Monday, December 31, 2012

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.

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