Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My New Year's resolution? Read more books!

To read or not to read / So many books ... so little time.

Happy New Year everyone!

We're less than a week into 2016, and just as everyone is writing out their New Year's resolutions, I've jotted down a few of my own.

One resolution that's near the top of my list each year is to read more. "So many books ... so little time," reads the slogan printed on one of my tattered, well-worn navy-colored t-shirts that I bought a few years ago at The Elliott Bay Book Company, one of my favorite independent bookstores in the country, located on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington.

Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle /
One of my favorite independent bookstores in the country. 
When I say "read more" I mean books. Oh, sure. I stay abreast of current events by reading The New York Times, both in print and online, on a daily basis, and I enjoy giving a good read to periodicals like Monocle, the London-based monthly that covers world affairs, culture, food, and design. 

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

But, what about books, you ask?

Roger Angell / This Old Man: All in Pieces.
This book is on my reading list for 2016.
Yes, books, remember them? It's the foundation behind what made Amazon.com one of the most successful online retailers. Before Twitter, before Facebook, before Netflix, before texting sapped all of our intellectual energy, there were books. I have several bookshelves at home lined with hundreds of titles that I've bought or received as gifts over the years. I'm proud of my collection of books by The New Yorker writers Roger Angell and Calvin Trillin, among many. However, a few years ago, in a space-saving and budget-cutting effort, I trimmed back on the number of new titles I bought and, instead, decided to start making better use of the local public library.

Looking back on 2015, I can say without boasting that I made good use of my Oakland Public Library card. I checked out seven books at our local branch library. One thing I've learned about libraries is this: If you're willing to wait for a popular best-seller or a new title 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 public libraries.

Watching Comedy Central's The Daily Show, I've found, is a pretty good barometer about good books to read, and before he left the show last summer, former host Jon Stewart always brought out the best in authors. You could judge by his interest in a book if it was worth reading. Fortunately, new Daily Show host Trevor Noah is carrying on the tradition begun by Stewart.

Among the books which I read during 2015 were:

Mark Bittman on food / A Bone To Pick 
Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
Midnight in Siberia by David Green

A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power by Jimmy Carter

The Children of Willesden Green: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival by Mona Golabek

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan

Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

You Can't Make This Up by Al Michaels

Mona Golabek / The Children of Willesden Lane:
Beyond the Kindertransport:
A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival
A Bone to Pick: The Good News and Bad News About Food by Mark Bittman

Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want by Tess Vigeland

Among the ties that bind these titles are my interest in non-fiction, memoirs, sports, food, travel and public radio personalities, as well as interest in world religions. And, of course, good writing and good stories always garner my attention.

Looking ahead, I wonder if it's possible that I can increase my output to 12 books, thus reading an average of a book a month? Let's see, I've already started a wonderful memoir by the gifted New Orleans actor Wendell Pierce, The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, a Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken, and I received Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by award-winning adventure writer Richard Grant as a Christmas gift from my brother. Plus, I can't wait to begin reading Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, the acclaimed 674-page memoir by Elvis Costello that spans his almost four-decade music career. So, yes, reading a book a month seems like a reasonable goal.

I'm optimistic.

Now, if I can just somehow find a way to unplug my TV set and turn off my iPhone.

Photos of Elliott Bay Book Company by Michael Dickens © 2015. Book illustrations: Courtesy of Google Images. 

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