One of the really nice things about the Kindle is that it's a lot easier to know what books I've read this year. While it's not exhaustive, as I still have a hardcopy book habit going on, the Kindle took over a lot of my reading. The kindle website also makes it pretty easy to pull out a list of what you've read and any highlighted passages and notes.
What follows is a brief summary of all the fiction I read on the Kindle - I may go back and add some physical books I read as well as I remember what they were (all I really remember is Sophie's Choice, but I'm sure there were others). All quoted passages are ones I highlighted as reading - the number of quotes is probably some indication of how much I enjoyed some of the writing in the book.
I'll be adding non-fiction (a somewhat shorter list) in a future post.
The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott
I enjoy Elliott's unadorned style, which feels very honest and open. The book is a mix of memoir and true-crime book as Elliott becomes obsessed with the Hans Reiser murder case while also suffering from a bad case of writer's block. He totally nails the technical details when explaining what a file system, which is always nice to see in a non-technical book. Recommended.
And if you're like me, that's going to be a time when you're making your living selling drugs out of your freezer, living in a squat a bullet away from Cabrini Green. You'll have to represent something, like the other side of the tracks, but safe. Someone who, when the time comes, when the party's over, she can turn around and guide to a place where life is a little more predictable. But when the party was over I didn't want to turn around. I didn't want to go to law school or get a real job or love only one person forever though in many ways she was the most loveable person I was ever going to meet. It didn't matter. I had to test my dissatisfaction.
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Stephenson is one of my favorite authors, so I was well prepared to be totally into this book. Ultimately, though, my feelings on it were mixed. Some of this was probably due to the made up word problem, but I think the overall issue was that the emphasis was ultimately too much on world-building, not enough on exploring the world. There was still lots of great writing and enough of a narrative drive to get me through all 960 pages, so maybe I just need to try again?
"Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs,"" I said. "We have a protractor."
The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
Loved it. Can't say enough good things about Lipsyte. If funny and profane writing is your thing, you owe it to yourself to read everything he's written. (I am totally serious).
All was peachy and near utopic until I rose for a beer. At that moment the knowledge just disappeared, tilted out my earhole. I'd have to start again, or else concede my memory palace was a panic room.
There was Bernie on the sofa, watching his favorite show, the one where children mutated into gooey robots, sneered. It was like a parable from a religion based entirely on sarcasm.
The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
As will become abundantly clear, I went on a major Stross bender this year. I go through an on-again, off-again relationship with sci-fi, and Stross flipped the bit to fully on. I first came across Stross because of his blog, and I've now bought enough of his books that the royalties should cover at least a month of hosting.
This book is the first in The Laundry Files series, and I think it's a good starting point to get into Stross (this or Halting State) as it plays to his strengths as a writer: funny, deeply and knowledgeably geeky, strong and clever narrative. The Laundry Files concerns a secret British spy agency called The Laundry that deals with a Lovecraftian underworld of magic, zombies, demons, and other nasty stuff that the general population would rather not know about. The funny comes in large part due to The Laundry also being a horrendous government bureaucracy that the geeky hero (Bob Howard) has to navigate while trying to prevent the destruction of the known universe.
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
An intertwined story of people reinventing their lives. It's well written and the story pulled me along with its whodunit-level urgency, but it hasn't really stuck with me. This may be due to a general resistance I have to stories where unrelated characters end up being 'unexpectedly' involved with each other - while this can be a reliable way to keep up narrative drive, as you get to see the connections before the characters do and want to see how the stories ultimately join, it tends to make me think too much of the structure underlying what's going on, and once I'm paying more attention to the architecture, I start to see the characters as less alive.
See this for an alternate view - it's what convinced me to read it, although I ultimately ended up not agreeing with their take.
Bangkok 8 & Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett
Detective novels set in Bangkok. As I read the second one, you can surmise that they're not horrible. As I didn't read the third, you can surmise they're not fantastic. Burdett gets a lot of mileage from his atypical detective, a half-Thai buddhist police detective named Sonchai Jitpleecheep, and the lurid Bangkok setting. Not that I think Bangkok is lurid, but when your main character is the son of a prostitute and partner in her new bar venture, lurid is kind of what you get. Sonchai's buddhism is rendered respectfully and with some depth, but there's a certain level of belief that must be suspended to think this is a very true representation of how a Thai character might think, constant references to the reader as Farang aside.
If you can get past the problematic issues of representation of national character by a non-native, the books are fun, and do contain what would seem to be a certain insider knowledge of the prostitution game in Thailand.
The City & The City by China Mieville
Loved it. Somewhat of a departure for Mieville, as it's as much a detective novel as a sci fi novel. The setting for the novel is the SF part: a city that is actually two cities at once co-existing with each other by means of 'unseeing' the inhabitants and buildings of the other city. It's a rich premise that I could imagine being the basis of a Saramago novel, but in the case it's the setting for a murder mystery that has a cynical detective moving between the two cities to attempt to solve the case.
Infected & Contagious by Scott Sigler
Horror sci-fi. Liked it enough to read both. Completely genre, but not generic.
Deliverance by James Dickey
Basis for the movie, which is mostly famous now for Dueling Banjos and Ned Beatty squealing like a pig. I decided to read it because of Dwight Garner's 40th anniversary article, and am glad I did. Garner notes that it does seem to be a type of book that isn't really written any more, and I would tend to agree - manliness is not the same thing it was 40 years ago, culturally speaking.
Time-capsule nature aside, this is a pretty great book. Dickey's characters are real, and his eye is fantastic.
A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge
One of the classic space opera novels. It is kind of fun to note how the usenet-like news communication system dates the novel in certain ways, as I don't think this aspect would be constructed in the same way were it to be written today. This is not really a criticism, just an observation as to how the technology of the day can fix even the most forward looking novel to a particular time and place. I'm sure the space operas of today will look weirdly web-centric in 20 years as well.
That observation aside, this novel is a lot of fun, and has a crazy amount of imagination and verve in the world building. One example: one of the worlds involved in the main plot is dominated by a dog/wolf-like race where an 'individual' is actually formed from at least 3 separate creatures that communicate via high-frequency sound. The ramifications of this are well integrated into the story and fun to figure out.
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross
The third Laundry Files novel. Recommended.
Glasshouse by Charles Stross
My least favorite of the Stross novels I read this year. The basic idea of consciousness that can be transferred to different bodily forms is fun enough, but the basic engine of the plot - main character ends up in a simulacrum of present day culture, and mayhem eventually ensues - fell flat for me, and I could see all the cultural commentary coming from a million miles away: sexual hang-ups, misogyny, etc. etc.
Halting State by Charles Stross
From my least favorite Stross to one of my favorites - as mentioned above, I think this is a good starting point for Stross. Set in a near-future of pervasive augmented reality and seriously massive multiplayer games, it follows three main characters as they try and solve a massive theft from a MMO. Tons of fun, well-written, and soaked in some serious nerd cred.
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Look, I know it's Young Adult ok? At the time, I needed something non-taxing, and for some reason a tween-oriented running game dystopia seemed like the way to go. Recommended if you want to have something to talk about with your 12 year old niece or some-such; judging by the sales figures they've all read these. And at least with these you don't have sparkly vampires.
Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross
Sequel to Singularity Sky. Great space opera fun.
The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross
Second book in The Laundry Files series. Great fun.
Kraken by China Mieville
Neverwhere + The Laundry Files + Cthulhu = pretty great, actually. All hell breaks loose (literally!) when a preserved giant squid is stolen from a London museum. You can tell Mieville had tons of fun writing this.
The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
One of those classic novels I've always been intending to read. Now I have. Really liked it.
The Merchant Princes series by Charles Stross
Multiworld alternate history high fantasy that is ultimately about developmental economics. Tremendous fun, and Stross' ability to develop the ramifications of his ideas is fantastic. This is a six-volume series, but they're pretty quick reads, and now that they're all published there's no worries about cliffhangers that won't be resolved for a year.
If that's not convincing enough, how about the fact that Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman is a huge fan?
Newton's Wake: A Space Opera by Ken MacLeod
I certainly didn't intend for this to be The Year I Read Space Operas, but here we are. As a bonus, this one also covers the Singularity, a popular feature of the genre. I enjoyed it, and you will too if the terms Space Opera and Singularity are meaningful to you.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Lovely and sad novel about a girl who can taste other people's emotions through the food they make. I hadn't really known of Bender before coming across an interview that made me curious about her work, and I'm sure I'll be reading more. Bender has a very observant eye, and uses the fanciful well in exploring her character's emotions.
Find a Wife hadn't been on any visible list, but he'd proposed earlier than most of his peers and something did seem to get checked off inside him once they were married.
Mom's smiles were so full of feeling that people leaned back a little when she greeted them.
Several of the girls at the party had had sex, something which sounded appealing but only if it could happen with blindfolds in a time warp plus amnesia.
Red Lightning by John Varley
Second book in the Red Thunder trilogy, this is Varley in nearly full-on Heinlein mode. (thankfully not late Heinlein, either). Enjoyable, but thin. Haven't picked up the third in the series yet, as there seem to be some diminishing returns.
Saturn's Children by Charles Stross
Speaking of late Heinlein modes... ok, yes, this is novel about an obsolete sexbot. Stross mostly avoids the misogyny, at least, and crafts an entertaining novel about, yes, an obsolete sexbot (humans are extinct) attempting to carve out a life for herself in a plot that stretches across the solar system.
Savages by Don Winslow
Picked this up because of a rave review, but was not similarly blown away. It's a supercharged crime novel, and while it certainly has a high energy level, I actually found the characters thin and unlikeable - often just barely functional as schematics in the plot. Maybe I've been away from the crime genre for too long, or read this when I wasn't in the right frame of mind for it - Winslow has lots of fans, and there was a lot done right.
The Siege by Helen Dunmore
Unsentimental but beautiful story of surviving the siege of Leningrad. Oddly, this kind of made me want to visit Saint Petersburg, as it does such a great job of generating a feeling of place that I'd like to find out if it matches.
Singularity Sky by Charles Stross
Space Opera! Singularity! Stross! Need I say more? (I really liked it. Treading some common paths, but with a hell of a lot of flair.)
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
The story of how Skippy, well, dies, amidst the chaotic world of a Catholic boys' school in Dublin. Very ambitious, funny, and ultimately sad. Murray can turn a hell of a phrase.
Wherever he goes it is with two or three bodies' worth of empty space around him, as if he's accompanied by an invisible retinue of pitchfork-wielding goblins, ready to jab at anyone who happens to be harbouring an impure thought.
Dennis, an arch-cynic whose very dreams are sarcastic, hates the world and everything in it, especially Ruprecht, and has never thrown himself into anything, with the exception of a largely successful campaign last summer to efface the first letter from every manifestation of the word 'canal' in the Greater Dublin Area, viz. the myriad street signs proclaiming ROYAL ANAL, WARNING! ANAL, GRAND ANAL HOTEL.
Afterwards, the team huddles shivering by the doorway of the changing room, hands pressed under armpits. When you get out of the water the air feels cold and nothingy. Your arm moves and it moves against nothing. You speak and the words disappear instantly.
It's no secret that Father Green hates teaching, and he especially hates teaching French. Lessons are frequently suspended for tirades -- usually directed at Gaspard Delacroix, the unfortunate exchange student -- on the subject of France's decadence. He seems to believe the language itself to be morally corrosive, and most of the class is spent doing grammar, where its grossness can be partly contained; even then, those languorous elisions, those turbid glottals, enrage him. But what doesn't enrage him? Air particles enrage him.
'Violence solves everything, you idiot, look at the history of the world. Any situation they have, they dick around with it for a while, then they bring in violence. That's the whole reason they have scientists, to make violence more violent.'
Sleepless by Charlie Huston
A post-apocalyptic world without zombies - is that allowed? Apparently yes! 'The Sleepless' of the title are the victims of a disease that robs them of the ability to sleep, so while zombie-esque, they have none of the typical zombie traits (violence, face-gnawing). On top of this milieu is a crime thriller that's ultimately about trying to find hope in a hopeless situation. Nicely done characters, tightly plotted, recommended.
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
After a generally well regarded debut novel, Then We Came to the End, this one really seemed to divide people. The main driver of the plot is the main character's periodic uncontrollable urge to walk. On this somewhat silly-sounding premise, Ferris builds a melancholy tale of love and loss that definitely wouldn't work if Ferris wasn't such a compelling and controlled writer. I found myself drawn into the world and characters, and felt the melancholy of the ending well-earned. Recommended.
Also winner of the title of the year. Darkly funny story of two sisters that are pretty much the opposite of each other. Not going to say more, as I'm just going to say it's a lot of fun.
Mother lived in a magical world, where the unbearable was blinked away even if it was ululating and pointing and hopping up and down in front of you, and the past was always rosier than actual experience.
Committees turn these things out. They probably had some kind of poster contest, and this won. A group of educated adults decided how many tens of thousands of these things to create, and how to disseminate them, and of course the government's in on it, and it's a federal offense not to put this up on a restaurant wall, and every day millions of people look at it, whether they realize it or not, and the real message comes through, sinks in, we absorb it like trees absorb carbon dioxide, and the message is: THERE IS NOTHING SO OBVIOUS SO NATURAL SO INSTINCTIVELY RIGHT THAT IT CANNOT BE SPELLED OUT AND MADE SIMPLE ENOUGH FOR A MORON LIKE YOU.
There's even a best-selling paperback novelist living in Frome, Dante Minuto, whom none of us has ever seen, who writes Ludlumesque thrillers with Ludlum-esque tides, like The Marchpane Cicatrix and The Wiesenheimer Punctilio.
they were encapsulated in that aura of intimacy and exclusivity that young couples cast about themselves like a toreador's flashy cape. She was playing wife, he was playing husband, and they were both full of shit.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Sequel of a sorts to Oryx and Crake.
Atwood writes great dystopias, and this continues in that tradition. While not at The Road levels, you shouldn't look to this to cheer you up, unless considering the all-too-possible self-annhilation of the human race really does it for you.