Books that you are currently (or were) reading?



Hi Obscurians ,

Out of curiosity, what books are you currently (or were) reading ? what are your thoughts on them so far ? Also what books are on your future “To read” list?




Currently reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book and the Complete Annotated HP Lovecraft. Just getting started on the introduction of the Lovecraft. The Library Book is great and a nice investigation of a local mystery (the great Los Angeles Central Library Fire of the 1980s). Just finished up a small spree of Raymond Chandler (The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep). I never got around to reading him before, and I loved them despite all the old-timey sexism/racism/etc. After this, I’ll probably want to dig into some non-fiction. Guns, Germs, and Steel is in my sites.


This is a great question! It’s not the most Atlas-y thing in the world (although they do have some fascinating maps), but I’m in the midst of Steven Erikson’s insanely epic fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. It’s a dense, dark, and lengthy series that’s all conniving gods, grim and brutal wars, psychedelic magic, rising and falling empires, and endless, baffling fantasy vocabulary. I’m on the third book of ten (Memories of Ice), and so far I’m really enjoying them. They can be difficult, and are definitely not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a fantasy series to lose yourself in for the foreseeable future, they’re not a bad bet!


Hey tralfamadore

Thanks for the reply

Excellent choices , I’m a huge Lovecraft fan myself and local mysteries are intriguing, in fact I am trying (as an amateur sleuth/ historian )to research a local mystery in my area at the moment.

Have to admit , I haven’t heard of the great LA library fire before. But strangely the image that came into my mind when reading the sentence was the film of “assault on precint 13” , the John Carpenter b movie original. It’s got a Carpenter esque ring to it , I guess, although I’m sure that the real event had no involvement of a satanic streetgang.

Raymond Chandler , that’s an interesting one , I haven’t read any of his yet and beyond knowing that he wrote detective novels I don’t know much more. But I have a feeling I might try reading some of his books at some point , so what would be your recommendation in terms of a first book of his to read ? I know the big sleep is a classic and I’ve got to watch the Bogart film at some point.

I can highly recommend guns , germs and steel as I’ve read it , but I have to say although it’s technically popular science it can be pretty academic in tone and so its quite tough going in parts.


This is a pretty awesome recommendation Eric and good timing too. I’m currently reading my way through the Icelandic Viking sagas and have read the “prose edda” and “king Harald’s saga”.

Basically I have had them on my to read shelf for 4 or 5 years but somehow I have always sort of not got round to diving into Viking literature. But now I have started them I can definitely say I don’t regret it because the sagas although a bit confusing in parts are really bloodthirsty , earthy , eerie tales that somehow meld tales of human brutality and powerlust and frailty with the supernatural.

Im currently reading “Njals saga” which is very cool. After I finish it , I’ll probably read Egils saga and then look for some more reading material. So I think I’ll probably check out Steven Erikson as it sounds like it’s definitely my sort of series and from what you have mentioned it seems to have a lot of elements of the Norse sagas which I’m kind of hooked on.


AH! I love the Icelandic sagas! I read a bunch of them a few years back before I visited Iceland. “Eerie” is a good description. Many of them blend together in my head now, but they are a terrific, epic read.


Out of curiosity , what was your favorite saga and why ?

So far I can say the best one I’ve read completely is king Harald’s saga (although I thought that Harald was a total psychopath) , but I have a feeling Njals saga will take its place once I’ve read it fully.


I can’t lie and say that I remember any of them extraordinarily well, but the bits I tend to remember best are from Egil’s Saga, for the boring reason that it was the first one I ever read. My main take away was the ways that they talk of raiding and conflict like it’s going to the store to get some milk, while personal interactions take on mythic proportions.


Ha-ha! Totally agree. That’s my exact thoughts too , they seemed to treat the whole raiding and vendetta thing as just a cotidian and even mundane thing.

How about Iceland ? How did you find it ?


Jumping in to say I’m in the middle of two books, both of which I would very much recommend:

  1. The work of fiction, All the Light We Cannot See by Boise’s own Anthony Doerr. Besides being incredibly well-written, it covers a few subjects near and dear to Atlas Obscura’s heart including pre-WWII radios and Paris museums cabinetry.

  2. Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Monty Python alum Michael Palin, which tells the story of a single boat that sought both the South and North Poles.


I just started The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt, which collects the short essays that the historian (who wrote Postwar, which is a landmark) wrote for the NYRB in the final year or so of his life, when he was fully paralyzed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.


Actually, because I have this passage highlighted on my e-reader, I can provide a quote of the passage where Judt introduces you to the Swiss Chalet that he used as a mnemonic device to write his essays at night, alone and paralyzed, to then dictate during the day.

[…] the little Swiss hotel on Chesières’s high street has a fonder as well as a deeper place in my memory than other doubtless identical wooden constructions where I have slept over the years. We only stayed there for ten days or so, and I have returned on just one brief occasion. But I can describe even today the intimate style of the place.

There were few excrescences of indulgence: you entered on a mezzanine level separating a small basement area from the business rooms of the main floor—the point of this mezzanine being to segregate the dripping paraphernalia of outdoor sport (skis, boots, sticks, jackets, sleds, etc.) from the cozy, dry ambiance of the public rooms. The latter, set to both sides of the reception desk, had large, attractivewindows giving on to the main road of the village and the steep gorges surrounding it. Behind them in turn were the kitchens and other service spaces, obscured by a broad and unusually steep staircase leading to the bedroom floor.

The latter divided neatly and perhaps intentionally into the better-furnished sleeping accommodation to the left and the smaller, single, waterless rooms farther along, leading in their turn to a narrow set of steps culminating in an attic floor preserved for employees (except at the height of the season). I have not checked, but I doubt whether there were more than twelve rooms for rent, in addition to the three public areas and the common spaces surrounding them. This was a small hotel for small families of modest means, set in an unpretentious village with no ambitions above its geographical station in life. There must be ten thousand such hostelries in Switzerland: I just happen to have a near-perfect visual recollection of one of them.

Except as a pleasant reminder of contented memories, I doubt whether I gave the Chesières chalet a second thought for much of the ensuing fifty years. And yet when I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2008 and quickly came to understand that I would most likely not travel again—indeed, would be very fortunate if I were even in a position to write about my travels—it was the Chesières hotel that came insistently to mind. Why?

The salient quality of this particular neurodegenerative disorder is that it leaves your mind clear to reflect upon past, present, and future, but steadily deprives you of any means of converting those reflections into words. First you can no longer write independently, requiring either an assistant or a machine in order to record your thoughts. Then your legs fail and you cannot take in new experiences, except at the cost of such logistical complexity that the mere fact of mobility becomes the object of attention rather than the benefits that mobility itself can confer.

Judt, Tony. The Memory Chalet (pp. 4-5). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


I just moved from Washington, DC to Arizona and felt like a responsible thing to do would be to better learn the history of my new home. To that end I’m reading Arizona: A History by Thomas Sheridan. It’s been great and comprehensive so far, but it’s not exactly fun casual reading and many of the events post-1492 are unsurprisingly tragic.

Most of the books on my to-read list are about ecology or environmental philosophies, with some Cormac McCarthy in the mix as well.


The LA Library Fire could be easily missed. It happened the same week as the Chernobyl disaster, so it quickly disappeared from the headlines. But in short, a large portion of LA’s largest library went up in flames and is on record as one of the hottest fires in history (Imagine a building with an endless supply of books to feed a fire). It’s likely arson, but it’s never been solved. The book is also a love letter to libraries themselves and their history in LA.
I grabbed Chandler’s The Long Goodbye out of my employer’s library and The Da Vinci Code, just to see what all the fuss was about from a few years ago. The Da Vinci Code is hamfisted crap and I can’t figure out why it was such a phenomena. But especially reading it side-by-side with The Long Goodbye, Chandler jumps out as poetry. I’ve only read the two books so far, but I’d say pick up The Big Sleep since that’s probably his most notable. I also dig it because the stories are all set in LA, so I get to cross-reference the locations in the book to where they are now.
I actually love more academically-worded books. I think Guns, Germs, and Steel will be right up my alley.
Now I want to know more about your local mystery that your researching. What is it?


I love books about books (Mr. Penumbras 24-hour bookstore, the bookman’s tale) and my favorites are the The Cemetery of Forgotten Books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. They’re set in Barcelona and are part mystery, part adventure, part gothic, fantasy; impossible to put into a single genre. I read it just after I traveled to Barcelona in 2006 and have wanted to go back since reading it to visit all the places described in the books. But with so many places in the world to see and so few vacation days, it hasn’t happened.

If anyone is interested in reading about a small piece of NY history, I recommend Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built. (also highly recommend the potato latkes at Russ & Daughters!)


Thanks for the reply Tyler!

The title of the first book you mentioned sounds intriguing so I looked it up and it seems like a pretty intricate story what with jewels , nazi occupations , blindness. For some reason it kind of reminds me of a book I read by Tracy Chevalier which was about the lady and the unicorn tapestry in Paris, I really love historical fiction so I might check it out at some point.

Michael Palin is awesome! He really is an inspiration for travel and exploration , he has been absolutely everywhere imaginable and Monty Python are classic.


Thanks for the reply Luke !

It sounds like a very powerful and sobering book and the post-war period of the UK is really fascinating , in fact its a critical component to understanding how and why things are the way they are today.

The passage you highlighted really reminds me of the short story the Aleph by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges for some reason , I think because its a description of a place which is both cotidian and profound/ mystical.

I always think accounts of travels of authors who have passed away are perhaps the best memento mori and inspiration for travelling and seeing the world while we still can.


Oh, I’ve heard great things about Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. Adding it to the list!


I just reread The Aleph! It is one of my absolute favorite stories. While we’re on the subject of memory, have you read Funes the Memorious by Borges? It’s a very concise approach to the agony of total recall. Also, Shakespeare’s Memory, which is a more fleshed-out story.


Oh awesome! good to know that there are some Borges fans out there ! I am a huge fan of Borges , in fact he is my favourite writer by far.

One of my most treasured books and also one that I travel with a lot is this one which is his whole fiction collection. I love it because I can just dip into it whenever.