Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Best of Lists

Only five books made it on to my best of the year list for 2010.   Have I gotten really picky, or have I not picked the right books to read?

Best fiction of the year:

* The Last Jew, by Noah Gordon
* The Passage, by Justin Cronin
* Sabbath Queen, by Shlomi Harif

(This last one requires a footnote:  I've read several of Harif's short stories, a proof edition of one of his novels, and a draft edition of another.   Pretty much everything he writes is worth reading, most of it is fantastic.  Unfortunately, though, you'll have to wait a bit to read his work because he's not yet published much of it.  Keep looking though.)
Best non-fiction of the year:

* The Essence of Buddhism, by Traleg Kyabgon
* Arguing with Idiots, by Glenn Beck (yes, I'm surprised to find this on my list also!)
The 2010 year-end numbers are in and I've picked up the pace over 2009 with 123 books read, 59 non-fiction and 64 fiction.    In the non-fiction area, I read 13 business books, 10 conservation -related books, and 10 woodworking or home project books.   How does the distribution of fiction and non-fiction reading look over a four year horizon?   Looks like non-fiction is catching up!

Workshop Idea Book, by Andy Rae

I read this after Landis' book on the topic, and my expectations were set pretty low as a consequence.   But to my delight, Mr Rae delivered pretty much what I was hoping for.    His book isn't about the details of how to do things, but rather an informed and well presented view of how folks have approached workshops that, true to the title, stimulate ideas.  Of the two, there's no comparison:  this is the book to read on workshops -- if you're looking for some ideas of what you might do yourself, or just to be amused.

Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, by Heather Smith Thomas

There's a reason why this is the definitive book on the topic:  it is clear, well written, and seems pretty comprehensive to my layman's eye.    It is also practical, which means that some of the photos, drawings and instructions address the realities of cattle that aren't covered in Disney films.   Personally, the section on sewing up a prolapsed cow bothered me more than the details of turning a bull calf into a steer.   Well, mostly.

The Workshop Book, by Scott Landis

I was disappointed in this book:  I'm not sure what I expected, but this wasn't it.   Mr Landis interviewed a number of woodworkers, and took some photos of their set ups, with some rudimentary advice.

Once I read Andy Rae's far better book on the topic, I realized what it was that I had expected, because his book got quite a bit closer to the mark.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Country Life, by Paul Heiney

Now this is quite the collectors item:  out of print, it fetches hundreds of dollars.   (Unless, like my enterprising spouse, quite the eBay expert, you find one being retired by a library that didn't realize this is a volume most libraries should keep in their collection!)

It is a classic of homesteading.   Everything about it is warm, welcoming and informative.    To expensive to recommend purchasing, it absolutely is worth a library request if you have any interest in homesteading or farming.

On the homesteading topic, think of Seymour's book as a reference, but Heiney's book for day dreaming.

The Self-sufficient Life, by John Seymour

This is a comprehensive reference for the homesteader.   The best parts, to me, are the detailed description of many vegetables and how best to grow them.   At times, though, I feel as though the coverage of a topic is so cursory as to be completely unhelpful.   And, there's a considerable and bitter anti-business tone; think radical green.

Still worth having for the great reference.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fences, Gates, and Bridges, by George Martin

This was first published in 1892 and is available now through Forgotten Books (and others).   At first the poor quality of the (presumably authentic) type was off-putting, but I got used to it as I read.   The information seems quite reasonably to guide hand-cut fence making today (although one would use some modern labor saving techniques).   Actually, it would be difficult to imagine someone reading this without, like me, a strong urge to go cut some fence wood and try out some gate designs!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, by Nassim Taleb

A colleague, Deidre Paknad of PSS Systems, lent me this book, and I'm pleased that she did.   It is a breath of fresh air compared to the typical investment analysis text.   I'll net it out by quoting from Mr Taleb's prologue:
"This book is about luck disguised and perceived as nonluck (that is, skills) and, more generally, randomness disguised and perceived as non-randomness (that is, determinism).   It manifests itself in the shape of the lucky fool, defined as a person who benefited from a disproportionate share of luck but attributes his success to some other, generally very precise, reason."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dead or Alive, by Tom Clancy

The first Clancy book I read was in 1985, on an airplane en route to Nice, France.  It was so compelling that I violated my travel rule (sleep when flying east) and arrived tired.

Fast forward to 2010, when I optimistically imagined that this latest novel would be worth reading.   Sigh.   Save your time and money.   It was boring and not very well written; it lacked energy and pacing and suspense (save perhaps for the first couple of chapters, which sucked me in from reading the Kindle sample to wasting my money, I mean buying, the full novel).   And the characters weren't interesting and seemed overly artificial.  Which also describes the plot.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Watchlist, by Jeffrey Deaver, et al

It turns out that mystery and suspense writers talk with each other.   In particular, through the association called International Thriller Writers.   In this book, 15 writers (such as Lee Child, Joseph Finder, Lisa Scottoline, and Jeffery Deaver) collaborated to build a double-novel set around the same main character (hero Harry Middleton).

This turned out to be a very successful venture.   The book is very good -- absolutely perfect for a couple of airplane trips.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Road to Bedlam, by Mike Shevdon

Well, I'm admittedly not all that comfortable reading book about feyre, whatever that even means.   But is it my fault that Mr Shevdon's excellent writing, compelling plot advancement and character development happen to take place in the context of this fantasy tripe?


Anyway, this was easily as good as his prior volume; wish it had been a longer story though.   That's awfully high praise for an author; hope I'm not getting soft.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sixty-One Nails, by Mike Shevdon

As is typical for me lately, I downloaded this free novel for Kindle because -- well, because it was free from the limited time offers page.   I was immediately pulled in to the story:   a Neil Gaiman-ish approach, but more upbeat.   Even when I learned this was a "fantasy genre, see fey / faires" I kept going because it had a "real novel" beat to it.

As much as the fairy stuff might attract readers of that genre, I suspect that Mr Shevdon is doing himself a dis-service by not marketing his novel to a more mainstream audience of fiction readers.

I've already picked up the sequel, and will see if I feel the same way after reading it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

One Hit Wonder, by Charlie Carillo

I stuck with this book even though I was occasionally annoyed by redundancy or by more flashback detail than mattered to me.   Glad that I did; in total it is a good, interesting novel with very good plot advancement.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chinatown Beat, by Henry Chang

This is a good airplane book, in that my standards for a good read are relaxed a bit on flights as I feel trapped anyway, and a mediocre novel is better than no novel at all.    It is not very well written, the hero isn't endearing, and it has an overall noir feel.   Written in 2007, it has a 1960s feel to it.   But, there was a plot, and it did move forward.