Sunday, January 4, 2009

My 2008 Reading List

Books read in 2008. Book title, author, and date completed.

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy 1-6-08

I had asked for book recommendations at The Oil Drum, and I got a long list. I shortened it down, and then when I was home for Christmas I went to the local library to see what they had. This was the only one I could find. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It also said that it was an Oprah Book Club book, and I don't think I have ever read one of those. The book is written in a very unusual style - there are no chapters and the dialogue is not quoted. It was a very difficult read.

It played upon some of my worst nightmares - watching one of your children starve, and being unable to do anything about it. Not being able to help other people in distress - including children - because you are barely surviving yourself. Facing conditions so horrible that the main character was constantly thinking of ending his and his young son's lives to end the misery. Worse for me, I have a couple of boys that age, so I of course kept envisioning them with me in that situation. The one thing I kept expecting was some explanation for how things got to that condition. The only thing I can think of that could remotely explain the devastation would be the Yellowstone Super Volcano blowing its top.

2. Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds 1-12-08

Reynolds has become one of my favorite science fiction writers. What an imagination this guy has. This book consisted of a pair of novellas based on worlds/concepts he introduced in previous novels. The stories are very different, and both will stretch your imagination. I have yet to read anything from him that I didn't like, but I have let myself get behind on reading his books. I need to make an effort to catch up on his books this year, because I never regret the time I spend reading them. Books that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed by Reynolds are Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, and Chasm City.

3. Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of Energy Independence by Robert Bryce 1-21-08 (pre-release copy)

This was a great book, and I reviewed it in detail on my energy blog: Book Review: Gusher of Lies

4. Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan 2-29-08

Excellent reading. I almost bit off more than I could chew, having decided to read one more book (by a Scottish author) a week before I was to leave Scotland. It's a pretty long read, and I finished this and dropped it off as I was leaving town. Interestingly, the UK version - which was the version I read - is called "Black Man." I guess the U.S. publishers felt that was politically incorrect. I had previously read and enjoyed Morgan's Altered Carbon, but I didn't know anything about this one. I just thought the cover looked pretty cool. But given that I had enjoyed Morgan before, I decided to give it a read. Very glad I did. The book is about a genetically engineered human (happens to be a black man) who was made to be a "super soldier." Once peace breaks out, these folks are seen as a threat. The U.S. has also split in two in this book, which was an interesting concept. For the most part, Republicans got the middle, and Democrats got "the rim." Good stuff though, and a compelling read.

5. Wood Modification by Callum Hill 3-10-08

Not a book for the average reader, just something I read that is related to my new job. But if you are into that kind of thing, this is The Bible.

6. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card 4-15-08

It seems like I have been working at this book for years. The 3rd book in the Ender series, and Card still had some tricks up his sleeve. I like his far-out biology concepts; they really stretch the imagination. A lot of people felt like this one fell short of the two in the series that preceded it. To be honest, it's been so long since I read Ender's Game - which is sometimes described as the best science fiction novel ever written, that I really can't compare them. I found Xenocide pretty entertaining; no complaints from me.

7. World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler 4-23-2008

Reviewed in detail on my energy blog: Book Review: World Made by Hand

8. Profit from the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century by Brian Hicks and Chris Nelder 5-11-2008

Reviewed in detail on my energy blog: Book Review: Profit from the Peak

9. Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey 7-18-2008

My reading is really suffering this year as demands from work have sapped all of my spare time. Once upon a time I was always reading through a book at lunch. No longer, as I am usually working through lunch. But, back on topic, I found this to be a difficult read. It was interesting, to be sure, to watch someone over 100 years ago slip into the same kind of drug dependency that is all too familiar to us today. Description of life in 19th century England was also worth the read. The trouble I had was that the language and expressions were different enough that sometimes I had to read a paragraph a few times to understand what he was saying. This really slowed down my reading speed. Some of the build up to his slide into opium addiction was also incredibly tedious.

10. Basic Composting: All the Skills and Tools You Need to Get Started (Basic How-to Guides) by Eric Ebeling 8-3-08

I didn't learn a whole lot that I didn't already know about composting, but there were a lot of useful building plans in the book.

11. Big Cotton: How A Humble Fiber Created Fortunes, Wrecked Civilizations, and Put America on the Map by Stephen Yafa 8-5-08

Fascinating book. I learned a wealth of information about cotton, and it gave me a whole new respect for it. This book was well-written, humorous, and very informative. I especially enjoyed reading about the history of the battles with various pests, and how technology has evolved to combat these resilient pests.

12. Slash by Slash and Anthony Bozza 8-14-08

If half of what Slash wrote is true, I don't know how he survived. I picked this book up for the insider's story on my favorite band of all time. I love biographies, especially those rags to riches stories of people who persevered and made it big. I find them inspirational. But I had never realized until reading this book just how extreme the drug usage and "appetite for destruction" really was. These guys were really insane. Slash explains in no uncertain terms why – in his view – the band broke up. Given that he has moved on to a successful career with other bands, I tend to believe his version that the band collapsed mostly because of Axl's erratic behavior. Anyway, very interesting book if you are a GNR fan.

13. W.A.R.: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose by Mick Wall 8-29-08

I have been traveling a lot, and I like to read light when I am traveling. So, following the wake of the previous autobiography by Slash, I decided to read the unauthorized biography of W. Axl Rose. The author is Mick Wall, who Axl ripped into during the song "Get in the Ring" off of Use Your Illusion II. Mick is a Brit, and thus the book is very Brit-oriented. All of Axl's major musical influences were British, yadda, yadda. At times Mick comes off as a scorned lover, and seems to be lashing out in retribution. The picture he paints of Axl is a very disturbing portrait of a guy who apparently has some pretty serious mental issues. I went to see the band play in 1988, and after about half an hour, Axl threw the mike down and walked off the stage. I knew that he pulled this a few times - as well as sometimes coming on stage very late - but I didn't realize until reading these books that it happened all the time. Axl had no problem keeping fans waiting up to four hours until he was ready to perform. A musical genius – at least to me – it is sad to see that he could never get it together again after the band split. He has been working on an album for 15 years, always promising the release is just around the corner. I think he is destined to go down in history as the "Howard Hughes of music."

14. Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge 9-27-08

This book was not at all what I expected. Vernor Vinge has written some of the best science fiction I have ever read. A Fire Upon The Deep and A Deepness in the Sky are two of the best science fiction books I have ever read, but this one was very different. It reminded me more of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. It was a good book; very complex and sometimes hard to follow the layers. It was just a disappointment to me because I was expecting something like one of his earlier books.

15. Gardeners' Questions Answered by Richard Bird 10-11-08

I have got to start paying attention to the books I pick up. This isn't the first I have gotten that was written for British gardens. There was some useful information, but a lot that is specific to the UK climate.

16. The Organic Home Garden by Patrick Lima 10-24-08

Much better than the previous book, but still written from a cold climate perspective. There was quite a bit of useful information here, though. There were especially a lot of practical tips for dealing with garden pests. I also enjoyed the detailed instructions for various vegetables.

17. How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible by John Jeavons 10-31-08

I have been chipping away at this book for months. It is really a great book to have on your shelf if you are a gardener. I probably learned more about the importance of soil quality (how to maintain it, the need to have it loosened to a greater depth, etc.) than I had learned up to this point in my life. I am actually putting the techniques in this book into practice in my garden.

18. The No-Work Garden: Getting the Most Out of Your Garden for the Least Amount of Work by Bob Flowerdew 11-8-08

Lots of good tips in this book, but it occurs to me that I really like working in the garden. People always ask me why I don't have someone else mow my lawn (I have neighbors frequently offering me their lawn guy). I tell them I like to mow my own lawn. It is therapeutic. Having said that, though, there are a lot of really good tips in here on a much wider range of topics than many gardening books I have read.

19. Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds 11-20-08

While Reynolds is one of my favorite authors, I didn't realize that this was a collection of short stories. I don't really care for short stories, because my attention span is short. If I have to learn an entirely new cast of characters every 30 pages, it becomes like work. In his first two chapters, he kept the characters the same, and just changed the time frame. That worked well. But then by Chapter 3 he was on to the typical theme of an entirely new story (albeit it in the same Revelation Space universe) with every chapter. One thing that did strike me as I was reading this book. Reynolds tells a great story, no doubt about that. But people don't really behave in the way that he sometimes has his characters behave. For instance, in his second story, a guy wakes up from a long period of being froze, and has an incredible discovery to share. But he keeps it secret until the climax. Given the nature of that discovery, I couldn't figure out why he wouldn't spill it all out just as soon as he was awake. There was no compelling reason not to.

20. Where Have All the Leaders Gone? by Lee Iacocca 12-6-08

I got this book thinking it might be a good book on leadership. Instead, it is an angry rant against the Bush Administration. That's well and good, if that's what I was looking for. But what I wanted was for Iacocca to share some of his wisdom on leadership. What I read leads me to believe Iacocca is past his 'sell by' date. I did think it was ironic to hear him brag about how well the auto industry does things, when as I was reading it they were before congress looking for a bailout.

21. First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman 12-30-08

I like data, and this book was the result of a massive Gallup survey of 80,000 managers in 400 companies on what works in management. They debunk such myths as "people are capable of almost anything" and put an emphasis on matching up talents and needs. The good thing is that most of what they say works is already the way I manage my group. But it was nice to have some confirmation that this is the style that works best.

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