Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Billy's top books of 2010

Overall I consider 2010 a successful reading year. While I did read some really bad books this year, for the most part I read them to revel in their mediocrity (see: Rocky, Swords from the North, Don't Hassel the Hoff) or because they were free downloads for my kindle (see: A Thin Difference, The Heir). However, I also read a lot of books that I really enjoyed. Here's the list of my favorites.

Non-Fiction Division
  • Let's Get Free by Paul Butler: I started the year off right with this book (by my Criminal Procedure professor) that shines a light on the problems and inconsistencies within our criminal justice system. Though I didn't agree with Butler 100%, he has some great ideas that seem eminently implementable if we could just get past our ignorant prejudices. The main idea I took from Let's Get Free is that people are going to do drugs, no matter what we try to do about it, and locking up non-violent offenders not only ruins their lives, making it harder for them to become productive members of society, it also shatters their communities (for example, the 13 year old whose father was incarcerated for the majority of his life) and leads to a self-perpetuating spiral. Also, we really only enforce drug laws against black people, so it's pretty racist to boot.
  • The Death of Innocents by Sister Helen Prejean: Sister Helen Prejean puts a face and a story to two men awaiting their executions (for crimes, based on her review of the facts, that they didn't commit). The fact that the two men are innocent doesn't matter as much to what I thought was the major takeaway from this book: that the people we kill in the name of justice are still human beings, still children of God, and to deny that by executing them is gross. I also found the stories of the families and friends at least as compelling as those of the men themselves. I read this book in anticipation of the seminar I took about the death penalty last semester, which, in case you were wondering, left me even more staunchly opposed to it. My review of this book caused the biggest 50 Books controversy that I've been a part of, and I thank my 50 Books brethren who stood with me against the salvos of that ignorant interloper.
  • The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong: The Brethren, like The Nine, which I read last year, shows an in-depth, behind the scenes view of the Supreme Court. This book focuses on the first few years of the Burger Court and includes several watershed cases, such as U.S. v. Nixon and Roe v. Wade. Looking back on The Brethren, what I remember most is trying to reconcile my strong respect and fascination with the Supreme Court as an institution and the failings of some of its members (mostly Warren Burger's, who came off as an epic buffoon). It also made me appreciate justices like Scalia, who I disagree with on almost everything but who is undeniably brilliant, even more. In the end, a fascinating book that should be required reading for anyone in law school or with any interest in the law or Constitution.
  • Honorable mention: The Damned Utd. and The Baseball Codes
Fantasy Division
  • The Dark Tower by Stephen King: I finally tackled the Dark Tower series this year (shocked I hadn't gotten to it til now, despite being an avid Stephen King fan for about a decade) and I'm glad I did. It wasn't perfect (I'm looking at you Song of Susannah), but it was satisfying and as ensorcelling as a fantasy epic should be. The Dark Tower is the culmination of the seven novel series and, while it may not be the best (Wizard and Glass probably was), was valuable for the way it ended the story. After some thought, I found I appreciated either of the two endings King gives us and would recommend the series to anyone who enjoys Stephen King.
  • The Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R. R. Martin: Jim has been recommending these books to me for years and I finally got around to reading them. I'm not going to say they are high literature or anything, but they are very entertaining and I look forward to both the rest of the series (please don't die before you finish, George) and the HBO depiction this spring.
  • His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik: Hands down the gem of the "read it because it was free to download for kindle" division. This one is set during the Napoleonic Wars, if dragons existed and we used them as an air force. It may sound a little silly, but the characters and plot were compelling and I look forward to starting off 2011 with the sequel.
  • fail: The Magicians
Fiction Division
  • Run with the Horsemen by Ferrol Sams: I never got around to doing a proper review for this book, which is too bad because it's fantastic. I guess I just figured my meager skills as a literary critic wouldn't do it justice. Maybe Chris will read it next year... Anyway, Run with the Horsemen tells the story of a boy growing up in rural Georgia during the Depression. Through a series of anecdotes (often hilarious in a Tom Bodette/Garrison Keillor kind of way), we learn about what life is like for Porter and how he relates to his world. By the end of the book, you realize that Porter's most important relationship is with his father, despite his father's absence from most of the anecdotes. Porter both idolizes and is disappointed by his father and his struggle with this realization is very interesting. So read this book. If nothing else it's laugh out loud funny.
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut: This was my first Vonnegut and I rather enjoyed it. Of course, my favorite part was the description of Billy's wang as tremendous, but the rest was good, too. I actually did do a pretty extensive review for this one, so see it for more.
  • fun, light reading: Rules of Deception, Like Warm Sun on Nekkid Bottoms
  • don't read it on a bet: Peace Like a River
So yeah, 2010 turned out all right. I got to 40, which was my goal, and I didn't even include any of my law school textbooks. Hopefully I'll do even better in 2011; I'm shooting for 45.


Brent Waggoner said...

I have 50 links for you about the death penalty. I'll post them tomorrow.

Without spoilers, can you tell me why you didn't like The Magicians? I've been thinking about reading it, but need convincing one way or the other.

billy said...

brent: apparently i started a review but never got around to finishing it. i read what i started and turns out i didn't dislike the book as much as i remember. still, what bugged me is that it seemed very cynical and was kind of depressing, which just isn't really my style. the author has a point that he's trying to make and it isn't very subtle. however, i thought he accidentally threw in some redemptive elements that made me like the book better, even if the author's obliviousness made me like him less.

billy said...

all that being said, it was a really quick read and relatively entertaining, so if you can get your hands on a copy you might as well give it a shot.

Brent Waggoner said...

Here's to hoping I can find it on the remainder table.