2009 Year in Reading

Reviewing the books I read in 2009 is very psychologically revealing, and disappointing in many ways.  I had a richer reading year in 2008.

Favorite Fiction:

  1. The Naked Sun – Isaac Asimov
  2. The Time Machine – H. G. Wells
  3. Orphans in the Sky – Robert A. Heinlein
  4. Dracula – Bram Stoker

Favorite Non-Fiction:

  1. The First Three Minutes – Stephen Weinberg
  2. Why Women Have Sex – Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss
  3. The Evolution of God – Robert Wright
  4. The Beatles – Bob Spitz

The Whole List:

  1. Farnham’s Freehold – Robert A. Heinlein (3rd time)
  2. Hyperion – Dan Simmons (2nd time)
  3. From Here to Eternity – Modern Scholar audiobook about science fiction
  4. Bellwether – Connie Willis (2nd time)
  5. The Green Hills of Earth – Robert A. Heinlein (2nd time)
  6. The Naked Sun – Isaac Asimov (2nd time)
  7. Roadmarks – Roger Zelazny
  8. More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon (2nd time)
  9. The Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
  10. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
  11. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon
  12. The Byrds (4th edition) – Johnny Rogan
  13. The Canon – Natalie Angier
  14. Dune – Frank Herbert (2nd time)
  15. Bet Me – Jennifer Cruise
  16. Variable Star – Robert A. Heinlein (2nd time)
  17. To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip Jose Farmer (2nd time)
  18. The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut (2nd time)
  19. The Time Machine – H. G. Wells (3rd time)
  20. The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells (2nd time)
  21. The Fall of Hyperion – Dan Simmons
  22. The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time – Will Durant
  23. Persuasion – Jane Austin
  24. Mayflower – Nathaniel Philbrick
  25. The First Three Minutes – Stephen Weinberg
  26. Dracula – Bram Stoker
  27. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
  28. The Very First Light – John C. Mather & John Boslough
  29. The Beatles – Bob Spitz (abridged audio)
  30. The Year’s Ten Top Tales of SF – ed. Allan Kaster
  31. Replay – Ken Grimwood (3rd time)
  32. The Evolution of God – Robert Wright
  33. The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  34. Ringworld – Larry Niven (2nd time)
  35. Magnificent Desolation – Buzz Aldrin
  36. The Good Solder – Ford Maddox Ford
  37. Orphans of the Sky – Robert A. Heinlein (3rd time)
  38. The Man Who Was Thursday – G. K. Chesterton
  39. Flood – Stephen Baxter
  40. Why Women Have Sex – Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss

It’s pretty obvious this year I’m reliving my reading past.  I’m in two online book clubs devoted to classic science fiction and that’s dominating my selection of books.  My favorite science fiction book of the year in terms of pure entertainment was The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov.  Dune was very impressive, a true masterpiece, but I didn’t connect with it emotionally.  On the other hand I was dazzled by the imaginative speculation in Orphans of the Sky.  Most of the other SF books were page turning fun, but ultimately not that innovative. 

Overall, my reevaluation of classic science fiction has been disappointing.  Even on the online book clubs, enthusiasm for old SF books isn’t that high, we mostly love this stuff for nostalgic reasons.  I grew up thinking science fiction was genius thinking, but it’s not. Science fiction is fun, full of wild ideas, but ultimately, it’s superficial philosophically and contains very little scientific insights.  Few science fiction stories are as brilliant as The Time Machine, most are closer to The War of the Worlds.  The absolute best science fiction, like Orphans of the Sky and Dune, stand out for imagining unique concepts, while other great science fiction novels are merely good examples of story telling. 

Two science books, The First Three Minutes and The Very First Light, and are about the discovery of the cosmic background radiation and were my most mind expanding reads this year in terms of understanding reality.  The Canon was a great overview of science history, with an abundant of fascinating details.  I highly recommend it to people wanting a quick study of science.

In terms of religious philosophy and history, The Evolution of God was quite educational and rewarding.  Again expanding my knowledge of reality significantly.  I’ve been slowly reading the Bible and The Evolution of God makes a great supplement.

The two music biographies, The Byrds and The Beatles, were fantastic reads and terrific strolls down memory lane.  I could only get the abridged version of The Beatles on audio, but I have bought the fat hardback and I’m looking forward to reading it.  However, reading these two books only reinforces my looking backwards towards the 1960s.

The lesson I’m learning from writing this post is I need to make 2010 the year of living in the present.  I’ve already started that by playing contemporary music on Lala.com.  Musically, the huge gravity well of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s holds me inside an event horizon and I have struggle to see the light of modern music. 

The past is obviously a black hole pulling me into it – and I realize I need to fight its powerful pull.  I desperately need to blast out of the orbit of looking backwards if I want to keep my mind expanding.  I will never be young again, and I worry that nostalgia is a kind of premature burial.  I do believe I stay current with computers and the Internet, at least more so than my age group peers.  I’m also in touch with the current pop culture of movies and television.  And I watch a lot of news and documentary shows, and I consume vast quantities of wordage from the Internet.

I find my reading year more exciting and fulfilling when I read new novels and books.  The only 2009 books I read in 2009 were The Evolution of God, Why Women Have Sex and Magnificent Desolation.  I’d like to read at least 12-15 2010 books in 2010.

JWH – 12/31/9

10 thoughts on “2009 Year in Reading”

    1. Thanks David for providing the recommendation and link. Peter Watt’s web site is fascinating. The reviews of Blindsight at Amazon are also very persuasive, and it’s available on audio! Which makes it far more likely I’ll read it. Although I’m going to read the web version for awhile to make sure I’m thoroughly hooked. Blindsight also meets my desire to read more contemporary science fiction.

  1. Hi Jim,
    Just checked out your book list. I’m jealous of the length. One of my great pleasures in life is finishing a book from cover to cover, and this year, only about 12. I have “The Canon” but haven’t started it yet. I used to follow her column in the NYTimes. The book, “Why Women Have Sex” caught my eye. David Buss was the writer who first introduced me to Evol. Psych with his, “Evol of Desire” and you know the rest, Years of reading every book I could get my hand on. It still interests me, but now I am hooked on economics, randomness, irrational behavior, etc……Some of the books I’ve read are: Irrational Exuberance, Outliers, Superfreakanomics, Spent, Sway, Why We Buy What We Buy, and Class. All nonfiction. I seem to have stopped reading fiction, not sure why. I think it is because time is flying by so fast, I want to absorb as much knowledge as I can. Instead of making resolutions about losing weight and exercising more, I am going to make my resolutions fun–like try and read a book every night, eat ice cream daily, and gallavant more…well, the first one will work if I don’t fall asleep first….one of my main complaints of aging is I can’t stay up later anymore and read for hours. At least I am sleeping well. I’ve added your site to my google reader and browse it regularly. Really enjoy your commentary even if I don’t have time to respond.

    1. Kim, I’ve been meaning to write you. After reading Why Women Have Sex I thought about you and our discussions of biology and desire. You might like to read Why Women Have Sex, but then again, it might be old territory for you. I’m finding non-fiction more rewarding too, mainly because I’m enjoying expanding my map of reality. However, the best fiction can explore reality too. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford was published in 1915 and is about two couples, where the man narrating the story tries to explain his wife’s affairs. It’s very Victorian repression trying to understand the biology of desire.

      I also read Outliers in 2008, and Freakonomics, but not Superfreakonomics. I’ll have to try some of the other titles you mention. I’m interested in economics too, but from another angle. How do we prepare for global warming without ruining our society economically. I’m also fascinated by the impact of the Internet on economics.

      You know you don’t have to wait until bedtime to read. The reason why I get so much reading done is because I carry an iPod around and listen to books whenever I get a chance. Of the 39 books I read in 2008, only 5 were with my eyes. All the rest were audiobooks. Also, another good source of learning is The Teaching Company – http://www.teach12.com – and their Great Courses series. I think Olivia said you had tried them.

      I hope to read a lot more non-fiction in 2010.

  2. Your list of books read looks wonderful to me, in large part because there are many classics on there that I have not yet had to pleasure to read but certainly look forward to getting to at some point, most especially the Heinlein books.

    And any list that has Dracula on it is tops in my book!!!

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