Each month I have a goal to read five books on a variety of topics and from different genres in order to learn and to start conversations with readers and others I encounter along the way. Here are the books I read in June 2022. If you click on the title, you’ll go to the longer post on More to Come. Enjoy!
Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris (1959), a memoir by the well-known New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling, captures his love for Paris, food, “and for pleasure itself” in this last book before his death in 1963. While definitely a piece of its time, Liebling’s writing remains juicy and irresistible even today. He first came to Paris as a student in the 1920s and, as James Salter writes in the introduction, “the frankness and sexuality of the city were dazzling, especially to Americans who had known only the Puritanism of their own country, its materialism, indifference to art, and ignorance of history.” Liebling joined those who “came to France to breathe new air” and he breathed it deeper than most. As one reviewer of his body of work put it, “Every sentence he wrote contains a kick, a bounce, and a leap.”
Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961), James Baldwin’s powerful collection of thirteen essays written during the 1950s, bears “witness to the unhappy consequences of American racial strife” as one observer stated. Baldwin writes of “blacks’ aspirations, disappointments, and coping strategies in a hostile society,” all in a very personal way that convicts the reader. In the introduction he writes that “Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch.” He knows we, as Americans, both seek that release and hang on to the crutch.
Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers (2022) is Professor Emma Smith‘s delightfully written and thought-provoking work on the history of books as books. Smith wants us to consider the “bookhood” of books — a “nineteenth century coinage on the model of more familiar forms such as ‘childhood’ or ‘brotherhood’ … Bookhood includes the impact of touch, smell, and hearing on the experience of books.” There are fascinating chapters on the “Editions of the Armed Services” from World War II, the making of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring into a classic, digital books, and the way that a 1955 photo of Marilyn Monroe reading James Joyce’s Ulysses changed thoughts about the actress and the novel. Book-burnings, censoring, a full chapter on Mein Kampf, and bookbinding all come in for study as well in this engaging look at some of our most treasured personal possessions.
Biblical Fracking: Midrash for the Modern Christian (2019) by Francis H. Wade encourages the reader to explore meaning beyond the literal text and traditional interpretations of the Bible, building off the Jewish idea of midrash (to “inquire” or “expound”). As Frank writes in the introduction, “Biblical fracking, in the spirit of its historical roots and its geological namesake, means reaching into the cracks and crevices of the biblical narrative to extract the richness that lurks there.” In 20 short chapters, Frank explores questions that lie on the edges of the literal texts, encouraging us to wonder about things that have no authoritative answer in a way that leads to a faith-based reflection on the human experience.
FJ50, the 50th edition of the Fretboard Journal, may not count as a book in your mind, but this high-quality quarterly — which is “chock full of the wild, weird and wonderful from the world of fretted instruments” — gets special consideration. To have reached the 50th issue is something to be celebrated in a world where care and craftsmanship for one’s profession is often abandoned in the pursuit of fame, money, and power. The Fretboard Journal survives and thrives, content to bore in and focus on “the varied talents found in our little universe.” This issue has articles on Bela Fleck, Yasmin Williams, the instrument company that was Leo Fender’s first venture before he became a household name, luthier Michael Lewis, Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo and so much more. Give it a “listen.”
More to come…
Image of library from Pixabay.