So, I want to be clear from the outset that I am not in the business of shaming anyone for not reading X book or Y author—unless it’s Harry Potter. I mean, come on. The boy who defined a generation!
Sorry. I had to get that out of my system. I won’t shame you for not reading Harry Potter—in fact, upon re-reading it in my late 20s I have some serious problems with the way Ron and Harry treat Hermione, among other things, but that is a topic for another day. The point is, today I’m going to tell you about books I feel I ought to have read by now. Everyone, I suspect, has this list; like any other book list it’s quite personal, so I don’t mean to suggest that if you too have missed out on the following books, you really ought to have read them by now. As a bookseller, I’m a big fan of not judging people on what they’re reading or not reading. But as a human, I’m a big fan of judging myself and, apparently, also a fan of announcing my shame.
Let’s get on with it, shall we?
A note about book links. I’ve previously linked to the American Bookseller Association’s website Indiebound. Going forward, I’ll choose a bookstore to feature, with all titles linking to said store’s website. I hope, if you consider purchasing anything I mention, you’ll purchase from them.
This week I’m linking to WORD Bookstore; their Jersey City location is the store where I got my start in bookselling, and thus hugely influential to the bookseller I am today.
I want to blame this one on my suburban, Long Island high school. Now, on the one hand, it did introduce to me to Shirley Jackson. But I was never assigned The Odyssey and I feel like that’s a pretty critical element to a Western-canon-focused education. It’s getting more difficult to provide the same or similar foundational texts to all high schoolers, and maybe that’s good—though I do enjoy sharing certain cultural touchstones—because maybe we’ll focus less on dead white men. But still. Shouldn’t I have read The Odyssey?
I haven’t been self-motivated enough to dive into the tome without the context of a classroom. And I’m also pushing against the expectation of everyone having read something, and most of those somethings being mainly focused on the journey of a white dude. But this one was recently translated by Emily Wilson. So now my desire to stop hearing “you’ve never read The Odyssey?” is shored up by my desire to read the first known English translation written by a woman. (No, my reading choices are not all about gender politics—at least not on purpose.)
I haven’t read any Joan Didion. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I have read her essay “On Keeping a Notebook”—many times because I’m a bit obsessed with what people write in their notebooks. But besides that, none. If I’m being entirely honest, it’s because she’s too cool. Her fans have an air of detached sophistication, which, as someone who is earnestly uncool, I find annoying.
But the more interested I become in essays, the more I realize I need to pick her up. I don’t feel I’m missing out on the conversation, like I do with Homer, but I do feel I’d enjoy her, and I’m only hindering my self by basing my reading habits off assumptions and fans.
The Library of America recently released a new collection of her work, which is what inspired this issue. The jacket copy reads
…she has captured the anarchic convulsions and anxious contradictions of the waning American Century and the coming new millennium with incomparable clarity and force.
And I thought, well okay, maybe it’s finally time.
To be clear, I’ve started Little Women, I’ve just never finished it. I have no idea why; if I recall correctly, I got pretty far. I have vivid memories of the first few chapters because I’d stop and then start again from the beginning. I was fascinated by the game they made of The Pilgrim’s Progress—I even wanted to read that book, before I realized it wasn’t as enchanting as their play made it seem.
I’m grasping at my memories, but I can find no good reason why I set this book down and never picked it back up. I’m not even sure I still own a copy. But with the movie coming out—featuring Emma Watson, so you know I’m going to see it—I feel inclined to try again.
I haven’t read any Toni Morrison
Now this one I really didn’t want to admit to. I really should have read Toni Morrison by now. I mean, look at that book cover. Who is equipped to write a forward for a book by Toni Morrison? Only the author herself. Morrison doesn’t need another name on the cover of her book; she stands alone.
I was assigned The Bluest Eye in college but for some reason it was dropped from the curriculum. I guess all the professors just assumed, as a goddamn English major, I’d be assigned Toni Morrison by someone else. But no. I need no convincing on this one; I understand that she is one of the most important writers of our time. Excuse me while I go read Toni Morrison.
How Did I Not Know About
I received this book yesterday—it’s out today. It’s apparently a well known web comic that I’d never heard of. And every single page made me bust out laughing. I think the premise will become clear from the below comic, but it’s basically two extraterrestrial creatures experiencing life and narrating said experiences.
Other Ways to Find Me On the Internets
I host a podcast called Drunk Booksellers where my best friend and I interview a fellow bookseller while drinking. I sometimes tweet about books and politics. I sometimes post pictures of books I’m reading, or cats I’m hanging out with on Instagram.
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