I read. A lot. In fact I read so much I often forget what I’ve read even a year ago. I’m also curious about how many books I read in an average year. So after I read a book I decided to write down a few thoughts about it here. Just because I wrote about a book is no means a suggestion. In fact, I read many books every year that I don’t like, so proceed with caution. Hopefully I’ll keep this up all year (2011) and by the end I’ll have a good record. If there is a book you think I would like, based on my reading, feel free to suggest it! (The most recently read book is at the top.)
That’s it folks, 2011 is over and it looks like I read exactly 100 books! Wowzers!
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts – I think it’s fitting that I ended the year reading a book that started it all. Well, I can’t say this book inspired me to travel, I had already been traveling when I first read it (and already desired more), but this book is a good kick in the pants. This book is for the true wanderlust soul who just needs a little guidance. It’s a practical/spiritual/resource book all about traveling. I underlined quite a bit in this gem of a book, just inspirational quotes and stuff. he addresses everything in this book, including returning home, which he devotes the last chapter to. I know coming back from a trip is one of the hardest parts, and it’s great that he addresses the struggles of the returning wanderer. Anyway, for anyone who has any desire to travel, you should read this book. And, even cooler, I was interviewed for his blog awhile ago so I like feeling a little part of the vagabonding community.
The Wishing Trees by John Shors – This is a sweet book. It’s about a father and daughter trying to deal with the death of their mother/wife. Before dying the mom makes one last birthday present for her husband, which he opens several months after her death. It contains instructions to go on a trip (to all the places the dad and mom went before they had a kid) and the mom wrote a note for each location for each of them, usually words of encouragement or details for instructions. So they travel around the world, seeing sites, trying to do good things in the world and deal with death. At some points it got a little overly dramatic, but overall it was very sweet.
Habibi by Craig Thompson – This is one of the first physical books I have read in a long time. Kindles aren’t that great for reading graphic novels and Ryan asked for this book for Christmas, and my mom sent it. Well, what can I say? Obviously tons of research went into this book, the drawings are beautiful and I can understand why it took so long. But, as for the story…well…..it was like the overly dramatic parts of Blankets, with non of the basic story to anchor it. It was just too much, and too much of the same stuff over and over again. (Some of it familiar because of Blankets, someÂ familiarÂ because he uses it over and over again.) It was just too much, I guess. Too much information, too much story, too much of the amazing detailed drawings (they get tiresome if they are on every page.) So, only so-so I’m afraid.
A Week at the Airport by Alain De Botton – Heathrow airport asked author Alain De Botton to spend a week in the terminal and write a story about it. De Botton has written other travel books and adds a real classical, or noble feel to the airport terminal. He oftenÂ referencesÂ ancient poetry or stories,Â mysticalÂ places in the world and philosophy. I might have gotten tired of it if it were longer, but the book is a perfect length for us to appreciate how much really goes on at anÂ airport. Not just physically, but emotionally as well. Â Also, talk about the best people watching job ever!
River Town by Peter Hessler – Peter Hessler is the person every foreign writer in China hates. That’s because he already wrote the book most of us wish we could write. I first read this book, which describes his experience of being a foreign teacher for 2 years, when I was back in America, maybe 5 years ago. So it was with experienced eyes I read Â it again this time and to be honest, I found many faults with it. In particular I got really tired of the way he continuallyÂ romanticizedÂ everything. Â The poor farmers became noble workers, a far away gaze turned into remembering the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution. It seemed that he attributed too much into these people’s thoughts and actions. We also just have totally opposite experiences. He makes a big deal out everyone studying Marx, but no one knowing whoÂ ConfuciusÂ was. I know this book was written a decade ago, but really, how is that possible?! Chinese society is so based on Confucian theory and teaching there is no way he is right. (But he is right that everyone still studies Marxism.) But still, the dude does his research and knows how to write a compelling story. If you have any interest in China, you should read this.
Who is Mark Twain by Mark Twain – This is a posthumousÂ collection of various short stories and articles. Apparently Mark Twain kept everything he ever wrote. Some of these stories aren’t finished, some are sloppy or just punchlines, but there are a few gems. In one story, in which he meets the devil he asks if the Devil has ever been to America. “I have not been there lately. I am not needed here.” ha ha. And in another articleÂ about free speech he says, “As an active privilege, it ranks with theÂ privilegeÂ of committing murder: we mayÂ exerciseÂ it if we are willing to take the consequences. Murder is forbidden both in form and in fact; free speech is granted in form but forbidden in fact.”
Ismael by Daniel Quinn – This is a philosophical book, done in a Socratic question and answer type way between a man and a gorilla. It’s about the world “story’ and the Giver and the Takers and how we are on a path of destruction unless we change the way we think, and at, in the world. i read this one and off for a few months. I found it a little trite and tiring. Â I’m all for the Socratic method, but only when it results in real questions about the questions. This was Ishmael, the gorilla, asking specific questions looking for specific answers. I found itÂ condescendingÂ at points (okay, a lot of points). Â But it had some interesting ideas in it.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – I actually didn’t tell anyone that I’ve been reading this book, and I’m Keeping this review on the DL. (Let’s see if Eric or Ryan is paying attention.) Why? Well, as a self-professed nerd I have always railed against these books in the same way I railed againstÂ BritishÂ comedy like Black Adder and Monty Python. What can I say, I just don’t like them. But it turns out the book is okay. Maybe a little silly, but not as silly as I’ve been led to believe. Blame it on the terrible BBC Hitchhikers mini-series that came out in the, what 80’s?, that I disliked so much. Interestingly enough I was surprised at how familar some of the names were (like Arthur Dent) and I totally forgot that 42 was from this book. But even in all my hating over the years I did think the “So long and thanks for all the fish,” line was pretty genius. Will I read the rest of the series? Well, maybe…
Â The Other Wind by Ursula LeGuin – This is the final novel in the Earthsea series and my least favorite. One of the great things about her past books is the stories are simple, and seemingly small, yet they have huge consequences on the world of Earthsea. This one tried to be too big and grand. Too manyÂ characters, too many changes in the POV. You couldn’t really get behind any of theÂ characters, even the ones from other books. It’s a shame, but like I’ve said before, her bad books are better than many others good books, so it’s still worth reading.
The Yellow House by Patricia Palvey – This book is about an average Irish woman growing up in the age of the beginnings of the IRA, the split of Northern Ireland and real anger between Protestants and Catholics. I don’t know much about that time period, so this was anÂ interestingÂ book to read. The history was mixed in well with the story and it didn’t get too bogged down with politics or anything. It made me glad NOT to be alive during that time period, that’s for sure, as things seemed pretty grim. Anyway, interesting read, not great, but not bad.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but maybe this is the first Truman Capote book I’ve read? I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure I’ve never read In Cold Blood, (despite seeing both the recent movies about him and his life while he wrote it) and I don’t know his other books offhand. (Yeah, I could google it, but why bother.) Anyway, the writing style is clear and consice and I had no problem with the story. While I won’t say I loved this book, I certainly didn’t find it annoying or out of date like I did with some other classics. (I’m looking at you Catcher in the Rye.) Maybe I should try to read some of his other books sometime soon.
Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin – Yep, another book in the Earthsea series. This one is a collection of short stories that takes place over the full history of Earthsea. Ged shows up in one, and is mentioned in others, but he is not a big part. I’ll be honest, I prefer the full Earthsea books over the short stories, but the writing is still top notch and I love Earthsea and the world she created. So even though I prefer the longer novels I still enjoyed reading this. Only one more Earthsea book to go, expect to see it pop up on this list shortly!
The Replacements by Brenna Yovanoff – This book almost didn’t make it onto this list. I started reading it, then stopped for about a week. Usually when I stop a book, I don’t pick it up again, but this one I decided to give one more shot. The premise is intriguing. It’s about a town in which a baby is stolen every 7 years for a sacrifice and is replaced with a “changeling.” Usually the changelings are sick, or cannot handle the human world, so they die young. But the main character (a changeling) didn’t die, and in fact, was raised in a loving household despite him being different (a fact the whole family goes through great pains to keep secret). But the story wasn’t that great, and the writing wasn’t that clear. I found myself reading a page and not really knowing what was going on, which is never a good sign. I wouldn’t recommend this book.
Sleepwalk with Me by Mike Birbiglia – I’m not a fan of books written by comedians. Even awesome comedians like Sarah Silverman, come off as a bit “trying to hard.” But I read a recommendation of this book somewhere, by someone’s who opinion I respected, and I had it in my kindle collection, so why not? I was pleasantly surprised. He talks a lot about his rise into the comedy world, but doesn’t try to be painfully funny. I didn’t laugh out loud, but I enjoyed the stories, well0written and succinct, and didn’t mind this book at all. It’s not one of the best bio’s I’ve ever read, but not one of the worst either.
Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen – This book is written by the same author of Hatchet, which is about a boy taking on nature, and winning. This one is similar; boy, nature, but it takes palce during the revolutionary war. His parent’s get kidnapped and he has to try to follow and then rescue them. he comes across all manner or early American pioneers, some helpful, some not. It’s an exciting book, and interesting, and a pretty quick read.
My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares – Oh, man did this book ever start off awesome. It’s about a boy who is constantly reborn but doesn’t lose his memory of past lives, so he has 1,500 years of experiences and memories. Of course, there is a girl, his soulmate who, in his first life he kills, and later, falls in love with. Throughout the decades sometimes he sees her, sometimes he doesn’t (he can recognize people’s souls) but she has no memory of him. His epic story is being inter cut with a modern day story in which the girl and guy, now both teens, struggle to understand their relationship. Sooooo good. Until the end, which becomes totally contrived, adds a stupid, stupid character and has the world’s lamest ending (and a setup for a sequel). If you like books like The Time Travelers Wife, you’ll definitely like most of this book as well. Just be prepared for a crappy ending.
Â Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud by Jonathan Safran Foer – I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand it had some touching andÂ poignantÂ moments. On the other, it was aÂ pretentious diatribe using 9/11 to gain literary acclaim. I mean, I liked the story, a kid finding a key with the name ‘Black’ on itÂ goes on an adventure around NYC to find every person with the last name of Black to see if they can make sense of it. Also, the kids dad died in the twin towers. Why? Well, no reason really. It didn’t add to the story in anyway (the father could have died in a car accident or something and the story would stay the same.) I feel like Foer just used the 9/11 incident to get acclaim or more attention or something. Because it was really unnecessary. There was also an intertwined story about his grandma and grandpa that had my ‘pretentiousÂ meter’ going off the charts. (They live in “empty spaces” where they can’t see each other even though they are in the middle of the room. And soon the empty spaces filled in the rest and their existence was empty. You know, crap like that.) Bust despite all that I did like the kid, and I was happy with the resolution to the key.
The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas – As a diary writer myself I will pretty much read any diary-style book. This one was about a young womanÂ pioneer, who got an unexpected marriage proposal from a handsome, hard-working guy and immediately set off across America to homestead somewhere in Colorado. The diary follows her trials and tribulations of starting a home (and family) in the then wilderness of America. There’s some pretty heavy foreshadowing of the events that are coming, but it was a well written, well researched book, and I liked it alot.
Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo – This is a book set in modern China about a young girl who leaves her poor family and moves to Beijing by herself. It’s all aboutÂ independence, discovering herself and yadda yadda. Sounds good, but turned out to be quite boring. The main character kind of sleepwalks through life, feeling no real emotion even as she has a few boyfriends, is arrested by theÂ policeÂ and has successes and failures in life. I mean, I like depressing books, but there needs to be a story or character arch, and in this book there really wasn’t any. She is exactly the same.
Tehanu by Ursula LeGuin – This is the next book on the Wizard of Earthsea series (unfortunately named “the last book” but it isn’t really. There are two more for me to read.) This one focuses on the woman from the 2nd book as a grown up. She is now the mother of two grown kids and a widow. She helps nurse a young gypsy girl back to health after her caretakers burn her horribly in a fire. This is the real “girl power” book in the series as Ged is a minor character and doesn’t do much. I love when one of the old witches talks about women’s power versus men’s. She says women’s power is deep but messy, like the roots of a bramble bush. Men’s power is more obvious, like a tall oak tree, but with shallow roots that falls easily when a big storm comes. I like that image. Anyway, big fan of these books.
The Writing Circle by Corrine Demas – As someone who is a member of a writer’s group I was interested in reading this book. I love my writers group, we would sit around and eat cookies, drink tea (or coffee) while sharing our writing. It was very encouraging and supportive. As for the writers in this group, it is exactly the opposite. They are manipulative, backstabbing and two-faced. In fact, this whole book was filled with melodrama where every glance and look and touch had some special deepÂ significanceÂ which got old fast. So yeah, I wasn’t much of a fan. I think I’ll stick with my writer’s group, thankyouverymuch.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – Another classic I’ve not read in years, yet as soon as I saw “George and Lennie” I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t remember what happened, but I knew it wasn’t a happy ending. (It’s like Where the Red Ferns Grow, I have no idea what happens in that book anymore, but I know it is tragic, so why put myself through that.) This book is a little heavy on the foreshadowing but resonates nonetheless. This is another classic that isn’t dreadfully boring or outdated, and if you haven’t read it in awhile, I ‘d suggest you pick it up.
Â The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice – I think you should know something about me: I hate the Twilight books. I hate them so much that I’ve not read past the first one. (And you should know by now that I’ll read just about anything, even crap.) So it’s kind of a surprise to me that I like the Anne Rice books so much. I mean, they are totally over the top and melodramatic, just like Twilight, and yet I like one and abhor the other. I think there might be a bit ofÂ nostalgia at work here. I first read Anne Rice’s books when I was a teen and even went to her house when I was in college. (I didn’t go in or anything, just gazed through the trees at it in New Orleans.) I remembered the first half of this book, Armand, the Theatre of the Vampires, but I totally forgot the second half; Magnus, Egypt and all that crazy stuff. It’s too bad Rice got all Christian later in life because she says some pretty profound anti-god stuff in this book. Anyway, glad to have read it again.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – I’m still clearly on my ‘classic kid fantasy book’ kick. And just like the Wizard of Earthsea, this one really holds up through time. Three kids, mysterious missing dad, three strange ‘ladies’ living in the haunted house down the street. Yep, classic stuff. If you haven’t read this book, what planet are you from? Camazotz?!
The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin – The next in the Easthsea series, this one picks up many, many years down the line. Ged is now the most powerful wizard alive, and is head of all the wizards. Again, LeGuin doesn’t explain how it happened, doesn’t explain what he has been doing in the past decades, but the story just picks up and Ged is old and wise. This book has a definite Never Ending Story feel to it, with the dark nothing taking away the spark of life for everyone. But again, it’s a bit cold and stoic, yet I a really drawn to it.
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. LeGuin – Like Lay’s (or is it pringles?) once you start, you can’t stop. This is book 2 in the Earthsea series. This pics up several years later and begins from a different characters point of view. By the time our heroÂ wizardÂ Ged shows up, we are about halfway through the book. What i like about this (and what a lot of people don’t like) is how it just continues. It doesn’t go back and recap all that Ged has done. It doesn’t make a big deal out of the things he has done, it just continues a story, like a snapshot of his life, and you just get little hints and stuff of what he has been up to since the last time we saw him.
Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin – To me, this is the penultimate wizard book. I don’t know when I first read it, or how many times I’ve read it, but I just love the stoic-ness of this book. It’s about a kid going to wizard school who is destined to be great. I know what your thinking, but this is way better than Harry Potter. It’s like, you look at Gandalf and you know his youth wasn’t like Harry Potter. Well, I think the silent older mages have a youth similar to the wizard in this book, Ged. Â Anyway, this is a timeless book for me, and I love reading it.Â
Pearl of China by Anchee Min – This is a fictional book putting real life people in a historical context. It’s written from the point of view of a woman named Willow, the life-long best friend of Pearl Buck. At the end of the book the author admits that “Willow” is fictional, but all the information about Pearl, and her family, is real. Aside from reading The Good Earth, I didn’t know much about Pearl Buck or her life, so I found this interesting. (For instance, did you know that she was suppose to come to China with President Nixon, but Mao’s wife hated her and so denied her a visa?) Also, this period of Chinese history, the ending of the emperors, and the rise of Mao, is extremely interesting and getting another “personal” story about it is always a good read.
The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway – I haven’t read much Hemingway recently, and thought this was a good place to start. I liked it. Simply written, simple story, yet compelling and short enough to knock back in an afternoon. Personally I have always been a fan of simple, no-nonsense writing, so I think I will check out some more Hemingway in the near future.
Â The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – Like most people on the planet I have seen the video of Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. It was awhile ago, but I remember it being quite good. Since I had this book in my large library I thought I would read it to see if was any good, and to see if there was something in it I could cull for my classes. This book doesn’t have the transcript of his last lecture, instead it is a further fleshing out of the stories he told, or some different stories. I know it’s bad to speak ill of the dead, especially a good guy like him, but I do have to be honest in my opinion. The book started off okay, but then it just became example and example of how awesome he was, how any lives he changed, and how he gave the best advice that changed people’s lives for the better. I mean, after awhile it just got a bit much. If you haven’t read this book, I’d say skip it, and stick to the video instead.
Secrets of a Computer Company by China Breeze – You don’t read this book for the gripping and compelling story, you read it because it’s in Chinese. The story is a bit boring, but the level was really good for me and I totally understood it which makes me a little proud. I wrote about this book series earlier and if you are learning Chinese, I would totally recommend any in these series.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman – This is an interesting novel, the story of people who are working at an English language newspaper in Rome. Each chapter is a vignette in one of the employees lives. Sometimes they mix, sometimes they don’t, but gradually a bigger picture and fuller story begins to emerge. Book ending each chapter is the story of the founders of the paper, in the 60’s, and gradually their story meets the modern day story as well. Interesting concept done well, and while it wasn’t the best book ever, I enjoyed reading it.
Blindness by Jose Saramago – It was interesting that I read this so soon after Lord of the Flies as they are basically the same book. One has boys on an island, the other has patients in a mental institute. They still are about survival, the true nature of humans, and how tribes are formed. It’s also funny that I said in my Lord of the Flies review that they had to hit you over the head with the moral “back in the day,” but apparently, according to this book, we haven’t gotten any smarter because it does the same thing (and won a Nobel Prize for it’s efforts!) At the end, as sight is regained by all, the woman says that humans “are all blind. We can see, but we are blind.” (or something like that, I’m paraphrasing.) It’s like wow, thanks for that reallyÂ obviousÂ point the author was shoving in our faces the entire book! Â This story was well done though, and thank god for that because the writing isÂ ridiculous. Jose Saramago is of the “punctuation, quotation marks, indents and other grammatical norms are a waste of time” school of writing. I’m sorry, I’m all for innovation, but this just comes off as totallyÂ pretentious. Like he’s too good for normal writing. Also, he uses a lot of big wordsÂ unnecessarilyÂ which is just stupid (but probably won him the Nobel. They love big words.) And yes, I know it is ironic to be upset he dumbed down his message for the masses and then complain when he uses big words. But that’s how I feel, and this is my review. So there.
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore – I was sold by the premise of the book. Two boys names Wes Moore, both grew up in bad neighborhoods at the same time, both had no father and a single, over-worked mother, both had their run-ins with the law and drugs. And yet one Wes Moore ends up a Rhode Scholar while the other is in prison for life for killing a man. They didn’t know each other, but the good Wes Moore finds out about the bad Wes Moore after a major manhunt is launched to arrest him. They even lived right near each other (but didn’t know each other0. This book is written in a clinical, journalist style, but the writing is good and the story (the story of their lives) is intriguing. The author says it many times, but it is amazing how one major decision, or a few tiny decisions and actions can change the whole course of your life. I have no doubt that each could have easily had the others life.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding – Another classic book that I was afraid wouldn’t live up the the hype. (I was afraid for a Swiss Family Robinson repeat.) But no, this one wasn’t bad. The writing was fresh and the characters solid. (Poor old Piggy.) The thing I don’t like is is really hits you over the head with the message (we’re all just savages, man, stuck on our big island!) but a lot of books of that time had to do that. (Think Animal Farm.) I guess people just needed things spelled out for them back in the 40’s and 50’s. Not so enthusiastic a review, but I wasn’t so enthusiastic about the book. If you’re a student and your high school english teacher just assigned the book, well, you could do a lot worse.
Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper – This is the 5th and final book in the Dark is Rising series and guess what…in this one the dark actuallyÂ rises.Â But seriously, this is a great series, and I think totallyÂ under appreciated. I would say it is on the same level as Narnia or something like that. Sure, it is not a different world, just our world in different times with magical places, but the characters areÂ likable, the writing is descriptive and vivid and the story is solid. As a writer, i feel like I can learn a lot from these books.
Â The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs – A. J. has a pretty sweet niche carved out for him. Do something crazy for a year, then write about it. (He also wrote Year of Living Biblically which I read a few years ago.) In YOLB he comes off as kind of a d-bag. Not in a really bad way, but in a condescending-yet-he-doesn’t-know-it way. (or maybe he knows it but thinks being self-deprecatingÂ cancels it out. ) But this book is his first book, and therefore he is actually a little less smarmy, and I like it. The book is funny, with a good tone. The only problem is you are counting along with the alphabet with him. When he bemoans only being through a couple letters, I also inwardly groaned because I too, was only a small part of the way through.
Â The Grey King by Susan Cooper – This is book 4 in the Dark is Rising series. These books just go down like candy people, candy. The writing is solid the story is interesting (a nice mix of modern life and ancient lore). This book takes places in the wilds of Wales where Will goes to recuperate from an illness and gets a little more than he bargained for. I especially like the part in the caves with the three guys (one of the dark, one of the light and one other…don’t worry I won’t spoil it) and they are talking about the nature of man. That magic doesn’t harm men, only men do that to themselves. Anyway, good stuff.
Â Greenwitch by Susan Cooper – This is book 3 in the Dark is Rising series, and a good one. It brings together the main characters from book one with book two and they have a little adventure together. What I like about this one is it appeals to my feministÂ sensibilities. There are very few female characters in this book, only one main one in fact, but she gets top billing in this and “saves the day” in the way no guy can. So that’s nice. But as for action and excitement, not as good as the others.
Â Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – The book that launched a star. Anthony Bourdain is everything in this book as he is today on his many TV shows and other books. He’s sassy, fast talking, rude and revealing and yet somehow, he stays just on the side of likable. i mean, I don’t really care about food, fancy restaurants or chef’s but I’ve read this book twice now and enjoyed it both times. It’s more than 10 years old now but it doesn’t feel outdated, and the tips he gives, both about cooking food, and eating at restaurants, still seem relevant.
Â The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper – Number two in the series this book really takes off right from the start. In fact, I think it should be a must read for every writer. Susan Cooper doesn’t waste any time jumping right into the action, yet she gives just enough of Will’s (the main characters) surroundings to establish his “normal” world. Then it’s off to destiny changing, world saving time. I haven’t seen the movie (is it even out yet?) because I know it won’t be as good as the book. This one is classic.
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper – This is the first book in the Dark is Rising series, and one I’ve read countless times. (Okay, maybe not countless. More like…3? 4?) This isÂ definitelyÂ the weakest book in the series (and the one you can skip without missing much from the rest of the series) but I am a sucker for anything Arthurian and the writing is top notch, so i still enjoyed it just as much as before.Â
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I haven’t read this in decades and all I can say is: Wow, what aÂ disappointmentÂ this book turned out to be. I was all ready to get my teen-angst on and rail against the fucked up world with my pal Holden Caulfield. But instead of some gutsy, angsty kid I quickly realized Holden was just an overÂ privileged, whinny “phonies.” (To use the word he loves so much.) It was like the first time I saw East of Eden in college. James Dean wasn’t as cool as I had been led to believe, just a total emo whiner. As for Holden, well, I knew a ton of people just like him. Tough talkers that immediately back down when anyone even so much as looks at them. I mean, he actually complains about not wearing his tie. What kind of anti-hero is that?!Â I know what your going to say, “but for the time…” Yes, maybe for 1951 he was radical and crazy and all that. But for 2011? Pussy.Â
The Shifter by Janice Hardy – This is book one in a series, but it is clearly marked, and is actually a complete start to finish story with no cliffhanger ending). Ahhhh! Finally. It’s pretty interesting. It’s about a young scrappy girl with a rough life who has a secret power. She can heal people (a power some are born with in her world) and she can take their pain away. The only problem is unlike other healers, she cannot give the pain to a “pain stone” and therefore either has to keep it herself, or “shift” it to another person. She has to keep her power a secret because “shifters” were used as weapons by bad guys, and then, of course, major trouble ensues that only she is fit to resolve. fast paced, good writing, this was an enjoyable quick read.
Stuff White People Like by Christian Lander – This isn’t a book, but a collection of very short blog entries. It was something I read slowly over a period of few weeks when I was either in between books or just just had a minute but wanted to read. It’s definitely not stuff white people like, but stuff upper-middle class 20-30 somethings with high education but low level job like. And yes, that does describe me and yes, I found myself laughing at things I wasÂ familiarÂ with. (Especially the self-deprecationÂ chapter as isn’t reading this book exactly that?!)Â
Contact by Carl Sagan – I’ve been reading a little Carl Sagan recently (slowly but surely) so I decided to give his only fiction book a shot. I saw the movie when it came out, and of course the book and movie were quite different. The thing I’d say to him was “Carl, don’t quite your day job.” The thing that makes him such a good science writer (simpleÂ explanationsÂ of complex ideas) do not make him such a good fiction writer. Like the whole romance thing. I had no idea it was coming and then suddenly, “Ellie was in love,” and then later she’s not. So emotions not his thing, but fascinating science is and it is interesting to read just for that reason alone.
Pegasus by Robin McKinley – I love me some young adult fantasy and I love me some pegasus’ so I thought this book would be the bomb. Sadly, it was just okay. There were way too manyÂ characterÂ names to remember (many of them strange) and the story moves at a snails pace. There is a lot of to me,Â unnecessaryÂ history that doesn’t add much but bogs the story down. But what really bugged me was the ending. At about 70% done I realized that there was no way the story could wrap up with the pages left. Cliffhanger ending!! Dammit, with no warning (and the next book doesn’t come out till 2012). My pet peeve, I mean, couldn’t the publisher warn the reader?! So yeah, the book lost a lot of points for the cheap trickery as well as a kinda boring story. (I did like the characters though, so there’s that…)
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – I haven’t read this since high school, but it hasn’t changed at all. Just as good, as sad, and asÂ compellingÂ as ever. Â i mean really, what can I say about this book that hasn’t been said before. Wise beyond her years, the saddest parts are when she talks about the future and her desire to be someone, and to change the world with her writing. She did of course, but in the saddest way possible. Anyway, if it’s been several decades since you’ve read this, I suggest you give it another go.
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer – This book is about one author’s dive into the unknown world of memory contests. What starts off as a quirky look for him, quickly becomes an obsession and within one year he goes from reporter to the U.S. Memory Champion even breaking a world record. I enjoyed reading about his experience, but I really enjoyed the first half which focuses on memory throughout the ages. I mean, there was a time in history when memory wasn’t even a thing. Everything had to be memorized, so no one thought much of it. It wasn’t until books began being written that the art of memory was born. Very interesting book.
Knife Music by David Carnoy – This is a murder mystery type book, only instead of a murder, it is set off by a suicide. A 16-year-old girl kills herself and in her diary she wrote about having sex with the doctor who saved her life a few months prior. The story kind of unravels in different threads and there are a lot of different characters. Too many in fact. I actually had a hard time keeping track of all the names, including the main characters, which is never a good sign. (In fact, at one point the characters in the book admit to mixing up the names of other characters.) Anyway, there is a slight twist ending which was very unimpressive to me, and overall I felt the book was just too blah. (Though I’ve never been a fan of murder mystery novels.)
Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis – Okay, I’ll tell you all right now, C.S. Lewis can do no wrong in my book. I mean, I know the dude is a Christian writer, but he is so much more than that. Yes, Narnia is a gateway drug into his books, but seriously, as a non-believer I can enjoy his religious writings because he thinks about it and doesn’t believe it blindly. This book is written kind of free form after the death of his wife from cancer. He rails, he questions (though his belief is never in question, rather the nature of god is in question). I rarely use the “highlight” feature of the kindle, but in this book I highlighted several passages. Here is one gem (about when people say his wife “is in God’s hands now”): “But if so, she was in God’s hands all the time, and I have seen what they did to her here. Do they suddenly become gentler to us the moment we are out of the body? And if so, why? If God’s goodness is inconsistent with hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine. If it isÂ consistentÂ with hurting us, then He may hurt us after death as unendurably as before.” Â Good stuff.
How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley – This is a collection of short stories and thank god for that or I never would have gotten through it. It took me a couple of months to read this book, as I would read a story or two in-between books. I found her writing style to be slightly entertaining, but highly erratic. She goes all over the place in one story and it is hard to keep track of the thread sometimes. Like I said, if this was one novel I would have gotten maybe a quarter of the way through before putting it down for good.
Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer – The premise of this book is that an alien comes down to earth to talk to a paleontologist about life millions of years ago. Turns out that earth and 2 other alien planets have had shockingly similar geological pasts (mass extinctions, like the end of the dinosaurs). The alien (two different species in fact) are convinced that god has designed the universe and the book is spent convincing the Canadian atheist scientist. What I liked was all the history, science and cosmology parts of the book, it was pretty fascinating stuff and written in away even I could understand. What I didn’t like was all the god stuff and the (way to easy) convincing of the scientist that god is real. I feel like the author thought he could sneakily “turn” a bunch ofÂ atheistsÂ into religious folk due to this book. But that whole part is one sided, very flat and unconvincing. But the science part was cool!
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau -Â Coincidentally, this book is a perfectÂ mash upÂ of two books I read recently: The Giver and Incarceron. The premise involves a tightly controlled community without any knowledge of how much they are being controlled (just the The Giver) living in an underground, sealed off world created by people called “the builders” (just like Incarceron). Their world was only stocked for two hundred years of food and equipment, and 250 years later with an important release letter written by theÂ buildersÂ long forgotten about, they are running out of supplies and the electricity is malfunctioning leaving the whole city with no light source. Two kids find the letter, mostly ripped up, and try to decipher the meaning. To be honest, I found the story unoriginal and theÂ plot lineÂ slightly contrived. I’ve been in a kid’s book mood recently, but maybe this has weaned me off them for awhile.
Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel – I think this is one of those books that most people read in their teens. I read all in the series (what was available at the time) in high school or college I think. I don’t remember much but I do remember her killing a ton of ptarmigans, and yes, the sex gesture bits. Now that I’m older I really appreciated the history and research that went into this much more than I did the first time around. Â And the descriptions were very clear to understand, which is impressive. I will admit I found the story a bit cheesy andÂ predictable, but all in all it was a good book to read again.
The Giver by Lois Lowry – This is one of those classic books, with an iconic cover that I must have read when I was little. Everybody does, right? When I would see a poster with the cover I would get a warm fuzzy “now that’s a classic” feeling, yet when I started this book I realized I had absolutely no idea what the book was about. Â Kid living in a perfect sterile community? A world with no memories of different times, colors, weather or music? It was like reading it for the first time. I will say it definitely deserves the hype and if I ever teach a reading class again here in China I think I’ll be putting it on theÂ curriculum.
The Beach by Alex Garland – I must have been in high school or college when I first read this book, and back then, it blew my mind a little. It made travel seem gritty, real and glorious. I’m now a bit older, and a lot more traveled, and this book felt, well, I don’t knowÂ Ingenuine? SlightlyÂ pretentious? It’s still an exciting read (I forgot all about the drug sub-story and it was much more involved than I remember) and worth it if you have the time, it’s just not as awesome as I remember it being. Makes me feel a bit old.
Assholes Finish First by Tucker Max – Really mixed feelings about this book. At first I wasÂ appalled, mortified really. The whole book is about his sexual encountersÂ and he is not kidding when he says he’s an asshole. He treats pretty much every girl like shit. But then, I stopped being so offended. I mean, he clearly laid it out beforehand to every single one of these girls and they continued to have sex with him, just so he’d write about them. I mean, it’s sad, but it’s not like he was getting them drunk or lying to them about how he would act. And his writing is funny, so while you seethe with hate for him, you also like him a little. The part I really didn’t like was the main middle story about “Tuckerfest.” It had barely any sex in it (a nice change) but it was all about drinking and driving. He even puts a disclaimer in the beginning saying drinking and driving is not cool, but then goes on to glorify the whole things which is dangerous in my book (especially as he seems to have a lot of young male fans who might try to do the same thing). Anyway, you need a strong stomach for this book, and there is no way I’m going to read his first one. One is enough!
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver – At first I didn’t like this book. Bitchy popular girl in a Connecticut high school? Why would I want to read about that when I’ve lived it. (Er, not being the popular bitchy girl, but living with them in my school.) And I almost stopped reading this halfway through the first chapter. But I’m glad I toughed it out, as it got better. It’s basically Groundhog’s Day over a 7 day period and is pretty predicable. (Spoiler alert: the cute but slightly dorky guy she is unnecessarily mean to in the first chapter? Well she falls in love with him by the end, which you smell coming from miles away.) But there is some nice writing, especially in the later chapters, and I ended up enjoying it.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – I have recently re-read or re-watched books and movies I liked in my younger days, and have beenÂ disappointed. I’m not so surprised, our tastes change through the years, but I remember really liking this book in high school so I was almost afraid to read it again, just in case I didn’t like it. Well, I needn’t have worried as it holds up and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Quick action likable characters and exciting narrative kept me humming through this book.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris – This is Sedaris’ latest book, a book of short animal fables. I’ve been reading this book slowly, one story at a time for the past several months. Â (There is no need to rush through this book, or even read the stories in order.) Some were really funny, others fell flat, but that is typical with Sedaris’ books I think. I will say I probably would have liked all of them better if I heard him read his own work. I mean, the dude is wicked funny when performing his own materials.
The One-Week Job Project by Sean Aiken – This is the true story of a recent college graduate that tried out 52 jobs in 52 weeks. Interesting concept, and the book is equally as interesting. The chapters are broken by job, and each gives a brief description of the job, the typical salary, and things he learned. Of course it delves pretty heavily into his personal life during the year as well, and some of the struggles he had. Now I say I liked the book, but I’m not sure how much I like the guy. It seems that the fame kind of did go to his head as he got more and more attention, and I kind of felt he was a d-bag by the end. But then again, I’m also slightly jealous. I mean, how fun would this be to do?!
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher – This is a young adult novel, and the first in a series. I hate starting series, but this one was very clearly marked all over as “Book One” (which I respect a series to do. Don’t trick me into starting your series without warning me that is is a series.) I was also really in the mood for a little young adult fantasy, so I chose it. The book was okay, a story about a distant future where jail is an alternative world with no wait in or out, and the people in the outside world think it is a wonderful utopia to be in Incarceron. A boy and girl meet through a magical key and the adventure begins. To be honest, I’m not going to go out of my way to read the sequels.
Gunn’s Golden Rules by Tim Gunn – Yes, I admit it, I like Project Runway and I like Tim Gunn. Sue me.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – I was in the mood for a grand, overly dramatic, sweeping epic so I chose this book. I’ve read it before, a long time ago, and remembered liking it quite a bit. Now, I’m not so sure. I mean, the story is interesting, the characters are compelling, but jeez does she ever harp on her philosophy. She drops hits, is subtle works it well into the narrative and then she just basically just keeps hitting you over the head with towards the end till you are totally sick of it. Also, I wanted a overly dramatic book, and I got it. Every gesture, every look (or not look) is done so over the top. The characters read so much into every little thing it got a little tiring after awhile. But I stuck it out, all 700 plus pages of it, so there is obviously something more to this story to enjoy. Or maybe, like many of the character do in the book, I just wanted to punish myself.
Fat Vampire by Simon Rex – Not a fan of this book. Annoying main character (a dick who gets picked on so he picks on others), stupid, stupid ending (just a bunch of random paragraphs spelling out many possibilities and your just what, supposed to pick one?) and really boring story. Like I said, not a fan.
Adam and Even by Sena Jeter Naslund – I will admit that this book was a bit perplexing. I found the writing quite lyrical and moving. Like, you could just get lost reading it and feel dazed afterwards, but the story was crazy contrived and quite stupid. (And don’t even get me started on the end of the book. Let’s just say the author treats her readers like children playing peek-a-boo.) The good news is that it wasn’t a DaVinci Code type book (which I was afraid it was going to be in the beginning), but I’m not quite sure how to describe it. I wouldn’t waste your time if you have better things to do, but if you are a fan of this author, you might like it.
Just Kids by Patti Smith – I’m not a Patti Smith fan. Never have and likely never will. Yet I decided to pick this book because I heard many non-Patti Smith fans said how good it was. And guess what? They were right. I totally enjoyed this book which focuses on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s more about the voyage of artistic discovery than anything else. Sometimes it got a little too cool for me, she is involved in the 70’s and 80’s art scene and people such as Warhol, Janis and Burroughs are oft mentioned, but aside from that I found her writing style to be very graceful, and the story very compelling. who would have thunk it?!
The Card Turner by Louis Sachar – The author gives you fair warning from the get-go. This is a book about the card game bridge. And he is so into it. Luckily he understands that not everyone is as into bridge as he is, and most people just want to read a good book. So in the book, when he starts to delve a little deeper into bridge theory and game play he puts the symbol of a white whale and you are free to skip over it. I did. But in addition to the bridge playing minutia, there is an interesting story about a kid who has to help his “favorite uncle” (actually an angry old man, who happens to be filthy rich) play bridge every week, and how he gets drawn into it himself. It’s a quick read, as Louis Sachar’s books usually are, and pretty enjoyable.
Fortune Cookie by Bryce Courtenay – When I was a kid my all time favorite book was The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. I read it almost every year for a decade. I thought it was his only book. Then, when I traveled around the world after college I discovered he was quite prolific and had at least a dozen other books (which have never been published in America sadly). This book is not the best, way to long, but the writing style is interesting, and there is a lot of historical information not only about Singapore (where the story takes place) but also about China. By the way, I got to meet Bryce Courtenay in New Zealand in 2000. He was super nice, and even agreed to send me all of his books, but sadly I never got them. I blame his publicist!
Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren – This is a memoir about an American woman who lived in Brunei for while as one of the girls constantly supplied to the prince to enjoy during his nightly parties. It sounds kind of trashy, but it was pretty fascinating stuff. She wasn’t held there against her will or anything, she went, and stayed willingly. She is pretty candid about the whole situation including her mental health. (She struggled with some issues like depression.) The writing was quite easy to read, and overall I enjoyed the book a lot.
Turn Left at the Trojan Horse by Brad Herzog – This is a shortÂ travelogueÂ turned hero’s quest. He had meÂ straightÂ from the beginning. I mean, anyone that takes a road trip with Joseph Campbell and Ralph Waldo Emerson as his “companions” and Greek mythology and TheÂ Odyssey as hisÂ inspiration. Travel, Campbell and Mythology? That my holy trinity. Herzog travel not onlyÂ physically, around America, but emotionally as he visits some old haunts andÂ learnsÂ some family history. He also goes to placesÂ aptlyÂ named for his myth inspired journey, towns called Troy, Ithaca and Athens. Anyway, it was a quick read, and quite enjoyable. Highly recommended and I’m gonna keep my eye out for other books by him.
Do the Work by Steven Pressfield – This is a follow up to Stevens original book War of Art. Both are great. They are short, small blurbs set to encourage you to fight through Resistance, and, well, get the work done. The War of Art focuses entirely on resistance, the force inside of us artistic people that fights our creativity, and makes us stop producing work. This second book is a road map of actually shipping something. That is, finishing it, and delivering it to the world. He lays out a blueprint of when inspiration will hit the hardest, and whenÂ resistanceÂ will come to bite you in the ass. I have to say, I’m basically a Pressfield devotee. Not only because he is a great writer, but also because I wrote him an e-mail and he actually wrote me back. A couple times! How awesome is that?! So he doesn’t just talk the talk, but walks the walk.
Making Rounds With Oscar by David Dosa – Cute cat book alert! This is a true story about Oscar, a cat living in a nursing home who can sense when a patient is about to die. At first I thought it would be a little morbid, like an old person just sitting and watching TV when all of the sudden Oscar comes in and they die soon after. But Oscar lives on the dementia/AlzheimerÂ floor of the nursing home and so the patients are pretty much out of it when he comes to call. The story is told through a skeptical doctor, who watched Oscar and talks to family members about how much it meant to them to have Oscar their at their loved ones last minutes. It is a pretty sweet book, and a very quick and enjoyable read.
Dead Beat by Jim Butcher – This is one of the Dresden Files books. It’s a series (notÂ continuous) about Harry Dresden, a Â wizard just trying to get by in today’s world. I’ve read a number of Dresden books, and I tend to enjoy them. The only problem is they begin to feel the same after awhile. In fact, towards the end of the book I started to wonder if I hadn’t read it before because it seemed so familiar. But then I remembered that many of the books end on a rainy/stormy/dark night. They are enjoyable though, and a fun read.
Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt – Like many people I have a morbid fascination with reading about the pain of others. This book is a true story about a grandfather whose daughter dies suddenly. His daughter was the mother of three, and the author (with his wife) moves in with their son-in-law to help take care of their grandchildren. The book is a chronicle of moments from the first year and a half. I don’t want to be insensitive or anything, but I was not at all impressed with the writing style. It’s choppy and dispassionate. He say he is angry, he says he is sad, but you never really feel it in the writing. Also, he has the fathers habit of “my kid is the best,” and her virtues are stated page after page. I know we glorify the dead, but sometimes I feel like he didn’t really know his daughter because she had no flaws. And man oh man does he ever name drop. After about 1/4 of the way through I was like, “I get it buddy, you have a whole lotta famous friends.” But he keeps piling them up page after page.
Whisper by Phoebe Kitanidis – This is a teen book about a girl that can hear the thoughts of others (called whispers). A gift she and all the women in her family have. It’s also your typical naive little girl turns into smart and wizened young woman story. This was a quick read, and I was happy to not see vampires or werewolves in it, because sometimes I was afraid that was going to happen (especially when she meets a boy with a strange power). I didn’t love it, but didn’t hate it either. On a scale of one to 10, it would probably be a five.
Voluntary Madness by Norah Vincent – This is a book about the the author’s experience of ‘trying out’ three different mental institutes: One sleezy and cheap, one in the middle, and one nicer, privately run facility. The subtitle of this book Â My Year Lost and Found in the Looney Bin, is totally misleading. She doesn’t spend a year in these institutes. She spends 10 days each, for a total of 30 days. They just took place over a year. But anyway, I’m nit picking. The author does have mental issues, depression and was actually in a few institutes on her own previously. It’s an okay book, but nothing too shocking is revealed. She goes, meets the people, takes part in therapy, and writes about it. It kept myÂ interest, but I wouldn’t say it was interesting to read.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – I re-read the LOTR trilogy last year, so I decided to re-read The Hobbit as well. It’s got my vote for best opening line of all time: In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Classic stuff, just classic. I also like how The Hobbit isn’t as serious as LOTR. There isn’t all the history, and tangents, and overall the tone is more relaxed and fun. Anyway, if you haven’t read this book, you are missing out.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – I was pretty excited to read this book, after seeing positive review after positive review, but not once did I realize that this was the first in a series. I HATE beginning a new series before it is fully published, and I HATE being tricked into it. (Note to publishers a little “Book One of the Witch series” or something would have been nice.) I found the protagonist (a witch) a little bit annoying. Despite pages and pages of assurance of her spunk and independence she immediately defers to the wishes and orders of her new vampire boyfriend. The writing wasn’t all that great, and this book could have been half as short and not lose any of the story. And yet, the story was good enough to keep me turning page after page, even if a lot of it pissed me off. I don’t normally give stars, but for this I feel compelled. 2 stars.
Shit my Dad Says by Justin Halpern – I wanted something light, after finishing Sadness, so I chose this. It’s a very quick read and between each autobiographical chapter is a bunch of funny quotes, or “shit,” that his dad said. I often question the precision memory of autobiography writers, but I really questioned this. I mean, he got famous after he quoted his dad’s daily rant on twitter when he was 28. Yet most of the quotes from the book are from when he was a child. Which means he recreated them, and probably changed them to be a lot funnier/cleverer/poignant then his dad really is.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – The premise of this book is interesting. A young girl one days bites into a homemade cake and immediately knows the inner thoughts and feelings of the person who made it. (In the case of the lemon cake she gets sadness,Â despairÂ and other terrible feelings from her seemingly happy-go-lucky mom.) She begins to learn the secret thoughts and actions of those around her just from a bite of food. But there are other things going on in this book, and the end got a little too overly dramatic for me. I would recommend this book only if you borrowed it from a friend or could get it for free. Otherwise, not worth the cover price.
Art of Money Getting by P.T. Barnum – I had this book on my kindle for a long time before I actually got around to reading it. I mean, it was written over a hundred years ago and I figured it would be filled with silly old tyme advice. Actually, it was filled with old tyme advice, but none of it silly. In fact, as far as financial/budgeting books go, this one should be on the top of the list. He offers really good advice for the modern person in bite sized nuggets like, “Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.” Or, “You mustÂ exerciseÂ your caution in laying your plans, but be bold in carrying them out.”
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – There is always one weak book in any series and this one was it. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it but it was filled with a lot of moping, depression and over analysis of dumb things. But it was a quick read, exciting at times and a semi-satisfying end to the series. Â So no real complaints. (Although when they figure out their final mission is another Hunger Games, I practically threw the book aside. I mean really? The same thing in each book? Luckily this one was different enough that I didn’t get too tired of it.)
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – I have this little book here to thank for my time in China. Well, a tiny part of it anyway. Before the book was officially published I went to a book industry event and got a free advanced readers copy of this puppy. I hadn’t read the first one yet and was not at all interested in reading it, but I knew it was crazy popular and so I kept the copy nice and neat and sold it on ebay for a tidy sum ($70 I think?) which went into savings. This was before we had moved to China and every penny counted. So thank you little book. And yes, as the second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy it was just as good as the first. Not $70 good, but still quite good.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – I was aware of these books when they first came out, due to their crazy popularity, but I didn’t want to read it. Why? Because I hate starting a series that isn’t finished. So, the trilogy is all published now so I decided to dive right in. This book was great, fast paced, exciting and well written. I also like the main character, a tough strong girl who isn’t a Tough Strong Girl. In fact no mention is ever really made of her being a girl and yet smart/good at hunting etc. It’s like nobody questions that a girl can be smarter and stronger than most men and I like that. I am glad I waited though because while not a cliffhanger ending, the ending of the first book makes you want to continue to the second.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chau – Yes, I started reading this book because of the controversy (and because people kept asking me what I thought about it) but I ended up really enjoying it. I had heard that the controversial WSJ article was taken out of context, and indeed it is. That article took paragraphs from all over her book and put them together in a way to make her seem much more assured then she comes across in the book. She is more humble, admits her terrible mistakes and is just moreÂ likableÂ in the book. Oh sure, she doesn’t think western parents have it all figured out, but she often, and repeatedly admits she doesn’t either. Anyway, an interesting read.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman – I was interested in checking out this book because I had heard it was “an adult Harry Potter.” And yeah, all the pieces are there, lonely boy with uncaring parents, magic school, wizard friends (even a smart girl, only in this book she’s all gothy). But it isn’t at all like Harry Potter. It follows the main character, Quentin, through school and out into life, both the magical and mundane parts of the world. I really liked the whole Narinia-not-Narnia thing. (I won’t ruin it if you haven’t read it.) Let’s just say I bet you going to Narnia wouldn’t be as awesome as I imagined either.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson – I jumped on the popularity bandwagon with this one (“If it’s so popular it must be good.”) and was surprise, surprise, dissapointed. I don’t know what I was expecting as the last popular bandwagon I jumped on was The DaVinci Code, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t been burned before. I just don’t get it. I mean, it was a mystery, and the writing was fine, but what’s the appeal? I mean, why are these book so popular? I didn’t really get anything special out of it.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel – This was a re-read for me. (The first time was several years ago when it first came out.) I have to say, once you know the ending, the book isn’t as good. One of the reasons I’ve never re-watched The Sixth Sense. I figure it just won’t be as good.) I actually read this with the students in mind, for a future reading class, but I am still undecided if they would like it. Anyway, it is a good book and if you haven’t read it once, make sure to do so.
The Gathering Storm by Brandon Sanderson (and Robert Jordan) – This was my book to read during the 16-hour flight back to America. As you know already, I am hooked on this series and started a re-read from book one. (This one is book 12.) This is the first Wheel of Time book released after Jordan’s death, and the book just hummed. The writing style was similar and easy to read as the rest, but the plot moved forward quickly and every chapter had a purpose (unlike the last several books). So I was happy with it and can’t wait to read the final 2!
Diary by Chuck Palahnick –This book can be summed up in one word: pretencious. It is a first person diary, written by a woman who spirals into a strange conspiracy, and yet is written 3rd person more than half the time and is peppered with annoying returns to first person. Becky does not like when people refer to themselves in third person both in real life and in novels. Becky thinks it is annoying. It is also illogical. This woman who begins to get more and more crazed, who doesn’t eat more than a bite and paint all day with her eyes covered in tape and shakes when she is not painting manages to find time to write clearly andÂ conciselyÂ in her diary everyday? Yeah, this one is bad. Stay away.
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin – Look, I love Steve Martin (Sgt Bilko and the dozen kids movies aside) and growing up two of my all time favorite movies were The Jerk and L.A. Story so I don’t know what took me so long to read this book. Of course I liked it, and really liked the insight it gave to his career. (For instance he has always been interested in art and philosophy, it’s not an old guy thing) and it was especially funny to see how amazing and modern the ‘new’ comedy was. (Like Saturday Night Live when it originally aired.) Like Martin himself this book isn’t full of much gossipy rumor stuff, in fact he barely talks about being married, but rather focuses on his career and how he made it grow.
Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan – Book 11 of the Wheel of Time series and the final book written by Robert Jordan himself before he died. For some reason this one took a long time to really slog through. Again, not much new or exciting happens (though Rand does lose his hand. That’s pretty tough) and the main reason to read this one is to get to book 12. You see this is the last one that I’ve had to re-read, as the final 3 books are all new to me. (And I’ve heard they are fantastic.) I’m trying to hold off on reading book number 12 until February, but I’m kind of a nerd, so it might not be able to happen. Plus, I have a 16 hour plane journey later this month and if the little seat back TV’s don’t entertain me, I think the Wheel of Time series might be called in to waste a few hours. Again, if you haven’t started this series for the love of god, stay away!
The Last Olympian by Rick Reardon – This was book 5, in a 5 book series, written by Reardon. To be honest, I was mostly just happy to have finished the series. It’s not that i didn’t like it, I did. It’s just that I didn’t love it, and personally I think at least one, if not two of the books could have been cut. What I do like about the books is you learn a bit about the Greek Gods (Hyperion was a god and not just a book company? You don’t say!) and I like the truth moment in which the gods admit that they need people, even though they act the opposite. I don’t think I’ll be blowing any surprised to say it has a happy ending, but of course it also has a slight cliff hanger style ending opening the door for more to come.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time by Mark Haddon – I’ve heard a lot about this book, as it came out several years ago, but never found the opportunity to read it until now. It is criticallyÂ acclaimedÂ for good reason: it’s good! TheÂ interestingÂ thing about this book is how similar it was to another book I read this month, Room. They both have a unique young narrator (an autistic boy in the case of this book) and in both you get to spend some time getting to know them and their safe little world. Then, in both, theÂ charactersÂ are thrust out into the world (for different reasons) and they have to react and try to deal with the new things as best they can. Even the writing styles were similar in both. Anyway, since most people have probably read it you have your own opinion. But try reading Room and see if you don’t see the same similarities as me.
Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan – This is the 10th book in the Wheel of Time series, a series I have been reading since 1993. Yes, you read that right, I have dedicated the past 18 years to this stupid book series just because I have to see what will happen. Luckily, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and the final book of the series should be out in March 2011. So I decided to start at the very beginning and read every single book (13 so far) again, so I am ready for the last one. As for this specific book, well, it sucked. Way too many characters, way too muchÂ superfluousÂ description and not enough action. Basically, not much happens and it was annoying to read. If you haven’t started this series I would advise against it. But if you are like me, and have been sucked in since the beginning, well, you understand, right?
The Four-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss – A book by Tim Ferriss is much more than just a regular book. You are buying into the Tim Ferriss lifestyle. Look, I like the guy. I love 4-Hour Workweek (his first book) and I love his blog. But this book was just a little too much Ferriss for me to enjoy. It’s not only his pecs and biceps he has enlarged in the process, but his ego as well. I appreciate how he begins each chapter with a humbling look at someÂ deficiencyÂ he has (like his fear of swimming) but then he launches into his process to overcome it and how how awesome he is now. But then again, I’m no body builder looking to gain 34 pounds of muscle in a month, or someone who wants to hold her breath longer thanÂ Houdini, so this book wasÂ obviouslyÂ not written for me.
Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Reardon – This is another series that I started in 2010 and will finish in 2011. I like the premise of these books, that the gods of Greece are very much alive, and living in America (the center of the western world), and I like the main character, Perseus Jackson, son of the god Poisideon, but there is a wearing quality to them. I like them less and less as they go one (there are 5 books total and this was book 4). Maybe the jokes are getting older, or maybe the story is less interesting. Either way, I’m a sucker to find out what happens at the end, so I will keep at it and continue reading the whole series.
Room by Emma Donoghue – I have heard a lot about this book and have been wanting to read it for a long time. Told from the point-of-view of a 5-year-old boy whose entire existence has been in a small shed in the backyard of a super creep who had kidnapped the mom several years prior and rapes her and keeps her locked up. In his room is everything he has ever known and loved, including chairs, tables and a few toys. Eventually though, the situation gets worse and worse, and while the boy doesn’t know any other life, the mom sure as hell does and she wants out. VeryÂ interestingÂ story and well written.
I read. A lot. In fact I read so much I often forget what I’ve read even a year ago. I’m also curious about how many books I read in an average year. So after I read a book I decided to write down a few thoughts about it here. Just because I wrote about a book is no means a suggestion. In fact, I read many books every year that I don’t like, so proceed with caution. Hopefully I’ll keep this up all year (2011) and by the end I’ll have a good record. If there is a book you think I would like, based on my reading, feel free to suggest it! (The most recently read book is at the top.)