Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Eimer's Best Reads of 2014

It feels like my book-reading took a hit this year and I'm not really sure why. Maybe I'm busier at work. Maybe the sandman is dumping more sleepy sand at night. Maybe I'm watching more movies. Maybe I read a bunch of crappy books last year.

Yeah, it was the last one.

Well, at least I managed to scrape together a top-ten list of some pretty good books spanning a wide array of genres. Enjoy! Links will direct you to for you to conveniently bookmark onto your 'To Read' list.

I read this book back in 1995 in a drunken stupor. I thought it all soaked into my lead noggin, but it didn't. And I was happy that I decided revisited this little gem. It's a mix of Vonnegut's first-hand experience on the Bombing of Dresden, which pretty much leveled the city - as well as a little bit of science fiction thrown in for good measure. To me, the thing that stands out about this novel is the writing. The loose, almost effortless writing that comes from Vonnegut's brain. It makes me want to strangle him he's so good (sadly, he's already passed so I don't have to). This rejuvenated my interest in this writer, and writing art form as a whole, as I'll be checking out more of his work in the near future. 

This comic book series (comprised of 6 volumes) is just a cool horror story that kept me guessing, kept me enthralled and kept me immersed in this pretty interesting idea. Hats off to Joe Hill, who can now remove the cloak of Stephen King's son, which I'm assuming why he chose a pseudonym. He’s in a league of his own. This graphic novel is filled with fantastic art by Rogriguez and dialogue by Hill. If you're a comic book enthusiast looking for something to do this winter, check this out. Highly recommended.

I picked up this book  after I found out David Fincher was directing a feature film based on this book - with help from the author Flynn (which is always nice). That said, enjoyable read with a nice twist on the missing wife thriller. In film terms, the book reminded me a bit of War of the Roses mixed with Body Heat mixed with The Fugitive. You never know what's going to happen, but when you think you have it all figured out, Flynn takes you onto a different highway (so to speak). In any event, very entertaining read. Some people were thrown off by the tone of voice and the switch of narrative tones. But it didn't bother me too much. Flynn has a knack of ratcheting up the suspense by condensing the chapters and ending them with just enough of a hint to make you want to read more. In any event, check it out before it hits theaters. Because, after you see the movie ... you'll never want to read the book. Am I right?

After reading this book about one of my ten favorite movies of all time, it boggles the mind that this movie was even half as good as Star Wars - let alone better than the original. This book gives an insider's perspective on the entire motion picture from brainstorm, script, production all the way through to final cut and release - with everything thrown in from location shoots in arctic temperatures, to set design, special effects, make-up, costumes and art direction. And the problems. To speak as Yoda, Many problems this movie had. From script problems, special effects snafus, location shots gone awry, internal strife, bloating egos, bloated budgets and months over deadline, the crew suffered a wide array of snafus. But, the creativity and ingenuity they used to work their way out of all of the problems is just mind boggling. Just a fantastic book from start to finish. Highly recommended if you’re a fan of the film or just a film fan.

Very entertaining 'western'. Almost a smart western, if there is such a thing. Reminded me of a collaboration between Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers. Moments of deep thought, casual conversation and minimal action (i.e. living life) with dabs of violence, gore, death and drips of blood mixed in. deWitt's great dialogue (i.e. using them 'big' words) in a Western novel pulls this out of the three-star cellar. Sadly, I think we're going through a dumbing down phase in our culture. Who's to say that well-read, educated people of the past spoke better grammar and used bigger words than we do nowadays? It could very well be a possibility, which made this book even more of a joy to read. Quick read. Fun read. Bloody read. Check 'er out.

I grew up somewhat religious. Then, I was a rebellious anti-religious teenager which stretched through college and into my 30's. Now, as I've had time to think, reflect, and learn more about life, I've come back to appreciate religion as a whole - sort of like Pi Patel in Life of Pi. But not really. I think as long as you're not some sort of crazy fanatic, religion is actually a pretty positive thing. But, look around this world, there are a ton of different religions. Judaism. Islam. Buddhism. Taoism. Christianity. Someone has to be wrong, right? Right? Maybe not. Many people may hate Aslan's book, but I found this an interesting read. Someone that has taken the bible, taken Jesus's story and has tried to figure out what it all means. There are a lot of questions that he brings up that makes you think, complete with Bible references to back up his theories. Was John the Baptist the true visionary for Christianity as it is today? Is the Anti-Semitism through the ages warranted based on the writings in the bible? Was Jesus born in Bethlehem? What of Jesus's life prior to his Baptism on the banks of the River Jordan? Where some of Pontius Pilate’s actions and decisions stated in the bible a bit out of character for a prefect? And why was Jesus the chosen one when there were plenty of other self-proclaimed Messiahs who were executed prior to his crucifixion? In this book, Islam - who was raised as a Muslim - tries to make sense of it all. Look, I'm not trying to stir up an angry hornet's nest, but - to me - a person who doesn't have it all figured out - this was a very enlightening read. Pick it up, read it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Wow. Can't say enough positive things about this book. If you're a fan of Pixar or animation, someone who works in the creative realm, or even a manager in some sort of other field, this is a great book for you. You know what I hate? Books written by successful businessmen that don't talk about their failures and only discuss everything they've achieved in their career - like they've never made a mistake in their life. Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar and the current President of Pixar animation and Walt Disney Animation Studios, does the exact opposite. This book is filled with failures, mistakes, blunders and the like that happened to Pixar. Sure, it talks about the successes, but - in my opinion - you learn more from people's mistakes. It's amazing how much Catmull shares, but I applaud him for his honesty as it relates to managing a creative team, the creative process, good ideas coming from anyone, pushing a story to it's fullest capabilities, running a company, and motivating team members. Just a fantastic book with a lot of inside stories - warts and all. Highly recommended.

I read that Matt Damon and Director Ridley Scott were circling this project for a possible film, which intrigued me enough to check it out. Not reading the book cover or the synopsis, I was expecting a crazy Mars Attacks, War of the Worlds-type of alien book, but it's entirely something, refreshingly different. Something like Nolan's Interstellar, but I think a bit ... better. An astronaut is trapped on Mars and is trying to survive. Almost like Apollo 13 on Mars, but with just one astronaut. Very imagined, creative world by Andy Weir. It would take a lot of insight, engineering and scientific chops to pull off a fictional book this ambitious - and make it seem almost plausible. Curious if he just did a lot of studying on the subject and/or interviewed a number of high-level NASA administrators to pull off this intriguing book? (Probably both). In any event, if you're a fan of hard-core science fiction (not sci-fi), check this book out. It's not John Carter fantasy fiction. It almost feels like the real thing.

I thought it was going to be an expose on why schools outside of the United States are much better at studying, test-taking and overall success than our own. But Ripley, a seasoned journalist, takes an unbiased approach in examining studying 'successful' teaching methods by following three American exchange students who traveled to three of the 'brightest' schools in the world: Finland, Korea and Poland. In a nutshell, her findings come back to (among other findings) all-around rigor (i.e pushing the student mixed with a well-balanced educational growth through the years), the teacher's who are in the classroom, the parents contribution not in the schools but with their studies and a focus on studies rather than athletics. SHOCK! Makes sense, right? Is it going to change anything in this country? Probably not. That said, my wife and I are taking it upon ourselves to help further my children's excitement (i.e. their well-roundedness) about learning, curiosity and playing -- outside of the classroom. Teach them to be responsible. Don't hold their hand so much. Let them make mistakes. Let them learn from their mistakes. Talk to them. Ask them about their school, about their teachers, and what exactly they're doing at school for 8 hours every day. And serve as a support system to foster their learning outside of the classroom - almost as a supplement or extra class as to what they're learning in school. This is all stuff Ripley talks about in her appendix, which makes total sense to me. I'm sure people will pull different things from this book, there's a lot of facts to glean, but that's what I grabbed. Check it out for yourself and see what you come up with.

It's the perfect summer read for film and gamer geeks. If you liked the 1979 movie Scavenger Hunt (which is available to view for free on YouTube), you have a thing for 80's nostalgia and Legend of Zelda-esque video games then you'll love this story revolving around an online search for a billion dollar prize. It's a fun, entertaining popcorn novel that's dipped in pop culture and reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Truth be told, it was very hard to put down. Sure, it can be a bit corny at times, but it was a fun read. Like I said, the perfect summer read for all ages of nerds and geeks. Check 'er out.

Other Top Reads From Year's Past:

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