The Reading List

Well, I’ve been playing around with Goodreads lately, and except that it has a wonderful search capability to find books, it’s the most obnoxious, stupid, confused muddle of a website I’ve seen. I’ll do a better job of keeping this page up to date.

Update 1/4/2015 – haha, last updated over a year ago. If that’s doing a better job, you’d hate to see my worst, wouldn’t you?

What I’m reading now.

As of May 25th, 2013:

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. By David Sedaris. If there’s anyone more funny and interesting than David Sedaris out there, please let me know.

My Ideal Bookshelf By Jane Mount. A Jeff and Deena Rosswurm recommendation.

The Drunken Botanist By Amy Stewart. Plants and booze, what’s not to like?

American Canopy By Eric Rutkow. Interesting book about the history of trees in America.

The Soil and Health. By Sir Albert Howard. One of the first writers on sustainable agriculture.

Howards End. By E.M. Forster. Wendell Berry made Howards End the basis of his 2012 Jefferson Lecture. I started it and then put it down during harvest, it needed more attention than I could give it during the busy season.

Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soil. By Nyle Brady and Ray Weil. It’s a page turner!

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. By James Agee and Walker Evans. A non-fiction story about tenant farmers in the South during the Great Depression. I want to like this book, but I find Agee really hard to read. Sentences will go on for an entire page at times.

Le Ton beau de Marot. By Douglas Hofstadter. 632 pages on translating one 28 line French poem. I’ve been reading this for years and am currently on page 303. Update as of 8/20/2012: I’m now on page 317. I recently started reading it again. It’s very depressing, I’ll never be as smart as Douglas Hofstadter.

The Completed List

The Light of Evening By Edna O’Brian. Yep, I couldn’t finish it. NPR is waxing rhapsodic over Edna O’Brian recently, but I don’t get it.

The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming. By Masanobu Fukuoka. You wouldn’t think I’d find much in common with an eccentric Japanese rice grower, but I liked it so much I bought a copy after reading a library copy.

Ghana Must Go By Taiye Selasi. I really wanted to like this book. I heard the author interviewed on NPR and she was so funny and smart and interesting I thought I’d love her book. But I just didn’t like it and didn’t get more than 50 pages into it before giving up.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen By Paul Torday. Sweet and eccentric. So much better than the movie, although the movie is light and fun to watch.

A Room with a View. By E.M. Forster. I find his books strangely readable and interesting.

The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays. By Richard Hofstadter. Written in the 1950’s and 60’s. The Tea Party is just the latest in waves of paranoid movements. Comforting in a way.

Cured. By Lindy Wildsmith. All about curing meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables. A gorgeous book of techniques and recipes.

Book of Plough. By Justin Isherwood. Essays on farming.

Cloud Atlas. By Daniel Mitchell. It was hard for me to get my head around what he’s doing, but by the end I couldn’t put it down.

Salumi. By Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. All about how to make dry-cured meats.

Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything. By Randy Cohen. Randy Cohen is so funny and so smart, and the book is so thought-provoking. A great read.

The Art of Making Fermented Sausages. By Stanley and Adam Marinanski. More on salami making.

Coyotes. By Ted Conover. It’s about illegal Mexican immigrants in the US. Written in the 80’s, Conover was way ahead of the times. If you’re interested in the immigration issue you need to read this.

Holidays on Ice. By David Sedaris. Short stories about Christmas. Profane and disrespectful. A classic that should be read every Christmas!

Mad River. By John Sandford. The latest Virgil Flowers crime novel. Entertaining as always.

Fall of Giants and Winter of the World By Ken Follet. The first two books of his ‘Century’ trilogy. Sprawling historical fiction. Not as good as his Pillars of the Earth, but still worth reading.

Visiting Tom. By Michael Perry. A tale of roughneck grace. Perry is one of my favorite authors. Excellent book.

Managing Your Way to Higher Profits: Soft Red Winter Wheat Edition. By Phil Needham. How to grow winter wheat in the eastern corn belt. It’s a page turner! Seriously, if you grow wheat you should be hanging on every word Phil Needham writes.

The Farm. By Ian Knauer. In a market saturated by ‘food porn,’ this is the most attractive and appealing cook book I’ve seen. I want to cook every single recipe.

The Dirty Life. By Kristin Kimball. Delightful story of New York City girl moving to the country and becoming an organic farmer. So much better than the similar but annoying “Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl.”

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry By Rachel Joyce. Painful to read. If you have any loss or regret in your life this book will make you look at all of that. And you’ll be missing so much if you don’t read it. A wonderful book.

Leaving Home. By Garrison Keillor. Early Lake Wobegon stories. If you like Keillor’s monologues on a Prairie Home Companion, you’ll like this. Good reading at bedtime.

Butterfly in the Typewriter. By Cory MacLauchlin. A biography of John Kennedy Toole, the author of A Confederacy of Dunces. Very interesting. You’ve read A Confederacy of Dunces haven’t you? If not, get off the Internet and get a copy and read it! This biography started a little slow for me, but by the end I couldn’t put it down. A wonderful book.

Andy Catlett. Early Travels. By Wendell Berry. A novel set in Berry’s fictional town of Port William. Not my favorite Berry book, but there are some very moving passages in it.

In my Kitchen. By Ted Allen. I wonder if Ted Allen wrote this or had a ghost writer? Whoever wrote it is a great writer. I want to cook every recipe in this book.

Food, Inc. By Peter Pringle. (Honestly, how could you go through life with ‘Peter Pringle’ as your moniker?) I picked this up at my favorite bookstore, Hyde Brothers. I only learned after reading this book that it had nothing to do with the anti-industrial farming documentary also called ‘Farm, Inc.’ This book is actually a balanced look at genetically modified crops. Well worth a read if you’re interested in this topic.

Folks, this ain’t normal By Joel Salatin. A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World the subtitle goes. Very interesting when he sticks to food and farming, but when he gets into politics he just sounds like a dummy.

No Country for Old Men. By Cormac McCarthy. Splendid. So much more interesting than the movie, which seemed to me to be just pointlessly violent and unfathomable. The book is just as violent, but it makes sense.

Lullaby By Ace Atkins. Robert Parker’s Spenser written by someone else. I thought Parker’s novels were a bit formulaic and any good writer could mix and match the plot elements (for example: let’s see, this one will have Spenser and Hawk, and Vinnie and Quirk. Susan will question Spenser’s need to solve the mystery, but ultimately accept him as he is) and turn the crank and out comes a Spenser novel.

Whew, was I wrong. Ace Atkins’ attempt to write a Spenser novel floats like a lead balloon. Every metaphor I can think of involves lead. The book is simply heavy and dull.

Don’t waste your time. If you haven’t read all the Spenser novels, go get one of the old ones. If you have read them all, it’s a good time to start re-reading from the beginning.

Off Main Street By Michael Perry. Perry is a wonderful author. This is a collection of essays that was a delight to read. You can’t go wrong with any of his books.

13 Bankers. By Simon Johnson and James Kwak. A good and approachable explanation of what caused the financial crisis of 2008-2009. If you don’t hate Wall Street and want to run off and join the Occupy movement now, you will after reading this book.

The Happiness Project. By Gretchen Rubin. It will make you think a lot about what makes you happy. Although I didn’t think her frenetic rush from activity to activity was the way to find happiness.

The Road. By Cormac McCarthy. Cormac McCarthy is such an amazing writer that I regret all the years I’ve spent not reading his books. The Road about as grim a story as you can imagine, yet I came away from it feeling uplifted and hopeful.

Arrowhawk. By Lola Schaefer. A children’s book about a hawk that gets shot by an arrow from a poacher and eventually is rehabbed and released to the wild. Lola is my cousin and I’d never read any of her books. Being family I wasn’t surprised to find it was just excellent. Creating a children’s story about a hawk getting speared with an arrow seems like a difficult task. But the book was unflinchingly, but not preachy, and not too harsh for children.

Fidelity: Five Stories, and The Wild Birds. By Wendell Berry. Short stories about Berry’s fictional town of Port William. Maybe life was never that way, but I wish it had been or could be.

It All Turns on Affection. The Jefferson Lecture Wendell Berry. Berry’s Jefferson Lecture sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Berry argues for an economy based on affection. Remarkable. You can listen to it or find the text here.

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. By Julie Powell. Julie Powell remains as, or is even more, self-centered, oblivious, and obnoxious as she was in Julie and Julia. Nonetheless, her books are like roadkill and you just can’t look away until you’ve read the last page.

A Walk in the Woods. By Bill Bryson A tale of walking the Appalachian Trail. Unlike Julie Powell, Bill Bryson seems like such a kind, happy, and gentle soul that you savor every page and wish you were walking in the woods with him.

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? By Christopher Buckley. A political satire novel about a plot to assassinate the Dalai Lama. Hilarious, and I wish I was a Washington insider so I would get all the jokes.

The Odds: A Love Story. By Stewart O’Nan. A love story about a dying marriage. So very well-written.

This Life is in Your Hands. By Melissa Coleman. A pretty grim but fascinating memoir about growing up in a back-to-the-land family.

A Walk Across the Sun. By Corbin Addison. A Grisham-like page-turner about human trafficking. It really is a page-turner. I read it pretty much in one sitting.

Newjack. By Ted Conover. It’s about his working as a prison guard (corrections officer, excuse me) at Sing Sing. A wonderful book. Why do we incarcerate people for punishment anyway?

The Hunger Games. By Suzanne Collins. I love science fiction, and particularly ones set in a dystopian world. So when the Hunger Games movie publicity started rolling out, I was surprised I’d never heard of it. It’s young adult fiction, but I still enjoyed it immensely. I want to read the rest of the trilogy now.

That Distant Land. By Wendell Berry. Like A Quaker Book of Wisdom Wendell Berry’s fiction is stories about lives and worlds that are good and true. A perfect antidote for the Republican primaries.

The Exterminators: An Assassin Bug Thriller. By Bill Fitzhugh. Odd and entertaining dark comedy about hired killers and genetically modified killer beetles.

Strength in What Remains. By Tracy Kidder. Only an author as good as Tracy Kidder could get me to finish a book about genocide in Burundi. Horrifying.

An Agricultural Testament. By Sir Albert Howard. Howard is referenced frequently by my favorite author Wendell Berry. A great book, seminal work for those doing good work in agricultural today. A quote from the book:
Agriculture must always be balanced. If we speed up growth we must accelerate decay. If, on the other hand, the soil’s reserves are squandered, crop production ceases to be good farming: it becomes something very different. The farmer is transformed into a bandit.

Reamde. By Neal Stephenson. I checked it out of the library and started it, but its one thousand and fifty six pages were too daunting for me to commit to at this time of year. That’s more of a length for a winter read.

Why We Make Mistakes. By Joseph Hallinan.

Kitchen of Light. By Andreas Viestad. A cookbook and essays on life in Norway. I love Viestad’s “New Scandinavian Cooking” show on PBS. Debbie got me this for Valentine’s Day. What a sweetie.

A Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons In Simplicity, Service, And Common Sense. By Robert Lawrence Smith.
The vileness that has flowed from the presidential primaries and from the Indiana State House during their legislative session has me yearning for calm and peace and common sense. Robert Smith’s little book satisfied that yearning.

The American Home Front, 1941-1942. By Alistair Cooke. Mom gave it to me to read the chapters on agriculture. It’s beautifully, beautifully written, lyrical and mesmerizing.

Encounters with the Archdruid. By John McPhee. Encounters between the Sierra Club’s David Brower and developers who want to use the wilderness. Surprisingly readable and worth your time to read.

Aftershock By David Wiedemer et al. The mis-understood geniuses who predicted the housing bubble now explain why the economy will collapse by 2015.

Their solution (besides subscribing to their advisement service)? Buy gold.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Demin. by David Sedaris. I’ve read it before, but I can reread Sedaris over and over again.

Smut. By Alan Bennett. I heard the author interviewed on NPR, had to be Fresh Air or Diane Rehm. Surprising and twisty book. Makes me what to read more by Mr. Bennett.

A List of Random Favorites

  • “Lean on Pete” by Willy Vaultin.  One of the reviewers said it’s Huck Finn for the crystal meth generation.  Wish I’d said that.  Very dark, but one of the most well-written books I’ve read in a long time.
  • Mark Bittman.  “Food Matters.”    Makes the point Michael Poulan was trying to make in “The Omnivores Dilemma”  with considerably less tedium. Although if you’re interested in this sort of thing you should read “The Omnivores Dilemma” or even Barbara Kingsolver’s “Living on the Earth.” Although I couldn’t hold my nose long enough to fend off the stench of Kingsolver’s dilettantism to finish her book.
  • Anthony Bourdain.  “Les Halles Cookbook.”  Worth reading for Bourdain’s comments, even if you’re not interested in bistro cooking. Even better, start with his “Kitchen Confidential” and then move on to his new “Medium Raw”
  • Ken Kesey.  “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, and “Sometimes a Great Notion.”  Cuckoo’s Nest is a masterpiece, you need to read it.
  • Clifford Stoll. “The Cuckoo’s Egg” and “Silicon Snake Oil.”  You’ll wish you too were a hippy and lived in Berkeley.  It’s hard to figure how a book about hackers and a book about the hazards of the Internet culture can be such happy, gentle tales, but they are.
  • Speaking of hippies on the left coast, “Farm City” by Novella Carpenter is an interesting story of urban farming in Oakland.
  • Anne Tyler. Any of her books.
  • James Lee Burke. Any of his books prior to 2005 or so.  His early Dave Robicheaux novels are lyrical and mystical.  The later ones just seem pointlessly violent.
  • Robert Parker.  Any of the Spenser series.  Although the later ones get a bit formulaic, they’re all a good read.
  • William Gibson.  Start with “Neuromancer” and go from there.  When you read Neuromancer remember it was written before the Internet came into being.
  • Anything by Douglas Hofstadter.  If you ever get all puffed up about your intellectual prowess, “Godel, Escher, and Bach” will make it painfully obvious that Hofstadter is so far out on the right edge of the intellectual bell curve that you can’t even see him.
  • Donald Norman. “The Design of Everyday Things.”  If you have anything to do with building things people use you must read this book.  Even if you don’t you should read it.  You’ll never look at a doorknob the same way again after reading it.
  • Tom deMarco. “Slack” and “Peopleware”.  A bit utopian perhaps, but as you read them you’ll wonder why a workplace can’t be like he describes.
  • Douglas Coupland. Anything he writes is worth your time to read.  “Microserfs” is a particularly good tale that will make you wish you too were a geeky programmer.
  • David Sedaris. If you’re easily offended, stay away.  His story, “All the Beauty You Will Ever Need” in the book “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” is the funniest thing I have ever read.  It’s impossible to explain, because any passage you might pick out of it is so offensive out of context that you can’t do it.
  • Michael Perry. “Coop”, “Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time,” and “Truck: A Love Story.” Bittersweet memoirs of small town life.

6 thoughts on “The Reading List

  1. rob was working through godel, escher and bach when he died, wish I could have asked him if he agreed with you.

  2. We are discussing Hunger Games at book club tonight. Finished the trilogy in a week. Unfortunately on my kindle so I can’t share them with you.

  3. We have 200 acres of radish greens with our cover crops and ‘The Farm’ has recipes for pasta with radish greens I think we’ll be trying.

  4. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
    on our book club list for March, we are a group of women with regrets, we’ll see how it goes.

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