2016 Book List Thread at LibriVox

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Over at LibriVox, the folks have a thread going in which we are invited to keep a running list of the books we are reading. It’s a great way to keep track of titles that would probably get lost in my increasingly porous memory. Over here on my blog, I’m only writing about a random selection of books, not everything I’ve read. For my complete reading list, here’s the link to that LibriVox thread:

LibriVox 2016 Book Lists Thread  (This should take you directly to my book list. By scrolling up and down the thread, you can also read other folks’ lists, which is a great way to come up with other reading suggestions.)

(Book list last updated April 1st 2016).


Books Read in 2015


As you may have noticed, the sticky-post at the top of this blog has changed. The 2015 LibriVox Book List Thread has been updated for the last time. To avoid having to click over to the LibriVox site to see that list again, I’m posting it here for future reference:

(Meanwhile, the new sticky-post above contains the updated link to the current year’s Book List in progress.)

Totals —
57 print books read in 2015 —
and 52 audio books listened to.

What I Read:


LibriVox 10th Anniversary Collection


LV 10th AnniversaryLibriVox 10th Anniversary Collection

Every year on August 10th, LibriVox has celebrated the occasion by releasing the annual Anniversary Collection. These are very eclectic potpourris of fiction, poetry, memoirs, essays, history, science articles, even occasional songs, some only two or three minutes long, others nearly an hour long. The only thing these pieces have in common is that each title must include the number of the anniversary year — eight, nine, — and now — ten.

The number of individual items in each collection has grown each year — eighty for the 8th Anniversary, ninety for the 9th — and thus this year, to celebrate the 10th, we have a collection of a full 100 items.


The San Francisco Earthquake


San Francisco Newspapers Cover PictureThe San Francisco Earthquake of 1906
by a number of nameless but intrepid newspapermen

A few months ago, I began working on a LibriVox recording with my usual LV team — (GregG and AnnB) — A History of the Earthquake and Fire in San Francisco by Aitkin & Hilton, written in 1906 just a few months after the events described in the book. In the course of working on that project, I became particularly interested in the work of the newspapermen of that city. The headquarters of all the major newspapers were destroyed, along with their printing presses, and yet the reporters still managed to collect and publish news of what was happening around them. On the Library of Congress website, I found this collection of historic newspapers, including several issues of the San Francisco Call from the days following the earthquake. That led to my most recent solo project, The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire as Reported in the Newspapers of that City.

Reading these newspapers, more than a century old, felt surprisingly familiar. It connected in my mind with the reading I do at Reachout Radio, where we do live readings from today’s newspapers. In the Aitkin & Hilton book, even though it was written shortly after the event, the story was told in the past tense, as something already beginning to pass from “news” to “history”. In the newspaper readings, everything is happening in the present tense, in the immediate here and now. If only radio had existed in 1906, I might have been a Reachout Radio reader, turning the pages of the papers, looking for the articles that would be most informative to the listeners on the other end of the airwaves.

We would have to begin with the leading articles, the ones which pull together the big picture of what’s happening. Where are the present fire lines and which way is the fire moving? Where are the civic leaders meeting and what is their game plan? Where are people to go for safety, and how are they to get there? Before the internet, before television, before radio, the printing press was the clearing house for everything people most desperately needed to know.

Then there are the small and personal items. A wealthy woman lost all her property in the fire, but announced that she was giving half of what she had in the bank to the relief fund. Two men in what appeared to be a Red Cross wagon stole blankets and jewelry from the homeless camped in Golden Gate Park. Enrico Caruso got a black eye during an altercation over luggage at the ferry boat wharf. A University of California professor rescued the paintings at Hopkins Art Institute by cutting them out of their frames as the flames surrounded the building, rolling up the canvases and taking them to safety.

The reporters diligently collected data and more data, and devoted full pages to making it available. People seeking friends and relatives checked the hundreds of names and addresses published in the papers. Lists of people hospitalized at various locations were available, with a brief description of their injury. Locations of relief stations and food distribution stations were published in the paper. Businessmen, driven out of one location, turned to the newspapers to announce new temporary locations and to ask their employees to check in.

Even the “Personals” were fascinating little glimpses of small human details in the larger story. Herb asked Eve in a classified ad, “Where are you?” Mr. Monteverde published an ad asking for information on the whereabouts of the children of the Mexican Vice President, who had been staying with a Miss Velasco. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart announced that their building had escaped unharmed and that school would resume Monday. An enterprising Oakland real estate broker advertised “an earthquake-proof 5-room cottage” and advised the reader to “Grab it quick!”

The San Francisco newspapermen were working under serious disadvantages. All three major papers in the city lost their buildings to the fire on the first day. But being true news hounds, they weren’t about to give up when they were standing in the middle of a big story. Reporters from the three rival papers pooled their stories on the first day, located a borrowed press across the bay in Oakland, and put a small 4-page edition on the streets of San Francisco the next morning. By the following day, each paper had organized a temporary location of its own and was ready for some serious reporting. By the third day, the San Francisco Call was putting out eight pages of fine print, including stories from surrounding towns like Santa Rosa and Mendocino.

Of course, the newspapermen couldn’t help including an article about themselves. “Call Distributed Free to the People from Automobile — Crowds Rush Frantically to Secure Paper Wherever Stops are Made” announced a headline of pardonable pride.  Yes, we did a good job, the boys of the press told themselves and their readers. It was true; they did a job of notable importance and they did it well. And to top it off, they temporarily waived profit for the sake of their deeper mission — the perennial mission of the press, yesterday and today and always — keeping the people informed.

2015 Reading List on LibriVox Forum

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Over at LibriVox, the folks have a thread going in which we are invited to keep a running list of the books we are reading. This year I’m participating, because it’s a great way to keep track of titles that would probably get lost in my increasingly porous memory. Over here on my blog, I’m only writing about a random selection of books, not everything I’ve read. For the complete reading list, here’s the link to that LibriVox thread:

LibriVox 2015 Book Lists Thread  (This should take you directly to my list. By scrolling up and down the thread, you can also read other folks’ lists.)

(Book list last updated January 1st 2016).

They Who Knock at Our Gates

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They Who Knock Cover PictureThey Who Knock at Our Gates
by Mary Antin

The stories of my immigrant great-grandparents were woven all through the years I spent living in the same house with Grandma and Grandpa. Maybe it’s because of that, but whenever I hear anyone speaking dismissively of today’s immigrants, I want to rush to their defense. When I came across a copy of this little book, written a hundred years ago, I wanted to shout “Yes! That’s it!” to the author.  Mary Antin hit the target and put her finger on exactly the point that has bothered me, the sore spot that I’ve never quite been able to name in words.

This is what burns — that we’re missing the point. Those who want to restrict immigration because “they take away jobs” and those who want to encourage it  because “they do jobs no American wants to do” are both equally missing the point. They are both talking as though it’s merely a utilitarian issue. The hollow empty place inside me, the place that hungered for a satisfaction, found something solid in Antin’s discussion. The real point is that we have an unacknowledged, unexamined moral question that lies at the root of the whole tree. Who are we, and what is America? If we can’t answer that question, then we are chasing shadows, arguing trivia.

Mary Antin takes us back to the foundation, back to the Declaration of Independence, back to the roots of the American experiment. What follows, one way or another, must grow from that root, or else it is just dead wood.

I read this little book for LibriVox.  Here’s the audiobook version, if you want to listen.

In 1914, over one million immigrants arrived in the United States, following in the footsteps of approximately ten million others who had arrived in the preceding decade. Faced with so many newcomers, many of them from backgrounds new to the American mix, voices in government and in the press had begun arguing in favor of more severely restrictionist immigration policies. In They Who Knock at Our Gates, Mary Antin broke down the discussion into three basic questions. First, the ethical question — Where do we discover a right to restrict new arrivals, in light of all men’s equal natural rights as declared by our founding documents? Second, the factual questions — Who are these new immigrants, what sorts of gifts and qualities do they possess, what are their strengths and weaknesses, and what biases do we bring to our assessment of them? And third, the slippery question of individual interpretation — How shall we decide without prejudice whether immigration is good for us, as a nation and as individual citizens? Written a century ago, Mary Antin’s analysis of the “immigration question” still speaks to current readers.

The Secret Service, the Field, the Dungeon, and the Escape

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Secret Service Cover PictureThe Secret Service, the Field, the Dungeon, and the Escape
by Albert Richardson

Last summer, I read Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy by Peter Carlson and wrote about it in a post on this blog.  Afterwards I looked online for copies of the original memoirs of the two subjects, and after browsing them to see which one appealed to me as the more interesting, settled for this one by Albert Richardson.  Over the course of about six months, a team of three LibriVoxers have produced this audiobook version of Richardson’s memoir.  (GregG and I split the reading of the chapters, and AnnB was our coordinator/prooflistener.)

Here I’ll simply quote the book summary which I wrote for the LibriVox catalog listing:

  • Albert Richardson was a reporter for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune when he volunteered to hazard an undercover journey through the American south, reporting incognito on the growing secession crisis in that region. With the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, he attached himself to the Union armies as a war correspondent, sending dispatches from the fields of battle for the next two years. Then, in May 1863, while attempting to pass a Confederate battery outside Vicksburg, Richardson found himself thrown from a burning barge into the Mississippi River, swimming for his life with a squad of Union soldiers and several other reporters. Captured as a prisoner, he was at first confident that as a civilian newspaperman he would be quickly exchanged. Instead, he was to spend the next 18 months in various prisoner of war camps. Seizing at last an opportunity for escape, he set out to cross the snowy Appalachians in the dead of winter, heading for Union lines in Tennessee, assisted by a secret network of slaves, Unionists, and bushwhackers. Albert Richardson’s own personal memoir of his wartime adventures, published in 1865, offers readers a rousing historical narrative presented with a journalist’s eye for detail.

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