It’s time for my annual review of my favorite and least favorite books of the year. Two years ago I really got into reading again. Partially due to having a Kindle reading device, and partially due to the website www.goodreads.com, both of which provide an easier and less expensive way to read, as well as a way to interact with other people who are reading the same books, which just makes a more enjoyable experience. Once again, I read about 35 books this year, made a dent in some of the books sitting on my shelf for a few years, but also added some new ones to my wish list or book shelf. On Goodreads alone, I have about 100 books on my waiting list, so going through all of them would take several years, even if I never added another. I’ve also thought about rereading some of my old favorites. On one hand, I’ve learned more about what I like reading, so it’s been a bit easier to find new books I’m interested in. But I’ve also started winning books through the Good Reads first reads program, where you get a free, promotional copy of a new book, sometimes in advance of it’s actual release, and then you read it and write a review for it. Some of the books have been good, others not so much. So onto the top ten. These are my top ten I read this year, not books that were released in 2013.
The Power of Negative Thinking
I originally gave this book a very high rating, but it’s not held it’s place very well. I’ve always been a fan of Coach Knight, and his unique methods for getting the most out of his players. This title is a bit tounge in cheek. He’s not saying only be negative, but he does advocate for how much you can get done by thinking about what can go wrong, and not celebrating your own success too much. If you win a game, you’re likely to celebrate, and not change much going into the next game. But if you lose, it’s right back to work, and you are thinking of ways to improve your game. So by not just being blindly optimistic, but by preparing for the worst, you can help your team to be it’s best.
Detroit: An American Autopsy
This was a book new to 2013, Charlie LeDuff is an American journalist who was originally from Detroit, and returned to the city to chronicle what was going wrong, and to try and fix it. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t succeed. In fact, by the end of the book he is less optimistic for the cities future than he was at the beginning. Charlie talks about all the different ways the city is struggling, and tries to jump in to help when he can. It is truly scary to see what is happening to what was formerly a very successful city. It is suggested that many other cities will soon be following Detroits path.
The Power of Everyday Missionaries
Clayton M. Christensen
At the start of 2013, I was beginning a new calling as the Ward Mission Leader for my Church. And this book was also coming out around the same time. It gives practical advice on how to do member missionary work, and has been both useful and inspirational to me as I work with the missionaries, members and investigators.
Siege of Washington
This was an interesting topic to write a book about. In the early days of the Civil War, it was thought that the South would immediately attack Washington D.C. There wasn’t a standing army in the Capitol, so the North had to scramble to form militias, and get them to the Capitol. This wasn’t so easy, as Maryland was home to many with rebel sympathies, so getting the troops through Baltimore was both physically and politically dangerous. Maryland hadn’t seceded, and the North didn’t want to raise tensions to the point where they might. For two weeks, DC residents were convinced an attack was imminent, and that they wouldn’t be able to mount much of a defense. It’s a story we don’t talk about much, because ultimately the South didn’t try and take the city, but this is still an important piece of history.
Breaking Rank- A Top Cops Expose on the Dark Side of American Policing
West coast progressive Norm Stamper is not your typical police officer. He started off by not doing things the right way. His personal life was a mess, he abused his authority, and did a poor job in general. But he straightened himself out, and eventually rose up the ranks in both San Diego and Seattle. Stamper lays out his theories on what’s wrong with American Policework, as well as solid ideas on how to fix it. Stamper does not come off as personally likeable, but his ideas have merit.
Another Planet- A Year in the Life of a Suburban High School
Immediately following the school shootings in Columbine, Elinor wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on in America’s suburban high schools, how could this happen, and how would people react? She found a school in suburban Minnesota that would give her access for a year. She imbedded herself in the school, and interviewed students, teachers and the administration to find out what made the school tick. Each chapter focuses on a different part of school culture. Pulling no punches, she covers the good, the bad, and the “why exactly do we do that” of a typical suburban school.
Books I didn’t like
Every year I pick up a few books that just don’t hit the spot. I tend to finish them, but sometimes it takes a bit longer and is more painful. I don’t even necessarily regret reading them, but for whatever reason, these books are on my unenjoyable list this year.
Two of the books, Class Rules, and Just let the Kids play, I basically just disagreed with. Class Rules was a very dense, academic book on how the different social classes have schools that are very different. Heavily footnoted, often quoting his previous books, it’s still pretty short, so it’s hard to read, and it still doesn’t say a whole lot. I disagree with a lot of his conclusions on how schools can do more to change a students class, but I also disagree with his idea that a student will never be able to change classes. I’ve seen it happen too many times to be fully on board with him. Just let the Kids play rallies against the way we do youth sports, but I don’t agree with all of his conclusions either. He’s very opposed to elite teams. I had one sport I was very good at, and a few I wasn’t so good at. But I like the elite teams, I wasn’t a good baseball or basketball player, I would have loved to play against other, not so good athletes either, so I could play more, and not be horrible. I’m all for structuring a youth program that way. Plus, the author didn’t have much to say, but he still took 300 pages to say it.
Speaking of just being too long, Bones Would Rain from the Sky went on many times longer than it should. I found the author to be arrogant, and not really give much helpful advice. Basically, she’s really good at dealing with dogs. You might pick up some things from her, but she’s still better at dealing with dogs than you are. Just a collection of stories telling how good she was, without really helping you learn much yourself.
Confessions of a Celebrity Psychic was just weird. I was hoping for a book on how to do cold readings. The author is British, and I’ve read other British books, and it was fine. I couldn’t tell what this guy was going on about a lot of the time though. Some good ideas for magic tricks and psychic readings, though.
Finally we have the Code, or “If you play baseball this way, someone will throw a baseball at your head. There’s just not enough there, countless chapters of do this, and we will hit you. Plus the formatting was horrible, making the book difficult to read. I like learning about the game within the game, but this book just didn’t work. Anyway, on to the top 5.
The Great Bridge
I grew up near NYC, and enjoy learning more about it. The Brooklyn Bridge was a marvel in a lot of different ways. At the time, it towered over both Brooklyn and NYC. A bridge like it had never been built before. Navigating the political scene was a task in itself. This book tells the story of the bridge, and the people who built it. Makes me want to go visit it again.
Texts From Dog
It seems like every year I have a comedy book in my top 5. A man teaches his bulldog how to send text messages, then spends the rest of the book regretting it. Hilarious back and forth between him and his K-9, who thinks he is a superhero at times. So who is ruling who? I laughed so hard at times, my wife thought something was wrong with me. Sometimes I need to read something completely frivolous.
I can vividly recall the feeling I had in college when I found out Elizabeth was rescued alive. The story is simply amazing. Elizabeth shares what her life was like before, during and after her abduction. She goes into a lot of details on how she felt, and she avoids graphic detail as to some of the abuse she suffered. I find it amazing that she was able to move on to a normal life after her rescue.
Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War
I love reading books about military battles, and I live near Saratoga, but this is the first time I’ve ever been to the battlefield itself. I also read this book about the battle. The book is a history of the entire campaign, and the various battles and movements that occurred along the way. Part narrative, part commentary, we get a detailed 450 page explanation of what happened, and why it happened the way it did. Really made me appreciate the history a lot more.
I’d like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had
This book wasn’t all that well reviewed. There were a lot of flaws in Tony Danza’s project. They cancelled the TV show this book was based on before it ever really got going. But there was a ton of charm to this story. Here’s what happened. Tony finds himself unemployed after his latest show is cancelled. There was a time in his life where he was preparing to be a teacher, but then boxing and acting got in the way. Tony felt the pull of the classroom, he wasn’t seeking to write a book about it, and have a new TV show based on his experience, but a friend of his made the short lived TV show happen. Most schools were unwilling to take on Mr. Danza as a teacher, but eventually an inner city school in Philly agrees to let him teach one double period of history, and only with a trained teacher assigned to be his mentor and sit in on every class. So Tony taught one class a day, with a trained teacher in the room, with TV camera’s in the room, and with his significant resources. It would seem that this wasn’t going to look like anything a real teacher does. However, it did. The experience turned out remarkably authentic for a first year teacher. The struggles to make it through a lesson that isn’t working out, the feelings on inadequacy as you can’t get the reactions you were hoping for, and the late nights trying to put together a perfect lesson. It was also nice to see a bit of confirmation that yes, teaching is hard. One of the things that made the book so readable was Tony did not shy away from talking about his mistakes and difficulties he had in the classroom. He almost gets into a fight with his kids, and even his own producer. He cries. He funds a field trip to NYC himself, and decides to destress himself at dinner by sneaking over to the bar for a drink. He’s almost fired for this, as he never realized that’s just not something you can do. This was one of those books I wanted to keep picking up, and had trouble putting down.