Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Year of Books - 2015

Reading Table: photo by Cliff Hutson
Reading Table: photo by Cliff Hutson

It Was a Very Good Year

My record keeping is a little shaky, but it looks like I read 63 books in 2015. There were at least a couple more that I started and gave up on, as I figured life was too short to put up with them - they shall remain nameless. Also, there two more that I began reading and put aside in hopes of getting to them this year. Neither does this count include any resources or field guides I refer to when writing my "Plant of the Month" articles for "Oak Notes". 

This is the first year that I really tried to to make any sort of enumeration, but I think it is a little over the average number that I have read every year since I retired in 2009. However, inspired by David Allen, from now on I will be keeping an accurate record; and better notes on what I thought of each book. I recently started using Evernote and it seems like the ideal tool for this process. So, here is what I can recall from 20015.

The Good

There are two books that really captivated me. The first would be the "The Martian " by Andy Weir; the second is "The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion.

I was fascinated by "The Martian" as it combined the great classic stories such as that of  Robinson Crusoe or the Swiss Family Robinson with, what I will call science fiction, for want of a better description. Most modern stories of survival seem to emphasize brawn. This novel underscores that brains are just as important. I have to love that.

The second book is also kind of grounded in science. I like it because my career in systems analysis brought me in touch with many people who resemble the protagonist. And, truth be told, I see much of myself in him. I feel this is a super good read on what the experience of being on the Asperger's Syndrome curve is like; and how opposites can attract.

The Bad

The candidate for this category is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, which supposedly argues that modern Western culture misunderstands and undervalues the traits and capabilities of introverted people. While it does make a few good points, I feel it fails to make a strong argument for her case. But, what really galled me was her constant references to the physical appearance of the people whom she choose to profile. I might as well been reading some bodice ripper. Are we to assume that a good looking introvert has more value than a plain looking introvert or gregarious person? As a lifelong introvert, this book did not tell me anything I did not already know.  And I can't see how it will help anyone who is not introverted understand those of us who are. This may be a minority opinion, but it is mine and I am sticking to it.

The Ugly

No one is perfect. Least of all me. I could write a volume about the typos and errors of omission in my writing. But, I have seldom made an error of fact; especially on a fact that could be easily checked. My finding such a mistake in a book can spoil my pleasure in reading it. When I come upon several, the book falls in to the "the ugly" bucket. I very much wanted to like "TANGLED VINES Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California" by Frances Dinkelspiel, but, alas, I could not.

I thought I would like it as it came to my attention through a writer I trust; I enjoy reading mystery and true crime; and, I am a bit of a history buff - and many of the historical events recounted in this book occurred less than ten miles from where I live. But, the mistakes made about the facts I know about made me lose faith in the rest of it.

The first I actually let slide. The author explains that a piece of property adjacent to what is now know as the Thomas Winery Plaza was highly valuable to developers as it lay between two major freeways. But, in the year in question, one was not yet built and some thought that it would never come to fruition - much as the 710 has yet to be extended through South Pasadena. However, as it was planned, I figured that I should let this go.

The second was more problematic. She places the city of Pomona in San Bernardino County. Yes, it is right on the border, but Pomona is the seventh largest city in Los Angeles County. The author or a good fact checker should have done a better job with that.

But, what really tore it for me is that the story of the USS Indianapolis, which was sunk July 30, 1945, after delivering parts for the first atomic bomb to the United States air base at Tinian, is attributed to the USS Arizona - which is widely known to have been destroyed on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. If a mistake that egregious can make its way in to print, how can I trust any of the facts or stories the author relates?

Looking Forward

I guess my major undertaking in 2016 will be to finally read "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" by Thomas Piketty. It has been in my "to be read" pile since May 2014. My reluctance to pick it up is probably due to my having earned a degree in economics about four and a half decades ago and fear finding out that I have been left in the dust.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am reading "Tangled Vines" and just came to the glaring mistake about the USS Arizona. I was so confused that I googled it to see if anyone else had caught it or I was just crazy. That's how I found your comments.