What I’m reading this term

I’m in my second of four terms in The Bennington Writing Seminars (nonfiction track), and below is a list of what I’ve read so far and plan to read through December.

The reading list is devised by the student and the mentor for any given term. I was thrilled when my mentor, Susan Cheever, and I sat down in June in the living room of my dorm at Bennington, and she started reeling off questions, “Have you read this? Have you read that? I can’t force you to read anything, but if you’re getting a master’s degree, you really should know these books.” It was kind of embarrassing, because I was usually answering, “no.” Although I took a bunch of lit classes as an undergraduate, my major was psychology. Then, a few years later, I went on to grad school in urban planning, and for a long time, I only read public policy books. Imagine a life without novels and memoirs 😦 but that’s how it was.

The result of this conversation was an amazing list of classics and some newer books. I can also swap out for something new that comes along at any time, which is how I ended up reading Sophia, the biography of Tolstoy’s wife, which has only been out for a few months. I was going to read a biography of Tolstoy, but then I was like: let’s hear about the wife who nurtured him through his great works and then was totally dissed by his followers and him at the end of his life. Let’s hear her side of the story!

So, here you go!

June/July 2010

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (Pevear & Volokhonsky edition)

Sophia Tolstoy, a biography – Alexandra Popoff

August

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

Capote: A Biography – Gerald Clarke

Shot in the Heart – Mikal Gilmore

The Executioner’s Song – Norman Mailer

[I don’t recommend reading all these in the same month. Really depressing insights into family dysfunction and how NOT to raise your sons.]

September

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte [a romance! shake off those murderers! hooray!]

The Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

Charlotte Bronte biography – Lyndall Gordon

Jean Rhys Interview – Paris Review

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

October [some of these will be re-reads from a long-ago college course]

Emerson Essays

First We Read, Then We Write – Robert Richardson on Emerson

Walden – Henry David Thoreau

The Scarlet Letter & other stories – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne: A Life – Brenda Wineapple

November

The Invention of Solitude – Paul Auster

Self-Consciousness – John Updike

The Control of Nature – John McPhee

Waterfront – Phillip Lopate

December -?

Middlemarch – George Eliot

The Pine Barrens – John McPhee

Ward 6 and Other Stories – Anton Chekhov

Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey – Janet Malcolm

The Journalist & the Murderer – Janet Malcolm

Tolstoy – Henri Troyat [the bio. I temporarily ditched in favor of Sophia above]

Moving back into the present day… I’d like to read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Dave Cullen’s Columbine, the latter of which is sitting on the floor right next to me as I type this…


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