Reflections on Books

I haven’t written a post about a 2021 Reading Challenge or a non-Challenge yet this year. The reason is that I haven’t been reading much this year. I have yet to finish ten books and it is already May. This doesn’t bode well. It isn’t that I don’t want to read, it is just because I can’t seem to focus my attention, there are too many distractions. I have actually been worrying about this. And then this morning I saw this cartoon on Instagram.

I follow Harry Bliss on Instagram because his sense of humor matches mine. I forwarded the cartoon to a few people whom I knew would appreciate it. My friend, Anju, sent a response asking me which twenty-five I would choose. That’s a tough question. How could anyone limit themselves that way? I suppose it is an exercise in focusing your mind and deciding on what is truly important.

Of course, my first thought was to list the books I had already decided to read, or finish reading this year. But if I could only choose twenty-five, would those be on my list? I might keep Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, William Styron’s My Generation: Collected Nonfiction, and perhaps Lawrence Durrell’s Clea because I want to complete rereading his Alexandrian quartet. That would leave only twenty-two books to read. Should I fill those slots with feel good fiction, some of the “Great Books,” political polemics, or spiritual writings? It is a quandary.

I’ll tell you right now that I shan’t be reading anything spiritual if it has been written by any of today’s mega-church pastor’s or television preachers. They seem so shallow to me. And, I doubt if they have anything new to say.

The chances are that I wouldn’t add any graphic novels to my list even if I like reading them. There are too many longer forms that I would hate to miss out on. I have a copy of John Updike’s first three Rabbit Angstrom novels collected in one volume; would that count as one book or three? If I reread that book I would feel compelled to read the fourth novel. I have to think about that.

I’m going to put together a list of 25 books to read before I die, but since I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, I’ll go ahead and read other things as well. After all, I have a bookcase full of books that I plan to read. Some of the books I mentioned might end up on my list of twenty-five.

I only know for sure one book that will be on my list of twenty-five, so here goes: 1. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. I shall post more titles in the future as I add them to my list.

Do you have a list of books that you feel you should read before you die? If so, I would love to see it. You might give me ideas for my list. Send me comment, or if you’re shy, send me an email. I can be reached at houseman@comcast.net.

Thanks for reading. Please stay safe.

2020 Reading non-challenge, final update

Well, 2020 is over…finally. We probably all have mixed emotions about the end of the year, glad that’s it’s over, saddened by the devastating loss of lives all around us, upset over the political strife around the world and close to home, and a myriad of other issues. It was a terrible year. Unfortunately, 2021 is not starting out much better, but with luck it will become better as we progress.

For me, this wasn’t an easy year for reading. I’m not sure how many books I started this year but didn’t finish. I know that it was at least eight or nine. I hope to go back and finish reading them this year. Here are the forty books that I did manage to finish this year.

  Year Published Title Author Date Finished
1 1988 Prelude To Foundation Isaac Asimov 1/2/2020
2 2006 The Island of Seven Cities: Where the Chinese Settled When They Discovered America Paul Chiason 1/25/2020
3 2004 The Book of Ballads Charles Vess 1/26/2020
4 2010 Junkyard Dogs Craig Johnson 1/29/2020
5 2019 Agent Running In The Field John Le Carré 1/13/2020
6 2009 Book of Secrets Chris Roberson 2/27/2020
7 1996 Charity Len Deighton 3/19/2020
8 2011 The Tiger’s Wife Téa Obreht 3/23/2020
9 2004 Crossfire Matt Braun 3/24/2020
10 2016 Monstress: Volume One – The Awakening Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda 3/256/20
11 1987 The Demolishers Donald Hamilton 4/1/2020
12 2017 The Girl Who Knew Too Much Amanda Quick 4/2/2020
13 2012 Modern Masters Violume 7: John Byrne Jon B. Cooke & Eric Nolen-Weathington 4/3/2020
14 2016 Tony Bennett: Just Getting Started Tony Bennett & Scott Simon 4/5/2020
15 2016 The Guest Room Chris Bohjalian 4/10/2020
16 2017 The Silent Corner Dean Koontz 4/16/2020
17 2018 War of the Wolf Bernard Cornwell 4/21/2020
18 1997 The Ice Pick Artist Harold Adams 4/28/2020
19 2017 A Place Called Heaven Robert Jeffries 5/5/2020
20 2003 Kushiel’s Avatar Jacqueline Carey 5/22/2020
21 2018 Need To Know Karen Cleveland 6/2/2020
22 2016 Supergirl: Being Super Mariko Tamaki & Joelle Jones 6/3/2020
23 1950 Shadow of Madness Hugh Pentecost 6/17/2020
24 2012 Shadow of Night Deborah Harkness 6/30/2020
25 2019 On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope  DeRay McKesson 7/4/2020
26 2011 Child 44 Tom Rob Smith 7/20/2020
27 2019 Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation Jon Meacham & Tim McGraw 8/1/2020
28 2015 Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator Oleg V. Khlevniuk 8/3/2020
29 2016 The Invisible Library Genevieve Cogman 8/4/2020
30 1978 Mayhem In Manhattan Len Wein & Marv Wolfman 8/11/2020
31 2011 Hell Is Empty Craig Johnson 8/26/2020
32 1965 Dune Frank Herbert 9/23/2020
33 2010 Robin Hood: The True History Behind The Legend Nigel Cawthorne 9/29/2020
34 2008 Modern Masters Volume 15: Mark Schultz Fred Perry 106/20
35 2020 Rage Bob Woodward 11/1/2020
36 1998 No Badge, No Gun Harold Adams 11/15/2020
37 1958 Mountolive Lawrence Durrell 11/26/2020
38 2001 Einstein’s Refrigerator Steve Silverman 11/30/2020
39 1967 Octopussy Ian Fleming 12/6/2020
40 2005 V for Vendetta Alan Moore & David Lloyd 12/26/2020

I hope you all have a better year for reading. Stay safe.

2020 Reading non-challenge, update #2

Books 26 through 35

I’m not entirely sure why, but my reading seems to have slowed down again. It usually picks up during this time of year. Perhaps it is because of all the turmoil going on in the world. I know that it isn’t because the books are boring. They aren’t. I just seem to have trouble finishing the books that I start. I’m currently about a third of the way through three different good books, but I put them down to start something different. I’m going to go back and pick up where I left off in those three. At any rate, I hope to get back into more intense reading after the election.

The sharp-eyed among you will notice the typo in the chart above. The Date Finished for #35, Modern Masters Volume 15: Mark Schultz, should read 10/6/2020. I’ll be going back into my spreadsheet to correct that error. I decided to not change the image so that you can see that I am fallible. Hah! 

Until next time, Happy Reading, and Stay Safe.

2020 Reading non-challenge, update #1

Reading Challenge Books 11 through 25

I planned on publishing this post almost a month ago, but things came up, I procrastinated, and frankly I forgot about it for days on end. But today I promised myself that I would publish this before I went on to do anything else.

You are probably asking yourself why I didn’t just whip this out. It is only a list of books read in the time of Covid. No big deal. And yet…and yet many things in life seem like a bigger a deal than they used to. For example: lately when I read somebody’s blog post and they are talking about their life, I find that I want to comment. I want to say to them this will eventually pass. Politically more so than pandemically (which may actually be a word), I hope. I find that I care about some people whom I only know through their writing. In most cases I defeat the desire to comment and offer my excellent, though unwanted and usually ignored, advice.

I suppose it boils down to me feeling more emotions and caring than is normal for me. What does that have to do with my reading non-challenge? Nothing yet, but maybe I’ll come up with something with the next update.

Stay safe!

 

2020 Reading non-challenge

Read Chart 1

I enjoyed my non-challenge so much last year that I decided to do it again. Rather than trying to read books of specific genres, I’m just reading what interests me at the moment, mainly from my to-be-read bookcase. 

Now for the disappointing news. At this time last year I had already read 22 books; while this year I have only finished 10. I can give you reasons why there are so few. Many of my waking hours were spent following Presidential politics, which turned to almost non-stop coverage of COVID-19 updates. Plus, I had a few false starts, starting books that looked interesting, but couldn’t hold my attention. I may go back to them later in the year. 

Since I am a retiree and am hunkering-down-in-place, I’m finding more time to read, so I hope to get a few more books under my belt read. But who knows. Yard work will soon be calling.

My 2019 Reading non-Challenge Final Update

I quite liked this year of reading without specific goals as to type of content. While I drought periods of reading this year, I was still able to read 65 books. Below are the final fifteen that I read this year. You’ll probably notice the typo in the title of number 64. It should read Song of Blood & Stone.

51 through 65

If you are interested in the entire list, you can find the first 25 here and the second 25 here.

Included in my complete list are two excellent works of non-fiction, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham, and Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas. There are a few graphic novels and many spy thrillers. I also re-read the first two novels of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandrian Quartet, Justine and Balthazar. I plan on reading the final two this year. There were only a few books that I was disappointed in. They have already been donated to our county library.

If you read my first post (see the link above) you remember that I called this a non-challenge because in past years I limited myself to specific categories of books and had trouble meeting the challenge. This year I read what appealed to me when I felt like it.  As a result I read about three times the number I read last year; enjoying the experience more and clearing room on my TBR bookcase. I plan on doing the same this year.

Oh, and among the books I read in 2019 were enough to meet the challenge if I had gone ahead with it.

If I had challenged myself

Happy reading in 2020!

My 2019 Reading non-Challenge Update #2

The second 25

As you can see, the pace of my reading has slowed down. That happens every July and August. Blame it on the occasional good weather we have had.

In this group of books I read a non-fiction book which is the best I’ve read in a very long time, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas. I highly recommend this book.

I also re-read Justine by Lawrence Durrell. It is the first book in his Alexandrian Quartet. I first read the quartet in the early 1970’s, shortly after I was released by the army. Each time I re-read it I once again fall in love with the language. I hope to read at least one more of theQuartet before the end of the year.

I had the biography of Thelonius Monk on my bookshelf for a number of years. Finally other things didn’t get in my way, and I read it. I wish I could have gotten to it earlier. I caused me to go on to a listening binge of his music. If you are one of those people who disparage jazz, I can only shrug my shoulders in wonderment.

I hope you’ve had a good summer. Now on to my autumn reading.

My 2019 Reading non-Challenge Update #1

I am not doing a reading challenge this year. Instead I’m reading for pleasure, in an attempt to reduce the number of books that I have bought over the last few years, but never got around to reading. I’m also going back and rereading books by some of my favorite authors. As you can see by the chart above, it is going well so far.

2019 Reading non-Challenge Update #1

As you can see, I’ve read three of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales books, three of Len Deighton’s spy novels featuring Bernard Samson, the final two books in Michael J. Sullivan’s fantasy trilogy, and  a variety of other fiction and non-fiction books. I have plenty more on my TBR bookcase to choose from.

So far this year we have had cold weather that is conducive to relaxing with a good book. However, spring is finally coming to my corner of the world. That means that I’ll be spending more time outside in the sun. Grass will need to be cut on a regular basis; the pool will need to be opened and maintained; and short road trips will need to be made. I won’t be reading books at the same pace as I have in the past three and a half months, but I will be reading.

I hope you can find the time to read a few good books this year. If you have any suggestions for books to add to my TBR case, feel free to let me know.

2018 Reading Challenge – Update #4

This year’s reading challenge turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had expected. I always experience a reading drought during the summer months; but then I usually come back with a burst of reading energy late in the year. In 2018 however, I only completed one book since my most recent update.

The Little Sister

I read The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler as my book first published in the 1940’s. It is a Philip Marlowe mystery, and since it is by Chandler, it is well written with many passages that you want to quote to your friends. I have all of the Marlowe mysteries in paperback. I bought them many years ago. They haven’t fallen apart yet, though the acid in the paper is slowly yellowing the pages. I was lucky they survived our flooded basement which destroyed all of my Michael Moorcock and Philip Jose Farmer paperbacks. That was like losing old friends, but at least I still have Chandler and some others that I can revisit.

I shan’t try to fit in any more books this year even though I started three other. They are good books, and I have enjoyed what I have read, but I don’t have a burning desire to finish any of them this year.

And that brings me to 2019. I have decided to not attempt my reading challenge next year. Instead I plan to spend a year getting caught up on books that I have bought over the past few years but which have not fit within the boundaries of the challenge. I have three Saxon Tales novels by Bernard Cornwell on my TBR bookcase along with various fantasy/sword and sorcery novels, spy thrillers, mysteries, biographies and other genres that I have been putting off. Next year is for fun. Heck, I may even start today.

If some of those books happen to fall within challenge categories I’ll keep track of them. That might be worth a post or two along the way.

This is probably my last post of 2018, so have a happy and safe New Year!

2018 Reading Challenge – Update #3

As usual, my reading slowed down during the summer. In fact, it almost stopped completely. And as the year progressed, so many devilish things happened in our nation that many of the books that I planned to read seemed to foretell what we were experiencing. I started a few of them, and I was enjoying them, but the echoes I saw on our TV screen and read in our paper, ruined the experience for me. So instead of a certain biography, a certain novel written in the 1940s, and a certain book on a historical subject among others, I went to more lighthearted fare.

The Pupil

I read The Pupil by Caro Fraser as a book by an author I had never read before. Because the protagonist of the novel is a barrister I assumed the book was a mystery or a courtroom thriller. It was neither, but rather a novel whose main characters happen to work in law firms. It is a good read, and the start of a series of novels. I’ll probably read more of them.

 

 

 

The Warrior Heir

Next I read The Warrior Heir by Cindy Williams Chima. This a YA fantasy novel by an author I had never read before, but I slotted it as a book first published in the 2000s. The clerk who checked me out at the bookstore where I purchased it praised the series. She volunteered how much she enjoyed reading the books. As is the case of a few YA books of this sort, the protagonist discovers that he has spectacular powers when he reaches a certain age. He battles and overcomes evil forces by the end of the book. Don’t you love happy endings? I liked it, and plan to read more in the series.

 

 

Lemons Never Lie

From the 1970s I chose Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark, a pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake. Westlake used the name of Richard Stark primarily when writing novels about the thief Parker. A number of movies based on the Parker novels have been made, beginning with the 1967 film Point Blank starring Lee Marvin. I don’t know why they changed Parker’s name to Walker in the movie. But that has nothing to do with Lemons Never Lie except that the main character, Alan Grofield, appears in some of the Parker novels. Like Parker, Grofield is a thief; and like Parker, the heist goes wrong. I haven’t read one of these novels in many years. It was good to read another Richard Stark book.

 

Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir

From my original choice of biographies I moved on to Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir by Linda Ronstadt. I have been planning to read this since it was published in 2013, but never seemed to get around to it. When I found it on a sales table I snatched it up to read for the challenge. Linda Ronstadt has been one of my favorite artists since I first saw her on The Woody Woodbury Show on television performing with The Stone Ponies. In the memoir she covers her life from childhood to her retirement. Unlike some other autobiographies I’ve read by performing artists, she exhibits humility and kindness. I don’t believe she said an unkind thing about any of the many people she wrote about. The closest she came was describing an artistic difference she had with a record producer. I miss hearing new music by her, but I have hundreds of recorded songs that I can go back to.

 

Villages

I chose to read Villages by John Updike as a book by a favorite (favored?) author. One of he reasons I love to read Updike is the ability he had to write convincing dialogue. He was also able to take ordinary people and events and make them so interesting that we want to know more. Many people, including me, swear that we hate having drama in our lives, and don’t understand people who seem to thrive on it. But we all seem to enjoy reading about it or seeing it on TV or in the movies. Also, it is the stuff that keeps gossip alive. Perhaps Updike was the fictional version of a gossip monger whom everyone decries but loves to hear. I love his books.

 

Berlin Game

Finally, for this update, I went back to the 1980s and reread  Berlin Game by Len Deighton. It was the first of a series with Bernard Sampson as the protagonist. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I love Deighton’s spy thrillers. They stand up there along with LeCarré’s, plus they have humor that others who write in that genre lack.  This was my first rereading of the novel since the 1990s. I don’t know why I waited so long to return to it. I’ll soon be going back to the next in the series, Mexico Set.