Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Reading

Here are the 79 books I read in 2010:

  • Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Armchair Economist by Steven E. Landsburg
  • Fair Play by Steven E. Landsburg
  • Never Mind the Pollacks by Neal Pollack
  • The Grateful Fred by Greg Trine
  • Petropolis by Anya Ulinich
  • Nicholas and the Gang by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe
  • Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames
  • Everyday Probability and Statistics by Michael M. Woolfson
  • The Pearl of Great Price by Joseph Smith, Jr., trans.
  • The Revenge of the McNasty Brothers by Greg Trine
  • Nicholas in Trouble by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • The Sausage Situation by Darrel and Sally Odgers
  • The Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith, Jr., trans.
  • Winston Churchill by John Keegan
  • Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • The Winner's Curse by Richard H. Thaler
  • Terror in Tights by Greg Trine
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Nicholas on Vacation by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe
  • Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
  • How to Receive Discernible Answers to Your Prayers by Jeffrey R. Young
  • Love Among the Chickens by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
  • As A Man Thinketh by James Allen
  • Attack of the Valley Girls by Greg Trine
  • I, Jack by Patricia Finney
  • Doctrine and Covenants by Joseph Smith, Jr., et Al.
  • Drawing on the Powers of Heaven by Grant Von Harrison
  • Getting What You Came For by Robert L. Peters
  • Dominic by William Steig
  • Jack and Rebel, the Police Dog by Patricia Finney
  • The Kitnapped Creature by Darrel and Sally Odgers
  • Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child
  • The Fake Cape Caper by Greg Trine
  • Fathers As Patriarchs by Grant Von Harrison
  • Clarice Bean Spells Trouble by Lauren Child
  • Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe
  • The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir
  • Thursday Next in First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
  • Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
  • 1912 by James Chace
  • Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher
  • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
  • Mike at Wrykyn by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Mostly Harmless Econometrics by Joshua D. Angrist and Jőrn-Steffen Pischke
  • The Prophetic Book of Mormon by Hugh Nibley
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
  • The New Testament by St. Paul, et Al.
  • The Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith, Jr., trans.
  • The Mortal Messiah, Book 1 by Bruce R. McConkie
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
  • Summer Lightning by P.G. Wodehouse
  • William Howard Taft by Judith Icke Anderson
  • Not George Washington by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Golf Without Tears by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes
  • Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You by T.M. Shine
  • Tales of St. Austin's by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Pothunters by P.G. Wodehouse
  • A Prefect's Uncle by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Space Dogs by Justin Ball and Evan Croker
  • The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Brotherhood of the Traveling Underpants by Greg Trine
  • Understanding the Book of Revelation by Jay A. Parry and Donald W. Parry
  • The Awful Pawful by Darrel and Sally Odgers
  • Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now by Lauren Child
  • The Path to Freedom by Michael Collins
  • Puppy Power by Judy Cox
  • The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
  • Book of Mormon Stories for Young Latter-day Saints by Emma Marr Petersen
  • Gold by Nathan Lewis

Reading on a Kindle: a Review

I got a Kindle for Christmas, but I got in in October. I used it to read school documents, and to read public domain novels that are available for free (since the Luddite in me still doesn't want to spend money on a book that isn't an actual pile of paper on my shelf).

I love that Kindle tells me what percentage complete I am, since that was something I had always had to calculate on my own (and--NERD ALERT--I always was calculating it). I also like that Kindle is much easier to transport than a stack of books, so instead of bringing one book and being stuck with it, I can switch if I need to. I am indifferent to the need for a reading light; I know this is a huge turning point for most people in the iPad/Kindle debate, but I prefer Kindle, even though I have to have a book light to read after the sun goes down.

Here are two things I dislike: one is the lack of page numbers, and the other is the tendency of the device to reboot and lose bookmarks. Since I keep track of the pages I read in a year (there was no "nerd alert" because the previous alert is still in effect), I need to know how many pages are in a book I am reading. Since Kindle doesn't have page numbers, but "locations" (the relation of which to pages or paragraphs I still don't understand), I have to look up print versions on Amazon, find an edition that looks like one I would have read, go to its product description, and see how many pages it has. Even then, it's imperfect, since that number does not correspond to the printed number on the last page, but is more like a count of pieces of paper used (multiplied by two).

As for the second issue, I think it might be a result of the free versions I read. As with most free things, the coding seems pretty bare-bones, and I bet a "real" Kindle book wouldn't have as many problems. However, that doesn't mean it's not frustrating to have to refind my spot in my book every time I turn my Kindle on (especially since it doesn't use page numbers to help me find my way). I've had this problem with three Wodehouse books, and my wife had it with Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Quarterly Update - 4th Quarter 2010

The quarter started out slowly, as I was trying to concentrate on finishing my semester. My goal of actually reaching 25,000 pages in the year, which looked hopeless in February, looked very possible at the end of August, and then became impossible by October. But once I finished with school, I did a lot of reading in December (which was something I didn't do last year, because I was too depressed expecting poor grades; this semester I expected (and received, thank you) good grades, so my motivation did not flag), and I passed 20,000 pages for the first time since 2006 (the last year I was not a student).

Not George Washington, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Golf Without Tears, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Pinky Pye, by Eleanor Estes

Rating: four out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You, by T.M. Shine

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Tales of St. Austin's, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Pothunters, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

A Prefect's Uncle, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Space Dogs, by Justin Ball and Evan Croker

Rating: two out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Little Nugget, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Brotherhood of the Traveling Underpants, by Greg Trine

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Understanding the Book of Revelation, by Jay A. Parry and Donald W. Parry

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Awful Pawful, by Darrel and Sally Odgers

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now, by Lauren Child

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Path to Freedom, by Michael Collins

Rating: two out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Puppy Power, by Judy Cox

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Book of Mormon Stories for Young Latter-day Saints, by Emma Marr Petersen

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Gold, by Nathan Lewis

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Gold, by Nathan Lewis

This book was about three times as long as it needed to be. Most of the excess material was still fascinating, but it was excess nonetheless. A chapter about Japan's "lost decade" begins with the monetary history of feudal Japan. It would be like explaining the 1972 Olympic men's basketball final by saying, "Well, first you have to understand the nuclear process in the Sun." Perhaps that would enhance understanding, but it's beyond the scope of the ten-second ESPN sound byte.

Also, Lewis has a habit of including only a smattering of notes. He probably should have had about four times as many notes as he did. Without them, I'm unclear how much of what I read was fact, and how much was Lewis's interpretation of the facts, since they were presented side-by-side, without sources. The only reason I liked this book was because I'm into monetary economics; a normal reader would probably have quite before the end of the second chapter.

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Book of Mormon Stories for Young Latter-day Saints, by Emma Marr Petersen

I got this book as a baptism present, several (but not too many) years ago. My parents sort of pooh-poohed the gift, like it was unreasonably beyond the reading level of an eight-year-old, so I never read it.

Now that I know my parents better, I realize they just didn't like the people who gave me the gift, so they found fault with it. My daughter turned eight this year, so before she got baptized I wanted to read this book with her for her to get a basic understanding of Book of Mormon plot, which would help her with her scripture reading. We were reading together, alternating paragraphs, until I got busy with school and she took the book to her room, where she was supposed to finish on her own.

Now, months after her baptism, I figured we should finish the book before the end of the year, so I could count the pages read on my yearly total. Having a deadline of December 31 made it so we had to read about 10 chapters each day, which helped drive home the point that, when you don't manage your schedule well, tasks become more unpleasant.

In terms of reading level, it's completely appropriate for a seven- or eight-year-old. Petersen decides to sequence her book chronologically, so it starts with Jaredites, which might be a little strange to a kid who's trying to square it with the Book of Mormon ordering. Content-wise, there were just a handful of times that I felt she added speculative material that isn't substantiated by the scriptures themselves, and most of those were trivial issues (none of which I can even remember). Also, since this book is older, Petersen has no problems giving a literal interpretation to the whole "light=good, dark=bad" thing, which required me to give a preemptive contradictory opinion once I saw where she was headed.

But in terms of the good accomplished, this book really, really helped my daughter learn the plot of the Book of Mormon (which is something my wife is always saying is her biggest hang-up in scripture study). Now when we read scriptures as a family, she can concentrate on doctrine.

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde

I liked this book a lot more than I liked The Big Over Easy. I read a review of that other book that said Fforde ironically gave his main character a nice home life to contrast with the typical detective novel hero's shambles of a personal life. (Think Mel Gibson's character in "Lethal Weapon.") Okay, I'm fine with that, but the result was a lot of pages of charming home life scenes, which weren't what I was going for when I decided to read a detective novel.

I am thankful that this novel forgoes all that. Spratt and Mary get right to the detecting work. Ironic detective story devices still abound (for instance, Spratt gets suspended and has to work the case against orders), but they work with the story, helping it move along. I am looking forward to the next Nursery Crimes book.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Puppy Power, by Judy Cox

I loved this book. What's more, I love the author. If something happened to my wife, I'd call up Judy Cox to see if she's available. (If she's still alive. Which, her website says she is. Perfect.)

What's the source of my affection? Cox's correct use of possessive apostrophes. Many of the teachers at Fran's school have last names that end with the letter S, and all of them have their names made possessive by an additional apostrophe AND S. Every time I read another instance, I stopped and told my kids, "Judy Cox is fantastic!"

In terms of the story, I liked it, too. I liked how Fran is a sympathetic character, and that her bullying is not obvious until you've come to like her. It's better than the typical "good characters are good and bad characters are bad" of children's books. It helps kids see that all people are good and bad.

It was also nice that the parts of Fran's character that needed work were the same as her dog, Hercules. I like parallelisms because they allow you to make your point with less of a heavy hand.

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Path to Freedom, by Michael Collins

I like to read autobiographies where possible, figuring I'd rather hear from the source itself. I know this is fraught with peril about self-serving rewriting of history, but it's usually a pretty good rule. (If the subject is especially interesting, I'll read biographies afterward to compare.) So when I got to the library and decided I wanted a book on Michael Collins, they had two or three written by other people, and this book written by Collins himself. I naturally selected this one.

I wish I hadn't. It could have been entitled, Boring Irish Op-Eds From 100 Years Ago. I learned more from the foreword (written in that annoyingly breezily familiar "journalism" style that seems so popular for features these days) than I did from the book itself. Collins just seemed to say, "Irish people have it TOUGH, yo!", over and over again. If I wanted to hear that, I'd put The Cranberries' song "Zombie" on repeat.

Rating: two out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now, by Lauren Child

I'll tell you what I like about Clarice Bean books: they deal with an "issue," but without saying, "Here's the topic we're dealing with." You know what I mean? I hated "issue" books when I was a kid; can't a story just tell a story without being "about" something, like divorce, popularity, or bullying?

In this book, Clarice Bean's best friend Betty moves, and Clarice experiences a mild depression (without ever saying, "And I was depressed"). Eventually things begin to work out for her again, slowly, and not completely.

My daughter tends to read these books on her own, but then ask me to read them with her to make sure she's not missing out on anything. (For instance the other day I had reason to explain the bathroom euphemisms "Number 1" and "Number 2" to her, and she said, "Oh, that was in a book I read and I didn't know what it meant.") The only complaint I have about Clarice Bean books is that she works a lot of stuff out without ever telling her parents. It's not like they find out after the fact; they never find out. I don't want my daughter to think the correct thing to do with a stressful life situation is to keep it to herself.

As with the other Clarice Bean books we've read, at the end my daughter wanted me to check the progress of the Ruby Redfort books Lauren Child is supposedly writing. Well, this time there was good news! The first book is supposed to come this fall. My daughter is eagerly anticipating it, and I bet I will get to read it aloud.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Awful Pawful, by Darrel and Sally Odgers

Like I've mentioned before, my son loves these books. We've read them out of order, so the suspense of not knowing exactly what is "the awful pawful" was sort of ruined for us, but he preferred to think of it as a secret he'd figured out already. I liked the way the dogs of town hid in shame as each of them got bested by a cat. (Delayed spoiler: the awful pawful is a cat.)

For whatever reason, my son has little interest in reading. He loves to be read to, but no story is interesting enough for him to want to put in the work. (Until recently, he refused to acknowledge he even could read, even after reading something.) The closest he's come to wanting to hear a story badly enough that he is willing to do the reading himself is with these Jack Russell books.

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Understanding the Book of Revelation, by Jay A. Parry and Donald W. Parry

Earlier this year, I finished re-reading the New Testament. I understood Revelation better than before, but I still felt like there was a lot I wasn't getting. A few years ago, I asked for this book as a Christmas present from my wife's parents, and now seemed like a good time to read it, so soon after reading Revelation.

I can't really say, "This aspect of Revelation is clearer to me now," or anything like that, but I definitely feel like I understand the book better. What's more, I have a much greater sense of immediacy, an appreciation for the truthfulness of Revelation and the importance in my life. Previous readings of Revelation always seemed remote to me; either it was an ancient book, or it was about the distant future. This time I felt much more strongly that it was timely and important. I don't know if that is from the Parrys' book or from Revelation itself, but it is a major change in my outlook on scripture.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Brotherhood of the Traveling Underpants, by Greg Trine

After quite a few Melvin Beederman books that were not as enjoyable for me to read aloud as they were for my kids to listen to, this one was a refreshing change. The time travel plot device allowed for a lot of jokes that Trine did well. My kids especially liked when Melvin had to pretend to be his own uncle. Also, my kids love Superhero James and Superhero Margaret, so their larger roles in this book were greatly appreciated.

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Little Nugget, by P.G. Wodehouse

Another Wodehouse book that begins with one narrator and then jumps horses mid-stream, never to return. In fact, the original main character never resurfaces again, except in infrequent letters. But the replacement narrator, Peter Burns, is likable and fun. He takes a job posing as a schoolmaster (so this is a bit of a school story, but not from a boy's point of view), trying to kidnap the obnoxious son of American millionaires (the prototype to the child actor in Laughing Gas, I imagine). Several American gangsters are also out to nab the eponymous kid, which allows for a lot of the type of humor found in Big Money and Psmith, Journalist. And what's more, there is no cricket to be seen.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Space Dogs, by Justin Ball and Evan Croker

I saw this book at the library and thought my kids would like it. They had a lot of copies of it, which seemed like a testament of kids' appreciation.

The book was very, very slow reading. I believe I first checked it out in July. We renewed it the maximum number of times, then returned it and checked out another copy, and renewed that twice.

In terms of content, I was a little annoyed. There were lots of uses of "hell," mostly as a place, but once in the sense of "what the hell...." One use of "damn," implied sexual relations between two aliens, and one girl surmises that another girl is popular because she has "big boobs." If children's publishers did their job of recommending ages or grade levels (like they used to), I would have had a better idea of what was in store. As it was, I had to do some selective bowdlerizing as I read along.

Another big shortcoming of the book is how it promised to be about aliens and dogs, but spent a lot of time being about teenage love. And the message wasn't even a good one. It was "kiss first, look for compatibility later." And when the love-struck girl finally kisses the boy she likes, we read this: "She knew all the answers in class, and if she didn't, it didn't bother her because she had the only answer that really mattered: Dion Van Steenwyk [the boy she likes]" (156). I don't need my kids thinking a meaningless junior-high romance is all that really matters, and I certainly don't need my daughter hearing she should derive her self-worth from her pre-teen relationships.

Rating: two out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.