I had a very eclectic reading year. There was the usual assortment of pulpy crap, a moody mélange of hungover private eyes and women in trouble from authors ranging in quality from Erle Stanley Gardner to Thomas Pynchon, but I also read two David Mitchell books, inscrutably beautiful postmodern puzzle boxes that will never be adapted into movies. I sleepily plowed through every word of the Principal Upanishads, like the Bible but twice as long and starring deities totally unfamiliar to me, as well as brilliantly detailed histories of contemporary war from George Packer and Lawrence Wright. This was also the year that I got my first Kindle, which drew me back to the beginning of my life-long reading habit.
My first “adult” novels, discovered sometime in the early 80s, were the horribly written, historically-inaccurate Kent Family Chronicles, by John Jakes, which tracked a family’s melodramatic progress through 150 years of American history, starting pre-Revolution and ending sometime around the turn of the 20th Century. They contained lines like, “I’d like you to meet a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln,” and featured cover illustrations of soft-focus Jacqueline Bisset-looking types holding a smoking pistol.
From there, it was a steady diet of James A. Michener, and Herman Wouk, and Howard Fast, and Leon Uris, and anyone else who dared publish 700-plus-page novels with historical scope. I’ve remained a sucker for those kinds of books.
Historical fiction, where the pages can be turned fast and subtlety ignored, is perfect for the new age of e-reading. Therefore this year, I devoured, with ultimate delight, Genghis: Birth Of An Empire, by Conn Iggulden, an author best known on these shores as the guy who wrote The Dangerous Book For Boys. This book tells the story of the improbable rise to power of my son’s favorite historical figure. The opening 30 pages involve Temujin, the Boy Who Would Be Khan, climbing to the top of a jagged peak to capture two baby eagles. Later, he kills his own brother, is tortured in a pit by his enemies, and unites some Mongol tribes to defeat the Tartars. It’s a ripping good tale, as far away from my actual reality as literature can get. I can’t wait to read the three sequels.
Also, I can’t write about my year in reading without mentioning the work of Alan Furst. Any page of his World War II era espionage novels top any moment of The Winds Of War that I consumed as a kid. I think I read seven Furst books in 2010. They’re a collective fever-dream of a completely displaced cosmopolitan Europe, stark tragedies set in Paris coffeehouses and deserted Serbian mountain roads, and some of the best novels being written today.
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