This year with 48 books read, I fell a hair shy of my usual goal of 50 books. While I’ve tracked all my books read and movies watched since 2003, I’ve only had this blog since 2007. So what follows is my third annual posting of Great Books I Read This Year.
If my 2009 list seems parochial, just know there are a certain amount of New York Times bestsellers I read that I just didn’t get super amped about. Any book on this list below is a book I can confidently recommend.
“Getting Even” by Woody Allen
This was a re-read. Granted, some of these short stories seem a little perfunctory, with more surrealness than cleverness. But quite a few are absolutely inspired – particularly the one about the 1930′s private eye searching to find out who killed God. My love of Woody Allen is a borderline violation of the second commandment.
“Chopin in Paris” by Tad Szulc
Granted, this book is discursive and poorly edited. Granted it contains some rather odd analyses and conclusions. And granted it’s not perfectly researched. Nevertheless, the subject matter is absolutely riveting – at times I wished the book would never end. What a fascinating period in world history.
“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” by David Foster Wallace
DFW is just such a brilliant, original, likeable narrator. So, so smart in a way that’s wonderful and reminds me of the 90′s and everything I liked about college and living in the constant company of smart people.
“Rebel Without a Crew” by Robert Rodriguez
An absolutely amazing story about the luckiest guy in the entire world.
“Consider the Lobster” by David Foster Wallace
DFW is just wonderful; the article about English usage is about the most erudite thing I’ve ever read. He is really just fantastic. Just a wonderful read.
“What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami
Murakami has such an enjoyable and minimalist prose. The first half of the book offers a rare glimpse of a respected author openly discussing their craft. Comparing novel writing to marathon running – two things Murakami excels at. I have extremely complex feelings about Murakami’s writing, so this is a qualified recommendation. As is “Sputnik Sweetheart” by Murakami that I read this year as well.
“Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlien
This was the unabridged version, so it had more scandalous material than the 1961 version. While the book is filled with novel ideas and clever dialog, I wasn’t quite taken with the overall story-telling. The hero of the story has infinite money and power and wisdom and no character arc. All the good guys are always right about everything. I’m not sure, but I think the moral is that if you’re young and attractive and willing to have sex with a Martian then you get to be enlightened.
“Dune” by Frank Herbert
Pretty amazing. A wonderfully sophisticated universe. Really smart, scheming characters, constant danger and suspense, really sharp dialog, and everything fitting together really snugly in the end. A pillar of the genre.
“Thank You Jeeves” by P.G. Wodehouse
Just the absolute height of British wit. Just absolutely brilliant and delightful. I love this author. Genius.
Another reread. Sort of funny how obsessed the author is with “swords” and “slaughter.” The story telling is clunky and Beowolf is one dimensional. But dragons guarding treasure and heroes seeking glory? This is where it’s always been at.
“The Man in the Iron Mask” by Alexandre Dumas
Some flashes of the brilliance of Monte Cristo or Three Musketeers, but a plot that goes awry and is a bit sadistic to the reader invested in the story. This makes my list for some very eloquent dialog and a few good action scenes, but why did Dumas abandon such a cool plot set up?
“The Inferno” by Dante Alighieri
So much incredible imagination and descriptive power from such an early, early author. Dante is visualizing special effects that Hollywood studios can only now begin to render. Pretty remarkable for the 1300′s. Granted, some of the theology seems a bit judgmental, vindictive, or logically odd. But good literature.
“The Feudal Spirit” by P.G. Wodehouse
Just fantastic; every sentence is a masterpiece of cleverness and wit.
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” by Neil Simon
What can I say, he’s an amazing writer.
“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
Astonishingly well written; I blitzed through this book in 24 hours. Not particularly uplifting. But his craft is sensational – his description and evocative prose – just so inspiring.
“Painting with Light” by John Alton
How to DP in black and white in the 1940′s. Interesting from a historical perspective, but technologically it is of course extremely dated. Interesting how inventive these early DP’s were, but kind of funny how “realistic” they thought they were being in the 40′s. People will laugh at us too in 60 years (or much, much sooner).
“I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov
Clever situations and logic puzzles. Seems like the characters all have borderline personality disorder; I sometimes wonder if Asimov had Asperger’s.
“Cut to the Chase” by Sam O’steen (compiled lovingly by his wife, Bobby)
Really fascinating view into Hollywood history. A fascinating man with great anecdotes and rare insight into the editing process. Very enjoyable and definitely recommendable; also insightful into directing.
“Jeeves in the Morning” by P.G. Wodehouse
Absolutely laugh out loud brilliant – Shakespearian levels of linguisitic innovation, mastery and genius.
Akira (Books I, II, III, IV) by Katsuhiro Otomo
A classic; Neo Tokyo, post-apocalypse, wonderful artistry, framing, and vision.
“On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin
A masterpiece. Written with that Ben Franklin narrational style of being unbelievably humble, reasonable, charming, objective, and utterly logical. It’s flawless from start to finish – I don’t think there’s a single inaccuracy in the entire work, as far as contemporary science goes. It’s just a pleasure to hear the reasonable workings of a perfect mind. And Darwin’s predictions at the end are astonishing. Man seems to have been aware of natural selection for millennia, via animal husbandry and basic agricultural for instance, but Darwin codifies it with aplomb.
“Angels & Demons” by Dan Brown
Look. Aside from dumbing down history like he’s writing from studio notes, and turning every story point into a freshmen seminar, the guy knows how to build a compelling story with suspense. Dan Brown does a wonderful job of putting ordinary people into impossible situations – and then finding an amazing way for them to escape.
“The High Tech Knight,” “The Radiant Warrior,” “The Flying Warlord,” “Lord Conrad’s Lady,” all by Leo Frankowski
A modern day engineer is trapped in 13th century Poland. A guilty pleasure. But honestly very fun. And fairly well researched as far as I can tell.
“Kim” by Rudyard Kipling
Some captivating and exquisitely stylish writing.
“A Passage to India” E.M. Forester
Really insightful writing into human manners and behavior. Granted, it may suffer a bit from the lack of a protagonist.
And the best screenplay I read this year goes to:
“Medieval” by Mike Finch & Alex Litvak
Awesome fun. Fantastic writing. A thrill to read.