Book Log #5: The Three Body Problem

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu [Christmas gift, hardback, Little Shop of Stories]

This was originally recommended by… someone. Curt? Can’t remember. But then President Obama recommended it. And I figured if two totally unrelated sources recommended a book, I should probably listen.

I wasn’t disappointed. I feel like Cixin Liu is a Chinese Neal Stephenson. Lots of interesting sci-fi ideas mixed in with a dose of history… a very enjoyable read. It went pretty quickly.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book translated from Chinese, so… a first.

Again, it’s difficult to discuss without spoilers… but the story spans from the Cultural Revolution and its fallout to the “present day”, covering a couple generations and jumping back and forth in time with gradual reveals of what’s “really” going on. Reminiscent of Cryptonomicon.

Good read. Thanks, Obama.

Book Log #4 : Fuzzy Mud

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar [Kindle, Amazon]

I finished reading Holes to my daughter, and the ads on the last page of the Kindle version mentioned Fuzzy Mud, which piqued her interest. So, using the insidious evil of instant gratification through ebook purchase, we dove into that.

It’s a fine story, though not quote Holes. The ending has a nice pragmatic, grey-area ending to it that’s refreshing.

It’s difficult to discuss the story without spoilers, so… it’s recommended for young readers.

Book Log #3: Holes

Holes by Louis Sachar [Amazon, Kindle, in library]

This was in our Kindle library from when my kids read it.

This book is great kid lit. The story of a wrongly accused kid sent to a “rehabilitation” camp where inmates dig 5 foot by 5 foot holes every day in a desert, purportedly to build character. But there is something more to Camp Green Lake…

Engaging, extremely well written, amusing, and entertaining. I’d heard good things about it, from my kids and others, and it lived up to the hype.

Book Log #2: The Supremes’ Greatest Hits

The Supremes’ Greatest Hits: The 44 Supreme Court Cases that Most Directly Affect Your Life by Michael G. Trachtman [Little Shop of Stories, Paperback, Xmas gift]

This was a fascinating summary of some biggies; most I knew about, but many I was unaware of, and almost all I was unaware of the the nitty-gritty details.

In general, I’m a left-leaning person, but I also like to do things by the letter and spirit of the law. More than once I was pleased with an outcome while simultaneously not comfortable with the reasoning that got us there, and vice-versa.

I came away with the sense that law is a messy business, and thoroughly fascinating. Good (and quick) read.

Book Log #1: A More Perfect Constitution

A More Perfect Constitution by Larry J. Sabato [Amazon, Kindle]

It may seem a reaction to the recent election, but my first couple of books for 2017 are government related. Both of these came as recommendations from the older sister of one of my daughter’s robotics teammates. She is a 12-13 year old Supreme Court groupie who had recently visited Washington D.C., and had picked up these two books there.

This first one was a fascinating set of proposals for a new Constitutional Convention. The argument being that the framers had always envisioned that the Constitution would be adjusted occasionally as the country gained experience, and it was well overdue after 220 years.

The author lays out twenty-something adjustments to the constitution, none of which are hot-button issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc) as he firmly believes those divining rods should be off the table for a successful Constitutional Convention.

I thought all of the suggestions were reasonable, though I thought his arguments in favor on a few were not particularly strong and would need to be fleshed out a bit.

As part of his research for the book, he did polling to see how his suggestions would currently be received by the populace, and I was surprised at the low support for a few of the better ideas (IMHO).

Particularly, he suggested a 2 year National Service requirement for all citizens. In short, each citizen would be required to work in a service capacity, either military or civilian, preferably between the ages of 18-26. In return for minimum wage, the measure would garner a sense of civic duty and volunteerism, provide a good way to develop experience, and apply manpower to the nations challenges.

It’s something I wish I had done, and with a well organized system of doing so, I think I would have enjoyed it. There’s a nice social engineering aspect, in that all citizens, regardless of wealth or class, would have a shared common experience.

At any rate, the thought of organizing a second Constitutional Convetion seems so overwhelming as to be impossible, but the author recommends slow and deliberate progress is the way to go.

I’m for it.

Book Log 2016

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
Books read in 2012: 31
Books read in 2013: 8
Books read in 2014: 13
Books read in 2015: 18
Books read in 2016: 52!

Did you catch that? BOOM! 52 books in 52 weeks! Achievement UNLOCKED.

A year ago, Diane, the owner of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur (the best little bookstore in the world), threw out on her email list, or blog, that she was going to attempt to read 52 books in a year, and invited folks to join her. As the purveyor of mostly children’s books, she had a formula to translate picture book counts and the like into “adult” books, but I didn’t have need of that. My kids are well beyond the picture book stage.

Last year, when I stated I was going to attempt this, I put the blame for my diminishing reading frequency on technology. Reddit, Facebook, etc. were all bringing me down. But in truth, I couldn’t have racked up the pages without it. I got a new Samsung Galaxy J7 with a large screen, which allowed me to make progress whenever I had a few spare moments, no matter where I was– in line, in the lab waiting for a computer to boot, waiting to pick up a kid from an activity, etc. Carrying a paper book around to capture every one of those free moments simply isn’t practical. Even my slim, beautiful Kindle Paperwhite was sometimes not at my beck and call.

But I still love reading the paper books the best. I did a lot of traveling this year for work, and you don’t have to wait until the plane has reached 30,000 feet before you can power on your paper book. They never lose their charge, either.

On the downside, I have to acknowledge that our house is reaching Maximum Book Capacity. We have a Little Free Libary out front of our house, but, and here is the dark side of LFLs, they serve more as a book source than a book sink. True, we send some of our tomes out to find new homes, but I think even more come into our house. Largely, there are books in there that just sit and sit, and no one wants them, so I occasionally have to clean them out. It dawns on me that, unless folks are truly selfless, they’re not putting their A-list books in there. These are the ones they can’t resell, or don’t cherish enough to keep on their shelves. Still, a gem floats through every now and again.

So, here we are. I don’t feel like I was slogging through the year. The only stress point was maybe I took a less-mindless path at times than I might otherwise… I may have felt like vegging in front of a rerun, but I gave myself a nudge towards a good book. The key is finding the good ones.

Speaking of which, the list. As it happens, I thought I had read 53 books, but I’m glad I snuck in that “extra” one, because after going through the list, I discovered I had skipped a #13. I don’t know if it was a book log I wrote and accidentally deleted, or what. But it looks like I only did 52. Ah, well.

Some financial data: $549 total spent on books this year (for me anyway). $187 on ebooks from Amazon, and $253 spent at Amazon overall. $235 spent at Little Shop of Stories.

1. The Magicians by Lev Grossman [Paperback, Little Shop of Stories, $11]
Sort of a very dark Harry Potter-goes-to-college with a bit of Chronicles of Narnia mixed in. I thought the recent television adaptation was well done.

2. The Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell [Paperback, Little Shop of Stories, $13]
Short graphic novel I stole from my kids’ Christmas stash.

3. Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley & M. Goodwin
Princeless: Get Over Yourself by Jeremy Whitley & Emily Martin
Princeless: The Pirate Princess by Whitley, Higgins & Brandt
[Paperback, Amazon, $33 total]
Three short graphic novels I stole from my daughter. Good stuff.

4. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin [Kindle, Amazon, $15]
Enjoyable diversion while we wait for the next novel in the Songs of Fire and Ice series.

5. Colors Insulting to Nature by Cintra Wilson [Kindle, Amazon, $14]
Recommended by my son’s third grade teacher. Tales of disfunctional youth and parenting. Good read.

6. Bum Rap by Paul Levine [Kindle, Amazon (free)]
Terrible novel that showed up on my Kindle for free.

7. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir by Felicia Day [Kindle, Amazon, $12]
Love me some Felicia Day.

8. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell [Kindle, Amazon, $12]
Sarah Vowell is a goddess of making history interesting.

9. The Magician King by Lev Grossman [Paperback, Little Shop of Stories, $10]
Second in the Magicians series.

10. The Magician’s Land By Lev Grossman [Paperback, Little Shop of Stories, $10]
Third in the Magician’s series.

11. The Authorities by Scott Meyer [Amazon, Kindle, $4]
Story of a rag-tag group of specialists cops assembled by a rich guy, I think? Scott Meyer writes some good novels, this was okay… had the feeling of being a series. Reminded me of the Phule’s series by Robert Aspirin.

12. The Master of Formalities by Scott Meyer [Amazon, Kindle, $5]
Very enjoyable humor sci-fi novel, though less sci-fi and more space government etiquette.


14. Fall of the Core: Netcast Zero by Ryk Brown [Amazon, Kindle, $1]
Not particularly memorable sci-fi series about computer viruses and real viruses.

15. Hell’s Super (Circles in Hell Book 1) by Mark Cain [Amazon, Kindle, $3]
Mediocre self-published novel. Meh.

16. Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt [Little Shop of Stories, Hardcover, $20]
Enjoyable story of a boy going to work as an undermajordomo in a declining castle.

17. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel [Kindle, Amazon, $11.99]
Probably my favorite novel of the year. I don’t usually like post-apocalyptic novels, but this one hooked me in early and didn’t let go.

18. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell [Amazon, Kindle, $11.99]
Not sure how to categorize this, but I enjoyed the fugue-like storytelling gimmick, and the individual stories that composed it.

19. The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped In An IKEA Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas [Paperback, Little Shop of Stories, $17]
Silly, short novel, I think translated from French, maybe? The title sort of sums it up nicely.

20. The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon [Little Shop of Stories, $17.00]
Fascinating history of the game Monopoly.

21. What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Monroe [Hardcover, Amazon, $15]
Randall Monroe is a god amongst men.

22. Bleak House by Charles Dickens [Kindle, Amazon, Free]
Not his best. Bit of a 1,000 page trudge. Would get interesting just long enough to keep me from giving up.

23. The Dagger in the Desk: Bonus: Ghost Guide & Preview of The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co.) by Jonathan Stroud [Amazon, Kindle, Free]
Love this Young Adult series. Can’t get any of the young adults in my house to try it though.

24. A House for Mr. Biswas: A Novel (Vintage International) by V.S. Naipaul [Amazon, Kindle, $11.99]
Interesting tale of an India I knew nothing about.

25. The Serpent of Venice: A Novel by Christopher Moore [Amazon, Kindle, $1.99]
Christopher Moore writes fun novels. Lots of Shakespeare references in this one.

26. The Coffee Trader: A Novel by David Liss [Amazon, Kindle, $11.99]
Also a favorite novel telling a tale during the early days of the original stock trading floors.

27. The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell [Amazon, Kindle, $11.99]
I loved this book. I haven’t seen the movie it is about, but I’m looking forward to it, no matter how bad it is.

28. Lockwood & Co. Book Three The Hollow Boy by Stroud, Jonathan [Amazon, paperback, $11.68]
As I said, the Lockwood series is great YA.

29. Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs Novels) by Morgan, Richard K. [Amazon, paperback, $11.76]
Hyper-violent sci-fi mystery, with interesting premise.

30. Broken Angels (Takeshi Kovacs Novels) by Richard K. Morgan [Little Shop of Stories, Paperback, $13]
Book 2 of above.

31. The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A Lisbeth Salander novel, continuing Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series Paperback – by David Lagercrantz (Author) [Little Shop of Stories, paperback, $12]
This author did a pretty good job of picking up after Stieg Larsson’s untimely death.

32. The Time Traveler’s Almanac by Ann VanderMeer, Jeff VanderMeer [Amazon, Kindle, $12.99]
Fantastic collection of short stories about time travel. A perfect collection.

33. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros [Little Shop of Stories, $11.00]
One of the books assigned to my son by his eigth grade teacher. Enjoyable!

34. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers [In library]
Read to my daughter. Mary Poppins is kind of a jerk.

35. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate [Little Shop of Stories, $8]
Read to my daughter… bit of a tear jerker, but a good story.

36. The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, Volume One: Microeconomics by Grady Klein & Yoram Bauman, Ph.D. [Powell’s Books, $8.95]
Well done. Sometimes dry subjects are best presented in comic form.

37. Headlong by Michael Frayn (loaner from Curt)
Took me a long time to read this one all the way through, but if you’re in to art history, this is a good read. I am not, but still a good read.

38. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers [Little Shop of Stories, $7.56/Kindle $6.51]
Another of my son’s assigned readings. I really liked this coming of age novel, and my son and I had some good conversations about it.

39. The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers [Scholastic, $7]
My daughter’s book. Surprisingly good novel of a girl stuck in a well. Funny, but poignant.

40. Skellig by David Almond (Amazon, $6.29)
Another of my son’s school assignments. Okay, not completely crazy about it. An angel of sorts is found in a garage.

41. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne [Little Shop, $18]
Loved this. Harry Potter and Time Travel, two of my favorite things.

42. Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions by James Randi and Isaac Asimov [Amazon, Kindle, $7]
Somewhat outdated now (I don’t remember many of these cons that were run back in the 60s and 70s), but flim-flam is always with us.

43. The Last Kingdom (Saxon Tales Book 1) by Bernard Cornwell [Amazon, Kindle, $6,99]
44. The Pale Horseman (Saxon Tales Book 2) by Bernard Cornwell (Amazon, Kindle, $9.99)
45. Lords of the North (Saxon Tales Book 3) by Bernard Cornwell (Amazon, Kindle, $10.99)
Like Game of Thrones, but stories of the real, bloody history of Olde England.

46. Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much by Faith Salie [Hardback, Little Shop of Stories, $27]
Funny and poignant read.

47. The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, & Matt Walsh [Drama Bookstore, New York City, $25]
Wish I’d read this back when I was doing improv. Some great concepts in here.

48. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (re-read)
Better the second time.

49. A Sneaky Little Snoop Like Me by Anna Mildred Dunkle Meadows, Edited by Ryan J. Lucas
Fascinating to me… my grandmother’s stories of growing up in the 1910/20s in West Virginia.

50. Sword Song: The Battle for London (Saxon Tales Book 4) by Bernard Cornwell [Amazon, Kindle, $11]
The series continued. There are 10 of these, but I don’t know how much farther I’ll go.

51. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer [Little Shop of Stories, $28]
Love Amy Schumer. I laughed, and then got terrified for my daughter. At times, Ms. Schumer gets serious.

52. Myth by Roan Lucas [$0.00, written in Word]
My new favorite author.

53. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee [Had in our library]
Always a classic. Read it to my daughter.

Book Log #53 – To Kill A Mockingbird (re-read)

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee [Had in our library]

It was inevitable at some point that this would be on the bedtime reading list of my daughter, who goes by the nickname Scout. I had thought that she would read it on her own at a somewhat older age, but when she gets an objective into her head, she doesn’t often let go.

And so we embarked upon this well told, but at times uncomfortable, story. There were many, many times when she stopped the book and demanded clarification, far more than any other book we’ve read… why would someone act like that? That’s really how people lived? How could those people make that decision? What’s a chiffarobe? The world of Maycomb County is very foreign to a 10 year old girl in 2016, though she did find the connection through her counterpart the main character.

I don’t know if she was really ready, but I know she can always pick up the book again and revisit it.

I know I do, from time to time, and it’s always a new thing.

Books Read: 53
Week Number: 52

Book Log #52 – Myth

Myth by Roan Lucas [$0.00, written in Word]

It is a somewhat perfect confluence of events that I can complete my 52 books in 52 weeks on December 31, 2016 by reading my son’s first book.

He wrote it for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. Clocking in at 50,140 words according to the official NaNoWriMo counter, Roan wrote consistently every day, determined to make his goal, often skipping out on fun events or other distractions, and all the time keeping up with rehearsals and a heavy homework workload. I couldn’t be prouder.

But what of the book itself?

I have had the arrogance in the past to think of myself as an above average writer. But I’ve been humbled by this work, which leaves my comparable work of the 8th grade time frame in the dust. And quite frankly, I’m not sure I could do better in my current 39th grade status. I certainly haven’t tried, which is more than half the battle.

The story is a whimsical fantasy of witches, angels, demons and, occasionally, squirrels. While there are still the rough edges of a new writer, there is considerable accomplishment in the sense of story structure, character development, and, my favorite, humor. The story flows nicely, and the the characters motivations all line up nicely without feeling like plot machinations. All in all, a strong first draft.

I’ll look forward to book 2.

Books Read: 52
Week Number: 52
Achievement Unlocked.

Book Log #51 – The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

I’ve read several autobiographies by comedians in the last few years– Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Faith Salie… hmmm, I felt like this list would be longer.

All of them have been funny, all have been interesting, all are good reads I would recommend… by Amy Schumer’s is the first one that also made me somewhat terrified for my daughter.

Ms. Schumer tells stories of her encounters with abusive or unstable boyfriends, and I’d love to say my daughter is too self-possessed, too smart, too self-respectful to fall for the crap a wrong person brings. But the fact is… so was Amy Schumer.

I’d like to think that we’re raising our daughter in a better environment, and maybe that will help, but you just never know.

Probably the best thing I can do is just let her read Amy’s book. When she’s much, much older, because this sucker is pretty raunchy and definitely R-rated, like most things Amy does.

Regardless, this was an excellent, funny, often poignant, sometimes cringe-worthy book. Definitely recommend.

Books Read: 51
Week Number: 52

This is it, folks. I need to knock one more out in three days. And I think I know just the book.

Book Log #49 – A Sneaky Little Snoop Like Me

A Sneaky Little Snoop Like Me by Anna Mildred Dunkle Meadows, Edited by Ryan J. Lucas

My grandmother wrote down some stories of her early life before she died, and those pages have been floating amongst family members for years now. I finally took the plunge and wrote them up and made them into a book, along with a batch of research on As of this writing, 3 copies are being made and sent to my parents’ home in time for Xmas gifting.

So, I have to set the publish date for December 25, 2016. Many will cry out until then, “Why did you skip #49!??” but I can give them no answer… And after then, “Why is #49 out of order!? WHY?” And hopefully, this will explain.

Books Read: 49
Week Number: 49