2009 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

That can’t be right… can it? That’s back to 2004 levels, when I had a needy one year old around the house. 2009 is a year where the kids would entertain themselves, and I could even sit on the couch and read while they were awake.

What happened this year? I think I’m going to blame it on the Spanish classes. I’ve been taking them for just over a year, and my lunch hours are pretty much dedicated to either taking the classes, or doing homework for them. There’s a lot of reading that I’ve done that doesn’t show up on this list because I haven’t finished. I’m almost through reading a Spanish translation of the Ghost World graphic novel (the slang makes it especially hard to translate), and there are three plays and a book of short stories that I’m working my way through.

In truth, I could also add most of The Magic Tree House books 1 through 36 to this list. But I’m not going to, out of pride.

At any rate, here’s the list…

1. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill
2. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2 by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill
Graphic novels of an extensively researched imagined universe where the fictional characters of the Victorian era of our universe are real, e.g. Dr. Jekyl, The Invisible Man, Alice In Wonderland. Great graphic novels.

3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Fantastic novel. I’m sad it took me this long to read it, but I was turned off by Great Expectations in high school.

4. Cringe edited by Sarah Brown
The Cringe Festival is like a poetry reading, except instead of poetry, you read excerpts of your teenage or younger diary, and cringe at who you used to be in front of other people. This book is a compilation of the most cringe-worthy stuff of past readings. Entertaining.

5. The Best American Essays 2005 edited by Susan Orlean.
As usual, a hit and miss collection of essays. I like essays, but not all essays. There were some good ones, usually from comedic type folks like Jonathan Franzen or David Sedaris.

6. How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen
An okay overview of some modern Popular Delusions. I enjoyed the much older 1841 work Extraordinary Popular Delusions as less stream of consciousness, and more scholarly. This has a bit more partisan than I’m comfortable with.

7. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett (pseudonym of Mark Anthony)
If Pride and Prejudice and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell had a baby, it might be this book. But people would cluck their tongues and say “The talent gene skipped this generation.”

8. Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
I had no business reading this, as its target audience is probably teenage girls. Or New Jerseyians. Anyway, not me.

9. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
Several people I know have gushed about this book, citing it as a book they re-read annually. It’s a well-written fantasy/alternate history novel that I was glad I read (some of the sections are outstanding), but probably won’t re-read at any point soon.

10. Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About by Mil Millington
A novel based on a website that probably should have stayed a website, not unlike The Flying Spaghetti Monster book.

11. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
This is the third book about teenage angst I read this year (see #4 and #8), but it is a very good one. Relentlessly annotated with real and made-up references (by relentlessly, I mean every 2-3 sentences have a footnote), it is a very richly detailed story that turns from run-of-the-mill outcast story to something darker.

12. Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans/Marian Evans)
Recommended by Nick Hornby, sort of, this is my first George Eliot novel, and it wasn’t my last, as this list will attest. Very witty, and well written.

13. Silas Marner by George Eliot
A short, simple work, but well-wrtten and enjoyable. Middlemarch was upper classes, Marner is lower.

14. Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby
Do you like reading books? Have you read Nick Hornby’s books compiling his articles about reading books? If you answered No to either of those questions, you are dead to me. Resurrect yourself and get one of these from McSweeneys.com. If you answered Yes to both questions, aren’t these books awesome? I thought so. I mean, the man got me reading George Eliot and Charles Dickens for goodness sakes.

15. Adam Bede by George Eliot
Another well-written tale of the lower classes and the upper classes in contrast. The plot is not the point, the way it is told is.

16. Arkansas by John Brandon
A first novel, published by McSweeney’s. I’m not ordinarily a fan of back country drug dealer stories, but I enjoyed this one. A portion of this novel was in the second person, and I thought it worked well.

17. Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hadju
A very interesting tale of government and community attempts to censor an art form. It’s a good thing this doesn’t happen any more.

18. The Zero by Jess Walter
A really interesting story told through the eyes of a 9/11 worker who experiences long periods of blackouts. We only catches glimpses of his life, but know as much as he does about what he’s doing. Darkly comic in much the same way that Memento is.

19. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
So, this is more or less Adam Bede. The two of them are like Some Kind of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink. Only no gender switching, and the hero always ends up with Mary Stuart Masterson.

20. The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who Was Born In Newgate, and During a Life of Continu’d Variety For Threescore Years, Besides Her Childhood, Was Twelve Year a Whore, Five Times a Wife [Whereof Once To Her Own Brother], Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon In Virginia, At Last Grew Rich, Liv’d Honest, and Died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums. by Daniel Defoe
I love super-long titles for books. I liked this book, but it has a feel of a Bunch Of Stuff That Happened instead of a story.

21. The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The story is intriguing (though, again, a Bunch of Stuff That Happened), even if the protagonist is flawed by modern measures.

22. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My first Holmes read since The Hound of the Baskervilles in school. I didn’t like Hound (at least at the time), but I enjoyed these short stories. I’m also seeing reflections of Holmes in many modern characters I’ve loved.

Book Log – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle

Of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, I had only read The Hound of the Baskervilles by requirement in high school. I remember slogging through it with great effort, and thus had in ingrained aversion to trying any of the other tales. I believed Dirk Gently to be a more entertaining, and thus superior, Holmes incarnation for the new generation.

After reading this collection of short stories (published in 1891-1892) , I am surprised at how similar in characterisation Wodehouse’s Psmith (1909) and Adams’ Gently (1987) are to Holmes. Or, for that matter, David Tennant’s Doctor Who.

I enjoyed this enough that I plan to download the other Holmes collections and give them a go.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll give Baskervilles a second chance.

If it behaves.

Book Log – Robinson Crusoe

The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

I thought to read this because I always heard how it inspired young kids, though it may be entirely fictional young kids in nostalgic movies. So I checked out bearing in mind the question of whether I would recommend it to RocketBoy some day.

As a view into a log ago world, it is fascinating, but as to whether it is inspiring, I am less certain. You have to get past a heap of character flaws and allow for the moral standards of the time in order to empathize with the main character.

For example, most everybody who has heard the theme song to Gilligan’s Island knows Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked, so I hope I’m not giving spoilers on that account. But one should note that he became shipwrecked on route to pick up a shipment of slaves for his own business gain. Robinson laments his wicked ways on the island, but here he is referring to not heeding his father’s warnings rather than his efforts to engage in the slave trade.

Still, Daniel Defoe has a good writing style that draws you in, and there is much to recommend in this book despite the flawed protagonist.

I believe I’ll recommend it to RocketBoy… when he’s 38.

Book Log – The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders

The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who Was Born In Newgate, and During a Life of Continu’d Variety For Threescore Years, Besides Her Childhood, Was Twelve Year a Whore, Five Times a Wife [Whereof Once To Her Own Brother], Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon In Virginia, At Last Grew Rich, Liv’d Honest, and Died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums. by Daniel Defoe

Well, the full title pretty much sums up the storyline of this one.

This was my first Daniel Defoe novel (downloaded from gutenberg.org). He has an engaging storytelling style, and I was pulled into the narrative pretty quickly.

It’s an odd story telling, though. In a way, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it just seems like a bunch of stuff that happened rather than a novel. It really reads like a memoir of a real-life person rather than a fictional tale. That’s more of a compliment than a derision.

But in a way, it feels like cheating. It subconsciously tricks you into believing, on some level, that the stuff really happened, and so your expectation of the narrative is different than if you were thinking of the story as a fiction. I don’t know if that makes me cut it more slack, or what.

Good read.

Book Log – The Zero

The Zero by Jess Walter

Nick Hornby clued me into Walter’s previous book, Citizen Vince. I don’t remember if he reviewed The Zero, but it is only on Nick Hornby’s recommendation and my previous experience with Citizen Vince that I would pick up a book set in New York on and after 9/11.

I’m just not into exploring that particular day. But 9/11 just serves as a background; The horror of the day is nodded to, but not dwelled upon.

However, that said, I really enjoyed this book. The main character, a policeman-turned-9/11-investigator, has a Memento-like condition where he only remembers snatches of his life. It’s not clear whether he is losing “gaps” in his memory, or if his personality has become split, each side only perceiving sections of the story.

Regardless, we jump right along with the main character (or at least, the sympathetic version of him), with each scene cutting off suddenly and pickup up abruptly in the next one, leaving him routinely appalled by what he’s been doing during the gaps. The story is engaging in the same way that Memento is, in that you struggle enjoyably in trying to understand what’s going on.

2 for 2, I’ll have to keep Jess Walter on my watch list.

Book Log – Ten Cent Plague

Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hadju

I picked this up on an impulse at the half-price bookstore. I had a residual interest in the topic of the comic-book censorship era left over from seeing Weird Comic Book Fantasy all those years ago at Dad’s Garage.

The book gives an interesting background on the early days of comics. One of the amazing things was how easy it seemed to get a job in the comics industry; Apparently you just had to walk in and ask for one, and they put you to work drawing spots on Jungle Woman’s leopard skin outfit. The downside was that the industry was so looked down upon, that you couldn’t tell people in polite society what you did for a living.

While superhero comics got a bad rap, the main thrust of the book-burning and banning was geared towards the horror and crime genre that predominated. From this book, it was hard to tell if there was quality storytelling going on… on one hand the process is described as hurried and formulaic, on the other hand the comics are talked about with fond reverence for the artistry. Regardless, it sounds like the kind of stuff you hate to be on the side of defending, but know you must because free speech is sacred.

The story is frustrating at its core, because you know this kind of thing keeps happening, and will continue to happen: some group of folks take it upon themselves to decide what we can or can’t read, putting forth “protecting the children” as their rallying cry.

Makes me want to hit the comic book store and buy a batch in belated protest.

Book Log – Arkansas

Arkansas by John Brandon

McSweeney’s was having a garage sale, $5 or less for some of their copies of books they had stored in the attic, sold as-is. The copy of Arkansas I got (ordered along with Hornby’s Shakespeare Wrote For Money) was in perfect condition, so I don’t know what the fuss was about.

I read about Arkansas when it first came out, a first novel with interesting narrative style. I was intrigued, but more or less forgot about it until the McSweeney’s sale.

I really enjoyed the style, and the story is an engaging tale of back country drug dealers. On average, I don’t ordinarily go for drug dealer tales, but McSweeney’s gave me a hard sell in their pitch, so I gave it a chance.

If nothing else, I think Brandon uses the second person narrative form better than any other example I can name. This is not much of a feat, since the only other 2nd person writing I’ve read is Tom Robbin’s Half Asleep in Frog’s Pajamas, and that one seemed like a stunt more than anything else.

The trick is that Brandon only uses the second person on a certain character, and all the other’s character’s narrative tracks are in third. It works. For me, anyway. And since those chapters were about me, I guess that’s all that matters.

Apparently my name is Frog now.

Book Log – Shakespeare Wrote for Money

Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby

This is the third and purportedly final collection of Hornby’s monthly essays about reading from The Believer magazine.

I am terribly disappointed that he stopped writing this column. I finished the book on the plane ride to Juarez this week, and laughed out loud a few times, which is embarrassing.

Do you read for fun? Are you not pretentious about reading? Do you want dozens and dozens of good recommendations spanning many genres and decades?Then you absolutely need to read these collections. I think they’re funnier than Nick Hornby’s novels, and I dearly love his novels.

Also, the introduction is by Sarah Vowell, who everyone should be in love with. My favorite excerpt:

I’m dismayed by how cheered up I was when the September 2006 issue of The Believer arrived and under “Books Read” Hornby had put down “none.” In that column, collected herein, he confesses that he didn’t read a book at all because something called “the World Cup” was on TV. I’m not entirely sure what that is, as I do not live in the world; I live in the United States. But from what I can tell, he didn’t crack a book because this World Cup thing was as all-consuming a free-time eater-upper as the DVDs of the first three seasons of Battlestar Galactica were to me. Not that I’m convinced that this Ukraine v. Tunisia rivalry he describes has the depth of feeling and moral ambiguity so dramatically summoned by the space humans’ ongoing war with the Cylons the humans themselves created, but then again what does?

Go get this book, and the others. If you come by my house, I’ll loan them to you. Probably.

Volume 2: Housekeeping vs. The Dirt
Volume 1: The Polysyllabic Spree

Who is going to continue what Hornby has started? Who will have the time and dedication to read 7 or 8 books a month and write about them in a humorous way?

I’m accepting applications in the comments below. It’s an unpaid position, and anyone likely to recommend Tolkein need not apply.