a book list

November 13, 2013 § Leave a comment


Is there anything more satisfying than a list? I love how they go from neat and concise to crossed out, marked up or wrinkled, so that the final draft looks like a first draft. Even if I do or acquire nothing on my list, I feel secure just having a sense of order in my pocket. These are the things that must be taken care of; these are the things to get; this is the shape of reality. I love finding forgotten lists in journals or coat pockets because they’re primary source material on what was on my mind when I wasn’t aware of being recorded.

One list I love, which I keep in my wallet and have had since 2010, came from my mother in law, Susan Arnold Murphy, soon to be “SAM” to the babe. SAM is a voracious reader: she reads more than anyone I know. Many of my favorite books have come from her. She always sends books in hard cover, and always buys them from a bookshop that’s local to one of us, usually The Corner Bookstore here in New York or from Left Bank Books in her hometown, St. Louis.

One afternoon after Christmas I asked her to tell me her favorite books. She was reticent at first, and I pressed, probably obnoxiously. But look at this gem of a list! I wonder if her choices would be different now.


The day I was put on bed rest, I asked my doctor if I could make a quick trip to the pharmacy on my way home. He said I could. But instead, I went to the New York Society Library to stock up. I filled a shopping bag with heady books, and I regret that choice. I should have looked at SAM’s folded list and picked out some I haven’t read. Instead I hauled away a dozen lit-major classics: Updike, D.H. Lawrence, you know the stuff.

Needless to say, do not read Rabbit, Run when you are expecting a baby. The least upsetting thing that happens in the book is when Rabbit leaves his wife 2 months before she gives birth. Yes, correct. The writing is great, but sometimes a little too poignant. For example, at  one point, Rabbit has this realization about his son, Nelson:

“The best he can do is submit to the system and give Nelson the chance to pass, as he did, unthinkingly, through it. The fullness ends when we give Nature her ransom, when we make children for her. Then she is through with us, and we become, first inside, then outside, junk. Flower stalks.”

On that note:

1. Keep making babies (& avoid becoming ‘junk’)

2. Read cheerful books

3. Try very hard to find a book SAM hasn’t read and send it off

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