Saturday, January 17, 2015

What we read in 2014

We should have kept a running commentary of these books all year long.  Because I was too lazy didn't, this will be a post that we update from time to time.  For our yearly RE-reading list, go here

Last update 17 JAN 2015. 12 FEB 2015. 15 FEB 2015.

The overview:


























This year I made a concerted effort for my yearly reading not to merely be a drunken barcrawl  random meandering of literary tourism.

So for the 2014 list you will see groupings of books: sci-fi, the comanche indians, afghanistan/iraq and the return home, faith, james salter and africa (with a focus on south africa due to Jackson's birth there).

(South)Africa:

Of these 6 books, I would only truly recommend Long Walk to Freedom (began it 2013 but finished it in 2014--my notes here), My Traitor's Heart and Bring Me My Machine Gun (currently reading this one so it technically belongs on the 2015 list). The latter two are nice companions to Mandela's autobiography and they bring the reader through the details of the post-apartheid era.  So does Country of My Skull, however, I found it a little too dense and never made it through the whole thing.

I categorically do NOT recommend that you read anything by Coetzee (e.g., Foe and Disgrace)--he's a much revered South African writer but I frankly just found his stories to be just weird and rather unresolved--not my cup of (Roibos) tea.  Technically I read these two books in 2013 but I included them here for continuities sake.  You can read my thoughts on them on our 2013 list here.

Sadly, Mandela passed away at the end of 2013.  His death--combined with the Long Walk to Freedom book led Jack to write a poem for Macee and Betty about the great Madiba.  You can read it here.

Africa:


Americanah is amazing--Adichie can flat out write as she recounts the tale of a young Nigerian woman living in America.  One unforgettable anecdote is her biting description of the American propensity to immediately give a tour of their home when a stranger or friend pays a visit--an act that could never occur in Nigeria.  My notes on it are here.

I felt cheated reading Cole's Every Day is for the Thief.  I felt like it needed to be one-third longer. The story of a Nigerian returning home after living in New York City reads both as a love story to Lagos as well as the gossiping critique of a disappointed lover.

I liked The Golden Hour.  Moss is an economist by trade and it took guts craft this story of an African coups and the white men who try to save the country.  I've also met Todd before and he's a great speaker.

You can skip the Marriage in Domoni tome unless you are planning to live/visit Comoros.  I enjoyed it from an academic perspective but don't expect a breezy read.

I read Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis on the recommendation of Aiden Hartley (who wrote one of the best books on Africa out there).  It's not the easiest read but offers great insight into the Somali psyche.

James Salter:

I only discovered Salter in 2014.

How. Did. I. Only. Discover. James. Salter. In. 2014?!

Salter is easily one of the best writers of the 20th century.  Reading him is like reading Hemingway or Beryl Markham's West with the Night.  He is that good.  His descriptions and similes with leave you floored and your highlighter low on ink.  How did I never read him in high school or college?  I blame the Naval Academy for making me get a Bachelors of Science in English.  All those hours studying Thermodynamics could have been spent reading Salter.

Start with The Hunters, a quasi-autobiographical tale of an aging Korean War ace and then pick any of his others--they won't disappoint.  My notes on A Sport and a Pastime are here.

One of my goals for 2015 is to read everything else he has written.

USNA Graduate List:
Born on the Crest of a Wave and Lean Life

Kehoe's Born on the Crest of a Wave is a mandatory purchase for any USNA grad with kids.  My own loved his illustrations and I look forward to drilling them on this piece of folklore that I memorized back in the summer of 1997.

I will admit that I was skeptical as I began Hollan's hard to categorize fitness story/manual/self-help book  Initially it felt a little gimmicky to dispense fitness advice through a fictional story.  Soon, however, I changed my tune as I realized that his methodology in doing so is actually perfect because the principles he recommends stick with you because you remember little Timmy's story.  BZ Brooks.

Jesus and Family:
 
Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters is on my yearly RE-reading list for good reason.  You want find better advice on how to love, support, discipline and bond with your daughter through the spectrum of her life.  My notes on it are here.

One Thousand Gifts is THE book to read when you find yourself in a valley--or even just in the midst of a tough month.  A thankful and grateful heart can change your perspective on everything.

Jesus>Religion is a book by the "I Hate Religion Guy".  The book is a more nuanced explanation. Whether you believe or not, this book is a worthwhile read--to at least challenge your perceptions of the Christian community and church.


I can't say enough about Unbroken.  If you haven't read it yet I am actually jealous because it's that good.  If you've seen the movie you should still read the book as the movie does not do justice to the incredible life of this man (and it leaves out the latter third of his life).

Sci-Fi-ISH:

I think Sci-Fi gets a bad rap.  The book version of half the blockbuster movies that come out could be classified as Sci-Fi (e.g., Minority Report, Ender's Game, Inception).


My main point here is to introduce you to important authors.  Card is the KING--the man can craft stories that stick with you forever.  I've probably read Ender's Game six times--and then also read the accompanying five (?) sequels/prequels.  He's also written a very haunting book called Lost Boys.

Howey began his writing career self-publishing.  He developed a cult following that eventually exploded into a worldwide phenomenon.  He is one of the rare authors who retained his digital rights, selling only the printing rights.  So you should start with his breakout hit Wool and go from there.

War and Coming Home:
 

Sebastian Junger's eye for detail is equal to his hunger for authenticity in his writing.  Nowhere is this more evident than in his 2010 'memoir' WAR.  Admittedly I am late to the game in reviewing Junger's story of the time he spent embedded in the violent and dangerous Korengal valley but it's not like the US will ever leaving Afghanistan right?

More importantly, Junger's book is not about Afghanistan or the Taliban--these are merely the backdrop for his penetrating examination of the men who go to war (in fact, the larger geo-political questions go (thankfully) unaddressed). 




In dividing WAR into three books--fear, killing and love--Junger lays out his hypothesis that these three emotions (or actions) encompass war for the young men of the United States--or more precisely address the ultimate question of why young men fight and die in war.  You can read the rest of Jack's Twitter Review of War here.

For the Beach:
 

Reading Eggers is easy.  This is a credit to the skill and imagination of the author.  In The Circle, he imagines a Google-Amazon-Big Brother-1984 microcosm that is at time hilarious and frightening.  In Hologram we get a glimpse into the bizarre alternate reality of the middle east and its ridiculous wealth.

White Fire is a classic thriller cum mystery in the vein of Sherlock Holmes.  It's great to pair with the terrifying tale Gone Girl.  

What better way to finish off the summer than with three love stories.  Say Her Name is the sorrowful yet beautiful true story of the author's wife's unfortunate death and ode to remembrance and the its aftermath.  My notes are here.  The Fault in our Stars also deals with the emotional juxtaposition of the impending approach of death and the deep diving soaring sensation of young love. My notes are Stars are here. Finally, The Love Affairs is a biting critique on the millennial hispter-esque predisposition for a Potemkin's village version of love in Brooklyn.  The author has a keen eye for the inner monologue of most 20 something's navigating the dating pool today.  My notes on it are here.

Comanche Indians and Texas:



The Son is one of the stories that plunges you into a portion of US history that you likely only encountered as a page in your history books during high school.  In the book, the life of a Texas patriarch is recounted through two centuries beginning with an adolescent's capture by a band of Comanche indians.  This led book led me to Empire of the Summer Moon, a masterful recounting of the rise and fall of the Comanche indians in the United States.

Other Reading Lists:
THE Africa Reading List

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