Monday, February 10, 2014

2013 in Review, Part One.

2013 in Review.

Here are the dozen most noteworthy books I read last year, in the order of their importance to me.

Richard II by William Shakespeare
The First Salute by Barbara Tuchman c1988
A Rumor of War Philip Caputo c1977
Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan by Ronald Spector c1985
Shrapnel In The Heart by Laura Palmer c1987
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown c1970
Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears c2003
Lost Triumph: Lee’s Real Plan at Gettysburg by Tom Carhart c2005
To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsular Campaign by Sears c1992
Chancellorsville by Sears c1996
Antietam by James M. McPherson c2002
Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias by Jane Velez-Mitchell c2013

One Great Literature (R2), a heartstrings book (Shrapnel--stories on the Vietnam Wall), seven history books (four civil war battle books, a WW2 history, an Indian wars recounting and a Revolutionary War era history), a fantasy (what was Lee's plan at Gettysburg?), an autobiographical sketch (Caputo as a young man in Vietnam) and a guilty pleasures book (sex & murder--true crime).

I don't know why but as you can see, 2013 was a lean year for me in entertainment. I went to no movies and only read seventeen books. I don't watch TV, really, besides some NFL football, a few baseball games and the Military Channel, which endlessly recycles reasons why the Allies won WW2.   My slight curtailment of costs with the cable company removed the other channels I used to watch, the History Channel, Discovery and a couple of other shows.   My 1900 cable channels are a true wasteland.   I don't have an I-phone so I can't claim that I was outside walking around at 2/3rd speed very distracted, riveted to intently watching my palm every second.   I think I'm fretting about acquiring enough money to retire now that I'm in my 60s and it's totally distracting.

The Tuchman book was the most eye-opening because it placed the American Revolutionary War in its proper place on the world stage at the time (Great Britain lost to us but beat the rest of the world by ultimately defeating the powerful French coalitions arraigned against it).  I didn't previously know that the British placed more importance on the sugar-producing isles in the Caribbean than on the querulous thirteen colonies.

Richard II was the most pleasurable reading experience because even though Shakespeare plays take awhile to read, the language laced throughout each one is an endless source of rumination and application.  When my father died after a wasting illness when I was in my thirties, I thought of and found applicability in Richard's famous speech as his own doom approached--I hath wasted time and now doth time waste me--suddenly he saw that, incredibly, he had just run out of time.  That can, and will, be you and me someday.

The Carhart book was the most interesting, speculating that Lee actually had a grander plan to annihilate the Union army at Gettysburg than merely butting against its center, uphill, on the third day.  Perhaps Lee meant to send Stuart's 12,000 cavalrymen around behind the Union lines to suddenly strike the rear of the Union center at the appointed hour, a maneuver perhaps foiled by, of all historical figures, George Armstrong Custer.  There was a spirited cavalry battle to the north of Gettysburg in which Custer's troopers played a prominent role about the time that Pickett charged the Union lines.

The other nine books on my list were various gradations of good to better to excellent (Antietam to Gettysburg to Rumor).  Of the five additional books I read last year that didn't make the cut, two were military memoirs ( a Pacific War remembrance and the WWI experiences of a Canadian) and three were alternate-scenario military posers mostly involving WW2 (Hitler's only chance to win WW2 once he invaded Russia, it seems, was to reinforce Rommel in North Africa, take Egypt from the British, drive through to the Caucus oil fields to secure them for Germany and then perhaps even link up with a Japanese thrust into south Russia or head off towards India).

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