It’s been a pretty good reading year for me. Accent on the “for me. ” There have been years recently when I probably haven’t read more than four or five books the whole year. Well, I’m well past that number already for 2011, and we still have a couple of months to go, so yes, it’s been a pretty good reading year.
And hey, they’ve been some good books too! Here are the last five books I’ve read, in order, starting in the spring:
1) Jan’s Story: Love Lost to the Long Goodbye of Alzheimer’s, by Barry Petersen. Petersen is a CBS News reporter; his wife, Jan, was also a reporter, until she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 55. I saw a piece that Petersen did on CBS’ Sunday morning program and was moved immensely by it; it soon became the first book I purchased for my new iPad. The “Long Goodbye” part of the title is especially apt. If you know me, you will know that my own mother passed away from Alzheimer’s this summer after suffering with it for many years. While hers wasn’t the “early onset” variety that this book discusses, there were many, many common threads between Jan’s story and my own mother’s. But I think that even if you haven’t experienced Alzheimer’s in a loved one, this book is eye-opening and worthwhile.
2) The Book of Vice, by Peter Sagal. Listen to NPR on Saturday morning, and you know Peter Sagal. He’s the host of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and blessed with a lightning-quick sense of humor. After Jan’s Story, I desperately needed something a little lighter, and this one filled the bill perfectly. I picked it up on a bargain rack in some bookstore — there’s where I find my best books, it seems. Sagal sets it up as sort of the antithesis of William Bennet’s The Book of Virtues. Having read this one, I don’t need to read that one, which is good because I’m sure this one is funnier, anyway.
3) Sixty Feet, Six Inches. by Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson. I generally try to read at least one baseball book a year, and this was my obvious choice for this year. It came out last year, and it immediately fell onto my wish list. I literally grew up with Bob Gibson; he was the starter in the very first major league game I ever attended, and From Ghetto To Glory was one of the first books I can remember reading. I’ve actually never been a big fan of Reggie Jackson’s, but in this book, they’re sort of pitted against each other: a topic is presented, and Gibson and Jackson take turns talking about it. The book is about the essential drama of baseball, that ongoing battle between the pitcher and the hitter. I love this line from Gibson: “Home plate is about seventeen inches wide, and most of that is of no interest to the pitcher.” Both of them are intense competitors, but they also both love to have fun with baseball. It’s a very conversational book, but well-executed.
4) The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, by Jessica Anya Blau. Another bargain book — this time for 99 cents from the iTunes book store. There’s one word in the title that made me consider this book … that’s right, Swim! I used to be a swimmer, so naturally this book appealed to me. 🙂 It’s a coming-of-age novel about a 14-year-old girl in southern California, whose parents, much to her horror, are free-wheeling nudists. Pretty well-written, and perfect for summer reading. Rated G for extensive nudity, R for mild violence.
5) Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Remarkably, another bargain book. (Well, actually it was just a bargain because Border’s is going out of business…) I’d wanted to read this one from the day it came out, but never got around to it. I love reading about politics, and the presidential-election-rehash is about my favorite sub-category of the genre. 2008 was an amazing election year, and this book captured most of the high- and lowlights. I remembered a lot of this stuff, because I read everything I could about the campaign as it was going in, but this book provided a lot of detail behind the news that we could only find out about afterwards. For example, we all knew that John and Elizabeth Edwards’ marriage was dysfunctional and that he was a despicable character; but I was surprised in reading this book just how dysfunctional and despicable they were. Likewise, we all knew—well, most of us did, anyway—about Sarah Palin’s intellectual shortcomings, but it turns out that even the McCain campaign was astounded to discover that she actually though Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. It was a great read, easily the best book I’ve read this year.
So those are the last five. Naming the next five books I’ll read is just a guess, and this will almost certainly be wrong, because the book I read next often depends on how I feel after the book I read most recently. But there are a bunch of books on my to-read list, and these five just might be the next five.
1) Banana Rose, by Natalie Goldberg. This one I know for sure, because I’ve started it already. Goldberg is a writer who sometimes writes about writing. I highly recommend her Writing Down The Bones to anyone who has any interest in writing … really, to anyone who breathes. I discovered that book years ago and have read it several times, along with its sequel, Wild Mind. Those are both, essentially, writing books. Banana Rose is a novel, and it will be interesting to me to read a product of the craft that Goldberg writes about. She lives in New Mexico, and as I write this I’m beginning a four-day vacation in Santa Fe, so this one is perfect right now.
2) Our Choice, by Al Gore. This may be considered more of an “app” than a book now; I have it for the iPad, and it’s full of videos and other interactive “stuff.” It’s based, though, on a book, and it’s on a subject I need to read more about, our interaction with, and effects on, the planet. Some people despise Al Gore, which I’ve never really understood. I guess that’s a product of the times we live in. I still think this would be a much better place if he had been sworn in as president in January 2001 rather than that other guy.
3) The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. I’ve been hearing about this book, which documents the rise of al Queda leading up to the 9/11 attacks. I’ve read a lot about 9/11, and this has always come up as one of the essential reads. I finally found the book … and it was on sale at the Border’s clearance sale, so I finally got myself a copy, and it’s on my to-read list.
4) Again To Carthage, by John l. Parker Jr.. Years ago, Parker wrote a novel called Once a Runner, the last chapter of which–an account of an epic mile race–could be one of the most gripping pieces of sports prose ever written. It was anthologized in a book of running stories, where I discovered it. Not long after, I found the whole book and read it. Now, the sequel is out, and I’m looking forward to seeing what has happened since that race.
5) Stan Musial: An American Life, by George Vecsey. It’s a biography of “Stan the Man,” an icon in baseball and especially in St. Louis. I got it for a birthday present this summer, but I’d already read my baseball book for this year, so I put it off. The way my reading goes, this’ll come up just about in time for the 2012 baseball season.