There’s a pile by the bed and it’s looming. There are dreams and travels and food and faith and lives and animals and adventures and wisdom waiting in that pile. It’s the collection of postponed books next to my bed. I want to get those books, words, and ideas moving into the world: borrowed books returned to their owners, well-loved books loaned to friends, lovable-but-not-keepsake books sold for credit to the used bookstore, dog-eared books given with a topic and a person in mind, useful books donated to small libraries in my childhood home of northern New Mexico.
Here’s to anticipating the fun slog of reading, of remembering why the books have been piled by the bed, and looking forward to the new ideas in my head. Here’s the pile, organized very loosely by topic, if not genre.
Afghanistan, the U.S. among other things
1. Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile: I bought this book after I watched the funny and freaky movie of the same name a few years ago. I am interested in how that not-so-long-ago history affects our ties with Afghanistan. I’m also interested in how individuals affect history and how the Cold War affects where we are today. Plus, I like a good story.
2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: I found this book at a used bookstore when it was being read by book clubs and heading the bestseller lists. Another book about Afghanistan, but with a much different perspective. I love when a book can bring me into a world I would never have known otherwise.
3. The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah: A travel memoir by a British travel writer who moves to Casablanca, Morocco. I’ve had an endless fascination with Casablanca, probably since I first saw Casablanca in high school and it became my favorite movie. I’m interested in modern Morocco and the travel memoir with a year-in-the-life perspective is one of my favorite genres. Armchair traveling, yee haw!
4. Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life by Frances Mayes: Like many, I fell in love with Tuscany after reading Mayes’s first two Tuscan memoirs. Looking forward to the latest installment and figuring out how I can turn bedtime reading travel into real travel.
5. Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr: As I’ve mentioned before, travel memoir is a favorite genre and I love when it fits into the neat framework of a year. I like when day-to-day and the mundane exist side-by-side along with an exotic location. I can curl up in Colorado with a cup of hot tea and be transported to another continent, another life.
6. A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller by Frances Mayes: Another travel memoir by Frances Mayes in the pile with the lucky and enviable position of far-flung adventures. I like that Mayes enjoys the daily routines of travel and finds beauty in obvious and expected places, but at the same time she shows me how to look for beauty and adventure in ordinary times and unexpected places.
7. My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme: This is the memoir by Julia Child that I have not read yet. Like a lot of people, I read the blog and book Julie and Julia by Julie Powell and then eagerly awaited the movie. The movie, like always, was different from the book, but I loved that it tied in more of Julia Child’s memories and not just Julie Powell’s fictionalized Julia Child moments (the small glimpses of Julie Child made Powell’s book that much more amazing). I remember watching Julia Child’s cooking show sometimes as a little kid, it must have come on before or after Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. I’m looking forward to reading about this famed chef in her own words.
8. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver: I love Kingsolver, I think she’s an amazing writer. However, I’ve shied away from the food memoirs that seem to come from a holier-than-thou place. The foodie craze over the last 5 years or more (not sure exactly when it came to be) has bugged me, especially when there are so many struggling to find their next meal. I appreciate the environmental perspective and our relationship with food, but I need to drop my guard and read and learn and think about how and what I eat. I’m sure Kingsolver is up to the challenge.
9. The United States of Arugula: The Sun-Dried, Cold-Pressed, Dark-Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution by David Kamp: Another food book, but this time it’s neither memoir nor cookbook. It is a history of food use and changing perspective on cooking, ingredients, and what it means to be gourmet. I’m guessing that this will give me the history of the modern rise of the foodie and where I might find them.
10. Women Food and God by Geneen Roth: The lack of a comma in the title intrigues me. Maybe one can’t separate from food or God. I pulled this off the shelf not knowing that it was more about self-help and self-care rather than a feminist historical perspective. However, I realized I have my own relationships with food and God that I should examine more closely. The words on the back sum it up best, “The way you eat is inseparable from your beliefs about being alive.”
11. Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg: Despite my distaste for foodies, I am deeply interested in where our food comes from and our relationship to it. I like that the author is a lifelong fisherman and helps to examine a worldwide problem from the viewpoint of a dinner plate. That he spells out problems and also shows solutions is what I need in a world of discouraging headlines and insurmountable issues.
12. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser: I remember looking forward to the long road home after basketball games and track meets in high school when we were given $5 and the team bus was parked in the hinterland of fast food restaurants. I’ve flung my dollars through the drive-up window and I’ve seen small town restaurants destroyed with the arrival of a franchise. I’m interested in reading about the roots of the problem and seeing how we might repair the damage while recognizing that fast food may be here for keeps.
13. Wild Foods by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Paul Breeden: It’s an old library discard that, chapter by chapter, highlights common everyday plants that can be harvested and cooked. Dinners of dandelion and snacks of sumac can be part of my adventures in life with the help of this how-to book.
14. The Vote by Sybil Downing: This is a novel about one woman’s struggle within the fight for suffrage. Written by a Colorado author, I’m very familiar with this period in U.S. history–Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, the Occoquan workhouse–having read and read on this topic for years. I’m looking forward to the novelization and to the ties to Colorado, since I now live here.
15. Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts: In my passion for historical biography, I want to get to know some remarkable women in the book. It includes Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Rebecca Gratz, Louise Livingston, and Sacagawea. While so much attention is paid to the U.S.’s founding fathers, I’m looking forward to oft-forgotten women who challenged tradition and blazed paths for future generations.
16. Good Benito by Alan Lightman: This book comes recommended by my younger sister. I should know better than to not take her advice on books or movies, but that is often the path I take. Finally, I’m going to hunker down and read this book that according to the jacket is, a “. . . novel about the clash between the absolutes of science and the vagaries of human experience.”
17. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: I first picked this up at bookstore and read the first chapter while barely breathing, it gripped me so much. It was a book selection by the City of Denver for their community reading program and I heard an excerpt of a public radio dramatization a year or two ago which similarly gripped me. A co-worker had it sitting in his bag and I finally got my paws on it to read in splendor. I’m looking forward to a novel from the perspective of a dog, and not one written for children.
18. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: I missed this book in childhood, but want to read this “puzzle mystery” now. Mysteries are some of my favorite books and now falling in bed with this classic will help to fill in the gaps of my juvenile fiction forays.
19. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: I’m fast and loose with my “crushes,” but one of my all-time biggest crushes, literary that is, has to be Wallace Stegner. Everything I’ve read of his has knocked me over, fiction or nonfiction. I’m looking forward to “a grand, rich, beautifully written novel about a long, not-always-easy friendship between two couples.” I always found it interesting that I first came to know Stegner in the spring of 1993, not knowing that he had just died, while I was just beginning to grow up at 18.
Spirituality and Faith
20. Speaking of Faith by Kristin Tippett: This book is a spiritual memoir written by the creator of one of my favorite radio programs Speaking of Faith, now On Being. The book and the radio show both dwell upon issues of faith, struggles with faith, and perspectives of faith. As I struggle with my own faith and live and pray, I look forward to reading a personal story from a woman who draws out deep questions and answers in her lovely radio show.
21. Great Day Every Day by Max Lucado: I’m seeking balance and finding faith and I look forward to this exercise in finding promise in the gift of a day. One of my favorite verses is also the basis of the book, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24).
22. Friday Night Lights by H. G. “Buzz” Bissinger: I’m a huge fan of the TV show and recognized a little bit of that world: small towns and football and a community finding something to bring buzz and light to the mundane of everyday. I watched the movie and saw the bittersweet and the tragedy and finally sought the book out a year ago. I’ve come to love Bissinger as a sports journalist and writer and I can’t wait to curl up with this. Since I’d like to ponder a writer’s life, it’s interesting to think of the work that he immerses himself in, joining a whole town and living a story to be written for months, even years on end.
23. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand: I saw the movie years ago and am interested in reading a sports biography of a horse, probably something I haven’t done since fifth grade. Can’t wait to learn more about a world I know nothing about and how a horse captured the attention of the whole world.
24. Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (2nd ed.) by John De Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor: I skimmed the first one years ago, but was reintroduced to this a few years ago at a zero waste community retreat sponsored by a local church. I’ve been dealing with “stuff” for quite a while now and I’d like to have some perspective on it, going beyond organizing it and giving it away.
25. Sleeping Naked is Green by Vanessa Farquharson: A blog by a Canadian journalist turned into a book given to me by one of the loves of my life. The subtitle sounds like a cross between Bridget Jones and Wendell Berry and I’m curious to read at that intersection as it fits right along with my own life, “How an eco-cynic unplugged her fridge, sold her car, and found love in 366 days.”
Self-Help and Self-Direction
26. This Year I Will by M. J. Ryan: This is one of those little books shoved into the bargain bins next to the cash register that caught my eye. The book promises to help one with goals whether it is losing weight or getting organized. Those are two of my goals, but I’m looking for a system and a much bigger change. Let’s hope this book can help, but I won’t know until I read it.
27. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey: I could use some principles and hints for habits, because I’m not feeling particularly highly effective right now. Personal change is high on my list, maybe this self-help classic can help me get there.
28. Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World by Bill Clinton: His first book, his biography, that in my grandmother’s words “mentioned every single person he ever met,” was fun and engaging, but it was long. Seeking hope and perspective in what can be a dark and depressing world, I like knowing that I can help with my own money, time, and talents. I didn’t really need Clinton to remind me of that, but the people he’s met and the stories he shares can give me perspective when I’m feeling useless.
Biography, Real and Imagined
29. The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys by Doris Kearns Goodwin: This has been sitting on the shelves for years and sitting in the pile for months. I love Doris Kearns Goodwin and finally I’m coming around to her second book. I think it’s interesting to read a biography of families and how that history affects one person and how that one person affected our collective history.
30. Ben and Me (An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin By His Good Mouse Amos), Discovered, Edited & Illustrated by Robert Lawson: Another book I missed in childhood about one of my childhood heroes that I can’t wait to read. Maybe it’s not a return to the historical adventures, but instead a “cheerfully unauthentic portrait” that should be fun to read.
31. The Autobiography and Other Writings by Benjamin Franklin: I read many biographies of Franklin in grade school and high school and was scandalized by the fact that he had a child outside of marriage. It seemed so ordinary for a mind and a life so big. Then I realized it only made Franklin that much more human and I want to hear of his adventures and many different interests and occupations. It’s that Renaissance mind that resonates the most with me. It also helped me to realize that heroes can be fallible.
32. A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother by Janny Scott: I stumbled upon this book after reading both of Obama’s memoir/autobiographies. It started out as a long article for the New York Times and grew into a book. I would read this regardless of my political beliefs and partisan participation. I’m interested in mothers and how they frame us and shape us.
Trails: Santa Fe and Mormon
33. The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail by Wallace Stegner: Another book by my crush Stegner, but this book joined my pile independently of the other. I’ve been obsessed with the history of the Mormon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail since I was in grade school. As an adult, I realize the complexities of that settlement and how it affected Native Americans and what it did to the American West. As a child of the West, it’s good to go back and see what brought people here.
34. The Commerce of the Prairies by Josiah Gregg: Another book about a trail, this about the Santa Fe Trail. This is a memoir, first published in 1844, covering the land that I love the most, Northern New Mexico. I want to see how the history I’ve learned and places I’ve seen are changed from one’s view more than 169 years ago.
Math and Life
35. What Are The Odds? by Jefferson Hane Weaver: Surprisingly statistics was one of my favorite classes in college and there are so many ways that stats are flung about in casual conversation, the news, and in my environmental work. This book is a “lighthearted whirlwind tour of probabilities” and that seems a good approach to what could be a droll topic.
36. The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow: Here’s another book on statistics and math and chance and life. Mlodinow’s intent is to “give us the tools we need to make more informed decisions.” It’s a decision-making time in my life and the help of a modern mathematician might be exactly what I need.
37. Letters to a Young Teacher by Jonathan Kozol: Because I want to be a teacher, I knew this was the book for me. I can’t sum it up better than the cover does, “The national book award-winning author and educator gently guides a first-year teacher into the ‘joys and challenges and passionate rewards of a beautiful profession.’”
38. Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade by Linda Perlstein: This book profiles a school, its teachers, its students, its administrators, and its testing. With school reform and testing at the top of political debates, I have some ideas about this. With my schooling relatively untouched by major testing in stark contrast to students today, I’m curious what this means and what tools are helpful and which are not.
A marathon of reading and a clearing of the pile by the bed, it’s all there. What’s waiting for you to read? What are you dying to dig into?