Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Books of 2012: A Quick Overview

By the time New Year’s Day comes around, my reading list for this past year will just make it to 60 titles, maybe a couple more. These include quite a few re-reads.  Indeed, for many years now I have re-read at least as many books as I have those that are new.  And a lot of those books are quick, light reads.

That's always been the case. My reading interests take in Dostoevsky, Shakespeare and Waugh but also O. Henry, Conan Doyle and the marvelous Freddie the Pig series by Walter Brooks. I read serious history but also pop culture history. I read plays, political works, theology and even poetry. And the poetry is as eclectic as everything else in my library. From where I'm sitting at my desk now I can see books of poetry that range from Phyllis McGinley to Dylan Thomas, from Tennyson and Milton and Malory to Chesterton and Robert Service and Ogden Nash. 

But back to an overview of this year's book list.

The "pure pleasure" books would include  reading (and, in many cases, re-reading) nine Perry Mason novels, a couple of Dorothy Sayers mysteries, four Lovejoy adventures, an Alistair MacLean novel, and a couple of Clive Cussler’s more recent books.

I went through a Colorado phase in the spring with Jack Foster’s wonderful memoir, Adventures in Timberline; Helen Rich’s haunting novel, The Willow-Bender; and David Lavender’s terrific history of mining and ranch work, One Man’s West.  All of these were terrific reads which I enjoyed immensely -- perhaps, in part, because they evoked a lot of personal memories and feelings of growing up in Colorado.

Other Western-oriented novels from 2012 were a couple of Elmer Kelton books starring Texas Rangers (A Hard Trail and Jericho's Road) and Edna Ferber’s rousing story of early Oklahoma, Cimarron.  That one truly was a moving and memorable read – one of the very best of the year.

Finally I suppose one could argue that Walter Lord’s A Time to Stand belongs in the Western motif too since it is a history (and a very careful one, at that) of the defense of the Alamo by brave Texicans like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis, and 184 others.  Lord is one of my favorite historians but I had never read that particular book.  I’m really glad I did.
Other non-fiction books from my reading in 2012 were Bob Greene’s heartwarming story of the unique WWII ministry of the North Platte Canteen, Once Upon a Town.  If you’re looking for a book to give for Christmas, you might consider this one.  The Storm of War by Andrew Roberts (published in 2011) was one of the best histories of World War II I have ever read – and that’s been a lot.  That too would make a great gift for the serious student of history.  And winding up the history reads for 2012 would be What If?  Strategic Alternatives of WWII edited by Deutsch and Showalter; Philip and Elizabeth by Gyles Brandreth; and Grant as a Military Commander by James Marshall-Cornwall.

The books I read (or re-read) along with my compatriots in the Notting Hill Napoleons Literary Society in 2012 included The Final Storm by Jeff Shaara (excellent historical fiction dealing with the Pacific theater in WWII), Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, African Queen by C. S. Forester, No Name by Wilkie Collins, The Shame of Motley by Rafael Sabatini, The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute, That Printer of Udell’s by Harold Bell Wright, and The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.
Several of the books I read this year (all re-reads but one) were in preparation for a presentation I gave at the Providential History Festival in early fall. That lecture was titled “The Mad Scientist in Literature” and the books I read for it were Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Rounding out the year’s reading were Barb Malek’s history of her grandmother’s struggles in the Depression, Soft Like Steel; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier; Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque; The Knight of Maison-Rouge by Alexandre Dumas; The Card (a comic novel by Arnold Bennett);  The Bridges at Toko-Ri by James Michener; The Hearing by James Mills; Scarface by Armitage Trail; The Triumph of the Sun by Wilbur Smith; Run Silent, Run Deep by Commander Edward L. Beach and a couple from the 1930’s by Clyde Brion Davis – The Anointed and The Great American Novel.
Which among all of this year's would I most recommend?

The 5-star recommendations in the history category would be The Storm of War by Andrew Roberts, One Man’s West by David Lavender, and A Time to Stand by Walter Lord.  (Related here too are the inspiring “personal history” books: Once Upon a Town by Bob Greene and Soft Life Steel by Barb Malek.) 

In the fiction category – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, No Name by Wilkie Collins, That Printer of Udell’s by Harold Bell Wright, Cimarron by Edna Ferber, Run Silent, Run Deep by Edward Beach and, of course, The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.

That comes to 57. But before the year's end (Lord willing), I plan to finish the novel I'm reading now (and very much enjoying), Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter Edmonds, at least one of Charles Dickens "other" Christmas books (besides A Christmas Carol which is an annual must), and who knows what else.

I hope this list gives you a few ideas for your own reading in 2013.