Book List of Essential Reading (In no particular order)

This list will grow as I continue to read, recall, and rethink the many books that have impacted, inspired, humored, and/or caused me to reflect on my reflection and that of the world. Feel free to share some ideas for and thoughts about books.

Anne Morrow Lindberg – Gift From the Sea

Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac

Leslie Marmon Silko – Ceremony

Harriet Beecher Stowe – Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Toni Morrison – Beloved
The Nobel Lecture, 1993

John G. Neihardt – Black Elk Speaks

Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass
(The annotated version is great)

Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God

Willa Cather – My Antonia

Jack Kerouac – On The Road

Farley Mowatt – The Desperate People (out of print-find it)

Timothy Egan – The Worst Hard Time

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit

Scott Russell Sanders – Hunting For Hope: A Father’s Journeys

Thoughts on books:

David Sedaris’ book Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls: Essays, etc. came out in 2013 and I immediately devoured it developing a near fatal case of owl diabetes which is why my thoughts on one of the essays in this exploratory book are emerging a year to the month of publication.

In the essay “Day In, Day Out”, Sedaris questions why on September 5, 1977 he “…would start keeping a diary…” (226). I can’t pinpoint the exact date when my own diary keeping began, but I do know that it began upon the order of my divorce attorney who told me to write down everything, every conversation, incident, encounter however small it seemed. Accordingly I filled three yellow legal pads full of drama and chaos, and after the divorce was finalized and I had moved from Indiana to Florida my obsessive recording of my life continued. My diary’s appearance changed over the years from the ugly legal pads to spiral notebooks, to a wide variety of pretty notebooks actually designed for the purpose of writing in. As the outward appearance of these diaries became fancier, they could not hide that the drama that had inspired their beginnings had dissipated over the years to droll, routine observations that will probably never find their way into the archives of a famous University library when upon my demise they are discovered and I posthumously become the unsung author of the week, or more appropriately, weak. I pity the poor researcher who has to read that for the last 28 years nothing happened and I’m tired and going to bed.

I admire Sedaris for having the courage to try to read the six diaries that recount his encounters with crystal meth and in doing so is reminded “… that not all change is evolutionary…” as he, now older but not necessarily wiser, grew “…from the twenty-five-year-old who got stoned and accidentally peed on his friend Katherine’s kitten to the thirty-five-year-old who got drunk and peed in the sandbox at his old elementary school. An Accident? Really? And his sister Amy certainly should have, as he recalls she did, questioned his act by her incredulous “Don’t you realize that children have to pee in there?” (229).

My temerity has not given me the balls, well that’s genetic as well, to read any of the diaries that are repositories of my life as a sober-but not sane or particularly wise-person, but some quirk of mind has caused me to remember everything I have done from childhood to finding sobriety at the ripe old age of thirty-four. Given that these diaries account only for my life in sobriety and little about peeing in odd places, it seems odd that I can’t remember these subsequent years at all. So reading about the places Sedaris has peed brought to mind the book by Dr. Seuss Oh, the Places You’ll GO! Dr. Seuss would no doubt disapprove of my obvious connotation when I consider commandeering his title for my own little volume on the places I’ve peed, and it is with all due respect to him and not meant to disparage him in any way that if, in fact, the plans for this book ever flow I would use a slight adaptation to OH OH! The Places I’ve Peed!

Peeing on a kitten reminds me of Rabelais’ Gargantua who wiped his breech with a March-cat although her sharp claws did scratch all his “perinee”. I admit though that peeing on a cat might be easier than wiping ones bum with a cat, and it would certainly be easier for a guy like Sedaris to take aim at a kitten in motion, for in my case peeing on an active kitten may put me in the same pain as Gargantua. Though had the occasion arisen, I would have had no problem peeing on a sleeping kitty which would be a bit easier on the pussy. But for the places I’ve peed, I’d have to say that a sandbox is a bit lightweight. New York City’s Central Park took the place of a sandbox as I found myself in a crowd of concert-goers on their way to see Charlie Daniels. A bush just off the beaten path partially hidden from the park-side seemed an appropriate relief station but as I exposed my white bottom and proceeded to pee I realized on the other side of the bush the throng of pedestrians on the sidewalk had an unobscured view of my own personal moon, though this was probably nothing new to New Yorkers.

Other places I’ve peed include a comfort station conveniently located smack dab in the middle of Florida Avenue, NW just off DuPont circle in Washington DC where my plans to paint the town red ended in only a yellow puddle.

A less trafficked place to pee is usually located off a main thoroughfare, but of all the places I’ve peed the side pocket of a pool table in a crowded bar may have been the one where I really left my mark. I could say those were all accidents but truth-be-told they were all intentional acts displaying my feelings toward the location, establishment, or people on who’s territory I peed. There are no diaries of those times, just moments internalized eternally-or rather externally-in my memory. These days I write my diaries in ink, but those pre-diary years consisted of a more organic medium, enhanced as it was by a variety of substances.

My idea for the book entitled OH OH! The Places I’ve Peed may not land on the New York Times best seller list, but it is thanks to David Sedaris and his wonderfully funny and reflective collection of essays, etc. in Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls that leads me to urinalysize my own peeing history and resolve to try to read my own 29 years of old diaries. Hopefully the cat hasn’t peed on them.

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Apparently I never got around to reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich. Maybe the fact that she had inscribed a copy for me created the illusion that I had taken in the words, but then my book group chose this book. I pulled it off my bookshelf and set it on the table figuring a quick peek would be enough to remember the story. As our meeting approached, I finally picked it up and realized that I had no idea what it was about. It’s not that I forgot. I’d just forgotten to read it.

Wow, how glad I was that I was brought round to the Round House a mere seven years after its publication. The first sentence, “Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation,” was indicative of my reaction to this book. I attacked it. Maybe it attacked me, but I was captured within the very trauma experienced by the mother, the family and community that surrounded her, and the larger reality of how so little has changed for people whose history was written by men and women who profited by creating false realities.

As with a lot of nonfiction The Round House, based as it is on a modern Native Indian family living on a reservation, brings to the forefront some truths about the awful realities and conditions faced by the majority of American Indians, past and present.

Readers should be captivated and upset, horrified actually, by this story. A reader might want to pass judgement on the actions of the characters, yet the reactions of the characters to the situations, agreeable or not, justifiable or not, legal or not, cannot be separated from history.

The Round House is a story that I will not forget-well, the characters’ names maybe and some of the action-but never the feeling that surrounded my conscience.

The Afterward in this book details some facts of which few outside of Indian communities are aware. Few people know that Native Women along the Northern American and Canadian border are being murdered and/or disappearing. Newsworthy? Why bother? Who cares?

Given the current attitudes that seem to be reverting to hate and discrimination, it is frightening to read Erdrich’s story and realize that gains and protections for women and minorities are rapidly being whittled and legislated away. The continuation of lies and covering up of facts is a purposeful act. Not knowing, caring or acting is a purposeful act. To read Erdrich’s book and remain unaffected and unchallenged is testimony to the strength of her words.

I have a shelf of Erdrich’s books and all are fascinating, but this one affected me in a way the others hadn’t. Maybe it’s just too close to the reality of so many. Me Too.

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Several years ago Erik Larson’s book Dead Wake showed up during one of my searches on the Barnes & Noble site. The sinking of the Lusitania is a historically significant event and one that captured my imagination when I first learned about it as an avid young reader, but I hesitated to buy Dead Wake figuring that I already knew the outcome of this topic. What more was there?

Larson proved that there was a lot more! The smallest of details about the passengers, their backgrounds, the baggage, the travels that brought them to embark on this voyage bring the story alive. Larson’s research is impeccable and the book even more engrossing because the reader is aware that every snippet is fact.

But it’s not simply the Lusitania. Larson delves deeper into the decisions made by those who were involved in the wartime situations, and not just those of the allies. Being drawn into decisions and factors made by the Germans and the actions and tactics from their perspective is an aspect that I knew nothing about.

When my own world intruded while I was reading, it was hard to pull myself away to do such mundane tasks as answer the phone or let the dog out. And even when I did, my mind stayed in the book like the bookmark. Larson doesn’t just put words on the page, he makes the words into 3D images that put you into the pages.

As soon as I finished this book, I had to consume all the others he’d already written and have eagerly awaited more. I am captivated by all!

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A striking book with an inauspicious premise, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, led me to immediately want to tag along after Ove as he got caught up in the lives of his neighbors. As he skulks around his neighborhood, I felt an urgency that he find something to bring him out of his curmudgeonly demeanor. This was the first book that was read by the members of a newly founded book group and would probably not have been one I would have read on my own.
Oh, how glad I was to have been a part of Ove’s world, small in a physical sense, but immense in the growth of the human spirit. There’s a feeling that the characters are not in a book but have entered my heart. I wanted so badly to make everything alright and for Ove to find comfort and happiness, not just with his neighbors but with himself. In the end, I found some comfort in my own heart.