I usually have a few books lined up when I’m about to finish something, but as I neared the end of the brilliantly heartbreaking Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta the other night I realized my only options were finishing one of two books I kept picking at but didn’t feel like reading.
Stone Arabia is about a guy who flames out early in his attempts to be a rock star, and then builds an elaborate fantasy life around a career that never happened. It’s about a lot of other stuff, too, but that’s what’s going to stick with me.
One of the other books is Moneyball by Michael Lewis. I’m about halfway through this book about the Oakland A’s and the draft, but since it’s about 10 years old a lot of the players have already ended their careers. Including the guy most of the book is based upon, a fat guy who is the A’s big, brilliant bet to be smart by being counter-intuitive.
Ever since finding out he retired at 28 with about 10 major league games under his belt, I’m finding it hard to be very interested in the rest of the book. Probably won’t finish.
The other is the third book in the Game of Thrones series. I got suckered into reading it by my friends Kady and Matthew and loved the first book. I didn’t realize how long it was, though, because I was reading on a Kindle. And that there were a kabillion other books.
I’ll probably get back to it, but I need a break. It’s turning into a Lord of the Rings type experience, where the whole story line seems to be melting into a series of long walks punctuated by the occasional outburst of greatness.
Anyway, I asked my friends on Twitter what I should consider reading next. And I plan to read all of their suggestions, though I haven’t considered in what order. And since a few people asked what suggestions came in, I’ve decided to list a bunch of them here. All of the text is borrowed from Amazon.
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
In a sprawling, wild, super-hyped magnum opus, David Foster Wallace fulfills the promise of his precocious novel The Broom of the System. Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction, features a huge cast and multilevel narrative, and questions essential elements of American culture – our entertainments, our addictions, our relationships, our pleasures, our abilities to define ourselves. (@rosalindr)
The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin
“To great writers,” Walter Benjamin once wrote, “finished works weigh lighter than those fragments on which they labor their entire lives.” Conceived in Paris in 1927 and still in progress when Benjamin fled the Occupation in 1940, The Arcades Project (in German, Das Passagen-Werk) is a monumental ruin, meticulously constructed over the course of thirteen years–”the theater,” as Benjamin called it, “of all my struggles and all my ideas.” Focusing on the arcades of nineteenth-century Paris-glass-roofed rows of shops that were early centers of consumerism–Benjamin presents a montage of quotations from, and reflections on, hundreds of published sources, arranging them in thirty-six categories with descriptive rubrics such as “Fashion,” “Boredom,” “Dream City,” “Photography,” “Catacombs,” “Advertising,” “Prostitution,” “Baudelaire,” and “Theory of Progress.” His central preoccupation is what he calls the commodification of things–a process in which he locates the decisive shift to the modern age. The Arcades Project is Benjamin’s effort to represent and to critique the bourgeois experience of nineteenth-century history, and, in so doing, to liberate the suppressed “true history” that underlay the ideological mask. In the bustling, cluttered arcades, street and interior merge and historical time is broken up into kaleidoscopic distractions and displays of ephemera. Here, at a distance from what is normally meant by “progress,” Benjamin finds the lost time(s) embedded in the spaces of things. (@rosalindr)
Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace
Do lobsters feel pain? Did Franz Kafka have a funny bone? What is John Updike’s deal, anyway? And what happens when adult video starlets meet their fans in person? David Foster Wallace answers these questions and more in essays that are also enthralling narrative adventures. Whether covering the three-ring circus of a vicious presidential race, plunging into the wars between dictionary writers, or confronting the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker at the annual Maine Lobster Festival, Wallace projects a quality of thought that is uniquely his and a voice as powerful and distinct as any in American letters. (@rosalindr)
Scar Tissue, Anthony Kiedis
For a musician who has spent the better half of his life either intoxicated or on a drug high, Kiedis, the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, has produced a surprisingly detailed account of his life. Raised in the 1960s and ’70s by a drug dealer father who first introduced his preteen son to drugs by mashing them into bananas, the high school delinquent and UCLA dropout seemed destined for a life of rabble-rousing until his high school band—cofounded by close friends Michael “Flea” Balzary and Hillel Slovak—took off and became one of the most popular groups of the 1990s. Though he peppers his book with little known facts (for instance, the author narrowly missed being named Clark Gable Kiedis), the punk-funk rocker dedicates too few pages to his introspective music-writing process and too many to his incessant drug use and revolving door of girlfriends (which included actress Ione Skye, singer Sinéad O’Connor and director Sofia Coppola). But while Kiedis fails to scratch beneath the surface of his fast-lane life, his frankness is moving, especially toward the end of the book, when his mea culpa turns into a full-blown account of recovery and redemption. (Kiedis has been sober for almost four years.) Though not generally as articulate as Marilyn Manson’s similar autobiography, Kiedis’s story of childhood drug use, adolescent fame and hard-won maturity will strike a chord with fans of Drew Barrymore’s Little Girl Lost. (@condobrothers)
Secret River, Kate Grenville
Grenville’s Australian bestseller, which won the Orange Prize, is an eye-opening tale of the settlement of New South Wales by a population of exiled British criminals. Research into her own ancestry informs Grenville’s work, the chronicle of fictional husband, father and petty thief William Thornhill and his path from poverty to prison, then freedom. Crime is a way of life for Thornhill growing up in the slums of London at the turn of the 19th century—until he’s caught stealing lumber. Luckily for him, a life sentence in the penal colony of New South Wales saves him from the gallows. With his wife, Sal, and a growing flock of children, Thornhill journeys to the colony and a convict’s life of servitude. Gradually working his way through the system, Thornhill becomes a free man with his own claim to the savage land. But as he transforms himself into a trader on the river, Thornhill realizes that the British are not the first to make New South Wales their home. A delicate coexistence with the native population dissolves into violence, and here Grenville earns her praise, presenting the settler–aboriginal conflict with equanimity and understanding. Grenville’s story illuminates a lesser-known part of history—at least to American readers—with sharp prose and a vivid frontier family. (@islutsky)
Arrival City, Doug Saunders
Look around: the largest migration in human history is under way. For the first time ever, more people are living in cities than in rural areas. Between 2007 and 2050, the world’s cities will have absorbed 3.1 billion people. Urbanization is the mass movement that will change our world during the twenty-first century, and the “arrival city” is where it is taking place. The arrival city exists on the outskirts of the metropolis, in the slums, or in the suburbs; the American version is New York’s Lower East Side of a century ago or today’s Herndon County, Virginia. These are the places where newcomers try to establish new lives and to integrate themselves socially and economically. Their goal is to build communities, to save and invest, and, hopefully, move out, making room for the next wave of migrants. For some, success is years away; for others, it will never come at all. As vibrant places of exchange, arrival cities have long been indicators of social health. Whether it’s Paris in 1789 or Tehran in 1978, whenever migrant populations are systematically ignored, we should expect violence and extremism. But, as the award-winning journalist Doug Saunders demonstrates, when we make proper investments in our arrival cities—through transportation, education, security, and citizenship—a prosperous middle class develops. (@buzzbuzzhome)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive–even thrive–in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta’s family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution–and her cells’ strange survival–left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories? (@heatherIPR)
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett has dazzled readers with her award-winning books, including The Magician’s Assistant and the New York Times bestselling Bel Canto. Now she raises the bar with State of Wonder, a provocative and ambitious novel set deep in the Amazon jungle. Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina’s assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina’s research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend’s death, the state of her company’s future, and her own past. (@blakeeligh)
At the Fights – American Writers on Boxing
American writers have been fascinated by the ring, both the primal contest inside the ropes and the crazy carnival world outside them. From neighborhood gyms and smoke-filled arenas to star-studded casinos and exotic locales, they have chronicled unforgettable stories about determination and dissipation, about great champions and punch-drunk has-beens, about colorful entourages and outrageous promoters, and, inevitably along the way, about race, class, and violence in America. Like baseball, boxing has a vivid culture and language all its own, one that has proven irresistible to career journalists and literary writers alike. (@moniquesavin)
Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love. Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman’s love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival. (@realdealmtl)
The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Dexter Clarence Palmer
Imprisoned for life aboard a zeppelin that floats high above a fantastic metropolis, the greeting-card writer Harold Winslow pens his memoirs. His only companions are the disembodied voice of Miranda Taligent, the only woman he has ever loved, and the cryogenically frozen body of her father Prospero, the genius and industrial magnate who drove her insane. The tale of Harold’s life is also one of an alternate reality, a lucid waking dream in which the well-heeled have mechanical men for servants, where the realms of fairy tales can be built from scratch, where replicas of deserted islands exist within skyscrapers.. As Harold’s childhood infatuation with Miranda changes over twenty years to love and then to obsession, the visionary inventions of her father also change Harold’s entire world, transforming it from a place of music and miracles to one of machines and noise. And as Harold heads toward a last desperate confrontation with Prospero to save Miranda’s life, he finds himself an unwitting participant in the creation of the greatest invention of them all: the perpetual motion machine.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jarod Diamond
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Guns, Germs, and Steel is a brilliant work answering the question of why the peoples of certain continents succeeded in invading other continents and conquering or displacing their peoples. This edition includes a new chapter on Japan and all-new illustrations drawn from the television series. Until around 11,000 BC, all peoples were still Stone Age hunter/gatherers. At that point, a great divide occurred in the rates that human societies evolved. In Eurasia, parts of the Americas, and Africa, farming became the prevailing mode of existence when indigenous wild plants and animals were domesticated by prehistoric planters and herders. As Jared Diamond vividly reveals, the very people who gained a head start in producing food would collide with preliterate cultures, shaping the modern world through conquest, displacement, and genocide.The paths that lead from scattered centers of food to broad bands of settlement had a great deal to do with climate and geography. But how did differences in societies arise? Why weren’t native Australians, Americans, or Africans the ones to colonize Europe? Diamond dismantles pernicious racial theories tracing societal differences to biological differences. (@sam_hosseini)
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath
Mark Twain once observed, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” His observation rings true: Urban legends, conspiracy theories, and bogus public-health scares circulate effortlessly. Meanwhile, people with important ideas–business people, teachers, politicians, journalists, and others–struggle to make their ideas “stick.” Why do some ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In Made to Stick, accomplished educators and idea collectors Chip and Dan Heath tackle head-on these vexing questions. Inside, the brothers Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that stick and explain ways to make ideas stickier, such as applying the “human scale principle,” using the “Velcro Theory of Memory,” and creating “curiosity gaps.” In this indispensable guide, we discover that sticky messages of all kinds–from the infamous “kidney theft ring” hoax to a coach’s lessons on sportsmanship to a vision for a new product at Sony–draw their power from the same six traits.(@sam_hosseini)
Boiling a Frog, Christopher Brookmyre
Brookmyre has been described as Britian’s answer to Carl Hiaasen, but in this book, Brookmyre’s anger at a wide range of aspects of modern British society make for a darker, more gritty read. The topical plot describes leaders of Scotland’s clergy fighting to retain their relevance in the face of the post-modern trashing of anything that smacks of formal religion. In a world where only tawdry shallowness is regarded as important, the church surrenders its future to the street instincts of a professional PR hustler, who has no scruples as to how he achieves his goals. (@crime_fiction)
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone. (@missmichesan)
Big Short, Michael Lewis (I’ve read)
The real story of the crash began in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower–and middle–class Americans who can’t pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren’t talking. (@real_estateinfo)