“I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library.” –Ray Bradbury
Reading has been my passion since my grandfather, Arthur Griswold, invited me to his magical cedar bookshelves, floor to ceiling, edged with copper, full of words.
In early summer 2014, our friends and amazing craftsmen, Ryan and Rick, designed and built bookshelves in our tiny reading room to imitate the feeling of Pa’s, and so I could unpack the hundred or so books of his that I still have, lovely hardback editions of the Oz series, the Carroll series, and others.
Here is the glass Doug designed to finish the ends of the shelves.
We were inspired for this design by the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and their quilts, particularly the one pictured above by Jessie T. Pettaway (b. 1929), string-pieced columns c. 1950, cotton 95×76, (Collection of the Tinwood Alliance). This quilt reminds me of book spines in a stack, a sight I dearly love.
Here are the titles I’ve indulged in, ruminated over, argued with, and loved this year. I hope the list may inspire you to help yourself to some nourishment as well and to consider giving the gift of books, as “Pa” did for me, swapping books with friends and neighbors, and supporting your local library and independent booksellers. If you’re in the San Diego area, try Warwick’s. If you’re online, try Powell’s and AbeBooks. The books are listed alphabetically by author. If a New York Times Book Review inspired me to read it, I’ve linked it here.
Atkinson, Kate. Case Histories
A neighbor of mine who is a retired librarian appeared in our garden one day with two wonderful books to loan: Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories and One Good Turn. Meet and begin rooting for Jackson Brodie in the first novel in which he appears, Case Histories, and you won’t be able to stop rooting for him.
Atkinson, Kate. One Good Turn
Barnes, Julian. The Sense of an Ending
New York Times Review, Barnes
Berry, Wendell. The Mad Farmer Poems
My dear friend, Sara, had given me a copy of a poem by Berry entitled “A Homecoming,” and coincidentally I’d seen a documentary, “Forty Panes,” on his life and work in the same week, so when I saw this tiny collection at Warwick’s, I sat down in the corner chair in the poetry section and started in…soon it was in my purchase pile. I’ve read and re-read this small book many times, and I am enamored with the concept and content. Poems such as “The Man Born to Farming” show Berry’s deep connection to the earth, the seasons, and the art, fate, and “madness” involved in being part of the growth process.
Bialik, C.N. Selected Poems, edited and translated by David Aberbach
Bialik, Hayim Nahman. Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems, edited and translated from the Hebrew by Atar Hadari
Bialik, Hayim Nahman and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky, editors. The Book of Legends Sefer Ha-Aggadah: Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, translated by William G. Braude
Chabon, Michael. Gentlemen of the Road
Chabon, Michael. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
Dickinson, Emily. Poems by Emily Dickinson, selected by the Emily Dickinson Museum
Foster Wallace, David. Both Flesh and Not: Essays
The erudite and earthy DFW are both on display in this posthumous collection of essays interspersed with selections from the word list he kept on his computer–words he wanted to learn. Thank you to my friend, Gus, for sharing this collection with me and introducing me to the awe-inspiring word work in the essay from which the collection takes its title: “Federer Both Flesh and Not.” In this ode to tennis great Roger Federer, DFW performs as many signautre balletic moves with prose as he describes Federer making on the court–form follows function in a most impressive way. The essay opens with
“Almost anyone who loves tennis and follows the men’s tour on television has, over the last few years, had what might be termed Federer Moments. These are times, watching the young Swiss at play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re OK. The Moments are more intense if you’ve played enough tennis to understand the impossibility of what you just saw him do.” By the time I finished reading the essay, I felt that I could substitute the concepts of “tennis” and “Federer” with “writing” and “DFW,” and I would be describing the same experience. If you seek more “DFW Moments,” try his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, “This is Water.”
Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude
Geever, J.M. The Black Cat
Joyce, Rachel. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Leivick, Halpern. The Maharam of Rothenburg
McCall Smith, Alexander. Trains and Lovers
McCann, Colum. Let the Great World Spin
McCann, Colum. TransAtlantic
Oliver, Mary. New and Selected Poems, Volume One
Patchett, Anne. The Patron Saint of Liars
Patchett, Anne. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Patchett, Anne. Still Life with Bread Crumbs
Patchett, Anne. Truth and Beauty
Quindlen, Anna. Still Life with Bread Crumbs
Rachman, Tom. The Imperfectionists
Sedaris, David. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
Singer, I. J. The Family Carnovsky
Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch
Van Praag, Menna. The House at the End of Hope Street
Waldman, Ayelet. Love and Treasure
Wall, Carol. Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening
Walter, Jess. Beautiful Ruins
Walter, Jess. Citizen Vince
Wiesel, Elie. The Trial of God
Willis, Brad (aka Bhava Ram) Warrior Pose: A War Correspondent’s Memoir
Young, Neil. Waging Heavy Peace
Zevin, Gabrielle. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry