Friday, October 3, 2008

Honeymoon + Free Time = Reading!

Well my three week trip, while action-packed (pictures coming! soon! today even!), had some nice downtime, times when I could read books! With the wedding preparations and errand running, I was not really reading a lot at the end of the summer there, but things have picked up again...

I left with only a couple of books, thinking that surely I wouldn't have that much time to read, since I would be slurping up Italian culture and history, but it turned out that we ran out of gas a couple days, so we were able to do some serious decompression, which was nice.

I brought Nothing Like It In The World, by Stephen Ambrose, which is a book about the building of the transcontinental railroad. It was a pretty fascinating read. You think now about what a pain in the ass it is for someone to just widen 66 for a ten mile stretch. Now consider that these folks had to build a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Now consider that they did it without dynamite, without any of the modern 'power-tools' that the upcoming industrial revolution would provide, without electricity. Now consider that they did it in a part of the country that was still subject to attacks from Native American tribes that were none too pleased about the road going up, hastening the theft of their ancestral lands, and keeping their buffalo herds from roaming free. And they did it. On schedule. Pretty amazing stuff. What took months, and usually a dangerous and very expensive boat/wagon ride to get to California from New York took one week. Incredible - I think from my memory of the history classes I took, this achievement really didn't get as much emphasis as it deserves. The book was a quick and good read, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the building of railroads in the 19th century. If you didn't recognize Ambrose's name, he's the one who wrote Band of Brothers. His books are usually good reads, with enough facts and information but not so much that you can't finish them - I call his work 'gateway books', where you can decide whether or not you want to get into more detailed books about the topics.

The second book I read was a collection of short stories that I have had forever, and never read until now. It was entertaining - my main problem with short stories is that sometimes they go on forever and then just end, other times you want them to go on forever, but they have already ended - it's a very difficult thing to make a short story the right length!

Third up was Busting Vegas by Ben Mezrich. Everyone knows about 21/Bringing Down the House by now. This was a similar tale, but actually more interesting, though the writing may have been a little better in Bringing Down the House. The stuff these folks were doing is pretty incredible, and rather than making me want to go Bust Vegas, I kind of just don't want to play regular old blackjack anymore. Read this one in a day - nice quick read, but pretty good.

Fortunately, once I got to the villa in Tuscany, they had some books people had left behind. I started on Snow Falling on Cedars - I may be about the last person in the world to read this book, and I never saw the movie either. This was a really good book - interesting tale about an area and an era. I loved this one - I feel like I could picture the island where it took place, and the characters were all developed enough that I really cared what happened. I love books where the good and bad guys aren't all good and all bad, and this was one of them. Great read.

Next up was a dumb spy novel that was sitting around the villa - Len Deighton's Yesterday's Spy. This book kind of sucked, which was a disappointment because I have read others by Deighton that I enjoyed. Moving on, to Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks, another villa special. This was a fascinating book written from the perspective of a sort of antisocial castoff with a memory problem - I really enjoyed this book - it was another one of the books where there were characters you didn't know whether you liked or hated, and that made it great. Definitely a quick read, but very well written and well thought out.

Finally, I read a 'further adventure of Sherlock Holmes' called The Italian Secretary. Let's just say that Doyle's legacy is safe. The book was okay, but no earth-shattering piece of literary greatness. It made the flight go by faster at least.

I went to Barnes and Noble yesterday with a couple of gift cards that wanted to be used and bought:

April 1865, The Month That Saved America
The Professor and the Madman
and some book about partisan politics whose name already escapes me

Reviews forthcoming shortly...