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 Gutenberg.org. 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.

Book Log – The Wee Free Men

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (a Discworld novel)

This was the first book I read on my Kindle.  That’s right, you heard that… my KINDLE.

Oh, how long I’ve dreamed of owning an e-Ink based device… 10 years since I first heard of the technology.  I imagined then it would be the end of paper.

Maybe that hasn’t happened yet… but it’s awesome.  Truly awesome.  Such readability! Such a nice case with built in light powered by the Kindle itself!

My excitement was overwhelming and only tempered by the fact that not a single one of my Amazon Fiction Wish List books were available for the Kindle.  I cast about for something… anything… to download and read.

Terry Pratchett!  He had some Discworld books I hadn’t read yet!  Quick!  Search!  The Wee Free Men!  Haven’t read that one!  Purchase!  Done!  Right there on my sofa!

What I came to realize was that The Wee Free Men is a book for young readers, apparently.  Not that I could really tell from reading it.  My best guess is that the difference between a Terry Pratchett young reader book and a Terry Pratchett regular book is there’s less sex, and the protagonist is a 12 year old girl.  Also, DEATH did not make an appearance.

So, it was okay.  Not my favorite Discworld novel by far, but readable.

I have to imagine Pratchett was a bit tweaked when his frying-pan wielding protagonist showed up in the movie Tangled.  But then perhaps C.S. Lewis was tweaked in the afterworld when the sweet-bearing, child-stealing White Witch showed up in The Wee Free Men.

At any rate, I’m now reading Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby (downloaded for free from gutenberg.org) as a title more befitting this wondrous e-Ink techology.

Book Log – Eragon

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

I bought this book for a slew of good and bad reasons.

I was at my son’s Scholastic book fair, and we had a pile of books, way more than we should be buying because I have a really, really hard time saying no when it comes to books because they’re books and saying no is like telling them not to do homework and at that point the booklust hit critical mass and I needed to get something for myself and I was idly looking around when this cool looking hardback with a neat looking dragon drawing was there, displayed prominently like it was a big deal and it was either that or Super Diaper Baby or Twilight or something equally bad.

But the hardback, Inheritance, is apparently the last of a trilogy, so I grabbed the first one which was an attractive blue and had just a cool of a picture of a dragon.

And it was okay.  I can’t think of a fantasy series I really liked… the Myth and Discworld series are fun, but they’re not serious fantasy.  There was an interesting series I can’t recall right now that was a bunch of authors all contributing intermingled stories… [pause for Amazon search]… oh, yeah… Robert Lynn Aspirin’s Thieves’ World.  I liked those okay.

What I did enjoy was a well defined description of how magic worked in this world that provided good, “believable” limitations, which help in keeping the story interesting.  Even the much lauded Harry Potter series was deficient in this respect.  You often end up thinking “Why didn’t he just [insert magic thing here]?”

Even more remarkable is that it was written by a 15 year old who self-published at first, and then got picked up by a large publisher and sold a whole lotta’ books.  So… inspirational.

Book Log – Absurdistan

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart

To be sure, Shteyngart is a good writer.

He succeeds in making a fat, entitled, child of a Russian gangster sort-of sympathetic.  The book is vaguely reminiscent of A Confederacy of Dunces in that respect.

There’s also some sort of satire going on here in the fictional country of Absurdistan, with the very real characters of Halliburton and oil and “rebuilding” and government contracts and oh who knows what else.

This story is both amusing and disturbing and often gross (seriously… I don’t need to ever read again such detailed and vivid descriptions of the body of an enormously fat man ever again).

But really… the man is a good writer.

Book Log – Speaking with the Angel

Speaking with the Angel by Nick Hornby and others

So I bought this collection of short stories because… Nick Hornby.

Also, it benefits Autism.  Or rather, those with Autism.

It’s a collection of stories from a bunch of writers and Colin Firth.

“NippleJesus” was great.  “Walking into the Wind” was very David Sedaris (i.e. good).

In general, this is a fun collection of stories.  I think Colin Firth should stick to acting, and I am forever ashamed by my inability to enjoy Dave Eggers, but overall, this is a good read.

Book Log – The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

I thought his Lonely Polygamist was a masterpiece, and this earlier work is pretty darn good, too.

We follow the life of a half-Native-American/half-Caucasian boy who had his head run over by a mailman at the age of 7.

And, um… hmm.

Okay, I’m thinking of ways to describe this book, but they all sound depressing in my head.  It’s not a depressing book… it’s just a roller-coaster of hardship with interesting characters.

Brady Udall has a deft touch with his characters.  He can make them gritty without being depressing, though in hindsight, they really should be.

Good book.  I’m going to pick up anything else he’s written, ’cause he’s 2 for 2.


Book Log – Middlesex

Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginides

From Wikipedia:

The Bildungsroman is a term coined in literary criticism, which purportedly defines a genre of the novel which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, and in which character change is thus extremely important.

So I learned, or re-learned (as it seems vaguely familiar), that term today.

Middlesex sat on my To Be Read shelf for an embarrassingly long amount of time.  It languished amongst intimidating non-fiction-books-that-seemed-like-a-good-idea-to-buy-at-the-time, like Evolution’s Rainbow and The User’s Guide to the Brain.  Someone, somewhere had recommended it, and it came up on paperbackswap.com, so I snagged it.  A long time ago.

I didn’t really know what it was about; I had a vague sense that it had to do with a hermaphrodite.  I am pretty indifferent about learning about hermaphroditism, and thus I never buckled down to tackle this one.

But… then I saw that John Allison (Scary Go Round, Bad Machinery) listed it as one of his three favorite books.  He knows good stuff, I think.

And he’s right.  It’s a great story.  Several great stories, actually, as we follow three generations of the main character’s family, the conceit being that we are following the path of the defective gene that leads to the main character’s status as an “intersex”.

The writing is strong, the characters are rich, and I wish I’d picked it up sooner.

There’s a lesson in here about selecting reading material.  There’s a big category of topics that I personally label “meh.”  I had zero interest in learning about geishas, but I loved Memoirs of a Geisha.  I need to stop caring as much what the book is about, but rather to how good it is.  Because a good book can make you interested in anything.


Book Log – REAMDE

REAMDE by Neal Stephenson

I mentioned this before, but REAMDE is reminiscent of Stephenson’s Zodiac, which was the first of his novels I read.  I enjoyed Zodiac, but I didn’t go out of my way to find other Stephenson works at the time.  I judged it a good eco-thriller, which are not typically my fare.

REAMDE is a good thriller.  Stephenson writes extremely well, and has some good characters and, well, thrilling moments.  But it’s not what I love Stephenson for.

So, it’s a very good book, but it’s just an okay Stephenson book.

The action spans from the terrain of an online Worlds of Warcraft style game to China to the wilds of the Canadian/US border.  The storyline is at once outlandish and plausible, a testament to Stephenson’s adept plotting.

Hopefully he’s gotten this one out of his system, though, and we can get back to the really good stuff.


Book Log – Around the World in Eighty Days

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

I was casting about for something to read on Gutenberg.org, and realized I had never read this much-referenced book.

I’m a bit confused, because I seem to remember there being a hot air balloon involved in references I’ve seen, but there was no hot air balloon in the actual story.  I’m going to have to figure that out.

But the story itself is fun, albeit short.  It’s a pretty good read.


Book Log – The Confusion (re-read)

The Confusion: Book 2 of the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson

This is a re-read.

I have to say, the second time through was even better.  I think it owes to the fact that I could read it in longer bursts over a relatively short amount of time.

On to System of the World,  and then Stephenson”s new book should be out, which will have nothing to do with these, but it still seems a good way to bide my time while waiting.