For 2014, I wanted to read 100 books this year. All in, I read 120. This number is inclusive of graphic novels. I include those titles, but not individual comics, as the length of graphic novels tends to be in excess of 150 pages, some as many as 400+ pages. The list above is ordered by rating, descending. I don’t see any rhyme or reason to the sub-sort within ratings, so don’t read anything into that.
While one takeaway from the list might be that I read a lot of graphic novels, I would offer a slightly different view. I would submit that the story telling of some of these graphic novels is amazing.
For example, Vinland Saga, which currently has 5 books available, all rank in my top reads of the year. My personal opinion is that Makoto Yukimura has done a masterful job in taking historical fact, and fictionalizing it into a genius work of manga storytelling. I search Amazon often looking for the release date of the next book, and when there is a date, I add it to my calendar or pre-order it (if available). It’s that good. Again, personal opinion, and your mileage may vary. Another set of graphic novels about which I cannot say enough good things about the story telling is “American Vampire” by Scott Snyder. Vampires are hardly anything new in the story telling arena these days, but Snyder does a great job with the material.
There is another title in list of my top rated that stands alone for 2014. “The Martian” by Andy Weir. I have heard it described as MacGyver on Mars, or Robinson Crusoe for the space fairing set. I loved this book. Loved it. My wife read and enjoyed this book. That’s saying something. I am very much looking forward to the movie adaptation of this book, and hope that they don’t screw it up. Tons of fun movie-appropriate magic in the writing. Andy Weir has created a real gem here, and I look forward to making the recommendation to my kids that they should read this book. I will buy Andy’s next book review unseen.
With all of the economic uncertainty of the last few years, I found Michael Lewis’s “The Flash Boys” very approachable and informative. It serves as another examples of Lewis’s ability to take what would otherwise be very dry content and weave an intriguing narrative which draws in the reader. I read a few books on this, and related topics, in the last couple of years. If you are a fan of Lewis, you won’t be disappointed, but if you want the better book, read “Dark Pools” by Scott Patterson.
Getting a 5 star from me is hard to do, which is why I have so many 4 star rated books. These are many good books in that pile, and some certainly worthy of note.
Of the business books in the 4 star category, “Creativity, Inc” by Ed Catmull, and “Hooked” by Nir Eyal stood out as books from which I learned new things. “Hooked” specifically gave me new insights into how I thought about building user experiences for the Kindle app during my tenure at Amazon.
Somewhat related as a business book, but more likely to be classified as a business psychology, is “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. Dweck does a good job of making this content approachable, and rewired my thinking with regard to how to think about personal and professional growth.
In the category of disappointments for 2014, I would have to say “Influx” by Daniel Suarez, and “Cibola Burn” by James S.A. Corey. Suarez burst onto my “favorite author” list with “Daemon” and “Freedom.” Sadly, his follow-on books have not lived up to my early placed praise. “Kill Decision” was just as rooted in the improbable and impossible as “Influx” with too many “oh come on!” moments. As for the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey, it feels like the books have declined in quality and hit a stasis point where they are not objectionable, but not amazing. The high point for me was the cold open of “Caliban’s War.” “Cibola Burn” felt like the author had decided that the model of the SyFy show “Defiance” was the right one for the story moving forward. Not sure I agree. While I will likely continue reading the series, with the next book coming out mid-2015, I have lowered my expectations. The only reason I am excited for the next iteration is the end of “Cibola Burn” makes reference to something I loved about “Caliban’s War.” I would also add Conn Iggulden’s “War of the Roses” to this list, and this was the worst of the bunch. Not sure why this one failed, as it was the same blueprint that he used for his Genghis Khan, and Julius Caesar series. Ultimately this was a completely forgettable title.
For the Triathlete’s and other endurance sports nuts (like myself) who happen on this blog, I have a few suggestions. Without question, the best book of 2014 was “Faster” by Jim Gourley. So much science. So much awesome. So much demystified. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it. “Unlikely Finisher 140.6” by Dale Patelinsek reads like what it is. An overly long race report, but clearly a self-published title, typos and all. Still, a good read, especially for anyone who is looking to do their first Ironman. For the runners, “Running with the Buffaloes” by Chris Lear was a great embedded reporter read about the Cross Country team at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Last, there is “Spartan Up” by Joe De Sana. Ugh. Some interesting anecdotes, but I have a sense that this is written in the same voice of the author, and it’s irritating. If Joe De Sana ever read this, his response would be “and you couldn’t hack it in my life” or something like that. That’s the impression I was given anyway. I had trouble reading the book because so much of his ego comes through.
A science fiction title that surprised me the most was “Sand” by Hugh Howey. I tried reading the “Wool” series. I read the first two books. I couldn’t finish the series. I didn’t understand all the praise Howey was getting. Personal opinion. “Sand,” however, completely surprised me. Yes it dragged in the middle a bit, but it was a well envisioned, and very novel, story.
The last book for discussion is a non-fiction fare: “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan. It’s hard to really comprehend what this period of history must have been like. The writing alone paints a vision of a hell-scape which is almost inconceivable by today’s standards. I suppose an on-the-ground reporting of what it was like at Ground Zero on 9/11 will feel the same for future generations. The scale and destruction was simply impossible to capture in words. The difference here is that there is very little in the way of photographic evidence, never mind lack of video evidence, to really paint the picture. This was a a great book, made good by being overly long and a bit too self-referential.