3. Grendel by John Gardner

I've always meant to read this book, and now that I have I'm already sad that it's over. I started it last night, and finished it today. I'm reading it for two reasons. First, I always loved Beowulf. It's one of those books that really grabbed my attention when I was in school, precisely becasue it';s so old and mysterious. Yanked from the  mists of time. Second, I wanted to make sure I read it before the movie came out. I didn't want a CGI Grendel stuck in my head when I read the book. 

In any case, I started and finished this last night. It's a phenominal read. Give it a shot. 

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1. What is the What


As you can see from previous years, I'm typically a fairly active reader. So I can't believe that in all of 2007, now more than halfway finished, I've only managed to complete one title, and it took me four months or so to do it. Having said that, What is the What is a great and moving book. It didn't break my heart--although maybe it should have and that could be more of a reflection on me than anything else--but it did take me to a world I had never before been able to imagine, and managed to turn voiceless "refugees" and "war victims" into full-throated human beings, into my contemporaries. The ending, as all of Eggers' endings, is a smash to the face. It's definitely worth the purchase, even if all the proceeds didn't go to the Lost Boys of Sudan, which they do.

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24. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Goddamn Cormac McCarthy can write. I think I finished this book in under 24 hours. I was compelled to finish it. It was one of his most disturbing works, yet with one of the most satisfying endings of any book I've ever read. I finished it a few weeks ago, and it haunts me still.

Buy this book.

21, 22 & 23 McSweeney's Treasuries

I burned through McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, and the book with perhaps the longest title I've ever read: Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things... That Aren't as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn't Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out

I love these treasuries, anthologies, whatever. It's great being able to pick up a book and at random find an engrosing adventure story in the spirit of old pulp fiction.

20. Oil on the Brain

This is a great book by Lisa Margonelli that follows the gasoline--from a pump in San Francisco all the way to the end of the line. I don't want to say too much, as the book's not out yet, and I might be reviewing it for a magazine. But it's great. Pre-order now.


19. American Born Chinese by Gene Yang

I picked up American Born Chinese because it was nominated for a National Book Award--a first for a graphic novel. I also heard Gene Yang interviewed (on Fresh Air?) which further piqued my interest.

The book's great. The art is good, the story is touching and consumed me utterly. I couldn't put it down until I finished it. But I've certainly read other graphic novels that are, in my opinion, just as deserving of an NBA nomination. Blankets springs immediately to mind, as does Jimmy Corrigan, Maus, and Persepolis. Still, I think it's great that the NBA are looking at comics, finally.


18. Everything is Illuminated

I wanted to loathe Everything is Illuminated because, after seeing him in person, I loathe Jonathan Safran Foer. He's a testy little man who bristles with arrogance and piety. Here's a tip: if you don't feel like ansering questions about your book; don't go on tour, asshole.


He is a hell of a writer and the payoff on this book was something else. Heartbreaking.

17. The Omnivore's Dilemma

Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma is everything you've heard and more. For me, I think this will be one of those life-changing books that alters the way you approach the world. It has certainly already affected my eating habits, and there's a huge part of me now that wants to move to the country and become a grass farmer.

16. The Hummingbird's Daughter

The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea was just phenominal. I wa a little skeptical at first, thinking it was a cheap GGM ripoff. But it completely won me over, and I dwelt in its pages for far too short a time.

That it's based on a true story, and one of the author's ancestors, is just gravy.


15. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro A beautiful book, a great story. On occasions I tired of Ishiguro's near-coquettishness in telling his tale, and wanted him to simply go ahead and let me know me what's happening.


14. Here They Come by Yannick Murphy

I didn't intend to read back-to-back McSweeney's titles--in fact I intended not to do so. But I was glad I did. I tore through Here They Come by Yannick Murphy. It was a fantastic read. Heartbreaking and hillarious. I inhaled all but the first 50 pages or so, which I drew out so that I could savor the book a bit, not wanting to leave it behind.

13. The Pharmacist's Mate - By Amy Fusselman

I hate to say it, but The Pharmacist's Mate didn't really do anything for me. It's not that it wasn't well-written, it was. And the story was interesting I suppose. But I don't think I'm in the right place in my life. The main character is a woman who wants to have a baby, and whose father has recently passed away. The problem, I think, is that I just can't really relate to either situation. I feel like I should have liked this book. But I didn't.


12. Guns Germs and Steel

I finished two other novel while I was reading Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (including the hated DaVinci Code) and this was certainly my favorite of the three. I love books like this, that take a long view of things, propose bold theories, and, consequently, change your worldview. But not only is it full of good ideas, it's well-written. A fantastic book all-around.

11. Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen

I took a break in the middle of GG&S to read Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen. Like almost all his books, it's fast-paced, has an environmental theme, and very, very funny. Several old characters pop up here to say hello again. It's a really quick read, too. I think I finished this book over breakfast.


10. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I'm not even going to link to this piece of shit.

I hated this book. It left me with a deep sense of resentment and a feeling of overwhelming derision for those who put this turd-paper on the best-seller list.

Perhaps it's that I came off of two excellent books. Or maybe it's because of all the hype, which led me to have very high expectations. It could even be that due to a comparative religion class I took in college, I was already familiar with the gnostic gospels as well as several of the tinfoil-hat theories Brown espoused. But I tend to think it's because this fucking suckfest of a book novelized-screenplay isn't worth the match you'd use to burn it.

Reading this wormfood was about as enjoyable as a urinary tract infection. I found myself plowing my way through it just to be finished; just to put it the fuck behind me. I had wanted to read it before the culture became totally saturated by the movie. Harper warned me it would probably stink. Do you really expect anything that popular to be good, she asked. Harry Potter! I replied. Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter!

But I was way fucking wrong. And for what it's worth, none of my complaints have to do with religion. I'm not Catholic, and I've had more "mind-blowing" revelations thrown my way by tenth-grade stoners brandishing dollar bills who can't even pronounce illuminati porperly. Here are my main beefs with this fucktarded tome:
  1. It's poorly written.
    Admittedly, that's the least of the problems. I don't expect my page-turner mysteries to be Faulkner. If you have a great imagination, and no way with words, I still want to hear your story. Sure, I'd prefer it if every best-selling author could write like Michael Chabon, or even Stephen King, but for pure action-driven storytelling, your actual use of language is among the least important aspects. Yet the writing in this book was so bad that it made me aware of the fact that I was reading. It was unintentional post-modernism, in a way, although that makes it sound somewhat appealing. Which it was not.

  2. The Wikipedia entries
    I know, I know. There aren't really any Wikipedia entries. But there might as well have been. It's often essential for a book to tell you a back story necessary to advancing the plot, without incorporating it into the main narrative. Yet there are both elegant and awkward ways to do this. The Da Vinci Code follows the latter method. Sometimes it seemed like Brown wasn't even trying. I felt like he should have at least have had the decency to warn me: OKAY I AM GOING TO DROP IN A PAGE FROM A TEXTBOOK ON GNOSTIC HISTORY HERE. In fact, that would have been more elegant than Brown's sudden digressions.

  3. There was no mystery to this mystery
    And really, this was the unforgivable thing. It's supposed to be a mystery, dammit. And when you, as a mystery writer, give your readers enough hints that not only are there no surprises, but you leave them feeling deadened to your eventual "revelations," then you have failed. I found it odd that I figured out that the teacher was Leigh, Remy wasn't to be trusted, the knight was Newton, and the orb was an apple well before the smarty-smart-smart-smart Harvard professor did. And as to the family being the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene? Well. If you didn't see that coming--even factoring in Brown's cheating by first telling his readers that they are not--you need to get some damn glasses. Oh. And in case you're pissed about all the spoilers in this graf; I'm only doing it for your own good.
There were other issues as well (notably plot elements left hanging), but I've already wasted enough of my life on this booger bible and now I shall endeavor to put it behind me.


9. Blankets: An Illustrated Novel by Craig Thompson

I spent a week without a book, and then picked up Blankets: by Craig Thompson. It was another book that I'd long been interested in, but I bought it on a whim when I was getting my friend Andy a birthday present at the comics shop. It was beautifully told and drawn, and I (like, I'm sure, many people from flyover states who move to the Big City) really found that I could relate to his story on a personal level. I finished it the same night I began, and then re-read much of it again the next day.

8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel by Jonathan Safran Foer

I was looking for something really different from No Country For Old Men, and found it in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I'd seen the reviews for this book, but I had been wary of it--I was expecting lots of hipsterism and New Lit Tomfoolery. But after reading the review on Large-Hearted Boy I gave it a shot, and it absolutely crushed me.

I don't think any other book has made me contemplate my own mortality as much. And it has forced me to think about what Harper or I would do if one of us died. It really threw me, and I loved it.


7. A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester

I don't really have much to say about A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester other than it's a good book to have read prior to the 100th anniversary of the quake, which occurs this April 18. I wan't that fond of the book. I thought Winchester spent way too much time on, say, Pangea, and not enough on San Francisco. It was interesting, but I could have done without a lot of the history of plate tectonic theory and used some more on, you know, the 1906 earthquake.

6. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

It's been several weeks since I finished No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. I found myself unable to write it up immediately afterwards, because I just didn't know what to say. This is the 5th book I've read by McCarthy, and my favorite since All The Pretty Horses.

But, man, what a violent book. There were times when I thought he was kidding; putting me on. Just having a laugh at his own reputation for exceedingly brutal prose. Yet as always, from the gore and horror McCarthy tells a beautiful and gripping story. It's a glorious tragedy. Be sure to pick it up.


5. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Two nights ago, I finished The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I read Oryx and Crake last year, and liked it, and I loved "Lusus Naturae," the leadoff tale in McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories. And I was also pretty keen on The Blind Assassin, especially its narrative structure. She is an incredible writer. So I had been looking forward to reading The Handmaid's Tale, as it was the first work of hers that I heard of, years ago, and is still oft-cited as one of her defining books.

But this dystopia wasn't the bag of apes I had hoped for. Maybe it's just my mood, I'm not sure. It could be that I had a harder time suspending disbelief. But it never grabbed me by the balls and took hold of my throat, like some of her other books have done. I eventually got a little tired of reading it, and after dallying for two weeks, finally plowed through it just to go ahead and finish.

Yet it was a good book. I'll give it that. The story will stick with me, and it was well-written. Compelling, even. But the timing was wrong, or it just wasn't the book for me. Either way I'm glad to move on.


4. Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia MarquezThis is the first book of Garcia Marquez' that I've read in fifteen (count them, fifteen) years. But it was like yesterday.

Nobody else can write a love story like Garcia Marquez. Nobody living, at least. This short little book is stunning. Hillarious and sad. The story of an old man and his great love, a fifteen year-old prostitute. It was full of so many wonderful lines, so many profound sentences. I could have read it in an afternoon, but I stretched it out intentionally, wanting to savor it like I would a glass of port.


3. Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis

Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis is the fourth book by Ellis I've read. It's very different from the others. Doubtlessly, you've heard something about this. Ellis inserted himself into the narrative. And, like all his books, in my opinion, it's a horror story. You either love or hate Ellis, and I love his stuff. Violent, graphic, gruesome, it's all quite remarkable. Last night I couldn't sleep until I finished this book, sometime around 2:30 in the morning.


2. The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon

I thought The Final Solution was a fun, fast little book. As with all of Chabon's stuff, the writing was impeccable. But I wasn't so crazy about the mystery itself. I didn't find it very convincing. I also never would have made the Sherlock Holmes connection, despite having read everything by Doyle. Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it; I did. And it was a welcome change of pace from The Poisonwood Bible.


1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The first book I finished this year was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Phew.

I'd resisted reading this book. I've started it several times, and never made it past the first chapter. Even this time, I almost put it down before I'd made it past 10 or 12 pages. I have a tendency to do that. If a book doesn't grab me right away; fuck it.

Harper convinced me to read the first 50 pages, a tactic she takes with troublesome books. And I was caught. Caught in this beautiful, tragic story that Kingsolver tells so well. I've never read any of her other books, but I plan on doing so now.


2005 Reading List

Because I like to Keep Track.

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
The Coma - Alex Garland
Jimmy Corrigan Smartest Kid on Earth - Chris Ware
The Wind Up Bird Chronicles - Haruki Murakami
Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood
I am Charlotte Simmons - Tom Wolfe
Persepolis - Marjorie Satrapi
In the Shadow of No Towers - Art Spiegelman
Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova
The Things The Carried - Tim O' Brien
The Testament - John Grisham
Harry Potter 5 - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter 6 - J.K. Rowling
The Big Year - Mark Obmascik
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
California, a History - Kevin Starr
Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami
Dharma Bums - Jack Kerouac

Chronicles - Bob Dylan
The Ground Beneath Her Feet - Salmon Rushdie
A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson

I am amazed at how few books I read this year. Even moreso; of the books I finished, how few new authors I explored. Only Satrapi, Hosseini, Buck, Kostova, and Ware were new to me (and even Ware might not count as I have read numerous shorter pieces of his before). Kostova and Hosseini were the only new novelists I explored.

Also, the ones I didn't finish were all quite good, I just put them down for one reason or another and never picked them up again.

I'd say the best book I read this year, my favorite at least, was The Grapes of Wrath. In terms of contemporary fiction, I was floored by The Kite Runner, and I'm really into Kafka on the Shore. California is quite good, and is exactly the survey history I was looking for. However, I really wish it focused more on the period from European discovery to the 1906 quake (after which I quite frankly begin to lose interest because I'm relatively familiar with 20th century history).


2003 Reading List (partial)

The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien 5
Glue - Irvine Welch 5
The Names - Don DeLillo 5
First They Killed My Father - Lounng Ung 4
The Salesman - Joseph O'Conner 3
Dreamcatcher - Stephen King 4
Fellowship of the RIng - J.R.R. Tolkien 4.5
A Fine Balance - Rohin Minstry 4
Are You Experienced - William Sutcliffe 3
Norweigan Wood - Haruki Murakami 4
Hearts In Atlantis - Stephen King 3.5
Player Piano - Kurt Vonnegut 3.5
Spiritual Gifts of Travel - Various 3.5
The Bretheren - John Grisham 3.5
Mr Nice - Howard Marks 3.5
The Tesseract Alex Garland 4


2002 Reading list (October - December)

Skin Tight -- Carl Hiassen 3
Them - Jon Ronson 4
White Teeth - Zadie Smith 4.5
Burmese Days - George Orwell 4
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen 4.5
South of the Border, West of the Sun - Haruki Murakami 5
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood 3.5
How to be Good - Nick Hornby 4


Carter Beats the Devil, Glen David Gold -

This is a fantastic novel based on real characters from San Francisco's early 20th century. The book also chronicles the end of the era of theater, and the rise of the movies and television. It's hefty, but it has a damn good plot, and I tore through it in just a few days.

Boonville, Robert Mailer Anderson -
This is a hell of an entertaining story about the wild country just a few hours north of San Francisco. It starts of a little hackneyed, but then really picks up into a rolling tale that's hard to put down.

I bought this book after we drove through Boonville on the way to Elk. I had briefly heard the author interviewed on the radio, but didn't know too much about the book. When we stopped in Boonville, however, I asked a local merchant if this was the town that the book was named for. She recoiled like I'd slapped her. Without answering my question, she replied, "that's just a work of fiction! It's not really about the town. I knew then that I had to read it.


Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
I tore through this one, I couldn't put it down for anything. Every American should read this book. The chapters on the working conditions in the meatpacking industry, alone, made me rethink my diet. But it's the shit-in-the-beef chapter that really, um, grabs you.

The Return of the King , J.R.R. Tolkien -
I don't really know what to say about this book, other than I almost cried when I finished it.


The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien -

I read The Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy when I was a kid, I think around the time Iw as in 7th grade. I'd forgotten what an incredible story, and how well-written the trilogy is. After a slow start (it took me a little while to get used to Tolkien's style), I tore through this book. It's just an incredible tale. Up there with The Odyssey or The Aeneid in terms of classical myth making. Positively awe-inspiring. Frodo Lives, yo.


Genius : The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, James Gleick -
I'm not going to finish this one, I don't think. Which is a shame because I really liked the two books by Feynman I read. But this bio just isn't doing anything for me.


Light In August
, William Faulkner -

Elementary Particles
, Michel Houellebecq -

(One of those books where I found myself underlingin all sorts of passages.

Harry Crews

(This is the second Crews book I've read. They kind of remind me of watching
Nascar. Starts slow, builds to a furious crescendo, and then is suddenly over
and you have no idea if you're happy with how it ended or not.)

, Alex Garland
(Great read, incredibly entertaining, and Garland does some interesting stuff with narrative technique.)

Money: A Suicide Note, Martin Amis

(I probably won't finish this one, just like I didn't finish the last Amis
book I read. I like Amis' style,for short periods. But it gets to be too much
after a few chapters. Too often his words obscure the story for me.)

, Douglas Coupland

(A great read, but not particularly thought-provoking.)

the Lake of the Woods
, Tim O'Brien -
(What an amazing book. An incredible story. Very thoughtful. Well-writen. I stayed up late into the night finishing it. An all-around great book.)