What To Read Now – according to the July 13 issue of Newsweek

July 4, 2009 at 3:19 pm (books, Magazines and newspapers)

The first order of business here is to thank the staff of Newsweek Magazine for focusing at such length on books and on the value and pleasure of reading (and re-reading).

I am always amazed when I look at lists like this and see how few of the suggested titles I’ve read. Mea culpa – but I simply cannot read any faster! And lately, I’ve been pursuing some specific, rather esoteric interests. For instance, since the Italy trip, where I found myself within hailing distance of the rocks onto which the legendary Sirens lured hapless mariners, I’ve become fascinated once again by the literature of antiquity.


More on this in a later post. Meanwhile, “What To Read Now. And Why:”

The book in the pole position stopped me in my tracks. Not only is it fiction (Yes!) – it is a classic, by an author I’ve hitherto read with great pleasure:

liveIn his essay “Love Books? You’re in the Right Place,” Jon Meacham notes that several of the magazine’s staffers favored the selection of this novel.

The Way We Live Now is part of a long list of Books that I Hope To Get To Some Day. What I have read, although it was rather a long time ago, are four of the six novels in the Barsetshire Chronicles:

warden barchester

framley thorne

If you’re going to read just one, make it Barchester Towers. I remember being hugely entertained by this novel, widely considered to be one of  Anthony Trollope‘s best. I seem to recall also that the plot of Doctor Thorne involved an especially affecting love story.

Anthony Trollope  1815-1882

Anthony Trollope 1815-1882


The Newsweek list has its share of surprises; at least, there were choices that surprised me. Here’s the annotation for The Bear by William Faulkner:

“A boy comes of age in the 1880s by learning the ways of the fast-disappearing Mississippi forests. The best environmental novel ever written.

Wow! really? I confess that with the exception of a couple of short stories, I’ve been “off” Faulkner for several decades now. But the above  assertion has me intrigued, I admit.

I was interested to note the inclusion of Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman, a new book on the perpetually vexed subject of parenting.  In what the Washington Post calls an “infamous essay” that appeared in the New York Times in 2005, Waldman stated baldly that she loves her husband more than her children.  “If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother.” After that, as they say, came the deluge…

I was pleased at the inclusion of Flannery O’Connor‘s A Good Man Is Hard To Find. O’Connor’s short stories, with their admixture of sudden violence, apocalyptic revelation and savage humor, are uniquely powerful. The title story in this  collection is terrific, in the literal sense of the word, and contains, in the third line from the end, one of the most memorable – not to mention outrageous –  sentences I’ve come across in American literature. Read O’Connor – and laugh and be horrified simultaneously! (As I’m writing this, I’m recalling my delight at the appearance of  a juvenile Flannery O’Connor as a character in, of all places, a science fiction anthology. The story is  “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse.”)

Flannery O'Connor   1925-1964

Flannery O'Connor 1925-1964


Are there any titles I would add to Newsweek’s selection? One that sprang to mind immediately was A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster.  Muir explored his adopted homeland on foot and with tireless enthusiasm, often making do with little in the way of food or shelter. His stalwart advocacy on behalf of California’s great landscape culminated in the founding of the Sierra Club and set the standard for all  who followed. Donald Worster tells Muir’s story in prose that is both lyrical and intensely moving.

John Muir in 1907

John Muir in 1907


Turns out there’s more! Here’s Newsweek’s Top 100 Books: the Meta-List. I nearly missed this; it’s not in the magazine’s print edition plus it’s easy to overlook on the website.

1 Comment

  1. Teresa said,

    I was delighted to see The Way We Live Now at the top of the list. I read it recently and was amazed at how pertinent it is. And Trollope is, of course, always wonderful.

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