Rocketjk's 2018 Off-the-Shelf reading
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Last year, I got to 24 off-the-shelf books out of my goal of 25. That's up from 22 the year before. 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: http://www.librarything.com/topic/281080.
Master List (Touchstones included with individual listings below):
1: The Shadow Line by Joseph Conrad
2: The Armies of Labor: a Chronicle of the Organized Wage Earners by Samuel P. Orth
3: Commencement by Roby James
4: Wilderness Trek by Zane Grey
5: So Wild a Dream by Win Blevins
6: Beauty for Ashes by Win Blevins
7: The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan
8: Speak to Me, Dance with Me by Agnes de Mille
9: Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry
10: Three Street by Will Stevens
11: The Epic of Gilgamesh by translated by D.K. Sandars
12: On Watch by Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.
13: The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin
14: Day of Infamy by Walter Lord
15: Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life by Hank Greenberg with Ira Berkow
16: The Dream Master by Roger Zelazny
17: Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Book 1: The Shadow Line by Joseph Conrad
For several years I've had a tradition of beginning each calendar year with a reading (or more often, a re-reading) of a Joseph Conrad novel. In this way I'm making my way through them all. This year's Conrad was The Shadow Line, a relatively short story of the sea and about a man's passing over the "Shadow Line" from late youth to full adulthood. This is not one of Conrad's more famous works, but I found it entirely satisfying, with, as is usual for Conrad, many levels of insight.
Book 2: The Armies of Labor: a Chronicle of the Organized Wage Earners by Samuel P. Orth
This book was originally published in 1919 and is part of the Yale Chronicles of America series. Orth was a professor of political science at Cornell when he wrote this book. So, this is a book about the history of the American labor movement written almost 100 years ago. Orth doesn't go into very much depth about anything, but it is a very good survey of the early decades of the American labor movement, including the movement's missteps and successes.
Book 3: Commencement by Roby James
This one comes from the science fiction section of my bookstore. Sadly, this is a novel that could have been good (the plot was interesting) were it not for some serious (for me) stylistic flaws.
Book 4: Wilderness Trek by Zane Grey
This is a fun, absorbing Western novel about two American cowpokes taking part in a long and dangerous cattle drive across the Australian outback. This is the second book of Grey's I've read. Genre aside, he was a very fine writer.
Book 5: So Wild a Dream by Win Blevins
So Wild a Dream by Win Blevins is an historical novel about fur trappers west of the Mississippi in 1823. It was quite good. This is the first of a 6-part series. I don't know that I'll get through the whole endeavor, but I will be reading the series' second book, probably next week.
Book 6: Beauty for Ashes by Win Blevins
This is the sequel to So Wild a Dream and in fact the second book in a 6-book series. The book takes place among the fur trappers, mountain men and Native Americans east of the Rockies during the 1820s. Lots of fascinating information and a good story, too.
Book 7: The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan
This classic history of the Normandy invasion, a very effective mix of research and oral history, is still a very fascinating book.
Book 8: Speak to Me, Dance with Me by Agnes de Mille
This memoir presents a fascinating, well-written picture of the renown dancer/choreagrapher's early career as she worked furiously to break in to make a name in the English dance world of 1933-1935.
Book 9: Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the first origins of the concept of separation of church and state in American (and English) political/religious though, 100 years before Jefferson and the rest of the founders of the American republic.
Book 10: Three Street by Will Stevens
Published in 1962, Three Street is a fable-like series of tales about the neighborhood around Third and Mission Streets in San Francisco, where the major newspaper offices, including the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle, were located right up against the city's Skid Row. Stevens was an Examiner reporter who knew the neighborhood well.
Book 11: The Epic of Gilgamesh translated by N.K. Sandars
It's been a long time since I read anything off of our home library mythology shelve. It seems from the faded cash register receipt I found in the book that I purchased this slim paperback in 1995 for $1.39, so it was time for me to read it! Anyway, Sandars was an ancient studies/archeology expert who did a great job explaining the historical significance of both the discovery of this ancient epic and the mythology itself, and then a wonderful job recreating the story in easy to read prose that is nevertheless faithful to the rhythm and spirit of the poem. According to wikipedia, this translation sold over a million copies. The whole thing, introduction and story, is only 120 pages. It was originally published in the 1960s, was revised (as new archeological discoveries added to knowledge of the work) in the 1970s (my edition) and then revised again for a new edition in the 1980s. (I'd love to see that some time.) The epic presents the story of Gilgamesh, hero and warrior king of Uruk, in Mesopotamia somewhere around 2000 B.C. (if memory serves) who goes on a quest in search of glory and the secret of immortality.
Book 12: On Watch by Elmo Zumwalt
On watch is Zumwalt's fascinating, if extremely detailed, memoir as his time as Chief Naval Officer during the Nixon Administration. It was not really written as a history, as Zumwalt wrote it very soon after the events, and as a memoir the book is neither as balanced nor as objective as one would want from a traditional history. Nevertheless, read from this remove, time-wise, On Watch comes across as vivid reflection of many of the issues of the 1970s, especially as experienced from within the military establishment and from within the Nixon/Kissinger bizarro world.
My more in-depth comments on both books, especially the latter, can be found on my 50-Book Challenge thread.
A personal note that this is the final book that I can include on my Off the Shelf Challenge list that comes from my used bookstore, because as of midnight tonight, I will no longer own that store, but will instead be retired.
Hi rocketjk. It seems a little sad that you won't have your second hand book shop anymore. It's been a real presence in your posts. I hope you enjoy your retirement. Good luck with the rest of this (and other) challenges.
>14 QuestingA: Well, it is sad for me in some ways to have sold the store and given up the business that was very much a joy (and a profitable joy) for the past 7 1/2 years. But I am 63 and I felt it time to move on to new projects. I will definitely miss the books and also the customers. But I won't miss the 30/45 minute drive over a 2-lane winding mountain road each day, back and forth. So, bittersweet, but no regrets. I'll have to find some other way to make my LT posts interesting! :) All the best, and thanks for your thoughtful comment.
Book 13: The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin
Physicist Lee Smolin spends a lot of time with the technical aspects of string theory, but what the book is really about is not just why he thinks the theory, a very esoteric way of trying to explain how the physics of the universe works, is flawed and not likely to be proven in any satisfying way any time soon, but also about the problems with the scientific establish whereby string theory has become pretty much the only avenue of investigation that a young physicist can hope to craft a career in, even though there are many other avenues Smolin, a prominent physicist himself, thinks are just as promising, if not moreso. Wow! That's a long sentence.
Anyway, despite my rather dramatic pronouncement in my entry for On Watch, above, about that being the final "Off the Shelf" book that would be coming from my now-sold used bookstore, I realize now that I have two or three more here at home waiting to be read and then returned to the shelves of the store and its new owners. This book, indeed, is one of those books.
Book 14: Day of Infamy by Walter Lord
One off the Military History shelf, Day of Infamy is Walter Lord's excellent and still extremely valuable (though published in 1957) minute-by-minute account of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Book 15: Hank Greenberg: the Story of My Life by Hank Greenberg with Ira Berkow
This is a wonderful baseball autobiography about a fascinating player who was also an extremely thoughtful and intelligent person. Greenberg, in his prime in the 1930s and 1940s, was one of the preeminent home run hitters of his day and the first Jewish baseball star.
Book 16: The Dream Master by Roger Zelazny
First published in 1966, The Dream Master is a well written and thought-provoking science fiction semi-classic about the consequences of psychiatrists being able to tinker inside a patient's dreams.
Book 17: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
This series of essays, the majority of them quite dazzling, is well deserving of its enduring renown. The volume was first published in 1968, and Didion here evokes American culture of that time, the ways we were seeing ourselves and our recent history. The most famous essay here is the title work, Didion's decidedly unadoring report on her time spent in the Summer of Love Haight Asbury. I would say that the mood infusing the volume is one of melancholy. Highly recommended for anyone wishing to take a time travel back to the American world of that time, and to settle oneself into the joys of spare, wonderful writing.
Well, wow! I only got to 17 this year! That's because many of the books I took off my own shelves to read got added to my "between books" stack rather than read straight through. So quite a few that I started this year are still pending. C'est la vie!
I'll have a 2019 thread up in a day or two.
Happy New Year1
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