2016 In Books

emersonWhen I discovered Goodreads several years ago, I had no idea that such a place even existed online. Discovering a place where fellow book nerds congregated and discussed books they were reading, books they wanted to read, and all else literary made me incredibly happy. It also gave me the option of cataloging all the books I’ve read and consolidating my scattershot reading habits into some definable “goals”.

After the passing of a young friend of mine in 2015, I made 2016 the year that I immersed myself in a world of reading in which I gained spiritual, philosophical, and overall educational insight. Overall, I read 40+ books, but I’ll only touch on what I feel were the top ten I read in 2016.

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2015 in Books (Part 2)

shelfTo make it a tad bit easier on the eyes for anyone out there reading this (Helloooo??? Are you there???), I’ve broken the list down into a couple of postings. I’ve been quite diligent in pursuing my reading goals the last couple of years and I enjoy sharing what I’m reading with you, as a fellow nerd. With no further ado, here’s what I’ve been reading from March until early July (Part 3 to come later).

The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin
Read from March 09 to April 10, 2015
-Really enjoyed this one and wrote a “review” previously on here.

Phantastes by George MacDonald
Read from March 24 to April 10, 2015
-Recommended by the same friend who told me about “The Everlasting Man” last year, this is another heavy one. I don’t mean heavy in the sense of the storyline; it’s mostly the dialect of the narrator (a result of being published initially in 1858). It had some high points for me, and the narrator is INCREDIBLY descriptive throughout.

Tinkers by Paul Harding
Read from April 08 to 09, 2015
-I can respect what the author was going for, but this was so uneven I can’t rate it any higher than a 2.5 or 3. When it hits, it’s amazing. For me though, it was more miss.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Read from April 07 to 08, 2015
-Really enjoyed this one. Good sense of creepiness all throughout. Definitely made up for the previous Shirley Jackson I read. Had a few “hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-my-neck” scenes. When you are visualizing what someone else has written and it creeps you out, that’s some good writing right there.

Tell No One by Harlan Coben
Read from March 31 to April 07, 2015
-I had a love/hate relationship with this book. The best analogy I could come up with is if Lifetime Movies could be turned into books, this would be a prime candidate. Initially published in 2000, the references to dial-up modems and clicking on “hyperlinks” made it feel quite dated. I can’t think of any other way to describe it, but it was almost like having the internet explained to me by my grandmother.

The story about a missing wife and a crime that may or may not have occurred is semi interesting, but the delivery was hokey and hackneyed in my opinion. I would read more of this author, definitely, because I could see some potential in his imagination. This book was my first option, though, since the ebook selection at my local library is depressingly limited (I can get my digital hands on a ton of romance novels though!).

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Read from March 27 to 28, 2015
-Wow. Now THAT is how you write a thriller. Short and to the point. Most excellent. Not a single word wasted throughout.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Read from April 9 to 16, 2015
-After really enjoying Diary Of An Indian earlier this year, I wanted to read more of Sherman Alexie. Friends recommended this as my next foray into Alexie’s work and I have to say that it is definitely quite a bit different, tonally. This may have a lot to do with the fact that although humorous, “Diary” hinted at the annoyances of living on a reservation while “Tonto” showed the author’s downright disgust with the Native American’s lot in life. There IS humor here and several chuckles to be had, but there is more frustration and anger than anything else. A collection of short stories, I found it a bit disjointed. Not terrible, but not necessarily one of my better reads so far this year.

The highlights (for me) include the following;

“The Only Traffic Signal On The Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore”, a sad but humorous tale of two guys discussing who may make it out as a basketball star and who will be left to deal with alcoholism. A great blend of humor and sadness, one of the few that I thought provided a good balance.

“This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona”, the story that “Smoke Signals” is based off. Very witty, with two characters you can’t help but enjoy reading about as they deal with the loss of one of their fathers and the trip to Phoenix.

“Imagining The Reservation”, a hypothetical “what if” about the different ways that Native American life would/could be different if history had played out differently. Heavy, but a very interesting and well-written one.

One thing I noticed that I thought was very cool, was how Alexie made small word additions that turned a simple sentence into so much more. A passage mentions the dinner of macaroni and cheese, but changes the cheese to “commodity cheese”, completely altering my visual of those delicious little neon orange noodles. A simple dish usually, specifying the fact that this is “government” cheese shows the disparity between the Mac and Cheese I would eat and the mac and cheese of Alexie’s characters. Several other places discuss leaving the character’s “HUD house” vs just stepping out of the house. Alexie definitely knows what he is writing about, and he does a great job of portraying the malaise inherent in reservation living.

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
Read from April 16 to 22, 2015
-My son and I both love The Gaffigan. As a father, I got a kick out of a lot of his stuff in here. Now, I only have one child so I couldn’t necessarily relate to his having FOUR of those little buggers, but this had quite a few chuckles throughout.

Searching For God Knows What by Donald Miller
Read from April 11 to 28, 2015
-I read “Blue Like Jazz” previously and it resonated deeply with me. This one had high points and low points, but I’m sorry to say wasn’t as powerful as “Jazz”. Not a bad read, by any stretch of the imagination, just not as good as the first Donald Miller I read.

Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison
Read from April 22 to May 3, 2015
-As someone who wrestles with depression from time to time (I’d imagine there are quite a few more out there that do, without mentioning it to people), this one was interesting. I’d read some Jamison before and wasn’t all that impressed, but this one was fascinating. A fairly objective look at what drives people to suicide and how they accomplish it, this book is not a feel-good read at all. Still an interesting one though, and recommended.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Read from May 6 to 23, 2015
-Really enjoyed this one. A fantastic creepy book about a vampire, done in an unconventional way. The main character IS a vampire, in the technical sense of the term, but not quite how you may think. Great read from Stephen King’s son.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Read from May 26 to June 1, 2015
-Absolutely fantastic read. Somber, yes, but still an incredible study on how modern medicine has become more about checking a list of boxes than realizing the importance of allowing people to have “quality of life” even if it means less time spent here on Earth.

I truly, truly liked this book and Dr. Gawande’s anecdotes. Highly recommend this one.

Part 3 will be coming a couple more months down the line.

The Children’s Blizzard

blizzard_cover“The 12th of January, 1888, is, and long will be, remembered, not only by Dakotans, but by many in the northwest, not for the things we enjoy, love, and would see repeated; but for its darkness, desolation, ruin and death, spread broadcast; for the sorrow, sadness and heartache that followed in its train”.
-Caleb Holt Ellis, 1909

Considering that horrible events transpire on a regular basis, each and every one of them relative to one’s direct involvement in them, I’m not sure if many people remember this event and/or continue to discuss it’s impact on turn of the century Prairie life. This is not a derogatory sleight by any means, only more of an observation.

We remember the things that matter to us, plain and simple.  Unless you have a vested interest in the history of the weather service, the advent of frontier pioneering, or your bloodline includes someone effected by this tragedy, you may have no idea that it even happened. As for me, I’ve heard the story through the years of the school teacher who roped her children together (turns out this is actually disputed on both sides as to its veracity) to traverse the snow storm but had no idea this was “that snowstorm”.

This book, although tragic, was an incredibly rich read. The author, David Laskin, has created a narrative for this tragedy that intertwines the stories of multiple people involved. From the immigrant families attempting their luck at homesteading to the military officers in charge of weather forecasting (in its infancy here), this is an absolute page turner. Laskin does a fantastic job of breaking down, in layman’s terms, the conditions that both led to the storm and continued to feed its ferocity.

As a quick summary, this book is about a  blizzard that occurred across the Midwest on January 12th, 1888. Striking fast, and without warning (one of the sharply contested arguments about the weather service and it’s shortcomings back then was the inability, for a multitude of reasons, to relay the danger in time), over two hundred people froze to death. Referred to as the “Children’s Blizzard”, due to the large amount of school children unable to make their way home from school before being overtaken, this was a tragedy that had not been expected or seen before.

As a gift a couple Christmases ago, I finally got around to reading this. For those whose To Be Read list is ever expanding (like me), you know the struggle of not having enough time to read all the books you’d like and the “SQUIRREL!!!” moment when you get distracted by a book that must be read immediately, skipping to the front of the line.

Bottom line is that I would definitely recommend this one if you can get your hands on it.

Devil’s Knot

d-knot-coverDuring one of my six month cruises in the Navy, I read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I’m not necessarily going to pontificate on that book in detail, other than to say that some of the violence in its pages was graphic enough for me to set it down periodically and go find pictures of rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns to remind me there is good in the world too.

Devil’s Knot is the first book since then to receive the same treatment. I am in no way demeaning the book and actually would recommend it to anyone interested in the following subjects;

1) True Crime
2) Miscarriages Of Justice
3) Wrongful Imprisonment
4) Freedom of Speech
5) Societal Outcasts
6) Artistic Expression

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Destiny Of The Republic

dotr_coverAs a lifelong reader and writer, I have had the opportunity to read books of nearly every genre, length, and caliber. Although I planned on including each of the books I read this year in my summary (2014’s summary), this biography of one of our lesser known Presidents left enough of a mark to warrant its own individual thoughts. As we might say in Internet speak, it “got me right in the feels bro“.
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A Kind Love Letter

kindDear Kind Bar,

I have been watching you for awhile now. It has been several years since we were first introduced and it has been so difficult to not share my true feelings with you. I have spoken to several other people about my deep affection for you, but I have not talked to you specifically about my feelings.

I love you and I do not care who knows it.

There, I said it. Now that it is out there, there is no need for the awkwardness that comes after a deep, meaningful conversation. In the interest of full disclosure, I went through that phase where I was trying other bars, and I hope I didn’t hurt you by doing so. The bottom line is that I came back to you. I always have come back to you. With your pronounceable ingredients and incredible flavor lineup, I am done playing around. I am fully committed to you, from this point forward.

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We Need To Talk About Kevin

KevinWow. I’m not even sure how I should react to this book. I don’t know how exactly one would label this and into which genre it might fit, considering it delves into horror AND drama. Make no mistake; the subject matter lends itself to drama but this is an excellent telling of a horrific child.

I will have to be honest; it’s a tough one to get into until it really picks up. When I say it “picks up”, I don’t necessarily mean it becomes an action packed pedal-to-the-medal tale. It truly is a slow burn. Once you become invested in these characters and begin to piece together the events in the narrator’s life, it’s an absolutely engrossing read. Although it’s taken since December to get through, it wasn’t for lack of desire. The biggest perk of e-books, at least for me, is the ability to read them anytime and anywhere. Although I started this one on my Nook (and initially held a strong dislike for the narrator, almost to the point of putting it down), I copied it to my phone’s e-reader as well so I could read it wherever I may be. (On a side note, Mantano Reader is AWESOME if you’ve got an Android phone or tablet.)

Told by way of correspondence between a wife and her husband, this is a story about their son Kevin and his upbringing. We begin the book already aware of a horrible tragedy but the letters from Eva to Franklin take us through Kevin’s life.

As a parent of a boy myself, this book is pretty easy to relate to. Although not really a horror novel, inasmuch as there’s really no supernatural angle or monsters, it could very easily fit into that genre. As Eva’s letters can attest to, there is something very wrong about Kevin.

It’s difficult to talk much about this book without delving into “spoilers” and passing along too much of the story so I’ll just have to say that no novel in recent memory has left such an indelible impression on this particular reader.

There was a movie based on this novel made a year or two ago as well. Needless to say, I’ll be renting it and even though I know how it ends, I doubt the emotional wallop will be any less mitigated. A four hundred page book, beginning as a slow burn, this definitely makes good use of the last ten to fifteen pages.