Web Informant #165, 21 August 1999:
Recommended Reading


The end of August traditionally signals vacation time for many of us. If you are looking to take a few good books along, I have some recommendations. It is a fairly eclectic list (not that that should surprise any of you), but I think you'll enjoy them. In case you do, I have provided links to Amazon.com; if you purchase any of these books from Amazon, I receive a small commission, all of which I will donate to charity. Happy reading!

Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson

A 900-page science fiction WWII thriller that I couldn't put down. Filled with technical details on PGP, PKI, and Internet applications, it is an epic novel of techno-epic proportions. The modern day action takes place around an offshore data haven created by a Silicon Valley startup with the usual coterie of managers, marketeers and nerds that you'll easily recognize. The war setting revolves around a small group of code crackers who travel around the globe planting misinformation behind German and Japanese lines.

All the Harry Potter books, J. K. Rowling

When it comes to reading (among other things), we can all take a lesson from our kids. Case in point: the Harry Potter books. Harry is a ten-year old boy who learns he has magical powers, and goes to school to learn how to sharpen them and put them to good use, such as helping his classmates and annoy his older brother who lacks any magic. The best thing to come along in kid lit since "A Wrinkle in Time."
Sorcerer's Stone
Chamber of Secrets
Prisoner of Azkaban (out this fall)

My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki

When an American TV producer signs on to work a show sponsored by the Japanese Beef council, she gets more than just a change of diet. This isn't a modern day Sinclair Lewis expose, but a wonderful portrayal of the differences between Japanese and American cultures and the good and bad points of both. The various members of the TV crew have lots to say and have characterizations that ring very true. A friend became a vegetarian after reading this novel. And even if you have daily Big Mac attacks you'll enjoy this book.

Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott

One of my favorite authors takes a look at how faith and spirituality have changed her life and how she brings up her son as a single parent. Lamott has written numerous fiction and non-fiction books over the years based on her own life. While this memoir isn't as prescriptive as "Operating Instructions" or "Bird by Bird", it has more humor, more insights, and is well written and thought provoking. What more could you ask for?

The Inn at Lake Devine, Elinor Lipman

If you enjoyed the movie "Walk on the Moon," this novel has the same theme: a coming of age story about a Jewish family that books their vacation at a remote country inn in Vermont. Trouble is, the family running the inn have a no-Jews-allowed policy and don't initially know of their visitor's religion. The two families learn lots from each other over the years.

Goodnight, Nebraska, Tom McNeal

Another coming of age novel, told well both from the points of view of the protagonist (a boy who goes wild one night and intentionally crashes his teacher's car) and the various adults he comes into contact with. The boy suffers the consequences by being sent to jail and then later to a small town in Nebraska, where life isn't as simple as it might first seem. And as both generations grow older, the relationships deepen and get more interesting.

Spinners, Anthony McCarten

When a 16-year old New Zealander claims she was impregnated by an alien, everyone in her small town is in an uproar. This is a wonderfully funny and poignant book, full of interesting characters, including a retired soldier-turned librarian who has lots of tenderness and depth and a big-city reporter come to make his career on finding out exactly who was responsible. Is she really pregnant, and if so who is really the baby's father? The more I knew about the various characters in the town, the more I liked this book.

Fermat's Enigma, Simon Singh

Those of us who were math majors in college always dreamed of solving one of the most perplexing theorems by Fermat over 300 years ago. Singh recounts the true story of Andrew Wiles, a man who devoted seven years of his life to constructing a rather complex proof. Even if you know little math, it is an engaging read of one man alone with paper and pencil (and some email thrown in) using his own smarts.

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David Strom
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