The Common Reader – Virginia Woolf
The Big Short – Michael Lewis
Coming of Age in the Milky Way – Timothy Ferris
The Wonder Bread Summer – Jessica Anya Blau
The Financial Lives of the Poets – Jess Walter
Citizen Vince – Jess Walter
The Zero – Jess Walter
Beloved – Toni Morrison
China Rich Girlfriend – Kevin Kwan
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter
Over Tumbled Graves – Jess Walter
Dog Soldiers – Robert Stone
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare – James Shapiro
Flash Boys – Michael Lewis
The Family Fang – Kevin Wilson
The End of Everything – Megan Abbott
Dare Me – Megan Abbott
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
Longitude – Dava Sobel
Every Secret Thing – Laura Lippmann
The Hours- Michael Cunningham
Cronopios and Famas – Julio Cortázar
Reveille for Radicals – Saul Alinsky
Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
V for Vendetta – Alan Moore
Chinese-Born American – Gene Yuan
This One Summer – Mariko Tamaki
The Double Helix: A Personal Account of The Discovery of the Structure of DNA – James D. Watson
10 Years in the Tub – Nick Hornby
One of the best parts about prison–if you are a reader that is– is that you’re finally afforded the time to read all the books you’ve wanted to read but hadn’t, all the books you should’ve read but didn’t, and all the books you discover along the way. Sanctions has robbed me of a TV, so I’ve probably never had a more productive streak, reading-wise, save for that first month in quarantine. This list of titles reads like the quintessential English major’s bookshelf.
Two books have been essential in generating ideas for books-to-read: 1000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich and Nick Hornby’s 10 Years in the Tub. The former is a compilation of ancient, modern, and contemporary classics of fiction, drama, and poetry, but it also includes memoirs, children’s/YA lit, and science and history books. I had already read most of the classic literature on its list, but I reminded of contemporary classics like “The Hours”, “Beloved”, and “Gilead” that I’ve been meaning to read for awhile now. All three amazed, especially “Beloved”.
I found its science recommendations the most useful, because that is an area I’m interested in but have no idea where to begin. Being an English major, I’ve always felt that my intellectual blind spots encompassed anything to do with physics or astronomy or chemistry, and especially (obviously, because of my choice of major) economics.
“Coming of Age in the Milky Way” was particularly engrossing; it chronicles the scientific discoveries from when the belief of a Earth-centered universe (and the sky as nothing more than a dome) to our modern conception of quantum physics and cosmology, and profiles the thinkers that developed that understanding. But it is in the closing pages where the book transcends the genre; the penultimate chapter mulls the question of extraterrestrial life and puts forth guesses as to where the trajectory of, not just human life, but all sentient life in the galaxy may be moving towards. The book ends with a poetic meditation on our place in the universe, and its spiritual dimensions: modern science recapitulates a major assumption of all major religions.
On the financial reporting side, the Michael Lewis books are serious indictments of Wall Street; he writes nonfiction books like they’re thrillers. And I think he’s my favorite nonfiction writer now, with the exception of Michael Pollan.
Nick Hornby’s book is an anthology of his column from The Believer magazine. There was a lot of overlap with Mustich’s compilation, but as an established novelist in his own right, Hornby is very knowledgeable of talented writers working today.
My favorite literary discovery of the summer, Jess Walter, also wrote the preface to Hornby’s collection, and actually, in my opinion, is the far superior writer. His early works are “literary” crime/noir before expanding into social satire and insightful commentary on How We Live Today. I’ve gushed about him before, but this is me reminding you to check him out.
Megan Abbott writes literary noir thrillers about teenage girls, who happen to be discovering their sexual powers, that are gripping. “The Wonder Bread Summer” is the perfect beach read; a girl steals a wonder bread bag full of cocaine and then haphazardly goes about selling it. There’s some sex and complaints about men’s habit of flashing their dicks to potential mates. “The Family Fang” is a literary “Royal Tenenbaums”, and “V For Vendetta” totally captivates as it adroitly illustrates graphic novels as a legitimate artistic medium.
The other big surprise was Robert Stone’s “Dog Soldiers”, which I read because of an inmate’s recommendation (he also had a copy). A journalist is stationed in Vietnam covering the war when he hatches the bright idea to ship home a few kilos of heroin to his wife, and then distribute it back in the States and make a killing, which was what “everyone was doing.” His naivety about the drug trade sets in motion a whole shit storm as the whole plan goes awesomely awry. What I couldn’t believe was 1. the book had won prestigious awards 2. its content was pretty audacious for the time (early 70s) and 3. I’d never heard of Robert Stone, who apparently had been a member of Ken Kesey’s acid bus. Now I wanna read “The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test” all over again, now that I’m familiar with some of the major players.
Hopefully, this hasn’t been too boring. Considering that you probably have an actual life to live and obligations to fulfill and beers to drink, youd be set with one or two recommendations but I figured I’d provide you with a list to last you until I see the parole board again.