So Art Garfunkel has put up a post of every book he’s read since 1968. Which is pretty cool. But I have to take issue with the assertion that he is a voracious reader. The man has read 1000 books in 40 years, which comes out to 25 books a year. While that is nothing to sneeze at, I wouldn’t consider it voracious. I average, in a bad year, over 50 books a year. I went through over 100 books last year and I’m on pace to put away 80 or 90 books this year (not really sure why I’ve slowed down this year). So even if we take my worst year as a baseline, I’ll go through 1000 books in 20 years or more than twice as fast as Garfunkel. This isn’t meant to be a dicksize competition, but I think referring to his progress as voracious suffers from some verbiage inflation.
Archive for the 'Books' Category
So I managed to get through 108 books in 2007. Almost double my count for 2006, showing what being self-employed will do for your free time (though it also reflects the huge increase in travel time that I incur as a consultant). That number includes re-reads, of which there were 8, and graphic novels. Graphic novels were counted by series and not by individual volume, so all of Y: The Last Man counted as one book. I’ll be going through and talking about my favorites in the next couple posts (top 5 overall and then top 5 fiction and non-fiction), but I’ll content myself with throwing out some honorable mentions. Books which caught my eye and interest, even if they didn’t make the top list.
Iron Sunrise, by Charlie Stross. A Stross novel which doesn’t suffer from a massive last act drop off. As much as I love both Glasshouse and Accelerando (which made the top 5 in 2006) neither of them had much of an ending. One hundred pages of really hot ideas and then some meandering towards an unfulfilling conclusion. So while Iron Sunrise doesn’t pack as much in the way of crazy future world (has a more standard sf, less singularity feel) it does bring the plot.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting. No one writes better eco sf and better scientist characters than KSR. With the exception of The Years of Rice and Salt which just confused the hell out of me, nothing he has written has failed in inspire and enthrall me. This trilogy is like watching the Day After Tomorrow, but with better science and characters you actually give a shit about. KSR is one of those writers who is so predictably good that I always overlook him when making my yearly best of lists. I just take it as a given that he’s amazing and move on.
Carnival and Undertow by Elizabeth Bear. Another author who suffers from my consistently high expectations. I read three books by her last year, and finished off Dust as my first book of the new year, and as a result none of them made it into the top 5 lists. I was thinking the other day and I came to the conclusion that Bear is the modern-day Heinlein. I’ll post more about that soon. As a side note, I am really looking forward to reading Whiskey and Water once I get all my shit out of storage. There are too many unread books sitting there. grrr. . . .
Farthing by Jo Walton. I agonized over leaving this book off my top 5 fiction list (and I really did agonize over it for a long time, which gives an idea of the level of bookish insanity I am prone to) and I still feel bad about it. The book draws incredible tension from its juxtaposition of a ‘traditional’ British murder mystery with an understated alternative history premise featuring the Nazis triumphant. Most incredible for the sheer lack of time she spends establishing the geopolitical reality. If you don’t pay close attention you can miss the large amount of effort she put into world-building. A very different, and welcome, change from the more traditional alternative history that beats you about the head with the fact that it is sooooooo different.
Sun of Suns. Karl Schroeder isn’t the most amazing writer, but he gets mad props for world building. Giant sailing ships in a solar system sized air bubble fulled? It is like all the good things about the Disney flick Treasure Planet without the crappy music and lackluster plot.
Alright, so I’m 25 years old and theoretically an adult. But I’m still giddy as all get out that Elizabeth Bear linked to my blog. In the old days (read, 5 years ago), you might have a chance to run into a favorite author at a fan convention or possibly even get a reply to a letter that you sent to them. These days, authors are out here on ‘teh Internets’ engaging in conversations with their fans and building communities around their body of work. It is a radically different way of doing business and one that I think is slowly, but surely, changing how the publishing industry works.
John Scalzi is probably a prime example of the phenomenon. His blog, the Whatever, is one of the more popular science fiction blogs out there and is definitely one the prime examples of someone who has built a community around his blog. William Gibson may have a popular blog, but people read it because he is famous, not because what he posts is inherently valuable in a blogie sense. Most of Gibson’s posts (at least the ones that are longer than a few lines) have been excerpts from works in progress: these are always interesting, but are not about community in the way that Scalzi’s blog is. Scalzi is famous because of his blog. Without his blog and the publicity and audience that it brought, maybe he doesn’t win his Campbell award.
Why does his blog work for him like this? You read it for a while and you get the sense that you know this guy and, more importantly, that he is the sort of person you want to know. So what does having a popular blog get Scalzi?
One is the desire to read his books. Because I feel like I can identify with Scalzi it then stands that the books that he writes are going to be interesting to me the same way his blog is. And sure enough, I’ve got my share of Scalzi books on my shelves and I’m currently stalking the rest for their paperback release (there are very few authors who I buy in hard cover these days. With 200+ on the wishlist, I can afford to wait a bit longer for the paperbacks and not run out of stuff to read). So Scalzi gets money from me because he has a blog.
Two is that he has the ability to pimp out his friends and fellow writers. I’ve got a whole bunch of books either bought or on the wishlist because Scalzi has said nice things about them on his blog. Cherie Priest, Charlie Stross, Peter Watts, Susan Groppi, Chris Roberson, Kelly Link, even Elizabeth Bear: I have already or will soon be giving you money because of things that John Scalzi said about you. In the case of Elizabeth Bear, I’ve bought 4 of your books and pimped you out to a bunch of my friends. Cherie Priest I’ve got one of your books and convinced someone else to buy it as well. Etc. and etc. Because I like John Scalzi, I’m willing to trust his opinion and spend my money on you. In essence, this goes back to the whole small stories things I wrote about previously. Because I have nowhere enough time to keep up with every new science fiction and fantasy author who comes around, I have to rely on people to filter them out for me. Because I trust John Scalzi’s taste, I trust his condensed version of who is worth reading.
Third is that he has my attention for any hair-brained scheme that he can cook up. Like his current SFWA presidency gig. The reason that he can attempt to run such a campaign is that he has a whole crazy group of people like me that enjoy the community that he has built. We’re all willing to listen to what he has to say, maybe blog about it, maybe talk to someone about. His messages gets out there. With that sort of power he could, dare I say it, rule the world.
The reversal here is important. In the old days, authors wrote books which might build a community if they got popular. But these days authors can build a community which can then launch their books. Have audience, will write.
When I started last year, my Amazon wishlist was around 180 books. I read around 75 books last year and I’ve polished off another 20 something this year (I’d have exact numbers if I want ed to go turn on the computer with the list on it, but that’s too much work right now). That’s almost 100 books read in a year and three months. Probably 70 some of them were off the wishlist (the rest were presents, re-reads, books borrowed from my sister or my mom, one book lent by a friend, etc.) Which means all things considered, my wishlist should be around 110 books. It is currently at 240. In the same period of time that I read 70 books off the wishlist, I managed to add 130 books to it! This is clearly going to be a problem.
I have a suggestion: everyone should stop publishing books for the next half year so that I can catch up.