“So many books, so little time.”
― Frank Zappa (1940–1993), American multi-instrumentalist musician, composer, bandleader and reader.
That about sums it up. No matter how many books I read, there are still more … too many more. And to compound the misery, I work in a library where browsable book stacks are steps from my office, where I can place an infinite number of holds, where colleagues tell me what their book clubs are reading or give me books as presents. And I am not even talking about the stacks of books on my nightstand at home, awaiting my attention, recommended by the book review podcasts I listen to while walking the treadmill.
In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, I created a “to do” list of books I hope to complete by the end of the calendar year. The list is my own and covers a range from the truly random to guilty pleasures.
All of my picks are available at Arlington Public, your favorite local library. Now to start turning some pages …
Minding the Gap
James Baldwin. I am embarrassed to admit that I have not read anything by Baldwin … an oversight I must correct as we draw closer to 2024, the centenary of his birth. The two I have elected to start with “Giovanni’s Room” and “The Fire Next Time”
Fyodor Dostoevsky. “Oh Boy, Tolstoy!” APL’s adult reading venture of a couple of years ago, got me thinking about Russian tomes. A wise friend told me that if I want to understand Russian aspirations, read Tolstoy, to understand the Russian soul, read Dostoevsky. So “Crime and Punishment” it is. And if I can’t make it through, I’ll tackle the novella, “Notes from the Underground.”
“The Chestnut Man,” by Soren Sveistrup. A psychopath is terrorizing Copenhagen. Can’t wait.
“Disappearing Earth,” by Julia Phillips. A debut novel, two young sisters disappear on the Kamchatka peninsula, the northeastern edge of Russia. It appeared on many “best of” lists at year end.
Dusting off Classics
John Steinbeck. “East of Eden,” sometimes you just need a big sprawling morality tale.
Ralph Thaler/Cass Sunstein, “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Richard H. Thaler, and Cass R. Sunstein: a look at how people make decisions.
Bina Venkataraman “The Optimist's Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age.” How to mitigate loss based on short-sightedness and think more strategically about the future.
Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, “Scarcity” How to manage with less than one needs.
An Author I Haven’t Read
Ocean Vuong, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,“ by Ocean Vuong. A son writes to his mother who cannot read. Viet Nam, finding one’s voice, race, class, and the love between a mother and son.
Bernardine Evaristo, “Girl, Woman, Other.” Modern Britain and womanhood, a novel about the lives of black British families, “struggles, pains, longings and loves.” I’ve already started this one --- the writing is lively, fresh, funny. Reminds me a bit of Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth.”
I’ve been working through the NYT’s fantastic list of “50 Best Memoirs of the last 50 years and plucked Annie Dillard’s “An American Childhood.”
Samantha Powers, “The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir.” Political memoir; on the front lines of American foreign policy. From 2013 to 2017, Power served in the Cabinet of President Barack Obama and as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Powers modeled her memoir on Andre Agassi’s “Open” which was an amazing book.
I got hooked on short stories in 8th grade. Classics like “Under the Lion’s Paw” by Hamlin Garland, “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” by Conrad Aiken (now out of print), and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”
Lucia Berlin, ed. Stephen Emerson, “A Manual for Cleaning Women.” Alice Munro and Raymond Carver territory.
Nancy Hale, “Where the Light Falls.” A rediscovery of a mid-century master storyteller. Noir-ish, taboo subjects; subversive and mature.
Fun for Theater and Film Geeks
Ash Carter and Sam Kashner “Life Isn't Everything: Mike Nichols, as Remembered by 150 of His Closest Friends.”
Alexandra Jacobs, “Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch.”
Erich Maria Remarque, “All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel.” I first read this more than 20 years ago and there are scenes I can’t forget.
Louisa May Alcott, “Little Women.” A coming of age story, nascent feminism, in praise of individuality.
Geraldine Brooks, “March.” Historical fiction, the father of the girls in “Little Women” goes off to aid the Union cause in the Civil War.
Arlington Reads Spring 2020 Authors
Sponsored by the Friends of the Arlington Public Library, Arlington Reads has grown from one book in the fall of a given year to close to a dozen annual events centralized around a theme and including both fiction and nonfiction. It goes without saying that I will read each of the selected books and that I will likely read more by the author in preparation for each event. So right off the bat, I have added exponentially to the task ahead. There’s something for everyone in this year’s themed program, “We the People.”