Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A New Year's resolution: Read more books!

Reflections from a bookstore window /
 The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle.

So many books ... so little time, reads the slogan printed on one of my tattered navy-colored t-shirts. It's a well-worn one that I bought a few years ago from The Elliott Bay Book Company, one of my favorite independent bookstores, located in Seattle.

As the middle of January approaches, many of us -- including yours truly -- are still drawing a list of New Year's resolutions. 

One of my resolutions for 2014 is to read more. Oh, sure, I stay abreast of current events by reading The New York Times and The San Francisco Chronicle, both in print and online, on a daily basis, and I enjoy giving a good read to the Life & Arts section of the Financial Times of London each weekend.

And, of course, there's always perusing my Facebook newsfeed, too, to stay current on what's trending.

But, what about books, you might ask? Yes, books, remember them? Before Twitter, before Facebook, before texting sapped all of our intellectual energy, there were books.

Looking back on 2013, I can say with pride that I made better use of my Oakland Public Library card than ever before. I checked out several books at our local branch library. I've learned that if you're willing to wait for a popular best-seller to become available, checking out library books is a good way to save money (and, I might add, bookshelf space) while also showing support for one's local public library.

Watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report regularly, I find both shows to be good barometers about good books to read -- and Stewart, especially, is one of the best interviewers on TV and always brings out the best in authors. You can judge by Stewart's interest in a book if it is worth reading. 

With kudos to Stewart, among the books which I checked out from my local public library last year -- and read cover to cover -- were:

Fawzia Koofi:
"As you grow older
you will learn
about loyalty."
• Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter by the American sportswriter, novelist and NPR commentator Frank Deford.

• The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future by the Afghan politician and women's rights activist Fawzia Koofi. 

• Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by the highly successful American pro basketball coach Phil Jackson.

• Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography by the American journalist Richard Rodriguez.

Currently, I am ploughing my way through the 468-page Cooked: A Natural Transformation by the American author, journalist, activist and academic Michael Pollan.

I tend to favor non-fiction over fiction books. One thing that unites my list of books I read last year is a spiritual quality found in each of them. For instance:

In Darling, Richard Rodriguez, who is considered one of the most prominent Hispanic essayists in America, speaks out of an illumination of the “desert God” of Judaism, Christianity and Islam — a divinity that “demands acknowledgment within emptiness”, wrote The New York Times in its Sunday Book Review section last fall. And, for Rodriguez, who is gay, it extends to a more personal history, too: the ways in which he has resisted, and felt himself resisted by, the Roman Catholic Church.

In Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter, The New York Times wrote of Frank Deford: "His work has helped shape our contemporary view of sports as an enterprise populated not by sublime gods, untouchable athletes, heroes and goats, but by beings recognizable as men and women."

Meanwhile, in Fawzia Koofi's memoir, The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future, written to her daughters, she explores the complexities of Afghan society and Islam and her determination to become an educated woman and live in freedom despite constant threats on her life by Islamic extremists.

Eleven Rings:
The Soul of Success
Finally, there's plenty to absorb in Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, and Phil Jackson quotes from the Grateful Dead, William James, Thelonius Monk, Abraham Maslow and Lao-Tzu, among many. The book reflects Jackson's polymathy. "In the space of a page, he toggles from psychotherapy to Native American customs to Christianity to Buddhism and back to 'two recent studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology'," The New York Times wrote in its review of the book.

As my time allows, this year I would love to go back and catch up with some of my favorite authors like Calvin Trillin (Alice, Let's Eat), Roger Angell (The Summer Game) and Michael Lewis (Moneyball). While I've read many of the books written by Trillin, Angell and Lewis -- all of them wonderful American authors -- I haven't read them all!

Also, I would love to tackle the intellect of the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and the literary brilliance of Stephen Fry and Nick Hornby.

Add to that, I've always been intrigued by the late Eudora Welty, the American author of short stories and novels about the American South, and would love to make the time to read one of her short story collections.

If I can average to read a book a month in 2014 -- 12 by the end of the year -- I'll be happy and, I'm sure, feel enriched by the experience. 

Indeed, so many books ... so little time.

Photo of Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013.

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