Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 in Books

Here is my year end list, as part of the bloghop from


The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes.

Technically I read this at the very end of last year. It stands as a counter-point to Jared Diamond’s theories but suffers a little from ‘aren’t I smart’ syndrome.

Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan.

A basic primer to economic theory and terms, I decided this year to begin seriously studying economics. This text was a nice introduction.

The Ten-Day M.B.A by Steven Silbiger.

Pure nonsense, even for basic definitions. The edition had almost nothing on ethics, and came out before the recession…

Invisible Hands by Kim Phillips-Fein.

A more historical approach to economics, charting the developments in the US economy from FDR to Reagan. Fascinating, worthwhile read.

How Markets Fail by John Cassidy.

Another great economic history, dealing beyond the US with economists and research that defines modern economics. I would highly reccomend.

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson.

My focus shifted towards politics. This was the first longer work by Thompson I’d read, and I was surprised by the coherence, given his reputation. The story of talking football with Nixon was worth it alone.

Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.

I began reading this work on the theory and logic of empire way back in 2006, I think. Took me long enough to finish it – of interest to those who wonder if the US is an empire.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman with Julie Sussman

Not light reading – using LISP this gives a theoretical, and at times philosophical account of programing, but also has exercises and review problems.

The Unwinding by George Packer

“And the Award for Most Underrated Book of the Year goes to this great work, which chronicles decades of social and economic unravelling in this country through novelesque narration and stories.” So I wrote before it justly was awarded the National Book Award for Nonfiction.

Phenomenology of the Mind by GWF Hegel

The last book I had to read for St. John’s Reading List of the great books of  the Western World. I didn’t like Hegel going in, and I didn’t like him coming out, but I certainly respected him more. Not all of his ideas are terrible.


A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

I don’t really like Dickens for his repetitiveness (a young boy on the down and outs makes good: Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations). I was glad for the change, and that the story went by quickly.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller.

Recommended from a friend, this was a solid piece of innovative sci-fi, with deeper themes on human culture and civilization I often ruminate on.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

My pick for National Novel Reading Month, I was slightly disappointed with Ellison’s story. Potentially if I hadn’t read the forward I’d have enjoyed it more.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

Recipient of this year’s Best Last Line Award, I didn’t know what I was expecting when I got into the book, but whatever it was I got out I sort of liked it. My previous comparison was The Old Man and the Sea, and I think this may be better.

Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind.

This was a pleasant surprise, although I found the quality of the writing to be less than I expected, I got more out of the reading than I expected. To explain: the themes and plot were so well developed that the language almost felt in the way.

The Great Enigma by Tomas Transtromer

Transtromer won the Nobel in 2011, and his small output of Scandinavian poetry shows incredible attention to tone and feeling. Nice for anyone with a poetic interest.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Oh, the racism. Tarzan was far more of a gentleman than I’d expected, however.

Le Mort D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, ed. R.M. Lumiansky

Puzzling, this work that mashes together a number of different tales and traditions. Certain quests seemed quite repetitive, while others I typically don’t associate with Arthur (Tristan and Isolde, for example.) Also: needs more Merlin.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Blegch. A ‘classic’ I’d been meaning to read, but didn’t want to. In retrospect it was a waste of time to read, only of value for the historian any more.

Five Plays by Lope de Vega

Revenge and romance mix in these works of the Spanish Golden Age. De Vega was prolific, and these represent the best he had to offer, which is worrisome. All in all, though, they aren’t poorly written.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Quite possibly the first piece of fiction I’ve read of this century. Not a bad choice to start with, as a sort of soft sci-fi approach to very dark themes. Certainly worth a read.

Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka

A tremendous work by the Nobel winning Nigerian author, that has interested me in finding more of his plays. There seems to be some scholarly debate as to what his themes and messages are, which rather than being a drawback, is positive endorsement for the richness it provides.

A Dance of Death and A Dream Play by August Strindberg

Strindberg’s plays are nearly as unlikeable as his main character in ‘Dance of Death’. Of course that’s the point. ‘A Dream Play’ is certainly better, but still of limited interest to theater aficionados.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The last forty pages or so just kill any life the work had. Likewise I felt a strong connection to a friend’s complaint about authors just being unfair to their characters.

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

An unexpected read, insisted on by a friend, this work of magical realism shows the dark side of magic. Absolutely mesmerizing, potentially required reading.

The Yellow Heart by Pablo Neruda

Neruda’s poems take a turn for the jaundiced and bitter, with a sickly element of sweetness. Late-life and degenerate at times, probably not the best starting point for one encountering his work for the first time.

Life is a Dream by Calderon La Barca

Another Spanish Golden Age play. A classic of waking and dreaming and big questions about life, interesting on the page writing that I can only imagine would be diminished on the stage.

Eagle or Sun? by Octavio Paz

A remarkable collection, unlike anything I’d ever encountered in poetry. Stylistically it’s prose poems that at times feel like short stories. Highly recommended.

A Tale of Two Gardens by Octavio Paz

Following off my interest in ‘Eagle or Sun?’ I found this work, almost necessarily, to be not as good, but the collection, dealing exclusively with India, shows Paz’s deep enrichment in the culture.

Poet in New York by Federico Garcia Lorca

Lorca was a fitting capstone to my year-long exploration of Spanish-language literature. Lorca’s dark, perceptive study on New York after the Great Depression should be considered one of the masterpieces of twentieth century poetry.

Betrayal by Harold Pinter

As dark as would be expected, all the more disturbing due to its banality without being glib or pretentiously juxtaposed. This was my first encounter with Pinter, and I’d like to read more.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Long overdue, I’d read Vonnegut’s short stories previously. I was stilled surprised by just how personal and “meta” the work was, without veering off into affectation, helped largely by the extraordinary.

A Dance to the Music of Time, First Movement by Anthony Powell

My first-ever book on tape (although that’s now anachronistic). Powell peculiarly tells a life only through social interactions, with us having to piece together his job, love life, and other matters from these encounters. I want to know what happens in the next three movements.

Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume

For some unknowable reason this work was included in Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels. Fine, I suppose, for YA.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

My second Thompson encounter this year, I’d seen the movie beforehand, and was surprised by how little of the book it covered. The style, accompanied by Steadman’s crucial illustrations, makes me think this will be read well into the next century.

Selected Poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Picked up on a whim, Yevtushenko was a ‘loyal oppositionist’ of the Soviets. As such his work walks a thin line between denouncing the society while still feeling nostalgic for his home town in Siberia.

Graphic Novels/Comics

Miracleman: The Golden Years by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham.

Gaiman’s incredible premise, inherited by Alan Moore who wrote the character before Gaiman picked him up, deals with what might actually happen if there were gods on earth. Dystopian? Hard to say.

Six Graphic Novels by Lynd Ward.

Along with two Europeans, Ward helped invent the graphic novel in the early 1900s with woodblock prints and wordless stories. Stylistically borrowing from the art deco cubism of the era, most of these works are gorgeous tragedies.

The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics.

A comprehensive guide to American newspaper comics in the first half of the century, featuring beautiful full-page Krazy Kat and Little Nemo, amongst many others. Worthwhile to anyone with an interest in comics, visual media, or illustration.

Batman: Haunted Knight and The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Over a vacation I riffled through a friend’s Batman collection. These two works I found to be amongst the more interesting, in terms of story and character development.

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli

Not a bad telling of his origin, but doesn’t live up to Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’.

Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

This continues with the earlier Loeb work, and likewise is somewhat interesting. The particular rogues gallery I found to be intriguing, if the plot was pure Agatha Christie.

Top Five

The Unwinding
Pedro Paramo
Eagle or Sun?
Spring Awakening
Miracleman: The Golden Years


Elephant's Child said...

Some familiar (and also loved) and some new. Thank you.

Sonia Lal said...

wow that's a long list. Was the programming book useful? My LISP is a little weak. It's such a weird language.

Katherine Hajer said...

Is Fear and Loathing categorised as fiction? It sort of straddles the line.

I had no idea Thompson and Nixon were ever in the same room together, never mind talked football. I must find this and read it.