great books and Great Books.

My undergrad major was called “The Program of Liberal Studies.” This title, though fittingly all-encompassing, sometimes leaves the reverse impression: that perhaps PLS is a watered-down major more suited for athletes with full extra-curricular schedules or students who just couldn’t decide what to study.  So the name belies what it actually was: an intensive three years spent with the Great Books, from Plato and Euclid to Woolf and Nietzsche.  I read more in three years than the rest of my life combined; spent long nights with Aristotle, labored over Tolstoy, delighted and despaired with Allen Ginsberg.

I read so much that reading became a chore — but, even then, I still relished the idea that the neurons were stretching and crackling in my brain.  In the years since, I’ve been busy. Reading, for pleasure or otherwise, became a more distant priority, particularly in a world rapidly filling up with 140-character soundbites, status updates, and four lines of scrolling news fighting a neon battle on every channel. My attention span seemed so short. And this, coming from a girl who LOVED books, since forever ago — I still remember the folded brown paper grocery bag of Nancy Drew mysteries from the 1940’s that my mom gave to me when I was six. “Nancy Drew and the Bungalow Mystery” was my first chapter book, and between that and old copies of the “Bobbsey Twins,” I’m pretty sure I was the only kid on the block who used the words “keen” and “chum” regularly in the 1980’s.

In Thailand, however, I’ve had more time. The pace of life is much slower, as are the internet connections — when they exist at all. The only TV I’ve watched is at a local restaurant, catching a soccer game. So I’ve rediscovered that feeling of anticipation that comes when one has a new, unread book waiting to be read. I’ve relished technology, in equal parts because it keeps me connected to people I love AND because it keeps my Kindle full. I once again love that feeling of settling into an air-conditioned room with a good book on a quiet, hot, weekend day — reminding me of late summer afternoons spent as a kid, hair still wet and smelling of chlorine, escaping to Narnia and Teribithia.

I'm reading. In Varanasi, India!

I’m reading. In Varanasi, India!

So, I must admit, this post is a little more for me than it is for you. I’ve read a lot of books here, and since many of them have been borrowed, or will travel on with friends, or have been summarily removed from my Kindle to make more space, I wanted to have a list. A list of great books from the summer of 2013. Some of which are also Great Books, or may become them when time and hindsight decide to reveal them as such.

Here they are, in loose chronological order, which tells a bit of a story in itself, I think:

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

The Geography of Bliss – Eric Weiner

Love is a Mix Tape – Rob Sheffield

The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle

Catfish and Mandala – Andrew X. Pham

How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery – Lawrence LeShan (again)

First They Killed My Father – Loung Ung

The Eternal Nature of Redemption – Caitlin St. Pierre

Murder in the High Himalaya – Jonathan Green

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Buddha is as Buddha Does – Lama Surya Das

The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer (again)

And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

Siddhartha – Herman Hesse

Braided Creek – Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser

Delights & Shadows – Ted Kooser

Of these, The Road just knocked me over. I’d been told that it would, but wasn’t prepared for the desolate, pinpricking beauty of McCarthy’s prose.

And one of these books isn’t published yet, but when it is, and you read it, you’ll be similarly stunned, as I was.

Right now, thanks to an inspired introduction to Henry Miller (A Literate Passion: Letters between Henry Miller and Anais Nin), I’m in a 1920’s / 30’s Paris phase. Truly, how can one NOT fall in love with the twirling romance, beaded headbands, late night salons, and rainy cobblestones of it all?! F. Scott Fitzgerald (not Gatsby) and Marcel Proust are up next. What a delight! To travel the world while traveling the world – surely, this is life! Don’t pinch me.

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