(Updated February, 2017)
Of course, this is a ridiculously truncated version of my all time faves, but when a friend asks me what they should read next, these are some of the staples I recommend. All are engaging, thought-provoking, and well-written. And lastly, all are UPLIFTING. Some of my favorite books are not shiny happy people books but these left, well, a good taste in my mouth.
For the Intrepid Adventurer
West With the Night is the story of Beryl Markham–aviator, racehorse trainer, beauty–and her life in the Kenya of the 1920s and ’30s. This is one of my favorite books, it is like reading about a character that could have been in The English Patient. I gave it to my mother, an ex-Engish teacher and she loved it. I also recommend anything about Freya Stark or Isabelle Eberhardt.
Although The Happiest Man in the World is only one version of Poppa Neutrino’s life a.k.a. David Pearlman, New Yorker author Alex Wilkinson does an amazing job of showing how this very unusual man built his own raft out of refuse and sailed across the Atlantic, came up with a new football defense, traveled with a Mexican flea circus. It is a testament of the successes of an (at times) forcefully delusional man.
For the Aesthete
Yes, I am a Diane Ackerman fanatic and The Natural History of the Senses is my sensory bible. One of her paragraphs from this book I want on my headstone, “When you consider something like death, after which (there being no news to the contrary) we may well go out like a candle flame, then it probably doesn’t matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, care for one another too deeply, are excessively curious about nature, are too open to experience, enjoy a nonstop expense of the senses in an effort to know life intimately and lovingly. It probably doesn’t matter if, while trying to be modest and eager watchers of life’s many spectacles, we sometimes look clumsy or get dirty or reveal our ignorance or say the wrong thing or light up with wonder like the children we all are.”
Color, by Victoria Finlay goes through each of the colors and shows the history behind how they were made, traded, upgraded, and lost to time. This book goes really well with the Radiolab show “Colors” which focuses more on what the eye can and can’t see. The show is embedded below!
For the Creative Mind
Reality Hunger is one of the best books I read all year. It is a manifesto written in prose poetry and each is delightfully like a punch in the brain.
If It Has Been a Hard Year
The title says it all. This book always cracks me up.
Who would not want to live in a Jean-Philippe Delhomme book?
Anything Maira Kalman. Illustrated Elements of Style? Food Rules? Principles of Uncertainty? Yum!