The next two weeks are an opportunity. A break. A moment to find clarity and inspiration. For most of us, in between the family gatherings and trips and travel and chaos there is a year wrapping up, and an opportunity to squeak in one or two more books to our count for the year. And believe me, it may not seem like it, but there are windows here. Moments of dare we say…freedom? Where you might find yourself at a coffee shop and no where to be right away. Or by a fire someplace with no one to talk to. Or God forbid you put your phone in the other room, pull into a jazz Spotify station and just bury your nose in a book for an hour or two. Sounds like fun to us. And we picked a couple for just these occasions. Here are five to peruse.
Curated by James Royce.
1. Essays by George Orwell
“At the time I could not see beyond the moral dilemma that is presented to the weak in a world governed by the strong: Break the rules, or perish.” — from the essay Books v. Cigarettes
What’s a What Youth reading without something written by a dead white guy? I actually came across this book by chance earlier this year after someone else left their copy behind at a coffee shop I used to frequent. Knowing that Orwell does not in fact suck as a writer I picked it up on my way out and gave it a try. I ended up finishing the book later that day — humble brag. But seriously, it’s that good. It’s no secret Orwell’s a genius. But the way he can write about well, anything, is something to experience. And this is a perfect starting point.
2. The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson
“It is a cherishable irony that a language that succeeded almost by stealth, treated for centuries as the inadequate and second-rate tongue of peasants, should one day become the most important and successful language in the world.” — from Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way
English is a funny language. Ask any Englishman, American, or Aussie and they’ll agree. Yet it’s one of the most widely spoken dialects in the world. Still, it has loads of peculiarities. Like why do people bother writing when speaking is hard enough? Or why is it that parties of english speakers, no matter their country of origin, can only tolerate silence for four seconds (see: Christmas dinner with the family) before interjecting anything, however unrelated? And why is it that native speakers have trouble communicating effectively with one another — as almost every American visiting Australia will tell you? Well this book dives into all these little quirks. Bill Bryson is one of those rare authors who can write about any subject and make it compelling. So give it a try. He’s also one of my favorites writers and everything I wish (and will ultimately fail) to be. So if you love it, give me a call so we can discuss it all over a drink and I can loan you a few of his other books. I’m not kidding.
3. SantaLand Diaries by David Sedaris
“Standing in a two-hour line makes people worry that they’re not living in a democratic nation. People stand in line for two hours and they go over the edge.” — from SantaLand Diaries
Yes, it’s the holidays. There’s nothing wrong with going the extra mile to get into the spirit of things. Don’t worry, no one will judge you (at least not outspokenly) for flipping on your Dean Martin winter classics spotify playlist. Or reading a Christmas-themed book for that matter. Anyways, here’s a great literary holiday tale that isn’t A Christmas Carol. Or The Polar Express. I haven’t read much Sedaris. But from what I gathered from both this and a few of his other books (he has a good handful), he’s hysterical. Sticking to that tone, “SantaLand” is a Sedaris’ humorous account about his stint working as a Christmas elf at Macy’s. Yes, curling up next to the fireplace in December with something that has “Santa” in its title is cliché as hell. But if you’re going to do it you might as well read something that proves being surrounded by children, tinsel and merriment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
4. The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy by various authors
“They had wakened one morning and the world was empty. The neighbor’s clothesline was still strung with blowing white wash, cars blamed in front go other seven-A.M. cottages, but there were no farewells, the city did not hum with its mighty arterial traffics, phones did not alarm themselves, children did not wail in sunflower wildernesses.” — from Ray Bradbury in The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Turns out “I read it for the articles!” isn’t just a hackneyed phrase reserved for people whose mothers stumble across their pile of pilfered titty-mags. Sure, over the years Playboy has been primarily known for its, well, adult content. But it has also always been a rich source of printed articles and fiction. Loads of which was penned by some of the biggest names (see: Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac, Roald Dahl) in the literary game. And this neat little book wraps up all the SciFi hits — one of Playboy’s most consistent columns. Featuring contributions from genre heavy-hitters Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, plus lots more.
5. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
“A man’s at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he don’t want to. Rightly so. Best not to look in there. It ain’t the heart of a creature that is bound in the way that God has set for it. You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.” — from Blood Meridian
Chances are the holidays are a pretty happy time for you. Time off work. Weekday drinking. Bonding with family. Well this book will suck all of that positive light right out of your soul. To be blunt: It’s fucking devastating. But it’s also one of the most epic pieces of modern American literature around. McCarthy (another old white guy — but not dead!) has a knack for toying with his readers emotions. A talent he normally uses to convince them that there’s no hope in humanity and the world as we know it is beyond doomed. Very on brand with 2017. But back to the book. In short, Blood Meridian is about cowboys. But it’s one of the most insanely violent, bleak, and breathtakingly beautiful wild west stories ever told. Read it once and you’ll feel like you’ve lived hundreds of lives, all of which were downright grim. It’s quite the experience. Plus it also features one of the best villains of all time. You’ll need a take a long, cold shower after this one.