Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year in Books (Qualitative)

First, the year in Bourgeois Book Club: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  Second, because one of the "honorees" is "new," just a reminder that not every book I read gets reviewed.  I try to only write about books that strike me in some way, or I feel call out for discussion.  Many books that I enjoy or loath or had no particular reaction to do not make it into the Book Club. 

Favorite Book

Always a toughie, but I'd have to say Why Does The World Exist? by Jim Holt.  It just hit squarely at my metaphysical preoccupations, and it's just beautifully written.

Honorable mentions go to The Barbarous Years, The Hydrogen Sonata, and The Rook

Worst Book(s)

Artemis/Version 43 by Philip Palmer.  Interesting, but ugly books with an ugly worldview.  Palmer is a quite competent writer, but the bleakness just disgusted me.  

Most Surprising Book

Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright.  So, so many problems with this book, and yet I still liked it.

Most Boring Book

Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie David.  Good God was it dull.  It why I didn't even bother writing about it.  I've always had an interest in Ancient Egyptian history and culture, so I thought this would be interesting, but man, talk about dry.  Not terribly well-constructed, either. 

"Honorable" mention goes to Carthage Must Be Destroyed.  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Skimpy Sunday

(Via Bill in Exile [NSFW]; Roids and Rants [NSFW])

2012 Year In Books (Quantitative)

As in 2011, I used a Moleskine Book Journal to track my reading and provide quantitative data on my reading habits. 

Methodological Notes

I made the decision to shorten "2012" so that 2013 and future years could be tracked fully within a calendar year.  Thus, direct comparison between 2011 and 2012 must be done with the awareness that "2011" = January 31, 2011 to January 31, 2012, while "2012" = February 1 2012 to December 31, 2012. 

In the case of multiple works by the same author, the author was counted each time, not just once. Reread books were counted for each reading. A number of books could be categorized in multiple genres; for the sake of ease, such books were only counted in the genre I (arbitrarily) decided was the best fit. Unlike last year, unfinished books were not counted, though there were definitely a lot fewer of them.  


Total: 90

Fiction: 82
Nonfiction: 8

Male authors: 74
Female authors: 16

Science Fiction: 39
Fantasy: 32
Mystery: 10
History: 4
Philosophy: 2
Math: 1
Memoir/Collected Writings: 1
Romance/Historical: 1


My reading is still mostly fiction, and that still surprises me.  I really think the concentration of the nonfiction I read must just make more of an impact on my memory.  The nonfiction just seems to "weigh" more.  Unlike last year, this year saw more science fiction read than fantasy, as well as more mystery.  The mystery and science fiction numbers, however, benefited from large reread runs of Steven Saylor and Iain M. Banks, respectively.  Quite a bit less math, and no "science" as such, but philosophy makes an appearance.

In terms of gender, I did worse this year than last year, even though I had hoped to combat my rampant sexism as my main goal for reading this year.   I did not break the 100 books barrier, though I'm surprised at how consistent, taking into account the "missing" month, my raw number was to last year's totals.  Extrapolation would indicate that, were "2012" extended to cover twelve instead of eleven months, roughly the same number of books would have been read in both years.  This summer was particularly slow, I thought, for book reading, as for several weeks, much of my reading was of back issues of Archaeology magazine.  I also had several weeks, even a month or two, where I just wasn't much interested in reading.  I thought that might reflect in the numbers, but it doesn't seem to have.  Perhaps I simply caught up.  I have done quite a bit of reading this fall.  


Well, I suppose I'll continue to strive for 100 books read, as well as greater gender equity.  I have a feeling, though, that the latter, at least, might be a very long-term goal.   

Stay tuned for a more qualitative look at some of my favorite and least-favorite books of 2012. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bourgeois Book Club

Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright

Menelaus Illation Montrose, Texan gunslinger and genius mathematician, is on his way to investigate an alien artifact in a distant star system, only to wake up nearly two hundred years later on a totalitarian Earth facing an alien invasion with only the faintest memories of the time in between and a superhuman alternate personality.  

First, let me start with all the many, many problematic aspects of this book, beginning with gender.  The only two females who can even be called characters are the protagonist's mother and his wife, which right there sends out alarm bells.  Then there is the fact that women don't seem to work or pursue careers or contribute intellectually to his societies (except for Montrose's wife, but she's "special").  It's all "men of action and intellect" up in here. 

But then calling just about any of the "people" in the book "characters" is perhaps being generous.  Wright doesn't seem terribly interested in creating characters, but in Ideas and a lot of incomprehensible techno/mathbabble.  Absolutely no one speaks like an actual human being, no matter how hard Wright occasionally tries to pull of some sort of Texan/John Wayne cowboy dialect with Montrose.  

Some of the extrapolations of future technology, geopolitics, and sociology seem... not really plausible.  Like there seems no step or alternative between scarce oil and antimatter power generation, such as, I don't know, solar panels or wind.  And duels suddenly become popular again, and royalty return to power, and somehow Monaco becomes a world power.  I'm sure strange things, from our point of view, will happen in the future, but... not those things, I suspect. 

There's a certain anti-Hispanic vibe to it, in so far as, well, all the villains of the piece are Hispanic. 

And there came a moment during the book where I realized, "Oh, shit, this is another science fiction libertarian screed.  I bet this guy likes Ayn Rand."  Montrose is a Man of Genius who must Change the Future with the Power of His Individual Genius and bring Freedom to Humanity!  Scary.  

And yet...  It has a compulsive, relentless momentum that forces you to read it, despite all the problems.  And Wright seems share with me a reaction against visions of dystopia (whilst still engaging in it) regarding the future.  Montrose actively yearns for the bright future of Asymptote, an interactive comic book/movie series/clear Star Trek pastiche/stand-in.  As someone raised on The Next Generation, and who thus has a thing for optimistic futurism, this speaks to me.  So I guess I'm saying I'll be reading The Hermetic Millennia.

A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton

A light, delightful survey of Western philosophy in the form of short sketches outlining the work and thought of great philosophers. 

Warburton is a marvel at presenting often difficult philosophical concepts with brevity and clarity in a relatable, conversational style.  He doesn't just regurgitate a boilerplate summary and move on, but notes the connections, reactions, and dialogues between the philosophers, and common critiques of each philosopher's work.  All this in, on average, maybe four or five pages for each chapter!  It's quite remarkable. 

I particularly enjoyed that Warburton covered several non-philosophers, such as Darwin and Freud, who nevertheless had a great impact on Western thought, as well as a lot of more contemporary philosophers, such as Peter Singer, who are often left out of these survey type things.

An ancillary, but still noteworthy, feature is the sketches at the beginning of each chapter.  They are are adorable, clever, and always relevant, if sometimes obscure without some careful thought, to the ideas discussed, some of them almost summaries in themselves, in graphic form.  Kudos to the illustrator.

The only very minor, indeed nanoscale, complaint I can even come up with is the occasional awkwardness of the concluding paragraphs in each chapter, which act as segues into the next.  Some of them are, as I said, a little awkward, if not forced, and tacked-on-feeling.  I only mention it lest I begin to gush about this book.  (Don't want you all to think I've gone soft.)

Overall, this is a wonderful introduction to philosophy for the curious beginner, as well as a breezy recap for the more philosophically literate. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

We Wish You A Merry Christmas, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, And A Happy New Year! UPDATE

Now bring us some puggy pudding!

Now bring us some puggy pudding!

Now bring us some puggy pudding!

We want some right now! 

We won't go until we get some!

We won't go until we get some!  

We won't go until we get some!

So bring some right here!  

And now some extra puggy pudding, for those who've been very good this year!

Ho, Ho, Ho, Santa!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

All Words Are Wonderful, But They Can Also Be Terrible and Annoying

2012's worst words.

Winter Art

Celebrate the solstice with beautiful pictures of snow and cold.  My favorites are the polar bear pictures and the Kuhn fox. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bourgeois Book Club

The Barbarous Years by Bernard Bailyn

My interest in colonial American history is long-established, so when I saw this book on a table at Barnes & Noble, I just felt it was my destiny to read it.  And read it I have.  This is by far the longest review of a single book yet attempted on Bourgeois Book Club, due to the length and density -- though not difficulty, for Bailyn is a very clear, engaging writer -- of the material.  Despite the fact that I am generally an very fast reader, it took several weeks to finish The Barbarous Years, not because I found it a slog, but because I took a large amount of notes that had to be sorted and synthesized into this review.  

The third book-length product of a long-term project on the European settlement of British North America that Bailyn has been at work on for some years, The Barbarous Years is "an account of the fortunes of the founding generations of Europeans [in eastern North America] and their conflicted involvements with the indigenous peoples." [xiv]  Within such a bloodless summation lies a much bigger story, much bloodier, much dirtier story about the brutal (between Europeans and Native Americans; between Europeans and Africans; and between Europeans and Europeans) process of European settlement.

Better Giving Through Chemistry

Have yourselves a chemical little Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Fungi Are Out To Get Us!

Well, if by "us" one means worms.  Still, PREDATORY FUNGI!!1!!1!!11!  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Winds of Change

Well, it's not perfectly how I want it (I'd like to get my name under "About Me" in a different font, and tighten the spacing of the links in the sidebar), but it's good enough for now.  I'm in love with the color scheme.  I did a big link cull, and changed the header text a little.  I might try adding one of my nerd pictures back into the header, but we'll see.  I hope you like the new look.  We needed a facelift. 

Change Has Come

I've been tired of the old template for years, but I've finally decided to DO something about it.  Forgive the mess while I try to sort everything. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Are You An Obelisk, Dom Pedro, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

If you're a gem geek like me, then Dom Pedro makes your mouth water.  So blue!  And it's ours!  All ours!  (And by "ours," I mean "The American People," of course.  *sigh*)

(Via The Hairpin)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Pretty People Commit Crimes

This is kinda genius.  And way creepy.  But kinda hot? 

(Via Michael Musto)