Book of the year – 2014 Edition

Over the last two years, I read an average of 36 books a year.   This year, I hit 28.   In  unrelated news, this was also the year the WWE Network debuted.   According to my stats page over on goodreads, I missed out on reading 10,000 pages by just a few books.  I experimented a bit, read a few books more for professional reasons rather than interest or fun.  I also spent more time reading magazines and scriptures, so that brought my read total down a bit as well.   These are not necessarily books  that came out this year, but books I read in 2014.  Not every book I read was a hit, so I’m going to start off with my least favorite books of the year first.  These are in no particular order.

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What a soul crushing book this was.  I had been using GoodReads First reads program to score some advanced free copies of books in exchange for an honest review of the book.  As soon as this one arrived, my heart just sank.   It was huge, something like 600 pages.  As a right wing history book, it makes some good points that get left out of the other history books.  But it didn’t hesitate to tell you that either.  In the end, it was just too long, and a very dense read.  Reading this one book cost me several others as well.  I almost completed stopped reading for a while, just because of how slow and unenjoyable this book was.  And again, there were some good points to be made, I just wish I could remember more than a few of them.

17674301

Exceptionally academic and uninteresting.  And the points they made weren’t even that good.  As an academic book it fails because it doesn’t account for enough data.  As a part of the debate on schools, it doesn’t make nearly enough points, or create any interest.  All the book does do, is expand on the following sentence;  “When you control for all factors, publics schools do just as well, and even better as private schools”  That’s about it.

 

18248422

Ordinarily I wouldn’t even read this book.  But the nominees for comedy book of the year had just come out, and this book had beaten out some of the ones I was pulling for.  Plus I know a Jen Mann, so the name stood out for me.  And then I saw this book on sale about a week after reading some good reviews for it.  So I picked it up.  This isn’t really the genre I ordinarily go for, so I might even say my dislike of this book makes it a victim of it’s own success.  Jen provides her own insight and commentary on what she sees as suburban hell.  Some of the stories seem pretty exaggerated, but she puts herself and seems to even participate in many of the same things that she rails against in her book here.  There’s just no personal likability here, so while there was some good humor, the book was just not that fun to read.

11042248

I like to spend some time out on Lake George, and I really enjoy history, but picking up this book might have been my biggest mistake of the year.  The problem is, its a weekly newspaper column organized in book form.  Each article contains much of the same setup and background information.  The two authors mention themselves and their organization several times per article, which becomes distractingly annoying.  Because they are trying to write a weekly column, some of the stories are much more interesting than others.  The problem is, there were a lot of the stories that were not interesting and redundant.  And the interesting stories don’t get any more space to tell those stories.  It’s like only being able to eat appetizers, and half of them aren’t any good.

17300758

A half rate professional gambler gives half rate advice on how you could follow his lead.  While I find casinos to be very interesting, I have very little interest in walking into a situation where you are mathematically doomed to lose.  And the few tips he does give for how you can possibly turn a profit seem a lot less interesting than just getting a job and avoiding casinos.  The authors story and personal journey aren’t interesting enough to be the centerpiece of this book, which really never should have existed, its just an attempt to make a little extra money for himself.  A lot of his advice came down to, “oh, and go to this website, its good”

15018872

I read a few books of this genre I liked, this one wasn’t one of them.  There was enough in this book that was interesting, but it wasn’t well written or edited enough to make it click.  I learned a few new things about the Terminal, but the flow of the story just didn’t work.  The book didn’t know what it wanted to be, and suffered because of it.

Moving on to the books I did like.  Books are ranked based on how interesting they were, how fun they were to read.  How much I looked forward to picking them up, and hated to have to put down.  And finally how the book has affected me.  Did it give me information that I was actually going to use for something?  Will it change what I do or how I think?  All ten of these books left a mark on me in some way, as well as being a lot of fun to read.

 

#10

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The book table at BJ’s had some interesting history books I read this year, but this one was the best.  The book goes through 20 or so stories from military history that went wrong.  We get the context of what was going on, how things went bad.  What happened because of that, and then we get some diagrams to show us.  Its not a detailed story of any of these events, but I was able to learn some things I didn’t know, and the pictures and diagrams helped me visualize.  I plan on learning more about several of these events.

#9

9211847

More from the World According to Clarkson.   It is a book that’s just a series of newspaper articles, but they are very interesting and funny.   There’s a lot of common sense here, and his rallies against those who don’t have it.  While it might not have been my favorite of this series, I frequently would get so caught up in reading it I’d lose track of time.

#8

15788885

This was the only fiction entry on my list this year.  Although it’s based on real experiences.  I went to a college with a very active Greek system, and even though I didn’t participate, you can’t avoid being surrounded by it.  I even got a bid to join one of the houses my senior year.  I’ve seen the Total Frat Move website in the past, and within a few weeks of that, I saw this book at my local library and picked it up.  It tells the story of a legacy who is abducted his first day at college and dragged into the fraternity life.  The first half of the book is his freshman year, pledging his frat.  The rest of the book covers some of the shenanigans that happens once he’s a member.  A fun, light read.

#7

17934384

This is the story of America’s first subway tunnels in NYC and Boston.  We get a history of rail travel, and the steps that led to these two cities looking into subways.  There are many stories highlighting the need for underground transport as well as the people and movements that worked against them.  They call it the Race Underground, playing off the NYC vs Boston thing, but it’s overplayed.  Both cities had different needs and goals, and there didn’t seem to be an actual contest between them.  The book ends just as NYC debuts their first subway, and doesn’t really talk about what happened next.  Still very interesting and well told.

#6

16158546

The story of Joseph Warren, who should be as well known and Hancock, Revere and Adams.  We learn about the events in Boston starting with the Boston Massacre and Tea Party.  From there we get a detailed look at the politics and preparation that eventually led to Lexington and Concord.  It’s not until the end of the book that the battle of Bunker Hill takes place.  There’s one chapter after that covering the siege and evacuation of Boston.  The storytelling is excellent, really bringing you back into the period.  Events are well described, and we get a lot of information on the consequences of each event, as well as the events that didn’t happen.  It really gives you an appreciation for how things turned out the way they did, and how easily there could have been other positive or negative outcomes.

#5

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A few years ago I saw the movie, I read this book last January.  It’s an amazing story about a Missionary sent to Tonga in the 1950’s.  The book covers the difficulties of getting to Tonga, and adapting to the islands and culture once he gets there.  The movie focuses very heavily on his relationship with his girlfriend waiting for him back home, the book barely mentions it.  The book also spends a lot more time covering his life after he serves in his first area and becomes a District President as well as the headmaster at the Mormon school he sets up on the Islands.  The movie might be better suited for non members, but this was a very well told and interesting story about the work that can be done.

#4

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I don’t watch too much football, but of the power leagues, I like the Big Ten the best.  The author spends a year following Penn State in the wake of their sexual abuse punishment.  He also spends considerable time at Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State.  He follows the teams, their coaches and players.  The relationship with the alumni and everything else that is college football.  The author tells the football story of the season, Penn State is trying to avoid a complete collapse of the program, Michigan and Ohio State want titles, Northwestern is looking for respect.   He also talks about the process that are affecting college football, why people love it, and how the sport is changing.

#3

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I mentioned earlier my fascination with Vegas.  This is the story of Dennis Gomes, who works to expose the mafia and illegal bookkeeping and cheating that goes on in casinos.  He faces many obstacles, from the people he is investigating, but also the good guys.  We learn about some if his most interesting cases, as well as what its like to be in his office and his personal life.

#2

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I love the xkcd webcomic, Im actually surprised I didn’t know anything about his series of “What If” blogs before this book came out. You can find it here http://what-if.xkcd.com/ It is a series of blogs, so there’s no overall story here, but there is xkcd’s amazing blend of humor and nerdiness.  Munroe takes a series of bizarre hypothetical situation and questions offered up by his readers.  He then proceeds to use real science to try and find the answers.  The results are both interesting and hilarious.  What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched almost the speed of light?  (everyone would die)  Can you swim in the pool of water at a nuclear reactor? (it could actually be safer than other pools)  What would happen if everyone on earth gathered in one place and jumped at the same time?  (the planet would be fine, but the traffic would be horrendous)  Each article is backed up by plenty of math and diagrams and pictures.  Very enjoyable read.

#1

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Ivy League pitcher Matt McCarthy find himself drafted by the Angels and sent to play for the Saints in Provo for a season of single A baseball.   Even in the low minors, baseball is your entire life, but unless you are a top prospect, there’s hardly any money to be made.  First he lives in a  hotel, then with a Mormon host family as he tries to acclimate to life in Utah.  He describes the life players lead both on and off the field.  Many of the players have the talent to go far, but have a hard time accessing it consistently.  The demands of playing almost every day and the travel and practice involved sap the will of most players.  The divide between English and Spanish speakers is immense.  McCarthy has a medical career in front of him, but many of his teammates have nothing but rapidly fading major league dreams.  Steroid abuse is rampant.   We don’t get too many stories of the team coach teaching them much, but we do get to see the more colorful sides of his personality.   It’s not until training camp his second season where he seems to get some good advice on how he can improve his game, but by then, it’s too late and he gets cut.  This book combines the best and worst of baseball, and weaves it all together in one interesting story.  It reminded me of why I loved playing and following the game when I was younger.  It also reminded me of why I stopped, and it especially reminded me of that South Park episode where the players desperately try to lose their last game so they don’t make the playoffs and have to continue playing, only to be met by other teams who are trying even harder to lose so they can end their season and move on to the next thing.

 

Conclusions:

As you can see, I read a lot of books I really enjoyed this year, but had a pretty sizable chunk that I just didn’t care for.  Because of that, I’ve gotten away from the giveaway books, unless I can get enough information on them to know they are something I will enjoy.  For the last few years, I’ve been building up my “to read” list quicker than I was building up my “finished reading” list.  Towards the end of this year I stopped spending as much time looking up new books to read, and have been more focused on finishing.  I plan to continue with that.  I’ve also got some science books to work on related to what I’m teaching, that might become a bigger focus.  I’ve been debating having a reread year, but I will wait a few more years before I get into that.  I’ve also thought about a year where I read only new books, and be a part of that whole discussion.  But in the end, I will continue to read whatever seems interesting to me at the moment.  If it serves another interest like my job or Church work, that’s just a bonus.

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About garybraham

I grew up in Mahopac NY, studied geology at Colgate University. I've moved to Queensbury NY to teach HS earth science. I also coach soccer and wrestling, take pictures at local sporting events, and am the Scoutmaster for the Glens Falls ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My wife and I will be married 5 years this October, and we have a two and a half year old little girl.
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