Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

So Many Books, So Little Time

As I have mentioned previously (and many of you already know this), I love to read. My parents get much of the credit (or is it blame?) because they always had books, newspapers and magazines in our home as I was growing up. Unlike the rest of the nation, I still read a daily newspaper plus a number of favorite columnists online, several magazines — and when I find time, books. And with my eclectic tastes, I find so many interesting books — both fiction and non-fiction — but have difficulty finding the time to read them all. And even though we have a huge double bookcase in our home, the books overfloweth (and yes, I have read almost all of them). Mizuki keeps asking if I am going to read them again. Probably not, but they are like old friends — so how could I part with them?

And I have to confess a weakness for long epic novels. Yes, I did read several of the Dickens novels during my school years such as David Copperfield and Tale of Two Cities — and actually did enjoy them (lucky that experience did not turn me off to reading). I found books in my parents' library — The Silver Chalice and The Tontine by Thomas B. Costain were special favorites. On my first trip to Hawaii in the mid-1970's, I was told that I had to read James Michener's Hawaii — and I did and loved it. Later I followed up with Tales of the South Pacific, The Source and Chesapeake — the latter being one of my favorites because it is set in the area where I was born and grew up.

But it was a novelist that most of you have probably never heard of who really got me craving those long epic novels. And as is often the case with me, this story has a Hawaii connection. I was vacationing on Molokai back in the 1980's when I finished the book that I had taken with me — and wanted to purchase a new one. In case you do not know, Molokai is not very developed. At that time there was only one real resort on the island, no shopping centers (as we know them), no traffic lights and one recently installed ATM (probably hasn't changed much since then). I tried the hotel gift shop, the drug store in town, the market that was rather like a general store. Nothing caught my eye. So I finally grabbed a book in the hotel gift shop, figuring if I did not like it, I would toss it once I returned to civilization.

Aztec That book was Aztec by Gary Jennings. And I could not put it down. It was the story of an Aztec man who lived during the coming of the Europeans and the subsequent upheaval that rocked his civilization. The story, the setting, the mood — everything was incredible. This may be the best novel I have ever read.

After reading Aztec, I always checked the best sellers rack for the next Jennings novel. And my wait eventually would be rewarded with additional great novels. The Journeyer was the story of Marco Polo and his journey to China and back. On his deathbed, Marco Polo supposedly said, "I have not told the half of what I saw and did." Jennings has used his vivid imagination to fill in that other half. I did not want it to end.

Then there was Spangle — the story of a nineteenth-century circus troupe in the impoverished post-Civil War South that travels to Europe in order to survive the hard times. It was a fascinating view both of Europe at the time but also behind the scenes of such a circus.

Jennings then told a most unusual tale in Raptor — written as a memoir of Thorn, a Goth, who is both male and female. He travels across Europe with a Roman centurion and later befriends the King of the Ostrogoths, who he serves as a field marshall and diplomat.

Late in his life, Gary Jennings returned to continue the tale of the conquest of the Aztecs in Aztec Autumn and Aztec Blood.

And I cannot describe the loss I felt when I learned of his death in 1999. It was like the passing of a favorite uncle. There would be no more epic novels from this great author. Yes, Tom Clancy had come onto the scene — and I came to enjoy his novels immensely. In fact, I used to take his most recent novel on my annual trip to Maui — it seemed like he always released a new one each year in the late summer/early fall just before I departed for the islands. But I missed Gary Jennings.

The QuestWell, there is another author that has given me much reading pleasure, Wilbur Smith. He is an prolific novelist — having written several different series of novels, each series in a different time and place. I am particularly fond of his Egyptian series — River God, The Seventh Scroll, Warlock and The Quest. All of these books center on the story of Taita, a multi-talented eunuch slave. The story begins during the time that Taita, owned by Lord Intef, is primarily responsible for the education of the Lord's daughter, Lostris. Taita maneuvers behind the scenes to interest the heirless Pharaoh in Lostris — who becomes Pharaoh's wife despite the fact that Lostris is actually in love with a soldier, Tanus. Taita is given to Lostris as a wedding gift.

Tanus angers Pharaoh and is sent on a mission to rid Egypt of marauding bandits. With Taita's help, Tanus accomplishes this difficult task. Of course, Lostris has not lost her love for Tanus — and Taita helps them secretly spend time together. However, that also results in Lostris' pregnancy — but Taita is able to convince Pharaoh that he (Pharaoh) is the father of the child.

The story continues with an invasion of Hyksos, death of the Pharaoh and exile. Incredibly, the ghost of the Pharaoh impregnates Lostris twice more (Taita is obviously very good at convincing people of the mysteries of the gods). The eldest son becomes Pharaoh (even though, in fact, he has no royal blood) and they return from exile to reclaim Egypt.

There is much more to be told in the subsequent novels but I will jump forward to the latest in the saga, The Quest, in which an ancient, but revered Taita has gained much spiritual power. Egypt has experienced terrible plagues and the Nile River has dried up. Pharaoh sends Taita with an expedition with a small army to try to determine the source of these terrible problems and hopefully correct them. The story covers the journey and the mystical source behind it all. Taita must use all his wits and magical powers to save Egypt.

This book is in the spirit of Gary Jennings — and I loved it.

Thai Book Rest By the way, it is my practice to read in bed before going to sleep. Even when I vacation on Maui, I tend to read laying down on a couch. As you may know or might guess, epic novels tend to become a bit heavy after a while — so when I saw this Thai Book Rest in the Levenger catalog, I had to have it. The company claims that it is a miniature version of ones that are made by villagers in Northeast Thailand. I do not know about that — I just know that I can rest it on my stomach and read away.

The Missing Manual Before I close for the week, I have to mention a series of non-fiction books which are just as long (and heavy) as my favorite epic novels but which are incredibly helpful. Have you noticed how software no longer seem to come with any kind of useful reference manual? That has spawned a whole publishing genre — manuals by third parties to make up for the lack of a manual from the software vendor.

I found this series called "The Missing Manual" to be particularly useful when I was learning Dreamweaver, which is the software that I use to create web pages (including Life After HP). The books are very readable and honest — when a feature is useless, the author is quite willing to say so. If you need a manual for a software package that you are trying to master, check to see if there is a book in this series on that topic. Should help.

 Life is good.

 B. David