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The books I finished in 2012

December 17, 2012 1 comment
One of my favorites of 2012.

One of my favorites of 2012.

Well, it’s clear I watched too much TV in 2012, because I completed only 45 books during the year. This is well below the norm. I’m usually in the 50s or 60s.

That said, I read some good ones this year, and a few of them (such as the Stephen King novels) were long. Still, it was an off year overall, and I blame “The Walking Dead,” “Mad Men,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Modern Family” and even, dare I say it, “Vegas.”

The election probably had something to do with it, too. Wasted a lot of time agonizing over a nation with Herman Cain at the helm.

Yet another factor was that I started a number of books that I have not finished and therefore cannot put on the list. Included among these are a couple of whales that I may not even complete in 2013.

Anyway, without further elaboration, here’s the list of books I read in 2012:

January

11/22/63 by Stephen King (fiction)

Car Tag by H. Lee Barnes (fiction)

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt (nonfiction)

Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right by Thomas Frank (nonfiction)

February

God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy (nonfiction)

March

Under the Dome by Stephen King (fiction)

Iowa Boy: Ten Years of Columns by Chuck Offenburger (nonfiction)

Citizenship Papers: Essays by Wendell Berry (nonfiction)

The Empty Copper Sea by John D. MacDonald (fiction)

By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir by Joe Blair (nonfiction)

April

Reading for My Life: Writings, 1958-2008 by John Leonard (nonfiction)

Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country in Between by Jeff Sharlet (nonfiction)

May

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson (nonfiction)

These Dreams of You by Steve Erickson (fiction)

Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation by Tom Bissell (nonfiction)

June

Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories by Algernon Blackwood (fiction)

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon (nonfiction)

Vegas Knockout: A Novel in Stories by P Moss (fiction)

London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction by Michael Moorcock (nonfiction)

July

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (fiction)

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock (fiction)

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (fiction)

American Gypsy: A Memoir by Oksana Marafioti (nonfiction)

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (fiction)

August

In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster (fiction)

Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Rise of Nazi Power by Andrew Nagorski (nonfiction)

More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby (nonfiction)

The Way the World Works: Essays by Nicholson Baker (nonfiction)

Battleborn: Stories by Claire Vaye Watkins (fiction)

September

Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche by James Miller (nonfiction)

The Green Ripper by John D. MacDonald (fiction)

Free Fall in Crimson by John D. MacDonald (fiction)

October

Cinnamon Skin by John D. MacDonald (fiction)

The Lonely Silver Rain by John D. MacDonald (fiction)

I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-By Essays by Mark Dery (nonfiction)

The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant (fiction)

Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young (nonfiction)

November

The Half-Life of an American Essayist by Arthur Krystal (nonfiction)

One for the Books by Joe Queenan (nonfiction)

The Writer Who Stayed by William Zinsser (nonfiction)

Next by James Hynes (fiction)

December

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (fiction)

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough (nonfiction)

Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson (nonfiction)

Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter (fiction)

My top 5 books published in 2012 (not in order)

– Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson (nonfiction).

– I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-By Essays by Mark Dery (nonfiction).

– Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Rise of Nazi Power by Andrew Nagorski (nonfiction).

– Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (fiction).

– Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young (nonfiction)

My top 4 books NOT published in 2012

– The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough (nonfiction). Published 2011.

– The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant (fiction). Published 1963.

– In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster (fiction). Published 1987.

– Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter (fiction). Published in 1966.

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Being a ‘blogger’ means posting more often than I’ve been doing lately, so here’s an attempt to rectify this problem

February 8, 2012 6 comments

It has been brought to my attention that I haven’t been blogging very much lately. This, I must admit, is true. But I believe I can do better, and I will try, starting with this post.

My main problem, I think, is that I’m a journalist — have been for many years — and so I’m not accustomed to the idea of sitting down and cranking out something if I don’t have a “news peg” — something newsworthy, such as an event or a pressing issue, on which to base a piece of writing. But a person can blog successfully without knowing exactly what the news peg is when he sits down in front of the computer. Blogging is more like thinking out loud, like the first draft of a personal essay rather than the end product. Gotta get used to that.

I read several books at once. I’m not proud of this, but it’s how I roll, as the young people say. I’ll tell you about some of them.

The book sitting next to my bed is, typically, a work of fiction. The one sitting there now is Under the Dome by Stephen King. I recently finished his latest novel, 11/22/63, and liked it. It’s a long book, a little longer than it needed to be, frankly, but still pretty good. But when I finished it, I realized I had not yet read his other recent long book, Under the Dome, which got good reviews. So I started reading it right away, and I’m enjoying it. I’m about a quarter of the way through it, which means I’ve read 250 pages! When I’m done in a couple of weeks, probably, I’ll have had my Stephen King fix for a while, probably a year at least.

The book that I take with me to work, which is the one I read over breakfast and/or lunch, is God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy. Just published. For the most part, it’s a history of the three Inquisitions that menaced non-Christians for hundreds of years. But it also looks at how the Inquisition mindset has continued to be part of history to the present day. Interesting book so far. I really like picking up the history of the Inquisitions. We should learn more about this as part of our basic history education.

Another book I’m working my way through is Iowa Boy: Ten Years of Columns by Chuck Offenburger. This is the first collection of Offenburger’s columns for the Des Moines Register. It was published by Iowa State University Press in 1987. I also have the second collection and will get to it soon. Offenburger was a fine columnist whose specialty was small-town Iowa. He would travel all over the state to find offbeat and quirky people and situations to write about. I’ve learned a lot about Iowa from reading his columns. Offenburger left the Register several years ago. He taught journalism for a while, I understand, but then settled in the country outside Jefferson, Iowa, about 40 miles west of Ames, where he continues to write, particularly for his popular website, http://www.offenburger.com. I know someone who knows him, and I’m hoping to get a chance to meet him sometime soon.

Here are some of the other books on the shelf where the “currently reading” books are kept: Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs from The New Yorker, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson, Alfred Kazin’s Journals, Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns, A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles and Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson. There are more.

The irony of this shelf is that, on the shelf below it, there are certainly some better books than I am excited to dive into as soon as possible, such as Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-61 by Paul Hendrickson, Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country in Between by Jeff Sharlet, Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes, and The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. by Jonathan Lethem. These, along with many others, all hold major promise, but I can’t bring myself to start them when I have more than a dozen books that already contain bookmarks.

The books on my desk right now

I have a lot of books in my house. They are shelved in every room. There also are books shelved and in boxes in the garage. But the subset of books on my desk strikes me as moderately interesting. Here’s a look:

BOOKS I AM READING:

Reno’s Big Gamble: Image and Reputation in the Biggest Little City by Alicia Barber. I’m about halfway through this book. I’m taking notes along the way, because I owe the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly a review.

Reporting at Wit’s End: Tales from the New Yorker by St. Clair McKelway. This is a collection of articles by the late New Yorker writer. I’m about a third of the way through this book, and I’m enjoying it immensely. McKelway is the forgotten man of the New Yorker, but his work is every bit as interesting to read today as that of more famous contemporaries Joseph Mitchell or A.J. Liebling.

Portraits and Observations: The Essays of  Truman Capote. I’m about a quarter of the way into this book, and it’s fantastic. The essays are included chronologically, so I’m still reading Capote’s earliest nonfiction, the highlight, so far, being the 1955 nonfiction novella “The Muses Are Heard.” Capote is an amazing prose stylist.

About the Author: Inside the Creative Process by Nicholas Basbanes. This is a new collection of Basbanes’ interviews and profiles of modern writers. Most of these were newspaper articles. Basbanes is a fine chronicler of the history of the book and book collecting but he’s also very good on writers and writing.

BOOKS I HAVE READ:

Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields. This intriguing and maddening book will be the subject of a dialogue between Scott Dickensheets and me soon on the Las Vegas Review of Books website.

Corn Flakes with John Lennon: And Other Tales from a Rock ’n’ Roll Life by Robert Hilburn. This is a fine memoir of Hilburn’s tenure as chief music writer for the Los Angeles Times. Lots of great stuff in here about Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, U2, Nirvana and others. I intend to write a review of this book for the Las Vegas Review-Journal‘s Book Nook blog.

Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt. Thought-provoking political essay by one of the most respected public intellectuals in the world. I have started writing a review of this book for the Las Vegas Review of Books website.

BOOKS I PLAN TO READ SOON:

What Good Are the Arts? by John Carey. Hard to find but highly praised meditation by a British critic on the issue succinctly described in the title.

Missing a Beat: The Rants and Regrets of Seymour Krim. This essayist from the 1960s and ’70s is highly touted.

The End of Major Combat Operations by Nick McDonell. A McSweeney’s book by a young writer who was embedded in Iraq.

About Writing: Essays, Letters & Interviews by Samuel R. Delaney. This book by an eccentric science-fiction writer is said to be more interesting than most such how-to books. Eager to find out.

The Walk by William deBuys. The writer is a professor of documentary studies at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico, and the book is described as a “mix of memoir, landscape and social history” in a specific area of New Mexico. Found the book in a Southern California independent bookstore and for some reason it drew my interest. I think deBuys’ is regarded as something of a modern-day Thoreau. Eager to find out but this one will have to wait a bit.

Bad Nature, Or with Elvis in Mexico by Javier Marias. Marias is a Spanish writer of great acclaim. This book is 57 pages long in a small format. It’s really a long short story. But it’s about Elvis, which is the focus of my next book, so I had to have it.

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I’ve been looking forward to this one coming out in trade paperback, which is did last week. I thoroughly enjoyed Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, and I hear this one is even better.

BOOKS I AM READING ON MY KINDLE:

Heroes and Villains: Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture by David Hajdu. Great writer. Currently reading a piece on Sammy Davis Jr.

Night Beat: A Shadow History of Rock & Roll by Mikal Gilmore. Very good music journalism.

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