I tend to read weird.
Not weird stories, necessarily—fantasy or the like—but weird when it comes to the usual, the typical, the hottest book, I do not read on any regular basis from the latest New York Times bestseller list. Instead, I lean to the classics I haven’t yet read, or books that have made a big splash in, say, Ireland or Norway or Sweden but haven’t yet made their way to the U.S. in any big fashion, but maybe should.
So, it’s not “reading weird,” I guess. It’s simply reading books not found on the usual shelf or in everyone else’s box of books. Why? Because I believe some of the best writing, some of the best narrative in all forms are in the shadows—a forgotten classic, a overseas book that is truly remarkable but has yet to receive the press or the marketing push in America, or a book from a small press that gets lost in the overzealous push of a big book by a big author that has been raised to ridiculous review levels by the steam engines at the Big-Five publishers.
With this in mind, I’m sharing some of my planned and already started summer reading—my '“unusual” list.
Reveries of the Solitary Walker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
I love walking books: Thoreau’s Walking, Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, or The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane. Rousseau’s book is ten meditations written in the two years before his death in 1778. It is a fascinating look inside the head of a writer and philosopher who found peace in what sometimes appears to be the agony of isolation. I’ve begun reading and I’m finding a degree of self-loathing in the text, but wade through it and you’ll discover gems about the ills of societal pressure and norms, writing as a way to find oneself, and the restorative art of walking.
Illuminations, Arthur Rimbaud
Yeah, I haven’t read it. I think I once had it on my list years ago and never got to it. Now, I will. These are the prose poems of the great French writer. I do not read French, but there is some comfort in traveling through this volume with its French and English translations on each page. Rimbaud gave up poetry at the age of 21 and left us with work that changed the art form.
Solitude: A Return to the Self, Anthony Stor
This is an all-out meditation on the creative individual's need for solitude, a solitary space all his own. Some have seen this as a kind of self-help book, but it is artistically far beyond that. This book challenges the psychological paradigm that intimate relationships with others is the key to human happiness. In lyrical prose, this book argues that solitude is just as important in the human experience, and is essential not only for the genius artist but for all of us.
Legends of the Fall. Jim Harrison
Love Harrison, but never read this. Saw the movie, though. This book is a collection of novellas that includes “Legends of the Fall”—the epic story of three brothers, the raw Montana landscape, war, and madness. Harrison is amazing in how much power he can bring to a story of this size. It’s a bit “macho” in its telling, but the overall narrative is pleasingly bold and beautiful.
A Thousand Roads Home, Carmel Harrington
Some might see this story as a bit sappy. I’m a few chapters in already, and I can see why some might reject it. But I love it. It’s full of beauty and hope. It’s the story of Tom, a down-trodden former doctor who lives only with what is in his rucksack, and a homeless mother of a young boy. She believes that you can change the world by helping one person at a time. She wants to help Tom. Naive? Maybe. Still, the book is full of heart. Harrington has been writing acclaimed books from her home in Wexford, Ireland for many years.
I write this list for more than a simple sharing of what to read. To me, there is something freeing about reading outside the charted waters. Although, not all these books would be consider off the map, certainly not. But in all, I think it;s about challenging an artistic process, whether you are a writer or not. Just simply a human being.
This fall, once the weather turns rough for the season, I plan to re-read Proust’s Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time. Not because I feel I should, as if it were some academic exercise, but because going back to a book you read at another time in your life takes on new weight under the fresh light of a later date. And Proust’s book is beyond required reading. In fact, few universities teach Proust in their standard studies. Instead, the book is kept fresh by the continual interests of the rest of us. The goal of the protagonist’s quest is to find the answer to life’s most enduring questions: Who am I? What am I to make of this life? Why am I here? He is looking for the meaning of life. Something we all do in some way or another every day. And that is part of the reason I keep going back to my “weird” list or “unusual” list—because in reading what is atypical, I am also searching, seeking, and I’m convinced I won’t find what it is I am may be looking for on the pages of the most popular books of the day.
What are you reading his summer? Toss in some ideas for all of us.
I enjoy writing mysteries so I thought catching up on Golden Age books would both be fun and instructive. I have 2 Josephine Tey's, a Dorothy Hughes, an Elizabeth Daly, a Ngaio Marsh, and a Ross Macdonald (for good measure!) On my desk.
Seeing someone's Reading List, especially that of a writer, feels almost like snooping :-) and yet, I enjoyed reading yours. As you begin your next chapter (post-Colum), your reading focus makes perfect sense to me. Searching for, yearning for...needing a bit more time walking or wherever you find solitude. Time to reflect, that's the good stuff. Enjoy!