December 15, 2008
Books Read 2008
Here are the books I read in 2008. Most of them were pretty good. In fact, I usually stop reading a book if about half way through I don't like it, so most of these mini-reviews will be positive. If you read any good books this year, please let me know! I'm always looking for a good book to read.
As always, every one of these books was checked out from a library. And for those of you that are interested:
- Plainsong by Kent Haruf
- Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
- Eventide by Kent Haruf
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
- So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger
- Outliers by Malcom Gladwell
- The Lost Fleet: Courageous by Jack Campbell
- Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer
- The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence S. Ritter
- Moneyball by Michael Lewis
- Breaker Boys by David Fleming
- The Lost Fleet: Valiant by Jack Campbell
- The Meaning of Sports by Michael Mandelbaum
- 1632 by Eric Flint
- Starship: Mutiny by Mike Resnick
- Zoom by Iain Carson and Vijay V Vaitheeswaran
- Universe on a T-Shirt by Dan Falk
- Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero by David Maraniss
- Personal Days by Ed Park
- One Step Closer by Christian Batalden Scharen
I find that I enjoy fiction more than non-fiction and this is by far the best fiction book I read this year. Plainsong tells the story of a year in the life of many different characters in Holt, Colorado, but none of them are as interesting as the life of Victoria Roubideaux. Victoria is a pregnant 17 year old who gets kicked out of her house and decides to live with two older, single brothers on their cattle farm on the outskirts of town. You might think, "Wow, does that sound boring," but you'd be wrong. It is actually quite beautiful. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Again, you would think a book about building cathedrals in medieval England would be as boring as watching paint dry, but it is not. As is always the case in good books, the stories of the main characters are riveting. Tom Builder is a master craftsman moving from town to town begging for work to support his family. He has a dream, however, to one day build a cathedral. Prior Philip is caught in the middle of a war of succession for England's throne and the church is caught up in this political reality. These two lives, plus many others, are brought together in a book that is at times quite difficult to put down.
The sequel to Plainsong goes back to the town of Holt, Colorado to pick up where we left off concerning the lives of Victoria and the McPheron brothers. New characters are brought into the mix, including a young 11 year old boy named DJ who takes care of his elderly grandfather and tries to find some comfort in the friendship of two neighbor girls whose father has abandoned them. It is at once heartbreaking and beautiful. Taken together, Plainsong and Eventide make for a wonderful story on the resiliency of the human spirit and how the people around us make a huge difference on our lives.
I usually don't like fantasy novels much. Most of the time they are too similar and too reliant on magic and sorcery to drive the story. The is especially true of the Sword of Truth series. Egads is that ever bad. But The Name of the Wind is really, really good. It tells the story of Kvothe, a boy that is orphaned when the Chandrian, a legendary evil, kills his family. He takes to the streets and scrambles to make a living before he decides to go to the University to firstly learn the higher magic of "naming" but also to learn more about the Chandrian. This is the first book in what will be a trilogy and I really can't wait for the next one to come out in April.
A worthy second effort from the author of Peace Like a River, this book tells the story of struggling Minnesotan writer named Monte Becket. Through some strange circumstances Becket decides to travel with Glendon Hale, an outlaw that is trying to right a wrong from years past. It is a story of redemption that I found a little unsatisfactory at the end (especially in comparison to Peace Like a River) but still very much worth the read. Especially if you like a good "Western" type story.
This was a fascinating and quick read with a pretty interesting thesis: Successful people are given fantastic opportunities, are probably born at the "right time," and are able to rise above cultural legacies to reach that goal of success. Sure, hard work factors into the equation, but over and over again Gladwell demonstrates that most of the time successful people were just in the right place at the right time and they were smart enough (or even forced to) grab hold of the opportunity. For example, why are most successful hockey players born in either January, February, or March? Read this book to find out.
Ah, back to story of Black Jack Geary and his efforts to bring the Alliance fleet home after a failed battle in the Syndics home territory. Fantastic military science fiction and much to my happiness this book starts to bring in the idea that their are aliens pulling the strings in this never ending war. I love a good alien story. I don't know how many books will be in this series, but I am certainly enjoying it.
Speaking of aliens, Rollback tells the story of astronomer Sarah Halifax, the only person on earth able to decipher an alien message, and maybe the only person able to decipher the next alien message received 38 years later when she is 87 years old. By this time there are medical treatments available that can make people young again, and she and her husband decide to go through with the process. Unfortunately, the rollback treatment only works on him. I don't know how Robert Sawyer does it, but he is incapable of writing a bad book. I am riveted by every one of his books, and this one is no exception. Besides the story of the aliens and what they actually want from us, there is a philosophical side to this story discussing the troublesome idea of becoming young again. Would you do it? Interesting to think about.
Originally published in the early 1960s, this is a collection of oral histories gathered by Ritter with an old tape recorder as he traveled the country looking for elderly baseball players. Most of these ballplayers played in the first two decades of the 20th century when the game was relatively young. The game and life they describe is fascinating, but perhaps even more remarkable is how constant the game has stayed over the years. If you are a baseball fan this is a must read.
A detailed look at how the Oakland A's baseball club stay so competitive from year to year. Lewis and A's GM Billy Beane give a lot of credit to carefully gathered baseball statisics, with perhaps none being as important as on-base percentage. In other words, Beane tries to select players who get on base more, be it walks or hits. That is just one of the many baseball statistics discussed in this book, and it is hard to argue with Beane's success, especially considering his tight budget. I would have liked this book more, though, if the author hadn't been so flippant regarding the Twins' success.
UPDATE: There is a better review and description of this book from Freealonzo in the comments of this entry. Thanks Free!
The story of the early National Football League is really quite fascinating, especially told from the viewpoint of the small towns that had teams in the early days of the league. This is the story of the Potsville Maroons, a team from Potsville, PA in the heart of coal country. It would be unfathomable that a town as small as Potsville would have a team today, but in 1925 they were the best team in the league. And if they hadn't played the "Notre Dame All-Stars" against the wishes of the NFL, they would still be considered the 1925 league champions. Instead, that honor was given to the Chicago Cardinals, a team the Maroons beat, and some say the curse of this ill-gained championship is still haunting the Cardinals today.
Again, the story of Black Jack Geary bringing the Alliance fleet home is great, read-it-in-an-afternoon military sci-fi, but in this book the character of Madame Co-President Victoria Rione really started to get on my nerves. I'm sure you would agree.
Why do Americans watch baseball, football, and basketball? Why are we so riveted by these contests? This book seeks to answer that question from a sociological perspective as it tells the history of each of these sports and how they sprung up from the societies that existed at the time of their creation. Baseball, the agrarian, outdoor sport with no time limit; football, the industrial sport ruled by the coaches and featuring specialized jobs; and basketball, the fast moving, post-industrial sport of individuals that make up a team. A relatively quick read, I must say that at the end I still didn't quite get the author's main thesis. But as a quick history of the three most popular sports in America it was well worth it.
What would happen if you took a small town in West Virginia and plopped it in the middle of 17th Century Germany? Well, apparently you would have a group of coal miners trying to bring the principles of the American Revolution to this feudalistic and war-torn era. Throw Sweden's Gustavus Adolphus into the mix and you've got a story that is interesting most of the time, and confusing the rest.
You know, I can tell that Mike Resnick is a pretty smart cookie, but I couldn't help but think that this book was written as fast as humanly possible just to prove that the author can crank out novels at an amazing pace. Having said that, does this book have aliens? Check. Military intrigue? Check. And as the title implies, this book also has a little mutiny thrown in for good measure. Nothing earth shattering ... I enjoyed it, but I wish the author would have spent a little more time fleshing things out.
This is a pretty decent book about the efforts to make more fuel efficient cars, and what kinds of fuels are in the running. What is more interesting is the authors' conclusion that we should be demanding more from our government to make this happen. So, conservatives probably won't like that conclusion, but the authors make a pretty convincing arguement.
A very short and concise history of man's effort to explain the universe around him, from the discovery of the idea of the atom, to Copernicus's heliocentric model, Maxwell's theories of electromagnetism, to Einstein's theory of relativity, to string theory and a whole lot in between. As comedian Brian Regan says, "I turned on the TV to watch a show about string theory. The show started at 8:00 and at 8:03 my head exploded." Unfortunately, I have to agree. String theory is a difficult concept to grasp, especially its scale (very tiny) to the huge efforts it would take to test it (solar system sized). Oh well, I'm probably a better person for having read this.
I must admit, I didn't know much about Roberto Clemente, one of the most famous baseball players ever, but I found out my kids actually learn about him in school (they attend Park Spanish Immersion). So, I thought I would check him out. He was definitely a great baseball player, but he was also an incredibly proud man who didn't let anything negative about him slide past his notice; he was a man who was phenomenally loyal to his friends and family; he was a man who gave a lot himself to his home country and people in need (as is evidenced by his tragic death); and he was a huge hypochondriac. A lot of his maladies were real, but wow! Did he ever complain about everything happening to his body. Another thing I found interesting about this book was the description of the segregation that black ballplayers had to face in Spring Training in Florida. Clemente, quite understandably, could not stand it. Anyway, mission accomplished: I learned a lot about Roberto Clemente.
A pretty funny book about office culture that follows the mishaps, firings, and nicknames of a fictional office in Manhattan. I'd be surprised if anyone couldn't relate to something in this book concerning the cubicle culture that we are forced to work in.
It is amazing how many Christian themes the rock band U2 can espouse, and still not be considered a Christian rock band. This book tackles all these themes, especially the idea of the "theology of the cross," as well as the theme of social justice. A good book, it would have probably been better to discuss it within the context of a Bible study or something. As it was, I found it easy to put down and unfortunately easy to forget.