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Friday, January 06, 2012

100 Books a Year: Final Count

As noted last February, I decided to follow the lead of a couple of friends and see if I typically read 100 books a year. First, here are the books I've read since my last updates:

Ready Player One (Ernest Cline, 2011): See my review here.
Infernal Devices (K.W. Jeter, 1987): An early steampunk novel and worth reading to see the first appearance of several of the genre's tropes.
He Walked Among Us (Norman Spinrad, 2009): Black comedy about a possibly insane, possibly prophetic TV host. Spinrad pokes a lot of fun at science fiction fandom and himself, weaving in quite a bit of his own personal history in clever ways.
Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2010): The final (so far) Vorkosigan novel, in which Miles unravels an intriguing mystery.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Charles Yu, 2010): Metafictional odyssey of the author's search for his time-lost father.
11/22/63 (Stephen King, 2011): See my review here.
Dark Messiah (Martin Caidin, 1990): Baffling sequel to the equally terrible The Messiah Stone. An aggravating waste of time.
The Curse of Chalion (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2001): I enjoyed Bujold's SF so much, I thought I'd try her fantasy work, and she doesn't disappoint. As always, the strength of her characters sustains her work.
Paladin of Souls (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2003): Sequel to The Curse of Chalion, even better than the original.
The World Inside (Robert Silverberg, 1971): Old-school SF that builds a premise and plot by extrapolating present-day trends, in this case, overpopulation. Most humans - tens of billions of them - live in gigantic skyscrapers in a free-love free-for-all in which having children means everything.
The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow Plus...(Cory Doctorow, 2011): I haven't read much Doctorow, an SF writer and Internet personality, but I've certainly enjoyed what I've sampled so far, including this short volume that includes the title novella and some non-fiction writing on current issues.
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925): I've foolishly put this one off for decades only to discover there's a reason this is called one of the great novels. I found it surprisingly readable despite its thematic complexity. One of the great narrative voices.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two B (Ben Bova, editor, 1973): Excellent collection of some of the best early SF novellas, though some of the stories seem a little overbaked now.
The Complete Peanuts, 1975 to 1976 (Charles M. Schulz)
The Complete Peanuts, 1977 to 1978 (Charles M. Schulz)
The Complete Peanuts, 1979 to 1980 (Charles M. Schulz)
The Complete Peanuts, 1981 to 1982 (Charles M. Schulz): Schulz' genius will endure, if there's any justice, for centuries. Sublime.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Thornton Wilder, 1927): Tremendously beautiful book with lyrical prose and timeless themes.
For Your Eyes Only (Ian Fleming, 1960)
Thunderball (Ian Fleming, 1961)
The Spy Who Loved Me (Ian Fleming, 1962)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Ian Fleming, 1963)
You Only Live Twice (Ian Fleming, 1964)
The Man With the Golden Gun (Ian Fleming, 1965)
Octopussy and The Living Daylights (Ian Fleming, 1966): What a pleasure to finally explore the literary Bond. I remain a fan of the films, even the worst of them, for their hyperbolic charms; the same, I find, is true of the books, which feature a more vulnerable, more human protagonist, much more grounded in reality. Intentionally or not, Fleming's Bond novels and anthologies wind up forming a very satisfying arc for the lead character and his adventures, though perhaps the denouement doesn't quite measure up to the bulk of the series - if only because Fleming died before completing the final draft of the final novel. 
Once Upon a Time in the North (Philip Pullman, 2008): A prequel of sorts to Pullman's more famous His Dark Materials trilogy. The story itself is fun, but what really sets this book apart is its physical charm; its beautifully illustrated and comes packaged with a whimsical board game.
Flatland - A Romance of Many Dimensions (Edwin A. Abbott, 1884): I've been aware of this book's general concept since junior high, but only this year did I crack open this slim, satiric volume; it's as much a commentary on class and Abbott's political surroundings at the time as it is a treatise on physics.

That's 27 books. Combined with my previous tally of 52, that means I read only 79 books this year, considerably short of my stated goal. Still, it was a useful exercise, and I'll continue to track my reading again this year to see if 2011was simply an off-year for me, or if my reading really has slowed down in middle age.


Maurice said...

Sorry, Earl, but I don't consider a collection of Peanuts cartoons to be a real book. And don't get me wrong... I love Peanuts, and I would love to have those year-by-year collections. But a book should be something that takes more than one long bath to finish.

"Jeff Of Honor" said...

Maurice, I stand up and applaud the courage it took for you to make that statement. However, I cannot understand how you could draw such a conclusion.

Charles Shultz was more than an artistic genius, he was also a visonary. He almost singlehandedly modernized newspaper cartoon strips. It is his template that has been followed by generations of artists.

These books are not for casual reading. They are large and carefully bound on archival quality acid-free paper. Properly looked after, any one of them could be passed on to your great great great grandchildren. To put one in a tub to me is sacrilege. Maybe next you'd be showering with the Mona Lisa?

Perhaps you are not taking the time to study and enjoy these strips. Schultz already had great designs for his characters to begin with. I find it a step-by-step primer on the work habits of a master artist to look at these strips in their intended order. How does Schultz come to gradually change the proportions of his children? Where does he decide that he has to change the line quality of his pen stroke, and why? There are videos of Schulz drawing, the man was a tour-de-force at a draughting table.

Then there is the writing. The early Peanuts stips had a tremendous sharp wit that gradually mellows with age. We would be lucky if we had a strip artist with a tenth of the ability of Charles Shultz. How on earth do you get a bunch of school children to comment on the horror of the Viet Nam war? The failiure of the Nixon presidency? The interest rate hikes and the gas crisis? The declining state of the American dream? Shultz did all of that, and more.

There is so much that we can learn from Peanuts. The modern comic strip syndication system denies the current crop of artists this kind of voice.

Maybe you can go through a year of comic strips in an afternoon. I think I could get through maybe a page or two. Study the design, the penmanship, the line count, the negative spaces, the fluency and the fluidity of the text, the layout, the poses, the structure, compare and contrast the current strips with the ones that came before and the ones that will appear later. Consider the social subtext of the strip, the time that Charles Schulz actually took to draw and ink each panel. Trace or draw the images you see yourself, and feel the direction the pen takes you, the friction of the nib and ink on fresh white paper.

You consume these books and then complain that you do not understand. I say they deserve close study, just like any other artistic masterwork.

Good grief, Charlie Brown, it's time to go back to school.

Earl J. Woods said...

Jeff said it better than I ever could, perhaps because he's an artist. But I'd like to make the same point; I spent more time on each Peanuts collection than several of the other books on my list, including, for example, Flatland or Octopussy and The Living Daylights. Granted those are short books and deserving of attention for other reasons, but I think you're selling Schulz short, Maurice.

Each collection is a work of art in itself, with gorgeous design, indices and introductions from a wide range of luminaries, from famous fans to other comic strip creators.

To address the wider point, though, of which books should "count" for this kind of exercise, I simply chose to count any book over 100 pages long with a reasonably stiff cover. Granted, there are some pretty short books on my list, but there are also some behemoths, so I think it all balances out.

Liam said...

I've been tracking my reading since finishing university in 2003. 49 is the most I've managed to read in a year.

If you're interested in the social aspect of tracking reading, you might want to check out

Congrats on a big pile of books.