Ben Crowder / Blog

Blog: #recent-reads

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Losing the Long Game, by Philip Gordon (2020, nonfiction). A review of U.S. attempts at regime change in the Middle East (Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc.), from the angle that whenever we intervene, it ends up making things much worse. Color me convinced.


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Memories of Ice, by Steven Erikson (2001, fantasy). Very long (around 1,400 pages) but oh so good. The writing really, really works for me (tight and well-crafted and witty) and feels more real than most fantasy I’ve read — more anchored in physicality, with characters who feel like real people. I’m convinced, too, that Erikson’s archaeology background is one of the main things that makes these books such a good fit for my brain. Looking forward to continuing with the series — and hopefully it doesn’t take me nine years to get to the next one like it did this time.


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The Girl Beneath the Sea, by Andrew Mayne (2020, thriller). Enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series and other books by Mayne.


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The Secret History, by Donna Tartt (1992). I’d say this is dark academia, though there’s not actually much schoolwork in it. The story was compelling and uncomfortable, like watching a train wreck. Here and there I felt like I myself was the one who had committed murder (which is how I felt when I read Crime & Punishment). The mountain part kept reminding me of my dad’s suicide in the mountains and the subsequent manhunt. On a happier note, the side of me that almost became a classicist enjoyed the occasional Greek and Latin. I wish there had been a lot more of that.


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What Moves the Dead, by T. Kingfisher (2022). A creepy novella based on Poe’s story “The Fall of the House of Usher” (which I haven’t yet read). Enjoyed it, especially the mycological angle, which reminded me a bit of VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Borne.


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Ways of Being, by James Bridle (2022). Wow, what a fascinating book. Loved it. It’s nominally about artificial intelligence but (to me, anyway) it was much more about other types of intelligence in the world — animals, plants, etc. Things like plants being able to hear and remember and move around (at a population level, anyway), early hominids, Archaea, bee swarms, and esoteric programming languages. One of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while. The point about corporations being a form of artificial intelligence has especially stuck with me. Recommended.


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Cage of Souls, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2019). I’d heard good things about this, and for me it delivered. Really liked it. Some very interesting ideas (including a few I wish had been explored in much more detail). More variety in the story than I was expecting after the first few chapters, too. A compelling read.


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The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers (1934). I read this for book group. Sure learned a lot about bell-ringing. The mystery ended up being interesting, though the book felt rather slow at times and I found myself skimming through several parts lest I get bogged down and abandon it. On that note, by the way, in recent years I find myself struggling with older fiction. While there are scads of classics I want to have read, I lose interest whenever I actually get into one. Dry. As. Dust. (Old nonfiction, though, is unfettered by this curse. Don’t know why.) I’m hoping this is something that changes over time.


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Avid Reader, by Robert Gottlieb (2016). A fun read, with plenty of publishing history. Gottlieb edited Catch-22 and The Chosen (Chaim Potok, that is) and Robert Caro and Antonia Fraser and Robert Massie and Barbara Tuchman and Nora Ephron and Dorothy Dunnett, among many, many others. I have to remind myself that all these iconic books once had an uncertain future, and many of them changed substantially through the course of their time on the editing table (a useful reminder when I’m working on my own writing and it seems hopeless).


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Leadership, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2018). Loved it. So, so good. It’s a study of leadership (no surprise there) through looking at the lives and presidencies of Abraham Lincoln (depression, emancipation), Theodore Roosevelt (loss of mother and wife, coal strike), Franklin D. Roosevelt (paralysis, New Deal), and Lyndon B. Johnson (Senate loss, civil rights). I ate it up. Looking forward to reading more biographies of world leaders; recommendations welcome.

While not entirely unexpected, it was still sad to read that all four men died fairly young — fifty-six (Lincoln), sixty (Teddy), sixty-three (FDR), and sixty-four (LBJ). (Sometime in the last decade, by the way, my sense of what ages are “old” jumped from the sixties up to the eighties.)


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