My book-reading fiscal year (BRFY) ends April 30. Here is my report, submitted for your approval.

This year I read 48 books (well, depends on how you count: I read half of two others which I didn’t count, but read several novellae and novelettes which I did). Employment and the biological need for sleep continue to hamper me. I never seem to quite make that 50-book goal, and have fallen short yet again. I always seem to have one or two months during the year where there is some extreme stress or busy-ness that just kills my pace, and it happened again this year over the past month. It’s probably unrealistic to ever count on having 12 consecutive months of peace, at least until I am named King and make some serious changes to the structure of society. When will that be happening, by the way??

Anyway, books. I did have a nice year of reading, although kind of a different one, defined by my getting a membership to WorldCon last spring with the intention to vote for the Hugo awards and do all of that reading over the summer. But: I got started too late and procrastinated a bit with all of it and had to bail on the novels. I did eventually read all of them but didn’t complete the last one until, uh, last month. And to be honest, they weren’t a strong crop. Of the six nominees, I’d say I liked two a lot, thought two were just OK, and didn’t particularly like the other two.

Whoa: I just realized something while writing this. I would have voted for Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. It happened to TIE for the win with China Mieville’s The City and The City. Had I gotten all my reading done and cast that vote, Paolo would have won outright and China would not have won a Hugo. Sorry, Paolo! Although I guess you still count as a winner. I inadvertently gave China a win share, though. You’re welcome, China.

Other highlights:

  • Some great re-reads, including Snow Crash and White Noise. I generally consider these two of my favorite books, and re-reading did not disappoint. More broadly, re-reading is awesome. I need to do more of it. It’s nice to read new books, of course, but when you re-read, honestly most of the time you get just as much or more out of it, with the foreknowledge that it’s something you will like.
  • One benefit of the 2010 Hugo voting was that I tried a number of new things I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to read. However, I’ll probably bail on doing the membership/voting thing again anytime soon. It’s really for people who want to read ONLY that stuff for months. The graphic novels, in particular, were disappointing. Most were parts of LONG series and not really my taste.
  • Gah, I only read three Hugo winners.  That puts me at 43 out of 62 total.  I had been reading 6 or 7 a year, which would put me on pace for a finish in 2013, but I fell off that a bit. Might still be that year, but not sure. I’d intended to plow through a bunch this year but after my 2010 Hugo voting  push I was off of them for a while. I am not setting any goals about this for the year, though I’ll certainly try more than 3. Yuck. One thing: I probably read next year’s Hugo winner already, in Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear.
  • I got through another Pynchon book! I think I can tackle Gravity’s Rainbow again when the time is right.
  • Read a few good series, including Robert J. Sawyer’s Hominids and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games. Both worthwhile.

Best read of the year (among new reads) is either Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity or Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale. The Asimov book was classic Ike, and just a great read. Just a perfect Golden Age sci-fi novel, of which I am spending way too much time not doing more of (like right now! I could be reading Isaac Asimov right now!). Winter’s Tale, though, is a special book. I just finished it yesterday so I probably need more time to let it settle, but I think I can say it was the most interesting book I read this year. Really unique, modern magical realism. Among the funniest books I’ve read, too.

Some goals for the upcoming year: more rereading. Didn’t get to the Baroque Cycle, but will absolutely do so soon. Between that and the new Neal Stephenson coming this fall (NEW NEAL STEPHENSON) I don’t know if I’ll get to Gravity’s Rainbow, but I’m not ruling it out. Fill out my Asimov reading. I’d like to carve a big chunk out of the remaining Hugos. Read a few of the things that have been unread on my bookshelf forever.

The complete list, favorites in bold:

  1. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 5/8/10
  2. Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, James Patrick Kelly (ed.), 5/14/10
  3. Brian Eno’s Another Green World (33 1/3), Geeta Dayal, 5/29/10
  4. Nick Drake’s Pink Moon (33 1/3), Amanda Petrusich, 5/30/10
  5. The Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons, 5/31/10
  6. Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Neil Gaiman et al, 6/10/10
  7. The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi, 6/13/10
  8. Shambling Towards Hiroshima, James Morrow, 6/16/10
  9. Palimpsest, Charles Stross, 6/18/10
  10. The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, Kage Baker, 6/19/10
  11. The City & The City, China Mieville, 6/29/10
  12. The God Engines, John Scalzi, 7/13/10
  13. Fables: The Dark Ages (#12), Bill Willingham, 7/15/10
  14. Girl Genius Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm, Phil Foglio, 7/25/10
  15. Laika, Nick Abadzis, 7/27/10
  16. Little Fuzzy, H. Beam Piper, 8/2/10
  17. Fuzzy Sapiens, H. Beam Piper, 8/9/10
  18. Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby, 8/11/10
  19. The Android’s Dream, John Scalzi, 8/21/10
  20. God Save the Fan, Will Leitch, 8/26/10
  21. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer, 9/4/10
  22. Blackout, Connie Willis, 9/18/10
  23. Physics for Future Presidents, Richard Muller, 10/4/10
  24. V., Thomas Pynchon, 10/11/10
  25. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, 10/17/10
  26. Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer, 10/26/10
  27. All Clear, Connie Willis, 11/15/10
  28. Humans, Robert J. Sawyer, 11/26/10
  29. Neutron Star, Larry Niven, 11/26/10
  30. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins, 11/29/10
  31. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins, 12/5/10
  32. The End of Eternity, Isaac Asimov, 12/15/10
  33. Hybrids, Robert J. Sawyer, 12/23/10
  34. Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon, 1/5/11
  35. Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, Robert Charles Wilson, 1/11/11
  36. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson, 1/21/11
  37. White Noise, Don DeLillo, 1/30/11
  38. Boneshaker, Cherie Priest, 2/8/11
  39. Nova, Samuel R. Delany, 2/14/11
  40. This Immortal, Roger Zelazny, 2/20/11
  41. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, 2/23/11
  42. Zodiac, Neal Stephenson, 3/2/11
  43. Star Trek: Klingons: Blood Will Tell, Scott Tipton et al., 3/13/11
  44. WWW: Wake, Robert J. Sawyer, 3/14/11
  45. Palimpsest, Cathrynne M. Valente, 3/27/11
  46. House of Stairs, William Sleator, 3/28/11
  47. Newton and the Counterfeiter, Thomas Levenson, 4/21/11
  48. Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin, 4/29/11

List is stashed here and on GoodReads (which has ratings and very occasional reviews)

Today’s junk fax: roofing! The business itself is certainly still an important one. But…

You are a small business. You would like to reach more customers. You approach an advertising agency for help.

They say: “We will hit up the public with a junk fax barrage! They are sure to be swayed by your grasp of one of 1987’s top technologies.”

Do you:

a. Sign up, celebrate with a Seagram’s Golden Wine Cooler.

b. Walk away from cash money like a fool.

I do not know how to operate our fax machine. I have sent approximately three faxes in six years of employment here. (So: I fax biannually. The next time I send a fax, if there is a next time, I will use the joke that I am sending my biannual fax. Be ready for this!) Though I’m not saying society as a whole no longer employs faxing as a means of transferring documents. Students ask us if we have a fax service all the time. However, that is not to say I am not baffled by this need.

This topic emerges out of my love for our ceaseless flow of junk faxes. It is, to my knowledge, 2011. We get junk faxes daily. It is, evidently, still a viable business model. We easily get more junk faxes than real faxes. Somehow this makes me happy. It makes me think the world is a simpler place. Many days I spend time thinking about ways to effectively monetize my interest in doing largely nothing, and failing of course, and realizing that I will need to continue to do something for someone else who has thought of a way. Then I think of the junk faxers. Somewhere, there are people who report to work every day to send out junk faxes. I don’t know how it works–I like to think someone is standing over a fax machine, feeding an ad in, and punching up numbers from a prospect directory. They wait for it to go through for the 15 minutes or however long a fax takes, then they flip the paper over, re-feed it, and punch the next number on the list. They have no further questions about the proper orientation of the paper. They have mastered this craft. However, I suspect that despite the end product it’s exclusively done with automated faxing programs. Regardless, the rate of return is such that everyone still goes to work every day.

The junk faxes seem to mostly be for travel agencies, no less, which is even more mystifying.

However, today’s junk fax implores me to fix my credit for a mere $89. I cannot think of a more reliable way to repair my credit than via an agency advertising via junk fax. Oh wait, there are those handwritten signs advertising this service taped to streetlight posts…

My favorite bit from today’s fax is the text: “Never get turned down (for credit) again!” They just wanted to specify that all promises made therein were it regard to credit, on this document advertising credit services. You can of course expect to continue to be turned down IN LIFE. But not for credit, my good sir.

Well! I have had an eventful week. “Eventful” in this context means “terrible, mostly.” But then again, depending on one’s perspective, maybe it means just “eventful” and even a little lucky.

So last Saturday some thunderstorms were rolling through. Artie was responding in his usual way, which was to hide in the basement. I decided to go down to hang with him whilst watching some TV. I went ahead and checked the weather and saw this:

April 16 tornado in Raleigh

(Scary full time lapse video here.)

An actual, serious tornado was about five miles south of my house, and heading our direction. The weather guys in the TV station building were retreating into their basement, so I figured, hmm, I ought to do the same. I told K she needed to do the same, and we scooped up Bea and headed downstairs.

When it passed through it honestly didn’t seem that bad. Windy and rainy but passed quickly. I was watching the neighbors’ hanging plants and they were swinging around but didn’t even get blown off their hooks. We lost power, but it didn’t  damage the house at all. Rain continued for a while but we went back upstairs and it was mostly bright out. But I was hearing on the radio that there was some serious damage to downtown and to some other spots. I thought we just go lucky and it passed a bit south of us.

Turns out that was exactly it: we were lucky. Just two blocks south a huge tree was uprooted and crushed a neighbor’s car. A mile south there was serious damage to lots of trees and a small college campus. Just northeast of us a trailer park basically got wiped out. A few kids were killed. Yikes, really. It went right by us and all we lost was power. There was some real devastation in town and some people here suffered real losses.

That was the scary and very sad, real part. On a less serious note, and what will eventually be amusing over time (NOT YET THOUGH) is that K’s parents were on their way down from NY to visit. We called them as the storm was coming and told them what was going on and to be careful. They ended up driving the whole way in the rain and arrived to a house with no power. Welcome! We were already planning go out to dinner so we were able to just do that, and guessed we would have power maybe later that night. It was hard to sleep–we kept thinking it might come back on at any minute. We were about 60 hours off.

Some of the neighborhoods around us got power back quickly, but we were in a pretty messy pocket, I guess. We still had running water but with an electric water heater we were without any showers but cold ones. Sunday we’d planned to do some landscaping work with the help of K’s dad, but feared getting too grimy before going out later that night, so we just relaxed instead. We’d decided to go to a Durham Bulls game, which would feed us dinner and get us out of the house for a while. There was a pretty touching moment of silence for tornado victims before the game and I felt really lucky to be there with my wife and family enjoying a beer, contemplating what abysmally bad-for-me ballpark sustenance I would consume for dinner, and being no more inconvenienced that being without power and unshaven or bathed.  It was overall fun, although tempered by the Bulls getting absolutely beaten down, as well as being driven nuts by the family seated in front of us (they consisted of three kids who did not hold still or sit down for three complete hours, an increasingly drunken bellowing dad, and an exasperated mom).

By this time we were aware that the power company was having to do major repair work. They reported that numerous lines and pieces of equipment were missing. Not down. Missing. We had been given an estimate of Tuesday night for power restoration. So we spent another night in the dark but at least this time I had no expectations about when it might come back on and slept fine.

Monday we weren’t planning on going anywhere. I was going to grill dinner (with fire! I do not require any of your fancy social trappings to cook meat!) and K’s parents were planning on staying in a hotel so they could shower. So we went ahead and got grimy with landscaping work. We headed over to the hotel…but wait! Are the traffic lights back on? This was unexpected. We headed back to the house and there was power! No need for hotel! Glorious power! Lights! Air conditioning! Refrigeration! Hot showers! I waited all of ten minutes for the latter and got in an unsatisfying lukewarm dousing. But it was good enough. We started getting dinner together. And BAM, the power turned back off. This was not met with good moods or continued optimism.

I went out to resume the original grilling dinner plan. It felt like something post-apocalyptic. I heard sirens. Helicopters were flying over. A few neighbors were standing around their yards. The charcoal was giving me trouble. Morale was not good. I got an update from the power company that a traffic accident had taken down the power lines. Seriously, really? We lost power for two days, get it back, and then a traffic accident wipes it right back out? I found out later a truck on the highway had managed to snag a power line. How this happened is a mystery. The power company blamed the truck for being too tall. Seems weird, though. You’re telling me that in the preceding years of the highway and power line existing, no vehicle had ever been quite that tall? It didn’t add up. What does make some sense is that our power had just been restored, then this happened. Stands to reason that some mistake was made with a cable and it was left too low. I suppose the workers have been putting in some long hours, but sheesh. It not only gave us just a taste of power then crushed us again, but it snarled up highway traffic during rush hour and they had to replace a bunch of equipment again.

K’s parents had planned to stay until Wednesday morning but when we woke up without power again Tuesday, they decided it was best to bail and head home. We didn’t know if it would be 12 minutes or 12 hours until we were online again, so we blessed the decision and saw them off. We promised that next time there would not be a historic natural disaster before their visit and they would be allowed to take showers.

The thing is, you can live without power, especially when you know lots of others around suffered much worse losses, especially when surrounding neighborhoods have it, and especially when you have water. But it’s decidedly inconvenient. More problematic, the simple fact that you have no power and are off your routine hangs over you like a soggy blanket. Once can’t really just not think about it. When you’re not used to losing power for more than a few hours, it’s a real pain to lose it for close to three days, which is where we ended up. It came back on around noon. We didn’t wait long to take hot showers, but waited a while to dare resetting the clocks or buy any food to put in the fridge again. (We lost probably a few hundred dollars’ worth of food in the end since we had to throw out most of the contents of the fridge and freezer. Most devastating was the loss of our pot pie leftovers from Saturday night’s dinner. Sniff.)

So also, we picked the wrong week to start our bathroom renovation. No really, they showed up 43 hours later to demolish an entire room and replace it. When we came home Thursday to a house full of dust, and again didn’t have hot water (thanks to a broken shutoff valve we discovered after using it that morning), it did not improve our moods. I had already spent Wednesday and Thursday in a fog from stress and lack of good sleep. BUT…everything’s fine. Contractor fixed it Friday morning and we actually have a pretty normal weekend going. The house is in a little disarray but we have a second bathroom to use during the renovation and at least we have power.

The cats actually are more stressed by the renovation. (Well, they don’t like strangers either, so didn’t enjoy K’s parents being around.) Turns out the power being out has zero effect on a cat. We were jealous.