Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Book Recs?

September 22nd, 2009 · 16 Comments

As previously noted, we’re about to jet for East Africa for a spell. The trip will doubtless entails many hours of waiting around—the flights alone will keep us either aloft or in airports for a grand total of 44 hours. A dreary prospect, perhaps, but at least we’ll have the chance to catch up on some reading—an all-too-rare treat given our parenting duties nowadays.

But what should we read? We’re midway through Crime and Punishment, so that’s definitely coming with. Can you, dear readers, offer some good suggestions for how to round out our carry-on bag? Paperbacks only, please. And nothing too terribly depressing—we’ll check out A Killing Wind some other time.

Recommendations greatly appreciated in comments. Asante.


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16 Comments so far ↓

  • Captured Shadow

    I usually enjoy Paul Theroux books while traveling. Can be kind of curmudgeonly but it is a nice antidote to the relentlessly upbeat travel writers, and has interesting things to say about Africa (at least the early Peace Corps experience based novels). Garrett’s “The coming plague” has a nice African disease component without really being too depressing

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Captured Shadow: Long been tempted to read “The Great Railway Bazaar.” Is that a good Theroux to start with?

  • MSK

    To stick with the Russians, if you haven’t read “Master and Margherita,” try one of the more recent translations.

    A strange one I read recently that I couldn’t put down: “The Bone People ” by New Zealand author Keri Culme.

    If you’ve never read “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde, I’m most of the way through and it is elegant and gives much to think about.

    Good luck with your travels.

  • MSK

    Sorry, “Master and Margherita” is by Mikhail Bulgakov. Forgive me if this is an obvious choice and you have already read it.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @MSK: Many thanks. “The Bone People,” in particular, looks like it might be perfect–the sort of book I could get lost in while waiting to switch buses somewhere. I’ll look for it at The Strand.

  • Jordan

    If you haven’t read it before, Oliver Sacks’ memoir “Uncle Tungsten” is one of the most delightful looks into the childhood mind of a scientist.

    Especially in these economic times, JK Galbraith’s book “Money: Whence it Came, Where it Went” is almost invaluable. Alternately, his “A History of Enomics” is also enlightening, albeit on a somewhat broader subject.

    If you’d rather some fiction, Dan Simmon’s novel “Hyperion” is one of those books that I will never tire of rereading. My best pithy description is “sci-fi Canterbury Tales”. Just make sure to bring the sequel along as well as they really should have been one book instead of two.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: Need to get that Sacks book, for sure. Read “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” years ago and really dug it. All hail those rare scientists who also have storytelling chops.

    Never heard of “Hyperion.” But I have “The Canterbury Tales” loom large for me–had to memorize the first several dozen lines in order to graduate from college. To this day, I can still reel off at least the first eight. Not sure how that’s made my life any better, though.

  • shothotbot

    Good plane reading: Vickrum Chandra’s Sacred Games. Have you read the Patrick O’Brian novels? Great for the plane and there are 20. Have you ever read To the Finland Station? Lots of now obscure revolutionaries to enjoy.

  • minderbender

    In no particular order.

    Fiction, if you care to deal with massive books:

    Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

    Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (apologies if I’m insulting your education with this recommendation, I myself only read it last year)

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

    Smaller fiction:

    The Catastrophist, by Lawrence Douglas

    Nonfiction if you care to deal with (somewhat) massive books:

    The Power Broker, by Robert Caro (or anything else by Robert Caro)

    Nature’s Metropolis, by William Cronon

    Smaller nonfiction:

    The Code Book by Simon Singh (this is a good travel book I think, I read it on a bus in the Himalayas, that brings back memories)

  • shothotbot

    I forgot to mention that Sacred Games needs a glossary of Mumbai gangster slang. Sounds good, right?

  • Gramsci

    To the Finland Station is a great book, but starting off a plane ride by diving into Michelet’s historiography? More of a brood-with-a-Ballantine tome, I think.

    I liked Prisoner of Trebekistan by Bob Harris. Fun read, and interesting for the polymath who wants to know everything, or at least appear to.

    P.S. Just finished Kinski Uncut– Good God, I think Kinski may have given Wilt Chamberlain a run for his money. Proportioned to height, Kinski was the Lothario winner by a mile.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Thanks, y’all, and sorry time’s too short to do individual replies. Heading to the bookstore either tomorrow or Friday and I’ll keep an eye peeled for all of these.

    @minderbender: The Caro’s been on my list forever. This might be the trip where I finally make it happen.

    @Gramsci: I’m halfway through the Kinski. Even if just 10 percent of his tale is true…wow. He really should have willed his brain to the satyriasis research community.

  • mwenge

    Airplane reading:

    The Flashman Papers, George McDonald Fraser
    Brilliant historical novels masquerading as airport trash.
    (Maybe you came across his Burma WWII memoir ‘Quartered Safe out Here’ during your research?)

    The Aubrey-Maturin Series,Patrick O’Briain
    Brilliant historical novels masquerading as brilliant historical novels.

    The Smoking Diaries, Simon Gray – Think Proust on sixty a day, lately reformed for four bottles of champagne a day, and previously reformed from 2 bottles of whisky a day.

    Slightly more high-brow:
    Rings of Saturn/Vertigo/The Emigrants by WG Sebald
    Much-satirized but very eerie pseudo-memoirs. Or something.

    Lanark, Alasdair Gray
    I’m not even going to attempt to explain this one.

    wasalaamia wote!

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @mwenge: Thx for the recs. Your description of the Gray book could not be any more intriguing. And I’m up for any Sebald after “Austerlitz.”

    At a summer job I had years ago, one of my co-workers read Flashman books during every cigarette break. He was always trying to get me to try one out, but I resisted. Maybe now’s the time…

  • Ell

    I like gentle reading for travel – Sue Shepherd’s “Pickled, Potted and Canned – The Story Of Food Preserving” is fascinating for the accounts of how various food preservation methods changed the world.
    I liked “Cod” and “The Big Oyster” by Mark Kurlansky

    Roy Porter’s “Blood and Guts – A Short History of Medicine” is fabulous.

  • Ell

    Oh, and Flashman – my brother still carries on about these books and waves one under my nose every time I visit. :)