RJ’s 2022 Draw-bag Booklist

It was Benjamin Franklin who gave us the axiom that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” He might have added tempus fugit, or that time flies. Here we are again, another New Year, launching a journey into the unknown, trusting it will end well. As I’ve done the last three years, I am posting my annotated draw-bag list of anticipated reads, fiction and non-fiction, drawn from the finest sources. Covering a wide range, they excel in delivering counsel, encouragement, enjoyment and, yes, sanctuary. Keeping a list has kept my reading disciplined and meaningful—the very best books, nothing less. Perhaps this list or one of your own will do the same for you. HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! —rj


Akhtar, Aryad. Homeland Elegies A Novel. (Akhtar’s second novel, a probing critique of America’s embraced narratives.)

Beaty, Paul. The Sellout. (First American to win Man Booker Prize, Beaty’s satiric novel depicts an isolated Black protagonist, whose case ultimately goes before the Supreme Court.)

Boyd, William. Any Human Heart. (Boyd’s sprawling novel and popular BBC dramatization sure to draw you in, and a reread for me. It’s that good. )

Butler, Samuel. The Way of All Flesh. (V. S. Pritchett called this book “the bomb of Victorian literature.” A clergyman loses his faith.)

Byatt, A. S. Possession. (Exhilarating Man Booker Prize intellectual novel of love and mystery.)

Camus. The Plague. (The classic more relevant than ever.)

Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep. (I never tire of a good mystery, and Chandler, the great master, never disappoints.)

Chaudhuri, Amit. Odysseus Abroad (Along with Salmon Rushdie, Chaudhuri ranks among India’s most prominent writers in English. With seven novels, this work is a good place to begin your acquaintance).

Herbert, Frank. Dune. (Among the most widely read science fiction novels, an exploration of a future interstellar landscape.)

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. (A cogent examination of the way we live our lives.)

Leilani, Raven. Luster. (The adultery novel, successor to Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, finds updated boldness in Leilani’s first novel. On Barak Obama’s reading list for 2020.)

Márquez, Gabriel García. One Hundred Years of Solitude. (The great master’s timeless novel.)

Pritchett, V. S. Short Stories. (Famed man of letters, especially known for his short stories, essays, and crafted sentences.)

Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead. (A Pulitzer Prize winner, first in series of four novels by America’s internationally acclaimed literary fiction writer.)

Tharoor, Shashi. The Great Indian Novel. (An amalgam of myth, legend, folklore and anecdote in a retelling of Indian history from its ancient beginnings to its present day.)

Trevor, William. The Stories of William Trevor. (Now an established literary presence, Trevor’s collected short stories will unceasingly delight.)

Yanagihara, Hanya. A Little Life. (National Book Award Finalist and NPR Best Book, 2015), four friends grapple with hopes, fears, and unspeakable losses.)


Arana, Marie. Bolivar: American Liberator. (Outstanding biography of Simon Bolivar, the South American revolutionary often compared to Washington.)

Benedict, Ruth. Patterns of Culture (Classic delineation of cultural patterns, drawing on Nietzsche’s Apollonian-Dionysian dichotomy).

Davis, Wade. Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures (Renowned anthropologist Davis explores unique indigenous versions of life and humanity’s loss consequent with tribal extinction.)

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs & Steel. (I have been aspiring for some time to read this best selling popular science book, translated into 33 languages and a Pulitzer winner. Diamond brings a wealth of knowledge from many disciplines, explaining historical European dominance.)

Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus (Biblical scholar Ehrman chronicles his transition from belief in divine inspiration of the Bible to contradictory and falsified biblical texts.)

Frankl, Victor. Man’s Search for Meaning. (Holocaust survivor Frankl’s life-changing book on the aegis of human happiness.)

Gates, Bill. How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need (An optimistic, sensible argument that we possess the wherewithal to mitigate climate change apocalypse.)

hooks, bell. All About Love: New visions (The late black feminist’s acclaimed book defining love as it should be.)

Levi, Primo. If This is a Man. (A classic, riveting holocaust story of survival replete with resonant insights engendered through duress.)

Mance, Henry. How to Love Animals: In a Human-Shaped World. (A beautifully written, candid appraisal of humanity’s relationship to the animal world.)

Mishra, Pankai. Bland Fanatics. (Sixteen essays offering a revised reading of Western history in the context of racial exclusion.)

Orwell, George. A Collection of Essays. (I have always appreciated Orwell as one of our supreme essayists, forthright, prescient insights, and style mastery.)

Shapiro, James. Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past And Our Future. (A Shakespeare scholar offers timely Shakespearian nuance for a troubled nation.)

Solnit, Rebecca. Orwell’s Roses. (An exploration of both Orwell’s political rage and his consummate love for cultivating roses, revealing a fascinating inner dimension. Solnit never disappoints. Makes me want to visit his Hereford cottage.)

Steele, Andrew. Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old. (Exploration of future expansion of longevity and well-being. This book will get you moving.)

Williams, Joy. Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals. (Essays by a short-listed National Book Award and Pulitzer nominee.)

Wilson, E.O. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (The last in the eminent biologist’s trilogy, it offers bold strategies to save earth and ourselves.)

Wulf, Andrea. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (Wulf’s illuminating biography of the father of modern environmentalism, selected as A Best Book of the Year (2016) by The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Economist, Nature, Jezebel, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, New Scientist, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Evening Standard, The Spectator.)

2020 Draw-Bag Reading List

I can’t believe it! Another year has passed. Last year, I drew up my first annual Draw-Bag Reading List (2019). Happy to say, I’m glad I did it, as it structured my reading. While I didn’t get to read every book, I did read many and the plan kept me motivated. This year I’ve had better sense to list authors alphabetically, along with annotated commentary to remind myself just why I should read a particular book. There are so many wonderful books out there that I had difficulty choosing which ones should make my list.

I can’t say when I learned to read, but it was early, nor who my teachers were that taught me how, but I’m grateful. I am so much an offspring of the books I’ve read that I can’t fathom a life without them. In the witness of others, we find community and with it, both solace and wisdom.

A Happy New Year to all of you, filled with many hours of good reading.


Aciman, André. Call me by Your Name. (Coming of age novel by famed Egyptian writer)

Adiche, Chimanda Ngozi. Americanah. (Prize-winning novel by a Nigerian immigrant to U. S., who discovers what it means to be Black in America.)

Akhmatova, Anna. You Will Hear the Thunder. (Shafak says this is a book that makes her wish she could speak Russian.)

Alameddine, Rabih. An Unnecessary Woman. (Nominated for National Book Award, tells story of a 72 year old divorced woman who translates literature in her Beirut apartment.)

Atwood, Margaret. The Testaments. (The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.)

Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. (You’ll never see an urban landscape the same way again. Written by a superb intellect and rebel.)

Brookner, Anita. Hotel du Lac. ( Brookner’s novels center on intelligent, marginalized women attempting to find themselves in a society where the greedy and shallow often win out over the kind and generous.)

Choi, Susan. Trust Exercise. (Love between teens at a performance school meets teacher intervention. Pulitzer nominated.}

Clegg, Bill. Did You Ever Have a Family? (Nominated for Booker Prize, what happens when life throws you a curve.)

Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. (One of the most beautifully told family sagas treating issues of identity.)

Ishiguro, Kazuo. An Artist of the Floating World. (About aging, memory, solitude, loss, and art set in post war Japan.)

Johnson, Denis. Twain Dreams. (A novella of the American West that captures the ending of a way of life and the unfolding of a new America.)

Kafka, Franz. The Trial. (The classic novel that propelled Kafka to fame.)

Lerner, Ben. 10:04. (“Lerner captures what it’s like to be alive now, during the twilight of an empire, when the difficulty of imagining a future is changing our relationship to both the present and the past,” —Publisher)

Melville, Herman. Benito Cereno. (Poet Gary J. Whitehead wrote a screenplay adaptation.)

Mitford, Nancy. In Pursuit of Love. (Sardonic portraitures of upper class English life, mirrored on her own.)

Obreht, Téa. The Tiger’s Life. (Set in an unnamed Balkan country, a story of love, loss, and legend and novel debut by a Serbian-American novelist recognized as one of our most talented young writers.)

O’Brien, Edna. Country Girl. (Her debut novel that shocked Ireland with its sexual frankness. O’Brien considered one of the greatest living Irish authors.)

Robinson, Marilynne. Lila. (Girlhood lived on the fringes of society by one of our finest contemporary novelists,)

Rooney, Sallie. Conversations. (Remarkable debut novel by an Irish 26-year old that has rocked the literary world.)

Rooney, Sallie. Normal People. (Rooney’s most recent second novel many say is even better than Conversations. On Obama’s 2019 reading list.)

Rushdie, Salmon. Quichotte: A Novel. (Rushdie delivers with wit and humor reminiscent of Don Quixote}.

Shafak, Elif. The Bastard of Istanbul. (Good intro to Shafak, in my view, one of our foremost women authors.)

Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth. (Perhaps America’s best female novelist, Wharton’s 1905 portrayal of upper class mores remains timely and brilliant.)


Ackerman, Diane. One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing. (Ackerman endures as one of my favorites. This book narrates what happens in a loving marriage when your spouse undergoes a devastating illness.)

manat, Abbas. A History of Modern Iran. (One of the best places to begin.)

Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. (Baldwin’s first book (1955), a collection of ten riveting essays still relevant by a remarkable writer.)

Boska, Bianca. Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste. (Sensory, fascinating exploration of wine aficionado expertise.)

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. (The early classic that would initiate environmental consciousness.)

Epictetus. The Enchiridion. (Stoicism, with its philosophy of rational living and quest of virtue, begins with this ancient work.)

Goldstein, Joshua S. and Steffan A. Qvist. A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow. (Some countries have replaced fossil fuels. We can do the same by mid-century if we have the courage.)

McKibben, Bill. Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? (“As climate change shrinks the space where our civilization can exist, new technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics threaten to bleach away the variety of human experience.”)

Montgomery, Sy. How to be a Good Creature. (National Book Award finalist. Book features 13 animals from whom author has x learned life lessons.)

Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. (Ground-breaking history and analysis of capitalism and its contemporary contribution to rising inequality.)

Rich, Nathaniel. Losing Ground: A Recent History. (In 1979, we knew about global warming and how to stop it. This book tells of those who risked their careers to convince the world to take action before it was too late.)

Solnit, Rebecca. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. (Essays in Wanderlust, or of wandering, getting lost, and exploring new vistas and relationships.)

Stein, Murray. Map of the Soul—Persona: Our Many Faces. ((I knew Murray and his family well in my early youth. Murray went on to become a leading Jungian, the famed Swiss psychiatrist who influenced me profoundly.)

Wallace-Wells, David. The Uninhabitable Earth: New A Story of the Future. (The consequence in our near future of our not taking action to mitigate climate change.)

Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees. What They Feel and How They Communicate. (The title says it all. You’ll never look at a tree the same way again.)


%d bloggers like this: