I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year, thanks in no small part to Audible and Overdrive, which let me read while I am commuting, cooking, and working out at the gym. So far, I have 46 titles accounted in my Goodreads account, and I am 171 days ahead of my annual reading goal. Granted, at least 10 of those are graphic novels (I had a mild Flash obsession going there for a bit.).
Here are some of my favorites so far this year, in no particular order.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Storeby Robin Sloan – If you love quirky mysteries, Google, Helvetica, awkward protagonists, or glow-in-the-dark dust covers, this is the book for you.
The Stand by Stephen King – The forces of good and evil gather in a post-apocalyptic show down. This was the second of three books in a row that I read that start with a virulent pandemic. That was not on purpose, and it stressed me out. I could not be an epidemiologist.
The Martianby Andy Weir – Fantastic science fiction. There’s a movie coming out later this year. I bought a second copy for my Mars themed bathroom. XKCD described it thusly :
American Icon:Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Companyby Bryce G. Hoffman – This was the story of the first few years of my career at Ford Motor Company. It was interesting getting the behind the scenes look at some of the things that happened. It is also a fantastically well written book if you are interested in the auto industry in general.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – I don’t rightly know how to describe this book. Gaiman writes books that demand to be read but elude description of why you should read them. I put this one off for a long while, but I picked it up and couldn’t put it down.
I apparently have to share this because after discovering this yesterday, I had very vivid dreams last night about telling other people.
I know that you probably won’t be as blown away as I was, because you probably didn’t devour all of the Oz books when you were a kid, like some people I know.
I’ve been listening to the Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire during my commute recently, and I’ve been holding a map in my head of Oz, of you know where Munchkinland and Gillikan and the Emerald City are. And I keep getting tripped up. Something wasn’t working quite right with my assumptions about Oz.
Large portions of the book took place in Munchkinland, where Dorothy originally landed. In my mind, (like the map below), Munchkinland is on the left side of the country. But wait! Dorothy landed on the Wicked Witch of the EAST! Munchkinland in my mind is on the West! No wonder I keep getting things messed up.
But notice that compass rose on the map. It’s oriented so that North is up, and East is left. Crazy!
According to Wikipedia, Mr. Baum had a map on a glass slide that he used in a traveling show. When he later copied it from the slide, he accidentally reversed it, and rather than redraw it, he just reversed the compass rose. His editor later flipped it back the normal way, adding to the confusion. Apparently, I am not the only one that this mixed up. Even the woman who took over writing Oz books, Ruth Plumly Thompson, reversed directions in Oz frequently!
And now you know! And maybe your mind was just as blown as mine was.
As part of my goal to Create More, I decided that I should review the media that I consume, as a way of reacting to it and as a way to be more conscious about what I am consuming. Expect to see a few of these here and there. I dream of maybe making video reviews at some point, but I’m not quite there technically yet.
I saw this on the Audiobook shelves at the Library, and I’ve kind of been wanting to read it for a while. I’m an unrepentant Oz fan, so I picked it up. It’s the sequel to Wicked, which I read years ago, and of which, I will admit, I didn’t fully remember the plot. It follows the story of Liir, Elphaba’s possible son as he tries to figure out his place in the world. It was a fresh, if slightly dystopic, revisit of the familiar Oz. Liir struggles with feelings of insignificance, and is constantly telling people he isn’t important while taking charge of situations and pushing for results. Who hasn’t been there, but seriously, Liir was a bit whiny. (Not as whiny as the Cowerdly Lion, but I haven’t finished that book yet.)
I listened to a recording that Maguire had done himself. When I first realized that, I cringed internally. Authors usually aren’t as good of voice artists as voice artists are, but I was surprised. With the exception of a few really annoying Animals, he was actually a great voice for the books. (And I imagine that the Animals would have been annoying anyhow.)
I’ve been saving the last two Wheel of Time books until the final one came out this year. It is such an immersive universe that I wanted to wait so that I could jump in once instead of three times. Just trying to keep characters and plots straight was difficult enough. I resorted to wikipedia for plot summaries of the previous books and I constantly had to google characters and plot points to bring myself back up to speed. But hey, that’s what tablet computers are for, right?
I think Sanderson stepped into Jordan’s story admirably well. I could occasionally see his dorkiness shine through the text, but it wasn’t distracting, and I felt he was true to the story telling styles required for the Wheel of Time. The characters rang true to how I remembered them (It’s been years since I picked up the series, so I can’t speak to if there are glaring differences between the authors.)
As to the story itself, the main themes seemed to be the consequences of alienation and of reconciliation. We creep ever closer to the Last Battle.
Fringe is one of those shows that was advertised alongside Lost, and so you’d think I would have picked it up ages ago. I didn’t. The pilot involved a very grotesque terrorist attack, which was heavily advertised at the time. I didn’t get the point of the show from the advertisements, and so I didn’t watch it. Kind of like I did with Pushing Daisies.
Fortunately, some of the tastemakers that I follow on Tumblr posted just enough amusing Fringe GIFs at approximately the same time Amazon made it available for streaming that I was intrigued enough to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.
It took me several episodes to get into the show, but I was eventually hooked. The main characters all have a fantastic chemistry that pulled me into their world. The Peter / Walter relationship intrigues me enough to make up for the silly pseudo-science. I am also a amused by the Ford product placements. When the show finally started hinting at its main mystery, very late in the season, I knew I was in for watching the whole show. I won’t ruin the secret, but trust me when I say that getting past the pilot is totally worth it down the rest of the series.
You know that silly Facebook meme, the one that lists 100 books that the BBC has allegedly selected as the best evAH, and then goes on to claim that the average reader has only read like 6 of them. It’s fun, but completely bunk.
Well, our friends over at NPR, (who are like the BBC in a non-British way, I guess), recently put out a call for the best SciFi and Fantasy books. Over 5000 people nominated books and series in the comments. (I might have. I thought about it, but then I don’t know if I actually did or not). Then they slimmed the list to the top 237 nominations, specifically excluding books that didn’t make their strict criteria (basically, they excluded horror, paranormal romance, and YA from the list), and asked for votes.
I’m a huge fan of reading. Ever since they taught me how to (and probably before), I’ve been practicing as frequently as I can. There was one teacher I had in grade school who claimed that she would either visit in our homes or call our parents, and if we were reading when that happened, we’d get something special. (I don’t remember anymore what the reward was.) Because of that (threat/promise/challenge), I read a lot. And kind of kept going.
The statistics on reading baffle me. A few years back, a survey showed that the average American who reads regularly read only 7 books per year. And one in four adults read no books. No Books?!?!? I’ve already read six since the beginning of the year, and most of a seventh (it’s mostly a running book filled with tedious training plan details. I don’t really need the part of the book that I haven’t read until later when I’m going to run a marathon). If I stopped now, I’d be there with the average reader, and I still have ten and a half months to go!
The problem with reading that much is that you start to run out of things to read. I have always been a strong genre reader. I come back again and again to specific genres because I know them and I know that I will generally like what I read. My genre is typically Epic Fantasy, although I will occasionally fiddle with some other aspects of Speculative Fiction. I’m open to other genres and types of books, but I generally don’t know where to start outside my genre.
Late last year, I decided two things.
#1- I was going to read at least three books out of genre before returning to Epic Fantasy.
#2- I was going to leave Young Adult Fantasy and Sci-Fi behind me for the time being.
To point the first, I was pleasantly surprised by the books which I did read. The World Without Us is one that I’ve brought up in conversations with many of my friends and family. And while I don’t think I could recommend Ragtime in good conscience to most people, it was a good read. I think that my “adventure” with James Joyce could best be described by not describing it.
To point the second, I recently decided that while most YA Fantasy is good reading, I needed to read less of it. The plots were becoming predictable for me, and I was tired of the sanitization that happens in YA. Several years ago, I drew a line that placed that vampire series (you know the one) on one side of a line, and Harry Potter on the other. Lately, I’ve pushed a whole lot more past the line. Once my detox is complete, I think that I might reevaluate where the line sits. (There will always be at least 4 books on the other side of the line. You know which ones.)
After returning from my out of genre stint, I’ve actually had some fun. I’ve been reading classic science fiction works from the ’60s and ’70s. These were some of the real pioneers of the sci-fi genre. I also read a heady Speculative Fiction novel and a Literary take on fantasy.
With all of this reading, my To-Read shelf has dwindled. I have one or two more novels there, one of which I am saving because it might take some re-reading of some previous novels. So I took my problem to Facebook, and asked my friends what the best book they’ve ever read is. I was blown away by the response. Some clearly didn’t understand the assignment. (I’m looking at you, Clint.) I got a huge list of books to read! Of those suggested, I had only read four. And while a few were YA, most looked like ones that I could come back to after my self imposed ban is over.
I was so happy with the list that I thought that I should share it. So, below the break, I’ve included a cleaned up list of The Best Books, at least according to my Facebook friends. I linked them all to Amazon, in case you’re interested in more information about any of them. I’ve already ordered one (Scar Gate), and I’m looking forward to reading many more of them this year. (If you were wondering, I marked the ones I’ve read with (R) and the Young Adult Fantasy and Sci-Fi with (YA).)
So what about you? Did this list miss the best book you’ve ever read? Let me know in the comments!
Ok, It’s the 6th and I’m still doing Best of 2008 lists. This one should be my last. This is the one that was the hardest for me, because I couldn’t make up my mind, so every time I decided to do one of my blogs this one got pushed back. Originally, it was a top 10 list, but I decided that I probably could never make up my mind on 10 books, and so 5 books was easier. My biggest problem was trying to figure out which books I’d read this year. I kept an ok record over at GoodReads.com, but I know that I missed quite a few in the last several months of 2008.
I found the concept of this one both intriguing and compelling. The main character is afflicted with “Chrono Displacement Disorder.” He often and involuntarily will be displaced in time, although his time walks mostly seem to center on people and places that are important to him. The story focuses on him and his wife, who obviously are living in different time lines. She first meets him when she is a young girl, he first meets her when he is 28 or so. The story jumps around a lot, giving hints and whispering secrets, all the way through. It’s a very interesting read.
I became obsessed with the Appalachian Trail at some point in 2007. I was, in part, feeding my obsession by reading this book. Bryson tells of his experience hiking the AT with his friend Katz as Bryson became reacquainted with America. His story is both funny and poignant. The two parts that stick out most in my mind is the story about Katz flinging his food from his pack because it weighs too much, and the tragic story of the American Chestnut, once prevalent in American forests, but decimated by blight. Of course, I wanted to hike the AT even more after reading this. Maybe 2009 is the year for it.
It’s really hard to explain why I liked The Name of the Wind. Perhaps the best way is to drop a quote from the main character, and let him speak for himself :
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
The story dragged me in, without me even realizing that I was being dragged in.
I’ve blogged about this one before. I picked up Sanderson’s first book, Elantris, to see if he would make a good substitute for Robert Jordan. I’m glad I did. It lead me to this one. Of the three in the series, this was by far the best. It really comes off as a caper story (Think Ocean’s 11) dressed as a Fantasy novel.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma is one of the books that most influenced me this year. I plucked it from Amy’s bookshelf and read it. I’ve been having an internal conversation about food all year. (You’d never guess that, coming from the guy who obsessively blogged his vegetables… 😉 ) Pollan investigated the origins of his food chains. He followed four meals from four distinct food chains from beginning to end. In doing so, he described America’s unhealthy relationship with food. I think I’ve changed the way I eat (fresher, more diverse food) and the way I think about food (closer to home) because of it.
So there you have it. My top 5 books from 2008. What are yours?
It’s not really a book, it’s more of a webcomic, but I spent a lot of time reading it in 2008. The story is great, the characters even better, and I’m still only part way through 2006. Go figure. I’ll get all caught up one of these days.
rating: 5 of 5 stars You must read this book! While I enjoyed Brandon Sanderson‘s first book Elantris, I loved this book. His characters are so right and so believable, the plot is crisp and new, and the setting is perfect.
It isn’t often that you find a fantasy novel that is new and different. While it has epic qualities to it, it is not your typical epic fantasy. The scale is so much more personal and while the characters seem to be out to save the world from evil (like so many other fantasy novels), it seems they are also out to save themselves from evil.
I only have a few more dollars on my Borders gift card, but they’re going right to the sequel.