Of Reading Milestones and Spreadsheets



Like any writer, I read a lot. I write an annual “Reading Time” post, the most recent cataloging the 85 books I read in 2022. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the time I stopped reading for several years, even though I had started up again with a vengeance. This week I hit a milestone that I happened to notice when entering the latest read into my spreadsheet.

Yes, spreadsheet. I mentioned last time that I track my reading on Goodreads, where I can list my reading goals, note the books as I finish them, and write book reviews (or simply leave ratings). I noted that keeping track wasn’t any ego thing; it was an OCD thing. That OCD-ishness extends to a full-on Excel spreadsheet of all the books I’ve read in my lifetime. More or less.

The list started as a handwritten list. At some point I typed it, as in on a typewriter. I don’t recall if it was an electric typewriter or the “portable” monstrosity I used as a kid that weighed 30 pounds. Eventually it migrated to a Word table (or more likely, a WordPerfect table, then a Word table). Finally, after obsessing enough to jump it from one technology to another, including a short stint as a PDF, it ended up in a spreadsheet. Since its initial creation – exactly when I don’t remember but the first dated entry is 1991 – I’ve diligently added to it every book I’ve read from cover to cover. Books or chapters examined as research sources don’t count, and I’m not even going to think about the number of pages read from journal and magazine articles, plus letters and documents from the LOC and other libraries. This list is just books that I’ve read through.

The spreadsheet itself is rather simple. Columns are author name, book title, year read, notes I thought important (usually a word or two or ten), and category. The latter column is a relatively new addition, with a handful of categorizations like “Lincoln,” “Science,” “Writing,” and mostly sits empty because I haven’t bothered to backfill it or include categories like “fiction” or “science fiction” or whatever. Rows are listed alphabetically by author last name. If I read the book more than once, I’ll include both dates (year only) in that column. About thirty percent of the dates are blank. As mentioned, the first entry date is 1991, which is either the date I started keeping the table, or more likely, the date I started keeping track of the year I read the books. All the blank dates were books read before I started keeping track. Most of those obviously predated the list, so I had to backfill to include books I had read in my teen years, high school, college, and real life prior to my reading gap years mentioned last time.

Which means I almost certainly missed a lot. More on that in a moment. But first the milestone. As I was adding my most recent book, I happened to look at the bottom of the spreadsheet, to the very last row. The book listed was called Management Ideas That Work by Mark Zweig. Surprisingly, at least to me, it was one of sixteen different books by authors whose last name starts with “Z.” I’m almost certain every letter of the alphabet is covered, including “X” (When Red is Black by Qui Xiaolong).

More importantly, the Zweig listing is row 2000 (at least until the next book is added). I have no idea how that number compares to the rest of humanity, but by sheer force of being a round number it seems a lot to me.

And as I said, I likely missed a lot. Much of the earlier reads on the list were added much later from memory, or in some cases a written record from literature class or something. I also went through a couple of those books with titles like “1000 Books to Read in Your Lifetime,” plus a list or two of “127 Books You Must Read to be Literate” (or, “Before You Die”). If I found a title where I couldn’t remember if it was something I read or saw in a movie, I assumed it was the movie (although there were plenty of times I read the book AND saw the movie). In any case, if I wasn’t sure I read the book, I left it off the list. I also didn’t include books that were purely textbooks since most people don’t actually read the whole book (and yet, I likely took voluminous notes). Needless to say, none of the billions (okay, hundreds?) of children’s books I read are on the list even though I likely read them dozens of times each. I have no idea how many books would be added if I could miraculously determine every tome I read, but unfortunately my obsessions didn’t kick in until after many books had been traded with public libraries for many years.

One other interesting thing about the spreadsheet I recently noticed. There are fifteen rows in which I have more than one date, meaning I read the book more than once. Usually that means twice, but a couple show I read the book three times for whatever reason, usually with a decade or so in between. But even this is misleading as I know I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy five times (each) when I was in college, then at least once soon after entering the real world, and then again more recently. Those multiple readings are lost to a single recent date read. Then there are books like 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, and others that I read long before I started keeping the list and then read again more recently (for some reason after 2016, dystopian books seemed relevant again). Those books would have the date field blank and only show the most recent reading.

Then there are my own books, i.e., the ones I’ve written. I count these only once after each has been formally published. I don’t count the re-reads and re-writes during the editing phase, and even though I probably re-read them a few times after publication to refresh my memory ahead of presentations, I don’t count those again.

Which means that the 2000 rows, one book per row, are really much more than 2000 books read.

With 2000 books in the bank, the idea of reading 2001: A Space Odyssey suddenly seems like a good idea.

Now my OCD is starting to think about the next round number milestone. At my current average of about 85 books a year, I would need about 12 more years to reach 3000 books read. If I can bump up that average or suddenly identify a bunch of books I previous read that weren’t yet catalogued, I could do it in 10 years.

Except I should be writing. They do say that sleep is overrated.

[Photo is screenshot of a portion of my read book spreadsheet]

Lincoln: The Fire of Genius is available for purchase at all bookseller outlets. Limited signed copies are available here. The book is also listed on Goodreads, the database where I keep track of my reading. Click on the “Want to Read” button to put it on your reading list. If you read the book, please leave a review and/or rating.

You also follow my author page on Facebook.

David J. Kent is President of the Lincoln Group of DC and the author of Lincoln: The Fire of Genius: How Abraham Lincoln’s Commitment to Science and Technology Helped Modernize America and Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.


The Day I Stopped Reading



As anyone who has seen my Goodreads reading challenge knows, I’m an avid reader. I set an annual goal of reading 75 books, which I normally surpass. But there was a time when I stopped reading entirely.

For those who keep score of these things (BTW, this isn’t an ego thing as much as an OCD thing for me), most people don’t even come close to reading that many books. The exact number is hard to pin down, but Pew Research does polls on these things and concludes that most Americans (about 72%) read at least one book a year. That’s not a particularly useful number other than it shows that about 28% of Americans don’t even read that one book. In a year. Every year. That may explain a lot. In any case, Pew says that the average number of books read by Americans in a year is about 12 books.

Stop for a second and think about this. Twelve books doesn’t sound too bad – that’s one a month, right? But remember that 28% of Americans don’t read any books. My 75 (or 100) is way more than 12. And the way averages work can be misleading. A few massively high income values (think Jeff Bezos) would skew the average income calculation when interested in how much income is made by normal people. A better statistic than “average” is the “median,” which is simply the middle value if you put all the values in order. Pew says the median number of books Americans read in a year is 4. Given that romance books dominate reading (Romances sold $1.44 billion in 2022; crime fiction, the next closest genre, was half that), we have to admit that Americans are not a particularly literary crowd.

Okay, so we’ve established that I read quite a bit more than the average American. That’s not surprising since I’m college educated, worked professional jobs, and have no social life. Most of the people in that demographic are reading way above the average (and the median). We’re kind of like Jeff Bezos in that regard (but probably only in that regard). As I’ve written here before, most of my reading is nonfiction, although my fiction load has increased. No Harlequins for me; much of the fiction is on the more demanding side but not exclusively so (sometimes I need fluff to clear my brain). Reading brings me pleasure, but it also plays another role I’ll go into in a later post.

But there was a time I stopped reading for pleasure. I can’t identify the exact start date or duration, but somewhere around the family/work/Masters/doctoral years I was so inundated with reading for work/study that the last thing I wanted to do was pick up a book that wasn’t necessary. A lot of the work reading was technical – reports, scientific papers, legal briefs, mind-numbingly abstruse government guidance, all filled with jargon other scientists had trouble understanding, never mind the general public. Academic work wasn’t any better, especially when you toss in the statistical gyrations that only make sense if you’re a math nut (Spoiler: I wasn’t).

It wasn’t just the work/study/family distractions and burdens, of course. I was also doing interesting things, sometimes with interesting people. But my life course was also careening from one crisis to another and that kept me uninterested, or incapable, of parking myself in front of a book. For a while I would drag myself home from work/study (the two blended together so much it was hard to tell the difference), where I would be so mentally exhausted, I would turn on the TV “just for a minute” while preparing dinner, turning it off hours later as I fell into bed, only to do it all over again the next day/week/month/year. While I can’t recall how many years, the reading banishment was, in fact, measured in years.

Then it came back. With a passion.

Like everything in my life, the reasons are way too complicated to put into words. But there were two factors that definitely influenced my reading resurrection. One was travel. My now former company had re-settled me in Belgium for three years, which necessitated a handful of long flights back and forth between there and the main office in the U.S. I also started taking longer trips, where a 14-hour flight is just one leg of a multi-leg flight suite. I rarely sleep on a plane and given the quality of most flight movies; I’ve had a lot of time to read. Sure, I would also use the flight time to read for work, write reports, and later, write book proposals and sample chapters, but the long flights were also a chance to read some novel I picked up at Hudson News while waiting for boarding. The second factor was meeting someone who liked to read and who was as obsessive about keeping lists as I was. That got me started on the Goodreads Challenge thing. Having a place to record my reading is as much an inspiration to read as it is a distraction from the other things I should be doing, such as writing. That part is a problem, but such is life.

Actually, there is a third factor. I read a lot about Abraham Lincoln as part of my responsibilities in various Lincoln groups. I may read a bunch of books to help determine the winner of a book award or seem knowledgeable in a discussion group or to write reviews for various journals. That’s sort of like the work/study burden, but many of these I would have read anyway so I’ll give them a pass.

Bottom line: I’m back to reading a lot. I may actually be reading more now than before the gap because I don’t have the work/study burdens as I once had, although I’ve certainly acquired many more time-sucking responsibilities that are just as consuming, if not as profitable. After the barren COVID years I’m back to long-distance traveling and it’s amazing how many pages you can blow through on non-stop flight to Ethiopia. I do often berate myself for reading when I should be writing (distraction is a powerful force), but the irony is that I read more when I’m under contract for writing. It’s a form of hyperactivity. Like I said, it’s complicated.

At some point I’ll delve into my history of reading – the genres that seem to ebb and flow with my interests. I hardly read today some genres that used to obsess me. I’m sure there’s a reason for that.

[Photo from me, a portion of my library annex (not to be confused with my office/library)]

Lincoln: The Fire of Genius is available for purchase at all bookseller outlets. Limited signed copies are available here. The book is also listed on Goodreads, the database where I keep track of my reading. Click on the “Want to Read” button to put it on your reading list. If you read the book, please leave a review and/or rating.

You also follow my author page on Facebook.

David J. Kent is President of the Lincoln Group of DC and the author of Lincoln: The Fire of Genius: How Abraham Lincoln’s Commitment to Science and Technology Helped Modernize America and Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.

A Walk to Respect…and Remember Lincoln and Douglass



Last night I attended a reading of the play called “A Walk to Respect.” Ostensibly about conversations between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the play was much more. It was also a remembrance, as the actor who was to play Lincoln passed away unexpectedly a few weeks before the performance. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

“A Walk to Respect” is produced by The Patterson Foundation,” a philanthropic organization whose focus”strengthens the efforts of people, organizations, and communities by focusing on issues that address common aspirations, foster wide participation, and encourage learning and sharing.” It’s founder, Jim Patterson, was the great-grandson of Joseph Medill, the owner and editor of the Chicago Tribune. Lincoln historians will recall that Medill’s Tribune helped create the Republican Party and get Abraham Lincoln elected to the presidency. Thus, it is altogether fitting and proper the Foundation was involved in creating this play.

Three tall wooden bar stools with simple backdrops make up the entirety of the set. Beth Duda comes on stage to explain that while she is listed as the playwright, she is actually the play compiler. All the words spoken by the two actors are those either spoken or written by Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. As the play unfolds, it is clear (at least to Lincoln and Douglass scholars) that she has compiled words taken from various speeches and blended them into a cohesive narrative. Sometimes there is banter between the two actors, other times they trade monologues. Jeffrey Atherton reconstructs Lincoln’s manner and voice, while Joel PE King does the same for Douglass. Both actors bring the passion of their subjects into their portrayals: Lincoln more subdued as was his nature, the political necessity of the times, and indeed, his white privilege; Douglass more fervent, in line with his more proximal association with slavery. The play seeks to show how Lincoln, while unburdened by personal slavery himself, could work through the system in order to put slavery on a path to its ultimate extinction…while Douglass, escaped from the brutality of slavery on his own family and person, questions why those held in bondage have to wait until white people get around to allowing them the freedom due all Americans by the Constitution.

But there is a third stool on stage, appropriately placed in between the two protagonists. Cedric Hameed serves as an on-stage narrator of the play. But he is more than a narrator. Hameed places the readings of Lincoln and Douglass in the greater context while providing a historical flow for the audience to follow. Nowhere is this more evident than in one short section in which Hameed calls out a year and each actor responds. “1831” he calls. Lincoln responds, “store clerk;” Douglass, “slave.” “1833.” Lincoln proudly, “postmaster;” Douglass disgustingly, “slave.” “1834.” Lincoln, again proudly, “elected to Illinois state legislature;” Douglass, more animated, “slave.” While both largely self-educated, their circumstances were vastly different. The audience perhaps starts to see how this applies still today. A skilled poet, Hameed also offers some verse of his own creation, connecting not only Lincoln and Douglass but their time with our time.

Following the performance, the actors and playwright took questions from the audience, further illuminating the similarities and contrasts between Lincoln and Douglass. As the title suggests, while coming at slavery from different perspectives and different time scales for its extinction, the two men found a common bond and respect for each other’s role in the drama.

All three men on the stage were wonderful in their performances. Jeffrey Atherton and Joel PE King portrayed their characters with the appropriate moods and passions. While I was impressed with all three men, Atherton’s was somewhat bittersweet. He stepped into the role on extremely short notice and played it heroically. But I couldn’t help but think of who he was replacing.

The play has been in the works for several years, and Lincoln portrayer Michael Krebs was intimately involved in its creation. Michael died suddenly on January 29th. Through my own Lincoln connections, I actually found out before the Foundation and most others had heard the sad news. Michael had portrayed Lincoln for the Lincoln Group of DC in 2011 and 2015 for our reenactments of Lincoln’s first and second inaugurations. He was considered one of the best Lincoln actors in the country, often touring with the acclaimed Deb Miller as Mrs. Lincoln. Karen Needles, president of the Lincoln Group of DC during the time of the reenactments, offered her heartfelt memories of Michael in a recent post on the Lincolnian.org website. He will be missed.

[Photo from the program. Note that the actor playing Lincoln in the photo is the late Michael Krebs.]

Lincoln: The Fire of Genius is available for purchase at all bookseller outlets. Limited signed copies are available here. The book is also listed on Goodreads, the database where I keep track of my reading. Click on the “Want to Read” button to put it on your reading list. If you read the book, please leave a review and/or rating.

You also follow my author page on Facebook.

David J. Kent is President of the Lincoln Group of DC and the author of Lincoln: The Fire of Genius: How Abraham Lincoln’s Commitment to Science and Technology Helped Modernize America and Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.

A Writer’s Guide to Social Media



Social media. You know; that part of your platform that involves discovering, mastering, and maximizing your outreach to readers via all those new media that didn’t exist when you were born. Because writers write for readers (we certainly don’t do it to pay the rent) and without social media we can’t find each other. Right? So we need a guide.

Well, not really. Social media might not be as important for some writers as it is for others. It also seems to benefit fiction writers more than non-fiction writers. Truth is, there is no guide to social media for writers. What works for me might not work for you.

I’ll start with where I am on social media. First off is Facebook. Yeah, I know. That means I’m old. Given that “old” seems to start around age 30, I’ll accept that (ironically, when I was 20, I also thought 30+ was old). Kids these days (saying “kids these days” when you mean anyone under 30, or maybe 40, or even 50, definitely puts you in the “old” category) …where was I? Right, kids these days have moved on to other social media and largely left Facebook (because it’s full of old people, duh).

So, Facebook. In addition to a personal page for photos of your dog, your family vacations, and your weekend barbecue recipes, writers need to have an author page. Here’s mine: https://www.facebook.com/DavidJKentWriter The goal of an author page is to highlight your writing. That could be your new book, your back list (all your previous books), any writer’s life activities, and general information related to the topics you write about, whether that be new content, memes, or sharing writing guidance (e.g. about social media).

Twitter is also still largely a necessity. Again, younger folks have migrated to newer platforms, but Twitter still has the largest reach for pithy statements, memes, short videos, etc. Here’s my Twitter: https://twitter.com/DavidJKentWrite That’s my author account. I also have a general account for whatever isn’t author related, plus control the account for the Lincoln Group of DC. Twitter can be useful, but admittedly it has taken a hit in recent months as a result of general dissatisfaction with its takeover by Elon Musk (which has also hit Tesla’s stock price). There was a mad dash off the platform, although it remains to be seen whether one of the alternatives catches on to the same extent. For those who want an alternative, they include some that may sound familiar (Clubhouse, LinkedIn, Reddit) and some newer (e.g., Mastadon). Read about more options here: https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/feature/Best-Twitter-alternatives

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is Facebook for professionals, more or less. Here’s mine: https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidjkent/ Over the years, LinkedIn has morphed into a Facebook lookalike (without the cat photos) in the sense that there is an activity wall where you can post articles, job (or writing) updates, and share the work of others. It remains the go-to place for professional development, which for writers includes the impressive background needed to give prospective publishers and agents confidence you can deliver. Publications? Awards? Head of State? Make sure it’s there.

Instagram: The picture version. People post photos and short videos to capture the attention of those who gravitate to photos and short videos. Mine is here: https://www.instagram.com/davidjkentwrite/ Instagram has a hashtag (#bookstagram) where “influencers” (if I have to define it, you aren’t one) can boost new books.

YouTube: The video version. Okay, the long video version since many of the other social media let you do short videos (or reels, depending on the source). My YouTube is: https://www.youtube.com/@DavidJKent

A quick, but critical, note: Writers have to actually interact with other writers and readers on these social media platforms or they aren’t worth the time. Conversely, any or all of these can become a huge time-suck if you don’t keep it under control. It’s easy to get lost chasing down proverbial rabbit holes in the name of “research” or “platform-building.” Set limits and stick to them. That starts with not jumping on every social media fad in the first place. I’m more active on some media (e.g., Facebook) and not so active on others because of my own personality proclivities. You’ll need to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t try to do it all because 1) you’ll go crazy, and 2) you won’t actually write or do anything worth putting on social media.

Which gets me to TikTok. A lot of the younger set (Gen-X, Y, Z, Millennial, or whatever are the current code words to categorize people these days) have left the social media listed above to the old folks (aka, the 30+ crowd) and hopped onto social media that I’ll likely never be on, and in some cases, never even know exist. TikTok is all the fad right now, apparently for teens and 20-somethings to show off their dance moves (shuffle-dance anyone?). Given my apparent advanced age, lack of photogenicity, and three left feet, I don’t expect to be on TikTok. That said, there is a hashtag (#booktalk) where people promote books they like. It seems to be mostly about fiction, but it might work for some nonfiction as well.

There are tons of other social media platforms. Some are actually for writing (Medium, Substack, Tumblr) while others are for promotion. Pick what you like.

One more social media I’ll mention is Goodreads. Originally independent but now owned by Amazon, Goodreads is a great place to find new books to read, make (and receive) recommendations between friends, and track your reading. Like other social media, you can interact with other readers. You can also enter giveaways for a chance to receive free books. And, of course, it’s where you can leave ratings and reviews to opine on your favorite books (copy and paste any reviews on both Goodreads and Amazon because they don’t do so automatically). I use Goodreads for my annual Reading Challenge, where I set a goal for the number of books I read and keep track of what I’ve read. My Goodreads is https://www.goodreads.com/davidjkentwriter I highly recommend it.

The bottom line on social media is that one size does not fit all. The bigger the media network the more opportunities writers have to interact with potential readers (not to mention agents, publishers, writing coaches, book cover designers, editors, etc.). Used poorly, they can suck you into oblivion and leave no time for writing. Used wisely (with limits), they can greatly enhance your writing career.

To quote Abraham Lincoln (on a totally different topic):

And now, beware of rashness…but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.

Time to write!

Lincoln: The Fire of Genius is available for purchase at all bookseller outlets. Limited signed copies are available here. The book is also listed on Goodreads, the database where I keep track of my reading. Click on the “Want to Read” button to put it on your reading list. If you read the book, please leave a review and/or rating.

You also follow my author page on Facebook.

David J. Kent is President of the Lincoln Group of DC and the author of Lincoln: The Fire of Genius: How Abraham Lincoln’s Commitment to Science and Technology Helped Modernize America and Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.

WIP It Good – The Burden of Writing



With apologies to Devo,* most writers will understand the “WIP it Good” reference as “Works in Progress.” Every writer has a work in progress. Most have multiple WIPs. Sometimes the WIPs are naturally flowing from one book in a series to the next, but other times the WIPs are harder to capture. Sometimes the number of WIPs – actual and potential – becomes so overwhelming as to be a burden.

This is where I find myself now.

Last fall, a month or two or so after the release of Lincoln: The Fire of Genius, my literary agent excitedly informed me that Rowman and Littlefield, the parent publisher of the imprint Lyons Press that had published the book, was eager to work with me on my next book. No problem, I thought. I have a dozen books on my “books working on list,” of which a half dozen were WIPs.

I should digress to explain the difference. My “books working on” list is actually more like four dozen books (current total is 44), some of which I’ve already written off as unlikely in my lifetime. There are maybe a dozen that seem doable in said lifetime (I’m counting on good longevity genes keeping me tapping away for a while yet). And then there are the ones I’ve actually started writing, hence the “works in progress/WIP” status. The exact number and state of progress is forever fluctuating as my time and interest waxes and wanes – something that was top priority a month ago may be utterly forgotten a month hence. Other writers may be more focused, but such is my life.

Getting back to the “next book” to tell my agent and publisher. I had one in mind and was already deep in research for it, with a second also in mind involving road tripping history. During a video discussion with my agent, however, I realized that a third topic would actually be more doable in a reasonable time period. We settled on that one. All three had something to do with Abraham Lincoln, which despite my earlier books on Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, has been my primary focus over the last half-plus decade. Before ending the call, we also started chatting about what my agent referred to as “other historical figures.” While Jon Meacham’s Lincoln book dominated the market in late 2022, another book on Revolutionary War era Samuel Adams also became a best seller. There are markets for non-Lincoln books, so they tell me.

This got me thinking. Hidden among my “books working on” but not “WIP” list were at least five “other historical figure” book ideas, two of which I’ve been pushing colleagues to write (with me possibly as co-author), two that I think would be interesting but might be too obscure to have a market, and one that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time but would be a departure from the Abraham Lincoln historian expertise I’ve worked hard to build. Still, Meacham and other big-name writers flip from one historical figure to another without losing their markets, which is a good reminder that there is a difference between being a historian and a writer of biographies. In any case, I’ve been vacillating between writing more on Lincoln, some other historical figure, or something completely different (you may picture the opening scenes to the Monty Python TV show here).

The solution, it seems, at least in the near-term, is to blend the familiar with the completely different. That means it won’t be “completely” different because it still involves Lincoln, but the idea I’m likely to propose won’t be a standard biography either. Nor would it be a biographical analysis like The Fire of Genius. The idea is to blend Lincoln, history, travel, and current events into something that uses Lincoln to inform modern thinking. This will allow me to branch out into more creative writing while still hanging on Lincoln’s considerable coattails. It also serves as a bridge to the “next step” in my writing exploration, giving me the option to pursue memoir, travel, narrative nonfiction, and even fiction in the future. To put the proverbial cherry atop the cake, this combination of thought exercise and research has led me to a new “other historical figure” that seems to beg for biographical treatment. If it pans out, that would be next in line after the currently planned pre-WIP.

About those other WIPs. The half dozen is still a half dozen, although their order has changed. The dozen “doable books working on” has shifted a bit but still seems to be about the same number while the full “books working on” list seems to be growing exponentially. Which means I need to live longer and/or write a lot faster.

Time to write.

*For those unfamiliar with Devo, their Wiki page notes the name “comes from the concept of ‘de-evolution’ and the band’s related idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society.” And that was in the 1970s. Clearly the band was prescient.

Lincoln: The Fire of Genius is available for purchase at all bookseller outlets. Limited signed copies are available here. The book is also listed on Goodreads, the database where I keep track of my reading. Click on the “Want to Read” button to put it on your reading list. If you read the book, please leave a review and/or rating.

You also follow my author page on Facebook.

David J. Kent is President of the Lincoln Group of DC and the author of Lincoln: The Fire of Genius: How Abraham Lincoln’s Commitment to Science and Technology Helped Modernize America and Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.

Reading Time – 2022


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It’s that time of year when I recap progress on my reading goals as tracked on Goodreads. I had set a goal of only 50 books last year because I was writing my own book (more on that later) but ended up with 75 anyway, so my 2022 goal was back to my standard 75 books. Despite an amazingly busy year with the Lincoln Group of DC (including emceeing a grand celebration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in May), a return to traveling, and tons of events associated with the release of Lincoln: The Fire of Genius in September, I still managed to pass my goal – the final total is 85 books in 2022.

As usual, most of the books I read were nonfiction, although just barely. This year I read 31 fiction books. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction in recent years, in part to broaden my horizons, but also in part because there are two mini-libraries along a route I sometimes walk for exercise. I’ve taken to carrying a paperback book or two with me on those walks so I can trade mine for whatever someone else left behind. Because the process is inherently uncertain, the books I walk away with are routinely ones I wouldn’t have thought about specifically seeking. I also pulled at least two books off of Barack Obama’s 2022 reading list because they 1) sounded intriguing, and 2) were topics or authors I otherwise may not have heard about. I’m also open to recommendations from people I know. And then there are old classics I read again on a whim (or for the first time). Newer books I liked included Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake, Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, and Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle. My first book of the year was The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. I liked it so much that when I found his earlier book, A Gentleman in Moscow, in the mini-library, I snatched it up and read half the book while sitting in the waiting room on jury duty. I also read two older books by Frederik Bachman when they surreptitiously became available because I had enjoyed A Man Called Ove so much. I liked My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry well enough, and while Britt-Marie Was Here was also good, it was less so. I liked Stephen King’s Billy Summers because it came well-recommended even though I normally don’t read King’s books. Under the category of “classics” I read Flowers for Algernon, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Billy Budd, Galapagos (by Vonnegut), and Things Fall Apart. And because virtually everyone else on the planet was apparently reading it, I read Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry, which actually lived up to its hype (and not just because I’m biased towards scientists).

Not surprisingly, a large proportion of my nonfiction reading was about Abraham Lincoln despite the fact that I wasn’t on the Abraham Lincoln Institute book award committee in 2022. I counted 22 Lincoln books for the year, although I could arguably add a few more that are “sorta-Lincoln” in the sense they talk about slavery or were about Frederick Douglas or some other issue that relates to issues Lincoln dealt with. Unfortunately, some of those issues have not gone away.

The biggest, bestest, most spectacular Lincoln book of the year was, of course, my own book, Lincoln: The Fire of Genius. Even though I wrote it and read it, edited it, and read it a few more times, I don’t count my own books as “read” until I actually have the published hard copy in my hand. So, I read my own book when it came out in September. In fact, I’ve read it a few times over again since then to refresh my memory of details as I give interviews and presentations. Based on feedback I’ve received from readers, and my own unbiased opinion (okay, slightly biased opinion), it’s actually quite good. If you’ve read it, please leave a review on Goodreads and especially on Amazon.

The other Lincoln books run the range from well-known Lincoln scholars like Harold Holzer (The Lincoln Image), Michael Burlingame (An American Marriage), Jonathan W. White (A House Built by Slaves), Allen Guelzo (Robert E. Lee). Famous authors writing on Lincoln this year included Jon Meacham (And There Was Light) and John Avlon (Lincoln and the Fight for Peace). Two nice surprises this year were Carole Adrienne’s Healing a Divided Nation (about Civil War medicine) and Roger Lowenstein’s Ways and Means (a surprisingly entertaining look at how the war was financed). I also dug up two old books that were interesting: graphic artist Bernhardt Wall’s Following Abraham Lincoln and a rare copy of James E. Myers’s The Astonishing Saber Duel of Abraham Lincoln. Then there was James A. Percoco’s Summers with Lincoln. There were two other very special books. One was a reprinting/reimagining of an 1858 notebook Lincoln sent to a fellow politician with newspaper clips of his controversial political positions on equal rights, rediscovered by publisher/author Ross Heller and published as by Abraham Lincoln: His 1858 Time Capsule. The other was not really about Lincoln but was written by a fellow long-time Lincoln Group of DC member named Daniel R. Smith, whose father (who sired Dan at the age of 70 in 1932) was born into slavery in 1863. The book, Son of a Slave, is a fascinating look both at the residual effects of slavery and the Jim Crow/Civil Rights eras, but an insightful memoir at a Black man’s life in a largely white world. Dan passed away just before the book was released, so I had his widow sign it to me on his behalf.

Other nonfiction books included memoirs/biographies such as Maus I&II, Crying in H Mart, and The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams. I read Maus because of the book banning controversy earlier in the year after realizing I had never read it. Crying in H Mart gave me some insight into being Asian in America. The Samuel Adams book was hot this year, but I read it also because, despite growing up in the birthplace of the American Revolution, I realized I didn’t know that much about one its biggest protagonists. I was less impressed with the book then most people, but I did gain a better appreciation for earthshattering events that happened in my own backyard.

There was a smattering of science books during the year, including my brother’s new book, Earth Day, Every Day by Don Kent, a compilation of essays brimming with key facts, strategies, and solutions regarding our shared environmental and health challenges. He also released Leadership Practices for Healthy Lands: Building the Capacity to Sustain Our Valuable Lands and Waters, an updated and expanded third edition of a book I read last year (I’ll read the new edition in early 2023). Other science-related books include The Treeline, a mega-hyped book I found lacking but others liked. To me the interesting parts were weighed down by cumbersome prose. I liked Sentient by Jackie Higgins a bit more. Then there were books on ADHD and how the mind works.

I read poetry! Those who know me understand that I struggle with reading poetry. The standard rhyme flows well but the meaning often gets lost in the cadence. The more complicated structures confuse my easily distracted brain. That said, I was so impressed with Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem that I bought her book. Some of her poems I really liked, many made me think, and others I just totally didn’t get. All in all, however, a plus.

And finally, there were the books I liked that don’t fit neatly into any category. Clint Smith’s How the Word is Passed is a magnificent and insightful look at how race is taught in America, both directly and systemically. Everyone should read this book, whether you are white or black or whatever. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown takes an intimate look at the American men who rowed to victory in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It’s a wonderful deep dive into the training and thinking of a group of largely unknowns who made history the same year Jesse Owens was proving white supremacy was a fallacy. I also liked The Sinner and the Saint by Kevin Birmingham, which digs into the inspiration for Dostoevsky’s writing of Crime and Punishment. As the title might suggest to some, it involves Dostoevsky’s own trials and tribulations and a serial killer (yes, you read that correctly). Another fascinating book was The Science of Abolition: How Slaveholders Became the Enemy of Progress by Eric Herschthal. He takes a look at how abolitionists as well as slavery proponents used science (and pseudoscience) to bolster their positions. The book relates well to the “Science of Slavery” chapter in my own book, Lincoln: The Fire of Genius.

You can see the full list of books by following my Goodreads site.

As with last year, I write this with the big ball sparkling above Times Square ready to be counted down at midnight. While it’s warm, it’s also raining, much as it was last year. So, it’s time to decide what my reading goal will be for 2023. I don’t know if I’ll be on the ALI book award committee this coming year, and I don’t know if I’ll get a new book contract in 2023 (although I do expect to get one, plus publish two POD specialty books on Amazon). I do know that the first half of the year is already booked pretty well already with presentations, interviews, and whatnot associated with Lincoln: The Fire of Genius and my role as president of the Lincoln Group of DC will keep me busy. I also have at least one travel event already booked, plus a road trip I’ll do in April, with the expectation there will be one or two more trips added during the year.

Given all this, and needing a goal to push me, it seems fitting and proper to keep my reading goal for 2023 at 75 books. That gives me a challenging goal to shoot for, but also one reasonable enough that I could pass it while leaving me time (really!) for all the other commitments. My hope is to continue to broaden my reading to include other historical figures and time periods besides Lincoln, but Lincoln will always be at the forefront.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

Lincoln: The Fire of Genius is available for purchase at all bookseller outlets. Limited signed copies are available here. The book is also listed on Goodreads, the database where I keep track of my reading. Click on the “Want to Read” button to put it on your reading list. If you read the book, please leave a review and/or rating.

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David J. Kent is President of the Lincoln Group of DC and the author of Lincoln: The Fire of Genius: How Abraham Lincoln’s Commitment to Science and Technology Helped Modernize America and Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.