Books 2010

My list of books read in 2010. I’d be interested to do this month by month – I suspect I read about five times as many new books while I’m on holiday. I’ve also joined Amazon’s associates, just for fun, hence my playing around with the book images.


The Girl who Played with Fire. By Stieg Larsson. Four Stars

I read this on the Kindle I bought Mr Penguin for Christmas. A surprisingly good experience reading on the Kindle, and as a bonus, the book was cheaper than it was possible to buy in Australia (Amazon has never been cheaper than real bookshops in Australia, because the shipping is so expensive, so that was novel). The book is quite confronting in a car crash kind of way – you can’t look away, but parts of it are horrible. Nevertheless, it grew on me, because the characters are so human, and so compelling.

The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson. Four and a half stars

I couldn’t stop reading this one – I had originally thought that Stieg Larsson’s back story was responsible for the success of these books (he died of a heart attack before any of them were published), but this one was the best of the three, and unputdownable. I read this one on the Kindle on my iphone (because I couldn’t wait around for Mr Penguin to finish it on the kindle)- a very technological reading experience, but surprisingly readable for such a small screen.

Black Dust Dancing, By Tracy Crisp

I bought this book ages ago, because I love Tracy’s blog (actually I think of her as Third Cat, her blogging name). But I’ve been having a crisis of confidence about reading literary fiction, so it took me ages to pluck up the courage to read it, in case I couldn’t finish. I loved it, and finished it within 24 hours of starting it.

Read a proper review here, here or here.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Four stars.

This was lent to me by a friend, whose book group was doing it. It took me two months to pluck up the courage to read it, as it sounded so depressing. And once I did, it took me less than a day to finish it. I suspect the writing was wasted on me – I had to read it quickly to find out what happened, and to avoid lingering on some of the most appalling images.

Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie. Three and a half stars

This is set in the same universe as, and a slight sequel to, Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, which I read last year. He walks a narrow line between sympathetic characters (even when they do something horrible, you can follow their reasoning) and absolute monsters. For me, this one goes too far over to the monster line. His characters are a nasty bunch that I don’t really want to spend time with. Although I follow how they became that way, because the society is falling into anarchy due to constant war, it doesn’t make me want to be in their company. Great characterisation, though.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. Four and a half stars.

This book won the Booker in 2009 (which was not why I bought it). It is a massive book about Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry VIII’s courtiers, who managed to get himself into the position of Henry’s most trusted advisor from incredibly humble beginnings. The Wolf Hall of the title is the family seat of the Seymours, and Jane Seymour (Henry’s third wife) is a minor character (the book stops about midway through Anne Boleyn’s marriage). My knowledge of Henry VII and his time has previously been mostly about the wives. This book is much more about the transformation taking place in England, and Henry’s gradual realisation of the power he can take away from the Catholic Church if he chooses to. I had never heard of Thomas Cromwell, but he is a fascinating character, although he seemed too modern a thinker at times (I find it hard to believe when people from those times genuinely seem to have no religion).

Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett. Four stars.

I bought this because it came highly recommended in a feminist blog post I read (which I’ve now lost, unfortunately). I’ve read an early Terry Pratchett (I forget which), and didn’t enjoy it all that much, as it was trying too hard to be funny, I thought. I’m going to go back and read some more, though, because this was far more thoughtful. Funny, yes, but also making some serious points about war, gender and faith, but without losing the light touch that made it a page turner.

Tainted Blood (also called Jar City), by Arnuldur Indridason. Three and a half stars

This is something Mr Penguin bought for his Kindle – we’re reading a lot more middlebrow stuff with the Kindle, partly because it seems less wasteful when we don’t end up with the book in the house. A readable, but not great, Icelandic mystery/thriller (more mystery than thriller) with the usual shambling wreck of a policeman solving the crime when most other people have given up.

Think of a Number: A Novel, by John Verdon, Three stars

This is the first time I’ve bought a book from the amazon email. It had good reviews, but I didn’t enjoy it that much. It felt like a bit of a potboiler thriller to me. I was seduced by the word number in the title.

Edge Chronicles: The Curse of the Gloamglozer (The Edge Chronicles), by Chris Stewart and Paul Riddell. Three stars

This is another one of Chatterboy’s books, that he wanted me to read so we could talk about it. I didn’t enjoy it as much as some of his other series – it seemed overly complex to me. I suspect that that is because I’ve come in half way – although in the universe it is written, this comes first, it is a prequel to some other books that probably explain the environment better. Children’s fantasy with some interesting characters, but a lot of death and destruction (which put me off far more than Chatterboy!).

Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett, Four Stars

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Terry Pratchett. I bought his books when he first started writing, and didn’t like them much. Now they are great – funny, but at the same time insightful, and thoughtful about the human condition.

Hardball: A V.I. Warshawski Novel, by Sara Paretsky. Three and a half stars

VI Warshawski gets less and less likeable, to me. She takes the world on her shoulders, and sees conspiracies everywhere she turns around. She’s often right, but it is hard to spend time with her.

The Evolutionary Void, by Peter Hamilton. Three and a half stars

I do love Peter Hamilton, but I found this last book a bit of a slog. Mostly because it had been a while since I had read the rest of the series. It was hard to remember who everyone was. Probably better if read with the rest of the series.

Cryoburn (The Vorkosigan Saga), by Lois McMaster Bujold. Four stars

I always love Bujold’s books. The only problem with this one is that there were fewer female characters than ever before. Normally Bujold has some interesting women to spend time with during the mad romp that is a Miles adventure. This time his sidekick was an eleven year old boy, and it only just passed the Bechdel test.

Non Fiction

Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss. Four Stars

This book was a surprise hit – who knew, as Lynne Truss says in the forward, that there were so many pedants out there? I enjoyed it more than I expected. I’m only medium pedantic about punctuation (fonts are the issue that really get my goat), but her writing is written in a passionate, yet gossipy, style which is very fun to read. I certainly know a fair bit more about punctuation now, and I think I may get my “its” and my “it’s” the right way round, finally.

Monopoly. The World’s most Famous Game & How it got that way, by Philip E Orbanes. Three and a half stars

A very readable history of the board game Monopoly, putting in context with the financial and political developments of the western world. A tendency to overplay the significance of the game in world events (for example, implying that underground playing of Monopoly in eastern Europe helped prepare the ground for the destruction of communism) but with some fascinating stories about the development of Monopoly. The best one is a description of the way in which the Monopoly game was used to smuggle escape kits (maps, money and compasses) into POW camps in WWII Germany.

The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat
Four and a half stars. I’ve reviewed this here.

Clover analyses what is happening to the world’s fish, and seafood, as a result of humanity’s love of eating fish. He concludes that most fish is destined to go the way of cod, unless we change the way we eat and fish. He describes common methods of fishing as “strip mining the seas”- and it certainly sounds accurate after reading the detail.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. Five Stars

I’ve been hanging out for this book as soon as I read about it. Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951, was also the source of the HeLa cells – cells that have reproduced and reproduced until there are millions more than ever existed inside Henrietta Lacks, but without Henrietta, or her family, knowing about it. This book is a science book, but also a story about race, and medical ethics, and the intersection of the scientific world with the rest of the world. Skloot has investigated every possible angle of this story and provides vivid insight into every part of this story.

Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the battle over Global Warming, by Chris Mooney. Four stars

Chris Mooney is a science journalist, who happens to be from New Orleans. This book is a fairly detailed account of the various battles that went on within the climatologist and meteorological communities as debate raged over whether the 2005 hurricane season in the US (worst insurance losses ever) was being made worse by global warming. It is a tale of scientists trying to explain their work for the general public, and finding politicians picking up the part that suited their political views, and making capital out of it. It is a tale of some scientists changing their minds, when the data changes, and others being set in their ways.

I’m finding more and more these days that reading about global warming just depresses me. Nothing is being done about it, and there is more and more consensus in the scientific world that the IPCC is being conservative. When this book was written, the hardwon consensus was that the number of storms didn’t seem to be increasing, but it was possible, even likely,  that the average storm strength was increasing.  From what I’ve seen since in the insurance community, that hasn’t changed, and premium rates for insurance look set to go up. But insurers are now increasingly moving on to political action for mitgation (dikes, better building codes, etc) having given up on action on the underlying greenhouse gases.

Thinking About You, Thinking About Me, by Michelle Garcia Winner. Four stars

This is something I would never have bought at its paper price (about three times as much). It’s a book about helping children who don’t have great social skills to learn how to think about empathy (rather than just fake it by learning how to go through the motions. It had a lot of good insights.

The Decisive Moment, by Jonah Lehrer. Four stars

The kind of book I like – a good combination of psychology and real life. It is about how we actually make decisions, and how to set up an environment so that good decisions are made. Interesting that this is the second (and quite different) book I’ve read that uses aeroplane cockpits as models about how everything else should be done. In this case, as a model for how important it is to have everyone with information contributing to decision making, not just an authoritarian leader.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson. Four and a half stars

When I picked this up in the bookshop, it looked as if he was just going through the motions, trading on his name. But in practice, I found it fascinating. It is a history of the house, through the lens of Bryson talking about his own house. No fabulous new facts, but a well researched and very chattily written book that didn’t show that research explicitly to the reader, except in the footnotes at the end.

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, by Malcolm Gladwell. Four stars

This is a book of Malcolm Gladwell essays from the New Yorker. I love his writing most in this form – when he goes for a full length book, he never seems to have quite enough material, or links between disparate thoughts, for my liking. But this length is perfect, and fascinating. Highly recommended.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell. Three and a half stars

I read this book very fast, which was good, but writing this a month or two later, I can barely remember it. So that’s why the three and a half stars. I always love reading Gladwell’s writing, but some of it makes a more lasting impression than this.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawende. Four stars

Atul Gawende is a New Yorker writer, and a doctor. This book is about a simple concept – a checklist –  and how enormous a difference it can make in very different fields. He takes the concept from aeroplane flying, where it is a major part of our safety today, and tries with surprising success to insert it into the surgical room. The tricky part is how to take checklists into place where judgement is necessary, without taking away the judgement.

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