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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

2018: My Year In Books

While I've been on Goodreads for a number of years, it's only in the last two that I've started using it more aggressively as a device to track my reading. Here's the complete list of what I read in 2018, broken down into fiction and nonfiction. Also, if you want to see the individual books with the links to my reviews on Goodreads, you'll find that here.

(A word about how I use Goodreads: for me it's basically a low-key reading diary, so I can keep track of what I've read and when. I don't use it much as a bookish social media thing, although if you engage me there I won't shun you, either! Also, I only record and rate what I finish reading over there, and if I'm finding that I'm not liking a given book, I simply set it aside and move on to something else. This is why very few of my reviews or ratings over there are negative.)

This list is in alphabetical order by author (first-billed, if applicable). A few notes on specific books (not all) are interspersed throughout.

NONFICTION

Baxter, Sarah: A History of the World in 500 Walks

Bleyer, Kevin: Me the People: One Man's Selfless Quest to Rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America


A terrific book that somewhat humorously (but still seriously) examines the genesis of the Constitution and looks at whether or not specific ideas enshrined in its pages deserve to be kept alive today. This is an important thought process, it seems to me. Constitutional idolatry seems quite dangerous to me, especially considering the ever-increasing gulf between the time of the Founding Fathers and our own. And besides, many of the Fathers didn't even like the Constitution.

Brown, Nancy Marie: The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages

Bryson, Bill: Shakespeare: The World as Stage


Excellent brief look at the life and times of the Bard, as well as discussions on how maddeningly unknowable he really is and what a miracle it is we have as much of his work as we do.

Cazentre, Donald: Spirits and Cocktails of Upstate New York: A History

Cook, Kevin: Electric October: Seven World Series Games, Six Lives, Five Minutes of Fame That Lasted Forever

I loved this book! Great sports writing is an absolute joy. I thought it was going to be about seven individual games from different World Series, but it's about a single Series: the 1947 Series (Yankess over Dodgers in seven). A terrific look at how often the big sports moments are actually not shaped by the immortal Hall-of-Fame types, but the daily-grind guys who are barely remembered today. If you love baseball, this is a great book.

Dennis, Jerry: The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas


Brilliant. Utterly brilliant. If I had to choose one 2018 book to randomly thrust into strangers' hands, this would be the one. It's both a captivating history of the Great Lakes, a travelogue recounting the author's journey across most of the Lakes as a crewman on a yacht, and a warning about the environmental state of affairs in our Inland Seas. I can NOT recommend this book highly enough.

Ehrman, Bart: The Triumph of Christianity: How a Small Band of Outcasts Conquered an Empire


Bart Ehrman is always brilliant. Here he concentrates on the history of early Christianity, looking deeply at how it overcame its surrounding pagan climate.

Ettinger, Amy: Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America

Ferriss, Timothy: Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best of the World

Fitzharris, Lindsey: The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine


If you like your history with a little blood, stay away from this book. If you like your history with a whole shit-ton of blood, go get this one NOW.

Garfield, Simon: On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks


Were you the kid in school who would drive your History teacher crazy because when they called on you, you were too busy gazing at the maps on the wall? Do your re-reads of Lord of the Rings take longer than most other books because you study the maps and note all the places Tolkien never takes you? Then check THIS book out!

Hughley, D.L.: How Not to Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People


Very funny, and deeply depressing that this book could or should be written.

Igort: Japanese Notebooks


Excellent graphical cultural history here.

Kaku, Michio: Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of Humanity
The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth


I don't pretend to understand long stretches of these, but if you want some Cosmic Sensawunda with your science reading, Kaku's your huckleberry.

Kells, Stuart: The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders

King, David: Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris


I don't read a lot about creepy serial killers. This one was good.

Kohan, Rafi: The Arena: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-scalping, Mascot-racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sport


Outstanding. Sports venues themselves are inherently interesting, and it takes a LOT of work to keep those places going. 

Lerner, Alan Jay: The Street Where I Live: A Memoir


Indispensable. I check this out of the library once every couple of years to keep it from getting weeded. This time I even re-read it! If you've any love of 20th Century Broadway at all, you need to read this.

Manguel, Alberto: Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

Morrison, Toni: The Origin of Others


Required.

Noroc, Mihaela: The Atlas of Beauty: Women of the World in 500 Portraits


Photography book, but what photography it is.

Nye, Bill: Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation
Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap Into Radical Curiosity and Solve Any Problem


Quite good, especially if you're looking for signs that rationality and science aren't dead yet.

Puchner, Martin: The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization


A fantastic exploration of the evolution of writing and storytelling from around the world, and how they influenced one another. Excellent for storytellers!

Roach, Mary: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void


Mary Roach is a treasure. And so is this book, her look at the various problems that face space travelers past and future.

Szostak, Phil and Johnson, Rian: The Art of STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI


I shy away from fandom litmus tests, but I do have trouble counting anyone as a STAR WARS fan who doesn't own at least a few ART OF books. They've made one for every movie in the franchise, after all. (Note to self: Get off your butt and get the one for PHANTOM MENACE.)

Tapalansky, Nick and Espinosa, Anissa: Cast No Shadow

Walton, Jo: What Makes This Book So Great


Collection of posts by Jo Walton to TOR.com. Great stuff on books often counted as Fantasy or SF classics, and a model for my own recent work on the Geekiverse website.

Weigel, Dave: The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock

Weinersmith, Kelly: Soonish: Ten Technologies That'll Improve And/Or Ruin Everything

Wendig, Chuck: Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative


I don't read many books about writing these days, but this one's good. (It's more about storytelling than actual writing, but still.)

FICTION

Abrams, JJ and Dorst, Doug: S.


This astonishing book shouldn't be as good as it is. It's as much a gimmick as a book: its story is told not just through the straight narrative, but also through the margin notes left by two readers and the ephemera they stuff into its pages, many of which come together in puzzling ways. Aspects of Abrams's storytelling that I usually hold up as weaknesses are actually strengths in this style of tale. This one is a bit of a rabbit hole to disappear down, and its payoff isn't apparent in any usual kind of way, but it is very rewarding. I loved the experience of reading this and I look forward to revisiting it in a couple years.

Ahdied, Renee: The Wrath and the Dawn

Ahmed, Samira: Love, Hate, and Other Filters


Superb examination of a Muslim-American family in the heartland when terrorism strikes.

Alsberg, Sasha and Cummings, Lindsay: Zenith


YA space opera that I enjoyed enormously.

Allen, Rachael: A Taxonomy of Love

Another good YA story, this one about a kid with Tourette's Syndrome and his various struggles through adolescence.

Bantock, Nick: Griffin and Sabine
Sabine's Notebook
The Golden Mean
The Gryphon
Alexandria
The Morning Star


I tore through these again this year, for the first time in several years, and I still adore them. It's a set of epistolary novels that goes even farther: the letters that tell the story are physical objects in the book, meaning you actually have to remove them from their envelopes to read them. Magic and mysticism and literary arts and love and time and space, all wrapped together. Amazing stuff. (Apparently there's a seventh volume that I haven't tracked down yet.)

Belleza, Rhoda: Empress of a Thousand Skies


Another good YA space opera. YA is the scene of a LOT of amazing work these days.

Canales, Juan Diaz and Guarnido, Juanjo: Blacksad: Amarillo
Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Carey, Jacqueline: Kushiel's Dart


One of the finest fantasy novels of the last thirty years. Why it's not as well-known as GAME OF THRONES is quite beyond me.

Chambers, Becky: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet


Miss FIREFLY? This is right up your alley. An episodic novel (called "a cozy space opera" by the hosts of SWORD AND LASER, a podcast I like) about the various life concerns of the crew of a space freighter. Wonderful.

Clarke, Arthur C.: 2001: A Space Odyssey


Classic. I re-read this for an article on the 50th anniversary of 2001, book and film, for The Geekiverse.

Clarke, Susanna: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Oh my. I took forever to read this. For almost two-thirds of its 1000-page length I dolled it out at the rate of no more than a chapter a day, sometimes less. It reads wonderfully that way, this odd Dickensian historical fantasy set in an England-that-wasn't. For the last third I abandoned the serialized reading and plowed straight through. A book to lose oneself in. Take special care to enjoy the language as you go; this is not a blast-through-it page-turner. This is a page-lingerer.

Doctorow, Cory and Wang, Jen: In Real Life

Fan, Mary: Starswept


Fellow indie writer does good! I loved this classical music inspired space opera, and I look forward to its sequel.

Ford, John M.: How Much for Just the Planet?

I almost never read media tie-in novels these days, but this is almost a classic of the form from the 1980s. The gonzo tale in which the crew of the Enterprise are pitted against Klingons by a civilization inspired by classic movies is reminiscent of Original Series episodes like "The Trouble with Tribbles" and "A Piece of the Action". I had no idea until I read it that it includes a pie fight between Kirk and crew and all the rest.

Gailey, Sarah: The Fisher of Bones


Gailey is relatively new to the scene and quite a talent. I believe she has a novel coming out in 2019. This novella is haunting.

Lovelace, Amanda: The Princess Saves Herself In This One

Poetry in the new style. Free verse about various personal life traumas. I found it quite moving.

Okorafor, Nnedi: Binti


Okorafor is really good, and I look forward to the rest of this series.

Pond, Mimi: The Customer Is Always Wrong

Powell, Gareth R.: Embers of War


Fascinating first volume of a space opera series that asks the question, "What about AFTER the big interstellar war?"

Rundell, Katherine: The Wolf Rider


Historical YA set in pre-revolutionary Russia. Excellent book that I received as part of a holiday book exchange on a Facebook group last year.

Scalzi, John: The Collapsing Empire

Scalzi's stock-in-trade is the fast-moving tale of adventure, and this is certainly that. Book Two, THE CONSUMING FIRE, is already out. I can't wait to read it!

Starlin, Jim: Dreadstar, Vol. 1: The Metamorphosis Odyssey


Old-school cosmic space opera from the early 80s in comics. Remember vans with giant murals of fantasy art painted on the sides? This is the stuff those van owners were reading. Maybe not your cup of tea, but if it is, there's a lot of appeal here.

Stokoe, James: Wonton Soup (Big Bowl Edition)

Valente, Catherynne M.: Space Opera

This is one of two books I strongly expect to win the next Best Novel Hugo award. (Mary Robinette Kowal's THE CALCULATING STARS, which I've yet to read, is the other.) Imagine a galactic version of Eurovision, with the added incentive that if you lose, your species is annihilated and life on your planet turned back to pre-intelligence.

Vaughn, Brian K. and Staples, Fiona: Saga, vol. 8
Saga, vol. 9

Sigh. I hate to end on a down note, but alphabetically that's where we are. SAGA was one of my favorite things in its early going, but its last several volumes have descended into directionless stories that rely more and more heavily on shocking deaths for their emotional heft (one especially irritating case is when Vaughn introduces a couple of characters for literally NO other reason than to kill a major character, and once that's done, he kills off his newly-introduced murderers). I find that when stories go in the direction of pure grimdark, what is clearly intended to be emotional manipulation ends up being emotional eviction as I simply stop caring about what happens to the characters at all.

So that's my reading in 2018. Plans for 2019 include more about Shakespeare and by Shakespeare. I also have a whole bunch of fantasy novels that I plan to read--2018 was heavy on science fiction, so I want to spend some time in the lands of epic fantasy for a while. As ever, reading continues to be the center of my creative and artistic life, so onward and upward!

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