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2013: A Year in Reading

January 4, 2014

Every year, I post a list of all the books I’ve read the previous year. Although these posts receive little fanfare or repeat traffic, I enjoy doing them for myself. Those interested can also read 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

This year, I’m just listing the books in the order that they were read, as far as that was actually recorded. I’ve also been adding these books to my Goodreads account, which lists out as many books as I can remember reading throughout my life. True bibliophiles will scoff at the meagre 1400 records, but I split my time between books and comics.

One of the great things about Goodreads is the ability to sort books into virtual shelves. This allows me to list books that are of professional interest on my LinkedIn account. You can take a look at my Computers and Business, Design, Fiction, Photography, Poetry, and Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror shelves.

Without further ado, here’s the books I read in 2013, starting with the first book of 2013 and ending with the last. I’ve noted series or imprint information in brackets after the title (for me, ‘imprint’ means things like Penguin Classics and ‘series’ means things like The Lord of the Rings trilogy).

2013: the books

George Lois. Damn Good Advice.
Yeah. Not so much. While this probably rings true for advertising and graphic design, it’s not the best advice for other professions. About half the book is reasonable, the rest a lot of self-aggrandizement. If you’re in a creative industry, you’ll love it.

Alain Badiou. Philosophy for Militants.
It dragged in places, but is well worth the price of admission. Canadian readers will find a brief interview where Badiou discusses the student protests in Quebec. While I don’t completely agree with his politics, I find he has a lot to say, and is willing to communicate in a way easily understood by non-specialists.

Robert E. Howard. The Incredible Adventures of Dennis Dorgan.
This is marketed as fantasy, but it’s really a series of comedic adventures of a drunken sailor who boxes his way across the Orient. Dorgan may not be bright, but he can hit.

J. F. Rivkin. Witch of Rhostshyl. (Silverglass)
This is where the series began to wander. While the story was there, it dragged. The characters remain compelling and fresh, and if you liked the first two books, you’ll love the continuation.

J. F. Rivkin. Mistress of Ambiguities. (Silverglass)
Not a convincing end to the series. I suspect there were more adventures in store for Nyctasia and Corson, cut short by sales numbers. Reading the whole series will be rewarding for completists, but the first two are gems on their own.

Robert E. Howard. Black Canaan.
A small collection of lesser-known stories. The quality is a bit uneven, but there’s a brief introduction by Gahan Wilson and a few gems.

Gardner F. Fox. Escape Across the Cosmos.
This was, admittedly, a bit absurd, even for low-brow science-fiction, but no less entertaining for that.

Patricia Briggs. Fair Game. (Alpha and Omega)
A decent read, but felt artificially long. A lot of the police procedure could have been shortened in favor of expanding the sub-plots. In general, Briggs pays attention to her supporting cast, and that makes her books worth the price of admission.

Leigh Brackett. Alpha Centauri or Die!
A good book. Brackett ended up in Hollywood, and her novels, full of crisp dialogue and suspense, with no wasted scenes, is why. The book is short, but a page-turner.

Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian (interviewer). Power Systems.
Chomsky has his head in the right place, even though I don’t agree with all of his conclusions. This book isn’t as strident as others he’s published, and like most of his political books, is very accessible. This includes conversations regarding his linguistic work and personal life, which are no less fascinating.

Teruhisa Kitahara and Yukio Shimizu (photographer). Robots Spaceships and Other Tin Toys.
A book from the art publisher Taschen, photographing the collection of a tin toy fanatic. Beautiful pictures of hundreds of vintage toys, including many knock-offs. There is the occasional toy that has the uglier aspects of that time period (racism, etc), but on the whole it’s a wonderful trip down memory lane.

Henry Kuttner. The Well of the Worlds.
Not quite what I was expecting, but not the worst read in the world. A lot of concepts that didn’t seem to be fully fleshed out. While it was a tremendous flight of imagination, it left you with the feeling the author hadn’t quite understood the mechanics of his world. A truly spectacularly kitschy retro cover by Alex Schomburg helps make the book.

Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.
I can’t actually say I agree with everything advocated here. Of course, it was written during the 80’s, when the software industry landscape was very different. As such, it doesn’t cover issues that arise in inter-disciplinary teams (engineers, graphic designers, and architects of various stripes all working together), and other things that happen in the current industry. They are spot on when it comes to The Furniture Police, bad management practices, artificial deadlines, and other stupid artifacts of corporate culture.

Fritz Leiber. Swords and Deviltry. (Lankhmar)
This is the first of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books, which eventually ran to 7 titles. I actually read the first two books in my twenties, but set them down. I’m attempting to finish the whole series this time around, but we’ll see how far we get. This, and Vance’s Dying Earth series were heavy influences on Gary Gygax, and hold a special place in the books that have influenced the role-playing game genre.

E. E. “Doc” Smith. Triplanetary. (Lensman)
The original pulp-era space opera that inspired them all. Full of the conceits, jargon, and cultural mores of the time period, this isn’t easy reading now. But Smith’s pacing is fast, and his imagination runs rampant. You may not get through all 7 books, but you can read this one as-is.

Jane Mount. My Ideal Bookshelf.
This started out as an Etsy project, where Mount would, for a fee, paint your “ideal bookshelf” if you sent her pictures of the books you wanted. For the book project, a large group of famous writers, architects, chefs, designers and actors were asked to provide their bookshelves and a brief essay by them follows each painting. The collection features an eclectic mix: Ishmael Reed, Michael Chabon, Malcolm Gladwell, and on and on.

Simon Armitage (editor). Short and Sweet: 101 Very Short Poems.
The title says it all. The titles are arranged in a ‘count-down’ from longest to shortest. While a bit of a mixed bag, the selection was interesting and hit the mark more often than they missed.

Rachel Andrews and Kevin Yank. Everything You Know About CSS Is Wrong.
A book that was slightly ahead of the technology it describes, it’s now a reasonably good primer on effective mobile and experimental desktop layout techniques. As older IE usage goes down, it will become even more relevant, and it’s brevity will make it a good resource.

Robert Musil. Flypaper. (Penguin Mini Modern Classics)
Musil is one of the great modern French masters, but finding short material from him is a challenge. This was very brief, collecting some of his more notable short stories. I’m not sure I like Musil, but I would recommend reading at least some of his work.

John Jakes. Brak the Barbarian.
A fairly pedestrian entry into the world of sword and sorcery. Nothing to write home about.

Wade Rowland. Saving the CBC.
A polemic on public broadcasting. While I can’t say I agree with all of his ideas, he makes many good points, and his suggestions on “saving” the CBC are at least rational and well thought-out. If you’re interested in the immediate future of the CBC, this is the book to read.

Robert E. Howard. Three-Bladed Doom. (El Borak)
A short novella in the “Indiana Jones” style of pulp adventure. I can’t speak to the accuracy of Howard’s view of the Middle East, but his straight-ahead, guns blazing style still grips you.

John Berger. Cataract.
Berger had surgery in both eyes to remove cataracts, and in this small illustrated essay he talks about the differences in perception before and after, and what that’s done to his world-view. A small gem, but maybe worth waiting for it to be collected into a larger volume.

Robert E. Howard. The Lost Valley of Iskander. (El Borak)
This is adventure fiction in the pulp tradition with a dash of Oriental flavor. Many of the depictions of middle-eastern culture are hopelessly wrong, but the adventure moves ahead at a frenzy pace.

Richard Kadrey. Sandman Slim. (Sandman Slim)
This book is such a genre bender that I’ve found it scattered in fiction, horror, and fantasy. No chapter breaks, no lag in action…nothing but action, mayhem, non-stop bad habits, and staccato dialogue so blue Slim’s swear jar is full before you get 10 pages in. Don’t miss this ride.

Richard Kadrey. Kill the Dead. (Sandman Slim)
As brutal as the first, and the stakes go up.

Richard Kadrey. Aloha From Hell. (Sandman Slim)
This is where the series starts to shift sideways. All the loose ends are tied up, and Eric Stark is left to chart something new. I suspect the next few books are going to be different, even though the trademark sarcasm is still there.

David Foster Wallace. The Last Interview and Other Conversations. (The Last Interview)
Not very satisfying, as Wallace was not a great interview subject. He didn’t seem to have much to say, and was very evasive. There isn’t much here to answer any questions you may have regarding his death and late career.

Richard Kadrey. Devil Said Bang. (Sandman Slim)

Neil Gaiman. Make Good Art.
It left me cold. Gaiman’s output has been sporadic and lop-sided over the last decade, and what should have been great was only so-so. The graphic design, while interesting, should have been followed by the complete text legibly typeset. Watch the video, and save your money for a good Gaiman book, like American Gods or Good Omens.

Rodolphe Durand and Jean-Philippe Vergne. The Pirate Organization.
There are really good points here, but the authors danced a line between supporting capitalism and hating it. Their main point, that organizations that operate in areas where law is grey or non-existant get to define the law through their operations more swiftly than the state can respond, is sound. Where the book fell down was the over-use of technical jargon and it’s brevity. Wait for the paperback.

Craig Ward. Popular Lies About Graphic Design.
A very good book on design, by an author that has strong opinions but a very quiet, simple style. He discusses many of the sacred cows of graphic design and presents a balanced view. This is all theory, with little technical discussion, and is all the better for it. Highly recommended.

Jacob Hoye (editor). Boards: The Art and Design of the Skateboard.
Lots of pictures, but not a lot of substance. An overview of historical and current board makers, types of boards, and major artists would have filled out the book in a more meaningful way for the unitiated. While the designs were awesome, the lack of context killed the book.

John Kuprenas and Matthew Frederick. 101 Things I Learned in Engineering School.
This was the first of the series that came close to capturing the same feel as Frederick’s original book regarding architecture. A great book for anyone in engineering, whether it’s physical or digital. While computer engineer’s won’t get as much as building engineers, it’s still full of relevant information regarding project management and problem solving. Highly recommended.

Daido Moriyama. Tales of Tono.
A very striking set of black-and-white images. I’m not sure if he succeeds or not, but the book is small, beautiful, and you’ll find yourself coming back to it over and over again.

Dennis Lee. The Gods.
I had some trouble with the all-over-the-place formatting. It felt like a literary conceit. While I love Lee’s essays on poetry, I felt he went a bit too far into a no-man’s land here.

Robert E. Howard. The Sowers of the Thunder.
This is historical fiction set during the Crusades. Not Howard at his best.

Robert E. Howard. The Gods of Bal-Sagoth.
Some truly good horror stories, along with a few unfinished pieces. The collection isn’t well-rounded as a result. The Baen Howard library has more focussed collections of his horror and fantasy tales.

Gore Vidal and Jon Wiener (interviewer). I Told You So: Gore Vidal Talks Politics.
It seemed like a lot of rambling without any coherence to me, but I’m also the first to admit that I’m not familiar with much of the subject matter (early 20th century American politics). There were good moments, but not quite enough for me.

Nina Katchadourian. Sorted Books.
I really wanted to like this, but I walked in with expectations set by the “Unpacking My Library” series, also by Chronicle. Sadly, this was a very poor read, and didn’t resonate as art to me.

John Buchan. The Thirty-nine Steps. (Wordsworth Classics)
This is largely regarded as the first ‘thriller’, and it’s fast pace and continuous chases make a good page-turner. Modern thrillers and ‘man-on-the-run’ movies and novels have much more action, but this is set in 1914, when things moved much more slowly. There are a few bits where the colloquialisms will get in the way, but don’t let that stop you.

Fritz Leiber. Swords Against Death. (Lankhmar)
The continuing adventures. First contact with Sheelba and Ningauble. Much fun was had by all.

Jonathan Lethem. The Disappointment Artist.
I think his diatribes against his ‘former’ nerd ways are his way of protesting too much. This is a deeply personal book, going through some of his most painful memories. It may not be the best introduction to his work, but if you enjoy the casual, conspiratorial essay mode, this one’s for you.

Robert E. Howard. Black Vulmea’s Vengeance.
Pirates of the Caribbean, over a half-century before the ride or the movies. Howard’s characteristic shoot first and keep shooting attitude reigns supreme, and the stories move quickly. Of note to Conan fans is that one of the stories was originally a Conan tale that was rejected and re-written.

Eric Schneider. Toy Instruments: Design Nostalgia Music.
A book of wonderful toys. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll recognize or actually have owned at least one toy in this collection, if not more.

Fritz Leiber. Swords in the Mist. (Lankhmar)
This wasn’t very satisfying…the latter half of the book is one large novella that didn’t have much to offer. It felt as if the book was a series of connecting threads to the rest of the series.

Emmanuel Levinas, Philippe Nemo (interviewer) and Richard A. Cohen (translator). Ethics and Infinity.
This was a tough slog, and I have to admit to not understanding a fair portion of it. It’s a very technical interview, not necessarily meant for a layman or one not already familiar with his thought. That being said, the parts I did get were very inspirational and different. He’s worth a look into, but again, not for the faint of heart.

John Scalzi. Old Man’s War. (Old Man’s War)
Respectably written, with lots of action, tech, and some good story hooks; but it wasn’t really anything more than that. Scalzi keeps the book light and the pace fast. It will keep you hooked, but there aren’t any deep ideas or thoughts here.

John Scalzi. The Ghost Brigades. (Old Man’s War)
The second in the Old Man’s War books, this time focusing on a different set of characters. This book has lots of action, but it drags, mostly because this is the set-up for the next book. Removing John Perry from the middle of the series is a jarring note, and it’s hard to understand why any of this matters till the end of the book. The payoff, of course, is that you go into the next book prepared for an epic finish.

John Scalzi. The Last Colony. (Old Man’s War)
An ending that went by too fast. The series does end on a good note, but there’s the feeling that this should have been 2 novels, instead of the one. A bunch of plot threads are left hanging on the floor, and the action doesn’t really ramp up till the end. The whole series is respectable sci-fi, but it doesn’t quite reach any high notes (not for lack of tyring). I’d recommend the series, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list.

Gardner F. Fox. Conehead.
A fairly bad book. The plot, native settlers resisting colonial incursion, is popular in sci-fi and has been done much better by other authors. Fox’s explosive output (he supposedly wrote more than 300 novels prior to his death) probably contributes to the blandness of this book…it feels like a first draft.

Jonathan Crary. 24/7.
Clearer than most academic texts tend to be, but not clear enough to be targeted at non-experts. His argument starts at the commidification of sleep and the intrusion of work into every aspect of our lives, but he loses the argument half-way through the book and never really comes back. Crary could have used a strong editor to prune the book of unnecessary references and keep it on track. The book is worth reading, but it suffers.

Jim Butcher. Cold Days. (The Dresden Files)
It just felt wrong. It feels like Butcher is starting the final act of the series, and most of the set-up here is for the final showdown. I’ll read the series to the end, but this one has Dresden off-balance, fighting friend and enemy alike, and it’s very dark.

Terry Eagleton. Across the Pond.
I don’t know what to make of this one, largely because I can’t bring myself to agree with most of it. The humor, a trademark of Eagleton’s later books, is very forced and at times offensive. His use of Henry James and Alexis de Tocqueville as guideposts to modern America is also a little forced. This is for completists only.

Drew Karpyshyn. Mass Effect: Revelation. (Mass Effect)
Only for lovers of the game. Karpyshyn was the lead writer on Mass Effect 1 and 2, and this book is chock-a-block with all the information you’ve probably already read in the extensive worldpedia included with each game. This book is the prequel to the first game, outlining how Sovereign was discovered. Again, only for people who are truly in love with the game.

Will Eisner. Star Jaws.
A fairly horrible paperback of site gags combining Star Wars and Jaws. Released just after their theatrical debuts, it’s a cash grab only. But, it’s weird seeing something from Eisner in the 70’s.

Gardner F. Fox. The Hunter Out of Time.
Pedestrian golden-age sci-fi, with a time traveling twist.

Daniel Cohen. Strange and Amazing Facts About Star Trek.
Before we had the internet or blogs, people were paid to write short books about popular subjects, and we bought them in droves at supermarkets and drug stores across North America. Nothing to write home about, but it was a fun, quick read.

Stephen Emmott. Ten Billion.
Extremely brief, as the typography pads the book out considerably, but every page is worth reading. A book on the consequences of the population explosion, this should be required reading. If you think food and gas is expensive now, you won’t believe what’s in store for us.

David Trahair. Cash Cows, Pigs and Jackpots.
Trahair is a great writer on personal finances, and I love his balanced ‘no silver bullet’ approach. While this is not the greatest news to hear, it’s better advice than most get. Covering mortgages, retirement, and basic personal finance issues, I highly recommend this.

Ben Thompson. Badass.
Quite possibly the most awesome history book you’ll ever read. An incredibly liberal set of mini-bios for some of history’s most notorious generals, warriors and, well, badasses. You’ll laugh your ass off and learn something at the same time.

Robert E. Howard. The Black Stranger and Other American Tales.
A slightly unbalanced selection of horror stories, mostly set in modern times. There are many classics, but a few rarely-reprinted pieces as well. The quality is uneven.

Antoine de St.-Exupéry. Night Flight.
A good read. He was both a civil and military aviator, and his attention to detail and strong sense of atmosphere shine through here.

Alfred Bester. The Demolished Man.
A tight police procedural with a twist ending and a sci-fi setting. Bester wrote only a few novels during his life, and bizarrely, left everything to his bartender. The Demolished Man has those gritty notes, with a retro feel. Highly recommended.

Sean Howe. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.
Very well written, covering Marvel from the very start to about 2011. Even at 400+ pages, Howe has to breeze through a lot of history, but he covers the high points well, and gives an unflinching look at how much of the creative process in a work-for-hire environment can be bankrupt. If you love comics, you’ll love this book.

David M. Ewalt. Of Dice and Men.
A very breezy introduction to Dungeons and Dragons by an unapologetic fanboy who, unfortunately, injects a little too much of himself into the book. That aside, it’s a fairly balanced history of the company, right up to the first press releases of the game’s fifth edition. A quick read…wait for the paperback.

Robert E. Howard. The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard.
Ballantine started a new ‘collected works’ of Howard in over-sized volumes, each one covering a specific area of his work. This has many of Howard’s best horror-themed stories that are set close to modern times, along with his (frankly, not that great) poetry. If you’re looking to dive in, the Ballantine re-issues will keep you reading for awhile.

Alan Light. The Holy or the Broken.
This book covers the recent rise to fame of Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, and from a purely journalistic standpoint, it excels. But I’m a fan of Cohen, going back more than 20 of my years on earth, and I was hoping for less journalism, more discussion of the song and the man. Light never seems to stop taking notes long enough to actually give a real opinion, rushing through a lot of early history, and spending the latter half of the book going over performance after performance, after performance. A good introduction, but light fare.

Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson. Minecraft.
A very breezy introduction to the phenomenon that is Minecraft, charting both the development of the game, but the rise Mojang, the European game industry, and the life of Markus Persson, Minecraft’s creator. It felt too long, and covered too many things I didn’t have much interest in. I’m sure die-hard fans of the game will love it, but it left me a little cold.

Nancy A. Collins. Magic and Loss. (Golgotham)
I was waiting for this one with bated breath. I love Collins’ horror writing, and this series got off to a great start. This third book sounds like the end of the series, though I can’t find an official announcement regarding the series stopping or continuing. Even though the end of the book felt a little rushed, do yourself a favor and pick up the whole series. If you like Jim Butcher or Patricia Briggs, you’ll love Golgotham.

Robert Bloch. Mysteries of the Worm.
These are stories set in the Cthulhu mythos, and while a few of the later stories stand out, most were written by a very young Bloch. This is probably not the best introduction to his work, but if you’re a Cthulhu fan, you’ll love it all the way through.

Stéphane Hessel. Time for Outrage.
A short political speech that didn’t really do anything for me. I’m not really sure what my expectations were going in, but it just didn’t feel right.

Michael Fairless. The Roadmender.
This short book was The Alchemist of it’s day. A book chronicling a few days in the life of a roadmender in rural England, it’s filled with simple wisdom and fairly strong on Christian mysticism. While the religious aspects of the book make it a tougher swallow today, the author’s main points on living a simple, frugal life of charity and contemplation still ring true. Written under a pseudonym of Margaret Fairless Barber, afflicted with illness and confined to a room for the great bulk of her life.

Hannah Arendt. Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview & Other Conversations. (The Last Interview)
The set of interviews collected here is a little lop-sided, and probably not showing Arendt at her best. While the book’s narrow focus on her German upbringing, response to Nazism and the Holocaust, and the founding of Israel show how her thinking evolved near the end of her life, there is much less general philosophy or politics.

Stephanie Milton. Minecraft Beginner’s Handbook.
A quick read with not much information. Bought mainly for kitsch value. There are better books out there on the game, but this one has a bit of charm to it the others lack.

Subjects

Subject 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Total
Fantasy 6 17 9 33 14 79
Science Fiction 9 0 15 25 12 61
Photography 13 29 6 4 1 53
Poetry 14 10 7 6 2 39
Politics 17 2 6 5 5 35
Philosophy 11 9 4 4 2 30
Fiction 4 10 3 0 7 24
Essays 1 6 7 1 4 19
Book Arts 7 2 5 2 2 18
Business 5 3 4 2 3 17
Literary Criticism 8 1 4 1 0 14
Interview 7 2 3 1 2 15
Computers 1 3 4 3 2 13
Religion 4 3 1 0 1 9
Biography 3 2 2 0 0 7
Art 3 0 2 2 1 8
Comics 0 0 4 0 2 6
Design 0 1 1 0 4 6
Horror 0 0 0 0 5 5
Sociology 0 4 1 0 0 5
Cooking 3 1 0 0 0 4
Quotations 1 1 2 0 0 4
Travel 3 0 0 1 0 4
Memoir 3 0 0 1 0 4
Psychology 2 1 0 0 0 3
Architecture 0 0 1 2 0 3
Games 0 0 0 0 3 3
Science 1 0 0 1 1 3
Film 1 1 0 0 0 2
Sports 0 1 1 0 0 2
History 1 0 0 0 1 2
Music 1 0 0 0 1 2
Childrens 1 0 0 0 0 1
Drama 0 1 0 0 0 1
Humor 0 1 0 0 0 1
Mystery 0 0 1 0 0 1
Military 0 0 0 1 0 1
Writing 0 0 0 1 0 1
Unsorted 1 6 0 0 0 7
Totals 117 131 93 96 75 512

Authors

Author 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Total
Robert E. Howard 0 0 0 19 9 28
Lord Dunsany 13 0 0 0 0 13
Terry Eagleton 2 5 1 2 1 11
Jim Butcher 4 1 1 4 1 11
Anonymous 2 4 1 0 0 7
Andre Norton 0 1 6 0 0 7
A. E. van Vogt 0 0 6 0 0 6
Gardner F. Fox 0 0 0 3 3 6
Isaac Asimov 0 5 0 0 0 5
Leigh Brackett 0 0 0 4 1 5
Steven Brust 1 4 0 0 0 5
Edgar Rice Burroughs 0 0 0 5 0 5
Clifford D. Simak 0 1 2 2 0 5
Patricia Briggs 2 0 1 1 1 5
John Berger 2 2 0 0 1 5
Robert Adams 1 1 1 1 0 4
Irving Layton 0 0 2 2 0 4
Simon Critchley 0 2 0 2 0 4
Henry Kuttner 0 0 0 3 1 4
Richard Kadrey 0 0 0 0 4 4
J. F. Rivkin 0 0 0 2 2 4
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