- A Corpse in the Koryo by James Church - Interesting read from a pseudonymous "Western intelligence officer" featuring Pyongyang police Inspector O, grandson of a General called a Hero of the Struggle and the Beating Heart of the Revolution in his eulogy. The lead character is an interesting study in contrasts, not the type to defect, certainly, but neither the type to wear his Party pin (showing the face of Dear Leader), as is de rigueur in cadre cirlces. A simple, if off-the-books, surveillance goes awry, and O is led into an intrigue involving a foreigner's corpse at the swanky Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang, a dodgy intelligence officer, a Finnish prostitute and a pair of car-smuggling schemes--all while something sinister is brewing under the surface. Quick, decent read.
- The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars - Worthwhile juvenilia narrated by 14-year-old Sara, spending the summer feeling mopey and sorry for herself. Until she takes her mentally handicapped younger brother down to the lake to watch the swans. Teen angst is palpable but not overdone in the novel's voice, and the author is also convincing in her portrayal of 10-year-old Charlie, whose brain was damaged in a pair of serious illnesses at age three. A good read.
- The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson - Originally published in 1991, this reissue should have been revised, since the first couple of chapters on the origins of language are outdated by new strides in archaeology and linguistics. That said, it is a serious though entertaining overview of the development of English--and opinionated as well. I learned stuff here, and relearned stuff I once knew but forgot, and disagreed with stuff he got ,,, well, wrong. In one instance, he illustrated how garbled and nonsensical early modern English is by quoting a long passage from some tome, wondering if it was as inscrutible to contemporary readers as it was to us. I had no difficulty at all in reading and understanding the passage, and lost an iota of respect for Mr Bryson along the way. Still, he provides ample examples of the interaction between Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norman French, Westphalian et al to illustrate why English is the way it is. While this book should not be a requirement for ESL teachers, it is an instructive and worthwhile read, and may help you answer questions from your co-teachers.
- While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut - A collection of unpublished stories from the greatest modern American writer, the stories here were crafted during the fifties and sixties, when Vonnegut was struggling to get published in mainstream outlets like Collier's, LHJ, Esquire and so on. His seminal collection (at least to me) Welcome to the Monkey House is comprised of stories that actually got published. And I see in many of these shorts, an early, less successful version of those published tales. For instance: "Girl Pool" recapitulates "Deer in the Works", in which an interloper wreaks havoc inside an enormous factory works; "The Man Without No Kiddleys" is reminiscent of "Tom Edison's Shaggy Dog", in which a recent retiree on a park bench is serially annoyed by a braggart; "Jenny" seems a precursor to "EPICAC", an investigation of the nature of love by making one of the lovers a machine; "$10,000 a Year, Easy" strikes me as getting to the same idea of "The Foster Portfolio" only in reverse: sacrificing art for money, vs money for art. Most of the sixteen stories in this collection are better than average, but really belong to the serious Vonnegut fan--his best work in the "mousetrap" genre, as foreword author Dave Eggers calls it, is really found in "Monkey House".
- Year Zero by Jeff Long - An apocalyptic plague thriller in which a virus from the time of Christ is unleashed on the modern world by a collector of holy relics. Meanwhile, our hero Nathan Lee Swift is framed as a murderer and cannibal in Nepal by his archaeology professor--he escapes and makes his way back to America just ahead of the pandemic in search of his young daughter. Golgotha, Los Alamos National Laboratory, human cloning and a misshapen, malicious megalomaniac all converge to make this a real page-turner (actually, a "screen-swiper" as I read it on a borrowed Sony E-reader).
Thursday, February 24, 2011
One stated reason I went on vacation to a secluded Thai beach was to lay on the sands and catch up on my reading. Forthwith, my reading list:
Posted by Tuttle at 1:50 PM