Friday, January 2, 2009

Back In The Saddle

If you like what I read and wrote about in 2008, I'm trying it again.  Follow me over to my new blog here.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wrapping It Up

Astoudingly, even to myself, I managed to read 50 books in 2008. That's an average of 4 books a month, a rather brisk clip.

Fortunately I am one of those guys that has three or four books going at once; I ended 2008 still reading Ha Jin's Under the Red Flag, David J. Schow's Gun Work, Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren, Brett Easton Ellis' Lunar Park (on audio book), and started both Cesar Millan's A Member of the Family and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight since Christmas.

Still, being conscious of having to keep reading, to read interesting books, to not re-read books, and so on, convinced me that I have already conquered this nerd summit and will look for another challenge in 2009.

In the past, for nerd extreme sports, I have done two 24 Hour Comic Book challenges, one 24 Hour Zine challenge, and participated in marathon gaming sessions at Gen Con and other places. People have asked what I will be doing as far as reading goes, and I have answered "Read Smarter."

I have been away from literature for a while, after minoring in Humanities in college, and I think I need to get back to reading some good, solid stuff again. It doesn't hurt that my wife has challenged herself to read all of the Pullitzer Prize novels, which has piqued my interest.

For the record, my top five favorite reads of 2008 were:

1. Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany

2. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

3. The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

4. The Wandering Ghost by Martin Limon

5. The Wheat Field by Steve Thayer

Though if I thought about it tomorrow I might pick three different ones; the top two will stay the same, methinks, but I also considered Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, George Axelrod's Blackmailer, Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon, Robert B. Parker's Resolution and Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care.

It was the year I knuckled down and finally read Harry Potter, the year I re-discovered Philip K. Dick and discovered Samuel R. Delany, a year of Hard Case Crime and Ace Western Doubles and morose Scandinavian mysteries.

I hope this blog gave you some ideas for your own reading list; and thanks for checking in. You can see my ongoing adventures at my regular blog.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

#50: Martian Time Slip by Philip K. Dick

I wanted to finish my 2008 reading challenge with Samuel Delany's Dhalgren to acknowledge my discovery of Delany's work this year, but I haven't finished up the chunky tome in time. However, I also sort of re-discovered Philip K. Dick this year, so it seems appropriate that I end with Martian Time-Slip.

This novel bears a lot of resemblance to a later novel of Dick's, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, that I also read this year. Both involve the hardscrabble lives of Martian colonists, with ruminations on time travel, psychology, and more. But where Eldritch was looser and more hallucinatory, Time Slip is denser, more somber, more filled with philosophical ideas. A worthwhile read, and I understand it will be part of the next Library of America edition of Dick's work.

I borrowed this from Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

#49: Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks

James Bond chases after a madman with a byzantine scheme to thwart the British Empire, and helps a lovely lady along the way, in Sebastian Faulks' bracing thriller Devil May Care.

Devil May Care is a pitch-perfect return to Bond adventures, after a hiatus, released to celebrate Ian Fleming's 100th birthday. Whereas the Bond adventures of John Gardner and Raymond Benson took place in the modern era, Faulks picks up exactly where Fleming left off in the swinging 60s.

And Faulks has all of the details right (at least the ones I can remember, being hooked on the originals around my middle school era) from Bond's "salt and pepper" showers to his favorite drinks and weapons. Naturally, Bond squares off against a strange bad guy with a deformity (in this case, a monkey's hand) with an equally strange henchman (in this case, a Viet Cong torturer called Chagrin).

I found this one thoroughly enjoyable throughout and hope that Faulks writes further Bond novels. Recommended for fans.

I borrowed this one from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Friday, December 19, 2008

#48: No House Limit by Steve Fisher

Chilly little character study, in the addictive Hard Case Crime pulp paperback series, features an independent casino owner in the early days of Las Vegas who runs up against the mob and, when he doesn't back down, finds himself beseiged by a famous gambler backed by mysterious forces.

Author Steve Fisher is probably best known for the definitive noir I Wake Up Screaming (a favorite of mine), but he was a busy writer and I always enjoy his pulp stories when I come across them. This one draws a distinct portrait of that era in Vegas and includes several characters based on real people. A satisfying read throughout, with some really adept writing.

I bought this one in a mighty swoop of Hard Case Crime with a gift certificate that, I think, I either got for my birthday or anniversary. A nice compliment to the Hard Case Crime series.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

#47: Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

Skin-crawling horror about a young woman, living with her husband's family in a close-knit island community, whose artistic abilities come to life with ominous consequences.

After having my brain flayed by Chuck Palahniuk's latest, Snuff, I went right back to the Kool-Aid bowl for more. This outing surprised me by being more subdued than the last one I read, though with plenty of surprises. Palahniuk is a clever writer, fashioning an interesting epistolary novel focused on a "coma diary" that the protagonist writes to her unconscious husband, who narrowly survived a suicide attempt. The storytelling is creepy-crawly thoughout, with a surprising denouement. Despite my earlier misgivings, I have enjoyed both Palahniuk novels I have read to date.

Diary compares favorably to Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby with a splash of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper and a whiff of the original British film version of The Wicker Man. If this sends a chill up your spine, by all means go looking for this one.

I listened to a very good audiobook version read by Martha Plimpton that I checked out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

#46: Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

Dark-humored tale by cult writer Chuck Palahniuk features three actors preparing to participate in a historic porn shoot, gradually revealing their interesting backstories through conflicting perspectives.

I couldn't decide if I was too old or too young to read this aggressively outlandish, adult story featuring rape, incest, child molesting, murder, suicide, and not one but two unlikely incidents of corpses being sexed back into life.

That being said, I liked Palahniuk's writing style, and he is briming with ideas. I could see how he has drawn such a following from Fight Club forward, and I would--cautiously--approach another of his novels. Interesting for (very discriminating) readers.

I listened to a good audio book version on loan from Morrison-Reeves Library. I kept it under a towel on the back seat in case anybody glimpsed the cover through the windshield!

Friday, October 31, 2008

#45: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Next-to-last in the Harry Potter series (as read by possibly the last person on Earth to read it) focuses less on the scholastic goings-on at the academically suspect Hogwarts than on the ongoing battle against Lord Voldemort and the Death-Eaters, who have pledged to destroy our teen protagonist. This outing also spends a lot of time in a parallel story with Harry and his mentor, the wizard Dumbledore, exploring the mysteries of Voldemort's upbringing.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, despite its length, is a fast and entertaining read; I laughed out loud in several places, and continually enjoyed how Rowling plucked at threads from all the other books in the series. It was so much fun, in fact, that it wasn't until about three-fourths of the way through that I realized that nothing much had happened at all. The last quarter is an explosive battle royale with a fairly surprising body count, including one of the major characters (one of my favorites, who I hope appears as a ghost or in flashbacks or something in the last book, or I fear a loss of steam).

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana, in the excellent audio book series by the incomparable Jim Dale.

Monday, October 27, 2008

#44: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

A British Navy captain engages in a skirmish with one of Napoleon's ships and ends up capturing a coveted Dragon's egg. Before he knows it, the dragon hatches and bonds to him, and our loyal captain finds himself reluctantly joining England's Aerial Corps, where he brings a bit of spit and polish to the rank and file while deepening his friendship to his unique ward.

Absolutely engaging and entertaining first novel in a series by Naomi Novik is touted as being a little bit Christopher Paolini meets Jane Austen, but I think (for genre fans) a more nuanced comparison would be Anne McCaffrey meets Patrick O'Brian. His Majesty's Dragon sports a fully-realized fantasy world with interesting historic trappings.

I bought this one for a shiny quarter at a library book sale but immediately went out and bought the second one with a Books A Million gift card my wife gave me for our anniversary. I haven't had a chance to start it yet, though, because my mother tore through the first one and snatched the second out of my hand.

Recommended for genre fans.

Monday, October 20, 2008

#43: Priest by Ken Bruen

Relentlessly downbeat noir from Irish writer Ken Bruen picks up where he left off with highly tarnished detective Jack Taylor at the end of The Dramatist; coming back from a nervous breakdown after accidentally contributing to the death of a child in his care.

Things don't get much rosier from there, as Jack starts to look into the beheading of a pedophile priest and tries to help a friend with a stalker, all the while struggling against alcoholism.

Fairly rough pavement, as one might suspect, but Bruen writes in a dark-humored vein favorably reminiscient of Roddy Doyle, if the author of The Snapper and The Commitments were to turn to hard-boiled detective fiction. But I enjoy Bruen's style and plotting, right up to another punch-in-the-gut finale, and would recommend him to readers who think the Hard Case Crime series is too light and cheery.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana, and read it at a good clip.