Just like in 2012 I’m going to try to limit how much I speak about each book I’ve read. Some I can’t limit, but this time, two tweets worth is the goal: 280 characters or fewer. If you want to read my ramblings a bit check the source of the page.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick (fiction)
Basis of Blade Runner. Much more haunting and depressing than the Ridley Scott film. More direct link to and understanding of the mind of the protagonist. Less action, more psychology.
The Aquariams of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan (non-fiction)
Animated account of life in a North Korean Gulag where Kang spent part of his life. Strikes me as honest and balanced, with what might be a typical North Korean attitude. Includes details about country’s slow downfall and realistic description of the challenges of reunificaiton.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (non-fiction?)
Well-told tale of rediscovery of oneself. I don’t want to reveal too much here, because it’s a great journey to take as a reader without knowing much beforehand. Explores many philosophical ideas in respectively small amounts of detail. Travel/adventure/philosophy/family story.
Lie and Let Die: James Bond 007 by Ian Fleming (fiction)
Strange and interesting glimpse into a different world from ours particularly from a social equality perspective. I also started to get to know a Bond with a lot more character and depth than the one we see on the silver screen. A Bond who really, really likes his breakfast.
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (non-fiction)
Excellent explanation of poverty and homelessness which I’d never encountered. Changed my views. Here’s a particular excerpt which I highlighted:
I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a begar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, or enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning.
It’s a very unpatronising book which seeks no sympathy; it is merely an account of Orwell’s time experiencing poverty first-hand and the effect it has on the human spirit. It’s a very easy read and I would recommend this book to anybody who has never had anything close to a first-hand experience of homelessness. I remember thinking after reading it that maybe we should all spend a bit more time being down-to-earth.
The Cargo Ship Diaries by Niall Doherty (non-fiction)
Doherty is self-obsessed and a bit narcissitic. But he seems like a very nice guy struggling to figure out what he wants from life. This account of his nomadic life includes a lot of great ideas and suggestions for how to deal with certain situations on the road. Easy, fun read.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (fiction)
Classic sci-fi from a bygone era which still amazes me and makes my imagination go wild. H.G. Wells was before his time.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (fiction)
Based on a really interesting and well-executed idea behind the notion of “gods”. Attention to detail and use of the “blank slate” character is superb. If you’re interested in religion and it’s place in the 21st Century give this a read.
A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton (non-fiction)
Readable and accessible, great to give a basic level of understanding the history of philosophy and all of it’s greatest contributors. Note also that this is a history of Western philosophy and doesn’t touch on ideas from the East. Great intro to a large and fascinating subject.
Moonraker by Ian Fleming (fiction)
This is the third Bond novel, and this is the point in my reading of 007’s Adventures when I started to get hooked. It is a tense tale, so much more serious than the others. Really great.
Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (non-fiction)
Great storytellers. They raise interesting questions and are not afraid to cover hard topics which question morality itself.
Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming (fiction)
The Bond novel which most represents the character of James Bond to me. Showing signs of maturing, which is an interesting and welcome feature of the story. Great twists, very readable and sensible amount of action which is a nice chane from the previous.
Daemon by Daniel Suarez (fiction)
Very exciting and gripping. Finished wanting more, and I was able to empathise with characters on both sides of the conflict. Suarez makes many unnecessary computing references, however they are fairly accurate and informed. Ends on neither high nor low note.
Terra by Mitch Benn (fiction)
Terra is a sweet, comedic tale about an out-of-place human on an alien planet which explores morality and friendship and all those lovely things. It’s a little bit teenagery, some of the jokes a bit too spelled-out. But it’s fun and an easy read.
The Birth of Korean Cool by Euny Hong (non-fiction)
Hong’s account of South Korea’s transformation from nigh-on third-world status to global cultural superpower is a fun and interesting tale. She does not sell the country short and does justice to a frankly mind-blowing and impressive transformation over a short time.
From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming (fiction)
Great! Full of premonitions and mystery. It’s got everything a spy novel should have: Sex, suspicion, adventure, explosions, murder, double-crossing, and a good, strong dose of humour! This is almost a tale of a man whose life has gone stale, and how his guard gets let down. The complexity of Bond’s character on paper is so much greater than in the movies.
Embassytown by China Mieville (fiction)
The plot of this story is complex but well told. It is a drawn-out, detailed novel. The story is astoundingly imaginative, and I’d love to get a glimpse inside the mind of Mieville. But the real meat of this book isn’t in the story it tells. It’s the ideas that it puts across about the nature of language and how it affects the way that we think and the way we perceive the world.
Dr No by Ian Fleming (fiction)
Just as things are starting to get boring for our hero, he’s thrown into a life-or-death struggle with quintessential Bond villain, Dr No. Gripping, really fun characters.
Goldfinger by Ian Fleming (fiction)
Auric Goldfinger’s plot is genius, but our heroes save the day once again with an even better counter-plot. This is a particularly interesting book in the series because the villains are far-fetched and rather more pantomime than some of the earlier ones (Dr No excluded).
For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming (fiction)
A few short stories about Bond and his adventures. Some characters, including those in the “For Your Eyes Only” story are a lot of fun, though. Quantum of Solace is brilliant. Unlike any other story so far because it’s told by a character that Bond is talking to. To me it’s a story about how people can often end up being much more interesting than one first supposes they are. Important lesson, and well told.
Thunderball by Ian Fleming (fiction)
James Bond and Felix Leiter take on the secretive and cunning SPECTRE. This story shows signs of Bond’s (as well as Leiter’s) aging - getting grumpier and more sensitive in his old age. This is an exciting and time-critical story.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel (non-fiction)
A book supposedly “on startups”, it tends to go off-track at times especially with education rants. Overall though the messages are inspiring, laced with hard truths that many engineer types with entrepreneurial dreams probably need to hear.
The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming (fiction)
Departure from previous Bond novels. Narrated by a Canadian woman, rather than by Fleming, the majority of the book does not feature Bond. It’s an interesting approach, and very interesting to see how Fleming imagine’s a woman’s thoughts to be.
The Martian by Andy Weir (fiction)
Near-future survival/shipwreck story on Mars. Things go wrong, things go right. You’ll feel the elation and the sadness with our hero Mark and the people on Earth trying to save him. Extremely gripping, lots of fun, full of science. So, so good.
As you can see, I got through quite a few books this year (at least by my standards). In fairness, the Bond novels are quite easy reads, so it’s not too impressive - but I was lucky in that I mostly chose books that I got quite hooked on pretty quickly.
I think my favourite book of the year was Embassytown followed closely by The Martian. That came as a real surprise, as I didn’t know what I was getting into - I went solely on a recommendation of a friend. I’d urge anybody reading this to have a look, it’s a very thought-provoking and exciting story.
Oh, and if you’ve read any of the books above and wanna see some spoiler discussion, check the source of this page, I’ve included more for some of them.
I’m going to finish all of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels early on, and go and watch the films (I’ve never seen any of the films pre-Brosnan). But there are only a few left, so there’ll be plenty of time to take on larger projects. Of the books I got for Christmas there’s The Dice Man and Lila, the sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance, as well as the latest edition of the Darwin awards. But I’d like to read more about Korea (North and South), too, so if anybody reading this has a recommendation I’d love to hear it.
Anyway, happy New Year. I hope some of the books above tickle your fancy. Happy reading, folks.
Heckle me on Twitter @basicallydan.