Books I read in 2006: a review

Like I did for 2005, I thought I’d do a round up on the books I read in 2006. Here’s the quick stats:

  • Books read: 49
    • Fiction books: 28
      • Fantasy: 11
      • Other fiction/Literature: 8
      • Horror: 5
      • Sci-Fi: 4
    • Non-fiction books: 21
  • Audiobooks: 33
  • Paper books: 16

That’s down from 61 books in 2005, which I pin on a shorter commute for most of the year and fewer road trips from San Diego to Los Angeles. Both those were great for ripping through audiobooks. But in 2006 I still got through more books (49) than movies/DVDs (47), though just barely. Also, I have to stop reading so much fantasy stuff. Old habits die hard, but hardly anything I read in that genre last year was any good.

Now, in the end of the year spirit, here’s a few best/worst awards:

Best Book I Read in 2006

This is actually a really tough call, so I’m going to cheat and call it a two-way tie between two books that wreck the traditional, linear narrative found in most other books. I can do that. The rules allow for it, I just checked.

First we have The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audry Niffenegger. I really didn’t expect to even like this book that much when I started it, but it really hooked me. First, it’s a good story, even for a romance. Niffenegger paints the characters as overly romantic (in both senses of the word) at times, but this story about a man who involuntarily slips back and forth in time to meet his wife at all stages of her life is fascinating and raises some interesting questions that you normally don’t see in time travel stories. I loved the way the author flipped back and forth between multiple timelines in a way that laid down mysteries and upcoming storylines without being confusing or annoying. It was really well done and if I had to choose just one book as my favorite in 2006, this would probably be it.

But the fact is that I also enjoyed House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski just about as much, even though it’s a very different kind of story. Actually, the story about a mysterious house with a city-sized labarynth hidden within it isn’t the thing to really appreciate about this novel. It’s the way that the author forms one tale by stitching together six different layers, including a film documentary discussion, the journal of a madman, academic footnotes from another reader, and a series of letters between a mother and son. It’s purposefully bewildering given that one narrative will literally interrupt another in the middle of a sentence and continue on for pages before the original one resumes, but it works really well. Also notable is the avant-garde typography not only discriminates between the various aforementioned narrative layers, but also does things like squish words together on the page when talking about enclosed spaces or leaves almost a whole page’s worth of white space at the top when talking about large open areas. It’s an amazing piece of work that pushes the written novel in directions that I’ve never seen before.

So there you go. Read either of those books and I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Now, on the other hand….

Worst Book I read in 2006

It was a close race, but The Five People You Meet in Heavan by Mitch Alboom won. Or lost. Either way, this was the worst thing I read all year. Alboom’s book about a amusement park maintenance worker who dies trying to save a little girl from a deadly accident just drips with schmaltz. It’s chock full of the kind of over the top sentimentality that you would expect from a made-for-TV movie (which, in fact, it became, though on ABC and not the Lifetime channel). The author’s prose is also inelegant, ham-fisted, and about as subtle (and deep) in its sermonizing as a box full of Hallmark greeting cards. Thankfully the book was short and I was on a long drive or I probably wouldn’t have even finished it. I recommend you never start.

Runners up for worst book I read in 2006:

Miscellaneous awards

Otherwise known as “Books I want to mention, but aren’t best/worst material.”

Getting things Done by David Allen is the book I’m most glad I read in 2006, since it tuned me in to a practical productivity system that I’m still using to keep on top of things at work. Sylvia Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind, a biography about mathematician John Nash, was the most pleasant surprise of the year given how different (and more fascinating) a picture it painted of its subject relative to the movie of the same name. Finally Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson wins the award for “Most Thought Provoking” for how it turned prevailing assumptions about the effects of pop culture vessels like movies, reality television, and video games on their head, showing how they are actually more complex than many other media and how they actually make us smarter in ways I’d never thought of.

So, that’s it for 2006. I’m already started on my 2007 book list, and I’ll do the same thing next year. What about you? What was the best/worst book you read last year?

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13 thoughts on “Books I read in 2006: a review

  1. The worst book I read was, by far, Dean Koontz’s Sole Survivor. I was wary to begin with, but I got a couple good recommendations on it. I think I managed to finish half before I wanted to throw the book out the window. Its events were so unrealistic, I had to reread some paragraphs to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood it. I thought I was reading a thriller, but it was much more sci-fi. BAD sci-fi.
    Best book? Probably Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. Not because it was particularly excellent, but it managed to keep me reading a war novel, which is impressive in and of itself.
    And I agree with your opinion on Five People You Meet in Heaven. That was also recommended to me, and another I wanted to throw out the window when I finished. Even with the over-the-top sentimentality, as you put it, it could at least have a decent ending. But no. Most unsatisfying ending ever.
    I just realized I wrote you a small novel of my opinions. Sorry bout that. What can I say? I’m passionate about books.

  2. Where do you find the time to read all that? And you still knock out RPG video games! Whew … Even having read Getting Things Done, I’m still pretty hit and miss on accomplishing much more than I used to… (scratching my head)
    A book I really enjoyed this year was Freakonomics. I picked it up because I was in an airport and I needed a UPC code for a project on which I was working (long story). I wanted a book I would read too, and had heard good things about Freakonomics. My friend’s recommendations didn’t steer me wrong, and I found myself reading the book more than working on the project. You can sum the book up as being all about incentives, but it doesn’t present the good without the bad and the ugly which is where it gets fun.

  3. Laura, I read Slaughterhouse Five last year, too and thought it was pretty good. Bit weird, but good.
    Kevin, the secret is audiobooks. When I lived in San Diego I had a commute to work that was an hour on an average day and 1.5 hours on a bad one. I also drove from San Diego to Los Angeles and back once a month or so (good 5-6 hours in the car there). My commute now is around 45 minutes, but that’s still enough time to get through the audiobooks, especially when I work out regularly and listen to them at the gym, too.
    Otherwise, I’m actually pretty focussed on maximizing my free time since Samantha came along. I get 60-90 minutes most nights (plus another couple hours on weekend days) and I focus like a laser on one activity like gaming, reading, photography, watching movies/TV, or blogging to make the most of it.

  4. I surfed over from Zero Boss and read this post. After reading it, I dug out my book journal to see how many books I read in 2006. 278 is my total. I’m officially a freak. And don’t even ASK about the movies.

  5. After thinking it over, I’d have to say that my favorite books I read this year were C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. I had read pretty much all of Lewis’s other books, including the space trilogy, but had somehow never gotten around to reading the Narnia books. Then a good friend gave them to me for my birthday, so I read them straight through in about a week. Of course they’ve been best-sellers for decades now, so it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that they were good, but I was sort of amazed at how much I enjoyed them.
    I should really start keeping track of what books I read and what I think of them. I have always been a voracious reader (probably 200-250 books per year), but I have never kept track. Of course, I often re-read books, and some of those are total beach books and therefore not mentally challenging, so maybe those don’t count. Hmm, maybe keeping track of what books I read will finally inspire me to start a blog…

  6. A post at one of the Barnes and Noble discussion boards turned me on to Library ( You can enter the books in your library in and keep track. It’s kind of fun, because it also shows you how many other people have that title.
    We found the Space Trilogy at a thrift store this year. All three books, in a slip case, for .50. I was so excited. I had never read them, and enjoyed them a lot.

  7. Wow, 278 books? 200-250 per year? That’s amazing, you two. As far as I can tell I read at a pretty average speed, so I wish I could do that.
    And yeah, “beach books” count. The only thing I’m kind of proud of when it comes to my reading is that it’s pretty widely varied, including pulp that’s just for pure entertainment.

  8. Good call on “The Time Traveler’s Wife” – one of my favorite’s. I’m now on “The Architecture of Happiness” by Alain de Botton. Highly recommended.

  9. Thanks for the info about LibraryThing, viciousrumours. It looks interesting, and I just might have to play around with it one of these days.
    Jamie, I think that, as well as being proud of the variety of your reading, you are to be commended for thinking about what you’re reading. You clearly get something out of every book you mention on this blog, even the fantasy/pulp stuff. And you share these thoughts with your blog readers, which helps us discover good books and think about them too.
    (BTW, the “beach books” I read are mainly Regency romances and chick lit, which are referred to around here are “brain candy”.)

  10. Thanks. The book reviews don’t generally appear to be popular with readers, but I do them for myself. I enjoy writing about the books and find that I think more about what I read when I know that I’m going to be writing about it. Thus I enjoy them more in most cases.

  11. Maybe they’re not as popular, but I’ve reserved several books through my local library based on your recommendations, and today I placed a handful based on others’ recommendations.
    My library has a wonderful internet interface…I can search, reserve, and renew from home. Plus, I can suspend some of my holds indefinitely, so that I won’t get all 6 books I ordered today at once, yet they’re on my list so I won’t forget about them, either.

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