Wednesday, April 1, 2015

2014 Reading

Another year where I want to keep track of what I read.  Rough goal:  7500 pages, at least half should be fiction.  Unfortunately, I think I stopped keeping track at some point (but the first one on this list took fo-evah to read, so maybe this really is the full list).  I was just working on my 2015 list, and I figured I might as well pull this one together and share it. 

My number one recommendation was a re-read:  Flyboys. 

Private Empire:  ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll.  Nonfiction, about 700 pages.  Very interesting.  About ExxonMobile, the largest and most powerful private company in the country.  Mostly recent history, from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill (which I remember hearing about!  it was early in my worldly/political consciousness), through the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2012.  Lee Raymond was quite the character and makes the book so interesting.  Fairly slow going for me, mostly because I wanted to soak in a lot of the details. 

Dear Life, by Alice Munro.  Fiction, about 325 pages.  A collection of short stories.  I didn't take good notes on my thoughts.  I wonder if I even finished it?  I have a vague recollection that I liked it though, so I think I finished.  I remember several of the characters from stories, well-developed, great fiction. 

The End of Men (and the Rise of Women), by Hanna Rosin.  Nonfiction, 325 pages.  Started strong, but it went downhill.  My husband agreed, after I begged him to read it (particularly as he has a son who isn't exactly a go-getter (though he is wonderful and happy, which I think is more important)). The point of the book is largely about how women are outpacing men by many of the traditional markers of success (education and career largely), but there's still the whole wage gap thing.  It focuses largely on a lack of ambition among young men.  I really wanted to love the book, because it's such an interesting subject, but this wasn't it. 

Gods of Guilt, by Michael Connelly.  Fiction, about 400 pages.  Connelly has two primary series, the Bosch series, about an LA detective, and the Haller series, a LA lawyer who is Bosch's half-brother.  My husband has basically a man-crush on Bosch, to the extent that's possible with a solely fictional character that until Feb. 2015 had never even been made into a TV show.  Well, this was a Haller book.  My husband likes this series less, and I agree, though I still like it a whole lot.  Quick read, another murder case. 

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris.  Fiction, about 275 pages.  A few laughs, but I'm starting to think I just don't like his writing that much, which is a bummer, because the first book of his I read (Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim) was so funny.  Recounting childhood memories, and opining on other issues, telling stories, etc.  Not up my alley really.  But a quick read. 

Hostage, by Elie Weisel.  Fiction, about 225 pages.  A fictional story about an American Jewish story-teller who lives in New York and is kidnapped by an Arab and an Italian who are attempting to negotiate the release of several Palestinians in exchange for Shaltiel.  An interesting book, enjoyable read.  Highly recommended. 

Flyboys, by James Bradley.  Nonfiction, about 335 pages.  A relatively rare re-read.  Favorite line of the book:  "When Perry's Black Ships revealed the impotence of the Tokugawa regime, 'the Japanese had discarded their feudal Shogunate ... cast them off like worn-out garments after almost right centuries of exalted existence.'"  The story of the Air Force's role in the Pacific theater.  I never get tired of books like this and Bradley does a good job of looking at the complex history leading up to the war, and portraying the perspective from both sides.  Highly recommended to all.  While parts are very hard to read (for me, the napalm attack descriptions), I feel like it's our duty as young (okay, young-ish for me) Americans to learn about WWII and ensure it never happens again.

Double Cross, the True Story of the D-Day Spies, by Ben Macintyre.  Nonfiction, about 400 pages.  The story of German spies who were turned into double agents, which was critical to preventing Nazi anticipation of the landings at Normandy, and to instead, have them expect the invasion elsewhere.  I thought it was pretty good, a story I didn't know much about already.  But overall, it wouldn't be on my list of the top 20 WWII books.  I had some trouble keeping everyone and their roles straight.  But lots of character.  My favorite passage:  "'My heart is in very bad condition.  My doctor, who is my biggest friend, said that it is too much alcohol, tobacco, and sin.  The only remedy which I have found sufficient up until now was milk and chocolates.  Please send $100 worth of any kind of chocolate you can think of.  I don't mind what they are, I am taking them as medicine.  Please send me at the same time $100 of nylons, in 9, 9.5, and 10.  Don't think I'm promiscuous.'  Ren did not believe Popov's claim of a medical chocolate emergency.  The chocolates are intended to delight the interiors of those same exteriors which he wishes to decorate with stockings."  Runner-up for favorite quote:  "While waiting for a transfer to London as a refugee, the Marquis took up residence in a Madrid brothel where he spent spent four days and four nights, finally emerging exhausted and happy, but with a nasty dose of venereal crabs."  Those spies were definitely characters! 

Second Wind: One Woman's Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents, by Cami Ostman.  Non-fiction, about 300 pages.  Received as a birthday gift a few years ago from the woman with whom I started my marathon journey (a dear friend, mother to my god-son, co-book-club founder, etc.).  The author comes through a divorce and starts running, eventually deciding to run a marathon on each continent.  If that whole Beijing marathon fiasco hadn't happened for me, maybe I would have considered this goal myself.  The book grew on me, but overall, I didn't love it, as much as I love travel and marathons.  What I didn't like about it was the self-centeredness that echoed of Eat, Pray, Love to me (which is one of my most-hated books of all time).  Running is certainly different things to different people, but she was just so caught up in herself and her own happiness that it was a little sad for me. 

Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You, by Hanna Jansen.  Nonfiction, about 325 pages.  This was a book club pick and I enjoyed it.  It's the story of a young Rwandan girl's life in the early 90s, then her experience during the genocide (fleeing, seeing her family killed, fleeing further), and a few bits about her life afterward, living in Germany with a relative.  It calls to mind books like The Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata's Diary.  I've been interested in Rwanda for a long time.  Little known fact, when the trials started and the internet was still relatively new to me, I started printing stories about each conviction that I read about -- and um, I still kind of do (though there aren't any lately, the whole reconcilation thing).  It was one of those things I felt I need to keep a record of.  My favorite book about the Rwandan genocide is We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch.  This (Over a Thousand Hills) would be good particularly for older kids, young adults.  Quick read. 

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, a Memoir, by Kristin Newman.  Nonfiction, about 300 pages.  This was recommended to me by my husband, who heard about it on NPR.  I desperately wanted to love this book, given that a.) I love to travel, b.) I have no children, and c.) I was still single at 30 (I'd just started dating my husband).  But yeah, it just didn't resonate.  It's a thirty-something woman's travel memoir, largely about trips she took and guys she hooked up with on vacation.  It was interesting to think about the difference between a vacation romance and someone you'd date at home, she's completely right, it's a wholly different standard.  While I did tons of overseas traveling before I met my husband, both solo and with friends, I never quite got into vacation romances the way she did.  I guess it's because I don't tend to stay in the same spot more than a week.  While she doesn't spend much time on the subject, it's true that there's a total double standard regarding women's sexuality, and I appreciate that she told her honest tale and wrote that she would not be "slut-shamed" out of doing so.  I really wanted her to end up with Father Juan, this vacation romance from Argentina that she saw more than once, but in my limited vacation romance experience, she's correct that even if you go back, it's never quite the same (there was a particular guy when I studied abroad in Italy who called me his "anima" (soul) and I was convinced for some time, he was right, but yeah, after seeing him a few more times in the following 5 years, um, no). 

Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer.  Non-fiction, about 225 pages.  How had I never read this before?  It's an account of Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp)'s decision to abandon the confines of a traditional life and hitchhike cross country to Alaska, where he went alone into the wilderness and set up camp in an abandoned school bus.  I'm not entirely sure why there is such fascination with this story (seriously, why would there be any tabloid fascination?), but it's certainly a good book and a quick read. 

Totals based on the listed books:
3900 pages of nonfiction.
1225 pages of fiction.

Not even close to my goal on fiction.  Oops.  I should have done less non-fiction, but I was short on my page count either way. 


  1. I've only read one of those on your list: Into the Wild. If you haven't seen the movie, don't. It concludes it instead of leaves it to your imagination how it ends. I'm with you, though, I don't know why it had such hoopla. I feel the same about Wild. I was just kinda 'meh' about the book and didn't see the movie.

  2. I'm so impressed with how much you've read. I have been reading the same book since January. I really like it, but it always takes a back seat to other things I have to do.

    Thank you so much for admitting to not caring for David Seders. I just cannot get into his work. Friends are always recommending him to me claiming his sense of humor seems to mirror mine. I don't get it?!