“Lost time is never found again.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Frodo – “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf – “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
– From the 2001 movie, The Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring
“So many books, so little time.” – Was it really Frank Zappa who said that?
Moving towards the end of the year, having already set out the books I plan to read before the 31st of December, I am beginning to develop my reading list for 2014. Placing a high value on reading, both for pleasure and for growth, I like a good mixture of books as I move through the year.
But with all the commitments each of us have – work, family, friends, and various obligations – how much time is “left over” for reading? What do we order online from Amazon, pick off the shelf of that used book store, download to our e-book reader? As Randy Pausch, in his book The Last Lecture, said, “The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have.” – So many books, so little time!
As a result, researching the books I plan to read is important to me. When a book is recommended to me, I will still do a little investigation into the title. I hate to waste precious time reading a book that in the end is dissatisfying. Taking a chance on a couple of books this past year, I ended up being disappointed not having done my homework. It was my own fault. The first let down was The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling, about which I had heard some brief positive opinions. The second, Simon Pegg’s Nerd Do Well, was an impulse buy at a used book store.
In the last few years I had finally read the Harry Potter series at the urging of my daughter. I enjoyed Rowling’s growth as an author from the beginning of the series to the end. The characters and stories expressed friendship, adventure, courage, mentoring, sacrifice, and good vs. evil. With reference to The Casual Vacancy, though well written, in the end I didn’t really care about any of the characters and it left me feeling more or less empty. As for Simon Pegg, I grabbed his book on the premise that I think he is a brilliant comedic actor. The movies Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and his portrayal of “Scotty” in the new Star Trek reboot are, in my opinion, near genius. I guess I had too high of expectations for his book. It was a big disappointment. Parts of the book were somewhat interesting and only mildly funny. But I did like how Pegg was quick to express gratitude and give credit to people along the way in his career.
Despite these errors in judgment, and I am hesitant to even call it that because you can discover something from every experience, every choice you make. On the whole, I have had a lot of fun and learned a great deal with this past year’s reading.
I make a habit of reading a couple of personal growth, biographies and history books every year. Over the past months subjects included Napoleon, Alfred Hitchcock, and Jackie Robinson’s autobiography, I Never Had It Made. At the moment I am reading Paul Vickery’s biography on George Washington. Favorite biographies in the past include: Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper by Mark Cotta Vaz, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and two by David McCullough – John Adams and Mornings on Horseback (on the early life of Teddy Roosevelt). When it comes to readable history books for the layman, I think the following are first-rate: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, and more recent history about the beginning of the Iraqi insurgency in Sadr City, Iraq in April 2004, The Long Road Home by Martha Raddatz. Some outstanding personal growth/inspirational books include – The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch & Jeffrey Zaslow, Wild at Heart by John Eldredge, and The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.
When it comes to fiction, I vary my reading over the year with a mixture of classics and more recent works (by recent I mean around the last 30 years). The mixture this past year has included – The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, Congo by Michael Crichton, and re-reading Cannery Row. The book The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler is one I finally read, the movie with Bogart and Bacall being a favorite. In the last few years my personal list of terrific fiction would include: Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella, The Rainmaker by John Grisham, and The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. Modern Classics favorites are Old Man and the Sea, Dandelion Wine, and To Kill a Mockingbird, with “Classic Classics” being Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Mysterious Island, and David Copperfield.
So there you have it; a summary of my reading this past year and in years past. Along with the simple joy and pleasure I get from books, I read to learn, to grow, to understand, and gain a little wisdom. I love a “terrific read” but I always keep in mind that there are so many books and so little time. I try to choose wisely. This is Part 1 of two posts on books. Part 2 will look to 2014 as I try to decide the “worthy” selections to place in my “to read” pile. I hope to include books that convey my interest in adventure, courage, friendship, self-discovery, mentors, and works that teach and keep me growing.
“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, not small, but circumscribed. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.” – Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail