Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2013 Reading

In 2012, I resolved to read 20 books.  I ended up finishing only 19, but it totaled out at about 4000 pages of nonfiction and 3300 pages of fiction. 

So in 2013, rather than counting the number of books, I decided to try to count pages.  My goal was 7500 pages and at least 50% nonfiction.

How did I do?  Well, counting as complete the two books at the end of this list that are more than half-way finished, I read a total of 6825 pages, which broke down into 3800 pages of nonfiction and 3025 pages of fiction.  It was a total of 18 books (11 nonfiction, 7 fiction). 

I'm okay with falling short of my goal.  One of the books listed below (Joseph Anton) pretty much sucked all the reading life out of me for a while.  And I met my goal for reading nonfiction, which I think was important. 

Book of the year for me was Lean In (review below). 

Here's what I read in 2013 and my thoughts:

Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom by Ron Paul.  Nonfiction, about 350 pages.  Ugh.  An alphabetical list of Ron Paul's thoughts on pretty much everything.  Abortion, bipartisanship, campaign finance reform, etc.  If you think, oh, 26 topics, that won't be so bad, let me add that there were sometimes multiple topics for a single letter.  So C was not just campaign finance reform, but also capital punishment.  I solely read this because my husband read it, thought parts of it were interesting, and wanted me to read it so we could discuss.  I have less time to read in 2013, and I likely shouldn't have had this book on the list based on that "reason to read."  Parts of it were definitely interesting, and I couldn't agree with him more, but a vast majority of it was also so contrary to my opinion (I'm actually less of a libertarian than I would have guessed).  Different viewpoints are always good I suppose.  I do feel like I'm smarter for having read it, which is one of my objectives in reading.  Not sure why but I got it in my head that it would be funny if the book ended with an entry under Z for zombies, but instead he went out on Zionism.   Bummer.  That was actually a big let-down when I somehow let myself get psyched up about zombies. 

Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King.  Fiction, 650 pages.  Not what I expected. I hadn't read any Stephen King in a long time, but I loved his books pre-college. This one, not so much. It was an odd story that started in the 60s with a group of three friends and then glimpses of their lives and overlapping connections over the rest of their lives.  Maybe I haven't read enough Stephen King, but this wasn't what I expected as typical Stephen King, and I didn't like it that much. 

The Black Box by Michael Connelly.  Fiction, about 425 pages.  I primarily read Michael Connelly books because he is by far my husband's favorite author.  I enjoy them a lot as well, and this one was no exception.  This one is about a Danish reporter killed during the LA riots in 1992, and her murder remains unsolved.  20 years later, the LAPD wants to reexamine the open homicides from the riots, including this one, and see if some of them can be closed, not including this one. 

Thunderstruck by Eric Larson. Nonfiction, about 475 pages. About a murder in England in the early 1900s committed apparently by Hawley Crippen, and the invention and development of wireless telegraphy by Guglielmo Marconi.   I'm not sure why the author's name didn't register for me on this one, but it is the same author who wrote Devil in the White City, about some murders that happened during the Chicago World's Fair in 1904.  It even mentions that on the front cover.  But you know, I missed it.  It wasn't until I was about halfway through that I thought the tone sounded familiar and made the connection.  I preferred Devil in the White City, which I had to read for book club.  This one was okay, but not spectacular. 

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris. Fiction, about 175 pages (but small ones). A few chuckles but not my favorite by him.  Generally, a bunch of very short stories about animals who exhibit human personality characteristics.  The title story is about a chipmunk dating a squirrel and how the chipmunk's family objects.  There's one about a dog who is married to another dog in the same household, but is taken by the owner for breeding and reasons that it's work, not adultery, but then finds a dog that he likes and therefore "works" extra hard.  Since most the stories seem to have some moral, I found many to be fairly depressing.  Overall, fairly unimpressive, not recommended.

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu.   Fiction, about 350 pages.  This one was particularly fun since last year I'd tried to learn some Chinese and had gotten to visit Shanghai.  It's a story about a Chinese man who is married with a young child.  He grew up in the US, but moved to China when he was 10 and forgot most of his English.  When he is injured in an explosion, he is diagnosed with bilingual Broca's aphasia, which means in his case, he has lost his ability to speak or read Chinese (though he understands it), and can only communicate (and then with difficulty both due to the aphasia and due to the fact he only knew some English) haltingly in English.  A doctor from the US is brought in to help him attempt to recover his Chinese.  The doctor character was insanely irritating and stereotypical, but the book was good despite her. 

Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.  Nonfiction, about 175 pages.  This book got a lot of press in 2013 and was my choice for book club.  I ended up loving it.  Sex and gender issues have always been interesting to me, particularly the pay gap, and particularly about differences between the sexes in high-earning fields.  Of course there are so many factors in the pay gap, starting early with how parents and teachers treat children of opposite sexes, and then self-selection choices throughout life, frequently driving women to choose lower earning professions in general, as well as antiquated stereotypes about sex roles in the home (raising children, doing work related to the household).  I may be unique in that many of my married female friends are the primary breadwinner in their relationships (keep in mind, a lot of my friends are other attorneys).  So when it's not a dual-attorney couple (I have plenty of them among my friends too), when they have children, their husbands stay home.  Several of my best friends with kids (including my godson's parents) have the husband doing most of the child-rearing.  While we don't have kids, I'm a big stickler for equal contributions in terms of time to running our household since we both work full-time.  Fortunately, my husband is on board with that -- I think I'd be miserable married to someone who expected me to do the bulk of the household stuff just because I'm female.  In fact, I never would have married that guy!  But the book has made me think a lot about these interesting issues.  And one of the books less central points about the importance of mentor relationships at work has really sunk in with me.  While my direct supervisor is male, since I finished this book, I've made more of an effort to ask him career direction advice, and I want to continue to do that.  The importance of having a mentor, etc. 

Joseph Anton:  A Memoir by Salman Rushdie.  Nonfiction, about 650 pages.  What a book.  Not sure even what to say about it.  If you've ever watched Friends and remember the book of grievances, I bet this book will trigger a flashback.  In many ways, Rushdie/Anton came across as egomaniacal and self-absorbed.  It's the story of his life after The Satanic Verses was published and the fatwah or death warrant was issued.  Joseph Anton was the pseudonym under which he lived in fear of his life.  Of course it's an interesting story, particularly when you think about the importance of freedom of speech, religious freedom, and the role of literature in the world.  And the first few years of living under the fatwah was interesting, but then it all got to be too much.  There was a lot of recapping all the press about him (did I mention he came acorss as very self-absorbed?), a list of all the awards he's received, reiterating everything he's ever heard praising him or his books.  He just struck me as very full of himself.  For anyone who watches The Bachelor, he was kind of a fame whore -- actually, I think there are probably fewer than 100 people in the world who both watch The Bachelor regularly and have read Joseph Anton.  Haha.  I'm unique!  Anyway, he's a big name dropper.  And he seemed very old when he was essentially just making a list of people he knew/knows who had gotten cancer.  I know several older people who occasionally do that -- just a big list of all the people with cancer.  Anyway, I did not like Joseph Anton at all.  I can't believe I stuck with it for that many pages.  BUT... I've never read The Satanic Verses (as he explains it, there truly never was any anti-Muslim intent), and I've never read Haroun and the Sea of Stories, two of Rushdie's books that Joseph Anton made me want to read. 

Bossypants by Tina Fey.  Nonfiction, about 275 pages.  I liked it more than I thought I would.  The nuances of being a woman in comedy, or any comedian attempting to get a break, aren't things I'd ever really considered.  And I don't watch 30 Rock, but I certainly enjoyed some of Fey's SNL sketches.  Best line of the book (in reference to dating within your workplace):  "Remember, when you work in what is basically a cage that you're not allowed to leave, your choices are limited to what strolls by."

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  Fiction, about 275 pages.  A collection of short stories, all with the character of Olive Kitteridge, a woman approximately in her 60s, in the story in some way.  This was a book club selection.  It was good, but not one that I'll go back to read again. 

The Onion's Book of Known Knowledge.  Fiction, about 250 pages.  Awful.  My second "alphabetical list" book of the year and perhaps an even bigger flop.  I think a total of 4 of the entries made me laugh out loud:  401k, Socrates, Table, and Toast (hmm, 3 of the 4 were late in the book, maybe it started to grow on me?).  Because I read The Onion loyally weekly for YEARS, I expected so much more.  Seriously, there have been several stories on the Onion that I still reference about a decade after I read them (adding the fifth blade to the razor is perhaps my favorite).  And I own (and love) another Onion book, Our Dumb Century (I actually have it within arm's reach in my office).  But this one just bombed in my opinon.  Ugh.  Give me back my life.  I can't believe I bothered to finish it, but I will say it was quick. 

Easy Company Soldier by Don Malarkey.  Nonfiction, about 300 pages.  Several men involved in Easy Company have written their stories, and this was just as good as the others I've read.  While he seemed to be bragging at times, he certainly deserves to!  Currahee, Normandy, Bastogne.  I don't think it's the best of the first-hand accounts, but it's worth reading and always good to hear another person's take on the war of the (last) century. 

Running with the Kenyans:  Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth by Adharanand Finn.  Nonfiction, about 300 pages.  A strong but recreational runner (38 minute 10k if I remember correctly) decides to move with his family (wife and little kids) to Kenya to see if he can get to the bottom of why Kenya produces many of the best runners in the world.  While the common belief (at least among non-runners) of it being genetic has been discounted, it's very interesting as he considers the many other plausible explanations (and he does go through genetics as well).  Barefoot running, eating ugali, the importance of rest, training v. racing paces, the derth of other profitable options, the elevation, .  This isn't the kind of book you'd read in hopes of learning the secrets, but there were several take-aways that I found interesting and can apply to my own running.  While Finn lives in Kenya, he travels, he meets many former winners, current elites, and future winners, and he puts together a racing team to compete in a marathon.  And yes, his own times improve too.  I also enjoyed the non-running aspect regarding life in Kenya.  It's my favorite place in Africa though I haven't travelled much there, but I'd love to go back.  He doesn't include many pictures (basically one at the beginning of each chapter); I wished there were more. 

Night Film by M Priezl.  Fiction, about 600 pages.  Read almost all of this in Italy while we were on vacation because I wanted to leave it for hubby's counsin who speaks English.  Book was bizarre, but pretty good for a mindless read. 

This Land Is Their Land by Barbara Ehrenreich.  Nonfiction, about 250 pages.  Typical Ehrenreich, which meant I liked it.  About wealth inequality in America.  So good that I made my husband read it too.  While we consider ourselves to be certainly financially comfortable, we're definitely not close to the uber-rich, and I found it interesting to make myself think about what this wealth gap means for the poorest of the poor.  Not a comfortable book to read, but of course that's what means more people should read it.  But of course as a "have" there were some things in the book I'd argue weren't true, but it made me think and her point is quite valid. 

The Information:  A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick.  Nonfiction, about 550 pages.  Both interesting and dry at the same time.  It draws on lots of different subjects -- particularly (in order of emphasis based on my reading):  English, math, computer science, science, foreign language.  The book made me google things like "why is the alphabet in the order it is?" (and really, why??? why can't it be X, E, A, K, P, D...?), and "what is the least integer not nameable in fewer than nineteen syllables?" (Berry's paradox -- because "the least integer not nameable in fewer than nineteen syllables" is 111,777, but technically, the phrase describing it, "the least integer not nameable in fewer than nineteen syllables" is only 18 syllables!).  Overall, I liked it, but that's because I'm a nerd.  I'm not sure to whom I'd actually recommend this book. 

And I have two books that are presently "in progress" that I am counting toward my total as being finished (though there is a chance I'm giving up on Crazy Rich): 

Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty by Jerry Oppenheimer.  Nonfiction, about 475 pages.  I was so excited to read this, but after a while, it got old -- it became a cross between stories being told more than once (overlapping), or it just all sounding the same.  The family has a lot of dysfunciton, tragedy and sadness in general.  Bottom line:  mo' money, mo' problems -- a good reminder for all of us I suppose.  To be honest, I'm only on about chapter 27 as I write this.  It may be the one and only book of the year I do not finish. 

Dear Life by Alice Munro.  Fiction, about 300 pages.  This was a book club selection of short stories.  Overall, pretty sad.  Not my favorite book by her.  It pinpoints moments where people's lives change, generally for the worse. 

1 comment:

  1. I really liked Lean In, as well. I had a pretty crummy year of reading. I'm hoping to change that this year although, I'm not off to a good start.