I did this last year, and I wanted to keep up this annual tradition (of one year). However, I’m going to try and add a little more commentary this time.
They are pretty much in the order I read them, and not in the order I would rate them.
Without further ado…
- On Writing by Stephen King
- As I mentioned in my post last year, I finished out last year reading this book. Really interesting book, but if you’re in a hurry to get to the advice, you’ll be disappointed. The first half or so is heavier on memoir writing, dealing with Mr. King’s childhood. But on the other hand, it was a very interesting childhood indeed…All in all, it’s definitely worth reading if you’re an aspiring writer or a Stephen King fan. But there is one more writing book on this list I would recommend even more highly…
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
- In a lot of ways this book was kind of what I was expecting, and in that sense, it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed reading about Ms. Kaling’s past and her adventures, especially when she was working with her friend on writing scripts together before she worked for The Office. It was really charming how they put on plays with them as Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and very smart advice to play to their strengths and use what they already find fun and share it with people. The biggest downside for me though, especially living as I was/am, was reading about her more shallow side, and the parts along the lines of, ‘who can’t afford $40 for a pair of nice shoes?!’ Those sections kind of rubbed me the wrong way. But that is a small part of the book, and overall I enjoyed it.
- Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness by Jeffrey Tayler
- I pretty much blogged about what I thought of this book already and the (dark) discoveries it led me to, so I’m going to point you to that post instead.
- The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
- I probably would have never discovered this book had Patrick Rothfuss not rated it so very highly. Once he said it was the best book he’d read all year, I knew it would not disappoint, so I bought it. Honestly he tells it better than I do, but I agree that pretty much everyone should read this book. I wish I had read it when I was younger. You can read Mr. Rothfuss’ review here. As he says, “Read it. Read it ten times.”
- Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy in America After the End of the Civil War by Pete Earley
- If you think after reading the title that you’re going to essentially be reading about James Bond…you will be disappointed. This isn’t an adventure story. It is nonfiction, written based on repeated interviews with a major Russian spy that had defected to the United States. I found it very interesting, but it does drag on in some areas, and the resolution is a little lacking, with some pieces of the story unable to be told. However, if you’re realistic about this book and don’t expect high-flying, gun-toting mayhem, it’s pretty enlightening about the actual life of a spy. Also kind of shocking reading about the known headquarters of spies on either side…
- Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
- A relief from the three super long titles, isn’t it? As usual with Vonnegut, the book is never about what I think it’s going to be about. In this case the child of refugee parents (though that’s almost a footnote of the book). That child is now old and living pretty much isolated except for a few people that work for him but hate him, until Circe comes along…a beautiful woman who is extra mean to him and determined to find out what he’s hiding in the barn. This book was a quick read, but I still find it hard to say for sure if I liked it or not, and mostly that has to do with the female characters. Circe was insufferable (shh I know, on purpose), and Marilee was so…acquiescent about all the horrible things done to her that it was infuriating. But I should have trusted Vonnegut, because it all changes with one of my favorite passages from any of his books, one of my favorite passages I’ve read in a long time from any book, and it comes from Marilee of all people. Don’t want to spoil it more than that – but read it and let me know what you think.
- The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
- Another book that fate sent me, as it were. One of my best friends had recommended it to me earlier this year, because she had to read it for a science class and found it fascinating. The title alone intrigued me, and while I intended to look it up later, it got lost in priority among all the books with me in Pennsylvania that I have yet to read. Then a few months later I visited my family in Wisconsin and my sister had bought it for one of her English classes. In addition to remembering the praises my friend had given the book, I really liked the fact that it was assigned to both a science and an English class. I asked my sister if I could read it, and since she needed it for a class that semester she said I could as long as I finished it before I went back to PA. I did. I highly recommend this book, especially to those that may not have read much nonfiction before. It’s about a less-than-pleasant subject, a cholera in outbreak in England, but the way it’s written is clever and it keeps its page-turning feel despite the knowledge that you could simply Google what happened. But if you Googled it you probably wouldn’t read much further than the death totals and the outcomes, which isn’t really what this book is about. It’s more about how the solution came about, how a scientist and a priest worked together to overcome the accepted ‘knowledge’ of that time, and how it can be applied to present day. That last part is where the book loses some of its footing and almost tries to become a different book, but it’s worth reading just the same. Definitely worth a read.
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
- I cannot seem to spell the author’s name right for the life of me. I always want to add an ‘n’ in there. Anyway, if you have ever thought of wanting to be a writer, you should read this book. It’s ridiculously good and inspiring. I wish I had my copy here with me now to help me get out of my current funk. I think I originally read it because Felicia Day had mentioned much the same thing, and like with Stephen King’s book, once I read that she had mentioned this book I started seeing other people mention it. They are all right, all of them. Get. This. Book. It’s not often I can say things in absolutes, but this book is better than any other book on writing that I’ve read.
- Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
- I probably say this every time, but this book is unlike any other Vonnegut. Those other times I’m probably lying (lies), but this one is truly unique in that it’s the most straightforward fiction book I think I’ve ever read by him. In regards to style, the narrative is much simpler than usual (though the main character is not), and it’s the only Vonnegut book I’ve ever read that I can imagine being turned into a movie and having it turn out well. The narrative voice of the others are too strong and chatty and important to the novel for the big screen. This book is told through the eyes of Howard J. Campbell, who has found himself on trial in Israel for being a Nazi war criminal. *minor spoilers* You quickly find out he was working on a Nazi radio station, broadcasting hatespeech in a reportedly elegant fashion, while at the same time, unknownst to the general public and without understanding what he was saying himself, broadcasting signals to the American spies listening. But was he doing more good as a spy, or more evil as a broadcaster convincing people that the cause of the Nazis was a just one? Do you become what you pretend to me? This was a really interesting book, but ah! The ending.
- — I took a break here for a couple months to study for the JLPT, and only allowed myself to read in Japanese, so I talk about the books I read in this interim later as part of a post about studying for the JLPT. —
- Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegt
- Woo boy. I knew going in that this was probably a competitor for Slaughterhouse V in terms of popularity, so I knew it would be good. But, I had no idea what it was going to be about. I had tried to read it once and it was sort of taken from me before I could read it (someone I thought was part of my karass but maybe actually part of a granfalloon). Anyway, this book was…I really don’t know what I can say about it. It’s so many things. How do I talk about anything without talking about all of it? It starts off being about John or Jonah (call me Ishmael), and his quest to write a book about one of the scientists who created the atom bomb and who he discovers along that journey, namely the scientist’s family. But that doesn’t really do the story justice. I loved parts of the book, I hated others, I laughed, I shook my fist angrily…you know what? It’s really short. All the chapters are almost 1-2 pages long. Just read it, and let me know what you think. It’s worth your time and your brainspace. It is not what you think it is.
- Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
- Yuuki got me a box collection containing three of Neil Gaiman’s children’s books with art by Chris Riddell for Christmas. After reading Cat’s Cradle, I needed something a little on the fluff side. This was the shortest of the three of them (the other two being Coraline and The Graveyard Book) so I read it the same night I finished Cat’s Cradle. It gets a little confusing as the story shifts from the ‘I’ narrator of the son to the ‘I’ narrator of the father telling his kids what happened, but overall it’s a really fun story involving dinosaurs, aliens, pirates, vampires, ponies, and a volcano. I can’t wait to read this to my little brother when I go back home to Wisconsin.
Currently I am reading The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz. But I am literally on page two so it wouldn’t really be fair to offer up an opinion at this time.
What do your 2015 lists look like?