I rediscovered my inner bookworm this summer.
Earlier this year, I set a ridiculous goal of reading 104 books this year.* It was a little optimistic but who doesn’t love a good challenge?
There’s been a reshuffling of priorities, reading selectively over writing compulsively, and I think I’m the better for it. It’s easy to relish the sounds of your words on a page but there’s something about delighting in a book and discovering things you ought to have known all along.
As I’ve been reading more, I’ve realized that books tend to fall into one of these four categories:
- Books you want to read for the sheer joy of it
- Books you don’t want anyone to know you read
- Books you want people to know you’ve read
- Books you’ll never pick up
I’d also like to add “Books people assume you’ve read so now you’ve actually got to read the book to catch up with your own reputation because you can’t just smile and nod all the time.” But I’m not going to tell you which books those were.
There were a few books that really stood out this summer. They were ones that made me stop and rethink some long held views. Ones that deserved scribbles in the margins. Ones that made me curse that I didn’t know the original language of the text and some that kept me up until the wee hours of the morning.
There was a time when I wanted to major in the Classics/English/Literature in college. I’m just doing the homework now.
By far the most engrossing read of my summer.
This was the book that kept me up until 2 am some mornings, trying to make a dent in it. It was also the book that I carried around in my purse, read on my lunch breaks, and pulled out whenever I had a few free moments. I laughed, yelled, and felt every emotion in-between while reading Rand’s thinly veiled manifesto to Objectivism.
Rand’s book has been in the news lately because Paul Ryan is a fan of her works. I don’t think objectivism is ideal, nor do I agree with everything Rand says. I just like good ideas wherever I find them and this book offered quite a bit of them. I am a fan of hard work, entrepreneurship, and a lack of “entitlements.”
If you aren’t a fan of capitalism, the book will make you furious but that’s a great reason to read it. See the other side. If you are a die-hard capitalist, you’ve probably already read it. And if you were like me, and curious what the hullabaloo was about, pick it up, muscle your way through the 1,000+ pages and read it. Watching the movies help too.
I was on a Greek kick this summer. Let’s blame the people behind Clash of the Titans. I wanted to get a fuller view of Ancient Greece than Hollywood (Titans, Troy, 300, etc) could provide so I went to biopics and translated plays.
I chose Helen and Alcestis because they make a great commentary on the way women were viewed in Ancient Greece. Women don’t always get equal air time in history as their male counterparts so the ones who do get mentioned are worth looking into.
Helen was a pretty pawn piece in the hands of haughty Aphrodite – the woman who had to be possessed in order for her to have value. Her face launched a thousand ships but her life was incredibly tragic. Alcestis was the ideal wife that willingly went to the underworld in order to save her husband, a mighty warrior. Gorgo, who was briefly mentioned in Xerxes, was a Spartan wife who fought to save Greece politically while her husband, Leonidas fought on the battlefields. The Ancients may have idealized Helen but Gorgo is the character who resonates with the modern American ideal. But I’m getting off my soap box now.
Xerxes is a great read and should be required reading for all the women who idealize the man from the Esther movie, One Night with the King. Contrasting the evil monster in 300 with the wounded, love lorn, and often shirtless king from One Night (who came up with that name?), you’re left wondering who in the world Xerxes really was. This book helps you figure it out, giving peeks into his life and a play by play of his fight with the Greeks. It will also provide a lot of context for the book of Esther.
F. Scott Fitzgerald at his finest.
Read “The Offshore Pirate.” The way Fitzgerald mixes words and emotions on the page is sheer joy to read. I don’t care as much for the rest of the stories but vain Ardita and her kidnapping makes the tiny volume a treasure. Maybe it is the shared hubris or affinity for the ridiculous but I loved it.
I’ve already written about my trip to Yosemite and the way that I love this book. Muir makes me proud of my name while making me want to live up to it. The way he writes about the Sierra Nevadas shows a deep love of adventure, nature, and words. You don’t find that combination too often.
Maybe it was the book, maybe it was the experience, but after visiting Yosemite, I was ready to quit everything, become a park ranger and write in the valley on my days off. But it would all be rubbish compared to the love letter that is this book. The catch with this book is that if you don’t love nature, you won’t like it. He writes passages so rapturous that he makes you forget that he’s talking about dirt, twigs, and trees.
Forget Amelia Earhart for a moment. While she was learning how to fly, Beryl Markham was living an adventure the size of Africa. A former horse trainer turned pilot, Markham rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in Africa during the golden age of the colony period. My friend, Nicole, wrote a better review of the book.
Markham was admired as a writer by Hemingway and for a reason. Her writing is lyrical. The deep sort of poetry that comes from hours of introspection high up in the air. That lofty detachment that makes you want to circle the plane around, land it, and then embark on a grand adventure of your own.
As a person, Markham’s life would make a great plot for a movie. I’m honestly surprised that there hasn’t been a movie made about her yet. Although horribly flawed, you can’t help but get the sense that she was really living instead of merely existing.
You may have guessed but there really is no rhyme or reason to how I pick what books I’ll read next. Sometimes they come as recommendations, others as impulse. The trio of Greek based works came from a lazy Saturday morning of watching the Titans.
What books did you read this summer? Which books do you recommend I read next?
* That’s two per week and each book of the Bible count as a separate book.
photo credit: @ifatma. via photo pin cc