A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson - Found this book in one of the community bookcases here at the Peace Corps office and decided to check it out because I remember Billy reading it and enjoying it when we were in Europe. I expected it to be a little bland, as I'm not a particularly out-doorsy type person, but I thoroughly enjoy the book. Bryson has a fantastic sense of humor and managed to make me laugh out loud a number of times. After reading this I thought about how awesome it would be to hike the Appalachian Trail one day but then quickly remembered I'd rather just play golf and watch football.
Women by Charles Bukowski - Man... Bukowski is something else. Though the main character has a different name (Henry Chinasky), it seems pretty clear that this book is essentially about Bukowski's own sex life. And man-oh-man is he one repulsive S.O.B. -- That said he is highly readable and makes a lot of clever observations about life and the way people treat each other. While he's a little more pessimistic than I am about human nature, I found myself agreeing with him more often than I would have liked to. I'll also say that I don't find him to be particularly misogynistic, as I've heard some claim, because he seems to have an equal distaste for both genders.
Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis - More and more I find myself enthralled with the study of history, particularly early American history. I devoured a biography of Benjamin Franklin and I found Founding Brothers to be just as interesting. Ellis focuses on different aspects of the lives of Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Franklin, Burr, and Washington and manages to present them in vignettes that read like short stories rather than a textbook. I would very much like to get my hands on Ellis' The American Sphinx about Thomas Jefferson. After that I need to find a good Washington biography. I found it interesting that the American Cincinattus was as revered by his contemporaries as he is by their ancestors.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke - Many thanks to Nathan for sending me this novel from home. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's sort of a harry-potter-with-adults type book. Set in the early 19th century during the Napoleonic Wars, magic is a known force in the world but has since faded from use and considered only in historical terms. The novel focuses on the two titular magicians who bring magic back into practical use and the events that befall them after the fact. I particularly enjoyed the structure of the novel. It's written almost like a historical text, complete with footnotes used to elaborate on historical anecdotes merely touched upon in the main text. I think they're adapting this into a film this year.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad - I don't really know how I feel about Heart of Darkness, obviously its the most critically acclaimed of the five books here, but I also found it to be the most disjointed. I will say that it made me appreciate the film Apocalypse Now that much more, as I found it to basically be a more interesting version of a similar story. I guess overall I was just off-put by Conrad's writing style and structure of the narrative as a whole. I will say that I didn't find it to be particularly racist as I've read in some criticisms.