Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Reading Summary

I have been keeping track of my annual reading for about 7 years now. In 2011, I read 84 books. This compares to 73 last year, 80 in 2009, 110 in 2008, and around 140-150 the years before that. This is because I listen to an absolute ton of podcasts, which cut into my reading time. I have always been a fan of audio, and 43 of the 84 books I consumed this year were via unabridged audio. 31 were traditional dead-tree books, 7 were graphic novels, and 3 were on the Nook.

The 60 novels I read break down as follows: (note that the total exceeds 60, as many books fit into more than one category)
Mystery/Thriller -- 21
Fantasy/SF -- 21
Romance/ Girlie -- 8
YA -- 8
Christian -- 7
Historical -- 3

The 24 non-fiction works I read break down as follows: (note that the total exceeds 24, as many books fit into more than one category)
Christian/Theology -- 17
Sports & Entertainment -- 5
Memoir/Biography -- 4
Other -- 3

Book #84

His Passion: Christ's Journey to the Resurrection, Integrity Publishers. Hardcover.

This was a Christmas present from past year, and was my devotional book for 2011. The one-page daily readings come from authors such as Beth Moore, Ravi Zacharias, Andrew Murray, and a range of ancient writers, including Augustine, Cyprian, and Chrysostom.

The theme of all the devotions is the last week of Christ's life. This is a fine choice, as it is important to keep this aspect at the forefront of our contemplation. But it is also awkward from a church-year persepective, as I was reading about the Passion during Pentecost, Advent, and other times of the year. But once I got used to the theme of the devotional, this became less disconcerting.

I will put this one on the shelf for 2012, but I imagine I will pick it up again in a few years.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book #83

Bel-Air Dead, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio.

I am a big fan of Woods' works, and of his Stone Barrington novels in particular. And this is one of his best.

All of Woods' series take place in the same world, and there have been occassional cross-overs, but this is the most fully integrated mashup I've read. Stone Barrington is called out to the West Coast to help old friend Arrington Calder keep her stake in her movie studio, fighting off a takeover attempt that takes a very dangerous turn. It turns out that the man behind the takeover attempt is in league with the former wife of Ed Eagle, the protagonist of another series of Woods novels. Eagle himeself takes an active role in this novel, and that subplot is essentially a sequel to his last novel. This crossover was very well done.

I do want to point out that the business/stock aspects of the book were handled properly, and that the basic facts of that subplot were accurate.

There is also a change in Barrington's employment status in this novel, which is a natural progression from the last 5 or so of his adventures. Woods is skilled at handling the progression of events in the "long arc" of his characters lives, while making each particular novel a stand-alone book.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Book #82

The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer. Nook.

This little book is rightly considered a modern classic. Tozer's practical teaching on the work of Holy Spirit in the believer's life is insightful and penetrating. Although not an academic work, Tozer's knowledge of the Bible and of human nature are among the strengths he brings to this work.

Tozer refers to himself as a Fundamentalist in the book, but the word did not have the hard cultural edge that it does today. As a matter of fact, he calls his fellow Fundamentalists and Evangelicals out on their propensity to separate from the world. Tozer's view of the life of faith calls for an active involvement in the things of the world.

There have been many wonderful books on Christian living published over the centuries, and certainly many in the 20th. But this one deserves its place alongside the classics.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book #81

The Confession, by John Grisham. Unabridged audio.

This is an extremely predictable critique of capital punishment, presented as a novel.

The concept was solid -- an innocent man is scheduled to be executed, and only the man guilty of the crime can save him. But there was nothing unexpected in the novel -- Texans are racist, defense lawyers are heroes, politicians are corrupt, and cops are thugs.

I read a lot of Christian fiction, and the issues I have with that genre is the lack of subtlety, and the elevation of the message to the highest position. This novel suffers from those same flaws, and was even more "preachy" than some of those Christian novels.

There was very little drama here, especially in the first two-thirds of the novel. I did not become engaged until the last hundred pages.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book #80

Clark Griffth: The Old Fox of Washington Baseball, by Ted Leavengood.

As a baseball fan from Washington (go Nationals!), Clark Griffith was a name I was familiar with, and his basic biography (top-notch pitcher to manager to club owner) I knew. But this in-depth book fills in almost all of the gaps.

Griffith played in late 1800's, leading the league in ERA in 1898. His managing career began in 1901, while he was still playing. and won the pennant in his first year. His last managerial stop was with the new Washington Nationals in 1912, and he was able to gain an ownership stake in the club. After a career as a baseball vagabond, Griffith found his home.

The pinnacle of Griffith's tenure as owner was a World Series victory in 1924, after which the Nationals began their slow descent into mediocrity. The team struggled to stay afloat financially during Griffith's last decade of life. His son Clark moved the team to Minnesota in 1961, shortly after Clark's death.

The book is thoroughly researched and well-written. The focus is baseball, and these aspects of the book are very detailed. But Leavengood manages to work in discussions of historical and social issues of the times, as well. His coverage of the racial tensions in Washington and in baseball during Griffith's life is one of the stengths of this book.

Disclosure: I received this as a free ARC through

Friday, December 9, 2011

Book #79

Naked Heat, by "Richard Castle." Unabridged audio.

Richard Castle is the character portrayed by Nathan Fillion on the ABC-TV drama "Castle." In the show, he is a writer of mysteries, and his books play a background role in the series. ABC has begun to release as actual books the novels referred to in the show. This is the second. It is weird to read, because I keep thinking of the characters' analogs from the TV show. But that is what I am supposed to do, now that I think about it.

This is a pretty good mystery story, kicked off by the murder of a gossip columnist being profiled by magazine writer Jameson Rook. The investigation uncovers the involvement of a young female pop star, a Yankees pitcher, limo drivers, paparazzi, etc ... Very good action, and some interesting points of character development. And although I do visualize the TV show versions of the characters, their characters are developing differently in the books, and that is a nice touch.

These books could be just throwaways, but they are not. They are better than average mystery plots, well-written, and worth an investment of time, especially for fans of the TV show.

I am curious as to the real writer of these books are, but I don't want to know enough to try to find out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book #78

Beginning to Pray, by (Monsignor) Anthony Bloom. Paperback.

This short book is wonderful. Bloom, a Monsignor of the Orthodox Church, takes a very interesting different approach to prayer, which is both practical and mystical.

Bloom takes a very practical approach to his topic, including a terrific chapter about time management. This chapter challenged us to turn prayer into a relationship with Christ, and talks in mystical & metaphysical ways about the nature of time, and how we are bound to live in a world ruled by time. He then gives very practical, step-by-step instruction is how to begin the contemplative life.

Bloom is a Russian citizen who served in France during World War II as a surgeon. while also being a secret monk. Yes, he had taken monastic vows, but to do so publicly would have precluded his ability to serve as an army surgeon. As you can imagine, the stories he tells about his life are fascinating, and make a helpful counterpart to the more mystical portions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From Chapter 1 of Clark Griffith, by Ted Leavengood, a biography of an influential man from the early days of baseball.

"Mining towns in the 1890s were frontier associations of the worst kind, lawless and untamed, where men found entertainment where they could and women only rarely. Baseball was a welcome diversion and the new professional players were welcomed enthusiastically."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book #77

One Summer, by David Baldacci. Unabridged audio.

This is the third time that Baldacci has gone "off script" from his wiriting of thrillers and instead written a family drama.

In this one, a man in the last few days of his life is dying from an incurable disease. In the days before Christmas, his wife dies in an accident and his children go to live with her parents. But instead of dying, he miraculously recovers, and takes his three children to the beaches in South Carolina (from their home in Cleveland) to visit his wife's childhood home.

I enjoyed the novel, although it did suffer from genre-hopping. What starts as a family drama turns at times into a coming-of-age novel, a romance, and a legal thriller. I appreciated the main point of the work, but not as much the overall execution. There are some nice character moments, especially in the teenage duaghter.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Podcast marathon

Winter break from school + wife having appointment in evening = nothing but listening to podcasts all day long ... Yesterday I listened to these shows:

The Adam Carolla Show. This is the podcast equivalent of a radio morning show, complete with a news girl and sound effects. This episode featured comedian Dana Gould as guest.

. I am doing a re-listen project, going back through the episodes of this podfaded show, which covered canceled television shows. This was the classic "Birds of Prey" episode, the horrible TV show based on the very good DC comic book of the same name. Will and Aaron are good when they cover a good show, but they are great when they cover a horrible show. And very few TV shows were as horrible as "Birds of Prey."

The Tony Kornheiser Show. A daily sports (well, about half sports and half news and other sutff) show from the former Washington Post columnist and current PTI host, on ESPN. I listen to it more for the funny parts than for the sports talk.

No Agenda. The best podcast in the universe. Veteran magazine writer John C Dvorak and technology expert (and former MTV dude) Adam Curry talk about news and politics, usually in the ocntext of analyzing (assassinating, as they put it) media coverage. Probably my single favorite show.

From Crisis to Crisis. Episode 117 covered the Superman comics from November 1992. This show is the best long-form comic book podcast out there, and they are ramping up to a major Superman event (spoiler: when he dies). Totally looking forward to what Mike and Jeff have planned for those historic episodes.

Nerdist Writers Panel. As the name implies, this is a podcast that is a panel discussion of TV writers. This episode included the creators of the new shows Once Upon a Time and Ringers.

Death and the Acrid Smell of Gunsmoke. This is part of the Two True Freaks podcast feed. This show is hosted by Scott Gardner, and follows the comic book exploits of the baddest man in the old West, Jonah Hex. This is an extremely well-produced podcast, with sound a score underlying Scott's recreations and dramatic readings from the story.

Katia & KylieMac. The girls have been talking about travel-related topics for the last month or so, and in this one they talked about cuisine. Cuisines from around the world are discussed, as well as the best food in the Paris, the girls' adopted home.