Category Archives: Books

My 2021 in Books & MST3K

I don’t set reading goals each year like so many of my friends do. Instead, I have a standing, yearly quasi-goal of 20 books per year. Compared to some of the goals I’ve seen some people make, this seems almost ridiculously light. However, I frequently include massive several hundred page anthologies in my annual reading, and I have a host of other time-consuming interests. As a result, most years I find myself reading book #20 sometime in mid-to-late December.  This year was an exception; I only read 15 books, and the last of them was a short novel I completed early on New Year’s Eve.

Despite not striving for a proper goal, in just about any other year I would have viewed this as having ill-used my 2021 free time. Reading 15 books suggests I wasted a little too much time on very unproductive pursuits — such as playing mindless games on my phone. Yet, I didn’t judge that as the case for 2021 because of one giant, wonderful reason: Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Because of the size of my DVD/Blu-ray collection and a variety of other reasons, in 2010 I setup a spreadsheet that lists every single episode/movie, which box set it’s packaged in, the date I last watched the it, and a cumulative count of the number of times I watched each. Until 2020, I typically watched 10-15 episodes a year, and at that rate, it would regularly be several years between rewatches of a particular movie, as I own a complete collection of every episode sold on disc — which is over 180 (each disc contains one movie.) With the exception of episodes I particularly enjoy, this was more than enough time to forget nearly everything about a single movie and the jokes made at its expense.

Then the pandemic started, and like so many other people, comfort television watching become more desirable. I accelerated the pace quickly enough in 2020 to watch 30 for the year. Then, this past spring, I quickened the pace further. However, I wasn’t counting the number of episodes watched as 2021 progressed — not even in a rough estimate manner. Mostly this was because the spreadsheet made determining the cumulative total at any time of the year incredibly easy. Nonetheless, outside of duly tracking my progress, it just wasn’t something I gave any real thought to.

As I entered the last week of December, I my book read count wasn’t anywhere near where I would like it to have been. I considered reading a number of standalone novellas and short novels in a last ditch effort to make the final number for the year at least appear closer to the unofficial goal. In fact, the last book I read for the year, The Great Gatsby, was chosen in part for this very purpose. However, I also knew that I watched a lot more MST3K in a year than I ever had, so on the morning of December 30, I decided to finally find out where I stood.

I had watched 47 episodes. Reading 20 books for the year wasn’t even remotely realistic. Reaching 50 was a ridiculously easily achieved goal, and it was something I had never come close to doing before. In fact, the 30 I watched in 2020 represented the previous all-time high. The decision was the epitome of a no-brainer, and by late afternoon on New Year’s Eve I finished watching “The Final Sacrifice,” which I had chosen because the name sounded appropriate for my last episode of the year.

The truly amazing thing about having watched 80 episodes of MST3K in two years is that according to my spreadsheet, I still own 31 movies I haven’t watched since I started  keeping track 11 years ago. In addition, there is going to be 13 new episodes of the series this year. Combine that with the over 30 additional movies I own that were released by alumni of the original run of MST3K — Cinematic Titanic, Rifftrax, and The Film Crew — I would have to keep up this pace for an additional 18 months to watch all of this “unwatched” material. (I need to note that I didn’t incorporate the CT, RT, and TFC discs into the spreadsheet until a couple weeks ago.)

I don’t know yet what changes, if any, I’ll make in terms of time management this year. I decided not to set a number in regards to MST3K this year, in much the same way I technically don’t set one for books. However, I do think it would be nice to reach both 50 and 20. I just won’t make either number a set goal.

Oh, and the first episode of MST3K for 2022? “Beginning of the End.”

Postscript to Reading Gravity’s Rainbow

In the early days of our relationship, Sally asked if I had ever thrown a book. I responded that I never had, and no matter how much I may have detested a particular book after finishing it (or even while doing so,) books were too precious a commodity to be treated in such a manner. She assured me that when the day finally came, it would be an immensely satisfying thing to do.

Well, a few weeks ago I finally threw my first book. Gravity’s Rainbow provided more than enough motivation, and launching it felt as good as Sally said it would. When finally deciding to stop reading the accursed text, images of an alternate history where a V2 rocket head had fallen on Thomas Pynchon’s head before he decided to write the damn thing danced in my mind. How the never-ending hell did that novel come to be so critically well regarded? Yes, lit snobs will hurriedly shower accolades upon a particularly dense and hard-to-parse novel, but there comes a point where that kind of writing is no longer fiction. It’s literary masturbation, a style of writing for people who impressed with their own ability to slog through the grammatical equivalent of a mucus-entombed Gordian knot. Though not immune to the joys of literary fiction, I refuse to continue reading something merely because an influential subset of intellectuals label it as unimportant work of art.

The arduous slog ended at page 115 of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition first published in 2006. Pynchon’s gratuitous use of lengthy run-on sentences, stream of consciousness, sudden shifts in narrative (with no visible clue as to it happening), and ellipses to string together otherwise unconnected thoughts so utterly derailed and demoralized that it did far more than simply inspire me to toss it out the second of my home unfinished. It actually stopped me altogether from reading for nearly a month. I had started listening to the audiobook of Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens during that time and continued listening after a part of my soul sustained serious damage, but that’s not the same thing as reading an actual book.

I am now attempting to get myself back on track. I happily spent a couple nights this week by reading the last 80 pages of Good Omens. Furthermore, though I feel my 115-page slog earned me the right to count Gravity’s Rainbow as one of the books I read this year, it will be replaced by Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, which is already underway, as my previously unread classic for the year. It doesn’t quite meet all the criteria that I try to apply (they were outlined in the post where I originally selected GR as this year’s classic), but after experiencing Pynchon’s monstrosity, a retreat into the warm, welcoming embrace of the science-fiction ghetto felt completely justifiable.

Hopefully, a combination of Russ’s feminist SF classic and finishing Good Omens will do wonders in terms of getting back on track with my goal of increasing my books read count from last year’s total. Despite losing a month of reading time, it’s still a very achievable goal — one now dedicated to spiting Pynchon’s literary assault on the senses.

The Annual Classic

A few years ago, I decided that I needed to occasionally challenge myself with my reading choices. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with a consistently steady diet of science fiction and fantasy — especially if your reading choices mark you as a lit snob of sorts within the genre — breaking out of the comfort zone struck me as beneficial. Above and beyond that, there are a huge number of classics out there that I keep meaning to read but never get around to. Thus, the idea of purposefully picking one unread classic a year, The Annual Classic, was born.

This year, I found myself with a little bit of a dilemma. I decided that I would make Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow this year’s new-to-me yearly classic. However, this struck me as potentially a bit of cheat. Although it won a National Book Award, it also was nominated for a Nebula Award — though plenty of people don’t consider it sf. In addition, it was published in 1973, which makes it more recent that the novels I typically consider.

To help me decide whether picking this book was in the spirit of the The Annual Classic, I created a Facebook poll that laid out my dilemma and asked whether it qualified. Was it “old” enough, and was it far enough removed from the traditionally acknowledged boundaries of the genre? The final result was a resounding “yes” — which was clearly the answer I wanted.

Next year, I’ll be sure to pick something that is unquestionably outside the sf&f ghetto.

2017 Stuff Read, #s 13-20

As I stated earlier today, maintaining a proper reading pace was one of many casualties in 2017. The final tally for the year dropped far below the average pace for the previous few years, and if not for knocking out the Scalzi novel in the few days following Christmas it actually would’ve tied 2013 for the lowest total since starting to keep track in 2011 . The decrease stretched across dead tree, ebook, and audiobook — nothing was immune. I’m happy to report that I’m already nearly done my first book of this year, thanks to having lots of solitary quiet time yesterday to focus on yet another dystopian classic.

Along the same lines of refusing to make New Year’s resolutions, I won’t make a goal for the coming year. However, returning to a number similar to those from 2014-2016 certainly seems like a easily attainable goal. Actually taking the time to jot down a few reactions to each book would also be a nice return to form. Alas, I won’t be doing that at this time, mostly because of the length of the list.

13. The Invisble Man, by Ralph Ellison (audiobook)
14. Among Others, by Jo Walton (eBook)
15. Crosstalk, by Connie Willis (dead tree)
16. Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (dead tree)
17. Hyperion, by Dan Simmons (audiobook)
18. Luna: Wolf Moon, by Ian Mcdonald (audiobook)
19. Iron Dragon’s Daughter, by Michael Swanwick (eBook)
20. Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (dead tree)

2017 Stuff Read, #s 1-12

I’ve been woefully neglectful regarding this, if you’ll excuse the pun, bookkeeping. Typically, I like to say a little something about each item I’ve read or listened to, but since this is literally my whole list for the year so far, there’s just too much — even though the pace itself is nearly as pathetic as my efforts to post regular updates on the subject. Instead, I’ll just take a moment to state that I feel like I need to come up with a new name for this series of posts, which I’ve maintained since 2011. When it first started, entries were titled “Books Read” and neglected to include audiobooks, lecture series, or shorter fiction read independently from a collection. Those items now all appear and the name changed to “Stuff Read,” but that doesn’t feel like an apt description either. I considered “Media Consumed,” but that implies a wider scope that includes movies and TV series. For now, “Stuff Read” will remain, but name change is certain as soon as a better one becomes apparent.

1. The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross (audiobook/eBook)
1(a). “Overtime,” Charles Stross (eBook)
2. A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd Edition, by Thomas Childers (audio lecture series)
3. The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le Guin (audiobook)
4. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson (audiobook)
5. Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler (eBook)
6. Sixty Days and Counting, by Kim Stanley Robinson (audiobook)
7. Feedback, by Mira Grant (dead tree)
8. Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature, by Pamela Bedore (audio lecture series)
9. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (audiobook)
10. Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman (audiobook)
11. American Gods: The 10th Anniversary Edition, by Neil Gaiman (eBook)
12. Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History, by Craig R. Koester (audio lecture series)