What to Read Next

When one reads 120 books each year, one of the persistent questions one faces on an almost daily basis is, “What should I read next?”  There are those piles of books on your nightstand, on the floor, table and desk in your library, and on random surfaces throughout the house—books that you’ve bought at used and new bookstores, books that a friend has given you, books that leapt out at you from the shelves of the local public library.  Then there are the periodicals that arrive daily (the Boston Globe, New York Times, Wall Street Journal) or weekly (The New Yorker) or monthly (The Atlantic, National Geographic, Vermont Life, etc) and soon produce another dangerously listing pile of paper.  And then there ‘the classics’, those books that you never quite got to in high school or college that perpetually induce guilt as they flash into your forebrain on random occasions—why am I doing the Times Crossword Puzzle when Moby Dick, Bleak House, and Jane Eyre remain unread?

Reading is infinite; time is finite.  So the challenge is to decide how to spend your precious and limited time.   What books warrant your investment?

This is clearly an existential as well as a practical question.  Leaving the existential aside, it appears to me that there are three basic approaches to choosing your next book: random, planned, and blended.

The “random” approach involves visits to the library, where browsing the New Books shelves always yields fascinating opportunities.  A more organized though still mostly random approach involves utilizing the Minuteman Library on line system to request books identified through the daily Writer’s Almanac email or the weekly book review sections of the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, the Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe.  Add to this the treasures discovered in browsing the used book stores in Cambridge (Bryn Mawr on Huron Avenue and the Harvard Book Store), the New Arrival sections of book stores both local and those visited during one’s travels.  Finally, top up the list with a sprinkling of books suggested by other avid readers, and one can quickly fill one’s dance card without a preconceived plan.

Then, there is the ‘planned approach’ to choosing the next book.  These plans can take several forms.  First, you can adopt an “extreme reading’ plan.  A number of books have described such approaches.   Phyllis Rose in her book, The Shelf, identified a single shelf of books in the New York Society Library that ran from LEQ to LES and spent the year reading every volume.  A.J. Jacobs spent a year reading the encyclopedia in The Know It All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (2004), and  Ammon Shea read the entire Oxford English Dictionary for his book Reading the OED:  One Man, One Year 21,730 pages in 2008.  Then there was Christopher Beha in The Whole Five Feet, who read his way through the Harvard Classics (2010).  My favorite ‘plan’, however, was described in Susan Hill’s Howard’s End is on the Landing.  Hill swore off libraries, loans, purchases, etc. and limited herself to reading only the books that were already sitting about her house, unread and likely to remain so forever until her planned year with them.

Another approach to “planned’ annual reading is to choose books that have been awarded prizes.  These prizes come in various categories and use various criteria, but I think that overall, this is a useful way of identifying contemporary works of merit.  Some of the awarding entities and the recent winners include the following:

  1. The Pulitzer Prize was established in the 1904 will of Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant who published the New York World and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to ‘honor excellence in journalism and the arts’. His original will established nine prizes in the arts, education, and journalism, and they were first awarded in 1917.  Since then the list has grown to 21 annual awards including music. The awards are determined by the Pulitzer Board comprising 18 members.  The 2014 awards went to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch for fiction, Annie Baker’s The Flick for drama, Alan Taylor’s The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia 1772-1832 for history, Megan Marshall’s Margaret Sanger: A New American Life for biography, and Vijay Seshadri’s 3 Sections for poetry.  pulitzer.org
  2. The National Book Awards are awarded by the National Book Foundation whose mission is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America. The awards are given annually in four categories:  Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, and Young People’s literature.  Independent panels of five judges make the decisions.  The awards began in 1950 and after morphing into the American Book Awards in 30 categories, changed back to the National Book Award’s current four categories in 1996.  The 2014 winners were Phil Klay’s Redeployment, Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition, Louise Gluck’s Faithful and Virtuous Night, and Jacqueline Wilson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.  The National Book Foundation also awards the Distinguished Contribution to American Letter Award each year.  This 2014 winner was Ursula Le Guin and recent winners included E.L Doctorow, Elmore Leonard, and John Ashbery.   nationalbook.org
  3. The National Book Critics Circle Award is awarded annually by the National Book Critics Circle comprising 600 member critics, writers, literary bloggers, personnel from book publishing and students. The awards honor outstanding writing and foster a national conversation about reading, criticism, and literature.  Awards are given annually in six categories and the 2013 winners were as follows:   fiction (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah), non-fiction (Sheri Fish, Five Days at Memorial), autobiography (Amy Wilentz, Farewell, Fred Voodoo), biography (Leo Damrosch, Jonathan Swift: His Life and World), criticism (Franco Moretti, Distant Reading), and poetry (Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog).  In addition, awards are given for Senior Lifetime Achievement award (Rolando Hinojosa-Smith), for Excellence in Reviewing (Katherine Powers), and for best first novel (Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena received the John Leonard Prize named for a marvelous critic and reviewer who was a founder of the NBCC and who died in 2012).   Decisions are made by the Board upon recommendation of internal committees.  bookcritics.org
  4. The Man-Booker Prize: Awarded annually to a citizen of the British Commonwealth or the Irish Republic who has written a work of fiction in English published in the UK. The only criterion is that it is the ‘best novel in the opinion of the judges’.  The judges are an assortment of novelists, poets, essayists, and critics.  First awarded in 1969, the prize for 2014 went to Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road to the Deep North The winner receives 50,000 pounds while the authors of the six books on the short list each receive 2500 pounds.
  5. The Man-Booker International Prize is awarded every two years to a writer who has written a work of fiction in English or widely available by translation into English. It is given not for a specific novel but for the author’s total body of work.  First awarded in 2005, the most recent recipients were Philip Roth in 2011, Lydia Davis in 2013, and David Grossman in 2017.  The winner receives 60,000 pounds.  themanbookerprize.org
  6. The PEN/Faulkner Awards are given by the eponymous Foundation which ‘brings together American writers and readers in a wide variety of programs to promote a love of literature.’ Established in 1980 and housed in the Folger Library in Washington, D.C., it is the largest peer-reviewed prize and seeks to honor fiction independent of its commercial success.  The first award was given in 1981 for fiction, and the Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story was first given in 1988.  Whereas John Updike and Saul Bellow were the first winners for short stories, the first three fiction winners were Walter Abish, David Bradley, and Toby Olson (who???).  Recent winners are Karen Joy Fowler for We are All Completely Beside Ourselves and George Saunders for The Tenth of Decemberpenfaulkner.org
  7. The Nobel Prize in literature was established in the will of Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), a Swedish chemist who invented dynamite and held 355 other patents. He was a wide ranging entrepreneur and reader who left his 1500 volume personal library as well as the equivalent of $265 million for the establishment of prizes in four areas including literature for the ‘person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” The task of interpreting this vague charge falls to the 18 member Swedish Academy founded in 1786 by Sweden’s king and whose members have lifetime tenure.  The first award was given in 1901 and since then 111 authors have been honored on 107 occasions.  The 2017 winner was Kazuo Ishiguro.  To give some sense of the quality of writers, the American winners have been Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, Pearl Buck, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, John  Steinbeck, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, Czeslaw Milosz, Joseph Brodsky, Derek Wolcott, and Toni Morrison.   nobelprize.org
  8. The Edgar Allan Poe Award, popularly known as The Edgars, are awarded annually to the best works in American mystery writing in several categories including novel, first novel, original paperback, short story, fact crime, and critical/biography. In addition a Grand Master award and the Raven award is given each year.  Recent Grand Masters include Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, and Jane Langton, and Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor and The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, KA are recent winners of the Raven Award. theedgars.com

Another ‘planned approach’ to reading involves a commitment to reading the classics.  While there are many definitions on what makes a book a ‘classic’, most definitions are a variation on this summary by M.H. Abrams who, by virtue of reaching his 100th birthday and still writing superb criticism, seems to warrant heeding.  In his book The Fourth Dimension of a Poem, Abrams summarizes a classic in the following paragraph:  “Agreement among diverse humanists as to the importance and value of a work at any one time, and still more, the survival value of a work—general agreement as to its importance and value over an extended period of time—serves as a sound way to distinguish the better from the worse and to identify which work is a classic.  The consensus that emerges when an imaginative work is viewed from a diversity of critical perspective and through a diversity of sensibilities—and especially a consensus that emerges despite radical cultural changes over many centuries—is a reliable index to the fact that the work is central in its human concerns, broad in its imaginative appeal and rich in its inherent aesthetic and other values.”  The test of time and broad agreement on a work’s centrality, imaginative appeal, and aesthetic value seem to be the key to entry into this exalted realm.   I also like Philip Larkin’s criteria that he used when we was a judge for the Booker Prize in 1977. These criteria apply best perhaps to fiction, but could serve to identify a ‘classic’ worth reading:  ”Could I read it?  If I could read it, did I believe it?  If I believed it, did I care about it?  If I cared about it, what was the quality of my caring and would it last? “

So how does one go about reading “The Classics”?  The best cicerones for this quest appear to be literary critics who spend their careers critically reading, evaluating, and interpreting our literature.  Several of them have compiled ‘to be read’ lists, and many other creative editors have compiled these recommendations.  Among the many available, I’ve found the following to be useful as I’ve tried to figure out which ‘classic’ to read next:

1.The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, edited by J. Peder Zane:  Zane asked 125 American and British authors to “provide a list ranked in order of what you consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time—novels, story collections, plays or poems.”  The result was a list of 544 titles and some excellent essays by Sven Birkerts, Mary Gaitskill, and David Orr.  The authors’ lists are fun to examine in detail  How wonderful to find that one of my favorite authors, Julian Barnes, listed another favorite of mine, John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom novels, and wasn’t it fun to find that Ian Pears (none of whose 10 novels I’ve ever heard of) listed the Maigret detective stories of Georges Simenon!  Zane then used a faux statistical approach by assigning points to each top ten list and then compiling various meta-lists, including the all-time Top Ten as follows:  Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary , War and Peace, Lolita, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, In Search of Lost Time, The stories of Chekhov, and Middlemarch.    That should keep one busy but if not, you can find additional lists of the authors with the most titles (Shakespeare wins by a mile), the 97 works named on at least 3 or more lists, the most popular decade in the 20th C., etc.  There are also excellent summary paragraphs of all 544 works.   Worth leafing through despite the title!

  1. The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classic Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded, by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major, 1998: Originally published in 1960 by Fadiman, a popularizer of literature based at Columbia, the new edition added a new editor and world literature as well as some scientific writings.  The goal is to provide the reader with a plan for a lifetime of reading to achieve a source of “continuous internal growth.’  The Plan ‘is designed to fill our minds, slowly, gradually, under no compulsion with what some of the greatest writers have thought, felt, and imagined.  We will understand something of our position in space and time.  We will know how we have emerged from our long human history.  We will know how we got the ideas by which we live.  We will have acquired models of high thought and feeling”.   Not a bad set of goals!  Arranged chronologically from The Epic of Gilgemesh (circa 2000 BCE) to Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), these brief 1-3 page summaries of 133 works are interesting and more useful than I would have thought at first glance.  Do you want a reminder about what Goethe’s Faust was about?  Do you want to get a quick summary of Euripides’ Medea or a refresher about Thackeray’s Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair?  This is the volume for you.  It may also organize a reading of the ‘classics’ should you be so inclined.
  2. The New York Public Library’s Books of the Century, edited by Elizabeth Diefendorf, 1996: As part of its 100th year celebration, the NY Public Library asked all of its librarians to suggest books published between 1895-1995 that had a significant influence, consequence or resonance during the Library’s first 100 years.  Of the 1100 individual titles suggested (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams were most mentioned), 159 titles were chosen, grouped into 11 categories, and described in this volume with a short one page summary.  The result is a fairly weird collection including the UN Charter and the Surgeon General’s report on smoking while omitting The Catcher in the Rye and all of Faulkner.  Perhaps the most interesting chapter is the first entitled Landmarks of Modern Literature, another term for ‘the classics’.  That chapter lists Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, Stein’s Tender Buttons, Kafkas’ The Metamorphosis, Millay’s Renascence, Yeats’ The Wild Swans at Coole, Pirandello’s Six Characters, Eliot’s The Wasteland, Joyce’s Ulysses, Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads, Wright’s Native Son, Auden’s The Age of Anxiety, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Ellison’s Invisible Man, Nabokov’s Lolita, Borges’ Fictions, Kerouac’s On the Road, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, and Morrison’s Song of Solomon.
  3. 1001 Books You Must Read Before you Die, preface by Peter Ackroyd with contributions from over 100 International Critics, 2007: This huge doorstop of a book is puzzling. The editor indicates in an introduction that it is basically a history of prose fiction and that the 300 word summaries are contributed by leading critics, novelists, and poets, but the index and list of contributors has nary a name that I recognized—-not a one.  The contributors are primarily drawn from British universities (and to be snobby, not an Oxbridge among them!). Nor does the editor indicate how these 1001 novels have been chosen.  On the other hand, the text provides a quick summary of the plot in all of the books, often accompanied by an illustration from older books or a fine photograph of the author.   The book is heavily tilted towards the modern with 40 selections from before 1800 and 720 from the 1900’s and 2000’s.  Not sure how I would use this book to find my next read, but having chosen a next read, I think I would enjoy perusing the summary and perhaps enjoying a better picture of the author than the one provided on the book cover.  Any book that lists Sebald’s Rings of Saturn and Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater on the same page must have some merit!
  4. How to Read and Why, Harold Bloom, 2000: This volume has been my ‘north star’ since it was published 18years ago providing guidance and reading lists for short stories, poems, novels, and plays.  Bloom supports his recommendations with perfectly self-confident observations, making “what is implicit in a book, explicit”.   If I were to choose one book to outline a reading plan for the coming years, this is the one I’d go to.   If you only concentrate on the novels, you’ll read Don Quixote, The Charterhouse of Parms, Emma, Great Expectations, Crime and Punishment, Portrait of a Lady, In Search of Lost Time, The Magic Mountain, Moby Dick, As I Lay Dying, Miss Lonelyhearts, The Crying of Lot49, Blood Meridian, Invisible Man, and Song of Solomon.  That should get you started on the 1001!
  5. Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World, David Denby, 1996: Denby, the movie critic for The New Yorker, returns to Columbia in 1991 and takes the courses Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization, re-reading the classics that he sorta read as a freshman 30 years earlier.  In the midst of the culture wars of Dead White Men vs. all the ‘isms’ and struggling with his own mid-life crisis, Denby tries to find the value of reading the classics to provide some stable ground.  Starting with Homer, the Greek dramatists, Plato, and Virgil and moving through Augustine and Aquinas, Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke, and finishing with Shakespeare, Montaigne, Dante, Milton, Cervantes, Goethe, Austen, and Woolf in Lit Hum and beginning with Rousseau, Hume, and Kant and moving through Nietzsche, Darwin, Marx, Arendt, Rawls, Fanon, Malcolm X and Foucault in Con Civ, Denby devotes 10 or so pages to each author and book.  This is a useful, informative, and interesting companion for the reader of the classics.

Another approach to ‘Planned reading” for the year is to combine the classics with the contemporary and rely on the critics, writers, editors, and ‘list makers’ who have written   dozens of ‘guides’ that are available to help you choose your next book.  Here are several that I have found particularly useful:

  1. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those who Want to Write Them, Francine Prose (2006): Prose synthesizes chapters on words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details, and gesture as she moves towards her final list of 118 “Books to Be Read Immediately”.  This list of novels, short stories, and collected works runs from Akutagawa (Rashomon and other stories) to Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road) with many familiar names along the way—Jane Austen, Chekhov, Dickens, Fitzgerald,, Flaubert, Hemingway, James, Kafka, Marquez, Melville, Nabokov, Roth, St. Aubyn, and West all represented by 2 selections while Flannery O’Connor and William Trevor get 3 selections and Tolstoy wins the prize with 5.  Interestingly, James Woods’ book of literary criticism, Broken Estate and Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style are the only non-fiction recommendations.
  2. Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books, Nick Hornby, (2013):  From September, 2003 through June, 2013, Hornby wrote a column in the monthly magazine, The Believer, chronicling his reading life, including ‘books bought’ as well as ‘books read’.  I’ve only just begun to dip into this wonderfully eclectic, funny, and perceptive collection of one man’s reading, but it’s already been great fun.  While there is an index, Hornby and the editors avoid the temptation to gather a grand summary list in conclusion, so the reader will have to either read it cover to cover or dip into the volume at random intervals or perhaps at the month corresponding to that moment when one faces the choice of ‘what to read next’.  One example randomly chosen is December, 2010 when Hornby bought Book of Days (Emily Fox Gordon), The Master (Colm Toibin), Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea( Barbara Demick), Family Britain, 1951-1957 (David Kynaston), and The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (Richard Wilkinson and  Kate Pickett), and he read How to Live: or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Sarah Bakewell), The Broken Word (Adam Foulds), and Book of Days (Emily Fox Gordon).  Hornby’s funny and insightful comments would have made me race off to buy the Blakewell but I already both own it and have read it.  The essays of Fox Gordon sound like total winners as does the poem about the Mau Mau uprising by Foulds.  I think this book could be the best single source of contemporary fiction ‘nexts’.
  3. For the Love of Books: 115 Celebrated Writers on the Books They Love Most, Ronald B. Schwartz (1999): Schwartz, an avid reader and English major who went off the track and went to law school, invited American, British, and Canadian authors to ‘identify those 3-6 books that “have in some way influenced or affected you most deeply, spoken to you the loudest, and explain why in personal terms.  All books are fair game.”  And recommend they do—-from Diane Ackerman (The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas, The Complete Poems of Randall Jarrell)  to Herman Wouk (Huckleberry Finn, Don Quixote, and The Autobiography of Anthony Trollope) , from Robert Bly (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake, The Present Age by Soren Kierkegaard, and The Winding Stair, by Y.B. Yeats) to Doris Lessing (The Three Royal Monkeys by Walter De la Mare, The Memoirs of a Justified Sinner, by James Hogg, Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy, Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust, and The Sufis by Idris Shah).  This is a fascinating, fun, and totally enjoyable collection and since many of the contributors have died in the intervening 15 years (Robert Bly, Art Buchwald, Robert Creeley, Clifton Fadiman, Penelope Fitzgerald, Nadine Gordimer, Anthony Hecht, Maxine Kumin, Doris Lessing, Norman Mailer, William Manchester, well you get the idea), it’s an unusual opportunity to hear their voices again.  This is another excellent source to dip into randomly on a cold winter night.
  4. Read This: Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores, edited by Hans Weyandt and Introduction by Ann Patchett (2012):The owners, book-buyers, and/or salespersons in 25 independent bookstores from Brooklyn to Danville, CA from St. Paul, MN to Palmer, AK were asked to list fifty books they love or love to pass on to others.  The lists are quirky, fascinating, and total 1194 books, of which 144 are named more than once.  The most often named is Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam book, The Things they Carried while William Faulkner is the author most often listed and with the most books named (six)
  5. You’ve Got to Read This: Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories that Held them in Awe, edited by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard.  (1994): The editors, faculty at Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont, compiled the responses of 35 authors who were asked to introduce a short story which ‘left them breathless, held them in awe, or otherwise enthralled them’. Each story is introduced by the nominator. The stories include classics by famous authors, old (Chekhov, Dickens, Kafka, Tolstoy) and 20th C. (Updike, Munro, Nabokov, O’Connor, Carver, Baldwin, Cheever, and Welty)  as well as authors I’ve never heard of, e.g. Mary Caponegro, Angela Carter, Molly Giles, and Lars Gustaffson.  A 600+ tome perfect for dipping into on a rainy day.
  6. My Ideal Bookshelf, edited by Thessaly La Force and with art by Jane Mount (2012): The editor asked 102 ‘creative people’ in a variety of disciplines to ‘select a small shelf of books that represent you’.  Each shelf is accompanied by a short text drawn from interviews with the contributors, and each shelf is beautifully rendered in color and layout by Mount including objects chosen by the contributors (e.g. Francine Prose’s granddaughter’s tea set and stuffed animals).  What fun it is to find a favorite author and be able to spy on their bookshelf!!!  I’ve read most of the books on Atul Gawande’s shelf (William Carlos Williams’ Doctors Stories, Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, and Lewis Thomas’s The Lives of a Cell among others) while all 12 of the books on Malcolm Gladwell’s shelf are new to me.  What great fun to browse this visually as well as intellectually stimulating and beautiful volume.
  7. Books, the Essential Insider’s Guide: Award winning novelists, poets, journalists, humorists, critics, and booksellers reveal great but little known works of literature, edited by Mark Strand and Robert Kahn in the City Secrets Series (2009):  “Contributors chose books that profoundly affected their lives, books that somehow changed them, filled a need, and informed their future.  The universal joy of connecting with a subject or a story and the satisfaction of finding another who has shared the experience.” Nearly 175 contributors are included (I didn’t have the patience to count the index exactly) and their nominations span a thousand years.  As expected from the title, almost all of the works and nearly all of the authors are unknown to me.  Not sure why some well-known authors and their works such as Jonathan Franzen, William Boyd (Any Human Heart), Saul  Bellow (Ravelstein), Annie Dillard, Annie Fadiman (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down), and Isaac Bashevis Singer were included.  Nonetheless, this is a formidable collection for those who’ve already read the better known classics.

Finally, one can compile their own list of ‘planned reading’ to include the most recently published books by drawing on the year’s end Top Ten lists much publicized by newspapers and magazines.  December issues are full of articles promising the Top Ten Books of the Year. The New York Times  (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/14/books/review/the-10-best-books-of-2014.html)  provides the editors’ choices of the five best fiction and five best non-fiction works reviewed in the past year.  This is a reliable list of excellent work.  The Wall Street Journal (http://graphics.wsj.com/best-books-2014/) provides a list of the ten best fiction, ten best non-fiction, and ten best mysteries as well as the personal recommendations of 50 assorted people from Lena Dunham to Robert Shiller.

So, having provided you,friends and readers, with some potential approaches to the upcoming year’s reading, you might ask “What do you plan to do?”   I’ve taken a page from Phyllis Rose and Susan Hill and created My Own Shelf (actually two) comprising about 50 books from my library which I plan to read in the coming year.  From Robert Caro’s first volume about LBJ to four works by David Foster Wallace, from Camille Paglia’s book about art history to John Hersey’s Hiroshima, these two shelves of books will always be available should I need an immediate answer to What to Read Next?  These two shelves also contain Proust’s classic which appeared on nearly every list I’ve reviewed, and I’ll add another classic or two from Bloom or Denby along the way, perhaps even Moby Dick which has eluded me as he did Ahab for years.   In addition, I continue to request books from the Minuteman Library System, most recently, Shaw’s Saint Joan (in preparation for seeing the play in Cambridge in 2 weeks), Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers (winner of the 1965 National Book Award and in remembrance of Stone who died this week), Emily Fox Gordon’s Book of Days (based on Nick Hornsby’s recommendation), and Distant Reading, the National Book Critics Circle Award winner for criticism.  I’ve already read one of the NYT’s Best Fiction from 2014 winners based on my son-in-law’s suggestion.

So, after spending all of this time thinking about What to Read Next, it appears that the answer will be to ‘keep on keeping on’.  Read randomly and with great enthusiasm those books that come my way via browsing, friends’ recommendations, book reviews, literary criticism, annual awards, and daily events while adding a soupcon of classics, books in my own library that I bought with the best of intentions months or decades ago, and books which advance my self-directed education in art history and poetry.  I’m looking forward to it!