A President Who Reads

I like lists of recommended books whether from movie stars like Reese Witherspoon, industry leaders like Bill Gates, or from Presidents who read. Barack Obama has a list, with a nod to recently deceased author Toni Morrison – “You can’t go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison

His reading list has one of my old favorites – Mantel’s “Wolf Hall.” I wonder if he is just discovering this 2009 classic? Another a book is by an author local to me, Hope Jahren.  Although she has moved on from the University of Hawaii, her book “Lab Girl”prompted me to look for a Hawaiian tree mentioned in her book.  I wonder if she knows they have drastically trimmed its branches.

I will probably skip Chiang’s collection of short stories but will give Whitehead’s new book a try, since a friend has given it high marks. Hurakami is one of my favorite authors but I prefer his novels to short stories.  I suspect, but would rather not know what the internet is doing to our brains in Carr’s “The Shallows.

I’ve ordered Wilkinson’s American Spy from the library, described by Mick Herron in the New York Times as a “murder mystery that offers genuine social insight,” and purchased Tea Obreht’s Inland – I still remember Obreht’s first complicated novel, “The Tiger’s Wife.”

Here’s the list from a President who reads:

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson.
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu.
Maid by Stephanie Land.
Inland by Téa Obreht

Have you read any?

Hatchett Book Group has a website at https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/articles/best-read-u-s-presidents/ with a list of Best-Read U.S. Presidents, ranging from John Adams to Barack Obama. Shakespeare, Washington Irving, Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, Tom Clancy, Ralph Ellison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Doris Kearns Goodwin were some of the authors who made the list of Presidential favorites.

Man Booker Prize Shortlist 2018

The six books making the cut for the Man Booker shortlist this year include two American authors – Rachel Kushner for “The Mars Story,” set in a California women’s prison, and Richard Powers for “The Overstory,” about nine strangers trying to save one of the world’s last virgin forests.

The rest of the list includes:

  • Washington Black” by Canadian Esi Edugyan, based on the true story of the relationship between an eleven year old enslaved boy and his master’s brother who flee a Barbados plantation.
  • Irish author Anna Burns’ “Milkman” – told in the voice of a young woman forced into a relationship with an older man during the Northern Ireland conflict.
  • Scottish poet Robin Robertson’s “The Long Take” – the first book selected for the Shortlist in verse, follows a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder as he travels across the United States.
  • British Daisy Johnson, the youngest author ever shortlisted for the Prize, updates Greek myth in the tragic story of a lexicographer looking for her mother in “Everything Under.”

The winner of 50,000 pounds will be announced October 16.

I’ve read SNAP from the longlist and have “Washington Black” and “The Overstory” on my to-read pile, but I may skip the others. Do you plan to read any before the winner is announced?

Related Review: SNAP

Book Club Picks

Unknown     It’s that time of year again; book clubs are organizing their lists for monthly discussions.  How do you pick books for your book club?

When my book clubs identify books a few years old, I’m often reluctant to reread, especially if it would require me to take notes on the characters; however, a time-honored book by one of my favorite authors is never a chore, and I relish immersing myself in the story again.  Wallace Stegner’s Crossing Into Safety appears on one list, and the title jarred me into remembering why I liked it so much – it’s worth rereading to get that feeling again.

Not many book clubs identify best sellers or just published books – maybe because those books are not readily available in the library, or maybe because they just haven’t come to the attention of the group.  Sometimes when I am reading a new book, I wonder what others would think about it, but it’s often years before it appears on a book club list.  My good friends across the waters often save me with immediate discussions by email.

Now and then, a book I’ve missed appears on a book club list – usually nonfiction and finally in paperback – and I am grateful to know it.  Book clubs can trigger a new interest or provide an informative window.  I still remember reading and discussing Barbara Chase-Riboud’s Hottentot Venus and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, and gaining new insights into areas I never would have picked to read about.

Here are a few selections for discussion from book clubs I’d like to join.  Have you read any?  Are any on your list of books to read soon? The first set is from my friends in California, the second is closer to home.

  • The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
  • The Good Daughter by Jasmine Darznik
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegman
  • Prairie Fires: The American Dream of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
  • The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

 

  • The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers
  • Green Island by Shawna Yang  Ryan
  • All for Nothing by  Walter Kempowski

 

 

 

Commonwealth Reboot

shopping-2   I don’t like rereading books; I’d rather spend the time with a new story, but Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth was an exception.  Exploring the depths of Commonwealth’s complicated family and the catalysts changing their lives gave me a better understanding of the story’s structure with its underlying conceits, and a new respect for Ann Patchett’s writing talent.

In preparing for the book club discussion, I researched the author.  I was already familiar with her other books; this time I looked for her background as a way of connecting with her own family references in this book, and I found a few to share at the book club.  I always like book lists and authors who inspire writers, and in my meanderings I found Ann Patchett offered some new possibilities.

Because Patchett mentioned her friendship with Jacqueline Woodson, four time winner of the Newbery Award, I listened to an online podcast at the Free Library of Philadelphia with both authors discussing Patchett’s Commonwealth and Woodson’s Another Brooklyn.  The podcast is a one hour discussion with Patchett and Woodson reading from their books.  In the publisher’s excerpt, childhood memory is the common element – how the  memory of childhood events differs, according to the age of the child experiencing it.

For the New York Times “By the Book,” Patchett named Saul Bellow, the winner of the Nobel, Pulitzer, and National Book Awards, as one of her favorite authors, as well as Doris Kearns Goodwin, award winning author and historian.  In the podcast she also offers a number of her favorite books from Charlotte’s Web to The Witches of Blackbird Pond to A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, When Breath Becomes Air, The Underground Railroad, and more.  She has a monthly blog talking about her favorite books at “Ann’s Blog”

As a result of  rediscovering Ann Patchett,  I am now reading:

  • Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn
  • Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift
  • Henry James’ The Ambassadors
  • Matthew Desmond’s Evicted

Through the interviews I learned more about Patchett, the person.  She’s warm and funny and real – someone I would enjoy meeting for coffee.  Maybe I will someday, if I ever get to Tennessee.

Related Links:

College Freshman Reading

unknownWhen the Sunday New York Times offered a short summary of books on the summer reading list for freshman, I wondered what my alma maters and those of my friends has assigned for stirring the synapses of the new generation of college entrants.  Aside from requiring a book as an assignment for a class (usually freshman comp), college administrators are no more successful at guaranteeing the book will be read than are book clubs (unless the host threatens a quiz with strips of questions to be publicly answered).  For someone to read the book, it must be engaging.

Topics for required freshman reading range from diversity and tolerance to best sellers.  Sometimes the nature of the institution reflects the choice, for example, “A Few Good Men” has been a popular choice over the years for The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina.  Berkeley’s 2017 summer reading list includes “What Can We Change in a Single Generation?” and the score from Hamilton, while this year a number of colleges, including one of my alma mater’s, picked “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson – the memoir of an attorney representing poor clients in the South, as he follows  a client on death row for killing a young white woman in Alabama.

9781101947135_p0_v5_s192x300   I was happy to see one of my favorites on the Stanford Three Books List as well as the pick for Connecticut College – Homegoing  by Yaa Ghasi.   I have yet to read Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, but the University of Wisconsin has identified it for its freshmen – a strange pick for a liberal university.

Tufts University is asking its freshmen to read “The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility” by Tufts political science professors Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj.  Mount Holyoke College has chosen “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine as the 2017 Common Read. The incoming Penn State class will join MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynsey Addario in exploring her passion for photography and how it shaped her personal and professional life by reading “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.”  The 2017 University of Pennsylvania freshman read is Walter Isaacson’s “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.”

What about the classics? Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was the only one I could find – for Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota.

Do you remember the book(s) you were required to read as an entering freshman?  For me, it was Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” – and I doubt I understood its implications until I read again many years later.

For More Freshman Read Titles, check: