What’s Next? A Preliminary Reading List for the next Five Months

As I did last year, I plan to fill the time between now and whenever BASS 2019 drops (expected in October; the guest editor is Anthony Doerr) with assorted readings: novels, story collections, nonfiction books and essay collections or anthologies, maybe even a little poetry.

The “For Later” list on my local library account contains over 120 entries of books I’ve seen along the way and thought, I might want to read that; some of them were put there eight or ten years ago. In addition, I have a bookmark list for the interlibrary loan catalog with several hundred items, and an Amazon shopping list with another 50 or so ideas. So I have a lot to choose from.

While the books I’ve selected for this “long list” are eclectic, many fall into a few noticeable categories:

● Fiction using God/religion/spirituality for plot;
● Nonfiction about work, including a few about jobs seldom written about;
● All genres by established authors, and reading-list standards I’ve never read;
● Plus an eclectic assortment of more recent releases that caught my eye, though often I can’t remember when or how.

 
I doubt I’ll get to them all. I expect to be moving at some point in the next month or two, so that will disrupt things for a while. I may give up on some, swap in others. But it’s a start. I’m already in possession of nine of the titles, with two more on the way. Most of the rest will be library borrows (moving is expensive).

I plan to rotate through the categories, though I don’t have any order in mind. I welcome anyone who’d like to read along; I’ve been using Goodreads more regularly than I used to, so when I start a book, I’ll post it there under “currently reading”. But to start: I’m already halfway through Ellen Litman’s story collection, and plan to read Morrison next.

The long list:

God, religion, spirituality:

• Wilton Barnhardt: Gospel (St. Martin’s, 1993). This is sort of cheating, since I’ve read it several times, but not recently. It drove this mini-group of God-centered books, in fact. Borrows a lot from clichés, but I can’t help it, I miss God (the character, in a small but pivotal part) every time I come to the end.
• Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: 36 Arguments for the Existence of God (Pantheon, 2010). This is a novel in 36 chapters, each an argument for… well, you get the idea.
• C. Michael Curtis, ed. : God Stories (HM, 1998) Everyone from James Baldwin to Philip Roth to James Joyce chips in.
• Youssef Ziedan: Azazeel (Atlantic, 2001). Along the lines of Gospel but set in the fifth century, recounting a monk’s travels in Egypt in the early days of Christianity.

 
Jobs, especially those rarely written about:

• Finn Murphy: The Long Haul (Norton, 2017). Murphy took a summer job as a trucker after his third year of college, and kept going.
• Stephanie Land: Maid (Hachette, 2019). The hardest-working people around get the least money, and the least respect.
• Jacob Tomsky: Heads in Beds (Anchor 2016). The Kitchen Confidential of the hospitality industry.
• Sandeep Jauhar: Doctored (FSG, 2015). Yes, doctor books abound, but I can’t resist them, especially, given my recent close encounters with doctors, disillusioned ones.
• Nell Painter: Old in Art School (Counterpoint, 2018). Not exactly a job, but close enough.
• Kwame Onwuachi: Notes from a Young Black Chef (Knopf, 2019). Ok, so chefs also write a lot of books. I can’t resist an occasional nibble.

 
Filling in my literary gaps: literary standards and established authors

• Walker Percy: The Moviegoer (RH reissue, 1998)
• Donald Barthelme: Sixty stories (Penguin reissue 2003)
• Sinclair Lewis: Main Street/Babbitt/It Can’t Happen Here (LOA reissue 1992)
• Umberto Eco: On Literature (HB 2004)
• Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye (Vintage Reissue 2007)
• Hannah Arendt: Essays in Understanding (Schocken reissue 2018) . Yeah, I know, everyone’s reading The Origins of Totalitarianism but I thought this might be a better place to start.
• Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections (Picador reprint, 2002). No, I’ve never read Franzen. So shoot me.
• Nathanael West: Miss Lonelyhearts/Day of the Locust (LOA reprint 1997). I’ve always wanted to read these.
• Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man (RH, 1982 ed.). Yeah, again, no I haven’t read it, stop judging.

 
Miscellaneous fiction and non, with the possibility of a hint of poetry

• Ellen Litman: The Last Chicken In America (Norton, 2007). A novel-in-stories about a community of post-Soviet Russian Jewish immigrants in Pittsburg.
• Simon Winchester: The Professor and the Madman (HC 1998). Because I’d rather read the book than see the movie.
• N. K. Jemisin : How Long ‘til Black Future Month? (Orbit, 2018). I try to read a little fantasy now and then, and this sounds intriguing.
• John Boyne: A Ladder to the Sky (Hogarth 2018). I tend to like writers as characters.
• Michel Lincoln: Upright Beasts (Coffee House Press, 2015). I’m scared (the one story of his I encountered in Pushcart was bizarre, in a good way) , but I’ll give it a shot.
• Julie Schumacher: The Shakespeare Requirement (Doubleday 2018). A follow-up to last year’s Dear Committee Members.
• Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Friday Black (Mariner, 2018). How cool is it that there are two widely-discussed fantasy collections by writers of color.
• R. Jay Magill: Sincerity (Norton, 2013). A history and philosophical investigation of the trait.
• Emily Wilson: The greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca (OUP, reprint 2018). I know surprisingly little about the Stoics, and almost nothing about Seneca, so I thought this might help.
• Mark Kurlansky: Salt: A World History (Penguin, 2003). I love books that use something simple as a way to tell broad stories about people, histories, and places.
• Victoria Chang: Circle (SIUP, 2005). One of the Pushcart poets from this year.
• Tony Hoaglund: Twenty Poems that Could Save America (Graywolf, 2014). Another Pushcart poet; this is a book of essays about poetry; I may combine it with one of his poetry collections.

 
Gotta go – I have reading to do.

3 responses to “What’s Next? A Preliminary Reading List for the next Five Months

  1. I was thinking of going back and doing the O’Henry collection from 2018. Unfortunately, I am currently locked in a battle to the death with a Korean novel I just can’t get through.

    • Lol, here I am patting myself on the back for reading a few books most high school seniors have read, and you’re reading Korean novels! Is the “can’t get through” due to lack of interest, general obscurity, translation problems, or just length?

      I thought about doing another prize anthology – I used to do the Pen/O.Henry in that period when they merged – but I keep seeing books that sound so good… plus I want to remember how to read novels and nonfiction, book-length stuff. I have a tendency to calcify in one position.

      Will you be blogging them?

      • Trouble getting through the Korean novel is a combination of things. But mostly, it’s getting sidetracked, forgetting where I was, and then just not having the discipline to sit down and force myself to read it instead of doing other things.

        Yes, if I ever get through this novel and onto O’Henry, I’ll blog it.

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