Lists of Books

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At the end of the summer, my friend Jenni Buchanan does an excellent job compiling the syllabus for her book group, Rediscovering the Classics. One of my favorite meetings each year is the one where Jenni reveals the list for the year, which is based on a theme. This year’s theme is “Literary Life Lessons,” and it includes some interesting reads, activities and field trips paired with books. After the syllabus announcement meeting back in August, Jenni and I were going for a hike, and I was telling her how I envy the task of creating the reading list each year. I love lists, and I love books, so lists of books make me happy. Jenni’s response to me was, “Well, why don’t you make up some of your own reading lists?” So, that’s what I set out to do here.

These lists are made up of books that I have not read. Consider it a way for me to organize my to-be-read stack around themes. With only a few exceptions, most of these are in my personal library. I had quite a few books to choose from, given that my to-be-read stack is actually a three-shelf bookcase. Also, given that Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is only a few weeks away, I figured this is a good time to start building my reading pile in preparation for that event.

Women & Space
Before I was born, my mom worked as a computer programmer for the space program. She eventually ended up at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is where she met my dad. Women in the space program have been getting a lot of attention recently, and there are some promising books out and an upcoming movie based on Hidden Figures. Here are my books on women and space:

  • Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr
    I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Sally Ride in grad school when I was organizing an event where she was the main speaker. She was kind, intelligent and inspiring, so I am really looking forward to reading more about her amazing life.
  • Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt
    This book looks at the women known as “human computers” who used pencil and paper to do the complicated calculations necessary for space exploration. They were instrumental in building the U.S. space program and JPL.
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
    Shetterly introduces us to the women who were “human computers” in NASA’s early days, but Hidden Figures specifically looks at Black women who did the work of calculating things like flight paths by hand while also being segregated due to the Jim Crow laws of the time. Be sure to watch the trailer for the upcoming movie to get a glimpse of why it is so important that we recognize the outstanding achievements of this group of women.

Stephen King Books I Want to Read
Stephen King has written enough books to warrant his own list. I did not start reading King’s novels until about ten years ago when I picked up On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I had previously dismissed King as simply a horror writer, but as soon as I delved into his work, I realized I was wrong, and I had grossly underestimated his ability as a storyteller. Yes, there is horror, but more than that, he creates highly relatable characters and writes about childhood in a way that is nostalgic without being overly sentimental. King’s books are usually quick reads–even the ones that are well over 600 pages. They make for an excellent choice when you want a good book to get lost in. This list could be really long, but I will keep it short and limit it to unread King books in my personal library and a few others I hope to get my hands on soon:

  • The Shining
  • Insomnia
  • Rose Madder
  • The Dead Zone
  • Different Seasons
  • Misery
  • Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales

Eastern California
Regular readers know that my favorite road buddy Tim Pershing and I love making adventures of our road trips. Tim’s family is in Reno, so we have made quite a few trips north and south on the 395 through Eastern California. On one trip we were stopped at a gas station in Independence, CA, and we saw a sign pointing toward Mary Austin‘s house. We both wondered who she was, so I got my phone out and started reading up on her.  We learned she was a nature writer in the early 20th century and that she was involved in the famous California Water Wars that eventually resulted in water from the Owens Valley being drained to supply the growing city of Los Angeles. You can learn more about this and more history about the region at the Eastern California Museum in Independence. Eastern California is also home to Manzanar, one of the camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. If your travels take you through this part of California, be sure to stop at the Manzanar National Historical Site. Here are a few books I have picked up on my trips through Eastern California:

  • The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin
  • Essential Mary Austin: A Selection of Mary Austin’s Best Writings
  • Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
  • No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849-1869 Edited by Ida Rae Egli

Soccer Stories
I have only been a fan of soccer in the last couple years, and I owe that to the U.S. women’s soccer team and their 2015 World Cup victory. After watching those games, I was hooked and began rooting for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League. We have been lucky this year to have two books hit the shelves by players from the 2015 World Cup team, and I have quickly added them both to my list. I recently attended a book signing for Carli Lloyd’s new book and was happy to see that the line stretched around the block. Anyone who doubts the popularity of women’s soccer should have seen the crowd gathered for her signing. So, here’s my short list of soccer stories to read:

  • When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World by Carli Lloyd
  • Forward: A Memoir by Abby Wambach

Alexander Hamilton
I am hooked on the soundtrack for Hamilton, and often when I am listening to it, I find myself googling details about the founding fathers and the early decades of our country’s existence. What I am really enjoying about Hamilton‘s popularity is that many others are finding a new interest in this part of our history. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical has brought history alive in a creative way and opens up new ways to see and connect with the founding of the U.S. With that, I would like to tackle these two books:

  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
    This is the book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write Hamilton. I read the first page of the prologue and got chills. The writing is just that good. I get the feeling that this is not some dry, old history book.
  • Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
    Hamilton fans lovingly refer to this as the Hamiltome because of its size and extensive content. There are pictures, lyrics, notes, commentary and just about anything fans of the show could want. It is a good way to keep yourself busy while you wait for Hamilton’s America to premiere on PBS.

Books I Should Have Already Read
Have you ever been talking to people about books, and they start bringing up certain classics or other well-known works, and you stand there quietly, afraid to admit that you have not read the book being discussed? I think we all have those books–they are the ones that our friends are surprised to hear we have not read. I have slowly been trying to collect some of these when I visit used bookstores, and here are some of the titles currently in my to-be-read stack:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Meridian by Alice Walker
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Favorite Fictional Girls Who Love Reading

Austen & Alcott

The dim, dusty room, with the busts staring down from the tall bookcases, the cozy chairs, the globes, and, best of all, the wilderness of books in which she could wander where she liked, made the library a region of bliss to her.
—Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I am currently reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women for the first time. Somehow it is a book I never got around to when I was a kid even though I have seen a film version of the story. Alcott’s novel was inspired by her own youth with her sisters, and the character of Jo is based on her. As is demonstrated in the description of Jo in the quote at the top of this post, she is an avid reader, so it is no wonder that she grows up to be a writer just as Alcott did.

Reading about Jo got me to thinking about the many other fictional girls who love books. In pondering my favorites, I cannot help but feel that there is a sort of literary sisterhood of fictional and real readers who share their love of books by connecting through the very medium itself. Here are a few of my favorite fictional bibliophile friends.

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series

Honestly, am I the only person who’s ever bothered to read Hogwarts, A History?

Aside from being an amazing and brilliant witch, JK Rowling’s Hermione Granger is a voracious reader, and she does such awesomely bookish things like buying special homework planners for Harry and Ron when they are studying for their Ordinary Wizarding Levels (OWLs) in the fifth installment in the series. Not only do I love books, but I also love calendars and notebooks, so I quite enjoyed this nice, little moment. And let’s not forget how many times all the knowledge she gained from reading helped save the day.

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice

“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”

Jane Austen’s heroine is a well-loved fictional book girl, and I think she would end up on many lists like this. Of course, Austen offers up a number of avid readers in her novel, so one could find a fictional friend in the pages of her other novels as well.

Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird

Until I feared I would lose it. I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

With a father like Atticus Finch, it is no wonder that Harper Lee’s Scout Finch is a reader. As demonstrated in the quote above, reading is just a natural part of Scout’s existence. Even with the older version of Scout in Go Set a Watchman, we see she is just as feisty as her younger self. With so much attention on Atticus in Watchman, I think many readers missed out on just how wonderful Scout is as an adult.

Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood.

Like Little Women, I did not pick up Betty Smith’s story of Francie Nolan until recently. I cannot believe this book escaped me for so long. Despite all the hardship Francie faces growing up, books are a constant companion. Her reading ultimately leads her to pass the tests that gain her admission at the University of Michigan.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list—just a few of my favorites. Please feel free to share your favorite fictional book girls in the comments.

Confessions of a Reader: The Books I Haven’t Read

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I majored in English, and I make no secret of my love of reading, so you probably assume I have read most of the classics. As someone who did not read her first Jane Austen book until about seven years ago, I must confess that there are a number of books I am embarrassed to admit I haven’t read. Many readers have this secret list of unread books. If any of these books come up in conversation, you hope you can get by with the knowledge you have gleaned from online sources or overheard conversations in bookstores. When you finally pick up one of these books, maybe you dog-ear a few pages and put a small rip in the cover before starting, so you can give the illusion that this is your third or fourth time reading it.

Oh, this old thing? I’ve had it for years. It’s quite beat up from all the times I’ve read it.

As bad as we may feel about the classics we have not read or the borrowed books gathering dust on our nightstands, it really is not a horrible problem to have. It just means there are loads of great stories to explore in the future. My to-read list is so long that I would probably have to stop time to catch up on reading if I wanted to put a dent in it. It’s no wonder that there are some must-reads that I have not read.

Here are my top ten books I haven’t read yet but probably should have:

1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I can’t come up with a good excuse about why I haven’t read this. I love Angelou’s writing, and I really need to get to this one soon.

2. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Don’t act surprised that there is an Austen book on my list.

3. One of Anne Brontë’s books
Somehow she’s the lost Brontë sister when it comes to the list of books I’ve read.

4. Anything by Bill Bryson
So many people have recommended him to me, and I even have two of his books sitting on a shelf.

5. Everything by Octavia Butler
I read Kindred last year and wondered by I hadn’t read anything by Butler before. I am embarrassed to admit it took me this long to read one book by her. Now I’m embarrassed that I’ve only read one book by her.

6. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I’m not a huge Dickens fan, but I feel like this is one I might like and should probably read.

7. Any of Ursula Le Guin’s novels
Sorry, I’ve only read her short stories. Years ago I met her at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. She was really nice, and I was afraid that she would figure out that I hadn’t read the books I asked her to sign.

8. Animal Farm by George Orwell
I didn’t read it, but I saw the movie…

9. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Sigh. Am I the only person who hasn’t read this?

10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
This is one book that will probably always remain on this list.

There are more, but these are the ones that come to mind as I write this. I guess I better head to the library and get to work.

What books are you embarrassed to admit you haven’t read?