2007 Book Log In Review

Books read in 2004: 21
Books read in 2005: 28
Books read in 2006: 40
Books read in 2007: 30

So we see the exponential trend has been broken. I would like to blame the introduction of a new mancub into the household this past year, but more likely the culprit is the introduction of our portable DVD player and the kindly loan of the complete Buffy and Angel series by terracinque, to say nothing of Doctor Who Season 1 via Netflix. So, my lunch hours have slowly been absorbed with mindless television viewing.

In actuality, there were a few more short Wodehouse novels in there, but my reader software on my Palm crashed (Plucker), losing the novels, and I forgot which ones I had read. Which is too bad, because I used the bookmark, note-taking feature on some of them to make notes for my log. Alas.

While I don’t take pride in putting notches in my nightstand and tallying up the books I read as if collecting Frequent Reader Points to exchange for cheap knick-knacks from the AmEx catalog, what I do take pride in this year is how little I spent on books, thanks to PaperBackSwap.com, Project Gutenberg, and the kindness of friends.

PaperBackSwap.com: 12
Purchased: 7
Borrowed: 4
Gutenberg.org: 3
Gifts: 2
Free with Palm Z22: 2

So, if the average price of a book is $10, and each book from paperbackswap.com actually costs ~$2 (because you have to send someone a book in order to get one), then I saved roughly $206.

The list:

1. Jennifer Government by Max Barry
(purchased) Mildly amusing pseudo-orwellian satire.

2. The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them Edited by Roxanne J. Coady & Joy Johannessen
(gift from steakums) Enjoyable short essays on favorite books by People of Note.

3. Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman
(free with Palm Z22) Often amusing and very enjoyable collection of short stories. Some very funny short-short stories about vampires in particular.

4. Superheroes Edited by John Varley and Ricia Mainhardt
(paperbackswap.com) Alternative superhero short stories. Eh.

5. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
(free with Palm Z22) It came free with the Palm Z22, and that’s about the best I can say about it.

6. All the Myriad Ways by Larry Niven
(paperbackswap.com) Some cool essays on science fictiony topics. Of special note is Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, about Superman’s sex life (or lack thereof).

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
(gutenberg.org) Read because I enjoyed Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and wanted to know more about the source material. I enjoyed this quite a bit, but then I like Jane Austen as well.

8. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
(purchased) Loved this book on getting organized. I’m still using this system 8 months later with success.

9. Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good: The Madcap Business Adventure by the Truly Oddest Couple by Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner
(paperbackswap.com) Interesting account of the rise of Newman’s Own. Very folksy. I don’t know how true it all is, but a good read regardless.

10. The Best American NonRequired Reading 2004 Edited by Dave Eggers
(paperbackswap.com) Awesome mishmash collection of short stories and essays. Aimed at the 15-25 year old, but… well, I enjoy this series an awful lot.

11. Hello Out There by Jack McDevitt
(borrowed from boss) Enjoyable first sci-fi novels by the author, both regarding first contact with aliens.

12. The Best American Science Writing 2001 Edited by Timothy Ferris
(paperbackswap.com) Very interesting essays on testosterone and the invention of The Pill, amongst others.

13. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006 Edited by Dave Eggers
(paperbackswap.com) The best of the series thus far.

14. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
(paperbackswap.com) Enjoyable mind candy about an anthropomorphic Death.

15. Mugglenet.com’s What Will Happen In Harry Potter 7? by Ben Schoen, Emerson Spartz, Andy Gordon, Gretchen Stull & Jamie Lawrence
(borrowed from friend) Almost none of this turned out to be true, but some interesting guesses nonetheless.

16. Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds, and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon’s Firefly Edited by Jane Espenson
(borrowed from brother) Eh. I should never read fan stuff. It’s just not me.

17. The Best American Essays 1996
(paperbackswap.com) Eh. None of these essays stood out as spectacular.

18. Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren’t as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn’t Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out. Stories by Nick Hornby, Neil Gaiman, Jon Scieszka, Jonathan Safran Foer, and more.
(purchased) Awesome collection of “children’s stories”. Now sitting on my son’s shelf, waiting for him to grow into it.

19. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
(purchased) Awesome, except for the last chapter.

20. The Education of Gregory McDonald – Writings about America 1966-1973 by Gregory McDonald
(paperbackswap.com) Nonfiction from the author of Fletch. Weird… so-so.

21. Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby
(purchased) Awesome. I love, love, love Hornby’s columns about reading.

22. The Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend
(paperbackswap.com) Actually ordered this by accident, but still very enjoyable, well-written read. I suspect it’s a young adult’s book, though.

23. The Dark Design by Philip Jose Farmer (third book in the Riverworld Series)
(paperbackswap.com) Book 3 in the Riverworld series. Probably could have done without book 3 and 4, and skipped to book 5.

24. The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith and illustrated by Weedon Grossmith
(gutenberg.org) Amusing 100 year old English novel. You can see points where it influenced or is referenced by modern authors.

25. Comedy By The Numbers: The 169 Secrets of Humor and Popularity by Prof. Eric Hoffman & Dr. Gary Rudoren
(purchased) Bleh.

26. First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
(loaned from a friend) Funny self-referencial continuation of the Thursday Next series.

27. The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights) By Philip Pullman
(purchased) Wanted to read this before the movie came out. Great novel, but I heard the movie sucked, so I passed on the film.

28. The Magic Labyrinth, book 4 of the Riverworld Series, by Philip Jose Farmer
(paperbackswap.com) I was actually confused when I made my book log entry… I thought this was the 5th novel and I was done with the series. But it turns out Gods of Riverworld awaits me. I thought it ended a little abruptly…

29. Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse
(gutenberg.org) Funny! One of the many Wodehouse novels I’ve read from gutenberg this year, but the only one I documented. Psmith is an engaging and silly character.

30. Flynn’s World by Gregory McDonald
(gift) bleh. A disappointing continuation of the Flynn series, which I actually preferred over the Fletch series.

Book Log – Flynn’s World

Flynn’s World by Gregory McDonald

Flynn, a spinoff character from the Fletch novels is back in a heavy-handed thinly-veiled dissertation of the author’s philosophical beliefs, full of straw men and deus ex machina.

I’m not saying I disagree with what he’s trying to say but I almost want to with the way this light mystery novel shoves it down my throat.

Best I can figure, McDonald wanted to add an extra bedroom on his ranch or something, so he whipped this sucker out. By far the weakest of any novel he’s ever written.

But also… short.

Book Log – Psmith, Journalist

Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse

I downloaded this novelette for free from Project Gutenburg and read it on my Palm Z22. It’s actually the most recent of many Wodehouse novels I’ve read this year, all of which I have failed to document for one reason or another.

I particularly wanted to record this one because I feel that the main character, Psmith, is virtually identical to Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently, if you remove the supernatural elements from the Gently stories and make the character thin. It’s a bit like discovering a few unpublished Gently novels, after assuming there would be no more owing to Adams’ untimely passing.

In one of the other novels I read recently, I saw the prototype for the relationship storyline in So Long and Thanks for All The Fish where boy meets girl in a car ride but not learning anything about her, a chance meeting later on, an overbearing brother, etc, so I knew there were some loosely borrowed plot lines between Wodehouse and Adams.

All very interesting. It’s like getting a backstage tour into the workings of Adams’ mind.

Book Log – Northern Lights (or) The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights) By Philip Pullman

“I’d hire myself an armored bear.” – Sam Elliot

I saw the trailer for the upcoming The Golden Compass adaptation (opens Dec 7), and decided this looked like an interesting story. Reviews compared if favorably with the The Chronicles of Narnia and a small buzz has been created about this trilogy being an atheist’s answer to the 9-part Narnia series.

The original British title was Northern Lights, but for some reason was released as The Golden Compass in the U.S. Honestly, I think Compass is the more intriguing title.

The first book has a nice texture to it that should lend well to the film, a little bit fantasy and a little bit steampunk. The writing is engaging and the universe of the Compass is believable.

One of the fundamental premises is that the “souls” of people in this world are actually instantiated in a physical animal known as a daemon. The daemons travel with you and act as confidant and “soulmate”. A person’s character is reflected in the form the daemon takes. (Servants usually have dogs as their daemon). Children’s daemons shape shift constantly as their personalities are in development.

I was talking with terracinque about this first book, and we both agreed that if Mr. Pullman did anything well (and he did many things well) he communicated the relationship of person and daemon very clearly and made us care about it.

The only downside to this book is that is very clearly only part of a story. Whereas The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, for example, could comfortably stand on its own, we are not through with the story of Compass at the end and many things are left unexplained.

As for the reported anti-Christian rhetoric, the first book has little. There is a Science vs. The Church theme which will undoubtedly develop further in the coming books. My impression is this is less anti-religion and more anti-dogma.

Good read. I look forward to the film.

Book Log: First Among Sequels

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

The fifth Thursday Next novel.

Fforde turns self-reference up to 11 as Thursday Next is training innacurately-written fictional Thursday Nexts from the first five books (including the non-existent The Samuel Pepys Fiasco) to become Jurisfiction Agents, with a subplot about time travel.

Enjoyable mind candy.

Book Log – The Diary of a Nobody

The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith and illustrated by Weedon Grossmith

I mentioned in a previous Book Log that these authors were listed by Nick Hornby alongside P.G. Wodehouse as comic greats. The only book I found that they collaborated on was Diary of a Nobody, though George wrote others. I downloaded this book onto my Palm via Project Gutenberg1.

First published as a magazine series in 1888, I have to quote Homer Simpson to describe it: “It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.”

In essence, I don’t get it. There’s a website of commentary and critique, in some places calling it a work of genius. All I see is a not particularly witty account of a life of no consequence. Admittedly, one could not claim false advertising considering the title. But from a narrative point of view, there doesn’t seem to be a point.

Perhaps that’s the joke.

Though it is reportedly the only work by the authors that live on with any popularity, the brothers never commented on it publicly. Early reviews are pretty much in line with my opinion (not very funny, not very interesting) and that may explain why they didn’t talk much about it.

Of note, though, is that Diary is thought to have coined several terms in popular usage and adjusted the meaning of the word “posh” (after the character Murray Posh, a rich and successful person) to its present day definition. ‘blithering idiot,’ ‘bread-pills,’ ‘bussing,’ ‘cert’ and ‘chuck’ have references to Diary in the OED. “Pooter” and “Pooterish”, meaning taking oneself excessively seriously, comes from the main character (the nobody), Charles Pooter. I’ve never heard the term, but I guess it’s all the rage at the OED.

I am sometimes disturbed when I don’t appreciate a “classic”, believing for a moment that I must be missing something. And then I remember Lord of the Rings and realize that no, everyone else can get it wrong.

1 I have just noticed that there is a fair number of P.G. Wodehouse stories on that site. a-HA!

Book Log – The Dark Design

The Dark Design by Philip Jose Farmer (third book in the Riverworld Series)

I’ve already documented the possible familial ties I have to Mr. Farmer.

In the Riverworld, a planet of one long river valley with sides so high they cannot be climbed, everyone who ever lived is reincarnated at age 25 with no disease or aging, and all needs taken care of. The throughline story is: why? and, how? And, by whom?

In the second book, Samuel Clemens built a Fabulous Riverboat to get to the head of the River, had it stolen by King John, then built another one. Then everyone said, hey, wait a minute… how about a blimp?

In this book, they built a blimp or two. And drove it to the mysterious tower at the pole of the world. And we’re still not completely sure what’s going on. We have rumors.

Book 4, on it’s way via PaperBackSwap.com, promises to provide all the answers.

We shall see.

Book Log – The Adrian Mole Diaries

The Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend
(Compilation of the first two Adrian Mole novels, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole.)

I have no idea why I ended up reading this book.

Well, some. But I can’t reconstruct the process completely.

It started with this line from Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby:

I haven’t read James Wood’s collection of essays The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel, but I’m counting on Woody to provide a useful counterbalance to that sort of high moral seriousness. So I’m presuming that all of the comic greats– P.G. Wodehouse, the Molesworth books, George and Weedon Grossmith, and so on– are present and correct between its covers.

So, here Nick Hornby, who holds Wodehouse in as high esteem as I do (if not more), has listed some other authors in the same list of comic greats. So, I investigated.

Researching today, the Molesworth books appear to be a series of classic illustrated children’s books. J.K. Rowling got the name of “Hogwarts” from these books.

The Grossmiths worked together on a novel in the late 1800s called The Diary of a Nobody. The main character is Charles Pooter, his son’s name is Lupin. Another J.K. Rowling reference?

Somehow, though, in my original research, I ended up requesting a copy of The Adrian Mole Diaries from PaperBackSwap.com. I’m not sure how that happened, but regardless, it was a good read, though intended for young adults. Another J.K. Rowling thing.

Written in diary format, (a popular British style, to be sure) it tells the story of a young obsessive-compulsive would-be-intellectual boy’s experiences in a dysfunctional family. My favorite excerpt:

I have just realized that I have never seen a dead body or a real female nipple. This is what comes of living in a culs-de-sac.

Very witty, and true. I grew up in a culs-de-sac, and had seen neither of those things by age 13 3/4 either.

There are later books documenting Adrian’s life at various stages:

# The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole (more teenage years)
# Adrian Mole and the Small Amphibians (more teenage years)
# Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years (aged 23 3/4 years)
# Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years (aged 30 years)
# Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (aged 33 3/4 years)

The last book is set in 2002, so Adrian is roughly my age. Though, in British years, he may be older. I’m not sure of the conversion rate.