Saturday, December 29, 2012

What I read this year...

I read some books in 2012.

Not as many as I had planned to, but more than I read in 2011 (2 more, actually). I passed the 10,000 page threshold, which was my page goal for the year. I read both fiction and non-fiction, which is always my hope and my goal. Despite the fact that I ended up reading a few stinkers, I also found some really good books during the year.

To protect the guilty, and because good and bad is, to an extent a subjective judgement regarding fiction, I won't belabor the subject of which novels I read and did not like. Well, with one exception.

In May, I pickied up a book at the library called Natural Selection. It had an interesting premise: the evolution of a new species that leaves the sea, adapts to life on land, and then wreaks havoc. However, Dave Freedman, who wrote the novel, clearly has no real grasp on how evolution works, does not seem to be able to write a sympathetic character to save his life, and completely contradicts something he wrote earlier in the novel near the end in a way that destroys any credibility as a storyteller he had built in the earlier telling of the story. Not that he had built up much credibility at all.

Maybe I should be easier on Freedman. As I recall, it was his first novel. But Natural Selection was just such a bad book that I can't manage to work up much sympathy for him. Somehow, he managed to keep me turning the pages, but looking back I can't imagine how, except that I had a perverse curiosity to see if it could get any worse. And it did. I remember finishing the book and wondering how he managed to sell it to a publisher.

On the non-fiction side, I have to say that the least satisfying book I read this year was Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice, by Alisa Statman with Brie Tate, which I read in April. I've read a lot of books about Charles Manson, the cult he built up, and the horrible things they did. This book was by far the least helpful in understanding that whole situation. I think part of the trouble was that it was co-written by Sharon Tate's niece and a family friend based on writings left behind by one of Sharon's late sisters. As a picture of a family that disintegrated in the wake of the murder of a member of the family it probably has some merit, but the problem is that the family seems never to have found any peace and just passes down its desire for revenge to each succeeding generation. I can see how that could happen in such a situtation, especially when the crime that took their loved one's life attracted so much media attention, but the book really provides no insight. It left me feeling like I hadn't learned anything, but instead just made me feel like I had peeked in on family dynamics that would have been better left private.

On the other hand, I also read my favorite non-fiction in April. That was Life, by Keith Richards, with James Fox. Life is an amazing book. I won't go on about it here, except to say that if you have any interest at all in music, in The Rolling Stones, in the culture of the sixties and this book. Even if you don't have any interest in any of those things, read the book anyway.

While you're at it, read Under Their Thumb: How a Nice Boy from Brooklyn Got Mixed Up with The Rolling Stones (and Lived to Tell About It), by Bill German. I'm not really sure how two books about The Stones turned out to be some of my favorite reading all year. I've never really been that big a Stones fan. But both of these books are really good.

I read a lot of good fiction this year, but by far my favorites are two books in a series that combines fantasy, historical fiction, and a genre I don't read very much, romance. Those are A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, both by Deborah Harkness. I picked up the first volume while browsing the shelves at my local library. It sounded least, the vampires didn't sparkle...and so I checked it out and read it. I might not have done if I had realized that it was the first volume in the series and that the second volume hadn't even been published yet, especially when I finished it desperate to know what happened next. Fortunately, publication of the second volume was just a few months away. In that book, the action moves from Oxford in the present day to London during the reign of Elizabeth I. Like I said, it's a fantasy. Now I'm just waiting for the third volume to be published.

Well, if I reviewed everything on the list, this post would be way too long, so I'm just going to leave my full reading list for the year here with you. Each book is marked either F (fiction) or NF (non-fiction), and the ones I liked the best or felt were of special worth are marked with a double asterisk. Please note, though, that, especially with the fiction, these evaluations are very subjective and based on a lot of criteria, so your mileage may vary. For example, I liked Barbara Hambly's Ishmael very, very much. However, it is a genre novel based on two very old television series, Star Trek and Here Come The Brides, that I was a fan of when I was very young. A lot of the reason I liked the book was because Hambly managed to take two series that were very, very different and capture the spirit of both of them with an accuracy that I would not have believed possible. She also created a story that would have fit into an episode of either series. So, while it is a well-written book, I loved it for very personal reasons that you might not share.

**(1) Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910 - 1969, by William J. Mann (422 pages) NF
(2) Gun Games, by Faye Kellerman (375 pages) F
(3) Red Mist, by Patricia Cornwell (498 pages) F
(4) Lucy’s Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins, by Donald C. Johanson and Kate Wong (309 pages) NF
(5) Hotel Translyvania, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (252 pages) F
**(6) Ishmael, by Barbara Hambly (255 pages) F
(7) Hangman, by Faye Kellerman (422 pages) F
(8) Blood and Ice, by Robert Masello (675 pages) F
(9) Victims, by Jonathan Kellerman (338 pages) F
**(10) A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness (579 pages) F
(11) Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice, by Alisa Statman with Brie Tate (381 pages)
**(12) Role Models, by John Waters (304 pages) NF
**(13) Life, by Keith Richards, with James Fox (564 pages) NF
(14) Natural Selection, by Dave Freedman (414 pages) F
(15) Dead Time, by Stephen White (400 pages) F
(16) Latter-Day Secrets, by Natalie R. Collins (377 pages) F
**(17) The Calling: A Year in the Life of an Order of Nuns, by Catherine Whitney (250 pages) NF
(18) The Blackbird Papers, by Ian Smith (326 pages) F
(19) Virgin, by F. Paul Wilson (309 pages) F
(20) The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To, by DC Pierson (226 pages) F
**(21) Corn Flakes With John Lennon and Other Tales from a Rock’N’Roll Life, by Robert Hilburn (280 pages) NF
**(22) Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness (584 pages) F
(23) World Prehistory: A Brief Introduction, 3d edition, by Brian M. Fagan (299 pages) NF
**(24) How to Think Like a Neandertal, by Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge (210 pages) NF
(25) Summer of the Dragon, by Elizabeth Peters (277 pages) F
(26) LZ-75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour, by Stephen Davis (217 pages) NF
(27) Bones Are Forever, by Kathy Reichs (288 pages) F
(28) A River in the Sky, by Elizabeth Peters (307 pages) F
**(29) Under Their Thumb: How a Nice Boy from Brooklyn Got Mixed Up with The Rolling Stones (and Lived to Tell About It), by Bill German (354 pages) NF
(30) The Bone Bed, by Patricial Cornwell (463 pages) F
**(31) The Prism and the Rainbow: A Christian Explains Why Evolution Is Not a Threat, by Joel W. Martin (170 pages) NF
(32) The Overlook, by Michael Connelly (262 pages) F
**(33) Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross (401 pages) NF

Cumulative page total: 11,788 pages.

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