I read 43 books in 2013. They are listed below in reverse chronological order.
Because I read books for many purposes—-for pleasure, for school, and to write book reviews for money—-I offer this list to demystify/illuminate the art of reading/reviewing as I have come to understand it since reading my first book in 1981 at age 4. Many reviewers, though they publish “Best of” lists, rarely discuss their process—-why they read the books they read and whether they are happy that they read them, or regret it. I want to buck this trend.
FP = a book I read “for pleasure”
FR = a book I read “for review”
FS = a book I read “for school.” I am attending this graduate MFA program in “creative nonfiction,” whatever that is.
PPP = a book I read for my “Personal Presidential Project.” I am reading a biography of every American president to further my understanding of American history, a mission that, while self-inflicted, isn’t really the same as reading “for pleasure.”
RR = a book that I “regret reading” because it was overrated, overlong, or otherwise bad
Short aside: How I choose books to review
Sometimes, I read about a book online or find a book in the mailroom at my day job that I pitch to an editor for review. Other times, an editor might say: “See this pile of books? Choose some.” Other times, an editor might assign a book: “Read this.” I might or might not read the books I review for free.
Short aside: On skimming
If I read 43 books in a year, did I read more books faster than most people? Perhaps. But I also read differently than most people. In fact, I sometimes skim books I read for review or for school. For me, “skimming” means that I looked at every page, but did not necessarily read every word on every page. (N.B.: Since I read 60 books last year, I’m slowing down.)
Did I “read” books that I “skimmed” less carefully than other books? No. Most nonfiction books are repetitive and overlong. Skimming them—-again, reading important parts of every page—-is sufficient, especially if the word limit of a review is under 300 words, and the book to be reviewed is more than 500 pages.
Does skimming prevent me from offering an informed opinion about a book in a review? No. I am an excellent skimmer.
Do I ever skim fiction? Unless it’s Ulysses or has extended untranslated passages in a language other than English (I’m looking at you, Thomas Mann), rarely. I read every word of the novels on this list. I also read every word of books that are part of the Personal Presidential Project.
Final aside: You can see all the books I’ve read here.
43. Hedgehogging, by Barton Biggs. Borrowed from D.C. Library. (FP)
42. Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From the Sopranos and the Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, by Brett Martin. Christmas gift. (FP)
41. Picking Winners: A Horseplayer’s Guide, by Andrew Beyer. Library. (FP)
40. Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, by Roger Lowenstein. Found in parents’ house. (FP)
39. The Winning Horseplayer: An Advanced Approach to Thoroughbred Handicapping and Betting, by Andrew Beyer. Library. (FP)
38. Everything in Its Place: My Trials & Triumphs With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, by Marc Summers. Library. (FP)
37. Music 109: Notes on Experimental Music, by Alvin Lucier. Found in mailroom. (FP)
36. Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth: A Life Guide for Inheritors, by Thayer Cheatham Willis. Purchased. (FP)
35. Confessions of a Street Addict, by James J. Cramer. Purchased. (FP)
34. Jim Cramer’s Getting Back to Even, by James J. Cramer. Purchased. (FP)
33. The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham. Found on street. (FP)
32. Winter Journal, by Paul Auster. Mailroom. (FP)
31. Jim Cramer’s Real Money: Sane Investing in an Insane World, by James Cramer. Purchased. (FP)
30. Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President, by Ari Hoogenboom. Purchased. (PPP)
29. The Gatekeeper: A Memoir, by Terry Eagleton. Library. (FP)
28. Why Marx Was Right, by Terry Eagleton. Purchased. (FP)
27. The Book of Dolores, by William T. Vollmann. Purchased. (FP)
26. What I Think I Did: A Season of Survival in Two Acts, by Larry Woiwode. Library. The worst book I read in 2013. (FS, RR)
25. Actors Anonymous, by James Franco. Mailroom. (FP)
24. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Downloaded for free. (FP)
23. The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture, by Roger J. Davies. Library. (FP)
22. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Downloaded for free. (FP)
21. Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater, by William T. Vollmann. Purchased. (FP)
20. Pale View of Hills, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Found on street. (FP)
19. The Boy Kings: A Journey Into the Heart of the Social Network, by Katherine Losse. Purchased. (FP)
18. Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia, by Tom Bissell. Library. (FS, RR)
17. Who Owns the Future?, by Jaron Lanier. Purchased. (FS, RR)
16. Into the Forbidden Zone: A Trip Through Hell and High Water in Post-Earthquake Japan, by William T. Vollmann. Downloaded. (FP)
15. The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft, edited by Robert Boynton. (FS, RR)
14. Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, by Joseph S. Nye. Mailroom. (FP, though not unrelated to PPP)
13. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. Found, can’t remember where. (FP)
12. Signifying Rappers, by David Foster Wallace and Mark Costello. Mailroom. (FP)
11. Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life, by James M. Cannon. (FR, PPP)
10. 30 Days of Night, by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. Found on street. (FP)
9. Capitalism and the Jews, by Jerry Z. Muller. Mailroom. (FP)
8. Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett. Found on street. (FP)
7. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, by D.T. Max. Purchased. (FP)
6. Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays, by David Foster Wallace. Purchased a long time ago; re-read for school. (FS)
5. The War Prayer, by Mark Twain. Found on street. (FP)
4. The Doctor Stories, by William Carlos Williams. Found in my house or on street. (FP)
3. I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined), Chuck Klosterman. Mailroom. The best book of 2013. (FR)
2. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino. Found in my house. (FP)
1. The Wind Through the Keyhole, by Stephen King. Christmas gift. (FP, RR)
Photo by Flickr user dr_tr used under a Creative Commons license.