Weinersmith’s Book Club #1

I like to share what I’m reading, and I keep a diary of everything I’ve read. So, I think I’ll do a post now and then with 1 to 2 sentence reviews of books I’ve read. Feel free to make recommendations in the comments.

Oct 18 – In Dubious Battle (Steinbeck)

Review: 4/5; Not Steinbeck’s best, but still… Steinbeck. Also, gives you a good sense of local political sentiment during the red scare.

Oct 19 – Gang Leader for a Day (Venkatesh)

Review: 5/5; There was a section in Freakonomics discussing Venkatesh’s research, which made me want to read this book. It’s a fantastic report on life in a Chicago gang in the late 80s, as researched by a young grad student sociologist with an interest in gang economics.

Oct 19 – The Girl on the Boat (Wodehouse)

Review: 4/5; My first Wodehouse book. It first I was worried it’d be too damn dry, but it got wet very quickly. It’s a comedy of manners that’s too loopy and involved to describe here. Worth reading, or reading aloud to a friend.

Oct 24 – Colonel Quaritch, V.C. (Haggard)

Review: 2.5/5; This is a really odd book for H Rider Haggard. It’s a 19th century social drama with complex romantic interrelations. This in itself isn’t necessarily bad, but because it’s Haggard, there’s also a treasure map. It’s bad enough to have a deus ex machina, but to have it looming over the entire story like the Sword of Damocles is catastrophic. For all I know, this might’ve been a good book. But, I’d never have guessed that because I was so distracted by the knowledge you receive from the beginning that everything will be fixed in the end by buried treasure.

Two things saved it from being a 1/5: First, Haggard’s enjoyable, easy, and occasionally poetic style. Second, a great quote: “men grow virtuous when there is nothing more to gain.” Ain’t that the truth.

Oct 25 – Packing for Mars (Roach)

Review: 4/5; Probably Mary Roach’s best book, and definitely her best work since Stiff. I enjoy Roach’s work, but always have the same complaint: I like my non-fic to have a throughline – something that motivates the whole book. For example, in Jonathan Weiner’s Long for this World, it’s a question of whether immortality is desirable. Or, in Freakonomics, it’s the idea that human existence can be understood in economic terms. Packing for Mars was great by brute force alone. That is, I’m not sure what the point of the book was, but Roach did such a good job with her research that it was enjoyable the whole way through. To get a 5/5, I would like to see Roach expressing a feeling for what this all means.

I’m gonna stop there before this turns into an essay. Suffice it to say that this is, like critiquing a friend, a complaint I make only because the book was so damn good that it threw this one lack into stark contrast.

Oct 26 – Not George Washington (Wodehouse)

Review: 2/5; My second Wodehouse book, and I did not enjoy it. Despite Wodehouse’s usual brisk style, the book lacked the charm and wit that made “The Girl on the Boat” great. Maybe I just didn’t catch a lot of inside jokes about publishing for newspapers in the 1910s, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

Oct 27 – Being a Boy (Warner)

Review: 3.5/5; A quick, enjoyable read about growing up in a Puritan farm in the early 19th century. Didn’t blow me over in any way, but it was definitely fun. Good enough that I’ll check to see what else Warner wrote. Also, had an interesting fact: Apparently in his community dancing and playing cards were forbidden. However, kissing at parties was just fine. Arbitrary social rules are weird!

Oct 29 – The Lost City of Z (Grann)

Review: 5/5; I have a soft spot for books about explorers, but this one is truly excellent. A great adventure, brand new facts uncovered by the author, and a really interesting and satisfying conclusion. It’s a biography of Percy Fawcett, spiced up with lots of asides and notes from the author’s life. Awesome.

Oct 31 – Rendezvous with Rama (Clarke)

Review: 3.5/5; Don’t get me wrong, I liked this book, and I get that it’s considered a bit of a classic. But… like… how many books did Clarke write about a big something coming near Earth to be investigated by humans semi-inconclusively? As usual for Clarke, there are lots of ideas, though I would’ve liked more character work. I found I sometimes had trouble telling who was who, and had to periodically refresh my memory.

Oct 31 – The Year of Magical Thinking (Didion)

Review: 4/5; A sad (and more importantly, interesting) account of the life of an author in the year after her husband died. It’s more of a meditation on failing to deal adequately with death than a book about the topic of death per se. The most interesting element is the idea of inadvertent “magical thinking.” Specifically, the author says she was unable to let go of the idea that her husband would return. For instance, she couldn’t get rid of his shoes because he’d need them when he returned.

Wooh! I’ll make another post like this next time I’ve racked up enough books. If you agree/disagree with any of the above assessments, feel free to note them below.


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32 Responses to Weinersmith’s Book Club #1

  1. BookGeekGrrl says:

    While Wodehouse doesn’t always click, as you found out, he’s generally far more on than off. That said, I’d recommend getting into either his Blandings or Jeeves & Wooster novels as your intros to him — I think those series tend to have some of his strongest stuff. I <3 Wodehouse so much and am excited to see people discovering him!

  2. KittasaurusRex says:

    It’s really saddening that not only have I not read any of these, but I haven’t the time to read any of them in the foreseeable future (even though you make some of them sound really appealing). I don’t like this thing where I’m majoring in writing, so I don’t have time to read a WHOLE BOOK just for the pleasure of it.

  3. thezeus18 says:

    Who are you that you read that many books in that amount of time?

    • ZachWeiner says:

      I just have some scheduling rules for my day, which help. Also, I always have both a regular book and audiobook on me, so as to maximize time. I think you’d be amazed how much time you lose in a given day to sitting around doing nothing.

  4. Timballisto says:

    I enjoyed Rama a lot, the sequels not as much. The sequels are a lot more character driven and all of the mysteries of the first book are explained, albeit in an unsatisfying way. You should read them, you may like them. They are Rama Returns, Garden of Rama, and Rama Revealed.

  5. daniel says:

    Have you read infinite jest?

  6. DFresh20 says:

    Have you ever read any of the Flashman series by George MacDonald Frasier? I think that his humor would be right up your alley.

    • kitukwfyer says:

      I can second this recommendation. I read _Royal Flash_. It was one of the funniest things I ever read, but also startlingly intelligent. Still, the next one I tried was just too much…..But then so is SMBC sometimes, so that doesn’t count for much.

  7. blahblah says:

    Try HotWater by Wodehouse – you are reading his really early works, a little later he really gets his style

  8. I definitely enjoyed looking through these, and from them I’ve added more than a few books to my future reading list.

    The only thing I have to comment on is a suggestion that, if possible, you may want to consider publishing the books you have read in reverse to what your doing, so people coming to the page can see your most recent reading. That way people coming back a second or third time to see any additions don’t have to wade through them. Just a thought.


  9. sps49 says:

    I’ve only read “Packing for Mars” (after the author’s Daily Show/ Colbert Hour visit) and “Rama”. Liked both fine, but not enough to read any of the Rama sequels.

    Of course, I don’t like sequels in general.

  10. Jane says:

    Why not do this on a site like goodreads? I’d be interested in seeing what kind of books you’re looking to read in the future, as well as an easy way to rank the books you enjoyed reading. Felicia Day is as voracious of a reader as you are and her account on that site (http://goodreads.com/feliciaday) makes it super simple to look at all that information.

  11. Neil says:

    Are you on LibraryThing? These reviews would be nifty there.

  12. SeanO says:

    I haven’t read a Wodehouse book yet, but after watching a bunch of the Jeeves and Wooster TV series (when Dr. House was British), the Jeeves books are definitely on my to-read list.

  13. Eric says:

    There’s no Vonnegut on here. I am truly disappointed.

  14. Mozglubov says:

    If you wanted more character work in Rendezvous with Rama you should try reading the rest of the series. Clarke teams up with Gentry Lee to do it, and the next three books become hugely about the characters.

    Also, I have to say, even carrying a book and an audio book around with you all the time, this is a pretty impressive list of books completed in half a month.

  15. Jen says:

    I really have nothing of value to say, other than that this blog is pretty garsh darned incredible. I even love the parts that go way over my head! Speaking as representative for the “Of-Mediocre-Intelligence-At-Best” population, it’s always pretty refreshing when some astute person actually takes the time to explain what the hell they’re talking about rather than…you know…just getting off on not being able to communicate…if you know what I mean. I appreciate that. Hehe, keep it up!!

  16. mountainmage says:

    What’s your feelings on fantasy, realistic or otherwise? I may have suggestions depending on your answer.

  17. Colfax Schuyler says:

    You’re a fast reader.

  18. kitukwfyer says:

    ….SO glad I’m not the only one who keeps a reading log. All of my friends think I’m weird for it. :) i used to read a book a day like that in high school, but in college it’s harder to keep focused…. so in 4 days I’ll read 4 pages (if that) and then I’ll finish the whole thing in one sitting. I envy your discipline. Except for my classes, I just make everything up as I go.

    I haven’t read any of the things on your list here, but this Haggard fellow is now on my library list. I have read a lot, though. If you have any particular favorite genres, I might be able to toss a recommendation or thirty your way.

    Regardless, I enjoy knowing what real people are reading. Especially when they are far more talented than I. I might learn something! :)

  19. swb says:

    Awesome. I should learn to read.

  20. If you want to give Wodehouse another chance, and are an adept of audiobooks, then there are excellent recordings of the Jeeves and Wooster series out there — I found them easily enough on bt sites… Read by Jonathan Cecil, IIRC, with a perfect british accent, irresistible! Make you sure you get them in proper order, though, because back-references are unfortunately legion.

  21. Ashley says:

    One of my favorite newer books is called The Name of the Wind. The author’s name is Patrick Rothfuss, and he is super awesome. Really. You should check out his blog. I only thought of it because the sequel just came out a week or two ago, so you won’t have to wait 4 years for it like the rest of us poor bastards did. :-P

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