Sunday, 20 May 2012

Tall Ship update

I don't recall posting this, so for the record: I passed. I am now officially CREW.

What does this mean? In practical terms, it means that on two concurrent days I have been required -- required, please note -- to dress up like a pirate and say "ARR!" very loudly while setting sails. Also, I have been ordered to swab decks, which I have then swabbed.

Childhood dream #117: accomplished.
The Nebulas were in DC this year. I dutifully trooped over to view them with the intrepid [info]oktober_ghost and the ever-chipper Fran Wilde. Beth and I even managed to catch a glimpse of that ever elusive species of CW alumni, William T. Vandermark. Barring one CW alum, I have now managed to collect the whole set!

I hadn't been to the Nebulas before, and it was an interesting mix of familiar and new faces. I managed to sit down with the fabulous Mike and Rachel Swirksy, the engaging E. Lily Yu, the somewhat suspicious Andy Duncan and the always troublesome James Patrick Kelly. I learned interesting things about radio from [info]jfreund and Meagen Voss. I admired the thin orange tie of the ever-stylish John Kessel and the clattery shoes of death worn by the brave prom-goers sharing our hotel. And, as always, I left with a long list of Yet More Things to Read.

But in the meantime: the very deserving winners of the Nebulas have been announced. Good reads all. I'm particularly fond of Jo Walton's amazing Among Others, which seems poised to sweep many of the SF awards this year, but I'm thoroughly fond of all the nominated works I read. I have to make special mention of Genevieve Valentine's astonishing debut, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, which I thought was just beautiful.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Cowardly Climbing cont.

So, my tall ship training course is now over and I PASSED MY FINAL! Which means I get to call myself "crew." It's a long way from being an "able-bodied seaman," but it's something.

The ship, alas, is still in dock, so I'm planning to get my volunteer hours up such that I can actually go sailing. When I do, I'll fill you in.

Yesterday had other milestones too. I took and passed my upper-climb test, which allows me now to venture into the tippy-top of the ship. And I crossed the cat-harpings for the first time - twice! - which is something I've been nerving myself up to do for a while. (Note: tried to find an image of cat harpings. Do you know how many illustrations of kittens playing musical instruments there are on the web? This is not that.)

See the terrified red shirt? That's a person crossing cat harpings.



The cat harpings are two thick ropes that act as a bridge between the starboard and port (right and left) sides of the lower yard. To cross from the left part of the mast "t" to the right side you swing your feet onto these two thick ropes, stand on them, and leeean sideways until your hand catches a shroud on the right side. This is a the "crucified" position. Then you swing yourself onto the shrouds of the right side. When crossing the cat harpings, you are standing on two ropes that separate you from a long fall, and you are not clipped in. This and the climb into the fighting top are arguably the two scariest climbing positions on the ship.

But climbing these in good weather wasn't actually that bad. The cat harpings were surprisingly solid to stand on, and I'm learning, yet again, that my body knows more about climbing than I think it does. I even managed to do part of the upside-down climb into the fighting-top without difficulty, so... we'll see. Upper climbing has terrors of its own.

Fun fact of the day: because so much of the ship is made from tropical hardwood, if we get a splinter, we are supposed to immediately report it. Tropical hardwoods excrete nasty insecticidal chemicals that can exacerbate a simple splinter wound and turn it into something Very Unpleasant.

Hunger Games Soundtrack

So the HG soundtrack is pretty good, if a bit bipolar. Roughly 50% of the singers heard "Hunger Games soundtrack" as, in Taylor Swift's words, ''Appalachian music 300 years from now.'' 45% heard "DYSTOPIA! I GET TO WRITE AN ANTHEM FOR A DYSTOPIA!" And a minority - say 5% - heard "This is your chance to write Hunger Games filk!" And then there's Taylor Swift, who also heard "write a generic pop song to play over the end credits!" But I'll forgive her, because her futuristic Appalachian music is pretty decent, and also, she was probably told to write a generic pop song for the end credits.

The upshot: this is a good soundtrack album. Even on shuffle, the songs flow into each other with surprising coherence. And it's a rich mine for writers looking for "I'M IN A DYSTOPIA! WITH A BANJO!" music to play in the background as they write.

I'm also amused and rather touched to hear how many artists just really, really wanted to write HG filk. Rock on, nerdy dystopian banjo players. Rock on.

A different kind of book update

The amazing Susan Gubar's Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer is being released on April 30th. A brilliant feminist scholar and (full disclosure) one of the most inspirational teachers I've had, Susan was diagnosed in 2008 with ovarian cancer. In her latest book, she weaves a memoir of her illness together with a polemic on the state of women's health care in America.

From Publisher's Weekly:

Feminist author and scholar Gubar received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2008, and the then 63-year-old author underwent the radical surgical procedure called debulking, which removes many of the organs in a woman’s lower abdomen. Gubar’s memoir is not easy reading. She recounts in detail the grotesque procedures and the horrendous pain and humiliation she endured. The author ponders why major advances have mounted up for the treatment of breast cancer, but little has changed in treating ovarian cancer. Gubar weaves her personal story into a discussion of art, literature, and statements from other cancer patients. The author recounts the strength and care she received from family and friends, especially her husband, from her diagnosis through treatment to remission. She then finds herself confronted with a choice. “Either I have a third abdominal surgery that comes with its own complications or I suffer from infections preventing future therapies that would extend my life.” Gubar wrote her memoir for one reason: “my central motive consists of a fierce belief that something must be done to rectify the miserable inadequacies of current medical responses to ovarian cancer.” Gubar’s passionate and brave polemic is critical reading for anyone concerned with the state of women’s health care in America. (Apr.)
[info]rcloenen_ruiz's post on Eastercon got me thinking about the lack of support for translated works in the N.A. publishing industry and in SF in particular.

I know that there are many hard-working translators out there who have a project on the back burner: an award-winning novel they really want to see get wider circulation, or a series of poems that they've fallen in love with. But (they tell me when we talk at conferences) they can't find publishers for these projects.

So on that front I wanted to mention Calypso Press, a new, artist-run co-operative dedicated to "publishing quality literary books of poetry and fiction with a global perspective." You can read about their projects on their website, and, if they strike you as worthwhile, contribute to their efforts.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Tall ship adventures continued

This week they started training us to actually handle the whipstaff: the tall, glossy wooden pole that served as the 17C equivalent of a steering wheel. We practiced dodging pirates and icebergs (the usual perils of Delaware rivers) by putting the stationary ship through its imagined paces.

This involved putting the whipstaff “in the hole” (pushing it to the side and sliding it down into the cavernous depths beneath the helmsman’s feet, which turns the ship in a hard, hard right or left, depending on why direction you pushed it in). We also practiced checking the compass (the GPS, which tracks a boat’s real direction, would actually throw us off). We learned that to turn the ship a couple of degrees, the helmsman will hold up two fingers to the mast and try to plant the nose of the boat on the edge of that second finger.

We were told, also, to beware the whipstaff. Through the miracle of physics, the whipstaff grants the person touching it a 40:1 mechanical advantage, allowing even a small person like myself to shift the 3200 lb rudder in calmish seas. (In rough seas, two people would handle it.)

But the whipstaff is called the whip -staff for a reason. It can redirect its force quote ferociously. One of my fellow trainees has a friend training on another ship who was sent flying by a rebellious whipstaff. She broke a rib and ankle. For this reason the whipstaff is kept in check by a loop of rope suspended from the quarterdeck ceiling when not in use. And it isn’t used when the engines are powering the boat in or out of dock.

I enjoyed repeating the helm commands etc. It felt almost official.

Climbing

“Do you know why they put the martlets here?”

I was at that point lying with my belly across the yard and my feet on a very wobbly piece of rope. No I did not know.

“What I heard,” the experienced climber said, “was that in the old days, sailors were terrified of falling to the sea. They couldn’t swim and they had no life boats. So they rigged the martlets here so that if you fell, you would fall onto the deck. Sure, your body would be broken, but you at least had a chance of living.”

“I—” (Oof) “Would prefer—“ (oof) “The Sea.”

“Looks like you’re caught on that knot. You need to stand up a bit and move your clips so that you can slide over it.”

“Oof.”

“That should do it. Yeah,” he said, looking down. “The sea. I dunno. It’s pretty cold today.”

It was cold. Or at least the wind was cold. My hands were neon pink and numb. I occasionally trapped the ropes with my elbows so that I could rub my hands together to warm them. I’d been worried that numb hands could lead to a weak grip, but they continued to obey me all the way up and down. Their numbness was a sulky, teenage kind of numbness, I suspect. They couldn’t quite believe I was making them work in the cold.

Back on deck I noticed that the backs of my hands and fingers were now covered with a cross-cross of faint scratches and scabs of blood from where I’d wedged them against ropes. I hadn’t felt a thing.

In short, the climbing continues to get easier.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ongoing Adventures of a Cowardly Climber

Climbing went much better this week. For one thing, I had better footwear. For another, the tarp had been taken down, so the swing onto the shrouds was easier to make. Also, my body had gotten time to adjust to the whole “ropes will move” idea.

Best advice given to me: “Never look up or down when climbing. Just watch your hands.”
Most interesting /least-reassuring advice: “Try to climb with a foot on either side of a shroud [i.e. with the vertical pole of a rope ladder between your legs]. That way if a ratlin snaps, you’ll still have one foot on a rope.”

Staring at my hands definitely helped. I managed to climb up onto the yard (the horizontal mast that forms the t of a tall ship mast).
There’s a horizontal rope that runs under the yard. This is the foot rope. You step onto it after clipping into another steady rope running along the top of the yard. Once both of your feet are on the rope you quickly shift your weight over the yard itself by putting your belly (or chest, if you’re short like me) on the yard. This allows you to drape your hands over the yard, down to the top of the sail, and from here you can gather in or loose the ropes that furl the sail.

I’m finding that once I’m about 10 feet off the deck, the height stops bothering me. It stops being “real height” and moves into the realm of “unreal height.” I think my reptile brain knows all too well the dangers of falling from heights it’s accustomed to, but once I get beyond that, it has no experience to draw on. Hopefully, if I’m occupying my forebrain with “which rope do I grab” and “how do I tie this” my reptile brain won’t wake up to the whole height thing.
I have to say, though, I’m really impressed by the experienced climbers. They can do things I haven’t seen outside of money cages, and they do them without being clipped in. One of the EC’s bypassed two trainees on the same “ladder” by going hand-over-hand down the outer rope (the vertical ladder pole). I won’t be doing that anytime soon…

While up at the yard I talked to another trainee, a woman in her 60s, who told me that she’d applied to be a tall ship climber when she was young, but had been turned down because women weren’t allowed to climb. “This is one of my life’s dreams, and I’m finally in a position to do it,” she said. Then she noted the number of women training for climbers.  Times have changed.

Tall ship update

I am now a genuine tar. I’ve rolled so much oakum that my exercise clothes reek of pine tar. I noticed it when I went to belly dancing. It’s not an unpleasant smell, but it’s weird, like a Christmas tree  soaked in petroleum. My palms feel like I’ve just rubbed them with body butter.  And I keep finding tiny white hairs from ropes scattered over my clothing, as though I have a pet cat made of rope fiber waiting for me at home.  I increasingly suspect that there Is No Unmarked Tall-Ship Sailor, to borrow Tannen’s phrase. Writers take note.

This week the fore course was finally up, so we got to practice our rope-hauling and belaying in more realistic conditions. Also, I climbed up to the yard and practiced getting my hands on the top of that sail. I’ll write about that in a separate post.

Things I learned this week: 

1) The bow-watch (the person scanning the ocean to make sure the ship doesn’t crash into anything) has to know how to deliver the “ship/log/person/Cthulhu dead ahead!” warnings in sign-language as well as verbally. Sometimes a ship is a noisy place, and damnit, the captain needs to know if there’s a reef off the beam. I’m looking forward to learning some of these.
1) Boat-check. Boat check is conducted every 30 minutes, usually by the person coming off bow-watch. The boat-checker goes through the ship looking for hazards (fires, bilge levels, pirates etc.). It’s pretty efficient. A single night watch person seems to do 4 checks on his or her shift. They’re increasing the night watch patrol in response to attempted burglaries though. Apparently, junkies look at a tall ship, think sailors=alcohol, and try to break in.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Tall Ship update

I passed the strength test and climbed into the tall ship rigging for the first time. This is the sort of stupid thing writers do. I'm afraid of heights and climbing up some giant dangerous swinging ropey thing holds little appeal in and of itself. But damnit, I can't work on a tall ship and not know what it feels like to go into the rigging.

So up I went. And for the record, it feels like UTTER TERROR. Which I'm hoping wears off with practice and better footwear, because a climber needs to be able to do more than cling, huddle, and meep.

Right now the ship is in dock, and there's a canopy over the forecastle to protect the carpenters. To climb the foremast I needed to climb out a hole in the tarp and swing myself sideways onto a shroud. This was the hardest part of the climb: there are no footholds or handholds visible from the deck, and the fall is a good 10 feet already, so there was a great deal of faith and clinging involved in that swing. Also, the lower shrouds are huge, thick vertical ropes about 6 inches in diameter -- far too big to wrap my hand around -- so they aren't exactly conducive to holding and swinging.

(This was my first moment of revelation, btw. A ship is not a climbing wall. It is designed to be a ship first, and a Thing That People Climb On a distant second. Much rigging climbing involves stepping on and clinging to things not designed for that purpose.)

A tall ship's rigging includes shrouds (vertical ropes that connect the mast to the sides of the boat) and ratlins (horizontal ropes strung between the shrouds that form a ladder for the climbers). When climbing, one is to never put one's hands on the ratlins; hands are for shrouds and other standing rigging only. Standing rigging (a rope that will never move) is tarred black, to preserve it and to signal to climbers that this rope will not move.

(Another revelation. Climbing rigging means climbing rope ladders. Ropes move. They move when you put your weight on them; they move in the wind; they move when somebody else sets foot on the rigging. Presumably when the ship is moving there is yet more motion. It's like climbing a mountain of jello.)

(Also: while we have climbing belts, we can only clip in when stationary, and we have no belay. For the most part, holding on for dear life is a very good idea, because yes, you can fall, and if you do, you will go splat. There is no safety net.)

Anyway, I made my climb and got up and down without incident. Returning to deck was easy, actually, because I could see where my feet could go to support me.

(Another revelation: when you are focused to holding on to ropes and not falling, heights don't matter. I had thought height would be my problem, but actually I barely noticed how high I was, I was so focused on not slipping.)

Eh. That's it for now. More adventures of a cowardly climber at some future point. 

Nebulas

I finally caved and joined SFWA. Since then I've been reading a lot of excellent fiction, some of which has made the Nebula ballot. Congrats to all the nominees!

But before I start raving about some of the nominated fiction (a future post), I wanted to mention some short stories that I thought were wonderful but which didn't make the Nebula list. Vylar Kaftan's Hero-Mother (the costs of an alien culture's attempt to control reproduction), James Allen Gardner's clever nightmare Three Damanations, and Genevieve Valentine's evocative fantasy The Sandal-Bride are all terrific and worth a read.

Oscars

I didn't Oscar out this year as I have previously. But I will say that I thought THE ARTIST was a deserving winner. It's a wonderful movie. You should see it, preferably without having seen any trailers or footage from it. All you need to know is that it's a film about a silent-movie film star at the dawn of the era of sound. And it's lovely.

THE IRON LADY was the film J. EDGAR aspired to be: a clinical examination of a person who pursues, then loses, power. Like J.EDGAR, this film is not a political history. It's not out to educate you. Instead it wants to take a famous political figure and strip away their defensive shell, showing us what might drive a person to excel at the blood sport of politics. J. EDGAR did this clumsily; IRON LADY does it with skill and nuance.

Streep gave a fine performance, but I'd have rather Davis won for THE HELP. THE HELP was a fine movie, with a strong ensemble cast. It was hurt because it came out during the summer, and by the time the Oscar voting began it had faded in voters' memories.

HUGO was immensely overrated, imo. It looked lovely, and I loved its recreation of silent movie sets, but the story clunked. The pacing in the last third of the film was off, and events seemed to drag rather than fitting neatly together. I also have to say that I didn't engage with the main character. The actor (who will be donning the mantle of Ender Wiggin in ENDER'S GAME) was competent; but the character remained a surface to me. I think one of the problems may have been that it took so long for the film to reveal why Hugo was stealing clockwork, etc. If you keep a character opaque, you up the mystery but lose out in audience identification.

So anyway. Some folks seem to have loved HUGO. I wasn't one of them.

And that's it for me and the Oscars this year.

Monday, 13 February 2012

More Tall Ship thoughts

I passed the climbing test, so I ought to be able to ascend into the lower rigging soon. I could have tried for the higher rigging test, but I'm not overly fond of heights. I want to take things in stages.

Fun fact: when climbing rigging, always stick to the windward side of the ship so that the wind presses you against the mast.

Another fun fact: if your ship catches fire near shore, you should try and fight off the firemen, because the amount of water dumped on your ship by their fire hoses will sink it in under 2 minutes.

That's all the fun facts I have: the other facts involve knots and belaying pins, and they're not that interesting to those who don't have to use them.

That's all for now.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

For all you OMG SHIP people: some initial thoughts on tall ship training

First of all, here's the web site for the ship in question, a replica of the 17C Dutch Pinnace that settled Delaware for the Swedes.

It's a bigger boat than the Mayflower - 317 tons - with seven square sails and a lateen mizzen to serve as a wind rudder. It hails from a pre-steering wheel era and so is steered by what is, in essence, a giant lever attached to the tiller. The helmsman can't see directly ahead and so has to reply on the commands of the officer in control of the ship.

I'm 3 classes into the training. We've been working on knots, belaying, line handling and safety procedures.

Writerly thoughts:

1) Language really is important. A lot of what we're learning right now is vocabulary, because you can't obey an order to "man the halyard" without knowing what a halyard is and what "manning" means.

It's interesting to me how quickly words like "Avast" go from being colorful bits of nautical parlance to words that actually mean something specific, and that you start to respond to automatically. For example, "avast" doesn't mean "stop" -- which is what I vaguely thought it meant before doing this. It's actual meaning is "stop but maintain tension!"

As in, you're hauling up a sail and an officer spots that a passenger has stepped into a coil of rope, risking imminent death. To shout "stop" might prompt some sailors to drop the rope, leading to a sail crashing down and possibly more imminent death. So instead the officer yells "Avast!" The sailors stop hauling but do not let go of the rope. The passenger is rescued. Everyone's happy.

So the phrase "Avast there you land-lubbers!" no longer makes sense to me. What are the land-lubbers supposed to be doing, that they should halt the activity but not abandon it completely? If they were talking when you saw them, should they now just make rhubarb-rhubarb noises?

2) Safety: A tall ship is a giant working machine, and you are standing in the middle of it. That means rings, long hair, necklaces, hoodie ties etc. are dangerous, because they can lead you to be dragged along with a rope or mashed into a belaying pin. All sailors on the KN must have their hair tied back, necklaces and ties tucked away, rings removed etc. And while real 17C sailors were far less safety conscious, I'm now scratching my head over the number of nautical adventure covers that show women and men standing on top of rigging with their hair flying in the wind. Um... no.

Updaterishness

I swear I'm still here. I really am. And I will write a long updaterish post in the near future.

Here's a short version: I'm teaching 2 classes this semester. One's a freshman SF class I've taught before; the other is a new graduate course that I've dubbed "The British Empire: ALL OF IT." My days right now are mostly taken up with trying to whittle down ALL OF ITand finishing a new book chapter.

And I've started training to crew on a 17C tall ship. It turns out there's a replica Dutch Pinnace stationed in a nearby harbour that offers classes on square-rigger sailing. As an academic, I research the history of the British navy, and as an SF writer, 17C sailing knowledge is sure to come in useful at some point. So I signed up.

I'll do a longer post once I've done some more training: we're still land-bound right now, practicing knots and using ropes to haul trucks around the parking lot. So far my observations are limited to: knots are fun and tall ships have lots of parts.

More later.

Locus podcast

A few weeks ago I had a very fun conversation with Austin Sirkin and Karen Burnham about academia, SF, ICFA, steampunk, and teenage dystopias. Locus posted a podcast of it here: Siobhan Carroll and Austin Sirkin in Conversation. For posterity, and beyond!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

In dreams, history is cooler than it was

Last night I dreamed that I was eavesdropping on Catherine the Great advising the Empress Jos├ęphine on how to depose Napoleon and take the throne herself. I was very disappointed to wake up and realize that historically, there's no way this could have happened.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Tangent Online

I just learned that Tangent Online recommended two of my 2011 stories in the 2* category this year: "The Strange Case of Madeleine H. Marsh" (from the 4/11 issue of the late great Realms of Fantasy) and "In the Gardens of the Night" (BCS, 07/11).

It's always lovely to discover that people have read and enjoyed your stories. I have to say, too, that I really enjoy Tangent's reviews. They've directed me to a lot of fabulous work over the years. I'm going to try and hunt down as many of their 2011 recommendations as I can, and I'll try to write up a list of my own 2011 favourites later this week.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

State of the Reading Union: 2011, part 3

Best Short Story Collections (Since August)
Clockwork Phoenix 3: New Tales of Beauty and Strangeness, Volume 3‎ by Mike Allen

This lovingly-crafted anthology provides a nice cross-section of the SF field. Steampunk (Nicole Kornher-Stace's "To Seek Her Fortune") rubs shoulders with pseudo-academic history (Tori Truslow's "Tomorrow Is Saint Valentine's Day") which passes the baton onto literary SF (Gregory Frost’s “Lucyna’s Gaze”). Allen has a knack for digging out treasures from the slush pile, and he manages to not only showcase some strong stories from authors I already knew (Tanith Lee's "Fold"), but also creepy gems like Georgina Bruce’s "Crow Voodoo." I have to 'fess up, though, and admit that two of my favourite stories were by authors I know personally: Frost's wonderfully-crafted tragedy, “Lucyna’s Gaze," and Marie Brennan's brilliant lost history, "The Gospel of Nachash,” which I found both compelling and also dangerously persuasive. I can't now look at certain supernatural creatures without thinking of Brennan's apocrypha. It's very cleverly done.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Yes, I know. Everyone who likes SF has read this but me. Still, I really enjoyed reading modern classics like "Stories of Your Life" for the first time, as well as encountering personal favourites like "Seventy-Two Letters" again. I'm always impressed by the diversity of Chiang's stories and the strength of his ideas, and both virtues are on display in this collection.

State of the Reading Union: 2011, part 2

Back in August I discussed the best non-fiction books and best fiction books I’d read so far in 2011. In total, I ended up reading about 87 books in 2011. Here's my reading summary for the second half of the year.

Best Fiction (since August)
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

What a charming book! It's hard to believe that Simonson's tribute to love, politeness, and the importance of a nice cup of tea is a debut novel (and knowing the publishing world, it might not be). But Simonson's gently-humorous account of the forbidden love between a retired English major and an English-Pakistani shopkeeper is a winner. The story stumbles in the final two chapters (perhaps this was a debut novel after all), but for the most part, this is a lovely, well-written comedy with heart. Think "Bend it like Beckham" with books instead of football.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

This is one of my "I really should have read this, shouldn't I" reads. And yes, I should have. Russell's tale of a Jesuit missionary expedition to an alien planet is gripping and poignant. I found the first half more compelling than the second, and was left a bit cold by the ending, but there's no doubting Russell's talent.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers‎ by Paolo Giordano

A gorgeously-written character study of two misfits who find each other, but who struggle to act on their feelings. There's a lot of soulless "literary" writing out there, where well-crafted sentences substitute for originality and a strong narrative. Giaordano's novel is the real deal. His imagery surprises, but his observations also strike home. I can't say I *liked* these characters, or what happens to them, but I believed in them and found their journey a poignant one.

State of the Reading Union: 2011, part 1

Back in August I discussed the best non-fiction books and best fiction books I’d read so far in 2011. In total, I ended up reading about 87 books in 2011. Here's my reading summary for the second half of the year.

Best Non-fiction (since August)

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman‎ by Robert K. Massie

I read a lot of "powerful women in history" bios this year, and Massie's portrait of Catherine is probably the best of them. It's an engaging, highly personal look at the life of a fascinating woman. Massie has the advantage, of course, of having Catherine's own memoirs to draw on -- if only Cleopatra had left an account of her first sexual experiences! -- but he uses them adeptly, and comes across as a wry, astute and sympathetic biographer.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

If you like reading true crime and/or abnormal psychology cases, make sure to pick up this page-turner. Seal's account of a con artist's progress across the U.S.A. is gripping, chilling, and thought-provoking.

Game Change by John Heilemann, Mark Halperin

An entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the 2008 presidential election. How this book will measure up in 40 years time, I don't know, but if you spent any part of 2008 wondering what the hell John McCain was thinking, this book will tell you.