Looking for ways to spend those gift cards? Everyone should read and here are the books that, as I reflect on a year of reading, resonated with me.
Alan Sillitoe – Saturday Night, Sunday Morning
“Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not”
The gritty story of a young working man screwing with a world that is trying to screw with him, with disregard for people along the way.
Martin Amis – Lionel Asbo: State of England
Asbo, a loutish yob, wins big on the lottery… and not much seems to improve in his appreciation of society or the moral framework existing outside of his Hobbesian part of London. This entertaining book throws you into the shoes of others with satire and a touch of empathy.
H. E. Bates – Love for Lydia
We all yearn for connection and belonging, though the difficulties inherent in deep, loving relationships are revealed in the anguish and hopes of this novel’s protagonists, set against a backdrop of shifting social status and dynamic work economies in rural environments.
Bill Bishop – The Big Sort
Bishop illustrates that increasingly homogenized communities are not, as I had thought, a result of policy decisions, including gerrymandered electoral redistricting, but are deeper social issues related to our preference to flock towards people of like minded social mores and thinking. We are erecting our own artificial barriers to connection and diverse community, resulting in increasingly antagonistic neighborhood relations.
Jon Gertner – The Idea Factory
Gertner tells of the remarkable era of creativity at Bell Labs, where the combination of the right people in the right place with a serendipitous encounter with the right problem catalyzed astonishing breakthroughs in knowledge.
“Creative environments that foster a rich exchange of ideas are far more important at eliciting important new insights than are the forces of competition.”
Rebecca Solnit – Wanderlust: A History of Walking
“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together… ” A beautiful sojourn along the byways of human walking, and an inspiration to undertake this activity.
Lawrence Weschler – Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder
Both Mr. Wilson and his Museum of Jurassic Technology are bizarre objects of wonder that appear at the edge of the real and surreal. Accompanying Weschler on his tour will leave you beguiled, but will stir your curiosity along the way, something that we all need to encourage.
Various Authors – Penguin Lines ~ Celebrate 150 years of the London Underground
Each of these is a short, geographically specific but unbounded conversation aligned with the London Underground. I cannot describe these better than Penguin – “The city is filled with stories. For the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, twelve writers tell their tales, each inspired by a different Tube line. Some are personal, some are polemical; every one is unique, showing how we are connected, and how the space in which we live shapes us and our imaginations.”
Simon Garfield – To The Letter
Conversation has many forms, and the slow, deliberate, asynchronous and very human act of putting pen to paper gives correspondence its particular pleasure. Simon Garfield captures this spirit and much much more.
Alain de Botton – Religion for Atheists
Alain de Botton points out that a world that more commonly broadcasts business messages rather than moral ones unsurprisingly re-contextualizes our conversations away from meaning, purpose and value in our lives. Instead of the delight that a laundry detergent now gets clothes two times whiter, or that the 2015 model of a new vehicle has even more power, perhaps we can discern joy, comfort and solace afforded in lessons drawn from religion. The meager breadth of our social discussion of fairness, equality, ethical living, being kind, happiness and so on may be alleviated if we were more mindful of the revelations afforded by religious history, ritual and experience.
Some honorable mentions for:
Stuart Brown – Play
Tom & David Kelley – Creative Confidence
Adam Grant – Give and Take
Poe Ballantine – Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere
The reviewer, Bruce Jacobs in Shelf Awareness, described this as a “funny memoir and ‘true crime’ mashup by one of the country’s best vagabond raconteurs.” It follows Ballantine’s interest in and the events surrounding the disappearance of a local math professor. What makes this compelling is the endearing, and searingly honest self-reflection of Ballantine. The kind that makes me think I could do better at living life with more vulnerability and authenticity.
Manning Marable – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention
Marable rejects the glossed over narrative prevailing until now and offers a multi-faceted Malcolm X. In doing so, Malcolm X becomes more human, more accessible, and all the more inspiring for it.
George Orwell – Down and Out in Paris and London
This tale of two cities vividly illustrates the experience of poverty. Orwell recounts his experience as a plongeur, or dishwasher, in Parisian restaurant kitchens and as a tramp on the road in and around London. A salutary tale, Orwell’s account is a remarkable memoir of courage, insight and empathy, in which we are afforded an opportunity to see life through the eyes of others.
Adam Sisman – Boswell’s Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson
The lives of both James Boswell and Dr. Johnson are interesting enough in their own right, but Sisman takes a particular viewpoint, focusing on Boswell’s seven year endeavor to capture Dr. Johnson in biographic form. Boswell reframed how we think of the form and art of biographic writing, incorporating both reverence and revulsion, as the life lived demands.
What books did you read that resonated with you? Let me know, as I am always interested in works that open the mind. Happy reading…