2009–The Year in Books

29Dec09

Working from memory, these are the books I read in 2009. When I was young, this would have been considered “light,” but at this point in my life, it passes for “a lot.”

NONFICTION

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron Started this book on cultivating creativity, but didn’t finish. Doing morning pages was helpful, but hard to maintain. Definitely deserves another attempt.

Collapse by Jared Diamond A very scary book about how societies overtax their resources–often with the best of intentions–and face ruin for it. Diamond’s detailed research reminds me that no matter how intriguing or charismatic the titanic personalities of the past may be, the greatest forces shaping history are the multitude of tiny decisions made by thousands and millions and billions of individuals every day.

The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu A short little profile of a WWII operation to deceive the Nazis about the location of the Allied invasion of Sicily. British counterintelligence actually dressed up a corpse like an intelligence officer, loaded him with fake intelligence, and dropped him in the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain, knowing that the Spanish authorities would turn him over to the Germans. A quick read, and proof that real spies are far more clever that Mr. Bond or Mr. Bourne.

Why the Allies Won by Richard Overy An analysis of what strengths the Allies brought to bear, and what mistakes the Axis made during the war. Another one rich in details, it traces how the flexibility of the means helped the Allies reach their goal of defeating Hitler, while the rigidity of practice and denial of reality doomed the Axis. Highly informative.

FICTION

The Dresden Files: Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight by Jim Butcher Kat and Michele ripped through these with great speed. I was initially reluctant to pick them up, having seen a few episodes of the godawful TV series. I liked them a great deal more than I expected. Each book was better than the one before. I’ll probably read another few books in the series in the coming year. I tend to take my noir in small doses.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara A classic historical novelization of the battle of Gettysburg. As a novel, it delves into the psychology of the generals, the interplay of personalities, and the cultural causes of the war itself. Plus, depicts how savage warfare can be, particularly when idealism meets the cold reality of industrial-era weaponry.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens I picked up a cheap paperback at the grocery store during a flurry of Christmas shopping, and Kat and I have been taking turns reading portions aloud to one another. Dickens’ prose just rings out when spoken! It is quite a holiday treat.

AUDIOBOOKS

I’ve occasionally been using Librivox for free audiobooks of public domain works that I can listen to on the commute. “Public Domain” usually means “pre-1923,” which doesn’t bother me. As I said, Victorian literature is made for speaking.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs The root text of space fantasy. It’s always strange to go back to the source of a genre you know well. You need to remind yourself that the reason so many parts sound clichĂ© is because they’ve been stolen so many times. It was an interesting experience, and showed me the link between space fantasy and bombastic, imperialistic tales of The Other. I also realized that Superman is simply John Carter come to Earth.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne You know an audiobook is fun when you find yourself taking the long way home just to hear more! I read the book when I was 12 or 13 years old. I got the plotline without a problem, but I didn’t understand Phileas Fogg’s peculiarity, his driving obsession, his complete and utter faith that reason (and the British Pound) can conquer anything the world can throw at him. Actually had me jotting down notes for a Victorian RPG.

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain A short story, and plenty funny, but kinda pointless. Still, even Mark Twain had to start somewhere. And I can easily envision a Baron Munchausen hack focusing on tall tales of the Old West.

COMICS

All-in-all, a terrible, terrible year for my comics reading. Our monthly pull-list has dwindled to the point of virtual non-existence. We had to leave our favorite local comic store because it has become so cluttered with product in the aisles that it’s impossible to browse, or even move! I’m sure I read more comics than this, but this is what I recall at the moment:

Powers by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming Kat and i have been working our way through the trades for a few years now. It’s very dark, and very good, and very noir. I particularly enjoy watching how classic superheroic characters and plotlines are twisted to the needs of Bendis’ police procedural.

Fortune and Glory by Brian Michael Bendis Mr. Bendis’ story of trying to sell screenplays in Hollywood. Very amusing.

Jersey Gods by Glen Brunswick & Dan McDaid I picked this up because it looked like a cross between Kirby’s New Gods stuff and a ’50s romance comic (I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for such things). It kinda was that, but the two storylines ran almost entirely parallel, only intersecting at the beginning and the very end. Entertaining though, and the art is like Kirby filtered through Mike Mignola.

Well, that’s all I can recall from this past year. I’ve got a huge pile for 2010 already, so I’d best get reading.

How was your year in books?

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2 Responses to “2009–The Year in Books”

  1. 1 Anonymous

    The Year in Books
    I also read Collapse over the last year in bits and pieces. Frightening stuff that should be required reading. Yes, we can and should blame the big bad corporations to some extent, but it’s the accumulation of small decisions that add up to big problems, and some of them are decisions that are within our own power to make.
    Haven’t gotten to Dresden yet, but I keep hearing about it, and it certainly sounds like it’s up my alley. I’ve only read the comics adaptation of Storm Front.
    Re: Dickens. I wish we had more modern writers who enjoyed the way words sound. It’s one of the things I appreciate about the dialogue style in the Firefly TV series.
    Re: A Princess of Mars. I had the same experience with William Gibson’s Neuromancer, realizing that this was the book that launched a thousand cliches, but did it *first*.
    Re: Comics. My comics purchases have dramatically dropped off because my tastes seem to be changing. I’ve seen too much lazy writing in comics, and I suspect it’s because I’m reading the wrong ones. Bendis’ New Avengers is one that I’m still reading, though with mixed feelings. He has some great ideas, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired at times. Sometimes he hasn’t quite earned the payoff he’s trying to reach, in my opinion, and that happens often enough to make me cautious about picking up anything else he writes.
    This year I’ve read 1/4 of the Chinese classic “Journey to the West”, which has been interesting because again, this is one of those books that other books draw on. I suspect the Farscape TV series is one of them.
    “The Music Lesson” by Victor Wooten was inspiring both in terms of music and spirituality.
    “Heaven and Hell”, which is the story of the Eagles rock band from the inside (guitarist Don Felder). Interesting in terms of band dynamics and how what looks so golden from the outside can be rotten for those on the inside.
    Actually something I read late last year, Cthulhu fans should try Charles Stross’ “The Atrocity Archives”. Hilarious and terrifying at the same time.
    Scott

  2. Books
    I read lots of postapocalyptica this year.
    Collapse is on my shelf to be read soon.
    I love Killer Angels.
    I did not like Powers!
    Let’s talk about this this weekend.


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