Closing out Summer Read II

I have to find a better descriptive phrase for this reading period between the end of Pushcart in May and the beginning of BASS in October. While it does take place over the summer, it starts in Spring (or at least has so far; the beginning depends on when I finish Pushcart) and ends in the fall. For that matter, seasons aren’t all that well-defined, since summer might mean June 21 to September 21, or it might mean however your school system defines it, or it might mean time between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

I started this interim reading period last year, when I finished Pushcart early, but it has its roots in the year before when I realized I was essentially reading two books a year and missing out on a lot. That was back when I was neck-deep in moocs, taking anywhere from three to six at a time. Moocs have redesigned me out of the picture, so I have more time to spend on free reading.

Interim reading period? Free reading time? Nah, I’ll stick with Summer Read. Feels more relaxed.

Back on May 6, I had a preliminary list of 31 books, divided into four categories, that would fill the months until October. I read 21, five of which weren’t on the original list. If that seems like a low count for five months, well, some of them took longer than others, my move in July threw me into a tizzy, blogging a book takes almost as long as reading it, and I did go through a few Yale OCWs in the same time period. And why am I making excuses anyway – this isn’t a competition.

The actual read list:

• Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: 36 Arguments for the Existence of God
• C. Michael Curtis, ed. : God Stories
• Youssef Ziedan: Azazeel
• Jo Walton, Lent (added)

• Finn Murphy: The Long Haul
• Nell Painter: Old in Art School
• Kwame Onwuachi: Notes from a Young Black Chef
• John Urschel and Louisa Thomas, Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football (added)

Filling in literary gaps:
• Sinclair Lewis: Main Street/Babbitt/It Can’t Happen Here (I read about half of each)
• Umberto Eco: Serendipities: Language and Lunacy (substituted for On Literature)
• Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye
• Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections
• George Lakoff and Mark Johnson: Metaphors We Live By (added)

Miscellaneous from my TBR lists:
• Ellen Litman: The Last Chicken In America (short story collection)
• Simon Winchester: The Professor and the Madman (nonfiction)
• Michel Lincoln: Upright Beasts (short story collection)
• Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Friday Black (short story collection)
• Emily Wilson: The greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca (nonfiction)
• Mark Kurlansky: Salt: A World History (nonfiction)
• Tony Hoaglund: Twenty Poems that Could Save America (nonfiction)
• Robert Long Foreman, Among Other Things (added) (essay collection)
• Lesley Nneka Arimah: What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (added) (short story collection)

I abandoned a couple of books I’d planned to read because I discovered I hated reading them. No, I’m not going to tell you which ones. They aren’t bad books; one wasn’t what I’d expected, and the other was just too much dense prose.

The outcome of all this: Something I remembered, and something that surprised me.

I remembered that nonfiction is my first love. This is why I keep saying I love a story or novel that teaches me something, and why beautiful, perfectly-written fiction can leave me shrugging while I find a free-for-all mesmerizing if I find something worth researching in it.

Which leads into the surprising aspect of this read: I found the religion category by far the most engaging. That’s because, rather than character development, I prefer books I have to read at my computer, so I can look up Hypatia and the conflicts in fifth-century Alexandria, or the Renaissance humanists and the theological directions abandoned in early Christianity, or details of Kabbalah and why Spinoza is considered the atheist’s theologian. I get a thrill when encountering something I learned in a mooc; maybe it’s just reassurance that I didn’t waste all those hours over all those years in all those weird classes.

And now it’s time to roll up my sleeves for BASS 2019. That doesn’t mean I won’t be reading anything else. Inspired by Salman Rushdie’s new book, I’m already getting started on Don Quixote, and following a Yale OCW to keep me motivated and on track. My Favorite Math Blogger (Humor Division), Ben Orlin, has his second book coming out in a few days; I was lucky enough to read a chapter early in its development, and I’m eager to see more of what he’s done interweaving calculus with art and literature. And then there’s plain old recreational reading: a book on the US territories (inspired by the Great Greenland Fiasco), a memoir by a woman who came here from Iran as a kid, before anyone knew where Iran was; a book of medical stories; a history book about the middle ages.

There’s always something to read.

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