Knowing Prison: 10 Years & 1046 Books Behind the Wall

Knowing Prison: 10 Years & 1046 Books Behind the Wall

Knowing Prison is a memoir of the decade that Daniel Genis spent in prison, told through the books he read. Although roughly in chronological order, the chapters are thematic. Beginning with a youthful infatuation with Beat literature and personalities, we quickly progress to its consequences. Addiction, desperation, and conviction (for armed robbery) took Genis to a new world which he had no choice but to make his own. Within a month upstate he saw his first murder and finished Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago

Prison introduce many formerly abstract elements of life to Genis and thrust them in his face. Murder, racial segregation, violence and the word 'ain't' were new to Daniel as facts of life rather than plot points. He relied on an old and trusted friend to make sense of it.

Literature preserved both a proximity to his old world, where the Jewish jokes were told by Jews rather than skinheads, and a way of coming to terms with the extremities of human behavior and lack of causality which defined his next 123 months. The wisest guides he had were textual, all 1,046 of them. In one Genis found the meaning of life, or at least his life.

This site will contain the actual book list, which is too massive to publish but an interesting resource. Daniel once regretted not recording the dates that he entered the books on, but his memory is actually triggered by the listings quite precisely. Never did a calendar reflect the workings of a mind more accurately, a case made spooky by the often random manner of a book's entry into Genis's life. The right book.

While he read much of the best of man's output during this ten extra years of education, Genis was 25 with a BA in history by the time he went in. Daniel's dozen years of reading before incarceration was when many classics a reader might find missing in such a collection of the best literature were read. 

The Last Beat is due out next year, care of Viking Books. The editor will be Rick Kot, a man who has cut the prose of writers Genis fears reading out loud. He is represented by Julia Kardon of the HSG Agency, who took a gamble when her decision was almost totally based on taste. A whirlwind of success and strategy, Julia also keeps Daniel Genis politically correct, a task she is equipped for with a subtle insight into the differences between 2003 and today. 

Daniel's in-house editing team are his wife, Petra Szabo, and father, Alexander Genis. He could not ask for more, but he gets it from his readers. They are not legion, but too many to list. However, the ones who have helped with thoughts, research, copy-editing, criticism, honesty that cuts and praise that salves know who they are. Genis answers every letter... feel free to write.

The booklist is going up in hundred-entry segments. The first 100, which date from the end of 2003 on Rikers Island to 2004 in state prison, are not especially impressive or challenging books. Daniel Genis read for escapism then. The meaning of life came later...chapter 22, if you must know.






The Difference Engine 

William Gibson

This is an intelligent historical pastiche. If Victorian England had steam-driven computers, this is a plausible version of how it would have looked. Conclusion stinks. In fact, I have read this before, but over a 16 hour day at court I reread the entire thing with pleasure.



Bruce Sterling

This author has a definite style, but the book is basically trash. Seems like it was written over a weekend. And yet the genre is comforting. Perhaps because I started my reading life with science fiction?



William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

Brilliant and innovative, especially considering that it’s 20 years old. The book is deservedly a classic. And at the moment, Gibson’s dark future is lighter than my present


Mafia Dynasty

John Forbes

A little bit of story telling for the mob fetishists. Kind of silly, though it’s good to finally know what a ‘Gambino’ actually is. The guys here love these books, because apparently they don’t get enough crime in their lives. I ran out of my own material and borrowed someone’s treasured copy.


The Odessa File

Frederick Forsyth

International neo-Nazi conspiracy aside, a convincing tale of high espionage. My reading in the actual history of Cold War spying made it all the more compelling, as the events described are things that could have happened. Not bad for genre stuff.



Kim Stanley Robinson

Overly long fantasy of what can happen down there. Now, the information I learned about the continent is valuable, but the plot is amateur. Author should learn from classics like Doyle or Haggard. And the actual narratives of polar exploration are more thrilling.


The Perfect Storm

Sebastian Junger

Another educational novel. I feel like I’m being ‘improved’ in a 19th century way as I am learning in an entertaining way while having my morals impressed upon. Rather mediocre.


Count Zero

William Gibson

Not bad at all. I read all of his works as chapters of an opus... he’s brilliant with his near-future predictions and play. The books mesh well with each other too.


Good Old Fashioned Future

Bruce Sterling

Uneven batch of stories, some fascinating, others mundane. I see the cyberpunk in them, but not the talent. I suppose this childish reading is necessary right now, though.


Super Flat Times

Matthew Derby

This was bizarre. Author is great in evoking deep feelings of disgust and horror through images, but he fails in pulling it all together into a narrative. However, it’s a first work and has literary aspirations, so it was a nice change of pace. Plus, the author will only improve.


All Tomorrow’s Parties

William Gibson

Gibson’s latest, a bit of a weak end. Is he drying out? The ideas seem to be culled from his previous stuff. Retirement must come for everyone, but Gibson is reusing his notes to previous books


Gulag Archipelago, Volume II

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Strangely comforting at the moment. It did not take as long to read this the second volume of this massive trilogy as one might think, because I spent entire days in the Kolyma and other Stalinist hells with Solzhenitsyn. Of course there is a lot for me here, since I am in the rare position of reading these tomes, which were once samizdat, in a prison. Funny that I read the first volume at home. Precognition? Jailhouse codes and methods of succeeding in this perversion of society were lessons learned from Solzhenitsyn. But perhaps the most important is rather more simple. As I simply do not fear cannibalism in my new life, I cannot feel sorry for myself while here. Ever. It could be so much worse, and the men tortured in Archipelago were innocent!


Homo Zapiens

Victor Pelevin

Usually I read this author in Russian, but he’s not too awful in translation, as it seems the fun is in the content and not the style. His world, populated by drugs, dealers and anthropomorphized Soviet zeitgeist, is sarcastic and sneering, fun and deliberately unpleasant. Unlike, say, Palahniuk, Pelevin is not just in it for the shock, but shocks in the name of thought. Most of the time, at least.


The Cosmic Puppets

Philip K. Dick

Oh, so great. I have loved this author forever and enjoyed his imagination. The battle between good and evil fought on a surreal battleground of a quaint country town is clever and as imagery, beautiful. Because it is simply written, which is a deceptive impression whenever invoking Ahriman and Ahuru Mazda, I gave this to a neighboring gangster to read. He seems to have enjoyed it, but I don’t know if the jump into the abstract that Dick takes the reader on so effortlessly was really made by him. Hard to lend books here on Rikers, because I know they won’t like what I have but they see that I have a lot and therefore keep asking, only to be puzzled. Where’s the James Patterson?


Line of Control: Op Center

Tom Clancy and his writing team

Why did I read this trash? This techno-fetishist novel is for children. It is assembled from old plots, baked in a flawed oven and finished off carelessly. Pure garbage. I need some of my own books.


Eye of the Needle

Ken Follet

Not a bad spy thriller. Set in WWII England, the author creates a compelling profile of a ruthless German spy. The author is best at manipulating the historical details to build suspense.


The Russia House

John LeCarré

Very slow for an espionage thriller, and in fact the author is more interested in the psychological details of living the life of a Cold Warrior. While at times I felt that he should leave the work to Proust, in fact this is much better than most mass market fiction. The espionage is interesting, if fanciful. I would like to read more of this author.


See How They Run

James Patterson

For an author way out of his genre, this wasn’t totally terrible. The techniques that work well in his serial killer books are inappropriate for neo-Nazis and the Mossad, but his political fantasies are not bad. Still, why is this so popular in this world? Why this author?


First to Die

James Patterson

Exciting detective story, but totally disposable. I was proud to solve the crimes accurately. Not as fun as the Alex Cross series, but still a clever idea. “What is the worst thing you can do?” An interesting question that this author is not qualified to answer. But the locals love it. There is a real cult of Patterson here.


Murder in the CIA

Margaret Truman

More trash, this time written by some relative of the president’s. The components of a murder mystery are fairly simple so why is it so difficult to repeat Doyle or Christie? The spycraft was interesting but meager. I really need some real books...


The House of the Dead

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Ah. Relief. What an intensely brilliant work! I must read all of his books; the man is genius incarnate. It’s a shame that I had this only in English. In any case, how accurate his psychological insight is. His profiles of the monsters around him might as well describe the people around me. I have a fellow making chess pieces out of cardboard and spit to try and sell me right now. I may not be a gentleman like Dostoyevsky, but the plight of an intellectual in prison is not too different from where I am. Helpful to know that I am not the first to suffer this way. If only I was a political prisoner!


The Laws of Gravity

Stephen Horn

Not a bad murder mystery. Funny how everything I read lately seems to have Hungarians in it. My wife says this is perfectly normal. Poor woman only hears me on the phone or on the dismal visiting floor. No wonder I read crap like this to not think... anyway, this was well placed. At 415 pages it was not boring kept the suspense high. In general, I think that this genre is inherently limited, but for what it was, this book wasn’t bad.


Day of the Jackal

Frederick Forsyth

This was the perfect example of the genre. And to be honest, I really enjoyed it, despite feeling guilty about reading this stuff. As far as political thrillers go, this is how they should be written. By grounding the assassination attempt in factual events, the authors tickles the fancy of historical speculation. This was his first and most successful thriller, and he nailed it!


Gulag Archipelago, Volume III

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Very interesting conclusion to this fascinating work. It’s really an epic for our modern world, and the authors’s concept of a rebirth of the soul through the purgatory of prison is interesting and reminiscent of Dante. Will I go through this once I finish the years ahead of me? It’s hard to reconcile the humble zek with today’s political and right-wing Solzhenitsyn.. The chapters about regained freedom were particularly biting to a man in my position; that feeling seems so far away. But it gives me home. I can do it.


Now Wait for Last Year

Philip K. Dick

The more I read the more I’m astounded. This novel was of special interest because it deals with a hyper addictive imaginary drug that permits time travel. Fascinating discourse on the compulsion forced by addiction... Dick has obviously experience it himself in his amphetamine struggles. The only fault of this author is his lack of a ‘third act’; he is not good at ending his books! 


The Confessions of Henry Lee Lucas

Mike Cox

Typical pornography for the criminal minded. I am somewhat intrigued by serial killers myself, but I can’t stand exploitative pulp like this It really belongs to the sensationalism of 19th century yellow journalism. Murder porn. Disgusting.


Burning Chrome

William Gibson

This short story collection contains the seeds of many of his later works; it is least effective when there is a co-author. This format leave a lot undeveloped, but once you are familiar with Gibson’s world, you can fill in the rest. It’s his combo of high-tech and low life that makes his future compelling. Better than my present.


The Prisoner of Azkaban

J.K. Rowling

This was my introduction to the Potter books, and now I understand their popularity. It is written at the level of a very intelligent child or a fanciful adult. The book is composed from elements of the intricate legacy of Western magic and alchemy. It is definitely at its best in the details, as the plot is shallow and juvenile. Like Eco did, the author culled through the same dictionaries of magic and witchcraft to repackage that information for the modern, short attention span reader. I really have the who bibliography that Rowling probably used on one shelf under my window at home. If I’ll ever see it again. However, it’s an engrossing read and I would like to go through the all of them.


The Tao of Pooh

Benjamin Hoff

Normally this type of book irritates me , but this example is nice and cute. As the genre demand, it condemns Western civilization in order to promote the way of the Tao. Even though I have not read widely in the subject, the philosophy is really predictable and seems a bit trite in my own situation. What was nice was the way the Pooh stories are used to illustrate the Tao, but reading this incarcerated is almost a cruel joke somehow. Not comforting in the least.


Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess

What a brilliant deliberation on morality! Is depriving man of choice worse than the evil he is capable of? It really a Pelagian controversy; has God given man free will or not? The wickedness that ‘little Alex’ commits is appealing to the readers of the Angry Young Men movement, but it’s a little dated in our world of daily atrocities. What the author does with language is remarkable; his slavic slang is terrifying but instantly clear to me. All of me ‘peers’ here should read this. An instant classic, my brothers.


Mona Lisa Overdrive

William Gibson

This was an interesting diversion; it only makes real sense in the context of his other works. As always, he is very good with the details and background, but the plot is convoluted. Gibson’s series is very imaginative though, and it does not yet feel dated.


I Served the King of England

Bohumil Hrabal

My wife Petra insisted. My second reading of this novel evokes a warmth of nostalgia for a lost Central European world. The book is similar to Svejk and Capek’s stories, and has that cozy Austro- Hungarian feel. Good good, bawdiness, and black humor. Anyone would enjoy this lovely book. A comfort and a pleasure. 


The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

John LeCarré

Masterful example of the espionage genre. Now I understand; this is not exactly mass-market material, it’s at a literary level. The drab setting of a divided Germany as well as the author’s knowledge of tradecraft makes this work feel very authentic. The author draws a tale of deception and counter-deception that is grim and yet philosophic in its idealogical ambivalence. There lies the book’s charm and appeal. Intelligent writing and psychological characterization. This author is not for thriller lovers; it is too smart.


Virtual Light

William Gibson

Like his other books, this is a competent work of science fiction, but as I am familiar with his other work, I can tell that he is running out of ideas. Gibson recycles both plot and detail in this book, and loses some of his earlier bite. Still a nice distraction; someone got stabbed today. I just kept reading.


The Godfather

Mario Puzo

Excellent example of commercial fiction. This epic of mafia is composed of true-crime; I recognize what the author is basing his tale on, like the tale of Lucky Luciano, Gambino and Anastasia. However, it’s not a simple pastiche, it is very well put together. Smart fiction and a bit much for the fellows here, despite their adoration for organized crime.


Johnny Mnemonic

William Gibson

This screenplay reworked the excellent story into something more appropriate for the American cinematic screen. In other words, Gibson added violence and simplified the plot. The result isn’t terrible. I have not actually seen the film, but it seems to have preserved the spirit of Gibson’s dystopian future.



William Gibson

This is one of his later works and you can see a decline in his stock of future details as well as an inelegant plot, but the work is captivating nevertheless. The funny thing is that what he imagined in 1996 is already here in many ways. I cannot keep reading all of this science fiction, but they just offered me 20 years. Easier to not think about that and continue with the future.



James Clavell

One of the best works of historical fiction I have ever read; all 1200 pages were fascinating, and now I know all I need to about feudal Japan and samurai. The amount of detail is impressive. My only gripe is that the characters read like soap opera stars. But the process of entering this alien world that is long dead is immersive and wonderful. Clavell did a wonderful job.


Dune Messiah

Frank Herbert

Not a bad sequel to the fabulous Dune. Lacks the originality and grandeur of the original however. Few elements were added to the epic of the great first book, so this book reads like added chapters rather than a self-sufficient novel. I have two more in the series so I hope that the author is capable of more material, considering the 20 years it took him to write it. 


Children of Dune

Frank Herbert

Surprisingly, this third installment is better than the second. The author regains his epical quality when he concentrates on galactic empires. Some of the more imaginative stuff seems silly and dated, but overall it’s a worthy sequel to Dune. And keeps my mind off the Bloods, who are acting up. They just threw someone out of the dorm, yelling ‘Merry Christmas motherfucker’ behind him.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

J.K. Rowling

Very captivating novel; it really is the beginning of an era-defining children’s work. A whole generation will know these characters, much like Narnia served once. Medieval magic left a lot for the author to compose with. I can easily read the rest of the series without losing interest. It’s pleasant distraction.


Pattern Recognition

William Gibson

This was the author’s first attempt at contemporary fiction, and it reads exactly like his other work. Forgive the pun, but I recognize the pattern. By eliminating all future detail from this work, we are left with the same collection of characters without a real reason to read about them. Still, it’s good to keep current with Gibson’s work so I’m glad I read it. And there will be more in this series...


Red Rabbit

Tom Clancy

Pretty good example of espionage fiction; a bit bloated in conjecture but interesting enough to read. I can tell he read the same biography of Andropov that I did off my grandfather’s shelves, the one that discounts his love of Western accoutrements as KGB spin. I also remember the actual incident involving the attempted assassination of the Pope. Not my usual reading, but strangely not bad.



Philip K. Dick

Brilliant. I enjoyed this work because of its quirky intelligence and bizarre plot art. I’ve come to expect this from Dick, but this is one of his more ambitious books. It attempts to deal with reality, commercialism and the decline of privacy all at once. As a result, it crumbles a little in the third act. Much like VALIS, Dick overextends himself, but Ubik is still magnificent.


King of Torts

John Grisham

This was the first time I read this very popular author. Somewhat interesting, if mechanical. I can see what he is doing; he makes law interesting to people who have not passed the bar. You can learn a lot from this type of reading, if you care. But for someone like me who has never been curious about the law until faced with its most dire face, it’s totally disposable


Minority Report and Other Stories

Philip K. Dick

Nice set of short stories- many are kernels for later novels. As always, they are intelligent and incisive little commentaries. Dick’s characters are like Gibson’s; they are low class in a high tech world. I particularly like science fiction meta-tales. Populating stories with your own contemporaries is very funny.


Far Shore of Time

Frederick Pohl

This was ridiculous. I can’t imagine reading this unincarcerated. Reminds of bad Sheckley; stupid plot with silly details. The author is cashing in on his experience as a magazine editor and I know he has written better works, but I can’t even imagine an editor actually approving this schlock. 


In the Land of Long Memory

Adam Nossiter

This squalid little piece of micro-history was all over the board. The author was unable to keep to his point; he actually forgot to describe the trials of Beckwith, Medgar Evers’ killer. I enjoyed his forays into the history of Mississippi’s white supremacism, but was surprised by the general lack of analysis and focus


Operating Instructions

Anne Lamott

Petra found this for me; it was very much unlike the books I usually read. This book was funny; that’s what saved the author from taking herself too seriously. The reason I was given , because of its testimony to the possibility of overcoming adduction. It is inspiring; she’s a strong woman. Next I have one of her’s to read. My assignments...


The Jester

James Patterson

This was quite unlike any other book by this author that I have read by this author before. The strange thing is, despite the medieval setting, the author writes in exactly the same way as he does about his serial killers in the more conventional thrillers. On top of that, he is remarkable ignorant of what the middle ages were like in spirit. The only part he captures is the cruelty, which he enjoys anyway.


God Emperor of Dune

Frank Herbert

This Dune book is very different from the others; there is almost no action, but instead the whole book is composed of dialogue. The speculation on the origin and use of power consumes the author- his god-emperor is much more reflective on the question of potency than any Napoleon. Although duller than the others, it is much more intelligent.


Solar Lottery

Philip K. Dick

This was his first novel; Dick is more conservative here than in later works. The concept is bright, and once again he does well by incorporating details of everyday life in a neurotic future. The idea of sacred randomness is a good one, especially for the 50’s. Quantum religion. Not bad; I enjoyed this.


Game Plan

Charles Wilson

I don’t know why I read this trash. This thriller was so naive, so unsophisticated, that I cannot imagine anyone free taking the time to read it. Thank god it only took a few hours; towards the end I was praying for the end. The idea of neural implants and government conspiracies is so 90’s. I thought the X-Files killed off the concept.


Memoirs of Hadrian

Marguerite Yourcenar

Excellent work, incisive, intelligent and interesting. Access to literature after the crap I’ve had lately is a breath of air. The author has managed to recreate the style of Latin writing. It is curt and meaningful without being too derivative. The whole book is wonderfully even; it most resembles Marcus Aurelius in its tone. The sections that deal with Hadrian’s love for Antinous are admirably dealt with; it is not gross or vulgar, nor is it hypocritically fawning. Our morals are not Hadrian’s, and that is acknowledged and explored. In general, this is for the ages. 


The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyan

Edward Fitzgerald, Translator

I revisited this work with nostalgic pleasure. It is a fine translation, and the edition is a work of great scholarship. But I have not yet developed a true taste for poetry. I was more interested in the commentary and scholarship that the quatrains. A downfall of mine.


The Divine Invasion

Philip K. Dick

This is almost his last book, written the year of his death. In this one Dick has a sort of religious mania. It is not exactly science fiction. The basic premise is of god returning from inter-planetary exile. Interesting, but there is no action, no resolution and no cohesive plot. It’s quite the mess, in fact.


The Hunt for Red October

Tom Clancy

Excellent thriller. Never thought I would enjoy something like this, but it was exciting and intelligent. Clancy’s dénoument is perfectly timed. His exposition of arcane technology is appropriate, and the plot is a perfect cliffhanger. For this genre, it is a masterpiece.


God’s Prison Gang

Chaplain Ray

The bizarre piece of ephemera can only be found in prisons. It contains lurid, violent stories of several killers, including the Manson people. As the end of each tale is the story of their conversion. For a jail audience, and written by one. Despite the Christian message, it is still pornography for criminals. As a perfect example of its power, consider that this was asked to lend this out more often than anything else I have. They just wish to read about themselves, even in this redemptive context.


Time Out of Joint

Philip K. Dick

I truly enjoyed this novel and strongly suspect that is the basis for the film Pleasantville, which was excellent as well. The principle that a whole reality exists for one man and one purpose occurred to me in my own writing. This time Dick did not lose focus like in other attempts- he is a bit off the level in balancing out the story after the twist, but that is forgivable considering the depth and texture of the book. What a pleasure; a man hung himself today while I explored these fantasies!


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

J.K. Rowling

This installment of the series is not bad; a bit long and convoluted. It seems that with every added book the author has more problems reconciling the stories with each other. If they were independent of each other it would save a lot of scribbling, but that is not market- smart. The detail continues to be interesting, though not the plot.


Tai Pan

James Clavell

Very nice historical novel, even though Shogun was better. I enjoyed learning about Hong Kong. The book had appeal by describing every possible facet of Chinese life, from the royal Mandarin customs to the lives of coolies. The characters are well drawn but without a psychological dimension; the charm of this novel is in the details and not its literary excellence. I would read more of these if they were available; a book on Burma or India done in the style would be interesting. I’m inspired to look into Michener’s Hawaii. 


A Small Town in Germany

John LeCarré

This was a great work of international espionage, a cold war masterpiece. It was strangely psychological; more like the Angry Young Men generation material than the usual spy stuff. In fact, it is a thousand times more intelligent that than the author’s later books. However, the psychological depth that he goes into for each and every situation can be too much and unrealistic. Most people are much simpler that the author posits. Maybe it’s just my neighbors.



Mark W. Tiedemann

Simply awful. This amateur trash proves why iBooks failed. I would be furious if I paid for it. How can anybody who has read other science fiction call this a book? Terrible.



Philip K. Dick

This whole series of religious novels that he wrote right before his death is bugged out. They make so little sense at times; it;s like a chain of interesting details strung together. I kind of liked this one, but calling it a novel is a stretch. Only for the enthusiast.


Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott

This was a book written to instruct on writing. I don’t know why this neurotic woman is in a position to teach anyone; personally I wouldn’t want to read anything created along these instructions. The good thing is that the book got me thinking about what I would write. Maybe I’m wrong to criticize, but it seems that the writer’s workshop style of emotional writing died out in the mid 90’s. This was not a bad read though.


Star Wars: Hard Merchandise

K.W. Jeter

What awful things get written to make a buck! It is such a blatant attempt to capitalize on the films, but that is not even the worst part. The book is boring and stupid, not inventive in the least, a real waste of time. And Jeter was decent once.


The Preserving Machine

Philip K. Dick

This was an excellent collection of stories, all from the early 60’s. I that the best is Roog; it is another reality-bender that really is chilling. Some of the stories are kernels of novels I have read. In general, it would serve as a fine introduction to the author.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

J.K. Rowling

This is the second installment of the series, and it feels fresher than the later ones. It’s not drawn out and obsessed with Voldemort, who I am starting to root for. In this book the details are still new and the concept is still appealing. I still have three of them to go, but they do make time pass in a pleasant, magical way. Escapism, of course.


Time and Again

Clifford Simak

This piece of science fiction is missing its third act, but is still intriguing. The title threw me off; just like the Finney novel. I liken the story telling, but the philosophy underlying was simplistic and too trite for me. This was really a book for boys.


Nicholas and Alexandra

Robert Massie

Very interesting historical novel. It reads like an adventure story with footnotes. The book leaves you knowing all about the period, an education in Silver Age Monarchy. Rasputin is a fascinating figure; hard to believe he isn’t invented. Fact is stranger than fiction at times. My own ancestors lived with these people. Amazing. 


The Addict in the Street

David Teferteller

This is more of a cultural relic and an up to date work of sociology. Therein lies its charm! What is interesting is that something written forty years ago can be so valid today. This work shows that drug addicts don’t really change much with the times, they merely adapt while the game remains the same. Much like prisoners.



William S. Burroughs

This brilliant work is just not as enjoyable under the circumstances. Even though it wonderfully dry and methodical in its treatment, I feel that it glorifies the countercultural life of the addict, and at the moment that feels rather disgusting. I also suspect I could write the same book. When I first read this, it had more of a subtle brilliance than when I am paying for my own dabbling so severely.



Ted Conover

This is a fascinating work of undercover sociology. The author went through a true ordeal to write this. He seemed to be as traumatized as any prisoner while going through the prison guard academy. His obviously liberal views made him a victim of both the games the inmates played with him and his ‘fellow’ officers. Very good reading, even with the four pages that the jailhouse censor cut out of it, where the Sing Sing guards’ quarters are described.


Khruschev’s Russia

Edward Crankshaw

Odd little bit of outdated research; Khruschev was deposed one year after the publication of this book. Kremlinology is the mirror-image of my cold-war youth, so finding stuff that pre-dates me is always interesting. But more as a historical relic. Author wasn’t too incisive, thinking the thaw of the day was going to survive.


The Last Don

Mario Puzo

Simple book, but a page-turner. In reality, this was The Godfather rewritten, but Puzo is competent enough to make it interesting. And he knows how to draw the underworld characters that America has grown to love. These are very popular here.


Journey to the Center of the Earth

Jules Verne

Returning to this childhood love of mine was pure pleasure. It is a charming experience to revisit such books with the sense to no longer take them seriously and the historical context to appreciate their worth. Verne’s naivite is brilliant... traveling from Iceland to Mount Etna through a lost underground world is appealing to the child scientist that so many of us readers began as. We have the standard cast of characters that only changes in name; gruff professor, stoic man of the people, faithful companion and sensitive hero. Good, clean fun. Perhaps this is a world without women, but in a pre-sexual child’s understanding, it works just fine. Pleasant.


Alternative Realities

Leonard George

An excellent guide to the paranormal. It’s a dictionary of the unknown with a healthy dose of psychology thrown in. I’ve read many books like this, and this particular one is rather intelligent. It’s the skepticism; makes for a more compelling argument. 


Angels and Demons

Dan Brown

What pathetic trash! And almost plagiarism as well. Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum had been diluted and dumbed down at this silly attempt at something similar. This book is transparent and simple, the conspiracy theories weak and dull. And yet Brown is very popular. I guess I’m just the wrong type of reader because I have no idea why. I honestly hated it.



James Michener

I never got to finish the last hundred pages of this tome, but it’s excellent as far as historical fiction goes. I feel like I know everything I need to about these islands. It’s almost like a college course wrapped up in a novel, and I see he has others like it.


Dimension of Miracles Revisited

Robert Sheckley

This silly end-of-career book provided me with much comfort when I had almost nothing else to read. Sheckley has gone off the deep end with this one, but after a lifetime of reading him, I enjoyed the style. It was Christmas present, in manuscript, and a thoughtful one.


Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger

I read this in the beginning of my reading life and loved it. Re- reading it, I still enjoy the sardonic style, although the counter- cultural aspect of it feels puerile to me. Nevertheless, it was interesting to revisit this great book after so many years. Where do the ducks go? And reading it in this place is a trip; the question of authenticity that so bothers the protagonist is not even existent.


Верный Руслан (Loyal Ruslan)

И. Владимов (E. Vladimov)

Absolutely brilliant work. The tragic story of a camp dog left without anything to guard is poignant and effective. I interpreted the story as as a metaphor for the Soviet citizen who loves authority even though it oppresses hi. The ending seems like a prophecy for what happens to overly eager guard dogs... all in all, this has to be one of the best Gulag book ever written, and I am lucky to be able to read it in the original. Truly a fantastic text.


Hitler’s Secret Life

J. Infield

This work of pop-history turned out to be informative. I thought I knew just about about everything on the subject, but there was a lot of interesting stuff here. I can’t believe everything though. It’s hard to imagine Hitler as a sadomasochist with a urine fetish, or him escaping from the bunker. The stuff about the permissiveness of the Third Reich in terms of drugs and sexual license rang true; it fits with my general impression of the regime. Little wacky, but smart.


Without Remorse

Tom Clancy

Not a bad thriller; it combined political, criminal and wartime intrigue. Usually Clancy sticks to spies and technology, but the time he added a vigilante story to the mix. I actually read all 750 pages with interest; he knows how to construct a page turner.


Doctor Frigo

Eric Ambler

Very intelligent and intricate political novel. The in-depth coverage of the makings of an internationally provoked Latin-American coup is not an action-packed thriller but a study of world power-placus, kind of like LeCarré novels. The characters are composed skillfully and smartly and the narrative flows smoothly. No doubt this book is long out of print and replaced by modern versions, but good nonetheless. Politics can be fun. 


Sons of Fortune

Jeffrey Archer

I don’t often read this kind of book; a novel of American life with only one milksop villain. I breezed through the entire 600 pages in a day because the book offered no challenges, much like a soap opera. I can’t imagine writing something like this; it’s not boring, but it has no edge to it. Surprising that the author is British and wrote a prison diary himself after doing some time.


Buffalo Soldiers

Robert O’Connor

Good novel. It’s refreshing to read something literary. The crime and drug infested army base described by the author rings true and the fatalistic anti-hero is a beautiful example of a tragi-comic personage. The parts about drugs are powerful and show that either the author had some personal experience or read his Burroughs very thoroughly. In any case, a compelling work.


Under Fire

W.E.B. Griffin

I despise this type of book. It’s a historical novel set in the Korean War where all the men are heroes and the women virgins. The only good part was learning about the war, and I could have gotten that from the introduction.


The DaVinci Code

Dan Brown

This infuriating book is the worst type of plagiarism. Having stolen the main concepts from Foucault’s Pendulum, this charlatan of an author simplified it for the American masses. The result is a pathetic attempt at a novel. Brown is even afraid of throwing in the word semiotics, lest it confuse his readers, and invents ‘symbologist’ instead. I vote he should be shot.


Хичные Вещи Века
(Vicious Things of the Era)

Андрей и Борис Стргацкий (Andrei and Boris Strugatski)

This book actually contained two novellas, the first being a very simple but uneven story of time travel and a totalitarian planet. Nothing special there, but the second one about a hedonistic future of drugs and other mindless pursuits was prophetic and very dark. I enjoyed the thought-provoking text immensely.


A Plague of Pythons

Frederick Pohl

A wonderfully imaginative and sadistic little science fiction novel. This type of book exemplifies the best of the Golden Age. It is much more innovative than today’s crap, has a sense of humor, and is written for literate people rather than adolescents. I must read more Pohl; it’s intelligent and thought provoking.


Darkness at Noon

Arthur Koestler

This has to be one of the best political novels I have ever read. It is remarkable intelligent and thought provoking- the author is a real maestro to write when he did. I have read once before, but this time the prison story is much more resonant. Onle Solzhenitsyn has done better with the subject.


Rogue in Space

Frederic Brown

Sharp and witty piece of 50’s science fiction. The musing on the criminal mind interesting and the invented future is well constructed . Still, it seems like a work pieced together out of short stories. Plot is just choppy. 


The Changeling

A.E. Van Vaogt

This uneven work is much like every other book he wrote. It has an interesting concept, good development, and lightning-fast third act. Perhaps he wrote too fast, but he always seems to fail at the end of his books. Maybe sticking to short stories would have been better.


Strangers on a Bridge- the Case of Colonel Abel

James Donovan

This fine memoir was written in the early 60’s by Abel’s lawyer. I’ve never read such an in-depth treatment of this almost forgotten cold- war episode, nor of the fiasco of Gary Powers. The Lawyer is a nit sill in his righteous behavior, but Abel comes across as a professional and intellectual. His picture makes him look Jewish; I wonder what ever happened to him?


The Satanic Bible

Anton Szandor LaVey

I expected this to be occultish, mystical 60’s trash, but it turned out to be intelligent and philosophical, in its own way. The program prescribed by LaVey does not include sacrificing virgins or pounding babies in pestles, but rather a guilt-free self-serving approach to life that is practiced by most successful people without calling it Satanism. I was impressed by the though put into this- it’s not the pulp I expected. What’s all the fuss about?


Digits and Dastards

Frederick Pohl

Enjoyable collection of short stories. The author cannot help his naivite, but it adds charm that modern science fiction just cannot muster. The book also had two essays on binary and hexadecimal notation, which were and interesting read. My mother explained this to me, so I was prepared for it. Poor woman


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling

The fifth installment of the series was tedious. Some of it is cute, but mostly it is muddle and dramatic in an amateur way. This often happens when a successful fiction writer turns to literature. It like giving Jules Verne’s books a plot from Dostoevsky. And the author’s fame is getting to her. At 850 pages, she obviously refused to cut a word. The best part of this was the description of a magical British boarding school. Now we have moved to good against evil. Who cares? I can read real books for that. I hope Voldemort wins.



D..G. Compton

This is one of those books that have been placed in the wrong genre. The author wrote a novel set in the near future and penned it in the style of the Angry Young Men movement. His publishers obviously thought that that book would fair beet if marketed as science fiction. It’s too bad, because sci-fi enthusiasts wouldn’t care for this at all, and literary readers would never find it. The book is an intelligent treatment of technological brain stimulation and its consequences. Good complement to the Strugatsky novel on the same theme.


Wreath of Stars

Bob Shaw

Harmless little sci-fi novel. The most curious part of this alternative- dimension fantasy is that is is set in a shaky new African nation, complete with a despicable strong man like Idi Amin. It was an enjoyable read, but altogether forgetable