Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

The Beehive Asks: What are you reading?


UPDATE 2/19: Thanks for the great feedback. I’ve already added three books to my reading list. (That is, if I ever get through “Infinite Jest.” But I just hit 19% on my Kindle, and I’ve got a rainy weekend ahead of me.) It’s good to know there are so many enthusiastic readers out there. I’ll check back in on the Beehive every now and then to talk books.

ORIGINAL ENTRY 2/15: I’ve been a reading fiend the past couple of months. Part of it’s because of my new Kindle, which I fessed up to in the latest round of Beehive obsessions.

At the moment I’m tackling one of those big, ultra-hip, wunderkind novels that I resisted reading for years because it was so literary high fashion: David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” (Let’s just put it this way: the footnotes have footnotes. And there are a couple of hundred pages of them.) I’m only about 8% of the way through — one of the benefits of reading a Kindle is you get an exact calibration of how much you’ve read — and so far it’s kind of a slog. So if any “Infinite Jest” fans read this, send some encouragement my way.

In the meantime, what are you reading?

After the jump, my most recent read.



Here’s the last book I finished:

“NOTHING TO ENVY,” Barbara Demick

It’s hard to believe that North Korea exists in the world today. It’s tempting to call this hardcore totalitarian communist state an anomaly – a strange, freakish blip in an otherwise mostly rational world. But what if North Korea represents the darkest of human impulses – and one that could be more of a norm than we might admit? To think that a people would allow such brainwashing and brutal subjugation is sad, but also fascinating.

Demick, who worked as a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times based in Seoul, South Korea, addresses some of these overarching themes in “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” a compelling account of a handful North Korean defectors who talk about what it was like to live in one of the weirdest places on Earth.

For one thing, growing up in North Korea means immersion in a cult of personality. The country’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung, was treated almost as a god.

Demick writes of the country’s population: “Consider that their indoctrination began in infancy, during the fourteen-hour days spent in factory day-care centers; that for the subsequent fifty years, every song, film, newspaper article, and billboard was designed to deify Kim Il-sung; that the country was hermetically sealed to keep out anything that might cast persistent doubt on Kim Il-sung’s divinity. Who could possibly resist?”

One of the most intense moments comes when Jun-sang, an intense student who is one-half of the tragic romantic tale in this book, has an epiphany about the regime that he has been taught to revere his entire life. Jun-sang sees an emaciated 10-year-old boy singing the praises of Kim Jong-il, the son who succeeded Kim Il-sung. The boy is near death from starvation, and here is he is addressing him as “Our father, Kim Jong-il.”

Demick writes of the scene: “It was beyond reason that this small child should be singing a paean to the father who protected him when his circumstances so clearly belied the song.” Jun-sang would later say that he credited the boy with “pushing him over the edge.” That’s when he decided to defect.

I’ve always been fascinated with North Korea: its isolation, its deprivation, its stubbornness, I guess you could say. “Nothing to Envy” is an intriguing glimpse at a strange, but not brave, new world.

Responses to "The Beehive Asks: What are you reading?"

Childers says:

I just finished Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – the literary equivalent of someone finishing “Frampton Comes Alive” in the 70s I think. I enjoy Gladwell, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but feel like his work is in the midst of jumping the shark as his popularity soars out of control (in the relative world of the non-fiction writer).
I’m now two chapters into “Next” by Michael Lewis. I’m going back in his catalog, mostly because I’m very afraid that the movie version of his “Blindside” is going to create another shark jumping in the very near future.
Next is about the collapse, and has the usual Lewis mix of entertainment and information. It’s not as good as Moneyball, The New New Thing, or The Blindside – but it’s still very, very good. In fact, it might be better now than when it was written (2001) because we have the luxury of knowing a lot about the Internet that Lewis was attempting to forecast. And we get to scoff at the “major players” like Replay TV that aren’t even around anymore.

ed says:

i’m currently reading fast food nation, after watching food, inc. apparently i never want to eat again.

snotbox17 says:

Currently re-reading “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman. Next up is “My Dead Body” by Charlie Huston. Man, having kids really takes away from quality reading time…

Lisi says:

I am finishing Persepolis, which is great, and moving on to The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I am super excited about.

Evan Sanders says:

Currently Reading:
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

This books delves into the factors and causes of social epidemics. It breaks down the who, what, when, where and why of the situations and tracks it down to its origins. It is really quite fascinating to see how comparable epidemics are to viral outbreaks.

Excerpts can be read here:

And for my comic book indulgence:

Avengers: Civil War

blake says:

re-reading “after dark” by haruki murakami, but this weekend been mostly thumbing through and reading this big ol’ coffee table book on Man Ray…plus, its got neat pictures and stuff.

soddruntlestuntle says:

Just finished re-reading “Rush To Judgment” by Mark Lane– an amazing book for anyone who doubts the findings of the Warren Commission’s findings regarding the JFK assassination. Am now starting to re-read “Rise and Fall of The Third Reich” by William Shirer. All 1,458 pages of it…

Marisa says:

I’m currently reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It’s not a pro-vegetarian book, but it really explores society’s relationship with food and animals and how we came to actually eat them.

I know I said it’s not pro-vegetarian, but it’s definitely helping me to renew my dedication to being vegetarian.

It definitely ties in to the Food, Inc. movie as well.

nicebutnaughty says:

Currently reading “Lucrezia Borgia”, a biography by Maria Bellonci.

Also reading for the next 5 weeks “Arrythmia Recognition, The Art of Interpretation” by Tomas B Garcia and Geoffrey T Miller.

One for play, the other for work…

Kevin B says:

Currently: In Persuasion Nation – George Saunders
A collection of satirical short stories. Saunders is shaping up to be Vonnegut’s successor.

Up Next: The Book of Basketball – Bill Simmons
Not a literary or intellectual read, but 700 pages about the NBA? Count me in.

lukemoritz says:

I started Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck today. It’s pretty great!

Anthony M. says:

I’m about 3/4 of the way through The Book of Basketball and it’s well worth the 700 pages! Once you start it’s hard to put down.

Famous says:

I started (and finished) ‘Infinite Jest’ this summer. All I can say is keep at it. There is a lot of great stuff buried in there. And at the end, you feel like you’re seriously accomplished something.

Right now I am finishing: ‘Horns,’ by Joe Hill, who is Steven Kings son apparently. Not bad, not bad.

Before that was Steve Yarbrough’s latest ‘Safe From the Neighbors,’ which I liked a lot, lot.

Famous says:

I heard that ‘Eating Animals’ was life changing. I wouldn’t go that far, but Foer did a wonderful job of cutting through all the rhetoric and really looking at why (and how) we (as humans/Americans) eat animals. It did change the way I consume meats.

Cindy Wathen says:

Right now I’m reading “Vanessa and Virginia” by Susan Sellers and really diggin’ it.

I read to page 100 of “Infinite Jest” and somehow never made it past that. Definitely want to go back and read it all the way through, though.


Donald Munro says:

Thanks for the words of encouragement, Famous. I’ll keep plugging away. Wallace has a knack time and again for wooing me back into his fold with amazing bursts of prose — just after I’ve staggered through an obnoxiously dense chunk of overstimulated pretentiousness.

jimguy says:

The Bible. The only Book anyone needs to read.

Mary Raine says:

Our church book club is reading STONES INTO SCHOOLS sequel to THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortensen. A wonderful read about how one man has impacted the world for peace by building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. At a time when we hear such bad news from these areas, it is heartening to see bridges being built between cultures and people.

Donald Munro says:

I’m really interested in this book. Thanks for reminding me about it.

Wayland Jackson says:

“The New Testament” by Bart D. Ehrman, prof at Univ NC at Chapel Hill. I am in a study group that discusses his views each Monday at 11:00. Read only the Bible? Not even! A little scholarship never hurt anyone. Ehrman is a historian and tries to discuss the NT from a historical perspective. He says that his study does not deal with faith, to either support it or oppose it. I have 13 of his books and they are all good reading. He is very accessible.

mdub420 says:

The past two weeks have involved some heavy reading for me. i’m actually happy about it because i never read. i’m reading yahoo and espn’s 2010 fantasy baseball guideS. i’m so going to win my leagues this year HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!

Katrina says:

Currently reading “Hella Nation” by Evan Wright. Deals with what Wright calls “the lost tribes of America”(individuals that don’t feel like they have a place).

Heather says:

Donald, you might like this. Someone in New York is documenting who reads what on the subway:

Example: “Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger (F, 20s, brown hair, nose ring, F train)”

Donald Munro says:

Thanks for the link, Heather. Kinda cool to see what New Yorkers are reading, but it also amazes me that someone is spending so much time putting this type of info together.

Gregg Schroeder says:

“Movies about the Movies: Hollywood Reflected,” by Christopher Ames. It’s sent me out in search of Singin’ in the Rain, The Bad and the Beautiful (amazing finds in Hong Kong), but need to track down many more to see or re-see.

Oh, and I’m reading analogue-style. I’m a retro kind of guy.

Heather says:

Oh, I’d totally do one about Fresno. I have the time. Only problem is, I generally don’t see people reading — just staring slack-jawed at their iPhones.

Tania says:

Philosophical Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy

Kristin says:

I started ‘Jest’ my freshman year of college, but I was spending more time taking notes on it than in my classes, so I put it down, and haven’t managed to pick it back up. I do, however, love Wallace’s other books.

I just finished Susan Vreeland’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ about Renoir. Excellent! Last night I picked up ‘The Illuminator’.

Childers says:

Damn it Heather, I thought I asked you to stop following me.

Scott says:

“Recollections of a Racketeer: Smuggling Hash and Cash Around the World” by Patrick Lane, 318 pages. This former money laundered is a family friend, in fact both my parents are mentioned in it a few times. I’m amazed at all the things he has seen and done in his previous life, and even if I had never known him, would have found it to be a good and entertaining read. The downside is you can only buy it in the UK, or via , but if you buy a used one there, you can get it shipped to the US for about $15 total.

Jose Lara says:

A very strange book, “Wicked, The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of the West” by Gregory Maguire. Has anyone read this book? Also just finished “Portrait of A Killer” by Patricia Cornwall the definite book on who Jack the Ripper was?

Heather says:

I know, I know. I have to stay back 40 feet.

john coakley says:

Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter
Frustrating reading as arrogance and misplaced confidence cost so many lives.

Azure says:

You all are making me jealous! Grad school textbooks and journal articles are my only readings for a while. Good thing I like what I’m learning.

suzanne grazyna says:

I just finished ‘The Wings of the Dove’ by Henry James. My brain is still recovering.

George Warren says:

I read “Infinite Jest”* last year, and it took a long time. I remember only one really dense chunck that was about 30 pages too long, and it was in the first 100 pages. After surviving that, the rest was truly amazing in the way things connect, the language of the different story threads, and the tour de force of slang, knowledge of chemistry, Boston, AA, and many other subjects. What messed me up with DFW is that he “eliminated his own map.” I can’t believe a guy who is capable of such an amazing novel could do that.
*After reading “Infinite Jest,” I took a break from reading fiction at all. I didn’t know where to go that was comparable or worthy of the next step. I’m now reading “Timequake,” by Kurt Vonnegut.

Marji says:

I have just finally gotten around to “Wicked.”

Sarah says:

Yes, it is a great book and not an easy read, as are his other books “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” and the sequel to Wicked “Son of a Witch” there are others by him such as “Mirror Mirror” That are on my to read list.

neansai says:

I just finished reading The Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. True story, science and more. Fascinating.

Now I’m reading Robert Parker’s Spenser mysteries and thoroughly enjoying them.

Also the Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson, her memoir about her family of mostly women.

Re-reading the young adult novel, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, as I’m using that for tutoring.

Also re-reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes for the pure pleasure of it.

Love my Kindle–I can carry all these books and more with me everywhere!

Sarah says:

I am just about to finish “The Seamstress” by Frances De Pontes Peebles, about sisters Brazil in the 1920′s and 30′s. Next up is “Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde.”

Choo CHoo says:

Awesome. I like that book too. Do you know when the paperback edition is coming out? It sports a new cover image, though I think the hardcover one is more of an eye-catcher.

Audrey says:

I just finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third in the Larsen trilogy. I think Liz Salander is one of the most interesting characters in modern literature.

Donald Munro says:

Have you heard about the new movie version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”? It’s in limited release right now. I’m hoping it will come to Fresno.

I agree that Liz is a fascinating character. That scene in “Dragon Tattoo” when she turns the tables on her public “guardian” is unforgettable.

Dee Buckley says:

I’m an avid AudioBook listener. In the car, on my lunch, even on the treadmill, I listen listen listen to my books. Right now I’m listening to “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett and I’m enthralled with it. It’s about Mississippi in the 40′s, 50′s, and 60′s, with lots of Historical references about the Civil Rights Movement, but mostly it’s about a white woman learning about the lives of Black Maids/Nannies during those “times they are a changin”. I’m only three fourths of the way thru the book and I have laughed, cried, felt deep sorrow and even been inspired. It’s been a long while since a book moved me so deeply.

Jacqueline Doumanian says:

I read about two books/month and sometimes I’ll think, “Wow, what a great book!” and two books later can’t even remember the title or give much of a synopsis. So I’ll say that within the past month I read Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann which was a recommendation by my cousin. I enjoyed his writing style which painted a heartbreaking, tender, gritty, landscape of humanity and NYC living. I loved how he used Philippe Petit’s high wire walk between the World Trade Center towers as the nexus of the story. Upon finishing the book, I rented Man on Wire which I’d never seen and was fascinated by Petit and loved that the book continued for me with the act of watching the film.

So then I purchased Dancer by McCann which is a fictionalized biography of Rudolph Nureyev. This book took me to the computer to watch youtube videos of him dancing with Margot Fonteyn. This brought back so many memories of those fabulous Russian dancers who defected to the U.S. and I never really thought about what they’d given up for the freedom to live their art. This book was also heartbreaking in so many ways but I love McCann’s writing and his willingness to be so direct.

Jacqueline Doumanian says:

Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth is a most captivating female protaganist. After reading the 3 books I was hoping the movie would show up in Fresno but not yet. Is Fresno Filmworks our best bet? My friend saw the film in San Francisco and wasn’t impressed but since she and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on film, I want to review it for myself!

Jennifer says:

I think it’s essential for other to do this. I’m sure it will guide them in doing the right thing.