Books read 2019

END OF YEAR SUMMARY: Well, I think I’ve probably done all i’m going to do for the rest of this year.. I hit 50 items in total which is going to be the figure I aim for going forward. Going forward I think x50 is the magic numbers, its an easy number to remember. I’m going to try to do a 20-20-10 split between fiction, non-fiction and graphic novels next year. All in all, am happy with what I’ve done this year (much better than the dismal effort last year). The highlights for me were Jerusalem, Empire of Grass, and The Order of Time… the lowpoints were Wolf, Man-Kzin Wars II, and Batman Rebirth vol 5.

 

OCT:

“Jerusalem” – A.Moore

This is a huge book weighing in 1000+ pages. The first half of the book is fantastic, the next 1/4 okay-ish and the last 1/4 expendable. It’s a shame, because with a good editor, this book could have easily dropped some 250+ pages and been a more slim and focused book, instead it does pander a little bit to Mr. Moores whimsy. He’s got a chapter that is one long poem… another written in a made up anglo-saxon language which makes it very hard to consume and yet another written like it’s a film script. All unnecessary and a little bit “look how clever i am” rather than adding to overall complex interwoven story arc. With the input of a good firm editor, Mr.Moore could have killed his darlings and this tome could have easily been one of the most important novels of the 21st century and a true psycho geography masterpiece. As such, the imperfections in the last 200+ pages drop it a notch down to end in a very solid 9/10.

“The Verdant Passage” T.Denning

This is the 1st book in a series of 5 based in the Dungeons and Dragons world of Dark Sun, circa 1992 ish. I picked it up on eBay for 2 quid. Its actually not bad… sure we are not talking high literature by any measure here, but in terms of a solid adventure plot, a dash of magic and intrigue, a disparate adventure party travelling through magical forests etc, its a good enough job. 6/10

SEPT:

“Learning Javascript” – M.Emrich & C.Marit

Bit of an impulse buy this one. I know very little JS so thought I’d get a book to learn it, but actually this particular one is aimed at the total total beginner, so a lot of it is just basic programming, so was very slow going for me. It wasn’t until page 150-ish that it started to get interesting and meaningful. So for me, personally, a 5/10 however, in terms of pitching the building blocks of programming, if you were just getting into this stuff for the first time, it’s very well covered and a solid 9/10 for the newbie.

AUGUST:

–“Brexit Boris” – H.Williams

Heathcote Williams was one of Britain’s more interesting characters. Its a testament to his genius that he saw through current Prime Minister Johnson some years ago and wrote this slim but interesting factual document stating exactly why the man is unfit for office. He passed away in 2017 so never got to see that Johnson finally got the job he had been scheming for for years. We live in pretty shocking times really. 7/10.

–“Alan Moore: Storyteller” – G.S Spencer

A brief biography and examination of Mr.Moore’s works from his early days right until 2012 ish. A very interesting read this and it really added already to my already very esteem for this gentlemen. I rate Mr.Moore as the greatest Englishman currently alive and whilst to me, a lot of his work still remains opaque or something just that doesn’t tickle me, the one’s that I do ‘get’ are so utterly astonishing in their story that I feel that some of Mr.Moore’s work should be taught and analysed in schools. 9/10.

–“The Uninhabitable Earth” – D.Wallace-Wells

Well what a depressing bleak read that was. Basically, the author makes a factual argument backed up with scientific academic research (i.e stuff you can measure, not just someones opinions) of how we have screwed up this planet and we have probably only 100 years left on it before we’re wiped out. 100 years.. it’s so near! Within the space of a generation or two, we’ve successfully managed to fuck things up and upend a very fragile balance, but rather than in the same amount of time, attempt to address and fix this, we’ve sort of kicked it down the line for some magical unknown set of people and politicians and engineers to resolve. We’ve shat the bed and walked out of the hotel without paying the bill hoping some mysterious benefactor will cover the costs and mess once we’ve left. It’s the height of irresponsibility and greed, for surely the only thing stopping us making good decisions is that someone somewhere will be out of a dollar and they are digging in hard and claiming everything is fine. You’ll hear a lot from climate deniers about how the planet naturally warms up and it was this hot some X number of millions year back but keep this in mind, no human in the past 200,000 years of what you can ‘humanity’ as in human sapiens, has ever lived on this planet as hot as this one is now. Never. Thats a fact. Thats not conjecture. Not a single human ever. You’re right now breaking a record, none of your ancestors has lived on the Earth this hot, you’re the winner! And the planet is only going to get hotter. I always felt that humanity as a species only had another 1000 years or so left on the clock.. I saw the year 2000 tick over and I recall worrying ‘will there be a human left to celebrate year 3000?’ and thinking it unlikely. I think it even more unlikely now… in 100 years, civilisation will have collapsed, and a few hundred after that, I think the last humans will be wandering around the planet like our very first ancestors did, dressed in skins and carrying spears. I am not going to give a rating for this one but only suggest that everyone reads it and contemplates the authors arguments, and takes time to look up the annotated research and studies that he has referred to at the back of his book. There is still a window of between now and the next 20 years to limit the effects. I really hope others will start to realise how bad things can get unless responsible action is taken by all.

–“An Illustrated Guide to Self-Discipline” – M.Meadows

So light weight and glancing, so lacking in real depth as to render this particular publication useless. 1/10

–“Marvels and Mysteries of the Unexplained” – N.Blundell & A.Hall

Picked this up from a 2nd hand book store, originally published around 1984. Sadly, horribly dated, some of the stuff in it has been thoroughly debunked, also the research from that period seems sketchy to me (i guess pre-internet it was hard to research stuff and opinions ended up as facts!), anyway, nothing to see here. 1/10

JULY:

–“Empire of Grass” – T.Williams

Part 2 of new trilogy by Mr Williams. It’s a slow burn, but each sentence is crafted with intelligence and guile and it’s the work of a true master. The story thickens further and its edge of the seat stuff sometimes while it carries along a cast of 20+ characters. Although its an excellent book, I felt it wasn’t as good as part-1. For that reason 9/10.

–“Batman : Rebirth vol-5” – T.King

Mr King had to sooner or later drop a bollock… and this is it. While I applaud his efforts to take Batman to places no writer prior has attempted, this smacked of a 1950s screwball comedy where the ex and the new wife are around during a honeymoon. It’s a joke and not in a funny way. A truly awful waste of time and money. Gone seriously off the guy now.  1/10.

JUNE:

–“The Riddling Reaver” – S.Jackson

An old Fighting Fantasy book, different from the others in that it’s presented as a campaign for a Games Master to run. I sometimes have wild fantasies about jacking my job in and setting up as a freelance for hire GM that runs a one off evening session to a crowd who wish to witness what it was like to play classic D&D. Anyway.. back to the book, fairly standard stuff, fun quick read but not a legend (unlike Deathtrap Dungeon /Trial of the Champions /Warlock of Firetop Mountain or City of Thieves is). 5/10

–“You are the hero” – J.Green

The definite history of Fighting Fantasy books from their early 1980s birth to the present. Sumptuous art work contained within. This is a must for any fan of the genre. Put together with love. 10/10.

–“Moneyland” – O.Bullough

An expose into the corrupt activities of the rich and their tax dodging ways. Ultimately a frustrating book as it makes you realize just what a powerless pawn one is, while the oligarchs and billionaires are allowed to continue to squash the dreams of the common man. 6/10

–“Unabomber Manifesto” – T.Kaczynski 

Finally got around to reading this one. Its slim reading. There are a couple of interesting points but on the whole it just comes across as the ramblings of a mad man, there is the seed of alt-right germinating in these ramblings and if anything it should be heeded as a warning as these sorts of musings will end up no where healthy. 1/10.

–“Batman : Rebirth vol-4” – T.King

What I am really enjoying about Mr Kings writing is its originality. He’s doing new things with Batman that havent been done since the 1990s. Its very fresh and attention grabbing, my only concern is the hyper violence, a tad unnecessary I think. Cracking story this one though. Very Dark Knight indeed!  8/10

–“Batman : Rebirth vol-3” – T.King

Getting better and better! Really enjoying this series. Forces you to concentrate on not just the writing but also the art.  8/10

–“Spiderman : Revelation” – B.Bendis

Continuing the Miles Morales saga… sadly, this one smacks of the writer just getting bored with the character and keen to wrap it up. Lazy writing. Could have been great! But isn’t.  4/10

Taking stock at the years midway point. Books read so far :

Fiction =  4
Non-Fiction = 20
Graphic Novel = 13

Definitely need to read more fiction! An impressive haul so far though.. thats 37 unique works of art consumed. Looking like I will hit 50+. If I can manage 52, I’m happy with that. I think 50 a year, which is approx one book per week is a good number to target going forward as its doable with discipline. I will make a pact that between now and when I kick the bucket (which cant be that far off anyway) I will consume 50 books a year.

MAY:

–“Batman Road to No Mans Land vol 2” – various

Oh dear, this was is so indicative of late 1990’s work. The art is poor, rushed, the story is all over the place… and Batman barely features at all. One to miss. 2/10

–“I cant make this up” – K.Hart

Comedian/Actor Kevin Harts unreliable memoirs. Very funny in places, it literally made me laugh out loud, but theres also just a bit too much American Dream inserted within the prose which reduced it in my eyes and made it sound at times, like a self-help book. 8/10

–“The CRPG Book” – Bitmap Books

A hefty 500+ page tome that weighs a good few kilogrammes! This is a well researched, well written and carefully considered book that has filled in a gap in the market. It is a genuine joy to read and if you have ever had an interest in RPG computer games then this is a must buy. 10/10

–“Spiderman : Revival” – B.Bendis

This is the Ultimate Spider-Man collection by Bendis.. the kicker is, Bendis has told umpteen Ultimate Spiderman reboots, so its really difficult working out which particular strand of story you are getting. This is the Miles Morales one, its a good read. 8/10

–“Batman : Rebirth vol-1” – T.King

A new writer kicking off a new set of stories, and its a really well drawn and written, however, you need to pay super attention to all the detail else its easy to lose the plot and head scratch 7/10

–“Your retirement Salary ” R.Dyson & R.Evans

Getting old so I thought I’d do some research. Basically I think that unless you’ve worked for a full 35 years and have a private pension pot of at least £350K you’re kinda fcuked. A sobering and interesting read. 7/10

–“Batman : Rebirth vol-2” – T.King

This series is probably the most cerebral of the Batmans ever written. The artwork is excellent also. These are very good, however its just still falling a little bit shy of awesome for me. I’ll continue reading them hoping that they pick up however. 7/10

–“The Order of Time” – C.Rovelli

Am a big fan of Professor Rovelli. Not only is a physics genius, but he possesses romance, subsequently his books are presented with a very readable prose that transcends most science related non fiction. What he writes about is so amazing that it will jolt your brain, its such a mind bending read that its hard for ones brain to accept what is being presented. I only understood about 66.6% of what was pitched, so its a book I have decided to re-read again each year for the next few years, until the concepts solidifies in my mind. 10/10

APR:

–“All Star Superman” – G.Morrison, F.Quitely

I’ve always thought Grant Morrison overated and my opinion didnt change with this one. Some nice ideas, but not enough, and then the rest shrouded with bizarreness that makes it not only a difficult read, but very off putting. The only Superman story I’ve ever enjoyed is the Injustice series when he goes bad.  2/10

 

MAR:

–“The Five” – H.Rubenhold

A social historians perspective to the 5 canonical victims of Saucy Jack. Some good reading, but most of it felt like the author was trying to make meat from a very thin gruel. 7/10

–“Jack the Ripper” – R.Jones

A well put together photoalbum with nice photos etc, but its all cosmetic and there’s very little material here and certainly nothing new. Perhaps a good entry point for someone wanting the most barest of facts with minimal reading of those months in 1888, but otherwise one to avoid. 4/10

–“The Path” – M.Pruett

Halfway between a self help book and a book of history of Chinas ancient philosophers, and while there are some enjoyable anecdotes and thought exercises, I felt this book to be a let down after the hype. There’s just not enough here and would have served better if editted down and printed as a long magazine article. 3/10

–“Advanced Spectrum Machine Language” – D.Webb

I have to say I’m in two minds about actually rating this one because although I went through the entire book I only really understood 20% of it. More than half of the book is just code listing so thats never an easy thing to absorb at the best of times. I think objectively; although it has good material , it is not well written nor explained, so while the actual code to use might be good, it’s not presented in an consumable way, it also felt rushed to me (written in 1984 it was probably done with meeting a pressing deadline), there exists nowadays on the web,  far better examples of what this book was trying to achieve but I guess the scene has progressed considerably in the past 30+ years with better resources and examples and perhaps built upon the foundations of this book. Overall however, this is probably one to avoid, its not dated well and should be permanently shelved and never looked at again other than as a historical curio. 2/10

–“The Atlas of Tolkien’s Middle-earth” – F.Fonstad

A set of very detailed maps to accompany Tolkiens many books. A wealth of detail and information, right down to distances, population, types of strata and minerals in mountains, etc plus helpfully some text to place it into context. Its only for the real hards however. And probably once you’ve gone through it cover to cover you may well just never touch again. Even so, an impressive work. 7/10

–“From Hell” – A.Moore E.Campbell

I first read this in late 1990s, and I was unimpressed, I didnt understand it. You need to have an understanding of the period, the major players, the victims etc to make sense of it. I didnt back them, so I binned the entire book and decided Moore was overrated. In those 20 years, I obviously got into it, and now upon a re-read (I had to repurchase obviously, doh) I can make far more sense of the whole thing. And it’s good. It’s not great, but it’s good . It is also a longgg and not particularly easy read. This is a heafy tome and some of the artwork is stomach churning stuff, so definitely not for the dilettante. 6/10

–“From Hell Companion” – A.Moore E.Campbell

The From Hell tome graphic novel has a lot of sub references and art done in a certain way to allude to other things that it is easy to miss. So this book by the artist goes into those references and highlights things that could be easily missed plus anecdotes from ‘the making of’ however, its all a bit thin on the ground really, and a purchase I could have lived without. 4/10.

–“Atlas of the Eastern Front: 1941-45” – R.Kirchubel 

This is a set of battle maps with brief summaries in a luxury hardbook book. Its good stuff, well put together, well explained, and covers the entire eastern front battles from start to end. A useful resource. 7/10

–“Wolf” – R.Ball

I loved Ms.Balls previous work The Inflatable Woman and was looking forward to this one. It sadly isnt as good as her previous work. The art work is fantastic but I felt the story and writing itself lacked the gravitas of her previous work and didn’t keep my interest. 3/10.

 

FEB:

started a few but nothing completed.  (unsuprising however given last months splurge!)

JAN:

 

–“Istanbul” – A.Guler

Not much of a read really as it is a book of photos from Istanbul (the city of my birth) from the 50s and 60s and very fine they are too. The photos invoked within me a strong sense of nostalgia and it makes me want to go back there for a visit after looking at the photos, but I keep reminding myself that the images in pictures are a snapshot from the past and it doesnt exist anymore. Visiting would be visiting a radically different place. 8/10

–“Dickens” Biography – P.Ackroyd

I had finished Pickwick Papers and I picked this up to learn a bit more about the man. Sadly, no doubt due to time, there is not a lot beyond what is already in his wikipedia page. I wanted to know where his ideas came from etc but this book doesnt really touch on that, perhaps simply because no book can, as it would be entering the realms of high conjecture, but clearly Dickens used a lot of his personal life experience and characters he met to bring his stories to life. An interesting and hardworking man, full of vigour until his 50s where upon he slowed down, no doubt weighed by the weight on his shoulders. A complex man also. Sadly this account lacked adequate interest for me. 3/10

–“Complete Future Shocks vol .1” – Various

This is the graphic novel collection from the 2000AD comic spanning several years worth of Future Shocks. They are very dated and its all very 1980s, and on the whole the bulk of them are forgettable or easily obvious what the final reveal will be, however there a few very good pages with good stories. Most of the stories were contained within the bounds of two pages so its good story telling to get your vision across in approx 12 panels and sub 300 words. Its okay.. not great. Probably better to spend your valuble time indulging elsewhere. 4/10.

–“Britains Best Political Cartoons 2018” – Various

A collection from the pens of various newspapers. Needless to say, the bulk of their wit is centred around Brexit as that has dragged on thru out last year and there was much biting satire regarding it. If you’re into politics, this is a good quick read. 6/10

–“Secrets of π” – J. Navarro

A slim book about the mathematical constant Pi including history, analysis and little anecdotes about past mathmaticians and their works. To be honest I probably only understood 15% of this book as it does slip into a lot of formulae and number sets to make a point which can get pretty heavy going. Probably one for the students doing a degree in pure Maths. 3/10

–“Surviving the Evacuation part 1” – F.Tayell

This is a zombie apocalypse story that starts in London. So no guns, and no swearing. Its very British, the book is a sort of dairy by a survivor who spends a considerable bulk of text lamenting the fact that the electricity stopped working so he cant drink tea. Needless to say, its a little bit silly. I discovered that the author has a set of 15 such books out and still writing more! Prodigious factory output, but if this first book is representative of the quality then I’m out already. It has a slight fan-fiction feel to it, or perhaps aimed at teens. Either way, its not particularly gripping nor held my interest enough to purchase book 02. 4/10

–“The Man-Kzin wars I” – L.Niven & Various

This is a spin off from Larry Nivens excellent Ringworld novels. He created a unique sentient feline species known as the Kzin in which in the Ringworld universe the Kzin had been thoroughly beaten in several wars in the past by Humanity. The man-kzin books are about the initial first contact before Ringworld, as a series of short stories. Three stories in this particular collection; the first was good, the second bad, and the last one great. Overall 6/10.

–“Batman: White  Knight” – S.Murphy

This is a newish Graphic Novel where The Joker becomes a good guy (kinda) and him and Batman work together to help Gotham. An interesting spin on the usual stories then. Not a bad yarn. 7/10/

–“The Wizards and the Warriors” – H.Cook

Probably the 4th time I’ve read this. The last time was I think 2002, so it’s been almost 20 years. I first read it in 1986 in Dalston,London (which is where I lived at the time) and I even recall the shop that I purchased it from (no longer there!). I recall at the time thinking it the best fantasy novel I had ever read, and it’s certainly still amongst the greats, however it has aged a little, or perhaps I have? A fantastic read and great story regardless, the ending seems a bit rushed now, I suspect Hugh was just keen to get onto the next project as he was a busy worker. Some great set pieces in this novel and it served as an introduction the other books that followed in its wake. 9/10

–“Maths in Minutes” – P.Glendiggin

This is a quick single page summary book covering most of the topics in mathematics. It’s not enough to teach you the topics, that’s not its purpose, it’s more to remind you of something that you’ve learnt in the past and forgotten and need a quick recap to jog your memory. In that respect its good but nevertheless, giving only 2 perhaps 3 paragraphs to a meaty area, for example Reimann’s zeta function, will not be very illuminating unless you’ve grasped the topic well at a previous point in your personal history, and if you’ve grasped it well, you won’t be requiring a recap on it! So merely an ‘okay’ for me in terms of reference and usefulness. 5/10

–“Making 8-bit Arcade Games in C” – S.Hugg

I’m in two minds about this one. It’s a great idea but the author is cramming in too much. At a break neck speed he covers the hardware, Z80 assembly, the fundamentals of C and around 5 games to build across various platforms. For me, it would have been better to slow down, stick to a single platform and cover different games of growing complexity. In its current state its a bit of a flibbertigibbet and zooms across across without ample explanation.  Overall, not great, some of the examples dont work either. 4/10

–“Mathematicians, Spies and Hackers” – J.Gomez

A very enjoyable and informative read covering the historical ciphers from thousands of years ago , right up the modern day with RSA diffle type stuff. Just the right about the info without overwhelming the casual reader, not too many formulae to get you lost and head scratching. A good read indeed. 8/10

–“Dungeons & Dragons: Art and Arcana” – Various

This is a heavy book, but most of the pages therein are art work (and wow, what art work!) so its consumable over the course of a few days. Its clearly been put together with love and care and maps the history of D&D from the start to the present, warts and all, and includes some utterly breathtaking and iconic pieces of art. For someone as myself, who first saw those first early ads in comic books featuring D&D way back when, it was a wonderful trip down memory lane. 10/10

–“Crash Annual 2019” – R.Kean & C.Wilkins

A Kickstarter campaign that’s been running for 2 Christmas’ now that rebooted the old 1980s ZX Spectrum magazine. A real labour of love, but a testament to the approx  3000 or so, global sadoids that keep the interest going (this includes me of course). People are still producing games for a computer almost 40 years old! Amazing. A great read, good articles, good collection of catch-ups and nostalgia. You’re going to have to be on the retro-game scene to truly appreciate this one. 8/10

–“Man Kzin Wars II” – S.Stirling & D.Ing

Absolutely terrible. There are x2 novellas contained in this book, the first is good, not great, just good, a C+ grade of a story, the second story is uttterly terrible and near unreadable which brings the overall total down. 3/10