Books – October 2009

So really, October was Harry Potter month. I ended up getting hooked, and couldn’t stop reading them until I had finished with them, and the only reason I had another book in the middle of them all was I had it in my car for reading on my lunch breaks at work. We’ll start with the non-Potter book first and then a general Potter fest to complete the rest of the month out.

Moneyball – Michael Lewis – A very controversial book when it came out, Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane (General Manager of the Oakland A’s Baseball team) and his uncanny ability to put together a consistently winning team that had a budget much less than half of his major competition in Baseball (think of the Yankee’s payroll!). Great book that shows a front office that in an effort to save money looked to the stats of a player and what the players statistics told about their potential. It pits the “old guard” scouting core who looked more at the physical and mental make up of a ballplayer. They frequently would pass on players who didn’t look like a ballplayer physically, but Beane and his staff would find something about the player in his stats to like – Walk to Strikout ratio or their On Base Percentage – and discover diamonds in the rough. \Unfortunately others picked up parts of his ideas over these last few years, and it’s harder to find a good deal anymore for those lackluster A’s. Our own Mariners now have a GM in place who has similar principles in evaluating talent and has helped turn the M’s from a 2nd worst team in the majors to a winning record and significant growth in only a year. Great read, and I want to read his other book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which covers the story of the Left Tackle position in Football. Great writer.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J. K. Rowling
So I went to town in October when it came to Harry Potter, like I said above. I started down that path and ended up not being able to resist starting on the next book so I could find out what happened to Harry and his pals. What can I say. J.K. Rowling writes well enough of a story to keep me hooked until the end. I’m actually pretty glad I waited until now to read them when the series is complete, as I stare back at my bookshelves looking at a couple of series that are still in progress and the patient wait for the next novel can be maddening. Like I said in a previous post, I read these books on a Sony Reader, which was great for nighttime reading in bed. Lightweight, easy to pick up and down, but so much less satisfaction of finishing a book when you can’t really close it and pick up the next one and start at the beginning again.

I’ve not looked at lists of others favorite Harry Potters, but I found that I enjoyed Goblet of Fire probably the best out of the series, followed by either The Prisoner of Azkaban or Order of the Phoenix. Book 4 just had a great mix of action, new characters with the other schools joining in and giving you a bigger picture of the wizarding world at large. Plus Harry Potter vs. a Dragon. Excellent. Still book 5 and 6 continued well, but book 7 was almost a let down, saved by the excellent scenes at the end, the middle part just drug on and on as Harry and co. wandered through the wilderness for months seemingly doing not much other than arguing. Thanks guys. Let’s get back to saving the world please!

As a modern book series for children, I can’t believe how well Harry Potter succeeds. I’m also so pleased at how well it reads for an adult as well, and can see why so many people were gladly toting these things when each new one came out. As I’ve mentioned before, I love books that get people reading and how much these books helped many kids who wouldn’t normally read, actually sit down and do so is wonderful. Bonus points for them being actual good books! What’s also great is how this series also has flawed characters. Harry’s not perfect. He get’s angry, he looses his temper over silly things, but has a hard time apologizing sometimes. But, in the end he’s also got a great heart, and he’s got great loyal friends who all learn to stick with each other through thick and thin. He’s occasionally whiny and boorish, but then it helps make him all that more believable of a kid stuck in an impossible situation.

In the end, it’s a series I’d recommend to anyone. Looking for a relaxing book to enjoy on a rainy day? Potter. Looking for the beach book? Potter’d work. Looking for a fantastical take on England? Potter there sir. I’ll gladly have my son read these in a few years when he gets older and is looking for books to start reading. With his appetite for books already I’m sure he’ll love to read these when he get’s of age and I’d love to share them with him and read them again when that time comes.

Books – September 2009

Ahh, September. Great month September is. The summer is closing down, but it’s still warm. Evenings start to get shorter and the start of the football season make it just wonderful. Plus? Great books!

Dust of Dreams – Steven Erikson So I had to import book nine from the UK because it’s not due out in the US until 2010, and I just couldn’t wait that long. The continuing story in the ten book series of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, we continue to watch and see how more things get completely shaken up and stirred up in this series. It’s hard to write generally about a series where most anyone who reads this will probably never get to, but as I’ve mentioned before about this “fantasy world”, it’s been an amazing journey along the way. With other long series I’ve read they loose steam mid-way through (see The Wheel of Time), but each of these books keeps pushing your understanding of the world it’s characters inhabit, and doesn’t pull punches or let people off easy. The history is rich, fulfilling and never complete, and always has different interpretations based on who’s viewing it. Highly reccomended series, you just have to get over the difficult first novel (Gardens of the Moon, which was written 10 years before he got the contract to do the final nine, and while good, he grew a lot as a writer by the time the second book came around), and you’ll be rewarded richly.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – Jack Weatherford – Driven to find out more from just a wonderment about the man, as well as some of the references to him in the book I read on the Crusades, I got a recommendation to this book and was very pleased. The amazing history of the Mongol empire, which was the largest in human history, and how a tribe of nomadic horse people managed to do it! Such things as novel military tactics, adopting the best and brightest of any nation the conquered, setting up systems of management and couriers to allow them to rule their vast empire, religious tolerance and freedom, and the free exchange of ideas. Truly an amazing amount of achievement was accomplished with their rule, and while the author does seem to overstate all of the influences of the Khans, it really does show how far behind Europe was until their own age of enlightenment and the re-discovery of so much knowledge that had been lost or deemed heretical. Easy to read, and not dry, I high recommendation for anyone with even a passing interest in the man behind the legends and myths and the amazing truths as well.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan – The second of my two book dare by a friend of mine, a book that was supposed to make me cry at the end, like so many of these style novels seem to do to friends of mine. Actually I was impressed by the book. Like so many high school students, I had to read The Joy Club for English class, and like probably most students, I didn’t enjoy it much. I was plenty worried when I stated the book and found the narrating author character to be annoying and uninteresting, but as soon as she got to translating the diary of her mother and grandmother’s life growing up in China, the story became fascinating, so much so that when the book returned to the modern day I didn’t mind so much anymore as it pulled everything together and closed itself off well. I’m sure I missed some of the mother/daughter symbolism that was in there, but even missing that I found the story to be well worth reading and quite enjoyable. I remain a skeptic no more, and it doesn’t mean I have to hand in my “man” card either. Oh yes, no tears either. Sorry.

Books – August 2009

Somehow I missed doing the month of August, and with September already done it’s time to catch up.?

Magical Thinking – Augusten Burroughs – Ah, the memoir. Given to me to read by a friend with strong recommendations, I went in with low expectations. In a lot of ways Augusten Burroughs (who’s previous Running with Scissors was made into a movie) is similar to David Sedaris. Both are quite funny gay men who have had some wonderfully silly experiences in their lives, some sad, some heartfelt and all told with a large dash of self-deprecating humor. Great fun to read, and I read it fast because of it, but in the end I just am realizing here, two months after reading it that I’m hard pressed to remember a single vignette out of the book. Reccomended? Yes, for a fun light read, but it’s flavor washes away too quickly.

Crooked Little Vein – Warren Ellis – Here’s a comic book and screenplay writer turned novelist, who brings his patented brand of finding some of the weirdest and creepy things you’ll find about humanity to a book. The story of a down on his luck PI who’s tasked with finding the “real” constitution of the United States, he runs into some quirky and shocking things along the way to the ending. It’s again a quick read, entertaining, but ultimately forgettable as well. It just felt a bit forced and tried to hit all the notes that would shock you, but unlike Palahniuk, you don’t get the same payoff at the end. Ultimately, I love the guys comic work, and will stick to reading him that way. Check out his Freak Angles which is a free online comic which he writes and is updated every Friday with a few more pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone – J. K. Rowling – Yes, it’s Harry Potter, and yes, I’m a few years late here. I’m going to read the entire series here on a Sony Reader device. I’ve never used one before this book and while I won’t give up my dead trees and ink for this anytime soon, I’ve found it to be a wonderful device to read a book on. But we’ll get to that some other day. Here today is Harry Potter and his first year at Hogwarts. I’ve seen some of the movies, and such, but never actually read these books somehow. They are truly a lot of fun, and I think when Ash get’s older and starts to read this will be on my list of recommended books for him. I can see how these sold well. Easy, quick, accessible, but you don’t get the feeling you are reading a children’s novel either. I was looking forward to the rest of these.

Bleak Seasons – Glenn Cook – Took this one with me to Man Camp to read for fluff on the plane and for those down moments when I needed a break. Glenn Cook’s continued stories of the Black Company, a mercenary company who’s exploits have changed the world and always find themselves in over their head. Good fun, and I’ll continue the series after I finish off the three books that came before this one (which is what happens when you pick out a book from Half Price books without bothering to see where it fits in the overall story first). Thankfully the three before this come all bound in an omnibus edition for easy reading later this year.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets – J. K. Rowling – And onto year two at Hogwarts. I enjoyed this one more than the first. More details into life at the school and how they actually filled their time in between all these crazy classes, death threats, and more. Seriously, this school has issues! But of course Potter and the gang come out on top and survive for another day of classes and fun. Again this was read on the Sony Reader, which while it’s makes for easy reading, the joy of finishing a book is much less. You can’t see your progress as measured by a bookmark, or that thrill of realizing that you could finish the book tonight if you just stay up a little later and get through those last 20-30 pages. You miss out on some of the more physical parts of owning the book for sure. Especially the satisfaction of putting a completed book up on your bookshelf.