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12 Books for 2015

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As I said in my New Year’s Goals post, I read a ton throughout the year – but rarely get the opportunity to read a whole book solely for myself. I’ve just slipped out of the habit of using my free time for pleasure reading. And I miss it.

So this year I made it a goal to read at least 12 books that I don’t NEED to read. Specifically:

Intimate lives of the founding fathers

The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers by Thomas Fleming

I picked this book up several years ago when Borders went out of business, and like most of the stuff I picked up during that sale, it’s just kind of languished on my shelf since despite really being of interest to me. It specifically examines the relationships between what I like to call the “Supreme Six” (Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison – basically the founders everyone knows) and the important women in their lives, from wives, to mothers, to mistresses. What drew me to this book is not necessarily the title – the title almost seems to suggest scandal – but the description on the back which seems to set up not for a profile of the founding fathers’ romantic lives, but rather for a profile of the impact and influence these women had on the men and their actions. The hidden history of the founding mothers, if you will.

We’ll see if it lives up to my expectations.

Fires on the Plain

Fires on the Plain by Shohei Ooka

I’ve read tons of first person accounts, memoirs, and novels that deal with the Pacific War from the US side of the conflict, but have always struggled in finding things written from the Japanese POV, so I’m pretty excited about this one. While Fires on the Plain is a novel, much of it is based on Shohei Ooka’s actual experience as a Japanese solider in the Philippines – so I have a feeling this one is going to be both harrowing and enlightening to read.

A Peoples History

A People’s History of the United States By Howard Zinn

This one is actually a re-read, mainly because the last time I read it was almost a decade ago when I was first really starting to explore History as something way more than just what my teachers had told me in HS. At the time I was young, and inexperienced in terms of actually “doing history” and I was awed by this – there was just SO MUCH STUFF that my HS teachers had “hidden” from us! But even at that point I could tell that it wasn’t exactly balanced – although my shock at finally seeing the “other side” of US history sort of made me not fully acknowledge that fact. Being over that initial “honeymoon” phase, I’m interested to see where it stands with me now that I can read it with a far more critical eye.

Confederates in the Attic

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

I read Horwitz’s other book, A Voyage Long and Strange several years ago and immediately fell in love with it – and Confederates in the Attic seems to be written in the same vein. Basically these books are half travel writing, half history (and the history he presents is generally very well done and well researched). The travel writing part helps put a modern perspective on not only the history itself, but on the legacy it has had and the ways it has shaped the culture in whatever region he’s talking about.

I’m particularly excited about this book, mainly because it deals with the cultural legacy of the Civil War in the South, one of the hardest topics for me to grapple with as a teacher and as a historian. I never really realized what a NORTHERNER I really am until I had to teach about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and their long-term ramifications for the first time – and my struggle to overcome that bias is one that has been difficult. I’ve spent countless hours contemplating the southern point of view, and while I have far more insight than I once did there still seems to be a missing piece for me. Like, I get it, but I don’t get it, if that makes sense.

And so I’m hoping this book will help me further my own personal dialogue on the issue.

Death and the Civil War

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

I don’t have too much to say on why I chose this book other than it seems fascinating. But I suppose not having to justify the “why” is half the reason I’m making this goal anyway. I’ve had it on my “To Read” list ever since one of my students did a book review on it (several years ago now), and it’s just high time I got around to it. I’m sort of in this “struggling with the Civil War” state of mind recently (see above) anyway, so I might as well knock this off the list now.

Empress Orchid

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

This is one of my attempts to dip my toes back into fiction this year, and I’m starting with some historical fiction. Empress Orchid is a novel based on the real life Empress Cixi, who controlled the Chinese government for almost 50 years in the last days of imperial rule (a republic was established within 3 years of her death). Cixi has always been a figure who fascinated me, mainly because the historical interpretations of her and her actions vary so greatly – she’s either a conniving villain who forced her will on the country and the government with an iron fist, or the saving grace leader that kept the empire together when nobody else could. It’ll be interesting to see how Min portrays her here.

Washingtons Spies

Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose

Another re-read, mainly because the first time I read it, I didn’t do a great job of it. I rushed through it, mainly because I wanted to finish it before I started the Hunger Games, and, well, I really wanted to read the Hunger Games. But particularly now, with The Dreamer Comic ( back in action and AMC’s Turn on my list of shows to watch, I’m finding myself realllyyy wishing I had paid more attention the first time.

Lincolns Melancholy

Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk

This book is again, one that’s been on my “To Read” list for a while, sheerly because it’s interesting sounding. My officemate recommended this to me a couple of years ago and I was really intrigued by the concept – I’m not a big fan of plain old biography, and so this angle on Lincoln’s life and career really appeals to me.

Embracing Defeat

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower

This one is going to be my big project for the year – John W. Dower is one of my absolute favorite historians, and I’ve kind of been remiss in the fact that I haven’t read this yet. So I’ll be spending a lot of time going through this with a fine tooth comb (and highlighters, sticky notes, the works) until it looks like my copy of War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (which I swear I’ve highlighted the entirety of at one point or another).

Letters to Jackie

Letters to Jackie: Condolences From a Grieving Nation – Ellen Fitzpatrick

This is one I’ll have to save for a time when I need a good cry. I’ve read a few selected letters from it already, and without fail, a minute and a half in I’m already sniffling. But it’ll be a good cry. And it’ll also give me some perspective on the real impact of JFK’s assassination on the public, hopefully just in time to teach it again!

Hidden Horrors

Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II by Yuki Tanaka

Again, a bigger undertaking for me, mainly because it has such relevance to my personal area of interest and study. Like With Embracing Defeat, I’ll be reading this one very closely and very carefully. Tanaka is a Japanese historian who has undertaken the task of chronicling and analyzing the war crimes committed by his own country during the Pacific war, and so I’m very eager to see his take on this.

Pearl of China

Pearl of China by Anchee Min

Another attempt to dip my toe back into fiction – I picked this up at the book store off the bargain rack because it’s a novel centered around Pearl S. Buck, whose work I admire greatly. I didn’t even realize until I gathered all these books together that this and Empress Orchid were both by Anchee Min – I guess she just writes about things that call to me!

And a bonus 13th to make it a Baker’s (Reader’s?) Dozen:

Hunger Games Trilogy

Reread the Hunger Games Trilogy

I’m counting these as one book, since they don’t take me more than a few hours each to read. But basically, I love this series – and I think it would be great to do a quick re-read before the final installment of Mockingjay comes out in theatres in November.

What’s on your “To Read” list for the year? Any suggestions to add to mine?

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