Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2012 book breakdown

Last year was the first year I kept track of all the books I read.  I was curious to know how many I managed to read.  If I did my math correctly, I read 75 books this past year, or about 1.5 a week.  It's not a bad pace, but considering how little time I devote to writing or socializing, I could probably do better.  Or else I could try to write and socialize more, though the latter especially strikes me as a desperate measure.

Only fifteen of these books were novels; a full third of that total came courtesy of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.  I should probably read more fiction, but if given a choice between a classic novel and a history book, I reliably choose the latter.  There's nothing especially wrong with this, but fiction, at least the good stuff, stimulates the imagination.

I thought about giving the breakdown by ratings like Vox does, but I don't feel competent to rate the classics, of which I read a fair amount.  Even if a Platonic dialogue strikes me as middling, it's still Plato, which makes it rather better than middling and me a moron.  So instead, here are some of my favorites that aren't already part of the western canon.

The first three come courtesy of Will and Ariel Durant's lifetime reading list:

Renaissance in Italy - John Addington Symonds - Seven volumes, about 2000 pages of small type in my version, but worth every page.  Symonds prose is strikingly beautiful.

A History of Ancient Greek Literature - Gilbert Murray - A short book that covers its subject rather completely.  I can see this being a valuable reference guide for many years to come.

Napoleon - Emil Ludwig - I'm loathe to sympathize with someone like Napoleon, but Ludwig manages to evoke this sentiment in the reader without denigrating to sycophancy.

Three mostly contemporary pieces of non-fiction:

Bad Religion - Ross Douthat - As Chesterton is said to have said, "When men stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything."  American apostasy has not ushered in a new enlightenment, but has shed religion for nonsense which is worse in every conceivable way. 

The Revolt of the Elites - Christopher Lasch - He points out that our meritocrats have all of the vices of the aristocrats they have replaced, with none of the virtues.  Alas, Lasch passed away some years ago, as he would have had much to contribute to the current crisis caused by the meritocrats.

Family and Civilization - Carle Zimmerman - This book was actually first published in the 40's, but I read a recently republished abridgement.  Zimmerman draws on Greek and Roman history to demonstrate that, far from progressing towards a more enlightened way of (not) marrying, we're following in the decadent footsteps of our deceased predecessors.

And one novel, because I do so read fiction: 

Reamde - Neal Stephenson - I think the Baroque Cycle is still his best, but this is expertly planned and executed.  Stephenson is still very much at the top of his game, which is good, because if he loses his fastball, I'm going to need to find a new favorite living novelist.

No comments: