This year in reading

Tevi Troy discusses his favorite reads of 2015. It’s an impressive list, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read any of the selections. I expect partially to remedy this in 2016.

I’m also embarrassed to admit that William F. Buckley’s admonition, with which Tevi concludes his column, hit home (though I prefer tea to coffee): “You don’t write 40 odd books, thousands of newspaper columns, and boxes and boxes of letters by sipping coffee too long, pondering the sports page.”

There’s a New Year’s resolution in that.

When I wasn’t pondering the sports page (or blogging), my reading in 2015 consisted disproportionately of foreign authors. From Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli, I learned what life was like in remote parts of Southern Italy in the 1930s (and probably for a few centuries before). Time has moved very quickly since then.

From Milan Kundera’s The Joke, I learned what life was like for a Czechoslovakian Communist in the late 1940s. Joking was a bad move.

From Henryk Sienkiewicz’s swashbuckling epic historical novel The Deluge, I learned about the mid seventeenth century war between Poland and Sweden, and about the late nineteenth view by ethnic Poles of their national character. [Note: this paragraph has been slightly edited since originally posted]

Of these three, my strongest recommendation is Levi’s book, but the first half of Kundera’s is excellent. Sienkiewicz’s epic is a 1,700 page guilty pleasure.

A few decades after the Swedish invasion of Poland, John Sobieski, king of Poland, rescued Vienna from the Turkish siege. Andrew Wheatcroft provides an excellent history of that siege in Enemy at the Gates: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe.

Finally, from Franz Kafka’s The Trial I think I learned, among other things, that Joseph K was guilty.