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Books read in 2008

If I had to quickly summarize 2008 in books, I’d name my favorite fiction and non-fiction: Solitaire by Kelly Eskridge and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, respectively.

Of course, jump down to see what I did read last year.

In addition to the books by Dawkins and Eskridge, I’ve marked recommended titles with the lightbulb icon, 💡 .

Some comics

The size of this list is actually deceiving. 2008 marked my tardy (but inevitable?) exposure to Osamu Tezuka’s manga, which had been catalyzed by visiting an impressive exhibit in 2007 at the Asian Art Museum. This resulted in reading a whopping number of comics! Tezuka wrote so much that I think his work deserves its own entry. Also, during the past couple years I’ve read a bunch of (non-Tezuka) superb graphic novels, which I’ll get to in another article.

Carey, Liew, Hempel. Re-Gifters. Hopkido-loving Jen Dik Seong gives gifts to show affection. But what happens when a gift is not just rejected, but reused to give to another person? The life and times of a Korean American teen girl would’ve felt more convincing if the writer did a better job of expressing the immigrant experience. Not to say a writer needs to be either an immigrant or Korean, obviously, but in spite of research, Carey’s writing felt more stereotypical than captivating.

Nananan, Kiriko. Blue. A sad, touching story about two girls who learn (or fail) to navigate the emotional storm of adolescence, especially when they fall in love with each other. Quiet, yet moving.

Reilly, Ahlquist and Mann. The Weirdly World of Strange Eggs. It’s an oddly cute and weird story about a couple of kids who find themselves in charge of large egg,s and the resulting monstrous hatchlings. An interesting parable, but not revelatory. Marred by bad production that looks like poor photocopying.

Sfar and Guibert. The Professor’s Daughter. A Victorian tale accompanied with somewhat hackneyed Victorian themes. Who cares about how the professor’s daughter fell in with a mummy? In the end, I did not.

Talbot, Bryan. Heart of Empire. I liked Talbot’s artwork in Gaiman’s Sandman, but this series wasn’t my… cup of meat, I’m afraid. A bit too assaulting to my senses.

💡 Tomizawa, Hitoshi. Alien 9 manga. I read this after watching the animé upon which it was based. Even though this involves cute middle school girls with cute aliens symbionts fighting against other aliens, it ain’t for the faint of heart. It’s not too gruesome, but instead very grueling. It shows how someone could be so consumed by her fears, that her terror harms other people. Thrilling, yet alternating between horrifying and thoughtful.

💡 Willingham, Bill. Thessaly: Witch for Hire. I don’t know why, but I’m intrigued by Thessaly, a part-time character from Sandman. She’s old, she’s powerful, and she’s refreshingly grouchy and unsociable. I’m engrossed by watching what tribulations have cropped up during her long life (sacrifices, literally, and mistakes).

Yun, Mi-Kyung. Bride of the Water God, volumes 1 and 2. Hmm, another manhwa where the title consists of a bride to a Korean spirit? Except for similar titles and gorgeous artistry, though, this series differs quite a lot from Dokebi Bride. Sadly the story and characters didn’t manage to grab me. A young woman is married off to a rain god so that her village could obtain its much needed rainfall. From there the story seems to involve rather uninteresting, stereotypical people: the sweet nearly Mary Sue protagonist, her mysterious husband (smartass boy by day, handsome man at night, when she sleeps, of course), her terrifying but intriguing mother-in-law (goddess of torture and love). I might pick it up again, if I find later volumes at a library; but for now it’s not worth my budget.


💡 Eskridge, Kelley. Solitaire. While in the science fiction genre, this deals greatly with project management. Hey, wipe off that scornful smirk. Imagine the ultimate project manager, how highly effective she is, not just in manipulating people and schedules well (those ain’t small tasks) to get things done, but also how very familiar she is with techniques, skills and various fields of expertise. If she doesn’t find or encourage others to complete a project, she’s unafraid and capable enough to do it herself, and very well at that, too. So from a utopian corporate culture comes wunderkind Jackal Segura. Who falls from her high position, quite horribly, into a nightmarish prison. Her story continues to evolve painfully, exquisitely, from there.

Ghosh, Amitav. The Hungry Tide. Dolphin research and romance in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh. I wish there was more of the science; what cetological and ecological discussions there are seem quite interesting. The rest, well, seems too much Hollywood for my tastes.

Ikeda, Akiko. Dayan’s Birthday, Thursday Rainy Party, White Eurocka, and Chibikuro Party. Several illustrated children’s books that often focus on etiquette, especially for parties. Cute, but simple, and very much aimed at small kids, rather than having an all-ages appeal.

Knox, Elizabeth. The Dreamhunter duet, consisting of Dreamhunter and Dreamquake. What is that strange, colorless land, where only a few can cross into, and influence other people’s dreams? I like the details that went into the atmosphere, the plot (initially) and dialog for these books. (I love the priceless remark, “Must be a mouth breather.” Hah, so amusingly disparaging!) Unfortunately, I’m rather disappointed and dissatisfied with the resolution of the mystery and the protagonists’ fates.

Larbalestier, Justine. Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons, and Magic’s Child. I really wanted to like this trilogy. As with Knox’s Dreamhunter series, I enjoyed the characters, the scenery, and Larbalestier’s animated writing style. (Although the Magic and Madness trilogy takes place in modern New York and Australia, rather than early 20th century New Zealand.) Her magic system is fascinating and intelligent, something new I encountered in fiction. It’s also awesome to see a teenage boy love clothing (textile magic), without collapsing into tired stereotypes. But as with Knox’s duet, the resolution of the plot and characters’ destinies just didn’t sit well with me. Still, it makes me curious about the Larbalestier’s other work…

Mitchison, Naomi. Travel Light. A novella about an orphan girl finding her past, and her future. Which ends up a disappointing parable about destiny. This is the only Mitchison piece I’ve read, and since she was such a prolific author, perhaps she had better works.

Ogawa, Yoko. The Diving Pool, 3 novellas. I was hoping for something at the level of Banana Yoshimoto, but found these stories (dealing with slice-of-life issues and alienation, iirc) just mildly uninteresting. However, I am curious about the forthcoming English translation of The Housekeeper and the Professor.

Park, Paul. The Tourmaline, The White Tyger. These are the second and third books of a four book series covering Miranda Popescu’s attempt to reclaim, via bewildering parallel worlds, an empire in decline. Indeed, her burden is very reminiscent of Lord Valentine’s ordeal to recover his title and life. As with the first book, A Princess of Roumania, the characters and their stories are intricate, but the pacing remains somewhat disorienting. Still, I’m sure I’ll read the final one, The Hidden World, because I want to see what becomes of the various worlds and characters.

💡 Pullman, Philip. Once Upon a Time in the North. This is a delightful novelette that recounts how young aeronaut Lee Scoresby became acquainted with polar bear Iorek Byrnison. Beautifully produced hardbound book, with hints to the future of other characters from His Dark Materials. Reminds me of a smaller, simpler version of Nick Bantock’s work, but with more plot and depth.

💡 Silverberg, Robert. Lord Valentine’s Castle and Majipoor Chronicles. Finally some (slow) progress in my classical science fiction education! Silverberg’s Majipoor defines the massive planet concept, complete with multiple complex sentient species. Some of the dialog and characters are dated — these were written during early to mid 1980s — so I needed I filter out some of the more sexist bits. But I do appreciate the introspection the author bestows upon his protagonists.


💡 Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion (2008 edition). I used to think I wouldn’t like reading Dawkins, thinking he’d be too angry, too shrill, too incomprehensible. On the contrary, this book has a remarkably compassionate and humorous tone — not to mention being passionate (obviously) and easily understandable (on evolution). With Dawkin’s careful explanations, I could better understand (and appreciate) his scathing remarks against intelligent design and religious fundamentalism. After all, how could I not resist reading a treatise on science and religion which starts off with wisdom concerning the Flying Spaghetti monster and herding cats?

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs & Steel (2005 edition). A very well-written book on the development of agriculture, language and industry — specifically with how geography affected such developments. Even though it took me months to get through it (characteristic of my speed through historical non-fiction), I’m glad I learned more about how complex civilizations succeed or fail. I especially enjoy the newer chapter on Japan’s development: a good testament to how Diamond pays attention to facts and presents commonalities that many chose to ignore.

McKellar, Danica. Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail | Official site. Now if I could find something like this, geared at all ages and genders, for calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, statistics, and… I know. Asking a lot. Still, the point which McKellar makes very clear, is that math can be enjoyable and useful at the same time.

Meyer, Kathleen. How to Shit in the Woods (1st edition). Okay, you can stop laughing now, smartypants. It does, indeed, contain encouraging and useful outdoor tips for taking Number 2 to task. But are publications filling the void for advice on the pissoir and other similarly medieval urban-suburban devices? “What void?” you say, as you remind me about the Internet… ;-P

Riccardi, Victoria Abbott. Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto. An interesting memoir, with some recipes, on how an American steadfastly stays in Japan in spite of the daunting language and cultural barriers. Whatever for? To learn about the history and techniques behind the complex kaiseki ritual-meal.

Simonds, Calvin. The Private Lives of Garden Birds.”You have never seen predatory dignity shattered until you have seen a stalking cat goosed by a mockingbird.” Good observations, but primarily focused on birds in the northeastern US.


Abadzis, Nick. Laika. Couldn’t get into the artwork.

Nelson, Derek. Off the Map: Curious Histories of Place-Names. I was hoping for more of a short encyclopedic glossary. But it seemed more like a historical text.

Novik, Naomi. His Majesty’s Dragon. I stopped reading after the first chapter. The setting and people just didn’t draw me in. Maybe I’ll try again another time.


Hey! I published this before half the year has elapsed. Good for me. Maybe I’ll make it before the first month finishes, next year…

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