Book Log – The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens writes very well.

Well… duh.

But, no, really… I know I have rolled my eyes at classic authors because there is this thing that says classic novels are books we should like if we are smart or educated or whatever. And people even buy nice, leather-bound editions of “classic” books to put on their shelves because they look nice. And they do.

But the fact of the matter is he just writes good books. You don’t have to dive into symbolism or theme to really “get” them. Dickens just writes enjoyable stories with amusing characters.

It’s satirical, and probably more than I know because I don’t have insight into the sort of things of Dickens’ era that he might be satirizing. But there was some heavy-handed commentary at times. At one point, for no narrative/character reason I could see, Nicholas lays into a guy who adapts novels to the stage. He lambasts him for leeching off of author’s works, even before they’re finished. Obviously, Dickens had a bone to pick.

Nicholas contains many plot and character elements you see in his other works. For example, Nicholas’ chief antagonist might as well be Ebenezer Scrooge, but nastier and without salvation.

Nicholas was Dickens’ third novel (right after Twist, initially released, as all his novels were, as a serial in a magazine). It came five years before A Christmas Carol, and 11 years before Copperfield.

I mention the serialization because my favorite modern (also English) author is attempting something of the sort in this new age of web media. Neal Stephenson, along with a bunch of cohorts, are publishing a weekly web serial called The Mongoliad. It’s a noble effort, with lots of multimedia to make it more than just a serialized story. The only problem is that, so far, I don’t like it very much. I’m having trouble getting through the first chapter. Also, it’s complicated to transfer to my Kindle.

So. 150 years later, we’re still trying to reproduce that magic that Dickens had. Thankfully, I’ve still got 7 or 8 of his works to wander through before I need Stephenson to get his act together.

Book Log – Installing Linux on a Dead Badger

Installing Linux on a Dead Badger by Lucy A. Snyder

This is a… pretty amusing collection of short stories. I could not have written a better book, myself.

See how I’m pulling punches here? I don’t mind knocking a book, generally. But this book has an amateur, self-published feel about it.

The About The Author is 2 1/2 pages long, detailing how she came up with the title parody and got her start writing comedy at So, it’s not surprising that it reads like someone wrote some stuff for a website that got a lot of LOLs, and then gathered them up and published them.

Not a *bad* thing, per say. And it is a good parody of a Linux installation guide, in that it was written by someone who has really read a Linux How-To.

Oh! Here’s what it reminds of: The Flying Spaghetti Monster. A guy wrote a letter and posted it on the internet, and it became a worldwide sensation. Then he wrote a book based on the contents of the letter, and it read… like a book based on a letter.

Anyway. Amusing.

2011 Book Log in Review

Books read in 2004: 21
Books read in 2005: 28
Books read in 2006: 40
Books read in 2007: 30
Books read in 2008: 41
Books read in 2009: 22
Books read in 2010: 44
Books read in 2011: 28

As humans, we are pattern-seeking animals.  And one can’t help but notice that my reading tapers off in the odd-numbered years.  Why is that?  Some sort of biorhythm thing?

My best guess is that this was the year of Clearing Off The To Be Read Shelf in my bedroom.  I told myself I wasn’t going to get any new books until I thinned the herd there a bit. I did a scorched-earth read it or toss it review of the shelf, and those that made the reading cut are below. We’ll not speak of the ones that are now in the Never Going To Read Box now.

I also tried to read some books on raising unique kids, but, forgive me… they’re just about impossible to get through, and thus aren’t listed below.

In any event, with new, shiny Kindle in hand, things are looking good for 2012.

1. Tom Stoppard Plays: 5 by Tom Stoppard
Stoppard is awesome, but the true magic of this collection is Hapgood, one of my top 5 favorite plays. And one that never gets produced. At least, not here in Atlanta.

2. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Actually, a young adult novel, and an awesome one at that. A really truthful vision into the life of a teenage boy who gets a girl pregnant. Stacey read it, and was somewhat traumatized by what goes inside a teenage boy’s brain, and has looked nervously at our son ever since.

3. Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality by Dr. Ronald L. Mallett with Bruce Henderson
I’ll save you the trouble and go ahead and tell you that he hasn’t invented time travel yet.

4. The Known World by Edward P. Jones
This one had lingered on the To Be Read Shelf, as I never seem to be in the frame of mind to dive into a book about slavery. But, it’s an extremely well-written fiction about slavery, so I’m glad I pushed myself into taking it on.

5. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
I totally borrowed this eccentric, fantastical tale of an alternate London from Curt Holman’s daughter, and then read it myself and selfishly never shared it with the intended recipient, my son. I feel some guilt about that. But let that not tarnish your view of the book, which should be very favorable. You should buy it “for your kid” (wink wink).

6. The Complete Peanuts 1957-1958 by Charles M. Schultz
I have a more detailed apology on my blog, but I owe a large mea culpa to Charles Schultz for not appreciating that the man was a visionary genius in comics. This tome convinced me of that, as I saw in black and white the bedrock that Calvin and Hobbes built its magic on.

7. Human Anatomy Made Amazingly Easy by Christopher Hart
8. Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist (Will Eisner Instructional Books) by Will Eisner
I don’t ordinarily count drawing books as being “Read”, since I usually just skim them for the good bits. But I unexpectedly read both of these cover to cover, so it seemed appropriate. I enjoyed both quite a bit.

9. Letters from the Age of Reason by Nora Hague
This was on Stacey’s To Be Read shelf… I don’t know if she ever read it, but it was enormously thick and had a striking cover, so I read it. Another book about slavery! Tricked by the size and glossy cover I was! But, still, a pretty good read.

10. Songbook by Nick Hornby
Reading this caught me up on the Hornby oeuvre, except for Fever Pitch, which I tried to read, but just… couldn’t. I just don’t, and can’t, care about football (editor’s note: this originally said “cricket”, which goes to show how far I’d pushed this book out of my mind, that I couldn’t properly remember what sport he was writing about). I’m not a music aficionado either, but this book was good nonetheless– a collection of essays that have jumping off points in particular songs.

11. Tom Stoppard: Plays 4 by Tom Stoppard
Some more fine Stoppard plays.

12. The Russian Debutante’s Handbook by Gary Shteyngart
If you like reading about hapless, awkward, Jewish men in extraordinary situations, Shteyngart is your man. He’s a skilled author, and even if you’re not interested in hapless, awkward, Jewish men, you’d probably still like his stuff.

13. Fifty Dangerous Things (you should let your children do) by Gever Tulley with Julie Spiegler
We’re going to do these things. We still haven’t had the opportunity to do #2 (play in a hailstorm).

14. Beginning Linux Programming, 4th Edition by Neil Matthew and Richard Stones
A darn good overview. One of the few books on programming I’ve been able to tolerate reading cover to cover.

15. Drawing Dynamic Comics by Andy Smith
I seemed to have read a lot of books this year cover-to-cover that I have not historically been able to. What’s that about? Another very fine book on drawing.

16. Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart by Mark Eberhart
I had no idea that the science of fracture had undergone such huge strides in the last 30 years. Fascinating what we know now about the Titanic, the space shuttle, etc.

17. Quicksilver: Book 1 of the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson
Re-read, in preparation for the coming of the new Stephenson. Still one of my top five favorite books.

18. The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
One of those self-referential, postmodern, faux autobiographies you hear about so much with the kids these days. It’s about a purportedly found lost play of Shakespeare (printed in the back of the book) about King Arthur. Get it? The play’s about King Arthur, and the author’s name is Arthur, and the main character is the author, Arthur? And it’s called the Tragedy of Arthur? Can I say Arthur again without it being too much?

19. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Volume 1: Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
M.T. Anderson writes great, silly, intermediate reader books (Pals in Peril series). This is darker, altogether more serious. And, again, about slavery. 2011: The year I read about fictional slavery.

20. The Confusion: Book 2 of the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson
Re-read, to kill time waiting for the new Stephenson.

21. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Free, from An fun little book. I thought there was a hot air balloon involved in this story, but there wasn’t.

22. REAMDE by Neal Stephenson
Ah, the new Neal Stephenson. A very good novel, but not a very good Stephenson novel.

23. Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginides
A truly excellent book that languished far too long on my To Be Read Shelf. Strong, engrossing writing about three generations of a family.

24. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall
Udall wrote The Lonely Polygamist, one of the best books I read in 2010. This was on a par with that, about a boy who’s head was run over by a mail truck, and his eventful life that followed.

25. Speaking with the Angel by Nick Hornby and others
A very enjoyable collection of short stories by many authors, all to benefit folks with autism.

26. Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
If you like reading about hapless, awkward, Jewish men, but really prefer that they are also enormously fat, this is the book for you. It takes real writing talent to make me interested in such a protagonist, and Shteyngart does it pretty well.

27. Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Overcome with booklust while buying a pile for my son at the Scholastic book fair, I cast about for something for myself, and landed on this. Pretty good fantasy fare.

28. The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (a Discworld novel)
A young reader novel set in Discworld, which aren’t that terribly different than Pratchett’s regular novels.