The Delayed "Best Book" Post of 2022

 So I'm three months late, but still posting my annual "Best Books that I Read Last Year". As always, the books are not in ranked order.

  • First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
    Speculative fiction with a bit of Groundhog Day (and even more like the classic novel "Replay"), where Harry August lives his entire life over and over again.

  • Hondo by Louis L'Amour
    Classic western that was made into the classic film staring John Wayne. 

  • 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
    Peterson is a very divisive figure, but it would be difficult to argue against any of life lessons of this book.

  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
    The classic story is beloved for a reason. 

  • Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan Jr.
    A plague wipes out all but one man, who sets off across the US and then the world. Various factions try to capture him for their own purposes. Not 100% realistic, but probably the best of this genre of story.

  • Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon by Basil Liddell-Hart
    Liddell-Hart examines the life and career of Scipio, probably the most neglected great general. He makes an excellent case that Scipio was the greatest ever.

  • Madness from the Inconstant Moon by Larry Niven
    A collection of short stories, anchored by the title novel, in which the main character faces the extinction of humanity.

  • The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris
    History of early surgeons. Fascinating and well-told.

  • Lord Edward's Archer by Griff Hosker
    Hosker has a unique writing style that takes a bit of getting used to, but the stories in this series quickly draw you into the life of a Welsh/English archer and follow him as he fights in England, Wales, France, and on crusade.

  • Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
    The first of Hughart's detective novels set in "a China that should have been", this is the best of the trilogy. 


The Midnight Library

The Midnight LibraryThe Midnight Library by Matt Haig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't want to attack this book too much, as it seems that it is very important to many people. I definitely don't hate it; it moves along quickly, I liked the basic story, and agree with the entire "It's a Wonderful Life" style moral that life is worth living, something that many people have benefited from while reading it.

That being said, there are at least two huge problems with this that, if you notice them, might ruin or greatly lessen your enjoyment of the book.

The first is a gigantic plausibility problem, which I could let slide for the sake of storytelling, though a minute's thought makes the entire novel silly. The second is that the universe (well, actually multiverse) as depicted in this novel is unbelievably horrific, and the heroine of the novel engages in repeated and blatant acts of evil without any qualms of conscience as to the harm she is doing.

Spoilers from here out...

(view spoiler)

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The Even More Annual, Yet Belated, Book Post

 Once again, I'm sharing my favorite and least favorite books that I read last year. As always, they are in alphabetically order, not by preference:

  1. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman
    Postman's classic book from 1985 is more relevant than ever, as the problem that he addressed (namely that our media is entertaining rather than informing us) has only gotten worse with the ability to create your own ideological bubble with social media and YouTube.

  2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
    Fantastic novel about an autistic young boy who tries to solve the mystery of the murder of a neighborhood dog. Really well done.

  3. Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Maybe the best book I've read this year. Heartbreaking story of living through the attempt by the breakaway nation of Biafra to win independence from Nigeria and the vicious war that ensued.

  4. The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women by Elizabeth Norton
    Just what it says on the tin, but very well done. An interesting look into an area of history that gets overlooked all too often.

  5. Hoax: How the Left Invents Hate Crimes and Sells a Fake Race War to the American People by Wilfred Reilly
    Reilly is a professor of political science who compiled and examined a database of 409 incidents that were initially publicized as hate crimes but were later revealed to be at least dubious. Published just as the Jussie Smollett case broke, the book examines cases where the initial report gets wide coverage, while the later reveal of the truth is barely noticed. One frequent pattern that he has spotted is where activists create an incident (usually by putting up graffiti or sending themselves a death threat) and then use the ensuing publicity to aggrandize themselves.

  6. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Carolina Criado Perez
    Fascinating look into how both historically and contemporaneously much of data collection focusses on men or excludes women. Sometimes, like for drug testing, this is both understandable (the companies do not want to risk what could happen if women in the test group are pregnant or become pregnant and birth defects develop) but also dangerous when drugs are later given to women.

  7. The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Midieval Science by Seb Falk
    Much of what we think that we know about the "Dark Ages" (a term that historians long ago abandoned) is wrong, and this book breaks down more of the myths that continue. Going into great detail about how medieval scholars knew much more than you probably think about astronomy and other sciences.

  8. The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse
    Another entry in the Jeeves and Wooster series, and Wooster once again tries to remain unmarried despite his family and society. Wodehouse is a master of humor and observation.

  9. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
    Weir is the author of The Martian, and this is another great hard science fiction novel. The hero is part of a highly speculative team that has to solve the problem of what is threatening all life on Earth. Like the Martian, lots of stuff goes wrong and has to be overcome with science. Highly recommended

  10. The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis
    The basis of the Netflix series, I liked it much better than the very good TV show. 

  11. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
    Still working my way through classics I skipped when younger. Though dated frequently, the book still holds up as an exciting tale of alien invasion.

  12. Who We Are and How We Go Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich
    Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Med School and an expert on ancient DNA, writes an engrossing book about the current state of our knowledge about ancient populations, their migrations and how populations have mixed over the years. The amount of ancient DNA available has exploded in recent years, and Reich says that research shows that basically no group anywhere on Earth has been in its current location more than 8 to 10 thousand years, and that history is replete with groups invading, conquering, and replacing other groups.

My least favorite books:
  1. The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
    This book is loved by so many people, but I hated it so much. First off, this is the typical book aimed at women that if you reversed the gender of the characters, they would immediately see that the character that they are supposed to identify with is a terrible person. Second, the book is supposedly a presentation of Rumi and his ideas, but the character of Rumi, as presented in this book, and his great friend, Shams of Tabriz, are just obnoxious and would have been terrible to know. Plus the writing isn't even good, as every character in the, whether 13th Century Persian mystic or 20 Century American housewife, all sound exactly the same.

  2. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
    Again, I don't get what people see in this. It is supposed to be a heart-warming story of these elderly folk who fight back against injustice. But they do this by engaging in major felonies and endangering the lives of numerous people.

  3. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
    This is supposed to be a classic. But nothing happens. Most of the book is told via the diary or letters of the governess of two children, and her writing is painful to read. James is clearly making her writing this bad, since the other parts of the book aren't written like this. Just dreadful. 


The Most Annual Book Post Yet

 For the fourth year in a row, here are the best books that I've read this year. As usual, I'm listing them in alphabetical order, not ranking them.

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    I'm trying to catch up on a few classics each year. There are three of them that made my list this year, including this one. It is the first Tolstoy book that I've read, and it was amazing. Despite being very long (about 900 pages) and having a huge cast of characters, Tolstoy make the themes that he covers vibrant and interesting. 
  2. A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher
    Extremely appropriate for the year, this post-apocalyptic novel sees most of the population of the world killed off by a plague. The few survivors have trouble producing female children, which further limits the population. Dogs have the this same problem, so when a young adolescent boy's dog is stolen, he sets out after the thief.
  3. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne
    The Comanche tribe ruled a huge empire in the south-west of the US, and repeatedly defeated all enemies they faced, including the Spanish, Mexicans and the Americans, until finally the invention of repeating rifles turned the tide. Incredibly fierce warriors and quite possibly the best horsemen ever, the Comanches ruled their territory with an iron hand. Because their nomadic lifestyle made having children difficult, they frequently captured young children from outside the tribe and adopted them. One such young white girl from Texas became the mother of Quanah, the last of the great Comanche leaders.  
  4. Humble Pi: A Comedy of Math Errors by Matt Parker
    Matt Parker is a YouTube educator/entertainer who discusses mathematical issues. This book looks at some of the most disasterous (and frequenly amusing) mistakes that have ever happened with math, such as the unit conversion problem that destroyed a NASA Mars probe.
  5. IQ by Joe Ide
    Isiah Quintabe, the hero of IQ (and several other books in this series) is basically Sherlock Homes transplanted to modern day inner-city Los Angeles. Ide, a cousin of Francis Fukiyama, grew up in South Central LA, and uses his knowledge of this environment to craft a memorable hero, a brilliant young man who uses his wits to solve crimes that the police cannot or will not take on.
  6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    The second classic on the list, I really loved this much more than I would have thought. The story of the March sisters becoming young adults during the era of the US Civil War is well known. 
  7. The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne
    The first of a four book series (so far), The Naturalist is about naive scientist Theo Cray, who uses his scientific training to reveal the existance of a serial killer, becoming an unwilling investigator after a former student of his is murdered. Lots of interesting scientific details throughout the book.
  8. Sense and Sensability by Jane Austen
    The third Austen book I've read, and by far my favorite. The two eldest Dashwood sisters navigate the troubled waters of romance. Beautifully written, with lots of interesting details about the time period. Austen was a genius at observing and detailing human behavior.
  9. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
    The two Sisters brothers are hired killers in the Old West, and they've been given an assignment to kill a prospector during the California Gold Rush. The story is told via narration by one of the brothers, and is beautifully done. If you have ever read True Grit, this is the only book that I've read that is in its class for developing the character of the narrator via the story.
  10. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois and 
  11. Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington
    I chose to read these two books for this year after the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests. Du Bois and Washington were the two towering civil figures of the post-Reconstruction era in the US, and frequent rivals, as they had differeing visions of how to improve the lot of blacks in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Washington's book is an autobiography that details his work, including founding the Tuskeegee Institute, to uplift his people via education and training. Du Bois's book is a collection of essays that he wrote for various publications and details his vision for government intervention and his disagreements with Washington's plans and actions. 
  12. War Lord by Bernard Cornwell
    The 13th and final book in the Saxon series that began with The Last Kingdom in 2004, War Lord see the completion of the unification of England under the rule of Alfred the Great's grandson, Aethelstan. The entire series is well worth reading, as it covers the entire life of the fictional character Uhtred of Bebbanburg, who is captured and adopted by the pagan Danes when they invade Northumbria, but who ends up fighting for the Christian Saxons under Alfred, then his children and finally Aethelstan. Cornwell, who is also the author of the Sharpe series, is a master at military historical fiction.


The Even More Annual Book Post

For the third straight year, here are the 10 best books that I read last year. The list is in alphabetical order.

  1. The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman
    I've been trying to catch up on some older sci-fi that I missed when I was younger and read more. Haldeman is the author of the classic "Forever War", which is quite often cited as the best war novel, period, sci-fi or not. This one is a lot less serious, but still interesting and fun. A grad student accidentally invents a time-machine that only goes forward and the amount of time that it jumps forward increases each time he uses it.
  2. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
    An examination of why it seems that college age students in the West are incapable of handling dissent and seem to take offense at everything. Haidt, the author of the great "The Righteous Mind" (which if you haven't read, stop reading this and go get that done now), is a college professor, and so has seen this first hand, while Lukianoff was the founder of FIRE, a group that fights for free speech rights on campus. An excellent and balanced look into how we got into this situation and several great proposed solutions.
  3. Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by by Neil Gaiman, et al
    Just what it says on the tin. If you loved The Hitchhiker's Guide, you will probably love this too. 
  4. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    A novel about a lonely and damaged young woman who doesn't really know how damaged she is or how to deal with the situation, but who, against her will, develops a couple of friendships that help her begin to right her ship. There were a lot of things about this to like. I especially liked that the novel avoided the usual sort of cheap romantic solutions and that the resolution isn't a cheap or easy thing.
  5. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
    A non-fiction look at the plight of poor rural whites in America as they face addiction, joblessness and family breakdown. Vance grew up in this environment before he left to go to college, and he uses his family to demonstrate the troubles that this group is facing. Though the book is apolitical and was written and published prior to the 2016 election, it does give hints of why this group might have been willing to take a chance on a non-politician who seemed to be the only one who cared about them.
  6. The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
    I first read this more than 10 years ago. It is a fictional retelling of the Danish invasion of what would become England and how Alfred the Great was able to begin to push the invaders back. Cornwell has now written several other books in this series (all of which I've read as well), and it has been made into a TV series, but this book still the best of the lot. It's told through the point of view of a young Saxon warrior who was raised by and is sympathetic to the Danes, but who is fated to fight for the Saxons.
  7. The Library Book by Susan Orlean
    This book tells the story of the fire at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986 that destroyed and damaged over a million books, as well as discussion the history of libraries and the LA Public Library system, the effort to repair many of the damaged books, and the importance of libraries in our lives.
  8. Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card
    The hero of this story has a unique power which has caused him to become an outcast in school, as fellow students and authorities misunderstand him. He becomes the at-first unwilling friend of another high school outcast, who encourages him to learn more about his power and others like himself. And then he is compelled to use it to try to help rescue his friend from danger. 
  9. Thank You, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
    The fifth book in the tales of the upper class dim-bulb Bertie Wooster and his brilliant valet Jeeves. The Jeeves and Wooster novels are delightfully funny and I'm working my way through all of them at the rate of a couple a year. 
  10. World without End by Ken Follett
    A sequel to the brilliant "Pillars of the Earth", set two centuries after the building of the cathedral in Kingsbury. The story once again focuses on a builder who struggles to make the town better against the forces of ignorance and stupidity. 
I didn't read any terrible books this year. I one I most disliked was Wuthering Heights. I've been trying to read several classics that I either didn't read or didn't take seriously or understand when I was in school, and most of the ones I've read this year have been good to very good (namely Frankenstein, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Hunger, The Plague, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). But this one is not. It's long, depressing, not much happens, and everyone in the novel is terrible. I don't understand how this one is a classic. However, your mileage may vary.


A Bleak Future

I know some people. Some time back, they formed an organization. While this group isn't perfect, it does some important things that no other group does as well.
Anyway, this organization has gotten itself into a bit of debt problem.
Right now, there are about 33 people in the group, and the organization has debts of about $2.2 million. The group keeps pretty good records and are remarkably open, so they happen to know that, collectively, they earn about $1.96 million per year.
Their budget for the current year is to spend about $400,000 on various projects. Unfortunately, they are only going to collect about $318,000 in dues from their members. Pretty clearly something is going to have to be done to resolve this.
Last week, some of the leaders of the group suggested that perhaps some of the spending could be cut back a bit. As I understand it, it went something like this:
"Take a look at this $1.76 that we spend on this charity. I'm not saying that it isn't a good charity; it is. It does great work. But we are $2.2 million in debt and will add another $70,000+ this year, so this seems like something we should look at. This cut is only 0.0004% of the current budget."
Unfortunately, the membership of the group did not react... how can I put this... rationally to this suggestion.
I worry about the long-term future for this group.


The Increasingly Annual Book Post

Continuing the tradition that began 11 years ago and then took a decade off before continuing last year, here are the 10 best books that I read for the first time last year. They are in alphabetical order, not ranked 1 to 10.

  1. Infinite by Jeremy Robinson
    A science fiction story that begins with an intriguing premise and then takes a direction that I didn't see coming. One of the more original books I've read in a while.
  2. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
    I've long loved Hornby's books, so I was quite glad to come across one I hadn't read yet. A great story of a mismatched collection of characters who meet up when they plan to commit suicide. Full of great character moments and realizations.
  3. The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
    This seems like a simple survival story, and it is a very well executed one. But even more, it is a love story, not in the stupid Hollywood/romance novel sort of way, but in a much deeper and meaningful way. Also about honor and choices that one has to live with. I haven't seen the movie that was made from the book because I'm frankly afraid of what Hollywood might have done with this story.
  4. Norwood by Charles Portis
    Portis wrote True Grit (which is great as well), and this book, set in the 1950s, has his same ear for dialog that made that book so humorous.
  5. The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English by Lynne Murphy
    Murphy is an American linguist who has been living and working in the UK for several years now, and is an expert in the similarities and differences in the various types of English. This book is a great in-depth look at the relationship between US and UK English. She examines the history and the way that the people of the two countries feel about their English and the other.
  6. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
    I actually read two great books by Winchester this year, this one and Krakatoa. It was hard to limit him to one spot on this list, as both were great.
  7. The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
    I'd heard a bit about this one in college, but never got around to reading it until now. I really missed out. Orwell is of course a great writer, but here he turns his pen to reporting on the living conditions of miners and other working poor in the North of England between the wars. Tons of fascinating details about exactly how they lived, how much things cost and how they struggled. Orwell was deeply sympathetic to them, but at the same time was clear-eyed about their faults as well as their virtues.
  8. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
    Another book I had heard much about but never read. A funny satire of the news business that seems just as fresh today as when it was written.
  9. A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
    What if Sherlock Holmes was a woman? That is the premise of this book, and Thomas pulls it off brilliantly. One could quibble that the view of Victorian England borders on a caricature, and that the mystery part of the novel is not as strong as it could be, and you'd be right. But Thomas's Charlotte Holmes is just so completely what a female Holmes would have been, while remaining faithful to the Holmes of the canon that you have to forgive the weak points.
  10. Very Good Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
    This is the third Jeeves and Wooster book I've read, and they are all great. 
As a bonus, here are the worst books I read:

  1. Bloody Confused!: A Clueless American Sportswriter Seeks Solace in English Soccer by Chuck Culpepper.
    I should like this. Like Culpepper, I'm an American who has fallen in love with English football. But Culpepper is determined to make himself unlikable, insulting anyone who still likes American sports or disagrees with him about anything. There is a definite element of "Converts make the most obnoxious members" going on here. It would be interesting to see if perhaps Culpepper has moderated his passion now, especially since his chosen team, Portsmouth, has been relegated twice since the book was written.
  2. Upright Beasts by Michel Lincoln
    A collection of short stories that range from the passable to the bizarre to the dreadful, mostly the latter.
  3. The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
    This book starts off so promising, as it details the lives of a couple who tend a lonely lighthouse off the coast of Australia shortly after World War I. I love books that tell about people who don't get noticed but who make our lives possible. And then, the couple in the book steal a baby. Yet the book expects us to continue to feel sympathetic to them.


Feral Cat Lounging Poolside

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

A History of the World in 6 GlassesA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting and fun look at world history through six drinks: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-cola, and how each drink impacted and reflect the era in which it was the dominant beverage. Lots of great tidbits about each drink, like:

*how the earliest civilizations used beer as basically liquid bread
*how many of the traditions we have for sharing drinks together go back thousands of years to the beginnings of the earliest civilizations
*how the Chinese tried valiantly to protect the secret of growing tea and how it came to spread around the world

A great read for anyone who loves history but who is interested in a new perspective instead of the usually examination of individuals, events or ideologies.

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