Sunday, June 13, 2010

Summer Reading List

Welcome back to the fifth annual Zeta Woof Summer Reading List, now well on its way to becoming an institution, at least in the mind of its author. As always, these are not the books on my to read list, but those at the top of my have read list, the ones that were good enough to read twice, and so to recommend to you.

If there's a theme this year it's crankiness.

rancho_costa_nada.jpgRancho Costa Nada: The Dirt Cheap Desert Homestead by Phil Garlington

"I became a desert homesteader after I got fired from my last job."

And by "last" he means last. It is every man's dream to quit the rat race; this is the story of what happens when you actually do it.
After breakfast, I usually stroll for a few hours in the cool of the morn. I'm an ambler and a rambler, not a hiker.... When I return from the morning's exploration, I lie on a cot in the shade of the courtyard ramada and read novels for a while. After lunch, a siesta. In the afternoon, I take care of any chores, putter around aimlessly, read some more, or go visiting... After dinner, a cocktail while the lurid, gaudy sunset flames in the Western sky....
Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Wonderfully, deliciously boring.

possum_living_dolly_freed.jpgPossum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and with (Almost) No Money by Dolly Freed

Twenty-five years before Phil Garlington, Dolly Freed and her father dropped out and lived in a house on a half-acre lot 40 miles north of Philadelphia with no jobs and very little money. Their secrets were two: Do it yourself or do without (most times doing without is the easiest), and the house must be free and clear. Once that's accomplished the rest is easy. You have chickens for eggs, bunnies for meat, a garden for greens, and a still in the kitchen for the "necessities of life."

And what happens to grade school dropout who grows up with an alcoholic father? She became a NASA aerospace engineer.

fire_on_the_mountain.gifFire on the Mountain by Edward Abbey

John Vogelin owned his land free and clear but the government wanted it for a missile testing range. Their offer was generous, much more in fact than the land was worth. Everyone — his sister, his friends, the whole town, everyone — thought he should sell. But he refused. It was his land.

This novel, often cited as the prequel to The Brave Cowboy (a selection from last year's reading list), is a testament to the single most powerful word in the entire lexicon of freedom:

"No."

last_stand_tin_can_sailors.jpgThe Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour by James D. Hornfischer

Not only no, but hell no.

Outnumbered, overwhelmed, faced with six heavy cruisers and four battleships, each one of them almost ten times her size, the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts turned... and attacked.

This is the very best kind of history, sticking close to the facts but telling a story more dramatic than any novel. Anyone who has never experienced a major naval battle (and who has, since this was the last?) will appreciate the stark, gruesome detail and the heart-rending heroism of this book.

the_barbarians.jpgThe Barbarians: A Soldier's New Guinea Diary by Peter Pinney

I've mentioned Pinney and his book a few times before and the only reason I keep bringing it up is you must read this book.

It compares favorably to the much better known With the Old Breed by E. B. Sledge, and has traces of the irony of Catch-22, all in a slim volume of 174 pages. You can knock it off in an evening, although, if you're like me, you'll repeat that evening over and over again.

animals_make_us_human.jpgAnimals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals by Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson

We stumbled across Temple Grandin in a TED talk and her assertion that autism gave her insight into the thinking of animals intrigued us. Seeing the world from a cow's point of view led her to re-design stockyards, corrals, shutes, and loading ramps. That, and and the latest scientific research, led her to better understand the animals we keep as pets.

The first chapter lays out her framework and terminology. From there on, pick your animal and see the world through its eyes: dogs, cats, cows, pigs, chickens. It's a point of view you've never seen before.

haunting_of_hill_house.jpgThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

In 1959 she wrote the original on which all the others are based. Hill house, hell house, tortured spirits, tormented souls, twisted childhood, blood smeared walls, the madness that comes with darkness and disappears in morning light. It's all here, in classic form.

Read this well before Halloween. It takes time to digest.

the_loser_letters.jpgThe Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism by Mary Eberstadt

If you're not a devout Catholic, or a lapsed one, or a hell-fire Atheist, or if you've never read The Screwtape Letters, or you don't subscribe to the helena handbasket theory of popular culture, or you've never wondered where all this is leading us, and why, you might not find this interesting.

But I did.

lamb_gospel_according_to_biff.jpgLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
The first time I saw the man who would save the world he was sitting near the central well in Nazareth with a lizard hanging out of his mouth. Just the tail end and the hind legs were visible on the outside; the head and forelegs were halfway down the hatch. He was six, like me, and his beard had not come in fully, so he didn't look much like the pictures you've seen of him. His eyes were like dark honey, and they smiled at me out of a mop of blue-black curls that framed his face. There was a light older than Moses in those eyes.

"Unclean! Unclean!" I screamed, pointing at the boy, so my mother would see that I knew the law, but she ignored me, as did all the other mothers who were filling their jars at the well.

The boy took the lizard from his mouth and handed it to his younger brother, who sat beside him in the sand. The younger boy played with the lizard for a while, teasing it until it reared its little head as if to bite, then he picked up a rock and mashed the creature's head. Bewildered, he pushed the dead lizard around in the sand, and once assured that it wasn't going anywhere on its own, he picked it up and handed it back to his older brother.

Into his mouth went the lizard, and before I could accuse, out it came again, squirming and alive and ready to bite once again. He handed it back to his younger brother, who smote it mightily with the rock, starting or ending the whole process again.

I watched the lizard die three more times before I said,
"I want to do that too."

The Savior removed the lizard from his mouth and said, "Which part?"
Read it and die laughing.