Date: 24 December 2003
From: Karl Berry
To: Nancy Pearl
Subject: even more books

Dear Ms. Pearl,

Thank you for putting together Book Lust.  I got two pages of book
recomendations out of it, and that was just scratching the surface!

It's hard for me to believe you really want *more* recommendations, you
must inundated already.  However, since you asked (in your intro), here
are some of my favorites that you did not mention.  I'll be quite
surprised if any of them are new to you, but here we go --

In ecofiction - first and foremost, Daniel Quinn's Ishmael (and all his
other books).  Trying to change the world.

Also in ecofiction, Kim Stanley Robinson, especially his trilogies about
California (Wild Shore, Gold Coast, Pacific Edge) and Mars (Red Mars,
Green Mars, Blue Mars), and Antarctica.  Although he's technically
writing about the "future" and thus gets classified as science fiction,
his concerns are very definitely rooted in our world.

In the Italian section, Lorenzo Carcaterra.  His first book was
nonfiction, his others novels; I've enjoyed them all.  Most are set both
in NYC and Italy.  If I had to choose one, it would be Gangster.

In sports, Roger Angell's baseball books, starting with The Summer Game.
He's generally considered the dean of all baseball (nonfiction) writers,
in what I've come across, and his books, while partly about the seasons
they cover (there are about five, covering roughly 1965-1985), are also
about baseball as a human activity, so to speak.  He did one new book
recently, The Pitcher's Story, about David Cone.

Also in sports, Michael Lewis' new book Moneyball is the most
entertaining new book about baseball I've read in years.  You mentioned
his earlier book Liar's Poker; he's also written two good books on the
Internet (The New New Thing, and Next).

In teachers, Louanne Johnson's My Posse Don't Do Homework and The Girls
in the Back of the Class.  The former was (amazingly) made into a pretty
decent movie (Dangerous Movies), IMHO.  She also wrote a book about her
experiences in the Navy (Making Waves), which was not as strong IMO.

In Zen, I thought Clark Strand's Wooden Bowl was the best
intro-to-zen-practice book I've read.

In mysteries, John Sandford's Prey books.  The series has had its ups
and downs, but at least it's not straight downhill from the start (as so
many series end up being).  My favorite is probably Shadow Prey, an
early one, where the good guy/bad guy division isn't quite so clear as
in most.

Also in mysteries, John D. MacDonald -- the Travis McGee books are a
fine enough series, and one of the prototypical mystery series, but I
like some of his non-series books even more (Condominium comes to mind).

In the hard-boiled mystery world, Richard Stark (pseud. for Donald
Westlake)'s Parker books are nonpareil, to my mind.  The leanest, well,
starkest, books around.  His latest, Breakout, was outstanding.

In romans-fleuves, if you're including Lord of the Rings, maybe
Stephen King's Dark Tower books would qualify.  The second one (Drawing
of the Three) is one of the best books I've ever, ever read (and reread
and ...).

In legal, seems like Scott Turow more or less invented the modern legal
genre with Presumed Innocent, and his books are still far more literate
and interesting than most (and he's still a practicing lawyer).  His
latest, thought, is Ultimate Punishment, a short nonfiction report on
the death penalty (he was appointed by the governor to a commission to
study the death penalty in IL), which I thought was very well done.

In children, Ronald Welch's Knight Crusader was one of my very favorite
books as a kid (an Englishman who goes on a crusade and then comes back
to England).  I reread it recently (after searching for it for many
years -- before the Internet made it easy) and was just as caught up in
the story as ever.

In science fiction, Harlan Ellison wrote some of the angriest and
strongest essays, although he seems to have stopped writing in recent
years.  Sleepless Nights in a Procrustean Bed was a small collection
that had a big impact on me.  Of course he's best known for his sf
stories; his last collection, Slippage, was as good as anything he's
ever done, to my mind.

In fantasy, Gene Wolfe's books are some of the most literate I ever came
across in the genre.  Starting with Shadow of the Torturer.  His later
ones are impenetrable to me, but his stories set more or less in this
world still resonate, such as There Are Doors and Castle of Days.
However, my all-time favorite book of his remains the first I ever read
-- The Book of Days, a collection of stories.

Also in fantasy, I thought Orson Scott Card's first three books in the
Alvin Maker series (Seventh Son, Red Prophet, Prentice Alvin) were
great.  Unfortunately I can't recommend the later books as highly.  I
mean, they're fine, still way, way above average, but they lacked the
emotional impact of the first ones for me.  Speaking of which, his book
Lost Boys (not related to the movie) was probably the biggest "cry" in
my reading life ...

You didn't mention audio books.  Hearing books has its own special
charm, when it's done well.  (Unfortunately, sometimes my wife and I
have to stop an otherwise-great book because the reader is just *too*
horrid.)  Here are a few of our special audio favorites --

1) Rose Madder, written by Stephen King, read by SK and Blair Brown.  I
   loved (re)reading this, but liked the audio even more.
2) Prodigal Summer, written and read by Barbara Kingsolver.
3) Hot Money, by Dick Francis, read by Simon Preble.  (Among a multitude
   of others, of course, but I think Hot Money was one of Francis'
   strongest novels.)
4) The Burglar Who ... series (couldn't pick a favorite) by Lawrence
   Block, read by Richard Ferrone.  I find I like these better on audio
   (Ferrone has a wonderful dry voice), than in print (where I tend to skim).
   Ferrone also reads the Prey books, very very well.

Finally, two nonfiction writers who cover a multitude of subjects, so I
don't know where they fit -- but I'll read anything they write:

1) Michael Ruhlman, who's written on cooking (Making of a Chef, Soul of
   a Chef), a boys' school (Boys Themselves), sailing ship construction
   in today's world (Wooden Boats), and, most recently and by *far* most
   affectingly, a pediatric surgery unit -- Walk on Water.  I cannot
   recommend that last highly enough.

2) Tracy Kidder, whose last book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, is about
   Paul Farmer, a doctor who has been (vastly oversimplifying) bringing
   modern medicine to Haiti, Peru, and Russian prisons (see, his
   organization is named Partners in Health).  It is an incredible book
   about an incredible man.

More than enough, I'm sure.  Thank you again for Book Lust.

Happy holiday reading,