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My teaching partner assigned 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to some of his kids to read.  I don’t know what those kids did to deserve such a punishment; all I could do was watch in horror as they struggled through some of Industrial France’s crappiest literature.  (My hatred for this book runs deep.  Read the review here.)

I’ve asked a few of the kids what they thought about it so far, reserving my own opinion in the vain hope that they would gain something enjoyable from Jules Verne’s meandering, salty crap-fest.  But their assessment has so far been the same as mine.

“So what are you reading right now?” one of the kids asked me, after we had commiserated on the lack of plot.

My answer – as all of my answers are – was long and rambling:

A History of Asia, by Rhoads Murphey. I was supposed to read this book about eight years ago (when I was still an undergrad), and like much of what I studied in university, the value of it did not strike me until long after the course was finished.  It covers all of East, Southeast and Monsoon Asia in general terms.  It can be a bit irreverent, and Rhoads sometimes makes offhand judgments about the value of a particular religious sect, but in its brevity it is also a stark reminder of how little the Western world knows about even fundamental Asian history.  I feel like a cultural imperialist every time I pick it up.

The Perfect Book for Dad, by Paul Barker. I obviously have a soft spot for books about fatherhood these days, but even steeling myself for this swell of proud fatherhood that rises up in me, I was not emotionally prepared to get this book from my own father with the inscription, “From one Dad to another Dad.”  It is goofy, silly, and an exercise in graphic design, but it is also true to the spirit of “Dad.”

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling. There is nothing more for me to add to the Harry Potter discourse that hasn’t already been said.  It is brilliant, it is gripping, and it is the definitive model for young adult fiction.

Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armor, Paula Regan, ed. Dorling Kindersley is the greatest publisher in the history of the world.  They make those Eyewitness books that I used to marvel over for hours when I was a kid (and still do to this day).  They fill their books with thousands of bite-sized chunks of information, brilliantly clear photographs, and thoughtful layouts that encourage people to walk away from their books smarter for having read them.  Weapon is a shining example of how to use pictures to tell stories in a way that text never could.

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll’s House, by Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman is a genius, and from what I have read, he was first universally recognized as such because of this comic series.  I have read many of his novels and short stories, but this is my first foray into his graphic novels.  They are dark, heavy, rich, and complex, like a good cup of coffee, or a fat chocolate bunny filled with raspberries and gold (best simile ever).  I can’t wait to get the next volume in the series.

Be Ready When the Sh*t Goes Down, by Forrest Griffin and Erich Kraus.  In every interview I have seen with former UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin, the man has been self-deprecating to a fault; it’s like he doesn’t remember that he once held the belt and has beaten three current or former champions in his division. He is also naturally hilarious, off-colour, and paranoid.  There really is no way that I couldn’t enjoy his book about post-apocalyptic survival.  The great surprise is that this book is actually quite smart, in a crude, sexually explicit, fart-and-snot-filled way.  It will offend 90% of the people that read it and inspire the remainder.  As such, it is genius.

So what are you reading?