Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On The Reading Shelf

Last night I took a look at my bedside table which is where I stack books waiting to be read. I counted twelve. That's not counting the one I had in my hand. In fact, my space for books was all maxed out so I have three more on my desk. If you're keeping count, that's sixteen so far. Add two for the ones currently en route from Amazon and we're up to 18.

What are they? Well, I'm currently reading two. I was getting into A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin when my copy of Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller arrived. I picked up the Fromkin book because someone told me it was a great resource on the Middle East which I've been wanting to study more. The Heller book attracted me because, while I don't totally agree with Ayn Rand's philosphy, I find her to be fascinating and I loved Atlas Shrugged. To be honest, it's been so long since I've read The Fountainhead or We The Living that I don't remember that much about them, so those are in my bedside stack as well.

On the desk, which somehow seems to be less urgent, I have some light fiction: Sara Paretsky, Patricia Cornwell, and John Grisham's Ford County. Stephen King's Under the Dome will be there as soon as I get down to Barnes and Noble to pick it up.

En route from Amazon right now is, of course, Going Rogue; you know I've got to read it. And Empire of Liberty, which I wrote about here, is also en route.

I'm a book junkie. It's a sickness. And you know what's even worse? I have bookshelves all over my house, I have books squirreled away on window sills and on mantles and on table tops...and I often pick one up and think, "Oh! I need to re-read this!"

There is something about winter that makes it even worse. That's not really true. I do this in summer, too. Summer reading! School's out! But there is something about winter - a hibernation sort of instinct - that makes me want to hunker down under an afghan with a dog at my feet and get lost in a book. I have dozens of hard covered spiral note pads in every room and pencils on every end table just in case I need to take notes from something. This is a habit I developed when I figured out that I read so fast that I fail to retain things very well. I try to force myself to slow down but I get absorbed and involved in the book and I forget.

So now, scanning NRO's The Corner today, I see they're talking about books - books by conservative authors, history books, the best all-time non-fiction. Oh my. The untapped depth of it all! Scanning this list, I've read the shockingly paltry number of FOUR of them. FOUR! Of course, I don't think I want to read them all. But some look interesting. I'd like to maybe read the one about the Russian Revolution (#97) because as I was reading that part of Ayn Rand's life in the Heller book, I realized that I really don't know enough about it. And I should.

Back to The Corner, John J. Miller suggests David McCullough's books, and thankfully, I've read both Truman and John Adams. Both were superb. I filled my copy of John Adams with sticky notes on nearly every page (that's before I began keeping those spiral note pads.)

Stephen Ambrose was also suggested and I do have several of his works around here. Steve brought them over; he read Band of Brothers and he really liked Citizen Soldiers. I haven't read them all. Kathryn Jean Lopez suggested a two-volume work by Bill Bennett on U.S. history which she says is "very accessible" and since I loved the American Patriot's Almanac which he co-authored, I'd probably like it.

John J. Miller also offers D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Anthony Beevor, even though he doesn't know Beevor and hasn't read the book, because he says, "I suspect that this book is a well-written and fundamentally reliable guide to one of the great events of the 20th century. Left-wing historians just don't write books on this topic, at least not books that sell enough copies to make the best-seller list." Good enough for me.

He also mentions Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin which is on my shelf.

Rick Brookhiser points to historian Joseph Ellis as a favorite and also recommends Clinton Rossiter's 1787: The Grand Convention, Carl Van Doren's Benjamin Frankin, Henry Adams's History of the United States in the Administration of Thomas Jefferson and of James Madison, his John Randolph of Roanoke.

Jonah Goldberg offered the following list of historians that he likes: "I have some favorite historians (or authors on historical questions) and some of them are conservative or non-liberal. A few off the top of my head: John Lukacs, Paul Johnson, Hayward, Pryce-Jones, Nash, David Pietrusza, Vincent Cannato, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Paul Hollander, James Pierson, Robert Conquest and others. But, I should confess that I am not a huge reader of biographies (as much as I wish it were otherwise). I tend to read intellectual history more than military or biographical history. " He also pointed to several historians at NRO such as Brookhiser and Victor Davis Hanson.

So you see my dilemma. For a book junkie, these recommendations are just overwhelming! Again, I'm sure some of that stuff is so academic and dry that I couldn't read it if I had to. But there are lots of times when I wish I had a broader knowledge base with regard to history, or even the amazing recall that Steve has. He reads something and never ever forgets it and can quote it back to you at any given time.

So what's on your reading shelf (trust me, I REALLY want to know!), and what authors do you turn to most? Goldberg says he's not a huge reader of biographies or of military or biographical history. He prefers "intellectual history." Maybe that's my problem. I'm reading the wrong stuff.

What category would Going Rogue fit into?

And you know what another thing is that interferes with my reading? This blog! I can't read and talk to you people at the same time!

I'll check you guys later. My books, my afghan, and my dog are beckoning.


Donna B. said...

"Albion's Seed: Four British Foldways in America" by David Hackett Fischer.

It's a good read, plus an invaluable reference. I just counted and I have 8 sticky notes in it. I've had the book for several years and refer to it regularly.

"From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life" by Jacques Barzun. This book was so valuable to me that I bought it again after my brother 'misplaced' it and now I've loaned it out to a son-in-law. I'll probably buy myself another copy because I think my son-in-law likes it as much as I do. While it's not as 'easy' a read as "Albion's Seed" it's probably the best treatise on how we got where we are that I've read.

"The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements" by Eric Hoffer. Frankly, this book will frighten you, if you see the "left" as I do.

"The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives" by Leonard Mlodinow. Much better (ie, easier to understand) than "Fooled By Randomness" or "The Black Swan" by Taleb.

All the above books are ones that I've not only read but refer back to and re-read again. IOW, I highly recommend them.

Take whatever time you were spending with Patricia Cornwell and spread it among these authors and you will be highly pleased :-)

(Ever since Cornwell depicted the VA state computer network as controlled by AOL, I've been highly suspect of anything she writes. Some unrealities even fiction can't handle.)

FerfeLaBat said...

You need a Kindle

Pat Austin said...

@Donna - Those are some great recommendations! Thanks! I've been meaning to get The Black Swan; it's been suggested before and I meant to pick it up.

@Ferfe - can't do a Kindle! I love the physical being of the books! The paper quality, the deckle edges, the typeset, the smell of the ink! I like to bury my nose in a new book and smell the ink and the newness of it. I like seeing them on my shelves and being able to pick them back up and refer to them.

Red said...

What Ferfe said.

Donna B. said...

I completely agree with Pat about the physical feel and smell of a book.

I love books not only for the words and ideas, but also for the idea of their reality.

As long as there is daylight I can read a book, but a Kindle depends on so much else.

This is not to say I don't want a Kindle, but that it would never replace the books on my overloaded and sagging shelves.

Bob Belvedere said...

1) Pat: agree with your response to FerFe one hundred percent. There’s nothing like cradling a book in your hands. There's nothing better than wandering your shelves and plucking out a tome. I have about 3,000 so far and my dream is 10,000 [someday, when we have a bigger house].

2) I'm currently enjoying John Derbyshire's latest: We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism. Its a call-to-arms to the Right to get over its flirtation with Leftist utopianism and get back to being the cynical SOBs we really are. Its also a fun read.

3) Donna B's recommendation of Barzun's masterwork is essential for understanding the course The West had taken. He's also a true Renaissance Man, so you'll learn a lot about this Civilization we're trying to save; I did.

Chris M. said...

The list of great nonfiction of the 20th century has a notable gap. It should have included Before Philosophy by Henri Frankfort, et al. This book is an essential key to understanding the ancient and medieval writers.
I consider myself moderately well read and I have only read 7 from that list. I cannot ever see myself reading Feynman or Keynes. And I doubt that Myrdal is any longer worth the trouble except to a specialist. I've read all of Solzhenitsyn's major novels at least twice but cannot see any point of wrestling with Gulag Archipelago. Wittgenstein's Tractatus is difficult, densely written and long since renounced by the author.
I was a little surprised that I have never heard of almost half of the list. No doubt that says more about me than about the list.