Saturday, July 02, 2016

Summarizing my reading at the 2016 mid-point

We’re only midway through 2016 and already there are four books worthy of a “best of” list, and a five “notables.”

Those “best of” include novels by three of my favorite authors and one debut novel. Here’s the books:

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman
The Girls by Emma Cline

Erdrich, Patchett and Lippman are accomplished authors, who have written extraordinary books in the past, yet I believe that LaRose, Commonwealth and Wilde Lake represent the best books they have written. 

The Girls, the story of a Manson-like cult, is an extraordinary debut novel. It isn’t perfect, but it manages to be deliciously creepy.

As for those “notable” books, I recommend:

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
The Past by Tessa Hadley
The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo
The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

Not to be missed, are Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, a quartet of delightful books. I’ve read three of the four: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Love and Those Who Stay.

I discovered Denise Mina’s Alex Morrow series this year. I’ve read Blood, Salt and Water and the first book in the series, Still Midnight. It’s clear that Mina is going to provide me with many hours of pleasurable reading.

I also recommend Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. I am making my way through these books now. Like Mina, Johnson is a superb writer. Don’t overlook these books because they carry the stigma of the mystery genre. Some of our finest writers are working in genre fiction. Among those writers is Peter May. I read both Runaway and Coffin Road this year. He’s good. Very good.

Two older works of fiction that I especially liked: The Indian Lawyer by the late James Welch and a collection of novellas by Rick Bass, The Sky, The Stars, The  Wilderness.

I continue to read historical fiction by Bernard Cornwell, work my way through Ben Bova’s Grand Tour novels (science fiction) and devour the darkly comic noir fiction of Max Alan Collins. I’ve only a few Quarry novels left to read.

I read fewer works of non-fiction, but there were three “best of” published in that genre in 2016 (and one carry over from 2015):

H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald
First Bite, How We Learn To Eat by Bee Wilson
The Caped Crusade Batman and the Rise of the Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon
The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris

H Is For Hawk is one of those books that you put in people’s hands and demand they read. It is difficult to convey how good it is without resorting to hyberole. Trust me on this one — read it.

The League of Regrettable Superheroes was the most entertaining book I’ve read this year. Unless you’re a comic book afficiando like me, you might not enjoy it, but then again it may connect with your inner nerd. (And, in complete transparency, I am also especially found of the book because I bought it at Shakespeare & Company, while on vacation in Paris.)

It was published a few years back, but I also recommend Killing Custer by James Welch. 

Two books of non-fiction I would avoid: The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson and Straight Flush by Ben Mezrich. Bryson is mean-spirited and Mezrich is lazy. To quote Ben Grimm, “Nuff Said.”

Friday, July 01, 2016

2016 Reading List -- January through June

We're midway through 2016, which makes it a perfect time to update my reading for the year.

I've read 97 books so far.  Tomorrow I will do a brief summary of the best books.

Classics
January – Dombey and Son, Charles Dickens
February — Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich
March — The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
April — Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
May — O Pioneers!, Willa Cather
June — The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers


January
1. First Bite, How We Learn To Eat, Bee Wilson
2. Batman Cover to Cover
3. Dombey and Son, Charles Dickens
4. Solo, The Deluxe Edition
5. Ronald Reagan, Jacob Weisberg
6. The Best of the West 4, ed. James & Denise Thomas
7. LaRose, Louise Erdrich
8. Moonrise, Ben Bova
9. The Past, Tessa Hadley
10. Girl Seven, Hanna Jameson
11. My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
12. About Grace, Anthony Doerr
13. Minimum of Two, Tim Winton
14. Warriors of the Storm, Bernard Cornwell



February
15. Wilkie Collins, Peter Ackroyd
16. Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich
17. There But For The, Ali Smith
18. Quarry’s List, Max Allan Collins
19. This Census-Taker, China MiƩville
20. Seeds, Richard Horan
21. A Killing In Comics, Max Allan Collins
22. The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson
23. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
24. Blood, Salt, Water, Denise Mina
25. Shylock Is My Name, Howard Jacobson
26. The Farm, Tom Rob Smith
27. The Noise of Time, Julian Barnes
28. The House of Twenty Thousand Books, Sasha Abramsky
29. The Doctor’s House, Ann Beattie
30. Milt Caniff, Rembrandt of the Comic Strip,
Rick Marschall and John Paul Adams
31. The Life of Elves, Muriel Barbery
32. Moonwar, Ben Bova

March
33. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
34. Runaway, Peter May
35. For A Little While, Rick Bass
36. Killing Custer, The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians,
James Welch
37. The Indian Lawyer, James Welch
38. The Ancient Minstrel, Jim Harrison
39. Quarry’s Deal, Max Allan Collins
40. Coffin Road, Peter May
41. Ragnarok, The End of the Gods, A.S. Byatt
42. Off the Grid, C.J. Box
43. The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante
44. Quantum Night, Robert Sawyer
45. Blue at the Mizzen, Patrick O’Brian
46. Comic Wars, Dan Raviv
47. Patience, Daniel Clowes
48. Cut Me In, Ed McBain
49. Paris Stories, ed. Shuan Whiteside
50. David Boring, Daniel Clowes

April
51. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
52. H Is For Hawk, Helen Macdonald
53. Schmidt Steps Back, Louis Begley
54. Return to Augie Hobble, Lane Smith
55. The Caped Crusade, Batman and the Rise of the Nerd Culture,
Glen Weldon
56. Return to Mars, Ben Bova
57. In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri
58. A Doubter’s Almanac, Ethan Canin
59. Another Man’s Moccasins, Craig Johnson
60. O Pioneers!, Willa Cather




May
61. Prayer, Philip Kerr
62. Gryphon, Charles Baxter
63. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante
64. A Year to Remember, Jason King
65. Dodgers, Bill Beverly
66. Quarry’s Cut, Max Allan Collins
67. Art Spiegelman, Tom Forget
68. Wilde Lake, Laura Lippman
69. The Dark Horse, Craig Johnson
70. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
71. Rescue Missions, Frederick Busch
72. Night Heron, Adam Brookes
73. Stumptown, Vol. 2, Greg Rucka and Matt Southworth
74. The Sport of Kings, C.E. Morgan
75. Dead Man’s Float, Jim Harrison
76. The Sky, The Stars, The Wilderness, Rick Bass
77. 1921, Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg.
78. Thunder Boy Jr., Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales
79. The Blade Artist, Irvine Welsh

June
80. The League of Regrettable Superheroes, Jon Morris
81. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
82. Everybody’s Fool, Richard Russo
83. Peter Arno, Michael Maslin
84. A Relative Stranger, Charles Baxter
85. Workingman’s Dead, Buzz Poole
86. The Precipice, Ben Bova
87. Trinity, Matt Wagner
88. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett
89. Caleb’s Crossing, Geraldine Brooks
90. The Little Red Chairs, Edna O’Brien
91. Straight Flush, Ben Mezrich
92. Quarry’s Vote, Max Allan Collins
93. The Girls, Emma Cline
94. Still Midnight, Denise Mina
95. Vinegar Girl, Anne Tyler
96. Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud
97. Selected & New Poems, Jim Harrison

Friday, January 01, 2016

Thoughts on 2015 reading

I read 205 books in 2015.  Like the four-minute mile, it was such a preposterous and unattainable achievement that it was not a goal when the year began. My previous high was 175 books in 2014. Reading 160 to 170 books this past year seemed most likely.

But there it is. Bannister broke the four-minute mile barrier and I exceeded 200 books. Clearly, such elusive barriers are within reach.

On to the books . . .

This year I’m going to divide my reading recommendations into two categories: books issued in 2015 and books published prior to 2015.

Here’s the 2015 list:

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
The Turner House, Angela Flournoy
The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson
The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
A God In Ruins, Kate Atkinson
Even Dogs In The Wild, Ian Rankin
The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi
March Book Two, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell
DC: The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke
Descender, Jeff Lemire/Dustin Nguyen
Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
What Pet Should I Get?, Dr. Seuss
The Wright Brothers, David McCullough
So Many Roads, The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead, David Browne
The Pine Tar Game, Filip Bondy

Seventeen books, and you will notice that genre fiction — notably, mystery and sci fi — is well represented. I am no longer making a distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction. If I like a book, I like it.

There’s one children’s book (the incomparable Dr. Seuss), three graphic novels (isn’t time you tried one?) and three works of non-fiction.

The best book? A Little Life. Yanagihara is a writer of great skill and intelligence. This book is almost painful to read, but incredibly rewarding. Second best, McCullough’s The Wright Brothers, which I found inspirational and exceptionally well-told.

Pre-2015 books:

Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
Hullabaloo at the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai
Shelf Life, ed. Greg Ketter
The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Benjamin Wallace
Blondie, The Bumstead Family History, Dean Young & Melena Ryzik
A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Books Comics, ed. Michael Barrier and Martin Williams
Sundays with Walt and Skeezix, Frank King

My interest in what I call the graphic arts has grown exponentially in recent years. The list above includes three “histories” that are liberal in their presentation of early comic strips or comic books. I had forgotten just how funny Blondie could be and Frank King was an artistic genius. The Smithsonian collection ranges from selections of Little Lulu to the Spirit.

Shelf Life is the only story collection to make either list.  The initial story in the collection, by Gene Wolfe, is reason enough to read the entire book. Fun Home is a powerful graphic memoir and Hullabloo at the Guava Orchard is quirky and comic. 

One final book I want to call attention to is The Amazing Adventures of Selma Calderon by Rebecca Villarreal. I work with Villarreal. She is a talented and creative force. One of her photographs hangs in my home office.  Young readers will delight in the adventures of Selma Calderon. Selma is amazing. Villarreal is too..  

“Classic” Reading

At the beginning of each month, I try to read a book that I define as a “classic.” It may be a book that I have read before — Cather’s My Antonia, for example — or it may constitute a book that I think I should read — such as Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. I always start the year with something by Charles Dickens. 

I have adopted this plan for three reasons. It ensures that each month I read something of quality. It allows me the pleasure of re-visiting books I hold dear, and it provides the impetus to broaden my reading and dip into those works of literature I might have missed while growing up on a diet of sci fi and comics.

While I can recommend — without hesitation — every book listed below, I want to single out two books. First, Laurie Colwin’s Goodbye Without Leaving.  Colwin is a delightful writer and I plan to read something she’s written once each year. If I were to recommend one book from my list of  “classics” it would be Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. Warm, insightful, closely observed and humorous, Mrs. Palfrey is superb.

Classics
January – The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens
February – Fifty-Two Pickup, Elmore Leonard
      Swag, Elmore Leonard
      Unknown Man No. 89, Elmore Leonard
                  The Switch, Elmore Leonard
March –  *One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
April – Deliverance, James Dickey
May – *My Antonia, Willa Cather
June – *Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler
July – Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, Elizabeth Taylor
August – *Sandy Koufax, Jane Leavy
September - The Quiet American, Graham Greene
October - (Missed this month due to family vacation. It happens.)
November - *Goodbye Without Leaving, Laurie Colwin
December - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Sherman
        Alexie, illustrations by Ellen Forney

* Re-read

And a few authors who never seem to disappoint

Finally, here’s a list of authors whose books I can recommend without reservation. I seem to have cultivated a taste for a steady diet of historical fiction and mystery/thrillers. No apologies. First and foremost, one should read for pleasure.  Through the years these authors have produced books that have been a steady, reliable source of enjoyment.

Bernard Cornwell, Alan Bradley, T. Jefferson Parker, Laura Lippman, C.J. Box, Julia Keller, Craig Johnson, Patrick O’Brian, Louise Penny, Peter May, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Steve Hamilton, Neil Gaiman, Paul Auster. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Complete 2015 Reading List -- 205 Books

January
1.  The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens
2.  Too Late American Boyhood Blues, Frederick Busch
3.  In the Approaches, Nicola Barker
4.  Funny Girl, Nick Hornby
5.  Jerry Lee Lewis, Rick Bragg
6.  Skink No Surrender, Carl Hiaasen
7.  The Doubt Factory, Paolo Bacigalupi
8.  The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
9.  Inside the Park, Willie Wilson & Kent Pulliam
10. Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
11. The First Bad Man, Miranda July
12. Born in the U.S.A., Geoffrey Himes
13. The Martini Shot, George Pelecanos
14. The Cold Dish, Craig Johnson
15. March Book Two, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell
16. What It Means To Be A Jayhawk, Jeff Bollig & Doug Vance

February
17. Fifty-Two Pickup, Elmore Leonard 
18. Swag, Elmore Leonard 
19. Study War No More, ed. Joe Haldeman
20. Unknown Man No. 89, Elmore Leonard
21. The Switch, Elmore Leonard
22. The Empty Throne, Bernard Cornwell
23. One Man’s Dream, Frank White and Bill Althaus
24. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, Alan Bradley
25. George W. Bush, James Mann
26. Fear the Darkness, Becky Masterman
27. The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy
28. Tales from the Kansas City Royals Dugout, Denny Matthews
29. A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
30. The Whites, Richard Price
31. The Big Seven, Jim Harrison
32. Family Furnishings, Alice Munro

March
33. *One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
34. Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman
35. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, Christopher Scotton
36. Private Life, Jane Smiley
37. *California Girl, T. Jefferson Parker
38. Pacific Beat, T. Jefferson Parker
39. Acts of Nature, Jonathon King
40. World Gone By, Dennis Lehane
41. DC: The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke
42. Ask Not, Max Allan Collins
43. Downtown, Ed McBain
44. The Beat Goes On, Ian Rankin
45. Old Twentieth, Joe Haldeman
46. The Essential Sheehan, George Sheehan
47. The Sculptor, Scott McCloud
48. “H” is for Homicide, Sue Grafton
49. True Detective, Max Allan Collins

April
50. Deliverance, James Dickey
51. Storm Runners, T. Jefferson Parker
52. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
53. Transactions in a Foreign Currency, Deborah Eisenberg
54. Hush, Hush, Laura Lippman
55. Amnesia, Peter Carey
56. Endangered, C.J. Box
57. So We Read On, Maureen Corrigan
58. The House of Wolfe, James Carlos Blake
59. Branch Rickey, Jimmy Breslin
60. Angels & Visitations, Neil Gaiman
61. Bravo, Greg Rucka
62. Marsbound, Joe Haldeman
63. Starbound, Joe Haldeman
64. Earthbound, Joe Haldeman
65. Lucky Alan and Other Stories, Jonathan Lethem
66. Death Without Company, Craig Johnson
67. Bitter River, Julia Keller

May
68. *My Antonia, Willa Cather
69. Under the 82nd Airborne, Deborah Eisenberg
70. I Refuse, Per Petterson
71. Pastoralia, George Saunders
72. The Harder They Come, T.C. Boyle
73. Summer of the Dead, Julia Keller
74. The Making of Zombie War, Aleksandar Hemon
75. The Fallen Man, Tony Hillerman
76. The Kingdom and the Power, Gay Talese
77. The Last Bookaneer, Matthew Pearl
78. Little Saigon, T. Jefferson Parker
79. God Help the Child, Toni Morrison
80. Voices in the Night, Steven Millhauser
81. The Hanging Valley, Peter Robinson
82. Reading Between the Wines, Terry Theise
83. A God In Ruins, Kate Atkinson
84. Red Light, T. Jefferson Parker
85. Book Scouting, Barbara L. Johnson
86. All Around Atlantis, Deborah Eisenberg

June
87. *Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler
88. The Wright Brothers, David McCullough
89. Silent Joe, T. Jefferson Parker
90. Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
91. Kindness Goes Unpunished, Craig Johnson
92. Mislaid, Nell Zink
93. Waterloo, Bernard Cornwell
94. Cold Pursuit, T. Jefferson Parker
95. Early Warning, Jane Smiley
96. The Best American Mystery Stories 2002, ed. James Ellroy
97. Charm City, Laura Lippman
98. The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi
99. Closing Time, Jim Fusilli
100. Twilight of the Superheroes, Deborah Eisenberg
101. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
102. An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir
103. Baseball Maverick, Steve Kettmann

July
104. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, Elizabeth Taylor
105. And Sometimes I Wonder About You, Walter Mosley
106. The Shape Shifter, Tony Hillerman
107. Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
108. Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks
109. So Many Roads, The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead, David Browne
110. McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, ed. Michael Chabon
111. The Human Body, Paolo Giordano
112. More Than A Season, Dayton Moore/Matt Fulks
113. Rumpelstiltskin, Ed McBain
114. The Pine Tar Game, Filip Bondy
115. Death and Mr. Pickwick, Stephen Jarvis
116. Vanishing Game, Roger Hobbs
117. Pirates of the Levant, Arturo Perez-Reverte

August
118. Powersat, Ben Bova
119. *Sandy Koufax, Jane Leavy
120. The Commodore, Patrick O’Brian
121. Loitering, Charles D’Ambrosio
122. Badlands, C.J. Box
123. The Draco Tavern, Larry Niven
124. The Redeemers, Ace Atkins
125. Privateers, Ben Bova
126. The Second Life of Nick Mason, Steve Hamilton
127. The Tokyo-Montana Express, Richard Brautigan
128. What Pet Should I Get?, Dr. Seuss
129. The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Benjamin Wallace
130. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
131. Zot!, Scott McCloud
132. Fat Ollie’s Book, Ed McBain
133. Charlie Martz and Other Stories, Elmore Leonard
134. The Yellow Admiral, Patrick O’Brian
135. Prince of Stories, The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman, Hank Wagner, Christopher
        Golden and Stephen Bissette
136. Will Eisner’s Shop Talk, Will Eisner
137. Last Ragged Breath, Julia Keller

September
138. The Quiet American, Graham Greene
139. Last Bus to Wisdom, Ivan Doig
140. Conqueror’s Moon, Julian May
141. Intangiball, Lonnie Wheeler
142. The Nature of the Beast, Louise Penny
143. A God Against the Gods, Allen Drury
144. Make Me, Lee Child
145. Empire Builders, Ben Bova
146. Three Moments of an Explosion, China Mieville
147. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
148. Did You Ever Have A Family, Bill Clegg
149. The Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman

October
150. Desert God, Wilbur Smith
151. The Turner House, Angela Flournoy
152. In the Studio, Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists, Todd Hignite
153. The Evening Star, Larry McMurtry
154. The Amazing Adventures of Selma Calderon, Rebecca Villarreal
155. The Unknown Shore, Patrick O’Brian
156. Creationists, Selected Essays, 1993-2006, E.L. Doctorow
157. Entry Island, Peter May
158. Quarry, Max Allan Collins
159. The Gun at Last Light, Rick Atkinson
160. The Great Comic Book Heroes, Jules Feiffer
161. M Train, Patti Smith
162. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, Salman Rushdie
163. The Hundred Days, Patrick O’Brian
164. Fortune Smiles, Adam Johnson
165. Thirteen Ways of Looking, Colum McCann
166. One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia

November
167. *Goodbye Without Leaving, Laurie Colwin
168. Report From the Interior, Paul Auster
169. Purity, Jonathan Franzen
170. The Sunset Limited, Cormac McCarthy
171. The Art of Scouting, Art Stewart w/Sam Mellinger
172. The Crossing, Michael Connelly
173. Hullabaloo at the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai
174. A Cure For Suicide, Jesse Ball
175. The Sandman Overture, Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III
176. The Undertaking, Audrey Magee
177. Slade House, David Mitchell
178. Mars, Ben Bova
179. The Promise, Robert Crais
180. The Best American Comics 2007, ed. Chris Ware
181. The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood
182. The Angel on the Roof, Russell Banks
183. The American Ambassador, Ward Just
184. Blondie, The Bumstead Family History, Dean Young & Melena Ryzik
185. The Bangkok Asset, John Burdett
186. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Sherman Alexie, illustrations
        Ellen Forney

December
187. The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson
188. Thomas Jefferson, The Art of Power, Jon Meacham
189. Streets of Laredo, Larry McMurtry
190. Even Dogs In The Wild, Ian Rankin
191. Amazing Fantastic Incredible, Stan Lee
192. The First Quarry, Max Allan Collins
193. Golden Age, Jane Smiley
194. Fieldhouse, Scott Novosel and Sam Sharpe
195. Shelf Life, ed. Greg Ketter
196. In the Country of Last Things, Paul Auster
197. At the Hang-Up, Ted Owens
198. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
199. Descender, Jeff Lemire/Dustin Nguyen
200. No Cure For Love, Peter Robinson
201. John le Carre, The Biography, Adam Sisman
202. Bleeding Kansas, Sara Paretsky
203. A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Books Comics, ed. Michael Barrier
        and Martin Williams
204. Freeman’s, ed. John Freeman
205. Sundays with Walt and Skeezix, Frank King

* Re-read