Sunday, January 4, 2009

52 pickup

For the third year in a row one of my New Year's Resolutions is to read a book a week this year. They don't actually have to fall within the week itself, but by the end of the year I should have at least 52.

So far, I haven't made it. This saddens me, because I've always thought of myself as a reader. In high school I always had a book in my bag in case I got bored, and it was the same in college. I was always reading books of my own on top of the reading load that an English major carried, but now I feel like I've slowed down. For 2007, my tally was 49 out of 52, and for 2008 I only managed 44. I realize 44 books is still a lot compared to some people I know (and have dated) who proudly boast that they only read magazines, but I feel like I can do better.

In any case, here are the 44 books I read this year, in case anyone cares:

1: James Othmer's The Futurist was funny, but not as funny as the cover said it would be.

2: John Grisham's Playing for Pizza was lighthearted.

3: Douglas Coupland's Generation X was vaguely unfocused and drifting, like the subject matter.

4: Lance Bass' Out of Sync was so laughably terrible that I'm convinced he wrote the entire thing himself. After I finished it, the book spent a year circulating through our department so everyone could read it and laugh at it. Not only was the writing terrible, but the words were so big that I thought I got the large print edition by accident. It looks like he stayed up all night writing a term paper and thinking, "It has to be 180 pages. I know! Triple spaced 16 point font!"

5: Max Brooks' World War Z was pretty entertaining.

6: Todd Gregory's Every Frat Boy Wants It was a gift from a friend who thought it would amuse me, and she was right. It was amusing as hell. Apparently what every frat boy wants is to be behind a closed door in the frat house with another frat boy, pair of frat boys, pledge master, mailman, water polo player, or some combination of the above, so that they can engage in acrobatic, borderline painful-sounding sexual contortions. The worst part of all of this, other than the book itself, was that in April I forgot to send back the response card for my gay book club, and this was the main selection. That means I had it in paperback and hardcover, before both copies took a trip to the used bookstore.

7: Dean Koontz's Brother Odd was pretty entertaining.

8: Alan Weisman's The World Without Us was an entertaining, though provoking exploration of the artifacts humans will leave behind. Mt. Rushmore, which I had a chance to see as a child but did not get to because my parents went to the Cabella's super-store instead, will apparently last forever.

9: Stephen King's Blaze was a shameless attempt at emotional manipulation from an author with all the emotional subtlety of Homer Simpson.

10: James St. James' Freak Show was a decent plot about a gay-bashed teen who fights back by running for homecoming queen that was derailed by an overblown, pretentiously annoying effected writing style.

11: Carol Higgins Clark's Hitched revealed the author coasting on her mother's name even more than usual.

12: Daniel Golden's The Price of Admission kept filling me with rage and making me have to put it down. It's an investigation of how the "ruling class" of America buys their children's way into elite colleges, but it was also a reminder of the moments at my job where I have to skip someone ahead of 300 other students on the waiting list for a certain building because their mom is the alumni association president or we named the street behind the baseball field after their grandfather.

13: Cecily von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl was so vacantly plotless that I can't believe they found enough in it to make such a good TV show.

14: David Hajdu's The Ten Cent Plague was probably the best book I read this year. It was a good, well researched book, but it's always disturbing to read about how the media and the government piled onto a problem and stifled dissent and America's people blindly followed along based on no evidence, because it reminds you that even though this was half a century ago nothing, really, has changed.

15: Lincoln Child's Deep Storm was nicely diverting on my summer vacation.

16: Sam Staggs' All About "All About Eve" was a good book about a movie I love, and makes watching the movie even more fun.

17: Ray Bradbury's Let's All Kill Constance was not his best work.

18: Clive Barker's Mister B. Gone seems widely hated by the Amazon reviewers, but I found it sad and kind of touching despite the flaws. Unrequited love does that to me, I guess.

19: Peter Sagal's The Book of Vice was a good idea that I've seen other authors execute in a more entertaining fashion.

20: Douglas Coupland's JPod was grating and annoying to read.

21: Peter Cameron's Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You was good, but ground to a halt as if he had no ending in mind.

22: Christopher Rice's Blind Fall had a coherent plotline, an actual ending, and appeared to have been edited, so it was a shocking departure from his other work.

23: Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion was good, but I probably think that because I agree with most of it.

24: Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise was a sad, moving book, made more so by the story of the author. I found it really hard to separate my feelings for the book from my feelings for the author's tragedy, knowing that the things she was writing about as fiction were things she was experiencing at the same time around her while she was writing.

25: Kevin Anderson's The Last Days of Krypton added new layers of hubris to a familiar tragic story. It was a little light on actual science, but, you know, it's a novel based on a comic book written in the 1930's, so that could be expected.

26: Timothy Callahan's Teenagers from the Future was awesome, because it was a series of scholarly essays on my favorite comic book, the Legion of Superheroes. There are essays dealing with artistic styles, sexism, homophobia, feminism, drug abuse, racism, morality and ethical decision making, the dangers of technology, post-adolescent rebellion, fashion, and other topics, but it's probably not as accessible or enjoyable for a non-fan.

27: Mark Moran's Weird US The ODDyssey Continues was highly entertaining, and is the book that sent me on the road trip to the Giant Ten Commandments. That, alone, makes it worth it.

28: Gregory Maguire's A Lion Among Men was the second sequel to Wicked, and continues to water down a good book with mediocre followups.

29: Charles Mann's 1491 was a well written, well researched book offering a new look at life in the Americas before Columbus, but was lacking in a few geographical areas. It mainly focuses on South America, with side chapters on New England and the Mississippi delta, but pretty much ignores the American west, northwest, and arctic regions. Weren't those people doing anything interesting before Columbus showed up?

30-36: C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, which, even though I knew it was a Christian allegory, still managed to surprise me at the end. Skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to be spoiled (if anyone is even still reading this list), but at the end of the last book all the kids get to stay in Narnia forever because there is a terrible train accident in London and they all die. And they cheer about this. Aslan is like, "You get to stay in Narnia forever, because you're all dead!" and the kids are all, "YAY!" Seriously, what the hell?

37: Preston and Child's The Wheel of Darkness is another decent thriller starring their superhuman FBI agent. It's time to retire that character.

38: Carol Goodman's The Night Villa was pretty good.

39: Stephen King's Duma Key was long without feeling bloated, but like so much of his recent work seems to be cannibalizing from his older stories. Imagine if Bag of Bones was about a painter instead of an author.

40: Stephenie Meyer's Twilight was pretty bad. It reads like the author's personal platonic love fantasy with the added bonus of having absolutely no action. The whole book builds up to this big fight, and then she doesn't show the fight because the first person narrator gets knocked out! She wakes up, and they're like, "Well, the fight's over. Everything's fine!"

41: John Grisham's The Appeal was pretty standard John Grisham.

42: Rob Rogers' Devil's Cape was entertaining, but starts off slow.

43: John Saul's The Devil's Labyrinth reads like someone gave him a checklist of topics and fun words, and he just shrugged and said, "I'll write a book with that."

44: Jeff Hobbs' The Tourists was a load of overhyped crap. He's trying just as hard to be Brett Easton Ellis as Marisha Pessl was to be Donna Tartt.

Reading this over, I've noticed I use the word "pretty" a lot, and contextually it's kind of useless. I think I'll add a resolution to stop doing that.


Donna said...

Last year I started a book journal to keep track of the books I read. I think I stopped journaling at 3, although I'm sure I read more than 52 books throughout the year.

I read 3 of the books on your list. And there are a few more on there that I won't read based on your thoughts ;)

Hannah Furst said...

I recently read your post about Irène Némirovsky and wanted to let you know about an exciting new exhibition about her life, work, and legacy that opened on September 24, 2008 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through the middle of March, will include powerful rare artifacts — the actual handwritten manuscript for Suite Française, the valise in which it was found, and many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there will be a special website that will live on the Museum’s site

The Museum will host several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that will put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. To book a group tour, please contact Tracy Bradshaw at 646.437.4304 or Please visit our website at for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.

Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. If you need any more, please do not hesitate to contact me at

stanford said...

Hmm, i missed your post on Nemirovsky. I bet it was fantastic.

A book/week is an impressive goal. Do you give yourself extra credit for an 800 page book or do you off set it with something like one of the Narnia chronicles.

The final book of the chronicles is, without question, the weakest. I can’t imagine they will make that movie.

I thought it was disingenuous of Dawkins to claim the rational high ground and then use such emotive, condescending, guilt inducing, rhetoric. It is his prerogative and it is effective (and God knows, my side has done our share of this exact thing), but it's not consistent.

I have a couple questions if you don’t mind:

I wonder what % fiction vs non-fiction you aim for and if there is a reason for that.

Also, how do you set your reading list? Do you have a system or is it more fluid?

What are a couple books you have targeted for next year?

Joel said...

I didn't really think anyone would read all the way through that list, so I guess I should have more faith in people.

1) I didn't actually have a post on Nemirovsky, just that mention in this list. Reading that book was very hard, because her fate was hanging over the whole thing. Reading about the futility, the foolish and the gut wrenching choices, and knowing that she was making the same ones as she carried this manuscript across France made the tragedy of the Holocaust and World War II very real for me.

At the end of the book, you never know if the characters made it back into Paris or not, because you know what happened to the author, and it's somewhat crushing to hold an example of the evil that men do in your hands like that. I was still thinking about it weeks later while I was reading other books.

2) I count each book as one, and don't count graphic novel collections even though it's becoming an increasingly valid medium. I probably should have just counted Narnia as one big book, but I was disheartened by my low total. It's cheating, I know, but it's my booklist and I can do what I want.

3) I no longer aim for a fiction/nonfiction balance. For 2007 I had set a rule that I would alternate between fiction and nonfiction with each new book, but I got really annoyed by having to put aside something I wanted to read because it wasn't the right category.

I keep all my unread books stacked beneath two end tables, and when I finish a book I just go to one of the tables and pick through until I see something that catches my eye. Looking at my 2008 reading list, I was heavier on fiction, but that wasn't deliberate. I bought a number of nonfiction books, but they're still on the stack waiting for the mood to hit.

4) For the upcoming year, I have a Dorothy Parker biography that I keep intending to read, some gay fiction, a few books about the White House, a bunch of popular fiction, and a few memoirs, but I have no specific books in my piles that I've looked at and thought, "I have to read that this year." It'll just depend on what mood strikes me.

JMBower said...

Beats my talley for this last year, which was incredibly dissapointing. I may beat it in the first quarter of this year:(.

Of your list, I also read World War Z (good, but disappointing somewhat) and the World without us (good, but too preachy in parts. I rather liked the parts about what will decay and how, but then it got into a bit of environmental lecturing in the middle) last year.

I may pick up some of the others this year.

Twilight will not be among them. Not because it's aimed for a younger audience (I still re-read and enjoy Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, among others), but because it's aimed for the current tweens generation.

who are, apparently, spolied morons who have been reading too much bad manga. OOO...chaste forbidden love and treacly dialogue! meh.

I just read the "Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society", (for lack of other material in the hospital) and rather liked it. Not half the chick lit I thought it would be.

Up next: My Year of Living Biblically, A Thousand Splendid Suns (hello bandwagon), Guterson's The Other.