Arts Desk

The 60 Books I Read in 2012

"Good ol' books."

I read 60 books in 2012. They are listed below in mostly reverse chronological order.

Because I write book reviews for money, I offer this list to demystify/illuminate the art of reading/reviewing as I have come to understand it since reading my first book in 1981 at age four. Many reviewers, though they publish "Best of" lists, rarely discuss their process—why they read the books they read and whether they are happy that they read them, or regret it.

Some notes:
FP = a book I read "for pleasure"
FR = a book I read "for review"
FS = a book I read "for school." I am attending this graduate MFA program in "creative nonfiction," whatever that is.
PPP = a book I read for my "Personal Presidential Project." I am reading a biography of every American president to further my understanding of American history, a mission that, while self-inflicted, isn't really the same as reading "for pleasure."
RR = a book that I "regret reading" because it was overrated, overlong, or otherwise bad

Short aside: How I choose books to review
Sometimes, I read about a book online or find a book in the mail room at my day job that I pitch to an editor for review. Other times, an editor might say: "See this pile of books? Choose some." Other times, an editor might assign a book: "Read this." The books that I chose to read for review I might or might not necessarily choose to read for free.

Short aside: On skimming
If I read 60 books in a year, did I read more books faster than most people? Perhaps. But I also read differently than most people. Books I read "for review" or "for school" I sometimes skim. For me, "skimming" means that I looked at every page, but did not necessarily read every word on every page.

Did I "read" books that I "skimmed" less carefully than other books? No. Most nonfiction books are repetitive and overlong. Skimming them—again, reading important parts of every page—is sufficient, especially if the word limit of a review is under 300 words, and the book to be reviewed is over 500 pages. Does skimming prevent me from offering an informed opinion about a book in a review? No. I am an excellent skimmer.

Do I ever skim fiction? Unless it's Ulysses or has extended untranslated passages in a language other than English (I'm looking at you, Magic Mountain author Thomas Mann), rarely. I read every word of the novels on this list. I also read every word of books that are part of the Personal Presidential Project.

60. The Heart of the Matter, by Graham Greene
I haven't finished this yet, but will tonight. (FP)

59. The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person, by Harold S. Kushner. Found in mailroom. (FR)

58. Andrew Johnson: The American Presidents Series, by Annette Gordon-Reed. Purchased. (PPP)

57. Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, by Alan Eisenstock. Assigned. (FR/RR)

56. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith. Library. (FP/PPP)

55. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Found in newsroom. (PPP)

54. A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers. His second-worst novel, after Zeitoun. Purchased. (FP/RR)

53. Scorsese by Ebert, by Roger Ebert. Mailroom. (FP)

52. Lincoln: A Novel, by Gore Vidal. Purchased. (FP/PPP)

51. James Buchanan: The American Presidents Series, by Jean H. Baker. Purchased. (PPP)

50. The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth. Found on sidewalk. (FP)

49. The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. Found on sidewalk. (FP)

48. Franklin Pierce: The American Presidents Series, by Michael F. Holt. Purchased. (PPP)

47. Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens. Mailroom. (FR)

46. Just Kids, by Patti Smith. Easily the worst book I read this year. Totally overrated, name-dropping garbage. Purchased. (FS/RR)

45. The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins. Purchased. (FS)

44. Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency, by Parmy Olson. Assigned. (FR)

43. The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford. A novel oft-discussed in my graduate program, unfortunately. Purchased. (FP/RR)

42. The Rise of Rome, by Anthony Everitt. Assigned. (FR)

41. Millard Fillmore: The American Presidents Series, by Paul Finkelman. Purchased. (PPP)

40. Introducing Lacan, by Darian Leader. Found on bookshelf in my house. (FP)

39. Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II, by J.M. Coetzee. (FP) Probably the best book I read in 2012. Purchased.

38. Zachary Taylor: The American Presidents Series, by John S.D. Eisenhower. Purchased. (PPP)

37. The Patron Saint of Dreams, by Philip Gerard. Purchased. (FS)

36. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America, by Walter R. Borneman. Purchased. (PPP)

35. The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin, by Stephen F. Cohen. Assigned. (FR)

34. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson. Purchased. (FP)

33. The Influencing Machine, by Brooke Gladstone. Assigned. (FR)

32. No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice, by David Sklansky. Purchased. (FP)

31. Play Poker Like the Pros, by Phil Hellmuth. Purchased. (FP)

30. Gates of Eden, by Ethan Coen. Purchased. (FP)

29. Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, The Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture Under Communism, by Jonathan Bolton. Mailroom. (FR)

28. A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway. Found on sidewalk. (FP)

27. Rather Outspoken, by Dan Rather. Mailroom. (FR)

26. John Tyler, the Accidental President, by Edward P. Crapol. Purchased. (PPP)

25. Of Lamb, by Matthea Harvey, illustrated by Amy Jean Porter. Purchased. (FP)

24. Cities of the Plain, by Cormac McCarthy. Found in father-in-law's house. (FP)

23. End This Depression Now!, by Paul Krugman. Mailroom. (FR)

22. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy. Purchased. (FP)

21. The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington From Bankrupting America, by Tom Coburn. Mailroom. (FR)

20. The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old: Revised Edition, by Harvey Karp. Purchased. (FP)

19. The Lifespan of a Fact, by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal. Mailroom. (FP/FR)

18. The Return, by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Chris Andrews. Mailroom. (FP)

17. Fraternity, by Diane Brady. Assigned. (FR)

16. Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy. Purchased. (FP)

15. William Henry Harrison: The American Presidents Series, by Gail Collins. (PPP)

14. Why are We in Vietnam?, by Norman Mailer. This book is terrible. Purchased. (FP/RR)

13. While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era, by Russ Feingold. Mailroom. (FR)

12. The Quiet American, by Graham Greene. Purchased. (FP)

11. 33 1/3 Series: Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A., by Geoffrey Himes. Purchased. (FP)

10. Jackson Pollock, by Evelyn Toynton. Mailroom. (FR)

9. The Last Picture Show, by Larry McMurtry. Purchased. (FP)

8. Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior, by Phil Jackson. Found on bookshelf in house. (FP)

7. The Man Within My Head, by Pico Iyer. Mailroom. (FR)

6. White People, by Allan Gurganus. Purchased. (FP)

5. Amglish, in Like, Ten Easy Lessons: A Celebration of the New World Lingo, by Arthur E. Rowse. Assigned. (FR/RR)

4. Martin Van Buren: The American Presidents Series, by Ted Widmer. A great newsroom find. (PPP)

3. The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, by Griel Marcus. Purchased. (FP)

2. 11/22/63, by Stephen King. Christmas present. (FP)

1. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel. Purchased. (FP)

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  • John Mitchell

    Good list, and some bad titles, I'd have to agree. Next year, try Mark Beyer's "What Beauty" or "The Village Wit" ... fine stories that track the nuance of experience.

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