Friday, December 31, 2010

Books of the Year 2010 and of Things to Come

I read, cover-to-cover, fifty-three books this year; of which only one was a 2010 release.  As usual, I seem to be consistent in staying away from the pulp blockbusters in a given year to seek out what is perhaps more substantial and enduring (though probably unheralded) beyond the immediate commercial push.  I only put down one book after starting it this year, and that more than anything else is something I'm very proud to say.  I don't mind putting a book down for any reason, but I've apparently developed a keen eye for what I like and avoided much that I didn't.   

There were a good deal of books in a series read this year, which, naturally, leads to a lot of repeat author experiences; although not all the repeat authors reads were works in a series.  Here's the break down:  
Neil Gaiman 2
Gene Wolfe 2
Gabriel Garcia-Marquez 2
Michael Swanwick 2
Guy Gavriel Kay 4
Greg Keyes 4
Arturo Perez-Reverte 5
Edward Whittemore 5
C.S. Lewis 5
There remaining books read were all from different, unique authors.  
This is officially not a "Best Books of 2010" list.  As previously noted, I've only read one book from this year.  As such, these are the books that stood out to me--enough to merit some special designation--at the end of my year of reading.  
Best New Author Discovery (And coincidentally, the shortlist for my favorite reads of 2010)
I can't give this to Miriam Gershow as I've come across her short stories (which are fabulous) in years past.  In the same breath I have to say, Whittemore, Joe Hill, John Fowles, Perez-Reverte, Akira Yoshimura, Garcia-Marquez, K.J. Parker, and Ivan Turgenev.  How's that for wussing out on a single answer (not to mention diversity)?  
I've offered a host of comments on Perez-Reverte, of which most of my reading has been confined to his Captain Alatriste series, and of Whittemore I've commented on every one of his books.  I've only read one book each from Yoshimura, Hill, and Parker and each was fabulous while Turgenev, Fowles, and Garcia Marquez are authors of 'classics' and near cheating to mention.
Most forgettable Reads
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes, The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, The Last Song of Orpheus by Robert Silverberg , and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Silverburg was as un-engaging as it was inoffensive, Kostova was a let down of 'blah' proportions, and after the initial power of Barnes the middle and end of the novel were a complete snore-fest.  Of Ms. Bronte (pick one...), I'd just rather not speak…
Biggest Surprise 
The Dragon's of Babel by Michael Swanwick and The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Swanwick should come as no surprise but, I'll have to read it again to fully absorb the depths of awesome he gave readers.  He may be the most original mind in fiction today.  It's as though he lives for turning cliches into something fresh.  Furthermore, The Dragon's of Babel has stuck with me more than any other book read this year.  It's not a piece of fiction you fly through, nor is it so difficult as to be tedious.  It's a book that can be read and enjoyed on many different levels.  It's very mature and one I feel will endure for a long time to come.   
Grossman's book was an absolute gem; I can't wait for the next.  It was contemporary, visceral, and a success on every level.  

The Best Book I Read in 2010
The Local News by Miriam Gershow.  I tried multiple times to leave comments on this outstanding book, but was unsuccessful in writing anything that wasn't a litany of praise.  If I could physically force readers to pick up anyone book before all others, it would be The Local News.  It's better than great, and to find out why and just how good it is, you have to read it yourself or wait until I do so a second time and can commit my thoughts to paper.  
None of the above categories would really fit for Whittemore's Jerusalem Quartet and yet, I feel it an error to not mention what are easily the most profound, bizarre and wholly original books I came across this year.  Scour your used books stores, hunt for them at library sales, buy them online when you have to.  English language readers should be ashamed of 'out-of-print' status of these wonders, but if you look, you will find them.
Next years reading strikes me a bit odd: my shelves are weighted down with names like Chabon, Eco, Franzen, and Zafon; it seems my taste in fiction are on the move.  But I'm sure I'll find time for comfort food and not to mention slimmer volumes.  
2011 is looking like, "The Year of the Doorstopper" for me.  Five-hundred plus page giants are breeding on my shelves.  I'll set the same reading goal as I did last year: fifty books read, but I wouldn't be surprised to fall short of that number and triple the page count of this year's reading.  
Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Year in Rum

In what I hope is a continued series into next year, I offered up comments on sixteen bottles of rum (and sipped here and there on countless others) through five separate post.  I learned a lot and honed my taste to a fine edge.  I have a penchant for the old world stuff: big, robust, aged in wood and meant to be enjoyed all by itself.  While I can appreciate the marketing and money making of the flavored sugary things I don't enjoy them enough to work them into my personal collection.  

Greatest Discovery:

I'm a bit surprised myself to say this but Anniversario has grown on me.  It's more versatile that I originally gave it credit for and exceptionally well-priced for what it is.  At the time I had it, I would have predicted Ron Barcelo Imperial to occupy this spot, but I doesn't strike me as profound a discovery now as it did then.   

Greatest Offender:

Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Argicole is plan and simply put, awful.  Furthermore, it's awful at a high price; no redeeming qualities to mention.  There isn't a close second place that comes to mind, and even if there were it would be misleading as to Depaz's awful-ness to mention someone else in the same breath.  

Greatest Dissapointment:

I could mention a great deal here but more than any other rum I really wanted more out of Pyrat and 10 Canes Rums.  Both are good, but I felt as they were on the cusp of something really special but didn't fulfill.  

The Best Rum You Can Drink:

Of the rums I sampled this year, I have to go with Zafra Master Reserve.  As I said in my review, "This is what scotch drinkers would drink if they weren't so high and mighty as to try something other than scotch."  The Mount Gay Extra Old gets an honorable mention, but comes up short in a taste test where all things are considered.  Two rums I didn't get to drink enough of to offer comments on were Zaya, and Ron Zacap XO Centenario Solera Gran Reserva.  I can say with confidence, both the Zaya and Zacap will be serious contenders to the space currently given to Zafra.  You can expect me to track down bottles of these two in the new year.  The general rule for this coming year is, if you looking for a great rum buy something that starts with a "Z" and you should be alright.   

Should funds allow, I'd love to continue this series in 2011 as the market is incessantly being introduced to new products and rare items are seem to pop up with greater and greater frequency.  There's plenty out there I've yet to have, and I'm telling myself I've gone through all the bad stuff.  
To the good stuff ahead...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

It's a bit early for this post, I know, but I plan a few other "year in review" post in the very near future.  The Christmas season has come and gone!  Yea!!!!  Back to regular life; which is no bad thing.  Outside of a stressful month of work (compounded by the holidays, and other people's holiday stress) December was a blast.

I had a party the first weekend of the month with a stellar drink menu and full bar that was the envy of every true mixologist.    There were Margaritas, Papa Dobles, Blood and Sand, Tom Collins, The Pegu Club, Long Islands, Spring Break and Mama's Milk (the latter two were of my own device and extremely well received) plus anything else you could think to concoct.  I had top-shelf everything and small fortunes worth of freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice.  It was beyond decadent and nice to feel like I'm not broke-to-def for once in a while.

I also was humbled by a beverage this month; rum of all things.  Here I think I know this particular liquor from front to back and out of nowhere comes the mention of "Hot Buttered Rum."  Not wanting to remain ignorant to a drink that uses my favorite spirite I quickly made up a few batches with different spices.  The conclusion is that hot buttered rum is not for me...   Hot booze in general doesn't strike my fancy, but I do feel more veteran for the experience.

I also saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 3D and IMAX and all that jazz.  I'll say what I always say about seeing movies: it was fun and I had a great time.  I see about three movies a year and don't expect much and while this film had large deficiencies they were trumped by the badassery of the dragon.  Perhaps that should be a lesson for all film makers.  If you include a badass looking dragon moviegoers will forgive a lot.     

On the reading front I am bound and determined to get through Jane Eyre before 2011.  That said, I've got my work cut out for me.  I don't get along particularly well with the Brönte sisters but as with Wuthering Heights, I can't quite justify putting this book down, nor do I get excited about sitting down to read it, but once I get going it's enjoyable enough.  I also finished The Silver Chair and A Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, 20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill.

This was also an absurd month for book purchases: six.  It's not that big of a number but considering my large stack of already unread books and the fact that I've told myself I'm not buying anything more until said stack has evanesced, (I'm not 100% sure you can conjugate evanescence in the manner I previously did, but it felt right so I said, "what the hell" and went for it) six is a lot.

December is also looking to be a big blogging month for me as well; not that that statement of fact arouses anyone's interest, but I thought I'd mention it.

Apropos 'things to come,' 2011 will be a year of wait-and-see.  In the first third of the year I hope to hear that I got accpeted into someones Ph D program and if not hopefully I'll find new full time employment.  I already know the reutine of the latter and there are many aspect to the former that I hope to undergo.

Let the waiting begin.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Bagging and the Need to Rub One Out

I guess if you are a regular book reading person, the issue I'm about to complain about never comes up.  However, if you read more than three to seven books a year my complaint may also be true for you.

So I've just come home from yet another trip to Books for Less.  (Yes, I know I'm not supposed to buy anything until I've read all the stuff I already have, but I had a bunch of stuff to trade in and while I was there I figured I'd look around.)  I only bought five books and when the nice clerk was done checking me out he rather unceremoniously, if cheerfully, dumped all my shit in a bag and said, "Have a nice day!"

Now, my shrink friend Andi would be all over me here (but she doesn't read my blog so I'm safe.)  I'm complaining about the possible damage of books that I bought in a used book store... But there were at least five or more other books that I didn't buy because of the condition they were in, so I'd like to think the ones I wanted to purchase would make it home in the same condition that I found them on the shelves.  Am I being absurd?  That said, I like the place, the people and the price that I bought the books for too much to say anything further.

I can't exactly quantify the following so prepare to roll your eyes: this may have been the greatest used book store purchase ever.  The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke and an Easton Press Edition of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain; all were bought for a total of $22.76 and believe me when I say Huck Finn is in "Like New" condition.  You should be jealous, because I'm bragging.

Clarke is a Christmas gift for someone that I know won't read it, I have a moral aversion to Card, but was caught up in the moment and couldn't hold back, Bradley was there and an odd feeling of compulsion overcame me (and there is an awesome Simon and Schuster 'remainder stamp' on the bottom in the shape of their logo that I've never seen before) Spakowski I have extraordinarily high hopes for being the greatest thing since rum.  We'll see.  As to Twain, I haven't read it but how could I say anything wrong about a man who writes such essays on masturbation?   

Friday, December 24, 2010


Well today has been a giant cluster**** and that's all I'll say about that...

To alleviate holiday stress I went book shopping.  It was probably the least amount of time I've ever spent in my favorite used book store (mentally, all I wanted to do was go home.)  I did feel slightly better after purchasing Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, and Michael Chabon's Summerland.  Hill and Chabon have previously proven themselves to be awesome and Franzen's someone I've wanted to checkout.

Now I have gifts to wrap as well as expel the remainder of holiday stresses with extensive R & D apropos hot buttered rum.

Happy Holidays; Bah-humbug; or my new favorite, "Whatever, dude..."   

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

The title of this book is terrible, but that is about the only thing you'll hear me complain about.  Joe Hill is the unequivocal Crown Prince of Modern Fiction, but his parentage and my pretense aside; boy oh boy does he deliver.  
This short story collection certainly has circumstances that will put your nerves on edge, but it's not horror fiction.  It is at times scary but more due to a sense of the unknown created by the author than any abject descriptions of gore.  It's also laugh out loud funny, outright charming, and unabashedly sentimental at times.  There is great variety here and a whole lot to like.
"Pop Art" is a story that is, quite literally, too good to be in any collection.  Everything else pales in comparison--no matter how good--to this story of an inflatable boy, his trials at school and growing up, and a surprising friend he makes.  Upon finishing this story I remember asking myself out loud, "Did Peter S. Beagle write this?"  What better compliment can I make?  "Better than Home" is in the same vein and so sweet as to be saccharine, yet never infringed on the grounds of cloying.  There is a very bright kid with some serious nervous conditions that finds he doesn't need special treatment, medication or facilities, for none of these aides eases his anxiety like the attention of what is certainly one of the greatest father's in fiction.  Hill treads the waters that separate melodrama and heightened emotional realism with profound skill and the affect on the reader couldn't be stronger.  However, not all is sweet and tender in this collection.
There are plenty of stories involving children in peril.  "In the Rundown" is a nice take on 'wrong place at the wrong time' as is the all too visceral (and, unfortunately, disturbingly tangible) story of child abduction in "The Black Phone."  It's in these story that Hill jolts the reader the most.  Things don't usually happen the way we want, nor are the endings fully explained; it's the issues that go unknown to the reader--what we 'fill in the blanks'--that enables these stories to stick in our minds as long as they do.  
Despite Hill's originality (which is generously on display in this collection), he also nods to past writers' works.  Francis Kay, wake up one morning as a very large insect in the Kafka-esque story "You Will Hear the Locust Sing" and "Abraham's Boy's" is the most unexpected Van Helsing telling you may ever come across.
The only down spot for me was "Dead-Wood."  At only four pages it was the shortest in the collection but I don't feel there was enough material here to expand on and what was present was too weak to be included.  It turns out angry, non-sentient trees who loudly rustle their leaves as the wind blows really isn't that disturbing… or at least not to me. 
"Voluntary Committal" was without doubt the strongest in the collection, with the exception of the previously mentioned "Pop Art."  The story of boy, Morris, who is a bit slow and retains his penchant for building forts into adulthood.  There are missing people who are never found and none strong enough to see where the cardboard tunnels of Morris' creation lead.  The combination of clever writing and unexpected scenarios make the mundane feel fresh and left me thinking, "How have I not come across this guy before?"  

The title is as misleading as it could possibly be with the exception of the first story, "Best new Horror."  I can suggest a host of better titles: "Joe Hill's Ass-Kicking Fiction;" "Read this Book;" "Damn!;" and those are just off the top of my head.  I'd say this book were criminally under-read if it sold fifty million copies.  Simply put, Joe Hill is a manifestation of everything that's great about fiction.    

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Kindle Reading Experience

I was gonna label this post with with my standard 'book reviews' but I didn't think it would be fair to do so as I had no experience with any other e-readers as a point of comparison and seeing as I only review the quality of publisher's books after I've gotten my hands on at least three of them.  As of right now, I've only read one book on Kindle.

It's a sexy little piece of hardware.  I'm no technology geek, but found it to be solid and well made.  While the extreme light weight of the Kindle was a bit disconcerting it didn't feel flimsy in my hands and the weight felt expertly distributed throughout the entire device.  The buttons have a nice solid 'crunch' to them when pressed--I enjoy that kind of feedback--and the words on the screen couldn't be easier to read.  There are other hardware aspects I could mention or dwell on but it's all around well done, so I'll skip on to my reading experience.  

I have to say that my feelings toward Kindle are a bit jaded as the only book I've read on it was terrible.  The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis is by far and away not the strongest entry in The Chronicles of Narnia.  If Kindles were like books, I'd be trading this one in next time I visited a used book store.  I mention this only because the book did color my feelings in using Kindle.  
Maps, while not crucial in The Silver Chair but perhaps vital to something like The Name of the Rose, suck ass on a Kindle.  It was grainy and failed to raise any of the curiosity that maps usually hold over me in reading.  Maps are particularly bad when they span multiple pages as you can't see the whole thing at once.  The only issue I noticed that suffered more than maps  was illustrations.  

The pictures in The Silver Chair by Pauline Baynes looked bad; especially so as I had the physical book on-hand to compare.  While I didn't read the book for the pictures, any added bonus they may have imparted was negated by the poor quality of their rendering.
My biggest gripe with Kindle is the words on the screen.  One screen's worth of text is not a 'page.'  The percentages of a book's completion as displayed by Kindle really didn't work for me.  I think this is no fault of the Kindle rather my long established reading history doesn't base my progress on a percentage, therefor seeing one doesn't really resonate with me.  Worse than not having a good feeling as to how much I had read, was not being able to see if I wanted to read further.

When I come to a page break, chapter's end, or otherwise feeling like I'm done reading at the moment I always flip ahead a bit; looking for the next page break or chapter's end etc.  If the next chunk of text comes to an end in six to eight pages, then I'll keep reading.  If it's thirty more then I'll stop reading for the time as I originally intended to do.  I can't do this with Kindle and it drives me crazy.  As noted before one of Kindle's screens doesn't equal a page of text and I haven't spent enough time with the device to reconcile the difference.  

It's a brilliant piece of hardware.  I still think it's greatest promise is in educational systems: eliminating 'new editions' of text books every semester by way of a download, decreasing the weight of backpacks by an estimated 843%, and least of all dropping the cost of printing text books and the expense of already broke students having to buy them.  Assuming publishers and authors can ever figure out away to make a viable business model out of e-readers I think they would be very well received as an educational tool.  As for me, I could never get over the fact that I was reading a Kindle and not a book.  

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I'm Struggling...

"Killian left the blanket on Gage--didn't want it--and left Gage where he lay on a rise above a little creekbed somewhere in eastern Ohio."
The Widow's Breakfast by Joe Hill opening sentence

Anyone else have trouble reading that sentence?  By the end of this weekend I hope to have posted my glowing review of 20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill (it exceeds awesome), and in three-hundred plus pages of fiction this was my only gripe.  I think I read it about six-eight times before it clicked.    

Perhaps it's just me.  

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thoughts on Fiction

This is a short passage I came across today in Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghost.

He had been drawn to horror fiction... because it took the most basic elements of literature and pushed them to their extremes.  All fiction was make-believe, which made fantasy more valid (and honest) than realism.  (Page 14)

Interesting thought don't cha think?  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

So... I'm an Examiner Now...

Look... See... It's the truth.

This will be an interesting adventure.  My rule on this blog is to post once a week (which is miniscule by popular blogging standards).  Examiner ask me to do so three times a week.

Here's to hoping things don't become too asinine...