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As I have annually since 2005, I am posting a nearly complete list of books I read in the preceding year.
Please allow me to repeat the ground rules: First, I generally do not list academic books that I reviewed unless the review was published. In my academic job, for instance, I reviewed a number of books competing for a $100,000 award exhibiting the best "ideas for improving world order." However, only the winning entry is listed here. I read it as a member of the Final Selection Committee.
Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.
So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure? (Some of the recommended books may include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via these links). I posted short reviews of most of these books at Shelfari.
New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War by Andrew Bacevich
Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State by Garry Wills
Bigger Deal by Anthony Holden
Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers, edited by Steven Goldman (Baseball Prospectus team)
I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2014, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Sam Miller and Jason Wojciechowski.
Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. The Weiner book won the 2015 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. I blogged about it at the Duck of Minerva.
Bacevich and Wills offer stark and important warnings about the dangers of United States militarism. Holden returns to the Texas Hold 'em poker circuit after the 2003 Chris Moneymaker boom. I preferred his earlier book on poker.
As I have in most years, I place the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the genre fiction (though there are some books that could be placed in either category). The least interesting or entertaining books are listed last in each section.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Constant Gardener by John LeCarré
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon.
Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene
Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
All of this fiction is worth reading, though McCarthy's book is kind of a slog given the way it is written and its subject matter. With the exception of the Wodehouse (which was my first book ever read using a Kindle app on a tablet), all of these books are fairly dark. The works by McMurtry and McCarthy are set in Texas and are meant to feature a desolate context. LeCarré's novel begins in impoverished Africa, but the main character travels also to Europe and North America to solve a mystery about his wife's death. Gaiman's book is a sweeping work of modern mythology, while Pynchon offers a strange post-modern noir detective story.
State of Siege by Eric Ambler
Dirty Tricks by Michael Dibdin
Find a Victim by Ross MacDonald
D is for Deadbeat by Sue Grafton
Children of Men by P.D. James
Judas Goat by Robert Parker
Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry
Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke
The Scarlet Ruse by John MacDonald
Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky
Bank Shot by Donald Westlake
Djibouti by Elmore Leonard
The Mourner by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski
Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane
Lucky at Cards by Lawrence Block
Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse array of (mostly) hard-boiled crime story authors. These writers typically develop a single main character across a long series of books: Parker's Spencer, Stark's Parker, John MacDonald's Travis McGee, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer, Burke's Dave Robicheaux, Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski, Rankin's Inspector Rebus, and Lehane's Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro.
Grafton is from Louisville and this (D) Millhone case was very interesting, making me look forward to reading the next (E) book. I read Rankin while visiting Edinburgh, though I cannot say the book would be endorsed by that lovely city's Chamber of Commerce. I have stuck with Burke's Robicheaux series through several violent books that did not appeal to my tastes. However, I liked this one a good deal. Travis McGee, Lew Archer, and Spencer were all challenged by good cases that made for solid stories. Spencer's book is set abroad and involves terrorism.
The Lehane books I've read feature over-the-top violence. Strike one. This work involved serial killers working together, which count as strikes two and three.
By contrast, the Dibdin book involves a clever murder and just enough violence to propel the story to an interesting conclusion. I highly recommend it. Look for the touch of international politics in a character's correspondence.
Though Djibouti was certainly not Leonard's best book, it is an entertaining contemporary story about piracy and terrorism. Mockingjay is the basis for a new film (the first of two, ugh) and in my view is the weakest book in the popular dystopian trilogy. I saw the film made from P.D. James's Children of Men several years ago, but the book is quite different from the film in many details. Generally, these details make the book bleaker, simpler, and less reliant upon contrived circumstances. The science fiction book, set in a future when all men are infertile, is laden with Christian symbolism.
Ambler and McCarry were writing during the cold war and their stories involve interesting geopolitical dimensions based on real-world events. McCarry offers an odd theory about the JFK assassination.
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