30 December 2007

What I've Been Reading...

Seeing as I’ve posted nothing since August it’s perhaps time to explain myself. As usual I’ve been reading instead of writing because I’m bad bad bad. But, while reading I’ve actually managed to do something I’ve been attempting since 1996 – keep a record of every book that I’ve read in the year. Here then is my list of “What I Read in 2007” and, just so I can’t be accused of simply filling out a list, I have included a short review for most titles (where my memory is up to the admittedly small, but daunting, task).
“The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula LeGuin – Classic and rather icy sci-fi. Explores slightly interesting gender issues in a mostly dull manner.
“One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexandr Solzenytsin – Another chilly one. Extremely detailed account of the minutiae of life in a gulag that I enjoyed a lot. Better than Levi’s ‘If This is a Man” and way more readable than the only other Solzenytsin I’ve read – The Gulag Archipelago.
“Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said” by Philip K. Dick – Nicely paranoid, if dated.
“Solar Lottery” by Philip K. Dick – Not his best.
“Martian Time-Slip” by Philip K. Dick – This one was pretty good, I liked the native Martians.
“The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” by Bill Bryson – a nice little lament for ‘50s America. I also liked learning about Bryson’s dad, who was apparently a very good sports writer.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon – Cool window into life with Asperger’s.
“The First Man in Rome” by Colleen McCullough – a wholely unexpected introduction to a continuing love affair with all things Roman. This series is jaw-dropping.
“The Nasty Bits” by Anthony Bourdain – gritty chef voyeurism. Whenever I read his stuff I wish I could go back and tell myself in grade 10 “Become a chef!” – even though I’d probably hate the demands of the job and give it up after a few months. Still…
“Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?” – a collection of the Q&A section from the back of New Scientist magazine. Unfortunately I can’t remember why penguins’ feet don’t freeze and can’t find the book either – so a wasted exercise. Something to do with reduced blood flow I suppose.
“Exultant” by Stephen Baxter – dire space opera. Can’t believe I finished it.
“Revelation Space” by Alastair Reynolds – lovely space opera. Reminded me of Stephen Donaldson’s ‘Gap’ series.
“The Children of Hurin” by JRR Tolkien – much better than I expected. A coherent tale, instead of the usual cobbled together dross Christopher Tolkien usually turns out under daddy’s name. Beautifully tragic.
“Collapse” by Jared Diamond – Not as good as “Guns, Germs and Steel” but interesting nevertheless. He certainly can belabour the point sometimes though.
“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – nice romantic literary travel-guide. I wish I’d read it later in the year when I was actually in Barcelona.
“The Collapse of Globalism” by John Ralston Saul – the opposite of Jared Diamond. You’re constantly going ‘What? Tell me more…’ but Mr. Saul does not oblige. I liked “Voltaire’s Bastards” when I read it a few years ago but the scope here was a bit reduced. Still, a very very smart guy.
“The Sword of Shannara” by Terry Brooks – a fantasy classic I’d never read. The precursor to 90% of what’s on the fantasy shelves – to make a million you basically want to write something halfway between this and “Lord of the Rings.” Sadly, it’s a piece of shit.
“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion – a writer with lovely prose who I liked immensely when I read her at Uni. This is a very sad book about the death of her husband and the illness of her daughter.
Redemption Ark” by Alastair Reynolds – sequel to the one above. Nice meaty sci-fi.
“The Grass Crown” by Colleen McCullough – the second of her Rome series. Again, superb.
“The Italian Secretary” by Caleb Carr – a Sherlock Holmes novel that is stylishly very similar to Conan Doyle’s, but lacking in any actual mystery. At all.
“Absolution Gap” by Alastair Reynolds – a good conclusion to the trilogy, but I think I’ll give him a break for a while.
“Interventions” by Noam Chomsky – a quick summary on who America’s killing and fucking over at present.
“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy – Stephen King’s “The Stand” with 99% of the plot removed. Lurvely prose though, you slow down and savour it.
“The Sea, The Sea” by Iris Murdoch – I’d been wanting to read one of the Dame’s since I saw that movie about her (that made me cry, they were so old and loving). The book was odd. The protagonist was quite unsympathetic, which kept me at a distance.
“Elementary Particles” by Michel Houellebecq. Smart, funny and sexy stuff. Those French…
“Coming Up for Air” by George Orwell – one of the few books he wrote that I hadn’t read. It left me vaguely obsessed with fishing.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver – pretty readable book that in the end seemed quite conservative and copped out completely at the end.
“How We Are Hungry” by Dave Eggers – a man made much more readable by confinement to the short story. Very enjoyable. Cool cover too.
“The Undercover Economist” by Tim Harford – a very interesting book explaining why organic stuff shouldn’t cost so much, amongst other things. Something I need to read again as I can’t recall things from it when I need to.
“Fortune’s Favourites” by Colleen McCullough – the general politics here were less interesting but Caesar is coming to the fore, and is amazing. If he was anything like his depiction here I would have been glad to submit to his dictatorship. Fuck freedom, let’s Romanise everything.
“Fatal Revenant” by Stephen Donaldson – looking at the inside cover I found I’ve read every novel this guy’s written. In hindsight I wouldn’t recommend such a course of action to anyone, though his ‘Gap’ series was good.
“Interview With the Vampire” by Anne Rice – like “The Da Vinci Code” really… inexplicably popular.
“Heaven’s Net is Wide” by Lian Hearn – a prequel to the other four books in the Otori series. I like em all sir.
“The Essential Dave Allen” – essentially a collection of transcribed stand-up. Funny stuff.
“The Man Who Loved Children” by Christina Stead – this is what I’m reading right now, as 2007 draws to a scorching close. An Australian classic sadly out of print that I borrowed from the library. It’ll want to get a lot better quite soon or it’ll be sent back to the library. Plus it’s set in America! Christ.