On the Pile Next to My Chair

A regular reader of MontanaWriter recently emailed me asking me what I was reading these days. Since it is in my nature to read more books at one time than I can quickly recall, and since it is also in my nature to never  get around to reviewing most of those book, I hope I have hit upon something that may become a semi-regular feature here: highlighting books I am currently reading.

So on the first weekend of August, 2011, here are the physical books that are piled next to my reading chair and on my nightstand, some time down the road I may post the ebooks I am reading:

The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, Carl Sandburg
Details: 770 pages, hardbound
Purchased: Half-Price Books
Price: 
$7.98
Regular readers of MontanaWriter know that my recent visit to Sandburg’s birthplace and burial-site in Galesburg, Illinois, inspired me to want to look at Sandburg poetry again in a more thorough way. Complete Poems includes a wonderful introduction by Archibald MacLeish. Reading 770 pages of poetry, when you read each poem twice, means that I anticipate this volume sitting next to my chair for sometime to come. 
Favorite line so far:
 too many to pick, but from MacLeish’s introduction comes this, “Poets, when they are poets, are as unique as poems are when they are actually poems: which is to say incomparably unique, essentially themselves.”

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Outlaw Tales of Montana, Gary A. Wilson
Details: 212 pages, softcover
Purchased: Half Price Books
Price: $7.99

Though I would like to have some book about Montana sitting somewhere near at hand all the time, I cannot. The reality is that though the state is large and the sky big, there are surprisingly few books about Montana… and very few good ones. Wilson’s book is not in the category of a good one but it is at least an interesting history of lesser known outlaws who lived or operated at times in Montana. In rather ordinary prose, Wilson profiles six outlaws who have for the most part flown under the radar of outlaw lore. One, Con Murphy, operated in the area where I grew up.
Favorite line so far: 
A quote in the front of the book by Charles M. Russell, “They cashed in their chips under the smoke of the same weapon that let them live, and took their medicine without whining.”

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The Clash: The Complete Guide to Their Music, Tony Fletcher
Details: 120 pages, softcover
Purchased: Half Price Books
Price: $3.99

The Clash remain “The Only Band that Matters.” In five short years Strummer, Jones, and the boys saved rock music from itself and changed the way a generation… my generation… would think about music forever. This small book provides brief  background notes and information on all five original Clash albums and every song,  as well as a few pages of pictures that will be already be familiar to most Clash fans. Fletcher is a dedicated fan of Strummer and the Clash and obviously a knowledgeable student of rock music in general and punk music in specific. It seems like a must have for a Clash fan.
Favorite line so far: “
 [Their debut album] The Clash, from violent sleeve imagery through provocative song titles, presented itself as nothing less than a call to musical and class warfare.”

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The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons
Details: 697 pages, hardcover
Purchased: Barnes and Noble
Price: $4.99 (clearance)
For sports junkies in general, and NBA junkies in particular, Bill Simmons and his work at ESPN.com and Grantland.com are legendary. This is the basketball equivalent of Bill James original Historical Baseball Abstract. It is quite simply the best book about the NBA ever written. It is one I am reading as slowly as possible. Trying to make it last. Because like the original Bill James baseball classic, there will never be another book like itever.
Favorite line so far: 
There are so many… here is just one from one of his famous footnotes: “All you need to know about NBA coaches: during every timeout, they huddle with their staff about 15 feet from the bench, allow the players to ‘think,’ then come back about a minute later with some miraculous play or piece of advice… I want to see an owner forgo the coach, put the players in charge of themselves and see if there is a difference.”

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Far Bright Star, Robert Olmstead
Details: 218 pages, softcover
Purchased: Magers & Quinn
Price: $7.99 
I always have a couple of westerns in play. This highly-acclaimed novel by the writer of Coal Black Horse gets more critcal attention and praise than most western’s do… and probably for good reason. Olmstead is a very a fine writer and stylist. Though at times I feel like he is trying to be like Cormac McCarthy… in the early going it has something of the feeling of Blood Meridian or All the Pretty Horses. (I gather from the cover comments and reviews that Far Bright Starmay follow McCarthy down the road of unrelenting violence.) Be that as it may, if you are going to emulate a writer, or a pair of western books,  McCarthy and those two novels seems like a good choice.
Favorite line so far: The opening paragraph sets the mood of the book well, “Thus far the summer of 1916 had been a siege of wrathy wind and heated air. Dust and light. Sand and light. Wind and light.”

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St Athanasius on the Incarnation, with an introduction by C.S. Lewis
Details: 120pages, softcover
Purchased: gift/hand-me down from friend
Price: n/a
There are as they say, no new heresies… just old heresies dressed up in new clothes. St. Athanasius defended the church after Nicaea from Arianism. It was a battle for the soul of the church as all heresies are. 1,700 years later the battle is being fought again between those who rightly understand the Trinity (in as much, of course, as the Trinity can be understood) and those who want to make Christ into something less than fully God and fully human. This is one of the great works of Christian literature. C.S. Lewis introduction makes it even more wonderful to read.
Favorite line so far: From C.S. Lewis’s introduction, “When I first opened [Anthanasius] I soon discovered… that I was reading a masterpiece.”

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The Dynamic English, Tony Kosten
Details: 144 pages, softcover
Purchased: Amazon.com
Price: $12.99 
For chess players, the title describes the book perfectly. The traditional English Opening in chess is considered to be a very conservative approach for white to take. Kosten presents ways to make it a more aggressive, hence more “dynamic,” opening…  full of surprises for your opponent. Over the years I have acquired a number of chess books that focus on the English Opening. This is the latest.
Favorite line so far: “For me, the English Opening is a fight for control of d5.” (Hey, it is a chess book… what did you expect?! But take my word for it, this is a good reminder about the basics of theonly opening I ever play.)

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Donovan, Elmer Kelton
Details: 170 pages, paperback
Purchased: Book’em Book Sale fundraiser
Price: $0.50
In his long writing career, Kelton won critical praise from western fans and critics alike as well as multiple Spur Awards (given by the Western Writers of America). The marketing people who design covers for westerns quite often include the eye catching blurb, “the successor of Louis L’Amour.” Kelton, more than any other writer that has been said about, truly deserves that moniker. His work has always seemed closer to L’Amour in tone and intent. Donovan is one one of Kelton’s earlier novels, originally published in 1961. For the most part, I enjoy his earlier Westerns more than his later… more historically researched trilogies. So far, a great read.
Favorite line so far: The opening line sets the tone, “Even before his horse’s ears suddenly pointed forward, Webb Matlock was becoming uneasy.”


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Hammer of the Empire, Steve Parker, Steve Lyons, and Lucien Soulban
Details: 762 pages, softcover
Purchased: Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore
Price: $4.50
Warhhammer books are a staple on my kindle and iPod. They are like crack: hard-hitting, dis-orienting, and above all addictive. This is hardcore, military sci-fi. And I love to read it. The Warhammer series of writers are surprisingly goodespeically Dan Abnett and his Gaunt’s Ghost series… probably my favorite Sci.Fi. series of all time. But they are all very bloody… extremely so.. and dark.
Favorite line so far: A random line picked to show the tone and temperament of a Warhammer book: “The ground was a carpet ot smoking metal, big brown bodies and raw red meat. Ork carcasses covered every inch of sand and rock.”

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