American Culture

The 2014 reading list…

Like yoga, reading should be about stretching yourself…

Nice pile of books (image courtesy photobucket)

Last year I made a sort of “resolution” to read at least 25 books and write reviews of them. If any of you has followed me through that long and winding experience, you know that I read considerably more than 25 books (nearly double that number, truth be told – and be forewarned – the extended list is still some 7 books short of the glory of completeness – so the actual total is, I believe 46).

Nearly a book a week. Not bad. Not as prolific as some of my friends, but an acceptable total, I believe.

Still, one seeks to improve – or should, anyway. So I present the 2014 reading list – bigger, more diverse, more challenging – to this guy. Some of these I decided upon myself, some of them were recommended by friends with impeccable taste, some (and these are often the most fun and rewarding – in that way that new acquaintances who become good friends are) I simply bumped into.

One more rather important note: this year I’ll be writing about my reactions to andreflections upon the books rather than reviewing them per se. This will be done in the spirit in which my great and good friend Sam Smith responded to my latest book. This will allow me leeway to use the books as what books ought to be – springboards for ruminations about our culture, our world, our life….

So. On to the list:

1) Coffee With Hemingway – Kirk Curnutt. The second of the “Coffee With” series that I’ve run across. This one, written by an professor, will be my first piece (I’ve already read it, in fact, as a carry over to 2014 from 2013 – thank the holiday break).

2) The Jamestown Adventure – ed. Ed Southern. This is a compilation of pieces by the earliest colonists at Jamestown, Virginia. My hope is that it will provide an interesting counter balance to my piece on William Bradford’s Plymouth Plantation from the 2013 list.

3) The Stranger and the Statesman – Nina Burleigh. This is a book on the founding of the Smithsonian Institution. Should be a fascinating read.

4) The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje. Like everyone else, I saw the movie back in the 1990′s. Picked up the book at Goodwill. Hope I like it better than the film.

5) Sense and Sensibility – The first of my Jane Austen novels for 2014. Expect me to talk more about Marianne than Elinor….

6) Bear V. Shark – Chris Bachelder. A book my son Josh, a fine writer himself, admires. I think it addresses some of the issues of our spectacle culture.

7) The Book of the City of Ladies – Christine de Pisan. An interesting medieval proto-feminist response to Jean de Meun’s Romance of the Rose.

8) The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins. A commercial sensation that supposedly has greater merit than mere entertainment – we shall see.

9) Zipping My Fly – a Christmas present from my son Josh (mentioned above). A humorous look at the “quiet sport” of fly fishing, one of my personal passions.

10) Room Temperature – Nicholson Baker. This year’s list has several examples of what we call “literary fiction.” Baker is, of course, one of its darlings.

11) The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles. The classic novel about love, loss, and nature….

12) American Sphinx – Jospeh J. Ellis. Yet another biographical look at Thomas Jefferson.

13) An Insider’s Guide to Publishing – David Comfort. Offers tips to writers trying to find their way in the complicated world of contemporary publishing.

14) Rock Springs – Richard Ford. Ford is a personal favorite and this is as fine an example of his work as I can suggest to any reader. I look forward to this re-read.

15) Sharp Eyes – William Hamilton Gibson. A book about perception that uses tromp l’oeil to teach lessons about how we perceive our world. An antique shop find that promises to be a delight.

16) Snow White – Donald Barthelme. Another of literary fiction darling. I’ve read other work of Barthelme’s – though years ago. It’ll be interesting to see how I respond to his work now….

17) The Oysters of Locmariaquer – Eleanor Clark. A fascinating social anthropology look at life in a French village.

18) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë. The most important of the youngest Brontë sister’s works. Some critics think this may be the greatest of all the works by this talented family.

19) Tristan – Gottfried Von Strassburg. The medieval courtly romance offers one of the most influential treatments of the legend of Tristan and Isolde.

20) Stoner – John Williams. Another literary fiction stalwart, Williams is currently enjoying a belated renaissance thanks to this novel about the quiet desperation of an English professor.

21) Fly Fishing in North Carolina – Buck Paysour. A classic of regional fly fishing lore and advice.

22) Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is one of the heroes of the “new literature” that focuses its attention on genre fiction. It will be a pleasure to explore his work.

23) Kink – Dave Davies. An autobiography from a 60′s rock legend. The guy who gave us that killer guitar riff at the beginning of “You Really Got Me” tells the story of playing in The Kinks with brother Ray.

24) It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis. Lewis’s satire of a fascist’s rise to power by claiming he’s protecting “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” as Dr. Johnson called it, patriotism. Seems all too apropos for these times.

25) The Resisting Muse – ed. Ian Peddie. The subtitle is Popular Music and Protest. For this former professional musician, nothing amuses more than academics trying to apply  critical theory to rock and roll. Should be a laugh riot.

26) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson. I’m not, as anyone knows who regularly reads my mewling and puking about books, much of a genre fan. But mystery/crime fiction is a genre I do enjoy. We’ll see if this work lives up to the hype.

27) An Exaltation of Larks – James Lipton. Yes, this book is by the famed actor/interviewer. It’s a book about the magic and charm of words used well. Think I’m probably going to like it.

28) Literary Luxuries – Joe David Bellamy. This may be the most self-indulgent work on this list. It’s supposed to be a “state of things” book about literary fiction at the turn of the 21st century. Perhaps it will explain why so much literary fiction is freaking unreadable….

29) Waiting for Nothing – Tom Kromer. This cult favorite writer is sort of the precursor of John Williams mentioned above, perhaps. Kromer wrote powerfully (in a clipped style somewhere between Hemingway and Hammett) about the life of “forgotten men” displaced by the Great Depression. Having read this a couple of decades ago at the suggestion of a deeply respected colleague, alas, no longer whinnying with us, I look forward to revisiting this classic.

30) Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen. This is the most perfect novel ever written by a human being from the planet Earth. That is all.

31) The Chimes – Charles Dickens. The second greatest of Dickens’ Christmas tales. Deserves more attention than it gets.

32) A Foxfire Christmas – ed. Eliot Wigginton.  Many read this book for its charming depictions of rural, simple Christmas celebrations. It can also serve as a primer for how to be happy with less.

So that’s the list – so far. I’ve already plunged in, and I even have one book already completed, as I mentioned, so look for the first book based essay soon.

Hope maybe you’ll find something here that tickles your fancy. If so, let me know your reactions. Always enjoy comparing notes.

For now, Happy New Year!