January 2, 2015

2014: My Year in Reading

I finished 28 books in 2014 (thanks for the stats, Goodreads!). Here are some of my highlights from last year:

MOST MEMORABLE

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

I might be a little partial because I read this one most recently (and probably the fastest of everything I read this year), but I thought this was a truly fantastic book. I kept thinking to myself, "So this is what it would look like if Infinite Jest was more coherent." This book is about a boy who loses his mother in tragic circumstances at a young age, whose life is then intertwined with art, turmoil, addiction, and love. Oh, and it won a Pulitzer or something...

MADE ME FEEL THE DIRTIEST

The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort

He claims it's a cautionary tale, but I'd say there was little regret in the tone of the book. Pro tip: If you want to play a drinking game while reading this book, use phrases like "loamy loins", "the luscious Duchess", and "the cobbler". This guy really gets stuck on certain derogatory phrases. I'd recommend watching the movie over reading the book, because Scorcese.

BETTER THAN THE MOVIE

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

I didn't see what many people believe to be the best movie of all time, Coppola's The Godfather, until 2014. Whoops. I read the book first though, and although I certainly enjoyed the movie, I was crazy about the book. Disclaimer: I've only seen the first Godfather movie, so perhaps my opinion will change (although I believe the subsequent movies aren't related to the original book...).

PLEASE KEEP WRITING MORE OF THESE

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

This is the second book in the new Cormoran Strike series (so make sure to check out The Cukoo's Calling first). I heard that J.K. Rowling was upset when it was revealed that she was writing under the pseudonym "Robert Galbraith", but I'm glad it happened as it was the only reason The Cuckoo's Calling got on my radar. I've never ready any of her other books (nope, I've never read a single Harry Potter book, I know, I know... I'm going to someday...), but I am absolutely crazy about this Cormoran Strike series. They're detective/mystery novels (adult, not YA), and I've been fully engrossed in both of them thus far.

WHOA THAT WAS GOOD SCIENCE FICTION, ESPECIALLY FOR ENGINEERS

The Martian by Andy Weir

Realistic, (presumably) fact-based science fiction. Disaster strikes a manned mission to Mars, leaving an engineer-slash-botanist stranded on the planet alone for two years. This book was super engaging, and if you like problem solving, the main character of this book is like Batman of engineering. I highly, highly recommend this book. I heard they're making it into a movie, too.

JUMPED TO THE TOP OF MY FAVORITES LIST

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

This book reminded me of Neal Stephenson-style adventure fiction/science fiction (although most people liken it to Heinlein - I guess I haven't read enough Heinlein to get it yet, but it definitely has some traces of Douglas Adams in it). This is a crazy adventure story, blended together with stuff about inter-species politics, DNA manipulation, L. Ron Hubbard-style religion, and sheep. It was a fast, fun read and I'm eager to read it again. My favorite thing about it: the author deliberately set up a scene where the main character is attacked by the bad guys while wearing super-jump-boots on a date at a futuristic shopping mall. Chaotic hilarity.

LEARNED A BUNCH, NONFICTION EDITION

Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journey by Michael Collins

Everybody knows the story of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, but not everybody knows about Mike Collins, the guy who stayed behind in the Command Module orbiting the moon while they hopped around in moon dust. It turns out he's a fantastic writer (and proudly didn't use a ghostwriter for this book), and this book was really excellent. He told a comprehensive history of the U.S. space program (since he was there at its inception), and detailed accounts of the Apollo 11 and previous missions. I'll re-read this one again for sure.

FRENEMIES

The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb

I simultaneously loved and hated this book. First and foremost, the author is way too smart for me (and I mean that both genuinely as well as him knowing he's too smart for me, and doing nothing to compensate). I felt like I was digging mental ditches while reading this book, but I still ended up dog-earing nearly every other page in this book because of the great information it contained. One of my favorite concepts from the book is "Umberto Eco's anti-library", which is basically this idea that the typical ego-boosting personal library of finished books was a bad thing, and that his goal was to build a menacing anti-library; that is, a library of important books he hasn't yet read. (And if nothing else, this helps justify all the books I've purchased and have yet to read.)

LEARNED A BUNCH, NONFICTION EDITION, PART TWO

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner

This book is the story of how John Carmack (and John Romero) created many popular games like DOOM, while inventing modern PC gaming and graphics technologies along the way. As someone in the computer science field, it's an amazing read. I've never really been into PC gaming (and, gulp, haven't ever played DOOM or Quake), but if you're into those games, you'll probably love this book too.

CHANGED MY BRAIN, IN A GOOD WAY

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

This was my second-ish time through this book, and I got way more out of it this time. This isn't the easiest read, but I think everybody stands to learn something from its philosophical musings. I wrote a lot more about in my review on Goodreads.

PLEASANT SURPRISE

All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

I recently saw the movie Edge of Tomorrow (which they're apparently also branding as 'Live. Die. Repeat.') and was blown away by it, then I found out it was based on a book which I eagerly bought. The book was also great, although a bit different than the movie. A fast-paced read, I finished it in only a few days. I'd recommend checking out both the movie and the book if you're into time-twisting science fiction akin to Groundhog Day.

LEARNED A BUNCH, HISTORICAL FICTION EDITION:

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

This is the final book in Ken Follett's Century Trilogy. I'm a huge sucker for historical fiction, especially Ken Follett's brand. Book One: Fall of Giants takes you through World War I, Book Two: Winter of the World through World War II, and Edge of Eternity through the civil rights movement and the Cold War. This was really excellent reading, and for someone like me who didn't grow up through these events, it gave me much better perspective on world and U.S. history.

SPACE ZOMBIES

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Realistic, gritty science fiction set in the future where humanity has started to colonize the solar system, and it isn't easy. Part detective story, part space battles, part zombies. Seriously, zombies in space. Enough said.


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