Category Archives: lists

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Amazon bucket list

Okay, it’s not exactly Amazon’s bucket list– that would probably involve gathering every shred of your personal info while putting every indie bookstore out to pasture… But seriously, folks, Amazon just put out a list of 100 books to read in a lifetime, or as they put it, “a bucket list of books to create a well-read life.” I know we see lists like this all the time, but given that this one comes from a retailer, and the dominant one at that, I thought it was worth taking a closer look.

Right off the bat, it’s really striking how contemporary the majority of the titles are–like, now contemporary, not just the last 50 years. Usually, lists like this are super-heavy on the classics and completely ignore current non-fiction, of which there are commendably a healthy number of entries here. On the other hand, a “well-read life” used to mean a whole lot of philosophy, particularly the Greeks. I know Plato isn’t as fun as Me Talk Pretty One Day, but I’d like to think the Republic is a bit more instructive…

Similarly,  as much as I enjoyed them, are Henrietta Lacks and Unbroken essential for a well-read life? Or, to be cynical, is the Amazon algorithm at work, in that contemporary titles sell more than classics? In that vein, I’d love to give them kudos for presenting a good number of picture books, MG and YA on equal footing with the grown-up books… but again, is that a statement of purpose or a sales ploy?

 Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think of Amazon’s list–is it a legitimate syllabus or a clever gimmick? Maybe both? Which omissions particularly get your goat? Discuss, discuss…

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“Why are librarians so lonely?”

“They’re always by them shelves…”

Sorry about that. I thought I’d start this blog off with a little joke to break the ice, because what I’m about to write is a little nerdy—and to be honest, I’m a little nervous.

I love libraries.

Some people can read anywhere. In the subway. Walking down the street. Even at the gym while taking a stroll on the treadmill. I can’t. Or to be more accurate, I can—I just prefer not to.

Reading can be a powerful thing. Stories have the ability to transport us to a different place, a different time, allow us to experience life through the eyes of another and make us see the world in a whole new way.

And where we read has an impact as well. The world around us influences everything we experience, and in some of the more beautiful libraries, surrounded by rich mahogany and windows that let the sunlight of the world beyond slip through, in that quiet stillness, we are at peace and can truly absorb the words on the page in front of us.

Here are some snapshots of that type of elegant serenity I’m talking about:

 

 

 

Some more of the world’s most beautiful libraries: http://www.lovethiscitytv.com/top-10-most-amazing-libraries-in-the-world/

 

Oh, and on a lighter note, some more jokes for your reading pleasure: 

“Want to hear a joke about a library?”

“Sur-”

“SHHHH!”

 

“Why did the librarian slip and fall?”

“Because she was in the non-friction section.”

 

So, I was working in a library and this guy comes up to me and asks, “Do you have a bookmark?”

I said, “Yes, we have hundreds…but my name’s Mike.”

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Best time of year

Keeping up the holiday cheer and general positivity that has crept into our blog lately, I figured it’s time to bring up the Best Books of 2013. It seems like almost all of the lists are in (here’s a handy little Google search for most of the notable players). Lots of crossover and consensus among them, but when it comes to comprehensiveness, I’ve got to hand it to the Times. At least on the fiction side, it seems like they cited just about every novel that got significant ink this year.

So… whatcha think? Everyone out there love THE GOLDFINCH and THE GOOD LORD BIRD as much as the list-makers? What are YOUR best books for 2013?

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I don’t know a book from countdown

People who know me well know that I’m a bit taken with David Bowie. The obsession began sometime in college, and hasn’t really let up. I’ve seen him live more times than any other act, and I was over the (serious) moon when I got to see the David Bowie Is exhibit at the V&A Museum in London earlier this year (thank you, Molly Ker Hawn!). And since my clients and co-workers know me so well, several of you forwarded me this piece about David Bowie’s Top 100 Must-Read Books. The list contains some pretty obvious choices for anyone familiar with the man and his work: Orwell makes three appearances (Diamond Dogs!), A Clockwork Orange is there, and The InfernoLolita, and On the Road. But I was especially tickled that the list also includes a few of my favorite books, including The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, The Great GatsbyThe Iliad and A People’s History of the United States. Though none of those books should be particularly surprising, considering his oeuvre, it’s always a pleasure to see what inspires one of your greatest artists.
I also now have my work cut out for me, as I haven’t even read half this list. If only I had the time to drop everything and get to reading!
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How to be Human

Richard Rapport, a gifted writer who is also a neurosurgeon, recently sent me a reading list of books he’d compiled for the brain-surgeons-in-training whom he oversees.  Brilliant as his students are, few have the luxury of being well-read.  He writes “today’s undergraduates are educated narrowly to be competitive in the professions, and medical students and residents have little time to read anything other than what is directly applicable to their training.”  Nevertheless, he believes it’s critical that physicians be something more than highly skilled technicians, and so follows his list of books by writers who “have seen into human beings far more clearly and deeply than a CT scan or an MRI.”

 

Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams

Doctor Stories, William Carlos Williams

Madame Bovary, Flaubert

Open Secrets, Alice Munro

The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald

The Collected Storied of Frank O’Conner

Catch 22, Joseph Heller

Henderson the Rain King, Saul Bellow

Ward # 6, Chekhov (a novella)

Fathers and Sons, Turgenev

Pnin, Nabokov

The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams

Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle

Civilization and its Discontents, Freud

Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky

The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky

War and Peace, Tolstoy

What would be on your list of books that you wish were on your physician’s bedside table? Books that inform bedside manner, books that remind us what it is to be human?


 

Finally, I’ll leave you with an illustration that made me laugh. Publishing may not be brain surgery, but folks in the book business do have time to read. True, it’s more e-mail than Aristotle, but still…


Photo: No comment.Photo: No comment.

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Less is more

I judge books by their covers. Literally. And so does everyone else.

Lately, I’ve handed down some pretty harsh judgments. Not many covers have really called to me in recent months. In fact, the covers that catch my eye tend to be the least obnoxious, the ones with the simplest designs and quietest colors.

For instance, check out Boris Kachka’s HOTHOUSE.

 

 

I mean, c’mon. That’s a pretty cool cover. Nice color contrast and some fancy text. This book has absolutely everything going for it. Check out Jane’s post, and you’ll see what I mean.

 

What about this one?

 

 

Chad Harbach’s THE ART OF FIELDING has a pretty similar style to Kachka’s HOTHOUSE, and again, I love it. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong designing a book cover with some nice colors, and flowing script.

 

Once again, less is more:

 

 

One of my all-time favorite reads, too. But I’ll get to that in another blog.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: this guy just doesn’t like book covers with pictures. Wrong!