2009 Reading List


So, this year, I read a total of 21 books, far below the total number that I was shooting for - around 40 or so. There are some large gaps - February, March, May, and much of the fall, which coincides nicely with the numerous writing projects that I had going on throughout the year. With this coming year, I'm hoping to read quite a lot more as my schedule allows, and I've got quite an extensive list, as I've been steadily expanding my own personal library - I'm up to 748 books now. That number is sure to grow in the next 12 months.

1 - Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, Matthew Stover (1-2) This was probably the last Star Wars book that's come out that I've really liked. Stover is always an interesting writer, and here, he takes cues from some of the earliest Star Wars books and plays up the pulp factor. This one is fast, engaging and entertaining. In a nutshell, it harkened back to the Bantam Spectra days of Star Wars literature, and that's a good thing. I've got a huge backlog of books from the series that I just haven't gotten around to reading, simply because I'm not all that interested anymore.

2 - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Suzanna Clarke (1-11) Jonathan Strange is by far one of my favorite books of the decade, and one of the greatest fantasy books since J.R.R. Tolkien. Elegantly written, plotted and conceptualized, Clarke has put together a masterpiece. It took me several years to get through the first half of this book, but when I finally sat down to read it, I absolutely couldn't put it down. I can't wait to read it again.

3 - The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, Thomas Disch (1-25) I completely forgot about this book, and had to look it up - it's a history of Science Fiction. It was interesting, but I took some issue with some of the things that he brought up at times. I can't for the life of me remember what, but I preferred Adam Robert's history of SF. I picked up the book because I was thinking that I was going to be reading and writing more about the origins of Science Fiction, but that never really panned out. Still, it wasn't a total loss of a read, and it did make some good points about the genre.

4 - Firearms: A Global History to 1700, Kenneth Chase (1-25) This was the only school book that I've actually gone back to, to read over again (although there's one other one that I'm planning on reading again), and that's the history of firearms. This book does a bit more than go through the motions of firearms - it examines the impact on tactics and the makeup of armies (it was revolutionary) and how the technology travelled from Asia to Europe. I used for a couple of my classes and it's highly engaging, interesting and informative.

5 - Wired for War, PW Singer (3-19) PW Singer's book on Robots in Warfare was a fantastic book, easily one of my favorites and something that I'll read in the future. Exceptionally thought out and researched, it not only looks at robotics, but the military command structure and environment, which to me, is far more interesting, and gives the book a significant party piece when it comes to talking about the future of the military. I got to see Mr. Singer talk, and he signed my book, and had a blast doing it.

6 - It's Been A Good Life, Isaac Asimov (4-1) Asimov's shorter biography, this was a quick reread that I'd wanted to do for a while. His life is pretty interesting, from his experience with the military to his start as a writer. Asimov is one of my absolute favorite Science Fiction writers, and it's interesting to see some of the behind the scenes elements to his works. It's a little self-indulgent, I think, but worth reading all the same.

7 - The Catch, Archer Mayor (4-7) Archer Mayor's book from last year, this was another fun book from him. This one introduced a couple new characters and themes, but I liked this year's better - this one was ultimately forgettable, until this year's Price of Malice, and the plot fell pretty flat for me. I think that the two of them could have been combined to become one novel, and it would have worked much better. It's a good reminder that I really need to read some of the older ones again.

8 - It Happened In Vermont, Mark Bushnell (4-16) This is a book of historical thumbnails on Vermont. Lots of fun information on a variety of topics throughout the state's history, but it misses some crucial ones that will be historically relevant in the coming years. The earlier elements provide quite a bit of detail, and some good stories about this state, but honestly, how does one not include something like Civil Unions?

9 - The Soloist, Steve Lopez (4-27) There was a movie based off of this, which looked good, and the book was only a couple of dollars in the bargain pile. It is the story of a reporter for the LA Times and a Schizophrenic man who was a musical prodigy and provides an interesting look at the homeless and LA.

10 - The Book of Lost Things, John Connolley (5-28) I really enjoyed this fantasy book by John Connolley - It's quite a dark book, but I like that. It takes a number of fantasy fairy tales, such as the knight in shining armor, the seven dwarves and a couple others, and puts a new, modern twist on them in a way that reminded me of Pan's Labyrinth.

11 - Rocket Men, Craig Nelson (6-13) This book was instrumental in my capstone and my thinking about space. This is the story of the Apollo 11 mission, and talks a lot about the mission beforehand. I gather that there are some inaccuracies, but I'm willing to let that slide because of some of the concepts that he brings up - the economics of a space program, for example.

12 - The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (6-15) Neil Gaiman's latest book was a delight to read - a wonderfully dark young adult novel that's been nominated for a number of awards, about a boy who grows up in a graveyard. I wonder when a movie will be made of this one.

13 - Explorer's House: National Geographic and the World It Made, Robert Poole (7-29) This is the type of history that I really like - looking at the world through a much smaller thing, and what is more influential than the National Geographic? This book traces the magazine and society's history from the beginning to the present day, and gives a very interesting insight to both.

14 - The Magicians, Lev Grossman (8-19) I loved this book, a modern, dark, brooding and realistic fantasy tale that takes points from the best of Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia. Grossman has put forth an interesting entry into the Fantasy genre, and it's become one of my favorites.

15 - Old Man's War, John Scalzi (9-8) I've rapidly become a fan of John Scalzi because of this book, and his blog, Whatever. This is a pretty ordinary take on the super soldier/ military SF theme, but it's a fun one, and I've already picked up the sequels for some time that I'm in the mood for military Sci Fi.

16 - Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks (9-17) Banks came highly recommended to me, and this book was a fun one to read. Exceptional world building - the pacing was a bit off - and interesting characters. It's an epic space opera and adventure, and I'm looking forward to the next couple books in the series.

17 - The Windup Girl, Paolo Bachaglupi (10-6) If this book doesn't win a Hugo Award, I'm going to be very, very annoyed. This has to be the best SF book in years, with a brilliant future imagined for the planet, with multiple storylines, politics and motives from the characters. It’s an exceptional book.

18 - The Price of Malice, Archer Mayor (10-11) Archer Mayor's latest, and one that I really enjoyed, more so than The Catch, and it took on a bit from his earlier books, in my mind. I can’t wait for next year’s book.

19 - The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, George Friedman (10-19) Ugh. I didn't like this book that much, but it had some interesting points. I found Friedman's book to be an infuriating read, simply because of the assumptions and things that he missed over. Not highly recommended, but there are some good points that he makes - how to think about history and historical events, for example.

20 - Clone Wars: No Prisoners, Karen Traviss (10-20) One of Karen Traviss's last Star Wars books, it's an okay entry, nowhere as good as her Commando books. It’s a fun, throwaway reading for an afternoon. I read it in a day.

21 - Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us), Tom Vanderbilt (11-1) The last book that I read last year was back in November, although I have a bunch started that I'm working on getting through. This book is a fantastic one to read - reminded me a lot of Wired for War, in that it's well researched and interesting, and in my mind, essential for anybody who wants to get behind the steering wheel. Already, it's helped me to understand why we drive the way we do, and it's affected how I percieve traffic problems, and how I drive.

That's what I read last year. I've already got quite a list for the coming year, and I'm excited to see how many I get through.

The Book Of Lost Things

I love stories. From a young age, I've loved listening and reading them, as a child who was never terribly inclined towards sports or other activities. From a very young age, I have been fairly shy around other people, instead usually to turn to books for company - this is not to say that I've been antisocial all my life - as people often let me down or disappoint far more than books do. It's with this basis that I love our ability to imagine.

While stopping by the bookstore recently, I came across an intriguing book - The Book of Lost Things, by John Connelly - and armed with a coupon e-mailed to me that day, I bought it, and found that it was one of the better fantasy books that I've read recently, and has reminded me of my simple love for stories, which this book is largely based around - a love for stories and the limits of imagination.

The book's premise is fairly similar to one of my favorite films, Pan's Labyrinth, which came out in 2007. David, a young English boy in 1939, has had a troubled life - his mother passed away from a wasting illness, and his father shortly fell for another woman, Rose, who bore him a son. David is resentful of this new family, and grows angry at the divided attention and the supposed replacement of his mother. He soon experiences a sort of episode - a blackout - and when he recovers, he begins to hear books whispering to one another. At this point, the London Blitz is well underway, and when trying to run away, a German bomber crashes near his house, and David is thrust into a fantasy world.

This is the interesting part of the book, and where there are a lot of parallels to Pan's Labyrinth, but also to other well known stories, such as C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, as well as Grimm's Fairy Tales and even Life on Mars. Throughout the book, the reader is never entirely sure as to whether David has really been thrust into an alternate world, populated by fantastic creations, or whether he is lying injured, much as Sam Tyler is in the TV show, or even it the entire experience is a sort of psychotic break, a device that David utilizes to escape from a world that he hates so much.

The ability to hear books whisper to one another is a fun concept, and is helps to reinforce what happens to David goes through. In this world, we come across a number of fairly familiar stories or concepts as David journeys onwards in an attempt to find his lost mother, but later, to return home. Various incarnations of the tales, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, the heroic knight, werewolves and vampires make their appearances, often with far more brutal and violent twists that are more reminiscent of the Grimm's Fairy Tales than their sanitized Disney versions. (However, the Seven Dwarves as a sort of communistical band who felt that they were repressed by the Capitalistic classes is downright hilarious) Essentially, this world of David's has been created from within his own knowledge of stories, a creation of his own imagination, one that is borne out of a sort of self-realization and psychology that helps mend his own hurt nature.

The story elements, upon looking back, are really quite simple, and throughout, I found myself catching what would happen next and realizing where the plot was going next, which gives the book an air of predictability to anyone who's listened to enough bedtime stories. But where that might have annoyed me in most books, it really didn't here - this was a story with a good character arc, one that is reminiscent of the classic stories of the growth of a hero - a brash, angry young man who sets off to prove himself to the world, only to discover his own nature, and thus the character growth beings until you reach the happily ever after at the end. However, while there are many elements to this story that are much like the fairy tales that we are all familiar with, it feels far more realistic. The epilogue, of sorts, recounts the remainder of David's days, in a way that really doesn't fit with the rest of the tales that I've come across, giving the antagonist - the Crooked Man - a grain of truth to his predictions and proclamations.

While the book is fairly clear about what the entire experience was, it can easily fit into any of the three descriptions - David fell into a coma, he created the world because of trauma or he really was catapulted into this other world. The ambiguity of this is a very nice element, while one is clearly correct, they all are essentially part of what happened. Looking back at this, it really doesn't matter to the overall part of the story - this story is more about the arc of the hero, self-realization and growth to beyond his angry and frustrated youth.

What the book really feels like, now that I've finished (and my copy was deceptively long, with a sort of notes and interview that takes up the last hundred or so pages of the novel) is an homage to the classic stories. There's a grain of humor and twisting of some of the classics that only a modern author could get away with, but what it shows, most of all, that these stories and one's imagination are still relevant and important. There are values to these stories that still permeate to the beginnings of the Second World War, and indeed, to the present moment, where some of the basic elements of good and evil are laid out. This book is about stories, and like David finds, how they can talk to you.