Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Lists: Read This!

Read This! is a nifty little volume, though it isn’t really the kind of book you’d pick up and read. It contains lists of favorite books you might like to pick up and read, compiled by bookstore owners, book buyers, and employees of independent bookstores around the country. It also has a few choice anecdotes and personal remarks from the contributors about individual choices.

Thumbing through the book, I was once again reminded how little I’ve read in recent years—and how many books I’ve started but failed to complete. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of quite a few of the titles listed. I also spotted a number of titles that I was meaning to read at some point in the past but had long since forgotten about—for example, The Leopard. And I also came upon a few titles that I did read and love…and then forgot about entirely. It’s like running into a long lost friend, very nice.

This happened to me, in fact, as I glanced at the first list in the book, compiled by editor Hans Weyandt of Micawbers Bookstore in St. Anthony Park. Number 6 on his list is Running After Antelope by Scott Carrier. Now there’s a brilliant, humorous, and very low-key collection. Thanks, Hans, for reminding me!

It occurred to me that I ought to return the favor by compiling a list of my own. I have never worked in a bookstore but perhaps warehouse work might qualify me. Categorical thinker that I am, I thought I might divide up my selections by type, so the reader (presuming there is one) would find it easier to apprise unfamiliar selections.

Literary Non-fiction (my favorite category)
Literature and the Gods: Roberto Calasso
Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Larry McMurtry
Islands and Books in Indian Country: Louis Erdrich
Voices of the Old Sea: Norman Lewis
The Gameskeeper at Home: Richard Jefferies
Vertigo: W.S. Sebald
Son of the Morning Star: Evan S. Connell
Rameau’s Nephew: Denis Diderot
Six Memos for the Next Millennium: Italo Calvino
Running After Antelope: Scott Carrier
The Book of Disquiet: Fernando Pessoa
Keeping a Rendezvous: John Berger
London Journal: James Boswell
In Bluebeard’s Castle: George Steiner
Desert Solitaire: Edward Abbey
Essays: Montaigne (the motherload)
Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Geoff Dyer
Thinking the Twentieth Century: Tony Judt
Prague Pictures: John Banville
Around the Day in Eighty Worlds: Julio Cortazar

Long Novels
Parade’s End: Ford Maddox Ford
Your Face Tomorrow: Javier Marias
The Makioka Sisters: Junichiro Tanazaki
Don Quixote: Cervantes
Vanity Fair: Thackerey

Repetition: Peter Handke
A Heart So White: Javier Marias
Out Stealing Horses: Per Petterson
Montauk: Max Frisch
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: Milan Kundera
The Periodic Table: Primo Levi
Far Afield: Susanna Kaysen
Growth of the Soil: Knut Hamsun
Philosopher or Dog: Machado de Asis
Lord Grizzly: Frederick Manfred

Short Novels
Runaway Horse: Robert Walser
Solo Faces: James Salter
The Connoisseur: Evan S. Connell
Pan: Knut Hamsun
Wittgenstein’s Nephew: Thomas Bernhard
The Assault: Harry Mulisch
Farmer: Jim Harrison
A Thousand Cranes: Yasunari Kawabata

Short Stories
Sketches from a Hunter’s Album: Ivan Turgenev
The Interpreter of Maladies: Jhumpa Lahiri
Dance of the Happy Shades: Alice Munro
The Moccasin Telegraph: W.S. Kinsella
Collected Stories: Frank O’Connor
Five Tales of Ferrara: Giorgio Bassani
By Night Under a Stone Bridge: Leo Perutz
Once in Europa: John Berger

The list betrays an obvious bent toward postwar European literature. Well, what can I say? I’ve read quite a few of Willa Cather’s novels—My Antonia, A Lost Lady, Shadows on the Rock, Death Comes for the Archbishop, The Professor’s House, Obscure Destinies—but I’m not sure which one I ought to include. The same goes for Conrad and Chekhov.

I’ve become a dabbler, dipping into Thoreau, Audubon’s Journals, books of poetry scattered around the house. Recent triumphs (meaning I got to the end) include Darwin’s Lost World (Martin Brasier), The Bullhead Queen (Sue Leaf), Falling Man (Don Delillo), The Round House (Louise Erdrich)  A New World (Amid Chaudhuri), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Mohsin Hamid).

What next? Looking over at the bookshelf, I suddenly spot a book I forgot I had. It has a pale green binding, easily lost in the mix. Mavis Gallant: Across the Bridge.

But there are also plenty of half-read books sitting in a pile beside the bed…

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