Books I Read in 2013

The biggest benefit of commuting on the bus is the time I have to read; I get about 90 minutes of reading time each day. Add that to my semi-retirement and I set a personal best for books read last year. My goal since 2009 has been to read at least 8 books per year – or one every 6 weeks; I more than tripled that with 28 books in 2013. I didn’t start reading in earnest until mid March when I transitioned to semi-retirement.

By and large I’ve been delighted with the authors I read last year. With an average rating of 3.6 on a 1-5 scale, my ratings are skewed to the high end. I guess that’s because I read well known authors and pick carefully; I don’t spend time reading books I don’t enjoy.

I use Google Docs to maintain my reading history. I have a spreadsheet and a Google Live Form to do the data entry. If you’d like to see it, let me know and I’ll share with you.

Here is the list. Below that I’ll annotate with brief descriptions and more information.

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Title Author Rating Type Subject
The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson) Rober A Caro **** Biography
Angle of Repose Wallace Stegner ***** Fiction
Zorro Isabel Allende,  *** Fiction
Home Toni Morrison ***** Fiction
The Mating Season P.G. Wodehouse  **** Fiction
The Big Rock Candy Mountain Wallace Stegner ***** Fiction
The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari Paul Theroux *** Non Fiction Travel
World War Z Max Brooks ** Fiction
The Guns At Last Light: The War in Western Europe 1944-1945 Volume 3 of the Liberation Trilogy Rick Atkinson ***** Non Fiction History, War
Motherless Brooklyn Jonathan Lethem **** Fiction Detective Novel
Ring for Jeeves P.G. Wodehouse  *** Fiction
Nate in Venice Richard Russo **** Fiction
Crazy Horse: A Life Larry McMurtry *** Biography American History
Fortress of Solitude Jonathan Lethem *** Fiction
Bertie Wooster Sees It Through P.G. Wodehouse *** Fiction
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Essays, etc David Sedaris ** Non Fiction
The Thin Red Line James Jones **** Fiction War
Elsewhere: A Memoir Richard Russo *** Biography
A Few Quick Ones P.G. Wodehouse  *** Fiction
Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 Brenda Wineapple **** History History, Civil War, Reconstruction
Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir Linda Ronstadt *** Biography Music
Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays Joan Didion *** Non Fiction Essays
The Spectator Bird Wallace Stegner *** Fiction
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories Alice Munro **** Non Fiction
Grand Expectations: The United States 1945-1974 James T Patterson  **** Non Fiction US History
Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life Graham Nash *** Biography Music
A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens **** Fiction Christmas
The Son Philipp Meyer ***** Fiction

Details. 

  • Author: Robert A. Caro
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
  • Copyright: 2012
  • Pages: 604
  • Date Finished: April 12, 2013
  • Rating: ****
  • Thoughts

A fantastic, gripping biography of Lyndon Johnson from the time he was leader of the senate through his Vice Presidency and his becoming president after JFK’s assassination.

LBJ was a master at moving legislation through the Senate. JFK picked him for VP to get the Texas and southern votes during the 1060 election but then gave him nothing to do as VP. This was really tough on LBJ. LBJs biggest achievement in these years was getting the Civil Rights bill enacted into law. He recommended that JFK not send the bill to the Hill when he did knowing the logistics the southern democrats would use to stall and defeat the measure. Within 8 months of becoming president, LBJ used his skills to get a budget, a tax reform measure, and the Civil Rights act enacted.

Four takeaways from this book
1. I was a kid during this phase of history and of course the assassination of JFK. It was fascinating to read about the people whose names I heard as a child.

2. Congress was just as bollixed up then as today; legislation did not move through the Senate because of holdups by a minority of senators who blocked the majority view of the country.

3. Robert and Kennedy and Johnson had an epic feud which was kicked into high gear during the negotiations to have LBJ become the Vice President nominee. RFK tried to get LBJ to take back his agreement to be VP; whether or not it was with JFK’s knowledge has been subject of debate for years. Caro takes the side that Bobby was not working with John’s knowledge. LBJ’s downhome, corny ways were at odds with the urbane, sophisticated Kennedy administration. These two men HATED one another, and not just a little bit. As Bobby and John’s father said “Bobby hates like me; once he hates someone they stay hated” (paraphrase). When John was president Bobby snubbed Lyndon at every possible occasion; Lyndon returned the favor when he became president.

4. Lyndon Johnson was probably the best 1-on-1 campaigner/salesman whoever went to Washington DC. He was a master at identifying the fears and needs of his allies and opponents. He used these skills to move through JFK’s programs after Kennedy’s murder.

And then there was Vietnam… This will be the topic of the last volume of the biography; I’m looking forward to reading it. The war completely overwhelmed all the good he accomplished in the early years.

This book reads more like fiction than biography.
This is volume 4 of a 5 volume biography. I’ll definitely read the last in the series but probably not the first 3.

  • Author: Wallace Stegner
  • Publisher: Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics
  • Copyright: 1971
  • Pages: 569
  • Date Finished: April 25, 2013
  • Rating: *****
  • Thoughts

When I first started this book, I wondered how could a story about a retired, handicapped historian writing about his grandmother from the late 19th century be at all interesting. But I enjoyed Crossing to Safety so I started reading and was completely overawed with the intense story of a well-bred Eastern Quaker woman who heads to the wild west with her husband whom she barely knows.

“Angle of Repose” is the angle on a bank of dirt at which dirt and pebbles stop rolling. In this novel we see Susan Ward and her husband Oliver start on a high slope and continue to slide until they reached their angle of repose. As the narrator says on page 211:

“What interestes me … is not Susan Burling Ward the novelist and illustrator, and not Oliver Ward the engineer, and not the West they spend their lives in. What really interests me is how two such unlik particles clung together, and under what strains, rolling downhill into their future until they reached the angle of repose where I knew them.”

There are so many layers to this story. We see Susan Ward struggling with a continued decline in fortune as the husband, Oliver, trusts people he shouldn’t. We see her relationship with her best evolve through a series of letters. Augusta’s fortunes rise and Susan’s do not. We see the stress in a marriage as the years go by and both husband and wife have struggles.

This story is based on the life of Mary Hallock Foote. Stegner came across the letters and got permission from the Foote family to fictionalize the account. The foundation from the canyon house in Boise still exists. I wish I had read this before my recent trip to Boise; next trip, I’l head up toward Lucky Peak damn to see the remains.

Jackson J Benson wrote an introduction for the 2000 release of this work; he calls it Stegner’s “masterpiece”. I know it’s moved Wallace Stegner up to my favorite authors alongside Larry McMurtry, Richard Russo, and P.G. Wodehouse.

Zorro

  • Author: Isabel Allende
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • Copyright: 2005
  • Pages: 390
  • Date Finished: April 28, 2013
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden.

A fun Romantic novel. That’s capital “R” romantic; it’s not a bodice ripper. Rather it’s a telling of Diego de la Vega’s youth; recounting his birth in California, his trip to Spain for education and return to California. He learns sword fighting from a master; helps Gypsies, falls in love, becomes Zorro, all the while fighting the villain Rafael Moncada. He also has a run in with the famous pirate Jean LaFitte.

A fun summer book.

Home

  • Author: Toni Morrison
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
  • Copyright: 2012
  • Pages: 147
  • Date Finished: May 2, 2013
  • Rating: *****
  • Thoughts

Wow. A story of a black Korean war veteran and his sister. It starts when they are children and witness some white men throwing a black man in a makeshift grave in a field. They had a hard, hard life and become separated when Frank leaves town to go to Korea. He sees his best friends killed in war and is stumbling through life when he returns. Although he has sworn to never return to Lotus, his home town, he does when he hears his sister, Cee, is close to death.

We see Frank grow as he processes all he has dealt with in his life.

The reading guide says this is as a hero journey story, where the hero travels far away, meets many trials and comes home a changed person. I think there is a little of that here, but not the major part of the story.

This is the first Toni Morrison book I’ve read but not the last.

The Mating Season

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Publisher: Harper & Row
  • Copyright: 1949
  • Pages: 222
  • Date Finished: May 5, 2013
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

The next in the Jeeves and Wooster series that I’m reading in order. 

A classic Jeeves and Wooster story – one I haven’t read regularly. There are many couples whose loves are torn asunder and can only be repaired with the help of Jeeves. Of course they travel to a big country house to work their magic and of course there are deceits and cross-purposes galore. Bertie’s future is in peril, for if Gussie Finknottle is allowed to continue his star-crossed ways, Bertie will have to marry Madeline Basset.
This is interesting in that Aunt Agatha is part of the story but never actually shows up in the pages until the very end; even then we don’t see she and Bertie together. It’s also interesting in that it has some actual bad words (bitch, hell, damn) which I don’t think I’ve read in other Wodehouse stories.

If you are looking for a place to start with Jeeves and Wooster this is as good as many and better than the early short stories  

  • Author: Wallace Stegner
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Copyright: 1938
  • Pages: 561
  • Date Finished:
  • Rating: *****
  • Thoughts

The best book I’ve read since Lonesome Dove.

Wallace Stegner paints the portait of the Mason family to illustrate his theme of the tension between making a home and a living in one place the best you can and the restless drive to always be moving and changing to try to get beyond the now to a hoped for better future.

A second theme is that of how much easier it is to see the line of a life looking back than trying to predict the future. This theme is central to Stegner’s “Angle of Repose”

The story starts with Elsa Nogaard’s trip from Minnesota to Hardanger, North Dakota in the winter of 1905. She is only 14 and basically runs away from home to live with her uncle. She meets Harry “Bo” Mason and they end up marrying and raising a couple of boys (Chet and Bruce) while moving around the in search of Bo’s dreams of making it rich. The novel shows struggle after struggle where Bo is constantly on the lookout for the next opportunity to make it big. It may be running a hotel, a cafe, a homestead farm in Canada, or running whisky. Elsa would rather settle in one place and make a home, however humble. But after a major scene of anger and battle, she makes peace with being married to Bo and follows along.

The novel is told is ten sections detailing with various periods of their lives told from varying points of view. Stegner’s style is so realistic; I often found myself thinking “this is reporting real lives, not make believe”. The opening pages describing Elsa’s journey on the train had me hooked as surely as the description of Gus rooting out the pigs in the opening pages of Lonesome Dove.

The theme of restlessness v. settling has resonated with me recently. In my early career I moved from job to job in Information Technology to improve our stake. It worked well for me. But I never had the long term sense of accomplishment and building something of continued value until I stayed at OHSU for 13+ years.

  • Author: Paul Theroux
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Copyright: 2013
  • Pages: 353
  • Date Finished: May 30, 2013 
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

Paul Theroux travelled north from Cape Town South Africa through Namibia to Angola. He was going to go further north but had to abandon his trip for a number of excellent reasons. He paid a lot of attention to the small towns and the slums he found. He found a bit to appreciate in the improvement of the Cape Town shanty towns over the past 10 years. It’s obvious that Angola and much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa is in dire straits with a few rich people who care nothing about the millions in abject misery and poverty. He finally had enough in Angola when he realized he couldn’t get any farther. Their problem of the 1% v the 99% are so much bigger than ours in the United States

Theroux is not a fan of international aid for these problems as he thinks a lot of the money is syphoned off by the rich or are really more about promoting the donor rather than really helping the people who need the aid. He does a great job of taking U2 front maj Bono to task for in effect promoting violence in South Africa. Theroux provides a great rationale about how Bono’s words are more a problem than a help.

I am not an intrepid traveller. In fact, I’m the type of tourist that Theroux derides in much of the book. I hit the highlights and don’t delve into the nooks and crannies of the countries I visit. That said, he certainly didn’t have a good time on this trip. It’s the first of his books I’ve read so I’m not sure if this is different from his other travel books.

Theroux also comes across as selfish and self-centered. By his own writing, he states he occasionally just leaves home and family for months at a time without calling to check in. At one point when the car/bus he is riding in has problems and they ask for his help pushing to get it started again he simply refuses. He writes about how he once considered sponsoring a school in Mali where he taught for the Peace Corps years ago but figured “let them do it themselves” (paraphrase).

I give it 3 stars instead of 2 because he obviously knows his stuff and does a great job of describing what he sees and feels. I may try another of his books to get a more rounded impression.

  • Author: Max Brooks
  • Publisher: Broadway Paperbacks
  • Copyright: 2006
  • Pages: 339
  • Date Finished: June 21, 2013
  • Rating: **
  • Thoughts

I don’t read much science fiction and this book reminds me why. There is a decent premise but the characters are thin and the story telling is flat. You (I) can’t determine the different characters from their voices. They all sound the same. And the narrative format seems more like a rough draft or a story board. The literature aspect doesn’t hold a candle to Stegner, Russo, or McMurtry. And so many questions are unanswered: foremost, how did the zombies come about in the first place? It’s one thing to understand the new ones have to be destroyed but aren’t there also zombies still being created by the original virus or whatever it was. If so, you couldn’t just cleanup the mess once; you’d have to stop the original cause.

 The Guns At Last Light: The War in Western Europe 1944-1945 Volume 3 of the Liberation Trilogy

  • Author: Rick Atkinson
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
  • Copyright: 2013 (?)
  • Pages: 641
  • Date Finished: June 13, 2013
  • Rating: *****
  • Thoughts

Awesome. This is the third of a trilogy; the first 2 cover the war in Africa and the war in Italy. I’m reading them in reverse order.
This is a very detailed and insightful look at the effort on the battlefields and command centers. There is just a tremendous amount of detail. I enjoyed the look at the conflict between Montgomery and Eisenhower; actually Montgomery and all the Americans. I suppose you need to be egotistical to lead an army group in battle.

I also got an appreciation for the logistics of the war, given that everything you need to wage war has to come over the sea, delivered to ports, and shipped to the advancing armies. The shear amount of detail of the things needed to wage war: dozens of types of ammunition, 20+ different sizes/widths of shoes; all the way down to typewriters and sheets of carbon paper. At one point a battalion needed a special type of artillery shell and the supply depots had to comb through thousands of shells to find the ones needed.

Finally, I got an idea of just how brutal war is. I was close to tears on the bus as I was reading the last pages; it’s just heartbreaking.

I’ll definitely read the other two books in the trilogy but will have to wait awhile as it is so intense.

  • Author: Jonathan Lethem
  • Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Copyright: 1999
  • Pages: 311
  • Date Finished: July 6, 2013 
  • Rating: ****
  • Thoughts

Very good. One of the joys of semi-retirement and commuting on the bus is the opportunity to read more and different things. Jeff recommended Jonathan Lethem for me so I took a look at his novels and picked this one because it won the National Book Critics Circle Award fo rFiction. I was intrigued after reading some reviews. I picked A story about a tic-ridden, Tourettic underling becoming a detective to solve the murder of his boss just seems undoable. I’m not a big detective genre reader (I’ve enjoyed some Elmore Leonard) but Jonathan Lethem comes through.

The first two sections describing how Lionel Essrog’s boss Frank Minna met his demise and the reflection on how Minna gathered and honed his “Minna Men” from an orphan’s home in Brooklyn was compelling reading. I can tell I have a good book when I feel the need to read past my normal bus stop; then I slow down my reading so I don’t finish too soon; This book met those criteria.

Lethem does a very good job of describing his characters and describing their motivations, interactions, and dialog. His description of Brooklyn is also great.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Copyright: 1953
  • Pages: 214
  • Date Finished: June 27, 2013
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

If you’ve wanted to see what a Jeeves and Wooster book is like when Jeeves is given more room to be “Jeeves”, this is a book for you. While Bertie is at a school learning to become more self-reliant Jeeves hires out to another Bertie-like character, Bill the Ninth Earl of Rowcester, who owns a large country home but is house poor. Bill embarks on a scheme to become a bookie which goes well until Captain Biggar makes a killing on a double and wants his payout. All will go well if they can sell the house to Mrs. Spotsworth, a rich widow from America, who loves Captain Biggar who…. Well you see – classic P.G. Wodehouse setup.

This story has Jeeves in rare form with his quotations and observations that are rarely cut off as Bertie often does. Also, Jeeves doesn’t disappear through the middle of the book while the protagonist gets deeper and deeper.

Instead this is quite different in that Jeeves actually dons a disguise and assists Bill in his book-making. Also, many of Jeeves’ plans don’t come through. Another big difference from the Bertie books is the intrusion of the real world on the story. Most, if not all, of the other Jeeves books could be written about any time from the end of World War I and the present. But this is clearly set in 1953, when England is not doing very well at all after World War II. The Earl of Rowcester has clearly fallen on hard times and references are made to other of the upper class having problems. Heck even Bertie is mentioned; he is off to a school to learn how to darn socks, cook for himself, and what-not in the event that he can’t keep Jeeves as his Gentleman’s Gentleman at some time in the future.

But in the end Bertie is expelled from his school for having a local woman do his homework of sock darning and Jeeves heads back.

All-in-all a very different Jeeves story.

 Nate in Venice (Kindle Single)
  • Author: Richard Russo
  • Publisher: Byliner Fiction
  • Copyright: 2013
  • Pages: 
  • Date Finished: June 27, 2013
  • Rating: ****
  • Thoughts

A novella; longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. It is more like a short story in that it picks up in the middle of things. We capture the title character in Venice as part of an art tour upon invitation from his estranged brother. Nate is just coming out of a very tough experience at the the university he is now apparently retired from. We see what he’s been through, and get a view into his problems with his brother. All the while the other members of the tour add complexity and depth.

Also, like a short story, we don’t get clear complete finish.

A great Russo story, if different from his novels. The theme of people struggling to make sense of the world while busy struggling through it is compelling.

  • Author: Larry McMurtry
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Copyright: 1999
  • Pages: 148
  • Date Finished: July 10, 2013
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

Nice little history of Crazy Horse of whom I knew little. I like the view of events from the Native American point of view. Crazy Horse was a loner who didn’t want to take on the mantel of leadership. Nevertheless, it was thrust upon him and he became a legend.

This has a nice bibliography from which I’ve found a couple of more books to read
Son of the Morning STar by Evan S. Connell. A history of Custer and the Great Plains

Grassland by Richard Manning “An essential book for students of the plains”.

McMurtry doesn’t think much of Stephen Ambrose’s account “Crazy Horse and Custer, The Parallel Lives of Two Americdan Warriors” dismissing it as too much conjectore but I might read it anyway.

It also reminded me of D Brown’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee”; McMurtry says it is a “valuable overall account””

  • Author: Richard Russo
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
  • Copyright: 2012
  • Pages: 243
  • Date Finished: July 13, 2013
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

A very good memoir by Richard Russo, one of my favorite authors. It focuses on his relationship with his troubled mother from his childhood until her death. It also shows how he developed from child, to college student, to struggling author to success.

Date finished approximate

  • Author: Jonathan Lethem
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • Copyright: 2003
  • Pages: 508
  • Date Finished: August 1, 2013 
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

This is the story of Dylan Ebdus growing up as a lonely white boy in the middle of Black and Puerto Rican Brooklyn in the early 70s. I especially liked how the language gets more complex as Dylan grows up. Dylan spends most of his life getting “yoked” meaning put in a head lock and shaken down for money or pizza or whatever. Being the lone white kid in this neighborhood is tough. Dylan eventually meets Mingus Rude who is a year older and helps him a little bit in being accepted, but not really enough. Neither Dylan nor Mingus have a mother present and the fathers are basically useless, caught up in their own passions of art and drugs. The last section brings the characters together again after Dylan has established the beginning of a journalism career and writing liner notes for CD collections. Music of the 70s provides a big backdrop for the stories

I was lucky in school; I was never an outcast; I wasn’t in the most “in” group but I was a satellite. I knew people like Dylan in elementary, junior high, and senior high school. This book is a beautifully told view of the down and and kids.

The first section of this 3 section book is almost unbearably good. Section 2 is very short and sets the stage for section 3. Section starts strong but turns to fantasy when the Flying Man’s ring makes a reappearance. It really seems forced and a complete turnaround from the extreme realism in the first section. I liked the ending, but not the way it was managed. Had I read this first, I not have followed up with Motherless Brooklyn. Good thing I Motherless Brooklyn first.

And, I think Motherless Brooklyn would have been a better title for this book.

Having said all that, I highly recommend this book; but if you don’t like how the ending is managed don’t give up on Lethem; read Motherless Brooklyn
therless Brooklyn first.

And, I think Motherless Brooklyn would have been a better title for this book.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Copyright: 1954
  • Pages: 240
  • Date Finished: August 7, 2013 
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

English title: Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. An average Jeeves and Wooster story. Bertie takes Florence Cray to a seedy nightclub irritating her fiancé D’arcy Cheeseright. Stilton threatens to break Bertie’s spine in 3, 4, or 5 places as his anger escalates. Of course they all end up together at Brinkley Court, Brinkley-cum-Snodsfield-in-the-Marsh where Aunt Dahlia is having her own problems after pawning her pearls to “salt the mine” of her magazine M’Lady’s Boudoir hoping to sell it. Things get complicated and then resolved. The plots don’t intertwine as intricately as others. I suggest The Code of the Woosters as a better starting place

  • Author: David Sedaris
  • Publisher: Little Brown, and Company
  • Copyright: 2013
  • Pages: 277
  • Date Finished: August 14, 2013 
  • Rating: **
  • Thoughts

David Sedaris’ first collection of essays “Naked” is one of my favorite books ever. David Sedaris’ topics are usually depressing – but they most always are insightful and have a core of humor.maybe it’s a sign of my age or something but this book is mostly depressing without the insight or humor.

I had it at a solid 2 stars until I got about 1/2 way in and read this line:
“I should be used to the way Americans dress when traveling, yet it still manages to amaze me. It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig, then suddenly threw down his sponges saying, ‘Fuck this. I’m going to Los Angeles'” (p 189)

Some of the later stories rescue the book and bring it up to 2.5 stars for me, but I can’t rate 1/2 starts.

He seems to still be so angry with his dad, while any story that recalls his mother has an underpinning of joy.

My advice is if you want to experience David Sedaris, get an audio copy of “Naked” and listen to that.

  • Author: James Jones
  • Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
  • Copyright: 1962
  • Pages: 510
  • Date Finished: August 24, 2013
  • Rating: ****
  • Thoughts

This was the first war novel I’ve read. Since I have been reading a lot of American history of the war years I thought it would be a good read.

This is an excellent book. The first thing that struck me was how well the plot developed for C-for-Charley company from waiting on the ship to getting on the island and being in reserve and then getting into battle. Rather than just introducing some characters and throwing them into battle, we see the company get closer and closer to battle and view their reactions, worries and terror before they fire their first shots. Then we see them in two battles and can tell how they have changed. The pacing and development is excellent.

The second strong point of this novel is the character explication. The first few chapters of the book give a good look at a range of characters; none are flat, two-dimensional heroes; everyone has flaws that are probed and developed throughout the novel. We see a lot of angry, frustrated, scared men with a wide range of flaws. Yet they work together effectively.

Having never been in the military, much less a war, I can’t judge the accuracy of the physical aspects of the book. There are vivid descriptions of the misery of jungle living and fighting and of battle. It sure seems realistic but I’d defer to our veterans of war to say how realistic it is. Given Jones served on Guadalcanal and was wounded there, I imagine his descriptions are accurate. All I can say is it seems realistic.

An excellent book; I’m adding From Here to Eternity to my list.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Publisher: Coronet Books
  • Copyright: 1959
  • Pages: 156
  • Date Finished: August 27, 2013 
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

A group of 9 short stories. The first one is a Jeeves and Wooster story; since I’m reading these stories in order, I picked up the book for the one story. As I’ve said before, the short story form doesn’t do justice to Jeeves and Wooster; you need a couple hundred pages to really let the plot complicate. In this story, Jeeves Makes an Omellete Bertie is called down to a country manor to help Aunt Dahlia get someone to purchase M’Ladies Boudoir, her magazine. Through a few turn of events Bertie has to purloin a painting and gets the wrong one. But things get resolved (too) quickly.

The other stories include Lord Emsworth in New York, Bingo Little in continual need of money, and a new character, Ooophy Strosser, the Drones club millionaire.

This is a fair assortment of stories letting the uninitiated to become familiar with Wodehouse’s world. There is a good amount of his beautiful prose. If you want a good Jeeves and Wooster story, go elsewhere.

  • Author: Brenda Wineapple
  • Publisher: Harper Collins
  • Copyright: 2013
  • Pages: 593
  • Date Finished: September 28, 2013 
  • Rating: ****
  • Thoughts

A very good history of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the Compromise of 1877. The Compromise of 1850 was a stop gap measure to soothe tensions between the North and South over slavery in the territories. The South wanted to allow popular sovereignty in the new states where they could vote on the slavery question. The North wanted to restrict slavery to new states south of the Missouri Compromise line. The biggest win for the South was enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act where escaping slaves could be arrested in the North and returned to their owners.

As we know the compromise did not hold for long and just a little over a decade later the Civil War broke out. Reconstruction followed; even though the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were passed the blacks did not end up getting the protection they needed. The Supreme Court ruled against many of the enforcement provisions effectively relegating control to the whites. There was a LOT of violence in the South including massacre of blacks and Liberal Republicans who tried to support civil rights. Eventually, the North tired of the conflict and the country’s attention turned to the west.

The election of 1876 ended in a dispute between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. The Compromise of 1877 gave the election to Hayes in return for the removal of federal troops from southern states and the support for a new transcontinental railroad in the south.

The book does a wonderful job of covering all this history in three sections: pre-Civil war, Civil War, and Reconstruction. Like our government today, compromise was seen as betrayal. Both sides felt that the compromises built into the Constitution that tacitly allowed for slavery would eventually doom the country to conflict.

The book does a great job of providing a basis for reflection on our current government dysfunction. While we have a large degree of polarization, we don’t have the armed rebellion, and mass killings in the streets that occurred both before and after the Civil War. I wonder if a big reason we haven’t reached such an extreme level is the two sides are not geographically distinct.

  • Author: Linda Ronstadt
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Copyright: 2013
  • Pages: 200
  • Date Finished: October 1, 2013
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

This is a pleasant, easy read of Linda Ronstadt’s musical choices and career. The title is clear that this is a musical memoir; within that constraint, it is fine.While it includes some interesting bits of information on fellow musical artists of the 60s and 70s there is virtually nothing of her personal life. We do find out she has a couple of kids but we get no idea of who the father is.
I did enjoy the pages talking about the difference between producing analog and digital recordings.
I’ve now read three books on the Rock and Roll era and have found none to be totally satisfying. This story gives us little in the way of context of the music scene of the times. Sheila Weller’s “Girls Like Us”, while also flawed, does a good job of describing the lives of rock stars within the context of the times. David Browne’s “Fire and Rain” is an okay series of vignettes but is ultimately disjointed. 

Page count is for narrative; doesn’t count discography, index, and acknowledgements. 

  • Author: Joan Didion
  • Publisher: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux
  • Copyright: 1968
  • Pages: 238
  • Date Finished: October 7, 2013
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

I was reading a web page outlining the 30 books you should read before you are 30; well, I’m way past that but this title jumped at me as being one I’d heard of but never read.

A rich set of essays from the mid 1960’s centered mostly on California but covering the 60s in great detail. I especially liked the opening essay “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” about a murder case in San Bernadino County. “Los Angeles Notebook” is a multi-part essay in which I loved the description of the Santa Ana winds; I remember those winds as a child and her description gave me a richer understanding of the weirdness that they bring.

  • Author: Wallace Stegner
  • Publisher: 1976
  • Copyright: 1976
  • Pages: 214
  • Date Finished: October 16, 2013 
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

If this were the first Stegner novel I read, it would have been the only Stegner book I read. It’s an interesting enough story about a couple looking back in time at an event in their lives after their son died.

There is a recurring motif of water in this novel. The couple’s son died in the ocean; they have a rough crossing from the US to Denmark on a cruise ship (where one of the other tourists dies). It’s always raining in the story,

There is also a recurring story telling method for Stegner where a man tells a bit of a story about the present while also recounting a story from the past through old documents, in this case a journal he kept). In addition the protagonist has physical maladies that keeps him from being as mobile as he’d like. In this respect it is almost like a warm up for Angle of Repose (which was awesome).

  • Author: Alice Munro
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Copyright: 2001
  • Pages: 323
  • Date Finished: November 8, 2013
  • Rating: ****
  • Thoughts

Finish date estimated.
When Alice Munro won the Nobel prize for literature this year I knew I’d have to give her a try. Although she may have written a novel or two, her real forte is the short story. At first I thought I’d get a broad compilation of her work but after researching a bit I realized I needed to read one of her collections based on a theme. I’m glad this is the book I first reached for.

She tells a series of nine stories about relationships between men and women, married or not. In the first story, from which the book takes its name, a woman enters into a correspondence with another man – or at least she thinks she does; in actuality the young girl whom she takes care of and the girl’s friend have been intercepting the letters and forging love letters in return. As a result of the letters, the protagonist leaves the house she is working in to live with the man she thought she had been corresponding with. Yeah; imagine that for a moment.

Many of the men in the stories are hard bitten, small, mean, and abusive – either physically or emotionally. The women either make adjustments or break clean.

One of my favorite literature courses in college was Southern Short Stories; if you’ve never read “Why I Live at the P.O.” by Eudora Welty, stop what your are doing and read it now. Pacing and details are much different from novels. Short stories start in medias res (in the midst of things) whereas novels are “ab ovo” (from the egg). These are long form short stories so we don’t start smack down in the middle of everything but you do you have to spend some effort to pull pieces together. I’m so used to the novel form, that it took some getting used to. But It was definitely worth it.

I highly recommend Alice Munro – and this seems a great place to start.

  • Author: James T. Patterson
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Copyright: 1996
  • Pages: 790
  • Date Finished: December 4, 2013
  • Rating: ****
  • Thoughts

Page count is for the main text, not including bibliography. Paperback lenght is 829 pages. Completion date is estimated.
Grand Expectations is a survey of Amercian history from the death of FDR to around the time of Nixon’s resignation. He does a very good job covering social and political changes over this dynamic time.
One of the main themes I found was the impact the fear of communism had on our country – on the whole world. I mean, I’ve known it in general but this book does a very good job and showing the details of that preoccupation and its impact on our social fabric.

The other main theme is one of social justice; it took over a hundred years from the end of the Civil War before a strong civil rights bill was passed. The push for equality for Blacks, women, LGBT, hispanics and other immigrants was always met by an enormous inertia. Many people felt like their personal lives were improving during these boom years or felt a fear of the rest of the world so didn’t want to rock the boat.

I enjoy the Oxford History of the United States series; Freedom From Fear by David Kennedy earned 5 stars on my scale. This was not nearly as good; it was more of a survey that didn’t give me a feeling that I really knew the individuals. Nevertheless, it is a great starting point for learning about this period of our history. Perhaps one of the reasons I liked it so much is that having been born in the early 50’s I remembered so much of what this time was like.

  • Author: Graham Nash
  • Publisher: Crown Archetype
  • Copyright: 2013
  • Pages: 368
  • Date Finished: December 11, 2013
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

A nice auto biography of Graham Nash covering The Hollies, Crosby, Still and Nash; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and beyond. This book has plenty of what Linda Ronstadt’s Simple Dreams does not: lots of stories about drugs, partying, and what the rock and roll life was like. This book is about David Crosby as much as it is about Graham Nash. Nash took his share of drugs, but Crosby was on a whole other level; free-basing behind a curtain on the stage between songs. It’s amazing that David Crosby survived.

I suppose to be a big star you have to have an ego. Nash doesn’t go against the grain; there are many passages where he extols his many talents. He’s not exactly shy.

The biggest surprise to me was that my love of CSN(&Y) music is really based on just a couple of years when their two first albums came out. While I bought Nash’s first solo album, it didn’t grab me and I moved on to other music while he kept up. On the more positive side, this book gave me a better appreciation of The Hollies; I’ll be adding some more of their music to my library.

  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics
  • Copyright: 1843
  • Pages: 108
  • Date Finished: December 18, 2013
  • Rating: ****
  • Thoughts

I pick up something new from this story every year. This year it was some of the descriptions of London. I heard that Dickens wrote this when he saw Christmas celebration dropping off. He is credited in some quarters for reestablishing the celebration of Christmas in England.
The illustrations did not appear in this Kindle edition although the captions were there.

  • Author: Philipp Meyer
  • Publisher: Harper Collins
  • Copyright: 2013
  • Pages: 840
  • Date Finished: December 23, 2013
  • Rating: *****
  • Thoughts

Wow!
I’ve been yearning for a sprawling epic and this book delivered. This is a story of 3 people from 4 generations of the McCullough family in Texas. Eli, or The Colonel, who was abducted by Comanches in the 1840s tells his story via a WPA recording; his son, Peter, tells his story mostly through some diary entries; Eli’s great-granddaughter, Jeannie, has her story told in the third person as she looks back through her life. The story ranges from 1844 to 2011.
The McCulloughs own a good part of Texas and made their fortunes first from Cattle then from oil. The characters are richly developed, especially Eli. Given that this novel is about Texas and covers some of the same time period as Lonesome Dove it is normal that we would draw comparisons to Larry McMurtry. The early work of McMurtry is my favorite literature; The Son is a great novel but doesn’t quite reach the level of McMurtry who does a fantastic job of pushing a story forward using dialog.

But that is a quibble. This novel has compelling action sequences that will keep you reading far into the night, past your bed time. If you are looking to get lost in a grand tale covering over 100 years and 840, this is the book for you.

One of the major themes of this novel is the tension between individuality versus community. While Eli is living with the Comanches Toshaway tells him it is more important to love others than yourself. It seems to me he loses that perspective when he leaves the Comanche community. His son, Pete, strives to live harmoniously with others but that effort doesn’t always work out so well in early 20th century Texas. We see Jeannie’s ongoing struggle between being independent and wanting relationship with her kids and the men in her life.

The other theme is how transitory life is. There are many mentions of the dead people and animals under the surface of the earth. The Native Americans fought for land before the Europeans arrived; the Mexicans took the land from the Native Americans; the Europeans took the land from the Mexicans.

About howardwthompson

I'm a person who likes to travel, read, cook, and eat
This entry was posted in Reading. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Books I Read in 2013

  1. Dianne says:

    Do you own Hateship, Friendship,…..? I borrowed the digital form of this book from the library. But it expired before I could finish it. Did you like the book? Just curious.

  2. Howard says:

    Sorry; I just own the Kindle version. I just looked and it isn't available for loan. That is my biggest beef with e-Books: you can't share them like you can print versions.

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