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Let's face it, the most exciting things going on in my life are what happens in the books I read. So when I'm at a loss for a blog post, why not list some recent reads? Besides, Mark Terry and Rambler have been doing it.

The Prisoner of Vandam Street -- Kinky Friedman (2004)
Okay, so this is more a collection of vulgar and politically incorrect comedy schticks than a real mystery, but damn is it funny! In case you aren't familiar with Kinky Friedman, his detective character is himself. Also, a lot of his characters are real people, kind of, as for example Ruth Buzzi's husband. It's pretty hard to describe. You need to experience it yourself.

What Does it All Mean? -- Thomas Nagel
A very short, unadorned, discussion of nine philosphical problems ranging from from "Knowledge of the world beyond our minds" to "The meaning of life". Nagel does not cite particular philosphers, or offer any answers. He merely outlines the questions. But of course recognizing the question is sometimes the most difficult aspect of philosphy.

Deadline Poet: My Life as a Doggerelist -- Calvin Trillin (1994)
This account of the early years of Trillian's Deadline Poet column for The Nation contains numerous examples of his humorous verse about current affairs.I was shocked, because I had not recalled how appalling similar the political shenaniganstwenty years ago were to what we're still suffering through today. Only the names have changed, and not all of them.

Hiroshima -- John Hersey (1946)
A horrifying account of the bombing of Hiroshima as seen through the eyes of six survivors. Forty years after its 1946 publication Hersey udated the story be recounting what had happened to the six. This ought to be required reading in all schools.

Miss Callaghan Comes to Grief -- James Hadley Chase (1941)
This book was apparently banned in the UK, which must have made the author grin. He managed to pack as about as much offensive violence, sex and racism imaginable into this story about gang warfare and the white slave trade in East St Louis. The era precluded anything very graphic and probably just as well. Good fun, insofar as reading about the white slave trade can be fun.

No Orchids for Miss Blandish -- James Hadley Chase (1939)
In a 1944 review, George Orwell called this tale of a kidnapping "a brilliant piece of writing, with hardly a wasted word or a jarring note anywhere." But he also saw it as symptomatic of modern moral decay. "Chase is presenting, as it were, a distilled version of the modern political scene, in which such things as mass bombing of civilians, the use of hostages, torture to obtain confessions, secret prisons, execution without trial, floggings with rubber truncheons, drownings in cesspools, systematic falsification of records and statistics, treachery, bribery, and quislingism are normal and morally neutral, even admirable when they are done in a large and bold way. The average man is not directly interested in politics, and when he reads, he wants the current struggles of the world to be translated into a simple story about individuals. He can take an interest in [Hadley's characters] as he could not in the G.P.U. and the Gestapo. People worship power in the form in which they are able to understand it."

Man on the Run --Charles Williams (1958)
Entertaining enough treatment of the familiar plot where an average guy, framed for murder, tries to avoid the police long enough to find the real killer. But despite my skill at suspending my disbelief, I began to wonder how many times an unarmed, non-superhero, could be cornered by armed cops and thugs and manage to knock weapons aside, dart out the back way, cut down an alley etc etc and escape.

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