Hattip to Mrs. Darwin at my co-blogger Darwin Catholic’s eponymous blog, for the following book meme questions:


1. Favorite childhood book?
American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War

2. What are you reading right now?
Early Byzantine Historians; The Road to Disunion:   Secessionists at Bay;  A World on Fire;  Lincoln’s Sword;  Bismarck:  A Life.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

4. Bad book habit?
Buying way, way too many as my basement library can attest.
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

6. Do you have an e-reader?
My I-pad is a surprisingly good e-reader.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
 I have always read several books at a time.  I am a slow reader and a few pages from several books each day suits my pace.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
A series on US Presidents I read through with my autistic son.  Even for a kid’s series the research was abysmal.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
A World on Fire, a comprehensive look at Britain’s role in out Civil War, by Amanda Foreman, Phd from Oxford and mother of five young kids.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Every day, mostly while browsing the net.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Science fiction, alternate history, fantasy, history and politics.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Presumably not, as I have difficulty reading in a car on the rare occasions when I am not driving.

14. Favorite place to read?
In bed.  A grand way to end the day.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
Open-handed.  I like to encourage people to read.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Never, although my wife does, one of her few imperfections.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

18. Not even with text books?
Always, especially if I vigorously disagreed with the textbook.  A precursor to blog fisking.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
 English.  My wife can read in English, Spanish, Catalan, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish.  I envy her ability to pick up languages.

20. What makes you love a book?
 Subject matter, good writing and a sense that the author isn’t a complete buffoon.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
If it stays in my memory and proves useful to me.

22. Favorite genre?
History, history and history!
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Mystery.  I can never solve them!

24. Favorite biography?
R E Lee by Douglas Southall Freeman.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
Never!  (Don spits!)

26. Favorite cookbook?
 My wife has quite a few and puts them to very good use.  I am out of my league if the word microwave is not part of the recipe, and hence I am ignorant of their contents.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Several books on Marathon.  No Marathon, probably no democracy.

28. Favorite reading snack?
Mustard sandwiches, barbecue potato chips and royal crown cola, the food of the gods.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
Tom Clancy.  I enjoyed his Hunt for Red October, but as the hype of his books grew, his talents as a writer seemed to diminish.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Depends upon the critics.  I have found English critics generally abler than their American counterparts, who often betray a disconcerting lack of knowledge of the subjects of the books they are reading.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
Negative reviews are fun!  I immensely enjoy savaging a bad book on Amazon!

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
City of God by Saint Augustine, unabridged.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West.  I’ve started it a few times, but he raised incomprehensibility to an art form.

35. Favorite Poet?
Rudyard Kipling, although my favorite poem is Lionel Johnson’s By the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
When I used libraries before I could afford to buy the books I read I would routinely have four or five checked out.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
Never completely unread.

38. Favorite fictional character?
Horatio Hornblower.

39. Favorite fictional villain?
Satan as depicted in Paradise Lost.  I have no doubt the actual fiend is a far more prosaic villain.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
 Usually science fiction or short historical monographs.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
Field Training Exercises in the Army.  One of several reasons I hated them.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Mein Kampf.  The knowledge of the damage the delusional Austrian Corporal did after writing such a wretched tome made slogging through the book too depressing.  Apparently top Nazis, other than Hitler, also thought it was a hard book to get through.  The book in the Third Reich was bought by almost everyone and read by almost no one.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Someone attempting to read over my shoulder.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
Master and Commander.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
All Quiet on the Western Front.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
Several hundred dollars.  (Don hangs his head in shame.)

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Rarely, although I sometimes read a book backwards like a witch says her prayers.  I often find the endnotes and annotated bibliographies the best parts of books.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
 A gross error of fact, or a feeling that an author was reveling in a particularly violent or pornographic passage.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Yes, although my system could use improvement.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I am a confirmed member of the packrat club when it comes to books.  We do sell some on e-bay.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
Anything with Howard Zinn or Thinner Thighs in 30 days in the title.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution.  The author simply didn’t know what he was writing about.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
Gore Vidal’s Julian, his novel on the Emperor Julian.  Vidal is a lunatic in his politics, but as a historical novelist he is top-notch.  His novel Creation is also quite good.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
Ronald Reagan’s second autobiography.  It bears no relationship to his earlier writings and obviously was heavily ghost written due to the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian novels.  Don’t judge me!

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. Your basement sounds like mine, Don. And I still have about 50% of my collection in a storage shed. We’re also reading the excellent “Early Byzantine Historians,” too, I see. Given how expensive or flat-out unavailable (in English) most of the primary sources are, it’s invaluable. Treadgold hasn’t written a clunker yet.

  2. Oh, and I still have my copy of the AH Golden Book of the Civil War–I prevailed upon my parents to buy it for me when we visited Gettysburg. A brilliant condensation of the original for younger readers. Not dumbed down in the slightest. I have to admit I loved the panoramas of the battles. My eldest son is starting to show some interest in the conflict, so I am going to hand it off.

  3. Are you referring to Reagan’s An American Life? I thought the first half was interesting, but the second half of it revolved around the subtleties of diplomatic communications. I didn’t think of it as a reflection of worsening Alzheimer’s. I think he was just that interested in economic and political matters in his first term and international affairs in his second. You could be right, though.

    Oh, and which is more intimidating: The Brothers Karamazov or The Divine Comedy? It’s funny how much less intimidating some books seem once you’ve “beaten” them.

  4. I just got done with his section on Procopius Dale. I have found few historians who elicit more divergent views and theories than Belisarius’ Boswell.

    The panoramas in the Golden Book were stunning and started me down the wargaming path.

  5. “Oh, and which is more intimidating: The Brothers Karamazov or The Divine Comedy?”

    The Divine Comedy without a doubt Pinky. No novice should attempt it except with a well annotated version. The Grand Inquisitor might disagree with me that it is more difficult than the B-Ks however. 🙂

  6. The Divine Comedy is somewhat intimidating. I found myself jumping back and forth between the text and the footnotes, since I often couldn’t recognize what he was referring to. I was unable to read Goethe’s Faust. That had to have been the worst for me. It just made no sense. I had read Dr. Faustes and knew of the legend. But Goethe’s play made no sense to me. I grew bored with Milton’s Paradise Lost. Among the classics, Les Miserable, though long, was one of the easiest reads for me.

  7. Among Christian works, I would recommend Solomon among the Postmoderns by Peter Leithart. Superb! Also, anything by New Testament scholar N. T. Wright. And of course everything C. S. Lewis has ever written.

  8. Mrs. McClarey dog-ears books? I can’t believe it! Not that I’m above dog-earing, but how can a librarian do it? I sure hope the Librarian Guild doesn’t find out, they’ll probably pull her membership card – that or assign her to something lame like organizing the periodicals alphabetically and by date.

  9. (Guest comment by Don’s wife Cathy:) Now you know why I ended up working at Don’s office, RL! ;(
    RE: Brothers Karamazov vs. Divine Comedy — I’ve read the Divine Comedy (& highly recommend the Viking Portable Dante edition — excellent translation & footnotes; I’ve also read bits of John Ciardi’s translation, but not all the way through). Haven’t read the Brothers Karamazov yet; don’t see a real need to (beyond a cultural literacy/”Cliff Notes” knowledge of the plot), so I guess that would be more intimidating for me.
    Speaking of Cliff Notes, I loved the Classics Illustrated comic books as a kid (gave me tastes of a lot of great stories before my reading skills/vocabulary/attention span were up to tackling the originals), and was happy to find reprints of many of them (often done ostensibly as “Cliff Notes”-style study guides to the unabridged books) which I could share with our own 3 kids when they were younger.

  10. Is your wife in agreement that the best thing in bed is reading, and do you usually have the mustard and chips in that location? TMI

    Had to give up reading in bed when the eyes started growing tired. Miss it. But reading on the deck in the summer is a good second fulfilling location.

  11. Faust – now that’s intimidating. I’m afraid of anything that was originally written in German. No disrespect to our Holy Father; I just don’t understand how anyone can think in that language.

  12. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy are worth reading. Dorothy Sayers’ The MInd of the Maker, too. And The Priesthood of Adam and an Offering of Uncles (forget who wrote it).

    Yes, I was struck by the apparent oddity of Faust. A little too creative, or too far from my understanding of the world, perhaps. And very difficult to read.

    Craig Barnhouse’s When God Interrupts is I think a very profound though extremely popular book aimed at a lay audience.

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