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2014: A Year in Reading

January 2, 2015

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 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

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, along with my Most Read Authors list.

This was also the first year I started seriously using my Kobo Touch for reading, and about a dozen or so titles below were read digitally.

The books

Arranged in alphabetical order, with series or imprints in parantheses.

Monte Beauchamp. Popular Skullture.

A great collection of vintage pulp, paperbacks and comic books featuring the skull motif. A great companion to some of the recent art books featuring art from the period.

Ken Binmore. Game Theory. (A Very Short Introduction)

Not very satisfying. This moved so quickly through subjects that is was difficult to follow the arguments.

Werner Bishcof. Werner Bishcof. (Thames & Hudson Photofile)

Jorge Luis Borges. Jorge Luis Borges: The Last Interview & Other Conversations. (The Last Interview)

The core of this book is an interview with Richard Burgin that really shines. Borges is one of the great conversationalists, and the whole book is suffused with his wit and almost encyclopedic knowledge. Highly recommended, and one of the stand-outs from The Last Interview series.

Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman. The Dude and the Zen Master.

I really wanted to like this one, but I couldn’t really get into it. It kinda fell back into a lot of wrote and basic notions of zen, and the anecdotes didn’t really ring true. While both Bridges and Glassman are truly great men, there wasn’t much in the way of new thinking on zen here.

Patricia Briggs. Frost Burned. (Mercy Thompson)

This has always been a well-paced series of quick but durable reads, but the latest installment picks up the pace and gives you a great story. Briggs has kept the series and the characters evolving, and Frost Burned ups the ante while giving Mercy a bigger role. Many favorite characters from past books return, and while the end isn’t in sight, I’m beginning to sense the series is over the half-way mark. Great urban fantasy with few off-key notes.

Warren Ellis. Gun Machine.

Ellis’ penchant for inventive profanity and truly bizarre characters is in full display here, but the story doesn’t deliver on its promise. A quick, entertaining read, nonetheless.

Nick Farwell. Minecraft: Redstone Handbook.

A sequel to the Beginner’s Handbook, this is all about Redstone and it’s various uses. Still too slight to be really useful, it nonetheless complements the first book well.

Brad Frost. Atomic Design.

Robert E. Howard. Beyond the Black River. (The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard)

More blood and guts from Howard, with many long Conan stories. The pace is swift, the action bloody and intense, but you’ll have to slog through the prejudices of an earlier age in spots.

Robert E. Howard. Conan: People of the Black Circle. (Conan)

A collection of classic Conan stories.

Robert E. Howard. People of the Dark. (The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard)

This series was issued twice, once in paperback and once in trade, both by different publishers who changed the order of the stories. This is the paperback issue, containing many classic Howard tales at his peak, all from Weird Tales magazine. This is why Howard is considered the founder of sword-and-sorcery, and one of the kings of the pulps. Non-stop action and chills. Plus, Conan!

Robert E. Howard. Skull-Face.

Aside from the notable title story, this is a collection of mostly pulp stories with the same villain, modeled after Fu Manchu. It’s not the greatest collection of Howard stories, but filled with action, nonetheless.

Robert E. Howard. The Road to Azrael.

Straight historical adventures from the author of Conan. Dry in many spots, this isn’t his best fiction. The pace is solid, but it’s missing some of the flair of the Conan/Kull tales. Not the best place to start with Howard.

Robert E. Howard. The She Devil.

Believe it or not, this is Howard’s porn. Most of the stories were originally featured in Spicy-Adventure Stories, a saucy pulp rag back in the 1930’s. While there’s no real porn in these, the stories have a breakneck pace. Fair warning: the treatment of women in these stories is horrible, with a lot of rape and torture. Indicative of it’s day, it isn’t easy reading now.

Foster Huntington. The Burning House.

This started as a blog and eventually became a book. Contributors were asked a question: if your house was on fire, what would you grab on the way out? The answers range the gamut of human emotions, needs, and wants. A truly international book with contributors from almost every continent and walk of life, I loved it. Every answer was subjective, and some of the photos will choke you up.

Alex Irvine. Marvel Vehicles: Haynes Owner’s Workshop Manual. (Haynes Owner’s Workshop Manual)

This isn’t as satisfying as Eliot Brown’s Handbook of the Marvel Universe work, but it has a lot of colourful anecdotes, and covers more recent vehicles. While it doesn’t provide any type of detail, it’s still a fun book.

K. W. Jeter. Real Dangerous Girl.

This was a dud for me. It took way too long to get started, and I couldn’t find a likable character. Your mileage may vary.

Richard Kadrey. Devil in the Dollhouse. (Sandman Slim)

A short story set in between novels, this is a ‘lost’ story of Stark in hell. Great, quick read.

Richard Kadrey. Kill City Blues. (Sandman Slim)

Sandman Slim’s growing up. While this book had it’s characteristic noir violence and dark humor, the characters are beginning to move away from the ‘shoot first and just keep shooting’ attitude that permeates the previous books. The stakes are raised, but so are the heroes. Kadrey is starting the set-up for the final run of the series (imho), and it sound like Slim is going to go out dragging half of hell with him.

Richard Kadrey. The Getaway God. (Sandman Slim)

It’s hard not to look at this as the end of the series. It’s definitely the end of the first arc of the Sandman Slim saga, if more books are forthcoming. I’m not sure if it’s the best ending, but it is epic and satisfying, nonetheless. Most of the plot lines are tied up, with a few loose dangling threads to push a new arc forward. Kadrey’s signature horror, black humor, and endlessly inventive profanity are on full display here.

Paul Krugman, George Papandreou, Newt Gingrich and Arthur B. Laffer. Should We Tax the Rich More?: The Munk Debate on Economic Inequality. (Munk Debates)

An engaging debate regarding the state of income inequality, Krugman/Papandreou arguing for more taxation and Gingrich/Laffer arguing for less. I’m biased in favor of Krugman’s arguments, but both sides came out swinging.

Henry Kuttner. The Mask of Circe.

A sci-fi re-imagining of the legend of Jason. Surprisingly good mix of time travel, genetic memory, alternate dimensions, and romance.

Tim Leong. Super Graphic.

A book of infographics covering comic books. If you’re familiar with the source material, the book is a lot of fun. However, many of the graphics are played for jokes alone. Based on a series of blog postings, I was hoping the book would have less obviously joke charts, and more based around actual data collection. While it’s a fun read, it didn’t add any more substance than the blog postings.

A. Lee Martinez. A Nameless Witch.

Understated humor, a great heroine, and a love story with a twist. Martinez’s twists on traditional fantasy tropes is fresh and unique, and his interest in characters over the mechanics of magic keeps the story moving. Not a fully-realized world, but there’s enough here to keep the story coherent.

A. Lee Martinez. Chasing the Moon.

This one didn’t ring true for me. The humor and characterization was there, but the story didn’t really convince me. An important part of fantasy is keeping the rules of your made-up world consistent, and that didn’t seem to happen here. I also think the book was a little overloaded with too much cast and too much strangeness for the sake of strangeness. Martinez is a great author, but you’d be better to pick up his other books before this.

A. Lee Martinez. Gil’s All Fright Diner.

A great read, funny as hell. It’s difficult to describe this one without spoilers, but if you like urban fantasy, this is a must-read.

A. Lee Martinez. In the Company of Ogres.

Martinez continually roots for the underdog, and Never Dead Ned is a true underdog. The twists and turns are not exactly new, but Martinez gives them all a fresh take. All the characters are fully fleshed out, and the constant bickering camaraderie is reminiscent of an old episode of M*A*S*H. It’s a good book.

A. Lee Martinez. Too Many Curses.

This is a good book, but there are a few false notes. Making the heroine the housekeeping kobold kept the story anchored. The humor is understated, and Nessy will grow on you.

Joe McKinney. Plague of the Undead.

On the surface, it’s just another zombie novel. But under the hood, McKinney relies on his real-world work in disaster mitigation and police training to deliver a realistic survival tale. On top of that, he adds some science-fiction notes to what is essentially, an action novel. It’s a quick read with a solid ending.

Rod McKuen. Seasons in the Sun.

I’ve seen McKuen poetry books in used bookstores for decades, and finally I had to pick a few up to satisfy my curiosity. This is sort of like reading a Hallmark version of Bukowski…not quite raw enough, but the honesty is there. There honestly isn’t enough here of quality to justify a full paperback.

Rod McKuen. Too Many Midnights.

Probably the last McKuen I’ll be slogging through. While there’s a degree of honesty here, not enough poems rise to the quality level needed to carry a full book.

Shawn Micallef. The Trouble with Brunch.

A series of inter-connected essays examining class from the perspective of brunch. I’m not sure if there’s much to see here. Micallef raises some interesting points, but the book only skims the surface; there isn’t any deep insight here.

Megan Miller. Minecraft Hacks.

Another beginner’s book. I’m addicted. This is about the same as most other books on the subject, but you’ll find the screenshots badly reproduced, and the recipes aren’t shown, only described. Like many other Minecraft books, this one is a few versions behind the game. Depending on what you want out the game, this may or may not be for you.

Megan Miller. Minecraft Hacks: Master Builder.

These are quick reads. If you don’t have any other Minecraft books to rely on, then it’s ok. But I’m not sure the brevity justifies the price tag.

Stephanie Milton. Minecraft: Combat Handbook.

Continuing Mojang’s series of tutorials on all things Minecraft. I typically give these books a low review because they are very slight. But this is intentional, as they are meant for a younger audience. The combat book focuses on mobs and pvp, and covers the basics well.

Matthew Needler and Phil Southam. Minecraft: Construction Handbook.

If you buy only one of the Mojang Minecraft strategy guides, this is the one. Covers a wide variety of structures, from simple to advanced. It doesn’t provide every single step required, but a good overview is provided with variations. Everyone playing survival will need to build multiple shelters, and this lets you do it in style.

Andrew O’Brien. Little Book of Video Games.

Stay away. While some of it is well-written, it’s full of typos, bad formatting and the like. Obviously a first effort with little to no quality control.

Dylan Richard. Learning from First Responders: When Your Systems Have to Work.

Ben Robinson and Marcus Riley. U.S.S. Enterprise: Haynes Owner’s Workshop Manual. (Haynes Owner’s Workshop Manual)

Not as in-depth as Okuda and Sternbach’s original guide to the Enterprise-D, but it covers all Star Trek ships that had the name. It’s a fun book, and stands as a good companion to the original.

Richard Rosenbaum. Raise Some Shell.

A good history of the entire Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon, from the very beginning to the present day. The author is an unabashed fan, and his personal asides can be both annoying and charming. For both die-hard fans and those wondering what all the fuss is about.

Douglas Rushkoff. Program or be Programmed.

While this is a good general discussion of computer trends and literacy, it left me a little cold. While I think he has a generally good handle on his topic, I think he’s wrong about many specific points. Rushkoff is rooted in the computer culture that matured on the west coast long before the home computer revolution really took off, and that culture is reflected here as what computer culture ought to be everywhere, which it isn’t. I think it’s worth a read as a general introduction, but I wouldn’t stop here. There’s a worthwhile list of references at the end that helps round out the book.

Maurice Nathan Saatchi. Brutal Simplicity of Thought.

Not very useful. Supposedly a training manual for Saatchi employees, it said virtually nothing, and most of the insights were very tired retreads of folk knowledge and various maxims. Don’t waste time on this one.

Safari Content Team. .NET Bibliography.

Safari Content Team. Coding Bibliography.

Safari Content Team. Linux Bibliography.

Safari Content Team. Microsoft Enterprise Bibliography.

Safari Content Team. Software Testing Bibliography.

John Scalzi. Redshirts.

I don’t know what to say, other than, for me, this was pretty bad. It’s well-written, and the plot moves along, but it just left me cold. While the general premise is good, it just didn’t hold my interest. Your mileage may vary.

Will Shetterly. Cats Have No Lord.

Respectable fantasy fare. The characters are vivid, but the plot is sluggish and the locale a little cut-and-paste. Read it for the characters. This is connected to The Tangled Lands, which I believe is a odd type of sequel.

Will Shetterly. How to Make a Social Justice Warrior: On Identitarianism, Intersectionality, Mobbing, Racefail, and Failfans 2005-2014.

I had mixed feelings going through this. Shetterly doesn’t shy away from his own mistakes, noting his biases and what he feels he’s done wrong. He also blasts away at many people, without holding back. Having missed most of the events he describes, it’s difficult to know who’s right or wrong. But he makes a convincing, articulate argument for why the social justice movement is failing to bridge divides and present a cohesive counterpoint to the right. You will walk away loving or hating it, but you will be forced to think.

Simon St.Laurent. The Web Platform: Building a Solid Stack of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Dennis Stone. A Life at the Airport: A Heathrow Photographer.

A collection of celebrity shots with commentary. There are some great shots, and some bad ones. The commentary by Stone on his process and years at the airport elevate this from being simply a collection of newspaper headline shots to something interesting.

Mandi Walls. Building a DevOps Culture.

Chuck Wendig. Blackbirds. (Miriam Black)

I’m not quite sure what to make of this one. Miriam is a foul-mouthed young psychic trying desperately to avoid her power, seeing the death of everyone she touches. Revealing the rest of the book is too many spoilers, but if you like Kadrey, you’ll probably like this. It’s a fast read, but I found it didn’t quite end as well as I would have liked.

Chuck Wendig. Mockingbird. (Miriam Black)

The second book in the series starts to bring the central character into focus, but still leaves a lot to be desired. I will probably read the third book, to complete it, but the pace is slow. There are a lot of good ideas in here, but the Mookie Pearl books are by far the superior series by Wendig.

Chuck Wendig. The Blue Blazes. (Mookie Pearl)

Hard-boiled prose, a convincing world, and full-realized characters combine in this explosive fantasy noir. Think Sin City meets Harry Dresden. This was hard to put down.

Chuck Wendig. Unclean Spirits. (Gods and Monsters)

Wendig wrote this as part of a shared world series, and the lack of commitment shows. Everything is there, but somehow nothing really clicks into the sharp focus you get with the Mookie Pearl or Miriam Black series. Many others have noted that the concept (every god there ever was exists and they’re fighting a secret war in the present) is a bit tired at this point. This is for completists only.

Adam Wiggins. The Twelve-Factor App.

Slavoj Žižek. Žižek’s Jokes.

A hodge-podge of humor quotes from various published and non-published works. It’s lop-sided, and doesn’t show off Zizek to his advantage. Too many of the jokes required a set-up that wasn’t printed in the book for lack of space. Not really worth it, despite there being a few choice zingers.

Subjects

As per previous years, here are all the subjects I have in my personal database, and how they reflected in this year’s reading.

Subject 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Total
Fantasy 6 17 9 33 14 13 92
Science Fiction 9 0 15 25 12 4 65
Photography 13 29 6 4 1 2 55
Poetry 14 10 7 6 2 2 41
Politics 17 2 6 5 5 1 36
Philosophy 11 9 4 4 2 2 32
Fiction 4 10 3 0 7 2 26
Computers 1 3 4 3 2 11 24
Essays 1 6 7 1 4 2 21
Book Arts 7 2 5 2 2 0 18
Business 5 3 4 2 3 1 18
Interview 7 2 3 1 2 1 16
Literary Criticism 8 1 4 1 0 0 14
Horror 0 0 0 0 5 8 13
Games 0 0 0 0 3 7 10
Religion 4 3 1 0 1 0 9
Art 3 0 2 2 1 1 9
Biography 3 2 2 0 0 0 7
Design 0 1 1 0 4 1 7
Comics 0 0 4 0 2 0 6
Sociology 0 4 1 0 0 1 6
Memoir 3 0 0 1 0 1 5
Cooking 3 1 0 0 0 0 4
Quotations 1 1 2 0 0 0 4
Travel 3 0 0 1 0 0 4
Psychology 2 1 0 0 0 0 3
Architecture 0 0 1 2 0 0 3
Science 1 0 0 1 1 0 3
Film 1 1 0 0 0 0 2
Sports 0 1 1 0 0 0 2
History 1 0 0 0 1 0 2
Music 1 0 0 0 1 0 2
Childrens 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
Drama 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Humor 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Mystery 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
Military 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
Writing 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
Unsorted 1 6 0 0 0 0 7
Totals 117 131 93 96 75 60 572

Authors

A few new authors on the most-read list, as well.

Author 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Total
Robert E. Howard 0 0 0 19 9 6 34
Lord Dunsany 13 0 0 0 0 0 13
Terry Eagleton 2 5 1 2 1 0 11
Jim Butcher 4 1 1 4 1 0 11
Anonymous 2 4 1 0 0 0 7
Andre Norton 0 1 6 0 0 0 7
Richard Kadrey 0 0 0 0 4 3 7
A. E. van Vogt 0 0 6 0 0 0 6
Gardner F. Fox 0 0 0 3 3 0 6
Patricia Briggs 2 0 1 1 1 1 6
Isaac Asimov 0 5 0 0 0 0 5
Leigh Brackett 0 0 0 4 1 0 5
Steven Brust 1 4 0 0 0 0 5
Edgar Rice Burroughs 0 0 0 5 0 0 5
Clifford D. Simak 0 1 2 2 0 0 5
John Berger 2 2 0 0 1 0 5
Henry Kuttner 0 0 0 3 1 1 5
A. Lee Martinez 0 0 0 0 0 5 5
Robert Adams 1 1 1 1 0 0 4
Irving Layton 0 0 2 2 0 0 4
Simon Critchley 0 2 0 2 0 0 4
J. F. Rivkin 0 0 0 2 2 0 4
John Scalzi 0 0 0 0 3 1 4
Chuck Wendig 0 0 0 0 0 4 4
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. thereisagift permalink
    January 3, 2015 6:03 pm

    Stopped reading as soon as the CSS/JS snow started falling…

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  1. 2016/2015 : 2 Years in Reading | Ramblebramble's Weblog

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