17 Must-Read Books*

Gertrude Stein


  ” To write is to write is to write is to write

is to write is to write is to write.”

 She spoke the truth.

 Email. Blog posts. Blog comments. Email. Manuscripts. Introductions. Blog posts.
Email. Email. Email.

 What happened to reading?

 I shall find out.


 Pennebaker. The Secret Life of Pronouns.

  Connolly, ed. Books to Die For.

Howells. Annie Kilburn. (Again)

  James. Portrait of a Lady. (Again)

 Wharton. The Custom of the Country. (Again)

  The House of Mirth. (Again)

   Zelvin. Shifting Is for the Goyim.

   Kaufman. The Writer’s Guide to Psychology.

   Duhigg. The Power of Habit.

   Ratey. Spark. (Again)

Castle. Murder by Misrule.

    Tartt. The Goldfinch.

   Saylor. A Twist at the End.

   Cain. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

   Edgerton. Lunch at the Picadilly. (Again)

   De Becker. The Gift of Fear.

   Hallinan. The Fear Artist.


   Where to begin?* Probably not with the Agains. They sing their siren songs, but I mustn’t answer.
Wouldn’t be prudent.

  Quiet. That’s the one. In the past three weeks, I’ve had a lot of contact with humans and
too much bustling.

  I’m just wo-ahn out.

  It’s crawl-under-a-rock time. With a book.***



  *Experts (says an article on the web) say readers are attracted to lists with numbers in the titles. We’ll see.

  **I have other possibilities. These are the ones I can see without getting up and crossing the room.

  ***I started this post last night but fiddled so long with it that I didn’t have time to read.
I’m still fiddling with it.

  But tonight . . .


I love WordPress, but sometimes we disagree about formatting, mostly about position of photographs and about spacing. What I see here on the edit page isn’t always what both of us see on the published page. I have done my darndest to make it do what I tell it to do. At this point, I don’t care. If the post looks funny, please just read it and ignore the WordPress deficiencies. My deficiencies you are welcome to notice and even to point out.

“I should wash him!”

“Well, then,” returned my aunt… “Now, here you see young David Copperfield, and the question I put to you is, what shall I do with him?”

“What shall you do with him?” said Mr. Dick, feebly, scratching his head. “Oh! Do with him?”

“Yes,” said my aunt, with a grave look, and her forefinger held up. “Come! I want some very sound advice.”

“Why, if I was you,” said Mr.Dick, considering, and looking vacantly at me, “I should—” The contemplation of me seemed to inspire him with a sudden idea, and he added, briskly, “I should wash him!”

“Janet,” said my aunt, turning round with a quiet triumph, which I did not then understand, “Mr. Dick sets us all right. Heat the bath!” ~ Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Bleak House where Dickens wrote David Copperfi...
Bleak House, Broadstairs, England, where Dickens wrote David Copperfield--Image via Wikipedia

During our (brief) study of Paradise Lost, a high school senior said, “Do you actually read this stuff when you’re home at night?”

Actually, and emphatically, No. I read Dickens.

Today marks Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday, and I’m determined to get my greeting in before I have to add the word belated. That means finishing this in 21 minutes, a daunting task when William is curled up in my lap, trying to control the touchpad and the space bar, and licking my hands. And deleting things. The deleting is bad, but the licking is worse. Ick.

Speak of the devil. He just deleted the paragraph above. I got it back.


When I was twelve, I checked out a copy of David Copperfield from the bookmobile and fell in love. Peggoty, Barkis, Aunt Betsey Trotwood, Mr. McCawber, Little Emily, Dora, Agnes, Uriah Heep, Mr. Dick, King Charles’ head, even the nasty little pug. I followed up with A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Dombey and Son…I haven’t read all his books, but I also haven’t given up the idea that someday I’ll be able to say I have.

Author and editor William Dean Howells said that Dickens wasn’t so much a novelist as a caricaturist, and paid homage to Dickens by creating in Annie Kilburn a wrong-headed character who is always trailed by his wife and a passel of children (a la Mr. McCawber) and who frequently speaks of his Growlery (a la Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House).

I like Howells’ novels and think his comment about Dickens has its merits. But I couldn’t care less. Finding that Dickensian gentleman in Howells’ book delighted me. It was like finding an old friend.

Note that although I banged out twenty pages of lit. crit. on Annie Kilburn, I don’t remember that gentleman’s name. I never wrote a word about Dickens, except perhaps on an undergrad exam, but I can recite names from a string of his novels.

I’ve often thought that certain artists give such pleasure to so many, it’s a shame they have to leave. John Gielgud, Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Lew Ayres, Katharine Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Mark Twain, P. G. Wodehouse, Edith Wharton, Agatha Christie, Emily Dickinson, Victor Borge, Mary Cassatt…They’re keepers. They should be allowed to stay with us, acting, playing, reading, painting, composing, writing.

Charles Dickens is a keeper. But in his absence, books fill his place.

The clock tells me that once again my birthday card will be stamped belated.

But I don’t think the recipient will care.

Happy 200th birthday, Mr. Dickens, and many more.


Photo by Heron on 3rd October 2005. Released into the public domain.

Summer Reading

Henry James, by John Singer Sargent (died 1925...
Image via Wikipedia

For the past two days, I’ve had an intense compulsion to read something by Henry James.

My first response was to lie down and hope it went away.

It didn’t.

So I watched Wings of a Dove for the fourth time. That wasn’t enough.

Today I searched Netflix for more film adaptations of James’ work. Most are on DVD rather than streaming, so I watched The Bostonians for the second time.

My yen for James remains. What to do, what to do.

My objection to James isn’t that he, as Mrs. Henry Adams observed, “chewed more than he bit off,” but that I can’t always tell what he’s chewing.

James is subtle. I am not.

Solution: Read more James.


One possibility remains: Instead of wanting to read Henry James, perhaps I just want to read something containing compound-complex sentences.

Whose compound-complex sentences, I don’t know.

Not Edith Wharton’s. Not William Dean Howells’. Not E. M. Forster’s.

But I’m going to do my best to find out.

Because I have a feeling that after I finish with Henry, I’ll move on to his brother William. A Pluralistic Universe. An American lit. professor recommended it to me. After I’d read Varieties of Religious Experience. In 1972.

I’ve never gotten around to it.

What a shame if I were to open a book and accidentally engage a brain cell.

At least not until cooler weather.