RJ´s 2023 Reading List

One of Keats’ first notable poems, “On First Looking Into Chapman’s
Homer,“ celebrates Elizabethan poet George Chapman’s translation of Homer, an achievement kindling discovery and wonderment in Keats akin to that of the best travel venture. It’s what good books do, transporting us into unforeseen realms, expanding awareness and making us wiser, often lessening our prejudices, wrought by custom, that prohibit pathways to new understanding. Staying close to my drawback booklist for 2022, I read twenty-five books that, even at this stage in my life, have granted me gateways into personal growth. With similar expectation, I’ve again selected from among the very best reads out there, those that inform, challenge, and delight. Even in a time of declining readership, there remain books justifying your investment and, potentially, life-changing. —rj

Fiction:

Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility (Not as widely read as Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion, it’s still worth reading in its exploration of moral dilemmas and, as the title suggests, the role of reason over emotion in solving them.)

Caroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland (The great classic you meant to read, but haven’t. A work inspiring others, and though seemingly a romp in imagination, latent with nuance, momentarily retrieving childhood wonderment lamentably lost by adults).

Catha, Willa. My Antonia. (Catha’s classic novel of a female immigrant’s tenacity to prevail on the Nebraska prairies. )

Franzen, Jonathan. Crossroads. (The latest novel by the great master of family dynamics, set in 1970s suburban Chicago, the first of an intended trilogy, a family headed by a minister must confront issues of faith and morality.)

Gaarder, Jostein. Sophie’s World. (Very appealing to both young people and adults, Gaarder’s novel embeds philosophical history that many readers find more compelling than the novel’s story. A favorite read internationally.)

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God (A moving work of the Harlem Renaissance, underscoring black identity, feminism, and love’s vulnerability.)

Ishiguru, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day (Narrated in first person through flashback and travelogue, a retired butler reevaluates his life. A Booker Prize fiction winner turned into a film selected as an Academy Awards Best Picture ,1993).

Labutut, Benjamin. When We Cease to Understand the World (“A monster and brilliant book,” says Philip Pullman. An exploration of the last century’s greatest minds exploring the profundities of existence.)

Percy, Walter. The Movie Goer. (Percy’s debut novel, featuring a post-Korea war veteran, now stock broker, suffering from malaise, in search of life’s meaning. A National Book Award winner listed by Modern Library as the sixteenth best novel of the 20th Century.)

Powers, Richard. Bewilderment. (The writer of acclaimed Overstory pens another literary masterpiece of Man’s estrangement from nature.)

Roberts, Gregory David. Shantaram. (The late Pat Conroy wrote: “Shantaram is a novel of the first order, a work of extraordinary art, a thing of exceptional beauty. If someone asked me what the book was about, I would have to say everything, every thing in the world”).

Rushdie, Salmon. Midnight’s Children (Booker Prize winning novel narrating India’s transition from British rule, a landmark work in post-colonial literature.)

Sebald, W.G. Austerlitz (Surely among the best ten novels of the previous century, a gripping account of repressed memory and the quest for identity.}

Smith, Zadie. White Teeth (An insightful first novel by a contemporary author observant of a plethora of issues: race, immigrants, education, science, religion, and nationalism among still others. Listed in Time Magazine {2005} among 100 All Time 100 Novels.)

Stendhal. The Charter House of Parma (An aristocrat in Napoleon’s army depicts court intrigue with psychological portraitures ahead of its time.)

Yanagihara, Hanya. To Paradise (A powerful narrative of the intersection of privilege and exclusion in America across three generations by one of our foremost contemporary novelists. The Guardian calls it a “masterpiece for our time.”)

Non-Fiction

Gardner, Howard, et al. Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet (Based on more than 100 interviews across the workplace, a quest at evaluating what good work is and the ethical dilemmas posed by today’s technology.)

Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice. Revised ed. (Gardner’s influential thesis that there exist multiple kinds of intelligence, not just one.)

Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Brönte. (Classic Victorian biography of the writer of Jane Eyre. Fascinating in its delineation of Brönte family dynamics.)

Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project. Rev. ed. The controversial book that sets America’s beginnings in 1619, not 1776, and argues the American Revolution was a reactionary response to incipient British antagonism to slavery.)

Harris, Marvin. Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture ( A leading anthropologist’s explanation of why people believe the things they do. Harris’ many books never cease to allure.)

Kolbert, Elisabeth. Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future (Pulitzer Prize winner for The Sixth Extinction, this new work explores whether we can still mitigate the damage we’ve done and save our planet. Recommended by Obama and Gates.)

Milosz, Czeslaw. The Captive Mind. (Nobel Prize winner examines the moral and intellectual conflicts posed by life under authoritarianism. Recommended by Elif Shafak.)

Montaigne, Michel de. Essays. (Just maybe the greatest essay writer ever, Montaigne teems with brilliance, helping us live better lives.)

Wallace-Wells, David. The Uninhabitable Earth (A survey of climate change’s brutal impact, but not without hope, if we get on board.)

Wright, Robert. Why Buddhism is True. (An engaging approach to secular Buddhism and its alignment with disciplines like psychology and neurobiology. Buddhism at its best takes on our human predicament and provides strategies for finding peace.)

Wulf, Andrea. Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of Self. (A New Yorker selection as one of the best 2022 non-fiction books, Magnificent Rebels is an intellectual history of early Romanticism, centered in Jena, Germany, ultimately laying the foundation for English Romanticism. )

Yong, Ed. An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden World Around Us. (We humans, anthropocentric as we are, consider ourselves lords of the creation. Yong’s book dispels our pretentiousness as we learn of fellow creatures of myriad, and superior, capabilities. New York Times listed as one of the ten best books of 2022.)

%d bloggers like this: