OK, it's time for a victory lap of sorts. If you're wondering what's on my mind, take a look at the books I read this year. I'm at 66, and while I'll finish a few over the Christmas break, I'm not sure I'll make it to 70 before 2015 begins and brings with it new experiences (trips to New Orleans, Germany, the Republic of Georgia, and a return to Philadelphia and New York City) to read up on.
My trips to New York were aided by Kevin Baker's Dreamland and John Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer. I read four Dos Passos books this year, and he just blew me away. He is truly America's greatest modernist writer.
The best nonfiction I read was Timothy Egan's Short Nights of the Shadowcatcher: the Epic Life & Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. Curtis's quest to capture the images and ceremonies of the remaining Native American tribes in the American West in the 1910s rendered him divorced and penniless, but it preserved traits of those cultures that were dying out, and they allow Americans today to appreciate them. Egan is one of the best writers working in America today, whether you read his columns for The New York Times or others of his fine books, the best of which might be The Worst Hard Time about the Dust Bowl.
A few other books that I would recommend that I didn't mention above:
1. Two historical novels, Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings begins with the gift of a slave to a Charleston teenager, and follows her repulsion to slavery to Philadelphia and a prominence in the abolitionist movement. Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See was an epic tale and brought back to me a visit I made to St. Malo, France, hitchhiking over my spring break in 1991.
2. Books that I put right to use in my teaching included Edgar Sawtelle, The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects, Where'd You Go Bernadette (a delightful surprise), and Boy, Snow, Bird.
If you have any recommendations for 2015, post them below. I'm already building a collection, and I'm looking forward to sharing some recommendations with my brother-in-law, Don Gates over the Christmas holiday. I can't wait to read more!