My favorite books of 2012

Winter break and the holiday season are both coming. This means free time and the need to buy presents for other people. Luckily, books are good for both of these things.These – in no particular order – are the books that I read and most enjoyed this year:

A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones books 1-5) – George R.R. Martin

If you haven’t read any of these, start now – it’s going to take a long time. The Game of
series may cause you to neglect your relationships, your classes, and your health because you can’t stop reading. By comparison, this makes The Lord of the Rings look like a children’s tale. Books 1, 3, and 5 are the best, while 2 and 4 felt, in many ways, like something that you had to slog through to get to the reward that turned out to be in the next book. Martin sometimes goes on far too long, with entire chapters about monotonous and slow characters whose names aren’t Tyrion Lannister (Brienne of Tarth is particularly painful). But it’s all worth it. Just don’t get too attached to any of the characters. If you don’t like reading, watch the TV series, where season three starts on HBO this Spring. Winter is coming.

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The Best Five Tom Clancy Books

Tom Clancy was the author whose work most inspired me to write. His work has spawned countless movie adaptions—the Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, the Sum of All Fears—and video games—Rainbow Six and its many sequels, Splinter Cell and its many sequels, and so on. Clancy has shown an unusual willingness to add his name to anything spy-related as long as it earns him so extra money. Most of the books that have come out bearing that name in the past few years have had a coauthor’s name in small print below, and their quality has deteriorated significantly. Even some of his later, non-coauthored books weren’t as good as readers had come to expect. The glory days of Clancy are long gone, and I haven’t yet found an author in the genre that replaces his combination of quality writing, incredible detail, and amazing action. Many of the popular writers of spy thrillers today make Dick Cheney look liberal and aren’t afraid to show it (Brad Thor), set up good characters but don’t write convincing action and fail to adequately wrap up story lines at the end of the book (Ted Bell), or write great stories but do so poorly (Dan Brown and many, many more). Although Clancy wrote more an extraordinarily large number of awesome novels, here are my five favorites (Mild spoilers follow):

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On the process

One of the challenges this summer—and the challenge, really, that any writer faces—is getting the writing process started. That’s 99 percent of the obstacle. Once you get started it’s easy to continue writing, but one of the worst feelings in the world is staring at the blank page with a vague feeling of failure. I’ve gone through many days where I felt my sense of self-worth shrivel because I meant to write something and instead accomplished a lot of fishing, reading, or scrolling through inane pictures.

There are a number of things that I’ve found that help with this. The most boring way is to make an outline, but for me that takes all the joy out of the written expression of thought. Organization is necessary to a point, but in excess quantities it kills originality. Still, it’s important to get the major topics down on the paper or to map out the general narrative flow.

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The Season Finale: What kind of year has it been?

This has been a riveting year for politics.  Since we arrived in the fall, Congress passed the following important legislation. We suffered through months of coverage of the Republican primary only to have the candidate win that everybody would have predicted in 2009. The Supreme Court brought back the terribly productive debate about the health care law, which both sides argue fairly, eloquently, and reasonably. A bunch of hipsters sat in a park in New York demanding unlimited data plans for their iPhones (at least, that’s what I think that was about). Newt Gingrich was not elected President of the moon, or anything on earth. Also, the Republican majorities in several states passed laws mandating that women who want an abortion must first have a nine inch probe shoved inside of them to take a picture, a treatment that I imagine Rick Santorum requests on a fairly regular basis.

Here are some things that I’ve wanted to say all year, but haven’t quite gotten the chance:

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