I read a lot. Well, as much as I can, anyway, usually six to ten books a month. It's a welcome distraction from work and a useful source of inspiration for my own writing-- and work. One never knows when a PowerPoint slide might benefit from a clever turn of phrase...
I got hooked on the Harry Potter series pretty early on, in part by my sister and her daughter Amanda, whose enthusiasm was highly contagious. (Hi, Amanda. Er, Mandy. See, I got a hobby.)
The latest and last installment, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," completes the gradual but profound transition of the series from children's books to... well, I don't know what, exactly. The first Harry Potter book was short, simple, and fun. The new volume is none of those. The near-total lack of fun doesn't mean it's a bad book; in fact it's quite good, but if you aren't a Harry Potter fan you'll probably just have to take my word for that.
I know a lot of kids-- including my niece-- started reading these books at fairly young ages, but that was okay because it took a couple of years for each new book to come out. By the time the series started getting darker, the readers were older. But now that the series is complete, it might not be such a good idea to give the first book to a young child who will naturally want to read them all as quickly as possible.
Another book I recently read was even less fun: "The US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual" (also available in electronic form online). This book represents a fundamental reevaluation of how military forces should respond to insurgencies. Naturally, the impetus for the book came from Iraq, where US forces were well prepared for the war but not so well prepared for what happened next.
It isn't that our military hadn't studied the subject. US Army Field Manual 90-8, "Counterguerrilla Operations," dates back to 1986, and there were many earlier attempts to define effective policies. No doubt the lessons learned in Iraq will prove inadequate in some future conflict, but it's good to have those lessons written down while this conflict is still going on.
But back to fiction. I'm a big fan of old-school detective stories and high-tech science fiction, so it's nice to see both done well in one book. Richard K. Morgan is hot in the science-fiction field these days. I thought his previous book ("Market Forces"), based on an earlier short story, was awful, but his other books ("Altered Carbon" and two sequels, all featuring a detective named Takeshi Kovacs) are excellent. His latest novel, "Thirteen," is great. It's set 100 years in the future. It has genetic engineering, terraforming, sapient computers, and a lot of interesting extrapolations from today's political problems.
And finally, I'd like to turn you all on to a great science-fiction writer (and artist) that hardly anyone has heard of: Cheeseburger Brown. See, if you'd heard of him, you'd know it. I've never met him, but I've been a fan since he wrote a short-lived blog as Darth Vader (here) that was way more entertaining than Fake Steve Jobs. Much of Brown's work is available free on his website, but his first book of short stories is also available printed on genuine paper: "Hot Buttered Something." Read his stuff online, but then buy the book so he'll be encouraged to write more.