Another new year, another promise to myself that I’m going to blog more book reviews. Last year was something of a dud (you can see my 2008 reading list here), but maybe this year will be — better!
Here’s the 2009 list thus far.
40. The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett (1930)
39. Concrete Island – J.G. Ballard (1974)
A sort of thought experiment that would make Rod Serling proud, this is an exploration of literary conflict-tropes like man vs society, man vs man, man vs nature, etc. The story is a bit uneven, with a sizable plot shift about halfway through, but it’s still an enjoyable if not wholly satisfying look at what happens if you peel back the protective layers – jobs, routine, family and social structure – within which we live.
38. To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis (1997)
37. Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse (1927)
36. The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin (1971) [full review here]
35. Rogue River Journal – John Daniel (2005)
34. Unseen Academicals – Terry Pratchett (2009)
33. Meet My Maker the Mad Molecule – J.P. Donleavy (1964)
32. The Island of Doctor Moreau – H.G. Wells (1896)
31. Legs – William Kennedy (1975)
30. Mother Night – Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1961)
29. Time Out of Joint – Philip K. Dick (1959)
28. The Ghost Brigades – John Scalzi (2006)
27. Old Man’s War – John Scalzi (2005)
26. The Bear Went Over the Mountain – William Kotzwinkle (1997)
25. Dago Red – John Fante (1940)
24. Royal Flash – George MacDonald Fraser (1970)
The second installment of the Flashman Papers sees our (*ahem*) hero traipsing around Prussia and trying to extract himself from the devious political plots of none other than Otto von Bismarck. Harry Flashman is a coward, a base philanderer and generally a big asshole – but he is still the protagonist, and Fraser is a good enough writer that you the reader find yourself rooting for him to come through in the end (which, as these books are presented as memoirs written by an octogenarian Flashman, you know he will). Fun stuff, recommended airplane type reading.
23. Only You Can Save Mankind – Terry Pratchett (1992)
This is the first non-Discworld of Pratchett’s that I’ve read. It’s a young adult book about the secret world inside video games, and while it’s heavy on the morality (“War is bad”) and light on the humor, it was nonetheless a pleasant read.
22. Lost in a Good Book – Jasper Fforde (2004)
21. The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde (2003)
20. The Truth – Terry Pratchett (2000)
19. Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett (2001)
18. The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett (1999)
17. Lucky You – Carl Hiaasen (1998)
16. Lullaby – Chuck Palahniuk (2003)
15. Third From the Sun – Richard Matheson (1954)
14. My Ántonia – Willa Cather (1918)
13. Roger’s Version – John Updike (1986)
12. Ellison Wonderland – Harlan Ellison (1962)
At his best, Harlan Ellison is a wry and devious teller of fantastic stories, dealing mainly with the meanness of the universe and humanity’s struggle against loneliness and oblivion. At his worst, he’s a self-obsessed blowhard who likes to hear himself talk. This short-story collection is a little of both, but leans toward the good Ellison.
11. The Last Continent – Terry Pratchett (1998)
Yes, so as I have mentioned, sometimes I get in the mood to read Discworld, and I don’t want to read anything else. This is my second time reading The Last Continent, and it’s definitely one of the best in the series: it manages to be a great stand-alone book while also furthering the misadventures of the hapless Rincewind the Wizzard (probably my favorite Discworld character). No worries, I’ll get back to a more varied reading list very soon.
10. Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett (1998)
Perhaps the best of the Witches arc that I’ve read yet; normally they’re not my favorite. This one also is our first look at Überwald and it’s denizen vampires.
9. Hogfather – Terry Pratchett (1996)
Sometimes I get on a Pratchett kick; the Discworld books are just so enjoyable. The plot of this one is a mess, but it doesn’t matter. The main characters are the increasingly lovable Death, his granddaughter, and a great villain, the assassin Mister Teatime (don’t mispronounce that).
8. Jingo – Terry Pratchett (1997)
A very funny Discworld book about the absurdity of war. This one is in the City Watch story arc, my personal favorite, and features a memorable appearance by the Patrician.
7. Ironweed – William Kennedy (1984)
Grim, visceral tale of bums in late-30s Albany NY, as told through the eyes of a former big-league ballplayer turned vagrant, as he wends his way through day jobs, family reunions, and drinking jags. And he sees ghosts.
6. Gun, With Occasional Music – Jonathan Lethem (1994)
Lethem’s first book is a sometimes creepy noir detective novel, set in a dystopian future where one’s karma (and very survival) is a commodity tightly controlled by the police state. This one lacks the emotional depth of his later work, yet it’s a fun book with an entertaining cast of characters, including hyper-evolved kangaroo gangsters and a very unsettling infant (more “Family Guy” than “Eraserhead”).
5. Rabbit is Rich – John Updike (1981)
I hadn’t read any Updike in a few years, and when he died I figured it was a good excuse to rejoin the Rabbit series, of which I had read the first two. Rabbit is Rich reminds me how much I love this man’s writing (though The Centaur is still my favorite of his); his characters have incredible depth, and he has the ability to recreate the sense of “everythingness” we all carry around in our heads. Something mundane – e.g. A man who owns a Toyota dealership wants to sleep with a golf buddy’s wife, and meanwhile his son has to marry a woman he knocked up while away at college – is given the heightened importance that would attach were one actually living that man’s life. For some reason the word “fearless” keep coming to mind when I try to pin down what it is I like so much about Updike’s writing; the man was a remarkable talent.
4. A Fall of Moondust – Arthur C. Clarke (1961)
Moon-based thriller about the rescue of some trapped tourists, this choice bit of Clarke pulp is often unintentionally hilarious with its depictions of women (and people in general…but especially women).
3. Empire Falls – Richard Russo (2001)
I enjoyed Russo’s writing and his characterizations are deep and believable, but this real-people-in-a-small-town story becomes too schmaltzy toward the end.
2. Titus Andronicus – William Shakespeare (ca. 1590)
I hadn’t read any Shakespeare in years, and I own a DVD of Julie Taymor’s 1999 film adaptation and wanted to know the story before I watched it. Easily the most graphically violent play I’ve read by Shakespeare, it’s a twisted tale of rape, murder, and dismemberment (much of it on stage).
1. The Unteleported Man – Philip K. Dick (1966)
The flipside of Dr. Futurity in my Ace Double edition. A clever novella about debt, the media, cynical plutarchs and interstellar colonization. More reminiscent of the bleak and gritty Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? than Dick’s more psychedelic work like Galactic Pot-Healer (though according to the wikipedia page, The Unteleported Man was amended by Dick late in his life and renamed Lies, Inc. [a reference to a company in the book] which included 100 extra pages detailing an acid trip)