The Quest for 52 Books: October

The quest is complete, friends. Like Fuller, I plan to keep reading. (Hooray!) It would be pretty absurd if I hit 52 books and just shut down the activity altogether. Although believe me, the thought crossed my mind.

I’ll say this: I don’t think I’ll ever set out to read so many books in a given period of time again. I experienced it in the same way I experienced moving through AFI’s Top 100 Movies list in that I became too focused on checking off the numbers instead of being present for each viewing/reading. As a result, a lot of the information just flowed right through me since I wasn’t fully there to engage with it and have the chance to absorb it more, to make it part of me.

This especially happened with Moby Dick, which I promised would serve as my 52nd book; it ended up being my 53rd because of teaching demands. Regardless, I was sort of desperate to be done with the thing and so I wasn’t settling into it as an experience. Or at least that’s how I handled its dense middle section, when Ishmael guides his readers through every detail of whaling, to which I thought something along the lines of, “Motherfucker, I got a quest to complete. Focus on Ahab and his monomania and go after that fucking whale already!” Now, I yearn to re-read it in order to savor the entire text. I’d say I truly read – meaning I was engaged, actively imagining the story and soaking up the language – about 60% of the book. Because I’m petty, I’m still counting it in my quest.

I wish I had paused over each book more in reflection, even if it meant a quick shout-out to it in a journal like Fuller did. To be fair, I do feel like I was present for a majority of the books I read throughout the year (especially in January and February, when I had no job/life), but I did little in service of remembering their impact and creating space for them to sink in more deeply. I tend to take this for granted in teaching too; once we’re finished with a book, as if it were an improv scene, we move on into creating a new experience. While there’s something to be said for this inadvertent amnesia, I want to practice the art of preserving and consolidating a reading experience into my being more, seeing reflection as its own powerful form of presence.

Anyway, two books for October, bringing me to a grand total of 53!

  • William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (re-read)
  • Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

And for the year:

January

  1. Jonathan Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See
  2. Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up
  3. James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time
  4. Mary Roach’s Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
  5. Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
  6. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History
  7. Will Hines’ How to be the Greatest Improviser on Earth
  8. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric
  9. Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic
  10. Parvati Markus’ Love Everyone
  11. Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart
  12. Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race
  13. Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
  14. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
  15. Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God
  16. Thich Nhat Hanh’s How To Eat
  17. Thich Nhat Hanh’s How To Love

February

  1. Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings
  2. Eknath Easwaran’s (trans.) The Bhagavad Gita
  3. Andre Aciman’s Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere
  4. Mary Oliver’s Upstream: Selected Essays
  5. Charlotte J. Beck’s Nothing Special
  6. Octavia Butler’s Kindred
  7. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States [Infinite Winter selection]
  8. Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself
  9. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

March

  1. Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story
  2. Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities
  3. Mary Oliver’s A Thousand Mornings: Poems

April

  1. Matthieu Ricard’s Happiness
  2. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow
  3. Peter Hershock’s Liberating Intimacy
  4. Anthony de Mello’s The Song of the Bird
  5. Thomas Armstrong’s Awakening Genius in the Classroom
  6. Thich Naht Hanh’s Fear
  7. David R. Loy’s The World is Made of Stories
  8. Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity
  9. Sharon Salzberg’s Faith
  10. The Dhammapada, trans. Gil Fronsdal
  11. James Ishmael Ford’s If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break

May

  1. Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist

June

  1. Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace
  2. Charlotte Joko Beck’s Now Zen

July

August

  1. Peter C. Brown’s Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
  2. Sebastian Junger’s Tribe
  3. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

September

  1. David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart
  2. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (re-read)
  3. David McRaney’s Your Are Now Less Dumb
  4. Debby Irving’s Waking Up White
  5. Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith

October

  1. William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (re-read)
  2. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

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