rocketjk's 2017 Off the Shelf endeavors
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Last year, I got to 22 off-the-shelf books out of my goal of 25. I'm going to try for 25 again this year. As I own a used bookstore, for this challenge I count books I read off my store shelves as well as off of my home library shelves. As always, I'll just be including very short descriptions here, with more detailed write-ups on my 50-Book Challenge thread: https://www.librarything.com/topic/245926.
Master List (Touchstones included with individual listings below):
1: The Incredible Human Journey by Alice Roberts
2: Victory by Joseph Conrad
3: Under the North Star by Väinö Linna
4: The Uprising by Väinö Linna
5: Six Plays of Clifford Odets
6: Reconciliation by Väinö Linna
7: West with the Night by Beryl Markham
8: A Treasury of the World's Great Letters edited by Max Lincoln Schuster
9: The Reluctant Art: Five Studies in the Growth of Jazz by Benny Green
10: Greenmantle by John Buchan
11: And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You by Kathi Kamen Goldmark
12: The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
13: Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb
14: Fire in the Sky by J.A. Shears
15: Homeworld by Harry Harrison
16: Deductions from the World War by Baron Alexander von Freytag-Loringhoven
17: Wheelworld by Harry Harrison
18: Where Trouble Sleeps by Clyde Edgerton
19: True - The Man's Magazine: August, 1958 edited by Douglas S. Kennedy
20: The Reporter - A Fortnightly of Facts and Ideas: February 2, 1954 edited by Max Ascoli
21: Grunt: the Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
22: Washington and his Generals by Joel T. Headley
23: The Reporter - A Fortnightly of Facts and Ideas: March 31, 1953 edited by Max Ascoli
24: West of Here by Jonathan Evison
Book 1: The Incredible Human Journey by Alice Roberts
This is an interesting and generally well-written book about all that we know and don't know (circa 2009) about the human species spread from our origins in Africa until we finally came to inhabit every continent on the planet other than Antarctica.
>2 rocketjk: I listened to the audio version of that one last year (read by Alice Roberts) and enjoyed it. A good start to the New Year.
Book 2: Victory by Joseph Conrad
For the eighth straight year, I begin the calendar year with a Joseph Conrad novel. Victory is Conrad's "romance" of a man trying to live a solitary, contemplative life who has his solitude invaded first by love and then by jealousy, greed and dread. Perhaps the last of Conrad's great novels, although not all readers hold it in such high regard.
Book 3: Under the North Star by Väinö Linna
This is the first volume of Väinö Linna's classic Finnish trilogy of the same name. This first book follows the fortunes of a tenant farmer and his family, as well as the changing politics of his rural region and Finland as a whole, from the 1880s through 1914. Both interesting and enjoyable.
Book 4: The Uprising by Väinö Linna
This second book in the "Under the North Star" trilogy is even more gripping than the first. The Uprising brings us through the lead up to the Finnish Civil War of 1918, and then through the war itself, as characters we've come to care about endure some truly horrifying events while fighting in that war and then trying to survive during the conflict's truly gruesome aftermath.
Book 5: Six Plays of Clifford Odets
These plays, all produced during the Depression, are considered to be quite influential to authors like Arthur Miller and Paddy Chayefsky who came along afterward. The earliest, especially Waiting for Lefty, are overtly leftist in theme. The later plays, especially Rocket to the Moon, are more explorations of human nature with any political slant much more subdued. In one way or another, however, they each all about the importance for the individual to resist being restrained by outside forces, be they the expectations and limitations of societal norms or the demands of family, even sometimes the most loving of families. The may at times feel a bit dated, and for the longer plays one gets the point quite early on. Still, in most cases the characters do come alive, even on the printed page, and there is effective and thought-provoking dialogue aplenty.
Book 6: Under the North Star 3: Reconciliation by Väinö Linna
The third and, obviously, final novel in Väinö Linna's "Under the North Star" trilogy. This concluding novel takes us through World War 2, and the bloody conflicts between Finland and Russia. This trilogy takes an investment of time, but I can honestly say this is one of the most moving and memorable works of fiction I've ever read.
Book 7: West with the Night by Beryl Markham
I finally read West with the Night by Beryl Markham. I enjoyed it, but with some reservations. Mostly, I was not expecting so much of it to be about her childhood. At any rate, very much worth reading.
Book 8: A Treasury of the World's Great Letters edited by Max Lincoln Schuster
This is a fascinating collection that begins with and exchange of letters between Alexander the Great and King Darius III and ends with Thomas Mann's indictment of the Nazi regime from his exile in Switzerland. In between there are letters to and from all manner of famous writers, scientists, generals, politicians and great thinkers, set forth in chronological order. Spinoza, Napolean, George Washington, Dickens and Dostoevsky. Disraeli and Gauguin. P.T. Barnum. Intimate moments (Pierre Curie's marriage proposal to Marie), teaching moments, complaints, philosophy and advice are all represented.
Book 9: The Reluctant Art: Five Studies in the Growth of Jazz by Benny Green.
Green was a very good writer but very opinionated. I found that both factors added to my enjoyment of these essays, though I did not always agree with those opinions. I did learn a lot about jazz history.
Book 10: Greenmantle by John Buchan
Greenmantle is the second in Buchan's "Richard Hannay" thriller series written just about 100 years ago. Other than the usual caveats for a Buchan novel: racism, anti-Semitism and, in this case, glorification of combat and war, this book is a nice slice of escapist fun. It came from the shelves of my bookstore, so it goes on this list!
Book 11: And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You by Kathi Kamen Goldmark
This is a breezy comedic fable about the world of Country music. It's kind of a groovy tale, sort of reminiscent to me of Bagdad Cafe, with characters just a bit too quirky and fab to be real. So don't look for veracity, but the book is mostly good fun.
Book 12: The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
In this book of reportage and political and cultural reflection, written in 1937, Orwell brings his immense writing skills to bear on his descriptions of life in the coal mines and in the homes of the mining families, made squalid by poverty and overcrowding, is immediate, horrifying and unforgettable. Orwell also describes the terrible, rising hopelessness he finds as more and more people are thrown out of work by the Depression. The second section of the book, in which Orwell deconstructs the British class systems and the great difficulties he sees in overcoming its effects, is also very interesting. The final section, in which Orwell discusses the steps Socialists must take in order to hasten the rise and eventually world-wide acceptance of Socialism, is the book's least effective. I think this is still a very important book.
Book 13: Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb.
Extremely well written and quite fascinating. Bascomb has done a terrific job both in terms of revealing the details of the planning of Eichmann's kidnapping in Argentina by members of the Mossad, as well as in providing the cultural and historical context of the kidnapping and subsequent trial.
Book 14: Fire in the Sky by J.A. Shears
Fire in the Sky was an entertaining adventure tale about a rough and tough American trapper (but with a heart of gold, of course) and his Native American bride in the Alaskan Yukon when that territory was still owned by Russia. The protagonists are vengeful and fierce Native Americans. There is some very good nature writing along with a fun adventure story. This was excellent vacation reading.
Book 15: Homeworld by Harry Harrison
A fun dystopian science fiction novel from the shelves of my bookstore. This is the first of a trilogy, and I'll be reading the rest of the series in short order. The bad guys have been identified. The resistance is on!
Book 16: Deductions from the World War by Baron Alexander von Freytag-Loringhoven
I finished Deductions from the World War by Baron Alexander von Freytag-Loringhoven. von Freytag-Loringhoven, Deputy-Chief of the German General Staff at the time, wrote this book in the waning days of World War One. As far as he was concerned, "The War to End All Wars" was just another chapter in the ongoing saga of the glorious German military. It's a chilling book in many ways.
Book 17: Wheelworld by Harry Harrison
This is the second novel in Harrison's "To the Stars" trilogy. Our hero, engineer Jan Kulozik, is now living on a far-flung planet where, once again, the social structure quickly becomes problematic. This is really the story of an exodus-like journey, with Kulozik in charge. A deft narrative infusion of desperation keeps the reading fun, despite the high content of technological description. This novel has the feeling of being more of a bridge between books one and three in the trilogy than a full-on third of the overall story. It was still entertaining to read. At any rate, I'll be reading the third novel, Starworld, fairly soon.
Book 18: Where Trouble Sleeps by Clyde Edgerton
This is a sly, darkish comedy about small-town North Carolina life, circa 1950. It was fun.
Looking back over this Off the Shelf list and comparing it to my 50-Book Challenge list, I realize there were some books I neglected to add here that should be listed, plus I have one recently completed book to add, so I now begin catching up!
Book 19: True - The Man's Magazine: August, 1958 edited by Douglas S. Kennedy
For years I have been reading old periodicals, article by article, between the books I read. But this year, since I've worked my way through the 1980s magazines and started in on my issues of various periodicals from the 1950s and 60s, I decided there was enough interest, enough historical and cultural meat on their bones, so to speak, to begin listing them as "books read." I just forgot to add them here.
This is the first of those, completed back in July. True - The Man's Magazine: August, 1958 issue. The content is as you'd imagine: adventure stories, pieces on "manly" pursuits like hunting and hand-to-hand combat and the like (I skipped one particularly egregious piece called "All About Men" as well as the hand-to-hand combat piece), but with some very interesting articles on history. The articles I read included an informative short biography of Nikola Tesla called "The Man Who Invented the Twentieth Century" by George Scullin; a profile of baseball player Enos Slaughter, "The Last of the Old Pros," by Jimmy Breslin; and the supposedly true tale of an outrageous frontier grifter named "Soapy" Smith, "Showdown for a Con Man" by J.P. Cahn
The two most interesting were
"The Wild Irish War" by Charles McCarry, the story of an historical incident I knew nothing of, the ill-conceived invasion of Canada by an army of Irish soldiers, recent veterans of the Union Army in the American Civil War.
"We Could Have Been the First into Space" by Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson.
Book 20: The Reporter: February 2, 1954 edited by Max Ascoli
Another old periodical. The Reporter was a political magazine which was highly influential in its day. This edition of The Reporter includes, among other articles:
** a fascinating critique of America's post-war foreign aide programs by Harlan Cleveland ("County agents from Kentucky and Nebraska found that there was no point in talking about growing more food when their listeners were interested only in getting a fairer share of what they were already growing.")
** an insightful article about the downfall, show trial and execution of powerful Soviet general Lavrenti Beria.
** Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s review of Louis Morton's then new World War 2 history, The Fall of the Philippines.
** A discussion, in Edward L. Katzenbach, Jr.'s article, "The Diplomatic Cost of Military Penny Pinching," of whether small, mobile atomic weapons could be made to substitute for more costly large-scale armies.
Book 21: Grunt: the Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
Roach here applies her usual blend of on-site reportage, thorough research and fine writing to her latest topic, the various problems related to military life in general and combat in particular, and the studies being undertaken to try to address those issues.
Book 22: Washington and his Generals by Joel T. Headley
In Washington and his Generals, Headley provides a biographical sketch of Washington, every man to serve in the American Army during the Revolution above the rank of Brigadier, plus Admiral John Paul Jones. The chapters are of varying length, depending on the importance and activity of the individual. Washington himself checks in at 90 pages. The book was published in 1875, a mere 99 years after the Declaration of Independence. In many cases, certainly in Washington's case, Headley presents a hagiography. Brows are noble, resolution is firm, bravery and sense of purpose is unwavering.
Book 23: The Reporter: March 31, 1953 edited by Max Ascoli
Another of these cool old Reporter magazines. This one focuses on the pros and cons of psychological warfare (propaganda) as a tool to fight Communism.
Book 24: West of Here by Jonathan Evison
This is a well written and very entertaining novel set in Washington state's Olympic Peninsula. It is split more or less evenly between the 1890s frontier era and the 2006 strip mall era.
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