Wednesday, July 25, 2012

2012 Reading

Since one of my resolutions was not only to read more, but to keep track of what I read, here's what I've finished so far this year (along with brief thoughts on each):

The Man Who Loved China [The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom], by Simon Winchester. The story of Joseph Needham. Nonfiction, just over 300 pages. I enjoyed it and it made me more excited in some ways about going to China this year, but also made me wish I'd gone right out of high school. It's changing so much, I wish there were a way to visit older China too.

The Drop by Michael Connelly. Fiction in the series about Harry Bosch, an LAPD Detective. I never used to read this series until I started living with my husband and he LOVES this series of books. He convinced me to read the whole series, and now we both read any new release (usually about one per year). If you're looking for a good crime series, I'd recommend you start at the beginning of this one. The Drop was pretty good.

Ursula Under by Ingrid Hill. Misleading to say it's a book club pick, but it was... in September 2011. I bought it then but didn't get into the book. But it was good enough I wanted to finish, it just took a very long time.  Fiction, about 475 pages.  It's slow going, very descriptive, but an insanely interesting theory.  A little girl falls into an abandoned mining well in modern times, and then the story goes back and forth to her and her parents now, and random ancestors.  People from the middle ages, someone in about the third century, the random rapes, loves, births, deaths, brushes with death, lost dreams, chance encounters, etc. that all lead to this girl being born.  And it was fun to see how her parents' ancestors paths crossed, and makes the world seem small overall.  One example was how a distant relative of the girl's mother went on an archeology trip and found the bones of a descendent of the girl's father, but of course no one knew of that connection.  Hard to say if I'd recommend this book or not, given how slow it was, but overall, I really liked it. 

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, by Amanda Ripley. Non-fiction and quite interesting. It definitely makes you think about preparing for a disaster. Not just buying water to have at home, but reading the plane information card on every flight, practicing actual evacuation, etc. She focused a lot on crises where some people survived and some didn't, and looking at human factors that contribute to that. Among the disasters discussed were Katrina, 9-11, various other plane crashes, a supper club fire, shootings like Columbine, tsunami, and crowd crushes of people (like at the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, where it has happened multiple times, including one incident that killed over 300 people in 2006). Very, very interesting read.

Retribution: the Battle for Japan 1944-1945 by Max Hastings.  Non-fiction, about 650 pages (so you'd better love WWII!).  Lots of MacArthur bashing, but overall, a very balanced view of the end of the war in the Pacific. Most of the major battles aren't covered in depth because they're so well-covered in so many other books, but overall, a very comprehensive book. Interestingly, as with his similar book addressing the end of the war in Europe, Armaggedon, he works hard to include research and accounts both from the Allies and the Axis powers, there are lots of accounts by Japanese soldiers included in this book, as well as Japanese war theory. But the book uses the word desultory a lot. Like more than in any other book. So if that will drive you crazy, skip this book.  But otherwise, I'd highly, highly recommend it, particulary if you feel like you already have read a lot of Pacific Theater books. 

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie King. A book club selection. Fictional book about Sherlock Holmes taking on his apprentice Mary Russell and their first cases together.  Quick read, fairly enjoyable, not my typical choice, and not a series I'll pick up to finish. 

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Non-fiction, 12 months of resolutions designed to boost her happiness. Author notably already had good life. Spouse with potential health issue on the horizon but well-off, no abuse, healthy kids, etc. Reminded me a little in bad ways of Eat, Pray, Love (oh my life is so hard, poor me, let's be more self-centered rather than thinking about any real problems), but in many ways, I loved it. Reminded me of several habits I should work on, particularly in terms of home organization, marital communication, and expanding horizons. Possibly resulted in some life changes (for the better) and one I'd recommend to anyone.  A book club choice.

The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace. Another book club selection. A nonfiction book about the mystery surrounding the world's most expensive bottle of wine. It was sold in 1985 at an auction at Christie's, purportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson, a 1787 Lafite Bordeaux. I learned a lot about wine in general, and rare old wines in particular, so quite interesting in that regard. The book was just under 300 pages, not counting end notes, so a pretty quick read. Enjoyable.

Drop Dead Healthy, by A.J. Jacobs. Book club selection. About 350 pages, not counting appendices.  The author spends about 2 years focusing on improving his health in various ways -- from things like wearing noise-canceling headphones, to "running" his errands, to trying different diets.  I enjoyed the book and it was a VERY quick read -- it helped that many of the chapters were short, and they were each on a discrete topic.  It seemed I chuckled out loud at a minimum of once per chapter.  I wish I'd taken some notes on some of the habits that I wanted to implement.  This may be a book I skim again when I get it back (loaned out to a fellow book club member first, then going to my bro next).

Orange is the New Black:  My Year in a Women's Prison, by Piper Kerman.  MY book club selection.  Non-fiction, about 300 pages.  About a woman who knows and hangs with some drug dealers, then carries a suitcase with cash through customs without declaring it, cleans up her life and seems exactly like someone we could all be friends with, and then 10 years later, is arrested for her role in that drug trade conspiracy.  She decides to plead out (offering testimony against others), and is sentenced to 15 months in Danbury.  A bit stereotypical and condescending at times -- and in some ways it just rings a little false/artificial, hard to explain.  But at the same time, if I were a professional author, sentenced to time in jail, I'd want to look at it like an anthropologist too -- to try to keep that distance to get through the time. 

Lost on Planet China:  The Strange and True Story of One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation, or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid, by J. Martin Troost.  [Note, there's also the same book with an alternate title, Lost on Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation.]  Hilarious non-fiction, about 400 pages, about his months exploring China as a foreigner.  It's braced me for a lot regarding the food, the shopping, the scams, the confusion, the lack of English, the lack of lines, Chinese culture, etc.  And it was just so funny.  I'm planning to check out some other titles by the same author -- basically the highest praise I can give an author.

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly.  Fiction, but not in the Harry Bosch series I referenced above.  Quite a page-turner for me.  I was very tempted to blow off many important things (like work and sleep) to finish the book, and I think it is a testament to my patience and restraint that I am attempting to strengthen through things like yoga to note that it took me a couple weeks to finish this book.  About a reporter investigating a murder.  Don't want to say much more so I don't spoil it.  Several overlap with characters who also appear in the Bosch books.

If I had to go in order of preference, it would be something like this:

Lost on Planet China
The Happiness Project
The Drop


  1. Oooo I loved the Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. I might just have to check out The Man Who Loved China, too. And that Vinegar one sounds pretty interesting, too...

  2. You read such interesting books.

    Retribution sounds like something I'd like, as does The Unthinkable. I'll have to check out Michael Connelly too, I love a good mystery/thriller.

    I need more hours in a day!