Books you've read in 2009

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by DaveF, Dec 31, 2008.

  1. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    From last Christmas, I finished Beyond Left and Right: Helping Christians Make Sense of American by Amy E. Black. It's a decent book, and would be more interesting before a significant election. It provides a nice Civics 101 overview of the American political system. It also gives a nice argument on distinguishing between religious / moral truths and political positions. I think many people would well benefit if they could internalize this book's thesis.

    I'm about halfway through the audiobook of The Magicians by Lev Grossman. It's Harry Potter meets angsty-teenagers, with some faux-Narnia swirled in. Recommended by a friend, I checked it out for the holiday-vacation drive. However, after suffering through the first 10 hours, my wife has banned it from the car. I'm not sure if I'll finish back at home. It has potential, but commits several authorial sins, and is becoming increasingly tedious. It tells me, rather than showing me. Character traits are flatly stated, rather than imbuing the characters with the traits and revealing them through their actions and dialog. Second, in a magical world, halfway through I still don't really believe the characters can command magic. Worst, halfway through, there is no conflict to propel the story; it sprints through year after year of the protagonists life seemingly to no end. Finally, chapter by chapter it demands comparison directly to Harry Potter and Narnia: it suffers in comparison to the greater literature. And having received a number of interesting books for Christmas, I'm less inclined to finish this mediocrity.
     
  2. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    The first post of the '08 thread, I began with The Android's Dream. Previously, I hadn't read much sci-fi in 10 years. Afterwards, I began following Scalzi. He had a nascent series, starting with Old Man's War, then Ghost Brigades, and finally The Last Colony. I held off 'til this Christmas to get his latest, Zoe's Tale. It re-tells the story of The Last Colony, but from the perspective of teenager Zoe. I'm tempted to re-read The Last Colony to refresh myself on how they fit together. If you've read other Scalzi, especially The Last Colony, I recommend Zoe's Tale without reservation. I think TLC is the better of the two, but ZT is enjoyable from start to stop and brings some unexpected emotional oomph.

    If you're not read Scalzi and want some new sci-fi, I suggest starting with Old Man's War.

    Now to start Ender's Game; long recommended but my first reading.
     
  3. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    DaveF: Enjoy. while I enjoy Ender's Game, I've always found "Speaker for the Dead" the real stunning work of SciFi in that series.

    And now that you mention it, I may finish my last book of 2009, OSC's "Hidden Empire" it's been very dark, actually, in storytelling and somewhat pulp.
    I've found that more recent Card works.. let's say, everything after Children of the Mind ;) have largely been pulp/paperback fiction quality works. Doesn't mean they are bad, they are enjoyable reads.. just not quite the early stuff.

    I keep thinking I'll go back to read some John Twelve Hawks, since I enjoyed the first book.. but just can't get "up" for it.
     
  4. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    I'm going to try catch up before the end of the year tomorrow. From where I left off:

    Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Omen by Christie Golden. The excerpt in the back of Outcast was so terrifically awful that I refused to even buy this book when it came out. When I finally checked it out of the library, and I was pleasantly surprised. Golden adjusts her style and tone for each story line. The excerpt highlighted a scene featuring the teenage characters, far and away the most grating story thread in the book. If Outcast hadn't been such a perfectly executed redirection for Star Wars fiction, this would have felt like a successful minor effort. But as a follow-up that rings in at a scant 235 pages, it's a disappointment. Golden sucks the tension and fury out of the premise, so that the rift between the Jedi and the government this time feels more like a polite disagreement. Characterizations tend toward the shallow and melodramatic, and the younger Jedi Golden introduces are completely uninteresting. She does handle one story line extremely well, and it's the most important one: Luke and Ben's pilgrimage through the galaxy. The father-son dynamic feels more authentic than previous characterizations, and Luke himself is much closer to the character we know from the movies. He's both funnier and less omnipotent than we've seen recently, and both changes make him much more engaging as a protagonist. I love that we get to see Luke actually raising Ben in a serious way, since the Skywalkers and the Solos have largely left their children to be raised by other people as they dash off on page-turning adventures. This time their journey take them to the Aing-Tii, a species I've wanted to know more about since they were intriguingly alluded to in Timothy Zahn's Vision of the Future. The overall work is towards the bottom of the Star Wars pantheon, but I enjoyed it enough to purchase her next book in the series without hesitation.

    Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Abyss by Troy Denning. This book was the reason I decided to finally read Omen. It's an perfectly adequate book, with the Luke and Ben story line continuing to be the most interesting story thread. This series definitely feels more cohesive than the previous multi-author projects, and the introduction of some really surreal, Lovecraft-esque ideas is a welcome change. Denning's shortcomings arise with the Coruscant-based story lines. He's written so many books with the same characters in the same time period that after a while it begins to feel like the same old routine. The Han & Leia storyline barely held my attention, and the Jag & Jaina storyline was only a little more interesting. If Golden's writing was too dramatic, Denning has the opposite problem.

    Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Not the worst book I've read this year, but easily the most frustrating. Judged seperately, it's a decent enough book with the same relentless pacing and sharp writing that shaped its predecessor. However instead of expanding on the story of the brilliant Hunger Games, Collins retreats to familiar territory with a story that parallels its preceding chapter a little too closely. Katniss is again our protagonist and narrator. After winning the Hunger Games in a most defiant fashion, she is arguably the most important person in all of Panem. You wouldn't know it, when the story picks up with her back in the woods hunting for game. Since her victory ensured her a lifetime of plenty, this comes across as more than a little artificial. Otherwise, the recap heavy early chapters promise to take us in a new and exciting direction. Having shaken the Capitol's grip on power, she rightly assumes that her days are numbered. surprise visit from the odious President Snow culminates in a conversation that is quietly terrifying in its implications. A couple of escapees from District 8 she meets in the forest share a theory that would blow everything we've known about this world wide open. Instead of following through, though, Collins flinches: Katniss is headed back to the Hunger Games, and all the familiar elements are trotted out again in an almost perfunctory manner. The larger political and social questions are dealt with only tangentially when they are dealt with at all. Only at the end does Collins refocus on the macro plot, leaving us waiting again with bated breath. Until then, the book's main pleasures come from the way she twists the same plot beats to explore how Katniss's victory has changed things. The sometimes vast differences in how things play out speaks volumes about how far the characters have come. Those subtle pleasures weren't quite enough for this reader, who was expecting an Empire Strikes Back rather than a Rocky II. Next time around, I want to see the revolution instead of hearing about it second hand.
     
  5. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    We got "Hunger Games" for Christmas; hope to have it in the 2010 thread :)

    Trying to finish Ender's Game for 2009!
     
  6. DaveF

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    Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

    I suspect that if you're a Sci-Fi / Fantasy fan, you read this years, even decades ago. I didn't know about it in High School or College, when I read the most. I was told about it at least ten years ago by a grad school friend. It's only now that I've gotten around to reading it. But if you haven't read it...

    Ender's Game is set on Earth in some unspecified time, presumably in the future. Over-population is a problem globally, Earth was previously invaded -- and humans nearly wiped out -- by the genocidic "buggers". And young Ender Wiggins, a young child, is hoped by the military to be the eventual leader of the space forces to combat the buggers. This story centers on Ender, a prodigy, as he is trained and tested to see if he is as great as he needs to be. To say more, I think, would take away from the pleasure of discovering the story yourself.

    My impression: very positive. It was a book worth reading, even if 20 years late. I found it gripping, novel, and am looking forward to the next three "Enders" books I've got. The ending was somewhat anticlimatic; but that's because while I didn't predict it, I felt it coming. The denoument, though, quite surprised me. At first it felt deus ex machina, but I accepted it by the end and found it satisfying.

    There was, to me, an undercurrent of Orwell's 1984, but the story didn't go in that direction. But it felt pregnant with that possibility and I'm curious if related themes appear in subsequent novels.

    That's it for me, in 2009. Well, I may have failed to comment on the personal finance & investing books I read this year. Maybe I'll get back for some updates on those. But I'm looking forward to the stack of books I have for 2010!
     
  7. mattCR

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    The "Ender's Shadow" series, which I found really inferior to the Ender series.. but not bad, follow those themes. The next book really in line for Ender is "Speaker for the Dead" (or Exiles in Flight, I suppose, but that's kind of a side-bit). And "Speaker for the Dead" is a major continuity break.. but a very smart one. That's the book I envy people reading. The first time I read that book, until you get about 1/2 way through it's somewhat puzzling. But once it starts to click together, it is one of the best rides in SciFi lit.
     
  8. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    That's next for me. Look forward to it :)

    Ok, See you all in the 2010 thread!
     
  9. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    Remainder of 2009 continued:

    Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie. This mystery is not one of Christie's especially showy or clever efforts, and I think it's all the better for it. The format is familiar to any follower of the early Poirot novels and short stories. Poirot's friend easily befuddled friend Hastings again narrates and the story is neatly divided into chapters named after the character(s) who give evidence, knowingly or otherwise, within. The case attracts Poirot's attention when he receives a letter from a dead woman, which she dated several months prior. Every surviving family member had a motive to kill her, and all are perfectly happy to tell the detective that they wanted her dead. There is reason to believe that the victim was driven to write Poirot following a previous attempt on her life that had been written off as an accident. Even with the tired format and lack of shocking twist, this was one of the only Poirot novels where I failed to fully guess the perpetrator's actions and intent. The least likely of the included suspects is almost always the perpetrator in Christie's mysteries, but that wasn't quite the case this time. And when Poirot lays his cards out on the table at the inquest, the pieces fit together more soundly than most mysteries. There isn't a whiff of cheating about this one.

    Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. I came into this novel with a vague memory of the film adaptation, which meant that I had Michael Douglas -- strangely mutated into the larger, Brendan Gleeson-esque build Chabon described within -- in my head as the protagonist the whole time I was reading it. While Pittsburgh professor and author Grady Tripp is one of the only genuine gentiles in the entire book, he sure does seem a heck of a lot like the very Jewish Douglas. Robert Downey Jr, homosexual editor Terry Crabtree in the film, was pushed aside in my head to make room for a cross between Richard Roxburgh and Bradley Cooper. If I've spent too much of this book review discussing actors, I use the book's own fascination with Hollywood as an excuse. What I remember of 2000 film adaptation, which I quite liked, tracks closely to the first half of the book: a circus of hilarious, drug-fueled disasters that compound on each other like a Dave Barry column. In the second half, Chabon's literary voice is more evident; as the compounding madness starts to unravel again, the story becomes both more Jewish and more introspective. The pretenses upon which Grady Tripp has built his life crumble and he is faced with the prospect of genuine change for the first time in a long time. The movie's ending is more affirming than the ending Chabon provides us, and yet his ending fits better because it only seems plausible that the happiness Tripp attains could only come at the expense of the things he once valued most.

    Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. Hornby's return to the adult coming of age genre that used to be his bread and butter is a bit of a mixed bag. The novel rotates between a reclusive, semi-famous eighties rocker, his most fervent fan, and the woman who dates both of them. Tucker Crowe, whose listed musical influences run the gamut from Dylan and Springsteen all the way to Dolly Parton broke into the mainstream with the critically acclaimed album 'Juliet' after a series of commercial failures. Midway through the tour to promote the album, he went into the men's room of a dive bar in Minneapolis and came out a changed man. All future tour dates were canceled and he disappeared off the face of the earth for a couple decades. No further albums were forthcoming. Duncan maintains a website for the dwindling number of Crowe devotees. He lives with Annie in a forgotten seaside town in the northwest of England. Aside from Duncan's obsession, Annie finds life with Duncan exceptionally untroublesome. That all changes when a parcel arrives containing the first unheard music by Tucker Crowe in decades: a compilation of demos entitled 'Juliet, Naked'. When Annie commits the treasonous act of listening to it without him, a fight results that ultimately leaves Annie wondering how she could have wasted the preceding 15 years of her life with him. When Duncan posts a boastful, over-the-top-positive review of the "naked" album on his website, Annie posts an assessment of her own that is blunt and critical. It isn't long before a email drops into her Inbox from Tucker Crowe himself.

    Of the three perspectives Hornby rotates between, Duncan's is the least interesting. Hornby focuses on how Duncan's love affair with Tucker's discography has formed a critical part of his identity, and the impact meeting the actual Tucker has on the certainties he's built his life around. It's an intellectual, judgmental exploration that comes across as both shallow and sterile. The heart of the story lies with Annie and Tucker, two aging adults left wondering what the hell happened to their lives. Childless and passionless at 39, Annie is haunted by how little living she's done.

    Tucker has the opposite problem: he's done too much living, creating a scattered family of five children by four ex-wives. Only two of his children really mean anything to him, and only his youngest son Jackson, a likable but fatalistic kindergartner, knows it. Annie's attempts to break out of her holding pattern end up reinforcing her loneliness and regret, and Tucker has long since surrendered to the depressing course he's charted for himself. First through email and later in person, Tucker and Annie expose parts of themselves to each other that they'd previously kept hidden as a matter of course. In due course we learn the secret behind Tucker's bathroom revelation, and it is both simple and emotionally wrenching. The ending is ambiguous but optimistic.
     
  10. Ockeghem

    Ockeghem Ockeghem

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    ^^^

    Agatha Christie is one of my wife's favorite authors. Twice she has tried to join a book club that is offering all of Christie's works, and both times the club has not completed the set.

    I'm currently reading Canon and Canonicity: the Formation and Use of Scripture, ed. by Einar Thomassen (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2010).

    Precisely which books (and why) constitute the canonical books in the Hebrew bible and the various Christian (Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) bibles has fascinated me for many years, as has the exclusion of various pseudepigraphal works.

    I'm also reading Music and Medieval Manuscripts: Paleography and Performance: Essays Dedicated to Andrew Hughes, ed. by John Haines and Randall Rosenfeld (Adershot, Hants, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, c2004).
     
  11. Scott McGillivray

    Scott McGillivray Supporting Actor

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  12. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    SuperFreakonomics by Levitt and Dubner.
    The followup to Freakonomics follows the same pattern: an intimate view of some fascinating microeconomics in life. It's a fair book; certainly enjoyable to anyone who liked Freakonomics. But I found Freakonomics much fresher -- not surprising being the first of its kind -- but the stories and topics were more interesting and felt more solid.

    In SuperFreakonomics, I enjoyed most the discussion on medical matters, particularly the discovery of infection during childbirth in the Middle Ages.

    The weakest portion was on Global Warming, as it simply didn't fit the Freakonomics model: it was purely speculative, not drawing on actual data to prove its point.

    If you've not read either, start with Freakonomics. If you enjoyed Freaknomics, give SuperFreakonomics a try.
     
  13. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    You might be interested in knowing that a movie adaptation is on the way.

    BTW, shouldn't we be have a 2010 thread by now?

    Joe
     
  14. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    We do. I wasn't paying attention to the title

    http://www.hometheaterforum.com/forum/thread/296293/books-you-ve-read-in-2010
     

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