Dec 20, 2012

Learned in 2012 - Reading

In 2012, I learned to read again. I always loved reading, but somewhere in my college years, I stopped reading more than two or three books a year. In 2012, I read 15 books. A lot of that can probably be attributed to getting a Nook toward the end of last year. I've talked about this before, but it makes significantly easier to obtain and read new books when it's electronic.

I've also discovered a huge love of non-fiction. I'm pretty sure I've read more non-fiction books this year than ever before in my life unless you count DK Eyewitness books as a kid. I love learning things; every little piece of knowledge in some way or other leads to better understanding of the world around us. And I'm definitely the sort of person who craves understanding. I've talked about many of the books I've read this year in this blog, but we're just going to do a recap. Because I still have half-an-hour left of my lunch break and nothing else to do:
  • A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin - I read four of these books this year after watching and loving the first season of Game of Thrones (which is based on these books). I feel like fantasy novels are pretty hit and miss and I don't read them often because I don't know how to tell if they're going to be good or not. I loved these books, though. There is tons of political intrigue to get through the battles and other (to me) boring stuff. And George R.R. Martin is very good at surprising his readers with plot twists and character reveals and unexpected actions, which makes these a very compelling read.
  • Gasping for Airtime: Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live By Jay Mohr - I read this while we were writing/producing/performing our first sketch shows and because I am really bad about over-researching everything, I spent a lot of time reading about sketch comedy. I found Jay Mohr's story very entertaining and very human; this book was enjoyable outside of filling a research role. And, of course, despite all of the crap he had to deal with being a part of the world, it was also fun to fantasize about working with a bunch of hilarious, creative people to produce something for the world to see (and probably think is stupid, but nonetheless...).
  • Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales - See Gasping for Airtime.
  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell - You've probably heard this book raved about by someone you know. It feels like it comes up a lot in conversation with all sorts of people. Because it's one of those books that changes how you think about everything. The basic premise of the book is that people who are successful for often surprising reasons. Kind of like Guns, Germs, and Steel, but with modern individuals instead of nations. It's written more as a collection of essays covering different areas of success/failure in our world. The chapter on why plane crashes happen was probably my favorite. Super interesting. Highly recommended.
  • Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger - By far the trashiest reading I did this year. It was a book lying out at Trevor's grandmother's house when we went to visit her back in April and I read in in two days while chilling at her house. The book barely qualifies as non-fiction, tons of the stories in it are backed by absolutely no research, but they were fun nonetheless. Just to look through all of the pictures of old silent movie stars made this book worthwhile to me. I suppose I learned a little bit about censorship laws in old Hollywood and that sort of thing, but the book is really just trashy celebrity stories, only slightly classier since the celebrities are from the Golden Age or whatever.
  • The Devil in the White City: Muder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson - Going back to my over-research tendencies, I read this back when we were pretty certain we were moving to Chicago (still a possibility, but LA is more likely). The book covers the 1893 World Fair in Chicago in parallel with the story of the Chicago-based serial killer H.H. Holmes. It reads almost like fiction, I found myself constantly wanting to know what happens next.
  • City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America by Donald L. Miller - This book was sited quite a bit in The Devil in the White City, and I needed to know more. This book gives a broader history in a more academic format of 19th century Chicago (and earlier, but it's the 19th century stuff that's the best). Apparently I am really into Industrial Revolution/Progressive Era America. And Chicago was, in a lot of ways, the center of all of that. I also learned way more about architecture than I ever expected to and it wasn't nearly as boring as I've always thought that subject was. And why hasn't there ever been a movie made about the Haymarket Riot? Great story that I had never heard before.
  • Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman - Growing up the star Mormon seminary student that I was, I always felt that I knew Joseph Smith's story well, but I learned a lot from this book. I'd only really learned anything from church sources, which focuses on very different things than a historical biography. I was interested in this book in particular because it is written by an active Mormon believer, but he doesn't shy away at all from the more contentious issues in the life of Joseph Smith. The reviews on Amazon had a bunch of people who were like "Burn it! It's too harsh on The Holy Prophet!" and a bunch of people who were like "Burn it! It's thinly-veiled missionary Mormon propaganda!" So I figured it's pretty middle-ground. I could get into a lengthy Mormonism discussion here, but I won't.
  • Imagine Life with a Well-Behaved Dog: A 3-Step Positive Dog-Training Program by Julie A. Bjelland - This books was a little bit useless. I read it for obvious reasons. I got a puppy and then realized that it's one of the hardest things I've ever done. The book was okay. I think Winston's too naturally aggressive to use an almost completely reward-based system like the one laid out in this book. The techniques she laid out helped a lot with training tricks, but were pretty worthless when it comes to correcting bad behavior (at least in Winston's case). Probably the most important thing I got out of this book was just a better understanding of dog psychology and what they really need from humans in terms of consistency and exercise and all that.
  • Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden - I find North Korea endlessly fascinating. Mostly because the mindset of people there is so utterly foreign to my modern Western brain. I read this after Trapper recommenced it, and I'm just going to link to his review because I'm lazy.
  • Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay - I'm glad I read this, but it was kind of dull reading. It was published in 1841 and you can tell in the language and approach to history (for example, there is no delving into psychology whatsoever, which seems odd to the modern person). The chapters at the beginning about financial bubbles are super interesting, particularly since they have easily recognized modern parallels. The alchemy chapters almost made me stop reading the book. It's interesting at first but then you realize it keeps going for 120 or so pages of essentially the same story over and over. But then there were more fun topics at the end, like the Crusades and Witch Mania. Overall interesting stuff, but I wanted more analysis with the stories.
  • Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman - I'm technically not finished with this book, but I will be by the end of the year. I really have no connection to Scientology at all, but that doesn't mean it isn't fascinating stuff. It's been a good exercise in relating to people. It's really easy to see Scientology as this obviously made-up, completely corrupt "religion", but if I push myself a little, I can see where Scientology's followers and leaders are coming from (I could get into a lengthy Mormonism discussion here, but I won't).
And now a question for you dear readers: what should I read in 2013?

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