By Monica Busch
Looking over my very scattered “to read” list on Goodreads, I’m reminded of why we started “That’s On My List,” the Manqué book club. Namely, because it’s so much easier to want to read a book than it is to actually find the time (and attention span) needed to see a story from start to finish. Suffice to say the one-click order button on Amazon does not help things. (The other day, I told Nate I’d love to someday install wall-to-wall shelving in my office, but then I realized that what would inevitably happen is I would take that available space as a reason, nay an edict, to purchase enough discounted paperbacks until I could then justify installing wall-to-wall shelving in our living room, and soon we’d be like a library: sinking into the earth.)
So, what do I do to cope with this? I keep make lists, presumably because I think the organization will help me see my goals to fruition.
In the spirit of that optimism and because the sinking road to hell is paved with good intentions, I’m laying out some books on my literal shelves which I’d like to read soon-ish-er rather than later-er/never. Ideally while we can still see the sun from the confines of our home.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
In my quest to stay relevant, I scooped this book after finding it on a Goodreads best of 2019 reading list. I ordered it the same day I ordered Prozac Nation. I picked it for a number of reasons, among them being that I love sprawling stories about families and friend groups, and this book promises just that.
According to the dust jacket, it’s about “two rookie cops in the NYPD” who “live next door to each other outside the city,” and centers on the relationship between their respective son and daughter. The story, per the publisher, “reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of childhood,” and if that’s not Manqué-esque, I don’t know what is.
I’ve been floating this as our book club pick for March, which just might provide the impetus I need to pick it up next.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Nate and I started dating the year The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer, which also happened to be what I was reading when we went out together for the first time. A sucker for the sentimental, I bought him the book for Christmas a few months later. Now, gifting him a Pulitzer-winning novel has become an annual tradition, which is one of the reasons Less is among the books I feel very badly about not actually reading.
I’m hoping this will soon change because it sounds like Exactly My kind Of Book, which is to say that it’s about a failed middle-aged novelist. The back of this book describes the story as “an around-the-world-in-eighty-days fantasia that will take the novelist Arthur Less to Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, India and Japan and put thousands of miles between him and the plight he refuses to face.” Also according to the back of the book, that plight would be an invitation to his ex’s wedding.
This is the kind of book I think I could get properly lost in, you know what I mean?
A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion
I’ve started this book twice and seriously at least once. But I’ve got to let you in on a little secret: while I trip and fall and forget myself in Didion’s nonfiction, her fiction takes a little more work for me. But I want so desperately to understand her writing three-dimensionally, so I keep this book visible in hopes that some afternoon I might scoop it up and see it through.
It certainly isn’t difficult to read, but I wouldn’t describe it as casual, either.
This is The One Where Didion Writes About Central America, if you, like me, forget which is which. Per the back of the book, it follows the female protagonist whose “fate is at once utterly particular and fearfully emblematic of an age of conscienceless authority and unfathomable violence.” Sounds familiar!
The Group by Mary McCarthy
This book literally has a Customs pamphlet in the middle of it because the last time I tried to finish reading it was also the first time I ever left the country as an adult, which now is… three years ago? I thought, mistakenly, that I would read this on the beach, but it was swiftly cast aside for margaritas, paddle boarding and a mysterious stomach bug that no one else on my trip contracted. You love to see it.
Anyway, this is another one of those books I bought while I was in the MFA because I thought I’d have time to read anything outside of my coursework. I did not. And while I was sucked into it — love me some McCarthy — I never went back because I love starting things and letting myself down.
It’s about eight Vassar graduates and was originally published in 1954, need I say anymore about what drew me here? Again, sprawling stories about large groups of people. Plus, the back of my edition describes it as having a “trenchant, sardonic edge.” Ugh.
Nixonland by Rick Perlstein
I read a section of this for a class once and I was like, wow, I really don’t know anything about the 60s and 70s that I didn’t see in like, Dazed and Confused or Across the Universe, I should probably educate myself.
The irony is that while I studied nonfiction in grad school, tomes like this scare the hell out of me. I read the first thirty pages, feel very Book Smart, then psych myself out so much that I put it down and never return, promising myself that I will bring it to the beach one day and read it in its entirety. As if anyone has ever done that? Do people do that?
Anyway, I really do want to read this book, but I really don’t know when I will because when books take me longer than a week and a half to read I start to feel very bad about myself. Here’s hoping I live up to my APUSH score and overcome that?
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