I hold my non-fiction book club every six weeks, which isn't exactly often by any measure. Be that as it may, it takes over my life each and every time. This weekend, for example, pretty much all I did was prepare for it. Sure, I procrastinated big-time through baking, shopping, walking, and napping, but essentially, I had to mosie back to my desk and keep taking notes. Hour after hour. Page after page. I wish I could sleep. I wish I had better sitting posture so my back wouldn't hurt. Kvetching isn't seeming to help.
There is nothing that detracts from the enjoyment of a book as much as forced note-taking. A quotable bit is one thing, a nice turn of phrase - whatever- but details like the kind one needs for papers are painful. It's a good thing that the actual book this time is endlessly fascinating, otherwise I'd have been in trouble.
The title in question is Tom Reiss's The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, about an eccentric dandy named Lev Nussimbaum/Essad Bey/Kurban Said. This terrific biography is about a man who had a short but rollicking life, fleeing from Bolsheviks and then Nazis, whilst chasing his Oriental dream. A Jew from the oil-producing region of Baku in Azerbaijan, Lev ended up escaping through desert and mountain, and converting to Islam before finding his place (for a while) in Weimar Berlin. He went on to publish both fiction and non-fiction bestsellers, and managed to make it through more a more than average number of scrapes before finally perishing in 1942.
I really loved this book. It has adventure, flamboyant and witty characters, history, romance, and tragedy. On top of that, I like the way the author tells the story, and how he tries to get to the bottom of the man behind the mystery, pursuing his trail in over ten countries. As a history person, I also appreciate the details and background information Reiss provides.
That's my recommendation for the day, or week, I guess. Just read it. You'll be glad you did.