Required Reading: Friday, July 22, 2015

Required Reading: Friday, July 22, 2015

“Required Reading” is an ongoing series, in which we write about what has captured our attention lately on and outside the web.

Happy weekend! We hope you make time for some pleasure reading, learning and maybe even a trip to the movie theater.

For years, Ann has been reading Robert McCrum’s series for Guardian Books, the 100 best novels written in English.  He did an earlier list in 2003, available here, but has updated and modified his list more recently. Ann writes that “ What’s magical about his collection is less what he chooses than how much effort he goes into chronicling why a particular selection has made his list.  Mixing current and classic, British, American and beyond, his series is a literary walk through a carefully curated library, complete with synopses, analyses and personal insights. For those of us who may not find the time to read as much as we like, dare I say that McCrum provides the next best thing?  His most recent pick, at number 96, is Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons. As he narrows in on his last book, let’s hope he begins again!”

Felix is currently relishing British Museum Director Neil MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation. Written and published in conjunction with the recent major exhibition at the British Museum of the same name, the book explores the past 600 years of German history through the exploration of objects. “The book explores Germany in engaging and fascinating ways,” explains Felix. “For example, it is widely understood by Germans (like me) that Martin Luther fathered the modern German language to bridge the many local dialects of the German people. But MacGregor goes one step deeper, explaining that Luther’s language created positive followership in the North of Germany but negative followership in the South. How was it successful? The South adopted the language to combat Luther’s ideas while the North adopted it to support them. The net result – a common language!”

Capria, who will soon be reading To Kill a Mockingbird to her young son, has been reflecting on Isabel Wilkerson’s recent article for The New York Times, “Our Racial Moment of Truth.” Thinking about Go Set a Watchman, Wilkerson writes that “The importance of this new Atticus is that he is layered and complex in his prejudices; he might even be described as a gentleman bigot, well meaning in his supremacy. In other words, he is human, and in line with emerging research into how racial bias has evolved in our society. He is a character study in the seeming contradiction that compassion and bigotry can not only reside in the same person but often do.” Capria notes “I keep wondering if having the ‘new’ Atticus Finch in the back of my mind will change how I talk to my kid about the story, the truly powerful story, presented in To Kill a Mockingbird. I see the value in communicating to him the complexity in humanity that allows us to be both compassionate and bigoted. I certainly see it in myself. My greatest hope is that by talking about it honestly and bringing that difficult truth into the light, maybe he has a chance to be more consciously compassionate and less consciously bigoted. Still a human . . . but a better one.”


I highly recommend Ian McKellen’s new film Mr. Holmes – a gorgeous reflection on love, memory and personal responsibility.

I didn’t even know that F. Scott Fitzgerald had written a travelogue. This map from Atlas Obscura makes me want to follow it and the 12 other literary road trips it details.

Google’s Cultural Institute lets you search archive and museum exhibits around the world – and peek into them.

Aziz Ansari’s new book, Modern Romance, is an irreverent but insightful look at how technology has changed our relationships – the audiobook is especially enjoyable. Nice for a summer road trip – but not for children.

For Guernica, Paul Stephens examines the “poetics of information overload” with reference to Jean Baudrillard, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein and many other writers and thinkers.

What are you reading? We’d love to know.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, Still Life with French Novels, 1887, The Robert Holmes à Court Collection, Perth [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Hill is the Project Director, NEH for All at the National Humanities Alliance and former member of the Books@Work team.