My 2013 In Books

As many of you know, I'm an avid reader, made much more so by belonging to a fantastic book club here in Austin. If there is one thing that has made my life more interesting, after family, career, and hobbies, it has been the John Rogers Book Club, formed by and named for a peripatetic former British officer who traveled the world and finally settled down in this town, back before the city became noted as the place to live. The book club began in 1999 and I'm still a newbie after ten years. To keep some sort of record of the books I've read, now I note them on a small App on my Motorola Droid smartphone (still loyal to the company, or what seems to be a legacy of it). Nothing is more pleasurable for me than to "get into" a book. Once I start one, I almost always finish it, with only a few getting dropped along the way.

Last year, I completed 36 books, and started one or two that will be completed in 2014,

My friends, knowing of this "affliction," often ask me to recommend books, and in addition inquire about reading preferences: what time(s) of the day I read? do I note passages? how long at a stretch do I read? do I re-read portions for enjoyment or clarification? prefer eBooks or print (paperback or hardcover)? store or discard "spent" books, etc.?

Since at least one person was interested, here's the "scoop." I read mainly between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. since that's the time my mind works best, and also it's before my wife wakes up. Anything I do along creative lines needs to be done before noon. Since I'm starting serious work on my next novel now, this might edge into the premium reading time, as surely it will. While I do read at times in the evening, it's harder for me to stay awake and to concentrate. In addition, I do note passages, using those "stick-ons" that I purchase from office supply stores. Unfortunately, I note so many interesting segments that in many cases, there are too many and thus there are none, if you know what I mean. I very strongly prefer hard-cover printed books, and spend a lot of time combing the used hard-back used book sections of both and searching for these in good or very good condition. It'a amazing what treasures one can find, and these come in uniquely and carefully packaged shipments from all over the U.S. All these little treasures add up, however, and now twenty years of collecting books has resulted in a very full library. It's sizable, and holds around 2,300 volumes between my books and my wife's extensive social work and personal development collections.

Looking back over the 2013 reading list, there were 21 non-fiction selections and 15 novels. While I enjoy both genres, I usually read the fiction first when there is one of each to read in a month. In my personal reading list, I read nine novels and only three non-fictions, so clearly fiction is my preference. Having said that, however, it's harder to find really compelling fiction, while non-fiction generally is enjoyable and informative.

Overall, here is my list of the most memorable among a wonderful group.

Two of them involve the English Language, and how it developed from a "second rate obscure dialect of German" to the primary language of international commerce and (this can be argued) literature.

*Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way, by Bill Bryson

*The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language, by Melvyn Bragg

Another deals with the notably different regions of North America, how they were formed and developed based on the cultures of the people who settled them, and how they are remaining mostly that way.

*American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colon Woodward

*Lost Horizon, by James Hilton. This is the myth of Shangra La, and it's an amazing story. Stay with it until the very end. It is fiction, isn't is?

*Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester. The author tells much more than the greatest volcanic eruption of the past two hundred years, as he covers how and why much of the world was colonized by the great powers of the day, and how initial colonial control and resulting European languages were authorized by the Papal Decree of 1493, which essentially divided the non-European world between Spain and Portugal, the two primary (Catholic) maritime powers at the time.

*Burmese Days, by George Orwell. Yes, that George Orwell. this was his first book, and still a classic regarding personal life in the farthest reaches of British Bengal India, and how a culture both tolerated and resisted the colonial power.

*The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene. This one was a bit hard to read, as the characters are blurred and it's not always clear who is doing what to whom in a world where third world Catholicism and secular power come into conflict. Here was a master English writer at the peak of his game.

Book Club Fiction (12):

Saturday, by Ian McEwan (A modern master story teller spins a tense yarn over 24 hours)

Imperium: A Novel About Ancient Rome, by Robert Harris (A story about intrigue in Rome told through the character of the slave of a Roman senator.)

Out of the Woods, by Chris Offutt (Back-woods tales of Kentucky that will leave you breathless and thinking of episodes of "Justified")

Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo (One of the most dramatic anti-war stories of all time)

A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers (A man tries for the business score of a lifetime in the Arab world)

A Dead Man in Deptford, by Anthony Burgess (A story of the complex life of Christopher Marlowe)

Ancient Light, by John Banville (Banville's infinite vocabulary underlies this vivid story of a teenage boy's seduction by a friend's mother)

Lost Horizon, by James Hilton (The original myth, or is it, of Shanga La)

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid (A fictional story of an up-from-the-bottom Asian criminal who gains, then loses wealth and happiness)

Ender's Game, by Scott Card Orson (Everyone seems to love this, except me. It's an unbelievable {for me} story told for young boys.)

Burmese Days, by George Orwell (Realistic story of expatriate life on the frontier of the British empire. I've spent considerable time in Malaysia and have seen some of this in person)

Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson (A spare, sere tale of a man who lives a simple life seemingly content to deal with the cards he is dealt)

Book Club Non-Fiction (12):

Proust Was A Neuroscientist, by Jonah Lehrer (How several creative people appear to have discovered basic truths before science documented them)

Passionate Minds: Emilie du Chatelet, Voltaire, and the Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, by David Bodanis (Wonderful history about two geniuses and life in the French Monarchy era)

Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester (Breathtaking history of Indonesia and the cleavage of the earth's mantle as well as many flora and fauna in that violent part of the world's "Ring of Fire")

The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language, by Melvyn Bragg (A book that every student should read. Just wonderful)

Positively Fifth Street, by James McManus (Texas Hold'em; the card game, the tournaments, and the characters who dwell in this world)

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of  North America, by Colon Woodward  (One of my favorite books of all times. I wrote a separate blog just on this book. This should be taught in some form or another in high school)

Thinking Fast and Slow, by David Kahneman (A Nobel Prize winner's classic on how we think)

Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Criminal Russian State, by David Satter (Lots of background and history on Russia. It's depressing for people there if this is even mostly true)

The Prophet Unarmed, by Isaac Deutscher (The middle book of the famous trilogy of Leon Trotsky and the way Russia and the Communist Party formed after the Revolution)

Gulp, by Mary Roach (The story of that happens in the human body between food going in and coming out. Sounds grisly, but Roach's sense of humor makes it both informative and a good read)

How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Blakewell (The author covers the life-long diary and musing of Michel Montaigne in 1500's France and explores what life is about in the eyes of this interesting man)

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an  Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox (An incredible story of how clay tablets, found in the mid 1800's in Cretan ruins at Knossos were (eventually) deciphered and understood, from an unknown language and an unknown script. Brilliant scientific and human drama)

Personal Reading Fiction (9):

The Surf Guru, by Doug Dorst (Dorst, a professor at Texas State (and my writing teacher on-line) writes about a unique California character)

Deer Hunting with Jesus, by J.Bageant (Life and philosophy among the good-old-boys and girls in Winchester, Virginia by a returned native son)

Stoner, by John Williams (Great American literature and a story of a professor of literature at the University of Missouri who seeks happiness and integrity among the roadblocks in life)

Islands in the Sun, by Ernest Hemingway (This story, actually a  composite of several story lines, was published by his widow after his death. It still is a good read.)

The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene (A devastating tale of betrayal and dishonor by those trying to be loyal and honorable by one of the greatest English writers)

Amsterdam: A Novel, by Ian McEwan (This complex tale unravels the background of a death, and the interactions between two old friends)

End of the Affair, by Graham Greene (Greene at his peak story telling. The end of an involvement is told in a masterful manner)

In One Person, by John Irving (Irving combines his usual wrestling-related themes with a woman and her past sexual identity struggles)

The Inward War, by Elizabeth Schultz (manuscript, as yet unpublished) (I won't comment, except to say hopefully this beautifully written story will become available soon)

Personal Reading Non-Fiction (3):

After Leaving Friends, by Michael Hainey (True story about a man who uncovers his father's secret, only to have to deal with how to handle the truth)

Slingshot, by Hector Ruiz (The former CEO of AMD writes about competing with Intel. The victors usually write history, but not in this case)

Mother Tongue; English & How It Got That Way, by Bill Bryson (Another wonderful story of our English language and how it has come to be the unruly way it is, as well as the world's standard)


If you enjoy this blog, please mention it to others who may be interested.

James Kennedy George, Jr (Jim George)
Author, Reunion, a novel about relationships.




2 Responses

  1. Jim, thanks for posting. You read way more "classics" than I do. I liked Enders Game, but I've always loved Science Fiction. Keep on reading...
  2. Some comments from emails received. From RG: I put about a half dozen titles from your 2013 reading list into my queue and I have been working my way through them along with the other stuff on my list. I am not much of a fiction reader, but "Lost Horizons" is totally amazing. I couldn't put it down. Very thought provoking! Thanks for the inspiration to read it! From LH: I really enjoyed this latest blog entry - both the summary of books completed and a glimpse into the process. The range and depth of your selections delights me. Thanks for sharing From AG: Thank you. I'm in the market for new fiction, and this looks like a good list. I wish I could find more books like Cold Mountain! From SD: Good writers are also good readers, so you're doubly qualified. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. So, are you talking about the topic or setting of your next novel? I'll be in the front of the line to purchase one! Sounds like your year is off to a good start. From SL: I added the Bill Bryson book about the English language to my reading list. His writing is so entertaining, and of course I'm interested in the topic. Thanks for sharing this. From FB: Oh, to have the time not only to read all the books you have read this year, but to be able to write such a long blog about it! I am envious, but obvious it's something very important to you. I will pass along your reading choices to several friends in Book Clubs. From PS: Quite a list! I'm going to try to get the two books on the English language and I'll recommend the one on Texas Hold-Em to my son, an avid player with his friends. Thanks for the information. From ML: Very interesting, Jim. I'm an avid reader, too, mainly in French as my English is very rough, but I use to read American literature from time to time. My home library contains 3500 books; among them 1200 on North Africa and French colonial empire. From DK: Thanks, Jim--enjoyed reading this. One of my problems is organizing my time and keeping a regular schedule but you seem to have mastered that. From MW: Thanks for the reading list and your comments. I read a few of the books you recommended last year. Maybe a few more this year.... From DV: You have an impressive reading list. From LC: I enjoyed reading about your reading habits. Several of those books will be added to my "books to read" list. I passed the link on to my step-daughter who belongs to several book clubs. Good luck with the new novel. I'll be waiting for it.

Leave a comment