Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Book Round-up

I read 58 books in 2011. Here are the top six in terms of impact or enjoyment.

The Forever War – Dexter Filkins

This covers the author’s experiences reporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I have to give this an “R” rating for violence and some profanity, this was a very impactful book for me. While the author didn’t promote an “in your face” political agenda, it still left me appalled at various US missteps that had such drastic consequences for everyday Iraqis. And I wonder about the prospects for pushing democracy on some cultures. But mostly, I ached from the tragedies imposed on normal Iraqi (and Afghani) people, and am in disbelief what awful things some humans can do to others, especially by presumably pious people in the name of religion.

The Journals of Addison Pratt – ed. George Ellsworth

While a dramatically different time (1850’s) and place (South Pacific), I was struck by the similarities in Addison’s missionary experiences and feelings to those of my own. And what a normal, rational person he was (not some fanatic religious zealot). It felt like he would be at home in the modern Church. His earlier life on whaling ships read like Moby Dick. His lengthy separations from, and longings for, his wife and children were heartrending.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – Bill Bryson

While a humorous and clever book in its own right for any reader, I was propelled back in time to my childhood from the same period as the author, and so many things and experiences resonated with me.

Doc, the Rape of the Town of Lovell – Jack Olsen

I know, how could such a book make it on my reading list, much less my top list. But on several levels this was a fascinating and impactful account for me. As a bishop, I wondered about how the Church leaders handled things. I was dismayed how the victims were treated by so many, and the doctor supported by so many. I worried how justice could be served, with so many things stacked against the accusers.

Stiff – Mary Roach

A really off the wall subject—dead human bodies. But dealt with by the author in both an amusing and enlightening way. I went on to read other books by the author, but this one was a notch above. Not for the squeamish, though.

Give a Boy a Gun – Jack Olsen

The story of Claude Dallas and his murder of two F&G officers. Very interesting story about a variety of fascinating people. Especially interesting to me as it was in our backyard and dominated Idaho news at the time.

Here are the honorable mention books:

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War – Nathaniel Philbrick

A rather virgin subject matter for me, and this went far beyond the ship and voyage, and continued for a couple of generations of interaction and impact between settlers and natives. A huge percentage of settlers died the first year from illness or starvation.

Nothing to Envy – Barbara Demick

All I can say is “wow”. North Koreans have had, and still have, it very rough indeed.

The Painted Veil – W. Somerset Maugham

Poignant story, and the ending differs from the movie (I liked the movie ending better)

Columbine – Dave Cullen

Fascinating, and a bit disturbing.

In the Heart of the Sea – Nathaniel Philbrick

Adventure and peril in the extreme

The Looming Tower -- Lawrence Wright

Very insightful recounting of people and events of the rise of radical Islam leading to 9/11.

Panzer Commander – Hans Von Luck

An interesting and different look through the German army lens at WWII battles and fronts, and the tragic aftermath of many imprisoned for years in Russia.

Moby Dick – Herman Melville

To the Ends of the Earth – Robert Kaplan

I love his adventure travels and commentaries

Inheriting Syria – Flynt Leverett

Reads like an extended report assignment, but interesting in a narrow sense of understanding the modern Syrian regime.

Malcolm X – Manning Marable

The man had some serious flaws, yet a knack for inspiring.

In Cold Blood -- Truman Capote

Interesting treatment of a tragic crime and tragic perpetrators

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Rowling

I read these as virgin territory long after everyone else, so didn’t have to wait for the next installment. I enjoyed them more than I thought I would, and they evolved from lighter YA literature to more mature and complex circumstances. By book 7 I had my fill.

The Help – Kathryn Stockett

I particularly enjoyed this audio rendition.

The Perfect Mile – Neal Bascomb

Learned a lot about the legend and legendary event(s).

The Darkest Summer – Bill Sloan

Desperate and historic times early in the Korean War.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Vincente Blasco Ibanez

Fiction, yet grounded in the times and events and people of WWI.

These were interesting or enjoyable enough, but another notch down for me:

Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson

Hiroshima – John Hersey

The Big Rock Candy Mountain -- Wallace Stegner

Spook – Mary Roach

Bonk – Mary Roach

Packing for Mars – Mary Roach

Last Stand – Nathaniel Philbrick

Without a Doubt – Marcia Clark

The Number One Ladies Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith

Rocket Men – Craig Nelson

Sometimes a Great Notion – Ken Kesey

Baghdad Without a Map – Tony Horwitz

Vietnam, A History – Stanley Karnow

Hot, Flat, and Crowded – Thomas Friedman

The Ghost Map – Steven Johnson

At Home: A short history of Private Life – Bill Bryson

Son – Jack Olsen

My Father, Maker of the Trees – Eric Irivuzumugabe

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

Six Armies in Normandy – John Keegan

The Professor and the Madman – Simon Winchester

Shakespeare – Bill Bryson

Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

On Mount Hood – Jon Bell

These weren’t worth the time:

Skyjack, The Hunt for D.B. Cooper – Geoffrey Gray

Author jumped all around, ultimately had nothing to add to solving the mystery, and seemed sucked into all the conspiracy kooks.

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

I like and enjoy Bill Bryson, but I couldn’t get into this account of travels in his adopted UK, and found it just too mean spirited too often.

Judas Gate – Jack Higgins

Churchill – Paul Johnson

Helmet for my Pillow – Robert Leckie

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