Over the course of 2013, I acquired a large number of books.
Some were binge-purchased at the beginning of summer, right before I left New York City (because I knew it would be the last time I’d get to shop at the Strand for awhile). Others were picked up during my subsequent road trip to California, which included lots of stops at interesting bookstores. A few others were discovered when I moved back here, at some really excellent local library book sales.
Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten around to actually reading those books. I blame the fact that I no longer have a daily subway commute, which, when I lived in New York, used to be prime reading time. But I guess I’ve also been sort of preoccupied with trying to figure out the whole career thing. And watching TV.
Now, however, the new year is here–which means it’s time to resolve, finally, to read everything I bought.
So here’s my reading list for this year:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
I’ve been trying to finish this book for awhile now. And by “awhile,” I mean since 2012. But don’t take my slow progress as a slight against Anna Karenina itself, which is every bit the masterpiece of finely observed human emotion that it’s known to be. I’d especially recommend the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition translation, which is so sprightly on its feet, it feels like Tolstoy wrote this stuff yesterday.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Early last year, I started reading Vanity Fair because I was interested in Becky Sharp as an unlikable female character (see also this article). I read the first half on my Kindle, surprisingly enjoyed how funny it was, and then, as with Anna Karenina, got distracted by other new and shiny books. For Christmas, however, I just received this lovely hardcover edition, which is the perfect excuse to bump this one back to the top of my list.
Witty, humorous fiction about social mores in early 20th century Britain is one of my (weirdly specific, I know) guilty pleasures. That explains the presence of several books on this list–including this one, which combines Nancy Mitford’s two best-known novels in one volume. I’d been on the lookout for Mitford’s work for awhile, so when I found this book at Tim’s Used Books (while visiting Cape Cod), I snapped it up.
A Dance to the Music of Time, First Movement by Anthony Powell
I first discovered Anthony Powell while searching for something British to watch on Hulu. One option was this adaptation of Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series, except it wasn’t good, so I didn’t watch it. But I did become interested in the books themselves–few people have read them even though they might be “the definitive work of the British 20th century.” I only have the first book now, but eventually I hope to read the whole set.
Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth
I was inspired to read Jennifer Worth’s trilogy of memoirs after watching Call the Midwife on PBS. Worth, who worked as a young midwife in London’s East End during the 1950s, is an unexpectedly riveting storyteller. Her books feel a lot like oral history–they may not be the most polished works of writing, but they’re extremely fascinating nevertheless. I’m on the third book now, and would definitely recommend the first two.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The first Zadie Smith book I read was White Teeth, which I stumbled upon awhile ago at Skoob Books, a really nice secondhand bookshop in London. I adored Smith so much that I later decided to splurge on an autographed copy of NW that I found at The Book House, a charming indie bookstore in upstate New York. Since I seemed to be on a Zadie Smith roll, I decided I might as well go ahead and collect all of her books. So I bought On Beauty and…
Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith
I got a used hardcover edition of this book for a ridiculously low price at the Strand. I rarely impulse purchase books; usually, I need to have had a book on my mental wish list for awhile before I buy it. With this book, however, no deliberation was necessary. I came, I saw Zadie Smith’s name, I purchased.
Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
This is the one book on this list that I don’t own. I’ve long been searching for a nice edition–perhaps I am a little vain about the way my classics look–but just haven’t found the right one yet. I do want to read it this year, though, especially as a companion to On Beauty (which was inspired by it), and because I want to finally understand the original context of “Only connect.”
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
Thomas Wolfe is one of those authors that I’ve heard so many famous people gush about, yet I’d never read. My interest in him was piqued most recently by a reference in Friday Night Lights (yes, I shamelessly get most of my reading ideas from TV). For some reason, though, it was so hard finding a copy of this book! I finally got one at the Biltmore Estate gift shop (the Thomas Wolfe Memorial was closed the day I visited Asheville).
You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe
Although I had to search high and low for Look Homeward, Angel, its sequel, You Can’t Go Home Again, practically fell into my lap. I found a hardcover edition from the 1940s, in excellent condition, for one dollar. That’s right, one dollar. If you live in Orange County, get yourself over to the Westminster Library because their used bookstore is amazing.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Faulkner is the sole reason that Oxford, Mississippi, was a stop on our road trip. It’s a really lovely stop, though–we visited Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home, and Square Books, a wonderful indie book shop where I picked up The Sound and the Fury. Because it’s sort of inexcusable that I’ve never read it.
The Interpreter of Maladies & The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Back when I was reading Gish Jen (whom I discovered from Junot Diaz’s The Author’s Bookshelf feature) and looking for more Asian-American female writers, a friend recommended that I check out Jhumpa Lahiri. Around the same time, I found this two-in-one book, marked down to half price, at the Strand. Recognizing what I call “book fate”–when you find a book you’ve been meaning to read, in excellent used condition, at a price that’s just right–I bought it.
Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis
Being a huge Peanuts fan, I wanted to read this book years ago, when it first came out. But then I forgot about it–until recently, when I saw it at the library. I didn’t check it out, though, because this review made me question whether I wanted to spend so much time reading about someone who seemed like kind of a jerk. But then I saw a copy for one dollar (yup, at the Westminster Library book sale) and thought, why not?
Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science by Charles Wheelan
Here’s another book that’s been on my radar for awhile, but that I never read. My interest in it was revived earlier this year, when I briefly but seriously considered a career in economic inequality research. Even though that didn’t pan out, this still looks like a useful and necessary (and not too painful) read.