What are they reading?
Sociology professor; Op-Ed columnist (Public Lives)
Here’s what I’m reading at the moment:
1. “Riding with Rilke,” Ted Bishop. A book on motorbiking and books.
2. “The Price of Inequality,” by Joseph Stiglitz. A book on the causes and social costs of inequality.
3. “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,” by David Mitchell. A historical novel set in 1799 on a narrow strip of land off Nagasaki, which served as Japan’s only contact with the Western world for over 200 years.
4. “From the Ruins of Empire,” by Pankaj Mishra. A book about the 19th-century Asian intelligentsia that imagined and laid the foundations of a postcolonial Asia.
5. “Rebel Cities,” by David Harvey. A book about how the modern city has become the most critical site of movements for revolutionary social change.
Conrado de Quiros
Op-Ed columnist (There’s the Rub)
I’ve been reading more fiction than nonfiction over the last several years. I guess as you grow older you go back to your first love, which in my case was literature. Quite incidentally, I haven’t read a printed book in nearly three years. I read on a Kindle—I have both the big kind (the DX) and the regular small kind. The latter is handier when I go out to eat. Keeps me company.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve done Katherine Stockett’s “The Help”; Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”; Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead”; John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace”; Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible”; and Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles.”
I haven’t seen the movie, but Stockett’s “The Help” is absorbing and has a lot of heart.
“Wolf Hall,” which won the Booker Award for 2009, is a retelling of the Henry VIII-Anne Boleyn affair, with all the murderous court intrigues that went with it. (Quite incidentally Thomas More is no man for all seasons here, he comes off as an Inquisitorial torturer.)
“Gilead,” which won the Pulitzer for 2005, is a quiet book about prodigality and forgiveness.
“A Separate Peace” I reread from the ’70s: It gives more insights the second time around about some wars leaving people more maimed—and dead—than the real one.
“The Poisonwood Bible” can be a little depressing with its tale of a preacher who survives Bataan, turns fanatic, and drags his family through the Congo in a futile, and hellish, attempt to bring heathens to heaven.
“The Martian Chronicles” I reread after Bradbury died a couple of months ago. Still awesome after all these years—the imagined colonization of Mars, which often resembles the actual colonization by Europe and America of the rest of the world, with all its bigotry, cynicism and destructiveness.
I’m reading Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto,” about a crowd of rich and powerful seized by a bunch of revolutionaries at an opera in an unnamed Latin American country. Wryly ironic and deeply perceptive about social differences and mores.
I just realized most of these authors are women. What can I say? They have finer sensibilities and often write better. Enough to make you wonder despairingly when you are ever going to learn to write.
I’ve only gone through patches of a couple of nonfiction: “A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing,” after the discovery of the boson, or the so-called “God particle”; and Andrew Ross Sorkin’s “Too Big to Fail,” about the Wall Street crash. It has been turned into a movie, but I still have to watch it.
Interspersed are reads to get me to sleep, though that is often the last thing they do. I’m a sucker for mystery, but still pretty much go for the Agatha Christie-John Dickson Carr stories, with their Old World charm. I love Raymond Chandler, of course, and only recently reread his “The Long Goodbye.”
I’ve discovered a couple of fascinating series of late, Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti and Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano, both Italian characters. A true wonder in the case of Brunetti, his creator being an American who decided to settle in Venice. The inefficiency and corruption in the settings are not unlike ours, which helps in the empathy.
Yes, I’ve read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy—“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” A pity Larsson died at 50 of a heart attack after finishing them. For good measure, I’ve also read the five books of R.R. Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice,” whence comes “Game of Thrones”—that is the first book. (The TV series, which is now on its second season, uses the title for all of the books. I’ve seen an episode here and there, seems faithful to the original.)
Martin plans seven books in all to complete the thing. I do hope he lives long enough to finish the last two.