Wednesday, January 23, 2013

10 Books I’m Reading or Wish I Were Reading During Winter 2013

Courtesy of Skokie Public Library
I have an affliction concerning the written word. 

I can no longer read just one book, magazine, or blog at a time. When I was younger, I would bring an extra book along in the car, but that was only in case I finished the book I was actually reading. Today, I not only have a Kindle crammed with all sorts of literature and non-fiction, I also carry with me an analog paperback or hardcover book with a bookmark stuck in the middle of it. If someone were to ask me what I was reading on the subway, I’d take up most of his or her commute running down the list. 

This is only partially because of a reduced and divided attention span. I really just want to gain knowledge of everything. I have some pretty well-read and nerdy friends that force me to stay current on topics that happened a hundred or more years ago. Plus, sometimes you need a break from what you’re reading. Sometimes the mood doesn’t call for a dense history tome, but instead an action-packed crime thriller. What’s stopping me from doing that? Nothing and nobody. The other book isn’t going anywhere, I can return to it as soon as my wandering wordsmith soul lustily desires it again. 

Winter feels like it was invented for serious, dense reading. Heavy and complex themes inhabit the 10 titles that I’m reading or wish I were reading during the first cold months of 2013, and they are best read with dark liquor and a deep brooding. Enjoy. As always, feel free to comment with recommendations of your own, or find me on Twitter @danielfford.

Reconstruction by Eric Foner

I’ve been reading this book on and off since 2009. It actually feels more like I’ve been reading it since Reconstruction. The debate on slavery and states’ rights that tore apart America and led to four years of a bloody Civil War is important in understanding the racial struggles in the United States today (yes, they still do exist). However, that era might pale in importance to the utter failure endured in legislative, executive, and judicial theory and reality during the years of Reconstruction. Overwhelmed, drunk Presidents running corrupt administrations, a radical Congress, black Congressmen and Senators, Jim Crow laws, carpetbaggers and scalawags, and sharecroppers essentially slaves in every way except in name, should make for compelling reading. I just can’t seem to bring myself to slog through this book. And it’s awfully well written by a historian who had fresh and inspired thesis. I’m including this book on my list to shame me into finishing it. 

Favorite line: It actually comes from my friend Scott since I can’t remember anything from the 100 some odd pages I’ve read so far. “Why is that I can’t get into Reconstruction? It’s like ‘and the sharecroppers…zzzzzzzzzzzz.’”

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This novel was on every 2012 top 10 list known to man and with good reason. It is a pleasure to read. It’s filled with warm, honest phrases, complex and broken characters, a smattering of whimsy and romance, and a fun plot structure that implores you to damn your productivity the next day and read into the far reaches of the night. 

Favorite line: Life, he thought, is a blatant act of imagination.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

Grim. Haunting narrative about the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. You feel yourself inhaling the dust from the black “dusters” that tortured those farmers in the American High Plains who stayed and fought drought, famine, the market, government, and a land that violently turned against them. It certainly can be seen as a cautionary tale for this generation dealing with climate change, as well as a testament that humanity can indeed hardship and suffering while still remaining hopeful. But still, this is grim stuff. Naturally, I can’t put it down.

Favorite lines: The first two paragraphs of the introduction are maybe the best writing I’ve ever read. I read it aloud to my girlfriend after I had read it silently, and my goose bumps intensified. That’s good writing. Damn.

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Great winter popcorn read. You fly through it like you would a popular mystery novel, but it has enough wit, charm, and gravitas to leave you thinking long after you’ve finished it (which I actually did in this case). The author paints a realistic picture of how the world might react when faced with an apocalyptic event and how people might choose to live out the time they have left. I identified with Detective Henry Palace because he chooses to do his job to the bitter end. You can’t ask someone for more than that. 

Favorite lines: “Hey, it’s never too late.” “Well,” the guard says, and adjusts his cap. “It is, though.”

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

Did my brother Tom and I sprint from a bar on one of the hottest days of the summer of 2012 to catch the last tour of Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace in New York City? Was I so inspired that I started reading this biography while shoving every other book aside? Did I finish it a couple month’s later because I wanted to savor every detail of the colorful early life of one of the most entertaining Americans who ever lived? Yes to all.

Favorite line: Bully!

Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

In my opinion, there’s no gift better than a book from another writer. The editor-in-chief of the magazine I work for gave me this book as a Christmas present and I’ve been enamored with it ever since. I had not heard of Joseph Mitchell before, and am now ashamed I didn’t stumble upon him once while getting my journalism degree. At least I can appreciate his work now and always. 

Favorite lines: I’m not that far into this book at present, but I can tell you every sentence is a masterpiece. Including this one: Bill was big and thick-shouldered, but he did not look strong; he had a shambling walk and a haggard face and always appeared to be convalescing from something.

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

I had a wonderfully eccentric journalism professor who recommended this book along with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Blindness. It took me awhile to pick this one up, but I can tell you it has been well worth it. There’s a 200-page build up to when shit gets crazy, but it feels like it was 12. If you’re not gripping the pages of this book, or the sides of your reading device, tightly as you plow through this narrative genius, there is something wrong with you. My professor died in 2011, which leaves me without the banter that would have ensued after I finished reading this novel. I’ll toast him with Wild Turkey when I finally put the book down. 

Favorite line: I’ll let you know upon completion. I looked back and ended up reading a whole chapter again. That’s not productive.

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams

This is on the wish list. This was a drunken Kindle purchase. The fact that the story is set in the 1870s, involves buffalo, a bromance that might include cannibalism, and the “myth of modern America,” speaks volumes about my high level of nerd even when I’m intoxicated. Needless to say, I can’t wait to read this book. 

Favorite line: Haven’t peaked at the book yet, but I’m assuming my favorite line will end up being something like: “Let’s eat Henry, he’s a douche.”

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I am captivated by Diaz’s seamless fusion of English and Spanish. This novel is wildly entertaining and I’d be totally sucked into it if I weren’t reading 20 other things at once. Confession: I didn’t read his last book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I will make up for it as soon right after this one. Or maybe before.  

Favorite lines: Nilda was my brother’s girlfriend. This is how all these stories begin. 
Honorable mention: 
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1 comment:

  1. Dan,
    authors Jonathan Tropper, Robert Goolrick, Mark Helprin especially his latest In Sunlight, In Shadow set in NYC 1946. The World as We Know It by Joseph Monninger. Glad you're still reading.
    Ms. H. Matterhorn definitive novel of Vietnam.