Sunday, January 1, 2017

My 2017 Reading List

This is the fourth year of doing this, keeping track of everything I read during the year. Don't ask me why. It makes me happy and gives me something to do with this blog, I guess. Anyway...

Although I'm probably going to keep doing this, I finally broke down and joined Goodreads. On my My Books page you can find all the books that I've read over the last three years and a few others.

1.  Blood's a Rover -- James Ellroy

Book Three of Ellroy's "Underworld USA" series. This book picks up after the events of The Cold Six Thousand (2016 list, #45), more of Ellroy's action-packed, hard-boiled, conspiracy-laden secret history of the United States.

2.  This Census-Taker -- China MiĆ©ville

An intriguing, compelling little novella. I'm interested in reading something a little more substantial from MiƩville in the near future.

3.  Acceptance -- Jeff VanderMeer

 Book Three of the Southern Reach Trilogy, a well-written, but bizarre sci-fi series. This is definitely not a standalone novel, you must read the others, Annihilation and Authority, to get any sense out of this one (and maybe not even then.)

4.  The Nest -- Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

I was hesitant about this book, not sure if it was just chick-lit or something a little deeper. It turned out to be a pretty decent family drama that moved along at a brisk pace. 

5.  April 1865 -- Jay Winik

Non-fiction. Subtitled The Month that Saved America, this is an engrossing account of the final days of the Civil War and the remaking of America.

6.  A Man Called Ove -- Fredrik Backman

A comical, touching, affecting tale of a Swedish curmudgeon. It's hard for me to imagine anyone who wouldn't love this book.

7. The Widow -- Fiona Barton

A page-turner of a crime thriller involving a missing child and the widow of the man who was the main suspect telling her side of things.

8. The Wrong Side of Goodbye -- Michael Connelly

It's not very often that I read the same type of book back-to-back, but here's another crime thriller. A typical Connelly book; not as good as most, but still pretty damned good.

9. Just After Sunset -- Stephen King

I've been re-reading this collection of short stories over a long period of time, throwing a story or two in from time to time between books. Not King's best short story collection, but some good stories in the mix.

10.  Terror in the City of Champions -- Tom Stanton

Non-fiction. Subtitled Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression-era Detroit. This book explores the heyday of Detroit, the mid-1930s, when the city won championships in three sports, baseball, football and hockey, in the same season, and juxtaposes that with the activities of the Klan-like Black Legion terrorizing the region.

11.  A Feast for Crows -- George R. R. Martin

Book Four of  Martin's seven-part "A Song of Fire and Ice" series. This is my least favorite of the books so far and deviated the most from the HBO series, but still an exciting, action-packed ride.

12. The Moviegoer -- Walker Percy

Like most of the National Book Award winners I've read, this book failed to impress for quite a while. It seemed like a pale imitation of A Confederacy of Dunces. Gradually, I got into the rhythm and spirit of the story and was sorry to see it come to an end.

13. Kindred -- Octavia Butler

When I'm reading a book or watching a movie about strange phenomena like time travel or the like, I like to have some kind of explanation to work with -- Doc Brown invented a time-traveling DeLorean or there's a portal in the back of a diner, something. This book doesn't have that. It's just a modern (1976, when the book was written) black woman repeatedly traveling back in time to the antebellum South to save the life of one of her ancestors. No explanations, no control over the process. Other than that, it was an exceptional book; part slave memoir, part fantasy.

14. The Scarecrow -- Michael Connelly

Not one of Connelly's best, but still a page-turner.

15.  Last Night in Twisted River -- John Irving

This one kinda turned into a chore to read for a while, but shaped up to be a pretty decent novel.

16. Escape Clause -- John Sandford

A typical Sandford crime thriller with Virgil Flowers trying to find some Amur tigers stolen from the Minneapolis Zoo.

17. Plainsong -- Kent Haruf

Again, my pet peeve, no quotation marks, but that's about the only flaw of this stark, emotional novel about a select group of people in small-town Colorado. Like A Man Called Ove (#6), it's hard for me to imagine anyone who likes to read not loving this book.

 18. The Jealous Kind -- James Burke

Most of Burke's books are mystery/crime novels that are a cut above the norm. This one is a first love/coming of age/tangled up with mobbed up guys in 1950s Houston story.

19. White Trash -- Nancy Isenberg

Non-fiction. Subtitled The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. It droned on repetitiously on some topics and skimmed over others that I wish Isenberg had gone into more depth on, but overall, an interesting telling of the history of America, focusing on the human waste, bogtrotters, scalawags, rascals, crackers, mudsills, hoosiers, tar heels, hillbillies, trailer trash, rednecks -- the poor white trash.

20. Darktown -- Thomas Mullen

An excellent mystery/crime story, but more than that, the story of the integration of the Atlanta Police Department in 1948.

21.  A Dance with Dragons -- George R. R. Martin

Book Five of the "A Song of Fire and Ice" mega-series. When the series started, the main characters were very young, just kids or teenagers. Martin said, I believe in the preface to Book Four, that he originally wanted to jump forward a few years to allow these characters to grow up a little, but changed his mind and wrote Books Four and Five to fill in the gap. Then he split it up, the two books cover the same period of time, focusing on different groups of characters in each book. Book Five is the more interesting of the two -- I guess because I was more interested in these characters than the others -- and is very action-packed, but didn't advance the overall plot very much. Now, like millions of others, I'll sit back and wait for Martin to eventually finish writing Books Six and Seven.

22. Stolen Prey -- John Sandford

Brutal murders, Mexican gangs, Federales, DEA, and Lucas Davenport in the middle of it all. Typical fast-paced Sandford.

23. The Associate -- John Grisham

Agent: The deadline is here. The publisher really needs your manuscript now.
Grisham: I've got a good story going, but I'm stuck on the ending.
Agent: They need what you've got. NOW!
Grisham: Alright, give me another day or two. I'll throw together a couple of chapters and wrap everything up.

24. Limitations -- Scott Turow

It's not very often that I read two of the same type of books back-to-back. I like to mix things up a bit, but two lawyer books? I needed something short to read while waiting to pick up some library books and this fit the bill. An interesting story, a little deeper than I was expecting.

25. Lincoln in the Bardo -- George Saunders

It took me a little while (maybe 50-75 pages) to figure out just what in the hell I was reading, but this turned out to be an amazing book. Highly recommended if you're looking for something different.

26. I Am Legend -- Richard Matheson

I was surprised to find that I Am Legend was a novella comprising about half of this book; the rest was short stories. I Am Legend was a really great vampire story, closer in tone to The Omega Man adaptation than the Will Smith movie of the same name. The short stories were a mixed bag, ranging from awesome to head-scratchers.

27. The Quiet American -- Graham Greene

Vietnam in 1952. Political intrigue and a love triangle between a naive American of dubious occupation, a jaded British journalist and a Vietnamese woman. I'm going to be on the lookout for one of the two movie adaptations.

28. Day of Confession -- Allan Folsom

A so-so novel of international intrigue and shenanigans in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

29. The Devil in the White City -- Erik Larson

Non-fiction. Subtitled "Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America." A superb history of the herculean effort of Daniel Burnham to bring the 1893 World's Fair to Chicago juxtaposed with the story of serial killer Herman Mudgett, a.k.a. H. H. Holmes, who killed nine people at the very least and whose victims probably numbered in the dozens.

I was unaware of any of this until I saw the Timeless episode "The World's Columbian Exposition" (Season One, Episode 11) in which the intrepid time travelers ended up in Chicago in 1893 and had to have Harry Houdini's help to escape Holmes's "Murder Castle." A Google search for more information led me to this book, which promptly ended up on my reading list.

30. Neverwhere -- Neil Gaiman

Gaiman's books, or, at least the three I've now read, are sort of like adult fairy tales. This excellent book is the story of an ordinary human who suddenly finds himself in London Below. I read the "Author's Preferred Text," which combines and expands on the UK and US versions.

31. Hillbilly Elegy -- J. D. Vance

I don't read a lot of memoirs, but this one has been in the news a bit lately and seemed interesting. In some ways it was the story of my family, but the differences far outweighed the similarities. This book made a pretty good companion piece for White Trash (see #19), but I thought both came up short in coming up with solutions to some of the problems faced by poor or working-class white people.

32. The River of Souls -- Robert McCammon

McCammon has, thus far, written six books about Matthew Corbett. This is the fifth. Corbett is a "problem solver," a sort of private detective, in the early, early 1700s. They're good adventure stories.

33.  Feast Day of Fools -- James Lee Burke

Not one of Burke's better books. A well-written crime thriller, but a quite convoluted plot.

34. The Songs of Distant Earth -- Arthur C. Clarke

Not one of Clarke's better books, and to be quite honest, I've always thought he wrote better short stories than novels anyway. Spends a great deal of time setting things up, then not much happens.

35. Storm Front -- John Sandford

Not one of Sandford's better books. Gets a little too convoluted and outlandish when it strays into international intrigue.

36. A Canticle for Leibowitz -- Walter M. Miller Jr.

A sci-fi classic. Actually three different stories centuries apart centered around a Catholic monastery in the American Southwest. The monastery is tasked with preserving scientific knowledge through the dark ages following a nuclear holocaust until mankind is ready for it again.

37. Dark Money -- Jane Meyer

Non-fiction. Subtitled, "The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right," this engrossing book focuses on the Koch brothers and others who are pouring millions of dollars into subverting our democratic system.

38. Ford County -- John Grisham

Short stories. I read this a story or two at a time between other books. A mixed bag -- some of the stories are really good, one or two would have worked better fleshed out into novel form, another one or two were barely more than plot outlines.

39.  The Revisionists -- Thomas Mullen

After reading Darktown (see #20), I've become a big fan of Mullen's work.  This is a nifty novel -- part science fiction, part suspense thriller, part psychological thriller -- as Zed has come from the future (or has he?) to make sure the Great Conflagration happens in order to protect his Present Perfect.

40.  Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West -- Cormac McCarthy

 I liked this book much more than the only other McCarthy book I've read, No Country for Old Men, which I didn't care for much at all. A Western tale of Indian fighting of the Texas/Mexico border, this book is stunning for its casual portrayal of extreme violence. I just wish someone would introduce McCarthy to the quotation mark and the apostrophe.

41. Oliver Twist -- Charles Dickens

I'm still slowly making my way through the Dickens oeuvre. A very good story if you can overlook the anti-Semitism.

42. Beartown -- Fredrik Backman

Every now and then you read a book by a new author and it's so amazingly good that you want to read another (see #6, A Man Called Ove), then that second book is so good that you want to read everything that author has published. That's where I am right now with Fredrik Backman.

Now reading: The Late Show -- Michael Connelly

Started, but gave up on:

Infinite Jest -- David Foster Wallace

Many pages of phenomenal writing, followed by many pages of "what the hell am I reading?" I plodded through 845 of 981 pages, but I just couldn't bear to pick it up anymore. This book, it seems to me, is in desperate need of an editor who knows what they're doing.

Some things I don't like while reading:  one thousand page books that would be about fifteen hundred pages long if written in a readable font, books that are not in a readable font, reading along for over an hour before reaching a natural break, having to refer to "notes and errata" in the back of the book that breaks up the reading flow, paragraphs that are four or five pages long, sentences that are half a page long, using 57 words when a handful would do, etc., etc., etc.

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