Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Top 10 Books

A friend asked me on Facebook to list my ten favorite books I have read, which is not an easy task for me. I do a lot of reading—Internet, periodicals, newspapers, etc.—but I don’t read as many books as I have good intentions of doing. Perhaps when I retire I will get caught up on my desired book reading.

You will note from my list that I am one of the few who prefer non-fiction over fiction. Even as a child, I was always too interested in learning real stuff that would teach me something than to waste time reading something that someone else just made up out of thin air. I think it started in elementary school because I loved reading biographies (such as the Landmark series published by Random House in the ‘50s and ‘60s). Likewise, I also prefer movies and television shows based on reality over fiction.

Another problem with such a reading list is that as an adult, I’ve listened to more books than I have read. There are a number of books that I have truly loved, such as “Tuesdays with Morrie” or Homer Hickam’s “Rocket Boys” and subsequent books of the Coalwood Trilogy. I especially enjoy listening to authors such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Tom Brokaw, or David McCulloch reading their own historical books. I also enjoy listening to science books such as “A Brief History of Time” by Dr. Stephen Hawking.

So here is my list of ten books I have read out of many that have impacted me.

1. “Everything in its Path—Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood” by Kai T. Erickson – A friend from grad school gave me this book and I really loved the way it took a real disaster and used it as a sociological examination of West Virginia.

2. “Sign-Talker—the adventures of George Drouillard on the Lewis and Clark Expedition” by James Alexander Thom – I call this “semi-fiction.” The author used historical documents to weave together the story of the expedition as one member saw it. [Another favorite of mine in this historical novel genre is “The Frontiersmen” by Allan W. Eckert.]

3. “The Persistence of Vision” by John Varley – A guy I worked with at NASA was a big science fiction fan, and he was surprised that with my interest in space stuff, I had never got into the science fiction world. He insisted that I read this book (a collection of Varley’s works). I read and liked it a lot, and I still have fond memories of it, but it didn’t flip the switch to make a science fiction fanatic. I simply prefer non-fiction to fiction.

4. “The High Frontier” by Gerald K. O'Neill – I was in college when I read this paperback about the potential for space stations and colonies. Some may call it fiction, but I see it as more reality based (even though it hasn’t happened yet). This book gave me hope for the long-term future and I still dream about the possibilities.

5. “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman – A fascinating and scientifically based story of what would happen to NYC (and other civilized areas) if humans were to suddenly disappear from Earth (how we disappear isn’t important—this is about the aftermath).

6. “Lee—The Last Years” by Charles Bracelen Flood – A professor at WVU loaned his copy of this book to read. I am a descendent of several Union soldiers, so I probably have a bias against the Confederates, but this biography gave me a whole new respect for Robert E. Lee.

7. “Rebels at the Gate” by W. Hunter Lesser – A well done book focusing on the first years of the Civil War. Most folks don’t realize how the eyes of the nation were on West Virginia during those early days. My uncle recommended this book and loaned me his copy to read.

8. “Schrapnel in the Heart” by Laura Palmer – This book is about the letters and mementos left at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. The author delves into the sad stories, resulting in a book that stays with you a long time.

9. “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” by Frederick Douglass – I read this book and participated in a discussion group about it at our local library. It was very eye-opening to read his story, and even more enlightening to share reactions with other community members. Someday I will do more of these group readings.

10. An unknown book from our local library that I read about helicopters probably when I was around middle school age. It had detailed explanations about how helicopters work and how to fly them. I still remember this book to this day, because it gave me the self-confidence that if I ever had to fly a copter (for whatever reason), I could probably figure out the basics. Whenever I get the rare opportunity to look inside a helicopter cockpit, I try to assess how I would fly it. I guess you could say this book gave “flight” to my imagination.

Note that some folks who know of my interest in motorcycles and intellectualism might have suspected that Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” would have been on my list. I did read it, but was extremely disappointed in it—I had high hopes for it and yet I just didn’t connect to it like I thought I would. I am glad that some folks like it, but to me that book was just too plodding for my tastes.

I should also use this opportunity to share my favorite “Read Aloud” book. At various times (such as during my tenure on the school board), I have read books to elementary school classes. My favorite book for such occasions is “The Rest of the Story” by Paul Harvey. These short stories are very entertaining, and are all true!

Finally, one book that I cherish is my copy of the Jeffersonian Bible from the Smithsonian gift shop. Thomas Jefferson “cut and pasted” (with a blade and glue, not with a computer as we have today) the Gospels to clarify the life and morals of Jesus. I didn’t put it on my “top ten” list because I haven’t read it from cover to cover, but it was a gift that means a lot to me.

So after more than a thousand words, I guess I’ve nearly written a book just to tell my ten favorites!

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