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RICK BRAGG (AUTHOR, All Over but the Shoutin')
Larry McMurtry's SIN KILLER, which is part of a narrative he's doing about an aristocratic British familyˇthe Barrybendersˇwho travel to the US for a hunting expedition. You come to despise them because they're pampered snots. They don't seem to mind putting the lives of others at risk for the sake of their own frugalities, in particular, the lord's. The way that McMurtry makes this palatable is by having terrible misfortunes fall upon the lord. He keeps losing body parts: a finger here, a toe there, and finally, a leg. It's probably the most darkly funny book I've ever read.

JOHN EIDINOW (COAUTHOR, Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten˝Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers)
I've been reading two books about people acting under extreme pressure, how their actions may lead them or others into unforeseen or unintended dark places, and what moral qualities can be teased out of their actions and reactions. A FRENCH TRAGEDY, by Tzvetan Todorov, finely explores an act of resistance in central France in June 1944 that went horribly wrong. THE MORO AFFAIR by Leonardo Sciascia, turns the 1978 kidnapping and murder of a former Italian prime minister, Aldo Moro, into a tragic fable about political power.
I'm currently mixing a record and have just enough time in the morning to find a pair of socks and run downstairs to mix. But I flew round˝trip to Australia recently and read THE FIGHT, by Norman Mailer. It was like a big Bible story for meˇone parable after another. A book I reread recently is CLASS: A GUIDE THROUGH THE AMERICAN STATUS SYSTEM, by Paul Fussell, a snotty literary critic. It's a masterpiece, one of my favorites. The late-'80s/early˝'90s equivalent of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, it's about how invisible we like to think the American class system is, even though the signs of the classes are quite obvious. The guy is such a snob it's amazing. You just laugh. And he's right: "If you don't laugh, you're hopelessly middle˝class," he says. Some of my friends I recommended the book to got pissed off at it. And I thought, Oh, yeah, that's rightˇthey're super middle-class.

I finished THE SOCCER WAR, by Ryszard Kapuscinski, a couple of days ago. I've read a handful of his books, starting with THE SHADOW OF THE SUN, and every one of them is great. He's lived in Africa for decades, and I've been listening to more African music as a result of his work. I also recently read A WAY OF LIFE, LIKE ANY OTHER, by Darcy O'Brien. Very funny, but a type of humor that may not be for everybody.

BEN GIBBARD (MUSICIAN, Death Cab for Cutie)
I've been a fan of the Beats for years, but I've only just gotten around to reading John Clellon Holmes's GO, which many feel marks a cultural year zero for the Beat era. While I wouldn't recommend Go to anyone who wasn't already a Beat fan, I enjoyed it as yet another piece of autobiography˝as˝fiction from the movement, complete with every Beat vaguely disguised with a phonetically similar pseudonym. There's a recurring theme of travel in Death Cab for Cutie songsˇI guess I relate to being confused and lost in the modern world and hitting the road (touring, backpacking, etc.) to postpone having to deal with it.
I read so slowly and sleep so much that the only books I ever really finish are those read aloud to me by my wife when we take drives. These books tend to be adventure stories written for young adults, allowing my wife to display her amazing ability to imitate foreigners, creatures, and beasts. Far and away the most gripping yet has been Philip Pullman's trilogy HIS DARK MATERIALS. Pullman is great at everythingˇlanguage, structure, characterˇbut I was particularly intoxicated by the sweep and scope of his story. He has me convinced that plot reigns supreme and that good fiction must, above all else, entertain.

On the plane home from a recent European trip, I ended up with a copy of Rita McBride's exhibition catalogue NAKED CAME THE STRANGER. McBride asked twelve friends to write in the first person about a fictitious site˝specific artist named Gina Ashcraft and her sexual exploits as she travels around the globe planning and installing her exhibitions. The resulting book, disguised as a cheap '60s porn novel, is at times hilarious and far more entertaining than the usual scholarly essays. Awaiting me at home was yet another book in the series by Lemony Snicket (sent to me by my nieces). These tales of woe, about the unfortunate Baudelaire orphans, are not for a reader who likes happy endings, middles, or beginnings. They are, instead, witty and irreverent antidotes to an insipidly moralistic culture. I wish there had been books like this when I was ten years old.

ALAN: Zak, our bass player, recently gave me ALTMANN'S TONGUE, by Brian Evenson, because Mimi and I are Mormon and so is Evenson. It's a cold, graphic, Southern gothic˝style book, really weird for a Mormon. Zak thought I'd appreciate it because I like the dichotomy of being a somewhat religious person who is also interested in darker things. When writing songs, it's nice when something comes along and cleans the slate. Every once in a while, a book or an experience will jostle me, and this book definitely did. Also, the fact that Evenson is Mormon was a strange connection for me, because, beyond the Osmonds, you don't find a lot of Mormon artists.
MIMI: I just reread THE CHOSEN, by Chaim Potok. I first read it in a high school literature class. I was looking at my bookshelf and thought, "Maybe if I read it now, I'll actually get something out of it." And I did. It delves into the Jewish lifestyle in the US during the World War II eraˇsuch a rich cultureˇand explores the differences between Hasidic and Orthodox Judaism.
LIBERATION IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND: A CONCISE DISCOURSE ON THE PATH TO ENLIGHTENMENT, by Pabongka Rinpoche: a twenty˝four˝day teaching, given in 1921. On the contemplation as described by the poet˝saint Milarepa "that we will have no mourners, and our bier no followers," Rinpoche writes: "You might think that people will have to be paid to get rid of your corpse; in fact, they will be nauseated by it and will do anything to get rid of it. Have no doubt that your body will be taken from your deathbed." Also, IT'S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE: MY JOURNEY BACK TO LIFE, by Lance Armstrong, with Sally Jenkins. In a six˝day period, Armstrong is diagnosed with testicular cancer, banks sperm the day after surgery, announces his condition via press conference, and is further diagnosed with brain lesions. A fresh perspective for those who have been critically savaged in the Atlantic Monthly.

Interested in more book recommendations?

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