Winger, Pizza, Jobs, and Helsreach Ants
As a writer I love to read and I read a little of everything with a lot of YA, some non-fiction (biographies too), and a graphic novel when I can find one that hits the sweet spot.
I’ve never done a top ten list before on books but there’s always a first. Here are my favorite books that I read this year (some are from prior to 2012 and some will come out in 2013) in no particular order except for the first one – which is hands-down my favorite and I even read it twice, once in 2011 and once two months ago.
- Winger, by Andrew Smith is the first and easily worth two readings. It hasn’t been published yet but is coming out in 2013. If you’re not already an Andrew Smith fan this book will make you look up all the rest of his work and start reading them one after the other. The main reason I loved this book was the voice of the narrator. He is 14 and Andrew really captured the voice of this boy perfectly. It is incredibly funny and sad for different reasons at different times. Did I mention the protagonist plays rugby? And that it is illustrated perfectly (the narrator draws so “his” drawings are included throughout). This is storytelling at its finest.
- The Maze Runner (trilogy and prequel – 4 books total), by James Dashner is rough reading. This is really four books but it all starts with The Maze Runner. My son read it first (might not have been such a good idea as he’s 10 but…) and when I finally got to the first book I had to read through them all. Do I have gripes about the storytelling? Yes. Was it one of the most compelling reads of the year? Yes. Is it good sci-fi? Yes again. Thought provoking? Brutal? Depressing and terrifying (especially the prequel)? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
- Helsreach, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden is a Warhammer 40,000 novel about space marines called the black Templars. I know, I know. Space marines? Warhammer 40,000? Hey, the man can write and as far as these novels go this is a keeper. Hordes of orks (don’t ask) in a Waagh (don’t ask again) swoop down onto a planet that is protected by the black Templars and they fight the battle literally to the last marine. Absolutely fascinating novel of warfare in the 41st century with some interesting work on the writer’s part in bringing out multiple viewpoints. This book was just plain muscular fun.
- The Wind Through The Keyhole, by Stephen King is wonderful, vintage King. The Gunslinger series is my favorite of his works and this adds another notch to the belt of the tale. This is a haunting tale of Roland as a boy out on his first mission. I don’t read King too often any more but this one just sang.
- The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi is a challenging read. I bought it for my son because we both read his other great book Shipbreaker and this continued the tale of the bioengineered war beast Tool. How could you turn that down? Then I read it quickly to screen it before I allowed my son to read it and I’m glad I did. Wow. The violence depicted is absolutely brutal. Children doing horrendous violence to children during a time of total war. This is a great book, wonderfully written, visceral to the point of making me put the book down and cringe at least three times. It is also a book of great, harsh, truth. The scope of the story is small and the pace is quick. It is an exercise in focus. This guy is good.
- Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S.King is simply wonderful. It’s the first book I read by A.S. King and I immediately picked up Please Ignore Vera Dietz as soon as I was finished. Ms. King is another writer (like Andrew Smith) who nails the teenage voice (in her case both male and female in different books). Writing well, with a ring of authenticity from a young person’s perspective is a huge challenge and this story of a boy who has been bullied and his family just broke my heart. What I especially like are the realistic adult characters and how they give such great texture to Lucky’s story.
- Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King is the second King book I read and it was also a powerful tale of loss and coming of age. She’s got a new one out in hard cover called Ask The Passengers that is going on my to-read list for 2013…
- Passenger, by Andrew Smith is a follow-up to The Marbury Lens and is a hallucinogenic thrill ride that is deeply frightening and moving. This is a painful book to read, brutal, gory, with imagery that made me squirm. If you read Marbury then you owe it to yourself to read this as it makes the wonderful worlds created in Marbury expand into even larger more epic (does that even have meaning?) proportions. This book and Smith’s Winger are on two ends of the spectrum in style and content yet they both move from that same incredible strength of voice in their main characters. This book has already won a bunch of awards and I won’t be surprised if it wins more in 2013.
- Playing for Pizza, by John Grisham. Okay, okay. John Grisham? I’ve never read a book by him (nothing against him and I’ve seen his movies just never had the urge to read him) but my father-in-law recommended this book and it was a lot of fun so for its uniqueness it makes the list. This is a book about a football player from the NFL who ends up playing for beer and pizza in Italy. If you enjoy football stories (I do) and Italian food (I do) then you will enjoy this quick and smile inducing read. Something tells me this will be made into a movie…
- Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson is an exhausting read but well worth the trouble. Steve Jobs was not a nice guy and it’s hard reading about your hero and seeing all his warts but if you can get past that it is really a fascinating story of Apple, the computer industry, and Steve Jobs all wrapped up in one. You will never look at Apple the same again (and you will probably still buy ’em or change to them if you have never tried Apple products before).
There you have it. The literary might of the year from my perspective (as limited as it is).
Chop, Chop, Burn…
I’ve been reading a lot.
I read a lot normally but I especially enjoy reading when my day job gets me down. Grant writing, something I have to do to keep my day job, does indeed, gets me down. But it pays the bills so I do it. It’s a particularly stressful and challenging writing exercise that is usually done in some kind of collaborative trance amidst the silent screams of those engaged to tango.
I do not enjoy them, Sam I am, I do not like green grants and ham.
So to keep my sanity I read and write. Because I work so much during these time periods, the writing gets sidelined much of the time but… nobody takes away my subway reading time – that’s gold. Here’s what I’ve read in the last couple of months.
The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi – This is a novel not to be taken lightly. There are severed fingers, death and destruction on a cosmic scale and the re-emergence of a favorite character from Bacigalupi’s award winner Ship Breaker, a dog-face named Tool. This book is an incredibly brutal war story where children are the warriors and children are trained and taught to kill children. It is palpably haunting and way too disturbing for my son to read. Sorry, Max. This one you have to wait on. It’s a book that provides me with reason to screen some of my sons book selections – even though the selections are stellar. For anyone else with a strong stomach, this is a beautifully written winner that you will not easily forget.
Furnace (Lockdown book I, Solitary book II, and Death Sentence book III) by Alexander Gordon Smith – There are five books in the series and seriously, how could you not pick this series up? I found it while I was in the Andrew Smith section. I just happened to see books by an Alexander Smith about a prison named furnace that seemed incredibly hellish and was filled with boys and – it looked terrific. What I will say about this series – which I have stopped reading in the middle of book III – is that it is compelling and fascinating and bloody, and brutal. What I will also say is that I didn’t care so much about the main character and that made it hard to read on. By the middle of book III I just didn’t like him any more. And so Furnace has gone the way of The Game of Thrones, put down because I didn’t want to read about the main character(s) anymore. I think I’m more likely to come back to Furnace though, because I see where Smith is going, I just don’t want to go there right now. I’ll leave this one up to you. If you’ve read the books, let me know what you thought.
I just finished Steve Jobs. I’ve talked about Jobs before, though, and that’s probably enough for the time being. Firm thumbs up on the biography.
My son bought me the first book in The Rangers Apprentice Series by John Flanagan and I have to say it’s shaping up to be a fine fantasy read. Only a few chapters in and I’m totally engaged with the two main characters. I’m a sucker for swords and bows, long knives and shields – though not particularly in that order. More to come when I’m finished.
More book talk later in the week. There’s another one my son swears by and I always read what he thinks is good just as he does with me. I’ve got him reading The Bartimaeus Series by Jonathan Stroud. One of my personal favorites. He’s ripping though the second book as I write this and the moon rises over Jackson Heights.
It’s shit or it’s good. You tell me…
I’m reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I’m almost finished with it. It took me half the book before I finally got to the point where I had to finish reading it. The first half of the book stopped myself repeatedly from throwing the book out the window. I kept telling myself to keep going. Just a little bit further.
I picked up the book because a friend of my son’s named Austin, (age 11) a real entrepreneur himself, read most of the audio book and recommended it to me. He knows I like Apple computers. I’d also heard it’s a good book on leadership, a text-book of sorts in the making, and I teach leadership and team building workshops so I figured, what the heck? Maybe I could use it as source workshop material. Besides… I love all things Mac.
So why was I ready to throw the book out the window? Jobs was an asshole. A big one. He had few social skills and saw the world in black and white with very little grey. Things were either shit or good. It was that simple. Oh yeah, he was also a design, marketing, and creative genius. It’s amazing how so much can be forgiven if you are a genius. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not but it happens, frequently with brilliant individuals (usually men). That’s why I didn’t give up. That’s why I’m almost finished with this fascinating, frustrating, throw it out the window, book. I have also cried and laughed while reading it remembering where I was in my own personal timeline when each of the Macs appeared. I owned the Macintosh SE/30 as my first computer. When I worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, it was my desktop computer for four and a half years. I wrote my first novel (still in a closet somewhere never to see the light of day again) on this same machine. I have owned a Mac and written on one ever since.
Reading how smart Jobs was in creating products (simple, elegant design and fewer products each done perfectly) and the way he orchestrated his comeback is compelling material. I’m eating it up. I wish he had been a nicer guy. But isn’t that the key to good storytelling? The contrast in personality and the ability to get things done? Would his story be more compelling if he’d been a nice guy and a genius? More havoc necessary!
I’ll tell you how the story comes out when I’m finished. I know we all know the ending but who knows what surprises are still in store for me. The story of Jobs and Apple is brilliant. Isaacson’s book carries it off. As long as you don’t throw it out the window before you are swept away.
Of Black Shirts and Steve Jobs’ Sneakers
I’m a bit down today. Every time I turn on an electronic device Steve Jobs stares back at me from the Apple Website. His image is in black and white but his effect is one of bright color and explosive genius.
How can a man as talented and creative as he was be gone? It is such a simple question and answer – because he is.
I have been an Apple fan since the first Macintosh. I wrote my first book on it. The book wasn’t very good but the computer was amazing. I was using a Smith Corona electric typewriter just moments before and then all of a sudden on that small black and white screen everything changed.
I have had an Apple ever since – over twenty years – though as my eyesight has gotten worse I really appreciate the much larger iMac screen that I write this on. I had the first Apple laptop. I bought an iPod. I bought an iPhone. I bought an iPad. Even if I didn’t buy the first iteration because I didn’t have the money I have always gotten my money’s worth and then some. My day job work is on a PC but my writing has for twenty plus years been on a Mac. I feel like there is a neurochemical link between the two of us.
I look at the picture of Steve Jobs and realize how important this man with the glasses and short hair and black shirt and sneakers has been to my creative writing life. One has grown with the other. This year my debut novel is published and Steve Jobs has died. I never met him but I live with his legacy. I will miss those talks he gave to introduce the next Apple big thing. I will miss thinking that something coming out of Apple would always be another big, life changing, thing.