Life List Books

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude & Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez) – There are no words to really describe these books, besides high art in textual form that also happen to be fun to read. They each moved me deeply.
  • Midnight’s Children (Rushdie) – Rushdie is a kaleidoscope in words. This might be the best way for the historically uninitiated to begin understanding Partition.
  • A Bend in the River (Naipaul) – Naipaul was deeply problematic in lots of ways, just as this novel continues to be today, but his command of prose and sense of place are utterly spectacular. (I also got to read this as a Peace Corps volunteer.)
  • Freedom (Franzen) – It’s cool in some quarters to eye-roll Franzen because he’s a grumpy old man. But this book spoke to me, and I think it’s one of the greatest American novels about America of the last several decades.
  • Half of a Yellow Sun (Adichie) – More than anything, this is the novel that made Adichie a global author. The characters are haunting, and at the end, you realize that you learned something about Nigeria by accident.
  • Acts of Faith (Caputo) – Not a lot of accolades for this book, but I found it touching and its rendering of South Sudan picture perfect.
  • The Things They Carried & Going After Cacciato (O’Brien) – Two of the best novels about the Vietnam War that I’ve encountered.
  • Invisible Man (Ellison) – This was one of the only assignments in high school English that I ever actually read, and I’ve come back to it several times. It’s a uniquely American story like few others.
  • The Poisonwood Bible (Kingsolver) – I love culture-clashing novels, and this one was a doozy.
  • The Color Purple (Walker) – Not unlike Freedom, this is one of those books that is not only a good read, but also an essential story from our society as Americans.
  • Down & Out in Paris and London (Orwell) – Orwell was not only a keen observer of the human condition, but his journalist’s eye to the experiences of the urban poor say a lot to us today.
  • The Metaphysical Club (Menand) – To call this an “intellectual history of America” might sound pretentious for some books, but not this one.
  • Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Morris) – This three-part series on the life of Theodore Roosevelt is what made me realize biographies weren’t boring old recitations. They are stories written out of history.
  • Notes on the State of Virginia (Jefferson) – There are a lot of people who will look askance at this, but this is important as a way of understanding a region of America that our family has been in for several centuries now. When TJ was writing this (relatively short) book, the Reeves plantation was already established in Spotsylvania County.
  • The Half Has Never Been Told (Baptist) – This is a history of American capitalism and its inextricability from the institution of slavery. It cannot help but change your view of our country and its institutions.

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