Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Accepting the Chunkster Challenge

Early this month I wrote about my discovery of bloggers issuing reading challenges to other bloggers and readers.
I accepted a challenge offered by the Roof Beam Reader, the 2011 to be Read Pile Challenge.

Now, I'm accepting another -- the Chunkster Reading Challenge.

This challenge is about reading big books. A "chunkster" is defined as a book, fiction or non-fiction, that's 450 pages long or longer.

The challenge has different levels: the Chubby Chunkster is to read four books 450+ pages; the Plump Primer is to read six; the Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big? challenge is to read six books, two between 450-550 pages, two between 551-750 pages and two books of more than 750+ pages; and the Mor-book-ly Obese challenge calls for reading eight chunksters, three of 750+ pages.

I may be crazy, but I'm going to strive to meet the Mor-book-ly Obese challenge. In part, because the Chunkster Challenge and the Roof Beam Challenge overlap. In part, because, well, I like the challenge.

War and Peace and Lonesome Dove will make up two of those eight chunksters. I have others in mind and will furnish updates when I get started with the challenge in February.

I should also mention the Foodie's Reading Challenge. I've already contributed one book, Four Fish, to this site and hope to add more as 2011 unfolds.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pike shines in starring role in The Sentry

Book Twelve: The Sentry by Robert Crais

Joe Pike began his literary life as a sidekick. He was Robin to Elvis Cole's Batman. Suddenly, in the span of three books all that's changed.

Pike is now a leading man. And his star power has never been more in evidence than in The Sentry, the newest thriller from author Robert Crais.

As the novel opens, Pike saves a restaurant owner from a severe beating by two gang members.  As a result of his timely intervention, Pike meets the restaurant owner's niece.  They share a quiet moment, she confides in him -- sharing a picture of her daughter -- and Pike asks if he can see her again. She says yes, but that meeting doesn't happen again until very late in the novel.

The young woman and her uncle vanish. Pike believes they've been kidnapped by gang members seeking retribution. But, as with any good thriller, things aren't what they seem. Pike and Cole soon discover that the couple aren't fleeing an L.A. gang, but a psychopathic killer who is working for a Bolivian drug cartel.

There are many twists and turns en route to the finale, delivered with typical brio by Crais. 

Fans of Elvis Cole, and there are many, will be pleased to know that he's very much a part of The Sentry. He's clearly not the star of the show, but his appearance is far more than a cameo.

Cole plays a key role late in the novel as deadly events unfold. And, with his wise cracks and steady patter, Cole is the perfect contrast to the silent, lethal Joe Pike.

The Sentry is another stellar effort from Robert Crais.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gordon-Reed on Andrew Johnson; Carl Hiassen on the cult of celebrity

Book Ten: Andrew Johnson by Annette Gordon-Reed

Randy Newman's album, Good Old Boys, is the perfect antidote to Annette Gordon-Reed's biography of Andrew Johnson.

An antidote isn't necessary due to anything Gordon-Reed has done, but rather it is needed due to the pernicious racism of the 17th President of the United States.

Newman explodes the notion of racism in his music. Johnson dashed the dreams of thousands of Freedmen in the heady days following the end of the American Civil War and set back their cause for nearly a century.

"Johnson's attitude toward blacks, or 'niggers' as he termed them in private conversation, was resolutely negative," writes Gordon-Reed. "It would be impossible to exaggerate how devastating it was to have a man who affirmatively hated black people in charge of the program that was designed to settle the terms of their existence in post-Civil War America."

Despite the task of writing a biogrpahy about such an unappetizing American politician as Johnson, Gordon-Reed provides a balanced portrait of the man who succeeded Abraham Lincoln as president. Her work fits admirably alongside the other uniformly superb biographies that make up Times Books' American Presidents Series. These are small books -- normally under 200 pages -- that focus on the individual's tenure as president.

Gordon-Reed notes, for example, that Johnson was a self-made man. He was born amid extreme poverty and later apprenticed to a tailor. In time, he fled the tailor and his hometown, ultimately migrating to Tennessee where opened his own tailor shop, married and found his way into elective politics.

Johnson was unusual in that when the Civil War broke out, and Tennessee left the Union, he remained loyal, continuing to serve in the U.S. Senate. He was selected Lincoln's running mate for his second term and became president when Lincoln was assassinated. He served only the one term, during which he was impeached and came within a single vote of being unceremoniously removed from office.

Gordon-Reed notes that Johnson believed that the South "never really left the Union because secession was a legal impossibility." Whatever his curious political beliefs, it is true that Johnson betrayed the thousands of African-Americans bound in slavery in the South, and millions of their descendants, by his resolute belief in white supremacy and in his desire to quickly restore the status quo following the war.

It is a sad chapter in American history. One that took generations to set right, if such a wrong can truly ever be set right.

Book Eleven: Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

I can think of few authors who so successfully explode pretension and greed as Carl Hiaasen. And, one should add, explode these fine attributes in such a damnably funny way.

Hiaasen's target in Star Island is the cult of celebrity that enthralls so many Americans today. He takes on narcisstic, talentless pop singers (think Jessica Simpson), whose true talent is their ability to ingest vast quantities of alcohol and drugs and engage in promiscious sex; their entourage from enabling parents to agents to PR flaks; and, finally, the paparazzi who prey on the famous and near-famous because of our endless appetite for scandal, sex, drugs and rock and roll.

The story isn't really important here. A few familiar faces do stroll across these pages, including Skink, the former, Florida governor who has abandoned the State Capitol for the Everglades, and Chemo, the pock-faced murderer with a weed whacker for an arm.

Star Island is funny, very funny. And, as with all Hiaasen's work, the bad guys get their comeuppance and good things happen to good people.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On Zero History and The Sherlockian

Book Eight: Zero History by William Gibson

Damned if I know what William Gibson is up to in Zero History

It's his third novel to feature Hubertus Bigend, a Belgian who runs the viral marketing and cool-hunting agency, Blue Ant. Bigend made his first appearance in Pattern Recognition in 2003, his second in Spook Country in 2007.

Spook Country also introduced us to Hollis Henry, former lead singer of the fictional '90s band the Curfew. Hollis returns in Zero History, relcutantly back in the employee of Bigend. After the economy crashed Hollis's vow never to work for Bigend again must give way to the prospect of a lucrative payday.

Hollis was exploring "locative art" for Bigend in Spook Country. Now, she's trying to identify the creator of a mystertious "secret brand" of clothing called Gabriel Hounds. 

Also returning from Spook Country is Milgrim. Then a high-end junkie, now in recovery, Milgrim is off on a mission for Bigend that involves military uniforms. It seems there are lots of young men who don't want to be in the military, but who want people to think they are -- and Bigend senses an opportunity to control an important market.

Unfortunately, Miligrim has unintentionally drawn the interest and anger of a former special ops officer who is attempting to corner the market on combat wear as a way of concealing his illicit arms deals.

All this brings a sprawling cast of characters together in a climatic ambush that's over almost before it begins.

In the course of Zero History there's a nifty little surprise associated with Gabriel Hounds and a character from Pattern Recognition. The other delight of Zero History, which has been true of Gibson's work from the beginning, are all his shady, shadowy minor characters, which introduce a decidely Dickensian spirit to his writing.

Gibson once wrote about a not-too-distant future, now he's writing about a present that seems to exist in a parallel universe only a step or two removed from our own. It's all fun and cool, even if I don't understand what it's all about.

Book Nine: The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

I should like The Sherlockian more than I did. It's based on real-life events. A diary and papers belonging to Holmes' creator Arthur Conan Doyle did go missing after Doyle's death. And a foremost Holmes scholar did turn up dead, under mysterious circumstances, after announcing he had recovered Doyle's lost papers.

Author Graham Moore takes us down parallel, but related paths to explain what might have happened to the missing papers and the dead scholar. 

One path involves Harold White, a newly minted member of The Baker Street Irregulars, the world's premiere Holmes society, who is off to investigate the scholar's murder and re-locate the missing diary. The second path involves Doyle and Dracula author Bram Stoker, friends in real life, and recounts what the diary contains (all fictional, of course) and how it came to be missing.

The novel doesn't quite deliver. The tale of Doyle and Stoker is more intriguing than the implausible adventures of Mr. White, who never emerges fully formed as a character. 

Ultimately, White and another character do something that simply does not feel right. It's not merely unlikely, it's improbable. Moore presents it as a satisfying and appropriate conclusion to the novel, but for this reader it was quite the opposite. 

The best thing that can be said about The Sherlockian is that the cover design for its dust jacket is stunning.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Four Fish a chronicle of the poisoning and plundering of the seas

Book Seven: Four Fish by Paul Greenberg

Despite its Seussian title, there is nothing whimsical about Paul Greenberg's 2010 book. Four Fish is a grim reckoning of the world's dwindling fish population.

Four fish that commonly find their way to our dinner table and that have been especially mis-managed -- salmon, tuna, bass and cod -- provide the framework for Greenberg's chronicle of the poisoning and plunder of the seas. It's all here: the destruction of native habitat, the overfishing, the decimation of forage fish at the bottom of the food chain, the self-interest and greed.

Not that Four Fish is a screed.  A passionate fisherman, Greenberg provides a balanced account, relating valiant efforts to pull us back from the brink.  Most of those efforts entail some sort of fish farming. Sadly, even here, Greenberg believes we've gotten it wrong; attempting to farm salmon or sea bass, for example, while more suitable and sustainable fish such as barramundi or tilapia have been largely ignored.

Yet the most sobering observation Greenberg makes is how little impact the informed and conscientious consumer may have: "Choosing a fish that is well managed or grown on a farm that uses sound husbandry practices is most definitely personally satisfying. One feels 'good' when one eats 'well' . . . But the public's choosing of 'good' fish in the marketplace has little effect on the actual management of wild fish or the practices of growing farmed ones."

Greenberg writes that consumer awareness campaigns that lead us to leave certain fish off the menu have not significiantly reduced fishing pressure on those species.

But there are steps we can take. In his thoughtful conclusion, Greenberg offers a set of priorities to protect the world's remaining wild fish. Those priorities include "a profound reduction" in worldwide fishing. According to Greenberg, the United Nation estimates the world fishing fleet is twice as large as the oceans can support. He advocates that we move from heavily extractive fishing vessels to an artisanal sector of "respectful fishermen-herders that will steward the species, as well as catch them."

Other suggestions include establishing significiant no-catch areas, global protection of unmanageable species and protection of the bottom of the food chain. He also offers thoughtful principles to guide us as we continue to domesticate fish for human consumption.

Anyone who cares about the food they eat or the state of the world's wild animals will find Four Fish a thoughtful and important book. The challenge is to put the books into the hands of politicians and industry leaders throughout the world who can effect the changes enumerated here and pull us back from the brink of destruction.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Anniversary Man a rewarding thriller

Book 6: The Anniversary Man by R.J. Ellory

As a rule, I don’t like novels about serial killers. And I didn’t much care for R.J.Ellory’s first book, A Quiet Belief in Angels, which – that’s right – was about a serial killer.

Which makes me wonder why I ever read Ellory’s second book, The Anniversary Man, which is also about – altogether now – a serial killer. But I did read it, and although Ellory stepped to the plate with two strikes against him, he wound up delivering, if not a walk-off home run, certainly a nice stand-up double.

 Let’s dispense with the baseball metaphor and just say The Anniversary Man was a solid hit.

Conceit and characters make this book entertaining.  The conceit: someone’s killing people, on the anniversary of past serial killings and in a manner frighteningly similar to those past murders. 

The characters are a lonely cop, Ray Irving, and John Costello, a researcher for a New York newspaper  who survived an attack by the so-called Hammer of God killer when he was 15. His girlfriend was not so fortunate.

The attack left its mark on Costello physically and emotionally. He has a deep-rooted obsession with serial killers and is the first to notice that there’s a pattern to the seemingly random murders.

Costello and Irving form a shaky alliance to catch the killer. Naturally, as the death toll mounts, Costello is Irving’s main suspect.

Ellory manages to deliver a thrilling climax that is altogether fitting without being obvious.

I’ve got a friend urging me to read Ellory’s third novel. Looks like that’s going to happen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Spot and Guitar An American Life

Book Four: The Spot by David Means

Quirky seems too bright a word to describe the short stories of David Means. Offbeat? Unconventional? Bizarre?

All of that. The subject matter isn't the sort of fare dished up by Alice Munro or William Trevor.  Instead, we enter worlds few of us would enter voluntarily. A world of bank robbers and bums, failed actors, pimps and a couple caught in an affair that is going nowhere.

It isn't just the subject matter that's unconventional, but the voices that emerge from each of these stories. In Means' hands, the voices of these people from the fringe of society feels so authentic that the reader experiences a voyeuristic thrill that is deliciously creepy.

Book Five: Guitar An American Life by Tim Brookes

There are two stories in Guitar An American Life.  The first is a biography of the guitar, especially how it attained its place in American music.

Lots of performers you know -- Mother Maybelle, Chet Atkins, Django Reinhardt -- and many more you may not populate these pages.  Brookes tells us how various forms of music -- from wave after wave of Hawaiian performers that inundated the Mainland to rock and roll -- shaped our acceptance and understanding of this instrument that was once seen as a tool of the devil.

The second story is about the efforts of guitar maker from the Green Mountains of Vermont to build a new guitar for Brookes.  It's a surprisingly intimate account and a fascinating look at a creative process that strikes a balance between functionality and art.

Guitar An American Life came to me as a Christmas gift from my oldest son.  It was a title well chosen., Birthday Best Sellers

This is an intriguing website. Type in your birthday and see the New York Times bestsellers that week. Desiree by Annemarie Selinko was the topselling book the week I was born. Followed by A.J. Cronin's Beyond This Place, Too Late the Phalarope by Alan Paton and Time and Time Again by James Hilton.

The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale was the top-selling work of non-fiction.

D.C. is America's most literate city.

Since moving to Washington, D.C. in 2002, I've often thought it was the best book city in the country. Better than New York. Better than Seattle or Minneapolis. We can boast the most outstanding independent bookstore in the nation, Politics & Prose. What's more, the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and Folger offer an outstanding array of programs. Each fall, there's the National Book Festival on the Mall.

And, what makes it all especially nice from a residents' point of view, is that D.C. is so compact, and the Metro so convenient, that all of the events offered up annually are easy to get to.

Now, in a story this morning, USA Today reports that an annual study finds Washington is America's most literate city.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Long Ships: "It's really good." Really.

Book Three: The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson, translation by Michael Meyer

In his introduction to Fran G. Bengtsson's The Long Ships, author Michael Chabon assures us "it's really good."

Chabon is spot on. It is good. Damn good.

Books like The Long Ships are the reason I read.

Bengtsson was born and raised in the southern Swedish province of Skåne. He published Red Orm on the Western Way in 1941. Red Orm at Home and on the Eastern Way followed in 1945.  The two books first appeared in America and England in 1955 in a single volume titled The Long Ships.

The Long Ships is the story of Red Orm. While still a youth, Orm, a Dane, attempts to prevent Viking raiders from absconding with the family livestock, only to find himself a captive aboard the radiers' ship. It isn't long before the youth convinces the raiders to return his sword and make him a part of their party.

And that quickly we're off on a propulsive series of adventures: Orm becomes a prisoner of the Moors in Spain, he later journeys to Iceland, finds himself at the Scandinavian court of King Harald and ransacks England only to meet King Ethelred and convert to Christianity.

What begins as a series of high adventures in the first books, develops, in the second half, into a satisfying story of Orm's life from his hasty marriage and baptism to the settled life that follows. Those seeking the thrills of the first part of the books need not fear, The Long Ships concludes with not one but two final adventures: the first to recover hidden gold and the second to reclaim his daughter from a rogue priest who now leads an outlaw band.

Bengtsson is a master of pace. Whether its swords and sea and high adventures or sewing crops, rearing children and raising churches, there is a gentle but insistence pace to the narrative that propels the reader from page to page.

The sly and subtle humor is The Long Ships most unexpected feature, and one of its best. Consider this excerpt:

The twelve Virds sat in the center of the half-circle, and their chieftain rose first. His name was Ugge the Inarticulate, son of Oar; he was an old man, and had the reputation of being the wisest person in the whole of Värend. It had always been the case with him that he was never able to speak except with great difficulty, but everyone agreed that this was a sign of the profundity of his thinking . . . 

Fans of everything from sword and sorcery to historical fiction -- from Robert E. Howard's Conan to Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Series -- will embrace this brilliant and buoyant novel. It's the slap of an ocean wave against a dragon-prowed ship, the clash of tempered steel, a quaff of cold ale.

Yes, it's really good.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A reading challenge for 2011

Hmmm. Apparently there are contests or challenges on the Internet devoted to reading.  Some are created by bloggers issuing throwdowns to other bloggers and readers. 

For example, a site called Roof Beam Reader has a contest called the 2011 To Be Read Pile Challenge. The idea is to take 12 books that have been on your bookshelf or "to be read" list for more than a year and actually read those books in 2011.

Curious, I'm always noodling with such a list. Might as well take up the challenge. The extra motivation is welcome.

Here's my list of 12 with two alternates:

1. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
2. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
3. War and Peace by Mr. Tolstoy
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
5. The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
6. Under the Dome by Stephen King
7. White Noise by Don Delillo
8. Yogi Berra Eternal Yankee by Allen Barra
9. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
10. Winter in the Blood by James Welch
11. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
12. Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson

Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz
Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich

You can read all the rules at the Roof Beam Reader website, but the list must be comprised of books you have not read.  It's an especially great challenge for me because I always try to read books that have been lingering on the list (entirely mental) or in the actual pile for years.

Should be fun. I'll keep you posted.

2011 reading begins with two mysteries by Louise Penny

Book One: A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

Book Two: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

The first two books of 2011 were mysteries by Louise Penny.

Increasingly, I've come to appreciate Penny's work in recasting the cozy mystery for a modern audience.

Largely set in the tiny Canadian village of Three Pines, Penny provides a fascinating cast of characters -- Chief Inspector Gamache, in particular, can hold his own with Banks or Rebus -- and through their lives she skillfully explores human nature, especially its dark side.

That's the value of such a large cast of charactes in a mystery series. Penny, who provides the reader with three sets of distinct characters, has the luxury of time and space to explore the twists and turns of human nature and to develop backstories for the most enduring of her characters.

The three sets of characters are Gamache and his investigative team, the villagers of Three Pines (both of these groupings re-appear from novel to novel) and finally those characters who are one-offs, appearing for the sake of the narrative in a single novel, but destined not to re-appear in future books.

In A Rule Against Murder, the village of Three Pines makes only a cameo appearance. Bulk of the novel is set in an isolated auberge where Gamache and his wife, Reine Marie, are vacationing. Also at the auberge, for an annual gathering, is a quarrelsome family that includes two of the Three Pines villagers that we've come to known.

Naturally, a member of the family is murdered, by a most ingenious method, which takes Gamache and the reader some time to unravel. It's not Penny's best book in the series, but it is especially good because of what we learn about Gamache's past and the insight into one of the two Three Pines familiars.

The Brutal Telling may be Penny's finest mystery to date. It involves the death of a hermit, whose existence in a cabin a short distance from Three Pines, is unknown to all of the villagers save one, until the hermit's untimely demise.

The mystery surrounding the hermit's identity and the treasure that fills his modest cabin is engaging, but what elevates the book is Penny's courage in tying the murder to one of the Three Pines denizens we've come to know since the series debuted.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Erdrich on writing for children

Louise Erdrich on the difference between writing novels for adults and novels for children:

Writing for children now, I pare back description, stick to action, humor, trouble, triumph. Of course there also has to be death, but not too much. I have to watch that. I can't become Cormac McCarthy for the middle reader.

From an interview in the Paris Review (issue 195, Winter 2010).

Monday, January 03, 2011

More thoughts on Conroy's My Reading Life

In My Reading Life, Pat Conroy writes that he tries to read a minimum of 200 pages a day. That's an extraordinary undertaking. I attempt to read no fewer than 100 pages each day. If Conroy succeeds in his mission, I believe that he truly has accomplished his desire to "out read a generation."

Conroy's book inspired me to compile a list of book I want to read. Some were directly the result of Conroy's suggestion -- Gone With The Wind, War and Peace, Deliverance and the poetry of James Dickey, and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which I've read many times before, but not in some years.

I've also added Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, Conroy's own The Great Santini and Willa Cather's Death Comes For the Archbishop, a book I have not read in many years.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Thoughts on 2010 reading list

114 books read in 2010. That's the lowest since 109 in 1997. The highest was 161 in 2009. Since I started keeping the list in 1996 I've read 1,772 books. I feel like a coach with 2,000 wins within his grasp.

The books aren’t all I read. There were stacks of comics, every issue of The New Yorker, the occasional newspaper, website and cereal box.

But the books are why we do this. First, the caveats. There are three. I don't do a "best of" list. I don't read enough books for that. Instead, I like to single out a few of the books that I enjoyed the most. Books that evoked a laugh or a tear. Call it my favorite reads. The list is comprised of "recent" books -- most were written in the past year. If I didn't do this, whatever book by Charles Dickens that I read in the past year would always, always, be at the top of the list.

Finally, although I observe them, I dislike the arbitrary restrictions imposed by genres -- science fiction, mystery, young adult. Such categories prevent people from exploring books I'm convinced they would enjoy. Michael Connelly is a good example. He's a hell of interesting and entertaining writer, but some of you've never picked up his books because he's a "mystery" writer. That's a mistake. The same is true for Neil Gaiman. He has a book on this list that I'm convinced will still be read decades from now.

Contemporary novels:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson
Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson
The Hand That First Held Mine, Maggie O’Farrell
, Emma Donoghue
Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls.

The Hand That First Held Mine tops this list with Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and Behind the Scenes at the Museum close behind. O'Farrell tells two parallel stories that ultimately become one. It's tender and wise and an altogether lovely book. Simonson channels Jane Austen in this delicious comedy of manner. I'm a Kate Atkinson fanboy.

I read the five books short-listed for the National Book Award and a couple of the books on the shortlist for the Booker Prize. I liked Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule, which took me into the world of a down-at-its-heels West Virginia racetrack. It almost broke the top five above. by Peter Carey was a good read. Nicole Krauss is a supremely talented writer, but she fell Parrot & Olivier in America short in the humorless Great House. As for the Booker winner, The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, I did not like it at all.

Young Adult:
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi
It's A Book, Lane Smith

Gaiman's wonderful book about a baby raised by the denizens of a graveyard makes my all-time list. It's that good. It's A Book is a children's book. I had to put it somewhere. It was one of my very, very favorites reads this year.

The Reversal, Michael Connelly
The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, Alan Bradley
Faithful Place
, Tana French
Gutshot Straight, Lou Berney
Do They Know I’m Running?
, David Corbett

I could add another 5 books here. The work of Louise Penny and Robert Crais, Robinson and Rankin, Steve Hamilton's The Lock Artist and The Moonlight Mile of Dennis Lehane, which revives the duo of Kenzie and Genaro. Connelly, French and Corbett explode the genre.

Science Fiction:
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi

Bacigalupi is an inventive writer with two books on the list. I have a feeling there will be more in the future.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
Lyndon B. Johnson, Charles Peters
Bob Dylan in America, Sean Wilentz
Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
Colonel Roosevelt, Edmund Morris

A guy at a bookstore recently grabbed up Unbroken and said, "I hope it's half as good as Seabiscuit." It is at least that. I hope you appreciate the variety here. A little science, some culture and arts, two political biographies -- one big, one brief -- and Unbroken, which is a personal history of World War II, a bit of sports bio and pure Christian inspiration.

Composed, Rosanne Cash
My Reading Life, Pat Conroy

I loved My Reading Life. Much of what Conroy writes about reading captures my feelings perfectly. I loved The List, Rosanne's album of songs her father said she needed to know. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Composed. She's a thoughtful, intelligent woman.

Roger Maris, Baseball’s Reluctant Hero, Tom Clavin and Danny Peary
The Last Hero, A Life of Henry Aaron, Howard Bryant

Jane Leavy's biography of Mickey Mantle is not here. I just didn't like it that much. Bryant's biography of Henry Aaron is a stellar work that puts the slugger's life and career into cultural perspective. I didn't know much about Roger Maris until reading this bio by Clavin and Peary. Let me just say this: Maris was universally admired by his teammates and when he died Mantle wept.

My 2010 Reading List

1. My Father Is A Book, Janna Malamud Smith
2. Literary Life, Larry McMurtry
3. Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens
4. Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls
5. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
6. Shadow Tag, Louise Erdrich
7. The First Rule, Robert Crais
8. Rizzo’s War, Lou Manfredo
9. The Lock Artist, Steve Hamilton

10. The Hidden Man, David Ellis
11. Gutshot Straight, Lou Berney
12. Give My Poor Heart Ease, Voices of the Mississippi Blues, William Ferris
13. The Godfather of Kathmandu, John Burdett
14. Food Rules, Michael Pollan
15. A Quiet Belief in Angels, R.J. Ellory
16. Doors Open, Ian Rankin
17. The Mexican Tree Duck, James Crumley
18. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
19. After the Sundown, Pat Jordan
20. The Price of Love and Other Stories, Peter Robinson
21. The Farmer’s Daughter, Jim Harrison
22. To Hell on a Fast Horse, Mark Lee Gardner

23. Rebel Yell, Alice Randall
24. The Burning Land, Bernard Cornwell
25. The Possessed, Elif Batuman
26. The Blue Horse, Rick Bass
27. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson
28. Willie Mays, The Life, The Legend, James S. Hirsch
29. The Surrendered, Chang-Rae Lee

30. Solar, Ian McEwan
31. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, Alan Bradley
32. A Family Daughter, Maile Meloy
33. Franklin Pierce, Michael F. Holt
34. Blackout, Connie Willis
35. Once A Spy, Keith Thomson
36. A Reader on Reading, Alberto Manguel
37. Watch, Robert Sawyer
38. The Unnamed, Joshua Ferris

39. Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson
40. Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky
41. Notes From A Small Island, Bill Bryson
42. Filthy English, Peter Silverton
43. Where the God of Love Hangs Out, Amy Bloom

44. 61 Hours, Lee Child
45. The Last Good Kiss, James Crumley
46. The Devil’s Redhead, David Corbett
47. The Hand That First Held Mine, Maggie O’Farrell
48. The Girl with Glass Feet, Ali Shaw
49. The Trade of Queens, Book Six of the Merchant Princes, Charles Stross
50. Roger Maris, Baseball’s Reluctant Hero, Tom Clavin and Danny Peary
51. Do They Know I’m Running?, David Corbett

52. Burley Cross Postbox Theft, Nicola Barker
53. Spies of the Balkans, Alan Furst
54. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson
55. Books Do Furnish A Room, Leslie Geddes-Brown
56. Black Cherry Blues, James Lee Burke
57. The Case for Books, Robert Darnton
58. The Jennifer Morgue, Charles Stross
59. Still Life, Louise Penny
60. When That Rough God Goes Riding, Greil Marcus
61. The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, Jonathan Coe
62. One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson
63. Bicycle Days, John Burnham Schwartz

64. Faithful Place, Tana French
65. Work Song, Ivan Doig
66. The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins
67. Kings of the Earth, Jon Clinch
68. The Margarets, Sheri Tepper
69. A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny
70. I Curse the River of Time, Per Petterson
71. Layover in Dubai, Dan Fesperman
72. The Only Game in Town, Sportswriting from The New Yorker, ed. David Remnick
73. Hollywood, Larry McMurtry
74. Tinkers, Paul Harding
75. Composed, Rosanne Cash

76. Lyndon B. Johnson, Charles Peters
77. Bad Boy, Peter Robinson
78. It’s a Book, Lane Smith
79. Cardboard Gods, Josh Wilker
80. The Fuller Memorandum, Charles Stross
81. Drown, Junot Diaz
82. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
83. Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart
84. Packing for Mars, Mary Roach
85. The Cruelest Month, Louise Penny
86. Jimmy Carter, Julian E. Zelizer

87. Started Early, Took My Dog, Kate Atkinson
88. Think of a Number, John Verdon
89. Bob Dylan in America, Sean Wilentz
90. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
91. The 5th Inning, E. Ethelbert Miller
92. Fledgling, Octavia E. Butler
93. Our Kind of Traitor, John le Carre
94. Bloody Crimes, The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse, James Swanson

95. The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
96. The Last Boy, Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, Jane Leavy
97. Worth Dying For, Lee Child
98. The Reversal, Michael Connelly
99. Djibouti, Elmore Leonard
100. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
101. Room, Emma Donoghue
102. Lord of Misrule, Jaimy Gordon
103. Moonlight Mile, Dennis Lehane

104. Great House, Nicole Krauss
105. Rogue Island, Bruce DeSilva
106. The Last Hero, A Life of Henry Aaron, Howard Bryant
107. The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson
108. So Much For That, Lionel Shriver
109. Hull Zero Three, Greg Bear
110. Parrot & Olivier in America, Peter Carey
111. Colonel Roosevelt, Edmund Morris
112. I Hotel, Karen Tei Yamashita
113. My Reading Life, Pat Conroy
114. Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi

“Fiction had never been Jackson’s thing. Facts seemed challenging enough without making stuff up. What he discovered was that the great novels of the world were about three things – death, money and sex. Occasionally a whale.”

--Kate Atkinson
p. 53, Started Early, Took My Dog

“At least he still had his own hair. Every guy you saw these days had shaved away his male-pattern baldness in a futile attempt to look hard rather than merely hairless.”

--Kate Atkinson
p. 57, Started Early, Took My Dog

“Revolution, O.K., but what cook believes in democracy?”

--Karen Tei Yamashita
p. 444, I Hotel