What I Read In 2014

Posted on January 16, 2015

I didn’t really read as much as I’d like this year, however, here’s what I managed to get through. Enjoy!

The Psychopath Test

Jon Ronson

Blah blah blah, there are psychopaths all around us, some of them are smart. And many of them are problems of Rumsfeldian proportians: The very fact that they don’t seem like psychopaths means that they may be psychopaths.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Max Brooks

When the Zombies come, it will effect all of us, at all walks of life. Seriously, this was pretty cool. Also, fun fact, Max Brooks is the son of Mel Brooks. This is a bunch of ‘short stories’ of how a zombie apocalypse would play out, on every level of humanity. I can also really recommend the audiobook, some legit voice acting.

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

Ray Bradbury

I would put this book in my top 5 most important works about writing, especially if you couple it with this video, which I pretty much owe everything to, writing-wise. It’s a series of meditations in that dreamy storytelling matter that is so comfortable. Also, Bradbury really liked to write about dinosaurs.

Watchers

Dean Koontz

Okay so I was staying at this vacation-house and they had a collection of books. I figure that I might as well read something popular, you know, really get into the head of a bestselling author. Long story short, this is about a dog that can talk as well as sense evil. Also something about the healing power of love. Now you know the plot of literally every Dean Koontz novel.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Charles C. Mann

On one hand this was a really cool book. It’s no secret that the Americas were a lot more populated and culturally deep than we learned about in high school. On the other hand, just as a thought experiment, what if you were to write a book about everything that had happened in Europe from the beginning of the historical record until 1491?

A Feast For Crows

George R. R. Martin

The 3rd book in this series was so good I just peed a little thinking about it. But this? The Gurm is losing me man. Did you know that he originally planned this to be a trilogy? It’s the 4th book and he’s adding new characters! Still good, but don’t expect #3.

The Basque History of the World

Mark Kurlanksy

The Basque moment, throughout the history of time, is one of the things that truly captures my interest. Since I read the book, I went there myself. This is a survey of the history of the Basque people and the Basque lands. This really isn’t in the book, but if you take the bus there, you can seriously see the change in landscape as you cross the border. Great book.

Write. Publish. Repeat.

Sean Platt

This one’s about self publishing. Thinking back on it, I can’t really think of any lessons I learned from it. Still good thouh, if you’re a fan of the podcast, you probably already know the lessons they’re dropping here.

A Dance with Dragons

Gurm

#5 in the series. On the same timeline as #4. Changes in fortune! Boats!

Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Daniel Kahneman

I went into this book, which is about cognitive biases, saying, “I’m going to be super level-headed about this, I’m not going to be subject to this stuff.” But holy-cow is my lizard-brain subject to forces that I can’t even begin to comprehend. Seriously, if you’re interested in getting to know all the hidden rules of your brain, this is your book.

Hateship, Friendship, Courteship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories

Alice Munro

Lovely book. Ontario Southern Gothic is my jam, and this didn’t disappoint. Obviously I read this because of the Nobel Prize. So sue me.

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

Leonard Mlodinow

Some overlap with Thinking, Fast and Slow, but this a book about how randomness rules our lives. It’s why I no longer put much faith in the playoffs, why ‘I should have seen it coming’ doesn’t cut much mustard and why I spent pretty much all my time at the craps table when I was in Vegas this year.

Mike and Psmith

P. G. Wodehouse

My first book with Psmith (the P is silent) and he is easily my favorite character in the Wodehouse canon. The subject matter is cricket, which you don’t even have to remotely understand to like this book. If you’re smart, you’ll pack your e-reader with Wodehouse books. They’re my goto when I finish my book on vacation.

Emil und die Detektiv

Eric Kaestner

Yes, this is a kids book. Yes it’s in German. Yes it’s good. Really needed to work on my reading in German. This did the trick.

Hyperion

Dan Simmons

I already posted this here, but if you can get past a little sci-fi cheesiness and WAY too many references to ‘old Earth’ then this is the book for you. Seriously, too many sci-fi books lack for great stories and interesting characters, and this has both, and it’s incredible.

Master of the Senate

Robert A. Cano

I’ve always been a huge fan of LBJ, and this is about his time when he became probably the best Senator who’s ever Senated. Seriously, Frank Underwood’s actions were based off of LBJ’s time as a legislator. Cano is an absolute master of the biography. I’ll point out that this is only one book of five, and I’m only reading this one. Tied for my favorite non-fiction book that I read in 2014.

The Stand

Stephen King

So good. Just so good. Except for the ending, but I don’t feel like ranting here. Was this written in his cocaine-fueled haze? It had to have been, it’s just so good. King literally does not remember writing ‘The Shining’ because he was so wasted. This may be apocryphal but apparently he wrote it with cotton stuffed in his nose, because blood kept dripping on the manuscript. Anyway, this is about the apocalypse and good vs. evil. Tied for favorite fiction of the year.

Average is Over

Tyler Cowan

In the Summer of 2014 I had failed two German language fluency exams, the final requirement I needed to get into the Computational Linguistics program at Uni Zurich. I had one more chance to take an exam and I had said to myself that it was the last one, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had about 4 weeks to study. This book basically told me that I had to suck it up and bust my ass, so I could pass and then teach computers how to talk. BTW if you don’t know how to work with computers, or you aren’t a skilled labourer, you’re pretty much screwed.

The Killer Angels

Michael Shaara

Holy shit is this book good. It’s basically a fictionalized version of the the Battle for Gettysburg, told from the point of view of Generals and footsoldiers from both sides. Achingly good. This book inspired the ‘Firefly’ series, by the way. I can honestly say no fiction book has influenced me as a writer more. Tied for favorite fiction of 2014.

Glennkill

Leonie Swann

Read this in German, because I needed to work on reading (again). I think in English it’s called ‘three bags full.’ Anyway, it is about some sheep that solve a murder. Awful stuff, and I think it speaks to its character that Germans loved it and literally every other culture on the planet hated it.

Master and Commander

Patrick O’Brian

Giant Boats! Takes place in the same universe as the movie, same themes, and characters, but different plot. Come for a ripping good tale in the age of sail, stay for the relationship between the captain and his ship’s doctor. The first of many.

A People’s History of the United States

Howard Zinn

Can’t believe it took me this long to read this book. Even for a cynic like me, this was very eye opening. A history of capital vs labor/minorities in the United States. Long story short, a lot of dickhole rich people made a lot of money off of other people’s work/genocide.

The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner

Would you look at that, some literature. The book that almost singlehandedly defines ‘Southern Gothic’. Read as a once proud Mississippi family dissolves into irrelevancy. Don’t pick it up if you can’t handle the stream of consciousness of a retarded person.

Million Dollar Outlines

David Farland

Boy, now that’s a title. David Farland has mentored some of the best writers around these days. And there was some pretty great advice in here. I’ve read a lot of books about writing in the past couple years, so some of the advice is starting to wear thin (your characters need to ~want~ something), but still got a lot out of this one.

Four Hour Chef

Tim Feriss

Tim Ferriss is a hack. Sorry, you’re not going to learn how to cook or make your own recipes after this. At least, not any more than if you were to pick up any cookbook out there. His advice about learning is suspect at best, and a bit disjointed. But this is a really great read if you’re interested in Tim talk about how wonderful his life is.

Six Frigates

Ian Toll

After it became a bona-fide nation, the US needed to make itself a navy. This is that story. And it is awesome. Listen, it’s everything you’ve wanted to know about the war of 1812. There are Barbary pirates, and easily some of the best descriptions of what boat vs boat fighting is like. Tied for my favorite non-fiction of the year.

The 39 Steps

John Buchan

The original thriller! A man, by happenstance, has learned a secret about somebody who just might want to start a war. A world war. A first world war. And forces greater than he ever imagined chase him through the English countryside.

When Pride Still Mattered

David Maraniss

The definitive biography of one Vince Lombardi. A lot of life lessons to be learned here. However, a little of the old adage that you shouldn’t learn too much about your heros applies here. He was an absolute dick to his son and wife, but other than that was an incredible guy. Obviously don’t read this unless you have a little more than a passing interest in Packers or football in the 30s-50s.

How to Make a Living as a Writer

James Scott Bell

This is actually a pretty great book about turning his creative potential. I’ve never been a fan of ‘writing prompts’ but this has some pretty good writing exercises, and great ideas for organizing ideas, alongside a pretty good intro to the business of making shit up for a living.

No Margin For Error

Dwight R. Messimer

This is a bit of family history for me, and the book isn’t written all that well. Nonetheless, this is a really exciting story. First thing’s first: 1925 was 90 years ago. Second, this is the story of the first attempt at a non-stop flight from the mainland to Hawai’i. It went pretty wrong, there was a lot of throwing up. And the Navy learned that maybe corned beef hash isn’t the best emergency ration for when you’re stuck at sea.

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