Hi everyone! So I used to be a pretty voracious reader. In the last couple of years, I’ve fallen off that wagon, and I want to get back to the point where I feel like I’m reading a healthy amount of books every year. So I’ve promised myself I’m going to make the effort, no matter what, to complete at least one book a week OR, in the case that it’s a War and Peace-sized tome, read at least 300 pages.

This blog will be a way for me to hold myself accountable and not get distracted from that effort. I’ll also rate each book I read with a four star system and write a little blurb about it. So let’s get to it.

January

1/1-1/8: 

  • Alien: The Official Movie Novelization: A fantastic little tie-in that rises above the most of its peers. It’s not better than the movie but it does a good job of fleshing out The Nostromo’s crew by showing us their thoughts and fears. ***
  • Annihilation: VanderMeer’s sci-fi trilogy is getting an adaptation from the guy who wrote 28 Days Later and Ex Machina, two of the most interesting contemporary sci-fi films, so I thought I’d check this one out. The first book, Annihilation follows four women as they journey into a mysterious, quarantined land filled mysterious energy and is more focused on creating a Lovecraftian atmosphere where whatever the catalyst of each character’s dread is somewhere lurking out of sight than crafting an elegant plot. The start is SLOW but the payoff is immense, and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the other two books and checking out the film adaptation next month. ***

1/8-1/15:

  • Lincoln In The Bardo: George Saunders has long been one of my favorite short story writers and essayists. Dude can write complex, thought-provoking stories with brilliant concepts that also hit hard emotionally. His first novel, Lincoln In The Bardo, is no different. The book takes place after the death of William Lincoln, the president’s son, and follows the ghostly child’s ordeal as he remains in the nearby cemetery because his father refuses to stop visiting the grave. The spirits that take up the cemetery all spend the novel trying to convince him to move on to the afterlife while also dealing with the traumas and sins that have kept them trapped into this limbo. Hilarious, disturbing, and deeply moving, I loved the hell out of this book and will probably reread it again soon. ****

1/15-1/22:

  • For Whom The Bell Tolls: The only novel by Hemingway I hadn't read yet. It's a pretty decent (if overlong) yarn about a suicide mission during the Spanish Civil War. The cast of characters is strong, especially the mysterious, unpredictable Pablo and the wise if profane Pilar. Hemingway's prose is solid as ever, though there are a number of scenes that feel superfluous and more like chapters from his life than things that actually make the story stronger.  The romance at the center of the story is also weak and has way too many chapters dedicated to it. The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms are stronger novels than this but there are a few truly great sections that combine economical prose with the melodrama of war to create memorable bits, like the often quoted "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for." ***

1/22-1/29:

  •   Authority:  The second in Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy, Authority is a great combination of Lovecraft's creeping, unknowable dread and Pynchon's obsession with entropy as the surreal and paranoid combine to create disturbing yet beautiful passages of prose. Focused on the incoming director of the agency assigned to deal with Area X, a mysterious piece of land filled with inexplicable occurrences and creatures, we watch as John Rodriguez delves into the history of Area X while also mitigating strange office rivalries. As somber as it is bleakly funny, I really enjoyed Authority in how it built upon the foundation of the first novel while also inhabiting an entirely different genre and vibe than the first book. Can't wait to see how the trilogy wraps up with Acceptance. ****

February

1/29-2/05

  •   Acceptance: The final chapter in the Southern Reach trilogy is a pretty decent conclusion, appropriately offering answers to established questions while creating countless more questions. Creepy and occasionally moving, the whole trilogy is worth reading, though Acceptance is probably the weakest of them all due to its bouncy perspective-based structure. ***

2/05-2/12

  •   Roadside Picnic: The basis for both STALKER the film and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl, the video game, I came to Roadside Picnic with high expectations that were not met. The premise of aliens visiting earth and then discarding their trash, and humans becoming obsessed with said trash is interesting, as is the profession of the so-called Stalker as they creep into the mysterious 'Zone' to steal artifacts. However, the actual journey of its characters (and the characters themselves) are kind of dull, especially in comparison to the works that Roadside Picnic would eventually inspire. **

2/12-2/19:

  • The Secret History Of Twin Peaks: As someone who only experiences peaks and valleys when it comes to Twin Peaks, TSHOTP is definitely one of the bottom of the barrel bits of the experience for me. A half-novel, half-encyclopedia that feels more like fanservice to get people hyped for The Return more than anything, I found the whole tome to be rather dull. I gave it till halfway to get interesting but shortly gave up afterward. *

2/19-2/26

  • The Crying Of Lot 49: Every year I reread The Crying Of Lot 49. It's my favorite book of all time because of its enigmatic nature, sympathetic protagonists, and the humor and humility that shines through the writing. A deft balance of playful and tragic, there is no better modern classic in my mind.  ****

March

2/26-3/12

  • Crime And Punishment (Pevear & Volokhonsky trans.): Crime and Punishment was one of my favorite books in college. I discovered, going back to it, that post-college Me does not love it nearly as much. I think part of it might be the translation (I've struck out with every single Pevear translation of classics I love so far), and also part of it being I forgot just how much time our boy Dovo spends painting the same picture of Russian society over and over again, ignoring the philosophical meat of Raskolnikov's story. Still a classic and a fantastic read your first go-round but maybe don't go back for seconds. ***

3/12-3/19

  • All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story Of The Wire: The Wire is my favorite show of all time so this oral history of the show was a no-brainer. Jonathan Abrams does a great job of corralling all of these interviews into a well-structured history of the show that reveals surprising details and trivia, like how John C. Reilly almost ended up being McNulty, and how Method Man was on the set. A necessary addition for any fan. My only issue, and it's not really a huge issue all things considered, is that Abrams doesn't really bother to explain the significance of the show or these trivia bits to non-watchers. Hardcore fans need only to read this book but man, for us Wire fanatics, it's a fantastic journey through the best television show ever. ****

3/19-3/26

  •  Rum Punch: I love Elmore Leonard. I also love Jackie Brown and think it's Tarantino's best movie by a long shot, so it seemed like a good idea to check out the book it was based on. Guess what: it's really good! Strong dialogue, great plot, well-written characters. The kind of book that makes me want to go a reading spree and burn through all of the rest of the author's works real soon. ***

April

3/26-4/9

  • The Drop: Dennis Lehane's short, punchy novel is the basis for a movie that's superior but the novel is still good, with believable characters, an engaging plot, and great dialogue. An above average crime novel. ***

4/9-4/19

  • The Gulf War: The History and Legacy of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm: I bought this for some context on The Gulf War. It was a superficial read. I could have gleamed more from the Wikipedia page. Bummer. *

4/19-5/7

  • The Tattoo Murder Case: It took a while to get through my next book. A big reason was because I was so busy working on my military piece about Call of Duty and Kuwait. However, the other reason was that this book was just so dull to get through. This potboiler isn't a bad book, per se, but it hasn't aged well. The concept is cool, focusing on a tattoo-related murder that happens in post WW2 Japan but it's overly long and its characters are pretty dull. Oh well. **