Arts/Literature

Twenty-five books in thirty days

I’m going to read 25 books over the next 30 days. At least that’s the plan.

And my goal is to share my reading with you.

It’s partially by design, partially by doctoral requirement. The PhD program I’m enrolled in requires three “field exams”—areas of specialty that I want to focus on as part of my doctoral work above and beyond the coursework I have to take.

My first, which I’m reading for over Christmas break, will focus on the way creative nonfiction writers write about place.

My list started out with twenty-eight books on it, but it’s grown a little over the past few days:

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire.

Berry, Wendell. The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.

Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.

Bryson, Bill. I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away.

Carson, Rachel. The Edge of the Sea.

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring.

Casey, Susan. The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks.

Cushman, Stephen. Bloody Promenade: Reflections on a Civil War Battle.

Dennis, Jerry. The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas.

Elder, John. Reading the Mountains of Home.

Elder, John. The Frog Run: Words and Wildness in the Vermont Woods.

Gilman, Susan Jane. Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven.

Gessner, David. My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism.

Gessner, David. Sick of Nature.

Heinrich, Bernd. A Year in the Maine Woods.

Hogan, Linda. Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World.

Horwitz, Tony. Confederates in the Attic.

Junger, Sebastian. The Perfect Storm.

Kingsolver, Barbara. High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never.

Kohnstamm, Thomas. Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism.

Lopez, Barry. About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory.

Lopez, Barry. Arctic Dreams.

McKibben, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

McPhee, John. The John McPhee Reader.

McPherson, James. Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg.

Muir, John. Nature Writings.

Orwell, George. Road to Wigan Pier.

Smith, Julian. Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Life and Adventure.

Tayler, Jeffrey. Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness.

Thomas, Emory. Travels to Hallowed Ground: A Historian’s Journey to the American Civil War.

Thoreau, Henry David. The Maine Woods.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden.

Troost, J. Martin. Lost on Planet China: One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation.

Williams, Terry Tempest. Refuge.

Williams, Terry Tempest. Finding Beauty in a Broken World.

I’ve had other people offer some great suggestions to me, too, and no doubt I’ll dabble with some of those along the way, too, and I will certainly look at those suggestions in more earnest once the “official” list gets knocked out.

Here’s how this works: Students work with a faculty member to compile a reading list. Once that’s been finalized, the student reads, reads, reads. As the student begins to find patterns and themes, he/she (in this case, “he”) works with the faculty member to develop a question related to the list. Then, when the student is ready, he says “OK.” The English Department e-mails him the question on a Friday and he has 72 hours to write an answer, due Monday morning. The faculty member reads the paper and assigns a pass or fail.

But because I can never do things the easy way, I’ve decided that as I read a book, I’m going to write about it. It’s my attempt to process what I’ve read. It’ll help me organize my thoughts as I go. It’ll help “set” in my mind what I’ve read so that, as I barrel through these, they don’t just become a blur. After all, this is not about quantity but, in the end, quality. By writing about the books, I hope to make this a more qualitative, albeit intense, reading experience.

My goal is to read twenty-five of these books before the start of the semester on January 25.

As I go, I’ll share. Feel free to skip. Feel free to add your own thoughts. Most importantly, feel free to ask your own questions.

Let’s see what places these creative nonfiction writers take us.

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