Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Top 10 from 2008

Of the books I read in 2008, these are my ten favorites, in no particular order. Please read them, and report back.

Woman's World - Graham Rawle
Anathem - Neal Stephenson
Our Inner Ape - Frans De Waal
Pump Six - Paolo Bacigalupi
Fall of Frost - Brian Hall
Little Brother - Cory Doctorow
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks
The How of Happiness - Sonja Lyubomirsky
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves - M.T. Anderson
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science - Natalie Angier

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


by Neal Stephenson
I've been of fan of Neal Stephenson's novels since Zodiac, his Boston Harbor eco-terrorism romp, though, like many people, I read Snow Crash first. Stephenson's books eschew the intimidating cool of some science fiction writers, and are more about adventure in the service of Big Ideas. Anathem is no different, yet his scope may be grander than usual; this time he's invented a world so that he can explore an alternate evolution of scientific thought. Unlike Snow Crash, Anathem starts not with a death-defying chase, but with a conversation in a monastery, and some have complained that the story doesn't really get rolling until about 200 pages in. I disagree. The conversations, the personalities, the contrasting of cultures is fascinating. Though the pace may seem slow at first, this is a well-built world worth learning about, one with a lot to say about our own. And our hero, Fraa Erasmas, is a thinker among thinkers. These are interesting people, who, for most of their lives, have had a lot of time on their hands. Of course, this is soon to change.

Like others of Stephenson's books, Anathem has its flaws: underdeveloped female characters and an ending that is both satisfying and frustrating. But, all in all, it was a long and glorious ride, full of fresh ideas but also in the tradition of world-building epics like Dune or Lord of the Rings.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On Chesil Beach

by Ian McEwan
There are moments in one's life that seem to be the fulcrum on which everything before and after is balanced. Of course, these moments aren't often noticeable unless something went badly, something that seems, in retrospect, the beginning of the end. In On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan has created this sort of moment for a young English couple on their wedding night, circa 1962. There is true love between them, and each is certain about the other. But they're on the brink of one of these fulcrums in their lives, and McEwan divides his time between close-ups of this very private night, and zoomed-out looks at the life stories of these two, how they came to be here, how they chose each other. And, after, McEwan follows the long-term results. It's a brief but powerful glimpse of two human lives, how they crash and reverberate backwards and forwards in time. Beautiful.