My Last—And Next—Five Books
Three months ago, I posted a list of the five books I’d read most recently, and a guess at the next five I would read. It seemed like a good idea at the time … and it still seems like a good idea; I think I’ll keep going with it. If nothing else, it’ll keep me reading.
Let me just say, though, that three months is a remarkably short time for me to read five books. I’m typically a pretty slow reader. I did manage a couple of “cheats,” though, that allowed me to get back to this theme so soon. Namely, I’d read about 1-1/2 of these previously, and one of these books isn’t really “book” length. But hey, it’s my list, and I’ll make up the rules.
So, here, in chronological order, are the last five books I’ve read:
1) Banana Rose, by Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg is a New Mexico writer, and I started this while we were in Santa Fe last October. It’s a novel about an artist who lives in Taos; she gets married and eventually leaves New Mexico, but the whole time she’s gone the high desert is calling her back. Sound familiar? Anyway, I’m a big fan of Goldberg’s books about writing (Writing Down The Bones, Wild Life), and I enjoyed this, her only published novel.
2) The Wordy Shipmates, by Sara Vowell. I was getting ready to write a blog post about my ancestor, the Rev. John Robinson, who was pastor to the Separatist Puritans before they left on the Mayflower for America, and I wanted to learn a little more about them. I asked my minister (it still sounds strange to say that) for a recommendation on something about the Puritans, as he seems to have a pretty good sense of the Puritans/Pilgrims as well as history in general. He suggested this book. I never thought that period of history could be so entertaining, but Vowell does a great job of bringing the colonists to life. Her portrayal is hardly romanticized—she doesn’t spare any gory details about some of the colonists’ worst actions—but she also notes that the colonial leaders did strive to be just and build a “city upon a hill,” a phrase used by John Winthrop aboard the Arbella as it set sail for the New World. Their ideas of justice may seem a little odd today—one colonist was punished for some crime by having his ear sliced off—but it’s possible to see the humanity in their efforts. And through it all, Vowell ties the colonists’ actions with events taking place in the 21st century; the result is a history book that at times reads like a comic novel.
3) The Discomfort Zone, by Jonathan Franzen. This book is comprised of several essays Franzen wrote, most of which relate to his earlier years in Webster Groves. One of them was about Fellowship at First Congregational Church, and in particular a pivotal “retreat” that I was also a part of; Franzen and I were classmates in Sunday School and at Webster Groves High School. I wanted to reread the one about Fellowship as background while I was working on my “You Are Welcome Here” post. I had read that essay and about half of the book previously; in December I read it all again. Almost certainly, I loved it because the Webster Groves parts were so familiar to me and because Franzen’s background has those similarities to my own, but I think I would like this book anyway. The deeply introspective style may not be for everybody, but I enjoyed it.
4) A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Some time back in the ’80s, I purchased this book—actually, it would probably be considered a long short story, or maybe even a novella, but for my purposes, here, we’ll call it a book—as part of a collection of Dickens ghost stories. I’d never read it, although of course I knew the story. It turns out that actually reading the text is a lot more fulfilling and evocative than seeing any of the million movie adaptations. No surprise, there, of course. Since then I have read it nearly every December, to the point that I’m not officially “in the Christmas spirit” until I get to Tiny Tim’s famous sendoff at the end.
This time, though, was different from the previous times I’d read it; I found a copy on iBooks and read it on my iPad. Even though Dickens probably wouldn’t approve of reading his classic on an electonic device, the actual feel of reading it didn’t really change that much for me. There were parts of it that seemed different, though, and I’m not sure if it was edited differently or if it was just a product of my aging brain not remembering portions of prose that I thought I knew. Anyway, the pixel version was every bit as good as the ink version.
5) Again To Carthage, by John L. Parker Jr. This is a sequel to Once A Runner, a novel about a miler who competes in an epic race. In this story, the miler has gone on to win a silver medal in the Olympics. But after retiring and moving on to a career as a lawyer, he discovers that his life is still missing something, so he starts training for a wholly different running discipline—the marathon. This story’s told with just as much drama as the earlier book. Part of the fun, for me, was that Parker wove many real-life runners into the story, a lot of names I was familiar with from reading running magazines over the years. The climactic race in the book even incorporates many of the details of the actual race that took place; after I finished the book, I went and looked up the real-life one, and it was fun relive a non-fiction version of the same race I’d just read in fiction.
So there you have the immediate past; now here’s the immediate future. In October I said the “next five” part of that post was just a guess, and in fact of the five books I named that were on my reading list, I only ended up reading two of them, so take this with a grain of salt. Anyway, here goes:
1) Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott. I’m actually already about a third of the way into this one. More than a decade ago, I read Bird By Bird by the same author, and loved it. That was a book about writing; this one is a memoir about faith, and more specifically, her journey to religious faith from the depths of drug- and alcohol-addicted atheism. This one seems to get better with every page. And one of these days I’ll go back and reread Bird By Bird.
2) To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I’ve actually never read this book, even though it’s on everyone’s list of the top 10 books ever written. I did see the movie—way back at Mizzou, in the same lecture hall where I also had Econ 101 and many other classes—but that hardly counts. It’s time to catch up on my essential literature.
3) Stan Musial: An American Life. This biography was on my list the last time. By the time I get to it, it will be time to think about baseball again, and now, even more than last October, Stan is “The Man” for St. Louis baseball, if you know what I mean.
4) The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. This one was on a lot of “best books of 2010” books I saw, so I was intrigued. I normally read one baseball book a year, and this would be two, in a row, no less, so this might not be the one. Or it might; we’ll see how I feel at the time.
5) Too Big To Fail, By Andrew Ross Sorkin. I’ve been wanting to read this story of the 2008 financial meltdown for a while. As the 2012 presidential race starts to take shape, this might be a good time to indulge myself.