Logo Retro Star The US population is growing faster than that of eighteen other industrialized nations and, in terms of energy consumption, when an American couple stops spawning at two babies, it's the same as an average East Indian couple stopping at sixty-six, or an Ethiopian couple drawing the line at one thousand.
-- Joy Williams, The Case Against Babies
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Reading I read a great deal. I'm self-conscious of the fact that I move my lips when I read, which is why I always read in front of a microphone. I'm sure that my betters would regard most of what I consume as cheap, escapist trash, but I'm happy with the balance of my literary diet. I read fiction (contemporary and classic), nonfiction (polemic and investigative), essays, and technical stuff.

Below is a selection of favorites or recent reads that I found worthwhile. I'm always looking for recommendations so, if you have some, please contact me.


Florence King

Florence King

Florence King is hands-down my favorite essayist. Her writing is as tight as a drum and her acerbic, withering insights are highly entertaining and provocative. The following excerpt is from With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy.

I caused a dialogue here in Fredericksburg, Virginia when I wrote an op-ed for our local paper, the Free Lance-Star.

Fredericksburg, which lies sixty miles south of the Nation's Capital, is turning into a suburb of it. Federal government employees who can no longer tolerate or afford the original suburban Virginia counties of Arlington and Fairfax are moving here in droves to find solace in our relaxed "lifestyle," which is being steadily destroyed by their increasing presence.

I got tired of hearing the locals castigate the come-heres in private, so I decided to do what the Republic of Nice calls "explore" the problem and "address" the issue. I called the newcomers Yankee Yuppies, said that they were either rootless or from Illinois, accused them of eating cheese that looks like a unicorn's miscarriage, and recommended that the counties of Arlington and Fairfax secede from Virginia and form a separate state so the rest of us will not have to pay for their roads.

Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket is the author of my favorite collection of "children's" books, A Series of Unfortunate Events. They chronicle the comically depressing adventures of the Baudelaire Orphans. The books are filled with literary, classical and topical references. Characters names include Poe, Esmé Squalor, Georgina Orwell, and Klaus and Sunny. Place names include the Kafka Café, Caligari Carnival, and Plath Pass. The infant Sunny's "baby-talk" is laden with references like Sappho, denada, Vishnu, Armani, Glaucus, and so on. The books are simply a riot, as is the web site tie-in

Andrew Vachss

Andrew Vachss

Vachss is a practicing attorney who represents abused and exploited children exclusively. He describes his works of fiction as Trojan Horses, vehicles used to further his platform of zero-tolerance for child abuse to a global audience. The novels are in a word, intense. Vachss' anti-hero Burke could eat Mike Hammer for breakfast, but would probably feed him to his Neopolitan Mastiff (Pansy) instead. I highly encourage you to visit, for more background on the work of a genuinely amazing man.

Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen is the master of a genre that columnist Dave Barry refers to as, "...the Bunch of South Florida Wackos genre...". Hiaasen's characters are memorable, and the situations that he creates for them begin twisted and rapidly devolve from there. If you've read anything by Elmore Leonard, or liked the film adaptation of Leonard's novel Get Shorty, chances are good that you will enjoy Hiaasen. He is one of the authors that consistently makes me laugh out loud, in a "He really just said that," kind of way. Double Whammy and Skin Tight are two of my favorites, but I very much enjoyed Hiaasen's latest, Basket Case.

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

Ray, you never let me down. Like many of my contemporaries, I first read The Martian Chronicles in elementary school - ordered through the Scholastic Book Club. I still have that copy. Within engaging premises, Bradbury examines the issues that never go out of style - censorship, grief, poverty, tech amok, war, racism. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to revisit Bradbury's works, or to discover them for the first time. If you are looking for a place to start, I recommend either The Martian Chronicles or The Illustrated Man.

Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson

Stephenson is probably my favorite author. His ability to build worlds and then populate them with strong characters and engaging plots is nothing short of masterful. He also has a lot of fun with language, at times reminding me of Tom Robbins, except without the schmaltz. Probably best known for Snow Crash, Stephenson's range extends far beyond the "science fiction writer" pigeonhole. Cryptonomicon is my favorite Stephenson novel, but I haven't read anything by him that I didn't enjoy immensely.

John Irving

John Irving

Irving has this incredible talent for creating characters that readers genuinely care about, then "chronicling" those characters' lives from cradle to grave. At the risk of sounding like Yogi Berra, Irving's writing is epic, but on a very small scale.

My favorite Irving novel is A Prayer for Owen Meany (it gets me every time), but one of his lesser-known novels The Water Method Man (his second) is one of the funniest books I have read to date. I have little doubt that John Irving's books will still be read hundreds of years from now.

Eric Schlosser

Eric Schlosser

In Fast Food Nation, Eric Sclosser examines the fast food industry at a variety of levels - economically and culturally, and in terms of health and history. Sclosser obviously did his homework. His writing style makes for enjoyable reading, but I was very much disturbed and angered by the subject matter.

Bill Joy,
Francis Fukuyama
and Gregory Stock

Joy, Fukuyama, Stock

Why the Future Doesn't Need Us (Wired Magazine), Our Posthuman Future and Redesigning Humans, respectively. I recommend reading all three. Collectively they make strong points, counterpoints and well-considered predictions related to where humanity is headed with machine technology and genetics.

Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber

The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion. Hoo boy. My friend Jack loaned me this one. He told me that Wilber laid out a framework in which both science and religion can be validated using the same methodology. I was highly skeptical, thinking that any such framework would "work" only if it grossly deformed one or both of its subjects (shoehorning it into something in which it doesn't fit), or defined things at such a high level as to make its outputs meaningless. Skepticism is good, but so is acknowledging that it was misplaced. This is a brilliant work, and I look forward to reading other books by Wilber once I've recovered.

Robert Greene

Robert Greene

The 48 Laws of Power. Holy crap. Be forewarned, if you have a similar experience to mine, this book will color the way that you perceive interactions at work, in social life and in the news. Robert Greene (with Joost Elffers) explores in detail 48 timeless lessons whose practice will result in the attainment of power. The downside is that practicing at least some of the Laws would make you a sociopath. Greene loads each chapter with historical examples of "Observances of the Law", "Transgressions of the Law", and the outcomes of each. Unlike Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People), Greene makes no attempt to make the reader feel good about manipulating people while going about amassing power, he simply tells you how.

Max Brooks

Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. This novel is a series of first-person accounts of the Zombie War, ten years after humanity's victory. Brooks only briefly touches on how zombies came to be, focusing instead on the fascinating implications of fighting an enemy who possesses very special, pernicious properties. Like George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (a film in which the characters are barricaded in a shopping mall), the novel uses the zombie premise to engage in social commentary, but Brooks brilliantly goes beyond that to explore the political, military, environmental and economic ramifications of a global undead pandemic.


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