In order to gain a better understanding of how I choose what to read, I’ll be doing monthly recaps of the fiction and non-fiction books I finished, and why.
September was a good month for reading. Though there weren’t as many connections in the books I completed this month – each book was recommended or found from very distant sources – I’ve already started seeing the overlap in the books that last month has led me to, and it’s invigorating. To continue tracing those connections is one of the goals in writing about reading, and I’m happy to see it coming to light so soon.
The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham – A few years ago, in the midst of feeling frustrated that the television work I was doing wasn’t an accurate representation of my interests and abilities, I started an interconnected interview series, wherein I would speak with one person, have them recommend me another person to speak with, and so on. During these wide-ranging conversations on lives lived and choices made, books often came up in the discussion as either essential to their lives or as a necessary companion for my own experience. The Razor’s Edge was referenced several times in those talks, and though I grabbed the book soon after, it wasn’t until last month that it made it into my reading queue. I am so glad that it did. Much of what I’ve been thinking about personally over the past few months was reflected in the central character, and it was gratifying to see an author carry out those ideas to certain extremes. For those who are wondering just what impact they’re having on the world, this book suggests answers to that question from some great angles.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell – As a Spanish Literature major, I’m predisposed to liking magical realism in most of its forms. Russell’s story about an alligator theme park in Florida certainly flirts with the core elements of magical realism before transforming into something more solemn by becoming a stark tale of innocence lost. A great non-fiction companion for this book is The Moon by Whale Light by Diane Ackerman, an engaging perspective on alligators and, incidentally, how they’ve become such an attraction in Florida.
Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould -I found this during the last days of the Brand Bookshop as its shelves were being ravaged by fans driven by ever-deeper price reductions. I felt I owed Gould, whose name I recognized because of a Simpsons episode (naturally), at least a passing familiarity. The collection I picked up, one of a series, is filled to the brim with excitable essays on anything from the annals of paleontology to the celebration of the millennium (timely, I know). He brings to each essay such a synthesis of disparate information that one cannot help but be impressed at the breadth of influence. In the months to come you’ll see this book referred to time and time again as it singularly sparked an interest in evolution and genetics and has already bogged down my to-read lists with books on the genome and Darwin and so much more.
Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind by Sakyong Mipham – I could (and likely will) write many dozens of essays about the mental discipline / catharsis / lunacy of running, as anyone could who’s been through the various stages of running, the painful early days, the successful race days, the excruciating post-injury days that feel like you’re past your prime days, but I don’t think those essays could have the special connectivity that Mipham embues his writing with by creating such effective parallels between running and meditation. Even for someone like myself who still hasn’t fully embraced meditation as a daily activity this book gave me the capacity to think about running and being present in a more nuanced way.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey – At this point I’ve lost the initial recommendation source for this book. It started as a blog, and as such, has been linked to and reposted ad infinitum on topics like productivity and inspiration and (I’m sure) prodigious coffee drinking. This book reads like the site it started out as and perhaps should be treated as a curious reference material when you’re looking to justify how you work. There’s not an argument for how one should work, nor is there much organization in the book that argues for how certain types of people (do writers tend toward benzodiazepines? Musicians toward inverted sleep schedules?) work in certain conditions. The former is not a knock against the collection, as it makes no such promises of advice; regardless, people will seek out that kind of guidance as they seek to make mentors of those who’ve accomplished so much. Key takeaways: drink coffee, take walks.
If you have any recommendations of books to read, either based on the books above, or on your own experience, please let me know.