My 2011 in Books
1 8 01. The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle ... (2011)
Finished on Oct 25
1 8 02. Five Against One: The Pearl Jam Story (1998)
Finished on Oct 6
One of the few (only?) books that delves into the the mysteries of who and what Pearl Jam are. It's not an 'authorized' biography of the band which tend to be fawning, in fact it's not very complementary of the band for the most part. As a huge fan, it is a fascinating read just for that reason.
Just keep in mind the following when you do read the book, fan or not:
1) It ends in 1998, so much of their journey is not documented
2) It focuses a lot on the personality of Eddie Vedder. Maybe it's justified because he's the emotional core (if not the musical core) of the band, but to get a really balanced look at the band, focusing on the rest of the members is a must.
3) There's no participation from the band itself or people who seem to like the band. All the contributors seem to have some axe to grind, which doesn't make for a balanced view of the band, it's largely negative.
1 10 03. Pearl Jam Twenty (2011)
Finished on Sep 14
Pearl Jam and their many friends and collaborators recount the 20 year journey of the band between 1990 and 2010. For long time fans, this is like pure gold. For others, it might not resonate as much, but it's still such a fascinating story that gives many many insights into the minds of every person on the band and their journey.
3 8.5 04. High On Arrival - Mackenzie Phillips
Finished on Aug 22
This is a tough book to read for two reasons - the content is horrific at times and the writing is jumbled. She jumps all over her life from one chapter tot he next. It gives the book an unpolished feel, but I'd prefer better editing anytime.
8 7.7 05. 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in th... - Matthew Inman
Finished on Aug 14
Some of it is really funny, some of it is just tedious. Overall, a mediocre collection.
78 8.1 06. A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire... - George R.R. Martin
Finished on Aug 10
The fifth book in the 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series is easily the weakest book that George R.R. Martin has produced in the series. Even the weakest book in the series is pretty damn good, to be honest. The time period of this book overlaps with 'A Feast of Crows', except with different characters and then the last third goes beyond those events with everyone more or less converging in the end. The problem with these books is that none of them, except the very first one ('A Game of Thrones') stands on it's own. They are written as volumes of one epic story, making it hard to judge them on their own merits.
There are great moments in this book as there were in the previous four, but the fact that it's the longest of the five volumes so far counts against it. The story seems to meander in parts and the end of this one wasn't quite as revelatory or shocking as the previous four books. Every book so far covered the story of the characters from one significant event in their lives to the next, but this time around, some of them have been left hanging. George R.R. Martin had a hard time getting this book done and it really shows. The epilogue seems to have (almost) set the stage for the final part of the epic, thankfully (except for some of the characters that are left hanging).
It'll be several years before I get my hands on the next book, which makes me a little sad.
126 7.7 07. A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, B... - George R. R. Martin
Finished on Jul 27
The fourth book in the 'A Song of Ice and Fire' saga keeps the standards of storytelling very high again. The brutality is limited and so are the surprises, compared to earlier books, but it's a riveting read from start to finish yet again. All that is down to the fantastic characters. We're not introduced to any significant new ones this time around, but the older ones keep evolving, some in very surprising ways and the story keeps moving inexorably forward. Only three more books to go after this one...
149 8.7 08. A Storm of Swords: A Song of Ice and Fire: B... - George R.R. Martin
Finished on Jul 19
The third book in the 'A Song of Fire and Ice' series. George R R Martin has no compunctions about getting rid of beloved characters or throwing in a totally unexpected twist into the story. This book, so far in the series, is the most brutal. The characters are so compelling that it's impossible not to pick favourites, just be prepared to lose some of them, whichever ones you might get attached.
10 8.8 09. Go the F**k to Sleep - Adam Mansbach
Finished on May 18
"The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You're cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the fuck to sleep."
1 10 010. Senna Versus Prost: The Story of the Most De... - Malcolm Folley
Finished on May 15
Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna were the two most successful drivers of their era. Between them, they won over 90 races and 7 world championships. The time period the book covers from from the late 70s to the day of Senna's death in 1994. Most of it is devoted to chronicling the careers of both men and the one team, McLaren, that was pivotal in both their careers as it rose under the leadership of Ron Dennis to become a potent force in F1 during the 1980s. Both Prost and Senna would race for McLaren for 6 years. They had only two years as teammates, but the intense desire of both men to win ignited an explosive rivalry, the likes of which had not been seen in F1 before or after.
We go through this compelling tale through the eyes of several people in the F1 paddock around them - Prost and Senna themselves, other racers, team bosses, engine suppliers and support staff. The author goes to great pains to ensure that this is no one-sided tale. Each of the interviewees brings his own viewpoint, anecdotes and opinions. The end result is both rich and fascinating. For a fan of motorsport history, a fan of either of these men, or just someone who enjoys a compelling human tale - this book is must read.
165 8.3 011. A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Bo... - George R.R. Martin
Finished on Apr 30
The second book in the 'A Song of Fire and Ice' series. The ante is upped in this one as 5 kings fight over the lands of Westeros. The most outstanding thing about these books is the character development. Every chapter follows one character, dwelling on the events that surround them, their thoughts and their actions. This gives the reader a powerful connection with the characters, even as the story and the multiple plots hurtle along.
263 8.6 012. A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, B... - George R.R. Martin
Finished on Apr 26
The first of six books in the 'A Song of Fire and Ice' series by George R. R. Martin. Blends politics, war, family dynamics and magic into a potent combination. The complexity of the story makes it hard to summarize without writing a multi-page review. Suffice to say, this should be considered the gold standard for modern fantasy writers.
5 8.5 013. A Letter of Mary - Laurie R. King
Finished on Apr 18
The third book in the Mary Russell mysteries, another solid mystery story.
6 8.5 014. A Monstrous Regiment of Women - Laurie R. King
Finished on Apr 15
The second book of the Mary Russell mysteries, which is set in the fictional world of Sherlock Holmes created by Arthur Conan Doyle. The author finds her feet in the second book, delivering a better book than the first one. This one has suspense, intrigue and adventure, just the way a Sherlock Holmes mystery should be.
3 10 015. The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the Bri... - Peter Conradi,Mark Logue
Finished on Apr 14
The story of how an Australian speech therapist, with a passion for helping people, helped King George VI overcome his debilitating stutter. As can be imagined, for someone who lived his life in the public eye and had innumerable speaking appointments and speeches, it was a terrifying ordeal. Their relationship assumes a very special significance when George unexpectedly becomes the King after his brother abdicates and World War II looms. The King is now the focal point for British national resistance and his speeches are a rallying cry for the nation as a whole.
The book is an excellent read, both on it's own and as a companion to the movie of the same name. The viewpoint of the book is mostly of Lionel Logue, the King's speech therapist, as it is based on his diaries. However, the letters from the King that were also preserved by him provide some idea of how the King viewed his relationship. It's matter of fact style might put off some people, but the complete absence of drama increases the effectiveness of the story being told. The truth, unvarnished, is often more compelling than any fiction can possibly be.
5 6 016. The Beekeeper's Apprentice: Or On the Segreg... - Laurie R. King
Finished on Apr 14
Laurie King takes the character of Sherlock Holmes and gives him a partner (and eventually romantic partner and wife) in the form of Mary Russell. The stories are set in the universe created by Arthur Conan Doyle, but with Russell as an equal partner to Holmes, not the almost fawning assistant that Watson was in the originals. She adds a definite feminist viewpoint world of Holmes, while the original Holmes mysteries were remarkable for their lack of strong female characters.
It should make for a potent mix, but somehow it doesn't all come together as well as we might have hoped. The story drags in several places and the eventual resolution of the mystery is hardly earth shattering. An 'A' for effort, but a 'C' for the eventual result. It's enough to keep me reading the series for now but it's a disappointment nevertheless.
596 8.1 017. Lolita, 50th Anniversary Edition - Vladimir Nabokov
Finished on Apr 13
Lolita is a strange beast of a book. The conflicting emotions that ran through my mind make it impossible to place it any specific genre of novel. Mysteries are supposed to surprise the reader, comedies are supposed to delight the reader, dramas are supposed to move the reader and thrillers are supposed to get their pulse racing. Where does that put Lolita? It manages to move, disgust and make me giggle, sometimes all three in the same chapter. No wonder I was confused about how I felt for most of the book.
The second part of the book was somehow more tolerable than the first. The overarching themes of the story - obsession, desperation, isolation and the resulting fear and paranoia make for compelling reading. Compared to the second part, the first part was a confusing jumble of emotions as frivolity and humor mingle with the disgust I felt at the narrator. In retrospect, I think they two halves of the novel necessarily play off each other. The first half is all about the savage and cruel frivolity of narrator's monstrous nature, while the second is all about it's dark and tragic consequences. Even among the doom and gloom, the penultimate chapter made me smile. Like I said, this book will put you through a crazy jumble of emotions.
On reflection, I have to say it's not the book I thought it was, and I suspect that is true of many people who have only heard of it in fleeting. The title has such cultural connotations that are in no way supported by the text of the book itself. The narrator is a cruel and selfish man who destroys the childhood of girl he is obsessed with, and even he realises it. What humanizes him in the end is how pathetic and broken his obsession has made him and the recognition that obsessions tend to do that to the best of us. This is not an easy book to read.
2 10 018. Death Zone: Climbing Everest Through the Kil... - Matt Dickinson
Finished on Mar 6
On and around May 11, 1996, there were an unusually high number of people making an attempt at the summit of Everest, which was a major contributing factor in the disaster that resulted in the death of eight people. Most of the deaths were on the South side of Everest, from Nepal. The author, Matt Dickinson, was with a British team making an attempt from the North side in Tibet.
Matt Dickinson is not a professional climber, he is a film maker. That is what makes this account so remarkable and revelatory. It's the account of a "client", a non professional climber that relies on experienced professional guides to get them to the summit. It's an interesting counter-point to Jon Krakauer's 'Into Thin Air', who is openly critical of the culture of clients and guides in some of the most dangerous environments in the world.
Dickinson isn't as skilled of an author as Krakauer is, but the events of those days are so compelling that the book is just brilliant despite all that. The set of photos included in the book are a fantastic addition as well, covering many of the people (including many who died) that were involved in the events around May 11.
8 8.3 019. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt.... - Jon Krakauer
Finished on Feb 22
Jon Krakauer was one of the climbers that was attempting to reach the peak of Mt Everest on May 11, 1996. Before the day was over, the mountain would claim the lives of eight people. This book is an astonishing account of the events of that day, and of the days leading up to it. Krakauer is a skilled writer and he combines it with the attention to detail of a journalist. The result is a book that takes you into the heart of the disaster and describes in excruciating detail the struggle that is the ascent of Everest. The events of the book prove that real events and people are more compelling and astonishing than any fiction could possibly be.
1 8 020. James Allen on F1 2010 - Five Rivals, One Ch... - James Allen_X
Finished in Jan
A collection of articles covering the 2010 F1 season from the site of author James Allen, along with additional commentary after the season's end. It was a fantastic season of F1 and this book is as close to a definitive review there possibly could be.
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