reading December 31, 2017

What I was reading in 2017 

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Every December 31st, I sit down to write out and look back over the books that I read during the last twelve months. In 2016 I only managed a risible twenty-five books in total, and was then also called-out by a friend over the lack of women and non-white writers in my end-of-year list. I set out to address both these shortcomings in 2017.

Fiction (30)

  • A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin)
  • The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula Le Guin)
  • The Farthest Shore (Ursula Le Guin)
  • Dawn (Octavia Butler)
  • Adulthood Rites (Octavia Butler)
  • Eight Worlds Of C.M. Kornbluth (CM Kornbluth)
  • American Pastoral (Philip Roth)
  • The New York Trilogy (Paul Auster)
  • Imago (Octavia Butler)
  • City of Glass (Paul Auster)
  • If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Italo Calvino)
  • Room (Emma Donoghue)
  • The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
  • Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
  • Underworld (Don DeLillo)
  • The World According to Garp (John Irving)
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Becky Chambers)
  • Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  • Lake Wobegon Days (Garrison Keillor)
  • The Magicians (Lev Grossman)
  • The Magician King (Lev Grossman)
  • The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
  • A Closed and Common Orbit (Becky Chambers)
  • Deep Secret (Diana Wynne Jones)
  • Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
  • The Magician's Land (Lev Grossman)
  • Amsterdam (Ian McEwan)
  • Microserfs (Douglas Coupland)
  • Secret Water (Arthur Ransome)
  • Arrival (Ted Chiang)

Out of a total of thirty novels that I read this year, 43% were written by women, while six (20%) were written by non-white authors. Not too bad (and would have been higher if I hadn't re-read a few old favourites towards the end of the year), but I can definitely do better.

I also revisited the first two of Lev Grossman's The Magicians series because watching the TV adaptation had made me forget what actually happened in the books; and finally finished Don DeLillo's Underworld on about my fifth attempt.

Non-fiction (8)

  • Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (Michael J Sandel)
  • Walden (Henry David Thoreau)
  • Thinking with Type (Ellen Lupton)
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari)
  • Atomic Design (Brad Frost)
  • Far from the East End (Iris Jones Simantel)
  • Story Genius (Lisa Cron)
  • White Line Fever: The Autobiography (Lemmy Kilmister)

A couple of work-related books for once—I don't generally read much about UX these days, a habit I should probably change—some political philosophy, and a bit of Lemmy made for a nice mix. It never feels like I have been reading that much non-fiction during the year, so it's always a nice surprise to reach this point and realise that I actually managed to read a fair bit of it.

Comic/illustrated (2)

  • Batman vs. Superman: The Greatest Battles (Frank Miller)
  • Albion (Alan Moore)

I never buy comic books for myself, so these are usually Christmas presents. Albion was pretty bad, and that's speaking as a huge Alan Moore fan.

Recommendations

Looking back over these lists, it strikes me that I actually read quite a few putative 'classics' that I really didn't enjoy very much. Roth, Auster, Calvino, DeLillo, Morrison, Keillor, McEwan; all celebrated award-winning works that left me feeling that I must have missed something. Either that or my expectations were too high, perhaps.

The best books I read this year were the first two of Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series; The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and its sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit. Short, straightforward sci-fi with a conscience. I'm looking forward to whatever she produces next.

reading December 31, 2016

What I was reading in 2016 

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Part two of my regular annual look back at the art that I consumed in the past twelvemonth, here are the books that I managed to read in 2016. Sadly my reviews blog has been sorely neglected over the last couple of years, a situation I hope to remedy in 2017, but for now all you get is a pair of lists.

Fiction

  • Body & Soul (Frank Conroy)
  • Voice of the Fire (Alan Moore)
  • A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce)
  • Girlfriend in a Coma (Douglas Coupland)
  • Midair (Frank Conroy)
  • 2666 (Roberto Bolaño)
  • Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
  • As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner)
  • Children of Earth and Sky (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • Lady Chatterley's Lover (D.H. Lawrence)
  • The Final Empire (Brandon Sanderson)
  • Avalon (Anya Seton)
  • The Well of Ascension (Brandon Sanderson)
  • Top 10, Volume 1 (Alan Moore)
  • Top 10, Volume 2 (Alan Moore)
  • The Mesmerist's Daughter (Heidi James)
  • The Regional Accounts Director of Firetop Mountain (Stephen Morrison)
  • Fashion Beast (Alan Moore)
  • Jerusalem (Alan Moore)

My overall reading velocity this year has been greatly tempered by a series of colossal doorstop novels I undertook. Starting with Body & Soul, Frank Conroy's only novel and a hefty hardback found on eBay, I also ploughed through Bolaño's 2666 (900 pages) and ended the year reading Alan Moore's Jerusalem (1,266 pages, and one of the ten longest novels written in the English language) - were it not for a few graphic novels and a single novella (Heidi James's The Mesmerist's Daughter, a free gift with a subscription to the literary magazine, Neon) my overall count could have been far lower.

Non-fiction

  • On Writing (Charles Bukowski)
  • Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story (Peter Bagge)
  • The War of Art (Steven Pressfield)
  • Empires of EVE (Andrew Groen)
  • Seabiscuit (Laura Hillenbrand)
  • Radical Focus (Christina Wodtke)

As usual, the non-fiction I picked up is dwarfed by the fiction list. Pressfield's book on creativity was recommended by Wil Wheaton, but I found it preachy and uninspiring. Empires of EVE, on the other hand, which could easily have been a dull retelling of nerdy computer game history, was a fascinating page-turner detailing the complex machinations of players that shaped the universe of EVE Online during its early years.

Radical Focus, Wodtke's book about OKRs (Objectives and Key Results, a target-setting technique), was the strangest business book I've ever read, giving over more than half of the pages to a fictionalised parable rather than the more straightforward explanations you might expect. I'm still not sure if it made understanding the concepts any easier than a 'proper' book would have done.

Recommended reading

Aside from Alan Moore's Jerusalem, which is a topic so big it really deserves its own post, the best book I read this year was probably Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit, an account of the Depression-era racehorse's career, injury and comeback. The story of the unlikely winner and the three men whose lives he changes, told with economy by the housebound Hillenbrand, justly deserves all of its praise.

reading December 31, 2014

What I was reading in 2014 

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And so on to Part 2 of my regular New Years Eve routine; first the music, and now the books. Scorekeeping, as ever, is by Goodreads.

Fiction

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon)
  • Hyperion (Dan Simmons)
  • The Infernal City (Greg Keyes)
  • Lord of Souls (Greg Keyes)
  • The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
  • Sex Criminals, Volume One (Matt Fraction)
  • The Magician King (Lev Grossman)
  • Templar One (Tony Gonzales)
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)
  • Shogun (James Clavell)
  • Banquets of the Black Widowers (Isaac Asimov)
  • Casebook of the Black Widowers (Isaac Asimov)
  • Ulysses (James Joyce)
  • Buddy Buys a Dump (Peter Bagge)
  • River of Stars (Guy Gavriel Kay)

This list feels incredibly short this year, although anyone struggling all the way to the end of Ulysses deserves some sort of extra bonus points. (Actually I was rather surprised at just how much I enjoyed it—not as much of a chore as I imagined it might be.) The two crappy Elder Scrolls tie-in novels are only in there because we moved house and everything else was in boxes...

Non-fiction

  • The Dirt (Motley Crue)
  • Wonderbook (Jeff Vendermeer)
  • The Kid Stays in the Picture (Robert Evans)
  • Where Good Ideas Come From (Steven Johnson)

Wonderbook looks lovely but was a little light on substance (or perhaps I'm just too cynically British to fully give myself to the brand of hand-wavey inspiration that Vandermeer is pushing); The Dirt, on the other hand, was a surprisingly readable insight into what being in a famous band can do to your relationships with those closest to you.

Recommended reading

I think it was the first thing I read this year, but of the books I read this twelvemonth Chabon's Kavalier & Clay has stayed with me the most. I'm currently halfway through Wonder Boys, another Christmas present, and he's fast becoming a favourite author.