I’ve had this post in my drafts folder for a while, mostly because I don’t think anyone particular cares but also because it is kind of long. But I’ve really not been feeling games recently, so now’s the time to bring it out. As you see, I keep a tally of what I’ve read in the year on my sidebar. Here’s what I read in 2008, with some short annotations so if you are interested in the genres or subjects that these titles cover, you can at least get a brief, honest opinion on them. If you aren’t interested in that, consider yourself given fair warning.
Remember, friends, the Book It! reading program a lot of schools did back when? You would get a sticker on a button for every book you read and when you had five stickers, you could go to Pizza Hut and get a free pepperoni (!) personal pan pizza. Awesome. I just did some searching and it still exists! I’d like to trade this list for six personal pan pizzas, please.
8 Titles, 2,122 Pages.
- The Anatomy of Story – John Truby (464) – This is a book that was recommended to me about story structure and out of the dozen or so of these books I’ve read in the last decade, I found this one to be the most useful. While Truby addresses the subject from the vantage of a screenwriter, it still offers a lot of prescription for those in other media. I say ‘prescription’ because a lot of these books simply analyze stories after the fact and don’t help much with how to actually construct one. While I found it to be a little long-winded, it was definitely a positive read.
- Brain Rules – John Medina (301) – I think I picked this one up off a mention on Garr Reynolds’ blog. Medina writes about how the brain works in very down-to-Earth even-a-business-school-student-could-understand tones. Surprisingly, and this is why I picked up the book, there are a lot of lessons for game designers in regards to how the brain directs attention and how it can handle simultaneous events.
- Fail Safe Investing – Harry Browne (176) – Browne was my idol once I read his book that accompanied his 2000 presidential run. But he was also a gifted mind when it came to investing. Eschewing the precious metal speculating that made him his fortune, he instead creates a investing philosophy based on the almost Socratic idea that nothing is certain and that no “system” will make you rich. With the financial meltdown of the past year, I was prompted to pick up this work of his from days-gone-by. While I think it is a little too dogmatic at times, following his advice sure would have made us lose a lot less money in this recent downturn. Next to the Boglehead’s Guide to Investing, this probably the most important investment book to read.
- How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy – Orson Scott Card (137) – I bought this on a whim browsing at a local Barnes & Noble. It is a short, entertaining read, but it honestly doesn’t offer much useful advice.
- The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch (206) – Unless you were under Iraq for the past year, you’ve heard of Randy Pausch’s emotional final journey. I’m not one for “self-help” books, because I’ve always thought that “seizing the day” was pretty common knowledge. Throw that notion out the window and beg, borrow or steal Pausch’s book. My wallpaper on my phone is a brick wall so that I am always reminded of Randy’s stated purpose of brick walls. I’m not a particularly emotional person, but I cried at the end of this, and I don’t think that is just because I had the blessing of briefly knowing Randy when he was alive. This is in my Top 10 books of all time, and I hope I still have it to give to my kids some day when they get to the age to go out into the world.
- Made to Stick – Chip & Dan Heath (304) – This sort of a Tipping Point lite whose main conceit is that ideas are “sticky” if they follow the acronym of SUCCESs: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. That I remembered the SUCCESs acronym is testament to the stickiness of that idea. This is the sort of book you would pick up in an airport bookstore to tide you over on a cross-country flight. It includes some great examples, but it isn’t something I’d use as a textbook.
- Presentation Zen – Garr Reynolds (240) – This is The Book regarding making Powerpoint presentations. If you are frustrated having to read people’s talk notes on the screen in the ugly default template while they stammer along, this is the book for you. I followed Garr’s great blog after reading this book and am now a devoted follower. He’s a nice guy, too! Warning: his method is seen as blasphemous at many places like my former employer where they expect your slides to be a document that is read verbatim to the audience.
- Slide:ology – Nancy Duarte (294) – I was kind of jazzed off of reading Presentation Zen and so I picked up this book by the lady that turned Al Gore’s science fiction story idea into an Oscar winning film presentation. This book seems to rely more on the visual presentation of information as opposed to the more philosophical approach of Presentation Zen. It was alright, but I recommend Presentation Zen a lot more.
8 Titles, 3,221 Pages.
- Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman (416) – This collection of short stories turned me off on Gaiman. Yes, yes, internet blasphemy, I know. There were a few real gems in here like the story of how a man spends his punishment in Hell (which could have been trite in lesser hands), but most of Gaiman’s stories follow the same beats with the same characters and the same isn’t-this-whimsical tone. That doesn’t make Gaiman a bad writer (clearly not as he is raking it in), it just makes me tired of his work.
- McSweeney’s Quarterly #26 (228) – I’ve been a subscriber to McSweeney’s since college, but I’ve found the quality to be going downhill. As such, this is the last issue I’ve read and I don’t even remember the issue’s theme. I have issues #27-#30 sitting on my to-do shelf and I just don’t have the momentum to get into them. Perhaps the backlog gets back into stride, but I’ve found other sources (like F&SF magazine) to be sources of much more compelling content.
- The New Weird (320) – After reading Perdido Street Station (see below), I was compelled to find more fantasy like it and came across this anthology of a new school of speculative fiction that dovetails with what Mieville was doing in his work. The anthology is hit or miss and I found the analytical pieces to be dreadful, but overall it gave me a short list of new authors to check out, Simon Ings and Paul DiFillipo in particular. Strangely, I found Mieville’s story to be lacking.
- Perdido Street Station – China Mieville (640) – I was entranced by this novel. I don’t even know what to say without ruining any of it. It got me excited about speculative fiction again and spawned the reading of a lot of the items on this list. Much like my opinion in the video game field, I am so tired of the Tolkien notes in fantasy story writing that I had given up on the entire genre. Well here happens a new entry that trades rural, woodsy, magical charms for urban, gritty and sort-of-Enlightenment era science without losing that air of anything being possible that keeps fantasy interesting. Add to that the relevant social issues facing the world and the characters and you have a universe that is wholly original and interesting. It would be my fiction book of the year…
- The Scar – China Mieville (578) – This is a sort of pseudo-sequel to Perdido Street Station in that it takes place in the same world with events that reference events in the first novel. Not only does it recreate the wonder of the first novel, but it exceeds it due to a much tighter structure with reveal after reveal and twist after twist without any deus ex machina (literally) or less than believable characters as in the first. Not only is this my fiction book of the year, but it is my fiction book of all time dethroning House of Leaves. I plan on someday returning to this book just to write out the pacing and timing of the story so I can mimic it myself in the future.
- Solaris Book of New Science Fiction (408) – I’m a fan of anthologies because you get a lot of different voices under one roof. This was a pretty good collection, but I honestly struggle to remember any particular stories, so it couldn’t have been that great.
- Wild Seed – Octavia Butler (279) – I picked this up simply due to the glowing references to it in Card’s book about writing science fiction and fantasy. It is a superbly crafted story, but I felt it went on too long with too little payoff. The idea is brilliant, but I found the actual read pretty brutal.
- World War Z – Max Brooks (352) – Zombies. I’m such a sucker. I get dragged in by anything with zombies that someone tells me is good. World War Z gets points on its use of format: a journalist’s series of interviews after the fact, but as far as originality, the stories themselves are pretty standard zombie tropes, with the exception of the story of decimation in the Russian army which actually correctly uses the term decimation. This is the “popcorn flick” of the list.
Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine
12 Titles, 2000 Pages
If you like short speculative fiction, here’s the magazine of choice. There’s only been one issue in the past thirty or so where I didn’t find at least two stories that I thought were fantastic. I wasn’t planning on putting magazines or other short-form things on this list, but since each issue is a 160 or 240 page anthology, these might as well be books.
I’m sort of upset that they are going to a double-issue bi-monthly format because one of the great perks of the magazine was that it could (just barely) fit in my jacket pocket when few other books could.
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 1/08 (160)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 2/08 (160)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 3/08 (160)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 4/08 (160)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 5/08 (160)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 6/08 (160)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 7/08 (160)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 8/08 (160)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 9/08 (160)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 10-11/08 (240)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 12/08 (160)
- Fantasy & Science Fiction 1/09 (160)
3 Titles, 624 Pages
These are sort of cheating, so I am putting them at the end.
- Flight – Volume 4 (352) – “Flight” is a fantastic anthology of mostly one-off graphic stories. They tend towards the cute and whimsical but some can contain startling power. The anthology always has a wide variety of art and narrative styles, so if you are looking for something not too challenging, this is probably it.
- Girls – Volume 4 (168) – The Luna Brothers are great artists and have come up with an interesting premise that peters out by these final issues. At least I was disappointed.
- The Great Outdoor Fight – Chris Onstad (104) – Achewood is the best comic on the Internet and this is one of the best arcs in the history of the strip. I’m pretty sure that if you don’t already get Achewood (and it takes a while to get) that starting here won’t exactly be the best idea. Nonetheless, I recommend the whole strip and bought this anthology to support the creator.
31 Titles, 7,967 Pages, 21.77 Pages/Day (2008 was a leap year)