1 John 3:17-18

Back in September, I went home to Chicago for a weekend to celebrate (and officiate, imagine that!) one of my best friend’s wedding. While I was there, I started talking with my other best friend (yes: I have two. They’re literally the best people. And I do wake up thankful every day for the fact that I can call them both “friend”) about a conversation I had with my husband. 

I’m not sure how exactly this topic arose, some discussion about our compatibilities and why we have been together so long, but my husband mentioned that he is a “nice” person, whereas I am a “kind” person. So, on the surface, or until people really get to know us, my husband is the one who seems approachable, friendly, sympathetic, and all things “nice;” On the other hand, I’ve often been told that people are at first intimidated by me, that I seem intense, quiet, and distant, which they (mis)take for judgmental or cold. We learned something interesting about this when, years ago, we were both working at a book store. Once people got to know both of us individually, and then as a couple, we noticed they would go to him to ask for something, because they knew he would be nice about it, but what they were asking for was often something that I would need to do (because they knew I would probably do it, they just didn’t want to ask me… I don’t suppose my sarcasm helped those situations.) 

Anyway, I was talking to my friend about this and she seemed not only to agree, but to think that it made a lot of sense. That it created some kind of balance. The conversation has had me thinking about these concepts of kindness and niceness; whether most people tend to be one or the other, and how often is it both? (We all know some people who are definitely neither.) I can think of another friend who is both nice and kind, seemingly as a default; she is one of the most decent people I have ever met. But that seems to me to be truly rare. And I wonder why this is. Does it leave us too vulnerable? Is it too exhausting? Are we too often rebuffed or abused if we are always nice and kind? Do people think this is “fake”? 

I do try to be nice, meaning I often find that it takes some effort; but I don’t feel the same about kindness. I don’t often find myself trying to be kind. For me, the “public” nature of niceness, things like friendliness and openness, and even looking people in the eye, takes work. I’ve begun to wonder if that is a part of my introverted personality and something that I can switch “off” in certain scenarios. With my students, for example, I turn “on” in a significant way, and become much more extroverted. On the other hand, kindness, I think, seems to be a deeper and less mutable part of me. I’m probably sometimes too empathetic, and getting even more so as I age, if I’m being honest. There are any number of times that I can recall trying to make someone else’s day or time or experience a little bit better, even at the expense to my own welfare. If I have something and you need it, I’m going to give it to you. If you need a ride or help moving or whatever, and it’s my only day off in 10 days, I’m still going to be there. If someone I don’t know passes away and I’m asked to the wake by a colleague or mutual friend, I usually end up going (even though this has always felt extremely awkward to me). Where does kindness come from? Niceness? Are they both learned traits? Do we start with certain degrees of each and then expand or contract depending on our own experiences? 

Recently, I read Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new book, What Happened, and she shares some similar insights into this question. She seems, like me, to struggle sometimes to project the image of “niceness” and empathy, while internally she is a deeply compassionate and concerned person. This might be one of the reasons I have always admired her beyond the work she has done, and beyond her incredible work ethic and rich knowledge about so many complex issues. Instead, I respect her simply due to this connection with another person of a similar type. Unlike me, Clinton is a religious person. And I pondered that, too. Where do niceness and kindness and morality all come together? There seems to be some kind of “golden rule” at the center of most major religions, though I would never agree that one must be religious in order to be a moral or ethical person. Still, I’ve read the Christian bible a number of times and a verse comes to mind:

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Somehow this passage speaks to me about the truth and value of kindness. This is not to say that the passage is instructing us away from niceness–not at all. But, what I see is that contrast between speaking and doing. Between thinking and acting. Between sympathizing and empathizing. To me, the formers often apply to the nice person. A shoulder, a conversation, and even an acknowledgement of your suffering; all of these are to be found in the nice person. But the kind person is the one who keeps his heart open in order to act. The kind person loves by example, by commitment, and by following through on what is needed most, when it is needed most, and especially, without design or expectation for reward or reciprocity.

Nice is the person who feels bad when a friend’s car breaks down or when they see a stranger caught in the rain. Kind is the person who doesn’t mind when his day is disrupted by that friend in need or who offers his umbrella to the stranger. 

When mother used to say, “be nice,” to the kid everyone picked on, she meant stop picking on him. When Ellen DeGeneres ends her talk show every day with, “be kind,” she means be the sort of person who never would have thought about hurting that kid in the first place. 

For some of us, it is easier, or more natural, to be one or the other. I guess I’m trying to learn how to be both. 

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RBR About Town, Vol. 1

Nearly two months ago, my husband and I moved from Chicago to Las Vegas. We lived in Chicago for almost a decade, after meeting in Los Angeles back in 2006 (I was attending graduate school for my Master’s degree). Something I’ve regretted is that I never took the time to write about and reflect on, or share, new experiences in these different locations. To be sure, there were a lot of really wonderful things about both Los Angeles and Chicago that I could have written about and would have liked to have recorded for myself, to look back on when memory starts to fade. I do have some notes in journals and the like, and plenty of Facebook posts, but all of that was rather haphazard. Ideally, I also see myself breaking free from the chains of social media someday, so perhaps that is not the best place to store my memories after all.

Now that we are in Nevada, probably permanently, I would like to avoid past mistakes and begin to record my thoughts, memories, and experiences in a more permanent place and in a more thoughtful way. So, I’ve decided to share a little feature every once in a while, maybe monthly, called “RBR About Town.” Here’s Volume One!

Last weekend was beautiful. Now that we are into October, the 100-degree days have faded into the rear-view mirror. Most days have still been above 80, and last weekend saw temperatures in the upper-80s/lower-90s. So, we decided to do as much as we could outdoors while spending as little money as possible. A few weeks ago that meant driving out to Spring Mountain for some hiking, but it’s about a 30-minute trip each way and costs something like $9 for parking… yeah, not outrageous, but we’re on a budget!

Anyway, we began our day by running some errands. Afterwards, we stopped in a little cafe called Pour. The place was cute enough and the menu was filled with all sorts of healthy options for fruit and vegetable smoothies. I’m a coffee fiend, though, and have been on a mission to try something at all the cafés in our area (there are so many! Apparently, this area is known for its coffee… they call it the Second Seattle.) When I spotted the “Sin City” caramel mocha on the menu, I knew it had to be mine. And wow, talk about making the right decision!

This iced drink came in a handled mason jar and was topped with whipped cream (I’m not sure what kind – I don’t think it was house made, but it didn’t seem like the typical variety either). On top were drizzles of caramel and mocha sauce. The drink itself consisted of espresso, milk, and vanilla syrup. It was absolutely delicious. After we got our drinks, we went out to the small patio (the location is unfortunate: a small business lot with mostly vacant stores, sitting right on an extremely busy street) to enjoy the warm weather and cool latte. While relaxing, we were treated to a view of two hearts written in the sky above the Las Vegas strip. After what happened last Sunday, this was truly beautiful to see.

By the time we finished our drinks, it was well-past 2:00pm and we were both getting pretty hungry. I’m not sure what it is, but we always have our meals later than most people. Luckily, it has been fitting our schedule quite well (or maybe we just adapted our meal times to our schedules?) We’re both night owls, so while I do have to get up earlier for work a couple of days, we tend to stay up past midnight every night. Anyway, Jesse has been craving Teriyaki Chicken since we moved, and I’m a big fan of sushi, so we decided to do a quick online search for Japanese restaurants with decent reviews. There were quite a few in our area, which is surprising only because we live in the desert; but honestly, Las Vegas has everything, so I’m not sure why we doubted that we’d find something. The place we ultimately chose is called Blue Fin Sushi & Roll.

Despite rather poor service (our waiter was incredibly awkward and the service person was rude), the food itself was good and very well-priced! I got a 6-piece roll for about $7 and Jesse got a giant bowl of Teriyaki Chicken for $9.50. This was a really pleasant surprise because, in my experience, inexpensive Japanese food can turn out to be pretty awful. There were some incredible-sounding rolls on the menu, but they definitely got more expensive depending on the kind of ingredient and type of preparation. I decided to go with a pretty simple baked California roll with crab, avocado, cream cheese and eel sauce. In retrospect, I might have asked for the Yum-Yum sauce instead, but overall I was pretty thrilled with this meal. Great size for lunch, tasted good, and reasonably priced

After lunch, I convinced Jesse that we needed to go to a bookstore (or two). There was a place nearby called Books Or Books (what a great name!) that had populated in my search engine when I looked for Barnes & Noble locations a few weeks ago. It was one of only a few independent/used bookstores that I could find, so I figured we’d better take a look and see if it was any good. In Illinois, I used to go to a place called Half Price Books all the time, and I loved it. In fact, they now own thousands of books that used to be mine, as I took only a few boxes with me when we moved here (still pretty devastated about that).

The store itself was a little hard to find because it is in a small retail space between a number of larger stores, and the sign above it reads, simply, “Books.” I mean, that’s more than enough to get me in the door, believe me, but it had me imagining myself striking it rich so that I could buy them a big old sign to place out on the main road. Everyone should be able to find the bookstore! The proprietor was a nice older woman with a cute little dog — does it get more indie bookstore than that? I forgot to get her name, but I’m sure I’ll be back at some point. And I’ll be sure I ask.

Anyhow, the store itself is small, but it is well-organized (some of the classifications seemed odd, and I did spot a number of books in places where I wouldn’t have expected them, based on genre, but what do I know?) One disappointment was that there weren’t any new books for sale. Many indie resale shops I’ve been to have at least a small section for popular/anticipated new releases. I was looking for Dan Brown’s new release, Origin, which is the latest in the Robert Langdon series that I love (Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, etc.) (Shhhhh.) Still, I did find a 50th Anniversary copy of A Wrinkle in Time, which I’ve been wanting to read again before the movie comes out next year. It was in great condition and I only had to pay half-price, which is apparently the standard for everything in the store except for special editions. YES!

After our trip to the indie book shop, we decided to head down the road a few miles to Barnes & Noble so I could get my Dan Brown book after all. We ended our day out with a long walk around the mall, which has become a new favorite spot. It’s especially helpful in the summer months, when we want to take walks without melting or burning up in the 115-degree temperatures. Whenever we go to this mall, people walking around with clipboards ask us if we want to earn $5 for watching and reviewing a short film/advertisement. I honestly have no idea what they show people (maybe a commercial?) because we always say no; but now I’m starting to think, why not? Every trip to the mall could pay for the next Sin City caramel mocha!

The Blessings of Liberty

What do these all have in common?

  • Religious fanatic who slaughters people with a gun.
  • Political ideologue who slaughters people with a gun.
  • Racist who slaughters people with a gun.
  • Mentally ill person who slaughters people with a gun.
  • Homophobe who slaughters people with a gun.
  • Seemingly “normal” person who snaps and slaughters people with a gun.
  • Child who accidentally kills himself or someone else with a gun.
  • Individual who commits suicide with a gun.

I’m done with the pitiful attempts at injecting false nuance into this debate. I’m done with the lazy, cowardly responses that “anyone who wants to get a gun will.” I’m done with legislators who want to legislate everything else about our lives but refuse to legislate the one thing robbing us of life itself.

Yes, there are any number of factors that could contribute to any of these incidents. But there is ONE result made more possible by ONE factor. Easy ACCESS to an overabundance of unnecessarily lethal weapons.

They say the second amendment is sacred, nevermind how outdated. But what about our “Unalienable rights” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What about the Constitution’s first purpose: to “insure domestic Tranquility . . . promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”?  Are we tranquil? Are we well and safe? Did the children of Newtown receive their Blessings of Liberty?

It is past time to demand that the Second Amendment no longer speak for the entire Constitution.

It is past time to demand that our lawmakers respect OUR will and speak OUR voice, rather than perform at the pleasure of the NRA and other powerful moneyed interests.

It is past time to demand that the 97% of the population who want to see progress on this are freed from their bondage to the other 3%.

It is past time that we start to value our right to survive more than we value someone else’s right to murder us.

It can be done. It has been done in other places. We in “the home of the brave” need to grow a spine and do it here.

It is time for courage.

I Still Believe in Words: Sounds from Las Vegas

There’s a sick and twisted irony in this. 

Just one day ago, I had the audacity to call myself a writer. That very night, my town was ripped apart. The city of lights, dimmed. But what happened in Las Vegas will not stay in Las Vegas this time. The stem of evil and arrogance responsible for the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history has deep roots, and violence has never been outrun for long. What psalms or phrases, what songs or poems, can possibly reach us here tonight? But still, by some amazing grace, I believe in the music of words.

Guns are tools of violence designed to injure, harm, kill. Words, too, have the capacity to assault. A stinging rebuke might, like that burning bullet, report riotously through the air and propel brutally through blood and bone. But words were not designed to harm. Our language arose from a need to communicate, to warn, to protect, to thrive. Together. A gun has one purpose, and its ability to terrorize can be ended. Words are everlasting. I believe in the permanence of words.  

Last night, a thousand shots rang through the air, briefly muffling the chimes of liberty. They screeched and cawed through our neon night; this murder of crows blindly attacking its prey. Listen closely as the band stops playing and the revelers stop dancing. You’ll hear firecracker pops silencing the crowd. But not for long. Soon, meeting the attack are words and arms, hands and hearts, feet pounding pavement and words, these words: Run. Go. Hide. Get down. Words of concern, of love, of caution and care. I believe in the power of words.  

“Look for the helpers,” said a kindly neighbor, once, who held our hands through a black and terrible night. “You will always find people who are helping.” One madman with far too many weapons lay siege to a joyful crowd and quieted it for a moment. But when the din of gunfire ceased and the smell of iron was swept away, then on the winds and in the whispers of the Las Vegas valley, the silence was overwhelmed. The city’s brief stillness was stirred by the words of helpers: Where are you? I’m coming. What do you need? I’m here. Where can I donate? Don’t give up. The shots slowed. The terror ended. The words propel us forward. And I believe in the promise of words.

59 dead. 500 injured. Their voices stalled, stifled, stopped: But their memories will speak louder and ring truer and sing higher than the machine that so unthinkingly, so desperately and deliberately endeavored to mute their remarkable tones. The words they leave behind will reverberate through their friends and family, and through all of us who listen and remember. The chronicle of violence yawns dreadfully deep through the veins of our humanity, but the language of kin-folk and brotherhood is even deeper and more profound; it is steeped in the saga of friendship and fellowship, and its spine is a pillar of words that will not bend and will not break. I believe in the strength of words.

I looked into my students’ eyes today, each and every one. Staring back at me were expressions of the same ancient, eerie echoes of shock and sadness, confusion and despair. Words are my passion and my livelihood, I told them, but there are none for days like these. And yet that admission opened the floodgates. Their words, spoken, became light in an unfathomable darkness, and we anchored ourselves to them together. Answers were unimportant in the moment, but they will come someday. I believe in a new generation of words.

I am just happy to see your faces today. Was it enough to say that, for now, I wonder? To let them know that I am here, needing to be seen and heard, and that I can see and hear them there, too? When the sound of concern for those we love drowns out the noise of fear and hopelessness, then there is reason to hope, to believe, to carry on. We reach out and embrace each other, whatever the distance, with words of compassion and care and community. So, even at my most reticent, I believe in the symphony of words.

Roof Beam Renaissance

“Whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.” –Max Ehrmann

October 1st always brings with it some psychological change in me. Sometimes it’s a permanent, long-term thing. Other times, the feeling fades rather quickly. Interestingly, this year, I’ve felt the day coming for a long time. I’ve been counting down to it for weeks, since before the first day of autumn, even. I think part of it is that the first day of fall is like the first day of spring, for me. It is my time of rebirth, renewal, and rejuvenation. This year, that takes on, again, a heightened meeting.

Less than two months ago, my partner and I moved across country, about 1,800 miles from Chicago, where we had been living for the last 9 years. After finishing my Ph.D. in May, I accepted a position as an English professor at a large college in the American southwest. It has been a wild, exciting, thoroughly exhausting (and quite nerve-wracking, to be honest) time, but so far, we both love it here. It is hard to be away from friends, and family, though. I’ve become even more reliant on Facebook and Twitter, for which I was already a junky, and in our culture and country’s current state, this is not a good thing.

So, as October has approached, and as the mess of moving and settling in has reduced from a boil to a simmer, I’ve begun to think more and more seriously about getting back to blogging, and about what that would mean since a year ago, the last point at which I was making a serious effort. Would I return to Roof Beam Reader? Create something new? Would I go back to blogging mostly book reviews and hosting events? Or would I focus on my creative writing and journaling, on politics and current events?

For a long time, I elevated book blogging above all else and left other things for other places. But that always made me feel overwhelmed and schizophrenic. In the last few weeks, as I’ve anticipated my “return” to blogging, I realized I needed two things: First, I needed to stay at Roof Beam Reader. Maybe it’s bizarre, but it feels to me like an important part of my identity. Second, my blog needed a kind of renaissance, a re-alignment with my current place and perspective. That being said, a new vision has emerged.

Going forward, Roof Beam Reader will still be mostly (51% or more?) about books. I’ll still be writing my personal reviews, posting fun memes, answering surveys, and maybe even joining some events like the upcoming Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon (10th anniversary!). I still read like a mad person, though my tastes have altered slightly, and I once again need a space where I can keep track of my thoughts. I’ve been breezing through books without reflecting on them and, for me, this is almost sacrilegious. Some of the books I’ve read in the last few months that have gone without reflection include:

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchison The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman Traffick by Ellen Hopkins Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera Brave New World by Aldous Huxley We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchison The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

I have to stop myself there because this list only takes me back to mid-July. My last “new” reviews were posted on July 8th as mini-reviews (a feature I will probably continue because I’ve learned, I hope, to be less strict with myself; sometimes I don’t want or need to write a complete review for a particular book, but I could still get a paragraph or two down). On a positive note, even if I did not review these books, I did mark them all as 4 or 5 out of 5 on Goodreads, which means at least I still know my tastes!

One thing I will probably do less of in regards to the book side of blogging is participating in challenges. When I first started, I absolutely loved doing challenges. I also had the time for them. Now, that’s not so much the case. I might join one every now and again, but I have to learn to limit myself to the “easy” levels. I was always a competitive student and am still a competitive professional in many ways, and this habit flows over into blogging. When I am “challenged,” I want to win. But that isn’t fun for me anymore, not when it comes to reading. I want to explore and enjoy, I want to meander down the walkway of my reading choices, joyfully taking it all in and deeply appreciating every experience, rather than devouring simply to consume. This is also why, in the last couple of years, my Goodreads challenge lists have shrunk from 70 or 80 books per year to something like 50 or 60. If I beat it (and I always do), that’s great! But I don’t want to feel the need to hit it. Last year, I ended up reading a bunch of graphic novels in the final few days of December in order to hit my goal. How silly! That being said, I’m very strongly considering bringing back the Official TBR Pile Challenge. I’m leaning heavily toward yes at the moment. That challenge is flexible and rather small, but also so special to me and this blog, and its readers.

In addition to books and reading, I plan to talk quite a bit about politics and current events. Or, if not quite a bit, whenever I feel the need. I’ve only posted once in a rare while on issues that “mattered” because I was worried about my audience and tiring them out or scaring them off. I have to keep this place mine, though, and I have to break from the rapid-fire, highly-charged, completely insufficient platforms that are social media when thinking about or writing about such important issues. I feel social media has done a great deal of damage in the way we communicate (or not) today, and the way we treat each other. I recently read an article in the The New York Times titled, “The Dying Art of Disagreement.” I disagreed with some of the points the author makes, such as his total dismissal of identity politics, but in general I found myself nodding appreciatively through it. We don’t know how to disagree anymore, largely because we do not look each other in the eye when we debate and because we do not value liberal education that once taught us to listen and consider before speaking; to find common ground where possible, rather than striving only to be right. I want to be more intentional in my own arguing, now, particularly because I teach my students to do so. Facebook and the like – I’m rather done with you, my dears.

Lastly, I plan to incorporate more of my personal and creative writing, here. I doubt I’ll share anything I plan to publish in some other venue, for obvious reasons, but I do consider myself a writer and am starting to understand what kind of writer. I need the practice, and I need some steady, routine, and mostly enjoyable mode. What’s better than my own writing space? In addition to playing around with fiction and poetry, I’ll probably focus quite heavily on non-fiction, particularly the personal essay. I think that’s my niche, when it comes down to it, though I didn’t realize this until about 6 months ago. Odd, considering that’s about 90% of what I’ve always written. I just figured, if I’m not already a famous person, who would want to read what I have to say, even if I sometimes manage to say it well?

I think I do have a lot to say, though, especially about what’s happening in our country right now, in our culture and our humanity. I also want to say things about books and music, about my new adventures in a new state and new region, about education and travel, and about my own little life and what it means to me. I had been, no, I still am self-conscious about writing and speaking, and what my solitary voice means or matters in the grand scheme of things. But Vaclav Havel once wrote, only “by throwing yourself over and over again into the tumult of the world, with the intention of making your voice count – only thus will you really become a person.” I’ve always been a fan of Madeline L’Engle’s statement that “a self is always becoming.” In lessons to my students, I often pair that sentiment with what E.M. Forster said about writing: “How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?”

Maybe if I throw myself into the world by observing it and writing about it, I will continue to grow and continue to understand myself.

Recommended Reading: Bending Boundaries

i4ndexWhat is the heart and soul of literature? What is the purpose of a reading-driven life? I believe people who read a lot, and with variety, are uniquely placed to learn more about the world, its history and its people, and to become more compassionate, tolerant, and patient because of their reading experiences.

These are the real reasons why I love to read the classics. Yes, they’re an escape; they can be beautifully written, exciting, scary, and emotionally charged. But, mostly, they teach me, and show me, more about the world and its people and places than anything else ever could.

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The books below are some of my favorites, and they’ve all helped me to experience the world in ways that I couldn’t possibly in my own life. They’ve transported me to a different world, taught me about different cultures, and helped me step into the shoes of people who are different from me. From the poverty and union movements of French miners to the experience of Jewish people during the Holocaust; from the lives of women, gay and straight, to the experience of black men and women, Latino immigrants, German philosophers, religious leaders and spiritual seekers, and the mentally and physically disabled. The books below can teach us so much about the world, past, present, and future.

Even dystopian fiction like A Handmaid’s Tale helps us to explore gender roles and the dangerous, complex, and unfair power structures established to keep women subservient. I am not going to write specific thoughts on these, and there are so many more I could have included, but I do highly recommend the list of books below. I’ve reviewed some of these here at Roof Beam Reader. Unfortunately, I read a number of them before I began blogging, so I don’t have reviews to share.

  1. Germinal by Emile Zola
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  3. The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes
  4. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
  5. Angels in America by Tony Kushner
  6. Night by Elie Wiesel
  7. The Diary of Anne Frank
  8. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  9. Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
  10. Rain God by Arturo Islas
  11. Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas
  12. Wonder by RJ Palacio
  13. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  14. A Rasin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  15. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  16. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  17. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  18. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  19. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  20. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Which books have allowed you to truly step into another’s shoes? To experience a completely different lifestyle? Please share your own recommendations!

My Personal Canon

The following is a list of books that and/or writers who have affected me deeply and for some time. I was “challenged” by Jillian to write one of my own after she shared hers. I thought it was a grand idea. I’ll update this in a year or so, if it needs updating. For now, these are the selections I likely would have made anytime in the last 5 or so years, had someone asked. So, it’s a fair bet this list will still be mostly in tact after another 365 days.

I haven’t provided explanations for my choices, but I might come back at some point and do that, or perhaps even turn this into a “page” on this blog, rather than simply a post. That said, this is more than a list of “favorites.” I could do that, too, but the call for a personal canon seems to be more profound than simply 5-star reads. These are books and writers who speak to my soul, who have never left me, and whom I turn to in times of despair and times of joy alike. 

My Personal Canon

Kurt Vonnegut

A Man without a Country, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, The Sirens of Titan, Player Piano, Look at the Birdie, Armageddon in Retrospect, Hocus Pocus, We Are What We Pretend to Be, and almost everything else (there are maybe two titles from his entire oeuvre that I might leave out). 

Virginia Woolf

Orlando, A Room of One’s Own, A Writer’s Diary, To the Lighthouse, The Waves

Edgar Allan Poe

Too much to list. I’ll just say the complete works, including short stories, poetry, criticism, and his single novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. 

Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It as It Lays.

J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters, Seymour: An Introduction, “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans.” 

Willa Cather

A Lost Lady, O Pioneers!, On Writing.

Plato and Aristotle

  • Aristotle: The Art of Rhetoric, Poetics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics.
  • Plato: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, The Symposium, Phaedrus, The Republic.

The Stoics

  • Seneca: On Tranquility of Mind, On the Shortness of Life, On Anger.
  • Marcus Aurlieus: Meditations.
  • Epictetus: The Discourses, The Enchiridion.

John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, A Life in Letters, To a God Unknown, Sweet Thursday, The Red Pony, America and Americans, and absolutely everything else, if I’m being honest. 

Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Mysterious Stranger, The Innocents Abroad, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven, and pretty much everything else, including journalism and short stories. 

Stand Alone Texts

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë