Summer Reading 2014

Summer went from June 21 to September 21, which was about 13 weeks. During that time, I read or listened to 19 books, which makes almost a book-and-a-half a week. Not a bad reading season. Some great ones too, this time around. Here they are:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (au) by Laura Hillenbrand
A poignant and compelling story of a plane crash survivor and prisoner-of-war Louis Zamperini. Started slowly, turning into a page-turner before the halfway mark. It doesn’t matter if I wasn’t completely won over by Zamperini’s charisma, Unbroken is, and shall remain a narrative non-fiction stand-by.

In Paradise by Walter Matthiessen
Sensitive exploration of a Polish-American professor’s self-discovery at a Holocaust death camp retreat. Maintains Matthiessen’s reputation as a master of the literary arts.

Finder, Vol. 09: Voice by Carla Speed McNeil
A sort-of introductory volume to “gender/queer” graphic novel series set in a world where everything is more than meets the eye. Will be reading more from this author.

Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick
In the midst of confusing drawings and plot, there was a poetic quality. Not enough to warrant a re-reading, though.

Dune Messiah (au) by Frank Herbert
A real talkie, this one. The action really didn’t begin until midway through the book when I was already less excited about it. Will listen to the third in the Dune trilogy, but am not exactly looking forward to it.

Sumo by Thien Pham
A simple, elegant story of an American ex-football player trying to make it as a sumo wrestler. I liked everything about it except how little story there was.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
What a conglomeration of elements: Post-apocalyptic world, androids, a new religion, bounty hunter, and more! I found this gripping sci-fi story very satisfying.

Imagine: How Creativity Works (au) by Jonah Lehrer
In Imagine, Lehrer approaches creativity by examining it as a combination of traits both innate and developed, giving readers inroads into the multiplicity of viewpoints into its origins and study. Though quite a lot of the research is not new to me (or truthfully presented, apparently), the author presents it cogently, though not nearly such that the ideas therein could be considered Gladwellian Brainwigs*.

* That thing where you a read a book by Malcolm Gladwell and then can’t ever get the ideas you learned out of your head.

Klezmer, Book One: Tales of the Wild East by Joann Sfar
An engaging part one in a series of three, Klezmer tells the origins of a klezmer band in old world Ukraine, drawn in beautiful watercolor. I can’t tell which character is more interesting: the genius torah prodigy, the sheltered yeshiva student, the vagaband musician, or the voluptuous runaway; all of them have personalities fit for stories.

Small is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher
An important book that provided a cogent and compelling case for sustainability, intermediate technology, appropriate scale, and many other ideas that have since become or are becoming mainstream.

Stories of Your Life and Others (au) by Ted Chiang
Deep philosophical, emotionally-penetrating, and resonant short stories. Chiang is a writer of erudition and literary talent. Though he’s often classified as sci-fi, I would place him in the field of literary fiction.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and other Stories (au) by Leo Tolstoy
Too many characters, too much moralizing, too much repetition. War and Peace this is not.

Laika by Nick Abadzis
Touching graphic novel of the first animal to go into space. I was impressed by how Abadzis effectively established his characters in such a short time, all while telling a small story, with a big history. Highly recommended.

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this graphic novel. Gene Luen Yang’s story of a young man living under the pressure of expectations placed on him by a dead father struck the perfect balance between humor and poignancy.

Slow Storm by Danica Novogordoff
Slow-burning story of an undocumented immigrant in the Kentucky, in a storm, trying to survive. I love the watercolors and the explosiveness of every interaction.

Bossypants (au) by Tina Fey
Funny and on-point! Though this is much more of a series of roughly chronological autobiographical essays then a proper memoir, I found it so entertaining that the only critique I have is that it was only five CDs.

Travels in Siberia (au) by Ian Frazier
Top-notch travelogue that’s equal parts history and local color. Frazier reads the audiobook and I enjoyed every moment of it.

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Father Gregory Boyle
A series of anecdotes, preaching, and inspirational quotes – all well-placed, entertaining, and emotionally poignant. Boyle’s descriptions of unconditional forgiveness are straightforward and unforgettable.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (au) by Anthony Bourdain (re-read)
Bourdain’s rollicks among the pirate riff-raff and hoodlums of the culinary world paints him as an asshole, but a likable one. Most important, though, it shows him to be a witty, engaging author. His subsequent success is no fluke.

Favorites were Small is Beautiful, Travels in Siberia, and Stories of Your Life and Others, though according to my good reads there were a bunch more 4/5 star books – a surprising amount, actually. The three I’ve chosen, however, are here because those are the ones that I am most likely to re-read. On the whole, my reading has stuck to established lines: several books about the Soviet Union/Russia, a food book, science fiction, and a few excellent graphic novels. Not listed here is all the reading I’m doing for my Russian Literature Reading Group at the Topanga Library. Plenty of research going into that, though few full books read. Since it’s already well into Autumn, I can say that my streak of fine reading has continued. Several very good books have passed before me. But more on those later.

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