The Illearth War, by Stephen R. Donaldson
What it is: The second book in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Last time I talked about books, I mentioned I was re-reading all the Covenant books; I'm most of the way through this one, after which I'll be moving on to The Power that Preserves.
How I'm liking it: The Illearth War is kind of a strange bird; while the other two books in the original trilogy focus exclusively on Covenant, large sections of this one focus on Hile Troy, another person from the "real world." On one hand, Hile Troy is one of my favorite characters, combining as he does a willingness to fight against impossible odds, and the all-too-rare ability to see when a battle is lost and how to minimize losses, rather than blindly (heh) moving forward on principal. On the other, the fact that the narrative follows him, even in Covenant's absence, serves to undermine the fundamental tension of the story: the reality/unreality of The Land.
Recommendation: I recommend you go read Lord Foul's Bane before tackling the sequel, obviously. That said, The Illearth War is probably my favorite book of the original trilogy.
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
What it is: If you need me to tell you what The Three Musketeers is... I don't even know how to finish that sentence. Let's move on.
How I'm liking it: To be honest, this is perhaps the sixth time in the last couple of years that I've picked up this book, and I've yet to make it more than fifty pages in. What can I say? I just haven't gotten far enough to get hooked, and then I always set it aside, see it again a few months later, and say, "Oh yeah, I was gonna read that." Then I crack it open, and the cycle repeats.
Recommendation: Clearly, I haven't gotten far enough into this one to offer a personal recommendation. Luckily, it's a classic piece of literature, so if you're wondering whether it's worth reading or not, you can probably find an intelligent, useful opinion elsewhere. And for the record, it took me multiple tries before I penetrated the first few letters of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and I ended up loving it. So just because I'm having trouble getting started, don't take that as a criticism of the story. At least, not yet.
Temperament, by Stuart Isacoff
What it is: A study of the history of equal temperament in western music (for non-musicians: you know how on a piano, the distance between each note (each key) is exactly the same, sound-wise? If you didn't, now you do. Well, that equal spacing between notes is called "equal temperament," and it's not the only way, or even the best way in some cases, to tune).
How I'm liking it: I'm really enjoying it. This is a fairly technical piece, but it does a great job of explaining theory and terminology to musicians without much grounding in tonal theory. I'm learning a lot, and the subject is fascinating. The question of temperament consumed some of the greatest minds of the Renaissance, and both the passion of equal temperament's supporters and detractors, and the theoretical and musicological underpinnings of both sides' arguments, are enlightening.
Recommendation: For anyone interested in musical theory, musical history, or why things sound the way they do, this is a great book. That said, I wouldn't recommend it to non-musicians. While it doesn't require any advanced knowledge, the author does assume a certain level of fundamental musical familiarity from the reader. If you took a year of band in high school or took piano lessons as a child you should be fine, but if not then I imagine Temperament might be more frustrating than enlightening.
Carry On, Jeeves!, by P.G. Wodehouse
What it is: A series of stories about Bertie Wooster and his incomparably shrewd, intelligent, and diabolically helpful manservant, Jeeves.
How I'm liking it: Quite a bit. I've read a couple of Jeeves and Wooster stories before and found them to be clever and hilarious in equal parts, but reviewing The Rummy Business of Old Blooey a little while back inspired me to pick up some more of the real McCoy. Who says pony fiction creates bad reading habits?
Recommendation: I highly recommend Wodehouse in general, and his Jeeves and Wooster stories in particular, to readers looking for a brilliant mix of highbrow comedy, clever writing, and the occasional pratfall.
The Music of Pythagoras, by Kitty Ferguson
What it is: A detailed history of Pythagoras and the Pythagorean Brotherhood, the mysterious group often credited with introducing to the western world such fundamental concepts as the rationality of the universe and the ability of numbers and equations to represent natural laws.
How I'm liking it: To be honest, it's a little on the dry side. One of the major problems this book runs into is that very little is definitively known about Pythagoras and his Brotherhood, so a great deal of text is spent parsing the validity of various third-hand sources. That said, the subject matter is intriguing, and is presented with clarity and depth--too many histories end up sacrificing one at the alter of the other, but this book is clear, informative, and extremely detailed.
Recommendation: Definitely an accessible yet not dumbed-down piece of writing, I think readers who don't mind the occasional over-long dive into comparative minutiae would enjoy this combination biography/history.
In the Company of Crows and Ravens, by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell
What it is: A complete guide to corvids (crows, ravens, grackles, etc.), from their history to their diet to their social life and intelligence.
How I'm liking it: The writing isn't really very good. Both authors are scientists, and I think this book would have benefited from some assistance from a professional author; the sections on man's interactions with corvids throughout history, for example, are painfully repetitive and frankly dull. When the story shifts to the biologists' bailiwick, it becomes very interesting. Their observations about corvid intelligence, painted against the birds' increasingly clever ways of avoiding the pair's crow traps, strike just the right balance between educational and entertaining.
Recommendation: This isn't a great book, and I've ended up skimming significant portions of it so far, but it does have its moments. Anyone with a serious interest in corvids might consider it, but I don't think I'd recommend it to a general reader. There are some excellent excerpts, though.