2008 was a year of reading about the world and looking back at classic science fiction. 18 of the 45 books I read this year were SF. 11 were non-fiction. 12 books were ones I had read before – for some reason I listened to many SF classics that I first read back in the 1960s. Although I enjoyed many science fiction and fantasy novels this year, the stories that moved me the most were two by Edith Wharton. Two other novels stood out, The Road was intense and Oscar Wao was dazzling.
Science fiction books from the 1950s and 1960s are starting to show their age. I think Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke holds up the best. I liked City and The Case of Conscience, but structurally they had problems. City and Way Station presented wonderful sense of wonder ideas, but the writing is so dated that I worry that kids today will find them hard to read. I still have nostalgic love for the Heinlein juveniles Red Planet, Starman Jones and Podkayne of Mars, and they hold up enough to get reprinted as audio books, but I also worry that young people will have problems reading them. Their science is very dated, with canals on Mars, Venus being habitable, and people doing calculations for interstellar space jumps with pencil and paper.
- The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
- The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
- Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman
- The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Post American World by Fareed Zakara
- Einstein by Walter Isaacson
The Whole List:
- Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
- Candy Girl – Diablo Cody
- The Road – Cormac McCarthy
- Running with Scissors – Augustine Burroughs
- Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
- Einstein – Walter Isaacson
- Marsbound – Joe Haldeman
- The Cult of the Amateur – Andrew Keen
- The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
- The Coming Economic Collapse – Stephen Leeb
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick (3rd time)
- The Cat Who Walks Through Walls – Robert A. Heinlein (2nd time)
- Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
- The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett (2nd time)
- Death by Black Hole – Neil deGrasse Tyson
- Territory – Emma Bull
- Drop City – T. C. Boyle
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
- Podkayne of Mars – Robert A. Heinlein (4th time)
- The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
- The Post American World – Fareed Zakara
- After Dark – Haruki Murakami
- Twilight – Stephenie Meyer
- City – Clifford Simak (2nd time)
- Proust was a Neuroscientist – Jonah Lehrer
- Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny (2nd time)
- Starman Jones – Robert A. Heinlein (4th time)
- The Little Book – Selden Edwards
- The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
- Hot, Flat and Crowded – Thomas L. Friedman
- Way Station – Clifford Simak (2nd time)
- Spin – Robert Charles Wilson
- The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick (2nd time)
- The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life – Steve Leveen
- Red Planet – Robert A. Heinlein (4th time)
- Swords and Deviltry – Fritz Leiber
- METAtropolis – ed. John Scalzi
- The Space Merchants – Pohl & Kornbluth (2nd time)
- Living Dead in Dallas – Charlaine Harris
- When You are Engulfed in Flames – David Sedaris
- A Case of Conscience – James Blish
- The Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
- Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke (3rd time)
- Like a Rolling Stone – Greil Marcus
- The Last Man on the Moon – Eugene Cernan & Don Davis
10 thoughts on “Books Read 2008”
Interesting reading list. I’ve read 11 of them over the years (Androids, Maltese, Podkayne–in the original IF serialization in which she died–City, Lord of Light, Station, Spin, Stigmata, Merchants, Conscience, Childhood).
I used to reject most “old-fashioned” fiction too in favor of the type of character-oriented stuff I prefer, but gradually over the years my taste has softened a bit so that I can now combine “serious” stuff with “lighter” fiction. Thus I have no problem going back and reading old 50s and 60s pulps, so long as I intersperse it with something “good”. Thus I just finished Elmer Kelton’s masterpiece The TIme It Never Rained, which I will probably follow with some 1960s Analogs. I think this dichotomy has increased my reading enjoyment overall since I am no longer so critical of everything I read.
Great list of books. Nice to see so many rereads. I’ve really gotten away from rereading books over the past few years and although I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read I miss the particular enjoyment I get out of spending time with old friends. I decided to start out my reading in 09 with a reread, The Stars My Destination, and am really enjoying reading it again. It has been long enough that I am not remembering every thing.
I just ordered Have Space Suit, Will Travel from my library and hope to get it in next week. My friend Jeff also picked it up and is going to be reading it to his kids. He has read several of the Heinlein juveniles whereas I’ve only read the later stuff so it will be fun to finally dip into this stuff.
I don’t mind the dated stuff in older sci fi as part of the fun of reading it, to me, is for the nostalgia. I think interests in the pulps and in classic sci fi ebbs and flows and I suspect that there will be kids who continue to reach a certain age that they want to discover some of the stuff that came before and will find these enjoyable in the same way I have come to enjoy them over the past 10-15 years.
I have Little Big on my pile in the basement as well and based on your review and our email conversations about it I actually bought it for two people for Christmas.
I would definitely like to read some Hammett this year, I have The Thin Man and would like to read Maltese Falcon as well, particularly since I haven’t seen the film.
Enjoyed reading your list.
Great List Jim!
I find I like reading Heinlein juvenile’s more than his adult novels myself. I also really enjoyed an audio recording of his juvenile novel ” The Rolling Stones ” I listened to last year. I picked up Have Space Suit to read out load to my kids. Carl mentioned you really enjoy that one as does one of our other friends, Jerry.
Also I’m a big John Scalzi fan like Carl. I’m curious what you thought of METAtroplis the book he edited. I haven’t seen it in stores myself.
Thanks for the post! – Jeff
Nice lists, Jim. I’ve read about 8 of yours. I also enjoy rereading meaty books but books which are brand new on the shelves always attract me. Happy Reading 2009!
i remember reading LIKE A ROLLING STONE back in 2005; obviously, GM found more to identify with there than i did. i thought(and still feel) that it wasn’t as interesting as JOHN WESLEY HARDING, or as creative as his score for PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (which is the pefect background music for playing cards while drinking beer and tequila.) an interesting track by track breakdown (BUT THERE IS ONE MORE SONG.) which is almost as insightful as his chapter on the band in MYSTERY TRAIN.