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Sunday, 20 June 2010


"Never Let Me Go", Kazuo Ishiguro.

Great is hard; good is easier. Recent good books: Jon Meacham's American Lion, a biography of Andrew Jackson; Ted Kennedy's memoir, True Compass; Hilary Mantel's novel about Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII which gives a striking picture of 16th century London and court machinations, Wolf Hall.

I'm currently listening to the last CD of the audio version of "An Unfinished Life", by Mark Spragg, and enjoying it tremendously. It was also made into a movie in 2006, but I recommend reading or listening to it first, because the writing is so vivid. It's a page-turner.


Neil Shubin: 'Your Inner Fish'. A rather nice book about animal anatomy and how it was shaped by evolution. A little *too* chatty in parts, though I bet his lectures in Chicago are great fun. The structure of the limbs is described as: 'One bone, two bones, lotsa blobs, digits.'

Chad Orzel: 'How to Teach Physics to Your Dog'. Really fun book on quantum mechanics, with the author discussing the concepts with his dog (who *really* likes the idea of Schrödinger's Cat). You can find videos of the author reading from it on the web.

Jared Diamond 'Guns, Germs, and Steel'. An anthropological/sociological classic.

Lewis Wolpert: 'How We Live and Why We Die: the secret lives of cells'. Wolpert is an FRS, editor of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, and rather bizarrely a civil engineer who became a cell biologist. This is a very gentle introduction to what goes on in our bodies.


Bill Jay and Nigel Warburton: 'Brandt: The Photography of Bill Brandt'. Unlike Brandt's 'Shadow of Light' (which with it shares a lot of content), this contains a some background information as well. Beautifully printed by Thames & Hudson. The rear of the dustcover has a quotation from Ansel Adams:

'There are very few artists -- in the true sense of the term -- who practice photography. A photograph by Bill Brandt proclaims him an artist and a poet of the highest order.'

Just read Martin Evenings Photoshop CS5 For Photographers. Having struggled with an earlier edition, I understood this one, which shows I have learnt something, I suppose. CS5 was an upgrade from CS2 for me, and at 60, I am saying it will be the last upgrade - I was sold by the improvements in RAW. An they are substantial from CS2. Anyway, this is a really helpful book, and also a good read.

If you dig science fiction and haven't read "Stone" by Adam Roberts, do check it out.


It's summer, time for some light reading. If you haven't already, read Stieg Larsson's trilogy (The Girl wit the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) -- real page-turning, stay-up-later-than-you-meant-you stuff. You may find yourself acquiring a modish taste for Scandinavian thrillers, in which case Henning Mankell is the next stop.


There's lots of good stuff recommended. I've read some, have meant to read others.

Here's one that I thought particularly out of left field: Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image.

Everybody has pretty much seen the iconic image of Che Guevara -- originally meant to inspire the revolution in Cuba, now trivialized on t-shirts. This book tells the story of the image -- who made it and why, and how it ended up where it is today.


There's lots of good stuff recommended. I've read some, have meant to read others.

Here's one that I thought particularly out of left field: Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image.

Everybody has pretty much seen the iconic image of Che Guevara -- originally meant to inspire the revolution in Cuba, now trivialized on t-shirts. This book tells the story of the image -- who made it and why, and how it ended up where it is today.


Anything by William Least Heat-Moon:

- Blue Highways
- Prairy Erth
- River Horse
- Roads to Quoz

One book all you hippies should read -just to make sure whether or not it was a good idea to spend time protesting: "Ho Chi Minh: A Life" by William J. Duiker.

I second the recommendation of Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" novels. I discovered them after I gave up on Robert Parker's Spenser series (after many years).

Somethings to make you think: Heavy = Godel. Escher, Bach / lighter = Metamagical Themas ; Hofstadter

Somethings to make you laugh: Anything by Pratchett (Night Watch is best but maybe requires reading of earlier books to get some of the jokes) or try Robert Rankin's Brentwood Trilogy ( the first 5 are the best)

Comfort reading: The Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell. The victories and solitary defeat of the Duke of Wellington from the viewpoint of a private who rises through the ranks. If Sharpe had a swash he would buckle it but mostly he relies on a 1796 pattern Heavy Cavalry sword, a Bker Rifle and a plethora of cunning plans to ensure the success of the Peninsular Campaign. Not literature but bloody good fun.

Currently reading "Snowdon, The Biography" by Anne De Courcy. An interesting account of Snowdon's life.

"Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell- an interesting extended hypothesis concerning what separates the extraordinarily successful from the the rest of the world. Very readable.

If you're really bored, Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" is bound to keep you occupied for quite some time (after you get over the first few - admittedly difficult - steps).
Relation to photograpy, you might ask? Well, "Finnegans Wake" is related to EVERYTHING. My BA thesis in Eng. Lit. (a lifetime ago) was "Lewis Carroll in 'Fineganns Wake'". As we all know, Lewis Carroll was an avid photographer, so there...

I just saw Winter's Bone, which I highly recommend- the book, supposedly even better...


Cradle to Cradle. The most thought-provoking grand philosophy you'll ever read. Cradle to Cradle proposes a whole new way of production. I cannot recommend this enough.

Did you read Khaled Hosseini's two books, The Kite Runner & A Thousand Splendid Suns? Quite different subjects, but both a great look inside the life of "real" people from Afghanistan (ofcourse the characters are fictional, but they are lifelike). It really changed my perspective on the country.
And incredibly well written, Hosseini really is a master writer.
I thought I wouldn't like A Thousand Splendid Suns as much as The Kite Runner because it seemed more a like a women's book considering the subject, but it just as good, and heart wrenching at times.

oh... and I forgot:"The Reader" by Bernhard Schlink..
Great great book, and great movie, too!

Keeping it in the family, John Camp is an occasional commenter here, and his pen-name of John Sandford is always one I look for. Good crime fiction and he knows his photography.

Krakatoa by Simon Winchester (or almost anything by Simon Winchester) an extraordinary book.

And, if you haven't yet found it, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Pirsig.

Anything by Robert Crais, although "L.A. Requiem" is where the series hit it's stride.

I'm currently finishing Mary Stewart's King Aurthur series.

When I worked at Amazon last year, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "The Girl Who Played With Fire" were big sellers, and are on my list.

And a second for "Snow Crash". Most of Stephenson's work is great, but "Snow Crash" is the best by far.

If you have any interest in history, I suggest Master of the Senate - the third part of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson.

It is difficult to think of another serious historical work which is the absolute definitive statement on its subject, and at the same time entirely accessible to the lay reader. And what other work offers you 1200 pages for a mere $14 ? (I'm assuming you already have the Bible.)
Not only does it comply with your Pinker rule, I enjoyed it so much that I purchased and read the two previous volumes (of similar length).

Together they constitute an amazing exercise in biography and historical research, over 30 years in the making. The shame is that we're not even up to LBJ's 1960 campaign; Caro is now in his late 70s, and said last year that the final volume will be published "not for another three years."

If that's too much for you, then maybe The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Richard Rhodes), at a mere 900 pages...

I second the works of Cormac McCarthy and add:

"Blood Meridian" & "Suttree" to the list.

A magnificent bio: Murnau, by Lotte Eisner.

...and if you have a long time dedicate to reading( long cold winter, boring holidays, sickness, jail...),I warmly recommand James Ellroy's trilogy:
-American Tabloid (the best...)
-The Cold Six Thousand
-Blood's a Rover
...800 pages each, but way more fascinating than the swedisch trilogy(Pinker Rule,IMHO!)

For less demanding litterature for short periods, or when you don't know what to read:
Everything by Elmore Leonard, or Donald Westlake, is good and fun!!! (and they wrote a lot of books...)
I recommand, to order many, to always have a few in reserve!

Good reading!

"Stone Junction" by Jim Dodge - feel jealous of anyone still having this to read, i keep hoping he might write another novel one of these days.

"seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees"


may be the only book I've ever bought for its title, and it's one of the best books I've ever read. It's about the work of artist Robert Irwin, based on thirty years of conversations between him and the book's author, Lawrence Weschler. More specifically, it's about the long and steady development of an important artist and his art, for the most part in the artist's own words.

Pinker disclosure: While I've only finished two-thirds of the book so far, I can say it's worth buying and reading for just the first half.

I second the suggestions of 'Snow Crash', though 'The Diamond Age' is more sophisticated, and 'Cryptonomicon' is more of a page-turner. Avoid anything written after the latter like the plague. Stephenson needs a good editor. Urgently!

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: Robert A. Heinlein.
A good place to start with this master of science fiction.

Friday: Robert A. Heinlein.
Just a favourite of mine. Every time I read it I wish it were longer.

The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: Ian Mortimer.
Fascinating. The title describes this non-fiction book very well.

My Way With the Miniature: Lancelot Vining (1941)
The miniature being the precision 35mm rangefinder camera. He had two Contax II's and lenses from 3.5 cm to 13.5 cm. You don't know just how lucky you are now, especially when you work out the speeds of the films he used.

That'll do yer for now.

I wrote one years ago, and it's available online free, but you'd have to like Sci-Fi. As far as I know, only been read by 3 people!


"Infidel", by Ayaan Hirsi Ali; a tale of extraordinary courage, and despite it's obvious feminist appeal inspirational to the menfolk too.

My librarian wife was horrified!
Visit and support your local library!

Oh dear, oh dear, Mike, first you [re]build an analog darkroom and now you admit to reading books [ but according to the 'net books are dead ] yes there really is hope in the world. My recommendation for what it is worth, try Kim Stanley Robinson, first his Mars Trilogy, somewhat heavy but worth the read, then for some really nice humour his book 'Planet on the Table' [ most laugh at the end of each story ] And just to clear up a misconception, digital is not dead [ I can hear it's heavy breathing somewhere behind me ] and I hear the peaceful laughter of a mature analog as it quietly carries on walking beside us.
Mike B.

Anything by Bill Bryson. He even looks like you...


Got to agree with all that recommended John Irving. Kurt Vonnegut and Larry McMurty should be in the fray as well.

Since Neal Stephenson has come up I'd recommend Snow Crash, Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, and the trilogy: Quicksilver, The Confusion, and System of the World. As a starter Cryptonomicon, which I think is amazing, is a good place to start. I would put it in the speculative fiction department. Also William Gibson is another scifi/speculative fiction writer worth checking out.

Kafka on the Shore was a 90% bailure for me. I was enjoying it and then after about 90% I later discovered that I had stopped reading it.

The latest Pynchon Book, with its idea of an unfinished, anti-Las Vegas, is a good read for sure.

A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History by Manuel de Landa

And I just re-read Galway Kinnell's The Book of Nightmares. Basically a molten-chocolate cake of english language.

Sculpting in Time - Tarkovsky
Great insight into the mind of a cinematic genius

I recently finished "My Name is Red" by Orhan Pamuk. Not expecting anything from it, it turned out to be an absolutely lovely book - a mystery set in Istanbul with excursions into the nature of art, seeing, and the role of the artist in interpreting the world. I think you would enjoy it.


Mike ever read "The Riders of the Purple Sage" it's the best cowboy book I ever read. Leigh

"Visit and support your local library!"

Oh, I do, I do.


Deon Meyer's "13 hours". From an established South African crime writer, this is a tour de force that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page. Hugely recommended.

Surely I'm not the only one dying to find out which Stephen Pinker book you're referring to?

"Castles of Steel" by Robert Massie. An amazingly vivid and wonderful account of the big naval rivalry between Britain and Germany in World War I.

Loved David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (one of your featured suggestions) but loved his earlier number9dream even more. Two wonderful books that really play with the genre.

Don´t know any good translations, though.

Cormac McCarty:
-The Road
-No country for old men
-All the Pretty horses
-The crossing
-Cities of the plain

Ah Jean-Louis, but many in Australia non habla Espagnole. However there is an online translation of most of the Spanish in the last three novels. Great reading nevertheless.

I devoured the Larssen trilogy, but I was pleased to find that the filmed version of the first book deleted much of what a film editor friend used to call "shoe leather" i.e. what Blomkvist had for dinner and what train he caught to get home. However the Australian sequences were a little odd, Queensland is not really sheep raising country.

Regards - Ross

"In an Antique Land" by Amitav Ghosh, which details the authors exploration of Judaeo-Arabic letters and documents detailing the travels of a Jewish merchant from Egypt several centuries ago. Full disclosure, I know the author. Fuller disclosure, its a terrific read.

The Odyssey. When you've gotten into that book you get the feeling that litterature started on the top and worked its way down. Bailure is not possible. Read all translations you can get your hands on.

The Sorrow of War
Bao Ninh

Read while in Vietnam--excellent.

For your discernment: "The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas" by Jerry Dennis:

- local sailing culture (to the mid-west)
- environmentally conscious
- about adventure and history of sailing on the great lakes
- written by an author in Traverse City, MI


I learned so much about the great lakes, their history and environment.

One of my personal favorites, and I usually read science fiction.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano.

I highly recommend "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy and "Mason & Dixon" by Thomas Pynchon. If you have not yet read "The Picture of Dorian Grey" you should run, not walk, to the nearest bookstore. There is nothing like Oscar Wilde. "The Simple Truth" is a wonderful book of poetry by Philip Levine.
warning: "Blood Meridian" is extremely violent. But it is worth it. I have read it three times and I will keep going back to it. This book seems inexhaustible.
Kind regards.
Sergio Chaves (from Costa Rica)

For some good summer (and fall, winter, next spring and summer...)reading, pick up the Aubrey Maturin series (preferably the entire boxed set - almost 7000 pages) - by Patrick O'Brien. Not heavy reading, but surprisingly fun, considering the novels are set aboard a british man of war during the napoleon wars, following the adventures of two very interesting characters. I've been reading the complete set for over a year, and am about 200 pages from the end - and I wish it kept going. Well crafted characters are endlessly fascinating. The movie Master and Commander with Russell Crow was based on one of the novels in the series.

Tim Winton's novels. I started with Breath, and then worked my way through Cloudstreet, Dirt Music, and The Riders plus some of the earlier onese. His recent short story collection The Turning is also tremendous. A great writer, very visual too. Nearly all rooted in Western Australia (The Riders is the exception). I've been recommending to all my friends.

The Testament of Gideon Mack.

An engrossing tale of a priest's descent into madness, or is it?
Brilliant story of normal life, hinting at the fantastical
Not grim by any stretch of the imagination.

For anyone who takes photographs "Light Years" by Brian Clegg will boggle the mind but gently. For the lone adventurer in all of us photogs "Wind, Sand, and Stars" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is tough inspiration to beat (though apparently nothing to do with photography).

I haven't noticed anybody mentioning Anthony Price yet. He wrote a lovely series of cold-war thrillers, set around a fictional "research and development" department in British Intelligence. They all involve a historical mystery as well as an immediate mystery. And they have the most marvelous cast of characters, with the books including the story of the recruitment of at least three of the most important ones, and following one from his parents through near-retirement. The first two titles (in publication order) are The Labyrinth Makers and The Alamut Ambush.

Abbey, Edward. Black Sun. Capra Pr, 1990.

Ames, Mark. Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond. Soft Skull Press, 2005.

Barth, John. The Sot-weed Factor. Atlantic Books, 2002.

Berger, Thomas. Little Big Man. Dial Press Trade Paperback, 1989.

Chandra, Vikram. Sacred Games. Faber and Faber, 2007.

Chomsky, Noam. Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. Metropolitan Books, 2003.

Connelly, Michael. Trunk Music. Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd ), 1997. And his other Harry Bosch novels. Crime set in Los Angeles.

Davis, Mike. Dead Cities: And Other Tales. New Press, The, 2003.

Franzen, Jonathan. How to Be Alone: Essays. Picador, 2003.

Freud, Emma (ed). Feast of Freud. Transworld Hardbacks, 2009.

Harris, Thomas. The Silence of the Lambs. Arrow Books Ltd, 2002. The other Hannibal novels are also well written.

Leon, Donna. Death at La Fenice. Arrow Books Ltd, 1992. And all her Brunetti novels set in Venice.

Leonard, Elmore. Be Cool. HarperTorch, 2002. Maximum Bob was also a hoot.

Mackenzie, Edward Montague Compton. Whisky Galore. Publisher, 1957. There was a movie made of this in the 1950s.

Mailer, Norman. An American Dream. Andre Deutsch, 1965. Much of Mailer is worth the while. Harlot’s Ghost is a recent tome based on the CIA.

Rankin, Ian. Set In Darkness. Orion, 2000. And all his Rebus novels. Crime set in Edinburgh.

Sharpe, Tom. Riotous Assembly. Pan, 1973.

Sharpe, Tom. Indecent Exposure. Pan Books, 1974.

Sharpe, Tom. Wilt. Pan Books, 1978.

Smith, Alexander McCall. The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Abacus, 2003. And the others.

Terkel, Studs. My American Century. Weidenfeld & Nicolson History, 1998.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and on the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Rebound by Sagebrush, 1999.

X, Malcolm. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley. Ballantine Books, 1992. Who'd a thunk he had such a varied life in just 40 short years?

Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present. Harper Perennial, 1995.

Okay, I'm a bit late to the party, but I couldn't resist... if you want to step out of your comfort zone and read something that will probably infuriate you, but will definitely give you a different perspective, try "Life at the Bottom," by Theodore Dalrymple. It's about egalitarianism. I found it very powerful.

On the more fun side, if you've never read Philip K. Dick, it's never a bad time to start; I'd suggest "A Scanner Darkly" or "Galactic Pot-Healer." His books are pretty short, I don't know if you're looking for longer stuff. But they're the kind of books you think about long after you read them.

I've read all the suggestions so far with interest & have ordered copies of 'The War of Art'and 'Shop Class as Soulcraft'.

I'd like to mention a few more books read in recent times that I regard as first rate.
'Old Goriot' and 'Eugenie Grandet' by Honore Balzac, two novels from his great La Comédie Humaine series.(I'd appreciate any other recommendations of his books).

'No Beast So Fierce' by Edward Bunker, an autobiographical novel about a criminal in LA in the early '70s, written by an ex con. Was also made int an excellent movie, 'Straight Time' with Dustin Hoffman.

Finally, the Maigret novels by Georges Simenon. There are a lot of them. I must have read dozens. They don't take long to read but are enjoyable insights into human nature via the investigations of a Parisian police detective.

"The past is a foreign country" by Italian writer Gianrico Carofiglio. One of the rare books I truly found riveting, and you might be touched the same way, in particular, if there was a time in your life that used to be quite different from the one you're living now - like if your past had taken place in a very remote and alien world.

Anything by Richard Dawkins.
Anything by Oliver Sacks.
Anything by Stephen Pinker...
(Almost) anything by Stephen Pinker...

There are two books I would like to recommend.
The first is "The Northern Clemency", an excellent novel by Philip Hensher. I found out about it through a Writers and Company podcast from CBC radio. (Also highly recommmended.)
The second book is "But Beautiful" by Geoff Dyer, a book about jazz. I bet you have already read it, though.

Dear Mike,

After writing several drafts, I now send this -belated- suggestion.
What held me back is the personal nature of this suggestion that is likely to make it rather difficult for you to relate to. I'll share anyway.

It is titled "Flowers for Algernon" written by Daniel Keyes. I'm not American nor English so I don't know how this book would rate for a higher education gentleman as you are but this book happens to be one of the last connection I had with my cancer agonizing father who passed away this Sunday.

I lend him my book a couple of years ago and when he entered hospital in an already terrible shape last week, he muttered to me that he felt like Algernon, the co-leading character of the novel: a laboratory mouse.
Just to reassure you, the mouse doesn't start to talk or doesn't make funny things with a hat.

I am not trying to tease you into reading it to know what that would mean(or am I?), I can only say the adequateness of his remark to his situation is likely to stay on my mind forever.
It is a very nice easy read and mustn't be so bad as it won several awards at the time.

Oh, and it's Pinker rule approved, twice!


ps.:my dear father left me an early seventies Olympus OM-1 with a bunch of lenses as a legacy. A fine piece of photographic equipment indeed.

"What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" edited by John Brockman or anything else in the edge.org series published by Harper. There are 150 thinkers and scientists represented with their responses to the title question. None more than 3 pages long and many will get your mind stimulated as much as a whole book would.
Also "Whole Earth Discipline" by Stewart Brand subtitled "An Ecopragmatist Manifesto."

Other Michael Lewis books: The Blind Side (yeah, the movie), Moneyball. Better than his Wall Street books IMHO.

So sorry about your father. Thank you for the story.


I'd back Mike Chisholm's suggestion for the Henning Mankell series of Wallander detective novels. I enjoyed them more than the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.
Hilary Mantell's books are generally a good read though I struggled to finish Wolf Hall.
I enjoyed everyone of Barbara Kingsolvers books I have read, though the best was the Poisonwood Bible an excellent read.
Whilst we are in Africa (read the book:)) you could try
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "Purple Hibiscus" a fantastic first novel.

Good luck choosing



Try "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" by Paul Torday. Despite the slightly quirky name, a terrific novel: funny, touching and satirical all at the same time.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind Shunryu Suzuki. Not a photo book per se, but Minor would approve.

At this point I don't care what Mike reads in the next month, I've gained a list of great recommendations for my own reading. Thank you all.

Regards - Ross

try Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, or any other his other books. Each paragraph plays out in my head to be a still image and his words are oh so simple yet descriptive.

Man eaters of Kumaon - Jim Corbett who lived in India, a hunter conservationist.
The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, talk about mystery-detective novels. He is at the top.

"The Jazz Loft Project"

photographs and tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 sixth Avenue 1957- 1965

Well, I'm a week late to the party, but this post was tremendously useful! As someone who more than once has read his height in books in a year, I'm always looking for recommendations. I added about 20 books from this thread to my to-read list, which now up to 151 books (most of which aren't available at my library, sadly).

My recommendations: http://reidster.net/logs/book.html

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