A Nonessential Reading List

People often ask me what I'm reading. Because I'm an author, I assume they expect me to be immersed in some massive volume of academic import. The truth is I don't hang out with anyone who does that and my own habits are scattershot at best and often fraught with ulterior motives (i.e., research). I wish I could find more time for it. My New Years resolution every year is to "read more."

When I finish a book, I like to feel that it was time well-spent. Here are a few that fit into that category for me:

1. Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and The Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine by George M. Tate

All I have to say about this book is if you're an American wine drinker and haven't read it, shame on you!

2. Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man by Norman Mailer

Of course, Mailer is always Mailer, but this book feels like listening to someone describe a close and interesting friend.

3. Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Island by Martha Sherrill

This is the strange and mystical story of Morie Sawataishi, a revered figure in the snowy Japanese mountains, who strengthened, and some say saved, the Akira breed.

4. Storming Las Vegas: How a Cuban-Born, Soviet-Trained Commando Took Down the Strip to the Tune of Five World-Class Hotels, Three Armored Cars, and Millions of Dollars by John Huddy

Huddie is a former Miami Herald columnist whom I've admired for a long time. This is an amazing but true story, a nonfiction account that reads like a raging thriller. (You may have seen John's lovely daughter, Juliet, on a prominent cable news channel.)

5. Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography by Geoffrey Ward, Dayton Davis, and Ken Burns

This is a companion piece for Ken Burns' excellent documentary of one of my favorite authors. It's like reading his biography while having access to all of the research materials. (It was therein I discovered that Twain had performed in Duluth, Minnesota, at the Spalding Hotel, in 1895. I grew up thinking no one ever came to Minnesota!)

6. Big Boss Man: The Life & Music of Bluesman Jimmy Reed by Will Romano

Reed was my first guitar and harmonica hero and I learned much about how to play both instruments from his early records. An alcoholic and epileptic, he was wildly popular in his day. This should be mandatory reading for young musicians who incorrectly consider his music simple.

7. OSX Mavericks: The Missing Manual by David Pogue

Pogue has been one my fave tech writers for a long time. He manages to bring off something I always wanted to do: Bring humor to a tech manual. The guy's hilarious—and he knows his stuff. Because computer and software companies rarely provide hard copy documentation anymore, the Missing Manual series fills that void.

8. The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking

Professor Hawking is one of the most influential thinkers of our era. I keep reading this thing expecting to at least get a grip on some of it, but each time I comprehend just a tiny bit more and I'm always amazed by how bright a small sliver of enlightenment can shine. Not recommended for bedtime.

9. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

King has written more than fifty books, but this is hands-down his best.  You needn't be a writer to appreciate this very personal account of his craft and his life, including the hair-raising story of how he was almost killed while walking a road near his rural home. This man has much to say outside of his trademark horror genre and I hope, sooner or later, to have the opportunity to thank him for writing this book!


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