2016: six books you'll like and several you might

[An aside: 2017, for me, is the year I do away with reading challenges -- because a) certain things took precedence, rightly, over my book-a-week goal this year and will continue to do so in coming years, b) if I'm ever going to finish The Making of the Atomic Bomb once and for all, I'll have to spend a solid summer on it, and c) in times like these -- not the times that try men's souls, but the ones leading up to them, if we're lucky -- I'd like to reread the complete works of Laura Ingalls Wilder.]

6. ON WOMEN AND REVOLUTION (Crystal Eastman) if you can find it.
Crystal Eastman (1881-1928; prolific writer, co-founder of the ACLU) was an extraordinary woman, but the titular and is an extraordinarily misleading and. I picked up this long out-of-print book (here!) in the hope that each essay inside addressed women and revolution together, but On Women and Revolution is in fact divided into two parts: Crystal Eastman on Women and (surprise) Crystal Eastman on Revolution. The former section is, I think, of more interest to the casual feminist than the latter is to the casual leftist; Eastman's writings on feminism are at once mordant (Winston Churchill is "full of beans" to her) and moving, and it's worth noting just how many of her concerns remain our concerns -- a full century later.

(Almost) as before: #5 through #1 + extras, under the cut.

5. NORTHANGER ABBEY (Jane Austen) if you're a reading girl.
I maintain that there is a Jane Austen novel for every stage in a reading girl's life, and this is just the one for girls barely older than the novel's heroine herself, girls who so wish they had Hermione Granger's life, girls who thought living amongst old buildings would give them that life, girls who weren't that disappointed in the life they ended up with after all: for me, in short, and for many of you. (Oddly enough, Pride and Prejudice is the Austen novel for fifteen-year-olds -- none of whose mothers, I very much hope, are as desperate as Mrs. Bennet to see them married off.)

4. BURR (Gore Vidal) if you're invested in the lives of small-time journalists -- or big-time men of politics, I suppose -- but mostly small-time journalists.
Burr appears so often on more-serious lists of this ilk that I stayed away from it for years, one of which I whiled away quite happily reading The American Pageant. Well, Vidal's sharp, snarky Colonel Burr could have narrated the entire Pageant. Burr himself, however, isn't the main event; there are two parallel narratives in the novel, and the main (and altogether more engaging) one is that of Charlie Schuyler, law clerk and reporter in nineteenth-century New York, who's tasked with interviewing the aging Colonel Burr for political ends (lightly put), but ends up quite admiring the man. Charlie has a regular life before meeting Burr, and -- don't be deceived -- his brush with greatness (and with the snake pit) is why Burr is worth reading.

3. THE NIGHT IN LISBON (Erich Maria Remarque) if you're me.
Like so much of what I enjoy most, this is a simple, sad love story in a series of guises: a mystery of identity, a discussion of memory, an at-times fond depiction of the titular city, and, closest to base, the tale of a man, and sometimes also a woman, on the run from the Nazis. This bit describing the aforementioned woman (the object of the narrator's affection) tells you why she appeals to me, and to him: "She had carried on about some important papers left behind in her room... She brought back no papers, but perfume, cognac, and a basket of food instead."

2. DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON (George Orwell) if you're anyone.
The magic of Down and Out is that it's full of bon mots (as opposed to dense, lengthy paragraphs) regarding poverty in the titular cities: it succeeds as both commentary and entertainment. Orwell could have taken himself very seriously while writing this book, and it would still work as vivid commentary on just how hard it was to be down-and-out poor in his Paris and London: the vicious cycle that is job hunting while needing to stay alive, the long hours and low pay you're rewarded with once you do find a job, the itinerant life led by the homeless, etc. Down and Out is about all of these things, but it's also about people, whose quirks Orwell sketches wonderfully well. True to form, Orwell never takes himself too seriously when he describes the down-and-out life -- in fact, he maintains a sense of good cheer; the chapter describing his stint as a plongeur at the Hôtel X is particularly tragicomic -- and even when he shifts from sketches to serious analysis, he maintains his lightness and clarity. It shouldn't be a delight, considering the subject matter, but it is.

1. THE JOURNALIST AND THE MURDERER (Janet Malcolm) if you were ever a bit skeeved out by Serial -- or indeed, if you thoroughly enjoyed Serial.
The interviewer who recommended this book to me recommended Serial in the same breath (and Buddenbrooks several breaths later, but that's beside the point). Malcolm studies (and critiques) one journalist's profile of a man accused of murdering his own family -- not the writing itself, but the journalist's relationship with the subject; this relationship (specific and general) is the crux of the book. Her opening characterization of journalism as "morally indefensible" -- the journalist is one who spends his time "preying on people's vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse" is certainly relevant in light of Serial's success, and good reading for those of us (myself included) who, without thinking too much, tend to jump straight to "but the First Amendment!" when any journalist is accused by her subject of underhanded methods.

YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY: The End of Karma (Somini Sengupta), The End of Imagination (Arundhati Roy). Why's everything about (lively, alive) modern Indian youth also about The End? I dunno. In any case, Death By Black Hole (Neil deGrasse Tyson) is how I hope to meet my eventual end. Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions (Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths) is the for-kicks version of this semester's programming course, which at one point seemed like it'd lead to my eventual end. Evidently, it did not do so, but Siddhartha (Hermann Hesse) has helped me deal with the thought nonetheless.

IF I ADDED ONE I'D HAVE TO ADD THEM ALL, and they'd take up all six spots in my list and then some: The delightful novels of P.G. Wodehouse -- constants, Pigs Have Wings in particular, of a few summer days passed in India many years ago -- are witnessing a resurgence in my life, as they should be witnessing in yours. (An insurgence, perhaps, if you've never been exposed to them? They're all more or less the same, so just pick one, for goodness' sake.)

AVOID AT ALL COSTS: Milk & Honey (Rupi Kaur) is a terrible collection of terrible poems, poems so terrible they remained terrible even when read aloud in this fine establishment. (It is that short, if you're curious and masochistic.) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Jack Thorne) puts this scintillating line in the mouth of a fortysomething Ron Weasley: "I am probably the most chilled out of all of us." Rest in peace, Harry & co.

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