2014: Reading Review

Good year for reading, man. It started off rough, but then I started taking the bus to work every day and that gave me two uninterrupted hours a day to pound through the pages. My goal for 2014 was to read 50 books. When I started the regular commute in June, I was 8 books behind schedule. I ended the year well past my goal. I’ve posted a full run-down of the metrics similar to what I did for 2012.

Besides the goal for reading 50 books, I was also of the mindset that I wanted to branch out and not read mostly science fiction, like I had done in years past. Thus, I made pointed choices to start reading a lot more non-fiction, and that helped. Sci-fi was still the lion’s share, but 2014 was a lot more balanced than previous years.

That said, by mid-November, I was getting pretty sick of reading. I finished The Girl With All the Gifts, and then floundered about for what to read next. Which is exactly what happened after I read Dataclysm. Clearly, I’d crammed a lot of reading into the previous six months.

What Does This Mean for 2015?

Well, I’m going to set a slightly higher goal (60) books for 2015. This is largely because I plan to ride my bike to work once or twice a week, so I’ll have less time to read. I feel like I made a pretty good balance between science fiction versus “everything else”, and will be trying to maintain that during 2015.

Four Books That Blew My Socks Off in 2014

Here’s What I Read

How to Write a Business Plan by Mike McKeever — 3 stars
Super-useful. Recommended if you haven’t done a business plan before.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin — 4 stars
Really recharged my batteries and inspired me when things were low.

Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn — 3 stars (Re-read, Series)
Not as good as I remembered it being.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries — 3 stars
I’ll have to re-read this someday. Not much of it stuck.

Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn — 4 stars (Re-read, Series)
The series began to pick up some steam here.

Seeing Futher by Bill Bryson (editor) — 3 stars
This was a series of articles written by scientists and historians and edited by Bryson. As such, it’s not up to his usual standards, and I was sorely disappointed.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon — 3 stars
An okay memoir, I guess. Not nearly as attention-grabbing as his fiction.

The Last Command by Timothy Zahn — 4 stars (Re-read, Series)
A satisfying conclusion.

The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction… by Chuck Wendig — 4 stars
Hilarious, cruft-free, and now on the bookshelf next to King’s On Writing… for future reference/inspiration.

Like a Mighty Army by David Weber — 4 stars
Had me jonesing for Book #8 in the series, and has me wondering when things are really going to turn on their head.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk — 5 stars
Gary’s stuff always leaves me pumped and I started working this material into the marketing plan for my bike biz almost immediately.

The Power Of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential by Leo Babauta — 4 stars
A great treatise on filtering out your life to tackle what’s important.

Dune by Frank Herbert — 4 stars
This wasn’t a re-read, despite my nerd credentials. I enjoyed it enough, even though it seemed to plod at times. Can’t imagine re-reading it, though.

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear — 2 stars
This was terrible.

Best American Magazine Writing 2013 by The American Society of Magazine Editors — 4 stars
This had some really solid stuff in it, particularly “An Innocent Man” and “School of Hate”…both of those were worth the price of admission.

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin — 4 stars
Great, absolutely great. One of those books every armchair scientist should read.

Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds — 5 stars
Reynolds is one of my favorite science fiction authors and this one sat in my to-read pile for far too long.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking — 4 stars (Re-read)
It’d been more than 20 years since I last read this. I think I understood it a bit better this time around.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer — 5 stars (Series)
This book completely blew my mind. It did a fantastic job of creating an environment that was intriguing, creepy, and alive, while being strangely unique. The rest of the series was a bit of a letdown, however. This book would be a great learning experience for writers who have a hard time with setting.

The Art of Hacking by Can Akdeniz — 3 stars
I gave it three stars upon completion, but I can remember very little of it. It wasn’t a tutorial or anything like that — mostly, it was just a review of great minds like DaVinci. I thought that trying to sneak Steve Jobs onto the list was a bit disengenuous, however.

Choose Yourself by James Altucher — 5 stars
This, like Godin’s work earlier on this list really fired me up. Anyone that wants to change career paths should definitely read this.

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer — 4 stars (Series)
This is where the slide began. Still good, but not like its predecessor.

A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. — 5 stars (Re-read)
Couldn’t tell you when I first read this — high school maybe? — but it was definitely worth the re-read. A depressing look at man’s stupidity, but with a glimmer of hope at the end.

Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson — 2 stars
I’ve read reviews of this, and Ronson’s other work, praising it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Ronson is definitely engaging in gonzo journalism, but some of it sounds too ridiculous to be true.

Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds by Scott Berkun — 3 stars
My first foray into Berkun’s work was…alright. Nothing earth-shattering, despite the “Big Ideas” claim in the title. Still worth a read.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu — 4 stars (Series)
Nerdy guy gets infested by alien parasite and becomes James Bond. Might be stupid if it weren’t for all the snarky humor, well-paced action sequences, and Chu’s willingness to slaughter off major (and likeable) characters to advance the plot.

Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing by Neal Stephenson — 2 stars
Unless you get a boner from reading about how they lay fiber optic cabling under the ocean, you can probably skip this one. This is a collection of all his third-party published stuff, and while some of it shines (“Jipi and the Paranoid Chip”), for the most part, this is just a drag.

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey — 5 stars
This was good enough where I am able to ignore the god-humping. Seriously. Kate and I enacted this plan back in August of 2013 and have been at it since. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Martian by Andy Weir — 5 stars
This is the best science fiction book I’ve read in the last 20 years. Maybe 30. Maybe ever. I laughed like hell, I cried, I found myself on the edge of my seat. This book is that fucking good. Why aren’t you reading it right now?

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson — 5 stars
Was Steve Jobs a great businessman? Yes. Absolutely. Was he a visionary? Yes. Absolutely. Is what he did with Apple, both in the first, and second iterations, amazing? Yes. But was the human wreckage and the damage to himself worth it? Those are the troubling questions that this book leaves the reader with at the end.

Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt — 3 stars
If Goodreads supported half-stars, this would’ve gotten a 3.5. Not bad, but not great, either.

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome by John Scalzi — 4 stars
Helped set the stage for Locked In. Good read.

Blightborn by Chuck Wendig — 4 stars (Series)
Wendig reminds me a lot of Scalzi — funny, smart, and able to write emotional work without falling down the hole of melodrama. The ending for this made me sit up and yell “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” rather loudly. On the bus. And you know what? I’m buying book three the day it’s released. Some seriously good shit comes out of Chuck’s brain.

Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace — 3 stars
I do not understand why people have a hard-on for DFW. Perhaps I should read more of his works? Or not?

Watchers by Dean Koontz — 4 stars (Re-read)
This is the book that set the standard for all other Koontz books: man + woman + dog + unspeakable evil = book. I left the four star rating I would’ve given it in high school, back when I first read it. Now? Jesus. Doesn’t hold up well. At all. Awkward dialogue, really stilted view of women, etc. Unlikely to re-read again.

The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu — 4 stars (Re-read)
Not as great as the first one, to be sure, but still a decent read. I’m definitely on the hook for the sequel.

The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun — 4 stars
This book made me want to work for Automattic. I actually read it to get ideas for my own startup, but I found myself wanting to go elsewhere.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick — 3 stars
My first-ever attempt at reading a PKD novel, and I was underwhelmed. Seriously? This is it? What’s the big deal? A novel with some interesting ideas that manages to go absolutely nowhere? Call me when they make the movie.

Kettlebell Power Training for Athletes by David Bellomo — 2 stars
Quick! Jump on the kettlebell bandwagon!

After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia by Ellen Datlow (editor) — 3 stars
A fairly unremarkable collection.

Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy (and Larry Bond) — 3 stars (Re-read)
A look at a non-nuclear World War III. In high school, I loved this book. Now? Ugh. While the pacing is fantastic, the characters are all flat, wooden, and take a back seat to the technology of war. Not really worth re-reading.

The Adjacent by Christopher Priest — 3 stars
Alternate realities. Highly rated. Except by me. I meh’ed it in this reality.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe — 4 stars
A collection of the what-if blog posts from xkcd. Worth it for the light-speed baseball pitch alone.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie — 4 stars (Series)
I initially felt pretty stupid reading this…until I “got” it. Then I really enjoyed it. I can see why it won so many awards, but I still wish that Leckie had found a way to make things more clear earlier in the book. I’ll definitely read the sequel.

Lock In by John Scalzi — 5 stars
As usual, Scalzi didn’t disappoint. Action, intrigue, snarky dialogue. Great premise with the surrounding effects on society well-considered. Loved it.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe — 3 stars
Stan Lee comes off as a real prick. That said, a fascinating (though sometimes tedious) look at how Marvel was born, went through death throes, and then became the juggernaut it is today.

Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson — 4 stars (Series)
I read the first book a couple of years ago, but even though it has some of the same characters, it wasn’t necessary reading before tackling this one. A good action-y novel that doesn’t make you think too hard. I’m sure there’ll be a third book in the series, and I’m sure I’ll read it.

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer — 3 stars
Thank god the series ended when it did. I couldn’t handle much more of the downward trend it quality. The last book struggled to keep my interest — I may only have finished it due to the time already invested in the prequels.

Dataclysm: Who We Are by Christian Rudder — 4 stars
Think Freaknomics, but with hard data to back up the statements. A really solid read, thought-provoking, and a worthy investment of your time.

Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna — 3 stars
Zombies. Airships. World-building holes you could fly a Hindenburg through.

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust — 4 stars
A secret society 40,000 years old? People who cannot die? Las Vegas? Shut up and take my money.

The Doomsday Handbook by Alok Jha — 2 stars
There was literally nothing in this book that you couldn’t have gotten by reading Reddit’s homepage for six months. And this didn’t even have the witty commentary.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson — 3 stars
Another of KSR’s “grand tour around the solar system” books, with a little plot thrown in for fun. I really hated the main character in this one.

The Cyclist’s Training Bible by Joe Friel — 4 stars (Paper, re-read)
Prep for 2015.

Weight Training for Cyclists: A Total Body Program for Power & Endurance by Ken Doyle — 4 stars (Paper, re-read)
Prep for 2015.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey — 4 stars
Powerful book. Amazing. A new, novel twist on the zombie story.

Letters by Kurt Vonnegut — 3 stars
An interesting look inside Vonnegut’s mind. Worth reading if you’re a fan.

Influx by Daniel Suarez — 5 stars
What if there were a shadowy government agency that was charged with keeping the technological status quo? What if they were sitting on some of the most important technologies ever conceived by imprisoning scientists and hiding their research? Fun read.

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson — 4 stars
Loved this book. With the shadow of the Great Depression looming only two years away, things were happening in America that would change it and the world. Bryson, as usual, takes a dry subject and makes it breathe.

Sand Omnibus by Hugh Howey — 4 stars
I made the joke that this is the opposite of Wool — instead of people trying to get out of large, underground vertical structures, they’re trying to get in. That’s a bit disingenuous, however — Sand is it’s own story, and a good one. Howey remains an author on the must-read list.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien — 5 stars
Again, in 2014, I was reading a lot of books that I should’ve read a long time ago. I was afraid of having my NerdCard™ revoked. Great book; much better than the movies, which were unnecessarily long. (Also, how do you get one entire movie out the Battle of the Five Armies?)

Defenders by Will McIntosh — 4 stars
I picked this one up as “list padding”, with the intention of having some light military sci-fi to blow through. What I got was thought-provoking stuff, more about the aftermath of war, humanity’s tendencies toward xenophobia, and out self-destructive nature. This is a book that belongs alongside The Forever War in the pantheon of great military sci-fi.

Night Shift by Stephen King — 3 stars
Not nearly as scary as when I read it in middle school back in the 80’s. Seriously.

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean — 4 stars
Great book about the history of the neurosciences and how they came to be — via the study of brain injuries and deformities. An absolutely fascinating read.

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey — 4 stars (Series)
DaVinci, Einstein, Teilhard — minds that come along once a generation, usually saddled with emotional issues. What if a mind like that came along once out of every hundred births? What if they were otherwise normal? Intriguing read. The sequel is in my queue for early 2015.