2010 Reading List

This was a great year for reading. A lot of excellent fiction was released, and I felt like I got a lot of good out of my year from the books that I picked up. Here's what I read.

1- A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, Neil Sheehan (1-14) This was a fantastic history on the Cold War, one that I wish I'd come across while I was working on my project. I've revisited it a couple of times since the start of the year for other projects.

2 - The Forever War, Joe Halderman (1-28) This was a book that had come highly recommended for years, and I really enjoyed how it was more about people than guns and brawn.

3 - The Monuments Men, Robert Edsel (2-8) During the Second World War, a team of specialists were dispatched around Europe to save art from the effects of war, the focus of this book. It's a little uneven, but tells an astonishing story.

4 - We, John Dickinson (2-19) This was a crappy book. Amateurish and poorly written.

5 - Coraline, Neil Gaiman (2-24) I watched the movie around the same time, and I've long like Gaiman's works. This was an excellent YA novel.

6 - Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, John Scalzi (3-4) Scalzi's Whatever blog is always an entertaining read, and this collection takes some of the better entries into a book of short essays. Thought-provoking, interesting and well worth reading.

7 - Shadowline, Glenn Cook (3-6) With all of my complaints about military science fiction not being all that accurate or conceived of, Shadowline is one of the few books that have made me eat my words - there's some well conceived ideas here, and this reprint from Night Shade Books was a fun read.

8 - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jeminsin (3-19) N.K. Jemisin's first novel came with a lot of buzz, and I really enjoyed reading it from start to finish. It's a very different blend of fantasy than I've ever read.

9 - Spellwright, Blake Charlton (3-29) Spellwright was probably one of my favorite reads of the year - it was fast, entertaining and thoughtful - a good fantasy debut, and I'm already eager for the sequel.

10 - The Gaslight Dogs, Karin Lowachee (4-21). Karin Lowachee's Warchild was a favorite book from my high school years, and I was delighted to see her back after a long absence. This steampunk novel is an unconventional one, and a good example for the rest of the genre to follow.

11 - The Mirrored Heavens, David J. Williams (5-17) David J. Williams contacted me after I wrote an article on military science fiction, and I went through his first book with vigor - it's a fast-paced, interesting take on military SF and a bit of Cyberpunk.

12 - Third Class Superhero, Charles Yu (5-28) Charles Yu distinguished himself as a talented writer with his short fiction, and his recently released collection shows off some great stories.

13 - Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (6-1) Bacigalupi goes to Young Adult fiction with Ship Breaker, an excellent read set in a post-oil world. He gets a lot of things right with this: the surroundings and trappings of the world aren't always important, but the characters and their struggles are timeless.

14 - Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (6-8) This much-hyped book was one that I avoided for a while, but I blew through it after I picked it up. It's a fun, exciting read in the quintessential steampunk world that Priest has put together. I love this alternate Seattle.

15 - To A God Unknown, John Steinbeck (7-15) Steinbeck's book is a dense one that took me a while to read through while I was reading several books at one. It's an interesting take on biblical themes and on faith itself.

16 - American Gods, Neil Gaiman (7-25) This was a book that was a pick for the 1b1t movement on twitter (something I hope returns), and I was happy for the excuse to re-read this fantastic novel. It's one of my favorite books of all time, and this time around, it was fantastic to have that reaffirmed.

17 - The Burning Skies, David J Williams (7-25) The followup to the Mirrored Heavens, this book took me a while to get through because it was dense and intense. A decent read, but it proved to be a bit of a chore to get through.

18 - How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu (7-30) This was probably one of the best science fiction books that I've read in a long time. It's brilliant, well written, interesting and part of the story itself. It's an outstanding take on time travel as well.

19 - River Of Gods, Ian McDonald (9-2) I've long heard of Ian McDonald, but I hadn't picked up any of his stories before now. His take on a future India is a fantastic one, and can't wait for more of his stories. River of Gods broke the mold when it comes to western science fiction: the future will be for everyone.

20 - Clementine, Cherie Priest (9-3) This short novella was a bit too compact for the story that it contained, but it demonstrated that The Clockwork Century is something that can easily extend beyond Boneshaker.

21 - Pattern Recognition (9-11) William Gibson's book from a couple of years ago, taking science fiction to the present day in this thriller. It's a fun read, and I've already got the sequels waiting for me.

22 - New Model Army, Adam Roberts (9-22) This military science fiction book had an interesting premise: what happens when crowdsourcing and wikiculture comes to warfare. The book is a little blunt at points, but it's more thought provoking than I thought it would be.

23 - Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman (9-26) An excellent anthology of short stories from all over the speculative fiction genre. There's some real gems in there.

24 - Andvari's Ring, Arthur Peterson (9-26) A translation of norse epic poetry from the early 1900s, this book looks and feels like a book should, and is one of those bookstore discoveries that I love. This was a fun book that has roots for a number of other stories in it.

25 - The City and The City, China Miéville (9-30) One of my absolute favorite stories of the year came with this book, my first introduction to Mieville. This murder mystery set against a fantastic background has some great implications that go with the story.

26 - Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigaulupi (10-22) A paperback version of Bacigalupi's stories was released towards the end of the year, and I have to say, it's one of the more disturbing reads of the year, but also one of the most excellent.

27 - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving (10-31) I did a little reading on Washington Irving and found an e-book of this while I was going through a bit of a fascination on the gothic / horror genre. This book does it well. Hopefully, I'll be able to do a bit more research on the author and his fiction this year.

28 - The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman (11-8) The television show was an interesting one, and I finally was able to catch up on the comic that started it. They're very close to start, but that changes after a couple of episodes. Some of the characters were spot on.

29 - Baltimore, or,The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola. (11-8) This was a fun read: Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden both have some great storytelling abilities when it comes to horror fiction, and their take on vampires is an excellent one.

30 - Dreadnought, Cherie Priest (11-10) Cherie Priest had a really good thing with Boneshaker, but Dreadnought was a bit of a disappointment. It didn't have the same flair or feeling that the first book did, but it did do some things that I'd wanted to see in Boneshaker. It's an interesting series, and I'll be interested to see what happens next.

31 - Lost States, Michael Trinklein (11-13) This was a fun book that I came across in a local store on states that didn't make it. It's a fun, quick read with a number of fun stories.

32 - The Jedi Path, Daniel Wallace (11-14) While I thought this book wasn't worth the $100 for all the frills and packaging, this is a really cool read for Star Wars fans, going into some of the history and methods of the Jedi Order.

33 - Horns, Joe Hill (11-22) This was the other absolutely fantastic book that I read this year (reading it as an ebook and then from the regular book) from localish author Joe Hill. The story of a man who sprouts horns and a small, emotional story about his life. It's an astonishing read, and one that will hopefully be up for a couple of awards.

34 - Doom Came to Gotham, Mike Mignola (11-24) This was a fun, alternate take on the Batman stories in a steampunk world. Batman + Mignola's art = awesome.

35 - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling (11-28) 36 - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (11-29) 37 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (12-1) 38 - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (12-3) 39 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (12-12) 40 - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling (12-15) 41 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, J.K. Rowling (12-18) I'm not going to talk about each Potter novel in turn, but as a single, continuous story, Rowling has put together a hell of a story here. Outstanding characters and storylines, and the works as a whole are greater than the sum of their parts.

42 - The Magicians, Lev Grossman (12-27)

The logical book to read after the Harry Potter series was Lev Grossman's novel that can be described as an anti-Harry Potter. It's a fun novel the second time through, and good preparation for his followup this year.

43 - Brave New Worlds, John Joseph Adams (12-31)

The review for this book is coming shortly, but I have to say, it's one of the best anthologies that I've ever read.

On to 2011!

The Monuments Men

The Second World War is possibly one of the most studied conflicts in human history. Recent efforts in the academic and popular writing market, as well as large budget productions such as Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, coupled with the rapidly declining numbers of World War II veterans has only increased our appetite for stories from this monumental conflict, and as a result, a large number of books, television documentaries and movies have capitalized on the events of 1939 to 1945.

Robert Edsel and contributor Bret Witter have put together a monumental (no pun intended) book entitled The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History that paints a vastly different picture of the war than has been seen before. While much of the attention paid to the soldiers involved with the fighting, Edsel presents a mission that had far larger connotations: while the fighting forces were preoccupied with saving Europe and containing Nazi aggression, a small, relatively unknown group of soldiers were tasked with the almost insurmountable task of saving something far greater: the elements upon which European culture rests. The Monuments Men were the ones who would locate, preserve and document the artwork that the Nazi military stole from the countries that it conquered during the course of the Second World War.

Over the course of this book, Edsel tells the story of a small, dedicated group of individuals who, with very little support and even less authority, set out as the Allies invaded the European mainland and worked accomplish their impossible task. In doing so, he not only talks about the people who are involved with this venture, but also examines some of the crimes that the Nazis perpetrated during the war: the theft and destruction of art, using artwork as evidence of Nazi superiority (and of other races inferiority), but also the blatant disregard for the care and well being of artwork. Moreover, the lesson that is never quite forgotten over the course of the book is the casualties of war, especially amidst the destruction in Europe.

Thinking back to when I was in England in 2006, I remember hearing about some of the efforts that went into preserving some of the cultural artifacts around the country: ancient cathedrals were reinforced, stained glass windows were taken down and put away and artwork was stashed far from where they could be harmed. Other places weren't as lucky, and as Nazi Germany rolled into the rest of Europe, artwork was captured or destroyed. Edsel starts off his book quickly, looking at some of the concerns that museum officials and art professionals had as the war started, and looks at the highly public effects of the destruction of history had upon the Allies and Axis powers. A particular case in point was the Allied destruction of Monte Cassino, which helped to prompt a greater awareness of the sheer impact that heavy-handed militaries might have, and how wonton destruction of targets could be harmful in the long run, something that would impact the conduct of war later on.

While Edsel doesn't dwell for too long on anything but the Allied conquest of Europe and followup actions after the war, or just a small number of characters out of the 345 or so men involved with this unit, what he does is highly effective by bringing both the larger themes of this struggle, but also enough human faces to the table to allow any reader to relate to what was going on after the front lines passed. Most notable is George Stout, of the US Naval Reserve, who was involved early on in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives project. One of the first Monuments Men to travel into Europe, Edsel notes that he took only one or two days off during his entire time in the theater of operations, working tirelessly to document thousands of sites and items. Harry Ettlinger had fled from Germany and joined the US Army shortly after high school, becoming an important member during the operations in Europe. Captain Walker Hancock, Lieutenant James Rorimer, Captain Robert Posey, and more from the US Army make up a fascinating cast of characters, all of whom are not only written about, but do some of the writing themselves, as Edsel has included a number of their letters in the book. Beyond US Army personnel, Edsel also talks much about Rose Valland, a French woman who works tirelessly, as a volunteer at the Jeu de Paume museum and spied against the Nazi occupation to preserve the art in the museum, as well as Jacques Jaujard, the director of the French National Museums. Edsel takes only a small number of interesting figures that were involved, but just enough to ensure that the book isn't bogged down with an endless number of figures. Those who are represented are facinating, with a diverse number of backgrounds, all brought together by this extrordinary task.

These characters, while most never interact with one another, save for occasional mission, are intertwined with the Nazi plans for artwork as the war turned in the Allies favor, and Edsel pieces together the actions of this diverse group to show just what happened in Europe during the war. As the fighting passed over Europe, the Monuments Men were never very far behind, working to examine and to guide restoration and continuing preservation. At times, they helped to redirect Allied war efforts to better preserve sites, created lists of buildings that should be avoided and worked hard to locate missing works of art. Other times, they would document the damage, or rush in to try and locate a valuable statue that watched the fighting move past. Edsel traces their path through Europe, starting with Operation Overlord, and pushing through France to Paris, to Germany and Berlin between 1944 and 1945. In doing so, the reader is shown a different view of World War II than what has been largely popular: the aftermath of the fighting, when the Monuments Men largely went to work. They would task local villagers to help fix damaged structures, helped with logistical operations, would survey and document hundreds of sites, all with very little support, often with just one soldier in hundreds of square miles.

What has astounded me more, however, was not just the task that these men faced, but that their story has never fully been explored or told, as the ending of the book states. Their story was one that sat in the background, largely taken for granted and lost to the larger picture. It is a shame, because their story is possibly one of the more important, for this was what was at stake when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. The Nazi government had sought to supplant all creativity by replacing it with their own, hording everything deemed important to the state, with everything that was seen as subversive destroyed by fire. Much was lost forever, and undoubtedly, much is still unknown and lost, waiting in dark shadows to be found once again. The efforts of the Allied forces demonstrates a broadening of thinking beyond just the next objective and enemy soldiers to be killed, and that there was a recognition of the importance of culture and buildings beyond their immediate impact on the battlefield. The battlefield, in a sense, was Europe, and those in danger were those made of paint and bronze, who look back and show us a glimpse into the past, into the minds of the artists who helped to make Europe what it was.