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Latest Reading List Update: February 1, 2006

The Sacklunch Reading List is a short list of books we've been reading lately. Don't kid yourself, we read some pretty cool books. Honestly. You won't be bummed.

If you'd like to buy anything you see listed below just click on the image or the title.

The Fall of Baghdad
Jon Lee Anderson is a lyrical writer of smooth, even, often beautiful prose. His attention to subtle details and their description is seductive and satisfying and it's no wonder that his latest work has been as a reporter for The New Yorker. The fact that he is writing about a war, the fall of a city and dictator, and the resultant chaos that "instant freedom" brings makes the writing all the more poignant. In the Fall of Baghdad, Anderson spends most of his time in discussions with Iraq's elite; former aides, employees, and what could be called "friends" of Saddam Hussein and follows the changes their lives take as the stable yet horrifying dictatorship comes to an end with the March 20, 2003 United States lead Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Little Children
With suburban Orange County track homes invading the nation like mold, Tom Perrotta's darkly hilarious new novel hits readers squarely between the eyes. These bored moms and stay at home dads are our neighbors and the trouble they can get into at the community pool is going on behind the gates of most communities. Little Children does for middle class America what his previous novel Election did for high school students and teachers. Perrotta's world is hopeless and tragic, but wallowing in his characters' misery is great fun.

The surprisingly engaging family history of a hermaphrodite coming of age in a Greek family in Detroit, Michigan. Jeffrey Eugenides, author of the Virgin Suicides, delivers such a heartfelt description of adolescent angst magnified by sexual disorientation that you have to wonder if he didn't have some kind of personal experience.

Drop City
T.C. Boyle
points his acerbic wit at a Northern California commune circa 1970 that, due to problems with the local government, is forced to leave their land and seek shelter in the free wheeling state of Alaska. Once there, the hippies find out that living off the land isn't exactly the same as running naked through a Mendocino forest all summer.

Fierce People
A poor kid, Finn Earl, and his masseuse, coke-head mom are thrown into the world of bored rich people when Mom moves onto the estate of one of her "clients". The titled, borrowed from the famous research done on the Yanomano tribe of south America, is a perfect description of coming of age in the strangest tribe of all: the idle rich of the Eastern Seaboard.

Pattern Recognition
Cyberpunk author William Gibson delivers a character who is violently allergic to trademarks. So allergic that she is hired by companies to just look at their products and creative to see if she gets sick. While visiting a boyfriend's house she gets sucked into a mystery involving people who collect clips of a film that is being produced and released serially on internet. As usual Gibson shades in the edges and leaves the bulk of the insights unwritten allowing readers to think on into the night about our cybernetic, media-soaked futures.

Cadillac Desert
On the surface Cadillac Desert is a horrendously detailed account of how the dry wasteland deserts of the West were tuned into a fruitful oasis in an effort to populate the United States' left coast. But once past that (and it is a chore to get past that), what Marc Reisner is writing about is man's unswerving drive to control nature, government's commitment to waste, and how little the average person, farmer, or businessman has to say about anything once the "wheels of progress" begin rolling their way. This book should be required reading for anyone who has ever watered a Southern California lawn or driven up the Owens Valley Desert on the way to Mammoth.

Sacred Hunger
When the details from nearly every good story ever told are stripped away, what's left is people forced into being themselves. In Sacred Hunger the idea of goodness, greed, equality, business, and government transect in a nexus of romance, slave trading, final voyages, and revenge in the mid 1800s. It's much better than it sounds, trust me. Barry Unsworth, who won the Booker Prize for this work when it was first published in 1992, is a classical novelist. Sometimes the book seems almost too well crafted when foreshadowing is served up like a gravity defying softball.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Everyone should have read this book in high school, just ask the boys from Blink 182. If you, like some of us, never read it in high school, please do. Racism vs. thoughtfulness in the deep south and a little girl who was taught to think for herself from a very young age. This was and is Harper Lee's only book (unless you count all the work she put into childhood friend Truman Capote's ground-breaking book, In Cold Blood). We'll leave it at that.

The Liar's List
Here is a collection of books that literary show-offs often mention as the book "they've just read" or "just can't put down." Often times these books are found on people bookshelves, but when you quiz them they'll have no idea what you're talking about. If you want to look well-read throw these up on the shelf or even better, actually read them.

Gravity's Rainbow
The rocket. The rocket man. Strange British psychology units. Sadomasochistic German soldiers. World War II. And the single best work of fiction written in the English language. Don't hope to get through Thomas Pynchon's mind-bending thought virus of a book the first time through. After more than 20 years and six starts we finally made it to the finish, and as with most great books, the journey was worth way more than the finish. In fact, some of the scenes and images Pynchon lays down in the book will haunt you for life.

Infinite Jest
It would be impossible for David Foster Wallace to have written Infinite Jest without Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. What Pynchon did for post war Western Civilization, Wallace does for junior tennis, drug addiction, and media saturation. With a title lifted from Hamlet ("Poor Yorrick, I knew him well. He was a man of Infinite Jest") the book is the parallel stories of a family that lives at an Eastern Tennis Academy, French Canadian wheel-chair bound assassins, and a drug addict who likes putting cats in bags just to see if they want to live enough to claw their way out. Yeah, you may have to read it three or four times. It only took us six years to finish it.

We read every word in this book just to say we did. We know nothing about Dublin, Homer's Odyssey, or any of the other major myths James Joyce wove into this convoluted city guide. But, we read every word once and you probably should to. Though twice or three times would probably be even better.

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