Tuesday, December 29, 2015

10 Minutes About The Books I ALMOST Read in 2015

I'm going to do a ranking of all the books I read or tried to in 2015, with a bit of discussion of them. The list is incomplete, because my audiobooks have a history that only goes back a month or two -- so I may not remember all those. Although, that probably means they weren't very good. While my memory isn't very great -- and seems to be getting worse almost minute-by-minute -- if a book is really good it probably sticks in my mind.

I'll begin with the first set of

The Ones I Didn't Bother Finishing: 

One of the things I realized as I made this list was how awesome most of the books on the list were.  The fact that some are near the bottom of the list doesn't mean they were bad, it just means that in comparison to the other books they didn't finish as high. "Someone's gotta be last, right?" -- every gym teacher I ever had, by way of... encouragement? Sure let's go with that.

The reason the books are almost uniformly good is that I mostly get my books from the library on my Kindle, so they're free -- and hence I can start reading almost anything, but because I didn't pay for it, I can stop if it's not interesting to me without feeling I wasted my money. Which means the books I did finish were a higher grade of book overall.

Here are the bottom-ranked ones I stopped reading:

36. The Islanders, Christopher Priest. This guy wrote The Prestige, which I liked, and his books sound amazing. Then, the first one of them I got was this, and I started reading it Thanksgiving weekend. I was a chapter into it when I found out it's written like an almanac or something and that slowly the story is revealed. I was so disappointed I stopped reading, then I thought I should challenge myself but I stopped again, and then I deleted it. I later downloaded The Adjacent by him but couldn't bring myself to start it.

35. Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem: Lethem appears on here three times and he has written a book I am dying (almost literally) to read: As She Climbed Across The Table, which is about a woman in love with a black hole. This wasn't the FIRST book I read by him; it was actually the third and it was the first I gave up on. The story starts off so slowly, with so much blather. It's something about communists or something. Pleh. There's better books by him, two on this list.

34. Food: A Love Story, Jim Gaffigan. I am a big fan of Gaffigan's, and I can rewatch his comedy specials over and over. But I was disappointed in his first book, Dad Is Fat, not because it wasn't funny but because so much of it was simply his actual jokes, just in book form. I get it: comedians want to make money, but if you're going to write a book, at least warn people not to buy it if they've seen your specials.  Then this one started out feeling like the version of his jokes that didn't make the cut for the stage show, and about 10 pages in I gave it up.

33. An Arsonist's Guide to Writers Homes In New England, Brock Clarke: Stephen King said that readers look for voice, that the actual first line or chapter of a story, even the story, isn't as important as the voice, the way the story is told. I don't think that's 100% true, but this book suffered from the voice problem, among others. I picked it up because of the title, but the book goes downhill from there. It's like the author had this great title and then had to pack a story into it. The first chapter or two whip through the guy burning down Emily Dickinson's house, going to prison, getting out, going to college, getting married, having the son of the people who died in the fire show up, and him getting kicked out of his house. I had no idea where the rest of the story would go, but the book felt like a summary of 10 other books. And the main character was just sort of drifting through. You know how in third-person narrator stories, the narrator is kind of there with the characters but not really there? That's how this book felt -- only the story was told in the first person. So it had the feeling of the narrator watching a short film that summarized his life, and explaining it. I gave up on it about where he goes home to find his dad had a stroke.

32. I Was Told There'd Be Cake, Sloane Crosley: This is a book of semiautobiographical essays along the lines of David Sedaris, and while the one or two I listened to were well-enough done, here is the problem with everyone having a blog/writing a semiautobiographical book: so often the stories feel like they exist just to justify the book. I call this "The Chicken Problem," after an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

"The Chicken Problem" stems from an episode of the Kardashians where they decided that they would raise chickens in the house, for some reason they gave on the show but the real reason being that it was presumably fun to watch rich vapid people chase chickens around their house. Chickens have showed up on lots of other reality shows since then, or their equivalent. Reality shows tend to encourage people to do dumb/interesting stuff because honestly most of our lives are interesting only to ourselves. I have no doubt this blog would get better hits if I bought a chicken and chased it around.

So this book began with a fairly interesting essay about why the author had a  bunch of toy ponies (it has to do with a line she says on dates), and then sort of drifted off. I think I listened to the second essay but I gave up pretty quickly thereafter. It was both uninteresting and trying too hard.

31. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, Mindy Kaling: This one, too. I like The Mindy Project, although that series has gone downhill in the last two seasons as Mindy and Danny just lie to each other and fight. If I wanted to see that I'd play my old home movies from growing up.  (Frowny face with tear.) So I thought this might be a funny book. It wasn't, really. Much of it was sort of uninspired would-be funny stuff. The story of how she got famous doing a two-person play in which she played Ben Affleck was interesting but I stopped listening after that.

That's it for this time. more to come.

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