On the Bureau Chiefs’ Nightstand: May 19 2010

After a long day at work, the Bureau Chiefs like to relax in bed with books and comic books. Since there are 16 of us, our bed is 64 feet wide and our nightstand is the size of a small elephant. Here’s what is stacked up next to it.

Anna

It is summer, so light and fluffy reading is even more of a priority to me than it usually is. I’ll read a romance novel or three when I want something I can breeze through in a day. Unfortunately my recent fun reading choices were a little disappointing.

I bought a Nora Roberts omnibus, True Betrayals; Montana Sky; Sanctuary: Three Complete Novels but I thought the choices of the novels to include in the collection were a little off. If you read one book about a group of siblings finding romance while being terrorized by a sexually deviant serial killer followed immediately by a different book about a group of siblings finding romance while being terrorized by a sexually deviant serial killer, It does get a little bit repetitive.

I wrote before about my affection for the first two books in Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series so I was disappointed to find the third book in the series, Fragile Eternity, a bit of a slog. Like many YA authors Marr isn’t afraid to pile on the angst but her characters seem to spend more time talking about how miserable they are than doing much about it. I’m around halfway through the book now and I’m hoping the ending will pull everything together.

I’m having better luck finding more entertainment on the manga front. I’ve finished Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku volume 3 about a gender-swapped feudal Japan and am finding it extremely thought-provoking. On the soapier side, I read Miki Aihara’s teenage showbiz trainwreck saga in Honey Hunt volume 4 and wrapped it up with a journey to a Wonderland filled with pathologically violent (but handsome!) men in Alice in the Country of Hearts volume 3.

Ken

I finished Son of the Rough South, and Karl Fleming’s tales of being at or near ground zero for the major events and catastrophes of America’s 1960s (from the civil rights movement’s first stuttering steps to JFK’s assassination to the Watts Riots to Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral) are so engrossing that I’m beginning to think like a heretic — namely, why bother with the historical fiction of the likes of James Ellroy when I can just read about the real thing, which is often equally as exciting? I am pretty sure words like that might get my ass kicked around here.

But, seriously, if you have even a remote interest in the time and the place, I cannot recommend the book strongly enough. It’s a potent refresher on the sometimes catastrophic violence and unbelievable bravery of the time, and of just how deeply entrenched racism was nationwide. When you wonder why things like affirmative action and hate crimes legislation exist, or why people getting bent out of shape about the Weathermen is silly as hell, this book will remind you.

After ROFLCon ended I had a day to myself in and around the MIT campus, so I got to feel like a smart guy by shopping in the MIT bookstore. That probably explains how I ended up with a book called Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City.

Granted, it’s a subject I’m a little nerdy about; like the book’s author, Mark Kingwell, I think cities are the most significant machines humans have ever created. I tend to view cities as organisms, a theory that Kingwell has touched on and has only begun to discuss. I must read more.

It’s a bit scattershot, though I’m still early in the book. Kingwell begins by defending the use of concrete in architecture, and then jumps directly to the competing theories on what a city is: organism, machine, communication network, or other model. But despite that scattershot approach, Kingwell’s bringing enough theory from different disciplines to hold my interest. And the subject matter may as well have been chosen exactly for me.

Dave L

Being a fan of conspiracy books, I had often heard references to G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday but never read it. I picked up the new edition with the snazzy new cover and tore through it in a couple days (I’m a slow reader; most people could probably bang it out in two sittings, tops.) Like all good conspiracy books, the setting and specific enemies (in this case, “Anarchists”) make no difference, because the book isn’t about a specific threat but about the nature of those perceiving it. In this case, an undercover policeman infiltrates a cabal of nefarious plotters only to find out that Things, as you can imagine, are Not What They Seem. This leads to our protagonist pursuing Anarchists across London, England, and Europe, and then returning pursued by Anarchists. There’s a lot of silliness and humor along the way, along with serious discussions of philosophy and then out of nowhere Chesterton hits you with a line that stops you dead in your tracks.

“The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.”

That is something, right there.

Things go a bit surreal towards the end, culminating not in a whodunit so much as a whydunit, and the answer being a bit less than satisfying. It’s also tempting to be disappointed at the very end, but one can’t say Chesterton isn’t playing fair; in an authorial afterword Chesterton reminds the reader the the novel has a subtitle.

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