Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


The Elisson Bookshelf

Time once again to fill you in on the books I’ve been reading.

The photo of the bookshelf above is slowly becoming less and less representative of my current reading, given that a goodly percentage of it - over 41% in the past seven months - is now in the form of e-books. Their main advantage over dead trees, of course, is portability: I can schlep a whole library’s worth on my iPad. Also, instant delivery of purchases makes e-books an impulse buyer’s dream. Having said that, I still enjoy a real, honest-to-Gawd hardcopy book, and my bulging shelves will attest to that enjoyment.

Here are the last few months’ worth of reads, with electronic versions marked with an asterisk:

  • Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal* - Mary Roach

  • Mary Roach is a past master at looking at scientific topics with a skewed, somewhat tongue-in-cheek perspective. In this charming book she takes on the human digestive system, with all the revolting connotations that topic carries. Don’t miss the chapter about Elvis Presley’s hugely distended colon.

  • The Trajectory of Dreams* - Nicole Wolverton

  • Lela White lives in the grip of a mental disorder that compels her to break into astronauts’ homes in order to monitor their sleep habits, thus keeping the U.S. space program safe from fatal accidents. Wolverton does a very effective job of placing you inside Lela’s head... a damnably scary place to be.

  • The Day My Brain Exploded* - Ashok Rajamain

  • A first-person perspective on what it’s like to suffer a massive brain aneurysm... and survive.

  • Ghost Wave: The discovery of Cortes Bank and the biggest wave on Earth* - Chris Dixon

  • Ever since I was a Snot-Nose, I’ve been fascinated by huge waves. Other people, far more insane than I, take their fascination to the next level by actually surfing the fucking things. Now, with the advent of Jet-Ski-powered tow surfing, truly monstrous waves are now surfable... if you’re crazy enough to want to do it. 

  • The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks - Amy Stewart

  • If it’s a plant that grows on this planet, you can take it to the bank that people have made alcoholic beverages from it.
  • Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation - Michael Pollan

    A tale of how food is transformed from its raw components into Tasty Comestibles, viewed through the elemental lenses of Fire (roasting meats), Water (braises, stews, and other moist cooking methods), Air (leavening and breadmaking), and Earth (fermentation). A fascinating study by the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
  • My Beloved Life - Sonia Sotomayor

    Not so much an autobiography as a memoir, by the second newest member of the Supreme Court... and the freshman year roommate of one of my college girlfriends.

  • Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition - David Nirenberg

    Anti-Judaism, the use of purportedly “Jewish” ideas as straw men against which to direct one’s polemics, is distinct from anti-semitism, hatred directed specifically against Jews. The premise of this book is that the fundamental questions and dichotomies of Western civilization have been couched in terms of being “Jewish” or “non-Jewish” since the days of the early Egyptians.
  • Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948* - Madeleine Albright

    Albright alternates between her family’s history and that of her native country, Czechoslovakia in this historical memoir.

  • Defending Jacob: A Novel*- William Landay

    What do you do when you’re a detective and your own son becomes the prime suspect in a murder?

  • The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking*- Brendan I. Koerner

    Some of us are old enough to remember a time in the 1960’s when airliners were being hijacked almost every week - sometimes more than one in a single day.  Koerner’s book discusses the peculiar popularity of skyjacking, focusing on one memorable escapade involving a lovestruck couple with vague political aspirations.  It almost reads like a novel, but it’s a true story.
  • Bloodchild and Other Stories* - Octavia Butler

    The late Octavia Butler shines in this little collection of short stories, some with truly horrific, thought-provoking premises.
  • Oh Myyy! (There Goes The Internet)*- George Takei

    From Star Trek actor to humanitarian spokesperson and Internet phenomenon, George Takei has had a very interesting history.  An amusing read by the Facebook superstar.

  • And the Mountains Echoed* - Khaled Hosseini

    The often heartbreaking stories of the various members of an Afghan family.

  • The Secret History of the CIA - Joseph J. Trento

    The depressing history of the shadowy intelligence service during the Cold War... depressing mainly because so much of what they did over the years was stupid and unnecessary, not to mention completely transparent to the Soviets.
  • The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon - John Ferling

    Most of us think of George Washington as being somehow above politics, such is his status as American icon.  But the Father of our Country was intensely political and strongly determined to increase his personal wealth and status... and a master at dodging responsibility for numerous failures.  Ferling shows us a very human - and nevertheless still iconic - George Washington.

  • The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington - Jennet Conant

    Many of us think of Roald Dahl as the guy who created Willy Wonka, but he was really a man of many parts, traveling among the highest social circles and nailing wealthy, beautiful, well-connected women.
So what have you been reading lately?

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