Alas, I still picked a few losers in the second half of the Challenge (if you’re curious about the first round of rejected works, click here). Staying on pace to read 24 good books this year means knowing when to cut my losses, and here’s what didn’t make it.
The Dark Side of Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, ald Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason by John V. Fleming
- First 45 pages
I tried to like this book. Its premise appeals to me, but I can’t get past the academic writing style of its author. I have a pretty decent vocabulary—I did well on my Verbal SATs at one time—but I found myself constantly using my Kindle’s dictionary function to look up words I’d never seen in print before. Now, I don’t mind absorbing a new word here and there, but half a dozen inside of four pages? Kinda breaks up the flow.
But I’m humble enough to take a little vocabulary lesson. The real problem is that the author presents a “Forward” to his reader, and then he uses the entire first chapter to explain why he wrote the book; how he researched it; and why he thinks you should take it seriously in spite of the fact that he’s a medievalist, not a person who studies the Enlightenment as his historical period. If he wants to explain my rejection of this book as a bias against medievalists, fine, but between you and me, it has more to do with using the first roughly forty pages of his book to justify its writing.
The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford
- Couldn’t hack the first chapter
The problem with reading works by great serialist writers like Dickens and Melville is that you start to think there’s nothing wrong with making a sentence 50 words long. They got paid based on the length of their submissions, but Standiford doesn’t have that excuse. His prose makes for an awfully painful way to read a book about how some other guy wrote a book. There isn’t enough eggnog in the world to make this book go down smoothly. What was I thinking?
The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester
- 22% read, according to my Kindle
After panning The Billionaire’s Vinegar for being too esoteric, I should probably finish this one on my own time. The Map of the title is the geological map of the sedimentary rock in Britain, and the book recounts the story of its creator. Maybe I’ll get back to it someday…or maybe I won’t, honestly, because I am not in love with the dense writing style. I could probably deal with it if I didn’t have to wade through it pretty closely to get a better bead on the geography of Great Britain—not enough maps in the book to be easily examined on an eReader, which is a shame considering the topic.
For Honour’s Sake: The War of 1812 and the Brokering of an Uneasy Peace by Mark Zuehlke
- Probably read 70%
If you’ve scanned the kinds of books I typically blog about, then you know that I tend to avoid military topics. However, the War of 1812 intrigues me because it never gets more than a sentence in American history texts written for the classroom. Why? I thought if I read this book that I might find out. In fairness, it is well-researched and does clear up some popular misconceptions about this war (e.g., wasn’t started by the British to “take back” America). Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get past chapter after chapter of “Captain X attacked General Y on a particular battleground, with this many casualties and destroying this fort/ship/etc.” Too much military detail for me, so I couldn’t hack it. Maybe what I really want is a good magazine article of a couple thousand words instead.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
- The whole damn thing…just shoot me.
The author introduces himself as one of the people who protested the G8 Summit several years ago over the International Money Fund. I try to keep my blog pretty apolitical, so this should have been my first clue that I might need to abandon the book. The second clue should have been that he spends a significant part of the book disputing Adam Smith’s theories of economics. Adam Smith is pretty accepted in the field of economics (possibly understatement of the year), so when an anthropologist dedicates a large chunk of his book to arguing for the economic ideas of some guy most people have never heard of…well, I decided to lay aside an initial bad reaction and explore a “minority report” on the subject. Bad idea. By the time I got to the end of the book, some interesting material about debt throughout history took a hard right at “manifesto”, and I began to feel like a sucker for sticking with this book that long.