What I Read in February 2019

I was back to my normal reading pace in February and it came as a relief. Of course, I didn’t have a video game sucking up hours of my time like I did last month.

I finished 14 books in February:

Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls (#855)

Cover for Henry David Thoreau: A Life

I’ve had an on-again, off-again fascination with Thoreau. His experiment on Walden Pond is one part of it, but I am always fascinated by prodigious journals, and Thoreau’s is certainly that. So I decided to give Henry David Thoreau: A Life a shot. In the introduction to the book, Walls said that her focus was on Thoreau as a writer, but I felt that Thoreau as a philosopher and Transcendentalist was the real focus. I would have liked to know more about Thoreau’s writing habits, and how he went about creating his remarkable journal.

Walking by Henry David Thoreau (#856)

Cover for Walking

An example of the butterfly effect of reading in action. Having finished the Thoreau biography, I wanted to read his piece on Walking. I thought it would be a mediation on the wilderness and hiking, but it was something else entirely. I kind of wish it was what I had hoped it would be.

Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII by Chester Nez (#857)

Cover for Code Talker

I knew of the Navajo code talkers of World War, but didn’t understand the role they played and how their code was unbreakable. Chester Nez’s fabulous book Code Talkers changed that. Nez writes with clarity about his experiences before, during, and after the war, and especially about his role as a code talker. This was a good read.

Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter by Tom Clavin (#858)

Cover for Wild Bill

Last year, I read Tom Clavin’s book on Dodge City and enjoyed it. So when I saw he had a book coming out on Wild Bill, I couldn’t wait to read it. I wasn’t disappointed either. I’m not sure where my fascination with the old west comes from, but I suspect it is the same part of me that desires open spaces, isolation, and what seems to be a simpler life.

Reading Clavin’s biography of Wild Bill, I was startled and amused to learn that at least some parts of the HBO series Deadwood had some basis in fact. Not just Wild Bill either, but even Al Swearengen. I would have sworn he was a made up character.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (#859)

Cover for Into Thin Air

I read and enjoyed Krakauer’s Into the Wild so it seemed natural for me to read more Krakauer at some point. Into Thin Air is on Sports Illustrated’s 100 Best Sports Books of All Time list, and as that is one of the lists that I am slowly making my way through, I thought I’d give it a try.

It was an outstanding read. I shivered at the descriptions of cold at the summit of Everest, and was horrified and awed by the tragedy that took place there. Reading the book made me wonder why some people go to extremes like these, but of course, I know why. It’s what we do, it’s how we grow.

Growing Up by Russell Baker (#860)

Cover for Growing Up

I read about the passing of Russell Baker in the New York Times, but knew very little about him. I think it was Pamela Paul who mentioned his memoir, Growing Up, and as I am fascinated by journalists, I thought I’d give it go.

I enjoyed the book, but it was one case where the title was right on the money: it was about Baker’s youth and his growing up. It ended just when I thought it was really getting interesting. Fortunately, I learned that he wrote additional memoirs and I already obtained a copy of The Good Times and am looking forward to finishing it.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers (#861)

Cover for The Good Neighbor

I grew up watching Mister Rogers but knew very little about Fred Rogers. The Good Neighbor had been floating around my to-read list for a while, and I finally tackled it. It was fantastic, well written and researched, and just a joy to read.

After finishing the book, I put on an episode of Mister Rogers for my 2-year-old–a little girl used to watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and all kinds of things on YouTube. Later that same day, she had asked to watch more, and by that evening, all three of my kids were sitting around watching episodes of Mister Rogers.

The Stephen King Companion: Four Decades of Fear from the Master of Horror by George Beahm (#862)

Cover for The Stephen King Companion

I had a short trip to Pittsburgh in February. It’s a four hour drive from my house, and I used that trip to listen to The Stephen King Companion, not really sure what to expect. I was surprised and delighted by the book, which turned out to be a well-researched literary biography of Stephen King. The 8 eight hours I spent on the road (four there, and four back) flew by in a blink thanks to this book. And as you will see, the book also pushed me to finally read and finish several of King’s books that I hadn’t been able to get through in the past.

Insomnia by Stephen King (#863)

Cover for Insomnia

I started reading Insomnia two or three times over the last decade, and never managed to get very far into the story. I can’t explain why, although I wrote some thoughts on the subject. But after reading the Stephen King Companion, I decided to give it a go, and this time, I did manage to finish the book.

I wouldn’t consider it one of King’s better books, but it was entertaining, and its ties to the Dark Tower made it that much more interesting for me.

Lisey’s Story by Stephen King (#864)

Cover for Lisey's Story

Lisey’s Story is another of King’s books that I struggled to get through the first three or four times I tried. I think I managed to get halfway at one point before giving up. This time, I read the whole book, and was satisfied with it. It was better than Insomnia, but still not top shelf King in my opinion (although I know King has often stated that this is his personal favorite, and I can understand why).

Duma Key by Stephen King (#865)

Cover for Duma Key

Duma Key was far and away the big surprise for me. I think I tried reading it one other time, but didn’t get very far. This time, I could barely put it down (I was also sick at the time, and mostly staying in bed). Of the three King books I read immediately after the Companion, this was was by far my favorite.

The Green Mile by Stephen King (#866)

Cover for The Green Mile

During the last full week in February, the whole family took turns being sick. That, coupled with a snow day or two kept us mostly in the house. When I am sick, I mostly don’t want to do anything, but I often do want a good story. So even thought I’d read it once before, I returned to The Green Mile and got the good story that I was hoping for.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (#867)

Cover for Doctor Sleep

After The Green Mile my thirst for good stories was no slaked. I’d read Doctor Sleep when it first came out in 2013, but thought I’d give it another go and see how it held up. This is one of those books that like a good leftover lasagna, is better the second time around. I absolutely loved it on the second read.

Revival by Stephen King (#868)

Cover for Revival

Of course, not all left overs are as good the second time around. I’d read Revival when it first came out, and decided to give it another read. I remembered that the ending was particularly frightening, but couldn’t recall the specifics. I think the first half of the book is very good, but it kind of palls until that terrifying ending


What’s on tap for March? Right now I’m in one of those “I can’t figure out what to read next” phases. There’s the Russel Baker memoir, and I have an ARC of Jack McDevitt’s latest Alex Benedict novel, Octavia Gone on my desk. Baseball season is starting up and I often turn to classics in the baseball realm for fodder. I have a newish biography of Babe Ruth that I’ve been wanting to read for a while. I just need to get past this initial hiccup, and then let the butterfly effect of reading take over.