My friend Matt has Web pages listing the books he has read the last few years. I wanted to keep better track of what I read, so at the beginning of 2007, I started keeping a list here. For one thing, changing jobs at the end of 2007 meant I had lots more reading time than I used to, because I now have what amounts to a public transit commute.
Maybe I'll finish two excellent nonfiction books I started last year.
The second Laundry files book. Not quite as funny as the first but very entertaining nonetheless.
The third Merchant Princes book. Things get more complicated, yes, they do.
Finished the second and third books of Undset's giant historical novel, in the newish (and really great) translation. What a book! It's a deeply detailed, very readable, complex novel set in 14th c. Norway, featuring Kristin, her reckless and feckless husband Erland Nikulausson, their children, and their extended families. Densely plotted, memorable characters, a lot of fun, with some intense and touching scenes and plot points.
The first of Charlie Stross's James Bond meets Cthulu meets Office space series, the Laundry Files, about a branch of the British civil service that fights occult manifestations among us. Smart and very, very funny, but it helps if you are um a bit of a geek.
A really weird novel, possibly a juvenile?, riffing on Moby-Dick, and not only weird but wonderful
The children's classic about a couple of neglected, yet spoiled, upper-class children who meet and, with the help of a "magic poor boy" and his kindly sister & mother, renovate a neglected garden and turn into decent humans. Well, that's what you think it's about. It's actually Christian Science propaganda: Medicine bad! Nature good!
Somewhat of a cheat here: I have finished the first of the three volumes making up the saga-like historical novel Kristin Lavransdatter, by Norwegian Nobel Laureate Sigrid Undset, but since each volume is around 350 pages...A fabulous book, fairly slow-starting but with plenty of human drama to come. Set in the 14th century, it's the story of a young woman's coming of age. You learn a lot about her family (nobels, but they farm for a living), religious life, social mores, in a world not far from pagan society but now Christian. If you're going to read this, don't even think of getting the older (1920s? 30s?) English translation, which badly misrepresents Undset's forthright prose by burying it in thee and thou. Make sure you read the newer translation by Tiina Nunnely, published by Penguin. (Tiina is not a typo.).
Second of the Merchant Family series. I liked this one better than the first, will probably proceed with the series.
The last book of the Chaos Walking trilogy. Brrrr. Still brutal, though in this book, the Spackle have a voice and...some good things do happen. Still, almost unrelieved misery and awfulness, and all too realistic in that way.
One of Rankin's John Rebus books, and a very good one indeed. Less drunkness, more of the great cop. And I have a sneaking suspicion that I read this one eight or ten years ago.
Look, it's 167 pages long, it deserves to be listed here. I'll buy the complete book....in a while.
As always, the goal was to read more non-fiction. I didn't succeed, in part because I started, but did not finish, two important nonfiction books, Tony Judt's Postwar and Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert. Perhaps in 2013?
Meanwhile, I read a total of 29 books. I'd feel worse about that low total if the two George R.R. Martin books and the two Trollopes weren't each the length of two or three typical novels. I also started, but have not finished, The Hobbit and Bleak House. I did not list a book I read in manuscript, so I guess I can reasonably say I read 30 books in 2012.
The second book in Martin's long-running, perhaps never-to-be-finished, A Song of Ice and Fire. This is roughly parallel to season 2 of the HBO series. Reading it fills in a bunch of background and clarifies a few inexplicable bits in the series; it also provides an object lesson in what you have to do in adopting a long book for another medium. I am still bothered by his difficulty with maintaining a consistent tone, and occasionally I wanted to take a red pencil to the book.
The author's latest, with all the strengths (gripping plotting, tangled relationships) and weaknesses (he WHAT?) of her previous novels.
A marvelously lyrical and beautiful book, with the force and power of a fairy tale and exceptionally strongly drawn and believable characters
Funny and charming book about baseball, being a baseball fan, being a Yankees fan, and being a sportswriter.
The first of several doorstop-sized novels in Martin's will-he-ever-finish series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Well done, gripping, lots of plot and lots of character.
Actually, I got bored and threw it against the wall.
First novel by a friend of mine, a mystery set in modern Tokyo in several different worlds: it's a police procedural, a novel about the clsh between the modern and the traditional, and a look at some of the odder subcultures of Japan. I learned a few things, too! Did you know that in Japan, an email address can be tied to a phone, not to an email provider?? Lots of fun, recommended.
The third Kurt Wallender.
The continuing adventures of Jame, the Kencyr; her brother Tori; those around them. Curioser and curioser!
I made a big mistake: this book is a direct follow-on to Dialogs of the Dead, its immediate predecessor, and it would have read very, very different if I had known that and read Dialogs first. Don't make my mistake.
The second of Mantel's Thomas Cromwell historical novels; as good as Wolf Hall, the first.
Finally! Non-fiction! Dr. Sanders writes a NY Times column about diagnosis and, more recently, a You Be the Doctor column. This book is about the art of diagnosis and, less obviously, the importance of the physical exam.
Still home sick, so in the last 24 hours, I read my second Ian Rankin of the week. This one seems to be the first in a new series (The Impossible Dead appears to be the second) about the cops who clean up after corrupt or misbehaving cops. Well-written, well-executed, absorbing, with a fine central character, Malcolm Fox.
Two mysteries in two days = home sick. This is a stand-alone novel, not one of the Wallander novels. The first half is better and more interesting than the second, because the base premise is so unfuckingbelievable. Also, as seems typical of him, major unanswered questions that he doesn't seem to realize are unanswered.
Ian Rankin is best known as the author of the John Rebus detective novels. This is a one-off caper novel, set in Edinburgh and making one brief passing reference only to Rebus (an in-joke that you wouldn't even get unless you've read the Rebus books). The plot is preposterous in many many ways - SO MANY - but the book is reasonably entertaining.
I remembered a lot less of this than of God Stalk. It is very, very good, continuing the story of Jame and continuing the terrible copy-editing.
Bad 1920s thriller. Why? I LEFT MY REAL BOOK AT WORK and read this in 24 hours, mostly on the shuttle.
Third or fourth time I've read this one, though the last time was more than 20 years ago. EXCELLENT book, still, though I quailed at "effect" for "affect" and "pallet" for "palate."
Whoa. A wry and sometimes funny novel of music in England and the life of a young composer who....um, well, I think you should just read it. I do wish there had been better copy-editing; the character name spelled differently on two pages, the extra word here, the two different statements of the age of one of the characters.
The second Wallender; jumps the shark pretty badly a couple of times.
The first of the Kurt Wallender police procedurals. Bleak, cold, bleak, cold. I think he misses one great plot opportunity; why don't the police immediately hire that young woman with the great memory?!
The third of the Palliser novels, another 750-page doorstop. You could read this one as a stand-alone; the Pallisers and their circle appear, but they are peripheral to the story of Lizzie Eustace and her diamonds. Well, perhaps I mean "her" diamonds. The ownership of the gems is in dispute from the first pages of the novel. Lizzie is quite something; young, beautiful, charming, clever (but not intelligent) and pathologically incapable of telling the truth. Whether she is deluded, scheming, unable to see the consequences of her actions, or some combination of the above, I do not know, but Trollope as ever paints a fascinating picture of society and women's lives. And the eternal question of who will marry who, and why, and of course there is a fox hunt.
Archie & Nero, at it again, this time with help from Nero's daughter (or "daughter").
I think this is no. 15 of 25 of the Dalziel & Pascoe books. It's intricately plotted and pretty intense. Probably helps to have some familiarity with Mahler's Kindertotenlieder.
The Irish member of Parliament, that is. A great coming of age novel; a young man finds his way in world, in Parliament and in government. The second of the Palliser (aka Parliamentary) novels. Trollope is also concerned with whom Phineas will marry and with the fate of a woman who marries the wrong man.
I last read "Gatsby" in high school or junior high. I now must ask: Whatever is this book's enormous reputation based on? The writing is often clunky and graceless, the dialog wooden, the plot trite, and the people loathesome. Not much to like! So much a young man's book about other young and very immature people.
The third book in the Deptford Trilogy, World of Wonders is everyone's second fav book in the trilogy except mine. I have always like The Manticore better. But this time around, I liked World of Wonders more than in the past (I think). For one thing, I have a greater appreciation of Magnus's growth. For another, I was fascinated by both the Tresizes and the look you get at their style of acting and theater. For a third, I greatly enjoyed the third view of Dunstan Ramsey and Boy Staunton, and the different views of Magnus and the Tresizes that you got from Roly.
The second book in the Deptford Trilogy. Like Fifth Business, just as good the four time as the first. Maybe better, because I have more understanding of why I like it so much.
I like the Manticore better than anyone I know. I have some insight into why I like it so much, from this reading. I believe it's because you get one narrative from Dunstan Ramsey in Fifth Business, then David Staunton goes over quite a bit of the same ground and suddenly some things look rather different. It's not that Ramsey is an unreliable narrator. It's just that he is not at all interested in Caroline or Netty or some of the complex relationships within the Staunton family. For that matter, he is not very interested in David. Some of what David explicitly discusses can be inferred from Ramsey's narrative, but more easily in retrospect, after reading The Manticore.
Also, I really love how the analytical process is discussed.
Three novellas or long short stories or something. Nero & Archie. The usual.
This year's goal: read more non-fiction.
It's January 1, 2012, and I did, more or less, manage to read more non-fiction. I did this by doing a little jamming on non-fiction at the end of the year.
I think I am starting 2012 with non-fiction - a new book and also by finishing a book I've been 95% done with for almost a year.
The 2012 count: 3 nonfiction books (four if you count the one I'm almost done with...), 27 fiction (including a couple of very short books and a couple of very long ones), 1 novel thrown against the wall partway through. I'm also still picking up Berlioz's memoirs from time to time and will finish the book eventually. Also about 180 pages into Phineas Finn on my phone and thinking I need hard copy.
A popular history of both the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition and the serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes, who killed at least 9, probably closer to 30, possibly as many as 200 people in the 1880s and 90s. Pretty good, definitely an overview, but with many exceptionally interesting architects and other people among the personages.
When this novel opens, you're apparently in the London many of us know and love; within fifteen or twenty pages, things start to get odd and just keep getting weirder and weirder. About 300 pages in, I started wondering wondering how on earth he would keep the plot going for another 200 pages; somehow, he does, and it's quite a virtuoso performance. Great characters and plotting and two of the creepiest assassins for hire you will ever meet.
Finally finished this one, which I've been reading off and on for quite some time. One of the NY Times's Best Books of the Year for 2010, both fascinating and frustrating. It needed somewhat heavier editing to give it a better story arc, not to mention heavier editing to avoid the several places where the author repeats himself two pages apart and, worse, the usually-breathless, journalistic prose. Also: integrating illustrations with the text would have been smart.
Just as good the fourth time through as the first three. I wish the jacket copy did not unreasonably focus on what is not really the central question of the book, though of course the desire to explain does drive Dunstan Ramsey's memoir.
I appreciate gravity ever so much more than I did even two weeks ago.
A talking cat, some talking rats, and a stupid-looking kid: the Pratchett take on the Pied Piper. Hilarious.
The second book in the Chaos Walking series; equally brilliantly written, equally grim. Superb working out of the situation set up at the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go. Sure, the middle book of a trilogy but does not have that unfinished feel to it. Must run out and buy book 3.
A mystery novel set in Iceland, featuring Inspector Erlendur; I take it to be one of a series. It is understated and took a while to gather momentum; the translation has some jarring Britishisms. A decent read; might take more of the series out of the library.
Elegant, but I would not have given it the Man Booker Prize.
Early 1920s British espionage novel; xenophobic but Francophile, also contains some random anti-Semitism. Fun otherwise, wish it had more cool gadgets. Not particularly well written.
It took about 1/3 of the book for me to realize that I disliked the characters, the voice, the pacing, and the plot. She's no A.S. Byatt, is all I can say.
I finally finished A. S. Byatt's "The Children's Book," which was absolutely wonderful, probably the best novel I have read in....I don't know how long. It was short-listed the year "Wolf Hall" won the Man Booker - now, I liked "Wolf Hall" a whole lot and am looking forward to the sequel that Hilary Mantel is evidently working on, but holy moley, WHAT were the judges thinking? "The Children's Book" is a magnificent accomplishment, even better than "Wolf Hall." Every sentence is so, so beautiful, and Byatt is a master of an intricate plot. I completely loved it, will be telling all my friends to read it.
If you read any of the reviews that were published when "The Children's Book" came out and they discouraged you from reading it, ignore them. Some of the things I saw in the reviews - which I read after finishing the book - are just wrong. Yes, the book has a whole lot of historical background in it, and the history acts to enrich the lives of the characters, in fact, the history is essential to how Byatt captures the time in which the characters live (a couple of decades plus a few years, starting around 1894).
The pacing of the book is one of its marvels, and I'm reasonably certain that reviewers, reading under the gun of a deadline, read it _too fast_. I read it at a leisurely pace, over the course of about two months. Partly, we have the hardcover and it was a pain to lug around - but mostly I wanted it to last as long as possible. I did NOT want to hurry through it. That's because every sentence is so, so beautiful.
If you like Byatt and have not read it, you have a marvel waiting for you.
The latest by the Irish mystery writer. A lost love, family secrets, three generations of a fairly messed-up family.
The most recent Culture book. A satisfying read!
A harrowing story, also a heartening one, written in a most unusual and sympathetic voice. I hesitate to say more, but highly recommend this.
One of the later Parker novels, fast-moving and strongly plotted.
Not a Culture book (apparently), though it's listed with the Culture books on the Also By page opposite the title page. Eh. The plot doesn't come together all that well and is presented in a fragmentary fashion. I hope Surface Detail is better.
The first of the Merchant Princes books. Okay, I'll probably finish the series, but not in a huge hurry.
Space opera. Really, really good space opera.
The first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. An even bleaker and more dystopian future than that of the Hunger Games trilogy.
The first children's book by the author of the Hunger Games trilogy. It's....okay. The writing is a bit flat and there are tone problems; she's trying to make a contrast between the viewpoint of an 11-year-old boy and the Underlanders, who live, yes, under the earth. It doesn't quite work. The story wasn't that enthralling; I think there are continuity issues; probably won't read (and definitely won't BUY) the balance of the series.
The first of the Palliser novels, focussing on the parallel stories of Alice Vavasor (the titular her), who is torn between two potential husbands, one a scoundrel and one a near-saint; Lady Glencora Palliser, who is torn between the man she loved and didn't marry and the man she did marry; and Mrs. Greenow, torn, but not very hard, between two men who might become her second husband. A good deal more fun than the first time around some years ago.
One of a series of mysteries about English cop (now retired) Frank Elder. Flat writing, mediocre pacing, not going to read any others.
I started James's psychological ghost story last month, in advance of seeing Britten's opera of the same name, then put it down, picked it up, etc. It is a great tale in so many ways, from the dense yet slippery style to the vividly drawn characters to the murky atmosphere. Are there ghosts? Is the Governess imagining things? I have an opinion on that, but you should read it and draw your own conclusions.
"Richard Stark" was Donald Westlake's pseudonym for his Parker books, Parker being a cold, calculating, murderous heist guy. I've read several in the last year or so, and picked up a half-dozen in the free box at a party recently. I might have read enough of them.
A police procedural set within a pair of cities, Beszel and Ul Quoma, that are physically co-located, but which have separate governments, cultures, economies, and laws. The citizens must learn to "unsee" each other and cannot interact unless they have traveled to the other city - in which case they cannot interact with their co-citizens. They are harshly and immediately punished for breaches of the accepted behavioral protocols. Mieville handles this premise brilliantly and surprisingly persuasively; the story is told from the viewpoint of a policeman caught up in a bi-city investigation of the death of a young archeologist.
The fourth, and probably last, Tiffany Aching book, funny, touching, wise, as usually, and a satisfying wrap-up that nonetheless leaves the door open for more if he's willing (and able, sigh) to write more. Please give the set to all the girls you know.
Blue-tongued mango voles, a felon-turned-wanna-be-Disney, a washed-up journalist, the requisite women with hearts of gold, and Skink. Hilarious as usual.
Ho-hum. I'm told that the Inspector Lynley novels are variable, and this one...well, I spotted something before the sleuths did, the setup is schematic, and the ostensibly adult characters don't seem to actualy learn much about how to talk to each other. Should I read more?
One of the early - 1963! Parker books - the amoral caper/heist/killer guy.
Many charming characters and funny scenes, but a diffuse plot that doesn't quite hang together.
I read 40 books in full and four more fractionally (from one-half finished to 3/4 finished) in 2010.
Huge reading break from late-Feb to early April as I IGNORED Luc
Sante's Low Life, which I started in February while in NYC. Log jam
now broken; I'll finish Low Life
There were several books I read only half or three-quarters of the way through in 2010. They're listed among the books I finished, for some reason - probably so I could keep chronological track of what I read.
The books I read in 2010, most of them completed:
The third book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Chew on the plot and character development. An extremely strong and tough-minded series, not sure, given the violence and political complications, whether they're really YA books.
Book 2 of the the Hunger Games trilogy. What happens afterward.
A follow-up of sorts to In the Woods, though with a completely different plot line and new characters. Again, not your usual police procedural. You will want to kick the protagonist occasionally.
A gripping double mystery, very complex and sometimes convoluted, about which i shall say nothing more.
Beautifully written and almost indescribable, though I have to say that I found the connections among the different parts a little more tenuous than I'd been led to believe they were.
I interrupted my reading of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas because when in Florida, read about Florida. Double Whammy is typical Hiaasen, populated by assorted rednecks, crazy people, cops, losers, criminals, and freaks. In this case, several of those are bass fishing pros, so the book also stars some fish. Hilarious, and, as usual, people die in various horrifying, yet funny, ways.
Sir Terry at his best. The Watch, the dwarfs, the trolls, a giant painting, Young Sam, Sibyl, and a lot of history.
Only read about 90 pages, got distracted by other things, had to return it to the library, could not take it in to renew because I was walking the dog. Will probably finish, though! Interesting alternate history novel of a world in which Elizabethan England is ruled by Spain.
An excellent, complex Dalziel & Pascoe novel, involving suicides, two of them, a decade apart, a stepmother, and deep secrets.
A remarkable coming of age novel set in a horrifying dystopian future. I've seen some advertising copy or blurbs/endorsements calling it an 'adventure story,' but no. First of three books. I will need to get "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay" from the library as they are hardcover only just now.
Chaim Potok's best-selling 1967 novel about two Jewish boys, one Orthodox and the son of a great scholar, the other Hasidic and the son of a rabbi, in line to inherit his father's rabbinate. I read this as a teenager and remembered some of the key plot points, such as how the boys meet. I had forgotten a great deal of detail, and I'm sure that I never noticed that women are essentially invisible in the novel. Reuven's mother: dead. Danny's mother: in poor health. Danny's sister: no name. And Reb Saunders's way of raising Danny still enraged me. Also I think the plot and characters are laid out rather schematically. I'm touched by the relationship between Reuven and his father and by Dany and Reuven's friendship.
Rankin's second book ever, after the first Rebus novel, Knots & Crosses, and not nearly as good as the bulk of the Rebus novels. On the flat side for a complicated spy novel.
The third book in the series started with Mistress of the Art of the Death. Slightly better, but not enough to get me reading the second or any subsequent books.
An Ellie Pascoe mystery. Seriously, while Dalziel and Peter Pascoe are in the book, Ellie is the major focus. The embedded tale of ancient Greece is a really treat, too.
Mantel's Mann-Booker Prize-winning novel about Thomas Cromwell and the English Reformation. Fantastic book, beautifully written, strongly plotted, deeply reflecting how people thought and lived in the 16th c. That's one of the best things about it: you can see the ways that Cromwell is more modern than his contemporaries: he plans, he analyzes businesses, he knows accounting. (That was a BIG DEAL in 16th c. England.) It's about a tumultuous time in English history, given Henry VIII's thirst for an heir and the creation of the Church of England as a result, and it's fascinating to see from such a personal standpoint. Highly recommended.
Threw in the towel half-way through because Werther is such an immature, self-centered, impulsive drip.
No, wait! After seeing the opera, I finished the book. Okay, I skipped the long recitation from Ossian! But I had to see if it ended the same way the opera ends (i.e. Charlotte really IS attracted to him...)
Entertaining but incoherent, and ended so abruptly I wondered if I'd managed to lose half the (electronic) book.
Experiment: I read this very long book - 100 chapters - on my smartphone, using the free Aldiko reader. I was astonished at how successful this experiment was. I felt free to put down and pick up the book, which I read over the course of about a month or five weeks. I read a few other books between chapters of TWWLN. The advantages of ebook format for it included not having to lug a thousand-page novel around, being able to pull it out of my pocket any old time, and not knowing exactly how far I had to go. I strongly disliked the Kindle the one time I had my hands on it - I don't feel a strong need for a hard keyboard when I'm reading, for example - but like reading electronically on the phone just fine.
One of the great books by my favorite 19th c. English writer, a superb novel of business life and social manners in the 1870s, with plenty to say about class and anti-Semitism. Many points of view and many fascinating characters, of which I must say the women are mostly more interesting than the men. Mrs. Hurtle is a magnificent creature and how I wish her the best. Georgiana Longestaff is a shallow and self-centered fool (though perhaps in the end she does well since she does the unexpected). There's one character we barely see about whom I'd like to know more, Mr. Brehgert, since he is the only man to speak with a woman as if she were an intelligent and independent being who can make her own life decisions.
Also, Sir Damask Monogram is the best character name ever.
A vanished brother, an unsolved murder, a psychopath, mistaken identity, and a lot of withheld information.
This novel was the basis of the 2006 French film Ne le dis a personne, which kept almost all of the plot and relocated the action to France. IMDB tells me there is an English-language film called Tell No One under development. You might as well get the French version, which includes Kristen Scott Thomas.
In any event, it's a complex and reasonably well-put-together mystery/thriller, though I think there are plot holes you could drive through. This seems to be Coben's stock in trade, based on reading this and another novel of his in close proximity.
The second Richard Hannay book. A mysterious message, a trek across Europe and into the Anatonlian peninsula, traveling companions of various sorts, amazing coincidences, a vengeful German, an elusive woman plotting to lead an Islamic revolt of sorts (!). And a lot of random racism, too. This is the sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps. I have not decided whether I need to read (or can bear to read) Mr. Standforth, the next Richard Hannay book
You don't need me to explain this to you, do you?
My first-ever reading of the great classic. It is extremely charming and while the famous movie musical doesn't follow it exactly, it's pretty close. I love the illustrations, too. I plan to read a couple more of the series.
After 110 pages, I didn't give a damn about any of the characters, AND I was annoyed by the operatic and Spanish errors. Putting it another way, I found the book so annoying I would have CHEERED if the terrorists had lined up all the other characters and shot then one by one, just to get the damn thing over and done with.
Yes, indeed: it's a Nancy Drew book. When I helped my mother clean up her house in 2006, I packed and took to CA a fairly small number of books, and my childhood "series" books were among them.
I have not read a Nancy Drew book since my childhood, though I have read a number of articles about them. Did you know that in the originals, which started to come out in the 1930s, Nancy was a more independent person than in those that were published in the 1950s and 60s?
This particular book was published in 1937, and indeed, Nancy does what she wants, even when it shows poor judgment or puts her in danger. It's an entertaining read, and I can see why it made such an impression on me when I was 8, but oh dear. The writing is stilted and stiff; the plotting full of unlikely coincidences. A current adult mystery - or, for that matter, the best adult mysteries from the 1920s and 30s - would be better-constructed and written. (Yes, I know that most don't have the quality of the best of Sayers.) Still, it's easy to see why these books are so appealing and have lasted so long as a series.
Among the other books I brought back from NJ were some that my father had read as a child in the 1920s, by Jeffrey Farnol. They are not the copies he read, which probably came from the public library; they're copies he bought in the 1960s and 70s at used bookstores and at garage sales. This puzzled me at the time, but now I understand the impulse to re-read beloved books from childhood; for the sheer pleasure and to see how they stand up to one's memory of them.
Sam Vimes is appointed ambassador to Uberwald on the occasion of the coronation of a new Low King of the dwarfs. Various disasters and hilarity ensue; I'd consider this one of the best of the Discworld novels.
The second Thursday Next book, continuing the adventures of the LiteraTech operative in a most unusual alternate universe, where there's a Shakespeare voting bloc, the Crimean War continued until 1985, time travel is real, and dodos (plock plock) have been genetically engineered back into existence. An excellent read, often funny, with a couple of marvelous virtuoso turns of writing.
I made it half-way through. I read a bunch of the Fu-Manchu books as a teenager; I'm almost certain I picked up this hardcover first American edition for more or less nothing in a thrift store in Waltham, MA when I was in college. It goes nicely with The Thirty-Nine Steps in terms of the threat-from-the-other. In the Buchan, it's Jews and Germans, in Rohmer's books, Asians. Yes, there's lots and lots about the Yellow Peril and the threat from the east, a truly appalling level of racism, with secret agent Nayland Smith explictly standing for the whole white race, especially the British white race.
Fu-Manchu is both brilliant, the greatest living genius, and a monster. And also an opium addict. I couldn't take more than half of it, with the endless running around to no purpose, the beautiful young woman who instantly falls in love with Dr. Petrie, the murderous fiends, etc.
No, I did not read this in one day, though it is so short I almost could have. Read on a Google Nexus One using the Aldiko book reader.
If you've seen the famous Hitchcock film, you'll barely recognize the book. Parts of it, yes, but Hitch's screenwriter invented whole swaths of the script and changed its time period. There's plenty of casual classism (okay, that nearly goes without saying) and casual anti-semitism as well. Scrambling over the highlands, yes; beautiful female sidekick, no.
Keegan's overview of four great naval battles: Trafalgar, Jutland, Midway, and Atlantic.
The third and possibly the last of the Tiffany Aching books; a fine coming-of-age novel, as the whole trilogy is, and a great look at the education of a witch.
The third and possibly last Jimmy Paz novel, but the door is certainly open for more. Especially memorable for its attempts to represent how a person from an Amazonian culture would see the modern world and for the internal transformations of two of the other characters.
I've been reading this for a while - was about half-way through when the Stieg Larsson books landed in my household. A really superb historical fantasy novel set at the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. One of Vonda's best, I would say.
Since he died shortly after turning in the mss. of the three Lisbeth Salander mystery/thrillers, no more. I caught the first big implausibility and likely consequences long before the consequences played out. There's a lot I don't believe for a second, but perhaps the biggest implausibility is the genius hackers using INTERNET EXPLORER, the most bug-ridden, slow, and overloaded of web browsers. For crying out loud, she's Swedish - she'd be using Opera.
Utterly preposterous and again full of giant holes in the plot. Fun, though!
Yes, I'm reading the Swedish mystery series, like everyone else I know. I can't tell if the clumsy writing is a result of a clumsy translation; the plot has holes you could drive a truck or three through. And yet, compelling!
Moist von Lipwig, in charge of a bank? Yes, indeed.
At this point, I find Adam Dalgliesh's sidekicks at least as interesting as he is, and I still don't quite get the relationship between him and his 20-years-younger fiancee. This novel has a fairly convolunted plot, and you truly don't get enough information to figure out who done it until mighty late in the book. Even then, I'm not sure I could tell you why done all of it.
Rebus finally retires. A fairly complex plot, involving a dead Russian poet, various Russian businessmen, and, eventually, Big Ger Cafferty. I am not completely convinced that Rebus is gone, but we'll see. After 20-odd years of documenting his life, Ian Rankin might want a change.
Another elegantly-written and sometimes quite funny novel by Hare, this time set somewhere on the south coast of England. While it revolves around the murder of a fine violinist, it also involves the nuances of organizing and rehearsing an amateur orchestra by a conductor who is clearly better than they deserve. However, I have to say: the big break revolves around what I would consider a complete impossibility, given the several amateur orchestras and bands I've played it.
An elegantly written and reasonably well-plotted English mystery from the 1930s, set in the wake of the financial collapse of a group of related companies all owned and run by the same swindler.
No, it did not take me nearly three weeks to read this book. I spent a week or so hauling around The Orphan's Tales without touching it, and another week hauling around and sometimes reading part of The Great Influenza. Now you know why I don't read nearly as many books as I'd like. I should go back to leaving my laptop at work during the week.
That said, this is another Tiffany Aching/Nac Mac Feegle book, an excellent ongoing coming-of-age tale. Great stuff, but you knew I'd say that.
The great author, cook, and TV personality, an eccentric of the first water, tells her life story, sort of. It's less a memoir than a chronological series of charming anecdotes, as told to her nephew Alex. It's always entertaining, sometimes touching, and often hilarious. Running through the book is the ten-year tale of the writing and publishing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a suprising cliff-hanger. (I cried when they finally sold it!) The book also contains a great love story, that of the late-blooming Julia and her beloved Paul.
The first Tiffany Aching novel. She's nine years old and has THE POWER, as well as having had a remarkable grandmother. Also contains a lot about and co-stars the Nac Mac Feegle, one of Sir Terry's great, great creations.
I read 26 books in 2009, up from 23 in 2008, but still behind the 33 in 2007 and far under what i read before the internet took over my life. I spent too much shuttle time on line answering email or blogging, I think. I read a disproportionate number of books while home sick or on vacation (two-plus during a short stay in Santa Fe, for example). I still wish I were reading more nonfiction.
Books I finished:
A fairly brutal but very good Dalziel & Pascoe novel, with many strongly drawn characters and a good subplot.
Putting this here belated because I think I read it in 2009 - might have been the first few days of 2010, however. Apparently the next-to-last Rebus novel, involving finance and government and Siobhan's parents.
I liked the movie, so I got the book, which typically turns out to be better fleshed out and more interesting, and you can easily see what got grated on for the movie. Tristran's father in the book is happily married, so there's no happy reunion with Lady Una. And the whole De-Niro-the-gay-pirate bit was invented for the movie. Anyway, charming and very beautifully written. I need to read more Gaiman.
George Gissing, a British novelist and journalist of the late 19th c., is probably best know today for the novel New Grub Street. I picked up In the Year of Jubilee in a Dover edition several years ago and finally read it this year, inspired by two friends who'd read Gissing within the last 18 months. It is both fascinating and frustrating because it is so much of its time. Set in 1889, the year of Queen Victoria's jubilee, it tells the story of Nancy Lord, her ne're to do well brother Horace, their family tributions, and Nancy's disastrous involvement with the immature Lionel Tarrant, which nearly ruins her, though in the end it appears to more or less be working out reasonably well. But you can easily see the ways that women's lives were limited by circumstances and especially by the circumstance of their being women.
An art-historical thriller of sorts, one about which it's hard to say much without major spoilage, so I'll just say that it's lots of fun and will send you diving for the art history books.
This book is wild with anachronisms; the characters act much too much like modern people; I do not for a minute believe that a Spanish Jew of the 12th century spoke Yiddish (he would speak Ladino); for that same minute, I do not believe that the famed medical school at Salerno followed 19th and 20th c. practice to determine how bodies decayed after death; and I do not believe for a second that they trained women as doctors. (It has been brought to my attention that perhaps Salerno did train women as doctors. That would be interesting to read about.)
Enjoyable, not in the least believable.
The second of Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe books. Compact, swift, and well done.
I'm home with a cold, that's why the three books finished in three days. Today's was one of Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford novels. As usual, she is both great and maddening, for these reasons: 1. The felis-ex-machina without which.... 2. The young cop who is a pure caricature of a feminist - it's far from the first time Rendell has pulled this crap 3. The incredibly convoluted plot in which a lot of trouble could have been avoided if, say, some of the characters had bothered to speak honestly to each other 4. In a book with two English characters of African ancestry and one English character of Indian ancestry, she still manages to have a "magic Negro" (ask me if you're not familiar with the term) 5. The sheerly idiotic and immature behavior of yet another character from one of the subplots. Is that enough reasons?
The first Parker book I've read, a superb and tightly-plotted and -writen heist novel.
A girl named Polly runs away to join the army and find her brother. She finds a lot more, and finds OUT a lot more. Typical Pterry.
Rats was a surprise best seller a few years back. Considering the subject matter, it is surprisingly charming. Still, given that the author spends quite a lot of time in an alley observing the subject rodent, perhaps this is not for the squeamish.
One of Ellroy's L.A. Quartet books; if you've read L.A. Confidential, you'll know some of the characters. A good read of sorts, but the stench of corruption and horror is so great that I think I need to go shower now.
Nero, Archie, a perfume-related contest. Pure comfort reading, and I'm absolutely certain I'd read it before.
Flat, flat, flat. Flat writing, poor plotting, has to invent a work by Aaron Copland, then claims there would be only one percussionist. I don't think so. Must be the only writer to set a book at Oxford and pay no attention to the town and university's age and beauty.
The gap isn't as long as it seems; I read most of two books that I need to finish since The Moonstone. I picked up the Tanenbaum book because the excellent Michael A. Gruber ghosted this and several other of Tanenbaum's books. However, this one is not nearly as good as the books Gruber has been writing under his own name. The writing isn't as good and the characters and plotting....I can't begin to tell you how many times I wanted to kick one of the main characters
A famous 19th century crime/detective novel, now more entertaining as a period piece and for the charming characters than for the plotting. You could say I don't buy a word of the explanation of who and how done it. Still, I'm glad to have read it, some thirty years after I first heard of The Moonstone.
The second in Gruber's stylish Jimmy Paz series. Terrific writing and plotting. If I'd been able to buy a copy of the third book today, I would have done so.
Horrible people doing horrible things to each other, often behaving stupidly in the process, the exceptions mostly being in Lynley's immediate circle. Please stop torturing Havers immediately, and if this series doesn't improve in the next book or two, I am done with it.
If you're following along, you'll have noticed the weeks-long gap since my last-completed book. During that time, I started a Pratchett book, then lost it at work. I spent more time working on Remix, which is hugely annoying. I am also more than 100 pages into a Java textbook and have been spending one evening a week in class and more time doing homework.
I started In the Night Garden months ago, and then got distracted, perhaps by my first run at Remix. In any event, I finally picked it up and dashed through the last 150 pages. All I can say is "Wow." It is an amazing, intricate, wonderfully-written fantasy. I can't wait to read the next book.
A superbly written thriller/police procedural/fantasy novel - really - that raises all sorts of questions related to the recent cultural appropriation and racism debates on LiveJournal. Judging by the photos, the author, with whom I have a slight online acquaintance, is European-American, but the central subjects include African American identity, Africa, santeria, anthropology, anthropology's role, and what, exactly, it is possible to learn by trying to become part of a culture not one's own. I am troubled by the way some of the character development goes, no, wait, by quite a lot of the character development. I also liked the book a whole lot and plan to read the next two Jimmy Paz novels.
Recommended by someone on the Potlatch Good Reads panel. An odd cast of characters set off in a spaceshit to save the world. Well, not exactly, but sort of. The cast includes an autistic man who is a genius at synthesis, a military commander of notable nerve, the Gang of Four, and a vampire. A creepy and sometimes scary book, worth reading.
The latest Culture novel. It took a long, long time getting off the ground and ends, well, you know Banks.
A placeholder; I've been intermittently reading this since mid-February. So far, I'm somewhat disgruntled.
Between finishing The Rest is Noise and starting Carpe Jugulum, I also read about 50 pages of Joseph Horowitz's controversial Understanding Toscanini, which I will get back to in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the usual assortment of wisdom, wit, and belly laughs from Sir Terry. As usual, do not mess with Granny Weatherwax.
I started Noise last April at Wilbur Hot Springs, read another chunk in Santa Fe in July, then set it aside during the Great Reading Drought of 2008. Finally decided I had better finish it. So you could say I read 300-odd pages last year and 200-odd this year, making two decent-sized books. I liked what I read, am not happy at all about some important omissions and feel like a statement up front that this is an AMERICAN view of 20th c. music would have been a good idea. Maybe it's there and I have forgotten - I will check before I write my blog posting about the book. But if a Brit or German had written the book, there would be a lot less Copland and Bernstein, and Will Marion Cook wouldn't have gotten a mention. I have a lot to say in addition to that and won't try to put much of it here.
Giant, fast-moving, often scary novel with a large debt, both plot and structural, to Stoker's Dracula. I liked it quite a bit, though I think it stumbles a bit toward the end, perhaps because it's simply difficult to close out such a big book. The multipart denoument seemed both too drawn out and too short; at the end I wanted a bit more. However, a damn good read.
Well-written and reasonably entertaining, though a bit too convoluted in trying to set out a great deal about the mystery at hand, problems within Lynley's family, and telling us about Simon and Deborah's prehistory.
Okay, if you've read the first three Lynley novels, details about how Simon and Deborah FINALLY get together aren't exactly spoilers. But MY GOD how stupidly these people behave. He doesn't communicate with her for THREE YEARS even though they are quite clearly the best of friends when she leaves England for three years. He BROODS and BROODS about how he can't possibly be acceptable to her because of his injury and limp. What? He's presented as sensitive, brilliant, kind, well-read, and good-looking, and a limp and a brace are supposed to be disqualifying?
Other stupidity: EVEN I could figure out that the camera bag disappeared because of the film! And what is with the concealed evidence and the drive across London that takes an hour when Tommy and Simon know Sasha is dead or dying? Sheesh!
This is the second time I've read Growing Up Weightless, a coming-of-age/YA novel by the late John M. Ford. I like the book's characters, details, and plot, but I feel like it has one serious problem: it doesn't have what I would call a real plot climax, and so it feels structurally weak. This might be because there are multiple plot threads, any of which could have been further worked out, or because the denoument happens very, very fast, in a small number of pages both absolutely and relative to amount of plot to be unwound. It is typical of Ford that he alludes to a lot without spelling it out, which is, in this book, a serious problem with respect to one of the ongoing plot threads. I truoly wish the book had been longer, both for better working out of the plots and for more depth of detail in some areas: how the theater works, the mechanical systems of Luna, what happens with all of the kids, etc. Okay, the latter probably isn't necessary.
I'll also say that the musical economy of Luna is different from anything I am familiar with. There is no way the composer could finish his work and have it performed two weeks later in the current world musical economy. The implication of what happens in the book is that the composer lives in a world like Haydn's, where the music was performed by Esterhazys' private orchestra as soon as it was written, without a long rehearsal period. I am not convinced that a complex modern work, and that's what the symphony to be performed is, could be rehearsed and performed under those conditions.
Well, I had a crappy book-reading year in 2008. I blame it on blogging a lot more than in previous years, reading other blogs too much, and the election. I also got badly bogged down, to the point of blockage, by The Rest is Noise. I read part of it in April, part of it in July, and remain stuck half-way through. Read the index to see why, she said cryptically; I still haven't figured out what to say about it on my blog.
My goal for 2009 is just to read a lot more, of whatever type of book.
A survey of how several facets of the popular TV show work in the real world.
Grazing only. I read the excellent introductory chapter and parts of the string quartet and piano music chapters. I have the second edition (Thanks, Patrick!), which was published ten years ago. In the decade since, Carter, still composing at the age of 100, has written another 20 or 30 works. Hold off a while on that third edition, Mr. Schiff.
I read this because it was in the house and easy, even after having sworn off Donna Leon. I had been told the later books in the Guido Brunetti series were better the earlier - not true at all. Never again!
The enormous gap since I last finished a book has two reasons: the election, which killed my concentration for reading anything but political news, and the length and complexity of a couple of other books I was reading in the late summer/early fall. I seem able to read again now that the election is, thank goodness, OVER.
A mystery/fantasy novel set in an England where it's 1985 - and the Crimean War is still going on. Where there are internal combustion engines, but no jets, and air travel is by propeller-powered airship. Where dodos are common pets. Where crimes against literature are quite common.
How music got rocks in it; also, Death's sensible granddaughter saves the day - again.
The third of the New York Trilogy. This book appears more humane than the first two, or at least the protagonist seems less trapped in convention and more spontaneous than those of the first two. Still, there are many unanswered questions; the atmosphere of the book is disturbing and disquieting, as in the first two books. Not fun to read, not challenging; the books read more like intellectual experiments than anything else. Just how far can I stretch this genre before it breaks?
Book Two of the New York Trilogy, just as creepy as the first. A man (called Blue) is hired by White to watch Black, and destroys his life by doing so.
I read City of Glass in the 80s, but never got the rest of the New York Trilogy; gave away my copy of City of Glass, then picked up a copy of the trilogy that a friend was giving away. MY, what a creepy book. I suspect I both liked and understood it better this time than 20 years ago, and will be starting the second book in the trilogy later today.
A complicated and very entertaining literary thriller, with a great cast of characters.
Salman Rushdie came to Google for a talk a few weeks ago. I had never heard him speak before. He turned out to be smart, funny, and very charming. The talk was mobbed, and he got an enormous hand before and especially after. You can watch his talk on YouTube.The Enchantress of Venice is about a number of things: power, and fate, and magic, and love. It's a lovely book, and as he says in his talk, he didn't make up some of the seemingly wildest things he wrote.
A female wizard? Are you kidding?
A strange and mostly wonderful book, about a world in which the Jews who survived WWII are given a limited-term home in Sitka, Alaska. I liked it a great deal, especially the wry and tortured Mayer Landesman, cop. I suspect it's funnier than I found it; dry wit often goes over my head in print.
The first of MacDonald's Anthony Gethryn novels. I read several of these in the 1980s, and recently used MacDonald for the Well's Mystery Logout Quote game. My copy of The Rasp looked as if it had never been read, and I didn't remember a thing about it - strange, but possibly true. In any event, one of the worst mysteries I've ever read, with conclusions lept to and vast amounts of unmotivated and poorly-explained behavior. I'm now afraid to reread Warrant for X or The List of Adrian Messenger, which I remember as being pretty good.
Much better than the previous two Anita Blake novels, largely because it's heavy on the mystery, better on the human/monster relationship issues, and light on gratuitous violence
No problem with the improbability of talking dragons and Nelson's survival past Trafalgar, but the insanity of the decision-making in this book and the lost-kingdom aspect in the center put me over the edge. I also looked ahead to the ending - WTF? I don't buy it and am done, done, done with the series
Hmm, two Pratchetts in a row and separated by weeks. That's largely because of the amount of time I have recently put into researching and writing a forthcoming article, the longest I've written as a music writer. In any event, Death's sensible granddaughter saves the world.
Magrat Garlick, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, love, unicorns, and....those you don't mention.
One of the great New Yorker writer's collections of food essays. Hilarious, and you will drool straight through.
I read a review in the Times a few years ago when this translation of the Stendahl classic was published. On a visit to my mother, probably in 2001 after she broke her wrist, a bookstore across the river in Hackensack was going out of business. I picked up a few books, Charterhouse among them.
Now, I was not expecting to like Charterhouse. It's a long, early 19th century classic by a writer with a one-name pseudonym. I was expecting serious, heavy, unpleasant.
Boy, was I surprised. The tone throughout is light, ironic, very modern; the action is paced swiftly; the book is full of charm. world. At its heart, it's a novel of politics and court intrigue. It tells the story of the young nobleman Fabrizio del Dongo, as foolish a dolt as has ever been found on the pages of a novel: you will often want to smack him. Possibly more importantly, it's about his aunt, the marvelous Duchess of Sanseverina, and her lover Count Mosca della Rovere, who try to get Fabrizio established in the world.
Subtitled "Tales of Music and the Brain," that's exactly what this superb book by Dr. Sacks is about. Music, neurology, brain damage, unusual conditions, all fascinating.
The third novel by an author best known for her writing about artificial intelligence and other aspects of computer science. Set in Santa Fe, partly at the Santa Fe Institute, about love, death, and other aspects of life. A really good book, interestingly plotted (the characters' lives unfold very slowly) and vividly written. I wish the typeface were more readable - the book designer made a very bad choice.
DEATH LEAVES HIS JOB FOR A WHILE.
The second of the Nurse Matilda books, with a plot that can be summarized in one sentence: The Brown children go to London, mayhem ensues, Nurse Matilda puts things right. Beyond that, really, it is rather annoying. Too much picking on both thin and far people and people with accents. I wish there were either a plot or some characterization beyond the very broad characterization of Aunt Adelaide, Evangeline, and Nurse Matilda.
The third of the Inspector Lynley novels. The plot is about two layers of complexity past plausibility, plus, I thought one character's self-torture implausible based on my knowledge of one of the other characters. I was vastly relieved when....but completing many of these thoughts would require a big spoiler warning. I should note that since I've been sick for two days, this was fine sick-bed reading anyway.
Longer than the previous two novels and less effective than either, with an overly long plot with insufficient motivation for the primary activity and a couple of all-too-obvious long-range setups, plus not quite enough elucidation of an intruiging character. Perhaps he'll appear in the fourth book, perhaps not. Moreover, those dragons can be so annoying! Just imagine a talking cat the size of a first-rate man o' war who can fly and speak intelligently in multiple languages.
Don't mess with Granny Weatherwax or Greebo.
I've wanted to read this book since it was first published in, get this, 1993. McCloud gave a captivating talk at Google a few months ago about his new book, Making Comics, and I decided I'd better start at the beginning.
Why ever did I wait so long? Understanding Comics is sheer genius, as he wittily deconstructs and reconstructs comics through the ages. Not only that, the book is in the form of a comic. Brilliant; I'll be ordering his subsequent two books ASAP.
For some reason, his talk isn't up on the Authors@Google web page. Hmmm.
You see the huge gap between finishing The Civil War and finishing His Majesty's Dragon? Blame Battle Cry of Freedom, a magnificent one-volume history of the American Civil War. It's about 900 pages long, and I have finally wrapped it.
Battle Cry won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, and it's easy to see why. McPherson starts in the 1840s, and he's 250 pages in before the first shots are fired at Fort Sumter. He covers the causes of the Civil War, the social and political conditions of the period, the battles, the generals, the politicians, the enormous changes wrought by the war. He is deeply eloquent and deeply learned. A great accomplishment and worth every minute I spent reading it.
More of the Napoleonic wars plus dragons. There are two anachronisms: use of the words "mindset" and "sideburns." I wonder about the design of the dragon transport and may consult a naval architect of my acquaintance. Otherwise, lots of fun, and boy, those dragons are very high maintenance.
The usual mix of screwups, heavies, and entertaining improbabilities, all very, very funny.
The Napoleonic Wars plus dragons, from the English viewpoint. What more could you want?
I'm reviewing San Francisco Opera's production of Philip Glass's new opera, Appomattox, in a couple of weeks. I have not studied American history since high school, and though I had better review the history of the American Civil War before the opera opens.
The Civil War is a superb short history of the conflict. With about 300 pages of narrative and 100 pages of back matter, it's very much the 20,000 foot view. Still, it takes in the causes of the war, at least from the perspective of 1960, and its course. Catton vividly conveys the conditions of the war and the characters of the men who led it.
Still, we've learned a lot since 1960. I have a more recent, longer history of the era on board; I may even finish it by October 5.
The second is also annoying! There are a couple of implausible plot points that I won't discuss, as they are spoilers; she tips her hand badly on a couple of plot points; the pacing is not so good; there's a huge tangle set up and not undone by the end. I think she is setting up future plots, most likely; giving Guido a nemesis of some kind. I thought of John Rebus and his nemesis Cafferty -- if you want atmosphere and great writing, try the Rebus novels rather than these, unless they get a lot better. Also, perhaps she took that Chekovian dictum a little too seriously.
Given that it's Stephenson, you might expect fantasy or science fiction, but Cryptonomicon is a generation-spanning historical thriller. You don't need to know about the history of cryptography, or to have read an Alan Turning biography, but after you're done, you may want to.
I found Katherine enormously annoying for the first hundred pages or so; if you do too, stick with the book anyway. She changes a lot during the course of the story and the plot eventually gets underway in interesting ways. There is, I think, a big plot point left hanging at the conclusion, so perhaps we'll get more set in the same world.
If you're new to the series, read Swordspoint
then this book, and finish with The Fall of the Kings. Yes,
you should try to find the two Alec & Richard short stories too.
This time it took, though, and I zipped right through, wishing at the end that there were more (and in more than one way). It's an alternate history, set in a 15th century where Byzantium is a power nearly across Europe, numerous gods are worshipped (among them Jesus Christ - but Christianity is a minor cult, not the dominant religion), magic works, and, oh yes, there are vampires. Highly recommended, for its elegance and the vivid characters especially.
Adding to the fun, one of the sous chefs at Google used to work at Babbo; he found me reading Heat one day and signed my copy on the page where he's mentioned. On the down side, whoever edited Heat needs remedial lessons in how to ensure that the verb and subject match in number.
Books I've been in the middle of since 2009 and might finish some day:
Books I started in 2010 or 2011 and am in the middle of right now:
Books I started and will not be finishing: