Thursday, December 31, 2015

Books and magazines read, 2015

This is my reading list for 2015. An asterisk means I was re-reading a book rather than reading it for the first time.

Once again I didn't read as many books by women as I'd intended to, just 31 out of 86. 86 is a sharp decline from last year's 132, but in April I bought a PlayStation 4 and in September I got a smart phone, so the surprising thing is that the count isn't lower.

I've added quick notes at the end of each month on certain books from the first half of the year. A lot of these books were review copies; you can read my reviews on Amazon here.

1. Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America
2. Laurie R. King, The Moor
3. David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
4. Laurie R. King, O Jerusalem
5. Sharma Shields, The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac
6. Laurie R. King, Justice Hall

The Mary Russell novels aren't exactly any good, but they're very readable, and there's a certain fascination in how staggeringly implausible a character Mary is, how obviously she's a hybrid of a plausible apprentice for Sherlock Holmes and an author surrogate for Laurie R. King. Frankly, the books would be more plausible and more enjoyable if King dropped the Holmes baggage and wrote about a globe-trotting theologian.

I can't say I was blown away by Cloud Atlas. The nested narratives are appealing, yes, and Mitchell writes competently in a variety of styles. But he's not quite breathtaking in any of them, and the narratives don't connect or illuminate each other except in incidental or trivial ways. I'm sympathetic to the larger humanist message, but the play with genre conventions means that none of the characters feel grounded enough to make that message more than a platitude. This is snobbish to say, but if they can make a blockbuster movie that fully captures what's going on in your novel, it's probably not a work of great profundity.

1. Peter Carey, Amnesia
2. Judith Claire Mitchell, A Reunion of Ghosts
3. Kirker Butler, Pretty Ugly
4. Dave Barry, Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster)
5. K. J. Parker, Academic Exercises

K. J. Parker really is rather good, and the short stories are an accessible introduction to his sensibility. "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong" is a small masterpiece of ironies and moral turnabouts, which are Parker's specialty; under a broad sense of humor (he also writes comic fantasy under his real name, Tom Holt), he has as cynical a view of human nature as any writer of "grimdark."

1. Daniel Handler, We Are Pirates
2. Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread
3. Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife
4. Neal Stephenson, Seveneves
5. Kerry Howley, Thrown
6. David Gates, A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me

I love Daniel Handler's work in general, both under his own name and as Lemony Snicket, but We Are Pirates didn't work for me. One of its narrative strands felt like a generic male-inadequacy narrative, for which I have limited patience, and the other went to dark and unusual places but then fizzled out in a weirdly pat resolution.

Thrown is a very amusing piece of "creative nonfiction" that simultaneously satirizes and expands the academic study of violent sports, and also offers an insightful and melancholy portrait of the mysterious isolation of driven athletes.

1. Brian W. Aldiss, Finches of Mars
2. Chris Beckett, Mother of Eden
3. K. J. Parker, Sharps
-. K. J. Parker, The Two of Swords (Parts 1-3)
4. Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
5. P. D. James, The Children of Men
6. Ben H. Winters, World of Trouble

I was on a dystopian kick at the end of April, apparently. Station Eleven is a lovely and sad novel, Shakespearean in more ways than one, layered with coincidence and irony, tragedy and rebirth. Not perhaps a work of great thematic complexity, but it's one of those case where the execution gives it great emotional impact all the same.

I don't know quite what to say about The Children of Men. Honestly, my clearest recollection is of how pointless and distracting the shifts between first-person and third-person narration were. The concept is compelling, and the first half gets the melancholy of a defeated world quite right, but it peters out into a chase narrative that's well-executed but meaningless.

World of Trouble is a great conclusion to a great trilogy. They're all tightly-constructed, but only the first in the series really worked as a mystery; the real subject of the series is the portrait of the stages of grief of a doomed planet, and of a man whose need for order persists even in the face of something that will shatter all theories of meaning.

1. Sue Grafton, E is for Evidence*
2. Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game*
3. Stephen King, Revival
4. Laurie Penny, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution
-. K. J. Parker, The Two of Swords (Part 4)
5. Jesse Ball, A Cure for Suicide
6. Mary Rickert, The Memory Garden
7. Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Lovers on All Saints' Day
8. Karen Joy Fowler, Black Glass
9. Lyndsay Faye, Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson
10. Stephen and Joyce Singular, The Spiral Notebook: The Aurora Theater Shooter and the Epidemic of Mass Violence Committed by American Youth
11. Sophie Jaff, Love is Red

The Karen Joy Fowler collection is seriously good stuff, and will surprise those who only know her from more accessible and straightforward work like The Jane Austen Book Club and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

1. Robert Aickman, The Strangers and Other Writings
2. George Orwell, All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays
-. K. J. Parker, The Two of Swords (Part 5)
3. Thomas Mallon, Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years
4. Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and its Metaphors
5. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
6. Edwidge Danticat, Untwine
7. Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword

The Mallon novel is great, cynical and gossipy yet never cheap, researched but never dry. I have no idea if it's accurate or realistic or whatever other label, but regardless of how well it captures Washington, it expresses something real about how people can be vastly yet casually self-centered.

1. Thomas Mallon, Watergate
-. K. J. Parker, The Two of Swords (Part 6)
2. Gregory Maguire, After Alice
3. Joe Abercrombie, Half the World
4. Joe Abercrombie, Half a War
5. Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver*
6. Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell*
7. Lucius Shepard, The Dragon Griaule

Shepard's stories about the Dragon Griaule are extraordinary metaphors for obsession, or fate, or social control, or all three. Either way they're peerless examples of a kind of psychologically dense, atmospheric weird fiction.

1. Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord
2. Harry Turtledove, We Install and Other Stories
3. Robin Hobb, Fool's Quest
-. K. J. Parker, The Two of Swords (Part 7)
4. Lauren Redniss, Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future
5. Helen Phillips, The Beautiful Bureaucrat

1. Linda Nagata, The Red: The Trials
2. See the Elephant, Issue One
3. Clifford D. Simak, I am Crying All Inside and Other Stories
4. William Boyd, Sweet Caress
5. Patrick Modiano, So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood
6. Sue Grafton, F is for Fugitive*
7. Matt Bell, Scrapper
8. K. J. Parker, The Two of Swords (Part 8)
9. K. J. Parker, Colours in the Steel
10. Deanna Raybourn, Silent on the Moor
11. John Banville, The Blue Guitar
12. Tessa Hadley, The Past

1.  Patrick Ness, The Rest of Us Just Live Here
2. Umberto Eco, Numero Zero
3. Tom Hart, Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir
4. Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy
5. Colum McCann, Thirteen Ways of Looking
6. William H. Gass, Eyes: Novellas and Stories
-. K. J. Parker, The Two of Swords (Part 9)
7. David Mitchell, Slade House
8. Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs
9. Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo's Calling
10. Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Welcome to Night Vale

1. Patrick Ness, More Than This 
2. Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Blades
-. K. J. Parker, The Two of Swords (Part 10)
3. Judd Apatow, Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy
4. Daniel Handler, The Basic Eight*

1. China Mieville, This Census-Taker
2. D. G. Hilton, Biddy Debeau Rides for His Life
3. Louise Penny, Still Life
4. Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
-. K. J. Parker, The Two of Swords (Part 11)
5. Anne Perry, The Cater Street Hangman
6. John Donvan and Caren Zucker, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism
7. Peter Dickinson, The Yellow Room Conspiracy

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