In December I typically reflect upon the books I read during the year, determine my favorites, and map out a plan for the types of books I hope to read in the ensuing year. One of my goals last year was to diversify my reading selection, by choosing a more comprehensive amalgamation of genres. I tried to include classics, historical fiction and non-fiction, poetry, science fiction, German language books and business books. What follows is a list and brief synopsis of my top ten books of the year.
I read two more Eric Larson books this year, “Thunderstruck” and “In the Garden of Beasts”. As with all the Larson books I’ve read, this work contains great detail, rich characterizations, and the integration of multiple story lines within an interesting historical context. Though I preferred “Devil in the White City”, both “Thunderstruck” and “In the Garden of Beasts” are worthwhile reads, containing important historical perspectives, and in the case of the latter, the ominous and portentous issues of 1930’s Germany. It’s somewhat challenging to determine a top 10 list, as the genres are so diverse, instead of thinking of my “ten best”, a more appropriate list description might be the 10 books I most enjoyed. That said, here is my list:
- Tale of Two Cities: My favorite book of the year, this Dickens classic, is a classic for many reasons, including the famous first paragraph, and the memorable last two sentences. This work truly conveys the evocative imagery of this tumultuous period. The elite “charging” through the streets in their carriages, makes even my fellow Bostonian drivers seem tame and languid. “With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment of consideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriage dashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screaming before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of its way.”
- The Beautiful and the Damned: I thought the reincarnation of the Great Gatsby movie fell flat, but departed with the motivation to read a Fitzgerald novel. I opted for “The Beautiful and the Damned”. In this work, F. Scott Fitzgerald demonstrates his great literary form, with flowing descriptions and vivid characterizations. He creates characters you love to hate, or perhaps hate to love.
- Thunderstruck: An excellent historical work by Larson, this one revolving around the advent of wireless telegraphy, while providing a parallel plot line revolving around the strange life of a London couple. I thought “Devil in the White City” was better, but still enjoyed “Thunderstruck”.
- In the Garden of Beasts: Another excellent book by Larson, this one revolving around the tumultuous times in the 1930’s during Hitler’s rise to power. It follows newly appointed US Ambassador William Dodd and his family, and their surreal life in Berlin.
- Destiny of the Republic Destiny of the Republic: Back in 1881, when anyone could visit the White House, before the advent of the presidential security details, Garfield demonstrates why this openness had dire consequences. This was a very good Candice Millard book, though I enjoyed “River of Doubt” even more.
- Lost in Shangri-La: Excellent WWII read, pertaining to a remote region of the globe, in a time and place with limited technology, and when many regions were still yet unexplored.
- The Complete Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Wadsworth and Frost are two of my favorite poets. This public domain work includes The Arrow and the Song, The Wreck of the Hesperus, The Song of Hiawatha and many other great poems. From my perspective, Longfellow poems range from whimsical to evocative to didactic. If you like traditional poets, you can find a great selection of poems in this extensive collection (note that the table of contents did not hyperlink on my Kindle).
- The Songs of Distant Earth: An Arthur Clarke classic which makes the reader ponder when and how the human race will explore and populate other planets.
- Pebble in The Sky: An early Asimov work (1950), which includes foundational elements the for the Foundation series. Though some of the references may be dated, like a Jules Verne novel, it’s still an entertaining and thought provoking work.
- Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: From my perspective, not as engaging as “The Tipping Point”, but still provides Gladwell’s unique perspective.
This year I also read multiple books on German vocabulary, verb drills, short stories and logged numerous hours on Rosetta Stone. Many of these were helpful, though I think personal preference and learning styles vary dramatically, making it difficult to determine what other readers might prefer. I do enjoy Rosetta Stone, though I think they should include an on demand translation dictionary in their program.
Next year I expect the genres to remain similar, and hope to include Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Tolkien, historical non-fiction, perhaps Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, and several new business books. It seems like it’s time to start writing again, my most recent book was written over a year ago. I’ve been pondering a book on digital marketing and integrated pipeline building and have rough outline in mind. And perhaps someday, a novel, though I’m truly humbled by the many great authors above. Regardless, like many, I find both reading and writing, a worthwhile, enlightening and often cathartic process.
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