Books – January 2009

January was a month where I burned through a ton of books. I’m not sure exactly why, but it worked out well. Many of them were not exactly long so it wasn’t a big thing to do, but it was a 6 book month and set the tone for the year.

First up:
Man In The Dark – Paul Auster – Oh Paul Auster how you keep breaking my heart recently. Reading Auster has become a chore when it used to be a pleasure. As I wrote elsewhere once, it seems he’s writing and pumping out books to finish out a contract. It’s got all the hallmarks of an Auster novel (the stories within stories, lines of reality and imagination blurred and the ever present idea of chance happenings), but it feels just so dialed in, and not with the spark I’ve missed since Book of Illusions.

My hope here is that he takes a bit of time off before the next one to recover his passion and his creativity that brought me to his work, and made him one of my favorite authors.

Visualizing Middle Earth – Michael Martinez – Ahh, the Tolkien nerd in me comes out. Here’s a great collection of essays written by a guy who knows more about Middle Earth and the Lord of the Rings than is probably good for you, but then again, the “Elvish” language is actually studied seriously by some linguists! Like so many people, I first discovered fantasy novels through Narnia and Middle Earth, and each time i get back into Tolkien’s books I find something more, a new depth, a new moment that I had missed earlier. He truly built a world and populated it, and gave it a history, and gave it’s peoples reasons for being where they were. This book was released before the movies, so it carries a bunch of movie speculation baggage, but the articles that focused on different aspects of the Tolkien world are quick, easy to read and really make sense out of the complex history he created.

The 39 Steps – John Buchanon – A very early “thriller” novel from the early part of the 1920’s I believe, it’s the story of a normal man who gets mixed up in a spy plot after an American spy is murdered in his apartment. It’s quick and short, but you can easily get swept up in it quickly and want to see where he’s chased to next, and who will betray who. It’s no hard task to see why Alfred Hitchcock picked up this and made a movie from it. It’s just the type of thriller he is so well known for.

Last Argument of Kings – Joe Abercrombie – Ah, one of my new favorite fantasy authors. Here Joe Abercombie finishes out his First Law trilogy with a really great ride. Abercrombie, who took genre staple characters in the first two books and fleshed them out and made them more alive than your typical novel, but also took their stories in new directions, holds nothing back by the end of the book, and while everything is resolved, it’s not the picture perfect ending. One of his great traits is creating sympathetic characters out of seeming villains, and villains out of those who you should connect with the easiest. Highly recommended

.Foundation – Issac Asimov – It’s probably my third or fourth time reading this book (I say possibly fourth, because looking through a box of old family photos I found one of me reading this book at a young age, but I have no memory of reading it way back then!), and it’s one of those quick easy early science fiction books that can be so great to read. Asimov’s genius doesn’t come from the quality of his writing, but from the incredible ideas and projections of where all of these new technologies of the day would take the human race. The Foundation series, along with his Robot series, are his two most well known fiction works. It’s a book I’d place on a cannon list of novels that should be read in Science Fiction.

And we end it with:
The Road – Cormac McCarthy – Good god this book hits you like a ton of bricks. I picked it up on hearing great things about his writing, and I must say that for his sparse style, he is a powerful, emotional writer. The story of a father and son trying to survive in an America of the near future that is a wasteland, it’s the story of them, their bond, their will to live and damn if every few pages I wanted to put down the book and go kiss my son on the head as he slept. The relationship between the boy and his father is powerfully told, and the struggles and heartaches of their journey do not allow you to stop the book at any point. In fact there is no easy stopping point in the book for a night, as there were no chapters! I am looking forward to the movie release of this book this fall.

All right, so February won’t have a post. I was (and still am because I took a break from it) working my way through a book on the American Revolutionary War, but by the end of February I needed a break and oops I haven’t returned to it yet. Next up – March!

Books of 2009

So for the first time this year, I’ve been writing down all the books I read. I’ve always mean to keep track over the years, but never managed/remembered to keep it up. So this time around I’ve actually been doing pretty well.

17 books as of the end of June so far this year. Mostly fiction. Okay pretty much 95% fiction, though I’ve been reading two non-fiction books on and off since the beginning of the year, they just take a bit longer usually.

January and March have been my most productive months of reading, while February and May most all of my time was spent reading through my two non-fiction books.

I’d planned on doing a year end type of post with all the books, and a quick blurb on them, but I’m realizing that if I wait till the end of the year, I’ll have so many to do, that there is a good chance it would never get done. So we’ll do monthly posts, and a few catch up ones to get us up to date. So soon – January 09 – 6 books.

Rolling Stone – William Gibson Interview

Rolling Stone has a new interview up with William Gibson. It covers many of the topics that Gibson’s writings have influenced or the way he interprets where we are headed. Check it out here, and check out a quote from it below.

People worry about the loss of individual privacy, but that comes with a new kind of unavoidable transparency. Eventually we’re going to know everything that every twenty-first-century politician has ever done. It will be very hard for politicians and governments to keep secrets. The whole thing is porous. We just haven’t really figured out quite how porous it is.

Now Reading

I’ve changed the look around on the page temporarily, and I don’t know how long I’ll stick with this template, but it was brought to my attention that Cinder Inc. was broken in IE, which I never knew as I have always accessed my own site through Firefox, Opera, or even Safari, but hadn’t visited with IE since before my upgrade to Word Press 2.2. Everything should work, but let me know if you find something that doesn’t.

Another new thing I’m glad to have around, and have been wanting, it the Now Reading plugin for Word Press, and you’ll find it off to the right.

Basically it’s a virtual bookshelf, where I can keep track of what I’ve read, am reading and what’s on my shelf to read. I can leave mini-reviews, and it’s a fun way to see what’s going on. I’ve always wanted to share more of the books I’ve been reading with readers and now I have a simple way. Problems with it? I now feel more of a need to finish a book so I don’t have a book sitting in my “Now Reading” part for long periods of time. Not a truly bad thing.

Surveillance – Jonathan Raban

Surveillance: A NovelSurveillance – Jonathan Raban

Jess and I had the good fortune to be able to attend a reading by Jonathan Raban on up at Elliot Bay Book Company for the release of his new book Surveillance. Neither of us has had a chance to read the book yet (Jess was finishing up another Raban book and I was working my way through a book I’ll talk about on here later) so I’ll save the book review on it till later, but I was very impressed with him as an author at a reading.

We have an interesting history with reading Raban, with Jess getting his book Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings as a class reading assignment. Falling in love with his incredibly engaging writing style where he took a literal journey from Seattle to Juneau on his boat, but also gave the interesting history of the discovery and settling of the northwest by explorers and those who followed. This is how his travel writing is. The history, along with his own accounts of the journey, and his touching, surprising, sad and happy encounters with people and places along the way.

We read another one of his books, Hunting Mister Heartbreak: A Discovery of America, to each other while walking our son Ash to sleep when he was first born. It helped take the edge off of long sleepless nights and was truly a lifesaver.

He was an engaging reader of his newest book, a novel, set in Seattle and dealing with the ever present surveillance that we already have, but kicked up a notch and how it affects people in his story. He’s British, and has a wonderful accent, and viewpoint on culture. He’s a confident person, but didn’t come across as arrogant. He takes the reviews of his books lightly and with humor, which I think must be a necessity when being a writer otherwise you’d beat yourself up. He answered questions with some thought, and even tried to answer ones that were a little bit from left field with good humor and grace.

One of the most interesting bits of the night? From what it sounds like, Jonathan Raban is a MMORPG player. That’s right, with quotes about how the wilderness of Washington has found it’s way into games such as Everquest and World of Warcraft, as well as discussing the connectedness of these games, I think he’s a writer who has a game playing hobby. It’s interesting to compare this to William Gibson, who until recently wasn’t much of a computer user even though he’s the so-called father of the cyberpunk genre of novels in the 80’s.

Jess and I talked of how interesting it would be to discuss technology and writing and how it’s changed peoples writing styles. Raban has been writing since the 70’s, and from the sound of his talk, very in tune with the internet and computers today, so his view would be interesting to know.

Google’s Moon Shot – Google Books

I’ve had a passing interest in Google Books, Google’s project to scan and make books easy to search through. Amazon and Microsoft and others are working on something similar as well. The problem comes, as it always seems to, down to copyrights. Publishers both love and hate the idea of this project. It can draw users into finding books they want to buy that they wouldn’t have normally, but then they can’t stand to have someone making copies of all of their precious copyrighted work, even if it’s out of print!

Found by a link from, where I seem to find a lot of interesting links these days, is this great piece in The New Yorker – Google’s Moon Shot – By Jeffrey Toobin. It’s great on it’s history of the project, as well as pointing out the ramifications of the lawsuits that Google is facing from authors and publishers.? From the article:

In other words, a settlement could insulate Google from competitors, which would be especially troubling, because the company has already proved that when it comes to searches it is not infallible. ?Google didn?t get video search right?YouTube did,? Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, said. (Google solved that problem by buying YouTube last year for $1.6 billion.) ?Google didn?t get blog search right? did,? Wu went on. ?So maybe Google won?t get book search right. But if they settle the case with the publishers and create huge barriers to newcomers in the market there won?t be any competition. That?s the greatest danger here.?

Well worth the time to read.

Nick Hornby – Read to Enjoy, not to Read

This article by Nick Hornby in the UK’s Telegraph is a great insight on reading and I share a lot of his views on it.? To sum it up, for those of you who won’t go and read it yourselves, Hornby says that the important part about reading is reading something you enjoy.? If you don’t enjoy it, or if it’s boring, or if you can’t make heads or tails of it, it’s like negative reinforcement, you read less because you dread opening up the book.

He mentions the literary world who makes fun of the people who have read “The DaVinci Code,” and don’t read the modern literary novels that are a little bit more challenging to the reader, and how they have it wrong.? It’s not about nessicarily what you read, but the fact that you read.? Reading “East of Eden” will not make your life better, but if you read it and enjoyed it that’s what counts.? I’ve been hard on “The DaVinci Code” as a book, but I will not begrudge those who have read it or are reading it.? I’m excited that they are even reading.

I’ve seen reports out there of the fact that a good portion of adults have not read a book since they finished High School.? To me, and my love of reading, this is such a sad fact.? I love the feeling of opening up a good book and getting lost in it, and I want everyone to experience it, and if Dan Brown’s thriller can do it, then great!? It’s one of the reasons I love the Harry Potter books, even though I’ve only read one of them.? We’re getting a new generation of kids who might just love reading so much they’ll continue to do it beyond the books they must read for school.? Wonderful!!!

Jess and I discuss this from time to time.? I’ve got a few books that I want to read that have sat on my to read shelf for ages, because of the fact that I just don’t think I’ll enjoy reading them, or the process of trying to slog through the book is daunting (will Faulkner please stand up).? I’m thinking of just trading them back in, because I know I’ll never really get to them.? I want to read books I’ll enjoy, and I am doubting my enjoyment of them.? I might really like them once I got over the hump, but in reality, I don’t have much reading time and why would I want to put it into something I may not like, when I have plenty of books I know I’ll enjoy.

Jess has a similar problem, in that she selects books from time to time that she just can’t wait to finish, even if she doesn’t like it so much.? She refuses to not finish a book, even if she is bored to tears by it.? She may put it aside for a while, but she’ll plod on till the end.? I’ve told her to drop a book if she doesn’t like it, but she always pushes on.? I’m amazed by it really.

Read a book, but read it because you like it, not because you think you must like it or must for “cultural” reasons.? Reading should be fun.

Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson

Gardens of the Moon : Book One of The Malazan Book of the Fallen (Malazan Book of the Fallen)Gardens of the Moon is a series that was reccomended to me by the good folks of Quarter to Three as a great new series that had a lot of depth and did something different with the genre that is typically dry, repeating, predictable plots. Gardens of the Moon is anything but.

The book throws you into the middle of a world spanning war, between multiple factions, and a ton of characters who all have different motivations. The world itself has a ton of history that is only hinted at, and from what I’ve heard continues to open up and be fleshed out in the next few books in the series.

I’m a sucker for fleshed out worlds, with their own histories, and little details that bring them to life. That and well done protagonists that all have depth and motivations beyond killing the big bad foozle with the sword of wizbang just cause. Gardens of the Moon accomplishes what I only had thought George R.R. Martin had done so far this generation, and created a wonderful world I can’t wait to get to know better.

New Stuff

– I was pointed to this little gem of an independant game by Quarter to Three, a board I’ve taken to visiting recently. Mount & Blade is a fairly addiciting medieval combat game at the moment.

You create your character, the usuall stats type system, but the game also has a really robust face creator for creating a unique character for yourself. Then you go out and build yourself an army of locals and train them and yourself to take on river pirates and bandits, before moving on to other larger and harder bands of roving bad guys. The game has an impressive combat engine, where you can ride your horse to battle or move on foot to take on your enimies. And all this done buy a husband and wife team from Hungary. Check out Mount & Blade.

Star Control 2 – one of the best games I’ve ever played has had it’s source code released a few years back by the authors and there is a crew of people updating the game to run on modern computers. The Ur-Quan Masters has just released version 0.4 of their project. Go get it, try out the amazing music re-mix packs as well.

– I’ve heard a few rumblings that George R. R. Martin has finished up the fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series that he’s been writing entitled “A Feast for Crows.” After five years of waiting, it’s about time.

BBS: The Documentary is now shipping. This guy devoted years of his time and hours and hours of footage to interviewing people who were involved in the old days of BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems) in the days before the Internet as we know it exsisted. BBS’s were usually more community based and you tended to actually know a good deal of the people visiting them. I’ll review it more when I recieve my copy.

Books, always so many to read

Been away. I know. I’m a lazy guy sometimes. Been focusing a lot of my energy into getting ready for training for my new job. Lot’s to learn and absorb. Hopefully two weeks from now with the training done with I’ll be back and writing again. Been keeping myself busy with reading (covered later) and playing Super Mario World with the wife, along with the game below, Doukutsu Monagatari. Addicting little pleasures. Been to pretty much every coffee shop in Tacoma studying, and still really havn’t found a consistent or even really good Americano here in Tacoma. I’m sure it exsists, at least I hope it does.

But, to keep my mind away from the cardiovascular system, and the joys of treating hypertrigliceridemia and hypertension, I’ve been trying to read more. Been reading comics a bit, but also trying to cut down my backlog of books that I have to read. Both my wife and I havn’t been to a book store in a month or two, because we know we’d just buy more books that would have to go on the shelf and just add to all the other books we want, or just have been meaning to read.

As a treat tonight we went to Borders after a nice meal out (date night!) and while checking up on authors I like I found Nick Hornby’s new book – The Polysyllabic Spree. It’s his account of his own struggle to keep up with the books he buys and the books he’s been meaning to read. It kind of made me think about my back log and since I havn’t been writing much recently I wanted to write about it!

Books I’m Reading Now (Yes, I tend to read more than one book at a time)

  • The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene – I always enjoy a good non-fiction science book and Brian Greene is an entertaining writer, keeping me updated on the latest developments in physics dealing with space, time and the basics of how the universe really works.
  • The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby – Just got it, and it’s for my flight back to New Jersey, but I like it already.
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – This thick and heavy book is slow going. Not because it isn’t good. It’s huge, thick, unwieldy and with a ton of Wallace signiture footnotes. Great writing, but work to read on account of how big and thick the book is to read. I’ll get there.

A few of the books on the shelf:

Reading, my hobby alongside my gaming habit.