Here's what I read, and thoughts.
"The Confusion" Neal Stephenson: I've been working on this one for a while, reading it a few pages at a time. It's a huge book, 1000+ pages, so it took some time. The view is worth the climb, though - it's got swashbuckling, advanced mathematics, pirates, samurai, alchemy, the Inquisition, cryptography - what's not to love? I know a few of you were turned off by "Quicksilver" - but I've loved this series. It defies genre, since it's vaguely historicaly, vaguely science-fiction (Is it really the same Enoch Root?) and dovetails with "Cryptonomicon". There's not a character named Shaftoe that I wouldn't love to A: buy a beer and B: promptly get out of the presence of. I've got "System of the World" on the bookshelf, and I'm looking forward to it.
"Endurance" Alfred Lansing: If you've ever thought you've had a hard time, read this book. You'll learn from hard time. Sweet Screaming Harlots - a very, very short rundown - on a trip to make a land-crossing of Antarctica, Endurance was caught in icepack. A year later (!) the pressure finally sank her, stranding the crew on ice floes for the better part of another year. They survived on penguins, seals, and their own sled-dogs. They didn't have much ammo, so they would lure carnivorous Leopard Seals on to the ice by offering themselves as bait, and then clubbing the 1100 pound animal with axe-handles. Eventually they sailed on three open boats to a tiny inhospitable strip of land with winds as fast as 150mph daily. There they stayed until Shackleton crossed 300 miles of open seas in the most dangerous straits in all the world, in the middle of gale-force winds, waves 120 feet high, and amidst deadly chunks of ice - to another island with a whaling station. There they were unable to land anywhere but at the base of two glaciers and a mountain range, which they crossed overland with no tools other than a strip of rope and a carpenter's adze - and no food or cold-weather clothing. Only one other alpinist team has ever successfully accomplished the same feat, and even then they did it with a large team, modern equipment, and taking two weeks to do it. My favorite bit is probably when Shackleton and two of his men have crested the mountain, only to realize that there is a steep glacier on the other side, the bottom of which they can not see due to fog. The sun is setting, and they do not have the time or strength to go back down the way they came. So they tie themselves together and just slide down the glacier - maybe the slope evens out, maybe it becomes a precipice over which they hurtle to their deaths. As it happens, the slope opened out, and they slid down first screaming and then laughing maniacally as they realize that they've done it. Read this book.
For a little light reading, I knocked out Death Masks and Blood Rites by Jim Butcher - two books in the Dresden Files series. Harry Dresden is a private investigator/wizard living in Chicago. (It seemed appropriate, given that I was in Chicago). Butcher is consistently getting better as the series goes on, and it's not tired or retreads of the same stories over and over again. Like a good series, the characters actually learn things, and are changed for better or worse by the events in the books. It's still just brain-candy literature, not terribly deep - but they're always enjoyable. In fact, at the airport on the way home I picked up Proven Guilty and am still working on that one. Dresden is 10% hard boiled and 90% smartass. The series has a lot in common with Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books; a first-person singular narrative with a tough-guy protagonist who's a perpetual outsider in the city in which he lives. His talents are extraordinary, and he has a wide circle of loyal and spookily competent friends that pitch in to help him resolve problems both big and small. Also, a familiar to talk to - in one case a smart-assed flying psionic lizard, in the other a lascivious disembodied spirit trapped in a human skull. Both protagonists are sardonic, get the crap beaten out of them, but always try to do the right thing, even though they know they'll never win the approval or acceptance of the society in which they reside. Both good series - but Brust is more versatile than Butcher.
I also finished "Pirate Hunter" by Richard Zacks. - I lost my original copy. I started mentally writing the screenplay as I read - but alas, didn't have my laptop with me. I remain convinced that Kidd vs. Culliford would make an excellent movie, and intend to put it on my "Movies I am writing" pile.
It's good to know I can still read in something other than 15-second butterfly-flitting-attention-span chunks, still. The internet is bad for my brain.