Books I Read in 2013

I’ve been trying to get to this list for months — it’s March, for Pete’s sake! — but now that the Machine of Death game is pretty much totally shipped to our backers, it’s finally time!

Last year I did a rundown of the books I read in 2012, and I found it a fun exercise. I use Goodreads to keep track of the books I read (and write), but I don’t like rating books — it takes the fun out of it for me. I just like reading and enjoying!

I’ve included below some notes about each book, either about the work itself or how I came to it. For me, in a world of near-infinite choices in books and entertainment and timewasting, why I chose to read a certain book (and not some other, or none at all) can be a reflection on the work as well, so I’ve noted that when relevant.

I also find it interesting to pay attention to the format I read in. My wife has a Kindle, which she likes just fine, and I read a lot using the Kindle app on my iPad. (Not just ebooks per se — I will email myself PDFs and other text documents so I can read them in the Kindle app.) A few things I’ve noticed about reading on the iPad:

• The Kindle app lets you turn the brightness even further down than the iPad’s own settings allow, making it a good companion for reading in bed in a dark room.

• And because I often come to bed late and read in darkness, the backlit iPad is often a much more convenient reading device than a physical book, or a non-backlit Kindle, would be.

• There is a progress bar at the bottom of the screen (if you tap to bring it up), but otherwise it’s possible to read an ebook without having an innate sense of how far along you are, or how close you are to the end. This is very different from a print book, in which you always know if you’re at a certain point in the book. I don’t know what this means or whether it matters, but I have definitely noticed that some books communicate their dramatic structure clearly enough that I don’t need an external indicator to know that, say, the story’s almost done. But not all do.


Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem by Mac Barnett & Adam Rex
Format: Hardcopy read while hanging out at 862LA
Sometimes I volunteer at 826LA, the writing & tutoring center for kids that is conveniently a block away from my office, and I found this book in their library! It’s a kids’ book about a boy who has a blue whale for a pet. It’s super cute, and made even more wonderful by the jaw-dropping illustrations by Adam Rex. Adam has another book, The True Meaning of Smekday, that I put on my to-read list as soon as I heard about it. Just gorgeous work.

The Professor’s Daughter by Joann Sfar & Emmanuel Guibert
Format: Hardcopy borrowed from a friend
This is a charming enough graphic novel about a reanimated mummy and a Victorian lady who fall in love. Wondermark fans will probably like it for the period aesthetic alone — that’s what drew me to it! And it’s certainly beautiful to look at. Guibert is well-known for Alan’s War, the memoir of a GI in World War II, and The Professor’s Daughter is an earlier look at the fascinating water-ink style he would go on to use to great effect in that later book. I think it’s an “earlier effort” that anyone would be proud of. But I think it’s only so interesting, and it’s short, and reading it makes me feel a little guilty because it probably took months and months to paint but it’s a very quick read.

The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy
Format: Kindle
Saw this in the bookstore at the Kennedy library in Boston and later looked it up online. It’s a nonfiction account of the various relationships between most of the U.S. presidents of the twentieth century — the way Reagan and Nixon became rivals in the 60s, for example, or the way Bush Sr. and Clinton became fast friends after both were out of office. It’s a really interesting look back at history (pulling no punches in its account of how, for example, Nixon deliberately prolonged the Vietnam War to get himself elected) and also an exploration of the unique challenges of the presidency that only the fellow members of this exclusive club can really relate to. The moments I found the most fascinating were the moments when the sharing of this one very specific experience — being the president — was enough to turn political rivals into personal friends.

Kicking It: Successful Crowdfunding by Shanna Germain & Monte Cook
Format: Kindle
I was recommended this (short) book, and I read it before I launched the Machine of Death campaign, figuring if I learned one thing that made me an extra $12 or whatever this book cost, it’d pay for itself. And I think it probably did. It’s no longer available on Amazon, for whatever reason, though there are 27 pages of results for books on ‘crowdfunding’ so take your pick.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Format: Downloaded ebook
I think it was Evan Dahm on Twitter who first mentioned this as being one of the best sci-fi books he’d ever read, so I checked it out. I’d always heard the name Ursula K. Le Guin, and seen her name on shelves, but never read any of her books. This one made me an instant superfan — I loved it, loved its deep and complex exploration into a culture so different from our own, loved its language and the suggestions of a universe outside the story itself. You don’t need to berate me wondering why it took me so long to read any Le Guin — now I have and I get it.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
Format: Downloaded ebook
After reading The Left Hand of Darkness I started looking for more volumes in the Hainish Cycle. This was the next one that I came across, and while it was a bit slower to get going, it was just as rewarding.

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
Format: Hardcopy from the library
Another in the Hainish Cycle — this is a novella, and they had it at my local library so I borrowed it. It’s not quite as rich as the novels, and in the broad strokes is similar to the standard FernGully/Avatar plot, but it’s interesting in how it continues to sketch out the overall makeup of the Hainish universe.

The Many Armors of Iron Man
Format: Hardcopy my wife got at Comic-Con
My wife’s main entré into the Marvel universe has been the recent movies (Iron Man and Avengers in particular), so she picked this up as a way to “catch up” a bit on the character’s history. It’s a hodgepodge of stories from the last 40 years of Iron Man history, sort of a novelty anthology more than anything coherent, but I haven’t read much Iron Man either so I found it interesting enough.

How To Dump Your Boyfriend in the Men’s Room by Sibel Hodge
Format: Kindle
I found this while browsing the free section in the Kindle store and I guess it was worth the price.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Format: Downloaded ebook
Having exhausted the Hainish books easily available, I downloaded the Earthsea books and started to dig in. Of course I’d heard of them before, but I kinda got put off fantasy by an overdose of Wheel of Time and Piers Anthony in high school. After reading this one, I went on to read the entire Earthsea series back-to-back, an advantage that someone following the series over the years wouldn’t have, and as an overall piece it’s wonderful. I don’t know that I got specifically into the plot of this book quite as much as I loved the voice and the tone and the world, but it’s all great.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
Format: Kindle
Did you know that Stan Lee recorded a novelty record in 1965 featuring the members of the Marvel bullpen telling the very corniest of jokes?? If that sort of thing is interesting to you, you probably already know about this book, which traces the development of Marvel Comics from its secret origins to the present day. Anyway my favorite part of the record is definitely the part when they cover up the absence of the antisocial Steve Ditko by claiming he jumped out the window (at 1:32).

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
Format: Downloaded ebook
One thing I really like about Le Guin is that she clearly doesn’t feel hemmed into making sequels or books in a series follow an overall arc or continuity — she tells the type of story she wants to tell. Across the later Earthsea books, the story takes on an overall arc, but here in Book 2 we’re given a completely new land with completely new characters, and nothing familiar at all from the first book occurs until around halfway through. I love the audacity of it.

The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity by Lissa Warren
Format: Hardcopy from BookMooch
I read about half of this a long time ago, I think in an airport bookstore or something, and since I had a book come out last summer I thought I’d give it another go. It’s a lot of good information for authors about working with publishers and their publicists (as opposed to self-publishers), but there are some dated bits as well. I’m not going to fax anyone anything.

The Frontman by Jon Frechette
Format: Kindle
A novella about a musician trying to reevaluate his place in the world. I went to film school with Jon, and his films as a rule were “quiet character stories”, which he once told me were his favorite types of stories to tell. This isn’t so quiet, but it is a character story — equally about the musician and about the woman he falls for, and who falls for him — and I liked it.

d20 Monkey: First Edition by Brian Patterson
Format: Hardcopy from the author
I met Brian at Gen Con last year! I’d never read his comic strip before; it’s a D&D-themed webcomic, a subject which I only have a sort of cultural-osmosis knowledge of, but it’s pretty funny and I like the art too. Brian’s also a very nice dude and I was thrilled to watch a constant parade of people come up to him at Gen Con and praise his work.

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
Format: Downloaded ebook
I just kept powering through these, one after the other! This is the third Earthsea book.

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
Format: Ebook provided by publisher
I read this in preparation for the animated promos I made for it last summer! If you want to know the parts that I found the most fascinating, you can watch the promos!!

Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
Format: Downloaded ebook
The fourth Earthsea book.

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
Format: Hardcopy from a convention
This is a cute graphic novel/picture book (not sure where it falls precisely on the spectrum). Again, I feel weird because I read it in about 20 minutes, but it must have taken weeks or months to draw. Am I cheating the author somehow????

Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido
Format: Hardcopy read in a waiting room
I visited France in 2001, and in a comic shop in Paris I asked the clerk to recommend some stand-alone graphic novels I wouldn’t have seen in America. Blacksad (in French) was one of the three I bought, in hardcover bande dessinée format, and when I got home I took it upon myself to translate it, putting Post-Its on each word balloon. Years later, it (and two sequels) finally came out in English, and I got to see how close my translation was. There’s one phrase that sticks in my memory: quelque part entre les ombres, which I think translates idiomatically to “somewhere in the darkness”, but which I had translated to “Some exits let the shadows in.” I still like mine better.

Linguistic discrepancies aside, Blacksad — a period noir starring incredible animal-human characters — is one of the most gorgeous comics I’ve ever seen, and when I saw it on the shelf in this waiting room, I read it again even though I’ve read it many times. (The hand-lettering in French is prettier than the digital English lettering, though.)

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin
Format: Downloaded ebook
The final Earthsea novel. Clearly a more mature voice, and featuring characters concerned with different things in life than they may have been in the earlier volumes. Many readers on Goodreads didn’t really like this one, but I did — again, part of reading them all in one streak is a certain anticipation that they will all fit together as a cohesive whole, rather than perceiving this as a latter-day tack-on to a series read, enjoyed, and considered complete years earlier. SO SUCK IT HATERS

The Druggist by Todd Croak-Falen
Format: Kindle
I mentioned this last fall — it’s not a book but a short story, but since it’s on Goodreads I thought I’d list it again. It’s a horror story by my friend and occasional collaborator Todd Croak-Falen, who (among other things) produced and co-wrote my 2008 spy movie Expendable. This story has a very different tone from Expendable.

The Legend of Kamui Vol.1 and Vol.2 by Sanpei Shirato
Format: Hardcopies from comic store
I bought these on a recommendation probably 10 years ago, and they sat on a shelf unread this whole time. For some reason I thought the time was right to pull them off and read them. These are classic manga from an earlier generation of Japanese comics, and they exist in a very different universe from the Silver Age Marvel and DC comics being produced at the same time — I’d say they’re closer to EC horror comics, in many ways. But having read it, I can see how stories like Lone Wolf and Cub could follow logically from a medium that had first produced Kamui.

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Format: Downloaded ebook
After I read this collection of Earthsea short stories, I realized that they had been written between the fourth and fifth Earthsea novels. But I prefer having read them only at the end — it kept some of the stuff in the fifth novel a surprise, and it was a wind-down of the Earthsea universe, a sort of “I’ve laid my bricks, now here’s some mortar to fill in the seams.”

Also, can I say it was startling to, having read five Earthsea novels in quick succession and three other Le Guin works rapidly before that, then read a meta-Earthsea essay in Le Guin’s own voice? As if the whole thing is some imagined work of fiction??

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler
Format: Hardcopy from museum store
This is a book about the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which I’ve now been to twice. It’s a museum that harkens back to the days when museums were repositories of things nobody had ever seen before, and often simply couldn’t categorize. Fascinating place, and fascinating book.

Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson
Format: Downloaded ebook
A decade ago, concurrent with the first year or two of Wondermark, I wrote an alternate-world fantasy comic that I was hoping to pitch to a publisher. The first artist I hired turned out to be a scammer who engaged me in protracted nonsense for months and finally delivered nothing. It was a miserable experience and I’ve never really understood why someone, ostensibly a professional, would act so shadily in such a small industry, because it’s super easy for me to spread the word that you should never hire or patronize Mat Nastos for any reason. Anyway, as a parting shot he told me that he didn’t want to do my comic anyway because it was too similar to the Thomas Covenant series of books.

So, after many years of not reading the Thomas Covenant series of books, I finally read this first volume and really really hated it. Some people have told me that the series gets better around volume three (sorry, that’s too long), and I went ahead and read the Wikipedia summary for the whole series so I’m cured of ever wanting to go back and read more.

Among the dumbest parts of it all is — so far as I can tell, and please correct me if I’m wrong, or don’t:

• the series has as its central conceit the idea that people from Earth can visit a fantasy land at different points in that land’s history AND
• there is a mysterious hero from the land’s past named Kevin, in a world where everyone else has names like Drinishok and Loerya AND
• it is NOT TRUE that Kevin is a visitor from Earth. These fantasy dudes run around talking about the ancient hero Kevin, and the book of Kevin’s Lore, and the mighty spire of Kevin’s Watch, and that’s just the guy’s name, no biggie.
• Also the villain’s name is Lord Foul and his servant’s name is Drool Rockworm, so take that for what you will.

All Star Superman by Grant Morrison
Format: Hardcopy from comic store
Brandon Bird told me once that this is the best Superman book of the last decade. I visited a comic store on a trip to Seattle last fall, and I don’t like to visit comic stores without patronizing them, so I bought this there. It’s a bunch of Silver-Age-style Superman stories, where he visits a planet of Bizarros and things like that, free of the angst and mopiness that tends to plague Superman in modern stories.

Mystery Society by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples
Format: Hardcopy from comic store
I picked this up at the same comic store. It looked a bit like Umbrella Academy, which I really like, and it has shades of that — it’s a caper about globetrotting paranormal investigators, and it has a cool logo. I didn’t end up liking it much, but the art works real hard to try and save it, and made me a Fiona Staples fan.

Saga Vol.1 and Vol.2 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Format: Comixology ebooks
I found Saga after searching out more work by Fiona Staples. I’m glad I found it; it’s amazing — her art is perfect on this book. The story, about star-cross’d lovers on the run with a baby from interplanetary bounty hunters, is great; I liked Vaughan’s Ex Machina, but this is even better.

Son of Superman by Howard Chaykin & David Tischman
Format: Hardcopy from comic store
This is a book I got years ago in a sale, and put it on a shelf unread. After devouring All Star Superman, I turned to this, and it suffers pretty bad from the comparison.

Locke & Key Vol.1 by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
Format: Comixology ebook
Jazzed in a comics-readin’ mood, I picked up Locke & Key based on a recommendation from Kate Leth. It’s a little slow to get going — and I only read the first volume in 2013, so I guess I can’t talk about the rest here, but suffice to say: I inhaled the rest of the series as rapidly as possible. I’ll tell you more in a year I suppose????



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