During my self-inflicted hiatus, I’ve been traveling a lot by road with two children, so I’ve had less reading time. But I’ve also been staying in a lot of people’s houses along the way, and that has allowed me to accumulate vast (and vastly more diverse than usual) amount of reading material.

We turned around and headed east yesterday, and I should be back to blogging regularly in a couple of weeks. Until then, I thought I’d post tell of a few literary nuggets worth the late-summer beach-goer’s attention, especially if you’re looking to get out of your foreign policy head-space.

Each one has been loaned to me by a friend or relative I have visited on this journey, and each one has my highest recommendation. See below the fold.

Why Buildings Stand Up. I’d always wondered about that! Mario Salvadori puts architectural history and the basics of structural engineering into language anyone can understand and get excited about. Loaned to me by my good friend Joel Oestreich.

Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners. A fascinating, humorous and informative ethnography of disaster restoration specialists who clean up after suicides and murders. (I flipped open a page randomly and learned a great deal about the life cycle of maggots.) This is in the genre of Mary Roach, but with more social science as it’s as much about the industry of death as it is about the forensic science of human decay. This one came courtesy of my brother Richard, who owns two cleaning businesses in Durango CO and also has a quirky interest in disaster science.

Best Military Science Fiction of the 20th Century
. It was especially nice to read the original short story version of Ender’s Game, something I’d never managed to do despite my devotion to the Ender book series. Thank you Alex.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Seth Grahame-Smith has taken Jane Austen’s original novel and embellished it with a sub-text of an England afflicted by a “strange plague” that causes the dead to rise and intermittently feast upon the minor characters. Needless to say conversations from the original about ladylike decorum, otherwise intact, now include references not just to accomplishment in music and manners, but also in the deadly arts; and squabbles between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy are now interrupted by battles with the unmentionables. A bloody good read, thanks to my brother USMC Major Edward Carpenter; and one that makes me look forward to reading more in the genre Grahame-Smith has no doubt just popularized, the humorous retelling of classics. Let us hope the original authors don’t return from the dead to challenge their new compatriots on grounds of copyright.