Saturday, December 23, 2006

2006: The Year in Literature (and other reading)

Well, I'm going to define "literature" broadly for the purposes of this blog entry. I really mean the year in text.

I read a few more novels this year than usual for two reasons: (1) I'm not currently teaching and the time in the evening I might use to prepare lectures I can instead use for reading, baseball, games, or any of several other means of goofing off. (2) I gained at least a couple novels (and probably three) because a baseball book -- a rather comprehensive one filled with scouting reports-- I used to buy every year called The Scouting Notebook was not printed in 2006.

OK, so what did I read?

I finished off the Deathgate Cycle books by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman and had a lot of fun with most of those (though some were better than others).

I also read the third and final book (Road of the Patriarch) in R. A. Salvatore's "Sellswords" trilogy, which is set on Toril (Forgotten Realms) and follows the assassin Artemis Entreri and the drow mercenarcy Jarlaxle. (Jarlaxle is one of my favorite characters.) It's good that Salvatore has been moving away from writing about Drizzt all the time and has turned the spotlight on some of the other characters he's created (some of which are more interesting than Drizzt and definitely benefit from the development). One of the things I particularly liked with this trilogy is to focus on characters whose alignment isn't good.

I read the second book in the current trilogy in the main Dragonlance story arc. This book, called Amber & Iron, follows the character Mina, who was introduced in the "War of Souls" series (by Weis), and brings in some new characters. (There are occasional cameos by some of the other Dragonlance characters, though these aren't as interesting as many of the older ones about whom I read for years.) The third book in this trilogy should be coming out in February. Another book by Weis & Hickman, Dragons of the Dwarven Depths, is the first book in the "Lost Chronicles" trilogy and covers the main Dragonlance characters of old between the first two books in the original Chronicles. Reading about adventures between two known ones isn't the same as following a timeline without knowing where it will lead, but I really like the writing of Weis & Hickman, and I also enjoyed the chance to read about Tasselhoff, Raistlin, and company again. The next book in this series comes out in July.

I finished up the new Amy Tan book (called Saving Fish from Drowning) at the beginning of the year. I bought it towards the end of last year, and it was sadly a major disappointment. I typically buy her new books (other than children's books) without a thought, but after this disaster, I'm going to be more judicious about the next one and not trust her automatically.

I also ate into my backlog a bit, which includes several novels I bought dating back to when I was a student at Tech -- I don't use a queue or a stack when choosing my reading material; I'll read certain things that I buy immediately and others have to wait for me to get around to them. One of them, about Lord Soth's fall from grace, wasn't good, but I insist on finishing books that I start. I'm anal that way. (Among other things, I was annoyed how the Knights of Solamnia in the book were depicted just like stereotypical soldiers who like to drank, brag about their conquests, etc. The book also wasn't well written, which is a greater sin than the depiction that didn't feel faithful to the Dragonlance universe.) Another book from my backlog that I read was I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin, which is the sequel to I, Strahd: Memoirs of a Vampire, which I read many years ago. Both of these are by P. N. Elrod, known for her vampire stories outside of Ravenloft (which is where these two take place), and I enjoyed both of them. (I should have read the sequel earlier. I've owned it for 10 years.) I am currently reading another Ravenloft book from my backlog. (Recently, Wizards started reprinting some of these stories for the first time in many years, so I'm hoping some new Ravenloft stories will also be written.)

There might be a couple more novels I'm missing, but they're not coming to mind at the moment. In terms of short stories, I read some more in my Harlan Ellison collection and will be finishing that soon. (I bought it while at Cornell. When it comes to short stories, I'll typically read a few stories and then put the collection down for a while.) I recently finished my Lovecraft collection, which I also bought while in graduate school. I have gotten a couple hundred pages through a Philip K. Dick collection (The Philip K. Dick Reader), which I bought around the time A Scanner Darkly came out in the theatres. I had been meaning to read some of Dick for a while, and the release of the movie provided the impetus I needed. Thus far, some of the stories are mediocre, but I like others quite a lot. (A recent one that I read that I really enjoyed was involved a robot that advertises itself and one just has to buy it.) There might be a couple other things I read this year, but in some cases I'm not sure if I read it last year after I returned to Tech or this year. The time just kind of washes together.

For next year, I recently bought a copy of Dune (and its first sequel), so I think I'll finally get around to reading the first of those. Maybe I'll read the 2nd next year too. I also ordered a copy of The Annotated Chronicles, so that will give me a nice chance to revisit the original Dragonlance characters in a way that will job my memory and also provide some new stuff. I may also start one of the other Weis & Hickman series. (Besides Dragonlance and Deathgate Cycle, has anybody here read any of their other stuff?) Flatland has been part of my backlog for a while, and I want to reread the third Hitchhiker's Guide book as well. (I reread the first two a couple years ago after not having finished them off when I was much younger.) There are also other novels like Farenheit 451 that I've meant to read for a long time, so maybe I'll pick up some of those as well.

I own several d20 rulebooks that I have glanced through with varying levels of thoroughness, so maybe I'll read a couple of those. (Another reason I read more novels this year is that I didn't bother with any of those this year.) In particular, I'm thinking either the Cthulhu or Dragonlance books. (I'd like to run a Dragonlance campaign.) I won't be renewing my subscription to Dungeon, so I can do a bit of a time trade-off with those two things. Oh, so in terms of magazines, I spent some time going through my Dungeon issues but I didn't read those cover-to-cover. I also read Electronic Gaming Monthly and made some headway in my backlog of Caltech alumni publications and issues of American Scientist (which occasionally has articles I like, but some issues definitely have more than others --- so some of them taking considerably longer to finish than others). I also get Physics Today and Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Like American Scientist, there is a large variation in how long the issues will take me.

What else? I read numerous scientific journal articles (with refereeing, reading students' reports, and reading page proofs of my own articles being the most painful because of how carefully I have to read that stuff), lots of issues of The Tech, tons and tons of articles on (tons and tons of baseball articles but very few others), a particular couple of blogs most of us know, and lots of other random (or not-so-random) things on the Web (wikipedia entries and whatnot). Oh, I also finished the 2005 Beverly Hills High School alum publication (just a little late...) and am currently working on the 2006 one.

So, I read a lot. I wish I could read fast because sadly I can't. But the above really involves a huge amount of time when one reads as slowly as I do. I like reading, though it would be nice if I could concentrate better when I read and not be so slow. (I can be painfully slow at times.) I think even for a light novel, I'd say because of the focus problems that 20-30 pages an hour would be a typical pace for me, and if I'm stressed out, it can get even slower than that.

I'll have some more end-of-year reviews later. Well, I'll at least do one for movies. I might incorporate plays and musicals into that one too, as I probably didn't see enough plays and musicals to justify their own entry. I probably won't do one for my research, because it feels too much like stuff I have to do. (I'll need to be sending the CPI people a summary of the 2006 stuff in a month or two when they are filling out their progress reports for the people who pay them.) I might do one for games, though there also aren't that many I played this year. I could discuss nailing Princess Peach against a fence, because I didn't spend enough time doing this in 2005, so I continued that practice a bit into 2006.

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