What I've Been Reading in 2014
* - books I really liked

Other Years
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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Michael Sandel *
I didn't realize how much I was liking this book until one evening I found myself forgetting about the novel I was in the middle of, preferring to read more about what Sandel had to say about the limits of markets. I'm thinking of assigning it to the students in my Politics of Money class this spring.

An Evening of Long Goodbyes. Paul Murray (abandoned)
Whenever someone uses the word 'Wodehousian' in describing a book, I'm interested. I'm also invariably disappointed. The thing about Wodehouse is that even when his characters weren't particularly likable, they were objects of great amusement. Murray comes close, but he can't quite pull it off - though, to be fair, I don't know of anyone who can (aside from Evelyn Waugh, on occasion).

The Lowland. Jhumpa Lahiri (abandoned)
One of those book I feel as if I should like, if only I were a better, more cosmopolitan person of finer sensibilities. But I'm not, which I accepted after about 80 pages in. (It would have helpd if the book hadn't been so crushingly dull.)

Finance and the Good Society. Robert Shiller
Shiller most definitely knows what he's talking about when it comes to finance - I mean, the guy's got an index named after him. (Also, there's that Nobel in Economics he won in 2013.) But the first have of the book was so very basic, not to mention mind-numblingly boring, that I couldn't finish it.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle. George Higgins
In reading about writing crime stories, this book kept on coming up, because it supposedly had some of the best dialog ever (even Elmore Leonard said so). I was not disappointed, though the actual story wasn't anything exceptional.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. Joshua Ferris (abandoned)
Shortlisted for the Man-Booker Prize - the first year American novels have been eligible - and so I thought I'd give it a shot. After 30 pages I knew I wouldn't be finishing it. (Another book set in Brooklyn. At this point, my track record with books set in Brooklyn is so perfectly bad that I think before I even pick up a new American novel, I'll do a amazon 'look inside this book' search for the word Brooklyn and reject any book in which it comes up more than once.)

Firefly. Janette Jenkins (abandoned)
When am I going to learn that any book featuring the word "elegiac" in a blurb is going to move so slowly that, no matter how good the writing (and Jenkins' is pretty good) I'm going to bail before page 100.

Ride a Cockhorse. Raymond Kennedy *
The latest in a semi-long string of NYRB classics books I bought back when I thought NYRB classics might be pretty good. That's not been my experience, with only a few notable exceptions. Thankfully, this is one of them - a funny, dark and altogether compelling look at a middle-aged woman who goes insane and takes control of a small-town bank.

First Principles: Five Keys to Restoring America's Prosperity. John B. Taylor (abandoned)
John Taylor is a very smart guy who's surely forgotten more about economics than I'll ever know. Plus, he's not some ivory-tower academic: Taylor has been involved at the highest levels of economic policymaking for decades. Which is why I had high hopes for this book. Sadly, Taylor has either sustained some sort of massive cognitive impairment or - more likely - he was told to write a book the average Fox News viewer could easily digest. What makes it even worse for me is that I largely agree with his main point, yet I find myself almost embarrassed at how skimpy and underdeveloped his arguments are. A sad waste from an author I'm convinced could have done far, far better.

Shotgun Lovesongs. Nickolas Butler (abandoned)
Butler is a talented writer, and I'm pretty sure there was an interesting story in here somewhere. But Butler tries way too hard to write a book that's Imbued With Meaning and Achingly Beautiful. Another promising voice screwed up by whatever pretentious crap they're peddling at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Good-Bye to All That. Robert Graves (abandoned)
Like many modern readers, I first encountered Robert Graves through his hugely entertaining Claudius novels. I later heard that Good-Bye to All That was an intense, bitter, and bleak account of Graves' life, focusing on his service in World War I. I'm usually a big fan of intense, bitter, and bleak, but after an interminable account of Graves' childhood and schooling, I gave up. The thought of skiping ahead to the trenches of France did occur to me, but by that point I was fairly tired of Robert Graves, despite his amazing facility with the English language.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. David Shafer
I was in the mood for something exciting but not brain-dead, and after reading a number of very positive reviews of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, I picked it up thinking that it would be just what I was looking for. Not so much. It moved along at a good clip but I found it generally underwhelming. One thing none of the reviews bothered to mention was that the book just ends at the beginning of what any reasonable person would believe to be the penultimate scene. In other words, we're being set up for a sequel. I paid my $26, for which I feel I'm at least entitled to a complete story. Very disappointing, and the sort of slick marketing trick that guarantees I won't be reading anything else Shafer writes.

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Sam Harris
I like what I think Sam Harris is all about, but none of his books have lived up to my expectations. Waking Up feels like an essay that was stretched into book length. In it, Harris tells readers that nobody understands consciousness, the harder you try to locate your 'self' the more likeky you are to realize it's illusory, mediation is good, the Dzogchen school of Buddhism might be a quicker than usual path to occasional enlightenment, watch out for gurus, drugs are sometimes pretty useful, and near death experiences are bunk. All good stuff, but it doesn't amount to 'A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion' which, after all, is the promise of the subtitle.

The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization. Arthur Herman
I'm a sucker for a Grand Synthesis, and so Herman's claim that he could explain the last 2,500 years through the lens of Plato v. Aristotle was pretty enticing. It was a fun book to read (at least if you have a passing interest in political philosophy) and I agree with lots of Herman's conclusions (both Herman and I are big Aristotle guys). But he leaves a lot out (how could he not, in trying to cover so much in under 600 pages) and things sort of come off the rails toward the end.

Mating. Norman Rush (quickly abandoned)
There are times when I pick up a book I purchased a while back and find myself wondering, "What could I have possibly been thinking?" This was one of those times.

The Angry Buddhist. Seth Greenland (abandoned)
The Angry Buddhist seems like an entirely competent book, with fluid writing and a reasonably interesting plot. But after 60 pages, I didn't find myself caring about what might happen to any of the characters, so I moved on.

The Woman Upstairs. Claire Messud *
There's no reason why I would like a book about the struggle of an angry and thwarted middle-aged woman. In fact, it seems like the sort of book I'd really dislike. And yet I did like it - so much that I can't recall the last time I read something this good. (I liked The Martian a lot too, but it was more of a fun / escapist read, which The Woman Upstairs definitely isn't.)

The Martian. Andy Weir *
I abandoned the last two books I picked up and decided I should go in an entirely different direction by reading something fun and exciting that I could zip through. As luck would have it, I was given The Martian - a book I'd never heard of - as a birthday present. It was just the thing. Less than 24 hours after picking it up I'd finished it, with my faith in the entertainment value of fiction fully restored.

One Fat Englishman. Kingsley Amis (abandoned)
This short novel started out funny as hell, but as the plot (such as it is) became less believable and the writing shifted from witty to mean-spirited, I lost interest. Another NYRB Classics imprint that's sucked me in but failed to deliver. (At this point, I think I'm something like 1 for 12 on NYRB Classics. You'd think I would have learned my lesson by now, but the one I liked - John Williams' Stoner - was really, really good, and I continue to hope for more of the same.)

The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel. George Santayana (abandoned)
Prior to reading Peter Watson's The Age of Atheists I was familiar with Santayana's name and the 'those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it' quote, but that was it. But after getting to know a little bit about his philosophy, I decided to pick up The Last Puritan, which was a best-seller when it came out in 1935 and, according to many, gives one a better sense of Santayana's full philosophy than any of his philosophical works. Santayana is a fine prose stylist, but the book was simply too long and ponderous for me. The novel has a plot, but it felt to me like a thin thing - more of a device on which to hang the many extended monologues, both spoken and internal. I didn't dislike the book, but after nearly 300 pages I found myself thinking more and more about what I'd read next.

An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963. Robert Dallek
The latest in my series of presidential biographies. I've never been much of a JFK fan, largely because of the ridiculous amount of Baby-Boomer hype surrounding him. (Most overrated president ever. By a landslide.) But I decided to give Dallek's book - supposedly the best one-volume biography of Kennedy - a go. I found Kennedy's life up until the early 1950s reasonably interesting. After that it was a rough slog for me, and I only got through the book by skimming the last 50 or so pages.

The Atheist's Guide to Reality. Alex Rosenberg
The title is somewhat misleading, as this is really the materialist's guide to reality. Rosenberg starts with the premise that fermions and bosons is all there is, takes a brief tour through basic physics, a selective and reductionist look at biology, and then arrives at all of the predictable conclusions: there is no god (the title sort of gave that one away), no free will, and no purpose to life. Should readers find this disturbing, the author suggests Prozac, and possibly a bit of Epicureanism. While I take issue with his method, and disagree with his conclusions, I enjoyed his in-your-face style: anyone ballsy enough to suggest that Richard Dawkins is being all squishy on The Big Questions is someone I'm willing to take a look at.

The Naked Detective. Laurence Shames
Browsing through a used book rack at the Friends of the Cincinnati Public Library store I picked up this book, read the first line: "I never meant to be a private eye." and felt that I had to get it, seeing as how I'm in the middle of writing a book about a guy who never meant to be a private eye. Shames tells a pretty good story and I picked up a few ideas for my book. Absolutely worth the $2 I paid.

In the Light of What We Know. Zia Haider Rahman (abandoned)
Glowing reviews, some beautiful writing and - most important - finding the book in my library's 'recent releases' section led me to give In the Light of What We Know a chance, even though it seemed a bit ponderous for summer reading. The writing was at times beautiful but the almost complete absence of plot and action bogged me down considerably. By the time I reached page 100, and realized I still had 80 percent of the book left, I got out.

The Circle. Dave Eggers
It seemed like a big book, especially in hardcover, but The Circle was a very fast read. Lots of holes - like a second-rate thriller that moves along so quickly you don't realize the problems until after you've left the theater. Except this is a book, and so unless you read it in one day (which is possible, if you're really dedicated) you have plenty of time to spot the various implausibilities. It's also too obvious and preachy. That being said, there are some fairly strong scenes. All in all, a reasonable beach read - call it a semi-thoughtful mystery / thriller. But not all that thoughtful. Or mysterious. Or thrilling. It is, however, diverting.

Where Men Win Glory. Jon Krakauer
Pretty interesting, though Krakauer seemed to have settled on a narrative concerning the Bush Administration and the war, and more or less cherry-picked facts to suit. Too much reliance on secondary sources for stuff on the war - particularly other books, from which he quotes in the manner of a student writing a term paper. It seemed to me that Krakauer was trying to do two things: tell the story of Tillman and tell the story of the war. He's really good at the former - that's his background and training - but he falls short and oversimplifies in the latter.

Eisenhower in War and Peace. Jean Smith
I'm working my way through biographies of the 20th century president, aside from the non-entities, and Ike was next up. I had no idea that Eisenhower wasn't much of a battlefield commander, and I don't think I appreciated how shrewd of a politician he was - both in and out of uniform. He was also more of an opportunist than I realized, but of course you'd have to be an opportunist to rise as high as he did. Modern Republicans would hate him.

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero. James Romm
I consider myself a Stoic (which doesn't mean what most people assume it means) and Seneca is generally regarded as the best Stoic writer. Which is different from being the best Stoic, because Seneca was something of a hypocrite and an opportunist who had a lot of trouble actually living according to the philosophy he purported to believe in. Romm's book makes this point very clear, but it's really more of a book about Nero than about Seneca.

Odds Against Tomorrow. Nathaniel Rich (abandoned)
There are certain books I should know better than to buy. Books written by lifelong members of the literary criticism establishment and set in New York are at the top of the list. The blurbs for these books are almost always amazing, which they would be, of course, because the author has all sorts of friends in the literary criticism establishment. These books are designed to appeal to a certain type of reader. I am not that reader. And by now, I should really know better. I hereby declare a personal moratorium on any book set in New York City written by anyone who has graduated from an Ivy League school with a degree in literature, or who has received a MFA from a writer's workshop, or who has had more than two stories appear in McSweeney's. I like plots that go somewhere and at least one reasonably likable character. Maybe that doesn't make me a sophisticate. I'll have to find a way to live with that.

The Duke's Children. Anthony Trollope
The standard Trollope formula - youngsters eager to wed, but class-based complications ensue. Difficult moral dilemmas which, to us, seem quaint, if not absurd. Trollope is kinder to his bad characters than I would be - though in this case there aren't really any bad characters. All works out for the best in the end, with everyone getting more or less what they deserve. Reading Trollope is a comfort, though his fox hunting scenes do tend to drag. I always try to read Trollope when Kimberly is on her summer travels - he's become a comfortable companion when Kimberly's not around. (this summer she was in southern Africa)

The Visible Man. Chuck Klosterman
I have mixed feelings about Chuck Klosterman, which probably has something to do with the fact that he's about my age, does many things I'd love to do, and does them better than I'd be likely to do them. And so I'd put off reading The Visible Man for a while. Despite the fact that Klosterman seemed to not know how to end the book, I'm glad I read it. A bit weak on plot, but then again I'm old-fashioned when it comes to plots: I want to see the protagonist not just change, but come away having learned something. It's not enough, for me, simply to have a lot of stuff happen between Point A and Point B.

Glasshouse. Charles Stross (abandoned)
Too complex and jargony for me. I think I'm finally over sci-fi (with the exception of Neal Stephenson, who is classified as sci-fi, but is really sui generis)

Lolita. Vladimir Nabokov (abandoned)
I read Lolita years ago and was amazed by Nabokov's use of language. I'm still amazed, but this time the story left me increasingly repulsed. I managed to get two-thirds through it before deciding that I didn't want to continue.

The Age of Atheists. Peter Watson (abandoned) I read it for about 150 pages. The stuff from Nietzsche to maybe the pragmatists was pretty interesting. But then it shifted from the philosophers to the painters, poets, and other artists and I lost interest quickly. So I skimmed maybe 150 pages, entirely skipped another 250 until I got to more philosophers: specifically Nozick, Dworkin, Dennett, Nagel, and Dawkins. Much more interesting stuff.

Split Images. Elmore Leonard
Elmore Leonard wasn't a mystery writer, but considering that he's probably the greatest crime writer of the 20th century, and a master at creating great characters and crafting pitch-perfect dialog, I though that maybe I could learn a few things from his stuff. Also, I expected I'd really enjoy the stories. I don't know how much I learned (it's like trying to learn how to play basketball by watching Michael Jordan) but I did like the story a whole lot.

Pursuits of Wisdom. John Cooper (Not the former OSU football coach.)
A hard read, but very worthwhile if you're at all interested in ancient Greek philosophy as a way of life. Which I'm guessing you're not. But I have been for years, and so for me this book more than repaid the effort required. (Though I did skip the chapter on Plotinus and Neoplatonism because that's just a silly philosophy.)

The Highly Effective Detective Goes to the Dogs. Richard Yancey
I'm still uffering from the delusion that I can write a mystery, and so I've been reading a bunch of mysteries to get a sense of how it's done. I picked this one up because the protagonist is an amateur detective, which is what I want my protagonist to be. Yancey is no Robert Parker, but that's then again, Parker was a better mystery writer than just about anyone else (at least he was for a 20 year stretch starting in the mid 1970s). It wasn't a bad book, and I picked up a few ideas for my project, so all in all it was worthwhile.

The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers. Paul Torday.
I thought it was going to be a comic novel. Which it was for a while. Then it turned into something else.

The Godwulf Manuscript. Robert B. Parker
I'm hoping to write a detective novel, even though I don't like most detective novels. (Which makes writing a detective novel seem like an odd thing to do.) But there were two detective series I really liked: John D. McDonald's Travis McGee books and Robert Parker's Spenser series. The Travis McGee novels haven't aged all that well (either that, or I've somehow managed to mature) but Parker's Spenser books still impress me (The Godwulf Manuscript is the first in the series) - at least up until the early 1990s, when it started to feel like he was phoning it in. I'm trying to figure out all the stuff I liked in those early Spenser novels and put it in my book-to-be.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Ben Fountain
War novels don't appeal to me, and had this not been my book club's selection for the month I probably would have passed on it despite all of the glowing reviews. Well, the glowing reviews were right - Billy Lynn is a very good book. I was concerned that it would be either too obvious or too preachily anti-war (two traits that seem to characterize most of the war novels to which I've been exposed) but thankfully, neither was the case. Fountain writes some amazing scenes - one in particular that literally had me holding my breath.ought this book after reading several highly complimentary reviews from sources I trust.

Rome: An Empire's Story. Greg Woolf
I bought this book after reading several highly complimentary reviews from sources I trust. The bright white paper should have been a giveaway (Kimberly guessed it). That's the sort of stock academic books are printed on. Really dull academic books. Woolf chooses to break up any action or narrative flow by alternating chapters between a chronological history and various sociological investigations. Greg Woolf is the anti Colleen McCullough. I have no idea why I stuck it out to the end.

Middle Men. Jim Gavin
I picked up an advance readers copy of Middle Men for $3 at a mystery bookstore in Chicago. (It's not a mystery.) Some great short stories about real-seeming people. Men, and mostly younger men. All set in Southern California.

Coolidge. Amity Shales (abandoned)
For a while now, I've been reading presidential biographies before bed, taking them in chronological order (though leaving out the nonentities). I didn't read any reviews of Shales' life of Coolidge, but I'd recently finished Taft and Wilson, knew that this Coolidge book had recently come out, and thought I'd seen some positive mention of it. Unfortunately, it turned out to be conservative hagiography without a bit of nuance. Coolidge is a hero, plain and simple, and if he did any wrong, I didn't sense even a whiff of it in the 154 pages I read before giving up.

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness. Donald Robertson *
I'm not crazy about the format, which will seem very familiar if you've ever picked up one of the 'Idiots Guides' or 'For Dummies' series of books. But that aside, this is far and away the best introduction to the modern-day practice of Stoic philosophy you'll find. Even those who have been practicing Stoics for a while are likely to find plenty of useful reminders and helpful suggestions in these pages. In other words, if you're a Stoic, or you're interested in Stoicism (which you really should be - honest, it's a great living, active philosophy that has made my life fuller, better, and more meaningful), you should get this book.

The Weirdness. Jeremy Bushnell
An extremely strange story of a guy who works with Satan to prevent the destruction of humanity. Lots of fun, though the ending could have used some work - unless the author was setting up a sequel, in which case I might be okay with how he (didn't) wrap things up. A nice break from the heavier stuff I've been reading.

Democracy. Henry Adams (abandoned)
I was told that this is one of the first, and still one of the best American political novels. It is one of the first.

Utopia or Bust. Benjamin Kunkel (abandoned)
A short Marxist interpretation of the recent financial crisis written by a novelist, so I thought it might be approachable and interesting - perhaps even enough so to assign as an 'alternate viewpoint' text in my economic policy class. No such luck. The book is a collection of essays that don't really hang together and that presuppose a level of background knowledge that I don't have. My students would have skewered me had I assigned it - and rightly so.

And Even Now (Essays). Max Beerbohm (abandoned)
Beerbohm was an early 20th century essayists and arch-stylist who had a major influence on one of my favorite modern essays, Joseph Epstein. But while style can go a long way, it doesn't quite make most 100 year old essays interesting enough to read. I've been told that his fiction is worth reading, particularly Zuleika Dobson, and considering that there's a free Kindle edition, I hope to give it a try.

The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being. Carol Graham
Graham writes like an academic and repeats herself a lot. Still, it's not a bad overview of happiness economics, though the book would have been better either as something shorter and more concise, or long enough to dig into the many study results she presents in bang-bang order without much in the way of analysis or critique. Beautiful Ruins. Jess Walter * The best book I've read in quite a while. Funny as hell, with an engaging story and fascinating, fully-realized characters. Hardly a false note in the entire book. I have to thank Kimberly for this one - she found in a small bookstore in Bloomsburg, PA last summer and got our book club to read it.

A World Undone. G. J. Meyer
I picked up A World Undone on recommendation from Dan Carlin, whose 'Hardcore History' is the most entertaining podcast I know of. My tendency is to stay away from military histories as they seem to bog down into battlefield maneuvers - or at least I bog down when they cover battlefield maneuvers. Thankfully, I rarely felt bogged down when reading this book, and I came away amazed and appalled by World War I.

Kingdom Come. J. G. Ballard
A 304 page rant against capitalism demonstrating that even for an accomplished novelist, polemics have a tendency to become tiresome, then ridiculous. Ballard's characters are little more than stand-ins for various half-baked theories about consumerism and fascism. Plenty of sexism too, in Ballard's depiction of females as weak and needing strong men to direct them.

The Highly Effective Detective. Richard Yancey
I've been planning to write a book about a bumbling amateur private investigator, and so I thought it might be a good idea to read a few books about bumbling amateur private investigators. It turns out that they aren't exactly thick on the ground - The Highly Effective Detective was the only book I found that really fit the bill. It was an enjoyable and funny mystery. Even better, it wasn't so good that it made me despair of ever writing anything at even remotely the same level. (Something I definitely feel when I read John D. McDonald or early Robert Parker.)

Personae. Sergio De La Pava (abandoned)
I loved his first book, A Naked Singularity, which was David-Foster-Wallaceian (a major compliment, at least in my little world). This one was very different - much, much shorter and a whole lot weirder. Too weird for me.

Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football. Nicholas Dawidoff
This is almost certainly the best book ever written about life inside an NFL organization. Dawidoff was given nearly full access to the New York Jets for a year in which he spent an ungodly number of hours with the coaches, management, and the players (mostly the coaches). It takes a while for the players to actually appear on the scene (it's over 200 pages before we get to the first game of the season) but throughout Dawidoff paints a fascinating picture of some of the most obsessive type-A people you're ever likely to encounter outside of a mental-health facility.

How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life. Robert & Edward Skidelesky.
In my experience multiple-author books are generally to be avoided, but maybe there should be an exception when the authors share at least half of their genetic material. In this case, the collaboration between father (Robert, an economist) and son (Edward, a philosopher) comes off quite well, though both have a tendency to cherry-pick economics and philosophy in support of their argument. But it's a pretty good argument all the same: that religion and similar belief systems have long held human avarice in check (to some extent) but with the decline of religion in the modern world, capitalism, as the best-ever system for (temporarily) satisfying avarice, now rules largely unfettered. The Skidelskys argue that in the process, pre-modern notions of The Good Life have been largely replaced by an insane quest for ever more stuff. They try to point the way to some solutions, but here they're at their weakest. I finished the book concluding that those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world will never truly live The Good Life. That's not a horrible of a fate as the Skidelskys make it out to be, but it is kind of a bummer.

In Persuasion Nation. George Saunders
An amazing writer with a narrative voice that reminds me of David Foster Wallace, though Saunders' short stories aren't as intense (but whose are, really?). He can drift from reality a bit, which is fine with me as long as he doesn't cut too many ties, which began to happen in the last few stories in this collection.

The Learners. Chip Kidd (abandoned). Verging on too cute, but I was enjoying this book until the point where the author required that I accept an intense relationship without doing much of anything to make me feel that intensity.

Old Filth. Jane Gardam (abandoned)
Bought it based on reviews, which made the book sound (to me) witty and somewhat whimsical. It turned out to be very dark, in a sort of unspectacular, chilly way that British novelists are so good at portraying. The quality of the writing carried me along for over 100 pages, but in the end it wasn't nearly enough.

The Secrets of Happiness. Richard Schoch
I wanted to introduce my Politics of Happiness class to a bunch of pre-modern views of happiness and human flourishing, but I didn't want to assign them a big stack of books (which they wouldn't read). Luckily, I found The Secrets of Happiness, which covers Stoicism, Epicureanism, Judiasm, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Utilitarianism, all in 214 pages. Schoch leaves a whole lot out (obviously), but it was a reasonably good way to cover a lot of ground quickly. And although Schoch is an academic, he doesn't write like one, so this is not at all a painful book to read.

The Sun King. Nancy Mitford
A very witty sort-of history of Louis XIV and Versailles. Mitford writes approximately 36 times better than an historian - probably because she was a novelist by trade. She's plenty biased (Louis can do little wrong in her eyes) and utterly unafraid to toss out sweeping generalizations, though with the sort of panache that one can't help but enjoy, regardless of how full of it she may actually be. The only disappointing element of this book is that the NYRB classics reissue features a tiny font that appears to be based on metal type that was repeatedly pounded with a ball-peen hammer before being inked.

One Last Thing Before I Go. Jonathan Tropper
A book by a 40-something white American male featuring a protagonist who is a 40-something white American male. I somehow identified. At first it felt slight, maybe because of the really short chapters. Before I knew it I was almost finished, and it somehow started to feel less slight. Nothing earth-shattering, and no deep message (unless you're unaware that kids mean a lot to most parents) but also not a bad way to spend some time.

The Teleportation Accident. Ned Beauman (abandoned)
A witty novel, and I like witty. That was enough to carry me along for just over 200 pages. After that things went from witty to silly. I might have kept reading if I felt anything for the main character. But I didn't.

The Darwin Economy. Robert Frank (abandoned)
Frank, an economist at Cornell, argues that markets can fail even under conditions of perfect (or near perfect) competition. The reason is that under certain circumstances competition can leave everyone worse off, as happens in arms races, or athletes who feel they have to take drugs to compete with other athletes who are taking drugs. After getting the basic concept, I quickly lost interest in reading about Frank's regulation and tax structure-related solutions to this problem. 

Me and the Devil. Nick Tosches
I read Tosches' biography of Dean Martin, which I thought was pretty good. This novel seemed interesting, and for the first hundred pages it was more than that - it was compelling in a sort of American Psycho way. But the story (such as it is) was very slow in developing, and after a while I couldn't bring myself believe that the main character - a writer in his early 60s - could attract so many model-gorgeous 20somethings. His repeated references to celebrities - particularly Keith Richards, who he makes out to be this incredibly wise Renaissance man - also became grating. Too bad, because what could have been truly good ended up to be self-indulgent junk.

Lights Out in Wonderland. DBC Pierre (abandoned)
He'd won the Man Booker prize for a previous book, and this one was available for a few bucks at a used book store, so I figured, 'Why not?' After maybe 40 pages of a thoroughly unlikable narrator spouting the same boring old cliches about consumerism, I found out why not.

The Rapture of the Nerds. Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross (abandoned)
I was in the mood for some science fiction, and according to some blurb on this book, it was a lot like Neal Stephenson's work. Stephenson is amazing, but this most definitely isn't.  I really should have known better - why did I expect co-authored fiction to be anything but bad?

Present Shock. Douglas Rushkoff (abandoned)
A book I got for next to nothing at the American Political Science Association conference this summer. I'd heard some good things about it in the media, but it's an awful book - full of catchy jargon and big claims with little to no support.

Infinite Jest. David Foster Wallace (abandoned)
This used to be my all-time favorite book and so I was really pleased when Kimberly said she'd be willing to read it with me. I stuck with it for just over 300 pages (not even close to halfway through) and found myself starting to skim. I still think it's an amazing book, but there's a lot you have to wade through to get to the amazing bits. I was absolutely willing to do that once, but not again.

The Iliad. Stephen Mitchell translation.
I read it many years ago in another translation and thought it was okay, but not much better than okay. I heard that Mitchell's translation was amazing so I thought I'd give it a try. It seemed just okay again. Both times I've read The Iliad I've found myself rooting for the Trojans and thinking that Achilles is a big annoying baby.

Slow Getting Up. Nate Jackson
Life in the NFL, from the perspective of a guy who managed to just barely avoid being cut for six seasons. After a while I started skimming, but it was a reasonably interesting quick read.