(Picture: The California Classics box set that is exclusive to California Bookstore Day. How many of these have you read?) Last weekend was California Bookstore Day. It was a big celebration of the reading culture and the independent bookstores. At my local indies, they had special events around the clock every hour. Readers and customers can write their favorite books and authors on the board. Featured in the wall on “invisible shelves” are 30 must-read books selected by booksellers and authors.
1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. First read it in college but didn’t come to fully appreciate it until I read it again a few years ago. Since then I’ve been re-reading it. It’s timeless book about human ugliness, selfishness, and unrequited love. Language is beautiful. The book doesn’t exhaust its moral possibilities.
2. A House for Mr. Biswas, by V. S. Naipaul. Title character was born inauspiciously with a sixth finger in colonial Trinidad, struggles against ignorance, superstition, and bullying in-laws to scratch a tenuous living as a yellow journalist. I have meant to read Naipaul but have refrained after learning he’s a chauvinist pig.
3. A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. Now on my list to read.
4. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. This book is often overlooked.
5. Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. I once read that if everyone on earth read Charlotte’s Web, preferably once a year, the world would be a better place—more generous, more patient, and more receptive to the unlikely.
6. The Wisdom of No Escape, by Pema Chödrön. Never heard of this one. She piques me—a Buddhist nun writing about various teachings.
7. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. Another great find. The story raises important issues about who is fighting for American values and just what those values are.
8. The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman. Read it and loved it. Childless lighthouse keeper found a baby washed up the shore and decided to keep it as his own.
9. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. Another regular re-read for me.
10. The Information, by James Gleick. Looks creative and intriguing. A biography of information.
11. Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Dense but beautifully written. It’s about time to re-read this classic.
12. Kindly Bent to Ease Us, by Longchenpa (translated by Herbert V. Guenther). A three-volume Buddhist classic filled with poetic, profound—and profoundly simple—wisdom.
13. The Eight, by Katherine Neville. Historical thriller? I’m in!
14. The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg.
15. Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is a state of mind.
16. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey. Another high-school read that is worth re-read.
17. In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway. I’m not a Hemingway fan, so far I have only enjoyed A Moveable Feast.
18. Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. The ultimate stream-of-consciousness classic.
19. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. I’m intimidated by the daunting size. But it’s marked for a read.
20. The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. I didn’t grow up in the western world so I was denied most of the children’s classics. I want to read this an ode to friendship.
This is a reasonable and comprehensive list, catering to different tastes in genres and ages of of readers. This is why I love my indies because I always discover great books that I have never heard of. I especially like how indies don’t just push all the big names and bestsellers. The event is to celebrate this confluence—how indie bookstores bring together people to talk about books.