2016 Reading Goals

bookstack.jpgSince I embarked on my Great Books Project thirteen years ago, my life has been enhanced in immeasurable ways by a renewed devotion to reading. Well, not entirely immeasurable, since I have kept track of every book I have read since 2003 (856 through 2015).

In 2015, I set my highest ever goal of 30,000 pages, thinking I would bounce back from the first year of my second-born's life with gusto. I did alright, surpassing the 25,000 page mark that had been my previous yearly goal, but came up short in the end.

It was a year of sprints and crawls, with months where I read in excess of three or four thousand pages followed by months where pages read measured in the hundreds. Particularly weak were October and November, months in which I was first preparing for, then conducting, then recovering from, my first trial as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. But even had those months been more normal, I still would have come up a little short. As such, I will really need to re-double my efforts, since I want to maintain the challenge I set for myself last year:

I will read 30,000 pages in 2016.

Here's to another wonderful year of reading!

The Years in Books - 2015

At the start of 2015, I set a goal to read 30,000 pages by year's end:

In 2014, after three straight years of surpassing a goal of reading 25,000 pages, I scaled back considerably in light of the birth of my second child and the inevitable reduction in my free time and energy for reading. Little did I know that I would also be changing jobs mid-year, further limiting my opportunities for discretionary recreation. I set a goal of just 10,000 pages, and despite the aforementioned obstacles, happily surpassed that number.

Now that my youngest is a bit more self-sufficient and I have settled into a healthy routine at my new job, I am feeling more ambitious about this year's reading. In 2009, the year my oldest was born, I read over 33,000 pages, having spent much of that year in the Kuwaiti desert with few distractions. In 2010, my first full year of parenting and my first year out of the Army, I still managed to read 18,000 pages. In 2011, I got back on track and eclipsed 29,000 pages. In 2012, I once again surpassed the 30,000-page mark, and was on track to do the same in 2013 before the birth of my little guy. Let us see if I can do it again: I will read 30,000 pages in 2015.

Here's what I read in 2015:

  1. Fives and Twenty-Fives - Michael Pitre
  2. The Yellow Birds - Kevin Powers
  3. Redeployment - Phil Klay
  4. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
  5. Home - Marilynne Robinson
  6. Lila - Marilynne Robinson
  7. Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel
  8. Dept. of Speculation - Jenny Offill
  9. Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng
  10. A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall - Will Chancellor
  11. An Untamed State - Roxane Gay
  12. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage - Haruki Murakami
  13. The Children Act - Ian McEwan
  14. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell
  15. A Strange and Sublime Address - Amit Chaudhuri
  16. Afternoon Raag - Amit Chaudhuri
  17. My Name is Asher Lev - Chaim Potok
  18. The Prestige - Christopher Priest
  19. A Darkness More Than Night - Michael Connelly
  20. Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
  21. Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami
  22. Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino
  23. A Lesson Before Dying - Ernest Gaines
  24. The Painter - Peter Heller
  25. City of Bones - Michael Connelly
  26. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami
  27. Lost Light - Michael Connelly
  28. High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
  29. The Cider House Rules - John Irving
  30. The Narrows - Michael Connelly
  31. The Closers - Michael Connelly
  32. The Natural - Bernard Malamud
  33. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving - Jonathan Evison
  34. The Wright Brothers - David McCullough
  35. The Blind Side - Michael Lewis
  36. The Fiery Trial - Eric Foner
  37. Michael Jordan - Roland Lazenby
  38. Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf
  39. Reagan - H.W. Brands
  40. Waging Heavy Peace - Neil Young
  41. Over the Edge of the World - Laurence Bergreen
  42. Moneyball - Michael Lewis
  43. Bruce - Peter Ames Carlin
  44. Ramblin' Man - Ed Cray
  45. Echo Park - Michael Connelly
  46. The Overlook - Michael Connelly
  47. The Brass Verdict - Michael Connelly
  48. Sutton - J.R. Moehringer
  49. Nine Dragons - Michael Connelly
  50. The Reversal - Michael Connelly
  51. The Drop - Michael Connelly
  52. The Black Box - Michael Connelly
  53. The Burning Room - Michael Connelly
  54. Call for the Dead - John le Carré
  55. Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
  56. Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke
  57. I, Robot - Isaac Asimov
  58. Wool - Hugh Howey
  59. The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan
  60. Purity - Jonathan Franzen
  61. To the End of the Land - David Grossman
  62. The Tsar of Love and Techno - Anthony Marra
  63. Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates
  64. The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks
  65. Fortune Smiles - Adam Johnson
  66. Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff
  67. The Crossing - Michael Connelly
  68. The Bully Pulpit - Doris Kearns Goodwin
  69. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth - Christopher Scotton
  70. Destiny and Power - Jon Meacham

Though I dramatically increased my reading from last year, I did not make it to the 30,000 page goal, finishing up at 25,091 pages, or just over 358 pages per book. This betrayed a slight tendency towards shorter books than last year, when the average was just over 400 pages. The year leaned heavily toward fiction, with the first 33 books I read all coming on that side, and fully 57 of the year's 70 titles. The fiction side was again padded with lighter reading in the form of the remaining novels in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series, the first six of which I read last year. They were accompanied by my enjoyment of the Amazon-produced first season of a TV show based on Connelly's famous protagonist.

Amongst the 57 fiction titles I read in 2015, I took particular pleasure in Lila, the concluding chapter in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead trilogy, as well as its two predecessors which I re-read to fully recapture the contemplative splendor of that small world Robinson created. Other worthy favorites were a couple of story collections by authors whose debut novels were among my favorites of the past several years: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra and Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson.

Amongst the 13 nonfiction titles I read in 2015, I will join the masses in praising Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, his epistolary memoir that was heartbreaking even to this reader who could identify with so little of his lived experience. I also greatly enjoyed a pair of biographies about recent Republican presidents, with H.W. Brands's even-handed Reagan only just surpassed by Jon Meacham's Destiny and Power, which gave full due to the life and presidency of the first President Bush, made all the more remarkable by contrast to the current crop of GOP candidates.

All in all, another wonderful year in reading.

The Month in Books - December 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in December:

  1. The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks
  2. Fortune Smiles - Adam Johnson
  3. Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff
  4. The Crossing - Michael Connelly
  5. The Bully Pulpit - Doris Kearns Goodwin
  6. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth - Christopher Scotton
  7. Destiny and Power - Jon Meacham

Pages Read: 3,203
Year-to-Date: 25,091

The Month in Books - November 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in November:

  1. To the End of the Land - David Grossman
  2. The Tsar of Love and Techno - Anthony Marra
  3. Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Pages Read: 1,057
Year-to-Date: 21,888

The Month in Books - October 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in October:

  1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan
  2. Purity - Jonathan Franzen

Pages Read: 897
Year-to-Date: 20,831

The Month in Books - September 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in September:

  1. Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
  2. Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke
  3. I, Robot - Isaac Asimov
  4. Wool - Hugh Howey

Pages Read: 1,308
Year-to-Date: 19,934

The Month in Books - August 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in August:

  1. Ramblin' Man - Ed Cray
  2. Echo Park - Michael Connelly
  3. The Overlook - Michael Connelly
  4. The Brass Verdict - Michael Connelly
  5. Sutton - J.R. Moehringer
  6. Nine Dragons - Michael Connelly
  7. The Reversal - Michael Connelly
  8. The Drop - Michael Connelly
  9. The Black Box - Michael Connelly
  10. The Burning Room - Michael Connelly
  11. Call for the Dead - John le Carré

Pages Read: 3,897
Year-to-Date: 18,626

The Month in Books - July 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in July:

  1. Waging Heavy Peace - Neil Young
  2. Over the Edge of the World - Laurence Bergreen
  3. Moneyball - Michael Lewis
  4. Bruce - Peter Ames Carlin

Pages Read: 1,660
Year-to-Date: 14,729

The Month in Books - June 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in June:

  1. The Fiery Trial - Eric Foner
  2. Michael Jordan - Roland Lazenby
  3. Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf
  4. Reagan - H.W. Brands

Pages Read: 1,924
Year-to-Date: 13,069

The Month in Books - May 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in May:

  1. The Natural - Bernard Malamud
  2. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving - Jonathan Evison
  3. The Wright Brothers - David McCullough
  4. The Blind Side - Michael Lewis

Pages Read: 1,063
Year-to-Date: 11,145

The Month in Books - April 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in April:

  1. Lost Light - Michael Connelly
  2. High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
  3. The Cider House Rules - John Irving
  4. The Narrows - Michael Connelly
  5. The Closers - Michael Connelly

Pages Read: 2,032
Year-to-Date: 10,082

The Month in Books - March 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in March:

  1. Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami
  2. Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino
  3. A Lesson Before Dying - Ernest Gaines
  4. The Painter - Peter Heller
  5. City of Bones - Michael Connelly
  6. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami

Pages Read: 2,081
Year-to-Date: 8,050

The Month in Books - February 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in February:

  1. A Strange and Sublime Address - Amit Chaudhuri
  2. Afternoon Raag - Amit Chaudhuri
  3. My Name is Asher Lev - Chaim Potok
  4. The Prestige - Christopher Priest
  5. A Darkness More Than Night - Michael Connelly
  6. Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

Pages Read: 1,737
Year-to-Date: 5,969

The Month in Books - January 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 30,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in January:

  1. Fives and Twenty-Fives - Michael Pitre
  2. The Yellow Birds - Kevin Powers
  3. Redeployment - Phil Klay
  4. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
  5. Home - Marilynne Robinson
  6. Lila - Marilynne Robinson
  7. Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel
  8. Dept. of Speculation - Jenny Offill
  9. Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng
  10. A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall - Will Chancellor
  11. An Untamed State - Roxane Gay
  12. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage - Haruki Murakami
  13. The Children Act - Ian McEwan
  14. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

Pages Read: 4,232
Year-to-Date: 4,232

2015 Reading Goals

bookstack.jpgSince I embarked on my Great Books Project twelve years ago, my life has been enhanced in immeasurable ways by a renewed devotion to reading. Well, not entirely immeasurable, since I have kept track of every book I have read since 2003 (786 through 2013).

In 2014, after three straight years of surpassing a goal of reading 25,000 pages, I scaled back considerably in light of the birth of my second child and the inevitable reduction in my free time and energy for reading. Little did I know that I would also be changing jobs mid-year, further limiting my opportunities for discretionary recreation. I set a goal of just 10,000 pages, and despite the aforementioned obstacles, happily surpassed that number.

Now that my youngest is a bit more self-sufficient and I have settled into a healthy routine at my new job, I am feeling more ambitious about this year's reading. In 2009, the year my oldest was born, I read over 33,000 pages, having spent much of that year in the Kuwaiti desert with few distractions. In 2010, my first full year of parenting and my first year out of the Army, I still managed to read 18,000 pages. In 2011, I got back on track and eclipsed 29,000 pages. In 2012, I once again surpassed the 30,000-page mark, and was on track to do the same in 2013 before the birth of my little guy.

So, let us see if I can do it again:

I will read 30,000 pages in 2015.

Here's to another wonderful year of reading!

The Year in Books - 2014

At the start of 2014, I set a goal to read 10,000 pages by year's end:

In 2013, for the third straight year my goal was to read 25,000 pages. And for the third straight year, this goal was met, and the quantifiable nature of the endeavor continues to make it easier to motivate myself and to track progress.

I reached the 25,000 page goal by October 2013, only to see my reading habits grind to a halt after the birth of my second child, it appearing that the time consumption of parenting increases exponentially rather than geometrically with each child. As such, I read barely 1,500 pages in the last ten weeks of 2013, suggesting the necessity of a much lower target in 2014. That meager pace would see me read barely 8,000 pages in a full year, which I simply cannot abide. Thus I will aim slightly higher: I will read 10,000 pages in 2014.

Here's what I read in 2014:

  1. A Hologram for the King - Dave Eggers
  2. The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
  3. Around the World in Eighty Days - Jules Verne
  4. The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
  5. The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells
  6. Johnny Cash - Robert Hilburn
  7. Monsters - Rich Cohen
  8. The Black Echo - Michael Connelly
  9. A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki
  10. The Good Lord Bird - James McBride
  11. The Cove - Ron Rash
  12. Arik - David Landau
  13. The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  14. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia - Mohsin Hamid
  15. Days of Fire - Peter Baker
  16. The Black Ice - Michael Connelly
  17. The Concrete Blonde - Michael Connelly
  18. William Cooper's Town - Alan Taylor
  19. The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt
  20. An Army at Dawn - Rick Atkinson
  21. My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk
  22. The Last Coyote - Michael Connelly
  23. The Day of Battle - Rick Atkinson
  24. The Guns at Last Light - Rick Atkinson
  25. 1491 - Charles Mann
  26. Trunk Music - Michael Connelly
  27. John Quincy Adams - Fred Kaplan
  28. Angels Flight - Michael Connelly
  29. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
  30. Righteous Victims - Benny Morris
  31. The Book of Unknown Americans - Cristina Henriquez
  32. This Is Where I Leave You - Jonathan Tropper
  33. The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell
  34. My Promised Land - Ari Shavit
  35. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Ron Hansen
  36. John Brown, Abolitionist - David Reynolds
  37. Invincible - Amy Lawrence
  38. The Martian - Andy Weir
  39. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
  40. Wonderland - Stacey D'Erasmo

I made steady progress throughout the year and surpassed the 10,000 page goal half-way through August. I then more or less maintained that pace through the remainder of the year, finishing the year having read 40 books totaling 16,537 pages, or just over 400 pages per book. I leaned a little heavily toward fiction this year with 26 fiction books to just 14 nonfiction, though the fiction side was padded with some lighter reading in the form of the first six novels in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series, inspired by my enjoyment of the Amazon-produced pilot of a new TV show based on Connelly's famous protagonist.

Amongst the 26 fiction titles I read in 2014, no single novel stood too far above the rest, a sign of the overall strength of the year's selections. Particular favorites were David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, continuing Mr. Mitchell's remarkable run of top-shelf novels, Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch, which overcame some significant narrative bloat through the sheer power of Tartt's prose, Bernard Malamud's much-older Pulitzer Prize-winning The Fixer, a tragic reminder of the individual suffering within the larger framework of anti-Semitic violence, and Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which has universal appeal sufficient to draw any reader into the growing pains of young Francie Nolan. Special acclaim is also reserved for Andy Weir's The Martian, a gripping account of an astronaut stranded on Mars that is deeply grounded in the science side of science fiction.

Amongst the 14 nonfiction titles I read in 2014, the best were Days of Fire, Peter Baker's even-handed and comprehensive history of the Bush/Cheney administration, and The Guns at Last Light, the final volume in Rick Atkinson's World War II trilogy, the entirety of which is a worthwhile project. For something less intense, I can also recommend a pair of books telling the tale of two of my favorite sports teams: Rich Cohen's Monsters, which recalls the feats, fights, and ferocity of the 1985 Chicago Bears, and Amy Lawrence's Invincible, which follows Arsenal's remarkable undefeated 2003-2004 season.

All in all, another wonderful year in reading.

The Month in Books - December 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in December:

  1. John Brown, Abolitionist - David Reynolds
  2. Invincible - Amy Lawrence
  3. The Martian - Andy Weir
  4. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
  5. Wonderland - Stacey D'Erasmo

Pages Read: 1,975
Year-to-Date: 16,537

The Month in Books - November 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in November:

  1. My Promised Land - Ari Shavit
  2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Ron Hansen

Pages Read: 749
Year-to-Date: 14,562

The Month in Books - October 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in October:

  1. The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell

Pages Read: 624
Year-to-Date: 13,813

The Month in Books - September 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in September:

  1. Angels Flight - Michael Connelly
  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
  3. Righteous Victims - Benny Morris
  4. The Book of Unknown Americans - Cristina Henriquez
  5. This Is Where I Leave You - Jonathan Tropper

Pages Read: 2,179
Year-to-Date: 13,189

The Month in Books - August 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in August:

  1. 1491 - Charles Mann
  2. Trunk Music - Michael Connelly
  3. John Quincy Adams - Fred Kaplan

Pages Read: 1,290
Year-to-Date: 11,010

The Month in Books - July 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in July:

  1. The Day of Battle - Rick Atkinson
  2. The Guns at Last Light - Rick Atkinson

Pages Read: 1,129
Year-to-Date: 9,720

The Month in Books - June 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in June:

  1. An Army at Dawn - Rick Atkinson
  2. My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk
  3. The Last Coyote - Michael Connelly

Pages Read: 1,356
Year-to-Date: 8,591

The Month in Books - May 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in May:

  1. Days of Fire - Peter Baker
  2. The Black Ice - Michael Connelly
  3. The Concrete Blonde - Michael Connelly
  4. William Cooper's Town - Alan Taylor
  5. The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

Pages Read: 2,691
Year-to-Date: 7,235

The Month in Books - April 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in April:

  1. The Cove - Ron Rash
  2. Arik - David Landau
  3. The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  4. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia - Mohsin Hamid

Pages Read: 1,361
Year-to-Date: 4,544

The Month in Books - March 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in March:

  1. The Black Echo - Michael Connelly
  2. A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki
  3. The Good Lord Bird - James McBride

Pages Read: 1,204
Year-to-Date: 3,183

The Month in Books - February 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in February:

  1. The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
  2. The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells
  3. Johnny Cash - Robert Hilburn
  4. Monsters - Rich Cohen

Pages Read: 1,344
Year-to-Date: 1,979

The Month in Books - January 2014

In 2014, my goal is to read 10,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in January:

  1. A Hologram for the King - Dave Eggers
  2. The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
  3. Around the World in Eighty Days - Jules Verne

Pages Read: 635
Year-to-Date: 635

2014 Reading Goals

bookstack.jpgSince I embarked on my Great Books Project eleven years ago, my life has been enhanced in immeasurable ways by a renewed devotion to reading. Well, not entirely immeasurable, since I have kept track of every book I have read since 2003 (746 through 2013).

In 2013, for the third straight year my goal was to read 25,000 pages. And for the third straight year, this goal was met, and the quantifiable nature of the endeavor continues to make it easier to motivate myself and to track progress.

I reached the 25,000 page goal by October 2013, only to see my reading habits grind to a halt after the birth of my second child, it appearing that the time consumption of parenting increases exponentially rather than geometrically with each child. As such, I read barely 1,500 pages in the last ten weeks of 2013, suggesting the necessity of a much lower target in 2014. That meager pace would see me read barely 8,000 pages in a full year, which I simply cannot abide. Thus I will aim slightly higher:

I will read 10,000 pages in 2014.

Here's to another wonderful year of reading!

The Year in Books - 2013

At the start of 2013, I set a goal to read 25,000 pages by year's end:

In 2012, 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 soared past the 25,000 page goal in 2012 and managed to hit 30,000 pages for the first time since I was in the Army, though only a sprint through ten books in December got me past that milestone, 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 the pledge of the past two years.

Here's what I read in 2013:

  1. Spring Snow - Yukio Mishima
  2. Runaway Horses - Yukio Mishima
  3. The Temple of Dawn - Yukio Mishima
  4. The Decay of the Angel - Yukio Mishima
  5. Louis D. Brandeis - Melvin Urofsky
  6. Baltasar and Blimunda - Jose Saramago
  7. The Stone Raft - Jose Saramago
  8. The Little Book of Common Sense Investing - John Bogle
  9. The Elements of Investing - Burton Malkiel
  10. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
  11. Family Matters - Rohinton Mistry
  12. Such a Long Journey - Rohinton Mistry
  13. Learned Hand - Gerald Gunther
  14. The Risk Pool - Richard Russo
  15. The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller
  16. Scorpions - Noah Feldman
  17. Benediction - Kent Haruf
  18. In Spite of the Gods - Edward Luce
  19. Hugo Black - Roger Newman
  20. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name - Vendela Vida
  21. King Leopold's Ghost - Adam Hochschild
  22. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
  23. Wild Bill - Bruce Allen Murphy
  24. Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple
  25. Chief Justice - Ed Cray
  26. Justice Brennan - Seth Stern
  27. Thurgood Marshall - Juan Williams
  28. The Outpost - Jake Tapper
  29. Immortality - Milan Kundera
  30. Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
  31. The Admirals - Walter Borneman
  32. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena - Anthony Marra
  33. Cooked - Michael Pollan
  34. And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini
  35. Guests of the Ayatollah - Mark Bowden
  36. Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  37. The Blood of Heaven - Kent Wascom
  38. Eating Animals - Jonathan Safran Foer
  39. Revolutionary Summer - Joseph Ellis
  40. Transatlantic - Colum McCann
  41. The Son - Philipp Meyer
  42. Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor - Richard Beeman
  43. The Flamethrowers - Rachel Kushner
  44. For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway
  45. Angel in the Whirlwind - Benson Bobrick
  46. Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clarke
  47. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick
  48. I Am Legend - Richard Matheson
  49. Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  50. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
  51. The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker
  52. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
  53. Thomas Jefferson - Jon Meacham
  54. Mary Coin - Marisa Silver
  55. The Power of Habit - Charles Duhigg
  56. The Unwinding - George Packer
  57. The Interestings - Meg Wolitzer
  58. Legacy of Ashes - Tim Weiner
  59. The Healing - Jonathan Odell
  60. Enemies - Tim Weiner
  61. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - Dee Brown
  62. A Terrible Glory - James Donovan
  63. Stillness and Speed - Dennis Bergkamp
  64. Journey to the Center of the Earth - Jules Verne
  65. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Verne
  66. The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri
  67. The English Girl - Daniel Silva

I set a great pace through the first three quarters of the year, and passed the 25,000 page marker mid-way through October. That happened to coincide with the birth of my second child, and thus in the remaining 10 weeks I barely read another 1,500 pages. I finished the year having read 67 books totaling 26,712 pages, or just under 400 pages per book. I maintained a relatively balanced amongst genres, with 39 fiction titles and 28 nonfiction, with the latter concentrated particularly in U.S. history and judicial biographies.

Amongst the 28 nonfiction titles I read in 2013, the best were Gerald Gunther's biography of Learned Hand, a jurist famous to all law students and few others, given that he never rose to a Supreme Court seat despite the nearly universal admiration of his contemporaries, and Jake Tapper's The Outpost, a devastating history and critique of America's recent involvement in Afghanistan told through the lens of an American operating base in the dangerous Nuristan province. On a slightly lighter note, fans of English football and Arsenal in particular are strongly advised to track down a copy of Dennis Bergkamp's autobiography, Stillness and Speed, written largely through interviews with Bergkamp's coaches and teammates and Bergkamp's reactions to these interviews.

On the fiction side, my runaway favorite was Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, a breathtaking but difficult portrayal of the misfortunes of a young girl living in war-torn Chechnya. For a less emotionally taxing but no less rewarding read, I highly recommend Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette, which features another forlorn young protagonist with more, shall we say, first world problems. Another favorite was Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, a sort-of generational family epic a la Jonathan Franzen tracing the varied paths of a set of teenage friends from a 1970s art camp. I can also highly recommend Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance and Family Matters, and the more ambitious reader will find much to appreciate in Yukio Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogy: Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn, and The Decay of the Angel.

There were no major disappointments in my reading in 2013, though I found Joseph Ellis' latest, Revolutionary Summer, to be less enlightening than his prior works and indicative of the possibility that Ellis has finally tapped his previously unique approach to the revolutionary period. I also did not find The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner to be nearly as effective or interesting a novel as suggested by the critics and award committees.

All in all, another wonderful year in reading.

The Month in Books - December 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in December:

  1. The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri
  2. The English Girl - Daniel Silva

Pages Read: 822
Year-to-Date: 26,712

The Month in Books - November 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in November:

  1. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Verne

Pages Read: 381
Year-to-Date: 25,890

The Month in Books - October 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in October:

  1. A Terrible Glory - James Donovan
  2. Stillness and Speed - Dennis Bergkamp
  3. Journey to the Center of the Earth - Jules Verne

Pages Read: 853
Year-to-Date: 25,509

The Month in Books - September 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in September:

  1. The Interestings - Meg Wolitzer
  2. Legacy of Ashes - Tim Weiner
  3. The Healing - Jonathan Odell
  4. Enemies - Tim Weiner
  5. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - Dee Brown

Pages Read: 2,222
Year-to-Date: 24,656

The Month in Books - August 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in August:

  1. The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker
  2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
  3. Thomas Jefferson - Jon Meacham
  4. Mary Coin - Marisa Silver
  5. The Power of Habit - Charles Duhigg
  6. The Unwinding - George Packer

Pages Read: 2,228
Year-to-Date: 22,434

The Month in Books - July 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in July:

  1. The Son - Philipp Meyer
  2. Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor - Richard Beeman
  3. The Flamethrowers - Rachel Kushner
  4. For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway
  5. Angel in the Whirlwind - Benson Bobrick
  6. Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clarke
  7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick
  8. I Am Legend - Richard Matheson
  9. Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  10. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

Pages Read: 3,576
Year-to-Date: 20,206

The Month in Books - June 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in June:

  1. Guests of the Ayatollah - Mark Bowden
  2. Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  3. The Blood of Heaven - Kent Wascom
  4. Eating Animals - Jonathan Safran Foer
  5. Revolutionary Summer - Joseph Ellis
  6. Transatlantic - Colum McCann

Pages Read: 2,319
Year-to-Date: 16,630

The Month in Books - May 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in May:

  1. Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
  2. The Admirals - Walter Borneman
  3. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena - Anthony Marra
  4. Cooked - Michael Pollan
  5. And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini

Pages Read: 2,200
Year-to-Date: 14,311

The Month in Books - April 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in April:

  1. Chief Justice - Ed Cray
  2. Justice Brennan - Seth Stern
  3. Thurgood Marshall - Juan Williams
  4. The Outpost - Jake Tapper
  5. Immortality - Milan Kundera

Pages Read: 2,441
Year-to-Date: 12,111

The Month in Books - March 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in March:

  1. Scorpions - Noah Feldman
  2. Benediction - Kent Haruf
  3. In Spite of the Gods - Edward Luce
  4. Hugo Black - Roger Newman
  5. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name - Vendela Vida
  6. King Leopold's Ghost - Adam Hochschild
  7. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
  8. Wild Bill - Bruce Allen Murphy
  9. Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple

Pages Read: 3,649
Year-to-Date: 9,670

The Month in Books - February 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in February:

  1. The Little Book of Common Sense Investing - John Bogle
  2. The Elements of Investing - Burton Malkiel
  3. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
  4. Family Matters - Rohinton Mistry
  5. Such a Long Journey - Rohinton Mistry
  6. Learned Hand - Gerald Gunther
  7. The Risk Pool - Richard Russo
  8. The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller

Pages Read: 3,264
Year-to-Date: 6,021

The Month in Books - January 2013

In 2013, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in January:

  1. Spring Snow - Yukio Mishima
  2. Runaway Horses - Yukio Mishima
  3. The Temple of Dawn - Yukio Mishima
  4. The Decay of the Angel - Yukio Mishima
  5. Louis D. Brandeis - Melvin Urofsky
  6. Baltasar and Blimunda - Jose Saramago
  7. The Stone Raft - Jose Saramago

Pages Read: 2,757
Year-to-Date: 2,757

2013 Reading Goals

bookstack.jpgSince I embarked on my Great Books Project ten (!) years ago, my life has been enhanced in immeasurable ways by a renewed devotion to reading. Well, not entirely immeasurable, since I have kept track of every book I have read since 2003 (679 through 2012).

In 2012, 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 soared past the 25,000 page goal in 2012 and managed to hit 30,000 pages for the first time since I was in the Army, though only a sprint through ten books in December got me past that milestone, 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 the pledge of the past two years:

I will read 25,000 pages in 2013.

Here's to another wonderful year of reading!

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.

The Month in Books - December 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in December:

  1. Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese
  2. The Middlesteins - Jami Attenberg
  3. Africa - John Reader
  4. The Snowball - Alice Schroeder
  5. Quiet - Susan Cain
  6. The Wizard of Lies - Diana Henriques
  7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer
  8. Predictably Irrational - Dan Ariely
  9. Clarence Darrow - John Farrell
  10. Sweet Tooth - Ian McEwan

Pages Read: 4,362
Year-to-Date: 30,391

The Month in Books - November 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in November:

  1. The Spectator Bird - Wallace Stegner
  2. The Forever War - Dexter Filkins
  3. Last Lion - Peter Canellos
  4. Game Change - John Heilemann
  5. Howards End - E.M. Forster
  6. The Round House - Louise Erdrich
  7. Telegraph Avenue - Michael Chabon

Pages Read: 2,503
Year-to-Date: 26,029

The Month in Books - October 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in October:

  1. Mudbound - Hillary Jordan
  2. The House of Morgan - Ron Chernow
  3. Titan - Ron Chernow
  4. The Heart of the Matter - Graham Greene
  5. Mr. Sammler's Planet - Saul Bellow

Pages Read: 2,339
Year-to-Date: 23,526

The Month in Books - September 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in September:

  1. Running the Rift - Naomi Benaron
  2. Eisenhower in War and Peace - Jean Edward Smith
  3. The Warmth of Other Suns - Isabel Wilkerson
  4. Walking with the Wind - John Lewis
  5. Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
  6. The Great Bridge - David McCullough

Pages Read: 3,096
Year-to-Date: 21,187

The Month in Books - August 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in August:

  1. Hitler: 1936-1945 - Ian Kershaw
  2. Inferno - Max Hastings
  3. West of Here - Jonathan Evison
  4. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage - Alice Munro

Pages Read: 2,298
Year-to-Date: 18,091

The Month in Books - July 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in July:

  1. Bel Canto - Ann Patchett
  2. A World Undone - G.J. Meyer
  3. Correcting the Landscape - Marjorie Kowalski Cole
  4. Hitler: 1889-1936 - Ian Kershaw
  5. The Book of Dead Birds - Gayle Brandeis
  6. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

Pages Read: 2,300
Year-to-Date: 15,793

The Month in Books - June 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in June:

  1. Doctor Zhivago - Boris Pasternak
  2. Home - Toni Morrison
  3. Boy's Life - Robert McCammon
  4. A History of Twentieth-Century Russia - Robert Service

Pages Read: 1,599
Year-to-Date: 13,493

The Month in Books - May 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in May:

  1. The Orphan Master's Son - Adam Johnson
  2. Arguably - Christopher Hitchens
  3. The Hand That Once Held Mine - Maggie O'Farrell
  4. Investing Made Simple - Mike Piper
  5. A People's Tragedy - Orlando Figes

Pages Read: 2,475
Year-to-Date: 11,894

The Month in Books - April 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in April:

  1. How Rome Fell - Adrian Goldsworthy
  2. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky - Heidi Durrow
  3. Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
  4. Catherine the Great - Robert Massie
  5. Dead Souls - Nikolai Gogol
  6. All the Devils Are Here - Betheny McLean

Pages Read: 2,436
Year-to-Date: 9,419

The Month in Books - March 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in March:

  1. Carthage Must Be Destroyed - Richard Miles
  2. 11/22/63 - Stephen King
  3. The Aeneid - Virgil
  4. Metamorphoses - Ovid
  5. Memoirs of Hadrian - Marguerite Yourcenar

Pages Read: 2,452
Year-to-Date: 6,983

The Month in Books - February 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in February:

  1. A. Lincoln - Ronald White
  2. The Odyssey - Homer
  3. Kissing the Virgin's Mouth - Donna Gershten
  4. The Family Fang - Kevin Wilson
  5. The Greek Achievement - Charles Freeman

Pages Read: 2,140
Year-to-Date: 4,531

The Month in Books - January 2012

In 2012, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in January:

  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

Pages Read: 2,391
Year-to-Date: 2,391

2012 Reading Goals

bookstack.jpgSince I embarked on my Great Books Project nine years ago, my life has been enhanced in immeasurable ways by a renewed devotion to reading. Well, not entirely immeasurable, since I have kept track of every book I have read since 2003 (611 through 2011).

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:

I will read 25,000 pages in 2012.

Here's to another wonderful year of reading!

The Year in Books - 2011

At the start of 2011, I set a goal to read 25,000 pages by year's end:

I think this is ambitious, but achievable. If I can read 18,000 pages in a year in which I learned to be a father, took a bar exam, started a new job, and bought a new house, I should be able to do quite a bit better this year. It would be easy to set the goal at 20,000 pages, but I am too certain I could achieve that. I need a goal that actually creates a challenge.

And a challenge it was, particularly during the early months of the year as I studied for the Florida bar exam, my second bar exam in as many years. The studying paid off and I passed, but it left me with a mild deficit to make up later in the year. Fortunately, my daughter continues to excel in the sleep department, and her 2-hour afternoon naps on the weekend provided some prime reading opportunities (as a well as a chance to get back in to my woodworking in time to build a new CD case by Christmas).

Here's what I read in 2011:

  1. Julius Caesar - Philip Freeman
  2. Antony and Cleopatra - Adrian Goldsworthy
  3. The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing - Taylor Larimore
  4. The Four Pillars of Investing - William Bernstein
  5. The Automatic Millionaire - David Bach
  6. Smart Couples Finish Rich - David Bach
  7. Common Sense on Mutual Funds - John Bogle
  8. The Finkler Question - Howard Jacobson
  9. The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman
  10. A Random Walk Down Wall Street - Burton Malkiel
  11. Winning the Loser's Game - Charles Ellis
  12. Alexander the Great - Philip Freeman
  13. Lenin - Robert Service
  14. Trotsky - Robert Service
  15. Stalin - Robert Service
  16. A Visit From the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
  17. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - Brady Udall
  18. Watership Down - Richard Adams
  19. The Weird Sisters - Eleanor Brown
  20. When Genius Failed - Roger Lowenstein
  21. Den of Thieves - James Stewart
  22. Too Big to Fail - Andrew Ross Sorkin
  23. American Rust - Philipp Meyer
  24. T.R. - H.W. Brands
  25. Big Machine - Victor LaValle
  26. Woodrow Wilson - John Milton Cooper, Jr.
  27. Freedom From Fear - David Kennedy
  28. Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
  29. Grand Expectations - James Patterson
  30. Caleb's Crossing - Geraldine Brooks
  31. Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  32. Restless Giant - James Patterson
  33. An Unfinished Life - Robert Dallek
  34. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
  35. This Kind of War - T.H. Fehrenbach
  36. The Bogleheads' Guide to Retirement Planning - Taylor Larimore
  37. Crucible of War - Fred Anderson
  38. Almost a Miracle - John Ferling
  39. Plain, Honest Men - Richard Beeman
  40. Ratification - Pauline Maier
  41. Paradise - Toni Morrison
  42. The First American - H.W. Brands
  43. The Right Financial Plan - Larry Swedroe
  44. Empire of Liberty - Gordon Wood
  45. The House that Bogle Built - Lewis Braham
  46. Don't Count on It! - John Bogle
  47. What Hath God Wrought - Daniel Walker Howe
  48. Andrew Jackson - H.W. Brands
  49. The Impending Crisis - David Potter
  50. The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
  51. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby
  52. Mountains Beyond Mountains - Tracy Kidder
  53. The Greatest Show on Earth - Richard Dawkins
  54. The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville - Shelby Foote
  55. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell
  56. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt
  57. The Civil War: Fredericksburg to Meridian - Shelby Foote
  58. The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
  59. The Art of Fielding - Chard Harbach
  60. The Tiger's Wife - Téa Obreht
  61. The Civil War: Red River to Appomattox - Shelby Foote
  62. Unconventional Success - David Swensen

Having read 29,020 pages in those 62 books, my basic goal was met. After devoting most of 2010 to reading fiction, 2011 was quite the opposite. Of the 62 books I read, 45 were nonfiction, and a third of those were in some way money-related, either focused on investing, personal finance, or business history. It seemed time to finally get my financial house in order, and this showed in my book selections. This included a second (third?) reading of William Bernstein's The Four Pillars of Investing, which remains my favorite book on personal investing.

The other mini-project I enjoyed this year was a journey in American history from the colonial period through the Civil War, beginning with Crucible of War, Fred Anderson's magisterial history of the Seven Years' War, and ending with Shelby Foote's three-volume The Civil War: a Narrative.

Amongst the 45 nonfiction titles I read in 2011, the best was David Potter's The Impending Crisis, a book that one of my law school professors had raved about and which I was so desperate to finally read that I actually bought a paperback copy! Devoted to the dozen or so years between the Wilmot Proviso and Fort Sumter, Potter masterfully captured the looming rip in the fabric of the country. It saddens me that Potter died before the book was published and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History, but that such a scholarly work remains in print 35 years after publication is a testament to his success.

Just behind Potter's book on my list of favorites is the book I read just before, which covers the prior three decades starting with the end of the War of 1812. Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought, a recent entry in the exceptional Oxford History of the United States and another winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, makes a strong case for expanding the traditional economic explanations for the post-founding evolution of the United States. His synthesis of political, cultural, and economic storylines is simply extraordinary.

Though I read just 17 works of fiction, it was a strong group. Five books share the stage as my favorites for 2011: Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool, Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, Philipp Meyer's American Rust, David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding. With perhaps a slight nod to Harbach as my favorite of the year, all five are highly recommended.

There were, as always, some disappointments this year. I had trouble finding much value in the few personal finance books I read, and did not even finish the much-lauded Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. On the fiction side, two book club selections brought up the rear: Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, which inexplicably took home the Booker Prize in 2010, and Victor LaValle's The Big Machine.

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

The Month in Books - December 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in December:

  1. The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
  2. The Art of Fielding - Chard Harbach
  3. The Tiger's Wife - Téa Obreht
  4. The Civil War: Red River to Appomattox - Shelby Foote
  5. Unconventional Success - David Swensen

Pages Read: 2,438
Year-to-Date: 29,020

The Month in Books - November 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in November:

  1. The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville - Shelby Foote
  2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell
  3. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt
  4. The Civil War: Fredericksburg to Meridian - Shelby Foote

Pages Read: 2,580
Year-to-Date: 26,582

The Month in Books - October 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in October:

  1. What Hath God Wrought - Daniel Walker Howe
  2. Andrew Jackson - H.W. Brands
  3. The Impending Crisis - David Potter
  4. The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
  5. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby
  6. Mountains Beyond Mountains - Tracy Kidder
  7. The Greatest Show on Earth - Richard Dawkins

Pages Read: 3,274
Year-to-Date: 24,002

The Month in Books - September 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in September :

  1. The First American - H.W. Brands
  2. The Right Financial Plan - Larry Swedroe
  3. Empire of Liberty - Gordon Wood
  4. The House that Bogle Built - Lewis Braham
  5. Don't Count on It! - John Bogle

Pages Read: 2,521
Year-to-Date: 20,728

The Month in Books - August 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in August:

  1. The Bogleheads' Guide to Retirement Planning - Taylor Larimore
  2. Crucible of War - Fred Anderson
  3. Almost a Miracle - John Ferling
  4. Plain, Honest Men - Richard Beeman
  5. Ratification - Pauline Maier
  6. Paradise - Toni Morrison

Pages Read: 2,860
Year-to-Date: 18,207

The Month in Books - July 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in July:

  1. Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  2. Restless Giant - James Patterson
  3. An Unfinished Life - Robert Dallek
  4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
  5. This Kind of War - T.H. Fehrenbach

Pages Read: 2,673
Year-to-Date: 15,347

The Month in Books - June 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in June:

  1. Freedom From Fear - David Kennedy
  2. Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
  3. Grand Expectations - James Patterson
  4. Caleb's Crossing - Geraldine Brooks

Pages Read: 2,285
Year-to-Date: 12,674

The Month in Books - May 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in May:

  1. Too Big to Fail - Andrew Ross Sorkin
  2. American Rust - Philipp Meyer
  3. T.R. - H.W. Brands
  4. Big Machine - Victor LaValle
  5. Woodrow Wilson - John Milton Cooper, Jr.

Pages Read: 2,687
Year-to-Date: 10,389

The Month in Books - April 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in April:

  1. A Visit From the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
  2. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - Brady Udall
  3. Watership Down - Richard Adams
  4. The Weird Sisters - Eleanor Brown
  5. When Genius Failed - Roger Lowenstein
  6. Den of Thieves - James Stewart

Pages Read: 2,126
Year-to-Date: 7,702

The Month in Books - March 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in March:

  1. Winning the Loser's Game - Charles Ellis
  2. Alexander the Great - Philip Freeman
  3. Lenin - Robert Service
  4. Trotsky - Robert Service
  5. Stalin - Robert Service

Pages Read: 2,120
Year-to-Date: 5,576

The Month in Books - February 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in February:

  1. Common Sense on Mutual Funds - John Bogle
  2. The Finkler Question - Howard Jacobson
  3. The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman
  4. A Random Walk Down Wall Street - Burton Malkiel

Pages Read: 1,598
Year-to-Date: 3,456

The Month in Books - January 2011

In 2011, my goal is to read 25,000 pages by year's end. I measure progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in January:

  1. Julius Caesar - Philip Freeman
  2. Antony and Cleopatra - Adrian Goldsworthy
  3. The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing - Taylor Larimore
  4. The Four Pillars of Investing - William Bernstein
  5. The Automatic Millionaire - David Bach
  6. Smart Couples Finish Rich - David Bach

Pages Read: 1,858
Year-to-Date: 1,858

2011 Reading Goals

bookstack.jpgSince I embarked on my Great Books Project eight years ago, my life has been enhanced in immeasurable ways by a renewed devotion to reading. Well, not entirely immeasurable, since I have kept track of every book I have read since 2003 (549 through 2010).

In 2010, my goal was to read 15,000 pages despite the major life changes I was undergoing, including having a new baby, studying for a bar exam, and starting a new job. Little did I know that in the middle of the year I would be buying and moving into a new house, and by the end of the year would be studying for my third bar exam! Nevertheless, the year was still a success, and the quantifiable nature of the endeavor made it easier to motivate myself and to track progress. I surpassed the 15,000 page goal by several thousand pages, though I did not meet the goal of reading twelve books longer than 650 pages.

This year should be substantially calmer than last, particularly now that the Florida bar exam is behind me, so I am going to be a bit more ambitious this year:

I will read 25,000 pages in 2011.

I think this is ambitious, but achievable. If I can read 18,000 pages in a year in which I learned to be a father, took a bar exam, started a new job, and bought a new house, I should be able to do quite a bit better this year. It would be easy to set the goal at 20,000 pages, but I am too certain I could achieve that. I need a goal that actually creates a challenge.

My other goal is to keep up on my reviews, which I know I said last year as well. I really let that part of my project slide. But writing the reviews has been an important part of grappling with and coming to an understanding of what I am reading. There is no way I am going to make it through the backlog of books I read in 2010, but hopefully going forward I can do better.

Here's to a wonderful year of reading!

The Year in Books - 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater then 650 pages. Implicit in this goal was the recognition I was not going to be able to maintain the pace of previous years:

Things are going to have to be different this year. My first child was born about a month ago. I am studying for the one-day Attorney's Exam in February to enter the Georgia Bar. And I start a new job on the 1st of March. I will not have any three-month stretches in Kuwait with little to do after work but read. So the 30,000 pages per year pace I have set the past two years will surely not survive. On the other hand, I want to remain ambitious about reading, and I believe if I can keep it a significant part of my life during a year like this, it will remain so forever.

And what a year it was. My daughter is growing up splendidly, I passed the Georgia bar, and my new job has been both a pleasure and a challenge. In addition to these time consuming endeavors, we unexpectedly decided to purchase a new home and move out of our condo after five wonderful years. Unfortunately something had to give, and I found myself unable to keep up with my blogging and book reviews, and that has continued into the start of 2011 as I was wholly occupied studying for yet another bar exam.

But I still found time for books. Here's what I read in 2010:

  1. Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann
  2. Young Stalin - Simon Sebag Montefiore
  3. Number9Dream - David Mitchell
  4. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
  5. A People's History of the United States - Howard Zinn
  6. This Side of Brightness - Colum McCann
  7. Dancer - Colum McCann
  8. Dressing the Man - Alan Flusser
  9. A World at Arms - Gerhard Weinberg
  10. Zoli - Colum McCann
  11. Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
  12. The Prize - Daniel Yergin
  13. Rostropovich - Elizabeth Wilson
  14. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
  15. The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson
  16. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson
  17. Lincoln's Virtues - William Lee Miller
  18. President Lincoln - William Lee Miller
  19. Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey
  20. Mystic River - Dennis Lehane
  21. Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane
  22. A Drink Before the War - Dennis Lehane
  23. Ghostwritten - David Mitchell
  24. The Known World - Edward Jones
  25. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
  26. Darkness, Take My Hand - Dennis Lehane
  27. Freedom - Jonathan Franzen
  28. Sacred - Dennis Lehane
  29. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson
  30. Gone, Baby, Gone - Dennis Lehane
  31. Prayers for Rain - Dennis Lehane
  32. Churchill - Martin Gilbert
  33. The Twelve Chairs - Ilf & Petrov
  34. First Family - Joseph Ellis
  35. Great House - Nicole Kraus
  36. Moonlight Mile - Dennis Lehane
  37. The Irresistible Henry House - Lisa Grunwald
  38. Matterhorn - Karl Marlantes
  39. Room - Emma Donoghue
  40. The Lonely Polygamist - Brady Udall
  41. Washington - Ron Chernow

Having read 18,388 pages in those 41 books, my basic goal was met. I was not, however, able to meet the goal of reading 12 books with more than 650 pages, coming it at just 5. Several more came close, including both of the Franzen novels, Matterhorn, and The Lonely Polygamist.

2010 turned out to be a great year for fiction reading, and 31 of the 41 books I read were novels. The two I most enjoyed were Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, which was the first book I read last year, and Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn, which I finished shortly before Christmas. Two other titles I would single out are Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, and Edward Jones' The Known World.

Easily the worst book I read was The Twelve Chairs by Ilf & Petrov, a relatively obscure Soviet-era satire that was chosen by my book club, and roundly hated by all. While I found Nicole Krauss' Great House a fine effort, it did not even approach the emotional resonance of The History of Love, which I read in 2008.

On the non-fiction side, though only having read 10 titles, I found several worthy of commendation. Gerhard Weinberg's A World at Arms is a massive brick of a book, but it provides an absolutely comprehensive view of World War II, both thematically and geographically, exploring theaters of that war which I had only the faintest notion even took place. I would also recommend Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, which is as notorious as it is famous, but provides a necessary correction to the traditional historical focus on the political and economic elite. Zinn's approach has been so integrated into current historical technique that it no longer seems so groundbreaking, but his book remains a compelling read.

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

The Month in Books - December 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in December:

  1. Matterhorn - Karl Marlantes
  2. Room - Emma Donoghue
  3. The Lonely Polygamist - Brady Udall
  4. Washington - Ron Chernow

Pages Read: 2,303
Year-to-Date: 18,388
Books > 650 pages: 5

The Month in Books - November 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in November:

  1. The Twelve Chairs - Ilf & Petrov
  2. First Family - Joseph Ellis
  3. Great House - Nicole Kraus
  4. Moonlight Mile - Dennis Lehane
  5. The Irresistible Henry House - Lisa Grunwald

Pages Read: 1,670
Year-to-Date: 16,085
Books > 650 pages: 4

The Month in Books - October 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in October:

  1. Gone, Baby, Gone - Dennis Lehane
  2. Prayers for Rain - Dennis Lehane
  3. Churchill - Martin Gilbert

Pages Read: 1,746
Year-to-Date: 14,415
Books > 650 pages: 4

The Month in Books - September 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in September:

  1. The Known World - Edward Jones
  2. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
  3. Darkness, Take My Hand - Dennis Lehane
  4. Freedom - Jonathan Franzen
  5. Sacred - Dennis Lehane
  6. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson

Pages Read: 2,624
Year-to-Date: 12,669
Books > 650 pages: 3

The Month in Books - August 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in August:

  1. Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey
  2. Mystic River - Dennis Lehane
  3. Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane
  4. A Drink Before the War - Dennis Lehane
  5. Ghostwritten - David Mitchell

Pages Read: 1,952
Year-to-Date: 10,045
Books > 650 pages: 3

The Month in Books - July 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in July:

  1. Lincoln's Virtues - William Lee Miller
  2. President Lincoln - William Lee Miller

Pages Read: 879
Year-to-Date: 8,093
Books > 650 pages: 3

The Month in Books - June 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in June:

  1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
  2. The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson
  3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson

Pages Read: 1,531
Year-to-Date: 7,214
Books > 650 pages: 3

The Month in Books - May 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in May:

  1. Rostropovich - Elizabeth Wilson

Pages Read: 349
Year-to-Date: 5,683
Books > 650 pages: 3

The Month in Books - April 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in April:

  1. Zoli - Colum McCann
  2. Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
  3. The Prize - Daniel Yergin

Pages Read: 1,379
Year-to-Date: 5,334
Books > 650 pages: 3

The Month in Books - March 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in March:

  1. A World at Arms - Gerhard Weinberg

Pages Read: 920
Year-to-Date: 3,955
Books > 650 pages: 2

The Month in Books - February 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in February:

  1. A People's History of the United States - Howard Zinn
  2. This Side of Brightness - Colum McCann
  3. Dancer - Colum McCann
  4. Dressing the Man - Alan Flusser

Pages Read: 1,585
Year-to-Date: 3,035
Books > 650 pages: 1

The Month in Books - January 2010

At the start of 2010, I set a goal to read 15,000 pages by year's end, including twelve books of greater than 650 pages. I am measuring progress in pages, rather than titles, to avoid any bias toward shorter books. Here's what I read in January:

  1. Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann (review)
  2. Young Stalin - Simon Sebag Montefiore (review)
  3. Number9Dream - David Mitchell
  4. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

Pages Read: 1,450
Year-to-Date: 1,450
Books > 650 pages: 0

2010 Reading Goals

bookstack.jpgSince I embarked on my Great Books Project seven years ago, my life has been enhanced in immeasurable ways by a renewed devotion to reading. Well, not entirely immeasurable, since I have kept track of every book I have read since 2003 (508 so far).

In 2008, my goal of reading 100 books was a great success, and the quantifiable nature of the endeavor made it easier to motivate myself and to track progress. However, it resulted in a notable preference for reading slimmer books. In an attempt to correct for that, last year's goal was to read 30,000 pages, a goal I was able to meet. Though I read fewer titles, the average length was upwards of 500 pages per book.

Things are going to have to be different this year. My first child was born about a month ago. I am studying for the one-day Attorney's Exam in February to enter the Georgia Bar. And I start a new job on the 1st of March. I will not have any three-month stretches in Kuwait with little to do after work but read. So the 30,000 pages per year pace I have set the past two years will surely not survive. On the other hand, I want to remain ambitious about reading, and I believe if I can keep it a significant part of my life during a year like this, it will remain so forever. So here's my goal for the new year:

I will read 15,000 pages in 2010, including twelve books of greater then 650 pages.

Obviously this cuts the overall numerical goal in half. The purpose of the second clause is to again encourage myself to tackle the thicker volumes. In 2009, I rated eight books at 5 or more stars (out of 6), and the average length of those eight was just over 650 pages. I'm hoping for a similar rate of success on the door-stoppers this year.

My other goal is to catch up on my reviews. I really let that part of my project slide after my most recent return from overseas, what with getting ready for a newborn baby and all. But writing the reviews has been an important part of grappling with and coming to an understanding of what I am reading, and over the next several weeks I hope to make determined progress through the backlog.

Here's to a wonderful year of reading! Happy New Year!

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.

The Month in Books - December 2009

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

  1. Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks (review)
  2. Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith (review)
  3. People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks (review)

Pages Read: 1,165
Year-to-Date: 33,933

The Month in Books - November 2009

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

  1. The Third Reich at War - Richard Evans (review)
  2. The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien (review)
  3. The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields (review)
  4. American Pastoral - Philip Roth (review)

Pages Read: 2,579
Year-to-Date: 32,768

The Month in Books - October 2009

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

  1. The Coming of the Third Reich - Richard Evans (review)
  2. Gentleman - Bernhard Roetzel (review)
  3. The Third Reich in Power - Richard Evans (review)
  4. Men's Style - Russell Smith (review)

Pages Read: 1,749
Year-to-Date: 30,189

The Month in Books - September 2009

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

  1. The Vintage Guide to Classical Music - Jan Swafford (review)
  2. Empire Express - David Haward Bain (review)
  3. The Gold Bug Variations - Richard Powers (review)
  4. Native Son - Richard Wright (review)

Pages Read: 2,230
Year-to-Date: 28,440

The Month in Books - August 2009

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

  1. The Great War for Civilisation - Robert Fisk (review)
  2. A Savage War of Peace - Alistair Horne (review)
  3. Guns, Germs, and Steel - Jared Diamond (review)
  4. The Rise of American Democracy - Sean Wilentz (review)
  5. The Human Stain - Philip Roth (review)
  6. The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende (review)
  7. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce (review)
  8. The House of the Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne (review)
  9. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh (review)

Pages Read: 4,539
Year-to-Date: 26,210

The Month in Books - July 2009

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

  1. The Korean War - Max Hastings (review)
  2. Possession - A.S. Byatt (review)
  3. The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai (review)
  4. Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison (review)
  5. The Search for Modern China - Jonathan Spence (review)
  6. Cloudsplitter - Russell Banks (review)
  7. Khrushchev - William Taubman (review)
  8. Arthur & George - Julian Barnes (review)
  9. The Lazarus Project - Aleksandar Hemon (review)

Pages Read: 4,427
Year-to-Date: 21,671

The Month in Books - June 2009

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

  1. The Glorious Cause - Robert Middlekauff (review)
  2. Home - Marilynne Robinson (review)
  3. Seeing - Jose Saramago (review)
  4. The Palace of Dreams - Ismail Kadare (review)
  5. Death with Interruptions - Jose Saramago (review)
  6. Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres (review)
  7. Alexander Hamilton - Ron Chernow (review)

Pages Read: 2,926
Year-to-Date: 17,244

The Month in Books - May 2009

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

  1. India - John Keay (review)
  2. Barbarians at the Gate - Bryan Burrough (review)
  3. The Smartest Guys in the Room - Bethany McLean (review)

Pages Read: 1,492
Year-to-Date: 14,318

The Month in Books - April 2009

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

  1. Going After Cacciato - Tim O'Brien (review)
  2. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (review)

Pages Read: 686
Year-to-Date: 12,826

The Month in Books - March 2009

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

  1. Battle Cry of Freedom - James McPherson (review)
  2. Team of Rivals - Doris Kearns Goodwin (review)
  3. Andrew Carnegie - David Nasaw (review)
  4. The Weather Makers - Tim Flannery (review)
  5. Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry (review)
  6. Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Adichie (review)
  7. All the Names - Jose Saramago (review)

Pages Read: 4,126
Year-to-Date: 12,140

The Month in Books - February 2009

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

  1. The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan (review)
  2. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers (review)
  3. A Thousand Acres - Jane Smiley (review)
  4. Breathing Lessons - Anne Tyler (review)
  5. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides (review)
  6. Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood (review)
  7. Truman - David McCullough (review)
  8. Eisenhower - Carlo D'Este (review)

Pages Read: 4,042
Year-to-Date: 8,014

P.S. Today marks six years since I started this blog.

The Month in Books - January 2009

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

  1. Bush's Law - Eric Lichtblau (review)
  2. Standard Operating Procedure - Philip Gourevitch (review)
  3. Ironweed - William Kennedy (review)
  4. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (review)
  5. Stalin - Simon Sebag Montefiore (review)
  6. The People's Act of Love - James Meek (review)
  7. The Peloponnesian War - Donald Kagan (review)
  8. FDR - Jean Edward Smith (review)
  9. John Marshall - Jean Edward Smith (review)

Pages Read: 3,972
Year-to-Date: 3,972

What Obama Has Read, Should Read

There's been quite a bit of commentary recently over the outgoing chief executive's reading habits, with Karl Rove throwing his dubious credibility behind the notion that President Bush is a "book lover" who read nearly a hundred books last year. Perhaps Rove felt pressure to stick up for his guy, what with the President-elect actually reading books and all.

During the campaign, Senator Obama's literary choices were given great scrutiny, even becoming the subject of the daily pool report. Michiko Kakutani devoted a column this morning to the books in his life:

Much has been made of Mr. Obama's eloquence -- his ability to use words in his speeches to persuade and uplift and inspire. But his appreciation of the magic of language and his ardent love of reading have not only endowed him with a rare ability to communicate his ideas to millions of Americans while contextualizing complex ideas about race and religion, they have also shaped his sense of who he is and his apprehension of the world.

Now as we find ourselves just hours away from the long-awaited inauguration of our next President, pundits of all stripes are offering a deluge of predictions and prescriptions for what lay ahead. The Washington Monthly decided to take a much more interesting approach, and asked for suggestions on what the new President should be reading. I particularly liked David Ignatius' contribution:

I recommend the new president read (or reread) The Quiet American, by Graham Greene. He should do so to remind himself, when the clever, idealistic briefer comes to tell him about the "third way" that will produce a breakthrough in America's tangled relations with the world, that we've been down this road again, and again, and again.

The whole thing is worth a look. Lots of history, political science, and philosophy; kudos to those who offered up fiction. (Via Steve Benen)

Three Men in Colonial Pennsylvania

signers.jpgOne of the themes John Ferling establishes in A Leap in the Dark, his history of America's political evolution from 1754-1801, is that during this period there was a constantly recurring cycle of friction between the more radical elements willing to push into uncharted waters and those supporting the status quo:

The title of this book was taken from a line in a newspaper essay written in 1776 by a Pennsylvanian who opposed American independence. To separate from the mother country, he cautioned, was to make "a leap in the dark," to jump into an uncertain future. Time and again in the course of the half century spanned by this book, political activists confronted the reality that their actions would catapult them onto amorphous terrain. In every instance, there were those who were ready to take the chance. Always, too, there were those who resisted approaching the abyss that would be ushered in by breaking with the past.

Especially interesting is that amidst this series of "leaps in the dark" that Ferling describes, it was often the very same people who stood at the revolutionary vanguard at one such moment, only to lead the conservation reaction at the next (or vice versa). Three men closely connected to each other in colonial Pennsylvania politics provide a nice illustration: Benjamin Franklin, John Dickinson, and Joseph Galloway.

After retiring as an enormously successful businessman, Franklin had turned his attention to politics. In particular, he became a strong opponent of the proprietors who ran the Pennsylvania colony, and he wanted the English crown to convert Pennsylvania into a crown charter and rule it directly. He was joined in this movement, dubbed the Assembly Party, by Galloway, who rose to become Speaker of the Pennsylvania House from 1766-1774. As a result, they sought royal favor even amidst growing rumblings of colonial discontent after the passage of the Townshend Acts:

Continuing to adhere to the quest for royalization, the Assembly Party immediately took essentially the same stance it had taken two years before: Pennsylvanians should shoulder a portion of the empire's economic burden, Parliament's taxes would be slight, and if they proved to be onerous, London would happily accede to the province's "dutiful remonstrance" to reduce the level of taxation. Once again, too, Galloway and his party sought to block Philadelphia's participation in a trade embargo.

Dickinson had been leading the opposition to royalization as head of the Proprietary Party, and he was also amongst the first to rail against Parliament's efforts to tax the colonies. As early as the winter of 1768, he was publishing newspaper articles articulating the radical argument that Parliament lacked the constitutional power to impose any tax whatsoever upon the colonies. In the wake of the Townshend Acts, Dickinson and his party "won acclaim as the fervent defenders of American Rights" and "the Assembly Party suffered heavy losses in its urban working-class base."

Flash forward a few years. Unlike Galloway, Franklin had seen the writing on the wall in time and signaled his support for the embargo before he could be forever tarnished as a Loyalist. From his perch in London, he attempted to reach compromises on behalf of the colonies, but eventually he perceived that the growing breach between the colonies and the mother country was irreparable and he returned home. Meanwhile, Galloway attended the First Continental Congress and proposed a Plan of Union involving an American Parliament that would share a mutual veto with its British counterpart; the plan was only narrowly defeated by a vote of six colonies to five, the high water mark for Loyalists in the Congress.

A last-second addition to Pennsylvania's delegation at the Second Continental Congress, Franklin was among the earliest convinced that war and independence were inevitable. Dickinson, the early agitator, was now leading the conciliatory wing of the Congress; he was convinced that the colonies' dispute was with Parliament, not the British Crown. It was he who wrote the last-ditch Olive Branch Petition, appealing to King George to intervene and mediate the dispute. He opposed the Declaration of Independence, which passed unanimously only because Dickinson and another conciliatory Pennsylvania delegate absented themselves the day of the vote. He never signed it.

Franklin, of course, served as one of America's leading lights at home and abroad. Dickinson continued to pursue conflicted positions: serving as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention for a country whose independence he had opposed; defending the Jay Treaty in 1796, but denouncing Federalist belligerence toward France in 1798. Galloway retired from politics when the war began, only to volunteer to serve as British police commissioner of occupied Philadelphia and then flee to London in 1778. He would die there in exile, informed by Pennsylvania that he would stand trial for crimes during the occupation if he returned.

Another Year, Another Reading Goal

bookstack.jpgSince I embarked on my Great Books Project six years ago, my life has been enhanced in immeasurable ways by a renewed devotion to reading. Well, not entirely immeasurable, since I have kept track of every book I have read since 2003 (439 so far).

Last year's goal of reading 100 books was a great success, and the quantifiable nature of the endeavor made it easier to motivate myself and to track progress. However, it resulted in a notable preference for reading slimmer books. In an attempt to correct that for this year, I am setting a different sort of goal:

I will read 30,000 pages in 2009.

Sounds daunting, no? But figuring the average length of the 105 books I read in 2008 was ~300 pages, this should require no more time or dedication than last year's goal. I'm likely to be in Kuwait for about five months in 2009, so I should have at least as much time to fill with reading as I did in 2008. It works out to be about 100 pages per day, 6 days per week. And as success is measured in pages, rather than books, there should be no inherent bias toward either longer or shorter volumes. I'll still track the number of books read here, but also plan to take monthly accounting of pages read.

Here's to a wonderful year of reading! Happy New Year!

The Year in Books - 2008

While one day is pretty much indistinguishable from any other out here in the desert, my calendar tells me it is December 31. With another year over, it's time to take a look at how I did with my Great Books Project. This year I set a goal of reading at least 100 books, and I am excited to be able to say I met that goal with room to spare:

  1. Eventide - Kent Haruf
  2. Passionate Sage - Joseph Ellis
  3. The Assassins' Gate - George Packer
  4. Benjamin Franklin - Edmund Morgan
  5. The Survivor - John Harris
  6. Atonement - Ian McEwan
  7. The Tie That Binds - Kent Haruf
  8. The Cement Garden - Ian McEwan
  9. The Immortal Bartfuss - Aharon Appelfeld
  10. Cobra II - Michael Gordon
  11. Fiasco - Thomas Ricks
  12. In the Company of Soldiers - Rick Atkinson
  13. State of Denial - Bob Woodward
  14. Steppenwolf - Hermann Hesse
  15. The Sweet Hereafter - Russell Banks
  16. Out Stealing Horses - Per Petterson
  17. His Illegal Self - Peter Carey
  18. Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis
  19. Ray in Reverse - Daniel Wallace
  20. Badenheim 1939 - Aharon Appelfeld
  21. Black Swan Green - David Mitchell
  22. The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
  23. In the Wake - Per Petterson
  24. Lincoln - Richard Carwardine
  25. Supreme Conflict - Jan Crawford Greenburg
  26. The Lake - Yasunari Kawabata
  27. Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich
  28. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
  29. Isaac Newton - James Gleick
  30. The Assault on Reason - Al Gore
  31. The Nine - Jeffrey Toobin
  32. House of the Sleeping Beauties - Yasunari Kawabata
  33. The Ice Storm - Rick Moody
  34. Harry, Revised - Mark Sarvas
  35. Justice For All - Jim Newton
  36. Becoming Justice Blackmun - Linda Greenhouse
  37. Drown - Junot Diaz
  38. The Child in Time - Ian McEwan
  39. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
  40. The New Face of War - Bruce Berkowitz
  41. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
  42. Ancient Greece - Thomas Martin
  43. Obsessive Genius - Barbara Goldsmith
  44. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
  45. A Separate Peace - John Knowles
  46. The Bill of Rights - Akhil Amar
  47. Go Tell It on the Mountain - James Baldwin
  48. Polio - David Oshinsky
  49. March - Geraldine Brooks
  50. The Chosen - Chaim Potok
  51. Billy Budd - Herman Melville
  52. The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane
  53. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
  54. Dracula - Bram Stoker
  55. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
  56. Tartuffe and Other Plays - Moliere
  57. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
  58. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin - Gordon Wood
  59. Companero - Jorge Castaneda
  60. Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
  61. Girls of Riyadh - Rajaa Alsanea
  62. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  63. The Sea - John Banville
  64. A History of Modern Japan - Andrew Gordon
  65. Russia - Philip Longworth
  66. The Cold War - John Lewis Gaddis
  67. Peace Like a River - Leif Enger
  68. Promised Land, Crusader State - Walter McDougall
  69. Polk - Walter Borneman
  70. Netherland - Joseph O'Neill
  71. The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
  72. Then We Came to the End - Joshua Ferris
  73. 1948 - Benny Morris
  74. Crescent & Star - Stephen Kinzer
  75. The American Plague - Molly Crosby
  76. The Demon Under the Microscope - Thomas Hager
  77. Crossing to Safety - Wallace Stegner
  78. First Snow on Fuji - Yasunari Kawabata
  79. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle - David Wroblewski
  80. The Winds of Change - Eugene Linden
  81. The World According to Garp - John Irving
  82. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
  83. The Story of Britain - Rebecca Fraser
  84. The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
  85. Reason - Robert Reich
  86. Bad Money - Kevin Phillips
  87. The Trillion Dollar Meltdown - Charles Morris
  88. The Audacity of Hope - Barack Obama
  89. What's the Matter With Kansas? - Thomas Frank
  90. The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
  91. De Niro's Game - Rawi Hage
  92. The Conscience of a Liberal - Paul Krugman
  93. To Siberia - Per Petterson
  94. Supercapitalism - Robert Reich
  95. A Mercy - Toni Morrison
  96. Seize the Day - Saul Bellow
  97. The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides
  98. Einstein - Walter Isaacson
  99. The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
  100. The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan
  101. 1812 - Walter Borneman
  102. When We Were Orphans - Kazuo Ishiguro
  103. Charming Billy - Alice McDermott
  104. Last Orders - Graham Swift
  105. A Leap in the Dark - John Ferling

There was a slight lean toward fiction, with 59 books versus 46 nonfiction. Partially due to the quantitative nature of my reading goal, there was also a lean toward shorter books, with just over half running 300 pages or less. I'll be correcting for that in 2009.

Not every book was worthy of my time. The biggest fiction disappointments were Yasunari Kawabata's The Lake, which is one of his lesser known works for a reason, and Daniel Wallace's Ray in Reverse, which didn't hold a candle to his previous book, Big Fish. I also found two works of nonfiction noteworthy in their awfulness. Rick Atkinson's In the Company of Soldiers was basically a travelogue of hobnobbing with generals in Iraq; it is almost impossible to believe he is also the author of the widely-acclaimed An Army at Dawn and The Face of Battle. Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed was a presumptuous and condescending attempt to assuage what apparently passes for a conscience in her world.

But most of what I read was pretty good. On the fiction side, my favorite book read this year was Gilead, Marilynne Robinson's remarkable meditation on faith and family. Other strong recommendations include Ian McEwan's Atonement, James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety.

Amongst the nonfiction books I read in 2008, the President-elect's The Audacity of Hope topped the list. I read it just a few days before the election, and it accomplished the impossible task of making me even more proud to cast my vote for him. Of the several books I read on Iraq early in the year, George Packer's The Assassins' Gate was unquestionably the best. I also highly recommend Paul Krugman's The Conscious of a Liberal, and John Ferling's political history of the American Revolution and the early Republic, A Leap in the Dark, which I finished this very morning and will be posting about over the next several days.

All in all, a great year in reading. Tomorrow I'll set some new goals.

Krugman on Health Care Reform

krugman.jpgOver the weekend I finished Nobel laureate Paul Krugman's excellent The Conscience of a Liberal, which I will examine at length tomorrow. Today I want to discuss one particular chapter of the book, in which Krugman argues that the most important issue on the liberal agenda should be "completing the New Deal by providing Americans with something citizens of every other advanced country already have: guaranteed universal health care."

What follows is as good a 30-page summary as exists on the current problems with the health care system, the reasons Democrats failed to fix it in 1993-94, and what the current plans on the table involve:

The fact is that every other advanced country manages to achieve the supposedly impossible, providing health care to all its citizens. The quality of care they provide, by any available measure, is as good as or better than ours. And they do all of this while spending much less per person on health care than we do. Health care, in other words, turns out to be an area in which doing the right thing morally is also a free lunch in economic terms. All the evidence suggests that a more just system would also be cheaper to run than our current system, and provide better care.

Krugman demonstrates how Americans get less service for more money (with a couple cites to Ezra Klein for good measure; go Ezra!), explains the mechanics and costs of our private insurance-based system, shows how this has led to crisis over the past two decades, examines why reform failed in 1993-94, and how things could be different this time. He gives a great outline of why a single-payer system (akin to Medicare for everyone) is both economically superior and political impossible, and then describes the more feasible alternatives that liberals have crafted, based on four elements: 1) community rating, 2) subsides for low-income families, 3) mandate coverage, and 4) public-private competition. While the details are negotiable, Krugman says "the important thing is that universal health care looks very doable, from an economic, fiscal, and even political point of view."

In facft, we have seen a remarkable confluence of opinion that in the midst of all our other economic problems, health care should be a priority. Charles Morris singled it out at the end of a book focused on the financial crisis. Krugman highlights it as the single issue that can renew the promise of liberalism. President-elect Obama hammered the health care issue home in his advertising and the debates (remember when he called health care a right and discussed his own mother's illness?), and it showed: the public trusted him by wide margins on health care, and now they expect reform.

And it looks like they'll get it, if the President-elect's personnel choices give us any sign. Last week I highlighted the choice of Tom Daschle as HHS secretary and White House health care reform czar. Other good signs include the appointment of Peter Orzag to head OMB, since as Ezra points out:

Orszag will be coming from the Congressional Budget Office, OMB's legislative cousin. There, he's shown an almost single-minded focus on health care reform. He's added dozens of health care analysts to the staff, reconstructed the health policy division's management structure, and is readying to release two major books on health policy options and CBO's health care scoring models that will be extremely central in how Congress looks at building a health care bill. Amidst all that, he's toured the country giving a slide show about the problems of the health care system, the overwhelming danger it poses to our fiscal condition, the incredible inefficiencies that beset the delivery, and the research that suggests reform could not only save money but also improve care. He's also acted as a powerful and credible counterweight to those who counsel incrementalism, or delay, on health reform.

And for the progressives decrying the key role Larry Summers looks to be getting in the White House economics shop (based on a lot of silly nonsense, in my opinion), it is worth mentioning that he is "a true believer in health care reform, both as a way to alleviate economic insecurity and to address the country's long-term fiscal crisis."

With the public clamoring for change and the new President-elect and Democratic majority in Congress ready to deliver, things should go smoothly, right? Don't count on it. In fact, expect all out war. Because this is not just about health care. It's about the public's confidence in the liberal welfare state as we know it. As Krugman says, if Democrats enact effective universal health care:

Universal health care could, in short, be to a New Deal what Social Security was to the original--both a crucially important program in its own right, and a reaffirmation of the principle that we are our brother's keepers.

It is for this reason that Republicans blocked reform under Clinton, as Krugman mentions, and Steve Benen laid out in a blast-from-the-past post about a memo Bill Kristol circulated to congressional Republicans in 1993 opposing the Clinton health care plan because "Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party." Krugman explains Kristol's motivation:

[H]is main concern, clearly, was that universal health care might actually work--that it would be popular, and that it would make the case for government intervention... The most dangerous government programs, from a movement conservative's point of view, are the ones that work the best and thereby legitimize the welfare state.

And we are seeing exactly the same rhetoric again. After a US News editorial favorably quoted a Cato Institute blogger's argument that "Blocking Obama's health plan is key to the GOP's survival," Hilzoy summed up the state of thinking in the minority party:

Pethokoukis and Cannon claim that if Obama succeeds in passing health care, then people who might have been conservatives will like it, and will be more likely to vote for the people who passed it. This is unexceptional. An honest conservative might accept this claim and say: well, I guess our ideas are unpopular, so we'll just have to make our case more persuasively.

But that's not the conclusion they draw. Pethokoukis and Cannon say: because people will like health care reform, if we do not block it, our party will lose support. So precisely because people would like it if they tried it, we need to make sure that it fails.

The self-perpetuation of the Republican party, is, at this point, its only purpose.

Unwritten Books about Election 2008

David Axelrod & Barack ObamaAlready I am excited at the thought of a couple really good books that I am sure will be written about the historic election we have just concluded.

The first would focus on the Obama campaign, how he went from state senator to President in four years, how he defeated the two most powerful brands in American politics to get there, and how he was able to do it with such little drama. As President-elect Obama said last night, with a touch of hyperbole, this was:

[T]he best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics.

On second thoughts, maybe that isn't hyperbole. After all, these folks managed to take a first-term African-American Senator with the middle name Hussein to the White House. The inside story of this campaign, when it is finally told, will be an instant purchase for me.

Lieberman, Salter, McCain, DavisAnother must-read, for other reasons, will be the dissection of just what happened in the McCain campaign. Contrary to current GOP spin, the economy was not the sole factor dooming the McCain campaign. Certainly it didn't make things easier, as the incumbent party is always punished in tough times. But it was McCain's reaction to the crisis, his lurching around in contrast to Obama's steady hand, that was more damaging. And the VP pick.... oh my. We've already got a taste of what's to come, from Robert Draper's lengthy essay from a couple weeks back. But if that sort of dirt was being dished even before the election, just imagine what's to come. We've already got these new tidbits from Newsweek:

McCain himself rarely spoke to Palin during the campaign, and aides kept him in the dark about the details of her spending on clothes because they were sure he would be offended. Palin asked to speak along with McCain at his Arizona concession speech Tuesday night, but campaign strategist Steve Schmidt vetoed the request.

Some have said it looked like Palin tried to move to the mic after McCain finished last night, only to be mic-blocked by an aide. We'll have to look for video of that one. Another bit on one of Palin's notorious rogue moments:

Palin launched her attack on Obama's association with William Ayers, the former Weather Underground bomber, before the campaign had finalized a plan to raise the issue. McCain's advisers were working on a strategy that they hoped to unveil the following week, but McCain had not signed off on it, and top adviser Mark Salter was resisting.

I'm sure one of the post-mortem talking points on the fringe right will be that the McCain campaign mistakenly restrained Palin from going after Obama as hard as she wanted, thus knee-capping themselves. I have a feeling this narrative will be met by quite a bit of resistance by the McCain camp. Remember, Steve Schmidt was brought in to win. Mark Salter has been there all along. It was Salter, no doubt, who wrote the conciliatory speech last night, and it will be he who leads McCain's rehabilitation, including, if necessary, exposing Palin for what she really is.

UPDATE: While we wait for these books to be written, check out the first three (of seven) articles in Newsweek's behind-the-scenes look at the campaign: "How He Did It," "Back From the Dead," and "The Long Siege." Great stuff here, all written by Evan Thomas (whose biography of RFK is excellent).

Liberals and Economic Prosperity

Robert Reich & Barack ObamaOver the past several days, I have discussed Robert Reich's take on the rise of "radical conservatives," as well as his argument that liberals should not shy from advancing a moral agenda of their own, each of which comprises a chapter of his 2004 handbook on liberalism, Reason.

The second and third prongs of Reich's liberal rebuttal cover economic prosperity and patriotism, and ways in which liberals can retake these issues from the conservative movement that for decades has claimed them as their own. In the debate over economics, Reich argues that liberals have made two errors; they have been dismissive of the importance of growth, and they have lost the framing war:

[I]n a debate that seems to pit economic growth against fairness, liberals lose. Part of the reason lies in how liberals define "fairness." They make it seem like too squishy an idea -- appropriate for soft hearts rather than hard heads. Besides, most of the people who are being hurt by Radcon cuts in social spending appear to be poor and black or brown -- "them" rather than "us." And most of those who are getting tax breaks and accumulating fortunes are people whom a lot of Americans would like to emulate.

We've seen this very phenomenon appear in the past several weeks of the current campaign. The ridiculous "Joe the Plumber" meme, which the gasping McCain team has latched onto this past week, is a perfect example. While the lunatics at the National Review obsessed over Senator Obama's "socialist" beliefs, it was not readily apparent or important to Joe the Plumber himself that he was going to be a beneficiary of Obama's tax plan. Instead, he was more concerned that someday, somehow, he would be rich, and Obama would raise his taxes. Robert Reich has a better answer to this than Democrats in the past:

Liberals shouldn't abandon convictions about fairness. But to be persuasive to the rest of America, the ideal of fairness has to be embedded in a hardheaded program to promote prosperity for everyone. Rather than help wealthy people stay on top, we need to help all working people build their wealth. The truth is, fairness and growth aren't at odds; they complement each other. Prosperity is easier to achieve if it's widely shared.

Unfortunately for McCain, and the occupants of the National Review echo-chamber, Reich's sentiment can be heard incorporated throughout Senator Obama's response:

My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody. If you've got a plumbing business, you're gonna be better off if you've got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody's so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.

So while the cynics and the mercenaries want to seize on the "spread the wealth" soundbite, Senator Obama is still consistently winning the argument, because he taps into both of the American economic ideals: growth and fairness. That's why the latest polls show he is more trusted on almost every issue related to economics, including the current financial crisis, reducing the deficit, and even taxes, which has been the bread-and-butter of conservative propaganda for decades:

On most domestic issues, Obama enjoys wide leads over McCain. Voters see Obama as the candidate best able to deal with the current economic crisis, 46%-34%. Obama leads 53% to 32% when voters are asked which would do the best job improving the economy more generally. Voters favor Obama on energy issues 53% to 34%. On handling education, the environment and the health care system, Obama holds advantages of more than 25 points over McCain.

Half of voters say Obama would do a better job dealing with taxes and reducing the budget deficit, while about a third say McCain would do the better job (35% and 30%, respectively). Obama also holds a nine-point advantage over McCain on the question of who would best limit the influence of lobbyists, up from a four-point edge in mid-September [emphasis added].

Certainly part of the reason for Senator Obama's advantage has been the disastrous campaign run by his opponent, whose erratic and negative behavior has destroyed his own credibility on almost every issue. But part of the reason why such a campaign was necessary was that Obama has so successfully articulated a liberal alternative to the conservative policies that have dug American into a hole. Consider one of Reich's major insights into the future of American economic growth. He recognizes that the decline of manufacturing jobs is not the fault of outsourcing, free trade, illegal immigrants, or minorities:

Factor jobs are vanishing all over the world... Robots and numerical machine tools can do factory work more efficiently than people. Even as manufacturing employment dropped around the globe since the mid-nineties, industrial output rose more than 30 percent.

We should stop pining for "manufacturing" jobs and the days when a lot of people were paid for good money to stand along an assembly line and continuously bolt, fit, solder, or clamp what went by. Those days are over. Don't blame poor blacks, Latinos, or all the other usual suspects.

In the absence of these jobs, Reich sees a division of available employment into two categories: highly-paid "symbolic analytic" jobs that center on "analyzing, manipulating, and communicating through abstract symbols--numbers, shapes, words, ideas" (think engineering, law, advertising, medicine, finance); and "personal service" jobs, which "are usually paid by the hour, are carefully supervised, and rarely require much more than a high school education."

Reich makes no judgment about the importance of either job to the economy; he simply recognizes that the jobs are not rewarded equally; "the demand for symbolic analysts keeps growing because they add significant value to products and services. Companies can no longer depend just on economies of scale to keep them competitive." On the other side, "Most personal service jobs... pay low wages. Few of these jobs require special qualifications, so many people can do them."

The obvious solution? Increase the number of symbolic analytic jobs in the United States. But Reich points out that the standard supply-side, trickle-down economic policies promoted by doctrinal conservatism is antithetical to such growth:

Their solution is to raise the level of savings and reduce consumption in order to create more capital. You know the drill: Cut the highest income-tax rates; reduce or eliminate taxes on savings, investment income, and wealth; and phase out the estate tax. Meanwhile, cut spending on social services; privatize public insurance; and relax government regulations on health, safety, and the environment.

The only way to attract global capital and also improve our living standards is to increase the productivity of Americans.

America's basic strategy for economic growth must be to equip a larger portion of our people to add more value to the world economy. And the way to do this is to increase investments in our people: We need to ensure that a good-quality public education is available to every child from the age of three all the way through at least two years of college, so that any talented American kid can become a symbolic analyst regardless of family income or race. We need to help personal service workers be more productive by giving them access to better training, and career ladders linking increased expertise to higher pay scales. We need to provide better health care and improve the environment, so that American can lead fuller and more productive lives, and both feel and be more prosperous.

Does Senator Obama have a coherent strategy to meet these demands? Let's see. Education? Check. Job creation? Check. Health care? Check. The environment? Check. It should be no surprise, then, to see the bases on which Robert Reich endorsed Obama, way back in April when the primary was still hotly contested:

His plans for reforming Social Security and health care have a better chance of succeeding. His approaches to the housing crisis and the failures of our financial markets are sounder than hers. His ideas for improving our public schools and confronting the problems of poverty and inequality are more coherent and compelling. He has put forward the more enlightened foreign policy and the more thoughtful plan for controlling global warming.

He also presents the best chance of creating a new politics in which citizens become active participants rather than cynical spectators. He has energized many who had given up on politics. He has engaged young people to an extent not seen in decades. He has spoken about the most difficult problems our society faces, such as race, without spinning or simplifying. He has rightly identified the armies of lawyers and lobbyists that have commandeered our democracy, and pointed the way toward taking it back.

Absolutely. Tomorrow I will turn to the final chapter of Reich's book, entitled "Positive Patriotism." In light of comments made in just this last week by Senator McCain, his running mate, and several Republican congressmen, this is a hot topic. And it is another area where Senator Obama has been pitch-perfect in his response, successfully owning the topic of patriotism such that now it is the conservative darling, Sarah Palin, who is making televised apologies for her comments. Advantage: liberals.

Liberals and Public Morality

Robert ReichI have previously discussed the first chapter of Robert Reich's Reason, in which he analyzes the rise of the "radical conservatives" who have come to dominate the modern Republican Party. The remainder of the book is divided into three sections, each an area of public policy in which Reich believes liberals have the right answers, but have allowed the "Radcons" to frame the debate in their favor.

I'd like to turn to the second chapter of his book, which he titles "Public Morality." Interestingly, Reich does not shy away from pushing a liberal agenda on public morality. In fact, he believes public morality is an area in which liberals should expand their influence. The first step is in properly defining the sphere appropriately:

Radcons are correct in one respect: Public morality is important. By shying away from discussing it, liberals allows Radcons to define public morality the way they see it. But public morality shouldn't be about private sex. Liberals should be screaming from the rooftops about the real decline of public morality, about the real abuses.

Reich includes in his list such abuses as fraudulent accounting and stock manipulation, tax evasion, executive pay, and financial conflicts of interest, many of which will sound familiar to those who have paid to the attention to the four years since Reich published his book. Reich points out that conservatives "equate sexual permissiveness with the erosion of public morality because they're obsessed by the decline of discipline in society. They don't worry about the misuse of authority because they're focused on obedience to it."

Think about this for a few minutes. When we as Americans think or talk about sexuality, we usually do it in moral terms. When we talk about business or economics, we rarely do. We have been trained to think of capitalism as inherently moral, or at worst, amoral. The "free market" is made an excuse for a free-for-all in which abuses of greed or corruption are seen as par for the course, or necessary evils. The introductions of moral decision-making into a business plan is considered laughable; indeed, to the extent it might interfere with the immediate financial well-being of large shareholders, it would be considered corporate malpractice. That is how far we have fallen.

Reich indicts liberals for complicity in this situation, as they have reacted against the conservative emphasis on sexual morality by simply abandoning the field:

Morality is sometimes hard for liberals to talk about. It seems too personal, too closely related to authoritarian religion, too easily used as a tool to justify or to condemn private behaviors. Moralists often strike liberals as being intolerant. Hence, many liberals have adopted a kind of moral relativism; no single version of morality is superior to any other. By this view, abuses of power may violate legal or economic principles, buy they don't raise moral issues.

This is a dangerous cop-out.

To their credit, Radcons have developed several useful ways to frame morality as a public issue. They go awry on the application of their ideas. Sex is the wrong target. But their willingness to introduce the concept of right and wrong into public discourse enables us to discuss why the abuses of authority that plague modern America are rightly matters of public concern.

He goes on to quote extensively from books by Bill Bennett and Robert Bork for the purpose of showing how persuasive their morality-based arguments are if shifted away from sexuality and onto abuses of power. Reich also succinctly rebuts the oft-repeated conservative talking points on premarital sex, the decline of marriage, and the separation of church and state.

Reich then turns his attention to the abuses of corporate power that liberals should make the focus of their own moral crusade. He highlights Enron as the "poster child," of this phenomenon, but emphasizes that Enron was no exception, it was the simply the most excessive example of abusive practices running throughout corporate America. He points out the tremendous conflicts-of-interest that continue to link the fates of bankers, large investors, corporate executives with the boards of directors and auditors who are supposed to be guarding the hen house. Reich also touches on a subject that has really made the headlines in the current financial crisis, executive pay:

Over the past twenty years, as executive pay moved into the stratosphere, the pay and benefits of average working Americans have gone essentially nowhere. In the 1990s, many of these same Americans invested their scant retirement savings in the stock market, only to discover--too late--that is was a bubble filled with hot air. Then they found out that a lot of reported corporate earnings had been pumped up with helium. CEOs, on the other hand, did just fine. Their "big money carrots" were real. They cashed in their options early enough to beat the imploding market.

Reich goes into detail on what he calls "legalized bribery," which is of course an indictment of the campaign finance system. I'd be interested to hear what he thinks of Senator Obama's fund-raising, which has been exceptional for its breadth and its depth, and its exclusion of any lobbyist or PAC money. [UPDATE: Reich endorsed Obama in April, but did not specifically mention fund-raising]. Reich also emphasizes that the occasional "perp walk" (e.g. Kenneth Lay, Bernie Ebbers) is not enough. Instead, liberals must take the lead in promoting legal enforcement of the public trust, but with a healthy dose of morality added to the mix:

It's time for a vigorous liberalism that holds morally accountable those who abuse their authority. We need moral as well as legal limits on rapacious CEOs, accountants, lawyers, brokers, and investment bankers--people who are stewards of the economy but don't give a damn what happens to the millions of small investors, as well as employees, they're supposed to represent.

The chapter falls short, however, on detailed solutions. Perhaps Reich offers those elsewhere, but it was disappointing to find a former cabinet secretary so light on particulars. While convinced by Reich's call for introducing a moral element to the fight against corporate abuses, that seems a long-term project. Reich is surely correct that the liberal movement against greed and corruption will be strengthened by the moral arguments he suggests.

In the short-term, however, the law can yield greater effect. Yet Reich gives no guidance on what the appropriate changes might be. We might consider an expansion of legally-enforceable fiduciary obligations to a wider group of professionals involved in corporate finance. Or perhaps greater regulation (or re-regulation, as the case may be) of the conflicts-of-interest that improperly link the fates of supposedly independent actors. I am no expert in the field, which is why I hoped for a bit more from Reich. In his defense, the chapter is largely focused on convincing liberals to recognize the moral, not legal, elements of corporate abuse; I simply wanted both.

When John McCain was a Real Conservative

In his 2004 political tome Reason, which I started reading last night, Robert Reich discusses the rise of the radical conservative movement (he calls them "Radcons"). He traces their agenda back to the 1960s, as a reaction to the New Left:

In its moral absolutism, its faith in the redemptive power of discipline, its emphasis on punishment, and its theory of evil -- in all these respects, radical conservatism sees itself as the counterforce to the sixties left. No matter that the sixties left has all but vanished. According to Radcons, it released an evil into the world that still imperils American civilization.

It should be little wonder, then, that the current mantras of the Republican candidate's campaign for President are that Senator Barack Obama has ties to William Ayers (that's right, a sixties leftist radical) and that he is a socialist (who said the Cold War was over?).

I have no reason to believe that John McCain had a sudden conversion to the radical conservative agenda. If he had, we would see him elucidating their worldview with genuine vigor, and he might retain at least the dignity of fighting for what he believed in. Instead, he simply turned over his campaign to these forces after making "cold, political calculations," put the young Rovians in charge, and put their Ice Queen on the ticket with him.

It was not always this way. Reich makes it a point to distinguish radical conservatives from "real conservatives." And the examples he offers? You got it:

A real conservative is somebody like the late Senator Robert A. Taft, of Ohio, or Senator John McCain, of Arizona -- someone who wants to conserve many of the things that are great about America: the value we place on hard work, our dedication to family and community, our love of freedom, our storehouse of generosity and tolerance.

Real conservatives are cautious. They're skeptical of big ideas, grand plans, risky moves. When change is necessary, they prefer doing it gradually, carefully, methodically, step-by-step. And they're meticulous about laws and procedures: Means are as important to them as ends.

Amazing what four years and a shot at the White House can do to a man. There is no way Senator McCain would be mentioned in this passage if it were written today, except perhaps to symbolize the total corruption of the Republican Party by these radical elements. Decide for yourself which of these best describes the John McCain of 2008:

Real conservatives are concerned about civility. They have codes of honor and rules of conduct. They worry about the "coarsening" of American culture. And they're wary of demagogues who stir people up. Edmund Burke, again: "Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hours than prudence, deliberation and foresight can build up in a hundred years."

But radical conservatives are uncivil in the extreme. They fill the public airwaves and bookstores with nastiness. Listen to Radcon talk radio or cable TV news and what you mostly hear are venomous diatribes. Read the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, Washington Times, New York Post, New York Sun, or any other Radcon outlet, and you find vicious attacks. Open a Radcon political best-seller and you find more mean-spirited screeds. Radcons typically reduce political debate to nonsensical statements that seem to be making a point but are nothing but vague and angry assertions, unsupported by facts.

That last sentence seems to describe Senator McCain's third debate performance pretty well. Or any statement that comes out of Sarah Palin's mouth. Or this:

That's why it was so moving to hear Colin Powell not only endorse Senator Obama, but spend several minutes eviscerating the tactics that have taken over the McCain campaign and the Republican Party. He specifically denounced the Ayers smear, cited the terrible Palin selection, and gave the best explanation of the offensiveness of the "Muslim" meme that any public figure, including Senator Obama, has been able to offer:

Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way.

Here's more on that Soldier's sacrifice. This is very powerful imagery, and the strongest possible rebuke to the despicable attacks that no longer reside merely in fringe viral e-mails, but with "senior members" of the Republican Party. In a press conference after the show, Powell also gave a strong rebuttal to the "socialist" attack that is now the McCain/Palin smear of choice, by pointing out the importance of taxes in rebuilding the infrastructure of the country, almost as if it were a patriotic duty.

Suffice it to say, between John McCain and Colin Powell there is only one real conservative. Too bad the Republican Party lacked the wisdom to ever put him on the ticket.

2008 Booker Prize Winner - The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

After my ill-fated effort to anticipate the judges by reading Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, only to see it fail to make the shortlist, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the same day I finished reading it, Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger has won the 2008 Booker Prize:

Mr. Adiga, who lives in Mumbai, was born in India and brought up partly in Australia. He studied at Columbia and Oxford and is a former correspondent for Time magazine in India. He is the second youngest writer to win the award; Ben Okri was 32 when he won for "The Famished Road" in 1991.

Michael Portillo, a former cabinet minister and the chairman of this year's panel of judges, praised Mr. Adiga's novel, saying that the short list had contained a series of "extraordinarily readable page-turners." However, Mr. Adiga's book had prevailed, he said, "because the judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure."

I thought it was an unusually promising debut, but it fell short of greatness. I'll have a review up soon detailing why, though I have a bit of a backlog to get through. I'm just too obsessed with the election to sit still for ten minutes and write.

Booker Shortlist 2008

The Booker shortlist was released yesterday, and once again I have neither read nor purchased a single book on the list. It looks like the bookies and I were wrong, though having been mildly disappointed by Netherland I can't lament its exclusion. The list:

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs - Linda Grant
The Northern Clemency - Philip Hensher
A Fraction of the Whole - Steve Toltz

Since I failed in my prior predictions, I won't even take a stab at which of these is the favorite. I'll just wait until the winner is announced on October 14, dutifully purchase a copy, and then put it in a box with the rest of my Booker Prize backlog.

67 Books so Far

Finishing Leif Enger's Peace Like a River a few moments ago puts me two-thirds of the way toward my stated goal of reading 100 books this year. With not yet two-thirds of the year gone by, I am in pretty good shape. My reading has tilted slightly toward fiction, with 40 titles versus 27 nonfiction books. The year in reading thus far:

  1. Eventide - Kent Haruf
  2. Passionate Sage - Joseph Ellis
  3. The Assassins' Gate - George Packer
  4. Benjamin Franklin - Edmund Morgan
  5. The Survivor - John Harris
  6. Atonement - Ian McEwan
  7. The Tie That Binds - Kent Haruf
  8. The Cement Garden - Ian McEwan
  9. The Immortal Bartfuss - Aharon Appelfeld
  10. Cobra II - Michael Gordon
  11. Fiasco - Thomas Ricks
  12. In the Company of Soldiers - Rick Atkinson
  13. State of Denial - Bob Woodward
  14. Steppenwolf - Hermann Hesse
  15. The Sweet Hereafter - Russell Banks
  16. Out Stealing Horses - Per Petterson
  17. His Illegal Self - Peter Carey
  18. Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis
  19. Ray in Reverse - Daniel Wallace
  20. Badenheim 1939 - Aharon Appelfeld
  21. Black Swan Green - David Mitchell
  22. The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
  23. In the Wake - Per Petterson
  24. Lincoln - Richard Carwardine
  25. Supreme Conflict - Jan Crawford Greenburg
  26. The Lake - Yasunari Kawabata
  27. Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich
  28. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
  29. Isaac Newton - James Gleick
  30. The Assault on Reason - Al Gore
  31. The Nine - Jeffrey Toobin
  32. House of the Sleeping Beauties - Yasunari Kawabata
  33. The Ice Storm - Rick Moody
  34. Harry, Revised - Mark Sarvas
  35. Justice For All - Jim Newton
  36. Becoming Justice Blackmun - Linda Greenhouse
  37. Drown - Junot Diaz
  38. The Child in Time - Ian McEwan
  39. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
  40. The New Face of War - Bruce Berkowitz
  41. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
  42. Ancient Greece - Thomas Martin
  43. Obsessive Genius - Barbara Goldsmith
  44. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
  45. A Separate Peace - John Knowles
  46. The Bill of Rights - Akhil Amar
  47. Go Tell It on the Mountain - James Baldwin
  48. Polio - David Oshinsky
  49. March - Geraldine Brooks
  50. The Chosen - Chaim Potok
  51. Billy Budd - Herman Melville
  52. The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane
  53. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
  54. Dracula - Bram Stoker
  55. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
  56. Tartuffe and Other Plays - Moliere
  57. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
  58. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin - Gordon Wood
  59. Companero - Jorge Castaneda
  60. Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
  61. Girls of Riyadh - Rajaa Alsanea
  62. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  63. The Sea - John Banville
  64. A History of Modern Japan - Andrew Gordon
  65. Russia - Philip Longworth
  66. The Cold War - John Lewis Gaddis
  67. Peace Like a River - Leif Enger

Since I am a bit ahead of my pace, I thought it was worth upping the ante a bit. If I can read 42 more books this year, for a total of 109, I will have read 400 books in the five years I have been keeping track. Worth a try, I think.

Early favorites Atonement by Ian McEwan and The Assassins' Gate by George Packer are still two of the best reads of the year, but the undisputed favorite thus far is Gilead, Marilynne Robinson's remarkable meditation on faith and family. You can imagine my excitement that her next book, Home, is a companion novel sharing Gilead's setting and many of its characters. It will be on sale September 2 and I've already placed my pre-order.

Amazon Acquires Abebooks

Somehow I missed the news last week that the company that gets most of my money, Amazon, is buying the company that gets the rest of my money, Abebooks:

Amazon has acquired twelve year old Canadian company Abebooks (formerly the Advanced Book Exchange), the companies just announced. AbeBooks is an online marketplace for books focusing on used, rare and out of print titles for sale by independent booksellers - it currently has 110 million books for sale from 13,500 sellers.

The company has been around since 1996 and fills a niche for Amazon in hard-to-find or out-of-print books. Rather than hold its own inventory, it acts as a digital marketplace for established booksellers.

The thing to watch is whether/how Amazon integrates its Amazon marketplace with Abebooks. Some sellers list on both sites, but there are major differences. The biggest difference from a buyer's perspective is that Amazon forces its sellers to charge a set shipping fee ($3.99) while Abebooks lets sellers choose their own (I've seen everything from free shipping to $8.00 per book).

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Dead at 89

Sad news from Moscow: Alexander Solzhenitsyn has died. He was a Nobel laureate and a literary giant. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of my favorite books and has been since I first picked it from a summer A.P. English reading list more than ten years ago; Cancer Ward is excellent as well. I own a copy of The First Circle, waiting to be read.

Solzhenitsyn was not afraid to speak truth to power, be it the Soviet regime that imprisoned him, or, in his infamous speech at Harvard's 1978 commencement, modern Western culture. His voice will be missed.

British Historians = World's Best?

Since it is nearly impossible to imagine most American newspapers running a feature article on the popularity of our professional historians (or anything about historians at all), I am almost embarrassed to link to this article from Britain's Sunday Times asserting the superiority of British historians:

British historians are writing more fluently than ever, and with authority, on subjects people want to read about. Furthermore, with the decline in university funding, they are more professional and commercially orientated than they used to be. A decade ago, few academic historians had agents; now all the powerhouse agencies have a small but lucrative clutch of professional historians whose books they know they can sell worldwide.

I love British historians, and own many of the titles listed in the article, including Ian Kershaw's two-volume Hitler, Antony Beevor's The Battle for Spain, and Christopher Clark's Iron Kingdom. I will read almost anything written by Martin Gilbert or John Keegan (absent from the article as non-academics). I also recently read the excellent Lincoln written by Richard Carwardine, a professor at Oxford; British historians are skilled at examining their former colonies as well (in fact, Carwardine's book won the Lincoln Prize).

In contrast, think about the most talented Americans: Gordon Wood or James McPherson or David Kennedy. It is very tempting to generalize that the best American historians write about America, while the best British historians write about the world.

Booker Longlist 2008

Now I am not saying that I actually caused this, but can it really be a complete coincidence that just as I was wondering when the Booker longlist would be released (having finished John Banville's The Sea), I find that it was released today? The list:

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
Girl in a Blue Dress - Gaynor Arnold
The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
From A to X - John Berger
The Lost Dog - Michelle de Kretser
Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs - Linda Grant
A Case of Exploding Mangoes - Mohammed Hanif
The Northern Clemency - Philip Hensher
Netherland - Joseph O'Neill
The Enchantress of Florence - Salman Rushdie
Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith
A Fraction of the Whole - Steve Toltz

This list is notably light on the regular "heavyweights," like Carey, McEwan and Coetzee (only Carey actually had a book in contention); Rushdie seems to be carrying the load for the perennials. The shortlist will be announced on September 9, with the winner announced on October 14. I would put good money on Netherland making the shortlist, and decent money on it winning the whole thing.

UPDATE: What do you know, the bookmakers agree.

The Rise of Japanese Nationalism

sumo.jpgAn interesting theme of A History of Modern Japan is the rise of Japanese nationalism. Not just the jingoistic variety of the 1930s, but the basic sense of nationhood that most of us take for granted. For example, one of America's heroic national myths is that a country of immigrants became a melting pot where we are all Americans first, overcoming our differences. In this post-colonial world, we have seen numerous countries struggle with the tension between nationalism and arbitrarily-drawn borders: think of the break-up of Yugoslavia or the violence in Iraq. We usually attribute this difficulty to the problem of merging such disparate racial/ethnic/religious groups under one umbrella.

It comes as a surprise then that a country like Japan, an island that has had a basically stable, homogeneous population for centuries, did not develop a true national identity until well into the 19th century. In discussing the "unequal treaties," imposed on Japan by the Western powers (like the Opium War treaties in China), Andrew Gordon emphasizes that the humiliation felt by the Japanese did not stem from deeply-felt nationalism:

[I]t would be misleading to conclude simply that these treaties trampled a preexisting national pride and sovereignty. Rather, from the early 1800s through the 1860s, the very process of dealing with the pushy barbarians created modern Japanese nationalism. Among shogunal officials, in daimyo castles, and in the private academies where politically concerned samurai debated history and policy, a new conception took hold of "Japan" as a single nation, to be defended and governed as such."

What this suggests is that national identity is only necessary, or even useful, in an oppositional relationship. It only makes sense to prioritize our status as Americans when our primary comparison is with non-Americans. Thus the revolutionary-era America sees most former colonists identifying strongly with their individual states rather than the new nation, and antebellum tensions inspired the Yankee and Dixie labels.

So long as Japan remained relatively isolated and free of foreign exposure, there was little need to define oneself as Japanese. Japanese as opposed to what? For the same reason, there was no need to explore what it even meant to be Japanese. It was much more important to identify with one's daimyo, the local feudal ruler. Only with the humiliation of the treaties, and the need to come to terms with this treatment at the hands of foreigners, did the Japanese become Japanese and start thinking about what that meant:

Beginning in the mid-1880s, a drive to preserve or revive a so-called traditional Japanese culture emerged in a mood of confrontation with Western-oriented reformers... As this happened, many older cultural forms were dramatically reshaped. Later generations came to view these as "traditional" and typically Japanese. In the process they articulated new concepts of "Japanese-ness." The Noh theater, for example, survived in part because government officials promoted it as a Japanese parallel to Western opera... Modern martial arts such as judo, sports such as sumo wrestling, and arts such as the cultivation of bonsai plants were both transformed in practice and took on symbolic meaning as emblems of Japanese-ness for the first time."

It is safe to say that these efforts were successful: Noh theater, sumo wrestling, and bonsai plants continue to be strongly symbolic of Japanese culture to this day. Of course, the character of this rising Japanese nationalism was not entirely benign. As the Japanese bridled against the influence of the colonial Western powers, many Japanese came to believe that Japan should not just be free of Western influence, but strong enough to emulate their imperialism:

[T]he Meiji rulers accepted a geopolitical logic that led inexorably toward either empire or subordination, with no middle ground possible. They saw the non-Western world being carved up into colonial possessions by the strong states of the West. They decided that Japan had no choice but to secure its independence by emulating the imperialists... As this doctrine took root in a world of competing powers, it contained a built-in logic of escalation. Conceivably Japanese leaders could have defended national independence and prosperity in Asia by promoting trade and emigration with both neighbors and distant nations, without seeking an imperial advantage. But no leaders believed this was possible. The behavior of other powers hardly encouraged them to change their minds.

While this does not justify the Japanese aggression to come, it raises interesting questions about the West's culpability in setting such poor precedents in its treatment of the world. How else should the Japanese have seen the interaction of nation-states other than through the ruler/ruled paradigm with which the Western powers divided up the world? As they developed their own sense of racial superiority vis-a-vis the rest of Asia, why shouldn't they take up the Japanese Man's Burden and dominate their inferior neighbors on the continent? Little surprise then that this is just what happened in the coming decades.

Books Read - 2007

Last year I set a goal of reading 100 books, roughly two books per week. Though a quantity-based goal risks a distorting emphasis on shorter, easier books, I wanted to ensure that my busier schedule did not become an excuse for not reading.

It was during the summer before my second year in law school that I rediscovered my passion for reading. In 2004, the first full year of my Great Books Project, I read 89 books, including several doorstops like The Lord of the Rings, David Copperfield, and Crime & Punishment. Not too shabby, and more than I've been able to read since. After all, 2004 was the only year since my project began in which I was a student from January to December. I managed 69 books in 2005, the year I graduated, and just 52 books in 2006, my first year of full-time employment.

Last year, while falling short of my century goal, I managed to read 81 books. While this did include the Harry Potter novels and a few other children's books, I also finally got around to The Iliad, Beloved, and The Adventures of Augie March.

On the fiction side, the highlights of my reading in 2007 were Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, Raymond Carver's Where I'm Calling From, and especially Jose Saramago's Blindness. Among the nonfiction, the best were Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, and Alan Taylor's American Colonies. The only real disappointment was Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, a poor follow-up to his brilliant The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

We are now, of course, nearly two months into 2008. I again aim to read 100 books by the end of the year, and things have started pretty well. Thus far I have finished 15 books in seven weeks:

  1. Eventide - Kent Haruf
  2. Passionate Sage - Joseph Ellis
  3. The Assassins' Gate - George Packer
  4. Benjamin Franklin - Edmund Morgan
  5. The Survivor - John Harris
  6. Atonement - Ian McEwan
  7. The Tie That Binds - Kent Haruf
  8. The Cement Garden - Ian McEwan
  9. The Immortal Bartfuss - Aharon Appelfeld
  10. Cobra II - Michael Gordon
  11. Fiasco - Thomas Ricks
  12. In the Company of Soldiers - Rick Atkinson
  13. State of Denial - Bob Woodward
  14. Steppenwolf - Hermann Hesse
  15. The Sweet Hereafter - Russell Banks

My favorites so far are Ian McEwan's Atonement, read so that I could see the movie (which I have not done yet), and George Packer's The Assassins' Gate, easily the best of the five Iraq-related books on the list. 15 down, 85 to go. That's a lot of good books.

Two Biographies

Not that I don't already have enough biographies to read, but there are two on the horizon which have me salivating: Walter Isaacson's Einstein and Jean Edward Smith's FDR. Here is the blurb for Isaacson's latest:

einstein.jpg

How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson's biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom.

Based on newly released personal letters of Einstein, this book explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk -- a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn't get a teaching job or a doctorate -- became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe. His success came from questioning conventional wisdom and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals.

Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin was quite good. Not as sophisticated as the treatments by Edmund Morgan and Gordon Wood, not as thorough as that by H.W. Brands, but a stellar introduction to the founding grandfather. Einstein deserves the same and I look forward to this book. As for the FDR blurb:

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Summing up Roosevelt's legacy, Jean Smith declares that FDR, more than any other individual, changed the relationship between the American people and their government. It was Roosevelt who revolutionized the art of campaigning and used the burgeoning mass media to garner public support and allay fears. But more important, Smith gives us the clearest picture yet of how this quintessential Knickerbocker aristocrat, a man who never had to depend on a paycheck, became the common man's president. The result is a powerful account that adds fresh perspectives and draws profound conclusions about a man whose story is widely known but far less well understood. Written for the general reader and scholars alike, FDR is a stunning biography in every way worthy of its subject.

I have not read Smith's John Marshall or Grant, so I do not know whether to expect much. I have been a bit hesistant to read Conrad Black's FDR, though it got great reviews and currently sits on my shelf. Considering Black's current criminal trial, it seems distasteful to read a book on such a great man by an alleged thief. But perhaps it takes one flawed giant to know another (Black's next book, after all, is supposed to be about Nixon). In any case, I'm hopeful that Smith's one-volume is at least servicable. We shall see.

(Hat tip: The Millions)

American History Project

Finishing (or almost finishing) my World War I reading project opens up a gap in my life. I simply must have another reading project. Thankfully, I've been looking to do an expansive reading in U.S. history for quite a while now, and this seems an ideal time to start. The idea is to take a chronological tour of American history, with these general histories serving as the backbone of the project:

American Colonies - Alan Taylor
The Glorious Cause - Robert Middlekauff
The Creation of the American Republic - Gordon Wood
The Age of Federalism - Stanley Elkins
The Rise of American Democracy - Sean Wilentz
Battle Cry of Freedom - James McPherson
Reconstruction - Eric Foner
Standing at Armageddon - Nell Irvin Painter
Freedom from Fear - David Kennedy
Grand Expectations - James Patterson
Restless Giant - James Patterson

There's a bit of military history mixed in there, particularly Middlekauff and MacPherson's books, but of course the military aspects of the Revolutionary and Civil War eras are of supreme importance. Otherwise though, these general histories should cover almost every year of this country's history from colonization to the present day (the only exception is the 1920s, for which I'm still seeking decent coverage).

This ought to mean I won't have any glaring gaps in the project, but I still feel the need to supplement with more specific histories where my personal interests lie (e.g. the history of slavery, civil rights) as well as biographies of key actors and the occasional novel when it seems like it will help illustrate the spirit of the age.

taylor_american.jpgI've recently begun Taylor's American Colonies, and I appreciate the expansive view that Taylor brings to his subject:

Striking a balance between the emerging power of British America and the enduring diversity of the colonial peoples requires bending (but not breaking) the geographical boundaries suggested by the United States today. Hispanic Mexico, the British West Indies, and French Canada receive more detailed coverage than is customary in a "colonial American history" (which has mean the history of a proto-United States). All three were powerful nodes of colonization that affected the colonists and Indians living between the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. The internal cultures, societies, and economies of the Spanish, French, and Dutch colonies also warrant attention lest they again appear only in wars, reduced to bellicose foils to British protagonists. Such internal description also affords the comparative perspective needed to see the distinctive nature of British colonial society that madea a colonial revolution for independence and republicanism possible first on the Atlantic seaboard.

Taylor also provides excellent coverage of pre-colonial Native American culture in the first chapter, describing the uniquely interesting history of the Anasazi, Hohokam, and the Mound Builders. This is not a biased lovefest, as Taylor is quick to point out that Hohokam and Anasazi over-reliance on corn devastated the agricultural productivity of the land and "an especially prolonged period of drought years exacerbated the subsistence crisis, setting off a chain reaction of crop failure, malnutrition, and violent feuds."

This provides the Native Americans with the complex historical treatment they deserve: they were not just savage warriors, nor on other hand did they simply live in perfect harmony with nature. Their civilization had an evolution, and while it is undoubtedly tragic that the evolution was artificially cut short, that is no reason to white-wash the realities of native civilization. I appreciate that Taylor avoids this trap, even in the limited pages devoted to the pre-colonial era (Taylor's interest in Native Americans bore further fruit in The Divided Ground, his study of the Iroquois Six Nations during the American Revolution).

UPDATE: I've finished American Colonies, and it lived up to the promise of the first chapters. A must read for any with an interest in pre-Revolutionary America.

Book Porn

pile1One of the ways I know I am going to like a blog is when the author starts posting pictures of piles of books, either those recently obtained, those recently read, or simply those accumulating ever expanding floor space in the library or office. I love photos of people's libraries and bookshelves, but there is something special about a good pile of books. It is not healthy for the books to rest horizontally, but no matter. It just looks cool.

I suppose at some (hopefully superficial) level this is akin to book porn. Others surf the web looking for nudity and sex, I look for photos of books. I even have an online gallery of all the books I own. And while I like the nice, neat, sophisticated look of bookshelves, it is the dirty, nasty, unkempt piles of books that really appeal to me. Yeah, I'm pretty disturbed.

Anyhow, the photo above came from a recent post at A Work in Progress, and you'll notice that blog can be found on my blogroll (Pages Turned, too). Let's keep the book porn coming.

Book Sales Are Up, Bookstores Down

Good news for book lovers. Well, semi-good news, for those of us who like hardcovers and want to see them keep coming:

One of the encouraging signs was the adult hardcover (not that kind of "adult") segment, which showed a 4.1 percent increase. Adult paperbacks posted an 8.5 percent rise for the year.

Unfortunately for bookstores, it looks like my increased online purchasing is the norm:

[T]he places where people used to get their reading material -- bookstores -- lost customers in 2006. Sales slipped nearly 3 percent for the year.

I love going to a Borders and browsing, but I almost never buy a book there. I can't bring myself to spend 30-40% more than I could spend on Amazon. After all, why support one big corporation over another? What I ought to find is a nice, local, independent bookseller. But will they have what I want? When I want it? Amazon is succeeding for a reason.

Even my used book purchases, which would normally be done after browsing for hours at a musty book shop, now run about 50/50 between Abebooks and Amazon, with a handful at Books Again in Decatur. There simply are no't enough used bookstores in the area. I am sure that is an overall effect of online bookselling, rather than a cause, but the difference is the same.

Personal Libraries

Every litblog on the Internet has already linked to Jay Parini's article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about other people's books, but being a book voyeur I can't resist quoting it myself:

It's not only the physical aspects of books that attract me, of course. In fact, I rarely buy first or elegant editions, however much I like to glance at them; good reading copies, in hardback or a decent paperback, are just fine. But seeing some of the editions in my living room reminds me of that wonderful house in Surrey, which stirred my imagination as a young man and was part of the reason I became a writer myself.

What interests me about other people's books is the nature of their collection. A personal library is an X-ray of the owner's soul. It offers keys to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. Even how the books are arranged on the shelves deserves notice, even reflection. There is probably no such thing as complete chaos in such arrangements.

I've gone through numerous iterations of organizing my books, splitting into genres, then alphabatized by author, even split into publication by century at one point. Sometimes I think the books look better with the dust jackets on. Sometimes I think they look better without them, as Harvard has them in Widener Library, so I'll spend an hour and remove hundreds of dust jackets and store them separately. Not many people likely spend as much time sitting in front of their own books, but however one treats one's books tells a little story.

The Elected Member

My stop and start effort to read each book that has won England's Booker Prize got a big boost a couple weeks ago when my wife and I got our Atlanta library cards. Many of the early Booker Prize winners from the 1970s are out-of-print or hard to find, but a few minutes with the library's online catalogs and some hold requests landed the first five books in my hands.

I just finished Bernice Rubens' The Elected Member, which won the 1970 prize, the second year the Booker Prize was given. It is an insightful look at the neurotic workings of a Jewish family, the neurotic workings of a drug addicted hallucinatory mind, and the interaction between the two. If Philip Roth had written One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and set the book in England, this is probably what would have emerged.

In fact, the book need hardly be set in England. The immigrant Jewish experience is sufficiently universal that the setting could easily have come from Roth, or from Bernard Malamud's The Assistant. This is made all the more poignant considering Rubens' family history:

Her father, Eli Rubens, was a Lithuanian Jew who thought he was escaping anti-semitism for America when he boarded his ship at Hamburg around 1900. But the ticket tout had swindled him: he was shoved off at Cardiff. It was a fortnight before he realised he wasn't in New York.

And I was actually twenty or thirty pages into the book before I remembered that I was reading a British author, and that the book was not set in New York or Chicago. For fans of Roth or Bellow, there is a lot here to like. And since Rubens was a rather prolific author, there is plenty more to enjoy if this strikes your fancy. That's one of the reasons I am doing this Booker Prize project. It is not that I suppose the Booker judges have somehow magically selected the best book every year. But it is an easy way to become exposed to a number of non-American authors who might emerge as personal favorites, a la Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang and Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin.

What Terrorists Want

What an unusual treat it is to see one of my law school professors reviewing a book written by one of my college professors. In her weekly column for the Los Angeles Times, Rosa Brooks (who taught me Human Rights Law and has since moved from UVA to Georgetown) positively raves about What Terrorists Want, written by Louise Richardson (who was chair of the Government department at Harvard and taught an excellent class on, what else, terrorism):

Drawing on interviews and primary source materials from dozens of such movements, Richardson reminds us that despite the awfulness of their acts, most terrorists are neither "insane" nor even unusually cruel. On the contrary, their acts are rationally calculated, and most terrorists believe themselves to be altruistic and noble, Davids fighting Goliaths.

This is a simple insight with profound implications for counter-terrorism policy. The rhetoric of "evil" prevents us from understanding how terrorists think and alienates those who may be torn between sympathy for the political aims of such movements and disapproval of terrorism as a tactic.

And these are precisely the people Richardson says we can least afford to alienate. Although terrorist movements thrive when they are based in what she calls "complicit communities," they fizzle out when they lose community support. Thus, understanding the grievances of those drawn to terrorism is crucial to designing effective policies to halt its spread.

By refusing to consider that terrorists may have any legitimate grievances, the Bush administration has radicalized moderates throughout the Islamic world and has wasted opportunities to deprive terrorists of the community support so critical to their survival. From the war in Iraq to the abuse of detainees, U.S. anti-terror tactics have backfired, driving more and more recruits into the arms of Al Qaeda.

As is often the case with liberal critiques of the Bush administration, Richardson's book is probably stronger on theory than on policy, but that does not mean she is wrong. It does mean that there is further work to be done to get from her perspective to that of a policymaker.

What I can say for certain is that her class (which I took pre-9/11), with its historical emphasis on such terrorist groups as Shining Path, the Red Brigades, the IRA, and even the African National Congress, gave a much better lens with which to view the current terrorist activities of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other extremists. I'm sure her book estalishes the same point, which makes clear that terrorism is not new, al-Qaeda is not particularly special, and there is a lot that history can teach us about what terrorists want, and how we can prevent them from achieving their goals through violent means.

Young Adult Fiction

There is a fascinating conversation going on over at The Elegant Variation about the merits of young adult fiction. It has remained relatively civil for a comments section, and has risen above the tired old literary vs. genre fiction debate. Instead, we've got thoughtful insights into the motivations of the writers and the readers who choose to explore a world beyond literary fiction.

Hal Duncan's comment about two-thirds of the way through the conversation is especially thought-provoking:

I suspect that the popularity of YA with adults may be born from a reaction against the conventionality of contemporary social realism as much as anything else. When it comes to those kitchen-sink (i.e. working-class) or drawing-room (i.e. middle-class) melodramas -- domestic narratives with an artificially heightened tension -- the downbeat (or poignant) ending has become trite, banal and often contrived, and we're tired of it. I think it was Michael Chabon who had an essay snarling about never wanting to read another bloody "moment of apotheosis" story again. I quite agree. So I suspect if readers are looking for "happy endings" it may be less about a desire for infantile solace as a dismissal of the sort of bourgeois miserabilism which wrongly equates "serious" and "solemn". There's nothing that makes an upbeat ending less profound than a downbeat one (my favourite upbeat ending, for example, is that of Joyce's ULYSSES; you'd be hard placed to find anything in any genre as *affirming* as "he asked me if I'd yes to say yes and yes I said yes I will yes."); but contemporary realism seems to have forgotten that this is the case, that we're allowed to end on another tone than grey, that -- indeed -- ending on that tone, with some cliches about regret and self-realisation, is not in fact all you need to make your work a literary masterpiece.

I've noticed this quite a bit in reading contemporary literary fiction, and it is one reason why I always read two books at the same time, and the second is often science fiction or some other genre that breaks the mold. It is also why a novel like Alice Walker's The Color Purple, which could have easily ended in the same tragic tone that permeates throughout, is a great triumph and a breath of fresh air. The reaction against happy endings, or hope, or generosity, have simply gone too far in literary fiction, and I think Hal is really on to something when he offers this as one explanation for the flight of some readers into other genres.

What to Read, How to Read It.

Don't you hate it when you get halfway through a book, get distracted by work or play or what not, and then feel a tremendous inertia that prevents you from getting back into the book and finishing it off? It is all the more frustrating when the book is only 220 pages long, like John Banville's The Book of Evidence. Sure, if I just did not like the book, I'd toss it aside and move on. But I like it well enough to finish it. It's not sweeping me off my feet, but it's not that kind of book.

And Banville is important, isn't he? He won a Booker, after all. I am a confessed list-maker, as my book project makes absurdly obvious, and the thing a list-maker likes only slightly less than his own list are other lists. So I look at the list of Booker Prize winners, the list of most important novels of the last 25 years, and so on. And these lists tell me what to read, don't they? After all, the tremendous volume of books being published these days makes us almost dependent on lists to sort the riff from the raff. I look at my bookshelves holding post-World War II fiction and I think to myself, "what of this is worth reading?"

Time has told us, more or less, what is worthwhile from the 19th-century. And I feel a strong pull to read these "classics," and have ever since The New Lifetime Reading Plan sparked my book obsession several years ago. But it never feels sufficient to read the great works of the past. Necessary, but not sufficient.

No, I also need to read books being written in my time. By people who live in the world that I live in, or at least a world that exists contemporaneously with my own (it seems a stretch to say that David Foster Wallace and I live in the same world). Litbloggers have helped diversify what I read, to an extent. I probably would be reading Banville even if he had not won the Booker, since Mark Sarvas is such a fan. And as soon as I catch up on the books already on my shelf (which admittedly will never happen), I'd love to start following the Litblog Co-op recommendations and really branch out. But the fact remains, I only have so much time to devote to reading, and I choose not to sacrifice huge chunks of that time just figuring out what to read in the first place, when I'll probably end up with something that would have been recommend to me anyhow.

New Purchases

I finally found a great used bookstore in Atlanta! Well, it's actually in Decatur, but it is still only a 10 minute drive from our condo and it is certainly worth a visit. The store is called Books Again, and I discovered in a way that could only happen in the Internet age.

I was browsing the listings at Abebooks for some volumes from the Oxford Illustrated Dickens, and saw numerous listings from Books Again (Decatur, GA). So I clicked on the home page, but that failed to give any indication whether it was a real bookstore, or one of the many home-based booksellers that populate Abebooks (and from whom I've purchased many quality books). So I went to Google, and found the Biblio page which had this blurb:

We are an open book store with 30,000, mostly hardcover books in stock. Our hours are 10-6 EST and we are located in downtown Decatur, Georgia which is 6 miles east of Atlanta.

Once I stopped drooling at the thought of 30,000 mostly hardcover books, I went to Mapquest, got directions, and made plans for a weekend visit. On Saturday, my wife and I headed out to Decatur for the first time since we moved to Atlanta. What we found was a delightful bookstore hiding on a small side street, just the sort of tucked away shop that seduces the used book addict. It was clean and well-lit, but still had a touch of that used book musk. The owner was friendly, knowledgeable, and had just the right amount of curmudgeonly distaste for the rise of the Internet. He also had a skinny white cat named Octavo who spent a half-hour laying on my wife's lap as she finished Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha while I shopped.

And shop I did, though I was able in the end to restrain myself and buy for quality rather than quantity. At long last I obtained a copy of Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift in trade hardcover with its original cover price ($10) still intact. It's a second printing, so I did not have to pay a fortune, and it completes my Bellow-buying for the foreseeable future. There was also a copy of Pete Dexter's Paris Trout on sale for $2, so I thought I'd give the 1988 National Book Award Winner a try.

But the catch of the day was a first American edition of Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot in absolutely pristine condition with its original cover price ($5.95) intact. I could hardly believe I had found this 45-year old book in such great condition and at a rather reasonable price of $25. I've been so spoiled by my bargain hunting that I hesitated for a few minutes before dropping $25 on a single book, but then I remembered that thousands of people walk into bookstores and drop $25 on the latest Ann Coulter or Nora Roberts without batting an eye. A first edition of Patrick White for $25 seems an absurd bargain in comparison.

This week I also used my free Amazon Prime trial to get Howard Bahr's new Civil War novel, The Judas Field. I have read and enjoyed his first two novels, and expect more of the same. He is particularly skilled at making his characters understandable to a modern reader without making them anachronistically modern in their behavior or mentality.

Summer Reading List

Summer is definitely upon us, so it's time I set some goals for my summer of reading. I just finished Michael Oren's Six Days of War about the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and have had my interest in Middle East history sufficiently revived to lead me straight on to Abraham Rabinovich's The Yom Kippur War. Beyond that, however, I plan to devote the summer to fiction.

Rather than try to actually sift through the many worthy books on my bookshelves, however, I've devised a rather silly but simple scheme. I picked the very first book on my shelves (which are alphabetized by author) and then the very last, then the second book, and the second to last, and so on. The only other rule was that I only chose one book per author. Here's the initial twelve:

Anthills of the Savannah - Achebe
Memoirs of Hadrian - Yourcenar
Brick Lane - Ali
Collected Stories - Yates
Alias Grace - Atwood
Native Son - Wright
Go Tell It on the Mountain - Baldwin
The House of Mirth - Wharton
Cousin Bette - Balzac
The Day of the Locust - West
The Angel on the Roof - Banks
Fingersmith - Waters

It seems like a pretty good mix. I'd love to get beyond twelve, but this whole list is premised on my finishing Cervantes' Don Quixote. I'm greatly enjoying the work, which is much more humorous than I'd expected, but it is almost 1000 pages long. I'm also reading Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, which my wife and I are reading for our two-person book club. So I'm trying to set realistic expectations. At this point I'd be quite happy if I make my way through Paddy Clarke, Quixote and the list above before fall. It'll be a wonderful summer just trying.

Harry's Death

Hot on the heels of J.K. Rowling's ridiculous announcement that people will die in the last Harry Potter book, Ros Taylor at the Guardian has produced several hilarious scenarios for Harry's own death. My favorite:

Harry embarks on a gap year teaching quidditch at Durmstrang, the German school of magic. The trip starts badly after his attempt to divert a Ryanair flight away from a cloud of Death Eaters is misunderstood by the Muggle authorities. Extraordinarily rendered to a detention camp run by Draco Malfoy and an army of house-elves, Harry spends months being tortured with Blast-Ended Skrewts. He manages to liberate the elves, but as they quarrel about whether freedom is worth the effort, Malfoy tips off the Muggles and Harry vanishes on board a dragon somewhere over the Atlantic.

We'll miss you, Harry. As for Rowling's need to blab about the book: first off, her characters have been dying left and right, so what's the news? Second, why can't she keep her mouth shut and just let people read the book? I'm not saying she has to pull a Pynchon and learn to disappear completely, but really, just keep quiet.

Quite the opposite on this side of the Atlantic, where it is nice to see that Harper Lee has published for the first time in many years, though why she did so with Oprah's magazine is a bit of a mystery. I love that she still loves books, even in this age of technology, as it gives me hope that I too can hold on to the paper and glue for years to come.

In other book news that I can quickly link to on the Guardian website, Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife is now buried beside him, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's hometown has wisely rejected an attempt to rename the city after the fictional Macondo from One Hundred Years of Solitude. All seems right with the world.

Book Miscellany

Here is some book-related miscellany, to whet your appetite for a summer of reading. I'll be posting my summer reading plans as soon as I make them.

The Guardian has the summer plans from several dozen leading lights of contemporary literature, including Banville, Barnes, Ishiguro and Mantel, as well as the execrable Eggers. Though I confess the book that Eggers recommends, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, intrigues me (I'd love to read a story about Namibia that doesn't involve Brad Pitt), I'm tempted to ignore it solely on the basis that Eggers had something nice to say. That's probably not fair to Peter Orner.

And I couldn't agree more with this rant from Bookslut, particularly now that I'm trying to buy all my books in hardcover:

There's something really irritating about discovering that books you love are out of print. Even though used bookstores, and sites like Abebooks, Alibris and Powell's have made it pretty easy to find them, it sucks that the publishing industry has given up on some great work from some great authors, while books like M is for Murder and N is for No, Seriously, Murder and O is for Oh My God Someone Just Got Murdered are readily available at every chain bookstore in the land. You might say that there's a good economic reason for this, to which I respond: I failed economics, bitches. So take that!

Finally, I love this collection of rejection letters. I'm tempted to start writing a manuscript for submission just to say I got rejected by The Paris Review. I doubt that's quite the approach most aspiring writers take, but I'd have a much better shot at meeting my ambitions!

Steinbeck's Back

I'm glad, I think, to relay the news that John Steinbeck's family has won back the copyright to several of his most famous works:

In a case that could have significant consequences for families of artists who fought for creative control, New York judge Richard Owen ruled that Penguin Books must forfeit the copyright of 10 of Steinbeck's works, even though the novelist had signed the rights away in 1938.

The court battle pitched the novelist's granddaughter, Blake Smyle, and his son Thomas Steinbeck against Penguin Books and Paramount Pictures. Thomas Steinbeck had alleged that he was the victim of "a 30-year conspiracy to deprive John Steinbeck's blood heirs".

The judge argued that American copyright law acknowledges the reality that young authors could not know in advance "the high stature they would attain" and that it was therefore fair to allow them or their descendants to renegotiate copyright agreements.

I qualified by pleasure above for two reasons. First, as the article recognizes, if not for the absurd extensions of copyright by Congress, these works would already have been where they properly belonged: in the public domain. Second, though the idea of the family wresting control of their ancestors work away from a big corporation is facially attractive, I suppose it's not necessarily going to be a good thing for Steinbeck's work, or his audience. It certainly could be, but who knows? Perhaps the big corporation made available works that the family would not, or will not. It might not be the case with Steinbeck, but one can certainly imagine an artist's family having motives that are not necessarily ulterior or negative, but fail to line up with what the artist wanted.

At first I was also going to point out that it seemed strange that I should come by this item via a British newspaper, but perhaps it is not so strange. Where better to get your news about books than from a country that seems, at least on the surface, to still worship the novel?

Amsterdam

amsterdamI finished Ian McEwan's Amsterdam this weekend as part of my continuing journey to make sense of the Booker Prize, and have decidedly mixed feelings about the book. There were clear moments of brilliance, particularly when discussing the creative process of Clive Linley, a composer in the midst of writing his masterpiece. I thought the characters were reasonably well-drawn for such a short book, and even enjoyed most of the plot weaving the characters together. Bits of political intrigue, macho jealousies, journalistic ethics, questions about when to engage with the outside world and when to huddle in our cocoons—all deftly handled, with due credit to McEwan on these counts.

But the ending. How many times do I have to say that about a book? But the ending: too cute, too clever, too silly. Just not worthy of what came before. In such a short novel, with such deliberate plotting, McEwan needed to do better. Ignore the end, shove it aside, and the book is wonderful. That's an awfully strange way to think about a book, though, especially one that does not reach 200 pages. The flaw is not fatal; I still appreciate what was good, even excellent about Amsterdam. So I'll read more McEwan, and I imagine I'll find what I'm looking for.

A Philip Roth Fan?

Without warning, I have found myself to be a fan of Philip Roth. I can't pinpoint the exact moment, but I think it was about fifty pages into The Plot Against America, which I finished last night. Though it was the fourth Roth book I've read, it was the second that I thought was very good (the first being I Married a Communist, which I read last summer). That's my baseline standard: one great book or two very good books, and I'm a fan.

I had already read Operation Shylock and Portnoy's Complaint, and while I recognized Roth's obvious talent, I found the former a bit too clever, and the latter a bit too dated. Plot and Communist suffered from neither, and while they will not make any short list of my favorite books, they have left me with a strong desire to read more Roth. That's a pretty good recommendation.

St. John's College Reading Plan

As many of you know, I originally started my Great Books Project after being inspired by Clifton Fadiman's New Lifetime Reading Plan. While I've been steadily whittling away at many of the more modern selections, I've had a hard time trying to figure out how to attack "the classics" in any systematic way.

My prayers have been answered. Starting just as soon as my copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey (trans. Fagles) arrive, I will be following the syllabus used by students at St. Johns College, which is generously published here. Even better, my reading of Homer will be accompanied by Homeric Moments, a guide written by a professor who taught at St. John's for 40 years. I can't wait.

Additions to the Book Gallery

Well, the book gallery is filling up at a pretty good clip. I've got all of my fiction and biography sections up to date (though I still have several more volumes on their way to me). I'll work on the rest this weekend.

After I take each photo, I put the dust jacket in a Brodart book jacket cover to keep them crisp and colorful. I've purchased a number of older editions from the 1950s and 1960s that are still in pretty good shape (like the Lagerkvist and the Mishima pictured below), but they'll need some care if they are going to stay that way. These $0.30 archival covers are a no-brainer. (Demco and Gaylord covers are good too).

I thought I'd also post a few more of the recent purchases I'm most excited about:

Book Gallery

For years my unlimited hunger for books saw me gather hundreds of paperbacks around me, overflowing my shelves and ending up in boxes. Because of my limited budget, however, many of them were tattered, remaindered books from discount online bookstores. There was no end in sight for working my way through all of the books I'd yet to read. I needed a change.

When I moved to Atlanta and built my own book-friendly (i.e. strong and shallow) bookshelves, it was the perfect opportunity for that change. Now I've begun, slowly but steadily, to collect well designed and well crafted hardcover copies of the books I love (or think that I will). I use "collect" cautiously, as I am not at a point where I have any real interest in owning "first editions" or the like. I don't want expensive books. I want books in a nice readable condition, that will last for many years if I take care of them.

I value the aesthetic attractiveness of books, and their history too. I love cracking open an old Modern Library hardcover and seeing the $2.95 price on the dust jacket. But there are modern editions that I enjoy as well. The current Everyman's Library has many attractive volumes, as does the Library of America. The point is to have the books I enjoy, in volumes that I can both read and admire.

And now I've set up a gallery of my books. The first books I've added are the first books I sought out in nice hardcover editions: the novels of Yasunari Kawabata and Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay:


Africa and the Subway

An interesting opening to Ryszard Kapuscinski's The Shadow of the Sun, in which he relates the shock of stepping off the plane on his first visit to Africa:

In times past, when people wandered the world on foot, rode on horseback, or sailed in ships, the journey itself accustomed them to the change. Images of the earth passed ever so slowly before their eyes, the stage revolved in a barely perceptible way. The voyage lasted weeks, months. The traveler had time to grow used to another environment, a different landscape. The climate, too, changed gradually. Before the traveler arrived from a cool Europe to the burning Equator, he already had left behind the pleasasnt warmth of Las Palmas, the heat of Al-Mahara, and the hell of Cape Verde Islands.

On a much smaller scale, I experienced a related phenomenon during my travels in Europe. It was in Paris, my favorite of cities, during my four visits as a teenager (and none since!), that it became clear that simply stepping down into Le Metro at Gare du Nord and stepping out at St-Michel gives you absolutely no sense of Paris as it should be experienced, as a grand portrait painted with shades of color that blend and evolve into each other street by street.

The better choice is to walk, for hours, for days, to roam aimlessly, to chart interesting paths that take you through that one arrondissement you've somehow yet to visit. You see the cafes, the bars, the markets, you see the life of the city. You can see the sights too, but now you've seen the context in which they exist.

Seeing Paris by subway is seeing Paris as a series of postcards, each sight utterly disconnected from the rest. But a fist is more than the sum of five fingers, and a city is more than the sum of its landmarks.

Harry Potter: Audiobook Power

Even with all my pretensions of being on the cutting edge of technology, I had no idea that Harry Potter audiobooks were so much more popular than glue and paper books:

Rowling's fantasy series, most recently "Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince," has sold more than 200 copies worldwide in print editions and more than 5 million as audiobooks, narrated by Grammy winner Jim Dale.

A silly typo, but the absurdity of it made me laugh.

Goodwill Book Sale

Maybe I am working to my own detriment by publishing this information to potential competing book lovers, but I thought I would note that the semi-annual Goodwill Book Sale is taking place this weekend here in Atlanta:

Goodwill's September Book Sale Event
September 9th-12th, 2005

Location: Goodwill Industries of North Georgia, Inc.
2201 Glenwood Ave. SE - Atlanta, GA 30316

9/09 - Preview Night 6pm - 9pm; $10.00 entry fee; kids 12 & under are admitted free.
9/10 - Super Saturday 8am - 6pm; Free entry for all.
9/11 - Sunday Noon - 6pm; Free entry for all.
9/12 - Monday 10am - 6pm; Free entry for all.

Mark your calendars and join us as we celebrate 25 years of conducting our one of a kind Book Sale events. We have more than 60 categories and all books are first come, first serve. You only have TWICE a year to get these awesome deals on our great books; people come from all parts of the USA as well as from other countries to take advantage of our great deals. Come and see for yourself!

Proceeds from our Book Sale events go to support Goodwill training, resource, and literacy programs. The mission of Goodwill Industries of North Georgia is to build stronger communities by connecting people experiencing employment barriers to work.

My wife and I will be attending Friday night. Sure, a $10 entry fee seems steep for a used book sale, but it's really a donation to a worthy cause. I'll see you there!

My New Congressman

Among the most pleasant unexpected benefits of having moved to the heart of Atlanta is that I now have as my congressman an individual I have greatly admired for some time, Representative John Lewis.

I doubt there remain a great many Americans who feel genuine pride in the man or woman who represents them in the House of Representatives, but I can now count myself among them. It is high time that I get around to reading Congressman Lewis' much lauded biography, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, and explore the origins of this great man.

31 Out of 100

Having finished James Dickey's chilling and excellent Deliverance (#42), I have read 31 of Modern Library's 100 Best English Language Novels of the 20th Century. A lot of good stuff to go. If I could just get this bar exam over with.

All the Real Books

For the morbidly curious, I have created a list of every book I own. For my own use, it makes it easy for me to access the Amazon page for all of the books. I like that for the ultra-dorky reason that when I go about choosing what book to read, I like to feel like I'm actually "shopping" for the book. It's part of how I get continually excited about what to read next, and helps me pick a book that fits the mood I'm in, or want to be in. I don't think it will be of use to anyone else, but I thought I'd let you know it was there anyhow.

All the Pretty Horses

It took me an unusually long time to finish Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. It was not a difficult book, it was simply a matter of timing. First there was the MPRE, then my trial advocacy trial (the jury deliberated for two minutes before returning a verdict in our favor), and then last week was the DeepDiscountDVD sale. That might sound particularly silly, but I spent a lot of time (and money) stocking up on my new anime hobby.

And then I spent a good bit of time creating a section of this website dedicated to my DVDs, with separate pages dedicated to mainstream DVDs, anime, and Asian cinema. That's also why I haven't done much blogging. Whatever time I spent at the computer was dedicated either to DVD shopping or setting up those pages.

Anyhow, back to the book. I loved it. Having spent my teenage years in the mountains of the West, I harbor both a real and ideal vision of the frontier, of the vast expanses of land, the rugged independence. Yet this worldview has been largely untapped by true literary talent, instead left to flounder in the hands of cliched westerns that see only the ideal, and not what lurks beneath.

But McCarthy was able to capture the whole. He saw and portrayed the idealistic code that governs the stoic cowboy worldview, but he dug further, to show that while this idealism can occasionally spur the achievement of its aspirations, it is more often a mask to obscure the harshness of reality. John Grady Cole is strong and silent, honest and noble. Yet he can also be aimless, anguished, heartbroken, and most shocking of all for the cowboy ideal, full of self-doubt. McCarthy is a subtle artist, and draws much of this out in small vignettes, single lines, single moments scattered throughout the novel. The world he paints is beautiful but fractured, full of the ghosts of hopes and dreams. In his novel, he was able to show both the ghosts and the hope, which in the end is the duality of the West, and perhaps of romance and idealism themselves.

Ignorance Revealed

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about reading so many novels is the depth and breadth of my own ignorance that is revealed. Each book leads to whole new areas of knowledge that I want to explore, and there is something rather somber about realizing there's not time enough for them all. Case in point, having just finished both of Alan Paton's novels, Cry, the Beloved Country and Too Late the Phalarope, I have an intense curiosity about the origins of South Africa. Keep in mind that both of his novels date from the early years after World War II, and both I believe (though I'm only sure about Cry) were written before the 1948 Nationalist victory and the apartheid system that resulted. So in one sense, there is curiosity about what happens after the books, what it was that ended Paton's career as a novelist so he could focus on political issues, what became of the underlying tensions in his novels that serve really as ominous dramatic irony to the reader, who knows even more than the novelist himself the darkness to come.

But the greater curiosity is actually about what happened to make South Africa the place depicted in his books. This would require stretching all the way back to the Dutch and British colonizations, the Boer War, and the subsequent efforts at conciliation, largely it seems at the expense of the natives. Anyhow, this is a recurring phenomenon for me, as it is I'm sure for many who spend much of their time reading. The pursuit of knowledge reveals as much ignorance as it cures. Strangely, it is both unsettling and deeply satisfying to know that this is an endless quest.

Book Lists, Now With Amazon Links

I'm not sure if it will be of any benefit to anyone but me, but I have edited all of the book award and list pages in my book section to include a link to each book's Amazon page (e.g. the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). Though I would get a small commission in the rare event anyone bought a book through these links, their real purpose is to provide easy access to the reader reviews at Amazon. I just got tired of cutting and pasting book titles from the lists to the Amazon search engine, so I spent a few hours on this project while watching the Star Wars trilogy on DVD.

Oh, and the Shakespeare project is still ongoing... it just got a bit sidetracked by a fellow named Dostoevsky, and a little book called Crime and Punishment. Shakespeare is great, but there are only so many of his plays one can read in a week. So I'm pushing back the target completion date until the end of the school year. Finish law school. Finish Shakespeare. Not necessarily in that order.

The Shakespeare Project, Pt. I

Of all the big gaps in my reading knowledge, and there are many, none seems bigger than my ignorance of Shakespeare. Sure, I read Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear in high school, but I do not think I had the capacity nor the inclination to appreciate them at the time. As Fadiman and Major's The New Lifetime Reading Plan recommends Shakespeare's complete works, I have my work cut out for me. Fortunately, I have a copy of The Complete Pelican Shakespeare (which I highly recommend), and have begun working my way down the list. They have the plays arranged in the traditional distinction between comedies, histories, and tragedies, and then chronologically (their estimates) within each:

The Two Gentleman of Verona
The Taming of the Shrew
The Comedy of Errors
Love's Labor's Lost
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Much Ado About Nothing
As You Like It
Twelfth Night
Troilus and Cressida
Measure for Measure
All's Well That Ends Well
Pericles
Cymbeline
The Winter's Tale
The Tempest

Henry VI, Part I
Henry VI, Part II
Henry VI, Part III
Richard III
Richard II
King John
Henry IV, Part I
Henry IV, Part II
Henry V
Henry VIII

Titus Andronicus
Romeo and Juliet
Julius Caesar
Hamlet
Othello
Timon of Athens
King Lear
Macbeth
Antony and Cleopatra
Coriolanus

The plan is to read four plays a week for the next nine weeks. At the end of each week I'll give an update on my progress, including anything noteworthy about the plays I read that week or my overall sense of Shakespeare and his works.

This week I read The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew, two of Shakespeare's earliest comedies. Thematically, the plays both seem to reflect a skepticism about the power of romantic love. In the former, the gentleman who advocates for romantic love turns out to be an unfaithful dog, able to switch the object of his desires instantly, and then switch back. And his friend, who seemingly does find true love, is willing to give his sweetheart away to save the friendship.

True love gets scarcely better treatment in The Taming, as in the final scene it is not Lucentio whose relationship seems secure and well-founded, but Petruccio, who has tortured and humiliated his shrew into submission, much to the consternation of modern sensibilities about gender equality. Not to mention the fact it is mere luck that Lucentio is sufficiently wealthy that Bianca's father will consent to the marriage (and approve of it after the fact). If Bianca had attempted to marry a servant, for example, even an elopement would scarcely have secured their happiness. Even in the Bianca subplot, finance has as much role as love.

I have quite mixed feelings about what happens to Kate in the play. In one sense, it might be best to understand both of these plays as being firmly rooted in their contemporary mores, with male friendship exalted above romantic love in The Two Gentleman, and the realities of women's role in 16th-century marriage sustained in The Taming.

Yet the urge is strong to either give Shakespeare more credit than that, or less. Perhaps we are meant to be disturbed by the almost total submission that Kate undergoes, thus leading us to question the societal norms and structures which have necessitated this change. Or perhaps Kate has tricked us all, realizing that she could attain wealth and power simply by feigning submission. Or perhaps this is simply what Shakespeare thinks true love looks like between two masters of wit, that they are engaged in a grand performance in which everyone else in the play is a mere spectator.

Still, there is the disconcerting feeling that Shakespeare, particularly at this early stage in his career, might just have been expressing the views of a sixteenth-century man: women should be submissive, subservient, and docile. Any break from this pattern must be suppressed, and bad traits purged. The Kate of the early pages represents all that is wrong in women, while the Kate of the final scene represents the ideal. If we give Shakespeare so little credit, there is not much to like in this chain of events.

In the end, I think my view is that Shakespeare was somewhere in the middle. Whether he approved of the narrow limits placed on wives or not, he recognized that a woman who refuses to play by those rules is likely to be quite unhappy, and remain alone for life. This is the Kate we see from the start. Crafty, witty, vivacious, but quite sad, angry and lonely. Shakespeare was no dreamy idealist, he was not about to write a play in which Kate can ride roughshod over society and still be loved and accepted. But at least he does not let Kate be tamed by one of the ordinary ignoramuses that woo her sister. Instead she finally meets her match, and takes her proper place in that society. Not the most satisfying of outcomes, but perhaps the best amongst the poor choices offered to a woman like Kate at the end of the sixteenth-century.

Much Too Profound For Its Own Good

A landmark has been reached. I have finished my first Virginia Woolf novel. And though I enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway, I have also never been more certain of a novel being better than I can appreciate. I am still too young, too interested in finishing novels rather than savoring them, and Mrs. Dalloway is, more than any novel I've heretofore encountered, one that needs to be unpacked. And that takes time, care, and sometimes just plain old repetition. So I will return to it, again and again I'm sure, and I have no doubt it will be better each time. For now, I'll relax with what passed for quality in the 1990's, Michael Cunningham's The Hours.

I wrote briefly a few days ago about the phenomenon of a book being "too profound for its own good." This is the sense that the book has had so much influence over the years, that at this late date it is hard to see how revolutionary it was when published. In that vein, I am now embarking on what could be the next great landmark I achieve: a reading of Shakespeare's collected plays.

Now, if there is anything that qualifies as "too profound for its own good," this is it. Shakespeare has been copied, imitated, twisted, turned, interpreted, re-interpreted, condemned, revived, and thus rather influential. Every plot of every novel or film I've ever seen is likely a take on something Shakespeare already wrote (not to mention the plethora of Shakespeare quotes appropriated by pop culture), so I'll have to go easy on the old guy if it sounds like I've heard some of his stuff before.

Too Profound For Its Own Good

Hidden inside DVDTalk's review of the upcoming DVD release of the Star Wars Trilogy is this nugget of wisdom, which goes a long way toward expressing a sense I've long held regarding the "most important" works of literature:

What's perhaps most interesting about this blend of fantasy and science fiction is that it still remains essentially unique; while many films and television shows were immediately inspired by the science-fictional elements and the sweeping story arc, the fundamental concept of blending the two genres still remains largely the province of Star Wars. That continuing uniqueness is one reason why the three original Star Wars films retain their storytelling power. Think of The Lord of the Rings, in contrast: the original novel was utterly ground-breaking when it was published in the 1950s, but its influence was too profound for its own good. After reading and watching so many stories that were influenced by Tolkien's work, it's almost impossible to experience The Lord of the Rings as having the same power as when it first came out. Not so with Star Wars, which still has its original freshness.

Now I'm not sold on this particular comparison. I happen to see Star Wars more as the culmination of a long-running blend of science fiction and fantasy, from Asimov's Foundation novels to Dune and so forth. But the overall point is a very important one. Often times it is extremely difficult to understand and appreciate the revolutionary or evolutionary influence of an important book (or film or piece of music) because we are already living in a post-revolutionary world.

For example, I am currently reading Mrs. Dalloway, which is almost universally lauded as a groundbreaking landmark in modernist fiction. Yet as a 21st century reader, I have to maintain an intentional self-consciousness to remember that Woolf was practically reinventing the novel, rather than simply recycling modernist literary methods that are now used ad nauseam by thousands of pretenders. It is an challenge, especially while simultaneously trying to make sense of the work itself, but I think it is worthwhile.

Calvino IS a Wizard

As promised, Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler was marvelous. Finally, a post-modern writer with talent! And an amazingly risky and complicated novel that succeeds. As my classmate Micah Schwartzman said, there is every reason to expect the structure to fail completely, and yet it does not. This alone is impressive. Yet Calvino goes further, taking his originality and aiming it in a fascinating direction: the purposes and assumptions that govern the art of reading and the relationship between an author and a reader. I will most certainly have to read the book again to fully appreciate Calvino's message, but even with what little I have succeeded in understanding I can appreciate his accomplishment.

The Sorrow of Martin Luther King, Jr., Pt. II

I cannot say I am entirely satisfied by Garrow's Bearing the Cross, which I have just finished. He seemed to sacrifice depth for the sake of breadth, coherence and analysis for the sake of detail. I am quite sure I now have an accurate record of every meeting Dr. King ever attended, but I am still left with big gaps in my understanding of King's life. In particular, Garrow offers almost no discussion of how King was viewed by the black masses that he sought to inspire. Garrow's approach focuses heavily on the institutional actors and their leaders that one can easily forget that, as Ella Baker says in Garrow's epilogue, the movement made King and not the other way around. I suspect Halberstam's The Children or the first couple books in Taylor Branch's civil rights trilogy might offer more in this direction.

This is not to say Garrow's book does not succeed in many areas. The tenor of the epilogue suggests that Garrow was largely concerned with lifting the veil of mystery and getting away from the whitewashed hagiography that had surrounded King from almost the moment of his premature death. To an extent then, Garrow is a victim of his own success. As I noted in my post, I had already come to see King as a much more complicated, less saintly person than the one depicted in grade school texts and holiday celebrations. I suspect Garrow's book was much more groundbreaking when written, and I give him credit for breaking that ground.

The Sorrow of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In reading Garrow's biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., I have been particularly struck my several themes that ring discordant with my general schoolbook knowledge of the civil rights leader. They are not the themes that disturb most people. Over the years, I've been made generally aware of his marital infidelities, but despite my distaste for infidelity I have largely set aside that flaw in my feelings about individuals in history. Instead I take the sad frequency of infidelity amongst leaders to be a general symbol of the flawed nature of even the most accomplished and ambitious men.

So I have not been surprised to learn of King's frequent associations with other women, and Garrow does not linger there. Instead I have been surprised to see just how unhappy a man he was. This was not a man who had ambitions of greatness, let alone a sense that he was destined for any such thing. He was constantly reluctant to take on roles of leadership, and at best came to accept that he must carry the burden that circumstance had put on his shoulders. He was away from home more than twenty-five days a month. He was constantly sick, and often downright depressed.

One of the main contributors to his unhappiness was a revelation to me that Garrow's book frequently explores: the drowning complexities of bureaucratic in-fighting in the civil rights movement, both between the various civil rights organizations and within King's own Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). I was vaguely aware of the tension between the NAACP, which favored the primacy of litigation, and other groups more drawn to direct action such as protests and boycotts. Yet I had no sense of the breadth and depth of rivalry between the NAACP, the SCLC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Congress of Racial Equality, among others.

And this was in the days before Black Power, before Stokely Carmichael took over the SNCC from John Lewis. Even in the early days, it seems like at least half of King's time was spent trying to smooth over relations with the NAACP's Roy Wilkins or the leaders of other groups. SCLC was constantly accused of keeping money fundraised for the efforts of other groups (so much so that an umbrella fundraising group, the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, had to be created just to distribute money amongst the groups). King was personally accused of riding in after the groundwork was done by others, and refusing to personally bear the most difficult burdens (e.g. he declined to join the Freedom Rides).

The politics within SCLC were scarely less vexing. Ralph Abernathy became almost insanely jealous when King was given the Nobel Peace Prize, leading to a public rebuke from Nobel officials. There were constant arguments over salaries, titles, lines of authority, etc. The FBI and Kennedy/Johnson administrations hounded King over the past Communist affiliations of several advisors. It is marvel that the organization worked at all.

Honestly, it is also amazing that King found time for anything else, let alone time to be the leader of a revolutionary social movement. I'm only halfway through the book, and there are still three years bfore King's death. But when even the Civil Rights Act and Nobel Peace Prize provide mere glimpses of sunlight in an otherwise dark life, and the internal conflicts in the civil rights movement are about to burst right open, I'm fearful that the last years of King's life will prove to have been no more pleasant.

Calvino is a Wizard

I recently found a piece of paper stuck inside the used copy of Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, which I bought this summer and have just begun reading. It contained this note:

"Calvino is a wizard"
and this book is an enchantment
let it capture you

Antonia

Very cool. If I ever donate my books to a library or used book store, I think I'll do something similar.

What I Read, Summer 2004

It was a busy summer, what with getting engaged and working at a law firm for 13 weeks. But I still managed to average two books a week (and get laughed at by my friends at the firm for always carrying a book with me), a pace I'm going to try and keep throughout the semester. It'll be difficult here at the beginning, as I try to get ahead in my classes, and blogging may be light for the same reason. Anyhow, here's what I read, in the order I read it:

Emma - Jane Austen
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
The Theban Plays - Sophocles
The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Beauty & Sadness - Yasunari Kawabata
Dreamtigers - Jorge Luis Borges
The Iceman Cometh - Eugene O'Neill
Krapp's Last Tape - Samuel Beckett
Endgame - Samuel Beckett
Vietnam - Stanley Karnow
Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
Candide - Voltaire
Founding Brothers - Joseph Ellis
The Plague - Albert Camus
Herzog - Saul Bellow
Confessions of a Mask - Yukio Mishima
Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
The English Teacher - R.K. Narayan
Candida - George Bernard Shaw
American Sphinx - Joseph Ellis
What Kind of Nation - James Simon
Pere Goriot - Honore Balzac
Patriots - A.J. Langguth
Notes From Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky
Barabbas - Par Lagerkvist
Sense & Sensibility - Jane Austen
Robert Kennedy: His Life - Evan Thomas
A Death in the Family - James Agee
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata

I enjoyed everything but the Beckett, and especially recommend Kawabata's Beauty & Sadness and Lagerkvist's Barabbas, since those are two books that don't appear on many people's short lists.

My Book Quiz Results

No surprises here. Not only am I Siddhartha, I'm the Dover Thrift Edition! Personally, I prefer the New Directions volume (but $1.50 is hard to argue with).


You're Siddhartha! by Hermann Hesse

You simply don't know what to believe, but you're willing to try anything once. Western values, Eastern values, hedonism and minimalism, you've spent some time in every camp. But you still don't have any idea what camp you belong in. This makes you an individualist of the highest order, but also really lonely. It's time to chill out under a tree. And realize that at least you believe in ferries.

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

Bobby Kennedy

Bobby Kennedy is likely the most famous alumnus of my law school, so I thought it would be fitting to become more familiar with his life before I graduated. Toward that end, I began reading Evan Thomas' Robert Kennedy: His Life, and have been richly rewarded. I think the cover blurb actually says it well, calling the book an "unvarnished but sympathetic and fair-minded portrayal." Thomas isn't afraid to show RFK's darkness, but he also gives a more complex and complete explanation for where the darkness came from, and at what it was aimed.

A funny tidbit for UVA Law folks, here's the reaction when RFK was named attorney general at thirty-five, having yet to actually practice law:

In the faculty room at Bobby's alma mater, the University of Virginia Law School, the announcement of RFK's appointment as attorney general was greeted with a "roar of incredulity," recalled Mortimer Capilin, Bob Kennedy's old tax professor (and soon-to-be Jack Kennedy's commissioner of internal revenue).

For those who've never visited the building, almost half of all rooms at the UVA School of Law are named for Mortimer Caplin (or so it seems).

Book-Buyers Anonymous

I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that the biggest recurring annoyance I cause my betrothed (and this shows how great I am, ha) is my inability to stop buying books. There are just too damn many, and there are too many good places to buy them. The latest bargain shop I've found is IcoBooks, which is the first place I've found to have lots of books published by Vintage. I've picked up Ellison, Mishima, Kawabata, Faulkner, and others, all in new or like new condition for $5 each with shipping. The website is slow and often broken, but the books arrive fast, well-packed, and in great condition. One of the best sites I've found.

But now I am done. I declare right now, publicly and in writing, that I will not buy another book in 2004. I will not attend the Green Valley Book Fair in August as planned. I will not be placing any more online orders (and the vendors gasp!). Instead, I will try and make do with the hundreds of books still on my shelf, waiting to be read. It's a veritable library of its own at this point, and I'll be better off getting excited about books I own, "shopping" among them for the next one to actually read, and giving my fiancee no further concern that our already cramped apartment will soon be a library with a bed.

Great Literature Project

I did some maintenance work on the book section this weekend. The Great Literature Project is now on its own page, and is now powered by Book Collector. While that primarily means a great deal more convenience for me (and a much lower likelihood that I will continue to purchase books I already own), it includes one very nice feature that some UH readers may take advantage of. The title of each book on the list is automatically linked to the book's page at Amazon, so you can immediately peruse other reviews.

For the bookworms out there, I highly recommend the Book Collector software. It is easy to use and powerful out of the (proverbial) box, but also allows nearly limitless customization (as evidenced by the Great Literature Project, which is nearly a straight export from the program).

Potter Fanaticism

I think Books-a-Million might be taking Harry Potter fanaticism a little too far:

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is the sixth title in the Harry Potter series. Sign up to find out when it can be pre-ordered!

Just to be clear: this is an e-mail list created so that you can be notified just as soon as BAMM starts taking advanced orders. Deep breaths, people.

Clinton and Garcia-Marquez

My girlfriend passed along this tidbit from Clinton's new book, interesting to those of us in the ever thriving law student book nerd community:

Page 186: "Once, instead of paying attention to class, I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. At the end of the hour, Professor Chirelstein asked me what was so much more interesting than his lecture. I held up the book and told him it was the greatest novel written in any language since William Faulkner died. I still think so."

It certainly is a good book.

Recalling the Moon

One of the recurring themes in Borges' Dreamtigers is the notion that no description (and thus no poem, no story, no novel) can fully capture the essence of the object being described. A particularly eloquent invocation of this theme can be seen in the opening lines of his short poem, "The Moon":

History tells us how in that past time
When all things happened, real,
Imaginary, and dubious, a man
Conceived the unconscionable plan

Of making an abridgment of the universe
In a single book and with infininte zest
He towered his screed up, lofty and
Strenuous, polished it, spoke the final verse.

About to offer his thanks to fortune,
He lifted up his eyes and saw a burnished
Disc in the air and realized, stunned,
That somehow he had forgotten the moon.

Well said. I very much enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the short fiction that made Borges famous.

Book Bargains III

Another good deal from Books-a-Million's remainder department: David Garrow's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bearing the Cross for $4.99. Again, for free shipping on any one order (even under $25, which is their normal promotion), use coupon code: BPSUMMER. It comes from the back of their monthly magazine (BookPage) and expires 6/30/04.

I also think their Millionaire's Club is well worth the annual $10 fee. You get an additional 10% off all online or retail store purchases. I get it free as a military discount, but would definitely have bought it by now (and it would easily have paid for itself).

And for those wondering, I have no affiliation whatsoever with BAMM and will get no financial reward if you click any of the links I provide to them. I simply think they have a great remainders department, and I also appreciate that they give soldiers, sailors, and airmen a 10% discount through our online exchange.

I only have an associate relationship with Amazon, which actually tends not to have very good book bargains very often. So I'll be passing on good prices I find no matter where I find them (so long as I know it is a reputable source).

The Witness

A beautiful passage from Borges' Dreamtigers, making a sad, poignant and intriguing point about human mortality:

Events far-reaching enough to people all space, whose end is nonetheless tolled when one man dies, may cause us wonder. But something, or an infinite number of things, dies in every death, unless the universe is possessed of a memory, as the theosophists have supposed.

In the course of time there was a day that closed the last eyes to see Christ. The battle of Junin and the love of Helen each died with the death of some one man. What will die with me when I die, what pitiful or perishable form will the world lose?

I am only twenty pages into it, but this is good stuff.

Book Bargains II

Books-a-Million has remaindered copies of a very nice paperback omnibus of The Lord of the Rings for $7.99. I own this edition and think it the best available way to have the whole trilogy in a portable copy. I have a free shipping coupon around here somewhere (it applies even for orders under $25). I'll try to find it and post it tonight or tomorrow morning.

UPDATE: Okay, here it is. For free shipping on any one order, use coupon code: BPSUMMER. It comes from the back of their monthly magazine (BookPage) and expires 6/30/04.

Book Bargains I

As some of you may know, I have a moderate to serious addiction to buying books, so I spend a lot of time surfing online bookstores. I thought one potentially redeeming aspect of this would be to share the better bargains I run across on books that readers might be interested in. I ran across two such books today on Amazon (I am a member of their associate program, but plan on passing on bargains even at stores with which I have no such relationship).

Right now they have new copies of the gorgeous centennial edition of John Steinbeck's East of Eden for $6.40, and remaindered copies of David McCullough's John Adams for $4.99. Both are highly recommended.

Bizarre Citation

In an otherwise brilliant and informative introduction to Oedipus the King (especially useful for its discussion of how Sophocles used sleight of hand to sidestep the free will/fate paradox implicit in the Oedipus myth), Bernard Knox has just quoted "the late J. Edgar Hoover." That's just plain weird.

William Manchester

The world has lost a great historian with the death of William Manchester, but CNN's obituary does include a silver lining for the many readers of his books:

Poor health had kept him from completing the third volume of his best-selling Churchill series, "The Last Lion, Volume III." Paul Reid, a feature writer at The Palm Beach Post, was chosen last month to help finish the book.

An immensely popular series, I think it was almost universally believed that the trilogy would remain incomplete. I have no knowledge of Paul Reid or his qualifications, but we can at least hope that he does justice to Manchester's work.

Summer Reading

I'm trying to take only one box of books up to DC with me, and it has been quite a battle to try to pick the books. That's one consequence of buying hundreds of books: too many appealing and readily available choices! I think I'd like to make further inroads into the New Lifetime Reading Plan component of the project (I'm apparently aiming to have the Plan finished before I turn 25), so almost everything in the box right now is listed in that volume. I picked primarily short novels and plays, so that I can finish them in quick bursts rather than having to stretch a long novel over several weeks:

Caesar and Cleopatra - Shaw
Candida - Shaw
Candide - Voltaire
Confessions of a Mask - Mishima
Crime and Punishment - Dostoevsky
Dreamtigers - Borges
Endgame - Beckett
English Teacher - Narayan
Frankenstein - Shelley
Hard Times - Dickens
Herzog - Bellow
Iceman Cometh - O'Neill
Krapp's Last Tape - Beckett
Man and Superman - Shaw
Mayor of Casterbridge - Hardy
Mrs. Dalloway - Woolf
Notes From Underground - Dostoevsky
Oresteia - Aeschylus
Pere Goriot - Balzac
Robinson Crusoe - Defoe
Ruba'iyat - Khayyam
Scarlet Letter - Hawthorne
Sense and Sensibility - Austen
Theban Plays - Sophocles
Treasure Island - Stevenson

I just love making lists of books! Almost as much as reading them, in fact. The way I figure, I'll be working pretty hard all day, but will for the first time in a long time have no responsibilities during the evenings and weekends. It is much easier for me to immerse myself in a fictional world when the citecheck or class reading for next week is not lurking in the back of my head, waiting to be finished. In addition, the townhouse I'm staying in does not have high-speed Internet (the horror!), so I'll have an offline home. Ought to be a good summer for reading.

David Copperfield

I've just finished one of the most rewarding reading experiences of my life, a two month sojourn with one of the world's great authors and his favorite of his own novels (What's that you say? My exams are next week? I should be outlining?). For three hundred pages, I enjoyed a singularly splendid depiction of childhood, filled with the most extraordinary assortment of characters I've ever encountered. This was followed by five hundred pages of such compelling and interwoven plotlines, I can not begin to fathom how Dickens managed to write it as a serial and yet keep it all together. To be plain: I laughed, I cried, and I loved every single page. I have a real sense of sadness that I'm now saying goodbye to Peggotty, Mr. Micawber, and Betsey Trotwood, among others. I will miss them.

A lesser author might not have been able to overcome the convenient coincidences that Dickens delights in using, with long-forgotten characters returning to the story in the most unlikely of fashions. This, and other undeniable flaws, provide much ammunition for those want to dislike the book. That is their right. But to do so, I think one must willfully refuse to be seduced by a truly great and moving novel. I'm not the only one who thinks so, of course. It was, like many of the time, Tolstoy's favorite book:

If you sift the world's prose literature, Dickens will remain; sift Dickens, David Copperfield will remain.

Agreed. And though others of Dickens' books might be more serious, more profound, I get the sense that none are more of a pleasure to read. I'm going to savor this, and look forward to the distant day when I am ready to pick it up again.

Vietnam Reading

I mentioned below that I've got a lot of books on Vietnam waiting on my shelf to be read. That's probably an understatement. I think as soon as I finish Bradlee's autobiography (which is, so far, very frank and very entertaining), I'm going to get started on Vietnam. I just don't think I can understand Iraq, or come to terms with what our military is doing there, until I understand Vietnam. I don't think understanding Vietnam is itself a sufficient condition for understanding Iraq (too many differences in global politics, domestic American changes, and the locale itself), but I do think it is a necessary one. Here's my reading list:

A Bright Shining Lie - Neil Sheehan
Dispatches - Michael Herr
Our Vietnam - A.J. Langguth
A Rumor of War - Philip Caputo
Vietnam: A History - Stanley Karnow
We Were Soldiers Once... and Young - Lt. Gen. Harold Moore

If I'm missing anything that should be on my list, let me know.

UPDATE: Thanks for all the responses! Here are additional books recommended by readers:

The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
Fire in the Lake - Frances Fitzgerald
On Strategy - Colonel Summers
Four Hours in My Lai - Bilton & Sim
Vietnam Wars 1945-1990 - Marilyn Young

That said, I think I'm going to postpone my Vietnam reading until after exams. It's a bit too serious for a mind already saturated with issues of justiciability and compelled speech.

Michael Chabon

I attended a reading by Michael Chabon on Saturday as part of last weeks Virginia Festival of Books, and it was quite a delight. Having already read Wonder Boys (and seen the movie many times), it was particularly fun to see Chabon in a book festival setting. Just seemed fitting, like Grady Tripp and James Lear were lurking somewhere in the back of the room.

Chabon was much more soft-spoken than I had expected. I somehow envisioned a boomy bass-filled voice, but was instead greeted by a somewhat dimunitive man with a somewhat diminutive voice. He read a deleted chapter from his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which I've not yet gotten around to, even though I bought it as soon as it made it to paperback. Though I thus did not have a very good sense of who the characters were, it was not at all difficult to detect Chabon's devotion to detail, the way he immerses himself in the world that he creates. After the reading, he talked about this at length, the division of his life between the fantasy world of his novels and the more mundane world that he really lives in, and how it was largely this dichotomy that he was trying to explore in Kavalier and Clay.

I thought this jived with the intuition I've previously expressed about a reader becoming a part of the world of the books he reads. It can, of course, only be that much more powerful for someone who is actually creating the world. Chabon, for example, said he spent four and a half years writing Kavalier and Clay. Imagine four years of sitting down in front of the computer, creating and crafting and sculpting in this fictional land, and then having to take the kids to soccer practice, pick up the dry cleaning, take out the garbage, and so on. I mean, I feel that disconnect after spending a few days reading a book. I can hardly imagine how an author must feel. I guess that's yet another reason to start Kavalier and Clay. I think I'm going to read his first novel before that, however. It might be nice to have read that and Wonder Boys before starting on his latest work. It's much shorter, as well, so it fits better into my currently hectic schedule.

Green Valley Book Fair

I had the great pleasure yesterday of hopping in my car and making the hour drive out to Harrisonburg for the Green Valley Book Fair:

Located just south of Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, the Green Valley Book Fair is a discount book outlet store featuring over 500,000 new books at incredible bargain prices.

It is essentially a Sam's Club-sized warehouse of remaindered books (check this story for pictures), and it was probably the closest I'll ever get to being a "kid in a candy shop." I found many books I've been wanting to buy (one of the dangers of becoming so cognizent of great literature is that there are always many books I want to buy), and just could not resist the bargains. The only book I paid more than $6 was the first volume of David Tod Roy's new translation of The Plum in the Golden Vase, which I got for $7.50, a substantial discount from its Amazon price of $29.25. Amonst the literature selections, I picked up Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, Richard Wright's Black Boy and Native Son, John Cheever's The Wapshot Chronicle, O.E. Rolvaag's The Giants in the Earth, and several others. They also had nearly every work by Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Wharton (which I would have bought if I did not already own them; alas, the only downside to owning a book is that I cannot buy it again... unless, of course, a really cool new edition comes out).

Their history and biography selection was also excellent, and I was able to find several books I've long desired to purchase: Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Daniel Yergin's The Prize, David Herbert Donald's Lincoln, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and several others.

All in all, I highly successful and rewarding trip. I'll probably go again after this summer, when I have even more disposable income. Here's this year's schedule:

March 20 thru April 4
May 15 thru 31
July 3 thru 18
August 21 thru Sept 6
October 9 thru 24
Nov. 26 thru Dec. 12

I highly recommend all book lovers in the area find a way to attend at least once. I guarantee it is worth the drive.

Recently Read

I just added several reviews for books I read last week, and thought I'd include them here. I'm afraid I'm spending so much time reading that I've paid little attention to what others consider newsworthy, thus the lack of commentary on the tragedies of the moment. These reviews are, of course, just one man's opinion.

Neuromancer - William Gibson

>I think this is one of those novels that is probably more noteworthy as a landmark than as a piece of literature. Its vision and prescience are remarkable, and there can be little doubt that it has had a tremendous influence on the last couple decades of science fiction. It is, for example, hard to imagine The Matrix without Neuromancer. To the extent that cyberpunk can indeed be traced to this novel, I am largely grateful it was written. Yet it was a bit of a disappointment to read. Gibson is so wrapped up in the style of what he is creating, the world of cyberpunk, that the substance of the story gets left aside. We get inklings of existentialism, some faux-Eastern philosophy, and lots of name dropping (e.g. the police are called "Turing agents"). It had a sleek sheen, but little more.

Grade: C

How to Be Good - Nick Hornby

I am a big Nick Hornby fan. In fact, it is hard to imagine how I could have avoided becoming a big Nick Hornby fan. I'm a music obsessive (and a music snob!), and have always loved making "top 5 lists." So I pick up High Fidelity and love it. I pick it up again, and love it even more. I currently include it in my top five favorite books. Fandom secured, I go looking for more. About a Boy intrigued me, and I think a second reading of it could be in the works anyday now. Then I ran across Fever Pitch while browsing the biography section. By this time I have been an Arsenal fan for almost 4 years (having adopted them upon my return from Europe in summer 1996, where I had become obsessed with European football; my favorite player during Euro '96 was Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp; Arsenal was his club, so it became my club, and that was all she wrote). Turns out Hornby is an Arsenal fan. No, not just a fan, an obsessed man who writes an entire memoir of his life framed in relation to Arsenal matches.

So when Nick Hornby came out with a new novel, I was interested. I would have picked it up immediately, but I began hearing lukewarm reviews. So I did not buy it right away, and slowly it faded out of my attention. Until, that is, a few weeks ago when I found it on one of the discount online bookstores I frequent. I purchased a remaindered copy for $3.99, and put it on my shortlist.

For once, I would have been better off listening to the reviews. It was just not very good. It took me a few days to figure out what I didn't like. It is not just that Katie is so unlikeable. Most of Hornby's protagonists have rough edges, with the reader constantly wavering between antipathy and sympathy. But this one is different. First, everyone else is unlikeable too. No charming (or even amusing) side characters or subplots. Before his "conversion", her husband is wretched and unbearable. Afterwards, he and GoodNews are one-note parodies of themselves. Same with the children, her friend Becca, and her patients. Second, she had no character arc. She starts out self-involved, selfish, pessimistic, and confused and stays the course throughout the book. Though there are supposed to be signs of change (she moves out, she moves back in, etc.), these physical plot pieces seem unrelated to any actual internal evolution.

If there had been a strong plot, perhaps the book would have been more enjoyable. At least there might have been enough tension to create some desire to turn the page. But Hornby is never really about plot, he just wants vehicles to give his characters room to play, to grow. With unlikeable, two-dimensional characters and a distinct absence of internal development, this book is left with little to recommend it. The best that can be said is that Hornby's prose is easy to read, making it even simpler to breeze through its vacuity. A huge disappointment.

Grade: D

Big Fish - Daniel Wallace

This is not a big or complex novel, and it does not aspire to be so. But it is a simple pleasure, offering one of the most unique and creative takes on the difficulties of fatherhood that I've seen. In its breezy 180 pages (big font, big margins), Wallace takes the oft-explored tension between absent fathers and their distant sons and turns it into a story of wonder and wisdom. The influence of Greek mythology is evident throughout, and it certainly has the flavor of that grandeur and glee, the pure pleasure of storytelling. Yet there is a sad undercurrent which comes to the surface in the recurring scenes at the father's deathbed. That these wondrous stories are all the son has to construct his father's life with is a testament to the tragedy of the emotionally inaccessible. As one who is always on the lookout for stories offering a new take, some new wisdom on the father/son relationship, this was a welcome cautionary tale that I will keep on the shelf until it can serve me as a vocational tool as well.

Grade: B

You Are What You Read

There is, of course, long-standing wisdom that you are what you eat. I think for book addicts, those of us who fill some or most of our free time with reading for leisure, there is a real sense in which we are what we read. Just as viewing a moving film, or listening to music can effect your mood, so too can the reading of a book. And while those activities can have lingering effects, they are at least themselves normally finished within an hour or two. You watch the movie, then it is over. You listen to the album, then it is over. Whereas a book of any substantial length can be a part of your active life for days or weeks (sometimes months if the book is long enough or life is busy). So there is a sense in which part of a book addict's active existence is always occurring within that sphere, within that book.

This is not a ground-breaking idea. It is exemplified most obviously in the idea of "beach reads," which are supposed to be light and breezy just like you want your vacation to be. But for some reason, I had not fully internalized that this same line of thinking applies to all reading at all times. And thus it was that yesterday I decided that perhaps I should put Joseph Conrad down for a while. He is just not an author to be reading when you are already experiencing inklings of pessimism or aimlessness, unless of course you are a teenager who wants to confirm and wallow in the righteousness of your depression. Certainly I should not have been reading Conrad and Dickens side-by-side. It is just too much darkness to take, too depressing of a fictional world to be occupying when the real world is already getting you down.

No, I need to keep the proper balance in my leisure reading between intellectual and emotional challenge and the pleasures of escape. That is, after all, why I normally read two books at once. I try to read one great and/or difficult work of literature, and another book that takes less effort or at least operates on some other level. The second book has often been a history or biography, and has often been a work of science fiction. Today it is Nick Hornby's How to Be Good, which I believe is the only novel of his I have not read. All of his other work gave me great pleasure, and though this novel is so far a bit darker and harder to connect to, I was able to get through 100 pages in an hour and a half. It took me 4 days to get through the 100 pages of Heart of Darkness.

The Secret Agent, Terrorism, and Dual Monologues

I finished Conrad's The Secret Agent last night, and I must confess to genuine disbelief that it was written by the same author as Heart of Darkness. Though both works of tremendous value, they are so disparate in their style and setting as to serve as true testament to Conrad's amazing life experience and his quality as an author. As such, I can recommend The Secret Agent both to those who loved and those who hated Heart of Darkness.

Of particular note in distinguishing the novels would be these two points: 1) The Secret Agent has a bit more plot. It is still not the focus of the book, remaining always in the background with pivotal events often described after the fact. Yet there is still a better sense of why things happen, what led from one thing to the next, and even occasionally a sense of dramatic tension. 2) The characters are much fuller. Conrad purposefully and exquisitely left the characters in Heart of Darkness with a great deal of mystery, Kurtz being the most obvious example of this. In The Secret Agent, we get a better sense of the history, the motivations, and the sensibilities of the characters. We get inside their heads. In fact, several of the characters are as well-crafted as some of Dickens' more memorable creations, quite a feat for an author trying to operate more on our intellect than our emotions (in contrast to Dickens).

Insofar as the book concerns revolutionary terrorism at the turn of the 20th Century, I was constantly reminded of Albert Camus' play, The Just Assassins. Much of the early conversation between Conrad's various revolutionaries could probably have occurred just as easily amongst Camus' characters, though of course colored by the distinctive philosophy of that author. What this really brought to mind, however, is just how much about terrorism has changed, and yet how little. The thing that seems to have changed most is merely the scale. The anarchists and socialists of the late 19th century were simply incapable of the sort of mass destruction which al-Qaeda or Hamas are capable of. They did not have the training, the organization, or the equipment. The other big change seems to be the targets. Instead of targeting government buildings or other property, or at most individual political leaders, today's terrorists purposefully target civilians. It seems they are also more likely to be foreigners operating in their enemy's territory, rather than homegrown discontents.

What has stayed the same is the purpose: to frighten the populace, to effect public opinion and public discourse in disproportion to their strength and support, to provoke a fierce but misguided response by the government. Sadly, it was all too easy to see universal themes of discontent and discord in Conrad's revolutionaries.

And yet it was by no means entirely a political novel. My favorite scene occurs late in the book, between one of the main characters and his wife. I will give no further details on what they discuss, as it would ruin the plot. Instead, I'll say that what I loved was just how oblivious they were to what was going on in each other's heads. Conrad does a tremendous job giving the reader the inner thoughts of each of them, and it is almost as if they were occuping wholly different dimensions. This got me thinking about just how many of our daily conversations must be this way. Perhaps all of them. If I had to give it a name, I'd call them "Dual Monologues." The two people think they are having a conversation, think they are communicating, but in reality they are miles apart in their thoughts, intentions, understandings. They have little or no knowledge of what is actually going on in the other person's head, and as such have little comprehension of what the conversation means to that person, how they are hearing what is being said, how they are meaning what they say. The conversation that Conrad presents is such an extreme example of this that it is impossible to miss the difficulty that must surely attach to all our personal interactions to some extent.

It is something I have and will continue to grapple with: recognizing that words do not always sound or mean the same to those who hear them as those who say them. This means being mindful of my own words, being careful that proper tones are taken, that jocularity is not taken as harshness, constructive criticism not taken as condemnation. It also means being a more mindful listener, looking to the motivations and the state of mind of the speaker, the undercurrents of the dialogue. It is a lifetime endeavor, but I think a worthwhile one.

Heart of Darkness

I just finished Heart of Darkness after two days of reading, which considering its mere 100 page length ought to tell you something about just how dense a novella it is. In fact, among those who've seen me reading it in the hallways the past couple days, the density of the book is the one thing most remembered. I'd say the other really striking thing is just how serious a book it is, and how seriously it takes itself. I do not think many would question what an important and brilliant novel David Copperfield is, but read it side-by-side with Conrad and the comic overtones that Dickens employs stand out all the more starkly. Heart of Darkness is, appropriately, almost entirely devoid of humor. Combine that with its density and it is little wonder that high school students have cursed the name of Joseph Conrad for generations.

As I said yesterday, it is the recent unpleasantness in Haiti, combined with our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which finally inspired me to re-read Conrad's novella. I'm not sure I found exactly what I was looking for, but I think the light/darkness motif has at least a couple potential interpretations which would be of some relevance.

The first intepretation of light/darkness I see would be as a contrast of civilized versus savage, at least in the eyes of Marlow and his European contemporaries. One line early in the text stood out, and strikes me as the lynchpin not only to understanding this aspect of the book, but in some ways understanding the relationship Americans (and Europeans before us) have with what we consider the dark and troubled parts of the world:

And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth.

With that line, Marlow interrupts the unnamed narrator's account of the great adventures and conquests that have been launched from London and the Thames, and conjures images of the Romans landing at Britain and finding savage barbarism wholly inferior to their Roman lifestyles.

It seems there are two ways to read this line. Either as a warning to imperialists who rest their claims on inherent superiority, or as encouragement to those who can find hope in the fact that even the great civilizations of today started somewhere. In other words, who can tell what greatness will arise from the less modern parts of the contemporary world. I think it fair to say that Conrad's novel is primarily, and rightly, considered to harbor strong anti-colonial sentiment. But I think there is a touch of hope in that line about dark places, suggesting that even from the darkness, light can emerge.

The second interpretation of light/darkness I see is a contrast between good and evil. And here, the two important questions seem to be: 1) Is there really a darkness, or is it just the condescending perspective of the white Europeans that sees such a darkness?; 2) If there is a darkness, how can we be so sure we didn't just bring it with us? I think this latter question is particularly important for current American forays into foreign lands. Our goals and conduct in those pursuits tell us at least as much about ourselves as they do about the objects of our behavior. If we see a darkness in these places, perhaps it is a darkness revealed in ourselves, carried into foreign lands and exposed under fire.

Reading Bernard Shaw

shaw.gifI zipped through Halberstam's Summer of '49 last night in about 6 hours. It was, after all, a book about baseball, and about good old-fashioned baseball in particular. Just the kind of thing I can't put down. I can not say I was blown away by the book, nor did it hold any particularly striking insights. But Halberstam is a great writer, and if nostalgia over long-lost eras of baseball is your thing (as it is mine), it's a good, quick read.

I am now beginning one of the most exciting parts of my Great Literature Project: Bernard Shaw. During my junior year of high school, the Academic Decathlon competition's English selections were Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Shaw's Pygmalion. I read each ~15 times, and came to love them dearly. Since then, I have not read anything else by either playwright, a tremendous gap in my reading that I'm looking to fill. It does not take long to learn that Shaw was quite a personality. As the author of The New Lifetime Reading Plan (clearly a big fan of Shaw) puts it:

A man who lived to be ninety-four; who probably began thinking in his cradle if not in the womb; who left behind him, in addition to a vast library of correspondence, thirty-three massive volumes of plays, prefaces, novels, economic treatises, pamphlets, literary criticism, dramatic criticism, musical criticism, and miscellaneous journalism dealing with every major preoccupation of his time and many trivial ones; and who, like all his favorite supermen, lived forward, as it were, toward an unguessable future--such a man reduces to no formula.

Of immediate interest to me, the Shaw reader, is his habit of writing tremendous introductions to his plays:

always read the prefaces that usually accompany the plays. As prose they are masterly. As arguments they are often more comprehensive and persuasive than the plays--see, for example, the astounding Preface to Androcles and the Lion on the prospects of Christianity.

See the preface? How could one miss it? In my 158-page volume of Androcles and the Lion, the preface starts on page 9, and the play on page 111. Anyhow, the Plan lists 11 of his plays in chronological order. I was able to pick up 8 of them on remainder, and plan on reading them all over the next few weeks.

Paper and Glue

I spent a few hours this weekend updating the books section of this website. In addition to my "Great Literature Project," you'll also find a growing archive of award winners and "best of" lists, as well as my own mini-reviews of books as I finish them.

Constants

If much of the specifics of contemporary life are transitory, it seems the big picture remains relatively constant. Here is Chekhov's Toozenbach, again from Three Sisters:

After we're dead, people will fly about in balloons, the cut of their coats will be different, the sixth sense will be discovered, and possibly even developed and used, for all I know.... But I believe life itself will remain the same; it will still be difficult and full of mystery and happiness. And in a thousand years' time people will still be sighing and complaining: 'How hard this business of living is!' - and yet they'll still be scared of death and unwilling to die, just as they are now.

Interesting that this seems just as true as the quote about how much our values and understanding of the world change, often in so short a time. Can it really be just 50 years since Brown v. Board of Education? Just 50 years since the polio vaccine? How much things have changed!

Yet it's been thousands of years since the Old Testament was written and Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree, and all that they struggled with remains to be struggled with today. How much things stay the same!

Transitory Values

Yet another great line from Chekhov, this spoken by Vershinin in Three Sisters:

It's strange to think that we're utterly unable to tell what will be regarded as great and important in the future and what will be thought of as just paltry and ridiculous. Didn't the great discoveries of Copernicus - or of Columbus, if you like - appear useless and unimportant to begin with? - whereas some rubbish, written up by an eccentric fool, was regarded as a revelation of great truth? It amy well be that in time to come the life we live today will seem strange and uncomfortable and stupid and not too clean, either, and perhaps even wicked...

How true! I often wonder just what aspects of contemporary America (and the world as a whole, I suppose, though that's harder to generalize about) will seem most admirable and most offensive to those of the next several generations. Tying the last post with this one, I'd like to hope that they will look back with horror at our massive consumption of nonrenewable resources and our creation of garbage and waste, yet perhaps also see in the alternative energy movement and even recycling the beginnings of a self-awareness and reconciliation with our place in nature. Beyond that, who knows? Will our resistance to gay marriage seems as offensive as our ancestors resistance to interracial marriage? Will our government seem too big or too small? Will the idea of nations seem quaint, or will they marvel that one government could control a landmass as large as ours? Will our economy seem too regulated or too laissez-faire?

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Chekhov's Environmentalism

As a self-styled environmentalist (though I've never become quite sure what that means in terms of policy preferences), I was quite taken by the character of Dr. Astrov in Chekhov's Uncle Vania. Though a rather unhappy character (aren't they all in Chekhov's plays), he has managed to maintain a committment to nature and forestry that seems astounding for a play written at the end of the 19th-century:

The Russian forests are literally groaning under the axe, millions of trees are destroyed, the homes of animals and birds are being laid waste, the rivers are getting shallow and drying up, wonderful scenery is disappearing for ever... Anyone who can burn up all that beauty in a stove, who can destroy something that we cannot create, must be a barbarian incapable of reason. Man is endowed with reason and creative power so that he can increase what has been given him, but up to the present he's been destroying and not creating.

Of course it might not be accurate to impute these conservationist tendencies to Chekhov in toto. Yet these remarks by Astrov stand out as being far ahead of their time. I've often wondered if one of the reasons conservation has not gained even more traction than it has is that the human lifespan is simply not long enough for people to really witness the incredible changes we make to our land. Of course in the past, people simply died much younger. But even today, I imagine that one doesn't experience a formative shock at the effects on our environment until at least middle age, when there has been several decades of awareness of our surroundings. By then, who has the energy or the motivation to try and change anything? Activism is for the young, but the young think all that glitters is gold.

Hopefully there is something interesting in this rambling, but I can't claim I have much of a point. I just wanted to share what I thought an interesting passage in what I'm currently reading, a practice I ought to make more common. At least it gets me grappling with the implications of the book.

Buying Books

Just about the only thing I like better than reading books is buying them. I'll often go to a bookstore just to be among books, and can browse for hours if I don't keep track of time. Having just received a paycheck for some research I did over Christmas, I thought I'd go online and shop for bargains. Boy, did I find them. The best place I found for literary fiction is Book Closeouts, which seems to carry every title in the Penguins Classics brand, now that they've switched their covers and left a lot of remainders to be sold. For more academic writing, check out Labyrinth Books' Sales Annex. They also have an excellent selection of Eastern religious books, including The Compass of Zen, which is among my favorite books on Buddhism. Finally, for more contemporary fiction, history, and biography, check out the bargains section at Books-a-Million. They have free shipping for orders over $25, and if you're a member of the military like me, logging in through CentricMall gets you an additional 10% off.

I'm not affiliated with any of these stores and won't get anything if you shop there, but I've just spent a pretty good chunk of change and wanted to share these sites with all of you. If anyone has another site I should check out for bargain/remainder books, please do send me an e-mail.

McMurtry's Published Dichotomies

Several people who've noted that I was reading a Larry McMurtry novel expressed a bit of skepticism, if not disapproval, as if they'd caught me with the latest work of Danielle Steel. How easy it is to forget that McMurtry won a Pulitzer Prize for the almost universally-lauded Lonesome Dove, and actually published some other very well-regarded books amidst his much less impressive work. The first ~180 pages of The Last Picture Show have been uniformly excellent, and I would have no trouble recommending it. If you have previously shared my friends' disdain for McMurtry because of a (likely justified) uncharitable view of his lesser works, I'd encouage you to pick it up. If you like it, it has two sequels that are also supposed to be rather good.

Butt-Kicking Women

One of the great pleasures I took in watching The Return of the King was seeing the excitement in my girlfriend grow as Eowyn's role went from fierce and independent to downright heroic. She feels a strong affinity with such a character, being a smart, tough women herself. While they are plentiful in the real world, such characters are a bit harder to come by in literature generally, and science fiction/fantasy literature in particular.

I was thus greatly pleased when she recalled a series of novels she had read and loved as a youngster, centering around a young women named Alanna who disguised herself as a boy to become a knight. As it turns out, I had ordered the Science Fiction Book Club omnibus edition of that very series, the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. I've read the first two books and have no trouble recommending them highly to any lover of good fantasy. They bear a cursory resemblance to the Harry Potter world in the coming-of-age aspect, though Pierce's books are not appropriate for pre-teens (there are some references to sexuality). I think they would be particularly good books for young women, giving them a heroine who is not oblivious to the pressures of societal expectations (of gender, love, etc.), but not willing to surrender her ambititions either.

Amazon sells a boxed set of the quartet. Pierce's other series all feature young heroines as well, and receive excellent reviews: The Immortals, Protector of the Small, Circles of Magic and more.

Praise for Lord of the Rings

Just about the last thing I need is another copy of The Lord of the Rings, but that didn't stop me from buying one today. I had paperback copies of the individual books, and a hardcover copy of the trilogy, but not a nice portable paperback copy of the trilogy. Sam's Club had them for $12.82 (cover price $20.00) so I picked it up. It's a nice volume, but I was pretty surprised to find this on the back:

Praise for The Lord of the Rings

"Among the greatest works of imaginative fictions of the twentieth century." - Sunday Telegraph

"An extraordinary work - pure excitement." - New York Times Book Review

...

Now I realize that my perspective is heavily biased by my Tolkien-fanaticism, but it seems quite silly to me to have these review blurbs on the back of this book. Are there people out there who would pick up this book and know sufficiently little about it that these blurbs are helpful? Is the reputation of the trilogy not strong enough, do we really need praise from newspaper book critics to bolster it? This is like having blurbs on the back of the King James Bible:

Praise for The Bible

"A landmark in Western spirituality." - Pope John Paul II

"Diviniely inspired..." - Kirkus Reviews

"Blood, sex, betrayal, redemption, it's all here." - Publishers Weekly

Well if everyone is going to make a big fuss, maybe I'll just have to read it!

To America

I've started reading Ambrose's Band of Brothers, the mini-series of which I own on DVD and love above nearly all other films I've seen. In this time of political, military, and economic turmoil, reading Ambrose's well-justified cheerleading of American greatness is a much needed shot in the arm. I could spend countless hours discussing all the things wrong with our country and its leaders. Yet I also believe very strongly that this is the greatest nation the world has ever seen, something that can get lost in constant frustration at modern difficulties. Ambrose is helping me to remember why I believe in America.

Foundation and the Mask of Command

I've finished the second book in Asimov's trilogy and continue to be impressed by the story arc. It was clearly written as a trilogy, something that has become less common or less obvious in today's market, particularly in film. So often now, sequels are little more than rehashing of the story elements of the original, which was properly conceived of and executed as a complete story. Of course, for an interesting twist, we need look no further that Tolkien, whose Lord of the Rings was written as a single book and split into three for publication. All the more reason to admire Peter Jackson's committment to making the three films seamless (no "to be continued" message at the end or flashbacks at the beginning).

I'm also nearly finished with Keegan's Mask of Command. Keegan uses Alexander, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler as representatives of four types of military leadership: heroic, anti-heroic, unheroic, and false heroic. The section on Grant was particularly illuminating for me, emphasizing that even though generals had moved beyond leading from the front (as Alexander always did, and Wellington occasionally did), Grant was able to overcome the image of a distant leader by staying close to his troops and living in conditions not terribly different from their own. After reading Ambrose's account of Grant in To America and now Keegan's take, I walk away with a much improved vision of our 18th President.

In contrast, I've somehow found myself with even greater distate for Hitler. It's difficult to gauge distate for someone long dead, and particular difficult when it reaches the levels of disgust which any analysis of Hitler necessarily entails. Keegan manages to stay very even-handed (in fact, I found it too even-handed at times), but still clearly conveys the depths not just of Hitler's crimes against humanity, but his lies, distortions, and ineptitudes. It's a bit strange to even discuss Hitler without discussing the Holocaust, but Keegan does just that. In doing so, he sets up a separate arena in which Hitler's failures (instead of his crimes) become the most evocative story. Though he seems to have performed admirably in his service in the First World War, Hitler's views of warfare and leadership were clearly inhibited by his being such a sociopath. In particular, Keegan tells the tale of Hitler dining in his train cabin when a train full of wounded German soldiers stops on the parallel track. Rather than face these youths, Hitler instructs an aide to pull down the shades. That contrasts quite strongly with the usual Triumph of the Will imagery. I will have to pick up a Hitler biography sooner rather than later, as my own Holocaust-centric understanding of Nazi Germany is beginning to feel anemic.

A Costly Mistake

Stephen Ambrose has a chapter in To America dedicated to the Transcontinental Railroad, and he makes a very interesting assertion:

[B]y 1850 the transcontinental railroad was something everyone in America wanted built, and the technology was ready to do it... The Southerners in Congress wanted it to run from New Orleans through Texas to southern California, thus increasing the slave states' economy and political clout. The Northerners wanted it to run from Chicago to Sacramento and San Francisco, or from Minneapolis to Portland, increasing the free states' economy. The two sides blocked each other throughout the decade of the 1850s...

...There are many reasons why the South lagged so far behind the North in the century after the Civil War, and losing the war was certainly at the top of that list, but right behind came walking out of Congress and allowing the North to have the transcontinental railroad.

Has anyone encountered this assertion elsewhere? It seems entirely plausible to me, but I've never heard it made before. Are there any worthy books out there on the building of the railroad?

UPDATE: Well, it turns out there are lots of books written on the subject. Ambrose himself wrote one, but it got pretty roundly tanked by the Amazon reviewers (perhaps a bunch of WWII buffs led astray by the Ambrose name?). Anyone read Empire Express? I think I'll pick up both.

UPDATE II: Whatever his faults as a historian, Ambrose sure spins a readable text. I literally couldn't put To America down and have just finished in it one sitting. I can recommend it, though primarily as a starting point for adventures into deeper, more substantive history (e.g. my new interest in the Transcontinental Railroad) .

My Last Refuge

As I've often done before, I'm seeking refuge in literature. I just finished the first book in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and am blown away by how much the science fiction genre owes to Asimov. I'd heard that George Lucas had found some inspiration in the books, but now that I've begun to read them I see not only Star Wars, but Dune and innumerable other sci-fi books and movies that can easily be traced back to Asimov's genius.

I finished Turgenev's Fathers and Sons in a flurry. I've often noticed that some books have a point at which I really click with the characters, and am able to settle into a steady groove for the rest of the story. That happened for me in Fathers and Sons when Barazov finally has to face up to his ever-human weaknesses and is rightfully burned by the object of his affection. I can't say the novel was an utter revelation, but that is likely due to my longstanding interest in the father-son dynamic, and the resulting high expectations I have for anything that presumes to face that dynamic squarely. All-in-all a tightly wound, well-written novel that I'm sure I'll return to in the years ahead.

My girlfriend and I are continuing our two-person book club, with Willa Cather's O Pioneers! as our next selection. Cather's My Antonia was one of the most unexpected literary pleasures I've experienced in the past few years, and I'm excited to read another of her works.

I've also done some work to my literature project, splitting the books up into categories (not an easy task for many of these books) and adding a couple dozen titles to the new categories. I also went through and gave some hugely subjective and arbitrary ratings to the books I've already read. I'm not sure I'll continue to do so, but it seems a fun and easy way to signal my recommendations to anyone who might care. As it turns out, it appears my five favorite books are currently:

Henderson the Rain King - Saul Bellow
High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
East of Eden - John Steinbeck
The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig

I have a suspicion that Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath might make it's way into the top 5 if I read it again. For now I'll give it an honorable mention.

I myself could use some recommendations in the new categories on my list, particularly biography, history, and science-fiction / fantasy.

A Farewell to Arms

I loved this book. I wish I had been able to sit down and read it one or two sittings, as I probably lost several of the themes by stretching it out over several weeks. Nonetheless, I can register great happiness for the book, a very pleasant surprise after feeling underwhelmed by The Sun Also Rises. I won't go into the plot, since I prefer to read books without any preconceptions and I'd like to give my readers the same opportunity. I will say that the interplay of love and war was done very well, particularly for a theme that is quite overdone (see e.g. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, In Love and War... oh wait, that's actually about Hemingway.. hmm). And the ending... oh the ending. Highly recommended.

I'm now beginning Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, my first experience with the third of the great 19th-century Russians. It's been a long time since I read a Russian, an area of literature where I have a woeful lack of experience (I read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and Solzenhitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich for classes in high school, and Andrei Makine's Once Upon the River Love in college). I'm also halfway through Neil Gaiman's American Gods which is a fun fantasy/sci-fi book that I'd heard good things about. So far it has been what I wanted it to be, a nice diversion. It's also classic Gaiman, so those who enjoy his comics might want to give it a look.

UPDATE: Yglesias hated The Sun Also Rises too.

End of Summer Reading List

Well I've got less than three weeks left before school stuff starts gearing up, so I've laid out a relatively ambitious but achievable end of summer reading list:

A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway
The Ambassadors - Henry James
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
Fathers and Sons - Ivan Turgenev
Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

Well I'm going to get started. I'll be posting again on Sunday, hopefully having finally experienced the genius that is supposed to be Hemingway.

Solaris

I just finished Solaris and I'm not ashamed to admit that a good chunk of it flew right over my head. It's one thing when science fiction discusses real science that I don't comprehend. It's another when it discusses fictional science that I don't comprehend.

Nonetheless, that's not really what the book is about, and I'm quite impressed by the depth of the book. From what I gather, Lem is not alone among Eastern European science fiction writers of that time in being more dedicated to probing questions of humanity and philosophy than his Western counterparts.

Toil and Treasure

I finished today two books that I really enjoyed: Tolkien's The Silmarillion and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Now the two don't have much in common, but they are certainly both books that require some patience and perseverance. Tolkien's work presents a world so enduring and expansive that only the most gifted of readers could possibly piece it all together themselves. I was fortunate enough to have copies of The Atlas of Middle-Earth and The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth at my side, and they were vital (the atlas in particular should be a required purchase for its brilliant maps). I'm sure it would not be for everybody, but I happen to be a huge (though lately come) fan of The Lord of the Rings and epic mythology. Thus The Silmarillion was, to me, heaven-sent. The creation myth is beautiful, many of the stories (particularly "Of Beren and Luthien") are splendid in and of themselves, and of course the history provides tremendous context for the more famous books. And that really is one of the blessings of Tolkien. There are many books that will create a fictional world that is heartbreaking to leave. I'll often close a book and begin to miss the characters, miss their world. In some ways, that is part of the beauty of literature; our imaginations get to fill in the rest. What's amazing about Tolkien is that his world is so rich and imaginative, we can have both. Even after reading The Silmarillion (and I imagine even after reading all the other histories and lost tales of Middle-Earth), there is so much left unknown that our imaginations simply have more material with which to weave dreams.

Faulkner presents an entirely different problem; there is almost too little information given, or at least too little objective information. It is a book without a narrator, shifting each chapter to a new voice, all in stream of consciousness, some nearly non-sensical. Fortunately, unlike The Sound and the Fury, the reader is actually told whose consciousness is speaking in each chapter, but the challenge remains immense.

The Sound and the Fury was my first experience with stream of consciousness and with Faulkner, and I made it about 20 pages in before swearing an oath to hate both forever. My distate for stream of consciousness gained further ground upon reading Toni Morrison's Beloved, where it is used very selectively and seemed particularly non-sensical (note: my entire experience with Morrison is tainted by the teacher whose assigned her books; I plan to go back and give Morrison a fresh start).

Fortunately my distate for Faulkner lessened with time, and I ran across some recommendations on which of his books to read first. Thus I picked up The Reivers and The Unvanquished and loved them both. It's been a few years since then, and I thought I should give one of his more difficult novels a try. It was well worth it, and I now appreciate stream of consciousness, at least as used here. It is so integral to the book's themes of subjectivity, perceptions, and the disconnect between thoughts, words, and actions. I can now understand and appreciate the importance of that device, something I just couldn't do before.

Hemingway

I've just finished The Sun Also Rises, and I really don't know what to make of it. Authors are, like all of us, products of their times. As such, it's hard to know what to make of the book's anti-semitism, and hard to know how much it matters.

Beyond that, it seemed to be mostly a book about men and weakness...

The Sea of Dreams

A quick excerpt I just read from The Black Flower, a book whose first 114 pages have been horrible and beautiful and heartbreaking in so many ways; this is Anna speaking to her young cousin who that day witnessed the horrors of their house being turned into a Civil War field hospital, and just awoke from a nightmare:

Dreams are the sea we are sailin on, dark and troublesome. But the ship is safe - a gallant ship and a brave captain. We are not afraid of the sea, so long as we have the ship under us...

Just lovely.

Oppression

I read four of Ibsen's plays (The Doll's House, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder) and Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart this weekend, and can easily recommend them all.

Ibsen was a wonderful surprise to me. I've always liked literature about early individual females rebelling against the oppression of their male-dominated societies (Chopin, Cather), and to find a man writing such things in the nineteenth century is great. His Master Builder also conveys quite a sense of the struggles and futilities of male egoism, particularly the battle against time and aging.

Achebe also used themes of male egoism to good effect, but I was particularly struck by his descriptions of the appearance of the white Christian missionaries and colonists. What clicked for the first time was just how devious white settlers have been, both in Africa and North America. It was not simply a matter of brute force and cruelty. What the colonists did so tragically well was to divide the natives, undermine their traditional senses of kinship, community and justice, and play the sides against each other. This can be seen equally well in America (e.g. the French-Indian War).

So far the literature project has been quite enjoyable.

The Great Literature Project

In connection with my renewed efforts to read great literature, I've created a big list of books to read (and added a link to it under 'Navigation'). Much of the list comes from The New Lifetime Reading Plan, and I've noted those titles with an 'x'. The rest come from other sources (the Modern Library list, books I already own, etc). I've color coded those I've read (though not if done for a class).

Suggestions are always welcome.

Writing in Books

I found the first part of How to Read a Book immensely interesting, particularly its analysis of our educational system and the lack of true reading comprehension training beyond the elementary level. I also connected well with its discussion of 'speed reading' (a big deal when the book was last revised in 1972), as it emphasized that the key is to be able to vary the speed with which you read. Some texts (e.g. unnecessarily verbose legal opinions) are best read rather quickly, with an eye for the most important passages. On the other side would be texts (e.g. Aristotle) that ought to be read more slowly, as each line of the dense prose may be important. Other texts (e.g. the Declaration of Independence) have some parts that should be read slowly (the first couple paragraphs) and others that can be read quickly (all the grievances).

Unfortunately, there have been several chapters which either didn't seem very helpful in reading fiction or were antithetical to my instincts. In particular, there are several pages of suggestions on why and how to write in your books. Titled "How to Make a Book Your Own," this section includes such things as underlining interesting lines, writing questions in the margins, and making asterisks next to the dozen or so key passages in the book.

I hate writing in books. It was a struggle to learn even to highlight in law books, and I'm not even sure I'll continue that practice. As for fiction, I can hardly imagine taking a pen to the pages. I may attempt a compromise by keeping a journal of some kind at my side, to allow some written feedback during my reading. But there is no chance I'll be writing in the books themselves. Does anyone else have this problem?

Fear

I finished White Noise this morning, and found it to be well-written and worthwhile, notable particularly for a sharp but dry wit and stellar dialogue. I won't say more because I personally like beginning new books with a blank slate and don't want to give anything away to those who haven't read it yet. I will say that it was quite an interesting day, as I then proceeded to watch Donnie Darko for the first time. That movie would be a feast of stimuli on any day, and only more so when one's thoughts have already been elevated by a provocative novel.

I highly recommend both, though not necessarily on the same day. They touch on several of the same topics, namely fear, and it can be quite a lot to take. I think I'll fix a nice snack and find something lighter with which to spend my evening.

East of Eden

Oh before I start my first DeLillo novel, I wanted to say a couple of words about East of Eden. It is hard for me to speak much about a novel I've just finished reading. It usually takes me a while to fully process a book, and the better the book, the longer it takes. Well I can say this: it was marvelous. If you forced me to pick one author whose work I could read (you know, a desert island type of thing), I think Steinbeck would be it. I doubt I could choose between The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, but I very well might go for the latter if push came to shove. It was beautiful in that way that really sneaks upon you when you're not looking... you're reading along, and then all of a sudden you have to stop and just notice how beautiful the story is, even as it tours the darker shadows of our human experience.

I don't think I'm old enough to be able to list 5 books that really knocked me flat, but I know there's been at least one: Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I read in the spring of my sophomore year of college and haven't been the same since. I guess I lucked out: my lost college soul found Buddhism rather than Ayn Rand.

Free Will

So I was just about to sit down to finish Anthem when I remembered "Hey, I don't have to" and I put it back on the shelf. Fortunately I did find my copy of White Noise, which had been hiding from me ever since it was recommended by several of this site's readers. Off I go...

Ayn Rand

Just as I began Anthem, Ayn Rand (and Atlas Shrugged in particular) started getting beat up over at CalPundit:

[I]sn't there a bigger problem with the book's "timeless quality"? I mean, the whole point of the novel is that socialism is taking over America, with the government steadily becoming more and more Soviet and full central planning and our own set of 5-year plans lurking right around the corner � in fact, we're just a few years behind the "People's State of England." Now, even in 1957 this was a stretch, but in 2003 it's not going to inspire anything more than guffaws. The Soviet Union is gone, the Berlin Wall is no more, capitalism reigns supreme around the world, and small government Republicans have dominated the political debate in America since 1980.

I'm almost done with Anthem (it's quite short, just over 100 pages in massmarket paperback), and I have to agree. It's not terribly written, but it shows its age beyond the mere fact that the world has changed quite a bit since 1937. Among my favorite books are 1984 and Darkness at Noon and though each was also written when the geopolitical outlook was quite different, they have retained their insights and quality. If the emphasis is on individualism, I'd take either of those books or One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich over Anthem anyday.

It may be that Rand simply isn't a very good writer. She certainly writes with a pretty blunt pen in Anthem, and the lack of any subtlety or subtext makes her future vision of the world the sole point of the book. It certainly doesn't help that she was so very, very wrong.

For My Eyes

I finished East of Eden this morning (and will blog more on it later), and began thinking about what to read next.

Lo and behold, what do I find waiting outside my door when I got home? My very own copy of Eugene Volokh's Academic Legal Writing. I'll give it a thorough reading soon and write up a little review. I anticipate greatness.

Things That Make You Go Hmm...

So in this month's Stuff (I know, I know), Pamela Anderson is asked: "What are you reading these days?" Now this question obviously has amusement value all its own considering the interviewee, but this response is priceless:

The Bible. I haven't gotten to the good parts yet. I'm, like, halfway through. I'm glad that I'm finally reading it, though. (emphasis added)

Um, yeah. I hope she lets us know if she ever gets to the 'good parts.'

Paper and Glue

I just finished reading Dune, and it was a great pleasure. I'm sure future re-readings (particularly if done outside of exam prep) will give me a better sense of all the subtleties, but even the first read had me pretty deeply involved with the subplots and allegories.

As I took it back to my bookshelves, I couldn't help but miss Paul and Chani... always the best sign to me that I really enjoyed a book.

Luckily, my next endeavor was obvious to me (I can often spend an hour staring at the shelves trying to decide what to read next): Steinbeck's East of Eden. It's been a couple years since I read The Grapes of Wrath, but it remains among my favorites. Some say East of Eden is even better. That would be amazing.

Dune

I've started reading Dune for the first time, after years of being in the dark about the Harkonnen and Atreides families (though I did play Dune II on my PC way back when). This book has to be the perfect counterbalance to prepping for law exams.

Sources

When I first started blogging (way back at the end of February) I would scour the web for stories to comment on. I found it a bit tedious and wasn't sure I enjoyed the 'pressure' of posting. After all, it was supposed to be a pleasant distraction from law school, not an additional stress.

Easy solution: I read more books. More magazines. And I don't post anything if I have nothing to say.

This month's Atlantic Monthly already produced a couple posts, and could inspire a couple more. Swift's intro to political philosophy has produced a list of questions swirling in my head, which I might comment on if I can put them together in a constructive way.

That's the kind of writing I'd like to be doing, and that's my ambition with this site. I may post the occasional link to an interesting or amusing web story without much comment, but I want that to be the exception. Regurgitation is not my ambition.

Introductions

I have to say, I have really come to hate introductions to books. With works of fiction, introductions seem more often than not to give away key plot points, not to mention color the text with a certain perspective before the reader even begins.

In Moynihan's Secrecy, which I've just begun, Richard Gid Powers' introduction is 58 pages long, with Moynihan's text a mere 170. The introduction comprises 25 percent of the book! Why didn't Powers just write his own book? He could have called it "The Making of Secrecy."

/RANT

No, Thank You

This has to be the most unappealing pop-up ad I've ever seen. I couldn't be less tempted.

What to Read?

I'm trying to pick which novel to read next (I have a grotesquely large pile of unread books on my shelf), and thought I'd see if anyone had opinions on any of these:

White Noise - Dom DeLillo
A Frolic of His Own - William Gaddis
Quarantine - Jim Crace

If anybody has an opinion, voice it.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

It's Saturday so I'm staying away from the Internet... I'll just share one of my favorite poems, Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends":

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends

Marquez

I just started reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude. If the first couple chapters are any sign, this is a masterpiece.

Army Reading List

I've just come across the Chief of Staff of the Army's Recommended Reading List. The list is broken down into various ranks for which certain books are most appropriate. Looks like a very good list. Two books I don't see that are must reads for any aspiring young Army officer: George Wilson's Mud Soldiers and Cololonel James McDonough's Platoon Leader