Book Read List - 2002

These are short descriptions of the books I read during 2002, with my rankings on a scale of '+', '0', and '-' and links to full reviews where I have written them.

52 books total
Rating distribution: 36 '+'s, 14 '0's, 2 '-'s
5 re-reads of books read in previous years

Favorites of the Year:
England, England; Julian Barnes
Beggars in Spain; Nancy Kress
Arrowsmith; Sinclair Lewis
The Code Book; Simon Singh
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; Muriel Spark

Back to Amanda's Book Reviews

Joan Aiken; Jane Fairfax (+)
Fun retelling of Austen's Emma from Jane Fairfax's perspective, filling in her background. It's fairly faithful to the plot and style, and respectful of the original.
Kate Atkinson; Human Croquet (+)
The story of an emotionally sterile family in ruins after the disappearance of a brother and sister's parents and their subsequent life with their aunt - and later the inexplicably returned father. Like much Literature, it's all in the execution, but Atkinson writes well. Shades of fantasy, mystery, and repressed memories which should be familiar to those who have read Behind the Scenes at the Museum.
Margaret Atwood, Shannon Ravenel, eds.; The Best American Short Stories: 1989 (0)
A mixed bag of short stories. My favorite aspect was Atwood's description of the selection process, in which she ended up employing an author-blind system and reflects on the results.
Jane Austen; Emma (reread) (+)
---; Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon (reread) (0)
---; Persuasion (reread) (+)
All comfort reading - Emma remains one of my favorite books, but the darkness of Persuasion grows on me on further readings.
Julian Barnes; England, England (+)
A entrepreneur buys an island and recreates and old English theme park. The book tells the story behind the creaters and park staff. The plot follows investigations into the methods and ethics of the park founder, but I was mostly amused by the stories of the park workers' exerperineces and the deviations the park was forced to make from historical accuracy to meet the public's preconceptions.
Charlotte Bronte; Villette (reread) (+)
The dark, brooding version of Jane Eyre, we follow a young orphan girl as she is forced to make her own way in the world, though Villette teaches in a school rather than as a governess. Charlotte does a good job showing a character who lives by her principles and shows self reliance, while still finding her life difficult and often depressing.
Thomas Cahill; The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (0)
I seem to recall finding parts of this book illuminating, but I can't remember a thing about it so it must not have been that good. The subtitle sums up the content pretty well.
Italo Calvino; Difficult Loves (+)
A collection of short stories about life in Italy between 1945 and 1958, both of a realistic and in a folktale style.
Douglas Coupland; Miss Wyoming (+)
Not as good as microserfs, but filled with victims of child beauty pagents, sitcom production, fan obsession, and government conspiracy, this is wacky fun.
Michael Cunningham; The Hours (+)
Cunningham reinterprets Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway in a modern setting, and does a good job of it. I wouldn't bother if you don't like Woolf, and you should definitely give Dalloway a re-read first or you won't spot half the cleverness.
Joan Delfattore; What Johnny Shouldn't Read: Textbook Censorship in America (+)
Delfattore surveys the history of textbook censorship, challenges, and the behind-the-scenes politicing that dictates what publishers try to put in textbooks in the first place, with a good grounding in law and legal precidents. An accessible and fascinating read.
Joanne Dobson; The Raven and the Nightingale (+)
Another in Dobson's mystery series about a professor at a small New England liberal arts college who stumbles across an improbable amount of literary research that ends in murder. Fun curl-up-with-cocoa reading.
Richard P. Feynman; Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character (+)
---; What Do You Care What Other People Think: Further Adventures of a Curious Character (0)
Feynman's first book is a classic, and it's a fun, fast peak into the mind of a scientist, from childhood investigations to emboilments in Big Science. The second book is mostly more of the same, and I think the most interesting stories all made it into the first book.
Helen Fielding; Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (0)
Bridget Jones' Diary was very amusing, and this is more of the same, but more improbable and silly. Fun if you were a fan of the original, but nothing special.
Paul Fussell; Class (-)
A silly overgeneralization about American social classes that I picked up used after reading some interesting comments about it. Not even entertainingly bad.
Sue Grafton; 'G' Is For Gumshoe (+)
---; 'H' Is For Homicide (+)
I read a couple of these mysteries each year, when I need a mystery fix. The mysteries rarely depend on the withheld information and feature lots of character development, particularly of the cool woman PI protagonist.
Katie Hafner & John Markoff; Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier (0)
Anecdotes of early computer hackers, much like Levy's Hackers, which I prefered.
James L. Halperin; The Truth Machine (+)
A sci-fi story told via interviews, newspaper articles, and some exposition in a near future in which a perfect lie detector has been built. The writing is weak, but Halperin does a nice job exploring the social, economic, and legal implications.
Douglas Hofstadter & the Fluid Analogies Research Group; Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought (0)
Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach is a wonderful book presenting some of my favorite pieces of computer science in an accessible and accurate manner. This is just a collection of his group's papers, simplified to just above mass consumption level. I was interested because it covers material quite close to my work, but don't read it unless you really want to hear gory technical details about the first steps in teaching computers to make analogies.
Peter W. Huber; Liability: The Legal Revolution and Its Consequences (+)
This is a survey of American liability law, starting with its European roots and running up through today's overly litigious society. A good account of the incremental adjustments, why they were inacted, and case studies of their problems.
Kazuo Ishiguro; The Remains of the Day (+)
A classic I had yet to get to, I really enjoyed this travelogue wrapped account of a butler's experience with the modernization (and Americanization) of the upper class and his relationship with it. What the movie Gosford Park was trying to do and failing at.
Henry James; The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Fiction (0)
I have liked a lot of Henry James but these stories didn't do much for me. I like the pacing and focus on detail possible in his longer works more.
Laurie R. King; The Moor (+)
---; O, Jerusalem (+)
The next two books in King's alternate Sherlock Holmes mystery series. The Moor sets Mary and Holmes at solving a revisitation of Hound of the Baskervilles; O, Jerusalem fills in some of the early history between Mary and Holmes from when they left the country in The Beekeeper's Apprentice.
Nancy Kress; Beggars in Spain (+)
A science fiction story exploring what might happen if genetic engineering could produce a race of humans who never sleep. It goes beyond being a high-concept story with good characterizations and writing.
C.S. Lewis; Out of the Silent Planet (+)
---; Perelandra (+)
---; That Hideous Strength (0)
Lewis's space trilogy describes a series of interplanatary and fantastic adventures in which Lewis makes his contemplations of Christianity more explicit than the allegorical Narnia series. I always find Lewis thought-provoking, and these were no exception, though I found parts of the final book overly dogmatic and bothersome.
Sinclair Lewis; Arrowsmith (+)
Lewis's Babbitt is considered the classic and is taught more in schools, but I liked this book much more. As Babbitt examines the corruption and discontent in middle class America, Arrowsmith considers these ills within the scientific research committee. It is the story of a young man's path away from idealistic pure scientist as he makes a series of compromises under the pressures of the dirty realities of the scientific community.
James Lileks; The Gallery of Regrettable Food (+)
This book has significant overlap with Lileks' same-named website, but if the book version is well-designed and literally laugh-out-loud funny.
Daphne duMaurier; The Winding Stair (0)
What could be more fun than a romance writer's history of the life of Francis Bacon, in which she tries to argue that Bacon wrote the Shakespeare plays. Too speculative, though entertaining and seemingly well-referenced.
Mrs. Bury Palliser; History of Lace (+)
A comprehensive history of lace making filled with illustrations and reproductions of antique laces. It covers both the evolution of lace making techniques and the development of lace trade, which used to be stringently regulated, and the social context of making and wearing lace of different types. The writing is a bit dry but the account is very detailed.
Dorothy Parker; The Portable Dorothy Parker (+)
I read this to fill in a hole in my literary background. Parker is amusing, and she certainly writes well. As advertised, there was plenty of darkness, cynicism, and despair, while still managing to be funny at times. I was reminded of Henry James. I'm not a poetry fan, but most of the stories were quite good. Surprisingly, I even enjoyed the book and play reviews, though I wasn't famliar with any of the works reviewed.
Henry Petroski; The Book on the Bookshelf (+)
Petroski has written many books on the engineering of everyday objects. Here, he describes the development of the modern book and their storage, beginning at the first handwritten manuscripts. The focus is not on the technologies of book production, but on the engineering of the physical book itself.
Beatrice Pierce; It's More Fun When You Know the Rules (+)
This book is a 1934 etiquette guide for girls, covering situation-appropriate attire, hygene, and general manners. I found this in a used book store and it was great fun to read as a historical work because of its dated nature.
Steven Pinker; How the Mind Works (0)
Following up The Language Instinct, Pinker overviews various theories of mind, building an argument for a computational theory of mind which presents current research well but digresses into speculation on the nature of emotion and belief in the context mind and humanity.
Plato; The Republic (0)
It's a classic. I hadn't read it. Now I have. Eh.
E. Annie Proulx; Postcards (0)
I've seen Proulx' various books lauded in many forums, but I wasn't blown away by this book. The story is of a farm famliy that falls to pieces as the industrialization of farming drives them into poverty and they try to escape with varying degrees of success. Thinking back on it, I feel like I should have enjoyed it, but I didn't while I was reading it.
Bertrand Russell; Mysticism & Logic (0)
A mixed bag collection of essays on logic, knowing, and other less related topics.
Robert Silberberg, ed.; A Century of Science Fiction 1950-1959 (+)
There were some very good stories in here, and it reminded me how well science fiction adopts itself to a short format.
Simon Singh; The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography (+)
Singh lays out the history of codes as a struggle between code makers and code breakers. The book should be accessible even for non-technical readers but provide entertaining history to those familiar with code technology.
---; Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem (+)
Singh is a fabulous "popular math" writer, and he captures the mathematician's fascination with this simply expressed problem. It won't teach you the details of Wiles' eventual proof, but you'll get to see the theorem's context in mathematical history.
Muriel Spark; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (+)
One of my favorite plays, the themes of power, deception, and devotion among children and adults feels like a feminine social-novel version of Ender's Game. I was surprised and pleased by the differences between this novel and its derivative play, so if you are a fan of the theatrical version definitely pick this up.
Janet D. Spector; What This Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village (-)
I picked this case study of feminist archaeology used out of curiosity for how it would differ from traditional approaches. The account seemed filled with unproved speculation, though this may be attributable to it being research-in-progress.
Robert Louis Stevenson; Treasure Island (+)
A children's classic I had never read, this is a fun adventure. Suspensful and scary, but without becoming horrific.
David Foster Wallace; Girl With Curious Hair (+)
A collection of short stories, some of them wonderful and many with a surprising lack of footnotes. I think A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again is funnier and probably a better intro to Wallace's style, but who can resist a story of the inexhorable crawl towards disaster as three friends travel to a reunion of McDonalds advertisement child actors?
Simon Winchester; The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (+)
The OED was unique in both its scope and its inclusion of genuine uses of words with historical tracing of evolution of meaning. This book presents two of the personalities behind the OED - the project leader and the institutionalized murderer who provided many of the word use examples. I would have preferred more of the history of OED and less sensationalizing, but still very good.
Virginia Woolf; Mrs. Dalloway (reread) (+)
Read as preparation for The Hours, I am convinced this is the best of Woolf's novels. She has one of the best executions of independent but thematically connected plot lines I've seen.
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