Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My 2014 Reading List

Right before the Christmas holidays, I started a new job at the same old place I've been working. The new job is more about how much I know as opposed to how much work I can do. Suddenly, I've got more responsibilities, but more free time to kill with nothing much to do but read.

I used to read a lot, but gradually got out of the habit when the Internet came along. My New Year's resolution was to use my newly-found free time to get back into the habit again. I also decided to keep a list of what I've read, and that's what this post is about.

I've mentioned before that I usually try to make the next book I read somewhat different from my last book. I'll read some lightweight fluff, then try to read something more substantial. If you think of something you think I might like be sure to chime in.

1. The Eyes of the Dragon -- Stephen King

This is what I was reading... um, re-reading, when the calendar ticked over to the new year. I first read this around 1987 when it was published. I was re-reading it to see if it was appropriate for my grandson, who will be entering middle school this year. I think I'll wait another couple of years before giving it to him.

2. The Mosquito Coast -- Paul Theroux

This languished on my shelf for quite a while. A strange book about a strange man who takes his family away from it all, all the way to the Mosquito Coast. I'm really interested in seeing the movie now.

3. To the Last Man -- Jeff Shaara

I've read quite a few of Shaara's books, which are usually historical fiction about the various wars America has been involved in. This is his book about WWI.

4. Co. Aytch -- Sam Watkins

I'm not quite sure why I haven't read this Civil War memoir before. The first non-fiction book of the year.

5. I, the Jury -- Mickey Spillane

I love a good crime story and had never read any Spillane books before. I found a book that combined three of Spillane's Mike Hammer books. This is the first. Not really my cup of tea, but I can understand why people ate these up in the 1940s and 50s.

6. Nickel and Dimed -- Barbara Ehrenreich

Another non-fiction book. Ehrenreich leaves her comfortable existence to work some minimum wage jobs, and does a pretty good job of relating some of the obstacles facing the poor working class.

7. Raylan -- Elmore Leonard

I've read more than a few Elmore Leonard books in my time. This one centers around Raylan Givens, the protagonist of the FX series, Justified. This book tells some of the stories from the show with some substantial changes.

8. Doctor Sleep -- Stephen King

The sequel to The Shining.

9. Joe Strummer and the Legend of the Clash -- Kris Needs

I was a big Clash fan back in the day. This book was a whole lot of hero worship, but related a lot of the stuff I missed from being on the wrong side of the pond. This was a bathroom book. (If you have to ask, you probably don't want to know. Suffice to say, I read it over a long period of time in short segments.)

10. Mountains Touched by Fire -- Wiley Sword

Another non-fiction book. Another Civil War book; this one is a narrative of the battles of Chattanooga.

11. Thirteen Moons -- Charles Frazier

Not as good as his debut novel, Cold Mountain, but what is?

12. Innocence -- Dean Koontz

Once upon a time I read a lot of Dean Koontz books, but finally got tired of him and stopped. This book reminded my why.

13. My Gun Is Quick -- Mickey Spillane

The second of the three Spillane books. (See #5.)

14. Sacred Ties -- Tom Carhart

Another Civil War non-fiction book. This one is about five guys who met at West Point, and how they all went their separate ways once the war began. A lot of stuff about life at West Point, a lot of stuff about the Eastern Theater of the war.

15. Our Kind of Traitor -- John le Carre

A typically entertaining le Carre book.

16. Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Sports Spectacular

Another bathroom book, appropriately enough.

17. Hard Times -- Charles Dickens

I'm slowly working through the Dickens catalog. This one started out fine, but turned into a chore. I'm not quite sure that I finished it, but close enough.

18. Les Miserables -- Victor Hugo

I went into this huge, huge book with a lot of apprehension. I figured I'd read a little bit and see how it went. I was immediately drawn into this wonderful story, then couldn't dig my way out. A great story, but it would have been twice as good at half the length. I really don't understand why Victor Hugo included so much that didn't really have anything to do with the plot. This book marked a turning point, my first on a Kindle.

19. Riders of the Purple Sage -- Zane Grey

My grandfather loved Zane Grey, and I like a good western for a change of pace, but I wasn't impressed by this.

20. Play Ball -- John Feinstein

Another bathroom book. A non-fiction account of the 1992 baseball season. Some good stories here, but probably not of much interest to anyone except the most hardcore baseball fan at this late date.

21. The Dark Tower VII -- Stephen King

Yeah, I read a lot of Stephen King. This is the third one on the list so far this year. I started reading the Dark Tower books in 1982, when the Gunslinger came out. Now, some 32 years later, I'm finally done. Oh, what? There's another one?

22. Liberty -- Garrison Keillor

A typical Keillor story. Another bathroom book, but I probably would have been better off reading it in a few long stretches at work.

23. 2030 -- Albert Brooks

Probably the most disappointing book I've read this year. I was expecting so much more than what I got.

24. The Drop -- Michael Connelly

I love a good crime novel, a la Michael Connelly or John Sandford. They're like the literary version of fast food. I've read these -- Connelly and Sandford -- in no particular order, as I've run across them, but have read so many that it's hard to keep track of which ones I've read.

25. Dracula -- Bram Stoker

I read this when I was much, much younger, but didn't remember much about it. The concept of telling the story through journal entries took some getting used to. It drug in places, but finished in a rush. It was one of those books where you look at the dwindling number of pages and wonder how the author is going to wrap it up, then suddenly it's done.

26. A Blaze of Glory -- Jeff Shaara

Another Shaara book. This one is the first of a four-book series about the Civil War's Western Theater, centering around the battle of Shiloh.

27. An Officer and a Spy -- Robert Harris

Back-to-back historical fiction books. The author of Fatherland tells the story of the Dreyfus Affair. A pleasant surprise, much better that I expected.

28. NOS4A2 -- Joe Hill

My first Joe Hill book, but not my last. I kept thinking what an awesome movie this would make in the hands of the right director.

29. Heat Lightning -- John Sandford

Typical John Sandford.

30. The Wind Through the Keyhole -- Stephen King

Billed as a Dark Tower novel, it's really a novella within another novella within a short story. While holed up to get out of a starkblast (an incredibly intense, sudden winter storm), Roland tells his ka-tet the story of hunting the skin-man. Within that story is another, the Wind Through the Keyhole. Very entertaining, but doesn't do much one way or another to advance the overall Dark Tower story.

31. No Easy Day -- "Mark Owen" (Matt Bissonnette) and Kevin Maurer

The two, count 'em two, subtitles -- "The Autobiography of a Navy Seal" and "The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden" -- pretty much explain what this was about.

32. Bad Monkey -- Carl Hiaasen

I'm a big fan of Hiaasen. I've read almost all of his novels. This one is pretty typical: a convoluted plot, outlandish characters and dozens of laugh-out-loud moments.

33. The War of the Worlds -- H. G. Wells

If I've read this before, it was a long, long time ago. The original alien invasion novel is a rollicking little page-turner.

34. A Darkness More Than Night -- Michael Connelly

Typical Michael Connelly.

35. The Cloud Seeders -- James Zerndt

I signed up for a couple of newsletters that keep me apprised of free and very inexpensive Kindle books. This book sounded interesting and was free, and turned out to be well worth the price. No, seriously, it was a very good read.

36. Deliverance -- James Dickey

Whoa. This book languished on my shelf for a little while. I had seen the movie years ago, so I knew the story...or so I thought. As good as the movie was, the book was light years better.

37. Redshirts -- John Scalzi

 An interesting concept, playing off the idea of the unnamed crewman in the red shirt who always gets killed in the Star Trek away missions. Clever, fun, and just a little bit meta with several laugh out loud moments.

38. City of Bones -- Michael Connelly

Typical Michael Connelly; better than the last one I read, not as good as the one I read before that.

39. The Last of the Mohicans -- James Fenimore Cooper

I can certainly understand Mark Twain's criticism of James Fenimore Cooper. I came very close to quitting this book before I had barely begun. I stuck with it though and finally, somehow, got into the rhythm of the writing and found it to be a very engaging story.

40. Fast Food Nation --  Eric Schlosser

The first non-fiction book in a while. Makes a very persuasive case that many of the ills of modern society can be traced back to the fast food industry. I didn't realize that this book was so old (published in 2001) when I started it; would love to see an updated version.

41. Sycamore Row -- John Grisham

I kinda got out of the habit of reading John Grisham as he got out of the habit of writing legal thrillers. This wasn't his best book, but was the best I've read in a long while.

42. The Glorious Cause -- Jeff Shaara

It's weird that I've read a lot of Shaara's books, but haven't finished too many of his series. I've read the first book of his four-book WWII series, and the Shiloh book, the first of his four-book series on the Civil War's Western Theater. Now, after several years, I've finally finished his two-book Revolutionary War series. I enjoyed this, but thought he tried to do to much with it -- perhaps should have made it a three-book series.

43. Murder as a Fine Art -- David Morrell

Back-to-back historical fiction again. Morrell, the author of First Blood, which gave us Rambo, has written a very entertaining mystery/crime novel about a Victorian era serial killer, featuring real people such as Lord Palmerston and Thomas De Quincey.

44. Tishomingo Blues -- Elmore Leonard

Vastly different, but back-to-back crime stories. A typical Elmore Leonard caper with the bad guys versus the badder guys.

45. Angels Flight -- Michael Connelly

As I said before (see #24), I've read so many of Connelly's books in no particular order that it's sometimes hard to remember if I've read a particular one or not. About 15 pages into this one, the scene of the crime, Angels Flight, seemed familiar, and I was sure that I had already read it, but I couldn't remember any of the plot details, so I kept reading. Now that I've finished it, I'm still not entirely sure if I had read it before. Hmmm.

46. American Gun -- Chris Kyle and William Doyle

Non-fiction. The American Sniper's posthumously released book, subtitled "A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms," shows how American history and culture have been shaped by the gun. Interesting war and crime stories illustrate firearm evolution.

47. Orbit -- John J. Nance

A page-turning thriller. I was disappointed in how neatly the whole plot sorta resolved itself.

48. Appaloosa -- Robert B. Parker

The author of all those Spenser and Jesse Stone books tries his hand at a western. Not too bad, I actually enjoyed it more than Zane Grey's classic Riders of the Purple Sage (#19)

49. Little Fuzzy -- H. Beam Piper

I'm planning to read John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation in the very near future, so I thought I needed to check out the original first. The version I read was an unexpurgated version. As such, it got a little twisted and confusing in parts, in need of some editing, but was an entertaining and thought-provoking attempt to define sapience.

50. Heart-Shaped Box -- Joe Hill

Wow! An incredibly awesome horror story. An incredibly awesome debut novel.

51. A Chain of Thunder -- Jeff Shaara

The second book of a four-book series on the Western Theater of the Civil War, focusing on the battles to take Vicksburg. I've always been interested in the Civil War, but haven't ever been that interested in Vicksburg. I was mainly reading this one to get to the next one in the series on Chattanooga, but found it to be very engrossing.

52. American Gods -- Neil Gaiman

Wow! A wild, weird romp through America as the old gods wage war with the new gods. This book meets the goal I set for myself around the middle of the year, to average a book a week. I know that doesn't sound like much, but it took over a month to read Les Miserables.

53.  Lies My Teacher Told Me -- James Loewen

Another non-fiction book, it explores why so many people hate history, namely because of the bad high school history textbooks. Like Fast Food Nation (#40), this was a very interesting, but way out of date (1995) book in serious need of an update, as the problems outlined in the book have only continued to get worse.

54. David Copperfield -- Charles Dickens

I haven't read as much Dickens as I would like, but this book ranks as one of my favorites (along with A Tale of Two Cities.)

55. Revival -- Stephen King

 A typical King page-turner.

Started, but gave up on:

Heart of Darkness -- Joseph Conrad

Far be it for me to criticize an author of the magnitude of Joseph Conrad, but puzzling through some of this prose is like trying to hack your way through a trackless jungle with a dull machete. Not the kind of thing to read at work at 4:00 in the morning. I gave it up about a third of the way through. I'll try this again some other time.

The Half-Life of Facts -- Samuel Arbesman

For a while this was an interesting non-fiction book about the pace of scientific discovery. Then it bogged down in the arcane and uninteresting. I read about half of it, enough of it to get the gist before losing interest.

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