Favorite Books of 2006

01:41 Mon 31 Aug 2009
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2006 involved quite a lot of reading, including perhaps a higher number than average of books in series.

Before those, however, I started the year with another excellent collection of David Foster Wallace essays, Consider the Lobster. Excellent stuff, highly recommended.

Then I went on another gambling/gaming book binge with A. Alvarez’ classic The Biggest Game in Town; David Kushner’s rather poor book on MTG star Jon Finkel, Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids: How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds and Stormed Las Vegas; and Andy Bellin’s Poker Nation. Of those, I’d only recommend The Biggest Game in Town.

The Emperor of Scent, Chandler Burr’s book about Luca Turin and the vibration theory of olfaction, was an excellent read. It suffers from having its worth correlated to that of the theory Turin espouses, as much of it revolves around the idea that Turin is fighting the institutions of science over the nature of smell. This is still an open question, and while soon after I read it the research (from what I could glean online) seemed to be going against the vibration theory, it now appears to still be viable.

Woken Furies, the last book in Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs series, was good, and I think it finished the series well.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, Charles C. Mann, is an examination of the current understanding of what life was like in the Americas just before Columbus arrived. Short answer: quite different than you might think. Definitely worth reading, and it makes clear to what extent the common conception of this period is colored by what was/is essentially colonial propaganda.

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas was gripping and extremely interesting, structurally as well as otherwise. I don’t want to give much away, but it’s not terribly far from If on a winter’s night a traveller—although ultimately less frustrating, and less of an exploration of reading per se. I keep meaning to read more of Mitchell’s work, but haven’t gotten around to it.

The Thousandfold Thought finished off R. Scott Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing series, and did so in satisfying fashion—but it’s just the first series in a larger set, and so I had to wait until this year for the next series’ first book, The Judging Eye.

The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood is a good read if you’re interested in how Hollywood and the American movie industry actually functions.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium was excellent, and I thought that it was by quite a bit the most developed of his works that I’ve read. Like those earlier works, it’s worth reading if you’re interested in human happiness and fulfillment.

Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys was a gift from Helen, and while I had some fears at the start that it might be a humdrum coming-of-age novel, it turned out to be fantastic, covering a fascinating and tumultuous period in Irish history and doing lots of things very well. Recommended.

Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany’s epic, labyrinthine novel concerning the city of Bellona, which is in the United States but somehow not of it after “something” happened there, is amazing.

Among the series I read were: Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire’s Fall, which I rate so-so; George Pelecanos’ Derek Strange and Terry Quinn, which wasn’t bad; Bits of Denise Mina’s Garnethill and Paddy Meehan trilogies, which were quite good; a bunch of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series, which I like a lot; The Blood Knight, part three of Gregory Keyes’ The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, which sadly started rather better than it continued; and the first three books of Philip Kerr’s Bernhard Gunther works, which I thought were excellent.

Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore was good, possibly my favorite novel of his after The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but that masterpiece remains far and away his best work.

I wasn’t that fond of Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, and wrote a detailed review of it.

Penelope Lively’s The Photograph started well but faded.

I was impressed by God’s Playground: A History of Poland Volume I, The Origins to 1795, by Norman Davies, but still haven’t picked up the second volume. I reviewed it as well.

Century Rain, a science fiction novel by Alastair Reynolds, was reasonable but not great.

The Glass Bees, a 1957 German science fiction novel by Ernst Jünger, was extremely interesting, particularly in its apparent prescience about the nature of industrial development later in the 20th Century. Apart from that, it’s also worth reading because it’s radically different from the American and English science fiction of the period (at least that I’m aware of).

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer winner, is excellent for the first two thirds. It’s not terrible thereafter, but didn’t sustain its earlier energy (part of this is probably deliberate, but even so the resultant experience felt off). Comics, love, lifelong friendship, trying to escape (and help loved ones to escape) from Nazi Europe, war, sexual identity—all mixed together in what is mostly a great book.

Don Quixote is clearly a great classic of literature, but I’m not sure about it. I think that I found the early going somewhat slow, and that it became more interesting a lot later. I also think that the humor isn’t quite right for me, although there were definitely some hilarious moments.

Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot, Julian Dibbell’s exploration of virtual economies in massively-multiplayer online roleplaying games, was absolutely fascinating, and I’m quite sure it’s still very relevant—the names of some games might need to be changed, but I suspect that the broad strokes are still similar a few years later. The best part might have been the author’s conversation with the IRS as he tried to figure out whether his virtual earnings were taxable.

Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!, a memoir of gameshow apearances by Bob Harris, was extremely good, and I was quite surprised by it. Harris managed to make a rather uplifting and seemingly profound story out of his time on (and around) Jeopardy!, and also made it seem quite relevant to anyone with an interest in knowledge (hopefully not too small a group).

K. L. Bishop’s The Etched City is a brilliant fantasy novel; I resisted the temptation to put “literary“ in front of “fantasy” there (I had a similar temptation with Dhalgren). I recall stopping while I was reading it several times to appreciate the language and the writing—not something that happens too often, and that should be recommendation enough.

The full list of what I read in 2006:

  1. Consider the Lobster; David Foster Wallace 09/01/2006
  2. The Biggest Game in Town; A. Alvarez 11/01/2006
  3. Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids: How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds and Stormed Las Vegas; David Kushner 12/01/2006
  4. Poker Nation; Andy Bellin 13/01/2006
  5. The Emperor of Scent; Chandler Burr 19/01/2006
  6. Woken Furies; Richard K. Morgan 20/01/2006
  7. Looking for Jake; China Mieville 21/01/2006
  8. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus; Charles C. Mann 03/02/2006
  9. Oracle Night; Paul Auster 05/02/2006
  10. Cloud Atlas; David Mitchell 17/02/2006
  11. The Thousandfold Thought; R. Scott Bakker 19/02/2006
  12. The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood; Edward Jay Epstein 02/03/2006
  13. The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 16/03/2006
  14. The Magus; John Fowles 30/03/2006
  15. Law’s Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters; David D. Friedman 25/04/2006
  16. Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity; Lawrence Lessig 29/04/2006
  17. At Swim, Two Boys; Jamie O’Neill 07/05/2006
  18. Norwegian Wood; Haruki Murakami, trans. Jay Rubin 13/05/2006
  19. Dhalgren; Samuel R. Delany 25/05/2006
  20. The Praxis; Walter Jon Williams 26/05/2006
  21. The Sundering; Walter Jon Williams 02/06/2006
  22. Conventions of War; Walter Jon Williams 03/06/2006
  23. A Scanner Darkly; Philip K. Dick 05/06/2006
  24. Redemption Ark; Alastair Reynolds 09/06/2006
  25. Old Man’s War; John Scalzi 10/06/2006
  26. Wonderland; Michael Bamberger 12/06/2006
  27. No Place to Hide; Robert O’Harrow, Jr. 27/06/2006
  28. Right as Rain; George Pelecanos 28/06/2006
  29. Field of Blood; Denise Mina 29/06/2006
  30. Mr. Irresponsible’s Bad Advice: How to Rip the Lid Off Your Id and Live Happily Ever After; Bill Barol 01/07/2006
  31. Flesh and Blood; Michael Cunningham 02/07/2006
  32. The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them; David Goodman, and Amy Goodman 09/07/2006
  33. Hell to Pay; George Pelecanos 09/07/2006
  34. Soul Circus; George Pelecanos 11/07/2006
  35. Hard Revolution; George Pelecanos 13/07/2006
  36. Drama City; George Pelecanos 13/07/2006
  37. Garnethill; Denise Mina 13/07/2006
  38. Kafka on the Shore; Haruki Murakami 16/07/2006
  39. When the Sacred Ginmill Closes; Lawrence Block 17/07/2006
  40. A Long Line of Dead Men; Lawrence Block 18/07/2006
  41. All the Flowers are Dying; Lawrence Block 18/07/2006
  42. A Simple Plan; Scott Smith 18/07/2006
  43. Underground; Haruki Murakami 22/07/2006
  44. The Blood Knight; Gregory Keyes 23/07/2006
  45. The Ghost Brigades; John Scalzi 24/07/2006
  46. The Ruins; Scott Smith 26/07/2006
  47. Exile; Denise Mina 27/07/2006
  48. Resolution; Denise Mina 29/07/2006
  49. The Dead Hour; Denise Mina 30/07/2006
  50. On Snooker; Mordecai Richler 31/07/2006
  51. The Glass Bead Game; Hermann Hesse 14/08/2006
  52. The Photograph; Penelope Lively 15/08/2006
  53. God’s Playground: A History of Poland Volume I, The Origins to 1795; Norman Davies 30/08/2006
  54. Century Rain; Alastair Reynolds 02/09/2006
  55. The Ten Thousand Things; Maria Dermout 04/09/2006
  56. The Glass Bees; Ernst Juenger 04/09/2006
  57. Across the Nightingale Floor; Gillian Rubinstein 04/09/2006
  58. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay; Michael Chabon 16/09/2006
  59. Don Quixote; Miguel de Cervantes, trans. Edith Grossman 22/10/2006
  60. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; Carson McCullers 31/10/2006
  61. The Kite-Runner; Khaled Hosseini 09/11/2006
  62. The Outfit: The Role of Chicago’s Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America; Gus Russo 13/11/2006
  63. The Immortal Game: A History of Chess; David Shenk 14/11/2006
  64. The Meaning of Night: A Confession; Michael Cox 18/11/2006
  65. Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot; Julian Dibbell 25/11/2006
  66. In Persuasion Nation; George Saunders 26/11/2006
  67. Prisoner of X: 20 Years in the Hole at Hustler Magazine; Allan MacDonnell 03/12/2006
  68. Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!; Bob Harris 09/12/2006
  69. Year of Wonders; Geraldine Brooks 16/12/2006
  70. The Etched City; K.L. Bishop 18/12/2006
  71. March Violets; Philip Kerr 20/12/2006
  72. The Pale Criminal; Philip Kerr 21/12/2006
  73. A German Requiem; Philip Kerr 22/12/2006
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2 Responses to “Favorite Books of 2006”

  1. Linda P Says:

    Enjoyed reading your 2006 list, and wrote down some of your favorites that I haven’t read, because we seem to have much the same tastes – at least the books you listed that I’d read I agreed with your likes/dislikes.

  2. Chandler Burr Says:

    Hi Tadhg,

    I’m glad you liked “Emperor of Scent”! I can’t believe you get through so many books. Jealous doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction.

    Yeah, the jury’s still out on Turin’s theory, but the thing is, that’s actually irrelevant, to me anyway; the real story I told was the jaw-dropping and overt loathing of this threat to the established order by the scientists vested in it. It really doesn’t matter whether he’s right or wrong, and I’m miles from being scientifically competent to have an opinion. I’m a reporter. And in my reporting, I’ve never experienced anything like the visceral reaction of these biologists and chemists to threatening data, nor their inability to respond professionally to my attempts to ask them for their side. Freaked me out at first. Then I realized: Wait, *this is the narrative…!



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