In 2007, I started blogging my favorite books of each year, an idea I got from the incomparable Aaron Swartz. Aaron is a genius who tragically took his life this year. He co-wrote RSS at age 14, co-founded Reddit his freshman year at Stanford, and was one of the most prolific Wikipedia editors in the world. He was a crusader for freedom of information and is greatly missed by the Internet community.
This year I read 75 books. I’ve tracked my books read since 2003, always with the goal of reading at least 50 books each year.
What follows are the books I most enjoyed this year.
*A Natural History of the Piano – Stuart Isacoff – Fun anecdotes and a surprisingly comprehensive history.
*The Master and Commander series – Patrick O’Brian – I finished this series of 20 novels this year. They are my favorite historical fiction. After so many books, you come to love the characters like old friends. An astonishingly three-dimensional portrait of the Royal Navy and its characters.
*Psmith in the City – P.G. Wodehouse - Full of linguistic cleverness and sparkling dialog.
*Holes – Louis Sachar - Very fun read and cleverly tied together.
*An Essay on Criticism – Alexander Pope – Published in 1707. This essay should be required reading for all critics. So many notable quotes in this essay: “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” “Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread,” “To err is human, to forgive divine,” and “What the weak mind with strongest bias rules, is pride the never failing vice of fools.”
*River of Doubt – Candice Millard – Great adventure writing with amazing characters.
*Which Lie Did I Tell – William Goldman – Sequel to “Adventures in the Screen Trade.” In many ways, a very odd book. But essential reading.
*The Big Short – Michael Lewis - A captivating and lucid window into the financial crisis, its causes and characters.
*To Hell and Back – Audie Murphy – Amazing tale of heroism and character. Astonishing.
*Marine Sniper 93 Confirmed Kills - Charles Henderson - Some amazing scenes; particularly the duel where he shoots an enemy sniper in the eye through the enemy sniper’s own scope.
*Writing Movies for Fun and Profit – Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon – Tremendously funny, useful, and therapeutic. I read several screenwriting books this year that I did not find particularly useful. It is rare to find a screenwriting book written by actual working screenwriters, full of relevant and honest advice about the business of screenwriting.
*Hagakure – The Book of the Samurai – Yamamoto Tsunetomo – (Translated by William Scott Wilson) – A lot of useful philosophy to be garnered from this book. A samurai makes every decision within the space of seven breaths. And a samurai always dies facing the enemy.
*You Can Be a Stock Market Genius – Joel Greenblatt – Despite the cheesy title, this is a brilliant book that marries the fundamental analysis of Peter Lynch and Benjamin Graham with the strategy and timing of the derivatives market.
*The Man Who Heard Voices – Michael Bamberger – Fascinating tale of M. Night Shyamalan making “Lady in the Water.” It is both hagiography and cautionary tale. Nina Jacobson, then at Disney, comes off as a genius.
*The Elements of Style – William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White – Wonderful. I grew up thinking grammar was the mindless passion of pedants. But really the point of grammar is clear and effective writing.
*Sleepless in Hollywood – Lynda Obst - An interesting window into the challenges of being a producer now that studios are changing their business models.
*Zen in the Art of Archery – Eugen Herrigel - I reread this as I became increasingly interested in Samurai philosophy this year. Zen and mastery of one’s craft are inextricably tied.
*The Life-Giving Sword – Yagyu Munenori – The best part of the book is the preface giving a sense of Japanese feudal history. What a fascinating period. The book itself is incredibly arcane, obfuscated with Zen koans, but not without a certain sense of poetry.
*The Battle of Brazil – Jack Matthews – Fascinating account of Terry Gilliam’s somewhat pyrrhic victory over Sid Sheinberg and Universal in releasing his version of Brazil.
*Richard III – William Shakespeare – Kind of a propaganda piece for the Tudors at the expense of the Plantangenets. I liked the first speech, and a few speeches in Act V. It picks up around Act IV. It’s unclear why Richard is so clever in ascending to power and so immediately unclever once he attains power. Although I suppose it’s all motivated by his general misanthropy. In this new Golden Age of television, filled with anti-heroes, it is worthwhile to revisit one of the original anti-heroes of literature.
*The Unfettered Mind – Takuan Soho – The Zen priest who advised Yagyu Munenori and even met Miyamoto Musashi, offers his ideas on the relationship between zen and swordsmanship.
*Conversations with Wilder – Cameron Crowe and Billy Wilder – Wilder’s wit and charm – even as a 91 year old – shine through. The book inspires a great nostalgia for the greatest generation and the glamour of the golden age of Hollywood.
*Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish – David Rakoff – A rhyming novel of stories of characters who connect across time; I really enjoyed page 94.
*Sharpe’s Tiger – Bernard Cornwell - I read several of the Richard Sharpe novels this year. So far, “Sharpe’s Rifles” is my favorite. In Sharpe’s Tiger, Sergeant Hakeswell is one of the most loathesome antagonists I’ve encountered in literature.
*Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan - The subject matter is such a guilty pleasure. Not literature and yet very satisfying. Somebody needed to write this book.
*The Green Felt Jungle – Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris - A somewhat dated book cataloguing Vegas mafia corruption in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Informative and very much of its time.
*Difficult Men – Brett Martin – A very enjoyable read about the show runners of the new Golden Age of television. Martin’s thesis is that the same conditions that created wonderful 70s film – execs taking risks and getting out of the way of writers – is exactly what happened to create the cable television revolution. Great show runners like Matthew Weiner and David Chase took zero studio notes and maintained complete creative control. And thus created ground-breaking television.
*The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini – Well done; an emotional book.
*A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy O’Toole - Some very colorful moments.
*The Summer of Katya – Trevanian - Very well written. Somewhat different from his spy novels.
*Goldfinger – Ian Flemming – Fun and full of ideas. Dated in terms of its sexism, ethnocentrism, and post-war nihilism. But an extremely entertaining read.