Happy New Year to all!
It was inspiration from reading a post my daughter made on her blog last December that motivated me to keep a list of all the books I read in 2013. Her post was The Best Books I Read in 2012, a review of the top 10 of 46 she had read that year. While admittedly being a “card-carrying” list maker, I had never thought to keep a list of all the books I read. In fact I had never even kept up with the number of books I had read in a single year. I was a little intimidated by the fact that she had read 46 books in 2012, nearly one a week. In years past, I might feel pretty accomplished if I had even read one book a month. But undaunted, I set out to keep a list.
I created a WORD template that I kept on my computer desktop to serve as a reminder to document each book as I finished it. Not that I needed a list to serve as motivation to read, I really wanted to. As I have grown older, I have gained a passion for reading more. My greatest challenges that have limited the number of books I have read in the past are: 1) I am a slow reader, and 2) I don’t have a lot of free time to read. But this year turned out to be an exceptional year in that I had ten airline trips—including two to Europe and three to the west coast. And for me, there is no better way to spend a long flight than to enjoy uninterrupted hours reading. At the end of the year, my list totaled up to 30 books.
I thought about just publishing the list without comment, almost as a badge or award but there would probably be little interest in that. And picking the top 10 out of 30 books wouldn’t be pairing down the list much—almost like the NBA playoffs when 16 of the 30 teams make it to the playoffs. So instead, I just decided to narrow it down to my favorite fiction and non-fiction book.
Over the last five years or so, I have become much more interested in reading nonfiction. Prior to this, I had to read so many technical, factual documents for my work, that when it came to reading for pleasure, I just wanted to be entertained with a story. But I have become much more interested in reading history and in particular, books about building things. So for this year, my list of 30 included 13 nonfiction books.
And my favorite nonfiction book this year—was a four-way tie (sorry I couldn’t pick just one). I have already written about two of them this year,
747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a life of Aviation by Joe Sutter, and
The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope by Ronald Florence so I won’t repeat myself describing those.
The third book tied for my favorite is How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown.
This is a book written by a colleague of my son-in-law at Cal Tech that tells the fascinating story of how Mike Brown, after years of searching, discovered a 10th planet beyond Pluto. But rather than extending our solar system to 10 planets and prompting the need to revise a multitude of primary educational textbooks, Mike’s discovery sparked a controversy in the international scientific community that led to the demise of Pluto being considered a planet and becoming labeled as a “dwarf” planet.
The fourth nonfiction book tied for my favorite is American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Co. written by Bryce G. Hoffman.
I was already familiar with Alan Mulally having seen the PBS documentary many years ago on the building of the Boeing 777 jet airplane. And I recalled from 2008/2009 when the other big automakers were getting bailout loans from the federal government as they were entering bankruptcy; Ford had gone it alone and survived without government loans and without enduring bankruptcy. While he seemed to be quite a likeable person in the PBS series, it was only through reading this book that I gained tremendous respect for his executive office prowess.
This book covers the period from when Alan became CEO of Ford when the great grandson to Henry Ford, CEO Bill Ford stepped aside. It tells the story of the struggle between the changes Alan wanted to make and the wishes of the Ford family, which to this day as a block, owns a controlling interest in Ford. To Bill Ford’s credit, he recognized that dramatic change was necessary to save Ford and so mediated with the family to help Alan make the changes. This story is so intriguing and came so close to failing that it might well become a case study for others to learn from in business school.
And now on to fiction books, I read 17 this year and my favorite was—a two-way tie (surely you saw that coming). The two that tied were both books my wife recommended to me, ones that I think her book club had read in the past.
The first is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, a story narrated by one of two twins, Marion Stone born in unusual circumstances at a mission hospital in Ethiopia to a nun. Marion’s retrospective discovery of how his mother could find herself pregnant with twins is superimposed on a time of turmoil in Ethiopia when the country is on the verge of revolution. It is a story you will wish continues even after reading the last page.
All year long I kept comparing this book to other fiction books I read—and it was head and shoulders above the others I read. At least that is until I read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, which ties, for my favorite fiction.
This historical fiction novel tells the story of the adolescent love and struggle between a young Chinese American boy and his Japanese schoolmate girlfriend set in Seattle during the tumultuous times following Pearl Harbor when Japanese were being relocated for “security” reasons and anyone of oriental descent was questioned.
So rather than just writing about my single favorite fiction and nonfiction book this year, I at least narrowed it down to the top six—all tied for favorite.
And on a final note, I have to mention two of the books I read this year fell into a separate category—not yet published manuscripts. Through a special connection to both the authors, I was privileged to get to read early drafts of each. The first is a nonfiction book about surviving and maintaining one’s creativity during the most difficult of educational processes in our culture today. Once published, it will be an inspiration for those that pursue that loftiest of all graduate degrees.
The second, and actually the last book I read in 2013 was written as a part of NaNoWriMo just this past November. Without the author’s permission, I cannot reveal anything about the book. But what I can say is that through this special connection, I am only the second person who has been allowed to read it. And I can further say that while reading it, at times I found my heart racing with excited anticipation or my eyes filled with tears upon learning of the outpouring of love and support by the protagonist’s friends and neighbors.
So for 2014, I plan to keep another list of the books I read during the year. With fewer trips planned in 2014, I doubt I will exceed my total of 30 books in 2013. But I do know that whatever the number of books it turns out to be, it will be a year of enjoyable reading—a year of learning and discovery and entertainment.