Spring reading 2019


Although my spring semester was incredibly busy and stressful, I still made time to read. So while this blog was only updated intermittently while I worked on bigger projects, my reading never abated.

Here’s my spring reading list—“spring” here meaning something roughly analogous to my spring semester, from New Year’s to last weekend, May 11, just before our summer session began. The only organizing principle is that the books on this list are presented in the order I finished reading them.

Finally, anything I’ve reviewed, whether briefly on Goodreads or in more detail on my blog here, I’ve hyperlinked. Enjoy!

Spring Reading, January-May 2019

A few superlatives, just because

Best reread: It’d ordinarily be a very close race between Inferno, the first third of my favorite book, and All Quiet on the Western Front, which was for many, many years my favorite novel. Acknowledging the greatness of those two, though, I have to give this to A Study in Scarlet, which I read for the first time since 9th grade and enjoyed just as much. A small masterpiece of misdirection, tension, and suspense.

Biggest surprise: Tom Holland’s slender little volume for the new Ladybird Expert series, Æthelflæd: England’s Forgotten Founder. I was passingly familiar with Æthelflæd as Alfred the Great’s daughter, who married into the Mercian royal family and eventually ran the place, but had no idea what a fascinating and varied career she had as “the Lady of the Mercians.” Pick this up for a short, beautifully illustrated window into an important side-story of Anglo-Saxon England.

Biggest letdown: Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House. Some genuinely great moments of suspense and supernatural dread did not make up for the meandering plot and, especially, the tedious characters.

Best western: True Grit, which could also vie for best reread. But is it even fair to pit anything else against True Grit?

Best general non-fiction: I’m going to declare a tie between Russell Kirk’s Concise Guide to Conservatism and Peter Kreeft’s Symbol or Substance? I posted a full review of Kirk’s book yesterday but I’m still mulling Kreeft’s book, which is, like most of his work, brilliant and deeply challenging. Coming in at a close second to these two is Roger Scruton’s How to Be a Conservative, which is an excellent recent meditation on the subject.

Favorite classic: Again, I could give the nod to Inferno here, but this time around I’ll give it to How to Keep Your Cool, a new translation of the Roman stoic Seneca’s treatise De Ira (On Anger). A must read for anyone who appreciates Stoic philosophy, struggles with their temper, or both—like me.

Best Elmore Leonard: I’ve been on an Elmore Leonard kick since reading this piece from University Bookman last summer, and it’s been great. While I’ve decided I much prefer his westerns to his later crime novels—with a few exceptions—my favorite Leonard read this spring was an outlier even by that standard: The Moonshine War. A brisk, suspenseful story set in rural Kentucky during Prohibition, The Moonshine War is fun, has rousing action and interesting characters, and—almost as a bonus—presents these Appalachian archetypes without a lot of crass hillbilly stereotyping. It’s a blast. Check it out.

I read the whole thing: Ages ago, I used to give myself the I Read the Whole Thing Award for massive books I’d finished. Atlas Shrugged, City of God, War and Peace—I’ve read every word. This spring that book was Andersonville, Mackinlay Kantor’s monumental Civil War novel. I reviewed it at some length here.

Currently reading

A few books I'm currently reading as we head into the summer:

  • Normandy ‘44: D-Day and the Battle for France, by James Holland—A new history of Operation Overlord and the Normandy campaign, which lasted for almost two and a half months following the initial invasion. I received an uncorrected proof as part of a Goodreads giveaway; the book comes out in its final version next month.

  • The Holy Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction, by Joachim Whaley—So far, another good volume from Oxford’s VSI series. This one is jam-packed with information, covering as it does over a thousand years of central European history.

  • The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, by Nicholas Meyer—I’m not much for novels written about classic characters by later fans, but this one, in which Sherlock Holmes beats his cocaine addiction with the assistance of Sigmund Freud, looked intriguing. It’s decent so far, but—barring some kind of monument plot development in the final third—good, not great.

Stuff I'm fixing to begin reading:

  • Lee, by Douglas Southall Freeman

  • The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, by Tom Nichols

  • The Vanishing American Adult, by Ben Sasse

  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (third or fourth attempt, as this is one of those books I’ve never been able to get into)

I also intend to crack open another volume in my project to read some massive books this year, both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve tackled Andersonville; I’m considering Lonesome Dove, Gone with the Wind, and Kristin Lavransdatter for the next read. We’ll see.

In the meantime, thanks for reading! And as always, if you’re looking for something good to read yourself, please check out one of my novels. You can find out about them right here.