American Culture

The 2014 Reading List…

Like yoga, reading should be about stretching yourself…

A 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 and reflections 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:

Reading List1) Coffee With Hemingway – Kirk Curnutt. The second of the “Coffee With” series that I’ve run across. This one, written by a professor, will be my first piece (I’ve already read it, in fact, as a carryover 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 – Joseph 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 ’60s 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!

11 replies »

  1. The Hunger Games is also on my list for this year. Anansi Boys is definitely worth the read; I liked it better than American Gods, to which it is a sequel. I also like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I have never read Snow White, but D. Barthelme is the author of my favorite short story of all time, “Concerning the Bodyguard,” and I have read enough of his other stuff to think highly of him as a writer. This is very ambitious — it is the writing of the reviews that makes it so.

    • As you can see from the list Gene’O, I’m looking hard at the lit fic world this year. Hence Barthelme and Nicholson Baker. I’ve read some of the former before – this will be my first try with the latter. We shall see…

        • He did, Gene’O. I tried VOX several years ago (not so long after it appeared so maybe more than several years ago. Couldn’t get going. But it’s claimed he’s important, so I’m giving this ROOM TEMPERATURE a go. We’ll see…

  2. Damn you. All the books I’ve recommended to you and not ONE of them makes the list?

    This is why assholes like me go to see Holiday Inn bands and yell out “play ‘Freebird’!”

    Ahem. That said, looking forward to the project. Especially looking forward to your takes on Larsson and Gaiman…..

    • Stop telling me to read crap you know I won’t read. I’ll likely get to Stephenson since we all know that even this extended list won’t hold me through the entire year and he’s at the top of my “extension” group. But you also know I’m not a great sci-fi lover – yes, love Vonnegut and Bradbury, no, not really big on a lot of it….And the reason you yell “Play ‘Freebird!'” at Holiday Inn bands is because you know they’ll do it – and in some way this makes you happy. But unfortunately, I do not have the clinical degrees that might allow me to explain why this would make you happy….

  3. “Anansi Boys” is one of my favorite books, full stop. I agree with the above commenter who thinks it is better than “American Gods” — it is head and shoulders better than “Gods.” That’s what you get when Gaiman has a decade or so to develop his craft, I suppose.

    • I’ve read a teensy bit of Gaiman. There’s much hue and cry about his sort being part of the “new” literature that will lead us out of the silo mentality that plagues publishing. I just hope he’s as interesting, engrossing, and thought provoking as people keep telling me he is….

  4. It’s a kids book, but another Gaiman you might like is “The Graveyard Book.” And “Good Omens” is Gaiman/Pratchett and absurdly fun. Not exactly high literature, but if you enjoy satire, it might be worth adding to your extension list too.

    I haven’t read “Anansi Boys” myself, but I loved “American Gods.” And I’m considering acquiring Gaiman’s Sandman comics/graphic novels, which I’ve heard are excellent.

    • Thanks, Brian. Pratchett is another on my list with Stephenson. I think with Gaiman I’ll probably go to AMERICAN GODS, widely considered his masterpiece (at least so far) afetr ANANSI BOYS – and yeah, I’m reading them in reverse order, but I’ve done dumber things, so… 🙂