2020 Reading List

 

I’d like to use this year for a little reading repertoire housekeeping. Over lunch with a friend a few weeks back I divulged a great secret of mine: I’ve never read Faulkner. I’ll admit, I pride myself on having a thorough knowledge of the classics. However, the expression on her face showed how much I was missing. A quick review of my previous reads and I was convinced, I’m missing too many of the greats.

So in 2020, to kick off a decade, I want to either read or reread* many of the classics that have shaped modern writers. Off to a good start, I began Crime and Punishment on January second and am a little over halfway through. One nearly down, many to go. So here is my tentative list of novels to read this year.

 

+ Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky Considered the first great novel of his “mature” period of writing, it focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of an impoverished ex-student in Saint Petersburg who formulates a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money.

+ The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner Divided into four sections told from four different perspectives, the book is both a notoriously arduous and disturbing read, whose often disorienting narration requires patience and persistence, and whose subject matter confronts painful themes, among which reside incest and suicide. A true tale of endurance and human suffering which will stay with readers for a very long time indeed.

+ As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner The author’s strongest display of the stream-of-consciousness narrative and is ranked 35th in the Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century no less.

+ Play It As It Lays: A Novel by Joan Didion “Simple, restrained, intelligent, well-structured, witty, irresistibly relentless, forthright in diction, and untainted by the sensational, Play It As It Lays is a book of outstanding literary quality.” ―Library Journal

+ The White Album by Joan Didion A 1979 book of essays by Joan Didion. The subjects of the essays range widely and represent a mixture of memoir, criticism, and journalism, focusing on the history and politics of California in the late 1960s and early 70s.

+ The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger* Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States for its themes of angst and alienation, and as a critique on superficiality in society.

+ The Deer Park by Norman Mailer “A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent . . . [Mailer] drives us up and down The Deer Park at breakneck speed. It is a trip through unfamiliar country, for a time funny and then unnerving.” —The New Yorker

+ Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston* It is considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, and it is likely Hurston’s best known work, following the life of Janie Crawford as she tries to discover herself through a series of marriages. The book is deeply moving as it confronts issues of female identity with the linguistic richness of 1930s Florida.

+ The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, it is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

+ Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut An American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

+ Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury Set in a dystopian future where literature (and all original thought) is on the brink of extinction.

+ The Jungle by Upton Sinclair* The book galvanized public opinion and led to a forced government investigation that eventually caused the passage of pure food laws. Today, it’s often referenced in response to poor working conditions and food safety laws.

+ The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway* 1926 novel portraying American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights.

+ Hiroshima by John Hersey 1946 piece exploring how six survivors experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, and its aftermath.

+ One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, the narrative serves as a study of institutional processes and the human mind as well as a critique of behaviorism and a tribute to individualistic principles.

+ I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou A powerful American classic that tells of her struggles growing up during the Great Depression, and the abuse she suffered.

+ Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller* 1949 stage play, it won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.

+ On the Road by Jack Kerouac A defining work of the postwar “Beat” culture and both a physical and spiritual journey of the narrator who tries to find meaning in his life through his friends, lovers, and adventures around the U.S.

+ The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper*At the time of Cooper’s writing, U.S. settlers believed in, and perpetrated the myth that, Native Americans were disappearing, believing they would ultimately be assimilated or killed off entirely due to the genocidal structure of settler colonialism. This allowed settlers to view themselves as the original people of the land and reinforced their belief in scientific racism and European ethnic and racial superiority. 

+ Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand* A fictional dystopian United States where all the world’s movers and shakers have abandoned society, leaving the world and the remaining people in a state of flux. 

+ Walden by Henry David Thoreau* One man’s autobiographical attempt to find simplicity, self-reliance, and peace through solitude and nature.

 

On Reflection: My Year In Books 2019

 

This year was one of the toughest I’ve had, ever. Stepping through each month, week, day presented new challenges and I found myself drawn back to reading as an escape. I was always a big reader as a kid. I was the stay up till 3 am to finish a good story or read Lord of the Rings in a weekend. On family vacations, I would pack two or three novels to keep myself occupied.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly when I stopped reading, but I would guess it was sometime in college when the task of reading over 200 philosophical pages a week crowded out my ability or want of leisure reading. For something that used to come so natural to me, it was hard to pick up after graduation. For a while, I thought of reading as just another casualty of my busy life, but this year I wanted to prioritize it. I constructed a list of all the books I wanted to read in 2019 and aimed to keep to it. The first few months weren’t terribly successful, but as my year grew more tumultuous I found myself drawn back to the solace of a good read. While I didn’t read all of them, I did read quite a few on that list and ended up branching into a few more.

 

+ The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

+ Emotional Intelligence: Resilience by Harvard Business Review

+ Rising Strong by Brené Brown

+ A Beautiful Composition of Broken by R. H. Sin

+ It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine

+ Women in the Wild by Lucy McCauley

+ Healing Pluto Problems by Donna Cunningham

+ Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski

+ The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

 

I also took some time this year to reconnect with my love of LOTR and reread several of my favorites, namely: The Two Towers. While most of my reading this year focused on emotional development and personal growth, I did find that reading something for enjoyment alone was time beautifully spent. Obvious as that sounds, and is, I tend to have a very utilitarian look on the world and ask myself “How is this pushing me? Helping me? Furthering me?”. Losing so many close family members this year really pushed me to slow down and step back from the ‘hustle’ so many twenty-somethings are encouraged to have.

I’ve happily moved at a slower pace this year and focused on the things that are most important to me. I’ve traveled home as much as possible to see family. I’ve stepped into a new intensity within my sport. I’ve adopted new hobbies and passions. And I’ve read for enjoyment alone.

2019 Reading List

 

I used to be an avid reader. The type of person that would sit down a cruise a 400 page book in under 6 hours. I absolutely love to read and luckily for most of my life my formal education supported this. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school we had weekly class trips to the school’s library, teacher’s encouraged us to read daily, and there was even class time devoted to my personal favorite SSR (Silent Sustained Reading). In college, there was a shift for me and finding the time to do all my class-required reading was difficult enough, much less time to read all the other books on my list.

This year I’m looking to prioritize reading, and have crafted the below list based on books that I have been interested in reading for months (even years). There are also a few books that I’ve read excerpts of but haven’t been able to dive into whole-heartedly.

Here is my current “to-do” list. Did I miss your favorite? Let me know if there is something I should add!

 

+ What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami An intimate look at writing, running, and the incredible way they intersect, from the incomparable, bestselling author Haruki Murakami. While simply training for New York City Marathon would be enough for most people, Murakami’s decided to write about it as well.

+ The White Album by Joan Didion A 1979 book of essays by Joan Didion. Like her previous book Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album is a collection of works previously published in magazines such as Life and Esquire. The subjects of the essays range widely and represent a mixture of memoir, criticism, and journalism, focusing on the history and politics of California in the late 1960s and early 70s. 

+ Rising Strong by Brené Brown Social scientist Brené Brown has ignited a global conversation on courage, vulnerability, shame, and worthiness. Her pioneering work uncovered a profound truth: Vulnerability—the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome—is the only path to more love, belonging, creativity, and joy. But living a brave life is not always easy: We are, inevitably, going to stumble and fall.

+ The Female Persuasion: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer There’s nothing like a crush – the all-consuming gush of obsession and excitement that shocks the system into euphoria. We often read about romantic infatuation, but in The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer sets her sights on another kind – female friendship and mentorship, and the craving to be heard and admired by the one you admire. It’s a rich and satisfying novel – it will be called timely –about Greer Kadetsky, a young woman coming of age and finding inspiration in feminist icon, Faith Frank, who evolves throughout the novel from abstract celebrity, to boss, confidant and challenger who pushes Greer to confront reality.

+ Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (2005) is a collection of essays by novelist David Foster Wallace. It is also the title of one of the essays, which was published in Gourmet magazine in 2004. I’ve read the essay “Consider the Lobster” but would love to not only reread it but also to read his other essays.

+ It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine “Megan Devine has captured the grief experience: grief is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be honored. She understands the pain that grieving people carry on top of their actual grief, including the pain of being judged, dismissed, and misunderstood. It’s OK That You’re Not OK is the book I’ve been waiting for for 30 years—the one I can recommend to any newly bereaved parent, widow, widower, or adult grieving a death.” —Donna Schuurman, senior director of advocacy and training at The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families

+ Friendship: A Novel by Emily Gould Gould’s novel, out this summer, features two thirty-something women who wouldn’t seem out of place on the cast of “Girls.” One’s a Midwesterner who has outgrown her Bohemian lifestyle, and another’s a little too accustomed to privilege.

On Reflection: My Year In Books 2018

 

Try as I did to get back into reading this year I was less than successful. I did manage to sneak a few under my belt throughout 2018 that I truly enjoyed (listed below). The one thing that was very important to me this year, like every year, was to continue my pattern of completing a book before watching the show or movie based on it. Namely, completing Carr’s The Alienist before starting TNT’s show by the same name.

 

+ The Alienist by Caleb Carr

+ White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

+ You are a Badass by Jen Sincero

+ Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

+ The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro

On Reflection: My Year In Books 2017

 

I picked up a book for pleasure this year for the first time in years — nearly five — and was reminded of how much I love to read. In the next few years, I want to work on reinvigorating that “reading bug” that I had for all of my childhood. In choosing a reading and writing heavy major [Philosophy] I was slightly robbed of the pleasure of reading and have lost the zeal I used to have in vigorously devouring novels.

A soft list of novels read in 2017, hopefully, one that will grow in the coming years.

 

+ The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

+ Exit West by Mohsin Hamid {I attended one of his readings and was incredibly moved}

+ Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy by Trita Parsi

+ Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

+ Commonwealth by Ann Patchett