A midyear reading report

I’m not brave or smart enough to come up with a list of the best five or ten books for the first half of the year. I can, however, provide a summary of my reading to date and what’s impressed me.

So far, I’ve read 64 books, equally divided between fiction and nonfiction totaling just more than 20,300 pages. Twelve were works in translation and, showing how far I’ve gone to the dark side, nearly three-quarters have been ebooks and only six have come from the library.

On the nonfiction side, my favorites of the books I’ve read this year would probably be Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck, a diary of life in Nazi Germany from May 1936 through October 1944, and Mark Kurlansky’s Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, a brief but worthwhile look at the concept of nonviolence as an idea, not a strategy. And although I though several of her earlier works were better, I probably would give Mary Roach’s Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal an honorable mention simply because I love the way she writes about science (in other words, helping me understand without making my brain hurt).

Foreign works head the fiction list. Stefan Zweig’s The Post-Office Girl is about a female post-office clerk struggling with life in 1920s Germany while George Simenon’s The Train is about a man who is separated from his wife and daughter while being evacuated on a train in 1940s France and then becomes enamored with a young Czech woman. Both have an existential ambiance, which may be what drew me in. The other book I probably should have read before — A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. The setting and look at being black in the South in the 1940s is reminiscent of, but more direct than, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Perhaps one other item of note. Of these books, only Gulp and Diary of a Man in Despair were published this year and the latter actually is a reprint from New York Review Classics.

I have no more to say except this: We must live with our own conscience.

Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying

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