Winter Reading List 2013-2014

As a kid, didn’t you just love when the school’s summer reading list would be sent home with you?  You’d go to the bookstore, list in hand, and come away with a towering stack of shiny new books to last you all summer.  If you were lucky, you might actually find a yellowed tattered paperback, like Night by Elie Wiesel, among your parents’ book collection, and you would enjoy knowing that you were making an intellectual connection with your parents by stewarding one of their old possessions.

But somewhere along the line non-work-related reading slowly slipped to the back burner in the over-scheduled workweek, relegated to vacations and ten minutes before bed, hardly enough time to move through the ever-accumulating pile of books on the nightstand.

I do love reading for pleasure and being unemployed has afforded me the luxury of making it a priority instead of something to be squeezed between teeth brushing and a comatose state.  I take magazines to the gym; I take my Kindle to coffee shops for prolonged lattes nestled in a corner with my down parka scrunched around my back; I have the requisite stack of books next to the bed and on the coffee table.

I’ve realized, however, that I’m all over the board in what I enjoy reading: anything from Harry Potter to political biographies.  There are a few genres from which I tend to steer away from in general: fantasy including time travel (yes, I realize Harry Potter’s not real – although it would be awesome if it were – and I had to be drug kicking and screaming into the series, only getting involved once my sister and dad had already read books 1 through 4), scary books (my scary movie and TV show avoidance is well documented, to the point that I will change the channel during a commercial for a scary movie if I can get to the remote in time, and the same goes for books…sometimes I cannot even read Harry Potter before bedtime, especially the last two books), and sad books because why am I going to read something to make myself feel sad on purpose (overly sad novels are the worst, but I can make an exception for time-to-time sad scenes and/or some non-fiction).

So with that preface, here is a list of what I’ve been reading this fall/winter and what’s on my “to read” list for this winter/spring:

Already Read:

The President’s Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy – Took me over a year to finally finish this one but enjoyable political non-fiction that I wrote about a bit during our Texas trip.

Setting the Table by Danny Meyer – A business book/autobiography about his NYC restaurant empire.  Great read all around, but particularly for the role of hospitality in all businesses, no matter the industry.  Good life lessons.

Taste by Anthony Terlato – Autobiography of Terlato’s journey to become a leading wine importer/distributor/producer was good but writing was a bit dry.  Sentences like: We always enjoyed the water, so we bought a boat.  Not literally that sentence, but very matter of fact with little discussion of struggles/missteps/etc….um, hello, not everyone who enjoys water can just purchase a boat.

Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah – Her memoir of moving to Paris to follow a diplomat husband’s career and learning about French cuisine that I wrote about in this post on trailing spouses.

Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah – A thoroughly enjoyable novel about a second generation Chinese-American that moves to China to discover herself (particularly through food writing).

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton – Reading about cold, bleak, New England winter somehow seems appropriate.

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I’m drawn to Fitzgerald’s Baltimore connection and had bought this for 50 cents at a used book sale.  Themes of an outsider looking in/trying to fit in and the mental machinations around that.

Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky – Quick and funny read about what goes on behind the scenes in the hotel industry.  Some incredible non-fiction stories that will make you think differently about tipping/valet parking/drinking from those glasses in a hotel room.

A Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton – Hillary’s 2003 memoir about her time as First Lady and her Senate race.  A bit like the Terlato book in that any misstep is explained and justified as correct at least at the time, but written in a straightforward and engaging way.  I liked learning more about what was going on behind-the-scenes of a period in history where I was generally but not acutely aware of politics and the nitty gritty debates since I was all of 12 or whatever.

In The Middle Of:

Decoded by Jay-Z – I’ve had this book on my Kindle for sometime but always found another book that I preferred to read instead.  Just about a quarter of the way in, and it’s not at all what I expected in a good way.  Jay-Z’s autobiography, kind of, written not in a linear form, but in the context of his song lyrics.  “Decoded” meaning that he’s explaining the lyrics in many layers, most of which are not literal to the words, like a poem, which is sometimes about the beat and the rhythm rather than the words themselves.  Interesting.

The Bostonians by Henry James – I loved Portrait of a Lady but so far The Bostonians is a bit slow going.  I’m just at the point where the three main characters are meeting and setting up their relationships with one another, so we’ll see how it plays out.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough – Again, a book I’ve been at for at least two years, which is really odd because I love David McCullough, the well-known political biographer.  I especially have fond memories of reading his book on Teddy Roosevelt at the pool during one high school summer.  Maybe it was just the sun was creating higher serotonin levels in my brain.  This book is a long historical look at Americans in various industries who traveled to live, learn and work in Paris.  Maybe the disjointed stories: one chapter on art, next chapter on doctors hasn’t wrapped me in yet.  I will keep trying.

To Read:

Last of the Pirates: The Search for Bob Denard by Samantha Weinberg – Non-fiction about a French mercenary in The Comoros (islands off the coast of Mozambique).

The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon – “The Wire” is one of my all-time favorite TV series (5 seasons on HBO), and this is the book on which it was based.  David Simon was a Baltimore Sun reporter who wrote this book about some of Baltimore’s most prolific drug corners, following a particular community there.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – The book that put Anthony Bourdain on the map in pop culture.  He has since described the book as “obnoxious” so it should be juicy!

Talking with My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater by Gail Simmons – Director at Food & Wine Magazine, “Top Chef” judge and Jewish foodie.  I’m excited to hear about her upbringing and food memories.

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – It’s 99 cents on Kindle so why not?

Henry VI (Parts 1-3) and Richard III by Shakespeare – I forget why I originally wanted to read these.  Hm.  Any other Shakespeare suggestions instead?  Assume I’ve read the typical complement of works one covers in middle/high school.

The Asylum: A collage of couture reminiscences…and hysteria by Simon Doonan – An inside look at the fashion industry through a series of essays.

Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo by Anjan Sundaram – I saw him interviewed on one of these political talk shows.  He up and left his Goldman Sachs job to travel to Congo just to see for himself and write about it.  No book advance.  No nothing.

Any other suggestions of good reads?!?!  I’m always looking to add to the pile! 🙂

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