Books I Must Read This Year

Photo of BooksI am promiscuous with books. I think about other books while I’m reading a book. I buy books and then get distracted and forget to read them because I’m busy buying other books. I spend as much time looking for and thinking about books as I do reading them.

The thing is: about 200,000 books come out in the U.S. every single year. That’s 2 million books a decade. Even if reading were my full-time job, I’d never get to all the books that interest me. That’s why I rely heavily on recommendations (I ask for yours at the end of this post).

In an effort to curb my literary ADD and take control of my life, I am compiling a list of books I want to read at this moment in time, which is 11:32 a.m. on Saturday, April 26, 2014. Perhaps you, too, will be interested in a few of these titles.

(Obviously this list is in no particular order; that would just be cruel.)Read More »


In Defense of So-Called Depressing Books

The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge. Thanks to my friend, Erin, this is the next book on my reading list.
The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge. Thanks to my friend, Erin, this is the next book on my reading list.

Last weekend I asked Matt if he wanted to walk to the library with me because I had a book on hold. “Oh God,” he laughed. “What is it now? Is about blindness?”

“Not this time,” I said. It was actually How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights (which I am finding more depressing than my usual death and disease books).

It’s now a joke in our house that I am always reading so-called depressing books. I’ve read dozens of books—by memoirists and scientists and journalists—about chronic illness, about humans’ ability (or lack of ability) to deal with mortality, about the strange shit that befalls people, through no fault of their own.

For instance, on a recent walk around the Rose Bowl, Matt and I covered such topics as anorexia, dwarfism, and the political implications of cochlear implants for the deaf. Not that we don’t talk about the things most young couples talk about, like buying a house/having kids/eloping in Vegas. It’s just that our discussions are punctuated by the knowledge that anything can happen at any time, and nothing is guaranteed. This is the wisdom earned through illness.

Although I sometimes feel weird about my reading habits (at work, I hid The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression in a drawer), I would argue that reading so-called depressing books has made me a smarter and more compassionate person:

  • I now know how to help a blind person cross a busy intersection.
  • I don’t pity people in wheelchairs anymore.
  • I’m not shocked and appalled when a friend tells me about her family’s history of mental illness and suicide.
  • When my friend is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I don’t tell her that she’ll get better, or that she should simply think positive thoughts.
  • I’ve stopped thinking that I’m better than other people.
  • I try to relate to people who are different than me—this is easier in the abstract and harder in the material world, but the more exposure I have to difference, the easier it is.
  • I don’t take myself and my “dreams” so seriously anymore. In a culture that prizes ambition, this may be seen as a defeat, but I find it freeing.

Stay tuned for a recommended reading list of so-called depressing books. In the meantime, please feel free to share your recommendations!

Books That Make You Think

15357471Book: The Secret Life of Objects by Dawn Raffel 

Publisher: Jaded Ibis Press

Genre: Memoir

Why I Bought the Book: I was at Matt’s mom’s house a few months ago, asking her which objects she would pass down to her children after she died (it sounds morbid, I know, but it was fascinating and hilarious!).  When I found this book, which tells the author’s life story through the objects in her home, I had to buy it. I plan to give it to Matt’s mom for her birthday (but, of course, I had to read it first).

Realization: Objects are the tangible things we have left from people who have died. Eventually, the story of the thing is going to die, too.

Memory: When my grandfather died, we cleaned out his dresser drawers. I found a photo of myself from the fourth grade.

Inadequacy: I could never write a book of objects because so many of mine come from Walgreens or Ikea and have no personal meaning to me. I still sometimes feel like a college student.

Facing Mortality: Parts of this book made me tear up a little. It might’ve been because I had PMS, but I think it was the book. Reading this book was an emotional experience–it reminded me just how delicate and fleeting life is.

Question: If you had 10 minutes to flee your home, what objects would you grab? Why?