This past year, I read seventy-three books, down from seventy-five the year before, and buttressed by some help from Shakespeare. Not bad.
Despite my halfhearted commitment to read more fiction, I only managed to read fifteen of the buggers during the course of the year, the same as last year. On the other hand, I did read nine plays, and a helpfully annotated poem.
In the spirit of tradition, I hereby offer another equally halfhearted commitment.
Here are my recommendations from the past year. I tried to stay away from the classics: Tacitus and Plutarch are marvelous, but since everyone already knows that, there's little point in me bringing it up.
The Rise of American Civilization - Charles and Mary Beard. Simply excellent. Perhaps second only to Paul Johnson's book on the topic in terms of the insight and enjoyment it provided.
Shakespeare's Kings - John Julius Norwich. The reviews seem mixed on this one, but I rather liked it. Deserves to make the list if only because it: 1) finally got me to actually read all the plays about the kings Henry; and 2) greatly aided my understanding in that regard.
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower - Professor X. College isn't for everyone. Or, if it is--which I doubt--our schools fail to prepare people in this regard. An important if depressing book.
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming - Rod Dreher. Part memoir, part paean to his late sister, this book, which I reviewed here, is touching, without being sentimental. Much recommended.
And lastly, as my piece of fiction:
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck. I choose this less to puff up my chest at my good taste--I enjoyed a famous novel!--than to remind us of its timeliness. If the next great American novel has been published, I would be among the last to know, but there's a need for someone to do for our recession what Steinbeck did for the Great Depression. Read his book until that one comes along.