10: Undisputed pinnacle of reading, worth multiple trips into the pages.
9: So good you end up staying up too late reading it, 4+ nights a week.
8: Good times and a sizable distraction from other ventures.
7: Suitably entertaining, lacking some element of storytelling, substance or flair.
6: Hits some of my criteria for interest captivating criteria, but may miss at times.
5: Maybe has one element of a worthwhile read, maybe not.
This is going to be a pretty incomplete list because I am starting it in October. Hopefully this will help me remember what I have read and what I thought of it. If I am lucky maybe someone will get an idea for a good read to, or save them from something atrocious.
Year-by-year title completion:
2010 -- 18
2011 -- 19
2012 -- 31
2013 -- 20
2014 -- 10
2015 -- 21
I have read 91 titles since I started keeping track in 2010 through the end of 2015.
Reading right now:
Remembrance of Things Past Marcel Proust
Les Miserable Victor Hugo
Eight titles completed.
Sycamore Row, Johnathan Grisham. SR: 8.
Grisham writes of a small-town lawyer pulled into a will contest. One might think that this was destined to be a bit of a snooze. Quite the contrary, the pages flew by and I enjoyed its reading greatly.
Grisham gets a plentiful portion of criticism from some. He is a mass-market author. These authors are always denigrated as hacks and villains. With each of Grisham's novels that I have read, my opinion of the author increases with each passing novel.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tart. SR: 10
In nearly every circle, this novel was trumpeted and lauded in a host of literary circles. My praise would add little to this roar. That said, this was a fine, fine novel. It is one of the best books I have ever read.
Beyond the vivid, relatable characters Tart conjured, the book conveys a love of art in a way that is hard to capture on the written page.
Allen & Mike's Realy Cool Telemark Tips, Allen O'Bannon & Mike Clelland. SR: 7.
Telemark skiing is an endeavor that I spend some time with each winter. Last year I bought my first set of modern telemark skis. These along me to ski faster and on more challenging terrain. With this in the offing, I figured it was time to polish my skills.
The authors put together a series of recommendations and illustrations to improve telemark technique. While there are a couple of linked tips, but there was not a unifying principle that guided the book. This is my largest criticism.
Headlines and Deadlines, Theodore M. Bernstein. SR: 8.
Bernstein is fantastic. This work is very specific—the creation of headlines. While this isn't interesting to anyone outside of the newspaper business, it is still a worthwhile exercise to hone one's drafting skills.
The Bully Pulpit, by Dorris Kearns Goodwin. SR: 8
The content is interesting. It is the story of the progressives and the muckrakers. The moment in our history that this book covers is a watershed moment in our history. The players are larger than life and have compelling stories of their own.
Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). SR: 9.
This is the third installment of the Comoran Strike series, a mystery series by the highly-acclaimed author of the Harry Potter series. I have read each of the previous two novels. See below.
This novel is written from three perspectives. Two of which are familiar to the reader from the previous books. Those are Comoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. The third perspective is that of the murder and the suspect of the investigation. Each of these vantage points significantly advances the story. As a piece of writing, this must have been difficult. A good mystery novel moves the plot without giving away the solution to the mystery too soon.
The Careful Writer, by Theodore Bernstein. SR: 10.
This book is modeled off of Fowler's classic Modern English Usage. These are big shoes to fill, and Bernstein does it well. This is an excellent study of the language. Each entry is clear and entertaining to read. For those who seek to write and speak with greater clarity, this is a great resource.
Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln by David Humme. SR: 8.
A guide to doing anything well runs the risk of being criticized for being presumptuous or didactic.
David Humme was a speechwriter for several presidents. The reader can safely assume that he knows of which he writes (That or the presidents he worked for were easily fooled. But that is too harsh and probably not true.). His insight comes from being ringside, from being part of great speeches, and then critiquing those speeches with the people who delivered them. My interest was piqued.
The book was designed to be instructive. That is just what it was. The writing style was clear, had understandable examples, and was entertaining. There are several elements Humme suggests that I intend to incorporate into my speaking practices.
Twenty-one titles completed.
The Company She Kept by Archer Mayor. SR: 8.
As I have said before, a mystery novel is unlikely to break new ground, but—if done well—it can delight. Archer Mayor returns to write yet another installment of his Joe Gunther series. Joe Gunther is a Vermont detective who live in Brattleboro. The early installments were all largely written about Brattleboro, but as Gunther's success and renown built, his career took him farther afield—at times as far away as Burlington, Rutland and Newport.
One of the reasons that Archer Mayor's books are so enjoyable to read is that the police work is true to life. There aren't big, flashy moments; instead, the long, meticulous grind of procedural work is what solves his mysteries. Some readers might find this a put-off. They would prefer a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners, damn-the-rules type of detective. Those characters, while satisfying, are limited. They are so brittle and unrealistic that they can't possibly exist in real settings; they can only live in the realm of the fantastic.
That said, Mayor has a penchant for the dramatic. This novel begins with a State Representative dangling from a noose off of a cliff with the word "dyke" scrawled into her chest. From there, the real police work begins and you are down the rabid hole with Gunther and his team.
The Company She Kept was thoroughly enjoyable. I would read it again and recommend it to any adult reader who enjoys a police procedural.
Alex Cross's Trial by James Patterson. SR: 7.
I read it. It was entertaining, but I don't want to devote any more time thinking about this book than I already have, because I don't think either the author or the publisher bothered to fact check some blatantly obvious facets of this work.
For instance, the protagonist meets Teddy Roosevelt in the oval office. This could not be, as such a room did not exist until the Taft administration. That's just bone-headed. Five seconds on the internet would have confirmed how patently false these passages were.
Additionally, the protagonist discusses grounds for appeal during his work as a prosecutor at trial. Now, I know what you are thinking, let's give the author the benefit of the doubt: maybe they were talking about an interlocutory appeal or how to best counter a defense appeal upon conviction. No. The context of each of these passages was how unfair the trial was to the prosecution and what they could do post-trial to right these injustices. For those of you who don't know, the double jeopardy clause of the fifth amendment prohibits the prosecution from appealing an acquittal. After all, if the appellate court reversed the trial court, the defendant(s) would face a second trial (double jeopardy). On this fact, I am the least forgiving. What of civics class? Was the author, editor(s), and publisher(s) all absent on the day the teacher covered this fundamental right?
The final glaring error I noticed was a reference to the civil rules of procedure. The defense witness tried to admit a warrant. The judge stamped it and admitted it into evidence. The prosecution objected, claiming that the use of this warrant was in contravention of the civil rules. There wasn't a detailed discussion, but there was a discussion. The civil rules were first promulgated in 1938, long after this novel is set. As a result, this passage is plagued with inaccuracy. As an aside, I believe there was a valid objection that could have been made: foundation. Prior to the admission of a piece of evidence, the proponent must establish what it is and that the evidence is authentically what it purports to be. This requires testimony. None was offered here.
The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald. SR: 7.
F. Scott Fitzgerald thought that he wrote the great American novel when he sent The Great Gatsby to the publisher's house. Today many would agree with that assessment. But at the time, the book received a dreadful critical and commercial welcome to the world. In search of a way to support himself, Fitzgerald went to Hollywood to write for the movies.
The Pat Hobby Stories follow a Hollywood writer through ill-fortune and capers. The writing displays all of Fitzgerald's bitterness at his situation and the ludicrous nature of Hollywood. The stories are entertaining and little more.
It was entertaining to read something else of Fitzgerald's, it wasn't good enough to go out of your way to read.
The Last Lion by William Manchester and Paul Reid. SR: 9.
Biographies tend to aggrandize the subject. It is inevitable. Which biographer sets out to write the history of a lesser man, a deeply flawed man, or a failure? Few, that is for sure. With Winston S. Churchill, the subject of this biography, it would be hard to aggrandize his role in the world's history.
In this tome, Reid completes Manchester's trilogy of Churchill's life. The first two tomes were completed exclusively by Manchester. This final tome begins with Churchill assuming the Prime Minister's office in the midst of Nazi aggression in Poland and ends with his death. Its pages cover the most crucial moments in the twentieth century.
The writing is crisp and the research is thorough. History is, and has been, one of the most abiding pursuits in my life. Reading this book was a pleasure. The first two volumes are now firmly placed on my reading list.
Investing for Dummies by Wiley Brand. SR: 7.
All of my life, I have heard that money is the root of all evil. Truth may lie in these words; however, money is the engine of societal change. This is as true for individuals and societies. For individuals, abundance brings, power, prestige and influence. For societies, imbalances in the distribution of money have caused their overthrow. Suffice it to say that understanding the way money works is fundamental to navigating this world, despite its drawbacks. The foundation of such an understanding is, and must be, an understanding of personal finance.
This book is aimed at personal finance. Much of the content is basic financial literacy, although there are several nuanced explanations. The book, sadly, touches on too many topics too briefly. Little real insight is available in these pages.
Shut your eyes, hold hands by Chris Bojalian. SR: 5.
A new books shop opened in the town I work. This is probably worthy of a post or two of its own. For now, let's just say that this is very exciting, both for those who love books and those who want to see this town thrive. As a member of both categories, I felt as though I had to buy books from this store and attend the events that came up. So, when the store announced that they had an author coming to town for a reading, I just had to go.
My past experience with this author is riddled with disappointment. His works tend to lack true narrative. More troubling than that, I have, in the past, been burned by a booked that abruptly ended with a deus ex machina ending. Such an ending may work for fairy tales or campfire stories, but it does not belong in most work.
The author seized on two set-pieces and tried to fill out a novel from there. First, he seized on the image of homeless teenagers living on the shores of lake Champlain in an igloo of frozen trash bags for a winter. Second, he fixated on the effects of a nuclear plant's meltdown. Again and again, the author returned to these images. The characters didn't have a believable development and the plot was disjointed. Worst of all, the story concluded with, in essence, the hand of god sweeping the main character into a neat, tidy resolution of her storyline.
Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law by Nathaniel Burney. SR: 8.
Serious as this book's topics are, the delivery is approachable and humerous. This short book distills a semester-long, first-year criminal law class into illustrated vignettes with humorous images and pithy text.
Matilda by Roald Dahl. SR: 10
Since childhood, I may have read through this book a dozen times. Each time I do, there is a sense of wonder and glee that jumps off of the pages. Young or old, a reader cannot help but empathize with the main character, laugh at her family's shenanigans, and tremble at the Trunchbull's monstrosity.
Between You & Me by Marry Norris. SR: 6.
This book is another in the long line of books that I read to become a better writer. The author has been an editor, albeit with varying levels of responsibilities, at the New Yorker for decades. She is, without belaboring the point, a master of the English language. A reader would reasonably expect that the book would contain insight into and instruction regarding the English language. The reader would technically have their expectations satisfied but only in the most cursory fashion. Most of the ink is devoted to chatty stories about the author's experiences. While these are interesting, they only contain spare nuggets of information about the English language. On this front, the book is a disappointment.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn SR: 8.
Now, I have read all of Gillian Flynn's works. I wish that I picked this book first. It was her first novel. It is also the least radical and the most realistic. The sensational turns pages, but the realistic is the fullest expression of art. Don't get me wrong, I love an innovation. But surely an innovation is not the absence of humanity. True, this work as a relatively predictable plotline, but the characters are rich and motivated by realistic desires and fears. It is unsurprising that the reading experience was engrossing.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. SR: 9.
Review to follow.
All of the Old Knives by ________ SR: 5.
The writing was bad. The characters were, at best, two-dimensional. At least it was a spy novel.
The Girl on the Train by _______ SR: 6
The hype was not justified. This was an unreliable narrator tale. We hate the narrator, we hate the antagonist, and we hate the bystanders. None of the characters are even fun to hate. Many of the characters are simply stock characters for the protagonist to bump against. Sadly, even artful bumping is not the ballet. Heck, it isn't even a particularly interesting square dance.
All the Light We Cannot See by ______ SR: 9
All of the hype was justified.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. SR: 7
I was swept away by the first Gillian Flynn novel I read, Gone Girl. So too was much of the reading public. Then, later, the movie going public had an opportunity to feel the same love, albeit lacking the intense inner thoughts of the protagonists. Only once I finish, nearly breathless, Gone Girl, did I realize that I just didn't believe many of the characters. The storytelling was masterful; but you could see the joints and strings of the puppets Flynn used to tell this story. In my final analysis, I like the novel but thought that it deserved more. It is with that thinking in mind that I came to Dark Places.
This was Flynn's second novel (I seem to be working my way backward in time for several contemporary novelists). It showed glimmers of the fantastic storytelling that blossomed in Gone Girl, but the characters felt more realistic. Maybe that is the tradeoff. You just can get fantastic narratives out of real characters. Your reader would anticipate too many of the next moves from each of your characters.
10:04, by Ben Lerner. SR: 7
I wanted to love this book. Lerner's first book, Leaving the Atocha Station, was masterful, lyrical, and insightful. Needless to say, when he published another book, I was excited to read it. While the prose is beautiful, the characters novel, and the setting rich, I just couldn't sink my teeth into this book.
Like Leaving the Atocha Station, this book meanders, without any true plot, through a moment in time that every resident of the city will recall. Additionally, 10:04 follows a writer, presumptively the author himself.
The melancholy that I found enriching in Leaving the Atocha Station transmogrified into plain old whining in 10:04, albeit whining couched in beautiful prose.
In this novel, the author has returned to New York, following the publication of his first novel. The author still considers himself a poet, rooted in the poetry community and imbued with poetic tendencies. Despite these cultural association and a promise not to write another novel, there is a lure for the author to write another novel. As with everyone, money is necessary to do the thing he wants and interesting narratives keep stumbling into his sphere of consciousness.
Intertwined with the author's struggle to determine what type of author he will be is the challenge of his own health and the desire to help his best friend become pregnant.
Perhaps, when I get around to rereading this book in a few years, I will discover there is a great deal that I have missed in this first reading. I hope so. Until then, I will anticipate Lerner's next novel, hoping that it will fulfill the implicit promise of his first novel: that he will become the great American novelist of the early 21st century.
Humans of New York, by Brandon Stanton. SR: 8
It is hard to believe that I am reviewing a coffee-table book. After all, the book can only boast a handful of complete sentences. Despite that, I was able to take in the content by progressing from cover to cover.
My first introduction to Mr. Stanton's work came from his image of Rose Long. Stanton finds a way to capture the essence of a person in photograph. Everything he publishes celebrates humanity and frequently delves into the poignant aspects of the subject's existence. If ether of these attributes appeals to you, then it is work reading this work.
On Writing, by Stephen King. SR: 7.
As you can tell from scrolling through my reviews since I began writing them in 2010, I am no fanboy of Stephen King's writing. That same quick scroll would also tell you that I read about writing, the mechanics and art, on a regular basis. I am usually working on at least one writing book at any given time. Without digressing too far from the point of this review, as I was beginning law school in 2010, I came to the realization that my teachers had spent so much time focusing on the quality of the ideas contained in a writing assignment that they were entirely ignoring or lightly passing over the writing itself. As a result, I had made it a very long way through my education without ever really focusing on the mechanics of transferring my ideas into a written medium that others could understand. Since that time, I have tried to keep up a steady reading project on writing. That is how Stephen King's On Writing came to my attention.
There are some good nuggets about writing in Stephen King's book. There is an awful lot about his process (sit down and write) and his thoughts on the business of writing (it is tough, but keep trying). As King is sharing his thoughts on those topics, the reader is treated to war stories of King's efforts drafting his most famous works. Perhaps that would be exciting for a fanboy. But for me, it just felt like filler that pandered to an audience that would buy the book no matter what was in it.
Despite those criticisms, the book was a fast read and it wasn't boring, so I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it.
Saving the Family Cabin, by NoLo SR 7.
As you might expect from the title, this book tries to bridge the technical practice of long-term management of real estate by use of legal entities and a laypersons understanding. It is an admirable idea. These authors did as good a job as anyone could hope. That said, the book, just like WebMD, only gives the reader enough knowledge to ask some informed questions when they meet with a professional. It doesn't give the reader enough knowledge to do anything for themselves.
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant, by Roz Chast. SR 8.
This little book has been trumpeted in certain circles. The author, Roz Chast, is an acclaimed cartoonist, whose work regularly appears in the New Yorker. While those works are typically a single frame, this work is a graphic novel. Here, Chast follows her parents through the long decline into dementia, and eventually their demises.
Chast is precinct and takes a humorous approach to the a subject that has remained largely unbroached in our society. Death is a universal fear. Dying, however, is a topic that we don't even know how to address. Chast has made substantial strides towards opening up this important topic in the most lighthearted way possible.
The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters. SR: 9.
Wait, bask in the language and the mood of this novel. While there is narrative, the most compelling aspect of this novel is the texture of every moment feels perfect. The tension builds throughout the novel. Each interaction is fraught with the everyday and the extraordinary.
In some ways, this is a love story. In other ways it is a procedural thriller. And on a whole new level, this novel is a psychological thriller. In sum, it make for great reading.
The novel is set in the dawn following the end of the victorian era in London. While the novel gets the flavor of the period right, it is the tension between the central characters' desires and the mores of the era that provides all of the conflict which drives the early scenes of the novel. After the scene is set, the narrative takes on a life of its own.
Ten titles completed.
Abide with Me, by Elizabeth Strout. SR: 8.
There is much to love in this novel. Like in many of her other novels, Elizabeth Strout takes the reader to rural maine. In this place, Strout draws out the drama of everyday existence, struggle, and tragedy.
In this work, Strout gives us a window into the life and community of a young minister, who has two daughters and just lost his wife. We are constantly flashing back in time, some six years or so. There, we see the arrival of the minister and his wife. At times, we peak even further back to the minister's courtship. In these glances back, we see how poorly suited the wife was to this small and, even more tragically, how poorly suited she was to the task of being a minister's wife. All this was merely backdrop.
The real drama come with the minister's struggle with his faith and need to come with a world without his wife. His role as a minister is ever more challenging. His daughter is acting out. And, in the face of these challenges, his congregation has mutated into a roiling rumor mill, seemingly intent on taking the minister down a peg or two.
Strout crafts the narrative arch so artfully that a reader can't help but feel drawn into this world.
Leaving the Atocha Station, by Ben Lerner. SR: 10.
This is Ben Lerner's first novel, published by a literary press, and comes after several vaunted poetry projects. At its heart, this novel echoes Hemingway's expat work. The protagonist is a disillusioned young american. He is in Spain, trying to write; however, he thinks he is a fraud and live in constant fear of others discovering what he is.
The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (A.K.A. J.K. Rowling). SR:9.
A private detective doesn't make a lot of sense in the modern era, but they still make for terrific literary subjects. As I observed in my review of the first book in this series, a private eye novel is pretty formulaic, but when done well the book is a pleasure to read.
Moby Dick, by Herman Mellville. SR: 7.
It is a book about whaling, that may also have some great allegories about life and man's relationship with nature. But above those to characteristics, this is a book that venerates the sperm whale and the process of harvesting those whales. For my tastes, the explanations of the whaling fleet and whales were tiring and not particularly informative or descriptive. To make matters worse, these sections took up nearly three fourths of the book. How this book came to occupy a spot in the pantheon of great books—as judged by scholars (always be suspicious of scholars)—I would not be able to tell you. Don't take my meaning the wrong way, it was okay, in the same way that a crime procedural is okay: it describes something that the vast majority of people have little experience with, then injects some drama and narrative.
Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, by John Paul Stevens. SR 10.
I intend to review this book in-depth in the future. For now, I will say that the ideas are good and well thought out; the writing is clear and accessible. Any person, having graduated highschool, should find this book engaging and within their capabilities as a reader.
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. SR: 8.
I am not proud of it, but I decided to reread this after referencing it in the review below. If you are going to reference a work, I guess that it is worth revisiting. That said, it is a poor way to decide what to read. Somehow I keep enjoying the play with each reread.
The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). SR: 10.
As a non-sequitur to the quality of the book, I want to admit the intense appreciation I have for J.K. Rowling as a writer. She didn't doesn't ever have to publish a book again. By most measurements she is the richest woman in England, despite all of her philanthropic efforts. Even if she did want to earn additional dollars by writing, she could have released a novel under her own name and it would have been a best seller, no matter the genre no matter the quality. (see, for example, reaction to the Casual Vacancy). Here, as is well documented, J.K. Rowling wrote under a pseudonym and, by all accounts, was never going to reveal her identity as the author. This shows a remarkable desire to create and for those creations to be judged and enjoyed on their own merits, without reference to Harry Potter. Ok, enough of that. It is time to talk about the book.
This is, in many ways, a classic detective story. The plot setup is: dead person; mysterious circumstances, but nearly universal agreement as to the cause of death; lone holdout hires a down-on-his-luck private-eye to investigate further; adventures, with twists, ensues. That said, the author holds tight to a procedural (as opposed to the omniscient or superpowerful (See Sherlock Holmes)) type of investigative writing. The reader is privy to all / most of the conversations and perceptions of the main character. Notably, the reader isn't granted access to all of the detective's thoughts, so you are left on your own to wrangle with where his suspicions lie.
As a twist on the classic detective novel, we have two point-of-view characters, the detective and his secretary. The novel begins as the secretary is assigned to the detective's office as a temporary secretary. From there, we learn that she is more than competent, she is intelligent and a natural sleuth herself. Layered on top of those qualities, she is attractive and there is a nascent attraction between the detective and the secretary; it is a relationship that both characters consciously try to avoid. As a clear indication that there will be sequels, the author has the restraint to let the nascent relationship remain in its brooding, not-yet-formed state.
Both of the point-of-view characters are compelling. There personal stories and the way they interact with each other catches the reader, builds empathy, and generates fascination in the outcome of their actions.
Throughout the book, the conversation, thoughts, and action all move the story along at a nimble, realistic pace. Underlying all of these superficial components, is a dynamite plot and a nuanced understanding of human interaction and motives. The convergence of these two facets of great writing culminate in a novel which grabbed me by my bootstraps, dragged me into its pages, and then wouldn't let me go until the final page. The preceding doesn't guarantee great literature, but it is a prerequisite of great literature.
I will close on the same note I opened with, my admiration of J.K. Rowling's decision to write this book. The detective novel, especially the private-eye, genre is a well-worn type of novel. There are a limited number of approaches and realistically few potential problems for a detective to solve. As a result, these novels can often feel played out or simply derivative of other works. Typically, we want our novels to be as original as a freshly fallen snowflake. There is room, as this novel demonstrates, for a book to give a virtuoso performance of a well-worn genre and plot-line and for that performance to be an object of pure joy for its reader. After all, we will sit through Hamlet, even though we know exactly how it will unfold, just for the joy of seeing a good performance.
Amy and Isabelle, By Elizabeth Strout. SR: 8.
I read this book immediately following the Burgess Boys by the same author, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps I should have waited for a second drink from the same pool, but I didn't. It is possible that I was just tired of the author's style and tone or the constant references to small-town life in rural Maine. Then again, all of those characteristics were super endearing to me in the Burgess Boys. I have another book by the same author, Oliver Kitteridge, but I am going to hold off reading it. That way I will have a fresh take on it.
The novel is essentially a coming of age drama, framed by the ostensibly distinct experiences of a single mother and her daughter. The daughter travels through the book on a voyage of nascent adulthood and sexuality. The mother, who gave birth to the daughter outside of any marriage, has been keeping up a reserved facade for her daughter's entire life. In the book the mother is constantly struggling with the desire to be seen as proper, while fighting against her isolated experience.
Neither of those dramas was particularly compelling to me. Perhaps the novel dealt too intensely with gendered issues, which I have no experience with, to be a compelling cross-gender novel.
The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout. SR: 10.
This book drew me in and held my interest until the last sentence. It is a great read, even if it lacks some of the depth of thoughtful exploration that would make it great literature.
One of the reasons that I found this story so compelling is because it touches on issues which are visible in my home state. This story is set in Maine, where the larger, societal issues are more acute than in my home state of Vermont. That said, both states struggle to attract industry and, as a result, lose many of their young people. All that remains are hollowed out towns with more than there fair share of problems. This reality is in stark contrast to the natural beauty of both states. Additionally, both states have, at least for the last couple of generations, enjoyed substantial homogeneity of race culture and religion. Both states have served as refugee relocation destinations. (Up until the influx of Somali refugees, Maine was the whitest state in the Union.) Especially for those who were at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, this influx has challenged their status.
The catalyst for this narrative is that a young man threw a pig's head through the window of a mosque in a small Maine town. This boy's extended family form the leading characters in this story. His mother, her twin brother and her older brother are all that remain of his family in the United States. The two uncles both left Maine to pursue legal careers in New York City. The oldest brother gained notoriety defending a famous musician (who the reader is invited to analogize to O.J. Simpson). This brother is, however, a self-centered jerk, who treats his family with disdain. The rest of the novel closely follows their struggles and evolution.
My largest criticism for this book is that some of the characters evolved in a nearly magical way, which felt contrived. This may flow from the author's decision to have multiple first person narrators, but not to have either of the evolving characters be a narrator.
The writing is at a perfect tempo. Dialogue and description are well paired to draw the reader along. The prose is evocative without being ostentatious.
The presentation of this book is gorgeous. The type is Fairfeild. The line spacing and length allows the reader's mind to dash across the page.
The Men Who Lost America, by Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy SR: 9.
I will start my review where almost every other reviewer has, the necessity of this book to the wholeness of the historical narrative. As O'Shaughnessy notes, the orthodox American perspective is: the Revolutionary Forces were led by fantastic generals and statesmen to overcome impossible odds, but the British were ill adept and blundered their way through the war. It doesn't take much more than a cursory assessment of that statement to see that if your opponent is weak and blunders, you don't need to be great to overcome them. In fact, the logical conclusion, if the assertion that the British were ill-adapted blunders, is that American leadership was also incompetent because it took them so long to prevail. One can assume that the American historical focus is so short-sighted because it has traditionally been focused on just the American theater of war, while in reality the British fought a global conflict. Due to the larger historical events, from the British perspective, very little historical work occurred to examine the possibility that their leaders might have been up to the task. O'Shaugnessy examines the British leaders for what they were: competent men who were fighting with their hands tied against an enemy that refused to admit defeat and gained allies. This gives the American revolution, in the historical record, what it faced in reality and what it deserves: a worthy set of adversaries.
Twenty titles completed.
Typography for Lawyers, by Matthew Butterick. SR:10
Typography isn't the substance of your prose, but it affects the way the substance is (or is not) consumed by the reader. Butterick is obviously super stoked about this -- in a way I couldn't even imagine reaching. That said, what he proposes does not actually seem super difficult to incorporate. Despite having said that, don't plan on seeing any major changes in this particular page (or any of the other pages on this blog, for that matter). This isn't because I don't want to practice; rather, it is because the text editor in blogger is far too limited to make many of the changes Butterick suggests.
Even though you won't see major changes, I did move away from Times New Roman, because Butterick made the compelling argument that
Major and immediate changes as a result of this book:
Single spaces following periods,
and, yes, I will consider more fonts.
I am happy to report that a few of the changes Butterick suggest are already part of my repertoire, including: the use of kerning, the use of perspective fonts, and the use of tables (rather than playing silly games with the table/space keys.
Anyhow, this book is truly amazing and profoundly accessible. It can change the face of your writing. I plan to read it again next year and will keep it as a desktop reference.
Cooked, by Michael Pollan. SR: 8
The Help, by Kathyrn Stockett. SR: 9
Yes, this is a book about racism, segregation, and inequity. And yes, it is written by a white woman. And beyond even that, many of the book's immediate dramas center around the lives of white women, despite the meta focus. For these and many other reasons, there are ample grounds to critique the form of this story. There, it is out there, now I don't have to talk about it any more.
The above raises the issue of who can legitimately write about an issue. The criticism, stemming from the facts set out above, implies that only a member of the group can write about that group's experiences. So, a woman who worked as a domestic servant at that time and in that place could *legitimately* write about the issue. I don't think anyone would disagree on that. Obviously, some people believe that this author stood in an illegitimate place to write this book. By contrast, could a dark skinned women of Anglican descent, born, raised, and residing in London legitimately write on this topic? I wonder, but I don't have an answer.
I couldn't stop reading this, which is always a good sign. Sure, I felt terrible and guilty at numerous points throughout the book. If for no other reason than being white and American, I feel guilty for the system that grew out for my demographic's benefit. The author drew out a range of emotions and character growth that made the story rich and enjoyable.
How to be a Gentleman, by John Bridges. SR: 8
Friends of mine got this for me as a gag gift for my birthday. Much of the advice touches on matters that are, if not well known, intuitive for those who have grown up. This author has a humorous, pithy way of stating these norms, so the reading is fun and fast.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. SR: 6.
It is a great literary work and mountains of praise are heaped on its author every day, but I just could not get into this book. I practically had to drag myself through it. There are narrative and character naming circles that madden even the most tranquil mind.
Write Good or Die Scott Nicholson & various others. SR: 6.
A collection of short works tries to fill the shoes of a full length book, while still retaining the super-charged punch of short works. Sadly, there are structural flaws in this plan, so long as there is a cast of authors. The foremost reason this format fails is that there is no absolute command of the theme and content. Instead, the reader absorbs contradicting messages and occasionally repetitive content. Good editing could, perhaps, prevent this. But alas, this was not the case here.
Despite those harsh words above, I found some gems in the book, a lot of common sense, and a healthy dose of authors self-aggrandizing. The reading was fast and the work was a scion of brevity, if nothing else.
So, should you, in my humble opinion, get and read it. Yes, provided that it is still free on Amazon's Kindle store (anymore cost or effort would be too much) and that you are a fast reader (this took me three hours and was no more a waste of time than watching Brad Walker in The Fast and the Furious).
It is very fun to read all the authors wringing their hands over the changes in publishing and, conversely, reading the triumphant essays of the self-published Amazon Barons. This is made all of the more entertaining by the passage of time. This work was published in early 2010, so it is not surprising that a couple of the views therein contained are a little outmoded. It is good to remember the tricks that the self published could use to get themselves to the top of the of the charts and how Amazon responded.
Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts Antonin Scalia and Brian Garner SR: 9.
Antonin Scalia, one of this book's authors, is frequently the author of Supreme Court opinions that champion the wrong result. People hate him for this. I, at times, loathe what he write. The reasoning, logic, and writing of his opinions are among the best this or any court has to offer. You can disagree with his tone, his assumptions, and his conclusions, but his process and reasoning are hard to impeach.
Brian Garner is this generation's foremost expert on legal writing and the english language. He writes prolifically (See the section on Books & the section on Articles) on the topics of grammar, usage, and advocacy. He is also the most vocal advocate for a shift in legal citation from the inline method currently used to a footnoted citation.
A book by these two, no matter your take on Scalia, is a must read for anyone interested in the law, even if you didn't know the ambitious scope of the book. This book attempts to systematically record, analyze, and explain the canons of interpretation. I wish this book was published four years ago. I wish I could have read it prior to beginning law school. Through the years I picked up many of these canons, but never in a systematic fashion.
The book is organized so that is is both a reference book in its own right and a guide to additional resources. Because of the wealth of time at my disposal, I read it cover to cover, but this isn't necessary. It is equally accessible as a desktop reference (I plan to use it this way going forward). To that end, the book has a wealth of useful footnotes, a table of authorities at the end, a useful index, and a guide to historical dictionaries. All of these elements form the basis for using these canons in any legal brief you may need to write in the future.
Of course, there is room for criticism, as well. There are moments where the aversion to intent analysis is hard to stomach. Avowed liberals have a hard time separating the need for clean legal analysis from what they want the constitution (or any law for that matter) to say. I too have a hard time with this. I have bought in pretty whole-heartedly to the concept of disciplined textual analysis of private legal documents and statutes, eschewing a search for the creator's intent. What I remain unsure of is whether you can take an intent/structuralist approach to the constitution, while believing in textualism for all other documents. That position is where I want to be (from the results it generates) but I am unsure whether or not that is an intellectually honest position.
The History of Rome Mike Duncan. SR: 10.
Before I go any further into this review, I should say that this isn't a book, it isn't an audiobook, it is a straight-up podcast. As far as I know, the content from the podcast hasn't made its way into a written, published form. So, what is it doing here, on my list of completed books for the year? Good question. This might just be a blatant and somewhat weak rationalization, but the size and feel of the podcast made it comparable to a book. As I will discuss below, the podcast really felt closer to a book than a radio show, making it worthy of status as a title in my books section. Additionally, the scope of the podcast (179 episodes at about 30 minutes per episode) puts this at 90-ish hours of content. This is certainly comparable or longer than most titles I read, so I figure that is a factor towards calling it book worthy.
Ok, now that I have thoroughly huffed, puffed and rationalized myself blue in the face, I guess I can talk about what was actually going on in this title.
First, I want to talk about the historical quality of the podcasts. The author starts out the series with the founding of Rome. Because the founding dates, effectively, to pre-history, the narrative is built on mythology and archeology. The author did a great job presenting an amalgam of the two types of sources. As the podcast moved from pre-history into the ancient era, it integrates primary and secondary sources. This puts the information on *more* solid ground. Of course, dealing with sources that are 2,500 years old and without verification you have to wonder just how accurate they actually are. The author does point out the moments where the listener should be more skeptical. With all of those positives noted, I do want to throw out that this is overview history. It doesn't purport to cover everything or come close to doing it. But that is totally ok. I wouldn't have had the time or energy to listen to 5-8 times as much content. In the final analysis, I think the quality of the historical work is very good.
Next, I want to talk about the style of this podcast. The author does a good job balancing between straight, factual history, and humorous commentary, and also skeptical disbelief of the historical actor's decisions. The author, Mike Duncan, has a great sense of humor and his delivery is so nonchalant that you can't help but snicker. All-in-all I found the podcast enjoyable to listen to, not just informative.
As a final parting thought, I want to address the idea of the podcast as a form of literature. Many of the podcast that I subscribe to or occasionally listen in to are all radio shows or styled after a radio show. there may be an internal (within the episode) narrative, but there isn't a larger narrative of the show -- each episode (at most) is its own self contained production. As a result, these podcasts can't hit some of the major notes that a cohesive organized production would. Here, however, we have something different, something special. The author set out to make the arc of Roman history accessible to the public at large. This required an incredible amount of compression and synthesis. You just couldn't tell the story in a concise manner. (see, for example, Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. At 1300+ page, it only covers the end.) My point is that the author really had to create a tight narrative out of a vast array of potential choices. The choices the author made - both in terms of what he said regarding the individual events and the meta movements - created a compelling narrative, except for the final chaotic years of the empire. Listening to those episodes, the substance, tone and delivery all pointed toward mopping up the last unworthy successors to a once great empire/republic. There, the narrative thread fell apart. So, in conclusion, this podcast really changed my understanding of what the medium of podcasting could do.
The Netherlands. Joseph O'Neil. SR: 5
This book got a fair amount of critical praise. Why, I couldn't tell you. Many of the reviewers spoke about the cosmopolitan nature of NYC and the reaction of that community following 911. Ok, fair enough. There was some soul searching going on, but it wasn't well defined. The main character, the protagonist, was a market analyst from the Netherland and liked to play cricket. Obviously, cricket isn't a red letter american pastime. So, to play, he has to find these little cricket enclaves to play with. They are filled with strange characters, most notably a gangers (although the protagonist doesn't realize this guy is a gangster). Ultimately, the book is full of whining and the the protagonist not understanding the world around him. Sadly, all of this negativity leads nowhere. The book doesn't illuminate, it just ruminates on this condition -- not exactly the most illuminating read. To sum up: the tone was grating, the characters were unbelievable, and the plot was meandering.
And the Mountains Echoed. Khaled Housseini. SR: 9
Poor Khaled Housseini. No matter what he writes, the new books will always be compared to his first work, The Kite Runner. To be fair, I read this book because I liked The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, but I will do my best to judge this book on what it is, not what it is relative to The Kite Runner. (Ok, ok, I can't help myself, I will talk about this book relative to The Kite Runner, but not until the end).
For this story Housseini chose to tell the story of a family (it is extended a little bit) over the course of sixtyish years. To put this in a historical context, the timespan starts in the late monarchy and ends in the "reconstruction" phase of the American occupation. The storytelling is chronological, but is taken from a multitude of different perspectives. Another book I recently read (NW by Zadie Smith) took this same approach. Structurally, this storytelling mode has a lot of potential, when done well. But if the writer is even slightly off on the reader's comprehension, the story becomes almost unreadable. Housseini nailed it. Each jump in viewpoint was enough to keep me on my toes, to keep me thinking about the narrative connections, but it wasn't so much that I was frustrated.
This story features two prime betrayals. The first comes when an impoverished villager sells his daughter to the wealthy family, who employs his brother-in-law as a driver. (When I got to this part in the book I was truly horrified. Past Housseini books have featured sexual exploitation of children, and I was worried that this book would also feature that type of exploitation. Thankfully, the people who bought the little girl were really just adopting the girl, nothing more Sordid than that.) Here, the betrayal is for both the little girl and her brother. They would spend the rest of their lives trying to reunite. The second betrayal also takes place out in the village. Needless to say, a villager who is willing to sell one of their own children has hit on some really, really hard times. Once, he was a handsome, promising young man engaged to marry the village beauty. That girl had a twin sister, who had always fancied the young man. One day, while climbing in an local tree, the twin girls went very high. It was on this occasion that the pretty sister told her twin that she, the pretty twin, was engaged to marry the young man. Jealousy, disappointment, a feeling of betrayal, whatever it was the less attractive sister shook the branch and the pretty sister fell from the tree. The pretty sister didn't die from her fall, but she was paralyzed. Overcome with guilt, the less attractive sister committed the rest of her life to supporting her -now paralyzed- twin sister.
The resolution (retribution and forgiveness aren't apt) of all of these betrayals his the pulsing heart of this novel.
Finally, I get to talk about this book relative to The Kite Runner. Fist off, I want to say that Khaled Housseini really lucked out on the timing of his first book. A decade before there would have been no way he would have been able to sell an Afghan themed book, much less reach the level of critical acclaim it did. I don't say that to detract from the quality of the book, but rather to qualify the success and critical acclaim. When the book was released it was one of the few windows into the Afghan world American's had. All we saw on our TVs and read in our newspapers was death and destruction. There had to be more to this country than that, didn't there? Housseini had the answer: yes, there is more. He wove a picture of the monarchy and the madness of the Taliban regime.
Thematically, all of Housseini's books deal with familial ties, trust, and the betrayal. Unlike some authors, Housseini builds up big betrayals, but doesn't have huge splashy retributions. Instead, his characters do what you would imagine a real person doing, just trying to live through it and make some sense of their new life. While the backdrops Housseini uses are the exotic scenery of a long past Afghanistan, his stories and the way his characters cope is infinitely relatable to people of all cultures.
It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences. June Casagrande SR: 7
Rating a grammar book is always a little challenging. An extraordinarily insightful book on the technical nature of writing may be a thick as mud. Conversely, an easy reading book may offer very little. This book strikes a course somewhere in the middle. It wasn't as funny as "Eats Shoots and Leaves," but was more insightful and less whiny. By contrast, this book was not as instructional as "How to write a sentence and how to read one too" by Stanley Fish, but it was substantially easier to read. At the end of the day, I think that is is a worthwhile read and I would recommend it to others.
A Dance With Dragons. George R.R. Martin SR: 9
The concerns I had with the previous book (see below) are still present here, but they are largely mitigated due to the presence of the more interesting characters in this book. As always, I deeply appreciate the complexity and nuance that the author brings to the genre, and storytelling in general. This book deals, in no small part, with duty: Dany's duty to the city she rules, Jon Snow's Duty to protect the realms of men; Martell's duty a hero and the prince of Dorne; Tyrion's duty to ....
Dany stayed in a foreign city, with a people she did not know and who did not love her. This is, of course, arguable Without bludgeoning the reader, Martin makes it clear that when old rulers are deposed, there will always be some who are happy, some who are not, and then a large, undecided group -- it is how that final group is treated by the preceding two that determines whether the new regime succeeds. In this novel you see Dany striving to be the ruler the city needs by ending slavery, closing the fighting pits, and exercising a degree of mercy over the old regime. Most of all, Dany recognizes her duty to the people of this city by agreeing to marry a man she doesn't love, but who can ostensibly secure peace within her walls and with her foreign foes. In the book's final chapter, we are treated to a long rumination on the propriety of her decision to stay in Slaver's Bay and a brief consideration of the wisdom in dismissing Ser Jorah. Maybe, after all, Dany's duty should take her far from the people she initially freed.
A slight digression here:
Several of the my favorite characters really suffer in the show because of divergence in the type of storytelling that each medium is capable of. In the books Bran and Dany have terrific internal monologues that demonstrate their struggles, and show how they overcome adversity/explore their powers. By contrast, in the show those characters simply act. The viewer is left with a very different impression of each of these characters. Namely, TV audiences think Dany is an unmitigated badass, which she is, but one plagued with doubts. Overcoming those doubts is really the essence of human heroism. What you see in the show is almost super-human. I find that far less compelling as a narrative (although it sure is fun to see).
Jon Snow grapples with an entirely different type of duty: how to protect the realms of men. Jon must both decide the proper course relative to the wildlings at his gate and the King at his hearth, because the Night's Watch has sworn off involvement in the affairs of the realm. Later in the novel, we see Jon grapple with conflicting duties to his family by blood and his brothers in the Night's Watch. Ultimately, Jon's tale is a lesson on leadership. I will paraphrase from lesson that FDR purportedly learnt from Woodrow Wilson: It is a terrible thing for a leader to call for a charge, dash out, and then discover no one has followed. This is sadly the lesson that Jon Snow tale leaves us with. There are almost always two lines of inquiry for a leader. First, what is the right, or good, thing to do? Second, what course of action will my constituents support? Sadly, Jon, while cognizant of both lines of inquiry, let his perception of good achieved override his judgement of the support of his constituents. A great leader would have, perhaps, taken actions to ameliorate his constituents prior to committing their organization to an unorthodox course.
-Baristan the Bold
-Tyrion (lack of evolution)
Lessons in governance:
-The Iron Born (& the magic horne)(Does Euron actually be master)
A Feast for Crows. George R.R. Martin SR:8.
To start out, this book was written is a geographic, rather then temporal, centric mode - a decision which the author has claim he will not continue with. I take this as a strong indication that he regards this as a mistake. I couldn't agree more. This book focuses on the events in Westeros proper and, for some reason, the adventures of Arya Stark and Sam Tarly while they are in Bravos. The affairs of the Knights Watch, Bran, and Tyrion are left entirely out of this book. It is immensely frustrating.
The reason offered by the author is that the book would have been unwieldy to get all of the POV characters to the same, natural break in the action. I have two thoughts on this assertion. First, much of the book's bulk comes from the addition of an entirely new theater in the narrative, Dorne. Second, the amount of time devoted to Cersie Lannister and Briene of Tarth is substantial. Neither of these stories are all that fun to read.
Dorne has been a disappointment The characters are less dynamic (at this point) than those in the preceding three novels. The storyline also feels like it gains momentum, with the Oakenshield/Mycella storyline, only to lose in it an anticlimactic way. The loss of Oakenshield was a bit of a blow because he seemed like a promising character that was killed before he was able to interact in a substantive way with an of the other characters. Mycella is injured and the Prince of Dorne is brooding on the repercussions of this injury, but when the book ends, nothing has come of this. The reader is left to wonder if the events in Dorne have any impact on the Game of Thrones. Other than the slight foreshadowing of a secret, unfulfilled marriage contract that would have changed everything, it doesn't appear that they will.
This book no longer calls on Catyln Stark as a POV character, as a result of the Red Wedding. In her stead, and in some ways her successor as a character, is Cersie Lannister. At first blush, the two characters are nothing alike, but that knee-jerk reaction arises mostly from the two character's adversarial stance. On a deeper level, both women are intensely irrational and compulsive. Further, both women's judgement - to the extent that we value it - is superseded when their children are in the equation. The author set up Cersie's narrative as a women who is finally going to get the chance to fulfill her ambitions after a lifetime of being passed over because she is a woman. She believes that everyone around her is either impertinent or incompetent. Her political decisions and distain for dissent are truly driving how ineffective her government is. Cersie never recognizes this. She keeps on telling herself that blunder after blunder are actually successes.
Her most notable failure was granting the faith the ability to militarize in exchange for a blessing of the king's reign. Obviously, this cost the faith nothing - blessing a king is an eventuality - but is gains the faith arms. At that point the faith has the ability to exert hard influence over the course of events in Westeros. Prior to the royal grant to arm, the faith could persuade people to action, but it could not compel them to act. Swords, not prayers or sermons, compel people to act or forbear. Now, there are two center of power, derived from swords, in the capital. We see how foolish this was as the book ends.
Briene gets a fair amount of exposure in this book. Other than her gender, she is the archetypal knight errant. Sad to say, I didn't find Briene or her storyline very exciting. True, there is plenty of drama around her dressing in men's armor, but that gets a little old and played out. There is the looming threat of Briene's rape and brutal murder, if she should ever lose a battle. This heightens the reader's emotional attachement to Briene, but in a superficial way; I just haven't become emotionally invested in Briene or her mission.
There was, however, one bright spot in the novel: Sansa Stark's evolution as a character. She started the series as many readers approach a fantasy novel: with set ideas on nobility, goodness, the proper set of actions for a good person, and conviction that good things will necessarily happen to good people. I found those early chapters tedious and frustrating. When Joffery lied to get the butcher's boy killed in the first book, Sansa willfully turned a blind eye. When Cersie demanded that Sansa's wolf, Lady, die in the stead of Arya's, Sansa blamed Arya. Only after Joffery's measure of mercy for her father was decapitation, did Sansa begin to see. Once she was forced to endure Joffery's verbal, social and physical abuse, she fully saw that power, not goodness, controls the world.
In this book she continues that evolution. Littlefinger acts as her willing instructor, although he clearly has ulterior motives. He is willing to show her how the Game of Thrones is played. At one point he tells her that there are players and pieces, but some (notably Cersie) have never learned that the pieces can act, or think they are acting, on their own volition. He also tells her that a piece can become a player, if given the chance. Sansa is making that transformation in this book. She becomes conscious of every detail and the impact it will have on those around her. While she isn't the catalyst for the events around her, she is an active participant and understands the subtext of those events. As I mentioned in my post on the previous book, reading these transformations is intensely enjoyable and if they are written in a believable way, the mark of a good author. By the end of the book Sansa is poised to assume the role of a major player in the future.
I was left with the distinct impression that this novel was a bridge in the narrative. Many of the characters were falling apart, traveling, or gaining the skills they need for later. There was very little actual substance/conflict in this book. It made for relatively dry reading. I guess that it was necessary Sadly, many of the series best characters are left out of this book.
A Storm of Swords. George R.R. Martin SR: 10.
This novel is the best I have read of the series. It excels in both character development and plot twists. Good narratives must have both.
Like the previous two novels, no character is safe and no character is immune to the winds of change. Jamie Lannister, a despicable character in the first book, transforms from a titan of a man to a cripple. The transformation is not just physical. His mind and the way he interacts with the world around him shifts too. In this process the reader is pushed towards something like sympathy for Jamie, albiet a very confusing type of sympathy. As the book ends, he still did monstrous things, but he has suffered greatly and
Arya Stark remains my favorite character. Her evolution is less overt than Jamie Lannister's. Her time with the Brothers without Banners and subsequently Sandor Clegeange forced her to live in the grey of the world. She had previously understood the world in sharply delineated blacks and whites. She even wanted Sandor dead, but once she saw what her brother's soldiers did the the small folk, she understood that war is cruel, not matter how just the cause. Then, in turn, she saw Sandor, a man she pegged as a cold-hearted murder, act with, if not compassion then at least valor and principle. The book ends without any real conclusions for Arya. If anything, the only thing she knows is that she can no longer be Arya Stark.
Both Tyrion and Danny were active in this book; however, their actions lacked some the reflection that Jamie and Arya showed. That should not diminish how fantastic it is to read their chapters. Tyrion spends the majority of the book wrestling with the undeserved ridicule and judgement of those around him. Danny spends the book leveraging her dragons into the makings of a kingdom. She faced one interesting decision: how to choose her advisors.
All and all, this book was the most entertaining narrative and character study that I have come across in a long time.
A Clash of Kings. George R.R. Martin SR: 9.
Much of what I have to say about this novel, I already said about its predecessor novel below. I would, however, note how much the author enjoys to the write. Almost thirty percent of the books are filled with descriptions and characters that are of questionable significance. At some point, all those descriptions transition from riches of scene, setting and narrative to a bloated prose. If I were a slower reader, this book would have hit into the second category.
A Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin SR:9
I decided to read the series while HBO was hyping the start of its third season. The reading was good. The characters are great. It even has an imaginative setting in a fantasy world that is full of lush complexities, exciting locales, and feels real to the human experience. So, with all of that praise, why didn't I rate the book as a 10? Truly, I agonized over it, but it came down to this: There are times that Martin writes because he loves to write, without regard to advancing the plot. But, you might ask, why does this detract from the book if Martin is a good writer? The book is long and is unnecessary bloated by Martin's love of description. It could be 30% shorter and no one would mourn the loss.
This book's real strength is its characters and its themes.
First, the character's are so human that the reader can't help but empathize with some characters and shake their fist at others. Martin's use of alternating first person vantage points appears to help in this regard. The setting - a medieval fantasy world - sets the reader's expectations as to the characters who *should* succeed, men like Ned Stark, Robert Baratheon and even Khal Drogo. In short order, the reader learns that honor and idealism and clumsy vessels when navigating the treacherous waters of life at court. By contrast, the devious and cautious characters are the ones that live and ultimately rule. This dichotomy by itself wouldn't be all that extraordinary; however, Martin manages to work the complex emotions of existing in this world into his narrative and even allows his characters to emotionally and philosophically evolve. An authentic evolution is incredibly rare and equally rewarding.
Second, the themes of the novel are powerful and timeless. Power, corruption, ambition and conflict are all at the fore of the novel each one receives brilliant treatment by the rich characters.
Bring up the Bodies. Hilary Mantel SR: 8
This book rushed into my life on a tidal wave of acclaim. It is the second novel about this period in English history (Wolf Hall). Sadly, I did not have the benefit of reading that book before I picked this one up. I wonder if the characters - which appear in both - would have have been richer here, for the their portrayal there. They, of course, should not.
In reading it, I found that the author clearly loved many of the the characters for their complexity and inscrutability. Her writing mirrors the characters she loves. Like those characters, the writing is, by turns, both rapturously engaging and then dull. This is really the reason I didn't rate the book high. At its best, it was great; at its worst, it dragged.
At the very least, we should all thank the author for her revolutionary treatment of one of English history's most maligned men: Thomas Cromwell. This book follows him through the downfall of Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boyelan. You see Cromwell navigate this treacherous world, all the while keeping his goals secret. Exposure could, for any of the characters, bring death as surely as a spring thaw.
A Hologram for the King. David Eggar SR: 7
It isn't often that I have no idea how much I liked a book. But that is exactly what happened here. The book stumbles from moment to moment, reflecting the protagonist's deep malaise. The book is a microcosm for America in the 21st century, either searching for greatness lost, or struggling with the brutal realization that we we never as great as we thought. Eggar's work shows that at the personal level for the book's protagonist Allan Clay. He was middle management at, as he would put it, the last great American bicycle company. A company that built bikes in Chicago and was the pride of a great consumer society. But then, like with many businesses, the cost of competition rose and the outsourcing cycling began. Alan, like America, has gone to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to reinvigorate his fortunes. Instead, he finds a byzantine area, one he is not equipped to operate in.
Ultimately, I decided that not all books that meander are profound.
Negotiation Genius. SR: 8.
The book is really geared towards the MBA crowd, but I found it instructive. It is hard to get fired up about a book on the mechanisms and psychology of negotiation. This book, however, manages to generate that sort of enthusiasm. It is filled with great anecdotes and examples that illuminate the concepts the authors are pushing. I believe that negotiating is still a valuable skill. To that end, reading this book was valuable and even enjoyable.
Gone Girl: A Novel. Gillian Flynn SR: 10.
I don't gush about much; in fact, I think it is a little unseemly. This novel, however, is worthy of gushing. You can tell just how good Flynn is by how manipulated your sentiments are throughout the whole novel. She is able to persuade the reader into believing a host of different things throughout the novel, just to overturn them in the most organic way later in the book.
The novel truly embraces police procedure, legal maneuvering the media, and individual sycosis in a way that is believable and real. It is almost hard to categorize this novel. On its face, it is a crime story. A layer down, it is a story about relationships, the good, the bad, and the totally crazy. It is also a commentary on how men and women interact romantically. And finally, it is an exploration of the almost infinite ability of the human mind to rationalize behavior.
Reading this book was a pleasure; I devoured the book. Fortunately, I was on break from school, but I spent every spare moment reading this book. It was almost like I was a child again, lost and emerged in the word Flynn created. No period of time was too short for a dip into the story. Five minutes while Emily checks her email, that is enough. While gas is pumped into the car, perfect, that should get be a couple of pages.
I read this on my kindle. The device is slowly converting me into a believer. Had I read this book in print, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have read the last page long before I got there. This preserved much of the surprise and the intrigue of the book - a very good thing. So, I guess I will keep reading book on the kindle, but I am not quite ready to give up my books.
Thirty-one titles completed this year
Artemis Fowl Eoin Colfer SR: 6.
I have read several books throughout the year that are geared towards a younger audience. This has, in part, been an effort to stay current with the landscape of popular culture. This book, as compared to the Hunger Games, has better writing; although, not as good as Harry Potter, which isn't saying all that Much.
The originality of the story is decent - the modern works of fairy people, combating a criminal child mastermind. The characters, many of the character interactions, and almost all of the dialogue is ridiculously cliched. I guess one of the benefits of writing for a younger audience is that they don't yet know how many cliches they are digesting. The characters were also pretty flat, not much emotional spectrum. Two of the characters did show some emotional growth and modulation: Butler and Captain Short.
To the author's credit, the story was written from the vantage point of two distinct protagonists with ostensibly contradictory goals. For me, it was relatively hard to say where the reader's sympathies should lie. This provides an implicit lesson that is hard to convey in literature: opposing factions aren't good and evil; they are, at best, representatives of the spectrum of gray.
The Casual Vacancy J.K. Rowling SR: 9.
I flirted with giving this book a ten, but thought there were enough drawbacks to prevent it. Other, professional, reviewers have harshly treated this work. I believe their criticism is unwarranted for two reasons. First, Rowling wove a compelling and captivating narrative. Second, she cast off the world she created in the Harry Potter series.
The story centers around the small town life and politics. The medium is a jumpy first person narrative that occupies the consciousness of a host of characters. The general setting is teenagers and their parents. The book deals with a slew of issues: addiction, poverty, self-mutilation, suicide, social services, socio-economic strife, and more i have probably forgotten. It is, however, impossible to forget that Rowling gained acclaim and riches for Harry Potter, a children's series. This work simply feels like Rowling tried so hard to write adult literature that she went a little overboard, jamming it full of adult themes.
Much of the criticism leveled against this book reeks of disappointment that it isn't Harry Potter and that it isn't appropriate for children. Nothing Rowling said before the release or that went along with the promotional materials supports this disappointment. Rowling was clear: this is a book for adults. This take a tremendous amount of courage to break free of the genre that made her millions.
While reading this book I was struck by an idea; someone just taught Rowling how to use a semicolon and she couldn't help but use 20 of them every page. Such frequent use does not make the writing bad, but it does indicate that yearning desire to be taken seriously as an author of adult literature
The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemmingway SR: 8.
Hemmingway pushes his vision of aging masculinity to the fore in this short work. The work is clearly the epitome of Hemmingway's style: brief simple sentence that convey big emotions. There is an air of the fantastic that runs throughout the book. The book highlights the main character's depth of resolve, without bothering to develop depth of character.
Much like in Jack London's To Build a Fire, the main character is never named. He is an everyman or, more properly, what everyman should aspire to (in Hemmingway's estimation).
I will read it again, eventually. Compared to the compilation of his short stories I read earlier in the year, I have to say that I was disappointed Although, there may be more to it when I read it again.
The Innocent Man John Grisham SR: 8.
This is, I believe, Grisham's only non-fiction book. The writing was so-so, but the story was compelling. It deals with the wrongful conviction and death sentence of a man in Oklahoma. Grisham takes a retrospective, and often times highly subjective, look at the evidence, investigation, and trial. All of which were deeply flawed. Having spent a brief amount of time working in a prosecutor's office, the thought of innocent people who are convicted is haunting.
I liked this book because it is a refreshing look at the criminal justice system. Usually, the only people we here complaining about the system are convicts or their lawyers. Society at large discounts their opinions. Here, there was a white man from a middle-class background, who was convicted by an all-white jury. His trial wasn't haunted by our country's most notorious monster: racism. So, how could this happen? The answer lies in the bias of the system against the accused.
As an aspiring criminal lawyer, on either side of the criminal process, these biases are important to remember. As a defense lawyer one must fight against the biases, so that the innocent can actually gain justice; as a prosecutor, one can never be lulled into the belief that only guilty people are charged with crimes.
NW Zadie Smith SR: 9.
This book marks Zadie Smith's return to the genre that put her on the map, a tail of impoverished, racially mixed, and ethnically formless youth. Smith's first novel, White Teeth, is among my favorite ever. There are sentences that floor readers, that literally take your breath away when you read them. These sentences are created from a vast array of methods and means. Not every writer will ever get to write one, let alone multiples. Zadie Smith's White Teeth is littered with these sentences. Ever since reading that, I have tried to read everything she writes. Sadly, not every subsequent work has been as great.
Here, Smith experiments with the form of a novel, on the macro level all the way down to playing with typeface and world alignment on the page. She is a risk taker, and a fearless innovator. Some of this avant-guard writing does detracts from the reader's experience and obscure's Smith's excellent storytelling.
With all that said, it is still a great book. Four people who grow up in the projects are traced, through life, by Smith. Her writing style matches the characters she portrays.
Walking to Gatlinsburg Howard Frank Mosher SR: 7.
Usually, I find Mosher's work a lot better. This book revisits the Kineson family during the civil war. Namely, Morgan (the young man) and Pilgram (his surgeon brother who walked away from the Union army at Gettysburg) who are trying to reconnect during the chaos of the civil war's twilight. The story has many of the elements that make Mosher's work enjoyable. Here, however, the material comes off flat, like a stew that has yet been simmered.
The story follows Morgan, a 17-year-old man from "kingdom county" Vermont. His family, as in other stories, is a family who has a special inscription above their door, "they lived in a house at the end a road and were friends to all mankind." As the story opens, Morgan is working on a stop on the underground railroad, when a band of slave catchers caught up to them and killed a runaway slave. Morgan decides to head south to avenge the death and find his brother.
How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One Stanley Fish SR: 10.
I have always loved the narrative form. Reading has been one of the great passions of my life. At this point, the macro elements of great narrative are well plotted out in my mind. Despite all of the reading I have done, focusing on the way great sentences are constructed never seemed that important. Enter Stanley Fish. The man clearly loves sentences. Like a connoisseur of fine tuxedos, he appreciates the general appearance but is truly thrilled by the construction and workmanship need to create it. He brilliantly subdivides sentence types, deconstructs great sentences, and explains the mechanics of writing one with analogous form. A re-read of this book is a must.
20,000 League Under the Sea Jules Verne SR: 9.
This is a reread for me. I have been reading this since I started law school (fall of 2010) on my ipod touch. Needless to say, I didn't find the reading experience on that device to be overwhelmingly awesome. The screen is really small, so there is almost constant page turning. A recent update to their app made things much better by allowing a black screen and sepia letters. I personally find reading on a white screen to be very tiring on my eyes. Whew. Now that I have that out of my system, on to my thoughts on the work. I do really like reading Verne. There is something so entertaining about reading his science fiction from a century ago. Some things mirror reality, others have been so roundly disproved that it is enjoyable to revel in the contrast.
Representing the Accused By Jill Paperno SR: 8.
I would love to pretend that reading this was some sort of Sun Tzu Art of War thing, but it is really just looking out for potential future career options. This is billed as a practical guide. There is little theory, but many tricks of the trade. Nothing in the book is groundbreaking, but some of it may not have come to mind prior to doing the opposite and erring.
The Short Stories By Ernest Hemmingway SR: 9.
Hemmingway has not been my favorite author. In fact, for a long time I have thought his writing to be overrated. This sortie has almost totally reversed my opinion. Now I want to read more of his work. Perhaps, what I read in the past was not the best representation. On the other hand, I may not have been ready the deep melancholy and ambiguity of his work. Then again, as a newspaperman, his short works may be better than the long form versions. I particularly enjoyed the Nick Adams stories and "a clean well-lit place."
The Dark Root: Archer Mayor SR: 7.
This novel traces the incursion of "asian crime" into Vermont. Naturally, this requires contact with NewYork, Quebec, and the rest of New England. This is, by far, the most complex novel I have read in the Joe Gunther series. I can't say that the complexity added much. Most of the complexity comes from the variety of locales where the lead character is investigating. This requires the author to invest a lot of time developing each setting. The lead character seems to grapple with the ultimate efficacy of his role in deterring crime generally, and in this specific case; sadly, this struggle is left without a conclusion; the character does his duty and carries on.
The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemmingway SR: 8.
This is a second read through for this novel. The first time was probably a decade ago. With added time and experience, I found the work more enjoyable, but not perfect. The best I can tell, the story deals with the lost generation who fought world war one. The impact it had on them and an impossible love feature prominently in the story line. Hemmingway gives the reader a peak into the problems, but doesn't get a resolution for the characters. It is dissatisfying. All you get is a month in the life of these characters. You are left with the strong impression that they will keep going as they are until the end of time.
Bleak House Charles Dickens SR: 7.
I know that this is frequently cited as Dickens best (and least lauded) work, but I just couldn't get behind it. Perhaps, I just couldn't get behind the main character, who was a self-effacing housekeeper whose greatest ambition was to keep a good house. The characterizations of the legal system were biting and probably very accurate. I was amused but not impressed.
In Cold Blood Truman Capote SR: 10.
This is the story of the victims, investigators, and perpetrators in a brutal mass murder that took place in Holcomb Kansas in 1959. Capote brings out the humanity and tragedy of everyone involved. The book is unequivocal about the guilt of the murders, but ambivalent about the fairness of their trial and the justice of their execution. This mirrors my own view of the death penalty. Fortunately, I live, and plan on working, in a State that has long since eschew the use of the ultimate punishment. The case in the book is unequivocal regarding the defendants' guilt; however, guilt is rarely so certain in capital cases - even those which have confessions.
One line that I particularly like, went like: the people of Kansas can survive and better off if defendants are killed; Kansas cannot, however, long survive the death of due process. This seems to be the rallying cry of all defense attorneys.
2012_06_21 Mockingjay Suzanne Collins SR: 9
2012_06_19 Catching Fire Suzanne Collins SR: 8
The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins SR: 7.
Most of what I have to say has already been said. I really read the book because I thought it was becoming a cultural mainstay. Largely, it has taken on that role. As a result, I am glad that I read it.
I don't think that the book is particularly violent, as young adult literature goes. Additionally, the violence, which is plentiful, isn't graphically depicted. The reader's imagination is still left to fill in the detail. So, adults find it more disturbing than children. Not because children are indifferent to suffering and violence, but because they do not have the same life experience to fill in the horrors Collins loosely references.
The plot is interesting, but not amazing. There are glimmers sprinkled throughout the work that allude to a more exciting plot in subsequent installments. We will have to see.
Final, not particularly interesting, notes: The author uses a lot of fragments, but is able to use complex sentences. This must be a style, an attempt to convey the staccato pace of their lives. I can't say I particularly enjoyed the effect.
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Archer Mayor SR: 9.
This is the best work I have read of this author. It has good, believable plot twist, something that is hard to do in a detective story. Mayor's work with delicately dropping clues for the reader has advanced substantially in this book. He leaves a couple of tantalizing morsels that are almost lost in the chaos of the story, only to gain importance at the close.
Snowblind Archer Mayor SR: 8
A short story that continues the Joe Gunther series. I have a particular fascination with the short story format. The author isn't well practiced in the format, but does a good job. The genre of homicide mystery doesn't lend itself to short stories. So, I give him a lot of credit for what he has done.
Scent of Evil Archer Mayor SR: 8
This is the fourth book of this author I have read and the best. While the factual underpinnings are wild, the way the mystery unravels is very enjoyable. This is probably the best use of foreshadowing Mayor uses (that I have read, to date). When foreshadowing is effectively used in a mystery, the reader is rewarded for picking the right threads of details out of the crowd and watching all of the threads converge into the whole ball of yarn.
The Fountainhead Ayn Rand SR: 10
I plan on coming back to this post to flesh out my thoughts on this work. Basically, I think this is a better narrative than Atlas Shrugged. However, the formulation of the ideas are not as fully fleshed out as the following work. Also, the central themes of the two works diverge in meaningful ways; this work is a little more mainstream in the views it espouses.
The Corrections Johnathan Frazen SR:10
This is the second book of Frazen's that I have read. Pretty solid work.
Open Season Archer Mayor SR: 7
This is the third book by Archer Mayor that I have read. My interest in his writing stems from working with him last summer. Sadly, I didn't know that he was an author until the summer was almost over. In his spare time from writing, he moonlights as an investigator for the Windham County State's Attorney. Pretty neat stuff. This is his first book and it is all centered around Brattleboro. This book was written almost 30 years ago now and is a police procedural novel, so a lot is pretty outdated. The discussions of forensic science seem to be from the far side of the moon to a contemporary reader.
Dead Souls Nikolia Gogol SR:9
I am a huge lover of Russia literature. This book has been on my list of things to read for quite a while. Luckily, I wasn't disappointed, not in the least. measure
Eats Shoots and Leaves Lynn Truss SR 9:
The Last of the Mohicans James Fenimore Cooper SR 8:
This was a revisit for me. Sadly my memory of the book was of a higher quality than the reading I experienced. Throughout the book, I couldn't help thinking there were fantastic parallels between Homer's Hector and Cooper's Uncas. They are both the last great warriors of their people; defined and doomed by the code which made them great. Each dies tragically, defining the fate of their people.
The Lost Cyclist, SR 7
The work chronicles the lives of two men at a pivotal point of cycling history. It was the 1890s and cycling was exploding. While the numbers of participants and length of rides are small by today's standards, the way cycling captured public imagination is today. Both are Americans. One of them successfully circumnavigated the globe by bicycle; the other set out to do it. The former went alone and was lost in the Ottoman Empire (in what is today Turkey). The latter gained fame and fortune but was restless. He set out to find the other cyclist. The book has a pretty compelling narrative, but the actual storytelling is a little clunky. The author was clearly trying to tell a historical story with a little more art. The attempt was a failure.
The Duel, Anton Chekhov SR8:
This is the first work of Chekhov that I have hit on. His reputation is certainly well deserved. Although I did not think this work was one of the best I have read, the understanding of the human condition and writing style Chekhov exhibited were fantastic; I am compelled to read more of his works.
Vicomte De Bragelonne, Alexandre Dumas SR 9:
For some reason, I have been going through the series totally out of order. This book is the intermediate book in the trilogy succeeding "The Three Musketeers," but for some reason I read it last. This book revels in the ascendancy of monarchies while relating the rise of Charles II of England and Louis XIV of France. The back-room intrigues and swashbuckling keep the verbose style of Dumas moving quickly.
Tintin Vol 3, Herge SR 9:
This volume introduced Capt. Haddock, one of my favorite characters. He is also a slapstick character like the Thompsons, but he is a more constant companion Tintin's cause, whatever it may be. His alcoholism is a source of comic relief, which is as much a commentary on the social role booze plaid at the time as it is a joke. I can only imagine that the type of stigma that was placed on alcoholics was very different then than now. Contemporary society certainly enjoys a good laugh at the expense of a drunk person, but I doubt anyone would be pushing the idea of a "funny" alcoholic. I guess this is because we treat alcoholism as a disease instead of a character defect (as I believe they did then, but I don't have any authority to say so). Seeing alcoholism as the brunt of a joke is much like seeing the blackface performances of the past, there are still elements of humor, but tainted with our contemporary conscience for all the associated evil. Despite that tangent, I did really enjoy the collection and look forward to the next set.
Tintin Vol 2, Herge SR 9:
A bunch of great little tales. Each of them takes thirty to forty-five minutes to read. Tintin embodies so many of the things We all hope for in ourselves, that it is a real pleasure to read through. Although, it doesn't go to the Prince Valiant extreme. The Thompsons are always a great laugh too.
Tintin Vol 1, Herge SR 9:
This is a graphic novel, not technically a book. Each of the volumes includes three of the novels. The first in this series is TINTIN in America. I had this work in a single volume as a child and must have read it at a couple of hundred times. Each of the Tintin novels pits Tintin against a covert gang bent on ___. Tintin is always accompanied by his faithful dog, Snowy. Tintin is moral, tenacious and ahead of his time in many ways. Tintin appears to champion the equality and humanity of those perceived as racial inferiors at the time. However, Herge's art does portray many of these people with the common caricatures of the day. When it comes out in the wash, I believe that Herge was trying to overcome some of the demons of his time without being entirely free of them himself.
Nineteen titles this year:
Point Made Ross Gruberman SR 10:
My ranking system does not seem to fit for this particular title, because it is a technical style guide. However, it is a great read and very helpful. Gruberman is a student of writing and tackles the world of legal writing. Much of what is written by lawyers is really garbage, but some of it is truly transcendent. Sadly, most of the legal writing advice is vague and nonspecific. His stuff is clear and helpful.
Twenty Years After Alexander Dumas SR 9:
Dumas had a flair for swashbuckling epics. I have always enjoyed what he has written. Every time I work my way through one of his works, I am blown away by the volume of writing he was able to do in a single life, and without word processing! This story rejoins the famous four friends twenty years after The Three Musketeers. The characters initially choose different sides in the Fronde. Each side in this struggle dispenses them to England to help/oppose Cromwell's revolution. Those adventures reunite the men in the cause of true nobility. They strive and fail to save the life of King Charles and return to France. Throughout these adventures, they are haunted by the son of M'Lady. They return to fight against the evil Cardinal Mazarin.
Borderlines Archer Mayor SR8:
As promised ,I read another of Mayor's books. I was very glad I did. Even though I read these books out of order, this one was much better. This novel had a couple of different facets which were independently developing; the other had one. In a procedural mystery, the former is highly preferable. This book was set in the Northeast Kingdom. Some of the towns and places used were familiar to me, so it really was a hoot. I may try to knock another of his books off during this year.
The Skeleton's Knee Archer Mayor SR: 6
I really read this book out of personal curiosity. I spent have of the summer working with the author without realizing he was an author. This is one of his earlier works and I am told they improve with time.
I usually am not terribly impressed by crime novels and this was no exception. The formulation was an investigatory story, told through the method of 'real' police work. I appreciate the realism, which can make the work plodding at times. The most interesting part of the book for me was that it is written about a Brattleboro detective. Many of the places in the book were areas I worked during the summer. It was neat to read an artistic description of so many places I had experienced.
I will probably read a couple more of his works just to be versed on them.
Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain SR: 7
I can see why this book was so explosively popular, but I don't know how much the writing influenced this. The subject matter was certainly provocative and colorful, but the writing style and composition was a little disjointed. The storyline was neither entirely divorced from the normal progression of time or totally thematic. Chapter to chapter cohesion suffered. I could not tell whether the author was intentionally blending monster seven clause sentences with two-word fragments, or if it was just the way his brain worked.
All that being said the stories he told were so emotional and lurid that it was hard to put the book down. I would recommend this book for aspiring foodies and restauranteurs.
Double Dexter Jeff Lindsay SR 9:
With this installment of the Dexter series my impression of the writing involved skyrocketed. For a long time, I assumed that the breezy fun reading was a function of the plot line. This time, I read a little more carefully. What I noticed was a fantastic use of the mechanics of the English language to convey action and thought in strings of consciousness that omitted a lot of extra verbiage that would have only slowed the reading experience. This nip and tuck style allows the author to really shine in an entertaining use of adjectives.
Five Chiefs John Paul Stevens SR 8:
Very insightful and easy to read. I was impressed with the collegiality of that the Justices seem to maintain. The last year and a has been filled with reading diametrically opposed opinions written by Justices that work with each other everyday. It is really refreshing to hear that is the way the Court works. It was very pleasant to read some of the plain English reasoning behind some of the momentous discussions the Court has made in the last ~30 years.
Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand SR10:
This is, by far, the most conservative book that I have fully digested. My surroundings, upbringing, and intellectual playground have been extremely liberal. Much of my reading list has been written in refutation of Rand's central premise. As she says, few people felt the need to write in defense of production.
The consumption of this book has been a total shift in the analytical framework for thinking about the world. It is as though the prism I had seen the world through had a huge uncut side. The book has been diamond cutter to add several additional facets. My head is still spinning trying to grapple with which paradigms I will employ. Now when I hear ideas that were once gospel, a chorus of criticism from Ayn Rand's kicks into full song.
No matter what, it is worth reading. Few works have had such profound and unsettling impact on my thought structure. Among those works: To Kill a Mockingbird, the Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Death of Ivan Illich, Walden, Discipline and Punish and a few more I am probably forgetting. I deeply enjoy examining my own thoughts and beliefs. This has been a fundamental challenge, and subsequently very enjoyable.
The Man in the Iron Mask Alexandre Dumas SR9:
Once again Dumas has truly brought me into the story he has woven. Durring middle school I tried to tackle this book, but got bogged down in the florid descriptive language. Now that I am older and my reading skills and appreciation of language is a little more polished I appreciate a the book much more. I had enjoyed the Leonardo Dicaprio movie of the same name. The book has ruined the movie for me So much more happens in the books and the subtlety and nuance is make the narrative so much more compelling.
Dexter is Delicious SR8
A lightning fast read and a departure from my traditionally heavier reading. It was a lot of fun to read. Despite the morose and dark humor, the protagonist's struggles to be a "better man" are captivating and illuminating with regards to the universal human condition.
The Count of Monti Christo Alexandre Dumas SR 10.
This was a reread for me, but still a really great book. The complexity and depth of the human characters Dumas portrays are breathtaking and compelling. So much of my adult life has been spent thinking about models and the utility of punishment that it is a little refreshing to read about pure retribution. As rational beings, we reject retribution as a rude an wasteful way to punish those who have wronged, but as individuals many of us desire to return in kind the wrongs visited upon us. The trials and tribulations of one man who has been immensely wronged and given the opportunity to repay are cataloged by the masterful pen of Dumas.
Journey to the Interior of the Earth Jules Verne. SR 7.
While at this time the book isn't that impressive, it is very good in relation to the time which it was written. It expresses a great deal of imagination in a somewhat clean writing style, but is overwhelmingly fantastic in some aspects and too improbable in others. One of my great joys in reading Jules Verne is that so many of his works have become probable in part today. This work is just as improbable and fantastic today as it was during its inception.
Jacob's Room Virginia Woolf SR: 7.
Woolf garners a lot of praise that I am not sure she deserves. This work was a character study of a young man coming up in the world. It examines the arrogance of education and youth. The tremendous naivete of young men as they tackle the world head on, thinking it to be something new, is on full display. The writing style is antiquated at this point, and many of the social graces fail to resonate. The central theme of the work was good, but it was wreathed in too many contemporaneous societal moments to be compelling at this point.
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy SR: 10.
I was totally blown away by this book. Tolstoy's writing and imagery is always quite good, but that wasn't what impressed me about this book. For me the crux of this book was Tolstoy's ability to touch on timeless issues of the human condition. Jealousy, fidelity, suicide, abortion and getting are all portrayed in as griping a way then as is hard to surpass now.
The Glorious Cause SR:9
This is a pretty thorough examination of the entire American revolution from both sides of the conflict. The political, military, and societal all garner decent attention. Occasionally the author's language does betray some preferences and favoritism on his appraisal of the history. Like almost all scholarship of this area the work is a solid effort at synthesis. It seems that the cause is what the author is really trying to work out of the work. Not necessarily a complete enumeration of the cause, but rather an effort of demonstrating the effect of the cause on society, politics and martial activity.
In examining the Declaration of Independence the author has an interesting and fairly (I think) unique perspective. Like most commentators he notes that the draft which passed Congress was neither original or particularly innovative. Where the author differs is in his treatment of Jefferson's drafts is in his understanding of the centripetal force Jefferson was trying imbue for colonial cohesion. An interesting treatment, worth a read.
The study of the morale of the Army was very interesting as well. The whole work seems to gyrate around the question of why so many gave so much in return for slight material compensation. The author quickly dips into the psyche of other epochs, but does seem to offer a persuasive understanding.
War and Peace Leo Tolstoy SR: 10
It took me quite a long time to get through this work, but I think it was worth the time. I was first introduced to Tolstoy through his short works, namely The Death of Ivan Illich. As a man, Tolstoy was a master intellect and a prolific writer. Even a voracious reader would be hard put to read everything he wrote in a lifetime. This book is an epic that delves into complex human relationships and the human condition in the face of events greater than oneself. Tolstoy takes a near fatalist approach to almost all of the great events described in his work. He offers little credit to the great men of history and lambaste efforts to glorify them.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith SR: 10
A lot of what is going on in this book may seem like the far side of the moon to me. I should certainly be thankful for this. The work certainly challenges traditional notions of beauty especially in turn of the century America. It took me a while to get into the book, but it deals richly with the immigrant situation and the blight of poverty. I will certainly read this again.
Freedom Jonathan Frazzen SR: 10
As lame and trite as this sounds, the book really spoke to me. The characters were real and vibrant and some of the situations echoed throughout my life. At some point, I want to write a little bit more about this. For no I will stop with saying that this is the best literary effort I have read for quite a while.
Diamonds are Forever Ian Flemming SR: 7
Decent action novel. I was really amazed how different from the movie this was. The plot of the movie differed so radically from that of the book that the script writers must have only read the title.
Dearly Devoted Dexter
Jeff Lindsay SR: 8.
I actually thought that this book was substantially better written than the first. The first person narration continues to offer some dark comments and observations about society. I can see why this series of books has succeeded so well in TV, it has great characters and plot twists that are readily followed.
Eighteen Titles Completed.
The Septembers of Shiraz Dalia Sofer SR:10
I picked this book up before I went home to my parents for Christmas. I found it to be hard to put down and spent several hours each day reading it. I highly recommend it. I have a predisposition to like books about Iran, I am fascinated by the history, culture and changes it has undergone in its long, tumultuous and occasionally glorious arch through history. Sofer captured melancholy in its purest form without ever using the word itself. Her ability to convey the meaning of a long history that some of her characters held and the struggle to let go of what they had once been was intensely human.
The Sign of the Four Sir Arthur Conan Doyle SR: 9
I thought that this was a very fun read. More mystery and back story than some of the other Holmes narratives that seem to focus on the deductive powers above all else. A great tail that has a great early chase scene on the Thames river with steamships.
Hound of the Baskervilles Sir Arthur Conan Doyle SR: 8
Even though this is one of the longer and most celebrated of the Holmes stories, I did care for it quite as much. Having Dr. Watson be the principal actor for most of the narrative is certainly an interesting, instead of him playing Homles doting and loyal terrier.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter Jeff Lindsay SR7/8 It was fast reading, macabre and fun. Nothing earth shattering, but very entertaining. It is a series on TV too, I have seen an episode or two and have like that as well.
A Study in Scarlet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle SR: 9
I think this is actually one of the better Holmes books that I have read. The narrative that relates to the criminals and the back story is one of the best he has written. I have read that Conan Doyle felt constrained and typeset by the character of Holmes. I have to say that I think he was probably right. This was his introductory work with Holmes and the flavor of the piece as a whole is quite different. The narrator's perspective shifts from Dr. Watson's for the narrative of the experience with the Mormons. Maybe it wasn't that good, but I was just interested to see a new (to me) variation on the Holmes story. I also confess that I didn't realize the vitriol that was in public opinion for Mormons in that day. I have never been all that interested in their history, but Conan Doyle cast particularly nasty aspersion on the Saints.
The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest Stieg Larson SR: 10
I think this was very much a return to the quality that I found in the original book. While not overly veiled the book is great as a thriller, mystery suspense type book. My words don't really do the work justice, so I will keep them brief. I have to say that Larson has developed some extremely rich and original characters over the course of three books. While many of his characters have elements of broadly stereotyped characters, they retain an originality and authenticity that makes the work so enjoyable to read.
Horace Afoot Fredrick Reuss SR: 9.
I have been plowing through this book for a while. It took some time for me to really get hooked on it, but I think that in the end it was very much worth the drudgery at the outset. The narrative is choppy but leads to some excellent character development. The characters that Reuss creates are both superficial and surreal to the point that they invite a litany of inquiries into the formation of 'character.' The protagonist has a very detached view of his role in life and his associations to the world around him. The events of the narrative draw him into caring and into reexamining his character. The introspective that he performs both actively and passively is deeply interesting. In all likelihood, I will read this again. I imagine that the pieces that I didn't like at the beginning will appear far more interesting now.
The Girl Who Played with Fire Stieg Larsson SR: 8
I thought that this book was a little bit of a let down from the first book in the series. Still a solid read, I enjoyed it and looked forward to the reading that I was going to do each day. Larson did some good work in allowing that character of Salander to become a little more complex and fleshed out. Blomquist if anything became a little bit less dynamic of a character.
The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini SR: 9
Super good book. This is a book that I am revisiting for the 4th or 5th time. I think that the writing is very good and that the perspective and narrative are still pretty unique. The topic of the book is, of course, interesting given the US involvements in Afghanistan. In reflecting on this book, it is superbly fortunate for Hosseini's writing career that the US became embroiled in Afghanistan when it did. The 2003 publication of this book brought it to the forefront of the consciousness of many readers. Without the invasion, I would not be surprised if few people ever heard of it, despite its very high quality.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Mark Twain SR:8
This was a revisit to a book that I have gone through numerous times. MT was a favorite author of mine in my younger days. I think that many of his books are really classic in the sense that they are still quite enjoyable and instructive over 100 years since they were first penned. This particular one is especially high-handed in moralizing and propagating what Twain thought were the ideas of progress and modernity. Numerous times throughout the book he mentions bringing about the birth of civilization in the 6th century. This illustrates the crippling morality of the time to a t. Disregard for other modes of human happiness and a wholesale ignorance of Asiatic and Eastern Mediterranean developments. Still, I love the scene with knights on bikes.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson SR:10
I am always skeptical of wildly popular books. They tend to be huge let downs and don't really live up to the hype. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised in reading this book. In most mystery / thrillers the plot lines are so old and tired that it is painful to work through. This book, on the other hand, is refreshing in how it takes on this genre. There are good twists and turns along with some very intriguing characters. There are some funny quirks that I can't help but, to point out. First, that is a fantastic amounts of coffee consumption. I think the coffee is made, drank or offered at least every 2-3 pages. Second, that the author pretty much exclusively uses Mac products. If he didn't get a stipend from Apple, I hope he will for his subsequent books.
What to Eat Marion Nestle SR 8:
Certainly worth reading for anyone who cares about the food they eat. Nestle is super well educated and has the rare gift of conveying intense technical knowledge in an easy to understand anecdotal mode. It has taken me a long time to finish the book, as it is usually what I would only spend 10-15 minutes a day to read. A lot of the information were things that I was already aware of, but hadn't read all of it in the same place.
When Teddy William Came to Town Howard Frank Moser. SR:8.
I did end up staying up way too late for two successive nights to finish it. Although this book played on two of my biggest interests: Vermont and the Boston Red Sox. The story was set in NEK VT like all of Moser's books. Like so many of his books this one incorporated a coming of ages story coupled with loony hill people and a person breaking free of the orbit of rural VT living. I wouldn't say that there was anything truly spectacular about the book, and it is hardly universal in its appeal. If anything it is targeted at a small vernacular audience. Fortunately for me, I am well inside that group.
Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O'Brian SR: 7.
This is one of the Aubrey / Maturin series made so famous by the 2003 movie starring Russel Crow. I won't bother to share my thoughts on the movie. Generally, the series of books is pretty good. Set in the height of Naval warfare under sail, during the Napoleonic Wars, the books are a mix of espionage, period drama and nautical bluster and warfare. This book mostly focuses on the exploits of Maturin, the Doctor / spy. I tend to enjoy the books that focus more on the Nautical warfare, but the plot held my attention decently well. A warning that all of the books in this series are best read with a Nautical dictionary and schematic of a tall ship and all of its rigging in hand.
His Last Bow Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. SR: 8
This compilation was one of my favorites in the Holmes series. I have to say that some of the stories became too fantastic with Holmes powers of deduction, but it was entertaining. With each story I read, I couldn't help but think that CSI is a total rip off of Holmes, just with more gadgets.
Some time in September:
Post Card Killers James Patterson. SR: 7.
This book was like eating candy bars under the covers after Halloween as a little kid, a guilty pleasure that kinda makes you feel sick. Nothing spectacular in the writing. The redeeming characteristic was that it was exciting, if exceeding cheap and low brow.
Unbearable Lightness of Being SR:9
I had pretty low expectations going into this book. I thought it would be high-handed in the views it espoused. I was pleasantly surprised to find an engaging and dramatic narrative intertwined with the more 'philosophical' underpinnings of the book.
Lost Symbol Dan Brown. SR7
Of the Dan Brown books that I have read, this one had the most amount of promise at the outset and left me the most disappointed at the end. The author seemed to be as unequivocal about the what the reader should take as his characters. He generated some great characters, and set a very nice stage. The final act was a huge disappointment.