One of my bookshelves

One of my bookshelves

Books I read in 2011
Books I read in 2012
Books I read in 2013
Books I read in 2014
Books I read in 2015
Books I read in 2016
Books I read in 2017
Books I read in 2018

When I initially began this project, my intent was to try to fit more books into my busy life and to gain a little encouragement by seeing my lists grow. It was more successful than I expected it would be, and I have been reading many more books than I expected to be able to. My second goal was to help gain a better breadth of genres, so I will continue to try to improve that aspect. Please drop a recommendation into the comments if you know of a book that should be read!

Full disclosure:
Most of the time I read audio books on my iPhone. I love you, audible.com! Though I value holding a book above all other forms of reading, it isn’t practical in my life.  Always the multitasker, I read stories (and listen to NPR, BBC, and Link TV) while washing dishes, working in the garden, jammed in standing-room-only on the bus, mowing the lawn, going for a run, folding clothes. An unexpected bonus is that I now look forward to folding the laundry and washing dishes! Another bonus is that I am able to enjoy the impressive voice talents of many narrators. It adds an important dimension to books that I haven’t experienced before.

    1. Fear: Trump in the Whitehouse by Bob Woodward. The biggest surprize I had while reading this was to find out that Trump doesn’t come across as the psychopath I was expecting. I still disagree with 99% of his actions, but now I see they are actually often calculated actions. Woodward’s book includes this quote before the Mueller report revealed it, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.” The book does reveal that the White House environment truly is as toxic and chaotic as it appears from the outside. There is no coherent team plan, and Trump seems uninterested in cultivating one.
    2. The Queen: Aretha Franklin by Mikal Gilmore. This is a relatively short audio book and covers Franklin’s career from singing in church as a child, to her 38th studio album Great Diva Classics, released in 2014. A lot of Aretha’s family life is revealed, because it’s intertwined with her art. Multiple partners and then brothers managed her career. She lost her parents and suffered domestic abuse. The book does not dig deep into the personal stuff, but instead shows the impact it had on her career at that time. It also showed how Aretha kept herself working and kept her optimism by sheer willpower (and a dash of denial).
    3. The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro. I didn’t realize till I finished it, but this is not the complete life story of LBJ, but stops soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, while Johnson is still a US Representative. The journalistic thoroughness is astounding, and a detailed picture was painted of the life of the former President. The story (because it is told as a story) begins with Johnson’s grandparents and the emmigration of people to West Texas to begin a life. The author clearly believes that understanding LBJ requires understanding his heritage, and that is one of tough, simple, country folk that live their entire lives in poverty and die early from hard work. Caro does a laudable job of illuminating the life of generations of West Texans, and he returns frequently to more stories to illustrate what life was like out there in the 1800s and how it changed over the years, always lagging behind the modern life of people in the cities. An unflattering portrait of Johnson is revealed from his toddlerhood, of an awkward child who bullied and manipulated to gain personal attention and power from the earliest days, and how he surrounded himself with the few who were willing to put up with him so they could ride his coattails. LBJ had a cult of devotees who were willing to show him the absolute deference he demanded, and he rewarded them. The book spends an extraordinary amount of time on the life of Sam Rayburn, House Speaker from Texas, which is relevant because Rayburn is one of the people that LBJ manipulates into liking him, and then Rayburn helps him establish his footing in the House once Johnson is elected. It becomes clear throughout his lifetime that LBJ only did things that he calculated were going to help him achieve his astonishingly bold ambitions. He sucked up to everyone, changing his position in 5 minutes when he turned to the next man. He instructed associates to burn his letters, refused to give statements to the media during certain times, refused to send telegrams on certain topics, all to fiercely protect his position on anything, or opinion about anyone, so that everyone surrounding him believed he was on their side and agreed with them. He lied and cheated without reserve, enthusiastically taking illegal money from oil companies and buying votes when it was common to buy votes. I can’t stand the man after reading this book. I did find one redeeming quality, and that is that LBJ worked his ass off from day one. Never to study for school, but if it would improve his political career, Johnson worked harder than anyone. 18 hour days were the norm. He was a genius at political strategem, and a genius for sniffing out appointments that would place him in a position of power over other people. With power roles, he began doling out favours and never let those people forget it, and you can bet he came back and collected on every one. He did a lot of good for Texas (and maybe for the country too, but the book didn’t go that far), but don’t mistake it for good intentions. Johnson was all about promoting himself. If bringing power to rural citizens would make him famous, then he would do it, and improving quality of life for his constituents was an accidental side effect.
    4. A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain. A short story about a section of the early life of Marie Sklodowska (later Marie Curie). It was interesting and I picked up some knowledge about that time in Paris and about Marie and her future husband Pierre and their relationship. It ended too quickly, as short stories often do.
    5. Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean. This book appeals to me because it is about smokejumpers, a topic I feel close to, having grown up in the West where they are a fact of every summer and also close to a smokejumper training base in McCall, Idaho. I grew up in a US Forest Service family, knowing what smokejumpers were and hearing their stories. It also appeals to me because the area he talks about in Montana is close to what I called home growing up in northern Idaho. The places and people he describes are familiar to me because of an identical culture, even if I haven’t been exactly to those places. However, his writing style is annoying. Too much flowery poetry, blah blah. He takes every opportunity to foreshadow, when it is entirely unnecessary, saying something like “Though the day was beautiful, he didn’t know that by the end of the day, beauty could not make up for the tragedy in store,” or some similar phrase. Yeah yeah yeah, tell the story already. Understand that the author died before publishing and the final version was edited by someone else, though I must believe the editor would have tried to accurately capture the author’s voice. Although the style is irritating, the story is astounding and dramatic and meticulously documented and researched. I constantly got the impression that I was listening to a sweet old man tell a story he loved telling. It’s not my prefered style, but I’m willing to forgive his idiosyncracies to get the story out of him. What a story.
    6. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. This is an incredible story. Holy mother of god, can Rowling create textured, realistic characters. I realized that I read all the Harry Potter books because I love fantasy, and totally missed the fact that she’s an exceptional author. I cannot believe that people haven’t raved themselves hoarse over this book. It’s raw. It’s ugly and painful. It reveals the stark reality of being human so well it was as though she was writing a documentary, not fiction. Rowling must have experienced some of these life events, or it never could have been created so perfectly. Like a gruesome car crash beside the highway, I couldn’t look away for a moment. In a nutshell, it’s about a dispute over municipal boundaries in a small English town. The main players are the members of town council, people thinking of running for council, and their teenage kids. Holy shit it’s beautiful. So achingly beautiful because it shows us who we are, and shows us that there is no other way to be, because we are human, and frail. It shows us many faces of love, and how powerful it is when one of us needs to be loved. On an interesting note, it reminded me repeatedly of Major Pettrigrew’s Last Stand, which I reviewed in 2012.
    7. Junk by Les Bohem. Narrated by John Waters. It’s actually a pretty good book, but ugh, John Waters’ narration was terrible. I mean terrible. He’s got a great voice, but it seemed zero comprehension while reading. Every third sentence was stated with incredulity/eager enthusiasm no matter what the mood. Put an exclamation point after every sentence. “The house was SURROUNDED by a picket fence!” He emphasized things all wrong so I was constantly confused until I learned to ignore his voice, listen to the words, and simply figure it out in my mind while he went on to the next sentence. Anyway…. Good story. It’s an end of the world novel that begins with some kind of disease spreading through modern day America. Turns out, the “disease” is actually a gene switch that has been flipped, and humans have a variety of ways of dealing with it. Or not. Magic and betrayal save the day. Barely. I enjoyed reading a novel set in today, with references to current pop icons and pop events, such as the main character who does a vlog on conspiracy theories, and how consumerism consumes us.
    8. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman.
    9. The Other West Moore by Wes Moore.