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.
As in my recap of the first half of 2013, 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.)
Some quick full year stats for the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): overwhelmingly heavy on the nonfiction this year, but then a lot of the fiction was quite long (Ms. Rowling…please stand up):
- 55 nonfiction
- 45 fiction
- 14 of the fiction were Arthur C. Clarke novels, who rounded out the last of the Big Three
- I’ve rated 19 on Goodreads as five-star. Not all are must-reads, but these are ones I thought were excellent…and maybe read-agains.
- I gave a two books a one-star not-only-no-but-really-no UNrecommendation
Anyway, now to the books (five-star ratings are marked with asterisks)…
July (9 of 67 so far)
Nonfiction (5 ):
- This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Work Edited by John Brockman
- ***** Intellectual Impostures by Alan Sokal & Jean Bricmont
- The Logician and the Engineer: How George Boole and Claude Shannon Created the Information Age by Paul J. Nahin
- Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock
- ***** Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
John Brockman founded Edge and each year asks a question “to the world’s most influential minds”. This Explains Everything collects the 2012 answers to “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation? ” I found it to have some delightful answers, a few head-scratchers (as in, huh? why was this included?), and quite a lot of enlightening essays.
I’ve wanted to read Intellectual Impostures (aka Fashionable Nonsense) since I read about it in Dawkins’s Devil’s Chaplain. Tearing down pseudo-intellectuals, pseduo-science, etc. is burdensome and I gave props to Sokal and Bricmont for their effort. Nahin’s Logician/Engineer was not a biography and bad on me for not checking first.
Rock’s Brain was not without problems – the interludes with “actors” was annoying – but as I said in my review, the science is good and he writes well.
Quiet had been on my “to read” list for a while, after hearing about it on NPR. It’s one of my “must read” recommendations.
Fiction (4 ):
- Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
- Rama Revealed by Arthur C. Clarke
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
I like to have “Disney with Dad” on Sunday nights with my sons because I grew up with The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. One night, we watched “Johnny Tremain”, and I decided to read the book to see how it compared to Disney’s adaptation. The most glaring problem was that Ms. Forbes apparently spent an enormous amount of time researching Paul Revere and yet got his ride wrong.
Continuing my quest to read as many Arthur Clarke’s novels this year as I could, Rama Revealed. Though I had read it long ago, I had forgotten pretty much everything and I was disappointed the second time through. Preachy and overlong, I thought that male sci-fi writers should never presume to write from a woman’s perspective.
Ms. Rowling, however, was still incredible for the second readings of her books.
August (3 of 70 so far)
Nonfiction (2 ):
- 50 Mathematical Ideas You Really Need to Know by Tony Crilly
- ***** iWoz by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith
August was a bad month for reading. I had…some distractions… Crilly’s Mathematical Ideas was quite engaging, but not nearly as much as Wozniak’s memoir. He was quite charitable to the ass that Steve Jobs was, and I really enjoyed him talking about how he created the first and last Apple computers (Apple I & II).
- ***** Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
Ms. Rowling did well. Five stars.
September (5 of 75 so far)
Nonfiction (5 ):
- How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil
- The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory by Jesse Walker
- The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil
- New Media for Designers + Builders by Stephen A. Mouzon
- Killing Jesus: A History by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (Note: this is marketed as nonfiction, which is why it is here and not below)
September, for much the same reasons as August, was not a good month for reading. Still, I read a few non-fiction works. The two by Ray Kurzweil were interesting. Well, How to Create a Mind was… Spiritual Machines was more comical.
Walker’s US of Paranoia was enlightening, and he fours stars because he spent a whole chapter on my favorite lunatic, Robert Anton Wilson. Okay…Wilson is not my favorite lunatic, but he is a lunatic who keeps traffic coming to my blog.
New Media has an interesting story: I don’t know how Steve Mouzon found me, but he offered an advance copy of his book if I would read and review it. I got the iBooks epub version and was impressed with the look, feel, and interactive nature. I had some constructive comments for the author, which I shared at his request both on Goodreads and on my blog.
I read Killing Jesus out of curiosity and my review on Goodreads garnered more interest than anything else I’ve written there, people who liked it and ignorant tools who thought my opinion was formed before I read it. As I said in the comment trail below my review, my opinion of O’Reilly? yes, but I approached this book as I would any other book claiming historical fact. And O’Reilly and his co-author failed miserably. Neither is an expert in biblical history, nor does either has any fluency in the languages the biblical history was written in, and yet they claim what they write are facts. And, they neglected to cite any sources which, even though none exist anyway, bought them less than zero credibility and relegated this “non-fiction” work to fiction. I was generous in giving them two stars for the effort.
Fiction ( 0):
October (8 of 83 so far)
Nonfiction ( 5):
- ***** 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, Barry L. Beyerstein
- The Incredible Dr. Matrix by Martin Gardner
- The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, K.A. Yoshida (Translator), David Mitchell (Translator)
- The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language
by Steven Pinker
- Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life by Graham Nash
The authors of 50 Myths hit the sweet spot on my skeptical tennis racquet. The title says it all. Highly recommended unless you buy into the myths. I guess you’ll be offended then. And Martin Gardner subtly skewered folks without them realizing it, though only a little in Dr. Matrix. It was a nice nostalgic romp through mathematical games.
I had mixed feelings about The Reason I Jump. On the one hand, I couldn’t believe that a 13 year old wrote it. Of course, there were two translators and as with hypnosis “memory retrieval”, the translators probably interpreted rather than translated. On the other hand, take out the improbable elements and it has a good message.
Pinker’s book is on the New Scientist Top 25 list of Most Influential Popular Science Books (it didn’t make the Top 10) they put out in 2012 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring. I was less impressed with The Language Instinct than the list creators. Pinker doesn’t seem to know how to present an idea succinctly. In my review, I really thought he should “make a point; reinforce a point; if at that point you feel the need to keep talking, show the reader where in the footnotes or appendix all the repetitious extras can be found.”
If you like memoirs, entertainment industry memoirs, and/or Crosby, Stills, Nash & (sometimes) Young, you should like Nash’s book.
Fiction (3 ):
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
- Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Imperial Earth was the very first book I got after losing 99.5% of our library, and it was a gift from an Internet friend I’ve never met. It took too long to read, mostly because it wasn’t that engaging.
My youngest had to read Dr. Jekyll for a book club, so I read it, too. I think I last read it nearly 40 years ago. Stevenson wrote in cumbersome language. Not a favorite.
November (8 of 91 so far)
Nonfiction ( 2):
- Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences by Thomas Armstrong
- ***** The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski
Armstrong’s Neurodiversity is an excellent book that spoke to me in many ways. I have a version of ADD that I consider neither a deficit nor a disorder. “Difference”? Yes, but it really is past time that we stop looking at differences as anything other than differences. Armstrong presents the clinical issues of each difference (I did learn that schizophrenia actually destroys the brain), and then the strengths and ways (niches) to capitalize on those strengths. This is not a medical treatise; rather more “pop”, but a great primer on thinking differently about differences.
Bronowski’s Ascent is also on the New Scientist list and it did make the top ten, coming in at #10. I think should have been higher. “… this work traces the development of science as an expression of the special gifts that characterize man and make him preeminent among animals.” Yep, and despite being published in 1976 as a companion to the PBS series of the same name, it has really stood the test of time. Excellent.
Fiction (6 ):
- Post Office by Charles Bukowski
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
- 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke
- 2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- 3001: Odyssey Four by Arthur C. Clarke
I’m not sure where I came across Bukowski’s name, but I checked out Post Office – apparently the book that “catapulted its author to national fame”. I was around and aware in the 70s but somehow missed the name. And I would have lacked nothing in life had I missed this book.
I also think the same of Orson Scott Card. I read Ender’s Game some time ago and did not like it. I re-read it because I saw a trailer for the film and realized that I remembered almost nothing from the book (I made that much of an impression). I did not like it a second time, but I gave it a bump in stars (to three) which tells people I did like it. Silly rating system, but I play mostly by their rules.
Clarke’s Odyssey arc went downhill after 2001. I lost a few unread Clarke books in the fire that I was saving for this year, but I think I’m done with him.
Dorian Gary was another book club assignment, this time for my 16 year old son. Didn’t like it when I first read it…didn’t like the repeat. Probably didn’t understand it when I first read it…all too easily understood the veneer it is when I re-read it.
December (9 of 100)
Nonfiction ( 2):
- Drifting Democracy by Pravin Boddu
- The Daily Book of Art: 365 readings that teach, inspire & entertain by Colin Gilbert & others
I won Drifting Democracy through one of Goodreads.com’s giveaways. The author is Indian, working in the USA, and wrote about the problems his country is having making democracy work. I thought it a fun read and gave some feedback in my review. Pravin contacted me about my comments (needing an editor and zero references/citations for statements of apparent fact), and after I amplified what I meant, he thanked me and said he was going to add citations for the next edition. Cool.
Daily Art is one of those night-stand books, but I couldn’t bring myself to stretch it out for a year. The authors alternated ten sections ranging from biographies to art techniques to art works. I observed that they pretty much had entirely Western eyes…too myopic for me to consider this as more than a children’s book – though that’s not what they intended.
Fiction (7 ):
- Omnivore by Piers Anthony
- ***** Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
- The Sea is Full of Stars by Jack L. Chalker
- ***** Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
- Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
- Ghost of the Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker
- ***** The Warlock in Spite of Himself by Christopher Stasheff
I carried around Piers Anthony’s Manta trilogy for years and had never read them (C.S. Lewis’s Space trilogy either). Had a hard time getting through the pretty short Omnivore, but I hope to someday muster the gumption to read the other two. And the last two Rowling books in the Harry Potter series got high marks.
I did not like Fight Club at all, but as he made me laugh three specific times, I gave him two stars. Odd the things people meme…not a good book, not good writing, not anything anyone I know would find appealing.
I hope to read more of Chalker in 2014, but I wanted to wrap his Well World group with his final series …a two-parter. Better and worse than I remembered.
Finally, I squeezed in one just for fun on the last day of the year and now I want to read more Stasheff (I’ve read many, but I always got tired before finishing a series). It gets top stars for spawning 25 more books (and then some in several others series).
So, there you have it, 2013 reading in review. These are the books I read.