Best of 2012 – Books

At last, I’m finally finishing my four-part series. As I said before, I read a whole lot of books (though a handful were rereads and not eligible for this list. I will also state here that I’m sorta of cheating – a few of my stories will actually be lumped together because they were part of a series and I didn’t prefer one over another.

I do have to get into a pet peeve of mine. This list actually has more non-fiction on it than fiction, which is pretty surprising, including several memoirs/biographies. But what I really really really really really can’t stand is everyone’s insistence when writing their own memoir (or even a biography) is for the first chapter to be some pivotal moment in that person’s life, then chapter two starts at the beginning and the rest of the story is getting to that moment and its aftermath. Is there a handbook for memoir writing that mandates that you must write like that? I mean, seriously. It’s so tired.

That out of the way, let’s get it on, I’m sure I have much to say about these books.

7. 127 Hours (Between a Rock and a Hard Place) – Aron Ralston: The basis for the movie 127 Hours (which I’ve still not seen), this is a very good retelling of a horrifying and unbelievable story. It is said without too much pomp and, without knowing the author at all, I felt like he was being level about everything. He told the story in a even-keeled way (not putting blame on other things when it didn’t belong, not having a no-fear attitude more than he would have in that situation). A good read, almost a nail-biter (though the problem with auto-biographies about near-death experiences is you know that they don’t actually die or they wouldn’t have been able to write about it).

6. Heart of the Game: Life, Death & Mercy in Minor League America – S.L. Price: See, this is a biography about death. It had very good reviews and I found it very cheap at the bookstore, so I picked it up. I think there’s a pre-requisite that you need to be a baseball fan to truly enjoy this book, but if you are (even casually), this is a great underdog story, and ultimately a very touching retelling of the life of Mike Coolbaugh. Not much else to say, just a great read which tugs at just the right heartstrings.

5. Lucky Man/Always Looking Up – Michael J. Fox: These are two books, one basically leading up to his Parkinson’s diagnosis (and just a bit of aftermath) and the second book was almost entirely about his PD efforts. Most reviewers tend to talk about Fox’s amiable tone and his golly-gee ability to make you fall in love with him, but more than that I was taken aback by how good a writer he was. These were not ghost-written and I’m glad for that. He speaks about his life with optimism that I wish people in “everyday” life would have, myself included.

4. A Game of Thrones/A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin: Here, I’m totally cheating. I read both and they were equally as enjoyable, but it does seem like cheating to have almost 2000 pages in one entry. A few of my friends are die-hard fans who basically swore that my life would change by reading them. Well, sadly it didn’t. In fact, I’ve had these read for over 8 months and I haven’t started on the third book (which is universally considered the best) because I am not DYING to. That being said, they are thoroughly enjoyable epic novels with some fantastic characters and plot twists that you don’t really see coming. Death in these books is for plot, but no one seemingly is immune. My only real beef with the books is the needless description in them. I swear, if he simply did not describe what people were wearing and eating, he’d shave 200 pages off these books combined. Definitely worth a read if you have PLENTY of time.

3. Physics of the Impossible – Michio Kaku: I like physics. I like space. I like learning things. What’s more, I like reading about things that haven’t happened yet, but PROBABLY WILL. This was a very enlightening (and almost entirely accessible to most people) read that tells about various scientific breakthroughs and not IF, but WHEN these crazy things will happen. It struck me as amazing that things I thought were totally impossible (teleportation, invisibility, and even time travel) are not only possible, but could happen in the next few centuries (not time travel, that is WAY down the line). Some of the writeups got a bit heavy-handed in the science jargon for me, but in general, it was a good read to have around as both entertainment and a reference.

2. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal – Christopher Moore: I had heard that this was a very very funny book (as all of Christopher Moore’s books are), but not having read anything by him, I didn’t know what to expect. Many of the “funny” authors I’ve been referred to in the past end up being quite juvenile or, worse, not good writers. He surprised me on both counts. His writing had depth, the humor not in your face or egregious or slapstick (the subtlety of a young Jesus putting dead frogs into his mouth to heal them was awesome). His writing was also much better than I’d thought, partially because many times the authorship craft gets buried beneath the attempts at humor. With Moore, he always treads a fine line between storyteller and joketeller. In fact, I was almost shocked when I got the ending and it got all heavy. I mean, I guess I should have expected it (spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for Joshua), but the emotion he brought out there didn’t seem to contradict the earlier lighthearted style (though I’d argue he worked himself into a hole from the onset by trying to write a funny book that ended with the most famous death in history).

1. A Fire Upon the Deep – Verner Vinge: I gave this book up after the first 100 pages. It’s not that I didn’t like it, per se, but that I didn’t understand it. He puts you in a reality with different types of creatures and in fact a different understanding of technology, and he doesn’t hand-hold you along the way. Things are givens and poorly-described, either to let your imagination work, or to describe them with limited exposition at a more appropriate time. See, here’s a secret about me: I’m a smart cookie, but I have notably terrible critical reading skills. (In elementary school, I’d consistently be in the top 95% in math, top 80% in writing/language/vocab, but in the 50-60% in critical reading.) When I later picked up the book again (after Ash had read it and I could bounce ideas off her), I got to where I left off, and the VERY NEXT CHAPTER explained something very important that would have helped. What this book ended up becoming was a phenomenal science fiction book that deals with technology, alien species, betrayal, and of course a “ticking bomb”. It’s a fantastic book. It’s a three book series, and the 2nd book (a prequel – A Deepness in the Sky) is also good and worth a read. It probably would have made #8 on this list. The third book (a sequel to this one) is in my queue to read soon. As much as I like Ender’s Game, this is really the bar against which true science fiction should be judged. It challenges the mind and the imagination as you read (I believe Ash described it a couple times as a brain f**k).

3 thoughts on “Best of 2012 – Books”

  1. i will have to check out that vinge book. i know he was mentioned on a podcast i listen to, the incomparable, which is where i get almost all of my book recommendations. i think you should check out ‘perdido street station’ or ‘the city and the city’ by china meiville, both are very interesting reads, and mess with your brain.

  2. if you don’t understand why there is such heavy description in the ice and fire series, than you are missing about 60% of the clues and details about what’s going on all over the place. considering how long winded he is, he doesn’t waste words without reason. i’ve read the series through multiple times (first 3 books 5 times, book 4 3 times and book 5 twice) and each time you pick up on another little detail about something that happens later – which you know about after reading the story before.

    as for aron ralston, not only does he have an awesome name, but he really is that genuine. he’s apparently a big fan of the string cheese incident, and the year after the whole ordeal, he was at most of the shows as a guest of the band. i ran into him a couple times. he was super nice, and like you said, didn’t seem to blame anyone for what happened.

    and one of the years i’m going to read a fire upon the deep. since you don’t stop talking about it and all.

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