The year 2004, in books

I did this last year and it seems as good a way to sum up the year as any. An asterisk indicates books that I'd read before. I read more books this year, but a lot more were rereads, so overall I read fewer new books. (Hm. That's not good.)

1. Tropical Classical, Pico Iyer (Jan)*
A collection of essays from all over the place --- both literally (based on his global travels) and metaphorically (based on his thoughts about random subjects, ranging from punctuation to silence to frequent flyer miles.) I used to reprint a couple for students to read because he's got a lyrical yet immensely readable style (assuming the reader is halfway literate) and I think he writes much better when he's not pontificating about world affairs. (Does he still write for Time? I haven't touched a copy of the red-margined rag in years.)

2. The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood (Jan)
Eh. If it hadn't been the only English-language book, besides the Lonely Planet, that we had with us in Vietnam, I can't say that I would've finished reading it. I love me my Atwood, but this was angsty Atwood and quite hard to stomach after I enjoyed Oryx and Crake so much last year.

3. Belgarath the Sorcerer, David Eddings (Feb) *
4. Pawn of Prophecy, David Eddings (Feb) *
I picked up Eddings when I was in my mid-teens and never quite put it down, even though it's formulaic and utterly predictable and extremely awfully written in certain points. (Mixing up the name of the Arendish god Chaldan with the name of one of the prominent villains Asharak towards the end of the Malloreon series was just the least of Eddings's sins.) It makes for good bedtime reading, though --- it doesn't tax the brain, I already know the plot and plot 'twists', and I can put it down at any time when the sleepies finally hit.

5. Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling (Feb)
The start of my Harry Potter phase. It helped that Ondine had all the books, so I didn't have to buy any of them. I'd put off reading them for years because of the hype, then caved in and decided I had to see what the fuss was all about. (I think the catalyst was when a Salon article referenced "Muggles" and I didn't understand it.) Five books later, I was pretty pleased with Rowling's results, although the increasing length of each installment is starting to wear on me. Learn some discipline, woman! I admit, though, that I don't love Happy Rotter enough to start buying the books, even when hardback versions of The Goblet of Fire were $6.99 on clearance at Borders. I'll continue mooching off Ondine for the next book ...

6. Queen of Sorcery, David Eddings (Feb)
See 4 above.

7. Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (Feb)
8. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (Feb)
9. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (Feb)
See 5 above.

10. Magician's Gambit, David Eddings (Feb) *
See 4 above.

11. Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (Mar)
See 5 above.

12. Babyville, Jane Green (Mar)
My first encounter with chick lit. I wasn't repulsed, but I can't say this was a shining example of the genre's potential. Plus acquaintances kept giving me knowing looks when they saw me reading a book with the word "baby" in the title.

13. Down Under, Bill Bryson (Mar) *
Last year's comments (no. 8 in the list) still hold true. I think it's required reading at this point, to ensure that I make it through the year with my sanity and sense of humour intact.

14. Man and Boy, Tony Parsons (Mar)
My first encounter with guy lit. Readable, bonus points for Star Wars references, and lighthearted books by Brit authors are rarely a total letdown for me. (I'm easy, I know.)

15. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman (Mar)
(Fuck, it wasn't till March that I hit my first substantive new read? I gotta do better this year.) Gaiman is, well, god and Neverwhere is more beautiful than any fallen angel.

16. Lost in Translation, Nicole Mones (Mar)
This has nothing to do with that Bill Murray movie set in Japan, though it's also set in modern Asia (China). The writer's American, but she seems to have been in China long enough to strike a genuine lyrical note whenever she's translating Chinese phrases or behaviour. I approve.

17. One For My Baby, Tony Parsons (Apr)
I can't remember what this one's about. I think I only remembered (dimly) Man and Boy because I'd tried more than once to read it. Sorry, Tony.

18. Obasan, Joy Kogawa (Apr) *
This was the closest I came to any Vancouver-related literature before our trip to the Pacific Northwest. Another elegaic writer; a quiet, proud book. Ah, obasan.

19. Castle of Wizardry, David Eddings (Apr) *
You know the drill.

20. Promiscuities, Naomi Wolf (Apr)
Finally got a copy of it. Not as tight as some of her other writing, I thought, but perhaps talking about sex is always that much more personal and hence more uneven. (Since we're on the subject, here's a link, for those of you that haven't read it yet, to Tomato Nation's "A Four-Letter Word", an abbreviated take on some of the same issues.)

21. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (Apr)
I like! Long, but in a good way. Bildungsroman, but also in a good way. The protagonist really engaged me, and that's really all I ask for in a good story.

22. Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (May)
Finally read this, three years after buying it. It's funny how some things about boys still haven't changed.

23. Enchanter's End Game, David Eddings (May) *
Because once you get started on Eddings, you gotta keep going till the bitter end.

24. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (May)
Why didn't I read this book before? It's only been lying on our bookshelves for five years now. Absolutely captivating, the characters and spirit of the book.

25. Misconceptions, Naomi Wolf (June)
I'd been eyeing this for a while and finally picked it up at Powell's in Seattle. By turns terrifying and heartbreaking, it inspired me to take notes so that I know what questions I should ask my gynae and which of his/her answers should send me fleeing for the hills. (Horror stories can happen in Singapore too. A friend's gynae just suggested inducing their baby's birth because he's got vacation plans!)

26. Step Across This Line, Salman Rushdie (June)
Fiction, non-fiction --- this man can write.

27. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (Jul) *
Fluff, to while away the mornings on the train.

28. War of the Flowers, Tad Williams (Jul)
Finally, a stand-alone fantasy novel that showed us how it was done --- and that was just in the first few chapters that are very much set in our reality. Good storytelling in the genre is possible without resorting to Wheel of Time proportions.

29. A Defining Moment: How Singapore Beat Sars, Chua Mui Hoong (Aug)
I read it because it was lying around the office. Also, I now know what I can and cannot talk about, as far as the government's Sars work was involved. All that aside, the book was really badly written: flatter than a tamale, with less flavour than unpolished rice and about as much originality as sliced white bread. Secondary school history textbooks have more character.

30. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson(Aug)
I think I learned more about science from this book than from ten years of general education. The factoid that remains ingrained in me to this day? When humans as a species went completely bipedal, that had two immediate and fateful consequences: childbirth would become more painful and dangerous for females, and females wouldn't be able to gestate their offspring for long, so humans were going to have to get very good at rearing children. So all the subsequent sociological consequences --- the significance attached to choosing an epidural during labour, the amount of time and energy we expend doting on children (frequently the mother's job, let's not forget) --- are all because we walk around on two legs. Four legs good, two legs better? Perhaps the jury's still out on that.

31. Word Freak, Stefan Fatsis(Aug)
The book that triggered my mini-Scrabble craze, followed by Kay's. Yes, a book about Scrabble fanatics, including some of their powerfully anti-social habits, was much more fascinating than the official tome about Singapore beating Sars, despite my personal involvement in the latter and ny absolute dread of Scrabble prior to reading the former.

32. True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey (Sep)
It's adjectivally good, I tell ya. What's this I hear about making it into a movie with Orlando Bloom, though?!

33. Autobiography of A One-year-old, Rohan Candappa (Sep)
I wished I'd written this book, not because it's particularly good, but because it wouldn't've been terribly hard to write (assuming one had more than a passing acquaintance with one-year-old children) and I could've made all the money Candappa made off the gimmicky thing.

34. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon (Sep)
Wahj and G-man strongly recommended it --- how could I say no? A deceptively simple read, a delightfully enthralling peek into the mind of a person with autism, and a good story at its heart.

35. The Business of Books, Andre Schiffrin (Sep)
Another North American purchase, this time from the discount stack at UBC's university bookstore. An interesting eyewitness view to the changes in the publishing industry from the immediate post-World War 2 period to the present. I always wanted to work in publishing, still want to, and reading about it from a publisher's point of view is like peeking through a window to the unattainable promised land.

36. Singapore Beat: The Insider's Guide to News Media, Ravi Veloo (Sep)
Something else I read for work, mostly to see if it could tell me anything new after I'd had almost three years of working with the media. It had some interesting anecdotes, but not as many as I'd've liked.

37. My Hero, Tom Holt (Sep)
Smart and funny. I'd've read more Holt this year, but I got the feeling that this is the sort of humour one can only take in measured doses.

38. In the Shadow of No Towers, Art Spiegelman (Sep)
The creator of Maus takes on 9/11 and its aftermath. Brilliant, but if only it had been longer! After reading Maus-length material, it's odd that this book is only a fraction as long. (It's also the only book that won't fit into our bookshelves, whether I try to stand it tall or on its side.)

39. Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery (Oct) *
My favourite series from childhood --- I've always found it much more imaginative and intoxicating than the Anne of Green Gables series by the same author. Another case of me choosing to reread the familiar rather than poke around for a new book.

40. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain (Oct)
Love love love Anthony Bourdain in A Cook's Tour on the Discovery Travel channel, so when I heard he wrote a book about his career and exploits, naturally I had to get it. Among other lessons learnt: don't order hollandaise sauce unless you see it freshly made in front of you, never order the specials, and invest in a set of good Global knives.

41. Emily Climbs, L.M. Montgomery (Nov) *
Part 2 of the Emily series. My favourite of the three, I think.

42. Dancing Barefoot, Wil Wheaton (Nov)
Terz ordered this from Amazon near the beginning of the year, but it wasn't till November that I sat down and read it right and proper. An honest, warm book that's whetted my appetite for Just A Geek (which we haven't received yet).

43. Franny & Zooey, J.D. Salinger (Nov) *
I felt rather Franny-like when I read it, but it's Zooey's character I've always enjoyed more.

44. American Gods, Neil Gaiman (Nov)
My ignorance of many mythologies caused me to miss all the clues about how the plot was going to play out, but maybe it was more fun that way.

For 2005, I shall try and read more books for the first time, including J.M. Coetzee, whom everyone I respect keeps waxing lyrical about and I just haven't gotten round to reading just yet.

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At 1/10/2005 2:55 am , Blogger cour marly said...

Goodness great gatsby! You read a lot in a year! I've been reading fewer books and relying more on the internet to feed me, which is not a good thing. I'm printing your list out to bring with me to the bookstore....

At 1/10/2005 10:12 pm , Blogger Tym said...

I think the 2003 list was better, though the 2004 list has some Gaiman gems. YMMV.

Haven't read anything yet this year, and almost half of January's gone!!

At 1/16/2005 11:29 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

yar, rushdie can write. i bought 'step across this line' in 2004 as well. good read..

iyer's cool too, yes, i vaguely remember his essays for comprehension... =) i'll remember to check out 'tropical classical' the next time i find myself in a book store. (i'm all for travel-related writing.) don't have a clue as to whether he still writes for Time.

but, there's this other Time back-page contributor, garrison keillor. i've got his article 'in praise of laziness' all framed up! here's a link to it: http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/features/deskofgk/010910_time.shtml


At 1/16/2005 11:34 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

one more thing:

you might want to take a peek at "the kindness of strangers" (edited by don george - travel writing from a different angle) and "how to travel with a salmon" (umberto eco - collection of short stories) the next time you're in a bookstore...


At 1/16/2005 11:38 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am so sorry for the multiple posts. *eeks* but here's a better link for the keillor article. it's got the whole Time article scanned!




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