Vacation reading.

by sam on 04/9/2006

I managed to finish a few books on my vacation, in between the scuba diving, brother fete-ing, and general laziness of my behavior…

coldbloodcover.gifChalk this one up to my need to always read the book before I see the movie (well, except for Lord of the Rings, but I’ll excuse myself from that one for having tried to read those books repeatedly). The first “true crime” book, reads like a novel, is fascinating and shocking. I may be the only person left on earth who hasn’t read this book until now, but if I’m not, I heartily recommend it. It reads as well in 2006 as it probably did in 1966. And it only makes me want to see Capote even more.

correctionscover.gifI think I mentioned before that I had put off reading this one for a variety of reasons. For some reason, during the whole Oprah-Franzen controversy back in the late 90s (which so, so, so gets overshadowed by the Oprah-Frey controversy of today), I came to the conclusion that the book was so overhyped that it actually couldn’t be good (or at the very least, couldn’t live up to the hype that surrounded it), and I lost interest in it. Then I read How to be Alone, a book of essays by Franzen, and I absolutely fell in love with his writing style. Really captivating. And I figured, what the hell. So…I read this book in a day. A day! granted, I was marooned down on Carp Island for part of it, and had nothing else to do but read, but I couldn’t put the thing down. Then I gave it to my brother, who (while still reading it on his way to Bali Wednesday night) also couldn’t put it down. He actually had to force himself to stop reading it in order to be able to keep having it to read on his trip. Suburban malaise, urban angst, and a most incredibly dysfunctional family (that’s also frighteningly familiar). You find yourself identifying with and hating these characters at the same time.

mysterycover.gifThis is one of those compilations that I always think about reading (“Best American Short Stories”, “Best American Poetry”, etc.). Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy this very much. Coming off of reading In Cold Blood, I thought I’d like to read some other good old fashioned mysteries. However, very few of these stories were “mysterious” in any way whatsoever. And yes, I get (as it states in the introduction) that “mystery” is not necessarily synonymous with “crime”. However, there wasn’t much mystery in these stories either. More like a bunch of stories about people who did bad things in the past and are telling about how much they regret those things. There were at least two stories that I couldn’t even finish. I wanted surprises, twists, actual…you know…mysteries in my compilation of the best mystery stories. Sad to say that the only reason I finished this one at all was that it was the only other book I brought down to Carp after The Corrections.

islandcenterworldcover.gifContinuing with another fascination of mine – anything that has to do with the history of New York. This one is about the history of the Dutch Colony of New Netherland (and its capital, New Amersterdam) before it was taken over by the British. Much of the history was lost (or thought lost) prior to the 1970s, until a trove of archival documents were discovered in a basement in Albany. Unfortunately, they were all in Old Dutch (which, like, Old- or Middle-English, is practically unrecognizable when compared to the modern versions of such languages). So there’s this one guy who is an expert, and has been dutifully translating the papers since the early 1970s. He’s published 18 volumes of translations, and he’s nowhere near done. In the meantime, Shorto has written this fairly concise history based on the work done so far. Really fascinating. When you read this, you realize just how much of “American” culture can date back to the Dutch occupation of this region, rather than the Puritanism of Massachusetts. Sure the Puritans were seeking “religious freedom”, but only for themselves – the Dutch actually tolerated everyone, because it was better for business (and Manhattan, being a colony of the West India Company, was all about business). Multitudes of languages spoken on the streets, religious intermarriage going on constantly, it’s a direct predecessor to the New York of today in its most wonderful ways. New Amsterdam was also the first place where the citizens demanded some sort of representation in the larger government (granted, they got turned down, but they tried!). All tied in with the Anglo-Dutch wars of the 1600s, and the crazy machinations of royalty (and those who would claim to be royalty) on the other side of the Atlantic.

So those are the books that I finished. I’m currently attempting to read The House of Morgan, by Ron Chernow, but we’ll see if I actually get through that one or put it down in favor of Kaaterskill Falls. I’ve taken all of the books that I haven’t read off of my bookshelf and put them in a pile in the middle of my living room, so that I’m constantly reminded that I really don’t need to take another trip to the bookstore right now!