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Book Ideas, New Purchases

First of all I have to report a scandal: I was appalled to see that at the Borders “If you like this…then try…” shelf, right next to the Edward Kennedy biography stand The Sexual Life of Catherine M. and Sinner Takes All: A Memoir of Love and Porn. How shocking! I have been scouring the bookstores for more reading materials, in particular two quick reads to be fitted in the 10-hour Amtrak train ride from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. The Coast Starlight will meander through the coast with beautiful sceneries. What should I be reading through this changing vignettes? Should I re-read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express to create a sense of suspense on the train?

This post inspires some reading ideas that would spice up and shuffle up priorities.

1. Jane Austen—completed already with Emma. Persuasion is next.
2. Charles Dickens—I’m thinking about Oliver Twist.
3. Ian McEwan—I don’t remember much about Atonement, but I enjoyed On Chesil Beach; would Saturday be a good choice?
4. John Steinbeck—I have no clue. Maybe the train ride through Watsonville would spare some inspiration?
5. J.R.R. Tolkien—this is the most insurmountable goal because I have absolutely no interest in Lord of the Ring.
6. British Mystery or Comedy
7. Russian author-–this one is a regular ritual of mine.
8. Old Classics—Dickens, Faulkner, Joyce, Lawrence, etc.
9. Nonfiction—I have procrastinated on this category. The book on sushi and global economy, as well as In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All the Rules, by Stacy Perman.
10. Poetry—another challenge because I’m totally not conversant in poetry. Pablo Neruda would suit me well.
11. Pulitzer Winners—One book stands out and catches my attention: March by Geraldine Brooks.
12. Published in 2010

I was looking for another book by Jay McInerney, whose book The Good Life I really enjoyed—I actually riveted it. I’m down to the last 60 pages as the book gathers up in suspense. The only copy of The Last of the Savages is one with pages accordioned in the middle. Decided against the less-than-perfect volume at a regular price, opted for The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam, which is an accidental find. The book sets in Hong Kong during World War II. I dig novels set in my hometown and how can I pass this one?

38 Responses

  1. I think that Saturday is a stunning novel – my favorite from McEwan. So difficult to capture the essence of one day in real time but he succeeds brilliantly here. An anxiety producing but thrilling read.

  2. Ok – have you not read East of Eden by Steinbeck? I’m not much for Of Mice and Men, but East of Eden is so human and so beautiful. I love it.

    I feel similarly about poetry but like Neruda quite a bit. Edna St. Vincent Millay is another – and her biography Savage Beauty is really wonderful.

    Also, for nonfiction Sarah Vowell is a great choice. Funny, biting, interesting. She even manages to make Pilgrims and Puritans interesting in The Wordy Shipmates. She also has Assassination Vacation and The Partly Cloudy Patriot – a great collection of personal essays. And speaking of personal essays, are you a David Sedaris fan? I know he’s not strictly non fiction, but good lord, he’s funny.

    • My literary bf just suggested East of Eden as well and I am going for it. The Amtrak ride will pass through John Steinbeck’s homeland and it would be a tribute to read him while we meander through the Monterey coast.

      As I’m reading, I’m writing down all your recommendation because they sound very good, especially the Sarah Vowell book.

  3. A reread of Christie might really help set the mood of the train trip. I definitely wouldn’t read the LOTR if it doesn’t interest you at all. I would read Persuasion!

  4. I also have no interest in LOTR – but I have this sense of guilt that I should. I hope I get to the point in my literary career that the Russians will become a regular ritual for me as well.

    I am partial to Dickens myself, so I would vote for Oliver Twist.

    Oh…and I am so relieved to hear that you are not totally conversant in poetry. I am not either, and thought that it was a sign of failure as an English teacher. You have given me hope 🙂

    • Oliver Twist would be an interesting and fun read. I have always been conscious that I haven’t had a formal training in reading poetry. I have read some of Pablo Neruda and Walt Whitman and that’s about it! 🙂

  5. I think since you are taking a trip through Steinbeck Country you have to try and read one of his book. I remember reading “Of Mice and Men” in high school and do remember enjoying it. Some great Hollywood movies are based on his books like “East of Eden”, or “Grapes of Wrath”. I remember hearing good things about some of his other works like “Tortilla Flat”, “Cannery Row”. “The Winter of Our Discontent”.

    • I am going to get East of Eden today after work. “Tortilla Flat”, “Cannery Row”. “The Winter of Our Discontent” are all available in one gigantic volume of short novels. I should be reading East of Eden on the train ride down to Los Angeles—and I cannot wait to see you. xoxo 🙂

  6. Whoa! i’m with you about those choices next to the Edward Kennedy book. Definitely not books you want people seeing you read on the train (if one did at home, that’s another thing — that’s one’s business) 🙂 .

    Do you like drinking wine? Will you be passing through wine country? Whether you do or not, Jay McInerney wrote a book (actually more like a series of essays) on wine appreciation, and life, that I really enjoyed: “Bacchus and Me”.

    Enjoy that train ride!

    • I am aware of his essays on wine, Valerie, and it looks interesting. I like wine and I would like to read more/learn more about wine–maybe the book is a great starting point?

  7. Love that list. Maybe I should do it, too, as it fits my priorities this year as well. Since Frances loved Saturday, I might do that too, as I also loved On Chesil Beach and Atonement.

    Well now I know at least we differ on Tolkien because I adore him. I’ve reread The Silmarillion a couple of times. It’s my favourite.

    I feel like Walt Whitman is the poet for you.

    • Saturday is my next Ian McEwan, since both you and Frances endorse it. Interesting you mention Walt Whitman, the only poetry I have read extensively is Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda. 🙂

  8. I love these categories, and Steinbeck is one of my favorites! I went on a rereading spree a year or two ago with his shorter novels Of Mice and Men and The Red Pony – loved them even more this time. East of Eden is one of my all-time favorites. The Pearl, The Winter of our Discontent, and The Grapes of Wrath are on the rereading horizon.

  9. How about Steinbeck’s non-fiction Travels With Charley. It’s about travel…and not too heavy.

    I must say I am disappointed to see you have no interest in LoTR. I think it is a wonderful book(s).

    • What a great choice! I am going to read Travel with Charley as well along with East of Eden within the next two weeks. Perfect companion to train travel—and, I wish I can bring my labrador with me! 🙂

  10. If you haven’t read East of Eden then I would highly recommend it. So you are coming to Los Angeles? I am from that area. If you’ve never had an IN N OUT burger then you MUST go there and then read the book on the way back.

    • East of Eden got the most votes so I’m going along with popular opinion! I have been shuttling between Bay Area and LA….and I love In-N-Burgers, which used to be a SoCal delicacy but now they have started opening in Northern Cal.

  11. I say go with Steinbeck, but make sure it’s something set in California. You could probably finish Of Mice and Men before you arrive in Los Angelos. While in Los Angelos I recommend something by Raymond Chandler. It’s escapist detective fiction, but it’s very L.A. I also highly recommend Mike Davis’ history/geography of Los Angelos called City of Quartz. Turns out LA has some fascinating history.

    Enjoy your trip.

    • I am going with Steinbeck…East of Eden and Travel with Charley! I read an article on Raymond Chandler in the LA Times actually and your recommendation is just so timely. 🙂

  12. Matt,
    A great nonfiction book for a trip, or anytime is An Alchemy of Mind by Diane Ackerman. I also frequently reread another book by her: Cultivating Delight, A Natural History of My Garden. These are two books I can’t seem to hold onto. I’m frequently lending them out or giving them away on impulse when I meet like minded people. Another suggestion is Bachelor Brother’s Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson. He describes a delightful retreat for all book lovers. Enjoy your trip!

    • Hey Tom, I have always enjoyed reading your comment and recommendations. Bachelor Brother’s Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson is a huge curiosity right now! Thanks again for the wonderful recommendations. 🙂

    • I’m delighted to find a copy of Bachelor Brother’s Bed & Breakfast today, and even more excited that it’s a novel! I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading it very much. 🙂

  13. Not a very original choice, but if you want British Mystery, Dorothy Sayers is fantastic. Strong Poison is the first of the books with Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and it’s quite a quick read. The next two are also really good, Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night. Excellent mysteries.

    • Oh my goodness…I have never heard of these titles and they sound good. Love it when I come across with books that would expand my reading horizon. Thanks a million Jenny! 🙂

  14. If you haven’t already, try Cement Garden by McEwan. It’s macabre, but brilliant.

  15. I’m with the commenter who recommended EAST OF EDEN. I think you’ll love it!

  16. I would vote for McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers, which was my introduction to the author many years ago. It’s creepy and great. (Although I also loved The Cement Garden). That said, I liked Saturday, too (better than On Chesil Beach at any rate.)

    David Copperfield over Oliver Twist.

    Poetry? TS Eliot or Gerard Manley Hopkins (for the language alone).

    • Thanks for the input Christie! 🙂
      I love literary fiction that is creepy. I think The Comfort of Strangers would be the book I’m looking for for the train ride. By the time I board the train, I shall be approaching the end of East of Eden, McEwan would be a nice change.

  17. Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time is fantastic – would highly recommend. (my review here: http://aspirinandboku-maru.blogspot.com/2008/08/child-in-time.html)

    I am also a big fan of the Russians, and have read most of the biggies. I recently purchased – but have not yet read – the Pevear/Volokonsky translation of Dostoevsky’s short novels “The Double and The Gambler” (sold as one volume). Would love for you to read/review, and they’re coming up soon on my to-read list as well!

    • Ian McEwan is so hot! I’ve purchased The Cemet Garden and The Comfort of a Stranger, based on bloggers’ recommendation. I might as well go get The Child in Time. 🙂

  18. Great cheers for your personal facts

  19. Thanks for the shout out! I’d love to hear which categories you’d add to my list.

    And, I haven’t read Saturday yet, but it’s on my list along with Atonement, and Enduring Love. I enjoyed your recent review of The Comfort of Strangers. You might want to check out Amsterdam. I really liked that one.

  20. […] the 14-hour light, reading the entire Jay McInerney book took up the other. Here is an update for this deliberate reading list that is part of the bigger plan for the year. Jessica from The Bluestocking Society originally […]

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