Monday, December 30, 2019

Reading in 2019


During 2018, I added twenty-three books to my account at LibraryThing, two of which I already owned but had neglected to add to my account. These books bring the total number of books in my personal library to 993. That figure, however, isn’t an accurate representation of the total number of books in my library because I have given about fifteen of them away to friends and relatives or to the local library.

I read twenty-one books in 2019. I am currently reading book number twenty-two, but I don’t anticipate finishing that book before the year ends. I had started a couple of other books during the year but ended up putting them aside temporarily and plan on returning to them at some point in the future. As I have said in previous posts, I don’t include books of poetry in my overall total because I don’t consider a book of poems ever totally read. I usually return several times to each book of poems that I buy. During the year 2019, I purchased five poetry collections, three by Joseph Millar and two by Thomas Reynolds, a local poet.

The year 2019 started with me reading fiction, beginning with Ivan Doig’s Mountain Time, Bucking the Sun, and English Creek. The characters in these novels led me to reread Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale and Ride with Me, Mariah Montana, not having read the novels in sequence. Through my reading of both Elliot West and Mary Clearman Blew in previous years, I discovered those novels set in the American West that I had neglected, and this realization led to my reading Dorothy Johnson’s Buffalo Woman, more of Mildred Walker, particularly her The Curlew’s Cry, and more of A.B. Guthrie, Jr., particularly his Arfive, The Last Valley, and Fair Land, Fair Land, which has a particularly tragic conclusion.

For those interested in discovering Ivan Doig’s fiction, I recommend English Creek, which is narrated by a fifteen-year-old male during the summer prior to the start of World War II. The same narrator, although much older, appears in Ride With Me, Mariah Montana

My teaching led to my reading Leonardo Trasande’s Sicker, Fatter, Poorer, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie’s Slow Death by Rubber Duck, Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Price of Cheap Fashion, and Kate Grenville’s The Case Against Fragrance. My students this semester had the option to pick their own topics for the position essay. It was difficult for many of the students to choose an arguable topic with which they have personal experience. Although some of them chose topics like the benefits of attending a community college, the merits of online classes, or the disadvantages of working while in high school, all of which they were able to support with their own experience, some of the other students struggled with the assignment and instead of delving into their experience, they chose topics that have been receiving attention in the news, such as medical marijuana. As a result, I have decided during the next semester to resurrect a fact-finding assignment in which the students will have to choose from a list of research topics. I plan on creating research questions about fast fashion and fragrances, for example. 

One book I discovered quite by chance is Bryant Simon’s The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives. I was browsing through a secondhand bookstore and saw this book on display. While describing the fire at a chicken processing plant in North Carolina in 1991, in which 25 employees were killed and 55 injured, the book also addresses low wages, disappearing low-skilled jobs, and processed food. The description of how the chicken was processed would definitely make one never eat chicken nuggets again and possibly give up eating chicken entirely. Simon’s mentioning of the books Kitchen Literacy and Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture resulted in my ordering a used copy of each book, and I have added these books to the other sixty or so awaiting my attention. 

A few years ago, my wife and I followed part of the Oregon Trail as we drove through Nebraska and Wyoming. That experience was the impetus for my reading Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail, which describes an attempt to duplicate what the pioneers had experienced. The author bought a wagon and mules, and, with the assistance of his brother, he followed the original trail, beginning in St. Joseph, Missouri. The book recounts what the original travelers experienced and describes the mishaps and the people encountered during Buck’s trip. Much of the historical material comes from John Unruh’s The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-1860. I have that book but haven’t yet read it. In addition to The Oregon Trail, I read Mary Barmeyer O’Brien’s Heart of the Trail, which is subtitled as The Stories of Eight Wagon Train Women. Some stories are better than others, with the weaker ones supported by questionable sources, such as an encyclopedia and Time-Life Books.

Most recently, I read Mari Sandoz’ The Buffalo Hunters: The Story of the Hide Men. The Buffalo Hunters describes the mass slaughter of one species over a period of sixteen years. It was tough reading that book at first because of the gore and the rampant shooting of so many animals. It’s unfortunate that we had an economic system that thrived on the extermination of the buffalo, with some hunters making thousands of dollars at one time from selling the hides while the railroads profited from the numbers of hides, tongues, and bones that were shipped to the east. Even though some historians consider The Buffalo Hunters as a definitive source for its description of the elimination of the buffalo, I wish that Sandoz had documented the information appearing in her book. I often found myself wishing for footnotes as I was reading the book.

I mentioned last year wanting to read Maxine Gordon’s Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon. That book remains on my list, and I hope to get to it soon. I plan on returning to Ivan Doig’s Dancing at the Rascal Fair in the new year; it’s a book I started but had discovered that it precedes English Creek, and I wasn’t ready at the time to interact with characters that I had not yet encountered in Doig’s other books. Otherwise, I plan on reading some of the titles on my bookshelves that have not yet been read and rereading other ones. I have enough books to declare a freeze on buying any other books, but I am not sure that I can make that commitment. Ideally, it should take me another couple of years before I can say that I have added 1,000 books to my account at LibraryThing. It is getting difficult to find any extra space in my home office.



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