These are short descriptions of the books I read during 2003, with my
rankings on a scale of '+', '0', and '-'.
46 books total
Rating distribution: 22 '+'s, 11 '0's, 2 '-'s
6 re-reads of books read in previous years
Favorites of the Year: Babel Tower; A.S. Byatt Can't Buy My Love; Jean Kilbourne Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; J.K. Rowling The Ground Beneath Her Feet; Salman Rushdie The Big U; Neal Stephenson
Lousia May Alcott; The Feminist Alcott: Stories of a Woman's Power (+)
A collection of gothic-style horror stories - don't give this to a young
child expecting something like her better known works. Given the title I
expected something more explicitly feminist but enjoyed the stories
nonetheless as good creepy stories for the somewhat squeamish.
Jane Austen; Pride and Prejudice (reread)
---; Sense and Sensibility (reread)
I'm impressed I only re-read two Austen novels this year. These are two of
my favorites; I just got a pretty new copy of S&S this year so I had to
re-read it in that new edition.
Linda Berdoll; The Bar Sinister (-)
After reading Aiken's retelling of Emma last year and enjoying it so much,
I bought this book picking up where Pride and Prejudice left off.
Unfortunately, Berdoll wrote a romance novel, complete with the
sterotypical complement of bodice ripping and other smutty scenes,
including a major plotline revolving around how well-endowed Mr. Darcy is.
A silly, stupid book in which the characters bear no relation to those
Harold Bloom, ed.; Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages (+)
This was a great book to keep on my bedside table. Bloom collected a wide
range of stories and poems, not limited to children's lit but selecting
those works from all of literature which he either did or would have
enjoyed as a child. There were a variety of genres and nationalities
represented and the selection was universally good. Fun bedtime reading.
David Brin; Foundation's Triumph (0)
Asimov's estate has allowed a few established sci fi writers to continue
his Foundation series. Brin's contribution was so different in style from
Asimov's works that I found the book jarring. Brin is a good writer and in
retrospect I would have enjoyed one of his original works more.
Dan Brown; The Da Vinci Code (+)
This was like a less-obtuse Foucault's Pendulum - a cryptographer and a
historian follow a trail of clues to unearth the key of an ancient secret
society. I loved that a story about the systematic omission of women from
established religion became mainstream and, given the genre, was probably
read by many men. And the cryptographic side wasn't ludicrous.
Stephen Bury; Interface (+)
An early Neal Stephenson novel under a pen name. A clear precursor to his
better-known works, I'd recommend it to any fan.
A. S. Byatt; Babel Tower (+)
I finally got around to finishing Byatt's Virgin in the Garden
series, and this was one of its better books, second probably only to
Virgin. We reunite with Fredrika after she has married a successful upper
class "gentleman", had a child, and turned her back on her writing. As one
would expect, we spend the book watching her try to regain balance in her
life. Unfortunately, Byatt intersperses chapters from a "novel" Fredrika is
reviewing; I found them distracting at best and heavy-handed in their
metaphorical connections to the primary plot at worst.
---; The Shadow of the Sun (0)
I had a hard time rating this book. On the one hand, Byatt maintains her
usual high quality of writing in this story of a girl struggling to find a
direction in life and a voice as a writer while living in the shadow of her
famous author father. But I didn't enjoy this as much as her other works -
I found most of the characters self-absorbed and didn't really care about
Lewis Carroll; Symbolic Logic and Game of Logic (0)
A great resource for symbolic logic puzzles - many with Carroll's amusing
style - I'll keep this on my office shelf, but don't bother unless you're
looking for this type of reference. If you are looking for instruction in
symbolic, I'd recommend something more modern.
Shirley O. Corriher; Cookwise: The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking (+)
An overview of the theory of cooking, written at a level accessible to the
average cook. The "troubleshooting" guides for various cooking problems
were particularly nice. I'd definitly recommend this to someone wanting to
learn more about the science behind cooking.
Umberto Eco; How To Travel With A Salmon & Other Essays (0)
A so-so collection of essays - I think there were many references and jokes
I didn't get. Just not my taste.
---; The Name of the Rose (+)
Two monks, a Holmes and Watson pair in their relationship and investigative
styles, try to uncover the ancient secrets that have led to a series of
murders at a monestary. Mystery, conspiracies, and ancient religious
secrets - wooo!
George Eliot; Adam Bede (+)
Ever since reading Middlemarch I've loved Eliot; this is a touching story
of a creepy bachelor living on the moors who raises an infant left on his
doorstep as his own daughter.
Jasper Fforde; The Eyre Affair (+)
Time travel is possible, government agencies are established to police the
past, and then characters from famous fictional works start disappearing
from their works. It's a fun literary mystery.
Michel Foucault; Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (0)
Eh - I was challenged to maintain my politics after reading this book. I
read it and don't find I'm really changed for the experience.
Stephen Jay Gould; The Mismeasure of Man (+)
A history of attempts to quantitatively measure intelligence, including IQ
tests, Gould convingly argues the limitations of unidimensional
Sue Grafton; 'I' Is for Innocent
---; 'J' Is for Judgment
---; 'K' Is for Killer
---; 'L' Is for Lawless
---; 'M' Is for Malice
These are so formulaic they're just familiar comfort reading, but I enjoy
them. Frankly, I'd be happier if Grafton didn't bother with her recent
efforts to introduce series-spanning plots.
Deborah H. Holdstein & Cynthia L. Selfe, eds.; Computers and Writing:
Theory, Research, Practice (0)
This is a collection of essays from the 80's by humanities education
experts about the impact of computer-aided writing software. It was
interesting to see what people outside of computer science had to say about
these programs and computers in the classroom in general. But technology
has advanced so quickly, and so many of the criticisms have since been
addressed, that the work is too dated to have much current relevance.
Henry James; The Turn of the Screw, The Aspern Papers and Other Stories (0)
I've read The Turn of the Screw before in other collections, but the rest
of these were new to me. The other titular story was very good, but most of
the rest were unremarkable. I like James's novels better than his shorter
Jean Kilbourne; Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel (+)
I saw Kilbourne speak as part of a "Killing Us Softly" lecture tour in
college and besides having complied a great presentation on the impact of
media and advertising on women's self images, she was a very entertaining
speaker. This book presents an updating of her research, based around the
thesis that advertising feeds off of the addictive nature in people. She
broadens her focus to alcohol and cigarette advertising, and food and diet
advertising, explaining how they target the addict rather than the casual
user, as these are the individuals who keep the industry afloat. I was
surprised that Kilbourne spent so much time discussing her own addictive
tendancies and their roots, and I didn't agree with all of her conclusions,
but in all it was a great book.
C. S. Lewis; The Screwtape Letters (+)
A very entertaining collection of letters written by a devil to a nephew
only just beginning his work of winning souls away from God. Lewis is very
good at using amusing and fantastic settings to communicate his theological
Robin McKinley; Beauty (+)
---; Spindle's End (+)
Retellings of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sleeping Beauty", respectively,
giving more detail to the characters and thoughts to the two female
protagonists. Cute young-adult fantasy.
Emma McLaughlin & Nicole Kraus; The Nanny Diaries (0)
This book got so much hype I gave it a try as a guilty-reading indulgence.
Some of the stories about being a nanny in a overacheiving New York City
family were entertaining, but I wouldn't bother reading this again.
Sylvia Nasar; A Beautiful Mind (+)
A great biography of mathematician John Nash, I'd recommend this to anyone.
E. Annie Proulx; The Shipping News (+)
A newly single father with two children moves to a tiny coastal Canadian
town and starts writing for the local paper. Mostly, he's just trying to
keep himself and his family from falling apart. Very funny and touching. I
liked this way better than Postcards.
Pamela Ribon; Why Girls Are Weird (+)
I'm not sure if there are many people who follow the journaling community
who skipped this book. If you have read Pamie's site, you'll recognise some
of her entries, including my favorite - a girl's guide to watching football
with the guys ("Touchdown! Kisses!"). She does a good job describing the
problem of leading both an online and an offline life.
Anne Rice; Pandora (-)
I stopped keeping up with Rice's Vampire Chronicles after the first few
when the writing started going downhill. I'd heard Pandora wasn't so bad,
and I was interested in the backstory for the character, but it was still
sloppy and disappointing. I recently saw an interview with Rice where she
said that she no longer allows editors to comment on her content or even
see her books until she considers them done, because she feels she knows
best what her works need. Unfortunately, she's wrong.
J. K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (reread)
---; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (reread)
---; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (reread)
---; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (reread)
---; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (+)
It's a good thing these books are such a fast read, or else it's going to
get difficult to re-read them all each time the next volume comes out. I
love the direction Rowling is going with these books. I love how they are
becoming darker and more complex. I can't wait for the next one.
Matt Ruff; Set This House In Order (+)
This was a big departure from the other Ruff novels I've read. The
protagonist, who suffers from multiple personality disorder and has spent
year learing to deal with it, meets a girl suffering from the same disorder
and tries to teach her how to adjust as well. I found Ruff's portrayal of
these character's mental states and internal dialogs really interesting -
enough so I give this book a +, even though I thought it lacked any kind of
Salman Rushdie; The Ground Beneath Her Feet (+)
Rushdie wrote a beautiful novel about two Indian musician's ill-fated love,
mystical intervention, and an alternate reality for pop music. Great
writing, and a great story.
Carl Sagan; Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (+)
Sagan writes great essays communicating the excitement of science,
particularly astronomy, and this is a good example of his work.
Neal Stephenson; The Big U (+)
The Big U is the final ideal blending of university and corporation into a
single mega-institution, all housed in a single building. But Stephenson is
writing this, so of course there are giant killer rats in the sewer,
student drop-out computer administrators weilding unabated power, and a
student government riddled with PC-ism and special interest requests. The
book wouldn't be half so funny if it weren't so eerily realistic.
---; Quicksilver (0)
I kept with it through the entire book, having faith that Stephenson was
going somewhere with this plodding account of English history and its
scientific societies. And I'll probably read the sequel as well hoping for
something to tie it all in to Cryptonomicon. But he'll have to work hard to
redeem this book.
James D. Watson; The Double Helix (0)
It's a classic science autobiography, and was very readable for someone
with a biology mental block. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this,
but I knew enough of the history not to have learned much either. Perhaps I
should read one of his more recent books.
Howard Zinn; A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present (0)
Zinn does a good job of presenting American history from the non-dominent
viewpoint. For those open to his message, he rounds out the perception
given by traditional textbooks. However, as a freestanding book ostensibly
offering a survey, I thought there were places where the historical context
was a bit weak, sending me to other sources too often. I am also dubious
that Zinn's style would attract readers not predisposed to agree with him.
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