Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Best of List

Once again in 2011, only five books made it on to my best of the year list.

Best fiction of the year:

* The Informationist, by Taylor Stephens
* Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield
* Topic of Night, by Michael Gruber

Best non-fiction of the year:

* Jesus on Death Row, by Mark Osler
* On China, by Henry Kissinger
As usual, I like to keep track of the numbers -- just because.   I expected to have read more books in the latter part of 2011 but a move late in the year caused almost all of my reading queue to be boxed up, and my reading time to be consumed with packing and unpacking.   In 2011, of the 116 books I read, fiction outweighed non-fiction at 67 to 49.   But I'm expecting lots of reading time in 2011; I've promised myself to make it through the stack of books in the box before taking on any new titles!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keeping Pet Chickens, by Paul, Windham, and Stahlkuppe

This cute little book has excellent photos, but few of them as it is quite thin.   There is a narrow purpose for which I think this book might be very good:  if you are considering raising chickens and want to inch your way forward slowly as you determine if it will be fun for you, this, early on, provides just enough information to be a gate.   It explains enough so that you will have sufficient understanding to say either, "nope, not for me," or "okay, I'm game, now let's get a real book and learn some more."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" is one of my favorite novels ever.   Apparently this is true for many people, whose reviews of "Reamde" tend to the negative only so much as they compare this latest novel to his prior work.    But this is not a problem for me:  this is a terrific novel.

There are two primary heros:  Richard, who got rich smuggling marijuana between Canada and the USA and then went straight with a massively multi-player online role-playing game called "T'Rain."    And, Zula, Richard's adult niece, who demonstrates considerable resourcefulness under pressure.   Several secondary characters are well described.

The plot, as is typical of Stephenson, is complex and multi-layered.  Chinese game players (for profit) have hacked the game such that files on a player's computer get encrypted.  They require that one make a $73 payment (inside the game structure) to get the decryption code.   The game structure allows virtual currency to be converted to real world currency, so with enough players paying, there's big money to be made.

Russian mobsters get involved when some of their files are affected.   And from there, there's too much risk of plot spoilers to say more.

Bottom line:  ignore the reviews that say "I liked his other books better," and read "Reamde."