A year of good reads or living by the book?

Posted February 25, 2015 By Don Smith

Books have always been a constant in my life and they’ve taught me that failing to reach a goal doesn’t always count as a failure.

Growing up, my siblings and I were surrounded by books of all kinds. My mother read and still reads almost every genre — fiction, non-fiction, self-help, mystery, biography, religious, science fiction, history, and romance. The four-bedroom, two-bathroom home where she and my father live has shelves in every room, overflowing with upwards of 3,000 books. If it wasn’t for the Kindle, there would likely be even more.

So while maybe not a birthright, being a voracious reader was, let’s say … encouraged. I am always reading a book, and often have two or three that I am in the middle of at once (currently on my bookstand are historical narratives on Tecumseh and Kim Philby along with a complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories). One of them is always in reach, so I can sneak in a few pages here and there while brushing my teeth, making coffee, or watching a Badger basketball game that has turned into a blowout.

A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

That brings me to the failure that wasn’t.

In 2010, I set a goal to read 50 books a year. Last year was the first year I missed it (I read 45), but I am not beating myself up too badly. I’m still reaching for the same goal in 2015, even though it can be a challenge to find the time with raising a family, a full-time job, and building in time for pursuits such as soccer and strategy games. That’s because even if I only read 45 books, or 10 books, the rewards are there for me. There is escapism in ripping through a good fantasy (Game of Thrones!), horror, mystery, or graphic novel. There is historical perspective and context in learning about events I either knew of only peripherally such as the “Great Game” in 1800’s Afghanistan or not at all such as the “Ghost Soldiers of the Philippines.” Inspiration can be found in the thoughts of a 13-year-old non-verbal autistic boy finally able to share his thoughts and words with the world via technology in “The Reason I Jump.”

Every book I read, both the brilliant and the “meh”, teaches me something. I can’t imagine living a life without reading and it is a joy I hope to pass on to my children and theirs.

I didn’t read 50 books in 2014, but I still laughed, puzzled, cried a couple of times, learned a lot, and most importantly came out richer for the experience of trying.

There is a quote from game designer Reiner Knizia that says it best: “When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning.”

Highlights from 2014 in no particular order:


In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette

Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

The Reason I Jump



Rain Reign


Sworn in Steel

Locke & Key