UPDATE: Ooops! I forgot the Rilke I read. Not sure how that happened, but I’ve added it to the end of my list of works.UPDATE 2: Ooops, and Lisa Randall. How could I forget that?
ORIGINAL POST: Among my frustrations with 2009 was the fact I got to read way fiction less than usual. WAY less. I was very busy with many things, including health concerns that prompted spome very intensive exercise, new academic writing responsibilities, travel, and also a lot of time spent intensively working on dealing with some personal issues, as well as doing the basic research on my new hobby (home-brewing beer) and working on The Freelance Project That Refused to F*cking Die.
So anyway, I got to read a hell of a lot less fiction than I wanted to. I’m way behind on all the magazines to which I subscribe, fiction novels I meant to get to sat untouched, and I am not pleased with that at all. Worst of all, I didn’t really even keep track of what I read this year. However, I will try to reconstruct a partial list from memory, leaving out the self-help books because I don’t feel like posting those.
Since I’m working from memory, I’m sure there’s a book or three that I’ve missed. (I almost missed several of the books that ended up listed, after all, so I suspect there are a few more that never made it.) One more thing: I ended up looking at a LOT of short stories online (and listening to a number of short stories that were podcastn online as well), as well as shorter academic articles for papers I was working on or wrote. Those aren’t counted here, since this list a book list. But I think for 2010, I’m going to start carefully tracking all that stuff, since I’ve definitely begun thinking of listening to podcasts as “reading”… well, kinda-sorta.
- Ambrosia: About a Culture – An Investigation of Electronica Music and Party Culture… by James Cummins. This was a freebie from Librarything’s Early Reviewers system. I was not impressed. My review can be found, along with others, here.
- The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss. Finding myself newly in that strange state that Facebook calls “It’s complicated” earlier in the year, I read this to get a sense of how dating had changed in the five years since I’d done any. No, no, I didn’t become a pickup artist. But I did find it interesting in the sense that there’s definitely a kind of sociobiological underpinning to the theories Strauss promulgates. In my opinion the text is a horrible model for a way to live, which surprises me since so many guys seem inspired by this book, and want to be just like Mystery or Style. Ah well, it did end up being the inspiration for my short story “Sarging Rasmussen: A Report by Organic” which will be appearing in the Shine Anthology next spring. One thing I’ll say about this is that, like Frank J. Tipler’s loony science fantasy books (though he publishes them as if they aren’t fantasy) The Physics of Immortality and The Physics of Christianity (a confession: I’ve only read the former book), The Game borders on being a slightly better read if one thinks of it as fiction, being narrated by an untrustworthy narrator, which is, of course, exactly what Style/Neil Strauss hints about himself throughout the text. Think of it as a kind of Pale Fire about the so-called seduction community, and suddenly it’s a fairly interesting text… it’s also interesting in that the text self-presents as being about a group of men who master male-female interaction, but it’s patently obvious to any reader with his wits about him that the text is about men who have dyusfunctional relationship skills in terms of dealing with other men.
- Horizons: Exploring the Universe by Michael A. Seeds. This was the textbook for Launch Pad 2009, and a very fine textbook it was, making up the bulk of my reading during the second half of the spring semester 2009 as I prepared to go to Wyoming for the workshop. An excellent beginner’s textbook on astronomy and cosmology, with tons of useful information, diagrams and images, and more. I have it on my shelf, ready for constant consultation.
- Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. This is a book I’ve read a few times over the years. The book was a major miss in most of its specific predictions, but I appreciate two things about it: that Toffler scored more hits than was probably expected by smart people in his time, in the big-picture sense, and that the book seems (from what I can tell) to have become a kind of closet bible for SF writers. I can see Toffler’s fingerprints all over cyberpunk (and proto-cyberpunk) visions of the future, especially. I also happen to think that the notion of the Vingean Technological Singularity is — perhaps not directly, but culturally — in essence an exponentially ramped-up version of Toffler’s notion of Future Shock, for reasons I’ll document elsewhere.
- The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil. This book is tedious, badly-argued, handwavey, and essentially the dullard religious poetry of extropianism. Tons of critics have pointed out the many holes in the book. I only read it for the purposes of being up to date on Kurzweilk so I could savage him in a paper I was writing, on the development of the Technological Singularity from a literary trope into a modern form of snake oil — of which Kurzweil is the biggest, though not necessarily the nuttiest, purveyor. I highly recommend not reading this book unless you have a fetish for exponential curve graphs or are desperate for some way of seeing the future in a positive way; like the crazier religions in our world, it may fill that hole inside you, but the problem is what it fills it with is, well, to be frank it’s crap. I was surprised and saddened to find this on the shelves of my university’s library, as it is a sad waste of money… though, thank goodness I didn’t have to find a copy some other way in order to write my paper, eh? This long book killed at least three weeks of my spare reading time, maybe a month’s worth in the end.
- Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. This one of those books in a style vaguely similar to all those Malcolm Gladwell books, but unlike Gladwell, Gilbert assumes his readers are capable of following a slightly more nuanced and complex line of reasoning, and he offers plenty of scientific evidence for each point in his argument. (And I find Gilbert a much more compelling writer.) What emerges within the text is a model of the human mind as inherently confused in how it remembers pleasures and pains in the past, how it experiences them in the present, and in how it anticipates them in the future. A lot of counterintuitive, interesting stuff.
- Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions by Dr. Lisa Randall. If you want a pretty understandable and relatively even-handed discussion of particle physics, with an eye toward kinda-sorta understanding a few different possible flavours of string theory, I think you could do much worse (and maybe couldn’t do much better) than this book. Of course, it’s for laypersons, and people who really know this stuff will likely want something more specialized. But for most of us, besides the fact it’s perhaps a bit dated–not that I imagine anything recent discovery has upset things enough to render this book obsolete–it’s probably just what you’re looking for. And yes, this was research for a short story too.
Homebrewing-Related Books: (which are also nonfiction, but I figured I’d give it its own section):
- Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles by Ray Daniels. Probably a very useful reference book for an advanced home-brewer, but it was a mistake to try read this book so early on, for me. I think I’ll reread it when I am a bit more experienced with all-grain brewing, though: Daniels makes the very strong suggestion that designing a recipe for a great beer is very possible, and also has an excellent guide to a number of styles worth trying. I’ll be moving to all-grain this spring, so I can’t wait to get some of that experience!
- The Complete Joy of Home Brewing (3rd Edition) by Charlie Papazian. This is just an excellent, excellent beginner’s guide to home brewing. By beginner, I mean that I’m still referring to it fairly often after about half a dozen batches, and expect I’ll be checking stuff in it again and again over the next few years. Papazian’s greatest gift to the home brewing community is how his book instills an easy confidence that it is possible, doable, not beyond the realm of any random guy to make an excellent, wonderful beer. He fills you with a sense that this is a wonderfl, relaxing, and fun hobby, and hsi advice, “Don’t Worry, Relax, Have a Homebrew!” is repeated on online fora all the time. Great advice, too. I highly recommend the book for novice home brewers.
- Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher. Mosher’s book was my third book on homebrewing, and it’s intermediate between the Papazian and the Daneils: not as daunting as the Daniels, but somewhat less straight-laced than the Papazian. Moder explores all kinds of extinct, unusual, and alternative ways of brewing, bittering, flavoring, and otherwise making wonderful beers. A number of the unusual beers I plan on making in the coming months — a Finnish sahti, a jaggery pale ale (probably IPA, actually), and a bokbunja acacia melomel (sweet acacia-honey mead flavored with Korean wild black raspberries) were all inspired by Mosher’s wonderful exploration. I also have to say I learned a lot about the diversity inherent in beer history, and the radical side of the homebrewing hobby. Papazian text is the Louis Armstrong, and Mosher’s book is the Eric Dolphy (or maybe the Rahsaan Roland Kirk) of the hobby.
- The Home Brewer’s Companion by Charlie Papazian. A companion text to the first Papazian book, mentioned above. The edition seems older, so the book is less pretty, but there’s tons of useful information, ideas, hints, and more contained in it. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I did check out a lot of sections of interest. I’ll probably read it more fully in 2010 and list it again as a book I read this year… another book that is worth the investment, though I also have the impression it’s not strictly necessary: a lot of the tips and hints seem familiar, as if I’ve seen them online in various fora, brewing blogs, and more. Still, worth having around if you want to deepen your knowledge, though after the Mosher book I have begun to take some of what Papazian presents as granted, with a little grain of salt.
SF/Fantasy and Related
- Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson. I’d read eveyrthing by Stephenson except Anathem (which I haven’t yet gotten) and The Baroque Cycle (wish I had the time), but oddly of Stephenson’s earlier (solo) works, this and The Big U were the ones I’d missed. I decided to go with this novel, mainly because a friend had given me a copy of it in MP3 form. The MP3s had been made from audiotapes, which was suitably ironic given the retrofuturism of Stephenson’s futuristic vision, as more than one friend has commented, and also it was something I could listen to while hiking the mountain and working out at the gym. I have to say, though, that overall it impressed me less than other works by Stephenson, especially The Diamond Age and Cyptonomicon. I especially wasn’t interested in the lengthy infodumps on Sumerian history, as weird and conspiracy-theoryish as they were — they really dragged on in audio format, I guess. Listening to this novel did, however, inspire me to fuse the Pick-Up Artist subculture with cyberpunk techno/jargonistic-masculinity, which became the basis of the same story I mentioned above under The Pickup Artist, above.
- The Glasshouse by Charles Stross. I decided to attack this next after reading Saturn’s Children in 2008, and it was a fun, diabolical novel that simultaneously read like a grinning bid for a Tiptree award; a wonderful circus trick demonstrating that a post-Singulatarian world can (and should!) be imagined, but that it’s like spinning fifty plates on forty-nine sticks and you have to master it to even attempt; and an SFnal exploration of the Stanford Prison Experiment, with a nice nasty backplot and some other neat espionage stuff thrown in. I think Stross really is one of the shimmering stars of contemporary SF — one reason I couldn’t say more than “I’m a big fan…” when I met him at the author bar on the night when he didn’t win a Hugo and I didn’t win a Campbell, last summer. But I do believe it’s time for me to read the rest of the Stross novels sitting on my shelf at home. Shouldn’t be too hard: every damned one I’ve read so far has been an absolute page-turner… yes, even Accelerando was, for me (unlike a number of friends who liked it but found it slow going), a page-turner, though when I’d run across the short story “Lobsters” stand-alone a few years before, I’d had no idea what to make of it.
- Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. My first Heinlein novel, believe it or not — I mentioned having not read it on a podcast interview a while back, and decided I might as well read something by the man. Yeah, I never read it before. It was skillfully written, for an inherently fascist, pro-military fantasy. There’s something to be learned in terms of style, but I can imagine the writer Heinlein would eventually become, lecturing and ranting in place of story… the seeds of that kind of writing are clearly visible here, even if they’re not as in the way as he’d let them get later.
- Grumbles from the Grave by Robert A. Heinlein, edited by Virginia Heinlein. Well, this at least was a little interesting: I had no idea that Heinlein had so many health problems, and it at least provided a little context for all the discussion of how RAH and Alice Dalgliesh didn’t get along. It was a fine book for bathroom reading.
- Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry. Zombies + Terrorists. Didn’t finish it. Not my kind of thing. More on that here.
- Yes, I am still reading Peter Watts’ Starfish. No, I have nothing to say except it’s brilliant and it’s also the sort of dark, heavy book I have to read in installments. Probably this is also partly because I’m reading it in ebook format, and have copies on both my Cybook and my iPod… with different bookmarks in each, argh! I hope to finish it in 2010, though… maybe even by the end of my holiday in Indonesia, if I can get it together, as I’d like to read the rest of the Rifters Trilogy as well!
- The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger by Cecil Brown. Was interesting for what it was, a historical document of a time, and a particular response to politics of race, sexuality, and culture in that time. A slightly more in-depth review is here, discussing certain discomfort I felt reading it as well as looking at the expatriate component of the novel which I suspect is often t aside to focus on the racial issues raised in this erotic autobiography.
- A Good Story, That One by Thomas King. This is a book I usually use when teaching Canadian literature to Korean students (though King hails from the US, he published the book while living in Canada and elements of some of the stories relate directly to Canadian literary, cultural, and political issues), but I reread a number of the short stories for pleasure. The book could probably be put under SF/Fantasy for the fact that a number of the stories have fantastical elements, but it’s considered mainstream Canadian lit and marketed as such, so I’m leaving it here. King is a good writer, that one, and this little book of stories is well worth a read.
- Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. Vols. 1-3. I haven’t read the whole series (yet), just the first few volumes, and they were good fun. I am not such a big graphic novel reader, but I really enjoyed these, and plan on reading the rest of the series in 2010. (I managed to find a later volume at a huge discount in an Indonesian bookstore, but I’m refusing to skip ahead.)
- Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 Vols 1 & 2, by Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, and George Jeanty. (I think those are all the author/art credits for the first two volumes.) Having immersed myself in, and then having finished off, the Buffy DVD boxed set in early 2009, I found myself curious to see where the story would have led next had the series continued. The graphic novels have been fun, and I am curious to read more, though I truly wish they were available at the library or something: I’d rather be collecting Asterix comics (or even collecting Korean translations of Asterix comics, since I could be learning Korean by reading those. Still, I’ll probably shell out… after I’ve finished reading the series mentioned above, though, since it’s just a little more my thing these days.
- Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by A. Poulin, Jr.; Foreword by Mark Doty. This is a stunning, beautiful book, and the first in which I have seen the burning light which is the genius of Rilke. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed hanging out with him too much, but as a poet, the man was a force to be reckoned with. Poulin lovingly translates the original German text, which is included in this bilingual edition — not much use if you can’t read German, except to see how the length and lines and so on differ — but this particular English translation is so lovely and forceful that I highly recommend the book anyway.
- Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy. Though this book didn’t hit me with quite the power that Poulin’s rendering of the Duino Elegies did, I think it’s still a good translation. From what I recall — the book is currently far from me as I write this — there may have been some environmentalist or New-Agey slant to the introduction, but with or without it, the verse of Rilke stands tall. It’s well worth reading, even if it is unfortunately, if only slightly, abridged. (I tend to object to abridgement on the grounds that I usually want to read everything — even the fragments — of a work, rather than just want some editor or translator felt was the “best bits.”)