This year I only read 12 books, which is about halfway from what I originally hoped to reach of 25, and a far cry from the 50 that I used to be able to reach in my unencumbered twenties. One reason I am not reading a lot of books these days is that a large part of my life is focused on my children, my job, and my wife. These are all good things of course, but as I am finding lately, especially with the birth of my second child, doesn’t leave a lot of time for reading or engaging in one’s own interests.
Books Read in 2019
1) Table Talk Essays by William Hazlitt
A book of essay on all sorts of topics, but especially art and life.
2) Masterpiece by Elise Broach
A children’s novel about a talking beetle with amazing artistic ability who befriends a shy young boy. Together they solve the mystery of a missing Dürer drawing from an art museum.
3) How Oscar Índigo Broke the Universe by David Teague
Oscar uses a device that stops time to cheat and hit a home run, but after using this top secret device to become the hometown baseball hero the universe and time itself start to unravel and he must find a way to fix it.
4) Agnes Gray by Anne Bronte
One part fictional expose on the Life of a governess and the way rich families mistreat them, one part argument that virtue and simple values of kindness as illustrated by Agnes are superior to marrying for money and titles. Also, in youth, the rich and poor have illusions about what life will be like versus the crueler reality.
5) Micromegas by Voltaire
Voltaire’s science fiction novel about two alien explorers whose discussions delve into the relative nature of our worries and concerns such as our length of life, which as the book points out varies drastically from alien species to alien species, yet nobody is satisfied even if they lived a thousand years longer than some other species, These extraterrestrial visitors comment on major philosophical traditions they find on earth, only to impart the “true” meaning of life when they finally depart the planet by leaving a blank book.
6) Zadig by Voltaire
Zadig features a virtuous character who follows the principles of Zoroastrianism living in ancient Babylon. This man of virtue finds himself trying to battle with the whims of fortune. His first love leaves him after his eye is injured protecting her, a jealous neighbor tries to frame him for poetry that is supposedly treasonous, but in reality turns out to be complimentary of the king, and he ends up escaping from imminent death when the same king, who takes him on as an advisor, grows jealous of his secret love for the queen even though Zadig suppresses his feelings because of his immense virtue, which leads him to become enslaved, and so on, until Zadig becomes king and eventually marries the queen. At some point he meets a strange wise man who turns out to secretly be an angel. This angel informs him that while it may seem like fortune is random that in truth every event and action has a purpose and we are brought into the lives of others to help them in their troubles. This idea seems to contradict Voltaire’s later novel, Candide, which challenges the idea that this is the best of all worlds and everything good or bad happen for the best under the eyes of a benevolent omniscient being. It also seems to argue that in the face of misfortune which we cannot understand the best a human being can do is maintain their virtue and excellent qualities.
7) Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game by Chris Grabenstein
4th book in this series about escape rooms, puzzle games, and cutting edge libraries designed by a Willy Wonka-esque game maker named Mr. Lemoncello. Characters who participated in the competitions of previous book return once again to compete on television in Fiction Puzzle Game using an advanced holographic simulator and must progress through different types of fiction story simulations in order to attain clues to escape the library, while competing against other teams. I like this one better than some of the other sequels because it brings back and focuses on key characters from the original book instead of less interesting character added in the other sequels and develops them further in new and interesting ways.
8) Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Chinese immigrant family run a motel, while trying to survive in America and escape from being exploited. Good YA book about the immigrant experience.
9) Civil Disobedience by Thoreau
10) Walden by Thoreau
11) Coming out Christian in the Roman World by Douglas Boin
12) The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce.
A humorous dictionary of satirical and cynical definitions. I really enjoyed this one. It goes to show great literature doesn’t need to be a story narrative or a poem., and even a dictionary can be fun to read! Some favorites entries include:
ABSURDITY, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion.
ACADEME, n. An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.
ACADEMY, n. [from ACADEME] A modern school where football is taught.
BACCHUS, n. A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.
BOUNDARY, n. In political geography, an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of the other.
CANNON, n. An instrument employed in the rectification of national boundaries.
COMMERCE, n. A kind of transaction in which A plunders from B the goods of C, and for compensation B picks the pocket of D of money belonging to E.
CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
DISTANCE, n. The only thing that the rich are willing for the poor to call theirs, and keep.
ELOQUENCE, n. The art of orally persuading fools that white is the color that it appears to be. It includes the gift of making any color appear white
FUTURE, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.
IDIOT, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but “pervades and regulates the whole.” He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line
LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. This disease, like caries and many other ailments, is prevalent only among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from its ravages. It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient.
NOVEL, n. A short story padded.
PHILOSOPHY, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.
POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
RESPONSIBILITY, n. A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star.