading… up there with Calvin and Hobbes, but still an amazing read.

  29. Gravatar Sam

    I felt that “Manhunt” was a great book – its about John Wilkes Booth (the guy who shot Abraham Lincoln).

    I like your suggestions, I will pick up Anasi Boys when I get a chance.

  30. Gravatar Steve

    You might be interested in http://www.whatsonmybookshelf to trade books on the interent. It is a neat idea for a distributed library system.

  31. Gravatar Hotel Bayerischer Wald

    Oh, and if you like Jared Diamond’s stuff, but want something a bit more angry/depressing, I highly recommend Mike Davis. Admittedly, he’s a bit more L.A.-focused, but Ecology of Fear was utterly amazing.

  32. Gravatar ogłoszenia

    Thank You for another very interesting article. It’s really good written and I fully agree with You on main issue, btw. I must say that I really enjoyed reading all of Your posts. It’s interesting to read ideas, and observations from someone else’s point of view… it makes you think more. So please try to keep up the great work all the time. Greetings

  33. Gravatar Michael

    Thanks Mark for list of interesting books. If I found some free time in the next month I will try to read one of them :-)
    My favourite book of all time is probably Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower – fantastically done sci-fi dystopia set in the Los Angeles that I grew up in, all suburban and multicultural and terrified.

  34. Gravatar rzrsej

    I haven’t read anything recent that really mesmerized me other than the Kite Runner, an excellent novel set in Afghanistan.. But then, I’m an English professor, so I tend to be some decades behind in my reading. I did just recently read Michael Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay (a Pulitzer Prize winner), and loved it, and Phillip Roth‘s 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner American Pastoral which was well written but didn‘t hit me with much force. For science fiction, since some of you have brought it up, you can’t do better than Ender’s Game — a fantastic read even if you aren’t normally interested in sci fi. But I suppose in the end, the sentimentalist in me has to recommend that everyone out there pick up a Kurt Vonnegut novel and remember why the guy wrote like no one else ever has. Slaughterhouse Five is the most recognizable title, but dig deeper — my personal favorite is Deadeye Dick.

  35. Gravatar Manuel

    I read “Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?” some weeks ago on vacation – I can recommend it!

  36. Gravatar John

    HEy, I just finished “The Book Thief”. i loved it!

  37. Gravatar Test

    Just read through Moneyball. Great Book. Planning to post a review on that book in my own blog actually. Regards Sandra!

  38. Gravatar yogurtt

    “Empress Orchid”,i love this one…it’s impressed

  39. Gravatar hallowreen

    great….a lot of good books…and recommended books

  40. Gravatar Anessathiel

    I see you have an excellent taste in books. I would like to recommend, however, “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss. Judging by this list, I think you will love it.

  41. Gravatar Peter

    I just finished “The “History of Love”. And I can say it is really awesome and touching. Anyone interested in a story that touches one heard – gotta read it!!! So very good recommendation.

  42. Gravatar Yankee

    I prefer to read books about education (financial competence, how to reach success, how to be a millionaire and so on). And I like very much Paulo Coelio and Castaneda

  43. Gravatar Zeb

    There is life beyond internet where a book can be the best friend. Thanks for the reviews. I ‘ll start with Shadow of the Wind

  44. Gravatar Brigitte

    Usually I prefer books about travelling, about living abroad. But I guess I soon will buy the “Anansi Boys”, sounds to be good.

    Thanks for your tipps.

  45. Gravatar Indira

    Impressive list there. It always seems to me that most people hardly read books anymore or if they do it seems to be something trashy. Tsk! + Extra kudos for Calvin & Hobbes.

  46. Gravatar Mirc

    Amazing, Buser almost makes Lauderback seem knowledgeable. Please don’t have Buser back or at least take…