For the last few years I’ve been keeping a list of the books I read. (Here’s last year’s list.) What strikes me about 2009 is the number of just plain big books I’ve read. In the winter was The President’s House: A History, by William Seale. In the spring there was Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, by Rick Perlstein. In the summer, inspired by the anniversary of Apollo 11, I read This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age, by William E. Burrows. And in the fall I read Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, by Peter Watson.
By far, my favorite book this year was The President’s House. I have rarely become so immersed in a book as I did in this one. In two volumes, it’s an incredibly leisurely stroll through 200 years of White House history, from the building of the house up through the present day. Along the way you meet all the presidential families who have lived there, and some of their long-serving aides. You live through weddings, deaths, funeral processions, wars. You experience the fire set by the British in 1814, the Lincolns’ life during the Civil War, the installation of gas lamps and then electricity, the utter reimagining of the house by Theodore Roosevelt, the creation of the West and East Wings and the Oval Office, the destruction of the Oval Office by fire in 1929 and its rebuilding, the complete gutting of the White House by Harry Truman so that a steel skeleton could replace the crumbling infrastructure and the two sub-basements could be added, and the postwar decades. The book is a presidential history, a social and cultural history, and an architectural history. It was a very special reading experience for me and I was sad when it ended. I feel like I know the White House much more intimately than I ever did. I fantasize about taking up residence in one of the several bedroom suites on the third floor (which you can’t really see from the outside, since it’s hidden by the parapets), hanging out up there in the solarium or the music room on a snowy day.
Anyway, here’s the complete list of books I’ve read this year, in chronological order:
The President’s House: A History, William Seale (2 vols.)
On Being a Therapist, Jeffrey A. Kottler
The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem (started)
Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, Rick Perlstein
Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image, David Greenberg
Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future, Will Bunch
Reagan’s Disciple: George W. Bush’s Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy, Lou Cannon and Carl M. Cannon
Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice, Joan Biskupic
The American Supreme Court, Robert G. McCloskey (started)
This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age, William E. Burrows
The Fabric of the Heavens: The Development of Astronomy and Dynamics, Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, Peter Watson
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David D. Burns
Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Vincent Bugliosi
Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Vincent Bugliosi (a third of it)
The Man Who Folded Himself, David Gerrold
Here’s to more happy reading in 2010.