If one aspires to get better at writing, it is essential to read widely. There are a few reasons for this. First, it exposes a writer to other styles and elements of the craft of writing. Seeing how Kurt Vonnegut writes compared to how Stephen king writes is very informative when one reads as a writer. Second, it is a great way to get ideas and specifics from real life to sprinkle into your stories. If one reads narrative non-fiction there are plenty of topics that can help any writer develop verisimilitude in their fiction.
I began writing down all the titles I read when I was about halfway through the Naval Academy. I did it as a way to look at the list and feel proud of myself for reading things the school didn’t make me read (most of the things on my list were not mandatory reading assignments). My book list also functioned as a motivator to add one more title to the list. It was 1996 when I started and currently have a total of 622 titles on my list with an average of about 32 books per year.
My list is about 80% non-fiction and 20% fiction, which is not a surprise to me. I was a History major as an undergraduate and took International Relations for my post-graduate degree. Most of this work kept my recreational interest firmly in the non-fiction category. However, I have been trying to round out my reading experience with much more fiction, as I believe I should if I expect to get better at writing fiction!
I will post the most interesting books I’ve read in each reading year with a short reason why I liked it. And I’ll also include any books I didn’t expect to be disappointed with. The list will not be every book I read – only what I believed to be the most interesting ones I read that particular year. If they have an *asterisk, I loved them and were well worth my limited reading time.
The first year I will post will be 1998. I graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1998 and was happy to be done with school and cherished the freedom to read exactly what I wanted with no pressure.
Number of Books I Read in 1998: 63
My Notable 1998 Titles:
*In Search of the Warrior Spirit (NF) by Richard Strozzi Heckler
- This was an interesting journal-like account of the author’s time introducing his meditation and Aikido martial arts techniques to U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers.
*The Last of the Breed (F) by Louis L’Amour
- Exciting adventure story about a Native American U.S. Air Force test pilot who finds himself in a survival situation in 1980s Cold War era Siberia. He is tracked by a relentless Russian and a Siberian tiger through the wilds of Siberia as he tries to make his way to safety. A great departure from Louis L’Amour’s more familiar westerns.
*The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float (NF) by Farley Mowat
- This was a short, playful story about his time refurbishing and sailing his own sailboat from the Canadian author who wrote Never Cry Wolf, which was an account of his time in northern Canada studying wolves (made into an early 1980s movie that I actually watched in the theater).
*The Sun Also Rises (F) by Ernest Hemingway
- I actually read this one for school. But it was an excellent introduction to his work. I wasn’t too interested in the story itself as much as how he wrote the story. His craft in the sparse way he wrote is worth studying as a writer.
*Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev and the U-2 Affair (NF) by Michael Beschloss
- This was an enthralling account of the shoot down of Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane and subsequent capture and trial in the Soviet Union.
Closing Time (F) by Joseph Heller
- I was a bit disappointed with this novel, however, it is difficult to follow up a performance like Cath-22.
*Master and Commander (F) by Patrick O’Brien
- My first experience with the legendary nautical novelist. It was rich, interesting, educational and most entertaining.
*Old Man and the Sea (F) by Ernest Hemmingway
- This was one I had to read after reading The Sun Also Rises. Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for this novella and the work contributed to his selection for a Nobel Prize in 1954. I actually read it on my mother’s sailboat off of Key West, very near where Ernest imagined it might have happened off the coast of Cuba. I would look up every so often and imagine the story playing out in the nearby waters that surrounded me. Very cool.
*The Alchemist (F) by Paulo Coelho
- An excellent moral parable that is still on the NYT bestseller list!
The Gospel According to the Son (F) by Norman Mailer
- I was a bit disappointed with this novel as well. It seemed a bit disingenuous as a New Testament retelling from the eyes of Jesus with a few blasphemous additions for shock value. But I wasn’t surprised to see this sort of thing from Norman Mailer.
Rainbow Six (F)(Audio) by Tom Clancy
- I remember REALLY liking this book. It kicked off Tom Clancy’s foray into serious video game development based on this story. It was a pleasure to read and cheer for the good guys.
*Easy Target: The Long Strange Trip of a Scout Pilot in Vietnam (NF) by Tom Smith
- This was a unique glimpse into the experiences of a U.S. Army OH-6 Cayuse Light Observation Helicopter (LOH – pronounced “loach” throughout the Army) pilot during the Vietnam War. Great action and incredible real-life military hero stories.
*The Perfect Storm (NF) by Sebastian Junger
- Superb narrative non-fiction of three huge storm systems that ravaged the North Atlantic and the toll it took on sword boat fishermen and the people who raced to save them. Exciting real-life adventure.
Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives (NF) by Michael Newton
- This book has stayed with me for a long time. It is an account of a hypnotherapist who documented many of his subject’s comments while they were supposedly hypnotized. He had them talk about death and what their impressions were. He was surprised when a large number of unrelated strangers described many of the same details about the afterlife. He began to write them down and presented his findings in the book. If it is true, it is amazing and comforting for anyone who has lost a loved one, if you choose to believe it.
Anthem (F) by Ayn Rand
- Was a bit disappointed with this book. It preceded The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and felt like she was collecting her notes to eventually get on a role and produce Atlas Shrugged.
*Hazardous Duty (NF) by Charles Hackworth
- This was an amazing book of a newly commissioned officer to read. Yes, it was about the experiences of a U.S. Army Infantry Company Commander in Vietnam, but the leadership examples were epic and universal across all the military services. He chronicled exactly how he took care of his men, led from the front and succeeded in taking the fight to the enemy in Vietnam. Phenomenal wartime memoir and leadership study.
Those were my highlights of 1998, the year I graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Stay tuned for successive years – leave me a comment on a favorite book you read in 1998 – if you can remember! That’s why I wrote them down – because there was no way I would have remembered!