The Bibliophile Safari
My teenager rolled her eyes at me. You have a problem. I was leaving the bookstore with seven new books. Piles teeter haphazardly in my study. I read a lot and I read weirdly. I visit the library once a week and I can’t leave a bookstore without new books, even more so when it’s an independent bookseller. It might be a problem, but I don’t care. Today, apparently, is designated Book Lovers’ Day. Uh, isn’t that every single minute of every single day?
This morning my husband asked me why I was reading a university-bound paper on the inventor of the Hmong written language. I shrugged. I was just interested in it. It was too early in the morning to explain the journey. I’d read Mai Der Vang’s collection of poetry, Afterland, which made several references to the Hmong language. I started to look up translations, when I discovered that Hmong written language hadn’t even been invented until 1959 – by a self-proclaimed messiah named Shong Lue Yang, nicknamed “The Mother of Writing”.
What was the point of tracking down any book I could find on the guy through inter-library loans? Curiosity. I’ve written that I’ve begun to see reading as part of my job as a writer. But this was reading without purpose – my absolute favorite kind. I just unraveled a story, sought out the threads, and now will know something I didn’t. It doesn’t end there, though. Like getting caught in endless link-hopping through Wikipedia, I now have more books I want to read. The Shong Lue biography weaves mythology into historical events, so I’ve requested books on Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
At some point, I’ll be done following the threads and pick up entirely different ones. This organic reading process gives me great joy. It combines my love of research and reading and surrounds me with a kaleidoscope of ideas.
So in honor of yet another made-up holiday, here’s a list of some of my all-time favorites:
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
- Candide by Voltaire
- Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
- A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
- A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
- Anything by Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, or Margaret Atwood
- The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider
- The Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
- Anything by Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and James Baldwin
I have eschewed all social media except for this blog, but have decided to become more active on Goodreads, because reading is so much my happy place. I’m trying to update my lists and will write only nice things about books I like, so I intend on being completely useless as a critic. That being said, I’m not sure how it all works, but if you send me a friend request, I’ll be happy to connect.
What are some of your all-time faves?