Frivolity: Fave Reads '04

From the "Who asked You?" Department, it's

Larry's Top 10 Fave Reads for 2004

I had a long commute time again this year, and did a lot of reading. Three days a week, I commuted down to Redwood City and back. It's about 1.5 to 2 hours each way. So I read a lot this year. I read more than 50 new (to me) books, and made little notes about the more than 40 of them which I liked. You won't see any web pages on the best-of this year. It's not that people weren't producing great online content this year. But my eyes got all tired from reading books on the train, so I didn't read so much on-line content this year. Anyhow, my faves were...

Word Freak, Stefan Fatsis

I read an article about competitive Scrabble players in Thailand. This article told me that there were interesting stories in the world of competive Scrabble. Word Freak delivers those stories. You might think I'm inclined to like this book because I like geeky games, but Scrabble is very different from the games I play. I liked this book despite this.

The Piano Tuner, Daniel Mason

A piano tuner goes to Burma in the late 1800s during war-time and the wacky tragedy unfolds. This book had good images of rivers. And a good story. And you will love it.

The Locusts Have No King, Dawn Powell

Love, Hate and mis-communication amongst people who party all the time. If you spend all of your evenings reading instead of partying, read this book. You will convince yourself that you dodged a bullet.

Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl

Autobiography of a food writer. This book has Berkeley gourmet ghetto stories from back when everything was starting to happen.

The Confusion, A System of the World; Neal Stephenson

It is more historical fiction! It is still about banking and science! If you didn't like the first book of the trilogy, then I do not recommend these! But if you liked it, you'll love these! (And then I also recommend Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, which also touches on old-timey science and Damascus steel, and also mentions Vaucanson's duck.)

Evidence of Things Unseen, Marianne Wiggins

I sure did enjoy a lot of tragedies this year. This book is a tregedy. It has big science at Oak Ridge. It has technically-minded characters who are into pyrotechnics.

Listening for Leviathan, Kelly Wilhelm

Captain Kelly was the driving force behind SOSUS, a US Navy program that listened for submarines using a system of undersea cables and sensors. Kelly Wilhelm, his daughter, wrote his biography. This book has undersea cables and exotic locations.

Submarine Cable Laying and Repairing, H. D. Wilkinson

I liked this book so much that I typed some of it so that everyone can enjoy it. It's a century-old book describing techniques for laying and testing undersea telegraph cables. Fancy grappling hooks. Early electronic methods. Cable-laying ships. Life at relay stations. This book has everything.

Knight, Wizard; Gene Wolfe

It is a new story by Gene Wolfe. If that wasn't enough to get you to go to the bookstore, then there may be something wrong with you. This story is swords and sorcery in a world which feels old and mysterious. It describes beings of great power who scare me more than Cthulhu ever could.

Demo, Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan

This comic book won widespread critical acclaim and awards. Nevertheless, it's pretty good. Twelve independent stories about people whose superpowers lead to tragedy. No spandex. People living in the real world. Actually, in at least one story, there weren't any superpowers involved; just plain human tragedy. I have not read all of these, but only because I have not found all of these.

Honorable Mention

Madame Secretary, Madeline Albright

When Madeline Albright was Secretary of State, I thought she did a crappy job and none of her decisions made sense to me. This book taught me a lot. I bet I still disagree with Madeline Albright about plenty of things. But I no longer think that she did a crappy job; her decisions now make sense to me.

Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke

Man, we screwed up. We screwed up bigtime.

The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad

"What first interested me in Theodore J. Kaczynski was not his manifesto or his bombs but his literary study of... Joseph Conrad. The Secret Agent was the Unabomber's all-time favorite novel, read more than a dozen times, and the only book, in thirty years of extant correspondnce, that Ted Kaczynski ever recommended to his mother."
--Author Unknown, Don Foster

I liked this book, but not as much as Ted Kaczynski does.

Tech Model Railroad of MIT The First Fifty Years, Joseph Onorato and Mark Schupack

This was interesting. It doesn't have all of the information about the control system which it could. For some people, that's probably a benefit. How much does one want to read about electro-mechanical crossbar switches? If one==me, then quite a bit; else probably not so much.

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell

War is not often about glory. Often it is about waiting and political infighting. This war memoir is mostly about waiting and political infighting. But there is also some glory.

Fallout, Jim Ottaviani et plus al.

It is a comic about the Manhattan project. Why did I wait so long to read this?

The Edwardians, Vita Sackville-West

This novel has bohemians and an arctic explorer. What does it mean to live a life worth living? I don't know and don't much care. This book cares a lot, yet I still found it enjoyable.

Optic Nerve #9, Adrian Tomine

Adrian Tomine is a great artist. If this story is autobiographical, I guess he can also be a jerk sometimes. But no more than most people.

The Bug, Ellen Ullman

This book is about a tester who becomes a computer expert while tracking a bug. I read the first edition of this book, and it was confusing. At the end of the book she reveals the bug's source code. But in the first edition, the source code had two bugs. The premise of the book is that the bug was hard to find. But in the first edition, the bug would not have been hard to find. Actually, it seems likely that one part of the bug would have been found immediately; but that the other would have lurked, perhaps leading to a nifty sequel.

Anyhow, I read the first edition. And I was really troubled that the bug was such a letdown. But I suspected that there must be some mistake. So on my commute home from work, I ducked into a Border's books to peek at a more recent edition. And in later editions, the code is fixed. Or rather, the code is buggy, but it is buggy in the author's intended way.

Oh, and this book is a tragedy. Whoa nelly did I ever enjoy a lot of tragedy this year, book-wise.

Love Fights, Andi Watson

It's a comic book. It's a romance set in a world of superheroes. The protagonists are not, themselves, superheroes.

The Meaning of Everything, Simon Winchester

A book about the origin of the Oxford English Dictionary. If you read that sentence and thought "How interesting," then I recommend this book to you. (At the time I read it, I enjoyed The Professor and the Madman more. That's another OED book by the same author. I think I liked it better only because I read it first. So if you haven't read either one of these, I bet you want to start with The Meaning of Everything. And if you've read one, you might not want to bother reading the other, because there's plenty of overlap.)

True confession: I read this book because rock-and-roll superstar Carrie Brownstein recommended it.

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