Here’s All the Stuff I Read in 2016

bulldog wearing eyeglasses sleeping over a good novel

This is my second iteration of this annual post (you can find 2015’s here). Like a lot of people, I track all of my reading at Goodreads, a site that I’m still not convinced isn’t in the business of selling my secrets to mischevious bedouins, or something like that.

I read 46 titles in 2016. That’s one more than I read the year prior, though my consumption habits had shifted quite a bit. That’s because, in 2016, I discovered that the DC Public Library system has a treasure trove of graphic novels available for borrowing. I was thrilled. I had wanted to further explore this format, especially after having read some of the more seminal works (Maus, Watchmen, Batman: Year One) several years back. I took advantage.

That means quite a few titles out of the 46 on this list are graphic novels. Some may consider that cheating, given that you can power through most graphic novels in a few hours. I have no rebuttal, other than to admit that I rather enjoyed my reading in 2016. I don’t think I read anything I consider an all-time favorite, but it was an all-around solid year regardless. Lot of good books rather than a few great books, and what not.

To summarize my year of reading, here’s a list of all the titles I consumed, plus blurbage. I’ve ranked them in order of enjoyability. I’ve also marked whether I read the hard copy or listed to the audiobook.

This was also the first year in which most of what I read was non-fiction, which is what the kids call “adulting” these days.

Quick note: I’ve included some very advanced and scientific headings to break the books up into section, between which I feel there are gaps in quality/enjoyment.

Put a ring on these books

1. The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Hardcover)

Ted Chiang’s star has been on the rise the past few months thanks to the success of the film Arrival, which was adapted from his 1998 novella Story of Your Life. He’s got a sharp mind and a knack for the inquisitive, exploratory brand of sci-fi that I really love. In The Lifecycle of Software Objects, he envisions a plausible scenario wherein major advances in artificial intelligence are made by startup companies intent on selling sophisticated digital companions that owners can raise, nurture, and teach to communicate. But when the fad begins to die out and tech leaves them behind, a community of doting owners are forced to guide their virtual buddies through the harrowing reality of obsolescence.

You can think of this story as “what if a Tamagotchis had feelings?”, but it’s so much more than that. Chiang explores a variety of topics ranging from the faults and merits of throwaway culture to the legal rights of artificial beings, all while carrying a narrative that lasts well over a decade in the lives (and virtual lives) of the characters. It’s a terrific read and a fabulous introduction to Chiang. I feel like he’s on the cusp of a huge surge in popularity. I hope that also means a surge in smart sci-fi throughout our culture.

2. Two Brothers by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (Hardcover)

This was the best graphic novel I read last year. An adaptation of a Milton Hatoum novel, Two Brothers  is the emotional story of jealous twin brothers slowly and quietly bent on destroying each other and, in the process, successfully destroy their family as well. The narrative is elegantly framed and the characters elicit real, heart-twisting responses. The main characters are also Brazilian of Lebanese descent, which is a tradition I wasn’t familiar with, so that made the experience all the richer.

3. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Paperback)

This one is fabulous. Jenny Offill is a cunning master of form and I, as a dribbling sucker for masters of form, was all in on this one. It’s a short novel — you can read it in one long sitting — built upon a fascinating impressionist narrative of marriage and family-building. Each chapter is a succession of little snapshots — off-hand literary references, reports from the narrator’s life, sly observations — each bit and idea no longer than a couple paragraphs, each word and sentence purposefully arranged. And then, here and there, Offill makes a subtle shift and BOOM goes the literary bombshell. It’s good stuff.

Sometimes books with ambitious meta-narratives veer too far into self-indulgence. You hardly ever feel that here. The book is very distinct, sharp and intelligent, and surprisingly effective at drawing the reader in. The power of Dept. of Speculation is in how it makes you feel the narrative rather than simply read the words on the page. The ending lacks a bit of a punch but that’s a minor nitpick. I highly recommend it.

4. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Audiobook)

You can tell why Coates is considered an important voice in the field of cultural criticism. I won’t pretend that I can comment on or truly comprehend the intricacies of the subject matter. I’m not the right audience for that. What I can say is that this book is an elegant exercise in form, as poetic as it is polemic. Coates also offers a valuable exploration of travel and immersing oneself in another culture, if only to gain perspective on your outsiderness versus your usual insiderness, if that makes sense.

Either way, it’s a solid read and feels like the sort of book they’ll be reading years from now alongside the Baldwins and Ellisons, etc.

Really great stuff right here I tell you what

5. A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power by Paul Fischer (Audiobook)

This is a terrific pop-history / non-fiction thriller about a South Korean director and his actress wife who were kidnapped in the late 1970’s for the purpose of improving North Korea’s film industry and enhancing the country’s international reputation for movie-making. The title refers not only to Kim Jong-il’s involvement in producing films (he was actually a movie mogul long before coming to power as part of his duties as the nation’s chief propaganda officer), but also to the highly-regimented, meticulously-organized North Korean society he designed. Kim, for all his sociopathic depravity, was apparently an absolute genius when it came to narrative power; he would go on to run his country like a megalomaniac film director, forever manipulating his real-life Truman Show. This book’s focus on the future dictator’s devotion to storytelling is among its most fascinating facets.

A Kim Jong-il Production feels well-researched and, while there’s little reason to disbelieve the narrative (which is highly dependent on the personal accounts of the aforementioned kidnappees), it has nonetheless drawn the concern of several prominent North Korea watchers, who express apprehension at the author’s lack of sourcing and the absence of an index. Nonetheless, the book tells a compelling story and offers a fascinating glimpse into one of the planet’s last remaining Mystery Lands — the dreadful, shrouded, and intoxicating North Korea.

6. Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes (Audiobook)

This may well be the most charming history of ballooning you never knew you had to read. Holmes writes with wit and serenity as he relays accounts of notable 19th century aeronauts. His focus is on the sense of wonder inspired by ballooning, as well as the social movements it spurred. It’s a fascinating topic of which I had very little previous knowledge, so I enjoyed this one a lot.

7. Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø (Hardcover)

Nesbø is one of my favorite modern mystery/crime writers. I don’t know what it is in Scandinavian water that infuses their authors with the ability to churn out tense crime novels, but I kind of want some of it.

Blood on Snow is a taut, enjoyable little thriller with more literary flourish than you’re used to seeing within this genre. Our assassin protagonist Olav is a memorable narrator who finds himself in a ton of trouble with a local crime boss. The story is rife with twists with most satisfying ones pertaining to character and not plot, which is kind of unusual and refreshing.

8. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Paperback)

I have some capital F Feelings about The Art of Fielding. It is an extremely impressive work and one of the most vivid examples of universe-building I’ve ever encountered. Harbach paints in lush literary watercolors, drawing you in and making you wish you could be there to experience Westish College, the book’s setting. I wanted to breathe the air off the surrounding forest. I wanted to read all the fictional works that populate the world. I loved the appeal of this constructed reality.

But I think what makes The Art of Fielding a very, very good book rather than a really great one is the slight yet apparent ways you can see author Chad Harbach’s influence as the god of this universe. Think of a sleight-of-hand magician: The essential quality of a great sleight-of-hand magician is that they make their illusions appear so seamless that you become comfortable suspending your disbelief. A not-so-great sleight-of-hand magician would draw unwanted attention to technique and hand movements, preventing you from falling into the illusion.

There are parts of The Art of Fielding that feel a whole lot like the latter.

Is that the most nitpicky critique possible of an otherwise really good novel? You bet it is. But I suppose this book had already quickly established itself a considerably high quality floor, and my slight disappointment has to do with the ways in which The Art of Fielding never quite reached its ceiling.

All that said, the book is largely about literature and baseball (among other more important things), so it was right up my alley and I’m very glad I got to read it. The characters were all very rich and Harbach’s ability to retain craftsmanship while nudging emotions is admirable. I recommend this one to readers who enjoy books with multiple narrators, stories about people dealing with great expectations and mental illness, and anyone who digs Herman Melville.

9. Kenobi by John Jackson Miller (Audiobook)

I forgot to mention at the outset that I went through a period in 2016 (basically the months after The Force Awakens) where I binged Star Wars audiobooks. There are five of them on this list. I had never read one before this year. I’m glad I did. Kenobi was the best of them. 

Kenobi takes place in the time after Episode III when Obi-Wan Kenobi delivers young Luke to his uncle and aunt on Tatooine, then sticks around to keep watch and protect the boy. Obi-Wan’s continued unintentional run-ins with local residents form the backbone of a rich, multilayered exploration of toxic relationships, duty vs. want, and the greater dangers of unchecked prejudice.

And also, incidentally enough, a Star Wars novel.

It’s a little longer than it needs to be, but Kenobi succeeds in taking the time to develop a vibrant array of characters whose lives change when the man named Ben moves to Tatooine. I really like how the author incorporated structures and motifs from the western genre, though with its own spacey twist.

10. Magic City by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Paperback)

An important and eerily relevant book, Magic City is a piece of historical fiction that recreates the buildup and immediate aftermath of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, which saw a mob of whites methodically burn and destroy one of the nation’s most affluent black neighborhoods. It was a disgraceful time in American history, a bloody crescendo of the post-reconstruction era. One of the key themes of the book is that racial tension can build into a powder keg – all it takes is a spark for the whole thing to go off. Let’s hope things aren’t heading in that direction today.

Liked these a whole lot too, just a little less than above, which is why they’re below this

11. Nanjing: The Burning City by Ethan Young (Hardcover)

Two trapped Chinese soldiers attempt to escape the occupied city of Nanjing during the height of Japanese atrocities during World War II. A terrific graphic novel that captures the complicated horrors of the Rape of Nanjing through unflinching storytelling and stunning artwork.

12. Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery by Heather Andrea Williams (Audiobook)

What an incredibly moving book. Help Me to Find My People examines the horrors of American slavery through the specific topic of the forced separation of families. The book is rife with vivid primary sources and testimonies of former slaves who had been torn asunder from their loved ones. The later chapters focus on post-war reunion efforts, specifically through newspaper advertisements seeking information regarding long-lost relations. There’s also some interesting analysis of how white masters perceived slave relationships and why they were rarely hesitant to destroy them.

Slavery and racism will forever be the dark, indelible scar on America’s face. Reading a book like this only further drives that important lesson home.

13. Tarkin by James Luceno (Audiobook)

Tarkin is a fun, simple sci-fi adventure novel set in the Star Wars universe, concerned mostly with gleaning light on the origins of one of the series’ most intriguing villains. I can’t remember if it’s considered canon anymore, but the book does exactly what it needs to do while further fleshing out its fascinating cinematic/literary universe. I should also note that the Star Wars audiobooks are an entertaining listen thanks to high quality production value. Lots of lasers and space ship sounds and such. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

14. Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford (Audiobook)

I’ve somehow become a happy connoisseur of cooking/restaurant memoirs, which is strange considering my heart belongs more to inexpensive comfort food than high-end foodie stuff. But I enjoy the genre, and this is one of the quintessential “working in a kitchen, learning about food and culture” texts. Food is such a hallmark of culture, a pillar nearly as important as language and family. That’s probably why these types of books intrigue me.

Buford does a swell job communicating this with regard to Italian cooking and its traditions. There’s also something of a biography of Mario Batali in the book’s early pages, as Buford begins his culinary journey as Batali’s “kitchen slave.” I have more respect for Batali now, given that initially I had just thought of him as a TV star and not someone with real chops, so to speak.

15. Shoplifter by Michael Cho (Hardcover)

This graphic novel reads like a subtle, affirming short story. It examines modern life in the alienating social media age, while also exploring the delicate relationship we have with our aspirations. It’s the shortest book on this list; you can read it in 20 minutes. I was very impressed with the impact in had on me over such a short period of time.

16. Democracy by Αbraham Kawa, Annie Di Donna, and Alecos Papadatos (Hardcover)

This is a terrific graphic novel that vividly illustrates the birth of Athenian democracy in an approachable form. It works really well because it balances entertainment and information with deft precision. This sort of work tends to veer uncontrollably toward one of those two extremes, whether it be the ahistorical (but totally fun) 300 or something like The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (#45 on this list), which gets bogged down in the author’s insistence on infusing every page with historical context.

17. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang (Paperback)

Translated from the original Korean, this is a tender fable about a hen named Sprout who dreams of becoming a mother but is unable to lay eggs of her own. She is able to hatch an orphaned egg and raises a young mallard who, despite looking entirely different, is very much her baby. It’s a simple, touching story about love, motherhood, and acceptance.

18. A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred by George F. Will (Audiobook)

You may not have heard, but 2016 was a huge year for the Chicago Cubs. Will’s love note to the team and its revered ballpark is a delightful little read. Will touches subjects ranging from baseball and beer to the human desire for leisure and community. He paints with a poet’s brush, instilled with keen wit and a friendly tone of (now-outdated) self-effacing hopelessness.

The only real flaw here: Will is, as ever, a polarizing moralist who will sometimes dismiss things he doesn’t approve of or doesn’t understand. Sometimes those are the same thing. It’s an insult to history and a semi-cowardly fact that Sammy Sosa doesn’t appear in this book, and that the 1998 home run race that saved baseball receives only a passing reference. But Will elects to dismiss and cover up that part of history rather than approach it with reasonable nuance. Pity.

Everything else is grand though, especially well-researched chapters about Tinker, Evers, and Chance, and the infamous Steve Bartman game.

19. The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman (Audiobook)

The Guns of August is one of the quintessential classics of World War I history. Tuchman won a Pulitzer for her ability to deftly weave events and intentions in the lead up to the first month of war. The decisions made in August 1914 set the course for the brutal four-year conflict, something that could have been avoided had certain generals not gotten cold feet or if army corps had been positioned just a tad differently. Who knows what would have happened if the Schlieffen Plan had worked and Germany had won a decisive victory in a month-long war?

Tuchman’s masterful prose is best served when setting the stage for these conflicts. Her description of battle tactics and the nitty-gritty of troop deployment are a little less intriguing. Overall: It’s THE book for understanding why World War I began and why it turned out the way it did.

20. The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft by Reinhard Kleist (Hardcover)

A moving, graphic biography about a young man who survives the Holocaust by becoming a death camp prizefighter, and the subsequent search for his childhood love in post-WW2 America. The story is beautifully framed with a point of view that meaningfully shifts from the father retelling his story to his son receiving it. I felt a real emotional response and fulfillment, especially with the fabulous way the book ends.

21. Top 10 by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon (Hardcover)

From the mind of Watchman’s Alan Moore, Top 10 takes place in a world where everyone has superpowers, and the main characters are all cops tasked with keeping order and solving a wide variety of mysteries.

I really wasn’t into this at first. You’re dropped into the middle of this insane universe without much of a compass, plus the setup and divulgence of exposition is sluggish (there’s a long prose forward/introduction that’s more trouble than it’s worth). But after sticking with it, I became entranced with the world of Top 10. Eventually you grow to really appreciate the deep characters and zany situations. Plus, Moore does a lot of fun stuff with radical sci-fi concepts that adds welcome intellectual brushstrokes. For instance, I always appreciate sci-fi that explores the cohabitation of traditional religion with advanced societies, and there’s a rich exploration of that here.

This is less serious and high-concept than something like Watchmen, but I think that’s the point. It’s a fun examination of a world that is nearly beyond comprehension, yet still manages to reflect our own.

22-24. Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter, The Outfit, & The Score by Darwyn Cooke (Hardcovers)

This is a trio of graphic novels based on author Richard Stark’s broodish and brutish Parker character. Betrayed and left for dead, professional thief Parker exacts revenge on a New York crime syndicate, then must endure their exacting retaliation. Each title is very similar thematically and in mood. Think of it as violent anti-hero pulp-noir, beautifully rendered by the late Darwyn Cooke’s aesthetic aplomb. There’s a fourth book I have to track down to finish the saga. I might earmark the Stark novels for future reads as well.

25. City of Glass by Paul Karasik (Paperback)

An adaptation of the Paul Auster novel of the same name, City of Glass is a mind-bending noir masterpiece about a depressed author who is mistaken for a private investigator and decides to take the case anyway. It’s a quick read chock full of lovely imagery and not like any other graphic novel I’ve read. Karasik’s brightest decision was to integrate some of Auster’s introspective prose and complement it with representative abstract illustrations.

26. Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales (Audiobook)

This behind-the-scenes oral history of ESPN is very informative and incredibly thorough. The format here — the entire book is arranged as transcripts of conversations with ESPN employees and partners — offers a really cool variation of perspectives. There are several instances where one person describes an event, and then another person tells the story just a wee bit different. The truth often sneaks through the gap between two testimonies, and the various omissions and additions paint vivid, subtextual portraits of these characters.

The best parts of the book feature reactions and reflections from ESPN talent about major events like the O.J. Simpson car chase, The Malice at the Palace, and the 2010 World Cup.

Sometimes the stories get a little too tabloidy/TMI for my taste, but Miller seems to approach the project with a lot of respect and understanding of how the company works. I enjoyed it.

27. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (Hardcover)

A fun Cold War spy spoof about a vacuum cleaner salesman recruited against his will into British espionage, only to become the most dangerous spy in the Caribbean based on his reports back to London. The only problem: His reports are all just made up. Greene has fun playing with the genre while also attempting to teach a lesson about the folly of nationalism.

Pretty good, just not pretty great

28. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne (Audiobook)

This was the first of the five Star Wars novels I consumed this year. As mentioned above, I was struck by the terrific production value of the audiobook. It has a great reader who nails the Luke Skywalker first person narration, plus plenty of sound effects, mood music, and John Williams fanfares at opportune moments.

The story itself isn’t exactly spectacular but I’m a sucker for universe-building and deeper dives into familiar waters: the workings of the force, intergalactic economy, the regulations of hyperspace travel, etc.

The dead tree version probably doesn’t hold a candle to the audiobook, so if you’re interested in giving this a shot, I recommend going that route.

29. Fatherland by Nina Bunjevac (Hardcover)

I find that I like graphic novels as a medium for memoirs and non-fiction. This one provides a moving synthesis of the author’s dark family history, in particular with regard to her Serbian nationalist father, and the historical events in war-torn, mid 20th century Yugoslavia. There’s a sense when you reach the end of this book that closure hasn’t quite been achieved — like there’s one last chapter missing that could have wrapped everything up — but the twisting narrative piqued my curiosity and kept me interested.

30-31. The Dresden Files: Storm Front and Fool Moon by Jim Butcher (Audiobooks)

These are the first two novels in a popular series about a Chicago-based private investigator who also happens to be a wizard. The books are fun in that the author does well to arrange plots chock full of twists and red herrings. I think Storm Front is the superior book, and will probably move on to the third title some time in 2017. The one real nit to pick is that Harry Dresden’s first-person narration grates from time to time. He’s kind of a head case, but maybe that’s just part of the charm.

32. Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney (Audiobook)

This is a short, fun, and informative little book about daily life in a New York restaurant kitchen. It’s written in a quick-paced second-person narrative that dances the line between memoir and fiction. The goal is to give the reader a vivid glimpse into a day in the life, and in that it’s successful.

33. After the Quake by Haruki Murakami (Paperback)

This is a book of short stories connected (loosely) by the Kobe earthquake of 1995. Two of the stories are divine. Most of the rest are largely forgettable, though Murakami’s imaginative prose does well to carry the collection.

34. Tim Ginger by Julian Hanshaw (Hardcover)

The title character is a widowed former military test pilot who may have seen something extraterrestrial the day his wife died. His solemn solitude gets penetrated when a woman from his past re-enters his life. It can be hard to follow at times, but Tim Ginger is a lovely meditation on loneliness and love from British cartoonist.

35. Ciudad by Ande Parks and Fernando Leon Gonzalez (Hardcover)

Ciudad is the brainchild of Hollywood writer/director duo Joe and Anthony Russo, and it’s packaged and presented like an action blockbuster. A hired mercenary named Tyler Rake infiltrates a terrorist compound to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a South American drug lord. Their harrowing escape effort forms the backbone of the narrative. The storytelling is gritty and intense. The violence is off the charts. One fault is that sequences are too often difficult to follow because the artwork is too opaque. It’s intricately detailed but totally in black and white, so distinguishing objects can be a chore.

All that said, it’s a hell of a ride that reads like an adrenaline-pumped movie storyboard.

36. Over Easy by Mimi Pond (Hardcover)

Over Easy is a lovely graphic memoir with a real affection for its subject: Oakland in the late 70s, and the colorful cast of hippies & punks that populated it. The author sometimes waffles between the narrative structure: Is there a coming-of-age plot to be resolved, or are we just presenting simple snippets and vignettes? But overall it’s an enjoyable read.

37. Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague by Joyce Brabner and Mark Zingarelli (Hardcover)

This is a really good graphic non-fiction account of two gay men in New York during the 80s AIDS crisis who set up a clandestine drug trade in order to fund medical treatment for their afflicted friends. I’m not sure if it’s just a common thread with graphic non-fiction, but this one — like so many others — ends too soon, without the sort of resolution one would hope for. It almost feels like the author ran out of time before her deadline and kind of just slapped together an end. Not a huge problem, but you can see the exact place where this work falls just a bit short, and perhaps shines a light on one weakness of this format.

38. Radio Shangri-la: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth by Lisa Napoli (Audiobook)

I picked this one up because I was interested in learning more about Bhutan, one of those countries you memorize for Sporcle quizzes but don’t really know anything about. I was thrown off when the first 100 pages or so mostly focus on Napoli’s mid-life crisis, something I didn’t find particularly compelling. I think the problem is that she doesn’t make much of an effort to frame her story in a way that adds tension or drama to the narrative. Her lamentations that she’s 40, unmarried, childless, yada yada yada reads more like a sad, protracted journal entry than a gripping set up for her eventual Bhutan-stoked redemption.

Fortunately, Napoli shifts and spends ample time in the narrative role that suits her best: biographer of Bhutan. This is a rich, fascinating book when it explains things like the country’s idea of Gross National Happiness, or its unlikely influence on the architecture of UTEP, or how a steady flow of outside media/meddling could be spoiling the last Shangri-La.

Napoli is a public radio reporter, so it makes sense that she’s at her strongest when relaying information, teaching us about neat things from the other side of the world. She’s less interesting when she makes things about herself, which is sort of the point, given that this is a memoir, but her execution lacks the kind of hook that keeps readers wanting more.

Overall, the pros outweigh the cons, and I was satisfied with my little dip into the Happiest Kingdom on Earth.

39. Baddawi by Leila Abdelrazaq (Paperback)

Another really good piece of graphic non-fiction, this one tells the story of the author’s father, who was born and raised in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. The book is a quick and useful tool for learning more about the Middle East from the late 40’s to the early 70’s, even if just from one side.

Mostly alright, I guess

40. Arcadia by Alex Paknadel and Eric Pfeiffer (Paperback)

I came across this title with a blurb on the cover from IGN: “The Matrix, but better.” I’m not so sure about that, though there’s plenty of intriguing ideas and fun sci-fi universe-building. The story can be difficult to follow at times, not helped by an overflow of characters and difficult-to-decipher art. Still, I’m glad I read it. It’s ambitious, creative stuff.

41. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)

This was my first Gaiman novel and it was just okay. I get the feeling it isn’t the optimal book through which to enter his canon.

Gaiman displays a vivid imagination and there are some fun storytelling elements here, but I found the book lacking in several ways, not the least which was the lack of an emotional attachment to the characters. Plot-wise, it felt a bit unfocused, as if very little was tying it all together. It felt more like a succession of fantastical set pieces than a unified story, and I think it’s because at the end I only had an inkling of what the story was really about. Still, I’m glad I got through it and will probably give some of his other stuff a try later on.

42. Who’s on Worst?: The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes in Baseball History by Filip Bondy (Audiobook)

This book is at its best when recounting fun tales of oddballs and other goofy characters. It’s at its worst when it delves into heavy-handed moralizing or turns up the meanness. Certain sections lean more toward the latter than the former. Additionally, I find some of Bondy’s arguments may be built upon preconceived notions presented as facts/truths. Aside from those minor sins, it’s a decent read.

Eh

43. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (Paperback)

Something of a novella told in a set of vignettes, The House on Mango Street illustrates the author’s experience growing up in a poor part of Chicago. Some of the vignettes are powerfully moving; others not so much. There’s a pervasive sense of darkness and dread throughout that plays well off the colorful and fresh affect of its packaging. There are moments of transcendence here and there, but what I first thought after putting it down was “I won’t remember much from this one when I look back on it at the end of the year.” I was right, mostly.

44. Darth Plagueis by James Luceno (Audiobook)

This one was something of a slog. The book fills in a ton of the narrative gaps around the Star Wars prequels and gives you a Sith’s eye view of the events leading up to and encompassing the Rise of Palpatine. As far as lore goes, it’s quite rich. Narrative-wise, the book suffers because it too often rambles on with exposition instead of relying on character actions or events. There isn’t much drama or tension — it’s almost like you’re reading a history rather than a novel.

I’m enjoying the foray into this literary universe, but it’s that interest that props up my evaluation of Darth Plagueis rather than the book’s merits.

Meh

45. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua (Hardcover)

There are almost certainly a whole host of ways one can learn about how awesome Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage were. This format (I think it’s a webcomic that’s been anthologized into a big book) doesn’t quite cut it. You can tell it’s a labor of love for Padua, but in trying to cram both a comic and a biography into one cover, she ends up with both quite lacking.

Bleh

46. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig (Audiobook)

Aftermath is the first part of a new trilogy kickstarting Disney’s foray into the Star Wars literary canon. The story takes place years after Return of the Jedi and serves to set up the state of the universe prior to The Force Awakens. Wendig is a respected sci-fi writer so it makes sense that the Mouse sought him out for this project. But if Aftermath is indicative of Wendig’s overall storytelling prowess, then I’m afraid that respect is ill-earned.

This book is rubbish. Wendig litters the pages with way too many characters, many of them redundant clones of each other, and his narrative is constantly interrupted by these random interludes from across the galaxy, ostensibly to give the reader an idea of what life is like on other planets at the time. These scenes are character-centric, which presents a huge issue because they’re written with no tension, low stakes, and not enough time to get to know each character. The result is a series of boring look-aways that distracts from the already-weak main plot. Sure, I now have a decent understanding of what the universe is like in the time after ROTJ, but I didn’t enjoy the process.

Also, it’s written in present tense, which makes for an awful narrative 99% of the time. Aftermath is not the 1%. Incidentally, The Lifecycle of Software Objects (#1 above) is.

Big missed opportunity here.

Here are the final stats:

Forty-six books consisting of 27 deadwood, 19 audiobooks, and (interestingly enough) 0 e-books.

Eleven books by women, 33 by men, 2 by teams split by gender. I suppose that’s a place where I can improve with regard to exposing myself to different viewpoints.

And there you have it.

R

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