The Grand National, All-American Literarea Annual Book Review, Part II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold

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Well, 2013 was <insert something clever, reflective> and hopefully 2014 will be <insert something positive, uplifting>!

Since I’m not one for the “My year in review!” columns – too self indulgent for even someone as self-indulgent as I – I’ll just stick to listing all the books I read in 2013 along with a one sentence review/description of each. In many cases, I've written reviews about many of these books in the Literarea section of The Peorian website. Now, ensconce yourself in another year of my lit-nerdiness.

Note: (R) denotes a previously read book

1) "Ashoka: India's Lost Emperor", Charles Allen, 460pg.
Although he came to power through war and violence, he renounced them both and turned to Buddhism with his peaceful reign extending from India north to the Himalayas and west to Kandahar.

2) "Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World's Most Ancient Pleasures", Paul Lukas, 350pg.
Don’t bitch about bad wine because up until Pasteur discovered yeast fermentation and how bacteria caused spoilage, most wine – unless very, very fresh – would have been quite nasty by our standards.

3) "The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America", Bernard Bailyn, 640pg.
Holy crap, did we have violent beginnings – and I’m talking 100 years before the Revolution, where the goal was to out torture your enemies.

4) "The Great Pearl Heist: London's Greatest Thief and Scotland Yard's Hunt for the World's Most Valuable Necklace", Molly Caldwell Crosby, 304pg.
This was an interesting story of how old-timey detective work unraveled a brilliant crime back in the pre-scientific times.

5) "P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters", Sophie Ratcliffe, 602pg.
P.G. Wodehouse’s letters are as entertaining as his Jeeves stories – especially when he gets into critiquing American pop culture.

6) "Libra" (R), DeLillo, 480pg.
My first and very favorite DeLillo book which is a fictionalized account of the JFK assassination before that became a popular thing.

7) "Gravity's Rainbow" (R), Pynchon, 760pg.
Pynchon is one of the few writers who can come close to the strata occupied by Joyce.

8) "Go" (R), John Clellon Holmes, 352pg.
If you are interested in the Beat Generation and want a straightforward account by one of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Cassady's buddies, check out this book.

9) "Paris is a Nice Dish: Its Recipes and Restaurants", Osbourne Putnam Stearnes
I nabbed this ‘50s book off the shelves of Miss Morron’s home in Peoria and it includes all kinds of tips for the Parisian traveler – including the best way (I shit you not) to procure a lady of the night.

10) "Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital", Sylvia Shults, 222pg.
I have zero belief in ghosts, angels or any type of supernatural superstition, but this book does a great job detailing the groundbreaking mental health care that occurred at this institution back when “mental health care” was otherwise non-existent.

11) "Wedlocked", Jay Ponteri, 150pg.
An incredibly touching and poignant memoir by an old friend that takes a serious look at love and the modern American family.

12) "God Is Not Great" (R), Hitchens, 307pg.
It got him a lot of attention, but there are lots of other books by Hitch well worth reading that have nothing to do with religion.

13) "The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Free Thought", Susan Jacoby, 256pg.
Peoria has a long history of rebellious behavior and Robert Ingersoll was the pater familias, someone who, in the words of Thomas Edison, “had all the attributes of a perfect man.”

14) "Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace", (R), DT Max, 356pg.
Max argues that Wallace’s work focused on secondhand desire, how our passions are no longer our own and how in the media age we are nothing but minds waiting to be filled, emotions waiting to be manipulated.

15) "The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of the Ages", (R) Harold Bloom, 560pg.
This is the book that made me really get into classic lit (Cervantes, Dante, Chaucer, Dickens and Montaigne, in particular) – long live Harold Bloom!!

16) "The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England", Susan Jacoby, 560pg.
This fascinating book covers nearly 250 years of the Plantagenet reign, from 1154 to 1399 when Henry of Bolingbroke overthrew Richard II.

17) "Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston and the Atlanta Campaign", Earl J. Hess, 322pg.
One of the most brutal (and pointless) confrontations of the Civil War, as the Confederates tried to slow the Union drive to Atlanta.

18) "Onward Toward What We're Going Toward", Ryan Bartelmay, 324pg.
This is a very good first novel by a central Illinois native with a sweeping narrative and Morton as the focal point.

19) "Edmund Burke: The First Conservative", Jesse Norman, 336pg.
He was a conservative with a lower case “c” in that he was a fierce champion of human rights and against imperialism.

20) "Goodbye Again: The Definitive Peter Cook and Dudley Moore", (R) William Cook, 389pg.
Before there was Monty Python, there was Pete and Dud.

21) “Wrestling Li Po for the Remote”, Kevin Stein, 112pg.
We have a treasure here in Peoria with Illinois Poet Laureate Kevin Stein.

22) “A Confederacy of Dunces” (R), John Kennedy Toole, 394pg.
This is a favorite of mine that definitely falls into the category of the Great American Novel.

23) “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking”, Daniel Dennett, 496pg.
Give your mind some exercise because it could always use it.

24) “Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity”, David Foster Wallace, 336pg.
A mind-crunching look at infinity on a macro (BIG) and micro (infinitesimally small) level.

25) “Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present”, David Foster Wallace & Mark Costello, 142pg.
If one more person criticizes DFW for dismissing the Beastie Boys after “Licensed to Ill”, I will lose my mind – the group didn’t show serious artistic promise until “Paul’s Boutique” which came out AFTER this was written.

26) “Tesla: Inventor of the Modern Age”, Bernard W. Carlson, 500pg.
When it comes to the great inventors of the electrical age, for some reason, Nikola Tesla is generally overlooked in American textbooks.

27) “An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist”, Richard Dawkins, 304pg.
Just like Christopher Hitchens, there’s a lot more to this man than being just a “prominent atheist” and this book is all science, so fear not.

28) “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls”, David Sedaris, 275pg.
This was my first (and definitely not last) jump into the humorous short stories and essays of David Sedaris, recommended to me repeatedly by mi hermano, Josh.

29) “My Man Jeeves and Other Early Jeeves Stories”, P.G. Wodehouse, 202pg.
You cannot go wrong with P.G. Wodehouse if you like intelligent, dry, gut-busting British humor.

30) “Love, Poverty and War: Journals and Essays”, Hitchens, 482pg.
This is a wonderful compilation of Hitchens’s best columns and essays reaching back to the 1980s.

31) “Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall”, Krista Schlyer, 192pg.
This book (words and photographs by another dear, old friend) shows that while politics may take front and center when it comes to the U.S./Mexico border wall, there are much bigger issues at stake.

32) “Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him”, David Henry, 297pg.
Before I die there will be an annual Richard Pryor Celebration in Peoria.

33) “Fate, Time and Language: An Essay on Free Will”, DFW, 264pg.
DFW takes on Richard Taylor’s 1962 theory of Fatalism in a way no philosopher has to date.

34) “Wittgenstein”, Hans Sluga, 168pg.
Yeah, some light reading to end the year.

About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.