Ninth Five Books of 2007


    This edition of Five Books is a little unusual. Since deciding to enter all our books into LibraryThing, I have become overwhelmed by the vast number of books I still have not yet finished reading. So, for a while, I am intending not to start anything new. This resolve may not be bulletproof, but so far so good. ¶ One result of this resolve is that rather than being a bit of book review only, these notes on books will be slices of Thteed life, taking us back into the history of the book finished and of my reading of it. ¶ You might take especial notice of how long I've been working on these books before finally making it to the end. Poor things have really been kept hanging....

Five more books

NOTE: speaking of
taking a long time,
if you notice that
this blog has not
been updated for a
long time, it is
likely because dear
Lady Steed is giving
birth. So just thank
your lucky stars this
post is really five
in one. Thank you.


45) First Paragraphs: Inspired Openings for Writers and Readers by Donald Newlove, finished June 12
      Let me start by saying I hate this book. The reason it took me over a decade to finish is because I hate it. Keep that in mind and let it color everything else I say. First ParagraphsI hate Newlove's voice. Even after he manages a couple pages of great stuff, he goes and spoils it with some inane comment. He's the guy at parties you're desperate to avoid. Among other sins, he's pretentious, elitist and, well, just annoying. And this book, which is supposed to be filled with first paragraphs "written on Olympus," quoted very few openings that made me want to read the book. I was sold this book by clever book-club ad copy and began reading this "Handbook for the Soul" before my mission. I added a page or two here and there in the following years. A few months ago I recommended Mr. Fob check out the book's form out, warning him not to actually read it, however, and attempted to scare him off with terms like "barely readable" and "unreadable self-important nonesuch". This finish-books-already-started thing gave me motivation to finally get this albatross off me and into the sea, and I'm glad to be done with it. And although I still don't like the book, my hatred for it has lessened somewhat. I even tried rereading the first ten pages earlier today in a show of good faith, but no: couldn't handle it. So even if you won't take as long as I did, still: don't read it. Your soul deserves a better handbook.
    about twelve years, possibly more

44) The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking, finished June 11
      I'm not quite sure why I interrupted my reading of this book a few years ago. Perhaps it got lost in a move. Perhaps it had to do with the Big O's birth. Perhaps I suddenly turned stupid. I'm not sure. But whatever the reason, I finally picked it back up a couple weeks ago and have now finished it. The Universe in a NutshellStephen Hawking is a character. It's impossible to read this book and not wonder what he is really like. Also: the line on particle accelerators in the last chapter is classic. I'm no physicist (alas), so I don't hold strong opinions on the theories presented in this book. I can follow the logic while I read the chapter, but as soon as I close it, I'm no wiser than I'd been thirty minutes earlier. But even so, I must say this: reading about hifalutin science like this is always a religious experience for me. There is no theory, no matter how self-evident or crazily impossible-seeming which does not mesh nicely with my understanding of God. I'm amazed by people who gleefully proclaim or hysterically stress that science is out to disprove deity. It's silly. As one hotshot scientist from earlier this century wrote, "Is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men." I say let's just enjoy the beauty of an amazing world. You don't need a degree in math for that.
    as many as six years

43) Dune by Frank Herbert, finished June 9
      We have a first edition copy of Dune Lady Steed's mother picked up at a library sale once long ago, and I had been meaning to read it, but not until my book club picked it last November did I finally take the chance on it. DuneSo I read it last November. Yes. But I didn't finish the appendices until early, early this morning. My main response to Dune is one of wonder: like Lord of the Rings, it's great achievement is in building a world so completely and from scratch. I feel that any god could make Dune or Middle-earth without any difficulty, just using novels picked up at any used book store. And I consider that an achievement worth achieving all in its well-achieved self. Way to achieve, guys! As for story, Dune is strong as well. For a hefty book (about five hundred pages) full of philosophy and chapter headings that give all sorts of major plot points away, it is a surprising swift and thrilling read. And, again, I think it comes down to the fullness of its world's creation. Like reading excellent historical fiction, for instance. There are fair criticisms that could be made of Dune, but they are not so substantial that I could ever recommend you not read the book for yourself. Go ahead. The worms won't hurt you....
    seven, seven-plus months

42) The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels by Thomas Cahill, finished June 8
      I read the first volume in Cahill's Hinges of History series when it was still only in hard back. That book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, tells the story of Irish monks and how their efforts prevented all the wisdom of the past being sucked into the Toilet of Time. I loved that book so much that I picked up The Gifts of the Jews when it was fresh off the presses--one of only a handful of books I have ever bought spankin' new in hardback. I read under fifty pages and was so irritated by it I put it down and didn't pick it up again until the Fobs were visiting us and we were all hanging around reading books off our shelves. I picked it up and finished the first chapter. Which consisted of a lurid and nightmarish ritual orgy somewhere in Sumer. Which was pretty cool, sure, but the book went back on the shelf until last week when I finally pulled it off and finished it, lickety-split. The Gifts of the JewsWhen I started reading it again in earnest, it was from the perspective of annoyance I had a decade ago, when my opinions on faith were different than they are now. Somehow (I'm not even sure which passages now) I got the idea that Cahill was dismissing faith in YHWH as silly and unscientific and I was offended by that. Reading the book now, later, I have no idea where I got that notion. Sure the book is "scientific" and not a strict literalist's friend, but it's fantastic. Cahill's thesis, in summary, is this: Before the Jews, all societies viewed time as a circle. No beginning, no end. Anything of note was a gift of the Gods from time out of mind. Then came Abraham, who spoke with a God unconstrained by mortal comprehension, who told him to go forth, that his seed would become a mighty nation. And with this first step, we have monotheism. We have a personal relationship with God. And if we have a personal relationship with God, we must be individuals. Individuals with individual destinies. In other words, everything we read in the Declaration of Independence, for instance. Or "justice". Or universal education. None of that was possible before Abraham met God. Obviously, there is much more to the book than that, but them's the barest bones. And I am wildly impressed by the book and love it dearly and am now anxious to pick up a copy of volume three (on Jesus), volume four (on the Greeks), volume five (on Europe's Middle Ages) and the last two volumes when they are released. Bring 'em on! I could very easily quote you a few hundred words from this book to try and explain why I like it so much, but I wouldn't want Random House to come after me or anything. So instead, hit the library. Read the last chapter. And see if you wouldn't like to know how we arrived there.
    approximately nine years

41) The Roald Dahl Omnibus by Roald Dahl, finished June 6
      Truly remarkable that it has taken me most of seven years to finish this book! It may well be the first book mutually purchased for our mutual library after our marriage, purchased fall 2000 off the Bargain Books display at the Orem Barnes & Noble. I began devouring the book immediately. Dahl is an important writer in my life--two of the stories here ("Lamb" and "Taste"), read previously, are hugely important to my personal history--and I was loving each page. The Roald Dahl OmnibusLady Steed started reading it concurrently, then somehow she took the lead, then somehow she finished it and wanted to talk about the last story, but I kept getting stuck on the couple overlong, overdull entries, and finally the book was put aside, not picked up again until just this past week. I ripped through the final four stories and loved the journey and now this books is finally through. Ah, Dahl! What should we say of him? If ever Dahl comes up, my friend RC will immediately describe him as "twisted", twisting the word itself as he says it. And the delight he puts into torturing the word says it all. As anyone who's read Revolting Rhymes can tell you, the man is indeed "twisted"--really, can you watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without feeling at least a little bit insane? But the madness of reading Charlie or James is a very different beast than reading the dark madness of "Royal Jelly" or the casual evil madness of "Bitch" or the anti-literary science-fiction madness of "The Great Automatic Grammatisator"; Dahl for grownups ratchets things up in unexpected way, so that a delightful gag like "The Champion of the World" nestles snuggly up to the sneaky wife-swappery of "The Great Switcheroo". Don't expect children's stories, though they're every bit as great as his children's stories. Just get Dahl and expect great stories period. Otherwise, expect nothing. The man's hard to predict. (Incidentally, my bookmark for this volume has, all this time, been a ticket to Titan A.E.. We saw that crappy movie as part of a five-movie marathon at Movies 8. We were taking a day off from totally depressingly unsuccessful apartment hunting; newly married and if not for the kindly given extra room at my cousins the Sbooks, homeless. We watched ten hours of movies for five bucks. Not a bad deal. And we saw our first Woodie Allen film, which made the sore bottoms worth it. We've since seen many, many more.)
    almost seven years

TOTAL: Thirty-five (35) years-----five more years than I've been alive.


40) Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo, finished May 31
39) The End by Lemony Snicket, finished May 23
38) The Complete Peanuts 1961-1962 by Charles M. Schultz, finished May 22
37) The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket, finished May 21
36) The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket, finished May 18
035) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, finished May 15
034) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, finished May 14
033) Chip Kidd: Book One: Work: 1986-2006 by Chip Kidd, finished May 9
032) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, finished May 7
031) The Complete Peanuts 1959-1960 by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 25
030) Devils & Demons edited by Marvin Kaye, finished April 23
029) Talk Talk Talk: Decoding the Mysteries of Speech by Jay Ingram, finished April 23
028) Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman, finished April 20
027) The Long Chalkboard: and Other Stories by Jennifer Allen and illustrated by Jules Feiffer, finished April 19
026) Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, finished April 19
025) Frank by Jim Woodring, finished April 12
024) The Complete Concrete by Paul Chadwick, finished April 3
023) The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde, finished March 30
022) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, finished March 28
021) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller et al, finished March 23
020) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, finished March 16
019) Batman: Gothic by Grant Morrison et al, finished March 13
018) Wild at Heart by John Eldredge, finished March 7
017) Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald, finished March 7
016) 50 Professional Scenes for Student Actors: A Collection of Short 2 Person Scenes by Garry Michael Kluger, finished March 6
015) Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda, finished March 5
014) Frindle by Andrew Clements, finished March 1
013) Brain Wave by Poul Anderson, finished February 27
012) The Best American Comics 2006 edited by Harvey Pekar and Anne Elizabeth Moore, finished February 26
011) Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, finished February 15
010) The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ edited by Mormon and Moroni, finished February 7
009) Lisey's Story by Stephen King, finished February 1
008) The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, finished January 26
007) Empire by Orson Scott Card, finished January 24
006) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, finished January 22
005) Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, finished January 17
004) Superman Adventures Vol. 1: Up, Up and Away! by Mark Millar, finished January 16
003) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, finished January 12
002) Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, finished January 11
001) Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut, finished January 10


  1. I made it through a couple chapters of First Paragraphs. I felt no obligation to go further.

  2. I loved How the Irish . . . After I had read that, I bought The Gifts of the Jews . . . but somehow got distracted from actually reading it. Maybe I should pull it off my shelves.

    You're an inspiration to me.

  3. .

    [edit: fixed missing dates for books 43 & 44]