2008 in books

In posts past, I’ve sometimes listed the last few books I read and, if lucky, a review. Like many other things in my life, I aspire to read frequently and widely and to record my experiences exhaustively, but often fall short. It’s almost a new year, however, so I was inspired by John Dupuis over at Confessions of a Science Librarian to at least list as much as I can remember reading in 2008.

Close to but not necessarily in chronological order:

  1. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I love Marquez’s writing – expansive yet incisive, a feast for the senses using only ink on paper. I enjoyed this book slightly more than 100 Years of Solitude, though both are highly recommended.
  2. Until I Find You by John Irving. Another author I usually enjoy reading, this most recent book didn’t necessarily disappoint, but it didn’t necessarily satisfy either.
  3. Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich. Entertaining and fast-paced. I hear the movie is awful, though.
  4. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. A fast read, but nothing earth-shattering.
  5. An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. I’m a sucker for compelling case histories, especially of the neuropsychological type.
  6. A Primate’s Memoir by Robert Sapolsky. Humorous and educational, if you ever wanted to learn the dirty details of studying baboons in the wild.
  7. Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. I found this wholly engrossing. Doesn’t hurt that I am fascinated by animal behavior/cognition as well as autism, both of which are brought together in this book.
  8. Monkeyluv by Robert Sapolsky. Fun and informative essays about human biology and behavior.
  9. The Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. These books are highly acclaimed but for some reason I just don’t particularly like Lahiri’s writing. It’s perfectly fine, I just find it a bit bland.
  10. Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan. Decent but nothing compared to her first few books.
  11. Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. Not bad, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Galapagos.
  12. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. A first-hand account of a doomed Everest expedition. Gripping, chilling, and emotionally draining. I couldn’t put it down, and couldn’t get images of the mountain out of my head for weeks. I think watching a PBS documentary (“Everest”?) on that very same expedition while I was in the middle of the book was part of that… So if you want the full experience, watch the documentary too!
  13. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. Gripping, chilling, and emotionally draining. I sense a pattern. At any rate, I am also fascinated by religion, Christianity in particular, so this book was a must-read. I’m also a big fan of Krakuaer’s writing.
  14. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Also very good.
  15. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Entertaining look into the restaurant and culinary world.
  16. A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain. Good as well. I love food – ’nuff said.
  17. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Again, I love food. And I agree almost completely with Pollan on everything. And I want to be a farmer and a cook and …
  18. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. An autobiographical account of a notable food critic’s experiences. Very interesting and fun to read. Did I mention I love food?
  19. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. A classic that I’d never read. Surprisingly entertaining!
  20. The Giver, Gathering Blue, and The Messenger by Lois Lowry. I loved reading Number the Stars and The Giver growing up. Unbeknownst to me, these three books actually go together. The Giver was by far the best of the three, though.
  21. Complications by Atul Gawande. Ditto everything John Dupuis said.
  22. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks. More fun neuropsych case histories. Some are reiterated between this and Anthropologist on Mars.
  23. Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. More neuropsych, this time focused on the way music affects, is affected by, or otherwise manifests itself in cognitive disorders.
  24. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. A well-argued book. I haven’t read much in this particular area but have become increasingly interested in it. There are some great videos out there as well.
  25. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. A slim, elegantly written and engaging account of a Pakistani man at a personal crossroads after 9/11.
  26. Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote. It looked interesting and I needed a book to read on the plane. I ended up reading it entirely in one sitting (good thing the flight was a long one) and even shed a few tears, a bit awkward on the plane. But like I said, I’m a sucker for animal behavior, plus I love dogs, and this was plenty of that, in a moving personal account of the friendship between a man and a very unique dog.
  27. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. Like Complications, well-written and interesting. I liked Complications better, though.
  28. The McKinsey Way by Ethan Rasiel. I was interviewing so it seemed like a good idea. I guess if you are interested in how the biggest management consulting company in the world works, this book definitely helps.
  29. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. A mystery novel told through about 6 different characters and their very different circumstances that somehow come together at the end. This was another spontaneous buy that I ended up enjoying very much.
  30. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. A rare foray into romance novels, though one could argue that this has more literary value. Still, I enjoyed it as a glimpse into what life as a courtier in England might have been like during that time. The book is very different from the movie, though.
  31. Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen. Eccentric story of a young man who loses everything and finds himself working in a circus as a veterinarian. Dark and surreal but very human.
  32. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner. True story of a man who interacts with and observes a flock of wild parrots in San Francisco. Engagingly written.

It seems like I read a lot of books about pop science, food, and animals. I think next year will have more of the same, plus perhaps more science, more tech, and religion thrown in.

Books I’m currently reading: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Persig, The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker, The Assault on Reason by Al Gore, The Anglo Files by Sarah Lyall, and Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.

Books currently lined up: A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan, Longitude by Dava Sobel, Time, Love, Memory by Jonathan Weiner, The Island of the Colorblind by Oliver Sacks, Microcosmos by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagain, and River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins.

Not to mention the dozens of books I’d like to read but haven’t procured yet. Not enough time in the day, not enough days in the year…

4 Responses to 2008 in books

  1. nz says:

    Pollan’s telling of the story of industrial farming, and HFCS is interesting even from an economic incentives perspective. I’m not much of a foodie, but I really liked that part of the omnivore’s dilemma.

    Blink was pretty weak. Gladwell’s new book, Outliers is much, much better. Anecdotes are more interesting and more relevant to techies (Bill Joy, Bill Gates, Asians and math). I sorta agree with Cowen that it would have gotten phenomenal reviews if it was written by anyone else. It might be too much of an investment to read the whole thing for someone whose been jaded by Blink — but if your at Barnes and Nobles, quickly reading the chapter on Rice Paddies (cultural reasons for why asians are good at math) or the 10,000 hour rule (how Bill Gates and the Beatles had enough practice to succeed) — might convince you to read the whole book.

  2. Euge says:

    You read a lot.

  3. Kevin says:

    Might find another Lynn Margulis book an interesting read: “Symbiotic Planet”. It’s been out for a number of years (1998) but it’s short and quick to get through.

  4. shwu says:

    @nz: Gladwell is certainly controversial – people either love or hate him, it seems. If I can borrow it or find it for cheap I may check it out.

    @Kevin: thanks for the rec! I’ll see if I can find it when I go to the used book store today

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