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2010 Booklist

January 2, 2011

Another year, another resolution: read 52 books, or a book a week. While last year I nearly reached my goal with 51 books (including some filler like re-reading the 10 book series of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and the entire Harry Potter series), this year I tried to take my goal a little more serious. I would read fewer books in part of a series, more serious books, more non-fiction.

On whole, I think this year I’ve read more. For the first part of the year, I had more books on my list than movies or television. And while this list only reflects finished books, bound comic series, and short story collections, I also spent a lot of this year reading copies of the New Yorker (never cover to cover), a lot of online journalism (specifically The Awl, The Morning News, and of course, The Bygone Bureau), and text books. I only read one of my text books from cover to cover, but despite this, I was reading hundreds of pages a week. Somehow though, I managed to squeeze in some literature. Below, you’ll find some thoughts on what I’ve read this year.

1. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson(re-read, loved).

I began re-reading Cryptonomicon after Christmas, when I needed a pick me up. I had remembered liking the novel and finding it funny, but when I re-read it, it consumed my life. I had forgotten just how much I love Neal Stephenson when all cylinders are clicking: his one liners, his love of all things technical (and this is where he can off the rails – by being too technical, which occurs more often in the System of the World books), and the plot which can both meander and then clip along a lively pace. It’s full of intrigue and fun, and I considered re-reading it again this winter. It’s included on the list because I did not technically finish it until the first days of 2010.

2. The entire archive of Girls with Slingshots. (webcomic).

After finishing Cryptonomicon I stumbled across this website (through Hark, a Vagrant I believe) and quickly devoured everything. It’s become a little pedestrian over the past year or so – nothing quite as overtly spectacle based, but I do love to drop in at the end of the week, read a week’s worth of comics, and spirit off again. It’s less like Penny-Arcade, and more like a sitcom in comic form.

3. The Last Watch, by Sergey Lukyanenko.

I thought I had finished the Watch series last year, but I discovered there was a fourth book, which I read out of obligation. It was cyclical and didn’t explain everything, but that’s probably for the better. Also, having the character sing along to music which exposes some mood or foretells the future might work in film or television where it can be used subtly, but in a book it’s just annoyingly obvious.

4. Pictures at a Revolution, by Mark Harris (loved).

I asked for this for Christmas, Kate was kind enough to get it for me, and I devoured it. I love films, and their histories, and Mark Harris reveals the histories behind the five 1968 best picture nominees. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the 60’s really did happen all at once, and I’m sure I’ll look back a year from now and not believe how events in my own life really happened all at once.

5. Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile.

Last year, I wanted to make an effort to read more non-fiction, and for some reason I didn’t consider the previous book non-fiction (which it was), so I borrowed this book from Peter. It was probably the book that took me the longest to read on this list, simply because there are so many facts, points of view, and stories that were interesting and relevant to today’s society. Can I remember them all of the top of my head? No, not really. But I do know more about the history of US relations with Pakistan.

6. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (re-read).

After Charlie Wilson’s War, I wanted something a bit lighter, and I spent maybe two nights re-reading what was one of my favorite books in high school, and one of the funniest I had read until that point. It’s still funny, but shorter and breezier than I remember, but somehow it wasn’t as moving, if only because I value other things more than humor than in high school. Then again, I do mix up all of the books in my head a little, so taken as a whole, I think the Hitchhiker’s Guide series might be better than its constituent books. I read most of The Restaurant At The End of the Universe during that same time, but I can’t recall if I re-read the whole book or if I got distracted with something else.

7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time, by Mark Haddon.

I heard about this book through the A.V. Club, and thought it was relevant because I have friends with Aspergers, which is a mild form of autism, and friends who are special education teachers. Because I’ve talked about the mental process of Aspergers with my friend, the novel’s point of view wasn’t as shocking to me as for some, nor were some of the depictions of classsroom events. However, there were little details about math, and significant emotional plot developments that I was not expecting that proved fascinating and moving.

8.The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.

This book also came from the A.V. Club, and also conversations I had with friends about writers who wrote genre works where the writing pushed it outside of the genre ghetto. My primary association with this book is loving the perhaps 10-20 page sections between main sections of the book, detailing the plot of a fictional book. This is also the book I read while visiting Oregon State University in mid-February to interview for graduate school. My friend Charlotte was still in class, so I camped myself in a cafe, drank a pot of a tea, and read this book while rare February afternoon sunshine found its way through the cafe’s plate glass windows. The book itself was frustrating, detailing the cloistered life of a very stubborn old woman, and the past of her life. I like it more reflecting back on it, knowing what the novel actually is, but when I went it expecting genre work, I was very frustrated with the literary fiction.

9. Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold (loved).

This book also came from the A.V. Club, and I read this when I went to visit Colorado State University. Sipping wine in the hotel bar and devouring this book is (sadly) one of my favorite memories from that trip. It’s about magic acts in the 1910’s and 20’s, but also intrigue, and identity. It’s great.

10.The entire archive of Girl Genius (re-read, webcomic).

I forgot who a bunch of the characters were, so I re-read this.

11. Y: The Last Man – Unmanned (comic, re-read).

I discovered that I could also get comic books from the library, and started reading this series again.

12. Y: The Last Man – Cycles (comic).

I don’t remember much about this. The plot advances.

13. The Devil in the White City, by Eric Larson. (Looking back, liked a great deal).

This is my third non-fiction novel, and one that I relish more looking back. Larson contrasts the 1894 Chicago World’s Fair with the emergence of one of America’s first serial killers (something most of us have never heard of, but was huge at the time). Very good, and recommended.

14.The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (Has surprisingly stayed with me).

I plucked this from The Millions, and The A.V. Club, and read Franzen’s opus. I absolutely hated one of the characters, but the rest were rich and deep, and the last 100-150 pages really bring all the strings together and knock it out of the park. It’s about family, and ambition, and well.. it’s a great American Novel, it’s about a lot of things.

15.Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie.

This novel probably would be more profound if I was more studied in India’s history as a country. Instead, it seemed like self-indulgent magic realism. Intermittently interesting, but mostly relation of the Immigrant tale (like The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or Middlesex) but full of more self-pity and pedantry.

16. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

I liked Cloud Atlas, and remember reading it out on the balcony of our house on warm April afternoons with tiny glasses of wine, but the ingenious construction of the novel also turned me off, because there was a sense of artificiality and fatalism inherent in that construction that dampened my affection for the excellent and varied writing.

17. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon.

Probably the worst thing I’ve read by Chabon – a mediocre take on Sherlock Holmes. Even as a novella, it felt plodding and long.

18.Y: The Last Man – One Small Step(comic).

This one was about space and pregnancy and some other stuff.

19. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman (essays).

I mentioned this book in a piece I wrote about unemployment. I was reading a lot of The Awl, and this at the same time, thinking about cultural criticisms and the way in which even the most mundane pop-culture artifacts can speak volumes about our lives. These are the interesting kinds of conversations I like to have with friends.

20. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, by John le Carre (loved).

The first book I bought in 2010. Did not regret it, read it in a day. Loved it. Will probably re-read. It helped me acknowledge that growing up in a post-Cold War environment is different in such a radical way that our parents care barely describe.

21. Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser.

I knew a lot of the periphery information, but I thought I should read the actual famed book. I’m glad I don’t eat as much fast food as I used to. Highly recommended.

22.Y: The Last Man – Safeword (comic).

Kinky! Also, I couldn’t more of the comic before moving to Seattle.

23. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower (short stories).

These stories are largely about loss and divorce, and most aren’t worth your time, except for the title story, which is the last story, and  is about Vikings, and is awesome.

24. Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Very different than the movie (which I loved), but also, in some ways, funnier, more touching, and more real. Also, way, way more Jewish.

25. The Know-It-All, by A.J. Jacobs.

More non-fiction, but the lighter side, and to be truthful, kind of boring. A man reads the Encyclopedia Britannica, questions purpose of dream, knowledge in general, relationship with father.

26. The Somnambulist, by Jonathan Barnes.

This novel was bad in a good way. Goofy plot, memorable characters, semi-hack writing, but entertaining.

27. The Domino Men, by Jonathan Barnes.

This novel was bad in a bad way. Goofy plot, flat characters, hack writing, not entertaining

28. The Lost City of Z by by David Grann.

The Heart of Darkness as investigative journalism in the Amazon. Revealing and fascinating about our relationship with nature, with foreignness, and the spirit of adventure. I finished most of this on a bus to Portland.

29. The Last Good Kiss, by James Crumley (god damn loved it).

Holy shit. Probably my favorite thing that I read all year. The gritty private eye, but in the wide open west, in the morally ambiguous 70’s. The writing slinks off the page, onto a bar stool and relates it’s sad, strange, gripping tale. If you like crime novels, read this.

30. ;The City and The City by China Mieville.

Aside from Franzen, probably the most technically proficient novel I read all year, simply on a diction and syntax level, using word choice and rhythm to dictate foreignness better than any description. A deeper analysis here.

31 Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis.

I hated this book. More here!

32. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

This was more Young Adult fiction that I was expecting, but it was nice to read a book set in Seattle, even if it was Seattle in the early 1900’s, in an alternate history, with zombies and a 200 foot wall. Go local authors!

33. The Pedagogy of Oppression by Paulo Friere.

I read this for class. It’s the only book I read cover to cover for class, which is why it’s on this list. It’s the only book of philosophy I read this year, and inspired some of my best class discussions.

34. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.

This was one of the few other books I bought this year, and I did not regret it. Like William Gibson’s Nueromancer, but updated for our current technology, and set in Thailand. Fast paced, even handed (protagonist? eh…), and well written.

35.Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and Amerca, by Paul Tough.
I am not a fan of charter schools in general, but there is more at work in this documentation of a radical plan to lift one famous neighborhood out the grip of poverty. I sincerely hope the Harlem Children’s Zone continues, as it should be a model for neighborhood development, supporting the community, and the impact of education. Definitely worth the read, and a recommendation to people interested in education (I even have a copy to loan out to interested parties).

Abandoned books: The History of the Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago (boring), The Quiet American by Graham Greene (ran out of time on the library loan), Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan (boring), Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (saw where it was going, and I ran out of time on my library loan), The Muse Asylum by David Czuchlewski (pretentious), Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (ran out of time on my library rental, but want to revisit).

So, in total I read 35 books this year, much less than last year. This year I only read 6 comics as opposed to 14. I only read two non-comic books that were part of a series, although several of the books I read this year occur in the sam ewriting universe, or share minor characters with other novels by the same author. I read nine non fiction books, as compared to 1-2 from last year. I read more books that took place in America (although few solely took place in Amerca), and overall my quota for American authors has increased dramatically.

This next year, I’d just like to keep up an appetite for reading outside of graduate school, which might be difficult. But we’ll see what happens!

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