Books to Read in March: Horns by Joe Hill plus Warren Ellis & Leo Babauta

I’ve started writing individual thoughts for each book I read per week in my Weekly Updates posts. Look at those to stay on top of what I’m reading. At the end of the month, I’ll list all the books read here with a mini-review of each.

Top Pick: Horns by Joe Hill

Joe Hill's Horns

Joe Hill’s Horns

Also reviewed in my weekly updates.

If you’re looking for books to read in March, start right here with Horns by Joe Hill. This is one of the more intriguing and well-balanced novels I’ve read in a while.

First there’s the plot. Main character Ig woke up after a long night of drinking with a hangover and horns on growing of his head. Yes, like devil horns. Along with the horns comes the ability to see into someone’s mind at just a touch. Along with other’s telling him their sins. Both things are more of a boon than a gift.

On top of this, is the real meat behind the story. About a year ago, Ig had been accused of raping & killing his girlfriend after they had a loud public break-up. He was never charged nor cleared. Using his new-found ability to see people’s memories at just a touch, he is able to go back in time and discover what happened that night.

Hill technique of writing different perspectives from different characters works very well. Some characters are left in the dust but that can’t be helped. Everyone in the book is terrible. Except Ig and his girlfriend I guess. I suppose we would all sound terrible if you only knew us by our sins.

The book doesn’t go too supernatural or too horror at all. It is curious and adventurous. You really start to feel for the main character which is a strange emotional conflict because at the same time he is turning into a devil. The ending was all that I hoped it to be. No letdown. No soft ending.

I haven’t read any other of his novels but am certainly looking forward to what Hill brings us in the future.

I recommend Horns if you like light supernatural or light mystery novels.

Author: Joe Hill
Genre: Supernatural
Rating: 4/5
Summary: One morning Ig woke up with a hangover and horns growing out of his head.

The Signal and The Noise by Nate Silver

Economics & Forecasting; Nate Silver's The Signal and The Noise"

Economics & Statistics; Nate Silver’s The Signal and The Noise”

As a web analyst and someone who likes numbers & spreadsheets, I thought this would be more interesting than it was. Silver stays to his argument pretty well, which is that forecasts should be flexible to various environmental changes (whether that’s biological or economical).

Unfortunately, his writing and multiple examples muddle this argument throughout the entire book. He is very long-winded and repetitive. For a book on numbers, there are far too many words.

His examples are good, following the recent economical recession, baseball, and the weather. The weather section was the most interesting for me, probably because it directly affects me most regularly. With that said, reading this did motivate me to watch Moneyball, which I recommend. In fact, I suggest watching that movie over reading this book – something I don’t do very often.

I recommend The Signal and The Noise if you like economics.

Author: Nate Silver
Genre: Economics
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Long-winded argument about flexible predictions using plenty of examples

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Detective Novel; Warren Ellis' Gun Machine

Detective Novel; Warren Ellis’ Gun Machine

Warren Ellis is known as a comic book writer and that is very clear in the novel Gun Machine. It is also clear that without the support of illustrations, Ellis cannot tell a complete story.

I absolutely loved this story right up until the end. Seriously, the last 5 pages were SO BAD that it completely ruined everything before that. Which is a shame because boy were the first parts good!

Ellis does a great job setting a scene and atmosphere. Since the story is set in NYC (kind of in this world, kind of not), there were definitely times that I felt creeped out reading this in my apartment alone. There is a real sense of fear, dread, and mystery built around the killer. Unfortunately, what starts out as brilliantly ominous turns into a joke by the end of the book.

I recommend Gun Machine, if you like comics, detective stories, and creepy atmosphere’s. With that said, be prepared for a shallow ending.

Author: Warren Ellis
Genre: Crime/Detective
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Crime novel set in nyc with very strong beginning and horribly weak ending

Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town by Kelly McMasters

Kelly McMasters' Welcome to Shirley

Kelly McMasters’ Welcome to Shirley

Also reviewed in my weekly updates.

This part memoir-part environmentalism story works surprisingly well. This is the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tried to be. McMaster’s grew up in the Long Island town she writes about, providing the reader with a unique and emotional perspective of growing up in a town where the near-by national laboratory happens to have a leaky reactor. The juxtaposition between her warm childhood memories in the first part of the book, with the sudden change in tone when the community starts getting sick is a perfect balance.

The second part of the book involves more of her research and discussions on activism within the community. The first part is straight-forward memoir. I could complain that the research is a bit soft but it’s actually perfect for the type of story she is trying to tell. Being able to see the experience through the eyes of someone who lived through it and just as important as reading legal transcripts and government reports.

I recommend Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town if you like memoirs, like Long Island area stories, like reading about the health impact of toxins released into the environment.

Author: Kelly McMasters
Genre: Memoir / Environmental
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Part memoir, part environmental essay on a town in Long Island with a nuclear reactor in their back yard.

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams

Butcher's Crossing by John Williams

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams (not that John Williams) is a tricky one. The writing is great as to be expected. The plot is very western as it’s about buffalo hunting and exploring the wild west. It is West in the sense that the only female characters in the book are whores. And the novel focuses on four men. One man in particular reminds me of the gruff western characters in True Grit. Then another man is softer, fresh from an Ivy League school on the east coast wanting to explore the new wild country. This should be a coming-of-age tale but falls a bit short.

The middle section of the book is pretty dry and I almost gave up on it, thinking I already knew the ending. But Williams surprised me. The ending was not quite what I expected and actually pulled everything together very well. But first, you have to get through some pretty gruesome buffalo hunting scenes involving killing animals for hide (and leaving the rest of them to rot). Williams also goes into detail on the skinning process. It was a little bit graphic and I have no idea if it was accurate.

There is kind of a lesson told in the story but again falls short there too. After some thought, I’m really not sure what the story was supposed to tell. A lot of it was predictable and then nothing really happened afterward. This is the second Williams book I’ve read so I might wait some time before checking out another one.

I recommend Butcher’s Crossing if you’re interested in westerns, men’s men, and hunting.

Author: John Wiliams
Genre: Western
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Four men explore the western territory for Colorado to find a mythical valley of buffalo.

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

I love Zen Habits but really did not enjoy this book. Leo Babauta has a great personality, a good life story, and excellent writing style. Zen Habits is very easy to read and never comes off preachy. This book would have been better as a collection of his essays or even an autobiography type of story.

Unfortunately, it is straight-forward self-help which really leaves little explanation of how to do anything. Babauta can write too well to be using bullet points.

I recommend subscribing to Zen Habits for motivation and productivity. Skip the book.

Author: Leo Babauta
Genre: Productivity / Self-Help
Rating: 2/5
Summary: Typical self-help topics that are better written on the author’s blog.

Using New York City Libraries

The main branch of the New York Public Library

The main branch of the New York Public Library

New York City Libraries

There are three separate new york city library systems that run independently from each other. The New York Public Library (NYPL) serves Manhattan, Bronx, and Staten Island. The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) only serves Brooklyn and the Queens Library (QL) only serves Queens.

Combined, these three systems have 209 branches total with 63 million items in their collections.

Library cards at all of the library systems are free and you will need a separate card for each system. Check online for your local branch hours as they are pretty limited. Donate to your local branch! Maybe someday they’ll have Sunday hours!

NYPL: New York Public Library

The NYPL is the second largest public library in the US with 53 million items. Their collections span from books to maps to historical documents. Many of these items can only viewed in the building but you are welcome to schedule a viewing for free.

The main branch of NYPL, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, does not allow any books to be taken out of it. Go here for beautiful architecture and use a different branch to read and take out books.

NYPL consists of 77 neighborhood branches in the three boroughs of Manhattan, Bronx, and Staten Island. This means you can get books from any of these branches transferred to your near-by branch. That is a near endless selection of books!

BPL: Brooklyn Public Library

If NYPL’s branches aren’t enough, you can also take out from the Brooklyn Public Library‘s 58 neighborhood branches.

You do not need to live in Brooklyn to get a library card from here. But you do need to hold residence or employment in NYC. BPL library card holders can get linked to NYPL and take out books using the same card. However, books must be returned to a branch within their system. And you cannot request books from out of a library system. BPL stays within BPL.

QL: Queens Library

If you still can’t find what you need, the Queens Library system has 62 neighborhood branches. You must get a separate QL card to take out from any of these branches. You cannot take out books from any other system using this card.

Putting Books on Hold

As an avid reader, I love exploring the numerous independent bookstores NYC has to offer. Unfortunately, this can quickly become an expensive habit. I didn’t right away think of going to the library because I thought my local branch might not have what I was looking for. Then I learned about putting books on hold. And my life was changed forever.

Since there are so many branches in all of the systems, your local branch may not have the specific book you’re looking for. No worries, just get yourself to an Internet device and go the library website.

I’ll use NYPL for this example as that’s the system I frequently use. I recommend registering as soon as you get a card.

Search results & putting a book on hold on

Search results & putting a book on hold on

On their website, search for the book you want to read. At the search results, find the format you want it in. Many libraries offer e-book and audiobook versions, along with paper. Right on the search screen, it shows you which locations the book is available to take out and how many other folks are waiting for the book.

If you don’t mind the wait, click “Place A Hold.” Then select which branch you would like it sent to. Now, when a copy becomes available, it will be automatically transferred to your local branch!

Popular books have a long wait, but how can you complain about free?

Popular books have a long wait, but how can you complain about free?

Putting books on hold is fun! It’s like adding items to a shopping cart except your total is zero every time.

And with the free price tag, you do have to wait days/weeks/months sometimes for a popular or rare book. If you really want to read it so bad, no one is stopping you from buying it. Besides, I like when a book on hold suddenly becomes available to me. It’s like a little surprise birthday present!

NPYL will email you when any of the books on your hold list become available at your local branch. You will then have about two weeks to pick it up before it gets put back in circulation.

Books on hold are usually on shelves in the front of each branch with printed numbers on pieces of paper on each side. For NYPL, these are the last four numbers on your library card. BPL is different. Ask your librarian the first time if you need assistance.

You can continuously check your hold list (as I do) to see where you are on the wait list. The status will also change when a book you requested is in transit.

With my love for libraries exposed, I want to add that I do still buy books! If a book I read from the library was amazing, I will go buy it. If I want to keep a book for reference, I will go buy it. Using the library for books saves me money on books I would not want to buy. Books that I heard were good but I did not enjoy. There’s plenty of them out there.

Your local library is a great resource for a quiet place to study

Your local library is a great resource for a quiet place to study

Things Other Than Free Books

Since libraries are in desperate need of funding I wanted to highlight some other useful things libraries do other than loan out free books! All of the NYPL branches of free wi-fi. There are often tables and chairs for reading, studying, working. Some branches of tables and outlets to use as laptop workstations. These resources are all free. No coffee purchase required.

There are also classes, book groups, tax help, and more offered. Take a look at the bulletin board at your local branch to see all upcoming events.

Netflix Instant Picks: Say Anything, Heartbreakers, Leap of Faith

Say Anything (1989) / Teen Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Say Anything with John Cusack

One of the better 1980′s teen Cusack films about a guy, Lloyd Dobbler, who loves a girl, Diane Court. It’s that simple. He loves her more than anything. It’s not romantic as much as it’s a fact. This is what he does. He loves Diane. What is he going to do with his life? Love Diane.

“Say Anything” is a bit of a departure from the Molly Ringwald John Hughes teen movies from the 1980′s. It’s a little simpler and a little less hokey.

Starring: John Cusack
Runtime: 100 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: “What I really want to do with my life – what I want to do for a living – is I want to be with your daughter. I’m good at it.”

Heartbreakers (2001) / Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Heartbreakers with Jennifer Love Hewitt

1) Marry a rich man
2) Send in daughter to seduce new husband
3) Catch him in an affair with “another woman”
4) Divorce him and take all his $$

Sigourney Weaver and daughter Jennifer Love Hewitt have this plan down to a science. But what will happen when one of them actually falls for someone? Who knows! But I bet Jason Lee is going to find out.

Look, the plot is corny as hell but the movie knows what it is. Plus, the chemistry between the actor’s really helps to save things. All in all, Heartbreakers is better than it sounds, I promise.

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jason Lee, Gene Hackman
Runtime: 122 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Cheesy gold-digger plot but Hewitt and Lee’s interactions save the film

Leap of Faith (1992) / Satire Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Leap of Faith with Steve Martin Philip seymour hoffman on netflix

Here’s a small tip of the hat to Philip Seymour Hoffman in a lesser role.

For those of you who want to learn the art of manipulation, you only need to do two things: 1) Read “How to Win Friends & Influence People” and 2) Watch “Leap of Faith”

Steve Martin plays Jonas Nightingale, an evangelist preacher who puts on a big show and will happily take all your donations. The plot revolves around them getting stuck in downtrodden Rustwater, Kansas so they make the best of it and put on a big show. There’s some cheesy subplots where one of his crew falls in love with Liam Neeson in 3 days. Neeson, by the way, is the sherriff of this small town though there is no explanation of his background. Okay.

Meat Loaf and Philip Seymour Hoffman play as two members of the Nightingale crew. There’s a cute scene where Steve Martin is rocking out to “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”. Otherwise, Meat Loaf plays organ the whole time while Hoffman flirts with teen moms.

This is a Steve Martin film in the sense it’s not quite the feel-good story it could be. And it works just fine that way.

Starring: Steve Martin, Liam Neeson, Meat Loaf, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Runtime: 107 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: A satirical look at con-men evangelists and small town hopes.

Netflix Instant Picks: Price of Gold, Spaghetti Westerns, Airplane!

30 for 30: The Price of Gold (2014) / Documentary

Netflix Instant Picks 30 for 30: the price of gold

I wrote more about this in my weekly updates.

ESPN’s 30 for 30 series is pretty great all around. I’ve seen a few others, most notably “Broke”, exploring how athletes lose their millions. “The Price of Gold” is just as interesting as we learn Harding’s side of the Tonya Harding v Nancy Kerrigan debacle that happened 20 years ago.

To this day, Harding is sticking to her story that she had no prior knowledge of the event. The editing comes off slightly skewed but without an obvious bias. Though there is a funny edit where she says “that wasn’t my handwriting” and a press interview clip says “we found Harding’s handwriting”.

Editing aside, we get to learn a lot about Tonya Harding. I knew nothing about her past but was aware of her “athleticism” in contrast to Kerrington’s “ice princess” quality. Harding’s tale is pretty tragic. She grew up in an abusive home, married an abusive husband, and poured her heart into skating. There may not be sympathy felt for her, but at least understanding. An understanding of her tragic need to win. The entire episode is sad for everyone involved.

In celebration of the Olympics, this look into one of the more famous Olympic scandals is definitely worth watching.

Starring: Tonya Harding
Runtime: 60 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: The infamous Tonya Harding & Nancy Kerrigan scandal told from Harding’s point of view

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) / Western

Netflix Instant Picks The Good The Bad The Ugly

This is my absolute favorite movie. And I mean it. It’s #1 in my top ten. I wrote a paper on the soundtrack.

The “Man With No Name” trilogy was directed in Italy by Sergio Leone, hence them being coined ‘spaghetti westerns.’ The dialogue is terse with Ennio Morricone’s score filling each scene, providing all the emotion you need.

Clint Eastwood’s character, the man with no name, is played perfectly as an anti-hero. Despite the name, there are few ‘good’ guys in this movie. Eastwood certainly isn’t one of them. Yet you’ll end up rooting for him anyway.

Starring: Clint Eastwood
Runtime: 179 min
Leslie Rating: 5/5
Summary: Director Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone create a brilliant end to this trilogy

Airplane! (1980) / Satire Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Airplane!

Surely, you’ve already seen this. (Don’t call me Shirley). If you haven’t seen this movie, you should just so every few seconds you can go “oh! that’s where that joke came from.”

Starring: Robert Hayes, Leslie Nielsen
Runtime: 87 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Spoof comedy at it’s finest

January Books: Colum McCann, Bill Bryson, David B.

I’ve started writing individual thoughts for each book I read per week in my Weekly Updates posts. Look at those to stay on top of what I’m reading. At the end of the month, I’ll list all the books read here with a mini-review of each.

Pick of the Month: One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson's One Summer: America, 1927 is like reading Wikipedia

Book of the Month: Soft Non-Fiction; Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927

Also reviewed in my weekly updates.

If you’re looking for interesting non-fiction books to read in February, start with this one. I have been calling this the “wikipedia book” because that’s how it felt reading it. I would start getting really interested in one story, then Bryson would go into another story that is related yet different. Fifty pages later I found myself learning about Mount Rushmore from what started with Babe Ruth.

This topic jostling isn’t a complaint thought. It is amazing how thoroughly Bryson is able to pack so much into this little book. Breaking down a year in this way is very fascinating. How many exciting American years could be written about in such detail? Probably many! But 1927 is a year that not too many of us think about and he ties everything together very well.

I appreciate that he never strayed from the year. He talked of factors building up to the Great Depression and actions that resulted in later wins, but Bryson stays on the path of 1927 even though it may have been tempting to talk of the topic in a later time.

The first half of the book is more coherent than the second half. There is a point where he just starts jamming facts & stories into the text for what seems like little purpose. And while his humor is usually on point, it feels very forced in this story. By the time I was a third way through, I was beginning to roll my eyes at some of his obvious witticisms and superfluous descriptions.

This is the second Bryson book I have read, the first being “A Walk in the Woods”. I enjoyed Bryson talking about himself better. I thought his humor came through better that way. Trying to make witty jokes about history just didn’t come across as well. However, as a storyteller, learning about history from him is very fascinating and rarely boring. There were only a few rambling topics.

Lovers of history, light-non-fiction, and Bill Bryson will certainly enjoy “One Summer: America, 1927″.

Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction
Source: NYPL
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Wikipedia narrated by Bill Bryson

Transatlantic by Colum McCann

Colum McCann

Historical Fiction; Transatlantic by Colum McCann

Also reviewed in my weekly updates.

There was something very interesting about reading Bill Bryson’s “One Summer” and Colum McCann’s “Transatlantic” in the same month. Coincidentally, both books start out exactly the same way. Both begin with the story of the first transatlantic flight. And both authors tell the story differently. And both use the story in different ways.

Bryson uses the story to segue into Lindbergh’s famous flight, a topic which takes up most of the book. McCann uses the story to subtly introduce main characters and begin the multi-generational storyline. His telling of the story was slightly exaggerated/modified given this is historical fiction and all.

Unfortunately, this opening was the only part of Transatlantic that I really enjoyed. It was a beautifully written introduction to the story and it was disappointing that these characters barely came back into the story. It was an exciting adventure and told in an exciting way. But this was not the continued tone of the book.

The book follows multiple-storylines and multiple-characters through generations. Just as in “Let the Great World Spin”, each character and event is loosely tied together. Characters & references show up pages later in the story. The historical fictional theme continues as well as famous leaders like Frederick Douglass is used as a main character for one section.

I wish I could put my finger on exactly why, but I didn’t like the story. However, I still enjoyed reading it because McCann’s writing is beautiful. The prose flows and never feels forced – although the plot does at times. Descriptions are on-spot and I was able to build the world he created. The story didn’t flow as well for me because of it being split up. I didn’t find the connections to be strong enough. Or sometimes not obvious enough.

Reading “Transatlantic” reminded me of two other similar stories, Philipp Meyer’s “The Son” and E. L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime”. The latter also being historical fiction including famous names in a less-coherent storyline. But very enjoyable and I recommend it over “Transatlantic.”

Author: Colum McCann
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: NYPL
Rating: 3/5
Summary: A multi-character story line spanning generations isn’t as interesting or seamless as it could be.

Incidents in the Night Vol 1: N by David B

Graphic Novel; Incidents in the Night Vol. 1: N by David B

Graphic Novel; Incidents in the Night Vol. 1: N by David B

This multi-volume graphic novel series from French illustrator David B. brings out some of my favorite aspects of his drawing and least favorite aspects of his storytelling.

This is a story involving David B as the main character on a hunt for a newspaper printed years ago that turns into a conspiracy as the newspaper creator, long-dead, comes back for revenge. But this isn’t a scary ghost tale, it is an adventure tale about bookstores, letters, and history.

The world David B creates is rich, imaginative, and dark. I enjoyed the darkness & depth of his drawings in “Epileptic”. I still enjoy them here.

The art makes the story come alive and allows you to explore this world of history & books. Though there are some parts of the storytelling where the drawings don’t further the story at all. This happens so often that I almost would prefer this to be a novel. I’m not sure if his writing is strong enough for it but this story seems better suited for it.

I will read the other volumes to finish up the storyline. Fans of David B will enjoy this. If you’re new to him, I suggest starting with his past graphic novels.

Author: David B
Genre: Graphic Novel
Source: Bought at Brooklyn Book Festival
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Beautiful dark art & world of books with story line that may or may not hold up in the rest of the series

Netflix Instant Picks: Penelope, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Thing Called Love

Penelope (2006) / Feel-Good

Netflix Instant Picks Penelope

I love Christina Ricci trying to be a real actress. It’s unfortunate that she played her perfect role as a child in both Addams Family movies.

Penelope is the familiar but cute story about judging a book by its cover. Christina does well. The movie is light-hearted. Geared toward kids. It’s nothing special but a good sweet movie.

Starring: Christina Ricci
Runtime: 89 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Light-hearted whimsy in a familiar tale

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) / Teen Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Rock 'n' Roll High School

Another student v. principal film except with the ramones!

Starring: Ramones
Runtime: 84 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Students want to have fun. Their high school principal doesn’t.

The Thing Called Love (1993) / Drama

Netflix Instant Picks Thing Called Love

The Thing Called Love isn’t noteworthy because it’s a great film or original story. It’s noteworthy because this was River Phoenix‘s last acting role. He over dosed at the age of 23.

With that said, the movie does stand on its own. It surprisingly holds your interest even though the story itself is rather predictable. Despite being on his last legs, Phoenix performs well (though not at his top). And female lead’s charisma really keeps things solid.

But at the end of the day it’s a movie about a girl moving to nashville and trying to make it big as an aspiring singer/songwriter.

Starring: River Phoenix, Samantha Mathis, Sandra Bullock,
Runtime: 116 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: An aspiring singer/song-writer moves to Nashville to live her dreams.

Read More Books by Keeping A List

Read more books by keeping track of what you've read with this spreadsheet

Read more books by keeping track of what you’ve read with this spreadsheet

Trying to read more books this year? Keep yourself motivated by tracking this. When you open the spreadsheet to add the book you’re reading, seeing what you’ve already read can help encourage you to make the time to read more books. I have written about other strategies to help make reading a daily habit.

Book Tracking Spreadsheet

View Book Tracker in Google Docs | Download Book Tracker in Excel

Keeping track of what you’ve read throughout the year will encourage you to read more books. If you have trouble finding time to read, seeing this list provides a reminder of the previous books you’ve read and enjoyed. It also serves as a reminder to keep reading!

The spreadsheet is pretty simple to use. You can always use a notebook & pen if you’re not a fan of digital tracking. There is one tab per year. It can be fun to go through previous years to see what you’ve read. This is also very useful when friends ask you for recommendations. There is also a tab for “half-read” books. These are books that I just couldn’t get into even after 100 pages. I like to remember these just incase I want to go back and try them again later in life.

The last tab is for suggestions. I do not consider this a list of books to read. I do not have a list of books to read. I never want to think of reading as a chore or a task to check off a list. However, I am always looking for things to read. So if I come across a list of top books for the month, I’ll jot some down as a suggestion. Then, when I need another book to read, I browse the new york public library online catalog for one of the titles to put on hold. This can also help you to read more books because you won’t find yourself with downtime while looking for something else to read.

It’s easy to get into the habit of updating the spreadsheet. As soon as you start a book, write it down. If you try to do this after reading several books, you may not be able to remember each of them. Then when you’re finished with a book, go back to the sheet and input your rating (1 out of 5) and the day you finished it. Feel free to customize this sheet with whatever information you prefer. Yes, sites like Goodreads (owned by Amazon) can track this for you but I like controlling my own data.

Netflix Instant Picks: American Psycho, Thelma & Louise, Ninth Gate

American Pyscho (2000) / Black Comedy

Netflix Instant Movies American Pyscho

This is that rare occasion where the movie is better than the book. I shouldn’t say better. But this story fits better in movie form than text. The book is much more graphic than the film. And not in a good way. I don’t need to read multiple murder + rape scenes. The satire of it comes through perfectly in the film even though there’s less time to work with.

Christian Bale plays a perfect Patrick Bateman. Bateman lives on the upper west side of NYC, spends his time with vapid rich socialites, and kills hookers in his spare time. He also returns videotapes.

Starring: Christian Bale, Chloë Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon
Runtime: 103 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: Dark satire about a rich homicidal sociopath in nyc.

The Ninth Gate (1999) / Supernatural

Netflix Instant Movies The Ninth Gate

This is a known bad movie that I still enjoy. Yes, this is a movie about Satan and Hell and books. It’s silly. There’s worse.

Starring: Johnny Depp
Runtime: 133 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Johnny Depp finds Hell

Thelma & Louise (1991) / Drama

Netflix Instant Movies Thelma & Louise

This movie is one of the few that has an unhappy ending. Well, depending on who you ask.

A fun joy ride between who women who are sick of the men in their life takes a turn for the worst when they accidentally kill someone. And their money is stolen.

But they have their convertible and life isn’t getting them down. Thelma and Louise, as characters, are riveting and charming and crude all at the same time.

Bonus: Young Brad Pitt appearance

Starring: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Brad Pitt
Runtime: 129 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: A spontaneous joy ride turns into an eternal new life for Thelma & Louise.

Netflix Instant Christmas Movies: Christmas Vacation, Love Actually, Hugo

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) / Goofy Comedy

Netflix Instant Christmas Movies National Lampoons Christmas VacationWatch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on Netflix Instant

This is on my Christmas watch list every year. The jokes never get old. The schticks still make me giggle. Most of the movie is ridiculous. But in the most heart-warming way. Clark Griswold’s happy nature is so sincere you can’t help but truly want him to have the best Christmas ever.

Starring: Chevy Chase, Juliette Lewis
Runtime: 97 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: Spend a happy holiday with the good natured Griswold family.

Love Actually (2003) / Rom Com

Netflix Instant Christmas Movies Love ActuallyWatch Love Actually on Netflix Instant

I generally hate romantic comedies. Yet, I love this movie. Generally, star-studded films are a convoluted mess. Yet, this movie is great. Sure, a lot of it doesn’t make sense, But just go with it. Each love story is unique to each other, unlike some other multiple-storyline movies.

And all the characters are on-screen long enough to have some sort of identity. There are sad parts but the never really takes itself too seriously. Especially in Wisconsin.

If you generally have a cold black heart, I suggest you give this a chance. I’m not privy to these types of films but this one might surprise you.

Starring: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley
Runtime: 135 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: Multiple romantic storylines are woven together and meet in surprisingly interesting ways.

Hugo (2011) / Whisical Family Drama

Netflix Instant Christmas Movies HugoWatch Hugo on Netflix Instant

Although Hugo is a movie about a child, it’s really a movie about… movies! Halfway through the movie you get a fun history lesson into the early world of movies. You can easily watch this without kids and enjoy it.

There isn’t any low-brow humor or slapstick jokes. There’s some goofy chase scenes but otherwise, it’s a pretty heart-warming story about the old days of film.

Starring: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen,
Runtime: 127 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: Part child-adventure, part film history – this film is great to watch with or without kids.

Books List 2013: Non-Fiction, Literary Fiction, and Graphic Novels

As I did last year, here’s a giant conglomerate post of all 65 books I’ve read so far in 2013. These aren’t books that were released this year (though some were) but just books I decided to read this past year. Some were good. Some weren’t. Take notes!

To make this easier to read, I’m only including writing about highlights of each genre. Books I really loved, hated, or had some emotional reaction to. Any books simply listed are ones that were okay. Not bad. Not my favorite. Just books that I read and liked but didn’t have any impact on me. If you’re curious about more details of one of these, let me know!

books I read in 2013

Books List 2013- Click to enlarge

Fiction: 36
Non-Fiction: 18
Comics/Graphic Novels: 11

Total Pages: 21,241
Total Spent: $225
Total Books Taken out from Library: 34
Total Saved by using the Library: $500 (at retail price)

Top Five

  1. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  2. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
  3. Preacher by writer Garth Ennis & artist Steve Dillon
  4. Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg by
  5. Stoner by John Williams

Comics/Graphic Novels

Preacher by Greg Ennis & Steve Dillon / Blasphemous Comic

Preacher Vols 1-3 by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

I marathon-ed Preacher volumes 1-3 and loved every single second of it. The characters are fun (my favorite vampire of all time!), the story is interesting, and the artwork is fantastic. Since the story predominantly covers religious themes, some scenes can take an emotional toll on you.

The exploration into religion should be for everyone. God is made an anti-hero, for reasons I haven’t yet discovered. Blasphemy, gore, sex, gunslingers, vampires, and other interesting characters are used well. And provides artist Steve Dillon plenty of material for his fantastic illustrations. The story would certainly feel stale without his artistic talents.

Page from NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki

NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki / Memoir & Folklore

NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki

Nonnonba is a combination memoir + whimsy. It is a memoir of Shigeru Mizuki’s childhood. But explores the whimsical nature of yokai, spirit monsters part of japanese folklore. The narrative is interesting and fun. But it’s the illustrations that make it. The drawings really bring the invisible spirits to life.

Fun Home a Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel / Memoir

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

I did not like Fun Home. I know everyone else did. I know it’s a play now. But it’s just not for me. The book isn’t remotely interesting and the storytelling is full of pretentious jabber. The book eventually turns into a college literary criticism paper. Because Bechdel over-analyzes every single aspect of her life, this felt very empty as a memoir. There are many better graphic novel memoirs out there – shock value alone can’t save a bad story.


  • Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen, Ryan Dunlavey and Grady Hendrix – Leslie Rating: 4/5
  • Black Hole by Charles Burns – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • Far Arden by Kevin Cannon – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • Me Likes You Very Much by Lauren Barnett – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • Ghost World by Daniel Clowes – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • The Sandman Vol 01 by Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg – Leslie Rating: 2/5


Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury / Writing Reference

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

This writing reference book by Ray Bradbury is a collection of essays written in various stages of his life. As far as “writing on writing” goes, this is my favorite. He asks writers to keep an open mind. And think more creatively. He explains how to turn simple life events into whole stories. Each essay hits upon a different topic with references to his own publications making the advice feel particularly sound.

Sample exercise from Drawing for the Right Side of the Brain

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards / Drawing Reference

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

I had been dabbling in drawing the past two years. I have zero formal education. I’ve never had that “artist’s eye”. I still drew houses as a square and a triangle. Then I began scribbling. Thinking of drawings more as cartoons instead of still-life’s. I tried reading some drawing how-to’s online and via youtube, but it was a struggle.

A co-worker, with a formal art education, strongly recommended Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain to me. I will never be thankful enough. This is an essential drawing book if you’re a beginner! And I mean beginner. I love how she really explains what you’re doing by drawing. She teaches you to see. You can’t draw what you can’t see! She urges you to outline exactly what you see. There are some very useful tools recommended to go along with the exercises. Everything is cheap and easy to obtain. I wouldn’t do the exercises without them.

Having a viewing pane was one of the most helpful tools for me. Being able to actually hold up clear plastic and outline something right there, really helped me to see it. She makes no assumptions of your level. This isn’t about anatomy or the rule of thirds or any technical art things. It really is teaching you to see the “correct” way. A must read for anyone interested in art!

Verlyn Klinkenborg Several Short Sentences About Writing

Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg / Writing Reference

Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg

This book is one of the best books on writing that I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot). It uses a new & different perspective to talk about how you should be writing. Instead of preaching the “write everything down” method, he asks writers to focus on quality. Focus on correct grammar. Not just the correct use of “your” but actual sentence structure. Can you label the transitive and intransitives verbs in a sentence? I can’t.

Instead of merely talking about writing as an experience, Klinkenborg talks about writing in practice. Writers should think about each single word they write. Then each single sentence. Then each single paragraph. Etc. He argues that sentences need to be simplified. For some reason we are taught academically to fill up each sentence with noisy words. And to fill up each sentence with multiple thoughts. His main argument is for, essentially, choppy writing. This could make some writers cringe.

One of his recommendations, similar to most other author’s, is to read everything! Read fiction, non-fiction, poetry, literature, comics. All media and all formats. Learn how others manipulate language. Expand your vocabulary. Learn from other’s mistakes. He helps you put this into practice by including a workbook section at the back. Sentence examples and critiques to give you examples. There are sentences from early works of author’s are shown as examples of poor language, awkward rhythm, and other language errors.

Example map from visual display of information

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte / Statistics History & Presentation

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte

I have been interested in interface design for a long time. Mostly based around web-design and online software. Now that I work with reports and charts on a daily basis, my interest has shifted slightly. It’s amazing how such small changes can really affect the interpretation of a chart.

When should you use a table? When should you use a bar chart? When should you use a pie chart? (NEVER)

Even if you’re not personally creating charts, this is still an interesting read. Tufte explores the history of information visual displays. He compares & contrasts two types of charts presenting the same information. He warns how easy it is to manipulate information with a bias. Since we all see charts & data tables every single day, learning how to correctly read them and what they mean, is really important.

A walk in the woods

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson / Nature History & Memoir

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

This is my first Bill Bryson book. Even though I have been recommended many others. I loved his perspective on the Appalachian trail. I love that he brought an alcoholic friend with him. I even loved his history rants about the park service. It’s a great story about interesting characters that are real enough to empathize with.

This not a book necessarily about the trail or should be used as a reference guide. But it’s light writing with plenty of history.

Your brain is sabotaging you...

The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer / Beliefs & Nuerology

The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer

After suffering a severe depression last year, I began reading non-fiction books on brains & neurology. I wanted to understand how our brains could cause us so much pain. How our own brains could sabotage us. Why our brains made us think the way we think. There were many thoughts going through my depressed brain that I knew were wrong but so strongly believed. Whyyyy?????

The Believing Brain goes in-depth to explain exactly this conflict between us knowing and believing. Shermer discusses the inner brain workings of religious evangelists, conspiracy nuts, and paranormal believers. I can’t begin to sum all this up so I really recommend the book if you’re interested.

One factor to help explain this is that our brains are very sensitive to the power of suggestion. If someone takes you to a room and tells you it’s haunted, you might start feeling a cold chill. Or feel an invisible object brush against you. But if you were taken into that same room and without the mention of haunts, you wouldn’t feel a thing. Our brain is very good at tricking us.

Another interesting explanation I found specifically for the religious/conspiracy believers is the feeling of adrenaline. Think of a drug user who keeps using drugs to feel that initial high, even though they don’t feel it every time. Praying is similar. If you pray for something to happen, and it happens, you feel really good! You are happy. You tell yourself God loves you. You feel blessed. This is a very good feeling!

Yet, if you pray for something, and it doesn’t happen, you don’t necessarily feel terrible. You just say that God has a plan. You don’t stop praying. You don’t instantly stop believing in prayer. Because, really, you’re after that feeling of adrenaline. You will continue praying, even if your prayers go ‘unanswered’, because one time what you want to happen will happen (statistically speaking) and you’ll feel that good feeling again! That makes it worth it.

Do not kill me for butchering the explanation above, that is my paraphrased summary of what I remember from this book. But if all that interests you, I definitely recommend checking out the book for the details!


  • Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob – Leslie Rating: 4/5
  • Longitude by Dava Sobel – Leslie Rating: 4/5
  • Goodbye to Berlin by Chris Atwood – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • On the Map by Simon Garfield – Leslie Rating 3/5
  • Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • War Trash by Ha Jin – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • Descent by Brad Matsen – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • Chaos by James Gleick – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks – Leslie Rating: 3/5
  • Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg – Leslie Rating: 1/5


watership down

Watership Down by Richard Adams / Adventure Fiction

Watership Down by Richard Adams

If I had to recommend one book to anyone, it would be this one. Adams’ insight into a fictional society of rabbits is far more complex and mature than you would expect. There is folklore (think Tolkien style), accurate animal descriptions, and a beautiful relationship to nature.

The plot itself is an adventure story. A small group of rabbits are on a journey to find a new home, after fleeing from danger. It’s not the obstacles and detours that keep your interest. It’s the characters. Adams’ power to feel so much compassion and empathy for rabbits is amazing. You may even forget they’re rabbits at one point.

Stoner by Jon Willaism

Stoner by John Williams / Literary Fiction

Stoner by John Williams

Stoner is one of the best pieces of literary fiction I’ve read to date. The main character, William Stoner, leads a simple, typical American life in the early 1900′s.

He leaves the family farm, attends college, and becomes a teacher. He has a loveless marriage, a child, then his wife goes crazy. He has an affair. There is a minor villain at work.

There are no adventures. No excitement. No journeys, well some personal ones. But the minimalism of the story and character is pulled off flawlessly. Williams’ writing is fluid without polluting the simplicity of the story.

Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville / Fantasy & Steampunk

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville / Fantasy & Steam Punk

Several years ago I read Kraken and hated it. It was verbose writing, a boring world, and a terrible plot. And whenever I told people that, they nodded and told me to read Perdido Street Station. So I did.

This story is fantastic. It’s exciting. A perfect use of fantasy. A perfect use of steampunk. His writing is still verbose at times. But I like how he doesn’t give things away. He doesn’t treat the reader like an idiot.

The plot holds strong until the end. It felt to me like Mieville gave up and vomited an ending. Maybe he had that planned all along. Maybe I’m just grumpy because I wanted to see how he pulled it off. But the story itself was so exciting and riveting, I give him a pass.

Even if you’re not a big fantasy fan, I really recommend this one. Think fantasy as in different worlds, not dragons and swords.

ender's shadow

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card / Fantasy & YA

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Reading Ender’s Shadow after reading Ender’s Game is interesting. Both books have the same exact plot. And are told during the same exact time. Just focusing on two different characters. And their perspectives are different enough to still make this interesting. It takes a lot to make a story unique twice.

I do think you could read these in interchangeable order, since they tell the same story. It’s impressive that Card made a story with two very complex characters. It’s clear that Bean is more than just a sidekick. I do wish I had read both of these when I was younger, but do not regret reading them at all.

Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury / Fantasy & Dark YA

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Let me say, I love Ray Bradbury. I love everything he’s done. I was so excited to get this book from the library. I was so excited to start reading it.

But reading it was difficult for me. This is another book that I might have enjoyed more if I was younger. But it wasn’t just that. This is a story of two boys who find an evil carnival. There is magic and whimsy. There is darkness and fear. There is an adventure of two best friends. The plot is fantastic all around.

It’s the story-telling I just couldn’t follow. His writing, smooth and beautiful, was too beautiful. The descriptions too descriptive. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell what he was talking about. The prose was so distracting, it took right out of the setting. I never felt scared or close to the characters. I was too busy trying to figure out what was happening. I would never say this is a bad book but it was a harder reading experience for me.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is terrible

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline / Fantasy & Bad Writing

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Admittedly, I couldn’t finish this book. The teenager writing and jaded world-setting bored me to death. The story was predictable and overdone. The superfluous 80′s references added nothing. It failed my 100 pages test. The characters were empty. The world dull. This story has been told over and over. I saw nothing new here. Nothing was done better. I typically enjoy adventure stories (even if they are predictable). But his writing was painful for me to read.


  • American Vampire by Jennifer Armintrout – Leslie Rating: 4/5
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Leslie Rating:4/5
  • Rumor of War by Philip Caputo – Leslie Rating:4/5
  • Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot – Leslie Rating:4/5
  • Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd – Leslie Rating:4/5
  • John Dies at the End by David Wong – Leslie Rating:4/5
  • The Prestige by Christopher Priest – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • True Grit by Charles Portis – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • Canada by Richard Ford- Leslie Rating:3/5
  • Mort by Terry Pratchett – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • The Golden Compass by by Philip Pullman – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • So Long and Thanks for all the Fish by Douglas Adams – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • How Soon Is Never? by Marc Spitz- Leslie Rating:3/5
  • The Son by Philipp Meyer – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer – Leslie Rating:3/5
  • The Dinner by Herman Koch – Leslie Rating:2/5
  • One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper – Leslie Rating:2/5
  • Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – Leslie Rating:2/5
  • Metzger’s Dog by Thomas Perry – Leslie Rating:2/5
  • The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde – Leslie Rating:2/5
  • Songmaster by Orson Scott Card – Leslie Rating:2/5
  • Big Brother by Lionel Shriver – Leslie Rating:2/5
  • In the Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde – Leslie Rating:1/5