Wednesday, December 31, 2008

160 books comprise 2008 reading list

“The idea persists even today: Our books will bear witness for or against us, our books reflect who we are and who we have been, our books hold the share of pages granted to us from the Book of Life. By the books we call ours we will be judged.”

-- Alberto Manguel
The Library At Night

Manguel’s statement of books as autobiographical is as true of the books we read as it the books on our shelves.

Which leaves me wondering what the 160 books that I read in 2008 say about me?

Among the 160: Fiction and non-fiction, and one slender volume of poetry, history and biography, sprawling novels and a modest short story collection, or two. It’s all below, each title and author, in chronological order.

I started keeping a book list in 1996. I read 67 books that year, 109 the next, reaching a high of 150 books in 2001. The 160 from this past year represents a personal record and, because I know someone will ask since I wondered too, I have read 1,497 books since I first started the list in 1996.

A few words on the list:

Books are listed in the order they were finished, which is indicated by the column to the left. The first set of numbers to the right (1-2, 11-25) represents the date the book was finished and the final column is the number of “readable” pages. I may indicate 354 and a book may actually have 385 pages, that’s because I don’t count indexes or other extraneous material.

John Reinhart’s
2008 Reading List

“You always read too many books . . . That can’t lead to any good.”

January
1. Slam, Nick Hornby. Fiction 1-2 309
2. Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison. Fiction 1-4 309
3. Halting State, Charles Stross. Science Fiction 1-7 351
4. A Free Life, Ha Jin. Fiction 1-13 660
5. People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks. Fiction 1-16 372
6. Big Red Tequila, Rick Riordan. Mystery 1-20 372
7. In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan. Food 1-21 201
8. Night Train to Lisbon, Pascal Mercier. Fiction 1-24 438
9. The Widower’s Two-Step, Rick Riordan. Mystery 1-26 383
10. The Painter of Battles, Arturo Perez-Reverte. Fiction 1-27 211
11. Sword Song, Bernard Cornwell. Fiction 1-29 311
12. Brother, I’m Dying, Edwidge Danticat. Memoir 1-31 269

February
13. Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow. Fiction 2-8 487
14. Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Jeff Lindsay. Thriller 2-10 288
15. The Rivalry, John Taylor. Basketball 2-10 371
16. The Last King of Texas, Rick Riordan. Mystery 2-13 369
17. Bookless in Baghdad, Shashi Tharoor. Books on Books 2-13 277
18. Mr. Vertigo, Paul Auster. Fiction 2-16 293
19. Watchman, Ian Rankin. Thriller 2-18 258
20. One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson. Mystery 2-21 418
21. At Weddings and Wakes, Alice McDermott. Fiction 2-22 213
22. Shadow Men, Jonathon King. Mystery 2-23 258
23. Aftermath, Peter Robinson. Mystery 2-25 387
24. The Commoner, John Burnham Schwartz. Fiction 2-27 351
25. That Night, Alice McDermott. Fiction 2-29 184

March
26. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, Dinaw Mengestu. Fiction 3-2 228
27. The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert, Ward Just. Stories 3-4 178
28. Friend of My Youth, Alice Munro. Stories 3-5 273
29. The Day of Battle, the War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Rick Atkinson. History 3-5 588
30. Back in the World, Tobias Wolff. Stories 3-7 221
31. The Lives of Rocks, Rick Bass. Stories 3-8 211
32. It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, John Ed Bradley. Football 3-10 293
33. Chicago Blues, ed. Libby Fischer Hellmann. Stories 3-11 456
34. The Same River Twice, Chris Offutt. Memoir 3-14 188
35. Felicia’s Journey, William Trevor. Fiction 3-15 213
36. Lush Life, Richard Price. Fiction 3-21 455
37. The Best American Short Stories 2002, ed. Sue Miller. Stories 3-25 342
38. Beggars Banquet, Ian Rankin. Stories 3-26 308
39. Kirby, King of Comics, Mark Evanier. Biography 3-27 224
40. Secret Ingredients, The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink, ed. David Remnick. Food 3-28 582
41. Another Thing to Fall, Laura Lippman. Mystery 3-29 322
42. Deadeye Dick, Kurt Vonnegut. Fiction 3-31 240

April
43. Dead Man’s Hand, ed. Otto Penzler. Mystery/Poker 4-4 384
44. The Night in Question, Tobias Wolff. Stories 4-5 206
45. The Coldest Winter, David Halberstam. History 4-7 661
46. The Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrich. Fiction 4-9 313
47. My Bat Boy Days, Steve Garvey. Baseball 4-10 146
48. The Ten-Year Nap, Meg Wolitzer. Fiction 4-15 351
49. The Ten-Cent Plague, David Hajdu. Non-Fiction 4-18 334
50. The Great Man, Kate Christensen. Fiction 4-20 305
51. Armageddon in Retrospect, Kurt Vonnegut. Fiction 4-24 233
52. Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri. Stories 4-25 333
53. The Toughest Indian In The World, Sherman Alexie.
Stories 4-30 238

May
54. The Devil Went Down to Austin, Rick Riordan. Mystery 5-4 351
55. The Echoing Green, Joshua Prager. Baseball. 5-6 350
56. Our Story Begins, Tobias Wolff. Stories 5-8 379
57. Once Upon a Time in the North, Philip Pullman. Speculative Fiction 5-9 96
58. In the Miro District and Other Stories, Peter Taylor. Stories. 5-13 204
59. The Friar and the Cipher, Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. Books on books. 5-14 297
60. The Downhill Lie, Carl Hiaasen. Golf 5-18 207
61. Samaritan, Richard Price. Fiction 5-19 377
62. A Relative Stranger, Charles Baxter. Stories 5-21 223
63. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl. Food 5-22 299
64. Stardust, Neil Gaiman. Fantasy. 5-23 238
65. The Destiny of Nathalie X and Other Stories, William Boyd. Stories 5-24 177
66. Maps & Legends, Michael Chabon. Essays 5-27 222
67. The Magician’s Assistant, Ann Patchett. Fiction 5-28 357
68. On the River Styx, Peter Matthiessen. Stories 5-28 208

June
69. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz. Fiction 6-3 335
70. The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie. Fiction 6-8 349
71. Shine On, Bright & Dangerous Object, Laurie Colwin. Fiction 6-11 181
72. Nothing to Lose, Lee Child. Thriller 6-15 407
73. Identity Theft and Other Stories, Robert Sawyer. Stories 6-15 282
74. Breath, Tim Winton. Fiction 6-17 216
75. Nixonland, Rick Perlstein. History 6-21 748
76. The Spies of Warsaw, Alan Furst. Thriller 6-23 266
77. Zachary Taylor, John S.D. Eisenhower. Biography 6-24 140
78. Southtown, Rick Riordan. Thriller 6-25 279
79. The Crowd Sounds Happy, Nicholas Dawidoff. Memoir 6-30 267

July
80. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski. Fiction 7-4 562
81. The Garden of Last Days, Andre Dubus III. Fiction 7-11 535
82. Chasing Darkness, Robert Crais. Thriller 7-14 273
83. What Happened, Scott McClellan. Non-Fiction 7-16 323
84. The Warlord’s Son, Dan Fesperman. Thriller 7-18 320
85. Books, A Memoir, Larry McMurtry. Books on Books 7-21 259
86. The Wanderers, Richard Price. Fiction 7-21 239
87. The Greatest Game, Richard Bradley. Baseball 7-24 257
88. Mission Road, Rick Riordan. Thriller 7-24 318
89. The Prisoner of Guantanamo, Dan Fesperman. Thriller 7-27 323
90. Twenty-One Selected Stories, Ward Just. Fiction 7-28 389
91. Rebel Island, Rick Riordan. Thriller 7-29 339
92. The Turnaround, George Pelecanos. Fiction 7-31 294

August
93. Why I Came West, Rick Bass. Non-Fiction 8-2 227
94. The Amateur Spy, Dan Fesperman. Thriller 8-4 367
95. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami. Running/Memoir 8-5 180
96. Swan Peak, James Lee Burke. Thriller 8-7 402
97. Various Miracles, Carol Shields. Stories 8-8 216
98. Rome 1960, David Maraniss. Sports/History 8-11 423
99. Saturn’s Children, Charles Stross. Speculative Fiction 8-12 323
100. The Big Bam, The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, Leigh Montville. Biography/Baseball 8-17 377
101. A Bigamist’s Daughter, Alice McDermott. Fiction 8-18 290
102. America America, Ethan Canin. Fiction 8-25 458
103. Everything They Had, David Halberstam. Sports 8-25 379
104. The King’s Gold, Arturo Perez-Reverte. Fiction 8-29 278

September
105. Traffic Why We Drive the Way We Do, Tom Vanderbilt. Non-Fiction 9-1 286
106. Man in the Dark, Paul Auster. Fiction 9-1 180
107. Netherland, Joseph O’Neill. Fiction 9-10 256
108. Praying for Gil Hodges, Thomas Oliphant. Baseball 9-11 278
109. The Library at Night, Alberto Manguel. Books on Books 9-14 325
110. Home, Marilynne Robinson. Fiction 9-16 325
111. The Orange Fish, Carol Shields. Stories 9-17 175
112. Fine Just The Way It Is, Annie Proulx. Stories 9-19 221
113. Exit Music, Ian Rankin. Mystery 9-22 421
114. The Last Good Season, Michael Shapiro. Baseball 9-24 332
115. What Now?, Ann Patchett. Essay 9-25 97
116. Strange and Stranger, The World of Steve Ditko, Blake Bell. Biography 9-26 181
117. The Given Day, Dennis Lehane. Fiction 9-30 702

October
118. The Soul Thief, Charles Baxter. Fiction 10-3 210
119. Luckiest Man, The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, Jonathan Eig. Baseball 10-4 364
120. Peace, Richard Bausch. Fiction 10-4 171
121. Classics for Pleasure, Michael Dirda. Books on Books 10-5 32
122. Pafko at the Wall, Don DeLillo. Fiction 10-5 90
123. The Good Thief, Hannah Tinti. Fiction 10-8 327
124. Your Brain on Cubs, ed. Dan Gordon. Baseball and Neuroscience 10-9 133
125. Harry S. Truman, Robert Dallek. Biography 10-13 153
126. The Eleventh Man, Ivan Doig. Fiction 10-15 406
127. Patriotic Grace, Peggy Noonan. Non-Fiction 10-16 182
128. The English Major, Jim Harrison. Fiction 10-19 255
129. Cesar’sWay, Cesar Millan. Dogs 10-20 272
130. Art in the Blood, Craig McDonald. Books on Books 10-21 228
131. Dressing Up for the Carnival, Carol Shields. Stories 10-21 196
132. Stan Musial, Joseph Stanton*. Biography 10-26 148
133. A Most Wanted Man, John Le Carre. Fiction 10-28 322
134. The Brass Verdict, Michael Connelly. Thriller 10-30 422

November
135. In Search of the Blues, Marybeth Hamilton. Blues 11-3 246
136. Telex From Cuba, Rachel Kusher. Fiction 11-4 322
137. Butchers Hill, Laura Lippman. Thriller 11-7 274
138. The Ordinary Adventurer, Jan Leitschuh. Outdoors 11-8 216
139. The End, Salvatore Scibona. Fiction 11-11 294
140. How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions, Annie Duke. Poker 11-11 254
141. Jesus Out to Sea, James Lee Burke. Stories 11-12 240
142. Change Up, An Oral History of 8 Key Events That Shaped Modern Baseball, Larry Burke and Peter Thomas Fornatale. Baseball 11-15 279
143. Ladies’ Man, Richard Price. Fiction 11-17 264
144. George, Being George. George Plimpton’s Life, ed. Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr. Biography 11-22 382
145. I See You Everywhere, Julia Glass. Fiction 11-24 287
146. Babe Ruth, Remembering the Bambino in Stories, Photos & Memorabilia, Julia Ruth Stevens/Bill Gilbert. Memoir 11-25 175
147. Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. Graphic Novel 11-26 ----
148. The Private Patient, P.D. James. Mystery 11-27 352
149. The Lazarus Project, Aleksandar Hemon. Fiction 11-30 292

December
150. A Mercy, Toni Morrison. Fiction 12-4 167
151. Cardinal Points, Joseph Stanton*. Poetry 12-5 112
152. American Lion, Andrew Jackson in the White House, Jon Meacham. Biography 12-5 361
153. To Siberia, Per Petterson. Fiction 12-7 245
154. Hardly Knew Her, Laura Lippman. Stories 12-8 292
155. A Great Idea At The Time, Alex Beam. Books on books 12-12 201
156. When Will There Be Good News?, Kate Atkinson. Fiction 12-13 388
157. The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga. Fiction 12-16 276
158. Shadow Country, Peter Matthiessen. Fiction 12-22 892
159. Traitor To His Class, H.W. Brands. Biography 12-29 824
160. 2666, Roberto Bolano. Fiction 12-29 898

* Joseph Stanton is the husband of Barbara Stanton, AARP’s Hawaii State Director.

I have one criteria in establishing my annual “best of” – pure reading enjoyment. Here it is:

My Top Reads--Fiction

These are listed in the order I read them. I recommend each without reservation.

  • Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri. A powerful and beautifully written collection of short stories. Lahiri has eclipsed Alice Munro as the best short story writer practicing the craft today. No mean feat.

  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz. Brilliant. Inventive. Wildly funny, yet tragic. If forced to pick, this was the single best book among the 160.

  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski. Hamlet with dogs. You don’t need to brush up on your Shakespeare, but it helps. Nor do you need to be a dog lover, but if you are this book will truly resonant.

  • The Turnaround, George Pelecanos. Dennis Lehane and Richard Price received all the publicity. Pelecanos is better. I found this to be a powerful story of insight and subtlety.

  • America America, Ethan Canin. An old-fashioned epic novel of political and family intrigue.

  • Home, Marilynne Robinson. Robinson revisits Gilead, Iowa. She has written only three novels; each one a wonder.

  • Fine Just The Way It Is, Annie Proulx. A moving, funny and occasionally uneven short story collection.

  • The Good Thief, Hannah Tinti. Think of Robert Louis Stevenson or Patrick O’Brian. Pure adventure and unadulterated fun featuring a one-handed orphan with a mysterious past, dwarves clambering down chimneys and dead giants who return to life.

  • When Will There Be Good News?, Kate Atkinson. This book kept showing up on a lot of “best” list and I couldn’t understand why, and then I read it. Lots and lots of very bad things happen to the people in this book. There are times you don’t want to turn the page because of what may happen next. Yet it’s so compelling, you can’t wait to turn the page in because of what will happen next. Reggie Chase is my favorite fictional characters in ages. “SweartoGod.”

  • The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga. Biting satire. Lord, I hope it’s satire.

  • Shadow Country, Peter Matthiessen. Matthiessen compressed his trilogy – Killing Mr. Watson, Bone by Bone and Lost Man’s River – into one 892-page opus. Read it as three books or read it as one, but read it.

I also liked:

  • The English Major, Jim Harrison
  • People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
  • The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, Dinaw Mengestu
  • Lush Life, Richard Price
  • The Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrich
  • Breath, Tim Winton
  • The Spies of Warsaw, Alan Furst
  • Exit Music, Ian Rankin
  • A Mercy, Toni Morrison
  • To Siberia, Per Petterson
  • The Brass Verdict, Michael Connelly

My Top Reads—Non-Fiction

  • In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan. Pollan contends that most of what we're consuming today is not food, and how we're consuming it -- in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone -- is not really eating.

  • The Ten-Cent Plague, David Hajdu. The 10-cent plague was comic books. I still love’em, although I missed the period described in this fascinating book.

  • Nixonland, Rick Perlstein. Nixon is gone, but the evil he inflicted on us lives on.

  • Rome 1960, David Maraniss. A lively account of the 1960 Olympics.

  • Traffic Why We Drive the Way We Do, Tom Vanderbilt. Traffic is my run-away favorite in this category. Why didn’t write this book sooner?

  • George, Being George. George Plimpton’s Life, ed. Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr. Plimpton reigned during a period in America when the author was also celebrity. Think of Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal. We have nothing like it today.

  • American Lion, Andrew Jackson in the White House, Jon Meacham. A biography of Andrew Jackson every five or 10 years is a good think. Meacham’s provides a lively and balanced account.

  • Traitor To His Class, H.W. Brands. Brands’ biography of FDR, our last great liberal president is timely. This effort is lengthy, but rewarding.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not say how much pleasure I had reading two books by Joe Stanton: Stan Musial, a biography of the baseball immortal, and Cardinal Points, a collection of poetry. I don’t read much poetry, but feel as if I should read one or two collections each year, if that collection can be about baseball, all the better. Joe is the husband of Barbara Stanton, AARP’s state director in Hawaii. I haven’t met Joe, but I had the pleasure of accompanying Barbara this summer to her first Cubs’ game.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Post columnist comments on Presidential reading list

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen comments on President Bush's reading list. Really, he has a reading list. Karl Rove says so.

Speaking of reading list, my 2008 list will appear soon.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Does Newbery Award turn off kids to reading?

Interesting article in today's Washington Post on the Newbery Award. According to writer Valerie Strauss, "Now the literary world is debating the Newbery's value, asking whether the books that have won recently are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading."

Monday, December 08, 2008

Post unveils best books of 2008

The Washington Post unveiled its best books of 2008 this weekend. It's no surprise that Toni Morrison's A Mercy and Roberto Bolano's 2666 are among the top five in fiction. I am not familiar with the other three books: The Outlander by Gil Adamson, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and Cost by Roxana Robinson.

The Post's critic Jonathan Yardley also picked his best books of the year. I find some of his picks intriguing. Yardley liked Geraldine Brook's People of the Books, which I found thoroughly entertaining and well-told.

Three "genre" books make Yardley's list. He writes:
My dissatisfaction with contemporary literary fiction has led me to look more closely into what is commonly pigeonholed as "genre" fiction and, as I've said in the past, to find it more closely connected to the realities of American life than the self-referential fiction that pours out of creative-writing departments. Three of the most skillful writers of such work make the list this year.
The writers, and their books, are The Brass Verdict by Michael Connell, The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst and The Given Day by Dennis Lehane. Good choices all in, I think, the order listed.

Yardley also liked Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us). I liked it a lot too.

My own list won't be forthcoming until after the first of the year. I still have several books to read in the few days remaining in 2008.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Post and Toni Morrison talk Obama and books

Toni Morrison talks about Barack Obama and her new novel, A Mercy, in an interview with The Washington Post.

A Mercy also happens to be one of The New York Times' 10 Best Books of 2008. The other fiction works selected as the year's best: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, 2666 by Roberto Bolano, Netherland by Joseph O'Neill and Dangerous Laughter, a collection of short stories by Steven Millhauser.

As I've said before, I didn't much care for Netherland, but Unaccustomed Earth is terrific. I haven't read 2666. It's on my short list. I liked A Mercy, but not certain it is in my top five. I will be attending Morrison's appearance in Washington, D.C. tonight.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What's Coming Next From Michael Connelly?

Connelly's next book is The Scarecrow, featuring crime reporter Jack McEvoy and FBI Agent Rachel Walling, together for the first time since The Poet. Forced out of the Los Angeles Times amid the latest budget cuts, newspaperman Jack McEvoy decides to go out with a bang, using his final days at the paper to write the definitive murder story of his career. He focuses on Alonzo Winslow, a 16-year-old drug dealer in jail after confessing to a brutal murder. But as he delves into the story, Jack realizes that Winslow's so-called confession is bogus. The kid might actually be innocent. Jack is soon running with his biggest story since The Poet made his career years ago. He is tracking a killer who operates completely below police radar, and with perfect knowledge of any move against him. Including Jack's.

The Scarecrow will be released on May 12, 2009, in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, and on May 26, 2009, in the USA & Canada.

Click here to read more about THE SCARECROW.