A long overdue trip to the optometrist resulting in a fresh set of glasses with an updated prescription has got me all fired up to read more books from my personal library. No better way to do this than grab a bunch of books off the shelves and stack ’em in my living room. By putting them all in one place I’m hoping it will focus my attention on this batch of books and not the ten million other things I’m currently trying to read. It’s also allowed me to grab one or two of these books and stick ’em in my backpack before I head out to the coffee shop or city park to do some reading.
As you can see, this tower I’ve erected is a hodge-podge of books. Three are novels, with philosophy central to one of them. Speaking of philosophy, The Trial of Socrates as the title would lead us to believe also deals with that subject. Religion is the central focus of three of the books, two of which were published over 70 years ago. The memoir, while not 70 years old, recalls life during that era. Lastly, Wiesel’s essay collection is old as well, published back in 1968. With all that in mind it looks like I’ve assembled a promising tower of books.
When you fall behind in your blogging perhaps all you can do is spring forward with a big list of books. My goodness did I fall behind in my blogging. A combination of writer’s block, a nasty bought of insomnia and overall laziness put me way behind the eight ball. The end result is I’m having to do one of those dreaded catch-up posts I keep telling myself is just another preview post that I hope will inspire me to get back to blogging.
While my recent lack of blogging prowess is certainly bad news. The good news is even though my reading took a hit thanks to the insomnia (tired and zombie-like during the day, there’s nothing like taking 10 minutes to read one page of text) I still managed to read some quality books, both fiction and nonfiction. Of the six books featured below, two and possibly three stand a good chance of making my end of the year Best Nonfiction while two more are strong contenders for my Best Fiction category.
Enough talk, on to the catch-up list:
- The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan by Gregory Feifer – If this title looks familiar it’s because I mentioned it last July in my Books I’ve Desperately Wanted to Read post. Took me close to eight years to get around to reading Feifer’s 2009 book but in the end I was not disappointed.
- Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan – Another book featured in the above-mentioned post. Finally, after many fits and starts I was able to track down an available library copy. An outstanding book!
- Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’ Neil – After hearing all kinds of buzz about this one my book club took a chance on it. Bad enough to be poor and powerless in America. Sucks when Big Data wants to keep it that way.
- The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – I read this 2013 novel for yet another of my book clubs. Combining Jewish mythology with that of pre-Islamic Middle East, Wecker’s novel is an enjoyable blend of fantasy, history, love and revenge.
- Trieste by Dasa Drndic – Grabbed this one because it’s set during World War II and I could apply it towards the European Reading Challenge. Overall, kind of an odd book and I’m not sure what to make of it.
- The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – For the last few years I’ve been wanting to read this 2014 historical novel after hearing Maureen Corrigan rave about it on NPR’s Fresh Air. After a well-read co-worker also sang its praises I knew I was on to something.
Well, we’re barely into 2017 I’m already behind in my blogging. Not sure I wanted to start the year with a catch-up post but I’m afraid that’s what I need to do. Perhaps I shouldn’t look at it that way. Instead, perhaps I should see this as more of a preview post. In the coming weeks on my blog, you’ll learn more about these books listed below. While my blogging has been a bit lack luster of late, reading wise, it’s been a strong start for the new year. In addition, even for a nonfiction addict like myself I still managed to read a piece of fiction here and there.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a huge fan of Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. Over the years she has encouraged us to read as many books as possible that are set in, or about different European countries. With one country per book and each book by a different author, over the course of the year we readers find ourselves moving from book to book across Europe, like some post-modern armchair version of a Bella Époque grand tour of the Continent.
As for the 2016 edition of the challenge, the bad news is I didn’t read and review nearly as many books as I would have liked. However, the good news is unless my count is wrong, I reviewed 13 books and that’s up slightly from last year’s total of 10. Just like in past years, there was variety in countries, ranging from large European counties like Russia and Ukraine, but also smaller ones like Latvia and the Czech Republic and even the micro-state of Monaco. Also like in past years it was a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, with history and historical fiction leading the pack. Looking back on what I read for the challenge, I read some quality books since three of those novels made my year-end best fiction list. One of those three novels, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (France) ended up being my favorite piece of fiction from 2016. As for nonfiction, Matthew Brzezinski’s Isaac’s Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland made that particular year-end list.
Like I said at the start, I’m a huge fan of this challenge and I encourage all you book bloggers out there in the blogosphere to sign up. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Two weeks ago I gave you my picks for my favorite novels of 2016. Today, with 2017 just a few days away I’m going to reveal my favorite nonfiction books of 2016. Just like in previous years, when I put together my year-end best of list it doesn’t matter when the book was published. All that matters is it’s outstanding.
- Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson – Larson has a great gift for making history, especially tragic history come alive.
- The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter by Mark Seal – Why do people get conned? Sadly, most of the time it’s because they WANT to be deceived.
- Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence by Bryan Burrough – 40 years ago a decade-long string of left-wing terrorist acts plagued America. Today, it’s all been forgotten.
- Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal – You think you really know what separates humans from animals? Better guess again.
- Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer – Beyond a doubt, reading Dark Money will forever change how you look at the nation’s political system.
- A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh – When I told the guys at my neighborhood coffee shop about this book, they jokingly asked me if they’d have to someday testify at my trial. This book won’t make you a criminal, but it will make you look at the world in a whole new light. And you’ll love it.
- Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari – If you wanna understand India, Pakistan and their tense relationship this book is essential reading.
- Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick – North Korea is the mother of all freak shows. By reading this book (the updated version) you’ll learn just how twisted that freak show really is.
- The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933 by Amos Elon – A great account of one of history’s most tragic, and sadly ironic episodes.
- Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century by Christian Caryl – Who knew 1979 was such a pivotal year?
- When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning – Outstanding book on the importance of reading.
- Isaac’s Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland by Matthew Brzezinski – an insanely well-researched account of Poland’s wartime Jewish underground.
There you have 12 outstanding books. Because they’re so outstanding assigning an overall winner has been agonizingly difficult. However, after much thought and consideration I’m declaring Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right the winner. Highly praised by the New York Times, NPR and Washington Post, Mayer’s book is essential reading for any intelligent, curious and civic-minded person.