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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Books of 2008

Last year, as I have annually since 2005, I posted a complete list of books I read in the preceding year. This is now a blog tradition worth preserving.

As usual, I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awards $200,000 annually to the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of our nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations.

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?


Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy by Jules Tygiel (RIP).

Songbook, by Nick Hornby.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer.

The Bill James Gold Mine 2008 by Bill James.

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut.

On the Campaign Trail by journalist Mark Shields.

My Life in Baseball by Ty Cobb.

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2008, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman.

Of these, most were worth reading. Hornby's book is about his favorite 31 song recordings. It's an eclectic mix and he's certainly a talented and entertaining writer. James and Vonnegut are also skilled writers that I have long enjoyed, though these books include uneven collections of short essays.

I've owned Tygiel's book for years and should have read it long ago. I pulled it off my shelf the weekend I read of the historian's death. Sarjane's work is a graphic novel, but it is very well done. My university adopted it as a "book-in-common" for this academic year, though I'm not teaching it.

The Shields book is about the 1984 election, much of it documenting the failed insurgent Democratic presidential candidacy of Colorado Senator Gary Hart. I read it during the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Foer's individual chapters about the global game of soccer (football) are interesting, but I'm pretty sure they do not add up to a real theory of globalization. A couple of years ago, a student recommended the book and I too would suggest it for soccer fans with an eye on the global game.

Cobb's book may more appropriately be placed in the fiction listing.


The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley.

White Noise by Don DeLillo.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon.

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh.

The Galton Case and The Doomsters by Ross Macdonald.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M . Cain.

Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

Neuromancer by William Gibson.

Miami Blues by Charles R. Willeford.

The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin.

Darker Than Amber by John D. Macdonald.

Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler and Robert Parker.

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming.

Greenwich Killing Time by Kinky Friedman.

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen.

Of these, I placed the best literature at the top of the list, then the remaining genre fiction with the least entertaining listed last. I really like Greene and Waugh, generally, and these books provide valuable insights into the bottom and top of Britain's social hierarchy. I read Greene's novel while visiting Brighton this past August.

I recently blogged about DeLillo's award-winning book, but I also found both Updike's classic novel and Chabon's recent work to be very enjoyable reads. In 2009, I'll likely be reading more about Harry Angstrom, Updike's boy wonder.

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch, I diversified my reading list quite a bit this year. I added some acclaimed sci-fi books to my reading list, along with books my a diverse group of crime writers. James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss is an exceptional contribution to the hard-boiled detective genre. I'll also be reading additional books by Willeford, Dibdin and Fleming (again, thanks to Bookmooch, I already have them piled high).

As I've noted previously, John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee stories provide a pleasant diversion, but Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer books have a much harder edge. Both offer up a good measure of amateur philosophy too. The coauthored crime novel on the list was completed by Parker from an uncompleted manuscript by a true master, Raymond Chandler.

I don't like Leonard's westerns as much as I like his crime books, but he is definitely worth reading in either genre. Hiaasen and Friedman trail because their characters and books have a patterned predictability. If I wait long enough, they are still fun to read. Look for those authors to appear on these lists again.

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