Books of 2014, #10: Locke & Key, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

I suppose you could say that I’m cheating a little bit here, insofar as Locke & Key is a comic book. But at this point it’s finished—36 issues from beginning to end—and I read it through in its entirety.

I’m definitely going to recommend this book; I only picked up the first volume a few months ago, and I’ve been waiting for the conclusion to be collected ever since.

The story builds methodically from page one. In re-reading the earlier collections, I was impressed with how dense it actually is—in this era of decompressed storytelling, there is no filler here. I suspect that on future re-readings, I will continue to notice more subtle details from the beginning and middle that have ramifications for—or are referenced in—the end.

This is a book that is chock-full of character and story.

That said, I’m not yet certain that they stick the landing. Most of it flows with the sort of inevitability that a horror story needs to not feel gratuitous, but there’s one reveal that didn’t work for me on the first read. It may be that when I go through it again, it is set up better that I realize this first time through; I would certainly believe it, as even this second read-through has let me see many more subtleties than the first time.

Oh, and that’s all ignoring the absolutely brilliant art by Gabriel Rodriguez. It reminds me of a more traditionally cartoon-y relative of Marc Hempel’s art from Sandman’s The Kindly Ones. It has a clean line with lovely detail, and that’s even before he does his Bill Watterson tribute.

Books of 2014, #9: The Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of the singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

I guess you could say this was a guilt read.

I read Cory Doctrow’s first three novels (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Eastern Standard Tribe, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town) and found them all perfectly enjoyable…but I’ve never re-read any of them, which is actually very unusual for me; I’ve even been known to re-read books I didn’t like the first time around. Anyway, something about them just doesn’t inspire a desire to re-experience them in me.

I have read everything Charles Stross has written except for his Merchant Princes novels, of which I read the first two. With the exception of The Laundry Files novels, which I adore—how could you possibly beat Linux + Lovecraft + Bond—I find most of them to be perfectly fine on the first read, but either uninspired or maybe even a little grating subsequently.

(I cannot stress this enough: I re-read books all the time; I am like a fucking shark, perpetually swimming through a sea of words to stay alive—but I’m not always up to taking on the nearest orca)

Still, I enjoy both of their web presences immensely, and think they’re both smart, talented guys, whose books I generally like—so how could I not read a book they collaborated on?

At the risk of sounding like I’m trying to be snide—which I’m not—this is exactly the book that I would have expected the two of them to produce; it is manifestly the melding of their authorial voices and the ways in which they approach plot and the sorts of ideas they explore. As obvious as the cat flap.

And as a consequence, while I don’t begrudge the time I spent reading it—it was amusing and enjoyable—I don’t know that I’m going to pick it up to re-read it any time soon.

Oh, and if you care: I would characterize it as a post-singularity picaresque, with a teeny-tiny bit of homage to Robert A. Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice (which is itself influenced by Robert Branch Cabell’s Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, which I have read, and from which my frequent response of “I’ll try anything once” is taken).

Books of 2014, #7: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell

So, I am on record as being somewhat skeptical about Malcolm Gladwell’s books: with with a style that demands that he work to demonstrate his thesis across a broad set of subjects some of which his knowledge must be necessarily shallow…it is perhaps unsurprising that on subjects where I have deep knowledge, I often feel like he has let a desire to fit his thesis distort the facts. Probably not intentionally, but it still feels like it means you must take all of it with a grain of salt.

So why ever read another one of his books?

Well, first off, I, too find some value in having a broad exposure to stuff, even if much of that exposure is relatively shallow.

But more importantly: even when his theses are applied overly broadly, or when he blows some basic fact, it doesn’t mean that it’s without value. Having a wide array of mental models you can consider in different situations makes you more versatile, more able to be responsive rather than reactive. The only danger is when you allow yourself to be come dogmatic in your devotion to a paticular model.

So, what is the takeaway from David and Goliath?

Stated most generally, I would say, “Question the assumptions the system hands you, and see what you can do to confound them.” Whether it’s the clash in the “cover story”, or the question of the “best” college education, or how to succeed in basketball when your newer to it and don’t have the same level of skills, try to be the one to set the terms of the engagement, rather than doing what everyone else is doing.

It’s not necessarily the easiest path, but it is one that may have greater potential for success, however you define it.

Books of 2014, #6: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

My e-readers says this book is nearly 400 pages. That sounds improbable to me, since I think I read the whole thing in no more than 6 hours.

It is a perhaps telling irony that I started reading The Fault in Our Stars in the same week that my Mom started chemotherapy for a recurrence of the breast cancer that had been in remission for nearly 15 years.

Anyway, it is sad, funny, impossibly earnest, full of lies and woven through with truths. I know that it’s positioned as a Young Adult novel, but I think that’s a lack of imagination on the part of reviewers as much as anything—the idea that any book featuring teenagers could be anything else being hard to process.

I recently saw the trailer for the movie they’ve made of it. I fear that it will fall short of the beautiful story that the book is.

Books of 2014, #5: Die Trying, by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #2)

The “Jack Reacher” novels are causing me to realize that I haven’t actually read a lot of conventional thrillers in…well, maybe ever. I mean, I read Tom Clancy’s first few novels—basically, the ones that were published before I finished college—and that’s about it.

That said, I’ve seen plenty of movies in this mold, so the conventions of the genre are pretty familiar. And truly, these don’t seem to be bad renditions of the type…except for the sex elements.

It’s not that I’m a prude—more that if I was going to sit down and find passages to mock in these books, I would just start skimming for anything having to do with Jack Reacher’s thoughts about the attractiveness of women, or even more unintentionally hilarious, his renditions of sex. They’re just excruciationly awkward.

Other than that, yeah, it was a perfectly fine read, nothing really to distinguish it.

Books of 2014, #4: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan


I’m a little surprised that the entirety of the kerfuffle that this book seems to have kicked up (at least as far as I’m aware) was an moronic challenge from a Fox News idiot.

Now, any realistic review should note that this book is doing a lot of extrapolation—as Aslan himself notes, the historical record on Jesus of Nazareth is spectacularly minimal. However, the few facts we have, when placed in the historical context—of which we have much more of a record—suggest that the constituency and central tenets of the bevy of sects that hold Jesus as their central focus are far removed from anything he intended.

In fact, the impression I was left with was that the most fundamental author of Christianity is most likely Paul of Tarsus. That seems a somewhat radical proposition in most actual Christia circles.