Book lists abound at the beginning of summer and then again at Christmas. Two distinct types of books generally populate these lists; lighter books for reading in the sun, preferably by a beach, pool, or campsite, and books with a more serious bent for the days when the we envision ourselves curling up by the fire with a book. I live in Los Angeles where it is beautiful year round, but still find my reading falls into this timeline. At one of my book groups, a member suggested reading Proust for the July meeting. I very much want to read Proust, but said he should be read in the winter. Swann’s Way feels oppressive in bright sunshine, for me there needs to be a bit of a chill in the air.
Few things catch my eye as quickly as a book list. First, it’s a quick way to learn about new books, no long review of the book, just a snapshot. Second, certain types of lists test my reading. How many books on the greatest works of the 20th century/all time/American literature, etc. have I read? I like the lists where I’ve read many of the books, I feel affirmed.
When this week’s Newsweek arrived I raised my eyebrows. First, the cover isn’t Michael Jackson (and with all respect to his family and fans, I was relieved), although the newstand version has his picture, the subscriber one does not. The cover is a picture of someone reading, a book (in paper), and the feature article is “What to Read Now.” Not summer reading list, not the best whatever list, but what to read to understand our world better today. 50 books.
First, a quick overview of the list, then the calculation. Of the 50 books, I’ve read six, so I’m over the 10% mark, a mark only good as an interest rate on a savings account. I tried adding in the books on the list that I own and that I have seen my Mom or Leslie reading. It didn’t help too much.
The list is designed to help us understand our current world and the first book is The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, written in 1875, that would be 134 years ago. Actually, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that book referenced, it’s about a financial and moral crisis in England and has a character that people have identified as Madoff. If only more people read their classics. . .
The list is a combination of fiction, politics, history, sociology, psychology, religion, environmental, and science. The topics chosen are interesting. A couple of books on terrorism, of course, but also the roots of British soccer violence. The environment is represented by Faulkner’s The Bear and Berry’s ode to the family farm in The Unsettling of America. Biographies include J. Robert Oppenheimer (American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin F. Sherwin), Whittaker Chambers by Sam Tanenhaus as one of the founders of the modern right, and Winchell by Neal Gabler as the original Rush Limbaugh. Race, war and film are covered also.
It’s an interesting concept, thinking of books that help understand the world overall. Which ones are you tempted to read? Which ones would you choose? I’m going to revise my list for the World Citizen Challenge with this in hand to broaden my viewpoint.
We’re not the only ones who want to hear your viewpoint on the books selected and your suggestions for other books, over at My Friend Amy there’s the opportunity to pick one of the books from the list to read and then discuss, join her conversation also.
FYI, Newsweek also crunched the top ten from several 100 Best Books lists and came up with their own Meta-list. I did better here, I’ve read over 40% and heard of all but two of them. Nothing very unusual about this list, War and Peace is first, 1984 second, and Ulysses is third.