This list starts January 9th, 2011. I have backdated the list with some of the books I could think of.
Mort – Terry Pratchett
2666 – Roberto Bolaño
Women – Charles Bukowski
Trout Fishing In America – Richard Brautigan
The Body Artist – Don DeLillo
Mr. Peanut – Adam Ross
Awesome – Jack Pandarvis
The Wild Things – Dave Eggers
The Greatest Show On Earth – Richard Dawkins
The People Look Like Flowers At Last – Charles Bukowski
White Noise – Don DeLillo
Free To Choose – Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman January 9, 2011
Kafka On The Shore – Haruki Murakami January 26, 2011
SEO Made Simple – Michael H. Fleischner February 24, 2011
A one- or two-sitting read, SEO Made Simple is a direct introduction into the somewhat arcane area of search engine optimization (SEO). Fleischner takes readers first through the basics of on-page optimization, or managing content specifically to achieve search engine placement goals, then through the more nebulous off-page optimization, or getting more and better quality links back to your page. Overall, a seemingly good introduction, though I question the value of a printed work on such a rapidly changing subject.
The Brand Gap – Marty Neumeier March 12, 2011
The Brand Gap explores the difficulty of creating “brand,” what Neumeier defines as “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company.” Presented almost like a PowerPoint presentation, The Brand Gap first defines exactly what brand is and what it means to companies. Next, it walks through the 5 disciplines of brand (disciplines of, not steps to, because brand isn’t something you create overnight): differentiate, collaborate, innovate, validate, and cultivate. Ultimately, all of the disciplines focus on uniting the logic of the company (strategy, market, etc) with the magic of the company (creative, such as design). While the ideas of the book may not be new, they were interesting from the perspective of my completely-marketing-devoid background.
The Savage Detectives – Roberto Bolaño March 14, 2011
The Savage Detectives is my new favorite book, successfully taking the belt from Infinite Jest. Even in translation, The Savage Detectives contains breathtaking prose. It manages to juxtapose crass and elegant, ugly and beautiful, meaningful and Dada, and it does it in such a way as to illustrate that each is just a facet of the other, that either is meaningless without the other.
Structurally, the novel is a three part exploration of the lives of two men and the people around them. The first and last sections are a continuous journal of a newcomer in the group, and of his experiences being thrust into the midst of what seems like a chaotic and fierce literary/revolutionary movement. The middle section is a Cubist (or whatever the literary analog is) exploration of the lives of the two men from the different and sometimes contradictory views of people who were touched by their lives, some briefly, some not. The overall impression, though is one of searching, though the object of the search is unclear; perhaps raw experience, perhaps raw literature, perhaps just raw life.
The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams March 17, 2011
The first of a classic comedic sci-fi series, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed Hitchhikers Guide at least as much the second time around, a decade and a half later. These books are enduringly wry and funny.
The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe – Douglas Adams March 18, 2011
The second book in the Hitchhikers Guide series, The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe increasingly presents (again in a wry, tounge-in-cheek way) the universe as unpredictable, uncontrollable, and chaotic, even for those who feel they are close to the answers.
Brief Interviews With Hideous Men – David Foster Wallace March 25, 2011
Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is my second book by David Foster Wallace, after Infinite Jest, and it did not disappoint. A collection of short stories, Brief Interviews (as Infinite Jest) displays Wallace’s captivating pomo-without-being-trite-or-silly style, along with his unique ability to make the mundane grotesque. Some stories border on the Dada (see: Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko) and are almost irritating to read, though perhaps interesting in their own right for their structural or conceptual (to borrow a word from Wallace: belletristic [great word]) value. Others (see On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand) are beautiful if horrible and painful. Overall, a great read, and one that makes me want to pick up some more DFW immediately.
After The Quake – Haruki Murakami March 27, 2011
A short, 150 page read, After The Quake is a collection of five or six short stories by Haruki Murakami of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle fame. The stories are all about events happening around the time of, though not directly related to, an earthquake in Kobe. They illustrate how a major event can have a catalyzing effect on people’s lives, even if they aren’t affected directly. Murakami has an elegant, direct prose that (at least in translation) bounces back and forth between lyrical and descriptive without being flowery or stilted, allowing the reader to more directly internalize the emotions and actions of the characters.
The Romantic Dogs – Roberto Bolaño March 27, 2011
The Romantic Dogs is my first taste of Bolaño’s poetry, and compared to the two novels of his I’ve read it is more raw and personal. In this collection, the topics are similar and in many cases exactly the same as covered by The Savage Detectives: Bolaño’s youth and his life as a poet youth. Unlike the novel though, the poems are very personal and frequently first-person, bringing together fragments of Bolaño’s own radical (in some sense) experience. They also seem a lot more ‘uncut’, often with imagery laid bare and raw, names of places and people clearly tied to the author’s memories but to little else in the verse. Ultimately, and despite Bolaño’s own preferences, I prefer his prose, but his poetry is beautiful too in its own way.
Skating Rink – Roberto Bolaño March 28, 2011
Skating Rink is my first read of Bolaño’s short novels. Similar in style to the central section of The Savage Detectives, Skating Rink is presented as a series of monologues from 3 different characters who play a role in the events of a summer on the Costa Brava in Spain. Love is the central theme, love and obsession and ultimately loss, and Bolaño weaves them together with characteristically beautiful and simple prose.
Live, The Universe, And Everything – Douglas Adams April 1, 2011
After crash landing on prehistoric Earth ages before man as we know it, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect settle in for the rest of their lives, only to be interrupted 5 years later by the Universe imposing on them to save it. Another classic Adams romp through space and time, Live, The Universe, and Everything takes the Hitchhikers series to the next level.
So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish – Douglas Adams April 2, 2011
The fourth book in the Hitchhikers Guide series, So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish plots the return of Arthur Dent to the once-destroyed Earth, finding quite obviously that it was still around, a point of some initial consternation for Arthur. His initial concerns soon fade away in the pursuit of a mysterious woman with whom he has a chance encounter while hitchhiking (the normal kind) from his spaceship drop-off back to his Earthly house. The novel follows Arthur and the woman as they try to unravel the mystery of why an ostensibly destroyed Earth was still around. Spoiler warning: dolphins.
Nowhere Man – Aleksandar Hemon April 9, 2011
Nowhere Man is my first read (indeed, of all my polled friends, any of our first reads) of Aleksandar Hemon, a Bosnian author of some growing distinction in the postmodern realm. Apparently, the man migrated to America and began writing in English soon thereafter. His voice, though, comes through beautifully in this, his second language. Nowhere Man exposes several facets of the character Joseph Pronek who seems to be at least vaguely based on the author himself, showing the protagonists journey through his ongoing bildungsroman. Disconnected since an early age from his home country and his peers and neighbors, Pronek has always had trouble defining himself, a disconnect that is reflected in the narrator and voice of the novel itself. Highly recommended.
The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb May 2, 2011
The Black Swan concerns itself with the improbable, and more specifically how we as humans resolutely resist the possibility of the improbable, much to our detriment. Taleb asserts that the improbable event, when in the context of socially constructed values, such as wealth, is frequently the most important event. Even so, humans frequently overlook the risk/reward of these events in favor of a Platonic view of probability.
For me, this book dragged on, in part because I was very busy during the time I was reading it, and in part because of Taleb’s frequently irritating style. Much of the book is anecdote from his own life validating his arguments – occasionally interesting, frequently self-aggrandizing. He also has a news anchor-like habit of telling the reader what he is about to tell the reader, sometimes to the point of doing it in every paragraph.
Difficult Loves – Italo Calvino May 10, 2011
Difficult Loves is a collection of very short stories by Italo Calvino, loosely organized by topic. This is the first of Calvino’s work I’ve read, though I’ve heard great things, and I found him to be in some ways very similar to David Foster Wallace. Particularly, he can transition seamlessly between very funny and poignant; more interestingly, he shares Wallace’s ability to make the very commonplace seem sublime, though Calvino creates mystery and magic out of the ordinary while Wallace exposes the grotesque.
Snakes and Earrings – Hitomi Kanehara May 10, 2011
A very short-form novel that I initially bought used because I liked the binding, Snakes and Earrings centers on a short episode in the life of Lui, a 19-year-old Japanese “Barbie girl.” Over the course of the 120 pages of the novel, Lui grows increasingly depressed and alcoholic, a decent that mirrors her increasingly motivated attempts at body modification. Through the events of the novel it seems as if she’s changing, and rarely for the better; at the end, though I was left questioning if she had affected any movement in her own life, or if the journey had been entirely circuitous.
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck May 11, 2011
What a beautiful if brief novel(la). I definitely had half-tears well up at the end, but had to hide them from the girl sitting next to me.
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood May 21, 2011
Moving, introspective, brilliant. The frame of a frame of a frame story of the love of two decreasingly anonymous characters as both recounted and explained by an aged, dying woman.
Geek Love- Katherine Dunn June 12, 2011
An excellent read! Geek Love is an crazy tale of a family of carnival folk. The parents of the family set out to create in their children a set of circus “freaks” through self-adminstered pharmacology and wound up with children across the board – Artie, who had flippers for hands and feet, a pair of conjoined twins, a hunchback dwarf albino who serves as the narrative voice for the novel, and Chick who is outwardly normal but has a hidden talent. Throughout the novel, the characters play out an increasingly wild and frantic tale framed as a story told in the future after the apparent collapse of the family.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams July 5, 2011
Though it certainly doesn’t share the obsession and perhaps the acclaim of the Hitchhikers Guide series, I remembered preferring the Dirk Gently series (of 2) as a child. Nothing has changed.
The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul – Douglas Adams July 16, 2011
The second in the above-mentioned Dirk Gently series. This book had very little climax and conclusion, which puzzled me a bit, but was ultimately a fun and light read.
One Life at a Time, Please – Edward Abbey August 1, 2011
A collection of sometimes surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly if you think about it) conservative essays from one of my more influential authors.
The Lazarus Project – Aleksandar Hemon September 7, 2011
Another beautiful book by Hemon, the Lazarus project, for me, was vaguely reminiscent of Mr. Peanut (or rather, the other way around I suppose, since Mr. Peanut came years later). A writing narrator describes scenes from his life interwoven with scenes from his work.
The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen September 18, 2011
In The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen weaves a tale of a family all individually searching for a sense of self, and in the end almost paradoxically bound together by that search. Franzen has David Foster Wallace’s ability to stretch distend the commonplace into a grotesque parody of itself in places.
The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker September 19, 2011
Witty and uplifting, The Mezzanine elevates the everyday and the commonplace to the heights of wonder most of us lost at childhood.
Amulet – Roberto Bolaño September 25, 2011
The Amulet is the recollection of a woman’s hallucinatory experience spending 10 days locked in a bathroom during a military occupation of a university. The woman recounts that during her stay in the lavatory she spent time remembering not only the past, but also the future, and also events that couldn’t have happened to her but did in her mind. The woman’s stay at UNAM was mentioned in The Savage Detectives, and the woman makes a remark about the year 2666, describing a bleak scene as a graveyard in that future year. The structure is similar to some other Bolaño works, following a repetitive pattern early that builds to a series of small climaxes or anticlimaxes. I think that of the works I’ve read, Amulet most effectively both exalts and disparages poetry, poets themselves, and writing in general.
American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis November 1, 2011
Though ultimately a good read, this book is seriously disturbing. Though it is frequently quite funny, graphic depictions of rape and torture populate the ever-escalating pages of American Psycho, making the book (for me) increasingly hard to read, particularly right before bed. Reflecting back on it, I enjoyed the novel, though I doubt I’ll ever give it a second read.
Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins November 16, 2011
Jitterbug Perfume was recommended to be by two people who’s opinions I hold in high regard (my sister and Meg Dickey-Kurdziolek) and I was delighted to find that it held up to their review. Capricious and light, it tells the remarkable story of two lovers who refused to die and the struggle they went through to reunite after a mistake tears them apart.
The Human Stain – Philip Roth December 5, 2011
This was my first novel by Philip Roth, and I love his voice. He has a powerful and clear tone, to me reminiscent of Steinbeck but more modern. The Human Stain touches on issues of race and injustice, but I feel the real message was one of how we are all required, for better or worse, to carry our pasts around with us.
I Am Not Sidney Poitier – Percival Everett December 20, 2011
I Am Not Sidney Poitier is one of the books off of the postmodern reading list from the LA Times blog that I have been trying to incorporate into my own reading list. As the title (a play on words: the protagonist’s name is “Not Sidney Poitier”) suggests, the book looks at personal identity as it follows a young man on a journey of personal growth and discovery, a postmodern bildungsroman.
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe December 25, 2011
I came into Things Fall Apart with no knowledge of the book whatsoever, and I was very excited to find it a stylistic departure from most of the things I have read. Achebe uses a very straightforward and direct way of storytelling to describe the life and death of an African tribesman who spends his entire life in fear of being like his own father.
How To Do Things With Words – J. L. Austin January 2, 2011
How To Do Things With Words is my first attempt to work some nonfiction back into my reading list. Austin explores the nature of utterances, dismissing the idea that utterances are merely statements that are either true or false in favor of a caste system of sorts describing the effect of an utterance in terms of its force and “effect” (though he would almost certainly cringe at the unspecific “effect”!).
Antwerp – Roberto Bolaño January 2, 2012
My lover gave me two books by Bolaño for Christmas, and Antwerp was the first I read. It was a very short read. Though I had heard it was a mystery or detective novel of sorts, in my mind it was more of the scattered thoughts of the author of a detective novel. It consists of one- or two-page, numbered shorts that are very fragmented and stream-of-consciousness, with little or no frame of reference as to the time between them or the view being represented. As a result, it was not the easiest book to read, though in places Bolaño’s genius shone through. Or perhaps it is a better representation of his genius and I am the one flawed.
By Night In Chile – Roberto BolañoJanuary 7, 2012
The second of the Christmas gift Bolaño novels, By Night In Chile followed the recount of a dying old man of his life, as defended against some unseen antagonist, then ‘wizened youth’. Alternating bouts of paranoia, defensiveness, and apologies, the narrator describes his life amidst the Chilean literary elite, and the decay therein.
1Q84 – Haruki Murakami January 27, 2012
Man, I loved this book. Murakami is a master of creating a rich fantasy world using simple language, and in 1Q84, he produces as suspenseful and intricate tale as any I have read. The interwoven stories of the two main characters, and the shorts of the characters around them, create a series of questions in the readers mind, many of which never get answered, about the distinctions between literature and reality, and whether the distinction is ultimately that important.
Notable American Women – Ben Marcus February 5, 2012
What a strange novel Notable American Women is. Ben Marcus plays with form and perhaps more importantly with the way we describe things in general to create a strange almost surrealist world which is nevertheless quite believable and almost like our own.
Envisioning Information – Edward Tufte February 9, 2012
By the master of information design, Envisioning Information guides by example through the best way to represent the nouns of our lives and how to relate them: quantities, time, and space.
Visual Explanations – Edward Tufte February 16, 2012
Another of the four Tufte classics, Visual Explanations explores the best way to present data such that causal links can be extracted.
Freedom – Jonathan Franzen March 3, 2012
A beautiful novel, Freedom explores the meaning of love and how it affects our lives in different ways. In many ways, Freedom was even more lyrical than the Corrections and, even ignoring its emotional impact, it was a joy to read. I particularly love how Franzen shows real growth in his characters, eschewing the more common ‘growth but only toward the obvious ending’ that many authors take.
Everyman – Philip Roth March 10, 2012
Novels about death are always depressing, and this one was no different. I don’t feel like this lived up to the depth that Roth is capable of.
Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything – Steven D. Levitt & Stephan J. Dubner March 10, 2012
This book is so popular among the nerd crowd that I felt it deserved a read. It turns out that I have heard most the theories within recited, often without citation; even so, it was a generally entertaining read. The thing I had the biggest problem with, though, were the logical and probabilistic fallacies used to draw conclusions at points. For example, at one point they are talking about perception of racism and how something like 70% of white men on dating websites mark themselves as not caring about race. They then go on to say that of these men, something like 90% only send messages to white women; obviously these men must be misrepresenting themselves! Except not. You haven’t told us the prior probability that a woman on the dating site is white! If 95% of the women on the site were white, then these men would be seeking out the remaining 5% of the women at a rate HIGHER than their representation in the population. For such a widely touted book, I would have expected more.
Machine Learning – Tom M. Mitchell
Thud! – Terry Pratchett
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
The Puttermesser Papers – Cynthia Ozick
The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
REWORK – 37signals
The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster
Portnoy’s Complaint – Phillip Roth
Design for Hackers – David Kadavy
Lolita – Vladamir Nabakov
The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Milan Kundera December 22, 2012
The Light Fantastic – Terry Pratchett December 29, 2012
The Filth – Grant Morrison January 3, 2013
Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett January 9, 2013
Blankets – Craig Thompson January 13, 2013