Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Crowd-sourced Reading List

I started a reading experiment of sorts a year ago.  When I'm at a social gathering and starting to run out of good topics to discuss with the person I happen to be standing near, I ask for suggestions for a good book to read.  (With some people I don't know well, I "run out" of topics even before I start talking with them, and this gives me a great way to start a conversation).

I write all the suggestions down, noting also who suggested the book.  During the semester, I don't have much free time for reading, but I pull out my reading list once winter break or summer break begins.

I like this little experiment -- it has pushed me outside of my standard reading (mostly non-fiction and detective stories).  This puts me at the bibliographic mercy of others, a position I haven't been in since I was a student.  Sometimes I really don't like the books that people suggest: a professor of Comparative Literature recommend Nabakov's Pnin as knee-snappingly funny, but it was a bit of a dud, as far as I was concerned.

But sometimes I'm very surprised -- and usually I'm delighted -- by the books that people get into my hands.  One frighteningly serious professor of literature got the book question from me.  I figured I'd be reading a post-modern feminist novel from somewhere on the other side of the globe, and that would have been okay . . . but she recommended M.T. Anderson's Feed, and that was amazing.  It's a young adult fiction novel about a culture in which everyone has internet implanted directly in their brains.  Pop-up ads all the time!  The dialog and characters are amazing -- the author does a 1984 or Brave New World, except that he gets pop culture correct in a way the first two classics totally miss.   And I never would have expected that Feed would be the book that this Frighteningly Serious Professor would recommend.  She's a lot less frightening to me now.

Here are some of the books I'll be digging into this summer. Only 25% of these are non-fiction (although I've been warned by some that Polanyi's book will be a decent slog, so maybe this ups the non-fiction reading/brain time), and none, as far as I know, are detective stories.

  • Jodi Picoult, 19 Minutes, Lone Wolf, or The Storyteller
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior
  • Rana Dasgupta, Solo
  • Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
  • Luis Alberto Urrea, The Hummingbird's Daughter,
  • Pat Conroy, Prince of Tides
  • Anthony Doerr, All the light we cannot see
  • Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation

Don't spoil the plots for me!

And just in case you're wondering, the pile of in-process books that has been on my bed stand lately is this:

  • Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
  • Garrison Keillor's Pretty Good Joke Book
  • E.M. Forester,  A Room with a View
  • a local history/tour book of my own home town


  1. I also like to read recommended books but never thought of the question as a conversation starter. Thanks!

    1. And a great way to reconnect! Because after you do read the book, you can go back to the person and talk about it. It's very flattering to the other person, actually, to have someone ask for advice and then act upon it. I find this is a great way to strengthen my ties to others, as well as a way to stretch my brain.