Winter break was created to allow time to delve deep into fiction and irrelevant nonfiction, I’m certain of it. I’m also terribly lazy and not quite done with all of them, but here are the best of the books that have been lingering on the nightstand as of late:
1. Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine De Saint-Exupery [nf]. Saint-Exupery is best known for Le Petit Prince; while not writing children’s stories, he jetted about the globe delivering mail for Aéropostale and compiled some achingly beautiful memoirs that use flight as a vehicle to clarify his thoughts on risk and tenacity and meaning. This is my favorite book ever, probably, and a re-read.
2. What it Takes by Richard Ben Cramer [nf]. This is the rightfully-famed trail of the 1988 presidential race – as noted in the intro, it seeks to figure out what on earth “kind of life would lead a man to think he ought to be president” – and is easily the most engaging thing on this list. Recommended for Houstonians in particular, if only for the Bush/Baker bits, River Oaks jokes, and IH-45 traffic complaints that pop up while following HW. Bonus description of Joe Biden: “There was (to be perfectly blunt, as Joe would say) a breathtaking element of balls.” That should be all you need.
3. The Son by Philipp Meyer [f]. Texas by generation. This got a tremendous amount of press as the “next Lonesome Dove” which I don’t agree with (Lonesome Dove is grand and aspirational; this is grand and gritty). Maybe it’s what would happen if Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry edited each other while drinking lots of whiskey.
4. The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker [nf]. Chronicles a decline in violence and rise in civility throughout the ages, with a hearty dose of evolutionary psychology. Impressively well-documented for all its breadth. Gladwell gets all the credit for popular writing about complicated subjects, but I really think Steven Pinker manages to achieve the same engaging accessibility without nearly as much kitschy oversimplification (I just realized I’ve been reading his stuff for [gasp/cringe] nearly ten years). If you’ve talked to me about nearly any international conflict over the past six months or so I’ve probably mentioned something from this book; it’s just wonderfully applicable.
5. Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov [f]. More of Nabokov injecting his delightful synesthesia into off-kilter and verboten love stories. Still in the middle of it, but I like this quite a bit better than Lolita, in particular for how the structure of the novel manages to toy with time and memory.