Summer reading list, 2008

January 12, 2008 at 11:12 pm (books)

For the past eight or nine years – not sure exactly how many, at this point – I have taken part, with a group of county media specialists, in the selection of titles for a summer reading list for their colleagues in the local public school system. As with so many people whose work is in the field of education, summer affords a welcome break. Fun, relaxation – and non-required reading!

Four or five of us have been part of this effort from its inception, and every year, one or two “guests” join us. In January, we meet to decide which titles to include; in May, I present book talks on titles drawn from that year’s list.

I’ve always enjoyed doing the book talks, and I enjoy the preliminary meeting just as much. This past Tuesday, we met to discuss and choose titles for the 2008 list. What a pleasure to spend a couple of hours with these excellent women, and to share with them a reverence for the printed word.

I think we’ve come up with a pleasantly eclectic list. A number of my own suggestions have already appeared in these pages: The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson, What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman, Never Enough by Joe McGinniss, The Tinderbox by Jo Bannister, The Fall of Troy by Peter Ackroyd.

other-side-of-the-bridge2.jpg whatdeadknow2.jpg never-enough2.jpg tinderbox2.jpg troy2.jpg

Other books to be included are Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. The list usually runs to about forty titles.

snowflower.jpg pillars.jpg into-wild.jpg thousand.jpg

classics.jpg We were especially pleased to be putting Classics for Pleasure by Michael Dirda on the list.

(This is one of two “books about books” that we’re including, the other being The Rough Guide To Crime Fiction by Barry Forshaw. rough-ghude2.jpg )

In Classics for Pleasure, Dirda organizes his material thematically rather than chronologically. This results in some rather piquant juxtapositions: the entry on Georgette Heyer precedes the one on Anna Akhmatova, which is then followed by one on Daphne DuMaurier. Petronius finds himself next to Elizabeth Gaskell; Andre Malraux is followed by Philip K. Dick. (And Google Image Search continues to astound!)

heyer.gif akhmatova.jpg daphne.jpg petronius.jpg elizabeth_gaskell.jpg malraux-1.jpg philip_k_dick.jpg

It’s a rich, delicious stew. I am deeply impressed by the breadth and depth of Michael Dirda’s reading. I couldn’t help exclaiming, to no one in particular: “Don’t you think he must feel lonely and rather forlorn, standing atop this mountain of erudition, with nary a kindred soul or comparable intellect in sight?” But someone took me up on this at once: “Oh, I think there are plenty of intellectuals out there. They just don’t have the prominence they once had, or the media exposure.” I guess I can agree with that. Gone are the days when Charles Van Doren appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. charles-van.jpg Oh well – we know how that ended… (If you don’t, watch the excellent film Quiz Show, directed Robert Redford and starring Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro. quiz-show.jpg )

When we’ve agreed on the titles for the upcoming list, we divide them up among the group members. Each of us will annotate about six books. Writing annotations is hard work, especially if you’re trying to keep them brief. But we all agree: an annotated list offers tremendous added value.

The list in its final form should appear around late April or early May. Meanwhile, here’s a link to lists from past years. (Click on “Adult summer reading list.”)

Ah, Book Love!

1 Comment

  1. The Power of Words « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] 22, 2008 at 8:44 pm (Eloquence, Spiritual) In a section of Classics for Pleasure entitled The English Religious Tradition, Michael Dirda quotes a passage from the Gospel of Luke, […]

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