Reading List for April 2016

Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day by Chris Fox: The Power of Habit meets GTD, for writers. If you have a problem sitting down to write, this is your book.

The three (so far) writing books from Chris Fox have caused me to write every day in April (my longest streak ever), and double my writing speed over that time (from 900-ish to 2500-ish words per hour). There isn’t much new information in them that I didn’t already read somewhere else, but there’s something about them that made me take action. Maybe I was just ready, or maybe it’s the system he presents. I recommend you spend the $5 total it will cost you for all 3 and read them in a weekend (they’re short), because I know it works.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card: Somewhat outdated, and outclassed by newer books on writing. “A Thousand Ideas in an Hour”. Idea net: “why? how? what result?” Magic is all about the cost of using it. MICE quotient. The end of this book gives you a glimpse of the reality of being a writer, which is probably the best part.

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson (audio): Another fair bio by Isaacson. I liked Einstein more for his relationship with the socio-political world, than his relationship with the natural world. Funny that we have a lot of views in common, although we approach it from different angles. The physics is included in this book, but you don’t get much in the way of explanations. I assume Isaacson wisely decided that the less he wrote about it, the less he would show his ass. YouTube has videos that will help you – profs in their down-time talking about what gets them excited. Check them out if you want to know.

The 4 Hour Chef by Timothy Ferriss: I guess I’ve had this since it came out in 2012, but never cared to get around to it. It’s not bad, quality-wise, but it just didn’t work for me. If I couldn’t cook – and followed this verbatim – I might think differently. What bothered me most was that my perception of what this book was, based on the content Tim put out at launch and after, was very different than what is essentially a glorified standard cookbook.

When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? by George Carlin (audio): I wouldn’t call this a book – it’s more like a collection of jokes and skits. Full of laughs. Get the audio for Carlin’s delivery.

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis: Great read. The narrative is tight, the portrayal of a complex issue is clear, and I thought all sides were given a fair treatment.

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (audio): Nope.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner (audio): I would have loved this if I had read it back in 7th grade. In the present, however, the writing felt amateurish, with 2D characters, and a flat plot. The “mystery” aspect to this is just smoke and mirrors, and – worse – feels like it throughout. None of the events – revelations, deaths, etc. – had an emotional impact. When given the opportunity to raise the stakes with a character death when the maze stops, people died who were never mentioned before. That was the perfect time to kill off the sidekick.

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner 2) by James Dashner (audio): I didn’t expect this book to be such an improvement. The Lost-esque pseudo-mystery is here replaced by actual character building events. The original cast’s backstory is still razor thin, but the newer characters all seem to get one. Great, please make me care about something or someone in this book. The writing is still not great, but I felt good about the display of improvement. Darker tone overall, but not bleak. The chamber scene felt like a plot corner that Dashner just tries to wave off, that part was terrible. He’s aware of it, because he has a character say “hey this doesn’t make any sense”, but apparently revising his plot so it would is too much work.

The Death Cure (Maze Runner 3) by James Dashner (audio): From book 1 I figured no questions would be answered, and none were. The buzzword bingo of Patterns, Variables, and others capitalized words remains a complete mystery. There’s no insight into how the catastrophe was started, or why ignoring decades of science to put kids in a maze made any sense at all. But, that sounds bleak, and despite all that, this book got a few things right. The character endings (to avoid spoilers) were done well. This concludes the trilogy, and although I’m going to read the prequel next, this is a tough series for me to rate. On the one hand I would not read it again, and probably won’t recommend it to anyone. But on the other hand, what Dashner does really well (and I’m not being sarcastic at all) is write compelling page turners. Sometimes you’re turning the page, hating yourself as you do so, continuing what you know is going to disappoint you in the end, but you’ll deal with the walk of shame later, and so you turn the page and keep reading just the same.

The Kill Order (Maze Runner 0.5) by James Dashner (audio): All new characters in a full-length novel, just to kinda sorta get an answer to the question of how the Flare virus was unleashed. These add-on type books are usually mistakes, and this one fits that description. It wasn’t bad, but it’s just not a “series” book.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz #1) by L. Frank Baum (audio): The foreword says that stories of the current time (1900ish) shouldn’t contain the violence, or be as concerned with morality, as stories of the past were. And what follows is a shocking amount of violence that you can draw all kinds of moral conclusions from. Also, all of this series can be found on Librivox.

The Marvelous Land of Oz (Oz #2) by L. Frank Baum (audio): Pub’d in 1904, but this is a very progressive story. There’s no doubt it’s written for kids, but it covers feminist and transgender issues. And Baum also describes a magic lie detector test, perhaps influencing the eventual creator of such a thing.

Ozma of Oz (Oz #3) by L. Frank Baum (audio): Mostly boring, but with a fun “choose wisely” game. Kind of felt like fanservice when all the characters from the first book are (quite literally) trotted out.

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher: These supposedly get better as they go, but I thought this was pretty great already. The first half is a little shaky, but the second half kept me up late reading.