Thursday, May 24, 2012

Five Years of Reading

This Week at the Library is now five years old!  On May 21st, 2007, I began writing about my weekly visits to the library as a way to keep my mind active while I waited to start university in the fall. At first I did it strictly to write and interact with my bookish friends in the real world, but as the years have passed the main audience consists of people I've never met! I never expected such a thing.  I've been looking forward to this post for a few months now, but the actual day caught me offguard. This Monday marked the five years in full, and I remember speaking with one of my coworkers at the library about our book blogs; I mentioned to her that I would be celebrating an anniversary of sorts "sometime this week".

I'm not altogether sure how to commemorate five years of blogging. Part of me -- the part that posts pie charts at the end of every year -- wants to go back and produce a full count of every single book I've read and break everything down into genres for my own amusement, but frankly I think that might be a little crazy on my part. Considering that I read at least over a hundred books a year, I assume the count is in the area of 600-800; the blog itself has over a thousand posts. I'd also venture to guess that nonfiction holds a slight edge over fiction.

The journey thus far has certainly been rewarding. Taking time to reflect on books in reviews or comments allows me to appreciate them all the more, especially as I read multiple books on the same subject and draw connections between titles. I've also made a few friends in the blogging community!  Of course, the blog has changed through the course of these five years -- first migrating from MySpace to Blogger, then changing from a weekly review to a series of individual posts. In the past couple of years I've also taken to participating in various little games like Top Ten Tuesdays, Teaser Tuesday, and Booking through Thursday. Also, in the beginning most of my books actually came from me wandering around in the library and looking for items on the shelves. These days I get a lot of reccommendations from bloggers commments or reviews,  and Amazon's "Related" section has been a boon.

To wrap things up, a list of the fifty books I remember most from this span. These are the books which have really stuck with me. For the sake of space, I'm not going to gab about all of them, but feel free to ask questions in the comments.

1. The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling. I never wanted to read this series! "It's too popular," I said, and fantasy wasn't a genre of much interest to me. But I had a half-dozen friends who insisted I try at least the first book, and so help me if succumbing to peer pressure wasn't one of the best things I did in this case.  I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for the first time in August 2007, and within a couple of months I had finished the series...only to re-read it again that Christmas. Harry's move to Hogwarts coincided with my move to university, a similar experience for both of us.

2.  The  works of Francis and Joseph Gies (social histories set in the middle ages; most notable book for me was Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel about scientific and technological advance in the epoch.)

3. The Know-It All and The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs.
4. Universe on a T-Shirt, Dan Falk; Theories for Everything, various authors
5. Before the Dawn, Nicholas Wade (anthropology)
6. The Earth's Children series, Jean M. Auel. Ice-age historical fiction about Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. Lots of details about life in those days, not to mention awkward passages consisting of caveman sex.
7. The Stand, Stephen King
8. A Man Without a Country, Kurt Vonnegut.  I've read Vonnegut every year since finding this first book.
9. Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan. I got into Sagan in 2006; his Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and Demon-Haunted World are favorites.
10. The Assault on Reason, Al Gore. Improbably, this book made me think criticially about the media for the first time.
11. The Influence of Air Power Upon History, Walter J. Boyne. I've never actually read this book in full, but most of my university papers cite it as a primary source. I can't very well not mention it: we spent many a weekend together, Boyne and I..
12. The Hundred Years War: England in France,  Desmond Seward. A primary source in a couple of papers, not to mention very enjoyable reading.
13. The Meditations, Marcus Aurelius. I remember reading this during Thanksgiving 2007. Those who know me know how  influential it has been on my life, igniting my interest in Stoicism.
14. Harry Turtledove. I'd read Turtledove before moving to university, but a neighbor had his entire Southern Victory set in his dorm room, and as we became friends he let me borrow them. I've been reading Turtledove's alternate histories ever since.
15. The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Andrew Sean Greer. A novel about a boy who ages in reverse; haunting.
16. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
17. The Blood of Flowers, Anita Amirrezvani .
18. The Origin of Species | Darwin's Ghost | Evolution for Everyone.
19.  Building a Bridge to the 19th Century, Technopoly, Amusing Ourselves to Death; Neil Postman.
20.  The Art of Living, Sharon Lebell. This built on my interest in Stoicism that started with The Meditations, and deepened it. I've since read other titles in the theme, like Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, and William Irvine's The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.
21. A Life of Her Own, Emile Carles (related: Red Emma Speaks and The Communist Manifesto)
***22***.  Isaac Asimov.  2007 was the Year of Asimov for me:  I read his short story collections and novels obsessively. I've since moved on to his nonfiction, and have an entire bookcase devoted to nothing but Asimov's works. He has charmed me utterly.
23. Only Yesterday, Frederick Lewis Allen
24. Robert Harris (Fatherland, Pompeii, Cicero trilogy)
25. The Art of Happiness, Tenzin Gyatsao
26. The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton
27. God's Problem, Bart Ehrman
28. Howard Zinn
29. Erich Fromm
30. In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honore
31. Steven Saylor's Roma sub Rosa series
31. Greg Iles' The Quiet Game
32. Max Barry (Syrup, Company, Jennifer Government)
33. The Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
34. Walden, Henry David Thoreau;  Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson
35. Lamb, Christopher Moore. Moore in general is deucedly funny.
36. The Iron Heel; The Sea-Wolf, Jack London.
37. The Horatio Hornblower series, C.S. Forester
38.  The Destiny Trilogy, David Mack
39. 1491: New Revelations about the Americas before Columbus, Charles C. Mann.  An absolute staggering read, revealing how complex native societies were before their populations were reduced so drastically -- 90% -- by diseases from Europe. Mann described the American wilderness as widowed, not virgin, and opened my eyes to how dramatically societies had changed the landscape of the Americas before their downfall.
40.  Coal: A Human History, Barbara Freese
41. The Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler
42. African Exodus,  Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie
43. Bernard Cornwell.  If 2007 was the Year of Asimov, 2011 was the Year of Cornwell.
44. Weapons of Satire, Mark Twain
45.  The Revolutionist,  Robert Littell
46. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee;  The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wallace Stegner
47. Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community,  Robert Putnam
48. The Story of Civilization series, Will Durant
49.  Asphalt Nation, Fast Food Nation, and Suburban Nation
50. ...the best is yet to come?

It pains me to leave so many other good books unlisted, but these are the fifty authors and titles which have made the deepest impact so far. Honorable mention goes to Tom Holland's history books, since I just remembered him and I don't know who to delete to make room for him. And Sudhir Venkatesh! How could I forget Gang Leader for a Day? Oh, and Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee --

...I'd better stop before I get carried away.  To those who have been with me these last five years, thanks for the conversations we've had both here and on your blogs. I anticipate more such conversations in the future:  I don't see wrapping this little hobby up any time soon, and I've got a great big list of interesting books to read in the future. Happy reading, everyone!


  1. congratulations, and many more to come!

  2. Excellent. I check here regularly (as you might have guessed) for ideas for future reading.

    Looking forward to the next 5 years and am still envious that you read 100 books a year.

  3. Thanks!

    And Cyberkitten, it's of course mutual. ;) Still anticipating that Roman series.


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