Tag Archives: Fiction

Found in Fiction

When I was fifteen and for several years thereafter, one of my summer jobs was working in my dad’s office. It was mind-numbing, repetitive, thoughtless, meaningless work and I made my opinion of it known at home. My parents looked at me and smiled. “Stay in school,” they said. Lesson learned.

Desperately browsing my dad’s bookshelves one lunchtime for anything that was not a medical journal, I came across a volume bound in green leather with gold lettering. The Chosen by Chaim Potok, a signed copy. I asked my dad about it and he told me it was a novel. “Read it,” he said. I’ve always been a reader of everything, a lover of words and stories and the truth to be found in the pages of books, and so I did.

It never returned to my dad’s bookshelf.

Over the years, I read The Chosen many, many times. Devoured it each time like it was the first time. Drank in the story of two boys who became friends in adverse circumstances, two boys who grew into men, who didn’t fit into their worlds, who asked questions, who made immense choices. I read this book over and over and over.

By the time I was a senior in high school, this was listed as my favourite book on a poster announcing students of the month. (My favourite song listed on that poster, “Hallelujah”, is still my favourite and I remain partial to the Rufus Wainwright version even though it doesn’t cut to the soul in the of way Jeff Buckley’s recording, or just about anything else about Jeff Buckley.)

Most of my best-loved books are stored in my parents’ basement. There’s only so much room in shipping containers when you’re bound by cubic metres. But The Chosen has always come along even though I haven’t read it in many, many years. Recently, that changed. And again, I devoured it. It spoke, as it always had, in my bones.

Over the years I’ve been told I’m amoral, but that I care too much; that I stand strongly, but for the wrong values; that I’m misguided and confused, steady and responsible; I’m callous and too sensitive, selfish and too giving.

As with horoscopes, if you are vague enough yet inclusive with adjectives, something’s going to fit.

But I came back to this book just recently and whatever it was that spoke to me at age fifteen spoke again, fifteen years later. I’m really not so different. Older and wiser having lived, but not so different. What I understood at fifteen still reverberates: I’ve known for a long time that something in me, the deepest part of me, is searching.

This search is not one of loss or sorrow, but one of conviction and purpose. The defining difference now is that I know what I’m looking for and I know that the right thing to do is continue voyaging.

And so when I responded to this novel in the same way that I did at fifteen, I recognised with wonder that my feet are firmly planted, even as I wander in a world that spins.

Trieste, Italy – January 2020

What I’m Reading

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. – Groucho Marx

I’ve never been much of a television person. Part of this stems from my parents’ rules about TV when my siblings and I were growing up. They went something like this:

  1. If it’s not on PBS Kids, you can’t watch it.

And then when we got older it was:

  1. You can watch Survivor with us and we’ll go over your spelling words during commercials.
  2. Well, if your homework is done you can also watch CSI with us after Survivor.

A few things changed when I went away to college and since I’ve lived in my own apartments, but I still don’t watch a lot of TV. The most TV watching I have ever done was the last year I spent on Westminster Road; my roommate and I watched the entire Mad Men series because she was convinced I’d love it. She was right.

Generally though, I much prefer to lose myself in someone else’s thoughts and learn as much as I can while doing it. Ergo, I read.

When we were little, my mum would take us to the library before every road trip. We used to drive to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina every summer (about a 16-hour trip including stops) and our family loved books in the car and books on the beach. My sister and I would pick out as many books as the library would let us check out at once. I think it was around 20. We’d coordinate and organize and by the end of the trip, we each would have read all of them.

The trouble with airplane travel, however, was that heavy books made for heavy bags. I remember at least one instance where all of our bags were overweight on an international flight because of the number of books we’d packed. Oops. As much as I do love reading from, holding, touching, cuddling up with, and flipping through physical books, my Kindle (the boring one without a backlight or wifi) is my most necessary travel possession.

Since I am an avid reader and have been purposefully educating myself this year, I thought I’d make a list of the books I’ve read over the course of 2016. (We won’t get into the sheer volume of articles, which number easily in the hundreds.) I make no zero to actually track any of this, so I’m sure there are a few books I’ve missed and a few that I actually read in 2015. I’ve read more nonfiction this year than any other year (literally ever) but the volume of reading is pretty typical.

Nonfiction
The Age of Sustainable Development – Jeffrey Sachs
Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World – Matthieu Ricard
The Art of Happiness – Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler
The Art of Loving – Erich Fromm
Being Peace – Thich Nhat Hanh
Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World – Leif Weinar
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Jared Diamond
College: What It Is, Was, and Should Be – Andrew Delbanco
The Consolations of Philosophy – Alain De Botton
Creating Capabilities – Martha Nussbaum
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead – Brené Brown
Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference – William MacAskill
Empowering Global Citizens: A World Course – Fernando Reimers et al.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown
Ethics – Benedict de Spinoza
In Defense of a Liberal Education – Fareed Zakaria
Inside Coca-Cola: A CEO’s Life Story of Building the World’s Most Popular Brand – Neville Isdell and David Beasley
Moral Failure: On the Impossible Demands of Morality – Lisa Tessman
The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values – Sam Harris
On Writing – Stephen King
Peace Education – Nel Noddings
Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals – Tyler Cowen
Sustainable Well-Being: Concepts, Issues, and Educational Practices – edited by Frank Deer et al.
What Kind of Creatures Are We? – Noam Chomsky
Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain – Michael S. Gazzaniga
Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury

Fiction
11/22/63 – Stephen King
The Beautiful and Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Black Tickets – Jayne Anne Phillips
The Bridge of San Louis Rey – Thornton Wilder
The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Course of Love – Alain De Botton
The Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac
The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – Haruki Murakami
John Dies at the End – David Wong
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks
Rabbit, Run – John Updike
Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
The Stranger – Albert Camus
Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald
This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Currently, I have about half a dozen novels on my Kindle waiting to be read, three books on hold at the library, two books I need to return to the library, and my most recently purchased book in my night table drawer. Last night I started Horns by Joe Hill.

If you’re looking for me later today, you’ll find me with a cup of coffee in an East Village café keeping company with Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha.

I’ll update this list again by the time we say goodbye to 2016. Stay tuned and happy reading!