Monday, December 31, 2012

Intentions for early 2013

Books already in the house which I intend to read or finish reading in the first part of 2013:
  • Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent (history, about 3/4 done)
  • Sacre Blue by Christopher Moore (novel, about 1/4 done)
  • ReamDe by Neal Stephenson (novel, about 10% done)
  • Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman (novel, not started)
  • Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (graphic novel, about 1/2 done)
  • Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald
  • I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter (science, philosophy, about 20% done)
  • Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (novel, not started)
  • 1861: The Civil War Reawakening by Adam Goodheart (history, not started)
  • Mathematics - The Loss of Certainty by Morris Klein (science, not started)
  • Hounded by Kevin Hearne (novel)
Books not yet purchased but intended for this year:
  • The Last Lion, Volume 3: William Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm by William Manchester and Paul Reid (biography)
  • The Twelve by Justin Cronin (novel, sequel to The Passage)
  • The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde (novel, Thursday Next series)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks (novel, Culture series)
Re-reads tentatively planned:
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Highlights and Lowlights of 2012 Reading

Here's the reading year of 2012 in retrospect. Not necessarily the best and worst, as recency makes the good books seem better and the bad ones worse. Ask me in six months and I might be able to make a “Best of 2012” list. But for now:

Books I enjoyed the most:
  • Serious fiction: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This book has haunted me since I read it, and I will be reading it again. Peter Straub's A Dark Matter was a strong second.
  • Fun fiction: Hound of the Durbevilles by Kim Newman. The adventures of Professor Moriarty, as told by Col. Moran. It made me want to re-read his Anno DraculaA couple of the sequels were damned hard to find in the U.S, I should look them up and put them on the 2013 list.
  • History/Biography: The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro. Volume 4 of his amazing biography of Lyndon Johnson. One more volume to come.
  • Science: 1491 by Charles Mann. A survey of current thinking about what the Americas were like just before Columbus' arrival. Good enough that I have 1493 on my “buy soon” list.

Books I enjoyed the least:
  • Fiction: The Night Eternal by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. A turd of a book, a turd of a series. My review at the time included the phrase “I’m chalking this one up to good karma points where I occasionally read crap books so you don't have to.” No reason to revise that opinion, unfortunately. Pope Joan by Donna Jones was a strong second.
  • History/Biography: Bind, Torture, Kill by Roy Wenzl, Tim Potter, Hurst Laviana. At the time I wrote “A shallow history of the BTK serial killings in Kansas.” Yep, no reason to change that review either.
  • Science: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown. What should have been a marvellous first-person account of doing science and the discovery of 'small planets' wound up just being petty.

Some special categories:
  • Most unlikely book: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (written in 1824). After reading I described it as “... a precautionary tale on the temptations inherent in a belief in predestination... Not particularly recommended.” But the book has stuck in my head. Yes, the prose is florid and sometimes simply bad, and the plot often staggers . . . but it kept drawing me back until after some months I finally finished. I'm not sure I'd recommend it, but do suggest you read the first few paragraphs of the Wikipedia page and then make your own decision. It's available free from Project Gutenberg.
  • Shameful neglect, or deserving books which have sat unfinished: Neal Stephenson's ReamDe and Christoper Moore's Sacre Bleu. This is just a crime, as I hugely enjoy both authors. Gotta get back to them.

Numbers for the year: 58 books read in toto, about a half-dozen more at various stages of completeness. The good ones far outweighed the bad in fiction; science and history . . . well, not so much.

Complete List of 2012 Reading

As a quick overview of the types of things I read, here's the complete reading list from 2012. Well . . . mostly complete. I've left off technical manuals, books abandoned before finishing, and books which weren't completed as of January 31, 2012. In order read:
  1. Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge.
  2. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.
  3. Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko.
  4. Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko.
  5. Twilight Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko.
  6. Last Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko.
  7. A Path To Coldness of Heart by Glen Cook.
  8. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
  9. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.
  10. Lost In A Good Book by Jasper Fforde.
  11. Echo: The Complete Edition by Terry Moore.
  12. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg.
  13. American Gods: 10th Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman.
  14. A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge.
  15. 1491 by Charles Mann.
  16. Just After Sunset by Stephen King.
  17. The Night Eternal by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro.
  18. Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
  19. The Duel by Joseph Conrad.
  20. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin.
  21. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
  22. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King.
  23. Pope Joan: A Novel by Donna Woolfolk Jones.
  24. Bind, Torture, Kill by Roy Wenzl, Tim Potter, Hurst Laviana.
  25. The Colorado Kid by Stephen King.
  26. The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason by Charles Freeman.
  27. After the Prophet by Lesley Hazleton.
  28. The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro.
  29. The Path to Power by Robert A. Caro.
  30. The Atrocity Archive (Laundry book #1) by Charles Stross.
  31. The Fuller Memorandum (Laundry book #3) by Charles Stross.
  32. The Armageddon Codex (Laundry book #4) by Charles Stross.
  33. Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey.
  34. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi.
  35. Kill The Dead by Richard Kadrey.
  36. Misc. Sherlock Holmes collections by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
  37. Hound of the D'urbevilles by Kim Newman.
  38. Means of Ascent by Robert Caro.
  39. To Forgive Design by Henry Petrosky.
  40. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  41. The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  42. The Beasts of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  43. Poisoned Pen edited by Gary Dexter.
  44. The Jennifer Morgue (Laundry book #2) by Charles Stross.
  45. How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown.
  46. Everything's Eventual by Stephen King.
  47. Son of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  48. A Dark Matter by Peter Straub.
  49. From A Buick 8 by Stephen King.
  50. Engine Summer by John Crowley.
  51. Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded by Simon Winchester.
  52. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.
  53. Med Ship by Murray Leinster.
  54. Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland.
  55. Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey.
  56. Blockade Billy by Stephen King.
  57. Horns by Joe Hill.
  58. 11/22/63 by Stephen King.
Overall it was a bit heavier on horror than I normally go, and a bit lighter on current science fiction. I'll have another post up shortly about the highlights and lowlights of the reading year.

Fifty-two weeks, fifty-two reviews

Some years back I resolved to read a book a week and review each of them. It was fun, it was also work. At the end I was vaguely unhappy with it, but could not put a finger on why, and didn't do it the next year.

This year (2012) in another venue someone issued a challenge to read 52 books in a year. I didn't take it too seriously, but one book led to another and by end of year I'd read 56 books and written a few paragraphs about most. This time I was happier with it, and here's why.

If a book wasn't good, it got a short review saying why and that was it. No analysis, no trying to be nice to an author. It saved a lot of work, and it eliminated all the cognitive dissonance about trying to say something nice about a turd. Similarly, sometimes good books just got a brief rave and were be released into the wild.


I missed the occasional longer essay on why a particular book was good, or a more in-depth look at a particular author or multiple books which resonated together in some interesting way. I also missed the feedback and advice from friends and strangers.

Hence the revival of this blog. Fifty-two weeks, fifty-two reviews. My editorial guidelines will be:

  • Things will not spread out evenly. There will be months with only one review, and weeks with three.
  • If a book only needs or deserves a paragraph, that's all it will get.
  • Books don't have to be new (freshly published) to be read or reviewed. In last years reading list there were classics, lost or misplaced 19th-century novels, re-reads of favorites from the last 20 years, and yes, some newly published works. This is not intended to be a review source for mostly new books, it's for me (and you) to talk about what I'm reading.
  • Breadth matters. Expect to see technical books, history, biography, science, fiction of various genres, and the occasional real cheese. Cheese is good, in moderation.
  • It may not always be books. Newspaper articles, blogs, individual short stories, graphic novels  - it's all going to be fair game.
There may or may not be other topics like politics, the comings and goings of things in daily life, etc, etc. But the primary goal is simple: fifty-two weeks, fifty-two reviews.