Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

The Case for Books in 2015

Jerry Stratton, January 4, 2016

Books to read 2016

This table is slated to collapse unless I curb the impulse to buy more books before I’ve read what I have!

Happy New Year! I started using Goodreads in 2014 to track what books I read, and that means 2015 is the first full year of tracking. According to Goodreads, I read 107 books this year. According to my database, I purchased 162 books. New Year’s Resolution: for every book I buy, I need to read at least two. Otherwise my to-read table is going to collapse.

Goodreads tells me the most popular book I read this year was Kafka’s Metamorphosis. That makes sense, I suppose. It’s a book that a lot of people have to read for school. Of course, it’s not really a book, it’s really a short story, but it’s old enough that it’s available separately on Project Gutenberg, and it’s used in enough institutional settings that it’s also available separately in print.

The longest book I read was Dhalgren, and that sounds right. It certainly took a long time to read. Of Human Bondage may be longer, but I’m reading that as an ebook and so haven’t finished it yet. I read ebooks when I have time outside the house, which means that they take longer to read anyway, and this book is long enough even without that drag.1

The least popular was an indie comic book collection, Knights of the Dinner Table, Volume 45. Well, it’s a niche publisher in a niche market.

Somewhat surprisingly, the best book I read, according to Goodreads, was The Art of Syrian Cookery. This book gets 4.8 stars on average, where five stars, the highest score, means “it was amazing”. It probably helped that only five people have rated it, and I know I tend toward the middle on rating scales2, but if this book was amazing—and in truth, I really liked it—what was Metamorphosis?

Then again, Goodreads says I gave Lebanese Cuisine five stars. At this point I couldn’t say why. Possibly its garlic sauce recipe put it over the top. Metamorphosis has no garlic.

My year was bookended—hah—by The House on the Borderland and The Best of C.L. Moore. Both were, if not groundbreaking (and the case can be made for Moore) definitely unique.

My largest haul this year was from the local Half Price Books annual warehouse sale. My biggest haul from outside Round Rock was a three-way tie of eight books each at Chicago’s Bookman’s Corner, St. Louis’s Patten Books, and Las Cruces’s COAS Books. In Chicago I picked up several Tarzans, as well as Robert Silverberg’s intriguing collection of 1973 newcomers, Chains of the Sea. In St. Louis I found an amazing selection of older Science Fiction I’d been wanting, including Fredric Brown, Fletcher Pratt, Sterling Lanier, and Margaret St. Clair.

And in Las Cruces I finally found the Henry Kuttner and Murray Leinster Best Ofs as well as the hard-to-find Science Fiction Hall of Fame IIB. I owned the Murray Leinster collection as a teen and have no idea where it went.

The non-local bookstore I bought the most books from was the inimitable Twice Sold Tales in Seattle, which I visited a couple of times since my girlfriend moved there. They are a treasure trove of old science fiction and new literary fiction. I finally found Ward Just’s Echo House there, as well as three of the Best Ofs I’ve been looking for: Fritz Leiber, Hal Clement, and Stanley Weinbaum.

It’s been a good year for book-hunting.

Back on Goodreads, my five-stars this year (besides Lebanese Cuisine) were, in order of reading, John Algeo’s Origins and Development of the English Language, Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, Walter Tevis’s Mockingbird, Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy, Ward Just’s The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert, Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, Allen Drury’s Advise & Consent, and Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth.

I definitely recommend all of these, and for good measure I’d add Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members and Fouad Ajami’s The Dream Palace of the Arabs. Their endings were not as insightful as their beginnings, but the first was hilarious to read to that point and the second extremely educational.

If you only take three books from my recommendations, I’d say Mockingbird, The Case for Democracy, and Advise & Consent. Walter Tevis is always worth reading, Advise & Consent was a fascinating romp into Senatorial politics, and The Case for Democracy was an eye opener on how—and why—our foreign policy has been failing.

Though if you do happen to see Lebanese Cuisine, snatch it up.

  1. The shortest book was Mike Sirota’s The 22nd Gear, at one page. This is, of course, completely wrong, but Goodreads still doesn’t let readers easily update book data; whatever data gets put in by the first reader is written in stone, as far as I can tell, unless you go to the trouble of contacting a librarian. That’s something I hope they’ll fix. It’s especially annoying for me not being able to upload a cover image for books that weren’t given a cover image when first entered into the system.

  2. According to Goodreads, my average was 3.6, three being “I liked it”.

  1. <- Intellectuals and Society
  2. Arab Dream Palace ->