A brief comment to myself about the books I’ve read in 2018. My top three books were:

  • Magda Szabo - The Door
  • Michael Shaara - The Killer Angels
  • Giuseppe di Lampedusa - The Leopard

Each of the above warrants your time and attention, but for reasons that differ. Szabo’s The Door is a spectacular and haunting novel about anxiety, heritage and shame. Szabo is one of Hungary’s most important C20th novelists and I shall read more of her work in the future (I’ve got another NYRB translation on my nightstand). Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels is one of the best war novels I’ve read and it captures a period of American history I’m trying to learn more about slowly. Moreover, it catalyzed interesting political debates for me with a variety of folks: who is a traitor and why? Why don’t we call the confederates traitors now? Why don’t we name what the did treason? I have had excellent discussions with people about how South Africa dealt with apartheid in a way that the US has failed to deal with slavery and the Confederacy. Much more to ponder. It is an excellent book and I commend it to you. Lampedusa’s The Leopard rounds out this collection of books and I fail to understand how I took so long to read it. It is nominally about a C19th noble Sicilian family and the ways in which that family becomes involved in Italian politics during the unification of Italy (the risorgimento), but it was written to some extent as an allegory for mid-twentieth century Italian politics. I have so many quotes from this book highlighted. I love Italy, yet its politics confound me. Lampedusa captures how Italian politics fails to change Italy itself: this is the heart of what is now known as “gattopardismo” (the title of the book is actually “Il Gattopardo” which translates not quite correctly as “The Leopard”). Anyway, this novel resonates well now with the partnership of Il Movimento Cinque Stelle and La Lega: Italy’s politics remain confounding.

Book List

  1. John Scalzi - The Collapsing Empire 2018/01/03, “But there was a time and place for everything, and it was called “university,” (p. 72). Good mind candy.
  2. Magda Szabo - The Door 2018/01/10, “I still don’t know how she fitted so much living into one life.” (l. 327) “Emerence’s little acts of revenge were savage but nicely varied.” (l. 800)
  3. James S. A. Corey - Persepolis Rising 2018/01/13, ““Emily,” Drummer said, “do you know the one thing I am absolutely sure won’t fix any of our problems? Another committee.” (l. 1,713 )
  4. Anton Myrer - Once an Eagle 2018/02/03, “Inflexibility—it was the worst human failing: you could learn to check impetuosity, you could overcome fear through confidence and laziness through discipline, but rigidity of mind allowed for no antidote. It carried the seeds of its own destruction.” (p. 44) “Promise me you won’t let your mind atrophy. Self-righteousness. It’s the occupational disease of the soldier, and it’s the worst sin in all the world. Yes! Because it spawns arrogance, selfishness, indifference. We may not be seeing so much of each other for a time now, what with one thing and another … Don’t let the weight of things numb you. Read, think, disagree with everything, if you like—but force your mind outward. Promise me that.” (p. 223)
  5. Dexter Palmer - Version Control 2018/03/01, “As boring as surfing the net could seem when you were sober, there were few things in life more captivating than goofing off online while drinking.” (p. 66) “But it was so well written: it was amazing to her that she’d come so quickly to find proper grammar and spelling to be a turn-on, but here she was. Look at that properly nested series of punctuation marks after “don’t hate me.” That’s hot. Look at that semicolon! Bradley might have been the first guy to message her who’d used a semicolon.” (p. 84) “I’m telling you, Terence: time travel is something only a white man would think is a good idea, and he is welcome to it, as far as I’m concerned.” (p. 135)
  6. James Islington - The Shadow of What Was Lost (Licanius, Bk 1) 2018/03/20 - good mind candy
  7. James Islington - An Echo of Things to Come (Licanius, Bk 2) 2018/03/29 - second book in mind candy series; I await the third.
  8. Hanya Yanagihara - A Little Life (didn’t finish it; just didn’t get into it; think I may try again another time) 2018/04/07
  9. Michael Shaara - The Killer Angels 2018/04/07: among the best novels I’ve ever read; I originally borrowed it from the library, but then really wanted to re-read bits of it so bought it and to keep my notes. So many good ones: “In the presence of real tragedy you feel neither pain nor joy nor hatred, only a sense of enormous space and time suspended, the great doors open to black eternity, the rising across the terrible field of that last enormous, unanswerable question.” (p. 326)
  10. Francis Spufford - Golden Hill 2018/04/18: Good novel about New York during the pre-revolutionary period. Here’s a quote I liked, ““There you go,” Lovell said. “Smiling again. Commerce is trust, sir. Commerce is need and need together, sir. Commerce is putting a hand in answer into a hand out-stretched; but when I call you a rogue, you don’t flare up, as is the natural answer at the mere accusation, and call me a rogue for doubting.”
  11. Antjie Krog - Verweerskrif 2018/04/30 (re-reading poetry)
  12. Steven Pressfield - Gates of Fire 2018/04/23 - This book was on a list recommended by folks in the military as one to understand leadership. I worry a bit about people who take it too much to heart as it forms a deep argument for the virtue of war and it is deeply earnest in its commitment to war as a tool of diplomacy. I felt simultaneously impressed and repulsed by it, especially because I could identify in myself the same concerns and provocations. I think it’s a good book if you can skirt around its glorification of war and battle and around its narrow-mindedness about what constitutes freedom. At the same time, there’s much in it to admire and reflect on and I found it deeply worthwhile to read. I’ll likely re-read bits of it in the future. “The secret shame of the warrior, the knowledge within his own heart that he could have done better, done more, done it more swiftly or with less self-preserving hesitation; this censure, always most pitiless when directed against oneself, gnawed unspoken and unrelieved at the men’s guts. No decoration or prize of valor, not victory itself, could quell it entire.” (p. 189) [This made me think of replacing “warrior” with “teacher”…]
  13. Giuseppe di Lampedusa - The Leopard 2018/05/17 (among best novels ever), “donnez-moi la force et le courage de contempler mon coeur et mon corps sans dégoût.” (p. 26), “The wealth of many centuries had been transmitted into ornament, luxury, pleasure; no more; the abolition of feudal rights had swept away duties as well as privileges; wealth, like an old wine, had let the dregs of greed, even of care and prudence, fall to the bottom of the barrel, leaving only verve and color. And thus eventually it cancelled itself out; this wealth which had achieved its object was composed now only of essential oils—and, like essential oils, it soon evaporated.” (p. 30), “In Sicily it doesn’t matter whether things are done well or done badly; the sin which we Sicilians never forgive is simply that of ‘doing’ at all.” (p. 177) [It seemed to me that this is true of much of Italy, not just Sicily; at least certain parts of Italy then and now; then being when the book was published, not when it was set.] “Concetta was unused to conversations with people she had not known since infancy; she was also no lover of literature; so she had had no immunity against rhetoric and was in fact open to its fascination.” (p. 271)
  14. Mark Forsyth - The Elements of Eloquence 2018/06/03, “Shakespeare got better and better and better, which was easy because he started badly, like most people starting a new job.” (p. 2); “adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist.” (p. 45), “The thing about anacoenosis is that it makes us realise how much we have in common. We both want to do it in the road. We can both see no serious practical obstacles to doing it in the road. I don’t need to tell you how close we are. I can simply ask you questions and we will both know that we have the same answer. This appeal to shared interests makes politicians particularly fond of anacoenosis. The voter hears the question and automatically gets to the answer that the politician wants. Who do you trust to run the economy? Would you buy a used car from this man? Why don’t we pass a law to stop libidinous Liverpudlians from obstructing traffic?” (p. 78)
  15. Silvia - How to Write a Lot 2018/06/08
  16. Jaroslav Kalfar - The Spaceman of Bohemia 2018/06/06, “I wondered whether I had behaved like this all my life, whether such disregard for a loved one was yet another genetic legacy I carried, representing my father’s traits in full denial.” (p. 224) “What a mess of contradictions the gods created when they graced us with self-awareness.” (p. 260)
  17. Ann Leckie - Provenance 2018/06/09
  18. Deirdre McCloskey - Economical Writing 2018/06/11 (re-read/skim)
  19. Epictetus - Discourses and Selected Writings 2018/06/14 (dipping)
  20. Seneca - Tao of Seneca 2018/06/14 (dipping)
  21. Tony Judt - Post-War 2018/06/23 (re-read/dipping)
  22. Django Wexler - The Infernal Battalion 2018/07/01
  23. Ivan Klima - My Crazy Century 2018/07/13, “[I]n a society in which all means of expressing disagreement are suppressed and every word of doubt is considered grounds for prosecution and subsequent execution, only the despotism of the leader comes to power.” (p. 144) “The word “opposition” itself must be stripped of its criminal connotations. A healthily functioning society requires opposing opinions.” (p. 228)
  24. Jachym Topol - City, Sister, Silver 2018/07/13 (did not finish - really couldn’t get into it; felt like I was reading Joyce or similar)
  25. Robert Galbraith - The Cuckoo’s Calling 2018/08/08 - mediocre whodunnit by J. K. Rowling
  26. Robert Jackson Bennett - Foundryside 2018/08/25 - excellent start to a new SFF/steampunk trilogy (I believe), with a cool mechanism for magic. Likely re-read before later books come out. Strong female protagonist.
  27. Ben Horowitz - The Hard Thing About Hard Things 2018/08/27 - excellent memoir about being an entrepreneur. Many notes/much learning. “There are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially knowledge gained from personal experience. Following conventional wisdom and relying on shortcuts can be worse than knowing nothing at all.” (p. 4) “Nobody takes the losses harder than the person most responsible. Nobody feels it more than you. You won’t be able to share every burden, but share every burden that you can.” (p. 62)
  28. N. K. Jemisin - The Fifth Season 2018/09/01 - Re-read/skim before reading the rest of the trilogy
  29. N. K. Jemisin - The Obelisk Gate 2018/09/14 - Excellent continuation of the series.
  30. N. K. Jemisin - The Stony Sky 2018/09/20 - Brilliant conclusion.
  31. Kate Atkinson - When Will There Be Good News 2018/09/23 - OK detective story. Jackson Brody series. Prompted us to watch the TV series, which was fun.
  32. Michael J. Atkinson - Age of War 2018/10/06 - Mind candy fun SFF
  33. V. S Naipaul - Bend in the River 2018/10/14 - Hmm… struggled with this one. Felt really racist. I may try it again in the future.
  34. Jeff Shaara - Rise to Rebellion 2018/10/30 - Mediocre historic fiction covering a period I love and people I respect (Franklin, Adams, Washington). Needed to be about 200 pages shorter. Not as good a writer as his dad.
  35. Meg Wolitzer - The Interestings 2018/12/01 - Fun, contemporary novel about the lives of a group of friends based in NYC. Interesting in the #metoo moment in having abuse at the center of the story and the ways in which friends deal with a friend who is an abuser. “When you located someone from the past online, it was like finding that person trapped behind glass in the permanent collection of a museum. You knew they were still there, and it seemed to you as if they would stay there forever.” (p. 63)
  36. Kate Atkinson - Transcription 2018/12/06 - One of Atkinson’s more recent historic fiction book. I got bored about 25% in.
  37. Ray Dalio - Principles 2018/12/29 - Ongoing. Good so far. About 40% in. Will finish in 2019.
  38. Karl Marlantes - Matterhorn 2018/12/30 - Vietnam War. Hard going, but good. Not sure I’ll be up for finishing it (just think I feel like something more uplifting)
  39. Adam Tooze - Crashed 2018/12/29 - Ongoing. Reading bits here and there. Will finish in 2019.
  40. Laini Taylor - Daughter of Smoke and Bone - 2018 some time - Wanted to re-read this after visiting Prague for the first time. Love this series.
  41. Laszlo Foldenyi - Melancholy - 2018 some time - Re-read bits as a reminder with visiting Hungary.
  42. Anne Lamott - Bird by Bird - 2018 some time - Re-read bits here and there as motivation for writing love re-visiting this book.
  43. Peter Brown et al - Make It Stick - Re-read and re-skim bits for stuff I’m writing.
  44. Robert Putnam - Our Kids - Re-listened to bits on audiobook while running. Still recommended.
  45. Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bovill and Peter Felten - Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty - Part of some pedagogy reading I was doing for a paper I was working on. I’m now a big fan of having a student as a partner in teaching and learning and have written a forthcoming paper about it (more on that another time).

I am not in my office right now, so I don’t have notes on other books I’ve read, but I could access most of the above from home. I also read a bunch of graphic novels and I’ve tried to list some of them here:

  • Jessica Jones - vols 1 and 2
  • Hawkeye - vols 1 to 3
  • Ultimate Comics Spiderman: Vols 1 to 5 (Miles Morales)
  • X-Men Red vol 1
  • Ms Marvel vols 1 & 2
  • Michael Cray: vol 1 (new Wildstorm)
  • The Wildstorm vols 1 and 2
  • Copperhead Vols 1 and 2
  • The Unwritten vols 1 to 4
  • Birthright vols 1 to 3
  • Fell vol 1
  • All New X-men Vols 1 to 4
  • X-Men: Battle of the Atom
  • Vision Vols 1 and 2
  • A bunch of others I’m now forgetting…