Monday, December 28, 2009

Everyday I read the book

I hope my regular readers (both of you) will forgive me as this is not a hockey post - although if you look closely you will find two, maybe three, books about hockey. This is a post about reading.

Inspired by my pal Peter Simpson and his annual book entry at The Big Beat, I decided to keep track of all the books I read (or tried to read) in 2009.

Here they are: forty-seven non-fiction and five fiction titles.

Unlike Peter, rather than list them chronologically, I’ve listed mine with the favourites up front, the good but not great in the middle, and the ones I couldn’t finish (or wish I hadn’t finished) at the end.

I’ve also tucked in a comment or two about the book…some are blank as there just wasn’t much to say.

Favourites (alphabetically)

1. 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, Tom Moon
Often songs or musicians can serve as a gateway into other related genres, bands, or tracks. This book helps connect those dots and serves up some great suggestions, selections and insights. Tom Moon has a website and there are two great podcasts with Tom available over at All Songs Considered that you can listen to here and here.

2. Alphabet Juice, Roy Blount jr.
I almost didn’t make it past the introduction but I’m sure glad I did. An A to Z compendium of insights, tricks, tips and examples of great (and not so great) writing.

3. The Big Sort, Bill Bishop
Maybe the best book I read this year. A fascinating look at how communities self-sort and what it means for culture and politics.

4. Cultural Amnesia, Clive James
I have to admit I haven’t quite finished this book yet, but I know I will. Forty essays about great thinkers, writers and artists of the 20th Century.

5. Farm City, Novella Carpenter
A true story about a woman who starts a farm on an abandoned lot in inner-city Oakland. I was so moved by this book that I bought 1/3 of a hog from a local farmer and may even take an interest in my wife's garden this spring. I hope to never buy grocery store meat again.

6. How Fiction Works, James Wood
Simply brilliant. I don’t even read much fiction anymore and I wanted to just curl up inside this slender book. Wonderful.

7. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
Not my usual fare or area of interest but it's brilliantly done. An in-depth look at the atom from the turn of the century to the dropping of atomic bombs along with the scientists who made it all happen. Won a slew of well deserved awards.

8. Netherland, Joseph O’Neill
One of just five pieces of fiction I read this year and miles away the best of the bunch. I read this in about three sittings and then asked my wife to read it so I’d have someone to discuss it with.

9. Not Quite What I Was Planning, Larry Smith, Rachel Fershleiser
Six word memoirs – tougher than it sounds (d’oh that’s 7 words!)

10. Orwell in Spain, George Orwell
Orwell’s description of being shot and, presumably, dying is one of the best pieces of writing I have ever encountered. I don’t like to mark a book, but that’s the type of passage that calls for a bent corner and marginalia.

11. Pictures at a Revolution: The Birth of the New Hollywood, Mark Harris
A very cool look at the five films nominated for the 1968 Best Picture Oscar, their origins and the impact they had on Hollywood. Enough factoids in here to get you through any dinner party (Robert Redford and Candace Bergen were originally tipped to play Benjamin Braddock and Elaine in The Graduate).

12. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward Tufte
I wish I was this smart.

13. World War Z, Max Brooks
A brilliant concept, smashing execution and loads of fun. Only downside is my wife is very tired of hearing my plans for when the zombies come.

Glad I read ‘em (almost alphabetically)

14. The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Benjamin Wallace
American billionaire buys centuries old wine – was it forged? It's clear who might have forged them, so call this one a how-dunnit?

15. Double Helix, J. Watson
Amazingly candid book about the race to discover DNA.

16. Eisenhower: The President, Stephen Ambrose
Formerly a blind-spot in my historical knowledge (I was inspired to read this after finishing The Making of the Atomic Bomb).

17. Farewell my Subaru, Doug Fine
Interesting story of a guy who moves off the grid.

18. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, Nassim Nicholas Taleb
I wish I was this smart.

19. Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark, Jim Bouton
Corrupt small-town politics get in the way of minor league baseball dreams.

20. The Gay Telease Reader, Gay Telease
A wonderful collection of great essays by Telease. “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” is tremendous.

21. The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire, Matt Taibbi
Hard to believe these stories are true. His writings on Congress are dispiriting; on religion sadly funny.

22. The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Frank Rich
Like his great Sunday New York Times column but in book form.

23. The Guinea Pig Diaries, A.J. Jacobs
Big fan of Mr. Jacobs' books. A collection of his essays involving personal experiments like radical truth, posing for a naked photo shoot, and outsourcing elements of his personal and professional life.

24. Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, John Allen Paulos
I’m still innumerate, although a little less so.

25. King of Russia, Dave King
Former NHL Coach spends a season coaching in Russia. Interesting look at the KHL and Russian culture.

26. The Long Tail, Chris Anderson
A very cool examination of the distribution of goods.

27. Lush Life, Richard Price
Another well crafted police procedural from one of the best.

28. The New Asian Hemisphere, Kishore Mahbubani

29. Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

30. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, Alex Ross
I have no idea why I ordered this book from the library (I don't even remember doing so). Glad I did as it was a very interesting read.

31. Retrofitting Suburbia, Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson
Ideas for what to do with those big box stores and the pod-style planning of suburbia.

32. The Road to Hockeytown, Jim Devellano (with Roger Lajoie)
I reviewed it here.

33. Strip Tease, Carl Hiaasen
Not a bad book, but more importantly a good lesson: I have to remember to pack more books for the cottage next summer.

34. The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene Dubois
Inspired to read this after seeing Pixar’s Up (yeah, I cried). Some really clever stuff going on in here. Read this with my six year old daughter.

35. The New Game: How Hockey Saved Itself, Steve Paikin
The intro contains some of the best writing on what it is to be a beer league hockey player.

36. The Real Price of Everything, Michael Lewis
I only read the material by Lewis (this thing is bigger than a cinder block). Lewis could write the phone book and I’d read it, he's one of the best writers out there.

37. The Last Tycoons, William Cohan
Who knew the melt-down of Wall Street Firm Bear Sterns and the credit crunch could produce a page-turner?

38. The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America, Maury Klein
A very (almost too) detailed look at the evolution of power and technology from steam to the modern era.

39. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Andres Duany, Jeff Speck
Some cool stuff about Markham, Ontario and more of the usual new urbanism theories.

40. A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books, Alex Beam
An interesting look at the University of Chicago/Encyclopedia Britannica's "Great Books of Western Civilization" a 54 volume set (yup, 54 volumes) that sold millions of copies in the 1950s and 60s and then pretty much disappeared.

41. The Fix, Declan Hill
An investigative journalist's examination of allegations of match fixing in the world of professional soccer. Great topic, sadly it's told with the tone of a boring CBC documentary.

Meh (I think this is in chronological order)

42. The City in History, Lewis Mumford
Mumford's luddite tendencies were grating. I much preferred The Great Cities in History by John Julias Norwich and Cities by John Reader.

43. Alpha Dogs: The Americans Who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business, James Harding
Some interesting stuff, but too much emphasis on the whole “great men” version of history

44. Who’s Your City? Richard Florida
I think he keeps writing the same book. They're not getting better.

45. My White Planet, Mark Anthony Jarman
I wanted to like this more than I did. I’m a huge fan of his earlier work.

46. The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris
Primary lesson of this book is time management - finishing this book wasn't worth my time.

47. Leafs Abomination, Michael Grange and David Feschuk
My review can be found here.

48. Snark, David Denby
One of the most misguided books I read this year. Humour is far too subjective a topic to take so seriously.

49. Deer Hunting with Jesus, Joe Bageant
200 pages of being hectored by a 60 year old who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. What fun.

50. Spain: A Culinary Road Trip, Mario Batali
TV series was great. Book, not so much.

51. Room for Thought: Rethinking Home and Community Design, Avi Friedman
No fault of the author, but this was not quite what I was hoping for.

52. The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics was Reborn, Louisa Gilder
If you want to read imaginary conversations between big-name physicists, this is for you…


  1. That's a whole lot of reading, mate. I've taken notes. Thank you.

  2. I have about five, maybe six, on your favourites that I first took note of when I saw them, so I'll definitely need to read them now.

    Your minimal use of the word "interesting" is duly noted as well, since that word itself can encompass so many feelings. I think as a rule, I try to avoid anything, whether it be books, foods, movies, etc. that has "interesting" as the main adjective. Thanks for the recommendations through your short blurbs.

  3. I was going to comment but I can't beat the "How to read a book" one.

  4. I like to see that reading is still popular given my day to day experiences in attempting to convince kids to read more.

    I have nothing close to 52 titles, but I don't think any of the ones I read are on your list so I'm going to add the ones I can remember (in no particular order):

    1. What is the What - Dave Eggers
    2. Collapse - Jared Diamond
    3. The Word of God - Thomas Disch
    4. The Upside of Down - Thomas Homer-Dixon
    5. The Pleasure of Hating - William Hazlitt
    6. Wake - Robert J. Sawyer
    7. The World Without Us - Alan Weisman
    8. The Road - Cormack McCarthy
    9. Ascent of Money - Niall Ferguson
    10./11. Blink! and Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
    12. Survival of the Sickest - Sharon Maolem/Johnathan Prince
    13. Does God Play Dice - Neil Stewart
    14. Decoding the Universe - Charles Seife
    15. Fear and Trembling - Soren Kierkegaard

    and I'm running out of titles I can remember easily... but yeah... year end lists are fun. Music is another good one I'm interested in.

    I also find the whole list of what people read and listen to (musically) is a solid window into their interests (i.e. Soul). This is why it's so interesting/creepy what Amazon/Google/etc. can track just by looking at what you download or search for.

    Data Mining is scary/awesome.

  5. Eyebleaf - Would love to see your list, I imagine working on The Agenda exposes you to great titles/authors.

    Bkblades - I was paranoid for a second there, thought I'd used "interesting" in 50 of 52 descriptions. It's a difficult adjective to avoid. "Exciting" is another one that makes my skin crawl.

    Chemmy - I can't believe a one sentence review of the Great Books produced four paragraphs of spam.

    Sburtch - Thanks for the list, that's great stuff. Would love to know which of the 15 on your list were knockouts/standouts for you. I'm always looking for another good read.

  6. MF37 - Given some of the green leanings I noticed in some of your prior reads, you'd probably really enjoy #2, #4, #7, and #12.

    #3 is funny if you've read Disch before, aren't a huge fan of religion, and are aware of his dislike of Philip K Dick.

    #13 and #14 I'd recommend if you're REALLY interested in Math, and Chaos and Information theory... otherwise they might seem a bit dry.

    #5 and #15 are interesting philisophically.

    #10 and #11 are easy to read, but Gladwell is a bit of a tool.

    #1 and #8 are both uplifting and AMAZINGLY depressing. I literally cried at points when reading each book. Yes I'm willing to admit that in public - even if it emasculates me a tad.

    #9 is just interesting if you're into economics... and I always enjoy reading Ferguson's writing.

    Oh and just to clear up any confusion - the SBurtch thing is my google profile... aka Steve from

    Thanks again for the reads.

  7. If you enjoyed "Fooled by Randomness", I'd recommend Black Swan. It's really interesting stuff if you skip over the pages where Taleb goes on about how smart he is (which is about 50% of the book).

    A few others that I really enjoyed and it sounds like you might like:

    Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath - Some very fascinating stuff.

    The Paradox Of Choice by Barry Schwartz - A little bit outdated now but still interesting.

    Anything by Seth Godin - Since it's good stuff and also his books are about 50 pages long so you can pad your list.

    Predictably Irrational LP: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely - Probably the best book I've read in the past five years.