5 Min read
17 Books, 19.5 including mentions in footnotes
Genres: Memoir, Essays, Fiction, Writing, Love, Poetry, War
Toolbox, Texture in writing
The most common question I get is, “What should I read?”
The books you read–like film or podcasts or any content–depends on you. You read to escape, you read for work, you read to learn. Walk into any book store and see what folks are reading in that town: check displays and the amount of space and shelving by genre. Manga, young adult, and fantasy dominate teen sales. Visit big box stores and scan the books; in Target with over 60% women shoppers see what folks read, upmarket fiction–AKA book club books. Genre stereotypes exist: women read romance and men read science fiction. So much to read, so little time. Sigh.*
Here are books I’ve read over the last year. I read everything, an equal opportunity reader, trending towards creative nonfiction (true story, factually accurate narrative such as memoir, essay, and letters below). I list these titles because of parts and passages I love. I don’t agree with everything and may even dislike aspects, but I find the work compelling, the author credible, and I am better off having read them.
No particular order, I picked titles from the tops of my stacks, which include those I refer back to for word craft or passages I want to visit again.
Kudos to writers who make me laugh, learn, and get me to think in new ways. And a hearty thank you to the writing teachers, whose books share insights and wisdom. And last and much loved, to my reading friends who share and talk about books, many I would not have read or heard of otherwise.
*Links connect you to the author’s site, so that you may learn more from them about the books. If a site was not available or working, the link is to a popular platform.
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey – More than a pretty boy, this is a rollicking read of an extraordinary life, humble beginnings, and mid-life wisdom.
Upstream by Mary Oliver – poet and wordsmith gets her reasons down for doing what she does, telling us like it is. Potent, lyrical.
Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis. Provoking and charming, of course. Party Foul about her own family defies description here. Her account of facing a mugging on mass transit had me rethinking the value of civility. SPOILER ALERT – it’s civility that saves her.
The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long. A craft book for writers with details down to the sentence level and word work. Focus on Chapter 3 but the the book may need a spot on your desk.
Consider This, Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different by Chuck Palahniuk. I started this today but writers will find useful craft advice if they read the first two chapters. Plus his voice rises off the page. He wrote Fight Club which was made into the iconic film.
First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami. His new short story collection. I gave away copies as gifts. For the reader who loves story, short potent tales that are smooth and easy to read, but leave you somewhere else entirely from where you started, or think you started.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. Pure story-telling. Powerful tale of reeducation camps. Short novel and can be read in a sitting for those who love to be transported.
Ballad of a Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers. A classic story you need to read and can read in one sitting. The piano prodigy (Wunderkind) and the Jockey in this collection can haunt and disturb you if you recognize the characters. Love in a Sad Cafe, letter written on the story.
Normal People by Sally Rooney. Made into a film series I believe, but this reads fast and pulls the reader in. High School and college age characters and modern love. Written across the pond by Irish writer, classic formatting with no punctuation but you’ll get used to it.
Norwegian Wood by Murakami. My second title of his on the list, this is a modern classic. Erotic and profound look at the forms love can take. Loss, sexuality.
Every Word You Cannot Say by Iain Thomas. Modern poetry that everyone can read. It will change you. It will help you see during dark times.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. For the writer and lover of words, an extraordinary series of letters written to a young cadet (who will become an officer) from Rilke who attended the same Austrian Military Academy. It is the work of a great soul, and the writing illuminates that soul. (Passage analysis: If you want to write, Rilke ex 2. header link to full text)
Military and War
Honorable Exit: How a Few Brave Americans Risked All to Save Our Vietnamese Allies at the End of the War by Thurston Clarke. I read this slowly, the pain of one war flooding back as I took in each chapter and the country pulled out of Afghanistan, making costly and abhorrent mistakes as it had made in Vietnam. The painstaking details and substance in this book, finally released in 2019, vindicate what my father-one of the last diplomats in Vietnam, leaving with the ambassador– had spent decades telling us. Thank you, Thurston Clarke.
Battle Dress by Amy Efaw. Fast and compelling story. Probably the single best account of Cadet Basic Training at West Point.This has become a go-to referral for candidates intent on USMA. It’s fiction and it’s accurate. I have since connected with Amy, who has become a friend and mentor.
Spirit Mission by Ted Russ. Moving dual narrative by a friend and classmate on the 160th Special Operations Aviation and cadet life at West Point. I read both Efaw’s and Russ’s book inside two days. This is fiction, but veterans will recognize this as the real deal, authentic and gritty.
Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (above under poetry) arises from a shared connection, attending the same military academy at different times.
—Genre fiction and memoir dominate the bestseller list (EPJDataScience). This is a helpful look at marketing data on book sales.
*Dear reader, for future reference if you want to refer back to or read any of these, you may do a search on my site, top right box with little magnifier icon, for Books I love.
*The opening of this TreeHouseLetter has texture at work from Chuck Palahniuk’s book Consider This (On Writing list above). Page 5, 6. Create texture in your writing by mixing types of sentences and points of view, especially in dialogue. I write the letter as if I am visiting with you and chatting in the TreeHouse. Opening with “The most common question I get…” in first person and including the reader in “The books you read..” in second person. I shift points of view and change types of sentences, from question to description/statement to exclamation (Sigh) and fragment.
*The Good Book. It’s funny how easy it is to get lost in time and thought when you’re in so deep. A reader wrote that my desert island book was, “super. But you’ll need food for the soul, not for the mind; you should do your next series on the greatest published book ever done in the world.”
Which dear reader some might know–and you likely thought of when you read my last letter, What Book Would You Take to a Desert Island? which had crossed my mind but had not stuck. The world’s best-selling book of all time has 5 BILLION copies as of 1995. The bible.
I’m not Christian and not not a Christian. I’ve found comfort in the bible and I have found comfort in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Old Path White Clouds and stoic writings and numerous other works. If you consider ways to define best-selling, actually sold and not given away, here’s the wiki list. Given the number of copies out there or distributed rather than purchased, Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse Tung–also known as the Little Red Book– have “sold” 1.1 billion copies. By the way, I included this as a half book in my letter notes below the header, because it’s reference not recommendation.
The reader’s note about the soul and the mind had me reevaluate the Webster’s 2nd (1934 copyright with added updates, a 3000+ pages of 207 staff editors/experts after 10 years of work and 100 years of modern human scholarship) because it includes a significant number of clergy on staff, who provide a chronicle of Christ in the tome. Today, the Good Book remains the most discussed and the original book club book. Bible study is not the provenance of the divine, everyone may join discussion.