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09:02 pm: The Books of 2011

I read exactly 40 books last year. Only four less than last year. That is surprising since I was definitely much busier this year. The numbers are a little juiced because I got sucked into the Walking Dead graphic novel series, but all in all, not a bad year. Still somehow Cosma read roughly 160 more than I did while also being a math genius and shit. I’ve listed all the books below with a note on whether or not I would recommend them for the average reader, the reader with a preexisting interest in the subject matter or not at all. 

Best Book? – Probably a tie between the Windup Girl and Nazi Literature in the Americas. Nazi Literature is no doubt a better book, technically, the Windup Girl’s plot is a bit silly, but the images of a world where calories are scarce and Thailand is fighting to stay above the rising seas has stuck with me through this year of unseasonable temperatures. 
1. The Passage, Justin Cronin - Recommended

2. Henry VIII Part 3 (Folger), William Shakespeare – Not Recommended

3. Discourses and Selected Writings,  Epictetus - Recommended

4. The Quiet War,  Paul McAuley – Recommended for the Enthusiast

5. Maimonides: Reason Above All, Israel Drazin – Not Recommended

6. Richard III (Folger), William Shakespeare - Recommended

7. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke

8. The Long Fall, Walter Mosley – Recommended for the Enthusiast

9. The Cold Six Thousand,  James Ellroy – Recommended for the Enthusiast

10. Aristotles Children: How Christians Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages,  Richard Rubenstein - Not Recommended

11. The Comedy of Errors (Folger), William Shakespeare – Not Recommended

12. The Double Life of Alfred Buber,  David Schmahmann – Not Recommended

13. When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome, Richard Rubenstein – Not

14. Titus Andronicus (Arden), William Shakespeare – Recommended for the Enthusiast

15. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein - Recommended

16. The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi - Recommended

17. 91/2 Mystics: The Kabbala Today, Herbert Weiner – Recommended for the Enthusiast

18. The Taming of the Shrew (Arden), William Shakespeare – Recommended for the Enthusiast

19. The Hunter, Richard Stark - Recommended

20. The James Deans,  Reed Farrel Coleman – Recommended for the Enthusiast

21. The Chosen,  Chaim Potok - Recommended

22. Red April,  Santiago Roncagliolo – Not Recommended

23. Death in a City of Mystics,  Janice Steinberg – Not Recommended

24. Old Mans War,  John Scalzi – Recommended for the Enthusiast

25. Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome,  Anthony Everitt – Recommended for the Enthusiast

26. The Two Gentleman of Verona (Arden),  William Shakespeare – Not Recommended

27. Divine Madness, Celia Bertia – Recommended for the Enthusiast

28. Nazi Literature in the Americas, Roberto Bolano - Recommended

29. Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoners Story of Love, Loss and a Record Setting Run Across America, Marshall Ulrich – Recommended for the Enthusiast

30. Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,  Ron Suskind – Recommended for the Enthusiast

31. Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts,  ed. Barry Holtz – Recommended for the Enthusiast

32. Love’s Labor’s Lost (Folger), William Shakespeare – Recommended for the Enthusiast

33. The Interpretation of Murder, Jed Rubenfeld – Recommended for the Enthusiast

34. The Walking Dead: Book One,  Robert Kirkman - Recommended

35. Walking Dead: Book Two, Robert Kirkman - Recommended

36. Will Power: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,  Roy F. Baumeister, John Tierney - Recommended

37. The Walking Dead: Book Three,  Robert Kirkman - Recommended

38. Reamde, Neal Stephenson - Recommended

39. The Magicians,  Lev Grossman – Not Recommended
40. The Abominable Man,  Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo – Recommended for the Enthusiast


[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 03:06 am (UTC)
Shit, I bought "Red April" for myself before Christmas. Is it really lousy?

This is an impressive list. I will post mine, so you can see that I am a semi-literate teenager.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 01:34 pm (UTC)
It isn't lousy, but there are many better crime novels out there and it doesn't deal with the Shining Path as much as one would like... I'd be curious to read what you think about it if you decide to give it go.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 05:25 am (UTC)
The Walking Dead truly is addictive. I'm a fan.

I too read "The Magicians" last year, and wouldn't consider it recommended. I also just finished "The Magician King" last night, and I can tell you, if you didn't like "The Magicians," you'd fucking hate "The Magician King." That was extremely disappointing, because the entire book seemed to think it was a lot better and smarter than it actually was. Really frustrating.

I also read "Reamde" and liked it...not as much as "Cryptonomicon" or "Snow Crash," but I love those books. "Reamde" was impressive for many reasons, but having a 250 page running gun battle and not boring the shit out of me is pretty damn impressive.

I have "The Windup Girl" waiting for me to read right next to me right now, actually. I tried reading his earlier book, "Ship Breaker" earlier this year and couldn't get into it and set it aside, so I'd put off "The Windup Girl", but I'll give it a shot.

If you liked "Old Man's War," the rest of the books in the series are good too, and don't repeat much. They go through different aspects of the universe and continue to be interesting. The later books are less war and more colonization and about man's place in the universe Scalzi created, and are pretty good. I find Scalzi's personality to be pretty likeable, which doesn't translate into great books, but is good enough for me to read them, at least.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 01:42 pm (UTC)
Lots of good stuff in this comment.

1. I really do not understand the glowing reviews of the Magicians. It just isn't good. The writing is fine, but the world imagining is just silly (walking trees? please) and the characters are very uninteresting.

2. I loved Reamde, but then again, I love everything Stephenson does. It wasn't as good as Crytonomicon, but I'd argue it was better than Snow Crash. Must read fiction for nerds.

3. Windup Girl isn't a brilliant piece of literature, but like the best SF, the world it imagines is compelling and very scary. It turned me into a hippie worried about my recycling.

4. I will definitely read more by Scalzi. I too find him likeable and enjoyed Old Man's War a lot. The fact that you can read his books in a day is also a big plus.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 04:38 pm (UTC)
1. The Magicians. Ooof. I actually didn't mind the world building. What irritated me more than anything else was that Grossman kept taking potshots at Harry Potter while creating a world that was just as silly and as Harry Potter. Also, as a reader of C.S. Lewis myself, Grossman's whole-hearted ripoffs of the Narnia grated more than the "Harry Potter in Real Life" bullshit he pulled. "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" and "The Magician's Nephew" should have been listed as coauthor of the book. There were some effective scenes--Quentin's qualifying test to Brakebills gave me chills and made me think I was going to really like the novel, and the scene where the Beast gets into the classroom was incredibly effectively creepy, but mostly the vibe I got from the book was that Grossman thought he was doing something really original and edgy, while he was basically creating a very conventional fantasy novel. He basically fell prey to the thing that mainstream authors do where they dip into fantasy and think that because they're real authors, they don't need to read anything beyond, say, C.S. Lewis and watch the Harry Potter movies and they'll wind up completely reinventing the genre. So they wind up repeating all the same damn genre cliches.

2. Reamde, as I said, I really liked, but it bothered me that the entire second half of the novel basically hinges on a single highly implausible coincidence--basically, a bunch of people go through the wrong door, and there you go. There's the rest of the book. My other problem was that, for the last, oh, 300 pages of the book, I felt like the characters were being herded towards the climax, that everyone was basically being pushed to the same place, rather than winding up there organically.

4. With Scalzi, I made the mistake of reading the Old Man's War series out of order (I read Ghost Brigades first), so the close of the first act revelation of "Old Man's War" was completely spoiled for me. If you like Scalzi, though, I recommend reading the Heinlein that's a complete and total influence on him, especially "Starship Troopers" and "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress." Heinlein's politics are completely different than Scalzi, of course, and are often problematic, but those books are the ones that I feel integrate his politics best into the story. His juvenalia is actually better than most of his "serious" work at that.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 06:08 am (UTC)
You're harsh on the Shakes! I feel like you were planning on reading the complete works at some pt?
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 01:45 pm (UTC)
I am still slowly reading my way through the Bard's complete works. It is going to take some time.

I'm harsh on the one's I left this year for two reasons: (1) these are early works, and (2) I generally hate comedies and I really hate Shakespeare's comedies. This year I will get to the good stuff (Hamlet, McBeth, etc.) and I imagine he'll do better in next year's end of the year review.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC)
As an undergrad at UCONN, I would read the plays in the AV Library along with the old VHS tapes of the BBC performances. That method really worked for me.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 02:53 pm (UTC)
This is a great idea. I'm also trying to see them all performed live (eventually). I'm in no hurry to complete either of these goals. Reading the complete Shakespeare isn't something I want to rush.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 03:09 pm (UTC)
An added bonus of using those tapes was the weird appearance of famous actors as young dudes and dudettes paying their theater dues. I remember Captain Picard from Star Trek TNG.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 03:10 pm (UTC)
There is some university (Kansas maybe?) that was putting on a play or two with the historically authentic pronunciation, which sounds pretty amazing.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2012 03:19 pm (UTC)
Not sure I could handle this, I sometimes have a hard time with the plays as they generally produced!

I'm seeing Kevin Spacey in Richard the III this weekend. Pretty stoked. I'm on a see famous dudes perform Shakespeare kick lately.
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