The Year in Books - 2012

At the start of 2012, I set a goal to read 25,000 pages by year's end:

In 2011, my goal was to read 25,000 pages. The year was a success, and the quantifiable nature of the endeavor continues to make it easier to motivate myself and to track progress.

I surpassed the 25,000 page goal by several thousand pages, though at times I felt I was pursuing my reading at the expense of other worthy endeavors. As such, I am going to avoid the temptation of increasing the goal this year, and will repeat last year's pledge.

Here's what I read in 2012:

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. Robert E. Lee - Emory Thomas
  3. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
  4. Grant - Jean Edward Smith
  5. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
  6. A. Lincoln - Ronald White
  7. The Odyssey - Homer
  8. Kissing the Virgin's Mouth - Donna Gershten
  9. The Family Fang - Kevin Wilson
  10. The Greek Achievement - Charles Freeman
  11. Carthage Must Be Destroyed - Richard Miles
  12. 11/22/63 - Stephen King
  13. The Aeneid - Virgil
  14. Metamorphoses - Ovid
  15. Memoirs of Hadrian - Marguerite Yourcenar
  16. How Rome Fell - Adrian Goldsworthy
  17. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky - Heidi Durrow
  18. Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
  19. Catherine the Great - Robert Massie
  20. Dead Souls - Nikolai Gogol
  21. All the Devils Are Here - Betheny McLean
  22. The Orphan Master's Son - Adam Johnson
  23. Arguably - Christopher Hitchens
  24. The Hand That Once Held Mine - Maggie O'Farrell
  25. Investing Made Simple - Mike Piper
  26. A People's Tragedy - Orlando Figes
  27. Doctor Zhivago - Boris Pasternak
  28. Home - Toni Morrison
  29. Boy's Life - Robert McCammon
  30. A History of Twentieth-Century Russia - Robert Service
  31. Bel Canto - Ann Patchett
  32. A World Undone - G.J. Meyer
  33. Correcting the Landscape - Marjorie Kowalski Cole
  34. Hitler: 1889-1936 - Ian Kershaw
  35. The Book of Dead Birds - Gayle Brandeis
  36. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain
  37. Hitler: 1936-1945 - Ian Kershaw
  38. Inferno - Max Hastings
  39. West of Here - Jonathan Evison
  40. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage - Alice Munro
  41. Running the Rift - Naomi Benaron
  42. Eisenhower in War and Peace - Jean Edward Smith
  43. The Warmth of Other Suns - Isabel Wilkerson
  44. Walking with the Wind - John Lewis
  45. Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
  46. The Great Bridge - David McCullough
  47. Mudbound - Hillary Jordan
  48. The House of Morgan - Ron Chernow
  49. Titan - Ron Chernow
  50. The Heart of the Matter - Graham Greene
  51. Mr. Sammler's Planet - Saul Bellow
  52. The Spectator Bird - Wallace Stegner
  53. The Forever War - Dexter Filkins
  54. Last Lion - Peter Canellos
  55. Game Change - John Heilemann
  56. Howards End - E.M. Forster
  57. The Round House - Louise Erdrich
  58. Telegraph Avenue - Michael Chabon
  59. Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese
  60. The Middlesteins - Jami Attenberg
  61. Africa - John Reader
  62. The Snowball - Alice Schroeder
  63. Quiet - Susan Cain
  64. The Wizard of Lies - Diana Henriques
  65. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer
  66. Predictably Irrational - Dan Ariely
  67. Clarence Darrow - John Farrell
  68. Sweet Tooth - Ian McEwan

Despite choosing not to increase the goal, I far surpassed it, finishing the year having read 68 books totaling 30,391 pages, or just under 450 pages per book. After a fiction-heavy 2010, and a nonfiction-heavy 2011, I found a bit of balance this past year. Of the 68 books I read, 36 were fiction or poetry and 32 were nonfiction, with the latter concentrated particularly in U.S. and world history.

Amongst the 32 nonfiction titles I read in 2012, the best were a pair of biographies by Jean Edward Smith about two of America's finest general/presidents: Grant and Eisenhower in War and Peace. Both men are almost universally admired for their military careers, but Smith persuasively makes the case that their presidencies, and Grant's in particular, are generally underrated.

Just behind Smith's books on my list of favorites were a pair of psychology texts: Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, which examined the way our minds work (and the contrast with how we think they work) and Susan Cain's Quiet, which explored the characteristics and qualities of introversion in our modern society.

On the fiction side, I finally got around to re-reading Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, yet another of those books that I disliked when forced to read it in high school but now appreciate its brilliance. It was particularly interesting to read this alongside The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson's fascinating narrative history of the Great Migration.

Amongst more recent fiction, I finished my tour of David Mitchell's novels with Cloud Atlas, which was every bit as good as folks have been telling me (even if I still slightly prefer The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet), and I also was profoundly moved by Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which appears to have produced greatly divided opinion.

I managed to avoid any truly unpleasant reading experiences this year, but if I had to pick out a couple of less gratifying reads I would pick Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, which I found to be all style and little substance, and Marjorie Kowalski Cole's Correcting the Landscape, which was the only selection I did not enjoy amongst the published winners of the Bellwether Prize; the most recent, Naomi Benaron's Running the Rift, was the best.

All in all, another wonderful year in reading.