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Did You Read Any Great Books This Year?

A buddy of mine told me yesterday that his youngest son, who is all of five years old, walked up to him on Christmas morning and said “Dad, we never see you reading so we got you some books.” I had to laugh, because the boy was right—his father’s reading is confined to emails, product specifications, RFP’s, and whatever literary tidbits that can be gleaned from the web pages of ESPN, Bloomberg, or Victoria Secrets. The longer I tried to recall the long form books I’ve read this year, though, the more I had to wonder if I needed the same kind of shaming to get me to read more in 2012.

This year I’ve readFreedom by Jonathan Franzen, and recommended it wholeheartedly to others. But the chorus of “when does it get better” from those I’ve lent the book to have given me the idea that Franzen’s coming of age story, disguised as the deconstruction of a modern suburban family, might have appealed to me mainly because I was trapped on an airplane long enough to get to the good part. For some strange reason I also read Joan Didion’s A Book Of Common Prayer right around the same time, an interesting coincidence because Didion’s fictional account of two expatriate American women in a South American country, although published over 40 years ago, shared many stylistic characteristics with Franzen’s book.  And I finally got around to reading Steig Larsson’s Millennium Series trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, which has probably given me a warped sense of what Sweden must be like.

I’ve read Elizabeth And Hazel: Two Women of Little Rockby David Margolick, which I reviewed here earlier this year. And one of the more enjoyable library books I came across by accident, Scandalmonger, historical fiction written by the late William Safire, was difficult reading but provided an entertaining view of the history. The thing that stood out the most in Safire’s imagined narrative of the behind the scenes activities of our nation’s founders was the importance of the press. I read just about all of the Condolezza Rice memoir Extraordinary, Ordinary People in about an hour one afternoon while standing in front of the biography section at my local bookstore.

So now here I am, just a few hours away from the beginning of a three day weekend with a fully loaded Barnes & Noble gift card in my pocket, and I can’t quite bring myself to purchase Colson Whitehead’s brand spanking new novel Zone One, even though he is one of my favorite authors, because the 30 odd pages or so I’ve already read scream “science fiction junkies only”.

If you’ve read a really good book this year, preferably the kind of fiction that doesn’t have zombies or vampires in it, I am definitely open to suggestions.


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