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what I read in 2016

by rjbs, created 2017-01-03 10:46
tagged with: @markup:md books journal

According to Goodreads, which should be accurate, these are the books I read in 2016. I meant to read more, but I didn't.

The Pleasure of the Text

I'd been meaning to read this since college, as one of my favorite professors spoke highly of Barthes. I found the book unpleasantly difficult and basically uninteresting. I like to imagine that I would have enjoyed the book much more in the original French, as the language in translation felt pretentious. That said, I think the ceiling on my enjoyment was going to be pretty low. I'll stick with Derrida and Debord.

Eclipse Phase: After the Fall

Eclipse Phase is a transhumanist RPG with a lot of interesting ideas. This is a collection of stories set in that game's universe. I did not enjoy it. There were one or two good bits, but mostly it was just not good.

Puttering About in a Small Land

This is one of Philip K. Dick's realistic novels. He wrote a few of these before settling into all sci-fi all the time. I've found them to be surprisingly good. They're mostly just slice of life stories about silghtly unhappy people in mid-20th century California, but I have enjoyed them, as I did this one.

Frost: Poems

I was still making progress on my "one book of poetry each month" project! Frost was spectacular! Much better than I had anticipated. Reading him in middle and high school was too early. I couldn't yet appreciate the subtext of his works. I still think back on these poems now.

Ancillary Mercy

I finished the Ancillary Justice trilogy, and it was good. I seem to recall thinking that Mercy wasn't the best of the three books, but the whole trilogy was very good, and I'm glad to have read it.

The Girl with All The Gifts

Gloria recommended this to me a number of times, and I finally took her advice, and it was good advice. This was a good post-apocalypse story with an interesting premise. I think I was happy with the ending. They made a movie of it, but I haven't seen it yet.

Jane Eyre

I'm going to try to keep reading some classic 19th century novels over the next few years. I should've read more last year, but instead read only Jane Eyre. I feel I could've done a lot worse. It had problems (that ending!), but I really enjoyed it. It was charming and funny and well-written. Its position in the canon is well-earned. I look forward to reading Wide Sargasso Sea this year, too.

You

I felt like this book played on some of the same ideas as Ready Player One, but was a substantially better book. I found the character and premise more interesting than those in Ready Player One, which seemed to be built mostly on evoking nostalgia.

Programming Pearls

This is a book that other computer books recommended to me often enough that I asked for a copy, received it, and put it on my shelf for years. I mostly enjoyed it, although sometimes I found it a bit boring. The interesting bits were very interesting, though. I think my recommendation here is "read it, but skip the parts you don't find interesting."

The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks

I'd been nursing this book for a few years, and finally decided to just finish it. It's a good book to have a run through, although I wouldn't say it revolutionized my drink making.

Uncertainty in Games

This short book discusses the different kinds of uncertainty that can be introduced to games to make them more interesting. I enjoyed the overview, and it helped me think about what makes games that I like interesting (or not). It also didn't fall into the sort of stodgy prose that this sort of theoretical work often does.

Arkwright

This was a tolerable sci-fi story rendered intolerable by the writing of its characters. The romance and love scenes made me groan and roll my eyes. Skip it.

Dr. Adder

This book got a strong recommendation from Philip K. Dick, who said it would've defined cyberpunk if it had been published when written, instead of many years later. It definitely felt like a bridge between Dick and cyberpunk, but it was a big mess and spent a lot of its time reminding the reader how very transgressive it was. I'm glad I finally read it, but you probably shouldn't bother.

The Library at Mount Char

This might be the best recent book I read this year. It's about a group of weird people raised by a dangerous madman. The madman is missing, and they seem to be looking for him. It's pretty dark, but also funny in places. It was a good read.

Saturn Run

The US and China launch missions to Saturn (and back) after seeing evidence of an alien space ship there. The book had a lot going for it, idea-wise, but I found its characters uninteresting and its plot predictable.

Shadow of the Torturer

This is the first book of the Book of the New Sun books. I think they're amazing, especially in that they greatly reward repeat reading. I got a lot more out of them on this read than I did on my last, and I will surely read them again in a few years. Next time, I may take notes. This year, I plan to read Peace, another novel by Wolfe. This one also, I am told, rewards repeat reading, but it's only about 300 pages, which is a relief.

Starting Forth

I had read most of this book a few years ago, but never finished the exercises in the later chapters. This year I forced myself to do so, which led to re-reading a few chapters to get back my Forth legs. I'm very glad I did this, because it renewed my appreciation for Forth and got me to write a simple but instructive program in Forth.

Forth is great and more people should learn it. (Probably almost nobody should be using it for much real work, though.)

Claw of the Conciliator

This is the second part of the Book of the New Sun.

Thinking Forth

Stack Computers: The New Wave

Sword of the Lictor

This is the third part of the Book of the New Sun.

Citadel of the Autarch

This is the forth part of the Book of the New Sun.

The Urth of the New Sun

This is the fifth and final part of the Book of the New Sun.

The Sonnets (Berrigan)

The most compelling part of this collection is the introduction, which makes big claims. By the end of the book, I felt like maybe those claims hadn't been malarky, after all. The sonnets and general structure of the book became more interesting as it went on, and I began to see more of the simultaneity of the work's poems. I almost felt like starting over with that in mind. Almost.

Who Censored Roger Rabbit

This is the book on which Who Framed Roger Rabbit was based. The film is superior in every way. I am irritated that I spent time on this book.

Coventry

This is a short story about how libertarianism isn't all that it's cracked up to be. It was good, but maybe I would've liked it better if Vance, rather than Heinlein, had written it.

Learn Vimscript the Hard Way

This is a good book on Vim. It didn't change my life, but I learned things.

The Skin

I'd had this book on my for years after a favorable review when the book was first published unexpurgated in English. It's a semi-real memoir of Curzio Malaparte's experience of the final months of WWII in Italy. There were parts where I felt certain that Joseph Heller must have read it before writing Catch-22, most especially in the rantings of a man that Italy had won by losing the war, just like the dirty old man in Catch-22's brothel.

I'm glad I read the book. It was an interesting read and definitely had its moments, but I can't say that I'd strongly recommend it to anybody else. It was disjointed and sometimes difficult to enjoy. Still, as I say, I'm glad I read it.

Also, I should admit that one of the things that bothered me is the amount of dialog in French. It made me feel poorly educated, which I am.

Something Happened

This is Joseph Heller's second book, published 13 years after Catch-22. From Wikipedia:

Something Happened has frequently been criticized as overlong, rambling, and deeply unhappy. These sentiments are echoed in a review of the novel by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., but are balanced with praise for the novel's prose and the meticulous patience Heller took in the creation of the novel.

I agree with those remarks, except for the idea that the prose and patience balanced out the book's painful length. (It's only about 500 pages, but they're long pages.) There was a lot that I really liked about this book, but eventually I couldn't stay engaged and skimmed my way to the irritating conclusion.

Seven Databases in Seven Weeks

I found this about as good as the Seven Languages books. In other words: it was ... okay. It was a tolerable crash course, but I wasn't interested enough to do the exercises. Maybe doing them would've helped, but the book itself didn't get me interested enough to bother. Also, I have generally felt, in these books, that none of the authors has a really interesting narrative or voice.

Still, I understand Neo4j a lot better, now.

Luminous

This is the other short story collection by Greg Egan. In general, I thought every story in it was a failure. Some had promise, but most were lousy, especially compared to his other (better, but still flawed) story collection, Axiomatic. I did sort of like Reasons to Be Cheerful, but not enough to make the book worth reading. Maybe not even enough to make the story worth reading.

Wyst: Alastor 1716

After Luminous, I wanted to read something I was guaranteed to enjoy. Clearly, I thought, I should read some Jack Vance. I asked Mark Dominus for a recommendation, and this was the shorter of the two he recommended. I enjoyed the heck out of, because Vance is a delight.

Discovering Scarfolk

This is a book from the Scarfolk blog, which presents surreal artifacts and articles from a fictional 1970's English town, Scarfolk. It was a fun and quick read, but I find the blog more fun.

The Informers

While on business in Melbourne, I got thinking about Bret Easton Ellis. Years ago I decided that I needed to space out my reading of his books, so that I wouldn't run out of books too quickly. He's one of my favorite authors, although I'm not sure I could say why. It has something to do with the very, very precise kind of bleakness he presents.

The Informers is (I think) his fourth book, and the fifth that I've read. It's a short story collection, and each story is very very loosely connected to some of the other stories in the book. This mirrors his usual practice of tying his books together with very thin threads. I found that a story collection was a great format for him, because it was able to further spread out the pointlessness depicted. It didn't much motion at all, because the break between stories was a substitute for any actual rising or falling action.

I was very pleased with my decision to read it.

The Speechwriter

This is a political memoir by one of the speechwriters for [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Sanford], former governor of South Carolina. I had read that it provided some great insights into American politics, but it didn't. On the other hand, it was a light, enjoyable read. It was well written and funny when it wanted to be.

The Plagiarist

In a desperate attempt to get one more book read before 2016 ended, I decided to read this sixty-four page novella by Hugh Howey. It's a sci-fi story about a man who visits computer-generated worlds so that he can steal their original works of literature. It was mediocre.