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2014 By The Books
2015-01-16

I read more in 2014 than I have in ages. From worst to first:

21. A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews

A novel about illiterate rapist alcoholic dog torturers in rural Georgia circa 1970. I got 50 pages into this before it damn near ruined my relationship with the woman who had loaned it to me. An incident that pretty much sums up my love life of 2014. All farce. I also went on a date with a human resources woman. We argued (go figure).

20. Necroscope - Brian Lumley

The other book I didn't finish. Began this during my eBook phase. I guess I left it there on the Nook I haven't dusted off in months. Supposedly it's a horror classic. My old best friend from growing up loved these books when we were kids, and in 2014 I did finally hang out with him for the first time in years. That was cool.

19. Nobody Move - Denis Johnson

A barbershop quartet singer with a gambling problem and a crooked politician's wife with a drinking problem shack up. Hijinks ensue. This novel was readable but disappointing. I remember loving Denis Johnson for Seek! (2002), a book of essays he wrote. This novel is embarrassingly vapid. I just read a DFW essay that was all about truth and modern fiction writers' fear of approaching the subject. No truth here, just caricature.

18. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

It's a fantasy tale that follows a bunch of teenagers with silly names like Rand al'Thor as they try to save some fictional land. It had its moments but was overall an embarrassing read. The parts that stuck out to me were the awkward romantic exchanges and depictions of puberty. I get the impression the author has only read about sex in fantasy novels and not very good ones either.

17. Spring In Action 3rd Edition by Craig Walls

Very readable computer book on the Spring framework for Java. If you know Spring you'll always have a job. I got pretty good at computer programming in 2014, which meant for me a big raise. Also lots of travelling and watching movies in other cities, a project through which I was hoping to find some clarity of purpose. Still working on that.

16. Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell

I read this while visiting London for no damn reason. Seemed appropriate. It's a memoir about George Orwell's living la vita pobre. He frames it as voluntary - i.e. *studying* the poor. The first half has him working in Parisian restaurants in the early 20th century. Service industry folks will get a kick out it. The second half has him bouncing between homeless shelters in London. Shortly after this story ends he of course volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War. His memoir Homage to Catalonia on that period of his life is a must read.

15. Brief Interviews With Hideous Men - David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace's first published book of short stories. I spent much of 2014 on a DFW kick. This was my least favorite book of his I've read. Some of the stories are fantastic while others border on unreadable (too dense, too meta, too abstract).

14. Taxi! Cabs and Capitalism in New York City by Biju Mathew

A book about the radical taxi driver's union in New York City. A good read, but clearly biased bullshit at parts. For instance, nowhere in this story does the author describe any anti-union actions by taxi drivers. If you've never been involved in a union drive, you might read this book and get the impression organizing is easy. Far from it.

I drove my cab exactly one night in 2014. Since I switched careers I had started romanticising the job. You meet all these interesting people, you're your own boss, etc. I forgot how boring and mentally taxing driving a cab 10 hours a night is. Mostly I spent all night bummming about my ex-girlfriend. Seems my cab career perfectly overlapped with the one long-term relationship I've ever been in. I am now officially retired from the taxi business.

13. Six Months in the Midwest - Darci Schummer

A collection of short stories by my writing group comrade Darci Schummer. Darci's stories are always melancholic and usually have sad endings. I read these stories at the bar and will tell you in no cases did they improve my mood. Vivid characters though and packs a punch.

Writing group was a positive in 2014. I wrote a few short stories, a play, a poem, and a couple essays. Now I'm working on my first novel!

12. American Gods - Neil Gaimon

This book was cool, but I didn't gush over it like the folks in the Cool Freaks' Wikipedia Club facebook group, of which I'm a card-carrying member. The basic premise is that any god humans believe in is made real by their belief, and so America is full of these gods plus new technological gods like Media and Television. The old gods and the new gods are going to war. Jesus and Mohammed aren't invited to the party. I imagine his graphic novels are probably stronger works.

11. Effective Java 2nd Edition by Joshua Bloch

Excellent advanced Java book. Covers common design patterns and best practices around concurrency, inheritance, encapsulation, stuff like that. All topics I'd feel comfortable teaching to a class now. I'd like to teach kids to program on a volunteer basis. I'm going to make a point of that.

10. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Phillip K. Dick

Unlike the movie Bladerunner, which put me to sleep, the novel it's based on is actually fast-paced throughout. A thriller about an android bounty hunter living on a polluted Earth after most of the human population has migrated to Mars. Has a much stranger ending than the movie. Spoiler: the last sentence is his wife making him a cup of coffee. Um, okay.

9. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner

A rural southern family transports their dead mother to her hometown for burial. Faulkner novels always crescendo and end with a roar. No exception here. Faulkner claimed he wrote As I Lay Dying from midnight to 4:00 AM over the course of six weeks and did not change a word of it. If you were considering reading Harry Crews, just read Faulkner instead.

8. The Road - Cormac McCarthy

I finally read The Road, and I loved it. A father and son trying to survive in post-apoctalyptic America. I'd heard it dragged at points but I did not find that to be the case.

7. Learn Python the Hard Way by Zed A. Shaw

This was the most enjoyable programming book I've ever read. It's intended for absolute beginners. If you're interested in programming but have never tried, I recommend this book. Easy to digest, and Mr. Zed actually addresses life and humanity and other topics typically absent in the field of computer science.

6. Tenth of December by George Saunders

A book of gnarly science fiction short stories. George Saunders is all the rage these days. If you haven't heard of him, well I guess you have now.

5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

Now we're getting into the territory of books that are among my all-time favorites. An epic biopic about a doomed family of Dominican immigrants living in New Jersey. Diaz tells it from a variety of perspectives and with a variety of voices. Oscar's an overweight science fiction author who fears he'll die a virgin. Sitting here with my beer and my blog, I can relate.

4. Geek Love - Katherine Dunn

Another family biopic, this time about a family of carnival freaks. A good-natured boy with god-like telekinetic powers, a fishboy who founds a religion, and a narrator who's a humpback dwarf albino. Apparently the only book I read in 2014 written by a woman who was not in a writing group with me. Okay I'm definitely going to read Margaret Atwood this year.

3. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

These last three are really hard to rank. This novel could have been #1 - I loved it. A mystery novel that takes place in a Jewish Alaska in a world where the Israeli state was never founded. Just as the Jews are about to be evicted from Alaska, one lonely alcoholic cop takes on the case of a man murdered in his apartment building mid-chess game. The main characters are ex-lovers. They care for each other but there can be no happy ending. C'est la vie.

2. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again - David Foster Wallace

A collection of masterful essays by DFW. I read Infinite Jest years ago and it stuck with me. I finally picked DFW up again in 2014 and turns out I'm way more into his non-fiction. Powerful and hilarious essays on youth tennis in tornado valley, the Illinois State Fair, David Lynch, and a seven night luxury Caribbean cruise.

1. Lexicon by Max Barry

And finally, the book that I've been telling everybody to read - Lexicon! It's a sci-fi thriller with very little sci-fi to it. Fantastically flawed characters and a twisting turning racing riveting plot. The last sentence is like a .44 to the mouth. I liked the epilogue too. But I wonder if I would have liked the novel better sans epilogue. Check it out and tell me what you think!

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