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The Grand National, Top Ranked, All-American 2012 Book Review: Electric Boogaloo

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As a hardcore lit-nerd, part of the appeal to churning through an ungodly number of books every year is keeping track of said books. It's also an annual reminder that I need to get out more. Seriously, I'm pale as a ghost.

So here is the list of books I read in 2012 along with a one-sentence review/recommendation of each. In many cases, I've talked or written reviews about many of these books in the Literarea section of The Peorian website. Go view and/or read them there.

Now, ensconce yourself in one year of my lit-nerdiness.

Note: (R) denotes a book I had read previously
(AR) denotes a book I read annually
(TP) denotes a book I reviewed on The Peorian website



1.) An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears
Daniel Blake Smith, 271 pg. (TP)

 This book shows that no matter how many treaties they made, the American government was hell-bent on removing the Native Americans from their native lands one way or another.

2.) Solar
Ian McEwan, 332 pg. (TP)

Very few authors handle nasty main characters as well as McEwan, and "Solar" has a great/nasty main character.

3.) Letters to a Young Contrarian
Christopher Hitchens, 141 pg. (AR)

Because he was multi-talented, many people might overlook the fact that Hitchens was one of the great essayists of the last 50 years, as this book shows.

4.) Journals: Early Fifties, Early Sixties
Allen Ginsberg, 313 pg. (R)

Ginzy really was a true, all-American original and his journals show an optimistic (and troubled) poet discovering his own genius.

5.) Freedom Summer
Sally Belfrage, 246 pg.

A must-read, this is an incredible account of the summer voting drive in Mississippi in 1964 and the violence that ensued.

6.) Hitler Was My Friend
Heinrich Hoffman, 250 pg.

With what one might call a provocative title, this book is about the man who was Hitler's photographer before and after he came to power.

7.) Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great
James Romm, 368 pg. (TP)

With Alexander's demise, people freaked and this intriguing book takes a look at the years immediately following his death and how the empire he amassed quickly fell apart.

8.) Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-forgotten Europe
Norman Davies, 789 pg.

Holy crap, there are lots of long-lost kingdoms in Europe and this book covers them all, even the fall of the Soviet Union.

9.) Barbarians at the Gate
J.M. Coetzee, 180 pg.

My introduction to this great author and he's right there with Pamuk and Rushdie in my book.

10.) The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible
Harold Bloom, 320 pg.

The brilliant Harold Bloom puts forth the case of the KJB being the "sublime summit of literature in English" – and he's an agnostic Jew!

11.) The Sound and The Fury: Norton Critical Edition
William Faulkner, 442 pg. (AR)

This is Faulkner at the peak of his creativity and one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century – 'nuff said.

12.) Hunger
Knut Hamsun, 144 pg. (R)

A novel that influenced Dostoevsky and earned Hamsun the Nobel Prize, this is one of the earliest manifestations of the tortured, self-destructive artist.

13.) Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitman, 146 pg. (R)

Considered to be America's greatest poet, this book abounds with poems about nature and the identity of the then-young Republic.

14.) Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image
Toby Lester, 256 pg. (TP)

This book examines the history of da Vinci's drawing of a man inside a circle and square, a.k.a. the Vitruvian Man, and how it has influenced the world.

15.) Oh My Gods! A Modern Retelling of Greek and Roman Myths
Philip Freeman, 368 pg. (TP)

Lots of great nuggets but here is one of my favorites: the god Tecate's favorite sacrifices included red mullet fish, little cakes with candles and fresh young puppies.

16.) One and Only: The Untold Story of On the Road
Gerald Nicosia, 242 pg. (TP)

This tells the story of LuAnne Henderson, the beautiful girl who shared the ride with Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac in the classic American novel, "On The Road".

17.) One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner
Jay Parini, 492 pg. (R)

Big fan of Faulkner here and this book shows that his refusal to stop riding his horse recklessly is as much to blame as the alcohol was for his rather premature death at 65.

18.) James Madison and the Making of America
Kevin R.C. Gutzman, 432 pg. (TP)

As someone who is a bit of a Madison-phile, this book was right in my wheelhouse with the years after the Revolution being the most interesting.

19.) No One Left to Lie to: The Values of the Worst Family
Christopher Hitchens, 150 pg.

Hitchens is ruthless when he has a prey in his sites, and alas the poor Clintons are like a wounded antelope.

20.) The Legacy of David Foster Wallace
Samuel Cohen, 244 pg.

This is the first of several new books on the life of central Illinois-native David Foster Wallace, who is rightly being called the greatest writer of his generation.

21.) Bleak House
Charles Dickens, 1024 pg.

They call this a "novel" but it's a series of serialized stories that make up one larger story and perfect for short bursts of reading.

22.) Bring Up the Bodies
Hilary Mantel, 407 pg.

The brilliant follow-up to her astonishing "Wolf Hall" delves deeper into Tudor history and the downfall of Anne Boleyn.

23.) The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power
Robert Caro, 736 pg. (TP)

An excellent book covering Johnson's life from the years of the vice presidency, when he was dubbed Rufus Cornpone by the Kennedy coterie, to his sudden ascension after the assassination.

24.) The President's Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity
Nancy Gibbs, 656 pg. (TP)

This is an excellent book detailing the unlikely friendships and partnership between sitting presidents and their predecessors over the years.

25.) Free Will
Sam Harris, 96 pg.

I was going to write a review but something in me knew I really wasn't going to, thus proving Mr. Harris's point!

26.) Down and Out in Paris and London
George Orwell, 213 pg. (R)

My favorite Orwell books (and I love them all) are the lesser known novels, in particular this one.

27.) Restaurant Man
Joe Bastianich, 288 pg. (TP)

Sure, he's Gordon Ramsey's side kick on TV but he has built a culinary empire in his own right and this book charts his victories (and defeats) over the years.

28.) Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis
Kingsley Amis, 302 pg. (TP)

This is perfect for anyone who loves dry martinis and dry wit, and Amis was one of the all-time authorities on both.

29.) Beard on Food: The Best Recipes and Kitchen Wisdom from the Dean of American Cooking
James Beard, 352 pg.

The rather long subtitle pretty much covers all the bases.

30.) A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway, 352 pg.

This was my first time through this Hemingway classic and I like how he deftly balances the love affair with the war going on around it.

31.) Dr. Sax
Jack Kerouac, 245 pg. (R)

This perhaps is Kerouac at his impressionistic best, weaving in and out of reality and fantasy.

32.) Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
Hunter S. Thompson, 496 pg. (R) (TP)

A must-read for anyone with a serious interest in the history of political campaigns, Hunter S. approaches his subject with the mind of a gambler and proves to be mostly correct.

33.) A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa
Steve Kemper, 416 pg. (TP)

This tells the amazing story of German explorer Heinrich Barth, who survived a five-and-a-half year journey in Africa in the 1850s.

34.) No Easy Day: The Autobiography of a Navy Seal: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden
Mark Owen/Kevin Maurer, 316 pg. (TP)

And here we have another example of the exceedingly long and overly descriptive subtitle.

35.) The Price of Inequality: How today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future
Joseph Stiglitz, 414 pg. (TP)

From the man who popularized the term "the one percent", this book shows how the future of the one percent and the other 99 are bound tightly together.

36.) Beyond the Blue Horizons: How the Earliest Mariners Unlocked the Secrets of the Oceans
Brian Fagan, 313 pg. (TP)

Sure everyone knows about the voyages of Columbus, Captain Cook and Gilligan, but what made the earliest mariners first take to the seas?

37.) Mortality
Christopher Hitchens, 128 pg. (TP)

Written during the final stages of his battle with esophageal cancer, Hitchens writes about his impending death with the same critical eye (and sense of humor) as any other topic he approached.

38.) American Empire: The Rise of a Global Power, the Democratic Revolution at Home 1945-2000
Joshua Freeman, 512 pg.

Seriously, what's the deal with history books having excessively long subtitles?

39.) Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
D.T. Max, 356 pg.

It's the Year of David Foster Wallace Elegies and I feel fine.

40.) The Voice is all: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac
Joyce Johnson, 512 pg.

While he might be the most written about American author, former lover Joyce Johnson manages to reveal new information about the tortured genius that was Jack Kerouac.

41.) Joseph Anton
Salman Rushdie, 656 pg. (TP)

The long-awaited memoir of Salman Rushdie is finally here in all its third-person awkwardness!

42.) Who I Am: A Memoir
Pete Townshend, 544 pg. (TP)

The long-awaited memoir of Pete Townshend is finally here in all its rock-god awesomeness!

43.) Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel
John Guy, 448 pg. (TP)

Just goes to show that if you are hand-picked by the King, you should never forget you were hand-picked by the King, as ol' T-Beck failed to do.

44.) The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran
David Crist, 656 pg. (TP)

This is probably the most in-depth look at a troubled history full of lies, deceit and aggression between the United States and Iran.

45.) The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don't
Nate Silver, 544 pg. (TP)

If you want to know why Nate Silver was the big winner in the 2012 presidential election, then you should read this book.

46.) The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 180 pg. (AR)

Undoubtedly, this is one of the finest American novels and shame on you if you haven't read it yet.

47.) Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace
David Lipsky, 320 pg.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your right you'll see our third book on the life and times of David Foster Wallace during our 2012 literary voyage.

48.) Silent House
Orhan Pamuk, 352 pg.

This is Nobel Prize-winning author Pamuk's first novel published in 1983 that's been finally translated into English; I think of him as the Turkish Faulkner/Dostoevsky.

49.) To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion
Phillip Greene, 320 pg. (TP)

Obviously, ol' Papa Hem was a big drinker and in this book you'll find dozens of cocktail recipes directly related to Hemingway's novels.

50.) Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace, 1377 pg. (R)

With the complex story lines, attention to detail and broad vocabulary, "Infinite Jest" almost seems impossible to write, which is one of the many reasons I love it.

51.) War and Peace in the Global Village
Marshall McLuhan, 190 pg. (R)

Written in 1968, McLuhan was prophetic when he wrote "electric technology stimulates more discontinuity and diversity and division than the old mechanical society" and he was great in "Annie Hall."

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.