Book Rundown, 2018

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I read 58 books this year, disgraceful compared to the glory days my twenties, but it’s six more books than last year, and I have some hope that next year will be better. For the first few months of 2018, I did not allow myself any pleasure reading, save what I listened to an audio while walking the dog or doing laundry. The idea was to carve out time for me to write. It was supposed to be an incentive, too: as soon as I finished my manuscript draft, I could go back to reading books!

It was such a dumb idea.

I’m not sure what I did with that time (Twitter? Is it possible I wasted it all on Twitter?) but I was neither reading nor writing. It was a bleak period. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to 100+ books annually, but I won’t deliberately deny myself books again.

Total books read, cover-to-cover:

  • 58

Age levels:

  • Adult: 57
  • Children’s: 1 (The One and Only Ivan)

Books that were published in 2018:

  • Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
  • Transcription, by Kate Atkinson
  • A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey
  • The Witch Elm, by Tana French
  • Elevation, by Stephen King
  • The Outsider, by Stephen King
  • The Coming Storm, by Michael Lewis
  • Academic Libraries for Commuter Students, by Mariana Regalado and Maura A. Smale

Books I wrote that were published in 2018:

  • The ABCs of ERM: Demystifying Electronic Resource Management for Public and Academic Librarians

Nonfiction:

  • Forty (this, despite my generally preferring fiction)

Fiction:

  • Eighteen. I am, with great trepidation, learning to tolerate fiction on audio. Perhaps fiction will have a greater share of the pie next year.

Genres (as some books have more than one genre, total exceeds 58):

Nonfiction:

  • Biography – 6
  • History – 3
  • How-to – 1
  • Journalism – 1
  • Language – 1
  • Leadership – 1
  • Library science – 1
  • Literary criticism – 1
  • Memoir – 15
  • Psychology – 2
  • Science – 8
  • Self help – 2
  • Social science – 7
  • Survival – 2
  • True crime – 2

Fiction:

  • Crime/Thriller – 2
  • Fantasy – 8
  • Historical fiction – 1
  • Horror – 2
  • Literary fiction – 2
  • Mythology – 1
  • Popular/mainstream – 1
  • Science fiction – 1

Miscellaneous:

  • Annual fat Russian novel: The Funeral Party, by Ludmila Ulitskaya (disappointing; I should stick with nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writers. Will 2019 be the year I finally read War and Peace?)
  • Re-reads: 0. Whoa. I think this is a first.
  • Audiobooks: 41
  • Unique authors: 53

Themes:

Partly due to deliberate choice, partly due to the serendipity of what was available for checkout from the library, two themes emerged in my reading: I read more books by and about people of color, and I read more books about science and math (especially true if you include medicine in your definition of science, which you should). These two themes overlapped several times, as with Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Related: the Epic Rap Battle between Sir Isaac Newton and Bill Nye is worth it just for the Tyson cameo (“astrophysics black guy“).

Best book of the year:

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanathi, a book that is beautiful both in style and substance. This is a cancer memoir by a surgeon who started his academic career as a literature major. It is a lovely meditation on death and dying.

220px-When_Breath_Becomes_Air

K.J. Parker tho. Isn’t he the best?:

He is, he really is.

Honorable mentions:

  • The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. Reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web. I love that the bad guys are not wholly bad and that, when our hero Ivan (a silverback gorilla) faces a difficult decision, there are no good choices available. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a children’s book.
  • Transcription, by Kate Atkinson. I would be fine with never reading another British WWII book, by Atkinson’s a good enough writer that she makes it worthwhile, and anyway there’s espionage involved, so.
  • The Suicide Motor Club, by Christopher Buehlman, who is the best thing to happen to American horror literature in years.
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, which I loved for what I assume are obvious reasons.
  • A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey. Unexpectedly good memoir from the former FBI director, including a scene that made me cry. I now understand his Hillary Clinton announcement in the 2016 presidential election cycle.
  • My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy. The author of The Prince of Tides talks about the books that were meaningful to him. He narrates his audiobook and it’s just lovely.
  • The Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel. Christopher Knight lived in a tent in the Maine wilderness for nearly twenty years. This is a true crime story (Knight stole food and supplies from nearby vacation homes) by, ore importantly, it’s a story that makes you wonder just how much you need other people.
  • The Witch Elm, by Tana French. As I have repeatedly claimed, French is the best writer in contemporary crime. Fight me.
  • Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann. Historical true crime about a conspiracy to kill Osage Indians in the 1920s. Given the number of murders and the breadth and audacity of the crimes, it’s astonishing that this story fell out of common memory.
  • Believe Me, by Eddie Izzard. You’ve got to listen to the audio version. Eddie keeps going off-script and it is HYSTERICAL.
  • The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger. You know what’s going to happen (spoiler: the ship sinks), by Junger’s a good enough writer that part of you hopes you’re wrong.
  • Detroit, by Charlie LeDuff. Reads like gritty street noir, but it’s a nonfiction history of the city.
  • No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy, widely held to be one of America’s greatest living writers. This is my second McCarthy novel, after Blood Meridian, and I found it to be far more accessible. It’s Western noir and, my goodness, that Anton Chigurh is a nasty fellow.
  • Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, who can write circles around most everybody else. This is her retelling of Rumplestiltskin.
  • The Two of Swords, by K.J. Parker. This is more cheerful than most of Parker’s books, in that not quite everyone is dead at the end–whole armies and most of society, yes, but the spy who is the sort-of main character manages to stay alive.
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson, who is an odd man who writes about odd subjects. He is my favorite curmudgeon.
  • Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. The basis for the movie of the same name, this is the story of the black women in the space program whose math first put a man on the moon.
  • Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart, who grew up in Russia but emigrated to the United States with his parents. Hilarious memoir.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. This is one of those books that deserved all the buzz it got. It’s the story of the black woman who unwittingly changed science medical science with her cancerous cells.
  • The Refrigerator Monologues, by Catherynne M. Valente. Following the Brett Kavanaugh nightmare, I sought a feminist balm for my soul. This is a collection of related stories, told from the perspectives of the wives and girlfriends of superheroes.
  • The Inner Life of Animals, by Peter Wohlleben. I am such a sucker for books about animal behavior.
  • Get Well Soon, by Jennifer Wright. Laugh-out-loud funny about the history of plagues.

Dishonorable mentions:

In recent years–as I have become personally acquainted with members of the literary community, and as my own literary aspirations have grown–I have become uncomfortable with publicly criticizing authors who are still living. They might stumble across my opinions and then feel bad, and to what end? Two of the books I read this year were objectionable, but I’ll keep quiet about that here.

But a third objectionable book was by a dead man, so all’s fair. I finally got around to reading Ralph Waldo Emerson and wow, that guy’s a dick. He is Ayn Rand with trees.

All the books I read:

Author Title Genre Year
Applegate, Katherine The One and Only Ivan Popular 2012
Atkinson, Kate Transcription Historical 2018
Bennett, Michael Fuck Feelings Self help 2015
Blackmoore, Stephen Dead Things Fantasy 2013
Boukreev, Anatoli The Climb Survival 1999
Brown, Theresa The Shift Memoir 2015
Buehlman, Christopher The Suicide Motor Club Horror 2016
Cain, Susan Quiet Social Science 2012
Comey, James A Higher Loyalty Memoir 2018
Conroy, Pat My Reading Life Memoir 2010
de Waal, Frans Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Science 2016
Demick, Barbara Nothing to Envy History 2009
Emerson, Ralph Waldo Self-Reliance Self help 1841
Finkel, Michael The Stranger in the Woods Biography 2017
Fisher, Carrie The Princess Diarist Memoir 2016
Forsyth, Mark The Etymologicon Language 2011
French, Tana The Witch Elm Crime 2018
Gaiman, Neil Norse Mythology Myth 2017
Gladwell, Malcolm What the Dog Saw Social Science 2009
Goldstein, Amy Janesville Social Science 2017
Grann, David Killers of the Flower Moon History 2017
Harris, Dan Ten Percent Happier Memoir 2014
Izzard, Eddie Believe Me Memoir 2016
Junger, Sebastian The Perfect Storm Survival 1997
Kalanithi, Paul When Breath Becomes Air Memoir 2016
King, Stephen On Writing Memoir 1999
King, Stephen Elevation Fantasy 2018
King, Stephen The Outsider Horror 2018
LeDuff, Charlie Detroit Journalism 2013
Lewis, Michael The Undoing Project Social Science 2016
Lewis, Michael The Coming Storm Social Science 2018
McCandless, Carine The Wild Truth Memoir 2014
McCarthy, Cormac No Country for Old Men Crime 2005
Melinek, Judy Working Stiff Memoir 2014
Moore, Wes The Other Wes Moore Memoir 2010
Munroe, Randall What If? Science 2014
Nasar, Sylvia A Beautiful Mind Biography 1998
North, Claire The Sudden Appearance of Hope SF 2016
Novik, Naomi Spinning Silver Fantasy 2018
Parker, Dorothy Parker: Selected Stories Literary Fiction 1995
Parker, K. J. The Two of Swords, v. 1 Fantasy 2017
Parker, K. J. Mightier Than the Sword Fantasy 2017
Parker, K. J. The Two of Swords, v. 2 Fantasy 2017
Parker, K. J. The Two of Swords, v. 3 Fantasy 2017
Regalado, Mariana and Maura A. Smale Academic Libraries for Commuter Students Library Science 2018
Riggs, Nina The Bright Hour Memoir 2017
Ronson, Jon So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed Social Science 2015
Shetterly, Margot Lee Hidden Figures Science 2016
Shteyngart, Gary Little Failure Memoir 2014
Skloot, Rebecca The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Science 2010
Strand, Ginger The Brothers Vonnegut Science 2015
Taleb, Nassim The Black Swan Social Science 2007
Tyson, Neil deGrasse Astrophysics for People in a Hurry Science 2017
Ulitskaya, Ludmila The Funeral Party Literary Fiction 1997
Valente, Catherynne M. The Refrigerator Monologues Fantasy 2017
Ward, Jesmyn Men We Reaped Memoir 2013
Wohlleben, Peter The Inner Life of Animals Science 2016
Wright, Jennifer Get Well Soon History 2017

Previous years:

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Book rundown, 2017

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I don’t read as much as I want to. I clawed my way up to 52 books this year, which would have been an unacceptably low number a decade ago. …Yeah, I just checked my notes, and in 2007 I read 141 books. I have fallen from grace.

But I did write a book, so.

Total books read, cover-to-cover:

  • 52

Age levels:

  • Adult: 51
  • Childen’s: 1 (The Velveteen Rabbit)

Books that were published in 2017:

  • The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden
  • River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey
  • Gwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
  • The Blinds, by Adam Sternbergh
  • Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer

Books that will be published in 2018:

  • The ABCs of ERM: Demystifying Electronic Resource Management for Public and Academic Librarians

Books written:

  • The ABCs of ERM: Demystifying Electronic Resource Management for Public and Academic Librarians

Nonfiction:

  • Twenty-three

Fiction:

  • Twenty-nine

Genres (as some books have more than one genre, total exceeds 52):

Nonfiction:

  • Cultural criticism – 1
  • Economics – 1
  • History – 4
  • Letter – 1
  • Library science – 1
  • Literary criticism – 1
  • Memoir – 10
  • Psychology – 1
  • Science – 2
  • Social science – 2
  • Spirituality – 1
  • Survival – 1

Fiction:

  • Alternate history – 10
  • Canon/classic – 1
  • Crime/Thriller – 3
  • Fantasy – 21
  • Historical fiction – 1
  • Horror – 1
  • Science fiction – 2

Miscellaneous:

  • Annual fat Russian novel: A Hero of Our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov
  • Re-reads: 8 (all the volumes of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series)
  • Audiobooks: 21 (all of the nonfiction I read this year, with the exception of the book I wrote. Not much market for library science on audio.)
  • Authors: 35

Best book of the year:

This House of Sky, written by Ivan Doig (and narrated by Tom Stechschulte, probably by favorite narrator this year). Ivan’s mom dies on his sixth birthday. This is not a spoiler. We find this out in the first sentence. This is a coming-of-age story about a boy in mid-twentieth-century Montana, beautifully written. You feel like Ivan and his family members are your own friends.

houseofsky

Honorable mentions:

  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, by Caitlin Doughty. Likely the funniest memoir by a mortician you’ll ever read. She narrates her own audiobook and had me cracking up.
  • The Trespasser, by Tana French. Still the best thing going in crime writing. Her books will haunt you.
  • The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King. Do you enjoy sobbing? Simply by reading these eight books, you too can become emotionally invested in main characters who will die horrible deaths.
  • Gwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar. Short, sweet novella and coming-of-age story.
  • The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert. An investigation of what we’ve done to our planet. This may be the bleakest nonfiction I’ve ever read. It’s magnificent, but I don’t know if I can recommend it. It makes you feel horrible.
  • Paper, by Mark Kurlansky. Same guy who wrote the microhistory of cod. Lots of arcane tidbits about the history of paper, tidily told.
  • H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. Another writer who does a fine job narrating her own audiobook, Macdonald weaves together her father’s death, her attempt to train a goshawk, and the story of T.H. White. Easily one of my favorite books this year.
  • The Hike, by Drew Magary. Adventure story on acid.
  • Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik. The Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons for airships.
  • The Blinds, by Adam Sternbergh. Freaky little town in Texas where everybody’s got a secret, only nobody can remember what it is.
  • De Profundis, by Oscar Wilde. This is the letter Wilde wrote to his boyfriend while serving two years for being gay.
  • The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams. I missed reading this book as a kid. I can see why people still like it.

Best handbook of electronic resources management for public and academic librarians:

The ABCs of ERM: Demystifying Electronic Resource Management for Public and Academic Librarians, by Jessica Zellers, Tina M. Adams, and Katherine Hill. If you only read one handbook on electronic resources management for public and academic librarians, make it this one. Also you should make sure your local library buys a copy. *stares significantly*

All the books I read:

Author Title Genre Year
Adam, David The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Memoir 2014
Anonymous The Vinland Sagas History 1200
Arden, Katherine The Bear and the Nightingale Fantasy 2017
Brennan, Marie Cold-Forged Flame Fantasy 2016
Coates, Ta-Nehisi The Beautiful Struggle Memoir 2008
Doig, Ivan This House of Sky Memoir 1977
Doig, Ivan Heart Earth Memoir 1993
Doughty, Caitlin Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Memoir 2014
French, Tana The Trespasser Crime 2016
Gailey, Sarah River of Teeth Alternate History 2017
Gay, Roxane Bad Feminist Cultural Criticism 2014
Harford, Tim The Undercover Economist Economics 2005
King, Stephen The Wind Through the Keyhole Fantasy 2011
King, Stephen Song of Susannah Fantasy 2004
King, Stephen The Dark Tower Fantasy 2004
King, Stephen Wolves of the Calla Fantasy 2003
King, Stephen Wizard and Glass Fantasy 1997
King, Stephen The Waste Lands Fantasy 1991
King, Stephen The Drawing of the Three Fantasy 1985
King, Stephen The Gunslinger Fantasy 1982
King, Stephen and Richard Chizmar Gwendy’s Button Box Horror 2017
Klinenberg, Eric Going Solo Social Science 2012
Knapp, Liza The Giants of Russian Literature Literary Criticism 2006
Kolbert, Elizabeth The Sixth Extinction Science 2014
Kurlansky, Mark Paper History 2016
Kurlansky, Mark The Basque History of the World History 1999
Kurlansky, Mark Cod History 1997
Lamott, Anne Grace (Eventually) Spirituality 2007
Lermontov, Mikhail A Hero of Our Time Canon 1840
Lewis, Matt Last Man Off Survival 2015
Macdonald, Helen H Is for Hawk Memoir 2014
Magary, Drew The Hike Fantasy 2016
Moore, Charles Plastic Ocean Science 2011
Murakami, Haruki What I Talk About When I Talk About Running Memoir 2007
Novik, Naomi League of Dragons Fantasy 2016
Novik, Naomi Blood of Tyrants Fantasy 2013
Novik, Naomi Crucible of Gold Fantasy 2012
Novik, Naomi Tongues of Serpents Fantasy 2010
Novik, Naomi Victory of Eagles Fantasy 2008
Novik, Naomi Empire of Ivory Fantasy 2007
Novik, Naomi Black Powder War Fantasy 2006
Novik, Naomi His Majesty’s Dragon Fantasy 2006
Novik, Naomi Throne of Jade Fantasy 2006
Orwell, George Down and Out in Paris and London Memoir 1933
Patri, Giacomo White Collar Historical 1975
Pollan, Michael Cooked Social Science 2013
Sternbergh, Adam The Blinds Thriller 2017
Sternbergh, Adam Near Enemy Thriller 2015
Vandermeer, Jeff Borne SF 2017
Wilde, Oscar De Profundis Letter 1897
Williams, Margery The Velveteen Rabbit Fantasy 1922
Zellers, Jessica, Tina M. Adams, and Katherine Hill The ABCs of ERM Library Science 2018

Previous years:

Book rundown, 2016

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So you know what sucks? I haven’t read a book since September. It’s the longest I’ve gone in my life without reading for pleasure.

Depression is an ugly disease. Stay away from it.

But hey, I dutifully recorded all of the books I read. All twenty of them.

Twenty.  God.

emp

Addison, Katherine. The Goblin Emperor. Fantasy, 2014.

An adventure story! It was super fun to read, and episodic in nature, so you know you’re going to get some new shenanigans with every turn of the page. The royal family dies in an accident (or was it sabotage?), so the forgotten son living out in the backwaters is hauled in a placed on the throne. Political intrigue ensues.

throne

Ahmed, Saladin. Throne of the Crescent Moon. Fantasy, 2012.

Another rollicking adventure story! A cast of unlikely characters must band together to defeat the ancient evil attempting to infiltrate the court. Though not an Islamic story per se, Islam thoroughly influences the culture, characters, and setting, making this a welcome change from Western fantasy novels. I love my traditional European fantasies (see Hobb, Martin, and Novik below), but if that’s all you read, you’re missing out.

shining
Beukes, Lauren. The Shining Girls. SF, 2013.

A serial killer travels through time to commit his murders. He should be unstoppable, but he meets his match when one of his victims manages not to die. (Disembowelment? Stop your whining. Shrug it off.) Great concept, solid writing: I didn’t fall in love with the book, but I can recommend it without reservations.

baru
Dickinson, Seth. The Traitor Baru Cormorant. Fantasy, 2015.

I wanted to love it but merely liked it. After the evil empire colonizes her home, the brilliant Baru Cormorant decides to play an extremely long game: she decides to take down the bad guys by joining them. Some great stuff going on here with gender roles and sexual orientation, and it got a lot of good press, so it’s worth the read.

tana
French, Tana. The Secret Place. Mystery, 2014.

Can we all agree that Tana French is the best thing going in the mystery genre? Actually I shouldn’t say that, since I don’t read enough mysteries to know the field, but it’s hard to conceive of anyone outwriting her. Every books she writes delivers strong characters, engrossing plots, and tight prose, all drenched in a moody atmosphere. This is the fifth book in her series, but they’re only very loosely linked so you could start here with no problems.

blood
Hamilton, Gabrielle. Blood, Bones and Butter. Nonfiction: Memoir, 2011.

If you enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, this is… maybe a good choice? It doesn’t give you as much insight as to what it’s like to work in the food industry; that element is definitely there, but it’s not the only thing going on. But if you mainly liked Bourdain because he’s such a damn good writer, then Hamilton is absolutely for you. This was a joy to listen to as an audiobook.

assassin

Hobb, Robin. Assassin’s Apprentice. Fantasy, 1995.

This is one of those… not classics, it doesn’t inevitably show up on the lists of best fantasy novels, but it’s a mainstay in the genre. And now I can hardly remember the story. It was good, I guess? Enough so that I read to the end? Bastard son of the king makes himself  relevant by learning to kill political enemies. I seem to recall the prose being a bit clunky. I dunno, it was a good enough debut that I’m open to reading Hobb’s Liveship Traders trilogy.

endof

King, Stephen. End of Watch. Crime, 2016.

A satisfying conclusion to the trilogy featuring a crusty old retired cop and his nemesis, the mass-murderer from the first book, Mr. Mercedes. Due to a severe brain injury, the bad guy is a vegetable for life…or is he? Though some elements verge on the supernatural, this is a straightforward thriller, palatable for people who dislike science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

legend
Lu, Marie. Legend. Young Adult SF, 2011.

One of the standouts in the YA dystopian scene, I found it to be forgettable. Lots of people love it, and I can see why (dazzling characters, love story, fighting the good fight against the oppressive regime), but it was all very meh for me.

dance
Martin, George R. R. A Dance with Dragons. Fantasy, 2011.

If I ever learn to tell a story half as well as Martin, I will be invincible.

touch
North, Claire. Touch. Fantasy, 2015.

This didn’t quite match the brilliance of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, but I’m hooked on Claire North for good. She’s an extremely competent writer with a gift for prose, and her concepts are riveting; in this case, our hero can possess new bodies just by touching them.

uprooted
Novik, Naomi. Uprooted. Fantasy, 2015.

Total crack for a Russophile like me, this fairy tale-esque story pits our awkward heroine against a dragon–or rather, The Dragon, the title adopted by the jackass who whisks her away to his tower. Shades of Beauty and the Beast here. Man, I’ve got to read Temeraire.

lastwitness

Parker, K. J. The Last Witness. Fantasy, 2015.

Is K.J. Parker my favorite living fantasy writer? Depends on what day you ask me… but yeah, sometimes. His writing is dark and his characters are morally corrupt. In this story, the hero–and I use that word loosely–has the ability to completely remove unwanted memories from other people. What’s astonishing is that someone else out there seems to have the same gift, too… and she doesn’t like our hero very much.

lockin

Scalzi, John. Lock In. SF, 2014.

Variation on a theme of zombies: a virus locks people into their own bodies, trapping them in a waking coma hell. I enjoyed the novella prequel (freely available from tor.com) but found the novel to be underwhelming. It was fine; I don’t regret the time spent reading it; but when Scalzi does it right, he is on fire, as was the case with…

redshirts

Scalzi, John. Redshirts. SF, 2012.

So in the original Star Trek television show, you know how Spock and Kirk and company always survived, but the miscellaneous crew in their spiffy red shirts always died horribly? This is their story.

nimona
Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona. Young Adult Fantasy Graphic Novel, 2015.

Young girl with shapeshifting abilities and wide hips offers her services as sidekick to the evil Lord Blackheart, who practices his villainy against Sir Goldenloin. It should be obvious that the story is silly and fun, but there are moments of genuine pathos and melancholy. Also: very strong hints of a gay romance.

treasure-island
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Classic/Adventure, 1883.

Oh hell this was fun. The nineteenth-century prose is a bit overblown, but nowhere near as bad as some of those guys got, and anyway who cares because BURIED TREASURE AND PIRATES.

blackman
Tweedy, Damon. Black Man in a White Coat. Nonfiction: Memoir, 2015.

Damon Tweedy is a black physician, which is still something of an anomaly. He doesn’t have the writing skill of fellow memoirist Gabrielle Hamilton, above, but I listened to the whole audiobook because I wanted to know more about the health and healthcare of black Americans.

envyofangels
Wallace, Matt. Sin du Jour. Fantasy/Comedic Horror, 2015.

So back when I had a literary agent–a story for another time–Matt Wallace was one of my agent siblings. I really enjoyed following him on Twitter, so I tried his novella and… and it wasn’t for me. I’m sorry, Matt. The prose was not my cuppa. That said, the book has received a lot of flattering press, and you can’t help but love the premise: a couple of down-on-their-luck cooks sign on to help a restaurant with a special project, the preparation of a heavenly angel to be served to a horde of demons.

iamnotaserialkiller
Wells, Dan. I Am Not a Serial Killer. Young Adult Horror, 2010.

So back when I had a literary agent–excuse me, gonna go weep in the corner now–he suggested I read I Am Not a Serial Killer to get insight into lead characters doing unpleasant things. Which, yeah: the main character loves his job as assistant undertaker to his mother, and also he’s a sociopath and he’s really worried he’s going to turn into a killer, even though he knows it’s wrong. This kid is definitely not your typical protagonist. I liked the book well enough, so… I dunno, I get impatient with the prose stylings in most YA novels, so I’m not a great judge, but if you like horror or YA or trivia about serial killers then this book is for you.

Previous years:

Drifting

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What gets overlooked, when people complain about the internet and modern life destroying our capacity to read books, is that we are writing more than we ever used to. We spoke into telephones rather than emailing or texting; before phones, we wrote letters, if we had the desire and the education. Most people didn’t.

Now we socialize by typing at one another. I made the mistake today–I don’t know what I was thinking–of reading the comments section of an article on gun control, and I was reminded again that lots of people are writing. It made me miss the good old days.

But it’s not all internet trolls. I’ve had to wean myself away from the wealth of wonderful essays freely available online. Who would have imagined that the essay would enjoy a resurgence? And there’s some fine journalism out there, sometimes from the established sources, frequently from smaller and newer enterprises that most of us would never have heard of, in other times.

The blog seems to be dying, though. Not so long ago it was common for people to post their essays and thought-pieces on blogs, but now the microblog is the heir apparent.

This blog mirrors the trend. I’m not going to kill it–it’s free, and not taking up physical space, and it’s a nice way to publicize my annual reading list–but I’m not going to tend it very often.

But since I am here:

lois

Lois Duncan died today. She was one of the better Young Adult novelists when I was growing up, but I remember her best for her memoir, Who Killed My Daughter? You can guess from the title that it’s one of the saddest true crime books you’ll ever read.

I have been in a reading slump for…. five years, if we’re being honest, and acutely for the past two. I keep resolving to fix it. It is a struggle. The internet and modern life have destroyed my capacity to read books.

It’s a quality-of-life concern. I don’t know that I can be happy; I do know that I certainly cannot be happy if I’m not reading, regularly, daily.

It’s like having pets. I can muddle through without them, but I don’t see the point.

Though I cannot properly read if I’m letting the damn dog in every other minute. I may need to investigate dog doors.

Anyway. Lois Duncan. I hope there’s an afterlife and you get to ask your daughter what happened.

Book Rundown, 2015

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This was a terrible year for reading. My average, until 2015 came along and ruined everything, was 98 books annually, but all I have to offer for this New Year’s Day recap is 19 books.

Some of this change was deliberate, to free up time for projects like getting a dog and writing some stuff of my own. Some of this change was because reading just doesn’t seem worth the effort when you’re depressed.

For this year’s Book Rundown, I’m taking a different approach and offering brief annotations for each book, because honestly there are only nineteen, this really shouldn’t take me long:

  1. Babbitt, Natalie. The Devil’s Storybook
    • This collection of short stories was a favorite when I was nine. Sometimes the devil gets his comeuppance, and sometimes he gets a fresh new soul. I read this for inspiration, though maybe I shouldn’t be admitting that.
  2. Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn
    • A classic of fantasy literature, this is the story of a unicorn worried about species extinction. Beagle upends some common tropes, and I liked it well enough, but it didn’t have much emotional impact on me.
  3. Beckderf, Derf. Trashed
    • I loved Beckderf’s memoir about his high school classmate, My Friend Dahmer. This sophomore graphic novel, unfortunately, had very little plot. I liked learning about trash collection and disposal, but those tidbits weren’t enough to redeem the book. It would have worked better as a work of nonfiction.
  4. Bond, Rebecca. Escape from Baxters’ Barn
    • The reviews likening this children’s novel to Charlotte’s Web overstated the case, but it’s still a good story: an antisocial farm cat, upon discovering the farmers’ plot to burn their barn for insurance, sounds the alarm among an ensemble cast of animals. They scheme to escape their would-be death chamber, which seems fairly straightforward until you realize nobody has thumbs.
  5. Buehlman, Christopher. Between Two Fires
    • Chris (I can call him that; I totally got to meet him) never writes the same book twice. After debuting with a Southern Gothic werewolf novel, he wrote this medieval horror story about a battle between angels and demons, set against the backdrop of France during the plague.
  6. Buehlman, Christopher. The Lesser Dead
    • So then my pal Chris wrote a vampire book, this time with a setting in the sewers of 1970s New York. It reminded me, and I mean this sincerely, of Catcher in the Rye, only with more carnage.
  7. Butcher, Jim. Working for Bigfoot
    • Jim (I can call him that; I totally got to… actually that’s a story for another time) believes in Bigfoot the way Republicans believe in Reagan: passionately, with no tolerance for criticism. The three longish short stories in this collection are donut holes: not big enough to really satisfy you, but obviously you’re going to eat them anyway.
  8. Cohlene, Terri. Dancing Drum
    • This is a Cherokee  myth, presented as a children’s picture book, a format much more digestible than James Mooney’s seminal but dense History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee People.
  9. Eichar, Donnie. Dead Mountain
    • I didn’t read a Russian novel this year — 2015 sucked, all right — but at least this work of investigative journalism is set in the Urals. Eichar presents a new theory to explain the gruesome fate of hikers who died in the Dyatlov Pass incident of 1959. I think he’s on to something, though he’s no great shakes as a writer–and I can only assume his copy editor died a similar horrible frozen death before she got around to his manuscript.
  10. King, Stephen. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
    • For all his naysayers, I find King to be an impressive writer (HIS copy editors are clearly alive and well) and, in my opinion, a storyteller of the highest order. Though not his best collection of short stories, this book hit all the right chords: some stories were quirky, some were funny, some were high body count-y.
  11. King, Stephen. Finders Keepers
    • I read mysteries sparingly, but it’s Stephen King, you know? As the novel opens, an ardent fan steals the final, handwritten manuscript of a renowned writer (John Updike, for all intents and purposes). Decades later, the thief goes to retrieve his precious booty–but someone’s gotten there first.
  12. Maier, Corinne. Marx
    • I don’t remember reading this. It was a nonfiction graphic novel, that much rings a bell, but… well, it may have been good, but it wasn’t very memorable.
  13. McCloud, Scott. The Sculptor
    • A young sculptor, frustrated with his life and his art, makes a deal with Death: he will enjoy boundless artistic talent for the rest of his life, which now numbers 200 days and counting. It’s only after sealing the deal that our hero finally falls in love.
  14. Nicholas, Douglas. Throne of Darkness
    • In this medieval fantasy, book three of four in a series, my buddy Douglas (we’re Facebook friends. shut up.) pits a family of traveling musicians against evil shape-changers. Which makes it sound like a Scooby-Doo episode, which is terribly misleading. I love the dark atmosphere of these books, and the careful use of historical details, and the sense of horror, which is quiet and subtle–until suddenly it isn’t.
  15. Onion Magazine. The Iconic Covers
    • A collection of magazine covers from the only news source I trust.
  16. Parker, K. J. Savages
    • KJP, who finally revealed his real identity this year–hullo, Tom Holt–is indescribably good, and I do mean “indescribably.” Any attempt to summarize his books sounds dull (“Well, there are military tactics, see, and office clerks, and economic factions, and lots of details about government bureaucracies”) but he’s one of my must-reads.
  17. Sartre, Jean-Paul. Huis Clos
    • I read this just to get to the “Hell is other people” line. Totally worth it.
  18. Vandermeer, Jeff. Acceptance
    • The first work in this trilogy, Annihilation, was sublime. That’s the book writers should study when they’re learning to craft atmosphere. I read books two and three this year, and though I liked them, they just couldn’t match the creeping dread of the first.
  19. Vandermeer, Jeff. Authority
    • See above.

Previous, more impressive annual rundowns:

Turkey revisited

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giblets

Happy Thanksgiving.

This is the third consecutive Thanksgiving I’ve spent alone. I’m not sure how to feel about that.

It throws my social isolation into sharp relief, as though it weren’t plain enough already. I would feel better if my reclusion were intentional, if I were a hermit monk available only by appointment, and only after a grueling trek through inhospitable mountains.

But I am enjoying four days, all in a row, with no need to leave the house or interact with others, aside from Gremlin. This morning I fed her Whiskas Turkey & Giblets. Approximately thirty minutes later she threw up her seasonally-appropriate meal, managing to get it on two blankets and — a first — me.

 

White like me

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I’ve never felt nervous upon seeing a police officer. Why would I? They have no reason to bother me. The police are there to protect me.

This is the perspective of a law-abiding white person. Those with darker skin and/or criminal records are probably not nodding their heads in agreement.

In a normal day, I’m not fretting about my skin color/Otherness: most of my coworkers look like me, only without the superior fashion sense. When I hop onto twitter to see the news from my favorite writers, I see people who look like me but with beards.

No one has ever commented on how articulate I am, as though my fluency with English were somehow unexpected.

When I was uninsured and unemployed, no one looked at me askance when I went to the free health clinic.

No one has ever perceived me as a threat to her child.

No one has ever looked at me in a crowded park and wondered if was going to shout Allahu Akbar and blow us all to smithereens.

Every single interviewer for every single job I’ve ever applied for has been the same color as me. When I did not get jobs, I didn’t worry that it was because of my color. When I did get jobs, no one accused me of being there to fill a quota.

I try to be cognizant of my white privilege, but I guarantee I don’t think about race as much as some people do. When I express an opinion, be it benign (“I like spicy food”) or stupid (“I’m pulling for Donald Trump”), I don’t pause to wonder how it might reflect on other people of my race. A small example: I have a bad habit of assuming whiteness when I read about a person in a book or in the news– unless that person is a manicurist or a maid at a hotel or a migrant farmer.

So, okay, fantastic: I’m educated about race and racism and race issues. Yay for me. Yay for the white person.

Being enlightened and sensitive and thoughtful makes me a sympathetic figure to my friends, who are mostly all liberals, who are mostly all white. Being enlightened and sensitive and thoughtful has not, however, prevented any racially-motivated massacres or burned churches or burned crosses.

Ordinary, casual, frequently-subconscious racism is bad enough. We’re all guilty of that sometimes, no matter our color, no matter our good intentions.

But Klan-style terrorism, man. What do you do?

No one has ever used a racial slur against me. I’m thirty-four year old and I’ve never even heard the word nigger, except in a strictly socio-linguistic context. I’m sure know people who think it and speak it privately, but most racists know better than to expose themselves in front of casual acquaintances. They don’t enjoy being publicly shamed any more than I do.

So it’s not like I can spread the gospel of not being an asshole to my friends or acquaintances. The only injustices I see are small. Recently I was asked to select images for a presentation from a large set of pictures. I went through and counted 120ish humans, six of whom were people of color. That’s pretty lame. It needs to be fixed. But it’s not an act of terrorism or even deliberate racism.

One option would be to join a grassroots campaign or a local civic group. For several reasons this does not appeal to me. One of those reasons is that I don’t want to correct injustice as much as I want to prevent it.

When I think about cultural problems, I invariably reach the same conclusion: teach your children well. There’s nothing you can do about the true nutjobs, but almost all children, and very many adults, can respond to education.

People can change. This guy did.

I do not have literal children and I have few figurative children. My acquaintances are few and my friends fewer. There’s not much racism to undo in the people I know.

Here’s what I’d really like to do: I’d like to work one-on-one with racists. Reading through the comments of an internet article will not change hearts and minds, especially if that article supports your opinion in the first place. Talking with a real human being makes you think about your positions. Sometimes it even makes you listen.

I’m trying to picture the Craigslist ad: “Dear racists: I am right and you are wrong. Let’s get together so I can explain why.”

Probably I need to work on that a little.