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The Jehoshua Novels


Good Reads, 2012 Version

The past year was a good year for reading. As in past years I try to read a book a week. This year I exceeded that goal slightly, having read 57 books. Much of that was due to rationing my internet intake, little to no blogging, little tweeting and even less Facebook, all massive timesucks.

Here is the list:

1. The Operators by Michael Hastings: non-fiction
2. Oranges by John McPhee: non-fiction
3. Jerusalem by Simon Sebag-Montefiore non-fiction
4. Bismarck by AJP Taylor non-fiction
5. The Dark Angel by Mika Waltari fiction
6. Alexander at Worlds End by Tom Holt fiction
7. Lars Porsena by Robert Graves non-fiction
8. The Witness and the Other World by Mary Campbell
9. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott non-fiction
10. Travel Writing by Carl Thompson non-fiction
11. The Lawless Roads by Graham Greene non-fiction
12. Whatever by Michel Houllebeck fiction
13. Theogony by Hesiod non-fiction
14. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje fiction
15. Digenis Akritas fiction/epic
16. The Making of Goodbye To A River by John Graves non-fiction
17. Stones of Aran by Tim Robinson non-fiction
18. In an Antique Land Amitav Ghosh non-fiction
19. The Cloud Forest by Peter Mathiessen non-fiction
20. The Road To Oxiana by Robert Byron non-fiction
21. Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams fiction
22. Herodotus by James Romm non-fiction
23. Names on a Land George R. Stewart non-fiction
24. Poets in a Landscape Gilbert Highet non-fiction
25. Hadrian The Seventh Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo) fiction
26. Byzantine Grand Strategy Edward Luttwak non-fiction
27. Vortex Robert Charles Wilson fiction
28. Pandora’s Star Peter F. Hamilton fiction
29. Silk Road Valerie Hansen, non-fiction
30. Why Marx Was Right Terry Eagleton, non-fiction
31. Judas Unchained Peter F. Hamilton, fiction
32. Christianity Diarmid MacCulloch, non-fiction
33. Pre-Ottoman Turkey Claude Cahen, non-fiction
34. A Long Ride Across Texas John Riddell, non-fiction
35. Coronado’s Children J. Frank Dobie, fiction
36. Grailblazers Tom Holt, fiction
37. The Peregrine J.A. Baker, non-fiction
38. Augustus John Williams, fiction
39. Roumeli Patrick Leigh Fermor, non-fiction
40. Memoirs of Hadrian Marguerite Yourcenar, fiction
41. East of Trebizond Michael Pereira, non-fiction
42. The Old Ways Robert Macfarlane, non-fiction
43. The Artist . . . Warrior, H. Strathern, non-fiction
44. The Narrow Road North, Matsuo Basho, non-fiction
45. Mysterium, Robert Charles Wilson, fiction
46. The World of Odysseus, M.I. Finley, non-fiction
47. Gardens of Light, Amin Maalouf, fiction
48. Rome on the Euphrates, Freya Stark, non-fiction
49. Second World War, Anthony Beevor, non-fiction
50. Way of the World, Nicolas Bouvier, non-fiction
51. Goodbye to a River, John Graves, non-fiction
52. Fall of Roman Empire, Peter Heather, non-fiction
53. Our Southern Highlanders, H. Kephart, non-fiction
54. Aladdin’s Lamp, John Freely, non-fiction
55. Here Be Dragons, Sharon Kay Penman
56. Trial of Socrates, I.F. Stone
57. Crucible of War, Fred Anderson

Are there any themes? I read a lot of history this year—and as with most years there’s always a fair amount of classical history like Fall of the Roman Empire, Aladdin’s Lamp, Trial of Socrates, The World of Odysseus and others. The real standout was M.I. Finley’s The World of Odysseus, a revisionist take on the history of the era that when it was published, changed our views of the Odyssey and Iliad greatly. I think Peter Heather was hoping for something similar in his book  The Fall of the Roman Empire but it doesn’t work. While an often-times interesting tome at the end of the book I had to ask myself, “what was the argument he was making?”

The highlight of non-fiction books? The Lawless Roads by Graham Greene and Bismarck by AJP Taylor. The Lawless Roads is a travel book written by Greene during his source material gathering for The Power and the Glory. I found The Lawless Roads to be richer and much more interesting, especially his portrayal of San Antonio, my hometown, and Monterrey, Mexico. But damn, the entire book was fantastic. Bismarck by AJP Taylor? Well, damn, what does one say about AJP Taylor? If you consider yourself a student of foreign policy and you have not read any Taylor you simply don’t know shit. Of course The Struggle for Mastery in Europe is his masterpiece.

Non-fiction overwhelmed fiction last year. But the standouts of fiction were Butcher’s Crossing and Augustus, both by John Williams. The worst fiction book and worst book of the year was Grailblazers, by Tom Holt, who usually writes laugh out loud parodies of myths and legends, think two battling law firms in London, one of werewolves and the other vampires. Alas, Grailblazers was about the search for the Holy Grail by pizza delivery boys. It failed. Butcher’s Crossing, by John Williams is an excellent anti-dote to the mythologizing pulp-Westerns by authors like Louis L’Amour. There are no shootouts. There are no Indian battles. There are no maudlin love scenes. What does it have then? Well, the characters are rich, the scenery magnificent and the story heartbreaking.

Most disappointing book? Garden’s of Light by Amin Maalouf. Just not up to his usual standards like Samarkand and Leo the African.

Slowest read? Christianity by Diarmid McCullough. Jaysus, 1,000 plus pages of Christian history, all of it, the good, the bad, the pedophiliac.

Most surprising book? The Peregrine—about the author’s tracking of a Peregrine falcon for a year in the United Kingdom, a masterpiece of movement and beauty even though so very little happens.

Shortest read: Lars Porsena by Robert Graves.

Best science fiction: Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton.

Most bizarre book: Hadrian VII, by Baron Corvo, written by an obscure Brit who fantasizes he’s now the Pope and changes the world. Quite a roller coaster read. And worth it.

With a new job and a new wife and all these changes I doubt I’ll read a book a week, but I’ll be back this time next year to repeat.
What did you read this year and what stood out?

4 comments to Good Reads, 2012 Version

  • nihil obstet

    I read fewer titles (42) this year than usual, but I hope it’s because I indulged in fewer fast trashy reads. In non-fiction, I particularly liked David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years, and Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains. Can anybody else tell a complex story as clearly and with as much interest as Hochschild?

    The bulk of my fiction reading was keeping up with mystery series that I read. Otherwise, I liked Jonathon Coe’s The Rain Before It Falls. From the Agonist comment section, I took the recommendation for John Masters’ Now God Be Thanked, but didn’t find it engaging or insightful — my mileage obviously varied.

    I’m getting a lot more interested in historical fiction — back when I was a teenager, I read Mika Waltari’s The Egyptian, and lots of Mary Renault. Then I decided that they were writing before the advances in our understanding of ancient cultures that we have now, and stopped. I’m thinking of going back to them, so I was interested to see you read a Waltari this year. How was its accuracy?

  • Sean Paul Kelley

    THe Dark Angel was definitely not Waltari’s best book. The Egyptian definitely is. But the Roman is also a very good read. The Memoirs Of Hadrian were very, very good and so was Augustus by John WIlliams. The Sharon Kay Penman book spent too much time between the protagonist and his wife. But otherwise was good. And Alexander at World’s End by Tom Holt was damn good. You’ll need a decent grounding in classical Greek history to get a lot of the puns and jokes. But good stuff. Tom Holt’s best book is the Walled Orchard about a comic playwright who gets sucked into the Peloponnese war.

    • nihil obstet

      Thanks for the recommendations. I read the Hadrian book back years ago when it first came out (I saw the stage version with Alec McCowen, as well. That was fun.) The only Penman I’ve read was The Queen’s Man, which I found on the verge of being good; I’ll try another one. I think I should probably tackle Thucydides again in preparation for the Holt. Once more, thanks.

      • Sean Paul Kelley

        Nihil, yes, Thucydides would be good to read before Holt. As it happens, I read Thucydides while I was in Thailand right before I found The Walled Orchard in a book store in of all places, Lake Toba. So, Thucydides was fresh. And the hilarity and interplay between the playwrights, well, you’ll enjoy it.

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