When I told a friend that my wife and I were expecting our first child, she first offered all the usual congratulations and then said something to the effect of, “won’t you miss reading?” I bristled. The idea of losing time to read actually made me nervous about having kids. Another friend, Scott, helpfully countered and suggested that it’s actually good to let kids see you read…a lot.
I’ve worked hard to keep reading “a lot” in the last three years since I’ve posted here. My oldest is 3.5, and the baby is now 14 months. In addition to the two kids, I started a new job in 2016. Reading AND writing can be a lot. And this blog has suffered.
I did help create a book discussion podcast, through the Mercantile Library. It’s called “The 12th Story,” and it’s updated every so often by me and lots of other library volunteers. Podcasting about books is easier than writing for me–I usually spend a lot of time on these posts and in a podcast, you do some prep and then just talk.
I thought about taking down “So Much To Read,” because having it sit out here with a post last dated in 2015 is embarrassing. 2015 is a LOOOONNNNG time ago. Literally the world has changed. Ultimately, I decided to leave the blog up. People still hit the “Power Broker” mini-blog. I’ve noticed that books that are often on college reading lists get high numbers of hits. Maybe there are a few term papers that have been helped along by the blog. God bless. And I like knowing that this is something I can come back to someday. Like today.
To assuage my guilt, I thought I’d put something up and see if anyone is still listening. Or reading. No promises about whether this will be the last post for another three years, but anyway, I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve been reading since I’ve been gone. If nothing else, it’ll be a good record for me.
Participation in various book clubs helped me keep reading.
In 2016, I hosted a book club at my favorite “third place,” The Mercantile Library, mentioned here frequently. We read six books—three fiction and three non-fiction about politics. The books were “All the Kings Men” by Robert Penn Warren; “Political Fictions” by Joan Didion; “Primary Colors” by Joe Klein; “Miami and the Siege of Chicago” by Norman Mailer; “All the Truth is Out” by Matt Bai; and “Advise and Consent” by Allen Drury. It was a wonderful year of discussion, and ended just before November 8, 2016, which, well, you know what happened that day.
Last year’s book club at the Library was not as crowded, but we had a great group of people who read books with the theme of “Ohio: The Heart of it All,”–biographies, or in some cases, autobiographies, of famous Ohioans. I especially enjoyed “Answering the Call,” Judge Nathaniel Jones’s autobiography. We also read “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough; “Reckless” by Chrissie Hynde (which was incredible); “Pete Rose” by Kostya Kennedy; and “Ohio Colossus,” a bio of Governor Jim Rhodes. All of these books helped me reflect on Ohio’s place in American history, and there were some common themes to each of their stories that, though maybe not exclusive to Ohio, were certainly enjoyable to talk about.
The couples book club I belong to also read about four books a year, including another go at “All the Kings Men,” “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City,” by Nick Flynn, and Lawrence Wright’s “Scientology,” and “Middlesex,” by Jeffrey Eugenides.
Outside of book clubs, I have continued an interest in history and politics. I finally dove into Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson series, albeit so far just finishing the first book, “The Path to Power.” I had a great lunch with my friend Andy who has finished all of the books and is waiting for the final volume. Talking about books has helped keep me reading, especially without having time/inspiration for this blog.
Johnson begat Nixon, and John Farrell, one of my favorite biographers, (he’s written on Clarence Darrow and Tip O’Neill), released a nicely timed bio of Richard Nixon and it was excellent. Highly recommend.
Speaking of Presidents and book clubs, this year I’ll embark on a seven-plus year reading quest with 50 or more Cincinnatians who are part of a new discussion group at the Mercantile Library. The series is called “POTUS: The Biography Sessions.” We’ll read biographies of every president—six per year—until we’ve caught up to present day. You can read more about that series at the Library’s website.
It took me until late 2017 to revisit the 2016 election, and even then it was mostly unfulfilling. I read Katy Tur’s “Unbelievable,” Jared Yates Sexton’s delightfully named “The People Are Going to Rise Up Like Waters on Your Shore,” and then I read “What Happened” by the should-have-been President, Hillary Clinton. Her campaign memoir wasn’t perfect, but it felt authentic, and quite simply, #Imstillwithher.
“The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein is a totally depressing but fascinating account of how the government systematically discriminated against African Americans in housing policy over the last century. “Making Rent in Bed-Stuy” is a memoir by Cincinnatian Brandon Harris, and I’d recommend that as well. Matt Taibbi’s book, “A Killing on Bay Street,” is superb, and pairs well with Wesley Lowery’s “They Can’t Kill Us All.” I had dinner with Lowery when he visited Cincinnati not too long ago, and I’m looking forward to reading more of his writing, as well as more about the Black Lives Matter movement. He is an essential journalist and author in these times.
I treasured “Love Wins,” by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell. I also met Jim in DC not too long ago, another big highlight of these past few years. “Love Wins was about Cincinnati and “Glass House” by Brian Alexander and “Hillbilly Elegy,” by J.D. Vance. were both about Ohio. Alexander came to the Mercantile for a great event. Vance said he would come, but then never did. Oh well, Alexander’s book is far better.
Perhaps longing for a different world, I learned about Utopian communities in “Paradise Now” by Chris Jennings, and learned about communes in Kate Daloz’s “We Are As Gods,” which featured a Bernie Sanders anecdote that I loved. He was kicked out of a commune in Vermont for talking too much and not doing anything. The best. There’s a Utopia, Ohio, not too far from Cincinnati. It was a Fourierist community, and it has fascinated me for a long time–I’d like to write about it someday.
I read about the Civil War, and finished “Battle Cry of Freedom,” by James McPherson, on a recommendation from the inimitable Howard Wilkinson, who, incidentally, should write his own book.
I loved Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. Loved. Shortly after this posts, I’ll be grabbing my ticket and my suitcase and heading to NYC to see the Springsteen Broadway show. Can’t wait. Phil Knight’s autobiography “Shoe Dog” was better than the biography of Elon Musk, but both paled in comparison to “The Chief Engineer,” the Washington Roebling biography by Erica Wagner. Gosh that was an incredible book. I’m awed by bridges, especially suspension bridges, and so this was right in my lane. I was honored to introduce Ms. Wagner and her book at the Mercantile in 2017, a real highlight of the year.
I relaxed and read a lot on two summer trips to Destin. Highlights included Don Winslow’s “The Force,” some Hemingway, and even the first John Sandford novel featuring Lucas Davenport. (I also read “Dreamland” by Sam Quinones on a vacation. It was not relaxing, but it stays with me to this day.)
Fiction has been a better route since, oh I don’t know, November 2016. I’m still reading non-fiction, but I am also hungry for the escape that fiction brings. For instance, Jennifer Egan’s “Manhattan Beach” was brilliant, no surprise. She’ll visit the Mercantile Library this year. And “The Nix,” by Nathan Hill was one of my favorite contemporary fiction books of the past few years.
I discovered James McBride’s beautiful writing in both “The Good Lord Bird,” and “Kill ‘Em And Leave,” the latter an account of James Brown that is like no biography I’ve ever encountered. It actually rocked. Angie Thomas published “The Hate U Give,” a Young Adult book, and I thought it was perfect. She’s got a big future, and I’m sure I’ll read whatever she releases next.
“The Fall of Giants” was my first Ken Follett book, and though I enjoyed it, it’s still the only book I’ve tackled in his series. Noah Hawley’s “Before the Fall” was such a fun book. I can read anything by Dave Eggers, and his latest, “Heroes of the Frontier,” was especially good. Garth Risk Hallberg’s “City on Fire” captured a New York City that is no more, and I loved it so. Oh, and “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” was so damn good.
“Ready Player One” and “The Martian” made for quick and fun reads, essential given the amount of activity in the house these days.
And I found a series of novels set in my neighborhood, Clifton. I read the first, “The Lime Pit,” by Jonathan Valin. Quite good, and I’ve harbored a fantasy of resurrecting the series someday (with the author’s permission, of course). Who am I kidding? I can’t even keep up a blog.
There were other books too. But these are the books that came to mind when I was writing. Maybe you’ll find a good recommendation in the list.
Three years is a long time. See you around.
Thanks for reading.