Monday, January 10, 2011

Considering 2010: Books

I didn't read many novels in 2010 as compared to other years. I usually have two books running at a time: one at work, one at home. But I spent most of this year reading short story anthologies instead of full-length works. The most notable books I delved into were non-fiction (very unusual for me) and even the two major fictions I read came more tightly hewn to real world histories.

I'd been interested in Michael Shaara's Killer Angels ever since I learned it was an influence on Joss Whedon's television show Firefly. I didn't realize at first that it was adapted into the film Gettysburg (a movie I quite like) and when I finally read it for myself I was stunned to see just how closely the film followed the novel. Given that both are fictional recreations of the Battle of Gettysburg, it's amazing to learn how closely the filmmakers followed Shaara's sequences and dialogue.

The other big historical novel (with a film adaptation of its own) was the Name of the Rose. To this, I credit my cousin Andrew for repeatedly bringing up Umberto Eco and encouraging me to seek out his work. Having read Eco's most famous book - and being rather impressed - I hope to seek out some more in the future.

Also thanks to Andrew I sought out Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond, a tome which recounts various tales of human civilizations which passed into history and what factors undermined them. I hear that Diamond has his critics, but I found this book an eye-opener, particularly his chapter on Arizona which describes how the state is barely able to sustain itself.

I really treasured Michael J. Lyons' World War I: a Short History and World War II: a Short History. I needed to research both wars for a Marvel Comics project (Blockbusters of the Marvel Universe, on sale this month!) and these books filled in the gaps of history I barely understood (or had forgotten). I particularly appreciated how the Pacific war was described in his World War II volume as my high school education fixated on Europe.

My growing interest in mission work lead me to Ishmael Beah's Long Way Gone and Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With the Devil. Dallaire's book has one described moment so horrible that I had to put it down for a while before resuming. Both made me upset with the world's indifference to human suffering and what better way to put my money where my mouth is than to volunteer myself to a mission?

Next: Music

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