Book Chase 2016 Nonfiction Top 10

I am ending the year the way I end pretty much every year: wishing I had read more nonfiction.  No matter how good my intentions might be at the beginning of the year, I always ended up reading somewhere between thirty-five and forty nonfiction titles.  The total never seems to vary by much, and this year is no exception.  Fortunately, however, I did discover some very good nonfiction titles:

Book Chase 2016 Nonfiction Top 10

c4134-dcf67587a4cf2d8597338566c774443415873431.  When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air is part autobiography and part memoir, but most of all it is a very talented doctor’s farewell to a world that is surely less than it would have been were he still a part of it.  I should note, too, that the last part of the book is his widow’s memoir because, after Kalanithi’s surprisingly quick death, she finished the book for her 37-year-old husband.  Just twenty-two months after learning of his illness, Paul Kalanithi’s journey was over, a journey described by his wife as “one of transformation – from one passionate vocation to another, from husband to father, and finally, of course, from life to death, the ultimate transformation that awaits us all.”

f7777-0805097678-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_2.  The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer –  Skip Hollandsworth – Skip Hollandsworth, a regular columnist for Texas Monthly magazine, became so intrigued by a true crime story from Austin’s past that he turned it into his first book, The Midnight Assassin.  The book recounts a series of murders that happened there in 1884 and 1885, murders that were so horrendously bloody that they rivaled those committed three years later by London’s Jack the Ripper.  The murders in the two cities were in fact similar enough that some newspapers of the day speculated that London’s Ripper may have tested and developed his skills in Austin before bringing them with him to Europe.

48415-97816231701273.  Walking Point: From the Ashes of the Vietnam War – Perry A. Ulander –  Perry Ulander managed to come out Vietnam in one piece, and in Walking Point: From the Ashes of the Vietnam War, he tells us how he did it.  The memoir begins with the stunned nineteen-year-old Ulander reading a letter from his Uncle Sam directing him to report to Chicago for his pre-induction physical.  It ends more than a year later when a very different Perry Ulander, having just completed a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam, is equally stunned to so suddenly find himself back on U.S. soil.

65f09-9780062309914_105c3-14.  The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones – Rich Keinzle – Four years after Jones’s death, his legacy has become more settled and his whole story can be told in one volume – and that is exactly what Rich Keinzle has done in The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones.  From the very beginning of his career, country music fans were intrigued by the craziness that followed Jones around the country as he performed.  By the end of that career, George Jones had become a much-respected vocalist (still with a reputation for craziness) who had managed to grab the attention of music lovers around the world.  It was never easy for the shy, insecure performer that Jones was throughout his lifetime, but, public warts and all, he was just too good to ignore.

a4d35-1616205024-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_5.  Dimestore: A Writer’s Life – Lee Smith – Lee Smith is a wonderful storyteller, and for the last forty-five years she has been telling us stories about life in the Appalachian Mountains, a region and a people she knows like the back of her hand.  Now, in Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, Smith finally shares her own story.  I see that the book’s subtitle changed somewhere between its publication as an Advance Readers Copy and its final version, but I actually find the ARC subtitle to be the more fitting of the two (“A Memoir in Stories”) because that perfectly describes the approach Smith takes here in recounting her life for readers.

0062300547-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_6.  Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis – J. D. Vance – What J.D. Vance has accomplished in his young life is almost a stereotypical representation of the American Dream. His grandparents came to Ohio as very young newlyweds with almost nothing to their names where they managed to raise a middle-class family that included Vance’s mother. Vance, as it turned out, would spend more of his childhood with his grandmother than with his mother (and barely knew his father), but would go on to become a Marine and would earn degrees from both Ohio State University and Yale Law School. So in just three generations, Vance’s family had gone from dirt poor to having a member of the immediate family graduate from one of the most prestigious law schools in the country. But it was not easy.

6f419-hi2bres2bcover2bmiddleweight7.  West Texas Middleweight: The Story of LaVern Roach – Frank Sikes – Middleweight boxer LaVern Roach was a very successful professional boxer from the end of World War II to early 1950 but today his name is a relatively unknown one even among boxing fans.  But despite being unfamiliar with the name LaVern Roach, I was very familiar with several of the boxers who were his biggest rivals at the time for the middleweight world championship, names like Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Jake LaMotta.  As an amateur, he had a record of 100 wins and 5 losses (with four of the losses coming before he turned eighteen), so his fast start as a professional was not a surprise to those in the sport.  His unusual good looks and his success made him one of the more popular boxers of his day, and LaVern Roach seemed destined for great things.  Sadly, it was not to be.

de17e17ed9ec6db596d73496e414443415873438.  Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq – Sarah Glidden – Frankly, I had doubts about Sarah Glidden’s decision to use “comic panels” to tell the intriguing story of her visit to Turkey, Syria, and Iraq with her two journalist friends and a friend of theirs who just happened to have seen military action in Iraq as an American soldier.  Rolling Blackouts manages to pack in more factual information than I expected from graphic nonfiction genre, but it is more effective when illustrating the emotions of the interviewer and those being interviewed. Sarah Glidden’s 2,500 illustrations (she calls them “comics”) are truly wonderful, and they greatly add to the book’s emotional impact on the reader. This one was a pleasant surprise.

ed3d4-b016tg5rgu-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_9.  Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide – Michael Kinsley – Michael Kinsley’s guide to old age is primarily aimed at his fellow boomers, the millions of us born between 1946 and 1964.  As a group, boomers are the next generation in line to “lose the game of life,” as Kinsley puts it, so it is time to prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  And, early on in Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide, Kinsley makes the case that since we are all destined “to stay dead many years longer than we were alive,” the only thing we are going to leave behind is memories of ourselves – our reputations.  But here’s the kicker, boomers: if you want to be remembered as a good person, now is the time to get started because that old game clock is busily ticking away even as you read this.

e0e9d-0807049107-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_10.  The Drone Easts with Me: A Gaza Diary – Atef Abu Saif – It is difficult to read Atef Abu Saif’s The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary and simultaneously keep oneself divorced from the politics that caused the situation to happen in the first place.  But that is exactly what Saif, who hardly addresses the cause of the 2014 war that Israel waged in the Gaza Strip, asks his readers to do.  Doing so allows the fifty-one days of war he describes in his 2014 diary to be experienced strictly through the eyes of those helplessly caught up in the middle of it all with no place to hide.  And that makes The Drone Eats with Me a very effective war memoir.

Book Chase Top Ten Fiction List (Books Published Prior to 2016 but Read This Year)

Roughly half of my fiction reading this year has been of books published prior to 2016, so I decided to post two Top Ten Fiction lists instead of combining old and new books into a single list the way I’ve done in the past.

Book Chase Top Ten Fiction List (Books Published Prior to 2016 but Read This Year)

the-shootist1.  The Shootist (1975) – Glendon Swarthout – The central character of The Shootist is one John Bernard Books, a nineteenth-century gunfighter with a fierce reputation as a sure-shot with a quick hand. But time is beginning to catch up with Books and now, in January 1901, he has come to El Paso to see the doctor who saved his life years earlier when Books took the only bullet that ever came near killing him. Books is in pain and he knows that something is seriously wrong with him. And when the doctor tells him that the pain is being caused by the prostate cancer that is killing him, Books knows that he will die in El Paso – and soon.

c9383-1250018781-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_2.  The Dealer and the Dead (2014) – Gerald Seymour – The Dealer and the Dead is about a man who might have to pay the ultimate price for a mistake he made almost two decades earlier.  In 1992, Harvey Gillott promised to deliver heavy weapons to an isolated Croatian village located along the border with Serbia, weapons the villagers desperately needed if they were to prevent their village from being overrun by the Serbs who were determined to destroy everyone who lived there.  Gillott took payment for the weapons but never delivered the promised weapons.  Some eighteen years later, what remains of the bodies of the four men who had been sent to collect the weapons are discovered in a farmer’s field – and in the pocket of one of the dead men is a tiny piece of paper with a name written on it: Harvey Gillott.

0207a-1471137392-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_3.  England and Other Stories (2015) – Graham Swift – This is a remarkable collection of twenty-five stories about people who, regardless of their age, have reached a point where regret and self-doubt are something they confront every day.  These are people living in fear that their lives may never again be as good as they were in the past.  Not only do they fear that possibility, they are certain that it is the truth.  What makes this collection a bit unusual is that none of these stories have ever been published elsewhere.  These are new stories (written, I’m guessing, within the amount of time it would normally have taken Swift to produce a novel), and taken as a whole they present the diversity of a country that is all too often confined to its stereotypes in the minds of foreigners.

8ad0e-md38031527194.  The Long Goodbye (1953) – Raymond Chandler – Marlowe is a cynic with a good heart, a man attracted to the down and out characters he so often finds on the streets of Los Angeles.  He still believes that he can help them, even though more times than not, he fails.  One of those whom Marlowe tries to help is a hopeless drunk by the name of Terry Lennox.  Marlowe and Lennox meet late one night when a woman angrily drives away and leaves the appallingly drunk Lennox standing alongside Marlowe outside a restaurant.  After Marlowe takes the man home with him so that he can safely sleep off his drunk, the two men become friends of a sort. Things get interesting a few months later when Lennox comes to Marlowe looking for a quick ride to the Tijuana airport.

51vc-6vtuzl-_sx334_bo1204203200_5.  The Cartel (2015) – Don Winslow – When it comes to controlling drug traffic and territories, everyone is fair game to the resulting violence: family members, newspaper reporters, teachers, women, children, policemen, the innocent and the guilty, alike.  And worst of all, like their terrorist cousins on the other side of the world, the gangs now capture the shootings, explosions, and decapitations on video for the entire world to see.  Don Winslow’s The Cartel schools us on just how horrible the situation along the U.S./Mexican border really is today – and why so many Mexicans cross that border to escape the mayhem at home.

deadf-1455524190-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_6.  The Burning Room (2014) – Michael Connelly – Harry Bosch’s days with the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit are numbered – and have dwindled down to what Harry considers to be a precious few.  Harry figures that if he doesn’t rock the boat so much that the upper brass finds a reason to cut him loose early, he might have one more year in him before the department forces him into retirement.   But it won’t be easy because a cold case with huge political implications has just been dumped in Harry’s lap.

1476738025-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_7.  A Man Called Ove (2012) – Fredrik Backman – The novel opens with Ove shopping for an iPad, an electronic gadget about which the 59-year-old man knows next to nothing. Ove, however, would never allow even that level of cluelessness to keep him from expressing his opinion about the object in question and the two salesmen attempting to explain its mysteries to him. By the time this early scene is over, the reader (and the two abused salesmen) will assume that they know everything they need to know about Ove – mainly, stay out of his way.  All of themwould be wrong – very, very wrong at that.

f7538662-3a68-41a1-96b5-5c114da5841fimg4008.  The Haunting of Hill House (1959) – Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House is still the standard by which haunted-house stories are judged today even though it is based on some of the same plot devices common to more run-of-the-mill haunted-house novels and movies. For instance, Hill House is a large, isolated old house with a reputation for being haunted, a place the locals don’t want to be anywhere around after dark – and then along comes a party of outsiders who have decided to spend a few nights inside the house to see if anything spooky might happen while they are there. Throw in the rather creepy caretakers of the place (who always leave before it gets dark), long hallways with lots of closed doors, mysterious staircases that lead to unexpected rooms, plus lots of unexplained noises in the night, and The Haunting of Hill House could easily have ended up being little more than a mediocre story filled with clichés.  That’s not what happened.

1439183376-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_9.  Savages (2010) – Don Winslow – Stylistically, Savages is a hard book to describe. It is dark, violent, and sexy just the way one would expect a crime fiction novel featuring the Mexican drug cartels would be. But it is also a hilarious and touching love story (albeit one involving two men and one woman) that makes it easy to forget just how much trouble the novel’s main characters really are in. Ben, Chon, and O, for lots of reasons (some good, some not so good) are going to stick in readers’ minds for a long time. And the good news is that in 2012 Winslow published a prequel to Savages called The Kings of Cool, so readers of Savages will be able to spend even more time with them.

1250077060-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_10. Time and Time Again (2014) – Ben Elton – Hugh Stanton, ex-Army, is a man who cannot think of a single good reason to go on living. Not only has he been kicked out of the army, but a hit-and-run driver has recently struck and killed Stanton’s wife and two young children. So he plays along when his old Trinity College professor says to him, “If you could change one thing in history, if you had the opportunity to go back into the past, to one place and one time and change one thing, where would you go? What would you do?” After much debate, Stanton and Professor McCluskey agree that the best way to save the twentieth century from itself would be to prevent World War I from ever starting. But although he agrees to give it a shot (pun intended), Stanton remains a time-travel skeptic right up until the moment he steps out of a 1914 hospital basement.

Book Chase 2016 Fiction Top 10

2016 has been a good year for fiction and short story collections, and I’ve made the most of it by reading almost 100 fiction titles this year.  It probably helped that I attended three different book festivals around the state in the past several months (San Antonio, Kingwood, and the state festival in Austin) because festivals often bunch three or four authors into single sessions, ensuring that attendees are exposed to writers and books of which they may have otherwise never heard.

2016 Fiction Top Ten

cd73c-51ikroqj35l-_sx327_bo1252c204252c203252c200_1.  A Friend of Mr. Lincoln – Stephen Harrigan – Abraham Lincoln is one of the best-known presidents in the history of the United States, so most people are familiar with the story of his life.  They know about the poverty of Lincoln’s boyhood, the prodigious strength he developed as a teen, his debate skills, his presidency during the Civil War, and his tragic end.  The most common gap in most peoples’ Lincoln biography is the time during which he was a young lawyer and aspiring Whig politician – the 1830s and 1840s.  Stephen Harrigan’s novel, A Friend of Mr. Lincoln spans precisely this period of the young Lincoln’s life.  Harrigan recreates a well-meaning, but flawed, young Lincoln in the process of deciding what kind of man he wanted to be.

258174932.  News of the World – Paulette Jiles – What could possibly be more intriguing a main character in a book about Reconstruction Era Texas than a seventy-year-old retired Army captain who makes his living  traveling the vast state as a “professional reader” of newspapers? Perhaps a ten-year-old girl who has spent the last four years of her life as a captive of the band of Kiowa who butchered her parents and little sister in front of her would do it. And then, if you have these two characters cross paths, as Paulette Jiles does in News of the World, you have the makings of one of the most remarkable plots of the year.

57b53afc9d427-image3.  I Will Send Rain – Rae Meadows – It has not rained on the Bell farm in almost three months. Samuel Bell, his wife Annie, and their two children have never seen a drought like this one, but unlike some of their neighbors who have already abandoned their own farms, the Bells are determined to hang on until the rains return. Samuel and Annie tell themselves that it cannot possibly last much longer – but both know that if next year’s growing season is anything like this year’s they will end up dead broke and homeless.  And that’s when things really go bad.

louise_erdrich-larose_cover-harpercollins4.  LaRose – Louise Erdrich – It is difficult to imagine anything more devastating to a man than accidentally killing his best friend’s only son, but Landreaux Iron does just that when the little boy somehow manages to get between Landreaux and the elk at which he has just taken a shot. But according to Ojibwe tribal custom there is a way for the Iron family to recompense Dusty Ravich’s parents for their loss: all the Irons have to do is give LaRose, their youngest son and Dusty’s best friend, to Pete and Nola Ravich to raise as their own.  And that’s what they do.

0385542364-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_5.  The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead – From what I understand, there is some controversy about Colson Whitehead’s decision to fashion his novel about the Underground Railroad into a one that fits firmly into the alternate history genre rather than to write a more traditional piece of historical fiction on the subject. Frankly, that is precisely what drew me to the book in the first place. I have found that novels of alternate history, as opposed to more traditional historical fiction, often reveal the more essential truths about motivations, emotions, and what was really happening behind the scenes. Whitehead’s novel is no exception.  He artfully uses the alternate history genre to hammer home the harsh realities of one of the most brutal experiences in human history: slavery. In the process, he spares no one, be they black, or be they white.

winters_undergroundairlines_hc6.  Underground Airlines – Ben H. Winters – Underground Airlines is set in the present day but Winters alerts readers early on with the insertion of a striking United States map that things are just a little bit twisted in this version of the present day world. Three things about this map are very, very different from the one that is so familiar people around the world: Texas, one of the most recognizable state-shapes on the map, is labeled as “Republic of Texas (Disputed); there is a color-coded legend identifying “Slave States” and “Free States;” and four states are clearly shaded in as slave-holding states. The four slave states are Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Carolina (the Carolinas having merged into one state) and, for obvious reasons, the rest of the country refers to them as the “Hard Four.”

51zfuwbbuvl-_sy346_7.  Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves – The novel, set in 1920s rural Alabama, tells of an electricity visionary whose dream of electrifying the family farm his wife inherited inadvertently destroys two families, one of them his own.  The novel is filled with haunting characters that suffer greatly because of the actions of one man. None of them is perfect – far from it – but they need each other if they are to survive what has happened to them. The ultimate question they all have to answer now is how willing they are to forgive Roscoe Martin – and themselves – for what happened.

13935024_1222720154425432_2923937362586033090_n8.  Fields Where They Lay – Timothy Hallinan – As Fields Where They Lay opens, Christmas is just days away and Junior’s worst nightmare has come true.  He is spending all of his normal waking hours – and many others he would much prefer to be asleep – inside the Shopping Mall from Hell. The mall has already lost all its anchor stores, much of its third floor is locked up tight, and most of the businesses still able to keep the doors open are just hoping to hang on long enough to bank a few Christmas sales dollars before calling it quits in January. Even worse, Junior has been forced to listen to the same recording of a “The Little Drummer Boy” so many times that he has to look in a mirror every so often to see if his ears are bleeding.

56a71-cover88521-medium9.  The Jealous Kind – James Lee Burke – Thanks to a combination of selective memory, old movies and television shows, and iconic musical memories, we tend to think of the 1950s as a simpler, safer time that went by too quickly.  That’s as true for those of us who actually lived through the decade as it is for those of who simply wish they had.  I  doubt, however, that Hackberry Holland’s grandson, Aaron Holland Broussard, would agree.  Aaron, the latest addition to James Lee Burke’s Holland family tree series (and the main character and narrator of The Jealous Kind), sees the decade differently from the vantage point of his Houston neighborhood.

0804141290-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_10.  Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood – Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed is the fourth book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series that began in October 2015. Crown Publishing has invited a group of notable novelists each to retell one of Shakespeare’s classic plays as a Shakespeare-inspired novel in their own style, and Atwood’s Hag-Seed is based upon Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Atwood has cleverly insured that even those readers unfamiliar with The Tempest will recognize the connections between Shakespeare’s plot and her own modernized version of it by making her main character a formerly successful theater director who now spends his time teaching a literacy class at a local prison. Felix, that director, has his class perform one of Shakespeare’s plays each year as a way of encouraging them to read and study on their own – and this year they are doing The Tempest.

(So there you have it, the Book Chase Fiction Top 10 for 2016.  I do reserve the right to modify the list if one of the 2016 books I will be reading between now and the end of the year knocks me off my feet with its sheer awesomeness – but that is unlikely to happen.)

Man Booker Shortlist: Down to the Final Six

The 2016 Man Booker Shortlist has been announced, eliminating seven of the thirteen books on the original longlist previously announced.  I was still (slowly) working my way through the longlist, so this will serve to refocus my TBR list a bit.  Of the original thirteen, I have read three books – and two of those did not make it to the shortlist, the lone survivor being Eileen by American author Otessa Moshfegh.

The longlist included five titles from British authors, five from American authors, two from Canadian authors, and one from South African author J.M. Coetzee.  The shortlist is made up of two British authors, two Canadians, and two Americans (and that makes me wonder if that was not the plan all along).

The Man Booker Shortlist:

51vBRQYhpzL._SY346_

Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction

(US) Described by the publisher, Macmillan, this way: “A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.”

 

51llns0kdfl(UK) From the book’s dust jacket we learn this about Hot Milk, “Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant–their very last chance–in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.”

Hot Milk is Levy’s seventh novel. She is also the author of short story collections and numerous plays.

5100SFEA6aL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_(UK) The book’s self-description: “A brutal triple murder. Dark and deadly deeds in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 lead to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae landed the savage blows, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he insane? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the inevitability of the gallows at Inverness.Will he swing for his wicked acts?

 

41ZUYGNM4bL._SY346_(US)  The Los Angeles Times describes Eileen like this: “The novel fixates on solitude and isolation, alcoholism and child abuse, the icy gray New England suburbia of her town, “X-Ville,” and the even grayer ambience of Moorehead, the boys’ juvenile detention center where Eileen works. She lives alone with her retired-cop alcoholic father since the death of her mother, and her relationship with him seems limited to buying him bottles of alcohol and avoiding him altogether.  Her work life seems also unbearable, other than brief minutes when her fantasy life takes her to her crush, a security guard named Randy, who most likely doesn’t know she exists.”

41M7cxoDK7L(Canada)  The Telegraph review of All That Man Is opens this way: “David Szalay’s fourth novel tells the stories of nine male protagonists at various stages of their lives. “It’s important to feel part of something larger,” says one and, from the students of the first chapter, through the middle-aged drifters at the book’s centre, to the retiree with whom it ends, Szalay’s 21st-century men feel their lives lack meaning. Most are British but there are Belgians and Danes too, so these are timely meditations on how this country sees Europe, how Europe sees us and how we see ourselves.”

Booker_Thien-xlarge_trans++QbFiyxT4AaTcAHNa4wzsULNgOPWIo1ukKD3uSzd43XQ(Canada)  From the book’s publisher: “The Shanghai episode is one thread of a family history picked up by the novel’s heroine, Marie, a math professor living in present-day Vancouver. As the novel opens, Marie is thinking back to her father’s death by suicide in China. At that time, a family friend arrives in Vancouver. She tells stories that stretch back to the Japanese invasion; tales of her grandmother, Big Mother Knife, and her great aunt Swirl and the wars and political campaigns that led to separations, homelessness and death. These accounts slowly unravel the mystery of Marie’s father. She also reads fragments of The Book of Records, a largely improvised novel that reflects the haphazard construct of history.”

I have a copy of Hot Milk and I’ll see if I can find copies of the other four I haven’t read.  For some strange reason, it always seems easier for me to find novels by British authors here in Houston than it is for me to find the work of Canadian writers.

American authors only became eligible for the prize in 2014 when the competition was opened up to any novel published in the U.K. that was first written in English.  While I do think it’s kind of fun to see how Americans do in the competition, part of me wishes that the change had not been made because I always depend on the Man Booker lists to alert me to some of the better British and Canadian books of which I otherwise would never have heard.

 

Top 15 Read/Collected Authors on LibraryThing

Do you guys use LibraryThing?

340x_mixedbag72310_01LibraryThing was the first of the big online book sites that I discovered, and I was almost immediately hooked on it because of how easy it made it for me to keep up with my personal library.  And I’m pretty loyal to the site to this day, preferring it over GoodReads (which I do use) and newer sites that I don’t much fool with.  Every few years I remember that the site does some terrific data-mining, too, and that always generates an interesting list or two for Book Chase.

Here’s a list of the most collected authors on LibraryThing:

  1. J.K. Rowling (538,736 books)
  2. Stephen King (439,451)
  3. Terry Pratchett (357,175)
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien (277,606)
  5. C.S. Lewis (262,454)
  6. Neil Gaiman (239,419)
  7. William Shakespeare (230,089)
  8. Nora Roberts (228,413)
  9. Agatha Christie (210,102)
  10. James Patterson (191,880)
  11. Jane Austen (177,294)
  12. Isaac Asimov (170,736)
  13. Stephenie Myer (166,507)
  14. Charles Dickens (166,114)
  15. John Grisham (154,814)

I normally stop with Top 10 lists, but there was no way I was going to end my list with James Patterson’s name (it’s bad enough that it’s there at all).  Seeing Jane Austen, Isaac Asimov, and Charles Dickens show up helps ease the pain of seeing Nora Roberts and Patterson. It’s kind of a mixed bag of a list, really, with some classic authors who are well respected, some authors who will be all but forgotten in 100 years, and a couple (already named) who have no business on this list even today.

69 Ways to Read 100+ Books a Year

book-stacks-e1401044850717

This is a “golden oldie” from way back on November 15, 2011.  The post started out as “54 Ways to Read 50 Books a Year” and, with some input from a few fellow book bloggers, it grew into “62 Ways to Read More Than 50 Books a Year.”  It was fun for me sit down at the keyboard and just let it rip, but it was even more fun to see the responses I got.

See what you think:

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My friends probably think  I’m weird, that I don’t have a life.  I’m pretty sure they would say that about anyone who averages 125 books read per year, though, so I don’t take it personally.  Consider, too, that 125 books is a relatively low count when compared to the 250, 300, or 1,000 books that are read every year by some people I’ve met on the Internet (I suppose that means some people are just exceptionally weird).  And, honestly, if you push me hard enough, I’ll tell you how weird I think people are who don’t read more than five or six books a year…or (shudder) even none.

Now let me tell you about my other life – the one that happens when I’m not reading – the one that takes up most of my time.  I work slightly more than forty hours per week (no longer true, thankfully) on the job that pays for the books on my shelves.  I am an avid sports fan   who attends professional and amateur sporting events on a regular basis.  I have three very active grandchildren whom I help cart around all over town to their own activities, activities that often have me in the viewing audience: dance classes and recitals, pee wee league football games, little league baseball games, and the like…and I’m still happily married to the woman who loves to help me decide how we are going to spend our spare time.

So how does anyone read a large number of books per year?  Well, it’s pretty easy, actually.  These tips are guaranteed to up your reading count.  Pick the ones you feel comfortable with, and let me know if they work for you or not.  If you want to add to the list, please let me know and I’ll credit you guys with numbers 62 forward.

  1. Read during your lunch hour, something especially easy to do if you eat at your desk each day
  2. Read the first thing every morning – get up 15 minutes early and begin your day by reading a few pages
  3. Turn off the television set – or, better yet, don’t turn it on (See number 4, below)
  4. Use your DVR to record the television you really want to see – quit channel surfing your evenings away
  5. Don’t get lost inside Facebook or Twitter for hours and hours of your precious spare time – it’s easy to catch up when you log back in
  6. Read while brushing your teeth – especially easy if you use an electric toothbrush with a built in timer
  7. Read when stuck in lines at banks, government offices, etc.
  8. Read while stuck behind long lines of traffic at slow stop lights
  9. Listen to recorded books while commuting
  10. Stay excited and informed about new books being published
  11. Browse bookstores and grab whatever catches your eye – first impressions are important
  12. Find two or three authors whose work you love – and read everything they’ve written
  13. Change your reading pattern/rut – alternate fiction with nonfiction, biographies with travel books, etc.
  14. Have reading apps on your smart phone – use them when you are trapped in a boring place all alone
  15. Set reading goals and speak of them publicly
  16. Keep a running list of what you read
  17. Join a book club
  18. Visit your local library regularly, especially the “new books section”
  19. Read the classics from your favorite genre – books by the early masters of scifi, mystery, thriller, horror, etc.
  20. Read from a list of winners and nominees: Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Man Booker
  21. Read translated novels and painlessly learn what makes other cultures tick
  22. Specialize in authors from particular countries or geographical regions
  23. Read local authors
  24. Re-read books that excited you as a young reader
  25. Read the classics – guaranteed to be better than you remember them from high school or college
  26. Find a bookstore specializing in what you enjoy reading most
  27. Find a reading buddy or two whose taste and recommendations you can trust
  28. Be a reading mentor to a child or young adult
  29. Use your credit card points to add to your book budget – the Barnes & Noble credit card is perfect for book lovers
  30. Read lots of book blogs, both individual and corporately sponsored ones
  31. Become aware of your activities that do nothing but pointlessly kill time; pick up a book instead
  32. When watching television alone, read during those endless commercial breaks
  33. Always have more than one book in progress
  34. Always know what your next book is going to be
  35. Trade books with friends and family members
  36. Buy used books to stretch your book budget
  37. Become a book collector specializing in an author, genre, publisher, decade, etc.
  38. Attend book signings at local bookstores
  39. Attend public readings at local colleges and universities
  40. Volunteer to read to struggling readers at local elementary schools
  41. Volunteer to read to the elderly with failing eyesight
  42. Read books about books – about bookstores, collectors, fakers, mysteries, libraries
  43. Attend state book festivals – they draw large numbers of authors to one site
  44. Treasure hunt in used book bookstores
  45. Watch movies made from books and compare the two versions (books always win)
  46. Collect signed books
  47. Read debut novels from fresh voices
  48. Participate in web-based book exchanges
  49. Browse the shelves of friends and relatives; you might learn something new about them and yourself
  50. Shop at Friends of the Library book sales
  51. Always carry a spare book in your car – you never know when you’re going to need it
  52. Keep an e-book reader in your coat pocket
  53. Take advantage of all the free, or very cheap, e-book offers out there
  54. Read on your monitor screen when all else fails
  55. Read while your small children are napping (courtesy of Jeanne)
  56. Read while nursing your baby (courtesy of Jeanne)
  57. Add valuable reading hours to your week by using public transportation for commuting (courtesy of Ted)
  58. Download audio books to your iPod and listen to them while working out or doing chores around the house (courtesy of Sally)
  59. Keep book of favorite quotes found while reading (courtesy of Susan Sanders)
  60. Read while fishing (courtesy of Susan Sanders)
  61. Read while monitoring kids in bath (courtesy of Susan Sanders)
  62. Read books mentioned in other books you are reading (courtesy of Santosh)
  63. Start a book blog (courtesy of guiltless reader)
  64. Start reviewing books on GoodReads, LibraryThing, BookLikes, etc. (courtesy of guiltless reader)
  65. Join reading challenges (courtesy of guiltless reader)
  66. Read while blow-drying your hair (courtesy of Karen Em K)
  67. Read while soaking in the tub (courtesy of Karen Em K)
  68. Start a “Whoops, I forgot my book” bookshelf at work (courtesy of Karen Em K)
  69. Listen to Recorded Books while showering (courtesy of Karen Em K)

The 2016 Man Booker Longlist – in Detail

The 2016 Man Booker Longlist has been announced and it encompasses quite a variety of authors and novels. According to the press release, the Longlist is also known as the Man Booker “Dozen” even though there are actually thirteen books on the list.  And, as usual, I have read almost nothing on the list, the exception being Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton.  I always do my best to rectify that problem before the winner of the prize is announced, however, and hope to do so again this year.

The list includes five titles from British authors, five from American authors, two from Canadian authors, and one from South African author J.M. Coetzee.  The list:

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Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction

(US) Described by the publisher, Macmillan, this way: “A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.”

 

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(South Africa) This is Coetzee’s thirteenth novel and is a sequel to 2013’s The Childhood of Jesus.  According to publisher Harvill Secker, “Davíd is the small boy who is always asking questions. Simón and Inés take care of him in their new town, Estrella. He is learning the language; he has begun to make friends. He has the big dog Bolívar to watch over him. But he’ll be seven soon and he should be at school. And so, with the guidance of the three sisters who own the farm where Simón and Inés work, Davíd is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. It’s here, in his new golden dancing slippers, that he learns how to call down the numbers from the sky.”

 

51L0WO6RBzL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

(UK) This is Kennedy’s eighth novel, and this is part of what The Guardian has to say about her prize-nominated book: “Serious Sweet interweaves the stories of two deeply troubled protagonists. Fifty-nine-year-old senior civil servant Jon Sigurdsson is isolated both personally and professionally: at home he’s emotionally reeling from his divorce, while at work he’s on the brink of detonating his career with a breach of government secrets. To counteract his loneliness, he offers a letter-writing service to single women, which brings him into the orbit of Meg Williams, a 45-year-old recovering alcoholic and bankrupt accountant who now works in an animal sanctuary.”

 

51LLNs0KDFL(UK) From the book’s dust jacket we learn this about Hot Milk, “Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant–their very last chance–in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.”

Hot Milk is Levy’s seventh novel. She is also the author of short story collections and numerous plays.

 

5100SFEA6aL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_(UK) The book’s self-description: “A brutal triple murder. Dark and deadly deeds in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 lead to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae landed the savage blows, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he insane? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the inevitability of the gallows at Inverness.Will he swing for his wicked acts?

Burnet is from Scotland, and this is his second novel.

 

61KkclptBAL._SY346_(UK) A website exclusively promoting the book describes it this way: “In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Patrick Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop. He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board. The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action. And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?”

The Independent says it is “Subtle as a harpoon in the head…”

 

51yXcEnuZBL(US)  The Guardian describes the premise of Hystopia this way: “The novel within the novel takes place in an alternative version of the 1970s, one in which John F. Kennedy was not assassinated in 1963, but instead has survived multiple attempts to kill him and has prevailed on the US public to (unconstitutionally) elect him to a third presidential term. In Hystopia, Vietnam grinds on and on at Kennedy’s command and has been stripped of all elements of geopolitical strategy or significance, however misguided or trumped up. ”

McGuire is a veteran short story writer but this is his first novel.

 

51E2pOqj77L(UK)  As described on the publisher’s website: “Timothy Buchannan buys an abandoned house on the edge of an isolated village on the coast, sight unseen. When he sees the state of it he questions the wisdom of his move, but starts to renovate the house for his wife, Lauren to join him there.

When the villagers see smoke rising from the chimney of the neglected house they are disturbed and intrigued by the presence of the incomer, intrigue that begins to verge on obsession. And the longer Timothy stays, the more deeply he becomes entangled in the unsettling experience of life in the small village.”

 

41ZUYGNM4bL._SY346_(US)  The Los Angeles Times describes Eileen like this: “The novel fixates on solitude and isolation, alcoholism and child abuse, the icy gray New England suburbia of her town, “X-Ville,” and the even grayer ambience of Moorehead, the boys’ juvenile detention center where Eileen works. She lives alone with her retired-cop alcoholic father since the death of her mother, and her relationship with him seems limited to buying him bottles of alcohol and avoiding him altogether.  Her work life seems also unbearable, other than brief minutes when her fantasy life takes her to her crush, a security guard named Randy, who most likely doesn’t know she exists.”

 

51zFuwbbUvL._SY346_(US)  The publisher describes Work Like Any Other thusly: “Roscoe T Martin set his sights on a new type of power spreading at the start of the twentieth century: electricity. It became his training, his life’s work. But when his wife, Marie, inherits her father’s failing farm, Roscoe has to give up his livelihood, with great cost to his sense of self, his marriage, and his family. Realizing he might lose them all if he doesn’t do something, he begins to use his skills as an electrician to siphon energy from the state, ushering in a period of bounty and happiness. Even the love of Marie and their child seem back within Roscoe’s grasp.Then a young man working for the state power company stumbles on Roscoe’s illegal lines and is electrocuted, and everything changes…”

 

41xgKh4KBKL(US)  My Name Is Lucy Barton describes itself this way: “Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.”     Book Chase Review

 

41M7cxoDK7L(Canada)  The Telegraph review of All That Man Is opens this way: “David Szalay’s fourth novel tells the stories of nine male protagonists at various stages of their lives. “It’s important to feel part of something larger,” says one and, from the students of the first chapter, through the middle-aged drifters at the book’s centre, to the retiree with whom it ends, Szalay’s 21st-century men feel their lives lack meaning. Most are British but there are Belgians and Danes too, so these are timely meditations on how this country sees Europe, how Europe sees us and how we see ourselves.”

 

Booker_Thien-xlarge_trans++QbFiyxT4AaTcAHNa4wzsULNgOPWIo1ukKD3uSzd43XQ(Canada)  From the book’s publisher: “The Shanghai episode is one thread of a family history picked up by the novel’s heroine, Marie, a math professor living in present-day Vancouver. As the novel opens, Marie is thinking back to her father’s death by suicide in China. At that time, a family friend arrives in Vancouver. She tells stories that stretch back to the Japanese invasion; tales of her grandmother, Big Mother Knife, and her great aunt Swirl and the wars and political campaigns that led to separations, homelessness and death. These accounts slowly unravel the mystery of Marie’s father. She also reads fragments of The Book of Records, a largely improvised novel that reflects the haphazard construct of history.”

So there you have it: thirteen very different novels.  It will be fun to take a closer look at some of these and to speculate on which ones will survive elimination and make it all the way to the shortlist.  Just from this brief look at the longlist nominees, I’ve already settled on a few to pull for…and to read regardless of how long they stay in contention.

2015: By the Numbers

Another calendar year is in the books, and in just three more weeks, I will mark the completion of nine years of Book Chase blogging.  I am really looking forward to 2016 and the completion of a tenth year online talking about books, publishing, bookstores, libraries, and any other bookish topics that might come up.  I have greatly enjoyed the last nine years, and I truly treasure all of the friends and contacts I’ve made over the years.  Without you guys (and the wonderful internet that allows us to so easily find kindred spirits) none of this would have been possible – or nearly so much fun. I thank you.

 
As always, I enjoy looking at my year-end reading numbers because that process brings back such great reading memories – and 2015 was another of those good years filled with remarkable books that I will remember for a long time.  2015 will most be remembered, I imagine, as the year that Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman was finally published – be that a good or a bad thing.  And, sadly, it was a year in which some of my favorite authors passed from the scene, something that seems to be happening to me with increasing regularity as the years fly by.

I’ve previously posted my Top 10 lists in fiction and nonfiction, but this is what the rest of the year looked like for me:
Number of Books Read – 118
 
Fiction – 84:
Novels – 75
Short Story Collections – 9 
Nonfiction – 34:
Memoirs – 10
Biographies – 3
Books on Books- 3
Sports – 3
Travel – 4
True Crime- 2
History –  3
Science – 3
Sociology – 3
 
Written by Men – 73
Written by Women – 41
Multiple Authors – 4
 
Audio Books – 2
E-Books – 32
Library Books – 46
Review Copies – 37
From My Shelves – 33
 
Translations: 6
Pages per Day: 100
 
Total Number of Pages Read (Excluding audio books) = 36,642 

I’m disappointed (as usual) by the small number of works by foreign authors that I read in the past year.  I did manage to read 17 books from other countries but 11 of those were published in either the U.K. or in Canada, and that seems too easy.  In addition, I read four from Italy, and one each from the Netherlands and the Philippines, but that’s something I really need to increase in 2016.  Yeah, we’ll see how that works out…oh, and I see a huge jump in the number of e-books I’m reading these days…32 of 118 means that 27% of the books I read in 2015 were of the electronic type.  That’s something I never thought I would see happen, and I’m not quite sure what to think about that.

Now it is time to move on to 2016…let’s do it!

Book Chase 2015 Fiction Top 10

2015 was a good year for new fiction.  My fiction reading ended up being a nice blend of some of my favorite fiction types: serious westerns, baseball stories, detective fiction, literary fiction, and great series additions from a couple of longtime favorites.  
 
 
2015 Fiction Top 10
 

1.  The Essential W.P. Kinsella – W.P. Kinsella – It is a difficult concept to explain to non-fans of the game of baseball, but there is a strong feeling of kinship between hardcore lovers of the game.  Kinsella is one of those people,and it shows in the beauty and sweetness of his baseball stories.  The man is a master short story writer and, thankfully, many of his stories are about baseball.  This collection covers the entire Kinsella range of writing – and it is wonderful.  Not just for baseball fans.

2.  Epitaph – Mary Doria Russell – I doubt there is a more familiar story from the Old West than that of the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”  It has been written about almost since the day it happened and has been the subject of successful movies from time to time.  Russell’s Epitaph offers the story behind the story by humanizing the main players on both sides of the gunfight.  Readers may be surprised to learn that almost everything they “know” about the incident is wrong…the truth is even better.

3.  House of the Rising Sun – James Lee Burke – Burke is one of the masters and his new addition to the Holland family saga is destined to stand as one of his best.  Hackberry Holland is a good man who sometimes does some very bad things while trying to correct the ills of the world.  House of the Rising Sun is his story, the story of a man right on the cusp of old age who wants to undo some of the wrongs he has done to others before it is too late to salvage some of the good he deserves.

4.  The Hot Countries – Timothy Hallinan – This latest Poke Rafferty novel is an especially nice addition to the series for fans who have followed Poke’s adventures from the beginning.  What makes the Rafferty series special is how Hallinan has allowed Poke and numerous supporting characters to evolve naturally over time.  Readers know them so well by now that reading a new Poke Rafferty novel is like catching up with old friends.  This one, though, features an unlikely cast of heroes that may surprise even longtime readers.

5.  Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff – Groff is a darling of the critics and it is easy to see why.  Fates and Furies tells the story of two people who seem to have always been destined to find each other.  Almost from the moment the two university students meet, they know that they will spend the rest of their lives together.  But that is only the “fates” portion of the story.  When Groff turns to the “furies” part, the reader is forced to wonder whether any two people ever really know each other.  Certainly, these two did not.

6.  The Fifth Heart – Dan Simmons – Simmons has done it again.  This one is another blending of fact, fiction, and magical realism that combines real life literary figures, like Henry James and others, with fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes.  James reluctantly works with Holmes in an attempt to find the truth behind the apparent suicide of the wife of Henry Adams.  But there’s more, much more to this literary thriller.


7.  Twain’s End – Lynn Cullen – Based upon historical fact, Twain’s End speculates about the mistress who was so important to Twain in the final years of his life – and why he and Clara, his daughter, suddenly decided to do everything they could to destroy the woman’s life.  Mark Twain was a carefully constructed persona that Samuel Clemens constructed to sell books and keep the money rolling in.  Twain’s End offers some insight into the real man behind that fictional character.

8.  The Hummingbird – Stephen P. Kiernan – The Hummingbird is a beautifully crafted story that combines three separate storylines to illustrate the impact that wars have on those forced to endure them.  While a hospice nurse tries to ease  the pain of an irritating old man, her husband struggles with the memory of what he did in Afghanistan.  But it is when the nurse begins to read a short book to the old man that it all makes sense to her – and to us. 

9.  Beautiful Trees – Nik Perring – This is the second book in a trilogy that will eventually include Beautiful Words, Beautiful Trees, and Beautiful Shapes.  It is so “beautifully” illustrated that it can be described as a picture book for adults, one that tells of the lifetime love one couple has for each other and the trees which so marked their time together.

10.  The Nature of the Beast – Elizabeth Penny – This is the eleventh Inspector Armand Gamache novel and it just may be one of the best in the whole series.  Gamache is struggling with his retirement and finds himself tempted to go back to work, maybe even to rejoin his policeman colleagues in Quebec.  But, in the meantime, the world will not allow him to rest.  Now, practically at his own doorstep in tiny Three Pines, he is faced with solving one of the most horrifying crimes ever.

Book Chase 2015 Nonfiction Top 10

2015 is one of those years when the bulk of my nonfiction reading was made up of memoirs and biographies…and, as you will see from my Top 10 Nonfiction list, I found some really good ones.

2015 Nonfiction Top Ten

  1. The Undertaker’s Daughter Kate Mayfield – an intimate look at what it’s like to grow up inside a small town funeral parlor.  Kate Mayfield explores the formalities of American funerals and body preparation as seen through the eyes of a little girl who had to know when to disappear into the background completely and when to be herself.  Surprisingly (or not), overnights at her house were prized by her friends.
2.  The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson – Notes from a Small Island, the big breakthrough book for Bill Bryson, is now twenty years old.  In this 2015 road trip, the author revisits many of the stops he made in Small Island and hits a few new places that he missed twenty years ago.  Bryson tries mightily to avoid comparisons, but that proves impossible and inevitably a little sad as the past can look so good when compared to the present.
3.  Deep South – Paul Theroux – Theroux, another veteran travel, this time focuses on America’s “Deep South.”  This is a region I’m very familiar with, and I was curious to see what a world traveler in Theroux’s league would make of it.  The author found a lot to like and a lot to wonder about.  I agree with most of his conclusions, but I also think that Theroux shortchanged the South’s residents a bit, too, especially when commenting on the number of readers, books, and bookstores there.  
 
4.  The Art of Memoir – Mary Karr – Mary Karr is best known for her previous memoirs (The Liar’s Club, Cherry, and Lit).  I have long believed that she is one of the very best at her craft and that she has been instrumental in making memoirs as popular with readers as they are today.  In this new book, Karr explains exactly how she does it and offers tips to aspiring memoir writers everywhere.  The best news is that she adds a good bit of new detail to her own story, one that has long intrigued readers like me.
 
5.  Dangerous When Wet – Jamie Brickhouse – Yes, it’s another memoir, and yes, it’s written by another former Texan who has moved to the East Coast.  And it is wonderful.  This one has its moments…and some of those moments are guaranteed to shock readers unfamiliar with the lifestyle that Brickhouse lived for so long in New York City.  But Brickhouse is first and foremost a great storyteller, and readers will find themselves lost in his world before they know it.
 
6.  Comin’ Right at Ya’ – Ray Benson & David Menconi – Ray Benson, a favorite son of Texas and Western Swing music, is in reality, as he himself puts it, is a “Jewish Yankee hippie” who reinvented himself to such a degree that his story reads more like fiction than fact.  Born and raised in Philadelphia, of all places, Benson first came to Texas at the invitation of country music’s Willie Nelson.  And the rest is history.  Music historians are likely to say that no one has done more than Ray Benson & Asleep at the Wheel to both preserve and to give new life to Western Swing.  Texas loves the guy…and claims him as its own now.

7.  Lights Out – Ted Koppel – This is the scariest book I read all year – bar none.  In it, Koppel explores what would happen if just one of America’s three large electrical grids were to fail for an extended period of time, and how easy it would be for one of the country’s enemies to make exactly that happen.  It is remarkably more likely that America’s next all out war will be a cyberwar almost invisibly waged rather than one involving ground troops.  This one is not for the faint of heart.


8.  Missoula Jon Krakauer – This is Jon Krakauer’s exposé of a problem plaguing college towns all across America: the rape of female students by men they see every day on their campuses.  Often these rapists are longtime friends of their victims…and often the rapes go unreported.  Colleges tend to protect male athletes accused, the entire college town usually rallies to the defense of these rapist-athletes, and prosecutors let it all happen.  This book will infuriate you.

9.  The System – Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyan – Touching on some of the same problems covered by Missoula, this is another indictment of big time college football.  Sadly, a university’s football team has more to do with a school’s public image than academic standards have to do with that image .  And because college football pays all the bills, not only for the rest of a school’s athletic program but for much of every other program, football is now a very big business – a business with all the corruption and cheating one would expect it to have.

10.  Lives in Ruins – Marilyn Johnson – Lives in Ruins is an inside look at modern archaeology through the eyes of someone just like the rest of us, one of the dreamers who wish they had somehow made a career digging into past lives and civilizations.  It is both eye-opening and inspirational in the way that it reveals just how difficult it is to break into the field – and to make any kind of real living from it.  Bottom line on this one is that it will make all the wanna be archaeologists out there want it even more.  And that is a good thing.

Step Into My Time Machine (Favorite Time Travel Novels)

There is something about time travel novels that particularly appeals to me.  I suppose it is that chance to go back for a free re-do, be it a personal one or one that positively (hopefully) affects the history of the whole world.  That second type often involves eliminating someone like Adolph Hitler before they gain power – or changing the course of some major war like the Civil War or one of the two World Wars.  Fun stuff, if done correctly with in depth character development and a side plot or two to worry about.

These are some of my favorites from the last few decades (in no particular order):

I first read Time and Again in the summer of 1970 and later added a first printing copy to my personal collection.  I consider it a modern classic of the genre and believe that it influenced a whole bunch of time travel novels that followed it.  The plot involves a man chosen by a secret government agency to be transported back to 1880s New York in order to test the theory of time travel.  Our time traveler, of course, falls in love, only to come to the realization that the government wants more of him than just standing around and observing everyday life.

The book is illustrated by numerous old photographs of the various locations the time traveler wanders through during the novel.  This was a groundbreaker.



Time on My Hands is one of those time travels novels that focuses on real life historical figures – in this case, former president Ronald Reagan.  Here Peter Delacorte explores the case of a young man hired to return to the Hollywood of the late 1940s where he is to make contact with a young actor by the name of Ronald Reagan.  His assignment is to do anything necessary to somehow push Reagan from the path that would bring him to the White House in 1980.  What happens when our hero befriends Reagan under false pretenses but starts to actually like him makes for a fun ride.

At first glance, Time Out of Mind is pretty much just a ripoff of Finney’s Time and Again, but John Maxim gives it enough twists to make it work well even for fans of the great Finney novel.  This one was written some 16 years after Finney’s novel, and I suppose that Maxim and Houghton Mifflin were hoping that everyone had forgotten about the Finney masterpiece.  It even goes so far as having each of its chapters begin with an old photo or illustration to set the scene.

The hero of this one goes back specifically to the great New York blizzard of 1888.

Laura Watt’s Carry Me Back incorporates one of my favorite music genres (hard core traditional country) into a time travel novel…a perfect combination for someone like me.  This 1997 novel involves ex-con Webb Pritchard who buys an old banjo to entertain himself after his release from prison.  Unbeknownst to Pritchard, this is a magic banjo that transport him back to 1951 where he manages to wrangle himself a job with the man who went on to become country music royalty before he died at age 29, Hank Williams.  The romance story inside this one is another that pays homage to Jack Finney.  Carry Me Back  is still on my shelves and I plan to re-read it in the next year or two.

Time travel novels often involve some kind of moral dilemma for the time traveler to deal with – in this case, our hero has to decide whether or not to prevent the bombing of Hiroshima.  Till the End of Time is part of author Allen Appel’s time travel series featuring Alex Balfour, a history teacher for whom the ability to time travel runs in the family and has been genetically handed down to him.

Along the way, Balfour interacts with people like Albert Einstein, Betty Grable, John Kennedy, and FDR.  This one is fun, but the appeal largely comes from getting to know the Balfour character well through several books.

One last one for this time around is Stephen Fry’s Making History.  This is one of several time travel novels I’ve read in which the protagonist goes back in time to do something about Adolph Hitler before it is too late.  In this instance, the time traveler wants to take the most certain path by going back to the time before Hitler was even conceived – and making sure that his parents never get together.

Stephen Fry is one of the most talented people I know of: author, film star, comedian, television star, documentarian, etc.  This man can do it all and this novel is no exception to the quality of his work.  It is great fun…and one of the best snuff-Adolph time travel books I’ve encountered.

That’s it for now, but this is fairly representative of my favorites of the genre.  I haven’t even mentioned older books like The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, but that is the one that created my love for time travel books in the first place when I first read it at age 12 or 13…and, of course, there was that great 1960s movie version of the novel.  The movie locked me in for good.

It’s about Time

I’ve always been intrigued by books that center on time travelers and all of the complexities involved in that kind of fiction. I’m a history buff, primarily of the American Civil War period and the couple of decades before and after that tragic war, and I’ve often daydreamed about what it would be like to be able to go back in time to actually witness some of the events that I’ve read so much about. I look at those old pictures sometimes and really wish that it were possible to visit that period in American history. Anyway…that gets me to thinking sometimes about my favorite “time travel” books and how difficult it can be to find good ones amongst all of the junk that gets written in that sub-genre.

So, for those interested in that kind of reading, here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order), and I’d welcome any suggestions that you have.

  1. The Time Traveler’s Wife – (Audrey Niffenegger) Admittedly this is one of the tougher ones to follow and it takes some real concentration at times to keep all the timelines straight, but it is well worth the effort.
  2. The Time Machine – (H.G. Wells) This is the one that started it all for me. I read this book as a boy and have wished that I could find that elusive time machine ever since.
  3. Time and Again – (Jack Finney) Finney wrote the perfect dreamer’s time travel book because the pictures scattered throughout the book make it so easy to imagine yourself in the 1880s. This is considered to be one of the time travel classics.
  4. Time on My Hands – (Peter Delacorte) This is one I’m planning to re-read sometime in 2007 because I really enjoyed it the first time. It’s something unusual, a political time travel novel, which involves a traveler’s attempts to find a young Ronald Reagan and to do whatever it takes to keep him from ever entering politics. Like Finney’s Time and Again, this one includes lots of photos that are half the fun.
  5. Time Out of Mind – (John R. Maxim) When it snows, Jonathan Corbin finds the scene shifting to America’s Victorian period and, consequently, he feared snowstorms in New York City. This one has photos at the beginning of each new chapter but they don’t add much to the book at all.
  6. Till the End of Time – (Allen Appel) Time traveler Alex Balfour is faced with a dilemma: he might be able to prevent the bombing of Hiroshima. The question is should he do it or not?
  7. A Shortcut in Time – (Charles Dickinson) Dickinson is one of my favorite writers and I was a bit surprised to see him venture into this type of novel. But he did himself proud. This story gets more and more complicated as it goes, with people doing time travel in both directions with unexpected consequences.
  8. The Door into Summer – (Robert A. Heinlein) This is one of those science fiction classics that I read as a kid…what more could you ask; it has suspended animation, time travel, revenge…
  9. If I Never Get Back – (Darryl Brock) This one has two of my favorite things in it: baseball and time travel, a story about a man who finds himself back in 1869 where he manages to become a player on the Cincinnati Red Stockings and, among other things, he invents the bunt, ballpark hot dogs and the scoreboard.
  10. Replay – (Ken Grimwood) A man and woman die in 1988 and wake up in 1963 in their 18-year old bodies with all of their memories intact. They get a chance to relive their lives and to do it right this time…but will they?