December 2008 Reading Report

20:02 Tue 30 Dec 2008. Updated: 16:53 28 Jan 2009
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I did hit my target of 14 books this month, bringing my total to 75 for the year. Some comments on those follow.

I altered the order somewhat, partly to accommodate a plane journey (bumping up books I thought would be better travel reading) and partly to push Out Stealing Horses to next year, as I’ll be reading it in February.

The Left Stuff was great, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone interested in lefthandedness.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men was excellent, although also a little uneven and rather depressing. So far, my experience of Wallace’s short fiction indicates that it’s a lot more depressing than his short non-fiction. There’s plenty to enjoy in terms of style, experimentation, and (of course) metareferencing.

Playing to Win was somewhat disappointing. There were nuggets of interest in it, but I think I might be able to distill those into a single long article (and perhaps I should do that for myself). There was a lot in it that rehashed Sun Tzu (overtly), and a lot that I’m familiar with from reading articles about how to succeed at tournament MTG. I don’t regret reading it, but I don’t think I can recommend it.

The White Tiger, on the other hand, I do recommend. Compelling, well-written, packing a strong punch about the state of India (also: not as horrifyingly crushing as A Fine Balance)—worth reading.

The Devil in the White City was a fascinating portrait of an event I knew nothing about, Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. As an engineering and logistical undertaking, the work involved in it was immense, and 27 million (!) people attended it. Larson exposes the personalities, drama, and noteworthy items of interest involved—while also writing about H. H. Holmes, who was possibly America’s first discovered serial killer.

Playing off the Rail was a good read, and combines realistic and loving pool scenes with a bunch of reasons why you wouldn’t want to actually live the life of a pool hustler (or stakehorse). I’d recommend it to anyone interested in pool, but probably not to others.

Motherless Brooklyn was excellent, significantly more impressive to me than the previous Lethem I read, Gun, With Occasional Music. Another one I’d recommend.

The Red Hourglass was fascinating and creepy, but not quite as creepy as I feared. Lots of insight into animals and predators, straightforward to read, and recommended.

The Art of Learning was another book that I feel could have been distilled into a smaller work. The stories are interesting, and I think there are real insights into learning in the book, as well as a bunch of tools that would be useful, but it also edged over into the “inspirational” genre, somewhat too self-helpy for my taste.

Cosmicomics was a surprise, in that I didn’t enjoy it much at all. Somehow it didn’t grab me, and I felt like a lot of the humor in it went by without my feeling it. I suspect I’m not representative in this regard, so my lack of appreciation for it probably shouldn’t influence others.

The Keep was a good surprise—I thought this was an extremely polished novel, with twists that surprised me and some sections of writing that were amazingly good. I also think it didn’t end up overreaching, and balanced questions and answers fairly well (always difficult in a novel with elements that may or may not be fantastical).

The Manuscript did a much worse job at that. I didn’t like it much. I thought that it was trying to be Snowcrash/Cryptonomicon, and that it never made it. I don’t think it really got close, although perhaps plot- or character-wise it did, while the writing never got close. I think that if I’d read an outline of the book I probably would have been positively inclined towards it, but it just didn’t come together. The most compelling parts were directly focused on Richard Francis Burton, who is sadly a minor presence as an actual character, and who is probably interesting enough that it’s tough to write about him in ways that aren’t compelling.

The Last Colony was good, solid, interesting science fiction. I put this in the “light science fiction” category, but I’m not entirely sure what that means. The issues involved are significant, there’s plenty of political maneuvering and nastiness, and it feels like there’s a lot of realism, but somehow it doesn’t feel that weighty.

Overall, a pretty good reading month.

(December 2008 Writing Report: I started off well, but let travel disrupt my routine, and so am quite far behind the plan for the next novel. I’ll try to do what I can tomorrow, and might still finish it, but I think I’ll unilaterally expand the definition of “December” to include up until about 5 January…)

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