I didn’t get a lot of reading done since my last roundup. Life has gotten in the way, I’m afraid. I have a few books in progress, but soon I’m going to be in Central America and won’t be returning until early next year, so I’m going to go ahead and call my year’s reading here. I’ll do a roundup of all my reading for 2014 later, but for now, the last thirteen capsule reviews.

  1. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders – Political allegory and social satire, but perpetrated with far less subtlety than Saunders’ short stories. Which isn’t to say it’s bad, but it only works because Saunders’ sense of humor lands far more often than it misses. Reads like he felt he hadn’t said enough when he wrote “The Braindead Megaphone,” and so did a fictional version as well.
  2. Dataclysm by Christian Rudder – Rudder is a cofounder of OKCupid and was the author of the OKTrends blog. This book is a recapitulation and expansion of the kinds of analysis he did there. I think many of the articles are of general interest, but the OKCupid analysis in particular fascinated me as a user of the site. For example, he publishes lists of words that are most likely to be used in profiles by only a single ethnicity. Four of the ones on the list for white people are in my profile.
  3. What If? by Randall Munroe – Mostly articles from the What If? blog. My favorite part was the intermittent samples of the weirdest or most upsetting questions people had submitted. My copy, though, had typesetting issues; in several places there were empty rectangles where there should have been mathematical symbols.
  4. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – Jeff’s Southern Reach trilogy has been much talked about this year, and well liked by many of my friends. I waited until all three books were available to start it. This book I found mildly entertaining and pleasantly paced, but little more.
  5. Authority by Jeff VanderMeer – I did not enjoy this book. I found it one-note and overlong. I will not be finishing the trilogy.
  6. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman – Very fun. A collection of fabulations with an occasional physicsy bent.
  7. The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis – What a gorgeous jewel of a book this is. A tender account of the life of an orphan chess prodigy and addict, who grows to adulthood and must learn to navigate both her talent and her dependencies. A much more optimistic book than The Man Who Fell To Earth, which I think it matches in accomplishment.
  8. More Than This by Patrick Ness – A story of young refugees in a confusing world, an Earth that they only discover after their own deaths. Something I like about all of Ness’s fiction is that there is a palpable sense of menace. He doesn’t have a George R. R. Martin-esque bodycount, but he doesn’t need it. The threats in a Ness novel always feel real.
  9. I Die at Midnight by Kyle Baker – I’d been meaning to read this since I was a teenager. A delightful, stylish noir romp.
  10. The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino – This is Kevin Brockmeier’s favorite book by his favorite author, and Carmen Machado loves it too, so I was glad to finally read it. It’s a lovely book, clever, funny, frequently surprising. I don’t think it hit me as hard as it does Kevin and Carmen, though. While I liked it, I occasionally found it overly twee.
  11. Man v. Nature by Diane Cook –An impressive debut collection. I read it in an airport and on airplanes, and barely noticed the travel, except during the stories with explicit sexual content. Her sex writing is legitimately sexy, which made it feel weird to be reading in close contact with strangers in narrow aircraft seats.
  12. Veronica by Mary Gaitskill – I was already a fan of her short stories, and now I know she’s excellent in the long form as well. Veronica is full of tangled, tricky insight. I’ve quoted it previously on the blog, and expect I’ll be writing about it more in the future.
  13. Megalex by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Fred Beltran – Not worth it. There’s nothing in here that wasn’t done first and better in the earlier Jodoverse graphic novels, and the ending is too rushed to have any power. For Jodorowsky completists only.