Saturday, 29 December 2012

A Year In Reading

Must've done about only twenty books this year. 'Not a whole lot'? How about, 'abysmal'?

Maybe I'm starting to become bibliophobic. On the bright side, more truth in blog titling!

I've read a few more books than the reviews for this year suggest - it's just that I'm lazier to review the ones I read for leisure - which I don't want.

Call of the wild (Beast)
I'd thought of skipping this year's Big Bad Wolf blowout. I didn't feel the urge to fight the crowds and I had only finished one or two of the books I bought at last year's event.

So I brought someone else along for the fun. And I ended up buying half the books I did last year, owing to an inadequately filled wallet. But I managed to snag some of the reads I wanted.

Trophy pic of purchases from the Big Bad Wolf book sale
...soon to become a Malaysian social media tradition

Mick Foley's Countdown to Lockdown and Ernest Cline's Ready Player One came highly recommended. I also managed to find Carrie Fisher's Shockaholic and Keith Floyd's Stirred But Not Shaken. Waiter Rant? Self-explanatory.

...Now, if only I can get to the other books I'd promised to read.

Year in review(s)
I started reviewing books for The Star towards the end of 2007; this year saw my fiftieth Star book review, published in November. I started writing reviews and book-related pieces for online news portal The Malaysian Insider as well.

As an online medium, like the blog, TMI is more flexible, in that I can put in URLs and write about books that are not so new; books published more than a year ago are, generally, less likely to be reviewed in The Star.

Most of this year's reviews were for books I'd read this year, though several were read last year.

  • He Knew He Was Right, John and Mary Gribbin ("Gaia's irrepressible prophet", TMI, 26 December) - Tiring, uninspiring. After reading The Vanishing Face of Gaia, I doubt even Lovelock could've made his interesting life story more arresting.
  • Uncommon Grounds, Mark Pendergrast ("This beautiful and caffeinated world", TMI, 22 November) - The language is slightly more accessible than the previous book, but still a scholarly work.
  • We Are Anonymous, Parmy Olson ("A glimpse into the abyss", The Star, 16 November) - The scariest book you'll ever read this year. Also my fiftieth book review for The Star.
  • Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter ("Splendour from ruin", The Star, 04 November) - A darkly funny, quirky read with a somewhat (I feel) upbeat ending.
  • The Black Isle, Sandi Tan ("Growing up with ghosts", The Star, 02 November) - The ghosts in here should be laid to rest, along with the tired, overused World War II-Southeast Asia theme.
  • Another Country, Anjali Joseph ("Mostly melancholy", The Star, 21 October) - This jumble of snippets from a life of a migrant feels like it was rushed to the presses.
  • The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling ("Not so casual, actually", TMI, 03 October) - Not a bad attempt to weave a little magic into the mundane. But comparing used condoms with chrysalises? Eww.
  • A Land More Kind Than Home, Wiley Cash ("Hope in faith", The Star, 14 September) - Potent and poignant, especially when set against the stands taken by the US's religious right.
  • Flashback, Dan Simmons ("Induced nostalgia", The Star, 19 August) - Another rush job, from the looks of it. A "meh" effort compared to his previous works.
  • An Unexpected Guest, Anne Korkeakivi ("Make room on the shelf", The Star, 10 August) - An easy read about the 48 (or was it 72) hours in the life of a diplomat's wife.
  • Stretch, Neal Pollack ("Downward dude", blog, 22 July) - The smells of sweat and stale gym-socks come to life in Pollack's misadventures in yoga. Namaste, motherf—er.
  • The Family Corleone, Ed Falco ("A dying breed of crook", The Star, 27 May) - So vivid, it's almost like watching a movie. And it might be made into one, now that the Puzos vs Paramount legal battle is over.
  • Gone Bamboo, Anthony Bourdain ("Tropic tempers", blog, 16 May) - As rough and profane as Bone in the Throat. The mobster shtick gets old fast, however.
  • Started Early, Took My Dog, Kate Atkinson ("Whimsical whodunnit", blog, 11 May) - A clever novel of a crime that solves itself, i.e. not driven by the detective.
  • Kopi, edited by Amir Muhammad ("Caffeine fix(i)", blog, 02 May) - Some of the stories in this coffee-themed Malay-language short story collection will, like its namesake, keep you awake at night.
  • The Mirage, Naguib Mahfouz ("Mama's boy", The Star, 20 April) - If the aim of this novel is to make the reader want to beat the apron-clinging protagonist to death and back, it succeeded beyond measure.
  • Without Anchovies Chua Kok Yee ("Flash fiction", blog, 15 April) - Frustrating glimpses of potential in what looks like a hurriedly assembled collection of mostly half-formed short stories.
  • A Decade of Hope, Dennis Smith ("A long decade", blog, 14 March) - Ten years is enough time for people to not care about 9/11 anymore - or pick up this book.
  • Dig me out in time for work
    next year... urrrgh...
  • Columbus: The Four Voyages, Laurence Bergreen ("Clash of civilisations", The Star, 17 February) - A not-so-flattering portrait of the man who helped the conquistadores obliterate the major pre-Columbian civilisations of Latin and South America.
  • The Beruas Prophecy, Iskandar al-Bakri ("A nearly fulfilled prophecy", blog, 05 February) - A potentially engaging Malay sword-and-sorcery tale that's marred by colourless two-dimensional narration.
  • Queen of America Luis Alberto Urrea ("Sweeping, colourful yarn", The Star, 29 January) - A lush re-imagined story of the life of Mexican mystic, folk healer and alleged revolutionary Teresa Urrea.

O-o-okay, not as bad as I thought. Still way below the 100 books a year someone in my line is supposed to read...

And that list does not include the books I've read but not reviewed: James Clavell's Noble House (dew kui lou mou, so damn thick), End Specialist (or The Postmortal) by Drew Magary (gripping), Alexander McCall Smith's The Ladies' No.1 Detective Agency (nice), When I Was A Kid by Boey Cheeming (neat) and Tarquin Hall's third Vish Puri book, The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (a rrrolicking good time, yaar!).

Do I want to top this next year? Love to, but that's tempting fate - not a good idea in any profession.


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