The 2011 50 Book Challenge

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Post by Pasquar » 27 Dec 2011 18:05

Danny, you're a friggin' beast with books, man 8O
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Post by dp » 28 Dec 2011 17:25

I was trying to do 50 books this year and honestly had more than enough free time. So anything less is kinda a disappointment, but I've basically read twice as much this year as I ever have before, so it's still pretty satisfying.

42. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino 165pg

I had this recommended to me by a number of people as their favorite book ever. There is something about picking up a book and having no idea what to expect that I find exhilarating, and when starting this book I felt exhilarated because it didn't fit some vague expectation I had of it. Overall I found some nice/interesting sections of the book, but I often found myself feeling like I was missing the point of the book. Worth re reading I think at some point I think to see if I develop more to understand everything, or whether it truly isn't my type of book.

I'm about halfway through one other book right now which will be my last of the year, and then I'll post my Top 3 of the year.
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Post by Jeremy » 29 Dec 2011 13:51

I think you've done well DP, I wouldn't be disappointed. Also you've read a lot of high quality books. I think I have time for at least one more book this year, but being so close to 40 may push me up there. Will post my top 3 on my first chance at the start of next year, presumably New Years Day :)

1. The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life by Richard Dawkins - 629pg
2. Concepts of Nature: A Wildlife Photographer's Art by Andy Rouse - 159pg
3. Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food by Pamela C. Roland and Raoul W. Adamchak - 167pg
4. The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct by Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson - 127pg
5. Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis - 256pg [ebook]
6. Shark: In Peril In The Sea by David Owen - 294pg
7. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - 670pg
8. Moby Dick by Herman Mellville - 469 pages
9. Coral: A pessimist in paradise by Steve Jones - 242pg
10. The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Our Disappearing Fisheries by Mark Kurlansky - 246pg
11. The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember by Nicholas Carr - 224pg
12. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham - 200pg
13. Beyond Lies The Wub: Collected short stories volume 1 by Phillip K Dick - 397pg
14. The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil - 487pg
15. Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the real story of Britain's war in Afghanistan by Toby Harnden - 512pg
16. Slaughterhouse 5: Or the children's crusade: A duty-dance with death by Kurt Vonnegut - 215pg
17. The Moral Landscape: How science can determine human values by Sam Harris - 191pg
18. The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson - 207pg
19. Kraken: The curious, exciting, and slightly disturbing science of squid by Wendy Williams - 200pg
20. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka - 48pg [ebook]
21. Anthem by Ayn Rand - 104pg [ebook]
22. The Case of the Pope: Vatican accountability for human rights abuse by Geoffrey Robertson QC - 188pg
23. The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham - 233pg
24. Growth Fetish by Clive Hamilton - 240pg
25. Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki - 176 pg [ebook]
26. A Short History of Nearly Everything: Illustrated Edition by Bill Bryson - 595 pg
27. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne - 393pg [ebook]
28. Eight Little Piggies by Stephen Jay Gould - 455 pg
29. Snuff by Terry Pratchett - 416 pg [ebook]
30. RSBP Guide to Birdwatching by Peter Conder - 169 pg
31. Animal Farm by George Orwell - 118pg [ebook]
32. Count Zero by William Gibson - 256pg [ebook]
33. Contact by Carl Sagan - 432pg [ebook]
34. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - 180pg [ebook]
35. Restaurant at the end of the Universe by Douglas Adams - 208pg [ebook]
36. Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams - 160pg [ebook]
37. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams - 192pg [ebook]
38. The Choice Guide to Food: How to look after your health, your budget and the planet By Rosemary Stanton - 248pg

"Choice" is a consumer group publishing company in Australia that give many good critical analysis of various products. Rosemary Stanton is a well qualified nutritional scientist. I found this book educational, occasionally amusing, and generally interesting. It did spark a desire to expand my chemistry knowledge, although I don't know if that will happen. It's basically a short encyclopedia, going through the common food and drinks that are consumed in Australia, and explaining the nutritional value of them. My only serious criticism is that it was very sparingly referenced, and on some occasions I had read conflicting evidence and would have liked to compare.

Although I don't ever eat consciously eat artificial sweeteners, it was interesting to see that the evidence regarding aspartame shows pretty clearly that it's completely safe in the quantities it is consumed (even the highest consumers consume less than 20% of the recommended highest safe level). It goes to show, yet again, that any serious message conveyed through chain emails or social media postings should be assumed to be completely false unless independent high quality evidence can be provided.

I was also convinced to stop drinking energy drinks. Of course I'm not dogmatic about this kind of thing, so I may occasionally have one, but certainly less than one a week.

I was most interested in comparing this to Michael Pollan's book; "In Defence of Food." In that book Pollan attacks nutritionists, claims that it is unscientific, and puts forward some general rules of what food to eat. Pollan is a journalist, and I don't think has any scientific training. I think this book provides very strong evidence against his thesis, while providing essentially the same ideas about what food to eat, and it shows that if you want to learn about a particular topic, reading from trained experts is much better than journalists.

Pollan's rules were; Eat food, not too much, mainly plants. He then goes on to list some more detailed rules - shop around the edges of supermarkets, don't buy food with more than 5 ingredients, don't buy food with unpronounceable ingredients etc. This is largely the same advice that I took from Stanton; Eat whole foods, not processed foods, follow the five food groups, balance your consumption with your exercise. Stanton, of course, goes into much more technical details about what you should eat, and why.

The key disagreements were this; At least in Australia, none of the preservatives and additives (the things that you can't pronounce) are likely to be bad for your health (because of the amount added being legislated to ensure people consume much lower than the upper limit of the safe level, and this is regularly reviewed). You should probably avoid these products because the reason for adding these products is mainly to mask the unappetising and low nutrient nature of the food.

Saturated fat probably is bad for you, and should be avoided.

In general, just eat a balanced diet of non-processed foods. Don't eat only one item for your main source of nutrients (such as bananas, cough cough). Don't eat too much meat, especially red meat (which includes pork).

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Post by dp » 29 Dec 2011 16:35

1. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick 336pg
2. The Metamorphoses by Ovid translated by Horace Gregory 448pg
3. SlaughterHouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut 215pg
4. Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce 253pg
5. Franklin's Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin 346pg
6. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell 509pg
7. Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago 238pg
8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson 204pg
9. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace 1079pg
10. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse 153 pg
11. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath 244pg
12. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond 480pg
13. Watership Down by Richard Adams 474pg
14. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann 465pg
15. Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace 321pg
16. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer 326pg
17. The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico by Miguel Leon-Portilla 196pg
18. Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein 881pg
19. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen 566pg
20. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann 535pg
21. The Search for the Codex Cardona by Arnold J. Bauer 181pg
22. Number9Dream by David Mitchell 400pg
23. Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan 570pg
24. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace 548pg
25. Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski 318pg
26. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder 123pg
27. The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner 214pg
28. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami 293pg
29. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen 562pg
30. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 189pg
31. Demian by Hermann Hesse 141pg
32. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson 247pg
33. You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers 371pg
34. Can Intervention Work? by Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus 236pg
35. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory by William Manchester 973pg
36. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone by William Manchester 756pg
37. Burmese Days by George Orwell 287pg
38. Life With a Star by Jiri Weil 208pg
39. The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek 752pg
40. The Best American Essays of 2007 edited by David Foster Wallace 307pg
41. The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić 307pg
42. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino 165pg
43. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera 314pg

This book was really great. I heard it was kind of a philosophical meditation more than a novel and I was worried it was going to be dense, hard to follow, etc. But Kundera uses the form of a novel and a traditional narrative to bring up philosophical topics he discusses occasionally, almost in asides, throughout the book. A very strong, and enjoyable book overall.

So 43 for the year! I've been keeping track of books read since 2008 and the numbers have been 12, 23, 22, and now 43! So that's a big step up. Hopefully I can read a similar number in 2012.

Top 3 coming soon.
Danny P.

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Post by sen » 29 Dec 2011 16:42

Just wanted to pop and say that while I didn't make 50 or near it, I did keep reading but lost track and stopped recording in here what I was reading. Most recently I finished:

Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade

I really liked it. It showed in detail and with workout plans the "Big Six" body weight exercises that Paul swears have helped countless prisoners buff up and be able to hold their own in jail. It seems pretty legit and I'm going to start using them. The big six are push-ups, squats, pull ups, leg raises, bridges and handstand push ups. For each of these he details 10 levels for progression. I really enjoyed it.

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Post by Jeremy » 29 Dec 2011 23:00

No worries. Quite a few people dropped out this year. I think there are only three of us still posting, but I'm sure they kept reading. Dave Wilder hasn't updated his list in a few weeks, but my Goodreads update suggests he's on 49...

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Post by bigdirtyfoot » 31 Dec 2011 09:33

Here is my final 2011 reading list:

1. Cosmic Trigger Volume Three: My Life After Death, Robert Anton Wilson, 247 pg.
2. Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie, Hunter S. Thompson, 247 pg.
3. Schooled, Godron Korman, 224 pg.
4. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, 75 pg.
5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, 216 pg.
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling, 734 pg.
7. Still Life With Woodpecker, Tom Robbins, 277 pg.
8. Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut, 331 pg.
9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling, 870 pg.
10. VALIS, Philip K Dick, 242 pg.
11. The Divine Invasion, Philip K Dick, 238 pg.
12. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling, 652 pg.
13. A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally, 684 pg.
14. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Philip K Dick, 255 pg.
15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling, 759 pg.
16. Hallucinogens and Shamanism, Michael J. Harner, 200 pg.
17. Dubliners, James Joyce, 317 pg.
18. The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia, Paul Devereux, 250 pg.
19. Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, Tom Robbins, 356 pg.
20. The Subterraneans, Jack Kerouac, 111 pg.
21. Ulysses, James Joyce, 783 pg.
22. Ubik, Philip K Dick, 216 pg.
23. Skinny Legs and All, Tom Robbins, 422 pg.
24. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain, 319 pg.
25. Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness, Hunter S. Thompson, 246 pg.
26. The Emperor Wears No Clothes: The Authoritative Historical Record of the Cannabis Plant, Marijuana Prohibition, & How Hemp Can Still Save the World, Jack Herer, 182 pg.
27. The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Living on a Budget, Peter and Jennifer Sander, 200 pg.
28. Demon Box, Ken Kesey, 384 pg.
29. Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, Tom Robbins, 386 pg.
30. Waiting for Mahatma, R.K. Narayan, 256 pg.
31. Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, 384 pg.
32. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke, 226 pg.
33. Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, 1968-1976, Hunter S. Thompson, 758 pg.
34. Coraline, Neil Gaiman, 171 pg.
35. Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, Tom Robbins, 415 pg.
36. Villa Incognito, Tom Robbins, 241 pg.
37. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower, 240 pg.
38. Your Money Style, Olivia Mellan, 236 pg.
39. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh, 349 pg.
40. The Headless Cupid, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, 203 pg.
41. Wild Ducks Flying Backward, Tom Robbins, 255 pg.
42. B Is For Beer, Tom Robbins, 125 pg.
43. Animal Farm, George Orwell, 140 pg.
44. Marijuana Myths Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence, Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgan, 241 pg.
45. The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells, 236 pg.
46. Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Toby Hemenway, 224 pg.
47. Anthem, Ayn Rand, 253 pg.
48. Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, 374 pg.
49. Voices from the Street, Philip K Dick, 301 pg.
50. Finnegans Wake, James Joyce, 628 pg.

Hunger Games was really good - a pageturner for sure. To summarize, it's about a government that punishes its citizens each year by forcing one boy and girl from each district to fight each other to the death. According to the rules, only one can come out alive. Gripping tale, awaiting the second book of the trilogy to arrive at my local library.

Voices from the Street is PKD's second novel, and was unpublished until very recently. It isn't science fiction, but it hints at the personality of his later books. The story is pretty interesting, and I definitely enjoyed it - although I wouldn't start with this book if I was only beginning to read PKD.

Finnegans Wake is one of the best books I have read all year, although it is essentially unreadable. What made it possible for me was reading it out loud to myself. I've never had to do that with a book before - not even Ulysses (also by James Joyce). I also had to accept that most of the book is gibberish, although there are characters and a plot to stumble across every once and a while. What kept me going was how funny the book sounds when read out loud. It really had me cracking up in a few places. But other than that it is pure insanity! Give it a try if you want a stress headache, otherwise you should probably stay away. If you're willing to be extremely patient and stubborn, this book will reward you.

Here's to 2011 and everyone who participated! I had fun and actually met my goal for the first time. I'm definitely in for next year... I've already got some authors picked out to check out. I think I'll post a top three in a few days after I have some time to mull it over. See y'all in 2012.
David Wilder


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Post by Jeremy » 31 Dec 2011 14:21

Congrats David on making 50!!

Here are my top 3:

3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
The most moving book I read for 2011, and the best written. It was easy to relate to the social struggle described, and to see how relevant the book is today.

2. Contact by Carl Sagan
Perhaps not the best work of literature I've read, but I really related to the story of the main character, and the lessons about what it takes to be a scientist at the top of your field, as well the notions of what science is about. I think Sagan uses a plot he'd like to believe will one day happen to express a lot of his philosophy and scientific knowledge.

1. Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food by Pamela Roland and Raoul Adamchak
I think this book was probably the most influential for me of anything I read this year. It gives such a good and detailed description of the debate, and essentially destroys the notion that GMOs are intrinsically bad and should be avoided, or that we should be particularly more cautious with plants produced through that technology than we should be with plants produced through conventional techniques. I think if you consider yourself opposed to GMOs in some way, and you haven't read this book, you're doing yourself a great disservice.

A few honourable mentions;
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky
Dead Men Risen by Toby Harnden
The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris
The Curse of Lono by Hunter S Thompson (my favourite book, but not in my top 3 as I've read it before)
The Case of the Pope by Geoffrey Robertson
The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham

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Post by bigdirtyfoot » 07 Jan 2012 08:42

Jeremy I really like your top three and added them to my to-read list. Danny, where's your list!? I'm eagerly awaiting it. And sen, I like the concept of Convict Conditioning. I added that to my to-read list as well. Choosing a top three for 2011 was incredibly difficult so I am including an honorable mentions list as well.

3. Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins: My favorite book by Robbins. It has been described as a love story that takes place inside a box of Camel cigarettes.

2. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce: Gibberish. Loved almost every page though. Definitely not for everyone, but I enjoyed it. Couldn't tell you a single thing that happened, but laughed my ass off for hourlong stretches at a time.

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: Without a doubt the best book I've read in a few years. Science fiction fused with nerdy references and a page turner to boot!

Honorable Mentions:

Ubik by Philip K Dick: Time flows backwards. Best PKD of the year.
The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia by Paul Devereux: Great rundown of info on psychedelics.
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower: Short story collection by an author local to me. Fresh writing style.
Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway: Makes me want to produce all of my own food and become more self-sufficient.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Wish I had known about this sooner.
Ulysses by James Joyce: What do I say? As with Finnegans Wake, I couldn't really tell you the plot, but it is extremely unique.
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Post by Jeremy » 16 Jan 2012 20:06

Yeah coming up with a top 3 was super hard - any of those honourable mentions could have been in there. A bottom 3 might have been interesting too :P The book I'm reading at the moment would probably make it for 2012 (I hope so anyway, otherwise I might give up reading).

Anyway I'm mainly posting to encourage DP to post his top 3, as I'm looking forward to seeing it too :)

Edit; Others are welcome to post top 3s too, even if you didn't participate in the actual 50 book challenge for 2011 :)

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Post by dp » 16 Jan 2012 20:42

Alright, I've been negligent for a while but here is my list.

I would say Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is my number one. It is my favorite book I've ever read. It completely changed how I view novels particularly, and the world in general. I feel like I'm different after reading it and have trouble imagining how I viewed the world beforehand. However, 2011 was the second time I read Infinite Jest, so I'll leave it off the list. Let's just say it's above the list.

1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
This book's format is influenced by works from Italo Calvino, and a number of post-modernists. Mitchell however doesn't let that stop him from writing some of the best most engaging narrative I've ever read. This book is extremely intelligent and thought-provoking while still pulling you along on a page-by-page basis as well as a sentence-by-sentence basis. This was the first book I've read by Mitchell, I later in 2011 read another of his, and I hope to knock off 2 more of his this year. Fantastic book, I would recommend it for everyone (as opposed to Infinite Jest which is an extremely long challenging book that requires a major commitment).

(I have two books tied for second)

2. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
This is the only book I've read by Murakami and I've been told it's his most conventional. I don't think this book will be one for the ages, but, as lame as it sounds, I read this at the right moment and it really struck a cord with me. About a lonely dude at college who is dealing with a girl he's in love with who is in a mental facility and his life that's going on while that's happening.

2. Number9Dream by David Mitchell
This book is almost a response to Norwegian Wood. Or at least very much inspired by Norwegian Wood. There are scenes that have almost identical imagery and scenery and they deal with some similar ideas, although they go about it in very different ways. In this book Mitchell also plays with narrative in really interesting and fresh ways. I encourage everyone to read Mitchell.

STRONG honorable mentions
Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić
The multi-volume Churchill biography

While I totally recommend David Mitchell to everyone, this is just my favorites, not necessarily a list of recommendations.

Edit- I'm looking at this and questioning my list! I think I might have chosen different books on any other given day! I read too many good books last year. Just know that on any given day, Cloud Atlas would still be at the top of that list.
Danny P.

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