In the Archipelago, summer can change to Autumn in a matter of days. On September 9th, that happened again. The temperature did not make it out of the 60’s all day as I worked away in my office under gray, drizzling skies. Just days ago the daytime high was in the low 80’s. Little more then a week earlier they were in the low 90’s.
Twenty seven years living on this island and the dramatic swings in the weather still amaze me.
This change in the weather brought to mind Autumn and all the things that make it a magical season: fires in the backyard while drinking a fine single malt, colored leaves tumbling in the wind, buying a pumpkin at the orchard, cozy sweaters, and reading a good book.
The last one is my favorite and for the start of book reading season, I have put together a list of my perennial favorites.
A simple process was used in putting this list together. First, any book that I was to consider, had to stick in my mind. If I found myself thinking about about a book, months and years after finishing it, the book was under consideration for the list. Secondly, if I found myself reading that same book for the second or third time, then it made the list.
Admittedly, many of these books are idiosyncratic in nature or narrow in their appeal. But each book has the power to transform the reader’s thinking on a subject or on the craft of writing itself. They did for me.
So, here are some of the classics in my world of reading.
Shellfish, Anton Mosimann & Holgar Hofmann. Every image is lavishly photographed with the power to make you hungry for shellfish and a glass of dry white wine. It taught me an important lesson early on in my cooking career, that people eat with their eyes as well as their mouths.
Seeing In The Dark, Timothy Ferris. Ferris’s writing is deceptively simple. It’s streamlined, economic quality easily transfers a wealth of information, beautiful imagery, and strong emotions. It is more than a book on astronomers.
Moby Dick, Herman Melville. This is my second choice for the great American novel. It is really five books fused together and disguised as a sea adventure – the history of whaling in old North America, an environmental protest, an old time moral tale, and a story of obsession. I read this for the first time when I was in my late 40’s. It was a good thing I waited that long. I had the maturity of mind necessary to follow Melville’s writing style and appreciate it.
The Roman Economy, This is really a non fiction detective novel about a civilization transformed by power and wealth. The only investigative tools this scholar as detective uses is economics and archeology. Even though it is a scholarly work and can be dry at times, it is a great read for anyone who has an interest in how government policy and money effects the common citizen.
Grendal, John Gardener – A no holds barred, tour de force of the writing craft. Gardener is a guitar god in author form. The licks he plays can be stark and brutal as a battle scene, deep and soulful as the blues, and perceptive as an old Greek philosopher holding forth in the forum. It is quite a ride.
The Persian Expedition, Xenophon. The most unbelievable human adventure of the ancient world, written with the voice of a 20th century adventure novel. A page turner that is twenty five hundred years old.
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald. A very astute critique of the wealthy class. It is my first pick for the great American novel, of its day or any day. Fitzgerald’s writing is the epitome of elegant efficency, but it fully and deeply illustrates the characters and the society they inhabit.
Invisible Cities, Italio Calvino. Reads like a poetic reflection, a fantastic mythology, a travel guide written by a clairvoyant and a psychoanalysis of cities. The premise of the plot sounds like a legend you thought was true. The organization of the chapters are the work of a genius or an unbalanced prankster. The odd thing with this book is that Calvino convinces you that every city, no matter how fantastic or absurd it appears to be, existed somewhere in the world. All this makes it a rare and unique work that can be read again and again and still remain fresh, inspired, and captivating.
Flesh and Blood, C.K. Williams. A slim volume filled with small, intimate portraits of people living their simple lives against the big, complex and busy background of urban New York.
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad. This is a strong moral brew with deep, dark flavor notes of original sin and a sparse sprinkling of sweet compassion in every sip. I first encountered it in high school and was left with the impression that Conrad wanted to use words to paint an expansive mural; an illustration that examines the nature of good and evil in humanity and how our social structures shape the ways we project that good and evil into the world.
Andrew Wyeth A Secret Life, Richard Merryman. This is a dissertation on the complex relationship between an artist, his art, and his world. Andrew Wyeth paintings are among my favorite works of art and I picked this book up with the idea of learning a few things about the man and his process. But I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the author’s prose are almost as monumental as his subject’s work. Merryman makes his own sophisticated, beautiful and emblamatic art out his subject’s musing on making sophisticated, beautiful and emblamatic art.
There they are, the big ten. Hope you get lost in one or two and be transformed by the end of your journey.
Happy reading !