The Year in Books - 2009

At the start of last year, I set a goal to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measured progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid the previous year's bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in 2009:

  1. Bush's Law - Eric Lichtblau
  2. Standard Operating Procedure - Philip Gourevitch
  3. Ironweed - William Kennedy
  4. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  5. Stalin - Simon Sebag Montefiore
  6. The People's Act of Love - James Meek
  7. The Peloponnesian War - Donald Kagan
  8. FDR - Jean Edward Smith
  9. John Marshall - Jean Edward Smith
  10. The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
  11. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers
  12. A Thousand Acres - Jane Smiley
  13. Breathing Lessons - Anne Tyler
  14. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
  15. Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood
  16. Truman - David McCullough
  17. Eisenhower - Carlo D'Este
  18. Battle Cry of Freedom - James McPherson
  19. Team of Rivals - Doris Kearns Goodwin
  20. Andrew Carnegie - David Nasaw
  21. The Weather Makers - Tim Flannery
  22. Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry
  23. Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Adichie
  24. All the Names - Jose Saramago
  25. Going After Cacciato - Tim O'Brien
  26. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  27. India - John Keay
  28. Barbarians at the Gate - Bryan Burrough
  29. The Smartest Guys in the Room - Bethany McLean
  30. The Glorious Cause - Robert Middlekauff
  31. Home - Marilynne Robinson
  32. Seeing - Jose Saramago
  33. The Palace of Dreams - Ismail Kadare
  34. Death with Interruptions - Jose Saramago
  35. Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres
  36. Alexander Hamilton - Ron Chernow
  37. The Korean War - Max Hastings
  38. Possession - A.S. Byatt
  39. The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai
  40. Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
  41. The Search for Modern China - Jonathan Spence
  42. Cloudsplitter - Russell Banks
  43. Khrushchev - William Taubman
  44. Arthur & George - Julian Barnes
  45. The Lazarus Project - Aleksandar Hemon
  46. The Great War for Civilisation - Robert Fisk
  47. A Savage War of Peace - Alistair Horne
  48. Guns, Germs, and Steel - Jared Diamond
  49. The Rise of American Democracy - Sean Wilentz
  50. The Human Stain - Philip Roth
  51. The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende
  52. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
  53. The House of the Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne
  54. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
  55. The Vintage Guide to Classical Music - Jan Swafford
  56. Empire Express - David Haward Bain
  57. The Gold Bug Variations - Richard Powers
  58. Native Son - Richard Wright
  59. The Coming of the Third Reich - Richard Evans
  60. Gentleman - Bernhard Roetzel
  61. The Third Reich in Power - Richard Evans
  62. Men's Style - Russell Smith
  63. The Third Reich at War - Richard Evans
  64. The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
  65. The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields
  66. American Pastoral - Philip Roth
  67. Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks
  68. Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith
  69. People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks

Having read 33,933 pages in those 69 books, my basic goal was met. But as I said, the real purpose of measuring progress in pages was to motivate myself to read longer book than I had in 2008, when the goal of reading 100 books was met at the expense of a strong bias toward slimmer texts. I am happy to say that between the new page-based goal and several long, boring months in Kuwait in which I could focus attention on lengthier volumes, more than 90% of the books I read in 2009 contained more than 300 pages, with more than two dozen weighing it above the 500 page mark.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the two longest books I read were also two of my favorites. Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation (review here) gave me a new perspective on the various conflicts in the Middle East over the past several decades. The best book I read in 2009 was David McCullough's Truman (review here), which succeeded brilliantly in portraying one of the unlikeliest paths to the presidency our country has seen, the man who took that path, and the times in which he traveled it. Other favorites on the nonfiction side included Jonathan Spence's The Search for Modern China (review here), Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace (review here), and Richard Evans' The Coming of the Third Reich (review here).

Two novels stood out amongst the three dozen or so I read in 2009: Jeffrey Eugenides' majestic Middlesex (review here), which added intriguing twists and nuances while perfecting the art of the multi-generational American immigrant saga, and Louis de Bernieres' Corelli's Mandolin (review here), a powerful meditation on love in wartime that unfortunately has been blemished by the awful film that carries its name.

Yet another wonderful year in reading. Later today I will set my goals for the new year.