The Books of 2012

CaptureThe Books of 2012

Every year, and I suggest every reader do this, I keep track of every book I read and the page number. Mostly for my own edification, but I like to try and beat my page count every year. I don’t count books with pictures. (I’m fond of graphic novels) 2012 was a decent year, I read 33 books for a total of 11,428 pages.  I’m glad to say I’m on track to easily beat that this year.  Without further introduction here is the list that was 2012.

  1. 77 Shadow Street Dean Koontz

 

I am pleased to say that Dean Koontz, one of my favorite authors (top 3 all time) is one author I can say I’ve read everything. Including his out of print paperbacks when he wrote some science fiction stuff.  He once said he would never reprint those, I hope he changes his mind.  Anyway,  this book, was entertaining, though it reminded me of Dragon Tears which is an amazing book.

  1. A Separate Peace  John Knowles

Classic number one this year. This book is perfect if you’re a guy. You can relate to the central character very well, and though a lot of the “war tones” are lost on kids who read it now, it remains relatable in context of boyhood to manhood.

  1. Bethany’s Sin Robert McCammon

 

Entertaining short read, a horror novel of mediocre proportion and entertainment.

  1. Boy’s Life  Robert McCammon

The best book I read this past year. An amazing adventure set in the time everyone yearns for:  That time where you’re not quite a child and not quite an adult. This book is beautiful and poignant.

  1. Burglars Can’t be Choosers Lawrence Block

 

I don’t take many trips into the realm of mystery. However Block makes it entertaining with his snarky burglar and easy writing. These books you can polish off in a day, and you know it was a day not wasted.

  1. Cold Days Jim Butcher

If you’ve never read The Dresden Files you’re really missing something special.

  1. Cowards Glenn Beck

 

Not the best political book I’ve read, but not the worst.

  1. Dreadful Tales Richard Laymon

If there is one author I wish was still alive it would be Richard Laymon. He didn’t live long enough and didn’t write enough. You’ll get a thrill with anything he’s written.  These short tales of horror are no different.

  1. The Great Gatspy F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

I was surprised how much I liked this book. Not only was the writing perfect and flowing like a jazz song, but the lessons to be learned from the characters can benefit a lot of people today, including the cast of Jersey Shore.

  1. Guide to The Presidents Steven Hayward

This past year I wanted to learn more about each president. So I did.

  1. Odd Apocalypse Dean Koontz

 

A great addition to the Odd series by Koontz.  Though I’m sure not intentional, when it comes to this series the odd ones in the series are better than the even numbered ones.

  1. Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky

I was surprised by this book too.  I try to read the book if I know I’m going to see the movie, and the book surprised me with poignant charm and wit.

  1. Power vs. Force David Hawkins

 

Interesting, though it almost seems like someone was trying to sell me a bridge with this one.

  1. Real Marriage Mark Driscoll

A great primer for a young couple just starting out or an older couple wanting to continue their journey in a Godly marriage.

  1. Room Emma Donoghue

 

The viewpoint of this book is the most interesting thing. Told from the perspective of a five year old boy everything that is threatening takes on an innocent quality, even when dealing with suffering in the book.

  1. Rose Madder Stephen King

Not the greatest King book, though the story kept you hooked the ending was horrible, making the rest of the book a muddled mess.

  1. Skulduggery Pleasant Derek Landy

 

A teen series about a girl who finds out her Uncle consorted with a detective who is also a skeleton.  I don’t think I will finish this one.

  1. Snow Country Yasunari Kawabata

A beautiful book of early 20th century Japan.  If nothing else read this book for the stunning visualizations and descriptions

  1. Stories for Nighttime and some for Day Ben Loory

 

Odd, but entertaining.

  1. Swan Song Robert McCammon

One of the best post-apocalyptic books I’ve read in a long time.

  1. The Burglar in the Closet Lawrence Block

 

The second in the aforementioned series. Rodenbarr continues his shenanigans and gets into more trouble just trying to be an innocent burglar.

  1. The Gunslinger Stephen King

This was a reread, but I’m still counting it because this is my list and I’m the boss. The first book to the greatest series of all time.

  1. The Light Between the Oceans M. L. Stedman

 

One of the best books on choices and redemption I’ve read.

  1. The Midnight Lair Richard Laymon

A fun spelunking adventure with caves and tourists…and cannibals.

  1. The Prisoner of Heaven Carlos Zafon

 

A sequel to Angels Game which is a sequel to Shadow of the Wind. Though all of these books can be read stand alone. Should have stuck with Shadow of the Wind, it doesn’t need sequels.

  1. The Shining Stephen King

Great book and such an entertaining read. After reading this book I can no longer stand the movie.  (Though is it now Okay to admit that no one actually likes Stanley Kubrick?)

  1. The Stepford Wives Ira Levin

 

Ira Levin is an author who gets to the point. All of his books are short and to the point. They are also thrilling.

  1. The Twelve Justin Cronin

The second in Cronins’ The Passage series, the book was entertaining enough, but as with most trilogies you need a second book to get to the third.

  1. The Weird Sisters Eleanor Brown

 

I would have enjoyed this book more if I were a girl and had a sister. The reason I wanted to read it was the Shakespeare angle. If you’re a woman or have a sister you’ll really enjoy this book.

  1. The Wind Through the Keyhole Stephen King

It’s in The Dark Tower series, how is this not a good book?

  1. Untitled Julie Kaewert

 

A fun mystery about books and murder.

  1. The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao Junot Diaz

An amazing book. Not only will you admire the characters, but you’ll learn a lot of history in the process.

  1. Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War H. W. Crocker

 

A good primer for those who want to  know more about the battles and commanders.

“I was reading the dictionary, I thought it was a poem about everything”

~ Steven Wright

“Classics” That Fall Short of Their Mark

We can all name the “classics”. The books, plays and poems that have shaped generations; books that have taught us morals, history and all those fancy literary terms like alliteration and iambic pentameter. These books have been preserved for good reason, they have shaped and influenced for hundreds of years. They are the inspiration for countless spinoffs and they are attributed as the harbingers and bearers of what fiction can be if done to a point of perfection. I agree that this is the case in most instances. What set the classics apart is the narrative that’s written into them. The themes, characters and plots that have been used countless times in innumerable ways in other media. The classics are books where we get some of our more obfuscated words think “Kafkaesque” or “Wow man, that does seem to be a Catch -22”.

Most of these classics deserve our praise and adoration. However, there are a few that seem to be lumped in with all the others because generations of professors have taught from that particular book. The literary circles need to be careful with the word “classic”. It seems that when you label a book as such, to question that becomes a sin. It seems that a classic is sacrosanct, and that if you think it may be lacking in quality or theme there is something wrong with you.  You also hear the phrase, “You don’t read classics, classics read you”. That’s a short way of saying “you’ll never change my mind”. We all know that books read you as much as you read them. We read books (not just classics) because we want a view of the world. We want to see how others (even if they’re imaginary) deal with struggles and joys.

The point is we don’t want to get lazy with our classics. If they are truly the beacon of great literature then they should meet criteria and strict guidelines for literary excellence.

That being said, here is my list of “classics” that should never have made the cut.

 

Jonathon Livingston Seagull (Richard Bach) Regarded as a classic of “self-improvement fiction and philosophy” Seagull has been on the reading list since its inception not long ago. The challenge with such a book is its overt, artsy nature, and its anthropomorphism of the Seagull into the philosophical struggle of the human. You read the book and feel cheated. First, you find that it reads like a children’s growing up book, and second, you wonder if it’s not actually a photographic book of seagulls. The book takes itself too seriously, with Jonathon seeking out the meaning of his existence in an inept story filled with hoi polloi writing at best. Also, here’s a fun fact: Richard Bach said that a demon told him to write the book and he doesn’t actually remember writing it!  And you said you don’t like to read horror.

 

 

A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess) Literary critics get sidetracked with violence. There is a growing number of people who ascribe to the belief that if you put grotesque violence in a fiction book, that means you’re “fearless”. (For some reason this does not translate to the horror genre) The violence in the book is defined as an allegory for, “the depravity of man, the decadence of society or ‘insert reason for evil society here’”. I’m not saying that classics can’t be violent, but when books are violent just for kicks, it’s not a classic. People will argue saying, “well it shows the impetuousness of youth and the need for better education”. Yea, no that’s wrong. Have you ever noticed in real life that really violent people tend to stay that way?  They don’t just grow up. Kids do dumb things and make mistakes, but unadulterated violence and reeducation is a lifelong problem. Some don’t like Orange because it’s hard to understand. The main trio of boys have their own language called Nadsat, which Burgess got from mixing English, German and Polish. I don’t think this is where the book falls short. It is creative, and many gangs of today have their own code. The main problem with the book is the perpetual violence and the unjustifiably illogical end. However, if you read this book, at least you’ll have a cool code language you can use with your friends!

The Space Trilogy (C.S. Lewis) I love C.S. Lewis, but his only adult work of science fiction falls short of the magnitude of everything else he’s written. Though full of very interesting religious philosophy (If you go to another planet and find alien life, are they under the umbrage of mans sin?) it is poorly executed with cut and paste characterization. The third book in the series, That Hideous Strength can be read as a standalone, and is decent by itself. Critics tend to fall into the, “classic author” trap. That being, if the author has written another classic everything they write is considered one. This is a prime example of such a trap.

The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner) Few classics fail on so many scales, but Fury happens to be one of them. Though prized by high school English teachers worldwide, this book is a farce. It lacks essential quality and plot, and the characterization is a little hackneyed. The fault comes from the authors writing more than anything else. Faulkner is one of the few southern, American writers who failed to capture the imagination or his time as well as others like Hemingway. How good of a writer can he be, if he did so when he was drinking?  Fury is the “wolfs in sheep’s clothing” of the classic world. It looks like a classic, acts like a classic, but is really not a classic.

Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen) I know I’ll get flak for this one. Prejudice suffers from an overblown syndrome. Though Austen is a good writer and has some valid points in relation to love and relationship, too many movies, and critics have bastardized this book into way more than it actually is. Prejudice is like the Gossip Girl of its time. Both Darcy and Elizabeth are characters who suffer from ignorance and dishonesty. Their love is something of a letdown, and they’re story of finally ending up together is full of literary potholes. You can almost see Austen writing the first book of romantic fan fiction with Prejudice. In the end she creates a story that leaves everyone unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Sure there’s happily ever after, but who actually cares? If you want a true story about lovers may I turn you to Austen’s counterpart Bronte.

“The way a book is read, which is to say, the qualities a reader brings to a book can have as much to do with its worth as anything the author puts into it.”

~ Norman Cousins

My Love for You Will Still Be Strong, after the Books of Summer are Gone

With summertime just around the corner it’s time for literally everyone to break out their summer reading lists. There are so many recommendations from so many different sources that it’s like looking on at the legions of hordes of Orcs at Helms Deep. It can get crazy pretty fast, doing an internet search brings up thousands of pages of what you need to read this summer, let alone the big hitters like Oprah, NPR or Barnes & Noble. What makes a good recommendation and what should you read this summer?  Who should you trust and where do you need to go for the best type of summer book?

Here you won’t find another list, and you won’t find a list of the lists you should choose from. I’m here to help you find the books that are full of meaning, and will help make your summer that much better.

Always remember, that you should never trust reviews. There are those books that everyone will like and have universal truths. But, there are also books that speak to you and another select group instead of everyone. Those who don’t see themselves in the book they’ve read will put it lower on this list (if at all). This is why you should only look to all those summer lists for inspiration, not guidance. Another reason everything becomes muddled is that everyone has different criteria for what a good “summer read” is. Most of Barnes & Noble’s books are the classics. There is nothing wrong with the classics, but just because they’re the classics doesn’t make them good summer reading. Do you want to sit down on the beach with War and Peace?

What makes a good summer book?  Is it that it takes place during summer?  The characters and the plot revolve around sun drenched islands, and mild nights of July and August? Just because the characters in the book are getting a tan, doesn’t make it a good, “summer read”.  You could argue that summer reading is a perfect time to read books that take place in winter. They will keep you intellectually “cool”.

Here is what I believe a “summer read” is:  A book that makes you think about the warmth of life and those you share it with –  the memories of the times when you grew up and the feeling of bare feet on a grassy lawn or the chilling fun of jumping into the pool for the first time that summer. Books that remind you about the passion that comes from good deeds, great loves and the best of circumstances winning out.  I challenge you to look beyond the veil of summer and find books that speak to the inner summer in you. Read books that remind you of your first crush, the first time you saw the ocean or any of your warmest memories. The book can take place in the dead of winter, but whatever warms your heart is the true telling of a good summer story.

Go into the bookstore and look. Open your senses to the books that speak to you. Find the books that spark warmth in your heart. Find books that remind you of the warmest and most splendid times in your life, even if they were brief moments. Summer is a time to celebrate what’s alive, good and pure. Summer is a time to remember all of that which made you who you are and the good you’ve glimpsed in this life. A summer read may teach you something new, but the best of summer reading comes from the books that remind you about how you are now and the amazing things that have happened to you. Whether its memories that are bittersweet or books that remind you of the magic that once was, a true summer is one where the characters and plot warm your heart, not walk on a beach.

“Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own”

~ Mark Twain

Books You Need to Read That You’ve Never Heard Of

 

The King in Yellow is a remarkable book written more than 100 years ago. It is a macabre book of stories that intertwine over the central theme of The King in Yellow. The book speaks to the heart on the darkest matters of the heart that connect us all. From a young sculptor who falls in loves with his sculpture to a bloody rain of death in the United Kingdom The King in Yellow shakes to the foundation the things we all hold in reserve, in the darkest corners and the blackest boxes that live in the human heart.

 

The Monk is the oldest book on this list. Written in the 18th century the book tells the story of a young monk, the treachery in which he finds himself and a struggle with Satan. The monk is the father of what today is considered, “gothic literature”. This book began the culture of dark, foreboding books that speak to the heart of what we hold dear. It deals with how we long to find what is good and pure, and how we must face what is dark and sinister to find it. It is a testament to how we can triumph, and what darkness will do to those who lose the hope they hold dear in their hearts.

 

To Build a Fire is a story about loneliness and desperation. Everyone knows of Jack London and his depictions of the cold tundra in which people win glory and fall into darkness. This story continues London’s iconic writing and delves into one man and the verge of death in the wild. The image painted by London’s words is so good, it is one of the few stories you will read that will make you feel the chill of the cold even on the warmest of summer days.

 

Eight White Nights is a love story for today. It takes place between Christmas Day and New Years Eve and follows the life of an unnamed narrator as he falls in love with the enigmatic Clara. The book speaks to the poignancy of the things we say and don’t say when it comes to love and how just being honest is really what makes for the best of circumstances. It also shows that the warmest love may be found on the coldest nights.

 

The Shadow of the Wind is a book unlike few others. It is a book that speaks to all who love to read. It is a book that reminds you why you read. It is a book whose gradeur and poetic story speak to the heart of every book lover. Not only will you cherish this book for the rest of your life, you’ll wonder how you ever read so long and never found this book. Never underestimate the power of reading or of fiction. This book shows you that the power of the book is more than many civilizations.

Why Reading Fiction is a Novel Idea

We all know about the importance of reading, but what about fiction as opposed to non-fiction?  When it comes to quality fiction (paranormal romance and manga omitted) it is almost more important than non-fiction. You can learn about everything from non-fiction – the world, history, health, culture and so on – but the fact remains that fiction teaches you about yourself, and in many cases shapes you.

We have already talked about how reading is good for you and even how not being a reader may be deleterious for your health. However, the real topic today is why fiction is truly important. Fiction teaches you about you.  Fiction is a mirror that looks back at you and examines your strengths and flaws. It is a compass for the ideas you have and what you think and who you are. Fiction allows you to be someone else and allows you to learn about yourself. It feeds the imagination which is even more important.

And sometimes, just sometimes, fiction comes along which changes you. That speaks to you on such a level that you walk away from the book a different person. There are few book experiences in the world like the once I’m describing, but that is what makes it so special. The Japanese have a word, ukiyo, which means a fleeting beauty and a floating world. Books that change you, that teach you hidden things about yourself are rare, and to be treasured like the world’s most precious gem.

How do you find good fiction?  This is the ever present question that all book lovers have to deal with. The answer is not singular. It can be from others, reviews (which I highly do not recommend) or just by browsing.  Someone once said that finding a book is like prostitution. You walk into the store and books call to you like lovers promising pleasures. Their spines are supple and ornately decorated to catch your eye. You can look them over, but you won’t know how good they are until you take the time to try it. Even the scent of paper and binding is a perfume meant to entice, to say, “spend the night with me, I will make your dreams come true”.

I believe fiction will always be better than non-fiction. Fiction teaches you about yourself, which other books cannot (including self-improvement books) It is the once place where you can escape and yet examine at yourself at the same time. Books are more than just for pleasure. They are for our life. They show us who we are, who we want to be. They give us lives to live and help us become who we are. A life reading is a life lived.

“A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.”

~ Will Rogers

Just Read!

This is a call to all, bibliophile or not, to read. There are few things better for your mind then reading.  I cannot stress the importance of it.  This is something that should be required in every family structure, and more schools need to be pushing it. Reading does so much for a person as an individual, that the ramifications of not reading should scare you.  Reading improves all areas of your cognitive abilities, conversations, relationship and makes you smarter. If you haven’t read you haven’t lived.

I never feel bad for the people that tell me they’ve never traveled to all these places they’ve wanted to. I can tell you I have traveled to more places than people visit in their lifetime, because I read. I can learn anything and go anywhere by opening a book. I can be anything, I can travel with anyone, I can fight battles, have relationships and become a better person because I read. I have learned as much from reading as I have from school. Reading is quintessential when it comes to a growing mind.  Without reading there is no imagination or thought. Without imagination there are no new ideas, without ideas there is just placid work and, ultimately a boring life.

What should you read? For this post the fact is that you DO read. Nonfiction gives you a view of the world. With nonfiction you can learn about people, place and history.  You can learn more than others can tell you and you will be less ignorant and better able to form opinions. Fiction teaches you about yourself. It forms the way you view yourself, the way you view others and the things that are most important to you.  Every book you read is a mirror: you see a part of yourself in it.

I have always found it sad when people say they don’t read. It breaks my heart to know that there are people who would rather watch TV or surf the internet. Even scientific studies show that people who read, have lower blood pressure, have less stress, are better educated and are better conversationalists.  Reading affects your health!  Who knew that just reading could make you live longer? There is nothing better you can do for yourself then read.  If it’s something you have trouble with I encourage you to do something about it right now.

Take a month, turn off the TV, shut down the computer and sit on your couch with a book. It may be hard at first, but I promise, after a few weeks you’ll wonder what you’ve been doing with your life for so long. After that month is over you’ll be changed. You’ll be spending your money in bookstores and not game stores.  You’ll cut your cable bill, and not have to worry about wondering where the time went. And, if you find you a twiddling away the hours reading, who cares?  You are doing something that is as important as exercise.

Here it is, you stand on the edge of a new life. A life full of adventure, characters you’ll come to love, some you’ll come to hate. Relationships you thought you’d never have, things you never thought you could do, and above all, you will be whisked away to worlds you never thought were possible, but have been there all along.

That’s it.

Sit down.

Open a book.

Read.

“…but he had a serenity that came with the choice of a life he wanted to live. And this serenity and certainty I have seen only among those who have the armor of books close by”

~ Michael Ondaatje