Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Bookshelf Project

I bring home books like a cat lady brings home strays. Most, I read. Some, I give up on after a chapter or two. (I used to suffer through books I hated, but the great Nick Hornby wrote an essay convincing me that life's too short to read stuff you don't enjoy).

Then there's the third category -- books I really want to read but haven't gotten around to yet.

So I cleared off one of the shelves in the bookcase in our living room. Then I went around the house collecting the books at the top of my to-read list.

I ended up with 25 on the shelf. That's roughly one every two weeks for the year. I'm already behind -- I have to read a lot for work, I love newspapers and magazines, and there's always some shiny bauble on the Internet. But I'm going to try not to bring home any new books until I get all these read.*

*Yeah, that's not going to happen.

As I finish each one, I'll post a review here. In general, I'll talk a lot more about the books I like than the ones I don't. If you never see a review of one of these, you can assume I put it down quietly and we won't speak of it again.

Here's what landed on the shelf (all links are to Amazon):

"Pulphead," by John Jeremiah Sullivan -- Collection of journalism by a Wilmington writer I just discovered. I have no idea how I missed out on this guy. "Upon This Rock," his piece (included in the book) on a Christian-rock festival for GQ, went in about nine different directions, none of which I expected.

"The Postmortal," by Drew Magary -- You might know Magary as the fearless and pottymouthed (OFTEN IN ALL CAPS) writer for Deadspin. But this novel is something different -- a sci-fi story about what would happen if people discovered a way to stop the aging process. (Never grow older! Sounds great. It's not.)

I just finished this one and I'll have the review up shortly.

"Long, Last, Happy" by Barry Hannah -- I have two huge holes in my swing when it comes to Southern literature. Barry Hannah is one -- I know him as the wild and brilliant Mississippi crazyman who died two years ago, but I've only read dribs and drabs of his stuff. This story collection will help me get caught up.

"Norwood" by Charles Portis -- Here's the other hole -- I've never read anything by Portis, who's most famous for writing "True Grit" (although I've seen both movie versions). "Norwood," Portis' first novel, was a recent gift from a friend. The jacket promises a story involving the second-shortest midget in show business, and a chicken with a college education. I can't wait.

"Rin Tin Tin" by Susan Orlean -- The latest book by one of the starters on my journalistic All-Star team.

"Best American Sports Writing 2011" and "Best American Essays 2011" -- Part of my annual EnvyFest, where I look at all the great journalism of the past year written by someone other than me. (Yeah, probably shouldn't have said that out loud.)

"Out of Orbit" by Chris Jones -- We've become buddies over the last year, so take this plug for what it's worth: Chris' is the current heavyweight champion of the world in magazine writing. (For proof, check out this piece on the Zanesville, Ohio, exotic-animal massacre.) "Out of Orbit" centers on the three astronauts (one Russian, two American) who were stranded at the international space station when the space shuttle Columbia blew up in 2003. This book is about how they got home.

"Lowboy" by John Wray -- I picked this up at an Observer book sale a year or two ago. To be honest, I don't know much about it except that it's supposed to be well-written and disturbing. If you've read it, don't spoil it for me. I'm rolling the dice here.

"The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman -- A novel about the tangled private lives of a group of newspaper reporters and editors. In other words, right in my wheelhouse.

"The Unnamed" by Joshua Ferris -- A novel about a man who can't stop walking. Not in my wheelhouse. But I'm intrigued.

"Ten Letters" by Eli Saslow -- This gets the Forehead-Slap Award for the great idea I can't believe no one thought of before now. Saslow looks at letters that ordinary Americans write to the president, then finds the stories behind those letters.

"The Big Short" and "Boomerang" by Michael Lewis -- The guy who wrote "Moneyball" and "The Blind Side" started out in finance. These two books bracket the current financial crisis, first here, then abroad.

"Stiff" by Mary Roach -- Subtitled "The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers." That's all I needed to know.

"The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson -- One slice of black life in America: an epic telling of the black Southerners who migrated North over the course of decades, looking for better lives.

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot -- Another slice of black life in America: A black woman's cells are taken without her knowledge for medical experiments -- and they become some of the most important cells in scientific history.

"Complications" by Atul Gawande -- This Boston doctor is smart and perceptive as a writer exploring medical issues.

"The Ledge" by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan -- Kevin is Buddy #2 on this list. This story about Davidson's ordeal after a cave-in on Mount Rainier gave me chills just reading the dust jacket.

"House of Stone" by Anthony Shadid -- The brilliant Middle East correspondent writes about that region through the lens of his life and his family's history. I got an advance copy, but it's not due out until March 27, so I'll wait until then to write a review.

"South of Broad" by Pat Conroy -- I have a love-hate thing with the Carolinas' most famous writer. Love his nonfiction, love his storytelling... but I've had a hard time getting past his dialog. No one in real life talks the way they do in Pat Conroy novels. But this book has been lying around the house awhile -- my wife read it for her book club -- so I'm going to give him another shot.

"Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder -- Another starter on the journalistic All-Star team. This book is about Dr. Paul Farmer, who has spent his life trying to cure infectious diseases around the world.

"Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson -- A friend who knows these things says this book has sold more than 2 million copies in hardcover, not counting e-books and Kindle copies and that sort of thing. That's a blockbuster, y'all.

"Hard Work" by Roy Williams with Tim Crothers -- I bought this a couple years ago when I was working on a story about Dean Smith, and wanted to see what Roy wrote about him. What I read was good, so I figured I'd go ahead and finish it off. (If there's a good Coach K book out there, let me know.)

"The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin -- The author spends a year trying out old-fashioned and modern ideas of what makes people happy.

Which is sort of what I'm doing here, trying to read all these books I've been wanting to read.

"Postmortal" review coming soon. Others throughout the year. Keep reading, y'all.


Lynne said...

I have three bookshelves overflowing with books, so I know how it feels. I still have most of my textbooks from college and other books that people have given me over the years. I also have a few signed books from authors whose readings/signings I have attended over the years and, with the exception of my four pugs, these are my prized possessions.

My husband has been pitching a fit for nearly three years for me to go through them and weed out the ones I don't need to keep. Once an English major, always an English major! Guess books are my drug of choice...

Hope said...

Great list! I'm getting motivated to do the same thing to my shelves...

Pulphead is a must-read. My boyfriend also just published this review of the collection in LARB:

Dave said...

Hi Tommy, yea... you definitely like the same type of books I do. I counted nine from your list that I've read and reviewed on my blog!

As an aside, I imagine it would loss something online rather than classroom, but if one of your Queens College sessions were online, you'd have me there for sure.

TigerLinda said...

Hi Tommy! I'm the fan who accosted you at Tosco Music Party to tell you how much I like your writing. So glad you are doing this - I, too, have a lifelong love affairs with books and have at least a zillion waiting to be read. One I must recommend if you like Southern, gritty literature is More of This World or Maybe Another. Trust me on this.

tommy tomlinson said...

Hope Reese, is that you? If so, so glad to see you on here...

Dave, believe it or not, we're putting together an online writing class. Hope to have something going in spring or summer.

Rich said...

Am wondering who else is on your journalist All-Star team? (Are there position players? cleanup hitters? Is this current or all-time?) Might be kind of a fun list to put together. (At the very least, it'd be a great list of folks to follow on Twitter.)

Anonymous said...

South of Broad is unreadable.
Have you read the boxing book, Four Queens by George Kimball , a Boston sportswriter who died last year and whose tributes and obituaries, including one by his friend Pete Hamill, were hilarious as was his life. When he ran for office in a town in Kansas back in the '60's there was the biggest turnout ever, with people voting against him! I love George stories. His mother lives in Fayeteville and is still teaching bridge on cruise ships at 80.
Betty, 2011 repeat student

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