2015

I read a lot of books.  Since so many other subscribers to this site are also big readers, I’ve decided to list out all the books I’ve read this year.  Not only that, but I’ll give a short little review of the books, maybe about 3-4 sentences.  I’ll keep updating this page with each book I finish as the year progresses.

Here’s my profile on GoodReads.  Feel free to friend me there.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write The by Francine Prose

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Road Through the Wall by Shirley Jackson

The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare

The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy.

The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson.  As the title suggests, a man is shrinking.  His battles with a spider and troubles with the family are quite interesting.  There’s a touching moment when he meets a dwarf and establishes a romantic relationship with her, only to realize that it can’t last.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stephenson.  Very little Jekyll or Hyde actually appear in this story.  It was meant to have a twist ending, but if you know anything about this story, you’ll already know it.  That makes it hard to like this story.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.  An interesting twist on the vampire tale.  Holed up in his house, the main character is bombarded by vampires trying to break in.  I won’t give it away, but the ending is wonderful.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  I loved the movie so I thought I would give the book a try.  I’d say if you liked the movie, you’ll probably like the book too.  Coraline is an interesting heroine who uses her wits to get out of trouble.  A good, fun read.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin.  Are the wives of Stepford being replaced by robots?  It’s a great and fascinating story that has you guessing all the way up to the end.  The mystery is intriguing and I was hooked all the way to the last word.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.  The story is good, but drags in the second act as it seems to lose sight of where it wants to go.  I already knew the ending before reading the story, but I still would have seen it coming.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.  Not as scary a ghost story as I thought it would be, but there are some memorable scenes and imagery.  I read this around Halloween and it got me in a right spirit for the season.

Dracula by Bram Stoker.  The original Dracula story, and it’s good – at least the first and last half; the middle drags a little.  There’s surprisingly little Dracula in it since it’s told from the point of view of the humans.

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare.  The tragedy of a Roman general.  It’s a decent Shakespeare play, but not one of his best.  The lead character, Coriolanus, becomes active in politics, but it doesn’t go well and he’s deposed.  He seeks vengeance and, as with most tragedies, it doesn’t end well for him.

Henry VIII by William Shakespeare.  I was genuinely surprised about how much I liked this play.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.  I don’t remember much about this one, but I do remember liking it.  Gladwell’s books have started to blend in with each other.  They’re all structured the same way.  This one was good too from what I remember.

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell.  A collection of stories.  The first half wasn’t as interesting as the second half.

Outliers: The Story of Succcess by Malcolm Gladwell.  This is my favorite of Gladwell’s works.  It explains a lot about success that we often don’t think about.  Outliers do exist and we need to keep watch for them so that we don’t learn the wrong lessons we see from others.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell.  The story of David and Goliath didn’t go exactly how we think.  Goliath was strong, but too slow to be effective against the agile David.  How do we take this lesson into our everyday lives?

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.  How do you figure out what is important in only a narrow period of experience?  That’s the basic concept to this book.  There’s a lot of interesting science and stories in here.

The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time by Will Durant.  This is a good primer on the major ideas/thinkers from history and their influence.  I especially liked the book recommendations for a well-balanced modern day thinker.

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen.  The book is OK.  I’m writing this a few months after reading it so I don’t know what else to say.  There isn’t much practical advice to follow.  It wasn’t for me.

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare.  Renowned for his friendly demeanor, Timon has a sudden change in fortune as his money dwindles to nothing.  Once the money dries up, so do his friends so he turns into a recluse outside the city.

Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare.  One of his problem plays.  “Problem” in that the tone is hard to pin down, the title characters seem minor in the play and the story doesn’t have a conclusion, it just sort of stops.  Still, I liked it despite its problems.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.  One more book down on my mission to read all of his plays.  Love and identity are big themes for the play.  It’s really good and flows well from scene to scene.  “If music be the food of love, play on.”

The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff.  An interesting look into the lives of a Jewish family.  At times, funny and others, sad.  Braff has a good knack of switching between the two that feels relaxed and natural.  The story itself is interesting.  Worth a read.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister.  If you’re interested in willpower or self-discipline, this is a must-read.  In fact, if you set goals of any kind, this is a must read.  So basically, I think this book should be read by everyone.  Interesting, well researched and well presented.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  I wanted to like this book, really I did, but I found it too long-winded to enjoy.  It takes pages of blocky text to get anywhere.  It’s an interesting story that just takes way way too long to tell.

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald’s first novel.  The writing is a little overbloated and the story isn’t that outstanding, but a flash of brilliance is here that would come to the forefront in his later works.

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley.  Very fascinating look at different school systems around the world.  What’s holding back our school system?  Why are Finland’s schools run so well?  This is a book you want to read if you’re interested in the education system.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf.  What would have happened to Shakespeare if he were a woman?  That’s one of the questions addressed in this philosophy/feminist essay.  At times the language is difficult, but it’s short and introduces some provocative questions.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.  Part memoir, part writing advice.  It’s quite a good read if you’re a writer or interested in Stephen King himself or if you’re a fan of memoirs.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.  There’s some great information here about productivity.  Some sections weren’t relevant to me since I don’t run a huge business and I’m not a CEO somewhere, but I still found much info pretty useful.

Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Another journal.  It’s very similar to Journal of a Novel.  It wasn’t meant to be published.  This is only for die-hard fans once again.

The Acts of King Arthur and His Nobel Knights by John Steinbeck.  Steinbeck was a huge fan of King Arthur and his tales.  In fact those tales were what initially got him interested in writing.  He was so interested that he researched everything possible about King Arthur, looking at dozens of documents and books and even traveling to England to see the areas the stories supposedly took place.  Unfortunately, this careful attention to detail seemed to put him off the project and he left it unfinished.

Steinbeck in Vietnam by John Steinbeck.  The last words Steinbeck ever wrote before he died.  Steinbeck was friends with Lyndon Johnson and was sent to Vietnam to get an unbiased opinion about the events there.  Interestingly enough, there were signs that Steinbeck’s views about the war changed the more he saw there.  Sadly, he died before he could clarify if those views had actually changed.

Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck.  It’s quite simply, a journal.  Everyday Steinbeck would write in his journal to get his writing going.  It seeemed to work well as East of Eden is one of his longest books and he wrote it in less than a year.  The journal here itself is only interesting to die-hard Steinbeck fans.  But what do you expect?  It wasn’t originally meant to be published.

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau.  I only somewhat liked his previous book, The $100 Startup, but I admit the title intrigued me.  That didn’t last long as the book soon became quite dull.  He seems too content just relating the stories of others doing something interesting and completely forgets about giving advice to his readers.  While the stories he tells could be interesting on their own, he bobs back and forth between them so much that it becomes jarring and irritating.

Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts by Samuel Beckett.  A very short play.  I read it in one night (although it helps that this was my third time reading it).  This one can be hard to get into if don’t catch onto the humor which can be really quick.  I do enjoy it though and I’d love to see a live production of it.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams.  What’s there to say about this brilliant play that hasn’t already been said?  It’s truly a wonderful read that explores the descent of Blanche Dubois into madness.  I had a hard time putting it down.  Read it.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  A surprisingly fun, little read from the viewpoint of a man diagnosed with a fatal illness.  Randy Pausch had cancer and was given only a short time to live.  In a nod to the university he worked at, professors are given the chance to give a “last lecture” about, well…anything they want.  Randy choose to give his about what he’s learned about life and all the lessons and wisdom he’s gained.  It’s a touching read.

America and Americans by John Steinbeck.  A series of short essays and magazine articles.  Many of them are great – I was surprised how much I liked his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.  I’d only recommend this to hardcore fans of Steinbeck though.

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck.  One of my least favorite Steinbeck novels.  It’s the story of a guy down on his luck and his ruthless rise to the top in a small town.  I just couldn’t get it into it.  I don’t know if I was missing something, but Steinbeck’s last novel (released in his lifetime) just didn’t live up to his greatness.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  I’m still amazed at how underwhelmed I was with this book.  The first section is just a series of stories about his life in a concentration camp.  The second half goes into his philosophical ideas.  I didn’t particularly like either which is strange considering how often I hear people acclaim the whole thing.  In a word, it was OK.

Travels With Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck.  Road trip.  1960.  Steinbeck toured across most of the continental United States to get back in touch with America.  Traveling with Charley, his pet poodle, in a souped up camper named Rocinante (named after Don Quixote’s horse), he has a lot of fun adventures.  I’d definitely recommend this one, especially if you’re into travel.

Once There Was a War by John Steinbeck.  In WWII, Steinbeck reported on the war as a correspondent.  This book is a collection of those articles.  Although it comes off as a short series of anecdotes, the stories are amusing – Check out “The Story of an Elf” to read my favorite.

The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication by John Steinbeck.  A silly, farcical story about how the monarchy returned to France.  I couldn’t get past the concept enough to truly enjoy this read.  Steinbeck’s writing is good, as usual, but the story itself is the problem.  He might just not be suited to comedy writing – this was his only attempt so we’ll never really know.  But this one just failed to hit the mark.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck. In many ways, this book is a bigger achievement than his more acclaimed book Grapes of Wrath.  The number of characters, time shifts and story lines to intertwine would be too much for most writers.  But Steinbeck handles himself masterfully here; I can definitely see why he considered this work his magnum opus.

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Comments

  1. Hi Steve, how come you’re not writing a short review for each book? I was looking forward to seeing your thoughts on them and whether they were worth reading.

    • I wasn’t sure how many people were actually reading them, but now I’ll go and put my thoughts in. I’ve been behind too because my wife just had a baby.

      • Wow congratulations Steve! I personally love hearing your opinion because I know how much you read! i’d love to see you post book reviews especially! I hope everything goes well and keeps getting better! All the best mate, Ollie

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