I started the year with another ambitious goal of 100 books (using the Goodreads site to log and track), as last year I read 119. Through June, I’ve managed 58.
I’m grouping the books as I did in last year’s recap by the month in which I finished them (and fiction/nonfiction subgroups.) As the list is already quite long, and I’ve decided to tag all of the authors and titles, I’m publishing the first half of the year as a standalone.
Some quick stats for the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): heavier on the nonfiction (again) for the six months so far this year:
- 34 nonfiction
- 24 fiction
- 9 of the fiction were Arthur C. Clarke novels. The last of the Big Three (Asimov and Heinlein being the other two, though Heinlein doesn’t warrant the distinction…IMO), I think he did well with science fiction and not so well with things that involve people.
- I’ve rated 10 as five-star on Goodreads
- I gave 2 books a one-star rating (not-only-no-but-really-no)
- I’ve linked all of my Goodreads reviews (even if only one line) to each title, in case anyone is interested in what I thought.
And, now to the books of the first half of 2013…
January – 11
- The Naked Brewer: Fearless Homebrewing Tips, Tricks & Rule-breaking Recipes by Christina Perozzi & Hallie Beaune
- ***** The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t by Nate Silver
- * Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government by Glenn Beck
- ***** A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future…: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned by Michael J. Fox
- Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
- 21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (and Other Stuff) by Steve Sack
I found The Naked Brewer to start my research on brewing my own ales …haven’t taken the plunge yet.
The Signal and the Noise was an outstanding read. Silver does a great job talking about a wide range of subjects and makes statistics actually interesting! Glenn Beck (along with about fifteen other writers of that mess), on the other hand, was the noise to an intelligent signal and earned the first one-star rating of the year. Michael J. Fox’s very short memoir was charming and insightful, while both Truss’s and Sack’s books were informative (and coincidentally, both British).
Fiction (5 ):
- On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony
- The Atrocity Exhibition by J. G. Ballard
- The Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke
- Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
- The Thousand Coffins Affair (The Man from U.N.C.L.E. #1) by Michael Avallone
I like quite a bit of Piers Anthony, despite being annoyed with most of his writing. I wanted to refresh my memory of the Incarnations of Immortality series before reading the eighth that I did not know existed until 2010.
Ballard’s “experimental” novel was to me a failed experiment. Nuff said.
I saved Clarke for the last of my survey of the Big Three. Asimov wrote so much that I only read his Foundation arc (robots through Empire through Foundation) in 2010. I started Heinlein last year but only made it through 16 novels before I gave up my stubborn quest. He simply does not belong in any conversation about great science fiction writers. In my opinion, of course (but then, this is my opinion here). Clarke is the better science fiction writer in comparison with the other two (IMO, again). I was not too taken by Childhood’s End, but the others were good reading.
I remember watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as a kid and I also read some pulpy stuff when young. The Thousand Coffins was typical for the genre of the time.
February – 10 (of 21 through February)
Nonfiction (6 ):
- The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s Internet is killing our culture by Andrew Keen
- The Dude and the Zen Master by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman
- Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell
- ***** Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova
- The Throwing Madonna by William H. Calvin
- The Happiness Hypothesis:Finding Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
Keen’s polemic rants against the amateur content of the internet (to which I am contributing with this blog). A few good points undone by a sarcastic ass who thinks everyone is stupid (-er than him?). I expected more out of Dude, but it was a pretty lame transcript of a conversation between Bridges and Zen master (whatever that is) Glassman. Weird Things made me laugh – the human capacity for dumb is boundless.
I found Throwing Madonna while looking up references debunking the right/left brain myth. In a collection of Calvin’s essays first published in 1983, he talks about his theory of handedness (humans are pretty much the only animals, large claw crustaceans aside – who exhibit a distinctive dominant hand) as rips Roger Sperry, likening the myth to phrenology. And, in the same thread pulling exercise, I read Haidt’s Hypothesis after it was referenced extensively in Scott Trent’s Right (next month…). As I said on Goodreads, I wanted to like the book, but he made it too hard to…too much stuff about transcendence and higher powers.
Fiction ( 4):
- A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke
- The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Alborn
- ***** Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Clarke is great science fiction. Even his lesser stuff is hand over fist better than anything Heinlein wrote, though his work diminishes as he got older. I liked Rama the first time I read it and again this time. Not too keen on Alborn, or at least Five People. Maybe Tuesdays with Morrie would be better.
March – 8 (of 29 through March)
Nonfiction (4 ):
- Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt
- Right: A New Design Perspective for Business Innovation by Scott Trent
- Managing as Designing edited by Richard Boland and Fred Collopy
- The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue EXCELLENCE by Tom Peters
Jim Holt really tried with Exist, but he wove in so much BS that it waxed and waned intelligence, and waned and waxed nonsense. Managing is an academic collection with a couple of good notes, but not for the average reader. I wasn’t all that impressed. Now, for whatever reason, I like Tom Peters, and even as uneven a collection of stream of consciousness thoughts as Little Big Things is, I still liked a lot he had to say.
Trent’s book was also uneven. A good core idea not packaged well. I also read his PhD dissertation “Digital Media-based Design that Facilitates Collaboration”, which though it doesn’t count as a book, was still 172 pages. Lot of repetition… something to keep in mind if I ever decide to go for a doctoral degree.
Fiction ( 4):
- Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke
- ***** Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
- Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
- Planet of the Apes (Monkey Planet) by Pierre Boulle
Clarke’s Islands was simple, young adult sci-fi, whereas Twenty Thousand Leagues was an encyclopedia of marine fauna and flora. I figured out that I must not have actually read it as a teen… no way it would have held my attention. Sawyer’s Calculating was a light read with a cloying end, but the niggling annoyance was his use of contemporary references…those never stand the test of time. And Boulle’s Apes was both different and similar to the movie, though I’d have to give the nod to the screenplay as superior.
April – 14 (of 43 through April)
Nonfiction (10 ):
- How to Think Like Sherlock by Daniel Smith
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
- The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks
- Is God a Mathematician? by Mario Livio
- ***** The New Business of Design by International Design Conference in Aspen 1995, John J. Kao & Ted Gachot
- The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
- * Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander
- ***** The Quality Instinct: Seeing Art Through a Museum Director’s Eye by Maxwell Anderson
- The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam
- Your First Interview by Ron Fry
Of the ten nonfiction books I read in April, two stood out from the rest: The New Business of Design and The Quality Instinct. I found New Business specifically because I had seen several references praising Tom Peters’s keynote address at the 45th International Design Conference in Aspen (1995). The keynote was great and the rest of the book full of valuable information on the (then) future of design in the business world. I looked for the other stand out after I heard about Max Anderson’s Quality Instinct and heard him as part of a panel discussion in Dallas. Very well-written and not at all pretentious, Anderson should be able to help some readers understand quality. Both highly recommended.
Daniel Smith’s Sherlock was nothing like Maria Konnikova’s Mastermind – derivative and more of a Conan Doyle quiz book. Thaler and Sunstein’s Nudge fell far short of the hype (referenced in other books I’d read); the book is supposedly about how people need “choice architecture” to help them make decisions. Tripe. Sacks’s Man Who Mistook was on the New Scientist Top 25 Most Influential Popular Scoence Books, all of which I’ve resolved to read. He described a lot of very odd pathologies. S’okay.
Livio’s God is a nice survey of the history of math and while good. misses the mark on answering the question. Hawking’s Grand Design earned with Livio the other four-star rating of the month. Both were easy reads, though I didn’t see any of the controversy in Design that had been in the news. Napkin was a waste of time – Roam made some money conning people into thinking a simplistic concept was a world-shattering epiphany. Good for him – but bad on him. I read through Fry’s Interview for my sons and to refresh my own memory on the topic. Not bad.
What was bad was Alexander’s Proof (hard to not put that title in quotes …the sarcastic type… and hard not to put it below in the fiction where it belongs). He earned my second one-star of the year. His writing style was like an easy conversation, I’m still shaking my head.
Fiction (4 ):
- Echoes of the Well of Souls by Jack Chalker
- Steampunk Poe by Edgar Allan Poe (Zdenko Basic, illustrator)
- Shadow of the Well of Souls by Jack Chalker
- Rama II by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee
I liked the two Chalker novels in second Well World series better the second time around. As with most second novels in trilogies, Shadow seemed more filler, but both still showed his imagination. I was not impressed with Steampunk Poe, neither with the gimmick of steampunk illustrations nor with Poe’s writings. And Rama II, was a weak sequel to Rendezvous with Rama – I was disappointed…again, for I read it years ago when it came out and was disappointed then.
May – 8 (of 51 so far through May)
Nonfiction (3 ):
- The Everything Practice Interview Book: Be Prepared for Any Question by Dawn Rosenberg McKay
- ***** Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
- ***** Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today’s Computers by John MacCormick
I read the Everything Practice Interview to help prepare for a series of interviews. Didn’t make much difference in that outcome, but it is still a good book overall. Good examples of how not to answer questions. Johnson’s Good Ideas is an excellent read, for while he talks about specific examples of innovation in his illustrations, he focuses more on the processes. And MacCormick’s Nine Algorithms is also recommended for anyone in the biz (his explanations are simplified, while not dumbed down…might help explaing what you do), or has more than a passing interest in the underpinnings of the information world.
Fiction (5 ):
- ***** Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
- The Garden of Rama by Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee
- Gods of the Well of Souls by Jack Chalker
- Killing Floor by Lee Child
- 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
What can I say about J.K. Rowling’s first Potter book that hasn’t already been said? Of course, if the sayings are negative, then you can leave the room. Bloody brilliant. A book that can be read by young folks as well as old folks, with a story arc spanning seven books and inklings of things to come so early? Again, bloody brilliant.
Clarke and Lee slumped further with Garden but Clarke’s 2001 is still pretty good. As with the first two in the Watchers at the Well trilogy, I like Gods better the second time through. I think Chalker will be my next semi-exclusive author to read (yeah, if I don;t get distracted…) And I read Lee Child’s Killing Floor after watching the “Jack Reacher” movie. It was rather pulpy, but still not a bad airport read.
June 7 (of 58 so far through June)
- My Story by Marilyn Monroe, Ben Hect & Joshua Green
- The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane by Matthew Hutson
- We All Need Heroes: Stories of the Brave and Foolish by Simon Zingerman
- The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Anything by Daniel Coyle
- Quarterdeck and Bridge: Two Centuries of American Naval Leaders by James C. Bradford (Editor)
Curious coincidence…I read Marilyn’s Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters last year in June. That, people know to be hers. My Story?…probably not. And I was very disappointed in Hutson’s Magical Thinking – gimmicky, poorly reasoned and all the more of a head shaker given that Hutson was the editor of Psychology Today.
Neat story on Simon Zingerman’s Heroes – he found me on goodreads.com and asked if I’d read his book and comment on it. So I did. Not something I’d ordinarily pick up, but it wasn’t bad. Plus, he sent me an autographed copy from Sweden. Pretty cool.
Coyle’s Talent Code, however was nearly a one-star. “Revolutionary scientific discoveries” don’t come along that often, and certainly not via the pen of a sports writer. Fortunately, the month was saved by The Naval Institute Press’s Quarterdeck and Bridge – great history of the great movers in U.S. Navy history
Fiction (2 ):
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
- World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Andrea was reading Extremely Loud to Dylan and Drew (yes, she still does that with our 16 and 14 year olds) so that we could watch the movie. I read it, too. I had problems with the incongruous elements that no kid would think, see or do, but it wasn’t bad. Neither was World War Z, though don’t read it going in thinking it is about zombies or the movie. It was neither.
So, there you have it, 2013 (first half) reading in review. These are the 58 books I’ve read so far.