Let's get this up to date:
#12 -- "The Sun Never Sets" by Simon Winchester
Pleasant travelogue as Winchester (more here) visits the remnants of the British colonial empire in the 1980s. Some entertaining adventures as a lot of these places are/were harder than hell to get to, and some moments where it becomes great (he was in the Falklands at the outbreak of war). Frequently funny, also sad -- the photos of people proudly displaying British artifacts far from home seem sort of desperately sad. Interesting look at a world that's mostly gone now.
#13 -- "Ironweed" by William Kennedy
Oh holy crap, this is about the most depressing book, oh, ever. Picked up some years back because Hunter S. Thompson (once, long ago, I was an eager would-be disciple) raved about it, I finally crashed through it, and it's a) brilliant and b) left me sitting there, staring straight ahead, wanting to call my Mom afterwards. It's part of a loosely-connected series set in Albany, NY in the first half of the 20th century -- "Ironweed" is the tale of Francis Phelan, ex-baseball player turned alcoholic hobo, returning to his home town and confronting his ghosts after decades away from the family he abandoned. It's absolutely spectacularly written, and I'd love to read the rest of the books in the series, but if they're as much of a downer as this one I'm gonna have to read a whole lotta "Chicken Soup for the Soul" before I can get to the point where I'm mentally ready.
#14 -- "Over Sea, Under Stone" by Susan Cooper
A bit of regression here -- in my young adult years, Cooper's "Dark is Rising" series (along with John Bellairs' books) were among my favorites. I have an idea for a young adult (or whatever the genre is called now) novel -- because I need more unfinished projects -- so I picked this up for the first time in 20 years or so to see how it held up/if I could figure out why this stood out. It did hold up -- it's surprisingly gripping, even to a 35-year-old who's well aware that the characters are gonna make it through ok. And I think the rather obvious secret to Cooper's success is that she didn't talk down to her readers -- sure, it's aimed at kids, but it's not patronizing or dumbed down. Good stuff, I got the lessons I needed from it -- now I worry that I'm gonna want to read the next four books rather than actually writing up my idea.
While we're at it, in the theme of regression -- in a bit of a sour mood the other day, I indulged myself and read a few old comic book trade paperbacks. (I'm just a social user.) Brief reviews:
"Batman: Gothic" by Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson -- I remember being disappointed when this first came out, but it reads a bit better now (partly because I have a bit more familiarity with the genre Morrison was tipping his hat to). Biggest complaint: while I always dug Janson's inking, as an artist I frequently can't tell his characters apart, nor what emotions they're supposed to be feeling. Verdict: PASS
"The Creeper: Welcome to Creepsville" by Steve Niles and Justiniano -- I always dug the Creeper as a kid, but no one's ever seemed to do much with him. Partly, I guess, because every five years or so someone feels compelled to just rewrite his origin with minimal new details. Len Kaminski's series a few years back remains the high-water mark. This is pretty ok, kinda entertaining. Verdict: OKAY
"Sandman Mystery Theatre: Sleep of Reason" by John Ney Rieber and Eric Nguyen -- I dug Matt Wagner's noirish "Sandman Mystery Theatre" series back when it came out, and I grabbed this thinking it was the same -- alas, it's an attempt to (very loosely) tie that series into the present day, with a world-weary war photographer taking up the mantle to battle some sort of plan to create worldwide war. It's good in parts but the plot ranges between incomprehensible and silly, and while the art is very stylistic and nifty, it's not really great for storytelling. Verdict: FAIL
"Shadowpact: the Pentacle Plot" by Bill Willingham and a bunch of artists -- I saw a girl reading this at Eclipse di Sol a year or so ago, and was a bit taken by it -- a bunch of supernatural characters teaming up for wacky adventures. It's pretty entertaining, and since Willingham was doing comics when I was a kid, I don't feel quite so old when I read something by him. Verdict: PASS