Author: George R.R. Martin
Name: A Clash Of Kings
Worse than the first one, but still very good. There are too many things going on, and too many of them are happening out of sight. The lack of a central character doesn't help.
The timeline seems suspicious as well. Martin avoids giving explicit distances as a rule, but it's always a bit too convenient. When characters need to quickly get somewhere, they do. When the plot demands they take forever to get somewhere (usually, in order for something to happen to them on the way), they do.
Author: George R.R. Martin
Name: A Game Of Thrones
It is hard to know how to rate this book without having read all of the following books in the series yet; if I give it too high a rating, how do I indicate later books in the series are better, if they turn out to be? If I hold back my rating for this book, and it turns out to be the highlight of the series, it will have been unfairly penalized.
Waiting until I read all of the books is not an option either: first of all, I don't do that, second, there are so many books I would not retain any clear memory of each individual book after reading all of them, third, the author is not even finished with the series yet and it may be a decade or more before he is.
So, I must do the best I can to judge this book in isolation, hard as it is. And I haven't even mentioned the TV series, which also affects my judgment of the book, unfair as that may be.
Overall, I would say this is the best long-form fantasy writing outside of Tolkien I've ever read (we're excluding Conan here since that is short stories almost exclusively). I thought for decades there was no hope for fantasy since Tolkien seemed to have both invented and buried the genre at the same time: how could anyone compete with him?
Well, Martin has found a way. Instead of futilely trying to attack Tolkien at his strong points (language, history, sense of epicness) he attacks him where he was weakest (characters that sometimes seemed to live in history more than real life, sense of things being preordained, lack of sex) and makes up his own fantasy world, that is completely different, yet similarly compelling.
It is a different world from Tolkien that he weaves; one more earthy, more similar to Earth as we know it, where magic doesn't dominate, but is mostly present in rumours and stories of the faraway past.
Characters scheme, rebel, go for fame and glory, sometimes die, sometimes kill, but always entertain.
Assuming the quality in later books keeps to this standard, I look forward to the next few months of my life very much.
Author: Jim Dodge
Name: Stone Junction
Rarely have I ever been more disappointed in a book. It comes highly recommended, and the first two pages are amazing, but that's the high point; it all goes downhill from there.
The book's problems can be summarized as:
1) None of the characters seem real, and they behave in absolutely bizarre ways.
2) There is no plot.
3) The ending, if you can call it that, is one of the worst I've ever read. Absolutely nothing is resolved, and even the different plot threads of the book are never united.
Author: Leza Lowitz
Name: Green Tea To Go
I was excited to read a collection of short stories about foreigners living in Japan, given that I was one for 3.5 years, but sadly the book disappoints greatly. I did not detect a single shred of evidence the author actually lived in the same country I lived in; the stories take place in some world that's very much closer to fantasy than to the actual world, and the actions of the people in the stories even more so.
It's telling that the longest story in the book, and by far the best, is set in Indonesia.
Author: Keith Richards with James Fox
There's nothing inherently interesting about the actual act of being of musician: you can't write 500 pages about playing a musical instrument or singing. So the gaps must be filled with something else. It seems to me there is nothing noteworthy about the time before they are successful because at that time they're just like the other 7 billion people on the planet, and there's nothing noteworthy about the time after they are successful, because a) they simply will not be truthful about things anymore and b) it is impossible to be interesting or do anything interesting when there's nothing at stake anymore, which is the case when you're so rich that it doesn't make any difference whatsoever whether your next 10 albums produce a single hit or not (the Stones haven't produced a noteworthy song in over 30 years).
That leaves exactly one time period they should concentrate on in musical biographies: when they're on that impossibly thin, slippery edge between being nobodies and being world-famous, with every little success seemingly propelling them onwards, and every little disappointment seemingly crashing them back to earth and dooming them to a life of living on unemployment benefits.
Sadly, this book does a crap job of covering that period. It pretty much goes from the 'nobody' stage to 'world famous' stage without covering the period in between. Sure, there's plenty of text being written, but it's all written with the hindsight of knowing the Stones would be the biggest band in the world, with no attempt to explain why and how that happened. There must have been thousands of bands in the UK at that time; why did the Stones succeed and everyone else fail? That is the question I'd want to read about, whereas reading about Keith's tropical island holiday destination preferences and trophy wives gets old.
Author: Aron Ralston
Name: 127 Hours - Between A Rock And A Hard Place
It's an entertaining book, and the author doesn't shy away from describing any details of his predicament. It's a good compliment to the movie too.
My only comment would be that given he describes his previous adventures as well, and several of them almost resulted in him dying, something was bound to happen eventually.
Author: Michael Caine
Name: The Elephant To Hollywood
Enjoyable enough of an autobiography. Most fun fact was that Caine fought in Korea, which makes the butler's comments in The Dark Knight about catching the bandit in Burma have some extra weight.
Author: Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff
Name: This Time Is Different
Complete waste of time slogging through this book. 90% of its contents are common sense, 9% of the remaining can be summarized in a magazine article, and I really didn't need to read 300 pages to get the remaining 1% of information.
Name: Wolverine Omnibus Vol. 1
Why do I consider Wolverine to be the best superhero? A few reasons:
Many superheroes, in an effort to make them more "human-like", are portrayed struggling with completely absurd problems. Spider-Man can't pay his rent, keep his job, or make it to dinner on time? Are you fucking kidding me? Any reasonably intelligent human being, blessed with Spider-Man's powers, could trivially make enough money in a few months to last a lifetime. Wolverine is never shown struggling with these kinds of absurd problems, because the entire concept of Wolverine is that he's an outsider, living by himself outside of society, completely self-sustaining in all possible ways. The mere idea of seeing a Wolverine comic in which he struggles with keeping a job is mind-boggling.
He is a realist, or as stupid people call realists, a cynic. Most other superheroes are idiot optimists, always going on and on about the inherent goodness of human beings that's just waiting to be unlocked, and other such nonsense. Wolverine knows people are greedy selfish bastards looking out for themselves, and deals with the world as it is, not as he thinks it should be.
No bullshit about "ooh despite being a superhero crimefighter I simply cannot kill the bad guys, EVER!". Somebody gets in Wolverine's way and refuses to back down, after plenty of warning? He gets killed, end of story.
Most superheroes are one-trick ponies. They get bitten by a spider, or get hit by radiation, or whatever, and that's it, that's all there is to them, the end. Wolverine is a hybrid: he was born with superhuman healing powers and other stuff, and later these enabled the adamantium bonding process to be used on him, enhancing his capabilities tenfold. So he is literally version 2.0 of Wolverine, a blend of nature and science, both working together to create the ultimate fighting machine that cannot be stopped.
I might have gone on to live in Japan for 3.5 years no matter what, who knows, but rereading some of these stories set in Japan reminded me what an impression they made on me as a youngster and shaped my views on Japan. And just like Wolverine, when I went to Japan it allowed me the chance to find facets of myself that I hadn't realized I had before.
Now that we've established why Wolverine is the best, what about this specific book? First of all, I don't normally list comic books / graphic novels, but this one has over a thousand pages and weighs 3.2kg, so an exception can and should be made.
There are plenty of classic stories in this collection, but also some weird inclusions, but I suppose that's always going to be the case. What was most surprising to me was the downright ugliness of the art in some of the comics: it is literally like looking at finger paintings of kids in some cases. The standards of comic drawing were in a completely different league a few decades ago compared to today; nobody would buy comics drawn that badly nowadays.
I hope they come out with a Volume 2 someday.
Author: James Clavell
Name: Noble House
Continues the scope expansion that's been happening from Shogun to Tai-Pan. This time it's gone beyond the breaking point; there are just too many characters and too many plot points going on. In theory, Dunross is supposed to be the main character, but he's curiously passive: he doesn't do all that much throughout the book. Other characters scheme and conspire and have affairs and kill people and do all sorts of other stuff, but he doesn't.
Shogun was 100% about a reclusive island nation, Tai-Pan was 100% about the foundation of Hong Kong; what is the Noble House about? It tries to encompass more or less the entire planet and all that's going on in it: Hong Kong, United Kingdom, MI6, USA, CIA, FBI, Soviet Union, KGB, Japan, China, Taiwan, aircraft carriers, spies, Chinese revolutions, Canada, France, WWII, Vietnam, the role of women in 1960s business culture, banking crises, car racing, Australia, South Africa, the entire (and I do mean entire) backstory from Tai-Pan dragged into the modern day, etc etc etc.
In the end, it's all just too much. Even at 1,300 pages, too much stuff is covered superficially or just skipped completely. I kept waiting for all the different threads to be somehow unified but they never were.
Worst of all, just like Shogun, there's no real ending. It unbelievably reads instead like Clavell is attempting to set things up for a sequel. He never got around to writing one, because there's just no way to finish this thing. He dug himself into a hole and was unable to fill his way out of it.
Author: Heinrich Harrer
Name: The White Spider
Four things spoil this book.
The first is Harrer's grating writing style, which for 300 pages goes on and on about the indomitable human spirit instead of talking about the actual climbing, or how it progressed during the 30 years he covers in his book.
The second is his lying. He flat-out lies about the Claudio Corti affair, and even after he had no excuses left once the bodies were found, he refused to update his book for over 40 years. If I hadn't consulted outside sources I would be left with a completely distorted picture of what actually happened, that is nothing less than a character assassination on Corti.
The third is his nationalistic views. Every German/Austrian climber is good in all ways, while almost all Italian/British climbers are insulted in a patronizing fashion, and explicitly told to stay away.
The fourth is again, his lying. He tries to pretend no climber is ambitious or climbs for any other reason than pure enjoyment, which is absolute bullshit. His own life is one big counterexample: without climbing, nobody would ever have heard of him.
Author: Christopher Ryan And Cacilda Jethá
Name: Sex At Dawn
Interesting book. Some of the claims/theories seem like they must be accurate, some of them are possibly a bit overreaching, but in general, a worthwhile contribution to the field. Their takedown of some of Pinkers' statistics about violence in hunter/gatherer societies was especially enlightening.
Author: Timothy Ferriss
Name: The 4-Hour Body
In the 550+ pages of this book there are interesting bits one can use to improve one's body (kettlebells, intermittent fasting, etc) and other bits one should just ignore, but throughout it's enjoyable reading, which is a huge change from most exercise/diet/whatever books that are boring as hell.
Compared to his last book which was hopelessly vague, this one is extremely specific, and for the most part is based on science which seems to make sense.
Author: Upton Sinclair
Name: The Jungle
The first half of the book is gripping reading, but there is nothing left for the second half except endless preaching about the virtues of socialism.
The constant misery without the slightest break gets old after a while, as well.
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Name: The Case-Book Of Sherlock Holmes
The stories are a bit more downcast than earlier ones, but the main feeling I have is finally having finished all the Sherlock Holmes books. Why I have a compulsion to finish something I don't particularly enjoy I have no idea.