December 25, 2010
Books Read 2010
It was a good year for book reading. Almost all of these books I thoroughly enjoyed. As always, let me know your list so that I might pick some to read in 2011. In addition, all of these books (except one) were checked out from a library. Before we begin, here are the books I've read in years past:
Books Read 2010 (in order by how much I enjoyed them):
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
The best book of the year. It tells the story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini and the amazing life he has had (he's still alive). Here is a guy that competed in the 1936 Olympics, became a Pacific theater airman in WWII, survived over a month lost at sea without food or water on a tiny raft fighting off sharks, and then spent a couple of years in a Japanese POW camp being tortured and abused. Almost every page of the book tells a story of some event in his life that would have broken any one of us and left us drooling in a mental hospital for the rest of our lives, but this guy survives it all and still lives life to the fullest. A truly amazing story told to perfection by Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand.
- The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Tells the story of Perry Fawcett and his 1925 quest to find the mythical golden city of El Dorado, what he nicknamed the Lost City of Z. In 1925, Fawcett and 3 companions, including his own son, ventured into the Amazon and were never heard from again. Through detailed research, and an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Fawcett himself, Grann writes what he thinks happened to Fawcett, and makes a startling conclusion on the Lost City of Z itself. I didn't think I would enjoy this book nearly as much as I did but it is a fantastic adventure story set in both the past and the present.
- The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
If you've seen the movie do yourself a favor and read the book. It is hard to put down and sheds light and adds clarification to some of what the movie skirted over concerning Michael Oher's amazing life. It also puts into context why Michael Oher's position on the football field is so important to a team's success, and gives interesting vignettes into the stories of famous players such as Jonathan Ogden and Lawrence Taylor. If you are a fan of the NFL, do yourself a favor and check it out.
- Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann
If you liked the documentary movie Hoop Dreams you will love this book. George Dohrmann is the fine fellow that broke the cheating scandal with the University of Minnesota's basketball team (jerk), but that is beside the point. With this book Dohrmann follows a grassroots/AAU basketball team for 8 years and documents the lives of its players and its volatile coach. Heartbreaking, disgusting, and enthralling ... it is stunning how much pressure we can put on 10-11-12 year olds and how much money can be made off of them. The seedy underbelly of amateur basketball is exposed in this book, and, maybe unfairly, the coach, the shoe companies, and parents are all made to look greedy and selfish. At times I thought the author lost some of its journalistic integrity and that he editorialized too much, but it was probably difficult not to comment on what was so obvious.
- Broken Music by Sting
I was absolutely stunned with how much I enjoyed this book and it isn't because I enjoy Sting's music. Plain and simple, Sting is a phenomenally good writer. It was so much fun to read the stories of his childhood mainly because Sting tells them so well. Also, don't pick up this book to read his side of the story concerning the Police. He spends about two paragraphs on the success of the Police leaving the rest of the book to discuss his childhood and the time up to when the Police made it big. It makes for a very satisfying read and further convinces me that any one of us has an interesting story to tell if only we knew how to tell it. Sting does.
- The Lost Fleet: Victorious by Jack Campbell
This is the "Lost Fleet, Book 6" and much like the other five, it does not disappoint. Black Jack comes back to Alliance space victorious and is promoted to Admiral. He uses that new power to negotiate with the Syndics. Through Black Jack, both the Syndics and the Alliance realize there is a greater threat out there in a mysterious and potentially hostile alien race that they must deal with together. So, while this book clears up the questions of the "Lost Fleet" it also sets up the next series nicely where Black Jack and the Syndics together will probably kick some alien butt. Or maybe not. Who knows. I look forward to reading more Black Jack though.
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this book tells the highly entertaining story of Oscar, a 300 pound-plus sci-fi and fantasy enthusiast who hopes to become the Dominican version of J.R.R. Tolkein. His story is amusing and painful at the same time, as is the story of the entire de León family who just may be the victims of a bona fide curse called a fukú. Interspersed throughout the book is an interesting history of El Jefe, or Rafael Trujillo, the former dictator of the Dominican Republic, who was possibly the nastiest dictator the Caribbean islands have ever seen. The ending of Oscar Wao is both tragic and appropriate and I wish I could discuss it with someone but I don't know anyone else who has read it.
- Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller
Plain and simple, this is a very, very, very honest assessment of Christianity through the eyes of someone willing to dig deeper at what it means to follow the teachings of Jesus. It is straightforward. It is humble. It asks questions and prods gently, but with enough conviction to, at the end, make a convincing argument for commitment. Quite frankly this is a classic book about the nature of the Christian faith and Miller writes it in a way that isn't shrill or accusatory and I found that highly refreshing. Miller doesn't get into politics at all, but If you are turned off by the conservatism that seems to have hijacked a faith that demands and exemplifies self-sacrifice, you should check out this book.
- The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
With this book, Weiner sets out to see if where a person lives makes any difference on a person's happiness. The author visits places like Iceland, Bhutan, Qatar, Holland, Switzerland, Thailand and India as examples of places where people seem to be the happiest. He also visits a couple of miserable places like Moldova (even the name sounds unhappy). He describes his visits and tries to make some conclusions on what it means to be happy. As you have probably already guessed, place doesn't have much to do with it. Money doesn't either. Weiner's ultimate conclusion that happiness means different things to different people isn't exactly earth-shattering, but the journey to that conclusion provides some very interesting and humorous stories.
- Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit by Matt McCarthy
Drafted by the Anaheim Angels in 2002, McCarthy tells the story of his one summer in the minor league system. And what a memorable summer it was. Odd Man Out is full of hilarious and eye-opening stories about life on the road and definitely paints a less than flattering picture of the people that make up minor league baseball. If you like baseball, you would probably like this book. If you don't like baseball, this book would probably convince you that you've made the right decision.
- Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of War by James Mauro
This is the kind of history book I love. First of all, it gives a fascinating history of the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its main booster Grover Whelan. The can-do American spirit was alive and well during this effort and it was a herculean effort to pull it off, especially at the tail-end of the depression and the front end of WWII. What I found most fascinating about the New York World's Fair was just this backdrop. Mauro does a fantastic job of putting the fair into the context of what was happening in the world around it, and how the fair was shaped by these realities. Maybe not as good as Devil in the White City (another World's Fair story), but a page-turner nonetheless.
- Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
I wasn't too excited to pick up a book about Hurricane Katrina, but what the man know as "Zeitoun" went through is inexcusable. Zeitoun, a Muslim man living (and thriving) with his family in New Orleans, went through a hell that came close to breaking him in the aftermath of the hurricane. Falsely accused of being in al-Qaeda as he was out helping people with his little aluminum boat, Zeitoun was locked up and treated like a terrorist for probably no other reason than he looked Arab. It was a difficult time, to be sure, but it was disgusting to read about how someone can be treated so poorly based on nothing more than suspicions. This is an eye-opening book that at the very least calls into question our practice of profiling, but also the extremes we seem to be willing to go to in order to keep ourselves "safe."
- The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick
Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn is one of the most famous battles in American history, but something I must admit I knew very little about. Custer and Sitting Bull as leaders are examined in detail, as are the days leading up to the battle. The battle itself is a whirlwind as Philbrick tries to figure out what actually happened with Custer himself (it is still a mystery). Besides Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse is made out to be a phenomenal warrior and all around stud. I'm probably going to pick up a book about him next. Interestingly enough, while the battle itself is one of the worst defeats in American military history, that defeat, or Native American victory, seems to have had little impact on the plight of the Native American people. Only a few years later, they were all rounded up and put on reservations anyway. Philbrick tells this story in a very objective way without taking sides, but it is still hard not to feel remorse and anger that it came down to this in the first place.
- Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris
A history of cosmology from ancient peoples and the first notions of a round earth, through the classic Greek and Arabian astronomers, through the dark ages to Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe, and Newton; following through with Einstein, and finally the quantum-state theories we have today. I usually read at least one book like this a year. It usually goes like this: I chuckle at the quaintness of people figuring out that the earth revolves around the sun, or that the planets have an elliptical orbit. How cute! And then I am left absolutely stupefied by quantum theory, quarks, gluons, particle smashers, and string theory. I can't believe how far we've come in such a relatively short amount of time, and I am absolutely stunned with my own continuing ignorance. I will keep reading these kinds of books to try to illuminate the darkness of my mind. I was especially enthralled with the parts of the book discussing Newton and the Big Bang theory. Did you know that the Big Bang Theory was first suggested by a French Catholic priest, and that he was ridiculed for it because of the seemingly religious nature of the theory? Neither did I! Good stuff.
- When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird, Earvin Johnson Jr., and Jackie MacMullan
This is pretty light reading, but being a huge fan of both Bird and Magic I gobbled it up pretty quickly. I especially enjoyed reading about many of the games I remember watching and stories behind these victories and defeats as remembered by the two main players. I found especially interesting the parts discussing Magic's battle with AIDs (I still remember where I was when I found out) and Bird's own problems with his back injury. I had no idea it was as bad as it was, and that it truly cut his NBA career short. The parts about the Olympic Dream Team were also enlightening and fun to read. Overall, nothing earth-shattering and like I said, it was fun to reminisce a little.
- Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks
My first Terry Brooks novel and Book One of the Word and the Void trilogy. This is a speculative fiction, or "urban fantasy" novel about Nest Freemark, a 14 year old girl infused with magic and charged (by who?) to watch over a local nature preserve in her small town of Hopewell, IL. Little does she know she is part of a bigger, apocalyptic plot devised by an evil demon and the Void to subjugate and enslave the entire human race! Yeah, I know, pretty frickin' awesome, heh? This was a pretty good book. I'll probably pick up book two this year when I need some light reading.
- The Passage by Justin Cronin
I must admit, I was expecting more from this book. Essentially it is a book about a virus that turns people into vampire-like whack jobs that overrun the earth and turn it into a wasteland where non-infected humans survive only in small numbers. So far, so good. But what I can't stand about this book is the reliance on dreams to move the story forward. I find dreams to be such a weak cop-out as a plot device. I really wish authors would not rely on dreams so much (Running with the Demon included). I'm sure other people enjoyed this book way more than I did. I probably won't pick up the second book in this series.
- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
Another book I was expecting more from. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the 20th century's leading theologians whose master work The Cost of Discipleship is still being read today. Bonhoeffer was also a part of the Nazi resistance and he played a small part in the Stauffenberg plot to assassinate Hitler. The effect of Nazism on the German church is discussed and is actually quite astounding, but I must admit I was somewhat let down by the book on the whole. It was huge, about 600 pages, but could have been improved with some healthy editing.
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
A classic of childrens' fiction. It was about time I picked it up and read it. I enjoyed it, but when comparing it to Watership Down, or The Dark is Rising Sequence or the Chronicles of Narnia I think it fell a little short.
- Magyck by Angie Sage
Will probably be a new classic of childrens' literature. I enjoyed it well-enough.
- The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
I was a little put-off by the author's flippant attitude, but ultimately I found Vowell's discussion of the 1630 journey of several key English colonists and members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to be interesting enough to finish reading. John Winthrop is discussed in detail (including a great section on his "City on a Hill" sermon), but the person I found most interesting was Roger Williams, the eventual founder of Rhode Island and Providence. Firstly and foremost he was a hardcore Puritan, but his views had a profound future impact on the Bill of Rights, especially the freedom of religion. I'll probably do some more reading on Williams in the future.
- The Big Short by Michael Lewis
I thought to myself, "You know, I really don't understand what this whole sub-prime mortgage crisis was all about. I think I'll pick up a book and see if that can help me figure it out." Verdict after reading this book: Still mostly clueless. I don't fault Michael Lewis for this. I mean, as this list can attest, I loved The Blind Side. But man ... I must be a complete idiot because I swear I maybe understood 25% of this book. The rest of it was complete gobbli-gook to me. After reading this, I was convinced to delete my ETrade account. I have no business risking my money in the stock market.
- The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
I can't believe I thought reading a book about the cruel murder of a little girl by a psychopath was a good idea. It still baffles me why I read this book. And I also don't get the whole "lovely bones" thing. The author probably thought it was poetic, I suppose. All I know is that I desperately wanted the killer to be brought to justice, and I didn't care if it was our own legal system or some sort of ultra-violent vengeance exacted by the girl's father. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
- Sway by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman
I remember enjoying this book, but I don't remember a thing about it. Did it have any interesting findings into the nature of the human mind? Or any advice on how to use our own natural tendencies to be swayed to make decisions that will actually benefit us? I can't remember! For that reason, it is at the bottom of the list. I'm sure other people would enjoy it though.
There you have it. My year in reading. If you have any suggestions or a list of your own, please, please, please put it in the comments below. I'm always looking for good books to read. Until next year!