Read in 2011

I like to document what I read that is book-length so I can go back and review later. I get dogged down by reading only the Kindle samples of dozens of books because it is usually enough to get “the gist” of what the book is doing. I don’t count those. This is totally for me, but the public-facing-ness and tradition of it keeps me doing it. I don’t claim any insight as to reviewing or critiquing these, below are just notes that will help me remember these book years from now:

In 2008, I read 31 Titles, 7,967 Pages, 21.77 Pages/Day
In 2009, I read 18 Titles, 4,960 Pages, 13.59 Pages/Day
In 2010, I read 36 Titles, 11,574 Pages, 31.71 Pages/Day
In 2011, I read 30 Titles,  10,163 Pages, 27.84 Pages/Day

In 2011, I moved back to Florida so I did not have the two hour of subway riding per day which really cut into my reading time. But still, I managed a closely respectable total.

Fiction

The Damned Busters: To Hell and Back, Book One (416) by Matthew Hughes

Normally I shy away from books that are explicitly set up to be a series (And to think later in the year I’d read Game of Thrones!). I know publishers love their predictability but they tend to be a bit overextended for me. Nonetheless, I had to get this one based on my fandom of Hughes’ sci-fi work. The first third of the book was featured in novella form in Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine and I found it to be excellent. Chesney Arnstruther is an actuary that accidentally summons a demon, refuses to sign over his soul and causes a labor dispute in Hell. Through a series of events, he ends with his own demon two hours a day (a self-styled James Cagney) and uses said demon’s infernal powers to turn him into a masked crime-fighter. The second act is a little dull, but overall it was pretty-fun and certainly nowhere as overwrought as your John Constantine fightin’-demons tales. There’s an essential sense of humor which makes up for the sort of caricatured characters. Nonetheless, I wholly recommend.

Embassytown by China Mieville (368)

Mieville is probably my favorite author. So take my opinions on him with a grain of salt. In Embassytown, he shifts to a sci-fi milieu that reminds almost of a futuristic version of his New Crozubon stories. Whereas Kraken was all about the pulp influences mixed with the New Weird paradigm, with a couple elements removed this could be a straight-up sci-fi novel. My favorite speculative books are all about Big Ideas and Embassytown has them in spades, especially if you are interested in language. Highly enjoyable.

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott (124)

A classic I nabbed free on the Kindle. I never actually read it before. I like to drift towards Sci-Fi and Fantasy that is more philosophy than story sometimes and this scratched the itch. I was surprised at how sexist it is given modern sensibilities!

The Grendel’s Shadow by Andrew Mayne (140)

I found this for 99 cents on Kindle and the reviews made it seem highly enjoyable. I found the universe the author created to be interesting (I searched only to find that he has not written any other books in this universe) but the actual story to be dull. Without enacting spoilers, there is one major plot point that is just completely forgotten and never resolved. There is very little in the story that ends up being surprising. Since everything was so straightforward, I was waiting for The Big Twist only to be disappointed. It’s competent but not particularly compelling.

Penny Arcade, Book 7: Be Good Little Puppy (128)

You know, you either like Penny Arcade or you don’t.

A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (720)
A Song of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin (784)
A Song of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin (1008)
A Song of Ice and Fire: A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin (784)

I know I said that I don’t like series, but I cracked this one open and got addicted… Yes, the quality does trail off in Book 4, but I think it picks up again brilliantly in Book 5. The series breaks a lot of “rules” with regards to storytelling, so it is illustrative as a writing lesson despite its flaws. Rarely do I find something this popular that I devour so insatiably. The fifth one is about half-done as the year ends. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep my enthusiasm to wait for a new tome.

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson (464)

Normally, I am less enthusiastic about science fiction as I am about fantasy. SF has fewer degrees of freedom; it has to be both internally consistent and consistent with the world we know where as fantasy only has to be the former. But every once in a while a book has a “What If” that is just as compelling as anything else out there. In Spin, one night the stars go out – or so it seems. Satellites fall from the sky, looking as if they had been in orbit for hundreds of years. The premise gets even more surreal after that, but always stays in the realms of consistent internally and without the use of magic. Wilson leaves great cliffhangers, peeling back the onion further and further with every chapter. Only Mieville’s The Scar did that as masterfully to me. What finally is most interesting to me is that in a market recently saturated with post-apocalyptica this novel shines as a sort of pre-apocalyptica: humanity knows it is the last generation, what will they do about it? Less dystopic than Children of Men, but still seemingly at task. Excellent read. Don’t read too many reviews of it or you will get spoilered.

Nonfiction

250 Indie Games You Must Play (280) by Mike Rose

IndieGames.com’s Mike Rose gives an overview of a number of indie games. I was disappointed in this. The analyses pretty much always covered the game’s setting and visual theme but rarely did it cover what was mechanically interesting about the game. It contains such insightful analysis as “the story is nice and long.” I’ve seen enough indie games to know that story generally isn’t the selling point – it is how the mechanics work in inventive ways. This didn’t need to be a book. It could have been one long web page.

How to Do Things With Videogames by Ian Bogost (180)

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I’m a big Bogost supporter. How to Do Things… is a great collection of essays about the different areas games can address, but I found the title and form misleading. The book should be called What Video Games Can Do since it answers what and not how. The essays are mixed in quality, but I found that the ones that connect hit it out of the park. Others are less of the form: “Did you know video games can tackle so and so?” and fit more as decent Gamasutra articles. While a little unfocused, it is still full of great insights and clued me into a number of projects of which I’d never heard.

Marching Bands Are Just Homeless Orchestras by Tim Seidell (80)

Barely a book, this is a collection of Tim Seidell’s (better known as Twitter’s @badbanana) Handy-esque quips. Hilarious, but you can get the same quality for free by following his Twitter account.

The Making of Prince of Persia by Jordan Mechner (330)

I wrote about it here. No book this year made me sadder or feel less alone.

Propaganda by Edward Bernays (168)

I was a bit disappointed in this. It’s a tract from the 1920’s that is essentially an apologia for propaganda. I was hoping this would be a little more intriguing as to the how-to but this is mostly about things that we consider as basic PR these days. It was a bit repetitious and a chore to get through, honestly.

The Rape of the Mind by Dr. Joost A. M. Meerloo (320)

Wow, where to begin? Dr. Meerloo was a prolific Dutch psychologist and Dutch resistance member during the Second World War. Under the Nazi occupation, he witnessed firsthand the methods of brainwashing and mental torture and became one of the world’s leading authorities on totalitarian mind control. Provocatively named, The Rape of the Mind hits on a lot of topics: freedom, philosophy, nature of Man, politics, advertising, faith, authority and strategy. I even picked up a little on design in there. It’s a timeless book with more to digest than you could grasp in one read. I plan on saving it.

The Revolution by Ron Paul (208)
Liberty Defined:  50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom by Ron Paul (352)

Yeah, go ahead start judging me on politics. This one is a campaign book from his 08 run. It’s honestly a little slapdash, not as convincing of a libertarian argument or as organized as Browne’s Great Libertarian Offer. It’s great if you already buy into what he is selling, but he does a poor job of providing supporting materials in comparison to Browne. Liberty Defined is the same way, but better structured, although it never sufficiently defines liberty. I suppose what causes his books to be more about principles than evidence is summed up in his chapter on Statistics and their drawbacks. While I didn’t find either of these to be too convincing, he does keep a good bibliography for further reading.

Tasty Morsels of Sonic Goodness by George “Fat Man” Sanger (528)

I’m torn on this one. One, I’m forever in debt to the Fat Man for starting project Horseshoe which I now go to every year. I now understand so much of its origins just by the stories that Sanger loads this book with. There’s a lot of folksy abstract storytelling in here and if you get easily distracted, you will lose him in the first third of the book. He spends a lot of time on this persona of his and it’s tough to give a shit about any of it until you get a “why” you should give a shit. For some reason, whoever formatted this for Kindle liked to highlight phrases and words with light grey text making them nearly impossible to read on my Kindle 2. The last third of the book (except a wonderful excerpt in the Appendix) is only of real value to audio guys, a cohort of which I do not identify. But if you peel back that first third and last third, that middle juicy core is full of wonderful philosophy about living a creative life. Whether or not you have the patience to peel away the irrelevant stuff is really a testament to how much you want what is in the core.

Instapaper / Longform

I discovered Instapaper and Longform.org this year. The latter collates high-quality bits of longer-form journalism from around the web. The former converts those articles into a handy, Kindle-readable form. When I reach 20 articles or so, I dump them into a .mobi file and there I have the most interesting magazine I could possibly find. Unfortunately, I’ve been using Instapaper to save far more than my ability to read all the saved articles. Since these don’t have a normal page count, I’m dividing words by 350 to get pages.

Instapaper Compilation #1 (362)

Instapaper Compilation #2 (309)

Instapaper Compilation #3 (304)

Instapaper Complication #4 (370)

Other (Graphic Novels, etc.)

Achewood Vol 3. Worst Song Played on Ugliest Guitar by Chris Onstad (136)

Achewood’s fallen off in recent years strictly on a quantity basis (but has just resumed), but if you digged (dug? dig-dugged?) the strips of the 2002 era when characterization was just knocking on the door (really the hallmark of the series next to the Mexican Magical Realism which is forthcoming) then these are the first strips that matter. What gets you to buy the book is the great commentary bits and the essays written in character. Top notch stuff.

Book-Length Magazines

Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine 11-12/2010 (260)
Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine 1-2/2010 (260)
Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine 3-4/2010 (260)
Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine 5-6/2010 (260)
Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine 7-8/2010 (260)

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